Göbekli Tepe and Karahan Tepe

The World's First Megaliths


Studies in Stone

It is our pleasure to welcome Hugh Newman and JJ Ainsworth as Authors of the Month. Hugh is the author of Göbekli Tepe and Karahan Tepe: The World’s First Megaliths. His book is a detailed investigation into Göbekli Tepe, Karahan Tepe and other temples in Turkey, illuminating the hidden stories of these enigmatic sites. In their article here, they examine the symbolism in these monumental wonders and how the ancients may have explored the universal themes of death, rebirth and fertility relating to their discovery of a winter solstice alignment at Karahan Tepe.

Interact with Hugh and JJ on our AoM forum here.

During the Winter Solstice on December 20th 2021, we (Hugh Newman and JJ Ainsworth) observed a remarkable phenomenon at Karahan Tepe in southeast Turkey, where the sunrise light penetrated through a porthole stone, illuminating a huge stone head carved out of solid bedrock inside the Pillar Shrine (Structure AB). In part one, we concluded that it was a deliberate alignment, uniquely recorded in stone.2 In part two, we look at its significance, theorise that it was linked with fertility rituals and calendars, and examine the new discoveries that back up this idea.

View of the porthole stone at Karahan Tepe leading into the Pillar Shrine (Structure AB) showing the stone head. Left: The light phenomenon that illuminates the head on the winter solstice morning. Right: Alignment of the winter solstice sunrise through Structure AD and into the Pillar Shrine. Photos: Hugh Newman.

Karahan Tepe is a Pre-Pottery Neolithic site located in the Tektek mountains in Sanliurfa Province. It is the sister site to Göbekli Tepe and dates from 9400 BC – 8200 BC. The main enclosure is nearly 75ft feet wide (Structure AD) and consists of 18 upright pillars in its perimeter (five of these carved from bedrock), and two huge T-pillars (now fallen) in its centre. An adjacent enclosure is called the Pillar Shrine (Structure AB), measuring 7m by 6m and containing 10 upright phallic-shaped monoliths carved from bedrock, a free-standing stone, as well as a protruding head with a serpentine neck on its western wall. On its southeastern edge, a carved hole, shaped from bedrock, leads into the main enclosure. It is through this that the winter solstice sunrise light beams through, illuminating the stone head over a 45-minute period (see part 1 for a full analysis).

Side view of newly discovered 7ft 6in statue. Photo by Ismail Can.

In September 2023, sensational new finds were announced at Karahan Tepe, including a 7ft 6in (2.3m) human statue, the world’s earliest example of a realistic human depiction, who was in a ‘fertility’ posture holding his phallus in his hands. It is similar in style to Urfa Man (or the Balıklıgöl Statue), which dates to 10,300 years old, and resembles the panel at Sayburç, both holding their phalluses, suggesting these were all part of the same belief system. A further vulture statue and polished stone plate were uncovered, as well as a porthole stone, which could represent a symbolic feminine element. At Göbekli Tepe, a painted boar statue was discovered just below the porthole stone in Enclosure D. The boar relates to death and regeneration. As we will see, these discoveries may help shed some light on the mindset of the builders of these sites.

What’s in a Name?

The modern name of Karahan Tepe was given to the site by Bahattin Çelik in 1997, based on two local place-names. Keçili Tepe is the traditional local name, and is currently the name of the general area (and also the hill one mile north of Karahan Tepe). In Kurdish, Keçili means ‘bald’, perhaps a distant memory of the protruding stone head. In the Northern Kurdish (Kurmanji) language, it translates to daughter, maiden, any woman or even queen… All these meanings are derived from the fact that keç is a feminine root word that can be applied in various different ways.” 2 The feminine origin of the site’s name is an important factor in understanding the cultural beliefs of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic people. Even Göbekli Tepe, which means ‘Pot-Belly’ or ‘Navel’ hill has connotations linked to themes of pregnancy, with the T-pillars having their hands also focussed on the navel. Previously at Göbekli Tepe, several statues of men holding their phallus, as well as goddess statues, were unearthed, which suggests there was a combination of male and female fertility symbolism.

Aerial view of Karahan Tepe after excavation. Photo by Dakota Wint.

At Göbekli Tepe, fertility traditions still thrived until recently. For a very long time in Kurdish, the site was known as Girê Mirazan (Hill of the Wishes) and also Gire Navoke (Hill of the Swollen Belly). Göbekli Tepe in Turkish means ‘Potbelly Hill’ or ‘Navel Hill’, emphasising, above all else, pregnancy and/or abundance. The Wishing Tree (a mulberry tree) located at the peak of the hill was, for a very long time, a place where women would take a pilgrimage to in the hope of becoming fertile. Until it became a World Heritage Site, people would go there to sacrifice animals, mainly sheep or goats, frequented especially by brides-to-be, who were having trouble conceiving babies. If you made a wish, the holy people who are buried there were thought to grant them for you. The area of the Wishing Tree is also right next to where the female birthing stone was later found in the Lion Pillars Building, suggesting a memory of this being a place of fertility.

The Wish Tree at Göbekli Tepe. Inset: The female birthing carving found in Lion Pillars Building. Photos by Hugh Newman.

Winter Solstice and Fertility

Winter brings frozen land, failing crops, dying animals, short days and long, cold nights, with little thriving at the darkest time of the annual cycle. Prehistoric rituals may have involved attempts to bring back the light and warmth, believing it was up to them to force this change. The time of year was a point of stillness or death, when the sun appeared to stop, before re-emerging and the light returning. This time of year came to symbolise birth, death and rebirth. Specific rituals, sexual rites, sacred dances and incantations may have been carried out in an attempt to fertilise the land, the crops, the animals and humans, to guarantee survival in an uncertain world.

“In the conflict between animal pleasure and spiritual purity pleasure prevailed…. a means of communion with nature to ensure the fertility of the earth, acts of sympathetic procreation between men and women.” 3

At Karahan Tepe, the sunlight at the winter solstice, when at the correct altitude, penetrates the feminine porthole stone, with its life-giving ‘male’ solar shard illuminating the interior of the womb-like chamber, embodying the themes stated above. Fertility rites can be imagined during this process, especially when considering the shapes of the 10 phallic pillars, and also the free-standing pillar (which may be one half of a porthole stone, a second ‘feminine’ element). This could be interpreted as an attempt at fertilisation, to regenerate life and to heal, and to be reborn into a new life at the turning of the year.

Graham Hancock (and JJ) noticed that the shape of the light hitting the stone head (during the winter solstice morning) was very similar to a human foetus. Whether this was deliberately created by the builders, or simply a stunning coincidence is unclear.

Graham Hancock’s image comparing the light on the stone head at Karahan Tepe with a human embryo. Right embryo image from Wiki Commons / Left embryo image from Wiki Commons. Middle image by Hugh Newman & JJ Ainsworth.

The first light entering the chamber on the winter solstice creates a small blade of light on the side of the head, which could represent the beginning of conception, and as the luminosity continues to expand and move across the head, we begin to see what looks to be the form of a foetus. Over the next few minutes, we see the foetus begin to grow even more, and eventually, it becomes one and the same with the head and neck. For a few minutes the head goes into total darkness, symbolising death, before the light moves to the crown of the head and the being reaches enlightenment or transformation. In this process, we have witnessed life, death, and rebirth. This symbolic process is found worldwide.

Photos of sunlight illuminating the stone head in the Pillar Shrine at Karahan Tepe on 20th December 2021. The 6 images on the left (top left to bottom right) show the movement of the light over a 45 minute period. Top right corner: View of stone head from behind and above showing the right cheek illuminated. Bottom right corner: View of head at 8.50am with the forehead and scalp illuminated. Photos: H. Newman and JJ Ainsworth

“Perhaps the most prominent legend to have survived is that of the Norse Goddess Frigga. Frigga gave birth to her son, ‘the young sun’ Baldur. This was symbolised as giving birth to the light in darkness, and in Northern Europe, the longest night is also known as Mother’s Night. Throughout the world, gods and goddesses of light were born during the winter solstice, bringing hope and a promise of the return of the warmth and light of the Sun in the New Year.” 4

As the construction began at Karahan Tepe, gigantic T-shaped monoliths were cut from the limestone bedrock and fashioned into remarkably well-executed monumental works of abstract art. Not only were the enclosures beautifully decorated with relief carvings, statues, and porthole stone, but also placed in exact positions to set megalithic calendars into place utilising the movements of the sun and the moon.

“I see this obsession with fertility reflected in Neolithic monuments. Tall stones were erected, over which the ‘life-giving’ sun could be seen to rise. At midwinter, in some places, the rays of the sun then penetrated artificial mounds via long passages – as at Newgrange in Ireland. Interpretations of the megaliths have often downplayed their anthropomorphic and sexual aspects. For me, they are clear evidence of the invention of ‘Mother Earth’, the gendering of earth as female.” 5

What Came First – Temples or Agriculture?

It has long been thought that agriculture influenced the building of stone structures and wooden buildings, requiring settled communities to enable these types of grand projects. However, it has now been proposed that agriculture was initiated after this construction phase.6 Necmi Karul emphasised that farming was developed soon after Göbekli Tepe and Karahan Tepe were built, hinting at a direct connection between the building of these sites and the beginning of agriculture.7 Klaus Schmidt, the first archaeologist to excavate Göbekli Tepe, stated:

“Complex social organisation and the performance of rituals actually predated permanent settlement and agriculture, and that the people who banded together and built the monumental structures were nomadic hunter-gatherers… eventually, the demands of gathering these nomads together in one place to carve and move the huge T-pillars and build the circular enclosures pushed them to take the next step and begin domesticating plants and animals in order to create a more dependable food supply. These innovations spread from the hilltop throughout the region and eventually the globe. Ritual and religion, it seemed, launched the Neolithic Revolution, not the other way around. ‘First the temple, then the city.’” 8

As Karahan Tepe was built before agriculture developed, and, with the evidence that is now coming forth, it appears that it may have been constructed to initiate this change, using astronomy, calendars, sympathetic magic, symbols and ritual in an attempt to bring fertility to the land, the crops and the animals they were beginning to domesticate and breed. This could all suggest that Karahan Tepe was an offshoot that was created to encourage these new ways, but also to fine tune their calendar at the same time to make this all possible, becoming their new centre of innovation.

However, this does not explain why no evidence of vegetation has been found in the immediate area of Karahan Tepe (except modern olive groves and Pistachio farms), and the lack of trees, natural water sources and only thin layers of soil suggests this was not a place for food production. In that case, was it a place where seeds and grains were brought to in order to be enhanced, to help with growing food, but then planted elsewhere? Was it a secret, scientific, ceremonial seed-charging station that was created as an outpost by the Göbekli Tepe people (where an abundance of evidence of grain grinding and food preparation took place?)?9 Did tribes visit the area at certain times of year to carry out these ceremonies and attempt to enhance their grain stocks?

“It is still observed in the autumn that nomadic families come down from Karacadag Mountains in northern Sanliurfa to stay in the Tektek Mountains during winter and graze their animals on the pasture. The vicinity is also very rich in wild game and is a locally popular hunting area even today. Except towards the NW end, where pistachios are present, there is no woodland on Tektek Daglan.”10

It has been postulated that feasting and food production took place at Göbekli Tepe. Because of this, current archaeologists believe it was a domestic site and used all year round. But this contradicts the archaeological finds from the layers at Göbekli Tepe, which demonstrate that ritual feasting took place at specific times of the year:

“Archaeozoological data further strengthens the image of large feasting events at certain times of the year. At Göbekli, Gazelle is the major meat animal. As this species is migratory, a large scale supply of meat was possible in late autumn, when there would also be rain water available after the long, dry summer.”11

The data backs up the idea that large-scale gatherings took place on or near the winter solstice. This has also been documented at sites such as Stonehenge, where nearby Durrington Walls and Woodhenge were the places where ritual feasting took place. This certainly gives a whole new perspective on the Taş Tepeler sites and the way the multiple enclosure sites, such as Göbekli Tepe and Karahan Tepe were where these massive ceremonial activities took place. The smaller sites, which only have one ‘special building’ and obvious domestic structures, were located near a natural water source in thriving village communities. Examples include Nevali Cori, Çayönü and Boncuklu Tarla.

Proto-Temple and Ritual

Karahan Tepe, before construction, may have been noted for its unusual geology and placement in the landscape. Arrowheads and worked flints have been found on the hill which date to nearly 13,000 years ago. We hypothesise that it became an important place for winter solstice rituals before the rest of the site was constructed around it. Over time, this could have become a sacred place, a liminal area, which was later established as an important location for the people of the region. We also propose that an elite group of priests or shamans established it as a site to increase fertility in the land, humans and animals, based upon it being the perfect location to design a permanent stone calendar with the winter solstice alignment marking its beginning point. Dancing, feasting, sexual rites, ceremony, and shamanic activities are depicted in stone at the site and could have taken place with mask-wearing shamans imitating their deities during these rituals.

“The belief that it is possible to influence the fertility of the land and the abundance of crops. By sexual intercourse on the part of human beings is too familiar to need elaboration…In prehistoric times, it would be seen that the Sky-father Earth-mother fertility ritual was enacted, doubtless by human instruments and agents of the respective god or goddess, to enhance the fecundity of the soil and the reproduction processes in nature generally….The association between men and animals is also made clear in a number of scenes of bestiality.”12

Karahan Tepe shows a variation in the animal species depicted, but it is the snake that is the most dominant, followed by leopards and canids. The snake, for instance, illustrates rebirth because it sheds its skin regularly and then continues living, but is also reborn. Other species hibernate underground in winter.13 In the Inanna myth, the goddess is said to be the leopard of the mountains or the leopard between the gods of Anuna.14 In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Enkidu is depicted as the ‘leopard of open spaces.’15 Depictions of leopards mounted on the backs of humans at Karahan Tepe could depict priestly elites wearing leopard-skin cloaks, or symbolically represent bestiality in action (such as the statue found in Structure AD). The leopard was often related to power, but also to the death process and, in some cases, fertility.16 Several statues have the arms and paws of animals holding a human head, although the ones discovered so far are badly worn or broken. These may also represent a shamanic process, linking humans and animals with the intention of increasing fertility in the land and may have been acted out during winter solstice dances and rituals. Archaeologist Aubrey Burl states: “The evidence is strong that religious rites in stone circles were very much concerned with fertility, their fulfilment emanating from acts of sympathetic magic related to animals.17

Leopard mounting a human statue from Karahan Tepe. Photo by Hugh Newman.


Numerous depictions at Göbekli Tepe and Karahan Tepe display human and animal sculptures showing emaciation, which may have had a symbolic meaning related to death. The newly discovered 7ft 6in statue also shows ribs and has been said by archaeologists to depict a deceased person. However, it could also be symbolic of the low resources of the hunter-gatherers before the agricultural revolution began. Further depictions of both humans and animals, with carved ribs on the torso, and unusually thin arms, are depicted. Survival may have been on the agenda. With Karahan Tepe being built before the genesis of agriculture, can we also speculate that they were, in fact, constructed to assist with the beginning of farming and animal domestication during a period of scarcity? Schmidt, when analysing these statues, stated:

“Precisely what types of animals these depict and whether they represent de-fleshed, excarnated or emaciated creatures is unknown.”18


Images by Hugh Newman & JJ Ainsworth and from Wiki Commons

Images by Hugh Newman

Human and animal bones have been found in circular depressions in Structure AD at Karahan Tepe. This, once again, may have been associated with the fertility and regeneration aspects of the site, and are clearly not full burials. Marija Gimbutus noted other examples in her research related to the winter solstice:

“The practice of winter rituals when the sun is at its weakest and seen as dying. Rituals that apparently are inseparable from the lunar Old Hag and the burial of the Old Year’s bones are still practiced today. The purpose of such rituals essentially is the regeneration of life powers, made possible through energetic ring dances combined with the powers of stones standing in a circle. The stone circles are not fully activated unless the calendrical events are accompanied by human rituals and dance.” 19

The main enclosure at Karahan Tepe is certainly large enough for such rituals and dancing, and the carefully levelled floor may indicate such activities took place. At Nevalı Çori (c.8500 BC), a large stone bowl has a relief carving of animals being held hand-in-hand between dancing humans. Notably, the figures have puffed-out bellies, indicating pregnancy or abundance. On Göbekli Tepe’s Pillar 18, the H resembles two people facing one another, holding hands, perhaps dancing (above a solar and lunar symbol). Contemporary traditions in pagan societies still practice similar dances. Gimbutus reminds us that making noise was important to “protect against the winter/death powers20 and this may be why the protruding head in the Pillar Shrine has an open mouth releasing sound, whilst its eyes look through the porthole observing the winter solstice sunrise. Gimbutus also stated that the stone circles were ‘not fully activated’ unless all these activities took place in harmony with one another at the right time.

Left: Nevali Cori: a large stone bowl has a relief carving of animals being held hand-in-hand between dancing humans. Right: Göbekli Tepe’s Pillar 18 symbols showing two people facing each other hand-in-hand, possibly dancing. Images by Hugh Newman

Sumerian Memory

There are several correlations between what we can see at Karahan Tepe and the general Taş Tepeler region and what was recorded by the Sumerians. Our main source of Sumerian translations is from the work of Christian and Barbara Joy O’Brien. The key texts are Genius of the Few and The Shining Ones21 (which both avoid the ‘Aliens’ themes that Zechariah Sitchin popularised). To clarify, thousands of Sumerian tablets from a vast area were created from the middle of the third millennium BC onwards, but it is now clear that they appear to be not only recording myths, but also memorialising a much earlier history.

The Annunaki were the first documented rulers in Sumerian tradition, often remembered as the Seven Sages, and are likely to have been the Sumerian equivalent of the biblical Angels, or the Watchers of the Book of Enoch. Their origins point to an abode that was called the Duku, meaning ‘holy mound.’ It is said the first grain and sheep were given to humans by Enki and Enlil, two leaders of the Annunaki who lived below the mound. Klaus Schmidt tantalisingly stated, “Can these arguments be connected, is it possible that behind Göbekli Tepe there hides Mount Du-Ku, and are the anthropomorphous pillars of Göbekli Tepe – suddenly surprisingly real – the ancient Anuna Gods.”22

Seated vegetation goddess is greeted by three other deities. Stalks of grain sprout from the females, while tree branches grow from the two males, perhaps referring to a specific myth. Image from Wiki Commons.

The Duku Mound was a small part of a much larger hill or mountain named gar-sag or Kharsag, meaning either “principal, fenced enclosure” or “lofty, fenced enclosure.”23 The general area became known to later Hebrews as the Garden of Eden, but it was here where they settled and were said to have built stone and wooden structures before they developed agriculture and animal domestication. They were also said to have devised early forms of calendars and did this before any food cultivation took place. Enlil was said to have “brought forth the seed from the earth, who established both plenty and abundance in the land, and fashioned the hoe and the plough.24 In some variations, he employed two lesser gods to work the land. In Enki and the World Order, Enki measures out the stars and furnishes the world with fields and livestock. He also created the first human beings from clay and blood, who became labourers for the gods. For this task, the Goddess Ninharsag was involved.

Ninharsag, Mari,18th century BC. Image from Wiki Commons

Ninharsag, one of the founding Annunaki, is remembered as being a ‘Mother Goddess’, a ‘fertility goddess’, a ‘Birthing Goddess’, a ‘Vegetation Goddess’ and even a ‘biologist’. Remembered as the ‘Serpent Lady’ of Eden,’25 she was also known as Damgalnuna, Ninlil or Ninmah, goddess of the mountains, and was one of the seven great sages of Sumer. Ninharsag was said to have understood not only the intricacies of childbirth, but also hybridisation, being able to ‘create humans’ from blood and clay. As noted above, she fought with the God Enki to be the first to create life in this way. The lesser gods praised them for their creation as they could retreat to their abodes.

This sounds very strange at first reading of the Sumerian texts and challenged O’Brien when he tried various versions of translating it, but had to concede that this is indeed what was being talked about. At the end of his reign, as stated in the Opening of the debate between summer and winter text, Enki builds a palace, and a wonderful boat, going forth and spreading agriculture and elements of civilisation throughout the lands, never to be seen again.

The Annunaki hint that they had advanced knowledge of how to grow food and bring fertility to the land. This fits in with new research that has been carried out proving that many ancient sites utilised the earth’s natural magnetism and telluric currents to increase the fecundity of seeds and grains before being planted. John Burke, co-author of Seed of Knowledge, Stone of Plenty, when discussing stone sites in North America, found:

“…improved growth from maize, wheat, and bean seeds left inside during days with electric charge, as compared to control seeds left outside. Results met scientific standards for high statistical significance. The biochemical changes inside this seed have been found to be the same kinds of biochemical changes found inside seed treated with today’s modern, laboratory version of these energies.” 26

The scientific nature of these discoveries has opened up a whole new field of study, suggesting the ancients had an uncanny ability to know where to build these sites. As already discussed, the ancient builders believed that fertility rituals combined with astronomical alignments were essential for guaranteed crop success, but did the shamanic elites have some other subtle understanding of nature that gave them the upper hand in growing food and succeeding with this endeavour? Burke certainly thought so, and has proved over and over again that ancient sites were built to manipulate natural energies to promote fertility.

Paolo Debertolis of the University of Trieste carried out archaeoacoustic and geomagnetic research at Göbekli Tepe, finding a spiralling magnetic field between the two central pillars in Enclosure D.27 Burke has proven that such magnetism has a powerful effect on live organisms, resulting in a three-fold increase in crop yield, a larger crop size and improved frost resistance, as well as enabling hybridisation to easily take place, a science known to have been developed with different strains of einkorn wheat at nearby Karacadağ Mountain. This same magnetism can also affect the brain, causing ‘altered states’ and similar results have been found at megalithic sites, petroglyphs and stone constructions worldwide.

Artistic representation of spiralling magnetic field being used in ceremonial activities in Enclosure D. Art by Dan Lish

The spiralling magnetic field found at Göbekli Tepe may not be in isolation. It is highly likely that Karahan Tepe will have something similar, and may indicate why the locations of these sites were specifically chosen. The geology of the area is dominated by limestone, which can be high in magnesium, a conductor of electricity. The placement of the sites on high hilltops is where telluric currents congregate. The location of stone cairns at their peak also attracts these, and dozens exist in the Tektek Mountains, with two notable cairns on top of Karahan Tepe itself.

Goddess in Stone and Phallic Worship

Indicators of feminine principles related to fertility can be found at Karahan Tepe. These include the porthole stones, the egg-shaped enclosures and the obvious use of water at the site, which may have played a major role. Channels, pools, holes in the floor, cupules, the Pit Shrine (Structure AA) and most notably, the Pillar Shrine (Structure AB) are all evidence of this.

Cup-marks, ranging from a few inches to over one-foot wide, were created by coving the bedrock with simple tools. Even today, they collect rainwater during the winter and spring seasons. They are found hollowed out of the bedrock all over Karahan Tepe, with notable examples at Göbekli Tepe inside enclosures, on the floors, on stone pedestals, and on tops of some of the T-pillars. Because many of them seem to be carved in elevated positions, offerings, perhaps meat, may have been left in them for carrion birds such as vultures, crows, or ravens, which may have played a symbolic function in rituals, as bones belonging to both the crow and raven have been found within the fill at Göbekli Tepe. Other theories say they were created to place sacraments and oils used in divination and ceremony. Could they also have been created to place offerings of seeds and grains in the hope they would blessed by the goddess? Many ancient cultures believed the rain that collected in cup-marks had healing properties, because moisture was believed to be from the ‘goddess’.28 The afflicted would rub the liquid onto injured areas of the body or drink it, hoping to ease their ills. Water collected on top of the T-pillars (so far only found at Göbekli Tepe) may have been thought to be the most potent, perhaps reserved for the priestly elite.

Cup-marks and water channels at Karahan Tepe. Photo by Hugh Newman.

A serpentine water channel is connected to the Pillar Shrine, and when water was poured in it during experiments, it drained into the pit. As pointed out by Dr. Lee Clare at Göbekli Tepe, harvesting rainwater was being carried out for drinking, cooking, and irrigating the local fields.29 Further cisterns and large holes cut into the rock are found in both Karahan Tepe and Kecili Hill to the north, where ruins, caves and other features are also present. The nearest natural spring is over ten miles away (hot springs), and Sogmatar Oasis is 30 miles away.

On the southern slope of Karahan Tepe, near the peak of the hill, a unique hole is carved out of the vertical bedrock that can be interpreted as the shape of a vulva. It is a particularly quiet spot and far away from the main enclosures. Its presence at Karahan Tepe is striking and may have been a small part of much larger ancient ritualistic activities that may have taken place across the site.

The ‘Vulva Stone’ at Karahan Tepe. Photo by Hugh Newman.

Gürcütepe is located just southeast of Sanliurfa in a built-up area and consists of eight mounds. It was first excavated in 1995 by Klaus Schmidt (at the same time as Göbekli Tepe). One of the later PPNB sites of the region (8800 – 7000 BC), a 2021-22 dig uncovered a limestone goddess figurine resembling those found at Çatalhöyük and on the island of Malta, suggesting goddess traditions were part of the later phases of the Taş Tepeler culture.

Similarities in Goddess symbolism in the Taş Tepeler region and beyond. Images by JJ Ainsworth, Dan Lish, Hugh Newman

There are only a handful of examples of goddess statues from Göbekli Tepe and Karahan Tepe. It is only at Gürcütepe (8800 – 7000 BC), and most notably Çatal Höyük (7500 BC – 6000 BC), that intricately carved goddess statues became the norm. However, female symbolism can be found at Taş Tepeler sites, some related to the Goddess, but these do not dominate the finds. This has raised questions as to whether there was a patriarchal or matriarchal society in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic era.

Aubrey Burls states:

Stone circles are unlikely to have been temples of the mother goddess. The activities within them were more probably directed to fertility practices.”30.

This may also apply to the Taş Tepeler sites. In later Sumerian times, male fertilising attributes featured prominently in their stories:

“Male sexuality is the dominant force for fertility in ancient Near Eastern and Egyptian mythologies; it is associated with baseline creation, either of reality itself or of the natural phenomena that make up the world. Typically, this creativity is expressed in phallic and fluid-based imagery, whereby male orgasm brings forth a fluid that either engenders reality in toto or ‘fertilizes’ (that is, waters, feeds or perhaps ‘activates’) a pre-existing world.31

As the recently discovered 7ft 6in statue at Karahan Tepe, the stone panel at Sayburç, and the Balikligöl Statue (Urfa Man) are all holding what appears to be an erect phallus, arguably in an autoerotic posture. Unique ‘V-neck’ symbols are also found on these examples. The multiple phalluses, along with the stone head in the Pillar Shrine, could be a more elaborate version of this theme.

Phallic symbolism in the Taş Tepeler region. Left: The Pillar Shrine at Karahan Tepe, Middle-left: The Sayburç panel. Middle-Right: Urfa Man. Right: The newly discovered 7ft 6in statue at Karahan Tepe. Images by Hugh Newman

In Mesopotamia (c.2000 BC), the masculine side of fertility is represented by the god of wisdom and fresh water, Enki. His remarkable phallic fertility gave rise to rivers and, with them, agricultural, human and divine abundance. This is outlined in the Sumerian hymn, Enki and the World Order:

After he had turned his gaze from there, after father Enki had lifted his eyes across the Euphrates, he stood up full of lust like a rampant bull, lifted his penis, ejaculated and filled the Euphrates with flowing water… By lifting his penis, he brought a bridal gift. The Tigris rejoiced in its heart like a great wild bull, when it was born … It brought water, flowing water indeed: its wine will be sweet. It brought barley, mottled barley indeed: the people will eat it. It filled the E-kur, the house of Enlil, with all sorts of things.” 32

The association between masculinity and earthly fecundity also appears in the Sumerian story of Enlil: “Lord who makes flax grow, lord who makes barley grow, you are lord of heaven, Lord Plenty, lord of the earth!33

Female deities in Sumerian myths may also be symbolised at Karahan Tepe. Ninhursag, Enki’s wife (in some traditions), was known as the ‘Lady of the Stony Ground.’ She is known principally as a fertility goddess.

“Temple hymn sources identify her as the ‘true and great lady of heaven’ (possibly in relation to her standing on the mountain) and kings of Sumer were ‘nourished by Ninhursag’s milk’. She is the tutelary deity to several Sumerian leaders… In the text ‘Creator of the Hoe’, she completed the birth of mankind after the heads had been uncovered by Enki’s hoe. In creation texts, Ninmah (another name for Ninhursag) acts as a midwife whilst the mother goddess Nammu makes different kinds of human individuals from lumps of clay at a feast given by Enki to celebrate the creation of humankind.”34

Another theory posits that she was the birth goddess of wild and domesticated animals, and also a midwife.35 Is this an analogy of what can be seen in the Pillar shrine? Half-formed humans rising up from the ground, after having been fertilised by Enki’s seed and overseen by Ninhursag’s protruding head?

We could also ask if the stone head could have been seen as a depiction of a goddess, or Ninhursag in her regeneration aspect. The serpentine neck and the style of it appearing to emerge out of solid rock suggests this is a human-headed serpent. This could also be an early form of the Snake Goddess Nammu from the Halaf and Obeid culture of Mesopotamia c.5500 BC.

Ubaid Serpent Figurines at the British Museum. Photo by Hugh Newman.

If we take into account the phallic-like obelisks being related to fertility, then it can be argued that the head belongs to a goddess. The ancients knew that the unionisation of male and female was needed to seed life, but as it was the woman who gave birth, she was thought, during the Paleolithic era, to be the biggest part of the life-creating process. The egg-shaped geometries of both the main enclosure and the Pillar Shrine may also be related to fertility, as this symbol was always connected with the idea of regeneration and rebirth.

Another aspect to consider is that in the past, the ancients often venerated pillar-like structures called stalactites and stalagmites. Stalactites hang down from the ceiling in caves whilst stalagmites, on the other hand, are created while stalactites are actively forming. These stalactites drip water, and where this moisture hits the floor, a mound-shaped stalagmite is created over time, forming column structures, which the ancients thought of as being sacred.36 The darkness of the cave provided a womblike atmosphere, and the stalactites and stalagmites forming through the process of dripping water provided the necessary ‘moisture of the goddess’. A clear example of this is found in Turkey at Gedikkaya Cave, where archaeologists discovered human activity from the Epi-Paleolithic period. The earliest of which was dated at 16,500 years, and included a votive pit. Found within it was a partially worked stalagmite surrounded by rows of crescent-shaped stones, and a carved seated figurine depicting a stylised Anatolian mother goddess.37 These cave pillars are not unlike those found at Karahan Tepe, and with the womb-like Pillar Shrine, the water channels and cup-marks located at the site, and the pillars being so similar to the columns found in the sacred caves, can we consider that these attributes all together show aspects related to fertility and regeneration?

Vedic Connections

Author Charles Kos38 pointed out that the Vedic principles of fertility can also be applied to the Pillar Shrine at Karahan Tepe with the tradition of the Shiva Lingam. These are phallic-shaped carved stones usually placed in an oval or T-shaped platform throughout India and Southeast Asia. This female counterpart (the Yoni) is always surrounded by water with channels to drain it away, with some even located in rivers and streams. The female and male elements symbolise the merging of the microcosmos and the macrocosmos, and the divine process of creation and regeneration, recreating life in all forms. The origins of life from the clay appear to also be represented in a similar form to that of the Sumerian creation story, and Lingams are often located upon a mountain or a high place. All these elements coincide with what can be seen in the Pillar Shrine and the landscape of Karahan Tepe.

According to Diodorus Siculus, writing in the 1st Century BC, he tantalisingly stated that, “the first phallus was erected on the banks of the Euphrates and bore the name of Balef-Wara-Linga. It was brought by Semiramis from the mountainous district of Armenia, was 150 feet in height, and considered at that time to be one of the seven wonders of the world. It was from here that Lingam worship was said to have spread to India39 The mentions of the ‘mountains of Armenia’ and the ‘Euphrates’ both locate it in the vicinity of the Taş Tepeler sites, although 150 feet is much taller than the 5ft examples at Karahan Tepe.

Images by Hugh Newman and from Wiki Commons.

The Vedic connections to sites in this area include the remarkable stone head from Nevali Cori, which shows a serpent on the back of it, exactly like a Vedic priest with a ‘shikha’, a tuft of hair growing from the rear of a shaved head.40 Further correlations can be found. Vedic astronomy is now thought to date back to at least 7300 BC, and the winter solstice is regarded as the beginning of their year. There is also evidence that a lunisolar calendar was in use from a very early date. B.G. Sidharth, author of The Celestial Key to the Vedas, is convinced that Vedic civilisation originated in Southeast Anatolia.24 From above, some Shiva Lingams are T-shaped, a theme we find worldwide.

T-Shaped Pillars

There are abundant T-shaped pillars located at Göbekli Tepe and Karahan Tepe, and throughout the Tas Tepeler region. Many have questioned what these figures represent. We know that many are anthropomorphic, because several of them have human arms, which are V-shaped and end with the figures clasping their navel areas. These figures may represent gods, females or androgynous beings.

Pre-Pottery Neolithic archaeological sites, Şanlıurfa Province, southeastern Turkey. Image from Wiki Commons

At Göbekli Tepe, numerous T-pillars have cup-marks on top of them. Klaus Schmidt states:

The question of who is being represented by the highly stylized T-shaped pillars remains open, as we cannot say with certitude if concepts of god existed at this time. So the general function of the enclosures remains mysterious; but it is clear that the pillar statues in the centre of these enclosures represented very powerful beings. If gods existed in the minds of Early Neolithic people, there is an overwhelming probability that the T- shape is the first known monumental depiction of gods.41

Top. T-Pillar shapes from around the world, with ‘holes’ circles in central area, perhaps indicating a feminine element. Top right: Newly discovered T-pillar at Göbekli Tepe. Bottom. Pillar 43. Bottom right: Indus Valley T-seals depicting female figures with T-shaped heads, circa 3200 BC. The central seal is the goddess Inanna. – Photos by JJ Ainsworth and Wiki Commons

T-shapes are found in many ancient cultures and often relate to feminine principals. For example, plaques from the Indus Valley created in about 3200 BC clearly show T-headed figures as deities of fertility, indicating more connections to this area.

Marija Gimbutas also wrote about an important vase in her book The Language of the Goddess:

“Interesting symbolic associations can be discerned on a black-burnished vase with four feet on four sides uncovered at Strelice, an early Lengyel site (c.5000 BC). The symbols used are: four dogs sculpted around the mouth; four human figures with V-shaped arms associated with life columns; caterpillars, snakes, crescents, and plants, all symbols of becoming. This indicates the feet and upraised arms have a related symbolic meaning, that of promotion. The feet, dogs, snakes, and lozenges are meant to promote life. If hands and feet represent the divine touch, then this motif surely imparts the powerful energy of the goddess.”42

Basically, she implies that the figures on the vase all represent regeneration, fertility, and the perpetual motion of the cycle of life associated with the goddess’s energy. What she does not describe in her text is that these feminine human-like figures have prominent T-shaped heads. Although the Lengyel site is dated to 5000 BC, the strong tradition of T-shapes being related to female entities appears to have carried on in this culture from the much older Taş Tepeler region after agriculture began. The location of the Lengyel sites directly follows the path of farming as it spread from Anatolia, bringing old traditions and rituals with them. It is clear that the builders of these Taş Tepeler sites decisively chose to leave the anthropomorphic T-shaped pillars sexless even though they easily could have displayed male or female characteristics. What they did do was carve the pillars with hands resting on the belly, almost as a pregnant woman would hold her unborn baby in a protective and loving way. There are many more statues around the world that also display this same type of stance. Many of these are sexless and can easily be described as androgynous. If one goes back in time to the oldest creation myths known to man, this androgyny makes perfect sense. In these stories, there exists a set of twins where one, usually an androgynous giant, is sacrificed in order to create the world and everything living upon it. The sacrifice being a necessary act in order for the world to remain fertile.

Lengyel Vase iconography compared to Göbekli Tepe and Nevalı Çori T-Pillars. Right: The God Ea (Enki) with a T-shaped head from Khorsabad, late 8th century BC, Iraq. Photo JJ Ainsworth and Wiki Commons

It is important to note the four canids, snakes, and crescents depicted on the Lengyel Vase, can be seen at many of the Taş Tepeler sites, and often depicted on the T-pillars themselves. Very prominently, this is the case at Göbekli Tepe, especially in Enclosure D. The pillar holds a canid in the crook of its arm, and on its belt can be seen crescent figures, and the ever-mysterious H-like symbol, which may represent combined life columns and the unionisation of male to female, heaven to earth, creation and fertilisation. This links all the entities presented, the animals, and figures as being symbolically important to one another, all working in tandem in the birth, death, and rebirth cycle.

The builders of Göbekli Tepe also seemed to show the Golden Gate of the Ecliptic, which is an asterism in the constellation Taurus that has been known for several thousand years. The asterism is built by the two eye-catching open star clusters of the Pleiades and Hyades that form the two posts of a virtual gate at the two sides of the ecliptic line that goes through many constellations, including the divine twins Gemini. A lecture by JJ Ainsworth on the topic shows how the symbolism of the two central pillars of Göbekli Tepe’s enclosure D most likely pinpoints this Gate.43 A full analysis of this will be published in due course.

The Cycle of Time

Karahan Tepe is full of beautiful 3D relief carvings, like those at Göbekli Tepe. Could these have been deliberately positioned to reveal a story as the sun (and the bright moon) circle through the sky, illuminating only certain artistic imagery at specific times and dates? The symbolism and design of the site appear to tell a story unfolding through the annual fertility cycle peaking at the winter solstice. It appears that subtle symbolic messages reveal themselves through the use of stone, light, shadows and detailed observation. This echoes the theory put forward by Michael Dames, who saw the Avebury monuments in England as a stage for a year-long religious drama played out at specific times of the year.44

To finish our analysis of the winter solstice alignment and its relationship to fertility at Karahan Tepe, let’s step back in time and imagine what happened during this final phase of the annual fertility drama on the day of the winter solstice.

Suggestive scene from Karahan Tepe celebrating the winter solstice. Inset: Leopard carving on front of bedrock T-pillar. Art by Dan Lish.

The first light would have lit up the carved stone seats or thrones on the western edge of the main enclosure. The priestly elite would have celebrated with their kin who were seated around the large auditorium, with their stone carved plates on their laps with flowers, oils and sacred plant medicines placed on them. As the sun rose further, incantations, recitals and song may have been involved, with the oracular expert chanting into the enclosure, tapping on the stone plates, creating an auditory symphony, with the elliptical geometry enhancing the sound. As the sun reached the correct altitude, the chosen initiates would climb through the porthole into the Pillar Shrine, face the great stone head, awaiting its illumination. The Pillar Shrine may have been covered over, perhaps with sheepskins and a thin wooden frame. Birthing rites may have taken place, whilst mask-wearing shamans enacted animal-based performances in the main enclosure.

Water was channelled into the Pillar Shrine through the serpentine channel to enhance the experience and then the light would have beamed onto the head of the god or goddess during the peak of the ceremony, reflecting on the water. The watery chamber bathed the initiate, who would have been seen to be back in the womb before full insemination of the winter solstice shard of light occurred. After this process, darkness would prevail in the Pillar Shrine, and they would climb out into the enclosure, with water spilling out of the porthole with the initiate, reborn into a new year, with the return of the light in all its glory. Sacred births may have been involved in this process, and then the temporary roof would be removed, and a few moments later, the top of the stone head would become bathed in light for all to see, representing the higher-self and an illumination of the soul. The calendar would be reset, and the day would continue with feasting, bathing, fornicating and celebrating the turning of the year. This sympathetic magic took place year after year to increase the fertility and fecundity of every aspect of their lives, with those who were impregnated on the spring equinox revered and cared for during the final stages of their pregnancy at the time of the winter solstice. Those born on this special day may have been anointed as special by their tribe.


1. https://grahamhancock.com/newmanainsworth1/

2. Collins, Andrew. 2014. Karahan Tepe: Gobekli Tepe’s Sister Site Another Temple to the Stars? www.andrewcollins.com/page/articles/Karahan.htm
3. Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany. 2000. p.62

4. http://astrofarmfrance.com/solstice-myths-legends/
5. Burl. p.72 and Taylor,T. Uncovering the prehistory of Sex. British Archaeology 15. 1996. p.8-9

6. https://members.ancient-origins.net/articles/prehistory-revisited
7. Graham Hancock interviewing Necmi Karul inside the Pillar Shrine on Ancient Apocalypse, Episode 5, ‘Legacy of the Sages’, Netflix, 2022

8. Curry, Andrew. Last Stand of the Hunter-Gatherers? www.archaeology.org/issues/422-2105/features/9591-turkey-gobekli-tepe-hunter-gatherers

9. www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/12538078.2011.10516266
10. www.academia.edu/2293169/Karahan_Tepe

11. www.dainst.blog/the-tepe-telegrams/2017/06/01/cooperative-action-of-hunter-gatherers-in-the-early-neolithic-near-east-a-view-from-goebekli-tepe/

12. Ross, A. Bestiality. 1972. p.159 And Burl. p.71

13. www.academia.edu/51182045/The_art_from_G%C3%B6bekli_Tepe_and_the_belief_in_rebirth.

14. Z. 73; Sjöberg, ZA 65, 1975: 180 f.: on quote Heimpel Reallexikon 1980-1983: p.601

15. GE VIII I 16: on quote Heimpel Reallexikon 1980-1983: 601; Dalley 1991: p.106.

16. www.academia.edu/648596/Research_on_the_Iconography_of_the_Leopard

17. Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany. 2000. p.71

18. https://centaur.reading.ac.uk/108178/1/Mithen%20Antiquity%202022.pdf

19. Gimbutas, Marija. The Language of the Goddess. 1989, .p.313

20. Ibid
21. Golden Age Project Website: https://www.goldenageproject.org.uk/
22. Schmidt, Klaus. Göbekli Tepe: A Stone Age sanctuary in South-Eastern Anatolia, ArchaeNova, 2012, p.206-207

23. O’Brien, Christian and O’Brien, Barbara Joy. Genius of the Few: The Story of Those Who Founded the Garden in Eden. Dianthus Publishing, 1985, p.37

24. Enki and the World Order – https://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section1/tr113.htm

25. O’Brien, Christian and O’Brien, Barbara Joy. The Shining Ones, Dianthus Publishing, 2001, p.48

26. https://kajhalberg.dk/en/books/seed-of-knowledge-stone-of-plenty/

27. Debertolis, Paolo et al. Archaeoacoustic Analysis in Enclosure D at Göbekli Tepe in South Anatolia, Turkey, 2017. Paper from The 5th Human and Social Sciences at the Common Conference

28. Gimbutas, Marija. The Language of the Goddess. Harper. 1989. p.61

29. Eclair, Lee, Göbekli Tepe, Turkey. A brief summary of research at a new World Heritage Site (2015–2019). iDAI.publications, Issue 2, 2020.

30. Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany. 2000., p.68

31. www.cambridge.org/core/books/reproduction/phallic-fertility-in-the-ancient-near-east-and-egypt/146F208D1C6B4BC74FD8718E4D1AF5BC

32. J. A. Black et al., The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature [ETCSL] (http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/, Oxford, 1998–2006), t.1.1.3, ll. 250–65

33. Ibid.. ETCSL, t. 1.2.1, ll.144–5

34. https://aratta.wordpress.com/2016/03/29/enlil-and-ninlil-the-windy-ones-ninhursag-and-enki-the-mound/

35. Asher-Greve, Julia M.; Westenholz, Joan G. . Goddesses in Context: On Divine Powers, Roles, Relationships and Gender in Mesopotamian Textual and Visual Sources. 2013. doi:10.5167/uzh-135436

36. https://www.academia.edu/51182045/The_art_from_G%C3%B6bekli_Tepe_and_the_belief_in_rebirth

37. Gimbutas, Marija. The Civilization of the Goddess. 1991. p2.62

38. Kos, Charles. 2022. Göbekli Tepe and Karahan Tepe, Easily Understood with Vedic/Aryan ideas.https://youtu.be/d8EHVAvLx5M

39. Ryley Scott, George. Phallic Worship: A History of Sex and Sexual Rites. 1966. p.153

40. Sidharth, B.G. The Celestial Key to the Vedas. p.16

41. Schmidt, Klaus. Göbekli Tepe: A Stone Age sanctuary in South-Eastern Anatolia, ArchaeNova, 2012

42. Gimbutas, Marija. The Language of the Goddess. 1989. p.61

43. https://youtu.be/2QVmFrkhIx0

44. Dames, Michael. The Avebury Cycle. Thames & Hudson, 1977

Göbekli Tepe and Karahan Tepe

The World's First Megaliths


Studies in Stone

Hugh Newman is the author of Göbekli Tepe and Karahan Tepe: The World’s First Megaliths (Wooden Books), published October 2023. amazon.co.uk/dp/1907155546/ and woodenbooks.com. Hugh co-hosts tours to southeast Turkey every May and September: http://www.megalithomania.co.uk/turkey2024.html . Hugh is also the co-author of Giants On Record: America’s Hidden History, Secrets in the Mounds and the Smithsonian Files (2015), The Giants of Stonehenge and Ancient Britain (2021),
Megalith: Studies In Stone (2018) and Geomancy (2021). He is an explorer, Megalithomania Conference organiser and tour/expedition leader. He has appeared on History Channel, Discovery, Gaia TV, Smithsonian Channel and Science Channel www.megalithomania.co.uk

6 thoughts on “Karahan Tepe: The Winter Solstice, Fertility and the Genesis of Agriculture (Part 2)”

  1. Nick Gibbons says:

    Pure waffle,and we still have absolutely no idea

    1. Bob says:

      A great description of the academic tradition of the past century that was blown out of the water by these discoveries. As for this article, I’d say it is as good a guess as any. Care to offer anything yourself on the subject, besides simply sniping away like this at those having a go?

  2. Bob says:

    Always a good read with great detail and context – thanks Hugh and JJ.

    These statues could be considered a kind of “bloke-na-gig”? (male version of sheela)

    I hate saying this, but could the t-shaped hat be unconsciously continued in academic caps (mortarboards)? Ironic if so! But typical.

    I don’t think showing ribs on statues shows emaciation, it is just a realistic touch. Wild animals are lean. Some of the predator things could be extinct species – bear-dogs?

    Given these are all still very new discoveries it should be obvious that many more “hills” (and even mountains? mountain ranges!?) both in Turkey and elsewhere on Earth will be found to be in fact man-made constructions, hiding even older (and better!) strata of stuff. Saying anything is “first” is never possible, really, is it?

    How far down do these things go, and how much is still buried under and around these?

    And how many similar and older more radical things are miles offshore, under a hundred meters of brine? Can’t wait until these too are explored.

  3. O'G says:

    Who can say whether 7 foot statue is oversize, undersize, or lifelike?

    Ditto all the giant ones in Egypt etc.

  4. Modesto says:

    It seems to me that those who built Karahan Tepe could not have been hunter-gatherers, since that activity requires large movements through the territory and offers great insecurity of food supply for a stable population that is building a temple. Nor does it seem that it was a sedentary population that maintained the construction, since there are no remains of that culture discovered at Karahan Tepe or the possibility of extensions of arable land in the vicinity. I think we have to wait for the excavations to progress and for more information to become available.

  5. Hayden Redwood says:

    How did these people view the earth was it round or a flat dome disc?

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