Archaeologists have discovered what seem to be the remains of a
“skull cult” in an ancient ritual site in Southeast Turkey.
More than 9,000 years ago — before the hanging gardens of
Babylon, pyramids of Egypt, or stones of Stonehenge
existed — neolithic, Stone Age people gathered at the site,
called Göbekli Tepe.
No one is exactly sure why. But a new study published by
researchers from the German Archaeological Institute in the
Advances suggests that the location had some kind
of ritualistic significance.
There is no sign that humans buried their dead there, but there
are at least 691 shards and chunks of bone. At least 408 of those
fragments come from human skulls.
The site also boasts monumental buildings with “monolithic
T-shaped limestone pillars, an impressive repertoire of limestone
sculptures, low and high reliefs,” all in a prominent location,
according to the study.
In the new study, the research team writes that skull fragments
from at least three individuals show signs of deliberate
There are deep grooves running across the forehead of some bones,
going around the back of at least one. One skull has a hole
drilled in it. None of these markings come from decapitation or
from taking the flesh and tissue off the bones (though other
marks attest to this). Instead, they seem to have been
inflicted shortly after death.
That indicates the skulls were somehow on display, perhaps
even hung so that visitors would see them dangling.
Similar remains have been found in other archaeological
sites where there was some worship of skulls, including other
sites in ancient Anatolia and the Levant.
People have long venerated human skulls for a number of
reasons — some worshipped ancestor, others
believed the dead could protect the living, and groups
also displayed the skulls of their enemies. Anthropologists
refer to these practices — where there seems to be religious or
ritualistic practice and a treatment done to multiple skulls
— as skull cults.
Researchers think that early hunter-gatherers might
have come together at the Göbekli Tepe site. The
location is home to one of the oldest known man-made buildings
that we think was constructed for prehistoric rituals.
This temple seems to have been home to one of the oldest of these
skull cults that researchers have encountered so far.