Monday, March 31, 2014

Petroglyphs from Continents Apart: Comparing Gobekli Tepe to Petroglyph National Monument

Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico
When I first moved to Ankara, Turkey, I was amazed to find similar plants growing in the Anatolian high desert as those found in the Rocky Mountains of Montana. So many oceans and land masses separate Turkey from Montana. It was mind boggling to think the same species were thriving in both locales. Similarly, when I visit archaeological sites in places as far apart as Turkey, New Mexico, and Thailand, I am in awe that similar pictures have been carved into rock walls by ancient peoples that never met each other. Perhaps the latter has more to do with Jung’s collective unconscious than plant seeds hitchhiking on humans, birds, and weather as they voyaged around the world; therefore, I have become more interested in the petroglyph phenomenon.

A recent visit to Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico brought out my armchair archeologist hat, and the following is from my observations and research about the similarities and differences between two sites that are thousands of miles apart: Gobekli Tepe of southeastern Turkey, and Petroglyph National Monument near Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico
Gobekli Tepe, Turkey

In the Mesopotamian Valley about 15km northeast of Sanliurfa, Turkey, lays Gobekli Tepe, widely accepted in the world of archaeologists as the first human-built holy place. Eleven thousand years ago, a hunting and gathering society on the highest point of this mountain ridge erected circular arrangements of pillars etched with reliefs of mostly predatory animals such as lions, boars, snakes, spiders, and vultures, as well as some human figures. The discovery of this site was monumental for archaeologists, as no other holy shrine had been discovered from a time period before the advent of sedentary human settlements. Thousands of miles around the globe from Gobekli Tepe, Petroglyph National Monument contains 25,000 petroglyphs along a 17-mile volcanic escarpment. The petroglyphs were carved between 1300 and 1680 AD with a few dating as far back as 2000 BC by the ancestors of the Pueblo Indians as well as the Spanish settlers that entered the area at the turn of the 17th century. The pictures consist of stars, spirals, geometric shapes, animal figures, people, and religious symbols. 

Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico
There are more similarities than differences between the sites. Although Petroglyph National Monument contains images other than animals, both rock carvings center heavily on the creatures that inhabited their environment. Also, their locations bear similar geographical traits, and both are conjectured to have spiritual significance associated with the world of the dead; however, Gobekli Tepe differs in its anachronism - no other civilization before or even for thousands of years afterwards built such an intricate, refined holy shrine decorated with pictographs.
Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico
Gobekli Tepe, Turkey

First off, the two sites bear several similarities in their geographical placements. Most obvious, both are located in famously fertile river valleys of ancient times. Gobekli Tepe is situated in the fertile crescent - the valley between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers; Petroglyph National Monument is located in the Rio Grande River Valley. 

Also, they are both associated with hills: Gobekli Tepe sits atop a hill and its name in fact means “pot-bellied hill.” Similarly, the petroglyphs of New Mexico are etched onto a volcanic basalt escarpment around a mesa bearing a dormant chain of fissure volcanoes. The volcanic activity responsible for the basalt on which the Pueblo Indians’ ancestors carved their petroglyphs occurred 200,000 years ago. The Native Americans who carved these petroglyphs would not have been around to witness this volcanic event, as their pictures only date as far back as 2000 BC. However, contemporary Pueblo Indians believe their ancestors chose this site for its chain of five volcanoes, and that their ancestors did have knowledge of the volcanic nature of the mountains and believed the site was “born with Mother Earth’s great labor and force.” Comparatively, one theory behind the south-facing orientation of Gobekli Tepe is based on volcanic activity. Since similar sites in history have been built in response to major volcanic events, and there was, in fact, a major plasma event in 9700 BC just south of Gobekli Tepe, some archaeologists believe that the ancient hunting and gathering society created this monument to face that volcanic event, perhaps in an act of worship and before they themselves abandoned ship as the plasma encroached their shrine. Indeed, it is an interesting similarity between the two sites that volcanic activity may be related to the spiritual aspects of both.
Gobekli Tepe, Turkey
Although the spiritual purposes of both sites is still surrounded by mystery as anything from so long ago would be, the two sites do bear similarities in their religious aspects. Other than the theory that Gobekli Tepe was a shrine facing volcanic activity, another theory floating around is that the enclosures are sitting atop limestone burial chambers, and that the site is, in fact, a burial ground for hunters, or the center of a death cult of a hunting and gathering society. To support this theory, archaeologists have noted that the enclosures are oriented towards the Vernal Equinox, or Orion-Taurus region of the sky. Other societies of the time also worshiped Orion, and so it is possible that the people of Gobekli Tepe, as they were a hunting society, worshipped Orion as a human hunter. The pictographs are mostly of predatory animals, and remnants of bones from hunted animals have been found around the site. However, there is still so much conjecture surrounding its religious purposes as the majority of the excavation at Gobekli Tepe remains to be done. 

Conversely, there is less mystery surrounding the petroglyphs in New Mexico since the contemporaries of the ancient Pueblo Indians still live in the region, with some of their oral history intact from the time period of the latest carvings. The contemporary Pueblo groups — the Cochiti, Jemez, Sandia, Santa Ana, and Zia — believe the petroglyphs are a place where messages are conveyed between ancestor spirits and the living, and that the symbols serve to help the dead pass from this world to the next. Fittingly, one of the sites bearing over 200 petroglyphs is called Boca Negra Canyon, or “Black Mouth,” suggesting that the world of the ancestor spirits lies within the black mouth of the volcanoes. Bill Weahkee, executive director of the nonprofit Five Sandoval Indian Pueblos, described its significance as such: “The petroglyph area is where messages to the spirit world are communicated. Pueblo ancestors ‘wrote’ down the visions and experiences they felt. We consider each of these petroglyphs to be a record of visions written here of some spiritual being, event or expression.” In addition, they believe that the mystery of a particular petroglyph will reveal itself to the right person at the right time. It is interesting to note that in both sites in Turkey and New Mexico, people felt the need to record pictures as a way to commemorate or communicate with the spirit world, and that for both, that world consisted of their ancestors as well as gods or nature deities.
Petroglyph National Monument, New Mexico

The glaring difference between the two sites is that no other hunting-gathering society from 11,000 years ago (that we’ve discovered thus far) has built such a shrine as Gobekli Tepe, and so it is the first human built holy place. It is anachronistic that its carvings are so refined, the pillars so exact, the pictures so clear, as all other peoples around the world at that time drew stick figures in cave walls, shaped clay into crude dolls, and piled up stones for a shrine. Even for thousands of years after the people of Gobekli Tepe existed, shrines remained simple and unrefined. The people of Gobekli Tepe were carving petroglyphs 6,000 years before the invention of writing. Even when comparing the pictographs of Gobekli Tepe to the petroglyphs of the ancient Pueblo Indians, Gobekli Tepe’s are much more sophisticated and realistic. 

At the same time in history as the hunters of Gobekli Tepe carved their pictographs, hunter and gatherer peoples roamed the Rio Grande Valley in what is now New Mexico, but left no petroglyphs that we recognize from that period. People only began to carve images in what is now New Mexico 2,000 years ago, especially when a large number of agricultural Puebloan people arrived from the Mesa Verde area in 1200 AD. Unlike the people of Gobekli Tepe, the ancestors of the Pueblo Indians were right on par for drawing pictures on rocks; their contemporaries were doing the same thing all over America.

Gobekli Tepe, Turkey
In short, there are many striking similarities between Gobekli Tepe and Petroglyph National Monument, which are somehow highlighted or accentuated by the fact that Gobekli Tepe was way before its time. Both peoples, thousands of miles and years apart, used finely chiseled rock hammers to carve pictures into rock which mostly focused on the animal kingdom surrounding them. Though Gobekli Tepe’s spiritual purpose is still shrouded in mystery, the site is of no doubt some kind of shrine meant to communicate with the spirit world, as the petroglyphs of Petroglyph National Monument were and are. Volcanic activity is the more tenuous connection between the two, as it is not yet widely accepted that Gobekli Tepe was purposely positioned to face volcanic activity. However, all over the world and all through time, volcanoes have created reasons for fear and worship of Mother Nature, as well as the right rock material for carving petroglyphs. Ironically, their eruptions may have also wiped out many ancient people’s petroglyphs and early forms of writing, leaving even older sites never to be discovered, but what we have discovered has uncovered a part of human nature: It seems when we profoundly believe in something we cannot see or touch, we feel a desire to record our faith somewhere in some kind of permanence, whether it be a tattoo on our body or a carving on a rock.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Mosques of Turkey

A collage of pictures of Turkish mosques from my travels all over the country:

Blue Mosque, Izmir

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Mevlana Museum Mosque, Konya

Mevlana Museum Mosque, Konya

Seyh Mosque, Rize

Yeni Mosque, Istanbul

Yeni Mosque, Istanbul

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Goreme Kasabasi Merkez Mosque, Goreme

village mosque, Uchisar, Cappadocia

village mosque, Amasya

Halil Ul Rahman Mosque, Sanliurfa (where the prophet Abraham was born)

Ulu Mosque, Mardin

village mosque, Saip, Karaburun peninsula

Kızlarağası Caravanserai Mosque, Izmir

mosque in Bahcelievler, Ankara

Kocatepe Mosque, Ankara

Kocatepe Mosque, Ankara

village mosque outside of Amasra

mosque in town center of Dalyan

mosque in Safron Bolu

minarets of Antakya

mosque in Eskisehir

village mosque on the way to Foca

Ulu Mosque, Mardin (sandstorm from Syria)

Hacimemis Mosque, Cesme

mosque outside of Van

mosque on top of the old citadel (kale) in Van

Ulu Mosque, Adana (Syrian style)

Sabanci Mosque, Adana (modelled after the Blue Mosque of Istanbul)

mosque on Uzungol (Long Lake), Black Sea region, north of Trabzon

Selimiye Mosque, Konya

Selimiye Mosque, Konya

mosque in Kemalpasa

ancient mosque, Ani

Yivli Minareli MosqueAntalya

mosque in Kaleici, Antalya

Kızlarağası Caravanserai Mosque, Izmir

Kesik Minare Mosque, Antalya

Boyaci Mosque, Gaziantep

Ahmet Celebi Mosque, Gaziantep

Şerafettin Mosque, Konya