Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Pedro and I left the hotel around seven. The light was pale and golden, and the sky seemed forgiving— though I suspected a drizzle was on its way. As we slowly drove through undulating fields of yellow and green grain, Crested Larks and shrikes went about their morning business, hunting for insects. Invisible partridges called out from somewhere in the wheat, and a little owl glared at us from a rock pile we passed.

We arrived at the entrance to Göbeklitepe at the agreed upon nine o' clock, but the rest of the group was nowhere to be found. After waiting for some time I called Ayşegül, who told me there had been complications, and that they would meet us at the site at around ten. Since we had an extra hour to ourselves, we decided to try and enter the site and get a head start on some sketching.

The actual temple site was a lot smaller than I had imagined, though no less amazing— I couldn't believe I was standing at the very spot I had read about, and the guy in the green shirt just on the other side was the Klaus Schmidt, the German archaeologist who first began excavations at Göbeklitepe in 1995. I wanted to bother him with all sorts of questions, but since he and his crew were working, I thought it best not to disturb him. I wondered if we were allowed to just walk right in, but no one stopped us. We each picked a T-shaped pillar and started to sketch.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Göbeklitepe is the site of a Neolithic sanctuary built by nomads in the region, around 10,000 BCE. The sanctuary is a series of circular arrangements of T-shaped pillars, which vary from 3 to 6 metres high. It is believed that the T-pillars are stylised representations of the human form, as some have reliefs of arms carved into them. What I found most intriguing were the beautifully rendered animals— foxes, boar, birds, and other animals were carefully carved into the faces of the pillars, some with great detail. Göbeklitepe is the oldest example of a religious site ever found, and its complexity is baffling.

While sketching, a man with an impressive beard and brow greeted me with a smile. His head was wrapped in a red checked scarf, and he donned a long black robe over his plaid shirt and shalwar pants. He wore a name tag that read "Mahmut Yildiz"— and it wasn't until I returned to Istanbul that I learned that Mahmut bey is the owner of the land upon which Göbeklitepe sits. He leased the land to Klaus, who is working with both the German Archaeological Institute and the Şanlıurfa Museum to unearth the sanctuary. Mahmut bey told me that the animal on the pillar I was drawing was a fox, then pointed out a small, faded rabbit shape, which I had neglected to notice and include in my sketch. I thanked him and pencilled it in, which pleased him.

At around half past ten the artists from karala(ma) arrived, along with Turkish archaeologist Mehmet Önal, and members of the university who were documenting the event. The artists took to drawing immediately, spreading out along the wooden walkway with tools and books in hand. I was impressed by the speed of their sketching— I was still on the one I had started an hour and a half ago!

Me, Pedro, and Orhan, one of the founders of karala(ma) 

I felt so lucky— lucky to be sketching this monumental piece of human history, lucky to be drawing with a group of Turkish artists, lucky that it didn't rain. The stone pillars at Göbeklitepe were more impressive than I had imagined, so well preserved and readable. What did these animals mean? Why did nomadic people decide to haul and erect 40– 60 tonne stones here? I wish I could have stayed all day and sketched every single pillar, but eventually we had to move on. There was still a lot to see.

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