Sunday, August 18, 2013

World's oldest temple may have been built to worship the dog star

Article
16 August 2013 by Anil Ananthaswamy
  • Magazine issue 2930

  •  
    THE world's oldest temple, Göbekli Tepe in southern Turkey, may have been built to worship the dog star, Sirius.
     
    The 11,000-year-old site consists of a series of at least 20 circular enclosures, although only a few have been uncovered since excavations began in the mid-1990s. Each one is surrounded by a ring of huge, T-shaped stone pillars, some of which are decorated with carvings of fierce animals. Two more megaliths stand parallel to each other at the centre of each ring. (Illustration, below, from article).
     
     
     
    Göbekli Tepe put a dent in the idea of the Neolithic revolution, which said that the invention of agriculture spurred humans to build settlements and develop civilisation, art and religion. There is no evidence of agriculture near the temple, hinting that religion came first in this instance.
     
    "We have a lot of contemporaneous sites which are settlements of hunter-gatherers. Göbekli Tepe was a sanctuary site for people living in these settlements," says Klaus Schmidt, chief archaeologist for the project at the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) in Berlin.
     
    But it is still anybody's guess what type of religion the temple served. Giulio Magli, an archaeoastronomer at the Polytechnic University of Milan in Italy, looked to the night sky for an answer. After all, the arrangement of the pillars at Stonehenge in the UK suggests it could have been built as an astronomical observatory, maybe even to worship the moon.
     
    Magli simulated what the sky would have looked like from Turkey when Göbekli Tepe was built. Over millennia, the positions of the stars change due to Earth wobbling as it spins on its axis. Stars that are near the horizon will rise and set at different points, and they can even disappear completely, only to reappear thousands of years later.
     
    Today, Sirius can be seen almost worldwide as the brightest star in the sky – excluding the sun – and the fourth brightest night-sky object after the moon, Venus and Jupiter. Sirius is so noticeable that its rising and setting was used as the basis for the ancient Egyptian calendar, says Magli. At the latitude of Göbekli Tepe, Sirius would have been below the horizon until around 9300 BC, when it would have suddenly popped into view.
     
    "I propose that the temple was built to follow the 'birth' of this star," says Magli. "You can imagine that the appearance of a new object in the sky could even have triggered a new religion."
     
    Using existing maps of Göbekli Tepe and satellite images of the region, Magli drew an imaginary line running between and parallel to the two megaliths inside each enclosure. Three of the excavated rings seem to be aligned with the points on the horizon where Sirius would have risen in 9100 BC, 8750 BC and 8300 BC, respectively (arxiv.org/abs/1307.8397).
     
    The results are preliminary, Magli stresses. More accurate calculations will need a full survey using instruments such as a theodolite, a device for measuring horizontal and vertical angles. Also, the sequence in which the structures were built is unclear, so it is hard to say if rings were built to follow Sirius as it rose at different points along the horizon.
     
    Ongoing excavations might rule out any astronomical significance, says Jens Notroff, also at DAI. "We are still discussing whether the monumental enclosures at Göbekli Tepe were open or roofed," he says. "In the latter case, any activity regarding monitoring the sky would, of course, have been rather difficult."
     
    This article appeared in print under the headline "Stone Age temple tracked the dog star"
     
     
    Coincidence???? See article in the prior post about the discovery of circa 5,000 year old gaming pieces from a tomb in Turkey that include four (?) dog gaming pieces. And now we have some suggestions that the circular structures constructed at Gobekli Tepe in Turkey may have been centered (pun!) around the rising and trajectory of Sirius across the sky, the so-called "dog" star.

    Many ancient board games in the Middle East and Fertile Crescent utilized dog and/or canine pieces (such as the Egyptian game Hounds and Jackals, both being canine species). The discovery of the dog (and other) gaming pieces in one tomb in Turkey at Basur Hoyuk I believe pushes back the use of dog-styled gaming pieces to its earliest known date.  I've written quite a bit at this blog about the close association between dogs (canines) and various incarnations of the Great Mother Goddess. Check out some of the connections that I wrote about in these posts (these are just a few of the related posts):

    Dog Graves Uncovered in Colonial Virginia
    September 5, 2010

    Dogs in Myth and Legend
    December 27, 2009

    Deities of the Canine Kind
    February 10, 2009

    One of the co-founders of Goddesschess, Georgia Albert a/k/a Isis, wondered way back in 1998 at the long-defunct Art Bell website message board "Is chess the game of the Goddess?" and from there, Goddesschess was born in May 1999. Those posts were all saved at what we call "the Weave" and can be viewed in their entirety - over 1000 of them! - at the Goddesschess website. Certainly much food for thought in those posts from our earliest days -- before any of us embarked on this long road of study and research about ancient history and board games. 

    Ancient (Very) Gaming Pieces Discovered in Bronze Age Tombs in Turkey

    Hola darlings! Today I am being terrorized by some kind of insect I haven't seen before.  I think it is a new-born and stupid and doesn't know any better than to continually hang around my patio door. It was hanging on my screen door this morning when I wanted to go out and sweep the deck, about 8:30 a.m. -- and it was translucent, so translucent I could see it's insides quite clearly through the screen.  It was lovely - but also icky.  At first I thought it was a new-born tree frog, but after checking to see if it had moved away every 15 minutes or so over the next several hours, it began to look more and more like an insect.  ICK!

    I have thus far refrained from freaking out and, er, eliminating it, hoping IT WILL JUST GO AWAY!  So far, no luck.  So my plan for enjoying a beautiful afternoon on my deck in the shade at my table, under the umbrella with my feet up, and a LARGE glass of wine -- gone to Hades!  Maybe it it is a newly-hatched circada -- it's translucent and emerald green - at least, right now it still is.  I do not enjoy killing insects -- I just do not want them anywhere NEAR where I am, at least, not where they are visible and I can SEE them creeping about.  Particularly not in or about my living area.  EEEUUUUUWWWWWWWW!

    Okay, so to the important news!  Here's the article:

    Oldest Gaming Tokens Found in Turkey
    Aug 14, 2013 12:50 PM ET //by Rossella Lorenzi

    Small carved stones unearthed in a nearly 5,000-year-old burial could represent the earliest gaming tokens ever found, according to Turkish archaeologists who are excavating early Bronze Age graves.
    Found in a burial at Başur Höyük, a 820- by 492-foot mound near Siirt in southeast Turkey, the elaborate pieces consist of 49 small stones sculpted in different shapes and painted in green, red, blue, black and white.

    These small sculpted stones unearthed from an early Bronze Age burial in Turkey could be the earliest
    gaming tokens ever found.  Haluk Sağlamtimur

    "Some depict pigs, dogs and pyramids, others feature round and bullet shapes. We also found dice as well as three circular tokens made of white shell and topped with a black round stone," Haluk Sağlamtimur of Ege University in İzmir, Turkey, told Discovery News.

    According to the archaeologist, who presented his finding at the annual symposium of excavations, surveys and archaeometry in Muğla, similar pieces were previously found in Tell Brak and Jemdet Nasr, two settlement mounds in northeastern Syria and in Iraq respectively. "But they were found as isolated, single objects, therefore they were believed to be counting stones," Sağlamtimur said.

    "On the contrary, our gaming pieces were found all together in the same cluster. It's a unique finding, a rather complete set of a chess like game. We are puzzling over its strategy," he added.

    The find confirms that board games likely originated and spread from the Fertile Crescent regions and Egypt more than 5,000 years ago (Senet from predynastic Egypt is considered the world's oldest game board). The tokens were accompanied by badly preserved wooden pieces or sticks. Sağlamtimur hopes they'll provide some hints on the rules and logic behind the game.

    "According to distribution, shape and numbers of the stone pieces, it appears that the game is based on the number 4," he said.

    Archaeological records indicate that board games were widely played in Mesopotamia. Several beautifully crafted boards were found by British archaeologist Leonard Wooley in the Royal cemetery of Ur, the ancient Sumerian city near the modern Iraqi city of Nasiriya which many consider the cradle of civilization.

    Dating from the First Dynasty of Ur, around 2550-2400 B.C., the boards were associated with the "Game of Twenty Squares," a board game played around 3000 B.C. Beautiful tokens related to the game were found arranged in a row, with the colors alternating, in another Ur tomb. The set consisted of seven shell roundels inlaid with of five lapis lazuli dots and seven roundels of black shale inlaid with five dots of white shell.

    Much more elaborate, the newly discovered gaming stones were recovered from one of nine graves found at Başur Höyük. The site was inhabited as early as from 7,000 B.C. and was on a trade route between Mesopotamia and East Anatolia.

    Overall, the graves revealed a unique treasure made of painted and unpainted pottery, bronze spearhead, various ritual artifacts, seals with geometric motifs and about 300 well-preserved amorphous bronze artifacts.

    ************************************************

    Let's be clear about this -- these pieces evidently represent the oldest positively identified gaming pieces discovered in Turkey -- not in the entire world.  Nonetheless, a very important discovery in the ongoing quest to discover the earliest roots of board games. 

    How I wish Mr. Don was alive to read about this discovery.  He would feel SO vindicated, and rightly so, I think.  From the beginning of Goddesschess back in the ancient days of the internet (1998) we've followed the trail of the development of ancient board games and tried to leave no stone (pun for gaming piece, har :)) unturned in our quest to go back as far as we could and see if we could uncover the very beginnings of ancient board games, particularly the game of chess. 

    And so now, some 10 months after his passing, there is this YES! The "Ah HA! moment!!! Don never believed "chess" first arose in India and neither do I.  I've seen nothing since 1998 to convince me otherwise and up to his death, neither did Don.   While amateur historian H.J.R. Murray did an invaluable service by gathering a compendium of ancient gaming pieces and game boards using information that was available to him back in the late 1890's and early 1900's, he was just wrong to conclude on the available evidence that chess was invented in India and spread out into the known world at the time from there.

    I am NOT proclaiming that these pieces represent a precursor to chess, although it is extremely interesting that the archeologists think the game the peices were used in may be based on the number FOUR.  Chess is based on 64 -- two sides of 16 pieces each in "western" chess.  The total pieces in a game of modern western chess are: 16 pawns; 2 kings; 2 queens; 4 bishops; 4 knights, 4 castles or rooks.  Hmmmm..... 

    It will be extremely difficult to deny that the Basur Hoyuk pieces are gaming pieces when SO MANY OF THEM HAVE BEEN DISCOVERED TOGETHER IN ONE PLACE -- A TOMB. I seem to recall that the Initiativ Gruppe Konigstein, composed of some scholars, some chess collectors, and a lot of "amateurs" who have educated themselves on the whys and wherefores of ancient games, back in the late 1990's or so set forth certain criteria for identifying an object as a game piece (a chess piece or otherwise); one is that more than one object/piece should be discovered in a group in one spot or at least within close proximity to each other so that it would not be illogical to conclude that the pieces were originally a group or set. A single piece that might otherwise be identified as a gaming piece discovered in isolation cannot positively be identified as such (except when it is owned by an extremely wealthy collector, but we won't go there...). 

    So, I look forward to the development of examination and debate on this latest discovery.  The pieces themselves, are quite beautiful.  The pyramids, "bullet-shaped" and pig pieces are easily identified, as are the "button" pieces.  Where are the dog pieces?  I know my eyes are not as good as they used to be, darlings, but do you see anything that looks like a dog?  I only ask because "dogs" and other canines, were used as game pieces throughout the ancient Middle East and Fertile Crescent as well as in board games in ancient Greece -- millenia later the Basur Hoyuk pieces are dated! 

    Will report any further news on this discovery as I find it.
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