Gobekli Tepe Constellations

This is meant to provide a brief analysis to explain the origin of several of the animal figures from the Gobekli Tepe temple site in Turkey, arising about 9000 BC and haralded as the earliest (known) temple of the world.  Several of the images yet uncovered represent constellations, the depictions are not all dimensionally accurate, but are stylistic representations of star forms, perhaps with some line of artistic tradition behind it. It is not exactly clear after the initial analysis that all of the stars that are shown are represented within the petro glyphs.  A proper and thorough study should work from a map of stars that shows them as they appeared 11,000 years BP in order to lend greater accuracy.  In the analysis of the rock depictions that have been uncovered, the first will be referred to as the “Vulture and Scorpion” stone, the second “Boar and Birds” stone, the “Goat and Horse” stone, the”Great Lion”, the “Great Fox”, the “Lesser Fox”, the “Cow, Fox, and Crane” stone. 

The conclusions and presentation here arise purely from my own independent efforts explaining the figures as representing constellations and are not part of the interpretive work of the Gobekli Tepe project team, and also not derived from the work or suggestions of others.

Further, the main object of the study here is to correlate the figure to the proper star pattern, not to identify the figure represented.  If a figure is referred to as a fox or goat it does not imply that it has been properly identified as such by myself, the Gobekli Tepe project team, or anyone else.


Vulture and Scorpion Stone
A photograph of this stone is shown in Figure 1 and the relevant comparative stars are highlighted in red.  The spatial distances are not entirely accurate, which could relate to some extent to the change in relative star positions over the last 10,000 years, but is more due to an artistic or stylized representation of them. 

Figure 1.

Vulture and Scorpion stone compared to modern Star Map

(Gobekli Tepe photo used with permission, copyright DAI)

The first interesting form is the scorpion, which might first be thought to represent is known as Scorpius, but this does not appear to be the case.  This is due to the presence of the three birds to the middle right (ABC), these three most clearly correspond to the “Summer Triangle” stars, the three birds, one represented by each star: CygnusAquila (aka Vultur volans), and Vultur cadens (Lyra).  The shape of the Aquilaconstellations holds the same general appearance as bird A, the angle of the Cygnus stars matches the shape of the body of bird B, with the feet angling off in the same direction as the neck of the Cygnus constellation.  Bird C corresponds to the star Vega and perhaps some other stars taken together.

Thus the bird D with wings rising upwards matches the shape of the constellation Pegasus taking some Andromeda stars to form the upward wings and another star of Pegasus defining the legs angled off to the right.  The head is drawn together from a bunch of lesser stars.  Notice that the two stars within the head correspond to the two eyes in the drawing.

Running underneath these two major forms is a division line, which might crudely represent either the Ecliptic or the Celestial Equator, or might simply appear in coincidence.  Beneath this dividing line is the scorpion E, which corresponds to no specific constellation, but some of the stars from Aquarius and a few others.  The bird head F beneath the scorpion also corresponds to a “hook” of stars represented mostly byPiscis Austrinus.  To the left of the scorpion is another hook that combines some stars from Aquarius along with the loop of stars fromPisces.  Some of the stars in the lower loop of Aquarius and Sculptor appear to represent the partial head and limbs of a boar H.

The bones I above all the figures is a backbone and thus would most clearly be a representation and concept of the Milky Way, but the actual course of the path of the Milky Way more closely follows the zigzag pattern M that runs above and beneath the actual bones of the backbone, which itself might indicate the “backbone of night” idea was metaphorical (although at one time might have been the Milky Way itself).  The animal J is most probably a squirrel, which would be representing the approximate position and orientation of Cassiopeia.  (TheCassiopeia constellation was known among the Norse as the squirrel Ratatosk, but they don’t appear to be related.)  The other two small figures located on either side of J within the backbone spaces represent other star formations: the bent figure on the left L is the constellationPerseus, the upside-down figure to the right N would be the constellation Hercules.

The object that poses the greatest difficulty is the circle K located right above the vulture D’s left wing.  It does not clearly correspond to any fixed star on a current star map, and might represent another object such as the full Moon or a supernova.  A supernova is possible, given the concentration of stars along the Milky Way would clearly increase the odds of a bright star at that location.  Further investigation would be required to locate the remains of such a supernova at that location.

Regardless of the mysterious identification of object K, there is abosolutely no doubt that these figures represent constellations, and an attempt to specify the stars comprising the constellations are shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2.
Newly Identified Neolithic Constellations
(overlays on right have been re-scaled)
(Gobekli Tepe photo used with permission, copyright DAI)


Other Stones
A photograph of this stone is shown in Figure 3 and the relevant comparative stars are highlighted in red.  The spatial distances are not entirely accurate, which could relate to some extent to the change in relative star positions over the last 10,000 years, but is more due to an artistic or stylized representation of them. 

Figure 3.

Boar and Birds stone compared to modern Star Map

(Gobekli Tepe photo used with permission, copyright DAI)

This is by far simpler than the “Vulture and Scorpion” stone, but this also makes the interpretation somewhat uncertain.  The most clear match here is to the Boar figure a, which matches very closely to that of Ursa Major.  Beneath this is another figure b, perhaps a smaller boar that is represented by stars in the constellation Lynx.  It appears that the simplest explanation for bright stars, like the stars of the Summer Triangle, was that they were birds, and thus explain the five birds cg represented above.  While not entirely determined they represent stars, there are five bright stars that are clearly present in similar positions, three (cde) from Cepheus and two (fg) from Draco (however, the stars could be another two within Draco).  This is then to some extent underscored by verification of the location of the Pole Star that would occur at the point where there is a hole h made in the rock, which could be meant to represent the pivot point.  That is, the center about which the universe spins, like a wheel going around an axle.

Figure 4.

Goat and Horse stone compared to modern Star Map

(Gobekli Tepe photo used with permission, copyright DAI)

Figure 5.

(overlay on right has been distorted to adjust for camera angle)

(Gobekli Tepe photo used with permission, copyright DAI)

The “Goat and Horse” stone of Figure 4 is itself possessed of distinctions that are reflected within other constellations: that the Goat would primarily be the same as Bootes, while the Horse is at least Canes Venatici.  Figure 5 is an attempt to show which stars appear to comprise these constellations.

Figure 6.

The Great Lion compared to modern star map

(Gobekli Tepe photo used with permission, copyright DAI)

Figure 7.

(Gobekli Tepe photo used with permission, copyright DAI)

The Great Lion figure is composed mainly of Orion and Gemini as shown in Figure 6 and the new constellation with overlay in Figure 7.  Here the rear half of the lion matches well while the front half does not show the forelimbs.  Rather than thinking they are absent, when viewed in the sky the two Gemini stars Castor and Pollux most clearly resemble the mouth, which would make Canis Minor the front limbs.  So the constellation rises up towards the front rather than how it was depicted on the stone.  This is apparently due to the curvature introduced in constellations that cover a wide arc.

The Great Fox figure in Figure 8 appears to be an assemblage of mainly Leo with the tail extending out to Spica.  Albeit perhaps not established as convincingly as the stars represented by this figure, it does fit at least to assume it appears somewhere within a space not already represented within the other stones, and that it bears some semblance to the configuration of Leo.  The Lesser Fox is made up primarily of the constellation Lepus and the star Sirius, while the angle appears to be representative of the horizon and the Milky Way.  However, the foxes may not represent constellations at all, it has been suggested that the foxes are truly representative of the Moon (see p. 9 of article below).

Figure 8.

The Great Fox and Lesser Fox stones compared to modern star map

(overlays has been distorted to adjust for camera angle)

(Gobekli Tepe photo used with permission, copyright DAI)

It must be remembered that there is no reason to believe that the artists of Gobekli Tepe were recreating their depictions based upon an entirely accurate (apparent) spacing between the stars, nor to think that these were not derived from a longer tradition of depictions.  (This at least is more feasable than to presume that it is the result of star motion between 9000 BC and today.)  It seems clear enough that those who created the structure were well aware that their figures represented constellations.

Cow, Fox and Crane Stone

This stone, shown in Figure 9, shows what appears to be a crane below a fox with a cow above.  Both the crane and the fox can be found within another region of the night sky appearing the same as the constellation Scorpius.  The shape of the crane matches perfectly from Antares as the eye down to Shaula.  The upper part of the constellation are the stars that make up the front of the fox.

Figure 9.

Cow, Fox and Crane stone and with overlying modern star map

(Gobekli Tepe photo used with permission, copyright DAI)

With such a good correspondence between the figures and the stars, the cow represents a particular dilemma.  The stars apparent above the fox do not well match the cow shape in terms of a constellation and this region of the sky containing Hercules and Bootes is already represented by other stones.  The orientation of the cow itself is curious, the body is seen from the side where the head is viewed from the front.  The disk above the cow’s head, however, is placed right upon the ecliptic, the path of the Sun.  This suggests that the cow was placed here to represent the Sun, which is unexpected but intriguing in regard to the association with the cow and the depiction of the horns.  The Egyptian Hathor was a goddess of the Sun represented often as a cow with the sun-disk placed between its horns, shown in Figure 10.  The disk representation is the same as the shape of the sun disk and also by its place between the cow’s horns.

Figure 10.

Hathor, Egyptian goddess of the Sun

There could be a direct connection between the cow here and Hathor, but it would been to be substantiated further.  Hathor was also viewed to be the source of the Milky Way which is to be found near to the cow of Gobekli Tepe.  There is no reason to presume that the correspondence between the sun cow here and that of Egypt shows any cultural relationship, this is both because further correspondences would need to be found and that the length of time of the culturally recognized Egyptian civilization is roughly 6,000 years younger than Gobekli Tepe.  However, there is good reason to suspect a direct connection of some sort exists.

Unanswered Questions
Some of the figures might not be clearly relatable to any set of stars.  The implement (an axe or plow perhaps) shown in Figure 11 is a case in point.  There is also the interesting inclusion of extra carvings that don’t appear to have any obvious meaning, but might well be something of significance.  As mentioned before, the circle might well be the location of a supernova.  Since the Sun is represented on another stone as the Hathor-like cow it could be that the circle here is representative of the Full Moon. 

Figure 11.
Stones that contain objects of uncertain meaning
(such objects are highlighted in red)
(Gobekli Tepe photo used with permission, copyright DAI)

There is an interesting study of these symbols on the website seschat, although I am not qualified to evauate the validity of this analysis.  Here is one image that is included in this analysis of the Gobelki Tepe symbols:



Tree, Snake and Eagle Stone
This rock was also discovered at Gobekli Tepe and shows what has been identified as a tree with a snake, with the figure on the right which could be an eagle.  The association of the snake with the eagle is common and representations of it are known to be prehistoric.  The real question is whether or not they are representative of constellations.  Certainly the tradition of the tree, snake, and eagle were captured in the constellations of Norse Myth as shown on the Constellations page, the depiction of the snake and eagle shown here cannot be taken obviously as a depiction of constellations except conceptually, the tree might then be representative of the Milky Way.
There is no doubt that some of the petro glyphs from the Gobekli Tepe temple site, like those included here, are representing constellations in the night sky.  It is not at all clear that all petro glyphs must represent constellations, only that each one has been identifiable as such, except one depiction that is representative of the Sun.  The areas of the celestial sphere that are covered by each of the stones shown here are represented in Figure 12. 

Figure 12.
Areas of night sky represented by different stones

It only makes sense that other figure representations found at the Gobekli Tepe site would fill in more of the missing regions, which has proven to be the case as work has progressed.  However, isolated examples are harder to identify than those shown within a context or arrangement, as is beneficial regarding the “Vulture and Scorpion” rock.

More careful analysis is required which would be somewhat aided by attaining star maps from about 10,000 years ago and to gain a better understanding of which stars would have been seen at that latitude within that era.  In addition, to explore the possibility of a supernova formed within the space between Cygnus and Pegasus, which if true should also provide an independent form of dating the pictographs.

Based upon astronomical associations there are a couple ways of approaching the dating of the site, both of which are based upon certain assumptions.  First is the location of the Sun, which is usually located along the ecliptic according to its position at the spring (or vernal) equinox.  The spring equinox is important agriculturally since it determines the time of year that planting begins.  The early Christians recognized their religion as arising during the new Age of Pisces, which explains the fish symbology within the religion, which is still a popular symbol among modern Christians.  Of course the heralding of the Age of Aquarius has come to characterize something significant in living memory.  Through reverting backwards through time, however, it will be possible to locate the era in which the Sun appeared to be located between the constellations of Libra andVirgo, which is where it appears as represented by the Hathor-like cow in the “Cow, Fox, and Crane” stone.  Currently the Sun occupies this place at the time of the autumnal equinox.
The Sun’s apparent path around the Zodiac, which arises from the procession of the equinoxes due to changes in the Earth’s rotation, completes in about 25,800 years, so dividing this around a circle subdivided into 12 signs, each era lasts approximately 2,150 years.  So tracing it backwards, before the Age of Pisces was the Age of Aeries and so on back to the start of the Age of Virgo at about 13,000 BC and Libra at about 15,000 BC.  This would indicate that the timeframe in which the design was made was roughly 13,000 BC, when the Sun was entering Virgo, if the assumptions associated with this method are valid.  Merely because the Greeks measured the Sun at the Spring Equinox does not mean that humans 10,000 years before had, however, it would have been valuable to locate this point among an agricultural community.  The archaeologically accepted date for Gobekli Tepe is actually around 9,500 BC, so this leads to a discrepancy of about 3,500 years.  Taking the archaeological date as correct, this would place the Sun between Cancer and Leo at the time of the spring equinox, which would mean that it would instead appear entering Virgo at the time of the summer solstice.[1]
Another calculation could be based upon the position of the pole, and identification of the Pole Star.  Around 12,000 BC the apparent pole star is calculated to have been Vega within Lyra (Olcott 2004: 375) this does not appear to fit the apparent position of the hub that corresponds better to Polaris, our modern Pole Star.  This either means that the identification of stars is mistaken, which is possible in this case since there is no clear way of knowing that the five birds were meant to represent five stars.  But positionally the hub appears to be correctly located above the “Great Boar” constellation which would mean Polaris.  No other star would seem to fit, unless the “hub” is not meant to represent the axis of the celestial sphere at all.[2]  The last time that Polaris appeared at the Pole position would have been 26,000 years ago or so according to the calculation method used.  Here is a discrepancy as to why a hub position would be associated with the position of the present North Star Polaris and not with the one that would appear to be fixed at that time, Vega.[3]

[1] This does not mean the summer solstice was more significant than the spring equinox, it could be that they only wished to locate the Sun where it was considered to be at its most prominent.  It could prove to be significant if it can be shown that before recognizing the value of identifying the spring equinox that calculations were done from the summer solstice.  (Although it is important not to make too many assumptions about how ancient humans designated their calendars and astronomical calculations – perhaps the Gobekli Tepe site will provide answers on this question.)

[2] The Arabs knew Polaris as “the hole in which the axle of the earth was borne”. (Olcott 2004: 374)

[3] Could there possibly be inaccuracies in the estimations of star positions predicted into the past and future?  It is difficult to reconcile this hub position with these predictions and the presumed age of the site.  If the hub is meant to represent Polaris it could mean one of three things: our calculations pertaining to star locations are in error, the Gobelki Tepe site is far younger than the date suggests, or those who built the site were representing a different era than that in which they lived.



This article was brought to my attention by a reader of this page:

Sidharth, B. G.  “Procession of the Equinoxes and Calibration of Astronomical Epochs”, January 14, 2010



The star charts are taken from David H. Levy’s “Guide to the Stars”, Northern Hemisphere, Latitudes 30 to 60 North, that adds this note about their projection: “Any planisphere tries to project the sphere of stars onto a flat surface.  There are many types of projections, which all result in some stretching of star patterns, especially in the south.  Our projection is designed to minimize this effect, but the southern constellations are stretched somewhat and others appear squeezed.”

As always, you can take the opportunity to look upon these constellations yourself on a clear night away from city lights.
Not only can it be as interesting to locate them but to know also that these are the same stars that were gazed upon so
many thousands of years ago by early humans, a direct and real link from their world to ours.