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Ceremonial Complex Found at 11,000 Year-Old Callirhoe in Asia Minor

ceremonial complex Turkey
The area of Gobekli Tepe, near Karaharan Tepe, where the ancient ceremonial complex was found recently. Kaharantepe is outside of the ancient city of Callirhoe, sometimes referred to as “Antiochus on the Callirhoe”. Credit: Teomancimit /CC BY-SA 3.0

Fantastic carvings of human heads and phallus-shaped pillars were discovered recently at a 11,000-year-old archaeological site in Turkey that is a sister “village” to the renowned Gobekli Tepe site, which is considered to be home to the oldest temple in the world.

Archaeologists believe that the findings show that the 11,000-year-old site from prehistory once hosted ceremonial parades, in which people would process through a building containing phallus-shaped pillars and a carving of a human head, according to a new report from Live Science.

The site, called Karahantepe, is located in southern Turkey, east of the current-day city of Şanlıurfa. For a while during the rule of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175–164 BC) the city was named Callirrhoe or “Antiochia on the Callirhoe” (Ancient Greek: Ἀντιόχεια ἡ ἐπὶ Καλλιρρόης).

Historic area once known as Callirhoe, Justinopolis, Edessa

During the Byzantine era it was named Justinopolis. In historic times it was often best known by the name given it by the Seleucids, Eδεσσα, Édessa.

This very historic area has multiple buildings that predate the invention of writing. Archaeologists found carvings of human heads, snakes and a fox, as well as several interestingly shaped pillars inside the boundaries of the ruins of the buildings.

Researchers uncovered a total of 11 pillars near one carving of a large human head. Necmi Karul, a professor of prehistoric archaeology at Istanbul University, states that “All pillars are erected and shaped like a phallus,” in a paper recently published in the journal Türk Arkeoloji ve Etnografya Dergisi.

Ceremonial complex filled in deliberately, not abandoned

Karul did not explain in the scholarly article why the heads and phallus-shaped pillars were constructed or what part they may have played in the prehistoric ceremonies.

The find consists of a complex of four buildings in total, through which there may have been come kind of procession, according to Karul. She states in the paper that “a ceremonial process, entering the building from one end and exiting at the other end, having to parade in (the) presence of the human head” may have been part of the ancient rite.

She goes on to say that additional excavations and historical analysis must be done before researchers can say definitively that this kind of procession took place.

In perhaps the most unusual aspect of the find, the archaeologists determined that the buildings were not abandoned over time, as usually happens; instead, the complex was deliberately filled in with earth, which may have been part of a “decommissioning ceremony,” Live Science reports.

Another intriguing part of the story is that the new site of Karahantepe is close to Gobekli Tepe — the renowned archaeological site that also features large buildings and carvings ofanimals and human heads — in both the time of its founding and location. Archaeologists are now hard at work attempting to determine the historic ties between the two sites.

Karahantepe was first discovered in 1997, but there were no excavations there until 2019. During that period, however, researchers completed a number of archaeological surveys of the new site. Further research will be ongoing at ceremonial building complex, according to the archaeologists.

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