Ancient Skull Cult Site Found In Turkey

Prehistoric human skulls found at site thought to be on display for religious purposes.

July 3, 2017 5:00 am
(Science Advances/Julia Gresky)
(Science Advances/Julia Gresky)

Researchers think that a holy site found in the ruins of Göbekli Tepe, Turkey, might be evidence of a prehistoric “skull cult.”

In a research paper published in Science Advances, authors Julia GreskyJuliane Haelmand Lee Clare report that the fragmented human bones found in the fill deposits of buildings around Göbekli Tepe seem to be evidence of purposeful display. In particular, they were interested in “three partially preserved human skulls, all of which carry artificial modifications of a type so far unknown from contemporaneous sites and the ethnographic record.” 

Skull cults, whose obsessive preservation and storage of human skulls bordered on reverence, aren’t a new discovery in archaeology, but these Turkish skull artifacts are interesting due to their modifications. Each one bears “incisions along the sagittal axes of the head, or lengthwise down the center between one’s ears,” and it’s clear that these cuts were made after death.

The researchers posit that these skulls were meant for display. Whether the intent was religious or just boastful (i.e. the skulls were taken from people killed in combat) is not clear from the evidence at the site.

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