The Skull Cults of Göbekli Tepe

Science News brings some pretty pulpy-sounding history into the present day with the discovery that a group in the world’s oldest city was carving skulls for their own mysterious purposes:

At Turkey’s Göbekli Tepe site — where human activity dates to between around 11,600 and 10,000 years ago — people cut deep grooves in three human skulls and drilled a hole in at least one of them, say archaeologist Julia Gresky of the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin and colleagues. Ancient hunter-gatherers there practiced a previously unknown version of a “skull cult,” in which human skulls were ritually modified after death and then deposited together, Gresky’s team reports online June 28 in Science Advances.

These skulls of the recently deceased were carved for use in ceremonies to worship them as ancestors, the researchers propose. It’s also possible that the skull incisions marked deceased individuals who had been especially revered or reviled while alive.

A cord inserted through the hole drilled in one skull may have suspended that skull for display. Grooves probably ran from front to back on the skulls and possibly stabilized cords that held decorations of some kind.