In southeastern Turkey, at the ancient site of Sayburç, archaeologists have made a significant discovery that could potentially be the earliest known narrative scene. Dating back 11,000 years, the site features two panels depicting humans interacting with dangerous animals. What sets these images apart is their unique relationship to each other, forming a coherent narrative.
In one panel, a male figure is depicted grasping his phallus while leopards approach from either side. The other panel shows a squatting male holding a rattle or snake, facing a bull. The teeth of the leopards and the horns of the bull are emphasized, highlighting the inherent danger in these scenes.
While similar artwork has been found in other ancient settlements in the region, the Sayburç images stand out due to their interconnected nature. The two panels are horizontally adjacent, forming a progressing sequence. The presence of similar imagery, with individuals confronting dangerous animals, further supports the existence of a cohesive narrative.
According to archaeologist Dr. Eylem Özdoğan from Istanbul University, “These figures, engraved together to depict a narrative, are the first known examples of such a holistic scene. They provide a glimpse into the stories that shaped the ideology of the people during that period.”
The discovery was reported by Dr. Özdoğan in the journal Antiquity and was made during excavations that began in 2021 at the Sayburç site, situated beneath a modern village in the Şanlıurfa Province of Turkey.
The excavations unveiled several residential buildings as well as a large communal structure, potentially used for special gatherings with benches lining the walls. It is on the backrests of some of these benches that the narrative images were carved.
Sayburç was inhabited during the Neolithic period, around the 9th millennium BC. This era witnessed a significant shift from a mobile hunter-gatherer lifestyle to settled farming communities. The discovery at Sayburç sheds light on the cultural and ideological developments of the people during this transitional period in human history.
According to Dr. Özdoğan, this particular building exhibits all the distinctive elements commonly found in communal structures of the region. Similar to other structures of its kind, animal and human depictions were discovered here. However, what sets this structure apart is the coexistence and composition of characteristic figures from that time, forming a cohesive scene.
The fact that these narrative scenes adorned an important communal structure leads Dr. Özdoğan to believe that the depicted figures held significant importance within the early farming community. They might have represented historical individuals or mythical characters who played a crucial role in the community’s traditions and belief systems.
Dr. Özdoğan expressed excitement about the archaeological evidence and its potential to shed light on the traditions of past societies. Clear evidence from the past is often scarce, making this discovery particularly significant. Sayburç stands out for its remarkable clarity in providing insights into the Neolithic society, revealing aspects that were previously unknown.
The excavation of the communal building is still ongoing, and only a portion of it has been explored thus far. This suggests the possibility of unearthing further scenes from this ancient narrative in the future. As the excavation progresses, more details and a deeper understanding of the story are anticipated to emerge.
Source: Cambridge University Press