ONE WEEK IN KURDISTAN

Andrew Collins at Gobekli Tepe, Karahan Tepe, Cayonu, Harran and Sanliurfa in 2004 - A Classic Journey that began the Cygnus Mystery

 

Finally, so many years after writing a book which identified the mythical Garden of Eden with the geo-political region known as Kurdistan, I was on the way to its northern-western extremity, known today as eastern Anatolia, Upper Mesopotamia or plain south-east Turkey. I had been invited at the very last minute to attend the 4th Festival of Culture and Arts in Diyarbakir, the capital city of Turkey’s Kurdish region, where I would deliver a key presentation on the human origins of the Watchers, the name given to the angels in Judaeo-Christian texts such as the Book of Enoch, found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some of their number are said to have rebelled against their brethren, who inhabited an elevated realm variously termed Eden, Paradise or Heaven, where the four great rivers of the world were said to have had their source. The rebel Watchers descended among humanity and took mortal wives, tasted human blood and revealed the forbidden arts and sciences of heaven, including astronomy, metallurgy, divination, the use of weapons, the power of herbs to cure diseases, and how women might beautify themselves, and abort babies. As always, I would argue that this was simply a distorted memory of events surrounding the Neolithic world that began as the climate warmed following the cessation of the last Ice Age sometime around 9500-9000 BC. It is a unique view of prehistory presented for the first time in my books FROM THE ASHES OF ANGELS (1996) and GODS OF EDEN (1998), both recently published in Turkish language editions.


So my wife Sue and I flew out to Turkey on Friday, 28 May 2004, and were met at Diyarbakir’s airport, really a well-protected military airbase, by Halil Baynan, a mature student and member of the local office of human rights. He had been appointed our guide and interpreter for the visit, scheduled to last exactly one week. Moreover, he had arranged for us to see whatever historical or archaeological sites that were of interest to my work, an opportunity I had yearned for ever since I started working on ASHES back in 1994. For me, it was a chance in a lifetime, and there was no way that I was not going to use my time wisely.


Clean-faced and quiet, Halil listened to all of our pressing questions as we were whisked off by taxi to Hotel Turistic in Elazig Caddesi, via a local café cum restaurant, where Sue and I attempted to learn the rudiments of the local Kurdish language, as well as the equivalents in Turkish and Arabic. All three languages are spoken in the region, depending on where exactly you are at the time. However, it is forbidden for Kurdish to be taught any more in schools, and so children and adults must learn it by word of mouth alone.


The situation in Turkish Kurdistan had been a little more stable over the previous five years. Principally, this was down to the Kurdish peshmerga, ‘freedom fighters’, the PKK, announcing an armistice, whereby they laid down their arms and publicly relinquished their call for an independent Kurdistan that would have embraced not only south-eastern Turkey, but also northern Syria, northern Iraq, western Iran and even parts of the Russian republic of Azerbaijan. Even though the Iraqi Kurds managed to attain some autonomy through their valued cooperation with the Allied Coalition in the war against Saddam Hussein, Turkish Kurds are now content to accept that force is no longer the viable option to keep alive their rich and thriving culture. This is now achieved through important events such as Diyarbakir’s Festival of Culture and Arts, which helps increase international awareness of Kurdish heritage.

 

Diyarbakir’s Archaeological Museum
Following a bite to eat, which included a yogurt dish and goat’s cheese wrapped in local bread, all washed down with copious amounts of che, that is black tea taken with sugar, it was on to Diyarbakir’s Archaeological Museum. Here, for the first time, we came face to face with physical evidence of Upper Mesopotamia’s extraordinary early Neolithic culture, which thrived in this region as early as 9500 BC, thousands of years before its development in other parts of the ancient world. In front of us were two two-metre tall standing stones removed from Çayonu (pronounced chay-on-u), a Neolithic site dating back to 7500 BC located some 65 kilometres north-west of the city. There were originally several such stones found within or around the site’s rectilinear rooms and buildings, some even positioned in rows. One of them is said to have represented ‘God’, khuda in Kurdish, although why this should have been seems unclear, since it does not possess an anthropomorphic form.

 

Human Sacrifice in the Neolithic
Çayonu is said to have been a centre for the production of beads, mostly of bone, but some of stone, and it was here that some of the earliest known examples of beaten copper objects were found, including a fish hook over 9,000 years old. Also from Çayonu is the earliest known example of a woven piece of fabric, found still attached to an antler bone handle. It too dates to one of the earliest building phases at the site. Yet in the museum’s lower level is a grim reminder of Çayonu’s more sinister past, for on the floor rests the so-called Altar Stone, an enormous flat slab unearthed in a room known as the Skull Building. Here some 500 or more human skulls were found, initially suggesting a veneration for the cult of the dead, yet when blood soaked into the Altar Stone was examined it was found to come from aurochs, sheep and human beings. The discovery close by of a vicious-looking flint dagger seemed to confirm the archaeologists’ worst fears that human sacrifice took place here, a disconcerting realisation which, as I mentioned in GODS OF EDEN, is never lingered on in excavation reports. Further evidence of human sacrifice has emerged from another Neolithic site in the region named Nevali Çori (pronounced nev-ar-li chor-i), which was located on a terrace in the Hilvan district, some 130 kilometres ESE of Diyarbakir, before it was engulfed by the rising waters of the Ataturk reservoir, created by blocking the Euphrates river, back in the mid 1990s.


When I mentioned the clear evidence of human sacrifice at Çayonu to an archaeological student we spent time with that week, she was utterly perplexed, and seemed unable to comprehend what I meant. Not only had she never come across this theory before, but she attempted to dismiss it purely on the basis that it seemed abhorrent to the Kurdish way of life. I explained that human sacrifice, and also to a lesser degree cannibalism, was common in ancient times, especially in Central and South America. This might be so, but why, she asked, did a clearly enlightened culture who paved the way for some of the earliest advances in human civilisation, such as astronomy, agriculture, animal husbandry, building construction, fired pottery, microblade production, writing systems, fabric weaving, metallurgy, temple building, etc, etc., need to stoop so low as to sacrifice the life of other human beings?


The answer, I said, was control, and power. The construction of the various Neolithic temples scattered throughout Upper Mesopotamia would have required some kind of hierarchical system within its basic society. Evidence obtained from the sites implies that there was a ruling elite, preist-shamans, who were seen as the culture’s founders, leaders and spiritual guardians. In records from across the Near East they are described as men or gods associated with birds, who wore coats of feathers, usually those of carrion or scavenger birds, most generally the vulture, buzzard or kite, the earliest avian symbols of the death cult. Moreover, from earliest times this elite group were also associated with the symbol of the snake, or serpent, which regularly appears in early Neolithic art unearthed in the region. Like the feathered serpents of Mesoamerican tradition, these individuals seem to have controlled the development and evolution of the Neolithic communities across the Near East, and this would have been achieved not necessarily through mutual co-operation, but by fear. In other words, they could offer a lifestyle radically different from the existing hunter-gathering tradition, whereby the peoples of the village communities could be assured an abundance of food and free time to develop artisan skills, and yet this came at a high price.


The indigenous peoples would be employed in the construction of the region’s remarkable cult centres, or temples, and I surmise that every year, or every so often, individuals would be chosen as sacrificial victims. Who exactly was chosen was dependent on how well the workforce achieved their aims, or adhered to the creed or insistences of their elders. In other words, if you were good, then others less fortunate would lose their lives, but fail in your duties and you would be next in line to disappear. In this way, they could install in people a real belief that working for them would ensure the security not just of their own life, but also those who depended upon them.


As abhorrent and amoral as this practice might seem, it can be compared almost exactly with the achievements of the Anasazi of the Four Corners country of the southern United States. They built cities with buildings aligned to celestial events, and were considered the most advanced peoples in the country. The Anasazi (Navajo for ‘ancient ones’) were also the direct antecedents of the Hopi, one of the most enlightened peoples of the New World. However, ample evidence is now available to show that the Anasazi made most of their advancements under the control of a ruling elite of probable Meso-American origin, who practised human sacrifice and cannibalism, meaning that the tribe’s entire society was built on fear and not necessarily mutual co-operation. Unfortunately, fear and control are awesome but terrible weapons which have probably been behind much of humanity’s advancements in this world.

 

Mystery of the Fish
Our tour of Diyarbakir’s archaeological museum was suddenly cut short when Halil received a phone call from the city’s municipality, the organisers of the Festival of Culture and Arts. In essence, it seemed that the Mayor, or President, of Diyarbakir wanted to meet us in 30 minutes time. I looked down at my jeans and T-shirt, rubbed my unshaven chin, and decided that we were ill prepared for any such official meeting. This aside, I felt sure that he would understand that we had only just arrived in the city following a lengthy journey from our native country.
On the way out, I stared at a gigantic mounted photograph of the city of Diyarbakir, enclosed by a city wall that extends for a distance of five kilometres. Dating back to Roman times, it is so large that only the Great Wall of China beats it in size and extent. Noting my interest, the museum curator informed me that the city wall’s overall design resembles the outline of an enormous fish. He pointed out its mouth, its dorsal fin and its tail, and seeing what he meant I quickly realised that this was no simulacra, especially as the city is perched on elevated ground overlooking the River Tigris.


Realising that he wanted me to explain this mystery, since I was being seen as some sort of expert on Kurdish history, I thought first and then suggested that there might be a link with the Christian use of the fish symbol. Yet in response, the curator merely insisted that the city’s original ground-plan was far older than Christianity. Although this is not strictly true, for the city wall only took its present form in medieval times, it did trigger off something in my head.
In GODS OF EDEN, I propose that the main cult building at the now submerged Neolithic cult centre of Nevali Çori was aligned both towards the Euphrates River and the constellation known as Cetus, the whale or fish. This ‘swims’ in the bead-like string of stars known to astronomers as Eridanus, the starry river, as they would have appeared in the south-western sky at dawn on the spring equinox c. 9000-8500 BC. In much later Mesopotamian tradition, both of these star clusters were connected with the primeval goddess, the guardian of the Deep known as Tiamat. She took the form of a monster that was a cross between a dragon, a fish and a whale. In Babylonian myth, she was cut into pieces by the god Bel-Marduk after threatening to drown the earth. One part of her slaughtered body became the earth which covered the subterranean waters known as the Abzu. More significantly, the tears she shed were said to have become the sources of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, which flowed through ancient Sumer, and are recorded in Judeo-Christian tradition as two of the four rivers of the paradise, which rose in the land of Eden (the other two are, in my opinion, the Greater Zab and the Araxes, which rises in the same region and flows east into the Caspian Sea).


At Çayonu, so close to Diyarbakir, archaeologists discovered an owl-faced bone pendant with two bored holes encircled by rings that represent eyes. From these come two vertical lines that can easily be construed as tears, a fact which led me to propose that this was the earliest representation anywhere of Tiamat (it probably dates to around 7000 BC). Was it possible that the enormous landscape fish defined by the city’s mighty wall was in fact a representation of Tiamat, or at least some localised Kurdish form of her, such as Kumarbi, the whale-like creator god of the Hurians or Mitanni, the region’s indigenous peoples who were allies of Egypt during its New Kingdom period, c. 1550-1307 BC?


It was a topic I discussed with Diyarbakir’s President, arguably one of the most influential men in Turkish Kurdistan, when finally we were ushered into his plush office amid a blaze of camera flashes and media attention from television crews there to record the event. My first impressions of this smartly-dressed man was that he appeared too young to be in such a prominent position in life, yet clearly he was someone who had reached the top through public opinion and media support. Somewhat surprisingly, he was receptive to the idea that the city’s great wall represented the primeval goddess of the Abzu, even though it had to be put to him through an interpreter. Apparently, he himself had been told as a child that the city wall resembled the outline of a fish, or more precisely a flat-fish or flounder of a type once indigenous to the Tigris. His knowledge of the subject was a bonus, and made me feel that he accepted me not simply as an eccentric Englishman, but as a true historian of Kurdish history. Curiously, he had also heard the story about the sources of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers being the tears of some long lost pagan goddess.


Since our meeting was witnessed by local news-reporters, the subject of the city wall resembling the shape of a fish suddenly became a major topic of curiosity in the local press - one I was continually asked about for the rest of the week (what the hell did I start out there!).

 

Saturday, 29 May. The plans for day two were to get out to two major sites - firstly, an extraordinary Neolithic complex close to the ancient city of Sanliurfa, the ancient city of Edessa, and, secondly, Harran, my personal Mecca. Until its destruction in 1279 by Mongol forces loyal to Genghis Khan, it was the centre of learning for the Harranians, Chaldeans or Sabians, a pagan people who venerated the stars and the seven planets of the ancient world. Preserved in their famous libraries were Graeco-Egyptian religious texts which in the Middle Ages became the foundation for the corpus of literature known as Hermetica, the writings of Hermes. He was the Greek form of Thoth, the god of the moon, whom the Sabians associated not only with their moon-god Sin, but also with the planet Mercury. I had wanted to visit Harran for a very long time, although never did I believe that I would one day be going there, especially since it is situated in a troubled region close to the borders of Syria and Iraq.

 

Gobekli Tepe


The first site we would visit was a Neolithic site called Gobekli Tepe. It was discovered as recently as 1994. Dating back to 9500 BC at least, Gobekli Tepe consists of a series of open-air cult buildings located on a southerly facing terrace overlooking a dry river valley. Each of its rectilinear rooms, defined by subsurface dry-stone walling, contain a series of standing stones, some set in the walls and others free-standing. Generally they are between 1.5-2.5 metres in height, T-shaped in appearance, with beautifully executed carvings in high relief of birds and animals. These include a panther or lioness, a fox, boar, large bird, seemingly an ostrich, and a snake that wriggles up the side of one of the slim edged stones. Other carved stones depict abstract anthropomorphic characters like those found during the early 1990s at Nevali Çori, demonstrating the close relationship between the two sites. Archaeologists have also unearthed a whole collection of movable objects at Gobekli Tepe, including a finely carved head of a vulture and more crudely carved human figures with bird wings (similar examples were found at Nevali Çori). They are clear evidence that the cult of the dead, presided over by the centre's ruling elite, exerted its influence here.


Most remarkable of all is that one of the standing stones at Gobekli Tepe weighs an almighty 45 tonnes, leading anyone to question exactly what might have been going on here some 11,000 years ago. The construction of such an enormous temple complex would have required a rigid building programme which can only have been controlled by a hierarchy. It would have necessitated the employment of a large body of men to carry out the carving, erection and transportation of such huge stones, which would have been no mean feat. Yet beyond these facts, very little is known about the function of Gobekli Tepe. It seems never to have been an occupational site, even though the presence here of literally hundreds of thousands of flint tools, including scrapers, arrowheads and burins has led archaeologists to conclude that it must have possessed it own lithics (i.e. stone tool) industry.


Yet further clues as to Gobekli Tepe’s original purpose can be gathered from its place-name, which derives from Tepe, Turkish for ‘hill’, and a local word meaning ‘belly’, indicating that the name actually translates as ‘Belly Hill’. Since the term omphalos, Greek for ‘belly’, signified the centre of the world in Greek mythology, could Gobekli Tepe have been an important cult centre to which people flocked from afar to pay their respects, either to the ancestors or perhaps the ruling elite, who were seen as intermediaries between the physical world and the celestial realms? It was this that I intended to find out when we arrived there later, but before this we were to visit the celebrated ancient city of Sanliurfa, or Urfa, believed by Moslems and Kurds alike to have been the home of the patriarch Abraham of Old Testament tradition (the prophet Ibrahim in The Koran).


Halil said that he would pick up Sue and I from the hotel lobby that morning, and on his arrival he announced that our car and driver were waiting outside. I expected a bashed up taxi, but on going to the lobby we saw a brand new saloon parked outside. Its owner, our driver, stood there ready to receive us. In his late forties, he sported a full moustache and groomed short dark hair. He was dressed in black traditional Kurdish trousers, a white shirt and black waistcoat. Strong, proud and dignified, one could imagine him in bright colourful clothes accompanying some British explorer, a scimitar always at the ready by his side. His name was Arif, and actually he is the proprietor of a successful local company that produces Kurdish carpets and kilims, which are traditional wall hangings that often contain hidden symbolism pertaining to the folk beliefs of the Kurds. Indeed, the English archaeologist James Mellart in his book on the Neolithic sub-surface city of Catal Höyük near Konya, in central Turkey, compared certain kilim designs with abstract meander patterns found painted on the walls of rooms there which date back to c. 6500-5500 BC.

 

The Exploding Dragon
It took two hours or so to reach Sanliurfa, but the journey was anything but boring. Unlike central Turkey, which is mostly hot and barren, much of eastern Turkey is a rich fertile land of great plains and distant hills, apt indeed for the site of the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve are said to have fallen from grace. However, one major problem for farmers here has always been the incredible amount of basalt boulders which litter any potential pasture or agricultural land, making it virtually impossible to plough or sow seeds unless the stones are first removed to the edge of the field. These boulders, Halil informed us, were the result of an almighty volcanic eruption several thousand years ago (exactly how long ago I was unable to ascertain). Apparently, a local mountain called Karajeddah, part of the Karaka range, running north-west to south-east across the open landscape, had exploded sending out countless millions of volcanic rocks which now cover an area that extends for a radius of around 50 kilometres.


Yet it was with Karajeddah in sight before us that Arif recounted a story he had heard from his Bedouin grandfather when just a boy. He was told that once, long ago, when mankind began to till the land, a dragon with seven heads lived in a hole. One day, the tillers’ ploughs revealed the monster’s lair, making it extremely angry. It emerged into the light and began torching the forests with its fiery breath until all the trees had been razed to the ground (Kurdistan was covered in forests thousands of years ago). Fearing for their lives, the people called upon God to stop this misery. This he did by carrying the monster up through the seven heavens until it reached the highest one, and here the dragon exploded with a great burst of fire, scattering rocks over the entire region.


Quite obviously, the tale exists to help explain the existence of the countless boulders ejected by the volcano.. However, I recognised within this legend other abstract elements which hinted at a more ancient origin. The aerial explosion of the great beast brought to mind the fragmenting comet or asteroid now thought to have caused a global cataclysm at the end of the last Ice Age. Catastrophe myths from all over the world speak of seven-fold symbolism attached to this cataclysmic event, usually described as a fiery serpent which caused fire to rain from heaven, as well as a period of darkness (nuclear winter) and a subsequent flood (super-tsunamis and the subsequent rise in sea-level caused by the rapid melting of the ice sheets worldwide). Austrian scientist Alexander Tollmann of Vienna University’s Geological Institute has proposed that the seven-fold symbolism attached to the memory of this comet impact implies that it fragmented into seven parts which then fell in different regions of the globe. As attractive as this theory might seem, it is much more likely that the connection with the number seven comes not from the comet’s appearance, but the direction in which it came, most probably the vicinity of the Pleiades constellation, which has seven stars and is often attached to global catastrophe myths (see my book GATEWAY TO ATLANTIS, 2000).


Did Arif’s Bedouin folktale thus recall some kind of global cataclysm which occurred perhaps 11,000 years ago (+/- 500 years), as well as the eruption of Karajeddah mountain? It was certainly a possibility I was not going to dismiss.

 

City of the Prophet
We reached Sanliurfa by late morning and soon found ourselves visiting the shrine of Abraham, a place sacred to Kurds and Muslims alike. It is to be found beneath a great cliff on which are two Corinthian pillars that jut skywards to form some kind of cosmic gateway (actually, they are the remnants of ancient Edessa’s former Citadel).

According to legend, the pillars were erected by Nimrod (Turkish Nemrut), the wicked king of the Book of Genesis, who built the Tower of Babel and tried to fire an arrow towards heaven. Local tradition asserts that he was a contemporary of Abraham, and that one day he decided to put the prophet to death because he did not worship the pagan gods. First, Nimrod flung him off the cliff, and then his men brought logs to make a pyre. Yet when Abraham was tossed on the fire, God intervened to save him by changing the wood into fishes and the flames into water, the explanation for why there exist literally thousands of sacred carp in what are known as the Pools of Abraham.It is a strange story, made even the more so by the fact that biblical scholars tell us that Abraham was never in Sanliurfa.

The twin columns at Urfa.

According to the Old Testament’s book of Genesis the patriarch tarried at Harran for 15 on his way to Canaan, yet adds only that he came from ‘Ur of the Chaldees’, which bible scholars and archaeologists consider was a city once located in central Iraq and excavated during the 1920s by English archaeologist Sir Charles Leonard Woolley. Yet this is not what the Kurds, Turks and Muslims believe. They firmly insist that Ur of the Chaldees was Sanliurfa, or just Urfa (original Ursu), a view unacceptable to scholars (even though ‘Chaldees' was a name given in Babylonian times to astronomer-priests from Urfa and Harran). Adding to this supposition is that the ancient city, and the region in general, is traditionally connected with several prophets featured in the Book of Genesis. They include Jethro (local ‘Suayp’), Job (‘Eyup’) and Elijah (‘Elyasa’). Moreover, Abraham’s grandfather is named in Genesis as ‘Haran’, an allusion surely to the fact that the patriarch's family came from the city of this name.

At the base of the cliff on which the twin pillars perch is the Cave of Abraham, where the prophet is said to have been born around 2000 BC. Not much of it is visible today since it is segregated into two tiny Moslem shrines, one for men and the other for women. Behind a grill you can just make out a deeper void, but the holy prayers from pilgrims and the constant sound of an extractor fan does not help create an ambience conducive to appreciating such a holy place. Also present in the cave is a sacred spring, its water piped through a small fountain revered by the thousands of pilgrims who visit the place. It flows into the sacred pools, full of the sacred carp which visitors are encouraged to feed (it is an offence to kill any of these fish).

Sacred Carp in the Pools of Abraham, Urfa, Turkey

The pools are divided into several parts and form the inner precincts of a great mosque.
How exactly carp came to be associated with Abraham is totally unknown. The connection is never alluded to in either the Old Testament or The Koran. Did the fish relate in some way to the story of Tiamat? Or were they were linked with Enki, the Sumerian fish-god (the Akkadian Ea, or Babylonian Oannes), said to have presided over the sources of the Tigris and Euphrates? One Image carved on a cylinder seal shows him with twin streams of water emerging from his shoulders. Fish depicted within the flowing waters swim upstream as if trying, like salmon, to return to the source. Historians who have studied the religion and beliefs of the peoples of Urfa have concluded that the carp must once have been sacred to Atargatis, the Syrian form of the goddess of sex and love who is known by various names across the Near East. Similar pools in Aleppo once sacred to her also have carp like those which have been in the Pools of Abraham for at least 1500 years, and arguably hundreds if not thousands of years before that.


Whatever the answer, it was beginning to seem as if fish played a major role in the mythology of the region, a conclusion further confirmed when on entering a tiny gift shop within the precincts of the mosque, I noticed a strange oval-shaped copper plate for sale. In raised relief across its horizontal face was a brightly painted image of a monster - half fish, half dragon - with a female head at one end and a large dragon’s head at the end of its tail. Most peculiar of all was that protruding from its underbelly were a series of seven snake heads with the appearance of udders.


I asked Halil what this strange image represented, and he replied the ‘Shahmaran’, a monster I later found is mentioned in legends from Adana in southern Turkey right across to eastern Turkey. It made me recall the monster with seven heads alluded to in the legend Arif recalled regarding the origins of the countless boulders scattered by the eruption of Karajeddah thousands of years ago.

Halil agreed that it was a localised form of the same monster, and that versions of the Shahmaran (pronounced ‘shah-ma-rah) found on sale in Diyarbakir displayed fire being emitted from the mouth of the dragon’s head. I also pointed out that, since the Shahmaran was a cross between a fish/whale and a female dragon there seemed every reason to assume that it was a regional representation of Tiamat, whose origins I felt stemmed back to the earliest Neolithic communities of Upper Mesopotamia. Quite obviously, I purchased the plate, which cost me 20 million Turkish Lira, which is about £8 sterling.

The Shahmaran

Afterwards, we headed out towards the mountains in an attempt to find the Neolithic site I have dubbed Gobekli Tepe. For around one and a half hours we patiently circumnavigated the valleys shielded by the mountains, asking local people if they knew the location of the site. Some knew of the excavations, or had met the archaeologists involved in the work, but no one could give us a precise location. By this time, I was beginning to realise that this was not going to be like visiting Stonehenge or Avebury in England. Gobekli Tepe would be infinitely more difficult to find, especially as there existed no detailed map of the area.


I have to give credit to Halil and Arif who did not succumb to frustration, and persisted in trying to find our destination. Eventually, a single great hill on which was a lone tree became the focus of our attention, and finally we found a track that appeared to be heading in the right direction. However, eventually this petered out and so Arif decided that he would simply drive the car across a field of barley and then up a hill strewn with small boulders, threatening to wreck the vehicle’s underside. Realising this, I asked him to stop, stating that we were happy to continue on foot. This was despite the fact that Gobekli Tepe was still around four kilometres away, and in the hot sun, wearing only open-fronted beach shoes, this was going to be one painful journey.

We travelled over the brow of one hill, along the ridge of another, before we began the final ascent to our destination. The nearer we got to the site the more I began to notice a predominance of flint flakes and blades of obvious early Neolithic manufacture.

They seemed to date from the phases known in Near Eastern archaeology as PPNA (Pre-pottery Neolithic A, c. 9500-7200 BC) and PPNB (Pre-pottery Neolithic B, 7200-5500 BC), even though in Europe they would be classed as Mesolithic (a transition phase between the Late Paleolithic and Neolithic which did not occur out here). By the time I had reached the site they were everywhere, leading me to wonder what they were doing here. Okay, Teoe One might have supported a prolific lithics industry during the Neolithic, but why simply discard those that you make? In the knowledge that the site was primarily a cult centre it seemed more likely that some of the flint tools might have been left as offerings, like those deposited at sacred places by pilgrims today.

Gobekli Tepe - showing various T-shaped pillars arranged like spokes on a wheel.

As for the site itself, it is situated in sections on a hill ridge overlooking a dry river valley, which starts close to the southern end of the settlement. A fast flowing stream in the valley below once supplied the tepe with running water, although today it is completely dry. Strangely, a water cistern has been cut into the rock surface south-west of the Neolithic site, although this is unlikely to date back any earlier than 2000-1000 BC, a curious realisation since I saw no evidence whatever of human occupation here following the earliest phases of the Neolithic. There was also a deeply cut heart shape in the exposed rock face above the cistern, although this has to be of more recent date.


There are three main cult buildings making up Gobekli Tepe, one above the other, two of which are now shielded from the elements by corrugated roofs. Without exception, the standing stones we saw bore t-shaped tops, while their horizontal upper surfaces had been bored with cup marks, like those found carved into rock surfaces at Neolithic sites in Britain. Their purpose was unknown, especially as there is no evidence that these stone pillars ever supported horizontal lintels, like the so-called tuala monuments to be seen on the Balearic Island of Minorca, for instance. Those stones with carving on their stems had been wrapped in corrugated plastic in order to preserve their exquisite designs for posterity.

Whether or not these stones would eventually be removed to Sanliurfa Museum, like those found at Nevali Çori, was uncertain, although clearly something would eventually need to happen, for leaving them here would eventually attract vandalism if not outright theft. Already there was modern graffiti scrawled across one of the most important of the standing stones. To me, the best option was to preserve the whole site intact by encapsulating it within a museum structure, which could become a shrine to the Neolithic age.

Undercover at Gobekli Tepe, near Harran, SE Turkey

As I went around the site taking as many photographs as possible, Sue paid more attention to the arrangement of the stones. She pointed out that all the main stones in the middle of the three rooms were set on end so that they created a fan-like circle around a circular cleared area. What symbolism this might have had did not make itself known. Yet it was a realisation which seemed to emphasise an overall plan to the cult centre, which is orientated north-south. Whether astronomy played any significant role in the construction and placement of the site was something I intended looking into when I returned home.

After some 45 minutes, a group of local men turned up, including an elderly, brown-skinned gentleman in Arab headdress. They greeted us cordially, and it turned out that the old man was not just the guardian of the site (every site has a guardian appointed by the local police and army), but also its discoverer. Apparently, sometime in the early 1990s he was tilling the land when he came across the upper edge of a carved stone. Mercifully, he contacted a local museum, leading to its curator inspecting the site. Recognising its significance, excavations finally began during the second half of the decade (they are still ongoing now).

Halil, centre, with the finder of Gobekli Tepe (right)

Ancient Harran
Without having had any quality time at the site (we like just to relax in order to take in the atmosphere - thoughts and inspiration come better that way), we left Gobekli Tepe wanting to know more. Yet time was pressing, and we really had to get to our Mecca - the ancient city of Harran, which has a history spanning nearly 5,000 years. We wanted, no needed, to interact with this site which had featured heavily in our questing work since 1996. Indeed, whilst out in Kurdistan our friend Richard Ward texted to say that when in Harran we should visit the seven temples, each dedicated to one of the seven planets of the ancient world - Sun (Shamash), Moon (Sin), Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. When exactly these structures were constructed is unclear, although they probably dated to the so-called Seleucid period, between the early fourth century BC and the third century AD when the Syrian empire controlled the region. Richard felt that we should make our way to the Saturn temple, which is conical in shape and made of huge blocks of limestone. Here we should attempt some kind of meditation based on the ending of one cycle and the beginning of another. It made sense, but first we had to find the place. I had no real concept of exactly what the layout of sites was at Harran, or what lay in store for us when we reached there later that late afternoon.


The journey came to an end in front of the Aleppo Gate, a surviving stone entrance (one of seven) in the vast city of ruins. Other than a few battered walls and archways, all that remained of the famous ancient city is the so-called ‘Astronomical Tower’, something our young guide, a local lad, was now eager to show us. Some distance beyond this was, he said, the village of Harran, which consists of a whole series of conical-shaped houses made from mud and straw, as well as the ruins of the city’s Moslem castle. On enquiring about the whereabouts of the seven planetary temples, the youth shook his head, saying that they were not at Harran. Those surviving are to be found some 30 kilometres NE of there at a place named Sogmatar (or Sumatar) Harbesi. This was devastating news, for it meant that we would not be able to get there in the time left to us that day. However, there was always the rest of the week, and more important now was to take in Harran’s surviving sites, starting with the breathtaking Astronomical Tower, which rises above the scattered ruins that litter the Plain of Harran. From the moment I set eyes on this monument, it kept my gaze for the rest of the visit. According to a guide book on Harran and its environs sold to me (seemingly secondhand) by some youths, the tower was the only remaining section of Harran's grand mosque, the so-called Paradise Mosque, built on the site of a fabulous temple dedicated to the moon-god Sin dismantled following the Arab occupation of Harran in the mid seventh century (the castle was built on the site of another temple dedicated to the moon-god).

The Astronomical Tower, which has a square base and is damaged at its summit, is said by scholars to be a minaret tower used to call Moslems to prayer. Such a solution is debatable, for although this might explain its primary function, the fact that it is called the Astronomical Tower indicates that the pagan Sabians, who survived alongside the Moslem community here until the city’s destruction by the Mongols, made use of it for their own purposes.

Harran's Astronomical Tower. Was it the origin of The Tower card of the Tarot?

Other clues bear out their influence upon the Paradise Mosque, which plausibly incorporated within its design parts of the original temple of Sin. For instance, it has nineteen gates, which can only be a subtle allusion to the 18.61-year lunar standstill cycle. Moreover, it is a fact that a great many Sabians who were forced to convert to Islam would merely have continued their work unabated. Sabians, as a religious community, were recognised by Islamic law as a 'people of the book', in that they possessed a holy book like the Christian Bible or the Jewish Torah. Following the Mongol invasion, the Harranians dispersed far and wide, many of them going on to merge with the Subba, or Mandaeans, the people of Mandi, a neo-Jewish-Christian-Babylonian sect found mostly among the much-persecuted Marsh Arabs of eastern Iraq, but found also in western Iran. They claim to have come originally from Harran, where they had settled following a long sojourn which had begun in Egypt. There is some evidence that John the Baptist was a Mandean, or at least that they inherited his teachings on baptism and repentance.

For too long Sue and I examined the Astronomical Tower, which we presumed was used by the Sabian astronomer-priests to observe the stars. Somehow, I quickly came to the rather subjective conclusion that it was the inspiration behind the so-called Tower of Maat alluded to in the books of Kenneth Grant. Moreover, I felt sure it was also the inspiration behind key imagery in two cards from the Tarot’s Major Arcana - The Tower and The Moon, the latter of which shows twin towers bathed in the light of the moon. The existence of Harran’s Astronomical Tower might even have found its way into the so-called Cthulhu mythos of American horror writer H P Lovecraft, who wrote about a structure known as the Tower of Koth, used by initiates as a portal into the dream world of Kutha, the name given by the ancient Babylonians to the underworld.

The summit of Harran's Astronomical Tower, which took our gaze for far too long.

Even though the existence of Harran's Astronomical Tower remains virtually unknown to the outside world, I suspected that it still influences people's dreams and nightmares, even today. Those who knowing about it, gaze at its splendour during the hours of darkness, and interpret it s presence by whatever means they deem appropriate.


An enormous metal door, locked with a padlock and chain, barred our entrance to the tower, and so after posing for a few pictures, the party journeyed onwards to the village of mud-houses with their beehive-shaped roofs. Apparently, they are now so unique to Turkish heritage that the equivalent of a preservation order has been placed on the whole village. No one is allowed to alter or destroy any of the structures, which are said to possess peculiar properties. Not only does their unique shape allow them to remain cool in the summer and warm in the winter (which can be quite harsh), but their owners claim that they allow chickens to lay more eggs, animals like horses to become more docile and onion bulbs to sprout faster! Shades here of the 1970s craze regarding the hidden properties of the pyramid, which was said to be able to achieve similar feats, although whether anyone has tried to sharpen razor blades in one of the Harran houses is another matter altogether.

Before going off to see Harran's castle ruins, we spent time in the company of Ali Kizil, the father of the male youth who had been acting as our self-appointed guide. From one of the domed mud houses his company Geleneksel Konik Kubbeli Evi (there, I promised I would give it a mention), he and his extensive family sell everything from carpets and kilims to Coca Cola, Fanta and an assortment of traditional souvenirs, many of which are hand-made. We sat down with him and his wife for the obligatory glasses of che, before Sue went off into the main house to be attended by some of Ali's many daughters, all of whom were attired in brightly-coloured traditional dress. Giggling and chatty, they groomed her long hair, helped her try on clothes and kept commenting on her 'beautiful' hair and eyes. The whole experience here was one that Sue and I shall never forget.

On the way back to Diyarbakir, I thought much about the seven planetary temples at Sogmatar. I simply had to reach them before we left Turkey, and so I asked Halil and Arif whether we could visit them later in the week. At the same time we could attempt to find another recently discovered Neolithic site, located in the nearby mountains. Here, during a surface survey in 1998 local archaeologists uncovered several T-shaped pillars, like those at Gobekli Tepe, including one on which is a ball-headed snake, looking something like a tadpole or sperm, ascending one of its thin edges. Also like Gobekli Tepe near Sanliurfa, it definitely dates back to 9000 BC. Other objects found during the surface survey include the well-worn carving of a male torso, also dating to 9000 BC, as well as a flat piece of limestone on which is a scratched image of an animal figure. For the records, I also found that another early Neolithic site has recently been unearthed at a place called Hamzatepe, which lies within Urfa city limits. More T-shaped pillars were found here, yet even before any real excavations could take place the site was lost beneath piles of refuge dumped there by the local municipality. In addition to this, still another Neolithic site has been found at Balikligol, right in Sanliurfa’s city center, and this too has produced evidence of occupation dating back to c. 9000 BC. What is most interesting about these PPNA sites is that none of the examples cited here were known to me prior to the publication of my book FROM THE ASHES OF ANGELS in 1996.


I could find out nothing about the Neolithic sites in Sanliurfa, but the discoveries being made at Karahan Tepe, as we shall refer to it, seemed most intriguing. I discussed the matter with Halil and Arif at a service station restaurant on the way home, and they agreed that we could return to the area the following Tuesday, which made me very happy indeed.

 

Sunday, 30 May. It was the day of the lecture I was to present at Diyarbakir’s 4th Culture and Arts Festival. Quite staggeringly, a capacity audience of between 400 and 500 people turned out to hear what I had to say, including the Mayor himself who waited patiently as I attempted to collect together my slides after the projectionist managed to drop them all over the floor moments before I was due on stage! Somehow, I managed to keep my calm.

I announced that I would be telling those present that they were the guardians of the cradle of civilisation and that just some of them might be descended from human angels. Yet I started by revealing that the previous day we had visited the Pools of Abraham at Sanliurfa, and went on to question why all the earliest stories in the Bible’s book of Genesis, as also found in the Koran, are traditionally thought to have taken place in Upper Mesopotamia, i.e. Kurdistan. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the source of the four rivers of Paradise, the lives of Noah, Abram/Abraham, Sarai/Sarah and Lot. They all feature in stories set primarily in this region. Why, you might ask? The answer is simple for Genesis tells us that Abraham, the founder of the Israelite tribes, as well as the Arab race through his son Ishmael, carried the stories surrounding his ancestors via Harran to Canaan. This is how the deeds of those who preceded Abraham were preserved forever in written form, and why the origins of humanity, and the rebirth of humanity after the flood of Noah, are said to have taken place in Kurdistan. Furthermore, even after the age of Abraham the Israelites retained a link with Harran, as the stories surrounding Abraham’s son Isaac, Isaac’s wife Rebekah and their son Jacob bear witness.


Yet if all of this is correct, then the trafficking between fallen angels (Elohim, Watchers, Nephilim, etc) and mortels, as cited in Genesis 6 and in pseudepigraphical literature, such as the Book of Enoch, must also have been linked with this region, since it concerns events which allegedly occurred prior to Abraham’s journey into Canaan. Moreover, once you realise that the four rivers of paradise, the location of the land of Eden and the angel’s celestial home are all cited as being in this same region, everything starts to fall into place. This becomes especially so when we recall that it was on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers that the ruling elite, the priest-shamans, of the early Neolithic, established their earliest settlements.

Probably through a mixture of fear and admiration, they guided the local inhabitants of the region into adopting a more settling lifestyle, whereby they were able to make huge advancements in the art of civilisation, exactly what the rebel Watchers of the Book of Enoch are said to have done for mortal man. None of this stretches the imagination whatsoever. Yet scholars are unable to accept such suppositions regarding the origins of the Watchers and their offspring the Nephilim, or indeed, the gods and goddesses of the Sumerian and Babylonian pantheons, who are said to have lived in the mountains to the north of what is today ancient Iraq.

Andrew Collins on stage with the Mayor of Diyarbakir following his successful presentation on 30 May 2004.

Trip to Çayonu
Following a post-lecture book signing session, Sue and I were whisked away for dinner with the director of the festival. Afterwards, we left behind the city and headed out towards the town of Ergani in the company of Halil, Arif and Arif's daughter Necla, who is an archaeology student. It was our intention to visit Çayonu, Upper Mesopotamia's most famous Neolithic site, dominated by its grisly Skull Building where firm evidence of human sacrifice has emerged. I knew that there was very little left above ground for the visitor to see, but as I tried to emphasise to those who would listen - it is the placement of the site that is of primary importance and not simply the discoveries made there.


As Arif’s car sped northwards, he recounted a legend concerning an Islamic holy man. He had come to Ergani to teach the word of Allah, but his monotheistic teachings were rejected by the townspeople. They drove him away, forcing him to go into retreat on the heights of a local mountain called Sakiz Dag. Ever since this time the inhabitants of Ergani have been considered non-believers, or pagans.


It was whilst on the road that Arif received a call from the Mayor of Ergani. He had heard that I was on the way to Çayonu, and wanted to receive me formally at his office. More than this, he wanted to accompany us personally to the site. Stunned, we headed into town and were met by a group of men who acted as the Mayor’s council members. Through Halil, I attempted to explain my interest in Çayonu, and why I wanted to go there now. As this took place, the obligatory che was served to everyone sitting around the table, many of whom you could not help but feel had been more active in the past. One man, the Mayor’s deputy, had an incredible scar that ran from the top of his face right down to his neck, where it ran from ear to ear. How exactly he had gained this we did not dare to ask.


Eventually, the whole party set off in four cars, with the Mayor driving in his special saloon, a Mercedes if I recall correctly, complete with blue flashing light (which was not used). At fast pace, the convey headed into the country until the road suddenly petered out by a series of low cliffs in a green fertile valley. A few picnickers out for the Sunday afternoon were startled to see the new Mayor (he had only been in office for two months) turn up in his motorcade. They came across to greet him, before the large party attempted to navigate a fair sized river, seemingly called the Bogaz. One of the drivers decided that the best way to tackle the water hazard was simply to drive through it, which was novel. This was despite the fact that the Mayor, along with everyone else, had now managed to cross the river using a series of awkwardly placed stepping stones. Amazingly, no one fell into the water.

The site of the excavations was located on slightly elevated ground, beyond a stony stream which flowed into the river that Çayonu overlooks. Everywhere were dry-stone foundations of the original buildings, with just two small standing stones left in situ. Their crudity and size took me by surprise, for they contrasted greatly to the beautiful carved stone pillars to be seen at both Urfa’s Gobekli Tepe and, before its destruction, Nevali Çori, near Hilvan. Yet these sites were at least 1000 to 1500 years older than Çayonu, suggesting that either this site was unimportant (simply a bead producing location off the beaten track), or that the skill and effort needed to carve standing stones was on the decline by this time. In the knowledge that megalithic sites worldwide might well be descendants of the early Neolithic cult centres of Upper Mesopotamia, the accepted Cradle of Civilisation, it left me with the impression that the earlier the site was, the more sophisticated the art it produced. This was a disconcerting revelation that was sure to be ignored by the academic community.


The position of the dreaded Skull Building was pointed out, although with the river gently flowing by, there was no sense of foreboding or oppression being exuded by the remains, which seemed unobtrusive today. Maybe when the various buildings were still here the atmosphere produced would have been a whole lot different.

The Mayor’s deputy handed me a rounded scraper he had just picked up. It was fashioned not from flint, like those seen at Gobekli Tepe, but from obsidian, a volcanic glass thought to have come from an extinct volcano close to Lake Van, the vast inland sea located a few hundred kilometres north-east of where we were. In the knowledge that the peoples of Mesoamerica used obsidian knives for human sacrifice, I stopped momentarily to wonder what this finely carved tool might have been used for here at Çayonu. Probably skinning animals was the most likely answer.

 

Fish Mysteries Again
Without enough time to take in the extent of the excavations, which covered an area the size of a tennis court, we were ushered back out through a gate that overlooked the brook placed at right angles to the river. Small fish were attempting to climb upstream by leaping over rocks into tiny pools, which were almost dry. The fish obviously had a death wish, and so members of our party attempted to catch as many as possible, and then throw them back into the river. The fish seemed like salmon attempting to reach the source of a river, and I could not help but wonder whether the peoples of Çayonu were aware of this phenomenon even back in their day. If so, then might it have influenced their religious or mythological beliefs?


The Mesopotamian god said to have been responsible for controlling the sources of the two rivers was Enki. His great temple at Eridu, close to the mouth of the Euphrates river, is arguably the oldest in Iraq, for its dates back to 5500 BC. Deep beneath it is what was known as an Absu pool which, when excavated, produced a large quantity of fish bones, indicating that his cult was particularly connected with the veneration of fish. As already pointed out, one well-known portrayal of Enki on a cylinder seal shows him with rivers flowing from his shoulders. Climbing up the streams of water are fish, attempting to reach the source of the river. In the knowledge that Mesopotamian mythology almost certainly began in this region, was it possible that early Neolithic communities such as Çayonu saw the fish as a symbol of the source of the rivers? Might this lead us closer to understanding why the Pools of Abraham at Urfa are teeming with sacred carp?


The whole matter brought to mind a conversation I had with Necla, Arif’s daughter, on the journey to Çayonu. Apparently, at a site called Koca Höyük, east of the town of Bismil, around 55 kilometres ESE of Diyarbakir, a local archaeologist has unearthed three graves dating back to c. 9000 BC. Among the grave goods were stone pots on which are representations in high relief of fish swimming among undulating waves. The style of art is apparently of a calibre previously unknown during this distant epoch of humanity, providing evidence for a hitherto unrecognised artisan skill among the very first peoples to settle in the region following the end of the last Ice Age. However, no further information is available on this recent excavation since the Turkish archaeologist in question has so far published very little on the topic.


As we left Çayonu, I thought about the huge contrast between the placement of this site on a plain close to a river and Gobekli Tepe, located on a southerly facing hill. It seemed difficult to imagine what greater function Çayonu might have had, although the discovery here of beaten copper fish hooks seems to imply that its inhabitants enjoyed the quieter side of life. That is when they were not practising human sacrifice.


The Mayor, now safely back across the river (Sue hitched a ride in the car which had come across the river), we were taken several hundreds metres away to pass comment on a series of cave sites which had thus far received scant attention from archaeologists. The first one shown had an extremely-worn carving of a reclining woman cut into the rock-face and a Syriac inscription next to it. This probably dated the carving, and thus presumably the use of the cave to approximately 2,000 years ago. Yet strangely the cave did not appear to be a tomb, for central to it was a sunken area for a hearth and a funnel cut into a pillar support which would have helped extract the smoke from a fire. It thus implied that this fairly largish single room, some 10 x 10 metres at a guess, was not necessarily a tomb all its life. Close by was another cave and another carved image, this time of a bust between two pillars which terminated in crescent moons. It was unquestionably a Syriac representation of Sin, for I had seen very similar rock-wall shrines at Petra in Jordan, which was also a centre for the worship of the same moon-god. Indeed, there is much to link the Nabatean peoples of Petra with the inhabitants of Upper Mesopotamia, for their languages, culture and religion bear many similarities. As I proposed in TUTANKHAMUN: THE EXODUS CONSPIRACY (co-authored with Chris Ogilvie Herald) it is likely that there were migrations between the two regions on a fairly regular basis from prehistoric times onwards.


Beyond the cave with a carved representation of Sin was a flat rock terrace, and on here were giant circular bore-holes, one of which was full of water. Since this platform, a steppe beneath the upper limits of the cliff, was orientated east to where the moon was now rising I surmised that the whole area was, like the various high points at Petra, used to make observations of the moon as it rose above the distant mountain range of Sakiz Dagi. Moreover, I suspected that the bore holes, which were unquestionably man-made, were used to reflect the image of the moon, most probably for oracular purposes. I found no concrete evidence to back up these somewhat bold assertions, and yet both Sue and I intuitively felt that this was right. The party then climbed between a horn-like indentation in the rock and entered an even more obvious natural amphitheatre, which was unquestionably the location’s high place. Once again, it seemed like somewhere which might have been used for lunar observations through its easterly-placed entrance, which still overlooked the distant hills and mountains.


On the other side of the hill was another surprise, and one which would have pleased the historical writer Adrian Gilbert, whose book MAGI (1996) heavily features this region. For here we found cut into the rock a cave-like shaft with steps that descend for some 15-20 metres before reaching a small rock-cut pool, surrounded by soft alluvial deposits. What seemed amazing about this place is that we just happened to arrive there when the sun was piercing the entire length of the shaft, which is no more than 3 metres in height and width. The time, by the way, was approximately six o’clock, and so whether those who cut this shaft had meant for the sun to penetrate it with a spear of light at this moment, or all this was simply coincidence seemed irrelevant. It was a wonderful sight, especially from the position of the pool. That was, until I slipped on the wet mud and ended up getting covered in muck, which did not befit my newfound role as a respected expert on the history and archaeology of Upper Mesopotamia.

Adrian Gilbert would have liked this place because a very similar shaft is to be found in the rockface at Nemrut Dag, the mountain close to Lake Van, where the mausoleum of Antiochus I, king of Commagene, who ruled 69-34 BC, can be seen. Commagene was a kingdom founded on the Euphrates following the fragmentation of the empire forged by Alexander the Great in the late fourth century BC. Among the ruins at Nemrut Dag are the so-called ‘fallen heads of the gods’, gigantic stone heads, some bearing Phrygian caps, used by the Turkish Tourist Board to entice foreign visitors to the region.

Andrew at the bottom of the rock-cut shaft at Çayonu. The dagger of light reaches its inner pool.

Impressed by my knowledge of the area's history, the Mayor decided to call it a day, and with him went his entourage, with the exception of his deputy. He and his friend joined Halil, Arif, Sue and me as we accepted more che at the nearby Ergani train station, which was another one of those surreal moments on this incredible journey, especially as the line seemed disused. Indeed, a stork had built a nest on the top of a telegraph pole at the side of the track - a sight which Sue felt she had to photograph.

Monday, 31 May. It was meant to be a day off, a chance for Sue and I to shop in Diyarbakir's wonderful bazaar, next to the old mosque, where all kinds of ambient noises fill the air. Here the sound of chugging sewing machines compete with the buzz of industrial cutters and the clanging bells of che-sellers who bear ornamented silver urns on their backs. Everything you could wish for is here, and all in their own sections. For instance, there is a section with dozens of shoe stores, and another with countless cubicles selling pots and pans - another for spices, another for toys, another for toiletries, etc. It makes perfect sense, for if you know what you want then you go straight to the section you require, while the stall-holders know that if you are in that section you want what they have to sell. That is unless you are foreign visitors like us who did not know what we wanted, and so ended up ambling around until our feet got sore.


That evening we honoured an invitation to attend a dinner organised at the home of an English-speaking teacher friend of Abdullah, the owner of Avesta, my publisher in Turkey. She prepared a lovely meal for us at her spacious flat in the suburbs of Diyarbakir, as we discussed Kurdish politics with a friend of hers who had recently stood as a candidate for Mayor in the town of Batman (no, no joke), south of Diyarbakir. Sue proposed that there should be a world-wide Kurdish organisation of non-Turkish origin to raise people's awareness of Kurdish identity, particularly its age-old culture and art. It could meet, say, once a year in a European city for a conference and festival. I thought it was a grand idea, although perhaps such an organisation already exists.


Yet we heard of matters which saddened us greatly. Although the Kurds in Turkey and Iraq are attempting to settle into a more productive lifestyle, those in Syria and Iran are still being given a hard time by the authorities. It seems there is still a long way to go before some kind of acceptable peace will befall the region on a more permanent basis.

 

Tuesday, 1 June. We started off early for Sumatar Harbesi and its seven 'pagan' temples dedicated to each of the seven planets of the ancient world, and what a day this was going to be. In order to try and cut down on the amount of time it would have taken us to get there via Urfa, Arif took a road which ran roughly southwards across some of the most breathtaking yet desolate scenery I have ever witnessed. As the 'road' became little more than a potholed track, the beauty of the stark landscape took on a dimension of its own. We saw Bedouin encampments here with their goats, sheep and cattle. They would remain for the summer season only, and afterwards move southwards where the winters were milder. As we passed them, vicious dogs would rush after our car, growling and barked profusely, but beyond them we could see men, women and children in gaily coloured traditional dress. One child I saw wore a black silk turban complete with a blue and yellow frock coat, giving him the appearance more of a Indian maharajah's son than a Bedoiun; it was an extraordinary sight I shall not forget. Strangely, I was later to find that very similar turbans and frock coats were worn by the inhabitants of Urfa and Harran over 2,000 years ago.


Further along the makeshift road I felt I glimpsed a tortoise sitting on a stone in a small pond. I mentioned as much to Sue, but she thought I was seeing things. But then I saw another one, and another until finally we came across a watering hole where there was a whole group of these wild tortoises, which I quickly realised were pond turtles. This animal over and above any other was extremely sacred to the Kurdish peoples of the region, who saw it as an expression of Kumarbi, the dark water god of the Hurians, those who inhabited Kurdistan in the second millennium BC. He was a form of Tiamat who features in Kurdish folklore, as well as in kilim designs of the sort you can pick up in the bazaars. However, I had assumed that the pond turtle was extinct, but, no, here they were basking in the morning sunlight without a care in the world. Sue took pictures, as men from one of the Bedouin camps ambled across to see why our car had suddenly come to a halt. Arif exchanged pleasantries and cigarettes with them, and they went away happy.


Even after we hit the main E90 Sanliurfa to Mardin road, dominated by hundreds of oil tankers on their way to the oil fields of Iraq, the journey was by no means simple. Halil and Arif searched hard for the turn off which would become our road for the next hour or so as we moved closer and closer to the Syrian border. Apparently, there was not much chance of you straying over the border because the no-man’s land between the two countries is infested with land mines, apparently forgotten leftovers from World War One.


To the sound of traditional Kurdish music, the car moved at a steady pace southwards. We travelled blindly, hoping that eventually we might find someone who would point us in the direction of Sogmatar Harbesi. The landscape was changing as well. No longer was there the fertile green valley and plains, hindered only by the countless basalt boulders which litter the fields. Now the environment was infinitely more barren, sandy and generally inhospitable, by all but the most hardened shepherds.


Some 45 minutes after leaving the main road, we entered a great basin and stopped a drover to ask the way. He pointed up at a ruin perched high on a hill ridge off to the south. It was one of the temples of Sogmatar he said, meaning that we had arrived at our destination. His directions took us around the base of the hill and right into the path of an army check point and barracks, which I really had not expected, even though they are all over the place out here. Halil stepped out of the vehicle and spoke to a group of Turkish soldiers, who now wanted to communicate with Sue and I directly in order to make sure we had the correct papers. I was barely able to understand what they said, but eventually they waved us on, which defused a potentially awkward situation.


Sogmatar is the site of the local school, which attracts children from villages all over the area, and as we arrived, just after eleven o'clock, boys and girls in uniforms were walking about carrying packets of crispy biscuits, bought from something akin to the British concept of a tuck-shop. These they offered us as a welcoming gesture, which is in total contrast to the way you are greeted by children in certain other countries in the Middle East. Among them was an elderly gentleman with wizened, well-tanned skin, who acted as guardian to the temples. His name was Mehmet Aslan, and he led us immediately to see our first site here - Pognan’s Cave, named after a French Consul to Baghdad named Pognon, who came here in the early twentieth century to survey the monuments of Sogmatar. The cave is located within the village itself, and is in fact more a temple dedicated to the moon-god Sin. Inside is a hewn chamber with a recess in the western wall, flanked by two square pillars on which are representations of the crescent moon on poles, a twin symbol of Sin. Either side of them are life-sized statues of dignatories in Syrian-style conical hats, and one or more of these is presumably Sin himself. A further series of badly-worn carved figures are to be seen on the southern side of the cave, one of which (on the far right) also wears a large conical cap. Syriac inscriptions accompany most of the carvings, confirming that the statues are probably around 2,000 years old, and relate in some way to the Sabian peoples who thrived here during this period.

 

The Seven Temples
Back out in the open I noticed that the eastern-facing entrance looks out towards a prominent rocky outcrop known locally as the Sacred Hill, to which all other tombs and shrines faced as well. From Pognon's Cave, we moved out into the Sogmatar basin and climbed a slight hill to reach the so-called Temple of Venus, the first of the seven planetary temples. It is conical in shape, although today only the bottom four or five metres remain, the rest having been dismantled beyond living memory. To me this was more a tower than a temple, for rubble filled the interior of the walls, and probably would have done so in ancient times. It was quite obviously an observation platform to observe the stars and planets, leaving its underground chamber to act as a focus for the worship of Venus, or Atargatis, her localised name. The guardian pointed out that there were five recesses cut into the walls to take burials, although I was not entirely happy that this was a tomb. In ancient astronomy, five was the number sacred to Venus because of the pentagram-like movement the planet is seen to make in the sky as viewed from the ground over a cycle of almost eight years. It was possible therefore that the hewn-out recesses could well have served some other more ritualistic function. As with Pognon's Cave, its entrance passageway was orientated towards the Sacred Hill.


Standing on the top of the temple, I asked the guardian whether he knew of any old legends connected with the locality. In Arabic, he told the story of how when Abraham was here, he first decided to worship the moon and the stars. However, when they set at the end of the night, he realised that the starry sky was not his god. He then decided to worship the sun, but when this set at the end of the day, he knew that this was not his god either. Thereafter Allah spoke to him, and he became his prophet. Obviously, this little tale exists simply to express why Abraham might have been here among these 'pagan' temples in the first place, but its sheer existence shows how strongly people of this region believe that the book of Genesis’s greatest patriarch stemmed from here. The guardian spoke also about Moses, and how he had come to Sogmatar after being ejected from Egypt by Pharaoh. Whilst here, he used his staff to bring forth water by striking it on the ground. A well sprang up, and this remains to this day. The story intrigued me, especially in the knowledge that there was another Ain Musa, or Well of Moses, at Petra, a place which seemed intimately linked with the Upper Mesopotamia. Yet why exactly Moses is thought to have visited Sogmatar is a complete mystery, and should be taken into consideration when evaluating other stories regarding the presence locally of prominent figures featured in the book of Genesis.


Looking out across the basin, I could see other temples - Saturn to south-west some one kilometre away, Sun (Shamash) on a low hill between us and Saturn; Jupiter off to the east; the true Sin temple behind us to the north; Mercury to the right of that and Mars even further around to the north-east. A realisation then came to me at this point: the fact that these temples were about a kilometre or so apart meant that there was no way that we were going to be able to see them all that day. Time would simply not permit it. Thus we had to identify our priorities, and recalling Richard's intuitive thoughts, the decision was made right away - we would go to Saturn, and there symbolically end a cycle and begin a new one. We could do the Sun Temple on the way, and so that would mean visiting three out of seven.


Leaving the guardian at the Venus Temple, we descended the slope on to the baking hot plain and made the walk across to the Sun Temple, which was little more than a pile of hewn stones. Beneath these were the building’s foundations, which for me resembled a collapsed Egyptian pyramid. It had that sort of feel to it, and also like the pyramids of Egypt there was a descending passage to the temple’s underground recesses blocked by large boulders. A tiny hole might have allowed a slim person to squeeze through, but the impending thought of encountering spiders, scorpions or worse in the complete darkness dissuaded me or anyone else from making the effort.

So it was on to Saturn, which, like almost all of the other temples, was perched on top of a gentle incline overlooking the whole area. Only about two to three metres of the circular wall remain, and this too holds hundreds of tonnes of rubble in place. Like Venus, it is a cylindrical construction, suggestive, once again, of an observational tower for viewing the planets and stars. As with the Temple of Shamash, the descending passageway into the underground chamber was blocked, although I checked the alignment and saw that it too was targeted on the Sacred Hill.

The Saturn Temple at Sogmatar.

I was very happy to have reached Saturn. I felt almost as if our journey was at an end, and that I had been destined to come here ever since writing FROM THE ASHES OF ANGELS in 1995. For me, our journey here did indeed represent the end of one cycle and the beginning of a new one, and as we lazed around taking in the atmosphere Sue and I tried to send good thoughts to our friend Richard, who, unlike us, might never get the opportunity to visit his Mecca. I tried to concentrate my mind, but saw only a silver arrow in flight heading towards a golden egg, which it pierced and blew into pieces with an almighty explosion. I felt this was the Orphic egg of creation, around which writhed the cosmic serpent. Beyond this I could get nothing at all, other than repeated glimpses of Harran’s Astronomical Tower, which I felt held the key to some mystery or other connected with this site.

 

Lord of the Gods
Leaving Saturn, we walked back down the rocky slope as Arif began shouting and pointing towards the ground. All looked and saw a large browny-yellow sand spider with a long pointed body sac, which I gathered was poisonous. I took this as a very curious omen, echoing the influence of Saturn, the devourer or destroyer. Much to Sue’s dismay, Arif killed it, as it seems the norm out here to destroy any small pest which could potentially kill a human being.


Very soon, we reached our final destination at Sogmatar, the high point known as the Sacred Hill. Here we saw carved into the face of the rock two god forms, one a bust in a recess and the other a full human form beneath a scallop-shaped cupola. Next to the bust was a crescent moon on a pole, strongly suggesting that the figure's identity was Sin. The second figure has been identified either as Shamash, or another representation of Sin. Moving on, we climbed the slope and came across a series of Syriac inscriptions carved on the exposed rock face. According to one guide-book, one of these, on the south-eastern edge, is a proclamation, which reads:

In February 476, that is this month, me, the son of Adona, Manish and Mana and Alkur and Balbana and his brother Alkur: We put up this altar here and also raise a throne for the protected one. He will be the next governor after Tridates and then he will hand in the throne to the protected one. He will be rewarded by Marlahe. If he fails to hand the throne over or if he destroys this column, may god judge him.

 

Let’s hope that Tridates, a known local administrator, upheld the wishes of the Protected One and his counsul. By the way, Marlahe (or more correctly Maralahe) means ‘lord of the gods’, an epithet which either relates to Sin or some other god venerated here at Sogmatar. As the inscription indicates, he seems to have been associated directly with the Sacred Hill, and since all the temples of the plateau, as well the temple of Sin at Harran, are, or were, orientated towards this spot, then he has to have been important. By the way, the date of February 476 derives from the old Seleucid calendar of the Syrians. It corresponds to a date of AD 164-165 in the Julian calendar, and shows that Sogmatar was thriving as an important religious centre at this time.


From the summit of the hill there was a commanding view across the basin to as many temples as our eyes could perceive, and directly below, on the edge of the village, was a höyük. This is the Turkish name for an artificial mound which, although natural in appearance, is in fact the crumbling remnants of an artificial structure built of mud brick walls. I could see some evidence of walls behind the tumbling earth, but from this angle there appeared to be no evidence that it had ever been excavated. Since the village was built around its base I wondered what treasures had been unearthed by the local inhabitants.


Whilst staring at the höyük, we noticed a powerful whirlwind come into existence, which quickly picked up speed as it whipped through the village, sucking up everything in its path and spewing it upwards into the air. We watched as it made its way around the base of the occupational mound and out of sight among the trees, close to where the military barracks were situated.


Coming down from the hill, I asked whether someone could take us to see the Well of Moses. Without much conversation left in us, we sauntered across to a small prefab building in front of which was a deep artesian well, the waters from which are pumped upwards to supply the whole village. There seemed to be no obvious mystery about this place; it had no feeling whatsoever, and I could still not get to grips with the idea that Moses had ever come here.

Layla and Majnun
Out of nowhere appeared the guardian once more. He was inviting us into a brick room, decorated only with carpets and long cushions, in order that we might share some che with him. To this he added a huge platter of yogurt and local made bread, which had already become the focus of a number of flies. Sue, who had been suffering from a bad cold for days, abstained, but I tucked in without any subsequent ill-effects. Once again, I asked about local legends, and Mehmet Aslan began to recite a very curious stellar-based legend of Arabic origin. It concerns the story of Layla, a young girl, and Majnun, a shepherd boy who, illicitly, fell in love with each other. They would meet in secret, but then one day somebody realised their tryst and made it known, threatening the young couple’s very relationship. In desperation, they cried out to Allah, asking that he might somehow find a way for them to remain together for all eternity. Out of pity, he made Layla and Majnun into stars, but informed them that they might now only meet once a year, and that for the rest of the time they were destined to remain apart. Apparently, Layla thus became a star that rose in the morning during summer, while Majnun became a star that rose only during the winter evenings (sometime around 9-10 o’clock, it seemed).

 

Only once a year, during October, were these two stars ever visible together in the night sky. Despite this knowledge, I was unable to ascertain which stars were being alluded to in the legend. Later, Arif revealed that he too knew a version of this story, and asserted that the two stars in question were in the vicinity of the constellation known as the Plough (Big Dipper). However, a similar legend about two illicit lovers becoming stars who could only meet once a year is recorded in Chinese mythology, and in this case the stars in question are Vega in the constellation of the Lyre and Altair in the neighbouring constellation of Aquilla, the eagle. Yet none of this information makes sense of the guardian's statement about the stars only coming together once every year.


On our return to England, I checked on-line and discovered that the story of Layla and Majnun was recorded for posterity by an Arab writer named Nizami. More bizarrely, some believe that this love story inspired rock artist Eric Clapton to write two songs ‘I am yours’ and the mega-hit ‘Layla’, both released on an album called ‘Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs’ under the recording name of Derek and the Dominos (1970). However, back out there in the sparsely-furnished room in Sogmatar the names Layla and Majnun were completely new to me, and I doubt whether Nizami had recorded this variation on the traditional tale.

 

The Hill of Eternal Sleep
When we were unable to take in any more che, I asked the guardian whether he had heard of Karahan Tepe, the Neolithic site where archaeologists had discovered ancient stones 11,000 years old. He nodded and in Arabic described how one day a German archaeologist had turned up on a bicycle just to inform him of this discovery. Afterwards, he just cycled off never to be seen again.


So, having gained some basic directions to Karahan Tepe we departed, much to the relief of Sue who had been suffering badly for the past few hours and needed desperately to get out of the area. When much later I asked her to better explain her feelings she said that Sogmatar seemed very 'intense', and not the sort of place you would want to hang around unduly. Personally, I did not share that same experience, although somehow I do understand what she means.
The car left the village and as we slowed down to pass the military checkpoint the base commander sent word that he would be obliged if we would be his guest, a request to which we happily obliged. Parking the vehicle in the military compound, we then joined Commander Serdor Karabiber, who came from Sanliurfa. His soldiers supplied us with Coca Cola and more che, and as Halil and Arif made small talk elders from surrounding villages arrived to report their actions to the army official. It was clear that the army was in charge of the area, and this included the temples of Sogmatar. Had we not gained permission to explore them, then word would have got back to the army post and we could have found ourselves in deep trouble.


As it was, we now found ourselves in the company of the commander in charge, and he wanted to tell us about a discovery which some of his soldiers had made around a year beforehand. It was a cave on a local hilltop around one kilometre away. Perhaps we might like to accompany him out there to see it? When this suggestion was translated into English by Halil, I turned to Sue, who I knew was suffering, and suggested to her that this might well be a good idea. She agreed, and after finishing our drinks the commander led the way up a fairly steep hill towards the source of his interest.


Reaching the summit, which lies directly south of the army post, we saw the rock-cut entrance to an underground cave, which had recently been cleared of rubble. By its side was the remains of a rectangular commemorative pillar in two pieces. One of them, the upper half, bore a greatly-worn image showing the busts of three women sporting Syrian-style conical hats. Whether they represented three members of the local nobility buried inside the cave, or deities of some kind, I was not sure, so I simply followed the rest of the group down inside the cave and was greeted by a quite unique sight. The hewn-out room, roughly square in shape and around five metres in length and breath, contained three stylised beds carved from the solid rock, complete with legs and pillows in full relief. The one on the left-hand side had its head furthest away from the cave entrance. The centre one was at right angles to the entrance, its head to the right, while the final one, situated on the right-hand side, matched the left one, although its head-rest was the other way around. Each was like an oversized single bed, and it would have been easy for even the tallest person to have laid down and gone to sleep on them (although this was an impossibility since the place was now infested with flies). The only other additional feature in the underground room was a solid rectangular box hewn out of the solid rock located in the left-hand corner. What its function might have been was unclear, although if this place was supposed to represent a bedroom, then perhaps it was meant to signify a chest in which clothes or toiletries were to be kept.


The commander wanted to know what I thought about the discovery, simply because he had been unable to raise any interest in the place. I told him that there were two possible solutions to this mystery. Firstly, the cave was a tomb, a place of eternal sleep, and that the bodies of three people - those depicted on the column outside - were carefully laid out on top of each of the beds, and then covered in suitable bed linen, before the cave was sealed. Then, at some later date, the skeletons of the three individuals were removed, hence the lack of any remains today. Yet if not a tomb, then the hewn-out room located on the top of the rocky summit, away from any other evidence of human occupation, could have been used as an incubation chamber. Individuals, priests or priestesses perhaps, could have entered the cave and lay down to sleep in the hope that they would attain contact with the world of spirit. I could add nothing more to the commander's knowledge of the site, and so we were released to begin our quest to find Karahan Tepe.

The Mother Lode
An hour or so later we had still not found the Neolithic site, and this time even Halil and Arif were ready to give up. Yet then, somewhere deep within a local mountain range, near the Syrian border, a noble Arab walking his horse at last gave us definitive directions. Further along the road, a man on a tractor also pointed authoritively, and very soon we arrived at a farmhouse out in the middle of a fertile basin entered from the north. Eventually a youth appeared who, on being questioned about the existence of the tepe, said that it was in front of us to the south. Looking out of the windscreen, I saw a slope rising up to a level hill summit, but could see no signs of any excavations.


Leaving behind the vehicle, the party crossed pasture land and then a ploughed field. As we made our way up the hill evidence of Neolithic man's presence here became more and more abundant. At first, I noticed just the odd flint, but just like Gobekli Tepe their volume increased proportionate to our approach to the summit.

Suddenly, I heard Halil calling with a raised arm as Sue even higher up the hill also began shouting that she had found something. It then started to become apparent what was going on here. On the northern and north-east slopes were the tips of standing stones just visible above ground level. Some stood in pairs, while others were in straight rows, like those found at Çayonu. Some seemed unhewn while others were similar to the T-shaped pillars found at Gobekli Tepe. Also scattered about were broken fragments from other T-shaped pillars, which had lost their stems.

One of the T-topped pillars at Karahan Tepe, a PPNA site near the border between Turkey and Syria.

Slightly further down the tepe's eastern slope, we found more stones with their sockets better exposed, and Arif attempted to remove some rubble from beneath one of these in order to see whether it bore any carvings. I helped him, and just as I got up to look around, he leapt back and began pointing towards the ground. At first, I did not understand what was going on, but then, as my eyes re-focused, I saw the cause of his concern - a large grey scorpion had crawled out from beneath the rock. This worried me slightly as only moments beforehand my hand had been under that very same stone! The incident acted as a wake up call, as if one of these things bites you, then it is goodnight Vienna. Sue came over and took a photograph of it before Arif disposed of it in the customary manner out here.


As we walked away from this moment of potential danger, I discovered something which shocked me into re-interpreting my whole understanding of the early Neolithic in Upper Mesopotamia. I found lying at the base of the slope, about three quarters of the way down the hill, a carved section of hard limestone shaped like the corner of a window frame. It was perfectly executed and curved on all sides. Clearly, it once formed part of some kind of structure, perhaps an archway over a door or window. The piece was approximately one metre in length, thirty centimetres in width and twelve centimetres in thickness, with a right-angled extension at one end of about another thirty centimetres. It did not appear to be broken as the edges were straight and smooth with an overall lichen patina which seemed very ancient indeed.

This L-shaped stone, which sung when it was carefully turned over, had to be a remnant of the early Neolithic, and as such was for me the best example by far to demonstrate the level of sophistication of those who thrived in this region around 11,000 years ago. Overall, the extent of the site from the summit of the hill through to the lower reaches of its eastern and northern-eastern slopes covers an extensive area the size of a football pitch, although this is merely an estimate since there is every possibility that we failed to see certain features on other parts of the hill. Exactly what Karahan Tepe might have functioned as remained a mystery, and would be something I would turn my attentions to when back in England.

Andrew studies the L-shaped piece of carved masonry discovered at Karahan Tepe in the Tektek Mountains.

Following a lively debate between Halil, Arif and the site guardian, who had appeared on the scene in full Arab dress, we walked away as the sun set on our final day of field trekking in Upper Mesopotamia. I had never expected to find a site like this in my life, and in the knowledge that it had only been surveyed, and not even unexcavated, made it seem like a great secret which was only now being revealed to the outside world. Hopefully, within the next couple of years Turkish archaeologists would come here to conduct a full exploration, and hopefully ground-breaking evidence regarding the true origins of the Neolithic revolution which began here would be unearthed. All I knew was that Karahan Tepe was by far the most important, and most extensive, of all the Neolithic sites I had visited, and that in my opinion it was very lightly the mother lode, the key to understanding just what was going on here 11,000 years ago.

 

Postscript September 2004
Neither Sue or I wanted to leave our new-found friends in Diyarbakir, but of course we had to, vowing to return as soon as possible. We arrived home on Thursday, 3 June, unable to concentrate on anything other than unpacking our suitcases. The following day we honoured a prior arrangement and to see our friends Caroline and Mick Staley in London. As might be expected, the evening included a full replay of the dozens of digital pictures and video clips recorded when in south-east Turkey. Yet it was an 80-second recording of Harran’s Astronomical Tower which I kept playing again and again. At one point as the camera, held by Sue, pans up to the summit of the fractured tower, two birds circle around before landing amid the jagged masonry. Each time it played it seemed to conveying some kind of subtle message, which lay just beyond my level of comprehension.

The next day, Saturday, 5 June, Sue and I decided to delay going back to Essex, and instead spent our time relaxing in Camden Town, trying to ignore our hangovers from the night before. Having got up late, I was unable to sleep that night. Every time I closed my eyes and attempt to calm my mind, just one central image kept repeating itself - Harran's Astronomical Tower. It just would not go away, and interspersed here and there were glimpses of KarahanTepe, and the scorpion which crawled out from beneath the remains of the t-shaped pillar.


Finally, I decided that instead of counting sheep in order to go to sleep, I would visualise myself approaching the Astronomical Tower. I saw a guardian figure dressed in white with a matching turban appear out of nowhere holding a giant key. He unlocked the giant metal door allowing me to enter inside. For some reason, I then forced myself to climb the tower's great staircase. I recall ascending the final steps, and seeing above me an enormous bird-like creature, its gigantic talons poised to pull me skywards. This much achieved, I just lay in bed as a huge download of fresh ideas on the nature of everything we had seen and experienced in Kurdistan started to fill my mind. As Sue lay asleep, I got up and began writing down whatever thoughts entered my head.

For three hours I scribbled until I could go on no further. Over 25 pages of scribbled notes were made before sunrise on Sunday, 6 June 2004, and they have changed completely the way I view the beliefs and rituals of the Neolithic ruling elite, whom I see as the source behind the Watchers and Nephilim of the Book of Enoch, and the deities of the Sumerian and Akkadian pantheon. More than this, I now realise that what they understood about human origins has affected everything we know about humanity's relationship to the divine. It is the story that you now read in The Cygnus Mystery, and which will be expanded still further in my new book Finding Eden, published by Inner Traditions in 2013.

Andrew photographing Harran's amazing Astronomical Tower, which haunted his dreams upon returning to England.

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