The Mystery of Portasar

The Mystery of PortasarTurkey continues to distort history and appropriate the Armenian historical and cultural heritage. As the chief scientific adviser of the expedition of the Oxford University’s program “Stones and Stars” and Candidate of Biological Sciences Vachagan Vagradyan stated at a press conference in Yerevan, Turkey presents the temple complex Portasar located in Western Armenia as the Turkish Stonehenge.

“According to studies, the Portasar temple complex is more than 18 thousand years old. It is one of the largest and oldest ritual-religious complexes in the world. Its construction testifies to the high level of development of the Armenian people and their ancestors,” Vagradyan said.

The temple complex of Portasar (Turkish: Göbekli-Töp) is located on the highest point of a mountain ridge 15 km to the north-east of the ancient city of Edessa in the province of Shanlıurfa (historical Western Armenia) in the southeast of Turkey.

It is one of the oldest and largest megalithic structures in the world. The fact that the hill was man-made was known to archaeologists in the last century (in the 60’s). And from the mid-90s, the Istanbul branch of the German Archaeological Institute began excavations here, and the very first stones showed that they were from the Stone Age.

It is not only the oldest religious but the largest known megalithic structure as well. It has already been christened “the Turkish Stonehenge”, although since its age is more than 12 thousand years, the monument is 7 thousand years older than the famous Stonehenge located in England. Besides, it was built 5 and a half thousand years earlier than the first cities of Mesopotamia known to us from history textbooks.

Portasar is comprised of ideally circled structures lined with rectangular boulders, which hold dozens of giant T-shaped limestone columns. Those columns weigh up to 50 tons and reach 5 meters in height.

They were brought there and installed manually. In fact, without help of animals. The floors in the buildings are made of limestone. The T-shaped columns are decorated with elaborate carvings. They depict foxes, snakes, wild boars, cranes, lions, kites, and other birds and animals.

There are also images of creatures similar in appearance to humans, but they are all depicted without eyes, nose, and mouth. Most of the images are cut out in forms of reliefs on the surface of the pillars. But there are also amazing three-dimensional sculptures.

One of the most striking sculptures is a lion descending down the column. All these bas-reliefs are absolutely unique and show that “primitive” people possessed a high level of artistic taste and refined perception of the world.

The first stone was dug out by a shepherd in 1994. The following year, a German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt arrived at Portasar with a group of archaeologists. He is still leading the works. As Schmidt said, “When I first saw this place, I realized that I have two options – I had to either leave and keep my mouth shut or explore this structure for the rest of my life.”

Riddles of Portasar are no less surprising than the secrets of the pyramids, and they are much more ancient. Scientists can only assume that it was a ritual construction, but it is not known for certain what caused the ancient people to come together and erect such a truly colossal structure.

Among the researchers and enthusiasts, there are various assumptions – from pretty regular ones to unbelievable theories. Some believe that Portasar was not a temple but only a dwelling while others propose ideas about the intervention of extraterrestrial races in the history of the Earth and the construction of this complex by aliens. There are even opinions that Portasar was the Garden of Eden or the prototype of Noah’s Ark.

Russian historian Gennady Klimov believes that Portasar and similar structures on the territory of Russia were built by the same race. He confirms his theory by the fact that there was no Black Sea and the path from the Russian glacial steppes to the regions of Portasar was clear in the 9th millennium BC.

We are used to the idea that agriculture started to develop first and only then the first settlements appeared, but Portasar may globally change our notion of ancient people in this matter. Scientists have established that at least 500 people are needed simultaneously to erect such a monumental structure. So the builders probably lived together.

Scientists suggest that it was the construction of this temple that played an important role in the process of transition to agriculture and the subsequent emergence of civilization in the usual way for us. As soon as the ancient people came together, it became difficult to feed so many workers and pilgrims. And perhaps, it was this fact that resulted in the domestication of wild plants and animals.

All conclusions concerning the Portasar temple complex are preliminary since excavations have been conducted only on 5% of its territory. Archaeologists believe that the research will continue for about 50 years. The investigated portions of the one layer of the monument date at from the 3rd to the 9th millennium BC, and maybe even earlier. The second layer was built in the 6th-9th millenniums BC.

Since the complex appeared before the Neolithic revolution, the origin of agriculture and cattle breeding in this region should be attributed to the era after the 9th millennium BC. At the same time, the construction of such a grandiose structure required the efforts of a large number of people and a certain social organization.

For the Mesolithic, this is uncharacteristic. According to rough estimates, for the manufacture and delivery of columns of 10-20 tons of weight from the quarry to the construction site (about 500 meters) without draft animals, efforts of around 500 people were required.

In fact, some columns weigh up to 50 tons, so even more people would be necessary. It is even assumed that slave labor was used in such jobs, which is also not a characteristic of hunter-gatherer communities.

Such works required systematic effort and the existence of a social hierarchy, in which many people were subordinated to a single religious or military leader, and that leader probably was the supervisor of religious rituals.

In this case, the very existence of the temple complex in such a remote historical period testifies to social stratification at a very early stage in the development of the Neolithic culture.

At the beginning of the 8th millennium BC, the temple complex of Portasar has lost its former significance. But it was not simply abandoned and forgotten to just gradually collapse as a result of natural weathering.

It was intentionally covered with a 300-500-meter layer of soil. Why and by whom it was done is unknown. Maybe the first settlements with mud houses and bins full of peas, wheat, almonds, and pistachios found in the same region have something to do with that.

Judging by these finds, agriculture and livestock appeared on the Armenian Plateau about 9 thousand years ago and spread to the east to Mesopotamia and west to the Mediterranean Sea.

And then, the settlements dispersed all over Europe and reached its western borders 7 thousand years ago. From the point of view of the well-known archaeologists Gamkrelidze and Ivanov, the Armenian Highlands was the birthplace of all the early Indo-European peoples.

The comment of the chairman of the organization ICOMOS-Armenia and the director of the Erebuni Museum-Reserve Gagik Gyurjyan is unequivocal:

“The study of this unique temple will take many decades. It has several archaeological layers. Each one keeps its own secrets and surprises. The fact that this church is located on the territory of the Armenian Highlands presupposes that ancestors of Armenians (maybe even Armenians) have made an investment in its construction, and a huge one, most likely. Therefore, we need to engage our experts in the study of this structure.”

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