11,000-year-old Carving May Be Earliest Narrative Scene

At the 11,000-year-old Sayburç site in southeast Turkey, archaeologists have uncovered what might be the earliest known narrative scene depicting a prehistoric tale.

The two panels show interactions between people and deadly animals. In one, two leopards approach from either side while a male human holds their phallus. A crouching male carrying a rattle or snake stands in front of a bull in the opposite panel. The danger in the scenarios is highlighted by the leopards’ teeth and the bull’s horns.

While comparable artwork has been discovered in other prehistoric villages in the area, the Sayburç images stand out because they seem to be connected. The two panels’ horizontal proximity creates a scenario that is unfolding. Each depicts comparable scenes—someone battling frightening animals—indicating a consistent story.

According to archaeologist Dr. Eylem Zdoan of Istanbul University, “These figures, engraved together to show a narrative, are the first known examples of such a holistic scene. This was a picture of the stories that established the philosophy of the people of that period.

The find was made during Sayburç excavations, which got underway in 2021, and was written about by Dr. zdoan in the journal Antiquity. The site is situated beneath a contemporary community in Turkey’s anlurfa Province.

The site was occupied during the Neolithic, around the ninth millennia BC, according to the excavations. People made a significant change at this time from a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle to farming and permanent towns like Sayburç.

Along with multiple houses, archaeologists also found a sizable communal facility. Given that there were benches lining the walls, it might have been used as a location for special events. Some of these benches had the narrative imagery carved into the backrests.

“All of the distinctive characteristics of the communal constructions in the area are present in this building. Images of animals and people were identified in this structure, as well as in others that were similar. However, in this moment, the defining characters of the time interact and create a scene “Dr. Zdoan said.

Dr. Zdoan thinks the people portrayed in the narrative scenes were significant personalities to this early farming community because the artwork ornamented an important structure. Maybe historical or legendary persons that played a significant role in the customs of the neighborhood.

Sayburç has very clear evidence in this regard and has the potential to tell us a lot about the Neolithic society that we do not yet know, according to Dr. zdoan. “Archaeological evidence can provide some insight into the traditions of previous societies, but clearer evidence rarely survives, so this discovery is exciting,” he said.

More scenes from this prehistoric tale could possibly be found because the community building is still only partially excavated.

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