Saturday, March 07, 2009

The World's First Sheela-na-gig at the World's Oldest Temple

by LYDIA RUYLE, guest blogger

The World’s First Sheela-na-gig appears at the World’s Oldest Temple, Göbekli Tepe, in Turkey.

I have a long relationship with Turkey and the Goddesses there. My first exhibition of Goddess Icon Banners was at the Celsus Library at Ephesus in 1995. A dozen of the banners were based on images from the neolithic excavations at Catalhoyuk including the earliest human figure seated on a throne giving birth—Ana Tanrica, the Great Mother of Catalhoyuk, who was found in a grain bin. I’ve visited the site half a dozen times since 1990 and will be returning in 2009. Please join me if you’re interested.

Hence, I was excited to see the November/December 2008 issue of Archaeology magazine had Göbekli Tepe on its cover with the caption “oldest temple in the world” and Smithsonian Magazine featured Göbekli Tepe in the November 2008 issue. I opened both magazines eagerly wanting to see the images and stories. I was disappointed but not surprised. No mention was made of what I consider the most important human image found at Göbekli Tepe on the floor of the Löwenpfeilergebäude (lion pillar building) of a birthing, hocker, sheela-na-gig female! I discovered the image in a book several years ago in Istanbul titled Neolithic in Turkey: The Cradle of Civilization: New Discoveries. The only text along with a full page photo in the book about the image states:

The motif of a female is found only in a drawing carved into a stone slab on the floor of the Löwenpfeilergebäude. The naked woman is depicted in a sitting position with straddled legs, obviously representing a sexual scene (Fig. 35) Schmidt sees similarities to figures known as “dejenoun” in the rock art of North Africa.”
--p. 80, Neolithic in Turkey:The Cradle of Civilization: New Discoveries, edited by Mehmet Ozdogan/Nezih Basgelen, 1999.

Göbekli Tepe means “navel mountain” in Turkish. It is on top of a hill that is the highest point on the windswept Urfa Plain, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. This is the area where emmer wheat was domesticated and hunter gatherer cultures settled into agricultural communities. As early as 12,000 years ago, humans spent much time and effort to cut stone and create circular structures with twelve foot tall pillars with carvings of animals, vultures, snakes holding up a roof. Gobekli Tepe’s impact reached to other later megalithic temples that follow a similar plan including Jericho in Syria.

In 2006, I created a Goddess Icon Banner of the image and named her Göbekli Tepe. She has been flying around the world ever since. My banner description states:

Göbekli Tepe is a Neolithic Sheela-na-gig incised into stone on the floor of a rock cut temple which appeared to have ritual purposes.Two standing pillars with lions sculpted in relief protect one of the earliest known Sheelas. Göbekli Tepe, which means navel mountain, is in eastern Turkey near the source of the Euphrates River. Emmer wheat was domesticated in the area. All life comes from and returns to the mother.
Source: Incised rock. 9600 BCE. Göbekli Tepe. Near present day Urfa, Turkey

After reading the articles last fall, I wrote to Klaus Schmidt, the German chief archaeologist of the site, asking him why the omission of the female figure in the articles in Archaeology and the Smithsonian magazines which had excellent photos of the rock built temples with carvings of animals, vultures, snakes. It would seem that the ONLY human figure found is worth mentioning and illustrating. I asked Schmidt if She was the only human image found at Göbekli Tepe and where the image is displayed today. I also asked if he had written about the image.

He replied that the authors of the magazines choose what to write not he. I suspect She was ignored because She is a splayed hocker sheela female. I realize, unfortunately, that the image could be considered pornographic and too much for a general audience U.S. publication to print. Schmidt told me he has written more about her in a new book published last year in German.

I e-mailed my Turkish friend Resit Ergener asking him where the image is housed. He contacted Mehmet Ozdogan at Istanbul University who said the last time he saw Her She was under a shed at Göbekli Tepe. I want to SEE HER. If you are interested in joining me please contact me through my website at

Here are some links to my stories of Catalhoyuk.
Goddess Conversations at Catalhoyuk (pdf)
Turkey Goddess Conversations (pdf)
Catalhoyuk Herstory (file)



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At Saturday, March 07, 2009 1:44:00 PM, Blogger Idris said...

Hi Lydia, How are you?

I am not surprised that there was no illustration of the Sheela - nor that she is ignored. I would like to see her too. Pornography be damned!

In a strange bit of synchronicity, I saw a link to this post just after I had published a post on my own blog on the denial of the vulva.

At Saturday, March 07, 2009 3:31:00 PM, Blogger Robin Edgar said...

Is it possible for you to post this image here? Is it available to be seen anywhere else on the internet?

I am certainly not one in denial of the vulva. ;-)

Believe it or not the Word Verification Code for this comment is inguntor. It might be a bit of an internet synchronicity that it concludes with the word tor.

At Friday, March 20, 2009 6:40:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi ! Brian and Robin !
You can see the image on this site:

At Friday, March 20, 2009 11:19:00 PM, Blogger Medusa said...

There is now a link to Lydia's wonderful banner in the paragraph beginning "In 2006..."

At Sunday, October 17, 2010 3:13:00 PM, Blogger the Dianaverse said...

so far no luck tracking the photo of the Gobekli Tepe image, the book is too expense for me from Amazon @$300 and the nearest library with a copy is in Berkely, CA which is quite far for me... the link above is no longer viewable, not sure if it was the photo or your rendition, Blogger gave me a bit of trouble just to post this... why is the energy so blocked?

At Sunday, October 17, 2010 5:30:00 PM, Blogger Medusa said...

Both the Archaeology and Smithsonian links in the 2d paragraph of the article just worked for me. Maybe you just need to try again :-)

At Sunday, October 17, 2010 5:33:00 PM, Blogger Medusa said...

The link to Lydia's banner is still working.

At Monday, October 18, 2010 11:12:00 AM, Blogger the Dianaverse said...

Hi, Medusa, you're right and I wasn't specific :P I was talking about a link in the comments from "anonymous" that I was hoping was actual image from Gobekli Tepe, to the which is now only displaying the current issue.... BUT after 6 months of searching and a little help from a friend I did find her in a German documentary on youtube:
I hope that will work so others can see the real deal :) I am planning to do my own interpretation of this persistant dipiction of the feminine in an art project, so I wanted to see the actual carving rather than rely on a drawing..... I wish I had noticed earlier in the year that she planned a trip in July, I've wanted to see Turkey for some time and seeing the dig would've been amazing, but I will make that journey someday


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Judith Laura

More blogs about /goddess/feminist theology/spiritual feminism/pagan/feminist spirituality/.