Tom Knox Books

Genesis Secret: Other Locations

Sanliurfa

This is much as described in the book, from the fishpools of Abraham, to the sunlit tea gardens, to the one-legged newspaper salesman in his peculiar cart. It’s a vivid and incredibly ancient city. Locals seriously believe it is the Ur-of-the-Chaldees from the first books of the Bible.

Here’s a picture of the fishpools.

The Oldest Statue In The World

I happened upon this remarkable artefact quite by accident, after I wandered into Sanliurfa’s humble museum.

Here’s an article I wrote about it.

The 12,000 Year Old Snowman of Bolikli Gol

I can’t quite work out what I’m seeing. This thing before me looks like a fossilised snowman. Or maybe a mock-up of a Doctor Who monster. Yet, if scholars are right, this is the oldest statue in the world.

The cream-coloured effigy was found in the ancient Kurdish city of Sanliurfa, in the hot plains of central southern Turkey.

The statue’s modern story begins a few years ago, when foundations were being laid for a local bank. The excavations took place right next to an historic city attraction – the Bolikli Gol. This is a beautiful fishpond surrounded by mosques and gardens.

As the workmen dug away in the Turkish sunshine, they realised that they were exhuming history. Odd chunks of limestone were emerging from the earth.

Archaeologists were summoned. The chunks were taken to the local museum, and pieced together. They turned out to form a peculiar and hefty sculpture: of a man, or a manlike God. The head of the statue had piercing coal-black eyes. The hands were placed in front of the genitals, like a soccer player protecting himself.

This was interesting enough, but things got more amazing. Back at the dig, scientists were examining more debris. The statue turned out to be part of a larger discovery: of a Neolithic temple. This temple, and therefore the statue, has now been dated to 10,000 BC. This makes the Snowman possibly the “oldest statue in the world”.

Of course the veracity of this claim depends on semantics. i.e. What’s a “statue”? The famous Venus of Willendorf dates back to 20,000BC. But the Venus is just 11cm long: surely not a statue. The same problem applies to the diminutive Neanderthal “Lion Man” from Germany.

Seen in one sense, the Bolikli Gol Snowman is therefore the first sizeable sculpture of a man: the world’s first statue. It is also, arguably, the oldest sculptural representation of humanity, the oldest self-portrait in stone.

Given these remarkable claims, you’d think the Bolikli Gol statue would be famous. Yet it isn’t. The statue is scarcely known. It stands in the tiny local museum, forlorn and forgotten, next to the fire extinguisher. Why?

One reason is the venom of local politics: the ongoing tussle between the Turks and Kurds prevents good publicity of archaeological treasures, in which the area of Sanliurfa abounds.

But maybe the ancient Snowman lacks friends for another reason: because he is such an unsettling presence. His lonely obsidian eyes dominate the gallery where he stands, his wistful gaze speaks of a weird and agonising regret.

After a few minutes with the statue I make quickly for the exit; and when I reach the sunny street outside, I find I am sighing with relief.

Harran

This atmospheric and venerable place, a couple of hours south of Sanliurfa, is mentioned several times in the Book of Genesis. The Prophet Abraham has strong links to the area; Harran was said to be the first refuge for Adam and Eve after they were expelled from Eden.

Here is a picture of the now-ruined Harran University, the tower is at least a thousand years old.

Sogmatar

Much as described in the book, this desolate and poetic spot was the most haunted place I came across during my week travelling Kurdish Turkey. It’s long been a site of sacrifice – you can see the channels for the flowing blood, cut in the rock. It has a pagan temple, to the Moon God Sin, carved out of the ancient cliffs. No one knows how long Sogmatar has been a (somewhat sinister) site of worship.

A very long time, is my guess. We know the Assyrians, Greeks, and Romans were all here.

My photos, of the pagan temple cut into the rockface (and dating possibly from pre-Roman times) assuredly don’t do it justice. It is intensely atmospheric.

Here, also, is a hut in Sogmatar.

I know, I know, a hut. Not very interesting. But I actually had a very nice lunch in that concrete hut: enormous just-baked flatbreads, dished up with chunks of goat’s cheese, fat tomatoes and juicy cucumber, followed by slices of fresh watermelon – served by a Kurdish shepherd. It was the simplest of meals, yet memorably delicious.

And there is a slightly creepy addendum here. I never properly looked at this photo until a few weeks ago – three years after my visit to Sogmatar. And when I clicked on that photo for the first time, and properly enlarged it, I noticed: if you look closely you can see in the top left corner, a strange emblem of a bird – some kind of raptor: an eagle or a falcon.

The resonance of this, for me, is significant: my thriller is partly based on the survival of ancient and unnerving Mesopotamian faiths, possibly dating back to the end of the Ice Age.

My underlying theory is that all these faiths stem at least from Sumerian times, and maybe before. A common motif is the worship of birds: the Yezidi have their peacock god; birds are a common symbol in the 9000 year old village of Catalhoyuk, central Turkey; and birds appear frequently in Gobekli Tepe.

And birds were definitely adored by Sumerians and Akkadians etc: as flying spirits of the desert, embodiments of wind and sky; these spirits were often intensely evil.

Turkey is of course 100% Muslim these days. Even the Yezidi have gone – to Iraq, Syria, or Germany. And yet – there’s that bird on the wall. That slightly sinister emblem. Intriguing

Cayonu

This is yet another incredibly ancient site in Kurdish Turkey, a couple of hours’ drive from Sanliurfa. It dates from about 7000BC. As described in the Genesis Secret, it is the place where the pig was probably first domesticated; likewise, many primitive forms of cereals – wheat etc – grow wild here: making this one of the likely birthplaces for the “Neolithic Revolution” – the shift from hunter-gathering to agriculture.

As mentioned in the book, Cayonu also has a sinister aspect. A few years ago archaeologists dug up a number of crania – the Cayonu Skulls – beneath the floor of one building at the site. Traces of human blood were also discovered, linked to an altar-like stone slab. No one is sure, but it seems possible this is grisly evidence of human sacrifice, maybe the earliest evidence for human sacrifice ever unearthed. Read more here

A German map of the Near East, showing the locations of Gobekli, Cayonu, Catal Hoyuk, Sanliurfa (Urfa) etc.