In this post we present selected parts of the very interesting paper titled “Decoding Göbekli Tepe with Archaeoastronomy: What does the fox say?“, by Martin B. Sweatman and Dimitrios Tsikritsis (2017).
“We provide an interpretation of much of the symbolism of Göbekli Tepe (GT). Our arguments are based entirely on the correlation between symbols found at GT and corresponding astronomical facts, as well as the scientific literature. We find the symbolism at GT provides strong support for the Younger-Dryas (YD) event as a cometary encounter, and hence for coherent catastrophism.”
“Göbekli Tepe, often called ‘the world’s first temple’, is an ancient megalithic site in present-day southern Turkey, not far from the border with Syria. Excavations over the last two decades by a team led by Klaus Schmidt have uncovered a fascinating sequence of roughly circular enclosures, consisting mainly of upright megalithic slabs and rough stone walls (Schmidt, 2003; Schmidt 2010). Low and high-relief carvings adorn these megaliths, including many zoomorphic figures in various postures as well more abstract symbols. The variety and quality of these carvings are described by Schmidt, but until now their meaning has remained obscure. Many animal remains have also been uncovered in situ (Peters & Schmidt, 2004), covering a wide range of species, mainly mammals but also a few birds and the occasional fish. Importantly, several radiocarbon dating analyses have been carried out. The earliest calibrated date of the organic content of some wall plaster from one of the enclosures (Enclosure D) corresponds to an incredible 11,530 BP ± 220 years (Dietrich & Schmidt, 2010). This is just at the end of, or shortly after, the YD period. This begs the question, is there any archaeological evidence here of the proposed event that initiated the YD period over 1000 years earlier?”
“Enclosure D is formed of a rough circular wall with eleven large upright megaliths embedded into its inner surface (once there were perhaps twelve), protruding upwards and inwards. Near the centre of the enclosure stand a pair of massive hammer-shaped megaliths, each weighing around 15 tonnes with some anthropomorphic features. Pillar 43 is embedded into the north-west of the enclosure (…)
…starting at the bottom, we can see a large figure of what appears to be the head and neck of a bird – perhaps a duck, goose or swan. Above this, is the clear depiction of a scorpion. Above the scorpion appears to be the figure of another bird, this time having out-stretched wings. The down-ward-curving beak gives the clear impression of a vulture or eagle in flight, with the left-hand wing raised nearly vertically and the right-hand wing held horizontally. To the right of the flying vulture/eagle appears the figure of another bird – this time resembling a crane or flamingo and bent in the middle to form an obtuse angle. Right of this latter bird is a downward wriggling snake or fish with a large head. Underneath the crane/flamingo and snake/fish we can see a rather squat bird-like shape. To the left of the scorpion and long-necked bird we can just make out the head and front legs of perhaps a dog or wolf. Lastly, at the bottom of the pillar is the outline of a small headless man, while on the right of the ‘downwards wriggling snake/fish’ are two abstract ‘H’ or ‘I’ symbols (…) we call this part of the pillar the ‘date stamp’ (…)
Above all these figures are two rows of nested ‘v-shapes’, and above these at the top of the pillar are a row of three ‘handbags’, each with an accompanying small zoomorphic carving. The left-most ‘handbag’ accompanies another ‘bent-bird’ figure, although this particular bird is slightly different to the previous one, in that it has small arms or wings and the downward wriggling snake or fish is absent. The middle ‘handbag’ is accompanied by a standing or charging quadruped of some type, perhaps a gazelle, goat or ibex, with large horns or ears bent backwards over its body. Alternatively, if it is pictured facing the other direction, it might depict a crouching rat, with a long tail over its back. The rightmost ‘handbag’ accompanies a downward crawling quadruped, giving the impression of a frog.
Most importantly, a circle is carved into the visual centre of the pillar, and placed just above the right-hand part of the right-most horizontal wing of the vulture. This circle is somewhat smaller than the main animal figures of the date-stamp.
“(Pillar 18) stands over 5 m tall. Only the pillar column and base are decorated – the head is blank. Several anthropomorphic features are clearly visible; arms with hands nearly clasped at the front above a belt with a large stylised buckle and adorned with apparently abstract H and C-symbols, although some of the C-symbols are reversed. A fox is held under the right arm of the pillar, and a brooch or necklace consists of a ‘punctured’ circle above an up-turned crescent but below another H-symbol. Interestingly, this particular H-symbol also appears to be ‘punctured’ (has a dimple in the middle) indicating that an attribute of this particular H-symbol is similar to that of the punctured circle below it.”
“Starting from the top, we see in Pillar 2 from Enclosure A the series (aurochs, fox, crane), while in Pillar 38, from Enclosure D we see the series (aurochs, boar, crane).”
“In the following we use freely available software (stellarium 0.15) to investigate the position of astronomical objects as seen from specific places at a specific time, and we use the terms ‘asterism’ and ‘constellation’ interchangeably.”
“We begin by noting the carving of a scorpion on pillar 43, a well-known zodiacal symbol for Scorpius. Based on this observation, we investigate to what extent other symbols on pillar 43 can be interpreted as zodiacal symbols or other familiar astronomical symbols.”
“See figure just above for a view of the relevant part of the sky for the following discussion. The constellations shown correspond to those we are familiar with today (Western Lore in stellarium). We consider especially the neighbourhood around Scorpius. We suggest the vulture/eagle on pillar 43 can be interpreted as the ‘teapot’ asterism of our present-day notion of Sagittarius; the angle between the eagle/vulture’s head and wings, in particular, agrees well with the ‘handle’, ‘lid’ and ‘spout’ of the teapot asterism. We also suggest the ‘bent-bird’ with downward wriggling snake or fish can be interpreted as the ‘13th sign of the zodiac’, i.e. of our present-day notion of Ophiuchus. Although its relative position is not very accurate, we suggest the artist(s) of pillar 43 were constrained by the shape of the pillar. These symbols are a reasonably good match with their correspond-ing asterisms, and they all appear to be in approximately the correct relative locations. We are unsure how to interpret the squat bird to the right of the scorpion. It might represent the claws of our present-day notion of Scorpius, or another asterism not currently used. This possibility does not affect our statistical analysis or conclusions.
Next, we consider the goose/duck symbol at the bottom of the pillar. According to our present-day notions of the zodiacal signs, it should correspond to Libra. And indeed, Libra can be viewed as a swimming or floating bird, with upright neck and up-turned tail. Moreover, this view of Libra as a swimming long-necked bird is probably more intuitive than our current symbol for Libra – the Scales. One could argue that the form of the carving of the long-necked bird does not precisely fit the Libra constellation in terms of the position of corresponding stars. However, this symbol remains partly obscured, and moreover it is possible the artist(s) of Pillar 43 did not intend to depict an accurate star-map of the sky – rather their intention was perhaps to provide a symbolic representation of the order and approximate placement of the constellations as they saw it, sufficient to enable interpretation of pillar 43.
Next, consider the figure to the left of the scorpion. If our interpretation is correct, this should correspond to Lupus the wolf. And indeed, this figure is a good representation of a dog or wolf, although only the head and front legs are currently visible. At this point, with these symbols identified and in approximately the correct relative locations, the case for this interpretation of the date stamp is quite strong, but much more evidence is required, given the implications.
Let us now consider another feature of pillar 43. We suggest the carved circle in the visual centre of pillar 43 can be interpreted as the sun, and the pillar is communicating a date, i.e. it is a ‘date stamp’. Normally, the zodiacal epoch is defined by the position of the sun being ‘in’ a particular zodiacal sign at sunrise/sunset on one of four auspicious dates in the year; the spring equinox, summer solstice, autumnal equinox or winter solstice. Using stellarium it is easy to see, when the location is set to Sanliurfa in southern Turkey (which is about 10 miles from Göbekli Tepe) and when we consider these four events, that the hypothetical date stamp likely corresponds to one of the following four dates (with an error of around ± 250 years);
2,000 AD – Winter solstice
4,350 BC – Autumnal equinox
10,950 BC – Summer solstice
18,000 BC – Spring equinox
These dates correspond to those when, according to stellarium, the sun is slightly above the spout of the teapot asterism of Sagittarius, i.e. when the circle-sun is just above the right wing of the vulture on the pillar. Note, that it does not matter if we use the morning sunrise or evening sunset to locate the zodiacal sign – they give the same result. However, the orientation of the constellations with respect to the horizon does depend on the choice of sunrise or sunset, and for the best agreement with Pillar 43 we choose the sunset.
Let us now consider these dates. We understand Göbekli Tepe is an authentically ancient site, and we can certainly rule out 2,000 AD. Given the established radiocarbon date we can also rule out 4,350 BC. Of the remaining two dates, by far the closest to the radiocarbon date is 10,950 BC, based on the summer solstice, and we suggest therefore that this is the most likely date. When the uncertainty in this date estimate is taken into account, it is in very good agreement with an estimate for the date of the proposed YD event, 10,890 BC (Petaev et.al., 2013).
This makes a strong case for this interpretation of pillar 43 – that it is referencing circa 10,950 BC, and hence the YD event. Certainly, we know of no reason to question the accuracy of stellarium.”
“Confidence in this interpretation can be improved further by considering the meaning of the ‘handbags’ and their accompanying figures at the top of the pillar. The date stamp corresponding to 10,950 BC is based on the summer solstice. Once again, using stellarium and Sanliurfa, if we locate the corresponding zodiacal sign on the preceding solstices and equinox we find the following sequence;
Spring equinox 10,950 BC = Virgo
Winter solstice 10,950 BC = Gemini
Autumn equinox 10,951 BC = Pisces
Virgo at sunset can be interpreted as a downward crawling four-legged creature. Gemini at sunset can be interpreted as a standing quadruped. And Pisces at sunset can be interpreted as an angled creature. These notions agree very well with the three smaller zoomorphic carvings accompanying the three handbags, i.e.
Virgo = downward crawling frog
Gemini = charging ibex
Pisces = bending bird
Thus, we can interpret each handbag as indicating the preceding equinox or solstice. Indeed, the handbag symbol can be interpreted as a pictorial representation of a sunset (or sunrise), with the semi-circle representing the half-disc of the sun as it disappears below (or appears above) the horizon. We suggest the pillar therefore provides the four zodiacal signs of an entire year in the correct temporal order.
According to this interpretation we have (vulture/eagle, scorpion, swimming bird, bending bird with wriggling fish/snake, wolf, lone bending bird, ibex, frog) = (Sagittarius, Scorpio, Libra, Ophiuchus, Lupus, Pisces, Gemini, Virgo). We ask, what is the probability that it is entirely coincidence that these patterns match each other, taking into account that some, e.g. Libra = swimming bird, might be abstractions rather than one-to-one pattern matches, and given that they have been placed in approximately the correct spatial locations? Our statistical analysis suggests it is less than one in 5 million. Based on this estimate we conclude that the probability that Pillar 43 is not a symbolic representation of the date 10,950 BC ± 250 years is very small indeed.”
“…an interpretation for the abstract ‘H-symbols’ and nested ‘v-signs’ carved onto pillar 43; One possibility is that the H-symbols represent the position of Vega and/or Deneb, as both these stars would have appeared somewhat higher in the sky and slightly to the right (north) of the ‘downward wriggling snake’ (Serpens) around 10,950 BC. These bright stars would have been pole-stars in earlier millennia (Vega in circa 12,000 BC and Deneb in circa 16,000 BC), and it is possible that the people of Göbekli Tepe still referenced at least one of them, and even continued to use them to define north or a preferred direction. This possibility is supported by the general orientation of enclosure D, which is in the region of 5 to 10 degrees west of true north. This correlates reasonably well with the position of Vega in 10,950 BC, which would have been around 8 degrees west of true north at the sunset of the summer solstice. Vega and Deneb would have had an altitude of 42 and 67 degrees respectively at the time, and so both should have been visible from enclosure D.“
• Göbekli Tepe itself was used, in addition to whatever other functions it had, as an observatory, and this provides a reason for its construction on a hill-top.
• Existence of a date stamp in terms of asterisms indicates knowledge of precession. Thus, it is very likely the people of Göbekli Tepe were making accurate measurements of Earth’s precession from around 10,950 BC onwards, and they had a good understanding of this process, at least from an observational perspective.
• To reach this level of understanding, and to have sufficient confidence in it to encode it in a large megalithic structure, which undoubtedly requires considerable effort and organisation, observations of precession had very likely been made for many centuries, and quite likely many millennia, before the construction of enclosure D. The general orientation of the structures towards the pole stars of earlier millennia reinforces this view, and suggests observations possibly as far back as 12,000 BC, or perhaps even earlier.
• The people of Göbekli Tepe considered it important to record the Earth’s precession over very long timescales in a very visible and enduring fashion. What was their motivation? Quite possibly, it was to communicate to potentially sceptical generations that followed that a great truth about the ordering of the world was known, and that this truth was important for their continued prosperity, and perhaps survival.
• Pillar 43 is embedded in the rough stone wall of enclosure D, which has been dated to around 9,530 BC to within 220 years. Yet the date stamp of pillar 43 corresponds to around 10,950 BC (to within 250 years). It is therefore very likely that Pillar 43 was constructed between these two dates, possibly just before the rough stone wall. Moreover, other demonstrations by this culture of their specialised knowledge of stone-working and astronomy might have existed between these dates in the YD period. Given the considerable lead-time in developing this knowledge, we should not rule out even earlier demonstrations of these specialisms before the YD period.
• The symbolism encoded on pillar 43, including the date stamp, the ‘sunset’ icons, the correct ordering of the preceding zodiacal signs, and the ‘H-symbols’, demonstrates an early form of proto-writing existed at some point between 10,950 BC and 9,530 BC, at least for astronomical observations. Given that the concepts represented in the pillar require communication over very long timescales, a similar form of proto-writing might have been in existence for many centuries, and possibly millennia, even prior to 10,950 BC. For example, there are many instances of paleolithic cave art involving similar animals and other repeated abstract symbols (von Petzinger, 2016).
We make a final suggestion in this section, that the date stamp on Pillar 43 indicates that the people of GT, (i.e. the people who built Pillar 43, or their ancestors), might have witnessed the proposed YD event and encoded the mechanism for the event at Göbekli Tepe. Indeed, perhaps Pillar 43 can be viewed as a memorial of this event.”
“GT is ideally placed to observe these particular meteor showers, which would have been visible high in the southern sky for much of the night for a few winter months of each year in 9,530 BC. (…)
…this match between the paths of the Northern and Southern Taurids in 9,530 BC and the carvings on these two pillars suggests that in addition to our earlier statements;
• The fox/boar symbols correspond to northern/southern asterisms of Aquarius.
• A focus of observations at GT is on comets and meteor showers.
• Special attention is paid to the Northern and Southern Taurids.
• The fox symbolism on the central pillar (pillar 18) indicates this pillar is referencing the Taurid complex, possibly the Northern Taurids.
Evidence linking GT to coherent catastrophism is as follows;
1) A great deal of physical evidence from a wide range of earth sciences appears to support the proposal that a major event occurred around 10,890 BC. A leading candidate for this event is a cometary encounter consistent with coherent catastrophism. The date stamp on pillar 43 corresponds closely with this date.
2) That the people of GT remained interested in this date even several millennia later suggests it was a very important event that had a significant impact on their cultural development.
3) The headless man on pillar 43 indicates the event lead to loss of life.
4) Symbolism on pillar 18 is consistent with an event of cosmic origin. The fox symbolism, in particular, suggests a cosmic event originating from a specific position. The belt-buckle, ‘eclipse’ and snake symbols are consistent with a cometary encounter. But the symbolism on pillar 18 might be consistent with other astronomical interpretations as well that we have not considered.
5) Pillars 2 and 38 indicate a special interest in the Taurid meteor stream, the same meteor stream proposed responsible for the YD event and the current period of coherent catastrophism. But the series of asterisms on these pillars might be consistent with other astronomical interpretations as well that we have not considered, or they might be entirely random sequences with no meaning. The statistics of the match certainly favours the Taurid meteor stream hypothesis, but they are not strong enough to be certain about this.
6) When all this evidence is considered together, it makes a strong case for the YD event as a cometary encounter, and hence for coherent catastrophism, that had a profound effect on the people at GT.
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