Archaeoastronomy, meteor showers, mass extinction: What does the fox say? (And what the crane? The aurochs?)

Recently a (peer-reviewed) paper published by M. Sweatman and D. Tsikritsis, two researchers of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Engineering, has made headlines, suggesting that the Göbekli Tepe enclosures actually were space observatories and that some of the reliefs depict a catastrophic cosmic event (the original publication in Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry 17(1), 2017 is accessible online here [external link]).

A selection of the carved reliefs found on many of Göbekli Tepe’s T-shaped pillars is linked to and interpreted as depiction of actual stellar constellations. In particular Pillar 43, which is indeed an outstanding (but actually not exceptional) example of the site’s  rich and complex iconography, is interpreted as record of a meteor shower and collision – with quite serious consequences for life on earth 13,000 – 12,000 years ago (this whole ‘Younger Dryas Impact’ hypothesis [external link] actually is disputed itself [external link], so making Göbekli Tepe a ‘smoking gun’ in this argument should absolutely ask for a closer look).

GT06_P43_N09.32_ 600_A4.jpg

Pillar 43 in Göbekli Tepe’s Enclosure D. (Photo: K. Schmidt, DAI)

Debate regarding a possible astronomic link and interpretation of the architecture and the characteristic pillars in particular are as old as the history of research regarding Göbekli Tepe, but as of yet no convincing proof for an actual celestial orientation or observation of such phenomena could have been put forward. We always were and still are open to consider these discussions. So, of course we were looking into the new study with quite some interest, too. After all it is a new and fascinating interpretation. However, upon closer inspection we as excavators of this important site would like to raise a few points which may challenge this interpretation in our point of view:

1. There still is quite a significant probability that the older circular enclosures of Göbekli Tepe’s Layer III actually were subterranean buildings – possibly even covered by roof constructions. This then somehow would limit their usability as actual observatories a bit.

2. Even if we assume that the night sky 12,000 years ago looked exactly like today’s, the question at hand would be whether a prehistoric hunter really would have put together the very same asterisms and constellations we recognise today (most of them going back to ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, and Greek scholars and descriptions)?

3. Contrary to the article’s premise the unearthed features at Göbekli Tepe are not  shrouded in mystery. Published over the last years and decades, there is ample scientific literature available which unfortunately did not find its way into the study. The  specific animals depicted in each enclosure’s iconography for instance seems to follow a certain intention, emphasizing different species in different enclosures. A purely  substitutional interpretation ignores these more subtle but significant details. This also can be demonstrated for instance with the headless man on the shaft of Pillar 43, interpreted as symbol of death and mass extinction in the paper – however silently omitting the emphasised phallus in the same depiction which somehow contradicts the lifeless notion and implies a much more complex narrative behind these reliefs. There are even more reliefs on both narrow sides of P43 which went conpletely uncommented here.

4. It also seems a bit arbitrary to base this interpretation (and all its consequences as described in the paper) on what seems to be some randomly selected pillars and their iconography (the interpretation thus not covering “much of the symbolism of Göbekli Tepe” as stated in the paper, but merely the tip of that iceberg). In the meantime more than 60 monumental T-pillars could have been unearthed in the older Layer III – many of these showing similar reliefs of animals and abstract symbols, a few even as complex as Pillar 43 (like Pillar 56 or Pillar 66 in enclosure H, for example). And it does not end there: the same iconography is prominently known also from other find groups like stone vessels, shaft straighteners, and plaquettes – not only from Göbekli Tepe, but a variety of contemporary sites in the wider vicinity.

So, with all due respect for the work and effort the Edinburgh colleagues obviously put into their research and this publication, there still are – at least from our perspective as excavators of this important site – some points worth a detailed discussion. A more thorough exchange with the excavation team could have clarified many of these concerns.


71 thoughts on “Archaeoastronomy, meteor showers, mass extinction: What does the fox say? (And what the crane? The aurochs?)

  1. Sounds like your approach is a good deal more rigorous than that of the Edinburgh engineer group’s. I recall another engineer from the seventies, Alexander Thom, who cherry-picked facts to support his theories regarding the use of megalithic stone circles as astronomical observatories. Re the Younger Dryas, I’ve always assumed the people who developed the skills needed to construct GT must have been living elsewhere at that time: the conditions must have been too harsh prior to 11,600 BP to support the numbers needed?


  2. Yes! Your comments are very fine and balanced, and I hope you will continue to comment in such a cogent way about these very hypothetical (I think often quite
    imaginary and even absurd) takes on the meaning and history of an amazing site.


    • Thanks! They certainly would have benefited from doing some more general archaeological research rather than leap to conclusions about early holocene astronomy.


  3. It is very unfortunate that people with little knowledge of the archaeology of Göbekli Tepe can somehow get their absurd “alternative facts” and non-sequiturs published in what claims to be a legitimate academic journal. Incidentally, the article does nothing for the reputation of the journal, its editorial staff, and its supposedly rigorous peer-review process. Such fantastic imaginations attract journalists, but I was very surprised to see that the magazine New Scientist, which has a very wide readership, published a short piece about the article in Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeoastronomy. The story was credited to (anonymous) staff and the Press Association. So I suspect that the story is being promoted by the Press Association, which means that it will appear widely in newspapers around the world. Suspiciously, the New Scientist piece includes a direct quote from the lead author, Martin Sweatman. My guess is that the “lead author” is busy promoting his article – which is already listed as one of his “scientific” research publications on his university web-page. I am embarrassed that such poor scholarship is associated with the name of the University of Edinburgh, where I have served as an archaeologist.


    • Thanks a lot, Trevor. Your thoughts and remarks are – as always – much appreciated and it’s good to know your expertise ready at hand!


  4. Appreciate the way Jens can keep his cool but really, what’s a very established and respectable university doing publishing this nonsense?


  5. Thank you so much for this reply. I am being sent the media reports constantly and needed the opinion of a voice I trust. Thank you! I have been pointing to this and will now reblog.



  6. I appreciate the way you acknowledge that good ideas can come from anywhere, not just from archaeological insiders. But you are also right that a simple consultation with the excavators would have immediately shown the authors of this article that this was a poorly formed hypothesis. It is irritating when those trained in one discipline feel that they can parachute into another and solve all its problems. I too am an archaeologist from Edinburgh, and I will now have to struggle to maintain our outstanding reputation in archaeology by disavowing our own Engineering School (at least as it relates to this article).

    In addition to the reasons you mention, the authors’ argument does not make logical sense and is formed from circular reasoning, a weasel-words method of convincing those who don’t know much about a subject. As pointed out by blogger Jason Colavito, who has been interrogating fringe archaeological theories for years: ‘The authors assumed that the comet really did hit the Earth, and they assumed that Göbekli Tepe should be understood astronomically, and therefore they use those assumptions to prove that the comet hit the Earth and was recorded at Göbekli Tepe.’

    I agree with Trevor (comments above) that it is very unfortunate that this made its way to publication in what most people would believe is an academically rigorous journal. How the journal editors let this pass review is not understandable. Now not only will this particular theory take on extra weight, but the likes of pseudoscientists Andrew Collins (whom they cite!) and Graham Hancock will be wringing their palms in glee claiming that they were right all along. Here come the aliens…


    • Thanks a lot for your comment, Andrew – and the link to Jason’s review of the paper. Some interesting leads I didn’t yet consider. I actually don’t have hard feelings towards the authors who did not attack (well, or actually notice) any of our interpretation. I just wished they had tried to establish contact and exchange beforehand. Science is free and everyone may publish as they (well, and the peer reviewers) like, but I’m sure we could have shed some light on a couple of the questions now coming up.


      • Regarding the fox paper I can note that both them and Richard below on this site are using software that is not applicable at that time range — the Sun is depicted way outside the ecliptic, which is impossible (the ecliptic is defined as the path of the Sun). That puts a question on the accuracy of their computations.
        Regarding your wish expressed here about establishing contact, I have a few simple questions that you can easily answer, which would be most helpful for my research.
        1. Presuming that the porthole was used for observations of some particular star, it would be most helpful that you tell us the exact dimensions of the portholes in the enclosures D and C (in mm please)! Andrew Collins mentions 25-30 cm, but this is not accurate enough for me to test my hypothesis.
        1a. What was the alignment of portholes (in degrees with margins of error please) ? This information might be helpful for dating the enclosures, independently of C-14.
        1b. What was the exact distance between the portholes and the entrance (in cm please) ?
        2. I wonder if they had domesticated dogs ?
        3. If they did not had domesticated dogs, then shepherding is difficult, and perhaps they were only able to keep a few sheep (as pets), not large flocks. Yet, even that might have enabled them to spend more time on the site than otherwise. This could provide an answer to the resource problem. Can that be distinguished anyhow via the sheep remains ?
        4. Are there any images on the pillars 41 and 42 ?
        5. Considering that the pillars appear randomly numbered, can you tell us the exact procedure on how do you assign numbers to them ?
        6. Are there any not-yet-excavated enclosures at the SE of the enclosure D ?
        7. To what layer does the enclosure F belongs ?
        7a. Are there any different images on the central pillars of the enclosure F, considering that their alignment is markedly different from the other enclosures ?
        7b. Are there any other T-pillars in the enclosure F ?
        8. What is the third image on the pillar 21, beside the gazelle and wild ass ? Is it still unidentified ?
        Thank you kindly for your very transparent work.
        (One might think that some of these questions are outside of the scope of this page, which is correct, but most of them are, And if one considers that the whole site should tell a coherent story), not just a few cherry-picked images (or at least that each enclosure should have a single purpose), then I think it might be good to widen the picture a little bit.)


      • 1. No porthole stone known from Enclosure D yet, neither in Enclosure C. If you’re referring to ‘entrance’ situation of Enclosure C, these features are discussed here (including measurements).

        1a. & b. We have to beg your pardon that, due to time constraints, we can’t answer individual requests for particular measurements. A detailed catalog of all Layer III pillars (including plans and measurements) is in preparation and will be published soon.

        2. Dogs there among the earliest domesticated animals and at Göbekli Tepe there are a couple of graffiti likely depicting dogs. So this definitely seems an option.

        3. All animal remains found so far are from wild species, agriculture and husbandry apparently did not play a role in these people’s subsistence strategy.

        4.Would need to check back with archives to be sure, but if memory serves well there are reliefs on P41 (partly covered by enclosure’s wall) but none on P42.

        5. Pillars and enclosures are numbered in order of their discovery.

        6. Enclosure C is situated to the SE of D. Naturally, we can’t answer for sure whether there are any more until proven by excavation.

        7., 7a. & b. Still topic of ongoing research.

        8. Unclear since most of this part of the relief is covered by the wall.


  7. Astronomer here:
    For the record, the stars would have been in fairly similar positions to today. There’s some relative movement, but not so much as it would be that different. (Probably typically maybe a quarter of a degree of relative movement, so half a full-moon. That’s probably well below the recording precision of the medium.) But otherwise, this strikes me as utter tosh. Why focus on equinoxes and solstices? There are cultures that focused more on cross-quarter days, for example. And it’s not clear to me that a culture 12,000 years ago would be able to/interested in working out what asterism the Sun was in at a given time. That constellation (and stuff immediately around it) is basically invisible, even before dawn/after sunset. You *can* work it out by mapping out the stars over a few years and then interpolating, but it takes some dedication and records.
    It’s also probably worth noting that they include constellations no sane person would ever expect to see mapped out, like Ophiuchus. It’s such a faint constellation that most astronomers I know (myself included) can’t really make it out. It’s mostly there to cover that patch of celestial territory more than as a really clear asterism. (Many of the others are also really dodgy associations to believe would be stable across cultures. I can accept Scorpius, which is a fairly bright and easy to make out grouping, but even then they put the claws in Libra — which we do now, but when the asterism was first drawn (by Arabs as well as Greeks, apparently) they were recognized as part of the scorpion.)
    And that’s assuming that they were mapping the sky and that that’s even the Sun that they were recording, as opposed to, say, the Moon.


    • Thanks, John, for this most useful insight. As I wrote, I’m not an astronomer, so my knowledge about this basically is limited to my school lessons in astronomy and the occasional night spent on the roof. It’s actually quite interesting to read your comments on the rather complex effort that would have to be assumed behind the recognition and record of some of these asterisms. Definitely an information, I’m going to read up. Thanks again!


    • I disagree about the similarities between star positions today and 12,000 years ago. The precessional motion of the Earth has a period of 26,000 years, which would mean that 12,000 years ago, the constellations would be fairly different from what they are today.


  8. The whole ‘observatory’ things reeks of ‘television show plus expensive book pitch’. That will naturally give money to these ‘researchers’, but actual Gobekli Tepe archaeology will see little to none of the benefit.


    • Rather like the tourism focused on GT that the Turkish tourist industry is developing, I suspect.They have no qualms about pursuing the crowd pleasing religious line that GT was the source of Old Testament/Abrahamaic tradition.


  9. just an observation…their theory seems a little far fetched but they make a great case concerning the “date stamp” and reference that to the various locations throughout North America with elevated levels of platinum dated around the mini ice age event. I’m just a layman but the historical record indicates that global catastrophes caused Earth to hit the reset button several times over. We tend to discount certain periods in history alluding to the fact that those civilizations didn’t have the capability of making these observations but i don’t quite buy that…I think they are on to something…what else would have caused such a sudden change in the climate? The changes lated for a thousand years!!


    • Interesting points for sure. And I would love to read about this discussion – in a geological paper. Their archaeological (and as it seems judging by some of the comments here, the astronomical) interpretations regarding Göbekli Tepe still are questionable (including the date they provide which contradicts our 14C dates obtained for the site so far).

      Liked by 1 person

  10. My response to the comments here posted elsewhere:

    “Gobekli Tepe:
    It’s frightening. Archaeologists slamming others for not knowing about archaeology, when they actually know nothing about archaeoastronomy. Not even “John” who claims to be “Astronomer here”. It’s time they all took a year out to get some lecturing on archaeoastronomy.

    “…Why focus on equinoxes and solstices?…”

    Dear oh dear! Because that’s how the CYCLES of astronomical time can be observed. Hence the interpretation of “Date Stamp”.
    Unfortunately Sweatman and Tsikritsis have missed the significance of the “H” symbols, but they are correct otherwise in the context of precession.

    “…It’s also probably worth noting that they include constellations no sane person would ever expect to see mapped out, like Ophiuchus. It’s such a faint constellation that most astronomers I know (myself included) can’t really make it out…”.

    Precisely, not being able to make out what fills a space, still gives you the shape of the “space”!

    “…but when the asterism was first drawn (by Arabs as well as Greeks, apparently)…”.

    Again, recorded history paradigm. Modern asterisms extrapolated backwards into prehistory. They actually have no idea what people were capable of in prehistory.

    For heaven’s sake it is the ARCHAEOLOGISTS who have come up with the dates for Gobekli Tepe, outside of their blinkered paradigm, not archaeoastronomy. Exactly what Kuhn is about. “Every age gets the Stonehenge it deserves”. Cobblers, every age gets the archaeology it deserves, and this age of archaeology is doing no favours for future generations – it has no mechanisms to deal with hypotheses outside of archaeology, even when they are clearly scientifically based on valid archaeoastronomical principles. The politeness from some quarters is veiled – note “…prehistoric hunter…” – and they leave the interdisciplinary naive academic correspondents to do the rest of the job – “imaginary”, “absurd” etcetera.

    I think that if Sweatman and Tsikritsis had eased off on the interpretations outside of archaeoastronomy, they would have a very forceful argument. Unfortunately, I think they left themselves open to this kind of attack. They should have stuck to the scientific astronomical facts as a baseline for potential interpretation of other pillars, some of which might, indeed, contain evidence of use of “cross quarter” days.


    And to add: References to Alexander Thom, as made here, have become extremely boring. The tide is changing. Archaeology, indeed also archaeoastronomy, threw out the baby with the bathwater. He acknowledged those who built these monuments as his intellectual superiors, and when challenged he said that he states as he finds. Bearing in mind that he was a pioneer, how dare any academic of any status EXPECT him to have had all the answers. Did Einstein?

    The common answer from academia is to refer the matter to Jason Colavito – give us a break, please!

    The bigger they claim to be, the harder they will fall.

    Best wishes.


    • As I said, I’m not an astronomer so I won’t comment on complex astonomic questions (but still doubt that there is a stable coninuity of asterisms across time and cultures – that would be quite a surprise and we only have to look into historic and modern non-western astronomies to get an idea that the night sky offers quite multifaceted interpretations).

      However, I’m an archaeologist working on this site for about 10 years. Yes, we have come up with the dates for Göbekli Tepe. Dates which are significantly different from what’s suggested as “date stamp” in the paper. Daters pointing to the end of the Younger Dryas, not its beginning. Assuming such a long tradition of knowledge commemorating an unconfirmed (ancient) cosmic event appears a bit far-fetched to me.


    • As I recall, Thom didn’t claim to have all the answers but he did claim to have answers for which the evidence was too patchy to constitute a solid, verifiable base. He chose the alignments which suited his case. His argument for a ‘megalithic yard’, for instance, cannot be backed up by sufficient uniformity of measurements in stone circles to be considered acceptable.


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  12. Hello Jens and Robert,
    I have said my peace, so to speak, so it wouldn’t be fair to hijack the main purpose of this posting by Jens.

    Rather, as an archaeoastronomer coming from a professional landscape discipline I found I had insights which I think are worthy of sharing. And this is now after eleven years of study and independent research. Having spoken as indicated, I felt it incumbent on me to put my money where my mouth is to back up my support of the many contributions that I believe archaeoastronomy can contribute to archaeology. So I decided to test the veracity of the basic findings in the paper, i.e. whether the tools used were applied correctly. Obviously this is not the place to go into great detail, but I hope the following might help, particularly to people reading this of a general interest, or even to academics outside of the discipline. Below is my brief report. Since I don’t know if the comments format accommodate images, I have only provided links from which they may be viewed and/or downloaded. I have a pdf version with full formatting, which I can provide on request – presumably via Jens.

    1) Verifying the “vulture” as constellation of Sagittarius:
    1.1. I took the outline of the “vulture”, and created a transparent overlay. I then fitted it to the constellation of Sagittarius, using the constellation lines as in Stellarium (v.0.15.0). I then created another transparent overlay from the result, to superimpose onto screen shots of the Stellarium outputs.

    2) Checking the date claimed:
    2.1. Given the co-ordinates for Sanliurfa, as in Stellarium, I created the outline of the local horizon using the “heywhatsthat” website – creamy coloured horizontal profile in the images below.

    (Ignore the blobs and odd spots – these are stray artefacts once I had completed the majority of the transparency)

    2.2. The Stellarium time of the date was moved forward so that Sagittarius sits on the geometric horizon as shown. This is for easier comparative purposes. It is interesting that the first image shows the Sun virtually on the local horizon, but not horizontally aligned with the centre of the circle symbol (assumed “Sun”). So I fast-forwarded the date a hundred years to get the result in the second image.

    2.3. The presence of the local horizon is not really relevant. There are probably many potential observation locations all enabling a good view of the sky scene at, or close to the horizon at sunset, in the local area.

    2.4. It should be obvious that the constellation couldn’t actually be seen, because it would have been flooded out by sunlight – discussion of this topic is beyond the scope of these notes.

    3) Reinterpreting the “handbags”:
    3.1. The preceding clearly shows that the vulture scene is at summer solstice. In the paper it is suggested that the arcs represent the half-sun on the horizon. Quite possibly, but although I agree with the sequence as argued, I would suggest an alternative interpretation.

    3.2. In the image above there appears to be a hint of a globe sitting on the respective horizons (dashed circles) – represented by the solid blocks, which also represent the seasonal time periods. If this is the case, which needs to be confirmed by the researchers on site, then the “handles” might represent the tracks of the sun at these cardinal times, shorter in winter, lengthening in spring, maximum in summer and then shortening again in autumn. In essence, representing the length of day at these times. If not then we may have a somewhat casual sculptor at work, but despite the general coarseness of the symbols, it does look as if there is a genuine intention to portray accurate (enough) information to decode the meaning.

    4) Prediction, precession, and the “H” symbol:
    4.1. Without wishing to expand here – due to content in draft for publishing – the “H” symbol is clearly the equivalent of that I recognise from my decoding at Stonehenge. I suggest they are markers for a particular point in time of the great cycle of time, which for the sake of argument and astronomical definition here, I shall call the “Great Year”. Few people will fail to equate this with the former “Precession of the Equinoxes” – there are plenty of sites to be found on the web regarding current terminology.

    4.2. If accepted the paper illustrates a time cycle as pertinent to the “date stamp” hypothesis represented on Pillar 43, then from the above, it should equally be reasonable to suggest that this would be further reinforced by the designers’ knowledge of the length of the Great Year. I suggest that on this pillar, it is shown as underlying the annual solar cycle, as the background “field” of cosmological time.

    4.3. The “blocks”, I suggest, represent time periods, just as the larger “handbags”, and they would then quantify that 11 divisions of the Great Year have passed. Consequently, the annual cycle depicted sits in the twelfth division, or between it and the thirteenth. There is a hint of a “block”, judging by the difference in texture, directly above the vulture’s head – again needing to be confirmed or otherwise on site investigation.

    4.4. Prediction: Given that I have correctly interpreted the “H” symbols from Stonehenge, I did a quick calculation – literally, it took me around 15 seconds on my calculator – using the same period of the Great Year deduced at Stonehenge, to the following interpretation,

    i) That the symbology on Pillar 43 represents the coincidence of the summer solstice with an important time of the Great Cycle, and
    ii) That the vulture/sun coupling represents the sun sitting on the horizon at the same time as the constellation of the vulture.

    The calculation returned 10588 BC. At this point my guess, from the above images suggested this would be close to the case. The result is as follows:

    1) It seems to me that the Pillar represents, at the very least, a point in time of a great event, one worth all the effort in celebrating, just as we these days get excited about a comparatively minor event (if may suggest!), such as the transit of Venus, a ‘once in a lifetime’ occurrence. Imagine then being around at the time when a conjunction with the Great Cycle occurs, a once in a “civilisation” event!

    2) Whether or not the Pillar “date stamps” a catastrophic event, I don’t know. I can’t from this very brief investigation confirm or dismiss it. The headless body may well suggest that the then culture survived this catastrophe, but also lived on to witness the conjunction of time cycles. It may be that they decided to record this “god” given reprieve for posterity, in the possible event of another catastrophe occurring. It may also be, therefore, that the “handbag” became a symbol of the power of the “gods”, in restoring the life giving power of the Sun. It wouldn’t be surprising then to understand the “handbag” symbol as of cosmological importance, illustrated in various cultures, only able to be wielded by either the gods themselves, or their elite representatives on Earth. The above is of course all speculation and my background knowledge of the site is insufficient to support such, in the context of my other wider background reading.

    Further study:
    From the above I believed, however, that I had a sufficient grasp of the specific relationship of the symbols and pillars subjects of herein, in the context of my Stonehenge studies, to understand their meaning. My interpretation offers an alternative view, without necessarily conflicting with the conclusions of the authors of the paper in question. It would, however, be a significant challenge to questions such as continuity of symbolism across epochs and cultures. I pursued a brief plausibility check, with positive results. I am not prepared to expand this here for the same reason as given in paragraph 4.1, but I may consider a summary confidential disclosure subject to copyright safeguards.

    Richard Bartosz

    28 April, 2017


    • Richard, I’m sorry to have to say I find your interpretation to be highly self-confirmatory: the reasoning revolves around the fitting of assumed alignments into a pattern, rather than looking objectively at whether the totality of the carvings can realistically fit that pattern. No wish to be derogatory in any way but it seems like you’ve decided this is the way it is without taking the opposite scientific angle of seeing if there’s good enough evidence to actually disprove your theory. And there is. Similarly, you assume, without proof, that the culture that, six and one half thousand years later and 1,500 miles away erected Stonehenge would have followed the same lines of thought and belief. I don’t buy it: with reference to a continued link over the millenia, specialists know, for example, that in the fully developed Neolithic of the 5th and 4th millenium there were considerable variations in monumental construction, suggested variety of belief rather than conformity. Aside from a presumed Bronze Age dagger carving at Stonehenge, I’m also unaware of anything at that site that could be compared to the sculptural cornucopia at Gubekli Tepe. Impressive as Stonehenge is, it simply isn’t in the same league as GT.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Robert,

        With respect, your position to me appears, as the first poster, to be governed by a starting point of dismissal. Fair enough, but at least we have reached a posting position of academic debate. Whether there will be a meeting in the middle, and progress thereafter, remains to be seen. I interpret the purpose of this item by Jens as signalling a rebuttal of the claims in the paper, which will be or have been, formulated in detail and presented to the authors. For me, courtesy dictates this as a prior position to having publicly voiced opinion via this item. Perhaps Jens could confirm. Obviously, it is beyond the scope of this facility for commenting to do any more than highlight issues and evidence.

        Not that academic status is necessarily relevant, and apologies, but I am not aware Robert, of your precise background. It would be helpful to know, but confirmation is entirely up to you.

        My exercise was not self confirmatory. The paper, itself, with statistical analysis presents the framework, but I have indeed taken it further and specifically stated this in “Further Studies”. This stems from the paragraph on “Prediction”, an initial test which returned positive results. It wasn’t a case of “I think this”, rather “Is it possible that?”. Of course I understand the need to consider the “…totality of the carvings…”, but on the other hand you have not indicated what you consider this to be – Pillar 43, Pillar 43+Pillar 18, all the carvings in enclosure D, or all carvings in the site as a totality. The objective, as it stands, with the publishing of this paper, in terms of archaeoastronomy, is to present the arguments for Enclosure D as a starting point. New theoretical models require a step by step approach.

        In terms of not being derogatory, I’m afraid that you have jumped to a conclusion without knowing my scientific background nor the scientific principles I apply to all my investigations. Such is the limited nature of dialogue as possible here. I haven’t presented a theory, I’ve made “suggestions” in the spirit of academic debate, utilising my background knowledge from studies in archaeoastronomy, now totaling 11+years, and having had the privilege of dialogue, ranging from very brief to extended discussions, with scholars, worldwide! Many have willingly provided me with document material, otherwise beyond the affordability of an independent researcher with no academic affiliations. As to evidence to disprove the theory, I think you have jumped the gun, the matter is now in critical debate, and is following, in my opinion, the first step of polarisation of opinion, as one would expect. That is all, it’s a starting point and recognised in blogs such as here:

        As regards the “H” symbols, I stated they were “equivalent” to what I find at Stonehenge, and I never said that carvings were involved. Nevertheless, there are architectural equivalents to be found elsewhere, where perpendicularity is also involved. Here is a link to a paper relating to one such location – note the layout in Fig.2:

        As regards “handbags” there is such a wealth of examples, I’ll just give you a starting point. Note the one opened at Teppe Yahya:

        There are several aspects that I do not agree with, but the archaeoastronomical momentum developed in the paper remains, for me, totally valid. This to the extent of, with further investigations penciled, that I am now considering including this as pertinent and relevant content in a future publication. This is based on strong evidence, subject to scrutiny, that I now know exactly what the fox is saying!


      • This response is indeed meant to express our concern and doubts regarding this study. And yes, a more complex response including much more detailed references was submitted for publication in the same journal in the meantime.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Richard,
      I’m sorry to say you made a big mistake. Using the words of Sherlock Holmes: “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
      Returning to the study of the two Edinburgh engineers, I found their method totally unscientific.
      They took for granted the existence of the comet of Clovis without even presenting the opposite theories (usually this is done to not give information to those who do not know the subject and to convince them that the theory is correct), have passed to talking about Gobekli Tepe without even motivating this jump from North America to Turkey, began analyzing the data assuming that on this site there must be a witness to a catastrophic event, they only selected data that could be useful to corroborate their theory, effectively smoothing the complex symbolism of the site and reducing it to an astronomical observatory aimed at studying comets.
      I would like to point out that an astronomical symbolism can be present on the site and that the idea that constructors have also represented constellations using the figures known to them can be acceptable, but it is not necessary to make the mistake of distorting data, absurd connections to make their theory square, or worse, to read the symbolism of the site using only one lens.
      Archaeoastronomy is a fascinating and complex discipline, so much so that we (archaeologists) are very careful to deal with these topics. You can not make connections to constellations this way, seeing what makes you comfortable.
      I also want to point out that the published study is NOT an original study since it was published by Graham Hancock in “Magicians of the Gods” in 2015, a book that obviously was not mentioned at all in the work. This way of behaving is definitely incorrect, not academic, and unprofessional.


      • emmanuelelazzaratoblog

        Apologies, I missed this post of yours. Unfortunately, as I pointed out to Jens, the “notify” button does not appear to work, and due to other commitments I have had to defer from this blog for a short while.

        With respect, the first part of your comments is poppycock – I have presented no hypotheses, I have only been interested in testing the results presented, I have clearly indicated that I do not necessarily agree with the full contents of the paper which has several and not mutually dependent elements, and my focus is reviewing and presenting new data which might possibly help illustrate and support the interpretation of deliberate astronomical intention behind the carvings. I do this because I am an archaeoastronomer (second “career” in retirement from a profession which included considerable “sky” inputs, and currently in my twelfth year of study and practical research, including direct dialogue with archaeologists on a regular basis), and as a result I have found further evidence which I propose to present but not here. This is clearly not the place for doing so.

        I’m afraid that you make the same mistake as so many, across many disciplines. You cannot have it both ways! You cannot “accept” the possibility of astronomical symbolism, on the one hand and then criticise in the way that you do (hence my opening post) coming from outside of the discipline, on the other. If you make statements such as “…you cannot make connections to constellations this way…” then you must identify precisely how they can be made acceptable to you, as an archaeologist. Note again, I’m referring to astronomy, not the YD theory, etcetera. Perhaps the rebuttal, as indicated by Jens, will cover this aspect.

        Unlike countottoblack’s attack on me which is clearly ad hominem, you, although more polite, are bordering “straw man” argument. I am personally not “comfortable” until the claims made meet scientific scrutiny. Juxtaposing references to Graham Hancock, as the original proposer of the “theory” can be seen as a ploy to categorising the paper as “pseudo-science”, a cloning of Jason Colavito’s sensationalised journalistic – rather than scientific – methodology. However, I don’t recall Graham Hancock complaining anywhere – which would be more pertinent evidence for your claim.

        With respect again, you should know that these kind of attacks are just “water off a duck’s back” to me. Despite not having published formally in any journal, for good reason, if readers here haven’t noticed by now, I am comfortable and content, for the time being, with meeting requests both from archaeoastronomers and archaeologists world wide, for my assistance in archaeoastronomical matters!


  13. Thanks for your reply, Richard. In fact it is over 40 years since I formally studied archaeology (under Aubrey Burle, the ‘stone circle man’) but his rigorous approach to evidence and conjecture stays with me. Today I am simply a sporting amateur, fascinated, as I was then, by the Neolithic. Gubekli Tepe turns everything on its head and demands a reappraisal of everything hitherto believed about the emergence of the new ways of living and belief in the Holocene. But research can only be credible if it proceeds in a manner that takes into account all evidence, rather than focus on a particular field of study. That is my objection to the interpretation of megalithic alignments and carvings thereon as indications of a sophisticated understanding of astronomical observation millennia ago. And the supposition that people from different continents at very different times (i.e. the example of Toltecs referred to) had similar knowledge and beliefs is simply not, in my opinion, academically acceptable. Anyway, best wishes.


  14. I find the attitude of some posters on this thread extremely disappointing, hypocritical and irrational. While it’s apparently perfectly OK to criticise Martin Sweatman for ‘stepping outside his discipline’ and accuse him of “cherry picking”, it’s also seemingly acceptable to reference Jason Colavito as a ‘credible’ scientific commentator?

    Hey, what the hell! … Let’s just ignore the findings of the already numerous and steadily-growing number of published peer-reviewed papers on the Younger Dryas Comet hypothesis, produced by respectable tenured scientists at institions ranging from Los Alamos National Laboratories to Amargh Observatory, etc, etc, and turn to Colavito (an author with a Bachelor of Arts) instead! That’s scientific.


    I sincerely hope that team members from the Göbekli Tepe dig will not allow themselves to be drawn any further into alignment with such short-sighted, ill-informed and condascending notions. While those posting comments expressing such attitudes would argue they are being ‘rational’ and ‘scientific’, they are in fact demonstrating nothing more than pre-exsting cognitive biases and attitudes – and a most unscientific and shoddy form of scepticism.

    There is not respectable behaviour in proper scientific discussions, debate and research.


  15. Jens, may I ask why my post from a few hours ago was removed? I genuinely don’t understand why you’ve found it offensive and taken it down.


    • We didn’t remove anything but of course need to moderate and approve content. Since we have regular work and private lives, too, this may take some time (in particular on weekends and hoidays).


  16. Jens, please disregard all my former posts that are still awaiting moderation. If you are OK with the following, that is what I’d prefer to have posted on the thread:


    I find the attitude of some posters on this thread extremely disappointing, hypocritical and somewhat irrational. While they seem to believe it’s perfectly OK to criticise Martin Sweatman for ‘encroaching’ on a subject outside his regular discipline and accuse him of “cherry picking” to support what they view as an offensive hypothesis, they don’t seem to object in any way when Jason Colavito is referenced as a reputable scientific commentator – despite the fact he’s an “author and editor” with a Bachelor of Arts who publishes no peer-reviewed research whatsoever.

    The same critics are also quick to deride the Younger Dryas Comet hypothesis in its entirety – not by arguing from a scientific standpoint, but merely by totally ignoring the findings of the already numerous (and steadily-growing number) of published peer-reviewed papers on the Younger Dryas Comet hypothesis, produced by respectable tenured scientists at institutions ranging from Los Alamos National Laboratories, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California, to Northern Arizona University, and more than two dozen others around the world.

    Is that good science? I think not.

    I would sincerely hope that team members from the Göbekli Tepe dig will keep themselves a good distance away from such short-sighted, ill-informed and condescending notions.

    While those posting comments expressing such attitudes would like to believe they are being ‘rational’ and ‘scientific’, they are in fact demonstrating nothing more than pre-existing cognitive biases and attitudes – and a most unscientific and shoddy form of skepticism.

    There is no respectable place for this attitude in proper scientific research, discussion and debate…. even if Martin Sweatman’s hypothesis proves to be incorrect.

    As Carl Sagan once declared: “The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion or in politics, but it is not the path to knowledge. And there’s no place for it in the endeavor of science. We do not know beforehand where fundamental insights will arise from about our mysterious and lovely solar system… and the history of our study of the solar system shows clearly that accepted and conventional ideas are often wrong and that fundamental insights can arise from the most unexpected sources.”


  17. As an ‘enthusiastic amateur’, with no axe to grind, I looked up the Younger Dryas Comet Hypothesis on Wikipedia. If ever there was a hypothesis in dispute, it’s that one! Aside from anything else, is it likely a comet/s impact event striking north America would have been visible in Anatolia? And if its actual occurrence is in dispute, what liklihood that it should trigger a 1,200 year drop in temperature when the Tunguskan event of 1908 had virtually no climatic effect at all?


    • Personally I’d even go further, asking: *If* there really was a ‘Younger Dryas Impact’ in northern America and *if* it was visible in Anatolia and observed by prehistoric hunters … why would they commemorate this event 1,000 years later and associate it with a change in climate (keeping in mind that the Younger Dryas seemingly had very local environmental effect with little provable impact in the northern fertile crescent yet) at all?


      • Jens, I would suggest that as a starting point you simply read this poster presentation, entitled:
        On the Possibility of a Late Pleistocene Extraterrestrial Impact: LA-ICP-MS Analysis of the Black Mat and Usselo Horizon Samples

        The conclusions address the core point of your question:

        1. The distributions of the trace elements in the Lower Younger Dryas Boundary, Black Mat and Usselo Horizon samples point to an event which changed abruptly conditions of sedimentation just before the onset of the Younger Dryas cooling 12.9 ka.
        2. Trace element distributions and relations observed for Lower Younger Dryas Boundary samples may be consistent with incorporation of the material of ET origin shortly before the beginning of the Younger Dryas cooling.
        3. The Black Mat itself was formed by sheer terrestrial processes in response to a climatic change and displays the trace element composition similar to that of
        the ACC.
        4. Impact-related material could be delivered as airborne particles as far west as Western Europe where it could participate in the generation of the Usselo Horizon resulting particularly in elevated PGE concentrations.
        5. The study of PGE distributions across the sediments of the appropriate age could be of the highest priority in further studies of the problem of the possible ET Late Pleistocene impact.

        If you are interested, I can provide links to many far more detailed papers on the subject.


      • Thanks for the link. Still leaves us with little to no evidence of environmental impact in Western Asia and the huge chronological gap to the actual Neolithic iconography and material culture of Göbekli Tepe pointing to the end rather then onset of the Younger Dryas …


      • Ah! I didn’t know the impact of the Younger Dryas in the general GT region had been limited. So continuity of habitation (and culture) would have been possible. I’d assumed the hunter/gatherer population would have moved south for the duration.


      • I would suggest the claim that the Younger Dryas had “little provable impact” on the region is not consistent with numerous published scientific findings. For anyone who is interested, here are just a couple of the many examples:

        The Pleistocene to Holocene Transition and Human Economy in Southwest Asia: The Impact of the Younger Dryas

        “Our aim in this paper is to examine new evidence that at least one major episode of cooling, the Younger Dryas, apparently had a profound effect on the environment of southwest Asia, and contributed significantly to the adjustments in human adaptations that resulted in the development of agriculture.”


        Evidence of Lateglacial and Holocene climatic change and human impact in eastern Anatolia: high-resolution pollen, charcoal, isotopic and geochemical records from the laminated sediments of Lake Van, Turkey ;


        The Impact of Late Pleistocene—Early Holocene Climatic Changes on Humans in Southwest Asia


      • Effects seem to have been locally variable and so is evidence. While a Pleistocene-Holocene boundary indeed may be identified in Turkey, most evidence discussed so far is relating to the Southern Levant, but comparatively sparse in the Taurus region. More recent studies focussing on the Late Natufian are linking a change in subsistence with adaptations to climatic and environmental changes. This is acceptable for the Southern Levant where data is relatively plentiful, but it is less so in Anatolia. The onset of Holocene conditions would not have brought instant and homogeneous environmental change. Rather, different regions would have experienced climate change at different times and in different ways and the record in particular for Braidwood’s ‘hilly flanks’ is still in need of much more research on a more local level with higher resolution before we can really postulate a major shift here which subsequently had relevant impact on socio-cultural developments – caused by YD climate events.

        As you can see we are entering a huge (and still ongoing) research debate here which has seen much discussion and many new studies in recent years. Interesting without a question, but pretty much leaving the focus of this post’s original topic, I’m afraid.


  18. I would suggest that reading the papers on the subject would offer you a much better insight than anything you’ll find on wikipedia about it.
    A substantial number of the peer-reviewed papers can be found at:
    The scientists involved are also listed… and there are many, from a significant list of respected institutions.

    If you bother to look at any of these, you’ll also see that the event (theoretically) may have produced impacts in as many as four continents. It was not just a Tunguska-sized event with effects confined to the North American continent.

    The possible global climate effects are also discussed in many of the papers.


  19. Jens, this picks up on your last reply. See:

    Uncommon and Impact-Suspicious Geologic Phenomena across Jordan and Adjacent Areas, Arabian Plate ; DOI: 10.4236/ojg.2014.412051

    See section 3 in particular:

    3. Coming and Going Neolithic and Bronze Age Cultures in the Near/Middle East Relating to Rapid Climate Change (RCC)
    If one asks for reasons of RCC, Earth’s orbital and solar activity variations, mega-volcanic outbreaks, and major impacts as well, are the most relevant factors.
    Hoyle [48], a British astrophysicist argued for possible impact events on Earth every 1600 yr by fragments of a repeatedly returning large comet that has been possibly loosing material when passing the Earth’s orbit rela- tively close to the Sun. Thus, consecutive collisions with celestial bodies of our planetary system might have happened on 12,700, 11,100, 9500, 7900, 6300, 4700, 3100 yr B.P.*, etc. see also [34].
    Climate variability during Holocene has been excellently analyzed by some 50 globally distributed records [49]. Significant RCCs occurred through the periods 9000 – 8000, 6000 – 5000, 4200 – 3800, 3500 – 2500, 1200 – 1000, and 650 – 150 yr cal. B.P. All of them underwent polar cooling, wetlands in the Mediterranean, tropical aridity, and major atmospheric circulation changes.
    In addition, Case 1 relates to the Middle/Upper Pleistocene boundary as a hiatus/discordance that separates mid-Pleistocene basalts (Figure 27, [16]) from Upper Pleistocene gravels. If the some 60 kilometers large “Col- lapsed Caldera” (Figure 1, Figure 7) could be verified as a real crater, there would be, because of its size, a very high probability of being an impact crater. Widespread gravel deposits, landslides, “loess-like” sediments, indi- cations on hazardous flooding, and possible triggering of the youngest basaltic volcanism in Northeast Jordan would be relevant around the Pleistocene/Holocene boundary.

    3.1. Case 2
    Atmospheric methane and 18O-data analyzed from Grip ice-cores of Greenland, define the last glaciation period, Younger Dryas (12,700 – 11,500 yr B.P.), as the end of the Pleistocene [50]. It caused ice-covered areas in high latitudes and wetlands of moderate climate in lower latitudes. Two droughts intercalate in the Mediterranean parallel to tropical Africa.
    As Figure 28 shows, the Younger Dryas starts with Hoyle’s “possible” Comet 1-Event and with the end of the Natufian Culture (14C: 14,500 – 12,300 yr B.P.) that appeared in Jordan and Israel as a mixture of semi- no- mads and settled farmers [51]. Excavated implements give evidence on hunting animals and plant food.
    In a pre-agricultural stage, the early ABU HUREYRA CULTURE, Syria (14C, 13,000 – 11,500 yr B.P.) ap- proximately coincides with the Younger Dryas period. Food consisted of wild animals and a broad variety of cereals [52].

    3.2. Case 3
    Around the end of the Younger Dryas, shortly prior to the Pleistocene/Holocene boundary, a drought occurred in the Near East that caused a higher salinity in the Red Sea and led to the precipitation of aragonite layers [53] [54]. 14C- and 18O-data indicate an age of 11,600 yr B.P. in average.
    While the early stage of the ABU HUREYRA CULTURE vanished at that time for about 500 yr, the tem- peratures significantly increased continuously during the Pre-Boreal (11,500 – 10,000 yr B.P.) [50].
    Plato (427 – 347 yr B.C.) reported on a Cataclysm-Event in connection with the destruction of “ATLANTIS”, 9000 yr before his time [55] which means the Pleistocene/Holocene boundary.
    Just around 11,000 yr B.P. Hoyle’s Comet 2 re-appeared while the ABU HUREYRA CULTURE re-devel- oped [53] and the early foundation of Jericho started [57].

    I’ll find something even more specific for you on the question of climate impact in Western Asia for you tomorrow. It is now late evening where I am located 🙂


    • You did quite work here collecting data and information. Impact of RCC events on prehistoric communities certainly has to be considered when reviewing social and cultural change in the early and middle Holocene. No-one’s going to challenge this, I think. However, we have to be careful not to confuse this with the Younger Dryas discussion (or more precisely: the debate on what caused the Younger Dryas). As I wrote below, this leads way beyond the scope of the topic this blog post originally aimed to discuss.


      • Jens, with regard to the possible link between a ‘cosmic impact event’ and the onset of the Younger Dryas, you may find this recent paper interesting:

        Widespread platinum anomaly documented at the Younger Dryas onset in North American sedimentary sequences(2017)

        Despite the paper’s focus on sediments from North America, it should be remembered that the original series of paper on this proposed cometary event reported data suggesting cometary fragments or ejecta had impacted on at least four continents – including analysis of soil samples from Abu Hureyra in Syria that were said to support the hyopthesis.

        The new paper concludes:
        “This study finds no evidence to contradict the conclusions of Petaev et al.1 that the Greenland Pt enrichment most likely resulted from an extraterrestrial source, whether the Pt originated from the impactor and/or target rocks. In addition, our findings show no contradiction with the Younger Dryas impact hypothesis, although detailed evidence for such an impact or airburst is beyond the scope of this paper.

        Our evidence indicates the Pt anomaly is a useful time marker horizon, and the ability to locate this chronostratigraphic marker easily within de-glaciated sediments is a significant finding. This time marker will allow more robust age-depth models and facilitate understanding of the effects of YD climate change on early Paleoindians, flora, and fauna across the Bølling-Allerød/YD transition.”

        Further supporting commentary on the possible astronomical aspects of such a event can be found in this paper:

        Palaeolithic extinctions and the Taurid Complex; W.M. Napier; Mon Not R Astron Soc (2010) 405 (3): 1901-1906.


  20. As Jens has stated several times, we are archaeologists, not astronomers. Knowing our field of expertise – and its limits – we absolutely do not want to contribute to questions that have to be tackled by astronomers. But what we can do as scientists is to gain a rough understanding of whether a theory is well founded or not. And it doesn’t take too much to see that the Younger Dryas impact event and possible consequences are highly disputed. You can be sure that we read up on this topic before forming an opinion- that’s just how science works.
    And it is exactly that what I would expect from anybody forming an opinion on a topic from my field of expertise. Unfortunately it seems that archaeology is often regarded a topic open for speculation by anyone. It is not-it’s a science and you need some background to make a valid contribution. What we are criticizing here is that the article by Sweatman and Tsikritsis is missing this background. Why not simply include or at least ask an archaeologist if you are stepping outside your own and inside our discipline? Many erroneous interpretations and outright errors could have been avoided that way. It is not that hard to reach out to us, as you can see.


  21. I take no issue your position Oliver. I am primarily seeking to address some of the other posts which I believe display an unreasonable –and illogical– contempt for the very idea that something like the hypothesised Younger Dryas Comet scenario (or its related variants) could produce cultural and environmental impacts that may influence subsequent iconography and mythology (in many cultures and on many continents) – and well-established practices such as archaeostronomy.

    I do not find the referencing of wikipedia or Jason Colavito adequate forms of rebuttal given the substantial volume of multi-displinary papers relating to all aspects of this topic.


  22. Hello Jens,
    I understand it’s late where you are, so no rush for the following request!
    Are you able to provide images of all the features on all sides of pillars 33 and 32, or perhaps point me in the direction of where they might be found on the web? I’m having difficulty, and my frustration forces me to ask of your time, knowing how busy you must be – indeed all of us in our different ways.

    As regards the YD event, I do not see this argument as being mutually dependent on that of the astronomical symbology claimed, or vice versa. One step at a time! The key starting point in the Sweatman/Tsikritsis paper is archaeoastronomy. The archaeoastronomy discipline uses powerful tools created by exceptionally committed – and gifted – people, and these are continually tested against scientific principles of both use and analysis of results. Therefore, I see the focus as being scrutiny firstly, as to whether the astronomical symbology is valid and secondly, whether the “date stamp” is accurate. Both can be done without too much difficulty, and I have gone a long way, except for the stumbling block of the information requested.

    The YD issue is clearly the one which, unfortunately, sensationalises the paper. It’s a matter which may never be able to be answered, unless a record of that is discovered, which is highly unlikely. As to the suggestion that the people of Gobekli Tepe had a special interest in the Taurid meteor stream, leading also to the suggestion that this is the prime mover of the YD, is also open to strong questioning. That there appears to be evidence of knowledge/observation of meteor streams is one thing, but to jump from that to connecting with catastrophism, is clearly another. Again, one step at a time.

    Clearly, we all need to wait to see what the details of the rebuttal submitted, as indicated by Jens, are. This will provide many more hooks on which to investigate and respond.

    With respect, I think that arguments such as whether an investigator is stepping into another discipline is a diversion. One just needs to look at the nature of interpretations within a discipline, and in archaeology in the context of prehistory this has been and continues to be aggressively argued. For example the work of archaeologist Euan MacKie, and the “astronomer priest” topic, then look at what is being discovered at the Ness of Brodgar. He admits that he is regarded as being “fringe” in his own discipline, and that places many others in the bracket of “lunatic fringe”. Very sad.

    Prehistory, is a subject which requires multidisciplinary input, and interdisciplinary cooperation and collaboration. New ideas, however they enter the arena of debate, should be embraced and dealt with according to scientific principles. And, indeed, “archaeoastronomy” as often looked at as a technical subject has itself embraced multidisciplinary principles, hence being modified by recognised need to “astronomy in culture”.


    • We have to beg your understanding that we can’t answer particular individual picture request, but we are currently preparing a detailed monographic overview of all monumental pillars, their iconography, situation etc. As soon as this book is ready, it will be announced here for sure. Thanks for understanding.


      • Thanks for the note Jens. I understand, but I’m equally certain that there will be many a request like mine to come in the future. Even this comprehensive site does not fulfill the needs of many an independent researcher:
        Archaeoastronomy tools offer facilities for doing scientifically based research remotely, but progress is often hampered by lack of material. Anywhere within the UK is theoretically accessible to researchers like myself, and mostly material is forthcoming from networks of contacts. But a visit to Gobekli Tepe is unlikely for me, and of course I am outside of specific networks for the site. Perhaps things might change!

        PS: Even though I tick the email notification box, I have not yet received any notices during the course of this dialogue. Is there a registration and approval process before this facility is activated?


  23. I’m puzzled why this ludicrous supposition is being debated at all. Different cultures interpret constellations very differently indeed, apart from the few that really do look like something obvious. For instance, Cygnus has been assumed by many unconnected cultures to represent a bird, though which way it’s supposed to be flying depends on whether those people happened to be more familiar with birds with long necks or long tails.

    Orion, on the other hand, was assumed to be special by just about every nation or tribe because that belt of three stars is the most meaningful-looking stellar pattern in the entire sky, but nobody agreed about how large the constellation was or what it was supposed to represent. For example, the Chinese consider the three stars in the belt to be the entire constellation, and since they don’t believe the other four prominent stars in our interpretation of the pattern are the knees and shoulders of a hunter firing a bow, they don’t see the “belt” as a belt at all, therefore they haven’t noticed that a vaguely linear scattering of faint stars next to it is Orion’s richly decorated scabbard.

    Quite apart from that, is there any proof whatsoever that the carvings on Pillar 43 (or any other pillars) represent constellations at all, never mind which ones? The least sane poster thus far tried to match the vulture with Sagittarius, and made a very poor job of it, but the match would have been considerably worse if Richard hadn’t ignored almost all of the vulture’s torso, its legs, and those parts of it that aren’t visible in the photo at the top of the page because something that looks like a ruined wall is in the way. Using similar logic, I could probably make it fit any constellation whatsoever equally well, or indeed a map of the London Underground, though I can’t be bothered to try.

    But my main point is that, even if we assume this structure has something to do with astronomy, which in itself is debatable, why do the carvings necessarily have to represent constellations? If the builders considered certain stars to be important, the entire site could be a kind of graphic novel recounting the lives of the gods associated with those particular pinpoints of light, in which case none of the imagery needs to be a map of the night sky at all.

    Let’s do a little thought experiment based purely on that photo up there of Pillar 43. Ancient cultures, including very sophisticated ones, sometimes attached arbitrary significance to rather unpleasant creatures for downright Surreal reasons. For instance, the Egyptians thought that, because the Sun is round and rolls across the sky, the humble dung-beetle, the only creature which habitually rolls perfectly spherical objects for long distances (for an extremely pragmatic reason of course, but one that seems to have been unknown to the Ancient Egyptians), must be the earthly representation of the mighty Celestial Scarab, therefore it was sacred in a way that all other insects weren’t. It helped that scarab beetles were inoffensive creatures incapable of doing humans any harm at all. Though unfortunately they didn’t take the idea to its illogical extreme and declare the Sun to be a gigantic white-hot jobbie done every morning out of the Ultimate Cosmic Bottom which is the source of all things. I wish they had. Tutankhamen’s Curse would have had a much better punchline.

    Anyway, let’s look at those carvings. Just about all ancient and most modern cultures pictorially place good things above bad things. The lower part of the pillar very prominently displays a scorpion which the sculptor has taken a great deal of trouble over, therefore the motif for the bottom half is primarily “lethally venomous arachnid”, which has to be bad! The carvings on the left are partially obscured by that crumbly lump of rock, but I’m seeing the paws and jaws of something wolflike, and a spiky tail which may or may not belong to the same beast. It’s not looking good! The perfunctory and partially effaced carving of a headless man with a stiffy is ambiguous, since male potency would seem to be a very positive indication of ongoing life. Then again, is not having a head ever a good thing? I suggest that this rather small carving is predominantly negative, since “having a hard-on” is a much less striking and unusual concept than “still being sexually active despite being decapitated”. In any case, the much larger and more carefully depicted lugubrious duck next to it obviously matters more. And it’s anybody’s guess what that’s supposed to mean.

    Moving on to the upper part of the picture, obviously distinct from and apparently menaced by that underworld scorpion, we see a clearly identifiable vulture. Since the top half of the image ought, by my conjecture, to represent something good, what, you may ask, is good about vultures? Quite a lot, actually. The Parsee practice “sky burial” whereby their dead are eaten by vultures to avoid contaminating the elements. Many Native American tribes similarly exposed their dead on platforms, inviting them to be eaten by vultures or buzzards, because in a hot climate, any natural mechanism which makes a rotting corpse go away quickly is much more positive than negative, so long as you don’t have to watch.

    Look at that picture. What’s that on the right of the vulture? It looks to me a lot like a newly-hatched vulture chick. Mummy or Daddy Vulture holds out his/her wing below a Sun-like and/or egg-like object (either way, a symbol of life) while a new young one takes its first breath, and directly below, a toxic myriapod impotently rages. The ugly but necessary vultures are the psychopomps in the ugly but necessary process of death, and when they’ve done their disgusting work, life begins anew and death is ultimately frustrated. I don’t claim to be an archaeologist, but I defy anyone on this planet to say that my interpretation of this carving is less plausible than claiming it pictorially represents an apocalyptic meteorite impact just because it includes a vulture, a scorpion, and a round thing.

    I rest my case.


  24. Pingback: Of animals and a headless man. Göbekli Tepe, Pillar 43 | The Tepe Telegrams

  25. Ah. counttoblack. I’m sure you don’t even realise it, but you’ve inadvertantly raised a good point. Who ever said the constructions at Göbekli Tepe only served one function?

    Who’s to say they weren’t an astronomical observatory, calandar, ritual center, cultural attractor and feasting hall all in one? (Plus who knows what else?)

    At this point, I think it’s fair to say nobody yet knows.


  26. Pingback: Scientists Think These Ancient Carvings Depict an Apocalyptic Comet Impact | Geeks District

  27. Countottoblack:
    Quote: “Quite apart from that, is there any proof whatsoever that the carvings on Pillar 43 (or any other pillars) represent constellations at all, never mind which ones?”

    Please get the sequence right. The paper presents evidence that this pillar may be interpreted as astronomical, for scholarly consideration. It does not claim to provide proof. Absence of prior proof is not proof of future absence! You mention Cygnus. Andrew Collins interprets the symbol as Cygnus, i.e. a bird.

    Quote: “The least sane poster thus far tried to match the vulture with Sagittarius, and made a very poor job of it”

    Re-scaled, the symbol fits very well with the modern “teapot” interpretation, as found in Stellarium, and arguably, precisely with alternative line depictions of Sagittarius. The important relationship is the relative position of the claimed Sun below the beak. For example select Sagittarius from the drop down box here:

    Select Cygnus, and you will be able to compare bird interpretations. So asterisms/constellations symbolised by variations of the bird theme are perfectly credible.

    As regards “sanity” I would suggest that only a member of the Flat Earth Society would argue with the intention behind my comparison. Unfortunately, I can’t see that the rest of your contribution adds anything material or pertinent to dealing with the astronomical interpretation, which is my priority, clearly indicated. With respect, I would suggest that, indeed, you should give the manner of presenting your arguments a rest, until you’ve had a chance to review it!


  28. Supplement to response to Countottoblack – currently subject to moderation:
    Vulture overlay on Sagittarrius depiction at Heavens Above website:


  29. Thanks a lot for your input and comments to this blog post. We appreciate and of course understand the large interest in this discussion in particular, but really get the impression all relevant points have been exchanged and the debate somehow has reached a point there everyone is just ‘treading water’. Maybe it would be a good idea to step back for a moment and take a deep breath.

    Meanwhile we submitted a more detailed response (including further points and detailed references backing our critique on this particular interpretation) to the journal which published the original study and we hope it will be considered for publication in due time, too. This then probably would be a better and more useful basis to continue this discussion. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Pingback: The Birth of a New Era – Archaeological Oddities

  31. Further supporting commentary on the possible astronomical aspects of such a event can be found in this paper:
    Palaeolithic extinctions and the Taurid Complex; W.M. Napier; Mon Not R Astron Soc (2010) 405 (3): 1901-1906. .


  32. Pingback: The Worst Day in History — Blog of the Long Now

  33. Well… although this just-published paper does nothing to prove that Göbekli Tepe has anything to do with ‘ancient cosmic catastrophes’, it certainly adds weight to the notion that such things may have possibly happened in the past – and may indeed happen again:

    Discovery of a new branch of the Taurid meteoroid stream as a real source of potentially hazardous bodies:

    I do sincerely hope the so-called ‘skeptics’ who’ve been doing the podcast/media rounds to publicly embarrass themsleves in recent weeks (by revealing their obvious ignorance of the science on this subject) stop and actually look at the science before resorting to ridicule and maliciousness again. Although they claim to be upholding the principles of science, it would appear to me that they are in fact doing exactly the opposite.


      • Jens:
        Well actually they do. It’s just that there doesn’t appear to be a mechanism for incorporating cultural cosmology matters as an interdisciplinary contributor for Gobekli Tepe interpretation. Elsewhere there is positive and constructive exchange, such as at TAG 2016

        This is the list presentations and videos available (note the title of the final discussion):
        Fabio Silva, University of Wales Trinity Saint David and Liz Henty, University of Wales Trinity Saint David
        12:00 – 12:10 Introduction
        12:10 – 12:30 Visualizing Skyscapes: GIS-based 3D modelling and astronomical simulation, Georg Zotti, Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology, Vienna, Austria
        12.30 – 12.40 Reflecting the sky in water: a phenomenological exploration, Ilaria Cristofaro, University of Wales Trinity Saint David

        12:40 – 13.00 Toads turning time: verifying visualizations of the Sanctuary, Lionel Sims, Emeritus, University of East London

        13.00 – 14.00 Lunch Break
        14.00 – 14.20 Skyscape Archaeology: Where are we now? Liz Henty, University of Wales Trinity Saint David
        14.20 – 14.40 Time pursued by a Bear: Ursa Major and stellar time-telling in the Paduan Salone, Darrelyn Gunzburg, University of Wales Trinity Saint David

        14.40 – 15.00 Moon Monitoring Politics, Suzanne Villeneuve, University of Toronto and Simon Fraser University and Julian Henao, Simon Fraser University
        15.00 – 15.20 A diachronic study of mid-Holocene skyscapes in southern England and Wales: preliminary results, Pamela Armstrong, University of Wales Trinity Saint David

        15.20 – 15.40 Skyscape Exploration: From Material Site to Apparent Non-Site and Back Again, Daniel Brown, Nottingham Trent University

        15.40 – 16.00 Tea Break
        16.00 – 16.20 The Solar Discourse of the Welsh Cistercians, Bernadette Brady; Darrelyn Gunzburg and Fabio Silva, University of Wales Trinity Saint David

        16.20 – 16.40 ‘Three stones in his belt’… astronomical imagery in myth and ritual sites, John Grigsby, University of Bournemouth

        16.40 – 17.00 Early Bronze Age deep postholes alignments in Linsmeau pointing towards astronomical events, Frédéric Heller, Service Public de Wallonie, Belgium and Georg Zotti, LBI ArchPro, Vienna, Austria

        17.00 – 17.20 Discussion: Archaeologists versus archaeoastronomers or new best buddies?

        The problem here is that the astronomical interpretation, supported by the statistical analysis – which of course needs evaluating independently – has been hijacked by the “straw man” of Graham Hancock’s publications, and particularly the subject of catastrophism.

        I note that rebuttals/evaluations received by the Journal publishers have been allocated space under “Matters Arising” in the next issue, although there is no indication of publishing date:


  34. Here’s another paper which may give some reason to reconsider the possibility that links between certain asterisms and their associated iconology could have been preserved across cultures and time… for far greater periods than we might otherwise think ‘logical’.

    The paper is entitled ‘Ultraconserved words point to deep language ancestry across Eurasia’ ; PNAS-2013-Pagel-8471-6

    “The search for ever deeper relationships among the World’s languages is bedeviled by the fact that most words evolve too rapidly to preserve evidence of their ancestry beyond 5,000 to 9,000 y. On the other hand, quantitative modeling indicates that some “ultraconserved” words exist that might be used to find evidence for deep linguistic relationships beyond that time barrier. Here we use a statistical model, which takes into account the frequency with which words are used in common everyday speech, to predict the existence of a set of such highly conserved words among seven language families of Eurasia postulated to form a linguistic superfamily that evolved from a common ancestor around 15,000 y ago. We derive a dated phylogenetic tree of this proposed superfamily with a time-depth of ∼14,450 y, implying that some frequently used words have been retained in related forms since the end of the last ice age. Words used more than once per 1,000 in everyday speech were 7- to 10-times more likely to show deep ancestry on this tree. Our results suggest a remarkable fidelity in the transmission of some words and give theoretical justification to the search for features of language that might be preserved across wide spans of time and geography.”

    These may seem like a left-field thing to bring into the discussion, but “if” there were ‘ultraconserved words’ so widely spread from some original ice age ancestral language, and “if” there were early holocene ‘cosmic impact events’ that caused widespread loss of life, devastation across numerous contients and severe climate change, should we really be so surprised to find such things reflected in the iconography of some ancient sites?

    Surely it’s worthing considering and investigating with some dilligence before dismissing the notion out of hand.


  35. . ”
    Further supporting commentary on the possible astronomical aspects of such a event can be found in this paper:
    Palaeolithic extinctions and the Taurid Complex; W.M. Napier; Mon Not R Astron Soc (2010) 405 (3): 1901-1906.


  36. Pillar 18 shows a disk and crescent symbol below an H symbol. The disk and crescent symbol could be a link to astronomy or astral religion (worship of sun and moon or other celestial bodies). If the symbol does indeed represent sun and moon we can assume that the movement of these bodies was observed by priests to get a meaning their regular movements. Methodical observation of all recognizable bodies would be a plausible supposition.

    The symbol has survived without any alteration for a stunning 7000 years into the Babylonian period. It has many descendants in form of similar symbols throughout history some surviving into the present. Content and import of the symbol may have changed over time and nothing can be said about religious or ritual context at the time of Göbekli Tepe.

    Is anybody doing work on the disk and crescent symbol and can anybody point me to a source?


    • Of course we did notice that peculiar (and actually recurring) symbolism and carefully considered it in our interpretation. The crescent moon in this shape is not unusual and could have been, yes still could be observed in the area. So, yes – it would be quite natural to assume a link to actual practical observation of celestial phenomena. However, due to the lack of written sources we may never be sure of the true meaning of these symbols and such a long continuity as suggested for instance to the Babylonian period are interesting of course, but also completely lacking final proof unfortunately.


  37. Pingback: What you get is … what you want to see: For example Göbekli Tepe on a 4th millennium seal print from Susa. | The Tepe Telegrams

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