Plato: Rosetta Stone of the Neolithic?
Few myths are as perennial as Plato’s story of Atlantis. As a record of perception it bubbles to the surface of memory in wake of discoveries corresponding to its detail or timeframe. As a prism of prehistory, rather than a product of pure fiction, Plato’s arcane treatise produces on our calendar adate of 9,600 B.C. for the fall of the phantom isle. Whether this was by accident or design it communicates meaning, with a streak of prophecy, against a settling wave of climatic chaos together with archaeological finds in Upper Mesopotamia (southeast Turkey today) that date to this time very closely.
Out of its pastiche of historical elements supposedly arriving to Plato from his archon ancestor Solon from Egyptian archives and converted into Greek equivalents, the most noticeable anthropological detail of Plato’s story concerns twins, or a lineage of twin-kings who ruled over the fabled isle and beyond. Resulting from the union of Cleito and Poseidon, these five-pairs of male twins were mediators between gods and men before their semi-divine nature became polluted and extinct.
Outside the terra incognita of Atlantis, an epochally early stratum of ideas linked to the veneration of people, rather than element or beast, pertains to twins. Either worshipped or feared, twins feature implicitly within widespread traditions of steep antiquity. A major swathe of the twin genealogy derives from a figure preserved in proto-Indo-European as Yemo – ‘twin’, from which the Vedic lord of the dead Yama, the Scandinavian ice-giant Ymir, and the Golden Age king Yima, stem. The murky figure of Yemo became an archaic matrix of deity which later gods and primordial personalities succeeded to the position of and out of which a connected variety of early cosmogonies emerged.
The connotation of ‘twin’ in Yemo has confounded a variety of scholars, its original meaning seemingly lost in prehistory but it bears upon a primal humanoid split in two or divided. Given the imagery and events associated with Yemo under two of his guises where he rises from the thaw of a deep freeze, some propose an Ice Age background to his myth. As Yima, he was famous for leading people and cattle out of an underground enclosure into the wilds after a severe cold period. He fell from grace, however, related to acts of offering the flesh of cattle to people to eat and expanding the world. Incidents that credibly relate to agriculture, animal domestication/institution of slaughter, along with an increasing population. The Vedic version of Yama does not detectably retain details of a cold period but the two are ritually united as the first ancestors and the first of men to die. The Scandinavian Ymir, however, certainly emerges from melting ice along with his giant bovine Authmula. La Violette places Ymir’s advent from the frostas a postglacial migration from cold, wintry Northern Europe to the glow and warmth of the south.1
Similarly, Settegast situated the battle and migration of the Atlantis story, topics outshone by the marvelling description of the isle, to the breakup of Magdalenian unity down to the advanced Neolithic communities of the Fertile Crescent which, at the time of her investigation, had inexplicably arisen without an ancestral, mother source. Settegast establishes Yima, or Yemo, within the Epipalaeolithic cave art of Lascaux, France.2 In a splendid analysis she interprets the inscrutable inner-shaft scene as a depiction of the First Man and Primordial Bull. We explain how it is man and beast are considered ‘twins’ further on.
Beyond Plato the ancient Greek conception of twins were that they, or one of them, were destined to be remarkable, to be founders of cults or cities and that the unusual one was not begotten by the mother’s mortal consort, but by a spirit, god, or supernatural ancestor. Before Plato’s Atlantis, or his retelling of it, we are reminded of Poseidon’s other giant offspring, the twin Aloadai. Both culture-heroes, originators of the Muses and compared by Homer in stature to the giant Orion, the Aloadai subsequently become demonised in a manner that some have compared to the giants of later Biblical lore. Interestingly, an equivalent outcome befell the old Irish reflex of Yemo whom Lincoln identifies as Donn, a Christian epithet for evil or Satan, through Emain or Emon ‘twin’ who in turn is linked to an otherworldly island.3
Elsewhere, twins emerge as primordial human ancestors, as guardians, pathfinders and culture-heroes juxtaposed with a cataclysm or flood. We are aware of the adventures and exploits of the Maya hero-twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque through the Popol Vuh. Since much of the earlier Olmec culture has been eaten by climate and time, it is difficult to ascertain the extent the Maya twins may have rooted from it, although Olmec sculptures of twins and of a jaguar depicted in a shamanic ritual found at Veracruz, Mexico propose this as a possible scenario. There are also twin myths found in the Andes. In his across-the-board study, Oppenheimer sources the prevalent and multifaceted twin-theme of Kulabob and Manup from the Pacific Islands to the drowned Sunda continental shelf of Southeast Asia and cogently links these with the fratricidal, warring brother motif of the Mediterranean through Osiris and Set, Cain and Abel.4 Whatever minor issues one may find with his revision as a whole, the hidden tracks of prehistoric exchange between east and west Oppenheimer exhumes are absolutely commendable. And from the same region, we recall the legendary founders of megalithic Micronesia were said to be twin (or brother) magicians.
The Dogon tribe of Africa maintain a complex molecular tradition of twins, one that connects the biological realm with the cosmos of which the Nommo fulfil the role of ancestor twins. Rather than glorifying in the auroch ancestry of east Africa and the Levant, the Dogon are happy for their ancestors to be fish in character with womb symbolism. The Nommo scheme emerges in elaborate rituals of marriage and birth. If a couple intend to produce twins reflecting the perfected nature of the Nommo, it follows that if only one male child is born it is believed he is lacking his twin brother, who was sacrificed in the womb or along the path of a pre-natal journey. And we ask if Nommo might relate to Yemo? In Bantu and other African tribes the arrival of twins was received ambivalently. Considered sacred yet monsters, if twins were seen asremnants of a former reign of incest and corruption they were signs of exceptional ill omen, yet if associated with the moon, as a powerful reservoir of fertility.
The twin relationship variegates over different regional and chronological context. There is marked rivalry, for instance, between Osiris and Set, Cain and Abel as mentioned before. Concerning Romulus and Remus and the founding of Rome, there has been suggested a linguistic trace reaching back to the Yemo tree, in that Remus may have been Yemos with the initial changed to alliterate with Roma.5 The battling twins or brothers ran rife over Celtic Europe as found in the feuding Brennius and Belinus, Bran and Beli, and in the story of Diarmuid whose contesting brother was a boar under Druid sorcery. As with Yemo, the apparent contradiction of how it is one twin can be a beast can be answered, but not always, by that twin being the darker Mr Hyde of the two. There are also tendencies present in mythological pairing suggestive of a twin relationship even without a blood-bond being specified, as with the Sumerian Anu and Dagan; the Lithuanian wrecker-creator giants Wandu and Weja; and, to large extent, Gilgamesh and his wild comrade Enkidu.
The dynamism these twins embody is not quite a solitary soul in two bodies or the doubling of a single personality. They rather encapsulate two opposing elements which, ideally, are balanced in resolution. They do not bear upon the androgyny since both genders are male although the darker twin might correlate with the feminine in some notions. But some of this sounds like literary pairing, an aesthetic coupling to lend myths and stories symmetry. Is this all there was to twins?
Although the birth of twins is by no means rare, throughout the ages it was an event observed as supremely auspicious or as equally ominous given the circumstances. Depending on the prevailing temperament of the culture it was the case that one, or both, twins could be destroyed. Other than being omens of good or bad, twins were regarded as having magic or psychic powers that were either positive or negative in nature. Even within specialist clinical trials of the present day do we find some twins attracting attention in the fields of medicine, forensics, and within the discipline of parapsychology more extensively. Being telepathically connected in such a way provides one explanation for the model disposition of twin founders and rulers of ancient tradition, in that their sovereignty would possess, so to speak, an extended breadth.
Hill of the Hunter: A Stone Age Orion?
Göbekli Tepe is something like a Stone Age hunting lodge, a place of feasting, ceremony and bacchanalia with a naturalistic gallery of afterlife judgment held by a zoo of superbly depicted animals endowed with a vague, gleeful air. The site may not stir the same awe as the Giza Plateau but in terms of age it is not less impressive and 6,000 years out of place. The most striking characteristic of this fugitive of history which merges with realms occupied by myth, are the twin pillars methodically stood at the centre of each circle or Enclosure. About Gobekli Tepe architecture, the late professor Klaus Schmidt advised to conceive of the term ‘pillar’ provisionally and out of convenience, since technically a pillar implies a support that embraces a roof whereas these pillars, like the Egyptian Djed to which Schmidt compares them, should be understood as cultic monuments stood in the open.6 More importantly, however, is that these assembled monuments were intended to depict people.
Unlike other circles, where it would be challenging to distinguish the T-shapes as anthropomorphic, the central, near six-metre pillars occupying what is labelled Enclosure D – the oldest and paradoxically, most elevated circle excavated to date – wear belts, loincloths, and ornaments of a kind.
They also have long, elbow-bent arms that reach down and grip their navels. As can be determined so far, both these indistinct, abstract figures stood half in and half out of the spirit world, are male. As they define the extent of each circle, they were vividly preconceived before harvested from earth and reared in place. They appear as guardians of the site, as master-builder mediators in a variety of tiered cosmos, nowhere do we find their powerful presence disputed by that of their gathered entourage. The beings they embody or commemorate, for whatever action or deed, were enormously important to these people, such that we find their manifestation stereotyped at other sites such as Nevali Çori within squares rather than circles, used after the burial of Göbekli Tepe. Whether supernatural or human, did these ancestor figures reflect founding hero-twins in some shape or form before fading from social memory, at least in such concrete presence?
Figure 2 shows a small sculpture kept at Gaziantep, a little west of Urfa, which features the same style arms as the T-shapes. The design of the double-face, a bit like the Roman time god Janus, led Schimidt to question if all the T-shapes at Göbekli Tepe should be considered the same way, as if the presence of a twin was somehow genetic. Although we do not know what idea it was the mason was shaping over his stone, it is currently an isolated example. What is more, a notion of twinhood appears rather fulfilled by the statement of the double T-shapes of each circle.
Looking at the markings available to us on the pair dominating Enclosure D, inventoried as pillars 31 and 18 (left-to-right front side), we notice they are not identical every respect. While both wear belts the belt worn by pillar 18 is studded with half-moons and the Orion-shaped H sign which is repeated on separate reliefs. At the present time, this belt appears as the source of the iconic H logo. ‘Following Schimdt’s cautious interpretive orientation of the site as a forerunner to Sumerian civilization, we find Orion was venerated in Sumer as Sipazianna, ‘the true Shepherd of Anu’, a constellation sometimes invoked for curing vertigo. If this was due to the appearance of the constellation’s celestial movement, it is somewhat interesting to locate the H symbol adjacent to a ‘toppled’ 90˚ variation.
Furthermore, decorating the front of the pedestal on which this pillar stands runs a band of seven birds which are absent fromhis neighbour. Whatever species of avian these seven ‘omen birds’were intended to depict,and whatever they truly signified, they present a rare continuity of symbolism since they crossover into Enclosure C on the side of pillar 12,where they are shown against, or caught within, a netor wickerwork design. It is significant that the Pleiades cluster have been similarly visioned as seven birds tangled in a net or braid in other astronomies, making us wonder if a catching cosmic hunter played a role here.
A definite celestial scheme continues on pillar 18 with convincing astronomical markings on its front side at the neck, where two beaked, stump-headed beings joined in hand appear above what could be a planet, such as Venus, above a lunar crescent, as if to signify an auspicious conjunction of the two within the Gemini twins. All together, the emblems attached to this figure tantalise suggestively how far the horned gods Osiris and Dionysius, lords of death, ecstasy, snakes and sevens, reachback into mists of unguessed antiquity.
His twin, or pillar 31, is contrastingly stark but offers further allusion to the character of these mysterious humanoids and their relationship. Unlike his twin, and other central twin pillars of other circles, he lacks the wily fox tucked in the elbow at the column’s inner side, a collective relief which seems to embellish their function as pillars within a sacred space rather than identity as personages. Noteworthy is the double V-shape “collar” on his front side, since pillar 18 bears only a single V-shape. Besides the loincloth, belt and its U-shaped buckle, his only other distinguishing mark is a corresponding bucranium (a bull’s skull) at the neck.
The bull constellation, Taurus, has held a long yet ambiguous relationship with his heavenly companion Orion, as Burnham relates:
Orion, like Hercules, is usually depicted with a lion-skin shield held high on one arm as Orion faces the thundering charge of Taurus, the Bull, whose baleful red eye, Aldebaran, glares down from the V-shaped Hyades group, the Bull’s head. The significance of the Orion-Taurus combat does not appear to be made clear in any ancient legend; the purely symbolic interpretation is the obvious one, that the two constellations represent the eternal conflict of good and evil. 7
While there are no myths defining a conflict between the cosmic hunter and his brotherly beast – mythologically, Taurus can be ‘darker’ in an ancestral rather than evil sense – de Santillana excavates the memory of astro-relics to find a cooperative, rather than combatant, relationship between the pair across a remarkable global view, which is worthwhile citing at length:
Sunday-school pupils must have long puzzled about how Samson slew a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. But that “jaw” is in heaven. It was the name given by the Babylonians to the Hyades, which were placed in Taurus as the “Jaw of the Bull.” In their creation epic, which antedates Samson, Marduk uses it as a boomerang-like weapon. It is known to the Dyaks of Borneo. In South America, where bulls were unknown, it reappears as the “jaw of the tapir” and it is connected with the great god Hunracán, the hurricane, who certainly knows how to slay in his thousands. In our sky, the name of the celestial Samson is Orion, the mighty hunter, alias Nimrod. He remains such even in China as “War Lord Tsan,” the huntmaster of the autumn hunt, but the Hyades are changed there into a net for catching birds. In Cambodia, Orion himself became a trap for tigers; in Borneo, tigers not being available, pigs have to substitute; and in Polynesia, bereft of every kind of big game, we find Orion in the shape of a huge snare for birds. It is the snare that Maui, the creator-hero, used to catch the sun-bird; but having captured it, he proceeded to beat it up, and with what? The jawbone of Muri Ranga Vhenua, his own respected grandmother. 8
We could add Gilgamesh and his bull-like companion Enkidu to this cycle, and it would be difficult not to visualise a celestial counterpart of Yemo in the affinity of these constellation figures. Do the guardian grandees of Enclosure D reflect a similar pattern? As we have it, Göbekli Tepe was eclipsed beneath dirt and forgotten long before the birth of Sumerian civilisation – or was it? Despite the eluding gap in millennia, exacerbated by absence of written record, Schmidt was happy to tentatively pose the question if or not the site of Göbekli Tepe bore cultural memory relation to Mount Du-ku of Sumerian mythology,9 a world mountain or spiritual axis mundi that nevertheless some have suggested could have been localised somewhere in the Taurus and Zagros mountains as a centre of agriculture, craftsmanship, and developer of civilisation. Du-ku was home to the Anuna gods, so named after their father-king Anu, the sky god whose stellar latitude was identified as the ‘path of Anu’ running through Taurus-Pleiades on the ecliptic.
An Angry Bull in the Stars
Though the builders of Göbekli Tepe most likely had interest in the sky and its movements at large and the site serving different purposes, the main and earliest Enclosures excavated thus far open to the south. If celestial targets are considered a factor at all in the construction of megalithic monuments then those alignments, depending on the type of building together with issues of vantage, tend to be indicated by the direction of their opening. The likelihood of the south facing Enclosures targeting Orion, Taurus, and the Pleiades by-extension, at spring equinoxes over the course of millennia has been assessed elsewhere.10 Some of the reliefs on pillars such as a bull and snake in antagonistic confrontation, snake-bird combinations, suggestthe fauna in some of their depictions represent different kingdoms associated with seasons, e.g. in spring cranes would cross the Harran plain and be seen to arrive from the south, while snakes would rise from hidden burrows in the earth. We must not, however, overlook the larger spell of climactic pandemonium from which Göbekli Tepe arose. Indeed, there is another reason for the builders taking interest with this region of sky and its constellations and for watching them with nervous eyes.
Archeoastronomy has enabled archaeologists and others to discern schemes and motives other than sociological behind the purpose of monuments, although it tends not to account for guest phenomena such as comets, meteors and novae, the astronomical equivalents of unwritten records. Such phenomena is of course difficult to determine with commercial motion sequencing programs for the simple reason it has not been calibrated – importantly, degrees of previous intensity. The picture has changed, or has potential to, with the pioneering research of astrophysicist, Victor Clube and astronomer Bill Napier, as presented in The Cosmic Winter (1990). Integral elements of their research were enlarged upon and given causative (supernovae) background in the more recent and controversial article “Evidence for an Extraterrestrial Impact 12,900 Years Ago that Contributed to the Megafaunal Extinctions and the Younger Dryas Cooling” (Firestone et al, 2007).
We know comets as stray, random missiles that now and again chance to blunder into our solar system from the Oort cloud, visitors with which we may or may not be unlucky enough to encounter on a collision, Clube and Napier discovered that meteor showers such as the Taurids, Perseids and Orionids were not only related to each other, but are in fact the trailing celestial hubcaps of a cosmic calamity, or breakup of a mega comet that entered our solar system approximately 20,000 years ago. In their backtracking orbital calculations of these meteor streams, the explosive offspring of a monster parent, Clube and Napier perceived a clockwork precision to their chaos, more or less. Our earth happens to jaywalk the densest part of these comet clouds, where the current of debris is highest and most dangerous to us, every 2,000 to 4,000 years, events which are reflected in climate and ice core records. Being able to configure a dips and peaks chartof bombardment, it is recognised that earlier peaks such as from 16,000, 13,000 to 9,000 years ago, were significantly heavier in intensity than later peaks.
Clube and Napier emphasise the Taurid meteor shower as a particularly powerful stream and for having shaped particular rites and mythologies. Although this annual outpour is still active it is outgasd from its former brilliance and nowhere in range of how spectacular, and terrifying, it would have appeared to ancient stargazers. Needless to say, by Clube and Napier’s calculations the builders of Göbekli Tepe would have witnessed these earlier dazzling light shows and their more wrathful peaks of barrage. Indeed, one might ask if the astonishingly long gap between the creations of the Enclosures related to it. For those who saw a bull in the Taurus constellation, this periodic volley of debris would have appeared like a rain of deadly fireballs hurled down from an angry Bull of Heaven.
Significantly, an area of the Taurus constellation from which this fiery swarm burst is estimated to the rear of the tapering ‘horns’ tipped by Elnath and the Crab Nebula (M1), along the ecliptic to where Taurus meets Aries, which happens to be where the Pleiades are located.
At the exact celestial point where Mithras plunges his dagger into the ‘neck’ of Taurus, and as an astronomical event which appears to have been ritually acted in the Taurobolium sacrifice in which a priest would bathe in the blood of the bull of stars, this heavenly troupe not only adds another dimension to Neolithic bull cults and the central ritual of Atlantis, but provides one account for why the Pleiades from Polynesia, Australia, the Mediterranean, and across the Americas were linked to flood and fire more than any other constellation in recorded human history.
The Taurids, after all, are the children of the disgorged comet which may have caused the Younger Dryas cold snap, megafaunal extinctions and worldwide postglacial flooding. Unfortunately, Clube and Napier offer grim prediction, that from the year 2000 and for the following 400 years the earth’s orbit intersects again with the denser part of this drifting corpse-cloud – its lurking debris ranging in size from hair follicles to cities – placing us on collision course with celestial wreckage with a potential to strike regions of our planet, which we may not realise until after the event or events.
We recall that besides Gilgamesh’s close relationship with Enkidu, the two also battle with a bull of heaven, a celestial weapon forged by Anu whose earthshaking stamps and thunderous snorts swallowed up thousands, sent down from space to destroy humankind after Gilgamesh offended Ishtar. Although this combat is staged at Du-ku at Nippur, might there not have been an earlier episode of confrontation endured by the two at Göbekli Tepe?
Turning our attention to another perspective and an entirely different location of the globe, Schoch boldly made exterior connections between the navel-bracing postures of Göbekli Tepe’s T-shapes with the statues known as Moai depicted in a similar bearing far away in the water-locked wilderness of Easter Island.11 While it would be easy to dismiss this, tables of conventional dating aside, by the limited number of alternatives a mason would have for producing a ceremonial posture with limbs more incised than modelled, we yet ask if there was not a deeper connection between these monuments apparently so distanced in time and space. The Moai of Easter Island are known as aringaora, the ‘living images’ of a type of spirit ancestor. Their use as sacred statues was not permanent, but depended on a magic known as mana entering them. The Moai were therefore built as mediums of this power which was said to enter them twice a year after which the statues would come ‘alive’.
The supreme source of this non-material mana energy was the Pleiades, and the basalt and volcanic tuff materials from which the Moai were built was named Ma’ea Matariki after them for this reason – ma’ea = stone and matariki = Pleiades; whereas moaimeans ‘to copulate’ with. Descriptions that together echo a former indigenous name of the island, Mata-Ki-Te-Rani – ‘eyes at heaven’.
Like the distinctive log-shaped ‘spirit stones’ of basalt which enabled return of the ancestors to the living found at other sites over the Pacific, it was believed these stones enabled control over baleful meteorological phenomena, this being the case since the ancestors had originally come from the sky. Although the megaliths of Göbekli Tepe are of limestone rather than basalt, they may well have served a similar purpose over their careers forwarding off fire and brimstone from destructive skies. And as certain phenomena diminished, did not a purpose of these monuments follow suit?
Do the twin humanoids conscripted as cultic monoliths at Göbekli Tepe who emerge from an Ice Age bear an imprint of Yemo, Plato’s Atlantis kings, and other brotherly broods? If so we lend theseperplexing figures, mute in a Stone Age silence, a vaguely familiar voice.
1.LaViolette, Paul A. Earth Under Fire: Humanity’s Survival of the Last Ice Age. (Rochester, Vt.: Bear & Company, 1997) pp146-49
2.Settegast, Mary. Plato Prehistorian: 10,000 to 5000 B.C. in Myth and Archaeology. (Cambridge, Mass: Rotenberg Press 1987) pp106-10
3. Lincoln, Bruce. Death, War, and Sacrifice: Studies in Ideology and Practice. (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press 1991) p35
4. See, Oppenheimer, Stephen. Eden in the East: The Drowned Continent of Southeast Asia (London: Phoenix 1998)
5. Stone, Alby. Ymir’s Flesh: North European Creation Mythologies. (London: Heart of Albion Press 1997) p115
6.Schimdt, Klaus. Göbekli Tepe: A Stone Age Sanctuary in South-Eastern Anatolia (Berlin: ex oriente 2012) p125
7. Burnham, Robert. Burnham’s Celestial Handbook: An Observer’s Guide to the Universe. Vol.3 (New York: Dover, 1978) p1289
8.de Santillana, G. The Origins of Scientific Thought. (London: Weidenfeld& Nicolson 1961) pp13-4
9.Schimdt, Klaus. Göbekli Tepe: A Stone Age Sanctuary in South-Eastern Anatolia (Berlin: ex oriente 2012) 208-09
10. See, Coombs, Alistair. “Cult of the Cosmic Bull: Linking the Worlds of Nabta Playa, Lascaux and Göbekli Tepe.” In Darklore Vol.8 (Brisbane, Australia: Daily Grail Publishing) 2014
11.Schoch, Robert M.Forgotten Civilisation: The Role of Solar Outbursts in Our Past and Future. (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions 2012) pp101-02