We are delighted to welcome AoM August, Martin Sweatman, who is featured here with his groundbreaking study that offers a new way of conceptualising prehistoric art and dating prehistory.
Göbekli Tepe, the world’s first megalithic temple c. 10,000 BC, changes everything. While the Great Sphinx of Giza merely hints at a lost civilisation, Göbekli Tepe opens the door to an alternate universe—one where hypotheses of writers like Graham Hancock are probably closer to the truth than those of orthodox archaeologists.
As soon as I saw Hancock’s interpretation of Pillar 43 from Göbekli Tepe in his book Magicians of the Gods, I knew he could be on to something incredibly important. In Magicians he describes his eureka moment upon reading a letter from Paul Burley. It was Burley who first noticed the similarity between the vulture/eagle symbol and our Sagittarius constellation, as well as the obvious similarity between the scorpion symbol and Scorpius, on the main panel of this pillar.
Although I could entertain his, and Burley’s, view that the circle symbol on this pillar hovering above the vulture/eagle’s wing might represent the sun and therefore encode a date using precession of the equinoxes, I knew it could not represent the sun on the winter solstice as they both suggested. This was because the date implied, around 2000 AD, made no sense at all. Why would the people of Göbekli Tepe be interested in a date so far into their future? They had far more pressing concerns in their own time.
It was immediately clear to me that although Burley and Hancock might have provided the key to interpreting Göbekli Tepe, they could not yet take a puff on the cigar of enlightenment. In any case, with only a few symbols decoded (Graham also thought the bending bird with fish on the right of this panel might symbolise the constellation Ophiuchus), these apparent matches between the symbols on Pillar 43 and our constellations might well be coincidental.
The orthodox view
Of course, there was the small matter of the conventional view of the history of astronomy to weigh up. I knew that scholars generally insisted that our Western set of constellations was invented in the region of Mesopotamia in the 2nd or 3rd millennium BC. Göbekli Tepe was too old by around 7,000 years, according to their reckoning.
But I also knew that there was considerable uncertainty in this temporal attribution. The most ancient Mesopotamian astronomical records are scarce, and do not actually describe the invention of the constellations. They simply catalogue the constellations known at the time. They therefore document the latest time by which our constellation set was known, not the earliest date.
Nevertheless, this was something I knew I would need to investigate at a later stage. If Pillar 43 really did display the earliest known record of our star constellations, then somehow this knowledge must have percolated through to Mesopotamia, and thereby to us, over the millennia that followed. And this was a very interesting problem on its own.
My immediate concern was not, however, the heretical possibility that our constellations might be much older than conventionally thought, because I knew that ‘conventional’ scholarship was rarely scientific and easily wrong. Indeed, as a scientist, I am constantly ‘on the lookout’ for evidence that breaks convention. This might be surprising. Contrary to what some people think, scientists are generally not part of an establishment conspiracy. The best results, for scientists, are not those that confirm the conventional view, but rather the contradictory or unexplainable ones. This is where there is most to gain, if you dare to look.
So, the possibility that our constellations might be present at Göbekli Tepe was to me like a blossoming flower to a bee. It was something I just had to investigate. Within a few days, with help from a few friends and to my complete astonishment, I had decoded Pillar 43. It almost certainly does represent a date using precession of the equinoxes and the constellations we are familiar with. But the date represented by the circle-sun on the eagle/vulture’s wing likely corresponds with the Summer Solstice at around 10,800 to 10,900 BC. Crucially, this date is very close to the date of the Younger Dryas Impact Event (YDIE).
The origin of civilisation
Hancock had already discussed this devastating event in his books and suggested it might play an important role in the dawn of our civilisation, known commonly as the Neolithic revolution, that followed. Indeed, he had long been an advocate for a cataclysmic event of this nature at around this time. It appears he was right all along. Indeed, it appears that Göbekli Tepe is the smoking gun for this event—an actual witness account of what happened.
My view is that Pillar 43 is a kind of memorial to this pivotal event, and that Göbekli Tepe is perhaps the world’s first ‘university’, or as Klauss Schmidt who began excavations at Göbekli Tepe put it, a ‘place of innovation’. Possibly, Göbekli Tepe expressed many things, including profound astronomical knowledge and a new kind of organised religion formed out of the trauma of this cosmic impact event. It appears to have also been a place where many people met, to both observe the skies, remember their ancestors, and perform rituals to protect their future. Through these activities, new generations were trained and instructed to pass on this knowledge.
Whatever their precise motivation was and the exact sequence of events were, it seems they succeeded beyond all hope. For the agricultural revolution their religion inspired was propelled across the Eurasian continent and into North Africa. In fact, according to the Nostratic hypothesis, Göbekli Tepe likely represents the origin of a lifestyle and language that most of the world now adopts. It appears to have inspired ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, as well as Europe and east Asia, including India. From these regions, most of the world’s current languages and customs derive.
As important and profound as these insights are, decoding Göbekli Tepe is more revelatory than just this. Amazingly, its decoding opens up a whole new way to investigate the past. This is because the symbols used at Göbekli Tepe, that we are now beginning to decipher, are not unique to Göbekli Tepe. In fact, it appears they had already been used for perhaps 30,000 years, and have since been in use for over 10,000 years.
An ancient zodiac
The animal symbols are evident almost everywhere we look. From ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, to Lascaux and Chauvet caves deep in the Palaeolithic age, and from France and Germany in Western Europe to India and possibly beyond into South-East Asia, these symbols have been used to record time and astronomical events across a vast timescape.
We know this, because at the end of last year, with the help of Alistair Coombs, I proved, in a scientific sense, that these animal symbols, in Western European cave art at least, can be interpreted as the same constellations evident at Göbekli Tepe, which in turn are the same as the ones we use today. Of course, some of the symbols have changed over the intervening 40,000 years. For example, it appears that for at least 30,000 years, the feline symbol was used to represent the constellation Cancer, and likewise the bovine symbol was used to represent Capricornus. At some point in the last 9,000 years, however, both these symbols were apparently switched to represent the constellations Leo and Taurus, as we know them today. Why, where and precisely when this happened is presently unknown and a matter for further research.
In fact, because these animal symbols have been used for so long over such a wide area of Eurasia, it seems likely that they could have found their way to the Americas. So, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the Jaguar Warriors of the Olmec and Maya, circa 1,500 to 0 BC, are also associated with the constellation Cancer, which was the summer solstice constellation throughout this period. And perhaps the Eagle warriors of the later Aztec civilisation were associated with the constellation Sagittarius, which has since been the winter solstice constellation.
Whatever the case in the Americas, it is now quite clear that the animal symbols used in European Palaeolithic cave art, at Göbekli Tepe and other Neolithic Anatolian sites, and in Neolithic Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, represent the same constellations as, or very similar ones to, those we use today. Moreover, we have shown that these ancient people were very aware of the precession of the equinoxes, and used it to keep track of very long timescales. For example, when the summer solstice constellation was in Cancer, they would paint lions or leopards, and while the spring equinox constellation was in Capricornus, they would paint bison or aurochs, and so on.
This new insight has profound implications for many academic disciplines. Textbooks on the history of astronomy are hopelessly wrong, and textbooks on prehistoric culture and ice age art will need to be radically updated.
These new discoveries are also extremely useful and lead to several completely new directions in research. For example, it appears we can now use these animal symbols to date ancient artefacts, and we can even try to read the messages they encode. Consider the Lascaux Shaft Scene, for example, probably the most famous cave art of all. On one wall we see a bull pierced by a spear with its entrails hanging beneath it, along with a bird sitting on a stick next to a rhino. The dying bull faces a man wearing a mask who also appears to be dying. On the rear wall of this scene is a horse.
According to our ancient zodiac, these symbols represent Capricornus, Libra, Taurus and Leo respectively. Together, they provide a date for this scene somewhere between 15,300 to 15,000 BC, which is a far more precise and more accurate date range than that obtained by other methods.
But what does the scene mean? Why would both the constellation Capricornus and the man be dying? And, in any case, how can a constellation be pierced by a spear?
This scene makes little sense if interpreted literally, but when viewed as another comet strike by the Taurid meteor stream a few millennia before the Younger Dryas impact, it makes perfect sense. Indeed, at 15,000 BC, the Taurid meteor stream radiated from the direction of Capricornus, represented by the bull. So perhaps this scene, consisting of a dying man and four animal symbols, has an almost identical meaning to Pillar 43 at Göbekli Tepe, which also has four prominent animal symbols and a headless man. The similarity is compelling and surely not accidental.
Now fast-forward thousands of years to the Pashupati Seal, found in the ruins of ancient Mohenjo-daro, part of the Indus Valley civilisation. It depicts one of the earliest known occurrences of the seated horned god, a symbol found across the Indo-European region. Conventional dating of the seal is quite imprecise, placing it in one of the Bronze Age periods. But with our new zodiac, we can date it much more accurately. Here we again have four animals – the bull (or buffalo), elephant (or mammoth), tiger and rhino representing the constellations Capricornus, Libra, Leo and Taurus respectively. It is very interesting to see that in North India at this time, the feline symbol had already switched to represent Leo, while the bull continued to represent Capricornus. The elephant/mammoth replaces the bird in its representing Libra, which is consistent with mammoth paintings in European Palaeolithic art.
In fact, these four symbols represent the same four constellations depicted in the Lascaux Shaft Scene, meaning that the date of the Pashupati Seal is exactly one-half of a great year, i.e. about 13,000 years, later than Lascaux. It therefore has a date of around 2,000 BC, to within a couple of hundred years. Now that we have decoded the animal symbols on this seal, it might provide a clue to the meaning of the Indus Valley script—the symbols across the top of this seal. Indeed, we might be on the verge of decoding another ancient script.
Origin of the Ancient Egyptian gods
Finally, consider two important vases recovered from pre-dynastic Mesopotamia and Egypt.
The Uruk Vase, top, dates to around 3200 BC, and depicts a feast or festival with food being carried upwards towards the gods on the top level. This is thought to be a celebration of Inanna, probably the most important deity in Mesopotamia at the time. We also see two animal symbols at the top, each standing on a pedestal of some description. In fact, we can now interpret these ‘pedestals’ as sunset symbols, just like the ‘handbag’ symbols at the top of Pillar 43 at Göbekli Tepe, indicating the animals they support are, in fact, zodiacal symbols. According to our ancient zodiac, at this time, in Mesopotamia, the lion represents Leo and the ibex represents Aquarius at the Summer and Winter Solstices respectively. We therefore suggest a date range for this vase of around 3,300 to 1,800 BC, which agrees well with the conventional date.
The vase on the bottom was recovered from the grave of an important person, perhaps a warrior-king, in ancient Abydos. The animal symbols on this vase, which have some resemblance to an early form of hieroglyphics, have led Egyptologists to interpret it as belonging to the mythical ‘Scorpion King’, one of a succession of warlords thought to be responsible for uniting Upper and Lower pre-dynastic Egypt. This is because the hawk (or Horus) symbol at the top is often found preceding the name of a King, or Pharaoh, in dynastic times.
However, the duck/goose at the bottom is ignored in this interpretation. But, with our ancient zodiac, we can now read these symbols as representing a date. In fact, the sequence ‘falcon, scorpion, duck/goose’ is practically the same as the vertical sequence of animal symbols on the main panel of Pillar 43 at Göbekli Tepe—‘eagle/vulture, scorpion, duck/goose’. The horizontal line on this vase likely represents the horizon, and therefore provides a date of around 3,500 BC, to within a few hundred years, which also agrees with the conventional date of this vase.
Indeed, through this interpretation, we begin to see how some of the Ancient Egyptian deities were derived; originally, they were zodiacal symbols. For example, Horus, Anubis, Hathor, Set, Thoth and Sekhmet were likely derived from Sagittarius, Lupus, Capricornus or Taurus, Northern Aquarius, Pisces and Leo or Cancer respectively. We have also uncovered another strand to the complex story of the origin of writing—very likely its earliest roots are to be found in astronomical notation.
We can thank Hancock and Burley for providing the initial insight into these ancient symbols. Their first steps enabled me and a few others to crack one of the greatest puzzles on Earth, and we are now beginning to realise the benefits. We have begun to push back the veil of prehistory, and can even read the thoughts of people from deep in the last Ice Age when many species of giant animals roamed the land. A time of mystery and chaos is being unlocked.
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