Many of us are familiar with the use of ancient civilisations making monuments that in some way link up to either our calendar, the sun, moon or stars. From the stone circles in the British Isles the Mayan temples in Central America, ancient civilisations often focussed much of their wealth, manpower and engineering to either worship or make calculations that were vital in providing a real or imagined sense of control over their existence.
New research recently published in Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry by experts at Edinburgh University have made something of a breakthrough of two stone pillars at Gobekli Tepe in southern Turkey. Rather than trying to help predict the seasons or the motions of heavenly bodies however, it has been discovered that instead the stone carvings remember a cosmic disaster which occurred in our planet 13,000 years ago.
The markings suggest that a swarm of comet fragments hit Earth at the exact same time that the last great ice age struck which went on to change the entire course of human history. Great creatures such as Woolly Mammoths became extinct and changes in the climate and environment led to the rise of the first human civilisations.
It has been speculated for many years that the last Ice-Age which is also known as the Younger Dryas was caused by a cometary impact. The Vulture stone for the first time gives something of a contemporary record of this event.
The Vulture stone is covered in carvings of animals and the popularist pseudo-archeologist Graham Hancock was the first to theorise that the carvings actually depict constellations in the sky as well as a comet.
However, when engineers studied animal carvings made on a pillar – known as the vulture stone – at Gobekli Tepe they discovered that the creatures were actually astronomical symbols which represented constellations and the comet.
Using a computer programme to show where the constellations would have appeared above Turkey thousands of years ago, they were able to pinpoint the comet strike to 10,950BC, the exact time the Younger Dryas begins according to ice core data from Greenland.
Why is the Younger Dryas seen as such a crucial period in the growth of civilisations? Before the comet struck Earths, large areas of the Middle East was covered by wild wheat and barley and this allowed nomadic hunters in the region to establish permanent base camps. When the comet struck however, things became much harder for these communities who were only ever a bad harvest or natural disaster away from being wiped out.
The difficult climate conditions following the impact forced communities to come together and work out new ways of maintaining the crops, through watering and selective breeding. Thus farming began, allowing the rise of the first towns.
The new research suggests that the people of Gobekli Tepe recognised this terrible planetary disaster was in some way the beginnings of a new and more advanced way of living as we today might remember anniversaries of independence or wars against tyranny. Alternatively, it might be a monument to one of the hardest periods that humanity ever had to face and that for millennia the peoples in Turkey remembered it like we might remember The Black Death or the terrible fatalities of the World Wars.
Dr Martin Sweatman, who was one of the leading figures in the investigation states:
“Our work serves to reinforce that physical evidence. What is happening here is the process of paradigm change. It appears Göbekli Tepe was, among other things, an observatory for monitoring the night sky. One of its pillars seems to have served as a memorial to this devastating event – probably the worst day in history since the end of the ice age.
Gobekli Tepe, is thought to be the world’s oldest temple site, which dates from around 9,000BC, predating Stonehenge by millennia.
Researchers believe the images were intended as a record of the cataclysmic event, and that a further carving showing a headless man may indicate human disaster and extensive loss of life.
Scientists believe that carvings on the pillars also indicates that the long-term changes in Earth’s rotational axis was recorded at this time using an early form of writing, and that Gobekli Tepe was an observatory for meteors and comets.
Incredibly, aside from being an incredible monument, the Vulture Stone still provides us with an important message for current astronomy and science which the finding also supports a theory that Earth is likely to experience periods when comet strikes are more likely, owing to the planet’s orbit intersecting orbiting rings of comet fragments in space.
But despite the ancient age of the pillars, Dr Sweatman does not believe it is the earliest example of astronomy in the archaeological record.
“Many palaeolithic cave paintings and artefacts with similar animal symbols and other repeated symbols suggest astronomy could be very ancient indeed,” he said.
“If you consider that, according to astronomers, this giant comet probably arrived in the inner solar system some 20 to 30 thousand years ago, and it would have been a very visible and dominant feature of the night sky, it is hard to see how ancient people could have ignored this given the likely consequences.”