Was a Comet Swarm Memorialized on an Obelisk at Prehistoric Gȍbekli Tepe?
It’s entered modern lore as a nightmare scenario for planet Earth: A huge asteroid or comet or a swarm of smaller comet fragments hits Earth and causes a major catastrophe. Now, scientists think they have evidence of a comet-fragment swarm slamming into the planet about 11,000 BC and killing thousands of people, setting off a small ice age and obliterating many large animals.
A press release from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland states:
“Analysis of symbols carved onto stone pillars at Gȍbekli Tepe in southern Turkey – one of the world’s most important archaeological sites – suggests that a swarm of comet fragments hit Earth around 11,000BC. They ushered in a cold climate that lasted more than 1,000 years.”
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The Göbekli Tepe archaeological site, Turkey. (Teomancimit/CC BY SA 3.0)
The press release was written from the authors’ scholarly paper in Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry. The authors are engineers Martin B. Sweatman and Dimitrios Tsikritsis
The engineers doing research on the event studied carvings of animals on a pillar called the Vulture Stone at Gȍbekli Tepe. They interpreted the carvings as astronomical symbols and tracked their positions to star patterns. The computer software they used dated the swarm of comet fragments to around 11000 BC.
Position of the sun and stars in the 10950BC summer solstice. (Martin Sweatman, Stellarium)
“The dating from the carvings agrees well with timing derived from an ice core from Greenland, which pinpoints the event – probably resulting from the break-up of a giant comet in the inner solar system – to 10,890BC .” [ via University of Edinburgh press release]
The ‘Vulture-Stone’ at Gȍbekli Tepe. Credit: Alistair Coombs
The memory of this event apparently lived on for millennia, suggesting just how devastating and cataclysmic it was. The press release says it’s likely the cold climate had a serious impact on the people of Gȍbekli Tepe.
The researchers indicated the images on the Vulture Stone comprised a sort of record of the catastrophe. They said the nearby carving of a man without a head could have been a symbol of widespread death.
Carving of a headless man on the ‘Vulture Stone’ at Gȍbekli Tepe. Photo credit: Alistair Coombs
They also say the symbols on the pillar show that the people who carved it were tracking long-term changes in the rotational axis of the Earth in an early form of writing. Furthermore, they suggest Gȍbekli Tepe was an observatory for comets and meteors, among other things.
The research seems to lend credence to a theory that our planet is more likely to experience comet strikes during periods when Earth’s orbit intersects with rings of comet fragments in space, the press release states.
Ancient Origins reported in July 2015 that artifacts from the Gȍbekli Tepe site indicate the city was intended for ritual use only and not as a domain for human occupation. Each of 20 structures in the complex consists of a ring of walls surrounding two T-shaped monumental pillars between 3 meters (9 feet) and 6 meters (19 feet) high and weigh between 40 and 60 tons.
In 2015, this Vulture Stone pillar was announced as possibly the oldest known pictograph on an obelisk in the world. A pictograph is an image that conveys meaning through its resemblance to a physical object. These images are most commonly found in pictographic writing, such as hieroglyphics or other characters used by ancient Sumerian and Chinese civilizations. Some non-literate cultures in parts of Africa, South America, and Oceania still use them.
“The scene on the obelisk unearthed in Göbekli Tepe could be construed as the first pictograph because it depicts an event thematically,” the director of the Şanlıurfa Museum, Müslüm Ercan, told Hurriyet Daily News in 2015. Ercan was leading the excavation at Göbekli Tepe.
“It depicts a human head in the wing of a vulture and a headless human body under the stela. There are various figures like cranes and scorpions around this figure. This is the portrayal of a moment; it could be the first example of pictograph. They are not random figures. We see this type of thing portrayal on the walls in 6,000-5,000 B.C. in Çatalhöyük [in modern-day western Turkey].”
By Mark Miller