Academic Journal Runs Article Claiming Göbekli Tepe Records Comet Strike, Misses Fact That Article Is Based on Speculative Andrew Collins Book
Last night the History Channel broadcast a FOUR HOUR (!) edition of a new show called Ancient Aliens Declassified in which old episodes are expanded with new scenes and commentary. If you think I’m sitting through four hours of Ancient Aliens reruns, you have another thing coming. The first episode covered “The Genius Factor,” and it wove together segments from shows on Leonardo da Vinci, Einstein, Tesla, and other famous figures that the show produced over the last couple of seasons. On the one hand, this proves that the show knows that it is retreading the same material over and over, but it also offers a sad comment on the History Channel’s opinion of its audience.
Meanwhile, news broke last night that an academic journal published an article claiming that the ancient Turkish site of Göbekli Tepe features art that depicts the collision of a comet with the Earth and the effects that it had on humans who lived at the end of the last Ice Age. The article sounds like Graham Hancock’s wet dream, mostly because it echoes nearly point for point claims found in Hancock’s Magicians of the Gods, and it seems that the journal article has more than a little influence from the Hancock school. Or, more specifically, let’s be blunt: Hancock and our authors both cite fringe writer Andrew Collins, namely his 2014 book Göbekli Tepe: Genesis of the Gods, and our article authors praise him for having “first proposed” the correlations they have basically just repeated, sometimes nearly verbatim. The whole article is an expansion on Collins’s low-evidence, speculative nonsense, and an actual academic journal ran it without question, with news media ranging from New Scientist to The Telegraph following suit yesterday.
The article called “Decoding Göbekli Tepe with Archaeoastronomy: What Does the Fox Say?” was published in Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry, Vol. 17, No 1, (2017), pp. 233-250. It was written by Martin B. Sweatman and Dimitrios Tsikritsis, both engineers—not archaeologists—from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Engineering. While the authors do not cite Graham Hancock, they do cite Collins and list in their bibliography most of the same papers about the so-called Younger Dryas comet impact that Hancock cites, and there is more than a hint of Hancock and especially Collins in the authors’ assertion that Göbekli Tepe should (a) be interpreted astronomically and (b) is the “smoking gun” in proving that the comet really did hit the Earth around 10,900 BCE. It offers no great reassurance that the authors assert that “if” their interpretation of art is correct, then catastrophism is true and “the implications are staggering.”
Notice the logical problems: 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.
The authors start with an illogical assumption—the same one that Hancock picked up from the sources he used—that the animals found on the pillars of Göbekli Tepe represent constellations of the Babylonian / Greek constellation system, particularly Scorpio. For many reasons, this is deeply uncertain—not least because the zodiacal constellations as we know them cannot be shown to date back as far at the Ice Age, most not having much evidence for their existence prior to around 500-1000 BCE. Even if we grant 10 times that length, we still haven’t reached the time our authors presume they existed. While our authors recognize in a vague way that this is a problem, they parallel Hancock and Collins—sometimes almost verbatim—in assigning to shapes formed from animals and figures on the pillars various star-patterns in the modern sky. Both sets of writers, for example, emphasize the importance of the so-called “teapot asterism” in Sagittarius. Weirdly, both sets of authors also bring up potential astronomical alignments at the site only to comment they are not strictly relevant to proving their case. The similarities are uncanny. I don’t think it takes much to see why.
Based on the assumption that the figures are stellar, the authors conclude that the images on Pillar 43 represent the night sky in 10,950 BCE, the year of the comet. This presumes exceptional accuracy, and we all know that due to the slow drift of the stars, a reasonable tolerance could cover a long period on either side of that date. Since this is reasonably close to when the site is believed to have been built, one immediately wonders why we should conclude that the images, even if they represent stars, are targeting a comet event instead of, say, the sky at the time the pillars were erected.
It gets worse from there, with the authors arguing that specific symbols are “consistent” with comets, namely belt buckles and snakes. How do they know that the people of ancient Göbekli Tepe used them that way? Curvy shapes, mostly. They think they look exactly like the trajectory of a hypothetical comet.
But is it worth going on from here? Our authors have blatantly lifted their entire program of research from Collins and Hancock—going so far as to deduce from the appearance of animals on the Göbekli Tepe pillars that all of archaeology should be revised to account for what they call “coherent catastrophism,” meaning the old catastrophism but with a modern gloss based on fashionable claims about comets and asteroids. The real danger here is that the imprimatur of an academic journal will lead readers to mistakenly believe that the foundational assumptions, drawn from Collins, have an actual basis in fact, when in, in fact, they are simply speculation.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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