Before we begin today, it’s worth noting that the Pentagon officially published the Navy’s UFO videos first released by Tom DeLonge’s To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science and the New York Times in December 2017. The news media freaked out about this again, either not realizing that these were the same videos or desperate for something other than COVID-19 to discuss. Most media outlets treated the videos as evidence of alien spacecraft, though there is, of course, no evidence that the objects seen in the videos are vehicles of any kind, let alone from the depths of space.
Now, on to the main event, the newest odd claim about Göbekli Tepe.
Israeli researcher Gil Haklay and his Ph.D. advisor Avi Gopher from Tel Aviv University proposed that three circular enclosures at Göbekli Tepe had to have been planned and constructed at the same time because they form an equilateral triangle, which in turn had important social symbolic functions. Previously, most assumed that the temples were built in succession and buried as a new one was built.
The triangle being one of the simplest geometric shapes, I’m not sure that this is entirely true, or that it is quite so amazing as the original journal article implies. According to a map in the article, the claim derives from plotting presumed center points for the irregular circles and then connecting the dots to make a triangle. The authors argue that it is statistically unlikely that the center points could form an equilateral triangle by coincidence.
As we might imagine, you could equally well make the same shape years or centuries apart by using the center of the mound made from covering up the old temples, so the conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow from the evidence. The original authors used an algorithm to determine the mathematically most likely center point, but the irregular shape of the enclosures, which were remodeled several times, makes it rather unlikely that the people who erected them would have identified that exact spot, accurate to a centimeter, or found it again when they went to build the next circle. There is also the obvious question of why they would make an equilateral triangle accurate to a few centimeters but not bother to make the enclosures truly circular (in theory, easier than making a triangle), etc.
The authors derive from their analysis the conclusion that the site is a stone representation of social hierarchy, based on the idea that a triangle can be interpreted as a pyramid, so its base represents nature and the apex represents humans in control of the environment. Their warrant for this is that the two central pillars of Enclosure D sit on either side of the apex of the pyramid and thus, as anthropomorphic statues, symbolize humans on top.
There is, of course, no indication that ancient people conceived of living beings as existing in a hierarchical pyramid, or that they symbolized three-dimensional symbolic pyramids with two-dimensional triangles.
The original piece was published in January, but it became news this week with articles in Ancient Origins and Haaretz. The Ancient Origins piece sees Ashley Cowie actually recognize the same problem that I had with the original article. So, credit where it is due:
What if the earliest builders erected a stand-alone circle then a later culture built another one, randomly positioned, beside the first with no geometric correlation. Then a third set of builders, perhaps 2000 years later, decided to build their circle equidistant from the previously unrelated first two circles, resulting in an equilateral triangle by independent, although connected design thinking, or even dare we say, by chance?
It doesn’t even have to be purposeful—it is also the most efficient use of space when placing circles in close proximity to one another. Try packing circles close together—you will end up with offset circles whose midpoints make an equilateral triangle even without your intentional action.
But before we go too far in giving Cowie credit for understanding a key problem, remember that he also published a piece the same day about Netflix historical dramas that included this godawful paragraph:
Even if school’s history class was a bit of a drudge, historical movies and television series delivered the same old stories with much more passion and intrigue than tweed wearing professors. Television series and films are not only massively entertaining, but they can often inspire profound discussions about the story threads. These fascinating tales of past times offer insights into old world societies and sometimes warn future man as to what his world could be like if he repeats the same mistakes; “history repeats itself.” Netflix has become the ‘goto’ online portal for historical movies and television series and the network has now realized there exists an insatiable thirst for historical shows, fact and fiction. Sometimes a history lesson is necessary to fill in the background to these series and movies.
It's like a freshman’s book report put together in a single night with maximum verbiage to fill the greatest number of pages in the least time.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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