Martin Sweatman Claims Göbekli Tepe Was a "University" Teaching Civilization to Africa, Europe, and Asia
Look who’s back… again. Martin Sweatman wrote an academic journal article back in 2017 alleging that the ancient temple site of Göbekli Tepe contained carvings recording the impact of a comet at the end of the Younger Dryas and that its iconography is derived from the zodiac, a set of constellations first seen in the historical record 10,000 years later in Babylon. In December Sweatman expanded his claims into a full-length book, PreHistory Decoded, which he is promoting this month on Graham Hancock’s website. Despite the passing of the years, the quality of the evidence for Sweatman’s position has yet to grow more convincing since it remains founded on speculative (pseudo-)astronomy and the books of Andrew Collins and Graham Hancock, whom he praises by name as “closer to the truth” than actual scholars.
The key line in Sweatman’s article for Hancock’s website describes the origins of his ideas about Göbekli Tepe: “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.” To which: I identified Hancock as the source for Sweatman’s claims back in 2017, when he was much cagier about it. (Also: He specifically claimed Hancock’s frenemy Andrew Collins as his inspiration back then.) Now, that claim is has been massaged into praise for Hancock when mainstream interest in his ideas dried up and he chose to make his fortune appealing to the “alternative history” crowd.
Full disclosure: Sweatman and I discussed some of his claims on Twitter earlier this year, and he insisted that I could not understand them without purchasing his book. “Buy my book” always sounds like great science to me. I read his journal article. If he couldn’t make a convincing case in an academic journal, why would I want to read more nothing?
In the new article, Sweatman decries the mainstream understanding of astronomical history and insists (to use his favorite verb of negative connotation) that Mesopotamian constellations are only the latest possible origin point, suggesting that we are justified in believing constellations to date back 10,000 or more years further. It is not impossible that some constellations might have persisted in a general way over time, but examining just the differences between the Babylonian constellations and their adaptation into the Greek system (where they seem to have merged with earlier Mediterranean astronomical systems) clearly shows that there are enormous burdens to overcome in proving that constellations remained unchanged for longer than any other piece of knowledge in human history. Nor does Sweatman explain why Göbekli Tepe would have the same constellations as Babylon, given that other ancient cultures of the Near East such as Egypt had very different star groupings.
Sweatman has a lot of weird things to say about constellations. He claims that for 30,000 years, down to around 9,000 BCE (you know, hint, hint, the time of the fall of Atlantis) Cancer the Crab was seen as a cat and Capricorn as a bull. Therefore, by adjusting the zodiac to match his preferences, he can produce utterly ridiculous results
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.
Or jaguars were the biggest and most important predator in the Olmec heartland. You know, the big impressive cat they saw all the damn time. As for eagles, well, we needn’t speak of them since the Great Seal of the United States has one, speaking to the similarly common use of that giant impressive bird that flies around in the sky. But by all means, do tell us how common animals are secret Old World star lore.
Indeed, look at how his “find-and-replace” methodology allows him to substitute in any animals he wishes in order to achieve a predetermined result:
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.
How does he know? (And why does he ignore the two deer?) He assumed a date or guessed at one and then substituted animals to get the “right” result, in this case one based on another assumption—that the ancient proto-Indo-Europeans could calculate the precession of the equinoxes (the slow apparent backward movement of the stars over a 26,000-year period) more accurately than anyone down to the eighteenth or nineteenth century. He uses Hancock’s idea that precession is a “code” for marking dates by depicting the sky at any given century. Hancock, in turn, based it on the book Hamlet’s Mill, and I have previously shown that this was a fraud based on its authors’ limited knowledge of the history of astrology. They didn’t understand that the Ice Age astrological system they claimed to have discovered was actually the work of Abu Ma‘shar al-Balkhi, who invented it around 850 CE.
Most of Sweatman’s current article simply repeats his 2017 claims, so I don’t need to recycle my criticisms, which have not been addressed. But I do want to point out his expanding claims, which now see Göbekli Tepe as a “university” teaching a “revolutionary” agricultural lifestyle to, basically, everyone in Europe, eastern Africa, and the western two-thirds of Asia:
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.
The key words there are the “Nostratic hypothesis,” a controversial linguistic hypothesis that holds that all of the language families from the Indo-European, Dravidian, Kartvelian, Afro-Asiatic and a few others share a common ancestor in the Fertile Crescent around the end of the last Ice Age. Most mainstream scholars of comparative linguistics do not endorse this hypothesis because it involves several layers of speculation, which can induce numerous errors. For example, Nostratic analysis is based on comparing reconstructed proto-languages, such as Proto-Indo-European. But since these proto-languages are simply scholarly approximations of what we imagine the originals were like, comparing multiple reconstructions means ignoring the uncertainty and likelihood of errors in reconstruction.
It’s also worth noting that there is no evidence that Göbekli Tepe was a center for agriculture. The archaeological evidence speaks to a hunter-gatherer society.
Sweatman’s article contains a number of minor errors that speak to his lack of historical knowledge. He interprets a Mesopotamian vase as depicting animals standing atop pillars because the vase places them in a register above the other figures on the vase. He seems unaware of artistic conventions before the adoption of one-point perspective in the Renaissance for depicting differing locations and distances. At another point he speaks of “pre-dynastic” Mesopotamia, which isn’t a thing.
All told, Sweatman appears not to have listened to his critics (who were legion in 2017). Instead of doing more work to prove his original (and dubious) hypothesis, he has instead taken it for proven and has expanded it beyond what any reasonable evaluation of evidence could support. He should fit right in on the History Channel and on the fringe history circuit.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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