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A sky chart superimposed on a scene in a pillar from an ancient temple: a depiction of an impact or guide to heaven? (credit: Andrew Collins)

Did ancient astronomers set a message in stone for us?

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Back in 2003, The Space Review first started repeating the story of the danger of large impacts (“Asteroids are probably a threat. Maybe?” The Space Review, September 9, 2003). It is possible we are recapitulating a tradition that started more than 11,000 years before present (BP). Ancient astronomers may have provided us with a report about what may be “the worst day ever in human history” according to Martin B. Sweatman and Dimitrios Tsikritsis (“Decoding Göbekli Tepe with Archaeoastronomy: What does the fox say?”, 2017).

The researchers used software that shows the ancient sky, Stellarium 0.15, to match the stars visible in Göbekli Tepe Turkey in the last 13,000 years or so. They tested the hypothesis that the Vulture Stone was a report on a comet strike. They correlate the constellations that may be depicted on the Vulture Stone with a specific date, 12,970 BP ± 250 years. That date, they believe, is consistent with a comet strike that may have caused the “black mat” at the Younger-Dryas boundary (YDB) that includes nanodiamonds. The YDB was dated to some time between 12,900 and 11,600 years before present.

So one translation of the Vulture Stone writing is, as Neil deGrasse Tyson put it in 2013, “How’s your space program coming along?”

Sweatman and Tsikritsis further hypothesized that other portions of the stone are a realist depiction of what a visual observation of a large comet impact might look like to someone near enough to see it, but far enough away to survive it. The black mat provides evidence of multi-continent firestorms that may have triggered an impact winter—a very good candidate for the consequences of what may have happened on the worst day ever in human history.

The oldest layers at Göbekli Tepe date to 11,000 years before present. That suggests, if the Sweatman and Tsikritsis hypothesis is correct, that the astronomers at Göbekli Tepe depicted historical events that happened about 2,000 years prior to the building of the observatory. Yes. Not pre-history. The glyphs on these pillars may be a proto-language that predates cuneiform by 4,000 to 6,000 years.

So one translation of the Vulture Stone writing is, as Neil deGrasse Tyson put it in 2013, “How’s your space program coming along?”

An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof. The claim that a stone pillar was important enough to (re-)chisel 2,000 years later is extraordinary. And so is the implication that an ancient astronomical team used, or could decode, the symbols for constellations thousands of years after they were first recorded. And so is the implied claim that the people who saw a major comet strike had the free time to memorialize it, in a durable way, in the midst of an event that may have ended the civilizations of the Clovis people and others—there are sites featuring the black mat near Göbekli Tepe.

Andrew Collins, whose sky chart image is above, shows that there is a simpler alternative hypothesis. In 11,621 BP, the closest star to Earth’s celestial north pole was not as close as Polaris’s declination of 89° 16′. The starless area at the celestial north pole may have been a central feature of the beliefs of the astronomers at Göbekli Tepe. “Almost certainly [the circle on the Vulture Stone] represents the northern celestial pole, long seen in shamanic tradition as the ‘hole in the sky’ through which human souls could access the Upper World.”

So another translation may be, “This way to the Upper World.”

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