In a paper recently accepted for publication in the Athens Journal of History, two British academics (Martin Sweatman and Alistair Coombs ) have greatly expanded “our understanding of the astronomical knowledge of ancient people” from a study of Palaeolithic cave art sites in Germany, France and Spain, and Neolithic sites in Turkey. They conclude that “[t]his knowledge, it seems, enabled [the ancients] to record dates, using animal symbols to represent star constellations, in terms of precession of the equinoxes”. They present these conclusions as “at odds with the conventional view that astronomy began in Mesopotamia a few millennia BC and that precession of the equinoxes was discovered by Hipparchus in the 2nd Century BC” which they consider must now be seen as “unsafe”.
Outside the cautious understated expression common in the scientific world, the authors more closely reflect the true impact of their conclusions in observing that “we have undoubtedly cracked [an] ancient zodiacal code”: “This code was likely used for many tens of thousands of years, from at least the time Homo sapiens migrated into Western Europe, around 40,000 years ago, until comparatively recently”.
The authors are “very certain that this code was used in Late Palaeolithic Western Europe, and it appears almost certain to have been used at Gobekli Tepe [constructed at the Palaeolithic-Neolithic Boundary, in southern Anatolia in modern-day Turkey] as well”. So certain are they in fact that they “verify our scientific hypothesis to an extraordinary level of statistical confidence, far surpassing the usual demands for publication of scientific results. … in a scientific sense, we prove our hypothesis is correct”.
More significantly many elements of this code continue to be reflected in our current western Zodiac, suggesting that at least some of the traditions of the modern zodiac date back 40,000 years, if not earlier:
We show how animal symbolism at [Neolithic Çatalhöyük also in southern Anatolia] can be interpreted using the same method and zodiac as at Göbekli Tepe. It appears we continue to use the same zodiacal constellations today in the West, although some of them are no longer represented by animal symbols and a few of the remaining animal symbols have switched places (Sweatman and Coombs).
In contrasting this ancient zodiac code with our modern Western equivalent, the authors allow that “t]here are likely many local variations, including those that probably occurred between the end of Çatalhöyük’s occupation and today”. While noting that “[a]t Göbekli Tepe, a lion or leopard appears on Pillar 51, Enclosure H”, after considering twin leopards found facing each other at Ҫatalhöyük, they consider that it is likely that leopard or lion symbolism represents Cancer and see it therefore as one example of modern variation, in that “the feline symbol appears to have moved from Cancer to Leo” (they consider that Leo is likely to be represented by horse symbolism). I wonder though if this is actually the case. The authors themselves acknowledge that the lion or leopard appearing on Pillar 51 “has yet to be linked to any constellation”. The degree of concurrence between various aspects of the ancient and modern Western zodiac codes is itself suggestive that the lion could well represent Leo.
Leo is one of the twelve constellations constituting the zodiac in Western astrology, with its zodiac symbol being the lion. As the Earth’s rotation axis is offset by around 23 degrees, there is over time a backwards wobble of the earth’s axis through the constellations, giving rise to the precession of the equinoxes. This wobble takes a period of 25,920 years to complete one cycle (Fitzgerald at 55). During this time it passes through each of the twelve zodiacal constellations in turn, over a period of 2,160 years in respect of each constellation. Each of those periods is an astrological age. In this cycle, the common interpretation is that the Age of Leo last took place between c.10,500 BC to 8000 BC (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astrological_age). As such, the previous occurrence of the Age of Leo was from around 38,500 years ago.
The “earliest forms of artistic expression” in Europe date from around 40,000 years ago, with some statuettes possibly as old as 43,000 years, providing “some of the earliest proof of figurative art in the world” (Kind at 130). These figurines include the Lion Man from Stadel Cave in Hohlenstein, Germany. Carved from mammoth ivory, and around 30 cm tall, it is “to date the largest known statuette from the Upper Pleistocene” (Kind at 142) (images of the figurine may be found on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lion-man). The figure is “clearly recognizable” as part human and part cave lion with the head and front legs of a cave lion and the lower body and legs “definitively” belonging to a human (Kind at 138-139).
The Lion Man was “found in a secluded area in the back part of the cave, in a small chamber away from the habitation area at the cave entrance”, making it “probable, that the small chamber … was a place chosen for cult-like or religious purposes, a sanctuary, in which the Lion Man played a special role” (Kind at 143-144).
Even more significantly, the Lion Man is one of the oldest examples of figurative art in the world, dating to between 39000 and 41000 years ago (Kind at 133). This corresponds relatively closely to the period of the Age of Leo (from around 38,500 years ago), which is at the very least suggestive that the lion represented Leo in the ancient code that Sweatman and Coombs have identified as dating back to this period. It is also consistent with their conclusion that while linking the feline symbol (of lion or leopard) with Cancer in the ancient code, it is “tempting to narrow this association to leopards only”.
In the area of astronomy generally, Sweatman and Coombs consider that “it appears the intellectual capabilities of ancient people have been severely underestimated”: “we should … revaluate their scientific and mathematical understanding considering that this knowledge of precession of the equinoxes requires very long timescale observations, and records, of the natural world”.
Perhaps even more significantly, they conclude that:
… the level of astronomical knowledge uncovered here at such an ancient time also calls into question standard models of diffusion and migration of humans in general. For instance, if ancient people could also estimate longitude via the lunar method, a not unreasonable expectation for someone with knowledge of precession of the equinoxes, then they might have navigated the oceans as soon as sufficiently robust vessels could be built.
And at what point in our history did humans first build such sufficiently robust vessels? I suspect much earlier than our current archaeological understanding allows. That is a topic to be explored in another blog post.
In the preparation of this post, I would like to acknowledge the contribution of a friend and writing colleague, Ms Marianne Schmidt, who was kind enough to provide her thoughts on it.
Internet citations were correct as at 30 November 2018.
Robert FitzGerald , Astrological ages as an accurate and effective model of history (September/October 2009) The Astrological Journal 55-62 (http://www.signsofthetimeshistory.com/ages.pdf)
C.J. Kind, N. Ebinger-Rist, S. Wolf, T. Beutelspacher, and K. Wehrberger. “The Smile
of the Lion Man. Recent Excavations in Stadel Cave (Baden-Wurttemberg,
South-Western Germany) and the Restoration of the Famous Upper Palaeolithic
Figurine (2014) 16 Quartar 129-45 doi: 10.7485/QU61_07 (http://www.quartaer.eu/pdfs/2014/2014_07_kind.pdf)
Martin B. Sweatman and Alistair Coombs, Decoding European Palaeolithic Art:
Extremely Ancient knowledge of Precession of the Equinoxes (2018) Athens Journal of History (https://www.athensjournals.gr/history/2018-1-X-Y-Sweatman.pdf)