Denisovan Origins of the Zodiac?

Featured image is of Denisova Cave by Демин Алексей Барнаул – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

In New Dawn magazine last year,[1] I explored the work of two British academics (Dr Martin Sweatman and Alistair Coombs) pushing back the origins of the Western zodiac to a time more than 40,000 years or more in the past.[2] As I noted in that article, they have apparently identified an ancient zodiac code that continues to inform the one we use today. In fact, it appears that we still use exactly the same zodiacal constellations. The authors allow though that there are some differences in the symbolism we now use to represent the constellations. Not only would the symbolism in this ancient zodiac likely have been subject to many local variations, some constellations that were apparently previously represented by animals are no longer in our modern zodiac and a few other constellations are now represented by different animals.

Key to finding that this zodiac code dates back at least 40,000 years is the analysis by Sweatman and Coombs of its application to the ancient Lion Man figurine from Stadel Cave in Hohlenstein, Germany, although they have concluded that the lion is actually one of the animal symbols that has been switched. In our modern Western Zodiac, the lion is of course the symbol for Leo. However, they conclude that in this ancient code Leo is likely to have been represented by horse symbolism while the feline symbol appears to have represented Cancer. For them, the Lion Man figurine represents Cancer on the Winter solstice around 40,000 years ago.[3]

These symbolic associations have been questioned as part of a broader criticism of their theory.[4] While I find many of their conclusions persuasive, in my earlier paper I also queried their view that the lion was not associated with Leo in this ancient code. I believe there are reasonable grounds for suggesting that the lion was then, as it remains to this day, the symbolic representation for this zodiac constellation. And since my earlier article was published I believe that those grounds may have been strengthened by recent findings at the Denisova Cave in Siberia. These findings may even support the view that the ancient zodiac code identified by Sweatman and Coombs is an inheritance from the Denisosovans.

The Age of Leo

Graham Hancock in his illuminating text, Magicians of the Gods, has observed that the Age of Leo last took place between c.10,970 BC to 8810 BC (although recognising a leeway of a couple of centuries either way in these dates).[5] Given the Earth’s rotational “wobble” results in a precessional cycle through the twelve zodiacal constellations of 25,920 years, the previous occurrence of the Age of Leo was from around 39,000 years ago.

The Lion Man

While it has not been possible to date the Lion Man figurine itself, carbon dating of the stratigraphic layer in which it was found has suggested it was carved somewhere between 39,000 and 41,000 years ago,[6] indeed 39,800 years ago (to within 700 years and with 95% confidence).[7] This corresponds relatively closely to the period of the Age of Leo. Given the degree of concurrence otherwise to be found between the ancient zodiac code identified by Sweatman and Coombs and the modern Zodiac, I proposed in my earlier paper that this is suggestive that the lion also represented Leo in the ancient code. Indeed, there had been a suggestion to this effect before the work of Sweatman and Coombs, based on the dating of the figurine to the earlier period of between 38,000 – 33,000 BC.[8] Sweatman and Coombs themselves concluded that while they linked the feline symbol (of lion or leopard) with Cancer in the ancient code, it was “tempting to narrow this association to leopards only”.[9]

The Denisovan Connection

The recent discovery of a cave lion figurine in the Denisova Cave in the Altai region of Siberia may well provide further support for my thesis. Moreover, this find suggests that the ancient zodiac identified by Sweatman and Coombs may actually have been an inheritance from our Denisovan cousins.

It was in the Denisova Cave that in 2008 Siberian archaeologists discovered a tiny finger bone fragment of a juvenile female genetically distinct from both Neandertals and modern humans. She was designated a member of a new group of our hominin cousins, Denisovans. Several more Denisovan remains have been found since. Genetic analysis suggests that Neandertals and Denisovans were more closely related to one another than either was to modern humans.[10] However, it is clear that Denisovans interbred with our ancestors. Melanesians have a particularly significant Denisovan genetic component (indeed, as much as 6%),[11] and their genetic imprint has been expressed in the modern human population as far away as Iceland.[12]

The Denisova Cave also provides evidence of ancient Denisovan interbreeding, but with Neandertals rather than modern humans – fragmentary remains in the Cave have been identified as being of a Neandertal/Denisovan female hybrid.[13]

Sophisticated artefacts

While there is evidence of occupation of the Denisova Cave by both Denisovans and Neandertals (including of co-occupation given the existence of the hybrid female), there is no evidence (at least as yet) of modern humans having occupied the Cave at any point.[14] However, dating from around 50,000 years ago artefacts have emerged in the Cave, both functional and artistic in nature, which are suggestive of a quite sophisticated culture. These include a beautiful bracelet of green-hued chlorite, bead jewellery comprising ostrich eggs, and a still functional bone needle.[15] Indeed, the manufacturing technology used to create the bracelet (involving drilling, sawing and polishing) has been suggested to be more typical of that perhaps of the Neolithic era amongst modern humans, which began from around 12,000 years ago.[16]

This has led some to suggest that this necessarily implies that modern humans must have occupied the Cave and that it is they who created these artefacts, a thesis for which support is drawn from a roughly 45,000 year old modern human femur having been identified some 1600 kilometres away at Ust’-Ishim in western Siberia.[17] However, based on the current archaeological evidence, it has been argued that the artefacts appear to have been created by the Denisovans – “given that previous work on the lithic evidence from Denisova Cave indicates that the Initial Upper Palaeolithic may have developed through a local Middle Palaeolithic substrate” and “the absence of modern human fossil or genetic evidence from the site”, it has been considered “parsimonious” (the simplest explanation being the preferred one), at least at present, to suggest that these artefacts may have been manufactured by Denisovans”.[18] This assessment has been reinforced in a paper published earlier this year concluding that “based on anthropological data, [this Upper Paleolithic stone tool industry] appears to have been associated with an autochthonous [indigenous] population – the Denisovans”.[19]

The Cave Lion Figurine

To the collection of these Denisovan artefacts is arguably now to be added the cave lion figurine.[20] It is quite small – 42 mm long, 8 mm thick and 11mm in height. It remains unclear whether it depicts a male or a female lion. It is carved in an abstract form, with its head missing, and only its back, belly, groin and hind legs represented. It is decorated with groupings of notches and was painted with red ochre.[21] It has been theorised that it might have been a toy, part of a tool or have had a symbolic purpose, and that its red colouring could indicate some connection with the “blood moon” of an eclipse.[22]

Just as its purpose is not clear, its precise age is yet to be confirmed.[23] It has been described as crafted between 40,000 and 45,000 years ago.[24] However, providing reliable dates for the artefacts recovered at the Denisova Cave has proved difficult. In a presentation last year, Sweatman has drawn on age estimates in two studies reported in 2019 in an attempt to identify a more accurate dating[25]. The figurine was found inside the 11th stratigraphic layer of the southern gallery of the Cave.[26] This is one of three galleries (Chambers) in the Cave. The first study suggested that layer to have been laid down from 47,000 (+/- 8,000) years ago.[27] As the optical dating method used in that study leaves a large margin for error, Sweatman has also drawn on the dating provided in the other study.[28] He notes that its more accurate radiocarbon dating of the stratigraphically correlated 11th layer in the Main Chamber consistently shows dates just under 40,000 years of age (around 39,500 years ago), plus or minus around 1,000 years.

Sweatman concludes that the cave lion figurine probably dates from around 40,000 years ago, which he comments appears broadly contemporaneous with the age of the Lion Man in present day Germany. Indeed, on this dating and given the margins for error, the figurine could well date from around 39,000 years ago, and on my analysis in my previous paper therefore (as with the Lion Man) also falls broadly within the period of the Age of Leo.

While acknowledging that Sweatman has cautioned that the dating of the stratigraphically correlated Layer 11.1 in the East Chamber has been impacted by post-depositional disturbance,[29] a paper published earlier this year arguably provides some further support for my thesis in re-stating that layer to have been laid down from 49,000 ± 6000 years ago and as late as 38,0000 ± 9,000 years ago (using optically stimulated luminescence – carbon dating suggested the layer to have been laid down from 47,900 ± 3100 years ago).[30]

Not only could the cave lion figurine well date from around 39,000 years ago, I believe that it, like its European Lion Man counterpart, may have been carved around the time of the astrological Age of Leo specifically to represent that Age.

The work of a Denisovan artist?

When initially publishing their theory of an ancient zodiac code, Sweatman and Coombs concluded that while its origin, distribution and evolution were then unknown, it appeared to span Europe at least into Anatolia.[31] Sweatman has now pointed to the cave lion figurine in Denisova Cave as suggestive of this ancient zodiac code, 40,000 years in the past, being culturally present even in distant Siberia.[32]

But this begs the question, which hominin culture is responsible for the presence of the code there at that time? For Sweatman the figurine’s dating points to either a probable modern human presence in the cave or a sharing of culture between modern humans and whatever other hominin group was using the cave at that time.[33] Certainly, it is clear from the existence of a roughly 45,000 year old modern human femur some 1,600 kilometres to the north west of the Cave that there is a real potential by 39,000 years ago for there to have been significant interaction between Denisovans and modern humans. While for some this points to the probable transmission to the Denisovans of cultural traditions of modern humans with this contact, there is another – and I believe more convincing – explanation.

Professor Mikhail Shunkov is the Director of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the director of the permanent basecamp of Denisova Cave.[34] Although he acknowledges that as “45000 years ago … Homo sapiens already wandered around Siberia, … it was quite likely that they could have influenced the Denisovans”,[35] he is also of the view that the culture of the Denisovans was significantly more advanced than either their modern human or Neandertal counterparts.[36] This is surely suggestive that the influence on contact was equally as likely to have been (at least also) the other way.

Andrew Collins, the noted British writer and researcher, has published extensively on the Denisovans and was recently interviewed for New Dawn magazine about his new book (co-written with Gregory Little), Denisovan Origins: Hybrid Humans, Göbekli Tepe, and the Genesis of the Giants of Ancient America.[37] He has developed a strong case for the theory that cultural transmission did indeed take place the other way, from the Denisovans to modern humans. Collins believes that from around 45,000 years ago, when modern humans are thought to have begun encountering Denisovans, our ancestors were interbreeding with them – and absorbing their culture. This cultural transmission encompassed not merely their technology, but also their cosmology, their world view.

Knowledge of the precession?

One such cultural element it appears may have been their astronomical knowledge. He has pointed to the 18 rows of inscribed notches across the cave lion figurine’s body, noting that this is significant in that it is the number of years in an eclipse cycle known in Chaldean and Babylonian astronomy as a saros.[38] Even more significantly, each row comprises four notches, totalling 72 in all. In the 25,920 year period it takes for the earth to complete one precessional cycle, Collins has also noted that the rate of precession of the earth is one degree every 72 years. This suggests that the Denisovans may have had an understanding of the precessional cycle. Given that precession is at the very heart of the Zodiac, that understanding arguably provides support for Sweatman’s view that his ancient zodiac was culturally present at the Denisova Cave at that time. And, given that, this in turn arguably also provides further support for my own thesis that (whatever else may have been its purpose) the cave lion figurine may have been carved around the time of the astrological Age of Leo specifically to represent that Age.

For Collins this apparent understanding of the precessional cycle serves to confirm what he has previously written of the Denisovan’s very likely influence upon the culture of modern humans following their first encounters some 45,000 years ago. In my view, there is much to support his view. In proposing their ancient zodiac code, Sweatman and Coombs concluded that since a fundamental element of the code is an understanding of the precessional cycle (a full cycle lasting some 26,000 years), it clearly “appears the intellectual capabilities of ancient people have been severely underestimated”: “we should … revaluate their scientific and mathematical understanding … ”.[39] Their observations are profound. But they are not only true of our ancient modern human ancestors. Even more significantly, the discovery of the cave lion figurine in the Denisova Cave, quite plausibly the work of an ancient Denisovan artist, apparently demonstrating an understanding of the precessional cycle, and arguably reflecting an ancient zodiac that continues to inform our own today, suggests that it is the intellectual capabilities of our ancient hominin cousins, the Denisovans, that we must also be careful not to underestimate. It is our emerging understanding of the scientific and mathematical achievements of the Denisovans, along with their technological achievements and cosmological world outlook, that demands our open-minded evaluation.


Internet citations current as at 24 April 2020

[1] “Ancient Origins of the Zodiac” (September – October 2019) 176 New Dawn 61-64.

[2] Sweatman M. and Coombs, A., Decoding European Palaeolithic Art: Extremely Ancient knowledge of Precession of the Equinoxes (January 2019) 5(1) Athens Journal of History 1 – 30 ( Sweatman has since more thoroughly explored the theory as part of his recent book, Prehistory Decoded (Matador, Leicestershire, 2019).

[3] See further Sweatman, M., “The Lion-man, the Sphinx and the Leopard Shrine” (1 June 2019) Ancient Origins (

[4] Bradley, R., “Martin Sweatman’s Decoding of Prehistory: Incoherent Catastrophe” (25 January 2019) (

[5] Hancock, G., Magicians of the Gods (Coronet, Great Britain, 2015) at 189-192.

[6] Kind C. et al, “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) 61 Quartar 129-145 at 133 doi: 10.7485/QU61_07 (available at

[7] Noted in Sweatman, Prehistory Decoded, n.2 at 193.

[8] Cogniarchae, Astronomy is more than 40000 years old – a definite proof (6 February 2017) ( An alternative dating of the layer in which it was found is 35,000 to 40,000 years ago: Ulm Museum, 14C Dating – The Age of the Lion Man (

[9] Sweatman and Coombs, note 2 at 8.

[10] Harmon, K., “New DNA Analysis Shows Ancient Humans Interbred with Denisovans” (30 August 2012) Scientific American (

[11] Meyer M. et al, “A high-coverage genome sequence from an archaic Denisovan individual” (2012) 338(6104) Science 222–226 doi:10.1126/science.1224344 (; Reich, D. et al, “Genetic history of an archaic hominin group from Denisova Cave in Siberia” (2010) 468(7327) Nature 1053–1060 (;jsessionid=278098EC78788090B1DCFCCAB1615538?sequence=1). See further Vernot, B. et al, “Excavating Neandertal and Denisovan DNA from the genomes of Melanesian individuals” (8 April 2016) 352(6282) Science 235-239 DOI: 10.1126/science.aad9416.

[12] Skov, L., “The nature of Neanderthal introgression revealed by 27,566 Icelandic genomes” (22 April 2020) Nature (abstract available at

[13] Jacobs, Z. et al., “Timing of archaic hominin occupation of Denisova Cave in southern Siberia” (2019) 565(7741) Nature 594–599

[14] Noted, for example, in Shunkov, M. et al, “Dynamics of the Altai Paleolithic industries in the archaeological record of Denisova Cave” (2020) Quaternary International (available online 21 February 2020)

[15] Siberian Times reporter, “Homo sapiens or Denisovans? Who made stunning cave jewellery and artefacts up to 48,000 years ago?”(4 February 2019) The Siberian Times (

[16] Noted in Gertcyk, O., “Extinct Denisovans from Siberia Made Stunning Jewelry. Did They Also Discover Australia?” (20 September 2017) Ancient Origins ( See further Derevyanko, A., “Altai as the center of the ancient oecumene” (13 February 2019) 51, N1 Science First Hand (

[17] Siberian Times reporter, n.15.

[18] Douka et al, “Age estimates for hominin fossils and the onset of the Upper Palaeolithic at Denisova Cave” (2019) 565(7741) Nature 640–644

[19] Shunkov et al, n.14.

[20] The figurine has been assumed to have been created by a Denisovan artist: noted in Liesowska, A. and Skarbo, S., “Cave lion figurine made of woolly mammoth tusk found at Denisova Cave(20 November 2019) The Siberian Times (

[21] See on this description generally, ibid.

[22] Collins, A., “45,000-year-old Cave Lion Figurine Uncovered At Denisova Cave” (20 November 2019) Ancient Origins (

[23] Liesowska and Skarbo, note 20.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Sweatman, M., Age of the lion figurine from Denisova cave (21 November 2019)


[26] Liesowska and Skarbo, note 20.

[27] Jacobs et al. note 13.

[28] Douka et al, note 18.

[29] On which, see Jacobs et al, note 13 and Sweatman, n.25.

[30] Shunkov et al, n.14.

[31] Sweatman and Coombs, note 2 at 18.

[32] Sweatman, note 25.

[33] Ibid.


[35] Liesowska and Skarbo, note 20.

[36] Noted in Gertcyk, note 16.

[37] Published by Bear & Company, 2019. The interview is reported in the November-December 2019 issue of New Dawn magazine (No.177 at 55-61).

[38] Collins, n.22.

[39] Sweatman and Coombs, note 2 at 19.

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