News Briefs 24-04-2017

Life goals: to be as happy as baby goats in pyjamas...

Quote of the Day:

The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and the other begins?

Edgar Allan Poe

Do Engravings at the Ancient Megalithic Site of Göbekli Tepe Record a Catastrophic Comet Strike 12,000 Years Ago?

Gobekli Tepe

There's been much excitement over the weekend about a news story suggesting that the truly ancient archaeological site of Göbekli Tepe records, in engravings on its pillars, a devastating comet strike that was the cause of the Younger Dryas period. Even usually skeptical science publications such as New Scientist have mentioned the new finding, perhaps as it is based on a paper published in a scientific journal ("Decoding Göbekli Tepe with Archaeoastronomy: What Does the Fox Say?", in Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry).

According to the paper, the key to unlocking this 'Göbekli Tepe code' is Pillar 43, in Enclosure D (the 'Vulture Stone'), along with a number of other apparently related pillars. Pillar 43 is engraved with zoomorphic figures - including what appear to be birds, snakes or fish, a canine, and a scorpion - as well as two rows of nested ‘v-shapes’, a central circle shape, and a row of three ‘handbags’ at the top of the pillar that each have a small accompanying zoomorphic carving. The researchers - Martin B. Sweatman and Dimitrios Tsikritsis, of the School of Engineering at the University of Edinburgh - believe that these symbols are astronomically-related:

We begin by noting the carving of a scorpion on pillar 43, a well-known zodiacal symbol for Scorpius. Based on this observation, we investigate to what extent other symbols on pillar 43 can be interpreted as zodiacal symbols or other familiar astronomical symbols. The possibility that ancient sites have astronomical significance in terms of alignment or symbolism has a long history; see for example theories about the famous Lascaux cave paintings, circa 15000 BC.

Of course, an astronomical interpretation is not mandated by the presence of the scorpion; one might attempt interpretation instead in terms of hunting or migration patterns, mythology, or any other coherent system or framework. Indeed, we must also consider the possibility that the symbols on Pillar 43 were not intended to convey any specific meaning, beyond depictions of common animals. However, our basic statistical analysis indicates our astronomical interpretation is very likely to be correct.

Let us now consider another feature of pillar 43. We suggest the carved circle in the visual centre of pillar 43 can be interpreted as the sun, and the pillar is communicating a date, i.e. it is a ‘date stamp’. Normally, the zodiacal epoch is defined by the position of the sun being ‘in’ a particular zodiacal sign at sunrise/sunset on one of four auspicious dates in the year; the spring equinox, summer solstice, autumnal equinox or winter solstice. Using stellarium it is easy to see, when the location is set to Sanliurfa in southern Turkey (which is about 10 miles from Göbekli Tepe) and when we consider these four events, that the hypothetical date stamp likely corresponds to one of the following four dates (with an error of around ± 250 years;

2,000 AD – Winter solstice
4,350 BC – Autumnal equinox
10,950 BC – Summer solstice
18,000 BC – Spring equinox"

These dates correspond to those when, according to Stellarium, the sun is slightly above the spout of the teapot asterism of Sagittarius, i.e. when the circle-sun is just above the right wing of the vulture on the pillar.

...Let us now consider these dates. We understand Göbekli Tepe is an authentically ancient site, and we can certainly rule out 2,000 AD. Given the established radiocarbon date we can also rule out 4,350BC. Of th remaining two dates, by far the closest to the radiocarbon date is 10,950 BC, based on the summer solstice, and we suggest therefore that this is the most likely date. When the uncertainty in this date estimate is taken into account, it is in very good agreement with an estimate for the date of the proposed YD event, 10,890 BC.

This makes a strong case for this interpretation of pillar 43 – that it is referencing circa 10,950 BC, and hence the YD event.

I was initially very excited to hear about this new paper, but I have to admit that upon reading it I'm not sure it deserves the coverage it has got (and certainly shouldn't be presented uncritically in publications such as New Scientist). It's highly speculative - not that there's anything wrong with that, I love archaeoastronomy and am partial to a bit of speculation myself, but it should be presented as such.

It starts off well: I think it's definitely a good idea, when seeing depictions of a scorpion in ancient art, to consider that it might be representing a constellation. Sure, we should definitely be careful not to assume that ancient people saw the same constellations as we do - but Scorpius is one of the largest and most conspicuous constellations in the sky, and many ancient people definitely saw the shape of a scorpion in it.

Therefore, it's worth checking whether the other figures around the scorpion might also represent constellations. This can certainly be tricky though, and if you're looking to confirm a theory it is easy to see what you want to see. Nevertheless, I'm open to what they are saying about the 'entire picture' as a star map of sorts, and I like that they did some statistical analysis on this (though I'm not sure I agree with their '1 in 5 million' certainty).

From there though, things seem to build assumption by assumption, until we're left with a construction that is wobbling precariously due to its dubious foundations. The authors cite alternative author Andrew Collins' work on Göbekli Tepe, and from the content of the paper I'm assuming they are also familiar with Graham Hancock's recent writings on both the site, and the possible global catastrophe that caused the Younger Dryas. It's great to see such fascinating 'heretical' theories getting coverage from academics in a journal, but in my opinion the paper seems to work backwards from these alternative theories as if they are the conclusion, and the evidence is fitted to it.

For instance, they say that the depiction of a headless man at the bottom of the pillar "is indicating probably the worst day ever in human history since the end of the ice age; the hypothetical YD catastrophe". Snake motifs are interpreted as indicating death and destruction, followed by "comets are certainly dangerous and destructive... Moreover, the serpent motif is a good symbolic representation of a meteor track." And symbols on the pillar that are ‘punctured’ or dimpled apparently suggest "a cometary encounter sufficient
to obscure sun, moon and stars".

For those reasons, I find it difficult to give this paper much credence. There is definitely some worthwhile theorising in there - as I said, the idea that the symbols might represent constellations, as well as later speculation that the handbags with zoomorphic figures might be representations of zodiacal signs at different times of the year. But the jump to suggesting a comet strike, I think, is far too speculative, especially for a published journal paper.

It's worth noting that the Göbekli Tepe Research Staff have addressed this new paper in a recent blog post, and it is worth a read. In a commendably calm and balanced manner, they address a number of issues with the paper:

1. There still is quite a significant probability that the older circular enclosures of Göbekli Tepe’s Layer III actually were subterranean buildings – possibly even covered by roof constructions. This then somehow would limit their usability as actual observatories a bit.

2. Even if we assume that the night sky 12,000 years ago looked exactly like today’s, the question at hand would be whether a prehistoric hunter really would have put together the very same asterisms and constellations we recognise today (most of them going back to ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, and Greek scholars and descriptions)?

3. Contrary to the article’s premise the unearthed features at Göbekli Tepe are not shrouded in mystery. Published over the last years and decades, there is ample scientific literature available which unfortunately did not find its way into the study. The specific animals depicted in each enclosure’s iconography for instance seems to follow a certain intention, emphasizing different species in different enclosures. A purely substitutional interpretation ignores these more subtle but significant details. This also can be demonstrated for instance with the headless man on the shaft of Pillar 43, interpreted as symbol of death and mass extinction in the paper – however silently omitting the emphasised phallus in the same depiction which somehow contradicts the lifeless notion and implies a much more complex narrative behind these reliefs.

4. It also seems a bit arbitrary to base this interpretation (and all its consequences as described in the paper) on what seems to be some randomly selected pillars and their iconography (the interpretation thus not covering “much of the symbolism of Göbekli Tepe” as stated in the paper, but merely the tip of that iceberg). In the meantime more than 60 monumental T-pillars could have been unearthed in the older Layer III – many of these showing similar reliefs of animals and abstract symbols, a few even as complex as Pillar 43 (like Pillar 56 or Pillar 66 in enclosure H, for example). And it does not end there: the same iconography is prominently known also from other find groups like stone vessels, shaft straighteners, and plaquettes – not only from Göbekli Tepe, but a variety of contemporary sites in the wider vicinity.

So, with all due respect for the work and effort the Edinburgh colleagues obviously put into their research and this publication, there still are – at least from our perspective as excavators of this important site – some points worth a more thorough discussion.

For a more ascerbic skeptical reaction, Jason Colavito has also written a blog post on the journal paper.

Link: "Decoding Göbekli Tepe with Archaeoastronomy: What Does the Fox Say?" (PDF)

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News Briefs 22-04-2017

”That all our knowledge begins with experience there can be no doubt.”

Quote of the Day:

“I have no knowledge of myself as I am, but merely as I appear to myself.”

Immanuel Kant

Water Lightning: The Mysterious Polynesian Navigation Method Known as 'Te Lapa' - 'The Flashing'

Hawaiian navigators sailing multi-hulled canoe, c. 1781

If you've got a globe of the Earth in your house, turn it so that the Tuamoto Archipelago in Polynesia is at the centre of your view - and you'll find from that vantage point in 'space', Earth looks like a water planet, with barely any land in sight on the visible 'disk' of the Earth.

Then consider that the ancient Polynesians settled many of the tiny islands that dot that great expanse of inhospitable ocean, and you have to wonder how they were able to do so - Easter Island itself is around 1000 miles from the nearest habitable land. For centuries, European academics put the settlement of these various islands down to accident - without any of the complex instrumentation used by European navigators, Pacific Islanders obviously just drifted around until they lucked out by hitting land (seriously, can you imagine hopping in a small boat with the intention of just drifting till you found something?).

Opinions on how Polynesians reached these small islands began changing in the second half of the 20th century though, especially after the 1972 publication of Dr David H. Lewis's We, the Navigators: The Ancient Art of Pacific Landfinding in the Pacific. Lewis did extensive research on Pacific literature before embarking on a 9-month voyage along with elderly navigators from nine different archipelagos.

What Lewis, and others, found, was that traditional Polynesian navigation was a precise 'science', that used an array of techniques - including using celestial objects (the Sun during the day, stars at night), the movements of wildlife (e.g. birds), the way the swell changed, and even phosphorescence in the sea!

A fascinating recent article at The Conversation delves into some of the techniques of celestial navigation used by the ancient Polynesians, some of which were included in the recent animated movie Moana:

To calculate their position on Earth, voyagers memorised star maps and used the angle of stars above the horizon to determine latitude. For example, the top and bottom stars of the Southern Cross are separated by six degrees. When the distance between those stars is equal to the bottom star’s altitude above the horizon, your northerly latitude is 21º: that of Honolulu.

When the bright stars Sirius and Pollux set at exactly the same time, your latitude is 18º South: the latitude of Tahiti.

Voyagers measure the angles between stars and the horizon using their hands. The width of your pinkie finger at arm’s length is roughly one degree, or double the angular diameter of the Sun or Moon.

Hold your hand with the palm facing outward and thumb fully extended, touching the horizon. Each part of your hand is used to measure a particular altitude.

Celestial navigation in Moana

As fascinating as the celestial navigation techniques of the ancient Polynesians are, in recent years another scholar has discussed an even more intriguing, mysterious navigational method. Marianne George, who has a PhD in cultural anthropology, sailed with David H. Lewis in 1993 to the Santa Cruz Islands, and both were surprised to learn that there was an elderly traditional navigator there by the name of Te Aliki Koloso Kahia Kaveia, who offered to share his knowledge about Stone Age methods of navigation:

[W]hile David Lewis and I were at his home in Taumako, and just after we spent a day and a half going through a copy of Lewis' We, the Navigators with him, Kaveia pointedly asked David "Would you like to know the Polynesian navigation system?"

Kaveia covered the usual techniques, such as pointing out "a succession of ten main navigational stars as they rose through the night, and based on feeling the swells moving under my boat he named and described the patterns of swell refraction and reflection in the open sea." He also described a complex system of understanding the winds. But he also pointed out something new: Te Lapa, or 'The Flashing', a water-bound light phenomenon that appears to emanate from land.

Use of te lapa is usually only done within about 120 miles from shore. So, strictly speaking, it may be regarded as a piloting method rather than a navigational method. But since most Santa Cruz Islands, and most Pacific islands, are located within 100 or so miles of each other, te lapa is a method that Kaveia used frequently.

...Some oceanic lights are well known and documented, and many of these have very credible scientific explanations. This is not the case with te lapa.

Both George and Lewis, under Kaveia's tutelage, were able to observe te lapa (George herself sailed 25 separate voyages with Kaveia, or under his direction, over the next 15 years). According to George:

Te lapa is generally described by Kaveia and other Taumako/Vaeakau voyagers as white and lightning-like. I saw it white or magnesium-white colored, like lightning...

...According to Kaveia, the lightning-like te lapa bolts are straight lines... My eyes could see that there was a beginning and end of the line of light bolts coming toward me. It happens so fast -
in just a fraction of a second - that it is not easy to see or describe. But what I have seen confirms Kaveia's assertion that the bolts are instantaneous, straight in form, and that they emanate straight from land.

In 1998, while showing me te lapa...Kaveia said to me, "So it is like the islands are sending these bolts of light lines out, and if we look for them when we are at sea then many times we can see them and know the exact direction toward the island.

Artistic depiction of Te Lapa

There is still no known cause of te lapa. It is a fact that more than 80% of ocean life makes light (bioluminescence) - including "one deep sea jellyfish that can be seen over 300 feet away" and a squid that "sends out photon torpedoes when threatened" - so perhaps there is some link between te lapa and bioluminescent ocean life. However, researchers have yet to find a solid explanation that explains the phenomenon - not least the fact that it appears to be directional from land up to 100 miles away.

In her article on te lapa ("Polynesian Navigation and Te Lapa - 'The Flashing'", in Time and Mind 5:2), George discusses some other possible explanations. Could islands and their surrounding reefs emit electrical charges that 'jump' to other islands, just as lightning jumps from clouds to earth? Or could it be a non-electric form of light that is reflected and refracted by swells that act as lenses? Or perhaps te lapa is caused by magnetic or electrical fields created by tectonic energy emissions.

Unfortunately, George says, the scientists who might be capable of resolving the mystery "have never seen it - or do not know about it yet", and so the phenomenon remains largely unexamined.

Beyond science though, George even goes so far as to suggest the explanation could be non-physical, that te lapa might be "a phenomenon seen only by people who are psychically and spiritually connected to the ocean as a result of decades of seatime and experience with life there."

But ultimately, George says the topic deserves further research - by employing high-tech low-light cameras, confirmation of any physical source should be possible, and could lead to new understandings about light, waves, islands, the ocean and ocean animals.

News Briefs 20-04-2017

Given the current global situation, I'd suggest you read as fast as you can…

Thanks to Chuckycabra.

Quote of the Day:

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace."

˜Jimmi Hendrix

Teenage Band Plays a Tool Song at a Fundraising Dinner, When Danny Carey Himself Offers to Sit In On Drums

You can follow The Daily Grail on Facebook and on Twitter.

So you're a teenage band playing a gig at a fund-raising dinner for your music academy, and you've got a Tool song in your set-list. Turns out Tool drummer Danny Carey is actually attending the dinner, and he asks to sit in on the song. What do you do?

Give the man some drumsticks of course!

That's exactly what happened to these young musicians, of the band Reformed, while playing their last gig:

Finally got this full video up showing the entire band playing with Danny...this was not planned. He happened to be there for the fundraiser & was lovin' watching the kids play...then he was told one of the songs in the setlist was a TOOL song, and he asked if they'd mind if he played along...great guy, amazing drummer & a fun evening!

Here's another view:

Tool are currently touring around the U.S. - details can be found on their website.

News Briefs 19-04-2017

Happy Bicycle Day!

Thanks @MichaelMHughes.

Quote of the Day:

In studying the literature connected with my work, I became aware of the great universal significance of visionary experience. It plays a dominant role, not only in mysticism and the history of religion, but also in the creative process in art, literature, and science. More recent investigations have shown that many persons also have visionary experiences in daily life, though most of us fail to recognize their meaning and value.

Albert Hofmann

New Study Fails to Replicate Previous Precognition Studies

Crystal Ball

We have previously covered positive results for psi experiments involving precognition (see the links at the bottom of the post) - also described as 'presentiment', or 'precall' - so it's only proper that we also mention failures to replicate those results. Which was the outcome of a new study conducted by Dr David Vernon, soon to be published in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, available online as a PDF download. Here's the abstract:

The idea that future practise can somehow influence current behaviour has been examined within the paradigm of precognition. Previous work attempting to examine possible precognitive effects using a modified repetition priming task showed that participants were more accurate to respond to material they would see again in the future. Such a finding was taken to indicate that a task relying primarily on accuracy of performance, such as a memory recall task, could be a more sensitive measure of precognition, or ‘precall’.

Furthermore, utilising arousing images as opposed to everyday words may elicit a stronger precall effect, and by conducting such a study on-line it may be possible to eliminate and/or reduce any potential experimenter effects. The prediction when completing such a task was that post-recall practise would lead to greater precall of those items practised compared to items not practised.

Such an on-line precall study utilising emotive images was completed by 94 participants. However, comparison of the accuracy between images that were subsequently repeated and those that were not showed no evidence of a precall effect. Nevertheless, post recall practise did show an initial improvement in accuracy which plateaued after the second trial. The failure to find any evidence of precall could simply be indicative of the impossibility of such a notion. However, given that others have reported precall effects the failure to find a precall effect in this study is discussed in terms of possible methodological factors inhibiting psi performance.

It's worth pointing out that Dr Vernon notes in a recent blog post that he has now completed four experiments on precognition, with two being failing to replicate, while the other two "showed statistically significant effects, where practise in the future led to better recall in the present".

Link: PDF download of "Exploring precall using arousing images and utilising a memory recall practise task on-line"


News Briefs 18-04-2017


Thanks Blair, @JackieCous, @FriendstoKnow and @Tobadzistini.

Quote of the Day:

Let them worship as they will; every man can follow his own conscience, provided it does not interfere with sane reason or bid him against the liberty of his fellow-men.

Kemal Ataturk