Ancient carvings prove comet strike changed course of human history
Ancient stone carvings confirm that a comet struck the Earth around 11,000BC, a devastating event which wiped out woolly mammoths and sparked the rise of civilisations.
Experts at the University of Edinburgh analysed mysterious symbols carved onto stone pillars at Gobekli Tepe in southern Turkey, to find out if they could be linked to constellations.
The markings suggest that a swarm of comet fragments hit Earth at the exact same time that a mini-ice age struck, changing the entire course of human history.
Scientists have speculated for decades that a comet could be behind the sudden fall in temperature during a period known as the Younger Dryas. But recently the theory appeared to have been debunked by new dating of meteor craters in North America where the comet is thought to have struck.
However, when engineers studied animal carvings made on a pillar - known as the vulture stone - at Gobekli Tepe, they discovered the creatures were actually astronomical symbols which represented constellations and the comet.
Using a computer programme to show where the constellations would have appeared above Turkey thousands of years ago, they were able to pinpoint the comet strike to 10,950BC, the exact time the Younger Dryas begins according to ice core data from Greenland.
The Younger Dryas is viewed as a crucial period for humanity, as it roughly coincides with the emergence of agriculture and the first Neolithic civilisations.
Before the strike, vast areas of wild wheat and barley had allowed nomadic hunters in the Middle East to establish permanent base camps. But the difficult climate conditions following the impact forced communities to come together and work out new ways of maintaining the crops, through watering and selective breeding. Thus farming began, allowing the rise of the first towns.
Researchers believe the images were intended as a record of the cataclysmic event, and a further carving showing a headless man may indicate human disaster and extensive loss of life.
Symbolism on the pillars also indicates the long-term changes in the Earth's rotational axis were recorded at this time using an early form of writing, and Gobekli Tepe was an observatory for meteors and comets. The finding also supports a theory that Earth is likely to experience periods when comet strikes are more likely, owing to its orbit intersecting orbiting rings of comet fragments in space.
The research is published in 'Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry'.