Dr. Sweatman has done our planet and history a tremendous favor by writing Prehistory Decoded. By employing the hard science of probability, he has managed to demystify the world’s very earliest and most ‘mysterious’ art.
Prehistory Decoded begins by documenting Sweatman’s initial discovery, reported worldwide in 2017, of an empirical method for decoding the world’s first art using pattern matching and statistics. Guess what? The code is a memorial and date stamp for our favorite subject here: the Younger Dryas Catastrophe, and its associated Taurid meteor traumas.
(Don’t you love the internet? One hyperlink and no need to explain all that!)
It seems reasonable then to the Tusk that, if there were a code, someone, somewhere, would break the code soon given the global availability and intense interest in the information. In fact, if I waited much longer without someone cracking it, the Tusk may have become convinced the oldest art is simply stunning cave paintings, and heavy carved rocks, with no relevant common narrative (other than horses are pretty, and moving rocks is cool).
But Earth is a big place and there are many, many very smart people. When you manage a globally relevant narrow-subject blog like the Cosmic Tusk, you quickly realize that the sum of the intellectual power of those directly credentialed in the subject, pales when compared to the potential insights from just a couple of the millions and millions of other highly intelligent, non-experts on the planet.
In my experience, when there is a long-standing “mystery, ” or an “unbreakable code” to be explained, bet on an outsider to crack it first. (Unless the code itself is secret).
To my point, Martin Sweatman is a genius with credentials (here and here) not usually associated with art history — statistical probability, engineering and physics — and the intellectual mix of those fields turned out to be more important than the discipline generally relied upon as “expert.”
It is an odd assumption that only an archaeologist would be likely to add profound insight to Gobekli Tepe. Or only a Paleo-art historian could accurately decipher Chauvet Caves. If the message of these places is still a mystery, after decades of intense study, these folks have failed their difficult challenge, right?
I recently had a long chat with Martin Sweatman, who has become something of a foxhole friend of the Tusk. Like it or not, to the average brain, the statistical approach is not entirely intuitive, even if my intuition says the man is dead right. So I needed some back-up from the UK.
Martin readily acknowledged that some assumptions needed to be made about the starting point for the exercise; for instance, which figure to match with which constellation. Like many problems, it must begin with a theorist making a intuitive “boot strap” assumption, a “hunch” if you will. And taking it from there to see if it yields useful, predictive information. Like winning a World War
In this case, Sweatman’s first working assumption is that Scorpio is best represented at Gobekli Tepe by a Scopion. The constellations in proximity to Scorpio are then “best matched,” one by one, to the adjacent constellations, Lupus, Libra, Sagittarius, Pisces and so on. The best matches are consistent with the actual relative locations in the sky, and reveal the pillar to be a “star map,” based on constellations, just like thousands of other such maps known from antiquity to modern times.
When the sky at Gobekli Tepe is examined for a match to a similar arrangement of the constellation at the equinoxes, it yields four possible dates in the last 20,000 years. Three of the dates, that are not our favorite date, including the recent 2000 AD, are ruled out by an ingenious reference legend at the top of the Pillar embedded within the ever fascinating ‘handbags’ (which are to Martin simple sunsets).
Before I purchased Prehistory Decoded, I presumed it would focus overwhelmingly on the pattern matching exercise and what it revealed, and would only reference the work of the Comet Research Group as needed. But Sweatman surprised me, and included a well-researched and desperately needed examination and comparison of evidence in the last decade’s YDB publishing battle, while also placing that shameful affair within the larger centennial context of Catastrophism versus Gradualism.
This is perhaps the book’s most impressive aspect, Prehistory Decoded not only makes a shocking claim (based on empirical evidence) but expertly clarifies and updates the larger ideological battle which haunts the evidence for ancient cosmic catastrophes.
This reviewer cannot say that Martin’s empirical approach is not flawed in some unapparent way. At times my mathematically feeble mind strains to fully grok his entire methodology. The Tusk must be forgiven then if I mix my enthusiastic endorsement for Prehistory Decoded with some humility, and certainly an inability to fully ‘proof’ his work.
But the Tusk has read a lot of ‘kooky books’ through the years, and this ain’t one. Kooky books run free with speculation and make little effort to explicitly check their approach against scientific method or self reference for potential flaws. Prehistory Decoded distinguishes itself from this plentiful genre, and goes to great pains at each and every step of analysis to point out weaknesses, fairly address them, and invite criticism.
In fact, the book includes a number of references — and explicit pledges of fealty — to the Scientific Method.
I suspect others readers will get the same sense that I did, that Dr. Sweatman is an extraordinarily intelligent and sincere fellow who just happened to have the right intellectual mix, and work ethic, to make an unexpected and profound discovery as a newcomer to a controversy he did not invite.
Unlike many others, particularly those directly credentialed, he was unwilling to relegate this provocative art to the world of “mystery,” or patronize ancient artists’ mighty efforts as campfire fun or “mysterious” and “unknowable” ritual. Instead he treats our ancestors with the artistic and intellectual respect they deserve. By paying respect, he was rewarded with profound insight and managed to communicate his discovery in a manner which is humble and appropriate, yet sublime.
Prehistory Decoded may well be the most important book since the Bible.