by Niklas Göransson
Dreadful secrets and lost wisdom buried by time and dust. A spirited discourse about the mysteries of pre-history with V. Tyrant of German black metal cultists Thorybos.
This is an excerpt from the full article, which is almost twice as long and published in Bardo Methodology #7. The same issue also includes conversations with BLACK WITCHERY, GOSPEL OF THE HORNS, MACABRE OMEN, ANTEDILUVIAN, ATLANTEAN KODEX, MGŁA, Cold Meat Industry, MORTIIS, MONUMENTUM, WARLOGHE, ORDO TEMPLI AETERNAE LUCIS, and HEXVESSEL.
– The recent EP just kind of… happened. There’s not really all that much to say about it. We had a few ideas in mind for our second album but – as has always been the case – things turned out vastly different from the original plan. At some point we became irrationally driven by a strong impetus, resulting in what’s probably our most relentless and straightforward material to date. Everything was written by the musical mind of THORYBOS, guitarist Darklord, and recorded in our rehearsal room, which is a kind of garage-slash-barn located somewhere in the woods of north-eastern Germany.
The title of the EP in question, “The Foul and the Flagrant”, is a wordplay hinting at a 1988 book by historian Alain Corbin called The Foul and the Fragrant: Odour and the French Social Imagination, which is apparently an influential sociological study on stench and unpleasant aromas in 19th -century France. Riveting stuff, no doubt.
– It was meant as a subtle nod towards certain synesthetic ambitions of THORYBOS; our audible material is meant to be transduced, felt, smelled, and physically experienced as the throbbing, oozing, sacrificial performance it is. It’s these spatial configurations of rhythm, pattern, light, smell, temperature – the whole sensory experience – that constitute the specific aura and unique atmosphere of the ‘sensescape’ we seek to capture. This approach is complemented by lyrics made up from notes taken at various inspiring historical sites all over the world.
THORYBOS frontman V. Tyrant has a PhD in Classic Archaeology with Greek, Roman, and Mediterranean cultures as specialisation. Whilst his professional vocation is as an archaeologist, he prefers to call his field of work ‘Ancient Studies’.
– My research and lectures focus on ancient Mediterranean images and material culture, understood through a rather broad and multidisciplinary Ancient Studies approach. For example, the PhD I finished in late 2015 was based on self-representational imagery of selected kingdoms, analysed against the background of iconographic tradition, epigraphical remains, literary accounts, and theories on the sociology of domination: examining their rulers’ medial communication of power. Add to that different positions at various universities, research projects, and excavations around Germany, France, Greece, and so forth.
When V told me that he’d visited Göbekli Tepe during the summer of 2017, I damn-near fell off my chair. This historical gamechanger was discovered and subsequently excavated by another German archaeologist, the now-departed Klaus Schmidt, back in 1994. Following a hunch, Schmidt investigated a previously known but incorrectly dated and not properly examined site in south-eastern Turkey. After a bit of digging around, what he found hidden under the soil and sand would send shockwaves across the planet – more than two hundred stone pillars of several metres in height, many of which feature stunning art carved out of the rock. Meaning, as opposed to etched into it. What’s most astounding here is the carbon dating results, with the oldest layer having been constructed some 12,000 years ago. Bringing additional mystery to the site is the fact that it was intentionally decommissioned, covered, and abandoned in 8000 BC.
– I was lucky to have pre-established contacts in the German excavation team, so not only did I enjoy their welcoming hospitality but was also given access to the site despite it being closed for restoration. I’d just come from the former Commagene region in what’s now south-central Turkey and was initially only meant to stay for a few days. However, I went for a road-trip to Harran and other sites in the cultural landscape of northern Syria – at least those already cleared of landmines – when a stupid car breakdown occurred. The locals insisted that I accompany them in search for help; an excursion which somehow landed me, all by myself, in a nasty refugee camp three kilometres from the Syrian border.
This was the promised help?
– No, that turned out to be just another local, but with a big-ass wrench. Anyway, once I finally made it back, I embraced my then-prolonged stay at Göbekli Tepe with long walks at dawn, barbecues at dusk, enjoying patient explanations at the site, and sitting on the floor of the excavation house’s balcony at night, talking for hours with the chief excavator while hiding our beers from the Muslim neighbours. If you ever plan on visiting, make sure to also include the museum at Şanlıurfa to see the astonishing totems from Göbekli Tepe as well as a reconstruction of enclosure D in its actual size. It also has some of the oldest works of art ever produced by mankind, such as the Urfa man.
Also known as the Balıklıgöl statue, the sandstone sculpture discovered in Urfa – about ten kilometres from Göbekli Tepe – has been dated to approximately 9000 BC, making it the oldest known life-sized depiction of a human being. Göbekli Tepe has three layers and enclosure D is part of the oldest; it consists of rings of monolithic four-metre stone columns with two even taller T-shaped pillars in the middle. It’s especially interesting to note that the oldest layer contains the most advanced structures: a mysterious global phenomenon observed everywhere from the British Isles and prehistoric Hellas to Ancient Egypt and the Americas.
– That’s right, the structures – including the well-known T-shaped pillars – belong to the oldest layer but are nevertheless the most impressive. And indeed, there’s a certain pattern of cultural evolution that occurs frequently through documented history; starting with rough archaic times of origin, reaching its apex, climaxing, and then followed by a time of gradual deterioration. However, this does not necessarily apply to single monuments, of course, where older structures can be inferior. But I see your point and it is indeed one of the most fascinating unanswered questions: why the earliest known megalithic structures are also the most remarkable.
Is it true there are carvings of animals that have never been native to the area?
– No, I don’t think so. On the contrary, I believe all the animals depicted were part of the wild natural hunter-gatherer’s surrounding in the region. Weather conditions back then were different compared to today, which naturally affected the local wildlife. Similarly, both the famous gate in Mycene as well as the myth of Heracles and the Nemean lion also reflect the well-evidenced presence of real-life lions in Ancient Greece; a species that went extinct well before the time of Christ. The surrounding region has plenty of contemporary works of art with a similar range of animals – there are several research papers about them, but their specific symbolic, religious, if not spiritual connotations are still widely unclear as far as I know. Enclosure D surely points to a complex narrative, as does the interesting and anything but random distribution of animals in the enclosures. One great example of this may for sure be Pillar 43, the one with the famous ‘handbags’.
In archaic art from ancient sites all over the world – the Americas, Mesopotamia, New Zealand, and Egypt to name a few – there is a recurring symbol that bears a striking resemblance to a handbag. Göbekli Tepe’s Pillar 43, also known as the Vulture Stone, boasts the oldest known example.
– Some interpretations suggest it’s a depiction of some kind of architecture, but that’s just a tentative theory. However, as you know, I’m quite hesitant with sweeping cross-cultural comparisons, especially for such a simple pattern. Roman bullae look the same, as do the kettlebells in my gym. To me, it’s far more interesting to look beyond superficial resemblances in images, gestures, or poses and start with the cultural context at hand. Imagery is dependent on the successful communication in which the sender encodes a message, one that can only be decoded by recipients adhering to the same system of signs and cultural horizon of meaning. So, within this very horizon, the imagery and iconography should first be understood in their proper context.
How much does Göbekli Tepe impact the orthodox interpretation of prehistory, I wonder? According to conventional archaeological wisdom, the site was built by nomadic hunter-gatherers who survived by foraging flora and hunting fauna. They would’ve first had to cut stone in a quarry – without metal tools, mind you – and then, thousands of years before the invention of the wheel and animal domestication, haul sixteen-tonne pillars to the building site before carving them into sculptural masterpieces infused with esoteric symbology. The very notion might sound preposterous, but it’s the only available explanation since there are presently no known civilisations going back that far. I’m toying with the notion of how an archaeologist would’ve been received by his peers if he, before Göbekli Tepe was discovered and then carbon-dated, claimed that pre-Mesopotamian nomads had not only cultivated an architectural tradition capable of envisioning and then erecting something like this, but also organised the manpower required. I’d wager that not a single one of them would have taken it even remotely seriously. But one German archaeologist with a hunch turned everything upside down and now forces some impressive exercises in imagination.
– For now, I think Göbekli Tepe’s significance is best laid out by Klaus Schmidt’s monography Sie bauten die ersten Tempel – ‘They Built the First Temples’. I don’t think an English translation exists, and I disagree on his use of the word ‘temple’ here, but to summarise the evidence at hand: we have the tools, nutrition, carbon dating and context of Pre-Pottery Neolithic A hunter-gatherers as builders and users of the site. There has been no evidence of settlement, agriculture, domestication, or stockbreeding – all this happened well before the timeframe currently assumed for the so-called Neolithic Revolution.
Surely, architectural skills like these must have taken untold generations of uninterrupted practice and innovation to develop? One does not take a sudden leap from smearing together mud huts to carving three-dimensional animal depictions out of 5.5-metre stone pillars in a generation or two. Especially not a nomadic society with no written language or more than a cursory understanding of basic mathematics. Complicating matters further is a 2017 study by the University of Edinburgh. Besides the handbags and other details, the Vulture Stone, or Pillar 43, bears carvings of a number of animals, a headless human, and a circle. Suspecting the depicted animals to have astrological significance, researchers fed their likeness into computer software and, based on their position in relation to each other, could match them to constellations in the sky around 10,950 BC, give or take 250 years. This is what’s called a star map: dating a piece of art by depicting the constellations which graced the night sky upon its completion, used on everything from cave paintings to the Hoover Dam. What makes this particularly interesting is how there’s a lot of evidence pointing to a cataclysmic comet impact dated to about 10,890 BC. In their peer-reviewed paper, Decoding Göbekli Tepe with Archaeo-astronomy: What Does The Fox Say?, the scientists claim that the circle symbolises this comet and the decapitated human represents catastrophic loss of life. They suggest that Göbekli Tepe was built in commemoration of a disastrous global event and then used to observe heavenly items such as comets and meteor showers. If their paper is correct, it means the ancient architects had even figured out that the earth is round.
– Of course, this raises fundamental questions about social organisation; the structuring of such an enormous working effort and the craftmanship which would undoubtedly have been necessary to build such a huge and elaborate monument. All I can say at this point is that it contradicts our established ideas about small, loosely organised hunter-gatherer groups. Furthermore, if the currently prevailing interpretation of the site as some kind of cult centre is correct – and we stick with at least semi-nomad hunter-gatherers – Göbekli Tepe challenges the traditional notion of settlements coming first and temples later. I should add here that recent excavators don’t agree with all of Schmidt’s conclusions, so let’s wait with anticipation for what insights this amazing site will yield in the future. For example, it’s still unclear whether the big enclosures were hypaethral, roofed, or even subterranean, which would of course throw any theories pertaining to astral observatories straight out the window. As for the decapitated human, I’d prefer relating it to an ancient skull cult, as evidenced on-site by the manipulated human craniums found there three or four years ago. No skeletons, just skulls.
Regardless of roofing situation, the monument’s very existence has a significant impact on many established theories. I’d go so far as to say that the site appears to have been received as somewhat of a frightful annoyance by much of the archaeological community.
– I strongly disagree that the general perception of Göbekli Tepe among archaeologists is that of a ’frightful annoyance’ – it’s a great discovery of tremendous significance to our understanding of early human civilisation. Göbekli Tepe is widely regarded as one of the most important recent findings, the excavations would not have been granted long-term funding otherwise. But, given that only a small part has been excavated thus far, the site does indeed raise more questions than it provides answers.
I can think of several prominent archaeologists to whom Göbekli Tepe is likely to have been a nuisance. In 1992, geology professor Dr Robert Shoch of Boston University presented what he claims is evidence of water erosion caused by extended periods of rainfall on the Great Sphinx of Egypt. The lion monument standing on the Giza Plateau, gazing precisely towards the point on the horizon where the sun rises at the equinoxes, is currently believed to have been built around 2500 BC. Should Dr Shoch be right about this, it lends support to alternative theories of the Sphinx being far older than what’s currently accepted and pushes its construction back at least three thousand years, to times when Egypt had a very different climate. Dr Shoch was instantly and vehemently dismissed by prominent Egyptologists – but not on a geological basis. As celebrity Egyptologist Dr Mark Lehner put it in a subsequent debate:
Our reaction is if it was built by a civilisation or a culture that’s that much earlier, where is the other evidence of this culture? Where? Show me a pot shard. Show me a tomb. Show me an inscription. Show me any other piece of sculpture. Show me any archaeological site that dates to this period.
On a related note, it’s worth pointing out that Göbekli Tepe, which is only 1,100 kilometres (700 miles) from Giza, has a sphinx of its own. Whilst preparing for this conversation, I actually tried to find Dr Lehner’s thoughts on Göbekli Tepe, but he appears to have refrained from public comment. If he even knows about it, that is. The former Egyptian Minister of State for Antiquities, Zahi Hawass – one of the world’s leading archaeologists, once listed by Time Magazine as among the hundred most influential people in the world – clearly didn’t when he was supposed to debate British author Graham Hancock in 2015. Asked by an audience member if Göbekli Tepe made him reconsider his stance on the dating of the Sphinx, Hawass had no idea what she was talking about. He deflected the question and then walked out of the long-anticipated debate before it had even begun. A video of the spectacle is available here.
– Haha, I guess Hawass was having a bad day and got heavily triggered by Hancock. Still, it would’ve been far preferable to engage in a healthy debate rather than storming out of the building. I absolutely don’t intend to put Robert Schoch’s water erosion theory into the fringe-fantasy-circuit, but it’s not an undisputed claim; as far as I know, there are alternate explanations still aligning with the traditional dating. But you should bear in mind that the Egyptian monuments, just like the Easter Island statues or Nazca Lines, are sites that for ages have inflamed massive public interest along with numerous attempts to solve alleged greater mysteries. American archaeologist Kenneth Feder outlined this whole fringe phenomenon splendidly: while academia has overcome these notions, people in general seem to still have a soft spot for bogus astronomy, math-play mumbo jumbo, and so on. Nowadays we have a situation where these ‘alternative thinkers’ are seen as outsiders, and people love outsiders. In order to explain why academia rejects their ‘revelations’, they must first establish a stubborn ignorant enemy – the ‘mainstream’. Göbekli Tepe might piss off individual orthodox Egyptologists who are driven by their own agendas, and I’m not defending them in any way, but such attitudes are rare. Problem is that there seems to be this vast misconception of some kind of united academic front. Far from it! Individual researchers debate, argue, and question each other all the time.
Gunung Padang in Indonesia is another example of archaeologists taking on pesky geological findings armed with the same argument. A team of geologists claim that an oddly shaped mountain with a known megalithic site on top is, in fact, a man-made pyramid built 20,000 years ago. It is now covered by soil and vegetation, but radar scans have indicated multiple cavities within – as per their study published in late 2018. Upon first discovery, Indonesian archaeologists collectively implored the government to put a swift end to these investigations. Or at least leave it to them: the real experts. They appear entirely unmoved by the radar findings and instead focus on explaining how this can’t possibly be true since there are no documented civilisations in the vicinity capable of something like this. I found the following remark from one of them to be quite telling.
In archaeology we usually find the ‘culture’ first … Then, after we find out the artefact’s age, we’ll seek out historical references to any civilisation which existed around that period. Only then will we be able to explain the artefact historically. In this case, they ‘found’ something, carbon-dated it, then it looks like they created a civilisation around the period to explain their finding.
– We indeed close to always require some manner of context for any work of art: tools, stratigraphy, iconography, style, script… see, in Ancient Studies we don’t operate with ‘truths’ or ‘facts’, but with data, interpretations, and plausibility. In this Gunung Padang scenario there’s a decision to be made between, A, this new dating without context based on one theory, and B: the established dating with context based on another. If both theories sound equally convincing – and bear in mind that I’m no geologist to judge this – plausibility sides with the latter. Most colleagues I know collaborate closely with other fields and their experts, and all have a serious and healthy scientific ethos and graciously concede if their theories are proven wrong. On the other hand, I absolutely agree that there are ignorant individuals resisting any kind of modern approaches. At times it can certainly be a shady game of which theory gets publicly promoted. In recent times, most annoyingly, rubbish like feminist and gender archaeology has become a thing, thanks to the ever-offended hash-tagging, safe-spacing, and ideologically science-denying leftist campus-speak generation. Regardless, the vast majority of fuckery and fake history happens outside of academia, in media outlets with political agendas. It’s not all historians who poison society with the in itself problematic idea of colonialism. And it’s certainly not them decreeing Transatlantic slavery a crime against humanity by the big evil Western culture, whilst willy-nilly ignoring those who question why the, both in numbers and intensity, way more gruesome African slave trade by Arabic countries is not included. Historical scholarship should defend the scientific demand for objectivity against such political and moral axioms and raise its voice against any instrumentalisations of the past, no matter from which direction they come.
Then, of course – and I can almost visualise the sceptical reader emitting exasperated sighs now – we have Atlantis. Before proceeding, I must stress that I’m not interested in the various fringe theories and speculations about the legendary island nation, only the dating-related peculiarities. The myth of Atlantis stems from Plato, a widely influential Athenian philosopher, wrestler, and initiate of the Eleusinian Mysteries, who made several references to it in his works Timaeus and Critias. Plato’s Atlantis is generally considered to be a mythical allegory to Athens but, as far as I understand, the main argument for this is the lack of known civilisations who could possibly have been the Atlanteans. Plato lived around 400 BC, roughly 2,400 years ago. He learned about Atlantis from the writings of an Athenian statesman and poet named Solon, who was three hundred years his elder. Solon claimed that Egyptian priests told him Atlantis had been engulfed by the ocean nine thousand years prior: 9700 BC, 11,700 years ago. Calculating the date based on these sources places its submergence in the same timespan as the end of the catastrophic global event known as the Younger Dryas, a mini-ice age lasting one thousand years and which concluded by seawater levels suddenly rising over sixty meters (200ft). Geological research indicates that the meltwater was set in motion by a comet, the one allegedly depicted on the Vulture Stone in Göbekli Tepe, striking the North American ice cap around 10,890 BC.
– Numerous elaborate attempts have been made to refer Plato’s Atlantis to Minoan Crete, Thera, Madagascar, and Antarctica, just to name a few. The assumption that the account of such a respected figure is historically based surely is tempting, but Plato is basically the sole source. Given the lack of any other positive evidence of Atlantis, I prefer appreciating the reference to the author’s immediate cultural surrounding – his literary context and tradition – as well as the point he’s trying to make in the narrative. It’s not solely the missing archaeological evidence, but the literary accounts themselves are problematic. Neither Timaeus nor Critias were intended as works of historiography. Even actual historians of old such as Thucydides, whom I consider as possibly the greatest of historiographers, made several proven mistakes. And the same positivism giving credence to Plato’s Atlantis would lead to our biology books featuring Herodotus’ monstrous gold-digging ants from India.
As it happens, ethnologists do believe our biology books contain the fabled ants – but under the name Himalayan marmot. Another Indian myth enjoying some latter-day vindication is that of the Seven Pagodas of Mahabalipuram, which claims that a lone shore temple in present-day Mamallapuram was once joined by six additional temples. Legend had it that the god Indra became jealous of the monuments’ architectural elegance and, as a result, unleashed floods which submerged the city, save for the few structures visible now. Speculation ended with the 2004 Christmas Day tsunami, as its brute force temporarily pulled the ocean back half a kilometre and gave local fishermen the surprise of their lives. ‘You could see the destroyed walls covered in coral and the broken-down temple in the middle,’ commented one of them. ‘My grandfathers said there was a port here once and a temple, but suddenly we could see it was real, we could see that something was out there.’ Even if Atlantis is allegory, it’s not entirely unlikely that analogous events could’ve happened; especially given that mankind’s most advanced civilisations tend to settle along coastlines. History is filled with disastrous deluges, as evidenced by the several hundred different primordial flood myths from all over the world.
– I absolutely agree that underwater archaeology is possibly the field with the most potential for fascinating future endeavours. But regarding Atlantis, ancient historiography is often a beautiful blend of history, ethnography, geography and mythology, yet also enormously diluted with made-up allegories, fantasy, second-hand hearsay, inaccuracies and contamination, conflations and simplifications, and – first and foremost – specific intentions of the author. Of course, this doesn’t automatically result in rejecting Plato but should at least raise serious concerns about the historicity of the information within a non-historiographic work, and rather question why people so desperately fall for it. Fair enough, Schliemann was also perceived to be a lunatic before brutally unearthing Troy, so I could wilfully and enthusiastically be wrong here.
The city of Troy – theatre of conflict during the Trojan War, as chronicled in Homer’s Iliad – was long considered myth. Then, in 1868, another one of these hunch-smitten German archaeologists, Heinrich Schliemann, began excavating a site in modern-day Turkey and proved otherwise. Anyway, I have no idea what to make of this Atlantis dating, but I’m as hesitant to write off such precise timing of a proven drastic rise in sea-water levels with the alleged nautical submergence of an island as simply a freak coincidence. Comparatively, I am equally dubious of scholars who write off the Piri Reis map – which not only included Antarctica, in its proper place, three hundred years before the continent was even discovered, but also an accurate depiction of its coastline – as, and I quote, ‘dumb luck’.
– Academia is not explicitly keen on disproving anything, but rather finding reasonable explanations for why such a reference might exist despite further evidence lacking for now. In the case of admiral Piri’s map, experts in medieval and early modern cartography might point out the full context given in its notes – as well as the general anomalies of early modern maps that usually merge various older charts, or just make up stuff. They could also mention that their interpretation of the continent as South America at least works well with the transcription of the places named in Arabic on the map itself. If I’m not mistaken, haven’t climate researchers evidenced that Antarctica was fully covered in ice already millions of years ago?
No, the Antarctic coastline is believed to have been ice-free by 4000 BC, six-thousand years ago. Another curiosity is how Turkish admiral Piri Reis – who used about twenty older sources, most of which are now lost – drew his map using the Mercator Projection, a mapping technique which didn’t come into use until the late 16th century. I am most certainly not a cartographer and have no idea whether this is credible, but I can’t help but notice another display of this scholarly logic: no matter if the damn thing accurately charts the Antarctic coastline, in its actual location, it must be the dumb luck of someone attempting to depict South America. Because no previous civilisation could possibly have known about it before ours did.
– Maybe I’m just too sceptical again, but early maps are a problematic business. Claudius Ptolemy already featured a southern continent he couldn’t have known about in 150 AD, but, admittedly, only hypothetically included his Terra Australis for reasons of balance. In the end, you, me, and your readers will probably disagree on details or interpretations in this thought. But that’s a good thing, everyone’s entitled to have their own opinions and raise questions. Still, we should all remember the very first rule of history: all knowledge is losable. We need to constantly question, evaluate, and remember, because the past is fundamentally important for everyone’s cultural identity.
This was an excerpt from the full article, which is almost twice as long and published in Bardo Methodology #7. The same issue also includes conversations with BLACK WITCHERY, GOSPEL OF THE HORNS, MACABRE OMEN, ANTEDILUVIAN, ATLANTEAN KODEX, MGŁA, Cold Meat Industry, MORTIIS, MONUMENTUM, WARLOGHE, ORDO TEMPLI AETERNAE LUCIS, and HEXVESSEL.