Forsyth Petroglyph Reveals Comet Impact?

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A unique symbol, which I’ve labeled “Draco?” in Figure 1, consists of a teardrop-shaped element with a central darkened core attached to a v-shaped tail-like appendage that curves away from the main body.  My first initial reaction to this symbol was that it probably represented a constellation. In fact, a similar symbol was discovered on Moore’s Vessel No. 15 from Pearl Bayou and has been interpreted as the constellation Pegasus.[xviii] At first I thought this could also represent the constellation Pegasus but was unable to get the v-shaped “tail” on the petroglyph to match up with any of the stars of Pegasus. Yet the symbol did match one constellation almost perfectly: Draco.

Forsyth Petroglyph detail of Draco constellation Draco Constellation
Figure 3: Side by side comparison of petroglyph “Draco” and Draco constellation. The petroglyph “Draco” at left appears to be missing the final three stars of the real Draco’s tail. (Image: Wikipedia.)

Interestingly, just as the great square or diamond of Pegasus was represented as a teardrop shape on the aforementioned pottery, the square or diamond-shaped head of Draco is also represented as a teardrop shape showing a consistency in iconographic convention that could help date this petroglyph to the Weeden Island time period. Also, since constellations are only seen in the night sky, this supports the idea that the Forsyth Petroglyph depicts the night sky and the cup-and-ring designs represent stars.

Now that I’ve identified one constellation symbol on the petroglyph with a fair degree of accuracy with an actual constellation, Draco, it should be easier to determine the identity of the other constellation symbol. The second constellation symbol is a group of four interconnected ‘cup-and-ring’ or circumpunct designs. The design features a central circumpunct with three lines radiating out from the center creating a W shape. A smaller circumpunct is located at the end of each of these three lines.

The most famous W-shaped constellation is Cassiopeia although it doesn’t fit this configuration of stars. It does seem to fit a group of stars that are part of the constellation Taurus, known as the Pleiades asterism. It could represent the four brightest stars of the Pleiades. The Pleiades are within the same field of view as Draco suggested by the layout of the petroglyph.

Detail of Forsyth Petroglyph showing Pleiades asterism and comet Pleiades asterism
Figure 4: Possible depiction of the Pleiades asterism with a comet and ‘spectacle’ or dumbbell-shaped symbol. Pleiades with its brightest star near the center of the photo with three slightly dimmer stars to the right of it—very similar to the configuration at left

One other possibility is that this design represents the claws of the constellation Scorpius. It is possible the central, larger circumpunct represents the star Antares.

One version of the Scorpius constellation. If you remove the middle (second) line and add a line connecting to the star below the pi symbol, you get a configuration very close to that depicted on the petroglyph. (Image: Wikipedia) Another version of the Scorpius constellation. If you remove the first and third lines starting from the top you get a configuration very close to that depicted on the petroglyph. (Image: Wikipedia)

In front of this constellation is a symbol, which I’ve labeled “comet” in Figure 1, that appears to represent a two-tailed comet. It consists of a small circle with two lines extending outwards. All comets have two tails, an ion tail and a dust tail, although often only one is visible. The modern astrological symbol for comet is very similar to this symbol except it has three lines extending from the circle instead of two. This seems to be a logical way to represent a comet regardless of culture and thus the symbol on the Forsyth Petroglyph could equally represent a comet.

Since the surrounding symbols have been interpreted as stars and a constellation, the interpretation as a comet would not be out of context. Since comets are associated with the night sky (although there are instances of daytime comets) it further supports the proposal that this petroglyph represents the night sky.

Beside the comet symbol is a spectacle or dumbbell-shaped symbol featuring twin circles connected by a line. One of the circles is completely filled (cup) while the other contains a central dot (circumpunct).  Several similar symbols exist in proximity to the first with slight modifications to the design. The next iteration has two circumpuncts followed by a version with a circumpunct and darkened circle (cup) but inversed from the first example,  ending with a replica of the second design featuring two circumpuncts. The final dumbbell design is partially surrounded by curving lines at the top of the petroglyph.

Are these meant to represent four separate objects in the night sky or a single object which moves across the night sky? It is hard to know for sure but they appear to represent movement thus I will propose it represents a single object that moves across the sky either away from or towards the comet beneath it.

Interestingly, on March 19, 1887 Captain C. D. Swart of the Dutch ship “J.P.A.” reported: “During a severe storm saw a meteor in the shape of two balls, one of them very black and the other illuminated.”[xix] Could the symbol on the Forsyth Petroglyph represent just such a meteor, one illuminated and one darkened?

Two symbols remain behind the w-shaped “Pleiades” symbol. One appears to be a c-shaped or crescent-shaped symbol with a line inside. The other appears to be another constellation which I have labeled “unknown” in Figure 1.

Another view of the Forsyth Petroglyph at the University of Georgia library.

A crescent is a common way to represent the moon thus the c-shaped design could be the moon but what could the interior line signify? There are only two types of information one can encode for the moon: phase and eclipse. It’s doubtful the line would be used to represent the phase of the moon since it would be easier to simply draw the phase one wished to represent. Thus logically it would seem the line could be used to signify the moon during an eclipse.

If the w-shaped symbol does represent the Pleiades asterism which lies along the ecliptic, the path the sun and moon take across the sky, then the “crescent moon” symbol would be in the appropriate location for such an interpretation.

As for the “constellation” symbol I can make no guess as to what group of stars it represents, if any. Thus the designation of “unknown” will have to remain.

A symbol to the right of the comet and dumbbell symbols appears to be an incomplete star symbol. It consists of two concentric circles with interior dot although the exterior circle appears incomplete. The symbol appears purposeful, though, and it is doubtful that it is an incomplete star symbol. More likely it represents an independent concept but there is no way to know for sure. Could it represent some other type of “star” such as a supernova or comet before its tail becomes visible?

Depictions of the Pleiades, a comet, and a "guest star" on the Forsyth Petroglyph? The comet Macholz passes near the Pleiades.
Figure 5: “Pleiades” constellation with comet, dumbbell symbol and incomplete star symbol Could the incomplete star symbol represent the appearance of a “guest star” such as this green comet which appeared near the Pleiades in 2005 or even a supernova?

Although not completely visible on this illustration, Jones mentions  that “on the eastern end of the bowlder, running vertically, is a line of dots, like drill-holes, eighteen in number, connected by an incised line.”[xx] Either Jones miscounted or more such drill-holes have been added since he viewed the stone in the 1800s because currently there are at least 24 such drill holes. It is unknown what this design element could represent or the significance of the number 24.

Discussion

This analysis reveals there is a significant likelihood that the symbols carved  on the Forsyth Petroglyph have astronomical associations and may represent stars, a comet, the moon, the constellation Draco, the Pleiades asterism or the constellation Scorpius, and possibly a “guest star” that could be either a comet or supernova.  The back of this boulder also contains similar designs and awaits a future attempt at interpretation.

Close up view of Forsyth Petroglyph at the University of Georgia library.
Close up view of the Forsyth Petroglyph located at the UGA library. (Courtesy Flickr)

If the designs on this boulder are associated with the Weeden Island culture then it could have been carved around 500 AD. Interestingly, in 1940, astronomer Fred Whipple discovered that the yearly Taurid meteor shower which appears to emanate from the Pleiades was made of fragments from Comet Encke. In 1950 he also discovered that the orbits of three Taurid meteors coincided with each other but not with the orbit of Comet Encke concluding that they were formed by a breakup 1500 years ago of a fragment that had in turn broken off from Comet Encke much earlier (around 4700 years ago.)[xxi]

In other words, around 2700 BC a large fragment broke off of Comet Encke and then around 500 AD this large fragment further disintegrated leaving three large meteors. Could this be the event depicted on the Forsyth Petroglyph?

This event appears to have been depicted on a Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) jade ox. The ox includes three fireballs on its body and a set of concentric circles on its shoulder. If the ox represents the constellation Taurus then the concentric circles are in the precise area where the Pleiades are located within Taurus: on the bull’s shoulder.

Jade Ox from the Tang Dynasty of China
This jade ox/bull shows fireballs, possibly fragments of a comet, emanating from the Pleiades star group, represented by the concentric circles, in the constellation Taurus, represented by the ox itself.

Interestingly, around 536 AD the Earth experienced a severe weather event which eventually brought about the collapse of ancient civilizations from the Roman Empire in Europe to Teotihuacan in Mexico. In Georgia, the collapse of the Kolomoki Mounds site dates to this time as well. Kolomoki was the largest site north of Mexico during this time period and had features of both Swift Creek and Weeden Island cultures; thus, astronomer-priests from Kolomoki could have very well been the carvers of this boulder.

Records in the Old World from this time noted that a “dry fog” appeared and “the sun gave no more light than the moon.”[xxii] In 2009 Dallas Abbott of the Lamont-Doherty Observatory at Columbia University theorized that this weather event was caused by a comet impact. Coincidentally, she believes several large fragments impacted the Earth’s oceans leading to a massive amount of water vapor being ejected into the atmosphere which would have reflected more of the sun’s rays thus cooling the planet.

In fact, the presence of concentric circles on the Forsyth petroglyph may provide further proof for this comet breakup hypothesis. Researcher Bob Kobres has theorized that these concentric circles represent not stars but the explosion of comet debris and fragments in the upper atmosphere. He notes:

Earlier in its history, as the progenitor of comet Encke was creating it, this [Taurid meteor] debris ring had to have been more dense. As Earth passed through the mess, it no doubt collected a considerable amount of dust. The night time Taurids are known for frequent bolide activity. Large, vaporizing meteoroids (bolides) in an atmosphere loaded with comet dust will produce unusual visual effects. Refraction, reflection, and possibly secondary emission come into play as a sizable object splashes into an aerosol laden atmosphere compressing molecules of gas against motes of dust in its bow-shock wave until–BOOM– the object vaporizes, illuminating the multiple layers of compression separated gas and debris. From the ground this might look as if a god threw a pebble in the sky pond.[xxiii]

In fact, the 536 AD event is associated with a dust veil event which blocked out the sun for 18 months.[xxiv] Thus the sky was, in fact, filled with the type of dust needed for the “unusual visual effects” such as concentric circles hypothesized by Kobres as having a cometary origin. Thus the presence of these concentric circles on the Forsyth petroglyph further supports an interpretation that it recorded the breakup of a comet and associated impact event.

Curiously, the Greenland ice core data records an ammonium spike in 539 AD not 536 AD. These ammonium spikes are associated with impact events.[xxv] Thus the impact occurred after or during the dust veil event and could not have been the cause of it. Apparently the dust veil event was the cause of the impact event not the other way around. The dust veil event was the result of Earth passing through a dense cloud of cometary debris which included large fragments that slammed into the planet in 539 AD. Some of these fragments did not survive entry into earth’s atmosphere and exploded producing concentric circles in the sky that people all over the earth recorded in stone.

Interestingly, written records from the time noted a very bright comet appeared in the constellation Sagittarius in 539 AD:

[it] appeared to follow in the Sagittary: the size was gradually increasing; the head was in the east, the tail in the west, and it remained visible above forty days. The nations who gazed with astonishment, expected wars and calamities from their baleful influence; and these expectations were abundantly fulfilled.[xxvi]

Sagittarius is located very near to the constellation Scorpius. Scorpius is one possible interpretation of the w-shaped constellation on the Forsyth petroglyph, which just so happens to have a comet symbol near it. Instead of representing the Pleiades, could this group of stars represent the claws of the constellation Scorpius and the comet symbol represent this 539 AD comet?

Other myths and legends that date to this time period also seem to suggest an impact event. For instance,  in 538 AD in Japan:

“there was an apparition of the bright goddess Benzaiten who looked ‘like an autumn moon enveloped in mist.’ She was adorned with a long jade pendant and as she descended she was accompanied by a myriad spirits of dragons, fire, thunder and lightning that made ‘great boulders descend from above the clouds.’ She arrived after an episode ‘when dark clouds covered the sky and the earth quaked continuously for 11 days.’”[xxvii]

A similar Irish myth states that “Mongan went to the Otherworld in AD 538 to avoid the ‘terrible hailstones’ just after the sky went dark”[xxviii] and thus seems to relate events consistent with a bombardment by meteors.

Conclusions

Whatever the truth may be, the events around 536 AD were significant events in the history of civilization. The first outbreak of plague occurred during this time period and killed over 33% of Europe’s population. The Roman Empire collapsed at this time as well. This was the beginning of Europe’s Dark Ages which, considering the earth was shrouded in darkness for 18 months, is an appropriate name for this time period.

Certainly Native Americans witnessed and lived through these same events. The severity of these events undoubtedly inspired them to record them in stone so they would not be forgotten. Unfortunately, this record of such a remarkable event is sitting exposed to the elements and acid rain is slowly dissolving the symbols. Unless these stones are moved inside into a museum, future generations may be deprived of this amazing legacy of Georgia’s Native Americans.

(This article was adapted from the paper “Possible Astronomical Symbols on the ‘Sculptured Rock from Forsyth County, Georgia.’”) [References Cited]

One thought on “Forsyth Petroglyph Reveals Comet Impact?

  1. [...] a symbol which consists of concentric circles with a central dot that has been shown to represent stars on petroglyphs in Georgia.30 The fact that this Swift Creek design features two such star symbols may represent Venus as the [...]

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