Periodic precipitation or the “Liesegang phenomenon” is a special type of chemical pattern formations. It was discovered by a German chemist and photographer, Raphael Eduard Liesegang in 1896 but did not have any general explanation more than a century ago.
Patterns in Nature
In the last decades of the 20th century different kinds of chemical, physical and biological pattern formations have excited an ever increasing interest in the scientific community. In chemical patterning one of the most intensively investigated area was the so-called Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction, but there were many publications about viscous fingering, diffusion limited aggregation, morphogenesis of fungal colonies and some other simple living bodies, and last but not least patterning during electrochemical deposition too.
Although at first sight the above mentioned systems are quite different there are many similarities in the way they form the corresponding patterns, and the methods by that they can be handled. All of them contain at least one or several diffusion-limited steps, while the formation of the spatial or spatiotemporal order is always a result of a complicated interplay of these and the underlying chemical, physical or biological processes.
Mathematics and the modeling of reaction-diffusion processes
Mathematical description of such systems consists of so-called reaction-diffusion differential equations. Unfortunately these are usually systems of coupled nonlinear partial differential equations, that cannot be treated by standard analytical methods. The only viable way is the application of different numerical methods. Numerical solution of such systems of equations is computationally very demanding, moreover it is sometimes computationally prohibitive even nowadays.
The story of the so-called Liesegang phenomenon is good example for this problem.
Liesegang patterning is a special type of chemical pattern formation in which the spatial order is formed by density fluctuations of a weakly soluble salt. From analytical chemistry we know many different reactants that form a precipitate (sparingly soluble salt) when they react with each other. A good example for this behavior is the reaction of silver-nitrate (AgNO3) and potassium-dichromate (K2Cr2O7).
If one of these components is evenly distributed in a swollen gel (e.g. in gelatine), and the solution of the other diffuses into it, the spatial distribution of the slowly forming precipitate will not be continuous. A series of precipitate zones (bands or rings depending on the geometry of the experimental setup) will form according to some simple scaling laws.
My comments below were written shortly after my first visit to Göbekli Tepe in 2010. I have been back many times since, studied the scholarly literature, and spoken with the late Dr. Klaus Schmidt on site regarding the dating of the remains and other matters. I plan to update and revise this page when time permits. In the meantime, please enjoy what is posted below and, if you would like more, my book Forgotten Civilization: The Role of Solar Outbursts in Our Past and Future offers a great deal (including a color photo insert that contains images of Göbekli Tepe). Another article on this website, “Rising from the Ashes of SIDA”, also discusses various aspects of Göbekli Tepe.
Robert Schoch and John Anthony West at Göbekli Tepe in 2010
The 12,000-year-old Megalithic Complex that is Rewriting History
In May 2010 I traveled to Turkey with my wife, Catherine Ulissey, and my friend and colleague John Anthony West. It was an incredible trip, and here I will note only a few highlights.
First we flew to Istanbul, where we spent the day visiting the area of the hippodrome, the Blue Mosque, and the Hagia Sophia. Our time there was all too short, as we had to catch our flight to Antep (Gaziantep), and from there we drove to Urfa. Our primary destination was to visit Göbekli Tepe.
Easter Island (Rapa Nui; Isla de Pascua) is a tiny speck of land, a mere 64 square miles, in the South Pacific just below the Tropic of Capricorn, 2300 miles west of South America. The closest inhabited land, Pitcairn Island (where mutineers of the Bounty settled in 1790), is over 1200 miles to the west.
The moai, those giant heads and torsos of Easter Island, are emblematic of ancient mysteries and lost civilizations. Viewing them firsthand in all their magnificence during a recent geological reconnaissance trip to Easter Island, I could only be impressed. Carving, transporting, and erecting these inscrutable megalithic statues (some of which are over 30 feet tall and weigh tens of tons) was no mean feat. Surely they reflect a sophisticated society of which we are but dimly aware. Yet, conventional archaeologists have considered the big heads to be, well, big heads— the product of a Stone Age culture that spent its energy carving monotonously stereotypic megalithic monuments as part of some primitive religion, perhaps ancestor worship, or simply as busy work devised by the ruling elite to keep the populace in line on an island from which there was no escape.
The moai are fascinating, and by applying geological expertise to the problem of their chronology (as I did for the Great Sphinx in Egypt), new light might be shed on the island’s enigmas. I hope to organize a full-fledged geological expedition to the island and pursue such research. But the moai, literally the biggest mystery in terms of their physical size (an unfinished moai still in the quarry is over 60 feet long), are not alone when it comes to the perplexities of Rapa Nui. Though tiny in physical comparison, inscribed wooden tablets have been the subject of curiosity and heated debate ever since they came to the attention of nineteenth century European missionaries.
Numerous wooden tablets covered with a strange hieroglyphic-like script were found in many of the natives’ houses, according to Brother Joseph-Eugène Eyraud, reporting to his superiors in Paris. The writing became known as rongorongo (“lines of inscriptions for recitation”). Unfortunately between the missionaries’ zeal, attempting to separate their new converts from old pagan ways, and internecine warfare, almost all of the rongorongo tablets were burnt or otherwise destroyed. Today just upwards of two dozen remain. Furthermore, those natives literate in rongorongo were killed in fighting, succumbed to disease, or were carried off the island in slave raids. By the late nineteenth century, no one could genuinely read the rongorongo script, and to this day nobody has put forth a convincing decipherment.