Advocates of lost civilization theories, including the likes of Graham Hancock (author of Fingerprints of the Gods) and earlier, Charles Hapgood (Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings) have proposed the existence of a world-spanning homogeneous maritime civilization whose apex occurred as much as 12,000 years before our current technological high-water mark. Very often, these writers are careful to avoid mention of the word 'Atlantis', but the main belief structure behind all these theories remains fundamentally the same: more than 10,000 years ago, before our recorded history, there existed a relatively advanced civilization that attained a high enough level of culture that they had written languages, maritime trade and sophisticated naval technology.
Leaving aside – for the moment – such superficial, facile approaches as comparison and contrast of New World and Old World pyramids…in fact, steering away from all the Von Danikenesque hyperbole, is there any evidence for a civilization anything like what we've described above?
As it happens, there is.
European Megalithic Culture was a prehistoric culture that stretched from the Iberian Peninsula in the south and Sweden and the Orkney Islands in the north, while stretching from the Baltics in the east as far west as the Atlantic.
The earliest structures in this civilization can be reliably dated to about 4800 BC, and consist of circular ditches and communal tombs, and later evolved to include more complicated structures, including henges (the most famous of which is Stonehenge in Somerset, England).
The people belonging to this megalithic culture displayed highly advanced technologies at an almost incredibly early date. For example, by 4000 BC, the Neolithic inhabitants of the Orkneys, Hebrides and Shetlands were demonstrably using skin boats and voyaging nearly out of sight of land. Skara Brae, the spectacular megalithic culture settlement uncovered in the Orkneys features extremely well-designed houses and hearths, some of which seem to include provision for a not-so-primitive sort of plumbing. In England, the first evidence of farming became evident, along with stone axes and distinctive grooved pottery. The culture was knitted together in its use of a common measurement system, most particularly in the use of the megalithic yard, discovered in 1955 by Prof. Alexander Thom, professor of Engineering Sciences at Oxford University. In his March 23 submission to the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Vol. 118, Thom described the results of more than 20 years of research, at 250 megalithic sites in England and Scotland. Above all, Thom reported that he isolated a common unit of measure, constituting exactly 2.72 feet, and present in site after site.
Many – if not the majority -- of the henges and standing stones erected by the Megalithic Culture displayed astronomical alignments with solstices, equinoxes and the movements of the sun, moon and stars. Some, such as Newgrange or Maes Howe would be masterpieces today, even without the incredible intricacies of their alignments. Add in their sophisticated astronomical capabilities – Maes Howe is aligned to the setting winter solstice sun and to the winter setting full Venus, while Newgrange is aligned to the rising winter solstice sun and the winter rising full venus – and you have artifacts of unparalleled sophistication for their time.
Additionally, says Robert Lomas, author of Uriel's Machine and Mysteries of the Ancient World, they possessed centralized manufacturing and mass production techniques. He cites axes as evidence, illustrating how ax heads were created at two specific sites (with a sea voyage separating them), then finished, polished and fitted with shafts at two other sites. The wide-ranging nature of their trade supply chain is established by the fact that these mass-produced axes are found throughout Britain. Just from this one example, says Lomas, we can infer that the Megalithic Culture people specialized into roles which – for the purposes of ax production – included quarry workers, sailors, polishers and finishers, and "a sales force".
At around the same time – as much as two thousand years prior to the pyramids – a predynastic Egyptian people began building their own megalithic structures on the Nabta plateau near the Sudanese border. These structures would seem to mark the position where the morning star, Sirius, would have risen at the summer solstice.
Academics such Grafton Elliot Smith, an Australian anatomist who was a proponent of the theory of hyperdiffusionism, which suggested that all megalith-builders originated from Egypt, believed the Nabta peoples and the European Megalithic Culture peoples were one and the same. Today, the hyperdiffusionist theory has fallen out of favour, but there remains the coincidental emergence of cultures within a few hundred years, both of which erect standing stones to track astronomical phenomena.
There also remain the startling similarities between Mediterranean Megalithic structures and those in northern and western Europe, with structures in Sardinia, Sicily and Malta being almost identical. Both cultures featured henges, chambered tombs and standing stones.
So who, then, were the Megalithic Culture peoples? One theory, known as the Anatolian hypothesis, popularized by Colin Renfrew, suggests that they were a Proto-Indo-European (PIE) people from Anatolia, who migrated into Europe along with the spread of Neolithic agriculture. More recent thinking about the spread of the PIE-speaking peoples has tended to reject this, largely on the grounds that the Proto-Indo-Europeans expanded out of the Pontic Steppe later, in the 4th millennium. This theory, called the Kurgan hypothesis, suggests that this migration occurred too late to account for the Megalithic Culture.
Others propose that the migration may have taken place the other way. At around 10,000 BC, the Azilian-Tardenoisian peoples – considered to be the first wave of the Iberians – migrated into Europe. There are suggestions that – unlike other theories which suggest an east-to-west populating of Europe – the Azilian-Tardenoisians arrived from the Atlantic. Their provenance as a sea-going people is further supported by finds of finely worked, but very large, fish-hooks. In this theory, the Megalithic Culture is simply the result of 5000+ years of evolution from a landfall made on the Iberian peninsula at the closing of the Ice Age.
Barry Cunliffe, professor of European Architecture at Oxford University, has pointed out the relative homogeneity of the Megalithic Culture – or at least that of the European Megalithic Culture. Writing in an article titled People of the Sea, in the February 2002 issue of British Archaeology, he says in the late bronze age "had a warrior from the Algarve sailed to Aberdeenshire he would have found much in local behaviour and equipment that was very familiar."
Cunliffe goes on to say, "it is quite clear...that the technical skills of the people, both in shipbuilding and navigation, must have been sufficiently advanced, even at a very early date, to allow voyages in the open sea to have been a normal part of life...if we accept that networks of maritime communication along the entire Atlantic façade had developed during the Mesolithic period, then it is easier to understand how the cultural traits of agro-pastoralism, which characterized the subsequent Neolithic way of life, quickly spread from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic coast of Portugal and from Continental Europe to the British Isles and Ireland."
One of the most recent weapons added to the arsenal of those studying the relatively mute passages of prehistory is biostatistics and the analysis of genetic information, particularly Y-DNA. Much groundbreaking study has been done by researchers such as S. Rootsi and Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza. One of the more revealing findings to emerge from the new discipline of "genetic geography" may be the identification of a Megalithic Culture genetic 'fingerprint', Y-DNA haplogroup I.
According to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy, "Y-DNA haplogroup I is a European haplogroup, representing nearly one-fifth of the population. It is almost non-existent outside of Europe, suggesting that it arose in Europe. Estimates of the age of haplogroup I suggest that it arose prior to the last Glacial Maximum. Probably, it was confined to the refuge in the Balkans during the last Ice Age, and then spread northward during the recolonization of northern Europe following the retreat of the glaciers.
There are two main subgroups of haplogroup I: I-M253/I-M307/I-P30/I-P40 has highest frequency in Scandinavia, Iceland, and northwest Europe. In Britain, haplogroup I-M253 is often used as a marker for "invaders," Viking or Anglo-Saxon. I-S31 includes I-P37.2, which is the most common form in the Balkans and Sardinia, and I-S23/I-S30/I-S32/I-S33, which reaches its highest frequency along the northwest coast of continental Europe. Within I-S23 et al, I-M223 occurs in Britain and northwest continental Europe. A subgroup of I-M223, namely I-M284, occurs almost exclusively in Britain, so it apparently originated there and has probably been present for thousands of years."
What this seems to suggest is that not only is a pan-European common megalithic ethinic culture not far-fetched, but even quite likely, based on the Y-DNA evidence. In fact, given the significant presence of Haplogroup I in Sardinia, which spread along the northwest coast of continental Europe – often considered the "heartland" of megalithic culture we may even be able to infer links to the Mediterranean megalithic culture.
If this is true – and only further research will tell one way or another – the implications are manifold. For one thing, later Bronze Age migrations (not to mention predations) of the Sea Peoples (which were thought to contain a significant Sardinian and Corsican continent), demonstrated the relative ease with which a population in this portion of the Mediterranean to easily influence culture in the Aegean, Crete, Malta, the Phoenician / Lebanese Coast and even as far south as Egypt. Given this, perhaps hyperdiffusionist theory needs to be considered once again.
This would mean that the megaliths of Malta, Brittany, southern England, the Orkney Islands, Crete, Lebanon (Baalbek) and even Nabta on the Egypt/Sudan border really are far-flung outposts of a common cultural empire.
And if that can be established, how likely is it that other megalithic cultures – for example those in China, India and Japan – that existed at roughly the same time, and built similar structures, are completely unrelated? Or does Occam's razor suggest that there may be a relationship; indeed, perhaps just another branch of a global, world-spanning homogeneous civilization, spread through maritime travel, whose apex occurred as much as 12,000 years before our current technological high-water mark.