The Hidden Threads of Crypto-History
A Multi-Part Exploration of Alternative Theories of the Human Experience
One of the things we learned from the earlier instalments in this series is that progress on Spaceship Earth is not entirely governed by principles of gradualism (or uniformitarianism). In fact, the Gaia Experience, whether we're talking about the progress of civilizations, individual species or even entire geological land masses, is quite often characterized by sudden, dire and catastrophic change.
Just don't call it Atlantis.
So what does this conclusion mean for our series? More than anything, it suggests that we cannot dismiss out of hand myths preserved by societies the world over describing a painful origin in the dawn of history. These oral traditions most often describe the meagre survival from catastrophe of a few handfuls of people, along with a few kernels of culture and technology, barely sufficient to keep the light of civilization burning.
Don't call it Atlantis.
There are, of course, cultural histories that are unafraid of the 'A' word. The Greeks, those spiritual godfathers of Western civilization, most certainly used it. Plato, in his dialogues Timaeus and Critias is the first to have written about the sinking of this lost land beyond the Pillars of Hercules. But there are literally dozens of other similar flood traditions as well, many of which bear a startling similarity to one another. The Sumerian epic Gilgamesh tells a story of a deluge, and is today believed by most scholars to be the template for the later Old Testament story of Noah's Ark. In Hindu mythology, Manu , the first man and the forebear of all the kings of India, is instructed by a fish to build -- like Noah -- an ark to save the animals of the earth, and the seeds of all the earth's plants. In Greek mythology, the central character was the righteous Deucalion. He and his wife Pyrrha survive the flood after being warned in advance by his father Prometheus and building a boat.
But surely, some will say, these narratives simply stem from a common source, probably proto-Indo-European, which explains their similarities. Perhaps. But the deluge legend is still more universal, being centrally featured in mythologies as diverse as those of the Haida Indians of Western Canada; many African tribes (for example, the Kikuyu of Kenya, who took food, goats, cattle and beer into a cave while they waited out a giant flood of beer wrought by their spirits); the Maori of New Zealand who tell the story of Tawhaki; the Inca of Peru, who describe their creator-god Viracocha as having destroyed by flood his first attempt at populating the earth. On and on and on they go, cultural histories nearly overwhelming in their degree of commonality .
But science, and the scientific method, insist on physical proof. As Jay Baker's excellent article of a few weeks ago made clear, it requires measurability and the use of experiments to verify hypotheses. Oral histories, mythology and legend are -- rightly or wrongly -- dismissed as potential 'fairy tales' and rejected as 'proof' of anything. Happily, a more interdisciplinary approach, one in which mythology and folklore are at least acceptable for use in providing context while we pursue the quest for 'harder' forms of proof, is beginning to emerge. Of course, the most famous example of this kind of interisciplinary synthesis dates back to the beginning of the last century, when the amateur archaeologist Heinrich Shliemann stubbornly refused to allow the orthodoxy of the day to dissaude him from his belief that Homeric myth possessed an almost cartographic accuracy, a conviction that allowed him to discover the 'lost' city of Troy at his excavation site of Hissarlik, Turkey.
A more recent example of myth proving to have a greater basis in fact than might have been predicted has to do with developments surrounding the Oracle of Delphi. Long thought to have been 'just another myth', research findings released in 2001 concluded that the Oracle (or Pythia) entered a trance-like state due to gaseous emissions from a fissure in the floor of the temple. Particularly revealing were the study's findings that ethylene, which possesses euphoric effects that "jibe well" with Plutarch's descriptions of the Pythia's trance state, was found to be present.
So, at a minimum, then, the universality of the catastrophic flood myths described here argues for the existence of something that our ancestors needed an explanation for. Something mysterious that drove the need for creation of an archteype like the legend of the flood. Central to this series of articles about Crypto-History is the suggestion that unless specifically ruled out by the facts, the weight of evidence means we must at least remain open to discussion about the existence of an antediluvian civilization of some sort. And, as we noted in the first paragraph, the increasing acceptance of catastrophism theory throughout the course of the 20th century is now suggesting that a society-destroying cataclysm at least could have happened.
Just don't call it Atlantis.
So, we've seen that there is anecdotal evidence for this civilization that existed before written history, and was destroyed by a flood. But is there any physical evidence? Proof, no. But evidence? Just maybe.
Ooparts are out-of-place archaeological artifacts, most often suggesting a degree of technological advancement far in advance of any level of sophistication generally agreed to have been possessed by the ancients. The most recent example of an oopart made headlines when scientists revealed they had validated theories about the operation of the so-called Antikythera Mechanism , a form of computing device dated to 65 BC which could not only "work out and exhibit the motions of the sun and the moon", but also served as a 365-day calendar, which factored in the leap year, provided the Metonic cycle, and the so-called Callippic cycle (which is four Metonic cycles minus one day), and reconciled the solar year with the lunar calendar. As if that weren't enough, the mechanism has also been found to be capable of predicting lunar and solar eclipses under the Saros cycle, and serving as a star almanac, showing the times when the major stars and constellations of the Greek zodiac would rise or set.
For more on ooparts, go to the next instalment in our series, The Hidden Threads of Crypto-History, Instalment 5: Ooparts, Archaeo-Astronomy and Ancient Technology.