03 November 2021

I've always been intrigued by this book

I enjoy reading, but am not a believer in, fringe archaeology.  What's fun is learning all the little tidbits that are stitched together by believers into various permutations of alternate history.  

This 1998 book focuses on the great megalithic sites of the world - all of which can reasonably be shown to be oriented to the cardinal directions of our planet and perhaps to the patterns of the stars.  That doesn't surprise me.  Consider that for perhaps 100,000 years intelligent humans lived in a pre-industrial world which had absolutely dark skies.  And consider that the success of civilizations (at least the ones that prospered) depended on being able to predict seasonal changes.  I should think every major civilization would have respected the importance of the equinoxes and the solstices.

What I can't accept is the unifying hypothesis that these cultures, scattered from Easter Island to Egypt to Cambodia to Peru are somehow all descendants of an advanced pre-prehistoric people who were able to discover astronomical evidence of the precession of the stars caused by the wobble of our planet in cycles lasting 25,000 years.   I see no survival advantage in being aware of that phenomenon.

But... look at all the interesting stuff in the book:

1) Who was this Quetzalcoatl guy?  Aztec tradition included the story of "a white man who came from across the sea in a boat that moved by itself without paddles, and who would one day return..."  This tradition predated the arrival of the Spaniards and in part contributed the success of the conquistadors in conquering their empire.  Note that current dogma is that there was no link between Mexican Aztecs and the Andean traditions in Peru, but the latter culture also has a god Viracocha who, like Quetzacoatl, was a white man, blue-eyed and bearded, who brought culture to them.

2) The Egyptian symbol of Akeru showed two lions back-to-back associated with the rising and setting sun at the solstices.  The Maya had back-to-back pumas at Uxmal aligned to the summer solstice sunset.

3)  "Hindus believe that those of us who inhabit the earth today are living through the unfortunate and tumultuous Kali Yuga, supposedly the last and most decadent of the 'ages of man' in the present Kalpa, or cycle of creation.  According to Indian astronomical and calendrical calculations, the Kali Yuga 'began' in 3100 BC, a date that coincides almost to the year with the ancient Mayan computation of the beginning of the Fifth Sun [our present epoch]."

4) So many similar flood myths.  "Before the flood came [Vishnu] warned Maju to build a great survival ship and ordered him 'to load it with two of every living species and the seeds of every plant, and then to go on board himself.  When the waters rose the god towed Mau's ark for many days and nights until it finally came to rest on the slopes of a high mountain."  Compare that not only to the Bible but to the epic of Gilgamesh.

5) "What we accept without question as 'reality' the Rishis [the sages of ancient India] described as 'the world of form.'  They claimed to have discovered that this world is not in fact real at all but rather a sinister sort of virtual reality game in which we are all players, a complex and cunning illusion... in Mexico, too, life was understood not to be real but only a dream from which the soul awakes on death.  Likewise, in the supposedly unrelated Hermetic Texts, compiled in Alexandria in Egypt at around the second century AD, we read that "all things on earth are unreal... Illlusion is a thing wrought by the working of Reality.'"

6) The Rongorongo glyphs of Easter Island appear to be an undecipherable language - a rare accomplishment for a population thought to number only several thousand individuals.  And these same people erected 80-ton statues that presumably were "walked" across the island from their quarry sites, and then somehow placed 11-ton "hats" made of a different stone on top of these statues.  The eyes of these Moai, BTW, are oriented to gaze upward at the stars.  

7) "Ra" is the name of the Egyptian sun god.  The word "raa" in the Easter Island language means "sun."  Just a coincidence, obviously...  But the authors also note "We see no real difference between the reed floats on which Ra crossed the sky in ancient Egypt and the reed floats of the sun-god Raa, used by the hopu manu of Easter Island to cross the waters..." and the reed boats of the two cultures are similar.  

8)  The "twelve-angled-stone" of Cuzco [right] is amazing.  I can see how it could be done by rubbing stones against one another until the interfaces are ground down to a uniformity, but it's still awesome.

9) And the metal "clamps" that were used in megalithic construction around the world share some similarities.

So much interesting stuff to read about.  So little time.  This was my final re-read of this book, which now goes to our Friends of the Library booksale. 


  1. I do find these interesting (if not particularly compelling towards their argument) to read as well.

    Another book recommendation along the lines of "alternate history" that I love to recommend is Gordon White's Star.Ships: A Pre-history of the Spirits which makes an interesting argument that there need not be any sort of "alien" intervention in order for humanity to be as intelligent and well developed in pre- pre-history as people like Graham Hancock would sometimes like to argue.

    There's also a lot of evidence presented of "cultural memories" as shared by myths passed down through time that he believes may represent some of the defining moments of early humanity.

    Very interesting read if you come across it (though Gordon is an open advocate of Chaos Magick and tends to push a lot of those beliefs through the book as well).

  2. There were no Aztecs at Uxmal. There were Mayas.

    1. Almost certainly my note-taking error. Fixed. Tx.

  3. You might be interested in the work of William R. Corliss. He collected "anomalous" data of all sorts, but unlike people like Ivan Sanderson and Charles Fort, instead of drawing all sorts of (fantastic) conclusions from anecdotal stories, he collected unusual reports from scientific publications arranged them into categories and presented them for what they were - unexplained.

  4. #3) Strikes me as a painfully accurate observation/forecast/prediction. But, a younger person recently claimed I was projecting my subjective struggle, with old age (65) mortality issues, onto questions concerning our environmental condition, yada, yada. I'm dying, so the Earth must be dying too. What a nasty old fart I must be. I prefer the nasty old fart explanation to what the Hindus thought, while it's still nice to have some company.

  5. Brings back old times. About 20 or so years ago I had a friend who was a devoted reader of Hancock and his ilk. This was an educated woman -- she had a graduate degree in a science-related field.

    I tried my best, more than once, but never could convince her that it was all a load of rubbish.

    This is a new (to me) book by Hancock. Don't think I'll run right down to the library for it, however.

  6. 'Holy von Daniken, Batman, are you saying there was either an ancient race of pale skinned, blue eyed humans with advanced knowledge or that space travellers have been here thousands of years ago ?' ... this is Back to the Future stuff truly ?
    Maybe a collective consciousness had the idea of a big boat with two of every species (not eating each other of course) avoiding getting wet feet ... a bit like powered flight happening in Scotland, New Zealand and America all at the same approximate time but totally unknown to each other.
    Weird world we've got !

  7. As a language buff, the undecipherability of Rongorongo angers me to no end. Especially because "us Westeners" caused it in the first place by deliberately destroying most of their inscriptions, then deporting the natives themselves until none were left who could read the script. For those interested, the Fall of Civilizations Podcast has a great episode on Easter Island.

  8. Interesting piece of wall at Mayan site of Sacsayhuaman. But elbow grease and time can do the trick.

    1. That and good old slavery. The engine behind every one of the these stone marvels.

  9. I find these things wildly stimulating, but ultimately this is more of an intellectual exercise in critical thinking which many "scholars" are reluctant to employ.

    For instance, a lot is now known about the history of Easter Island and how the civilization there managed to erect their monuments, but because it's not something obvious to us today, and because "it's a mystery" is so much more stimulating, we're really not inclined to look behind the curtain.

    What I find more interesting about this stuff is playing "name that cognitive distortion and/or logical fallacy." There are a bunch. Argument from Incredulity is a big one. Appeal to Authority is another. Confirmation bias is rampant. A lot of it just comes down to poor pattern recognition.

    It brings to mind the story of an argument between Clarence Darrow and one of the witnesses in the Scopes trial. Darrow asked the witness to draw a random poker hand of five cards, and asked what the odds were of drawing that hand in that order. The witness tried to guess, but was always low. Darrow tells him (my search says 1:12,994,800). The witness agrees that this is a very low probability. Darrow responds "but it just happened, didn't it?"

    1. I hadn't heard that Darrow story. But he set himself up nicely. No matter what the 5 cards drawn, the odds of getting a low probability combination of cards was 1:1 :)

  10. I would reccomend "Archaeological Fantasies" for some essays on why this sort of pseudoarchaeology is felt by archaeologists to be harmful.
    I think from the point of view of the casual reader I wouldn't reccomend books like this because the "interesting" things often turn out to be not true, or at least highly exaggerated, and the truth is often more interesting. To take your "Ra" example - that could have been a way in to talk about how false cognates (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_cognate ) can mislead about language links. And reed boats - a quick google image search suggests that all reed boats today have a lot of similarities, which would seem that there are qualities of reed that lend itself to this. If I was writing a book about that, then wouldn't talking to people who make reed boats be more interesting than looking at two images, deciding they are similar and then having no more curiosity than that?

    1. Great points. I agree, the properties of reeds (for boats) or of piled up earth (for mounds or even pyramids) probably has more to do with things than most people realize. The question I would have is not 'who spread knowledge about pyramids' but why do humans insist on building large squared off mounds?...
      We tend to sell short the knowledge and abilities of previous civilizations. Humans are inventive problem solvers, able to make use of materials at hand.
      ...On the other hand, we also tend to assume that previous cultures were more isolated than they probably were, (check Otzi for example.)

      I would suggest that flood myths abound because, while we are able to survive almost anywhere on the planet, we are basically shore dwellers. At the end of the last ice age it appears that there were multiple ice dams that broke here and there, flooding valleys and eventually causing significant sea level rise.


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