Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Solar Double Spiral

The ancient symbol of the double spiral appears to be closely related to the sun's path throughout the year, and to incorporate the subtle complexities created by the obliquity of the ecliptic and the eccentricity of earth's orbit.

In his books The Stars and the Stones: Ancient Art and Astronomy in Ireland, archaeoastronomer and artist Martin Brennan provides compelling evidence that the double spiral is related to the changes in the sun's path throughout the year.

He notes that the shadows cast by a gnomon throughout the year will create a straight line east-west on the equinoxes, but that on the solstices the shadow's path will actually trace out two hyperbolas (this phenomenon is discussed in a previous post here). Brennan explains how this fact may lead to the double spiral design:
At summer solstice the shadows are shortest and the arc is concave. At winter solstice the shadows are longest and the arc is convex. In archaic astronomy, these were known as the 'horns of the solstice.' At equinox the shadow is straight. If the shadows of the sun are correlated over the period of one year in chronological order following their curvature they form a double spiral. In winter the spiral is counter-clockwise and the coils are wide. The shadows begin to straighten as equinox approaches, and after equinox they begin to wind into a clockwise spiral and tighten. They contract until the summer solstice, straighten again at equinox and return to a left-handed spiral again in winter to continue the process perpetually.

The Boyne Valley artists developed the double spiral and displayed it prominently. Recently, an American artist, Charles Ross, arrived at a double spiral in a controlled experiment documenting the sun's path through the year. Using a stationary focused magnifying glass, he placed wooden planks in a fixed position for 366 consecutive days. The sun's rays burned a pattern in the planks which when graphed showed a precisely executed double spiral. 190.
The burned planks on which Charles Ross has performed this experiment can be seen in this photograph on his website, and the spiral pattern can be seen inlaid on the floor of the gallery (click on the third image from the left at the very bottom of that webpage).

Charles Ross has also created three-dimensional solar art called Star Axis in the desert of New Mexico, including a "shadow field" which illustrates the shadow paths throughout the year from one solstice to the other. By visiting this excellent webpage about the project, visitors can select the winter solstice, summer solstice, or equinox position, and then press "play" to see an animation of the shadow movement on those important annual earth-sun positions (to reach the animations, follow the link above and then click "Solar Pyramid and Shadow Field" in the central horizontal menu bar; next click the link which reads "Shadow Field" in the text portion of the page).

This graceful annual solar motion is also related to the analemma pattern created by the earth's tilt, which causes the ecliptic path to move back and forth across the celestial equator throughout the year (crossing at the equinoxes, as discussed in this previous post and elaborated in greater detail in the Mathisen Corollary book). The other phenomenon which causes the analemma's shape to look the way it does is the eccentricity of earth's eliptical orbit, which causes the earth to speed up as it "falls towards" the sun on its way to perihelion around January 4th each year and to slow down as it "rises away" from the sun on its way to aphelion around July 4th each year. Because the earth is moving faster in its orbit on some parts of its orbit, the sun does not "make it" to the anticipated point (for instance, the culmination point or "high noon" point) at the same time on days when the earth is moving faster as it speeds towards perihelion (because it is still spinning at the same rate, an observer on earth will perceive the sun as lagging a little from one day to the next at the same exact time).

The celestial mechanics surrounding the graceful figure-eight shape of the analemma are thoroughly and superlatively explained in the series of pages and animations in this website from Bob Urschel (use the small blue arrows at the bottom of each page to go to the next page -- it will require looking at all of the pages and videos to fully understand this complex process). The video which shows the sun's ecliptic path moving over and under the celestial equator throughout the year, and tracing out the figure-eight analemma as it does so, can be seen here. The first successful photographic record of the analemma, along with arcs showing the sun's path on the solstices and one equinox, can be seen here.

Having established the connection of the double spiral to the graceful annual motion of the sun from one solstice to the other and the equinoxes in between, we can then note the presence of this powerful symbol around the globe. As has already been noted in the citations from Martin Brennan, it can be found in the petroglyphs adorning the megalithic architecture of the Boyne River Valley in Ireland (where the passage mounds have clear alignments to the solstices, equinoxes, and cross-quarter days). It is also found in the New World, such as in the double spiral shape pictured at top which is carved into Fajada Butte in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.

We have also noted the presence of spiral patterns on the faces of some of the Tocharian mummies of the Tarim Basin. Martin Doutré has made a convincing argument that this very same solar double-spiral pattern found on the faces of some of the Urumqi mummies is directly related to the double-spiral pattern found in many of the mokos or facial tattoos of the Maoris of Aotearoa -- scroll down to the section entitled "Origins of the Early Maori Moko (Facial Tattoo)." For a powerful example of the double spiral, which was often seen crossing the bridge of the nose in men, as well as along the cheekbones and in other areas of the mokos, see this beautiful portrait of Maori Chief Wi Te Wanewha by Gottfried Lindauer (1839 - 1926).

The presence of the double spiral among the ancient inhabitants of Ireland, the Tarim Basin in China, Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, and Aotearoa or New Zealand can of course be explained by independent and isolated observation of the solar patterns, although it must be admitted that this pattern is extremely subtle and not at all inherently obvious from a casual observation of the arcing hyperbolas of the gnomon's shadow field. It is also possible to explain its widespread appearance as a result of ancient trans-oceanic contact and migration. If it were the only data point to support such a theory, it would not be very strong, but taken together with the extensive other data points which exist in mythology and archaeology, it is a noteworthy addition to the debate.

Finally, William Lasseter has some interesting musings about the possible connection of the serpentine double-spiral to the twisting, spiraling dragons which appear in art and tradition the world over, including in Europe in a blog post here. Interestingly enough, that post also includes the page from Martin Brennan's book explaining and illustrating the double spiral that is quoted above in this post, as well as some very insightful literary analysis of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. For readers who are interested in Tolkien and the connection to the subject of the celestial phenomena, be sure to check out this post about the connections between the crucially important constellation of Orion and the elven king Earendil.


In Norse mythology, Heimdall was the watchman of Asgard, stationed at the top of the rainbow bridge, and possessed of a mighty horn -- the Gjallarhorn -- that was so powerful it could be heard throughout the entire Norse cosmos of nine worlds.

The wonderful illustrated children's rendition of Norse mythology by Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire, Norse Gods and Giants (1967), describes him this way:
Heimdall was an excellent watchman. His clear blue eyes were so keen that he could see to the end of the world. So sharp were his ears that he could hear everything, even the sound of the wool growing on the sheep down in Midgard. And he needed no more sleep than a bird. 56
They also explain why the rainbow bridge was so important to Asgard's defense: "Flimsy as the rainbow bridge looked, it was the strongest of all bridges. The Aesir had made it with great care to keep the frost giants away, for the red in it was glowing fire that burned the icy feet of jotuns and trolls" (35).

In Hamlet's Mill, Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend explain why Heimdall is such an important figure, saying:
the character of Heimdal raises a number of sharp questions. He has appeared upon the scene as "the son of nine mothers;" to be the son of several mothers is a rare distinction even in mythology, and one which heimdal shares only with Agni in the Rigveda, and with Agni's son Skanda in the Mahabharata. [ . . . ] The nine mothers of Heimdal bring to mind inevitably the nine goddesses who turn the mill. The suspicion is not unfounded. Two of these "mothers," Gjalp and Greip, seem to appear with changed names or generations as Fenja and Menja. Rydberg claims Heimdal to be the son of Mundilfoeri. The story is then astronomical. Where does it lead? Thanks to the clues provided by Jacob Grimm, Rydberg and O.S. Reuter, and thanks to many hints hidden in the Rigveda, Atharva Veda and at other unexpected places, one can offer a probable conclusion: Heimdal stands for the world axis, the skambha. 158.
Later, they elaborate slightly further and declare: "Heimdal stands for the equinoctial colure which 'accompanies' the slowly turning, wholly abstract and invisible axis along the surface of the [celestial] sphere" (159). (De Santillana and von Dechend prefer the spelling "Heimdal;" other spellings include "Heimdallr").

The technical details of the colures and the other mechanisms of the celestial sphere seem mysterious at first, but they are critical to understanding the phenomenon of precession and the coded language embedded in the mythology of the ancients, and are carefully explained piece by piece in the Mathisen Corollary. Also explained is the reason why the intersection of the equinoctial colure and the celestial equator creates the two equinoxes, the shifting of which result in the changing ages (from the Age of Taurus to the Age of Aries, and from the Age of Aries to the Age of Pisces, as well as the ongoing shift from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius).

The association of the equinoxes with fire is quite clear throughout the mythologies of the world, and the reason has to do with the fact that they represent the "doors" or gateways through which the sun travels. This fact explains the symbology of the flaming bridge which Heimdall guards, and the end of the world corresponds to the end of the Age, and Heimdall's association with the end of the Age is embodied in the horn that he will sound when the forces of fire ascend the rainbow bridge, split the world-tree, and devour the old sun.

The turning of the equinoctial colure is a function of precession and creates the inexorable shift of the world-ages, and de Santillana and von Dechend provide supporting evidence for the association of Heimdall with this shifting colure in addition to his association with the flaming rainbow bridge, including the fact that his names Hallinskidi and Heimdal are associated with the ram (a fact that Jacob Grimm said was "worthy of remark"), the zodiac constellation that is traditionally considered the head or first of the twelve zodiac symbols, and the fact that another of his mysterious names, Vindler, comes from the word "to turn" (it is related to the English verb "to wind," as in "winding up a string").

Heimdall's association with fire may cause some readers to think of another mythological figure, Prometheus from Greek mythology, who gave fire to mankind (without permission) and was then punished for eternity. The connection is valid, and de Santillana and von Dechend spend even more time discussing the celestial and cosmological significance of Prometheus than they do of Heimdall. Sufficient for this discussion to show the connection is the tradition that Heimdall once came down to Midgard and dwelt among men, giving them advice and creating the various social classes or walks of life. The similarity to Prometheus (and Heimdall's association with fire) is quite pronounced in the famous painting of Heimdall bringing forth the gifts of the gods to mankind by Nils Asplund (1874 - 1958) which hangs in the University of Gothenburg (Göteborg) in Sweden:

The astronomical and precessional connections hidden in the mythology of the world are a little-understood but extremely important set of clues about the ancient history of mankind.

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Memorial Day meditation on the mystery of Easter Island

Easter Island of late has become a popular analogy to support a certain narrative about resource depletion.

According to this narrative, which can be found in many articles including this one from PBS Nova and this one from National Geographic, the inhabitants of Easter Island lived for several centuries "in harmony with their environment" but then depleted all their resources and collapsed into violence and perhaps cannibalism. Often, the famous Easter Island statues or moai (sometimes thought of as Easter Island "heads," although they actually have full torsos but many are buried up to the neck, such as those pictured above) are blamed as the impetus for the depletion.

As Jared Diamond, the author of Guns, Germs and Steel, speculates in this 1995 article about Easter Island's depletion of resources:
With passing years, the statues and platforms became larger and larger, and the statues began sporting ten-ton red crowns -- probably in an escalating spiral of one-upmanship, as rival clans tried to surpass each other with shows of wealth and power. (In the same way, successive Egyptian pharaohs built ever-larger pyramids. Today Hollywood movie moguls near my home in Los Angeles are displaying their wealth and power by building ever more ostentatious mansions. [. . .] All that those buildings lack to make the message explicit are ten-ton red crowns).
In the article, Diamond articulates a theory that the Easter Islanders chopped down all the large trees to build canoes for hunting dolphins for food instead of farming, and for logs to roll their ever-larger and more-ostentatious moai around (he has since included this theory in his 2004 book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, which has popularized this view of Easter Island's past history).

The Nova article linked above quotes UCLA archaeologist Jo Anne Van Tilburg as saying: "The price they paid for the way they chose to articulate their spiritual and political ideas was an island world which came to be, in many ways, but a shadow of its former natural self."

All of this moralizing fits a certain politically-acceptable narrative current today, and it may be that we should be careful that our own modern biases and assumptions are not influencing the historical conclusions that we draw. We have discussed the danger of doing this, and how difficult it is for the "fish" to perceive the "water" that it is swimming in, in this previous post. Is it possible that later historians will look back at the narrative some are crafting today for Easter Island's history and realize that certain ardently-held beliefs about environmental depletion (which have reached an almost-religious fervor among some members of the intellectual class) colored the historical conclusions in the same way that certain ardently-held beliefs about eugenics colored the conclusions of some intellectuals during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as discussed in that blog post?

Diamond's 1995 article mentions the work of Thor Heyerdahl, who in his 1953 work American Indians in the Pacific: The Theory behind the Kon-Tiki Expedition argued that Easter Island was settled by exiles from the high civilization that predated the Incas in the Andes and the coast of modern Peru. Like many other modern scholars for whom this theory is unappealing for various reasons, Diamond dismisses Heyerdahl's theory, lumping it with Erich von Daeniken's alien astronaut theory, saying: "Heyerdahl and von Daeniken both brushed aside overwhelming evidence that the Easter Islanders were typical Polynesians derived from Asia rather than the Americas and that their culture (including their statues) grew out of Polynesian culture."

This statement displays unfamiliarity with the arguments that Heyerdahl put forward in his well-documented and extensively-researched treatise (the first edition is 821 pages, in a 7" x 9" large-page format). Saying that the Easter Islanders were Polynesian does not contradict Heyerdahl, who argues that the Polynesians themselves originated from the Americas and moved west, with later contact with peoples from Asia and the Malaysian and Indonesian islands. He argues that Easter Island and the Hawaiian Islands would have been the first islands encountered by such a migration, and points to extensive evidence including the Easter Islander's own genealogies and oral histories that this is exactly what took place.

Far from "brushing aside overwhelming evidence," Heyerdahl provides extensive evidence that supports his thesis while discouraging the theory of Asian origins, including prevailing blood types, physical characteristics such as stature, nasal shape, and the presence of beards, the extensive practice of the medical procedure of trepanning which is found in the Americas and throughout Polynesia, the tradition of nose-rubbing as a greeting, fishing techniques and food types which are similar or identical to those of the Americas but different from those common in Asia and Malaysia, and the absence of fermented alcoholic beverages among the Polynesians prior to European contact in the 1600s and 1700s despite their presence in Asia and Malaysia (just to name a few among hundreds of other forms of evidence Heyerdahl examines in his book).

Indeed, if anyone can be said to have "brushed aside overwhelming evidence" it is not Heyerdahl but Diamond and the other modern researchers who dismiss his arguments.

In fact, as we have seen, there is extensive evidence that an ancient high civilization interacted with the populations of the Americas, and that the Polynesians were at least partly descended from people who created the impressive monuments that are found in Peru and around Lake Titicaca which spans Peru and Bolivia. This theory is distasteful to certain modern biases and political agendas, but it may be correct.

In such matters, the open-minded proposals with which Heyerdahl begins his 1953 work are more true than ever today. He states, "as long as there still are unsolved problems in the Pacific, we should at least give an open mind to the consideration of any solution however unimpressive it may at first seem to be" (3). Later, he approvingly cites "the following wise comment by [Edward Smith Craighill] Handy [1892 - 1980]" in a paper entitled "The Problem of Polynesian Origins," who said "there is only one sure way of being in the wrong, and that is by asserting dogmatically what is not true" (8). The italics are in Handy's original.

By asserting dogmatically that Heyerdahl's theory (or von Daeniken's for that matter) cannot be true, modern scholars appear to be falling into the trap that Handy and Heyerdahl himself are warning us against. This warning applies more generally to the entire subject of mankind's ancient past (and that of the earth's geology as well). We have discussed this subject previously using the analogy of the cholesterol-heart disease theory in posts such as this one.

In fact, there is much to support the theory that Easter Island was populated from the east by exiles from the monument-building culture of the Inca regions, and that hundreds of years later another group of Polynesians from further west came to Easter Island and wiped them out. First, the monumental moai of Easter Island have strong similarities to anthropomorphic stone statues found in Central and South America (including at Tiahuanaco). F.A. Allen's Polynesian Antiquities (1884) argues, "If it is merely a coincidence that these wonderful antiquities [on Easter Island], so closely resembling in character those of Peru and Central America, should exist on the very next land to the New-World, it is surely a most curious one . . ." (Heyerdahl 215).

Further, Heyerdahl notes extensive evidence for the elongation of the earlobes using a process that we call "gauging" today among the first inhabitants of Titicaca, including the mysterious Viracochas, a practice that was continued among the Incas (233-234). The earlobes were elongated to such a degree that they hung in some cases to the shoulders, and in order to keep them out of the way when not filled with a ring or a wooden block they would sometimes be hooked over the top of the ears or even tied together behind the head.

Significantly enough, Heyerdahl notes:
The sudden interruption of the megalithic work in the image quarry indicates the probability of a prehistoric invasion with tribal warfare on the island. Easter Island tradition is also very specific about such an early local war, which took place between their own ancestors and a legendary people referred to as the "long-ears," because they had the same extended earlobes as those seen on the statues. The adult men among the long-eared aborigines are said to have fled to fortify themselves on the extreme eastern headland, where finally they were all massacred in a ditch. [. . .] Thomson (1899), who collected the legends at a considerably earlier date, when they were less distorted, could even write: "The 'long-ears' appear to have been in power in the land at an early period in the history of the islands, though they were eventually defeated and exterminated by the others." (205).
Heyerdahl also notes that English archaeologist Katherine Routledge (1866 - 1935) wrote in The Mystery of Easter Island (1919):
According to the account of Admiral T. de Lapelin, there is a tradition at Mangarewa in the Gambier Islands to the effect that the adherents of a certain chief, being vanquished, sought safety in flight; they departed with a west wind in two big canoes, taking with them women, children, and all sorts of provisions. the party was never seen again, save for one man who subsequently returned to Mangarewa. From him it was learned that the fugitives had found an island in the middle of the seas, and disembarked in a little bay surrounded by mountains; where, finding traces of inhabitants, they had made fortifications of stone on one of the heights. A few days later they were attacked by a horde of natives armed with spears, but succeeded in defeating them. The victors then pitilessly massacred their opponents throughout the island, sparing only the women and children.
Heyerdahl notes on page 206 that if these Polynesians from Mangareva sailed east (with the "west wind" described in the account above), "there was no inhabited mountain island east of Mangareva save Pitcairn and Easter Island" (and Pitcairn was no longer inhabited when the mutineers from the Bounty settled there in the late 1700s, but Easter Island was inhabited when Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen landed there on Easter in 1722).

Thus, a completely different timeline emerges, in which long-eared descendents of the Viracocha people who built the Tiahuanaco Empire settled Easter Island and constructed the long-eared statues, but construction abruptly ceased when later Polynesian seafarers (themselves perhaps descended from seafarers originating in North, Central, and South America) came back to the east from Mangareva and massacred all the adult men, sparing only the women and children.

This timeline has much evidence to support it, including the not-inconsiderable fact of the actual oral histories of the Easter Islanders and Mangarevans themselves as told to the earliest European visitors.

Is it not possible that, in a desire to turn Easter Island into a morality tale supporting a certain modern narrative, much evidence is being overlooked? The Diamond and Van Tilburg quotations cited above both contain an overt admonishment against an imagined "arms race" of building larger and larger and more ostentatious moai at the expense of the environment, and a smug if unstated conclusion that "they got what they deserved" for such excessive consumption, but it may be that the real lesson of Easter Island is quite different.

In fact, the real lesson of the massacre of the "long-ears" by the "short-ears" may be that barbarity can always overwhelm civilization, and that the age-old human tendency to pit one group against another can bring constructive and culturative activity to a screeching halt. In this reading of the events of history, the moai of Easter Island are restored to the magnificent cultural achievement that they truly appear to be, rather than the despicable symbols of conspicuous consumption that Diamond wants to reduce them to (in a sort of displaced anger at the home-building activities of his wealthier Los Angeles neighbors).

On this Memorial Day, in which America remembers those who have fought and died in places like Normandy and Iwo Jima, it is perhaps appropriate to consider this possible lesson of Easter Island. We do not know what brought about the fall of the ancient civilizations that appear to have understood the size of the spherical earth, the mathematical concepts of pi and phi, the subtle astronomical process of precession, and the architectural techniques needed to build enormous pyramids and megalithic temples containing stones many tons in weight, but we do know that such knowledge was later lost for centuries and some of it is perhaps lost forever. As the Handy quotation cited by Heyerdahl counsels, we should be careful not to declare dogmatically that we know the answer or that other theories (especially those supported by careful analysis of extensive evidence) are wrong.

There are many today and in our own recent modern history who blame their problems on the success of another group, and believe that political power and even violence can be justifiably applied against those offending groups. This was the approach of Karl Marx, and it was the approach of the Nazis, against whom not only the Americans but the civilized people of the world fought and died in order to stop, not only those in uniform but also members of the underground in many occupied nations. Sadly, there are still people today who want to blame one group or another for their problems, and are not against massing power against that group in an attempt to remedy their grievances. I would suggest that this very tendency -- which we might see as analogous to pitting "short-ears" against "long-ears" -- is a strong candidate for the historical force which can destroy the fragile thing we call civilization, a force which has threatened to throw man into barbarity many times in the recent past, and which has succeeded in doing so many times as well.

If so, then it is a tendency that we should be very alert to detect, and to guard against in ourselves and others.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Soft tissue in T. rex fossils

By now, everyone should be aware of the work of paleontologist Mary Schweitzer, who along with other scientific colleagues made the stunning discovery of soft tissues -- including red blood cells -- preserved inside segments of a femur bone of a Tyrannosaurus Rex found in Montana.

This article from the Smithsonian Magazine explains that Dr. Schweitzer even determined the presence of medullary bone, a type of calcium-rich structure that forms inside certain bones in egg-laying animals to provide the calcium in the shells of the eggs, indicating that the Tyrannosaur was a female. Since then, scientists have even been able to find intact protein sequences from the specimens, although not actual DNA.

These findings create a huge problem for conventional models, because -- as the article confidently tells us on the third page -- "Geologists have established that the Hell Creek Formation, where B. rex was found, is 68 million years old, and so are the bones buried in it [the article explains that the T. rex was nicknamed 'B. rex' because the man who first discovered it was named Bob]." The idea that soft tissue could be preserved for 68 million years and that protein sequences could be intact for such an enormous length of time was previously unheard-of, and necessitated extensive questioning of Dr. Schweitzer's findings.

However, instead of exploring the possibility that the geological formation is not in fact 68 million years old, the response has been to throw out the belief that no soft tissue could possibly last that long. Of course, this possibility should be explored, but so should the possibility that the geologic formation and the bones themselves are not really that old. The assumption that the Hell Creek Formation dates to 68 million years ago is based upon uniformitarian geological models that may be completely incorrect.

As explained in this previous post, the hydroplate theory argues that the massive amounts of sediments were laid down very rapidly during a single catastrophic event. There is extensive evidence around the world that this theory may be correct: the presence of red blood cells inside dinosaur bones is simply another data point that adds to the others. In fact, as that post explains, the presence of any fossils at all brings up difficulties for uniformitarian models, because under normal conditions, dead plants and animals decay and do not form fossils. Catastrophic events such as being rapidly buried under tons of wet sediments could produce fossils, but normal conditions do not produce them.

The Smithsonian article, and Dr. Schweitzer herself, express shock and dismay at the possibility that some people are interpreting these findings in this way. The article says "Schweitzer’s research has been hijacked by 'young earth' creationists, who insist that dinosaur soft tissue couldn’t possibly survive millions of years." However, using questioning theories and assumptions should not be written off as "hijacking." It is quite legitimate to question whether tissues such as the ones Dr. Schweitzer found could actually survive for 68 million years. In fact, there are other fossils which contain soft-tissue structures which also call into question the current geological and evolutionary timelines, such as the bird claw pictured here with intact protein sheathing, supposedly 70 to 80 million years old.

Further, it must be pointed out that believing that a relatively recent world-wide flood killed many creatures and created most of the world's fossils does not ipso facto mean someone is a "young earth" creationist, as Dr. Schweitzer and the Smithsonian Magazine seem to imply. It is of course possible to argue that such an event took place, and then to explain the origin of the earth by a host of other theories.

If there were no other evidence that called into question the existing geological models, then it would be prudent to conclude that perhaps all the previous knowledge about tissue degradation is wrong, and that soft tissues can somehow survive in some cases for tens of millions of years. The existence of this soft-tissue evidence necessarily overturns some longstanding assumptions. However, the presence of extensive evidence that numerous features of the earth were created by catastrophic rather than gradualist forces argues that perhaps the wrong assumptions are being thrown out. After all, is there extensive other evidence that soft tissues can last millions of years?

For other posts discussing geological evidence that supports the hydroplate theory, see here, here and here.

The possibility that there was in fact a cataclysmic flood which had certain effects on the planet consistent with the laws of physics not only explains the presence of these soft tissues, but would also shed light on numerous mysteries of mankind's ancient past as well. This line of examination is the subject of the Mathisen Corollary.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The mummies of the Tarim Basin

The mummies of the Tarim Basin in Xinjiang, China provide startling clues about the ancient history of mankind.

The Tarim Basin, north of Tibet and east of the Himalayas, is an extremely arid desert, with a very high salinity in the sandy soil. Thousands of extraordinarily well-preserved mummies have been found in the area of the Taklamakan Desert, some of them between 3,000 and 3,800 years old (1800 BC to 1000 BC). The bodies were not actually mummified, but rather placed in deep graves and not covered with earth, with a layer between the body and the ground so that no moisture could reach the body, and the extreme dryness desiccated them completely.

The garments of these people are incredibly well-preserved, and display a high degree of skill, rich colors, and even tartan patterns typical of the later Celtic people of the British Isles. Elizabeth Wayland Barber has written a fascinating and extremely detailed study of the textiles and clothing designs of these ancient people, called The Mummies of Urumchi.

Most amazing, however, is the fact that the people themselves are clearly European in appearance (or what we would today consider European, although it is quite possible that today's Europeans are descended from a people who once lived in Egypt, the Levant, and modern Iran), with distinctive facial features, often reddish beards and hair, sometimes long blonde braids, and very tall of stature (the well-preserved Yingpan Man, who wears a gold-foiled death mask, is 6' 6" tall). Many of the women have extremely fine features of great beauty, such as the mummy pictured above who is known as the Beauty of Xiaohe. The mummies' non-Asiatic characteristics have now been confirmed by the modern science of DNA testing, which (as the video above explains) was not as advanced even thirty years ago in the late 1980s when the Tarim Basin mummies first began to be studied in earnest, and which reveals their western ancestry.

One of the key figures in studying the importance of these mummies, Professor Victor Mair of the University of Pennsylvania, gave in 2010 a fascinating lecture which is available on YouTube here which is worth watching in its entirety (it is unfortunately cut short at the end). In it he describes his first encounter with the mummies in a curtained-off section of a museum in Urumqi, during which he was mesmerized when he came face-to-face with the mummy often called the Cherchen Man, who he was surprised to discover looked just like his brother Dave, sleeping peacefully!

The Cherchen Man, pictured below (and linked to the entire video from Professor Mair), has an ochre spiral painted upon the side of his face, which we can conclude was painted on after death because the paint pot and application spoon were still in the tomb beside him. However, Martin Doutré has pointed out the similarities of this distinctive pattern to the Maori moko tattoos which often featured such facial spirals (see figures 7 through 11 in this article by Mr. Doutré).

The possibility of such a connection may seem remote, except for the fact that it is by no means the only clue that Celtic or pre-Celtic peo
ple (or their descendents, who were still using such spirals in their art) may have crossed the oceans and settled in places as far from Europe as modern-day Peru and even the South Pacific and New Zealand. For other evidence please see this post and this post.

There are several important lessons we can draw from the mummies of the Tarim Basin (actually, there are no doubt hundreds of important lessons, but only a few will be touched on here).

First, we can say that "mummies don't lie." It is possible to dismiss as forgeries the many inscriptions that don't fit the conventional assumptions regarding the timeline of the ancient past (even though at some point the volume of such dismissals makes one wonder how forgers were so busy creating hoaxes over the centuries and whether perhaps the forgery explanation is not the best answer). However, a mummy cannot really be forged, especially a mummy that will pass a DNA test. The remains of anomalous people-groups found in Peru and New Zealand are similarly difficult to dismiss and should be considered carefully.

Second, ancient mankind traveled a lot further than they have previously been given credit for. This proclivity may go a long way towards explaining the incredible coincidences found in mythologies around the world (including in China), such as the presence of distinctive precessional numbers that are difficult to explain by any other method except by ancient contact. When we see how far these Tarim Basin people were from western Europe, it becomes less plausible to ascribe common mythological patterns to some sort of Jungian "collective unconscious" and much more plausible to ascribe these commonalities to ancient contact.

The Taklamakan Desert in the Tarim Basin is some of the most remote and inhospitable terrain on earth. It would be difficult to find another spot further from an ocean and more difficult to settle. While the presence of mummies from 3,800 years ago in the Tarim Basin does not of course prove that ancient mankind could also cross the seas, other evidence suggests that they could and they did. Also, the Tarim Basin people apparently remained there for many centuries and many long generations. In the YouTube video above, Professor Mair explains that in very remote regions, occasional examples of blond hair still exist in the genetic makeup of the people in the region. He also points out a fascinating linguistic connection between the Swedish word mjod (for "mead") and the pronunciation for the word for "honey" in Old Chinese, and the fact that the ancient Tarchanian language spoken by these people is linguistically connected to the languages of northwestern Europe.

Finally, the very salinity of the desert region that allowed for the incredible preservation of these mummies is consistent with the arguments of Walt Brown's hydroplate theory. As noted in this previous post, Dr. Brown argues that:

Drainage of the waters that covered the earth left every continental basin filled to the brim with water. Some of these postflood lakes lost more water by evaporation and seepage than they gained by rainfall and drainage from higher elevations. Consequently, they shrank over the centuries. A well-known example was former Lake Bonneville, part of which is now the Great Salt Lake. 107.
Because of the high ranges surrounding the Tarim Basin (the Tien Shan, the Kunlun and the Atlan ranges), very little precipiation made it over these mountains and into the Tarim Basin. Thus, any trapped water in that basin would lose more water by evaporation and end up -- like the enormous salt flats in Utah around the Great Salt Lake -- a barren and salty desert. There is some evidence (such as the wood poles and leaf piles still present around the burial complex) that there were still some rivers present in the area thousands of years ago, although the ground was obviously still very salty. All of this appears to be consistent with the hydroplate theory.

There is much more of course that could be said about the amazing mummies of the Tarim Basin in China. Readers are urged to check out the above videos, as well as the many other published books and articles on the web dealing with them. Most of all, we should consider them carefully for the unique clues they can offer to the mystery of mankind's ancient past.

Think politics and science don't mix?

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the theories of Charles Darwin began to have a profound influence on all aspects of academic inquiry. They also were adopted to political theory by proponents such as Darwin's half-cousin Francis Galton (1822 - 1911, pictured above).

Notoriously, Darwinian theory had a clear and direct influence on the eugenics movement, not only in countries that later became fascist such as Germany and Italy but also in Great Britain and America. Recently, American scholar Bradley Hart has uncovered groundbreaking new evidence of the connections between British proponents of eugenics and the more sinister outgrowth of the same Darwinian ideology in Nazi Germany.

Mr. Hart has published previous work exploring the connections between the British eugenics movement and the political ideology prior to and after the First World War, such as this paper entitled "Public and Private Memory of the First World War and the British Eugenics Movement," in which he explores the impact of disciples of Galton such as Karl Pearson and Benjamin Kidd and their later followers after the First World War and leading up to the Second.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this ugly chapter in human history is the extent to which political aims and political theories of the day influence which research and academic inquiry is funded, encouraged, and privileged.

From the perspective of history, we can look back at those misguided and vile policies and wonder how academia could have been influenced to such a degree by the agendas and political ideas then in fashion. Yet are we so naive as to think that the same thing does not take place today, albeit with a different set of ideas that are currently politically dominant? In other words, looking at that period -- while painful to do -- provides us an opportunity to see the process at work, which is much more difficult for us to notice in our own time because, like the proverbial fish who does not see the water, we are surrounded by the assumptions currently in vogue to a degree that they become almost invisible.

We have already noted the indisputable fact that modern academia can appear to be very open to freedom of inquiry in directions which support the reigning orthodoxy, while completely marginalizing and silencing discourse that is not conducive to the foundations of the existing paradigm. These powerful biases act in exactly the same way as the biases of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, except that the biases are now different. Analysis which suggests, based on the evidence, that ancient contact may have taken place between cultures from Europe and cultures of the Americas will be ignored, or even attacked as racist (for an example of such attacks, see the one discussed and linked in this previous post).

The more these blind spots are ignored, the more powerful they are. If we acknowledge the fact that we have biases and presuppositions, and try to remain conscious of what they might be, we can be more attuned to potential missteps.

There is a reason why almost every crime story features an outsider (or group of outsiders, in the case of Scooby Doo and the gang) who come onto the scene and notice clues that the "authorities" have overlooked. The outsiders do not share the same assumptions and mental framework that inform the analysis and conclusions of the representatives of the establishment. Therefore, they can actually see things that are invisible to the authorities, even if those pieces of evidence are in plain sight (just like the fish and the water).

Because we are so far removed from the hideous dogmas that informed the eugenics movement in western Europe and the US at the dawn of the last century, we can see the "water" that they could not. However, we should realize that we are not so very different than they were, and that the same process is taking place today. Then, we can ask ourselves what biases and assumptions dominate the thinking in this day and age, a hundred years later, and ask ourselves what sorts of blind spots and incorrect conclusions our current paradigm is most likely to create.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Petrified wood: powerful evidence for a global flood

In the previous post, we discussed the theories put forward to explain the formation of the Grand Canyon, and the evidence that the Grand Canyon was actually formed by the violent breaching of two enormous post-flood lakes, lifted into their position during the events during and after the global flood. Another post discussing the existence of enormous continental lakes immediately after the flood can be found here.

In the Grand Canyon post, we also noted that the geological formations to the east of the Grand Canyon support the theory that two huge lakes once stood there, and that they rapidly drained during the event that carved the Grand Canyon. The presence of great fields of petrified wood along the edges of these former lakes provides strong supporting evidence for this theory, which is part of the hydroplate theory of West Point graduate and former professor Walt Brown.

There are many aspects of the petrified forests of Arizona and Utah which are difficult to explain using conventional theories. For instance, what led to the unique conditions necessary to form petrified wood? What explains the fact that the logs found in the petrified forests are snapped cleanly and jumbled? What forces could move such large and heavy petrified log segments around into the patterns in which we find them today?

The breaching of the lakes that created the Grand Canyon envisioned under the hydroplate theory provide a very coherent explanation. As Dr. Brown explains in the 7th edition of his book:
As the flood waters drained off the continents, continental basins became lakes. Trees floating in postflood lakes sometimes became saturated with silica-rich solutions [Dr. Brown explains elsewhere how the hydroplate theory provides an explanation for the high temperatures and high pressure required to suspend silica, which is derived from quartz, in solution]. Petrification occurred as the water cooled and silica precipitated on cellulose surfaces. [. . .] To petrify, a log must be saturated with silica-rich solutions, probably in a large lake. For a log to snap this cleanly, it must have been petrified before it broke. Being petrified and dense, it would have rested on the lake floor before it broke. For the log to break into many pieces that later reorient themselves, a sharp, powerful blow must have acted on the entire log. A heavy, petrified log lying on a lake floor seems unlikely to break into many pieces that are later reoriented. However, if the boundary of a large lake were breached, like the collapse of a dam, the lake's waters would rush out in a torrent, carrying even sunken petrified logs for some distance. As a rapidly-moving petrified (brittle) log "crashed" back onto the lake bottom, it would break up, much as an aircraft crashing in a field. 155-156.
Just as with the explanation of the frozen mammoth remains, the hydroplate theory's explanation of the formation of petrified wood appears more plausible than other explanations. Dr. Brown notes that two different petrified forests (one in Arizona and another in Utah) are located in areas that were covered by the two large postflood lakes that breached to create the Grand Canyon.

Furthermore, the conventional explanation that these forests became petrified hundreds of millions of years ago (this article by a University of New Mexico professor states that the Utah forest was petrified 225 million years ago) raises other problems. As Dr. Brown points out elsewhere in his book, petrified trees contain fossilized nests of bees and cocoons of wasps. "The petrified forests are supposedly 220 million years old, while bees (and flowering plants which bees require) supposedly evolved almost a hundred million years later," he notes (7th edition, page 11).

Petrified wood argues strongly for a global flood.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Grand Canyon and the Great Flood

In a previous post, we discussed evidence that supports Walt Brown's assertions that after the global flood, the thickened continents contained trapped water in many places, and that spectacular canyons were carved when some of these basins full of trapped water violently breached. The Monterey Canyon discussed in that post may well have formed from some of the water formerly filling California's Great Central Valley.

Another major piece of evidence is the Grand Canyon (above). In his book, Dr. Brown lays out all the various theories that attempt to explain the origin of this magnificent geological feature, along with the strengths and weaknesses of each theory.

Visitors to the Grand Canyon are confidently told the conventional uniformitarian explanation that the Colorado River slowly carved out the canyon over millions of years, as if this theory is the only possible explanation and as if it has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. Movies and books in the park's visitor centers reinforce this impression.

However, there are serious problems with the uniformitarian explanation, and evidence that it has a very difficult time explaining. One of the most difficult problems is the fact that the Colorado River -- which flows from north to south on the east side of the large, raised Kaibab Plateau (green terrain feature shown in the Google map above, marked with the words "Kaibab Plateau HP") -- suddenly makes a hard right turn to the west and blows right through the Kaibab Plateau massif. This is a very unusual thing for a river to do.

On the other hand, if a huge inland sea remained after the thickening of the continents in the aftermath of the global flood discussed in Dr. Brown's theory, then the breaching of that lake would explain many of the features of the Grand Canyon quite satisfactorily. In fact, the Grand Canyon may have been carved by the breaching of two lakes -- the violent escape of the water from the first lake may have undermined the western barrier of a second large lake, leading to its breaching as well. The breathtaking and distinctive terrain to the east of the Grand Canyon (including the buttes and mesas featured in numerous cowboy movies) could be explained as the area that was under the inland sea that breached to form the Grand Canyon.

In the terrain map above, the viewer can see a distinctive "funnel shape" in the upper right area of the map, out of which the first "tail" of the huge canyon appears to originate. This funnel shaped area is evidence that a massive amount of water once violently poured through that funnel and proceeded to carve the Grand Canyon.

This evidence is discussed in greater detail in the Mathisen Corollary. The theory of a global flood within human memory would also explain many unsolved mysteries of mankind's ancient past. Connecting the theory of a global flood with the evidence of an ancient advanced civilization is the premise of the Mathisen Corollary.

The possibility that the Grand Canyon was carved rapidly rather than very slowly, however, undermines certain tenets that many in conventional academia hold sacred. In particular, it undermines the dogma that the features on earth required hundreds of millions of years to form, which is a key supporting argument for the theory of Darwinian evolution. Because of the almost religious devotion to these dogmas, conventional theorists do not appear interested in exploring the significant evidence for a rapid (and relatively recent) explanation for the existence of the Grand Canyon.

Monday, May 23, 2011

New Zealand greenstone and mankind's ancient past

The Maori greenstone is a form of nephrite related to jade found in New Zealand, extremely hard and very beautiful, treasured by the Maori since before the arrival of Europeans and used in jewelry such as the hei tiki (tiki pendant) and the hei matua (fish hook pendant). The British Museum website identifies the Maori word hei as a pendant worn about the neck.

Martin Doutré in his 1999 book Ancient Celtic New Zealand argues that the extreme hardness of greenstone, the fact that the Maori did not possess metal tools, the remoteness of the South Island locations where it is principally found, and the presence of distinctive patterns found in the Americas and even ancient Egypt all argue for the possibility that there was already "a developed, thriving and anciently established greenstone carving industry in place" when the first Maoris arrived (274). He notes that finding the remote locations where greenstone exists in New Zealand's south island, recognizing it in its unspectacular raw state, knowing its special qualities and potential, and then organizing long and perilous voyages to retrieve it, are all developments that would take significant time, perhaps generations or even hundreds of years, and that it is possible that the Maoris learned of its special qualities from people who had been there for centuries before they arrived.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence for the theory that greenstone artifacts may be evidence for ancient pre-Maori habitation of New Zealand are the common designs in South America and even Europe and Africa. In this fascinating discussion on his website, Mr.
Doutré points out the examples from South America and even ancient Egypt of the distinctive mere hand-club so often seen made out of greenstone in museums such as this one in the Te Papa Museum.

Further down the page, he provides an illustration of an ancient tiki figurine found in Mexico that is unmistakeably similar to the hei tiki pendants of New Zealand. He also details the connections between the South Pacific tikis and the ancient Egyptian dwarf god Bes, the protector of women and children, and argues that the high feather hats, staring eyes and protruding tongues of the tikis are symbolic of the representations of that ancient deity, and that the "chin tattooing" of Maori women and girls is related to the protruding tongue of Bes (as is the chin tattooing found in Egypt and North Africa to this day).

Because the Maori are not believed to have come from South America or ancient Egypt, it is likely that earlier New Zealand inhabitants descended from ancient occupants of Egypt made their way to the Americas and eventually as far as New Zealand, prior to the arrival of the Maori, and that the blending of these cultures led to the many distinctive cultural traditions the Maori have which they do not share with other South Pacific islanders. We have already examined some evidence that such ancient migration (unknown to conventional isolationist historical paradigms) took place with reference to South America. This theory is not meant to take anything away from any culture or people -- if such contact indeed took place, it is yet another amazing chapter in the history of mankind that should cause all of us to marvel and be more humble.

The case of the Ruamahanga Woman adds another piece of evidence in support of this possibility.

The next time you see someone wearing a beautiful neck pendant of Maori greenstone, you should pause to consider the awesome ancient history of mankind, and the possibility that the theories taught so confidently in school might be mistaken.

Excellent discussion of the benefits of binoculars

Here's a link to an excellent discussion of binoculars for stargazing (and moongazing) from 365 Days of Astronomy. It's a podcast, so you can download it and listen to it on your way to work if you want to, or listen at home or simply read the transcript.

The post examines the reasons why a good pair of binoculars are a better first purchase for gazing at the heavens than a telescope, and then goes on to discuss the specifications to consider when selecting a pair of binos.

He also explains the concept of the "exit pupil," which dictates the amount of light magnification that binoculars can provide. In the Army, we were taught that binoculars can be used at night as a sort of low-level night-vision device, because they can actually gather light and enable you to see objects in the dark more brightly than you can see them with your naked eye. This podcast explains why.

The spectacle of the four planets Venus, Mars, Mercury and Jupiter is still taking place in the early pre-dawn hours on the eastern horizon. You will need binoculars to see Mercury and Mars. The positions of the four planets have shifted somewhat since the post from April 28 -- their new relative locations are illustrated in this post from the Urban Astronomer.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Going to college? Know someone who is?

If you are about to head off to college, one thing you should be very aware of is the fact that universities today may claim to promote open exchange of ideas and the freedom to question assumptions, but in fact that is only true within a certain dominant paradigm.

There is a dominant ideological paradigm or framework of ideas with certain shared assumptions. These assumptions include a dominant geological framework (uniformitarian geology), which reinforces a dominant biological framework (Darwinian evolution), which reinforces a dominant anthropological framework (which includes "evolutionary" progress from hunter-gatherer societies to primitive agricultural societies to greater levels of civilization in a generally unbroken line of progress, with some setbacks), which reinforces a dominant literary-political narrative (a view of history and literature as the record of one group oppressing and colonizing other groups, and an attempt to undo the effects of the hegemonies that resulted from these past power matrices).

As a result, "freedom to question assumptions" is permitted if it is in accord with this dominant narrative (for instance, courses such as "Introduction to LGBT Studies" or a symposium on "queer Caribbean literature" might seem to be "open-minded" examples of freedom to question assumptions, but would actually fit right in to the overarching paradigm).

On the other hand, freedom to question assumptions might become a little strained for a student who wanted to write his anthropology thesis on the possibility that mankind knew the size and shape of the earth before the first dynastic pharaohs ruled in Egypt, or the professor who wanted to teach a course exploring the possibility that man started out more advanced in knowledge and then became less advanced for many thousands of years. How about a geology course examining the abundant evidence around the globe for a worldwide flood in antiquity? Such "freedom to question assumptions" would fall outside the reigning orthodoxy of academia.

As a result, students in college are not exposed to rigorous challenges to the reigning assumptions. Challenges to this dominant paradigm are not welcomed and debated on the merits of the evidence for one theory or another, but are more typically met with ridicule or ad hominem attacks.

Nevertheless, there is substantial evidence that the dominant uniformitarian geological theories -- including plate tectonics -- may in fact be wrong (see here, here, and here for some of the evidence). There is also substantial evidence that ancient civilizations had the ability to cross the oceans and had a good idea that the earth was spherical and how big it is (see here and here, for example).

Students in college now or heading off to college soon should know that there are very valid reasons for challenging the assumptions of many of the theories that are passed off to them as fact, beyond any questioning. In fact, learning to put all the various theories on the table and to identify their starting assumptions and evaluate the evidence for and against each competing theory should be a central skill that is taught and encouraged in college. The fact that competing theories are more often mocked than evaluated should raise a warning flag (for more on that subject, see the cholesterol theory discussion here and here).

If you are in college now, or know someone who is or will be soon, encourage them to follow the links in this post and to cultivate a true "open mind," not just an open mind within the boundaries of what is and is not acceptable in the current university environment. There are very real reasons why we need more college graduates with the ability to truly question assumptions and the theories that their professors declare to be beyond questioning.

Back from the Great Central Valley

Just returned from an edifying visit to the Great Central Valley of California. As can be seen from the image above, the Central Valley is an enormous flat basin bordered by rounded hills on the west side and the rugged Sierras on the east (the photo above looks west along the flat plains towards some of the western hill country; the valley stretches for many miles to the east behind the photographer).

This huge flat tub contains some of the most fertile soil on earth. According to the hydroplate theory of Walt Brown, after the global flood event the continents slid and buckled and thickened, and as they rose in height floodwaters poured off of them. However, waters were trapped in many inland seas.

As described in the 7th edition of Walt Brown's book:
Drainage of the waters that covered the earth left every continental basin filled to the brim with water. Some of these postflood lakes lost more water by evaporation and seepage than they gained by rainfall and drainage from higher elevations. Consequently, they shrank over the centuries. A well-known example was former Lake Bonneville, part of which is now the Great Salt Lake.

Through rainfall and drainage from higher terrain, other lakes gained more water than they lost. Thus water overflowed the rim of each of these lakes at the lowest point on the rim. The resulting erosion at that point on the rim allowed more water to flow over it. This eroded the cut in the rim even deeper and caused even more water to cut it faster. Eventually, the entire lake dumped through a deep slit which we today call a canyon. [. . .]

With thousands of large, high lakes after the flood, and a lowered sea level, many other canyons were carved. Some are now covered by the raised ocean. It appears likely that (1) the Mediterranean "Lake" dumped into the lowered Atlantic Ocean and carved a canyon at the Strait of Gibralter, (2) "Lake California" filling the Great Central Valley of California carved a canyon (now largely filled with sediments) under what is now the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and (3) the Mediterranean Sea or the Black Sea carved out the Bosporus and Dardanelles. 107.
Examination of any terrain map of California confirms the likelihood of this theory. The richness of the soil there appears to support this theory.

The presence of a major submarine canyon under the ocean down the continental slope from Monterey Bay also appears to be supporting evidence for massive flows of water at a time when the ocean levels were lower (see image below from Google Maps -- this is a very distinctive piece of undersea terrain).

Submarine canyons such as this one (the Monterey Canyon) pose a problem for conventional (non-catastrophic) geological theories. As Dr. Brown explains elsewhere:
The ocean floor has several hundred canyons, some of which exceed the Grand Canyon in both length and depth. One submarine canyon is three times deeper than the Grand Canyon. Another is ten times longer (2,300 miles), so long it would stretch nearly across the United States. Most of these V-shaped canyons are extensions of major rivers. Examples include the Amazon Canyon, Hudson Canyon, Ganges Canyon, Congo Canyon, and Indus Canyon. What could gouge out canyons 15,000 feet below sea level? Perhaps ancient rivers cut these canyons when the ocean floor was higher or sea level was lower. If so, how did that happen? Swift rivers supposedly cut most continental [above ocean] canyons. However, currents measured in submarine canyons are much too slow, generally less than one mile per hour. Frequently, the flow is in the wrong direction. Submarine landslides or currents of dense, muddy water sometimes occur. however, they would not form long, branching patterns that characterize river systems and submarine canyons. Furthermore, experiments with thick, muddy water in submarine canyons have not demonstrated any canyon-cutting ability. 92.
The pattern of the Monterey Canyon certainly appears to bear the above analysis out.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Spica in the constellation Virgo

As the earth makes its way around the sun, the constellation Scorpio is becoming more prominent in the night sky as Orion recedes from the scene (because the sun is now between the earth and Orion, meaning he is up primarily during the day, when he cannot be seen). This process is described in greater detail here.

The constellation Virgo is fairly easy to find from the Scorpion -- just continue along the ecliptic from his head and claws to the right as you face south, past the faint stars of Libra, and on to brilliant Spica, an important star with a historic place in the story of precession (see the above-mentioned post on Orion for further explanation of precession).

Another way to find Spica and Virgo is to follow the sweep of the handle of the Big Dipper (see the discussion in "The Undying Stars") to reddish Arcturus and then continue along the same arc to Spica (an old saying advises "follow the arc to Arcturus and then drive a spike to Spica").

Spica is also designated alpha virginis -- meaning "the alpha of the constellation Virgo" or "the Virgin's alpha." Under a system of star designation introduced by Johann Bayer (1572 - 1625) in 1603, every constellation has a first star (often the brightest star) designated as its alpha, a second star (usually its second-brightest star) designated as its beta, a third star designated as its gamma, and so forth. The genitive (possessive) form of the Latin name for the constellation precedes the designation, so that the brightest star in the constellation Leo would be alpha leonis ("the lion's alpha"), which is the star Regulus.

Spica itself is a Latin word meaning an ear of wheat, perhaps because the constellation Virgo was formerly associated with harvest time (all the constellations have now "been delayed" by the long march of precession). In any event, Spica played an important role in the re-discovery of precession by Hipparchus of Nicaea (c. 190 BC - c. 126 BC or 120 BC).

The great modern scholar of the history of astronomy, Otto Neugebauer (1899 - 1990) recounts that one of the most important observations that led Hipparchus to the re-discovery of precession was his calculation that the star Spica had moved relative to the autumnal equinox, compared to the notations of Spica's position recorded by the earlier astronomers Timocharis of Alexandria (320 BC - 260 BC) and his contemporary and colleague Aristyllus.

Hipparchus can be said to have "re-discovered" precession because there is abundant evidence that far more ancient civilizations had understood it in even greater detail and precision literally thousands of years earlier. This is not to take anything away from the achievement of Hipparchus, as perceiving precession is by no means easy -- the phenomenon causes only one degree of change relative to the equinoxes in 71.6 years.

Spica is indicated in the above chart of Virgo by a red arrow (note that in the rather fanciful drawing from the 1825 star book Urania's Mirror shows a sheaf of wheat at Spica). The heavy black lines connect the stars of Virgo using the alternative (and much more useful) method created by H.A. Rey, who was also the author of the beloved Curious George stories. His book The Stars: A New Way to See Them is one of the best books for star-gazing ever written.

He argued that "allegorical drawings" such as the one above were decorative but unhelpful -- that in fact they were confusing. He also decried the geometrical but shapeless connections that are often used in which lines connect stars in a constellation but with no relation to the shape that the constellation's name suggests. His alternate outlines are both simple enough to actually use and suggestive enough of the object named to be the best of both worlds.

Spica is currently reaching its highest point around 10:30 pm each night (and getting earlier each evening) and setting at about 4:00 in the morning (at latitude 35o north). Spica is actually a binary star and one of the twenty brightest in the entire sky.

Also in the constellation Virgo is the star Porrima, which is also a binary, also designated gamma virginis. It is indicated by a green arrow in the above diagram. The planet Saturn is currently near Porrima as it arcs across the night sky along the ecliptic path (see discussion in this previous post).

The Diamer Basha Dam and the Rock Carvings of the Indus Valley

This recent article entitled "Threatened Rock Carvings of Pakistan" describes the thousands of rock carvings in northern Pakistan that will be submerged by the planned Diamer Basha Dam project along the Indus River.

The dam has been in planning stages for five years and groundbreaking for the construction is scheduled for this month. While the dam will generate needed electricity and provide flood mitigation and sediment controls, it will also submerge tens of thousands of rock carvings, some of them very ancient.

This website details some of the findings of the joint German and Pakistani research that has been conducted on the carvings since 1978. It provides a gallery of additional images of some of the carvings, in addition to the excellent images in the article above.

These carvings appear to contain solar and astronomical imagery reminiscent of the ancient carvings studied by Martin Brennan from the Boyne River valley area in Ireland and discussed in his excellent book the Stars and the Stones.

Modern historians believe these solar images in the Diamer Basha area are much more recent, although dating rocks and carvings on rocks is notoriously difficult and depends in large part upon assumptions and historical models.

Let us hope that some plan to remove and preserve the thousands of petroglyphs and inscriptions can be put into action before these important records of those who went before us are lost. Due to the sheer number of them, and the size of some of the stones, such a hope may be overly optimistic.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

God and the gods

If you read Plato, you may have been struck by the fact that the speakers sometimes seem to jump back and forth between referring to "God" and referring to "gods," without any explanation, and without any indication that it might be considered somewhat unusual to do so.

Certainly we would find it strange if, for example, a preacher in a sermon were to jump back and forth between the two. What has changed between the time of Plato and our time? Obviously that's a silly question -- the answer is, "a lot" -- but by asking the question specifically as regards to the use of the terms "God" and "the gods," it may be possible to uncover some fairly interesting observations.

As an example of this kind of jumping back and forth, take this passage from the Phaedo, 108 c-d:
[Socrates is initially speaking] So now in the case of the immortal, if it is conceded that this is also imperishable, soul will be imperishable as well as immortal. Otherwise we shall need another argument.

There is no need on that account, said Cebes. If what is immortal and eternal cannot avoid destruction, it is hard to see how anything else can.

And I imagine that it would be admitted by everyone, said Socrates, that God at any rate, and the form of life, and anything else that is immortal, can never cease to exist.

Yes indeed, by all men certainly, and even more, I suppose, by the gods. [Translation by Hugh Tredennick, in the Collected Dialogues of Plato, including the letters. Edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1969].
Notice that in this very short passage we observe Socrates saying that "God at any rate, and the form of life [. . .] can never cease to exist," and then we observe in the very next moment his companion Cebes conceding that all men will admit to that statement, and "the gods" will probably admit to it "even more." This seems rather curious.

Even more curious is the assertion by the prodigious scholar of ancient Egypt and Assyria (and Keeper of the British Museum) E.A. Wallis Budge (1857 - 1934) in his discussion of the Egyptian Book of the Dead that the ancient Egyptians appear to have jumped back and forth between talking about "God" and "the gods" in much the same way that we find in Plato.

In his section on "The Egyptians' Ideas of God" Wallis Budge asserts that "To the great and supreme power which made the earth, the heavens, the sea, the sky, men and women, animals, birds, and creeping things, all that is and all that shall be, the Egyptians gave the name neter." He then notes: "But side by side with neter, whatever it may mean, we have mentioned in texts of all ages a number of beings called neteru which Egyptologists universally translate by the word 'gods.'"

Budge then provides examples from the Pyramid Texts, some of the oldest texts surviving from ancient Egypt, in which the two uses are juxtaposed without any indication that such juxtaposition might seem strange in any way. For example, from the tomb of Pepi I (circa 2289 BC to 2255 BC), he quotes:

sesep-nek aru neter aaa-k am xer neteru

Thou hast received the form of God, thou hast become great therewith before the gods.
What is going on here? There are other examples from the ancients, such as the fragments of the pre-Socratic philosopher Xenophanes (c. 570 BC - c. 475 BC), whose declarations about the nature of the gods are somewhat more blunt. After criticizing the conception of gods and goddesses whose activities seem to be composed of "all things that are a shame and a disgrace among mortals, stealings and adulteries and deceivings of one another," Xenophanes declares in a rather profound statement "one god, greatest among gods and men, not at all like mortals in body or in thought. Whole he sees, whole he thinks, and whole he hears. But completely without toil he shakes all things by the thought of his mind" (this last part is the translation of J. H. Lesher).

One possible explanation for these very curious statements from the ancients is intimated in the observation from de Santillana and von Dechend's Hamlet's Mill that we have quoted previously in this post. They note that "the constellations were seen as the setting, or the dominating influences, or even only the garments at the appointed time by the Powers in various disguises on their way through their heavenly adventures" (177). These Powers of which they speak were the planets -- the gods. De Santillana and von Dechend propose that the gods were named after the planets, not the planets after the gods; there is a profound difference.

While it is certainly true that the planets (and the gods) were worshiped in ancient times, if we substitute the word "planets" (the "active powers" in the heavens) for gods in the discussion at the beginning of this post, we would have no problems, even in our modern sensibilities. It would not seem strange at all for a preacher in a sermon to speak of "God" and then mention "planets" in the next sentence.

This may be something of an over-simplification, and there is certainly more to the topic than just this one angle, but it is a useful angle to consider.

There is a lot to think about in this subject.