In discussing the possibility of lost civilisations, the question is often asked: if there was an advanced civilisation in antiquity - say, more than 10,000 years ago - how much evidence would actually be left for us to find? The above video covers this in asking the question, what would happen if humans disappeared from the planet:
After 10,000 years, the only reminiscence that people were here someday, will be the remains of a few stone constructions, among which [would be] the pyramids in Egypt and the Great Wall of China. Mount Rushmore National Memorial will be there almost intact for several hundreds of thousands of years.
In 1922, Howard Carter stunned the world with his discovery of the 'lost tomb' of the Egyptian King Tutankhamun (18th dynasty, 14th C. BCE), still intact with its treasures (and body of the now-famous boy-king) having remained safe from looters over the millennia. Three years into his investigation of the contents of the tomb, Carter found two daggers within the wrapping of Tut's mummy: one on the right thigh, with a blade of iron, and another on the abdomen - this one with a blade of gold.
While for most people the latter might seem the more interesting, it is the dagger with the blade of iron that has been of more interest to archaeologists. In ancient Egypt, minerals such as copper, bronze, and gold were used extensively from the 4th millennium BCE, but - despite the significant amounts of iron ore in the area - iron was very rarely used until the 1st millennium BCE. As such, there has long been a debate as to whether the dagger found on Tut's thigh might have been made out of meteoritic iron, which was highly venerated by the ancient Egyptians.
The dagger, pictured above, is certainly a thing of beauty. At 34.2cm (roughly 14 inches) long, it has a finely manufactured, non-rusted blade of iron, and a handle largely made of fine gold with a rounded knob of rock crystal at the end. Additionally, it was protected by a gold sheath decorated with a floral lily motif on one side and with a feathers pattern on the other side, terminating with a jackal’s head.
But is it from space? Scientists set out to answer that question in a recent study, which has just been published in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science under the title "The meteoritic origin of Tutankhamun’s iron dagger blade" Lead author Daniela Comelli and her team of researchers (thankfully) used a non-destructive technique known as X-ray fluorescence (XRF) to determine the composition of the dagger at two different places on the surface of the blade.
Their analysis - carried out at the Egyptian Museum of Cairo - demonstrated that the two buik constituents of the dagger's blade were iron (Fe) and nickel (Ni), with minor concentrations of cobalt (Co). And, importantly, they found that the nickel contributed around 10.8% of the full weight of the blade:
Iron meteorites are mostly made of Fe and Ni, with minor quantities of Co, P, S, and C, and trace amounts of other siderophile and chalcophile elements...The Ni content in the bulk metal of most iron meteorites ranges from 5 wt% to 35 wt%, whereas it never exceeds 4 wt% in historical iron artifacts from terrestrial ores produced before the 19th century.
[Additionally] the Ni/Co ratio in the dagger blade is consistent with that of iron meteorites.
Their conclusion: "The blade’s high Ni content, along with the minor amount of Co and a Ni/Co ratio of ~20, strongly suggests an extraterrestrial origin".
This finding, along with last year's discovery that a 5000-year-old bead from the beginnings of Dynastic Egypt was also made from the remains of a meteorite, reinforce the idea that the ancient Egyptians attributed great value to iron from meteorites.
In this new paper, the researchers do feel that their finding "provides important insight into the use of the term “iron”, quoted in relationship with the sky in Mesopotamian, Hittite, and Egyptian ancient texts":
Beside the hieroglyphic “bja”, which already existed before the XIX dynasty with a broad meaning (as “mineral, metal, iron”), a new composite term “bja n pt”, literally translated as “iron of the sky,” came into use in the 19th dynasty (13th C. BCE) to describe all types of iron. In the same period, we can note a text at Karnak
probably describing a meteorite. The introduction of the new composite term suggests that the ancient Egyptians, in the wake of other ancient people of the Mediterranean area, were aware that these rare chunks of iron fell from the sky already in the 13th C. BCE, anticipating Western culture by more than two millennia.
I mentioned some fascinating details about the ancient Egyptian veneration of meteorites, sourced from researchers Robert Bauval and Adrian Gilbert, in my post about the beads last year, so I won't discuss it again at length here. But at the end of that post is an interesting hypothesis that wasn't explored much further: could the sacred Egyptian 'Ben-Ben stone' (like other omphalos stones) have originally been a conical meteorite? And, while we're speculating: could its shape have ultimately given rise to the shape of the pyramids?
In 1990, cavers in the the south west of France entered a cave that had been sealed from the outside world for tens of thousands of years by a natural rockslide. 337 metres within the cave, they made a curious find: a mass of broken off stalagmites which seemed to have been arranged into ring or circle shapes on purpose.
In the 1990s archaeologist Francois Rouzard set out to determine whether the constructions in Bruniquel Cave were made by the hands of Neanderthals, but after his premature death from a heart attack in 1999 research ground to halt. But 14 years later, a multi-national team finally did a proper scientific analysis of the structures - and their conclusions are mind-blowing.
Using uranium-series dating of the stalagmite calcite, the researchers found that the structures were built between 175,000 and 177,000 years ago! Neanderthals are believed to have been the only human population living in Europe at this time, and so the researchers have attributed the constructions to them.
Here's the description of the structures:
The arranged structures composed of whole and broken stalagmites, here designated as ‘speleofacts’, are located in the largest chamber of the cave. Our study defines two categories of structures: two annular ones, which are the most impressive, and four smaller stalagmite accumulation structures. The largest annular structure is 6.7 × 4.5 m, and the smaller one is 2.2 × 2.1 m. The accumulation structures consist of stacks of stalagmites and are from 0.55 m to 2.60 m in diameter. Two of them are located in the centre of the larger annular construction, while the other two are outside of it. Overall, about 400 pieces were used, comprising a total length of 112.4 m and an average weight of 2.2 tons of calcite... The stalagmites are well calibrated with a mean length of 34.4 cm for the large (A) and 29.5 cm for the small (B) annular structures, thus strongly suggesting intentional construction.
The annular structures are composed of one to four superposed layers of aligned stalagmites. Notably, some short elements were placed inside the superposed layers to support them. Other stalagmites were placed vertically against the main structure in the manner of stays, perhaps to reinforce the constructions.
Traces of fire were also found to be present on all six of the structures. Carbonized organic material was found, with some of the fragments being the bones of a bear or large herbivore.
The dating of the constructions within Bruniquel Cave is staggering. In terms of megalithic building, Stonehenge dates back around 5000 years; Gobekli Tepe 10,000 years. Completely preserved archaeological sites are rare before 40,000 years ago. And yet here we have a well-preserved site, with signs of intelligent human construction, dating back 175,000 years:
The attribution of the Bruniquel constructions to early Neanderthals is unprecedented in two ways. First, it reveals the appropriation of a deep karst space (including lighting) by a pre-modern human species. Second, it concerns elaborate constructions that have never been reported before, made with hundreds of partially calibrated, broken stalagmites (speleofacts) that appear to have been deliberately moved and placed in their current locations, along with the presence of several intentionally heated zones. Our results therefore suggest that the Neanderthal group responsible for these constructions had a level of social organization that was more complex than previously thought for this hominid species.
For the researchers involved, questions abound. "What was the function of these structures at such a great distance from the cave entrance? Why are most of the fireplaces found on the structures rather than directly on the cave floor? We could assume that they represent some kind of symbolic or ritual behaviour, but could they rather have served for an unknown domestic use or simply as a refuge? Future research will try to answer these questions."
Art is timeless, its beauty as immutable as the North Star. Timelessness can also come from people not having a clue when something was created. Knowing the year of its inception is one thing, as historians can guess at the fashions and trends of the artist's era, but creative types, like poets, are also moved by the seasons.
Sappho of Eresos would be no different than our contemporaries. Rivalling Homer in her stature, and celebrated for her lyrical and lucid style, only fragments of her writing survive in the 21st century. Among Sappho's oeuvre is her Midnight Poem:
The moon has set
And the Pleiades;
It is midnight,
The time is going by,
And I sleep alone.
Bringing us to an astronomical analysis of her poem by Manfred Cuntz (ahem) and his associate Levent Gurdemir. Using a program called Starry Night, they were able to estimate the date Sappho wrote her wistful words. Playing around with their programs, the team deduced Sappho put stylus to tablet sometime between January 25th and March 31st in 570 B.C.E.. 
Had she meant to convey the time and date by noting the moon and the Pleiades set together, then the moon would've been at its first quarter.  Poking around with Stellarium, a free, multi-platform planetarium program, I'd gather the date was Tuesday the 1st of February 570 B.C.E..
While a hopeless romantic, Sappho's poem may have been a wish for extra warmth rather than some nudge-nudge wink-wink say-no-more.
- Scientists use planetarium's advanced astronomical software to accurately date 2,500 year-old lyric poem - http://phys.org/news/2016-05-scientists-...
- The Phases of the Moon - http://www.astro.cornell.edu/academics/c...
- Moon Phases - Rising & Setting Times - http://www.wsanford.com/~wsanford/exo/moonrise-set.html
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Almost three decades after Robert Bauval made headlines - and generated plenty of discussion and debate - with his controversial 'Orion Correlation Theory' (the suggestion that pyramids in Egypt were sited in particular locations in order to resemble the stars in the constellation of Orion), a new story is hitting headlines around the world today claiming that a 'lost' Maya city has been located in the Americas, through the matching of star locations to the placement of ancient cities.
What makes the story even more incredible is that the discoverer is a 15-year-old school student! William Gadoury from Quebec was perplexed as to "why the Maya built their cities away from rivers, on marginal lands and in the mountains", and "as they worshipped the stars" wondered if they might have chosen the location of its towns and cities to mirror the imagery of the sky.
He found Mayan cities lined up exactly with stars in the civilization's major constellations. Studying the star map further, he discovered one city was missing from a constellation of three stars.
Using satellite images provided by the Canadian Space Agency and then mapped on to Google Earth, he discovered the city where the third star of the constellation suggested it would be.
The similarities to Bauval's work don't end there. According to a French-language Wikipedia page the constellation that Gadoury identified with the star that had no corresponding city was the Maya version of Orion. "Three of the stars of this constellation form a triangle, are: Alnitak ( Zeta Orionis ), Rigel (Beta Orionis) and Saiph ( saiph )", it notes, with two of those corresponding to the ancient Mayan cities of Calakmul and El Mirador. But the third star did not correspond to any known Maya site, leading him to assume that - if his city/correlation theory was correct - there would be a 'lost' city hiding in that position. And, using high-resolution satellite imagery, courtesy of the Canadian Space Agency, Gadoury claims to have found exactly that.
Others with more substantial credentials have agreed:
Doctor Armand La Rocque, from the University of New Brunswick, said one image showed a street network and a large square which could possibly be a pyramid. He told The Independent: "A square is not natural, it is mostly artificial and can hardly be attributed to natural phenomena. "If we add these together, we have a lot of indication there might be a Mayan city in the area.".
Sounds exciting as hell, and if true is a stunning discovery about the importance of the night sky to ancient people. But let's also stop and breathe a little. The 'discovery' is currently based on seemingly geometric figures spotted on a satellite photograph - nobody has actually visited the area yet to confirm there is actually a lost city there. Furthermore, even if ancient ruins are discovered where Gadoury claims they should be, does it confirm the constellation correlation theory, or is it just a matter of there being so many sites in the Americas that you can 'join the dots' any way you like? (Though personally, that seems a bridge too far given the amount of corresponding sites he has claimed to have found already.)
What seems a little odd is that this isn't actually a new story - Gadoury first got media attention for his theory as a 13-year-old in 2014 and began searching for the 'lost city' later that year. CBC spoke to Daniel De Lisle of the Canadian Space Agency, who noted that the CSA first came into contact with Gadoury at a conference in 2014 - "at that time William won [a science] exposition, and one of the prizes was for him to present his project at this international conference...his booth was right beside ours; we just chit-chatted with him, and realized there was a high potential for him to make an interesting discovery, and we decided to support him":
William did a first project trying to make a correlation between the locations of the stars with the different constellations, and tried to understand how they could identify the various cities - and he made an almost 90% correlation between the fact that the stars locations could pinpoint the cities.
And one of the studies he did, he found a constellation that had no specific location on the ground. So what the space agency did was provide him with a few images over the area of interest...so he could see with the high-resolution imagery that we provided him with to try and locate this hidden or unknown city.
It could be that archaeologists just haven't treated the claim as a genuine one in the intervening time - given both the 'fringe' nature of the theory, and that it is coming from a teenager. But the coverage being given to the story now should guarantee that it gets more serious investigation.
The next logical step would seem to be to get out there and see if those geometric figures truly are a lost city. If it is...game on!
Update: Gizmodo have posted an article on this same topic, and in recent updates have included skeptical comments by archaeologists and anthropologists. One of those is Mesoamerican expert David Stuart, who in a Facebook post labeled the lost city claim as "false":
The whole thing is a mess -- a terrible example of junk science hitting the internet in free-fall. The ancient Maya didn't plot their ancient cities according to constellations. Seeing such patterns is a rorschach process, since sites are everywhere, and so are stars. The square feature that was found on Google Earth is indeed man-made, but it's an old fallow cornfield, or milpa.
Plenty of people have been having fun lately with face swapping - using mobile cameras and apps to exchange faces with another person in real-time. Inspired, this young guy went to a museum and face-swapped with the statues there...
Look, I'm no expert on ancient magic, but if Hollywood movies have taught me anything, this is just asking for an ancient curse to come to life.
Over the years there have been many great images of the Great Sphinx and Pyramids in Egypt, but this 1864 photo by Antonio Beato may be the best ever. Now over 150 years old, it shows a diplomatic mission from Japan dressed in full samurai regalia - swords and all - standing in front of the Great Sphinx.
The Second Japanese Embassy to Europe, also called the Ikeda Mission, was sent on December 29, 1863 by the Tokugawa shogunate. The head of the mission was Ikeda Nagaoki, governor of small villages of Ibara, Bitchū Province (Okayama Prefecture). The assistant head of the mission was Kawazu Sukekuni.
The objective of the mission was to obtain French agreement to the closure of the harbour of Yokohama to foreign trade. The mission was sent following the 1863 "Order to expel barbarians" enacted by Emperor Kōmei, and the Bombardment of Shimonoseki incidents, in a wish to close again the country to Western influence, and return to sakoku status. The task proved impossible, as Yokohama was the center of foreign presence in Japan since the opening of the country by Commodore Perry in 1854.
On the way to France, the mission visited Egypt, where the members of the mission were photographed posing before the Sphinx by Antonio Beato, brother of the famous photographer Felice Beato. The members of the mission were abundantly photographed in Paris by Nadar.
The mission returned to Japan in failure, on July 22, 1864.
Fantastic image of an amazing location - right up there in my list of favourites with this 1920 photograph of two elegant ladies viewing an Egyptian sunset from the top of the Great Pyramid.
A couple of weeks ago I posted a couple of short, interesting films on the so-called 'Bosnian Pyramid', and stone-working in ancient Egypt. The maker of those two films, Alex Mott, has now made another film available, this time on the mysteries of ancient India (which features a cameo from Robert Bauval):
Alex Mott visits India on the trail of the Vedas and ancient stone working techniques. As with sites in Egypt and around the world, the physical evidence is right in front of you - but how they did it is still a mystery.
Whether you agree with Alex's theories or not, it's a fascinating look into a too-often-overlooked ancient civilisation.
Is Our View of History Wrong? New Research Group Aims to Investigate the Evidence for an Advanced Ancient CivilisationPosted by Greg at 03:17, 24 Mar 2016
Is the orthodox view of the rise of civilisation wrong? For many years, a number of 'alternative' historians have put forward the view that there is enough evidence to suggest that an advanced civilisation existed in prehistory, but through some cataclysm disappeared in the mists of time. And, in recent years, archaeological discoveries such as the truly ancient megalithic site of Göbekli Tepe have continued to add substance to that view.
Geologist Robert Schoch - famous for his 'redating' of the Great Sphinx of Egypt, based on evidence of water eroision - is now, with a number of colleagues, aiming to take research into this idea to the next level. He has just announced the formation of 'ORACUL' ('Organization for the Research of Ancient Cultures'), a non-profit 501c devoted to investigation and discussion of these 'forbidden history' ideas:
The scientific debate surrounding the origins of human civilization is far from settled. Independent research by scholars and professionals in the hard sciences has begun to challenge the accepted narrative of civilization’s beginnings. Today, there is a large body of evidence from a myriad of fields which argues convincingly for a revision of that narrative – pushing back the timeline for advanced culture by thousands of years.
Opposed by many orthodox scholars (whose interests are served by maintaining the status quo), serious scientists and professionals who attempt to bring attention to this contrary evidence are often ignored and ridiculed. Handicapped by a lack of funding, publicity, and professional networking, breakthrough research related to ancient cultures continues to languish in relative obscurity.
ORACUL works to bring this existing research to the attention of both the academic community and the public, as well as conducting new investigations into ancient cultures. This pioneering research involves not only professionals in the hard sciences, but also serious, out-of-the-box thinking in other disciplines. ORACUL will accomplish this goal by focusing on three primary areas of activity: Research Advocacy, Publishing, and Educational Outreach.
Here's a video introduction from Robert:
Link: ORACUL Online
In discussions of the staggering age of the Turkish megalithic site of Göbekli Tepe (circa 10,000 BCE), mention is often made of the large gap in time between the erection of these stones, and other ancient sites such as Stonehenge and the Giza pyramids in Egypt (circa 2500 BCE). However, there were other megalithic constructions in that intervening time - and some of those were truly on a grand scale.
On a recent trip to France - in particular the famous Carnac stone alignments - I was pleasantly surprised to come across a truly ancient, and truly massive, megalith that I had not heard about before. The ‘Grand Menhir’ at Locmariaquer, only a short drive from Carnac, is said to have been erected around 4700 BCE - and at some 20 metres in length, and close to 300 tonnes in weight, is one of the largest stones ever used by the megalith builders of Europe!
During the tour of the Locmariaquer site - which also includes the Er-Grah tumulus passage grave and a (reconstructed) dolmen known as the Table des Marchand - we were told that the massive megaltih unfortunately was ‘only’ standing for 700 years, with archaeologists believing it was toppled around 4000 BCE (either intentionally by man, or via an earthquake). It’s funny how the relative spans of time concerning such ancient structures convert our thinking - ‘only’ standing for 700 years!
The stone must have been something impressive when standing. Unfortunately, the manner in which it now lies on the ground - with stones at almost right angles to each other - and the landscaping of the site in which it sits, makes it difficult to get a real feel for how huge it was. Here are a couple of shots from different directions, with my daughter in the picture, to try and convey more of a sense of it’s size:
Geological research suggests the Grand Menhir was brought to its present location from at least 10km away, and was ground and pounded into a desired shape. What’s more, excavations have revealed a line of other stone-filled pits that decrease in size for some 50 metres, suggesting the Grand Menhir may have been just one of many menhirs placed in alignment for some reason, with the missing menhirs having been used for construction elsewhere in the intervening years.
Why was it built? This remains a mystery, though there have been a number of theories. Alexander Thom suggested its great size may have allowed it to be used as as a marker that could be observed from other sites in the area, used for tracking the lunar cycle. Archaeoastronomer Clive Ruggles has, however, pointed out this theory as one example of the dangers of “selectively scouring the landscape for suitable alignments…conflating archaeological features of all ages, often together with natural features in the landscape” Ruggles notes that Thom’s alignments were arrived at “by traversing eight relevant directions in search of suitable candidate backsights while ignoring other directions”.
I’ve found it difficult to learn more about the site, as much of the archaeological research appears to be in the French language. So if there is anybody out there with more knowledge of the recent research into the Locmariaquer site, please do take the time to comment.
Between this site, the endless lines at Carnac, the nearby megaliths of Gavrinis (now on an island, though not so when constructed), and many other little-known locations in the area, I highly recommend spending a couple of days touring this amazing part of Frannce if you get the chance!