Where we attempt to fill you in on everything they forgot to teach you at school

Antediluvian World: Sunken Myths and Realities

Atlantis Map

Aeon Magazine has a wonderful piece on humanity's fascination with stories of submerged civilisations, and the surprising 'modern' discovery that ancient peoples did once walk the plains beneath our seas:

In 1931, a trawler called the Colinda sank its nets into the North Sea, 25 miles off the coast of Norfolk, and dredged up an unlikely artefact — a handworked antler, 21cm long, with a set of barbs running along one side. Archeologists identified it as a prehistoric harpoon and dated it to the Mesolithic age, when sea levels around Britain were more than 100 metres lower than they are today, and the island’s sunken rim, at least according to some, was a fertile plain.

As long ago as the 10th century, astute observers noted that Britain’s coastlines were fringed with trees, visible only at low tide. Traditionally, the ‘drowned forests’ were regarded as evidence of Noah’s flood — relics of an antediluvian world whose destruction is recorded in the most enduring of all the stories of great floods that sweep the earth and drown its people. At the beginning of the 20th century, another explanation was proposed by the geologist Clement Reid. In his book Submerged Forests (1913), Reid argued that ‘nothing but a change in sea level will account’ for the position of trees stretching from the high water mark ‘to the level of the lowest spring tide’. Observations on the east coast of England led him to conclude that the Thames and Humber estuaries were once ‘flanked by a plain, lying some 40-60 feet below the modern marsh surface’.

Turning his attention to a substance known as ‘moorlog’, dredged up from the bed of the North Sea at Dogger Bank, Reid identified nothing less than a time capsule. Moorlog consists of the compacted remains of animal bones, shells, wood, and lumps of peat, and Reid’s sample contained a variety of bones, including bear, wolf, hyena, bison, mammoth, beaver, walrus, elk and deer. He concluded that ‘Noah’s woods’ once stretched far beyond the shore, with Dogger Bank forming the ‘edge of a great alluvial plain, occupying what is now the southern half of the North Sea, and stretching across to Holland and Denmark’.

The Colinda antler appeared to confirm Reid’s theory, for it came from a freshwater deposit, meaning that it had not been dropped by a sea voyager, but by someone living in the landscape. According to Vincent Gaffney, Simon Fitch and David Smith — the trio of archaeologists at the University of Birmingham who have made the most sustained attempts to build on Reid’s research — this was ‘the first real evidence that the North Sea had been part of a great plain inhabited by the last hunter-gatherers in Europe’.

The area, now called Doggerland, was gradually submerged as the last Ice Age came to an end, and the melting glaciers raised sea levels. Only around 5,500 BCE did Britain finally become an island. The rediscovery of the great plain that formerly connected it to mainland Europe is one of the most remarkable scientific stories of the past decade, yet there is a sense in which it should not come as a surprise at all. Doggerland addresses one of our oldest preoccupations; for we have always told stories about lost civilisations, hidden beneath the waves.

Full article: "Out of the deep", at Aeon Magazine.

World's Oldest Calendar Discovered?

Scottish Calendar

Archaeologists working in Scotland have uncovered what they believe is the world's oldest lunar 'calendar' (so far discovered), created some 10,000 years ago - 5000 years earlier than the first calendars of the 'cradle of civilisation' in the ancient Near East:

Excavations of a field at Crathes Castle found a series of 12 pits which appear to mimic the phases of the moon and track lunar months. A team led by the University of Birmingham suggests the ancient monument was created by hunter-gatherers about 10,000 years ago.

The pit alignment, at Warren Field, was first excavated in 2004. The experts who analysed the pits said they may have contained a wooden post.

The Mesolithic "calendar" is thousands of years older than previous known formal time-measuring monuments created in Mesopotamia.

...The pit alignment also aligns on the Midwinter sunrise to provided the hunter-gatherers with an annual "astronomic correction" in order to better follow the passage of time and changing seasons.

Vince Gaffney, Professor of Landscape Archaeology at Birmingham, led the analysis project.

He said: "The evidence suggests that hunter-gatherer societies in Scotland had both the need and sophistication to track time across the years, to correct for seasonal drift of the lunar year and that this occurred nearly 5,000 years before the first formal calendars known in the Near East.

"In doing so, this illustrates one important step towards the formal construction of time and therefore history itself."

The site was excavated by archaeologists after unusual crop marks were spotted from the air by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS).

The analysis has been published in the journal, Internet Archaeology, and can be read online for a fee.

Update: Here's some video from the University of Birmingham describing the site and the excavation:

Link: "'World's oldest calendar' discovered in Scottish field" (BBC News)

Link: "Time and a Place: A luni-solar 'time-reckoner' from 8th millennium BC Scotland" (Internet Archaeology, fee required)

Vale Michael Baigent, 1948 - 2013

Michael Baigent Holy Bloody Holy Grail The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown Jesus Christ

The sad news has been confirmed by the New Zealand Herald. Michael Baigent, Kiwi, historian, and father of four, suffered a fatal brain haemorrhage at a Brighton hospital in England on Wednesday. He was 65.

With co-authors Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, Michael Baigent revolutionised the alternative history scene with the publishing of Holy Blood, Holy Grail in 1982. Did Jesus Christ have children with Mary Magdalene, and does his bloodline survive to this day? This controversial theory not only caught the wrath of the Vatican, but inspired thriller author Dan Brown, who used it for the plot of The Da Vinci Code. Baigent and Richard Leigh filed a lawsuit against Random House, Brown's publisher, claiming plagiarism of their work (however, co-author Henry Lincoln refused to join them). They lost, and were ordered to pay 85 per cent of Random House's legal costs (about £1.3 million at the time). Baigent's youngest daughter, Tansy, told the NZ Herald how much it cost them personally:

Tansy wrote:
There was a lot of stress, his partner Richard Leigh died immediately after and my father, within six months, had to have a liver transplant because he was so unwell from the trauma of the experience.

Since then he has been living in rented accommodation because he lost all of our money and had nothing, so it's been a terrible time and a hard time. The legal battle was something he didn't want to be remembered for but it has been such a weight, it really ripped him apart because all he was seeking was some credibility for the work he had spent so many years doing."

The Daily Grail might have been a completely different beast without Holy Blood, Holy Grail. The book played a part in inspiring Graham Hancock, Robert Bauval, Lynn Picknett, Clive Prince, and countless others. So we tip our hats in gratitude and thank Michael for his books that made us think and question and seek, whatever our own personal Grails may be.

Robert Bauval posted this tribute on his Facebook page:

UNCONFIRMED NEWS.

Author and dear friend Michael Baigent passed away last night. I have known Michael for many years. I remember with great nostalgia the amazing trip we shared in Egypt in 1998. Michael (with co-authors Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln ) published The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail in 1982, a huge book that even inspired Dan Brown's blockbuster Da Vinci Code.

Michael was a kind and gentle man, and a great writer. He was the real thing, original and with fine virtues and integrity, who wrote responsibly after carefully researching his subject. He was a Renaissance Man, a Gnostic on a quest for the divine spark. I had much admiration and respect for him.

You have left us, Michael, but your divine spark, your light, will always glow in the wonderful books you wrote fur us.

From Graham Hancock:

Michael was a good man, a creative innovator, and a great spirit. Dan Brown and Random House have their hundreds of millions of dollars from the success of The Da Vinci Code but it is Michael who rightly should be remembered by history. Rest in peace, Michael. Rest in honour.

Fellow alternative history author Dr Robert Lomas has also tweeted the following message: "Sad news about Michael Baigent dying. He advised and helped me before I wrote my first book and remained a good friend. RIP Michael".

Thanks to LastLoup for providing updates. Greg's original post edited/updated by Rick.

Aboriginal Oral Traditions of Australian Impact Craters

Wolfe Creek Crater

Following on from last week's story about the use of meteoric iron in ancient Egypt, here's a fascinating paper regarding Aboriginal oral traditions that reference Australian impact craters:

In this paper, we explore Aboriginal traditions relating to Australian impact craters and seek to find out if these traditions describe craters as originating from a cosmic impact. Data used in this paper were collected from ethnographic fieldwork, published ethnographies, historical and ethno-historical documents, linguistic material, and various Aboriginal artworks. This paper represents a treatise of Aboriginal traditions regarding confirmed Australian impact craters and provides new information that has not been reported in the literature.

In the following sections, we describe traditional knowledge regarding Gosses Bluff, Henbury, Liverpool, and Wolfe Creek craters but find none associated with Boxhole, Dalgaranga, or Veevers craters. We are faced with several possibilities to explain the presence or absence of these stories:

  1. The story is based on a witnessed event and was recorded in oral traditions;
  2. The formation of the crater was not witnessed, but was instead deduced and incorporated in oral traditions;
  3. The formation of the crater was not witnessed, and stories explaining it as an impact site are coincidental;
  4. The origin or nature of the crater is not part of a structured oral tradition (Dreaming), but is generically attributed to supernatural elements or grouped in with general landscape features;
  5. Impact stories were influenced by Western science;
  6. Related stories may have once existed but have been lost for whatever reason;
  7. No stories of the crater ever existed.

It is difficult to know which possibility is true in each instance, but we explore each of these with reference to the craters described above in the following sections.

As one example, the researchers mention that Jaru elder Jack Jugarie told a story of the crater's origin shortly before his passing in 1999: "A star bin fall down. It was a small star, not so big. It fell straight down and hit the ground. It fell straight down and made that hole round, a very deep hole. The earth shook when that star fell down".

Read the full paper: "Aboriginal Oral Traditions of Australian Impact Craters", by Duane W. Hamacher, John Goldsmith. (thanks Norman!)

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There's Treasure in Them Thar Pyramids!

Gantenbrink's Door

Zahi Hawass, former supreme ruler of Egypt's antiquities, is back hitting the media hustings, with last week's Smithsonian Magazine feature starting whispers of a comeback, and now LiveScience posting an interview with the (formerly) Great and Powerful Z. It features the the usual Hawassisms, such as "I'm the only one who can really bring the tourists back to Egypt", but readers of this blog will probably be most interested in what he said about the "Gantenbrink Doors":

I really believe that Cheops chamber is not discovered yet and all the three chambers were just to deceive the thieves, and the treasures of Khufu [are] still hidden inside the Great Pyramid, and these three doors could be the key to open this burial chamber. There is no pyramid of the 123 pyramids in Egypt that have these type of doors with copper handles. Really, I believe they're hiding something.

Perhaps Zahi is just trying to drum up some media funding to bring interest back to the treasures of Egypt after a tough few years tied to the removal of former President Mubarek. After all, Hawass is the man who has previously said on a number of occasions that "it's not a door", and "I believe that the shafts from the so-called Queen’s Chamber likely have no function". Nevertheless, he has been peddling this line for a few years now - for example see my story "Return of the Djedi" from a few years back where he said basically the same thing.

Or maybe Zahi's just caught up in this whole Indiana Jones shtick so many media outlets pin on him...

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Ancient Egyptians Mined Iron From Space

Meteor

An interesting story at the Nature website, by the most excellent Jo Marchant, regarding the finding that an iron bead from the very beginnings of Dynastic Egypt has been found to have been made out of a meteorite: "Iron in Egyptian relics came from space".

The 5,000-year-old iron bead might not look like much, but it hides a spectacular past: researchers have found that the ancient Egyptian trinket is made from a meteorite.

The result, published on 20 May in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science, explains how ancient Egyptians obtained iron millennia before the earliest evidence of iron smelting in the region, solving an enduring mystery. It also hints that the ancient Egyptians regarded meteorites highly as they began to develop their religion.

...Researchers have discovered only a handful of ancient Egyptian iron artefacts made before the sixth century BC, when the first evidence for iron smelting in ancient Egypt appears in the archaeological record. All come from high status graves such as that of King Tutankhamun. "Iron was very strongly associated with royalty and power," says Johnson.

Objects made of such divine material were believed to guarantee their deceased owner priority passage into the afterlife.

Campbell Price, a curator of Egypt and Sudan at the Manchester Museum who was not a member of the study team, emphasizes that nothing is known for certain about the Egyptians’ religious beliefs before the advent of writing. But he points out that later on, during the time of the Pharaohs, the gods were believed to have bones made of iron.

Perhaps meteorites originally inspired this belief, he speculates, with these celestial rocks interpreted as the physical remains of gods falling to Earth.

Robert Bauval and Adrian Gilbert wrote about the veneration and use of iron meteorites by the ancient Egyptians in their 1994 book The Orion Mystery - though as they point out in the book, the fact that meteorites played a role in the formation of religious ideas has been known to Egyptologists since 1933, based on the work of British Egyptologist G. A. Wainwright. In The Orion Mystery, Bauval and Gilbert note that "the Ancient Egyptian name for iron was bja...[and] bja is mentioned repeatedly in the Pyramid Texts in connection with the 'bones' of the star kings." For instance, in PT1454 we find the passage "My bones are iron (bja) and my limbs are the imperishable stars."

As these passages show, there was a belief that when the departed kings became stars, their bones became iron, the heavenly material (meteorites) of which the star gods were made. Such cosmic iron objects were the only material evidence of a tangible land in the
sky populated by star souls, and it was easy to see why the stars were thought to be made from bja. Since the souls of departed kings were the stars, they too had bones made of iron.

Bauval and Gilbert also note a number of other similar examples of meteorites being venerated across various cultures:

There is evidence of religious cults based on the veneration of sacred meteorites in the ancient world. It is well known that the Greeks regarded Delphi as the 'navel' of the world. However, the omphalos stone which marked the spot was not the original fetish of Delphi. There was originally a rough stone, believed to have been cast down to earth by the titan Kronos. The Delphians believed their stone to be the one cast down by Kronos and called it Zeus Baetylos, a term usually taken to mean meteorite by historians. Extant drawings show the Zeus Baetylos as ovoid in shape, and about the size of a cannonball. In view of its cosmic origins and characteristic shape, the Zeus Baetylos was almost certainly a meteorite. A similar stone was shown to the historian Pausanias (second century AD) at the town of Gythium, which the locals called Zeus-Kappotas (Zeus fallen down). This was probably also a meteorite. Pliny (AD23-79) also reported that a 'stone which fell from the sun' was worshipped at Potideae and that others had fallen at Aigos-Potamus and at Abydos, near the Hellespont.

The cult of meteorites was particularly rife in Phoenicia and Syria. At Emessa (Horns), for example, was the shrine of the god Ela-Gabal or Elagabalus, where a sacred relic was described as 'a black, conical stone'; the chronicler Herodianus tells us that the Emessians 'solemnly assert it to have fallen from the sky...' Not far from Emessa, in the temple of Zeus-Hadad, at Heliopolis-Baalbek, were 'black conical stones'. Zeus-Casios, a counterpart of Zeus-Hadad, had his abode on Mount Casios and also had a baetylos sacred to him. In ancient Phrygia (central Turkey) the Great Mother of the Gods, Cybele, was represented at the temple of Pessinus by a black stone said to have fallen from the sky.22 The Cybele cult was particularly widespread and was adopted by the Romans who took it as far as France and England.

There are many other examples of meteorite worship in many places of the world. This is quite understandable because ancient man saw the meteorite as the material representation of the sky gods and, perhaps more specifically, the star gods. We surely do not need any further examples to make the point that the Benben Stone kept inside the Temple of the Phoenix may have been a conical meteorite.

I've also heard it said that the Black Stone in the Kaaba at Mecca is a meteorite, but I'm not sure of the source on that. A fascinating topic!

Link: Full story by Jo Marchant at Nature, "Iron in Egyptian relics came from space"

Link: The Orion Mystery (Amazon US / Amazon UK)

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Review - Dan Brown's Inferno

It's easy to be a Dan Brown critic: just laugh down your nose at his overly florid descriptive phrases, complain about other great authors being ignored, and encourage readers to join with you in hating the man and his books. Nearly all such reviews, however, miss the point – Brown's work is not meant for the literati, but simply as page-turning escapism. And that is where he excels - Inferno, by Dan Brownanyone that disputes the man's ability to keep readers up late at night reading 'just one more chapter' obviously hasn't tried to write a book of that type before. It's a talent, and it is what most of Brown's readers want from his work – not to 'work' their way through the novel as some sort of endurance event, but as a sprint, either after work or while on holiday, whisking them away to exotic locations on a thrill-a-minute adventure. The other arrow in Brown's quiver is his ability to take a location with fascinating history behind it, and use it as a city-size puzzle for the reader to try and fit together as the action progresses. Between the page-turning, and the hit of satisfaction to the reader as they complete more of the puzzle, his books are casual-reader-cocaine.

Dan Brown seems well aware of the ridiculousness of his fun thrillers occupying the stratosphere of book-selling – in the new book there seem to be parodic hat-tips to other publishing phenomena 50 Shades of Grey and The Girl Who... series. Certainly, there are plenty of other authors out there with Brown's skills (and more), and this doesn't seem to be something Brown doesn't know. They, however, weren't fortunate enough to hit upon the highly combustible mix that Brown put together with The Da Vinci Code - a combination of page-turner, puzzler, AND one 'big idea' that caught fire: that the Catholic Church covered up secrets, in particular the importance of the 'sacred feminine'. Though the success of that one book guaranteed Dan Brown massive sales of succeeding books regardless of their content, even Brown himself couldn't replicate the alchemy of The Da Vinci Code with his next book, The Lost Symbol, even though he seemed to have all the same ingredients, just with a change of big idea. To many though, it was the oversize helping of the 'big idea' in The Lost Symbol that ruined the mix, overwhelming the taste of the puzzles and making the meal difficult to digest quickly.

So with the release of his latest novel, Inferno, I was interested to see what approach Dan Brown might take to try and recapture the magic of The Da Vinci Code. I knew already that he had selected Florence as the location, and thought it an ingenious choice: the city has historical roots, both orthodox and esoteric, that stretched down as deep as the hell of one of its favourite sons, Dante Alighieri. And speaking of that famous Florentine, Brown also stated he was going to use the great Italian poet's classic of the same name as the basis for the plot of his new book. My expectations were high, and in my fun 'primer' Inside Dan Brown's Inferno, I explored the roads (and back-alleys) of Florentine history that I thought the best-selling author was likely to walk down in his own Inferno.

So how did I go in predicting the elements of Inferno? My chapter on Dante's life and literature would certainly have been helpful to readers of Brown's new novel, giving them essential background material to better understand the references made in the book (his love of Beatrice, his expulsion from Florence, the content of his Inferno, etc.). But those topics were a given really; not so much any sort of psychic skill on my part. In terms of locations in Florence I covered many that Brown placed within his adventure: the Boboli Gardens,

Ancient Ruins, As Seen From Space

Angkor Wat from Space

What sort of view did the ancient aliens have, as they flew back to Nibiru, of the magnificent structures they built?* Check out this nice little gallery of ancient structures as seen from space. If you want to use Google Earth to fly around a bit in each location, check out the latitude/longitude information I posted a fair while back in this Google Earth tour.

Above: Angkor Wat from space.

Below: Angkor Wat from not quite so far above the ground.

Angkor Wat

* Look, I'm not saying it was aliens. But...

Kickstarter: The Henry Lincoln Archive Project

Henry Lincoln

When Dan Brown tasted mega-success with his book The Da Vinci Code (selling upwards of 80 million copies), he did so on the back of seminal research by the team of Henry Lincoln, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, with their book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. But at that time, Brown was just the most recent of a number of authors and artists who had used this book - based on original research by Henry Lincoln in the 1960s - as their inspiration. The entire topic of the Priory of Sion and the mystery of Rennes le Chateau would likely have never 'caught fire' in the English language speaking world without the groundwork laid by Lincoln.

But with Henry now in his 80s, plans are now being made to archive and preserve the original research and documentation related to this influential body of work. For those who would like to assist in this goal, an IndieGoGo fund-raising project is now underway to help set this archive up:

From its inception, one man has been intimately involved in the extraordinary research which has led to changes in the world’s thinking about Christianity, the role of women and … even more importantly … the realization that we have much still to learn about the beliefs, the knowledge and the skills of our remote ancestors.

Now in his ninth decade, the necessity to preserve Henry Lincoln’s archive has become a priority.

Documents, photographs, recordings, books, films, diagrams, scripts, maps and manuscripts demonstrate the growth of the hypotheses and the many detours and stumbling blocks, which have led to new ideas and new attitudes. Future scholars will find that the contents of this archive can help in the understanding of many of the changes in society, which came in the second half of the twentieth century.

Whether Henry Lincoln’s arguments are accepted or not, their effect has been undeniable.

While it would be nice to see someone like Dan Brown chip in for such a worthwhile project, I'm sure there's enough interest in the wider community to get this project to it's goal.

Link: The Henry Lincoln Archive Project on IndieGoGo

The Secret Pi Confirmed

Welp, I got at least one thing right in my book Inside Dan Brown's Inferno. Today on the Wall Street Journal website:

When Dan Brown’s new thriller “Inferno” is published May 14, one thing his readers will look for are clues to solving the puzzles that he sprinkles inside his book and on his dust jackets...

Here’s one tip: it appears certain that Professor Langdon will need to draw upon his old algebra lessons. In a mystery yet to be deciphered, it turns out that the book’s publication date wasn’t chosen by random.

“It is written 5-14-13, which read backwards 3.1415 – the value of pi,” said Suzanne Herz, a Doubleday senior vice president. Ms. Herz declined to reveal how the value of pi relates to the book’s storyline, saying that would be for readers to discover.

Scooped! I posted the video at the top of this story on February 21, and wrote about it in my book (indeed, the fictional 'introduction' to Inside Dan Brown's Inferno is built around this hidden code), after getting the tip from one of the fantastic commenters on The Cryptex ('RalphK').

The inclusion of pi may be related simply to Dante's circles of hell in his Inferno. However, there's other more likely ways that it might be included - notably, the secret history of the ancient sage Pythagoras and his veneration by some of the drivers of the Renaissance. You can find out the full details in Inside Dan Brown's Inferno (did I mention it's only $2.99?).

Click on the cover below to go get a copy:

Inside Dan Brown's Inferno