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

Ancient Amazonian People Built Massive Circular Structures Before the Rainforest Existed

Ancient Earthworks in Amazon

Two mysteries for the price of one: were some parts of the Amazon rainforests actually grassy plains just a few thousand years ago, and why (and how) were the ancient people of that area building massive circular earthworks? Environmental scientist John Francis Carson and his colleagues are trying to find the answers:

A series of square, straight and ringlike ditches scattered throughout the Bolivian and Brazilian Amazon were there before the rainforest existed, a new study finds.

...Since the 1980s, deforestation has revealed massive earthworks in the form of ditches up to 16 feet (5 meters) deep, and often just as wide... These human-made structures remain a mystery: They may have been used for defense, drainage, or perhaps ceremonial or religious reasons.

Carson and his colleagues wanted to explore the question of whether early Amazonians had a major impact on the forest. They focused on the Amazon of northeastern Bolivia, where they had sediment cores from two lakes nearby major earthworks sites. These sediment cores hold ancient pollen grains and charcoal from long-ago fires, and can hint at the climate and ecosystem that existed when the sediment was laid down as far back as 6,000 years ago.

An examination of the two cores — one from the large lake, Laguna Oricore, and one from the smaller lake, Laguna Granja — revealed a surprise: The very oldest sediments didn't come from a rainforest ecosystem at all. In fact, the Bolivian Amazon before about 2,000 to 3,000 years ago looked more like the savannas of Africa than today's jungle environment.

Link: Mysterious Earthen Rings Predate Amazon Rainforest

Paper (Abstract): "Environmental impact of geometric earthwork construction in pre-Columbian Amazonia"

A Match made in Heaven: Graham Hancock and the Massive Megaliths of Baalbek

Trilithon stone at Baalbek

The massive megaliths found at the Temple of Jupiter at Baalbek always make for my all-time favourite "WTF?!" images of ancient sites. I posted the historical image above a while back here on the Grail just to share the love, but now we've perhaps got an even better one: our good friend Graham Hancock has posted an image to Facebook of him atop one of the Baalbek megaliths, taken by his wonderful photographer wife, Santha Faiia:


The visit to Baalbek is a part of Graham's research for his upcoming 'sequel' to the best-selling Fingerprints of the Gods, titled Magicians of the Gods. Be sure to like his Facebook page (you can do so by clicking the Like button in the image above) or follow him on Twitter for ongoing updates regarding his research. And of course, you can read much more about Graham and his body of work at his official website.

A Gnostic Vision of the Conquest: A Review of Graham Hancock's War God

[Before you read this book review, know that I not only intend to offer my opinion on the novel, but also explore the historical events of the Mexican Conquest in some depth. If you are a complete neophyte in the topic & want to enjoy Graham's War God without 'spoilers', then I suggest you close this link & open the Amazon page to order it instead, since my ultra-ultra short review is "I liked it, get the book" anyway --same goes for anyone daunted by the prospect of reading a 3000+-word-long essay, which will only reinforce your decision to buy War God. For the undecided (and the masochists) please enjoy]

Broken spears lie in the roads;
We have torn our hair in our grief
The houses are roofless now, and their walls
Are red with blood.

Worms are swarming in the streets and plazas,
And the walls are spattered with gore
The water has turned red, as if it were dyed
And when we drink it,
It has the taste of brine

We have pounded our hands in despair
Against the adobe walls,
For our inheritance, our city, is lost and dead
The shields of our warriors were its defense.
But they could not save it.

We have chewed dry twigs and salt grasses:
We have filled our mouths with dust and bits of adobe.
We have eaten lizards, rats and worms
When we had meat, we ate it almost raw.
[...]
Weep my people
Know that with these disasters
We have lost the Mexican nation
The water has turned bitter
Our food is bitter
These are the acts of the Giver of Life.

~From the book The Broken Spears, chapter XV

As a literary fan, I honestly don't know which would be harder: To write a completely fictional story, or a fictionalized account of a true historical event. The open-ended freedom of pure fiction could turn into a double-edged sword in the hands of an inexperienced writer; whereas with fictionalized events, you wouldn't be allowed to surprise the reader by deviating too much from what was actually recorded in the History books – unless you're Quentin Tarantino, that is.

Which is why I was very interested in reading Graham Hancock's War God, his second published work of fiction & a novelized exploration of an event I probably know better than most: The Spanish Conquest of Mexico in the 16th century. ... Read More »

Did the Great Sphinx of Egypt Originally Have a Different Head?

The Great Sphinx and the Giza Pyramids

It's too small. That's the problem that many see with the head of the Great Sphinx at Giza in Egypt: proportionately, it's much too small for the massive leonine body that it sits upon. Does this suggest that once, way back in antiquity, it originally had a different head...like that of a lion?

English geologist Colin Reader is one who thinks so, and in the video he cites another strange fact about the Sphinx's head as evidence for the theory:

We know for most of its life the Sphinx has been buried up to the shoulders and neck in sand. I've seen other places at Giza, the sand tends to protect the rocks that are buried beneath it.

The head's been exposed for almost the entire life of the Sphinx. It's been exposed to wind-blown sand, the effect of the Sun...if anything, the head should be more degraded than the body, but we see the reverse. And for me, there's only one real explanation for that. And that's that the head has been recut.

At a later stage, whatever was there originally, was retrimmed and reprofiled, to give us this pharaoh's head. The inescapable conclusion from that, is that originally this wasn't a Sphinx at all. It started life as something different.

The video goes on to cite more possible evidence for the theory, including an ancient Sphinx sculpture in the Cairo museum that also shows signs of having been recut from its original shape to give it the head of a pharaoh.

Incidentally, Colin Reader also - like fellow geologist Robert Schoch - believes that the Sphinx is older than orthodox Egyptology thinks it is - although his theory is far less radical than Schoch's, redating the famous monument only a few hundred years, rather than thousands. See Reader's journal article "Giza Before the Fourth Dynasty", or this more casual explanation of his ideas, for more detail.

(via @SmithsonianMag)

Dinosaurs and Dragon Bones

 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

"Eric Prokopi, 39, was sentenced by US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein for smuggling a 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus skeleton from Mongolia into the United States by making false statements to US officials, including that the then-unassembled bones were merely reptile fossils from Great Britain.

Once assembled, the skeleton was sold by Dallas-based Heritage Auctions for more than $1 million before it was seized by the U.S. government and returned to Mongolia."

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnew...

Robert Plot's 1677 work The Natural History of Oxford-shire featured a drawing of the bone of a giant dug up by Plot himself. The image is now recognised as one of the earliest known western illustrations of a dinosaur bone.

In 1811, at the age of twelve, Mary Anning and her brother Joseph dug up a four foot skull on the Blue Lias cliffs in Lyme Regis in Dorset. A few months later, Mary found the rest of the skeleton. Henry Hoste Henley of Sandringham, Norfolk, who was lord of the manor of Colway, near Lyme Regis, paid the family twenty-three pounds for it. Hoste then sold the skeleton to William Bullock, a well-known collector, who displayed it in London. Mary Anning's family were fossil hunters who would sell the curiosities they found to tourists visiting the area. Once considered little more than a mud-lark, today Mary is recognised as one of the most important figures in 19th century palaeontology.

It was not until 1824 that William Buckland - president of the Geological Society of London - wrote the first full account of a dinosaur detailing the discovery of fossilised giant reptile bones from a creature which he christened Megalosaurus ("great lizard").

The taxon Dinosauria (from which we get the word dinosaur) was formally named in 1842 by paleontologist Sir Richard Owen, who used it to refer to the "distinct tribe or sub-order of Saurian Reptiles" whose fossilised remains were by now being being discovered and catalogued around the world.

By the the latter half of the 19th century fossils were being discovered and catalogued with such ferocity that in America two palaeontologists - Edward Drinker Cope of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, and Othniel Charles Marsh of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale - became bitter rivals. These former colleagues became engaged in what came to be known as the Bone Wars - between 1877 and 1892, both paleontologists used their wealth and influence to finance their own expeditions and to procure services and dinosaur bones from fossil hunters. By the end of the Bone Wars, both men had exhausted their funds in the pursuit of paleontological supremacy.

Long, long before Plot unearthed his giant's bone -circa 300 BC - the Chinese book Shennong Bencao Jing ("Divine Farmer's Materia Medica") documented the medicnal use of "dragon bones" ("longgu") and "dragon teeth" ("longchi"):

"Dragon bone is sweet and balanced. It mainly treats heart and abdominal demonic influx, spiritual miasma, and old ghosts; it also treats cough and counterflow of qi, diarrhea and dysentery with pus and blood, vaginal discharge, hardness and binding in the abdomen, and fright epilepsy in children. Dragon teeth mainly treats epilepsy, madness, manic running about, binding qi below the heart, inability to catch one's breath, and various kinds of spasms. It kills spiritual disrupters. Protracted taking may make the body light, enable one to communicate with the spirit light, and lengthen one's life span."

Dragon bone is still used in Chinese medicine today. In 2002 samples of dragon bone and dragon tooth obtained from the market place were analysed by several Chinese institutes. The results showed that they contained the bones of stegodons (long-legged saber-toothed elephants), wooly mammoths, wooly rhinoceros, and hipparions (three-toed horses) among other long extinct species. [1]

In 2006 Li Chui, a farmer in Shaping Village in Ruyang County, central China's Henan Province, unearthed a large quantity of dragon bones - enough, he thought, to make him quite a bit of money at the then going rate of 1.4 yuan per kg. The dealer who Li Chui spoke to about selling the bones reported the find to the Beijing-based Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Scientists from the institute spent the next two years on the site. They concluded that the bones belonged to Asia's tallest and heaviest dinosaur that may have lived as long ago as one hundred million years. They named it the Yellow River Dinosaur.[2]

Few (if any) would argue that it is wrong to want to preserve the remains of these amazing creatures which are, after all, finite - there are only so many bones embedded in ancient rock and buried beneath the earth. Some, however, say that with so many people wanting to own fossils there's a danger that we could all lose out. In a recent article on io9.com, scientist and columnist Mika McKinnon wrote "A privately-owned fossil is like privately-owned art, a collectable lost from public view for the pleasure of a special few. While I understand that is exactly the appeal of being rich and privileged, it seems deeply unfair to hide something created by our planet away from public access [...] When a beautiful fossil that has high scientific value is purchased by a collector for their personal enjoyment, that scientific utility is lost to the entire planet." [3]

We've come an amazingly long way in a short few hundred years in our understanding of dinosaurs via their remains. It's tragic enough that many fossils have already been ground down or boiled away in the name of medicine, it would be awful to think that one day the most magnificent which survive might only be viewed by a wealthy elite. Becoming as rare and legendary to the average person as dragon's bones.

[1] http://www.itmonline.org/arts/dragonbone...

[2] http://www.bjreview.com.cn/science/txt/2...

[3] http://io9.com/fossil-poaching-and-the-b...

The Hidden Paintings of Angkor Wat Revealed

Angkor Wat

Modern technology has allowed researchers to reveal previously invisible ancient imagery on the walls of the spectacular Cambodian monument of Angkor Wat:

Noel Hidalgo Tan, a rock-art researcher from Australia, was working on an excavation at Angkor Wat in 2010 when bits of the red pigment caught his eye. He took some photos with a bright flash. Then he put his photos through through decorrelation stretch analysis, which exaggerate the colour contrast. The technique is commonly used to enhance rock art as well as NASA’s Opportunity Rover’s Martian landscapes.

All of a sudden, monkeys, elephants, boats and buildings leapt out from the walls. Tan eventually found 200 of these paintings all over the temple... One particular stretch on the highest tier in Angkor Wat’s central tower features elaborate scenes with musical instruments and people on horseback.

'Invisible' paintings of Angkor Wat revealed

Archaeologists believe the murals were painted centuries after Angkor Wat was constructed, as a number show Buddhist iconography (the monument was a Hindu temple until the late 12th century).

Link: Algorithm Reveals 200 Lost Paintings On Angkor Wat's Ancient Walls

Original Paper: The Hidden Paintings of Angkor Wat

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Oak Apple Day: The Merry Month of May Meets its End

The Garland King and Queen, Castleton, Derbyshire

May is an important month in the British folklore calendar, falling as it does midway between spring equinox and summer solstice. It is the month when the rising sap reaches its culmination; buds become blooms, lambs are in the field, and chicks are in the nest. The Old English name for the month was Þrimilci-mōnaþ (“month of three milkings”) while the modern name is thought by some to derive from the pre-Christian goddess Maia to whom a pregnant sow would be ritually sacrificed on the first of the month. Associations with fertility and with plenty are abundantly clear in both cases.

Although many surviving customs such as the crowning of May Queens (young women picked for their beauty and virtue to act as May personified for the day), dancing around the Maypole (a relic of pre-historic dendrolatry, or phallic pagan fertility symbol, depending on who you ask/believe), and so on, chiefly take place on May Day there are many varied traditions spread throughout the month. As we approach May’s end we come upon a curious cluster of events centred upon today’s date - the 29th.

In 1660 British Parliament declared the 29th of May a public holiday in commemoration Charles II’s escape after the Battle of Worcester nine years earlier. Charles II is said to have evaded capture by Parliamentarians by climbing an oak tree (The Royal Oak in Boscobel Wood, Shropshire) and hiding amongst its leaves, so the holiday came to be nicknamed Oak Apple Day.

Around Dorset, Oak Apple Day was once known as Shit-Sack Day or Shick-Sack Day. There was a custom of adorning the door of one’s home with oak leaves on the day and Oak Apple loyalists would visit any undecorated house and place a wreath of stinging nettles on the door singing:
“Shit Sack, penny a rag
Bang his head in Cromwell’s bag
All done up in a bundle”
Similarly, people not seen to be wearing a sprig of oak themselves were sometimes beaten with nettles or pelted with eggs.

At All Saints Church, Northampton (www.allsaintsnorthampton.co.uk) a statue of King Charles II which sits on the parapet of the portico is garlanded with oak leaves at noon every Oak Apple day. Underneath the statue is the inscription This Statue was erected in memory of King Charles II who gave a thousand tun of timber towards the rebuilding of this church and to this town seven years chimney money collected in it.
During the English Civil War, Northampton – with an already long history of religious dissent – supported the Parliamentarians; even providing boots for Cromwell’s New Model Army. After regaining the throne, Charles II went so far as to take revenge upon Northampton by ordering the destruction of the town walls and the partial demolition of its castle. Despite all this, the Earl of Northampton had remained a friend and confident of Charles’ throughout the interregnum and it was he who persuaded the King to contribute the timber and repeal seven year’s chimney tax in order to build the church. The decoration of Charles’ statue is followed by a celebration of the Holy Communion according to the Book of Common Prayer - a book whose use was famously outlawed under Cromwell.

Maypole dancing at the Downton Cuckoo Fair. near to Downton, Wiltshire

Traditional May Day celebrations had very much fallen out of favour during the interregnum of England, Scotland and Ireland – a period of which began with the execution of Charles I in January 1649 and was ended in July 1660 Charles II, took to the throne. During this period maypole dancing was outlawed, denounced as “a Heathenish vanity, generally abused to superstition and wickedness” by Oliver Cromwell’s Puritans. So it was that many of the former May Day customs came to be re-adopted and incorporated as part of the new Oak Apple Day celebrations.

In Castleton, Derbyshire (www.castleton.co.uk) the 29th is Garland King Day. The Garland King rides a cart-horse wearing a large wooden frame completely covered in flowers and greenery so that only his legs are visible. At the apex of the King’s floral finery is fixed a posy of especially fine flowers and this is known as the Queen. Following the King is a second Queen, on horseback like himself. Up until 1956 the Queen (or 'the Woman' as she was then) was always a man in female dress. The Garland King leads a procession which makes its way through the village, via the six public houses (naturally), into the churchyard. There the great garland is hoisted up on ropes to the top of the church tower, and the Queen posy is laid at the foot of the village War Memorial.

In Aston on Clun, Shropshire, May 29th is Arbour Day (www.arbordayuk.co.uk). A Black Poplar tree which stands at the centre of the village is dressed with flags each Arbour Day. The ceremony’s origins are claimed by the village to have their roots in ancient tree-dressing rites dedicated to Brigid, the Celtic Goddess of Fertility. On Arbor Day in Aston on Clun in 1786, local Squire John Marston of the Oaker Estate married Mary Carter of Sibdon. They arrived back at the Arbor Tree to see it dressed with flags, and the villagers having fun. The Marstons were so taken with the joy of the celebrations that they set up a trust to pay for the care of the tree and the flags, until the mid 1950’s, when Hopesay Parish Council took up the task. In 1995, the 300+ year old Black Poplar tree was toppled in a fierce storm. It was replaced by a sapling which had been taken from the tree twenty years earlier, and it is this thirty-nine year old tree which now takes centre stage.

On the 29th villagers of Wishford in Wiltshire celebrate the right to collect wood from the nearby Forest of Grovely which was granted in the Middle Ages, and confirmed by the Forest Court in 1603. An oak bough is taken, decorated and then hanged from the tower of Saint Giles' Church. In order to maintain their charter, the villagers must proclaim their right at a special ceremony in Salisbury Cathedral, where they repeat the ancient refrain: "Grovely, Grovely and all Grovely!". A banner emblazoned with the same slogan is paraded through the village before dancing, drinking and feasting take place.

So, praise Bridgid the exalted one! All hail the mighty trees and their spirits! God Save the King! And a very happy Shit-Sack Day to you, one and all!

Vandalism in the Great Pyramid: The Focus Shifts to Zahi Hawass

The Khufu Cartouche, Before and After

Late last year we reported on a case of alleged vandalism in the Great Pyramid of Giza. According to reports, two German researchers investigating the age of the famous monument chipped some of the red paint off the only royal cartouche to be found anywhere within the pyramid. As a consequence of the alleged vandalism, six Egyptians were jailed in February for their role in allowing the vandalism to take place.

But according to Egypt researcher Robert Bauval, there is evidence that clearly shows that the samples of paint that are now missing from the cartouche disappeared sometime between 2004 and 2006, when Zahi Hawass, the former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities, was in charge of the Giza Plateau. The evidence is in the form of photos taken by another researcher of ancient Egypt, geologist Robert Schoch (see image at the top of this post):

Dr. Zahi Hawass, the ex-minister of Antiquities, gave an interview to Masry El Youm on the 10th December 2013 in which he accused the Germans of stealing the Cartouche of Khufu and demanding that they and the 6 Egyptians who allegedly assisted them be severely punished. Hawass also accused the new Minister of Antiquities of being responsible for this crime. But a week later, on the 17 December 2013, inspectors of antiquities investigated the Relief Chamber in the Great Pyramid and found that the Cartouche was still there, although some paint sample had been scrapped off. This can be clearly seen from the three white marks on the top left part of the Cartouche. The inspectors presented official photographs of the Cartouche to the Minister of Antiquities, Dr. Mohammad Ibrahim (see photo. 1).

In March 2014 the author Robert Bauval and professor Dr. Robert Schoch of Boston University provided official photographs from 2006 to the Minister of Antiquities, Mohammad Ibrahim, showing that the Cartouche was exactly the same as in the photographs of December 2013 supplied by the Inspectors. Dr. Schoch also provided another official photograph taken in 2004 showing that the Cartouche was untouched. These official photographs prove conclusively that the sample of paint from the Cartouche was taken between 2004 and 2006, when Dr. Zahi Hawass was responsible for the Giza Pyramids. There is also official photographic and video evidence that Dr. Hawass inspected the Cartouche several times after 2006 but omitted to report the crime.

Although a new investigation has been approved by the Dr. Mohammad Ibrahim on the 27 March 2014, no action has been taken so far, and the 6 innocent Egyptians remain in jail. It is hope that a new investigation will be carried out as soon as possible so that the truth about the Cartouche is confirmed and that these innocent men be freed.

I'm not sure that this new evidence completely exonerates those involved - after all, the two German researchers still really shouldn't have been allowed to do what they did - but this evidence certainly does seem to shift responsibility when it comes to the specific accusation of damage to the Khufu cartouche. I actually noted in my original post that the Germans seemed to be chipping away at a distance from the cartouche, so this new evidence confirms my thoughts.

So who took the paint from the Khufu cartouche?

Link: The Scandal Of The Cartouche Of Khufu In The Great Pyramid: The Truth

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Angkor Revealed through Laser Pulses

Indiana Jones meets Han Solo (oh wait): In 2012, a team of archeologists lead by Dr. Damian Evans used an helicopter equipped with a LIDAR system, to reveal the magnificence of Angkor Wat's architecture, buried beneath the dense jungle foliage for the last 6 centuries. Their work has uncovered roads, canals, ponds, field walls, occupation mounds, and other never-before-seen structures of the ancient capital of the Khmer empire.

Before the arrival of airborne laser scanning technology known as lidar (for light detection and ranging), archaeologists working in Angkor had to hack through thick jungle or painstakingly analyze aerial photos and satellite images — essentially guessing at what was beneath the dense canopy. Lidar has revolutionized tropical archaeology in Mesoamerica in recent years, but this is the first time the technique has been used in Asia. “Almost within minutes of receiving the data, we clicked a few buttons, and millions of data points coalesced into cities in front of us,” says Damian Evans of the University of Sydney, Australia, who spearheaded the $250 million lidar mission. “We were all a little bit speechless.”

There's been recent attempts to employ LIDAR in the detection & study of historic shipwrecks. Let's hope the technology becomes more widespread, so that it can be used in the discovery of ruins so ancient, by now they are situated beneath sea level *cough*Atlantis*cough*

Link: Angkor's Sprawling Cityscapes Revealed

Evans' paper (PDF): Uncovering archaeological landscapes at Angkor using lidar

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Graham Hancock, Live

Magicians of the Gods Tour 2014

It takes a fair event to get me out of the house away from Daily Grail and family duties, but it wasn't a difficult decision last night when best-selling author Graham Hancock stopped into my hometown of Brisbane on his 'Magicians of the Gods' tour to talk about everything from consciousness to UFOs to lost megalithic cultures. Nevertheless, with doors opening at 5pm, and Graham going on stage at 6pm sharp, getting to the show on time through rush-hour traffic - given its location at the wonderful Old Museum just outside the CBD - was not without its difficulties. On the bright side, the fact that I arrived right on 6pm meant that a host of convenient parking spots right near the building had just become available to me. On the down side, it started pouring rain at the exact time I hopped out of my vehicle. Lucky for that close park!

Arriving at the Old Museum, my first encounter with staff was a happy one. Rather than a paper ticketing system, a simple flash of my driver's licence allowed me entry as they ticked my name off on an iPad - no sacrificial trees required. Though one of the last to arrive at this sold-out event, every one of the still-spare seats in the house offered a fine view of the stage, and the media screen behind it. The MC quickly ran through the sequence of events for the night, etiquette tips (phones to silent, etc), and other information - an often neglected, but very helpful start to the event. Then, Graham Hancock walked to the stage to rapturous applause, for his first (of three!) presentation of the night.

This first talk was related to his fiction outing, War God. Although I'd imagine for many of his devoted 'alternative history' fans that this talk may have felt like the ancillary one of the evening, for me – given I'm very familiar with many of the topics discussed in his other talks on consciousness and lost cultures – this proved to be an absolutely fascinating exploration of the cataclysmic historical period when ... Read More »