News Briefs 15-06-2016

Be careful what you wish for

Quote of the Day:

“I wish my wish would not be granted!”

Douglas R. Hofstadter

Fantastic Beasts and Imaginary Cities: Lessons on the Dangers, and Benefits, of Anomaly Hunting

Microbe ruins

When snorkelers off the Greek island of Zakynthos came across what appeared to be the flooded ruins of an ancient city (such as the 'columns' above), archaeologists were left to ponder their origin. Which civilisation built them, and how had they ended up underwater? But, when they went to investigate further...

...archaeologists found nothing else — no shards of pottery or other flotsam and jetsam of everyday existence — that would suggest that people had once lived there (and perhaps had been forced to flee by rising sea levels).

Scientists have now discovered the reason there were no signs of human habitation at the site. The columns and other objects, they say, are not stonework at all, but a natural byproduct of the breakdown of methane gas. And they were made by an ancient civilization of microbes, not people.

The search for 'lost civilisations' is a fascinating one, and our good friend Graham Hancock wrote an intriguing book about the search for ruins of civilisations that could feasibly have been lost beneath rising seas after the end of the last Ice Age (Underworld: The Mysterious Origins of Civilization). But the recent news story above should also be a warning to us that things aren't always what they seem.

There have been numerous discoveries in recent decades of what, at first glance, appear to be man-made, ancient structures, ranging from the Japanese underwater site of Yonaguni to the so-called 'Bosnian pyramid'. But simply 'looking artificial' is not enough to draw a conclusion - for example, visitors to the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland will know that nature does produce artificial-looking geometric structures (see this recent video we posted for more discussion on this topic).

Wishful thinking isn't enough - there has to be more evidence than simply 'this looks like the real deal' to label something as such. In the absence of evidence, it's still fine to speculate...just as long as you make clear that is what you are doing.

On the flipside, however, sometimes - often times - when anomalies do turn up, they are immediately discounted as being imaginary, misinterpretations of normal things, or outright hoaxes. Another story of the past week illustrates this: more than 200 years ago, the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt reported witnessing electric eels leaping out of the water to attack possible threats.

Humboldt published his account of leaping electric eels in 1807, but for two centuries it has been regarded as a fantasy. Why?

No one had seen such behaviour in the 200 years since Humboldt’s account. In 1881, another German scientist said that the story was “poetically transfigured.” In 1947, The Atlantic called it “tommyrot.”

But now, researchers have caught this behaviour on video:

It turns out that Humboldt was telling the story exactly as he had witnessed it - and yet it took more than 200 years for any scientist to investigate it seriously.

I discuss a similar topic in my article in the upcoming release of Darklore (Volume 9): meteors. Scientists dropped the ball on meteors for many years, writing off witness reports as fantastical and untrustworthy. And even after finally seeing the light, they repeated the exact same mistake for many more decades when it came to witness reports of electrophonic sounds being emitted from bright fireballs - because those reports didn't seem to agree with the science of the time.

Each of these stories provides a lesson to us, as we try to gain fresh insights and discover new things. When we come across an anomaly, we must be skeptical, in the sense of examining it with critical thinking, and progressing cautiously. But we should also guard against being overly-skeptical, and dismissing things that don't fit within our current frame of knowledge. Feel free to speculate, make leaps of logic where needed - but always note carefully that is what you are doing.

Anomaly hunting is fun. But let's do it right.

News Briefs 14-06-2016

Thanks to all those kind readers who have got us almost half-way to our first funding goal on Patreon! Still a long way to go though - can you afford to chip in just $1/month to help keep this site running?

Quote of the Day:

Intolerance is the most socially acceptable form of egotism, for it permits us to assume superiority without personal boasting.

Sydney J. Harris

Ayahuasca in Australia

Australian broadcaster SBS recently reported on the use of ayahuasca in 'the lucky country' (video embedded above), which for a change gave some serious screen time to people who used the shamanic brew for self-improvement. One of those they talked to was ayahuasca 'facilitator' Julian Palmer - author of the book Articulations: On The Utilisation and Meanings of Psychedelics - who has over the years championed personal exploration of the mind using shamanic plants.

The feature also mentioned an upcoming meeting of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) at which they will be reviewing submissions "to legalise a small amount of DMT for religious ceremonies". While those who think shamanic plants should be legal to use might feel that this is an exciting step forward, it may not be quite as big a deal as it sounds. Respected Australian ethnobotany figure Torsten Wiedemann has posted a detailed critique of this submission. Some of his points include:

1) I am not sure what the application is trying to achieve. The TGA schedules are not a law. They are merely recommendations to the states which have ultimate control over the schedules under the state health acts. At best the proposal could provide for a federal guide, but I very much doubt the states will simply go along with it. Having some state based ministerial support would have been crucial for this.

2) There were suggestions that the TGA is taking this seriously simply because they tabled it. They did not decide on this process. All applications to the TGA have to be considered and decided upon by the delegate. By making the application they have no choice but to process it. There have been frivolous/ridiculous/unwinnable applications in the past, so the mere acceptance means nothing and we should not read anything into that.


8) Much has been made of the religious aspect. 'religious purposes' was a big issue in the USA and some other countries, but has little meaning in Oz. Our federal constitution only guarantees that the federal government can't make laws that discriminate on the basis of religion, but it does not have any control over state law [which is what the TGA schedules are empowered by]. A constitutional scholar friend of mine tells me that a TGA ruling against the proposal is not an infringement of the constitution. There may be recourse under state charters, but so far nothing like that has been successful. I have been saying for years that state support is needed to make progress on this because ultimately these are all state law matters. I think the federal approach is a waste of time unless there is a plan on launching a constitutional challenge in the Northern Territory or ACT. The hopeful view of translating religious freedom exemptions to australia is not likely to be of any merit.

9) My friends in law enforcement policy tell me that DMT is very much on the agenda - and not in a good way. The TGA will toe the line of the federal drugs council [whatever the name is escapes me right now] which is focussing to come down harder on DMT rather than to weaken their stance. The TGA has no interest or incentive to buck the trend. I am not going to waste any time on making a submission as I do not see any chance of voluntary rescheduling (ie without a court case). And even if I was wrong then rescheduling by the TGA achieves nothing in practical terms. I see the only viable options for progress on this issue via the victorian charter or a federal constitutional case. I also do not see any level of government doing this voluntarily - like so many progressive policies this needs to be imposed by a court.

(Read the full post)

In short: some natural plants, and exploration of your own consciousness, remain illegal things in the year 2016, and may soon be cracked down on even harder.

News Briefs 13-06-2016

Klaatu barada ni...ah, never mind. Go for it Gort.

Thanks to @tenebrisvacuum and @djp1974.

Quote of the Day:

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.

Bertrand Russell

Newly Decoded Text on Antikythera Mechanism Gives New Insights Into the Functions of an 'Ancient Computer'

Antikythera Mechanism (Brett Seymour / WHOI)

The enigmatic 'Antikythera Mechanism' has been back in the news recently, with researchers unveiling the results of a decade-long project to decipher tiny inscriptions on the device. Previous research had largely focused on the mechanics of the 'ancient computer' that was salvaged from a shipwreck in 1901 by sponge divers.

The approximately 2100-year-old clock-like device could be used to calculate the movements of the Sun, Moon and planets, as well as predict eclipses, using a system of gearwheels, with the user able to 'travel' backwards and forwards in time by winding a handle.

In a special issue of the journal Almagest, researchers have broken down the various sections of the mechanism. Firstly, the front:

The bronze plate known as the “Front Cover” of the Antikythera Mechanism had inscriptions on its outside face... The texts give data on synodic cycles for the five planets, and it may be conjectured that lost lines described the behaviour of the Sun and Moon. The data strongly support the idea that planetary motions were displayed on the front face of the Mechanism using simple epicyclic or eccentric models. Previously unattested long and accurate period relations are given for Venus and Saturn, which are favourable for geared representation and probably of Greek, rather than Babylonian, origin.

The dial at the center of the front face of the Antikythera Mechanism was surrounded by two scales, one representing the zodiac, the other the Egyptian calendar year. The Zodiac Scale was inscribed with the names of the zodiacal signs as well as series of index letters in alphabetic order, while the Egyptian Calendar Scale was inscribed with the Greek names of the Egyptian months. In addition, two rectangular plates, the remains of which survived displaced from their original positions, bore an inscription, called the Parapegma Inscription, comprising an alphabetically indexed list of annually repeating astronomical events relating to the Sun and to fixed stars.

The new discoveries about the mechanism were made possible by modern imaging technologies ("computed tomography and polynomial textual mapping") being applied to the tiny engraved text found on it - some of which were barely 1mm in height!

Antikythera Mechanism text

On the back of the mechanism they found dials showing lunar calendars, a 'Games' (i.e. an athletic competition, such as the Olympic Games) calendar, and information about predicting eclipses:

The rear face of the Mechanism consisted of a rectangular "Back Plate" dominated by two large spiral dials. The upper five-turn Metonic Dial represented a 235-lunar-month calendrical cycle while the lower four-turn Saros Dial represented a 223-lunar-month eclipse prediction cycle. A subsidiary quadrant "Games" dial was situated inside the Metonic Dial, and a subsidiary three-sector Exeligmos Dial inside the Saros Dial. Preserved text inscribed around the dials (from the lower right quarter of the plate), probably representing about a quarter of the original inscription, provided further information associated with the predictions of eclipses.

The Metonic Dial inscriptions imply a calendrical scheme similar to that described by Geminos. It was intended to be a version of the calendar of Corinth as it was practiced either at Corinth itself or in some locality of Epirus. The Games dial shows six competitions, four Panhellenic (Olympics, Pythian, Isthmian, and Nemean) plus Naa (Dodona) and very probably Halieia (Rhodes).

On the Saros dial there were probably originally about 50 or 51 month cells with a lunar and/or solar eclipse prediction, each carrying a "glyph" and an index letter. Predicted eclipse times (in equinoctial hours) on the glyphs were calculated as times of true syzygy according to solar and lunar models that both involved anomaly, with the simple Exeligmos dial extending the predictions over three or more Saros cycles.

The additional information referred to by index letters from the Saros dial was grouped into paragraphs; that for lunar eclipse prediction probably ran down one side of the plate, and that for solar eclipse prediction down the other. Statements about direction may imply a meteorological aspect by referring to predictions of winds attending the eclipses. Five references to colour and size at eclipse are the only Greco-Roman source known to us that suggests prediction of eclipse colors, and might conceivably be linked with astrology.

The press have run with this 'astrology' attribution, but it's just a small part of what this research has uncovered, and even then I think it's still just a 'possibility' (note the wording above, "might conceivably").

The researchers also translated text that was inscribed on a plate - possibly a protective cover - that was found lying against the rear face of the Antikythera Mechanism in situ on the shipwreck. Only small fragments remain of this plate, but some of the text was, amazingly, preserved "as offsets on a layer of accreted matter that built up against it". It was found that the text on this plate provided "a systematic description of the dials, pointers, and other external features of the Mechanism, beginning with the front face and continuing with the rear face."

The best preserved passages include descriptions of features on lost parts of the Mechanism: a display of pointers bearing small spheres representing the Sun and planets on the front dial, and a dial on the upper back face representing a 76-year "Kallippic" calendrical cycle.

Lastly, the research team was able to use the 'data' that drove the device to guess at the likely location of the person who compiled it, finding that it corresponded to observations from a latitude of around 35 degrees - that ruled out Egypt the north of Greece, but matches the island of Rhodes.

It is hoped that ongoing excavation of the shipwreck will uncover more fragments of gears and inscriptions that could shed further light on this amazing contraption.

Related stories:

News Briefs 10-06-2016

"Not the wind, not the flag; mind is moving."

Quote of the Day:

“To understand clearly one has to have just one eye.”

The Gateless Gate

Monument Discovered 'Buried in Plain Sight' Near Ancient Citadel of Petra

Petra (Susana Hajer, CCSA licence)

In discussing the possibility of 'lost civilisations', the question is often asked - could evidence of such civilisations lie hidden beneath ground (and water), just out of our gaze? A new discovery shows that this is entirely possible (although the monument in this case is ascribed to an already known civilisation): a recently discovered paper has revealed that an enormous monument has been "hiding in plain sight" just a half a mile from the centre of one of the most important, and busy, archaeological treasures of the world: the World Heritage site of Petra.

The newly revealed structure consists of a 184-by-161-foot (about 56-by-49-meter) platform that encloses a slightly smaller platform originally paved with flagstones. The east side of the interior platform had been lined with a row of columns that once crowned a monumental staircase.

A small 28-by-28-foot (8.5-by-8.5-meter) building was centered north-south atop the interior platform and opened to the east, facing the staircase.

This enormous open platform, topped with a relatively small building and approached by a monumental facade, has no known parallels to any other structure in Petra. It most likely had a public, ceremonial function, which may make it the second largest elevated, dedicated display area yet known in Petra after the Monastery.

Archaeologists used high-resolution satellite imagery, aerial drone photography, and subsequent ground surveys to locate and explore the structure.

Paper: "Hiding in Plain Sight: The Discovery of a New Monumental Structure at Petra, Jordan, Using WorldView-1 and WorldView-2 Satellite Imagery"

News Briefs 09-06-2016

Change I could believe in...

Thanks @anomalistnews.

Quote of the Day:

You were born with wings. Why prefer to crawl through life?