The Past Beneath the Sea

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If most people think people think about history at all, they probably think about recent history, like American history. If they think about ancient history they probably think of Greeks, Romans and Israelites. The Bible provides a link to ancient history that a lot of people probably never explore.
Even for people interested in ancient history their interest probably goes no earlier than the Sumerians, possibly the earliest civilization we know about, though that’s debatable. Which is why Graham Hancock’s (in particular) explorations of ancient times have so thrilled me. He fills in a lot of the background to the ancient world, which is the background to ours. Otherwise the past, previous to about 5,000 years ago, is pretty much a black hole. There were cavemen and then there were Biblical characters. That’s probably about all most people know.

Graham Hancock has long been convinced that human civilization is much older than we think. The premise of his book Underworld is that much of the evidence of earlier civilization is now underwater.

When the last Ice Age ended, about 15,000 years ago, glaciation covered much of northern Europe and Asia, as well as North America. After much of the ice melted it took about 7,000 years for the earth to become stable again, both climatically and geologically. There were many huge volcanic eruptions, which sent tons of ash into the atmosphere, which would screen the sunlight and cause glaciers to grow again.

The surface of the earth had been pressed down by the tremendous weight of the glaciers; when that weight was released, earthquakes were the result, and with the earthquakes came tsunamis.

Besides all that, once scientists began studying the mechanics of the meltdown, they realized that huge volumes of water had become trapped UNDER the glaciers, restrained by dams of ice. When these dams melted tremendous amounts of water were suddenly released. It’s estimated that at least three really large flood episodes of this sort occurred in the several thousand years following the end of the conditions that kept the glaciation in place. Maybe there were even more than that, possibly of different sorts.

Scientists have begun studying what the earth looked like during the Ice Age, and how it looked at various times afterwards, while ocean levels rose to about 120 meters deeper than before. Much of the world’s prime beachfront property must have been submerged: scientists estimate about 25 million square miles. If it’s true that civilization predates the Ice Age, much of the evidence must now be underwater.

One of the things that seems to follow from this is that the world’s mythologies are not just fantasy. One can’t take them absolutely literally, but there seems often to be some truth to them.

The story of the Great Flood doesn’t come just from the Bible, nor just from the Middle East. There are versions of it all around the world, and the period following the Ice Age seems to be the most likely time for it to have happened.

The Indian version has a man discovering a talking fish, which asks him to protect it from predators. The man does so, putting it first in a jar, then in a pool, and when it’s finally grown big enough back into the ocean. The fish then tells him that a flood is coming, and to build a boat. The man does so, hitches it to the fish, and the fish tows him, some information for after the flood, and Seven Sages, to the Himalayas, where the boat is hitched to the highest mountain.

The language, says Hitchcock, is ambigious enough that one could understand that what was taken to the Himalayas was not a boat, but information that needed to be spread among any survivors so they could rebuild civilization on a sound basis. And the first traces we see archaeologically of Indian civilization (though this has been debated), is in the area of Mohenjodaro and Harappa, in northwest India and Southern Pakistan, in a hilly region not so far from the Himalayas.

The two cities seemed anomalous because they were contemporary with both Sumerian and Egyptian civilization, and were good examples of urban planning: they obviously weren’t the first cities their citizens had built. Archaeologists have been busy since those cities were found, and have discovered a number of other villages and towns in the region that put the date for the civilization back 2,000 years or more. That makes the developments in Harappa and Mohenjodaro easier to understand.

But there seem to have been even earlier cities. The various Indian holy writings spoke of a city called Dwarka which had been submerged off the northwest coast. Another city, also called Dwarka, had been built to replace it. Scientists looking in the ocean near the modern Dwarka have found what appears to be a city some nine miles long. That’s comparable to at least a medium-sized modern city, and since it’s now beneath the ocean, it must have been built VERY long ago, since there’s no record of cities being submerged this way in historic times. That makes the usual Western chronology of Indian civilization suspect: That has the Indian scriptures being codified around 1200-1500 BC, a thousand years, more or less, after the so-called Aryan invasion.

Indian scholars now believe that there WAS no Aryan invasion, that it was an invention of Western scholars when they realized that Sanskrit was related to the Indo-European languages. One of the implicit assumptions of it was that brown people couldn’t have created as high a civilization as whites. What I would suggest is that the peoples who spoke whatever tongue Sanskrit and the others are descended from came from a possible common homeland, and I have some anecdotal evidence for that.

A few years ago I spoke to an Indian man, who told me that the original Iranian and Indian religions had the names of gods and demons in common, but the demons of one culture were usually gods of the other, and vice versa, which strongly suggests some original close relationship.

A young Iranian woman told me that many Iranians believe that their ancestors once lived in Siberia, giving us a hint as to where both cultures came from.

The other datum came from JG Bennett, a student of George Gurdjieff, who cited an Indian scholar who had closely studied the Upanishads. These have extensive imagery of dawn which doesn’t apply to the tropics, but is more likely to have come from an area near one of the poles.

Near the north and south poles the sun doesn’t shine for half a year. When winter is ending the sun comes closer and closer to the horizon for a number of days before rising, and then doesn’t entirely set again until winter. This is what some parts of the Upanishads seem to be describing, so the theory is that the Aryans (or whatever you want to call them) at one time lived along the shores of the Arctic Ocean, at a time when at least some parts of Siberia had a milder climate than the whole region has had any time recently.

This was true during the last Ice Age, and then changed suddenly. Quite a number of quick-frozen mammoths have been discovered in the last century or two, some with stomachs carrying undigested food of a sort that hasn’t grown in that area since.

This makes the Indian tradition very old indeed, and strongly suggests that at least part of the population migrated from Siberia into India. We have no idea (assuming this is true) just when that was. The Mohenjodaro/Harappa region has settlements from at least 6,000 BC, and maybe even earlier. The Tamils and Dravidians, in southern India, seem to have been there much longer, but share the same religious culture, even though their languages are different. India seems to be a very old country and civilization.

Not only is it old, but the religious ideas in it are old. The god Shiva or Siva seems to have been there from the beginning (whenever that may have been), often in the guise of a yogi, wearing only a loincloth, his hair long and matted.

A good many of the Flood legends have the idea the humans were punished for misbehavior, but the misbehavior isn’t spelled out in detail. According to Indian legend, the Seven Sages (who seem to have been a pretty constant presence for quite a long time) created kings, because kings seemed to be necessary for human welfare, and taught the skills that were needed to survive, but discouraged people from materialistic desires. If that’s a clue to what humans did wrong to cause flooding, it’s pretty clear that the human race hasn’t changed much.

So Indian civilization seems to have been in place for quite a long time, as its own legends say. The Indian cosmology seems to be one of repeated cycles, that each cycle ends with a catastrophe affecting the whole world, whereupon mankind has to start over again. The Seven Sages (and perhaps similar groups elsewhere) are responsible for transmitting necessary knowledge to the survivors of catastrophe to make human life possible and reasonably comfortable again.

This view is contrary to the Western ideal of progress, but that ideal seems to be incomplete, at best. At the beginning of the 20th century most Western countries were optimistic because of the progress of technology in the previous century, which had greatly changed the conditions in which most people lived. They expected more of the same in the new century, and got some of it: technology certainly progressed, but at the same time there were ruinous wars and other ugly social events that considerably dimmed optimism.

There had been few wars in Europe between the Napoleonic wars and World War I, but especially towards the end of that period there had been narrow escapes before the World War began, as if people were restless and WANTED war. Once the war was well begun, a lot of people realized that they DIDN’T want war, but were helpless to escape it. And out of the war came the seeds of wars to follow. Now the pursuit of material wealth has come close to ruining us, if it hasn’t ruined us already.

If we know a good deal about ancient Indian civilization, we know virtually nothing about the ancient civilization of Malta. We know that the current language is Semitic, which may mean that ancient inhabitants also spoke a Semitic language, but we know almost nothing about them, except that they left megalithic architecture unlike any other place in the world, and it’s very sophistacated. But they didn’t leave writing, unlike other civilizations, so what we know is only what we can deduce from the ruins they left.  Like the ancient Indian and Sumerian cities, it’s obvious that the builders had previous practice, the question being, where? Hancock suggests the answer is in the Mediterranean Sea.

He has maps of the ancient world showing sea levels from the Last Glacial Maximum, more than 18,000 years ago, down to around 5,000 years ago. Before the various flooding events, Malta had a land bridge to Sicily, which in turn was connected to Italy. It also extended much further southeast than it does now, so that’s where further evidence might be. The problem is that it takes a great deal of effort, technology and funding to find any evidence underwater. At one point Hancock speaks to an archaeologist who says that no one could find any Paleolithic evidence in the sea, which assumption Hancock says is because the Old Stone Age evidence we’ve found on land has been scanty, a matter of ancient tools, mostly.

The problem with this assumption is that there are still cultures existing in the Stone Age now, which could mean that not all human cultures were on the low level we associate with the Stone Age. Our distant ancestors may not have had modern technology, but that doesn’t mean they had NO technology. I don’t think anyone knows for sure how people handled gigantic stones in cultures all over the world, from Egypt to Lebanon to Malta to France, England, and South America.

And then there’s the question of maps. Hitchcock goes into some detail about them, both here and in a previous book, Fingerprints of the Gods. Researchers have discovered maps from as long ago as the 13th century that were comparably accurate to 19th century maps. This in contrast to maps based on a “T” figure, in which Europe lay on one side of the T, Africa on the other, Asia at the base, and the ocean at the top. That much is fairly accurate, but nothing else is. Maps constructed by Claudius Ptolemy, who lived in the 2nd century AD are somewhat more accurate, but a map from Pisa in the 13th century is far more accurate than any of these (though it does contain mistakes). It’s the earliest surviving example of what are called Portolan maps, which have accurate latitudes and longitudes (though unmarked).

Some of these, from the 16th century, appear to show Antarctica, about 300 years before it was officially discovered. One shows the west coast of South America, at a time when no one had explored it, more accurately than the east coast, which had been explored. Where did these maps come from? The evidence seems to show that they weren’t made from the experience of contemporary seamen, which suggests that they were copied from ancient manuscripts that had survived to that time, but seem to have been lost since.

One possible source is the Phoenicians, who were by far the best seamen we know about from the ancient world. The traveled all over the Mediterranean, had colonies on the Atlantic coasts of Spain and North Africa, traveled in the Indian Ocean, and may (at least occasionally) have crossed to the Americas. Fairly recent analysis of bodies contained in Egyptian mummies from at least 3,000 years ago revealed not only tobacco but cocaine. Some form of tobacco might have been available in the Old World, but cocaine comes (as far as I’m aware) only from South America.

Another possibility is that these maps predate even the Phoenicians. A great many ancient cities are built on or near latitudinal and longitudinal lines, especially if you choose the Great Pyramid as the base point of longitude. These cities are also oriented to north and south, but a good many of them are oriented to the west of the current North Pole. And that suggests that the originals of these cities were built at a time when the North Pole resided in a different area from today.

Hancock includes a number of examples of maps being used which seem to have been based on maps of ancient times. One such was used by the Gujeratis, who were among the best of the Indian seamen and navigators. The maps they had didn’t show the Malacca Strait, so they didn’t sail in that direction. And in the distant past there had been no strait there. Malaya had been connected to the mainland.

Another example is that of Columbus and his partner Martin Alonzo Pinza, who had a book, which Pinza’s son testified his father had received from the library of Pope Innocent VIII which showed across the ocean from Europe an island which they thought was Cipango, or Japan. Europe was aware of Japan because of Marco Polo’s account of his travels, but had only a general idea of its location. Columbus discovered the New World (though at least a few others had known of it already), but thought it was Asia, and may never have changed his mind.

The book Columbus and Pinza shared is mysterious, and as far as we know no longer survives. But it seems to have been accurate enough to tell the two navigators about how far they had to travel and about when they could expect to arrive. At one point Columbus decided to reef some of his sails and travel more slowly for fear of striking land or reefs during the night. How did he know when to start being cautious?

Maps of the 16th century, following Columbus, often showed islands in the Atlantic that weren’t actually there, but corresponded to the shapes of Japan and Taiwan. This strongly suggests one or more ancient maps which had given Europeans some idea about these islands, though not where they were.

Modern humans have been around for at least 40,000 years. That’s the conservative estimate. A recent DNA study traced most, if not all of mankind to one woman who lived (if I remember correctly) 200,000 to 300,000 years ago. Out of all that time our recorded history is barely more than 5,000 years. What were our distant ancestors doing all that time? No doubt it took some time for them to acquire the skills of civilization, but Hancock mentions the Jomon culture of ancient Japan, which had pottery, some of which has been securely (he says) dated to 16,500 years ago, several thousands of years older than pottery found anywhere else. These people also seem to have been cultivating rice very early: 8,000 or more years ago.

It would take something like an all-out effort to do any comprehensive archaeology beneath the oceans, and that much funding is unlikely to be allocated anytime soon. But it would at least be very interesting to know more about the mysterious past of our species. Our birth and development are mostly unknown, and learning more might provide us with significant benefits, besides the simple thrill of understanding the long-forgotten.

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