26. The Myth of Prehistory
Modern civilisation rests on the myth that humanity originated in a noble state of savagery – the Stone Age – and gradually ascended to its current dizzy heights through a slow process of cultural diffusion, invention and accidental evolution. Officially, the first civilisation was in Mesopotamia 5-6,000 years ago, and that's the way it will stay.
This Western 'rationalist' idea was bravely cooked up in reaction to the overriding context of the Biblical creation myths, in which the world was taken to have been quickly created, and relatively recently. Theophilus of Antioch, a Christian scholar of the 100s CE, had estimated that Creation took place in 5529 BCE, an estimate which was re-examined in Renaissance times, leading to dates ranging between 3928 and 4103 BCE. This, despite the fact that some ancient writers had hinted otherwise: Apollonius the Egyptian had set the age of Earth to be 153,000 years, and the Greek Diodorus Siculus had stated that the history of the Egyptian pharaohs went back 18,000 years.
By the time empirical science started making its mark, the age of the Earth went slowly (and heretically) back, until Diderot, in 1749, claimed that the Earth must be hundreds of millions of years old. During the 1800s, the work of such thinkers as the geologist Charles Lyell and the biologist Charles Darwin introduced the idea of gradual evolution, countering the Creationists and Catastrophists of the time, and pushing the age of the Earth back four billion years (four million millennia).
Maintenance of this theory of gradualism, however, involves the ignoring or discrediting of large amounts of data uncovered during the last 150 years – data which suggests that while the Earth may well be so old, the means of evolution has been more fitful and catastrophe-stimulated. This is an important question, since archaeologists and historians take their authority from geologists and palaeontologists when researching the evolutionary timetables of early humans.
Ideologically, the theory of gradualism is central to our current world view – it goes together with 'survival of the fittest' ideologies, Adam Smith, evolutionary accidentalism and ideas around the isolation and uniqueness of planet Earth. It forms a picture strong enough to justify rejection of all alternative theories, despite the fact that increasing evidence is arising to demonstrate the crucial importance to evolution of sudden tectonic changes, mass extinctions, polar shifts and eco-climatic changes.
However, within one century, we shall probably be forced to adopt a different picture, by sheer force of evidence. Historically, one of the most contentious catastrophes which affect us took place somewhere around 9,500 or 11,500 BCE: evidence for this is strewn worldwide in multiple manifestations, yet this stormy period was also clearly within the human prehistoric timescale.
Geologically and palaeontologically, there are many unanswered questions which gaggle around this period: mass extinctions, giant tectonic changes (Allen and Delair, 1993, even propose that many of the world's major mountain chains were thrust up at this time), enormous volcanic eruptions worldwide resulting in a clouding of the atmosphere and terrible storms, darkness and other phenomena, sea-level changes and either a shift of the poles or a phenomenon Charles Hapgood (backed by Albert Einstein) called crustal displacement – a literal global sliding of the crust over the core.
The evidence for this is global and multifarious, averaging out around 9700 BCE in terms of radio-carbon dating. Around this time it is usually accepted that the last ice age came to an end. Allan and Delair suggest that we need to question the Victorian concept of the ice ages in the light of the evidence they put forward, showing how glacial geomorphological features can equally have been caused by catastrophic forces, and how many areas which ought to have been glacial (such as Siberia) were definitely temperate. This argument involves the pulling together of material from many disciplines – something research institutions are loth to do. However, what matters to us here is its impact on human life.
Here we come to an even more laughed-at hypothesis than that of the pre-Columban trans-oceanic links mentioned earlier: we come to the proposition that there has been worldwide and long-lasting cultural contact and integration during a time preceding that of the ancient civilisations we nowadays know and accept as the earliest, all of which date around 4000 to 1500 BCE – Sumer, Egypt, Harappa (Indus valley), Shang China, Java, Crete, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Olmec Mexico, Tiahuanacu and megalithic NW Europe.
This proposition has long been mentioned by psychics and metaphysical eccentrics, concerning Atlantean mythology, but now we face growing evidence to support it. This question is so important in human history, and so significant to human self-perception, that it cannot really be ignored, denied or evaded.
Owing to the ideological prevalence of the standard gradualist geological scenario, together with the now very established and studied picture of human evolution, means that the possibility of the existence of even more ancient advanced civilisations is taken by default to be exceptionally unlikely or ridiculous. It doesn't fit the picture. From the viewpoint of the modern historian, the proposition, voiced by alternative theorists, that the classical ancient civilisations of 4-5,00o years ago grew up with knowledge and technologies derived from an earlier time is anathema, improbable, impossible and laughable.
After all, if there were a civilisation existent in, say, 13,000 BCE, which was destroyed around, say, 9,500 BCE, what happened in the intervening 6,000-year period from then to 3,500 BCE when the Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilisations are accepted to have been born? Well, quite a lot happened. And part of the problem is that, since we're not looking for it, we aren't finding as much evidence of it as we could.
What we're looking at here is the ancient legend of Atlantis – "the fact that sank a thousand reputations". This matter is not going to go away, no matter how many sceptics unite to kill it. Here, however, I wish to suggest something more closely within our reach: the idea that the global village and its worldwide interconnectedness is not new. In fact, what seems to have happened is that, until the modern period, the cultures of the world have gone through an interval of relative separation and isolation after an earlier period of global interconnectedness – of a different kind to that of today. What is impressive about ancient archaeological remains from before the critical time-divide of 12,000 to 9000 BCE (the accepted date for the end of the ice ages) is the parallel developments common across large distances and the extent to which they seem to have travelled.
The big contention before us has been posed anew by various modern writers such as Graham Hancock, Arthur Posnansky, Robert Bauval, John Anthony West and others, who present a tantalising and sound argument to suggest that:
the Sphinx and the base-platforms of the three great nearby pyramids, the Valley and Mortuary Temples at Giza and the Osireion at Abydos, Egypt were built around -10,970 to -8,810;
the Kalasaya and Gateway of the Sun and other sites at Tiahuanacu, Bolivia, and Machu Picchu, Peru, were built around the same time or even a few millennia earlier;
the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon at Teotihuacan, Mexico, plus other sites in Mexico probably derive from a similar time;
and all of these share similar mathematical-astronomical principles in their design and similar usage of enormous fitted masonry unused later in the periods when these structures are normally alleged to have been built.
The hypothesis that they were built so long ago with such similarities leads to the implication that there was commonality in specifics between these cultures, though they were separated by thousands of miles, and that their engineering and mathematical capabilities were not inferior to but superior to those of the later civilisations of the 3000s BCE and onward.
An enormous new picture begins to form. What some have called 'Atlantis' might or might not have involved Plato's island in the middle of the Atlantic, which allegedly sank into the sea – Allan and Delair give a geological and tectonic background to this, without ever discussing Plato's island. Nevertheless, Atlantis researchers and enthusiasts have got stuck on the question of an island in the Atlantic (or the Aegean, or the North Sea, or Antarctica), without looking with more of an imaginative and historical approach.
Meanwhile, what we are looking at in the above-mentioned remains is a culture (not so much a civilisation), which might have extended at least from the Americas to the Middle East, if not extending globally. The test of the latter suggestion would be found primarily in China (perhaps at the pyramids near Xian), but also possibly in other places such as the Indus basin, South India, Java or Japan.
If this indeed was a trans-oceanic or global culture, then there must have been the means for global communication. The buried boats, 100ft and 140ft long, found at the Giza pyramids and the further boats at Abydos, all noted for exceptional ocean-going seaworthiness, officially dating back to 3000 BCE, might provide a clue. So also the legends of ancient Vimana flying machines deriving from the Mahabharata from India. So also multiple observations by sensitives of extended psychic communication capacities and intensified serendipity experienced at certain ancient remains such as Avebury in England, the Queen's Chamber at Giza and Uluru in Australia.
All of these hypotheses make a sceptic snort, yet they, plus other pieces of the jigsaw derived from mythography, anthropology, geology and climatics, archaeology and still-extant remnants of ancient knowledge and mathematics, add together to make for almost-a-picture of this possible precursor civilisation, seemingly destroyed in a catastrophe of global scale. This is too powerful a hypothesis, too crucial a question, to ignore or avoid. The 21st century, despite the noble efforts of researchers of recent centuries, is likely to see a radical rewriting of human history and origins, treading into areas where only adventurers and cranks have stumbled.
The accepted academic theory to explain the populating of the Americas has it that there was a massive migration across the Beringian land-bridge between Siberia and Alaska. This land bridge was created by the sinking of sea-levels during the ice ages, to the extent of up to 600ft (200m). No one has effectively explained how this area, some 71°N, was unglaciated – but we'll pass that by for now. The ice age theory is currently dominant, even though significant evidence demonstrates that circumpolar ice-sheets might have been much less significant or widely-distributed than is frequently accepted.
Nevertheless, in the logic of geological gradualism and the rejection of catastrophism, the ice ages are taken to be a fact around which all understanding of palaeohumans is based. Nevertheless, what scientists suggest is that ancient peoples undertook journeys of many thousands of miles, emerging from the vastnesses of Siberia or central Asia, crossing Beringia and migrating eventually to the far southern tip of South America. A fantastic journey. This theory is based on a notion that the Americas were empty before these intrepid travellers came.
The main ancient, officially-accepted remains in the Americas go back to between 9000 and 11,000 BCE, leading to the idea that the Americas were colonised quite rapidly from Alaska southwards. Over a thousand year period, colonisation is alleged to have reached 14,000km southwards, across a vastness of different habitats, to Tierra del Fuego in southern Chile. To explain the scanty sites across the Americas predating this time, four arrivals have been suggested, around 20,000, 14,000, 11,000 and 8000 BCE, though the jury is still out on this question.
This is a symptom of one of the many problems arising from the piecing together of evidence according to a preconceived picture and ideological preference. The same problem also characterises the search for the 'missing links' in proto-humanity's much earlier prehistory, all based on the idea of gradual, uninterrupted genetic evolution.
Correct or not, this idea of transcontinental, even semi-global migration and travel – even if carried out over many generations – implies that semi-global ancient advanced cultures can be possible too – or cultures communicating with each other, at least. Siberia to Chile is a long way! This route happens to link the ancient heartlands of Central Asia (Aksu), China, Mexico and Peru.
Similar, yet earlier pathways of migration and contact have been suggested by anthropologists between southern Africa, Mesopotamia and India, as far as Java, along which Australopithecus and Pithecanthropus, ancestors of ours, allegedly trekked.
Although these two migrations are distantly dissociated in time, they demonstrate that long-distance travel was not out of the question in prehistoric times, and that there can be a common bed of connectedness not only across Africa-Eurasia but also reaching into the Americas.
If one drops the assumption that such travel was on land only, then marine and trans-oceanic transport, Quetzalcoatl-style, ancient Egyptian style, Polynesian-style, was entirely feasible – as the likes of Thor Heyerdahl and Tim Severin have demonstrated in their expeditions. One might complain that these gentlemen used boat technologies from later periods than those we are referring to. However, have we not recently upset normal historical logic by suggesting that it is indeed possible for cultures to retrogress over time, and therefore that gradual forward cultural evolution is perhaps not borne out in history?
How, therefore, did such contact decline? The general direction of subsequent history has moved in the direction of loss of inter-cultural contact, except during the times of the rise of great land-empires. Contact between China and Rome in classical times was regularly broken – largely by intervening 'barbaric' humans. However, do population and politics provide sufficient explanation, when transport technologies have, theoretically, improved?
How did ancient Malayo-Polynesian peoples land up in Madagascar, off Africa? How did pre-Columban blacks land up in the Caribbean before Columbus and his colleagues came along? How did Polynesians manage to colonise islands thousands of kilometres apart, from New Guinea to Samoa, and from Easter Island and Hawaii to New Zealand, when no maps or logically-expected knowledge of the vastnesses of the Pacific existed? How has the architectural form of the pyramid developed separately in locations as dispersed as China (Xian), Egypt and Mexico?
The answer, regrettably, is that, as far as the study of human history is concerned, ideological choices have been made to emphasise the separation and isolation of cultures and civilisations, and to reinforce a picture which is beginning to look incorrect.
This bundle of questions around ancient civilisation is going to keep rolling for some time. On the one side we have empirical, academically-culled data, interpreted with various degrees of success, and on the other we have esoteric forms of knowledge which talk of Atlantean civilisation, the Flood, the survivors and the outlying remnants of their culture – generally embracing at least Egypt, Mesopotamia, NW Europe, Mexico and Peru.
Deeper still, we have a clash between two philosophies: the scientific idea of gradual evolution of humanity, by a process of chance, from primate ancestors, through the gradual rise of civilisation to reach the stage we have today; and the esoteric idea that prehistory somehow represents a fall from knowledge and spirituality, a densification of human life and a progressive complexification of human error.
In Megalithic Britain, large ancient mounds are described by archaeologists as burial mounds for great personages (though these are rarely found), while dowsers describe them as subtly-engineered orgone accumulators for the storage and release of natural subtle energies. These entirely contradictory viewpoints, by their very incompatibility, represent a potential breakthrough in our understanding of humanity's origins.
Truth and illusion
The difficulty is that every historical period has its own perspective - not least our own period. But one thing is different and crucial in our current day. Ridding ourselves of illusion and establishing bottom-line truths about ourselves as a human race has become a global survival issue. Uncovering the distant origins of humankind, establishing the facts about the life of the Nazarene or the ocean-going antics of pre-Columban peoples seems to most people a remote and low-value exercise. Yet, the mythology and ideology with which we have marinated our grasp of history affects our future: it affects race relations, religious differences, social and technological ones too. After all, if the legend of the Atlanteans destroying themselves as a result of their own actions had some basis in reality, would it not be advisable and fortuitous to investigate this, to see if it has any relevance to our situation of today?
In our time, all myths, truths, cultures and societies are being prised and exploded apart, eroded in an unrecyclable acidic brew of globo-culture. Myths perpetuated to this day are coming apart at the seams as new data emerges and new brains think them through. There are many myths we no longer need, impeding the current evolution of humanity: myths which imply that some humans are inferior to others, that one truth is greater than others, that infidels must be converted or destroyed, or that socio-political and cultural situations can be smothered, manipulated and held back by the perpetuation of false or questionable beliefs.
And perhaps one of the greatest myths to re-examine is that which suggests that humanity grew, by chance, from the apes, through a long, laborious Stone Age, to achieve sudden heights of development in the ancient civilisations, and to progress to where we stand today.
Things have progressed. One day we will look back on human history and understand the full relevance of all we have gone through. However, we have tended to forget and throw out so much of what was once valuable. We have tended to destroy as we progress. We have tended to behave retrogressively, sinking to our lowest common denominators more often than rising to our highest potentials.
This has meant that our progress comes at a greater cost than we might have needed to pay. It has perhaps come despite ourselves more than because of ourselves. Only time will tell. Meanwhile, there is work to be done in the serious unbiased re-investigation of hypotheses such as those mentioned in this and the preceding few chapters.