A Species Born in the Earth’s Long Winter
In all that we call ‘history’—everything we clearly remember about
ourselves as a species—humanity has not once come close to total
annihilation. In various regions at various times there have been
terrible natural disasters. But there has not been a single occasion
in the past 5000 years when mankind as a whole can be said to have
Has this always been so? Or is it possible, if we go back far
enough, that we might discover an epoch when our ancestors were
nearly wiped out? It is just such an epoch that seems to be the
focus of the great myths of cataclysm. Scholars normally attribute
these myths to the fantasies of ancient poets. But what if the
scholars are wrong? What if some terrible series of natural
catastrophes did reduce our prehistoric ancestors to a handful of
individuals scattered here and there across the face of the earth,
far apart, and out of touch with one another?
We are looking for an epoch that will fit the myths as snugly as the
slipper on Cinderella’s foot. In this search, however, there is
obviously no point in investigating any period prior to the
emergence on the planet of recognizably modern human beings. We’re
not interested here in Homo habilis or Homo erectus or even
sapiens neanderthalensis. We’re interested only in Homo sapiens
sapiens, our own species, and we haven’t been around very long.
Students of early Man disagree to some extent over how long we have
been around. Some researchers, as we shall see, claim that partial
human remains in excess of 100,000 years old may be ‘fully modern’.
Others argue for a reduced antiquity in the range of 35-40,000
years, and yet others propose a compromise of 50,000 years. But no
one knows for sure.
‘The origin of fully modern humans denoted by
the subspecies name Homo sapiens sapiens remains one of the great
puzzles of palaeoanthropology,’ admits one authority.1
1 Roger Lewin, Human Evolution, Blackwell Scientific Publications,
Oxford, 1984, p. 74.
About three and a half million years of more or less relevant
evolution are indicated in the fossil record. For all practical
purposes, that record starts with a small, bipedal hominid
(nicknamed Lucy) whose remains were discovered in 1974 in the
Ethiopian section of East Africa’s Great Rift Valley. With a brain
capacity of 400cc (less than a third of the modern average) Lucy
definitely wasn’t human.
But she wasn’t an ape either and she had
some remarkably ‘human-like’ features, notably her upright gait, and
the shape of her pelvis and back teeth. For these and other reasons,
her species—classified as Australopithecus afarensis—has been
accepted by the majority of palaeoanthropologists as our earliest
About two million years ago representatives of Homo habilis, the
founder members of the Homo line to which we ourselves belong, began
to leave their fossilized skulls and skeletons behind. As time went
by this species showed clear signs of evolution towards an ever more
‘gracile’ and refined form, and towards a larger and more versatile
brain. Homo erectus, who overlapped with and then succeeded
Homo habilis, appeared about 1.6 million years ago with a brain capacity
in the region of 900cc (as against 700cc in the case of habilis).3
The million or so years after that, down to about 400,000 years ago,
saw no significant evolutionary changes—or none attested to by
surviving fossils. Then Homo erectus passed through the gates of
extinction into hominid heaven and slowly—very, very slowly—what the palaeoanthropologists call ‘the sapient grade’ began to appear:
Exactly when the transition to a more sapient form began is
difficult to establish. Some believe the transition, which involved
an increase in brain size and a decrease in the robustness of the
skull bones, began as early as 400,000 years ago. Unfortunately,
there are simply not enough fossils from this important period to be
sure about what was happening.’4
What was definitely not happening 400,000 years ago was the
emergence of anything identifiable as our own story-telling,
myth-making subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens. The consensus is that
‘sapient humans must have evolved from Homo erectus’,5 and it is
true that a number of ‘archaic sapient’ populations did come into
existence between 400,000 and 100,000 years ago. Unfortunately, the
relationship of these transitional species to ourselves is far from
Donald C. Johanson and Maitland C. Eddy, Lucy: The Beginnings of
Humankind, Paladin, London, 1982, in particular, pp. 28, 259-310.
Roger Lewin, Human Evolution, pp. 47-49, 53-6; Encyclopaedia
4 Human Evolution, p. 76.
Britannica, 1991, 18:831.
6 Human Evolution, p. 76.
As noted, the first contenders for membership of the
exclusive club of Homo sapiens sapiens have been dated by some
researchers to the latter part of this period. But these remains are
all partial and their identification is by no means universally
accepted. The oldest, part of a skullcap, is a putative modern human
specimen from about 113,000 BC.6 Around this date, too,
Homo sapiens neanderthalensis first appears, a quite distinct subspecies which
most of us know as ‘Neanderthal Man’.
Tall, heavily muscled, with prominent brow ridges and a protruding
face, Neanderthal Man had a bigger average brain size than modern
humans (1400cc as against our 1360cc).7 The possession of such a big
brain was no doubt an asset to these ‘intelligent, spiritually
resourceful creatures’8 and the fossil record suggests that they
were the dominant species on the planet from about 100,000 years ago
until 40,000 years ago.
At some point during this lengthy and poorly
understood period, Homo sapiens sapiens established itself, leaving
behind fossil remains from about 40,000 years ago that are
indisputably those of modern humans, and supplanting the
Neanderthals completely by about 35,000 years ago.9
In summary, human beings like ourselves, whom we could pass in the
street without blinking an eyelid if they were shaved and dressed in
modern clothes, are creatures of the last 115,000 years at the very
most—and more probably of only the last 50,000 years. It follows
that if the myths of cataclysm we have reviewed do reflect an epoch
of geological upheaval experienced by humanity, these upheavals took
place within the last 115,000 years, and more probably within the
last 50,000 years.
7 Ibid., p. 72.
8 Ibid., p. 73.
It is a curious coincidence of geology and palaeoanthropology that
the onset and progress of the last Ice Age, and the emergence and
proliferation of modern Man, more or less shadow each other. Curious
too is the fact that so little is known about either.
In North America the last Ice Age is called the Wisconsin Glaciation
(named for rock deposits studied in the state of Wisconsin) and its
early phase has been dated by geologists to 115,000 years ago.10
There were various advances and retreats of the ice-cap after that,
with the fastest rate of accumulation taking place between 60,000
years ago and 17,000 years ago—a process culminating in the Tazewell
Advance, which saw the glaciation reach its maximum extent around
15,000 BC.11 By 13,000 BC, however, millions of square miles of ice
had melted, for reasons that have never properly been explained, and
by 8000 BC the Wisconsin had withdrawn completely.12
The Ice Age was a global phenomenon, affecting both the northern and
the southern hemispheres; similar climatic and geological conditions
therefore prevailed in many other parts of the world as well
(notably in eastern Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and South
America). There was massive glaciation in Europe, where the ice
reached outward from Scandinavia and Scotland to cover most of Great
Britain, Denmark, Poland, Russia, large parts of Germany, all of
Switzerland, and big chunks
of Austria, Italy and France.13
(Known technically as the Wurm
Glaciation, this European Ice Age started about 70,000 years ago, a
little later than its American counterpart, but attained its maximum
extent at the same time, 17,000 years ago, and then experienced the
same rapid withdrawal, and shared the same terminal date).14
9 Ibid., p. 73, 77.
10 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1991, 12:712.
11 Path of the Pole, p.
12 Ibid., p. 152; Encyclopaedia Britannica, 12:712.
John Imbrie and Katherine Palmer Imbrie, Ice Ages: Solving the
Mystery, Enslow Publishers, New Jersey, 1979, p. 11.
14 Ibid., p.
120; Encyclopaedia Britannica, 12:783; Human Evolution, p. 73.
The crucial stages of Ice Age chronology thus appear to be:
1 - around 60,000 years ago, when the Wurm,
the Wisconsin and other glaciations were well under way
- around 17,000 years ago, when the ice sheets had reached
their maximum extent in both the Old World and the New
- the 7,000 years of deglaciation that followed
The emergence of Homo sapiens sapiens thus coincided with a lengthy
period of geological and climatic turbulence, a period marked, above
all else, by ferocious freezing and flooding. The many millennia
during which the ice was remorselessly expanding must have been
terrifying and awful for our ancestors. But those final 7000 years
of deglaciation, particularly the episodes of very rapid and
extensive melting, must have been worse.
Let us not jump to conclusions about the state of social, or
religious, or scientific, or intellectual development of the human
beings who lived through the sustained collapse of that tumultuous
epoch. The popular stereotype may be wrong in assuming that they
were all primitive cave dwellers. In reality little is known about
them and almost the only thing that can be said is that they were
men and women exactly like ourselves physiologically and
It is possible that they came close to total extinction on several
occasions during the upheavals they experienced; it is also possible
that the great myths of cataclysm, to which scholars attribute no
historical value, may contain accurate records and eyewitness
accounts of real events. As we see in the next chapter, if we are
looking for an epoch that fits those myths as snugly as the slipper
on Cinderella’s foot, it would seem that the last Ice Age is it.
Chapter 27 -
The Face of the Earth was Darkened and a Black Rain Began to Fall
Terrible forces were unleashed on all living creatures during the
last Ice Age. We may deduce how these afflicted humanity from the
firm evidence of their consequences for other large species. Often
this evidence looks puzzling. As Charles Darwin observed after
visiting South America:
No one I think can have marvelled more at the extinction of species
than I have done. When I found in La Plata [Argentina] the tooth of
a horse embedded with the remains of Mastodon, Megatherium, Toxodon,
and other extinct monsters, which all co-existed at a very late
geological period, I was filled with astonishment; for seeing that
the horse, since its introduction by the Spaniards in South America,
has run wild over the whole country and has increased its numbers at
an unparalleled rate, I asked myself what could have so recently
exterminated the former horse under conditions of life apparently so
The answer, of course, was the Ice Age. That was what exterminated
the former horses of the Americas, and a number of other previously
successful mammals. Nor were extinctions limited to the New World.
On the contrary, in different parts of the earth (for different
reasons and at different times) the long epoch of glaciation
witnessed several quite distinct episodes of extinction. In all
areas, the vast majority of the many destroyed species were lost in
the final seven thousand years from about 15,000 BC down to 8000
1 Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, Penguin, London, 1985, p.
2 Quaternary Extinctions, pp. 360-1, 394.
At this stage of our investigation is it not necessary to establish
the specific nature of the climatic, seismic and geological events
linked to the various advances and retreats of the ice sheets which
killed off the animals. We might reasonably guess that tidal waves,
earthquakes, gigantic windstorms and the sudden onset and remission
of glacial conditions played their parts. But more
important—whatever the actual agencies involved—is the stark
empirical reality that mass extinctions of animals did take place as
a result of the turmoil of the last Ice Age.
This turmoil, as Darwin concluded in his Journal, must have shaken
‘the entire framework of the globe’.3 In the New World, for example,
more than seventy genera of large mammals became extinct between
15,000 BC and 8000 BC, including all North American members of seven
families, and one complete order, the Proboscidea.4
Charles Darwin, Journal of Researches into the Natural History and
Geology of Countries Visited during the Voyage of HMS Beagle Round
the World; entry for 9 January 1834.
4 Quaternary Extinctions, pp.
involving the violent obliteration of more than forty million
animals, were not spread out evenly over the whole period; on the
contrary, the vast majority of the extinctions occurred in just two
thousand years, between 11,000 BC and 9000 BC.5 To put this in
perspective, during the previous 300,000 years only about twenty
genera had disappeared.6
The same pattern of late and massive extinctions was repeated across
Europe and Asia. Even far-off Australia was not exempt, losing
perhaps nineteen genera of large vertebrates, not all of them
mammals, in a relatively short period of time.7
5 Ibid., pp. 360-1; The Path of the Pole, p. 250.
Extinctions, p. 360-1.
7 Ibid., p. 358.
Alaska and Siberia: the sudden freeze
The northern regions of Alaska and Siberia appear to have been the
worst hit by the murderous upheavals between 13,000 and 11,000 years
ago. In a great swathe of death around the edge of the Arctic Circle
the remains of uncountable numbers of large animals have been found—
including many carcasses with the flesh still intact, and
astonishing quantities of perfectly preserved mammoth tusks. Indeed,
in both regions, mammoth carcasses have been thawed to feed to sled
dogs and mammoth steaks have featured on restaurant menus in
One authority has commented,
‘Hundreds of thousands of
individuals must have been frozen immediately after death and
remained frozen, otherwise the meat and ivory would have spoiled ...
Some powerful general force was certainly at work to bring this
Dr Dale Guthrie of the Institute of Arctic Biology has made an
interesting point about the sheer variety of animals that flourished
in Alaska before the eleventh millennium BC:
When learning of this exotic mixture of sabre-tooth cats, camels,
horses, rhinos, asses, deer with gigantic antlers, lions, ferrets,
and saiga, one cannot help wondering about the world in which they
lived. This great diversity of species, so different from that
encountered today, raises the most obvious question: is it not
likely that the rest of the environment was also different?10
Donald W. Patten, The Biblical Flood and the Ice Epoch: A Study in
Scientific History, Pacific Meridian Publishing Co., Seattle, 1966,
9 The Path of the Pole, p. 258.
David M. Hopkins et al., The Palaeoecology of Beringia, Academic
Press, New York, 1982, p. 309.
The Alaskan muck in which the remains are embedded is like a fine,
dark-grey sand. Frozen solid within this mass, in the words of
Professor Hibben of the University of New Mexico:
lie the twisted parts of animals and trees intermingled with lenses
of ice and layers
of peat and mosses ... Bison, horses, wolves, bears, lions ... Whole
animals were apparently killed together, overcome by some common
power ... Such piles of bodies of animals or men simply do not occur
by any ordinary natural means ...’11
At various levels stone artifacts have been found ‘frozen in situ at
great depths, and in association with Ice Age fauna, which confirms
that men were contemporary with extinct animals in Alaska’.12
Throughout the Alaskan mucks, also there is:
evidence of atmospheric disturbances of unparalleled violence.
Mammoth and bison alike were torn and twisted as though by a cosmic
hand in Godly rage. In one place we can find the foreleg and
shoulder of a mammoth with portions of the flesh and toenails and
hair still clinging to the blackened bones. Close by is the neck and
skull of a bison with the vertebrae clinging together with tendons
and ligaments and the chitinous covering of the horns intact.
is no mark of knife or cutting instrument [as there would be if
human hunters, for example, had been involved]. The animals were
simply torn apart and scattered over the landscape like things of
straw and string, even though some of them weighed several tons.
Mixed with piles of bones are trees, also twisted and torn and piled
in tangled groups; and the whole is covered with a fine sifting
muck, then frozen solid.13
Much the same picture emerges in Siberia where catastrophic climatic
changes and geological upheavals occurred at around the same time.
Here the frozen mammoth graveyards, ‘mined’ for their ivory since
the Roman era, were still yielding an estimated 20,000 pairs of
tusks every decade at the beginning of the twentieth century.14
Once again, some mysterious factor appears to have been at work in
bringing about these mass extinctions. With their woolly coats and
thick skins, mammoths are generally considered adapted to cold
weather, and we are not surprised to come across their remains in
Siberia. Harder to explain is the fact that human beings perished
alongside them,15 as well as many other animals that in no sense can
be described as cold-adapted species:
The northern Siberian plains supported vast numbers of rhinoceroses,
antelope, horses, bison, and other herbivorous creatures, while a
variety of carnivores, including the sabertooth cat, preyed upon
them ... Like the mammoths, these other animals ranged to the
extreme north of Siberia, to the shores of the Arctic Ocean, and yet
further north to the Lyakhov and New Siberian Islands, only a very
short distance from the North Pole.16
11 Professor Frank C. Hibben, The Lost Americans, cited in The Path
of the Pole, p. 275ff.
F. Rainey, ‘Archaeological Investigations in Central Alaska’,
American Antiquity, volume V, 1940, page 307.
13 Path of the Pole,
14 The Biblical Flood and the Ice Epoch, p. 107-8.
A. P. Okladnikov, ‘Excavations in the North’ in Vestiges of Ancient
Cultures, Soviet Union, 1951.
16 The Path of the Pole, p. 255.
Researchers have confirmed that of the thirty-four animal species
living in Siberia prior to the catastrophes of the eleventh
millennium BC—including Ossip’s mammoth, giant deer, cave hyena and
cave lions—no less than
twenty-eight were adapted only to temperate conditions.17 In this
context, one of the most puzzling aspects of the extinctions, which
runs quite contrary to what today’s geographical and climatic
conditions lead us to expect, is that the farther north one goes,
the more the mammoth and other remains increase in number.18
some of the New Siberian Islands, well within the Arctic Circle,
were described by the explorers who first discovered them as being
made up almost entirely of mammoth bones and tusks.19 The only
logical conclusion, as the nineteenth-century French zoologist
Georges Cuvier put it, is that,
‘this eternal frost did not
previously exist in those parts in which the animals were frozen,
for they could not have survived in such a temperature. The same
instant that these creatures were bereft of life, the country which
they inhabited became frozen.’20
There is a great deal of other evidence which suggests that a sudden
freeze took place in Siberia during the eleventh millennium BC. In
his survey of the New Siberian Islands, the Arctic explorer Baron
Eduard von Toll found the remains,
‘of a sabre-tooth tiger, and a
fruit tree that had been 90 feet tall when it was standing. The tree
was well preserved in the permafrost, with its roots and seeds.
Green leaves and ripe fruit still clung to its branches ... At the
present time the only representative of tree vegetation on the
islands is a willow that grows one inch high’.21
Equally indicative of the cataclysmic change that took place at the
onset of the great cold in Siberia is the food the extinct animals
were eating when they perished:
‘The mammoths died suddenly, in
intense cold, and in great numbers. Death came so quickly that the
swallowed vegetation is yet undigested ... Grasses, bluebells,
buttercups, tender sedges, and wild beans have been found, yet
identifiable and undeteriorated, in their mouths and stomachs.’22
Needless to say, such flora does not grow anywhere in Siberia today.
Its presence there in the eleventh millennium BC compels us to
accept that the region had a pleasant and productive climate—one
that was temperate or even warm.23
A. P. Okladnikov, Yakutia before its Incorporation into the Russian
State, McGill-Queens University Press, Montreal, 1970.
18 The Path
of the Pole, p. 250.
The Biblical Flood and the Ice Epoch, p. 107. Wragnell, the
explorer, observed on Bear Island (Medvizhi Ostrova) that the soil
consisted of only sand, ice and such a quantity of mammoth bones
that they seemed to be the chief substance of the island. On the
Siberian mainland he observed that the tundra was dotted with
mammoth tusks rather than Arctic shrubbery.
20 Georges Cuvier,
Revolutions and Catastrophes in the History of the Earth, 1829.
Cited in Path of the Pole, p. 256.
Ivan T. Sanderson, ‘Riddle of the Quick-Frozen Giants’, Saturday
Evening Post, 16 January 1960, p. 82.
23 Path of the Pole, p. 256.
Why the end of the last Ice Age
in other parts of the world should have been the beginning of fatal
winter in this former paradise is a question we shall postpone until
Part VIII. What is certain,
however, is that at some point between 12-13,000 years ago a
destroying frost descended with horrifying speed upon Siberia and
has never relaxed its grip. In an eerie echo of the Avestic
traditions, a land which had previously enjoyed seven months of
summer was converted almost overnight into a land of ice and snow
with ten months of harsh and frozen winter.24
24 Ibid., p. 256. Winter temperatures fall to 56 degrees below zero.
A thousand Krakatoas, all at once
Many of the myths of cataclysm speak of times of terrible cold, of
darkened skies, of black, burning, bituminous rain. For centuries it
must have been like that all the way across the arc of death
incorporating immense tracts of Siberia, the Yukon and Alaska. Here,
‘Interspersed in the muck depths, and sometimes through the very
piles of bones and tusks themselves, are layers of volcanic ash.
There is no doubt that coincidental with the [extinctions] there
were volcanic eruptions of tremendous proportions.’25
There is a remarkable amount of evidence of excessive volcanism
during the decline of the Wisconsin ice cap.26 Far to the south of
the frozen Alaskan mucks, thousands of prehistoric animals and
plants were mired, all at once, in the famous La Brea tar pits of
Los Angeles. Among the creatures unearthed were bison, horses,
camels, sloths, mammoths, mastodons and at least seven hundred
A disarticulated human skeleton was also
found, completely enveloped in bitumen, mingled with the bones of an
extinct species of vulture. In general, the La Brea remains
(‘broken, mashed, contorted, and mixed in a most heterogeneous
mass’28) speak eloquently of
a sudden and dreadful volcanic
Similar finds of typical late Ice Age birds and mammals have been
unearthed from asphalt at two other locations in California
(Carpinteria and McKittrick). In the San Pedro Valley, mastodon
skeletons were discovered still standing upright, engulfed in great
heaps of volcanic ash and sand. Fossils from the glacial Lake
Floristan in Colorado, and from Oregon’s John Day Basin, were also
excavated from tombs of volcanic ash.30
25 Ibid., p. 277.
26 Ibid., p. 132.
27 R. S. Luss, Fossils, 1931, p. 28.
28 G. M. Price, The New Geology,
1923, p. 579.
30 Earth In Upheaval, p. 63
Although the tremendous eruptions that created such mass graves may
have been at their most intense during the last days of the
Wisconsin, they appear to have been recurrent throughout much of the
Ice Age, not
only in North America but in Central and South America, in the North
Atlantic, in continental Asia, and in Japan.31
It is difficult to imagine what this widespread volcanism might have
meant for people living in those strange and terrible times. But
those who recall the cauliflower-shaped clouds of dust, smoke and
ash ejected into the upper atmosphere by the eruption of Mount Saint
Helens in 1980 will appreciate that a large number of such
explosions (occurring sequentially over a sustained period at
different points around the globe) would not only have had
devastating local effects but would have caused a severe
deterioration in the world’s climate.
Mount Saint Helens spat out an estimated one cubic kilometer of rock
and was small-scale by comparison with the typical volcanism of the
Ice Age.32 A more representative impression would be the Indonesian
volcano Krakatoa, which erupted in 1883 with such violence that more
than 36,000 people were killed and the explosion was heard 3000
miles away. From the epicenter in the Sunda Strait, tsunamis 100
feet high roared across the Java Sea and the Indian Ocean, carrying
steamships miles inland and causing flooding as far away as East
Africa and the western coasts of the Americas.
Eighteen cubic kilometers of rock and vast quantities of ash and dust were pumped
into the upper atmosphere; skies all over the world were noticeably
darker for more than two years and sunsets notably redder. Average
global temperatures fell measurably during this period because
volcanic dust-particles reflect the sun’s rays back into space.33
During the episodes of intense volcanism which characterized the Ice
Age, we must envisage not one but many Krakatoas. The combined
effect would at first have been a great intensification of glacial
conditions, as the light of the sun was cut by the boiling dust
clouds, and as already low temperatures plummeted even further.
Volcanoes also inject enormous volumes of carbon dioxide into the
atmosphere, and carbon dioxide is a ‘greenhouse gas’, so it is
reasonable to suppose, as the dust began to settle during periods of
relative calm, that a degree of global warming would have occurred.
A number of authorities attribute the repeated advances and retreats
of the great ice sheets to precisely this see-saw interaction
between volcanism and climate.34
31 Path of the Pole, p. 133, 176.
32 The Evolving Earth, Guild
Publishing, London, 1989, p. 30.
33 Ice Ages: Solving the Mystery, p.
34 Path of the Pole, pp. 132-5.
Geologists agree that by 8000 BC the great Wisconsin and Wurm
ice-caps had retreated. The Ice Age was over. However, the seven
prior to that date had witnessed climatic and geological turbulence
on a scale that was almost unimaginable. Lurching from cataclysm to
disaster and from misfortune to calamity, the few scattered tribes
of surviving humans must have led lives of constant terror and
confusion: there would have been periods of quiescence, when they
might have hoped that the worst was over.
While the melting of the
giant glaciers continued, however, these episodes of tranquility
would have been punctuated again and again by violent floods.
Moreover, sections of the earth’s crust hitherto pressed down into
the asthenosphere by billions of tons of ice would have been
liberated by the thaw and begun to rise again, sometimes rapidly,
causing devastating earthquakes and filling the air with terrible
Some times were much worse than others. The bulk of the animal
extinctions took place between 11,000 BC and 9000 BC when there were
violent and unexplained fluctuations of climate.35
(In the words of
geologist John Imbrie, ‘a climatic revolution took place around
11,000 years ago.’36)
There were also greatly increased rates of
sedimentation37 and an abrupt temperature increase of 6-10 degrees
Centigrade in the surface waters of the Atlantic Ocean.38
Another turbulent episode, again accompanied by mass extinctions,
took place between 15,000 BC and 13,000 BC. We saw in the previous
chapter that the Tazewell Advance brought the ice sheets to their
maximum extent around 17,000 years ago and that a dramatic and
prolonged thaw then ensued, completely deglaciating millions of
square miles of North America and Europe in less than two thousand
There were some anomalies: all of western Alaska, the Yukon
territory in Canada, and most of Siberia including the New Siberian
Islands (now among the coldest parts of the world), remained
unglaciated until the Ice Age was near its end. They acquired their
present climate only about
12,000 years ago, apparently very abruptly, when the mammoths and
other large mammals were frozen in their tracks.39
Ibid., p. 137. A major change from glacial to post-glacial
conditions occurred about 11,000 years ago. This temperature change
was ‘sharp and abrupt’ (Polar Wandering and Continental Drift,
Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists, Special
Publication No. 10, Tulsa, 1953, p. 159). Dramatic climate change
around 12,000 years ago is also reported in C.C. Langway and B. Lyle
Hansen, The Frozen Future: A Prophetic Report from Antarctica,
Quadrangle, New York, 1973, p. 202.
See also Ice Ages, pp. 129, 142;
see also Quaternary Extinctions, p. 357:
‘The last 100,000 years of
glacial expansion, as recorded by oxygen-isotope ratios in deep-sea
cores from the Atlantic and the Equatorial Pacific, terminated
ABRUPTLY around 12,000 years ago. A very rapid ice melt caused a
rapid rise in sea level... Detailed land fossils show a major
movement of plant and animal species at the time, especially into
formerly glaciated terrain. American megafaunal extinctions occurred
during a time of rapid climatic change as seen in fossil pollen and
small animal records.’
36 Ice Ages, p. 129.
37 Path of the Pole, p.
‘The relative change is shown by the change in the relative
abundance of cold and warm water planktonic foraminfera, and the
absolute change is given by oxygen isotope ratio determinations on
the fauna.’ Polar Wandering, p. 96.
The reader may recall that inexplicably warm conditions prevailed in
the New Siberian Islands until this time, and it is worth noting
that many other islands in the Arctic Ocean were also unaffected for
a long while by the widespread glaciations elsewhere (e.g. on Baffin
Island the remains of alder and birch trees preserved in peat
indicate a relatively warm climate extending at least from 30,000 to
17,000 years ago. It is also certain that large parts of Greenland
remained enigmatically ice-free during the Ice Age. Path of the
Pole, p. 93, 96.
Elsewhere the picture was different. Most of Europe was buried under
ice two miles thick.40 So too was most of North America where the
ice-cap had spread from centers near Hudson Bay to enshroud all of
eastern Canada, New England and much of the Midwest down to the 37th
parallel—well to the south of Cincinnati in the Mississippi Valley
and more than halfway to the equator.41
At its peak 17,000 years ago, it is calculated that the total ice
volume covering the northern hemisphere was in the region of six
million cubic miles, and of course there were extensive glaciations
in the southern hemisphere too as we noted. The surplus water flow
from which these numerous ice-caps were formed had been provided by
the world’s seas and oceans which were then about 400 feet lower
than they are today.42
It was at this moment that the pendulum of climate swung violently
in the opposite direction. The great meltdown began so suddenly and
over such vast areas that it has been described ‘as a sort of
miracle’.43 Geologists refer to it as the Bolling phase of warm
climate in Europe and as the Brady interstadial in North America.
An ice-cap that may have taken 40,000 years to develop disappeared
for the most part, in 2000. It must be obvious that this could not
have been the result of gradually acting climatic factors usually
called upon to explain ice ages ... The rapidity of the deglaciation
suggests that some extraordinary factor was affecting the climate.
The dates suggest that this factor first made itself felt about
16,500 years ago, that it had destroyed most, perhaps three-quarters
of the glaciers by 2000 years later, and that [the vast bulk of
these dramatic developments took place] in a millennium or less.’44
40 The Biblical Flood and the Ice Epoch, p. 114;
Path of the Pole, pp. 47-8.
41 Ice Ages, p. 11. Biblical Flood and
the Ice Epoch, p. 117; Path of the Pole, p. 47.
42 Ice Ages, p. 11;
Biblical Flood and the Ice Epoch, p. 114.
43 Path of the Pole, p.
Path of the Pole, pp. 148-9, 152, 162-3. In North America, where the
ice reached its maximum extent between 17,000 and 16,500 years ago,
geologists have made the following discoveries: ‘Leaves, needles and
fruits’ that flourished around 15,300 years ago in Massachusetts; ‘A
bog which developed over glacial material in New Jersey at least
16,280 years ago, immediately after the interruption of the ice
advance.’; ‘In Ohio we have a postglacial sample dated about 14,000
years ago. And that was spruce wood, suggesting a forest that must
have taken a few thousand years, by conservative estimate, to get
established. What, indeed, does this mean? Does it not clearly
suggest that the ice cap, estimated to have been at its maximum at
least a mile thick in Ohio, disappeared from Delaware County in that
state within only a few centuries?’
Likewise, ‘in the Soviet Union, in the Irkutsk area, deglaciation
was complete and
postglacial life fully established by 14,500 years ago. In Lithuania
another bog developed as early as 15,620 years ago. These two dates
taken together are rather suggestive. A bog can develop much faster
than a forest. First, however, the ice mustdisappear. And let us not
forget that there was a great deal of ice.’
Inevitably the first consequence was a precipitous rise in sea
levels, perhaps as much as 350 feet.45 Islands and land bridges
disappeared and vast sections of low-lying continental coastline
were submerged. From time to time great tidal waves rose up to
engulf higher land as well. They ebbed away, but in the process left
unmistakable traces of their presence.
In the United States, ‘Ice Age marine features are present along the
Gulf coast east of the Mississippi River, in some places at
altitudes that may exceed 200 feet.’46 In bogs covering glacial
deposits in Michigan, skeletons of two whales were discovered. In
Georgia marine deposits occur at altitudes of 160 feet, and in
northern Florida at altitudes of at least 240 feet. In Texas, well
to the south of the farthest extent of the Wisconsin Glaciation, the
remains of Ice Age land mammals are found in marine deposits.
Another marine deposit, containing walrus, seals and at least five
genera of whales, overlies the seaboard of the north-eastern states
and the Arctic coast of Canada. In many areas along the Pacific
coast of North America Ice Age marine deposits extend ‘more than 200
miles inland.’47 The bones of a whale have been found north of Lake
Ontario, about 440 feet above sea level, a skeleton of another whale
in Vermont, more than 500 feet above sea level, and another in the
Montreal-Quebec area about 600 feet above sea level.48
Flood myths from all over the world characteristically and
recurrently describe scenes when humans and animals flee the rising
tides and take refuge on mountain tops. The fossil record confirms
that this did indeed happen during the melting of the ice sheets and
that the mountains were not always high enough to save the refugees
from disaster. For example, fissures in the rocks on the tops of
isolated hills in central France are filled with what is known as
‘osseous breccia’, consisting of the splintered bones of mammoths,
woolly rhinoceroses and other animals.
The 1430 feet peak of Mount Genay in Burgundy,
‘is capped by a breccia containing remains of
mammoth, reindeer, horse and other animals’.49
Much farther south,
so too is the Rock of Gibraltar where,
‘a human molar and some flints
worked by Paleolithic man were discovered among the animal bones.’50
45 Ice Ages, p. 11,
Biblical Flood and the Ice Epoch, p. 117, Path of the Pole, p. 47.
46 R. F. Flint, Glacial Geology and the Pleistocene Epoch, 1947, pp.
47 Ibid., p. 362.
48 Earth in Upheaval, p. 43; in general, pp. 42-4.
Ibid., p. 47. Joseph Prestwich, On Certain Phenomena Belonging to
the Close of the Last Geological Period and on their Bearing upon
the Tradition of the Flood, Macmillan, London, 1895, p. 36.
Certain Phenomena, p. 48.
Hippo remains, together with mammoth, rhinoceros, horse, bear,
wolf and lion, have been found in England, in the neighbourhood of
Plymouth on the Channel.51 The hills around Palermo in Sicily
disclosed an ‘extraordinary quantity of bones of hippopotami—in
On the basis of this and other evidence,
Joseph Prestwich, formerly professor of Geology at Oxford
University, concluded that Central Europe, England, and the
Mediterranean islands of Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily were all
completely submerged on several occasions during the rapid melting
of the ice sheets:
The animals naturally retreated, as the waters advanced, deeper into
the hills until they found themselves embayed ... They thronged
together in vast multitudes, crushing into the more accessible
caves, until overtaken by the waters and destroyed ... Rocky debris
and large blocks from the sides of the hills were hurled down by the
currents of water, crushing and smashing the bones ... Certain
communities of early man must have suffered in this general
It is probable that similar flood disasters occurred in China at
much the same time. In caves near Peking, bones of mammoths and
buffaloes have been found in association with human skeletal
remains.54 A number of authorities attribute the violent
intermingling of mammoth carcasses with splintered and broken trees
in Siberia ‘to a great tidal wave that uprooted forests and buried
the tangled carnage in a flood of mud. In the polar region this
froze solid and has preserved the evidence in permafrost to the
All over South America, too, Ice-Age fossils have been unearthed,
‘in which incongruous animal types (carnivores and herbivores) are
mixed promiscuously with human bones. No less significant is the
association, over truly widespread areas, of fossilized land and sea
creatures mingled in no order and yet entombed in the same
North America was also badly affected by flooding. As the great
Wisconsin ice sheets melted they created huge but temporary lakes
which filled up with incredible speed, drowning everything in their
paths, then drained away in a few hundred years. Lake Agassiz, for
example, the largest glacial lake in the New World, once occupied an
area of 110,000 square miles, covering large parts of what are now
Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan in Canada, and North Dakota and
Minnesota in the United States.57
Remarkably, it endured for less
than a millennium, indicating a catastrophically sudden episode of
melting and flooding followed by a period of quiescence.58
51 Ibid., p. 25-6.
52 Ibid., p. 50.
53 Ibid., p. 51-2.
54 J. S. Lee, The Geology of China, London, 1939, p. 370.
Wandering, p. 165.
J. B. Delair and E.F. Oppe, ‘The Evidence of Violent Extinction in
South America’, in Path of the Pole p. 292.
58 Warren Upham, The Glacial Lake Agassiz, 1895,
A token of good faith
It was long believed that human beings did not reach the New World
until around 11,000 years ago, but recent finds have steadily pushed
that horizon back. Stone implements dating to 25,000 BC have been
identified by Canadian researchers in the Old Crow Basin in the
Yukon Territory of Alaska.59
In South America (as far south as Peru
and Tierra del Fuego) human remains and artifacts have been found
which have been reliably dated to 12,000 BC—with another group
between 19,000 BC and 23,000 BC.60 With this and other evidence
taken into account, ‘a very reasonable conclusion on the peopling of
the Americas is that it began at least 35,000 years ago, but may
well have included waves of immigrants at later dates too.’61
59 Human Evolution, p. 92.
60 Ibid.; see also Quaternary Extinctions,
61 Human Evolution, p. 92.
Those newly arriving Ice Age Americans, trekking in from Siberia
across the Bering land bridge, would have faced the most appalling
conditions between 17,000 and 10,000 years ago. It was then that the
Wisconsin glaciers, all at once, went into their ferocious meltdown,
forcing a 350 foot rise in global sea levels amid scenes of
unprecedented climatic and geological turmoil.
For seven thousand
years of human experience, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and
immense floods, interspersed with eerie periods of peace, must have
dominated the day-to-day lives of the New World peoples. Perhaps
this is why so many of their myths speak with such conviction of
fire and floods and times of darkness and of the creation and
destruction of Suns.
Moreover, as we have seen, the myths of the New World are not in
this respect isolated from those of the Old. All around the globe, a
remarkable uniformity reveals itself over issues such as ‘the great
flood’ and ‘the great cold’ and ‘the time of the great upheaval’. It
is not just that the same experiences are being recounted again and
again; that, on its own, would be quite understandable since the Ice
Age and its aftereffects were global phenomena.
More curious by far
is the way in which the same symbolic motifs keep recurring: the one
good man and his family, the warning given by a god, the seeds of
all living things saved, the survival ship, the enclosure against
the cold, the trunk of a tree in which the pregenitors of future
humanity hide themselves, the birds and other creatures released
after the flood to find land ... and so on.
Isn’t it also odd that so many of the myths turn out to contain
descriptions of figures like Quetzalcoatl and Viracocha, said to
have come in the time of darkness, after the flood, to teach
architecture, astronomy, science and the rule of law to the
scattered and devastated tribes of survivors.
Who were these civilizing heroes?
Were they figments of the
If they were men, could they have
tampered with the myths in some way, turning them into vehicles for
transporting knowledge through time?
Such notions seem fanciful. But, as we shall see in Part V,
astronomical data of a disturbingly accurate and scientific nature
turns up repeatedly in certain myths, as time-worn and as universal
in their distribution as those of the great flood.
Where did their scientific content come from?
The Mystery of the Myths
2. The Precessional Code
The Celestial Sphere.
Chapter 28 -
The Machinery of Heaven
Although a modern reader does not expect a text on celestial
mechanics to read like a lullaby, he insists on his capacity to
understand mythical ‘images’ instantly, because he can respect as
‘scientific’ only page-long approximation formulas, and the like.
He does not think of the possibility that equally relevant knowledge
might once have been expressed in everyday language. He never
suspects such a possibility, although the visible accomplishments of
ancient cultures—to mention only the pyramids or metallurgy—should
be a cogent reason for concluding that serious and intelligent men
were at work behind the stage, men who were bound to have used a
technical language ...1
Hamlet’s Mill, pp. 57-8.
The quotation is from the late Giorgio de Santillana, professor of
the History of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In the chapters that follow, we shall be learning about his
revolutionary investigations into ancient mythology. In brief,
however, his proposition is this: long ages ago, serious and
intelligent people devised a system for veiling the technical
terminology of an advanced astronomical science behind the everyday
language of myth.
Let us start with some basics.
The wild celestial dance
The earth makes a complete circuit around its own axis once every
twenty-four hours and has an equatorial circumference of 24,902.45
miles. It follows, therefore, that a man standing still on the
equator is in fact in motion, revolving with the planet at just over
1000 miles per hour.2 Viewed from outer space, looking down on the
North Pole, the direction of rotation is anti-clockwise.
While spinning daily on its own axis, the earth also orbits the sun
(again in an anti-clockwise direction) on a path which is slightly
elliptical rather than completely circular. It pursues this orbit at
truly breakneck speed, travelling as far along it in an hour—66,600
miles—as the average motorist will drive in six years. To bring the
calculations down in scale, this means that we are hurtling through
space much faster than any
bullet, at the rate of 18.5 miles every second. In the time that it
has taken you to read this paragraph, we have voyaged about 550
miles farther along earth’s path around the sun.3
With a year required to complete a full circuit, the only evidence
we have of the tremendous orbital race we are participating in is
the slow march of the seasons. And in the operations of the seasons
themselves it is possible to see a wondrous and impartial mechanism
at work distributing spring, summer, autumn and winter fairly around
the globe, across the northern and southern hemispheres, year in and
year out, with absolute regularity.
The earth’s axis of rotation is tilted in relation to the plane of
its orbit (at about 23.5° to the vertical). This tilt, which causes
the seasons, ‘points’ the North Pole, and the entire northern
hemisphere away from the sun for six months a year (while the
southern hemisphere enjoys its summer) and points the South Pole and
the southern hemisphere away from the sun for the remaining six
months (while the northern hemisphere enjoys its summer).
seasons result from the annual variation in the angle at which the
sun’s rays reach any particular point on the earth’s surface and
from the annual variation in the number of hours of sunlight
received there at different times of the year.
The earth’s tilt is referred to in technical language as its
‘obliquity’, and the plane of its orbit, extended outwards to form a
great circle in the celestial sphere, is known as the ‘ecliptic’.
Astronomers also speak of the ‘celestial equator’, which is an
extension of the earth’s equator into the celestial sphere. The
celestial equator is today inclined at about 23.5° to the ecliptic,
because the earth’s axis is inclined at 23.5° to the vertical.
angle, termed the ‘obliquity of the ecliptic’, is not fixed and
immutable for all time. On the contrary (as we saw in Chapter Eleven
in relation to the dating of the Andean city of Tiahuanaco) it is
subject to constant, though very slow, oscillations. These occur
across a range of slightly less than 3°, rising closest to the
vertical at 22.1° and falling farthest away at 24.5°. A full cycle,
from 24.5° to 22.1°, and back again to 24.5°, takes approximately
41,000 years to complete.4
So our fragile planet nods and spins while soaring along its orbital
path. The orbit takes a year and the spin takes a day and the nod
has a cycle of 41,000 years. A wild celestial dance seems to be
going on as we skip and skim and dive through eternity, and we feel
the tug of contradictory urges: to fall into the sun on the one
hand; to make a break for the outer darkness on the other.
2 Figures from Encyclopaedia Britannica,
J. D. Hays, John Imbrie, N.J. Shackleton, ‘Variations in the Earth’s
Orbit, Pacemaker of the Ice Ages’, Science, volume 194, No. 4270, 10
December 1976, p. 1125.
The sun’s gravitational domain, in the inner circles of which the
earth is held captive, is now known to extend more than fifteen
trillion miles into space, almost halfway to the nearest star.5 Its
pull upon our planet is therefore immense. Also affecting us is the
gravity of the other planets with which we share the solar system.
Each of these exerts an attraction which tends to draw the earth out
of its regular orbit around the sun. The planets are of different
sizes, however, and revolve around the sun at different speeds.
combined gravitational influence they are able to exert thus changes
over time in complex but predictable ways, and the orbit changes its
shape constantly in response. Since the orbit is an ellipse these
changes affect its degree of elongation, known technically as its
‘eccentricity’. This varies from a low value close to zero (when the
orbit approaches the form of a perfect circle) to a high value of
about six per cent when it is at its most elongated and elliptical.6
There are other forms of planetary influence too. Thus, though no
explanation has yet been forthcoming, it is known that shortwave
radio frequencies are disturbed when Jupiter, Saturn and
up.7 And in this connection evidence has also emerged,
of a strange and unexpected correlation between the positions of
Jupiter, Saturn and Mars, in their orbits around the sun, and
violent electrical disturbances in the earth’s upper atmosphere.
This would seem to indicate that the planets and the sun share in a
cosmic-electrical balance mechanism that extends a billion miles
from the centre of our solar system. Such an electrical balance is
not accounted for in current astrophysical theories.8
The Biblical Flood and the Ice Epoch, pp. 288-9. Fifteen trillion
miles is equivalent to fifteen thousand billion miles.
6 Ice Ages,
7 Earth in Upheaval, p. 266.
8 New York Times, 15 April
The obliquity of the ecliptic varies from 22.1° to 24.5° over a
cycle of 41,000 years.
Inner planets of the solar system.
The New York Times, from which the above report is taken, does not
attempt to clarify matters further. Its writers are probably unaware
of just how much they sound like Berosus, the Chaldean historian,
astronomer and seer of the third century BC, who made a deep study
of the omens he believed would presage the final destruction of the
world. He concluded,
‘I Berosus, interpreter of Bellus, affirm that
all the earth inherits will be consigned to flame when the five
planets assemble in Cancer, so arranged in one row that a straight
line may pass through their spheres.’ 9
A conjunction of five planets that can be expected to have profound
gravitational effects will take place on 5 May in the year 2000 when
Neptune, Uranus, Venus, Mercury and Mars will align with earth on
the other side of the sun, setting up a sort of cosmic tug-of-war.10
Let us also note that modern astrologers who have charted the Mayan
date for the end of the Fifth Sun calculate that there will be a
most peculiar arrangement of planets at that time, indeed an
arrangement so peculiar that,
‘it can only occur once in 45,200 years
... From this extraordinary pattern we might well expect an
No one in his or her right mind would rush to accept such a
proposition. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that multiple
influences, many of which we do not fully understand, appear to be
at work within our solar system. Among these influences, that of our
own satellite, the moon, is particularly strong.
example, occur more often when the moon is full or when the earth is
between the sun and the moon; when the moon is new or between the
sun and the earth; when the moon crosses the meridian of the
affected locality; and when the moon is closest to the earth on its
orbit.12 Indeed, when the moon reaches this latter point
(technically referred to as its ‘perigree’), its gravitational
attraction increases by about six per cent. This happens once every
twenty-seven and one-third days.
The tidal pull that it exerts on
these occasions affects not only the great movements of our oceans
but those of the reservoirs of hot magma penned within the earth’s
thin crust (which has been described as resembling ‘a paper bag
filled with honey or molasses swinging along at a rate of more than
1000 miles an hour in equatorial rotation, and more than 66,000
miles an hour in orbit’ 13).
9 Berossus, Fragments.
10 Skyglobe 3.6.
Roberta S. Sklower, ‘Predicting Planetary Positions’, appendix to
Frank Waters, Mexico Mystique, Sage Books, Chicago, 1975, p. 285ff.
12 Earth in Upheaval, p. 138.
13 Biblical Flood and the Ice Epoch,
The wobble of a deformed planet
All this circular motion, of course, generates immense centrifugal
forces and these, as Sir Isaac Newton demonstrated in the
cause the earth’s ‘paper bag’ to bulge outwards at the equator. The
corollary is a flattening at the poles. In consequence, our planet
deviates slightly from the form of a perfect sphere and is more
accurately described as an ‘oblate spheroid’. Its radius at the
equator (3963.374 miles) is about fourteen miles longer than its
polar radius (3949.921 miles).14
For billions of years the flattened poles and the bulging equator
have been engaged in a covert mathematical interaction with the
recondite influence of gravity.
‘Because the Earth is flattened,’
explains one authority, ‘the Moon’s gravity tends to tilt the
Earth’s axis so that it becomes perpendicular to the Moon’s orbit,
and to a lesser extent the same is true for the Sun.’15
At the same time the equatorial bulge—the extra mass distributed
around the equator—acts like the rim of a gyroscope to keep the
earth steady on its axis.16
14 Figures from Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1991, 27:530.
16 Path of the Pole, p. 3.
Year in, year out, on a planetary scale, it is this gyroscopic
effect that prevents the tug of the sun and the moon from radically
altering the earth’s axis of rotation. The pull these two bodies
jointly exert is, however, sufficiently strong to force the axis to
‘precess’, which means that it wobbles slowly in a clockwise
direction opposite to that of the earth’s spin.
This important motion is our planet’s characteristic signature
within the solar system. Anyone who has ever set a top spinning
should be able to understand it without much difficulty; a top,
after all, is simply another type of gyroscope. In full
uninterrupted spin it stands upright. But the moment its axis is
deflected from the vertical it begins to exhibit a second behaviour:
a slow and obstinate reverse wobble around a great circle. This
wobble, which is precession, changes the direction in which the axis
points while keeping constant its newly tilted angle.
A second analogy, somewhat different in approach, may help to
clarify matters a little further:
Envisage the earth, floating in
space, inclined at approximately 23.5°
to the vertical and spinning around on its axis once every 24 hours.
Envisage this axis as a massively strong pivot, or axle, passing
through the centre of the earth, exiting via the North and South
and extending outwards from there in both directions.
you are a giant, striding through the solar system, with
orders to carry out a specific task.
Imagine approaching the
tilted earth (which, because of your great
size, now looks no bigger to you than a millwheel).
reaching out and grasping the two ends of the extended axis.
imagine yourself slowly beginning to inter-rotate them, pushing
one end, pulling the other.
The earth was already spinning when you arrived.
Your orders, therefore, are not to get involved in its axial
rotation, but rather to impart to it its other motion: that slow
clockwise wobble called precession.
To fulfill this commission you will have to push the northern tip
of the extended axis up and around a great circle in the northern
celestial hemisphere while at the same time pulling the southern tip
around an equally large circle in the southern celestial hemisphere.
This will involve a slow swivelling pedalling motion with your hands
Be warned, however. The ‘millwheel’ of the earth is heavier than
it looks, so much heavier, in fact, that it’s going to take you
25,776 years 17 to turn the two tips of its axis through one full precessional cycle (at the end of which they will be aiming at the
same points in the celestial sphere as when you arrived).
Oh, and by the way, now that you’ve started the job we may as
well tell you that you’re never going to be allowed to leave. As
soon as one precessional cycle is over another must begin. And
another ... and another ... and another ... and so on, endlessly,
for ever and ever and ever.
You can think of this, if you like, as one of the basic
mechanisms of the solar system, or, if you prefer, as one of the
fundamental commandments of the divine will.
17 Jane B. Sellers, The Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, Penguin,
London, 1992, p. 205.
In the process, little by little, as you slowly sweep the extended
axis around the heavens, its two tips will point to one star after
another in the polar latitudes of the southern celestial hemisphere
(and sometimes, of course, to empty space), and to one star after
another in the polar latitudes of the northern celestial hemisphere.
We are talking here, about a kind of musical chairs among the
And what keeps everything in motion is the
earth’s axial precession—a motion driven by giant gravitational and
gyroscopic forces, that is regular, predictable and relatively easy
to work out with the aid of modern equipment. Thus, for example, the
northern pole star is presently alpha Ursae Minoris (which we know
as Polaris). But computer calculations enable us to state with
in 3000 BC alpha Draconis occupied the pole position
at the time of the Greeks the northern pole star was
in AD 14,000 it will be Vega
18 Skyglobe 3.6.
A great secret of the past
It will not hurt to remind ourselves of some of the fundamental data
concerning the movements of the earth and its orientation in space:
It tilts at about 23.5° to the vertical, an angle from which it can
vary by as much as 1.5° on either side over periods of 41,000 years.
It completes a full precessional cycle once every 25,776 years.19
It spins on its own axis once every twenty-four hours.
It orbits the sun once every 365 days (actually 365.2422 days).
19 Precise figure from The Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, p. 205.
The most important influence on its seasons is the angle at which
the rays of the sun strike it at various points on its orbital path.
Equinoxes and solstices.
Let us also note that there are four crucial astronomical moments in
the year, marking the official beginning of each of the four
seasons. These moments (or cardinal points), which were of immense
importance to the ancients, are the winter and the summer solstices
and the spring and autumn equinoxes.
In the northern hemisphere the
winter solstice, the shortest day, falls on 21 December, and the
summer solstice, the longest day, on 21 June.
In the southern
hemisphere, on the other hand,
everything is literally upside down: there winter begins on 21 June
and summer on 21 December.
The equinoxes, by contrast, are the two points in the year on which
night and day are of equal length all over the planet. Once again,
however, as with the solstices, the date that marks the onset of
spring in the northern hemisphere (20 March) marks that of autumn in
the southern hemisphere, and the date for the onset of autumn in the
northern hemisphere (22 September) marks the onset of spring in the
Like the subtler variations of the seasons, all this is brought
about by the benevolent obliquity of the planet. The northern
hemisphere’s summer solstice falls at that point in the orbit when
the North Pole is aimed most directly towards the sun; six months
later the winter solstice marks that point when the North Pole is
aimed most directly away from the sun. And, logically enough, the
reason that day and night are of exactly equal length all over the
planet on the spring and autumn equinoxes is that these mark the two
points when the earth’s axis of rotation lies broadside-on to the
Let us now take a look at a strange and beautiful phenomenon of
This phenomenon is known as ‘the precession of the equinoxes’. It
has rigid and repetitive mathematical qualities that can be analyzed
and predicted precisely. It is, however, extremely difficult to
observe, and even harder to measure accurately, without
In this, there may lie a clue to one of the great mysteries of the
Chapter 29 -
The First Crack in an Ancient Code
The plane of the earth’s orbit, projected outwards to form a great
circle in the celestial sphere, is known as the ecliptic. Ringed
around the ecliptic, in a starry belt that extends approximately 7°
north and south, are the twelve constellations of the zodiac: Aries,
Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpius, Sagittarius,
Capricornus, Aquarius and Pisces.
These constellations are irregular
in size, shape and distribution. Nevertheless (and one assumes by
chance!) their spacing around the rim of the ecliptic is
sufficiently even to bestow a sense of cosmic order upon the diurnal
risings and settings of the sun.
To picture what is involved here, do the following:
(1) mark a dot
in the centre of a blank sheet of paper;
(2) draw a circle around
the dot, about half an inch away from it;
(3) enclose that circle in
a second, larger, circle.
The dot represents the sun. The smaller of the two concentric
circles represents the earth’s orbit. The larger circle represents
the rim of the ecliptic. Around the perimeter of this larger circle,
therefore, you should now draw twelve boxes, spacing them evenly, to
represent the constellations of the zodiac. Since there are 360° in
a circle, each constellation can be considered to occupy a space of
30° along the ecliptic. The dot is the sun.
The inner of the two
concentric circles is the earth’s orbit. We know that the earth
travels on this orbit in an anti-clockwise direction, from the west
towards the east, and that every twenty-four hours it also makes one
complete rotation around its own axis (again from the west towards
From these two movements two illusions result:
1 - Each day as the
planet turns from west to east, the sun (which is of
course a fixed point) appears to ‘move’ across the sky from east to
2 - Roughly every thirty days, as the spinning earth journeys
orbital path around the sun, the sun itself slowly appears to ‘pass’
through one after another of the twelve zodiacal constellations
are also fixed points), and again it appears to be ‘moving’ in an
On any particular day of the year, in other words, (corresponding on
our diagram to any point we care to choose around the inner
concentric circle marking the earth’s orbit), it is obvious that the
sun will lie between an observer on the earth and one of the twelve
zodiacal constellations. On that day what the observer will see, so
long as he or she is up and about well before dawn, is the sun
rising in the east in the portion of the sky occupied by that
Beneath the clear and unpolluted heavens of the ancient world, it is
easy to understand how human beings might have felt reassured by
regular celestial motions such as these. It is equally easy to
understand why the four cardinal points of the year—the spring and
autumn equinoxes, the winter and summer solstices—should everywhere
have been accorded immense significance. Even greater significance
was accorded to the conjunction of these cardinal points with the
But most significant of all was the
constellation in which the sun was observed to rise on the morning
of the spring (or vernal) equinox. Because of the earth’s axial
precession, the ancients discovered that this constellation was not
fixed or permanent for all time but that the honour of ‘housing’ or
‘carrying’ the sun on the day of the vernal equinox circulated—very,
very slowly—among all the constellations of the zodiac.
In the words of Giorgio de Santillana:
‘The sun’s position amongst
the constellations at the vernal equinox was the pointer that
indicated the “hours” of the precessional cycle—very long hours
indeed, the equinoctial sun occupying each zodiacal constellation
for almost 2200 years.1
The direction of the earth’s slow axial precession is clockwise
(i.e., east to west) and thus in opposition to the direction of the
planet’s annual path around the sun. In relation to the
constellations of the zodiac, lying fixed in space, this causes the
point at which the spring equinox occurs ‘to move stubbornly along
the ecliptic in the opposite direction to the yearly course
Direction in which the vernal point shifts as a result of precession
of the sun, that is, against the “right” sequence of the zodiacal
signs (Taurus→ Aries→ Pisces→ Aquarius, instead of Aquarius→
Pisces→ Aries→ Taurus).’2
Hamlet ‘s Mill, p. 59.
2 Ibid., p. 58.
During the course of each year the earth’s movement along its orbit
causes the stellar background against which the sun is seen to rise
to change from month to month:
Aquarius→ Pisces→ Aries→ Taurus→ Gemini→ Cancer→ Leo, etc, etc. At
present, on the vernal equinox, the sun rises due east between
Pisces and Aquarius. The effect of precession is to cause the
‘vernal point’ to be reached fractionally earlier in the orbit each
year with the result that it very gradually shifts through all 12
houses of the zodiac, spending 2160 years ‘in’ each sign and making
a complete circuit in 25,920 years.
The direction of this
‘processional drift’, in opposition to the annual ‘path of the sun’,
is: Leo→ Cancer→ Gemini→ Taurus→ Aries→ Pisces→ Aquarius. To give one
example, the ‘Age of Leo’, i.e. the 2160 years during which the sun
on the vernal equinox rose against the stellar background of the
constellation of Leo, lasted from 10,970 until 8810 BC. We live
today in the astrological no man’s land at the end of the ‘Age of
Pisces’, on the threshold of the ‘New Age’ of Aquarius.
Traditionally these times of transition between one age and the next
have been regarded as ill-omened.
That, in a nutshell, is the meaning of ‘precession of the
equinoxes’. And that is exactly what is involved in the notion of
the ‘dawning of the Age of Aquarius’. The famous line from the
musical Hair refers to the fact that every year, for the last 2000
years or so, the sun has risen in Pisces on the vernal equinox. The
age of Pisces, however, is now approaching its end and the vernal
sun will soon pass out of the sector of the Fish and begin to rise
against the new background of Aquarius.
The 25,776-year cycle of precession is the engine that drives this
majestic celestial juggernaut along its never-ending tour of the
heavens. But the details of exactly how precession moves the
equinoctial points from Pisces into Aquarius—and thence onwards
around the zodiac—are also worth knowing.
Remember that the equinoxes occur on the only two occasions in the
year when the earth’s tilted axis lies broadside-on to the sun.
These are when the sun rises due east all over the world and day and
night are of equal length. Because the earth’s axis is slowly but
surely precessing in a direction opposite to that of its own orbit,
the points at which it lies broadside-on to the sun must occur
fractionally earlier in the orbit each year.
These annual changes
are so small as to be almost imperceptible (a one degree shift along
the ecliptic—equivalent to the width of your little finger held up
to the horizon—requires approximately seventy-two years to
complete). However, as de Santillana points out, such minute changes
add up in just under 2200 years to a 30° passage through a complete
house of the zodiac, and in just under 26,000 years to a 360°
passage through a complete cycle of precession.
When did the ancients first work out precession?
In the answer to this question lies a great secret, and mystery, of
the past. Before we try to penetrate the mystery and to learn the
secret, we should acquaint ourselves with the ‘official’ line. The
Encyclopaedia Britannica is as good a repository as any of
conventional historical wisdom, and this is what it tells us about a
scholar named Hipparchus, the supposed discoverer of precession:
Hipparchus, also spelled HIPPARCHOS (b. Nicaea, Bithynia; d. after
127 BC, Rhodes), Greek astronomer and mathematician who discovered
the precession of the equinoxes ... This notable discovery was the
result of painstaking observations, worked upon by an acute mind.
Hipparchus observed the positions of the stars, and then compared
his results with those of Timocharis of Alexandria about 150 years
earlier and with even earlier observations made in Babylonia.
discovered that the celestial longitudes were different and that
this difference was of a magnitude exceeding that attributable to
errors of observation. He therefore proposed precession to account
for the size of the difference and he gave a value of 45’ or 46’
(seconds of arc) for annual changes. This is very close to the
50.274 seconds of arc accepted today ...’3
Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1991, 5:937-8. See also The Death of Gods
in Ancient Egypt,
p. 205, where the precise figure of 50.274 is given.
First, a point of terminology.
Seconds of arc are the smallest
subdivisions of a degree of arc. There are 60 of these arc seconds
in one arc minute, 60 minutes in one degree, and 360 degrees in the
full circle of earth’s path around the sun. An annual change of
50.274 seconds of arc represents a distance somewhat under
one-sixtieth of one degree so that
it takes roughly 72 years (an entire human lifetime) for the
equinoctial sun to migrate just one degree along the ecliptic.
because of the observational difficulties entailed in detecting this
snails’ pace rate of change that the value worked out by Hipparchus
in the second century BC is hailed in the Britannica as a ‘notable
Would this discovery seem so notable if it turned out to be a
Would the mathematical and astronomical achievements of
the Greeks shine so brightly if we could prove that the difficult
challenge of measuring precession had been taken up thousands of
years before Hipparchus?
What if this heavenly cycle, almost 26,000
years long, had been made the object of precise scientific
investigations long epochs before the supposed dawn of scientific
In seeking answers to such questions there is much that may be
relevant which would never be accepted by any court of law as
concrete proof. Let us not accept it either. We have seen that
Hipparchus proposed a value of 45 or 46 seconds of arc for one year
of precessional motion. Let us therefore not attempt to dislodge the
Greek astronomer from his pedestal as the discoverer of precession
unless we can find a significantly more accurate value recorded in a
significantly more ancient source.
Of course, there are many potential sources. At this point, however,
in the interests of succinctness, we shall limit our inquiry to
universal myths. We have already examined one group of myths in
detail (the traditions of flood and cataclysm set out in Part IV)
and we have seen that they possess a range of intriguing
1 - There is no doubt that they are immensely old.
Mesopotamian flood story, versions of which have been found
inscribed on tablets from the earliest strata of Sumerian history,
around 3000 BC. These tablets, handed down from the dawn of the
recorded past, leave no room for doubt that the tradition of a
world-destroying flood was ancient even then, and therefore
originated long before the dawn.
We cannot say how long. The fact
remains that no scholar has ever been able to establish a date for
the creation of any myth, let alone for these venerable and
widespread traditions. In a very real sense they seem always to have
been around—part of the permanent baggage of human culture.
- The possibility cannot be ruled out that this aura of vast
antiquity is not an illusion. On the contrary, we have seen that
many of the great myths of cataclysm seem to contain accurate
eye-witness accounts of real conditions experienced by humanity
during the last Ice Age. In theory, therefore, these stories could
have been constructed at almost the same time as the emergence of
our subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens, perhaps as long as 50,000 years
The geological evidence, however, suggests a more recent
provenance, and we have identified the epoch 15,000-8000 BC as the
most likely. Only then, in the whole of human experience, were there
rapid climatic changes on the convulsive scale the myths so
3 - The Ice Age and its tumultuous demise were global phenomena. It is
therefore perhaps not surprising that the cataclysm traditions of
many different cultures, widely scattered around the globe, should
be characterized by a high degree of uniformity and convergence.
4 - What is surprising, however, is that the myths not only describe
shared experiences but that they do so in what appears to be a
shared symbolic language. The same ‘literary motifs’ keep cropping
up again and again, the same stylistic ‘props’, the same
recognizable characters, and the same plots.
According to Professor de Santillana, this type of uniformity
suggests a guiding hand at work. In Hamlet’s Mill, a seminal and
original thesis on ancient myth written in collaboration with Hertha
von Dechend (professor of the History of Science at Frankfurt
University) he argues that:
universality is in itself a test when coupled with a firm design.
When something found, say, in China, turns up also in Babylonian
astrological texts, then it must be assumed to be relevant if it
reveals a complex of uncommon images which nobody could claim had
risen independently by spontaneous generation. Take the origin of
music. Orpheus and his harrowing death may be a poetic creation born
in more than one instance in diverse places.
But when characters who
do not play the lyre but blow pipes get themselves flayed alive for
various absurd reasons, and their identical end is rehearsed on
several continents, then we feel we have got hold of something, for
such stories cannot be linked by internal sequence. And when the
Pied Piper turns up both in the German myth of Hamelin and in Mexico
long before Columbus, and is linked in both places to certain
attributes like the colour red, it can hardly be a coincidence ...
Likewise, when one finds numbers like
108, or 9 x 13 reappearing
under several multiples in the Vedas, in the temples of Angkor, in
Babylon, in Heraclitus’ dark utterances, and also in the Norse
Valhalla, it is not accident ...4
Hamlet’s Mill, p. 7.5 Ibid.; Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt.6
Hamlet’s Mill, p. 65.
Connecting the great universal myths of cataclysm, is it possible
that such coincidences that cannot be coincidences, and accidents
that cannot be accidents, could denote the global influence of an
ancient, though as yet unidentified, guiding hand?
If so, could it
be that same hand, during and after the last Ice Age, which drew the
series of highly accurate and technically advanced world maps
reviewed in Part I?
And might not that same hand have left its
ghostly fingerprints on another body of universal myths?
concerning the death and resurrection of gods, and great trees
around which the earth and heavens turn, and whirlpools, and churns,
and drills, and other similar revolving, grinding contrivances?
According to Santillana and von Dechend, all such images refer to
celestial events5 and do so, furthermore, in the refined technical
language of an archaic but ‘immensely sophisticated’ astronomical
and mathematical science:6
‘This language ignores local beliefs and
concentrates on numbers, motions, measures, overall frames, schemas—
on the structure of numbers, on geometry.’7
Where could such a language have come from?
Hamlet’s Mill is a
labyrinth of brilliant but deliberately evasive scholarship, and
offers us no straightforward answer to this question. Here and
there, however, almost with embarrassment, inconclusive hints are
dropped. For example, at one point the authors say that the
scientific language or ‘code’ they believe they have identified is
of ‘awe-inspiring antiquity’.8 On another occasion they pin down the
depth of this antiquity more precisely to a period at least ‘6000
years before Virgil’9—in other words 8000 years ago or more.
What civilization known to history could have developed and made use
of a sophisticated technical language more than 8000 years ago?
honest answer to this question is ‘none’, followed by a frank
admission that what is being conjectured is nothing less than a
forgotten episode of high technological culture in prehistoric
times. Once again, Santillana and von Dechend are elusive when it
comes to the crunch, speaking only of the legacy we all owe to,
almost unbelievable ancestor civilization’ that ‘first dared to
understand the world as created according to number, measure and
The legacy, it is clear, has to do with scientific thinking and
complex information of a mathematical nature. Because it is so
extremely old, however, the passage of time has dissipated it:
When the Greeks came upon the scene the dust of centuries had
already settled upon the remains of this great world-wide archaic
construction. Yet something of it survived in traditional rites, in
myths and fairy-tales no longer understood ... These are tantalizing
fragments of a lost whole.
They make one think of those ‘mist
landscapes’ of which Chinese painters are masters, which show here a
rock, here a gable, there the tip of a tree, and leave the rest to
imagination. Even when the code shall have yielded, when the
techniques shall be known, we cannot expect to gauge the thought of
these remote ancestors of ours, wrapped as it is in its symbols,
since the creating, ordering minds that devised the symbols have
What we have here, therefore, are two distinguished professors of
the History of Science, from esteemed universities on both sides of
the Atlantic, claiming to have discovered the remnants of a coded
scientific language many thousands of years older than the oldest
human civilizations identified by scholarship. Moreover, though
generally cautious, Santillana and von Dechend also claim to have
‘broken part of that code’.12
This is an extraordinary statement for two serious academics to have
7 Ibid., p. 345.
8 Ibid., p. 418.
9 Ibid., p. 245.
10 Ibid., p. 132.
11 Ibid., pp. 4-5,348.
12 Ibid., p. 5.
Continue to Chapter 30