Graham Hancock investigates the mysterious religious texts of the Zoroastrians of ancient Persia and the 'underground cities' of neighboring Turkey.
Both, he argues, are far older than is presently taught and date back to cataclysmic events near the end of the last Ice Age that destroyed, and all but wiped from human memory, an advanced civilization of prehistory.
Below is an excerpt form his work, "Magicians of the Gods".
Exactly how old Zoroastrianism is has not yet been satisfactorily established by scholars, since even the lifetime of its prophet Zarathustra (better known as Zoroaster) is uncertain. Indeed, as Columbia University's authoritative Encyclopedia Iranica admits:
The Greek historians were amongst the first to address themselves to the matter.
Plutarch, for example, tells us that Zoroaster 'lived 5,000 years before the Trojan War' [ii] (itself a matter of uncertain historicity but generally put at around 1300 BC, thus 5,000 plus 1,300 = 6300 BC).
A similar chronology is given by Diogenes Laertius, who relates that Zoroaster lived '6,000 years before Xerxes' Greek campaign' [iii] (i.e. around 6480 BC).
More recent scholars have proposed dates as far apart as 1750 BC and '258 years before Alexander' [iv] (i.e. around 588 BC). Whatever the truth of the matter, it is agreed that Zoroaster himself borrowed from much earlier traditions and that Zoroastrianism, therefore, like many other religions, has roots that extend very far back into prehistory.
In the Zoroastrian scriptures known as the Zend Avesta certain verses in particular are recognized as drawing on these very ancient oral traditions. [v]
The verses speak of a primordial father figure called Yima, the first man, the first king, and the founder of civilization, and appear in the opening section of the Zend Avesta, known as the Vendidad.
There we read how the god Ahura Mazda created the first land, 'Airyana Vaejo, by the good river Daitya,' [vi] as a paradise on earth and how 'the fair Yima, the great shepherd… was the first mortal' with whom Ahura Mazda chose to converse, instructing him to become a preacher. [vii]
Yima refused, at which the god said:
To this Yima agreed, at which the god presented him with a golden ring and a poniard - a long, tapered thrusting knife - inlaid with gold.
Significantly, for we will see in Chapter Seventeen there are close parallels to this story as far away as the Andes mountains of South America, Yima then:
By this act, we learn he 'made the earth grow larger by one third than it was before,' a feat that over the course of thousands of years he repeated twice more - in the process eventually doubling the land area available for,
Anatomically modern humans like ourselves have existed, so far as we know, for a little less than two hundred thousand years (the earliest anatomically modern human skeleton acknowledged by science is from Ethiopia and dates to 196,000 years ago). [xi]
Within this time-span there has only been one period when those parts of the earth that are useful to humans increased dramatically in size, and that was during the last Ice Age, between 100,000 and 11,600 years ago.
Indeed, previously submerged lands totaling 27 million square kilometers - equivalent to the area of Europe and China added together - were exposed by lowered sea-levels at the last glacial maximum 21,000 years ago.
While it is probably far-fetched to suppose that it is this very real increase of useful land that is referred to in the Yima story, or that it has anything to do with the golden age that Yima's benign rule supposedly achieved in Airyana Vaejo, [xii] it is interesting to note what happened next.
After another immense span of time, we read, Yima was summoned to 'a meeting place by the good river Daitya' where the god Ahura Mazda appeared to him bearing an ominous warning of sudden and catastrophic climate change:
So… you get the idea?
This underground hideaway was to serve as a refuge from a terrible winter that was about to seize Airyana Vaejo - a winter not of a single season but of a millennium, at the onset of which, as the Bundahish, another Zoroastrian text, informs us:
Studying these accounts I couldn't help but be reminded of the two millennia of gentle global warming that began about 15,000 years ago in the closing millennia of the last Ice Age - a sustained, balmy period of warm, fine weather - before the sudden lethal onset 12,800 years ago of a period of dramatic climate instability that geologists call 'the Younger Dryas.'
This epoch has long been recognized as mysterious and tumultuous and it is only in the last decade that scientists have been able to pinpoint its cause.
To cut a long story short, what the science indicates is that 12,800 years ago a comet travelling on an orbit that took it through the inner solar system broke up into multiple fragments, and that many of these fragments, some more than a mile (2.4 kilometers) in diameter, hit the earth with globally cataclysmic effects.
An area of more than 50 million square kilometers, stretching from North America in the west to Syria in the east, was affected and a vast cloud of dust was thrown into the upper atmosphere that enshrouded the earth, preventing the sun's rays from reaching the surface and thus initiating Younger Dryas.
At that point, 12,800 years ago, the earth had been emerging from the Ice Age for roughly 10,000 years, global temperatures were rising steadily, and the ice caps were melting.
Then came the comet impacts, bringing a sudden catastrophic return to colder conditions - even colder than at the peak of the Ice Age 21,000 years ago.
This short, sharp deep freeze lasted for 1,200 years until 11,600 years ago when the warming trend resumed, global temperatures shot up again, and the remaining ice caps melted very suddenly, dumping all the water they contained into the oceans.
When the Zoroastrian texts speak of a 'fierce, foul frost' and of 'a fatal winter,' is it possible that they are describing conditions during the Younger Dryas?
The texts attribute the shocking change of climate to a supernatural agency - Angra Mainyu, the demon of darkness, destruction, wickedness, and chaos who stands in opposition to and seeks to undermine and undo all the works of Ahura Mazda, the God of Light.
Zoroastrianism is a profoundly dualistic religion in which human beings and the choices we make for good or evil are seen as the objects of an eternal competition, or contest, between the opposed forces of darkness and light.
And in this contest the darkness sometimes wins.
Thus the Vendidad reminds us that although Airyana Vaejo was 'the first of the good lands and countries' created by Ahura Mazda, it could not resist the evil one:
In other translations the phrase 'the serpent in the river, and winter' is given as 'a great serpent and Winter' and, alternatively, as 'a mighty serpent and snow. [xvi]
Again… you get the idea.
The metaphor that is being repeatedly driven home here is that of the mighty serpent who springs from the sky down to the earth, who penetrates the earth, and who brings a prolonged winter upon the world so severe that it is 'dark' ('most turbid, opaque' according to some translations [xvii]) at midday, and even the fleeting summer months are too cold for human life.
Once again, the whole scenario seems very accurately to describe the terrible conditions that would have afflicted the world after the Younger Dryas comet spread its trail of destruction across 50 million square kilometers, brought on 'a vehement destroying frost' and threw such quantities of dust into the upper atmosphere, together with smoke from the continent-wide wildfires sparked off by airbursts and superheated ejecta, that a turbid, opaque darkness would indeed have filled the skies, reflecting back the sun's rays and perpetuating something very like a nuclear winter for centuries.
The Zoroastrian texts leave us in no doubt that these conditions posed a deadly threat to the future survival of civilization.
It was for this reason that Ahura Mazda came to Yima with his warning and his instruction to build an underground shelter where some remnant of humanity could take refuge, keeping safe the seeds of all animals and plants, until the thousand-year winter had passed and spring returned to the world.
Moreover the account reveals very little that seems 'mythical,' or that obviously derives from flights religious fancy. Rather the whole thing has about it an atmosphere of hard-headed practical planning that adds a chilling note of veracity.
For example the admonition that deformed, impotent, lunatic, and leprous people should be kept out of the Vara sounds a lot like eugenics, a distasteful policy to be sure, but one that might be implemented if the survival of the human race was at stake and there was limited space available in the refuge.
For the same reasons it is not surprising that only the seeds of 'the greatest, best and finest' kinds of trees, fruits, and vegetables, those that are 'fullest of food and sweetest of odor,' are to be brought to the Vara.
Why waste space on anything but the best?
Also, although it is certain that a number of carefully selected people were to be admitted to the Vara, perhaps as caretakers and managers of the project, and as future breeding stock, the emphasis throughout is on seeds - which in the case of human beings would be sperm from the males and eggs from the females.
So when we read that the Vara is to be constructed in three subterranean levels, each smaller than the one above, each with its own system of criss-crossing 'streets,' it is legitimate to wonder whether some kind of storage system, perhaps with ranks of shelves arranged in cross-crossing aisles, might not really be what is meant here:
If it seems fanciful to imagine that we might, in an almost high-tech sense, be looking at the specifications of a seed bank here, then how are we to assess other 'technological' aspects of the Vara - for example its lighting system?
As well as making a door to the place, and sealing it up with the golden ring already given to him by Ahura Mazda, Yima is also to fashion 'a window, self-shining within.' [xix]
When Yima asks for clarification as to the nature of this 'self-shining' window Ahura Mazda tells him cryptically,
The former are the stars, the moon and the sun, which will not be seen from within the confines of the Vara during the long winter, but the latter are 'artificial lights' which 'shine from below.' [xx]
Yima did as he was instructed and completed the Vara which, thereafter, 'glowed with its own light.' [xxi]
That accomplished, he then:
There, too, we are reminded, in accord with the commands of the god,
Finally, we learn that:
Interestingly the translator explains, in a footnote drawn from various ancient learned commentaries on the text, that the human inhabitants of the Vara 'live there for 150 years; some say they never die.' [xxv]
Moreover, and particularly intriguing, the births of offspring to every couple do not result from sexual union but 'from the seeds deposited in the Vara.' [xxvi]
Other hints of a mysterious lost technology connected to Yima include a miraculous cup in which he could see everything that was happening anywhere in the world and a jeweled glass throne (sometimes described as 'a glass chariot') that was capable of flight. [xxvii]
Flood & Rain
As well as a climate catastrophe in the form of an overnight reversion to peak Ice Age cold, we also know that the Younger Dryas involved extensive global flooding, as a large fraction of the North American ice cap - directly impacted by at least four of the comet fragments - melted and poured into the world ocean.
It is therefore noteworthy that the Zoroastrian texts speak not only of the 'vehement, destroying frost' of a global winter but also of a subsequent flood accompanied by heavy precipitation, in which,
On the other side of the world and much closer to the North American epicenter of the cataclysm, the Popol Vuh, an original document of the ancient Quiche Maya of Guatemala, based on pre-conquest sources, also speaks of a flood and associates it with,
It says, in a remarkable echo of the Zoroastrian tradition, that this was a period when,
Other Maya sources confirm that these strange and terrible phenomena were experienced by mankind,
Sunlight was not seen again,
Returning to the Middle East, the world famous account of the Hebrew patriarch Noah and the great Ark in which he rides out the Flood, commands attention. It is obvious that there are many parallels with the story of Yima and his Vara.
The Vara, after all, is a means of surviving a terrible and devastating winter which will destroy every living creature by enchaining the earth in a freezing trap of ice and snow.
The Ark, likewise, is a means of surviving a terrible and devastating flood which will destroy every living creature by drowning the world in water.
In both cases a deity - Ahura Mazda in the case of the Zoroastrian tradition, the God Yahweh in the case of the Hebrew tradition - intervenes to give advance warning to a good and pure man to prepare for the coming cataclysm.
In each case the essence of the project is to preserve the seeds, or the breeding pairs, of all life:
Easily missed, but noteworthy, is the fact that Noah's Ark, like Yima's Vara, is to have a 'window,' is to be closed with a 'door,' and is to consist of three levels:
Last but not least, there are hints of a lost lighting technology in Noah's Ark that parallel the references to the 'artificial lights' in the Vara.
In the legends of the Jews we read that the whole journey of the Ark, 'during the year of the flood,' was conducted in darkness both by day and by night:
However just like 'self-shining window' of the Vara:
Noah's Ark, as is well known, is said to have ended its journey on the slopes of Mount Ararat, the symbolic heartland of ancient Armenia but now, as a result of wars in the early twentieth century, located within the modern state of Turkey.
Turkey, in turn, shares a border with Iran - ancient Persia - from which the accounts of Yima's Vara come down to us.
It is therefore intriguing that Turkey's Cappadocia region has a very large number of ancient underground structures hewn out of solid rock and usually, like the Vara, consisting of multiple levels stacked one above the other.
These underground 'cities,' as they are known, include the eerie and spectacular site of Derinkuyu, which I was able to visit in 2013.
Lying beneath a modern town of the same name, eight of its levels are presently open to the public, although further levels remain closed off below and, astonishingly, a subterranean tunnel several kilometers in length connects it to another similar hypogeum at Kaymakli.
Entering Derinkuyu was like crossing some invisible barrier into an unexpected netherworld.
One minute I was standing in bright sunshine; the next, after I had ducked into the cool, dank, dimly-lit system of tunnels and galleries (no self-shining windows now; only low wattage electric light), I felt I had been transported to a realm carved out by mythical dwarves at the dawn of time.
In places the tunnels are low and narrow so that one must stoop and walk in single file between walls stained and blackened with ancient smoke and overgrown here and there with green mold.
At regular intervals, slid back into deep recesses, I passed hulking megalithic doors, shaped like millstones, 5 to 6 feet (1.5 to 1.8 meters) in diameter and weighing close to half a ton. These were clearly designed to be rolled out to block access.
Stairways and steep ramps led down from level to level and, although all the levels were interconnected, the rolling stone doors could be used to isolate them from one another when needed.
Photo by Santha Faiia
I noticed a remarkable system of plunging, sheer-sided ventilation shafts connecting the deepest levels with the surface - and doing so to such good effect that the gusts of fresh air were still palpable 80 meters (260 feet) or more beneath the ground.
In some places the passageway I was following would debouch into a junction where tunnels branched off in several directions and more stairways led down to even lower levels.
And here and there, now to one side of the passageway, now to the other, sometimes accessed by means of holes cut in the wall, sometimes through full-sized doorways, lay small low-ceilinged grottos in which even a few people sitting together would have felt cramped.
But sometimes those doors would lead into interconnected networks of chambers and passages and sometimes they would open out suddenly into lofty halls and spacious rooms with barrel-vault ceilings looming high overhead supported on monolithic columns hewn from the living rock.
The whole place, in short, is a complex and cunning labyrinth on an immense scale - a work of astonishing architectural complexity that would be impressive if it had been built above ground but that is utterly breathtaking when one considers that it all had to be mined, chiseled, hammered, cut and gouged out of the volcanic bedrock.
Later, studying a plan, I realized that this vast hypogeum, looking in cross-section like a gigantic rabbit warren, lay underfoot wherever one went in the modern town of Derinkyu:
...but certainly the produce of immense ingenuity, determination, and skill.
And Derinkuyu is just one of two hundred such subterranean complexes, each containing a minimum of two levels (with around forty containing three levels or more) that have been identified in Turkey in the area between Kayseri and Nevsehir. [xxxvii]
Moreover, new discoveries are constantly being made.
Derinkuyu itself was found in 1963 after builders renovating the cellar of a modern home broke through to an ancient passageway below. And most recently, in 2014, workers preparing the ground for a new housing project at Nevsehir, an hour's drive north of Derinkuyu, stumbled upon yet another unsuspected hypogeum.
Archaeologists were called in and it was quickly realized that this one was bigger than any others so far known.
As Hasan Unver, Mayor of Nevsehir, put it, Derinkuyu and Kaymakli are little more than 'kitchens' when compared to the newly-explored site.
Several commentators immediately speculated that the newly discovered site might be '5,000 years old,' [xxxix] but there is no basis for this - or really for any date.
All we can say for sure is that the earliest surviving historical mention of Turkey's underground cities is found in the Anabapsis of the Greek historian Xenophon written in the fourth century AD [xl] - so they are older than that.
But the question is, how much older?
There is no objective way to date structures made entirely of rock. What archaeologists look for, therefore, are organic materials that can be carbon dated.
To be useful, however, these organic materials must be excavated from locations - under a megalith that has never been moved, for example, or in the original mortar in a joint between two stone blocks - that allow reasonable deductions to be made about the date the associated structural elements were put in place.
In many sites, however, there is the possibility that the intrusion of later organic materials will give a falsely young date, and in some - the underground cities of Turkey being a prime example - no reliable dating can be done.
This is because the sites were used, reused, and indeed repurposed, many times down the ages by many different peoples, with organic materials being introduced on every occasion, thus making it impossible to draw any inferences about the epoch of their original construction.
The general view of archaeologists is that the underground structures were originally developed in the 7th or 8th centuries BC by an Indo-European people called the Phrygians who lived in Cappadocia at the time.
The theory is that the Phrygians began the project by widening and deepening natural caves and tunnels that already existed in the volcanic rock, making use of the spaces they created for storage and possibly as places of refuge from attackers.
By Roman times, with the Phrygians long gone, the inhabitants of the area were Greek-speaking Christians who further developed and expanded the underground caverns, rededicating some of the rooms as chapels and leaving inscriptions in Greek, some of which survive to this day.
In the Byzantine era, from the eighth to the twelfth centuries AD, the Eastern Roman Empire was locked in wars with newly Islamicised Arabs and the underground cities became places of refuge again - a function they continued to serve during the Mongol invasions of the fourteenth century AD.
Later still, Greek Christians used the cities to escape persecution at the hands of Turkish Muslim rulers, and this practice continued into the twentieth century when the structures finally fell into disuse after the truce and population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923. [xli]
With such a chequered history it is easy to see why the underground cities cannot be dated using objective archaeological techniques.
Moreover the vast effort that went into their excavation out of solid rock, and their sophisticated ventilation systems, speak of powerful long-term motives far beyond the limited and temporary need for shelter from attackers.
With this in mind let us consider a scenario in which the Phrygians, favored for no good reason by archaeologists as the first makers of the cities, were themselves just one of the many later cultures to make use of them.
It is perfectly possible that this is the case and, if so, then it is also possible that these extraordinary underground structures might date back to a time long before the Phrygians - perhaps even as far back as the 'fatal winters' of the Younger Dryas that set in around 12,800 years ago.
There is no proof of this, of course. Nonetheless Turkish historian and archaeologist Omer Demir, author of Cappadocia - Cradle of History, is of the opinion that Derinkuyu does in fact date back to the Paleolithic. [xlii]
His argument is based partly on the notion that it already existed in Phrygian times, [xliii] partly on stylistic differences between the upper (older) levels and the lower (younger) levels, [xliv] and partly on the fact that marks of the implements used to cut the rock have worn completely away in the upper levels but are still visible in the lower levels:
Demir also suggests that the huge quantities of rock excavated to make the underground city - which are nowhere in evidence in the vicinity today - were dumped into local streams and carried off. [xlvi]
In one of these streams, the Sognali, at a distance of 26 kilometers (16 miles) from Derinkuyu, hand-axes, rock-chips, and other Paleolithic artifacts were found. [xlvii]
The evidence is suggestive at best. I would not want to bet my life or my reputation on it!
Nonetheless the scenario that sees Derinkuyu and the other underground cities constructed in the Upper Paleolithic around 12,800 years ago at the onset of the Younger Dryas has the great merit of no longer leaving us casting about for a motive commensurate with the huge effort involved.
We are informed of that motive quite explicitly in the story of Yima.
Stated simply the cities are Varas, cut down into the depths of the earth as places of refuge from the horrors of the Younger Dryas which were not limited to the 'vehement destroying frost' but - as we know from the cosmic impact spherules and melt-glass found in sediment samples at nearby Abu Hureyra in Syria - also included the terrifying existential threat of bombardment from the skies.