Crypto-History – The State of the Art ~ Richard Heinberg

March 25, 2005    


Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, as well as over parts of the continent, and besides these they subjected parts of Libya within the Straits as far as Egypt, and of Europe as far as Tyrrhenia.
- PLATO, Timaeus

For as long as there have been historians, two versions of early human history have competed for acceptance. One, which is now the official version, says that civilization has evolved along a more or less smooth incline from barbarism to modernity. The second, which never really disappeared even when it fell out of fashion, flows from an idea found in nearly every culture’s early mythology – that there has been a series of high civilizations reaching back many millennia into the forgotten past, and that each, in turn, was destroyed by some horrific terrestrial cataclysm.

The latter idea is to be found, for example, in the doctrine of the Yugas – or world ages – in the Mahabharata of India, wherein it is said that the first Yuga, the Krita, was the best, and that human society has been in decline ever since. The Maya and the Hopi told of a series of elapsed World Ages which ended, in turn, in flood, fire, and earthquake. In Western classical literature, Hesiod’s doctrine of the original Golden Race and the succeeding races of Silver, Brass, Heroes, and Iron relates essentially the same story. But of all the tales of lost or fallen worlds, perhaps none has exerted a greater influence on the popular imagination than Plato’s account of the island of Atlantis.

Writing in about 355 BC at about age seventy, Plato told of a great maritime civilization that had existed nine thousand years earlier, and located its center “beyond the Pillars of Heracles” (that is, the Strait of Gibraltar). He claimed that the story originated with the priests of Isis, who had imparted it to the Athenian statesman Solon during the latter’s trip to Egypt around 590 BC. The Atlanteans, unsatisfied with ruling their own land, had conquered parts of the outer “true” continent and much of the Mediterranean region, including Egypt. But they were defeated in their attempts at conquest by the brave Athenians, ancestors of Solon. Soon afterward, a great earthquake and flood caused Atlantis to sink beneath the waters of the ocean “in a single day and night.” Plato describes the lost city and island of Atlantis in detail and mentions Socrates’ enthusiasm about the story, which the elder sage termed “no invented fable but genuine history.”

Plato’s narrative, contained in the dialogues Timaeus and Critias, would eventually inspire over five thousand books seeking to explain away or to identify the sunken land. Nearly every place from Palestine to Brazil, from the West Indies to the North Pole has been suggested by one author or another as the “real” site of Atlantis.

Historians of the steady-progress school have argued either that Plato was exaggerating (perhaps, they say, Atlantis was merely the Greek island of Thera and did not sink 11,500 years ago but was destroyed in a volcanic eruption in 1500 BC), or that he made the story up in order to illustrate his political ideas or to convey through allegory some item of arcane mathematical or astronomical knowledge. After all, Plato’s narrative is not supported by any other early Greek or Egyptian document describing a lost island named Atlantis; moreover, we know that it was common for authors in his era to put invented speeches in the mouths of famous historical characters in order to illustrate competing philosophies. Of the thousands of dialogues surviving from ancient times, few if any are believed to be accurate transcripts of real discussions.

Plato’s story would likely never have stirred so much controversy had it not been for certain intriguing bits of evidence that have nagged at explorers and historians for centuries – evidence suggesting the existence of an unknown early civilization with highly developed scientific and engineering capabilities. Since conventional history supplies no likely candidate as source for such evidence, theorists have turned again and again to Atlantis.

Secrets of the Stones

The single most frequently cited item of evidence for a lost high culture is the Great Pyramid of Giza. Of the seven wonders of the ancient world, it is the only survivor. It consists of over two million blocks of stone, most weighing from two to six tons, though some are far heavier. Since the Great Pyramid is as tall as a forty story building, its builders faced the immense problem of lifting or dragging these blocks ever higher as construction proceeded. We still do not know quite how they did it, though theories abound. The largest construction cranes in existence today can barely lift 200-ton blocks, such as the ones in the core of the neighboring pyramid attributed to the pharaoh Khafre, and there is no construction company in the world that would undertake the job of duplicating either of these immense structures. The designers and builders of the Great Pyramid are conventionally credited with having only a rudimentary knowledge of mathematics and the most primitive of tools, yet the precision of their work is truly astounding, judged by any standards: many of the blocks are fitted to opticians’ tolerances, and the structure as a whole is square and aligned to true north to an accuracy that would be difficult to improve upon with even the most up-to-date surveying and construction equipment.

But the mysteries of the Great Pyramid go far beyond the engineering virtuosity it so magnificently flaunts. There is also the matter of its design. Historians of science maintain that the number pi – the ratio of the radius to the circumference of a circle – was discovered by the Greeks and worked out to the fourth decimal place by the Hindu sage Arya-Bhata in the fourth century. Nevertheless, pi is embodied in the ratio of the Pyramid’s height to the circumference of its base, and to a precision of five decimal places. The perimeter of the sockets at the base of the structure equals a half minute of equatorial longitude, or 1/43,200 of the Earth’s circumference; and the Pyramid’s height, including the stone platform on which it rests, equals 1/43,200 of the Earth’s polar radius. This suggests that the Pyramid’s builders had a good idea of the shape and size of our planet and intended the monument to embody this geodetic information.

Discussions about the Great Pyramid are inevitably littered with question marks. How? Why? When? Was the Pyramid built as a royal tomb, as nearly all the textbooks tell us? If so, why would anyone have gone to such immense lengths to build a permanent, conspicuous mausoleum, and then leave no epitaph? The tombs of most pharaohs are covered with hieroglyphs and cartouches; in the Great Pyramid there are no inscriptions whatever, save for a few workmen’s rough quarry marks on the inner blocks, from which Egyptologists have inferred that the builder was a Fourth-Dynasty pharaoh named Khufu. No body was found in the Pyramid, nor any unequivocal sign that a burial ever occurred in it. Not surprisingly, crypto-historians have always asserted that the Great Pyramid served purposes other than that of grave – including initiatory temple, geodetic marker, and signpost of the survivors from Atlantis.

The Pyramid is conventionally dated at about 2500 BC, which places its construction in the early phase of Egyptian history. Egyptologists acknowledge that the artistic and engineering achievements of the civilization peaked near its beginning; but given that there is so little evidence of gradual cultural development prior to the Pyramid Age, one has to wonder how these people so quickly acquired their skill and knowledge, and why they gradually frittered it away during the remaining two thousand years of their history. The Egyptians themselves apparently believed that their civilization had a much greater antiquity than present experts acknowledge, one that reached thirty millennia or more into the dim past.

While the Great Pyramid is perhaps the most spectacular item of evidence suggesting the existence of a lost high civilization, there are many others. Consider, for example, the great fortress at Sacsayhuaman, Peru, whose wall contains stones weighing up to 400 tons, cut with as many as twelve butting faces fitted precisely with their neighbors; or the 228-foot-high Black Pagoda in India, capped with a single slab estimated to weigh over 1000 tons; or the platform of the Temple of Jupiter at Baalbek in Lebanon, containing three blocks weighing 750 tons each. In each case we see an instance of a global pattern: the earliest stone monuments often seem to be the largest and most perfectly executed.

As if this were not problem enough for the steady-progress version of history, consider the really bizarre anomalies that conventional historians disregard altogether: an iron cup found embedded in an Oklahoma coal mine, a metal tube recovered from a 65-million-year-old chalk bed, a gold chain encased in a lump of Illinois coal, a grooved metal sphere taken from a Precambrian mineral deposit, a nail embedded in sandstone in Scotland. The deeper one digs, the more reasons one finds to think that the standard view of history omits some vitally important chapter in the human past.

Could the giant quarried and carved stones of the ancients be a legacy of Plato’s Atlantis? Unfortunately, while the evidence is suggestive, it is far from being conclusive. In the case of well-documented lost civilizations – such as those of the Mayas, the Mycenaean Greeks, or the Babylonians – archaeologists can point to a geographical homeland, reconstruct a common language and trace specific contacts with contemporaneous cultures. But with regard to “Atlantis”, none of this is possible. Connecting the Great Pyramid with Stonehenge or Macchu Picchu requires a tremendous leap of conjecture. But of conjecture, among Atlantis theorists, there has been no lack.

Floods of Speculation

While we do not know for certain where Plato got the idea of Atlantis, its later evolution in literature is a matter of record. Plato’s famous pupil Aristotle apparently did not take the Atlantean passages in Critias and Timaeus seriously, though Poseidonius, Strabo, and Pliny the Elder seem to have done so. By the time of the Church Fathers, the story was accepted at face value, though rarely mentioned. During the Middle Ages, rumors circulated widely about lands in or beyond the Atlantic Ocean, populated by “the Cannibals that each other eat, The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders.” Medieval maps featured legendary lands with names like Antilla, St. Brendan’s Isles, and Avalon; and, following Columbus’s fateful voyage, rumors of unexplored lands ran riot. Throughout the Age of Discovery (or the Age of Invasion and Genocide, depending on your point of view), maps were festooned with newly named islands, many the result of poor navigation, clouds, or eyestrain: Isle of the Demons, Drogio, Estotiland, Grocland, Frisland, the Island of Brazil, and so on.

More than a few people, from Francis Bacon in the sixteenth century to Alexander von Humboldt in the nineteenth, thought that the Atlantis narrative was an early reference to America. Eventually, however, it became clear that none of the Native American civilizations had visited Egypt or Athens, and Atlantis theorists began to view the Americas merely as yet more colonies of the lost continent.

One of the most knowledgeable of these theorists was Augustus Le Plongeon (1826-1908), the first explorer to excavate the Mayan ruins in Yucatan. Le Plongeon pieced together what he believed was a history of the mother culture in the Atlantic, the founding of its colonies in Central America, Egypt, and Greece, and its destruction by earthquake. He based his Sacred Mysteries Among the Mayas and the Quiches 11,500 Years Ago on his own translation of the Troano Codex, one of the few Mayan books to survive the Inquisition. But Le Plongeon was derided by the Americanist establishment for his flights of historical fancy, despite his demonstrated ability to trace the surviving Mayan Indian culture to its roots by learning the language of the people and participating in their shamanic rituals.

At around the time Le Plongeon was completing his explorations in Yucatan, American lawyer, newspaper publisher, and politician Ignatius Donnelly (1831-1901) published Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, a book that would eventually go through over 50 printings and provide fodder for generations of Atlantis researchers. Donnelly was a man of extraordinary energy and curiosity: before commencing his writing career he had been Lieutenant-Governor of Minnesota and member of the U.S. House of Representatives. After his electoral defeat in 1870, he returned to Minnesota, wrote books, went on lecture tours, served in the Minnesota state senate, helped found the Populist Party, and twice ran for Vice President of the United States on the Populist ticket. In Atlantis, Donnelly argued that the source of all civilization was an island in the Atlantic that “perished in a terrible convulsion of nature, in which the whole island sank into the ocean, with nearly all its inhabitants,” though not before establishing colonies in Egypt and Central America. Unfortunately, though his scholarship was wide-ranging, it was exceedingly careless, and the academic community never took Donnelly seriously.

Establishment historians were even more dismissive of James Churchward, author of The Lost Continent of Mu (1931). Churchward set out to prove that the ultimate source of civilization lay not in the Atlantic, but the Pacific Ocean, where a great continent called Mu had disappeared 13,000 years ago when “gas belts” supposedly underlying the continents collapsed, causing both Mu and (somewhat later) Atlantis to sink beneath the waves. Churchward said he had based his conclusions on the study of two sets of inscriptions, one in India and the other in Mexico. The Indic tablets were never seen by other researchers, and the Mexican ones – a collection of 2,600 carved stones found in 1921 by explorer William Niven, a friend of Churchward – have been virtually ignored by the authorities. A reconsideration of the significance of the Mexican tablets is long overdue, but Churchward is partly to blame for their neglect: The Lost Continent of Mu bristles with so many demonstrable errors in archaeology, history, and linguistics (for example, the frontispiece shows a “12,500-year-old Muvian jar” bearing an inscription which Sanskrit scholars recognize as dating from no earlier than the eleventh century) that the potentially useful material it contains has suffered from guilt by association.

The Psychic/Occult Connection

By far the most colorful writing about Atlantis has come not from explorers or historians, but from clairvoyants and occultists – of whom the most influential was Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891), the founder of Theosophy. Blavatsky claimed to receive telepathically the teachings of a group of Masters or Mahatmas, who for millennia have maintained a benign oversight of the world from their headquarters in Tibet and who purportedly showed her the manuscript of the Book of Dzyan (originally composed in Atlantis in the forgotten Senzar language). It was on the Book of Dzyan that Blavatsky would base her magnum opus, The Secret Doctrine, a vast synthesis of Eastern and Western myth and magic. According to The Secret Doctrine, humankind is destined to unfold through seven Root Races, of which we (humanity in the present era) are the Fifth. The Fourth Root Race was that of the Atlanteans, and the Third the Lemurians – who were hermaphroditic giants, some with four arms or an eye in the back of their heads. The people of the First and Second Root Races, it seems, were not entirely physical. According to Blavatsky, both Lemuria and Atlantis were destroyed when their populations resorted to sorcery.

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the founder of Anthroposophy – an offshoot of Theosophy – expanded on Madame Blavatsky’s account of the Atlanteans and Lemurians in his own voluminous writings. The Lemurians, he said, operated on instinct and will power, by means of which they could control nature in extraordinary ways. The Atlanteans had better memories than the Lemurians, but did not develop rational thought (the contribution of our own Root Race); still, they were masters of the life force, by means of which they operated aircraft and built cities. They also used the occult power of words to heal and to tame wild beasts.

Edgar Cayce (1877-1945), “the sleeping prophet,” was famous for his ability, while in trance, to diagnose illnesses, often without benefit of any direct contact with the patient. During his “life readings,” in which he described his subjects’ past incarnations, he often referred to Atlantis and the events surrounding its destruction. The Atlanteans, according to Cayce, had air travel, electricity, advanced metallurgy and chemistry, detailed knowledge of geography, and standard units of measure. When it became apparent to Atlantean priests that their homeland was doomed, they sent colonists to carefully chosen sites around the globe. A priest named Ra Ta decided upon Egypt and began construction of the Great Pyramid in 10,490 BC, several centuries before the cataclysmic end of the Third World Age. Cayce described Atlantis as a group of large islands in the western part of the Atlantic Ocean, and prophesied that it would reemerge from the depths in the late twentieth century.

If most scientists were skeptical about the ideas of Le Plongeon, Donnelly and Churchward, they were even less inclined to seriously consider those of Blavatsky, Steiner and Cayce. By the early part of this century, geologists had determined that sea beds and continents are composed of fundamentally different kinds of rocks, and that there simply are no large areas of continent-type rock (known as sial for its silicon-aluminium content) present on the ocean bottom. Why, then, give credence either to ancient myths or to clairvoyant visions of ancient advanced civilizations of which there is no conclusive evidence, and that supposedly lived and perished on lost continents that could not have existed?

Promising Leads, Sensational Claims

Still, there was the riddle of the stones. How and why did people in Europe, the Near East, and South America build astronomically aligned structures many millennia ago using giant monoliths? Where did they get the necessary engineering know-how? Throughout the present century, the depth of the mystery has steadily increased, while the skepticism of the scientific establishment has hardly abated.

Alsatian philosopher and mathematician R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz spent the years 1936 to 1951 in Egypt making painstaking measurements of the Temple of Luxor – which he characterized in his book, Le Temple de l’Homme as an architectural image of the human body, incorporating knowledge of the location of the ductless glands, the Hindu chakras, and the Chinese acupuncture points. These, together with astronomical alignments incorporated in the structure, showed symbolically the incarnation of the universe in human form. De Lubiscz contended that the science of the Egyptians (their mathematics, medicine, astronomy, and engineering) was far in advance of what can be explained by a slow, indigenous acquisition of knowledge, and must have been the legacy of some previous high culture.

In Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings: Evidence of Advanced Civilization in the Ice Age (1966), Charles Hapgood presented the fruits of his careful study of medieval and Renaissance maps showing coastlines that had not yet been “discovered.” These well-authenticated maps, some of which show an ice-free Antarctica as it would have looked many thousands of years ago, were purported by their creators to be copies of still older maps – which, Hapgood theorized, may once have been housed in the great libraries of Alexandria and Constantinople. Hapgood, a professor of anthropology and the history of science, deduced that the ancient geographical knowledge embodied in the maps could only have been accumulated by a maritime civilization prior to the change of sea levels that occurred roughly 11,500 years ago at the end of the last ice age.

In their brilliant and difficult book Hamlet’s Mill (1969), Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend argued convincingly that the ancient, worldwide language of myth preserves archaic knowledge of the precession of the equinoxes – an astronomical phenomenon commonly believed to have been discovered by Hipparchus in 127 BC. The fact that the full cycle of the precession completes itself only once every 26,000 years suggests that humans may have been observing the sky systematically for a very long time indeed.

The work of de Lubiscz, Hapgood, and de Santillana, though stunning in its implications, raised only limited interest among scholars. Meanwhile, several popular writers of the 1960s and ’70s ignited a firestorm debate about crypto-history among the general public. In The View Over Atlantis (1969), which is still probably the best-written example of the Earth-mysteries genre, author John Michell suggested that traditional sacred sites in Britain (including Stonehenge, Woodhenge, Avebury, Glastonbury, and the “ley lines” connecting them) were planned according to principles similar to those encoded in the Great Pyramid, using a universal archaic system of measure. This, according to Michell, implies “a gigantic work of prehistoric engineering” laid out across the surface of the planet. In his book, Michell cited the research carried out by engineering professor Alexander Thom, who spent decades meticulously surveying the 500 or so stone circles of Britain, and concluded that their groundplans were based on a precise geometry and incorporated astronomical alignments related to the extreme positions of the Sun and Moon and the rising points of stars.

Books like Peter Tompkins’s Secrets of the Great Pyramid (1971) and Secrets of the Mexican Pyramids (1976), Brad Steiger’s Mysteries of Time and Space (1973), Otto Muck’s The Secret of Atlantis (1978) and William R. Fix’s Pyramid Odyssey (1978) combed over similar data and drew similar conclusions. But it was the wildly successful Chariots of the Gods (1970) of Erich von Daniken that led the way in book sales and controversy. By blending flying saucer reports with ancient stories about the exploits of various local deities, and adding more than a judicious dash of Earth-mystery lore, von Daniken arrived at the startling conclusion that God was an astronaut. Perhaps, he posited, Earth was visited in ancient times by explorers from other star systems, and humankind was put here as part of a cosmic science experiment. There is no way to completely disprove such an assertion; indeed, in competent hands it could be argued rather convincingly. Unfortunately, however, von Daniken heavyhandedly conflated genuine mysteries – like the Nazca lines of Peru – with phenomena that are well explained in quite mundane terms – such as the statues of Easter Island, whose creation has been reconstructed in detail by archaeologists – monotonously insisting on the same explanation in every case. Critics easily discredited him.

Zechariah Sitchen, author of The Twelfth Planet (1976), took up where von Daniken left off, contributing his impressive ability to translate Mesopotamian texts. According to Sitchen’s readings, the Sumerian gods Enlil, Enki, and Inanna were members of a race of ancient astronauts who came to Earth to mine gold. After genetically engineering human beings as servants, they interbred with their creations and taught them the arts of civilization. Eventually, the gods fell to fighting among themselves, brought on a catastrophe remembered as the biblical Deluge, and left humanity to cope with the aftermath. Sitchin doggedly ignored all contrary interpretations of the Sumerian literature, such as those of the late Joseph Campbell; Sitchin was as relentlessly technological as Campbell was metaphysical in his approach to the texts – whose “real” meaning is about as clear as that of a Rorschach ink blot.

Open Questions

By the late 1970s, the crypto-historical literature, though uneven, was extremely extensive. Evidence suggesting the existence of a lost high culture had been prodded and dissected by scores of authors with a wide range of prejudices and abilities. None – neither the sober scholars like de Santillana and Hapgood nor the careless sensationalists like von Daniken – had been able to persuade the scientific establishment to undertake a fundamental reassessment of the steady-progress version of history.

For New Age devotees, no further proof was necessary: Atlantis and Lemuria were already unquestioned realities, routinely discussed as the backdrop for this or that prior incarnation. But for those with a more skeptical bent – including the vast majority of scholars and scientists – it seemed that one last bit of unequivocal evidence was needed in order to turn the tide. If only someone could point to a piece of carbon-dated hardware stamped “Made in Atlantis”!

Attempts were made to uncover the crucial proof. During the mid-’70s, Cayce-inspired explorer Dr. David Zink investigated an underwater stone “road” near the island of Bimini, finding a tongue-and-groove pavement slab and other curiosities. But it was impossible to determine the date of construction, and further research was postponed for lack of funds. Even with this added, tantalizing piece of information, the contest between the crypto-historians and the defenders of the steady-progress version of the human past remained at an uneven and uneasy stalemate.

A great scientific instrument lies sprawled over the entire surface of the globe. At some period, thousands of years ago, almost every corner of the world was visited by people with a particular task to accomplish. With the help of some remarkable power, by which they could cut and raise enormous blocks of stone, these people created vast astronomical instruments, circles of erect pillars, pyramids, underground tunnels, cyclopean stone platforms, all linked together by a network of tracks and alignments, whose course from horizon to horizon was marked by stones, mounds and earthworks.
- John Michell, The New View Over Atlantis
In Part I of this article [see New Dawn No. 37] we explored literature and evidence relating to the question of whether the ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Indic, and Central American civilizations were seeded by an advanced antediluvian maritime culture which perished in some immense convulsion of nature. In this second, concluding part of the article we pick up the story of the unfolding investigation where we left off – at the beginning of the 1980s.

New Evidence

In 1979, amateur Egyptologist John Anthony West published Serpent in the Sky: The High Wisdom of Ancient Egypt, later updated in 1987 and 1993. In it he summarized the ideas and research of mathematician-Egyptologist R. Schwaller de Lubicz. One chapter in the book, concerning the Sphinx, would eventually spawn a heated debate in the scientific community and open a promising new line of inquiry into the origins of Egyptian civilization.

In the 1950s, de Lubicz had written that the Sphinx’s body “shows indisputable signs of water erosion.” Moreover, he suggested that it was built far earlier than the conventionally ascribed date of 2600 B.C. West decided to investigate. He showed respected geologist Robert Schoch a detailed photo of the Sphinx and asked, “What caused this weathering?” Schoch studied the photo carefully and replied, “Water erosion.” Schoch immediately grasped the implications of what he had said. Water erosion in the Egyptian desert? Given the climatic history of the region, the weathering suggested a construction date of at least 5000 B.C. (West himself is convinced that the Sphinx was built some time between 10,000 and 15,000 B.C.)

Most Egyptologists consider the Sphinx a likeness of the pharaoh Khafre (Chephren); Mark Lehner, Field Director for the American Research Center in Egypt, went so far as to “prove” on national television, by way of computer imaging, that the face of the Sphinx and the face of Khafre are identical. West was skeptical of Lehner’s methodology and enlisted New York Police forensic artist Frank Domingo to compare the Sphinx with a statue of Khafre. Domingo concluded that “If the ancient Egyptians were skilled technicians and capable of duplicating images then these two works cannot represent the same individual.” He noted, for example, that the Sphinx face has a distinctive “African,” “Nubian” or “Negroid” aspect lacking in that of Khafre.

Members of the Egyptological establishment were furious with West and dismissive of Schoch. One prominent Egyptologist, Dr. K. Lal Gauri, said that “Neither the subsurface evidence nor the weathering evidence indicates anything as far as the age is concerned. It’s just not relevant.” The Egyptologists’ minds were made up, and no amount of hard scientific data could change them. The entire incident served to publicize how the methods of Egyptology differ fundamentally from those used in the natural sciences, and drove a wedge between the Egyptologists on one hand and physical scientists on the other. At the 1992 Convention of the Geological Society of America, and again at the 1992 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Schoch stated his case that the Sphinx presents “a classic, textbook example of what happens to a limestone structure when you have rain beating down on it for thousands of years,” and on both occasions geologists by the score expressed their support for his conclusions. The majority of Egyptologists refused to budge an inch.

Meanwhile, seismic analyses of the Sphinx complex carried out by Schoch and architect Thomas L. Dobecki showed signs of several unexplored cavities under and around the statue. Cayce-inspired researchers found this significant because in several of his “life readings” Cayce noted that an Atlantean Hall of Records lies buried under or near the Sphinx.

There were signs, also, of at least one unexplored chamber in the Great Pyramid. In 1993, the Egyptian Antiquities Organization hired robotics engineer Rudolf Gantenbrink to improve the ventilation in the structure. He first used a miniature robot (named Upuaut, after the Egyptian god of the “opening of the ways”) to clear debris from the “air shafts” of the King’s Chamber, then designed another, more sophisticated robot (Upuaut II) to do the same with the unexplored “air shafts” of the Queen’s Chamber. Two hundred feet up the southern shaft, he found a sliding stone door with copper fittings. There was a gap at the base of the door, and when Gantenbrink directed Upuaut II’s laser spot into the gap, the beam disappeared into a void, indicating a sizable open space.

New data challenging the conventional version of the human past have come not just from Egypt, but from far and wide. In the Americas, the standard view of prehistory has humans first crossing a land bridge from Asia about 12,000 years ago. Numerous finds of human remains and artifacts apparently dating from much earlier than 10,000 B.C. (recent examples include a spear point lodged in a horse’s hoof, radiocarbon dated at 34,400 B.C., found in Pendejo Cave near Oro Grande, New Mexico) have routinely been ignored. However, during the past fifteen years the evidence has grown to such an extent that the anthropological establishment is beginning to hedge. The latest data weighing in on the side of an early arrival consists of genetic reconstructions of evolutionary patterns among Amerind populations. These studies, carried out by a research team led by Dr. Antonio Torroni of Emory University, suggest a first settlement date of at least 30,000 years ago.

According to the orthodox view, once early humans migrated to their present homelands they tended to stay put. We should expect to find evidence of the ancient Chinese only in China, of the Polynesians only in Polynesia, of the Africans only in Africa, and so on. Yet recent finds suggest that migratory or exploratory patterns in the distant past were complicated. Well preserved 4000-year-old bodies of Caucasians have recently been uncovered in China, and coins, petroglyphs, and other artifacts suggest that Celts, Basques, Libyans, Arabs, Romans, Egyptians, Hebrews, and Chinese all visited North America at one time or another.

Meanwhile, the search for Atlantis near the island of Bimini has continued into the 1990s, producing a few significant discoveries – underwater zoomorphic effigy mounds and hexagonal “paving” stones – as well as neutron-activation analysis evidence that “roads” discovered in the 1970s are indeed artificial and not (as some critics argued) natural features of the ocean floor. That these artifacts are now below sea level suggests either that the area around Bimini has sunk over the past few centuries, or that the artifacts date from a time prior to the rise of ocean levels that accompanied the end of the last ice age roughly 12,000 years ago. If the latter turns out to be the case, then we will be faced with one more bit of hard evidence for the existence of an antediluvian high culture.

The Bimini stones raise an important question: How much more evidence of lost civilizations may rest on the ocean bottom? After all, people in all historical eras have tended to live along rivers or on seacoasts. Given that ocean levels rose by up to 300 feet at the end of the last ice age, and that many rivers were then flooded with the water of melting glaciers, wouldn’t the continental shelves be the logical places to look for signs of antediluvian settlements? Maybe the fact that few unequivocal relics of these have been found so far is merely a result of archeologists looking in the wrong places.

Theoretical Developments

The past fifteen years have brought not only new evidence, but new ways of looking at facts already known.

Engineer Robert Bauval, author of The Orion Mystery (Crown, 1994), claims to have found the purpose of the Giza pyramid complex – as a monument to an archaic star – religion. For the ancients, Egypt was equivalent to the sky, the Nile to the Milky Way. The three main pyramids at Giza were the three bright stars on Orion’s belt. Bauval has shown that the presumed “air shafts” in the King’s and Queen’s chambers of the Great Pyramid were sighting holes trained on Orion, and that they establish a construction date of 2450 B.C. But, says Bauval, the overall layout of the Giza pyramids, and their correlation with the night sky, suggests that the site as a whole was planned much earlier, around 10,500 B.C. – the Egyptians’ legendary “Time of the Gods.” Since that was one of those periods that comes along once every 26,000 years when Orion appears lowest in the night sky, the ancients may have regarded it as the start of the great precessional cycle (which de Santillana and von Dechend described in Hamlet’s Mill as the focus of archaic myth).

In their book When the Sky Fell: In Search of Atlantis (Stoddart, 1995), Canadian librarians Rand and Rose Flem-Ath update the work of Charles Hapgood, who brought to light medieval maps showing an ice-free Antarctica. How is it, Hapgood asked, that during much of the last ice age a large part of North America was under mile-thick glaciers, but a third of Antarctica was not? Hapgood suggested that perhaps the continents were then in different places relative to the poles – that the Earth’s crust had shifted over the molten layers beneath it. But if Antarctica was once further north and partly ice-free, was it also inhabitable? The Flem-Aths add up the clues and come to a startling conclusion: Antarctica was Atlantis! They retrace Plato’s description of the lost island and show that Antarctica fits it at least as well as any other place ever suggested. According to their reconstruction, Lesser Antarctica was once the homeland of a great maritime civilization that sent colonists worldwide. But 13,500 years ago, as certain astronomical cycles meshed to create a warmer global climate, the asymmetrically distributed weight of the polar ice packs caused the Earth’s crust to shift. Massive earthquakes and tidal waves followed, Siberia moved closer to the pole (quick-freezing the mammoths), the ice sheets covering much of North America melted, ocean levels rose, many large land animals became extinct, and Atlantis became a polar wasteland. Refugees from the catastrophe sailed to the most stable and hospitable areas available – the highlands of South America, the Near East, Egypt, Southeast Asia, and the Indus Valley – and there tried to preserve as much of their culture as they could. It was in these places that we find the earliest known experiments with agriculture and the apparent beginnings of civilization. According to the Flem-Aths, the disaster of 11,500 B.C. was the great turning point of history, an event whose memory would persist in the myths of cultures around the globe.

Graham Hancock, former East Africa correspondent for The Economist, is the author of Fingerprints of the Gods (Crown, 1995) – a summary and popularization of the work of the Flem-Aths, Bauval, West, and Gantenbrink. In Britain, Hancock’s book is something of a publishing phenomenon (the 10,000 copy initial printing was sold out within a week). Fingerprints of the Gods is written for a popular audience, and in it Hancock leads us on a globe-circling journey from Macchu Picchu to the Great Pyramid, describing his first-hand observations with the breathless excitement of a detective about to crack the biggest case in history. While it contains little in the way of original theory or research, it is a big, engaging book packed with up-to-date information.

The date and site of the earliest archeologically identifiable (i.e., non-“Atlantean”) civilization are also up for review. In the nineteenth century, historians believed that Egypt was the earliest civilization; then came the discovery of Sumer, then Catal Huyuk in Turkey, then Harappa in the Indus Valley. Gradually, the date of the first civilization has been pushed back from 3000 B.C. to at least 7000 B.C. In their book In Search of the Cradle of Civilization (Quest, 1995), David Frawley, Subhash Kak, and Georg Feuerstein explore the implications of the new evidence. They argue convincingly that civilization began not in the Near East but in the Indus Valley, and call into question the now-established idea that Hindu culture came to India by way of an Indo-European invasion; they suggest instead that the authors of the Rig-Veda were the indigenous heirs of an already ancient tradition. Frawley, Kak, and Feuerstein also note signs of a tremendous natural catastrophe that brought what they call the Indus-Sarasvati civilization to an end, and they propose that we begin to take seriously the mythic idea of history as a series of World Ages.

Perhaps the most shockingly unorthodox new book having to do with the human past is Michael Cremo and Richard Thompson’s The Hidden History of the Human Race (Govardhan Hill, 1994), a condensation of their daunting 952-page Forbidden Archaeology (1993). In both books, the authors collect the evidence that mainstream archeologists have rejected-bones of anatomically modern humans in geological formations tens or even hundreds of millions of years old; artifacts recovered from mines and coal beds; signs of human presence in the Americas up to 750,000 years ago. They also re-evaluate the accepted evidence of the human evolutionary past – the bones of Australopithecus, Homo erectus, and Neanderthal, and show convincingly that this evidence has passed through a “knowledge filter” whose purpose is to perpetuate a reigning paradigm. Whatever evidence fits the paradigm (no matter how flimsy) is accepted; whatever doesn’t (no matter how solid and unequivocal) is suppressed. Along the way, Cremo and Thompson compare the Australopithecine/Homo erectus data with modern reports of living ape-men (the Yeti of the Himalayas, the Sasquatch of the Pacific Northwest, and the Yeren of southern China). Perhaps, they suggest, the ape-men who lived a couple of million years ago were not our ancestors; they were merely other primate species who coexisted with Homo sapiens then, just as the Yeti and Sasquatch do to this day. The authors do far more than push the temporal borders of civilization back a few thousand years; they question the basic premises on which we have based all our ideas about the prehistoric human past. They don’t offer an alternative theory; they merely show that the one that is dominant today is based on an extreme form of intellectual tunnel vision.

The Cataclysm

Some sort of consensus seems to be emerging from the work both of the older generation of theorists such as Tompkins, Michell, de Lubicz, de Santillana and von Dechend, and Hapgood, and from that of the current generation of writers such as West, Hancock, Zink, Bauval, and the Flem-Aths. According to this hybrid scenario, a complex, technologically and scientifically advanced maritime culture existed during the last ice age. How long it existed we do not know; nor do we know if it was unique or merely one of a series of such civilizations. At any rate, it was destroyed by cataclysm about 13,500 years ago. Migrations that preceded and followed the cataclysm resulted in the establishment of outposts from which the historical civilizations of the Americas, the Near East and the Far East would eventually arise. If this scenario is even partly correct, it would mean that humankind has a vastly richer, more ancient and more interesting past than conventional historians have dreamed possible.

Unfortunately, when we get down to the details of the scenario, disagreements arise. One point of contention has to do with the nature and cause of the catastrophe. As Hapgood, Hancock, and the Flem-Aths have it, ice ages result from astronomical factors-changes in the obliquity of the terrestrial axis, the precession of the equinoxes, and variations in the shape of the Earth’s orbit. Taken together, these variables produce what geophysicists call the Croll-Milankovitch effect, which (according to theory) should produce periodic global climate fluctuations. According to Hapgood and his followers, the asymmetrical buildup of ice at the poles occasionally leads to a crust displacement. While the Hapgood model of a shifting crust has not been given much consideration by orthodox scientists, the Croll-Milankovitch effect (on which it is partly based) is widely accepted as real.

But in his 1981 book Ice: The Ultimate Human Catastrophe, astronomer Fred Hoyle skewered the idea that the Croll-Milankovitch effect could explain ice ages. True, combined axial and orbital effects unbalance the hemispheres climatically – with a gain or loss of solar radiation to each hemisphere alternating every 11,500 years or so – and also make for a cyclical one percent change in the distribution of solar energy between polar and equatorial regions. But, Hoyle pointed out, since about half the energy that heats the polar regions comes from water vapor that evaporated from tropical areas, the effect at the poles of the Croll-Milankovitch variation would be moderate. The ice pack would increase or decrease slightly and gradually, not significantly or suddenly. What is needed to explain the beginnings and endings of ice ages is some more dramatic event with global repercussions. For this, Hoyle proposed occasional comet or meteor impacts powerful enough to send millions of tons of dust into the upper atmosphere, reflecting a significant percentage of incoming solar radiation and creating a years-long winter over Earth’s entire surface.

In the fifteen years since Hoyle published his critique of the Croll-Milankovitch theory of the ice ages, the idea that Earth experienced severe cometary bombardment episodes in the relatively recent past has been taken up by others. Victor Clube, currently Dean of Astrophysics at Oxford University, has published two books in collaboration with fellow astronomer Bill Napier (The Cosmic Serpent, 1982, and The Cosmic Winter, 1990), in which he discusses evidence for periodic bombardment episodes over the past 2.5 million years. On the basis of computations of Earth-crossing comet and asteroid orbits and observed cratering rates, Clube estimates a strong likelihood of a collision of several megatons energy somewhere on Earth every 200 years or so, and one of 50,000 megatons energy every 100,000 years on average. Such an impact would certainly have severe short-term climatic effects, perhaps triggering the onset of an ice age. Clube also notes that “Within the past 500 million years…there have been about fifty collisions of energy more than seven million megatons, ten of more than 100 million megatons, and one or two of energy in excess of three or four billion megatons.” It was these latter immense impacts, he believes, that resulted in the mass extinctions revealed in the fossil record.

There is plenty of mythological evidence as well, for bombardment episodes: ancient humans around the globe feared capricious sky-gods who, they believed, occasionally rained destruction on hapless humanity; and the Chinese, Babylonians, Egyptians, and Native Americans all represented deities by way of comet symbols.

Both Clube and the followers of Hapgood say that Earth is accident-prone; they merely disagree about the agent or process of destruction. Perhaps the two scenarios – one based on cometary and asteroid impacts and the other on crust displacement – are not mutually exclusive; it is possible that the first phenomenon is capable of triggering the second. At present, there seems to be more hard evidence for impact events than for crustal shifts (which would be quite different in character from the well-attested phenomenon of gradual continental drift), and no geologist is now working publicly to prove or disprove Hapgood’s theory. In any case, there are good reasons for assuming that humanity was deeply traumatized by events that occurred just prior to the appearance of agriculture.

If Victor Clube is right and sizable comet or asteroid impacts have occurred every few thousand years on average, then we have yet another reason for taking a closer look at the mythic idea of World Ages. Have there been several “Atlantises”? Cremo and Thompson open the door to extraordinary possibilities: if anatomically modern human beings have been on Earth for hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of years, what were they doing all that time? The downside to catastrophes (aside from the inconvenience caused to their direct victims) is that they tend to erase signs of whatever preceded them. Thus it may forever be impossible for us to accurately reconstruct the antediluvian past. We have the myths, of course, but they paint a garbled picture. Perhaps the best we can hope for would be the discovery of some bit of evidence of the immediate survivors of the Deluge-ideally, a manuscript from 13,500 years ago written by witnesses to the events!

On the Verge of a Breakthrough?

Such a find is at least remotely possible.

The discoveries of West, Schoch, and Gantenbrink, and the theories of Bauval, are illuminating, and more revelations appear to be in store. What lies in that unexplored chamber in the Great Pyramid, or the cavities under and around the Sphinx? Cayce predicted that an Atlantean Hall of Records would be found under the Sphinx. Yet if the “Atlanteans” were literate, why have we so far failed to find examples of their writing?

It is also possible that the Bimini researchers (now organized under “The Atlantis Project,” which includes a few archeologists and geologists among its ranks) may come across definitive proof a Pleistocene civilization. A recent aerial survey indicated the presence of thirty possible megalithic sites around Bimini. And other areas in the Bahamas may also yield important finds.

Then there is the Flem-Aths’ theory that Atlantis was Antarctica. If it holds true, then sonar explorations of Lesser Antarctica should turn up something interesting-perhaps a street plan of downtown Atlantis. While no detailed, large-scale sonar surveys are now under way there, in a recent issue of Omni magazine (August 1994), in an article devoted to the “face” and “pyramids” many people claim to see in photographs of the surface of Mars, NASA aerial photographer Michael Malin was quoted as saying: “I’ve done a lot of work in Antarctica, and there are lots of pyramidal shapes cut by ice. …there are far stranger things in Antarctica than I have seen on Mars.”

Since the implications of finding such a significant forgotten chapter in the human past would be immense, one might expect that archeologists would be champing at the bit to do field work in Antarctica, Bimini, or Giza. This, however, is hardly the case. Most are sitting on the sidelines and throwing stones. After all, there are careers and established doctrines to be protected. Mainstream Egyptologists appear to be the least imaginative and most vitriolic of the lot. Ironically, two of the leaders of the establishment opposition to West, Schoch, and Bauval – Mark Lehner and Zahi Hawass (Director of Antiquities of the Giza Plateau and Sakkara) – are both former Cayce-ites. Lehner once published a book titled The Egyptian Heritage, based on the Edgar Cayce Readings, in which he wrote: “If the readings’ story of 10,500 B.C. approaches truth (it is the author’s premise that it does on several levels of significance) then we should consider seriously the implications of this epoch being the motivating center of the Egyptian mandala – the real legacy of ancient Egypt.” These days he makes statements like the following: “When you say something as complex as the Sphinx dates to 9000 or 10,000 B.C., it implies, of course, that there was a very high civilization that was capable of producing the Sphinx at that period. The question an archeologist has to ask, therefore, is this: If the Sphinx was made at that time, then where is the rest of this civilization, where is the rest of this culture?” That, of course, is exactly what West, Bauval, et al., want to find out. But the Egyptological establishment is putting up road blocks at every step. One suspects that Lehner and Hawass may be exhibiting the psychological reactions of “reformed” cult members, and may therefore be acting on the basis of motives that however understandable, nevertheless compromise their objectivity and obstruct new discoveries.

Meanwhile, Schoch is seeking to open a department for the search for lost civilizations at Boston University, and Gantenbrink has distanced himself from West in an effort to gain permission from the authorities to investigate the chamber he discovered in the Great Pyramid. One way or another, it seems that important news may be in store within the next few years.

Discoveries about vanished civilizations have a certain poignancy these days, as our own civilization goes about destroying itself through environmental ruin, overpopulation, and economic predation. Perhaps at this unique moment in time we have some important lesson to learn from our distant ancestors. Were their civilizations as power-driven, politically unstable, and ecologically unsustainable as ours? How sad and ironic it would be if we were to attain the sophistication finally to open long-dormant time capsules from our counterparts in past millennia, and to decode their final warnings – or merely their note-in-a-bottle messages that “We were here!” – just as our own civilization succumbs to a catastrophe of its own making. Or is it possible that their legacy will consist of the realization of the inevitability of terrestrial cataclysms beyond human control? These lines of thought may be somewhat depressing, but they help us see the problems and achievements of our era from a larger perspective. One wonders: What will we leave behind for archeologists ten thousand years from now?