Idea for a best-selling book title: Telephones of the Gods.
The gourd-and-twine device, created 1,200 to 1,400 years ago, remains tantalizingly functional — and too fragile to test out. “This is unique,” NMAI curator Ramiro Matos, an anthropologist and archaeologist who specializes in the study of the central Andes, tells me. “Only one was ever discovered. It comes from the consciousness of an indigenous society with no written language.”
We’ll never know the trial and error that went into its creation. The marvel of acoustic engineering — cunningly constructed of two resin -coated gourd receivers, each three-and-one-half inches long; stretched-hide membranes stitched around the bases of the receivers; and cotton-twine cord extending 75 feet when pulled taut—arose out of the Chimu empire at its height. The dazzlingly innovative culture was centered in the Río Moche Valley in northern Peru, wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the western Andes. “The Chimu were a skillful, inventive people,” Matos tells me as we don sterile gloves and peer into the hollowed interiors of the gourds. The Chimu, Matos explains, were the first true engineering society in the New World, known as much for their artisanry and metalwork as for the hydraulic canal-irrigation system they introduced, transforming desert into agricultural lands.
The artifact’s recent past is equally mysterious. Somehow — no one knows under what circumstances — it came into the hands of a Prussian aristocrat, Baron Walram V. Von Schoeler. A shadowy Indiana Jones-type adventurer, Von Schoeler began excavating in Peru during the 1930s. He developed the “digging bug,” as he told the New York Times in 1937, at the age of 6, when he stumbled across evidence of a prehistoric village on the grounds of his father’s castle in Germany. Von Schoeler himself may have unearthed the gourd telephone. By the 1940s, he had settled in New York City and amassed extensive holdings of South American ethnographic objects, eventually dispersing his collections to museums around the United States.
Last week we posted some interesting/disturbing news about German archaeologists vandalising the Great Pyramid, while also apparently throwing doubt on the age of the famous cartouche of Pharaoh Khufu. That report, and others since, have been vague and sometimes contradictory regarding the individuals concerned - some saying they were students, others that they were aligned with certain academic institutions. As such, many questions have remained about the entire affair.
However posters at the Hall of Ma'at messageboard have been discussing aspects of it since October, and through their information and by following the links they've posted as well as recent news stories on the case, we can assemble a bit more of a picture of what happened. The two 'amateur archaeologists' are Dominique Görlitz and Stefan Erdmann, who (along with film-maker Frank Höfer) appear to have been granted official permission to access the Great Pyramid on the 17th of April, between the hours 6pm-8pm.
The pair seem not to have been officially affiliated with any institution; rather they are 'hidden history' enthusiasts who believe the Great Pyramid is much older than is currently believed. Both seem to be interested in numerous aspects of 'hidden history', from ancient aliens to secret societies, and - worryingly - perhaps some right-wing ideas.
Their trip to Egypt was apparently part of documentary-in-progress titled Das Cheops Projekt ('The Cheops Project'), for which they were seeking financial help through a crowd-funding campaign (which raised just €925 of their €46,000 target):
The research team around Dr. Dominique Goerlitz, Stefan Erdmann and filmmaker Frank Hoefer (NuoViso) is working independently and without and big sponsor in the background. Until now a part of the budget was privately financed. This contains shooting for several days in Egypt as well as examinations of the Great Pyramid and especially the King's Chamber and the relief chambers. This enabled us to take the samples of the king's cartridge. Furthermore we stay in contact with a prestigious institute for lab analysis in Germany which shall examine the samples of the cartridge. Many experts and pyramid researchers already have been interviewed or shown their interest.
With the elaborate film shootings and the expensive and the hard to get permissions to film in Egypt we could get the important samples (documented). This was privately pre-financed. More financial resources are necessary to bring the documentary to an end in short period of time. Especially the expensive lab analysis of the samples are only possible with a five digit amount of Euros.
Many of the videos associated with the project have been made private since the controversy broke, but the following trailer for Das Cheops Projekt remains accessible at the time of posting, and actually appears to feature footage of the vandalism occurring (at 1:31):
There's a couple of things worth noting about the video. Firstly, the chipping off of material in the video seems to not be on the famous cartouche of Khufu, as has been reported, but further to the right (pretty much where Dominique Görlitz is pointing in this image, with the Khufu cartouche at the far left of the picture). I'm not sure if this is the actual act which Egyptian authorities are talking about though - perhaps there were multiple areas chipped away?
Secondly, immediately before the vandalism part of the video, the two 'amateur archaeologists' are shown scaling a ladder, but this appears to be in the King's Chamber of the Great Pyramid for some reason. The Khufu cartouche can't be accessed from inside the King's Chamber, so I'm not sure what they were doing in there, unless it just worked best for the videoing (hopefully no further vandalism in that room!). But beyond that, what is more interesting is that they have a great big ladder in the Great Pyramid - this is not something you can just carry in to the GP at your own leisure, and seems to confirm the report that they were given official permission for their 'expedition' (although it's unlikely they were given permission to take material from the GP!).
So it would seem that though the pair were not aligned with the institutions that were claimed in early news reports, it is likely that they were given permission to access the monuments (and the Great Pyramid after hours). It may be that heads will roll internally for inadequate supervision of the duo during their time in the pyramid.
Regardless, if the above information is correct then I can only condemn the actions of Görlitz, Erdmann and Höfer. It is unlikely the 'samples' they took have any kind of scientific validity (from the area sampled, through to their method and the amount they chipped off), but what's far worse is that they took it upon themselves to damage one of the greatest monuments created by humans, dating back to the beginnings of written history.
I encourage research on these controversial questions, but certainly not by these methods.
Author Graham Hancock continues to travel the world researching his 'sequel' to the bestselling Fingerprints of the Gods, and has just posted a fascinating update to Facebook about his upcoming visit to the Indonesian megalithic site of Gunung Padang - an enigmatic location that Rick wrote about here on TDG back in July:
Next week Santha and I travel to Indonesia to explore Gunung Padang, the extraordinary megalithic site in West Java that is rewriting history. Together with our friend geology professor Robert Schoch of Boston University, famous for his redating of the Great Sphinx of Giza, we have been invited to attend a special seminar in Bandung, the West Javan capital, at which geologist Danny Hilman and the research team who have produced evidence that the origins of Gunung Padang may go back further than 20,000 years will reveal the full scope of their scientific findings for the first time. I have previously posted several status updates about Gunung Padang here (see for example https://www.facebook.com/Author.GrahamHa...) but now we will be able to visit the site ourselves and have the opportunity to learn about the findings of Danny Hilman and his team first hand.
I've been in touch with Danny by email throughout November and he has told me something of the complexity of the site, writing: "Gunung Padang has multi layer constructions, each from a different age, at least three layers. The youngest that cover the ground is about 2500-3000 years BP. Just below the surface, we found the second construction layer that has an estimated age of about 6500-7000 years BP. Beneath the second is the third layer, which in one location is buried by soil fills (not a natural rock-weathering soils) with a carbon-age of about 9500-9800 years BP (calibrated). Then Radiocarbon dating of soils/sediments, found between the columnar rocks of the third layers ranges between 13,000 – 21,000 years BP."
I see similarities here with the mysterious megalithic site of Gobekli Tepe in Turkey which was also deliberately buried under soil fills by those who created it more than 12,000 years ago.
...Back in the mid-1990's when I first published Fingerprints of the Gods archaeologists sneered at the idea of a lost civilisation more than 12,000 years ago. The new findings at Gobekli Tepe and Gunung Padang mean that this idea can no longer be so easily dismissed and my prediction is that many megalithic sites around the world, previously attributed to the period of 5,600 years ago or less, will have to be redated in the coming years
Follow Graham on Facebook to keep up with his travels, and of course keep your eye on TDG for related news as it comes to hand.
Two German archaeologists, and the institutions they were working with, have been punished for allegedly stealing samples of Pharaoh Khufu's cartouche from the Great Pyramid. But perhaps just as controversial is another aspect of the pair's work, which I've bolded in the extract from Al Ahram below:
Egypt's ministry of antiquities has decided to impose penalties on two German amateur archaeologists who stole samples of King Khufu's cartouche from a small compartment above his burial chamber in the great pyramid.
During a meeting Sunday, the Permanent Committee of the Ministry of the State of Antiquities (MSA) condemned such action and described it as a great violation of Egypt's ancient heritage, and the great pyramid in particular - the only surviving monument of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Section at the MSA, Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud, told Ahram Online that the committee has prohibited any archaeological cooperation between the MSA and Dresden University, who supported the work of the German archaeologists, as well as the scientific laboratory where the stolen and smuggled samples were analysed.
The findings of both archaeologists have been rejected, as they were carried out by amateurs not expert archaeologists, Maqsoud asserted.
The results cast doubt on the construction date of the great pyramid and consequently the pharaoh for which it was built. The results suggest that the pyramid was built in an era proceeding [sic] Khufu's reign.
"This is totally false and nonsensical," said Ahmed Saeed, professor of ancient Egyptian civilisation at Cairo University. He explains that accurate scientific research dates the cartouche within an era after the reign of Khufu.
While I certainly don't condone damage or theft from one of the greatest monuments on the planet, the news has a bit of a Gantenbrink vibe to it doesn't it?
Oh, so you thought meetings at the Royal Society, with all those scientific types would be boring, sterile affairs? Not so! Look at the raunchy subject matter those lascivious lab-coats are drooling over at the moment:
New genome sequences from two extinct human relatives suggest that these ‘archaic’ groups bred with humans and with each other more extensively than was previously known.
The ancient genomes, one from a Neanderthal and one from a different archaic human group, the Denisovans, were presented on 18 November at a meeting at the Royal Society in London. They suggest that interbreeding went on between the members of several ancient human-like groups living in Europe and Asia more than 30,000 years ago, including an as-yet unknown human ancestor from Asia.
“What it begins to suggest is that we’re looking at a ‘Lord of the Rings’-type world — that there were many hominid populations,” says Mark Thomas, an evolutionary geneticist at University College London who was at the meeting but was not involved in the work.
Pretty sure the Lord of the Rings comment isn't meant to imply that the Flores hobbits were the 'mystery humans' that joined in the pants-less free-for-all, though it does conjure up some imagery...
Our good friend, alternative history author (and fiction novelist) Graham Hancock stopped by the JRE podcast today and had an extended chat with Joe Rogan about everything from psychedelics to newly discovered ancient megalithic sites that will be explored in his upcoming 'sequel' to his groundbreaking 1995 book Fingerprints of the Gods.
As always with the JRE podcast, NSFW language warning.
Last month I posted a story about the mystery of ancient African coins discovered in northern Australia. In 1944, Royal Australian Air Force serviceman Maurie Isenberg discovered five coins dating back to Africa in the 12th century on a beach, some 10,000km (and 900 years) from their point of origin. How they got there is unknown.
For those interested in finding the answer to the mystery, you can now become a part of a crowd-funding project that aims to solve the puzzle, and which will document every step of the journey:
We call ourselves the 'Past Masters' and we are a multidisciplinary team of anthropologists, archaeologists, historians, and enthusiastic members of the public. We are affiliated with Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), the University of Melbourne, the Australian National University, and other institutions. Working closely with traditional Aboriginal Australians, sea rangers, and members of Norforce, a predominantly Aboriginal army unit, we seek answers to the mystery of the discovery of ancient African coins 8,000 miles from Kilwa (Tanzania) in north Australia in 1944.
Was an African or Arab or a Portuguese shipwreck implicated? Marooned Indonesian sailors? Had Aborigines traveled to Kilwa in days of old?
Our preliminary site survey of the remote Wessels Islands received global publicity in June 2013. In more than 20 countries, hundreds of television, radio, and newspaper articles were posted. CNN, Huffington Post, NBC, BBC, Channel Islam International, China Post, French Tribune, Voice of Russia, Der Speigel, Radio Australia and Radio New Zealand, and others covered the story. Our expedition has captured the imagination of people everywhere.
The standard view of Australian history is that British explorer Captain James Cook discovered the land Downunder in 1770. What these African coins suggest is that Australia has a far older history and that indigenous Australians were a part of the vast Indian Ocean maritime silk route that linked East Africa, Arabia, Persia, India, China and Indonesia. With your help, in our major expedition planned for Summer 2014 (the Australian Winter) we can put an end to the prevailing and outdated 'myth of isolation' and help reveal an infinitely richer past involving many peoples over the millennia. We seek answers in a search for shipwrecks, in an analysis of ancient rock art, and in the stories of the Dreaming.
Alternative history author Graham Hancock is currently researching a follow-up to his bestselling book Fingerprints of the Gods, and he recently visited a site that surely would have been in that book if its age was known at the time: the Turkish megalithic site of Göbekli Tepe, which is thought to be a (mind-shattering) 12,000 years old. The above short video, filmed and edited by Hugh Newman last month during the 'Origins of Civilization' tour organised by Megalithomania and Andrew Collins, has some nice images of the site, as well as some commentary from Graham and Andrew.
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Your double dose of awesome for today: a photo of Mark Twain visiting Nikola Tesla's laboratory in 1894. The image is a ten-minute (!) time-lapse photograph taken for an article in the Century, and in it Twain illuminates one of Tesla's wireless light globes:
Refining his theory on wireless communication, the inventor realized that electrical energy could be transmitted in two distinctly different ways, one as radiation through the air, and the other as conduction through the ground. Today this difference corresponds to FM and AM radio.
...Tesla began to realize that he could design vacuum tubes which would respond only when a precise combination of two or more circuits were being triggered. One of the lamps held by Twain was illuminated in this manner, its dual circuit triggered by a correspopnding dual circuit created by two cables laid around the room.