Sir Isaac Newton's influence on the modern scientific worldview is profound, and despite a paradigm change in physics a century ago through the discoveries of the quantum world, many people still see the world through the prism (no pun intended) of 'Newtonian' physics. Indeed, that scientific philosophy has now become synonymous with a purely mechanical cosmos, stripped of superstition, magic, and even the impact of consciousness, via the loss of free will. It is a worldview, however, that may have horrified Newton himself.
When the great scientist died in 1727, he left behind him a substantial estate, including a library with nearly 1800 books and a large number of manuscripts. He did not, however, leave behind a will. After much debate and argument, it was decided that the manuscripts would be examined by Dr. Thomas Pellet, a member of the Royal Society, with the intention to publish and sell them. Once Pellet had looked over the papers though, the idea of releasing them publicly quickly receded - in the end, only one out of eighty-one items was published. The rest were tagged “Not fit to be Printed”:
Many of these manuscripts were of a theological nature. Theology as such was of course not an issue, but, on the contrary, an asset: After all, Newton was one of the true defenders of the faith against popish plots and Cartesian deism. But Mr. Pellet must have had a bad time when he realised that Newton’s theology was of a very heretical nature. Leafing through piles of apocalyptical interpretations and anti-Athenasian rants, Pellet understood that Newton’s anti-Trinitarianism and idiosyncratic interpretation of Church history should not be made public, lest the image of the great Newton be blemished.
...At the time of his death, Newton’s library contained at least 138 books on alchemy, many of which showed signs of extensive use. This was not unheard of for ‘enlightened scientists’: some were avid book collectors, interested in all sorts of curiosities. The manuscripts, however, proved that Newton’s interest in alchemy went far beyond curiosity. There are thousands of folios with Newton copying from all sorts of alchemical manuscripts, and recent scholarship has shown that he must have been actively involved in the circulation of alchemical knowledge. Not only did he read and copy out entire tracts, Newton even gave detailed descriptions of alchemical experiments he performed himself. How could a hero of modern science be engaged in such occult and ‘unscientific’ practices?
The economist John Maynard Keynes purchased Newton's works - many of which were encoded and needed deciphering - at auction in 1942, and on discovering the alchemical nature of much of it was moved to state that "Newton was not the first of the age of reason, he was the last of the magicians".
For those interested in learning more, see the Nova feature Newton's Dark Secrets embedded below:
A study published this month in the journal Time & Mind has shown that the 'blue stones' of Stonehenge, quarried in the Preseli Hills of Wales and hauled some 200 miles to south-west England, may have been treasured for their sonic properties. Thousands of stones along the Carn Menyn ridge on Mynydd Preseli were tested, and a high proportion of them were found to "ring" when they were struck, a quality that has been highly valued in many ancient cultures.
The principal investigator on the project is a good friend of the Daily Grail, Paul Devereux (author of The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia, available from Amazon US and Amazon UK). Here's what he told BBC News:
It hasn't been considered until now that sound might have been a factor. The percentage of the rocks on the Carn Menyn ridge are ringing rocks, they ring just like a bell. And there's lots of different tones, you could play a tune. In fact, we have had percussionists who have played proper percussion pieces off the rocks.
The research paper, "Stone Age Eyes and Ears: A Visual and Acoustic Pilot Study of Carn Menyn and Environs, Preseli, Wales", is in the March issue of the journal Time and Mind. Check out the BBC news story for audio examples of the 'ringing rocks'.
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Good news, Antipodean Grailers: our good friend, 'hidden history' author Graham Hancock, is heading to Australian shores in May for a tour of major cities (and Byron Bay) discussing his 'Magicians of the Gods' research:
Ancient Mysteries, Altered States & The War on Consciousness. This May 2014, Graham Hancock, bestselling British investigative author of Fingerprints of the Gods, Underworld and Supernatural will share his radical theories and philosophy at a series of events across Australia.
Find out more details and book tickets at GrahamHancockTour.com.au.
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'Tis the month for claimed decodings of the mysterious Voynich Manuscript: a couple of weeks ago we posted about researchers wondering if the strange document was actually written in an extinct Mexican language. But now Stephen Bax, Professor of Applied Linguistics at the University of Bedfordshire in the U.K., has claimed that he has decoded a few of the words of the manuscript and is calling on other scholars to join him in continuing to decipher the document. His approach took a leaf out of history's most famous decoding:
I hit on the idea of identifying proper names in the text, following historic approaches which successfully deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphs and other mystery scripts, and I then used those names to work out part of the script. The manuscript has a lot of illustrations of stars and plants. I was able to identify some of these, with their names, by looking at medieval herbal manuscripts in Arabic and other languages, and I then made a start on a decoding, with some exciting results.
In doing so, Professor Bax says he has likely decoded the word 'Taurus' alongside a picture of seven stars which seem to be the Pleiades, and also the word 'kantairon' alongside a picture of the plant Centaury, a known mediaeval herb.
Although the decipherment is still at the very beginning stages, Professor Bax says his research already "shows conclusively that the manuscript is not a hoax, as some have claimed, and is probably a treatise on nature, perhaps in a Near Eastern or Asian language".
Professor Bax has made the paper available for download on his website, and you can also watch this 47 minute video in which he 'superficially' outlines his research:
We'll have to wait and see if this latest theory (in a very long line) is the one. What do you think?
Link: Stephen Bax's Website
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The Garden of Earthly Delights is a triptych painted around the year 1500 by the Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch, and its three panels - taking up almost four meters in width - are crammed full of tiny details ranging from the Garden of Eden to a Hellish landscape in which its inhabitants are being tortured. So many details are present, in fact, that if you were to look very closely at the painting you might find some interesting things. Amelia, a music and information systems double major at Oklahoma Christian University, sure did:
Luke and I were looking at Hieronymus Bosch’s painting The Garden of Earthly Delights and discovered, much to our amusement, music written upon the posterior of one of the many tortured denizens of the rightmost panel of the painting which is intended to represent Hell. I decided to transcribe it into modern notation, assuming the second line of the staff is C, as is common for chants of this era.
So yes this is LITERALLY the 600-year-old butt song from hell.
Debate has long raged over the provenance of the mysterious Voynich Manuscript, a document filled with strange illustrations and text written in a language that has never been decoded. Though the codex has been dated to around the time of the Renaissance, it first came to modern attention in 1912 when it was purchased by antique book dealer Wilfrid Voynich, whose name has been attached to it ever since.
Theories about the Voynich Manuscript have ranged from it being a prank by a Renaissance artist, through to an artefact given to Roger Bacon by future time-travelers, and decoded by an alien held at Area 51 (sounds legit!). The latest in the long list of Voynich theories is the claim, by a botanist and retired information technology researcher, that the Voynich Manuscript contains illustrations of plants native to Mexico, and that the text is likely written in an extinct form of the Nahuatl language:
Previously, many researchers assumed that the manuscript must have originated in Europe, where it was found. But botanist Arthur Tucker of Delaware State University in Dover noticed similarities between certain plants in the manuscript and illustrations of plants in 16th century records from Mexico.
Tucker began collecting copies of Mexican botanical books out of curiosity about the history of herbs there. "Quite by accident, I ran across the Voynich and it was a Homer Simpson moment of D'oh! Of course – this matches my other codices and the artwork of 16th century Mexico."
The most striking example was an illustration of a soap plant (xiuhamolli) in a Mexican book dated 1552. Tucker and Rexford Talbert, a retired information technology researcher at the US Department of Defense and NASA, connected a total of 37 of the 303 plants, six animals and one mineral illustrated in the Voynich manuscript to 16th century species in the region that lies between Texas, California and Nicaragua. They think many of the plants could have come from what is now central Mexico.
On the basis of these similarities, the pair suggests that the manuscript came from the New World, and that it might be written in an extinct form of the Mexican language Nahuatl. Deciphering the names of these plants could therefore help crack the Voynich code.
It's worth noting, however, that the pair are not the first to suggest that the language might be related to Nahuatl - in a 2001 book, James Comegys claimed that the manuscript was "a medical text in Nahuatl attributable to Francisco Hernandez and his Aztec Ticiti collaborators".
And it's definitely worth keeping a healthy dose of skepticism at hand, as there are a number of valid objections to their Voynich theory. But it's all good fun = you never know, the final answer to the mystery might surprise us...
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As mentioned in Tuesday's news briefs, there's an interesting story doing the rounds today about (the ruins of) a newly discovered step pyramid that predates the construction of the Great Pyramid. What I found particularly interesting is that the pyramid was one of seven pyramids scattered around Egypt, all of which did not have a funerary purpose:
Scattered throughout central and southern Egypt, the provincial pyramids are located near major settlements, have no internal chambers and were not intended for burial. Six of the seven pyramids have almost identical dimensions, including the newly uncovered one at Edfu, which is about 60 x 61 feet (18.4 x 18.6 m).
The purpose of these seven pyramids is a mystery. They may have been used as symbolic monuments dedicated to the royal cult that affirmed the power of the king in the southern provinces.
"The similarities from one pyramid to the other are really amazing, and there is definitely a common plan," said Gregory Marouard, a research associate at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute who led the work at the Edfu pyramid. On the east side of the newly uncovered pyramid, his team found the remains of an installation where food offerings appear to have been made — a discovery that is important for understanding this kind of pyramid since it provides clues as to what they were used for.
As we've mentioned recently, alternative history author Graham Hancock (Fingerprints of the Gods) has been traveling the globe, investigating a number of 'anomalous' megalithic sites that seem to push the date of the first human civilisations back many years, such as Gobekli Tepe in Turkey and Gunung Padang in Indonesia. Though Graham's new book about this topic isn't due till next year, interested readers will definitely want to check out a new feature article, about his research so far, that has just gone live on his website: "From Indonesia To Turkey New Archaeological Discoveries Uncover The Mysteries Of A Lost Civilisation".
"Everything we've been taught about the origins of civilization may be wrong," says Danny Natawidjaja, PhD, senior geologist with the Research Centre for Geotechnology at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences. "Old stories about Atlantis and other a great lost civilizations of prehistory, long dismissed as myths by archaeologists, look set to be proved true."
I'm climbing with Dr Natawidjaja up the steep slope of a 300-ft high step-pyramid set amidst a magical landscape of volcanoes, mountains and jungles interspersed with paddy fields and tea plantations a hundred miles from the city of Bandung in West Java, Indonesia.
The pyramid has been known to archaeology since 1914 when megalithic structures formed from blocks of columnar basalt were found scattered amongst the dense trees and undergrowth that then covered its summit. Local people held the site to be sacred and called it Gunung Padang, the name it still goes by today, which means "Mountain of Light", or "Mountain of Enlightenment", in the local Sundanese language. The summit, where the megaliths were found arranged across five terraces had been used as a place of meditation and retreat since time immemorial, archaeologists were told, and again this remains true today.
However neither the archaeologists, nor apparently the locals realized the pyramid was a pyramid. It was believed to be a natural hill, somewhat modified by human activity, until Natawidjaja and his team began a geological survey here in 2011. By then the summit had long since been cleared and the megalithic terraces recognized to be ancient and man-made, but no radiocarbon dating was ever done and the previously accepted age of the site - about 1,500 to 2,500 BC -- was based on guesswork rather than on excavations.
The first scientific radiocarbon dating was done by Natawidjaja himself on soils underlying the megaliths at or near the surface. The dates produced - around 500 to 1,500 BC - were very close to the archaeological guesswork and caused no controversy. However a surprise was in store as Natawidjaja and his team extended their investigation using tubular drills that brought up cores of earth and stone from much deeper levels.
First the drill cores contained evidence - fragments of columnar basalt - that man-made megalithic structures lay far beneath the surface. Secondly the organic materials brought up in the drill cores began to yield older and older dates - 3,000 BC to 5,000 BC, then 9,600 BC as the drills bit deeper, then around 11,000 BC, then, 15,000 BC and finally at depths of 90 feet and more an astonishing sequence of dates of 20,000 BC to 22,000 BC and earlier.
"This was not at all what my colleagues in the world of archaeology expected or wanted to hear" says Natawidjaja, who earned his PhD at Cal Tech in the United States and who, it becomes apparent, regards archaeology as a thoroughly unscientific discipline.
The problem is that those dates from 9,600 BC and earlier belong to the period that archaeologists call the "Upper Palaeolithic" and take us back deep into the last Ice Age when Indonesia was not a series of islands as it is today but was part of a vast southeast Asian continent dubbed "Sundaland" by geologists.
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Alternative history author Graham Hancock is currently traveling the globe, researching the 'sequel' to his bestselling book Fingerprints of the Gods, which has the working title of Magicians of the Gods. Last October he discussed a number of topics relating to the book in a 90 minute lecture he gave in Johannesburg, the video of which has just been posted to YouTube (embedded above). The sound is taken from a hall mic, rather than from the soundboard, so it's rather murkily soaked in hall reverb, but it's still good enough to make out what everyone is saying.
Update: Graham himself has suggested viewing this video instead, which has better sound:
For those that love heretical Egyptology, mixed with the fascinating subject of archaeoastronomy (wait, that might be all of you!), a new book from an old friend is definitely worth a read: Ancient Egyptian Sky Lore: Rethinking the Conventional Wisdom, by Joanne Conman, is about an entrenched misunderstanding in the orthodox view of ancient Egyptian astronomy and art:
Before hieroglyphs could be read, before anyone actually knew anything factual about ancient Egypt, certain early scholars were convinced that they were right about what they thought they saw in ancient Egyptian art. They were wrong. New research reveals that Egyptologists and archaeoastronomers have misunderstood ancient Egyptian art and have misinterpreted two of the five planets visible to the naked eye as Orion and the Big Dipper.
Joanne Conman examines some of Egyptology’s most long-standing comfortable opinions and exposes them to some much needed thought. Her courageous groundbreaking work sets the record straight by examining the rationales offered by the perpetuators and proponents of Egyptology’s and archaeoastronomy’s well-established myth. Conman walks the reader through the ideas objectively, focusing on reason and critical thinking. Beginning where Egyptology itself first went wrong, she looks at both the Greco-Roman-era temple zodiacs and the scholars who first studied them. Next, she reveals the most important piece of the puzzle, perhaps the best single piece of evidence identifying the five planets in Pharaonic Egypt: an ancient Egyptian textbook. She follows that with a review of what has been offered as support for the identifications of Orion and the Big Dipper over the last two centuries so the reader can see how it fails. Finally, she explores evidence that contradicts that dogma of Egyptology in both art and in texts and reveals tantalizing links between very ancient Egyptian religious texts and astrology.