British writer Alex Bellos has written a fascinating piece for the Guardian ("Nirvana by Numbers") which explores the possible mystical origins of one of the most important 'inventions' in mathematics: the number zero:
India was not the only civilization to have a place value number system. Babylon and China did too. But India revolutionized numbers by adding the second piece of the jigsaw: the number zero.
Place value systems require a strategy to describe the case when there is nothing in a position. The Babylonians used a marker to represent nothing; the Chinese used a space to represent nothing.
Only the Indians introduced a symbol, 0, and treated it as if it was a normal digit just like all the others from 1 to 9. Invention of the number zero was possibly the greatest conceptual leap in the history of mathematics.
But why did the Indians make this leap and not China or Babylon? My trip to India, for a BBC radio documentary, was to investigate why this was the case.
India made another contribution to world culture as well as zero: the idea of nirvana, the transcendent state of "nothingness", when you are liberated from suffering and desires. In fact, the word used in philosophical texts to mean nothing, or the void, is "shunya", the same word later used to mean zero.
For George Gheverghese Joseph, a maths historian at the University of Manchester, the invention of zero happened when an unknown Indian mathematician about two thousand years realized that "this philosophical and cultural concept would also be useful in a mathematical sense."
Renu Jain, professor of mathematics at Jiwaji University in Gwalior, was my guide at the temple. She agreed that Indian ideas of spiritual nothingness led to mathematical zero. "Zero denotes nothing. But in India it was derived from the concept of shunya. Shunya means a sort of salvation," she said. "When all our desires are nullified, then we go to nirvana or shunya or total salvation."
In the modern world it is common to see religion and science as always in conflict. Yet in ancient India, one cannot untangle mathematics and mysticism.
You can listen to Alex Bellos' full 28 minute radio documentary on the topic at the BBC website.
Full Article: Nirvana By The Numbers
When the cave paintings in Altamira were first discovered in the XIXth century, there were many historians who labeled them as a hoax, scoffing at the notion that men of the Stone Age could have not only the intelligence, but also the artistic refinement to create images of such a life-like quality. Later, when the age of the paintings was finally confirmed, the famous painter Pablo Picasso visited the cave located in northern Spain & said “after Altamira, everything is decadence,” as a way to express his respects for the mastery of the anonymous artist(s) who decided to create a time-capsule of their natural environment.
Since then, even older cave paintings have been discovered throughout Europe, including the equally famous cave of Lascaux (France) & Chauvet, which with an age of 30-32,000 years were considered the oldest representation of pictorial art in Europe... until now.
A team of archeologists from the Cantabria University in Spain have just announced that the cave paintings in the Altxerri cave system --located in the Basque country, and originally discovered in 1962-- are approximately 39,000 years old, 3000 years older than Altamira. To give you a sense of perspective, that's the same number of years separating us from the biblical king David!
The investigation was launched in 2011 when Cantabria University members Aitor Ruiz and César González decided to concentrate on the upper Altxerri B gallery to date the paintings there. “It became immediately apparent that we were dealing with a completely independent grouping from the lower gallery,” noted Ruiz. It was then determined that a chronology for Altxerri B should be established. Diego Garate, a specialist in Upper Paleolithic cave art from the University of Toulouse, was brought on board.
As it was not possible to use the paintings for a direct dating – because they consist of non-organic material – the team employed other indicators such as bone fragments discovered in the gallery. A separate geological study showed that the mineral and other deposits in the cave, which had been sealed for thousands of years, were also different to those in the lower gallery, “which supports the dating of the paintings.”
Would this new discovery force us to push back the arrival of modern humans into the Old Continent, or does it simply indicate Cro-Magnons arrived to a level of sophistication we hadn't credited them with at a much early age?
...Or better yet: could these paintings be the work of those other humans inhabiting Europe, the 'brutish' Neanderthals?
All I know is that the tale of our origins is being edited & re-written more quickly than a soap opera. We've still got a lot to learn about the days of our (ancestors') lives.
Forget replacing the lost capstone on the Great Pyramid with a gold pyramidion to celebrate the rise of the Masonic New World Order. This sounds like an altogether much more sane plan:
Do you ever look at the ancient pyramids in Egypt and think, "Why isn't there a gigantic carnival ride on top of those?" Well, you wouldn't be alone. Because somebody asked that very question in 1931.
In a series of illustrations under the bold headline, "Mammoth Flying Swing to Give Bird's Eye Pyramid View," we see the pyramids as they could have been — the main attractions in Giza's own version of Disneyland.
Signed by Art Williamson in the June 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics and Invention magazine, the illustrations show three cars swirling around the top of a pyramid, driven by a huge electric motor. Judging from the pictures, it looks like would-be riders first had to get about two-thirds of the way up the pyramid. The thrill seekers then were supposed to board the ride by crossing a gangplank that gives me vertigo just looking at it.
More information and images at Gizmodo.
Discover Magazine has a feature on the enigmatic Georgia Guidestone, the modern megalithic monument just outside of the town of Elberton that some have dubbed the American Stonehenge:
The nearly twenty-foot granite slabs, known as the Georgia Guidestones, have sparked controversy around the world—praised by Yoko Ono, defaced by conspiracy theorists, featured on the History Channel, and the subject of the conspiracy web series Guidestones. The monument – five upright stones topped by a capstone – weighs nearly 240,000 pounds and is inscribed in eight languages with ten instructions for humans post-apocalypse. Three decades after being erected, the monument’s true purpose is still being argued, and its quasi-commandments can seem either sincere or satanic.
Regular readers will know that I've written previously about what the "true purpose" of the monument likely is (see "Beyond the Apocalypse"): it was probably inspired by Masonic legends about the construction of stone monuments that could transmit knowledge to a post-apocalyptic world. Given the time that the monument was created, it seems likely that R.C. Christian (or a group he represented) were concerned about nuclear war ending civilisation, and so made their own megalithic 'book' for survivors of any war.
But ignorance and deluded paranoia persist:
One of the monument’s most prominent conspiracy theorists is computer analyst Van Smith, of Arkansas. His website, Van’s Hardware, offers extensive analysis of the stones.
“The purpose of the monument’s ten edicts,” Smith wrote me by email, “is to establish the groundwork for a totalitarian global government. The proportions of the stones predict the exact height in feet of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, now the world’s tallest building. Both the Guidestones and the Burj allude to the Tower of Babel. Also be aware that there is a supposed to be a time capsule buried a few feet west of the monument… According to the story, the capsule is only to be opened when signs are made obvious by the monument of an impending global cataclysm. And the North Star sighting hole is probably the feature that was intended for detecting the feared cataclysmic event, if the story I was told is true. The hole is similar to a device created by the Hopi to detect a similar calamity.”
An interesting piece of news in the feature though is that banker Wyatt Martin - the man who dealt with R.C Christian in commissioning an building the monument, and is therefore the only man to know who he really was - has destroyed all the documentation that was in his possession. A few years back I was shocked when the location of these documents was made public by Wired, and hoped that they were moved. Martin went one step further though: “Last year I went with a few friends over to an old bridge on Lake Oconee and we dumped all correspondence associated with the Guidestones into a metal barrel and burned them. Then we poured the ashes into the lake. It’ll never be known."
The Discover article ends negatively though, quoting an astronomer as saying "the astronomical features of the Guidestones are mediocre at best...the Guidestones are an abacus compared to Stonehenge’s computer. They’re very ordinary." Again, I think that's missing the point of what the stones were meant to convey: information about the era in which we lived in, by anchoring to solar and stellar markers, for the education of future, post-apocalyptic generations.
Link: Georgia's Own Stonehenge Doomsday Monument (Discover Magazine)
Aeon Magazine has a wonderful piece on humanity's fascination with stories of submerged civilisations, and the surprising 'modern' discovery that ancient peoples did once walk the plains beneath our seas:
In 1931, a trawler called the Colinda sank its nets into the North Sea, 25 miles off the coast of Norfolk, and dredged up an unlikely artefact — a handworked antler, 21cm long, with a set of barbs running along one side. Archeologists identified it as a prehistoric harpoon and dated it to the Mesolithic age, when sea levels around Britain were more than 100 metres lower than they are today, and the island’s sunken rim, at least according to some, was a fertile plain.
As long ago as the 10th century, astute observers noted that Britain’s coastlines were fringed with trees, visible only at low tide. Traditionally, the ‘drowned forests’ were regarded as evidence of Noah’s flood — relics of an antediluvian world whose destruction is recorded in the most enduring of all the stories of great floods that sweep the earth and drown its people. At the beginning of the 20th century, another explanation was proposed by the geologist Clement Reid. In his book Submerged Forests (1913), Reid argued that ‘nothing but a change in sea level will account’ for the position of trees stretching from the high water mark ‘to the level of the lowest spring tide’. Observations on the east coast of England led him to conclude that the Thames and Humber estuaries were once ‘flanked by a plain, lying some 40-60 feet below the modern marsh surface’.
Turning his attention to a substance known as ‘moorlog’, dredged up from the bed of the North Sea at Dogger Bank, Reid identified nothing less than a time capsule. Moorlog consists of the compacted remains of animal bones, shells, wood, and lumps of peat, and Reid’s sample contained a variety of bones, including bear, wolf, hyena, bison, mammoth, beaver, walrus, elk and deer. He concluded that ‘Noah’s woods’ once stretched far beyond the shore, with Dogger Bank forming the ‘edge of a great alluvial plain, occupying what is now the southern half of the North Sea, and stretching across to Holland and Denmark’.
The Colinda antler appeared to confirm Reid’s theory, for it came from a freshwater deposit, meaning that it had not been dropped by a sea voyager, but by someone living in the landscape. According to Vincent Gaffney, Simon Fitch and David Smith — the trio of archaeologists at the University of Birmingham who have made the most sustained attempts to build on Reid’s research — this was ‘the first real evidence that the North Sea had been part of a great plain inhabited by the last hunter-gatherers in Europe’.
The area, now called Doggerland, was gradually submerged as the last Ice Age came to an end, and the melting glaciers raised sea levels. Only around 5,500 BCE did Britain finally become an island. The rediscovery of the great plain that formerly connected it to mainland Europe is one of the most remarkable scientific stories of the past decade, yet there is a sense in which it should not come as a surprise at all. Doggerland addresses one of our oldest preoccupations; for we have always told stories about lost civilisations, hidden beneath the waves.
Full article: "Out of the deep", at Aeon Magazine.
Archaeologists working in Scotland have uncovered what they believe is the world's oldest lunar 'calendar' (so far discovered), created some 10,000 years ago - 5000 years earlier than the first calendars of the 'cradle of civilisation' in the ancient Near East:
Excavations of a field at Crathes Castle found a series of 12 pits which appear to mimic the phases of the moon and track lunar months. A team led by the University of Birmingham suggests the ancient monument was created by hunter-gatherers about 10,000 years ago.
The pit alignment, at Warren Field, was first excavated in 2004. The experts who analysed the pits said they may have contained a wooden post.
The Mesolithic "calendar" is thousands of years older than previous known formal time-measuring monuments created in Mesopotamia.
...The pit alignment also aligns on the Midwinter sunrise to provided the hunter-gatherers with an annual "astronomic correction" in order to better follow the passage of time and changing seasons.
Vince Gaffney, Professor of Landscape Archaeology at Birmingham, led the analysis project.
He said: "The evidence suggests that hunter-gatherer societies in Scotland had both the need and sophistication to track time across the years, to correct for seasonal drift of the lunar year and that this occurred nearly 5,000 years before the first formal calendars known in the Near East.
"In doing so, this illustrates one important step towards the formal construction of time and therefore history itself."
The site was excavated by archaeologists after unusual crop marks were spotted from the air by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS).
The analysis has been published in the journal, Internet Archaeology, and can be read online for a fee.
Update: Here's some video from the University of Birmingham describing the site and the excavation:
Link: "'World's oldest calendar' discovered in Scottish field" (BBC News)
Link: "Time and a Place: A luni-solar 'time-reckoner' from 8th millennium BC Scotland" (Internet Archaeology, fee required)
The sad news has been confirmed by the New Zealand Herald. Michael Baigent, Kiwi, historian, and father of four, suffered a fatal brain haemorrhage at a Brighton hospital in England on Wednesday. He was 65.
With co-authors Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, Michael Baigent revolutionised the alternative history scene with the publishing of Holy Blood, Holy Grail in 1982. Did Jesus Christ have children with Mary Magdalene, and does his bloodline survive to this day? This controversial theory not only caught the wrath of the Vatican, but inspired thriller author Dan Brown, who used it for the plot of The Da Vinci Code. Baigent and Richard Leigh filed a lawsuit against Random House, Brown's publisher, claiming plagiarism of their work (however, co-author Henry Lincoln refused to join them). They lost, and were ordered to pay 85 per cent of Random House's legal costs (about £1.3 million at the time). Baigent's youngest daughter, Tansy, told the NZ Herald how much it cost them personally:
Since then he has been living in rented accommodation because he lost all of our money and had nothing, so it's been a terrible time and a hard time. The legal battle was something he didn't want to be remembered for but it has been such a weight, it really ripped him apart because all he was seeking was some credibility for the work he had spent so many years doing."
The Daily Grail might have been a completely different beast without Holy Blood, Holy Grail. The book played a part in inspiring Graham Hancock, Robert Bauval, Lynn Picknett, Clive Prince, and countless others. So we tip our hats in gratitude and thank Michael for his books that made us think and question and seek, whatever our own personal Grails may be.
Robert Bauval posted this tribute on his Facebook page:
Author and dear friend Michael Baigent passed away last night. I have known Michael for many years. I remember with great nostalgia the amazing trip we shared in Egypt in 1998. Michael (with co-authors Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln ) published The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail in 1982, a huge book that even inspired Dan Brown's blockbuster Da Vinci Code.
Michael was a kind and gentle man, and a great writer. He was the real thing, original and with fine virtues and integrity, who wrote responsibly after carefully researching his subject. He was a Renaissance Man, a Gnostic on a quest for the divine spark. I had much admiration and respect for him.
You have left us, Michael, but your divine spark, your light, will always glow in the wonderful books you wrote fur us.
From Graham Hancock:
Michael was a good man, a creative innovator, and a great spirit. Dan Brown and Random House have their hundreds of millions of dollars from the success of The Da Vinci Code but it is Michael who rightly should be remembered by history. Rest in peace, Michael. Rest in honour.
Fellow alternative history author Dr Robert Lomas has also tweeted the following message: "Sad news about Michael Baigent dying. He advised and helped me before I wrote my first book and remained a good friend. RIP Michael".
Thanks to LastLoup for providing updates. Greg's original post edited/updated by Rick.
Following on from last week's story about the use of meteoric iron in ancient Egypt, here's a fascinating paper regarding Aboriginal oral traditions that reference Australian impact craters:
In this paper, we explore Aboriginal traditions relating to Australian impact craters and seek to find out if these traditions describe craters as originating from a cosmic impact. Data used in this paper were collected from ethnographic fieldwork, published ethnographies, historical and ethno-historical documents, linguistic material, and various Aboriginal artworks. This paper represents a treatise of Aboriginal traditions regarding confirmed Australian impact craters and provides new information that has not been reported in the literature.
In the following sections, we describe traditional knowledge regarding Gosses Bluff, Henbury, Liverpool, and Wolfe Creek craters but find none associated with Boxhole, Dalgaranga, or Veevers craters. We are faced with several possibilities to explain the presence or absence of these stories:
- The story is based on a witnessed event and was recorded in oral traditions;
- The formation of the crater was not witnessed, but was instead deduced and incorporated in oral traditions;
- The formation of the crater was not witnessed, and stories explaining it as an impact site are coincidental;
- The origin or nature of the crater is not part of a structured oral tradition (Dreaming), but is generically attributed to supernatural elements or grouped in with general landscape features;
- Impact stories were influenced by Western science;
- Related stories may have once existed but have been lost for whatever reason;
- No stories of the crater ever existed.
It is difficult to know which possibility is true in each instance, but we explore each of these with reference to the craters described above in the following sections.
As one example, the researchers mention that Jaru elder Jack Jugarie told a story of the crater's origin shortly before his passing in 1999: "A star bin fall down. It was a small star, not so big. It fell straight down and hit the ground. It fell straight down and made that hole round, a very deep hole. The earth shook when that star fell down".
Read the full paper: "Aboriginal Oral Traditions of Australian Impact Craters", by Duane W. Hamacher, John Goldsmith. (thanks Norman!)
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Zahi Hawass, former supreme ruler of Egypt's antiquities, is back hitting the media hustings, with last week's Smithsonian Magazine feature starting whispers of a comeback, and now LiveScience posting an interview with the (formerly) Great and Powerful Z. It features the the usual Hawassisms, such as "I'm the only one who can really bring the tourists back to Egypt", but readers of this blog will probably be most interested in what he said about the "Gantenbrink Doors":
I really believe that Cheops chamber is not discovered yet and all the three chambers were just to deceive the thieves, and the treasures of Khufu [are] still hidden inside the Great Pyramid, and these three doors could be the key to open this burial chamber. There is no pyramid of the 123 pyramids in Egypt that have these type of doors with copper handles. Really, I believe they're hiding something.
Perhaps Zahi is just trying to drum up some media funding to bring interest back to the treasures of Egypt after a tough few years tied to the removal of former President Mubarek. After all, Hawass is the man who has previously said on a number of occasions that "it's not a door", and "I believe that the shafts from the so-called Queen’s Chamber likely have no function". Nevertheless, he has been peddling this line for a few years now - for example see my story "Return of the Djedi" from a few years back where he said basically the same thing.
Or maybe Zahi's just caught up in this whole Indiana Jones shtick so many media outlets pin on him...
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An interesting story at the Nature website, by the most excellent Jo Marchant, regarding the finding that an iron bead from the very beginnings of Dynastic Egypt has been found to have been made out of a meteorite: "Iron in Egyptian relics came from space".
The 5,000-year-old iron bead might not look like much, but it hides a spectacular past: researchers have found that the ancient Egyptian trinket is made from a meteorite.
The result, published on 20 May in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science, explains how ancient Egyptians obtained iron millennia before the earliest evidence of iron smelting in the region, solving an enduring mystery. It also hints that the ancient Egyptians regarded meteorites highly as they began to develop their religion.
...Researchers have discovered only a handful of ancient Egyptian iron artefacts made before the sixth century BC, when the first evidence for iron smelting in ancient Egypt appears in the archaeological record. All come from high status graves such as that of King Tutankhamun. "Iron was very strongly associated with royalty and power," says Johnson.
Objects made of such divine material were believed to guarantee their deceased owner priority passage into the afterlife.
Campbell Price, a curator of Egypt and Sudan at the Manchester Museum who was not a member of the study team, emphasizes that nothing is known for certain about the Egyptians’ religious beliefs before the advent of writing. But he points out that later on, during the time of the Pharaohs, the gods were believed to have bones made of iron.
Perhaps meteorites originally inspired this belief, he speculates, with these celestial rocks interpreted as the physical remains of gods falling to Earth.
Robert Bauval and Adrian Gilbert wrote about the veneration and use of iron meteorites by the ancient Egyptians in their 1994 book The Orion Mystery - though as they point out in the book, the fact that meteorites played a role in the formation of religious ideas has been known to Egyptologists since 1933, based on the work of British Egyptologist G. A. Wainwright. In The Orion Mystery, Bauval and Gilbert note that "the Ancient Egyptian name for iron was bja...[and] bja is mentioned repeatedly in the Pyramid Texts in connection with the 'bones' of the star kings." For instance, in PT1454 we find the passage "My bones are iron (bja) and my limbs are the imperishable stars."
As these passages show, there was a belief that when the departed kings became stars, their bones became iron, the heavenly material (meteorites) of which the star gods were made. Such cosmic iron objects were the only material evidence of a tangible land in the
sky populated by star souls, and it was easy to see why the stars were thought to be made from bja. Since the souls of departed kings were the stars, they too had bones made of iron.
Bauval and Gilbert also note a number of other similar examples of meteorites being venerated across various cultures:
There is evidence of religious cults based on the veneration of sacred meteorites in the ancient world. It is well known that the Greeks regarded Delphi as the 'navel' of the world. However, the omphalos stone which marked the spot was not the original fetish of Delphi. There was originally a rough stone, believed to have been cast down to earth by the titan Kronos. The Delphians believed their stone to be the one cast down by Kronos and called it Zeus Baetylos, a term usually taken to mean meteorite by historians. Extant drawings show the Zeus Baetylos as ovoid in shape, and about the size of a cannonball. In view of its cosmic origins and characteristic shape, the Zeus Baetylos was almost certainly a meteorite. A similar stone was shown to the historian Pausanias (second century AD) at the town of Gythium, which the locals called Zeus-Kappotas (Zeus fallen down). This was probably also a meteorite. Pliny (AD23-79) also reported that a 'stone which fell from the sun' was worshipped at Potideae and that others had fallen at Aigos-Potamus and at Abydos, near the Hellespont.
The cult of meteorites was particularly rife in Phoenicia and Syria. At Emessa (Horns), for example, was the shrine of the god Ela-Gabal or Elagabalus, where a sacred relic was described as 'a black, conical stone'; the chronicler Herodianus tells us that the Emessians 'solemnly assert it to have fallen from the sky...' Not far from Emessa, in the temple of Zeus-Hadad, at Heliopolis-Baalbek, were 'black conical stones'. Zeus-Casios, a counterpart of Zeus-Hadad, had his abode on Mount Casios and also had a baetylos sacred to him. In ancient Phrygia (central Turkey) the Great Mother of the Gods, Cybele, was represented at the temple of Pessinus by a black stone said to have fallen from the sky.22 The Cybele cult was particularly widespread and was adopted by the Romans who took it as far as France and England.
There are many other examples of meteorite worship in many places of the world. This is quite understandable because ancient man saw the meteorite as the material representation of the sky gods and, perhaps more specifically, the star gods. We surely do not need any further examples to make the point that the Benben Stone kept inside the Temple of the Phoenix may have been a conical meteorite.
I've also heard it said that the Black Stone in the Kaaba at Mecca is a meteorite, but I'm not sure of the source on that. A fascinating topic!
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