Where we attempt to fill you in on everything they forgot to teach you at school

The Stars Within Lascaux

Here's an interesting story at Seed Magazine discussing the 17,000-year-old cave art from Lascaux, France, through the lens of archaeoastronomy:

[Michael A. Rappenglück] noticed a group of six spots painted above the back of one of the aurochs in a part of the cave known as the Hall of the Bulls. Charcoal freckles surround the creature’s eye, which Rappenglück thought could represent the eye of the Taurus constellation embedded Lascaux Cave Artin the Hyades cluster. Astronomical calculations of when the Hyades cluster would have been visible to Northern Hemisphere observers during the season depicted in the image match well with the date range given by carbon-14 dating of the charcoal traces. He added a fresh layer of interpretation to the images with his conclusion that the cyclical appearance and disappearance of the Pleiades provided a celestial clock, used alongside carved-bone lunar calendars by hunters of the Magdalenian period or just before.

...Neurophysiologists such as William Calvin have suggested that the human ability to target a moving animal with a thrown rock developed into or coincided with the cognitive capacity for long-term planning. If the Lascaux cave-painters really had a precise time-keeping system, then these people actually scheduled their hunting—thus employing foresight well beyond where their rough-hewn weapons would strike an animal of prey—much as their descendants eventually planned their agrarian affairs according to celestial cycles. The in-heat, rutting season of the Magdalenian aurochs may have coincided with a celestial cue, allowing ancient peoples to track the gestation of these animals as the bovine with six bright spots rose high in the spring sky.

This certainly isn't a new idea - Rappenglück's theory was headline news a decade ago. For some reason, archaeastronomy still seems to be often shunted into the corner when discussing the motivations of ancient people, with archaeologists favouring theories tightly bound to power structures or sexual symbolism. As such, I think that in many cases one of the more obvious (and near-permanent) inspirations for artwork and building - the sky - remains ignored.

Hancock and Pinchbeck Dialogue

Here's an interesting dialogue between authors Daniel Pinchbeck (Breaking Open the Head, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl) and Graham Hancock (Fingerprints of the Gods, Supernatural) on anomalous history, the prophecies of 2012, and the reclaiming of sovereignty over our own consciousness offered by the revival of shamanic techniques: "Retelling the Past, Reimagining the Future". A few things I'd take issue with (as you've probably noticed, I'm not much of a 2012 devotee), but a fascinating discussion all the same (almost 2 hours worth!), and plenty of jumping off points for further debate and research:

Here's the summary of the video:

Pinchbeck and Hancock discuss the implications of the Mayan Calendar "end-times" date 2012 which Hancock first drew to the attention of his readers in Fingerprints of the Gods published in 1995. Hancock's evidence for a great lost civilisation wiped out in a global cataclysm 12,500 years ago is explored in depth together with his suggestion that the survivors of that civilisation may have sought to pass down a message to the future and indeed specifically to us in the twenty-first century -- a warning that the next great lost civilisation may be our own. From the geology of the Sphinx and the Pyramids of Egypt to the mysteries of the Ark of the Covenant, from ancient maps showing the world as it looked during the last Ice Age to out-of-place artefacts indicative of high technology in ancient times, the discussion ranges widely across some of the most intriguing evidence for an immense forgotten episode in human history, and moves on to consider the spiritual crisis of the modern age. Could a new paradigm emerge from our present state of chaos? Hancock and Pinchbeck see hope in efforts by people all around the planet to reclaim sovereignty over their own consciousness, and identify a powerful role for shamanistic visionary plants such as Ayahuasca and Psilocybin in ushering in a gentler, less toxic, more nurturing state of mind.

For more from each of these authors, see Pinchbeck's Reality Sandwich, and GrahamHancock.com.

Zahi Chases Mummies

This is gold, absolute gold - though for all the wrong reasons. The Big Z - that's Dr Zahi Hawass to you, Secretary General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities - now has his own 'Reality TV' show, Chasing Mummies! I know what you're thinking - "but reality TV is usually full of obnoxious loudmouths grandstanding for the cameras, desperately seeking their 15 minutes of fame!" Exactly...

Kind of like a car crash...disturbing and grotesque, and yet you can't take your eyes off it.

Another Brick in the Wall

Overheard conversation between the builders of the Temple of Jupiter and the residents of Stonehenge: "That's not a megalith....this is a megalith":

Trilithon stone at Baalbek

The Baalbek Trilithon at Atlas Obscura.

Return of the Djedi

I'm sure you remember how just 18 short years ago a German engineer named Rudolf Gantenbrink sent his robot 'Upuaut 2' up the (so-called) air shafts in the Great Pyramid of Khufu, and discovered a 'door' blocking the southern passage from the Queen's chamber. Well, it seems that things are progressing quickly, and the Egyptian authorities - led by Dr Zahi Hawass - are already investigating them further. In a recent blog entry on his website, the Big Z informs us of the 'Djedi' team (may the force be with them) currently working in the Great Pyramid:

Recently I went to visit the Great Pyramid of Khufu and observe the work of the Djedi team. Djedi is a joint international-Egyptian mission, which I named after Djedi, Queens Chamberthe magician who Khufu consulted when planning the layout of his pyramid. The purpose of this project is to send a robotic tunnel explorer into the two “air shafts” that lead from the Queen’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid of Khufu to gather evidence to determine the purpose of the shafts.

I selected the Djedi team during a competition that I coordinated to pick the best possible robot to explore the shafts in the Great Pyramid. I decided on a team sponsored by Leeds University and supported by Dassault Systemes in France.

With the help of the Djedi team, we hope to uncover the meaning of these airshafts by drilling through the doors that are blocking them. The team has made to [sic] previous examinations of the airshafts in July and December of 2009. The team is hoping to gather as much evidence as possible to try to piece together the purpose of the airshafts, while at the same time ensuring that the Great Pyramid is not damaged in any way.

It's a provocative expedition title to say the least - despite constantly berating the 'pyramidiots' out there for their speculations about the Great Pyramid, it seems one of Zahi's pet theories is lifted straight from the pages of Bauval and Gilbert's The Orion Mystery. Namely, the story in the Westcar Papyrus which tells that Khufu consulted the magician Djedi regarding the secret chambers of Thoth. Here's Zahi's hypothesis about the story of Djedi, and the Gantenbrink Doors:

I would like to suggest that these doors hide Khufu's real burial chamber, and the bending in the north shaft was there to avoid the Grand Gallery. This means that the two shafts were carved after the construction of the Great Pyramid. We know the ancient Egyptians tried very hard to hide the tombs by blocking the burial chambers with huge blocks or making the Pyramid entrance so narrow that no one could enter. They also wrote curse inscriptions to try to stop anyone who wanted to enter and disturb the tombs of the Pharaohs.

About 900 years after the reign of Khufu we have a story called "Khufu and the Magician". It tells the story of how Khufu brought the magician Djedi to ask him about the secret documents of the god Thoth, the god of wisdom, so he could design his Pyramid. Djedi knew everything about the secret chambers of Thoth, but he did not reveal the secret. I therefore believe that the burial chambers were hidden behind these doors.

For those interested in the original story about the discovery of 'doors', make sure you head to cheops.org - a presentation of all of Gantenbrink's exploration and data (including interactive CAD presentations of the internal structure of the GP). Rudolf had his own theory about what may lie beyond the door (which is not mine to share) - in fact, we had a great email discussion back in the day about a lot of the construction of the Great Pyramid, which I unfortunately lost in a hard drive crash (in the days before I realised how valuable backups are).

At least it finally looks like - after almost two decades - we have people working in the pyramid, as we've previously found that Zahi has talked this up plenty over the years with no action eventuating (seriously, I'm not kidding).

And for anyone interested, here's Zahi talking himself up - "Unlocking the Secrets of Egypt" (actually, if you can put up with the man, it's a good summary of current Egyptian explorations, delivered at breakneck speed):

If there's one quote that sums things up pretty well, it's at 13:35 into the talk: "If you are the head of antiquities, you can do anything."

Previously on TDG:

The Lost Gods of Easter Island

David Attenborough takes you to the famed Pacific Island known for its enigmatic stone heads: "The Lost Gods of Easter Island":

Crystal Skull Under the Microscope

There have been few more enigmatic and controversial 'anomalous artefacts' in the past century than the Mitchell-Hedges crystal skull, but it took an Indiana Jones storyline to bring it back into the public consciousness in 2008. Not the M-H Crystal SkullWith the renewed focus came more modern analysis of the 'Skull of Doom'; in a UK documentary the same year, Jane Walsh - an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History - found the skull to be a modern creation.

Just this week, Archaeology Magazine presented Walsh's investigation into the skull as an online feature. In it, the Smithsonian anthropologist discusses the technical analysis of the skull under the microscope, the skull's history, and the Mitchell-Hedges' claims, and found the entire case wanting:

Analysis of the Mitchell-Hedges crystal skull using SEM leaves little doubt that this object was carved and polished using modern, high-speed, diamond-coated, rotary, cutting and polishing tools of minute dimensions. This technology is certainly not pre-Columbian. I believe it is decidedly 20th century. The similarities between the Mitchell-Hedges skull and the British Museum skull suggest that the former is an improved copy of the latter. The recently published SEM study of the British Museum skull additionally suggests it was probably carved within a decade of the date it was first offered for sale in 1881. It is not unreasonable to conclude that the Mitchell-Hedges skull, which first appeared in 1933, was also created within short time of its debut.

...In Danger My Ally, Frederick Mitchell-Hedges warned that the skull was “the embodiment of all evil” and that “several people who have cynically laughed at it have died, others have been stricken and become seriously ill”. Clearly, we should not believe everything we read, and, ultimately, we must be brave and tell the truth. The Mitchell-Hedges crystal skull is not ancient; not even very old. It was probably made in Europe in the 20th century, and was not polished for five generations. It is not powerful, not scary and not at all what it purports to be.

Filip Coppens looked into the strange history behind the 'Skull of Doom' in his fascinating Darklore 2 article "The Real Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (available from Amazon US and UK). One of the more interesting facts recounted by Filip is that Frederick Mitchell-Hedges wrote a novel in 1931 - two years before the skull's first appearance in London - titled, The White Tiger, in which the protagonist is shown an ancient cache of Aztec treasure, including "crystal heads". Well worth a read, some wonderfully intricate Fortean history.

Previously on TDG:

Dan Brown Pries Open Vatican Archives

Okay, so it's not like Robert Langdon cracked a code and found the secret passageway into the Vatican Archives...but it's interesting to note the indirect influence that may apply here. So go easy on me for the headline.

After centuries of being kept under lock and key, the Vatican has started opening its Secret Archives to outsiders in a bid to dispel the myths and mystique Angels and Demonscreated by works of fiction such as Dan Brown's Angels and Demons. The archives, until now jealously guarded from prying eyes, provide one of the key settings in Brown's thriller, in which Harvard "symbologist" Robert Langdon, played in the 2009 film by Tom Hanks, races against time to stop a secret religious order, the Illuminati, from destroying Vatican City. ...They have been open to carefully vetted academic researchers for more than 100 years, but in the last few months the Vatican has granted tours to select groups of journalists and members of the public, allowing a glimpse into one of its inner most sanctums.

Note though that the 'secret' archives remain off-limits; so hardly the Vatican's dirty laundry laid out for all to see. Full story here.

Occult Messages in Art

Interesting to see two separate stories late this week suggesting that Renaissance masters hid secret 'messages' in their art. The Times mentions that a new analysis of Botticelli's Venus and Mars has raised the possibility that one element of the image may reference a known hallucinogen:

Venus and Mars by Botticelli

A fruit held by a satyr in the bottom right of the painting has been identified as belonging to Datura stramonium, a plant with a history of sending people mad and making them want to strip off their clothes. Its hallucinogenic effects were recorded in Ancient Greek texts and it has since been used as an aphrodisiac and a poison.

The fruit was overlooked by art historians until David Bellingham, a programme director at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, showed it to experts at Kew Gardens, where they have a specimen of the plant, which is also known as thorn apple and Devil’s trumpet.

Use of Datura for shamanic/magical purposes is a fascinating topic in itself, and I highly recommend Paul Devereux's book The Long Trip (Amazon US and UK) to explore the 'history of psychedelia' in more depth (I liked it so much, I republished the book).

Meanwhile, Scientific American shares the (possible) revelation that Michelangelo hid anatomical references in his paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel:

Art critics and historians have long puzzled over the odd anatomical irregularities in Michelangelo’s depiction of God’s neck... How does one reconcile such clumsiness by the world’s master of human anatomy and skilled portrayer of light with bungling the image of God above the altar? Suk and Tamargo propose that the hideous goiter-disfigured neck of God is not a mistake, but rather a hidden message. They argue that nowhere else in any of the other figures did Michelangelo foul up his anatomically correct rendering of the human neck. They show that if one superimposes a detail of God’s odd lumpy neck in the Separation of Light and Darkness on a photograph of the human brain as seen from below, the lines of God’s neck trace precisely the features of the human brain

Interesting enough, but when do we find a secret map showing the location of the Holy Grail!?

The Real Face of Jesus?

The news always turns topical around the big holidays during the year, and with Easter sneaking up you just know who the centre of attention is right now. That's right: the J-Man, the S.o.G., or as I like to call him, 'that dude who may or may not have existed some 2000 years ago'. This year the best effort comes from the History Channel, which will air "The Real Face of Jesus?" tomorrow night:

For the devout and curious alike, this documentary feature may bring us the closest we have ever come to seeing what Jesus actually looked like.

Science and religion join together, bringing cutting-edge computer technology to an ancient stretch of fabric, and creating a living, moving 3D image of the man many believe to be Jesus Christ.

The starting point of this journey is an ancient 14-foot linen cloth known as the Shroud of Turin, believed by millions to be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ. Imprinted on the fabric is a faint, ghostly image of a crucified man. The question of whether this man is or is not Jesus has been debated for centuries. But when 3D computer graphics artist Ray Downing decided to use today’s most sophisticated electronic tools and software to recreate the face of Jesus, the Shroud of Turin is the first place he turned.

While there have been many documentaries about the shroud, most have centered on the shroud’s authenticity. HISTORY’s THE REAL FACE OF JESUS? presents something very different: an attempt to reveal the image embedded in the fibers of the fabric, to turn the faint, unfocused, two-dimensional image into a living, moving, 3D creation – if they are successful, this may be the most accurate depiction ever made of the man many believe to be Jesus Christ.

You can view the trailer for the History Channel feature here (it's too short to be worth embedding here). While there's plenty of controversy over the credentials of the Shroud of Turin - in a poll here on TDG last year ("What do you think of the Turin Shroud?"), a substantial majority of TDG readers said they think the religious artefact is not the burial shroud of Jesus Christ - it certainly looks like a bit of fun and puts a new spin on the old "what did Jesus look like?" question (e.g. in this Popular Mechanics feature from 2002).