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

Göbekli Geographic

Go back some five thousand years to the pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge, then go back another five thousand years. Add on two thousand more years and you're getting close to the construction date of the enigmatic, ultra-ancient megalithic 'temple' at Göbekli Tepe in Turkey. Naturally, I find any stories on this particular site of extreme interest, so I was very happy to see that it's featured as the cover story of the latest issue of National Geographic (June 2011).

Discovering that hunter-gatherers had constructed Göbekli Tepe was like finding that someone had built a 747 in a basement with an X-Acto knife. "I, my colleagues, we all thought, What? How?" Schmidt said. Paradoxically, Göbekli Tepe appeared to be both a harbinger of the civilized world that was to come and the last, greatest emblem of a nomadic past that was already disappearing. The accomplishment was astonishing, but it was hard to understand how it had been done or what it meant. "In 10 or 15 years," Schmidt predicts, "Göbekli Tepe will be more famous than Stonehenge. And for good reason."

The article is accompanied by some wonderful photos by Vincent J. Musi, which include a 10,000-year-old sculpture of a human and the strange 'portals' that can be found at the site. Click on the image below to view the gallery.

Göbekli TepePhoto by Vincent J. Musi

For more information, you might also like to check out Filip Coppens' Darklore article about Göbekli Tepe, which is available as a free download from the Sample Articles page of the Darklore website (along with a bunch of others). Also see the links below, which review updates from previous years (and the first has video as well).

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The Hawass Contradictions

Try and keep up...

First Zahi was good buddies with ousted Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarek, even calling for Susan Mubarek to get a Nobel Prize, and now suddenly this week he says he hardly knew them. Apparently now he's "not from the old regime", and the revolution was definitely "a good thing", although apparently that opinion depends on which language he's speaking at the time.

Not to mention, back when the revolution was underway, the Big H reassured everyone that Egypt's treasures were safe. Except apparently Zahi now says around 1000 relics disappeared during the uprising. But at least some of the stolen treasures were returned when one of the burglars apparently got a conscience and left a bag of artefacts at a Metro station, where an anonymous person found it and "accidentally" looked in the bag, and then took it directly to Zahi. Which just goes to show that those allegations that it was an inside job were obviously false, and so all you noise-makers should just shut-up now...

Then Dr Hawass brought out his own menswear clothing range, but was attacked for using Egyptian heritage for props in promoting his personal label. He responded that no genuine artefacts were directly used in the photo shoot, and that all the profits from the clothing line were being given to a children's cancer hospital anyhow. But then the NYT dug deeper and found that Hawass had contacted the hospital about the arrangement only recently, and that only half the profits would go to charity.

And to top it all off he was sentenced to a year in prison for ignoring a 2010 court order regarding the Cairo Museum gift shop. But then the court overturned that decision the next day.

What more could go wrong, apart from his beloved museum being now seen by many Egyptians as a torture chamber. Things just don't seem quite so easy for Zahi in post-revolution Egypt.

He's Baaa-aaack

I knew it wouldn't last...

Zahi Hawass, who resigned as Egypt’s minister of antiquities less than a month ago under criticism for his close ties to former President Hosni Mubarak, was reappointed to the post on Wednesday, Agence France-Presse reported, citing an Egyptian news report; Mr. Hawass, reached by phone, confirmed his reappointment.

...Mr. Hawass, who has never been accused of being humble, said on Wednesday that he did not ask to come back, but that there was no one else who could do the job. “I cannot live without antiquities, and antiquities cannot live without me,” he said.

Full story at the New York Times.

For Whom the Bell Sketches

Check out these super-secret sketches that I found in a bar for the iPhone 5 prototype! Actually, rewind around 140 years, because in reality it's believed to the be the first sketch made by Alexander Graham Bell for his telephone system (little did he know...):

Early sketch of Bell's invention of the telephone

More fascinating images from Bell's sketchbooks available over at The Atlantic.

Slave to the Truth

Most of us grew up on it: the idea that the pyramids of Egypt were built by slaves. In recent years though, the new view has been that the idea of slaves being used is archaic, and the Egyptian pyramids were built by a willing workforce, devoted to their king and his future afterlife. But wait, not so fast...

The main spin doctor for the interpretation of this information is Dr. Zahi Hawass, serving at the time the story hit the press (January 2010) as Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. He has a PhD from Penn, which has one of the best archaeology programs in the world. He is also a political appointee with a flair for PR who has continually demonstrated his interest in boosting Egypt’s image. He worked for the recently ousted Mubarak, an autocratic ruler trying to project a democratic image.

Hawass has an interest in pumping up the view that the ancient Egyptians loved their Pharaohs and were proud to work on their monuments: “And that’s why the pyramid was the national project of Egypt because everyone had to participate in building this pyramid. By food, by workmen, this way the building of the pyramid was something that everyone felt to participate, and really it was love. They are not really pushed to do it. When the king takes the throne, the people have to be ready in participating in building the pyramid. And then when they finish it, they celebrate.”

In the same interview, the main American archaeologist on the excavation project (Dr. Mark Lehner, University of Chicago and Harvard) is more restrained...

Read the full post at First Thoughts.

The Evolution of Telepathy

Last month Dr. Rupert Sheldrake delivered the Perrott-Warrick Lecture at Trinity College, Cambridge, discussing "The Evolution of Telepathy". Here's the abstract of his talk:

Field observations have suggested that wolves and other wild animals may communicate telepathically over many miles, and surveys have shown that about 50% of dog owners and about 30% of cat owners believe that their pets may respond to their thoughts or silent commands. Among humans, apparent telepathy is most commonly reported between members of families and between close friends and colleagues. Experimental investigations of telepathy in animals and people suggest that telepathy may be a natural means of communication between members of animal and human groups. Human telepathy is still evolving in the context of modern technologies, including the internet, emails, SMS messages and telephones. The speaker will show how anyone can explore their own abilities in automated telepathy tests using mobile phones.

And here's the audio and slides:

Anbody out there have personal observations of animal or human telepathy? Or do you think it's all bunkum? Chime in with a comment.

Hawass History?

It's official: Dr Zahi Hawass, the Pharaoh of Egyptian archaeology, has quit. Already there's been plenty of celebrating amongst those who think the Big Z is more of a liability than an asset to the preservation and exploration of Egyptian history, though I personally don't think he's quite 'gone' yet (more on that below). First, here's why he resigned as Minister of Antiquities:

I resigned because of three main things:

1. During the earlier protests, Egyptian youths and the police protected the museums and monuments. Only the Egyptian Museum in Cairo was broken into and, thank God, all the important objects inside it were safe and only a few things were lost or broken. Zahi HawassA report of exactly what is missing is still being compiled, however. Magazines were looted, but after initially appearing to get back to normal, the situation has recently become worse and there are many reports of thefts and illegal excavation.

2. Since the revolution, many people have continued to protest over other things, such as against me over jobs and salaries. Unfortunately, it is not possible to provide everything that everyone is asking for. In the Ministry of State for Antiquities, we need money to protect sites and to restore buildings and objects too. We need the money brought in by tourists who visit our sites and museums to fund these things and, at the moment, there are no tourists.

3. Crooks in the Ministry and at the University of Cairo have started to attack me personally. I cannot stand this!

Most importantly, however, is that there are not enough police to protect the sites. I hope that my resignation will put pressure on the government to do something about this and also encourage the international community to do so as well.

The Egyptian antiquities that are on tour at the moment are safe and kept so with contracts. They are completely safe and when the police are back in force, everything here will be protected properly again too.

My reading of this is more a case of Zahi "going on strike", trying to bring attention to the desperate need for a security plan to ensure the safety of Egypt's archaeological treasures - a publicity stunt, if you will (though whether for archaeology's benefit, or Zahi, I can't say). And already Hawass 'loyalists' are calling for his reinstatement in the belief he is the only man capable of protecting the country's heritage.

But perhaps Hawass has good reasons to get out of Dodge. For one, as I mentioned back in January, he had extremely close ties to the Mubarek regime. Furthermore, he is now being severely criticised for downplaying the extent of looting and vandalism while Mubarek was still in power, only coming clean recently (according to respected Egyptologist Jaromir Malek, it's "becoming clear that the amount of looting and damage is bigger than originally thought" - see also this analysis of the Cairo Museum debacle). And now it has emerged that Hawass may be facing a year in prison for some alleged shonky dealings in the tender process for the Cairo Museum gift shop contract.

Sadly, while the Zahi Circus rolls on, attracting worldwide media interest, Egypt's precious antiquities remain under threat during this period of instability. Hopefully decisive action to protect the country's past will be taken soon.

Previously on TDG:

Hidden in Plain Sight

For those with eyes to see... I really enjoyed this story in Cabinet about the cryptographical career of Colonel William F. Friedman, and his examples of using codes "to make anything signify anything". For example, this photo:

Coded Photo

At first glance, the photo looks like a standard-issue keepsake of the kind owned by anyone who has served in the military. Yet Friedman found it so significant that he had a second, larger copy framed for the wall of his study. When he looked at the oblong image, taken in Aurora, Illinois, on a winter’s day in 1918, what did Friedman see? He saw seventy-one officers, soon to be sent to the war in France, for whom he had designed a crash course on the theory and practice of cryptology... And he saw a coded message, hiding in plain sight. As a note on the back of the larger print explains, the image is a cryptogram in which people stand in for letters; and thanks to Friedman’s careful positioning, they spell out the words “KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.” (Or rather they almost do: for one thing, they were four people short of the number needed to complete the “R.”)

The photograph was an enduring reminder, then, of Friedman’s favorite axiom — and he was so fond of the phrase that some fifty years later he had it inscribed as the epitaph on his tomb in Arlington National Cemetery. It captures a formative moment in a life spent looking for more than meets the eye, and it remained Friedman’s most cherished example of how, using the art and science of codes, it was possible to make anything signify anything. This idea will no doubt strike us as quintessentially modern, if not postmodern, but Friedman took it straight from the great Renaissance scholar-statesman Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626), along with both the hidden motto in the image and the method used to convey it. In other words, the graduation photo from Friedman’s earliest course in military cryptanalysis is at once a tribute to Bacon’s philosophy and a master class in the use of his biliteral cipher.

When you read through the article, and take into other cipher examples from history such as Kircher's 'alchemical cipher' (in which the first letters of each word in the emblem form the words "Sulphur Fixum Est Sol" (see Manly Hall's Secret Teachings of All Ages for more examples), it really does make you wonder how many coded messages we may be missing in famous works of art and historical texts.

Another interesting note from the article is that for some time Friedman was engaged in a well-funded, serious project investigating whether Francis Bacon was the true identity behind the genius of Shakespeare, via a search for biliteral ciphers in the Bard of Avon's works.

I had to smile at the link there, because in my own book The Guide to Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol I spent a chapter looking at codes and ciphers, and in my description of Bacon's biliteral cipher I jokingly included an example that decoded to "Francis Bacon was Shakespeare"...

The Fall of Pharaoh Zahi?

Two weeks ago, at the height of the Egyptian popular uprising, I asked whether it might spell the end for the controversial head of Egyptian antiquities, Dr. Zahi Hawass. SCA ProtestNow, with President Mubarek stepping aside, and the central protest in Tahrir Square winding down, smaller protests against particular 'regime personalities' have begun - and the Big Z appears to be well and truly in the cross-hairs. Around 200 archaeologists have gathered outside the headquarters of the SCA (Supreme Council of Antiquities) with a list of demands, one of which is the prosecution of Dr Hawass "for corruption and accountability for the theft of 18 masterpieces from the Cairo Museum". This Associated Press article makes clear that many professional archaeologists and students have had enough of the self-serving ego of the antiquities chief.

One would think that ZH is a canny enough operator to work his way out of this current mess though...despite the backlash, his monopolisation of Egyptian archaeology does give his CV enough 'oomph' for him to perhaps argue that only he is qualified enough to guide Egyptology forward in such uncertain times. However, according to this report he may already be packing his bags.

An acquaintance of his who visited him today at his office while protesters outside bayed for his downfall described the usually supremely confident archeologist as "shattered" by recent events, and said most of his books and personal papers have already been moved out of the office. In the waning days of the Mubarak regime he threw his weight behind the established order, and also appeared to have hid the extent of the damage done at the famed Egyptian museum – one of the great repositories of human heritage.

After a brief spate of looting two weeks ago, he said nothing of great value was taken. On Sunday, he admitted that the thieves had made off with 18 priceless artifacts, including two gold encrusted wooden statues of Tutankhamun. "He had to have known that much sooner," says the acquaintance. "I think he held the information back because he understood it would be catastrophic for the regime's legitimacy."

The functionaries of a dictatorship, perhaps of any order, take on the character of their leaders. There are hundreds of men in positions of power in Egypt right now who, like Hawass, are the targets of Egyptian popular anger.

This Discovery News piece also lists more archaeologists disparaging (would "tut-tutting" be too crass?) the Big Z, as well as addressing the strange issue of the conflicting reports about the Cairo Museum looting/vandalism (in a related note, apparently two of the stolen treasures have been found on the ground outside the museum).

And yet bizarrely, given recent events, Dr Hawass will be holding a press conference at the Cairo Museum on Wednesday to announce the results of the DNA testing of King Tutankhamen. Getting on with business, or a handy smoke-screen in a time of crisis? Whatever the reason, it's just one more controversy that the pharaoh of Egyptian archaeology has found himself involved in.

Previously on TDG:

Orion of the Maya

Two of my passions are history and astronomy. So what could be better than combining the two? Check out this lovely image of a Mayan temple at Tikal with Orion high in the sky above it, as shot by astrophotographer Stéphane Guisard (click for large version):

Orion over Mayan Temple
© Stéphane Guisard, Los Cielos de Los Mayas
Credit: Stéphane Guisard / IDAEH-Tikal

Also love this long-exposure picture which gives an idea of the mystique that the night sky would have had for ancient people, and summons up some of those strange feelings you get when you start to venture into the mindset of the myth-makers (the 'Imperishable Ones', the 'Hitching Post of the Sun', the center of the whirlpool):

The Cosmic Whirlpool
© Stéphane Guisard, Los Cielos de Los Mayas
Credit: Stéphane Guisard / IDAEH-Tikal

For other galleries and higher resolution versions of these great shots, see Stéphane Guisard's website

Previously on TDG: