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

Stonehenge 1901

Before you go working on the astronomical alignments of Stonehenge, it's worth being familiar with the history of the place. For example, here's the stones being straightened in 1901:

Stonehenge 1901

Megalith-sized version here.

(via @EnglishHeritage)

Did Ancient Egyptians Record Binary Star Eclipses?

There's been plenty of controversial theories in recent decades about the possibility of advanced astronomical knowledge in ancient Egypt. Here's another one to add to the list, courtesy of arxiv.org: "Did the ancient Egyptians record the period of the eclipsing binary Algol - the Raging one?":

The eclipses in binary stars give precise information of orbital period changes. Goodricke discovered the 2.867 days period in the eclipses of Algol in the year 1783. The irregular orbital period changes of this longest known eclipsing binary continue to puzzle astronomers. The mass transfer between the two members of this binary should cause a long-term increase of the orbital period, but observations over two centuries have not confirmed this effect. Here, we present evidence indicating that the period of Algol was 2.850 days three millenia ago. For religious reasons, the ancient Egyptians have recorded this period into the Cairo Calendar, which describes the repetitive changes of the Raging one. Cairo Calendar may be the oldest preserved historical document of the discovery of a variable star.

Let the Dogon arguments begin all over again...

Update: More mainstream coverage of the paper via this Discovery.com article.

Bauval Returns Serve to Hawass

Last week I mentioned that former Egyptian archaeological supremo Dr Zahi Hawass had attacked 'hidden history' author Robert Bauval on the front page of the Egyptian daily Al Ahram. Bauval has now returned serve, bringing up the controversial old topic of whether Hawass PhD was funded by New Age organization, The Association of Research and Enlightenment (ARE), the executive branch of the Edgar Cayce Foundation. The allegations were first made in the biography of Cayce's son Hugh Lynn, written by A. Robert Smith:

In Robert Smith’s book it is further claimed that the reason for helping Hawass get his PhD was for Hawass “to advance within the [Egyptian] government to further his own career and open doors for Hugh Lynn [Cayce]’s project, [and] he could do it best on the wing of higher education at an American Ivy League college.” (Smith, Chapter 19, p. 250)

But many years later, in 1998 to be precise, both Hawass and Lehner denied that Hugh Lynn Cayce had been instrumental in helping Zahi Hawass obtain a Fulbright Scholarship to study for a PhD at the University of Pennsylvania. They made official statements to that effect in the KMT Journal (volume 9, Number 1, Spring 1998, pp.5-6).

For another take on this most recent controversy involving Hawass, see also Philip Coppens' latest article "A New Future for Egyptology".

Shared Stone Age Symbology

I came across this cool infographic yesterday on Twitter, which is taken from a New Scientist article from 2010. Click to go through to the detailed image:

Shared Stone Age Jottings Infographic

French caves are known for their prehistoric rock art. But also marked on the walls around the paintings are 26 symbols that have appeared again and again at French sites across 25,000 years of prehistory. Early signs suggest that many of these symbols crop up in other parts of the world too, leading some to wonder if symbolic communication arose with early humans.

Funnily enough, the next thing I clicked on was a link to the new trailer for Ridley Scott's Prometheus, which features a plotline in which common symbols are found in prehistoric cultures around the world (an "invitation" from an alien race). I thought I'd include it below, simply for your own enjoyment of my fun little synchronicity.

At least if we decode some ancient pictograms in future from an alien race, we'll be more circumspect about accepting the invitation...

Video Tour of the Georgia Guidestones

I recently mentioned a newly-released book on a mysterious megalithic site, The Georgia Guidestones: America's Most Mysterious Monument, by Raymond Wiley and KT Prime (foreword by Graham Hancock). For those of you who, like me, are stuck on another continent, the following video tour by one of the authors of the book is sure to be of help in picturing and better understanding the structure:

You can download an inexpensive eBook version of Wiley and Prime's book from the official website, or grab a physical copy from Amazon US or Amazon UK. And of course, check out my own essay from Darklore, Beyond the Apocalypse: Myths and Legends Concerning the Georgia Guidestones", which I think offers some interesting insights into the mythology behind the monument.

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Zahi and the Zionists (Part 2)

Let's party like it's 1999: former Egyptian antiquity supremo Zahi Hawass has rekindled a decade-old antagonism with 'alternative history' author Robert Bauval. On the front page of the top Arabic daily newspaper Al Ahram for Thursday April 12, Hawass, ex-Minister of Antiquities in Egypt, and Farouk Hosni, ex-Minister of Culture, claimed* that Bauval's next book, co-written with Ahmed Osman (Breaking the Mirror of Heaven, to be released August 15), attributes Egyptian civilisation to the Jewish people. Bauval notes on his blog that...

Hawass further claimed that my parents were ‘Belgians Jews’ from Alexandria — a claim clearly intended to be derogatory, implying that being a ‘Jew’ explains the reason for me writing this book (as an act of ‘vengeance’) and that, in any case, being a ‘Jew’ I cannot be believed.

In response to this, I have shown proof on my blog that such claims are untrue. Robert BauvalMy parents were Catholic Christians, and they were baptised (as I was) in the churches in Alexandria.

It is not the first time that Zahi Hawass has used the ‘Jews’ to try and discredit his opponents. Since 1991 Hawass has played this ‘Jews’ card against his opponents. In 2009 Hawass went as far as accusing the Jews of ruling the world and controlling the USA.

...But the amazing irony is that Hawass’s recent outburst evoking ‘Jews’ and his obvious desire to show that he ‘protecting Egyptian civilization’ against ‘Jews’ may, in fact, be a smoke screen to his own very involved relationship with American Jews – something that today in Egypt would definitely not go down well in the present political climate. It is well known in academic circles that Hawass obtained his PhD in America (at the University of Pennsylvania) with his tutor and assessor of his thesis being Dr. David Silverman, who is Jewish. Dr. Silverman, and his university, have been granted long-tern concessions in Egypt by Hawass, and the latter and Dr. Silverman have collaborated on many projects and even wrote a book together. It is also well-known that Hawass has ‘facilitated’ the Edgar Cayce Foundation of America to work at the Giza Pyramids many times, and that the principal funders were Joseph Jahoda and Joseph Schor, two promiment Jewish American businessmen.

Let it be very clear to everyone that I do not hold any anti-Semitic sentiments whatsoever. And I do not consider it either a detriment or an advantage to collaborate on projects with Jews – or Christians or Muslims for that matter. Indeed religion, as far as I am concerned, does not and should not be a factor at all in Egyptology or any other endeavour. But we may wonder what Zahi Hawass is playing at by constantly attacking his opponents by claiming that they are ‘Jews’. There is, excuse the pun, something not quite Kosher in his behaviour.

I've written previously about the tangled web surrounding Zahi Hawass's involvement with this controversial topic. In this case, one wonders how much of this attack is political positioning by Hawass, given the former's close ties to former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and rumours of Zahi's involvement with Zionist businessmen, versus the recent rise of Islamist power-brokers in the Egyptian political system. In any case, it's not exactly the type of publicity that Robert Bauval would want in his home country.

* I haven't seen the English version of the article, so am going by Robert Bauval's translation here

Hawass To Be Charged?

Dr Zahi Hawass, once-king of Egyptian archaeology via his position as the (former) Minister of State for Antiquities, may face charges of breaking Egypt's antiquities law:

General Prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud on Monday referred charges of wasting public money and stealing Egyptian antiquities against Zahi Hawass, former minister of state for antiquities to the Public Fund Prosecution office.

Nour El-Din Abdul-Samad, Director of Archeological Sites, had filed the accusations against Hawass, and requested that the objects in question be returned to the Egyptian Museum.

The Public Funds Prosecution office also received other charges accusing Hawass of wasting public money and exposing Egyptian antiquities to stealing in collaboration with former regime members.

Hawass is accused of sealing a deal with the American Geographical Society to display rare Egyptian antiquities in exhibitions across the United States and Australia, violating the law of protecting antiquities.

Hawass admitted in a television talk show that he had a 17 million dollar deal with the American Geographical Society with regard to a Tutankhamun exhibition to raise donations for Suzanne Mubarak's association, wife of former president Hosni Mubarak. Suzanne Mubarak's association was a private association not a state body, and as such Hawass was not legally allowed to use his position as a state minister to raise funds for it.

The charges relate to Hawass agreeing to transfer and display 143 objects from the Egyptian Museum to Washington DC in 2003. The antiquities have yet to be returned to the museum.

Beyond the irony of Hawass possibly being charged for sending antiquities away from Egypt (given his long-running crusade to have stolen artefacts repatriated), I'm not sure how much of this is simply political point-scoring. These kinds of exhibitions would have had plenty of value - from education through to inspiring tourism - and it would be sad for Hawass to be convicted for simply spreading the Egypt love around. Things like the money going to the Susan Mubarak association may be more problematic for him though....

(h/t @Bennu)

Portugese Megaliths

A trailer for a subject I didn't know existed: Portugese megaliths. Timelapse and megaliths will look good no matter where they were filmed though...something about the combination of cosmic depth, the relentless march of time, and the permanence of megaliths, that just works beautifully together.

Neanderthals were Ancient Mariners

Well this little piece of news deserves to be making more waves (no pun intended): Neanderthals were ancient mariners, crossing the Mediterranean in boats 100,000 years ago:

Neanderthals lived around the Mediterranean from 300,000 years ago. Their distinctive "Mousterian" stone tools are found on the Greek mainland and, intriguingly, have also been found on the Greek islands of Lefkada, Kefalonia and Zakynthos. NeanderthalThat could be explained in two ways: either the islands weren't islands at the time, or our distant cousins crossed the water somehow.

Now, George Ferentinos of the University of Patras in Greece says we can rule out the former. The islands, he says, have been cut off from the mainland for as long as the tools have been on them.

Ferentinos compiled data that showed sea levels were 120 metres lower 100,000 years ago, because water was locked up in Earth's larger ice caps. But the seabed off Greece today drops down to around 300 metres, meaning that when Neanderthals were in the region, the sea would have been at least 180 metres deep (Journal of Archaeological Science, DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2012.01.032).

Ferentinos thinks Neanderthals had a seafaring culture for tens of thousands of years. Modern humans are thought to have taken to the seas just 50,000 years ago, on crossing to Australia.

The journeys to the Greek islands from the mainland were quite short - 5 to 12 kilometres - but according to Thomas Strasser of Providence College in Rhode Island, the Neanderthals didn't stop there. In 2008 he found similar stone tools on Crete, which he says are at least 130,000 years old. Crete has been an island for some 5 million years and is 40 kilometres from its closest neighbour - suggesting far more ambitious journeys.

Strasser agrees Neanderthals were seafaring long before modern humans, in the Mediterranean at least. He thinks early hominins made much more use of the sea than anyone suspects, and may have used the seas as a highway, rather than seeing them as a barrier. But the details remain lost in history.

Sacred Sounds at Newgrange

This week's news story about the integration of acoustics into ancient sacred sites brought to mind a passage in Paul Devereux's wonderful book The Long Trip: A Prehistory of Psychedelia (available from Amazon US and Amazon UK), which I had the privilege of publishing in an updated edition a few years ago. In this short section, Paul speculates freely about the possible use of acoustics at a site such as Newgrange, in Ireland.

On stones in the passage and within the chamber are engraved lozenges, spirals, triple spirals and other form constants. Outside, there is an entrance stone in front of the passage entrance which is richly carved with similar patterns, as are three of the exterior kerbstones to the mound. Are these markings the equivalent of those in the Chumash shaman’s cave? Did a calendrical, ritualised vigil take place here, of mythic significance to the builders of Newgrange, where the ancient Lords of Light are said in legend to have dwelt? Did some Neolithic shaman or shamanic elite take a mind-altering infusion and then sit within the inky blackness of the awesome chamber, perhaps amongst the ancestral bones, intoning deep, echoing chants until the very walls reverberated, waiting to receive the ecstatic golden blast of soul-searing solar light at the dark turning of the year?

We may never know for certain, but the evidence leads to interesting
speculation. The structure was clearly related to midwinter solar astronomy, the entoptic-style rock art there does speak of altered mind states, and acoustical tests conducted within the chamber in 1994 by Robert G. Jahn, myself and colleagues showed that the resonant frequency of the Newgrange chamber was 110 Hz (cycles per second), within the baritone vocal range. We could speculate further, and suggest that chanting at the resonant frequency of the chamber might itself “drive” the brain and help induce trance states – initial EEG studies are currently indicating that the 110 Hz frequency does cause alterations in brain activity. And we can stretch speculation to guesswork. Inside the chamber there are large stone dishes; if these had been filled with water on ritual occasions and hot stones placed in it, clouds of steam would be produced creating a “sweat-lodge” type of environment (there is evidence of this kind of practice in early Ireland). The droplets of moisture in the steam would have vibrated with the resonant chanting within the chamber. Experiments have shown that in such a case water droplets (or other aerosol components) floating in air assemble into wave patterns reflecting the frequency of the sound, and these show up when subjected to a lightbeam. We can therefore picture the solstitial sunbeam cutting a vivid shaft of light through the steamy interior of the Newgrange chamber revealing shifting light and dark patterns relating to the 110 Hz frequency of the sound. Interestingly, these patterns would be similar to the sort of rock art motifs we find at Newgrange. The acoustically-driven steam patterns would probably also have assisted the “flicker” mechanism in the sunlight that Dronfield has found evidence for. In this scenario we can see the combination of at least five mind-altering techniques: the use of a hallucinogen, be it psilocybin mushrooms, an ergot derivative, or henbane, taken at the start of a long initial period of sensory-deprivation in the silent blackness of the chamber, followed by prolonged resonant chanting in a sweat-lodge type of hot steamy atmosphere, culminating in powerful flickering light.

Paul has of course immersed himself in this very topic - he wrote a book titled Stone Age Soundtracks, and has written articles examining 'archaeoacoustics' - so while he's speculating, it is informed speculation.

The Long Trip itself is a great book - if, like me, you're interested in both ancient cultures and the human mind, it's really a must-have for your collection (and of course, purchasing a copy helps support both Paul and The Daily Grail). You can grab a copy right now by ordering from Amazon US or Amazon UK.