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

The Mysterious Celestial Spheres of the Ancient Mughal Empire

The famous celestial globe of Muhammad Salih Tahtawi

Before the advent of Google Earth, when one wanted to see what the planet looked like, or to find a certain faraway place without actually travelling to it, one would consult a map - and you’ll recall that they didn’t always fit in your phone. We’ve made maps for millennia. It’s an art form unto itself, and as anyone with a love for antique maps can tell you, the variation in form and artistic style is both immense and awe inspiring.

Of course, there are different kinds of maps. From a technical perspective, there are topological and topographical maps, navigational maps, population maps, faction maps, marine maps, even wind maps. Most are concerned with demonstrating relative locations on Earth, but people have been making maps of the stars for almost as long as they’ve been giving each other badly drawn directions to the corner store. Celestial maps, as they’re called, offer a standardised view of constellations and individual stars, along with their relative position compared to specific points on Earth.

One of the problems with celestial maps, and actually with all maps, is the two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional object or space. In order to accurately plot locations and show a realistic measure of their position relative to all others, the cartographer must distort the actual shape of either the Earth or the heavens. This, obviously, can cause some problems when one wants to clearly understand the actual relationship between two locations. The answer? Globes!

Globes too, are split into two categories, terrestrial and celestial. The earliest known terrestrial globes date to ancient Greece (6th to 3rd century BCE), though no examples have survived the ravages of time. Celestial globes may have gotten a start much later, possibly as late as 2nd century CE, as a part of the Farnese Atlas, which is a Roman replica of the classical Hellenistic sculpture of Atlas, but depicting him holding up the heavens, rather than the world. Though, since no examples or records of celestial spheres have been found (yet) prior to this point, it’s not known when or who exactly started the trend. Antique celestial globes are most often made out of metal, usually bronze, and are usually hollow, but are also found in marble and other sculpting mediums.

In the realm of celestial globes, also known as celestial spheres, there are some spectacular surviving examples, and among those gems are hidden one of history’s most vexing puzzles.

In the 1980s, a Smithsonian historian of science, Emilie Savage-Smith, embarked on a journey throughout the middle-east, with the purpose of finding and studying celestial spheres from antiquity. She found a bounty of them, some of the most incredible works of cartographic art and engineering ever made by human hands.

Among those she found there were two distinct types; seamed and seamless spheres. Seamed spheres are, or were, made by moulding two halves of the sphere separately and then soldering them together, ultimately buffing the soldered seam to make a smooth sphere. Then artisans and astronomers would engrave the surface according to whatever specific element of the skies they wanted to depict.

Seamless spheres, however, were another thing entirely; something Emilie Savage-Smith discovered quite unexpectedly.

Up until Savage-Smith made her discovery, it was thought by virtually the entirety of the academic community and by metallurgists the world over, that all examples of hollow metal celestial spheres in existence were of the seamed type. This was owing to the long held belief that creating seamless hollow metal spheres is impossible. It turns out, that isn’t true.

One of the earliest examples of a seamless celestial sphere found by Savage-Smith, was found to be from a workshop in Lahore, Pakistan, though she soon found that the technique, described as ‘secret wax casting’ was widely known by metal craftsmen in Northern India from at least as early as the late 16th century and coming from the Mughal Empire. In fact, some of the workshops identified continued to use the technique up until the 19th century. Though it has apparently now been lost to modern manufacturing techniques.

According to some, the best surviving example of a hollow, seamless celestial sphere is one made by a Mughal metallurgical master and astronomer named Muhammad Salih Tahtawi in 1631. The sphere, known as the celestial globe of Muhammad Salih Tahtawi, is a massive bronze globe adorned with ornate engraving in both Arabic and Persian, as well as numerous pictographic representations of celestial bodies. Its manufacture would have been an immense undertaking, though Salih Tahtawi surely succeeded in creating a masterpiece unparalleled before or since.

A detailed portrait of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir holding a globe

The existence of the spheres, which are commonly known as Islamicate Celestial Globes, isn’t without controversy though. Aside from the obvious resistance among modern metallurgists to the idea that these objects were created as Savage-Smith asserts, there exists a good deal of misinformation about these spheres, stemming from what appears to be a reluctance to attribute such mastery to the Muslim ruled Mughal Empire. Several people have asserted that the existence of both Arabic and Persian language on many of the surviving examples is explained simply by the suggestion that those features were added long after the spheres were made. Presumably implying that the spheres themselves were made by a much older culture, perhaps even in a different area of the world.

Bronze casting techniques similar to that which may have been used to create these spheres, such as lost-wax casting, originated approximately 5700 years ago in Israel, but there is no evidence thus far to substantiate such a claim.

Circumstantially, it is a well-established fact that Arab and Muslim cultures were responsible for a great many technological and scientific advances throughout the middle-ages and long before. There seems to be no valid reason to deny that this particular innovation also came from their masters.

Unfortunately, the subject of seamless celestial spheres is little known in mainstream culture, and as such, in the few places it is discussed, the facts are often distorted or even completely made up. There are those who would like to claim that these magnificent examples of our history are actually OOP-ART (out-of-place-artefacts), suggesting that their origin is related to either a lost pre-historic human culture or aliens. Though as with most such arguments, there isn’t enough information at present to really dive into the discussion.

In any event, once again we are awed by the sophisticated and masterful creations of our forefathers, and once again, our steady march toward modernity has cost us the wisdom of the ages.

The Secret Buried Beneath Stonehenge that has Astonished Archaeologists

Summer Solstice at Stonehenge, by Andrew Dunn (Creative Commons Licence)

One of the striking features about Stonehenge is how lonely it feels, standing bare upon the fields of Wiltshire (if one ignores more modern constructions). But was it that way in the past? Smithsonian Magazine has a fascinating feature on new research that suggests the megaliths of Stonehenge were just one part of a much larger complex. Using magnetometers and ground-penetrating radars, Vince Gaffney and his team of archaeologists have spent four-years gathering information on what still lies beneath the soil of four square miles of the countryside surrounding England's most famous megalithic monument:

The results are astonishing. The researchers have found buried evidence of more than 15 previously unknown or poorly understood late Neolithic monuments: henges, barrows, segmented ditches, pits. To Gaffney, these findings suggest a scale of activity around Stonehenge far beyond what was previously suspected. “There was sort of this idea that Stonehenge sat in the middle and around it was effectively an area where people were probably excluded,” Gaffney told me, “a ring of the dead around a special area—to which few people might ever have been admitted....Perhaps there were priests, big men, whatever they were, inside Stonehenge having processions up the Avenue, doing...something extremely mysterious. Of course that sort of analysis depends on not knowing what’s actually in the area around Stonehenge itself. It was terra incognita, really.”

Link: What Lies Beneath Stonehenge?

Rock and Roll: A New Theory on How the Ancient Egyptians Moved Massive Blocks of Stone

Pyramid of Khufu (by Bradipus, Creative Commons Licence)

A new paper on arXiv.org offers a novel solution to the mystery of how the ancient Egyptians moved millions of massive stone blocks around: by rolling them inside a 12-sided wooden frame. Noting the orthodox theory - that the blocks were put on sleds which were pulled, with the sand in front of the sled being constantly lubricated with - results in a not insignificant level of friction, they suggest that the dodecagon idea would be a far more efficient method of moving these heavy blocks:

As an alternative to dragging large blocks, one can consider
rolling the blocks. Rolling a prism of 4 sides is not efficient, but
adding wooden rods to the surface can effectively increase the number of sides. The crew can then pull on a rope wrapped around and passing over the top of the block. In this configuration, static friction acts in the direction of the desired motion, rather than opposing the motion. In effect the block and rope combination becomes a 2:1 pulley, though the pulley was not yet formally "known" to the Egyptians at that time. The rods can be re-used many times, and there is no need to to transport large quantities of water for lubrication.

...By attaching 12 identical wooden rods to the faces of the block, one effectively transforms the block into a dodecagon prism with very little added mass, much lower ground pressure, and with good cross country mobility... It would seem that some variation of rolling the blocks should now be considered to be among the “best” and most likely method used to move the stones for the great pyramids

The paper goes into more of the physics behind the idea, as well as offering some experimental data to back the authors' theory up.

(h/t Norman R.)

Link: How they (should have) built the pyramids

You might also like: Has This Retired Construction Worker Figured Out How Stonehenge Was Built?

Ancient Maya Cities Discovered in the Mexican Jungle

Lost Maya Pyramid

I'm sure in this day and age there are no more archaeological secrets to be discovered. Wait, what?

A monster mouth doorway, ruined pyramid temples and palace remains emerged from the Mexican jungle as archaeologists unearthed two ancient Mayan cities. Found in the southeastern part of the Mexican state of Campeche, in the heart of the Yucatan peninsula, the cities were hidden in thick vegetation and hardly accessible.

"Aerial photographs helped us in locating the sites," expedition leader Ivan Sprajc, of the Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU), said. Sprajc and his team found the massive remains as they further explored the area around Chactun, a large Maya city discovered by the Slovenian archaeologist in 2013.

Link: Ancient Maya Cities Found in Jungle

But wait, there are more lost cities!

Megaliths of Japan and East Asia

Most of us grew up hearing about amazing, mysterious megalithic structures from all over the world: Stonehenge in England, Baalbek in Lebanon, the temples of Egypt, Sacsaywaman in Peru. But very rarely did we hear - and thus know - that Asia also features a plethora of incredible stone structures. The video above gives a quick introduction to some of these megalithic sites of the East...a topic that I'm pretty sure Graham Hancock will be covering in his upcoming book.

Any readers visited these sites? Feel free to comment and add more information!

(via The Cosmic Joker)

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Randall Carlson: Geometrician, Geomythologist (and All Around Mind-Blower)

While Graham Hancock, Robert Schoch & John Anthony West are undoubtedly 'house-hold names' in the Alt-history movement, the same might not be said of Randall Carlson.

Which is a bloody, unforgivable shame.

I first learned of Randall fairly recently, thanks in large part to the Podfather himself, Joe Rogan, who had him on his show The Joe Rogan Experience last May, and if you haven't listened to it yet, you should correct that mistake immediately; but if you don't have 3 hours to spare right now in order to listen to that JRE episode, here's a shorter video composed of several of Randall's lectures, in which he explains his interpretation of what the arcane tradition of the ancients' lost knowledge ("the essence of the Great Work," as he puts it) was all about: To show us 'a way out' from the constant cycles of destruction & rebuilding, brought upon our tiny paradisiacal planet by the cosmic envoys of Death —rogue comets & meteors.

"We are sitting ducks in a cosmic shooting gallery" he says; a claim which during the days of Velikovsky was considered fear-mongering pseudoscience, but that now is pretty much the standard discourse of mainstream Academia; for now we have mounting evidence that cosmic impacts are indeed much more frequent than we'd like them to be, and that comets may have had a key role in the modifying of our climate, as well as the fall of many cultures now lost in the sands of time. Randall's mission in declassifying the Hermetic Secrets, is to ensure our civilization does not suffer the fate of our forefathers, and according to him that's the whole reason why Momma Gaia raised us silly monkeys in the 1st place —very McKennaesque of him, yet I find it a fascinating idea nonetheless.

Carlson is one of Graham Hancock's collaborators for Magicians of the Gods, the update to his best-seller Fingerprints of the Gods, so I expect that when the book comes out we'll hear a lot more from Randall. Incidentally, my pals Darren & Graham of The Grimerica Show managed to book him for an interview this Saturday, so if you have some questions about his work in Catastrophism & Sacred Geometry, I'll be happy to pass them along :)

You can also find more about him at his website, Sacred Geometry International.

Did Ireland Convert to Christianity as a Result of Halley's Comet?

Did Ireland convert to Christianity as a result of Halley's Comet having a close encounter with the Earth around the year 532 ACE?

Exploring the Ancient Cities - and Minds - of South America

Pyramids of Caral. Image by Michael TurtlePhoto credit: Michael Turtle

When it comes to ancient pyramids, the massive structures erected by the Egyptians on the Giza Plateau receive much of the focus. But on the other side of the world, at Caral in Peru, lies another pyramid complex of similar antiquity, constructed by the Norte Chico people ca. 2600-2000 BCE. The fact that people on both sides of the planet happened to build pyramids at the same time in history is, we are told, a coincidence...your mileage may vary!

One of the reasons for the lack of knowledge about Caral may be the difficulty travelers encounter in reaching this remote location - despite the intriguing ruins being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Thankfully, Australian travel writer Michael Turtle undertook the journey, and has blogged about his visit to Caral, and included some fantastic photos that he took while there, such as the one at the top of this post. Click through on the link above to see a bunch more.

While in South America, Michael also visited the temple complex of Chavin de Huantar (also in Peru), which dates back to around 1000BCE. In his blog he mentions the fascinating link that the temple seems to have with shamanic plant use, including the mescaline-containing cactus San Pedro and the DMT-containing seeds of the 'Yopo' tree, Anadenanthera peregrina. For more on this topic, see Mike Jay's article "Enter the Jaguar", available in full as a sample article (PDF) on the website of our anthology series, Darklore, from which the excerpt below is taken:

Chavín’s architecture...can be understood as a visionary technology, designed to externalize and intensify these intoxications and to focus them into a particular inner journey. This in turn offers an explanation for why so many might have made such long and arduous pilgrimages to its ceremonies. It wasn’t necessary to visit Chavín simply to obtain San Pedro or Anadenanthera. Both grow wild in abundance in the Andes; there could hardly have been, as in some cultures ancient and modern, a priestly monopoly on their use. Those who came to Chavín weren’t coerced into doing so; it drew participants from a wide area over which it exercised no political or military control. The Chavín ceremony, rather, would have offered a ritual on a spectacular scale, where the effects of the plants could be experienced en masse within an architecture designed to enhance and direct them.

Within this environment, participants could congregate to enter a shared otherworld, and also submit themselves to a highly charged individual vision quest. The sunken plaza might, as the reliefs suggest,
have harnessed the heightened consciousness of San Pedro to a mass ritual of dancing and chanting; the participants might subsequently have ascended the temple steps individually to receive a further sacrament of powdered Anadenanthera seeds administered to them by the priests via bone snuffing tubes. As this was taking hold, they would be led into the chambers within the pyramid where they could experience their DMT-enhanced visions in solitary darkness. Here, the amplified rushing of water and the growls and roars of the unseen participants around them would enclose them in a supernatural world, one where ordinary consciousness could be abandoned, the body itself metamorphosed and the world seen from an enhanced, superhuman perspective – analogous, perhaps, to the uncanny night vision of the feline predator. The development of the subterranean chambers over centuries would reflect the logistical demands of ever greater numbers of participants willing to enter the jaguar portal and submit themselves to a life-changing ordeal that offered a glimpse of the eternal world beyond the human.

If we want an analogy for its function drawn from Western culture, it might be the Eleusinian Mysteries, originating as they did in subterranean chambers near Athens a little later than Chavín, around 700BC. Like Chavín, Eleusis persisted for nearly a thousand years, under different empires, in its case Greek and Roman; like Chavín – and like the Hajj at Mecca today – it was a pilgrimage site which drew its participants from a diverse network of cultures spanning virtually the known world

Visit Michael Turtle's blog for more fascinating articles exploring the ancient sites of the world.

Chavin de Huantar.  Image by Michael TurtlePhoto credit: Michael Turtle


Ancient Amazonian People Built Massive Circular Structures Before the Rainforest Existed

Ancient Earthworks in Amazon

Two mysteries for the price of one: were some parts of the Amazon rainforests actually grassy plains just a few thousand years ago, and why (and how) were the ancient people of that area building massive circular earthworks? Environmental scientist John Francis Carson and his colleagues are trying to find the answers:

A series of square, straight and ringlike ditches scattered throughout the Bolivian and Brazilian Amazon were there before the rainforest existed, a new study finds.

...Since the 1980s, deforestation has revealed massive earthworks in the form of ditches up to 16 feet (5 meters) deep, and often just as wide... These human-made structures remain a mystery: They may have been used for defense, drainage, or perhaps ceremonial or religious reasons.

Carson and his colleagues wanted to explore the question of whether early Amazonians had a major impact on the forest. They focused on the Amazon of northeastern Bolivia, where they had sediment cores from two lakes nearby major earthworks sites. These sediment cores hold ancient pollen grains and charcoal from long-ago fires, and can hint at the climate and ecosystem that existed when the sediment was laid down as far back as 6,000 years ago.

An examination of the two cores — one from the large lake, Laguna Oricore, and one from the smaller lake, Laguna Granja — revealed a surprise: The very oldest sediments didn't come from a rainforest ecosystem at all. In fact, the Bolivian Amazon before about 2,000 to 3,000 years ago looked more like the savannas of Africa than today's jungle environment.

Link: Mysterious Earthen Rings Predate Amazon Rainforest

Paper (Abstract): "Environmental impact of geometric earthwork construction in pre-Columbian Amazonia"

A Match made in Heaven: Graham Hancock and the Massive Megaliths of Baalbek

Trilithon stone at Baalbek

The massive megaliths found at the Temple of Jupiter at Baalbek always make for my all-time favourite "WTF?!" images of ancient sites. I posted the historical image above a while back here on the Grail just to share the love, but now we've perhaps got an even better one: our good friend Graham Hancock has posted an image to Facebook of him atop one of the Baalbek megaliths, taken by his wonderful photographer wife, Santha Faiia:

The visit to Baalbek is a part of Graham's research for his upcoming 'sequel' to the best-selling Fingerprints of the Gods, titled Magicians of the Gods. Be sure to like his Facebook page (you can do so by clicking the Like button in the image above) or follow him on Twitter for ongoing updates regarding his research. And of course, you can read much more about Graham and his body of work at his official website.