News Briefs 27-05-2016

”It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well."

Quote of the Day:

“...Everything turns into mathematics.”

R. Descartes

Neanderthals Found to Have Built Mysterious 'Stalagmite Circles' 175,000 Years Ago

Stalagmite Circle

In 1990, cavers in the the south west of France entered a cave that had been sealed from the outside world for tens of thousands of years by a natural rockslide. 337 metres within the cave, they made a curious find: a mass of broken off stalagmites which seemed to have been arranged into ring or circle shapes on purpose.

In the 1990s archaeologist Francois Rouzard set out to determine whether the constructions in Bruniquel Cave were made by the hands of Neanderthals, but after his premature death from a heart attack in 1999 research ground to halt. But 14 years later, a multi-national team finally did a proper scientific analysis of the structures - and their conclusions are mind-blowing.

Using uranium-series dating of the stalagmite calcite, the researchers found that the structures were built between 175,000 and 177,000 years ago! Neanderthals are believed to have been the only human population living in Europe at this time, and so the researchers have attributed the constructions to them.

Here's the description of the structures:

The arranged structures composed of whole and broken stalagmites, here designated as ‘speleofacts’, are located in the largest chamber of the cave. Our study defines two categories of structures: two annular ones, which are the most impressive, and four smaller stalagmite accumulation structures. The largest annular structure is 6.7 × 4.5 m, and the smaller one is 2.2 × 2.1 m. The accumulation structures consist of stacks of stalagmites and are from 0.55 m to 2.60 m in diameter. Two of them are located in the centre of the larger annular construction, while the other two are outside of it. Overall, about 400 pieces were used, comprising a total length of 112.4 m and an average weight of 2.2 tons of calcite... The stalagmites are well calibrated with a mean length of 34.4 cm for the large (A) and 29.5 cm for the small (B) annular structures, thus strongly suggesting intentional construction.

The annular structures are composed of one to four superposed layers of aligned stalagmites. Notably, some short elements were placed inside the superposed layers to support them. Other stalagmites were placed vertically against the main structure in the manner of stays, perhaps to reinforce the constructions.

3D Reconstruction of the Stalagmite Circles

Traces of fire were also found to be present on all six of the structures. Carbonized organic material was found, with some of the fragments being the bones of a bear or large herbivore.

The dating of the constructions within Bruniquel Cave is staggering. In terms of megalithic building, Stonehenge dates back around 5000 years; Gobekli Tepe 10,000 years. Completely preserved archaeological sites are rare before 40,000 years ago. And yet here we have a well-preserved site, with signs of intelligent human construction, dating back 175,000 years:

The attribution of the Bruniquel constructions to early Neanderthals is unprecedented in two ways. First, it reveals the appropriation of a deep karst space (including lighting) by a pre-modern human species. Second, it concerns elaborate constructions that have never been reported before, made with hundreds of partially calibrated, broken stalagmites (speleofacts) that appear to have been deliberately moved and placed in their current locations, along with the presence of several intentionally heated zones. Our results therefore suggest that the Neanderthal group responsible for these constructions had a level of social organization that was more complex than previously thought for this hominid species.

For the researchers involved, questions abound. "What was the function of these structures at such a great distance from the cave entrance? Why are most of the fireplaces found on the structures rather than directly on the cave floor? We could assume that they represent some kind of symbolic or ritual behaviour, but could they rather have served for an unknown domestic use or simply as a refuge? Future research will try to answer these questions."

Link: "Early Neanderthal constructions deep in Bruniquel Cave in southwestern France", in Nature

News Briefs 26-05-2016

Navel gazing...

Thanks Adam and Rick.

Quote of the Day:

It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all.

JK Rowling

Creepy Fungus Will Drag You To Hell

Dead Man's Fingers fungus

Now this would freak you out during a walk in the woods after an episode of The Walking Dead. A volunteer for the conservation charity The National Trust took this photo of the aptly named fungus, Dead Man's Fingers (Xylaria polymorpha). Thankfully the fungus has no psilocybin, the trip would be a nightmare.

The Augmented Horror of Hyper-Reality

As we march forward into the brave new world of the future, for many of us the 'helping hand' of technology is becoming more and more of a distraction from actually 'living'. And with new 'augmented reality' devices about to appear on the market from the likes of Microsoft and Magic Leap, a whole new layer of information overload is about to be added.

The short film above, Hyper-Reality, looks at a possible end-point of such interminable distraction, presenting "a provocative and kaleidoscopic new vision of the future, where physical and virtual realities have merged, and the city is saturated in media." It's beautifully executed and terrifyingly realistic.

Related:

News Briefs 25-05-2016

Happy Towel Day

Quote of the Day:

Would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Marks of the Illuminati: Navel Gazing

Navel Gaze

Bringing new meaning to the phrase 'navel gazing': Our Illuminati overlords signal their presence with subtle choices of garments and gestures. Be vigilant!

(via The Early Discordians)

News Briefs 24-05-2016

It's the simple joys in life...

Thanks Gwyllm and Robin.

Quote of the Day:

Religion is belief in a supreme being. Science is belief in a supreme generalization. Essentially they are the same. Both are the suppressors of witchcraft.

Charles Fort

Fortean Approaches to Religion

Frog rain

The following essay is a modified version of the introductory chapter to the book Damned Facts: Fortean Essays on Religion, Folklore and the Paranormal (available now from Amazon US and Amazon UK).

Intermediatism and the Study of Religion

by Jack Hunter

Over the course of four groundbreaking books published between 1919-1932,1 Charles Hoy Fort (1874-1932) meticulously presented thousands of accounts of anomalous events that he found documented in scientific journals, newspapers and books at the New York Public Library and the British Museum. In conducting his wide-ranging textual excavations, Fort uncovered impossible numbers of extraordinary reports of fish and frogs falling from the sky, poltergeists wreaking havoc on unexpecting families, spontaneous human combustion, unidentified flying objects, levitations of people and things, mysterious disappearances, apparitions, and so on.2

All of these strange events, according to Fort, had been brushed under the carpet by mainstream science,3 indeed his books were deliberately intended as an out-and-out affront to the scientific establishment, and in particular to the idea that science has essentially ‘sorted it all out’ already. Fort was not at all convinced by this, and his collections of ‘Damned Facts,’ as he called them, served as evidence in support of his suspicions and speculations. Fort obsessively catalogued these ‘Damned Facts’ on small pieces of card, which he stored in hundreds of shoe boxes in his New York apartment, ready to be unleashed in the wild processions of his books.4

Fort’s books would go on to become classics of ‘paranormal’ literature, and inspired others to employ a similarly ‘Fortean’ approach in their own work, notably including writers such as John A. Keel (1930-2009), Colin Wilson (1931-2013), Robert Anton Wilson (1932-2007), and Jacques Vallée, amongst others (some of whose work is discussed in later chapters ofDamned Facts). Fort’s books and approach were also the inspiration behind the founding of the famous magazine Fortean Times, which, since it was first published in 1973, has helped to keep Fort’s eclectic legacy alive.5

The original goal of Damned Facts was to explore what a Fortean approach to the study of religion might look like, with all of its associated anomalous events and enigmatic experiences. The book, however, became something much more diverse. The contributors to Damned Facts each offer their own unique perspectives and insights, and take us to places that we might not immediately associate with ‘religion.’ With this eclecticism in mind, then, what I would like to do in this introduction is to give a basic overview of some of Fort’s philosophical speculations on the nature of science, religion and reality more generally, and then to outline some of my own ideas concerning what a Fortean approach to religion might entail.

Intermediatism

Throughout all of his published works on the anomalous, Fort employed a philosophy that he called ‘Intermediatism,’ the basic tenet of which suggests ‘that nothing is real, but that nothing is unreal,’ and ‘that all phenomena are approximations in one way between realness and unrealness,’6 a kind of ontological indeterminacy. He writes:

...in general metaphysical terms, our expression is that, like a purgatory, all that is commonly called ‘existence,’ which we call Intermediateness, is quasi-existence, neither real nor unreal, but the expression of attempt to become real...7

Through the lens of this ontologically agnostic perspective, in which all phenomena take place somewhere along a spectrum between the real and the unreal, Fort was able to explore some exceedingly strange territory, unearthing phenomena that mainstream science had either refused to comment on or had rejected outright. Charles FortIn the process, Fort (often half-jokingly) postulated some intriguing hypotheses to account for his damned data, including, for example, the frightening idea that human beings are, in some undefined way, ‘property,’ and the equally bizarre notion of a ‘Super-Sargasso Sea,’ a mysterious place to which objects are teleported.8 Fort, however, often immediately contradicted and discredited his own theories, and is famous for announcing that: ‘I believe nothing of my own that I have ever written. I cannot accept that the products of minds are subject-matter for beliefs.’9 His agnosticism extended even to his own theories and ideas.

By approaching all phenomena as equally real/unreal, from the common-place and everyday to the most exceptional and far-out, Fort was essentially proposing a Monistic metaphysics, according to which all events, in all their varied manifestations, are, in some sense, fundamentally connected to one another. All are part of the same process of ‘becoming real,’ of moving toward ‘positiveness,’ and all give equal insight into the ‘underlying oneness.’10 Fort suggests that this oneness might best be thought of as a living system, perhaps as a cosmic ‘organism,’ maybe even possessing some form of purposive intelligence and agency.11 This idea was later taken up by John Keel, who suggests the possibility that ‘the earth is really a living ... Read More »