Chapter 26 - A Species Born in the Earth’s Long Winter

In all that we call ‘history’—everything we clearly remember about ourselves as a species—humanity has not once come close to total annihilation. In various regions at various times there have been terrible natural disasters. But there has not been a single occasion in the past 5000 years when mankind as a whole can be said to have faced extinction.

Has this always been so? Or is it possible, if we go back far enough, that we might discover an epoch when our ancestors were nearly wiped out? It is just such an epoch that seems to be the focus of the great myths of cataclysm. Scholars normally attribute these myths to the fantasies of ancient poets. But what if the scholars are wrong? What if some terrible series of natural catastrophes did reduce our prehistoric ancestors to a handful of individuals scattered here and there across the face of the earth, far apart, and out of touch with one another?

We are looking for an epoch that will fit the myths as snugly as the slipper on Cinderella’s foot. In this search, however, there is obviously no point in investigating any period prior to the emergence on the planet of recognizably modern human beings. We’re not interested here in Homo habilis or Homo erectus or even Homo sapiens neanderthalensis. We’re interested only in Homo sapiens sapiens, our own species, and we haven’t been around very long.

Students of early Man disagree to some extent over how long we have been around. Some researchers, as we shall see, claim that partial human remains in excess of 100,000 years old may be ‘fully modern’. Others argue for a reduced antiquity in the range of 35-40,000 years, and yet others propose a compromise of 50,000 years. But no one knows for sure.

‘The origin of fully modern humans denoted by the subspecies name Homo sapiens sapiens remains one of the great puzzles of palaeoanthropology,’ admits one authority.1

1 Roger Lewin, Human Evolution, Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford, 1984, p. 74.

About three and a half million years of more or less relevant evolution are indicated in the fossil record. For all practical purposes, that record starts with a small, bipedal hominid (nicknamed Lucy) whose remains were discovered in 1974 in the Ethiopian section of East Africa’s Great Rift Valley. With a brain capacity of 400cc (less than a third of the modern average) Lucy definitely wasn’t human.


But she wasn’t an ape either and she had some remarkably ‘human-like’ features, notably her upright gait, and the shape of her pelvis and back teeth. For these and other reasons, her species—classified as Australopithecus afarensis—has been accepted by the majority of palaeoanthropologists as our earliest direct ancestor.2

About two million years ago representatives of Homo habilis, the founder members of the Homo line to which we ourselves belong, began to leave their fossilized skulls and skeletons behind. As time went by this species showed clear signs of evolution towards an ever more ‘gracile’ and refined form, and towards a larger and more versatile brain. Homo erectus, who overlapped with and then succeeded Homo habilis, appeared about 1.6 million years ago with a brain capacity in the region of 900cc (as against 700cc in the case of habilis).3


The million or so years after that, down to about 400,000 years ago, saw no significant evolutionary changes—or none attested to by surviving fossils. Then Homo erectus passed through the gates of extinction into hominid heaven and slowly—very, very slowly—what the palaeoanthropologists call ‘the sapient grade’ began to appear:

Exactly when the transition to a more sapient form began is difficult to establish. Some believe the transition, which involved an increase in brain size and a decrease in the robustness of the skull bones, began as early as 400,000 years ago. Unfortunately, there are simply not enough fossils from this important period to be sure about what was happening.’4

What was definitely not happening 400,000 years ago was the emergence of anything identifiable as our own story-telling, myth-making subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens. The consensus is that ‘sapient humans must have evolved from Homo erectus’,5 and it is true that a number of ‘archaic sapient’ populations did come into existence between 400,000 and 100,000 years ago. Unfortunately, the relationship of these transitional species to ourselves is far from clear.


2 Donald C. Johanson and Maitland C. Eddy, Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind, Paladin, London, 1982, in particular, pp. 28, 259-310.

3 Roger Lewin, Human Evolution, pp. 47-49, 53-6; Encyclopaedia Britannica, 6:27-8.

4 Human Evolution, p. 76.

5 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1991, 18:831.

6 Human Evolution, p. 76.

As noted, the first contenders for membership of the exclusive club of Homo sapiens sapiens have been dated by some researchers to the latter part of this period. But these remains are all partial and their identification is by no means universally accepted. The oldest, part of a skullcap, is a putative modern human specimen from about 113,000 BC.6 Around this date, too, Homo sapiens neanderthalensis first appears, a quite distinct subspecies which most of us know as ‘Neanderthal Man’.

Tall, heavily muscled, with prominent brow ridges and a protruding face, Neanderthal Man had a bigger average brain size than modern humans (1400cc as against our 1360cc).7 The possession of such a big brain was no doubt an asset to these ‘intelligent, spiritually sensitive, resourceful creatures’8 and the fossil record suggests that they were the dominant species on the planet from about 100,000 years ago until 40,000 years ago.


At some point during this lengthy and poorly understood period, Homo sapiens sapiens established itself, leaving behind fossil remains from about 40,000 years ago that are indisputably those of modern humans, and supplanting the Neanderthals completely by about 35,000 years ago.9

In summary, human beings like ourselves, whom we could pass in the street without blinking an eyelid if they were shaved and dressed in modern clothes, are creatures of the last 115,000 years at the very most—and more probably of only the last 50,000 years. It follows that if the myths of cataclysm we have reviewed do reflect an epoch of geological upheaval experienced by humanity, these upheavals took place within the last 115,000 years, and more probably within the last 50,000 years.


7 Ibid., p. 72.

8 Ibid., p. 73.

Cinderella’s slipper
It is a curious coincidence of geology and palaeoanthropology that the onset and progress of the last Ice Age, and the emergence and proliferation of modern Man, more or less shadow each other. Curious too is the fact that so little is known about either.

In North America the last Ice Age is called the Wisconsin Glaciation (named for rock deposits studied in the state of Wisconsin) and its early phase has been dated by geologists to 115,000 years ago.10 There were various advances and retreats of the ice-cap after that, with the fastest rate of accumulation taking place between 60,000 years ago and 17,000 years ago—a process culminating in the Tazewell Advance, which saw the glaciation reach its maximum extent around 15,000 BC.11 By 13,000 BC, however, millions of square miles of ice had melted, for reasons that have never properly been explained, and by 8000 BC the Wisconsin had withdrawn completely.12

The Ice Age was a global phenomenon, affecting both the northern and the southern hemispheres; similar climatic and geological conditions therefore prevailed in many other parts of the world as well (notably in eastern Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and South America). There was massive glaciation in Europe, where the ice reached outward from Scandinavia and Scotland to cover most of Great Britain, Denmark, Poland, Russia, large parts of Germany, all of Switzerland, and big chunks of Austria, Italy and France.13


(Known technically as the Wurm Glaciation, this European Ice Age started about 70,000 years ago, a little later than its American counterpart, but attained its maximum extent at the same time, 17,000 years ago, and then experienced the same rapid withdrawal, and shared the same terminal date).14

9 Ibid., p. 73, 77.
10 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1991, 12:712.

11 Path of the Pole, p. 146.

12 Ibid., p. 152; Encyclopaedia Britannica, 12:712.
13 John Imbrie and Katherine Palmer Imbrie, Ice Ages: Solving the Mystery, Enslow Publishers, New Jersey, 1979, p. 11.

14 Ibid., p. 120; Encyclopaedia Britannica, 12:783; Human Evolution, p. 73.

The crucial stages of Ice Age chronology thus appear to be:

1 - around 60,000 years ago, when the Wurm, the Wisconsin and other glaciations were well under way
2 - around 17,000 years ago, when the ice sheets had reached their maximum extent in both the Old World and the New
3 - the 7,000 years of deglaciation that followed

The emergence of Homo sapiens sapiens thus coincided with a lengthy period of geological and climatic turbulence, a period marked, above all else, by ferocious freezing and flooding. The many millennia during which the ice was remorselessly expanding must have been terrifying and awful for our ancestors. But those final 7000 years of deglaciation, particularly the episodes of very rapid and extensive melting, must have been worse.

Let us not jump to conclusions about the state of social, or religious, or scientific, or intellectual development of the human beings who lived through the sustained collapse of that tumultuous epoch. The popular stereotype may be wrong in assuming that they were all primitive cave dwellers. In reality little is known about them and almost the only thing that can be said is that they were men and women exactly like ourselves physiologically and psychologically.

It is possible that they came close to total extinction on several occasions during the upheavals they experienced; it is also possible that the great myths of cataclysm, to which scholars attribute no historical value, may contain accurate records and eyewitness accounts of real events. As we see in the next chapter, if we are looking for an epoch that fits those myths as snugly as the slipper on Cinderella’s foot, it would seem that the last Ice Age is it.


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Chapter 27 - The Face of the Earth was Darkened and a Black Rain Began to Fall

Terrible forces were unleashed on all living creatures during the last Ice Age. We may deduce how these afflicted humanity from the firm evidence of their consequences for other large species. Often this evidence looks puzzling. As Charles Darwin observed after visiting South America:

No one I think can have marvelled more at the extinction of species than I have done. When I found in La Plata [Argentina] the tooth of a horse embedded with the remains of Mastodon, Megatherium, Toxodon, and other extinct monsters, which all co-existed at a very late geological period, I was filled with astonishment; for seeing that the horse, since its introduction by the Spaniards in South America, has run wild over the whole country and has increased its numbers at an unparalleled rate, I asked myself what could have so recently exterminated the former horse under conditions of life apparently so favourable?1

The answer, of course, was the Ice Age. That was what exterminated the former horses of the Americas, and a number of other previously successful mammals. Nor were extinctions limited to the New World. On the contrary, in different parts of the earth (for different reasons and at different times) the long epoch of glaciation witnessed several quite distinct episodes of extinction. In all areas, the vast majority of the many destroyed species were lost in the final seven thousand years from about 15,000 BC down to 8000 BC.2


1 Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, Penguin, London, 1985, p. 322.

2 Quaternary Extinctions, pp. 360-1, 394.

At this stage of our investigation is it not necessary to establish the specific nature of the climatic, seismic and geological events linked to the various advances and retreats of the ice sheets which killed off the animals. We might reasonably guess that tidal waves, earthquakes, gigantic windstorms and the sudden onset and remission of glacial conditions played their parts. But more important—whatever the actual agencies involved—is the stark empirical reality that mass extinctions of animals did take place as a result of the turmoil of the last Ice Age.

This turmoil, as Darwin concluded in his Journal, must have shaken ‘the entire framework of the globe’.3 In the New World, for example, more than seventy genera of large mammals became extinct between 15,000 BC and 8000 BC, including all North American members of seven families, and one complete order, the Proboscidea.4


3 Charles Darwin, Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of Countries Visited during the Voyage of HMS Beagle Round the World; entry for 9 January 1834. 

4 Quaternary Extinctions, pp. 360-1, 394.

These staggering losses, involving the violent obliteration of more than forty million animals, were not spread out evenly over the whole period; on the contrary, the vast majority of the extinctions occurred in just two thousand years, between 11,000 BC and 9000 BC.5 To put this in perspective, during the previous 300,000 years only about twenty genera had disappeared.6

The same pattern of late and massive extinctions was repeated across Europe and Asia. Even far-off Australia was not exempt, losing perhaps nineteen genera of large vertebrates, not all of them mammals, in a relatively short period of time.7


5 Ibid., pp. 360-1; The Path of the Pole, p. 250.

6 Quaternary Extinctions, p. 360-1.

7 Ibid., p. 358.

Alaska and Siberia: the sudden freeze
The northern regions of Alaska and Siberia appear to have been the worst hit by the murderous upheavals between 13,000 and 11,000 years ago. In a great swathe of death around the edge of the Arctic Circle the remains of uncountable numbers of large animals have been found— including many carcasses with the flesh still intact, and astonishing quantities of perfectly preserved mammoth tusks. Indeed, in both regions, mammoth carcasses have been thawed to feed to sled dogs and mammoth steaks have featured on restaurant menus in Fairbanks.8


One authority has commented,

‘Hundreds of thousands of individuals must have been frozen immediately after death and remained frozen, otherwise the meat and ivory would have spoiled ... Some powerful general force was certainly at work to bring this catastrophe about.’9

Dr Dale Guthrie of the Institute of Arctic Biology has made an interesting point about the sheer variety of animals that flourished in Alaska before the eleventh millennium BC:

When learning of this exotic mixture of sabre-tooth cats, camels, horses, rhinos, asses, deer with gigantic antlers, lions, ferrets, and saiga, one cannot help wondering about the world in which they lived. This great diversity of species, so different from that encountered today, raises the most obvious question: is it not likely that the rest of the environment was also different?10

8 Donald W. Patten, The Biblical Flood and the Ice Epoch: A Study in Scientific History, Pacific Meridian Publishing Co., Seattle, 1966, p. 194.

9 The Path of the Pole, p. 258.
10 David M. Hopkins et al., The Palaeoecology of Beringia, Academic Press, New York, 1982, p. 309.


The Alaskan muck in which the remains are embedded is like a fine, dark-grey sand. Frozen solid within this mass, in the words of Professor Hibben of the University of New Mexico:

lie the twisted parts of animals and trees intermingled with lenses of ice and layers of peat and mosses ... Bison, horses, wolves, bears, lions ... Whole herds of animals were apparently killed together, overcome by some common power ... Such piles of bodies of animals or men simply do not occur by any ordinary natural means ...’11

At various levels stone artifacts have been found ‘frozen in situ at great depths, and in association with Ice Age fauna, which confirms that men were contemporary with extinct animals in Alaska’.12


Throughout the Alaskan mucks, also there is:

evidence of atmospheric disturbances of unparalleled violence. Mammoth and bison alike were torn and twisted as though by a cosmic hand in Godly rage. In one place we can find the foreleg and shoulder of a mammoth with portions of the flesh and toenails and hair still clinging to the blackened bones. Close by is the neck and skull of a bison with the vertebrae clinging together with tendons and ligaments and the chitinous covering of the horns intact.


There is no mark of knife or cutting instrument [as there would be if human hunters, for example, had been involved]. The animals were simply torn apart and scattered over the landscape like things of straw and string, even though some of them weighed several tons. Mixed with piles of bones are trees, also twisted and torn and piled in tangled groups; and the whole is covered with a fine sifting muck, then frozen solid.13

Much the same picture emerges in Siberia where catastrophic climatic changes and geological upheavals occurred at around the same time. Here the frozen mammoth graveyards, ‘mined’ for their ivory since the Roman era, were still yielding an estimated 20,000 pairs of tusks every decade at the beginning of the twentieth century.14

Once again, some mysterious factor appears to have been at work in bringing about these mass extinctions. With their woolly coats and thick skins, mammoths are generally considered adapted to cold weather, and we are not surprised to come across their remains in Siberia. Harder to explain is the fact that human beings perished alongside them,15 as well as many other animals that in no sense can be described as cold-adapted species:

The northern Siberian plains supported vast numbers of rhinoceroses, antelope, horses, bison, and other herbivorous creatures, while a variety of carnivores, including the sabertooth cat, preyed upon them ... Like the mammoths, these other animals ranged to the extreme north of Siberia, to the shores of the Arctic Ocean, and yet further north to the Lyakhov and New Siberian Islands, only a very short distance from the North Pole.16

11 Professor Frank C. Hibben, The Lost Americans, cited in The Path of the Pole, p. 275ff.
12 F. Rainey, ‘Archaeological Investigations in Central Alaska’, American Antiquity, volume V, 1940, page 307.

13 Path of the Pole, p. 275ff.

14 The Biblical Flood and the Ice Epoch, p. 107-8.
15 A. P. Okladnikov, ‘Excavations in the North’ in Vestiges of Ancient Cultures, Soviet Union, 1951.

16 The Path of the Pole, p. 255.

Researchers have confirmed that of the thirty-four animal species living in Siberia prior to the catastrophes of the eleventh millennium BC—including Ossip’s mammoth, giant deer, cave hyena and cave lions—no less than twenty-eight were adapted only to temperate conditions.17 In this context, one of the most puzzling aspects of the extinctions, which runs quite contrary to what today’s geographical and climatic conditions lead us to expect, is that the farther north one goes, the more the mammoth and other remains increase in number.18


Indeed some of the New Siberian Islands, well within the Arctic Circle, were described by the explorers who first discovered them as being made up almost entirely of mammoth bones and tusks.19 The only logical conclusion, as the nineteenth-century French zoologist Georges Cuvier put it, is that,

‘this eternal frost did not previously exist in those parts in which the animals were frozen, for they could not have survived in such a temperature. The same instant that these creatures were bereft of life, the country which they inhabited became frozen.’20

There is a great deal of other evidence which suggests that a sudden freeze took place in Siberia during the eleventh millennium BC. In his survey of the New Siberian Islands, the Arctic explorer Baron Eduard von Toll found the remains,

‘of a sabre-tooth tiger, and a fruit tree that had been 90 feet tall when it was standing. The tree was well preserved in the permafrost, with its roots and seeds. Green leaves and ripe fruit still clung to its branches ... At the present time the only representative of tree vegetation on the islands is a willow that grows one inch high’.21

Equally indicative of the cataclysmic change that took place at the onset of the great cold in Siberia is the food the extinct animals were eating when they perished:

‘The mammoths died suddenly, in intense cold, and in great numbers. Death came so quickly that the swallowed vegetation is yet undigested ... Grasses, bluebells, buttercups, tender sedges, and wild beans have been found, yet identifiable and undeteriorated, in their mouths and stomachs.’22

Needless to say, such flora does not grow anywhere in Siberia today. Its presence there in the eleventh millennium BC compels us to accept that the region had a pleasant and productive climate—one that was temperate or even warm.23

17 A. P. Okladnikov, Yakutia before its Incorporation into the Russian State, McGill-Queens University Press, Montreal, 1970.

18 The Path of the Pole, p. 250.
19 The Biblical Flood and the Ice Epoch, p. 107. Wragnell, the explorer, observed on Bear Island (Medvizhi Ostrova) that the soil consisted of only sand, ice and such a quantity of mammoth bones that they seemed to be the chief substance of the island. On the Siberian mainland he observed that the tundra was dotted with mammoth tusks rather than Arctic shrubbery.

20 Georges Cuvier, Revolutions and Catastrophes in the History of the Earth, 1829.

21 Cited in Path of the Pole, p. 256.
22 Ivan T. Sanderson, ‘Riddle of the Quick-Frozen Giants’, Saturday Evening Post, 16 January 1960, p. 82.

23 Path of the Pole, p. 256.

Why the end of the last Ice Age in other parts of the world should have been the beginning of fatal winter in this former paradise is a question we shall postpone until Part VIII. What is certain, however, is that at some point between 12-13,000 years ago a destroying frost descended with horrifying speed upon Siberia and has never relaxed its grip. In an eerie echo of the Avestic traditions, a land which had previously enjoyed seven months of summer was converted almost overnight into a land of ice and snow with ten months of harsh and frozen winter.24

24 Ibid., p. 256. Winter temperatures fall to 56 degrees below zero.


A thousand Krakatoas, all at once
Many of the myths of cataclysm speak of times of terrible cold, of darkened skies, of black, burning, bituminous rain. For centuries it must have been like that all the way across the arc of death incorporating immense tracts of Siberia, the Yukon and Alaska. Here,

‘Interspersed in the muck depths, and sometimes through the very piles of bones and tusks themselves, are layers of volcanic ash. There is no doubt that coincidental with the [extinctions] there were volcanic eruptions of tremendous proportions.’25

There is a remarkable amount of evidence of excessive volcanism during the decline of the Wisconsin ice cap.26 Far to the south of the frozen Alaskan mucks, thousands of prehistoric animals and plants were mired, all at once, in the famous La Brea tar pits of Los Angeles. Among the creatures unearthed were bison, horses, camels, sloths, mammoths, mastodons and at least seven hundred sabre-toothed tigers.27


A disarticulated human skeleton was also found, completely enveloped in bitumen, mingled with the bones of an extinct species of vulture. In general, the La Brea remains (‘broken, mashed, contorted, and mixed in a most heterogeneous mass’28) speak eloquently of a sudden and dreadful volcanic cataclysm.29

Similar finds of typical late Ice Age birds and mammals have been unearthed from asphalt at two other locations in California (Carpinteria and McKittrick). In the San Pedro Valley, mastodon skeletons were discovered still standing upright, engulfed in great heaps of volcanic ash and sand. Fossils from the glacial Lake Floristan in Colorado, and from Oregon’s John Day Basin, were also excavated from tombs of volcanic ash.30

25 Ibid., p. 277.
26 Ibid., p. 132.
27 R. S. Luss, Fossils, 1931, p. 28.

28 G. M. Price, The New Geology, 1923, p. 579.

29 Ibid.
30 Earth In Upheaval, p. 63

Although the tremendous eruptions that created such mass graves may have been at their most intense during the last days of the Wisconsin, they appear to have been recurrent throughout much of the Ice Age, not only in North America but in Central and South America, in the North Atlantic, in continental Asia, and in Japan.31

It is difficult to imagine what this widespread volcanism might have meant for people living in those strange and terrible times. But those who recall the cauliflower-shaped clouds of dust, smoke and ash ejected into the upper atmosphere by the eruption of Mount Saint Helens in 1980 will appreciate that a large number of such explosions (occurring sequentially over a sustained period at different points around the globe) would not only have had devastating local effects but would have caused a severe deterioration in the world’s climate.

Mount Saint Helens spat out an estimated one cubic kilometer of rock and was small-scale by comparison with the typical volcanism of the Ice Age.32 A more representative impression would be the Indonesian volcano Krakatoa, which erupted in 1883 with such violence that more than 36,000 people were killed and the explosion was heard 3000 miles away. From the epicenter in the Sunda Strait, tsunamis 100 feet high roared across the Java Sea and the Indian Ocean, carrying steamships miles inland and causing flooding as far away as East Africa and the western coasts of the Americas.


Eighteen cubic kilometers of rock and vast quantities of ash and dust were pumped into the upper atmosphere; skies all over the world were noticeably darker for more than two years and sunsets notably redder. Average global temperatures fell measurably during this period because volcanic dust-particles reflect the sun’s rays back into space.33

During the episodes of intense volcanism which characterized the Ice Age, we must envisage not one but many Krakatoas. The combined effect would at first have been a great intensification of glacial conditions, as the light of the sun was cut by the boiling dust clouds, and as already low temperatures plummeted even further.


Volcanoes also inject enormous volumes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and carbon dioxide is a ‘greenhouse gas’, so it is reasonable to suppose, as the dust began to settle during periods of relative calm, that a degree of global warming would have occurred. A number of authorities attribute the repeated advances and retreats of the great ice sheets to precisely this see-saw interaction between volcanism and climate.34


31 Path of the Pole, p. 133, 176.

32 The Evolving Earth, Guild Publishing, London, 1989, p. 30.

33 Ice Ages: Solving the Mystery, p. 64.

34 Path of the Pole, pp. 132-5.

Global flooding
Geologists agree that by 8000 BC the great Wisconsin and Wurm ice-caps had retreated. The Ice Age was over. However, the seven thousand years prior to that date had witnessed climatic and geological turbulence on a scale that was almost unimaginable. Lurching from cataclysm to disaster and from misfortune to calamity, the few scattered tribes of surviving humans must have led lives of constant terror and confusion: there would have been periods of quiescence, when they might have hoped that the worst was over.


While the melting of the giant glaciers continued, however, these episodes of tranquility would have been punctuated again and again by violent floods. Moreover, sections of the earth’s crust hitherto pressed down into the asthenosphere by billions of tons of ice would have been liberated by the thaw and begun to rise again, sometimes rapidly, causing devastating earthquakes and filling the air with terrible noise.

Some times were much worse than others. The bulk of the animal extinctions took place between 11,000 BC and 9000 BC when there were violent and unexplained fluctuations of climate.35


(In the words of geologist John Imbrie, ‘a climatic revolution took place around 11,000 years ago.’36)


There were also greatly increased rates of sedimentation37 and an abrupt temperature increase of 6-10 degrees Centigrade in the surface waters of the Atlantic Ocean.38

Another turbulent episode, again accompanied by mass extinctions, took place between 15,000 BC and 13,000 BC. We saw in the previous chapter that the Tazewell Advance brought the ice sheets to their maximum extent around 17,000 years ago and that a dramatic and prolonged thaw then ensued, completely deglaciating millions of square miles of North America and Europe in less than two thousand years.

There were some anomalies: all of western Alaska, the Yukon territory in Canada, and most of Siberia including the New Siberian Islands (now among the coldest parts of the world), remained unglaciated until the Ice Age was near its end. They acquired their present climate only about 12,000 years ago, apparently very abruptly, when the mammoths and other large mammals were frozen in their tracks.39

35 Ibid., p. 137. A major change from glacial to post-glacial conditions occurred about 11,000 years ago. This temperature change was ‘sharp and abrupt’ (Polar Wandering and Continental Drift, Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists, Special Publication No. 10, Tulsa, 1953, p. 159). Dramatic climate change around 12,000 years ago is also reported in C.C. Langway and B. Lyle Hansen, The Frozen Future: A Prophetic Report from Antarctica, Quadrangle, New York, 1973, p. 202.


See also Ice Ages, pp. 129, 142; see also Quaternary Extinctions, p. 357:

‘The last 100,000 years of glacial expansion, as recorded by oxygen-isotope ratios in deep-sea cores from the Atlantic and the Equatorial Pacific, terminated ABRUPTLY around 12,000 years ago. A very rapid ice melt caused a rapid rise in sea level... Detailed land fossils show a major movement of plant and animal species at the time, especially into formerly glaciated terrain. American megafaunal extinctions occurred during a time of rapid climatic change as seen in fossil pollen and small animal records.’

36 Ice Ages, p. 129.

37 Path of the Pole, p. 137.
38 ‘The relative change is shown by the change in the relative abundance of cold and warm water planktonic foraminfera, and the absolute change is given by oxygen isotope ratio determinations on the fauna.’ Polar Wandering, p. 96.
39 The reader may recall that inexplicably warm conditions prevailed in the New Siberian Islands until this time, and it is worth noting that many other islands in the Arctic Ocean were also unaffected for a long while by the widespread glaciations elsewhere (e.g. on Baffin Island the remains of alder and birch trees preserved in peat indicate a relatively warm climate extending at least from 30,000 to 17,000 years ago. It is also certain that large parts of Greenland remained enigmatically ice-free during the Ice Age. Path of the Pole, p. 93, 96.

Elsewhere the picture was different. Most of Europe was buried under ice two miles thick.40 So too was most of North America where the ice-cap had spread from centers near Hudson Bay to enshroud all of eastern Canada, New England and much of the Midwest down to the 37th parallel—well to the south of Cincinnati in the Mississippi Valley and more than halfway to the equator.41

At its peak 17,000 years ago, it is calculated that the total ice volume covering the northern hemisphere was in the region of six million cubic miles, and of course there were extensive glaciations in the southern hemisphere too as we noted. The surplus water flow from which these numerous ice-caps were formed had been provided by the world’s seas and oceans which were then about 400 feet lower than they are today.42

It was at this moment that the pendulum of climate swung violently in the opposite direction. The great meltdown began so suddenly and over such vast areas that it has been described ‘as a sort of miracle’.43 Geologists refer to it as the Bolling phase of warm climate in Europe and as the Brady interstadial in North America.


In both regions:

An ice-cap that may have taken 40,000 years to develop disappeared for the most part, in 2000. It must be obvious that this could not have been the result of gradually acting climatic factors usually called upon to explain ice ages ... The rapidity of the deglaciation suggests that some extraordinary factor was affecting the climate.


The dates suggest that this factor first made itself felt about 16,500 years ago, that it had destroyed most, perhaps three-quarters of the glaciers by 2000 years later, and that [the vast bulk of these dramatic developments took place] in a millennium or less.’44

40 The Biblical Flood and the Ice Epoch, p. 114; Path of the Pole, pp. 47-8.

41 Ice Ages, p. 11. Biblical Flood and the Ice Epoch, p. 117; Path of the Pole, p. 47.

42 Ice Ages, p. 11; Biblical Flood and the Ice Epoch, p. 114.

43 Path of the Pole, p. 150.
44 Path of the Pole, pp. 148-9, 152, 162-3. In North America, where the ice reached its maximum extent between 17,000 and 16,500 years ago, geologists have made the following discoveries: ‘Leaves, needles and fruits’ that flourished around 15,300 years ago in Massachusetts; ‘A bog which developed over glacial material in New Jersey at least 16,280 years ago, immediately after the interruption of the ice advance.’; ‘In Ohio we have a postglacial sample dated about 14,000 years ago. And that was spruce wood, suggesting a forest that must have taken a few thousand years, by conservative estimate, to get established. What, indeed, does this mean? Does it not clearly suggest that the ice cap, estimated to have been at its maximum at least a mile thick in Ohio, disappeared from Delaware County in that state within only a few centuries?’
Likewise, ‘in the Soviet Union, in the Irkutsk area, deglaciation was complete and postglacial life fully established by 14,500 years ago. In Lithuania another bog developed as early as 15,620 years ago. These two dates taken together are rather suggestive. A bog can develop much faster than a forest. First, however, the ice mustdisappear. And let us not forget that there was a great deal of ice.’

Inevitably the first consequence was a precipitous rise in sea levels, perhaps as much as 350 feet.45 Islands and land bridges disappeared and vast sections of low-lying continental coastline were submerged. From time to time great tidal waves rose up to engulf higher land as well. They ebbed away, but in the process left unmistakable traces of their presence.

In the United States, ‘Ice Age marine features are present along the Gulf coast east of the Mississippi River, in some places at altitudes that may exceed 200 feet.’46 In bogs covering glacial deposits in Michigan, skeletons of two whales were discovered. In Georgia marine deposits occur at altitudes of 160 feet, and in northern Florida at altitudes of at least 240 feet. In Texas, well to the south of the farthest extent of the Wisconsin Glaciation, the remains of Ice Age land mammals are found in marine deposits.


Another marine deposit, containing walrus, seals and at least five genera of whales, overlies the seaboard of the north-eastern states and the Arctic coast of Canada. In many areas along the Pacific coast of North America Ice Age marine deposits extend ‘more than 200 miles inland.’47 The bones of a whale have been found north of Lake Ontario, about 440 feet above sea level, a skeleton of another whale in Vermont, more than 500 feet above sea level, and another in the Montreal-Quebec area about 600 feet above sea level.48

Flood myths from all over the world characteristically and recurrently describe scenes when humans and animals flee the rising tides and take refuge on mountain tops. The fossil record confirms that this did indeed happen during the melting of the ice sheets and that the mountains were not always high enough to save the refugees from disaster. For example, fissures in the rocks on the tops of isolated hills in central France are filled with what is known as ‘osseous breccia’, consisting of the splintered bones of mammoths, woolly rhinoceroses and other animals.


The 1430 feet peak of Mount Genay in Burgundy,

‘is capped by a breccia containing remains of mammoth, reindeer, horse and other animals’.49

Much farther south, so too is the Rock of Gibraltar where,

‘a human molar and some flints worked by Paleolithic man were discovered among the animal bones.’50

45 Ice Ages, p. 11, Biblical Flood and the Ice Epoch, p. 117, Path of the Pole, p. 47.

46 R. F. Flint, Glacial Geology and the Pleistocene Epoch, 1947, pp. 294-5.

47 Ibid., p. 362.
48 Earth in Upheaval, p. 43; in general, pp. 42-4.
49 Ibid., p. 47. Joseph Prestwich, On Certain Phenomena Belonging to the Close of the Last Geological Period and on their Bearing upon the Tradition of the Flood, Macmillan, London, 1895, p. 36.

50 On Certain Phenomena, p. 48.

Hippo remains, together with mammoth, rhinoceros, horse, bear, bison, wolf and lion, have been found in England, in the neighbourhood of Plymouth on the Channel.51 The hills around Palermo in Sicily disclosed an ‘extraordinary quantity of bones of hippopotami—in complete hecatombs’.52


On the basis of this and other evidence, Joseph Prestwich, formerly professor of Geology at Oxford University, concluded that Central Europe, England, and the Mediterranean islands of Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily were all completely submerged on several occasions during the rapid melting of the ice sheets:

The animals naturally retreated, as the waters advanced, deeper into the hills until they found themselves embayed ... They thronged together in vast multitudes, crushing into the more accessible caves, until overtaken by the waters and destroyed ... Rocky debris and large blocks from the sides of the hills were hurled down by the currents of water, crushing and smashing the bones ... Certain communities of early man must have suffered in this general catastrophe.53

It is probable that similar flood disasters occurred in China at much the same time. In caves near Peking, bones of mammoths and buffaloes have been found in association with human skeletal remains.54 A number of authorities attribute the violent intermingling of mammoth carcasses with splintered and broken trees in Siberia ‘to a great tidal wave that uprooted forests and buried the tangled carnage in a flood of mud. In the polar region this froze solid and has preserved the evidence in permafrost to the present.’55

All over South America, too, Ice-Age fossils have been unearthed,

‘in which incongruous animal types (carnivores and herbivores) are mixed promiscuously with human bones. No less significant is the association, over truly widespread areas, of fossilized land and sea creatures mingled in no order and yet entombed in the same geological horizon.’56

North America was also badly affected by flooding. As the great Wisconsin ice sheets melted they created huge but temporary lakes which filled up with incredible speed, drowning everything in their paths, then drained away in a few hundred years. Lake Agassiz, for example, the largest glacial lake in the New World, once occupied an area of 110,000 square miles, covering large parts of what are now Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan in Canada, and North Dakota and Minnesota in the United States.57


Remarkably, it endured for less than a millennium, indicating a catastrophically sudden episode of melting and flooding followed by a period of quiescence.58

51 Ibid., p. 25-6.
52 Ibid., p. 50.
53 Ibid., p. 51-2.
54 J. S. Lee, The Geology of China, London, 1939, p. 370.

55 Polar Wandering, p. 165.
56 J. B. Delair and E.F. Oppe, ‘The Evidence of Violent Extinction in South America’, in Path of the Pole p. 292.

57 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1:141.

58 Warren Upham, The Glacial Lake Agassiz, 1895, p. 240.

A token of good faith
It was long believed that human beings did not reach the New World until around 11,000 years ago, but recent finds have steadily pushed that horizon back. Stone implements dating to 25,000 BC have been identified by Canadian researchers in the Old Crow Basin in the Yukon Territory of Alaska.59


In South America (as far south as Peru and Tierra del Fuego) human remains and artifacts have been found which have been reliably dated to 12,000 BC—with another group between 19,000 BC and 23,000 BC.60 With this and other evidence taken into account, ‘a very reasonable conclusion on the peopling of the Americas is that it began at least 35,000 years ago, but may well have included waves of immigrants at later dates too.’61

59 Human Evolution, p. 92.

60 Ibid.; see also Quaternary Extinctions, p. 375.

61 Human Evolution, p. 92.

Those newly arriving Ice Age Americans, trekking in from Siberia across the Bering land bridge, would have faced the most appalling conditions between 17,000 and 10,000 years ago. It was then that the Wisconsin glaciers, all at once, went into their ferocious meltdown, forcing a 350 foot rise in global sea levels amid scenes of unprecedented climatic and geological turmoil.


For seven thousand years of human experience, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and immense floods, interspersed with eerie periods of peace, must have dominated the day-to-day lives of the New World peoples. Perhaps this is why so many of their myths speak with such conviction of fire and floods and times of darkness and of the creation and destruction of Suns.

Moreover, as we have seen, the myths of the New World are not in this respect isolated from those of the Old. All around the globe, a remarkable uniformity reveals itself over issues such as ‘the great flood’ and ‘the great cold’ and ‘the time of the great upheaval’. It is not just that the same experiences are being recounted again and again; that, on its own, would be quite understandable since the Ice Age and its aftereffects were global phenomena.


More curious by far is the way in which the same symbolic motifs keep recurring: the one good man and his family, the warning given by a god, the seeds of all living things saved, the survival ship, the enclosure against the cold, the trunk of a tree in which the pregenitors of future humanity hide themselves, the birds and other creatures released after the flood to find land ... and so on.

Isn’t it also odd that so many of the myths turn out to contain descriptions of figures like Quetzalcoatl and Viracocha, said to have come in the time of darkness, after the flood, to teach architecture, astronomy, science and the rule of law to the scattered and devastated tribes of survivors.

  • Who were these civilizing heroes?

  • Were they figments of the primitive imagination?

  • Or gods?

  • Or men?

  • If they were men, could they have tampered with the myths in some way, turning them into vehicles for transporting knowledge through time?

Such notions seem fanciful. But, as we shall see in Part V, astronomical data of a disturbingly accurate and scientific nature turns up repeatedly in certain myths, as time-worn and as universal in their distribution as those of the great flood.

Where did their scientific content come from?


Back to Contents


Part V

The Mystery of the Myths
2. The Precessional Code

The Celestial Sphere.

Chapter 28 - The Machinery of Heaven

Although a modern reader does not expect a text on celestial mechanics to read like a lullaby, he insists on his capacity to understand mythical ‘images’ instantly, because he can respect as ‘scientific’ only page-long approximation formulas, and the like.

He does not think of the possibility that equally relevant knowledge might once have been expressed in everyday language. He never suspects such a possibility, although the visible accomplishments of ancient cultures—to mention only the pyramids or metallurgy—should be a cogent reason for concluding that serious and intelligent men were at work behind the stage, men who were bound to have used a technical language ...1

1 - Hamlet’s Mill, pp. 57-8.

The quotation is from the late Giorgio de Santillana, professor of the History of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the chapters that follow, we shall be learning about his revolutionary investigations into ancient mythology. In brief, however, his proposition is this: long ages ago, serious and intelligent people devised a system for veiling the technical terminology of an advanced astronomical science behind the everyday language of myth.

  • Is Santillana right?

  • And if he is right, who were these serious and intelligent people—these astronomers, these ancient scientists—who worked behind the stage of prehistory?

Let us start with some basics.

The wild celestial dance
The earth makes a complete circuit around its own axis once every twenty-four hours and has an equatorial circumference of 24,902.45 miles. It follows, therefore, that a man standing still on the equator is in fact in motion, revolving with the planet at just over 1000 miles per hour.2 Viewed from outer space, looking down on the North Pole, the direction of rotation is anti-clockwise.

While spinning daily on its own axis, the earth also orbits the sun (again in an anti-clockwise direction) on a path which is slightly elliptical rather than completely circular. It pursues this orbit at truly breakneck speed, travelling as far along it in an hour—66,600 miles—as the average motorist will drive in six years. To bring the calculations down in scale, this means that we are hurtling through space much faster than any bullet, at the rate of 18.5 miles every second. In the time that it has taken you to read this paragraph, we have voyaged about 550 miles farther along earth’s path around the sun.3

With a year required to complete a full circuit, the only evidence we have of the tremendous orbital race we are participating in is the slow march of the seasons. And in the operations of the seasons themselves it is possible to see a wondrous and impartial mechanism at work distributing spring, summer, autumn and winter fairly around the globe, across the northern and southern hemispheres, year in and year out, with absolute regularity.

The earth’s axis of rotation is tilted in relation to the plane of its orbit (at about 23.5° to the vertical). This tilt, which causes the seasons, ‘points’ the North Pole, and the entire northern hemisphere away from the sun for six months a year (while the southern hemisphere enjoys its summer) and points the South Pole and the southern hemisphere away from the sun for the remaining six months (while the northern hemisphere enjoys its summer).


The seasons result from the annual variation in the angle at which the sun’s rays reach any particular point on the earth’s surface and from the annual variation in the number of hours of sunlight received there at different times of the year.

The earth’s tilt is referred to in technical language as its ‘obliquity’, and the plane of its orbit, extended outwards to form a great circle in the celestial sphere, is known as the ‘ecliptic’. Astronomers also speak of the ‘celestial equator’, which is an extension of the earth’s equator into the celestial sphere. The celestial equator is today inclined at about 23.5° to the ecliptic, because the earth’s axis is inclined at 23.5° to the vertical.


This angle, termed the ‘obliquity of the ecliptic’, is not fixed and immutable for all time. On the contrary (as we saw in Chapter Eleven in relation to the dating of the Andean city of Tiahuanaco) it is subject to constant, though very slow, oscillations. These occur across a range of slightly less than 3°, rising closest to the vertical at 22.1° and falling farthest away at 24.5°. A full cycle, from 24.5° to 22.1°, and back again to 24.5°, takes approximately 41,000 years to complete.4

So our fragile planet nods and spins while soaring along its orbital path. The orbit takes a year and the spin takes a day and the nod has a cycle of 41,000 years. A wild celestial dance seems to be going on as we skip and skim and dive through eternity, and we feel the tug of contradictory urges: to fall into the sun on the one hand; to make a break for the outer darkness on the other.

2 Figures from Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1991, 27:530.

3 Ibid.
4 J. D. Hays, John Imbrie, N.J. Shackleton, ‘Variations in the Earth’s Orbit, Pacemaker of the Ice Ages’, Science, volume 194, No. 4270, 10 December 1976, p. 1125.


Recondite influences
The sun’s gravitational domain, in the inner circles of which the earth is held captive, is now known to extend more than fifteen trillion miles into space, almost halfway to the nearest star.5 Its pull upon our planet is therefore immense. Also affecting us is the gravity of the other planets with which we share the solar system. Each of these exerts an attraction which tends to draw the earth out of its regular orbit around the sun. The planets are of different sizes, however, and revolve around the sun at different speeds.


The combined gravitational influence they are able to exert thus changes over time in complex but predictable ways, and the orbit changes its shape constantly in response. Since the orbit is an ellipse these changes affect its degree of elongation, known technically as its ‘eccentricity’. This varies from a low value close to zero (when the orbit approaches the form of a perfect circle) to a high value of about six per cent when it is at its most elongated and elliptical.6

There are other forms of planetary influence too. Thus, though no explanation has yet been forthcoming, it is known that shortwave radio frequencies are disturbed when Jupiter, Saturn and Mars line up.7 And in this connection evidence has also emerged,

of a strange and unexpected correlation between the positions of Jupiter, Saturn and Mars, in their orbits around the sun, and violent electrical disturbances in the earth’s upper atmosphere. This would seem to indicate that the planets and the sun share in a cosmic-electrical balance mechanism that extends a billion miles from the centre of our solar system. Such an electrical balance is not accounted for in current astrophysical theories.8

5 The Biblical Flood and the Ice Epoch, pp. 288-9. Fifteen trillion miles is equivalent to fifteen thousand billion miles.

6 Ice Ages, pp. 80-1.

7 Earth in Upheaval, p. 266.

8 New York Times, 15 April 1951.

The obliquity of the ecliptic varies from 22.1° to 24.5° over a cycle of 41,000 years.

Inner planets of the solar system.

The New York Times, from which the above report is taken, does not attempt to clarify matters further. Its writers are probably unaware of just how much they sound like Berosus, the Chaldean historian, astronomer and seer of the third century BC, who made a deep study of the omens he believed would presage the final destruction of the world. He concluded,

‘I Berosus, interpreter of Bellus, affirm that all the earth inherits will be consigned to flame when the five planets assemble in Cancer, so arranged in one row that a straight line may pass through their spheres.’ 9

A conjunction of five planets that can be expected to have profound gravitational effects will take place on 5 May in the year 2000 when Neptune, Uranus, Venus, Mercury and Mars will align with earth on the other side of the sun, setting up a sort of cosmic tug-of-war.10 Let us also note that modern astrologers who have charted the Mayan date for the end of the Fifth Sun calculate that there will be a most peculiar arrangement of planets at that time, indeed an arrangement so peculiar that,

‘it can only occur once in 45,200 years ... From this extraordinary pattern we might well expect an extraordinary effect.’11

No one in his or her right mind would rush to accept such a proposition. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that multiple influences, many of which we do not fully understand, appear to be at work within our solar system. Among these influences, that of our own satellite, the moon, is particularly strong.


Earthquakes, for example, occur more often when the moon is full or when the earth is between the sun and the moon; when the moon is new or between the sun and the earth; when the moon crosses the meridian of the affected locality; and when the moon is closest to the earth on its orbit.12 Indeed, when the moon reaches this latter point (technically referred to as its ‘perigree’), its gravitational attraction increases by about six per cent. This happens once every twenty-seven and one-third days.


The tidal pull that it exerts on these occasions affects not only the great movements of our oceans but those of the reservoirs of hot magma penned within the earth’s thin crust (which has been described as resembling ‘a paper bag filled with honey or molasses swinging along at a rate of more than 1000 miles an hour in equatorial rotation, and more than 66,000 miles an hour in orbit’ 13).


9 Berossus, Fragments.

10 Skyglobe 3.6.
11 Roberta S. Sklower, ‘Predicting Planetary Positions’, appendix to Frank Waters, Mexico Mystique, Sage Books, Chicago, 1975, p. 285ff.

12 Earth in Upheaval, p. 138.

13 Biblical Flood and the Ice Epoch, p. 49.

The wobble of a deformed planet
All this circular motion, of course, generates immense centrifugal forces and these, as Sir Isaac Newton demonstrated in the seventeenth century, cause the earth’s ‘paper bag’ to bulge outwards at the equator. The corollary is a flattening at the poles. In consequence, our planet deviates slightly from the form of a perfect sphere and is more accurately described as an ‘oblate spheroid’. Its radius at the equator (3963.374 miles) is about fourteen miles longer than its polar radius (3949.921 miles).14

For billions of years the flattened poles and the bulging equator have been engaged in a covert mathematical interaction with the recondite influence of gravity.

‘Because the Earth is flattened,’ explains one authority, ‘the Moon’s gravity tends to tilt the Earth’s axis so that it becomes perpendicular to the Moon’s orbit, and to a lesser extent the same is true for the Sun.’15

At the same time the equatorial bulge—the extra mass distributed around the equator—acts like the rim of a gyroscope to keep the earth steady on its axis.16


14 Figures from Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1991, 27:530.

15 Ibid.
16 Path of the Pole, p. 3.

Year in, year out, on a planetary scale, it is this gyroscopic effect that prevents the tug of the sun and the moon from radically altering the earth’s axis of rotation. The pull these two bodies jointly exert is, however, sufficiently strong to force the axis to ‘precess’, which means that it wobbles slowly in a clockwise direction opposite to that of the earth’s spin.

This important motion is our planet’s characteristic signature within the solar system. Anyone who has ever set a top spinning should be able to understand it without much difficulty; a top, after all, is simply another type of gyroscope. In full uninterrupted spin it stands upright. But the moment its axis is deflected from the vertical it begins to exhibit a second behaviour: a slow and obstinate reverse wobble around a great circle. This wobble, which is precession, changes the direction in which the axis points while keeping constant its newly tilted angle.

A second analogy, somewhat different in approach, may help to clarify matters a little further:

  1. Envisage the earth, floating in space, inclined at approximately 23.5° to the vertical and spinning around on its axis once every 24 hours.

  2. Envisage this axis as a massively strong pivot, or axle, passing through the centre of the earth, exiting via the North and South Poles and extending outwards from there in both directions.

  3. Imagine that you are a giant, striding through the solar system, with orders to carry out a specific task.

  4. Imagine approaching the tilted earth (which, because of your great size, now looks no bigger to you than a millwheel).

  5. Imagine reaching out and grasping the two ends of the extended axis.

  6. And imagine yourself slowly beginning to inter-rotate them, pushing one end, pulling the other.

  7. The earth was already spinning when you arrived.

  8. Your orders, therefore, are not to get involved in its axial rotation, but rather to impart to it its other motion: that slow clockwise wobble called precession.

  9. To fulfill this commission you will have to push the northern tip of the extended axis up and around a great circle in the northern celestial hemisphere while at the same time pulling the southern tip around an equally large circle in the southern celestial hemisphere. This will involve a slow swivelling pedalling motion with your hands and shoulders.

  10. Be warned, however. The ‘millwheel’ of the earth is heavier than it looks, so much heavier, in fact, that it’s going to take you 25,776 years 17 to turn the two tips of its axis through one full precessional cycle (at the end of which they will be aiming at the same points in the celestial sphere as when you arrived).

  11. Oh, and by the way, now that you’ve started the job we may as well tell you that you’re never going to be allowed to leave. As soon as one precessional cycle is over another must begin. And another ... and another ... and another ... and so on, endlessly, for ever and ever and ever.

  12. You can think of this, if you like, as one of the basic mechanisms of the solar system, or, if you prefer, as one of the fundamental commandments of the divine will.

17 Jane B. Sellers, The Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, Penguin, London, 1992, p. 205.


In the process, little by little, as you slowly sweep the extended axis around the heavens, its two tips will point to one star after another in the polar latitudes of the southern celestial hemisphere (and sometimes, of course, to empty space), and to one star after another in the polar latitudes of the northern celestial hemisphere. We are talking here, about a kind of musical chairs among the circumpolar stars.


And what keeps everything in motion is the earth’s axial precession—a motion driven by giant gravitational and gyroscopic forces, that is regular, predictable and relatively easy to work out with the aid of modern equipment. Thus, for example, the northern pole star is presently alpha Ursae Minoris (which we know as Polaris). But computer calculations enable us to state with certainty that

  • in 3000 BC alpha Draconis occupied the pole position

  • at the time of the Greeks the northern pole star was beta Ursae Minoris

  • in AD 14,000 it will be Vega 18

18 Skyglobe 3.6.

A great secret of the past
It will not hurt to remind ourselves of some of the fundamental data concerning the movements of the earth and its orientation in space:

  • It tilts at about 23.5° to the vertical, an angle from which it can vary by as much as 1.5° on either side over periods of 41,000 years.

  • It completes a full precessional cycle once every 25,776 years.19

  • It spins on its own axis once every twenty-four hours.

  • It orbits the sun once every 365 days (actually 365.2422 days).

19 Precise figure from The Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, p. 205.


The most important influence on its seasons is the angle at which the rays of the sun strike it at various points on its orbital path.

Equinoxes and solstices.

Let us also note that there are four crucial astronomical moments in the year, marking the official beginning of each of the four seasons. These moments (or cardinal points), which were of immense importance to the ancients, are the winter and the summer solstices and the spring and autumn equinoxes.

  • In the northern hemisphere the winter solstice, the shortest day, falls on 21 December, and the summer solstice, the longest day, on 21 June.

  • In the southern hemisphere, on the other hand, everything is literally upside down: there winter begins on 21 June and summer on 21 December.

The equinoxes, by contrast, are the two points in the year on which night and day are of equal length all over the planet. Once again, however, as with the solstices, the date that marks the onset of spring in the northern hemisphere (20 March) marks that of autumn in the southern hemisphere, and the date for the onset of autumn in the northern hemisphere (22 September) marks the onset of spring in the southern hemisphere.

Like the subtler variations of the seasons, all this is brought about by the benevolent obliquity of the planet. The northern hemisphere’s summer solstice falls at that point in the orbit when the North Pole is aimed most directly towards the sun; six months later the winter solstice marks that point when the North Pole is aimed most directly away from the sun. And, logically enough, the reason that day and night are of exactly equal length all over the planet on the spring and autumn equinoxes is that these mark the two points when the earth’s axis of rotation lies broadside-on to the sun.

Let us now take a look at a strange and beautiful phenomenon of celestial mechanics.

This phenomenon is known as ‘the precession of the equinoxes’. It has rigid and repetitive mathematical qualities that can be analyzed and predicted precisely. It is, however, extremely difficult to observe, and even harder to measure accurately, without sophisticated instrumentation.

In this, there may lie a clue to one of the great mysteries of the past.

Back to Contents


Chapter 29 - The First Crack in an Ancient Code

The plane of the earth’s orbit, projected outwards to form a great circle in the celestial sphere, is known as the ecliptic. Ringed around the ecliptic, in a starry belt that extends approximately 7° north and south, are the twelve constellations of the zodiac: Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpius, Sagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius and Pisces.


These constellations are irregular in size, shape and distribution. Nevertheless (and one assumes by chance!) their spacing around the rim of the ecliptic is sufficiently even to bestow a sense of cosmic order upon the diurnal risings and settings of the sun.

To picture what is involved here, do the following:

(1) mark a dot in the centre of a blank sheet of paper;

(2) draw a circle around the dot, about half an inch away from it;

(3) enclose that circle in a second, larger, circle.

The dot represents the sun. The smaller of the two concentric circles represents the earth’s orbit. The larger circle represents the rim of the ecliptic. Around the perimeter of this larger circle, therefore, you should now draw twelve boxes, spacing them evenly, to represent the constellations of the zodiac. Since there are 360° in a circle, each constellation can be considered to occupy a space of 30° along the ecliptic. The dot is the sun.


The inner of the two concentric circles is the earth’s orbit. We know that the earth travels on this orbit in an anti-clockwise direction, from the west towards the east, and that every twenty-four hours it also makes one complete rotation around its own axis (again from the west towards the east).

From these two movements two illusions result:

1 - Each day as the planet turns from west to east, the sun (which is of course a fixed point) appears to ‘move’ across the sky from east to west.

2 - Roughly every thirty days, as the spinning earth journeys along its orbital path around the sun, the sun itself slowly appears to ‘pass’ through one after another of the twelve zodiacal constellations (which are also fixed points), and again it appears to be ‘moving’ in an east-west direction.

On any particular day of the year, in other words, (corresponding on our diagram to any point we care to choose around the inner concentric circle marking the earth’s orbit), it is obvious that the sun will lie between an observer on the earth and one of the twelve zodiacal constellations. On that day what the observer will see, so long as he or she is up and about well before dawn, is the sun rising in the east in the portion of the sky occupied by that particular constellation.

Beneath the clear and unpolluted heavens of the ancient world, it is easy to understand how human beings might have felt reassured by regular celestial motions such as these. It is equally easy to understand why the four cardinal points of the year—the spring and autumn equinoxes, the winter and summer solstices—should everywhere have been accorded immense significance. Even greater significance was accorded to the conjunction of these cardinal points with the zodiacal constellations.


But most significant of all was the constellation in which the sun was observed to rise on the morning of the spring (or vernal) equinox. Because of the earth’s axial precession, the ancients discovered that this constellation was not fixed or permanent for all time but that the honour of ‘housing’ or ‘carrying’ the sun on the day of the vernal equinox circulated—very, very slowly—among all the constellations of the zodiac.

In the words of Giorgio de Santillana:

‘The sun’s position amongst the constellations at the vernal equinox was the pointer that indicated the “hours” of the precessional cycle—very long hours indeed, the equinoctial sun occupying each zodiacal constellation for almost 2200 years.1

The direction of the earth’s slow axial precession is clockwise (i.e., east to west) and thus in opposition to the direction of the planet’s annual path around the sun. In relation to the constellations of the zodiac, lying fixed in space, this causes the point at which the spring equinox occurs ‘to move stubbornly along the ecliptic in the opposite direction to the yearly course Direction in which the vernal point shifts as a result of precession of the sun, that is, against the “right” sequence of the zodiacal signs (Taurus→ Aries→ Pisces→ Aquarius, instead of Aquarius→ Pisces→ Aries→ Taurus).’2

1 - Hamlet ‘s Mill, p. 59.

2 Ibid., p. 58.


During the course of each year the earth’s movement along its orbit causes the stellar background against which the sun is seen to rise to change from month to month: Aquarius→ Pisces→ Aries→ Taurus→ Gemini→ Cancer→ Leo, etc, etc. At present, on the vernal equinox, the sun rises due east between Pisces and Aquarius. The effect of precession is to cause the ‘vernal point’ to be reached fractionally earlier in the orbit each year with the result that it very gradually shifts through all 12 houses of the zodiac, spending 2160 years ‘in’ each sign and making a complete circuit in 25,920 years.


The direction of this ‘processional drift’, in opposition to the annual ‘path of the sun’, is: Leo→ Cancer→ Gemini→ Taurus→ Aries→ Pisces→ Aquarius. To give one example, the ‘Age of Leo’, i.e. the 2160 years during which the sun on the vernal equinox rose against the stellar background of the constellation of Leo, lasted from 10,970 until 8810 BC. We live today in the astrological no man’s land at the end of the ‘Age of Pisces’, on the threshold of the ‘New Ageof Aquarius. Traditionally these times of transition between one age and the next have been regarded as ill-omened.

That, in a nutshell, is the meaning of ‘precession of the equinoxes’. And that is exactly what is involved in the notion of the ‘dawning of the Age of Aquarius’. The famous line from the musical Hair refers to the fact that every year, for the last 2000 years or so, the sun has risen in Pisces on the vernal equinox. The age of Pisces, however, is now approaching its end and the vernal sun will soon pass out of the sector of the Fish and begin to rise against the new background of Aquarius.

The 25,776-year cycle of precession is the engine that drives this majestic celestial juggernaut along its never-ending tour of the heavens. But the details of exactly how precession moves the equinoctial points from Pisces into Aquarius—and thence onwards around the zodiac—are also worth knowing.

Remember that the equinoxes occur on the only two occasions in the year when the earth’s tilted axis lies broadside-on to the sun. These are when the sun rises due east all over the world and day and night are of equal length. Because the earth’s axis is slowly but surely precessing in a direction opposite to that of its own orbit, the points at which it lies broadside-on to the sun must occur fractionally earlier in the orbit each year.


These annual changes are so small as to be almost imperceptible (a one degree shift along the ecliptic—equivalent to the width of your little finger held up to the horizon—requires approximately seventy-two years to complete). However, as de Santillana points out, such minute changes add up in just under 2200 years to a 30° passage through a complete house of the zodiac, and in just under 26,000 years to a 360° passage through a complete cycle of precession.

When did the ancients first work out precession?
In the answer to this question lies a great secret, and mystery, of the past. Before we try to penetrate the mystery and to learn the secret, we should acquaint ourselves with the ‘official’ line. The Encyclopaedia Britannica is as good a repository as any of conventional historical wisdom, and this is what it tells us about a scholar named Hipparchus, the supposed discoverer of precession:

Hipparchus, also spelled HIPPARCHOS (b. Nicaea, Bithynia; d. after 127 BC, Rhodes), Greek astronomer and mathematician who discovered the precession of the equinoxes ... This notable discovery was the result of painstaking observations, worked upon by an acute mind. Hipparchus observed the positions of the stars, and then compared his results with those of Timocharis of Alexandria about 150 years earlier and with even earlier observations made in Babylonia.


He discovered that the celestial longitudes were different and that this difference was of a magnitude exceeding that attributable to errors of observation. He therefore proposed precession to account for the size of the difference and he gave a value of 45’ or 46’ (seconds of arc) for annual changes. This is very close to the figure of 50.274 seconds of arc accepted today ...’3

3 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1991, 5:937-8. See also The Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, p. 205, where the precise figure of 50.274 is given.


First, a point of terminology.


Seconds of arc are the smallest subdivisions of a degree of arc. There are 60 of these arc seconds in one arc minute, 60 minutes in one degree, and 360 degrees in the full circle of earth’s path around the sun. An annual change of 50.274 seconds of arc represents a distance somewhat under one-sixtieth of one degree so that it takes roughly 72 years (an entire human lifetime) for the equinoctial sun to migrate just one degree along the ecliptic.


It is because of the observational difficulties entailed in detecting this snails’ pace rate of change that the value worked out by Hipparchus in the second century BC is hailed in the Britannica as a ‘notable discovery’.

  • Would this discovery seem so notable if it turned out to be a rediscovery?

  • Would the mathematical and astronomical achievements of the Greeks shine so brightly if we could prove that the difficult challenge of measuring precession had been taken up thousands of years before Hipparchus?

  • What if this heavenly cycle, almost 26,000 years long, had been made the object of precise scientific investigations long epochs before the supposed dawn of scientific thought?

In seeking answers to such questions there is much that may be relevant which would never be accepted by any court of law as concrete proof. Let us not accept it either. We have seen that Hipparchus proposed a value of 45 or 46 seconds of arc for one year of precessional motion. Let us therefore not attempt to dislodge the Greek astronomer from his pedestal as the discoverer of precession unless we can find a significantly more accurate value recorded in a significantly more ancient source.

Of course, there are many potential sources. At this point, however, in the interests of succinctness, we shall limit our inquiry to universal myths. We have already examined one group of myths in detail (the traditions of flood and cataclysm set out in Part IV) and we have seen that they possess a range of intriguing characteristics:

1 - There is no doubt that they are immensely old. Take the Mesopotamian flood story, versions of which have been found inscribed on tablets from the earliest strata of Sumerian history, around 3000 BC. These tablets, handed down from the dawn of the recorded past, leave no room for doubt that the tradition of a world-destroying flood was ancient even then, and therefore originated long before the dawn.


We cannot say how long. The fact remains that no scholar has ever been able to establish a date for the creation of any myth, let alone for these venerable and widespread traditions. In a very real sense they seem always to have been around—part of the permanent baggage of human culture.

2 - The possibility cannot be ruled out that this aura of vast antiquity is not an illusion. On the contrary, we have seen that many of the great myths of cataclysm seem to contain accurate eye-witness accounts of real conditions experienced by humanity during the last Ice Age. In theory, therefore, these stories could have been constructed at almost the same time as the emergence of our subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens, perhaps as long as 50,000 years ago.


The geological evidence, however, suggests a more recent provenance, and we have identified the epoch 15,000-8000 BC as the most likely. Only then, in the whole of human experience, were there rapid climatic changes on the convulsive scale the myths so eloquently describe.

3 - The Ice Age and its tumultuous demise were global phenomena. It is therefore perhaps not surprising that the cataclysm traditions of many different cultures, widely scattered around the globe, should be characterized by a high degree of uniformity and convergence.

4 - What is surprising, however, is that the myths not only describe shared experiences but that they do so in what appears to be a shared symbolic language. The same ‘literary motifs’ keep cropping up again and again, the same stylistic ‘props’, the same recognizable characters, and the same plots.

According to Professor de Santillana, this type of uniformity suggests a guiding hand at work. In Hamlet’s Mill, a seminal and original thesis on ancient myth written in collaboration with Hertha von Dechend (professor of the History of Science at Frankfurt University) he argues that:

universality is in itself a test when coupled with a firm design. When something found, say, in China, turns up also in Babylonian astrological texts, then it must be assumed to be relevant if it reveals a complex of uncommon images which nobody could claim had risen independently by spontaneous generation. Take the origin of music. Orpheus and his harrowing death may be a poetic creation born in more than one instance in diverse places.


But when characters who do not play the lyre but blow pipes get themselves flayed alive for various absurd reasons, and their identical end is rehearsed on several continents, then we feel we have got hold of something, for such stories cannot be linked by internal sequence. And when the Pied Piper turns up both in the German myth of Hamelin and in Mexico long before Columbus, and is linked in both places to certain attributes like the colour red, it can hardly be a coincidence ...


Likewise, when one finds numbers like 108, or 9 x 13 reappearing under several multiples in the Vedas, in the temples of Angkor, in Babylon, in Heraclitus’ dark utterances, and also in the Norse Valhalla, it is not accident ...4

4 - Hamlet’s Mill, p. 7.5 Ibid.; Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt.6 Hamlet’s Mill, p. 65.

  • Connecting the great universal myths of cataclysm, is it possible that such coincidences that cannot be coincidences, and accidents that cannot be accidents, could denote the global influence of an ancient, though as yet unidentified, guiding hand?

  • If so, could it be that same hand, during and after the last Ice Age, which drew the series of highly accurate and technically advanced world maps reviewed in Part I?

  • And might not that same hand have left its ghostly fingerprints on another body of universal myths?

  • ...those concerning the death and resurrection of gods, and great trees around which the earth and heavens turn, and whirlpools, and churns, and drills, and other similar revolving, grinding contrivances?

According to Santillana and von Dechend, all such images refer to celestial events5 and do so, furthermore, in the refined technical language of an archaic but ‘immensely sophisticated’ astronomical and mathematical science:6

‘This language ignores local beliefs and cults. It concentrates on numbers, motions, measures, overall frames, schemas— on the structure of numbers, on geometry.’7

Where could such a language have come from? Hamlet’s Mill is a labyrinth of brilliant but deliberately evasive scholarship, and offers us no straightforward answer to this question. Here and there, however, almost with embarrassment, inconclusive hints are dropped. For example, at one point the authors say that the scientific language or ‘code’ they believe they have identified is of ‘awe-inspiring antiquity’.8 On another occasion they pin down the depth of this antiquity more precisely to a period at least ‘6000 years before Virgil’9—in other words 8000 years ago or more.

What civilization known to history could have developed and made use of a sophisticated technical language more than 8000 years ago?


The honest answer to this question is ‘none’, followed by a frank admission that what is being conjectured is nothing less than a forgotten episode of high technological culture in prehistoric times. Once again, Santillana and von Dechend are elusive when it comes to the crunch, speaking only of the legacy we all owe to,

‘some almost unbelievable ancestor civilization’ that ‘first dared to understand the world as created according to number, measure and weight.’10

The legacy, it is clear, has to do with scientific thinking and complex information of a mathematical nature. Because it is so extremely old, however, the passage of time has dissipated it:

When the Greeks came upon the scene the dust of centuries had already settled upon the remains of this great world-wide archaic construction. Yet something of it survived in traditional rites, in myths and fairy-tales no longer understood ... These are tantalizing fragments of a lost whole.


They make one think of those ‘mist landscapes’ of which Chinese painters are masters, which show here a rock, here a gable, there the tip of a tree, and leave the rest to imagination. Even when the code shall have yielded, when the techniques shall be known, we cannot expect to gauge the thought of these remote ancestors of ours, wrapped as it is in its symbols, since the creating, ordering minds that devised the symbols have vanished forever.’11

What we have here, therefore, are two distinguished professors of the History of Science, from esteemed universities on both sides of the Atlantic, claiming to have discovered the remnants of a coded scientific language many thousands of years older than the oldest human civilizations identified by scholarship. Moreover, though generally cautious, Santillana and von Dechend also claim to have ‘broken part of that code’.12

This is an extraordinary statement for two serious academics to have made.

7 Ibid., p. 345.

8 Ibid., p. 418.

9 Ibid., p. 245.

10 Ibid., p. 132.

11 Ibid., pp. 4-5,348.

12 Ibid., p. 5.

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