Plato, in the oldest-surviving written source of the Atlantis tradition, describes it as an island “larger than Libya and Asia put together” situated far to the west of Europe across the Atlantic Ocean.
ARCHAEOLOGY TEACHES US THAT THE vast, inviting, resource-rich continents of North and South America were among the very last places on earth to have been inhabited by human beings. Only a handful of remote islands were settled later. This is the orthodoxy, but it is crumbling under an onslaught of compelling new evidence revealed by new technologies, notably the effective sequencing of ancient DNA.
Far from being very recent, it is beginning to look as though the human presence in the Americas may be very old—perhaps more than 100,000 years older than has hitherto been believed.
Moreover, the New World was physically, genetically, and culturally separated from the Old around 12,000 years ago when rising sea levels submerged the land bridge that formerly connected Siberia to Alaska.
“Serpent Mound Cryptoexplosion Structure.” Only since the late 1990s has mounting evidence led to today’s widespread consensus that it was, as many had long suspected, formed by a hypervelocity cosmic impact. Dating back to the time of the impact, an intense magnetic anomaly centered on the site causes compasses to give wildly inaccurate readings. I’d go further. I’d say our Serpent is Gitché Manitou—the Great Spirit and ancestral guardian of the ancient people.”
At Serpent Mound, however, as Ross Hamilton points out, these so-called superstitious primitives were demonstrably the masters of some very exacting scientific techniques. He gives me a penetrating look. “Just consider the precision with which they found true north and balanced the whole effigy around that north–south line. It was a long while before modern surveyors could match it.
All these places are man-made sanctuaries that speak to the union of heaven and earth at key moments of the year. They might rightly be described as hierophanies because their fundamental purpose is to reveal and manifest the sacred connection between macrocosm and microcosm, sky and ground, “above” and “below.”
North America has its Great Serpent Mound, a natural ridge, modified and enhanced by humans to join heaven and earth at sunset on the summer solstice.
archaeoastronomer Anthony F. Aveni,
In the 1980s, as we’ll see in part 2, there was a general acceptance that humans might have first arrived in the Americas by 12,000 or even 13,000 years ago. But those earliest migrants were deemed by archaeologists to have been scattered hunter-gatherer groups, living from hand to mouth and lacking the vision, sophistication, and level of organization required to create a monument on the scale of Serpent Mound.
No carbon dating had been done,
The first carbon-dating of Serpent Mound and found it to be much younger than everyone had supposed—not 2,000 years old or more, but 1,000 years old or less.
Instead he focuses on the form of the serpent, which he perceives as a terrestrial image of the constellation Draco.
In my 1998 book Heaven’s Mirror, for example, I present evidence that this enormous constellation, widely depicted as a serpent by many ancient cultures, served as the celestial blueprint according to which the temples of Angkor in Cambodia were laid out on the ground—with each temple “below” matching a star “above.” The essence of my case is that the notion of “as above so below” expressed in the architecture of Angkor is part of an ancient globally distributed doctrine—or “system”—that set out quite deliberately to create monuments on the ground, all around the world, to mimic the patterns of certain significant constellations in the sky.
Thus around 3000 BC, just before the start of the Pyramid Age in Egypt, the pole star was Thuban (Alpha Draconis) in the constellation Draco. At the time of the Greeks it was Beta Ursae Minoris. In AD 14000 it will be Vega.
What makes Draco particularly significant and remarkable was summed up in 1791 in two lines from a poem by Charles Darwin’s grandfather, the physician and natural philosopher Erasmus Darwin: With vast convolutions Draco holds Th’ ecliptic axis in his scaly folds. This “ecliptic axis”—astronomers today call it the “pole of the ecliptic”—is the still, fixed point in the celestial vault around which the vast circle of the north celestial pole makes its endlessly repeated 25,920-year journey. It is the one place in the sky that never moves or changes while everything else about it dances and shifts, and once you recognize it for what it is—nothing less than the very heart of heaven—it’s striking how the serpentine constellation of Draco seems to coil protectively around it.
I know what Ross is reminding me of here is a connection he’s written about between the geometry of Stonehenge and the geometry of Serpent Mound, which he regards as “two elements comprising a larger picture pointing to a highly evolved school of astro-architecture, the origin of which is not known.”9
My whole focus, since long before the publication of Fingerprints of the Gods in 1995, has been a quest for a high civilization of remote antiquity, a civilization that can rightly be described as “lost” because the very fact that it existed at all has been overlooked by archaeologists.
A site called Blackwater Draw near the town of Clovis, New Mexico, where bones of extinct Ice Age mammals were found in 1929 and assumed, rightly, to be very old.
Anthropologist Edgar B. Howard of the University of Pennsylvania disagreed.17 He began excavations at Blackwater Draw in 1933, concluded that it was possible that humans had been in North America for tens of thousands of years.
There are now two schools of thought around its proposed antiquity and duration. The so-called long interval school dates the first appearance of Clovis in North America to 13,400 years ago and its mysterious extinction and disappearance from the archaeological record to around 12,800 years ago—a period of 600 years. The “short interval” school also accepts 12,800 years ago for the end date of Clovis but sets the start date at 13,000 years ago—therefore allowing it an existence of just 200 years. Both schools agree that this unique and distinctive culture must have originated somewhere else because, from the first evidence for its presence, it is already sophisticated and fully formed, deploying advanced weapons and hunting tactics.
No traces of the early days of Clovis, of the previous evolution and development of its characteristic tools, weapons, and lifeways, have been found anywhere in Asia. All we can say for sure is that once it had made its presence felt in North America the Clovis culture spread very widely across a huge swath of the continent, with sites as far apart as Alaska, northern Mexico, New Mexico, South Carolina, Florida, Montana, Pennsylvania, and Washington state.28 Such an expansion would have been extremely rapid were it to have occurred in 600 years and seems almost miraculously fast if it was in fact accomplished in 200 years.29
A consensus soon began to emerge that no older cultures would ever be found—and what is now known as the “Clovis First” paradigm was conceived.
September 1964. That was when archaeologist C. Vance Haynes, today Regents Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Arizona and a senior member of the National Academy of Sciences, published a landmark paper in the journal Science. Snappily titled “Fluted Projectile Points: Their Age and Dispersion,”31
First, Haynes pointed out that, because of lowered sea level during the Ice Age, much of the area occupied today by the Bering Sea was above water, and where the Bering Strait now is, a tundra-covered landscape connected eastern Siberia and western Alaska.
Things changed around 14,100 years ago, Haynes claimed, when a generalized warming of global climate caused an ice-free corridor to open up between the Laurentide and the Cordilleran ice caps, allowing entry for the first time in many millennia to the rich, unglaciated plains, teeming with game, that lay to the south.34
Some 700 years later, around 13,400 years ago, the stratigraphic record of those plains starts to include Clovis artifacts. Their “abrupt appearance,” Haynes argued, supports the view “that Clovis progenitors passed through Canada” and that “from the seemingly rapid and wide dispersal of Clovis points … it appears these people may have brought the technique of fluting with them.”
If Clovis progenitors traversed a corridor through Canada … and dispersed through the United States south of the … ice border in the ensuing 700 years, then they were probably in Alaska some 500 years earlier…. The Alaskan fluted points … could represent this occupation and could, therefore, be ancestral to Clovis points and blades.”
TOM DILLEHAY, PROFESSOR OF ANTHROPOLOGY at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, began excavations at Monte Verde in southern Chile in 1977 and found evidence that humans had been present there as far back as 18,500 years ago.
He was attacked because there are no Clovis artifacts at Monte Verde, it is 5,000 years older than the oldest securely dated Clovis sites, and it is located more than 8,000 miles south of the Bering Strait.
Likewise, in the 1990s, Canadian archaeologist Jacques Cinq-Mars excavated Bluefish Caves in the Yukon and found evidence of human activity there dating back more than 24,000 years—older than Meadowcroft and much older than Clovis.
On April 27, 2017, Tom Deméré’s paper announcing the discovery of “a 130,000-year-old archaeological site in southern California, USA,” appeared in Nature. That’s about ten times older than Clovis, eight times older than Meadowcroft, and more than five times as old as Bluefish Caves.
Like the mammoths, to which they were closely related, mastodons were swept from the face of the earth in the sudden and mysterious extinction of America’s Ice Age megafauna that took place around 12,800 years ago—the same epoch exactly that saw the equally abrupt and equally mysterious disappearance of the Clovis culture.
Deméré therefore sent several of the mastodon bones to the US Geological Survey in Colorado, where geologist Jim Paces, using the updated and refined technique, established beyond reasonable doubt that the bones were buried 130,000 years ago.19
At that point in 2017 it was still believed—though new evidence would soon substantially change the picture—that anatomically modern humans had not even left their African homeland 140,000 years ago.
“The way it was set into the ground so it would have stood upright. The other one lay in a natural horizontal position beside it but this one was found like you see it in the display. Vertical. And that, to us, immediately looked like an anomaly.” “Why?” “One suggestion is that it was perhaps left there as a marker to come back to the site on a floodplain where everything is low relief….
This looks like the result of human behavior? That it’s evidence of a deliberate, intelligent act?”
The anomalous tusk is just a small part of the story, he says. The stronger evidence comes from the mastodon’s fossilized bones, and from the rocks and stones of various sizes found distributed around the site.
“We suggest that this was a work station, that both femora were hammered and broken here on the anvil stone and that the heads were detached and just set off to the side. It feels purposeful, like the tusk. It feels like humans were breaking these bones and it’s not only what’s here that’s important but also what’s not here. I mean, originally the femora from which these heads came were three feet in length and massively thick, yet we have just a few pieces of them …”
So the fact that we have missing bits suggests to us that they were taken away, which fits this idea of human processing and transportation.”
“But if I’m correct, you’re arguing that can be explained—because what these ancient humans were doing was extracting the marrow from the bones. They were smashing up the bones. They didn’t particularly need fine tools for this.”
We’re saying that this was a carcass. It wasn’t killed by these humans. It wasn’t even butchered by these humans. Most likely it was a carcass at an advanced stage of decomposition but it still had potential for the extraction of marrow from the bones.”
The presence of spiral fractures among the bones of the Cerutti mastodon therefore leads to the inevitable conclusion that they must have been broken 130,000 years ago, when they were fresh.
Meanwhile, the presence of the hammer and anvil stones, and the evidence of how they were used to break the bones, makes it equally certain that humans were involved.
“Because,” I muse, “nothing else is going to smash up those bones and take out the marrow in that way.”
Open your mind to the possibility that instead of the peopling of the Americas being associated with the last deglaciation event [the so-called Bølling-Allerød interstadial, dated from around 14,700 years ago to around 12,800 years ago34] what we should actually be looking at is the deglaciation event before that—between 140,000 and 120,000 years ago. You get the same sort of scenario with a land bridge and ice sheets retreating and you get that same sweet spot between really low sea levels and a blockage by ice sheets, and ice sheets gone and the flooding of the land bridge.”
“As a paleontologist,” he muses, “I ask the question—why weren’t there humans here earlier? I mean, we have dispersal of Eurasian animal species into North America and dispersal of North American species into Eurasia at earlier times. So why shouldn’t humans have been here as well?”
“In other words, only humans could have done this.” “Right. Human beings who understood the properties of the stone and how to work it. If nature can’t break it, it can’t make it.”
Consider the most important pre-Clovis sites in North America in addition to Cerutti and Topper to include: Hueyatlaco, Mexico;19 Old Crow and Bluefish Caves, Canada; Calico Mountain, California; Pendejo Cave, New Mexico; Tula Springs, Nevada; Meadowcroft Rockshelter, Pennsylvania; Cactus Hill, Virginia; Paisley Five Mile Point Caves, Oregon; Schaefer and Hebior Mammoth site, Wisconsin; Buttermilk Creek, Texas; and Saltville, Virginia.
They really matter in that they offer compelling proof of the enduring presence of humans of some kind in the Americas from perhaps as far back as 130,000 years ago until today.
That’s a very long time. It might even be long enough—speaking entirely hypothetically, of course—for something that we would recognize as an advanced civilization to have emerged in the Americas alongside the hunter-gatherers, foragers, and scavengers whose simple tools dominate the pre-Clovis horizons so far excavated.
American archaeology was so riddled with pre-formed opinions about how the past should look, and about the orderly, linear way in which civilizations should evolve, that it repeatedly missed, sidelined, and downright ignored evidence for any human presence at all prior to Clovis—until, at any rate, the mass of that evidence became so overwhelming that it took the existing paradigm by storm.
If we don’t ever look for a lost civilization—because of a preconception that none could have existed—then we won’t find one.
At some point in the remote past, in some unknown location or locations, the ancestors of Native Americans interbred with an archaic—and now extinct—human species. Only recently discovered, and closely related to the more famous Neanderthals who also produced offspring with our ancestors, geneticists have named this species “the Denisovans.”
It was the consensus view of archaeologists and anthropologists during the period of “Clovis First” dominance that the Americas were settled exclusively by the overland route from Siberia via “Beringia” and southward through the ice-free corridor. Despite the collapse of “Clovis First,” this remains the consensus view today;
Several subsequent studies have pointed out that for much of its duration long stretches of the supposed ice-free corridor would have been completely uninhabitable and thus most unpromising territory for a lengthy migration.
It is certain, however, that Denisova Cave has been used and occupied by various species of human for at least 280,000 years, making it an unrivaled archive—a sort of “hall of records”—of our largely unremembered ancestral story.
At certain times during the past 280,000 years, not continuously but at intervals, it had been occupied by Neanderthals—our extinct cousins with whom, as is now widely known, our ancestors interbred and from whom some extant modern human populations have inherited as much as 1–4 percent of their DNA. Neanderthals were probably still using the cave 50,000 years ago. It wasn’t until 2010, however, when proof emerged that a human species hitherto unrecognized by science had been present at Denisova—a species now also known to have interbred with our ancestors—that the true global significance of this very obscure and remote place could begin to be fully realized. The sensational news was broken first in the pages of Nature in December 2010 in a benchmark paper, “Genetic History of an Archaic Hominin Group from Denisova Cave in Siberia.”
The mass of archaeological evidence suggests is that for extraordinarily long periods of time it functioned as a “factory” or “workshop,” and that raw materials were brought here from far-off places to be worked and fashioned.
Unusual and beautiful pieces of jewelry including pendants featuring biconical drilled-out holes, cylindrical beads, a ring carved from marble, a ring carved from mammoth ivory, and bone tubes perhaps designed to hold bone needles so they could be carried safely.
The entrance zone of the East Gallery, specifically from Level 11.1,22 were two broken pieces of a dark green chloritolite bracelet.
“This artifact was manufactured with the help of various technical methods of stone working including those that are considered non-typical for the Paleolithic period…. The bracelet demonstrates a high level of technological skills.”
In particular, to “a hole drilled close to one of the edges” of the bracelet and report that “drilling was carried out with a stable drill over the course of at least three stages. Judging by traces on the surface, the speed of drill running was considerable. Vibrations of the rotation axis of the drill are minor, and the drill made multiple rotations around its axis.”
They therefore conclude that the bracelet “constitutes unique evidence of an unexpectedly early employment of two-sided fast stationary drilling during the Early Upper Paleolithic.” This is a big deal!
At least some of these skills and technologies, like “stationary drilling” with the use of a bow drill that does not leave signs of drill vibration, would not be seen again until the Neolithic many thousands of years later. The bracelet thus refutes what the authors describe as “a common assumption” held by archaeologists that “stone drilling originated during the Upper Paleolithic, but gained the features of a well-developed technology only during the Neolithic.”
So not only was this curious bracelet unequivocally the work of anatomically archaic human beings—the Denisovans—but also it testified to their mastery of advanced manufacturing techniques in the Upper Paleolithic, many millennia ahead of the earliest use of these techniques in the Neolithic by our own supposedly “advanced” species, Homo sapiens. Also made crystal clear was the realization that the Denisovans must have possessed the same kinds of artistic sensibility and self-awareness that we habitually associate only with our own kind—for there can be no doubt that very real, conscious, aware, and unmistakably human beings had interacted with this bracelet at every stage of its conception, design, and manufacture, all the way through to its end use.
Reconstruction: The bracelet formed a torque. “It brightly shimmers in broad daylight and reveals a rich play of hunter green shades in the light of a campfire. The bracelet was hardly an everyday item. Fragile and elegant, it was apparently worn on very special occasions.
THE LOWER PART OF LEVEL 11 dates back, as we’ve seen, to around 50,000 years ago, but the bracelet was found in the upper part, officially designated Level 11.1 and provisionally dated to the Upper Paleolithic about 30,000 years ago—making it, because of its “Neolithic” characteristics, roughly 20,000 years ahead of its time.
Gone with it was a second anomalous object, an exquisite bone needle 7.6 centimeters in length, with a near-microscopic eye less than 1 millimeter in diameter drilled out at the head.43
What put an end to such speculation was the discovery of the longer, even finer and more technically perfect needle in 2016 and its location not in the upper—younger—part of Level 11 near its contact with Level 10, but instead in the much older lower part near its contact with Level 12.
Level 11 had been reassessed and its various internal strata reexamined and re-dated. The result of these new investigations was that the bracelet was no longer thought to be 30,000 years old as had originally been supposed, but 50,000 years old! A year later the Siberian Times published speculation that it might be even older—perhaps as much as “65,000 to 70,000 years old.”
What now appears to be certain is that Neanderthals, Homo sapiens (as modern humans are classified taxonomically), and Denisovans all shared and descended from a common ancestor a million years or so ago. The divergence of the Neanderthal line from the modern human line began at least 430,000 years ago, and perhaps as early as 765,000 years ago. The divergence of the Neanderthal line from the Denisovan line occurred between 381,000 and 473,000 years ago.Humans today are therefore, to a greater or lesser degree, hybrids who have inherited genes from Neanderthals, Denisovans, and archaic Homo sapiens.
1. DNA is the genetic mechanism of inheritance, and the various types of DNA present in our cells have, as a result of scientific advances in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, been subject to close investigation by a range of highly sophisticated techniques. The results of these investigations have shed light on the degree of genetic relatedness that exists between individuals and, on a larger scale, between entire populations.
2. Located in the fluid surrounding the nucleus of every cell in our bodies, mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) is inherited by both males and females but is passed on to offspring only by females.3 MtDNA can identify lines of descent from shared maternal, but not paternal, ancestors.4 What geneticists like about mtDNA is its abundance, being present in multiple copies per cell, giving plenty of material to work with.
3. The same cannot be said of nuclear DNA, inherited equally from both parents, which has only two copies per cell but which encodes far more genetic information than mtDNA, allowing for far more robust and precise analyses of genetic relatedness.
4. Within the cell nucleus are also located the chromosomes—segments of DNA that determine sex. If you have two X chromosomes you’re a female; if you have an X and a Y you’re male. Y-DNA is passed on only by males, thus facilitating the determination only of shared paternal ancestry, whereas X-DNA is inherited both through the maternal and paternal lines (since males and females both have X chromosomes) and can therefore be useful in isolating shared common ancestors along particular branches of inheritance.
In other words, genetics, unlike archaeology, is a hard science where the pronouncements of experts are based on facts, measurements, and replicable experimentation rather than inferences or preconceived opinions.
The Siberian site lies to the west of Lake Baikal near the village of Mal’ta on the banks of the Bolshaya Belaya River.
1,000 kilometers east of Denisova Cave.
For many years as the home of an Upper Paleolithic culture—archaeologists call it the Mal’ta-Buret culture—that left behind many beautiful and mysterious works of art thought to be more than 20,000 years old. Among them, done in bone and mammoth ivory, are carvings of elegant, long-necked water fowl and a collection of thirty human Venus figures that are “rare for Siberia but found at a number of Upper Paleolithic sites across western Eurasia.” The primary excavations at Mal’ta, which took place between 1928 and 1958, also uncovered two burials, both of young children interred with curious and beautiful grave goods including pendants, badges, and ornamental beads.11 One of these children, a boy aged 3–4 years and now known to archaeologists as MA-I, had been buried beneath a stone slab, there was a Venus figurine beside him,12 and he was “wearing an ivory diadem, a bead necklace and a bird-shaped pendant.”
C-14 dating that showed them, give or take a few hundred years, to be 24,000 years old.
Successfully sequenced MA-1’s entire genome—making it, when a full account of the investigation was published in Nature in 2014, “the oldest anatomically modern human genome reported to date.”
Known to archaeologists as the Anzick-1 burial site and dated to 12,600 years ago (which makes it 11,400 years younger than MA-1), it is also a child’s grave—in this case a boy aged 1–2 years who was interred with more than 100 tools of stone and antler, all sprinkled with red ochre. One thing we see for sure in both these ancient burials, separated by thousands of miles and thousands of years, is that the human capacity to love and cherish family members, and to regret and mourn those who pass prematurely, is not diminished by time; indeed, we instantly recognize and identify with it today because we share it.
All authorities agree that MA-1 and Anzick-1 are closely related, sharing large sequences of DNA.19 Anzick-1, however, “belonged to a population directly ancestral to many contemporary Native Americans” and thus, unsurprisingly—despite his proximity to MA-1—is “more closely related to all indigenous American populations than to any other group.”
The investigators discovered that MA-1 also stands “near the root of most Native American lineages,” and “14 to 38% of Native American ancestry may originate through gene flow from this ancient population [the population from which MA-1 stemmed]. This is likely to have occurred after the divergence of Native American ancestors from east Asian ancestors, but before the diversification of Native American populations in the New World.”
“therefore suggests a connection between pre-agricultural Europe and Upper Paleolithic Siberia.”
SOMETHING I HAVEN’T MENTIONED YET—the ochre-dusted stone and antler tools found buried with Anzick-1 were unmistakably Clovis artifacts.
First, the Anzick-1 burial was originally dated to around 12,600 years ago—or, more exactly, within the limits of resolution of C-14, to between 12,707 and 12,556 years ago.31 This suggested that the grave was dug and the grave goods placed with the remains of the deceased infant a century or two after the abrupt and mysterious disappearance of the Clovis culture from the archaeological record around 12,800 years ago. That disappearance testifies to a sudden cessation of previously widespread cultural activities, suggestive of interruption by some far-reaching cataclysmic event. What it does not mean, however, is that every member of the Clovis population died out overnight.
One possibility that has been considered is that Anzick-1 himself may have belonged to just such a remnant group.
Anzick-1’s bones were initially dated between 12,707 and 12,556 years ago. The antler foreshafts among his grave goods are a century or two older than that—in the range of 12,800 to 13,000 years ago32—“a much more typical and acceptable age for Clovis,”
“the foreshafts were 100 to 200-year-old antique heirlooms interred with the infant by the very last Clovis folks in the region.”
Clovis did, at the limits of its range, extend into some northern areas of South America, its heartland was in North America. Intuitively, therefore, we would expect the Montana infant, a Clovis individual, to be much more closely related to Native North Americans than to Native South Americans. Further investigations, however, while reconfirming that Anzick-1’s genome had a greater affinity to all Native Americans than to any extant Eurasian population, revealed it to be much more closely related to native South Americans than to Native North Americans!
IN SUMMARY, ANZICK-1 IS A paradox clothed in a conundrum, wrapped up in a mystery—an individual in a North American Clovis culture grave who is closely related to Native South Americans, to the Siberian Mal’ta population, and to ancient western Europeans.
Some Amazonian Native Americans descend partly from a Native American founding population that carried ancestry more closely related to indigenous Australians, New Guineans and Andaman Islanders than to any present-day Eurasians or Native Americans. This is suggesting a more diverse set of founding populations of the Americas than previously accepted.
In the end “a statistically clear signal linking Native Americans in the Amazonian region of Brazil to present-day Australo-Melanesians and Andaman Islanders” was confirmed.
A second founding population of the Americas. It is very old, in their view, and almost all traces of it have been overwritten almost everywhere by later genetic “noise.”
The investigators have given their “putative ancient Native American lineage” a name: “Population Y” after Ypykuéra, which means “ancestor” in the Tupi language family.”
“A Population Y that had ancestry from a lineage more closely related to present-day Australasians than to present-day East Asians and Siberians likely contributed to the DNA of Native Americans from Amazonia and the Central Brazilian Plateau.”
Congregating in that original northeast Asian—that is, Siberian—melting pot we are now being asked to envisage not only people with European genes and people with east Asian genes, but also people with Australasian genes. Neanderthals were part of the mix, too, interbreeding vigorously with Homo sapiens, and there were people carrying Denisovan genes and of course the Denisovans themselves. We’re asked to see these groups as essentially divided and separate from one another—despite the obvious evidence of their liaisons—and we’re asked to accept that they remained divided and separate, already conveniently prearranging themselves into what would become the “NA” and “SA” lineages, as they trekked across the Bering land bridge.
What has been preserved in those isolated, unadulterated Amazonian genomes that speaks to an ancient connection with Australasia might not be the traces of a full-scale migration but something more like a one-off settlement by a relatively small group.
Raghavan and Willerslev—just like Skoglund and Reich—could not ignore the persistent “Australasian signal” that kept cropping up in the data: We found that some American populations—including the Aleutian Islanders, Surui, and Athabascans—are closer to Australo-Melanesians as compared with other Native Americans, such as North American Ojibwa, Cree, and Algonquin and the South American Purepecha, Arhuaco, and Wayuu. The Surui are, in fact, one of the closest Native American populations to East Asians and Australo-Melanesians, the latter including Papuans, non-Papuan Melanesians, Solomon Islanders, and South East Asian hunter-gatherers such as Aeta.6
For orthodox thinkers, it is literally inconceivable that prehistoric settlers from the general vicinity of Papua New Guinea could have crossed the entire width of the Pacific Ocean to South America, and thence made their way to the Amazon to leave evidence of their presence in the DNA of people still living there today.
Likewise, and significantly earlier, bones and artifacts of Homo erectus dated to 800,000 years before the present have been found on the Indonesian islands of Flores and Timor, again making open-water crossings by these supposed “subhumans” a certainty even during periods of lowered sea level.
What archaeology does not concede is that the human species could have developed and refined those early nautical skills to the extent of being able to cross a vast ocean like the Pacific or the Atlantic from one side to the other. In the case of the former, extensive transoceanic journeys are not believed to have been undertaken until about 3,500 years ago, during the so-called Polynesian expansion.
The notion that long transoceanic voyages were a technological impossibility during the Stone Age remains one of the central structural elements of the dominant reference frame of archaeology—
Since that reference frame rules out, a priori, the option of a direct ocean crossing between Australasia and South America during the Paleolithic and instead is adamant that all settlement came via northeast Asia, geneticists tend to approach the data from that perspective.
The widely scattered and differential affinity of Native Americans to the Australo-Melanesians, ranging from a strong signal in the Surui to a much weaker signal in northern Amerindians such as Ojibwa, points to this gene flow occurring after the initial peopling by Native American ancestors.
In summary, therefore, taking into account all of the above, the situation seems to be that the Denisovan signal remains at a constant and fairly low level throughout present-day indigenous populations so far sequenced in both North and South America. The Australasian signal, by contrast, is definitely and notably much stronger among populations in the Amazon, such as the Surui, and much weaker among other Native Americans such as the Arhuaco (of non-Amazonian northern Colombia), the Wayuu (of non-Amazonian northern Venezuela), the Purepecha (of Mexico), and the Ojibwa, Cree, and Algonquin of north and northeast North America. While never reaching the high levels found among Amazonian populations, the signal among Aleutian Islanders and Athabascans is relatively stronger than in other Native North American groups and relatively stronger in Aleutian Islanders than it is in Athabascans—though Raghavan and Willerslev warn in their Science paper that the Aleutian Islander data must be interpreted with some caution since it “is heavily masked owing to recent admixture with Europeans.”
We know from the evidence of Denisova Cave itself that their technology—while undoubtedly “Stone Age”—was far ahead of its time and in some ways much more akin to the Neolithic than to the Upper Paleolithic. We know that they could make sea crossings and that they ranged over a vast area, at least from the Altai Mountains in the west to Australo-Melanesia in the east. Last but not least, we know that their DNA survives most strongly today in people of Australo-Melanesian descent, and there’s informed speculation that Australo-Melanesia may have been their original homeland.
However many times by however many hands they have been copied and recopied down the ages, it is my contention that these anomalous maps can be traced back to lost source documents that could only have originated with a civilization at least advanced enough to have explored the world, and to have mapped and measured it, when it was still in the grip of the Ice Age. A civilization capable of such feats must, at the very least, have had its own adepts in the techniques of boat-building, sailing, navigating, cartography, and geometry—none of these being among the skills that archaeologists are normally willing to attribute to Ice Age hunter-gatherers.
The reason Carvajal’s account was disbelieved for most of the twentieth century by almost everyone who reviewed it is therefore plain to see. The picture he painted of the pre-contact state of the peoples and cultures of the Amazon flew in the face of a dominant (and domineering) scholarly theory.
As Wilkinson goes on to note in his study of Amazonian civilization: Towards the end of the 20th century, the archaeological pendulum began to swing back toward crediting the early explorers’ accounts. Even Meggers [in Amazonia: Man and Culture in a Counterfeit Paradise] had passed on without comment a report [dated approximately 1662] by Mauricio de Heriarte that the capital of the Tapajós (at today’s Santarem) could field 60,000 warriors. Any such number of militia would by … comparative-civilizational standards have implied an urban population of 300,000 to 360,000!
Wilkinson cites an important study by anthropologist Thomas P. Myers that documents “more than 30 epidemics—smallpox, measles, and other outbreaks—some ‘on a massive scale’—in 16th–18th century South America.” Myers finds evidence of “very substantial depopulation between the Orellana and Teixeira expeditions” and estimates that in many areas it ran as high 99 percent.62 This, he further suggests, “may have been the reason why the missionaries later transmitted the idea of a relatively uninhabited Amazon region. The people they found were the survivors of the diseases and epidemics.”
Once left deserted, the great cities and monuments and other public works of any hypothetical Amazonian civilization would quickly have been encroached upon and soon completely hidden by the jungle while, at the same time, cultural memory banks would have been wiped almost clean and vast resources of skills, knowledge, and potential would have been lost forever.
THE DNA EVIDENCE PRESENTED IN part 3 reveals an astonishing anomaly. At some point during the Ice Age, perhaps as early as 13,000 years ago, a group of people carrying Australo-Melanesian genes settled in what is now the Amazon jungle.
When, I wonder, will archaeologists take to heart the old dictum that absence of evidence is not the same thing as evidence of absence, and learn the lessons that their own profession has repeatedly taught—namely that the next turn of the excavator’s spade can change everything?
Niède Guidon has spent 40 years excavating hundreds—literally hundreds!—of richly painted prehistoric rock shelters in Serra da Capivara National Park in the Brazilian state of Piauí. While everyone else is playing catch-up, she has long been confident that humans arrived in South America much earlier than 20,000 years ago. In 1986–3 years before Dillehay first began to offer his own cautious dissent from the Clovis First paradigm—she published a paper in Nature boldly titled “Carbon-14 Dates Point to Man in the Americas 32,000 Years Ago.”
Documenting continuous human occupation over the entire period from 6,160 years ago to 32,160 years ago.
But this was just the beginning, and in 2003 Guidon and other researchers completed a further study. The results pushed back the date of the human presence at Pedra Furada to 48,500 years ago, and of the paintings themselves, to at least 36,000 years ago.
Huge swaths of the Amazon, encompassing millions of square kilometers, have never been subject to any kind of archaeological investigation at all.
This is a wider problem than the Amazon. For example, sea level rose 120 meters when the Ice Age came to an end with the result that 27 million square kilometers of land that was above water at the last glacial maximum 21,000 years ago is under water today. These submerged continental shelves were prime seafront real estate during the Ice Age, yet only a few tiny slivers of them have ever been subject to any kind of marine archaeological investigation.
I’ll say nothing about Antarctica, with its 14 million square kilometers entirely virgin to the archaeologist’s spade.
We do know that the Sahara desert, presently occupying an area of about 9 million square kilometers, had a very different climate during the Ice Age, and in the early millennia of the Holocene, than it experiences today and that there were long periods when it was well watered and fertile, with extensive lakes and grasslands and abundant wildlife.
Part of our predicament, therefore, as a species with amnesia, is that huge areas of the planet that we know for sure were used by and lived upon by our ancestors—the submerged continental shelves, the Sahara desert, the Amazon rainforest—have, for a variety of practical and ideological reasons, been badly served by archaeology.
Was some advanced but unseen presence capable of spanning the globe at work behind the scenes of prehistory that might help to explain how Australasian genes reached the Amazon during the Ice Age?
But Wilkinson is not speaking of the base soils. His “exemplary agronomy,” as we shall see, refers to an artificial, man-made soil that first suddenly and inexplicably appeared in the Amazon many thousands of years ago but that has such miraculous properties of self-regeneration that it is still in use for agriculture and still incredibly productive today. It is called Terra preta.
Terra preta feels like the work of scientists, but if there was a civilization in the Amazon, then why should we be surprised to find scientific achievements to its credit?
THE EXISTENCE OF TERRA PRETA was first reported by Europeans in colonial-period Brazil who called it terra preta de Índio (Indian Black Earth),
“Black Earth,” “Amazonian Anthropogenic Dark Earths,”or simply as “Amazonian Dark Earths”—ADEs for short.
Across the rainforest there are many thousands of expanses of terra preta on a similar range of scales, covering a total area that is in all honesty unknown but that various authorities have guesstimated at 6,000 km2, 18,000 km2, 154,063 km2, and “an area the size of France” (i.e., around 640,000 km2).
Almost without exception the riverine people of the Xingu today “inhabit and plant in dark earths,” and make use of resources, such as “Brazil nuts, babassu palm, dark earths and vine forests” that are “indicators or products of this earlier occupation.”
Nobody doubts that they are “anthropogenic”—man-made in some way—and everyone agrees that they’re an amazing success story. So fecund is terra preta, even after thousands of years of use, that it can still regenerate barren soils it is added to, and has been described as “miracle earth.”
Most researchers believe that terra preta soils formed as composted material accumulated via incidental human activity (often in debris piles referred to as middens). University of São Paulo archaeologist Eduardo Neves reportedly favors a scenario in which successive generations could have swept food refuse—especially fish and animal bones—from their dwellings and then added human and animal excrement.
Their argument depicts the ancient Amazonians as living amid a shitscape (euphemistically referred to as a “middenscape”), dumping their excretions, rubbish, broken crockery, and fish bones into the middens and—most importantly—burning wet vegetation on top of the middens, and always conscientiously making sure, without any long-term planning or purpose in mind, to keep the fires damped down under a blanket of dirt and straw.
I think the evidence supports another possibility—that this remarkable soil was invented, making excellent use of freely available local resources, as an ingenious, low-tech, and environmentally friendly way to increase agricultural yield in areas that would otherwise not have been able to sustain agriculture, and thus large populations, even for a few decades, let alone for several thousands of years—as the Amazonian Dark Earths have consistently demonstrated a “miraculous” ability to do.
In summary, concedes Professor WinklerPrins, the microbial complexes associated with ADEs are “poorly understood” and “quite mysterious actually.” Likewise, even the authors of the shitscape/middenscape theory of ADE formation admit that “despite the importance of research on terra preta, we still lack a firm understanding of the specific formation processes that led to the diversity inherent in these anthrosols.”
It turns out that while “Amazonian forests in different regions differ significantly from one another in topography, climate, geology, hydrology, structure, seasonality, and history,” they nonetheless “often resemble each other” in showing a “pattern of unexpected dominance and density of a small group of plant species.
The best current estimate is that the Amazon is presently home to about 16,000 woody tree species. Out of this total, however, “only 227 hyperdominant species dominate Amazonian forests.”3 These so-called oligarchs (from the Greek for “rule by a few”) “make up only 1.4% of all the Amazon forest species but almost half of the trees in any given forest.”
In almost every case where clusters of hyperdominants were inventoried, ancient archaeological sites were found among them6—a correlation so frequent and reliable that the presence and concentration of oligarchs could, in theory, be used to “predict the occurrence of archaeological sites in Amazonian forests.”
The team’s detailed analysis, published in Science, therefore concludes that “modern tree communities in Amazonia are structured to an important extent by a long history of plant domestication by Amazonian peoples…. Detecting the widespread effect of ancient societies in modern forests … strongly refutes ideas of Amazonian forests being untouched by man. Domestication shapes Amazonian forests.”
What I have in mind is the possibility that a deep knowledge of plants and of their nutritional and other properties might have preceeded the first domestication activities that we have evidence for. Surely it is only on the basis of such foreknowledge that crops like groundnuts and manioc could be selected, domesticated, planned, and planted to complement each other’s nutritional contribution to human welfare?
The whole mystery of the Amazonian plant medicines, notably the vision-inducing brew ayahuasca (which itself is a mixture of several plants that are most unlikely to have been fortuitously brought together) is explored in depth in my 2005 book Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind. In these medicines, as in curare, as in terra preta, and as in the incredible burst of domestication of plants and trees in the Amazon that followed the end of the Ice Age, could we be looking at the cultural DNA not only of a civilization but of a sophisticated civilization that had developed sciences of its own that it began to share with other people—very much including the peoples of the Amazon basin—around the time that the last Ice Age came cataclysmically to its end?
Scientists at the beginning of the twenty-first century were nonetheless taken aback to be presented with overwhelming evidence of an ancient practice of geometry in the rainforest—there is compelling evidence—mysterious in itself—that “the conceptual principles of geometry are inherent in the human mind.”
Mundurukú children and adults spontaneously made use of … the core concepts of topology (e.g., connectedness), Euclidean geometry (e.g., line, point, parallelism, and right angle), and basic geometrical figures (e.g., square, triangle, and circle) … and they used distance, angle, and sense relationships in geometrical maps to locate hidden objects.
In summary, therefore, isolated peoples in remote parts of the Amazon today, whose contact with technological civilization is extremely limited, possess innate geometrical knowledge and are able to deploy it “independently of instruction, experience with maps, or measurement devices.”
From England’s Stonehenge, to the Great Pyramid of Egypt, to India’s Madurai Meenakshi Temple, to Borobudur in Indonesia, to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, to Tikal in Guatemala, to Tiahuanaco in Bolivia—and to countless other sites too numerous to mention—the design of the sacred architecture of the world is entirely governed by geometry.
I suggest that the similarities and differences between certain ancient monumental structures, created around the world at different times by different cultures, are best explained by a remote common ancestor civilization that left a legacy of ideas and knowledge in which they all shared, which their priests, shamans, and sages sought to preserve, and which they in due course deployed in their own different ways.
In summary, therefore, just 3 years of research between 2009 and 2012 witnessed a profound change in archaeological understanding of the geoglyphs of the southwestern Amazon. Previously they’d been thought to be just 750 years old; now, without any real attention being drawn to the implications, they’d become 2,000 years old.
The two other dates from Severino Calazans. Again, there are margins of error, but these dates were, respectively, 1211 BC (from Unit 5) and 2577 BC (from Unit 3)48—the latter suggesting that this geoglyph might not only have the same footprint as the Great Pyramid of Egypt but might also be about the same age.
IT’S A CURIOSITY—I CLAIM nothing more at this point—that the square enclosure ditch at Severino Calazans shares the ground plan, base dimensions, and cardinality of the Great Pyramid of Egypt, as well as a carbon date from the epoch of the Great Pyramid. That epoch, moreover, around 2500 BC, coincides and overlaps with the megalithic epoch in Europe, so another curiosity is the way that the circular geoglyphs of Amazonia resemble “henges”—the circular embankments with deep internal ditches that surround the great stone circles of the British Isles.
It is NOT my purpose here to insinuate that the Amazonian geoglyphs were in any way inspired by Britain’s stone circles, or by the Great Pyramid of Egypt or by other known Old World monuments—or, for that matter, vice versa. Where there are similarities, my suggestion is that it might be more fruitful to look for their origins in a remote ancestral civilization that passed down a common inheritance all around the globe—an inheritance of knowledge, an inheritance of science, an inheritance of “earth-measuring” that was then put into practice in many different environments by the many different cultures receiving it.
More research was done and out of roughly 200 prehistoric sites identified across the state of Amapá it was found that 30 had megalithic monuments of one kind or another.
Rego Grande. There, the principal stone circle, which has a diameter of 30 meters, consists of 127 upright megaliths. Brought from a quarry 3 kilometers away, the megaliths weigh up to 4 tons each and stand between 2.5 meters (just over 8 feet) and 4 meters (just over 13 feet) tall.6 Areas within the circle were used for elaborate human burials involving funerary urns and vases in a known pottery style of the region.
I’m concerned here, rather, with the manifestation of a legacy of ideas that may be of Ice Age antiquity—ideas involving geometry and ideas also very much involving astronomy. It’s the ideas that matter, whether we encounter them in the Amazon, or at Serpent Mound in Ohio, or at Angkor in Cambodia, or at Stonehenge in the British Isles, or among the monuments of Egypt’s Giza plateau. If mechanisms to carry, preserve, and transmit them down the generations have been introgressed into the local cultural DNA, then I see no reason why they should not manifest, and reveal their fundamental similarities, wherever and whenever conducive circumstances arise.
Coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene,10 the word “meme” refers to “An element of a culture or system of behavior passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means.”
In the case of Stonehenge, Serpent Mound, and Rego Grande, the meme concerns the orientation of the sites—which in all three cases honors the sun on the June and December solstices.
The total number of geometric ditched enclosures discovered in the southwestern Amazon survey area had increased from “over 210,” the figure on record in 2009, to “over 450” by 2017.
Then in 2018 a further study by Denise Schaan and colleagues reported an extension of the survey area across much of the southern rim of the Amazon basin: The results show that an 1800 km stretch of southern Amazonia was occupied by earth-building cultures.34 In one area alone, the Upper Tapajos Basin, 81 previously unknown pre-Columbian sites were discovered, with a total of 104 earthworks. Among them were many complex enclosures including one, 390 meters in diameter, featuring 11 mounds circularly arranged at the center of the enclosure. The researchers suggest that at least 1,300 further sites remain hidden within the jungles of the Amazon’s southern rim—a number, they add, that is “likely to be an underestimation”37 while “huge swaths of the rainforest are still unexplored.”
Given that such civilizations existed in ancient Amazonia, and clearly had the capacity to manifest their ideas in great public projects, it is intriguing that the end result was the vigorous, flamboyant, and extensive expression of the very same architectural, astronomical, and geometrical “memes” that characterize sacred architecture in many other parts of the world, and at many different periods.
Nonetheless, what Labre tells us feels significant. He didn’t see the geoglyphs, which were then entirely overgrown by jungle, but he was in the midst of them on August 17, 1887, when he stayed overnight at an Aroana village called Mamuceyada. He describes there being, as well as plantations, “about 200 inhabitants … a form of government, temples and a form of worship”—from which, together with “knowing the name of the idols,” women were excluded. Of particular importance and relevance here is Labre’s report: The idols are not of human form, but are geometrical figures made of wood and polished. The father of the gods is called Epymara, his image has an elliptical form, and is about 16 inches high…. Although they have “medicine-men” charged with religious duties and remaining celibates, the chief is nevertheless pontifex of the church.
Here in a landscape mysteriously inscribed in antiquity with vast geometrical earthworks, at a time when the earthworks themselves had long since been swallowed by jungle, we find a Native American tribe whose gods take the form of polished wooden “geometrical figures.” The tribal chief is the religious leader but there are also “medicine-men” who likewise have religious duties. It already sounds exactly like the sort of institution for the replication and transmission of geometric memes that I proposed as a hypothesis earlier, but it gets even more interesting when the shamans involved, and often the population, are drinking ayahuasca.
It is a phenomenon in itself that the same memes appear again and again among seemingly unrelated cultures of both the Old World and the New World, separated sometimes not only by thousands of miles but by thousands of years.
What would help would be a much more thorough and detailed archaeoastronomical survey of Rego Grande, and of other stone circles in its vicinity, than has already been undertaken.
All four of these squares—the two at Fazenda Parana, the one at Severino Calazans, and of course the Great Pyramid itself, are cardinally oriented, that is, their sides face true north, south, east, and west. The most basic and obvious of the cosmic alignments shared across these sites are therefore to the celestial north and south poles (the points on the celestial sphere directly above the earth’s geographic north and south poles, around which the stars and planets appear to rotate during the course of the night1), and to the points of sunrise and sunset on the spring and autumn equinoxes (when the sun rises perfectly due east and sets perfectly due west).
We’ve also seen that other great earthworks of the Amazon feature strong northwest-to-southeast orientations. This would put the investigation of possible solstitial alignments and also of “lunar standstill alignments” (of which more in part 5) at the top of the list of priorities if any proper archao-astronomical survey should ever be undertaken.
That it should then have later iterations in different media, such as the stone circle at Rego Grande and the great cosmically aligned geoglyphs at Severino Calazans and Fazenda Parana, should not surprise us.
We are dealing, I believe, with deliberately created memes here—memes that have a deeply mysterious purpose and that function in ineffable ways. They are transmitted by repetition and replication, which explains their similarities. But cultures, once separated, tend to evolve and develop in their own distinctive and quirky fashion. We can therefore expect that not only the media and materials through which the memes are made manifest, but also their local interpretation, will vary greatly through time and between one part of the world and another while nonetheless retaining a constant core of unvarying central ideas.
Not only was there no evidence of warfare, but actually very little at all in the way of archaeological materials—pottery, figurines, refuse, et cetera—that would help to decipher the use, meaning, and purpose of the glyphs. The consensus now, therefore, is that they were created for “ritual,” “spiritual,” “religious,” and “ceremonial” purposes.
“Shamans.” This word is NOT derived from, or used, in any Amazonian language. It comes, instead, from the Tungus-Mongol noun saman, meaning, broadly, “one who knows.”
The Tungus word entered Western languages through their enthusiastic written reports and has subsequently continued to be applied in all parts of the world where systems very similar to Tungus shamanism have been found.
It is the shaman—usually a man but sometimes a woman—who stands at the heart of these systems. And what all shamans have in common, regardless of which culture they come from or what they call themselves, is an ability to enter and control altered states of consciousness. Often, but not always, psychedelic plants or fungi are consumed to attain the necessary trance state. Shamanism, therefore, is not primarily a set of beliefs, nor the result of purposive study. It is, first and foremost, mastery of the techniques needed to attain trance and thus to occasion particular kinds of experiences—shamans call them “visions,” Western psychiatrists call them “hallucinations”—that are then in turn used to interpret events and guide behavior:
The true shaman must attain his knowledge and position through trance, vision and soul-journey to the Otherworld. All these states of enlightenment are reached … during a shamanic state of consciousness, and not by purposive study and application of a corpus of systematic knowledge.
Underlying the whole notion of soul-journeys to the otherworld is a model of reality that is diametrically opposed in every way to the model presently favored by Western science. This remotely ancient shamanistic model holds our material world to be much more complicated than it seems to be. Behind it, beneath it, above it, interpenetrating it, all around it—sometimes symbolized as being “underground” or sometimes “in the sky”—is an otherworld, perhaps multiple otherworlds (spirit worlds, underworlds, netherworlds, etc.) inhabited by supernatural beings.
Meanwhile, the key point, standing right at the heart of the matter and nonsensical to “rational” Western minds, is the notion that the human condition requires interaction with powerful nonphysical beings. Across much of the Amazon the nexus that facilitates such interaction is the extraordinary visionary brew ayahuasca, a plant medicine that has been in use among the indigenous peoples of this vast region for unknown thousands of years. Its active ingredient, derived from the leaves of the chacruna shrub (botanical name Psychotria viridis) is dimethyltryptamine—DMT—an immensely potent hallucinogen. It is from the other ingredient, however, derived from the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, that the brew gets its name.
It is, in my view, a remarkable scientific feat that such a highly effective combination of just 2 out of the estimated 150,000 different species of plants, trees, and vines in the Amazon was discovered by mere trial and error.
Ayahuasca itself is said to be a “doctor,” possessing a strong spirit, and is considered to be “an intelligent being with which it is possible to establish rapport, and from which it is possible to acquire knowledge and power.”11
In a follow-up paper, published in American Anthropologist in August 2017, Saunaluoma and Virtanen take their analysis much further, proposing that the geoglyphs “were systematically constructed as spaces especially laden with visible and invisible entities.” Their argument is that, regardless of scale or medium, the whole process of materializing visionary iconography, in particular geometric patterns, is “related to the fluid forms inhabiting the Amazonian relational world. Different designs ‘bring’ the presence of nonhumans to the visible world of humans for a number of Amazonian Indigenous peoples, while perceiving geometric designs in Amerindian art as paths from one dimension to another allows a viewer to shift between different worlds, from the visible to the invisible.”
“The lines embody a package of ways in which beings move, travel, communicate between themselves, and transmit knowledge, objects, and powers. These paths exist everywhere, from macro to micro scales. Geometric designs are thus about certain ways of thinking, perceiving, and indicating invisible aspects so they can be seen.”27
Saunaluoma and Virtanen further establish that, to the Shipibo-Conibo, the geometric lines open “a window to the macrocosmos” and allow “macro-cosmic order” to be “iconically sketched in the microcosmos here, in landscape designs.” As above, so below.
Once again I suggest we are looking at the remnants of an advanced system that propagates itself through time and across cultures with powerful memes among which geometry and cosmic alignments take a large share. We do not know where or when this system originated. In the ancient Amazon, however, to a greater degree than anywhere else, its dissemination became integrated with the use of vision-inducing plants—and there, up to the present day, the secrets of how to use these plants have been preserved and passed down within indigenous shamanic traditions.
First, what’s being described is dressed up in the language and imagery of myth and may of course be “just a myth.” What it sounds like, however, is a mythologized account of a settlement mission in the Amazon in which a group of migrants were accompanied by a number of more sophisticated people considered to be “supernatural” or “superhuman.”
Second, the Tukano origin myth makes it completely clear that the “supernaturals” departed after they had completed their work of preparing the Amazon for settlement by the migrants in the serpent canoe. Third, we are led to understand that direct contact between humanity and the spirit world would thereafter be broken. However a portal—ayahuasca—through which humans could still travel to the spirit world, and benefit from its teachings, would be left open.
Alignments are not the only ones to have propagated from a so far unidentified common source. Intimately connected to them are other ideas that went “viral” in both the Old World and the New, and that therefore somehow transcended the Ice Age separation of peoples.
Considered as a pyramid—and it is indeed a form of step pyramid—it comes third in the Americas after the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl at Cholula and the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, both of which are stone-reinforced monuments and significantly taller.
Considered an earthwork, and echoing that early explorer’s report, Monks Mound has been described as “stupendous in many ways. It is the tallest mound, covers the most area and contains the most volume of any prehistoric earthen monument in the Americas.” It is, moreover, part of a giant complex with multiple different elements including more than 100 subsidiary earthen mounds, the archaeological traces of what was once a spectacular circle of huge wooden posts (known as Cahokia’s “Woodhenge”), a spacious central plaza, and an 18-meter-wide, 800-meter-long earthwork causeway running arrow-straight between raised embankments.
Enigmatically, but quite deliberately set to an azimuth of 005 degrees—that is, 5 degrees east of true north—it is this causeway, referred to by archaeologists as the “Rattlesnake Causeway,” that defines Cahokia’s principal axis,14 giving the site a certain ambiguity and adding to its air of mystery. Every mound and earthwork is set out upon the ground in strict relation to it, with clusters of structures, dominated by Monks Mound itself, running south to north and other clusters running west to east.
William Romain, whose work at Serpent Mound we encountered in part 1, considers Monks Mound to have been conceived by its designers as a true “axis mundi”—intended to serve as a junction point between heaven and earth. He reminds us of the traditional shamanistic spiritual system of the Native American peoples of the Eastern Woodlands—the region of Cahokia. According to this system, the universe is comprised “of an Above World, This World, and Below World…. Connecting these realms is a vertical vector … the axis mundi that enables shamans to move between cosmic realms…. The axis mundi can be symbolically represented by any number of vertical elements such as a pole, tree, column of smoke, mountain, pyramid, or mound.”
Subsequent excavations revealed that no fewer than five woodhenges had been built on the same site over a period of a couple of centuries in order to accommodate increases in the size and shape of the Mound itself, which affected crucial solar sight lines.
The objective of every realignment and rededication was that an observer at the center of the post circle, looking due east across the “front sight” of a specially placed equinox marker post, should see the sun’s disk appear above the slope of the southern terrace of Monks Mound—an arrangement, says Romain, that establishes an east–west solar-oriented line across the entire Cahokia complex: Equinox sunrise above the slope of the southern terrace of Monks Mound. PHOTOGRAPHED FROM WOODHENGE BY WILLIAM ROMAIN. The result is that Monks Mound is visually connected to the Above World vis á vis the rising sun and its location on the east–west sightline that intersects the major site axis. In this way, Monks Mound is positioned at a center place.19 That assertion and manifestation of centrality is reconfirmed by two other posts at Woodhenge that serve as front sights targeting the horizon azimuths of the summer and winter solstice sunrises.2
Unexplained so far, however, is why Cahokia’s designers made a deliberate choice not to align the main axis of their premier site to the cardinal directions of earth and sky but instead chose to offset it by 5 degrees east of true north?
William Romain offers an intriguing answer. The builders of Cahokia, he argues, were geometricians who made use of a special rectangle, known as a “root-2 rectangle,” in planning the layout of the city.
If you take such a rectangle, orient it to true north (0 degrees azimuth), and then rotate it eastward by 5 degrees to match the azimuth of Cahokia’s principal axis, its diagonals turn out to align closely with important solar and lunar events as viewed from Monks Mound—specifically, the summer solstice sunrise at azimuth 59.7 degrees, the winter solstice sunset at azimuth 239.3 degrees, the moon’s maximum southern rising position at azimuth 130.1 degrees, and the moon’s maximum northern setting position at azimuth 307.1 degrees.
built in the Mississippi River basin incorporating complex geometries based almost exclusively on lunar alignments. Two of the most significant such sites to have survived, at least in part, into the twenty-first century are the High Bank Works and Newark Earthworks, both in Ohio. High Bank Works is located near the town of Chillicothe, about 40 miles northeast of Serpent Mound, and Newark Earthworks stands about 60 miles farther to the northeast near the town of Newark.
NEWARK AND HIGH BANK HAVE an almost technological feel to them, resembling gigantic printed circuit boards or wiring diagrams from the innards of some immense and ineffable instrument.
William Romain is more specific. In his view the creators of this extraordinary and in some ways rather otherworldly site “were intrigued by the variety of possible relationships between a circle and a square…. The idea that seems to be expressed is that, for every circular enclosure, a corresponding square … can be related to the circle by geometric means.”25 “Squaring the circle”—constructing a square with the same area as a given circle—was of course a geometrical exercise of great interest to the master mathematicians of ancient Babylon, Egypt, and Greece.26
Astronomer Ray Hively and philosopher Robert Horn of Indiana’s Earlham College, whose comprehensive work at Newark and High Bank in the 1980s provided the foundation for all subsequent studies, realized that the same length of 321.3 meters had also been used by the builders to lay out the Octagon
The conclusion suggested by the geometry of the Observatory Circle–Octagon combination is that both figures have been carefully and skilfully constructed from the same fundamental length.28
This unit of measure, now known by the unfortunate yet strangely appropriate acronym OCD (for Observatory Circle Diameter), was also deployed at High Bank, which, as Hively and Horn remind us, is “the only other circle-octagon combination known to have been constructed by the Hopewell.”29 It cannot be a coincidence, then, that High Bank turns out to conform to a geometric pattern based on a fundamental length of 0.998 OCD.30
Perhaps most striking of all is the fact, noted by archaeologist Bradley Lepper, that “the main axis of High Bank Works—that is, a line projected through the center of the Circle and the Octagon—bears a direct relationship to the axis of Newark’s Observatory Circle and Octagon. Although built more than 60 miles apart, the axis of High Bank Works is oriented at precisely 90 degrees to that of Newark earthworks. This suggests a deliberate attempt to link these sites through geometry and astronomy.”31
Lepper himself makes a strong case that this connection might have been more than symbolic when he presents evidence for the former existence of a causewayed road with some stretches of its parallel walls still in place as late as the mid-nineteenth century. He calls it “the Great Hopewell Road” and speculates that it was perhaps a pilgrim route that once ran between Newark and High Bank.
As a motive for the memorialization of solstitial and equinoctial alignments, however, the arguments in favor of a practical immediate agricultural payoff don’t adequately account for the enormous effort involved in the construction of many of the sites. After all, the same calendrical functions could have been realized almost as effectively and much less expensively with pairs of aligned poles.
The notion that a reliable agricultural calendar was the primary motive for skywatching also fails to explain why we find the same focus on the rising and setting sun on the solstices and the equinoxes in distinctly pre-agricultural sites such as Painel do Pilão in the Amazon, dating back more than 13,000 years.
Likewise, though they can only have been the product of detailed observations of the heavens and would have required meticulous record-keeping over many generations, the lunar alignments manifested in the great earthworks at Newark and High Bank have no obvious practical function in terms of harvests—or, indeed, of any other utilitarian pursuit. Once again, though, what they do require of those who seek deeper knowledge of them is a study of the heavens.
If we make use of such software to observe the behavior of the moon over, say, a period of a century, we will quickly notice that its rising and setting points along the eastern and western horizons are locked to a cycle shifting from farthest north to farthest south and back to farthest north again every month. As more time passes, however, we will also observe that these monthly “boundaries” on the moon’s rising and setting points aren’t fixed from year to year but instead widen and narrow over an 18.6-year cycle. If they are at their widest (“Maximum Extreme”) today, then they will be at their narrowest (“Minimum Extreme) in 9.3 years and at their widest again 9.3 years after that. Eight prominent directions are therefore implicated in these celestial events. Four target the maximum and minimum monthly boundaries north of east and the maximum and minimum monthly boundaries south of east between which the moon can rise during its 18.6-year cycle. The other four do the same for moonset on the western horizon. On each occasion as it reaches one of its extremes the moon’s constant motion stops—literally comes to a standstill—before it reverses the direction of its oscillation for the next 9.3 years. The geometry of the Newark Earthworks—and of High Bank, too—turns out to be very closely fitted to these obscure celestial events, known to astronomers as “lunar standstills,” knowledge of which would appear to have no practical contribution to make to the necessities of everyday life.
THE GREAT CONTRIBUTION OF HIVELY and Horn’s 1982 paper in Archaeoastronomy was that it demonstrated how precisely, and how cleverly, Newark celebrates and embraces the lunar standstills.
And just as at Newark, where deliberate asymmetries were introduced into the side lengths and angles of the Octagon to achieve more perfect lunar alignments, so, too, we find that one of the eight walls of High Bank’s octagon is 16 percent longer than it “should” be to preserve perfect geometrical symmetry.
Recent research by Hively and Horn has raised the intriguing possibility that the very reason Newark’s earthworks are where they are is that four prominent “high-elevation overlooks” in the surrounding landscape serve as natural front and back sights targeting sunrise and sunset on the winter and summer solstices.54 It’s unlikely to be an accident that the point of intersection of these natural alignments “lies in the central region of the earthworks and is equidistant (within 2 percent) from the centers of the Observatory Circle and the Great Circle.”55
The choice of Newark’s natural setting feels designed and deliberate.
A number of different “mound-building cultures” have been identified by archaeologists, who have assembled them into categories based on period, location, types of pottery, types of tools, arts and crafts, and other criteria.
you will not go far in learning about the mound-builders without encountering references to the Woodland Period, which is in turn divided into Early Woodland (1000 BC to 200 BC), Middle Woodland (200 BC to AD 600–800) and Late Woodland (AD 400 to AD 900–1000).
Adena culture built its mounds and earthworks during the Early Woodland period. The Hopewell culture built its mounds and earthworks during the Middle Woodland period. The Coles Creek culture was prominent during the Late Woodland period. The Late Woodland period in turn overlaps with the Early Mississippian period.
But these are no more than artificial constructs that help tidy-minded archaeologists preserve a sense of order and control over otherwise dangerously unruly data—and, besides, we must question how much the types of utensils and tools used by a culture actually tell us anything of value.
Pink highlight | Location: 4,258
Undoubtedly many different Native American cultures, speaking many different languages, were involved in the construction of the mounds. Undoubtedly their arts and crafts and tools and pottery differed. Undoubtedly they expressed themselves in many different ways. Yet when it came to their earthworks, for some mysterious reason, they all did the same things, in the same ways, repeatedly reiterating the same memes linking great geometrical complexes on the ground to events in the sky.
Poverty Point, a very mysterious archaeological site in northeast Louisiana, climbing the second biggest earthwork mound in North America. Built around 1430 BC,14 a century before the pharaoh Tutankhamun took the throne in ancient Egypt, it’s often referred to as “Bird Mound,”
All archaeologists now agree that the half dozen mounds and other earthworks at Poverty Point are man-made.
Astronomer Kenneth Brecher in 1980 to coauthor a paper in the Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society titled “The Poverty Point Octagon: World’s Largest Prehistoric Solstice Marker.”
The western half is intact and well-defined. It is intersected in four places by broad avenues, radiating out from a common center…. The west-northwest and west-southwest avenues have astronomical azimuths of approximately 299o and 241o respectively, accurately pointing to the summer and winter solstice sunset directions at the latitude of the site (32o37’ N).
Completed in 2011, the survey revealed the traces of no fewer than thirty great circles of wooden posts that had once stood in the plaza east of the geometric ridges, “some built only inches away from the previous ones, as if the posts were erected, removed sometime later, moved a slight distance, then rebuilt.”
One possibility, surely worthy of further investigation, is that what the survey found were the archaeological fingerprints of a series of “woodhenges” at Poverty Point. Very much like the Woodhenge at Cahokia—also constantly moved and adjusted, as we saw in chapter 18—they were perhaps used in conjunction with other features to create sight lines that would manifest sky-ground hierophanies at the solstices and equinoxes.
Poverty Point is “a center place,” Romain and Davis assert, “and also a place of balance in the sense that, in addition to the sunset alignments … conceptually opposite sunrise alignments are also found.”
The overall achievement—the “seamless integration of site orientation, celestial alignments, bilateral symmetry of design points, internal geometry [and] regularities in mensuration”—leads Romain and Davis to conclude that “Poverty Point was built according to a preconceived master plan … or design template … that integrated astronomical alignments, geometric shapes and local topography.”
Known as Lower Jackson Mound, excavations by archaeologists Joe Saunders and Thurman Allen have established that it is in fact extremely ancient—not from the Poverty Point era around 1700 BC at all, but from fully 3,000 years earlier, specifically between 3955 and 3655 BC.
“That Poverty Point builders were aware of ancient mounds is beyond doubt,” comments John Clark, professor of anthropology at Brigham Young University:
There must have been “an enduring traditional, if not direct ancestral, connection between the Old People and later groups.” This connection, he argues, is “demonstrated by the incorporation of the Middle Archaic Lower Jackson Mound into the principal earthwork axis at Poverty Point. Actually, Lower Jackson Mound was not merely incorporated—it furnished the alpha datum, the anchor, a vivid case of material or implicit memory.”
The suggestion, therefore, is that below the radar of archaeology more than 2 millennia of continuously transmitted knowledge connected the Coles Creek culture to the Poverty Point culture.
The Judaic faith, for example, carries down a body of traditions and beliefs that are at least 3,000 years old. Hinduism has roots going back to the Indus Valley civilization more than 5,000 years ago. Both religions also create architecture, the design of which is directly influenced by their beliefs and traditions.
There’s no reason in principle why the same sort of thing should not have happened in North America.
But there’s a problem. In the cases of Hinduism and Judaism we have unimpeachable evidence of continuity. Through sacred texts, through teachings passed from one generation to the next, and through cherished and vibrant traditions, there are no broken links in the chain of transmission. Neither Hinduism nor Judaism have ever abruptly vanished from the face of the earth, left zero traces of their presence for millennia, and then equally abruptly reappeared in full flower.
As we’ll see, however, this appears to be exactly what happened in North America.
THE REMOTE EPOCH BETWEEN 6,000 AND 5,000 years ago out of which Lower Jackson Mound emerges is an important one in the story of civilization. It was toward the end of this same millennium that the civilizations of ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt took their first confident steps on the stage of history. They, too, built mounds—for example, Egypt’s predynastic mastabas or the tells of Uruk-period Mesopotamia. They, too, deployed geometry and astronomical alignments in the project of sacralizing architectural spaces. And they, too, participated in an extraordinary and seemingly coordinated burst of early construction—for just like the mounds of ancient Egypt and ancient Mesopotamia, Lower Jackson Mound is not an isolated case but part of what may once have been a very numerous and widespread group of monuments.
Very few of these sites have yet been subject to radiometric dating, but of the 16 that have, with a combined total of 53 mounds and 13 causeways, all are more than 4,700 years old2—and many are much older than that.
As a result, says Joe Saunders, a leading specialist in this field, “the existence of Middle Archaic mound-building is no longer questioned.”
Not a single item has been excavated at Watson Brake that in any way suggests the presence of an advanced material culture.
They were hunter-gatherers, not agriculturalists, and although they did gather plants that would later be domesticated, they did not domesticate these plants themselves. In other words, they lived simply, close to the earth, and were in every way a normal and representative population for this part of North America 5,000 or 6,000 years ago.13 In every way, that is, except one. They built mounds.
Joe Saunders writes: The earliest … earthworks in the Lower Mississippi Valley appear to have been made by autonomous societies.
But there must have been some communion among the autonomous societies because there are too many shared traits that cross the vast expanses of the Lower Mississippi Valley, and there is no evidence of other monuments being made elsewhere.
It was his paper, “A Mound Complex in Louisiana at 5400–5000 Years Before the Present,” published in Science on September 19, 1997, that effectively put Watson Brake on the map,
“I know it sounds pretty Zenlike,” Saunders speculated when he was asked this question in 1997, “but maybe the answer is that building them was the purpose.”
MAYBE. BUT I’M TRYING TO envisage how the community leaders or influencers would have sold that to the population. Somehow, “We want you to build these mounds because building them will be a good thing for you to do” doesn’t sound like a winning line to me.
After years of field research, excavations, and on-site measurements, Kenneth Sassman of the Laboratory of Southeastern Archaeology, and Michael Heckenberger of the University of Florida are convinced that at least three of these sites—Watson Brake, Caney Mounds, and Frenchman’s Bend—share the same basic design: The plan we infer from the spatial arrangement of Archaic mounds consists of a series of proportional and geometric regularities, including (1) a “terrace” line of three or more earthen mounds oriented along an alluvial terrace escarpment; (2) placement of the largest mound of each complex in the terrace-edge group, typically in a central position; (3) placement of the second-largest mound at a distance roughly 1.4 times that between members of the terrace-edge group; (4) a line connecting the largest and second-largest … mound (herein referred to as the “baseline”) set at an angle that deviates roughly 10 degrees from a line orthogonal to [i.e., at right angles to] the terrace line; and (5) an equilateral triangle oriented to the baseline that intercepts other mounds of the complex and appears to have formed a basic unit of proportionality.
It is probably not a coincidence that at Watson Brake the distance along the horizon from where the sun rises (or sets) on the winter solstice to where it rises (or sets) on the summer solstice defines an arc of 59 degrees…. Their triangle was probably derived from [this].
AS AT SERPENT MOUND, AS at Cahokia, as at Newark, as at High Bank, and as at Poverty Point, the primary concern of the designers of Watson Brake seems to have been to manifest, memorialize, and consummate the marriage of heaven and earth at key moments of the year.
“Even if the alignments were not to the sun,” Davis writes, “the ability to establish five perfectly parallel, nearly equidistant sightlines across several hundred meters would be remarkable. The sightlines had to have preceded construction. Their pattern suggests a master site plan, with construction to the plan taking years, or perhaps centuries, to complete.”
Impressively, the alignments target the sun not exactly where it rises and sets today but rather precisely where it would have risen and where it would have set in the epoch of 3400 BC—which, at the latitude of Watson Brake, was at azimuth 119 degrees for the winter solstice sunrise and at azimuth 299 degrees for the summer solstice sunset.
Watson Brake appears to be the earliest-known celestially-aligned mound complex in North America. That’s a big deal.
The mystery, although the sites so far investigated “show no evidence for the development of astronomical knowledge over time,” is that “the people who directed the construction of Watson Brake … had an advanced knowledge of the solar and probably lunar cycles, and they used this knowledge to design and engineer their sites. Who were these directors, and how did they get others to build the sites one container of earth at a time?”
How were these “directors” able to manifest geometrical and astronomical knowledge, and advanced combinations of the two, more than 5,000 years ago when no prior evidence of the existence of such abilities has been found in North America at such an early date?
One minute they’re not there. The next, almost magically, they are. And then, at once, the Middle Archaic mound-building phenomenon bursts into full bloom.
Until sometime around 2700 BC. That was when, for some unexplained reason, the ancient sites were all abandoned and the whole mound-building enterprise came to an abrupt and complete halt.
The abandonment of an ideology or change in ethos can occur simultaneously within a diverse range of environments. Also the absence of environmental change would be consistent with the documented continuity in economy from Early to Late Archaic periods—before, during, and after mound building.”
For the next thousand years not a single mound was built and not a single earthwork was raised. There’s not a hint of geometry or of monumental architecture. The only reasonable conclusion is that those skills had been utterly lost.
But then, as suddenly and mysteriously as the “mound-building movement” had vanished, it appeared again, at around 1700 BC, in the spectacular and sophisticated form of Poverty Point. All the old geometrical and astronomical skills were redeployed there—and by practiced hands—as though they’d been in regular use all along.
Despite the fact that different cultures were involved at different periods, every resurgence of mound-building was linked to the reiteration and reimagination of the same geometrical and astronomical memes. This was not “chance” or “coincidence.” Witness, for example, the way that Lower Jackson Mound was used as the base datum from which the entire geometry of Poverty Point was calculated.
Or, at a more human level, consider the case of the highly polished hematite plummet—a valuable item—that was made at Poverty Point at around 1500 BC but that some pilgrim carefully carried to the by then long-abandoned and deserted site of Watson Brake and deliberately buried half a meter deep near the top of Mound E.63 This kind of behavior—the incorporation of ancient sites into younger ones, pilgrimage, an offering—has the feel of a religion about it. Religious institutions have proved themselves throughout history to be extremely efficient vehicles for the preservation and transmission of memes across periods of thousands of years. It’s not unreasonable, therefore, to suppose that some kind of cosmic “sky-ground” religion lay behind the alignments to the solstices and the equinoxes at Watson Brake and at the other early sites—a religion sufficiently robust to ensure the continuous successful transmission of a system of geometry, astronomy, and architecture over thousands of years.
An enigma that I explore in all those books, but in the greatest detail in Heaven’s Mirror, is that traces of the same spiritual concepts and symbolism that enlighten the Egyptian texts are found all around the world among cultures that we can be certain were never in direct contact. Straightforward diffusion from one to the other is therefore not the answer, and “coincidence” doesn’t even begin to account for the level of detail in the similarities. The best explanation, in my view, is that we’re looking at a legacy, shared worldwide, passed down from a single, remotely ancient source.
There are many aspects to this legacy, but I believe its hallmark, as the reader knows by now, is a system of ideas in which geometry, astronomy, and the fate of the soul are all strangely entangled.
Seemingly with the intention of preparing its initiates for this afterlife journey, as Robert Bauval and I showed in our coauthored book Message of the Sphinx, the funerary texts also called for the construction of large-scale geometrical and astronomically aligned structures that were to “copy” or imitate on the ground a region of the sky known as the Duat—the ancient Egyptian name, often translated as “Netherworld,” for the realm of the dead.
The ruler of this Duat realm was the god Osiris, Lord of the Dead, whose figure in the sky was the majestic constellation that the ancient Egyptians called Sahu, and that we know as Orion.2 It is therefore not surprising, as a manifestation of this “as above so below” cosmology, that the three great pyramids of Egypt’s Giza necropolis are laid out on the ground in the form of the three stars of the belt of Orion.
Moundville in Alabama.
An excellent example of a powerful religious image was the hand and eye motif. Moundville’s “Rattlesnake Disk,” pictured on this noticeboard, offers us the best-known version, although numerous variations occur in pottery, copper, stone and shell artifacts. Stories passed down among various tribes tell of the dead entering the afterlife through an opening marked by a great warrior’s hand in the sky. One account describes that hand as the constellation we know as Orion with Orion’s belt as the wrist, its fingers pointing downwards. A faint cluster of stars in the center of the palm is a portal to the path of souls or path to the land of the dead. Researchers speculate that the hand and eye represent this constellation.8
The connection of the constellation of Orion to the land of the dead was a fundamental aspect of the ancient Egyptian religion and it felt weirdly like coming home—that comfortable intimacy of familiar territory—to find it here in a Native North American religion.
As a group the knotted serpents and the hand and eye are believed to be a representation of the night sky. The serpents are the ropes that join the earth and sky. In the palm of the hand is the portal or doorway through which the spirits of the dead can ascend the path of souls … a road or ribbon of light, the Milky Way, stretching out before the traveling souls. This river of light … deposits the souls, after a series of trials, into the realm of the dead.
Thus over time Moundville became, in the minds of its people, not only the symbolic gateway to the realm of the dead but also the materialized image of that sacred domain on earth.
There is a unifying metaphor which argues for a common core of belief across the Eastern Woodlands and Plains, and probably far beyond that area. That unifying notion is an understanding of the Milky Way as the path on which the souls of the deceased must walk.
Elsewhere Lankford reiterates that this belief system was by no means confined to the Plains, the Eastern Woodlands, and the Mississippi Valley. It is better understood, he argues, as part of “a widespread religious pattern” found right across North America and “more powerful than the tendency towards cultural diversity.”9 Indeed, what the evidence suggests is the former existence of “an ancient North American international religion … a common ethnoastronomy … and a common mythology.
Ancient Egyptian notions of the soul can seem extremely complex at first glance. Indeed, according to the great authority on the subject, Sir E. A. Wallis Budge, formerly Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum, it’s not just a matter of one soul but of multiple souls—all of them separate from but in some way connected to the khat, or physical body—“that which is liable to decay.”
In Budge’s summary, these separate, nonphysical “souls”—perhaps “aspects of the soul” would be a better description—include notably: The Ka, or “double,” that stays earthbound after death in the immediate vicinity of the corpse and the tomb. The Ba, depicted as a bird or human-headed bird that can fly freely “between tomb and underworld.” The Khaibit, or shadow. The Khu, or “spiritual soul.” The Sekhem, or “power.” The Ren, or “name.” The Sahu, or “spiritual body,” which formed the habitation of the soul. The Ab, or heart, “regarded as the center of the spiritual and thinking life…. It typifies everything which the word ‘conscience’ signifies to us.” The heart, and what its owner has imprinted upon it by his or her choices during life, is the specific object of judgment in the Netherworld.
Here, too, we find at first a bewildering multiplicity.
The Quileute people of the US northwest coast believe that within every living human body there reside several souls that “look exactly like the living being and may be taken off or put on in exactly the manner as a snake sheds its skin.”18 These souls are an inner soul, called the “main, strong soul,” an outer soul, called the “outside shadow,” a life-soul, referred to as “the being whereby one lives,” and the “ghost” of the living person, “the thing whereby one grows.”19 Let’s note in passing that the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead declares in chapter 164: I have made for thee a skin, namely a divine soul.
As an exception to the general rule among Native American peoples, the Cherokee do not describe the Milky Way as the “Path of Souls” but refer to it, rather, as “Where the Dog Ran.”
Let’s note in passing that the High Priest of Heliopolis bore the title “Chief of the Astronomers” and is represented in tomb paintings and statuary wearing a mantle adorned with stars. It is therefore of interest, when ethnographers recorded the customs and beliefs of the Skidi Pawnee of Oklahoma in the nineteenth century, that they were reported to have shamans, raised to the rank of chiefs, who specialized in astronomy. In the archives of the Smithsonian Institution there is a photograph of one of these individuals, named His Chiefly Sun, and notably he is shown wearing a mantle adorned with stars.
Certainly the idea of architectural structures being used to create entrances to the otherworld was known throughout North America. The circular hole in the top of the Ojibway shaking tent, for example, was specifically meant to allow for “soul-flight travel to the Hole in the Sky and across the barrier to the spirit realm.”
Though different in degree in terms of the engineering required, there is no difference in kind between the hole in the Ojibwa tent and the star-shaft in the Great Pyramid—which likewise appears to have been intended to facilitate soul-travel to the sky across the barrier to the spirit realm. Similarly, although there is again a marked difference of degree, there is no difference in kind between the geometric, astronomically aligned structures of the Giza plateau and the geometric, astronomically aligned structures of the Mississippi Valley. All of them seem bound together by the single purpose of the triumph of the soul over death and by the means deployed to achieve that purpose.
I’M NOT SUGGESTING THAT THE religion of ancient Egypt was brought from there to ancient North America and I’m not suggesting that the religion of ancient North America was brought to ancient Egypt. I accept the scientific consensus that the Old World and the New World have been isolated from one another, with no significant genetic or cultural contacts, for more than 12,000 years.
In both cases we have a journey of the soul to a staging ground in the west, a “leap” to a portal in the constellation Orion, transition through that portal to the Milky Way, a journey along the Milky Way during which challenges and ordeals are faced, and a judgment at which the soul’s destiny is decided.
The similarities are too many and too obvious to be dismissed as mere “coincidences.”
In the realm of archaeology, E. A. Wallis Budge faced a comparable problem with similarities he had identified between the Mesopotamian deity Sin, a moon god, and the ancient Egyptian deity Thoth, also associated with the moon. The resemblances, in Budge’s view, are “too close to be accidental. It would be wrong to say that the Egyptians borrowed from the Sumerians or the Sumerians from the Egyptians, but it may be submitted that the literati of both peoples borrowed their theological systems from some common but exceedingly ancient source.”
Walter Emery, late Edwards Professor of Egyptology at the University of London, also looked into similarities between ancient Egypt and ancient Mesopotamia. He found it impossible to explain them as the result of the direct influence of one culture upon the other and concluded: The impression we get is of an indirect connection, and perhaps the existence of a third party, whose influence spread to both the Euphrates and the Nile….
From the end of the Ice Age until the time of Columbus, the remote common ancestor of the religions that would later blossom in the Nile and Mississippi River valleys must therefore be more than 12,000 years old. I suggest that this ancestral religion—perhaps system would be a better word—used astronomical and geometrical memes expressed in architectural projects as carriers through which it reproduced itself across cultures and down through the ages, and that it was a characteristic of the system that it could lie dormant for millennia and then mysteriously reappear in full flower.
Though it is not my purpose to argue this case here, the possibility that the system still hibernates in some form or another in the twenty-first century cannot be ruled out, nor the possibility that it might at some point be awakened again in a garb suited to its time. Indeed, might we not already be seeing the first intimations of this with the explosion of interest all around the world in ayahuasca as a teacher plant, and in the parallel growth in public exposure to the initiating geometries of ayahuasca-inspired art?
BECAUSE OF THE BURNING OF the library of Alexandria and the frenzied despoiling of the temples by fanatical Christian mobs in the fifth and sixth centuries, much of the legacy of wisdom that made ancient Egypt the “light of the world” has been lost.
The immense destruction, genocide, and near-total obliteration of indigenous cultures unleashed in North America during the European conquest was a matter of an entirely different order—a full-blown, fast-moving cultural cataclysm, as a result of which we’re left often with no record at all or with huge gaps in the record.
Central to the ancient Egyptian judgment scene described in the previous chapter, the concept of Maat enshrines notions of cosmic justice, harmony, and balance. Its association with the moon is appropriate since the moon indeed plays a key “balancing” or “stabilising” role for the earth.
The sun is also often figured as being carried aboard a boat and also features prominently in the Duat, blazing an indomitable path through its terrors each night, a symbol of hope and resurrection in whose company, if they are fortunate, the souls of some of the deceased might be permitted to ride.
THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS SAW THEIR lives as their opportunity to prepare for the trials of the journey through the Duat that they would have to confront as souls after death. The stakes were high, with both eternal annihilation and immortality being possible outcomes of that journey. There was undoubtedly an ethical aspect to the Judgment, as we’ve seen, but something else was also required, some gnosis, some deep understanding, and very strangely it turns out to be the case that those who truly sought the prize of immortality—“the life of millions of years”—were called upon first to build on the ground perfect copies “of the hidden circle of the Duat in the body of Nut [the sky].”
Egyptologists already accept that the Milky Way and the constellation Orion on its west bank are key markers in the celestial geography of the Duat, and in 1996 Robert Bauval and I made the case in our book The Message of the Sphinx that the constellation Leo was very much part of the Duat as well. To cut a long story short, our argument, which we stand by today, is that the ideas expressed in the funerary texts were indeed manifested in architecture in Egypt in the form of the Great Pyramid, the leonine Sphinx, and the underground corridors and chambers beneath these monuments.
The complex was constructed, we believe, as a three-dimensional replica, model, or simulation of the intensely geometrical Fifth Division of the Duat, also known as the “Kingdom of Sokar” and always regarded as an especially hidden and secret place.46 Moreover, we suggest that what motivated the population to support this gigantic project was precisely the promise of thus obtaining that “magical protection,” that power to become “a spirit equipped for journeying,” that would ensure a successful afterlife passage through the Duat.
The sky is gigantic and the purpose of the architecture is to honor, connect with, and above all “resemble the sky.”
Orion that hosts the portal through which the soul must pass to reach the “Winding Waterway” that in turn leads the soul onward on its journey through the Land of the Dead.
geometry is a foundational characteristic of the Land of the Dead and the rectangular, square, circular, and elliptical enclosures are the typical forms of celestial “districts” through which the soul must pass on its afterlife journey.
Causeways and mounds are prominent features of the celestial Land of the Dead that it is the purpose of the architecture to replicate on earth.
The belief that if the sky, or some “hidden” or “secret” aspect of it, were NOT copied on the ground (and in some way explored, navigated, and known prior to death), then those souls who had failed to do this necessary work, and thus were not equipped with knowledge of “the secret representations,” would be “condemned to destruction.”
WHEN IT COMES TO MOTIVATIONAL techniques, as the Roman Catholic Church demonstrated throughout the Middle Ages, the prospect of eternal damnation can be very effective. I suggest that in ancient Egypt it was the equivalent prospect of “destruction” or “annihilation” of the soul, and the possibility of avoiding such a fate—as spelled out in the funerary texts—that motivated the construction of the sky-ground temples and pyramids of the Nile Valley. They were all, in a sense, gigantic books of the dead in stone and some–the Giza complex in particular—were undoubtedly seen as “actual gateways, or doorways, to the otherworld.”
Although widely separated in time and space, the ancient inhabitants of these two regions seem to have shared a core set of ideas about the afterlife destiny of the soul and seem, moreover, to have been largely in agreement not only that those ideas should be manifested in architecture, but also on many of the specific characteristics of that architecture, and on the purpose that the architecture was intended to serve.
Thus, while one reproduced Orion’s belt and the constellation of Leo and the other orchestrated complex architectural dances aligned to lunar and solar standstills, the fundamental objective of both was to open portals between sky and ground through which the souls of the dead could pass.
William Romain’s detailed studies of the Hopewell lead him to conclude that, in the minds of those who made them: the Newark Earthworks were a portal to the Otherworld that allowed for interdimensional movement of the soul during certain solar, lunar and stellar configurations.
He also argues that the “Great Hopewell Road,” an ancient causeway that once ran straight for more than 60 miles between Newark and High Bank (see chapter 20), “was the terrestrial equivalent of, or metaphor for the Milky Way Path of Souls providing a directional component for soul travel to the Realm of the Dead.”
Further, Romain joins George Lankford in linking Serpent Mound to Scorpius and in concluding that “Serpent Mound was a cognate for the Great Lowerworld Serpent which guarded the Realm of the Dead.”
Thus, while the Great Sphinx may be the terrestrial counterpart of the constellation Leo, its gaze also sacralizes the union of heaven and earth at sunrise on the equinoxes. And while Serpent Mound may indeed be the earthly twin of the constellation Scorpius, its open jaws and the oval earthwork between them also serve to unite ground and sky at sunset on the summer solstice.
Great Jeweled Serpent, Lankford concludes, represented as an adversary on the Path of Souls, that is depicted very frequently in Moundville designs where it is directly linked to other imagery associated with the afterlife journey. He also makes a strong case that Serpent Mound is a three-dimensional representation of the same supernatural entity and draws an interesting comparison with myths of the Cherokees describing the Uktena, “a great snake, as large around as a tree-trunk,” with: a bright blazing crest like a diamond on its forehead, and scales glittering like sparks of fire.54 The same myths also tell us that the gaze of this serpent had the power to “daze” people so that they were stopped in their tracks and could not escape from it,55 and again there is a notable parallel here with the great serpent of the Book of the Dead whose gaze plunges even the Sun into a “mighty sleep.”
The earliest mound sites we know of in North America may possibly date back as far as 8,000 years. After that the trail goes cold. But then why should we be surprised? The trail goes cold for a full 1,000 years between the end of the Watson Brake epoch and the beginning of Poverty Point, and it goes cold again several times thereafter, only to reappear reborn and renewed on the far side of each lacuna. The same stop-start process, however, also means that we can’t date the inception of the tradition to its oldest manifestations so far found.
The late John Anthony West used to put it about the civilization of ancient Egypt, “a legacy not a development.”
THIS TIME IT’S NOT THE funerary texts I’m referring to, but the Edfu Building Texts, so called because they are inscribed on the walls of the Temple of Horus at Edfu in Upper Egypt. These texts take us back to a very remote period called the “Early Primeval Age of the Gods”—and these gods, it transpires, were not originally Egyptian, but lived on a sacred island, the “Homeland of the Primeval Ones,” in the midst of a great ocean. Then, at some unspecified time in the past, an immense cataclysm shook the earth and a flood poured over this island, where “the earliest mansions of the gods” had been founded, destroying it utterly, submerging all its holy places, and killing most of its divine inhabitants. Some survived, however, and we are told that this remnant set sail in their ships (for the texts leave us in no doubt that these “gods” of the early primeval age were navigators) to “wander” the world. Their purpose in doing so was nothing less than to re-create and revive the essence of their lost homeland, to bring about, in short: The resurrection of the former world of the gods … The re-creation of a destroyed world.
The takeaway is that the texts invite us to consider the possibility that the survivors of a lost civilization, thought of as “gods” but manifestly human, set about “wandering” the world in the aftermath of an extinction-level global cataclysm.
The Tukano origin myth, given in chapter 18. It tells of how “Helmsman” and “Daughter of the Sun” brought the gifts of fire, horticulture, pottery-making, and other skills to the first humans to enter the Amazon while other “supernaturals” traveled over all the rivers, explored the remote hill ranges, identified the best places for settlement, and “prepared the land so that mortal human creatures might live on it.”
Returning to ancient Egypt and to the Edfu texts, we’re told that the survivors of the Island of the Primeval Ones: journeyed through the … lands of the primeval age…. In any place in which they settled they founded new sacred domains.
The Specifications of the Mounds of the Early Primeval Age, that literally “specified” the locations in the Nile Valley upon which every mound was to be situated, the character and appearance of each mound, and the understanding that those first, foundational mounds were to serve as the sites for all the temples and pyramids that would be built in Egypt in the future. Little wonder then that included among the company of the “gods” of Edfu were the Shebtiw, a group of deities charged with a specific responsibility for “creation,” the “Builder Gods” who accomplished “the actual work of building,” and the “Seven Sages” who, in addition to dispensing wisdom, as their name suggests, were much involved in the setting out of structures and in laying foundations.
My argument has long been that the Edfu Building Texts reflect real events surrounding a real cataclysm that unfolded between 12,800 and 11,600 years ago, a period known to paleoclimatologists as the Younger Dryas and that the Texts call the “Early Primeval Age.”
North America—“Turtle Island” in Native American tradition—is always, almost automatically, assumed to be a place to which culture was brought from elsewhere, but let’s shift the reference frame. What if North America itself was the Homeland of the Primeval Ones? What if the distinctive system of ideas involving the afterlife journey of the soul and the building of very specific types of structures thought to facilitate that journey weren’t brought to North America but originated there?
The extinction-level cataclysm that the earth experienced 12,800 years ago. Although the entire globe was affected, all the evidence indicates that the epicenter was in North America. It’s giant ice cap, 2 kilometers deep and extending in that epoch as far south as Minnesota, was massively destabilized, and the destruction that followed was near total across an immense area where the archaeological record was effectively swept clean.
The Younger Dryas, the interlude of cataclysmic global climate change coinciding with the Late Pleistocene Extinction Event in which thirty-five genera of North American megafauna (with each genus consisting of several species) were wiped out around 12,800 years ago. Sharing their fate were the Clovis people and their distinctive culture with its characteristic “fluted-point” weaponry.
As the discoverer and principal excavator of Murray Springs, however, Haynes deserves credit for drawing attention to a very curious aspect of the site—a distinct dark layer of soil draped “like shrink-wrap,” as Allen West puts it, over the top of the Clovis remains and of the extinct megafauna—including Eloise. Haynes has identified this “black mat” (his term) not only at Murray Springs but at dozens of other sites across North America,1 and was the first to acknowledge its clear and obvious association with the Late Pleistocene Extinction Event.
Haynes notes also that “The basal black mat contact marks a major climate change from the warm dry climate of the terminal Allerød to the glacially cold Younger Dryas.”
This deep freeze—the mysterious epoch now known as the Younger Dryas—lasted for approximately 1,200 years until 11,600 years ago, at which point the climate flipped again, global temperatures shot up rapidly, the remnant ice sheets melted and collapsed into the oceans, and the world became as warm as it is today.
The “Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis,” that had received its first formal airing—also in PNAS—in October 2007. The paper was coauthored by Allen West, Richard Firestone, James Kennett, and more than twenty other scientists and presents evidence that multiple fragments of a giant comet—a swarm of fragments—struck the earth with disastrous consequences around 12,800 years ago. The effects were global but the epicenter of the cataclysm was over the North American ice cap, which the impacts destabilized, triggering the Younger Dryas deep freeze and the megafaunal extinctions.
Scientists have therefore developed other measures, more subtle than looking for craters, to detect cosmic impacts in the geological record. Nanodiamonds, for example, are microscopic diamonds that form under rare conditions of great shock, pressure, and heat, and are recognized as being among the characteristic fingerprints—“proxies” in scientific language—of powerful impacts by comets or asteroids.9 Other proxies include meltglass (resembling trinitite), tiny carbon spherules that form when molten droplets cool rapidly in air, magnetic microspherules, charcoal, soot, platinum, carbon molecules containing the rare isotope helium-3, and magnetic grains with iridium.
I have a question for Allen. “Since the black mat was found draped directly on top of Eloise—like ‘shrink-wrap,’ you said—then presumably it must have begun to form very shortly after she was killed and butchered with most of her remains left lying on the spot?”
“What we see is that at the bottom of that black-mat layer, literally the first thing touching those bones, are spherules, iridium, platinum, and small pieces of melt-glass from the event. So it doesn’t mean the animal was alive when the event happened, but she had to have been alive very, very shortly, at most a few weeks, before it.”
That’s based on modern data from elephant kills in Africa. The scavengers come in quickly and disarticulate the skeleton, and that didn’t happen with Eloise.”
“Okay,” he says. “It’s pure speculation, obviously, because we’ll never know for sure the exact sequence of events here 12,800 years ago, but based on the evidence it’s not unreasonable to envisage the hunters sitting around, cooking mammoth haunch over their campfire when all of a sudden the sky explodes …”
“But what we can be certain of was that this moment marked the end of their story, and the end of an epoch, really. There’s not a single Clovis point found anywhere in North America that’s above that black mat. They’re all in it or below it. And there’s not a single mammoth skeleton anywhere in North America that’s above it. A huge part of the die-off could have been as a direct result of the impacts themselves, but impacts and airbursts south of the ice cap, particularly as far south as New Mexico, would also have set off wildfires.
The evidence points to is not days or weeks but a 21-year period of utter devastation, horror, and cataclysm unfolding between 12,836 years ago and 12,815 years ago, with a peak around 12,822 years ago.
Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in August 2013, the self-explanatory title of the paper is “Large Pt Anomaly in the Greenland Ice Core Points to a Cataclysm at the Onset of Younger Dryas.” Platinum is, of course, an element found on earth, but analysis of the platinum in the ice core by Petaev and his colleagues reveals a composition quite unlike terrestrial platinum and leads the scientists to conclude that “an extraterrestrial source,” perhaps “a metal impactor with an unusual composition,” is the most likely explanation.15 They note also that during the 21-year interval—between 12,836 and 12,815 years ago, as indicated by Allen:
the “impactor” was in fact multiple impactors, all of them fragments of a comet that had wandered in from the outer solar system and taken up a potentially deadly earth-crossing orbit.
There’s something else, too, from new research we’ve been working on. In the ice core, at the exact same moment we see this big onset of platinum at the beginning of the 21 years, we also see a sudden rise in dust.”
“Which tells us that along with everything else that was going on at the time there were also very high winds blowing. There are certain proxies of that windiness that end up in the ice sheet. When it’s windier the winds will pick up continental dust, and, number one, it’s colder so there’s less plant cover, so when it gets windier and there are less plants to hold the sediment down, you get huge dust storms. We can see that buildup in the Greenland ice sheet. We see magnesium and calcium, a huge increase in them, and those are indicative of terrigenous dust, continental dust, and we see an increase in sodium and chlorine which are from sea salt—so the winds are so strong they pick up more sea salt and deposit it in Greenland.
So we know that a cold-water flood poured into the Atlantic ocean around 12,800 years ago on a scale sufficient to stop the Gulf Stream in its tracks; we know that glacial lake Agassiz has been implicated in it; and we know that this “great gush of cold freshwater” has been connected to the plunge in global temperature—the “deep freeze”—that defines the Younger Dryas cold event.
Is why such a flood would have occurred at the onset of the Younger Dryas “deep freeze” around 12,800 years ago rather than, say, 800 or 1,000 years earlier at the height of the warm phase—known as the Bølling—Allerød interstadial—that immediately preceded the Younger Dryas.
The point is understated, but this is a very big deal. Two to 4 meters of global sea-level rise within “a few decades or less” of the onset of the Younger Dryas is an IMMENSE amount of water, a cataclysmic world flood by any standard.
The evidence from Wolbach’s study that in the exact same period the planet suffered a spectacular episode of biomass burning and an associated “impact winter” that “caused warm interglacial temperatures to abruptly fall to cold, near-glacial levels within less than a year, possibly in as little as 3 months.”
What we are looking for, therefore, is an agent capable—simultaneously and almost instantaneously—of bringing about all of the following: a global flood wildfires across an area of 10 million km2 6 months of icy darkness followed by more than 1,000 years of glacially cold weather a stratum of soil across more than 50 million km2 dated to the Younger Dryas Boundary (YDB) and infused with a cocktail of nanodiamonds, high-temperature iron-rich spherules, glassy silica-rich spherules, meltglass, platinum, iridium, osmium, and other exotic materials a mass extinction of megafauna
Wolbach and her coauthors are forthright in their conclusion: Multiple lines of ice-core evidence appear synchronous, and this synchroneity of multiple events makes the YD interval one of the most unusual climate episodes in the entire Quaternary record…. A cosmic impact is the only known event capable of simultaneously producing the collective evidence.
In other words, the long-established and widely accepted evidence linking the onset of the Younger Dryas cold interval to a freshwater flood off the North American ice cap and consequent changes in oceanic circulation is fully accepted by Wolbach. What she and her coauthors add, however, is: an additional key element … suggesting that these climate-changing mechanisms did not occur randomly but rather were triggered by the YDB impact event. After shutdown of the ocean conveyor, the YD episode persisted … not because of continued airburst/impacts but because, once circulation stopped, feedback loops and inertia within the ocean system maintained the changed state of circulation until it reverted to its previous state.56
The Younger Dryas Heinrich Event was not triggered by normal climatic changes but by the impacts of comet fragments on the North American ice cap.
IMAGINE A WORLD WHERE GOOD, honest, hardworking, inquisitive scientists live in fear of ruining their careers, perhaps even of losing their jobs and incomes, if they investigate certain subjects that have been judged by a dominant elite to be “taboo.”
Science in the twenty-first century does NOT encourage scientists to take risks in their pursuit of “the facts”—particularly when those facts call into question long-established notions about the human past.
Around 500,000 peculiar elliptical ponds, depressions, and lakes with raised rims pock much of the US Atlantic seaboard from Delaware to Florida. Since it was in the Carolinas that scientists first noticed them in the late nineteenth century, they became known as Carolina Bays and from quite early on there were theories that they had been created by an immense swarm of meteorites striking the earth.7 Several CRG members have explored the possibility that the Younger Dryas impacts might be connected to the mystery,8 but the majority of the group have since distanced themselves from such notions.
Published as a conference paper, their proposal is that a cosmic impact during the Ice Age in Michigan’s Saginaw Bay (which was then solid land covered by deep glacial ice) would have produced ejecta and secondary impacts in a “butterfly-wing” pattern precisely over the Nebraska Rainwater Basins, where they would be oriented northeast to southwest, and the Carolina Bays, where they would be oriented northwest to southeast.15
Richard Firestone, and other CRG scientists who suspect that there may have been a total of eight impacts on the North American ice cap,
The great surface density of the bays indicates that they were created by a catastrophic saturation bombing with impacts of 13 KT to 3 MT that would have caused a mass extinction in an area with a radius of 1500 km from the extraterrestrial impact in Michigan. This paper has considered mainly the ice boulders ejected by an extraterrestrial impact on the Laurentide Ice Sheet during the Pleistocene, but the impact would also have ejected water and produced steam. Taking into consideration the thermodynamic properties of water, any liquid water ejected above the atmosphere would have transformed into a fog of ice crystals that would have blocked the light of the sun. Thus, the time of formation of the Carolina Bays and Nebraska Rainwater Basins must coincide with an extinction event in the eastern half of the United States and the onset of a period of global cooling. This combination of conditions is best met by the disappearance of the North American megafauna, the end of the Clovis culture and the onset of the Younger Dryas cooling event at 12,800 cal. BP. The report of a platinum anomaly typical of extraterrestrial impacts at the Younger Dryas Boundary supports this scenario.
AS WE’VE SEEN, ALLEN WEST and Richard Firestone propose that there may have been as many as eight significant impacts on the North American ice cap during the 21 years of the peak Younger Dryas bombardments.29
The truth of the matter is that there remains great uncertainty and confusion around exactly what happened in North America—and across the whole world—at the onset of the Younger Dryas. While that uncertainty persists, alleged “certainties” of almost any kind are inappropriate and it is wise to keep an open mind to all possibilities.
But at a deeper level what this whole exchange revealed to me was something disturbing about the way science works. I hadn’t quite grasped the role of fear before. But I could see it in action everywhere here: fear of being “noticed and monitored by colleagues,” fear of unwanted negative celebrity, fear of indignity, fear of loss of reputation, fear of loss of career—and not for committing some terrible crime but simply for exploring unorthodox possibilities and undertaking “somewhat controversial research” into what everyone agrees were extraordinary events 12,800 years ago.
Contrary to the mainstream, my broad conclusion is that an advanced global seafaring civilization existed during the Ice Age, that it mapped the earth as it looked then with stunning accuracy, and that it had solved the problem of longitude, which our own civilization failed to do until the invention of Harrison’s marine chronometer in the late eighteenth century. As masters of celestial navigation, as explorers, as geographers, and as cartographers, therefore, this lost civilization of 12,800 years ago was not outstripped by Western science until less than 300 years ago at the peak of the Age of Discovery.
Moreover, the Clovis phenomenon is, itself, an intriguing mystery. We’ve already seen that no archaeological background has ever been found to the beautiful and sophisticated fluted points used by these remarkably successful hunter-gatherers to spear mammoths like Eloise at Murray Springs. From the moment we meet them around 13,400 years ago to the moment of their disappearance from the record about 12,800 years ago, they’re equipped with their extremely effective signature “toolkit” of which the points are part. These Clovis tools and weapons appear suddenly and fully formed in archaeological deposits across huge expanses of North America with no evidence, anywhere, of experiments, developments, prototypes, or, indeed, of any intermediate stages in their evolution.
My guess is there’s a connection between Clovis and the lost civilization, not least because studies of ancient DNA show the Clovis genome to be much more closely related to Native South Americans than to Native North Americans (see part 3). Indeed, there’s a parallel between the rather sudden and inexplicable way that Australasian genes turn up in the Amazon basin and the equally sudden and inexplicable way that Clovis fluted-point technology turns up in North America.
Could both have the same cause?
If Clovis benefited from contact with a more advanced civilization, then we should find the skeletal remains of those more advanced people intermingled with the Clovis remains, and we do not—therefore, there was no advanced civilization. Similarly, if Clovis benefited from contact with the people of a more advanced civilization, then we should find at least some traces of their higher tech among the Clovis assemblages, and we do not—therefore, there was no advanced civilization.
I was therefore surprised to learn during the research for this book that apart from the incomplete skeleton of a single individual—the Anzick-1 child excavated in Montana and discussed in chapter 9—there are no human remains at all from the Clovis period.
more than 1,500 Clovis sites have been found. These sites have yielded more than 10,000 Clovis points12 and tens of thousands of other artifacts from the Clovis toolkit (40,000 at Topper alone, as we saw in chapter 6). Yet among all these archaeological riches, it bears repeating that the sum total of Clovis human remains found in 85 years of excavations is limited to the Anzick-1 partial skeleton.13
The only viable explanation is a remote common source behind them all—a lost civilization, in my view.
We have considered the question of huge volumes of meltwater released into the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans from the destabilized ice sheet and looked at the effects on global climate. But keep in mind that those enormous floods also devastated the rich North American mainland to the south, perhaps the best and most bounteous real estate then available anywhere.
This immense and extraordinary deluge, “possibly the largest flood in the history of the world,” swept away and utterly demolished everything that lay in its path. Jostling with icebergs, choked by whole forests ripped up by their roots, turbulent with mud and boulders swirling in the depths of the current, what the deluge left behind can still be seen in something of its raw form in the Channeled Scablands of the state of Washington today—a devastated blank slate (described at length in Magicians of the Gods) littered with 10,000-ton “glacial erratics,” immense fossilized waterfalls, and “current ripples” hundreds of feet long and dozens of feet high.3 If there were cities there, before the deluge, they would be gone.
New York State has its Finger Lakes. These latter were long thought to have been carved by glaciers, but their geomorphology closely parallels that of the coulees of the channeled scablands, and some researchers now believe they were cut by glacial meltwater at extreme pressures—a process linked by sediment evidence to “the collapse of continental ice sheets.”
All in all, if North America is where a lost civilization of prehistoric antiquity vanished, then by far the most significant problem we face in investigating it is the way that the “crime scene” was systematically “wiped down” by the cataclysmic events at the onset of the Younger Dryas.
I drew attention in Heaven’s Mirror to a discovery by archaeologists Jose Fernandez and Robert Cormack establishing that the settlement core of the Maya city of Utatlan was designed “according to a celestial scheme reflected by the shape of the constellation of Orion.”
Fernandez was also able to prove that all of Utatlan’s major temples “were oriented to the heliacal setting points of stars in Orion,” and noted that the Milky Way, alongside which Orion stands, “was thought of as a celestial path connecting the firmament’s navel with the centre of the underworld.”11
THE EXTIRPATION OF VITAL EVIDENCE concerning the past of our species across huge swaths of the Americas was by no means limited to the effects of the Younger Dryas cataclysm, or to the subsequent much later cataclysms of militant Christianity and smallpox.
What’s tantalizing, however, is that the influence of the lost civilization declares itself repeatedly in the commonalities shared by supposedly unconnected cultures all around the ancient world. The deeper you dig, the more obvious it becomes that they did not get these shared features from one another but from a remote common ancestor of them all.
We’ve seen that the Americas were isolated during much of the Ice Age—a geological epoch that lasted, let us not forget, from around 2.6 million years ago until around 12,000 years ago.1 In this long geological epoch, however, there were several periods of temporary climate warming when the macro-continent of North, Central, and South America would have become accessible. Two of these periods of enhanced accessibility occurred within the known time frame of past human migrations and it is the most recent (the so-called Bølling-Allerød interstadial, dated from around 14,700 years ago to around 12,800 years ago2) that archaeologists focused their attention on for far too long in their attempts to reconstruct the true story of the peopling of the Americas.
what we should actually be looking at is the deglaciation event before that—between 140,000 and 120,000 years ago.
Deméré’s suggestion still remains unpalatable to some archaeologists, yet it satisfactorily explains the growing mass of evidence that the Americas were peopled many tens of millennia before the Bølling-Allerød interstadial (see chapters 4, 5, and 6). More than that, this hitherto unimagined possibility of a very old (rather than very young) human presence in the New World helps make sense of the complex genetic heritage of Native Americans—explored in chapters 7, 8, 9, and 10. Embedded in this evidence is the mind-dilating mystery of the strong Australasian DNA signal present among certain isolated tribes of the Amazon rainforest.
Evidence that human settlement in the Amazon is extremely ancient, that great cities and large populations once flourished there, that ancient scientific knowledge of the properties of plants persists among Amazonian peoples to this day, that there was very early domestication of useful agricultural species, that the rainforest itself is an anthropocentric, cultivated, ordered “garden,” and that a “miraculous” man-made soil—terra preta—was developed in the Amazon in deep antiquity, bringing fertility to otherwise agriculturally unproductive lands and imbued with astonishing powers of self-renewal that modern scientists marvel at and do not yet fully understand.
Discovery, is the presence of gigantic geometrical earthworks and astronomically aligned stone circles in the Amazon.
The words of ayahuasca shamans, who see geometric patterns as portals to other realms of existence—specifically to the afterlife realm or land of the dead. Indeed, the very name ayahuasca means “Vine of the Dead” or “Vine of Souls.”
The real importance of the Cerutti Mastodon Site is that it provides the first solid evidence—solid enough to make it into the pages of Nature—of a truly ancient human occupation of the New World. If humans were in North America 130,000 years ago (more than twice as long as the span of the known human presence in Europe), that gives them 117,000 years to have evolved a high civilization before the Younger Dryas cataclysm struck.
Thereafter, until the next episode of deglaciation (the Bølling-Allerød interstadial) in the 2,000 years immediately preceding the Younger Dryas, all scholars agree that the vast landmass of the Americas, straddling half the globe, was cut off from the rest of the world by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and by mountains of ice. Migrants from Asia, even when Beringia was accessible, could not get in. But for those humans who were already south of the ice cap 120,000 years ago, the Americas must have been a paradise, safe from incursions by any other peoples and blessed with an astonishing abundance and variety of natural resources.
Thus far (extrapolating from the belief systems of its descendants) I’ve suggested that its spirituality must have involved profound explorations of the mystery of death. I’ve suggested that accurate ancient maps depicting the earth as it looked during the Ice Age imply that it had developed a level of maritime technology at least as advanced as that possessed by European seafarers in the late eighteenth century. I’ve suggested that it had mastered sophisticated geometry and astronomy. I’ve also suggested that such a “lost” civilization, maturing in isolation for tens of thousands of years in North America, might have taken a very different path from our own and might have developed technologies that archaeologists would be unable to recognize because they operated on principles or manipulated forces unknown to modern science.
At the Great Pyramid, at Baalbek, and at Sacsayhuamán, as well as at numerous other mysterious sites (such as the almost unbelievable Kailasa Temple, hewn out of solid basalt at Ellora in the Indian state of Maharashtra), intriguing ancient traditions persist. These traditions speak of meditating sages, the use of certain plants, the focused attention of initiates, miraculously speedy workmanship, and special kinds of chanting or tones played on musical instruments in connection with the lifting, placing, softening, and moulding of megaliths. My guess, confronted by the global distribution of such narratives and by the stark reality of the sites themselves, is that we’re dealing with the reverberations of an ancient technology we don’t understand, operating on principles that are utterly unknown to us.
The science of the lost civilization was primarily focused upon what we now call psi capacities that deployed the enhanced and focused power of human consciousness to channel energies and to manipulate matter.
the advanced civilization I see evolving in North America during the Ice Age had transcended leverage and mechanical advantage and learned to manipulate matter and energy by deploying powers of consciousness that we have not yet begun to tap.
It is further evidence of a remote common source behind some widespread religious motifs that one of the most famous myths of the ancient Greeks—the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice—was also present, long before European contact, in the ancient pre-Columbian cultures of North America. Some details vary, as of course do the names of the central characters and the general setting, but the underlying structure remains the same13—(1) a wife or sweetheart (Eurydice) dies prematurely; (2) her husband or lover (Orpheus) follows her soul to the Underworld and persuades its ruler to let her return with him to the land of the living; (3) Eurydice’s release is agreed on condition that she walk behind Orpheus as they make the return journey from the Underworld and that under no circumstances should he set eyes on her until they reach the land of the living; (4) at the last moment, overcome with love, Orpheus cannot resist glancing over his shoulder at his wife and in that instant she is cast back into the Underworld that she can henceforth never leave.
So compellingly similar are the Native American and Greek versions that leading scholar of religions Ake Hultkrantz dedicated an immense monograph to the mystery, published in Stockholm in 1957, titled The North American Indian Orpheus Tradition. Meanwhile his contemporary, Canadian ethnographer Charles Marius Barbeau, proposed that the Greek and Native American stories must both be offshoots of some much older core narrative and concluded, “The worldwide diffusion from an unknown source of a tale so typically classical as Orpheus and Eurydice must have required millenniums.”
What I find equally interesting is that the foundations of the narrative clearly lie in the concepts of the afterlife journey of the soul and the duality of spirit and matter so central to the religious beliefs of ancient Egypt and the ancient Mississippi Valley.
In Tibetan Buddhism the afterlife realm is known as the Bardo—literally “the Between.” Just like the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead and the Mississippian oral and iconographic traditions, the purpose of the Tibetan Book of the Dead is to serve as a guidebook and instruction manual for the soul on its postmortem journey through this strange parallel dimension.
My sense is that the lost civilization, as might be expected with its proposed shamanic origins, was not much interested in material things. Like many other Native American cultures, its primary goals were not to do with the acquisition of status or wealth but instead were focused, through vision quests and right living, on the perfection of the soul.
In order to prepare its initiates thoroughly so that they might be “well equipped” for the ultimate journey of death—surely a matter of far greater significance than any material concerns—the direct exploration of parallel dimensions would, as noted earlier, almost certainly have been undertaken. Had this investigation been allowed to proceed uninterrupted it might by now have transcended space, time, and matter entirely, but 12,800 years ago a deadly mass of matter in the form of the Younger Dryas comet was flung at it and brought a pause to the great prehistoric quest.
A pause but not a halt—for if I’m right there were survivors who attempted, with varying degrees of success, to repromulgate the lost teachings, planting “sleeper cells” far and wide in hunter-gatherer cultures in the form of institutions and memes that could store and transmit knowledge and, when the time was right, activate a program of public works, rapid agricultural development, and enhanced spiritual inquiry.
THERE ARE LITERALLY THOUSANDS OF myths from every inhabited continent that speak of the existence of an advanced civilization in remote prehistory, of the lost golden age in which it flourished, and of the cataclysm that brought it to an end. A feature shared by many of them—the story of Atlantis, for example, or of Noah’s flood—is the notion that human beings, by their own arrogance, cruelty, and disrespect for the earth, had somehow brought the disaster down upon their own heads and accordingly were obliged by the gods to go back to basics and learn humility again.
An Ojibwa tradition seems relevant. It speaks of a comet that “burned up the earth” in the remote past and that is destined to return: The star with the long, wide tail is going to destroy the world some day when it comes low again. That’s the comet called Long-Tailed Heavenly Climbing Star. It came down here once, thousands of years ago. Just like the sun. It had radiation and burning heat in its tail …
There is a prophecy that the comet will destroy the earth again. But it’s a restoration. The greatest blessing this island [Turtle Island] will ever have. People don’t listen to their spiritual guidance today. There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars when that comet comes down again.19
Samuel Noah Kramer, History Begins at Sumer: Thirty-Nine Firsts in Man’s Recorded History (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991).