Friday, November 27, 2009

taking the long view

You're likely to think I've been hitting the holiday eggnog or Crow's Remy Martin stash a little too hard when you read this one but I don't mind because my interest in alternate history is one I'm not ashamed of. Although anything other than absolute mainstream science is considered a foolish waste of time by many, I happen to think there are writers and scientists whose work has been unfairly marginalized. This is a post about such a person and his research into a subject we're simply not accustomed to considering.

'During a period of glaciation, the average global temperature drops considerably and the volume of the ocean decreases greatly. The water that would otherwise be in the ocean is frozen as ice in continental glaciers, or as sea ice in the oceans making the world in general a much cooler place than the one we know. This map shows coastlines (solid lines are today's coasts) as they were about 20,000 years ago which you may easily imagine provided a very fertile original homeland for civilization when the major land masses we know today were desert like and cold.'

I decided to re-read Underworld, a book written by Graham Hancock in 2002, that I first read when it was published. At the time I wasn't the least bit interested in our computer or its connection to internet search engines but now that's changed and not only does the book deserve a fresh reading (at least by me) but also an examination of references that are searchable online. He explores a subject that should be fairly obvious, that when the ice age glaciers melted, sea levels rose, obliterating civilizations that lined the ocean shores. However, archaeologists have confined their research to mainland structures - not too surprising considering difficulty and funding. Nevertheless, there is still much to learn about unrecorded, ignored or misinterpreted human history.

We have a tendency to think the world we know has always been much the same but science has proven that the oceans were once 400 ft lower than they are now. What most of us don't understand is that the last Ice Age was at its maximum 20,000 years ago when human beings just like us had been inhabiting the planet for at least 200,000 years. Once the massive ice sheets that covered most of North America, Europe and the Southern Hemisphere to a depth measured in miles began to melt they didn't just gently drip away inch by inch. What happened instead were periods surface ice melting into huge lakes which on three separate occasions broke through massive ice dams in what are called glacial outburst floods. There have been smaller versions of these in recent years but nothing like the three that happened 14,000, 11,000 and 8,000 years ago. At one point the accumulated water from an ice sheet the size of a third of Canada poured into the North Atlantic over the period of a few weeks. Not to oversimplify, related catastrophic events occurred when so much ice melted in a relatively short time. Earthquakes and volcanoes struck with great ferocity when the ice shields were no longer pressing down on the earth's crust. It's almost impossible for us living in this quiescent age to imagine what it must have been like for people who were living comfortably in wide alluvial plains where edible plants grew without requiring much labor. It sounds like Eden, doesn't it?

Interestingly enough, archaeology dates the rise of modern civilization to approximately 8,000 years ago with the discoveries of the Indus Valley and the Sumerian cultures. What is so strange about both societies is that they appear in the historical record at a very high level of development that dissipates over time. In other words, the deeper the archaeologists dug the more sophisticated the architecture and objects they found. It's also true the oldest Egyptian pyramids are the ones still standing. There's growing evidence that suggests the Persian Gulf (only 100 meters deep) was a large valley with the Tigris and Euphrates running through it to the sea. It was only completely engulfed 8,000 years ago. Could it be a total coincidence the remains of Sumer are close by in southern Iraq?

I'm enjoying the book again and may post more about it if you're interested or you may want to read it yourself. It is a very long book (700+ pages) but it's a fascinating subject to explore that has vast implications of how different our history might actually be. Perhaps there was once a very large and relatively advanced culture that goes back much farther in the archaeological record than previously accepted. I'd certainly like to think so particularly because the archaeological record of the Indus Valley culture in particular provides no evidence of armies, kings, slaves, social conflict, prisons, and other negative traits that we associate with civilization.

Maybe that's why all of recorded history appears to us as an ongoing disaster - one from which our Earth hasn't yet recovered. Isn't it possible the disaster was simply the sudden and dramatic loss of its ice shield? Could real floods be the basis for the world wide myths about Great Floods?


  1. Very interesting. I love books like this. They open up entire new territory, new fields for discovery, a paradigm shift if you will, that takes a long time to think through and wonder at.

  2. there is ample evidence that great floods indeed occurred. i was reading about that just a couple of weeks ago.
    the emergence and decline of civilizations is a fascinating subject. i like to think history is orderly- that progress is a constant journey. it makes sense that mankind would always be marching forward, building on the successes and/or mistakes of our past. but that isn't true- the dark ages really happened. plagues, wars, natural events, many things have changed the course of history, for better or worse.

  3. Even living on the eastern edge of London I can see the consequences of glaciation.

    THe Ice Age had huge conequences for Britain and not just the land bridge to France. Whole swathes of the North Sea were dry land. At one time the Thames was a tributary of the Rhine!

    In my view there is no doubt that the flood myths are a memory of post Ice Age inundations, such as happened in the Black Sea

  4. It just so happens that a blog friend of mine was talking about this same thing. Check out his post and click from there to a great article about the loss of Antarctic Ice.
    I know I take it all for granted. But "what if" scenarios are getting closer and closer. At least there is awareness and the ability to get ready by lifestyle changes as time marches on.

    Above all, Peace.

  5. I find this subject fascinating too, all about the shift of continents and mountains and so on. I'm currently reading about Hornby and other Gulf Islands which emerged off what is now the South Americans continent and gradually moved north. The film series Geologic Journey also touches on all this. Really puts our sense of time in a different perspective!

  6. liberality - Yes, books like this are always interesting. They provide a way for us to step outside a very limited common view - definitely paradigm shifting. Heyerdahl's books are wonderful too.

    sera - The prevailing scientific view has taught that all of these geologic changes happened long before there were people to witness them. Just the simple fact of comprehending that's not true is enough to make us stop and think about how deep our history may actually be. It's always good to be open minded and willing to learn.

    jams - Apparently one of the consequences of the breakup of the Fennoscandian ice sheet was the inundation of 100k square miles of the British 'Atlantis'. It was there in 8000BC and gone by 6500BC leaving only the Dogger Bank.

    spadoman - Thanks for linking to an interesting article. It's true that most people don't realize the danger inherent in the possibility of the collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet. Melting ice at the north pole is afloat on the sea but having millions upon millions of tons of what's on land at the southern pole (and Greenland) melt would come as a tremendous shock.

    marja-leena - Even though the time-lines appear to be much longer the show does look fascinating. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be available as a dvd to purchase.

  7. The great flood occurred when Cronos spilled his beer.

    What I wouldn't give to do a flyover of the planet at various stages of its existence.

  8. Hi Susan
    No colorful accident for your beautiful art.

    One aspect to science not always acknowledged is the service to concepts and imagination; conception is a precursor to scientific discoveries which have mostly been counter intuitive and accidental to the scientific world’s primacy of purpose.

    There have most certainly been a number of ice ages as you have covered in your interesting post. The archeological evidence of cities and their skeleton remains dating back 10,000 years indicate the inhabitants suffered very badly from early diseases due no doubt to the proximity to waste and contact with animals.

    Civilization should not be linked erroneously to the beginning of agriculture which made possible the storage of food to sustain cities - where the side effects of which were not always so pleasant.

    I think the hunters and gatherers would have had a more healthy and carefree existence sharing and staying in tune with the changing seasons, whilst developing their own rich culture. Some of these groups, such as the Australian aboriginal engaged in farming but only seasonaly based, cut off from the mainland they were undisturbed for 60,000 years.

    Gary & Anna send their regards to you.

    Best wishes

  9. randal - Ah yes, I heard the great lost bib of Cronos was recently excavated at the Olduvai Gorge.

    lindsay - Thanks again for a thoughtful response. I agree with what you say about the historical records of early farming communities and their associated early towns being unhealthy places vs. the hunter gatherer lifestyle predominant in other places. My main point in this post is the possibility there were earlier civilizations that may well have overcome these problems whose traces have been obliterated. When Mohenjodaro in the Indus valley was excavated it was found to have a complex sewer system and clear signs that homes had indoor plumbing. The docking facilities found at Lothal near the Gulf of Cambay show an amazing understanding of marine engineering as well as general city planning. If the Gulf was once dry land as has been determined by recent studies then it's probable that sophisticated cultures existed in these areas that are now lost and that the high levels of civilized life exhibited by the oldest remnants of of the Indus Valley history were built on the lessons of a much greater antiquity that is generally given credence. It's worth some thought.

    All the best.

  10. Hi Susan
    Thanks for your interesting references. I am sure there was a link between the ancient hunter gatherer tribes and the various “civilizations” which spawned cities. Certainly a massive rise in sea levels with resultant mass migration would have intermingled culture, story and invention, but not possible in those island areas already cut off from the mainland from the prior shifting of the platonic plates, such as Australia.

    I agree it is plausible there were ancient ‘civilizations’ to pre date your references whose remnants may now lie hidden beneath the sea. One day maybe we will find them !

    Best wishes

  11. lindsay - I'm glad you came back and happy you also see just how plausible ancient civilizations could be. It's true that the Australian Aboriginals have a history that appears to date back at least 60,000 years. Remember the greater landmass itself called Sahul included New Guinea and Tasmania 17,000 years ago. I understand there's no evidence of a high culture of the technical or urban kind but the Aboriginals do share sophisticated astronomical ideas with other ancient cultures. It's pretty interesting and, yes, who knows what might be found under the sea if anyone felt like looking? I did find this interactive map that might interest you too.

    Best wishes

  12. i'm willing to learn.
    it's the taking of medicine ("it's good for you" haha) that i don't like.
    whether swallowing the bitter pill of disappointment or the too-big-to-swallow pill of global disaster, i don't care for lessons delivered as punishment.
    dangling a carrot is my favorite learning tool.
    extra credit: carrots are good for one's eyesight too.

  13. sera - I don't care for the punishment medicine either. I think the fact I can't change what's happening but can't look away either is why I spend so much time elsewhere. Maybe I need to cut back on the carrots :-)

  14. Interesting comments, and the book intrigues me the more I look into it, and a website by that name. The Geologic Journey, should you be interested in it, is available as a DVD from CBC and Amazon, and now a book as well. Did you see my short blog post about it? It's not only about Canada, but the North American continent and the globe - ice ages, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, splitting continents, mountains emerging and falling, quite amazing and exciting stuff! So much new information keeps emerging including about early man, another TV series we recently watched. I think I could have been an archaeologist and geologist in another life :-) You too, I bet!

  15. Fascinating. Could Atlantis be part of this flooding? Please tell us more.

  16. marja-leena - The Geologic Journey does sound very interesting and I guarantee I'll make an effort to get a copy. Unfortunately it's not currently available from Amazon US. Yes, I think we would have made a fine pair of archeologists or geologists :-) Being curious should be the first prerequisite.

    nancy - The answer is yes. There's a lot of evidence to support the possibility that I may post about later. Of course, by the time I get around to that all my friends will be concluding I'm batty but I don't care :-)

  17. "Fascinating" seems to be the word of the day, so let me reiterate it!

    I have no problem considering any of this, as it all makes great sense, and when fairly considered, it seems that it could hardly have been otherwise.

    Thanks for sharing these ideas.

  18. cr - It really does make a lot of sense and there are a few other things that do which I'll talk about next time I feel the urge to write at length. You have encouraged me.