Blog #17 - Initiation Venues in Ancient Egypt - The Pyramid Complexes

Ancient Egypt created monumental architectural structures, recorded the first fully developed piece of human literature and continues to provide insights into the higher levels of consciousness and Being. In this blog we look at the Pyramid Complexes as venues for the initiation of living individuals.

Old Kingdom Pyramids, built circa 2500 BCE, have long been of interest to the modern Western World. They continue to be commonly purported by many authors to be solely associated with funerary activities in spite of their size, shape and structure being totally different from the many well-known tombs that contain mummies, canopic jars and other funerary objects. Pyramids have none of these and so are easily seen to be different from tombs much like Christian cathedrals and churches can be distinguished from their associated graveyards. Seeing the pyramids as non-funerary opens the question of their true purpose and a full understanding of pyramids is still under continuing exploration by many researchers and authors. Some authors have explored them as power generators[1]. Others see some of them as star charts representing specific periods of time representing either the constellation Orion[2], Cygnus[3] or both[4].  Here we look beyond the most obvious, massive pyramid structure to examining the full Pyramid Complex that includes other aspects associated with the pyramid proper and how it would have been experienced by an individual during an initiation ceremony.

In exploring the pyramids as deliberately constructed venues in support of the development of higher being, it is important to recognize that the great pyramids of Old Kingdom Egypt were not built in isolation from their surroundings. The pyramid was surrounded by a flat area enclosed by a stone wall. The entrance to the pyramid was through a temple. The temple was connected to a riverside temple on the shores of the Nile River. Together they form what we call the Pyramid Complex.

Figure 1 shows a modern day satellite image of present day Saqqara in Egypt just southwest of Cairo at the site of the Pyramid Complex of Unas, the last Pharaoh of the fifth Dynasty of the Old Kingdom circa 2400 BCE[5]. This image shows the site layout of the full Pyramid Complex that includes the Valley Temple that can be seen in the lower right-hand corner of the image, the remnants of the connection causeway and the pyramid proper on the left hand side.

igure 1. Pharaoh Unas’ pyramid complex with the Valley Temple in the lower right and pyramid in the upper left. The remnants of the connecting, partially enclosed causeway can be seen running through the middle of the figure (Google Earth).

igure 1. Pharaoh Unas’ pyramid complex with the Valley Temple in the lower right and pyramid in the upper left. The remnants of the connecting, partially enclosed causeway can be seen running through the middle of the figure (Google Earth).

So the journey of the individual to the inner sanctum of the pyramid would begin with a boat trip along the all-important Nile River to the Valley Temple. In contrast to the modern day situation where the river has naturally migrated about a kilometer/three quarters of a mile from the Valley Temples, A recent paper by Hale and Collins shows that in the case of the Plateau of Giza, the River Nile historically flowed close to the Great Sphinx and the Valley Temples of the Pyramids of Giza[6] (Figure 2. Similarly for the Saqqara Pyramid Complex in Figure 1, the Nile and the Valley Templer would have provided the disembarkation and entry point for anyone approaching one of the Pyramid Complexes.

Figure 2. Artist’s reconstruction of the Pyramid Complexes for the three Great Pyramids of Giza[7] Note the Nile marina in the lower right hand corner.

Figure 2. Artist’s reconstruction of the Pyramid Complexes for the three Great Pyramids of Giza[7] Note the Nile marina in the lower right hand corner.

From the Valley Temple an enclosed “causeway” ran up the bank and along the ground to the site of the pyramid temple, walled area and the pyramid proper[8]. The causeway was an enclosed structure with its walls decorated with images of daily activities in the life of Egypt and the ceiling covered in painted stars [9]. Of particular note there was an angled slit with a narrow opening to the sky that ran the entire length of the causeway (Figure 3). West102 suggests that the slit was functional in that it would allow a connection with the sky and the stars.  The slit would have provided a nighttime star sighting function for initiates making their way up the causeway towards the pyramid. The remnants of a portion of the 750 m (2,460 ft) long causeway in the Unas Pyramid Complex can be seen in Figure 1 as a whitish linear feature that runs more or less horizontally from east on the right hand side of the figure to the west on the left hand. The portion of the causeway at the Valley Temple cannot be seen, as it has been lost to the ravages of time. As with a number of other Pyramid Complexes the Unas causeway does not run in a straight line from the Pyramid to the Valley Temple but incorporates a number of changes of direction.

Figure 3. A short reconstruction of the Causeway of the Pyramid Complex of Unas, showing the slit opening in the roof that could have been used for sighting stars on the journey from the Valley Temple up to the Pyramid[10].

Figure 3. A short reconstruction of the Causeway of the Pyramid Complex of Unas, showing the slit opening in the roof that could have been used for sighting stars on the journey from the Valley Temple up to the Pyramid[10].

The causeway ends at the elevation of the Pyramid in a Temple that abuts the enclosing wall of the Pyramid. This form of temple can be seen in the artist’s recreation for the three Great Pyramids of Giza shown in Figure 2.  They can be seen to the lower right hand side of each of the Pyramids. This temple provided the access point into the walled enclosure and the pyramids.

Little needs to be said about the pyramid proper of each of the complexes. They are large and eye catching and have received much interest from modern day explorers. From the perspective of an initiate intent on incubation, they form isolated spaces comparable to the often-used caves that continue to be used for meditation by initiates in modern day traditions. Although rough sarcophagi have often been found within the Old Kingdom pyramids there is scant evidence of human remains. Also missing from the pyramids are mummies and all the many other funerary objects typically found in the numerous dedicated tombs of Ancient Egypt. But the suggestion of an initiation ceremony taking place within the isolated confines of the pyramid proper made by Brind Morrow[11] could be the key to their construction.

We have been most impressed with the works of Jeremy Naydler[12] & [13], and more recently Susan Brind Morrow[14] and their findings that the first pyramids, and their carved texts, were designed as special venues for the development of higher Being.  The Pyramid Texts are a collection of recitations written in Egyptian hieroglyphs in eleven of the earliest Old Kingdom pyramids built ca. 2400–2300 BCE.  The texts are engraved on the walls, ceilings and surfaces of the internal cavities. They are the very first fully coherent literature recorded by humans. They describe the journey of an individual through a world quite different from our ordinary day-to-day world. The Ancient Egyptian name for this “Netherworld” is the Duat[15]. Naydler in his work makes the important point that the Pyramid Texts are intended for readers that are alive[16]. He sees the texts as aids for an initiate who is in the process of reaching for higher levels of Being – that is, someone striving to reaching the level of gods in the stars.

One translation reads Recitation 44 from the Pyramid Texts of Pepi I as:

Pepi has gone to be with his ka.

Ho, Pepi! You have gone away that you might live; you have not gone away that you might die.

You have gone away that you might become akh at the fore of the akhs, take control at the fore of the living, become ba and be ba, become esteemed and be esteemed.[17]"

How can we envisage the experience of the Pharaoh or initiate.  A ritualistic procession of the Pharaonic initiate from the edge of the Nile through the Valley Temple up an enclosed darkened passage built on a man-made causeway to the pyramid may have ended in quiet incubation in the stillness of the inside of their pyramid. Only after passing through these structures would entrance into the pyramid proper and its marvellous Pyramid Texts be accessed. There one would be surrounded by the finely embossed hieroglyphs - thus to be literally surrounded by the Pyramid Texts. It is certain that each of these elements of the Pyramid Complex played an important role in the overall function and use of the pyramids. It is easy to envisage this physical journey of the initiate as embodying a metaphysical journey the soul through the Duat.

It is not difficult to imagine the term initiation or “incubation[18]” as applying to what was experienced by the Pharaohs and initiates of Old Kingdom Egypt in the dark stillness inside the Pyramids.  We the authors, having personally experienced the stillness of the King’s Chamber in the Great Pyramid of Khufu on visits to Egypt and can testify that it is certainly a place of isolation from the rest of the world and calls us to appreciate that mysteries still exist and can be sensed by us.  The Pyramid Complexes formed an important venue for the initiation rites of the Pharaoh. A journey beyond ordinary life, through the Duat, that is the Egyptian netherworld, must have been taken by Pharaohs who were trained for the journey of their spirit through to the high place of the sun, Ra, and back to this world to exist as a star for their people in their lifetime. Pyramid Complexes were likely key to such exposure  to their higher Being.

[1] Malkowski, E.F. 2010. Ancient Egypt 39,000 BCE The History, Technology, and Philosophy of Civilization X. Inner Traditions.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orion_correlation_theory

[3] Hale, R., & Collins, A. 2016. A Study of the Simple Geometrical Relationship of the Main Monuments of Giza and a Possible Connection to Stars. Archaeological Discovery, 4, 87-102. http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ad.2016.42007

[4] http://awhico.com/blog/2015/4/14/milky-way-symbolism

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unas

[6] Hale, R., & Collins, A. 2016. A Study of the Simple Geometrical Relationship of the Main Monuments of Giza and a Possible Connection to Stars. Archaeological Discovery, 4, 87-102. http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ad.2016.42007.

[7] http://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/after-decades-searching-causeway-great-pyramid-egypt-has-been-found-002530

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_temple

[9] West, John Anthony. 1985. The Traveller’s Key to Ancient Egypt: A Guide to the Sacred Places of Ancient Egypt.  Quest Books.

[10] https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:01_unas_causeway.jpg

[11] Brind Morrow, S. 2015. The Dawning Moon of the Mind. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. New York.

[12] Naydler, J. 1996. Temple of the Cosmos: The Ancient Egyptian Experience of the Sacred. Inner Traditions.

[13] Naydler, J. 2004.  Shamanic Wisdom in the Pyramid Texts: The Mystical Tradition of Ancient Egypt. Inner Traditions.

[14] Brind Morrow, S.  2015.  The Dawning Moon of the Mind: Unlocking the Pyramid Texts.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  New York.  289 pp.

[15] Dickie, L.M and P.R. Boudreau. 2015. Awakening Higher Consciousness: Guidance from Ancient Egypt and Sumer. Inner Traditions.

[16] Naydler, J. 2004. Shamanic Wisdom in the Pyramid Texts: The Mystical Tradition of Ancient Egypt. Inner Traditions.

[17] Allen, J.P., 2005. The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts. Society of Biblical Literature. page 108.

[18] Kingsley, P. 2003. Reality. The Golden Sufi Centre Publishing. Inverness, California.

Blog #16 - “Global” Flooding following the Last Glacial Maximum

In the last blog we explored the longer-term climate changes and sea level changes that occurred throughout the early evolution of modern humans up to the last glacial maximum 26,000 years before present: http://awhio.com/blog/2017/10/19/blog-15-water-ice-and-rising-sea-levels-global-flooding-before-the-younger-dryas. It is evident that throughout the last several 100,000s years of human development there have been numerous incidents of changing sea levels that would have been imprinted on the human psychic and recorded in myths such as the Global Flood story.

There is rightly a lot of interest in the history of Homo sapiens in the critical developmental period since the end of the last “Ice Age”. In particular Hancock in his most recent book proposes that during this time a highly evolved civilization developed and was eradicated[1]. He suggests that the remnants of this civilization jump-started present-day modern society following the Younger Dryas (YD) period about 10,000 years before present (YBP). His proposal is that the world was warming up from the last glacial maximum (LGM) and becoming increasingly habitable when a comet impacted the North America ice sheet causing it to catastrophically collapse, resulting in a large amount of freshwater flooding low-lying coastal lands, entering the oceans, raising sea levels and eliminated the core of an advanced civilization. While Hancock proposes that the most significant climate event in the past 20,000 years was a comet strike 12,900 YBP, it needs to be recognized from the climate temperature record and oceanographic data that the period between the LGM and the YD was a time of great change, all of which would have been experienced by humans living through them.

But the pattern of these changes and their impact on human memory, myth and culture is still a big question.  The question is about what humans would have experienced in this period of time. How could the climatic changes be connected to a global flood myth? Humans were responding to the great changes in their world. We explore that in this blog.

By the end of the LGM, humans had experienced a wide range in climate throughout their development and evolution. Figure 1 shows temperature changes over the last 400,000 years corresponding roughly to the period of modern human development. Note that throughout this period there were large fluctuations in temperature from a few degrees warmer than present down to more than 10 degrees C colder than present day conditions. One can pick out the low temperatures of the LGM, around 26,000 YBP, on the right hand side of the graph.

Figure 1. Climatological temperature record temperature for the last 400,000 YBP. The cold temperatures associated with the last glacial maximum (LGM) can be seen on the right-hand side of the graph  (http://www.grida.no/resources/6878).

Figure 1. Climatological temperature record temperature for the last 400,000 YBP. The cold temperatures associated with the last glacial maximum (LGM) can be seen on the right-hand side of the graph  (http://www.grida.no/resources/6878).

At that time the shoreline was 100 m/300 feet lower than present-day levels (Figure 2). This would be the second time in the history of modern humans that extensive areas of the World’s coastline were exposed such as the Sundaland and Sahulland in Southeast Asia[2]. The first time humans journeyed to Australia. This second time of lower sea levels humans sailed down the west coast of North America[3]. As a result humans were now living throughout Eurasia, Australia and North America[4]. Also of note is that as the climate began to change out of the ice age, the last refuge of Neanderthals on the coastal plains off of  Gibraltar flooded and the species went extinct after over 400,000 years of existence[5].

Figure 2. Stylized smoothed representation of global sea level in the past 20,000 years before present with melt water pulses highlighted (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meltwater_pulse_1A).

Figure 2. Stylized smoothed representation of global sea level in the past 20,000 years before present with melt water pulses highlighted (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meltwater_pulse_1A).

The LGM was an extended period of cold temperatures. It resulted in the extensive buildup of ice and snow on top of the northern continents. It is often reported that the ice was 2 miles think over North America. But what does this mean? What would a 2-mile thick Laurentide ice sheet “look like”? Figure 3 shows what the landscape looks like from 2-miles above. This is the maximum height from the middle of the ice sheet in middle and northern Canada. That is a lot of water frozen into ice and snow. But there is a lot of variation in the thickness of ice[6]. Of importance is that, although much of the north continent was covered in ice, it was much thinner, and lower in elevation at the edges of the ice sheet. For instance, most of the peaks of the Rocky Mountains at less than 2-mile elevation remained unglaciated and as a result still retain their jagged angular structure in contrast to the smoothed U-shaped glacial valleys. Importantly for our discussion, as always water flows downhill – even for continent-wide ice sheet. Melting glacial ice would flow from the high centre to the edges and ultimately into the oceans.

igure 3. A photo of the landscape taken from 2-miles up in the air. Roads are distinguishable but houses are difficult to pick out.

igure 3. A photo of the landscape taken from 2-miles up in the air. Roads are distinguishable but houses are difficult to pick out.

After about 10,000 years of stable cold temperatures a global warming trend began. Without a doubt, following the LGM, temperatures were increasing, the ice sheets were melting and the sea level was rising (Figure 2). But in regards to the global flood myths, it is critical to ask whether the sea level rise was slow and gradual or sudden and devastating?

The speed of the sea level rise is critical in any consideration of any event possibly considered a flood. Slow even melting of the ice sheet with gradual sea level rise is unlikely to have left a doom and gloom impression on the humans living at the time. For instance the present day sea level rise is estimated to be on the order of 2 to 3 mm/year resulting in maybe 0.5 m rise by 2100. This is likely on the same scale as that seen in the data presented in for 20,000 YBP (Figure 4). While slow and steady sea level rise would have been a challenge for humans at the time, it would have been slow enough to allow humans to migrate upland to avoid flooding.  But what if such a sea level rise occurred over a much shorter time period, possibly in a single freshwater pulse. Is there any evidence for punctuated sea level rise?

Figure 4. Sea level rise estimates over the past 24,000 years showing periods of rapid rise and slower present day rates. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_level_rise.

Figure 4. Sea level rise estimates over the past 24,000 years showing periods of rapid rise and slower present day rates. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_level_rise.

Shortly after the end of the LGM as the global climate began to warm, oceanographers has identified two significant events associated with a potential flood event. The first is a large influx of melted freshwater entering the ocean. The event is called a Meltwater Pulse[7]. This is shown as Meltwater Pulse 1Ao (MWP-1Ao) in Figure 2. While the general trends in sea level are evident in Figure 2, the exact timing and duration is difficult to confirm from the existing data. Figure 4 presents that underlying data with its variability.

The second event of the period that oceanographers have identified is called a Heinrich Event from around 18,000 YBP[8]. These are events where heavy rock debris from the land gets transported and deposited thousands of kilometres away from the shoreline. They have been observed in the sediment record particularly in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. While the mechanisms are still not clear, the are associated with instability in the great ice sheets.

The oceanographic data supports the occurrence of something dramatic occurring on a global climatological scale that would have resulted in sudden, unexpected and catastrophic events for human populations living in the World’s coastal zones at the time just following the LGM. The oceanographic evidence for meltwater pulses and the transportation of continental sediment to the middle of the ocean much better supports a flood myth. They could not have occurred with gradual sea level rise. While the exact timing and duration of the temperature rise, Meltwater Pulse, and the Heinrich Event is difficult match, it is notable that they both occur before temperatures showed much increase.

The next question concerns possible mechanisms for a catastrophic collapse of the ice sheet. Hancock proposes a comet impact much later for initiating a catastrophic collapse. But MWP1Ao and the Heinrich event occurred thousands of years before the time of Hancock’s interest. Is there another mechanism to translate the slowly melting ice sheet into a torrent of freshwater into the coastal zone? A recently published paper proposes a mechanism where supraglacial mega-waves of meltwater could develop and propagate across the tops of the ice sheets to produce gigantic, fast-moving waves of water[9]. The paper models the aggregation of pools of water as meltwater would flow down the ice sheet towards the continental edge. With sufficient amount of water flowing down a typical ice sheet slope, a mega-wave would develop travelling at incredible speed. As reported in the paper, the model results suggest a 100-m/300-ft high wall of water travelling at 900 km/hour – 500 miles/hour hitting the coast. It is likely that the freshwater would travel down to the coast along huge rivers of meltwater running on top of the ice sheet. Gradual warming temperatures is all that would be required to generate such a mega-wave on the top of the world’s ice sheets. This would definitely be experienced by living humans as catastrophic, potentially eliminating coastal cultures with possibly only a few individuals surviving. Truly it would have been experienced by coastal human societies as a flood event. Such a simple mechanism could explain the evidence for the meltwater pulse, the Heinrich event and sea level rise.

Temperature and sea levels continued to increase for thousands of years before the next period of dramatic change 15,000 YBP. Around this time the oceanographic data shows evidence for another Meltwater Pulse - Meltwater Pulse 1A (MWP-1A) (Figure 2). The period of MWP-1A that indicates a dramatic 30-meter/100-ft rise (Figure 4). For comparison modern day estimates for sea level rise is calling for around 1-m/3-ft of rise by 2100. But again, the oceanographic data supports punctuated sea level rise, possibly as a result of a number of instantaneous flooding events. In Figure 4 MWP-1A appears to have occurred over a very short time period that is difficult to accurately resolve from the data.  The shorter the duration, the greater the impact on humans and the more consistent it would be with the concept of a global “flood”. One researcher refers to the MWP-1A as Catastrophic Rise Event number 1 (CRE1) in the Caribbean Sea[10]!

In regards to what humans experienced, other authors have argued that this time period is significant in our cultural memory and beliefs. Collins suggests that the time period is recorded in the bird carvings found at Gobekli Tepe - the first megalithic construction of humans from 10,000 YBP. He has further written about the importance of the constellation Cygnus in the Milky Way to humans[11]. Humans would have observed Cygnus as the North Pole at this time period. Due to the wobbling rotation of the Earth called precession the location of the North Pole moves slowly in a circle in the sky. Around 14,000 to 16,000 YBP the sky would have revolved around Cygnus and its spot in the Milky Way[12]. Cygnus may be represented in the earliest megalithic constructions of Göbekli Tepe. It may also be central to the work of the Ancient Egyptians[13].

Following the events around 14,000 YBP, the global climate continued to warm, sea levels continued to rise and humans would have enjoyed the benefits of improving living conditions. This all changed around 12,900 YBP when the temperature suddenly stopped rising and dropped dramatically by 4 degrees C in a very short time period at the onset of the Younger Dryas (YD) (Figure 5).

Returning to Hancock’s proposal that there was an civilization eliminated at the beginning of the YD, there are a couple of points of note. Without a doubt humans like to live in the coastal areas of the world. The secondly there were greater changes in temperature and sea level in the millennium that preceded the YD than during the YD (Figure 5). Secondly, there is strong evidence from the oceanographic data that there were a number of flood events since the LGM that would have equalled or surpassed anything that would have occurred at the beginning of the YD. The third and final point is that if there were an advanced civilization living in the low coastal areas of the world after the LGM, any evidence of their activities would be submerged below 100 m/300 ft of seawater.

Younger Dryas label.png

 

Figure 5. Climatological temperature record temperature for the last 400,000 YBP. The cold temperatures associated with the last glacial maximum (LGM) can be seen on the right-hand side of the graph  (http://www.grida.no/resources/6878).

The bottom line is that there is evidence for several sudden and catastrophic flooding events since the LGM. Coastal zones of the world would have been greatly impacted. A mechanism has been proposed for ice sheet melting that does not require a comet impact – although an impact certainly would result in similar impacts. Humans living since the LGM certainly would have been culturally developed to experience and remember such catastrophic events.

 

[1] Hancock. G. 2015. Magicians of the Gods The Forgotten Wisdom of Earth's Lost Civilisation. Hodder & Stoughton.

[2] http://awhico.com/blog/2017/10/19/blog-15-water-ice-and-rising-sea-levels-global-flooding-before-the-younger-dryas

[3] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/humans-colonized-americas-along-coast-not-through-ice-180960103/

[4] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/north-america-first-humans-colonist-evidence-scientists-alaska-genetics-a8140231.html

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neanderthals_in_Gibraltar

[6] https://www.clim-past.net/9/2365/2013/cp-9-2365-2013.pdf

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meltwater_pulse_1A

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinrich_event

[9] https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/the-generation-of-mega-glacial-meltwater-floods-and-their-geologic-impact-2157-7587-1000269.php?aid=86686

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meltwater_pulse_1A

[11] http://www.andrewcollins.com/page/books/index.htm

[12] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axial_precession

[13] http://awhico.com/blog/2015/4/14/milky-way-symbolism

In the end cathedrals may prove to be the necessity, sanitation the luxury.

"To the modern Rational mind, the universe is a gigantic fact, reducible to an infinity of constituent facts. To the medieval mind it was a gigantic symbol; in which phenomena in all their diversity were but reflections of the will of God. Indifferent, or downright hostile to matters of fact, the medieval mind was interested only in the principle behind the fact. To the modern mind, only facts count and principles take care of themselves. The scientist distrusts or even denies the reality of inner experience.... He relies upon the evidence of his senses. If he can measure it, it is 'real'. The medievalist called the world of sense an illusion; only inner experience was real. He may have believed the world was flat but he understood the universe to be a hierarchy of values, because that was his experience. Our modern thinkers may know the earth is round, but they think value is `subjective`, a mere invention of man (perhaps because their own inner experience is so poverty-stricken and disordered they cannot trust it). The medieval mind ignored the facts of the physical world, and so produced a society that was all cathedrals and no sanitation. The modern mind ignores the value of the spiritual world and so has produced a society that is all sanitation and no cathedrals. Rationalists rejoice and call this progress. But the increasingly fraught psychological state of our sanitary society suggests that in the end cathedrals may prove to be the necessity, sanitation the luxury.”

 

John Anthony West. 1973. The Case for Astrology. Pelican Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England. 310 pp.

Blog #15 - Ice, Water and Rising Sea Levels: “Global” Flooding before the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM)

There is rightly a lot of interest in the history of Homo sapiens in the critical developmental period since the last “Ice Age”. In particular, Hancock in his most recent book proposes that a highly evolved civilization was eradicated at the beginning of the Younger Dryas period 12,800 years before present (YBP)[1]. He suggests that the remnants of this civilization jump-started present-day modern society. His proposal is that the world was warming up from the last glacial maximum (LGM) and becoming quite habitable when a comet struck the North American ice sheet, causing it to catastrophically collapse, resulting in a large amount of flooding, raising sea levels and eliminated the core of an established civilization. The suggestion is that this flood event is represented in the existence of flood myths around the world including the “sinking of Atlantis” that was reported to Plato from the Ancient Egyptians. While this hypothesis continues to be explored, it is important to first consider human awareness in connection with other climatic events over the 2 million-year time period covering the evolution of modern humans.  Events such as repeated sea level rise/fall and the mega-volcano Mount Toba explosion 74,000 YBP. What and where were humans and what would they have experienced from these climatic catastrophes?

This blog explores what we know about human development over the past 2 million years up to the end of the last glacial maximum 25,000 years before present (YBP). It is during this period that hominins became distinguished from other primate species. Here we consider hominins as modern day humans, Homo sapiens and the other biological species that were involved in our evolution. Hominins include the well-known Homo Neanderthals, the recently discovered Homo Denisovan and at least one other unknown species. These species are close relatives and are known to have interbred. This exploration involves looking at what we know about hominin genetics and living location and putting that information together with what we know about the temperature, genetics and sea levels. It draws from the recent research of Bruce Fenton [2]. The objective is to consider what hominins would likely have experienced at different times in their evolution and how this may have become recorded in our cultural memories.

We start the examination with the evolution of H. erectus in Africa at the beginning of the Quaternary Period of the Pleistocene Epoch that began 2.6 million years ago[2]. For those who think dinosaurs, it is important to note that at this time the global temperatures were as cold as they had ever been (Figure 1). Global temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees C colder than when the dinosaurs roamed the earth 65 million YBP. Any and all species to have survived the event that killed the dinosaurs were being subjected to colder and colder environments.


Figure 1. Climate record for the past 65 million years showing the dramatic decrease in temperature in recent epochs (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geologic_temperature_record).

Figure 1. Climate record for the past 65 million years showing the dramatic decrease in temperature in recent epochs (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geologic_temperature_record).

At the beginning of the Pleistocene Epoch temperatures were slightly warmer than present day, but they were declining (Figure 2A). Throughout this Epoch, the climate cycled through a number of warm and cold periods (Figure 2A).  The cold periods we refer to as “ice ages”. It is important to note that although the global temperatures continued to periodically fluctuate up to roughly present day levels, each successive cold period continued to get more extreme, reaching levels not seen in the previous 65 million YBP (Figure 1). Coincident with the warm and cold periods, sea levels cycled through high and low levels, periodically reaching low levels never before experienced (Figure 2B).

Figure 2A. Temperatures and Oxygen record from the Vostok, Antarctica, ice core. The horizontal dashed line represents approximately present day levels. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geologic_temperature_record). Figure 2B. Sea Level over the past 5 millions years (https://www.e-education.psu.edu/earth107/node/901).

Figure 2A. Temperatures and Oxygen record from the Vostok, Antarctica, ice core. The horizontal dashed line represents approximately present day levels. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geologic_temperature_record).

Figure 2B. Sea Level over the past 5 millions years (https://www.e-education.psu.edu/earth107/node/901).

In the early Pleistocene, around 1.8 million YBP, the hominin species H. erectus had migrated out of Africa and made it as far as the border of Eurasia. The climate had cycled through at least a dozen cold glacial periods and was then reaching levels 4 or 5 degrees C below present day levels (Figure 2A).

Around the middle of the Pleistocene Epoch, 1.2 to 1 million YBP, H. erectus ranged throughout most of Africa and Eurasia. The temperature minimums were reaching 7 to 8 degrees C below present day levels. At about this time, the length of the warm/cold cycles lengthened from 41,000 years to much longer periods of 100,000 years. This is referred to as the Mid-Pleistocene Transition. Climate change was changing. Analysis of our genetic makeup shows that there was a population bottleneck around this time period. The total number of H. erectus individuals in the world collapsed to only 55,000[3]. Perhaps the extreme cold temperatures occurring over much longer time periods played a role in this collapse. Nevertheless, this climatic change would have given rise to robust individuals who could survive in this new environment.

Following this first population bottleneck, the population expanded and spread over a wide geographic area of Europe and Asia. By at least 750,000 YBP H. erectus extended their range into Southeast Asia. There is archeological evidence that they had successfully sailed to the Island of Flores in the Indonesian archipelago (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Map of Southeast Asia showing the ancient shoreline around the time that hominins journeyed to the island of Flores (http://humanorigins.si.edu/research/asian-research-projects/hobbits-flores-indonesia).

Figure 3. Map of Southeast Asia showing the ancient shoreline around the time that hominins journeyed to the island of Flores (http://humanorigins.si.edu/research/asian-research-projects/hobbits-flores-indonesia).

By this time, the cold periods were reaching temperatures 8 degrees C below present (Figure 2A). Glaciers would have trapped a lot of water and sea levels were lowering to almost 100 m below present day levels (Figure 2B). Figure 3 shows Sundaland, a landmass that would have connected present day Sumatra, Java, Borneo and other islands. To reach Flores, they would have had to island hop from the mainland over a number of water barriers of between 15 and 30 km.

It has been suggested that H. erectus could have observed islands in the distance[4]. But it is another question if and how a group of what is currently thought of as primitive species could imagine, plan and coordinate to sail across such significant water barriers. It is improbable that the population of H. erectus could have become established on Flores through individuals accidentally floating across clinging to driftwood. Such a migration across water would have required higher concepts of exploration in the face of difficulties, communication and convincing of others to engage members of the groups as well as the technical expertise to achieve such a successful move. 

By 500,000 hominins on Java were engraving geometric patterns on shells. This is possibly a continuation of the higher thoughts of H. erectus that got them to the distant island location of Flores.

There were two periods of extreme low sea level associated with the extreme cold periods at 650,000 and 450,000 YBP (Figure 2B). Sea levels at these points in time were 125 m below present day levels. By 400,000 they likely had made their way across the watery Lydekker's Line to Sahulland, which included Australia (Figure 3). There is one proposal built on archeological finds and recent genetic data that they began to differentiate into modern H. sapiens here in Sahulland, rather than in Africa which is the current dogma. By 400,000 YBP we can reasonably expect ancient humans to be sufficiently conscious and competent to sail across water boundaries and to create carved art on shells. They would have experienced a number of dramatic changes in sea level that would have had major impact on any coastal habitations. Whether they could conceive of a “global flood” or just be aware of the flooding of entire world, they certainly would have been sufficiently impacted to remember and transmit this information across generations.

The last, most-recent warm period in the Pleistocene epoch occurred about 125,000 YBP. The temperature over Greenland was as much as 5 degrees Celsius warmer than present day (Figure 4). Sea level was about 6 meters (about 19.7 feet) higher than it is at present (Figure 2B).

Figure 4. Temperature fluctuations in the Vostok Ice Core showing the cycling of warm and cold periods. Note the last warm peak before present was at around 125,000 years before present.

Figure 4. Temperature fluctuations in the Vostok Ice Core showing the cycling of warm and cold periods. Note the last warm peak before present was at around 125,000 years before present.

During this relatively warm cycle, there were a number of different hominins living in the world including H. sapiens, Neanderthals, Denisovans and possibly a couple of others yet to be discovered.  Genetic analysis suggests that the genetic mixing into modern humans was geophysically centered in this area of South East Asia.

It is in this area that in 73,880 YBP, the gigantic volcano Toba erupted for 14 days on the island of Sumatra (Figure 3). This was the largest volcanic eruption of the last 2.5 million years. It would have had associated powerful earthquakes and tsunamis. It was sufficiently large to influence global climate by reducing sunlight and reducing temperatures. Rain that fell following the eruption would have been black and acidic from the ash that it contained. This was a time that the hominin population experienced a second population bottleneck. Many died, leaving only about 10,000 adults surviving. Other large biological species such as chimpanzees also show such a genetic bottleneck at this time[5]. Hominins in South East Asia at the time would have been significantly impacted by the eruption and its after effects. If the core of hominins was co-located with the mega-volcano’s impact, it may explain why later humans around the Globe share a common myth of global flooding and disaster[2]. Maybe the present Noah’s Ark story of a small number of families surviving the disaster is only a slight exaggeration of what might really have transpired 74,000 YBP, resulting in the most recent population bottleneck.

Shortly after the Toba event, around 70,00 YBP, modern H. sapiens were living on the southern coast of South Africa in the Blombos Cave creating art. Neanderthals were widespread over Europe and Central and Northern Asia. This is the time period during which it has been proposed that H. sapiens migrated out of Africa, but it is conceivable that they may have dispersed from South East Asia in response to the Toba destruction.

It is clear that by this time, hominins had been expressing higher thought for millennium. The evidence includes:

1)    H. erectus had made it to Flores likely by an organized sailing effort;

2)    H. erectus had created decorated shells on Java;

3)    H. sapiens in Blombos Cave, South Africa, had created art and used red ochre;

4)    H. sapiens in Pinnacle Point, South Africa, were using a complex, multi-step process for producing silcrete by use of fire.

Following the last warm maximum, 124,000 YBP, the Northern Hemisphere began its final cycle of gradual cooling. Glaciers increased in both depth and geographic extent until the time of the last glacial maximum (LGM) about 25,000 years ago. Glaciers extended in North America down into present New York State and in Europe south to the middle of England, Germany and Poland. There was similar expansion of ice sheets in the southern Hemisphere with the southern third of Chile and the neighboring portion of Argentina being covered. Sea level was about 125 meters (about 410 feet) lower than it is today.

While climatic conditions were harsh during the last glacial maximum,  24,000 YBP, Neanderthals were still surviving along the edge of a fertile coastal plain in Gibraltar until around that time. Denisovans appear to have survived in Siberia until as recently as 30,000 YBP. Modern humans were living in what has been defined at the Gravettian culture, in occupying areas in Europe from France in the west to Siberia in the east. They produced small pointed blades for hunting and a large number of Venus statuettes. Hominins were also living in Southern Australia around 40,000 YBP.

So by this point in time hominins had experienced many extreme changes in sea level and coastal flooding. There had been at least two periods of significant population die off, possible, linked to the climate change and flooding events. It could be that the basis of the global flood myth was laid down during these early events. The representation of more recent flooding events may be overlain on an older, more shared experience by hominins.

More on these events in the next blog post.

 

[1] Hancock. G. 2015. Magicians of the Gods The Forgotten Wisdom of Earth's Lost. Civilisation. Hodder & Stoughton.

[2] Fenton, B. 2017. The Forgotten Exodus: The Into Africa Theory of Human Evolution. Ancient News Publishing.  http://brucefenton.info/into-africa-theory/

[3] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/humans-might-have-faced-extinction/

[4] Fenton, B. 2017. The Forgotten Exodus: The Into Africa Theory of Human Evolution. Ancient News Publishing.  http://brucefenton.info/into-africa-theory/

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toba_catastrophe_theory