Chapter 5 — Ashes, Ashes, All Fall Down (for Dave)
“Who would believe this, except it has age as its witness.”
— Ovid, Metamorphoses
“Giro giro tondo, casca il mondo, casca la terra; tutti giù per terra.”
(“Spin around, the world falls, the ground falls; all down on the ground.”)
— Old Italian children’s game
We are quickly learning in our modern world that there’s no solid ground to be found in any aspect of existence, which is exactly what our ancient ancestors took great care to tell us in their detailed and carefully preserved records of life in planet Earth. Nearly all of these sophisticated ancient cultures carefully recorded and preserved an awareness of celestial mechanics, and of the Earth’s cycles and patterns of climate and geological changes. These were preserved in their oral and written records, in their rituals, in their stories — which we call mythology and religion — and in their symbols, architecture, and social codes. Ancient cultures had less of a tendency to compartmentalize knowledge into isolated areas of thought than we have in our modern world. They were thus free to note patterns common to living beings, the ecosystem, and catastrophes.
Let’s first turn to Plato, who quoted the records of an ancient Egyptian historian about catastrophic events:
There have been many and will be many different calamities to destroy mankind, the greatest of them by fire and water, lesser ones by countless other means. Your own story of how Phaethon, child of the sun, harnessed his father’s chariot, but was unable to guide it along his father’s course and so burnt up things on Earth and was himself destroyed by a thunderbolt, is a mythical version of the truth that there is at long intervals a variation in the course of the heavenly bodies and a consequent widespread destruction by fire of things on Earth.
There are many more accounts of catastrophes in the ancient past, often found in what we now regard as ‘religious’ texts. Here is the biblical story of the tower of Babel:
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole Earth.”
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If they are as one people speaking the same language, nothing is impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the Lord scattered them from there over all Earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel — because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole Earth (Genesis 11:19).
In the above story, obviously a mythologized account, we note that (a) humans were using advanced technology to build a structure that “reaches to the heavens,” and (b) a catastrophe caused the disintegration of this structure and diminished contact among social groups.
Elsewhere in Genesis, we find the story of the flood, which is echoed around the world. In the biblical deluge, as we recall, the waters covered the Earth for forty days and forty nights, and they destroyed many creatures and human habitations. We also note that Noah, according to the story, had the engineering skills to create a vast oceangoing ship that could house his family as well as a wide variety of animals. This story of the deluge and the survival of a few humans is repeated in almost every culture, including Southeast Asia, Australia, and South America. There are more than 1,200 known variations of the ark and global flood story from around the world, a significant number of them far predating Christian mythology.
In Egypt, there’s strong evidence of an ancient catastrophe from the tomb of Senenmut, the vizier who designed the temple of Queen Hatshepsut at Deir al-Bahri. A zodiac on the ceiling has a reversed orientation, and inscriptions say that “Harakhte [the sun], he riseth in the West.” Ancient Egyptians believed this change of occident had occurred four times previously in their memory. Of course, as well, the Bible in Psalm 77 records this calamitous moment:
Earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken … He bowed the heavens down also, and came down … he did fly upon the wings of the wind … At the brightness that was before him his thick clouds passed, hail stones and coals of fire. The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave his voice; hail stones and coals of fire … and he shot out lightning … Then the channels of water were seen, and the foundations of the world were discovered.
The Kingdoms were moved; he uttered his voice, Earth melted … The waters saw thee; they were afraid; the depths were also troubled … the skies sent out a sound: thine arrows also went abroad. The voice of thy thunder was in the heaven; the lightnings lightened the universe: Earth trembled and shook … Clouds and darkness are about him … a fire goeth before him and burneth up his enemies round about … His lightnings enlightened the world: Earth saw, and trembled.
The Hebrew Talmud records a similar story: “Seven days before the deluge, the Holy One changed the primeval order and the sun rose in the west and set in the east” (Tractate Sanhedrin). And the Norse Edda tells us: “Then it shall be that Earth will shake so violently that the trees will be torn up by the roots, the mountains will topple down, and all bonds and fetters will be broken and snapped.”
Moving farther east, we find that the ancient Chinese also recorded catastrophes taking place during the reign of Emperor Yao (2356–2258 BCE): “In a general convulsion of nature, the sea is carried out of its bed, mountains spring up out of the ground, rivers change their course, human beings and everything are ruined, and the ancient traces effaced.”
The Chinese annals state that the sun didn’t appear for a period of ten days. According to these records, the world experienced a conflagration, and then the waters of the deeps (from within the Earth) converged with the oceans and stood up to the height of the heavens, and then crashed over the continent and the Chinese empire in great waves. The valleys remained flooded for decades and the Chinese authorities engaged in great engineering projects to drain them out to the sea and reclaim land. It’s described how Emperor Yao commissioned a large school of scholars and sent them to the far corners of the Earth to observe the sun’s new rising and setting and the new movements of the heavens to determine the repositioned four cardinal directions. He commissioned astronomers to chart the flow of the Earth’s new seasons, and to determine the new calendar. The records go on to say: “In that time the miracle is said to have happened that the sun during a span of ten days did not set, the forests were ignited, and a multitude of abominable vermin was brought forth. … The breath of heaven is out of harmony … The seasons do not observe their proper times” (Daoist Texts). Beyond China, this 2300 BCE worldwide catastrophe wiped out major civilizations around the globe. Civilizations in Anatolia and Greece, through Egypt and the Middle East, and eastward to India and Southeast Asia all collapsed as a result of this cataclysmic event.
Consider the widespread effects of catastrophe in the following two excerpts of ancient texts. In the ancient Shik King or Major Odes of the Kingdom (compiled from 1766 BCE through 1123 BCE), it’s stated:
Disorder grows, peace cannot be secured. Every state is being ruined … Everything is reduced to ashes by calamity … Heaven is sending down death and disorder … It now sends down those devourers of the grain … All is peril and going to ruin … Famine comes again and again … The drought is excessive … Heaven is arrayed in angry terrors … Heaven is sending down ruin. Heaven is displaying its anger.
Let’s move now to the Americas. The Mayan record tells us a related tale:
It was not known from where the new sun would appear. They looked in all directions, but they were unable to say where the sun would rise. Some thought it would take place in the north. Others thought it would be in the south. Actually their guesses included all directions because the dawn shone all around. Some, however, fixed their attention on the orient, and maintained that the sun would come from there. It was their opinion that proved to be correct.
On the Mayan accounts, Immanuel Velikovsky writes: “Manuscript Troano and other documents of the Mayas describe a cosmic catastrophe during which the ocean fell on the continent, and a terrible hurricane swept Earth … Exploding volcanoes, tides sweeping over mountains, and impetuous winds threatened to annihilate humankind and actually did annihilate many species of animals.”
In the same geographical area, traditional stories from Peru record an ancient time when the sun did not appear for five days. The ocean retreated and “with a terrible din broke over the continent; the entire surface of Earth was changed in this catastrophe” (Velikovsky 1950, 87). Similarly, the Aztecs recorded that in the five eras of the world, the first four attempts to create a viable world order collapsed. Each of these attempts was accompanied by a cosmic holocaust. The Cashinaua oral tradition of western Brazil echoes these records, telling of terrible thunder and lightning, the heavens bursting and showering down fragments that killed everything and everybody. Heaven and Earth changed places.
Central American records tell us that the third era of the world, or “third sun,” is called Quia Tonatiuh — the “sun of rain” — “because in this age there fell a rain of fire, all which existed burned, and there fell a rain of gravel.” The record goes on to state that the rocks “boiled with tumult, and there also arose the rocks of vermilion color,” suggesting a cataclysm involving possible meteor strikes or volcanic, or seismic activity (Codex Chimalpopoca).
The Hopi tradition records that at the closing of the First World, Sotuknang asked the Ant people to open their underground territory for those humans whose hearts were not dark. When these people had moved safely underground, Sotuknang told the twins Palongawhoya and Poganghoya to leave their places at the two ends of the world’s axis, north and south, where it had been their responsibility to keep the earth’s rotation steady. When they left their positions, the world wobbled off balance, spun unrestrained, and tipped over. Great landmasses sank into the sea, huge bodies of water washed over the land, and the Earth froze into solid ice.
Native American Sioux records state that after the destruction of the “fourth sun,” the world plunged into darkness for twenty-five years. Ten years before the appearance of the fifth sun, in the midst of the darkness, humanity was regenerated. The Sioux also tell that the world is protected by a huge buffalo that lives at the western gate of the universe and holds back the waters that periodically flood the world. Every year the buffalo loses a hair on one of its legs and periodically it loses a leg. When the buffalo has lost all four legs and is no longer able to hold back the waters, the world is flooded and renewed.
We move now to the Pacific. The aboriginals of Sarawak and Sabah (present-day Borneo) recall that “six suns perished” and that “at present the world is illuminated by the seventh sun” (Velikovsky 1950, 52). Similarly, Maori legends speak of a time when the ocean rose up and then fell, accompanied by exploding volcanoes and terrible winds, collapsing mountains and new mountains thrusting up, a terrible hurricane and huge tornadoes, the sweeping away of forests, and horrible sounds. The sun did not appear for five days. Most of life on the Earth was killed.
There are similar stories of catastrophe that also include the construction of a safe place for humans to ride out the disruption, such as in the description of King Jamshed’s var found in the Iranian Vendidad. According to the Vendidad, King Jamshed (known as Yima) is given a warning of an impending catastrophe that will kill the animals of the mountains, the animals of the grasslands, and the animals of the stables: “O Yima, towards the sacred Aryan land will rush evil as a severe fatal winter; evil will rush as thick snow flakes falling in increased depth.” He’s instructed to build a var (enclosed underground settlement) the length and width of a riding ground, and to place in it every kind of animal, bird, and dog. He’s told to make water flow through it and to place birds in trees alongside the water. He’s instructed to plant examples of all plants and fruits, to bring fire into it, and to organize the var into eighteen streets where nearly 2,000 couples would live. In this way, the Vendidad states, the Iranian people survived the “fatal winter” that assaulted the world for many generations, and then they surfaced to repopulate the world. Plutarch, an ancient Greek historian, stated that the Vendidad dates to 6,000 BCE, but this story indicates that it may be much older. Could this description be referring to how the Iranian people survived the Younger Dryas, a period of intense, sustained cold that occurred between 10,800 and 9,600 ago?
In the Nevşehir province of Turkey there exists an ancient eighteen-floor underground city, Derinkuyu, that included stables, a granary, and a wine-making room. The constant cool temperature, 50–60 degrees Fahrenheit (10–15.5°C) preserved grains well and would have kept the city’s occupants comfortable during those times when surface temperatures rose or decreased catastrophically thanks to cosmic events. Derinkuyu alone could accommodate around 50,000 people and has sophisticated ventilation system as well. Derinkuyu’s tunnels connect to some of the more than 200 other underground cities of varying sizes that have been discovered in the surrounding area. It’s estimated that a quarter of a million people could have sheltered in this extended network indefinitely.
Richard Walters, in an article published in National Geographic, reported that “years ago one could walk underground from one end of Malta to the other” (Walters 1940). There are also ancient underground networked cities in Italy, and vast underground cave networks connecting football-stadium-sized caves in many parts of the world, including Cambodia, Germany, and the southwestern United States, which show signs of sustained use over a long period of time by large numbers of people. It has long been rumored that there are large communal living spaces within enormous caves accessible from areas of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Because they are on Native American land, they aren’t open to the public, but Native American stories indicate their existence. Ancestral Native American records speak of a time in the distant past when they moved whole communities, which would have numbered 100,000 people or more, deep underground, as well as livestock. They recorded that they lived there for sustained periods of time, generations, during those periods when the sun was destroying life on the surface of Earth, generating deadly heat that was evaporating lakes and rivers. This may have occurred around 9600 BCE when, as evidenced by ice-core data, global temperatures rose 21 degrees Fahrenheit (6.11°C) over a period of 1,500 years.
Another story about surviving a catastrophe, not deep underground, but under the surface of ground, comes from the Ojibwa people, a Native American tribe from northeastern North America. They have preserved the story of the “Long-Tailed Heavenly Climbing Star.” Chimantou, the Great Spirit, warned the people that a dangerous star was about to fall from the sky. He urged them to hurry to the bog and cover themselves with mud, reflecting a simple effective way of taking shelter in the elements for survival and protection. Most people ignored his warning, laughed, and called him crazy. Only a few followed Chimantou’s instructions. Then, when the sun was high in the sky, the day suddenly became brighter than usual. The people looked up and saw a second sun that was growing larger and hotter as it hurtled toward them. It was so bright that it was blinding. The star came down to Earth and wrapped it in its burning tail. Trees burst into flames, lakes boiled, rocks glowed from the heat. Then the star climbed back up into the sky and continued on its journey. The mud-covered people survived, and everyone else perished. Chimantou returned and told them that the star would come back in another time to destroy the world again.
These stories, which, as we’ve seen, are prevalent in cultures that span the globe, suggest two things. First, that widespread global destruction, including earthquakes, floods, volcanic activity, and bombardment, occurred at points in the distant past. Many of these events have been confirmed by modern science, as we saw earlier. Second, the records suggest that these cataclysms are cyclic — they occur at the end of specific time frames, and most pronouncedly at the close of each approximately 2,160-year zodiac period (known as “era” or “age”), and with greater intensity at the close of each of the two approximately 13,000-year hemispheres of time in the 26,000-year precessional cycle.
We can now examine some physical and scientific evidence for these ancient catastrophes. Many places on the Earth are scarred by vitrification. Large areas have in the past been subjected to such intense heat that rock melted into glass. The Great Sand Sea desert near the southwestern corner of Egypt, for example, is littered with glass chunks lying on the surface. The fragments are remarkably pure, containing an extraordinary 98 percent silica, which suggests that they were the product of a single fiery event. There are over a thousand tons of this glass spread across hundreds of kilometers, along with vitrified and charred rock outcroppings. While there are several theories that attempt to explain this phenomenon, the most likely is that this area was struck by an exploding meteor, perhaps at the same time that the recently discovered Kamil crater was formed in the same area. A 2008 Google Earth search resulted in the discovery of this spectacular meteor crater that had sat undisturbed in the harsh isolated desert location. Within the last few thousand years, perhaps witnessed by humans, a 10 ton iron meteor with a fireball and plume that could have been seen 1000 km away, smashed a hole 16 m deep and 45 m wide in the rocky desert terrain.
Similarly, in central Europe, certain locations are littered with so-called “moldavite,” which is a natural green glass. The commonly accepted explanation is that this was created by the impact of a colossal meteor in Nordlinger Ries. Moldavite is now faceted and used in jewelry. Elsewhere in northern Europe and in Britain, expanses of rock and ancient stone constructions are scarred and fused by vitrification.
Without doubt, multiple catastrophes of global proportion, the likes of which we haven’t witnessed in the last millennia of our own age, took place in recorded history. These weren’t isolated disasters in different parts of the world, such as the local flooding of a river, the eruption of a single volcano, or even sporadic meteorite showers. The catastrophes recorded by our ancient ancestors were global and had far-reaching consequences. The records are necessarily fragmented and incomplete, emerging as they do from the vast recesses of time that have been periodically punctuated by epic catastrophes. And modern translation and interpretation has in many cases perverted their message. However, if we gather all the evidence and treat it as a single narrative, we can glean some basic commonalities.
First, we’re told that the sun disappeared completely for a period of time — from three to ten days. The extended “disappearance” of the sun suggests some sort of natural catastrophe. We know that darkening of the atmosphere has occurred in recent history following volcanic eruptions and meteor impact. A relatively recent example of this phenomenon, although not as severe as the age-ending cataclysms recorded by the ancients, can be seen in the events that took place during the first half of the sixth century CE. It’s estimated that the sun dimmed to approximately 10 percent at the peak of the darkening. John of Ephesus, a sixth-century historian, wrote of this event: “There was a sign from the sun, the like of which had never been seen and reported before. The sun became dark and its darkness lasted for 18 months. Each day, it shone for about four hours, and still this light was only a feeble shadow” (Historiae Ecclesiasicae). This event appears to have been caused by thick atmospheric dust, likely related to a large equatorial volcanic eruption (Larsen 2008) and comet impact (Than 2009) followed by another comet impact in 540 CE (Baillie 2007). During this period, the foundations of civilization were badly shaken globally by a devastating climate catastrophe. The Northern Hemisphere experienced the most severe short-term cooling of the last 2,000 years. A third of Europe’s population perished due to failed harvests, plagues, and war. Peru, Iceland, and China recorded widespread famine and death. Interestingly, the date corresponds to the story of Camelot, with its decline into a wasteland, failed fertility, madness, and the death of the mythical King Arthur, which was variously recorded as taking place in 537 CE, 539 CE, and 542 CE. This profound decline that took place approximately 1,500 years ago is documented in tree-ring data from Europe, North and South America, the Aegean, Siberia, and Tasmania, which record low growth during this period, evidence of darkened skies and cold summers. Well-established civilizations in the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Southeast Asia all suffered collapse or serious interruption, resulting in the displacement and death of millions of people.
Similarly, in 1257–1258 CE (approximately 720 years after the event described above) a third of London’s population died from the effects of volcanic explosion, and the effects, of course, were not just limited to London: there are mass burial pits across Europe that correspond to this time period. Around the same time, a long stable Native American culture in North America abruptly collapsed. Researchers aren’t yet certain where the volcano was located that caused darkened skies, widespread death, and suffering from famine and pestilence. There were a number of significant volcanic explosions in the first half of the 13th century: among them Harrat Rahat in Saudi Arabia, El Chichón in Mexico, Ubehebe in California’s Death Valley desert, and (the most likely culprit) Samalas in the Rinjani volcano complex in Indonesia. Perhaps the devastation can be attributed to all of these volcanoes erupting during such a short period of time.
Summarizing, our premodern ancestors thought extensively about an ancient, globally connected, intellectually sophisticated, technologically advanced civilization that catastrophically collapsed all over the globe in the distant past. Evidence of this early global civilization and its achievements still exists today in the form of artifacts and substantial stone architectural ruins all around the world, and in references found in the writings of the people and cultures that survived the upheaval. Modern archaeologists are now finding extensive evidence of this advanced global civilization. Until very recently, modern archaeology believed that these artifacts and ruins dated from around 5,000 years ago at the earliest. Recent research by archaeologists, in cooperation with geologists and climatologists, and assisted by satellite photography, strongly suggests that many of the most substantial ruins and artifacts date to at least 15,000 years ago, and there’s substantial reason to believe that many of them are much older — likely dating in the range of 15,000 to 40,000 years ago. These ruins are evidence of a globally connected high civilization that collapsed in the relatively near past. Oral tradition around the world preserved a memory of this collapse, and the cause of it, described in Chapter 4.
There’s plenty of evidence that 200,000 years ago the Earth was populated with humans who would not look out of place in the shopping malls of the modern world. Our fairly recent belief that the origins of human civilization date back only to approximately 5500 BCE has crumbled away in recent decades. Recent research has pushed that date back to 90,000–100,000 BCE, according to anthropological standards related to the ability to incorporate complex abstractions and mathematical understandings expressively into the design of cave wall paintings, pottery, housing, tools, and jewelry. If current trends continue, then the date for the origins of human civilization will likely be pushed even further back as more data is analyzed. Ninety to a hundred thousand years is more than enough time for our ancestors to have observed the patterns of the cosmosphere and their effects on Earth and all living beings. It’s also more than enough time for humans to have given birth to highly advanced, globally connected civilizations other than our own. In the next chapter, we’ll look at some of the vessels that have borne their ancient truths down through the millennia.