Those readers who have watched the three-hour documentary debunking the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens series know that part of the documentary is devoted to debunking an extraterrestrial explanation for the statues at Rapa Nui – Easter Island. I came across this short piece on the statues that contributes to dispensing with the nonsense as well.
Immanuel Velikovsky’s name is, for many, synonymous with paleobabble. I can think of a few other candidates I’d move ahead of him for such an honor, but Velikovsky indeed belongs to the “modern classical period” of wacky stuff related to study of the ancient world. You can read his Wikipedia page if you’re unfamiliar with him.
I recently came across this link: “Top Ten Reasons Why Velikovsky is Wrong About Worlds in Collision.” The essay at the link is long, dense, and technical. It’s also got terrible formatting (as in no formatting) so it’s hard on the eyes. I link to it because of the pedigree of its author, Leroy Ellenberger, who describes himself as follows:
This Top Ten list is based on 30 years exposure to Velikovsky’s ideas which includes 8 years as an insider at the Velikovsky journal Kronos (1978 – 1986), confidant to Velikovsky (4/78 – 11/79), invited “Devil’s Advocate” at Aeon (’88 – ’91), and 13 years as a turncoat/critic interacting with Velikovsky’s defenders and/or successors at conferences, in private, and in Usenet (’94 -’96) & list-serve forums.
In other words, he knows Velikovsky’s material really, really well. So all the haters can just email him to defend Velikovsky. And good luck with that.
There’s also a new book on Velikovsky’s ideas (with others): The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe. I just bought it so I’ll be reading it at some point this year.
This recent post on the Bad Archaeology blog provides a much-needed antidote against the Piri Reis paleobabble contagion. As author Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews notes at the outset:
Maps of the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries are a favourite source of information for fringe writers, who use them to make a wide variety of claims. To Erich von Däniken, for instance, they are evidence for a survey of the Earth from space, carried out by extraterrestrials, while for Graham Hancock, they are evidence for an ancient sea-faring civilisation, lost beneath the sea after the melting of glacial ice at the end of the Pleistocene.
Anyone who’s put any time into the Piri Reis issue knows the above is on target. What you may not have known is that the Piri Reis discussion is based in part on selective use of evidence. I highly recommend the essay, as it covers the alleged anomalies (e.g., knowledge of Antarctica before it became ice-covered) and the Charles Hapgood trajectories that are so frequently used to defend the paleobabbling perspective of Piri Reis.
PaleoBabble readers have likely heard about Dr. Robert Schoch’s theory of water erosion and the Sphinx. It’s been used by alternative researchers to argue for an advanced Egyptian civilization back to 10,500 BC, far earlier than the beginning of dynastic Egypt. Schoch is a geologist, and so his work has garnered serious attention. Dr. Colin Reader is also a geologist, and he isn’t buying what Schoch is selling. I’d invite readers to check out this recent essay by Chris White on the Reader-Schoch debate to get up to speed.
Colin Reader’s views on the Sphinx have been around for some time, as this lengthy 1997/1999 piece posted on Ian Lawton’s website indicates. Reader postulates an early dynastic origin for the monument that we know as the Sphinx (it underwent an evolution in appearance by human hands up to and including the reign of Khafre). This idea pre-dates an Old Kingdom (Khafre) origin, but is nowhere near the chronologically distant past where Schoch has it. He writes (see the Ian Lawton link):
The origins of the Sphinx as an icon are unclear. On the basis of the sequence of development that I propose, I consider that the concept of the man-headed lion was an evolutionary one, originating in the Early Dynastic association of the lion with solar worship and culminating in the Fourth Dynasty association of the Pharaoh with the sun-god – an association made manifest by re-carving the head of the Great Sphinx in the form of the divine king, perhaps during the reign of Khafre.
You just have to check out this fascinating article: “Massive European network of Stone Age tunnels that weaves from Scotland to Turkey.” Really cool.
If you’ve ever visited underground caverns (or ridden a subway), you know that getting from Point A to Point B underground (hence, without the stars, sun, or landmarks for assistance) over any meaningful distance requires planning and intelligence. This is yet another telling find documenting the intelligence and applied aptitude of ancient humans. Sure, prehistoric people weren’t using electricity or computers, but they weren’t sitting on their duffs waiting for star visitors to solve their problems, either.
There’s been a spate of resources that have popped up online in recent days for excellent resources to study the ancient world. Some of these resources have been around a while, but have gotten some recent attention and traffic on various blogs and news sites. Here are some valuable links:
The New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS) Online
- this is the most recent scholarly translation of the Septuagint
- Do your research on Thomas here, not with Dan Brown and Michael Baigent. That way something you say about Thomas has a prayer of being right.
- The Center promotes cartography, historical geography, and geographic information science as essential disciplines within the field of ancient studies through innovative and collaborative research, teaching, and community outreach activities.
- For the first time, the latest and most exhaustive information available on the Giza Necropolis will be made available to everyone through a realistic experience that can satisfy mere cu- riosity or encourage more demanding research inquiries
It’s been a while since I posted anything about the Nazca lines. Fortunately, some thoughtful material has appeared this year online that I thought worth sharing (translation: the analyses at the links below didn’t come from the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens series).
The Archaeological Fantasies blog recently posted two items on the Nazca Lines (no idea why the author varies the Nazca spelling):
The essays are interesting and informative. Producing these symbols on the ground does not take high alien technology or alien foremen guiding the primitives from above in a UFO (see the first post — Joe Nickell, with three helpers, produced a 440-foot condor image like the original in just over a day, using nothing but “a knotted rope, stakes, and a T-square they constructed from two pieces of wood”). Nickell’s own article on the lines is footnoted in the post, but here’s a link: “The Nazca Drawings Revisited: Creation of a Full-Sized Duplicate.”
PaleoBabble readers know that ancient astronaut theorists suffer from a fixation on megalithic construction. The “impossibility” of moving stones of great size and tremendous weight appears to them as proof of alien assistance. This argument of course is simply reduced to “since I can’t figure out how it was done, it must have been aliens.” Rather than focus on the absurdity of this logic, I’ve tried to introduce readers to peer-reviewed scholarship on ancient construction and engineering. Egypt’s pyramids have received a lot of attention here in that regard. I want to turn now to Baalbek, specifically the famous trilithon (the three stones at the base of the Roman temple at the site).
There isn’t much written on this that’s available to the non-specialist, and most of what is available isn’t in English. At the risk of directing readers to a source that won’t be much use since it’s in French, I still think it’s useful to demonstrate that scholars have put serious thought into the trilithon, and have come up with workable solutions that have been successful in analogous situations (in this case, something even bigger than the trilithon – yes, ancient alien enthusiasts, the trilithon is NOT the largest object moved without modern machines; keep reading). A very good (and lengthy) scholarly journal article in French about moving the trilithon by ancient mechanical means is available on the web: Jean-Pierre Adam, “A propos du trilithon de Baalbek. Le transport et la mise en oeuvre des megaliths,” Syria 54:1-2 (1977): 31-63 (English translation: “Concerning the trilithon of Baalbek: Transportation and the Implementation of the Megaliths”). Two caveats on the article: (1) It’s very technical. It’s filled with mathematical discussion since its author is quite familiar with analyzing such problems via applied physics; (2) my French stinks. As such, I converted the article to text and used Google Translate, then went through and smoothed things out. I did not do this for the full article (I have better things to do). However, I have given readers important excerpts of this 32 page article. If you read French, then you can check on the translation and send me updates.
On pages 34-37 the author discusses ancient writers who described construction techniques for moving large stone objects. He writes:
“The advantage of this unique publication is exacerbated by the fact that, although written during the reign of Augustus, the treaty made a broad appeal to the art of building Greeks whose author cites the lost works of theorists and the most famous architects. In the context of this brief study, our interest is in the tenth book of Vitruvius, where we find a detailed description of the process and machinery used on construction sites of Greece and Rome and the author mentions at the same time the efficient and widespread job. The transport of megaliths is not forgotten . . .
Vitruvius cites two anecdotes relating to the construction . . . He sank both ends of “column each iron bolts made of Swallow-tailed and are sealed” with lead, having taken the precaution to put in the pieces of wood cross-sectional “dirty iron rings, in which bolts came in as “hubs. In addition, he strengthens his machine by attaching the two “pieces of oak ties, so that when the horse pulling the” bolts turned so easily into the rings, all the “shafts of the columns rolled easily on land to their destination.”
The second transport means for the megaliths described by Vitruvius . . . consisted of wheels twelve feet (approx. 3.60 m) and “locked both ends of the architraves in the middle of the wheels. He put “as bolts and iron rings, so that when the horse” pulling the machine, put the bolts in the iron rings were “turning the wheels. Thus, the architraves, which were in the wheels “as axles, were dragged and taken on the spot.”
He provides the following drawing to illustrate these techniques (Fig 2). Note how the absence of a round shape was no obstacle to moving something like a whole large pillar or obelisk — you simply gave it roundness at the ends to roll it. Very clever.
On page 42 the author introduces what will become for him an analogous point of reference for his proposed solution to moving the trilithon of Baalbek:
“. . . 1,250,000 kilograms . . . is the weight of the great block of granite the Empress Catherine II of Russia (1762-1796) . . . carried to St. Petersburg (now Leningrad) to serve as a colossal base to the equestrian statue of Peter the Great. This is likely the largest stone ever moved by man, one and a half times the weight trilithon blocks [at Baalbek.]”
Hope you caught that — an object 1.5 times the weight of the trilithon was successfully moved in the 18th century — no modern cranes. They did it with manpower, not alien know-how. He mentions other large objects successfully moved by human engineers, but this one gets special attention because it was a larger problem than the trilithon.
The rest of the article is devoted to Baalbek’s trilithon. Throughout pages 52-63, the author discusses the physics and engineering problems and solutions. Some excerpts:
“To appreciate the magnitude of the work, and justify the solution adapted to it, it is necessary to give the figures for to the heavier blocks, namely those of trilithon As its name suggests this set consists of three stones measuring respectively, 19.60 m, 19.30 m and 19.10 m long, 4.34 m high, 3.65 m deep. Their average weight is nearly 800 tons. . . . every stone has nearly 10 m in length for an average weight of 350 tonnes . . . After recalling the experiences of St. Petersburg, Luxor, and Carrara, we can obtain a more lucidly clean solution for this megalithic structure and more particularly to the construction of the trilithon.”
The author discusses using ox power to move the stones, a solution he will reject because of the lack of space on the site for the oxen:
“To solve the problem of Baalbek in the most comprehensive, we will consider the establishment of one of the heaviest blocks, that is to say one of the stones of 800,000 kg constituting the trilithon; the interventions for elements lighter in the deduction will be logical.
So either one of these stones completely detached from the rock and relaxing on logs. The floor beams receiving the convoy has a rolling flat surface to reduce the weight hauled to 66,600 kg. Knowing that an ox can provide a work of 80 kgm per second, continuously for one hour, we deduce there should be 825 of these animals to transport one of trilithon stones on a horizontal floor. Traditionally, it is estimated that an ox can pull a load 1.000 kg placed on a chariot. If we consider the block of 800,000 kg of the trilithon, it follows that 800 oxen are needed to move it.”
The author notes some logistical problems with using oxen before moving to a human solution:
“Certainly the yoke was known to mate the oxen, and in the case normal load, the pole was attached directly to the yoke between two animals, but when it came to transport heavy, each torque cattle was connected to the load by a cable or pole. . . . Xenophon gives us a confirmation on the use of this type coupling in the description he gives us the means employed by Cyrus to ensure the movement of heavy battle rounds . . . Each turn with wheels, was equipped with 8 drawbars which were harnessed eight pairs of oxen pulling front.
Despite the apparent simplicity of this energy source, we prefer to look to the human powered, with which the weakness in muscle is compensated by the extreme technical elaboration of the device multiplier used. In the event of a traction provided by the duration of the capstans, movement is a bit longer, since it multiplies the distance traveled by the load, in favor of the force and must ensure the in place and anchor machinery. The advantage of this method lies in the extremely small number of workers needed and the greater accuracy of the progression, allowing rigorous implementation of blocks the one above and beside the other. . . . Each capstan bar with four men using it would make 24 in total. . . . The force exerted directly by the capstan 24 men and six bar is at 20 kg per man of 480 kg. Taking center force application to 1.70 m from the center of rotation and a radius of drum of 10 cm, this force becomes (by a form winch) 8160 kg. Four cables of hemp, each providing four tons of traction, wind around the drum and by acting on the load through a hoist with two pulleys, generate a power of 16,320 kg of the machine; 13,056 kg reduced power by the coefficient of friction. Six of these machines, involving 144 men and providing traction power of 78,336 kg must allow, with a margin of excess power always useful, the transportation of each block of trilithon.”
Since the above is hard to conceptualize, the author includes a drawing of the simple, yet effective solution to moving the trilithon.
Simple, workable, and human. Once again, the ancient alien theorist’s low view of human intelligence and practical engineering prowess is demonstrated.
Kudos are once again in order for Jason Colavito’s seemingly boundless enthusiasm for exposing poor thinking (having a PhD doesn’t mean someone thinks well … boy could I tell stories).