about Outrageous Hypotheses and Extraordinary Possibilities: A View
from The Trenches
foundations of orthodox academic history rest in a theory
of the past that could be either
partially or completely wrong. What is at stake is our memory of at
least the first 40,000 years of our species' existence
(perhaps much longer).
What is needed is a mood of willingness in
society to investigate extraordinary possibilities -- even it is
just on the off-chance that there may be something to them.
is a mystery that will not be easily explained.
It is not simply a matter
of how the physical processes of life began on Earth - although that
is a problem for which the best scientific minds of the modern age
have failed to come up with an answer.
But it is also the question
of whether our lives have any meaning - a question to which religion
responds with a resounding 'yes', and to which science by and large
responds with a resounding 'no'.
My own involvement with
this mystery has been as an author of mass-market books of
'alternative history' - a genre that Britain's Guardian
newspaper has credited me with inventing. I have never wished, nor
sought, to be anything other than a professional author - in other
words to make a living from my writing. In recent years I have made
a good living and I hope this is because millions of individual
readers around the world have found my books entertaining and
intellectually stimulating. If people have been lured into buying my
books only by the hype - because they hope they will find some
revelation or transcendental truth concealed therein - then I have
not done my job properly.
The Sign And The Seal
My first book of
'alternative history', published in 1992, was "The Sign and the Seal".
It was the fruit of a long investigation
that I had undertaken during the 1980's into Ethiopia's claim to be
the last resting place of the lost Ark of the Covenent. I did not
come to the book with any sense of moral mission. What drew me to it
was a journalistic instinct that I had stumbled upon a good story
that no-one had yet told properly. I decided to tell the story.
Many life-changing things
happened to me while I was researching The
Sign And The Seal, and most of them are reported in the
book. I met Santha -- who was later to become my wife. On her
suggestion I gave up morally dubious business dealings that I had
enjoyed in the 1980's with the governments of Somalia and Ethiopia.
I made a journey across deserts and mountains in a time of war. And
I came eventually to stand before the gates of the chapel of the Ark
only to be refused entry by a pious monk dressed all in black.
Along the way I learned
something that I had not understood before.
This is that the
foundations of orthodox academic history rest in a theory
of the past that could be - I stress could be -- either
partially or completely wrong. The theory contains the following key
- A few billion years ago life on Earth
emerged by chance from the 'primeval soup'.
- Life continuously evolved, throwing
up ever more complex and sophisticated species;
- Eventually ape-like creatures
appeared that were the direct ancestors of the human race.
- These 'hominids' continuously evolved
over millions of years until the emergence of Homo sapiens
sapiens, modern man, somewhere between 120,000 years ago and
40,000 years ago.
- Modern human beings have not
demonstrated any significant physical evolution over the past
40,000 years. Human society, however, has evolved continuously
from primitive hunter-gatherers and 'cave men', through the
first sustained experiments in settled agriculture about 8,000
years ago, to the formation of ever larger villages, and
finally, about 5,000 years ago, to the growth of 'cities'.
- During these last 5,000 years,
despite some ups and downs, society has gone on 'evolving' in
the direction of ever greater sophistication and technological
- As the end products of all this
evolution, modern humans are infinitely more sophisticated than
their 'primitive' ancestors.
Whilst working on The
Sign And The Seal, I gradually began to realise just how
many anomalies and enigmas there were in the past which either were
not adequately explained by the orthodox theory of history or which
could be equally adequately explained by an alternative theory. For
example, if the orthodox historians were right then the strange
'powers' of the Ark of the Covenant, described in the Bible and
elsewhere, were just figments of folklore and scribal imagination.
The part it played in knocking down the walls of Jericho, the
'voice' and 'sparks' that were said to have come out of it, its bad
habit of striking people dead whenever they touched it, the
'cancerous tumours' it caused amongst the Philistines of Ashdod -
and many other signs and wonders - were all just fantastic literary
inventions that were completely detached from historical reality.
Certainly it could have
But what surprised me was
that no-one had seriously attempted to investigate the alternative
possibility allowed by the very consistent accounts that ancient
sources give us about the Ark - namely that it could have been a
technological device of some sort. This possibility had not been
considered because historians recognise no ancient civilisation
capable of designing a piece of technology that could do what the
Ark did. They believe they know the past well enough to reject the
suggestion that such a civilisation could have escaped their notice.
They have therefore concluded that no such civilisation ever existed
and also reject all categories of evidence that in any way suggest
I realise that the case for
the Ark as a piece of technology, laid out in Part IV of The
Sign And The Seal, may not be the strongest argument I have
ever presented. But the point I want to make here is that it was
worth presenting anyway. My purpose in writing these chapters was to
confront my readers with a catalogue of the Ark's mysterious
attributes and characteristics - which are many - and to question at
every stage whether it was reasonable to explain them all away as
'fantastic literary inventions'. I argued that the Ark's powers
might have been derived from the forgotten knowledge of a lost
civilisation and that it could indeed have been some sort of
artefact or instrument.
The same basic rationale
also lies at the heart of my next book, Fingerprints
Of The Gods (published in 1995), in which my purpose was to
make a comprehensive case for the existence of a lost civilisation -
a great, worldwide prehistoric culture that was all but wiped out,
leaving only a few survivors, at the end of the last Ice Age some
12,500 years ago.
To this day I am astonished
by the response that Fingerprints
has generated amongst orthodox academics and their supporters. Some
reacted with intense horror, like devout Catholics affronted by an
act of blasphemy. Others poked fun at me - as though I must be a
lunatic even to have conceived of such ideas. Others noticed how
had become - a Number One bestseller in Britain, Italy and Japan
with total sales in excess of three million - and concluded that I
had somehow conned the public into making me rich.
I sincerely hope that I
have done no such thing. As I said a moment ago, I have never
claimed to be anything other than a professional author. After years
of debt and dicing with financial disaster I am proud to say that my
books are now making money. This gives me independence and freedom
of action and allows me to invest in proper field research. Whether
my arguments are 100 per cent right or 100 per cent wrong, it tells
me that people must like to read me and must, by and large, feel
that they get 'value for money' from doing so. It also tells me what
my 'job' is - the job, in other words, that the public are funding
me to do when they buy my books. This is to make the best case I
possibly can for a lost civilisation, to fight tooth and claw with
the historians, archaeologists and other 'authorities' who insist
that no such civilisation ever existed, and to champion the
intuition - which many of us share -- that a great mystery may have
been locked away somewhere deep in humanity's past.
A parallel for what I do is
to be found in the work of an attorney defending a client in a court
of law. My 'client' is a lost civilisation and it is my
responsibility to persuade the jury - the public - that this
civilisation did exist. Since the 'prosecution' - orthodox academics
- naturally seek to make the opposite case as effectively as they
can, I must be equally effective and, where necessary, equally
So it is certainly true, as
many of my critics have pointed out, that I am selective with the
evidence I present. Of course I'm selective! It isn't my job to show
my client in a bad light!
Another criticism is that I
use innuendo to make my case. Of course I do - innuendo and anything
else that works.
I don't care about the
'rules of the game' here - because it isn't a game and there are no
rules. The 20th century witnessed the emergence of an overwhelming
academic concensus, supported in the media and at all levels of the
education system, that no lost civilisation lies forgotten in the
human past. This concensus is so strongly reinforced that no serious
research has been done on the subject for more than 50 years and not
a single academic institution in the Western world presently has a
faculty of 'Lost Civilisation Studies'!
So I'm proud to have stood
shoulder to shoulder during the 1990's with my friends and fellow
writers Robert Bauval and John Anthony West in stirring things up so
badly for orthodox historians -- Egyptologists in particular -- that
millions of people all around the world now have serious doubts
about the 'official' picture of past. I'm proud that so many who
were formerly indifferent are now prepared to give the benefit of
this doubt to the extraordinary and exciting possibility of a lost
civilisation. And I'm proud that orthodox thinkers, who would prefer
to have ignored us, have been compelled into a backlash.
Trial and error
Much attention is focussed
on 'mistakes' that Robert, John and I have made.
Of course we've made
mistakes! Our theory of a lost civilisation of prehistory and its
impact on historical cultures is in its early stages and will
require constant refinement, perhaps for years, before all its
errors have been eliminated. But does this mean that it would have
been better if we hadn't begun to develop the theory in the first
place? I don't think so. Does it mean that we should have just sat
back and ignored anomalies and puzzles that orthodox historians
offer no satisfactory explanations for? Again, I don't think so.
To give a specific example,
would it have been better if John West had never become curious
about the apparent water-weathering of the Great Sphinx of Giza or
if he had never begun to suggest that it might have acquired this
profile during the heavy rains of the last Ice Age - thousands of
years before the birth of the historical civilisation of Egypt?
Surely only a fool, or a
pedant with invincible confidence in the orthodox theory that dates
the Sphinx to 2,500 BC, would argue that West should have dropped
the matter? Surely it's better to debate such issues freely and to
consider all possible lines of inquiry and evidence rather than to
rule out a whole range of possibilities at the outset?
Similarly would it have
been best if Robert Bauval had simply not noticed the similarity
that exists between the pattern of the three stars of Orion's belt
-- as viewed looking south from Giza -- and the pattern of the three
Great Pyramids of Giza. Or, having noticed it, would it have been
better if he had not researched the matter further? Was it in some
way irresponsible of him in his book The Orion Mystery to
put before the public a very large and compelling body of evidence
which suggests that the ground plan cannot possibly be a
coincidence? Should he have just kept quiet about this information
and not rocked the boat?
I think not. Contrary to
their detractors, I believe that the work of West and Bauval has
been a powerful force for good. It has stimulated a new spirit of
generosity towards the past and a new spirit of enquiry into age-old
mysteries. Bogged down in received wisdom and unquestioned
assumptions, orthodox historical thinking about the origins of
civilisation had become stale, uncreative and boring by the
beginning of the 1990's. What would have been the point of
continuing along that path, without challenge, just because
Professor X and Dr Y said it was so?
So I'm proud to have been
part of all this and that my books have put radical alternative
ideas about the past before a readership of millions. I repeat and
re-emphasise my confident expectation that those of us who have been
involved will have made many mistakes in our work! After all, what
worthwhile new scientific theory ever comes into existence all at
once and fully formed? Most good theories are the result of years of
experimentation and trial and error -- with bad hypotheses being
abandoned and better ones gradually strengthened. Some of our ideas
may be good, therefore, and others not so good -- but its only by
putting them forward to be tested and criticised that we can really
discover what works and what doesn't, what is strong and what is
My own work is evolving and
where I have discovered that I have made mistakes I have said so
publicly. I want to give a lengthy example of this here, which
followed criticisms in 1998 on the Internet newsgroup Egyptnews --
and elsewhere -- concerning arguments that I had presented in Fingerprints
of the Gods and Keeper of Genesis (the latter
co-authored with Robert Bauval) about possible 19th century
falsification of hieroglyphic graffiti in the so-called 'relieving
chambers' above the King's Chamber in the Great Pyramid. The
criticisms, mainly from a gentleman named Martin Stower, were
well-deserved and pointed out fatal errors in my analysis. I
responded with the following full retraction which was published on
Egyptnews and on many widely-read websites (NB links cited may be
out of date):
Recently I've been spending
much less time at Giza. The research for my new book involves diving
to possible sites of underwater ruins all around the world. Some of
Santha Faiia's photographs
from these dives are on display in the Gallery pages of this
The most difficult problem
that we have faced, and an extraordinarily complex one, is how to
decide whether these predominantly monolithic structures were shaped
and carved by human hands or whether they could have ended up
looking the way they do as a result of natural weathering. If they
are natural then their significance does not exceed their geological
curiosity. But if they were made by people then, ultimately, they
have the potential to force through a revolution in society's
perception of prehistory. This -- to state the obvious! -- is
because they must have been carved out the surrounding bedrock
before sea-level rose to its present height. In some cases this
suggests an age of at least 12,000 years.
Might these underwater
structures be relics of a lost, antediluvian civilisation - and
since they are found all around the world, might this prehistoric
civilisation have been global before it was destroyed?
There is incredibly strong
resistance to such ideas. An example is the way in which ignorant,
idle people, who are often too cowardly or too incompetent to scuba
dive in the dangerous waters that swirl around the Japanese island
of Yonaguni, nevertheless rush to assert that the underwater
structures there are purely natural geological phenomena that
have had nothing to do with the works of man. The same goes for what
I call the "tourist academics" who come to Yonaguni, do
four or five dives and leave, again declaring that the structures
A recent example of the latter
is the German geologist Wolf Wichmann who made a total of just three
dives at Yonaguni this summer and then declared - in Der Spiegel
magazine (34/1999)- "I didn't find anything that was
Here, translated into
English, is Der Spiegel's story about Wichmann's
off the coast of Japan there is a submerged rock monument 10,000
years old - perhaps a relic of a previously unknown super
ship dropped anchor near the south Japanese island of Yonaguni
under a bright blue sky. Wolf Wichmann, a graduate geologist from
Seevetak, near Hamburg, struggled into his neoprene suit and stuck
a hammer and foot-rule into his belt. Then the rock expert, a good
9000 kilometres from home,jumped into the sea.
immediately the expert found himself facing a massif that was
straight out of a sci-fi movie. Below him a stepped tower some 25
metres high rose from the ocean floor. The frogman swam past
platforms and patios covered with algae, and inspected flights of
steps and huge chunks of rock that looked as though they had been
cut by a diamond saw.
What kind of
architectural alien was lying there in Japan's territorial waters?
The oldest structure in the world? Atlantis in the Pacific? One of
the greatest discoveries in the history of archaeology? This
mysterious monument has been the cause of scares and flash
headlines for months on end.
block is some 200 metres long, its highest plateau some five
metres below the surface. According to experts, this structure
must have been sinking slowly into the ocean for over 10,000
were discovered by skin-diver Kihachiro Aratake back in 1986.
While plotting an underwater chart he discovered, 250 metres from
the island, a rocky massif whose cliffs rose upwards like the
"walls of a castle". The structure looked like "an
Inca temple", said the diver. He was seized by "fear and
emotion". "I thought I was seeing something
actually be something in that. 10,000 years ago, primitive
hunter-gatherers roamed the coasts of Japan. So who created this
scientists haven't got a clue. "It is unlikely to be anything
natural" said the oceanographer Terukai Ishii from Tokyo.
Masaaki Kimura, a marine researcher at the Rykyus University
(Okinawa) talks about "a masterpiece". He thinks the
sandstone is a sacred edifice built by a hitherto unknown
"new culture" possessing advanced technical abilities.
But which one?
The debate going
on in the Orient has awakened the curiosity of the West. People
with second sight find themselves magically attracted by
"Iseki Point ("ruins"). At the beginning of 1998
the geologist Robert Schoch, who believes the Sphinx was built by
the people of Atlantis, swam down to the site and declared it to
be "most interesting". The guru of ancient antiquity and
best-selling author Graham Hancock was also investigating the
site. After an excursion in a submersible he records that at the
base of the monument can be seen a "clearly-defined
However the rock
expert Wolf Wichmann could not corroborate these conclusions. In
the company of a team from SPIEGEL TV he returned to explore the
coastal area, under threat from tsunamis. In a total of three
diving operations he gathered rock samples and measured the steps
and "walls". He was unconvinced by his findings: "I
didn't find anything that was man-made".
inspection it was revealed that the "gigantic temple" (Aratake)
is nothing but naturally produced bedded rock. The sandstone is
traversed by vertical cracks and horizontal crevices.
Perpendicularity and steps have gradually developed in the
fracture zones. The plateaux at the top are referred to by
Wichmann as typical "eroded plains". Such flat areas
occur when bedded rock is located right in the path of the wash of
pictures rich in detail and contrast may indeed reveal something
else, but in general the mass of rock looks like a structure
rising out of a sandy bed, with no sign of architectural design.
The plateaux have gradient sections, and there is no perpendicular
wall. Some of the steps just end nowhere; others are in a spiral,
like steep hen-roosts.
The stony blocks
show no signs of mechanical working. "Had the 'ashlars' been
hewn by tools, they would have been studded with flutes and cuts
and scratches", said Wichmann. Three circular recesses on the
topmost plateau, referred to by Kimura as column foundations, are
nothing but "potholes". These occur when water washes
through narrow spaces.
Facts like these
fail to stem the current epidemic of mystery-fever. The Yonaguni
monument has for some time played a key role in the world picture
of archaeological dreamers. An "Atlantis Team" boldly
declared on the Internet: "We found ourselves at the opening
of an arched arcade of stone". At other websites the crag
becomes a "ceremonial centre with broad promenades, flanked
by pylon gateways."
Kimura bolsters such propositions with even more exploratory
results. He has also discovered even more sites in the waters
around the island near Okinawa. Cones and rock debris overgrown
with algae become "boulevards, altars and rooms in
The media are
keen to take part in this explanatory drivel [presumably with the
exception of Der Spiegel and Der Spiegel TV?]. In Japan Yonaguni
has long been the navel of the world, and a new Mecca of
primordial times. Brewers and Japan Airlines are on the bandwagon
of the sub-aqueus Babylon in the Far east. The TV Broadcasters CNN
and Channel Four were already there with their camera teams. Now
the experts from the BBC wish to plumb these legendary depths.
The natives of
Yonaguni are quite glad to see this ballyhoo of people. The
monument's discoverer, Kihachiro Aratake, is gratified by the
influx of visitors to his small island home. "I am happy that
everyone comes here, the foreigners too!" beams the explorer.
high spirits are not without some self-interest, however.
Kihachiro Aratake runs a big diving shop on the island. His
parents own a hotel there.
The general tone of this
Der Spiegel article - derisive, condescending, ridiculing the
islanders -- is fairly typical of the way in which the quality
Western press report on the Yonaguni structures. Also typical is the
instant (and insulting) rejection of the conclusions of two highly
qualified Japanese scholars (Terukai Ishii and Professor Masaaki
Kimura -- both of whom believe the Yonaguni monuments to be
man-made) and the equally instant (and credulous) acceptance of the
opinion of the German "expert" Wichmann, whose only
qualification is that he is a geologist who has done three dives at
Yonaguni. No mention is made of the fact that Professor Kimura is a
geologist too and that he and his team of research students from the
University of the Ryukus have reached their opinion about the
artificiality of the monuments after a five-year survey there
involving more than 200 dives.
There are a number of other
serious lacunae and errors in the article.
For example, it tells us
that Professor Robert Schoch of Boston University "believes the
Sphinx was built by the people of Atlantis." This is completely
untrue! Schoch does not believe any such thing - as he has stated
explicitly on several well-documented occasions.
Another pointer to the
generally low level of knowledge upon which the Der Spiegel piece is
based is the howling error that only "primitive
hunter-gatherers" roamed the coasts of Japan 10,000 years ago.
It is now well-established that at that date Japan was home to the
remarkable Jomon culture which manufactured beautiful pottery at
least 3000 years earlier than any other known civilisation in the
world and which also mastered the domestication of rice at an
extremely early date. The mounting evidence of the surprising
sophistication and complexity of Jomon culture, coupled with
evidence of advanced architectural abilities at sites like
Sannai-maruyama and elsewhere, makes these mysterious prehistoric
people look like very plausible candidates for the creators of the
All in all, therefore, it
seems to me that the judgements expressed in the Der Spiegel article
are narrow-minded, ignorant and premature. I don't think anyone is
in a position to form an intelligent opinion about what Yonaguni has
to offer until they have put in extensive time there and dealt with
some of the risks of repeated dives to its unique underwater sites.
Wolf Wichmann's three dives
don't even begin to qualify him.
Since March 1997 I
personally have made more than 100 dives to the Yonaguni monuments
(not just "an excursion in a submersible" as Der Spiegel
dishonestly asserts; actually I have never used a submersible at
Yonaguni!). The experiences I have had as a hands-on diver
(including examination, in ferocious currents, of what is, indeed, a
"clearly-defined path" at the base of the monument) have
convinced me that the structures are all inter-related and that they
must, accordingly, be the result of some sort of masterplan. This is
why, contrary to mainstream opinion, the better I get to know
Yonaguni the more difficult it becomes for me to accept the various
theories which claim that the underwater monuments are natural.
I would therefore like to
offer a challenge to Wolf Wichmann, or for that matter to any
suitably qualified, scuba-diving geologist - or preferably to a team
involving both a geologist and an archaeologist (both of whom must
be competent scuba divers and both of whom should already have
formed the opinion that the Yonaguni structures are natural). Let us
agree a mutually convenient time to do, say, 20 dives together at
Yonaguni over a period of about a week. I will show you the
structures as I have come to know them, and give you every reason,
including expert academic opinion (which I will ask the relevant
scholars to present in person), why I think that the monuments must
have been worked on by human beings. You will do your best to
persuade me otherwise. At the end of the week let's see if either
side has had a change of mind.
Meanwhile I remain puzzled
that the overwhelming reaction of academics to the Yonaguni enigma
is to attempt to debunk it with superificial arguments along the
lines of the Der Spiegel piece.What is wrong with a bit of
common-sense curiosity about bizarre and hard-to-explain phenomena
-- which these Japanese underwater "monuments" most
certainly are (whatever they may ultimately turn out to be). Where
did we get the idea that it's right, "rational",
"scientific" even, to approach all such anomalies in a
hostile and sceptical spirit? Why shouldn't our initial posture
towards a problem like Yonaguni be one of intellectual generosity
and open-mindedness -- rather than one of pedantic, nit-picking
Of course I believe that
the same question applies to the wider mystery of prehistory. It is
not inevitable that we must go on seeing our "Stone Age"
predecessors as "primitives" or "savages". Nor
is there any cause for us to assume that their spiritual and
metaphysical thinking was in any way less "developed" than
our own. One need only mention the poignant and eerie beauty of cave
art around the world to demonstrate that powerful thinkers and
inspired creative artists were at work in those times.
When I re-released the idea
of a great lost civilisation into general circulation with the
publication of Fingerprints
of the Godsin 1995 the book was universally condemned by
academics. In the years since then, however, I have seen -- at the
very least -- a reaction to my ideas in scholarly circles. While the
overall tone of hostility has never abated, it is a fact that more
and more mainstream academics today are opening themselves, in one
way or another, to the lost civilisation hypothesis. A recent
example, well worth reading, is Richard Rudgley's Lost
Civilisations of the Stone Age (Century, London, 1998) which
calls for a complete rethink of almost all our basic attitudes
towards palaeolithic man. Although Rudgley accuses me and Robert
Bauval of having built "castles in the sands of Egypt"
with our books, his own supposedly more sober approach provides
masses of compelling evidence for a point we have long argued -
namely that modern man is a creature with amnesia with extensive
blank patches in his memory covering long periods of his past. The
earliest-surviving written records that we have date back less than
5000 years. Of the time before that, and of what people thought
then, we know nothing and can only guess.
What is at stake is our
memory of at least the first 40,000 years of our species' existence
(perhaps much longer) What is needed is a mood of willingness in
society to investigate extraordinary possibilities -- even it is
just on the off-chance that there may be something to them. We have
enormous resources as a species. We can afford to do this! And what
does it matter if we make a few mistakes along the way and even end
up looking foolish on some occasions. I believe the time has come to
ask serious questions about the almost pathological eagerness of
intellectuals to disparage any intelligent interest in the
unexplained puzzles of the past as "mystery fever" and to
persuade us that any opposition to the dominant historical paradigm
must be the work of "archaeological dreamers."