A Hundred Thousand Year Old Civilisation?

By COLIN WILSON (1931-2013)

In 1999, I was engaged in pursuing an intriguing little problem. Charles Hapgood, best known as the author of Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings, had died as the result of a car accident that happened in December 1982. Two months earlier, he had written to a librarian named Rand Flem-Ath telling him that he had made “recent exciting discoveries” that had convinced him there had once been a hundred thousand year old civilisation with “advanced levels of science.” And since I had agreed to collaborate with Flem-Ath on a book about Atlantis, I set out to pursue Hapgood’s contacts to see if I could find out what he meant.

Finally, through a tip-off from one of Hapgood’s acquaintances, I found myself in touch with an archaeologist and science writer from New England, who staggered me when he declared that it was he who had given Hapgood this information. What he had told him, he said, was (a) that the Greek measure of distances proved that they knew the exact size of the Earth a millennium or so before Eratosthenes discovered it (around 250 BCE), and (b) that Neanderthal man had a remarkable degree of culture, and was studying the stars by 100,000 BCE or earlier.

Now I had already stumbled on the information about the Greeks in a book called Historical Metrology by A. E. Berriman (1953), to which the historical researcher Henry Lincoln had introduced me. And the second assertion had been made by my friend Stan Gooch in 1989, in a book called Cities of Dreams.

Gooch was arguing that Neanderthal man had possessed a complex civilisation, but that it was not a civilisation of bricks and mortar, but of ‘dreams’. That hardly seemed to make sense. Surely civilisation is our defence against nature? Dreams are not much use against a hurricane or a sabre tooth tiger.

Gooch launches his argument by comparing Neanderthal man with native Americans, pointing out that in spite of their complex culture, the latter had no written language and built no houses.

What would have happened, Gooch asks, if they had been exterminated by disease or some catastrophe, and had simply vanished? Archaeologists would find their skeletons and dismiss them as ‘primitives’, just as we dismiss Neanderthals.

Speaking of the Seven Sisters, Gooch remarks, “The Pleiades are the only constellation noted and named by every culture on Earth, past and present, from the most advanced to the most primitive.”

He points out the similarity of the legends of Australian aborigines, Wyoming Indians and the ancient Greeks. In the Greek legend, Orion the Hunter pursues the six maidens and their mother through the forest, until Zeus takes pity on them, and changes them all (including Orion) into stars.

In the Australian legend, the hunter is called Wurunna, and he captures two of the seven maidens; but these escape up trees that suddenly grow until they reach the sky, where all the maidens live forever. According to the Wyoming Indians, the seven sisters are pursued by a bear, and climb up a high rock, which grows until it reaches the sky.

Gooch goes on to mention that the Seven Sisters play an equally important role in the legends of the Aztecs, the Incas, the Polynesians, the Chinese, the Masai, the Kikuyu, the Hindus and the ancient Egyptians. This worldwide interest in the Pleiades, he argues, surely indicates that it originated in some very early and once central culture.

In Gooch’s view that culture was Neanderthal. We may doubt this, and prefer to believe that it was our own ancestor, Cro-Magnon. But Gooch certainly has accumulated some impressive evidence of the intellectual sophistication of Neanderthal man. He speaks, for example, of a find made at Drachenloch in the Swiss Alps, where a 75,000 year old bear altar was discovered in a cave. In a rectangular stone chest, whose lid was a massive stone slab, archaeologists found seven bear skulls, with their muzzles pointing towards the cave entrance. At the back of the cave, there were niches in the wall with six more bear skulls.

Now seven is, of course, a number associated with shamanism. The Drachenloch cave was clearly a place of ritual – in effect, a church. Moreover, as Mircea Eliade tells us, there is a worldwide connection between the bear and the Moon. And this might have been guessed from the fact that the number of skulls in the cave was thirteen – the number of lunar months in the year. This, and many other clues, lead Gooch to infer that the religion of Neanderthal man was based on Moon worship, and Neanderthals were the first ‘star gazers’. He argues that, among much else, the knowledge of precession of the equinoxes noted by Giorgio de Santillana and Herta von Dechend in Hamlet’s Mill, probably originated with Neanderthal man.

A ‘church’ implies a priest or shaman, so Neanderthal man must have had his shamans, ‘magicians’ who played an important part in the hunting rituals, as shamans do worldwide. Is it chance that the Moon goddess is Diana the Huntress? Is she perhaps also a legacy from Neanderthal man?

Since Gooch’s book came out in 1989, new evidence has accumulated indicating that Neanderthal man also possessed his own technology. In 1996, it was announced that scientists from Tarragona’s Roviri i Virgili University had unearthed 15 furnaces near Capellades, north of Barcelona. Professor Eudald Carbonell stated that they prove Neanderthal man possessed a skill level far more advanced than anyone had supposed. Homo sapiens, he said, was not an “evolutionary leap” beyond Cro-Magnon man, but only a gentle step from Neanderthal. Each of the furnaces served a different function according to its size, some ovens, some hearths, some even blast furnaces. The team also discovered an “astonishing variety” of stone and bone tools, as well as the most extensive traces of wooden utensils (The Times, 3 September 1996).

One of Gooch’s most amazing statements is that in South Africa, Neanderthal man was digging deep mines to obtain red ochre a hundred thousand years ago. “One of the largest sites evidenced the removal of a million kilos of ore.” Other mines were discovered dated 45,000, 40,000 and 35,000 years ago. In all cases, the site had been painstakingly filled in again, presumably because the Earth was regarded as sacred. Neanderthal man seems to have used the red ochre for ritualistic purposes, including burial.

In 1950, Dr. Ralph Solecki, of the Smithsonian Institute, had excavated the Shanidar cave in Iraqi Kurdistan and discovered evidence of ritualistic burial by Neanderthals, in which the dead had been covered with a quilt of woven wild flowers. His book Shanidar (1971) is subtitled The Humanity of Neanderthal Man. He was the first of many anthropologists to conclude that Neanderthal man was far more than an ape.

Gooch points out that red ochre has been in use since at least 100,000 years ago until today, when it is still used by Australian aborigines. He quotes one authority who calls it “the most spiritually rich and magical of all substances.”

Now red ochre is the oxidised form of a mineral called magnetite, which, as the name suggests, is magnetic. If a small sliver of magnetite is floated on the surface tension of water, it swings around and points to magnetic north. And in 1,000 BCE the Olmecs were using it as a compass needle, floating on cork, a millennium before the Chinese invented the compass.

Gooch points out that many creatures, including pigeons, have a cluster of magnetite in the brain, which is used for homing, and asks if it is not conceivable that Neanderthal man also had a magnetite cluster in the brain, which may have enabled him to detect haematite under the ground. This, of course, would be simply a variant of the power dowsers have to detect underground water.

For whatever reason Neanderthal man sought red ochre, it seems clear that he must be credited with some kind of civilisation.

In January 2002 it emerged that Neanderthal man made use of a variety of superglue. It was a kind of blackish-brown pitch discovered at a lignite mining pit in the Harz mountains, estimated to be 80,000 years old. One of the pieces bore the imprint of a finger and impressions of a flint stone tool and wood, suggesting that the pitch has served as a sort of glue to secure the wooden shaft to a flint stone blade. The pitch, from a birch tree, can only be produced at a temperature of 300-400 C. Professor Dietrich Mania of the Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena said: “This implies that Neanderthals did not come across these pitches by accident, but must have produced them with intent.”

Now clearly, all this is revolutionary. We take it for granted that human culture began with Cro-Magnon man, homo sapiens. Our Cro-Magnon ancestors began making drawings in caves about 30,000 years ago, and so, we had always assumed, our civilisation had its first beginnings.

But if the Pleiades were recognised 40,000 years ago, then Neanderthal man came first.

Again, an 82,000 year old bone flute discovered by Dr. Ivan Turk, of the Slovenia Academy of Sciences in 1995, demonstrates that Neanderthal man had his own music. It begins to look more and more as if Gooch’s comparison of Neanderthal man to native Americans is valid. A 26,000 year old bone sewing needle, compete with a hole for thread, was discovered at another Neanderthal site.

But perhaps the most staggering piece of evidence so far is the small carved statue known as the Berekhat Ram figurine, discovered in 1980 by the Israeli archaeologist Professor Naama Goren-Inbar. She found it on the Golan Heights, and its age was established because it was found – along with 7,500 scrapers – between two layers of basalt, known as tuff, that could be dated. And the date was between 250,000 and 280,000 years ago. It resembles the famous Venus of Willendorf, but is far more crude. And examination under an electron microscope revealed that it was not just some odd-shaped stone, but that it had been carved – by Neanderthal man. His flint tool had left powder in the grooves.

So Neanderthal man was carving a tiny female figure, probably the Moon goddess, more than a quarter of a million years ago. The implication is that he had already developed the religion to which the bear skulls in the Drachenloch cave bear witness – but 200,000 years earlier.

In Uriel’s Machine, Robert Lomas and Christopher Knight also turn their attention to Neanderthals, and point out that they had a larger brain than modern man, adding the startling information that they were around for 230,000 years before they vanished. Neanderthals therefore had plenty of time to acquire a high level of sophistication. They clearly believed in an afterlife, for they buried their dead with every sign of religious ritual, and with tools and meat to supply their needs in the beyond. They buried them in cloaks covered with ornate beads (with buttonholes), decorated caps, carved bracelets and pendants. They manufactured at least one perfectly circular chalk disc, which is almost certainly a Moon disc.

And if Neanderthal man conducted religious rituals, played the flute, studied the heavens, and built blast furnaces, he must have had some form of language other than grunts.

So Stan Gooch’s insights, which struck most people as crazy in 1989 (they certainly struck me as crazy when I first read Cities of Dreams) are slowly being justified.

For Gooch, that time cannot come soon enough. He is now 72, and living on a caravan site in Wales on an old age pension [Editor’s note: Stan Gooch died in 2010]. For a long time now, his letters to me have revealed increasing cynicism and weariness, and friends who went to visit him recently – deeply impressed by the visionary scope of his books – were shocked to find him in an obvious state of indifference and discouragement. When tired of exchanging letters by ‘snail mail’, I offered to provide him with a computer, his reply was that he would never use it. It seems astonishing that this brilliant writer, author of more than a dozen books (some of them, like The Paranormal, classics in their field), should have been allowed to sink into the condition that the saints used to call accidia, but I suppose it has been the fate of many men of genius.

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COLIN WILSON (1931-2013) burst upon the literary scene in 1956 at the age of 25 with his bestselling book The Outsider. In the course of a remarkable career as an explorer of the human psyche, he wrote on a wide range of subjects – archaeology, astronomy, cosmology, Egyptology, crime and the paranormal – and his books continue to be translated into many different languages.

The above article appeared in New Dawn 98

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