The essential part of a civilization is perishable. It is finer than dust. Culture itself is fragile. . . . For man to be cultured, civilized, he must be aware of time and its relentless flow. Then the past becomes a heritage to be transmitted in myth, legend, and saga; the present comes in focus as the living environment; the future is the great, unavoidable, hopefully controllable unknown. -- GERALD S. HAWKINS, Beyond Stonehenge
The works of prehistoric man are now in process of being re-evaluated. New information about his capabilities results from the application of astronomical data to archaeological remains, and aerial photographs also reveal features hidden from view at ground level. The practice is not yet widespread, but some recent publications stimulate increasing interest, despite the resistance of 'orthodox' archaeologists who remain hidebound in their own narrow fields of research. Once more we see the need for a clearinghouse of information, where the finds of one discipline may be pooled for examination and reflection by specialists in other fields.
Signal contributors leading to this fresh approach of applying astronomical understanding to ancient material were Georgio, de Santillana, then professor of the history of science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Dr. Hertha von Dechend. They collaborated to author Hamlet's Mill -- An Essay on Myth and the Frame of Time, reviewed in Sunrise, December 1971, taking up the reference in Shakespeare's play to Hamlet's 'mill' and following the thread of its ancestry to arrive at an astonishing meaning. The traces led through Icelandic and various other mythologies of the world, including Polynesian, to a stellar conformation that must have been observed when it happened: 17,500 B.C. approximately.
But before this magnificent study there was Gerald S. Hawkins' Stonehenge Decoded (Cf. Sunrise, February and March, 1965, for text of the CBS documentary film moderated by Charles Collingwood.) which set out the theory that the megalithic structure on Salisbury Plain, England, was anciently designed and used as an astronomical observatory and counting device. Feeding all the relevant data about Stonehenge into his computer that had been programmed to assimilate astronomical material -- giving it the alignments of the stones for viewing the sun and moon, the Aubrey Holes, and so forth -- he learned that it could predict eclipses, and be used to observe solstices and equinoxes, and the lunar nodes: those positions when the moon's orbit appears to intersect the ecliptic.
In other words, whoever designed and used Stonehenge for astronomical purposes must have been highly intelligent, proto-scientists who had already been observing the heavens for a long time before. Furthermore, they must have been capable of the subtle mathematical figuring needed to average out observations involving fractions, to arrive at mean figures, such as the lunar periods of the closely approximate 19, 19 and 18 years to total 56 for the completion of a cycle.
Recently Dr. Hawkins announced he had fundamentally revised his ideas after a discussion with Colin Renfrew, professor of archaeology at the University of Southampton, England. Professor Renfrew had suggested that Stonehenge may have been a "central filing system of all the then-known astronomical information" rather than an observatory. (Science News, July 14,1973. See also Archaeology, January 1974, for Dr. Hawkins' address elaborating the statement.) This view concerning the builders raises them from the plane of clever empiricists to that of people capable of abstract, intellectual thought, at a date that many conservative archaeologists still presume to have been impossible.
Now he has published a new book, Beyond Stonehenge (Harper and Row, New York, 1973, 319 pp., illustrated, $10.00.) and this is certain to arouse controversy, though not so much as his groundbreaking previous study. He enters into greater detail about the subtle ability indicated for the erection of Stonehenge, pointing out that the structure is level, although built upon a sloping surface (pp. 58-66). He asks how did the builders raise it in such a fashion as to compensate for the tilt, to figure out beforehand what depth of hole would be required for the large stones to match up with a collection of variable factors -- and the survey proved that this was done exactly! To simplify for us the problems faced by the architect, the author formulates this equation, that levelness is
Height of stone = Height of man (toes to eyeballs) + Drop-off in terrain
the whole to enable a straight line between the observer and the point on the horizon being observed. A formidable task for 'primitive savages.' Professor Hawkins applies the keys he devised from his studies of Stonehenge to other ruined structures to ascertain whether they also show astronomical knowledge on the part of their creators. He tries these keys in the 'locks' of remains at Callanish in the Outer Hebrides, in the Americas and Egypt. He observes that the alignments of many antiquities scattered over the world indicate remarkable similarities in basic understanding of astronomical data, especially relating to positions of the sun at climactical times of the year, to the moon, and to certain fixed stars such as Sirius, and to the constellations Ursa Major and the Pleiades.
From the factors he has gathered together and the knowledge they indicate of relationships between the cycles of movement of the heavenly bodies, he deduces the existence in prehistoric times of a global culture. Such highly sophisticated appreciation and comprehension of astronomical data require us to reconsider the status of the intelligence of these people, and no longer to presume that they were driven only by hunting or agrarian urges.
Beyond Stonehenge is more than a dry accumulation of scientific information. Even the Appendix with its mathematical and other data is enlivened by warmth of approach and colorful anecdote. Human interest stories, combined with the concise yet untechnical descriptions add an extra dimension to an exciting narrative. For instance, before leaving London to check his theory against the great temple of Amon-Ra at Karnak, he had an afternoon cup of tea with an Egyptologist in a university in England. The latter said: " . . . the ancient Egyptians were no bloody astronomers; their temples don't point anywhere" (p. 191). The words must have echoed in Hawkins' mind: "Amon-Ra . . . sun-god . . . their temples don't point anywhere" -- the repetition in his text indicates this, and perhaps he smiled inwardly.
In Egypt also he had to contend with a priori skepticism. For example, on the part of an Egyptologist proud of his Egyptian origins who was his guide through the Karnak complex. This specialist became convinced grudgingly in the end by the sheer weight of the incontrovertible evidence Hawkins produced, indicating the temple's axial orientation to the midwinter sunrise, the solstice. The Hall of Festivals erected by Thutmose III about 1480 B.C. certainly blocked the view to the east, but Hawkins ascended to the roof, to the open temple called the High Room of the Sun, dedicated to Ra-Hor-Akhty, the sun-god on the horizon. A picture on the wall showed the pharaoh on bended knee, facing an aperture beyond the alabaster altar -- with characteristics of a gnomon -- greeting the rising sun. There was no obstruction to the view through that opening.
The figures of alignment and other relevant data were fed into the computer, which answered in effect:
The axis points to the rising sun when the disk stands tangent on the distant hills and when the declination of the sun's center is -23degree.87. This was the position of the sun at its southern extreme at the winter solstice during the epoch of Hatshepsut and Thutmose, between the years 2000 and 1000 B.C., if the declination uncertainty is Odegree.05; on the basis of the data supplied the alignment is exact; the error is zero. -- p. 207
The alignment is exact; the error is zero!
Hawkins also speculated on a text addressed to the sun in the sky as the "reborn one," and referring to a "place of combat." He drafted a paper from which I quote:
And so we see at Karnak it is the extreme southerly sunrise that is marked. There is a correspondence with the marking of the winter solstice in the great trilithon at Stonehenge. This has double significance. The sun overcomes the powers of darkness in a combat in the underworld each night, and overcomes the threat of the solstice each year. The new god is born free in victory at dawn on Midwinter's Day . . . -- p. 210
However, Hawkins himself felt that if Karnak was oriented astronomically, it could hardly have been a unique employment of astronomical skill. There must be other temples similarly placed. He crossed the Nile to the twin statues of 'Memnon,' behind which there once stood a temple, dedicated in 1400 B.C. to Ra-Hor-Akhty. It has gone, but he estimated "the direction of the axis from the statues. Azimuth 117." This means that in 1400 B.C., temple and statues pointed to the "place of combat" of the rising sun at its turning point in the midwinter solstice. "Memnon faces the holy Nile, and Amon-Ra faces away from the Nile, yet both are coupled to the same point on the celestial sphere." As Hawkins says: "There was clearly an astro-archaeological basis for the temples, beyond the writing, beyond the architecture. Egypt seemed to fit into the global prehistoric pattern."
Before we join Hawkins on his expeditions to other lands on behalf of astro-archaeology, it might be pertinent to point out that the more conservative Egyptologists completely ignore the very important work done by other scholars, such as R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, the French Egyptologist who, not content with the customary seasonal visits of his European colleagues, lived in Egypt for some 20 years. His life among the ruins enabled him to focus the lens of his mind's eye and his tremendous learning in concentrated research conducted in situ into more than the mere syllables of language. He endeavored to penetrate into the thought-life of this civilization so very different from our own, and the results are contained in several books. (Especially: Le Temple de Homme "Apet du Sud' a Louqsor, by R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, Paris, 1957.) He provides a thorough and detailed study of the small temple 'Apet of the South,' the oldest temple of the Karnak complex -- Hawkins' Ipet Sout, "east of the pylon, in the direction of the sunrise." Apet or Ipet was the goddess-symbol of birth, and de Lubicz shows the temple's connection with the rebirth associated with the training and evocation of the soul that is so marked a theme of the Egyptian religion and the famous Mysteries and initiations associated therewith.
But let us return to Dr. Hawkins in his quest of evidence of a worldwide, prehistoric knowledge of astronomy. As a specialist in the Neolithic history of Europe said to him: "Damn it all, Hawkins, there must be others. Stonehenge can't be unique. It can't stand on its own. If it has this scientific basis, this astro-whatever-it-is, it has got to show up elsewhere in the culture" (p. 71).
And they do appear as if by magic when the computer assimilates the data about the Americas and other places. For instance, the trilithon on Tonga Island in Polynesia, "prehistoric, of unknown age," bears incisions on top of the lintel pointing "to the sun on the horizon at the winter and summer solstices. The midway marker for spring and fall was not so exact, but ancient people," said Hawkins' informant Taufa'ahau Tupau IV, king of the Tonga Islands -- could readily count 91 days from the solstice.
At Machu Picchu in Peru, Dr. Hawkins saw the intihuatana -- a gnomon used for solar sightings at special sunrises. He also points to the similarities of the edifice of Tiahuanaco at an altitude of 12,507 feet on Lake Titicaca, and Stonehenge.(Important additional material on Tiahuanaco is contained in Arthur Posnansky's massive two-volume work Tiahuanacu (1945); he spent many years investigating the ruins. He claimed the temple was astro-oriented, 15,000 years old.). The stones "weigh up to 100 tons . . . the blocks have tenons and notches as if made of wood, and the main rectangle, 445 feet by 425 feet, is marked off with standing stones . . . The entrance to the rectangle is through the famous Gateof the Sun. This solid-block archway [12 feet by 10 feet] is carved with a godlike figure and 48 symbols, 24 on either side" (pp. 166-69).
Richard Atkinson admits that prehistoric archaeology is no more than informed guesswork. (Dr. Richard Atkinson, British specialist in prehistoric archaeology, in his review) However, Alan Landsburg, who has produced TV films correlating information about 'Ancient Mysteries,' has stated that after diligent inquiry he found the basis of dating Incan remains in the purported statement of a goatherd in 1536 that an Incan priest told him they were erected 1,000 years before that date! (Alan Landsburg, in an interview with Dick Adler, Los Angeles Times, January 31, 1974.) He claims this date has been incorporated into many of the textbooks about these ruins. Hawkins, too, admits that not enough real information has yet been produced about the ancient civilizations of South America to devise viable theories about their origins and thought-patterns or culture. So this question is valid: Does he -- and others -- allot too recent a date for the erection of these structures? As far as the solar orientations are concerned, similar astronomical conditions occur every precessional cycle the sun takes to complete its apparent circling of the zodiac.
Our problem is that we might be too molded by our dogmatic Western concepts about the possible age of civilizations, and too ready to reject out of hand the idea that there could have been civilizations at a time much earlier than ours. An astronomical event associated with a past culture and placed, say, within 4,000 or 5,000 years ago, could also have taken place during an earlier 'Great Year' of 25,920 years. This could apply only to a limited number of sites, of course, but it does appear to fit those ruins we designate cyclopean: mute testimony of gigantic labors far beyond our present explanations.
One of the important finds is at the ruined city of Teotihuacan, the largest in the Americas. Its name is translated by Laurette Sejourne as "The City Where Men Became Gods" (i.e. were initiated).( Burning Water, Thought and Religion in Ancient Mexico, by Laurette Sejoume, 1956.) Located in Central America, Teotihuacan is in a remarkable state of preservation, dominated by two temples believed to have been dedicated to the sun and moon. (One is reminded of Plato's reference to the last remnant of fabled Atlantis, whose capital was dominated by a large temple to Poseidon and a smaller to the mortal Clito who became the mother of Poseidon's ten sons and the ancestress of the nation.)
In any event, the city's streets are planned on the U.S. grid system. Dr. Hawkins found that the east-pointing street was aligned with "alpha Canis Major -- Sirius, the 'dog star,' the Sothis of the Egyptians, the brightest star in the sky." In the westerly direction, alignment was to "the setting of the Pleiades, the 'Seven Sisters' of Western culture, known as tzab, the rattle of the rattlesnake, to the Maya. The northerly street pointed to alpha Ursa Major, the brightest star in the 'Big Dipper"' (p. 187).
He also saw the very puzzling, enormous effigies incised in the desert of the Peruvian high plains near Nasca. Some readers excited by the sensational theories of Erich von Daniken and others relating to these markings, will be disappointed that the computer found no weighty evidence that the figures, the huge rectangles, the lines, had any orientation to the sun, moon, constellations, or single stars. That is: based on readings of celestial positions from 5000 B.C. to A.D. 1900. But Dr. Hawkins did offer a seed thought worth cultivating -- these mysterious signs carved in the desert, that can be seen only from an airplane and never from the ground level, might well have had religious meanings. Incidentally, the gigantic spider etched in the barren soil has been identified as the tiny species Ricinulei, a very rare creature of which only 32 specimens have been found. It grows to 1/4th inch in length, is blind and lives in the darkest places of the Amazon jungle located a great distance from Nasca. Its method of reproduction by using the third leg is unique; but this fact was discovered only about two decades ago. Yet the Nasca drawing, 150 feet long, depicts this spider with perfect exactitude, even to the globular tip of the third leg.
There are other animals drawn upon the desert floor, including the Amazonian black spider monkey -- also native in the jungle far away from Nasca -- a condor, and an unknown species of bird. Hawkins speculates upon all of these extraordinary artistic creations, rejects a suggestion they were involved with fertility rites, but proposes they were indeed connected with some kind of religious symbolism. Scores of thousands of ceramic artifacts, mainly pots, all painted with designs, have been found hidden away in the sands, as though they had been offerings. Palacio, the "expert of the graverobbers" whom Hawkins met, told him some things, withheld others, but did show specimens of these pots. One of these pieces of pottery had a symbol on its headdress:
[Illustrsation}"That's the Chinese symbol for the sun!" someone remarked (p. 151). And Hawkins adds: "Some of the faces painted on the pots looked slit-eyed and vaguely Oriental. Perhaps the mystery of Nasca had a broader reach than the desert mesa."
The author brings out the astronomical connections of Chichen Itza in Central America, its orientations and the ruined Mayan Caracol there that seems to have been an observatory. This is true also of Uaxactun in Guatemala, where three temples atop the broad pyramid marked the seasonal phases of the sun at midsummer, spring and fall equinoxes, and midwinter. He found the famous Woodhenge, the wooden circle at Cahokia, Illinois (America's equivalent of Stonehenge), to be oriented to the same phases of the sunrise, as well as the flat-topped "Monks Mound" and related structures at the same location. Mounds oriented in rows of ten have been found near the Scioro River, Ohio; and earth figures located by the Little Miami River, Cincinnati, Ohio, are also oriented, one long structure even along the north-south line. There are too many to itemize here. It is evident that Hawkins and the people he quotes have amassed enough evidence to show that it is time we investigated the likelihood there was once a considerable body of astronomical data forming part of a culture that embraced the world -- in prehistoric times.
The panorama of past human achievements is proving to be greater in length and depth than visualized during the last few hundred years. This century especially has been notable for numerous discoveries pushing back the age of man farther and farther into the millions of years. Are we to assume that nothing was [Illustration] happening between the ages represented by the latest finds in Africa, and the period of Cro-Magnon man, only 35,000 years ago? Necessity requires fresh evaluation of the old data -- indeed, of all the information garnered so far.
The many questions boil down to the following: How does one assess whether human beings in times long ago produced a 'civilization'? Does the hardware of our modern technology provide the only criterion we should use? Or should we look for signs of the soul's creativity? We ask with Hawkins -- "But what about the set of non-artifacts listed by James Robinson of Columbia University: religion, language, beliefs, morals, arts, manifestations of the human mind and reason? These also are measures of the man."
(From Sunrise magazine, March 1974; copyright © 1974 Theosophical University Press)