Fifth Wednesday Post

Whispers From Antiquity

One of the things I find fascinating about the deepening twilight of industrial society is how rigid our modern notions of technology have become. Most people these days, asked to imagine a society with technology about as advanced as ours, present something all but identical to what we’ve got now; asked to imagine a society with less advanced technology, they spring to a distorted pop-culture version of early medieval Europe if they don’t leap straight to even more distorted pop-culture notions about the Stone Age; asked to imagine a society with technology more advanced than ours, you can bet dollars for dilithium crystals that they’ll rehash the same tired imagery from early twentieth century sci-fi that has been stuck sideways in our collective imagination for decades now.

It’s not gonna happen. Deal.

All this can be amusing, granted, but it makes for unnecessary confusion when someone like me attempts to talk about the future of industrial society in terms that don’t fit that absurdly rigid scheme. Over and over again, for example, people find out that I don’t believe that industrial society is headed onward and upward to the stars, and once they get past the slackjawed reaction this reliably fields—what do you mean the Great God Progress won’t grant us the Star Trek future of our dreams?—they assume that I think we’re headed back to the Middle Ages,.

That’s not even remotely true, of course.  I’ve written nonfiction books—The Ecotechnic Future and Dark Age America in particular—explaining what I expect deindustrial society to look like, at least for the half a millennium or so until the decline ends and the cultures that will build on our ruins begin to rise. I’ve also written a science fiction novel, Star’s Reach, set in America’s deindustrial dark ages circa 2485 AD, and if you can confuse the setting in which Trey sunna Gwen and his companions go looking for messages from space with any part of the European Middle Ages, all I can say is you probably need new glasses.  Yet I still get people making that same assumption about my views every few months, and now that the price of oil is climbing steadily again and we’ve got a serious energy crisis on its way, I expect to encounter it even more regularly for a while.

Behind this curious rigidity of the imagination is the faith in progress I lampooned above, the really rather bizarre notion that human history is a predestined one-way journey from the caves to the stars and we occupy the most important position in that journey, the inflection point where the leap into infinity is about to start. Woven into that faith-based belief system is the implicit claim that the kind of technology we’ve got right now is the only kind of technology that matters, that the technology of the future will be like ours raised to the power of infinity, and that people in past civilizations trudged through a hopeless round of misery and poverty because nobody had gotten around to inventing our kind of technology yet.  In this way of thinking, every cultural and technological phenomenon of past and present is judged on the basis of how well it falls in with our current ideas about what will further the grand march of humanity toward its supposedly predestined future among the stars.

“What do you mean we’re not the wave of the future?”

There’s a useful term for this kind of thinking in the history of ideas: Whig history. Back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, you see, the Whigs—their official name was the Liberal Party, but next to no one called them that—had a dominant role in British intellectual culture. Historians who shared the views of the Whig consensus believed devoutly that eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British liberalism was the wave of the future, so that every cultural phenomenon of the past could be judged by how much it contributed to the eventual triumph of Whig opinions, and that’s how they wrote their histories. I don’t imagine it ever occurred to them that the Liberal Party would fall from power in the early twentieth century, and eventually end up so small and marginal that it would have to merge with another fringe group to make today’s Liberal Democratic Party. It’s astonishing how many people who think of their own ideas as the wave of the future never get around to noticing that every wave eventually breaks and rolls back out to sea.

Whig history is pandemic in our thinking about technology these days.  This is why Kim Stanley Robinson’s otherwise fine novel The Years of Rice and Salt, which imagines a parallel history in which Europe was conquered by the Turks, assumes as a matter of course that other societies would get around to evolving exactly the same suite of advanced technologies that Europe did.  It’s why Neal Stephenson’s equally good novel Anathem, which is set on a parallel world some thousands of years in the equivalent of our future, nonetheless has characters wearing tee shirts, eating energy bars, and accessing the internet through smartphones.

Straight lines to infinity: it’s what we do.

It apparently did not occur to either of these gifted writers that technologies are profoundly shaped by cultural factors, and that European civilization put its efforts and resources into a specific suite of technological projects for its own idiosyncratic reasons.  They don’t seem to have considered the likelihood that other cultures which developed technic civilizations—that is, civilizations that get a large proportion of their energy from sources other than muscle and biomass—might apply their efforts and resources to entirely different projects, and thus create entirely different technological suites. The drive toward infinite distance that made European civilization the only culture in recorded history to use linear perspective in its art, after all, also expresses itself in the whole trajectory of our technology, from the firearms and sailing vessels that launched Europe on its career of global conquest right up to the spacecraft and Internet of today.  Other civilizations have other interests.

There are plenty of reasons why it’s a good idea to try to get past the current iteration of Whig history and try to see the possibilities of technology in a less blinkered fashion. One of them, the one I want to discuss in this week’s post, is the suggestion that civilizations in prehistory might have had advanced technologies—as advanced as ours, perhaps, or even more so.

That suggestion has been circulated in the occult community for a very long time:  since the late nineteenth century, certainly, when a number of occult schools inserted discussions of the civilizations of the distant past into their teachings.  In the particular schools in which I had my training, the idea was that ours is the fifth cycle of hominid civilizations on Earth.  The four previous cycles are called the Polarian, Hyperborean, Lemurian, and Atlantean ages, though these are purely conventional labels, borrowed from geology and legend to provide convenient monikers for these phases of the past.  What the peoples of these distant times called themselves and their nations, or even what languages they spoke, nobody claims to know.

To judge from the scraps of traditional lore, the Polarian and Hyperborean cycles took place during the last interglacial, the period before the last ice age when global temperatures were considerably higher than they are now, and human civilization in these eras centered on the regions, then ice-free and temperate in climate, around the Earth’s north pole.  The Lemurian and Atlantean cycles took place during the last ice age, when sea levels were much lower than they are today. The center of human civilization in the Lemurian cycle was the now-submerged land mass that today’s geologists call Sundaland, a subcontinent the size of India of which today’s island chains between southeast Asia and Australia were the mountain regions. The centers of human civilization in the Atlantean cycle were a variety of island regions around the Atlantic basin that went under when the ice age ended.

Not quite a lost continent.

All of this has of course been roundly rejected by scientific opinion for a very long time. In recent years, mind you, that rejection has begun to waver.  A good many paleoanthropologists these days, for example, are willing to consider the possibility that Sundaland was a major center of human culture in very ancient times, the source from which several language families and certain important cultural innovations spread to other parts of the world. For that matter, the Dogger Bank—one of those now-drowned islands I mentioned a moment ago—is being studied by archeologists as a significant center of human culture back in the days when the seas were so low that you could walk from France to Ireland without ever getting your feet wet.

Yet the one possibility nobody in the cultural mainstram is willing to discuss, for fear of sacrificing their respectability once and for all, is the idea that civilizations in these ancient times might have had relatively advanced technology.  That flies in the face of the mythology of progress mentioned earlier.  If technic civilizations have risen and fallen before, how can we cling to the fantasy that we are destiny’s darlings, fated to follow our own culture’s obsession with infinite distance out to some Buck Rogers destiny out there among the stars?

Of course there’s more to it than that. We can be sure that no previous technic civilization during the last few million years extracted any significant amount of coal or oil from the Earth. We know this because when people started digging for coal and drilling for oil in our cycle, they found lots of it in easily accessible deposits close to the surface.  Any civilization that comes after ours won’t have that sort of luck waiting for them, since we’ve already mined and drilled every easily accessible deposit of all the fossil fuels and are currently going to extreme lengths to get the rest of them too. We can also be sure that no previous hominid civilization dug deep mines the way we do—the traces would be impossible to miss—and if they put up satellites, those went into low earth orbit only, because the time it takes for satellites to fall out of middle and high orbits is long enough that some of them would still be up there, visible on our radar screens.

What this means, of course, is that no previous technic civilization in the last few million years has had the identical kind of advanced technology that ours has developed. This doesn’t mean that there have been no previous technic civilizations on this planet in the last few million years, or that they didn’t have some other kind of technology, radically different from ours. It does place serious challenges in the way of trying to determine if there were any such technic cultures. How do you look for something when you only have one idiosyncratic sample to go by, and can be sure from the evidence that any others didn’t follow the same pattern as that sample?

You look for anomalies. You look for things that can’t be done using any of the technological suites available to pre-technic societies, but were done anyway—and this is where we catch the glint of pale metal in an ancient tomb.

Solid aluminum belt fittings from a Dark Age grave in Nanjing.

There are countless thousands of burial mounds in China tempting archeologists. One of them near Nanjing was excavated in the 1950s.  It was the tomb of a nobleman from the Jin dynasty, one of the short-lived Dark Age regimes that followed the collapse of the Han dynasty, China’s equivalent of the Roman Empire. The contents of the tomb were pretty normal, right down to a belt on the deceased decorated with metal plates. The one curious detail was that some of the plates on the belt were made of nearly pure aluminum.

We don’t think much of aluminum these days; it’s cheap, abundant, and flimsy.  Until scientists figured out the trick of using electricity to smelt it from bauxite in the early twentieth century, however, it was one of the rarest metals on earth. For reasons that make perfect sense if you happen to be a physicist, extracting aluminum from its ores is astoundingly difficult. When the Washington Monument in Washington DC was completed in the late nineteenth century, it was topped off with a point of pure aluminum: a triumph of modern science at the time.

So how did pieces of aluminum end up in a dark age tomb in China?  Nobody knows. Scientists have not exactly been eager to find out.  The most often cited paper on the subject these days is a triumph of circular reasoning: it argues—and no, I’m not making this up—that since we know the Chinese didn’t have the technology to smelt aluminum, the belt plates couldn’t have been found in the tomb. QED!

It’s one of the most basic rules of logic that if something has actually happened, it has to be possible. Apparently the authors of this paper were asleep in class the day that was discussed. Once extracted from ore, aluminum is very easy to melt, cast, and work, and so all we know from the existence of those pieces of aluminum is that someone, at some point before the rise of the Jin dynasty, figured out how to make some.  The aluminum might have been very old by the time it was turned into decor for a dark age warlord.  It’s an anomaly, of the kind that might point to the existence of a technic society in the distant past.

Notice the gorgeous paintings on the ceiling, untouched by soot.

There are others. One of the most intriguing consists of something that isn’t there. Think of all those Egyptian tombs that were excavated in solid rock, often very far down where no light from the entrance will reach.  All of them are carved and painted, a process that would have taken many hours in decent light.  In most tombs there is no trace of soot on the ceiling, and soot, of course, is what you get from lamps, candles, torches—any pre-technic source of light.  How did the artists get light down there to work by?  Nobody knows.  Claims have been made concerning mirrors, but polished brass—the standard mirror stock available back then—doesn’t reflect much light. It’s another anomaly, another hint that something unexpected might have been in use.

Then there are the maps. For some reason when people start talking about anomalous maps—and there are a lot of those—discussion almost always focused on the Piri Re’is map, a map made by a Turkish admiral in the early sixteenth century that probably includes some information picked up from the voyages of Christopher Columbus. Some people claim that it also has information that nobody in sixteenth century Turkey could have had, but the jury’s out on that one. I mention this here because if you try to insist I’m talking about the Piri Re’is map, I’m going to make fun of you and then not let you reply.  Got it?  You were warned.

The Roselli map, painted before 1527. Notice the continent south of Africa.

I’m not talking about the Piri Re’is map. I’m talking about two other sets of maps that are considerably more interesting. The first is an assortment of maps from the European Renaissance that show, very clearly, the continent of Antarctica.  Officially Antarctica wasn’t discovered until centuries later and nobody knew what shape it was until the nineteenth century. Still, there it is, portrayed in maps from long before then, with the correct general shape. These maps generally got the scale wrong, but then they also quite often got the scale of India, Africa, and Scotland wrong; mapmaking was an inexact art in those days

The official line regarding these maps is even funnier than the one regarding those aluminum belt plates. The claim is that mapmakers in the Renaissance put an extra continent at the south pole because they thought it made the world look more symmetrical. No, nobody cites a letter from one of the mapmakers saying this; it’s pure handwaving, designed to distract attention from something that chucks our fantasies of being destiny’s darlings into the trash where they belong.

Those aren’t the most interesting of the anomalous maps, however. That title belongs to the portolan charts, which are maps of the Mediterranean that appeared sometime around 1300. They all appear to be direct or indirect copies of the same original chart. They are accurate to a degree no mapmaker in 1300 could match, nor is there any evidence that mapmakers in Greek or Roman times could have produced them. In particular, they get the longitude of the lands around the Mediterranean right, or nearly right, to a degree nobody on Earth managed until the invention of accurate chronometers in the nineteenth century. Yet there they are, demonstrating that someone had geographic and cartographic knowledge that no known civilization had until modern times.

A portolan chart of the Black Sea. You can still sail by them, and get to your port.

Nobody knows how the information behind these maps got into the hands of medieval and Renaissance cartographers. Speculations about what might have been found in Constantinople when it fell to the Turks in 1453, or what might have been kept at the library of Alexandria before it was looted and burnt many centuries before, are just that, speculations.  All we have are anomalies like the ones I’ve just listed, details that don’t fit the preferred modern take on history, whispers from antiquity that suggest that maybe, just maybe, history is not the straight line we like to think it is.

None of this proves the existence of advanced civilizations in prehistory. All it does is show that traces of the kind we would expect to see from lost technic civilizations of the very distant past are in fact to be found. It’s possible to make a few speculations about the technologies that one or more of those civilizations must have had; the presence of aluminum suggests that they knew how to produce electricity, and scraps of surviving electrical technology, perhaps preserved as a secret of the temple priesthoods, might also explain those soot-free tombs in Egypt. The details on the maps are hard to explain unless some ancient civilization had a  maritime technology that could do the same thing as its equivalent in late nineteenth century Europe. Beyond this, for the moment, it’s impossible to go.

All this is worth keeping in mind, of course, for reasons that go beyond the strictly historical.  Modern industrial civilization is well into the familiar course of decline and fall. Look out the window at the decaying infrastructure, the shredding social fabric, and the destabilized environment, and you’re seeing what people in all those other falling civilizations saw from their windows in their own times. If the occult teachings I learned are correct, this isn’t the end of the present cycle of civilizations—there are supposed to be several more great civilizations before the current cycle comes to an end—but we’re past the peak, and what remains of our civilization and the two to come will go through their own shorter cycles in the course of a greater decline. After that?  There are supposed to be two more cycles of civilization, separated from ours and each other by long intervals of tribal existence, before humanity finishes its time on this planet.

Right now, however, the decline and fall of the industrial age is understandably on the minds of many people.  As we run face first into the coming energy crisis, it will be on the minds of many more. A little reflection about what kind of whispers from antiquity we might be able to offer to the successor cultures that will come after us may not be misplaced.


  1. Nice! This stuff is always interesting to me. I recently read Gordon White’s Star.Ships and he gathers some interesting data along these lines.

    For me, another interesting example is the terra preta circles in the Amazon, circles of very rich soil with a preponderance of medicinal and edible plants. The first European to sail down the Amazon, Francisco de Orellana reported an advanced civilization with cities lining the river. The next explorer just saw jungle. Of course, when smallpox decimated the locals, their cities just turned into jungle… an amazing ecologically wise civilization just vanished, and all it had to show is circles of food forests and black earth!

  2. In school long ago I learned that the first cities sprang up in Mesopotamia ~4000 BC. It seems that date has been pushed back to at least 9000 BC based on the excavations of Göbekli Tepe in Turkey. I wonder what else we got wrong 😉

    Lothar von Hakelheber

  3. The irony that strikes me about evidence for ancient technological civilizations is most likely to be believed when people ascribe it to aliens. That’s the Star Trek future comes down to Earth and therefore fits the religion of progress in its own way. One might thank Erich von Däniken for that, but it’s also in the original series, where Greco-Roman gods like Helios/Apollo turn out to be advanced aliens and a precedessor species took early humans off Earth and seeded them among the stars, and the animated series, where the Mayan diety Kulkukan also reveals himself as an alien, although the latter was actually inspired by “Chariots of the Gods?” Still, the connection between Star Trek and aliens visiting Earth in the past and bringing technology with them is one that goes back to the beginning of the franchise.

  4. One does not have to go very far back to find some previous technologies that are in many ways superior to our own. Many younger people today think of the time before the internet, cell phones, email and text messages as the height of communication barbarism . But what they are missing, was at the time nearly every node of important communication from business to government was staffed by people during business hours. You could pick up a phone and ask the operator to connect you to the public library, then someone would answer ( no call waiting) and you could ask them what time the library closed that day. Of course the connected denizens of today will bleat, “but it is so inefficient to have people do that.”But somehow in 1972 we had higher wages ( in constant dollars) better infrastructure and almost no homeless people. Perhaps a few people answering the phone in real time is more efficient than legions coding messaging apps, or combing through voice mails, and sifting through email Spam.

  5. Maybe this is a good place to link to a novel by the occultist Sax Rohmer (a psuedonym), The Bat Flies Low, where he posits that just such a lost technology of illumination was known to the Ancient Egyptians. In his novel, the secret of this lost technology (along with several other such secrets) has been preserved in Egypt by a hidden brotherhood, patiently waiting for an age when humanity will have become far wiser and less destructive than it is now. (It’s one of Rohmer’s best novels, far better than his 13 best-seller Fu-Manchu potboilers. Hey, a writer’s gotta eat …)

    You can download it here:

    The so-called “Baghdad batteries” figure in it, too.

  6. What would be the best book(s) to read to learn about these prior civilizations and/or the future ones you mention?

  7. On one of the human factors webinars I watch, the presenter mentioned the Tavistock Institute researching coal mining in 1950s Britain. They produced a report that illustrates how technology isn’t neutral but forms a ‘sociotechnic system’:

    It also reminds me how the book Torture and Democracy apparently describes how the market for tasers was consciously created. I haven’t read it as I suspect it would be a repeat of when I read the Human Rights Watch report ‘No Escape’ and didn’t sleep properly for a while.

  8. I think you are on to something regarding linear projection of current things. I would suspect, but have not delved into it, that Chinese and Indian cultures might be more likely to project in cycles, based on their own histories. Most everything in the universe seems to cycle from my limited chronological perspective.

    In my imagination, suppose you made a large mirror and then used a lens with it. The concentrated heat can be tremendous, even using a fresnel type. Were I a wealthy nobleman type, with time to kill and an inquiring mind, one of the first things I would be likely to do is try and determine exactly how much heat I could gin out by adding more mirror/lens combos with the same focal point. The extrapolations from that are myriad.

    If we look back at the time when electricity was in it’s infancy within western history, there was tremendous interest, research and even use of things like air pressure to drive subways and hydraulic systems. I would refer people to dig around this website:

    Electricity becoming commonplace effectively neutered development of these other technologies – development ceased as we went in a different direction. Hydraulic computers were actually designed a century ago. I have no idea what the Chinese had, but I venture to submit that electricity becoming common buried many other ways of doing things across the entire planet.

    What occurs to me is that with the advent of coal and oil, what changed was the availability of energy. Perhaps the reason we do not find much from previous technic cultures is that geology and glacial cycles are facts – and the biggest difference between our Oil Age and previous technic ones is the ubiquity of energy we enjoy. The sheer scale of where we are today is only possible in a world replete with energy. Without that same energy, whatever technology other may have developed was likely very limited geographically. Oil enabled us to spread across the entire planet, and when it takes mere hours to circumnavigate the globe in a plane, our footprint is truly planetary. Oil gave rise to the current population boom we have – it lightened the load people bore just existing.

    Any previous technic culture would not have enjoyed the advantages we have in the Oil Age, and thus would be smaller in their footprint by a tremendous margin.

    Expectations of what actually constitutes a technic culture are thus based on our own preconceptions residing in the Oil Age – where everything is big and there is lots of it. People are more “equalized” today via oil than ever before in history – in past times equality was based on other things and very unevenly distributed (think Siberian existence versus New Zealand existence as an example). Today, electricity is nearly a universal thing across the planet. This became possible due largely to oil.

    Whatever has come before simply could not grow to the scale we have today due to limits consistent with no fossil fuels. And thus, in my mind, whatever technic cultures may have existed would have been small, located in an area advantageous to easy food production and in a friendly climate. That equates to somewhere near the central latitudes and likely along a seacoast – the most shifting sand possible geologically. Unlikely to find much there over time – and when we do look at what we find, a lot of it is away from the coasts.

    Nice bit JMG!

  9. Doesn’t seem like electrcity would be that difficult.

    I imagine lightning was around in ancient times, spurring curiousity, interest and experimentation.

    Basic chemicals can be used to create batteries. If there is metallic jewelry, then wire isn’t too difficult. Light bulb, a filament in a vacuum glass container.

    A few magnets and a bicycle-like appartus and you have a portable electric generator.

  10. The wiki stub about the Contarini-Roselli map, as they call it, is so brief as to be useless. The wiki bio of the engraver himself has a bit more information.

    While I am skeptical about the various theories that have Venetian oligarchs conducting a centuries long conspiracy against Christendom, I do suspect that the Venetians knew a great deal more about world geography than they were willing to admit. The manuscript which purports to describe the pre-Columbus sojourn of one Henry Sinclair in probably Newfoundland was found in Venice, even though Sinclair himself was Scottish. John Cabot was a Venetian, I believe, who Anglicized his name when he took service with Henry VII of England.

    I also think it quite likely that both Indian and Chinese scholars knew more about at least the lands around the Indian Ocean and in the South Pacific than western scholars have realized. And we now have learned that Maori sailors from New Zeeland saw the coast of Antarctica at least as early as the 12th C. AD.

    If you were a draftsman drawing a portolan, you would surely be talking to experienced sailors who knew perfectly well how many days they needed to sail at what heading to reach A from B. Piece it all together like a puzzle and I would think a mathematically capable draftsman could come up with a fairly accurate drawing of a coastline without needing any lost, specialized equipment.

    That much said, it doesn’t surprise me at all to learn that the ancients might have made some us of electricity.


  11. I’m reminded of CS Lewis’s term, “Chronological Snobbery” – the belief that, of course people in the past were dumb, because they never got around to doing the things that we think we’re so smart for doing. Never mind that most of the stuff we think we’re so smart for, many older civilizations had the good sense not to do in the first place…

    We know how to do “green, sustainable cultures” – quite a few cultures through history figured out the limits and found ways to stay within them for an awful lot of generations. I’ve been hearing more of “Of course we have to go to the stars, the alternative is the end of humanity!” sort of arguments lately, and at least the assertion understands the plight.

    One of the biggest lies of our age has to be, “It’s better because it’s new.” Why is it better? In what ways? For what use cases? Well, if you dare to ask those questions, you’re clearly just trying to hold back Almighty Progress.

    Out where I live, in rural Idaho farm country, it’s fascinating to see all the older equipment still running around. We don’t have the midwest mega-fields measured in square miles, we still have smaller fields, measured in single digit acres. I regularly see “old” farm equipment running on them – tractors from the 70s or 80s, still obviously in good shape but with faded paint. There are some newer tractors that run around (last decade or two, I’m no good at dating the recent stuff) for the high power work like plowing a field, but it’s quite common to see various tasks being performed mid-year by the older equipment. I know exactly why they do it – the old stuff still works, is easy to fix, and doesn’t involve any software license agreements.

    I still make very good use of an 80 year old tractor around the property, and fully expect it to outlast me. It’s designed to be maintained and worked on, uses low stressed components, and while it’s nowhere near as fast or capable as a modern high end property tractor, I find ways to make it work, and if it takes more time, well. At least I’m outside on a piece of honest machinery that’s not trying to sell me ads. We’ve also got a 90 year old car now that is just about as capable (for the sort of driving people actually do, not the stuff ads try to convince you you should be doing) as a modern car. I’ve no interest in doing 65-70mph in it, but the car is capable of it if prodded hard enough. It’s interesting taking it places, and especially letting it warm up around people. Everyone is absolutely stunned at just how quiet it is – there’s this conception that old cars are loud, clanky, clattering pieces of horrendous machinery, and it’s simply not true in all cases. Always fun!

  12. I don’t offer this as proof of anything whatsoever, but I will say that the word “Atlantis” (and I do realize it may be a name that wasn’t actually used in the languages of that time and place if it actually existed) has for the past thirty years stirred something deep and resonant within my consciousness that I can’t entirely explain. If this stirring indicates something more than just a fantasy, whatever it was, was a pretty big deal.

  13. Leave it to the Chinese to figure out how to extract aluminum centuries before the West.
    The technique used was probably carefully guarded by metal smiths and wound up getting
    lost during the periodic turmoil which hits China from time to time. Rather than deny the
    possibility, historians might as well eat humble pie and admit non-European cultures could be
    very clever and innovative without high tech.

    Soot-free lamps? Probably not difficult for the sophisticated Egyptians. Antarctica on
    a map long before it was ‘officially’ discovered? Perhaps Mr Rosselli had access to
    ancient records (now lost) mentioning sightings. Where is it carved in stone Europeans
    were the first around Cape Horn? Polynesians sailed in canoes across the Pacific without
    compasses or sextants or even printed maps. They just relied on a rich navigation
    tradition which got them to Easter Island, the Hawaiian chain and perhaps even the
    west coast of Central and South America.

    Your own book The Secret of the Temple describes ancient techniques for locating and
    building structures in such a way as to benefit crops, most likely using a means to tap into
    Earth energies as a way to boost the nitrogen cycle, all pretty much forgotten today
    Given that our current technique of producing nitrogen fertilizer produces considerable
    pollution, the old ways deserve another look and hopefully rediscovery of those old
    tried and true methods.

    How people today describe an ‘advanced’ civilization is based entirely on the tsunami of
    Sci-fi movies and television shows generated over the past century or so. Until people
    can finally drag themselves away from the ‘boob tube’, cultural imagination will be
    seriously hobbled and stunted, unable to visualize anything not involving shiny tech,
    bright colored jump suits or flying cars.

  14. I would guess that most readers of this post are aware of Graham Hancock’s Underworld, Fingerprints / Magicians of the Gods, and America Before, but if not… They are worth a read.

    As both Mr. Hancock and JMG suggest, we seem to be the victims of something like almost total cultural amnesia — aided, perhaps, by a comet impact that preceded the Younger Dryas — but the process of recovering more of our “lost history” finally seems to be picking up steam. Whatever may become of our present technological era, it would be nice to think that some of these historical gaps might be filled in while we have the material means and functioning institutions to do so. (Think, for example, of satellite imagery, underwater exploration technology, and the wherewithal to mount archaeological expeditions to any place on the globe.)

    What might be the best, long term approach toward creating a more realistic picture of our prehistory? And how might this recovered history be preserved for the benefit of future generations / civilizations so that we don’t once again mostly forget our past?

  15. Hi JMG, a great article with lots to meditate on here.

    Ley Lines may also be considered as an ancient technology… last year as part of my exploration of the subject I got a subscription to Ancient American magazine, to explore the world of unorthodox archaeology. It’s time for me to renew and I think I will. There are a lot of interesting articles on various anomalies.

    .:. .:. .:.

    If I may, this is off topic, but I finished my sixth article exploring the life of a weird, eccentric or iconoclastic American. This time I focused on Brother Blue, a new character for me that I came across in the course of researching this material. He was a very interesting character and storyteller. Those who wish to do so can learn more about him here:

    As far as technology goes, as you wrote in the Ecotechnic Future, I hope we can pass on some radio tech to future humans. In that vein I’ve been writing about the cross-pollination between communications technology and electronic music. My latest article, part of the chapter on DIY approaches, is the second on the San Francisco Tape Music Center, a homebrewed studio and performance space.

    .:. .:. .:.

    Hope all you fellow American’s have a great Independence Day.

  16. @ PE Bird RE easy…

    Lodestones were viewed as almost revered things before industrial society. You need electricity to manufacture magnets – so not so easy.

    If you read about development of the light bulb, you will see it was not easy. It only became easy when tungsten was tested and found to provide more than a few hours of light. So again, not easy, as the tungsten is not easy to purify.

    And then…how does one charge a battery when there is no electricity? Well, I guess you get more potatoes or squeeze more lemons or make more vinegar? The potential has to come from somewhere purely chemical – not so easy and definitely not robust without concentrated acid, which can only be used once….

    Now push that to a stage where it is usable and commonplace – again, not so easy.

    You just kinda tossed that out there from a purely Oil Age perspective, illustrating my point above.

  17. Clay –

    “You could pick up a phone and ask the operator to connect you to the public library, then someone would answer ( no call waiting) and you could ask them what time the library closed that day.”

    I remember those days fondly. I used to work at a Micro Center, and I spent time in the call room on a somewhat regular basis. Great for reading in the evenings, but if you had a question about some bit of software being in stock or another, we’d look it up and answer your question.

    And I never once answered the phone with “Please listen carefully, as our options have changed.”

    These days, I try to steer my business towards places that are still like that – there are some local electrical supply houses that still answer the phone with a human, and some of the solar companies whose parts I try to use actually answer the phone with a receptionist!

    Of course, that era also involved a phone system that was actually usable for voice, instead of the laggy, glitchy horrors that modern cell phones are when you’re trying to talk to someone and spent 15 seconds stepping on each other because the lag has suddenly changed.

  18. In Rutherford Platt’s fascinating book The Great American Forest, he writes about “Minnesota Man.” Being from Minnesota, I am something of a student of Minnesota history, and I had never heard of Minnesota Man. Turns out, it was a young woman. Her mummified body was found in a road building project in northern Minnesota. The trouble is, where she was found, that silt came from a period some 20,000 years ago, except current doctrine says there were no humans in this part of the country before 10,000-14,000 years ago. Equally anomalous, she wore the finery associated with high culture and trade, not the sort of thing associated with the supposed photo-indians who crossed the Bering Land Bridge. The bone structure of her face also happens to appear more African than American Indian.

    But pretty much all that has got buried since, pardon the pun, and now she is simply said to be 10,000 years old and that is that.

    In addition, I have no idea what Graham Hancock is doing these days, so I googled him, and the internet says I can’t connect to his website. Interesting. Anyway, I know he is a big believer in lost civilizations, and I haven’t read it but he has a book with pictures of underwater structures 200+ ft below the surface that clearly shouldn’t be there according to the official story. Additionally, I know he is fond of the theory that there was a great seafaring culture long before the earliest Egyptian civilizations, that may have helped give rise to Egypt, and is spoke of in myth around the world.

  19. With the egyptian tombs, doesn’t soot wash off with soap and water? Just thinking about the times I’ve gotten soot from candles on myself. Or would the time it takes to paint something so complex make the soot enough harder to shift that removing it would damage the paintings in ways that would be noticeable and aren’t present?

    I’ll admit that as a fan of fantasy novels, I find the ideas of civilizations in the distant past we don’t know about both appealing and fascinating.

  20. “Then there are the maps. For some reason when people start talking about anomalous maps—and there are a lot of those—discussion almost always focused on the Piri Re’is map, a map made by a Turkish admiral in the early sixteenth century that probably includes some information picked up from the voyages of Christopher Columbus. Some people claim that it also has information that nobody in sixteenth century Turkey could have had, but the jury’s out on that one.”

    I find it wryly amusing that focus always goes to the dubious examples. The blatant anomalies, where we have no explanation, always get glossed over, while the dubious ones, where it might not be an anomaly, but it might be, those are the ones that get all the attention. Of course, it works really well for defenders of Progress though, if the people poking holes always stick to ones that can be explained eventually….

    Dear gods, it’s just clicked. Most people who claim not to believe in Progress do, and are playing their role as “Opponent to Progress”, as defined by the belief in Progress! No wonder so much of the rhetoric and actions by the people who claim not to believe in Progress makes no sense: they’re playing a role which has been designed to be self-defeating. This also explains why so many people who were talking about things like Peak Oil bailed once it became clear it was actually a threat to continued “Progress”: it’s one thing to oppose something thinking you’ll lose, and it’s quite another to oppose it when you have a chance at winning. No wonder the convulsions as Progress dies have been so dramatic…

  21. Isaac, terra preta is great stuff, but it doesn’t require an advanced technology, just careful study of the local soils and what grows well where. (I’ve noticed that it doesn’t seem to work anything like as well outside tropical settings.) Human societies at all levels of technological complexity have clever tricks like that — the boomerang, with its extraordinary aerodynamic properties, is a great example. The anomalies that interest me are those that basically aren’t possible unless someone somewhere in the past had access to a technology more or less as complex as ours.

    Lothar, good! There was a walled city at Jericho in 8000 BC, with a stone tower that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a medieval castle. Clearly we got a lot wrong…

    Vincelamb, I know. It’s the basic lie at the heart of the myth of progress: the claim that mere human beings can’t do anything without big clanking machines to do it for them.

    Clay, well, there’s that! Ask anyone who thinks the current system is more efficient whether they’ve ever been stuck in phone tree hell…

    Robert, what fun! Thanks for this. I didn’t discuss the Baghdad battery in this post, but that was purely because I ran out of space.

    Ian, old occult literature has it in dribs and drabs — you might try Theosophical writings in particular.

    Yorkshire, I got a 404 error response when trying to get that document — any other suggestions? It sounds fascinating.

    Oilman2, well, Archimedes apparently used focused sunlight from mirrors to set enemy ships on fire, so you’re definitely thinking ina known direction. As for the technic societies of the past, bingo; it’s claimed in a number of occult sources, for example, that in the Atlantean cycle high technology was sequestered by the elite class. A society that had advanced technology but very limited energy reserves might well make that choice.

    PE Bird, I ain’t arguing. Chemical batteries would have been well within the reach of any halfway competent alchemist, just for starters.

    Mary, talking to experienced sailors didn’t keep other mapmakers of the same period from coming up with maps of much lower quality:

    That’s why the portolans are so challenging: they embody a level of accuracy that you can’t get by tabulating sailing times, or the crude estimates of longitude you can get by watching certain astronomical events.

  22. Seems like a classic confusing of the map with the territory. People get so attached to their maps they can’t bring themselves to adjust them to new evidence.

  23. The report is called ‘The Social and Psychological Consequences of the Longwall Method of Coal-Getting’ by Trist and Bamforth. You might get a link that works by searching it directly.

  24. Our modern technical civilization is wholely dependent on fossil fuels, but we have not really made all that many true advancements. We are in an innovation trap whereby miniaturization and increased speed mask a failure at discovery. As you hinted the ancient Egyptians had batteries, whether they used them as such isn’t as important as they had the understanding of the chemical and mechanical techniques to make them. The ancient Greeks had elaborate fountains and automatons driven by air and water and steam. Pipe organs, analog computers, go back to the 11th centuries; loom weaving is even older. Lithography, what modern computer chips rely upon, is centuries old. Had we not taken the easy turn towards exploiting fossil fuels, all these known technologies would still have likely been pursued. Over a longer timeline likely, yet perhaps that would have given us a greater amount of time to develop them wisely.

  25. In modern times, the first aluminum produced was done chemically, not with electricity. It would not be beyond the capabilities of a really good alchemist 😉

    Also, native aluminum has been found in China. Vanishingly rare, worth more than gold. You need very particular conditions in a volcano. Wikipedia has a brief summary of it in the aluminum entry.

    The Long Summer, a book by Brian Fagan, is about how climate changes around the Younger Dryas pushed and pulled civilizations around. Some made it through, some didn’t.

    And then there is the Late Bronze Age Collapse. Everything went wrong and was blamed on the Sea People. We still don’t know where they came from, or what caused the collapse.

    So there is all sorts of room in time for knowledge to have been lost. Given the fondness of conquerors for burning libraries (the Germans burned the one in Leuven during the opening days of WW1 which annoyed everyone else), and the fact that real secrets were never written down in the first place (Damascus Steel) and there is even more opportunity for lost knowledge.

    The opening of the article made me think of The Road Not Taken by Harry Turtledove (not the poem). An Iron Age civilization discovers contra gravity, never finds electromagnetism.

    Good article.

  26. To some extent, we get caught in preconceptions with the very word “technology” itself–thinking of mechanics exclusively. Administrative organization is a technology. Writing is a technology. (For that matter, mnemonic techniques which enable a society to operate in the absence of writing is also a technology.) There are any number of things which could produce the rich complexity of what one might term “civilization” which have little to do with the raw mechanical aspects of what we think of as technology today.

  27. Excellent post! Why wouldn’t technologies come and go, just like civilizations do?

    I remember one of the things that confounded scholars of ancient Egypt was the fact that the foundations of the pyramids were level to a degree of accuracy only achievsble by modern methods, blah blah blah. I thought about it, and it occurred to me that the Egyptians could have leveled the land by flooding it, and carving the high points, until it was as flat as still water. The Egyptians lived in a cycle based on the flooding and receding of the Nile. I only mention it to illustrate that any civilization will develop different things based on their worldview, and it may be very difficult to imagine what ancient civilizations did because we have no way of learning about their culture.

    And I just want to note that it is really difficult to imagine unknown technologies, even for people free from the myth of progress. It helps to read a lot of sci fi, but even then, truly novel ideas are hard to find.

    Jessi Thompson

  28. Anselmo, interesting. Thanks for this.

    Russell, trust Lewis to come up with a good tart phrase! You’re quite right about older technology, though. A lot of older devices quite simply work better.

    Mister N, it does that for a lot of people.

    Jeanne, it might have been Chinese alchemists, yes. Since there are just these few traces, on the other hand, it might have been originally smelted by some even more ancient civilization, and some bits of it ended up in the hands of a Chinese craftsperson. More generally, though, I ain’t arguing: people in the distant past were just as smart as we are. Some of them also seem to have some unexpectedly advanced technology on hand.

    Milt, I don’t think of it as amnesia so much as a willed refusal to accept anything that violates the modern mythology of progress. The traces have been there for a long time, and not so long ago it was quite common for people to consider the possibility that there might have been technologically complex societies in the past. I suspect myself that as our society’s own downfall comes closer, the thought that other societies of equal complexity might have risen and fallen in the past is something few people want to think about.

    Justin, thanks for this. I didn’t want to get into leys, since there’s so much confusion about what they are and how they worked!

    William, fascinating. A lot of things like that have been swept under the rug, especially but not only when it comes to American prehistory.

    Pygmycory, not if you’ve got wet paint on the ceiling!

    Mollari, exactly. Exactly.

    Youngelephant, and when the map says you’re destiny’s darlings, and the territory says otherwise, yeah, it’s easy to pretend that the map must be right.

    Jo, interesting! Thanks for this.

    Yorkshire, got it — thank you.

    Peter, and so we’ve left that work to the ecotechnic societies that will build on our ruins.

    Siliconguy, bingo. History is a very rough road, and we have no way of knowing just how far back it goes — the sheer buildup of information-erasing disasters sooner or later produces complete obscurity. The Turtledove novel sounds more interesting than most of his stuff.

    David BTL, a very good point.

    Jessi, true enough. Doubtless the Egyptians had some clever way of doing it, which we simply don’t know any more.

  29. I think one source of dissonance about ancient technologies is that they not only didn’t rely on using vast amount of fossil fuels, they also didn’t require extensive mining for minerals.

    As I learned in the Peak Prosperity Crash Course, there’s a photo from the 1800s of two prospectors sitting on top of a huge nugget of copper just sitting on the surface, whereas now extracting copper requires strip mining earth with < 1% copper content and smelting it at high temperatures (and high energy usage). The fact that we were left such large opportunities for mining shows that the material basis of past tech must have been very different from our own.

    Now, this lack of mined resources also helps explains the lack of technological artifacts from those eras: wood and fabric would decay, and any stone left over could be easily confused for something else.

    On the other hand, it has occurred to me that our landfills may well be the sites of future mines, so perhaps some of our mines are also ancient garbage dumps…

  30. “The other two objects were identified as the bones of a woolly rhino, which lived 10,000 to 80,000 years ago. Problems arose when dating the aluminum sole. [2] The results of the analyzes carried out indicate that the object is between 400 and 80,000 years old. [2] Michael Hesemann, an aviation specialist, suggested that the object could be the sole of one of the landing gear of a not very large aircraft, which slowly landed on the ground when descending.”

    The article is in Romanian – there is only a short dismissive note in English.
    In typical religious fashion, the progress believers think its a piece of an UFO. There is no official explanation.

  31. Nice post, and an inspiring topic.
    Building on Oilman2‘s comment, isolationist Japan comes to mind, which had developed an astonishing level of craftsmanship in several disciplines, without even being a technical civilization. Traditional Japanese woodworking and pottery are to this day without equal in the world.
    Circumstances conspiring at other times and places to allow for similar blooms of expertise in other fields, within the context of similarly small areas is no unrealistic idea.

    This topic is truly something – there are more examples than the three you mentioned, but the point about them is, as long as our culture isn‘t collectively willing to recognize them, we will probably not even notice how abundant they actually are.

  32. Also related I think, I was commenting on recently, a local news service I appreciate, on an article about Constitutional issues. Something I said inflamed one of the hard core Liberals there, and he replied that “the average ten year old today has more understanding than the founders of this nation and I don’t have any idea why anyone would revere them.”

    I replied, that kind of thinking teaches kids to have a gross over-inflation of their own abilities and discernment, and if that were true that must make you wiser than Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Confucius and Lao Tzu combined!

    That seems a part of what is called “cancel” culture, which is just an iteration of the religious fundamentalist will to wipe out anything and everything that is not of The Truth, this characterization that all of human history is just a story of oppression and backwards thinking, it has nothing to teach that is good, and must be wiped from the collective memory. In this case taking on something of the religious fundamentalist, and the Maoist/Stalinist view of history.

  33. I’ve been a longtime lurker here, and the present post raises a few intriguing topics worth commenting on.

    The Jin dynasty aluminum seems to fit nicely with the famous chromium-plated weapons in Qin Shi Huangdi’s tomb as evidence of some knowledge of electrochemistry/electroplating in late Warring States to early dynastic China. That said, it’s quite possible – I would even say likely, owing to the apparent absence of other electricity-related artifacts – that manipulating metals was the only thing these people knew how to do with electricity. They may well have had no abstract notions of things like “current” or “charge,” only a practical knowledge that connecting certain metals together and placing them in a vessel with certain solvents will lead to the metal being dissolved from off of one surface and deposited somewhere else in a purified form.

    As for Egyptian tomb lighting, I am going to go out on a limb and say that electricity is not the most likely explanation. This is because electric lighting is part of a rather complicated set of technologies that, in addition to requiring a method of generating electricity (at a much higher voltage than is needed for electroplating), also requires vacuum pumps, glass bulbs strong enough to hold a vacuum, etc. Such an elaborate collection of inventions would have had a very hard time going unnoticed in the archeological record.

    So for the soot-free Egyptian tombs I lean towards a purely chemical hypothesis: either the tomb-builders had a way of mixing together liquids that will give off fireless light for the next few minutes or hours – the Egyptian equivalent of a glowstick (and this sounds like the sort of thing that, given the opportunity, temple priests would keep as a closely guarded secret) or else they simply had a lamp fuel that burned much cleaner than whatever the rest of the preindustrial world was using.

  34. Also, I recently read Gordon White’s “Star.Ships” and it touches on some of these subjects, highly recommend!

  35. Hello, I don’t disagree with anything written here, but just to play devil’s advocate I wanted to point out that just because we in the West have decided to commit civilizational suicide, doesn’t meant that everyone has.

    It certainly appears that China will still be going strong in 50 years as of now. Russia also looks like it will be doing tolerably well. India looks a little dysfunctional to us in the West now, but even they might be dysfunctionally surpassing us in a few decades.

    So we might be in some kind of techno Dark Age in a few hundred years, but I don’t think that implies that the whole planet will be like that.

  36. The question often comes up about how to talk to people who are deep into the religion of progress.

    There’s a book by Greg Koukl called Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions. It’s a very non-cofrontational and low-intensity approach to Christian apologetics that involves much more listening to the other person’s beliefs than talking about your own. It would translate very easily into discussing any matters of faith. The only reservation I have is it’s emphasis on definitions could lean dangerously close to ‘mansplaining pedant’, but if you phrase it right, should be okay.

    There’s also the body of work from cult exit counsellors who have moved on from 1970s style confrontational deprogramming. They also lean heavily on building rapport and drawing people out.

  37. I have had some vague and not so vague memories arise that may be past lives (not sure whether I can properly claim them as “mine” or “theirs”), and these refer to times in the past that are germane to this discussion. There are inner technologies (like some of the things claimed to be possible for chi kung masters) that are only one facet of a great universe of possibilities. In my “Atlantean” memory, I was a male candidate for entry into some official status or other (perhaps Sea Priest, medium grade, to adopt some of Dion Fortune’s imagery), and the test required of me was to walk (unaided by any external technology) from one end of a large salt-water bay to the other, underwater, strolling as if it were above water and just as comfortably. The alternative, should I fail, was that I would die. As I recall (even more vaguely) I managed the task. The water above and below, as I remember it, was impossibly blue. What one person calls technology another might call magic (yet another trope of these conversations, often repeated). Our general ideas in this culture about what our ancestors may have accomplished in bygone eras are terrifically sparse and monochromatic.

  38. Re the Roselli map:

    I think the continent of ‘Antarctica’ might actually represent Australia, with New Zealand as a carbuncle on the side.

    It depends on the map projection. Recall that Australia and New Zealand are known as The Antipodes. That is because they are on the opposite sides of the earth from England. If you represent the spherical earth on flat paper by folding some the back portion around to the sides, and the rest to the top and bottom, you would end up with Australia at the bottom more or less under England. And if you didn’t know Antarctica was there, you would put Australia where Antarctica should be.

  39. “Look out the window at the decaying infrastructure, the shredding social fabric, and the destabilized environment, and you’re seeing what people in all those other falling civilizations saw from their windows in their own times.” The Dogger Bank example you cite ended differently: an underwater landslide in Scandinavia sent a wall of water that wiped out a huge area (and any societies on it) in an instant. I wonder how many prehistoric civilizations ended with a bang, not a whimper?

  40. Thanks JMG. Good stuff.

    It seems apparent that a global collapse would wash away most of our technology, though I would warrant that a lot of our plastics might end up surviving as micro and nano plastics within the environment for some time. Whether this would be detected by the next civilisation in time before they decay is another question, but I can imagine our ancestor’s response being, “Yes, the ocean has always contained a certain level of nano plastic. But because we don’t know how this material could be made, we assume that it’s a natural occurrence.”

    If you don’t mind the extra bit of data but, it’s also interesting to note how quickly buildings (and by extension societies) can fall apart when you add in shoddy brinkmanship. On the west coast of Ireland, a lot of houses are disintegrating because of a defect in building blocks. QED: Quarries did not scan cement for a mineral that when exposed to water turns building blocks into the consistency of wet cereal. Good old corruption and light touch regulation at its best.

    Problem is this could affect houses building between 2010 and 1981. Which is a lot of houses. And the cost to the exchequer, given that the government has committed to paying for the rebuilding of these houses, keeps getting higher. You couple this with a ongoing housing crisis and the cost of buying a house in the capital often exceeding 500K euros, it kinda highlights the overspend and overcommit economy we’re leaving in.

    So where I would agree with Mr Handcock on most of his thesis, I often find where his line of reasoning falls down is the “And they all died in a cosmic storm” part, and it will back to kill us all again someday. To me (which I guess is by-product of being Irish and unable to be surprised by government corruption) it’s a more sobering dilemma of politicians, and by extension civilisations, overpromising and underdelivering.

    Anyway, thanks once again.

  41. The funny thing about fossil fuels is how long humanity has known about them and done nothing with the knowledge. Oil seeps in Arabia were a known phenomenon; a few people stuck the stuff in lamps and that was bout it. When the Europeans showed up in Pennsylvania the locals told them about “the rock that burns” – again, no one really did more than add it to a campfire or two. Did they just have more sense? ;{)

  42. Well it’s a mere 2000 years old, but it strikes me that the Antikythera mechanism is an excellent example of our reluctance to accept that older civilisations had an extremely sophisticated technology. It’s use as an astronomical calculator seems plausible, but the implications do not seem to have penetrated our collective ideas. First of all, that it is vanishingly unlikely that it was the only example of its kind and therefore probably appeared in a culture that was capable of manufacturing cogwheels to high precision. We had until fairly recently, two main uses for these, gearing power up and down and clocks. Clocks in combination with accurate observation of the sky leads to navigation and so on.

    This is not a vision of Greek civilisation that I was taught.

  43. Greetings all!

    (1) Any other technological anomalies you have in mind? I find some of the stone work in ancient monuments really extraordinary, for instance those in Egypt, India and South America. Do you think that some of these works could be indicative of technological anomalies?

    (2) Have you considered a book about technological anomalies, by the way?

  44. JMG:

    Are the two civillizations to come the american and russian one? I wonder if a third o fourth ones are still hidden (maybe a Mexican one).

    I recently discovered that average americans still use checks, that shocked me because here in South America only old rich people had used them, a more reliable technology and as you said in Retrotopia, history teaches us what to keep.

  45. Hello JMG,

    I wonder if anyone entertained an alternative future scenario where occultism becomes an established science and its practices become a part of the technology; such as building spaceships out of astral substance instead of ordinary matter, and traveling to distances (in subtle bodies) in space that is not feasible to reach by today’s technology.

    Another related question is, whether the anomalous artefacts from antiquity were made by employing magical means along with some parts of the technology that we know of today.

  46. Cultures come and go. We can’t even reproduce the F1 engines of the moon rocket because we don’t have the skilled welders we used to have.

    It depends on what’s important to a culture what they focus on. Right now we’ve expended tremendous effort on world wide infrastructure to deliver images to your personal screen. A smart phone contains more that half of all the non-radio active elements on the periodic table. All those resources, and half of the data on the Internet is porn. I suppose that’s what’s important to our culture.

  47. A fascinating topic! William Hunter Duncan, I am unsurprised at the vigorous argument that the young woman who presumably fell into a glacial lake 20,000 could not possibly be that old. The scholars have pushed back at the idea of very old human occupation of the New World at least since the beginning of the 20th century. Very old traces of occupation have turned up repeatedly, with 135,000 years being the oldest I know of.
    The New World seems to have been tough territory, with repeated waves of people who did not leave modern descendants. Perhaps it was. The intact megafauna was full of fearsome top predators and dangerous large herbivores. Giant convulsions of glacial flooding reshaped huge landscapes. The comet that precipitated the Younger Dryas appears to have broken up as it came in at a low angle, and machined gunned a path across South America.
    The last wave, the First Nations, have vested interests in being the only wave of people to make it to the New World. The First Nations have widely blocked not only studies of old bones, but DNA studies of living people.
    Nonetheless, the anomalies pile up.
    There are obvious (even to a non-specialist) similarities between Clovis (the short lived culture extinguished by the comet, whose highest concentration is around Chesapeake Bay) and Solutrean (Upper Paleolithic in Europe) lithic cultures.
    There are “Incan” stone walls made of megalithic dressed stones topped with repairs made of much smaller stones. The Inca themselves told the Spanish explorers that they repaired old work done by the ancients. We can’t figure out how a premodern society quarried, moved and precisely dressed such large stones. What is really weird is that the Danube civilization (6000 – 3500 BCE) shows exactly the same pattern of neat megalithic walls topped with later smaller stones. It is as if megalithic walls built by widely spread techniques a really long time ago collapsed and were then rebuilt by civilizations that were themselves old.


  48. Fascinating read, thanks John.

    My take: Homo Sapiens have been around for at least 300,000 years so there is a lot of time for complex cultures to rise and fall numerous times. I am not surprised by evidence that shows the possibility of advanced technology in the past. Note that I am a skeptical retired geologist, so I look at these claims based on evidence and possibilities.

    One good book that I read that explores the theme of possible past civilizations is “Civilization One” by Christopher Knight and Alan Butler, Watkins Publishing, 2004

  49. “Back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, you see, the Whigs—their official name was the Liberal Party, but next to no one called them that—had a dominant role in British intellectual culture.”

    JMG, I just wonder if you know something I don’t about the Liberal Party, or if it’s the other way round. From what I’ve read the Liberal Party was founded in 1859, partly out of Whig ingredients (a striking parallelism here with the almost exactly contemporary birth of the Republican Party in the USA). Whigs from then onwards were a sort of aristocratic wing of the Liberals; but in times previous, the eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century Whigs were never officially called the Liberal Party.

    Unless I’m wrong.

  50. Dear John,

    I’ve read Anathem and most of Neal Stephenson’s other novels. I’m a long time reader of your blogs. I remember you making the same criticism of the tee-shirt section of Anathem once before. I think you misread what Stephenson was trying to accomplish in that part of Anathem.

    Stephenson isn’t trying to imagine what culture and technology on this Earth are going to be like several centuries into our future. The resemblances to contemporary (at the time he wrote the book) American dress and preoccupations are not the result of lack of imagination. They are intentional. He’s showing the readers how silly they (or Americans collectively) would look in the eyes of someone from a distant and perhaps more advanced culture.

    Stephenson likes to mix up literary genres. In the Baroque Trilogy and some of his other alternate histories he has a tendency to go off on side trips into different styles and genres of writing, not for comic relief or any other purpose serving the main focus of the novel, but just because he enjoys doing it.

    The section of Anathem you criticized resembles Gulliver’s Travels. The Brobdingnagian court is a satire on the manners and politics of the royal and noble courts of Jonathan Swift’s day. The Houyhnhm section of the book satirizes the views of eighteenth century philosophers, natural philosophers, and other savants by putting them in the mouths of intelligent horses.

    The narrator of Swift’s novel is a naif Briton visiting all these exotic places. It is left to the reader to notice the parallels to the world they know, and that’s the joke. Anathem’s narrator is a monk, visiting places equally exotic to him.

    Terry Pratchett does social comedy in the Discworld series. Pratchett’s humor is more cheerful and less politically pointed than Swift’s, but the technique used for the change in point of view necessary to make it funny is similar.

  51. There is also the phenomenon of ‘Libyan Desert Glass.’ These are chunks of golden-colored, slightly radioactive glass, found in the desert near Libya. Egyptians sometimes used them to create carved scarabs for funerary ornaments. The Wikipedia article on it compares Libyan Desert Glass to Trinitite, the desert glass formed by the Trinity nuclear explosion when they were testing bombs in the 1940’s.

    Of course, Libyan Desert Glass was likely formed by a ‘100 Megaton airburst from a meteorite.” –because it’s obvious that no one had nuclear weapons that long ago.

    On the other hand, the Bhagavad Gita describes the “Brahmastra,” —
    “The weapon produced “an incandescent column of smoke and flame as bright as 10,000 suns that rose in all its splendor. After, corpses were so burned as to be unrecognizable. Their hair and nails fell out; pottery broke without any apparent cause, and the birds turned white… After a few hours, all foodstuffs were infected….”

    For the compulsive, here are some links I read;

    Emmanuel G

  52. Wanting to accurately map a coastline without modern advanced navigation tools (e.g. a chronometer or anything more recent than that), I could try to solve the problem of inventing different advanced geo-location tools currently not conceived of, or I could solve the problem of how to send explorers around the coast on land, keeping track of their direction of travel and counting their strides. The latter would be dangerous and expensive and take a long time (good thing it would be done with the support of, and for the benefit of, the wealthiest elites), but it would be rather more likely to succeed than the former where (except for trying to recapitulate subsequent technology from history) I wouldn’t know where to begin.

    Wanting to avoid oil lamp soot on tomb ceilings, I could try to invent a different light source using tools available in ancient Egypt, or I could try (under that same constraint) to figure out how to prevent lamp soot from depositing on ceilings. Teams of workers with fans wafting the air back toward the entrance; or temporarily covering already-completed portions of the ceiling and always working from the remotest corridors back toward the entrance; or putting a lamp in a sealed box (it would only burn for fifteen minutes or so, or just enough time for the assistant who carried the previously used one outside to return with a fresh one–this idea might have the problem of no clear enough material to shed the light from inside the box, but stretched animal gut might work); and that’s if my initial idea of inventing a soot-filtering lamp chimney using e.g. dried reeds, linen fibers, and/or coarse crushed charcoal didn’t pan out in testing.

    I don’t doubt that ancient civilizations could have had large complex cities, administration and consensus systems, bridges, roads, ships, and art forms, made mostly or entirely of naturally biodegradable materials. I’m very skeptical of scenarios where material technologies left few traces and/or were confined to specific uses that were more complex than other potential uses would have been. Clear glass for electric light bulbs, but never used in tomb furnishings or funerary jewelry, for instance, doesn’t add up. (The ancient Greek temple automata, though, do… they had limited uses for their “steam power” because other likely applications like pumping water or powering a vehicle require more supporting technology than opening a door.) The traces of many of our own technologies, of course, will be massive, on a comparable time scale of tens of millennia.

  53. people in the distant past were just as smart as we are

    I’d say smarter! I’ve always referred to people’s dismissal of their predecessors as “The arrogance of modernity”.

    As a kid I went to all the Sun Classic movies that covered these exact topics. Still fascinates me.

  54. Dear Mr. Greer, et all: Not long ago I watched “The Great Courses: Understanding Greek and Roman Technology.” Also available in an audio form. Interesting stuff. Here’s one bit of Roman tech, I found particularly interesting. A battery of water wheels, to grind grain.

    Here’s an artist idea, of what it must have looked like.

    I also read an article, recently, that related that monks in Late Antiquity (aka: The Dark Ages. Late Antiquity is now the hip and with it name, for the performer formerly known as The Dark Ages. 🙂 had developed tidal mills, in Britain. Lew

  55. Mysteries of the deep past have fascinated me for many years. After reading Thor Heyerdahl’s books (a great introduction to the concepts of alternate history) I went on to find and read many more. Graham Hancock has produced some amazing books over the years and if I was to recommend only one it would be ‘Underworld’ – a very well done exposition of how the world looked during the height of the last Ice Age when sea levels were 400m lower than now and how that changed quickly when sudden melting events occurred.

    Another very interesting mystery similar to that of the Egyptian tombs having complex paintings without any evidence of a light source common to that time period is that of the Longyou Caves in China. I mention them in particular because they are extraordinary works of engineering that no one has been able to explain – not even how ancient they may be. When I first read about them and saw the original images I don’t recall having seen the bas relief decorations showing people or religious symbols so I certainly can’t be certain that the Chinese government hasn’t done some alterations other than those required fo access. There is a brief wikipedia article that seems trustworthy as far as the essential facts are concerned.

    Thanks for this and all you do.

  56. I’m learning a lot here, and I will add an author’s blurb that is short and packs in a lot.
    Its message does not make me happy, to understate it.

    I no longer read Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, because I can not choke down his later turning his support to Trumf, but I read some of his books and used to think he was brilliant.

    That single chapter subtitle in one of his books:
    “Life Will Not Be Like Star Trek”

    Instant insight: I knew it, and it felt orders of magnitude worse than any small kid hearing there’s no Santa.

    I bought the book immediately based on seeing that subtitle in the store.

    One of the simplest, nontechnological, nonacademic, but maybe just as valid, explanations of how life won’t be like Star Trek:

    “Sadly, Star Trek does not take into account the stupidity, selfishness, and horniness of the average human being.”

    I knew that upon seeing the chapter title; didn’t have to read that in his chapter later to get it.
    It sucks sewer gas.

    I mean, come on, watch almost any episode and see the rising above pettiness, the clearheadedness, the ethics, the lack of office politics and gossip-biddies, the honest, direct communication, the problem-solving, that prevail in the star (star as in ‘Hollywood’) officers, and realize with a sinking feeling; “No g–d– WAY people are gonna be like that.”

  57. this is a real interesting article, not exactly on topic but adjacent to it: The worlds oldest story??

    and here is a link to maps and discussion about how the climate has changed over the last 150,000 years

    it is good stuff to give you some idea of the earth was like before our current ~10,000 years of history.

  58. Another deeply engrossing read, thank you for this foray into deep-time speculation.

    Two questions: Is this the sort of essay-by-essay working out of new material for a new edition of your Atlantis book? I recall you saying that if you ever did republish it, you’d rewrite quite a bit of it. Is that in the works?

    Question two: How likely do you think the occult lore is regarding our species going extinct after two more grand cycles of the kind you just sketched out? While I know I won’t be around for it, I found your “Next Ten Billion Years” model very comforting, as it had hominids remaining a going concern for around 8 million years or so.

    Or perhaps all that will go extinct two cycles from now is our *species*, to be replaced by another hominid just as we replaced earlier hominids at roughly the time the Polarian age began?

    I recognize that this is all very unknowable, but but I suppose my own reaction is a holdover from my break with the Religion of Progress(and as a third-generation star trek fan, my family religion, and thus a very difficult break). Essentially, “I know we will go extinct and not to the stars, but… Maybe not quite so soon?”

    Anyway, thanks again,

    Matt Lindquist

  59. Raphanus,

    Here in Minnesota and surrounding States, of First Nations peoples, it is the Ojibwe/Anishinabe, historical Algonquin who arrived around 500 years ago from the East, and Dakota peoples.

    In much of the state there are burial mounds. No one seems to have a name for the people who built them, and no one seems vested in truly understanding. The same for the rock paintings in the north of the state. All tell a tale of peoples displacing peoples. The displacers rarely care to tell the tale of those they displaced. These days are likely the first, of the recently displaced asserting the story of their displacement.

    That said, I realize I have always felt it, in this land where three great primary ecosystems come together, the prairie, the Eastern big woods and the northern evergreen forest, as Greer has said in his blog and his recent book The King in Orange, that a great civilization will arise here. It will be more brown than white, probably.

  60. You didn’t mention OOPARTs at all. This realm is weird, if you’re willing to notice.

  61. Fascinating. You made me think of Janet Stephens, Hair Archaeologist.

    She’s a hairdresser from Baltimore. Some years back, she was at a museum exhibit of Roman busts and looked at the hair. She, because she’s a hairdresser, figured out how Roman women did their hair, something that generations of scholars assumed were wigs.

    They weren’t wigs. Scholars were mistranslating the literature. They read “hair pin” instead of “needle”. Roman women had their own hair *sewn* into place to make those elaborate styles.

    Ms. Stephens regularly demonstrates how to do it, both in public and on her YouTube channel. She got historians to pay attention because she knew something they didn’t.

    How much knowledge is right there, waiting in plain sight in the written record? But because it’s obscure or only clear to someone with a specialized background, it’s interpreted quite wrong.

    God only knows what else is waiting out there, if only we have eyes to see.

  62. What most struck me in reading this post was how I only tend to think only in terms of the relatively recent geological past, and peoples and cultures like those imagined in novels such as “The Clan of the Cave Bear.” I hardly ever consider that any advanced civilizations existed in pre-ice age or ice-age geological times. Thanks for expanding my horizons.

    Recently I watched The Mystery of Chaco Canyon. Somehow I missed this film when it came out. I now understand how I intuitively sensed, when I actually visited the ruins in 1999, that the people who built the great house there were using architecture to express and reflect a deep reverence for, and connection with, the cycles of the earth and sky. It seems to me that it was a cultural center dedicated to ritual prayer and the performance of magical ceremonies linked to the cycles of the sun and moon.

    Speaking of ley lines, the Chacoans appear to have constructed a straight road heading due north, perhaps a spirit road that led back to the place of the ancestors, or the land of the dead. (“We make a road for the spirit to pass over…”)

    It’s particularly interesting that when it was time for them to leave the complex, they carefully dismantled the temples, burned the kivas, and bricked up the doorways.

    I suspect the Chacoans had a sufficiently advanced technology that, because we don’t understand it, we call it magic (Clarke’s law).

  63. Random Thoughts:
    1) “While I am skeptical about the various theories that have Venetian oligarchs conducting a centuries long conspiracy against Christendom, I do suspect that the Venetians knew a great deal more about world geography than they were willing to admit.”

    It catches me off guard how much more often it seems to be that the serious attacks on Christianity aren’t fulfilled by impassioned, self-motivated resenters of the Religion. Instead, its seems to mostly be inflicted by an interest in money, and the accrual of material value. Like, I remember seeing a youtube video explaining the belief of some conservatives in a “War on Christmas” (I also think its real). The answers the video offered is that the War is really describing increasing commercialization of the Holiday, and with a dusting of corporations neutering everything for better marketability.

    It reminds of Shift the Ape… somehow. Why did he pose as Aslan, let in Calormen infiltrators and resource harvesters, and allow for the enslavement of Narnians and desecration of everything? No deep reason. He just wanted to live the high life, with fine food and drink.

    I have this theory, an “evangelical” theory, that the Anti-Christ and the system he’ll establish won’t be the work of some Cackling evil genius who revels in being a child of the Unholy Darkness, while surrounded by his hooded lackies. Actually, he’ll just be some sleezy dude who kept lucking out in politics, while ultimately being motivated by making the green lines and numbers in his investor portfolio go up. The tyranny and spiritual degradation would just be the result of some inconsiderate and shallow suits, supporting what they considered to be good, profitable ideas at the time.

    2) I admit it: My interest in nuclear power, and the wish for it be involved in renewable energy plans, isn’t about progress, but hopefully lengthy delays. Maybe we’ll luck out on this whole future of technological civilization, the druids turn out to be wrong, and the Malthusians get to eat some crow one more time. Or, maybe we’re just pushing back the dates on which the real disintegrations happen. In either case, please, give us moar time… Please?
    Also, maybe I’m just being mean, but damn, seriously, some of the Global Warming advocates are annoying with the contradictions. You can’t at once scream in our ears about how we’re going to die in ten years, due to Earth becoming Venus 2.0. Yet get shy and hesitant about the price tag of the energy alternative, for enjoying the same way of life no one seems interested in willingly giving up.

  64. You are the Bomb JMG! Interesting, stimulating, thought provoking, mind expanding, and enjoyable reading every time:) Seeing the lies we have been fed for, I don’t know, maybe forever! I think you make a persuasive argument and we should open our minds to possibilities and realities other than the one designed to steer us into thoughtless fear driven exertion and frivolous material consumption.

    I am coming across the words; spell, magic, hypnotized, and similar others in some mainstream reading lately. Glen Greenwald used it recently in writtings and you should see the twisted politicaly motivated criticisms of him recently. Jim Kunstler and Cris Martenson at Peak Prosperity used similar terminology. You are mentioned on JHK’s recent podcast with Cris. I started reading Mackay’s, ‘Madness of Crowds’, after an excellent recent post by Marc Moran at titled ‘Herd Immunity’, and the obvious insanity taking over the covid cult which I understand better since your book, ‘King in Orange and awesome essays.

    I hope enough are becoming aware of how deeply, how badly, and I am scared to think, how long, our mainstream thought leaders, politicians, religious leaders, and all the various media – legacy and tech, have lied and herded us into choices and actions that serve and enrich them at the expense of so much of our Selves and the Earth.

  65. Slithy, those are valid points. Whatever was going on in ancient times, it certainly wasn’t identical to today’s technology in any way — didn’t use the same resources, didn’t produce the same wastes.

    NomadicBeer, fascinating. Yeah, that’s a fine example.

    Eike, of course there are more examples. I was writing a post, not a book! If I decide to write a book on the subject, I’ll put the word out and have everyone forward me details on their favorite ancient anomalies.

    William, that’s a great example of what an earlier commenter called “chronological snobbery.” Thank you?

    Athelstan, er, Qin Shi Huangdi’s tomb hasn’t been opened yet, last I checked. Can you forward me some links about the chromium-plated tools? As for electric lights, I take it you’ve never heard of carbon arc lamps, which require no tungsten, no vacuum, and no glassblowing. It does require a lot of electricity but there are ways to get that.

    Isaac, so noted.

    Sdetsrt, you know, your criticisms might have a little more force if you’d bothered to read my post first. I’d be interested in knowing where you got the idea that I think we’ll crash into a dark age in fifty years. (Hint: I don’t. My first book on the decline and fall of industrial civilization is called, hint hint, The Long Descent…)

    Yorkshire, thanks for this.

    Clarke, fascinating. If nothing else, that would make a great scene in a Dion Fortune novel!

    Martin, according to today’s historians, Australia was just as unknown as Antarctica when that map was built. Equally, there were other maps that have a continent of the right shape right at the south pole.

    RPC, the Dogger Bank was a nation (or several nations), not an entire civilization. Plenty of nations in our cycle of history have perished suddenly — the Aztec Empire comes to mind.

    Adrian, that’s a good point. As for the cement, can you post a link on the subject? That would make a great example for an upcoming post.

    RPC, or maybe our fixation on the limitless projection of power made us think of that, while everyone else just used petroleum for caulking pots or whatever.

    Adwelly, that’s a fine point. The one curious detail is that Greek gears, unlike ours, have triangular teeth and therefore can’t transmit power efficiently; their clockwork was extremely well suited to astrological computers but not to power trains…

    Karim, there are hundreds of them. I’ll consider a book at some point.

    Anon, so noted. I was able to find it and download it by using the title as a search string.

    Minervaphilos, I once did most of a fantasy trilogy in which magic and alchemy replaced technology, with space travel using fire and air elementals, and so on. The setting was great but the plot sucked. I may see if I can do something else with it one of these days.

    Bradley, nicely put!

    Raymond, thanks for this. I’ll see if I can find the book.

    Robert, it’s perfectly possible that the source I read got that wrong!

    Deborah, that didn’t communicate to me at all. It still doesn’t, because I don’t see a satiric dimension in the story — just an interesting tale about an alternative world and culture that got tripped up by too much reliance on the canned assumptions of our culture.

    E. Goldstein, fascinating. Many thanks for the links.

    Walt, er, all this reminds me very much of the ad hoc arguments that were used for fifty years or so to dismiss the evidence for continental drift. “Well, evidence A could have been caused by this, and evidence B by that, and evidence C by the other thing…” It proves nothing. The fact remains, to use your first example, that people tried for quite a few centuries to produce accurate maps by the means you’ve described, and failed. For that matter, as I pointed out to another reader, carbon arc lamps don’t require clear glass, or any other kind of glass.

    TJ, a case could be made.

    Lew, interesting. Thanks for this!

    Jgregg, been there, done that. This one flew in 1917.

    Susan, fascinating. Thanks for this.

    Occam Shave, it still fascinates me that so many people are so awed by Donald Trump that they’re afraid to spell his name correctly.

    Jeff, good gods. I’m going to watch the moon rise and see if it’s blue. Calendars are made with a month of Sundays, and a blue ribbon Holstein has borne alive two insurance salesmen…

    Skyrider, fascinating. Not at all surprising, but fascinating.

    Matthew, I wrote this because when I asked what people wanted to hear about on the fifth Wednesday of this month, this is what came out way ahead. If we go extinct after another two cycles, that gives us maybe another million years, so I’m not too worried.

    Owen, there are a lot of things I didn’t mention. I like to give readers a fair amount of information about individual examples, and you’ve got to admit that those aluminum belt plates are serious OOPARTS.

    Teresa, talk to a handspinner sometime. They have all kinds of stories about the number of times archeologists have mistaken obvious spindle whorls, complete with the usual wear patterns, for decorative beads or what have you.

    Goldenhawk, fascinating. I wonder if that road aligns with anything else.

    Lain, Shift the Ape is a great image for the mentality that brings civilizations down. As for global warming, yeah, I know. So often it amounts to “Everyone else in the world has to use less carbon, so I don’t have to!” I can imagine Shift the Ape saying that, too…

    Dennis, thanks for this. I’ve been working for a very long time to get certain ideas into circulation, and it seems to be working.

  66. Dear all,

    For the “no Egyptian soot” question I will thow my hat into the ring with an extaction system based on ducting of animal skin or wood-panels-sealed-with-goop and driven by a fire-based-forced-air extraction system similar to early coal mine ventilation. (Plan B being lots of enforced labour on a big tread mill running a pump.)

  67. @Lothar, I’ve been reading a lot about Göbekli Tepe recently. It doesn’t seems to be a city, but a gathering place for foraging bands that were just beginning to practice agriculture. It has no burial sites, like Stonehenge does, but has huge stone bowls with residues of beer. It seems to have been a party venue. Many Native American foraging bands would gather at a spot during the best season to trade and make alliances, so Göbekli Tepe may have been someplace like that.

  68. Although I’m intrigued by the other examples you showed (and amused by the handwaving of those others who’ve talked about them), the example of the Egyptian tombs has me skeptical. Would there be any natural process that could, over a period of several thousand years, erase all traces of soot from a ceiling? Or a way to use the light sources of the time in a way that wouldn’t create soot on the ceiling? I find the idea interesting, but somewhat hard to believe. I’d gladly accept any further reading on these tombs you could direct me to.

  69. @JMG said, “Athelstan, er, Qin Shi Huangdi’s tomb hasn’t been opened yet, last I checked. Can you forward me some links about the chromium-plated tools?”

    You’re thinking of the burial chamber, which is still unexcavated. Thousands of terra cotta warriors from the outer parts of the tomb have already been brought to the surface, along with their weapons (as a teenager, I went to Xi’an and saw them) and the Chinese there are quite proud of telling tourists that their country had chromium plating 2200 years before the West did. Here are some links:

    Though according to this story – – some scientists are now saying that the chromium that appeared in earlier tests was actually contamination from the lacquer that was painted onto the wooden parts of the weapons, and not evidence of chromium plating at all. I simply don’t know enough about the science here to comment on which side is more likely to be right.

    As for Egyptian lighting, yes, I’m aware of arc lights, but they take much higher voltages than incandescent lights, which would mean having either (a) large batteries with dozens or hundreds of cells all wired together, or (b) dynamos. Absent any archaeological evidence for the complicated infrastructure that would be needed to support these things, I still think that a much simpler technology, in the form of either a flameless chemical reaction like the one in glowsticks, or a very clean-burning lamp fuel, is more likely.

  70. “It’s one of the most basic rules of logic that if something has actually happened, it has to be possible.” Ipso Facto – my favorite end to an argument. This is why I like Graham Hancock’s books. He explores these possibilities. I don’t have any knowledge like what your insights suggest, but I want to build an obsidian pyramid on Mesa Redonda, southeast of Tijuana. That would be my contribution to cosmic tech.

  71. Re chromium plating in China: the Qin emperor who was buried with the famous Terracotta Warriors also included in his treasures a chromium-plated sword:

    Either it was fully chromium-plated in a way that Europeans couldn’t manage until the 1800s, or (the competing theory) chromium ore traces in the soil somehow migrated onto the sword’s blade, assisted by the tomb’s early burning. Seriously. That’s the competing theory.

    I saw the sword in person when part of the collection was on tour in Singapore. The entire blade is a solid silver colour. It GLEAMS after spending 2000 years underground.One has to be seriously committed, or delusional, to hypothesise that that could happen by accident.

  72. Rudolf Steiner’s An Outline of Occult Science describes the previous civilizations using similar terminology for the ages. He says that it is based on clairvoyant observations (Akashic records) Each age is separated by major cataclysms that changed the face of the Earth. He also describes all the major civilizations in the current (post-Atlantian) age. First there was an Indian civilization (not what we think of as ancient India in “outer science”. Then there was the Persian civilization (also unknown to current outer science) led by Zarathurstra (not the one in history, but the original), then the Egyptian civilization, then Greco-Roman. He also zooms out and describes the evolution of humanity before we evolved into the physical plane. There were separate periods called the Sun, Saturn, Moon, and we are now in the Earth period. The human physical body evolved in the Sun period (although not manifest in the physical plane as it is today), the etheric body in the Saturn period, the astral body in the Moon period. During the previous periods, humans had a different type of consciousness. In the moon period we had a consciousness similar to our current dream state. He states the purpose of the Earth period is to achieve waking self-aware consciousness by focusing on the physical plane (which has necessarily reduced our access to the spiritual planes) and then rise back up to the spiritual planes while keeping the self-awareness. If this is all true, then we might also consider that the older civilizations were not as focused on the physical plane as we are, so if they did have “technologies” per se, they may have been etheric in nature. For example Steiner states that these earlier civilization had much more command of the life forces and could make plants grow etc.

  73. This may have already been brought up before, but do you think it’s plausible that the Egyptians painted the murals before the stone blocks were assembled in the tomb?

  74. “Few modern researchers ever manage the acquisition of lost Victorian knowledge. Few manage the sublime realization of lost technology, which our Victorian predecessors developed.”

    – Jerry Vassilatos, in The Luminous World of Baron Karl von Reichenbach, from “Lost Science”

    I find it hard to imagine a better summation of the philosophy that informs steampunk. Maybe it’s time to consider possible technologies other than those involving massive consumption of electricity and little circuits using funny binary logic.

    Personally, I find intriguing the work of the engineer Frank Shuman, who developed a very effective solar powered irrigation system in 1913, under the patronage of the British government in Egypt.

  75. JMG and @William Hunter Duncan,
    Mention of Minnesota Man brought to mind the Cerutti mastodon site in the San Diego (CA) area. Possible stone tools were found in earth layers with broken mastodon bones dating to about 130,000 years ago. However, most researchers are skeptical because, apparently, the artifacts are not definitively the product of humans (i.e., could not rule out natural processes) and there is no other supporting evidence of human involvement at the site. Intriguing nonetheless.

  76. Fascinatingly, the Polynesian/Maori discovery of Antarctica in the 7th Century has become popular knowledge. See here: The mind boggles at thoughts of a brave crew in an outrigger canoe, tackling the Southern Ocean. It is pretty humbling.

    It makes me wonder if knowledge of that, or some map (the Polynesian navigators produced brilliant maps) found its way through South East Asian, and perhaps onto a silk road caravan, and then to Europe. That would have informed the maps you are talking about.

  77. Dear JMG,

    This post reminds me forcefully of Kuhn’s achingly beautiful work, _The Structure of Scientific Revolutions_. Really I consider that book a masterpiece on the level of its aesthetic considerations alone — it’s absolutely gorgeously written with a restrained passionate intensity. On top of that he makes the point that all scientific paradigms sweat in their exertions to make Theory and Nature touch.

    This image of Nature and Theory touching seems to me crucial in thinking about ancient civilizations: it seems that the two could find many, many points to touch that we cannot even imagine given our current accustomed ways of thinking about Theory and Nature. Frankly, it seems bizarre to me in the extreme that people confuse how they as individuals imagine the possible range that Theory and Nature can touch for the actual possible range, which is from the human perception unknowable.

    For this reason it doesn’t surprise me at all that ancient civilizations clearly came up with many inventions that elude us: from Greek Fire, to the Iron Pillar of Dehli, to all of the well-attested Alchemical Transmutations! Nature and Theory are not simply what Bacon hammered out as the possible bounds of paradigmatic exploration, after all.

  78. Lain Iwakura @ 68 For sure. Read any good history of the Protestant Reformation for numerous examples of your very point. I am in the middle of the historical novel Q, set in that time. It was written by a committee in Italy, and is excellent, or I think it is.

  79. This is one of my favourite non-occult topics. My dad got me interested in this sort of stuff when I was a wee lad.

    The problem with ancient technologies, however, is that rarely do artefacts exist which are so durable as to last tens of millennia. So, we have to look at what archaeological remains we can find and ask ourselves, “how could this have been done at the time at which it was done?”

    Some fine examples have already been given by the commentariat. I shall add a few (from the top of my head):
    – Claims of a pyramid in Indonesia (formerly Sundaland) which appears to be about 24,000 years old;
    – Claims that some of the moai (statues) on Easter Island are made out of basalt – which does not exist on the island itself but does on a submerged shelf which was above sea level during the previous ice age;
    – The three giant quarried stones at Baalbek complex (Lebanon) which weigh up to 180 tons. They are clearly pre-Roman in origin (as Romans did not quarry stones that big) and every explanation I have come across as to how these behemoths could have been moved from their quarry and to their final resting places (6 feet above ground level!) using pre-Industrial technologies simply don’t work;
    – Claims that finds by aquatic archaeologists off the west coast of India show cities that have been dated to 24,000 to 36,000 years old;
    – Serious research on the geology of Adam’s Bridge (the stone causeway which almost links India to Sri Lanka) finding that there is no geological explanation for its existence, while there seems to be evidence that it is of human design (according to the Hindu epic Ramayan, it was built by an army on the command of the avatar Rama; according to classical Hindu time reckoning, that would have been 1.4 million years ago).

    The list goes on and on.

    What I always find entertaining is that Western archaeologists are so determined to shoe-horn their evidence into the narrative of linear progress; while Indian archaeologist – excepting those who have been totally brainwashed by Western culture – are not at all surprised to find evidence of great civilizations from extreme antiquity… as a matter of fact, they expect to find such things.

    If one looks for reference to wonderous technologies in the Hindu scriptures, there are plenty to choose from. There is the aeroplane (‘pushpak vimaan’) used by the demon-king Ravana, as mentioned in the Ramayan. The epic Shrimad Bhagavatam describes the demon-king Hiranyakashipu (who would have lived several million years ago, based on classical Hindu time reckoning) as a great scientist who had invented a vehicle which could transport him on land, sea and air (the original ‘chitty-chitty-bang-bang’!). Of course, critics will discredit scriptural references to wonderous technologies as flights of fancy / poetic licence taken to a ludicrous extreme.

    Re: the Brahmastra (E. Goldstein #54): yes, this weapon is described in many of the Hindu epics and tales, but it is not in the Bhagavad Gita. Regardless, it was considered to be the ultimate weapon. The good thing about it, however, was that it could be (and nearly always was) recalled after being released: a ‘nuclear deterrent’ of a different age, so to speak. And the ones who wielded the Brahmastra were the wisest of sages, not the temporal rulers. A lesser weapon (arrow) was wielded by the avatar/king Rama, who at the last minute decided not to use the missile – but once an arrow was strung upon his bow, it had to be released, so he aimed it to the northeast, and where it landed it created a vast desert (the Gobi, I presume). All such awesome weapons were created and released by the use of mantra. According to the scripture Shrimad Bhagavatam, when the avatar Krishna died (5,123 years ago by Hindu reckoning), our current dark age (Kali Yuga) began and those great warriors of the time (such as the Pandavas) immediately and completely lost memory of these mantras, as the degraded-minded humans in the new age would not wield such weapons wisely or use them justly.

    Yes, JMG, it is sad how poor the imagination is of the Western non-occultist regarding technologies – both ancient and future… what a mental straight-jacket the myth of progress has put them in. Looks like some good fiction needs to be written to help at least a few people out of the straight-jacket (it just so happens that I recently wrote one such piece in the hopes of being published soon)!

  80. Oilman2 …

    I should have made myself more clear.

    I did not intend to imply that there was any mass production of electrical technology in ancient times.

    But the basics of electricity and its application were most likely available.

    My understanding is that there are naturally magnetic metals – electricity is not needed to manufacture them, unless we are speaking of mass production.

    Light bulb creation is a high (if not elementary) school project – the YouTube has several examples available … and without tungsten!

    A battery does not need to be recharged in order to be a battery. Again, we are not talking about mass production, but a basic battery is certainly available with materials available in antiquity. How scalable? Subject to debate, but I would expect not very. Enough to temporarily light dark places? Certainly a possibility.

    Not sure what your “Oil Age” comment is meant to imply – I think you thought I meant electricity in antiquity to be “commonplace”. If I said that, I apologize, otherwise you imagined it.

    I was not in anyway implying that the technologies of today could have been mass produced in the distant past – only that much of what we think to be modern is anything but.

    Another way to think of this is: what did Franklin possess that was not available to the ancients (string?, key?, kite?).

  81. As a painter, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about perspective – off and on, for about forty years.

    For something without material existence, the vanishing point exerts a great, usually unnoticed influence on the conceptualizing of those who are conditioned to it. It’s a dimensionless abstraction that governs our perception.

    Even as a concept it’s not strictly real on its own terms, in the world of projective geometry. Classical linear vanishing point perspective conceives the earth as a flat plane, as in Euclidean geometry, but of course it isn’t. The horizon is never truly a straight line.

    Imagine you are high up in a balloon on a clear day over a calm ocean. In geometrical terms, the horizon around you is the base of a right circular cone; you are at the apex. This becomes more obvious at the altitude of a satellite; but it is always true, so long as your vantage point is at least a little bit above the ground – say, at the shoulder level of a cat.

    Finally, perspective bears a close relationship to mapmaking, as seen in the maps you’ve referenced. Curvilinear vanishing point perspective is based on spherical projection, and involves much the same geometry as required for mathematically accurate maps of the earth or the heavens. It wouldn’t surprise me if the makers of the ancient maps whose existence you’ve suggested knew all about linear vanishing point perspective.

    If you click on the website link, you’ll see my drawing of the interior of an imaginary cathedral in stereographic projection/perspective. Provided the link works, of course.

  82. I think there’s a problem with normalizing the civilizational decline. Normalizing isn’t the right word, probably, but putting forward the narrative that the cultural collapse, and despair, and craziness are to be expected and part and parcel of the cycle of civilizations, has a side effect of discouraging efforts to salvage and heal.

    If it’s just the way these things go, and our time is up, then why bother trying to restore rule of law, or constitutional norms, or more fair and less-rigged elections, or civic institutions like free speech and fostering intellectual respect (as contrasted with cancel culture and censorship that are on the rise now.)

    Why bother trying to carry specific skills and technologies into the future, or passing along the values of individual civil liberties and human rights against the rising tide of coercion and authoritarianism? The collapse is underway, picking up speed and irreversible. I’ve lost all my friends and can’t make new ones. There’s suspicion and mistrust mixed up in everything now.

    I must be missing something. Is resistance not futile? Is there any possibility of things getting better in any way from this point, or are we just waiting for the storm troopers serving the elite and governments to come kill us and our kids in our homes or take the rabble to the concentration camps and conduct more medical experiments on us and then starve us to death?

    If that’s the almost-guaranteed future, the future wherein any sort of progress – even lower-tech life that’s better in other ways – is impossible, what’s the point?

    My partner likes to think that future lockdowns and masking can be prevented, the unleashed insanity of the Covid-cult can be calmed, friendships can happen again, decentralization can happen and things can get better in the sense of slower, more hands-on, less virtual, more human, but all the forces currently seem arrayed to faster, more centralized, more virtual, more robotic, more atomized, with no escape.

  83. I am a big fan of Low Tech Magazine ( One of my favorite articles is the one about technologies for transferring mechanical force over significant distances. Another good one was about the optical telegraph network in Europe.
    It seems that quite a lot of the things we do can be done in other ways – and actually were done before we settled on the current way of doing things. And judging from some of the monolithic stone work to be seen around the world, some things were done that are currently beyond our means.

  84. Having been trained in Classical and Near Eastern archaeology, and now employed as a researcher in the field of Aegean Prehistory, you have my most heartfelt thanks for the restraint of speculation in this post. The article you linked to regarding the Jin Dynasty aluminum anomalies really makes me despair at the state of academic discipline. There is a truism that academia only changes as the tenured are lowered into the ground, but frankly, I despair at the loss of some of the old guard who were willing to admit there were mysteries that we just can’t solve yet–and maybe never will.

    I have to admit that I am also suspicious of the fact that there don’t seem to be any Chinese scientists involved in that 2013 article, not to mention that the authors all appear to be material scientists and not archaeologists to judge by their other publications; I’m also equally suspicious that an excavation taking place in the 1950s in China might possibly be willing to plant fantastic evidence. (Reference the Piltdown man and numerous other hoaxes and fakes lest one think that Europeans are immune to this temptation.)

    The question of whether the aluminum belt ornaments were legitimate anomalies or evidence of stratigraphic contamination (either deliberate or accidental) is one that needs to be asked. That being said, the manner in which that question was addressed suffered from the logical fallacy that you pointed out. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as the old truism goes. But designing a paper around sound scientific and logical principles is become an increasingly rare occurrence, I’m afraid.

  85. Slithy Toves

    Re: wood and fabric decaying, I remember reading that the Incas had a facility with fibers that far surpassed anything we have today. Their warriors wore cloth armor (multiple layers of densely woven fabric, something like today’s kevlar vests) that worked well enough that the Spaniards ditched their steel armor and wore it instead.

    In fact, textile technology has declined significantly in just the last hundred years or so. We are now limited to only the things that our machines can make, and many tricks of weaving and dying have been lost, leaving us with only surviving fragments of cloth that nobody alive today could reproduce.

  86. While I know you’re not a fan of video, I’ve been enjoying a sequence of YouTube videos by an amateur clockmaker called Clickspring, who has been slowly replicating the antikythera mechanism using only experimental archeological technologies known to be known to the ancient Greeks. He’s come up with lots of interesting insights on its construction, such as lampblack soot used as a masking fluid, a bronze age small parts clamp, case hardened iron files for cutting teeth, a very nice flywheel push drill, and precision soldering. I think he even got a couple of papers published on his discoveries.

  87. I’ve often thought something along these lines regarding the original inhabitants of my continent Australia. When they first arrived here the continent was much wetter with big river valleys in the now arid interior providing a potential breeding ground for river valley civilisation that may have risen and fallen more than 40,000 years ago. Then the ice age set in and Australia dried out even more than it is now, and as far as we can tell most of the people and the megafauna moved to the coasts. They could also walk from Tasmania in the south to new Guinea in the north and could also probably get to Sundaland without much difficulty. A civilisation could have again formed on the now drowned coastlines around Australia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. This civilisation would have been destroyed at the end of the ice age 10,000 years ago and the survivors spread back through the inland as it once again became wetter. What is interesting is there is evidence that certain populations were intensifying once again when Europeans turned up 250 years ago. Who knows. But I think the cycle of civilisation to less complex and back fits in with the pulsing rhythms of nature, and it obvious the first ancestors of this land came here a very very long time ago.

  88. I know you’ve covered it and I have the basics, but can you summarize in a short paragraph or 3 bullet points the reasons we won’t be doing much space travel other than some millionaire space tourists using the International Space Station as a kind of SpaceBnB? Elon Musk’s SpaceX has I believe up to four flights booked to the station, billing at about $35,000 a night.

    The full trip, maybe a couple of weeks, will run you about $52 million. Kind of a bargain when you consider a seat next to Jeff Bezos on his New Shepard, the vessel owned by his company Blue Origin, just sold for $28 million. That gets you a ten-minute ride that gets barely past the Karman Line for a minute or two.

    While the focus of this post seems to me more about older, lost technologies and the civilizations that wielded them, I am curious why the sudden resurgence in the journey to space, despite its obvious dead end, and huge waste of time and various energies. The only thing its “good” for is throwing up satellites for military, gps, spy, and communications purposes.

  89. As a fan of the Ryan-Pittman Black Sea Deluge hypothesis,

    …it occurs to me that if they are right, the Black Sea (or rather, Black Lake) prior to c. 5600 BC would have been irresistable to human settlers, and might even be the PIE Urheimat, and the center of the Neolithic Revolution (settled civilization with mass agriculture and complex division of labor). Ryan and Pittman themselves attempt to link the geology to various ANE Deluge myths such as Noah’s. (Some artifacts such as archaic boats have been discovered along the former shoreline, now underwater, which were preserved due to being located in the anaerobic zone).

    A little-noticed detail of the geology is that in paleo-antiquity, the Tarim Basin was another large freshwater glacial lake (Lop Nor being its remnant), which we know to have been ringed by human settlements at every stage of its history. The Tarim mummies come from this culture. Theosophy fans may be reminded of the Gobi Civilization, or the “Imperishable Sacred Land” (if these are not the same thing). Blavatsky (like Gurdjieff after her) was probably wrong to expect libraries buried under the sands, let alone the flying machines that Roerich and others speculated about, but it is not crazy to suppose this to be a distant inspiration for the Shambhala myth.

    On the science-fiction theme, I remember Anathem acknowledging that many words from our language were used for the sake of familiarity, even though things like basic foodstuffs would be radically different in their timeline.

    Robert Sawyer’s “Neanderthal Parallax” is about cross-time travel between our timeline, and one in which the Neanderthals survived to create a technological civilization. The Neanderthals have not traveled to the moon, and are impressed that H. sapiens has done it, but are not quite sure why. On the other hand, the Neanderthals make extensive use of a kind of pocket AI–of a type one often sees in lowbrow science fiction, since it can be used for narrative purposes like exposition, dialogue, or translation. (Cf. the khui from that newest addition to the Western canon, the “Ice Planet Barbarians” series.)

  90. Hello, JMG. It’s a nice coincidence that you bring this up because my husband and I were just talking about another possible example of ancient tech, and that’s at the megalithic temple of Malinalco. The temple predates the Aztecs, who turned it into a military training camp and site for blood sacrifice, but previously, it was likely a temple of worship associated with the goddess Malinalxochitl. It was carved out of the side of a rock cliff and features stone-cut rooms, the likes of which show a tech beyond the capability of the Aztecs, though these structures were created hundreds, if not thousands, of years earlier than the Aztec occupation.

    By the way, the existence of this place came to me through daily Celtic Golden Dawn ritual practice. Though I admit it could certainly have floated up through my subconscious, I do not remember ever reading about it or even hearing of the goddess Malinalxochitl until I sensed a voice during meditation, and she identified herself as such. Thanks for paving the way for that singular experience.

  91. I posted my inquiry too late in the cycle, last post, and it seems I don’t need to shoehorn it in to this post as it’s relevant. Do you have any books you might recommend for a survey of Earth’s ancient climate patterns and shifts? I was struck by your comment last post in which you recognized how the Pacific Northwest had once been extremely arid and that it was likely headed that way again – would this be under paleoclimatology or?? I don’t even know where to start to look and would love a pointer.

    Also, it occurred to me that our assumption that we’re engaged in “progress” when in fact we’re only reiterating smaller/faster versions of things (while we have the cheap energy) is going to play out badly – and in fact already is – since our collective and individual imaginations about the kinds of tech we could create only lead us in straight lines. We’re not putting any effort into the utterly different, yet that’s what we need. So if we’re not careful, a Dark Age could be in the works, but as an intermission period we have to suffer through before we let go of progress enough to “jump tracks.” Just to be clear, I’m saying something different from your detractors – and perhaps more pertinent to a kind of imaginational/mental wasteland than to a technological backslide. It may take alternative ways of seeing the world (read: mental frameworks not of this (Western/modern) culture) to find ways of doing things that are eco-technic.

  92. @ PR Bird RE: electrics

    TBH, I am agog that anything resembling an ancient battery was discovered. I lean toward the belief that whatever ancient societies existed, the knowledge was likely tightly held. Literacy has traditionally been uncommon throughout history, restricted to nobility and priests for the most part – a wonder we have much in the way of scribblings.

    As someone who actually casts metal, making metallic objects from scratch without modern methods is very time consuming, and more art than science where the metal is concerned. Just try to imagine pulling wire through a die – it’s very difficult to get that right.Getting the alloy right for pulling is a whole other thing. Primitively, you could just fill a clay tube with copper to form an electrical path – but moving anything built that way would be heavy and iffy.

    Carbon arc lamps require lots of juice, and put off a lot of carbon monoxide as they vaporize – but maybe the ancients had a trick?

    When I read your post, it seemed like you were implying that you thought electricity was easy and simple. It might be so with a simple battery, but the rest of the engineering to actually utilize it is not that easy, nor is mking a buld that lasts more then a few minutes.

    So, perhaps I read more into your post than was intended – apology if I offended. Tech can be very simple, but it usually takes a lot of refinement to move it out into the world for actual use. I wonder sometimes if the finds discovered were actually in or near workshops, where people were experimenting in things most thought to be nuts.

  93. SMC, it’s possible to come up with an infinite number of gimmicks like that, sure. I’d be interested in seeing them tested.

    Ethan, there’s a huge literature on the subject; your public library can probably get you started.

    Athelstan, many thanks for the links. That’s quite remarkable — though I don’t have the chemical knowledge to be able to tell whether it’s more likely that the bronze weapons were chemically or electrically plated. As for the arc lamps, dozens of cells wired together would be extremely simple — all you need for the cells is a pottery jug, two different metals, and strong vinegar or some other good robust acid. A culture that could muster the collective effort to build the Pyramids would hardly find it difficult to set up something like that — and the famous Baghdad battery suggests that the technology was known.

    Coboarts, I haven’t kept up with Hancock; clearly I need to fix that.

    Kfish, many thanks for that. That’s really impressive — and yeah, the competing theory is what people in the anomaly scene call a “wipe”: a bogus theory that is designed to evade disproof, which serves the purpose of trying to obscure the fact that something astounding has happened.

    Jamie, I’m familiar with Steiner’s work — the Rosicrucian order I’m affiliated with, the SRIA, drew heavily on his writings. He’s got some very good material in there mixed up with some stuff that doesn’t work so well — in his time occultists still hadn’t figured out some of the limitations on clairvoyant experience.

    Ian, many of the tombs I’m discussing were not built out of blocks — they were quarried into the living rock. There was no assembly, just excavation.

    Kevin, I’ll have to find that book! As for Frank Shuman, though, I admire his work but “very effective” is a bit of an overstatement. It covered more than 13,000 square feet, and produced all of 55 horsepower. I’ve discussed the problems with his project here.

    Will1000, fascinating. I’ll look into it.

    Peter, do you happen to know if the Maori circumnavigated Antarctica? That’s what it would have taken.

    Violet, oh, there’s definitely some Kuhn hovering in the background of this post. My copy of his book is pretty well worn by this stage.

    Ron, thanks for this. All of these are great examples. Best of luck with your novel!

    Kevin, fascinating. I’m very much a fan of medieval Japanese art, and the way that it shows distance without ever using linear perspective has always been an eye-opener for me.

    Tris, good. Yes. I read that in English translation in the 1970s; it’s worth reading.

    TooSad, that doesn’t follow at all. Let me use a comparison for example. You, and I, and everyone else reading this comment page will die. Most of us will get old and rather weak first, while the others will die young. Does that mean there’s no point in trying to live a good life and help other people? Of course not. In exactly the same way, just as coming to terms with one’s own death is a necessary stage in maturity, coming to terms with the decline and fall of our civilization is a necessary stage in our collective maturity. It can motivate us to take constructive action — it’s certainly done that for me. Keep in mind that centralized authority and economic stratification are among the things that decrease sharply when a civilization contracts; the trends you’re noting are not signs of decline, but the frantic attempts of a failing elite to cling to power as the world slips out of their hands.

    Weilong, it’s a good magazine.

    Catriona, thanks for this! I freely grant that there should be some consideration of the possibility that the aluminum items were planted, but it’s very rare for serious hoaxers to insert something really improbable unless they want to discredit the whole project — Piltdown Man, as you’ll recall, was made to resemble what scientists then thought a primitive human skull ought to look like. If he’d had aviator goggles on, the hoax would have been rejected out of hand…

    Cleansingbreeze, thanks for this!

    Synthase, I’m glad to hear there’s someone working on it. I’d like an Antikythera machine someday for astrological calculations. 😉

    PumpkinScone, fascinating. Since people have been in Australia for at least 40,000 years, there’s plenty of room for many historical cycles!

    M, space travel inside Earth’s magnetosphere is an option, provided we don’t clutter it up with so much junk that it becomes impossible to put a spaceship up without having it clobbered by a dead satellite. It’s outside of the magnetosphere that you run into real trouble, because space outside that is full of hard radiation. That’s why the US and the Soviets both shut down their plans to do anything with the Moon and go to Mars; once space probes in the 1970s sent back readings about the radiation, it became clear that spending more than a few months outside the magnetosphere would likely be a death sentence.

    As for the whole journey-to-space business, it’s the ultimate wet dream of our civilization. When we let go of that fantasy, Faustian civilization is done; stick a fork in it.

    Zla’od, the Black Sea flood was certainly an important event, but remember that vast amounts of land surface went under as the last ice age wound down — floods were a common event for millennia. Thus I don’t think it was the be-all and end-all that Ryan and Pittman think it is.

    Lisa, fascinating. I didn’t know about that at all.

    Zla’od, in a sense, yes. I find it hilarious that the Wikipropaganda article links to Lovecraft’s The Shadow Out Of Time!

    Temporaryreality, I’ve been looking for a good book on paleoclimatology for a while. For recent times — say, the last 30,000 years — E.C. Pielou’s After the Ice Age is very useful. As for your suggestion, that’s basically what I (and Spengler) have been saying all along: a dark age is how you shake people loose from the models of one culture, so they can create something different.

  94. There is lots of evidence for more that that. Out of place evidence for an intelligence that had much more sophisticated technology dating back far further than history will allow. Consider:

    A bronze bell found encased in coal:

    An oil lamp found in coal:

    A hammer found encased in rock:

    History is written by the victors. There is lots that the current powers that be are hiding to prop up their own mythology

  95. 1) The Indigenous Paleolithic of the Western Hemisphere, which will be published on July 1, claims to prove the presence of humans in the Americas for over 100,000 years. It is by a First Nations person. I saw favorable (even envious) mention of this book by David Wengrow, who is an anthropologist whom I respect.
    2) “The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity”
    by David Graeber and David Wengrow will be published on November 9, 2021. Both authors are(were) university anthropologists, so this book (I assume) will not go as far as say Graham Hancock, but it will show how far the most non-orthodox university anthropologists are exploring now. That is much farther than it was not so long ago.
    3) There is an age beyond which no evidence of a civilization will be left due to tectonic recycling of the land. I think it is in the 100 million years range, but I am not sure. Hopefully another reader knows and can provide the number. Of course, a civilization that far back would not be hominid or even mammalian.
    4) @Lothar von Hakelheber
    As far as I know, there is no evidence that people lived at Göbekli Tepe. It seems to have been strictly for ceremonial purposes. Burning Man 9000 BC. This turns upside down what we thought we knew about the sequence of social evolution. Such a complex was previously thought to follow the advent of urbanization, not precede it by millennia. It also overturns our understanding of political organization because folks with no king and no state somehow were able to coordinate a vast amount of labor.
    5) The GAIA star survey shows that in about a million years, another star will pass through the Oort Cloud of our solar system. This may well be close enough to alter planetary orbits or least set of a storm of comets. So Earth may not have billions of years for sentient life to evolve.
    That star survey is also fascinating because it shows the movement of stars. In sci-fi, the stars are always moving together in parallel straight lines and Hubble movement creates the same impression, but viewing the survey it looks like Brownian motion (or the way that dust motes move).
    The Brownian-like motion is at 11:20.

  96. You mention “we’ve got a serious energy crisis on its way”. Are you referring to peak oil, or something else? What timeline are you looking at?

  97. I couldn’t help but think throughout your essay that an occultist would make a great archeologist. How reliable can the scrying method you give in your book Atlantis get? Do you think it could be used for such a purpose? Say, to find interesting burial mounds?

  98. Fantasy and sci-fi writers (JMG excluded, of course) have generally become lazy over the years in their world building. Robert E. Howard was especially great at imagining strange technologies in the Hyborian Age. I like to imagine that ancient Egyptians used something like those clusters of winking green fire-stone lights in Red Nails to illuminate their underground tunnels. Or perhaps something as simple as a container of fireflies. Then again, electrical light is a strong possibility. I’ve always found it hard to believe that something as natural as electricity was not harnessed until the Industrial Age. A civilization that can produce the Great Pyramids can surely produce something to rival a cheap flashlight.

  99. Today we can read clay tablet from Mesopotamia … today we can also hardly read the records of our own civilisation from 10-20 years ago.

    Not so sure how much of a mark we will leave for future antiquinarians to work with …

  100. As to the clean-burning lamp fuel in ancient Egypt, this is the Middle East. Take goo from oil seep, put it in a pot and heat gently, fumes come off. Some curious alchemist collects the fumes on a jar of cold water, and then discovers it burns really well. After his eyebrows grow back he repeats the experiment and puts it in a lamp, and discovers he can make it burn cleanly.

    As a bonus, the even thicker goo in the bottom of the pot is even better for pitch type uses. Win-win. But the light fraction is expensive, and the Priests declare it all Royal property.

  101. FYI JMG, I found the passage from Vassilatos’ book on the Borderland Sciences website. I’m not sure whether the whole text is there, but here’s the link:

    One more note on perspective: I’ve found that in the case of stereographic projection, in a large portion of the image area objects appear to grow *larger* with distance from the eye of the spectator, not smaller; so one of the basic assumptions of linear perspective is turned on its head. Presumably the makers of astrolabes have always known.

  102. Weilong @ 92 The Persians of the time of the Greek Persian wars are said to have worn cloth armor and carried wicker shields. Western historians have tended to sneer at this, but maybe they had a similar technology.

    Peter Wilson @ 81, I had no idea Polynesian navigators produced maps though it stands to reason they would have done so. Do you know any more about such maps? Vasco da Gama landed at Calicut, India in 1498. By 1500 the Portuguese had reached Madagascar and they were in Timor by about 1512, so what you suggest is quite possible with or without transport by land. I wonder if anyone has done a thorough search and cataloguing of Portuguese royal archives of the 15th and 16th centuries?

  103. Unlike Sherlock Holmes who solved a case by observing “The dog that did not bark”, our historical research focuses too heavily on available evidence, and too little attention is paid to things that could have vanished by the vagaries of nature. “Absence of evidence is evidence of absence” is the driving logic for them.

    A case in point: I have seen old-style carpenters make furniture purely made of wood — Not a single piece of metal in it. Instead of using steel nails and bolts to join pieces of wood, they would drive studs made of bamboo (the bamboos here have walls an inch thick) into holes. All-weather flat-roofs were built with just wood, brick and lime mortar. Not a single piece of metal. A house could be built with less than a dozen pounds of metal. Only a few items like door hinges, deadbolts were made of steel. If the entire structure were to be wiped out by a flood or something, it could be easily rebuilt with materials available in a ten mile radius. (Things have “progressed” in the past few decades, unfortunately!)

    Everything was endlessly recycled or repurposed. Wood starts off as load-bearing elements (pillars, beams) and goes on to become a less-load bearing one (doors, windows) and finally ends up as firewood as it ages and loses strength(often over the course of half a century or more). Similarly, when roofs and walls were torn down, the brick and lime was broken and reused for floor, and then eventually ended up as fertilizer.

    If an archaeological researcher were to dig up the ruins after even half a century, they would look at the few pieces of broken potsherds and conclude that it was a barely civilized society. But most of the important evidence would have been absorbed back into the environment a long time ago. But the current scientific worldview is that civilizations _must_ leave evidence behind, because look at all the evidence we are leaving behind! — mountains of plastic, toxic metals, nuclear waste and concrete-and-steel monstrosities.

    It also seems like the “World was created in 4004 BC” trope of Creationism has not released it’s hold on modern scientism yet (like so many other religious myths).

  104. It occurs to me that past civs might have deliberately avoided surrounding themselves with concrete and electricity and piped water, if they were hygenic occultist enough to detect deleterious results? They might have preferred wood and stone to metal, and wanted their homes in tune enough with earth to attract spirit help also. If they kept that knowledge carefully and made an elite affair or if everyone knew it in their bones it would have been possible.

  105. I believe I mentioned it in Ecosophia comments once before, years ago, but this seems like a post to which the North American Aboriginal Horse hypothesis might be relevant. An article on it:

    Also, JMG, you wrote, “but we’re past the peak, and what remains of our civilization and the two to come will go through their own shorter cycles in the course of a greater decline”.
    Two (or three, I suppose) questions:
    First, when was the peak, in that view?
    Second, are those two to come two more global or approximately global civilizations? If so, what led to the peak being prior to the end of the first global civilization of the cycle, with two more to follow, and if not, what picks them out from other more local civilizations as important in this way?
    I suspect that a misunderstanding or lack of understanding may make that second question less good than it could be, but, well, seeking improvement of my understanding is why I’m asking, so it still seems useful to do so.

  106. What do you think of the ‘helicopter hieroglyphs’?

    How susceptible are these questions to divination? What happens if you ask where the Chinese aluminium came from, or how the Egyptian tomb was built without soot?

  107. Interesting post:

    I have been thinking about history recently – I have used an esoteric frame from Plato and it seems to fit deep history. The Frame is that (in descending order) there are nine “reality tunnels” or psychic types – Philosopher, Warrior, Statesman, Doctor, Priest, Poet, Farmer, Sophist, Tyrant.

    So the idea is that epochs can be defined by who was in charge ultimately in that culture – so in reverse order

    Since 1600 to the present day – epoch of the Tyrant – Scientism – the Corporation as psychopath. The ruling vision is hard nosed materialism – atoms and the void

    600ad to 1400ad (high point around 12th century) – the epoch of the Sophist and Demagogue – think of the sophistry of the catholic church (selling places in heaven) – its demagogy to whip up the crusades – the relativism of nominalism of the Scholastics.

    200bc to 400ad – the epoch of the Farmer and craftsman (the people of the Rome) – the Roman Demos – SPQR – authority comes from the People – The common people entertainment is that of the Coliseum and gladiatorial games – it is what WWE wrestling would be if the fans were actually able to get what they want!

    800bc to 400bc – the epoch of the Poet – rule by stories – the poets in classic Greece were on everyone’s lips and held authority especially Homer – the theatres were the public spaces were the real power was exercised. This is one reason Plato wrote dialogues (dramas) because they held authority.

    —-The bronze age collapse———

    1500bc to 1100 bc – the epoch of the Priests – for example the New Kingdom in Egypt was dominated by Diviners and priests – in Thebes by the end of the period there were 90 000 priests there alone.

    2000bc to 1800bc – the epoch of the Doctors – e,g the Middle kingdom of Egypt – the artwork shows the unique concern for the body during this period (the figures were muscly, buff :)) and we see the development of medicine in the records across the empires of the world

    2500bc aprox – the Epoch of the Statemen – the organisers – the development of practical maths – in the Old kingdom of Egypt they were able to organise the whole society to build the pyramids

    9000bc – 2500bc – the Epoch of the Warrior kings – the age of the battle axe culture and indo-european invasions.

    40000bc – 9000bc – the Epoch of the philosophers – the golden age – the age of the shell middens – where people had the time to really talk and philosophise about the deepest concepts and ideas for hours everyday on the beaches by fires with nearly free food from the sea (for example) – the age of geometry where people could navigate across lands using their geometry knowledge etc…

    What is interesting is that each age thought they were improving in some way on the earlier age but in going one step forward they were usually taking two or three back. I think esoteric Plato could actually prove this but that is another story. In all case the ages are intersperse with dark ages where plenty of knowledge was lost!

    Sorry for long post but hope it is interesting and suggestive and relevant to this discussion

  108. In re: Soot-free Egyptian tombs:

    “Pygmycory, not if you’ve got wet paint on the ceiling!”

    All they would need to do is wait a week or two for the paint to completely dry, then go in with soap, water and washrags, and wipe it down.

    Antoinetta III

  109. Hello JMG,

    I happen to own now a couple of oil lamps (a heirloom from my late parents). I remember having seen them in use during electricity shortages and one things that struck me was that, correctly tuned, it doesn’t produce smoke or soot as a candle does. I’ll go sorting out that issue by testing and I’ll let you know 🙂

    Regarding fuel, I guess oil was known to the Egyptian or, at least, bitumen (or asphalt). With modicum equipement, one can distill bitumen to get lighter liquid fractions and use that in a lamp. Or Egyptians could have used vegetable oil but long saturated carbon chains may produce more soot than say lighter aromatic molecules found in bitumen.

    Since we talk about ancient Egypt, this civilization from the proto Old Empire to the Lagid dynasty appears to me as an advanced civilization with advanced technologies : pyramids, land registry, complex and precise system of information recording, embalment techniques, irrigation, The Great Library, mathematics and so on and so forth.

    Those findings of aluminium pieces in a tomb are something new to me. As you said, refining Al2O3 to pure Al is somehow difficult. As you lay know, Emperor Napoleon II (the Short One as Victor Hugo put it) was known to serve gourmet diners to his guests in aluminium plates which were at this time more expensive than gold ones. Simply because refining aluminium requires the use of a more reducing metal if one wants to get aluminium from cementation. I remember St-Claire Deville (a french chemist) used sodium to reduce it. Any strong electropositive metal like sodium, potassium (or maybe rubidium or caesium) can be used to reduce an Al(III) compound. The trick is to get pure sodium or potassium which is a feat in itself but still something an amateur chemist can do. Anyway, the yield is terrible and one must treat the bauxite (Al2O3) with strong acids like HF or HCl to get a compound free of oxygen. But again, nothing out of a reach of a skilled ancient chemist.

    The hypothesis of advanced chemistry of this sort has my preference over, let’s say, mastering of electric power for reasons stated before like sufficiently advanced metallurgy to produce high quality magnets and alloyed and hardened tool steel to make the die you’ll put a lump of searing hot copper through to extrude wire. Less likely.

    Anyway, I’ll check the papers about that discovery. The composition of the aluminium alloy using a mass spectrometer can tell us how it was made.

  110. Re Clay Dennis’ comment “…nearly every node of important communication from business to government was staffed by people during business hours.” Hear, hear! Congratulations for making this point, which needs to be blared out at about 120 decibels at least.

  111. JMG, regarding the Polynesian discovery of Antarctica, it is possible that they mapped some coastline, but I am doubtful about a full circumnavigation unless some evidence emerges from the oral sources that are getting renewed academic research at the moment. But it remains possible. Or if it was an older source, it really does blow the mind

  112. The CEO of Hyundai announced that we will have flying cars soon. You’re all thinking the Jetsons! Another 1960s fantasy. It’s as if every vision of the future comes from a 1960s cartoon or TV show.

  113. Of further interest and potentially relevant is Tupaia’s map. Tupaia was Tahitian, and picked up by Cook on his first voyage to New Zealand. An incredibly talented man in many areas, he was also a navigator. Working with Cook (another brilliant navigator) he produced a map of the Pacific, but until recently, no one could work it out, and they disregarded it as fake and a fantasy, designed to prove the Polynesians were equal to the Europeans (how could they be, give the attitudes of the time, and even now…)

    What was discovered about the map was that the Polynesians didn’t use fixed linear perspective. They imagined that the world moved with them as they traveled, which is a completely different perspective. Once this key was unlocked, the map makes sense. But it was lost for centuries due to mono perspective

  114. As for the Doggerbank society:
    There is an interesting read:
    The Oera Linda Book is telling the history of ancient Frisia.
    Still it is not clear whether it is original or a fake, but an interesting read anyway.

  115. I would like to tell a story.
    When I was 18 years old I went on a high school graduation trip. Most of my class mates were only interested in drinking and partying until dawn. But the two week long trip to Greece included some sightseeing.
    It so happened that we made a trip to Santorini and the ruins near Akrotiri. I was a geek, I knew that the Minoan civilization existed, I knew that it was 3500 year old.
    But I got the opportunity to stand in an ancient street that day. Amongst three stories tall town buildings. And inside a chipped wall, two stories up, there was a drain pipe. The pottery pipe ran down inside the wall, and joined a larger pipe seen under the street, that ran down the slope.
    It was a sewage system, a covered sewage system.
    Again I was a geek, I knew the dates and names, but this was a realization. This was a sewage system. The kind that the town I went to school in did not have until the end of the 19. century.
    It made me feel small and full of wonder. And since reading your works I have seen more.Your article referenced civilizational cycles, they make me feel small. Your comment, that even though we found these anomalies, we simply do not know what was happening, makes me think how little I understand. And it makes me feel small and not able do much to change the run of destiny.
    But it also gives me freedom. The waves and tides are too big, and apparently they wash away a lot more then we think we know. I am utterly powerless to change that. But I can decide how I am going to ride the tides and what I do with myself.

    In a strange way, your “glint of pale metal” makes me want to study more Leví. 🙂

  116. From Wikipedia:
    The Latin word alumen stems from the Proto-Indo-European root *alu- meaning “bitter” or “beer”.

    Hm, beer and aluminum cans, some pairings seem unavoidable.

  117. Re arc lamps.

    It might be that many here have never actually seen an arc lamp, so I’ll describe a big one. In the 1960s I did my national service and at one stage did guard duty at the Pretoria Show. I was guarding the searchlights which the show organizers had borrowed from the military. The searchlights were probably ex-WW2. They were about a yard across, covered with flat glass and with a reflector inside, and mounted so you could easily swing them around to point them anywhere. To create the arc there was a pencil-shaped carbon rod almost touching a conductor with the arc in the gap at the focal point. The carbon rod slowly burned away, so there was a small motor that continually fed the rod in to maintain the gap. It was incredibly bright. You needed to use a dark viewing glass in the side to check the arc. And there was a big diesel generator supplying power.

    Re light in the pyramids.

    If they were able to make calcium carbide they could have used miners’ lamps which burn acetylene made from carbide reacting with water. The raw materials are easy enough — coal and lime — but it needs a temperature of 2000 C to fuse them together. These days they use electric arc furnaces to do it. I don’t know if there was any ancient method of achieving that temperature.

    Or what about an alcohol lamp burning a papyrus wick? That should burn pretty cleanly. The Egyptians had beer. Maybe they learned to distill it for pure alcohol.

  118. Excellent post, JMG.

    I suggest reading the book “Forbidden Archeology: The Hidden History of the Human Race” by Michael Cremo and Richard L Thompson. Here is a link to a short video that gives a flavour of their work:

    The video also includes a few words from an archeologist who lost her job and her career for revealing the facts about what she had found.

  119. …Or rather total LACK of imagination. But this has an even worse origin: crippling and deadly ignorance of all the past. And because they already “know” it, they also don’t look and remain proud and certain in total ignorance. I can’t help that, and as you say, they are completely resistant to it, religiously. It HAS to be Progress. It HAS to be a straight line. It HAS to be better now and worse before. There Is No Alternative. At the same time, to prove how worse we were and how woke now, they say “We all thought” e.g. that backwater London was more important than the million-man cities everywhere in Central America. “We all thought” there was no diversity, say in port-city London, on the ships of Europe. “We all thought” sex and homosexuality was always everywhere thousand years oppressed. “We all thought” women weren’t involved in anything and were cattle until 1967 America and so on. Who’s this **“we”**? I read a book. I’ve met human beings. That was never true almost anywhere and it only takes a few minutes to prove it. But thanks to their close-minded religion, they cannot be persuaded otherwise to look at facts, documents, live people in live cultures if they disagree. I swear the Christians are more open-minded: at least they take up the arguments spoken against them.

    So when you don’t hear anything that happened in the world before you, and in fact WON’T hear anything you don’t already believe, we have a name for that, painful “cultural narcissism.” WE are the most important ever. WE are the culmination of all intelligence and enlightenment. WE are the center of the universe, the nexus of perfection, the sum of all things. …When it would be obvious to a blind bat that a culture that’s paved all farmland, deadened every sea, poisoned every river, set off multiple nuclear accidents, has near-universal war, drugs, poverty, and has now re-instated slavery, is maybe NOT the peak of perfection and moral titans. Some of the worst cultures on earth managed not to do ALL of these things. Check yourself.

    And I think it comes from the guilt, the smallness they would feel if they had to admit any of that, you know, truth. We’re just one of many cultures, certainly not above the 50% line in “highness” that is having a bad stretch right now and will fade. God knows what will happen to us, since that is our own free choice and effort. There’s no inevitability. Nobody is going to do it for us. There’s no “Tide of history” that means we don’t paddle. More like, the tide of history will sink us if we don’t start soon. So it’s the “External Saviour” myth. “History” is our God, and it’s held in place with rigid ignorance and anti-curiosity.

    How to get out of it, when you don’t know the universal weight of what you don’t know, AND nobody’s going to help you by admitting facts, I really don’t know.

    But stating the fact that all central America, an area larger than Europe, had palatial cites and high culture for thousands of years – which is irrefutably obvious – would be a good start. Then you can stop the racism of saying “Europe Europe Europe” “Those Amerindians lived in bark huts with animal skins” when Scotland and Norway did too, and there were unimaginable empires in Africa and China. And why not? How did you conclude “straight line” when Greece rose and fell, Rome rose and fell, Arabia rose and fell, then Europe rose? Doesn’t that seem a bit cyclical, not straight-line to you? Doesn’t that seem like Europe is a nobody, an also-was? Get out of your head. Just a second ago the slave-empires of Africa were bigger and more powerful than the greatest King in Europe. How is it you didn’t notice that?
    So if two, three, a hundred cultures as high as ours were running around in Africa, America, Caucus, wouldn’t it stand to reason maybe they knew or invented something? Why is that so strange?

    Even in the familiar and preserved, we have pretty average aqueducts of 60 miles for cities of a million people – larger than most U.S. cities,

    Pretty average houses all the way up to Hadrian’s Wall: (Reconstruction)

    Pretty average floors, and even in backwater England they find more of these than you can shake a stick at:

    And so on. Not to be stuck to the familiar, here’s America again, 60-ton statues lying everywhere, 1,000 B.C. claiming they had no tools and no technology, but what? Carved them telepathically with their minds? Come on, scientists, you can do it.

    It’s painful to watch. Painful to see the present claims of a backward, destructive, barely-literate, pointedly-ignorant culture like our own. Really, really painful. Was 100 miles, ten million people, and 60 tonnes of proof not enough? Not against our over-inflated self-importance.

  120. Nobody: Look for the Central American “Aztlantans” a few empire cycles previous to the much later Aztecs. They had exactly the cities and water gardens described by Plato, in the described location. “The Nahuatl words (aztecatl [asˈtekat͡ɬ], singular)[9] and (aztecah [asˈtekaʔ], plural)[9] mean “people from Aztlan,”

    There are many pictures, and still floating lands and gardens in use in Mexico City. Apparently that they exist RIGHT NOW is too hard for archeologists to see.

  121. Any technology in the past would have been much inferior given the lack of access to concentrated energy, this might explain why traces are hard to come by. If they had electric lamps in the pyramids they would have been primitive and few and far between. The same goes for any future civilization. It seems like we are literally at the peak of human technical achievement ever, forwards or backwards in time.

  122. JMG, what do you think about Tartessos and Atlantis theories? Is there something real in them, or not?

  123. I was reading “Escape from Eden” by Paul Wallis. It is another one of those ancient alien books. I mention it since Wallis was an Archdeacon of the Anglican Church who was trying to standardize Genesis. He flipped to have God (Gods) be aliens behaving badly. Anyway, he discusses how entranced he was by “Chariots of the Gods” as a child. Getting into the weeds, all the ancient alien authors pop up as background reading in his life.

    I am amazed as how this meme of ancient aliens is so fundamental to a lot of people’s thoughts. I have read all those alien authors and found them to be very boring. They cite the same examples in ancient civilizations, and say aliens did this and that. I guess if your view of time is a straight arrow pointing upwards, then you have to explain ancient technology somehow. For me, time is circular or at least a cork-screw.

    I do believe the myth of progress is based on the Christian view of how all time stopped when Christ rose, and that it goes forward only. In modern monoculture, thinking in poly-anything is difficult. For example, dreams is another reality along with the waking world.

    How do one sift through the clutter of the aliens, monoculture, materialism to get to ponder these ancient technologies?

  124. @JMG said “That’s why the US and the Soviets both shut down their plans to do anything with the Moon and go to Mars; once space probes in the 1970s sent back readings about the radiation, it became clear that spending more than a few months outside the magnetosphere would likely be a death sentence.”

    I am a bit confused as to where you are getting this story from. As far as I can tell, various plans for moon bases and flights to Mars have been “under development” by NASA, with large amounts of resources going into R&D and frequent announcements of “we’ll launch by 19XX” or “we’ll launch by 20XX” ever since the Apollo program ended. The current iteration is the “Lunar Gateway,” a permanently-inhabited space station designed to orbit the Moon, well outside the terrestrial magnetosphere. (I’m 100% in agreement with you that this isn’t going to be built, I’ve just reached that conclusion for somewhat different reasons).

    Anyhow, from what I see on the Wikipedia page on “Sievert” the NASA lifetime limit on radiation exposure for astronauts is 1 Sievert, which corresponds to a 5.5% chance of eventually developing terminal cancer due to radiation. All of the Moon/Mars plans manage to stay within that limit. (Radiation dosage in interplanetary space is about 0.5 Sv/year; near the surface of the Moon or Mars it is half that since even with no atmosphere you still have half the sky blocked by solid rock). Obviously a 5.5% chance of (eventual) death from cosmic rays is nothing to wink at, but to me it still seems like one of the smaller hazards compared to all the other ways that space flight can get a man killed.

    You seem to be arguing that US (and Russian) leadership has reached a consensus that the chance of death from radiation is actually much higher than this, and that this is the actual reason for the lack of exploration beyond low-earth-orbit. (To me it appears the reason is simple lack of resources – NASA’s real budget peaked in 1966 and has been going down ever since – and unfocused leadership that doesn’t hold NASA’s vendors accountable when their projects never get out of the R&D stage).

    What, then, is your evidence/sources that the leadership of the US and Russian space programs believe the radiation problem to be insurmountable and that this, rather than straightforward budget cuts, is the real reason that none of the more ambitious post-Apollo programs ever got off the ground?

  125. A random question somewhat pertinent to this week’s topic:

    Why do you think that people generally attach such psychological/emotional weight to the perpetuation and/or perpetual growth of the present civilization? Why does the thought of industrial civilization as one transient manifestation in a broader cycle (with other preceding and others following) strike such terror? Why would we stake our individual sense of meaning on the notion, for example, that humanity will spread to the stars?

  126. Do you (or anyone here) happen to know if anyone’s looked into biological evidence of the possibility of ancient civilizations? Genetic evidence within the human species is one possibility, but that might not show up very much if the majority of those in a civilization didn’t leave any descendants after their civilizations fell. The other possibility is evidence of dispersal of other species. Domesticated species often wouldn’t be able to survive the fall of the civilization, but movement of people often goes along with dispersal of other tenacious species, whether intentional or accidental. If the Polynesians had somehow all died out before European explorers came to their islands, even if all direct evidence of their societies was wiped out, we’d still be able to tell something was amiss by the fact that rats and other species of anthropogenic dispersal being on so many far-flung islands, along with all the other evidence of ecological changes happening in the recent past.

    Dispersion of species around the northern hemisphere by an arctic civilization during the last interglacial might be harder to sort out from the natural dispersal that’s taken place between the northern regions of North American and Eurasia, but in general unless I see evidence otherwise, I’m inclined to conclude that any past advanced civilizations were much more localized in nature and didn’t have the level of globalization that existed in the 1600s let alone today. I’m aware of anomalies such as tobacco and cocaine found in Egyptian tombs, but that could be the result of a few occasional ships making it, I’d think that even a 1600s level of global trade withing the last couple of hundred thousand years would have resulted in more species from far reaches of the world suddenly appearing on another continent.

    I’ve often thought that dispersal of other species may be the longest-lasting effect of our civilization. Lets say humans don’t last much longer, and in a few tens of millions of years another species emerges with similar enough intelligence to ours that they have a similar interest in looking at the prehistoric past. When they look at evidence from the present era, they find an extinction event and abrupt warming, but neither is all that unusual in the geologic record so could be from any number of causes. A higher concentration of some unusual chemicals and concentration of metals would be better evidence that something unusual happened, but it still might not be obvious what caused it. Plastic and other petrochemicals may not be as prominent as many think, as microbes may evolve that efficiently break these down. The presence of this unusual layer might be attributed to other causes such as extraterrestrial impacts, and some of whatever artificial chemicals are left might be considered natural as they still occur in small amounts in the environment. I can imagine that the discover that first causes some of this species to hypothesize that our time period featured an intelligent species with a global civilization is the dispersal of other species that resulted. Humans themselves may be long extinct, but the ecosystems of the time are still heavily influenced by the species we moved around. For example, they find out that the present era was the time when Eucalyptus, before found only in Australia, suddenly was found in just about every part of the world with a suitable climate, and evolved into a large number of species that are important parts of many ecosystems across the world at that time. Meanwhile, they find that the majority of the mammals found in Australia are descended from the rabbit, which suddenly appeared there at the same time. Seeing this pattern with so many species is what finally convinces them that humans were the cause of the changes seen in our era, as none of the other competing theories can account for this sort of dispersal.

  127. Thanks, JMG, for this most interesting article. It so happens that I am currently reading a book by the well-known Canadian writer Farley Mowat entitled “The Farfarers, A New History of North America”. It is a fascinating account from both the author’s extensive research and his creative mind of an alternative to the idea that the Vikings were they first to visit North America, and instead introduces us to the Albans, people originating from the north what we now know as Britain, particularly Scotland. His description of their way of life includes many “technologies”, particularly in the realm of seafaring and battles. One section describes what Mowat calls “one of the most remarkable and effective defensive structures of antiquity: the broch”. Some still exist today, and during the period covered in the book, they were all over the shores of Scotland by around 20 BC. They bore a superficial resemblance to the cooling towers of nuclear power stations, but were entirely constructed of dry-stone masonry. No mortar was used at all, yet some were fifty feet high. They were constructed to to repel entrance by invaders or flaming arrows, plus they contained living quarters including a well or a cistern to provide water and plenty of storage for food so the people could wait out a long siege. I’m only a short way into the book, and looking forward to reading about other early technologies as we go along.

  128. @TooSadAndConfusedToday #88

    Me agree with JMG’s logic about, but me am also quite sympathetic to your perspective — sad and confused is deep reason why me often green and raging.

    Schist seems bleak right now, with tyranny being normalized in the name of good intentions. Same as it ever was. That’s why so many are responding to this stuff with nihilism, what the young’uns are apparently calling “getting black pilled.”

    As the Buddha noted long ago, nihilism is a philosophical extreme that is unhelpful, to say the least. I like Jordan Peterson’s emphasis on cleaning your own room before trying to restructure the rest of the world (didn’t someone say something about motes, beams, and eyes once?), and I hear magical echoes of that approach in much of what JMG has been blogging about for the last decade-plus; as below, so above, or something like that. Be the change you want to see. Blah blah blah.

    Hang in there, know you are not alone in this, and resist by becoming what you will yourself to be rather than by trying to, well, resist their attempts to make you otherwise. Ignore as much as possible and let them go full Robespierre. The nascent circular firing squads are already coalescing. In the meantime, journal, garden, pray, meditate, make art, brew beer, cook, sing, make love, drink beer, smoke grass, meet neighbors, walk, pay attention to birdsong, and remember that, just like you, “they” aren’t really in control of this buzzing. blooming confusion.

    Same as it ever was.

    And thanks JMG for yet another fascinating topic. You’re like Leonard Nimoy on *In Search of…* except your logic is usually better than his. 😉

  129. @ Ron M re: the moai statues on Easter Island made out of basalt

    Rapa Nui is a volcanic island and has basalt outcroppings within easy reach. There
    are basalt ledges on land with petroglyphs carved into them as seen in the fifth picture on
    the link below.

    The real mystery is how did the islanders move those enormous statues? National
    Geographic once showed a video showing archeologists ‘walking’ a statue to its
    new location but the process just looks so awkward to me. Especially considering
    how large some of them were. One wrong pull on the rope and the thing goes down
    with the risk of it breaking.

    I suspect the innovative Rapa Nui folk had their own simple but effective
    techniques for moving their sculptures. As an extra thought, the fish rich diet and outdoor living
    also tends to build a robust physique which would have enabled them to wrestle
    with those huge stone sculptures, something we lose sight of with our sedentary
    living and sugar rich diet resulting in wimpy bodies and leaden thought processes.

  130. @ JMG and missing the obvious.

    Yeah, you get too specialized and academic and far removed from the minutia of life and you don’t see the spindles, the pictograms showing woven cloth, the carefully shaped spoon just the right length and heaviness for moving laundry around, the cutting device that lets you cut teeth out of a piece of horn to make a comb (a very early piece of technology).

    The list must be endless.

    My goodness. Think of all the unread scrolls, parchments, and legal records sitting in museums and libraries the world around. And that’s within our own recorded history.

  131. @ Zla’od #96

    I’ve read me some Ice Planet Barbarians and while her prose doesn’t impress, Ruby Dixon’s bank account (inferred from her Amazon numbers) does.

    She’s very careful about her pseudonym, probably because she doesn’t want her Sweet Amish Romance readers to know she also writes in the “I was the alien’s love slave” subgenre.

  132. I’m not having trouble coming to terms with natural weakening and mortality, either my own or this civilizations. I’m having trouble coming to terms with the approach of storm troopers and gas chambers for those who won’t go along with the deliberate global campaign of psychological-social torture and medical tyranny. I believe with some time I could find a place for myself in a declining civilization.

    I can’t figure out how to find a place for myself in a dystopian nightmare of mass genocide and forced sterilization through the bio weapon of the Covid shots as enforced by governments, corporations, institutions, media, censorship and mass delusions.

    I am grateful for your reply.

  133. Very interesting. Mythology is used to simplify the past in order to create versions that are effective for uniting groups of people and motivating them toward common goals. The mythology of progress has told an oversimplified story about our ancestors. Maybe that is to be expected. What anyone paying attention will know is that human cultures develop amazing adaptive technologies whenever they happen to live in peace or military dominance with prosperity for a dozen or more generations. Think of Inca grass bridges, Viking ships, or the Greek Antikythera mechanism. But these happen to be tools that we celebrate as precursors to more modern versions. There are also likely many “advanced” technologies that died. Maybe someone in china learned to harness lightning or some kind of battery to process aluminum. Given enough time to try, a well supplied alchemists might have stumbled upon a battery and the transforming effects it has on aluminum ore.

    I am less optimistic than you about finding electric lights in ancient Egypt.
    Archaeologists are affected by the myth of progress, but they are also mostly quite careful to document what they find and let the facts speak even if stories and interpretations are the main things that make it into the mainstream press. And there are not good hints toward anything analogous to modern science based technology in earlier eras. Beyond just “they didn’t mine or extract coal and oil”, we also know that they didn’t use metallurgy (beyond known lead, tin, bronze, etc) at a large scale. (The mines would reveal the activity. Unfortunately, archaeologists millions of years from now will easily label our civilization by the massive piles of mine tailings we are leaving all over the planet ). It is highly unlikely that there was long distance navigation before the ancestors of the polynesians travelled to the pacific islands some 4000 years ago. If there was, something extraordinary was needed to eliminate archaelogical signs and genetic heritage of the travel. If the ancestors of Native Americans used seafaring boats, we have no evidence of them.

    You are heading down a road that the Young Earth Creationists have tried: finding gaps and false assumptions in our reconstruction of the history of our planet that allow major deviations from the main accepted story. There are inevitably large changes from the current story that are possible and likely some will turn out to be true. And the anti-creationists often overstate their case. But just as there were not rabbits in the Pre-Cambrian, there were not global civilizations that understood the period table and the laws of gravity and electromagnetism before the 18th century. And these are not just our peculiar ideas or technology. They capture some essential features of how our universe has worked for the past 13 billion years. One of the great challenges of the modern era is how to wind down the myth of progress and its destructive effects given the facts of how unique the last few hundred years of human history have been and how bereft we are of examples of what happens to global civilizations who understand the reductionist aspects of how their universe works.

  134. Sébastien Louchart #119:

    From our admittedly small experience with oil lamps, the sootiness of the flame is a function of the kind of fuel used. Kerosene in the lamps is pretty smelly and sooty and it gives me headaches; liquid paraffin is considerably less so and that’s what we use during power outages. I believe the paraffin is more refined so it would follow that a society with the technical ability to create cleaner fuels would end up with less soot.

  135. @JMG

    Very interesting essay. Also, a lot of interesting comments in here!

    I was thinking about the Kailasa temple in Ellora, India when I read this essay. I’ve seen it in person (I was roughly 13 1/2 years old then) and it is really amazing. To think that they carved the whole temple so precisely, with such beautiful sculptures, and that too out of one single rock in a starting-from-the-top fashion is really mind-boggling. Leave aside the fact as to how they did it, even finding out how it was designed would be a great research project, IMO.


    That’s a very interesting point. If you think about it, it could apply to Hindu temples as well. When we think of old temples, the immediate idea that comes to mind is stone temples (IIRC, the oldest temples in the subcontinent date to the Kushan period, and are stone structures), but it is possible that temples had existed prior to these, just that they were made of wood, which, given the humid climate of the subcontinent, wouldn’t last as long as stone. IIRC, Greek historians have written about temples in India, though not in much detail. Given this, it could be possible that we had quite a few wooden mandirs in the subcontinent even during the rule of the Shishunaga dynasty.

  136. JMG,
    One more hypothesis to consider for soot free paintings in Egyptian tombs: some form of “lithographic” painting. The scene is composed outside then applied to the walls and ceiling in a span of time short enough to leave very little soot from lighting from burning fuel.
    Presumably if this was true lithographic painting the rock plates would have been found already. But if the plates were an organic material they might have decmposed long ago.

  137. Speaking of Aluminum and technology. We are on our way to Aluminum being very expensive and rare again ( not like ancient China but a big change from today). Aluminum is totally dependent on cheap electricity. When I was in High School the PNW had 6-8 big aluminum mills that used electricity from the dams on the Columbia at less than 2 cents per KWH. We have now shifted that electricity supply to mining bitcoin, to power virtue signaling EV’s and letting people download cat videos. There are no Aluminum mills left in the PNW now. Most of the worlds primary aluminum production is in China and Russia. Now, according to my suppliers, we have a shortage and our two geopolitical enemies control most of the supply. China is making Aluminum with its declining supply of Coal powered electricity so that supply will be dwindling. A good example of the senility of the elites is Elon Musk bragging about how he is using a giant aluminum casting in his Tesla Model Y. I guess he better start groveling to Xi and Vlad if he wants to keep his production lines running.

  138. Workdove, all those, if they’re legitimate, would have had to be left behind by intelligent species that rose and fell long before our ancestors came down from the trees — which is of course quite possible. I was focusing on anomalies in human or hominid history, which is of course much more recent.

    Jessica, thanks for the heads up. I’ll want to look at these.

    Joshua, in the last year the price of oil (using WTI as the benchmark) has gone from $40 a barrel to $75 a barrel, as old fields deplete — and there’s very little money going into exploration and new drilling right now, nor has there been for several years. We’re facing a sharp little oil crisis in the fairly near future, with $200-a-barrel oil prices entirely within the range of possibilities. (The price will crash again after that, but rise thereafter to a new plateau well above what we’re used to.) I’ll be talking about this in an upcoming post.

    Augusto, quite possibly. Frederick Bligh Bond used similar methods to locate a lost chapel in the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey.

    Raymar, oh, I could probably push my worldbuilding skills a lot further than I have, so the reminder’s a useful one!

    Warren, lumps of concrete and a layer of plastic at the bottom of the ocean is probably about it.

    Siliconguy, an interesting hypothesis. I note, however, that Egypt doesn’t have a significant oil industry.

    Kevin, thanks for both of these!

    Ramaraj, a fine point. A lot of colonial American furniture was made that way, too — wooden pegs and natural glues were used to hold them together, since metal wasn’t cheap.

    Celadon, also an interesting hypothesis.

    Reese, the aboriginal horse hypothesis has always seemed quite reasonable to me. As for the peak, I’d put it in the millennium between 900 and 1900, with different human societies reaching their zenith at different points in that span.

    Yorkshire, I’m not familiar with the hieroglyphs in question. As for divination, it depends on the skill of the diviner — and how would you check?

    Amanda, I like that. Thank you.

    Davidjones, interesting. That makes a fair amount of sense — and it’s timely for me personally, as I’ve been busy fitting Hesiod’s sequence of declining ages to its half-remembered astrological background for a book project.

    Antoinetta, er, no. The soot would be absorbed by the wet paint like any other pigment, and once the paint dried it would be there permanently.

    Sebastién, advanced chemistry is as interesting as electrochemistry, certainly. As for the lamps, well, according to the official version, distillation was invented in China long after Egyptian times, so that would be an interesting point in and of itself.

    Peter, it seems at least possible to me that it was an older source, and the Polynesians may have had access to some scraps of ancient tradition themselves, of course.

    Evie, exactly. It’s as though most people these days have lost the ability to imagine anything genuinely new.

    Peter, many thanks for this!

    B3rnhard, it’s a fine example of 19th century literary forgery, but it’s still fun to read.

    Marko, I know the feeling. That’s one of the things that got me to Lévi in the first place!

    Dr. Coyote, funny.

    Martin, the first arc lamps were a lot smaller than that, powered by batteries, and worked well with the technology of 1805, so I think it’s a possibility worth considering, I’d consider carbide lamps also if you can find some way to reach the necessary temperature.

    Malcopian, I’ll pass on the video — I dislike those — but I’ll consider the book. Thank you for the heads up.

    Jasper, a fine rant! Pretty much spot on target, too.

    Trustycanteen, you’re confusing quality with quantity, of course. Nor do we know for a fact that ancient civilizations lacked energy resources of their own — if they exhausted those, how would we know?

    Chuaquin, the thing that trips up most researchers into Atlantis is that a lot of real estate went full fathom five in the wake of the last ice age. Not every drowned city is Atlantis!

    Neptunesdolphins, I read Chariots of the Gods not long after it came out, and even at that very early age, I rolled my eyes — von Daniken’s arguments were very, very weak. I think you’re right that it’s all a way to rewrite Christian theology as cheap science fiction.

    Your Kittenship, thanks for this. About time they figured it out — Druids have known about this for a long time.

    Athelstan, it’s inference. I’m old enough to remember when O’Neill cylinders were all the rage — and then those got dropped like a hot rock due to their lack of radiation shielding. Of course there are endless claims that this or that is “under development,” and doubtless lots of money has been poured down various bureaucratic and academic ratholes in the process, but no human being has gotten beyond low earth orbit since 1973, and around that same time the US and Soviet manned space programs abruptly shifted gears away from interplanetary exploration and toward things that could be done in low earth orbit. I don’t have documentation but it seems like quite a coincidence…

    David BTL, I wish I knew. I really do.

    Kashtan, there’s some. Look at the pre-Columbian distribution of cotton and sweet potatoes sometime.

    Lydia, I’ve read and enjoyed The Farfarers, and in fact it played a role in providing the backstory to some sections of my tentacle novels. It’s a fine book.

    Teresa, bingo.

    TooSad, er, “storm troopers and death chambers”? Did you think that’s what I’m talking about when I discuss the decline of civilization? It sounds to me as though you’ve been listening to too many leftists ranting about Nazi this and Nazi that.

    Ganv, there were no rabbits in the Precambrian because there were no ecosystems on land to support them. As soon as there were terrestrial ecosystems of the necessary complexity, creatures that filled the same ecological niche as rabbits evolved. Were there global civilizations in the distant past that examined the same data we’ve assembled into the periodic table, say, but used some culturally appropriate scheme of their own to make sense of it, and used that knowledge in ways relevant to their own interests rather than ours? We simply don’t know — and that’s my point. Dismissing the idea out of hand, as most people do these days, is a reflection of our collective egotism rather than a reasonable response.

    Viduraawakened, true — and a close study of the geometries that underlie the project would be very worth doing if it already hasn’t been done.

    Moofoo, hmm! That’s an intriguing hypothesis. The easiest way to test it would be to get good closeups of the paintings and see if they show brush strokes.

    Clay, many thanks for the data point.

  139. Wiki,

    -Before the development of the safety lamp for use in coal mines, dried fish skins were used in Britain and Europe as a weak source of light.[2] This experimental form of illumination avoided the necessity of using candles which risked sparking explosions of firedamp.[3] Another safe source of illumination in mines was bottles containing fireflies.[4] In 1920, the American zoologist E. Newton Harvey published a monograph, The Nature of Animal Light, summarizing early work on bioluminescence. Harvey notes that Aristotle mentions light produced by dead fish and flesh, and that both Aristotle and Pliny the Elder (in his Natural History) mention light from damp wood. He also records that Robert Boyle experimented on these light sources, and showed that both they and the glowworm require air for light to be produced. Harvey notes that in 1753, J. Baker identified the flagellate Noctiluca “as a luminous animal” “just visible to the naked eye”,[5] and in 1854 Johann Florian Heller (1813–1871) identified strands (hyphae) of fungi as the source of light in dead wood.-

    I’d like to read the results of an archdruid’s meditative wandering through Ancient Egyptian tunnels and viewing the paintings through bioluminscence- what fish the ancients would skin, or maybe scarabs glowed in the dark.

    I bet the paintings look very different from under electric light.

    And it’s just possible some chemical traces of fungi or fish skin or scarab dung beetles would remain.

  140. I’m a day late on the jump here, but I want to at least register that this is a fascinating post, and I’ve been equally fascinated by all the links being shared in the comments, which should keep me reading for weeks. It’s amazing that, even after reading The Archdruid Report and Ecosophia for years, and starting up a project like New Maps that focuses explicitly on unorthodox views of the future, an article like this can turn up and make me suddenly feel that the vistas I’ve thought were broad and wild are actually parochial and humdrum, and the future and past are both much weirder and more multifarious than I suspected. And equally, convinces me that visions of the future like I publish there aren’t in danger of running out of possibilities any time soon. Thanks to JMG and everyone else here!

  141. Hi John,

    First of all I just want to thank you for writing an amazing article. Recently I have been struggling with what I call my “Europe Depression”. When I read the news and see the madness coming out of Europe and the West, it does give me the blues. But your article helped to remind me that ALL civilisations rise and fall. We are but a mere blip in cosmic history and it is inevitable – as is death and taxes.

    Anyway this is a thought I recently had about “The Long Descent” and the fall of our own technological civilisation. I want to play devils advocate here again but what about if Humanity actually somehow manages to adapt? Allow me to explain.

    As is common information, birth rates are dropping like rocks from the sky all over the world. Only Africa has huge population growth. The rest of the world is starting to decline in population (Europe, America, Russia, East Asia) or stagnate (Middle East, Iran, India)

    Regardless, this gets me thinking. If there are less people being born and the world population is starting to decline, this means not only the eventual end of nation states but also a huge drop in people using fossil fuels and resources in general. This also means a huge drop in the carbon footprint.

    So what happens if this dwindling Human population somehow “adapts” to some form of technological eco-green civilisation? Honestly in this case, I dont see a long descent but more of a long stagnation. Nothing grows, nothing changes but life just carries on until the next solar flare passes and knocks out electricity or a virus wipes us out or something.

    Just some food for thought but my own belief is that strangely enough, the Long Descent is a better alternative as it allows Humanity a chance to rebuild, to regrow, where as a Long Stagnation is the worst of all possible worlds.

  142. I wish I’d just been listening to leftists rant about Nazis.

    Instead, I’m just six months in to an unrelenting pressure campaign for my husband and two children to get the shots to keep their jobs, spot in college and spot Inhigh school, on top of the year of losing all my friends, all my ordinary interactions with other people in public places, and all but one sibling relationship , and on top of the growing body of evidence the shots are deadly coupled with the PR campaign intensifying rather than backing down, and well aware that the pressure and isolation is only going to ratchet up from here.

    Watching the “public health” technocrats start door to door harassment in California, and direct phone call harassment elsewhere, on top of the lotteries and peer pressure campaigns and ostracism and mask-marking of the non compliant. It’s a short step from there to injections at gunpoint, concentration camps and gas chambers; most of the steps on that path have already been taken.

    I’m not sure if you’re seeing those things when you’re watching the civilization decline from your perch, but they are inescapable from my vantage point. The choice confronting me is forced participation in a genocidal society, through participation in my own marriage and parenting, or the unidentified alternative existence I can’t locate anywhere.

    Thank you again for the reply, and thank you Green Rage Monster too.

  143. Dear JMG,
    Just last week, I’ve finished translating an article about belts of Wei-Jin period. Talk about synchronicity.
    So I was intrigued about these aluminum plates. It turns out there’s not much about it on Chinese internet either. I found only one article concerning this belt, called 晋墓铝制带饰之谜 (“the mystery of aluminum belt (ornamental) plaques (discovered) in the tomb of Jin dynasty).” It belonged to the Western Jin-era Chinese general Zhou Chu (周处). According to a legend on a tile (元康七年九月二十日周将军) General Zhou was buried in 297 CE.

    There are some other interesting example of what Chinese were able to do. “In the III century BCE, they discovered a method of smelting malleable cast iron (Chinese 铸铁, “cast iron”) by annealing it. In II century BCE, Chinese discovered a method how to obtain steel out of molten pig iron that is similar to the Bessemer process (discovered in US only in 1856 CE.)” (Marina Kravcova, History of Chinese art, p.152, Марина Кравцова, История искусства Китая).

    “…already in the IV century. BCE Chinese were using natural gas for heating and lighting … In the II century CE, Chinese started using deep drilling for the purpose of gas production… Gas was also used for home heating, but how this was done remains unclear. (ibid. footnote 57).” Yeah, I used to believe in progress and that we have technologies that those barbarians couldn’t have. It might be just the other way around.

    I believe scientists who claim that there were no aluminum belt plaques have never read Joseph Needham.
    I apologize if I got some vocabulary concerning metallurgy wrong.

  144. I’m not sure about occultist archaeologists. I suspect that, keeping silent, a great many such folk have peopled the discipline here and there. But on a related note, I knew a woman who worked with the Rhine Institute and also Duke University (partly as a paid psychic, not advertised for obvious reasons), and she did a great deal of consulting work for archaeologists. By her testimony, such consultants were/are a common phenomenon used to reduce the amount of time it takes them to find sufficiently interesting objects to keep their funding going. A kind of skrying, as you suggest. She had some interesting stories (alas I remember little of them) about her conclusions. I think she worked in Bimini and Teotihuanaco, among other places. This was in the early 1970’s before parapsychological research was defunded by all US institutions seemingly instantaneously. An interesting phenomenon in itself, and somewhat suggestive, given various CIA-funded DARPA projects that began about that time, paralleling projects taking place in the USSR.

  145. No problem JMG,

    Here’s a map of the cases thus far

    A good blog with a few links.

    An RTE News report

    And a few News articles

    Unfortunately this issue has been kicked to touch a good few times. Back in 2019 the cost was estimated at about 20 million, and it kinda snowballed from there. The context of the issue was a major housing boom in the early 2000s during the Celtic Tiger. Regrettably, this is a consequence of it.

    Sorry about the extra comment.

  146. @jessica:

    Thanks for the good news! I have been waiting so long for that book by the Davids…

  147. I would suggest the simplest answer is a very personal sense of mortality and a fear of death.

  148. An archeologist speculated that just as previous civilizations are identified by the distinctive bits of pottery they left behind, our civilization will be recognized by toilet bowl fragments. Toilet bowls are made of porcelain, which is practically indestructible, and the shape is totally distinctive and instantly recognizable. The only problem is, he thought, that it would be identified as some sort of household deity!

  149. Mr. Greer,

    I would posit that the Egyptians would’ve utilized beeswax candles when painting those tombs, as it tends to produce much less soot than most other types of flammable of the day, e.i. animalfats/tallows, plant based oils and such.. The Egyptians were after all, beekeepers of some renown back in their day .. they had to use up all that wax somehow! ‘;]

  150. Regarding how the ancient Egyptians did fine stonework and painting inside their monuments, it is worth noting that they were exceptionally good at producing extremely flat surfaces. While I’m not arguing that they might have had battery powered arc lamps, some sort of glow-stick like chemical reaction or another means of artificial light we can’t imagine at their disposal, I don’t see mirrors as being that implausible. If you needed to put multiple mirrors in series to get light down into a crypt, then the mirrors would need to be extremely flat. You would get a lot more bang for your Baghdad battery if you honed brass or whatever the cheapest metal was down to an extremely flat, smooth surface and then electroplated it with silver or gold, compared to powering an arc lamp. The resulting mirror would be more reflective than your typical bathroom mirror as there is no glass to get in the way.

  151. David, by the lake

    Maybe it’s that our culture, gifted with such a tremendous score of petro-energy up to this point in time, allowed people to live continuosly in the Now. Why bother thinking down the rocky road, when you can party none-stop 24/7 365. Who needs foresight when you’re yeast in a floating spherical carboy, bathed in abundant sugarwater.. As for the lessons of the past – what past? History is now for loosers! .. as per CRT and it’s related psuedo-marxist dreck, egged-on with a heaping scoop of globull Oligarchy.

  152. Hi John,

    Are the two civilizations to come that you referenced the Russo-Slavic and North American high cultures we have been talking about off and on?

  153. That was a very interesting post! Since you bought up Atlantis, what’s your opinion on Ignatius Donelly, and are there any other, perhaps more recent, authors you could recommend? Also, what are the sources for the four predecessor civilizations (Polarian, Hyperborean, Lemurian, and Atlantean)? My impression was that all of this had originated with Blavatsky, and that “Lemuria” was originally the name of a hypothesized land bridge that biologists proposed to explain the occurence of lemur fossils in Asia and Africa.

    Also, do the Polarians, Hyperboareans, or Lemurians have any of the same sort of colorful stories associated with them that Atlantis does?

  154. This is the same thinking that led to Trey sunna Gwen carrying a crowbar – everybody who’s anybody knows the future is post-hole diggers all the way, baby!

  155. @ Reese and JMG:

    I too read the article on pre-Columbian horses in Indian Country Today and thought it made a huge amount of sense. Especially when you consider that paleontologists discovered long ago that horses originally evolved in North America and later migrated to Eurasia via one or more the land bridges that preceded the Bering Land Bridge. There are lot of “inconvenient facts” out there that have been poo-pooed and swept under the rug by the scientific establishment because they contradict long-established but increasingly shaky academic orthodoxies such as the Clovis First hypothesis.

  156. @ JMG RE: Egyptian Oil…

    Actually, they have oil, primarily in their western desert and offshore. I just finished a project for them along the Gulf of Suez last year. And notable enough, there are still active seeps in the western desert. The Nile delta is like a pin cushion – as are most deltas on our planet. Egypt leases out large chunks for others to drill on – Apache makes decent bank in the western desert. Khalda and GUPCO are their two largest exploration outfits.

    We have active seeping in several spots in the Gulf of Mexico, offshore Cali, and even in the Florida Everglades. Pennsylvania still has active seeps, as does Wyoming.

    Just another data point my friend!

  157. @ JMG RE: no deep space…

    I agree with your assumptions wrt no manned missions outside the magnetosphere. When (assuming it is true) we went to the moon, why wouldn’t Russia have simply forged onward to Mars? Or us for that matter? Allegedly, we made many moon missions – Mars is just more time in transit and a larger ship. Orbital math has been licked long ago – a slide rule can get you where you need to go.

    If there wasn’t something in the way, the religion of progress itself would have made us go.

    Dead and dying astronauts landing back here would have shot their budget all to hell, wouldn’t it?

    And Russia just sort of laid down after the lunar missions – why?

    I’m still trying to figure out how anything can fly on Mars in 1% of Earth atmospheric density. Sure gravity is 38% of Earth, but 1% atmospheric density relative to Earth?

  158. The Gate of Remembrance sounds like a fascinating story! Thank you for the reference, that book has been placed on top of the pile.

    Jasper, Oh yes, that is what happens when a method becomes a religion and it goes from Science to Scientism. You are not going to move them from that stance because to them that would be damnation. I would expect for those attitudes to increase as truth starts getting closer to them and they start backing into more extreme views. Maybe they will back-off from agriculture all together and will start eating pills leaving more land for us. In the same way they are blinded of the past and the benefits that could bring, they will also be condemned to repeat the same mistakes that have been made over and over.

  159. On the subject of the long cycles of human civilisation, there is a short novel, “L’éternel Adam”, attributed to Jules Verne and published under his name but very probably written by his son Michel Verne, which describes the discovery by a erudite man from a future civilisation of a text written by the last people from our own civilisation, who describe the sudden destruction of nearly everything by a cataclysm which sends whole continents under water and raise new ones. Then humanity restarts its course from a tiny group of survivors, losing all knowledge and culture. Here is the (french) text :

    The novel has a dark tone, pessimistic, very different from most Jules Verne’s stories. The manuscript has been kept apart by his heirs and published later, after Jules Verne’s death.

  160. I am currently reading a translation of the Mahabharata, which describes a major war that according to Hindu tradition occurred around 3100 BC. The Mahabharata includes descriptions of what sound an awful lot like advanced military technologies, including nuclear weapons, combat aircraft, armored vehicles and interceptor missiles which could be used to shoot down incoming enemy missiles in mid-air.

    I am far from the first person to notice this. Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, who headed the team that developed the atomic bomb in World War II, said that when he witnessed the Trinity bomb test in 1945, the first words that came to mind was a passage from the Mahabharata “Now I have become Death, destroyer of worlds”. A few days later, he was asked at a press conference if the test in New Mexico was the first atomic bomb test in history. He replied, “Yes, at least in modern times”.

  161. I second Malcopian’s recommendation of Cremo & Thompson’s “Forbidden Archeology” (I figured JMG would have read that one, so did not think of recommending it). The complete version is a massive tome. The acknowledgement of authors’ bias right up front is very refreshing, as well as the criticism of ‘scientism’ as opposed to the scientific method. The method of presenting evidence to prove their thesis is systematic, too. I do recall from that book a story of an archaeologist and professor at the University of Toronto whose career was utterly destroyed because he insisted that a human artifact that he had found in situ (in central Ontario) was 100,000 years old and refused to recant and bow down to peer pressure/the orthodox views on the peopling of the continent 12,000 years ago (looks like the professor in question did not know how Western society has been treating ‘heretics’ for the past millennium or two).

  162. What if the plastic islands floating in the ocean coalesce and a bit of dirt from here and a bit of sand from there and a small plant from another here join together to form a large enough island to be lived on or noticed? Who will be able to explain that?
    What if in the shorter term we realize the sheer efficiency of wood and put it to good use? The same piece of wood can heat your room, coffee water, bath water and laundry water. At the same time it will cook your food and heat your iron. This piece of wood might have been your door last week.
    What if (and someone has mentioned this further up the comments list) the earth’s plates start moving within short time spans? A slide of plates here, a volcano there, an earthquake at another there. How well would this cover even the largest and most dedicated use of resources and perhaps create new materials we cannot even dream of?
    There is so much we don’t know and cannot really ever know.

  163. Jmg, the subject of this essay reminds me of a book I mentioned to you before, “the lost secrets of maya technology “ by James A. O’kon.

    One chapter in particular is relevant, in which James investigates a Mayan city called yaxchilan which was basically surrounded by a river 6 months a year until it was dry season. Archeologists believed that the river was crossed by boat, even though the river was so turbulent as to make it impractical, since the river is wide enough that they doubted a bridge could have been built, but James discovered foundations in and on the sides of the river that could only have been part of a multi-span rope suspension bridge with a tower more the 20 meters high in the middle of the river.

    There’s a lot of similar stuff in the book, such as limestone water-filters and stone-saws made from plant fibre coated with abrasive for working jade, all in all A fine book.

  164. Martin Back says:
    July 1, 2021 at 3:59 pm
    An archeologist speculated that just as previous civilizations are identified by the distinctive bits of pottery they left behind, our civilization will be recognized by toilet bowl fragments. Toilet bowls are made of porcelain, which is practically indestructible, and the shape is totally distinctive and instantly recognizable. The only problem is, he thought, that it would be identified as some sort of household deity!

    And we have a name for it, too: the porcelain god, or goddess. 🙂

  165. Engleberg, hmm! Okay, that’s a history I wasn’t familiar with. Thank you.

    Nathanael, just one of the services I offer. 😉

    Ksim, I wrote quite some time ago about the difference between what can happen and what does happen. What you’ve described is theoretically possible, sure, but that doesn’t mean it has any real chance of happening — and I’m more interested in following out the trajectory of events to where they’re headed.

    TooSad, ah, I see. I made the mistake of thinking you were commenting about this week’s post. In the future, please save such general comments for open posts.

    Kyivan, I think you’re quite correct that a lot of people need to sit down and read Joseph Needham!

    Clarke, well, I know (from having talked to people who do it) that when British archaeologists talk about finding things under ground by “probing with metal rods,” that’s a euphemism for dowsing. They use it all the time, because it works, but don’t use the word for fear of being targeted by rationalist fanatics.

    Adrian, thanks for this! Mica in the concrete — yeah, that’ll do it, especially in Ireland’s not entirely bone-dry climate…

    Martin, there’s a hilarious book titled Motel of the Mysteries by David Macauley that imagines the excavation of a motel many centuries from now, by archeologists who think everything’s a ritual property. Here’s their conception of one of the occupants wearing her ritual headdress…

    Polecat, it would be easy to see if there are any traces of burnt beeswax on the ceilings. That I know of, no trace has ever been found.

    Justin, I suppose if they had Qin Shi Huangdi’s trick of chrome plating, that’s a possibility!

    Reader, the ever-burning lights are a fine oddity. I inserted references to one into my tentacle fiction, for what it’s worth!

    Galen, yes.

    Tolkienguy, Donnelly was working with the best information he had in his time; since it turned out that the academic geologists were dead wrong about the origin and stability of continents, a lot of his work has to be chucked, but the evidence he brought up needs to be taken into account. As for the four previous cycles, I got them from 20th century occult schools. Yes, Blavatsky popularized the name Lemuria, but she also relocated it — the original concept was that it was in the western Indian ocean, but she insisted no, there was a lost continent further east, betweeen the eastern Indian ocean and the western Pacific. The discovery of Sundaland shows that she was right. Yes, there are some colorful stories about Lemuria — I’ve never seen much about the two earlier ones.

    Postholeking, it’s good advice!

    Galen, I’m embarrassed to find that anybody is still clinging to the Clovis-First malarkey. It’s hard to think of another hypothesis that’s been disproved so clearly and still clings to life.

    Oilman2, fair enough — I stand corrected on Egyptian oil. As for deep space, very clearly a lot of people had good reasons for those second thoughts…

    Laurent, hmm! Verne definitely had a pessimistic streak — Paris au XXe siècle was a fine technological dystopia. I’ll see if I can make time to read L’éternel Adam.

    Galen, lots of people have discussed the remarkable weapons systems of the Mahabharata — and for good reason. It really does sound like folk memories of high-tech weapons systems.

    Ron, duly noted and thank you.

    JillN, er, did you notice that all of your “:what ifs” amount to ways that human beings can continue to use extravagant amounts of energy and resources? That’s quite the hackneyed fantasy these days.

    J.L.Mc12, interesting. Thanks for this.

  166. @Lady Cutekitten LOLC #134 – What did Stonehenge sound like?

    Interestingly, the local First Nations tribal bands host an event they call “Pow Wow” every year in Kamloops, BC (Canada) that may give us an idea of what it sounded like at Stonehenge. There is a circular arena with a pitched roof that is open in the middle. The walls and roof reflect the sound of the drumming of participants inward to the arena. The drumming hits you and draws you in to the dancing, whether you are a dancer in the middle or a spectator. The facility is called an ‘Arbour.’ Many similarities to the stonehenge layout, structurally, although the roof is wood, as you might expect.

    Here’s a link to a YouTube about it that gives a taste of what it looks like and feels like;


  167. @Martin Back #159: JMG beat me to Motel of the Mysteries, David Macauley’s take on archeological interpretation. Also appropriate to this weeks post is a drawing in his book Great Moments in Architecture called “Early Work on the Grand Canyon”. It shows a bucolic scene with mid 18th century British noblemen looking out over a rolling landscape, with clusters of workmen and their tools beginning the great excavation in the mid distance. Unfortunately, I can’t find an online copy to link to.

  168. I’m doing my part to leave puzzles behind for future archeologists.

    I like adding fairy poop to my gardens (aka glass pebbles and marbles) for additional sparkle.

    Glass marbles and pebbles are inert, shiny, transparent, come in all sorts of colors, and should last for a very long time. Yeah, a glacier might crush them into powder but only if it rolls over a glass pebble just right. A piece that’s well-cushioned by mud might last almost forever.

  169. Greetings noted Archdruid and ever-stimulating commentariat. There’s been some discussion this week about space flight and radiation. Having worked a bit in the space business (JPL, now retired), radiation of various sorts and strengths is definitely an issue for any spacecraft or its contents. Specifically to humans, the thing that has become dismayingly apparent is that deleterious radiation effects on humans who perform long-term space flight are NOT primarily our boogieman-friend The Big C, but something much more mundane: cognitive decline.

    Due to link rot I’ve lost track of the articles that a researcher did many years ago where he looked at SAT scores for high-school kids in certain US cities that were impacted by nuclear-bomb plumes from atmospheric testing, but he found crisp “dips” of SAT scores associated with cohorts of kids who several years prior had been plumed by fallout. The plumed kids of a certain vulnerable age performed as a whole worse than their both younger and older contemporaries.

    The Chernobyl event has some similar studies, and results. Again, my apologies for not providing links, but I suspect some of the info is still available.

    Coming up to the near-present, Astronaut Scott Kelly was compared after a year on the International Space Station (ISS) with his twin brother, and with tests he had done before his stay on ISS. Cognitive decline was one of the things that was noted:

    It’s important to note that Scott’s decline was small, but then notice the radiation environment he was in: the ISS is in low Earth orbit, so any person aboard it gets little more radiation exposure than do flight crews on airliners. (Oh yeah, they also are affected and threatened by all this.)

    Finally, we’ve performed the “radiation versus cognition” experiment many times on medical patients. There’s a whole host of literature out there on that. Two links:

    So when the bureaucracies of space exploration are confronted by the “Ya know, your Mars astronauts are going to get stupid and less mentally-crisp” reality, they tend to deflect that and say things like “We’ll be able to minimize the risk of cancer” mostly because they can get funding for something that affects only a small portion of the crew, but in the face of something that’s going to affect the WHOLE crew, well, that’s more of a challenge. BTW, shielding onboard any interplanetary spacecraft to protect the crew from radiation is a total non-starter; FAR too heavy.

    Best regards to all!

  170. Er, absolutely not. I have never had such fantasies even in my teens so am unlikely to develop them at this stage of our civilization’s decline. I have seen the decline coming for years. I see the possibility of new land masses developing as just a possibility and this would take hundreds, if not thousands of years. It might be a way the world handles the mess we are leaving since I do not believe we are so important that we will destroy the world. The world will go on but we might not and certainly not as we are. Wood I also see as a way of having enough energy for a much down scaled way of life. Although this can be relatively comfortable. I have travelled enough to see other ways of doing domestic architecture for example to note that people can live comfortably but not ostentatiously.
    Sorry but you completely misunderstood my comment and I see what ifs as important aids in imagining new ways of doing things.

  171. Archdruid,

    The sheer complexity of Indus valley civilization cities is a prime example of high-tech in the ancient world. What’s more fascinating is what’s missing, any sign of ancient weapons. These people were clearly capable of working metals, yet not one weapon artifact has been found in the ruins. How in the world does a civilization rise to that level of complexity and defend themselves?



  172. Oilman2, space isn’t so radioactive that you can’t go on a weeklong trip to the Moon. That radiation dose is small enough to be lost in the noise of individual genetics and lifestyle factors. A Mars trip, on the other hand, even if you had a radiation proof bunker to hunker down in on Mars…

    Regarding the electric helicopter NASA is flying around on Mars, it isn’t that improbable when you consider that a prop that size spinning that fast here on Earth would comfortably propel a light aircraft forward at a pretty good clip, requiring substantially more power to do so. The Mars helicopter has a 350 watt motor and only weights 4 pounds…

  173. I read this weeks essay as an exploration of the relationships between civilizations, decline, progress, technology and cultural values, and offered my views about what’s happening now with our civilization, pharmaceutical and psychological manipulation technologies, and cultural values like informed consent, free speech, individual liberties and moral aversion to medical terrorism and genocide. So I thought it was on point.

    But I can see how you find it off point, because my interest in expressing these concerns in this forum is definitely driven by powerful fear emotions and my own personal struggle to cope with current events as they are rapidly developing, just as much as an interest in engaging with your intellectual and historic analysis. I’m terrified and grasping at straws in one of the only non-crazy online spaces I know of.

    Thank you again for maintaining this space.

  174. Bryan, fascinating! Okay, that makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the data.

    JillN, no doubt it’s my Aspergers syndrome that’s at fault, but I still can’t see how imagining a bunch of miracles that will hand us lots of new resources offers any kind of help in figuring out how to deal with our current predicament. What-ifs of that kind can also be a distraction.

    Varun, an isolated civilization can get away with that, sometimes. Do we yet know why the Indus Valley civilization fell?

    TooSad, and I’m trying to suggest that your terror may be misplaced. It’s easy these days to get caught up in worst case scenarios, but it’s not really helpful.

  175. @ JillN & JMG RE: wood

    I recently had to take down three 30m oak trees. Taking them down cost me $400 each. The disposal fee was $100 each.

    That disposal fee goes to several large composting operators, who charge between $100 and $250 to take the logs and limbs from the tree guys. Landfills no longer take timber waste as most are too full already. The mulch-makers then grind up this wood into bits, salt it with bacteria, and pile it up on crappy land they lease on the cheap. About 6-12 months later (depending on the scruples of the mulch guys), they then bag up this wood detritus and sell it as mulch for about $4-6 bucks for a 50lb bag. So these guys make bank coming and going, and you can find them around most metro areas.

    So you are unlikely to see what you envision, ever, as things have already gone in a different direction. Sawdust and waste from lumber mills are now made into OSB, particle board and fuel pellets to export to the EU. Old lumber is found being sold at a premium around metro areas – people pay big bucks for barn lumber and timber – more than buying new even.

    I’m ok with most of this as it means wood isn’t just single use and then fed to landfills.

  176. @JMG, re the peak:
    Oh, interesting; thanks.
    …I’m quite curious to know more details, but I suspect that that might be getting into “too long and involved for a comment” territory?

    @Moofoo Bay and JMG, re printing in Egyptian tombs:
    I thought I remembered something about unfinished tombs showing work in progress artwork that seemed to be being made in situ, and after a bit of searching found this:
    It seemed like it might be of interest.

  177. @Viduraawakened, yes indeed. There is ample evidence that wood and clay/mud/bricks were used for temples long before stone came into the picture. Even in case of idols, clay and wood seems to have preceded stone — Durga Puja and Ganesh Puja idols are made with clay to this day. The idols in Puri Jagannath temple are made of wood, and are replaced at regular intervals. The colourful Ayyanar village guardian deities of South India are made with clay till this day.

  178. If the pollen records are any indication over the course of a couple centuries between 7,200 and 7,400 years ago there was an explosion in olive cultivation; we start seeing P. somniferum outside its original range; we see new cultures spring up in the Baltic, Ukraine, and southern Europe; we begin to see copper smelting (that one’s 7,500 years ago so just a bit outside the timeline); we see an olive oil factory set aside from the other buildings in a village now off the coast of northern Israel; the megalith builders first arrive on Malta.

    The way this technology exploded across such a vast landscape (in a land without horses, it’s a long walk between Malta and Vilnius with a stop in Tel Aviv) makes me think it was spread by some kind of imperial culture, or over some extended series of trade routes. I also suspect this was a start of a trade that was old when the Mycenaeans were young: olive oil, opium poppies, amber, and furs.

    The pre-Colombian Mesoamericans managed to attain a pretty high level of technological and cultural sophistication in an near-exclusively lithic society. (AIUI, they smelted gold and had limited metalworking but didn’t use it much if at all for tools or everyday items. I will defer to those with more knowledge on the subject than myself, though). I’d imagine high Neolithic culture in Europe was at least as complex and cultured. All available evidence suggests their trade routes were at least as developed.

  179. TooSad – If you’ve read The Lord of the Rings it’s probably a good idea to meditate on the character of Denethor. The guy who was obsessed by watching in his Palantir, staring at the approaching doom, not realizing how he was manipulated. In his case doom was approaching, indeed, but many dire events could have prevented if he wasn’t fixated on the idea that doom was inevitable and nothing could be done.

    I know the feelings and fears you are describing and from time to time I feel the same way – many do. But then – how sure can you be that those feelings are truly yours?

    Best wishes,

  180. RE: Peter Van Erp 179
    This image?

    RE: Varun 183
    The no walls and no weapons problem. I’ve seen a few examples of early agricultural cities with no obvious military relics and I think it is because they are the first in the area to produce high population densities in their region. They can defend themselves against outsiders with numbers and organization.

    They can’t defend against themselves. The first cities in an area are usually founded by the same culture with the same suite of technologies. It takes a while for population pressure to build and internal divisions and cultural drift to reach levels that precipitate wars. Then the arms race of weapons, armor, and tactics takes off and we see artifacts and fortifications.

    JMG, you said that we are using up the fossil fuels and that future civs won’t have access to them the way that we do. Further, previous civs would have used up whatever energy sources are other resources they used so by the same logic we wouldn’t see abundant deposits of those things. That is we would be missing something but we wouldn’t know it was missing because it had never, in our experience, been around to notice it was missing.

    What about the converse? I had an argument 20 years ago about the possibility of previous advanced civilizations and my opponent said that if there had been one we would see all of the artifacts. I countered that we might very well be seeing them but not recognize them as artifacts.

    She was thinking something like the Roman dodecahedrons. (Sorry, digression for the readers that haven’t heard of the:,connecting%20to%20the%20hollow%20center. We’ve found hundreds of them and we don’t have any idea what they were for.) But I was thinking something like the mineral mica, thin sheets of flexible polymers with a wide variety of characteristics, as an equivalent to our plastics. A million years from now what will plastic deposits look like? Or xy sex chromosomes vs zw sex chromosomes, did the reptiles genetically engineer mammals, or feathers and sonar?

    The point is that it would be very difficult to spot something odd as either missing or extraneous. An expert in any given field might recognize that something was unusual for some reason but there would be enormous pressure to find a sensible reason that conforms to Occum’s razor rather than Shelock’s syllogism.

    So, I know that these things can be tricky to spot, but does anything seem out of the ordinary to you?


  181. For what it’s worth, I decided about ten or twelve years ago now, to expunge from my vocabulary the words “progress”, “progressive”,”advanced”, “backwards” and their ilk, unless actually describing physical motion relative to something. (e.g. I advanced towards the jump at the same time my horse went backwards away from it. Yes, my hip still hurts.)
    The reasons are twofold, first because these words have become purr-words and snarl-words, and second because they have also become thought-stoppers.
    When describing civilization or technology, I consciously try to use words like “complex” instead, to be accurate. By avoiding the standard words, it becomes easier for me to deliberately remember that there have been other, previous cultures and civilizations which have achieved a very high degree of complexity and built magnificent tools and monuments without the use of oil, and therefor to envision a world without oil that is not perforce nasty, brutish, and short.
    It helps me avoid the sort of mindset that is bewildered at the existence of the Antikythera device, envisions our ancestors with disdain and contempt, and actually denies reality. For example, the Harvard history professor (sorry, can’t recall the name and so cannot look it up right now) who as I recall insisted (in 2010) that the Vinland Map is a forgery and that Vikings could never have visited North America, despite the existence of the L’Anse aux Meadows archaeology site since 1968 on the northern tip of Newfoundland.
    On the flip side, I’ve seen a good number of otherwise intelligent people convince themselves that an underwater block of granite off the south coast of Japan must be a city complex carved by humans 10,000 years ago (even though those must be the most horribly and incompetently irregular set of “steps” anyone ever carved) and others who believe that some irregular flat slabs in some shallow water in the Bahamas are really the remains of an Atlantean causeway, and many other ludicrous examples.
    One of the first things that became jarringly obvious, once I altered my vocabulary, was how embedded in the language these fuzzy concepts are. What I also noted was how limiting they are. Only a specific suite of technologies associated with electricity and usually toxic chemistry qualify as “advanced” and only a very narrow range of social attitudes are acceptable under the nebulous term “progressive”.
    “Clear your mind of cant” as Dr. Johnson said to Boswell… and these anomalous examples of the existence of previous competent, knowledgeable people in complex societies and civilizations no longer seems incredible, and people like Von Danikin can take his ancient aliens and [ blank ].


  182. Hey. Long time reader. Love your work. Your voice is appreciated.

    As more data from the Neptune Retrograde creeps in, its becoming more apparent the imagination is hampered even across the magical sort, and even among the most elect. Why is the(ir/ your) magic and will not portraying and focusing the ideal imagined future forward?

    To be direct:
    J’accuse, sir! Lol. I demand you paint me a better picture of the future, on behalf of all angels saints readers and rabbis. Lol.

    You’re correct. issues with imagination and turning individual and collective magical eye towards a focused future that we all want to live in—is lacking. Even in you. And you are in an apt position to paint pictures for masses.

    “Right now, however, the decline and fall of the industrial age is understandably on the minds of many people. As we run face first into the coming energy crisis, it will be on the minds of many more.”

    Is there really an energy crisis and fall or just a Red-Schildian nightmare ppl aren’t hip to that even somehow has our magic elite and elect unable to imagine or project and manifest a better future for themselves, the world, and their readers?

    Love you, boo

  183. Assuming the Egyptians didn’t know about distillation, they could get an increased alcohol content by freezing their beer, but possibly not to the concentration necessary to make it flammable.

    “The maximum enrichment of ethanol in the liquid phase is reached at the eutectic point of ethanol and water, approximately 92.4 weight-% ethanol at -123 °C.”

  184. ? You can teach the masses lessons, but— the vision is everything. We all know, That’s the real magic.

    So what do you see as the future, magician? What is your best imaginary future? Tell me everything. Cancel the apocalypse with our collective wills. Tell us all about the world you WANT to live in… ? Please.

    N Can I get a masterpiece?…instead of whatever all of this is?

  185. Pyramids: Maybe they were built from the inside out: is it possible the inner passage ways and burial tombs were built, painted, decorated, and the dead interred while open to desert sunlight?

    After burial the rest of the pyramid, the outside that we now see, was built around the inner chambers. I’m thinking of how the US Capitol was built: the first floor was built and in use while the dome had scaffolding around it for several months-to-years and was the last to be finished. I’ve seen pictures online recently, maybe on PBS, that show the various stages.

  186. Contemplating this I was reminded of something from a book by Elizabeth Hand I read a few years ago, “Hard Light” part of her Cass Neary, punk rock photographer, mystery series. Not to be missed IMO (Hand is a great Fantasist & SF author in my book).

    Anyway, the book featured a device known as thaumatrope, “A disk with a picture on each side is attached to two pieces of string. When the strings are twirled quickly between the fingers the two pictures appear to blend into one due to the persistence of vision.” These were around in the 19th century, but a recent paper from 2012 (recent in relative terms!) argued that “a prehistoric bone disk found in the Laugerie-Basse rockshelter is a thaumatrope, designed to be spun using leather thongs threaded through the central perforation.”

    So it seems animation has been around since paleolithic times.

    In Elizabeth Hand’s novel it is suggested this device may have been used for magical purposes. It made for effective fiction anyway…

    …point being there is a lot of stuff we don’t know…

    (But luckily astral researchers can access the Inner Library or Akashic Archives to download the data.)

  187. Since the ‘Motel of the Mysteries has already been mentioned then I will point out another book, ‘The Weans’ by Robert Nathan which also satirizes archeology. Sections from the Hollywood Walk of Fame get misinterpreted as temple pavement defaced by children and an abstract metal sculpture as a praying mantis god.

  188. JMG, My husband read this article and enjoyed it very much. He had a thought about the Egyptian tombs with no soot on the ceiling: that perhaps the Egyptians had created some kind of cleanser we’ve never thought of that removed the soot.

  189. Varus, has anyone been able to estimate population density of the early Indus Valley civilization? A Rumanian, I think she was, archeologist, Marija Gimbutas, published a huge and fascinating book about neolithic settlements in the northern Balkans. Her excavations also found no evidence of weapons and settlements located near water supplies and fields, not on hilltops. She spun a theory about matriarchy which I did not find convincing. I thought the peaceableness of the settlements could just as easily be explained by smallness and wide dispersal of the human population.

    It is known that the Indus Valley people traded with the people of Sumer, so they must have at least seen weapons of some kind.

  190. The soup for ancient civlizations with complex technology, read: a sufficient amount of concentrated energy for the heavy lifting,
    showing and mechanizing of our day, seems thin to me.

    But then again I am not extremely proficient in chemistry, mechanics and skilled craft labor so that the question about historic
    civilizations might as well be a bog of peat in my competence.

    Maybe there existed above ground inflammable stuff more concentrated than wood in energy that were harvested.
    To go to such levels as are not possible with fertile land and mass manual labor alone. Level like constructing a metal clad ship for example.

    Or they burnt giant trees that were still in existence in the heyday of forgotten peoples.
    Or, they *were* giants themselves – though that probably still does not replace a concentrated energy source.

    I find such claims as posted before me, that there was tools and crafting when the first pristine plants crept out of the sea to pangea, highly doubtworthy.

    After all, the necessary differentiation of elements and compounds in an increasingly balanced state of energy on earth, read not too hot or too cold, took its time to our best knowledge of geology.

    Life emerged out of a cyclical and level state of the earth, with enough alternation between chaotic and dynamic heat,
    as well as static and stable cold, and enough different types of rock and fluids that would emerge to become
    fertile grounds for new dynamics and cycles.

    The logic of complexity and energy really seems to preclude humans using so much energy before our historic age.

    Only the question is interesting of what all can you do and craft with xyz not available as a resource (metals, for example),
    and a limited amount of concentrated energy as harvested and grown by many hands and feet.

  191. @ Justin #184…

    I hadn’t even looked at the little helo they sent, for the simple reason that we could get there, but will not without it being a one way trip. It’s that hard radiation that led the Chinese to go for the backside of the moon?

    Between perchlorates and a sketchy magnetosphere, Mars isn’t likely to ever experience human feet IMO, regardless of the water situation. It’s about time we just let go of these projects that can take us nowhere hospitable and turn to things with tangible value for us all, not just the “science bunch”.

    @ JMG…

    A few stories that you should peruse:

    It kinda feels like we are swimming in a sea of unintended consequences, eh?

  192. Is there conscious forgetting of the past or is it there but we don’t see it. For example, does the Myth of Progress dismiss anything that might disturb it? I have read Jason Covalito and find that he is firmly in the materialist, science vein – dismissing all those theories about ancient stuff. When I read G. Hancock and others, I have this voice telling me – they are ridiculous, etc. Hmmm, where do people go to find an exploration of these things without dogma?

    The other thing that I picked up with the ancient alien stuff is a monomyth ala Joseph Campbell. Is that a result of living with Monotheism for so long that everyone has to be shoehorned into a united field theory narrative?

  193. What they certainly have and we lack is a sense of aesthetics. Beauty remained important for a long time in manufactured goods and in construction.

    Perhaps our industrialized age of ugliness is an anomaly as well as the notions of the relativity of beauty and art.

    That would ensure that all such standards are null and void by definition.

  194. That toilet seat headdress is hilarious!

    Re 2000 C to manufacture carbide: This temperature is achievable in modern solar furnaces, which can go up to 3500 C. Possible with polished brass mirrors? Doubtful.

  195. About Progress,

    Perhaps – nobody really knows how much more juice there is left to squeeze? But I will give you this – that people are willing to get upset when their vision of linear progress is questioned, that’s a sign that we’re coming up on an inflection point of some sort, of some order. How big? I would claim nobody really knows for sure.

    About Star Trek being an impossible vision,

    Might I leave you with this thought that perhaps the true vision of Star Trek has already been achieved? Everyone thinks they know what a Star Trek future would look like but I suggest you watch some of those episodes a bit closer. A ship and crew where the technology is always breaking down, where they barely have enough knowledge and skill to cope with it all – does that sound familiar? I can’t tell you how many plot devices rely on things not working when they are needed most. And about the Federation and Starfleet in general – it comes across as a rigid bureaucratic monstrosity that’s barely in touch with the galaxy it governs. And that it functions at all has more to do with benign neglect than anything it purports to do.

    A rigid hierarchical military dictatorship where capitalism is considered bad manners? Sounds like the wet dream of Otto von Bismarck more than anything else. Dress it up in a spaceship and there you go. The Future(tm)

  196. Say what you will about Herbert and Dune but at least he was willing to see past the linear trends to imagine a future distinctly different from the status quo, where a disastrous machine tyranny demanded that people go back to doing everything by hand in their heads and what that might look like when taken to its logical conclusion.

    Then again, he never got licensed to do a million different franchises, all variations on the same tired theme that Roddenberry cashed in on.

  197. >I still can’t see how imagining a bunch of miracles that will hand us lots of new resources

    There are no miracles. Only hard work. And fragile knowledge that can be lost all too quickly.

  198. JMG – that is the definining image from Motel of the Myseries!

  199. Teresa from Hershey – I’m doing my part to baffle future archeologists, too. I do jewelry and beadwork, and collect jewelry. Any beads, metal findings or damaged items that I would not use, wear or gift end up at the top of the rise behind our house. I have fun imagining the befuddlement of the discoverers of the damaged Chinese cloisonne bracelets that I deposited there!

  200. JMG,

    Question for you – do you think that there have been non-human, non-primate technic civilizations on our planet in the past? Do you think there are any at present? I love how this post reveals what an amazing intellectual straitjacketing our myths around progress produce.

    @ Owen #192

    If you haven’t yet read the “completion” of the Dune series by Herbert’s son and an SF hack, don’t waste your time. Herbert’s brilliance in imagining all of the various ways humanity functioned quite well without “thinking machines” is ruined because his vision is “subverted” into one more fitting with the times. It is basically another advert for the transhumanist wet dream, humans-AI symbiosis.

    @ TooSad — hang in there, don’t give in to terror, breathe and let it go each and every time, remind your spouse that being in the control group is also “believing the science,” and journal, if you can. I’ve found that latter activity to be very helpful this last year. Best.

  201. The usual explanation for the helicopter hieroglyphs is one set carved over another. That just happens to look to modern eyes like a helicopter, a tank, and a stubby plane:

    Even igf you couldn’t confirm the results of divination for sure, wouldn’t it still give you possible ideas how it might have worked, and where you might look for evidence of that? Maybe even inspire a new solution to a current problem you wouldn’t have thought of any other way.

    Since the sootless roof seems to be the brain-teaser of the week, what if the lamps were always slightly uphill of where work was being done, so the soot just got painted over?

  202. @ info RE:lacks and such

    There are several paradigms in place: everything MUST match the blueprint, everything MUST use as little material as possible for max profit, every widget MUST be identical so they are interchangeable. etc., etc.

    The other paradigm is that craftsmen are not allowed to express themselves in many endeavors. Yet another is that groups are behind nearly every big endeavor, and that usually means going with the ugliest, simplest option to avoid offending anyone (which usually means it offends everyone universally, btw).

    I once tried letting the guys who made my oilfield product engrave their names when it left manufacturing. The purpose was to know who actually made each tool, and to give them a sense of ownership and pride in their work. It worked until the owners found out about it, and then it was ordered shut down without explanation. Eventually they expressed that customers had no need to know who made the product, and it ‘wasted time’, incurring more cost.

    Kind of convenient how in today’s world, any effort at self-expression or artistry is quashed with the same “time” hammer and argument, all in the name of the god “Profits”. Never occurs to them that if every widget is the same, your product has zero advantage…

  203. Simon Peasecraft #192:

    An excellent discussion of Bald’s Leechbook and Anglo-Saxon medicine can be found in the book, “Old English Medical Remedies: Mandrake, Wormwood, and Raven’s Eye” by Sinead Spearing. Really, really interesting information I haven’t seen elsewhere.

  204. Just FYI – I always read the stories about archaeology and paleontology in the science magazines that come my way, and in my observation, the writers – and discoverers are delighted to find evidence that this and that goes back a lot farther than we thought, that animals and birds have cultures and considerable intelligence, and, they totally love lost civilizations, and sunken ruins off the coast of India, and so on.

  205. Is there any evidence that the West and the Middle east imported elephants from India in order to move heavy loads like large stone slabs?

  206. Kenaz Filan’s mention of Malta reminded me of the superb Hypogaeum of Ħal Saflieni on that island, first discoverd by accident in 1902. One of the chambers on the second level has remarkable acoustic properties, and seems to have been deliberately shaped to that end. The Hypogaeum is between 5000 and 6000 years old.

  207. @Dani:

    The world I (for one) want to live in is a far simpler world than ours, far less global, far less fixated on gadgetry, and far more demanding of its inhabitants. My “best imagined future” uses far less energy, gathers far less stuff, and offers far, far less stimulation. Whether I perish in the coming transition to such a world is fundamentally uninteresting.

  208. Those “thaumatropes” that Justin Patrick Moore mentionscan also be notched around their edges, to change the sound they make when twirled. The sounds that they make are definitely part of the whole complex of “low-tech psychotechnology” that was used in magical and religious rites to alter consciousness. (Compare the devices mentioned in the Chaldean Oracles, such as the “top of Hekate” and the “Jynx Wheel.”) They are surely a prehistoric invention, like the better-known bull roarers.

  209. @Dani. Oh i dont know a blank slate is kind of the point with imagination. Dont artists prefer to work with new canvas? I dont really want someone to spell it all out for me. Maybe a negative sketch of what we cant have, some limits. Like a canvas frame. We know it wont keep going as is. The rest is kind of up to what we want or aspire to. Ive had enough of elite guidance except as principles. Theres probably a reason God allows the foundations to decay periodically. A good reason. If we can reatore them without duplicating Inquisitions and Scientism thatd be a bonus but why stress over it if you have to do extra work but get to skip all that?

  210. I must confess that while I appreciate your attempts to reason past the present paradigm, you show signs of being very wedded to the current version of scientific materialism. A good deal of research on the fringes shows that there are aspects to our “material” universe that are not as advertised. Tesla’s work, for one, and the radionics/mesmerist stuff with the “discredited” Reich being another. There are thousands of issues of “Popular Science” from the earliest days of that publication (up to the 1940’s) that are full of possibilities not currently explored (and not because they weren’t feasible). And who knows what else is lurking out there that we haven’t imagined. I wonder, for instance, how the megalithic builders moved and placed the huge stones we see scattered in walls all over the planet, since they evidently didn’t have our kinds of machines. Even in a purely material universe (which I don’t credit for an instant but grant for the sake of argument) “there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your universe, Horatio.”

  211. Reese, that’s definitely in “too long for a comment” territory. The very short form is that the millennium in question includes the high points of the Mexican, Islamic, and European civilizations, as well as one of several the high points of the Indian and Chinese civilizations, and thus the zenith of scientific, philosophical, and creative achievement in this cycle.

    Kenaz, that’s very interesting indeed. Can you point me to a book or two on the subject?

    Simon, thanks for this. I read about it at the time but a reminder is timely — and there’s something just so radiantly Old English about the title “The Leechbook of Bald”!

    Team10tim, that’s always a good point to keep in mind. I don’t have any specific examples in mind at the moment — well, other than the temple technology I discussed in The Secret of the Temple, and its various components — but it’s been a while since I got deep into the anomalistics of prehistory.

    Renaissance, an excellent point!

    Dani, the insistence that visions of the the future have to cater to the cravings of the present — that we can make “a future we want to live in” despite the consequences of our own actions in the present and the recent past — is one of the most important barriers to constructive action we face right now. If you want to read my vision of the best future we might be able to achieve at this point, why, I’ve already published it in book form. More generally, thank you — you’ve given me a good way to begin talking about the theme of next week’s post…though I’m sorry to say you might not like it much.

    Martin, you can get yourself good and drunk on ice beer, no question, but as far as I know it won’t burn.

    Dani, nope. The word “apocalypse” literally means “unveiling, revelation” — to cancel the apocalypse is to participate in helping people hide from the reality of their own actions and motives. That’s not a game I’m interested in playing, lucrative though it is.

    Jenxyz, this is the third time I’ve had to mention that I’m not talking about pyramids, I’m talking about tombs dug into solid rock.

    Justin, fascinating! I wasn’t aware of that — and a thaumatrope sounds like something every well-equipped wizard ought to have on hand.

    Jeanne, that sounds funny. Thank you.

    Lydia, that would also count as a lost technology…

    Curt, the question of what a technologically complex civilization without concentrated energy resources would look like is indeed a fascinating one — not least because it’s going to define the shape of possible human civilizations in the post-fossil fuels future.

    Oilman2, I saw the first two — thanks for the third! Yeah, at this point the sky is black with chickens coming home to roost.

    Neptunesdolphins, good question. There’s certainly a deep reluctance to consider the possibility that people in the past were as clever and ingenious as we are.

    Info, well, there’s that!

    Martin, that’s just it. I don’t know of a method available to the Egyptians that would produce such temperatures. Electricity, on the other hand, takes some pottery jars, a strip of copper, a strip of tin, and a good strong vegetable acid.

    Owen, remember that the only Star Trek I ever watched was the original series.

    Rage Monster, it’s certainly the one that stuck in my mind! As for nonprimate intelligent species in the distant past, I think it’s quite possible. What’s sometimes been called the Anthroposaurus hypothesis — the idea that there may have been intelligent bipeds among the dinosaurs — strikes me as particularly worth study, since the end of the Mesozoic is so close — a mere 65 million years, an eyeblink in geological time — and thus there may be bits of evidence left.

    Yorkshire, yes, divination can certainly be used that way.

    Patricia M, interesting. Which magazines are those? I’ll want to have a look at them.

    Martin, the Middle East had elephants as late as Roman times, so they wouldn’t have had to import them from India. Do you recall Hannibal’s elephants?

  212. Hi John,

    To expand on one of my earlier comments, not just the Mahabharata but the Ramayana contain descriptions of what sound eerily like advanced aircraft armed with guided missiles and some of the engagements described, particularly in the Ramayana, remind me a lot of what an air battle between modern high-tech jet fighters (such as J-20’s vs F-22’s) would look like. There are also descriptions of these “flying chariots” and other weapons systems defending themselves in terms that are very reminiscent of modern anti-missile defense systems like Aegis, Trophy, Iron Dome and their Russian equivalents.

  213. As far as the smokeless Egyptian lighting goes, they could have used chemical lamps using carbide, calcium, or magnesium.

    When I look at the portolan charts, and try to figure out how they were originally made, I’m baffled. The Roselli map is interesting, as it shows that Westerners probably used to know a lot more about geography than they were given credit for. I recently came across a two books by Barry Fell, namely America B.C., and Bronze Age America. The author was trying to make the case that there were many pre-Colombian European visitors to the new world. The books make the case with OOPARTS (Out Of Place Artifacts), many of which had been carved in oghmic. Unfortunately, quite a few of the examples cited are now known to be forgeries. That, combined with the fact that the author tended to speculate makes the book nothing more than a curiosity.

    However, that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t some sort of contact between the new and the old world. Examples of processed cocoa leaf has been found in Egyptian tombs, which strongly suggests that they had at least peripheral contact with South America. Throughout Appalachia today, there is talk of the Melungians, a mixed group of part Europeans, whose ancestors may have pre-dated the Plymouth colony or even Roanoke Island. So, yes there is a lot that we don’t know about contact between the New and old Worlds.

  214. @kenaz, I would also like any sources you can remember!

    What you describe may be similar in some aspects to what David Wengrow describes for the 5th millennium BC Near East in “What makes civilization”: widespread trade and cultural cross pollination without any sign of military or political dominance. I think the two David’s will go much further in the book Jessica mentioned above.

  215. @JillN, @TooSad,

    I share your apprehensions about the future. I also found this post difficult to process, for reasons detailed in my post to our host below. But for what it’s worth, I personally believe that the Ecotechnic civilizations of the future will be a great deal more resilient and far less wasteful than we are- at the very least they’ll have the motivation to be, in the form of our ruins and the almost-everlasting consequences of our stupidity.

    They’ll even have the concentrated energy resources to do it: All the fossil fuels in Greenland and Antarctica, currently inaccessible(and likely to stay that way for at least the next thousand years) will be made available to them, and as a species we’ll get a second, maybe even a third change to be a bit less foolish with the gifts of the Earth. Perhaps something truly lasting and worthwhile can be built with that. At least, that’s part of what gives me hope.

  216. I find it interesting that so many of the comments here state with confidence that the only way to do this or that is with our current understanding of things is complete, as if the science were settled.

  217. Riffing off David by the Lake ‘s point about our limited concept of technology reminded me of the mathematics of music.

    Several years ago, Adele put out this wildly popular song “Someone Like You”, and some Very Smart mathematicians decided to write a paper breathlessly working out why the note changes in the chorus – and in particular the part when she gets to “I wish nothing but the best for you, too/ Don’t forget me I beg” and her voice nearly cracks – makes everyone feel like a fish hook in the guts but they love it.

    There seemed to be a mathematical formula that could elicit predictable human emotional responses!

    And then all the music majors collectively groaned (presumably, in tune) and one wrote a snarky rebuttal (I can’t find it, it feels like something that would have been on Medium or Salon) saying: we know, we’ve only had music theory for lo these thousands of years; the thing you brilliant dudes discovered is called a [Italian term I can’t remember].

    She then went on to suggest that perhaps this sort of embarrassment could be avoided if they’d, you know, asked someone from the music department to collaborate.

    (And thus, spake the ecological sciences major, Multidisciplinary Studies was reinvented for the tenth time that week).

  218. JMG: I wish I could point you toward a good book about the Neolithic Revolution, but it looks like I’m going to have to write one. There is lots of material out there about this stuff but most of it resides in academic journals. I do a lot of digging around on Academia, where many professors post copies of their research outside paywalls.

    I knew a bit about the ancient poppy trade from my research on *Power of the Poppy* and I knew poppies were among the earliest items of trade. But I didn’t realize poppy trading may have stretched back as far before the Mycenaeans as the Mycenaeans were before us.

    I’m also writing for an olive oil trade website and have been focusing on historical olive oil cultivation and processing. (I was pleasantly impressed to find that olive oil really IS as good for you as all the hype says, or at least dozens of medical studies have come to that conclusion).

    When I discovered that you start seeing olive oil factories at about the same time you start seeing the spread of poppies and the rise of cultures across a vast range, I realized the Neolithic Revolution had to involve either extensive trade routes or some governing body that functioned like imperial overlords.

    There is absolutely no way, in my opinion, that these advances happened as some simultaneous technological explosion that happened from the Jordan to Ukraine to the Western Mediterranean.

    Robert Mathiesen #220: There is also some evidence that many of the cave paintings were placed in acoustically significant areas. People who spent a lot of time in caves would certainly notice that sound carried further in some areas than others. You wouldn’t need a lot of technology to walk around a cave singing and note the different acoustics and echoes.

    If people would only consider what Polynesians and Mesoamericans were able to accomplish with Neolithic technology, they would find themselves much less inclined to explain aberrant findings away as “fraud,” “coincidence,” or “New Age nonsense.”

  219. JMG, about sapient dinosaurs:

    John Ringo, in his series of novels about an awkward human first contact with a developed galactic civilization, harked back to Jurassic Park to make one of the nearby species eight or nine foot tall blue or purple velociraptors. With attitude. After fighting them several times, though, the humans conclude that the Rangora are possible to live with. “You guys carry aggression to the point where it becomes a vice, but other than that you seem like regular people.” Maybe that could have happened here, if that particular mass extinction had never happened. Or, as you suggested, maybe it did, and we haven’t found the right clues.

  220. One of the things that I’ve often wondered about is what kinds of advanced sciences and technologies might be possible but which don’t operate on the same principles as present-day Faustian technics; and whether we would even recognize some of those as technologies based on our current frames of reference. I have long suspected that we may well have gotten brief glimpses of what some of those sciences and technologies might look like from the researches of people like John Michell, Viktor Schauberger, Nikola Tesla and Wilhelm Reich.

  221. WanderingOak @ 227, about pre Columbian contact with the New World; I am inclined to believe the ancient story that a Carthaginian ship was blown off course in the Atlantic and given up for lost. After a few years, it appeared again at Carthage with a tale of having landed on a previously unknown (to Carthage) shore. The Carthaginian govt., which was then fighting for its life against Rome, suppressed the story for fear that young men would desert the city and sail away to this new land.

  222. TooSad,

    I don’t know whether you have ever read the book of Ecclesiastes? Mr Greer’s post this week talking about lost technology, “nothing new under the sun” and your lament about the future, has brought it to mind.

    In it, (an apparently chronically depressed) King Solomon advises people to be grounded in the simple pleasures of life, and a pursuit of God, as an antidote to worry about a future which cannot be controlled, and which is indeed circular by it’s very nature.

    I like Tolkein’s advice too…. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

  223. Hi John Michael,

    An intriguing and fascinating discussion. Dunno, but I’m guessing that one benefit with chucking off the costs of high technology (despite it being super interesting and super exciting stuff), is probably a good way for a society in decline to cushion the final fall. All part of getting back to a lower cost base for a civilisation I guess.

    I have an odd notion too that because any previous technology was probably controlled by the civilisations elites, it was easy enough for the surviving folks looking back on the recent fall, to turn their backs on the tech. Some tech which is easily replicated and deemed useful might survive – like writing, that seems to have stuck around for quite a few millennia. I pick and choose what tech I want to burden myself with, and interestingly of late I’ve noticed that some tech is now being forced upon me whether I like it or no, and this hints at the darker side of tech – in that some of this stuff is just not that useful. If it was useful and desirable, that would be self evident.

    I’m curious as to the future of agriculture, as the current state of affairs with that endeavour will eventually burn itself out. And um, the way things are done now, isn’t the only game in town, and plenty of civilisations used technology to treat their soils far better than what we do now.



  224. Hi John Michael,

    Thought you might appreciate this article. Three weeks ago there was an epic storm which ripped through this part of the country. My neighbours were without electricity from Wednesday and it was restored on Sunday (about lunchtime). Anyway, being off grid and having lived that way for a dozen years, we just kept on doing our thing (thought that it was dark at night around here). Some parts of the state still don’t have their electricity restored. It was a huge wind and rain storm and ripped tall trees out of the ground. Anyway, the ABC news visited some households which had back up battery systems. Thought the real world experience of others might shed some light on the reality for the true believers in your readership.

    What the Dandenong Ranges extended power outage teaches us about backup battery power.

    For your curiosity too, I offered assistance to the neighbours, and it turns out that what they were doing was using their vehicles to occasionally warm themselves up and charge their phones and other small devices. An extraordinary use of fossil fuels for so very little outcome. They declined my assistance which quite surprised me.



  225. Naturally you post on one of the topics I find most fascinating on a week I’m too busy to read until Friday! Even much more recently it’s clear the south american cultures had technologies and artistic forms quite different from those recognizable to a European sensibility, and that was lost in only a few hundred years.

    Beyond that, when people think back to how things might have been in antiquity, not only are they stuck on the progression of a set of familiar technologies, they assume climates, landscapes and landmasses like those we now today, when in fact all were quite different.

    Then too, we learn more every day about the different populations that existed in antiquity, including various hybrids of Human, Neanderthal, Denisovan and others. A world a bit more like Middle Earth in terms of different creatures than what we know today.

    There are some studies that show a massive loss of male genetic diversity (but not female), starting about 12500 years ago, and ending about 5000 years ago. The thought is that of warring tribes where the victors killed off the males, took the females and the food, and that the pattern was only broken with the re-establishment of cities.

  226. Hmm, I know Atlantis tends to fire most people’s imaginations, but the Lemuria/Sundaland idea is actually interests me more at the moment, since I know a little about Indonesian history.

    First, for those not familiar with the area as it is today, here’s a map:

    Southeast Asia is, broadly speaking, occupied by two distinct racial groups. The first (and, according to accepted modern theory, the oldest) are called Papuans or Melanesians, today they mostly inhabit the island of Papua (in the bottom right corner of the map; half of Papua forms the country of Papua New Guinea, and the other half is owned by Indonesia) as well as a series of island chains that are off this map but directly to the east of Papua. Melanesians are a distinct “racial” group, to most Westerners they resemble sub-saharan Africans but are not genetically similar. Here’s a few pictures of random Melanesians, taken from Wikipedia:



    Melanesians have a dizzying variety of languages, many of which form small families completely unrelated to each other or to any languages outside the region. Their cultural and religious practices are equally diverse; the highlands of interior Papua were very isolated from the rest of the world until modern times and developed some truly weird customs.

    Most every island on the above map besides Papua is inhabited by another broad group of people, the Austronesians. Austronesians physically and genetically resemble East Asians, and their languages (including Indonesian, Malay, and Tagalog) are grouped into one language family, the Austronesian languages. (In the Melanesian inhabited islands, there are a number of ethnic groups of obvious Melanesian ancestry that speak Austronesian languages; the reverse does not exist).

    Austronesian people:


    (Javanese, one of the ethnicities of Indonesia)

    Austronesian languagues can be grouped into nine or ten sub-familes which only exist on Taiwan, and a further sub-family (called the Malayo-Polynesian languages) which comprises every Austronesian language outside of Taiwan. This lead most historical linguists to believe that Austronesians as a whole originated on Taiwan and migrated to the other islands (the modern-day Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia) by boat sometime after sea levels rose to their current levels. This “Out of Taiwan Model”, which is today the Officially Accepted History of Southeast Asia, posits that before the Austornesian migration, most of insular Southeast Asia was inhabited by tribal Melanesian peoples, who the Austronesians displaced.* If this theory is true, any Sundaland civilization would most likely have been formed by Melanesian peoples, and this offers some very intriguing possibilties; Melanesians are (culturally and genetically) very distantly related to Australian Aborigines, giving rise to the possibility that their might have been some civilization formed around a very, very early ancestor of Aborginal religion and its Dreamtime mythos.

    Alternatively, the Out of Taiwan Model could be wrong, and Austronesians could be the native peoples of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. After all, the languages spoken in modern day France, Spain, and Italy are all very closely related to one another, but that’s because the Romans conquered this area and displaced all the pre-existing languages with Latin. Just thinking about this last night, I wonder if its possible that Proto-Malayo-Polynesian could have been the Imperial language of a Sundaland civilization that dominated and eventually replaced all its neighbors, the same way Latin replaced the other Italic languages, and eventually the Gaulish and Iberian languages as well. Taiwan during this time was joined to China rather than Sundaland, so it could represent a Sundaland colony-or perhaps even a group of Austronesians unconquered by Sundaland-that diverged relatively early on.

    What are your thoughts, JMG? How does the occult lore on Lemuria fit into this?

  227. Hello Silthy,

    You are very correct in your assertions about the future of dumps. About a decade ago the smartest metallurgist I’ve ever worked with (and they’re a pretty bright crowd in general) was discussing how in 100 years mining would not exist in any current form (above or underground) but would rather be garbage dump reclamation.

    The interesting part was that the old (ie. Lower down) garbage would have been deposited during less effectively recycling eras and therefore would be more attractive to the future garbage ‘miners’ because there would be more metals like tin, lead, etc. that cannot

    Personally I think Gobekli Tepe is the lynchpin in all of this ‘cultural amnesia’ removal. Once that’s as well known as the pyramids then we’ll have to acknowledge how stunted our understanding of human history is.

    I’m glad that this was the group’s choice for an extra article, very interesting subject (to me).

  228. There are a few other lost technologies and theories that generally get forgotten. In China, there are records from around 4th century that mentions hormone therapy. They had figured out how to make and implement this and yet there are no records of the techniques. The ancient Greeks had a theory of gravity and orbital rotation, the details are all gone. This is the one thing I always have to point out to people about the past. They were not stupid! They had limited resources but used them astoundingly well at times.

    As for the maps, I do find the proposal that “it looks more balanced” to be particularly odd considering just how empty the southern hemisphere is on those maps. Considering how it is accurate it is to the real life. I am more amazed that they managed to get the pacific ocean fairly close.

    I have forgotten the story as I read it about 20 years ago, I think it was from Jules Verne (any help me out with this). It was about some archaeologists from a somewhat simple technology period, trying to piece together a language from an ancient civilisation. They had very few documents remaining and little context because they were so old and with massive gaps in the knowledge of the time period. The twist was that they were trying to figure out the French language. I always loved that because it put into perspective how something so typical and ho-hum today will be endless fascinating in millennia to come because it has almost vanished. Boring things like a tax form today, if it survives a few millennia would be seen as a cherish piece of the past.

  229. @Russel Graves No. 12

    “Never mind that most of the stuff we think we’re so smart for, many older civilizations had the good sense not to do in the first place…”

    This was something that occurred a in the Greek empire. At times, Technique/Technology generally was not to be used in the same realm as social/economic issues because it was considered something that could produce unwanted side effects. I’m not sure how wide spread this idea was but it was present. This would explain why things like steam engines, which we know they had sort of figured out, never really made it past anything more than a weird curiosity.

    Mind you look at China. They were some of the first to do coal mining but even then it was only for very specific uses, mainly early iron smelling. Coal was seen as a dangerous material to work with, a toxic substance, they would only go near it when it was deemed useful enough to take on the risks associated to health. Some Europeans had seen coal in trips to China and described it as like a very dense kind of wood for burning. Considering the geological origins of coal, it was a fair guess.

  230. Given the fondness of mother nature or God for repeating patterns, I wonder if the spiral shape we see in galaxies as well as in DNA does not, somehow, apply also to time. We move up (progress) and down (regress) on the time spiral. If advanced enough, a civilization might be able to “shortcut” this tenuous crawl and use wormholes to land wherever (better said whenever) desired on the spiral.

  231. @Mary Bennett:

    Do you happen to know the ancient source for old story about a ship from Carthage that was blown off course and happened to hit the Americas before returning home? I’ve long been curious about it, but never could happen on any ancient source.

    On a related note, Thor Heyerdahl’s several voyages proved for once and for all that trans-oceanic voyages on ships made of certain kinds of reeds were certainly possible, if rather risky. So certainly a ship from Carthage could have done the same.

  232. Galen, I know. Remember that one of my favorite childhood books was a retelling of the story of the Mahabharata! I’ve read quite a lot of Hindu epic literature in English translation.

    WanderingOak, I’m sorry to say that Barry Fell’s knowledge of Ogham is essentially nil — he identified every tally mark as Ogham, and paid no attention to the fact that if you don’t have a droim (edge or line) around which the fews are arranged, you can’t read it — or more precisely you can make up whatever reading you like. But there’s a fair amount of evidence for pre-Columbian contact on a small scale.

    Clark, that’s the basic attitude of modern scientism. Among scientists, you can admit that things are still uncertain, but whenever you speak to the general public you have to insist that the currently popular hypotheses are absolute, graven-in-stone truth, and that previous hypotheses that have been disproved did not exist and must not be mentioned. (Try to get anybody in the scientific community to talk honestly about the global-cooling scare of the 1970s.)

    Pixelated, oh my. That’s very, very funny!

    Kenaz, please do write it! That soulds like a book worth reading.

    John, maybe it did. Sixty-five million years of geological change leaves few traces — and there were a couple of sharp global warming events in the Jurassic, too. Did the anthroposaurs burn too much oil?

    Galen, and of course that’s the most important point of all. We have only one example of a really complex technology, and speculating from a sample size of 1 is almost guaranteed to result in absurdity.

    Chris, if in fact high technology in previous cycles was limited to elite classes, that would explain why it didn’t survive well, since elite classes generally end up being exterminated once they become too inbred to be competent. As for the article — and the storm! — fascinating. I wonder why they didn’t want help.

    Twilight, those are all good points.

    Tolkienguy, the occult traditions would suggest the Lemurians were Melanesian — there’s a persistent claim that Lemurians were black-skinned, and indeed that sub-Saharan African cultures embody legacies from the Lemurian age.

    Michael, if anything, we’re the stupid ones — we have all this energy and all these resources, and use them so clumsily and wastefully.

    Roxana, I’m a little skeptical of the wormhole notion. Maybe instead a really sophisticated civilization would learn to go with the flow, expand during times of expansion, and contract gracefully during times of contraction.

  233. About these whispers from antiquity, I wonder about some writings from ancient times. Anthropologists and archeologists once talked about a Great Leap Forward about 50,000 years ago when Sapiens appeared to start acquiring modern behavioral attributes like the creation of art forms and innovation in tool technology. It appears like a transformation of human consciousness. Didn’t the Old Testament talk about something of the sort with Adam and Eve’s transformation after they ate the fruit in the Garden of Eden? Like the serpent said, their eyes were “opened”. (An aside; I haven’t read anything about a Great Leap Forward lately, but rather the opposite, that Neanderthal was our near equal, that Sapien’s achievements had their origins or maybe parallels in Neanderthal societies, maybe reflecting a desire for “wokeness” in our scientific community, a need to not appear bigoted towards our extinct relatives. But to my eyes, looking at the artifacts left by Neanderthals, they weren’t our equal, not remotely. It looks to me that we’re an evolutionary step upwards. But maybe I’m just retrograde)

    The Flood story in broad terms is an account of an environmental calamity where nearly everyone dies except a small band that becomes a new founding population from which everyone nowadays is descended. And, if you take some of the Biblical narrative at face value, we’re all of descent through two ancestors common to all of us, Adam and Eve. Haven’t geneticists been talking about just that sort of thing, you know, a mitochondrial Eve and a male counterpart, buried somewhere deep in prehistory? I haven’t read about that lately either. Maybe I’m behind the times.

    Anyway, seems reminiscent of historic events. I haven’t read all the commentary, just bits, but I see that other commenters just referred to them, like when the ice age ended, rising waters inundating rather suddenly places like the Black Sea basin which the Mediterranean suddenly spilled into. And parts of North America suffering many thousands of square miles of devastation when a huge lake of glacial meltwater broke through an ice or earthen barrier. Maybe those flood stories were memories of real events, resulting from the Ice Age winding down.

    I keep reading that geneticists see inherent in our collective DNA a genetic bottleneck where nearly everyone died off about 70,000 years ago. In any case we all appear to be descended from a small group of people like that founding population that survived the Biblical Flood.

    So maybe those old writings aren’t so cockamamie as the Greatly Educated say they are. And didn’t those ancient Jews come up with that notion that time had a beginning, as did the universe, and that the arrow of time has one direction, past to future, and that the process of Creation was exactly that, a stage by stage process? They seem to have made these points in some easy to read passages without all the mathematical theorizing and cosmological gobbledegook.

  234. @Tolkienguy
    There is also a theory that the Austronesians on Taiwan (who as you know are the pre-1600s original population of Taiwan before mainland Chinese started going there) are what is left of a larger Austronesian population that once inhabited parts of what are now southern China.

  235. I read Barry Fell’s America BC back in the 70s and was quite impressed. The daughter of a co-worker had read it too. “The archeology is great, but I studied hierglyphics in college and what he says about that is nonsense.” A few weeks later I ran into someone else who had read it. “Yeah, the hieroglyphics are great, but the archeology is BS. I studied that in school….”
    Since then, when I read a book that covers material that I don’t know, I pay very close attention any parts that overlap with what I do know.

  236. JMG,
    A faith in progress is definitely part of what is at work, but I think there is also a more general defense of the right of the professional managerial class to dictate truth free from input from their lessers and free from correction. The elimination of error correction for elite decisions seems to me to be a major hallmark of recent decades.
    There has been a general ossification in the sciences due to the older scientists (the ones whose funerals are what science progresses by according to Kuhn) having much more power over the younger ones than was formerly the case. Lee Smolin discusses this in his dissection of string theory as an obstacle of unprecedented duration in modern physics in The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next. (In the past, key theories were either proven or disproven within a few years. String theory has been around for decades and has yet not been tested at all.)
    My memory of childhood (back in the 60s) is that the sense of progress was much stronger then and around 1980 was replaced to a fair degree and more over time by There Is No Alternative (TINA).
    Of course, our wise and beneficent overlords have many arrows in their quiver.
    And the exact reason(s) why the Gatekeepers of Acceptable Truth refuse to see certain things does not change the value in our exploring them.

  237. Matthias Gralle #228: I didn’t see Wengrow’s *Civilization* on Scribd but I was able to scan through his book *On the Origin of Monsters.* He’s definitely a deep thinker who draws from a wide range of disciplines, and I think he makes some excellent points. I was also impressed by the scope of his multicultural look at monsters and his sensitivity in recognizing that not all “monsters” looked monstrous to the people who created them.

    But he still appears stuck on the idea that Sumer represented The Beginning of Civilization, whereas I think if anything Sumer was a re-establishment of civilizations cut down by climate changes, barbarians, natural disasters, diseases or any of the other things that bring down populations of people.

    In any event, his tracing of the way composite human/animal figures exploded across a wide stretch of the world over a fairly short period is great and the book was definitely worth a read. Thanks!

  238. @TooSad, I think you’re on point for this post… Marketing is technology, after all, and that is the apocalypse we’re being sold!

    It looks bad for oh, about the next ten minutes, but I’ll bet my last deflationary dollar The Rhombus of Total Subjugation isn’t coming (that’s a The Mitchells vs. the machines joke… Your kids might know it, they watched it at my kids’ school during the heatwave because they were all sitting in the dark to stay cool, anyway) because as many have pointed out upthread,
    we’re out of resources and brain to make it happen. We can’t even build cement that lasts for ten years, let alone a wall of infinite length to contain humanity (or a shorter one, to contain Mexican children…). Last I checked, the Western powers down there in the Southern Ocean hasn’t bothered to even get their vaccines (5% in Australia?), let alone enforce it. Here, we are all good little citizens (BC); 75% of people over 12 are vaccinated, but they lifted restrictions yesterday and waived needing proof to go without masks – Scouts honour only! – so if they think it wouldn’t work here, of all places…

    And smrtphones can be destroyed by a cup of water (sorry, Mitchell’s spoiler. I know a lot of people here were definitely going to rush out and watch that. Don’t worry, it’s Columbia, not Disney 😎)- or keyboards with spit tea, as so often seems to happen. May I offer you a cuppa, sister?

  239. Robert Matthiesen, There seems so have been speculation throughout the ancient world about where the Carthaginians had their alleged secret colonies, or trading posts. Diodorus apparently repeated a tale of Carthage having a large island in the Atlantic. I don’t remember where I read the blown across the ocean story, but I want to say it comes from Polybius, whom I haven’t yet read, alas. A native American friend once told me that, yes Phoenicians had landed in North America and their descendants are living now in Kentucky. Maybe so, who knows?

  240. @Roxana @JMG

    If Mathematics are abstraction of patterns in nature. And said Mathematics works. Then as a language in understanding the Cosmos it is seems magical.

    Perhaps past Civilizations were Magitek. That is they used energies that were more advanced than fossil fuels to power their Civilizations.

    I don’t know if this is fake but there are certain hieroglyphics at Abydos that depict modern day technology or appear to:

    Perhaps our type of civilization happened before given how the Laws of Physics and Chemistry hasn’t changed.

    And then there was a reset that restarted the process.

    Anyway for such a vast universe its terribly strange for all the drama to occur here on this earth in terms of life.

  241. Tolkienguy, the occult traditions would suggest the Lemurians were Melanesian — there’s a persistent claim that Lemurians were black-skinned, and indeed that sub-Saharan African cultures embody legacies from the Lemurian age.

    Hmm, this is one place where the Occult tradition would roughly line up with the Officially Accepted History (which is that Insular Southeast Asia was mostly Melanesian until about 5,000 or so years ago).

    Interestingly, even in the parts of Insular SEA populated by Austronesian-descended people (which, again, is pretty much all of it outside Papua), there are isolated populations of dark-skinned, Melanesian-looking people, generally living in highlands and other out-of-the-way places. The Spanish and Portuguese called these people Negrito (a word roughly meaning “little black person”) and thought they came from Africa, though modern scholars tend to see them as isolated remnants of SEA’s former Melanesian population. They generally speak languages related to (or the same as) the Austronesian languages around them. The only exception to this is the Andaman Islands, an island chain west of Indonesia which is inhabited by people who look very similar to the Melanesians thousands of miles to the east, and whose native tongues appear unrelated to any other language anywhere else in the world (though this is the case with a lot of Melanesian groups).*

    Of note: we have no evidence of Melanesian “civilization” in anything like how we would define the term-no written language (or evidence of one in the past) or native agriculture. The various Melanesian ethnic groups appear to have lived a mostly tribal, hunter-gatherer existence until the Austronesians (who had oceangoing catamarans, domestic animals, and rice agriculture) began to visit their islands. Due to their superior technology, Austronesian culture appears to have been extremely influential among the Melanesians, to the point of many of them replacing their native tongues with Austronesian-derived languages. If the ancestors of the Melanesians had any sort of advanced technology, they certainly fell very far.

    *One Andamanese group became famous for mercilessly killing any outsiders who dared to set foot on their island. Europeans named it “Sentinel Island” because of the inhabitant’s watchfulness, and never messed with them-even today nobody has had any sustained contact with the Sentinelese, and we know nothing of their culture or language. A few years ago, a Christian missionary named John Chau decided he was going to put his life on the line to save the Sentinelese from eternal hellfire, and met the same fate as all other intruders on Sentinel Island.

  242. There is a rather large religious group whose defining myth involves a lost civilization from pre-Colombian America. And their lore confirms the presence of horses from this period! (which someone mentioned above)

    Several widely-separated Austronesian groups share a myth in which their ancestors displaced a race of diminutive, black-skinned, magical people.

    The recent discovery of H. floresiensis may be relevant. Note that the Hawaiian version credits these people not so much with a high civilization, but with excellence in various crafts.

  243. Pygmycory

    There’s the ancient lightbulb theory.

    Note: Whoever wrote the wiki entry doesn’t buy that it’s a lightbulb, ascribing the notion to pseudohistorians(which must be like conspiracy theorists). Said person thinks the ceiling was washed.

    Ever tried to wash heavy soot off a surface? It doesn’t come off that easily. You have to scrub and scour, and it still leaves a residue if the surface is porous.

  244. @JMG:
    Well, thank you for the very short form, then. 🙂

    Also, regarding the tomb lighting question, I was wondering if perhaps a mantle system was involved somehow, having happened to see something on those the other day, and in the course of doing some research for that I happened, while looking into materials they’d have had available, across this:
    “Natron was added to castor oil to make a smokeless fuel, which allowed Egyptian artisans to paint elaborate artworks inside ancient tombs without staining them with soot.”
    So… someone editing Wikipedia thought they had an answer, at least, but there doesn’t appear to be a citation for that detail. Digging back into the history of the page, apparently that was added all the way back in 2006, and persisted through all the revisions since.
    In trying to research this further, I eventually found what appeared to be a dead website which, fortunately, had some snapshots on the Wayback Machine:
    That doesn’t, that I noticed, explicitly mention the soot production or lack thereof, but it did seem interesting to me.
    I’m still not sure where the claim of it being a smokeless fuel, or fuel system, came from, though. I _did_ also find a mention here, with identical wording:
    Whether that’s pulling from Wikipedia or what Wikipedia pulled from, though, there doesn’t seem to be any further information on it there.

  245. @JMG @Chris

    “Chris, if in fact high technology in previous cycles was limited to elite classes, that would explain why it didn’t survive well, since elite classes generally end up being exterminated once they become too inbred to be competent.”

    That’s why Meritocracy is a far more stable class system. Of course the Civil service exam of the Mandarin Class in China worked to a certain extent but didn’t properly train or inculcate them in the arts of ruling.

    Only skill in regurgitation. Hence their inability to adapt when the pressure tests at the ends of various dynastic cycles and when the Opium War commenced to test the Imperial Dynasties at those times.

    There needs to be exams that is the best simulations of actually being an Official dealing with various events just like war game simulations do their best to simulate the strategic situations of War.

    Can’t be an Elite unless one has sufficient charisma and skill in big picture thinking. Because real life will never stop throwing curve balls.

  246. Beekeeper. Thanks very much for the recommendation.

    I’m rather lazy about my studies but the Anglo Saxons are a fascinating bit of history., moreso than their contemporaries the Viking who while also a fascinating and quite alien people are a bit overplayed by the media and writers theses days caveat of course Jackson Crawford

  247. Re elephants in ancient times: I’d forgotten about Hannibal. A little googling threw up the following reply to a question:

    HANNIBAL’S elephants were African, but not the African Elephant we think of today. At his time, and for some centuries after, the African Forest Elephant was common from Ethiopia to Morocco. It was smaller than the Indian Elephant and just as trainable. It was used in the armies of a number of nations beside Carthage including Ptolemaic Egypt, Nubia (modern Sudan), Abyssinia, Numidia (modern Tunisia and Algeria) and even Rome. Ancient authorities regarded it as inferior to the Indian Elephant, because it was smaller, but better than not having elephants at all. In a battlefield confrontation between the two the Africans would be expected to lose. However, in the most notable example, the battle of Raphia in 217 BC between the Ptolemaic Kingdom with its African Elephants and the Seleucid Kingdom using Indian Elephants, the Ptolemaics won.
    — Nigel Phillips, Werrington, Peterborough

    Elephants eat a lot. Presumably only a wealthy community could afford them.

    Re Portolan Charts: They were made using compass bearings. If you look carefully at the example JMG provides, you might notice that the criss-cross lines are actually parallel.

    There’s another map-making technique that features criss-cross lines — the plane table. On a prominent spot place a level sheet of paper, and with a straight-edge take sightings to other prominent spots and draw lines on those bearings. Then go to the other prominent spots, sight back to get your bearings, and continue the process. You end up with the positions of prominent spots accurately to scale at the intersection of the bearings, and can fill in the details later. But these lines won’t be parallel like the Portolan Charts, they will be random, dictated by the locations of the features chosen.

  248. @TooSad — in times of trouble, I am helped by the substance of this:

    “When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened” — Winston Churchill

  249. More on thaumatropes and spin-wheels:

    Here is an article with examples of the device, probably used by children as a toy, that were excavated during a dig in the Middle East. The author, Gus W. van Beek, says that the device is of extreme antiquity, at least 4,000 years old.

    It was still used as a toy by children as late as the 19th and early 20th century. You can buy examples at living history museums such as Old Sturbridge Village and Plimoth-Pawtuxet (formerly Plimoth Plantations). See, for instance,

  250. John,

    The history of Roman indoor plumbing supports the notion that high technology in previous cycles was limited to elite classes. It wasn’t the average Roman Joe who had it.

  251. @JMG Re: cogs. I hadn’t noticed the profile of the teeth, but now I come to look at the reconstructions they. are exactly as you say – triangular. We only have the one example that I’m aware of so I suppose there might have been others with a different profile. However I wasn’t seriously suggesting that there was some kind of nascent industrial revolution going on in that time and place. Apart from anything else they had slavery and I suspect that it’s very hard to get a backer to invest in your machine that does the work of thirty men pumping water out of a silver mine, when you could simply buy 30 men to pump water out of a silver mine.

    @JMG and Rage monster:

    I came first encountered the concept of an intelligent dinosaur race occupying our environmental niche in 70s Dr Who, where they went by the name of Silurians. The original story by Malcom Hulke (an unusual individual all by himself) was actually not an ‘invasion by monsters’ story at all but a far more nuanced tale revolving around ‘what’s the ethical thing to do if your species has moved into a place and then suddenly the original owners who have been sleeping in a sub-basement all this time, wake up and want it back. Particularly if they are not unified but have factions – some want to fight, whereas some want to cooperate. Rather a lot to lay on a child of that era.

    It’s not an open thread and I’d normally hesitate to mention it, but in a fit of nostalgic googling to find pictures of the originals and the rather better recreations of recent years, I stumbled across a paper out of Cambridge called “The Silurian Hypothesis” which covers what remains we might be able detect from a civilisation from the deep past:

    Worth a read I think. A footnote reveals that it is named after the Dr Who original although there’s no mention of Malcom Hulke in the citations, sadly enough.

  252. @JMG and Oilman2,

    Oilman said: “When (assuming it is true) we went to the moon, why wouldn’t Russia have simply forged onward to Mars? Or us for that matter? Allegedly, we made many moon missions – Mars is just more time in transit and a larger ship. Orbital math has been licked long ago…”

    I think you’re seriously underestimating the difference in complexity between the Apollo program and the various hypothetical Mars-missions. There isn’t just the need for provisions and a life-support system that will last 18 or 20 months instead of ten days, plus higher speeds for interplanetary trajectories; you’re also looking at the huge complexity of launching a return rocket from Mars, whose escape velocity is 5.03 km/sec as compared with 2.38 km/sec for the Moon. (And in the space engineering field they talk about “the tyranny of the rocket equations”) which is a figure of speech meaning that linear increases in a rocket’s speed require exponential increases in its mass.

    Think about the cost and difficulty of assembling an interplanetary rocket here on Earth and getting it ready for launch. Now consider how challenging it would be to land such a rocket, fully fueled and ready to blast off for the return journey, onto Mars. This has not even been accomplished for a robotic sample return mission, despite huge amounts of talk and planning and money shelled out on R&D. It would be much, much harder for a man-rated rocket. (And this is why some of the more crackpottish plans like Mars One omit the return voyage entirely!)

    Contrariwise, I think that the radiation problem is surmountable. The O’Neill cylinders which you mentioned were designed as a permanent habitation in interplanetary space, where anyone in them would get the full 0.5 Sievert/year of cosmic rays, meaning they reach the 1 Sv “lifetime limit” after two years… and again after four years, and after six, and so forth; after a decade or two the inhabitants would be dropping like flies. An 18 or 20-month Mars mission, on the other hand, or a moon base whose crew is replaced at least annually, or a lunar or martian base built inside a lava tube so the astronauts are only on the surface for a few hours a day – all those are doable within the 1 Sv limit that NASA has set for itself.

    So I continue to believe that the reason none of these things have been done is that post-Apollo NASA simply no longer has the resources for projects on that scale, and that what resources it does have are being squandered by wasteful vendors whom the leadership are too weak to hold accountable. (Since I agree with your broader thesis about the Long Descent, I do not expect this to change).

    (And if you’re wondering why I seem to have so much knowledge/opinions about the relative feasibility of different space missions, it’s because I spent a few years studying astronautical engineering in college before coming to realize that space exploration is a wave that has already broken and is heading out to sea, and deciding to switch to a more practical field of knowledge).

  253. Speaking of great cycles/ages and civilizational resets – my son plays the online game “Rust”, where you start naked on the beach with a rock, and must gather resources and build tools, clothes, shelter, etc. Eventually players join together and create large clans with impressive equipment, and have wars with neighboring clans. It’s kind of fun to watch.

    Anyway, periodically the mods who run the various servers do a “server wipe” to reset everything. Everyone has to start over and build anew. Otherwise it would get boring as no one could compete with the big groups.

    I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that the mods who run this joint may have a similar program……

  254. @ Robert Mathiesen

    Wikipedia and a few other sources mention the theory that Phoenicians sailed to
    America but evidence that is genuine is scanty to say the least.

    Most boats of the Phoenicians and Romans were not really designed for deep sea
    voyages. A merchant sailor might have managed it but getting back home would
    have been exceptionally dicey especially given how stormy the Atlantic can be.
    Sadly any written records that would have recorded their adventures have vanished.

    Thor Heyerdahl was trying to prove that contact between South America and Polynesia
    was possible but in my opinion he went about it backwards. Given what fantastic
    sailors the Polynesians were, they would have been the ones to make such voyages.
    I think it’s quite likely some trading went on between the populations but when and
    how much is difficult to say. Being non-literate cultures no written records of that
    trade survives either.

  255. So, I bought my son one of those 80-in-1 electronics kit toys from the second hand store years ago. He’s finally old enough to be interested.

    Today, he set it up in the radio configuration, which requires setting out the antennae and grounding it on a piece of metal. He chose the fresh water intake hose on the toilet, and we picked up the local HAM operators and a French station, and for some reason, I blame all y’all.

  256. All this talk of Roman indoor plumbing reminds me of the ruins of Skara Brae: a group of houses on the remote Orkney Islands (north of Scotland) which had stone hearths and an indoor sewer system, which have been dated to around 3,000 BC. Some ‘mystery balls’ were also found on the site. A brief write-up is here:

    I find two things of interest: (1) the Orkneys aren’t exactly your typical site of ‘high civilization’ (a group of rocky windswept isles in the middle of nowhere), and (2) the ‘technology’ of the Skara Brae houses is waaaay ahead of the standard “black house” (taigh dubh) that Scottish highlanders lived in well into the 19th century (so much for ‘progress’, my dears!).

  257. Hello JMG,
    I think there are plenty of explanations regarding sooting (e.g. using a soot-capture-screen) or free-form-aluminium. Unexplained artifacts are i.m.h.o. usually a limitation of our current imagination.

    I think that most of the really interesting technologies of ancient cultures are those that left no physical trace thanks to no pollution/waste/artifacts.

    There are lots of legends related to people collaborating with animals and plants in synergistic ways to achieve high levels of well-being. E.g. people working with crows to harvest nuts and acorns, houses made of living trees, music and dance with all of life.
    Those techniques and technologies are not highly valued in our times, since there is no product to sell.

    I once met a Russian guy who was a professional elk tamer. More is possible than we usually imagine. In my dreams of an ecosophic future, we will live abundant lives while respecting ecological limits. Working with plenty of plants and animals together.

    Which synergistic multi-species relationship/technique is most inspiring to you?

    Have a great day,

  258. @Roger: The Great Leap Forward isn’t much talked about nowadays because it has become clear how difficult it is to exclude the possibility of earlier artwork. Suddenly, artwork in Southeastern Asia and Australia was discovered that is a bit older and just as sophisticated as the well-known European cave art. Who knows where even older artwork may be hiding? For that matter, traces of ochre in South African finds of 90 000 years ago are sometimes considered the first traces of art, though that is hard to prove. The simple truth is that paint washes off, and carved bone and fibres decay easily. Since some skulls of 150 000 or even 200 000 years ago are indistinguishable from modern ones, it is foolhardy to affirm that those humans, when alive, did not produce artwork.

    I used to work next door to Mark Stoneking, one of the authors on that 1987 “Mitochondrial Eve” paper. It is important to keep in mind that by simple random inheritance, any population, even a population of millions of individuals who have never gone through a bottleneck, will all be descended from the same female (through mitochondria) and the same male (through the Y chromosome) – even though that female and that male were only two of millions of individuals in their time (and might have looked quite different from their modern descendants)! It is only a question of how far back you have to go for those mitochondrial and Y chromosome lines to coalesce, and 200 000 years would be rather short. This is the same as stating that all living humans are genetically very similar, more similar than the chimpanzees in a single band. So it does look as if we went through at least one bottleneck in the last 200 000 years.

    I am a Christian, and I choose to interpret the story about Man (Adam) and Life (Eva) and their son Breath (Abel) allegorically, not historically. While the story of Noah might be based on one of the multiple historical flood events (through the older story of Utnapishtim), again it is important to me through a spiritual and allegorical interpretation.

  259. @Tolkienguy, as far as I know, agriculture was discovered in Papua New Guinea independently of other places, and just as long ago as anywhere else, maybe 10 000 years ago.

  260. Roger, I’ve long considered the entire body of traditional myth — the Bible very much included — as the collective memory of our species, going way back. Of course it has to be read with an eye toward the requirements of oral transmission — vivid symbols are good methods of information storage, but they need to be interpreted — but given a willingness to do that, there’s a lot to be learned from all of it.

    Jessica, a sensible strategy! It’s precisely because I was very familiar with the history and use of Ogham when I encountered Fell’s work that I don’t take it very seriously. Your suggestion that the collapse of error correction for the managerial classes strikes me as extremely useful, by the way, and string theory is a great example of the process at work: the reason it hasn’t been tested is that it was pretty clearly designed to be untestable, and the mere fact that this makes it invalid as a scientific hypothesis bothers none of the physicists who’ve build their careers on it.

    Info, well, of course — the only reason all the drama is supposed to be here and here alone is that our local drama queens and kings don’t like being upstaged.

    Tolkienguy, none of that surprises me. Remember that by the Lemurian hypothesis, a whole cycle of civilizations rose and fell in Sundaland and the surrounding regions of Asia (including a lot more territory that used to be above water) tens of thousands of years ago, but that this cycle ended in ruins in the usual way, made worse by rising sea levels and the drowning of ancestral lands. The survivors would have been shell-shocked and beleaguered, and when the Austronesian peoples spread through the region, their culture and languages would quickly have become dominant. Doubtless the same thing happened in Africa, but the Lemurian survivors there intermarried with the local peoples and — again, if the traditional account is to be believed — passed on a fair bit of Lemurian tradition to sub-Saharan African cultures.(The Atlantean influence came much later, partly by way of Egypt and partly by way of West African communities that had trade and cultural contacts with the Atlantean society going way back.)

    Reese, that’s an interesting hypothesis! I’d like to see it tested — but if it tests out, that’s one mystery solved. (And if it doesn’t, note that they’ve admitted that there’s a lack of soot which requires explanation…)

    Info, meritocracies always start out training people in the art of ruling and end up training people in some approved set of irrelevant scholarship. That’s what happened to the bureaucracies of the Roman, Byzantine, and British empires, and of course it’s also most of the way along the curve here as well.

    Robert, many thanks for this. I definintely want one. 😉

    John, a fine point!

    Adwelly, the thing that fascinates me is that the Romans had all the ingredients for an industrial revolution except the Faustian mentality — and they just kept on using slaves instead. As for the Silurian hypothesis, every reference to it I’ve ever seen cited Dr. Who, though they didn’t reference the screenwriter.

    Oilman2, yes, I saw that! A ray of common sense shining through the smoke…

    Athelstan, fair enough. It’s not a subject I’ve studied in depth.

    Twilight, the great thing about the game we’re playing is that the rules are set up so that the players, in the process of playing, hit the reset button themselves!

    Pixelated, I plead guilty as sin! 🙂

    Ron, another good point. I wonder how much larger the Orkneys were before the seas rose.

    Goran, fermentation gets my vote for most inspiring. I’ve always been fond of the little life forms — in my first pass through college I nearly decided to become a botanist focusing on mosses, and the tiny ecosystems moss patches create in and around themselves — and the way that human beings and an assortment of yeasts, fungi, and bacteria have mutually adapted to keep each other fed, producing sourdough bread, kimchi, miso, mold-ripened cheeses, and many other tasty things in the process, has always struck me as a fine model for inter-species cooperation in the ecotechnic future.

  261. @JMG:

    I keep one in my portable magic box. Mine has no saw-teeth, so the hum it makes is a bit less complex, but I like it that way.

    I got mine from the museum store at Old Sturbridge Village (, which should be reopening online again in a few more months.

  262. Ron M. @272 There are reasons why so many cultures preserve memories of a long lost golden age. I think the notion that hunter gatherer existence is any such thing represents a WASPy misreading of history. Louis Mumford developed a (highly speculative I think, I know of no supporting evidence) theory that the first cities arose when well armed nomadic tribes moved in on hitherto peaceful neolithic settlements, confiscated the grain and established dominance.

    Someone please correct me if I am wrong, but I gather that in early Egypt, first millennium after Narmer/Menes or so, there were temple complexes for worship and storage of grain but no cities that we would recognize as such. Also no money until the Persian conquerors imposed it.

  263. JMG: One of the things I noticed when writing *Power of the Poppy* was that Papaver setigerum (the wild ancestor of P. somniferum) entered into a symbiotic relationship with humanity immediately after the dawn of agriculture. The Opium Poppy produces considerably more morphine alkaloids than its wild ancestor, both in its sap and its thicker pod.

    The pod has grown so thick, in fact, that it has a hard time seeding itself naturally and needs to be cultivated. (Left alone wild P. somniferum start reverting back toward the setigerum type). But thanks to that cultivation P. somniferum is now found on every continent save Antarctica.

    I don’t know if anybody has yet compared the domestication of plants and animals to symbiotic relationships throughout biology. But it appears to me to map pretty well onto that model.

  264. @ DavidJones #117 – by your reckoning, it does not look like the “Doctors” get much time to get to work… 😉

  265. @JMG ROFL. Okay, one more, I promise (I’m probably lying) – dowsing!

    I have a friend who installs rainwater collection systems, the fancy kind that you can hook up to your home taps and it’s all up to building code and everything. He also installs wells, but far fewer of them, because most of his work is on the gulf islands where there is no groundwater. He was reaaaallllllyyy busy last year, fortunately for a lot of people and their immediate neighbours. (He also installs composting toilet systems to legal building code).

    He is very much a scientific materialist, though, and was once telling me a story about these silly clients who had tried dowsers first to find a well. The first hit, they dug down and got a saltwater intrusion – worthless. The second hit, they dug down and hit the sewer line. So they called him to do the rainwater system instead. I pointed out that it seems that the dowsing worked, they always hit water… they just seemed to have not calibrated for “fresh”. He got real quiet about that.

  266. Sorry, this is off topic, but I can’t resist. A headline that reads: “Is it worth rebuilding in a city that could be underwater in 30 years?” I had to read the headline a second time to believe it. Is somebody slipping ‘red pills’ (reference to The Matrix) into some MSM outlet staffers food? The narrative of collapse is getting legs!

  267. Hi John Michael,

    I wondered that too about declining the offer of assistance. A couple of thoughts spring to mind in this regard:
    – The neighbours wanted to avoid any future social obligation to me (which I wouldn’t have called upon);
    – There is perhaps a certain awkwardness in seeing ones choices proven to be not as optimal or reliable as previously thought. And I’d like to remind everyone, that making no choice and accepting whatever is considered the norm, is actually making a choice;
    – The nearby mountain range in the article was hit far harder than here (and there are more people living in that mountain range than here) and the outage was not for a few days, but for many weeks – with a side serving of uncertainty as to when the power would be restored. People can write off a few days if there is some certainty, but things are different again when the days turn to weeks, and then the weeks to months; and
    – A hunch suggests that the sort of people who choose to live in this sparsely populated mountain range, have a culture of individualism.

    There are probably more insights to be gleaned, but I tend to lean more towards the ‘this inconvenience will be over soon’ explanation.

    Hey!!!!!! In breaking wombat news: I happened to notice yesterday that petrol was $1.76 per litre (3.8 litres to a gallon, so that works out to $6.69 per gallon). That price is as high as I have ever seen in this corner of the continent. I heard some rumour a few weeks ago about Singaporean refineries, turns out that the rumour was possibly true…



  268. I’m wondering about the survivability of the mentioned level of radiation in space. My information is obsolete, and my understanding of the medical effects of radiation is influenced by a mugwump dissident, Petr Beckman.

    He ran Linus Pauling’s lab for him, until he got fired for heresy after proving that there was too such a thing as an overdose of Vitamin C. After establishing that the main action of Vitamin C is hormetic, stimulating the system by challenging it with a low dose of a toxin and sending damaged or old cells into apoptosis, he went looking for other hormetics that might be good for us to use at least a little more of, and like a Bad Boy, focused on horribleterribleawful ionizing radiation. He proved, at least to his own satisfaction, that radiation levels at least six times typical background would be optimal for health – on the average, leaving open the idea that some people might be more sensitive. he suggested that most or all of the tissue damage done by radiation would self-repair – most of the time – until the total level went very high, The original AEC rules for radiation exposure were based on linear extrapolation from the experiences of people exposed to nuclear weapons testing, or the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Beckman thought that the damage done is not linear until you get out of normal exposures into the Uh-Oh range. He predicted that exposures of up to half a Rem per day, although too much to be good for you, would not produce a significant amount of illness or death.

    That’s one of the things I don’t know. Rem are easy to measure, because they focus on gamma rays. Sieverts are supposed to include hard to measure stuff like neutrons, where their speed is as important as their number. Is there now an easy way to measure exposure in Sieverts, or is this swank to discourage the revolting peasants from monitoring their own radiation exposure? (In a hot environment which is mostly gammas, one Sievert is 100 Rem. That’s a lot, probably enough to make you sick if you get it all at once.)

    I had never heard the interesting finding about cognitive decline resulting from heavy radiation exposure. I don’t think Beckman knew about it. For interplanetary travel, ordinary solar and cosmic rays are just one of the routine hazards; take a look at Heinlein’s novel Podkayne of Mars for a dramatic but accurate explanation of solar flares and what a passenger spaceship would have to do about them.

  269. @JMG “if anything, we’re the stupid ones — we have all this energy and all these resources, and use them so clumsily and wastefully. ”

    I believe it was Buckminster Fuller who said “Oil should be a million dollars a barrel considering how amazing it is”. It was in relation to his concept of energy slaves. That we burn it up on ludicrous/pointless things will be the foundation for the stories about how foolish we have been.

    Some what related, I was talking with my brother yesterday and the price of fuel came up. He was puzzled as to why the price was going up. “It’s not like there is a supply limit on this stuff. It is still being pumped as fast as ever.”. I didn’t have the time to go over the concept of peak oil and the coming oil shock but it was interesting to see folks who still believe that we are nowhere even close to physical limits.

  270. @JMG

    “meritocracies always start out training people in the art of ruling and end up training people in some approved set of irrelevant scholarship. That’s what happened to the bureaucracies of the Roman, Byzantine, and British empires, and of course it’s also most of the way along the curve here as well.”

    I think even when it was started written exams were inferior and easily gamed by rote learners who are just good at recalling things and not much else.

    But simulating actually be a ruler of some sort. I don’t think existed as far as the written records show.

  271. Archdruid,

    The jury is out on that one, there’s plenty of debate about what caused the collapse of the indus valley civilization but no consensus.


    Very true, but we’ve only scratched the surface of the bronze age civilizations of ancient India. I have a feeling there’s a lot left to discover.

    Mary Bennett,

    I feel like “matriarchy” is the standard everytime we discover unexpected social order without clear indications of violence. Never does it occur to anyone that maybe if implements of violence were pointy sticks, then they probably wouldn’t still be around for us to find.

  272. Weilong, in terms of lost textile technology, you might want to go talk to some handweavers. There’s a fair number of us out there, and the things we’re doing on assorted types of unpowered looms aren’t the same as the ones being done on giant power looms by big companies. I’m not an especially good weaver, and I can and do use techniques on my little rigid heddle loom that the giant power looms just don’t do. Mostly techniques that use a lot of slow hand manipulations that I’m pretty sure would be impossible as well as silly on a big power loom. Spanish Lace, Brooks Bouquet, Soumak, Clasped Weft… I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the ‘lost’ techniques aren’t actually lost if you can find the right person.

  273. I am a high school teacher, and this post brought to mind a problem I often have with how our curriculum is set by the state and federal governments. We’re supposed to emphasize “21st century skills,” various technologies like coding and graphic design and various other computer based skills that will go the way of the dodo as soon as we start having an energy crisis.

    Assuming that some form of k12 education is something we’ll keep around as long as people keep popping out kids and we have some semblance of a functioning government (and I concede that maybe that is unfounded bias on my part), when are we going to make the switch to emphasizing things such as permaculture and resilience and skills that will actually help get us through the 21st century? Of course, that would require the government to stop selling the myth of progress.

    Hell, 90% of the teachers have no idea of our predicament, and look at me funny if I ever suggest things might not always be the way they are now. They’re still selling the get a four year liberal arts degree and sail into the middle class stuff (and I say that as one with a liberal arts degree, but knows that this path is no longer viable).

    The kids aren’t buying it though. They are very aware. They know how screwed up things are. Wish we gave them more tools to help them cope (I do what I can within the context of the economics classes I teach).

  274. Kenaz Filan said :”I don’t know if anybody has yet compared the domestication of plants and animals to symbiotic relationships throughout biology.”

    Michael Pollen gives a few interesting examples in The Botany of Desire. The fun part is where he talks about how the plants cultivated us by addicting us, tasting particularly delicious, or giving us pleasure so that we spread them around and diligently tend them, providing them fertilizer, water and pest protection. Tulips for example, were clever enough to convince us to put an entire society’s resources at them for nothing but visual beauty, and corn has convinced us to cultivate a huge proportion of the world’s arable land with nothing but itself by obliging us with a dizzying flexibility of uses.

    His Second Nature , especially such chapters as ‘The Sexual Politics of Roses’ delves more into the boundaries between symbiosis and parasitism (or slavery). I used the ‘Idea of a Garden’ chapter as a springboard to mine reclamation research. I revisited how the Clements-Gleason debates, and (ironically) how our culture’s adoption of the holism of Clements had led to an overly deterministic ‘if we can’t make it exactly the right sere it’s wrong’ approach to reclamation. I had thought Gleason had really won the debate for our (ecotechnic) purposes. In reality, it’s both/and, but nobody is allowed to say that…

  275. Robert, so noted! Thank you.

    Kenaz, humans and plants are good at that sort of cooperation. Compare the wild grass that maize is descended from with your next ear of corn on the cob.

    Pixelated, seriously funny.

    Ron, is common sense beginning to seep in despite it all? Many thanks for this.

    Chris, now I’m trying to figure out what wombats do with gasoline, Singaporean or otherwise. 😉

    John, have you considered experimenting on yourself?

    Michael, that’s really sad. It astonishes me that so many people haven’t yet noticed that the world isn’t flat.

    Info, any such simulation will simply reenact the prejudices of its designer. Testing people on their ability to study obscure texts and make sense out of them will at least guarantee that your bureaucrats know how to extract meaning out of badly written memos.

    Raymar, here we go again…

    Varun, so invasion by people who did know how to fight is at least a possibility.

    Dave, hang in there. My guess is that public schooling as we know it will crash and burn fairly quickly over the next couple of decades, but there will still be schools, and once the monoculture of the public school monopoly is broken there’ll be more room for useful skills and knowledge.

  276. info @ 286, about simulating being a ruler, I think that was what the cursus honorarum of the Roman Republic was for. A Roman who met the property qualification to run for office had to begin with the lower level offices, such questor and aedile before he could even think about the consulship. The property qualification was necessary because Roman officials were expected to spend a lot of their own money for the public benefit. The consuls for the year were automatically commanders of the legions if there was a war, which there nearly always was, and military service was pretty much required of young men of the wealthy classes.

    The genetic bottleneck of about 70,000BP has been connected by some scientists with a massive volcanic eruption in Sumatra, another of those huge underground volcanos like Yellowstone.

  277. Pixelated, Sexual Politics of Roses, is it? There is a reason rosarians call rose photography rose porn. Cute kittens and puppies ain’t got nothing on rose pix.

  278. @JMG

    “Info, any such simulation will simply reenact the prejudices of its designer. Testing people on their ability to study obscure texts and make sense out of them will at least guarantee that your bureaucrats know how to extract meaning out of badly written memos.”

    Darn it. I suppose the battlefield in real life is the closest thing to meritocracy in that case thereby avoiding the prejudices of its designer as much as possible.

    What about this?

    “The diesel-electric course is four months long, with a combination of simulator time ashore and sea time under war-like conditions while operating off the coasts of Norway and Scotland.[2] At most, six students will participate, under the tutelage of an instructor referred to as Teacher.[2] The course has four stages, the first of which is training on Dutch Walrus class submarine simulators at Den Helder.[2][4] The second stage, known as COCKEX (a corruption of the old COQC name plus the standard shorthand for exercise), takes the candidates to sea, where they practise the skills learned in the simulators, along with tactical safety training.[2][4] They return to the simulators for stage three, where they are taught both the tactical aspects (including rules of engagement, evasion measures, and interception procedures) and personnel management skills (including stress management, maintaining working conditions, and medical skills) of commanding a submarine, while learning other skills required for command.[2] On conclusion, the students return to sea for the ‘Cockfight’, where Teacher evaluates each submariner’s ability to command a submarine independently.[2] During this, the candidates will be run through multiple war-like exercises with little respite between each.[4] One example of the type of exercise, from the 2004 course, required the candidate to take their submarine into a harbour (simulating a naval base) to lay mines, with less than 6 metres (20 ft) of clearance between the fin and ferries passing overhead, and even less distance between the keel and the harbour floor, while a warship used active sonar to hunt for the submarine.[4]

    Students who fail the course are, in most cases, no longer permitted to serve on submarines in any capacity.[2][4] According to Commander Marc Elsensohn, Teacher for the 2004 diesel-electric course, the main reasons for failing are that the candidate regularly loses situational awareness, or shows a narrow focus or over-reliance on one tool or aspect of operations.[4] Making mistakes does not cause a student to fail automatically, as long as the mistake is recognised and corrected before the submarine is endangered.[5]

    If at any point during the training a candidate is withdrawn from training he will be nominated for boat or helicopter transfer and kept occupied until the transfer. Their bag is packed for them and they are notified of the failure when the helicopter or boat arrives. On departure they are presented with a bottle of whisky. A failure on Perisher means that the unsuccessful candidate is not permitted to return to sea as a member of the Submarine Service (although they are still allowed to wear the dolphin badge). They are, however, permitted to remain in the Royal Navy, moving into the surface fleet.”

    If a similar thing can be designed for the Civil Service. It would be good.

  279. Another whisper from antiquity again from the Old Testament and this from the Garden of Eden. Seems that life in the Garden as portrayed in the Bible was pretty good compared to life outside the Garden after Adam and Eve were expelled.

    Maybe the writers and maybe a whole lot of others were wondering why life as shepherds or farmers was so beastly hard. Maybe those ancient societies had whispers from their own antiquity, that being when people were hunters, chasing big game over vast grasslands during the long millennia of the last Ice Age and maybe even the time before. After all, as Mathias said, Sapiens is at least 200 thousand years old. And I hear that skulls in excess of 300 thousand years were found in Morocco that have some modern anatomical touches like tucked in faces and smaller noses than our archaic forebears even if these Moroccan skulls have still got elongated braincases. Looks like they were crossing the Sapiens threshold.

    The point is that maybe life as a hunter was pretty good with a material culture and states of health better than those of early farmers and herders. And maybe people three or four thousand years ago were aware of stories and traditions that said as much. Grain takes a ton of work to raise and harvest and even if a farmer can feed a lot more people using a given patch of land than a hunter could, meat is tons more nutritious than grain. I read that pre-agricultural people were a lot taller and more robust than those early farmers who suffered mightily from malnutrition and vitamin deficiency.

    I suppose that settled living does bring benefits like not worrying about being eaten by hyenas and does allow for specialization in lines of work. Which I suppose is more efficient than being a generalist where instead of being highly proficient in one thing you’re a plug in everything.

    But maybe we’ve gone a wee bit overboard with this thrust towards specialization and expertise. I only say this because modern-day specialists or experts in multiple areas haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory of late, for example, thinking it’s a good idea not only to do viral gain of function research but to fund such research in China. Only an “expert” would be so absurd. Even if modern-day experts are a mile deep, they’re only an inch wide. At least that’s how they look to me.

    So maybe this is an argument for taking a step or two back, that is, to consider ways of doing things where people might not be such inside-the-box thinkers, where they don’t have to conform so stringently to dictates of professional boards and colleges that oversee what they say and write and even think. Maybe a world of experts that are only a half a mile deep but a whole lot wider and that don’t disdain the exercise of simple common sense. And experts with a more humble demeanor who would never dream of canceling (ruining) somebody for having divergent views.

  280. I think Robert Mathiesen has touched on the language aspects either in this post, or perhaps another. Having lived in China and seeing how language influenced thinking there, and with my wife being Russian and noticing how language influences her, I was curious, do you or anyone, think English has progress baked into the language? Meaning, is it likely that the words we chose and the sentences we construct based on our grammar in English encourage us to think in progressive ways? Especially when related to technology? Perhaps this is common with language, as languages evolve over time and certainly English has done so over just the past two hundred years, and will continue so.

  281. JMG, in your reply to Goran, you mentioned you almost decided to become a “botanist focusing on mosses”, which would have made you a bryologist. Have you read the book “Gathering Moss: A Natural Cultural and Cultural History of Mosses” by Robin Wall Kimmerer? She is a PhD bryologist who happens to be Native American, and a rather traditional one at that. In her book, she not only presents the science of mosses accessibly for the lay reader, but also relates that mosses have what could only be called a suite of survival strategies, and presents them in a way that we might learn from, even emulate. Her slim volume is absolutely captivating, and seems far longer than it is.

    6 -7 years ago, I had an earth-shattering insight that I had always hated my given name, and realized I needed a new name pronto. On impulse, I pulled my copy of “Gathering Moss” off my bookshelf, flipped about in it, and quickly came across a sentence – “The selection on one’s name is a crucial factor of self determination”. In that instant I choose my nickname of “Moss”.

    (And you and I met at the potluck, where I introduced myself as Moss, and learned that you knew another Moss on the West Coast who resembled me!).

    Anyway, if you haven’t read “Gathering Moss”, you’re in for a treat.

    —Lunar Apprentice

  282. Renaissance Man – #195

    You said: “it becomes easier for me to deliberately remember that there have been other, previous cultures and civilizations which have achieved a very high degree of complexity and built magnificent tools and monuments without the use of oil, and therefor to envision a world without oil that is not perforce nasty, brutish, and short.”

    I would hazard that, although civilisations often achieve a very high degree of complexity, they must do this by achieving a very high concentration of resources. It does not follow at all that lack of complexity is what produces a “a world… that is… perforce nasty, brutish, and short.” Rather, I find it likelier that conditions of the “nasty, brutish and short” kind are produced at the edges of the periphery from which a concentrating and complexifying civilisation draws more and ever more resources to itself (and by the same token, away from those who were previously enjoying their abundant presence in simple forms).

    That is to say, while the favoured centre of a civilisation is certainly a place from which to enjoy a life that is lovely, satisfying and long, there are many others. The place most heartily to be feared and avoided, though, is the periphery and hinterlands supporting the civilisation itself.

  283. Hi John Michael,

    All shall be explained in due course. In the meantime, it might assist matters if I explained that wombats are our totem animal and by the sheerest of coincidences the English band who took on their namesake just also happens to be one of my favourites. I never said this journey would be easy! 😉

    But I’m super curious to learn of your views on the current oil situation. As a additional hint:Like you, I never thought that the problem went away to the magical (sic) land of elsewhere where unicorns dance around in shade and warmth of the never ending summer months.



  284. JMG – The existence of the Klein Vision Aircar is no surprise, as you show in your response. The part of the article that I found stunning was this: “Morgan Stanley predicts the flying-car sector could be worth $1.5 trillion by 2040.” The car cost $2 million to develop, but I’m sure that’s multiples of the cost to manufacture the next dozen. If they cost $1M each, then that market assumes 1.5 million vehicle sales! If they cost $100,000 each, we’re talking 15 million vehicles. (By comparison Tesla sold ~0.5 million cars in 2020. Toyota sold about 2 million.) I’d love to see the assumptions and calculations that went into that Morgan Stanley forecast.

  285. @ pygmycory #289 and weilong

    Have you read Virginia Postrel’s book The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World?

    It is stunning and fascinating. The chapter on medieval mechanized spinning and weaving is worth several books instead of a mere chapter.

    And yeah, she starts off with (IIRC) a chapter on how an archaeologist misinterpreted Cretan symbols. He thought they were turrets as in defending the castle. He looked at them upside down. They were pieces of weaving.

  286. @Robert Gibson @Dennis: Associated with this, but even more damning, it’s hard not to notice that almost every corporation and other fictitious entity has systematically strip-mined legitimate customer service and customer satisfaction in every regard. They don’t even pretend to be anything but win-lose/predatory anymore.

    From airlines and others removing perquisites; to rewriting contracts unilaterally with no opt out (except to be cut out of the feed, in some cases); to refusing to allow you to cancel service (having this problem with ADT security lately); to simply shaking you down with bogus charges (many cable companies and AT&T); to … well, the list goes on. If THAT accelerating trend doesn’t give one a clue we are going down the toilet, I don’t know what does. Reminds me of a very deep quote, which was originally written as a comment on third world dysfunction but now, as should be apparent to all, perfectly describes the enthusiastic arc of America:

    “Rent-seeking not only does not generate new product, it actually slows down economic growth…All that talent is devoted to stealing things, instead of making things…”  -Angus Deaton, Nobel winning economist

    When I went to business school, only a few decades back, the research showing the importance of keeping customers loyal and happy was heavily promoted. I remember being told that for every seriously unhappy customer a business lost, they could expect to lose many more, as unhappy customers influenced at least FIFTY other decision-making consumers. But it is glaringly obvious these days that the vast majority of companies don’t really care at all about that anymore — and most aren’t even subtle in their contempt for customer satisfaction and their own reputation. It is ALL about next quarter’s numbers – by hook or by crook.

  287. Info, we’ll have to wait for the next war to see how well that program works.

    Roger, that’s a common belief these days, yes.

    Prizm, a subject for an entire post!

    Apprentice, no, I hadn’t heard of that book — thanks for the heads up. I’ll see if the local library system has a copy.

    Chris, I’ll have a little to say about the oil situation next week and more to say in an upcoming post. Meanwhile, the unicorns are facing shortages of twinkle dust due to the rising price of the raw materials…

    Lathechuck, I want to know what they were smoking!

  288. gnat @ 303 in light of what you say about companies strip mining customer support there no longer exists any reason, none, to keep shopping anywhere we might not want to shop, e.g. Walmart, because of “somebody needs that job”.

    About not conforming to boards and colleges, etc. some of us think we ought not to have to conform to standards (sic) established by mass market advertising.

  289. To the Archdruid, the Great Khan, and the American division of the Horde—happy 4th of July! 🇱🇷

  290. Scotlyn says:
    July 3, 2021 at 4:50 pm
    @ DavidJones #117 – by your reckoning, it does not look like the “Doctors” get much time to get to work… 😉

    Ah well there may be a reason that a Doctor dominated empire doesn’t last long (2-3 hundred year for Babylon and Middle Kingdom Egypt) – because one feature of the “doctor mindset” (besides a Holism) is concern for the Other. So these empire let loads of other peoples in from other cultures which destabilise things eventually…as per middle kingdom and babylon

  291. Lathechuck@301, the Morgan Stanley CrazyQuote for $1.5 trillion future valuation of “Flying Cars” is due to an aggravating conflation of Flying Car with Urban Air Mobility (UAM.) There are indeed long-standing Flying Car projects; the Molt Taylor Aerocar of the 1940’s was the best and most-workable example. More-recent ones like Terrafugia are scattered about in various states of “coming real soon!” and have been for decades. What has gotten “things” (almost called them slime) like Morgan Stanley in a trillion-dollar tizzy are the UAM devices.

    UAMs are electric vertical takeoff or landing aircraft (eVTOL), designed to carry one to seven passengers. Somebody, somewhere, must have written some sort of article that convinced investors that the Next Big Thing would be electric (hey, climate-carbon-free yummy goodness, plus Progress!) multi-rotor devices wafting everyone over those horrible traffic jams caused by those horrible working-class retards in their old mini-pickups and tired dented Toyota Tercels. The idea has unfortunately taken off (pardon the pun) with the distinct push of entitled Silicon Valley Bigwigs like the owners of Google. Numerous eVTOL projects (Lilium, Wisk, Archer, Joby, Vertical, eHang, Volocopter, just to name a few) are all competing for investor dollars. Several of these projects are now funded by multi-billion dollar SPACs (Special-Purpose Acquisition Companies.) It’s really something to see; reminds me of the Monty Python sketch where the winner would be the first goofball to succeed in shooting himself in the head. The UAM folks are pumping out rendered videos, producing breathless “Reveals”, and hiring staffs of hundreds of people, telling everyone “Coming Real Soon Now!”, delicately balancing things so that they never quite demonstrate that the idea is unworkable, administratively impossible, and ultimately bogus, while of course gobbling down investment dollars like there’s no tomorrow. “Sustainable Aerial Mobility”, hah; delusions fueled by watching too many sci-fi movies.

    UAMs are, ultimately, complicated devices that will underperform compared to what’s already available: helicopters. And we already have a proof-case for how useful and workable Urban Air Mobility really is: the unfortunate demise of Kobe Bryant.

  292. Some more on the 4th of July, an excerpt from the “Luck, Chance and Coincidence” (1985) book by Steve Richards:

    “Of the American Presidents, both Fillmore and Taft died on 6 March — not a very startling coincidence. But Jefferson, Adams, and Monroe died on 4 July, and three deaths on the same day begins to leave us with some of Jung’s ‘numinous quality’. But that is not all. Two of these – Jefferson and Adams – not only died on the same day… but they died on the same day in the same year. Moreover, it was the same day of the year on which both of them had signed the Declaration of Independence…”

    That I got to read this book and this paragraph on the 4th of July is itself a synchronicity.

  293. Prizm, if I may, I really only speak English, so I have trouble comparing to things that haven’t already been translated for me. But – English is a hideous rule-flouting guttural mad bastard, agonizing for non-native speakers to learn. It allows poets to write “mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divy” and we get it, but dictionarians to insist we cut that out, or worse, give it funny misleading acronyms like AAVE. I think its future is in mixed condition.

  294. @ Lathechuck –
    Will this aircar not have to pass vehicle collision standards in the USA & Canada to be able to use the highways? That’s going to be problematic I imagine, based on the vehicles current geometry….

    Is it classified as ultralight? Or is a pilots license necessary? That is another hurdle…

    Just wondering…

  295. @ JMG & ALL

    We were talking about stuff yesterday and one of my younger friends brought up the solar micro-nova thing (or super X-flare, pick one) that people are currently mulling around, Have you followed this at all??

    Supposedly our little solar system passing through galactic dust triggers either a micro-nova or a super duper X-flare which wipes out lots and shifts the poles, and there is geologic evidence for this happening every 12-13000 years. . I haven’t dug into it yet…wondering if you guys had?

    That would be fairly cataclysmic and explain a lot if true.

  296. @Oilman2 #216

    I used to work at a company (now defunct) which was the last mobile phone manufacturer in Europe. They were very high-end; as my boss said, they made phones for people with more money than sense – for example, you could buy a phone whose case would match the leather upholstery of your Bentley.

    Every one of those phones was individually signed by the person who made it, and this was actually a selling point. They had customers who actually insisted on having their phones made by So-and-so. I guess if you’re going to pay £7000+ for a phone, this is what happens (that was entry-level, by the way).

    Yes, their customers were paying a stupid amount of money for what was essentially a generic phone in a shiny box, but it was also kind of cool.

  297. JMG

    Wondering if you think an ancient technology was used in the construction of Stonehenge, Avebury etc. I always found it hard to believe such monuments were created with ropes and logs used as rollers especially given the distances some of the stones had travelled.

  298. Hi John, many thank for the post!

    Have you seen the petition to “do not allow Jeff Bezos to return to Earth”?, it has now almost 150.000 signatures:

    Some people say: “this is the best way he could manage the building of the trillion humans civilization in our galaxy he wants to be the founder”

    There is a full change of perspective of the new space colonisation, in the past it was a matter of “luxury”, to expand the human-faustian capacity, to go to the space “because we can” (JFK), but now for the powerful people is not that we “want”, it is because we “need” to avoid the catastrophe of living without growth or even in decline on Mother Earth, all of them see as unavoidable; as Jeff Bezos said in 2018 “we have to leave this planet…”

    This is not a “desire”, but a “scape” as they consider the Earth will turn to a hell-hole they help very much to create. He said:

    “The alternative, if we stay on this planet, is not necessarily extinction. We can defend this planet, but the alternative is stasis. We will have to stop growing, which I think is a very bad future. It’s not the future that I want for my grandchildren or my grandchildren’s grandchildren.”

    The message of the SV tycoons is this kind of somber urge to colonise the space more or less just to survive; this is a paradigm shift far away from with the dreams of the old tales of space conquest from the begining of the XX century full of adventures.

    Time has changed


  299. Prizm and JMG:
    Prizm, your post about languages reminded me of a book I read many years ago: “The Alphabet and the Goddess: The Conflict between Word and Image”, by Leonard Schlain. It was about how literacy itself somehow “reprogrammed” the mind to think in ways that are different from the way that people without written language think. In his view, language influenced a shift from a more feminine (Goddess) way of thinking to a more masculine, i.e., patriarchal way of thought. The book interested me greatly. I’m not sure I’d agree with the masculine/feminine part now, but I do think there’s something to the idea that the use of written language, or of different languages, influences many aspects of our lives. I have been studying Scottish Gaelic for a long time, and it’s use of verb originating sentences (verb comes first, not the noun or pronoun) does seem to me to cause a difference in the way we think.

  300. Wow. Reading this blog post brought many tears to my eyes. I’m fascinated by these anomalies. I don’t have any meaningful sense of Deep Time but now want one. I feel this blog post can be a launching point to educating myself in History. I don’t have a specific goal of Deep Time but feel like that will come at some point. I have no idea if I will follow up on this feeling or if it will pass. Time will tell :). Thank you for bringing tears of joy to me today.

  301. It’s interesting reading this post and on the same day reading this list of innovations from Balaji Srinivasan “I’m not the first to observe this, but the speed and depth of innovation happening simultaneously in several fields is just not something current societal institutions can handle.”
    Zero knowledge
    Epic Metahuman
    Computer vision
    Virtual reality
    Startup cities
    GitHub Copilot
    mRNA vaccines
    CRISPR gene therapy
    Brain-machine interface
    Space 2.0
    Ubiquitous health trackers
    E2E encryption
    Digital gold

    While all of these are kinda neat, none can be produced in a renewable energy world, and few produced in an expensive oil world.

    It’s going to be interesting to see how much longer tech will proceed in their straight line listed above and how it might starve due to lack of affordability by the masses.

    I just finished King in Orange today. Amazed at the threads you tied together. If someone skips a chapter or reads too fast they are going to get stunned – how did I get here? It reminded me of the upheaval in the Libertarian Party and their most popular person is a standup comic named Dave Smith. Cue the Mr. Smith goes to Washington memes!

  302. @JMG:
    Aye, and even if that does turn out to be how it worked, this would probably still count as a lost technology, given that, in that case, something as on-the-surface simple as adding salt to lamp oil, which was apparently the _standard_ lighting technology in the Black Land rather than a temple secret, and documented by Herodotus and therefore also known about elsewhere, was not, as far as has come down to us, widely duplicated at least around the Mediterranean world.

    Also, I checked an online translation of Herodotus for more details on the lamps:*.html
    Rawlinson p106
    When they assemble at Sais, on the night of the sacrifice, they all keep lamps burning in the open air round about their houses. These lamps are saucers full of salt and oil, the wick floating thereon, and burning all night. This is called the Feast of Lamps. Egyptians who do not come to this assemblage are careful on the night of sacrifice to keep their own lamps burning, and so they are alight not only at Sais but throughout all Egypt. A sacred tale is told showing why this night is thus lit up and honoured.”
    Rawlinson p152
    So much then for the fishes. The Egyptians who live about the marshes use an oil drawn from the castor-berry, which they call kiki. They sow this plant on the banks of the rivers and lakes; it grows wild in Hellas; in Egypt it produces abundant but ill‑smelling fruit, which is gathered, and either bruised and pressed, or boiled after roasting, and the liquid that comes from it is collected. This is thick and as useful as oil for lamps, and gives off a strong smell.”
    I to note that that translation says that the wicks _do_ float, contradicting what the previous source I linked said, but that may be a matter of differing translations. The translations quote here also make it sound as if the salt lamp might _not_ be the standard, but only used for special purposes — but even if that was the case, they were apparently _widely_ used for those special purposes.

    (As for an experiment, I’ve been giving a bit of thought to doing one myself, wondering just how I might go about such a thing, pondering designs to try, and the like — and when I might find the time; if I do end up doing one and getting useful results, I expect I’ll report them in the comments here, when next-after-that an opportunity to have them not be too off topic arises.)

  303. gnat–re customer service–several years ago I moved and I found that my cell phone kept dropping calls. I tried to cancel my contract but was told that the company maps showed service in my area. Which was true. However various human beings admitted that my address was in a zone known to have poor reception–to be remedied by a new tower in another year. So whenever I had nothing to do I would call and complain some more, using up hours of customer service time–repeatedly pointing out to who ever I talked to that refusing to cancel my contract without penalty was costing them money–that for the rest of foreseeable future I would tell everyone I had occasion to discuss cell service with that their company was terrible, that even if I turned away only one potential customer it would cost them more than just letting me go. I think eventually they cut the fee in half and I accepted. Sprint is the company in question. After horrible experiences trying to cancel accounts for my deceased mother last summer Verizon has been added to my shale list. They printed out a free FedEx mailing label but expected me to drive to the FedEx store to ship the phone back. Once there the FedEx employee pointed out that the phone rattled around in the box and needed padding, for an extra charge. I told her I didn’t care what condition it arrived in “You can take it out back and jump up and down on it for all I care.”

    Most customer service reps seem to be hard working and try to help, but the phone tree to reach a human and the idiotic policies one encounters left me a sputtering, cursing wreck so many times.

    Current Atlantic has an article about how the latest “left” idea in the US is to defund, open up and otherwise destroy elite schools. All in the name of equality of course. And California may return to affirmative action. Fine, just don’t base it on race; base it on family income and background. I.e. the child of two black college graduates who live in a middle class suburb doesn’t need affirmative action as much as the white child of a family with no college graduates who lives in a rural area or poor city.


  304. I often think about how long it took historians to admit that yes Vikings went to North America. And yes Polynesians have sailed the world from Taiwan all the way to South America and back again. No these people didn’t accidentally get lost and float off. Their oral stories detail many return trips!

  305. @Dave #290

    I hear you brother. I have unsuccessfully tried to pivot into teaching mathematics during the last 4 years. Unfortunately as a former software engineer, my skills correlate all too well with teaching programming instead.

    At this stage of the game, what I try to do is to enchant my students, more than try to pass useful skills for an era that is just coming but not quite here for many of them. I try to instill in them the hippie-hacker ethos of the 80s and 90s: the Free Software, the GPL, knowledge wants to be free, the Do-It-Yourself spirit, etc. My hope is that those children who get to tinker with those old pieces of infrastructure, instead of just hooking up together the lego-like systems that are in vogue today, will acquire the discipline and the mental framework to tinker with electro-mechanical systems in general, which will be a useful skill to have during the first decades on the way down.

  306. I heard somewhere that the irregularly shaped stones used in walls all over South America (and elsewhere?) show evidence that they were heated and shaped.

    This seems so logical that I can’t understand why people wouldn’t accept that as a premise, and then try to figure out how they did it.

    But in all honestly, I do know why. If we haven’t done it or couldn’t do it, there’s no way anyone else could have done it.

  307. Your Kittenship and everyone else, a happy Fourth of July to you too.

    Ecosophian, a nice bit of weirdness. Thank you.

    Oilman2, no, I haven’t followed it. The apocalpyse lobby keeps on coming up with new ways to end the world much faster than I can track them — and of course I’m just sitting here being stodgy and noting that our civilization doesn’t need a solar flare to fall…

    Bridge, I don’t know. I wasn’t there at the time. 😉

    DFC, I think he should definitely stay in orbit. I wonder if we can get a few more oligarchs to join him!

    Frank, you’re most welcome.

    Denis, funny. I compare these with the really dramatic innovations of past decades — compared with the microcomputer, say, these are pretty small potatoes. (And many of them are still not actually ready for market.) Glad you liked TKIO!

    Reese, interesting. Please do report if you do the experiment!

    Monique, that’s another great example. As someone noted above, academics were still denying that the Norse got here after their settlement in Newfoundland was being excavated by archeologists!

    CLR, if you’d like to post something text-based I’d be happy to read it.

    Jon, there’s at least one other possibility I’ve seen discussed. You can get that sort of exact fit if you paint the stones with a goo made of lichens, and let the lichens do their usual trick of secreting acids that dissolve a little surface layer of rock. It takes a while, but eventually the rocks fit together so closely that no air can get in, the lichens die, and you have those exactly fitted walls of huge, oddly shaped boulders with the curious rounding that makes them look slightly melted:

  308. Bryanlallen, the new electric vtol rich people transports have a few advantages over traditional helicopters: Electricity is cheaper per watt-hour than jet fuel, pilots are expensive and an electric multirotor is much simpler than a turbine+gearbox+cyclic/collective control system. Is it sustainable? Nope – but I would bet good money on such a service existing by 2025 and persisting for at least five years in a handful of global-rich cities. Ultimately such systems are just scaled up multirotor drones, with a few reliability features tacked on on top. Multirotor drones are a mature technology, there is no reason why we can’t make one that can carry a couple people.

  309. Pixelated #271, I remember attaching the electronics kit radio to the copper pipe of the front room radiator. 🙂

  310. Justin@329, I would make that bet with you, in as large a denomination as you could plump down, but I have an entirely unfair advantage, not only having worked in the field but having friends at places like Lockheed and Boeing and Aurora and Aerovironment and numerous other aviation connections as well. Tell you what: put however many $$$ you’re willing to lose in an escrow account, and if your prediction of “such a service existing by 2025” does NOT come true, then vow to donate that money to a worthy charity of your choice. Tell your friends what you’re doing, so you can’t back out of it easily.

    “Electricity is cheaper per watt-hour than jet fuel” is a complete red herring. Fuel costs are NOT the reason why air transport, especially with helicopters, costs as much as it does; many many other factors dominate.

    “…an electric multirotor is much simpler than a turbine+gearbox+cyclic/collective control system”. Really? Are all aviation companies small and large just sitting on their hands saying “gosh, it’s such a drag we have to continue using and making complicated things”? Nope. The technology for making a hybrid multi-rotor electric aircraft has been available and well-understood for decades. An APU turbine spinning a generator (gee, I saw one of those combinations once, somewhere…) is a VERY common device, and can be both quite lightweight and quite powerful. Hook that generator up to multiple motors connected to multiple props, and there you go. Why did we not see prototypes of those flying around twenty or more years ago? Gosh, the tilt-wing multi-rotor Canadair CL-84 did HUNDREDS of flights in the 1960s and 70s; how come the air isn’t filled with developments of that? Hmmm, perhaps it’s not quite as simple as the UAM folks are making it out to be.

    “…scaled up multirotor drones”, ding, we have a winner! The UAM proponents are thinking EXACTLY that. If I were to be able to take them to my mechanical-genius model-builder friend’s house, I could have them in paroxysms of “Oooh! We’ll build one of THOSE to ride in! And one of those! And…” and so on. Sorry, but there are LOTS of things in aviation that DO NOT SCALE. Multi-rotor drones are one of them. Your cool camera-carrying drone, when it has a power failure, can plummet hundreds or thousands of feet and survive; YouTube is filled with such occurrences. Scale that drone up and have it suffer a power fault at 300 feet? Result: crater, with dead passengers. Oh, and 300 feet is too low for a ballistic-parachute recovery, too. Yep, they’re dead, Jim.

    There IS a multi-rotor drone, eHang, that has carried one (typically tiny) person and occasionally two people. Clever Chinese engineers. Yet somehow after years of demonstrations they don’t seem to be getting any closer to offering regular flight services, and have recently been embroiled in an exposé of shady business practices to boot. Note where eHang (and Volocopter) often does its very short flight demos: over water. A better chance of survivability that way, plus no people on the ground in danger either.

    Returning to the theme of our host’s post, isn’t it curious that human gliding flight was demonstrated (Lilienthal, Chanute, Wright brothers gliders, especially the elegant 1902 version) using materials and technologies that had existed for thousands of years, but only in the late 19th/early 20th century? Why do we think that ancients, like the Egyptians, did not invent hang gliding 3000+ years ago? They had the materials, and the smarts, and the keen observations of bird flight. You can make a model glider aircraft out of twigs and fabric, for gosh sakes! No toy gliders even? What’s up with that?

    Best regards to all!

  311. @JMG

    Your question about why the Romans never got to the the point of launching an industrial revolution certainly gave me pause for thought. After really far too little time I’ve tentatively concluded that slavery, the regular wars and political upheavals, and perhaps the absence of a patent system, were important factors. If you pick a few hundred years during which it could have happened, post Claudius for example – all these factors were present. I think the mining pump of Thomas Savery in 1696 might be a handy imaginary starting point for the the Industrial Revolution in mainland Britain. There’d been no foreign conquests in nearly 600 years and the civil war was 2 to 3 generations prior. Slavery was largely confined off stage in plantations or colonies set up for the express purpose as a destination for people the state thought undesirable. Politics was pretty stable, and there was an actively enforced patent system. Of these, perhaps the absence of armed conflict was the most telling?

    There are one or two rather unsetting thoughts that arise form this. First of all, what are we missing that’s hiding in plain site just under our noses? Archdruids may have something to say about that. Secondly, how inevitable is the reintroduction of slavery during the long descent? Thirdly – is it possible that one of the reasons that there’s little physical evidence of older civilisations because war either erased the evidence or simply suppressed the potential achievements?

    This morning attention was drawn to a book, Them and Us by Danny Vendramini. I haven’t read it yet but the description I saw was that the book presents evidence that we (homo sapiens) had an extremely violent relationship with Neanderthals. Possibly that an effective state of war existed between the two subspecies and it was one that we very nearly lost. We’ve got at least 100,000 years of overlapping time, and certain knowledge of anything but the recent past is rather thin on the ground. Well I am going to read it, and have a bit of a think about it.

  312. @JMG: Indeed, a thaumatrope seems like something every mage should have. I definitely want one in my kit.

    @Robert Mathiesen: Thank you for the additional info and resources on thaumatropes!

    …now, what about Theurgatropes?

  313. Don’t diss olive oil lamps as a soot-free light source. I once made a crude olive oil lamp from a crumpled tin can with a piece of string as a wick and was surprised at how cleanly it burned.

    A few minutes ago as an experiment I smeared olive oil on a piece of brown paper, rolled the paper into a solid rod, and lit the end. It burned steadily with no soot, even when I held the flame against the kitchen wall tiles or under a flat surface.

  314. Hello JMG and All!

    I agree that our language indeed colors our perspective of life, the world, and how we move in it. A fascinating book on the subject is “Through the Language Glass: How Words Colour Your World” by Guy Deutcher. His interest began while studying Ancient Greek literature and being perplexed by the repeated references to the Mediterranean Sea being “the color of wine” instead of blue.

    Cheers to all,

  315. It occurs to me that a culture’s technology is used in service of its religion, one way or another. If ancient societies were more likely to have nature-based religions, it would mean their technologies would be more likely to be made of materials that would decay, wouldn’t it?

  316. @Reese – Herodotus generally knew what he was talking about, and called it as he saw it. #1 hit (in my opinion) that academics had dismissed as a tall tale was his report of “Amazons among the Scythians,” which was verified only after someone was moved to run DNA tests on Scythian graveside of warriors buried with weapons and therefore automatically classed as male.

    @DFC – Why aren’t they adding Elon Musk to the list?

  317. @ JMG RE: latest doom porn…

    We are pretty much of the same mind. I’ve yet to meet any historical figures who got out alive anyway…LOL

    I just hadn’t heard that the entire planet is subsumed every 12,000 years until this one, so I had to ask.

  318. @Prizm #297 Re the importance of language. I recall being told years ago by a Swiss engineer I met that in all European languages that he knew the future is considered to be ahead of us, but that he had come across Asian languages for which the future is ‘behind us’ (on the basis that we know what has happended in the past, therefore we must be looking at it, but we don’t know what is going to happen in the future, it is invisible to us). He felt that ‘the future in front of us’ led to the notion of being able to determine one’s direction of development, ‘marching into the future’, choosing the path that is taken, whereas those for whom the future is behind them are much more willing to take things as they come, to leave things to fate. Maybe this is just a nice story? Has anyone else come across this, and if so what are the ‘the future is behind us’ languages?

  319. “if you paint the stones with a goo made of lichens”

    Specifically, the goo is manure (cow or sheep is good) and milk (ditto), and you throw the lichens – and any mosses or hornworts growing with them – into a blender until it’s a paste consistency. Lacking a blender, I imagine you could use your hands for a small batch or mash like cob or grapes with your feet for a big one.

    Just don’t use the same blender you make your pesto with.

  320. Galen and JMG,

    RE: Ramayana and Adam’s bridge

    India is launching and archeological expedition to determine the origins or Ram Setu, or Rama’s bridge (Adam’s bridge to the western world), and it is going to start with nondestructive testing like photography, sidescan sonar, sediment samples, and searches for ancient habitations. Then it is going to move on to drilling core samples and more invasive testing.

    It seems that push came to shove when shipping interests wanted to dredge a channel through the gap in the formation and cultural forces wouldn’t hear of it. We should find out in a few years how and when the land bridge was formed. I’m pleased that it is being done by Indian archeologist. They won’t pull their punches if the results disagree with the western concsensus.


  321. @ Adwelly # 333.

    I believe slavery will make a big comeback in the future for economic reasons. The disappearance of fossil fuels means tractors, washing machines, and vacuum cleaners all go away. Rich elites will never clean their own toilets or sew their garments and someone has to hoe those fields of yams. Ergo, a workforce of manual laborers.

    Anyway, slavery never went away. We have it today but without the open buying and selling on slave markets where it can be filmed for YouTube. Look into how much of the world’s food commodities are produced like Thai shrimp. Or how sewing factories are set up.

    If you can’t leave, you can’t complain, you can’t get sick, you get paid pennies, and you owe those pennies to the company store, how different is your situation from chattel slavery?

  322. More on thaumatropes: I just put two old articles about their use in Classical Antiquity up on, one by A. S. F. Gow, the other by Eugene Tavenner. Both were published in the early 1930s.

  323. Very late comment, may have been made already.

    I’m not sure you need to extrude copper wire by pushing it through a die in order to make the conductors for an electrical circuit. If you don’t need a lot, and the amperage isn’t critical.

    First, to state the obvious, gold is a better conductor than silver or copper, and the Egyptians who built the tombs had gold.

    It seems to me that if you had a lump of pure or nearly pure copper, you could hammer it out into thin sheets with a stone or bronze hammer on a stone or bronze flat plate. Roll the sheet up into a tube, or several tubes, and hammer them flat, or just cut strips. Braid them together. This is a standard jewelry making technique.

    I also wonder whether something analogous to candle dipping might work. Maybe if you dipped a linen thread or horsehair into molten copper, the wick would burn away and leave you with a little copper tube.
    Or draw it out like taffy or molten glass. The Egyptians knew how to make glass.

  324. re Jon #327 and JMG

    Perhaps neither heat (alone) nor lichens. See:

    SDRP Journal of Earth Sciences & Environmental Studies(ISSN: 2472-6397)
    On the reddish, glittery mud the Inca used for perfecting their stone masonry

    Money quote from the abstract:

    “This acid mud allowed dissolving and softening the rock material superficially to a viscoelastic silica gel.”

  325. @adwelly, China and India didn’t have slavery in the Roman and Greek form, and still they didn’t enter an industrial revolution. I still like Patricia Crone’s dictum: the other civilizations grew, then stabilized; ours became neoplastic and metastasized.

    Oh, and Britain was occupied by Dutch troops in 1689, and American troops after 1941:-)

  326. JMG – I suppose one way to make an eternal flame (e.g., in a tomb) might be to stick an asbestos wick into a natural petroleum seep, and just light it. As long as the oil seeps into the wick, it should keep burning, but only where the wick provides enough oxygen.

    If not liquid oil, them perhaps there’s a similar way to make a flame holder for a natural gas (methane) vent.

    As a child, I visited a burning coal vein in North Dakota. The Internet tells me that it no longer burns (ended in 1977), but that it burned for 26 years before extinguishing itself, so that might seem like “forever” to some visitors.

  327. @CRPatillo

    Thanks for sharing. I teach government and economics. Teaching government is just a disaster the last several years because our politics are broken. I do use economics to teach about limits and scarcity. The big essay they write every year is about the water scarcity crisis in the west. I don’t know how helpful it is, but at least I introduce them to some ideas.

    I would love to teach urban agriculture, but I don’t have any real qualifications. I’m just a hobby gardner/beekeeper.

  328. Oilman2 – Regarding the hypothesis that “periodic solar micro-novae” reset life on Earth every 6 or 12 thousand years, you can get the straight story from “SuspiciousObservers” Youtube channel. I watch Ben Davidson’s daily Youtube news for the solar conditions report (as it might relate to viewing the aurora and ham radio propagation), and then stay for the “news” of astronomy, climate, and various catastrophes. I find it entertaining, but not upsetting. There’s a video eagerly debunking SO assertions, easily found with some search, which describes SO as a pseudoscientific doomsday cult. (Personally, I’ve got problems with both sides of the argument.) As an exercise in critical thinking, it’s interesting to look for flaws in the arguments.

  329. Obviously the Dinosaur Civilization ran mostly on Magic, as in the Hollywood type. Once they used up all the best magic resources, their civilization collapsed . This is why we have such little magic that it can only be used to affect conciseness in accordance to will, something like comparing light sweet crude to the tar sands

  330. @mcmahonbristol #340
    Not quite the same, but in Hindi the word for tomorrow and yesterday is the same and so is the word for the day after tomorrow and the day before yesterday. Context and verb tense make clear whether the future or past is meant.
    In Japanese, saki ni (先に) means ahead, but that is used to mean both what lies ahead of us (farther down the path or in the future) and (more commonly) what happened ahead (of now), i.e. in the past. I never thought about that before. Thank you.
    Who knows, the sense of the future as something creepy sneaking up on you behind, like whatever that was the lived in the cellar of the house I grew up in, might become a common way of experiencing things. Though nicer if it doesn’t.

  331. mcmahonbristol, I don’t think that’s quite true of the most widely spoken Asian languages but I remember reading that in Quechua and Aymara people point backwards when referring to the future. Found an article about it here:

    In Chinese and Japanese, the character 前 refers to both what is before and what is in front of us. But this is exactly the same as English “what lies before us” or Latin “ante” out of the languages I know.

    OTOH, I think the concept of the future as an abstract concept as opposed to the present might be a Faustian novelty.

    Chinese/Japanese 未来 was probably a neologism invented to translate the concept of “future”

    Futurus in Latin was originally just the future participle of the verb “to be”; AFAIK, the concept of an abstract “future” doesn’t occur in Classical Latin literature, every sentence you see futurus or futura in could be translated as a participle.

    Looking at examples of how the Vatican translates Latin even today, they don’t use “the future” on its own as an abstract concept. Compare:

    Gravis sane est haec causa, cum ex ea cunctorum hominum cultus civilis, qui futuris erit temporibus, pendeat.


    The matter is urgent, for on it depends the future of world civilization.

    Futuris temporibus is the closest concept and is more closely translated to “times yet to be”

    Linguistically speaking, the future tense also seems very unstable. The original Latin future tense evolved into the subjunctive tense in Romance languages while they turned auxiliary verbs into their future tenses. Germanic languages originally never had a separate future tense, even in English today “I go to London tomorrow” is perfectly acceptable for “I will go to London tomorrow”

    The relationship between language and thought is probably bidirectional — Faustian civilisation, and for that matter, urban East Asian civilisations, where ordering of time is important in day to day activities, probably led to a different concept of time compared to societies where life is “slower paced”.

  332. @Patricia Mathews:
    Oh, I’m not sure I’d heard that one; thanks!
    I should _really_ go through the entire Histories one of these days…

  333. Hi John,

    I recently have been thinking more about this post and “The Long Descent”. I do have some observations and thoughts that I thought I would add to the pot.

    1) Reading your ideas regarding the current trajectory of civilisation, I cannot help but notice even you yourself have picked up the traditional “Linear” vision of time that is quite common place in the West.

    When I read your thoughts, it is like a more realistic vision of linearity then then the obvious “glorious future” or “we all gonna die!” people I meet.

    But it is still there. The key difference is your vision is that “everything will just come down nice and slowly, then we will rebuild and civilisation goes on.”

    After this, the linearity ends and the cyclical nature of time in your work starts to express itself. Just something I thought I would mention as even with yourself, it is noticeably hard to truly escape the Faustian vision of time.

    I think living and abiding by Western rules, it naturally does affect the way we think.

    2) Progress itself. One issue I have with the Long Descent is the main core feature of technology. You present the evidence that yes, pre-Human civilisations have probably gone through what we are experiencing and eventually doomed themselves to extinction and decline.

    I agree with your overall vision but you are forgetting one key aspect and there is sort of an arrogance in assuming that “no, no, this is it, technology will never change, we will never get to Mars, colonise space, etc.” People throughout history have made this same prediction before that “itll never happen” yet someone creates the car or the internet.

    I think that overall, you are right in your assumptions, you are indeed correct because our *current civilisation* has no more leg room to move. The technology we now have and the lifestyles it has created has ultimately created a huge imbalance in the life.

    Over use of resource extraction, no real credible alternatives to fossil fuels apart from pipe dreams, low birth rates, no secure technology that could be wiped out by a comet, etc. We have reached our peak and decline will continue.

    Yet I believe that one day, another civilisation out there will figure out how to successfully terraform and colonise Mars for example. Some bright young whizz kid gets a huge spark of imagination and ends up successfully transforming a planet. It is very possible to happen but it will take about probably 2,000 years or something.

    As one guy pointed out, the Romans could have had an industrial revolution and transformed their society yet failed to do so. They had not really met the same conditions that England had for it and were missing the whizz kid. Always gotta have a whizz kid.

    My point is – The Long Descent is correct but it is ruling out the longer term pipe line. It could happen and anything is possible. Our civilisation will crumble, a dark age will follow, new civilisations will arise, a renaissiance happens, someone figures out how to use a computer again, someone figures out how to get to Mars and terraform, new colonies are created and people fight, independence movements, wars, peace, decline, dark age, rinse and repeat.

    Linear of me too but hey it is a Faustian vision.

    3) The Russians view time in a completely different way to the West. They view it in a more “Helix” formation, something that I have expressed here. To them, time is both Linear and Cyclical. It is eternal. It is like they actually view “golden ages” and “dark ages” continuously. It is like up and down for them.

    So yes, my thoughts.

  334. Thought you’d get a laugh out of this. Heading to Penn State for research in August and they have an Aleister Crowley collection of his papers, including some unpublished works. How they ended up at Penn State I’d love to know.

    The only reason I spotted them is the finding aids are organized by first letter of the title, which is usually a person’s first name. So there he was, fifth in the list.

  335. @ Lathechuck RE: SO

    Well, as I said in my reply to JMG, I hadn’t heard of this “new doom” impinging on us. SO comes off as fairly slick production, but with my geology background, it’s a sell that has other explanations than they have stirred into their mix.

    At any rate, should this theory prove true, there is absolutely nothing any human can do in the face of cosmic forces at work. Hell, a couple of big volcanoes popping off can ruin us for years. I think there are things closer in on my timeline that are much more problematic. I’m still waiting for ‘snowball Earth’ to appear from the 1970’s…LOL

  336. Varun, weird indeed.

    Adwelly, or the ways of thought that made industrial technology inevitable for us simply didn’t exist in Roman times, and our technology is simply a product of our culture and not, say, the inevitable next step forward on the march of progress.

    Martin, interesting.

    Court, hmm! That sounds like the kind of book I’d like to read.

    Blue Sun, a case could be made!

    Oilman2, I’ve read books listing all the different ways in which we might be doomed, and they weren’t especially thin. On the other hand, a book on all the predicted doomsdays that have passed without incident would be much thicker!

    Tensions, thanks for the data point. That’s worth watching.

    Pixelated, have you done this? If so, I’ll want to see your stone fences. 😉

    Team10tim, now that’s going to be interesting. If it turns out that Ram Setu is artificial, I expect the squawking to be audible on the Moon.

    Robert, thanks for this.

    Deborah, it hasn’t been made already, and in fact I don’t think anyone mentioned wire at all. You’re right, of course, and in fact you can skip the rolling-up phase and simply have electricity move along strips of conductive metal, which could be painted with some form of tar as an insulator. Silver, by the way, is also a very good conductor.

    Yves, fascinating. There may have been a variety of techniques, then.

    Lathechuck, the Zoroastrians did that with natural gas seeps in Iran, back in the day.

    Dennis, Larry Niven’s one venture into fantasy fiction, The Magic Goes Away, had exactly that as its basic plot gimmick: magical power was a nonrenewable resource, and it all got used up.

    MawKernewek, many thanks for both of these.

    Ksim, I have never said “everything will just come down nice and slowly, then we will rebuild and civilisation goes on.” If you think that’s what I’m saying then you need to work on your reading skills. As for the rest of it, by all means cling to your faith in Man’s Future In Space if that makes you feel better.

    Denis, funny indeed. Penn State, of all places!

  337. @Jessica #353 and @Alvin #354, thanks, I thought I would get great answers here, and JMG thanks to you for hosting such a wonderful forum.

  338. @JMG alas, I have not!

    But I had looked into it a fair amount for mine reclamation use on the most barren of the pyramids. I had found the recipe because it is what they’d used to re-age Stonehenge after they’d had to scour some graffiti off of it, and discovered they’d only made the obscene words and drawings extra large and extra bright against the surrounding dull rock – way more visible than the spraypaint had been.

    To scale up, however, we’d planned to use a hydroseeder. There was actually a company that already had a moss hydroseeder mix, but I can’t find their website anymore; maybe they went belly up because not everyone sees the use in the wee things like druids on the internet.

    I have been considering whether, given the use to repair graffiti, it might be fun to use the technique to create “invisible ink” graffiti… Say, on the side of the overpasses on the highway, or ugly cement universities… It would be utterly irresponsible to mull vandalism in public, however, so I’ll keep that to myself 😉

  339. @JMG

    Just a thought…what will the ecotechnic civilizations of the far future likely say about the present-day technologies? It would likely be featured in epics and so on, I guess…

    Also, one more question: do technologies also follow the path of convergent evolution? I ask because I was thinking about the Hindu school of logic called ‘Navya Nyaya’, and that it developed set theory (although intended for different purposes and from a different starting point) and that led me to that while current-day technologies aren’t the only option, the technologies of the far future aren’t likely to be infinitely varied. I personally think that technologies, just like visual arts, music, sculpture, etc. are like a nonlinear multivariable optimization problem solved by using genetic algorithms; you get a finite number of multiple solutions, all of them equally ‘good’, but each different from the other and suited to a different purpose (example: if you’re asked to design a chemical process, it essentially boils down to a nonlinear multivariable optimization problem, with multiple final solutions, but different from each other in the sense that one will give you better overall cost savings, another will give greater energy efficiency, a third better reaction rates, and so on). Similarly, while ecotechnic civilizations of the far future will have different technologies from ours, their technologies will be tuned into their local ecologies, but I’m somewhat skeptical as to whether each civilization will have completely different technologies; rather, there will be a finite number of technologies, with each civilization developing some in its own unique way.

  340. @Darkest Yorkshire – and how are your fingers?? Did you also have one of those wood burning kits with too short of a cord so it always ended up plugged in near the living room curtains?

    My friend had lawn darts that we played with by throwing them straight up in the air then running around underneath screaming until they came down. No idea why those toys were outlawed…

  341. Lathechuck #349:

    Centralia, PA, is now abandoned because of an underground coal mine fire that has been burning since 1962. The Wikipedia entry for the town gives a pretty complete history of the town and the fire, which, it is believed, was started when a fire was intentionally set to burn out a landfill and unintentionally spread to a maze of mine pits, although there are competing stories about its beginning.

  342. One thing to think about:

    One thing that coal has, in addition to lots of carbon, is plenty of heavy metals. Cadmium, Lead, Mercury, Selenium, Chromium – even radioactive Thorium.

    The fact that Thorium can be found in Coal (and coal ash) makes me wonder whether a Dinosaur era civilization may have come upon nuclear energy and was able to use Thorium as its fissile source. A collapse and 70 million years later, we come upon nuclear power and Uranium ends up being the best power source we have left as all the great, good and acceptable Thorium was used up – and our only clue may be in the coal ash pits (and Concrete, as coal ash makes REALLY good aggregate).

  343. Hi John,

    First of all I would like to apologise. I can see where the problem is – I worded it in a very Russian manner and you got offended. Living in Russia for three years, you start to behave more Russian and forget the typical Anglo sensibilities that is custom in our countries.

    You see, that is the problem with Russian culture. It is very direct and has no time for courtesy. I too have been very offended by this mindset many times when only I started to learn – no one was having a go at me, they were just being direct. So once again, my apologies. If your ever in Russia sometime, Ill buy you a beer.

    Anyway just to clarify your response. First, I do get there will be challenges ahead with the Long Descent. I get that. But what I am trying to get at is that it wont be apocalyptic or anything as crazy as the big blowouts of the 20th century. It will be a decline, wars will happen, civilisation will regress and then implode, followed by a revival.

    Second, you misunderstood me. I do not believe that going to the stars is mankinds salvation. No, no, no. What I mean is the technology could theoretically be developed thousands of years into the future but does it mean salvation? No, because Human stupidity and ignorance would eventually screw it up.

    Take the internet for example. It has been developed. To someone living 100 years ago, it would be mind blowing. Yet will it bring Humanity salvation? Nope, as we are starting to see, the decline of the internet is starting to take place. But the fact is it was developed.

    Anyway I hope that clears things up and helps clears the air, so to speak.

    So yes, my last question to you is this – what actually will be the two new civilisation cycles? The American and Russian ones? Or something completely new that is unimaginable to us?


  344. Hi John Michael,

    This one is a bit off topic so I hope that you indulge me, but it has become so obvious from hindsight: The Lambda coronavirus variant has arrived in Australia. Here’s what we know so far. It is clearly a secret plot to teach us all the Greek alphabet! 🙂

    I’m very uncomfortable with the words: ‘here’s what we know so far’, which is used far and wide in the news media nowadays. There is something about that arrangement of words which makes me feel uncomfortable – it is not right in that format somehow. And then it makes me wonder exactly what they don’t know, or aren’t telling.

    Oh, and for tomorrow I see that the pundits were waxing lyrical about a sudden drop in the price of oil after some sort of meeting to be seen to have a meeting. Turns out the drop went from $75 / barrell to about $73 / barrell. I was expecting to see $40 / barrell after reading those headlines, but no. Crazy days, huh?



  345. JMG said:

    You’re right, of course, and in fact you can skip the rolling-up phase and simply have electricity move along strips of conductive metal, which could be painted with some form of tar as an insulator. Silver, by the way, is also a very good conductor.

    A lot of KGB listening devices during the Cold War were based on a variation of that concept, by using a strip of metallic paint sandwiched between layers of ordinary non-conductive paint. Made for very effective but hard to detect forms of antennae and “wiring”.

  346. @ Chris at Ferndale

    “Here’s what we know so far” just means they don’t know
    Jack-Doo-Doo about the variants and what it all means
    but are reporting anyway as a way to boost their sagging ratings
    by getting us into a lather over the next possible surge.

  347. Pixelated #364, I’d never heard of a wood burning kit – it looks like a soldering iron. I did have a chemistry set and once fired boiling acid out of a test tube across the living room. 🙂

  348. This is completely new to me, and utterly fascinating. Thank you for opening up this new avenue of thought for me! I was talking to my mother the other day on the phone and she was saying how 20,000 years ago, we all died in our teens. I asked her who was saying that, and she said, “Oh a PBS program-which was really really enlightening.” Go figure. Life in the dark ages was really really dull, too, she said. People at monasteries had nothing better to do, so they sat around all day copying texts until night stopped them.

    If it weren’t for you, I might be believing that too.

    It was about halfway through today’s post when something you were saying (I’ll have to read it again to pinpoint it) brought me this realization–it really hit me–that people with profound faith in the power of technology to overcome all obstacles must be just miserable deep inside these days. The cognitive dissonance must be getting keener with each news cycle. That would drive the anger at dumbos like me who are not on board with their vision of the future and lead them to blame Techno-Heathens, Paleo-Conservatives and anyone who has fallen away from the One True Faith. Frankly, the next time I get persecuted, I’ll feel some sense of sympathy toward the person, though in Japan in particular, I’m reminded of the lead-up to World War II. They seem to be capable of shutting out any visual evidence that things are not what they are said to be officially.

    A question to everyone: Why is it that I never ask questions? Am I really a know-it-all? Oh well, I’ll try to think of intelligent questions to do my part to enhance this really nice discussion. Thank you all for your part in it.

  349. Totally OT, but this piqued my gizzard.

    What is tacitly NOT discussed here is who fills the boxes the robots are picking their items from…

    2300 robots for groceries….talk about insanity. And they don’t even attempt to do veggies or fruit.
    This ought to be recommissioned as a temple to the god “Progress”

  350. @Siliconguy#27 It seems the Shang Dynasty in China was unaffected by the Bronze Age collapse though and many parts of Southeast Asia.

    They kept their Bronze Age writing script (Whereas Linear B in Greece became lost) and beliefs, with a peaceful transition to the use of steel as metallurgy improved rather than starting anew.

    Egypt survived, albeit weakened. What are everyone’s thoughts on the significance of that? China as a culture or SE Asia seems to have likely retained Bronze Age cultural traditions and ways of thinking the longest if I’m correct, with Egypt adopting Islam later on.

  351. Long time reader. Slow to read this one. Just wanted to comment on the aluminum. While true that aluminum was VERY rare before electricity it does occur naturally as what is called native aluminum. I actually have a nice specimin of it that would make a small pendent that is from the Franklin Zinc Mine in Franklin NJ. Most likely this noble was a collector and probably wealthy as well.

    This said, I don’t disagree with your general thesis. I personally like to use the Roman colosseum as an example. They had no rebar in their concrete so instead figured out how to use different kinds of concrete that was lighter as they went up in height. We have no idea how they did this! And could not do it now. And the colosseum is still standing, which is sadly more than can be said for many rebar and concrete buildings we have made. Surfside is just the beginning. Rebar rusting inside concrete is a huge problem. Progress indeed.

  352. If I can suggest some other anomalies, there is the YT channel called Marsx3d.

    There you can admire some stereographical treated images (to eliminate pareidolia) taken from the mars rovers footage. No filters, blenders or other photo altering tecnique has been applied. The process has the so called “pixel integrity” paradigm applied. What you see is waht is in the photo, nothing else.

    Mars is basically littered with anomalies. The most interesting ones are the images of broken temples and pillars, badly eroded but sill fairly recognizable, having surfaces carved with thematic figures that seem coming straight from inca/maian terrestrial counterparts.

    Just have a watch. Don’t miss the God Snake one!

    My theory is that we had not only old technological civilizations, we had also space faring ones.

    But the fact that now mars has almost no athmosphere and is badly radioactive, does not bode well… maybe we just made something terrible, there.

    Have a nice day

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