Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Times Outside History 1: Humanity Operating on 100,000-year Cycles

Reuters is reporting on a July 7 article in Nature about palaeontological findings that early humans settled Britain 800,000 years ago, at least 100,000 years earlier than originally thought. Artifacts found by palaeontologists from the British Museum include "78 knapped flint artefacts that the research team think were used by hunter-gatherers to pierce and cut meat or wood" (Parfitt, S. A. et al. Nature 466, 229-233 (2010)). 

There is a film about the dig in Happisburgh, East Anglia here. Scientists at the Natural History Museum have been X-raying the flint tools found at the site to establish that they are human-made.  For the first time in this field, they are using computed tomography to analyze stone tools and produce 3-D computer models of each artifact.  At the site, palaeontologists are also finding fossilized hyena droppings, mammoth teeth, jawbones of semi-aquatic rodents, and almost-million-year-old pine cones that point toward these Stone Age Britons surviving winters in coniferous forests as cold as present-day Scandinavia.

But what really caught my eye was the Reuters passage: "The ancient human populations were small, made up of a few hundreds, or possibly thousands, and would either be driven out or severely reduced due to the cold climate, only to repopulate approximately every 100,000 years, the scientists said."  This means that "Britain has been subject to at least nine distinct human colonisations in history."

It's no mystery that human settlement patterns mirror changes in the environment.  This dig is important because it sees these Stone Age peoples crossing a land bridge from present-day Holland to Britain, and being among the vanguard of species that were moving into a retreating ice age climatic boundary.  In other words, the Happisburgh researchers are postulating that these hominids were living at the furthest extent of survivable climate conditions, given their technological and evolutionary levels.

A 2002 Science Daily report here confirms that our planet's 100,000 year climate patterns are linked to the sun's magnetic cycles, which also run on a 100,000 year rotating clock.  And geomagnetic pole reversals also happen within the same time frames.  These are the founding principles for the Global Polarity Timescale (GPTS) which allows geo-physicists, geologists and palaeontologists to date huge swaths of earth's silent history.  There is a definition of the GPTS here:
"A record of the onset and duration of the multitude of episodes of reversal of the Earth's magnetic polarity, or geomagnetic polarity reversals. The GPTS was developed by thorough study of rocks from around the world, during which it was observed that rocks from specific time periods contained magnetic minerals whose orientation was opposite to that of the current magnetic field. By comparing the patterns of magnetic reversals with those of rocks of known age, the approximate ages of rocks can be established. This is particularly useful for basalts of the oceanic crust, which record the Earth's magnetic field as they solidify from molten lava symmetrically about the midocean ridges. The time scale has been accurately extended back to the Upper Jurassic, the age of oldest existing oceanic crust."
According to this 1992 article, there are several different versions of geomagnetic polarity timescales.  Here is an Italian article from 1991 which tweaked the scale.  A 1999 article explains how geological measurements of the earth's magnetized strata are calibrated to astronomical observationsHere is a paper from 2004 that feeds into this corpus by contributing information from ocean drilling.  These scientists are looking at different 100,000 year periods through varied collections of geophysical evidence, yet all are fine-tuning their understanding of the general Global Polarity Timescale by adding new data.

A hominid family tree including Homo antecessor.

The palaeontologists working the Happisburgh dig in East Anglia dated their findings according to this timescale. They believe that the hominid group that was active at their site was the Homo antecessor species, which throve from 1.2 million to 800,000 years ago.  Homo antecessor was established as a new species in 1997 by José Bermúdez de Castro of the National Museum of Natural Sciences, Madrid, and his colleagues Eudald Carbonell and J. L. ArsuagaHomo antecessor hominids would have been preyed upon by sabre-toothed cats and it's speculated that they regularly indulged in cannibalism.  The Happisburgh researchers are now searching for hominid remains to go with the flint tools they have discovered.

The dating of the Happisburgh dig is based on the GPTS, then pin-pointed using animal fossil evidence: "The artefacts were entombed in sediment that records a reverse in the polarity of the Earth's magnetic field — the north and south poles switching places — at the time that they were laid down. The last polarity reversal is known to have been 780,000 years ago, making it probable that the Happisburgh artefacts are at least that old."

If those natural cosmic and planetary changes run on cycles of roughly 100,000 years, then it stands to reason that human developmental trends have long reflected those revolutions. Is there a point at which technology and evolution have enabled cycles of human pre-history and history to diverge from cosmic and planetary timescales? Are we at the point where we are living on a similar dotted line to the Homo antecessor groups in East Anglia - at the furthest limit of convergence between the climate and humanity? Are we at a point where we split off, make our own history, independent of planetary climate, geomagnetism and the sun's magnetic fields - literally going beyond the pale of natural temporal signposts that have shaped our whole evolution? Is this already happening, even if natural and human cycles superficially run on the same 100,000 year timeframes?

Are humans now operating on their own 100,000 year cycles, regardless of environmental impact?  Can we make our own timeframes based on technology, or is it impossible for us to conceive of our existence, let alone our tools, in a temporal sense without references to the world around us?  This is a 'chicken or egg' question that reminds me of Kafka's short-short-short story Leopards in the Temple: "Leopards break into the temple and drink the sacrificial chalices dry; this occurs repeatedly, again and again; finally it can be reckoned upon beforehand and becomes part of the ceremony."

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