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.

Showing posts with label Lost Cities. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lost Cities. Show all posts

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Lost Cities: Zerzura

Image Source: Kickstarter.

For today, see a trailer for a film currently raising production funds on Kickstarter, Zerzura, a 'Sahara Acid Western.' Zerzura (زرزورة) was a legendary oasis city in the Sahara Desert west of the Nile, located in Egypt or Libya. In the 20th century, real searches for this mythical centre focussed on the northern Gilf Kebir and inspired the 1992 novel and 1996 film The English Patient. Some oases were indeed discovered, but these efforts folded into Second World War espionage and British special ops work in North Africa. You can read about that here and here.

Image Source: Tribe Expeditions.

Zerzura is a place of Bedouin myth, supposedly guarded by djinn or 'black giants,' who may have been the Toubou people. Zerzura was also mentioned in the mystic 15th century Arabic manuscript, Kitab al Kanuz, a medieval manual for Egyptian treasure hunters. In the 1960s, the story received a bizarre new treatment from unconfirmed sources, although Wiki's summary suggests that the 1960s' account below embroiders upon the records of the medieval scribes of an emir in Benghazi, Libya. Ask Why:
"In 1969, Emile Schurmacher, a journalist interested in mysteries, explained that the Muslim legend of Zerzura was that, began with a caravan in 1481 AD, wending its way across the desert from the Nile to the oases of Kharga and Darkhla when it was engulfed by an unusually severe sandstorm. Instead of blowing out in a couple of days, this storm lasted over a week and by the time it settled, the caravan, humans and camels, had died of suffocation. Only one man, a camel driver called Hamid Keila shook himself from the shelter of his dead camel and looked upon a plain of sand with just a few bulges and oddments of fabric emerging from beneath it. The caravan had been obliterated.

We know this because months later Hamid Keila turned up in poor shape in Benghazi on the Mediterranean and was able to tell an astonishing tale which was recorded by the Emir’s scribes.

The camel driver had climbed the escarpment to get a view of the desert and see whether any oases were accessible. The sandstorm had changed the familiar landmarks and he recognised nothing. He struggled along the scarp hoping that he would get his bearings. Lacking water he was becoming delerious when he was found by a group of men the like of whom he had never seen before. They were tall, fair-haired and blue-eyed. What is more, they carried straight swords not scimitars.

Quizzed by the Emir, the camel driver related his story confidently enough but he always seemed uneasy and rather shifty. The strange men came from a city in the desert called Zerzura where they took the half-dead Keila and treated him with kindness. The citadel was well watered with springs, and vines and palms sprouted. Access was by a wadi that ran between two mountains and from it a road proceeded into the gates of the city, which was walled. Above the gate was a carved bird of unusual appearance and the houses within were white in the sun. Water was plentiful and pools and springs were used by slim light-skinned women and their children for washing and bathing, and the dwellings were richly furnished.

The people of Zerzura, or El Suri, spoke Arabic but with many peculiar words that the camel driver could not understand until they were carefully explained. The strange people were evidently not Muslim because the women were unveiled and Hamid Keila saw no mosque and heard no muzzein. The Emir asked the camel driver how he came to be in Benghazi and again looking uncomfortable he said he escaped one moonless night when he had regained his strength, and after a difficult journey north had arrived in the city. The Emir was puzzled and wondered why it was necessary to escape unless he was being held a prisoner. The camel driver was shifty and could not explain why his story was inconsistent, his rescuers having been declared to be kind. The Emir ordered his guards to search the unfortunate man and they discovered in his robes a huge flawless ruby set in a gold ring.

Asked how he had obtained the stone, the camel driver could not answer and the Emir judged that he had stolen it from people who, although apparently infidels, had shown him great kindness. The Emir ordered the unfortunate man to be taken into the desert again and to have his hands cut off. And so he was.

The ring and ruby came into the possession of King Idris of Libya and has been examined by several experts who vouch for its immense value. More important, they declare it to be of European workmanship of about the twelfth century, a date that could link the ring and the apparently Teutonic Arabs with the crusades and the possibility that knights who had got lost in the desert had gone native and survived in their remote idyll. Some parties of crusaders did get lost on the way out to the Holy Land or back from it."
Several Websites claim that the ruby ring was inherited by Libya's King Idris (1889-1983). Perhaps in 1969 it fell to Muammar Gaddafi (1942-2011). Given that there are no obvious modern sources on this ring, it is likely that the ring and the city from which it came are legends, begging for further exploitation. For example, the tale of lost crusaders taking up residence in the Middle East is popular with today's New Age spiritualists; the myth feeds the Millennial folkloric obsession with pre-Islamic Middle Eastern religions. Some New Age theorists project the story back thousands of years to ancient and classical times, and claim that Atlantean, proto-Irish or proto-Celtic northmen, possibly Druids, traveled to Egypt and influenced its old dynasties. Some Masonic speculations claim that the Druids and ancient Egyptians shared the same beliefs and rituals. These variants should be considered as 20th and early 21st century branches of folklore. The Zerzura story inspired a German-Austrian-Swiss video game in 2012, the Lost Chronicles of Zerzura.

The producers of this 2017 film, Zerzura, correctly describe their work as ethnofiction, an improvised ethnographic docufiction, which blends docudramas with fable:
"Zerzura is a feature length film shot in the Sahara desert. Mixing folktales and documentary, the film follows a young man from in Niger who leaves home in search of an enchanted oasis. His journey leads him into a surreal vision of the Sahara, crossing paths with djinn, bandits, gold seekers, and migrants. A folktale transposed onto an acid western, the film is a collaborative fiction, written and developed with a Tuareg cast, and shot in and around Agadez, Niger.

Over the past decades, Agadez has reestablished itself as a hub of movement across the desert. Migrants throughout the continent stop here on their perilous trek North, bound for mythic cities in Europe. Tales of gold in the desert abound, and men sell their houses for gold detectors. Young Tuareg leave home to seek their fortune in the fractured Libyan state. As people leave, stories return, becoming folklore, apocryphal and wildly exaggerated versions of truth.

In the style of 'ethnofiction' proposed by Jean Rouch, Zerzura is a window into Saharan dreams and imagination, a folktale about the universal drive to search for something that we know is likely false and unwavering faith in the face of realism. In an American-Tuareg production, a script written and developed collaboratively and largely improvised performances, the film plays with mutual exoticism to create a trans-cultural fiction. Zerzura asks 'what we are looking for in the desert, and what do we meet in these empty places?'"
See all my posts on Lost Cities.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Ancient Cities 6: The Underwater Gods of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus

Eighteen feet tall: "A red-granite statue of the [Nile] god Hapy at Aboukir Bay in Egypt. The five-metre statue will feature in an exhibition at the British Museum opening in May [2016]." Image Source: Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation via Independent.

The British press are reporting that underwater excavations of the ancient Egyptian cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus have yielded incredible artefacts which will be on display at the British Museum this year. Sunken Cities, which runs in London from 19 May to 27 November 2016, had related previous shows in Egypt and Paris. The cities were likely swallowed by the Mediterranean after a catastrophic earthquake in the 8th century CE. The British Museum released the following statement on the forthcoming exhibition:
300 outstanding objects will be brought together for the exhibition including more than 200 spectacular finds excavated off the coast of Egypt near Alexandria between 1996 and 2012. Important loans from Egyptian museums rarely seen before outside Egypt (and the first such loans since the Egyptian revolution) will be supplemented with objects from various sites across the Delta drawn from the British Museum’s collection; most notably from Naukratis – a sister harbour town to Thonis- Heracleion and the first Greek settlement in Egypt.

Likely founded during the 7th century BC, Thonis- Heracleion and Canopus were busy, cosmopolitan cities that once sat on adjacent islands at the edge of the fertile lands of the Egyptian Delta, intersected by canals. After Alexander the Great’s conquest of Egypt in 332 BC, centuries of Greek (Ptolemaic) rule followed. The exhibition will reveal how cross-cultural exchange and religion flourished, particularly the worship of the Egyptian god of the afterlife, Osiris.

By the 8th century AD, the sea had reclaimed the cities and they lay hidden several metres beneath the seabed, their location and condition unclear. Although well-known from Egyptian decrees and Greek mythology and historians, past attempts to locate them were either fruitless or very partial. ...

Thanks to the underwater setting, a vast number of objects of great archaeological significance have been astonishingly well preserved. Pristine monumental statues, fine metalware and gold jewellery will reveal how Greece and Egypt interacted in the late first millennium BC. These artefacts offer a new insight into the quality and unique character of the art of this period and show how the Greek kings and queens who ruled Egypt for 300 years adopted and adapted Egyptian beliefs and rituals to legitimise their reign.

The exhibition will feature a number of extraordinary, monumental sculptures. A 5.4 m granite statue of Hapy, a divine personification of the Nile’s flood, will greet visitors as they enter the space. Masterpieces from Egyptian museums such as the Apis bull from the Serapeum in Alexandria will be shown alongside magnificent recent finds from the sea. One such piece is the stunning sculpture from Canopus representing Arsinoe II (the eldest daughter of Ptolemy I, founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty). The Greco-Macedonian queen became a goddess beloved to both Egyptians and Greeks after her death and is depicted here as the perfect embodiment of Aphrodite, a goddess of beauty ‘who grants fortunate sailing’.

The exhibition will also cover the arrival of Greeks in Egypt, when they were hosts and not rulers; privileged but controlled by the pharaohs. A complete stela from Thonis-Heracleion advertises a 380 BC royal decree of the Egyptian pharaoh Nectanebo I. It states that 10% of the taxes collected on all goods imported from the ‘Sea of the Greeks’ into Thonis-Heracleion and on all trade operations at Naukratis were to be donated to an Egyptian temple.

A wide range of objects, from modest to grand and costly, bears witness to the piety of both inhabitants and visitors at these major religious centres. Lead models of barges uncovered in the sacred waterway linking Thonis-Heracleion to Canopus are unique and moving finds. They are associated with the Mysteries of Osiris, the most popular festival celebrated annually across Egypt during the month of Khoiak (mid-October to mid- November). Ranging in size from 6 to 67 cm, these reproduce in metal a flotilla of 34 papyrus barges that would have been displayed on a waterway to celebrate the first sacred navigation of the festival. According to religious texts, each barge was to measure 67.5 cm and to bear the figure of an Egyptian god, and would have been illuminated by 365 lamps. The lead barges are lasting testimonies possibly left by people who, long ago, celebrated this festival in the Canopic region.
A "5.4m red granite statue of the god Hapy, which decorated the temple of Thonis-Heracleion." Image Source: Evening Standard.

Submerged statue of the god Osiris. Image Source: Archaeology News Network.

CNN reported on the related Paris exhibition to describe the importance of the god Osiris in these lost cities:
The exhibition in Paris [8 September 2015 - 31 January 2016], entitled Osiris, Sunken Mysteries of Egypt, explores the importance of the Egyptian god to people of these cities, which are thought to have been places of pilgrimage.

The story of Osiris tells of how he was murdered and cut up by his brother Seth before being resurrected by his wife (and possibly sister) Isis, with whom he had a son, Horus.

[French archaeologist Franck] Goddio says: "It's about good defeating evil but not conquering it completely. Every year they had to renew Osiris, who brought the cycle of abundance, the stability of the cosmos and the continuity of the dynasty. In every temple a priest would represent the pharaoh and relive the murder, dismemberment and rebirth of Osiris. We knew that there was something special in Heracleion thanks to the stele rediscovered in 1881 which bore the decree of Canopus.

"It said that in the celebration of the Mysteries of Osiris, the great god leaves from the temple of Amon-Gereb in the town of Heracleion to perform a processional navigation to his sanctuary of Canopus. We found the canal along which the god sailed. We found artifacts in bearing witness of this celebration."
The statue of Osiris, in situ, from a distance. Image Source: CNN.

Monday, July 6, 2015

ISIS and Post-Diluvian Amnesia

A sphinx on the seafloor off the shores of Alexandria, Egypt. Image Source: All That is Interesting.

The Middle East is the source of all civilization on this planet. Any conflict there stirs the shared memory of all human beings. On 3 July 2015, days after ISIS or ISIL called for a jihad in the Balkans and declared caliphates in the Caucasus and GazaBreitbart reported that the radical Islamic movement has announced it will destroy the Egyptian sphinx and pyramids as a sacred duty:
ISIS “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi told followers of his terror group that destroying Egypt’s national monuments, such as the pyramids and the sphinx, is a “religious duty” that must be carried out by those who worship Islam, as idolatry is strictly banned in the religion, according to reports. UK radical Islamist Anjem Choudary echoed Baghdadi’s sentiments, telling The Telegraph: “When Egypt comes under the auspices of the Khalifa [Caliphate], there will be no more pyramids, no more Sphinx, no more idolatry,” saying that the ancient statues’s destruction “will be just.” Another Islamist preacher, Ibrahim Al Kandari, agrees that the cultural monuments need to be destroyed to comply with the Shariah. “The fact that early Muslims who were among prophet Mohammed’s followers did not destroy the pharaohs’ monuments upon entering Egypt does not mean that we shouldn’t do it now,” he told Al-Watan.
ISIS has already made its name destroying the older ruins of ancient Mesopotamia. Why is ISIS so threatened by these ruins? As the video lecture below the jump makes clear, the 5,000-year-old Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh is sexually intense, even by today's standards (read it here). Gilgamesh is also the foundation myth to end all foundation myths - it is the core story of our common civilization. It is the source material for our very understanding of organized social life. The opening lines to the 15,000 word work read:

"He who saw all, who was the foundation of the land,
"Who knew (everything), was wise in all matters.
"Gilgamesh, who saw all, who was the foundation of the land,
"Who knew (everything), was wise in all matters."

While there undoubtedly were many other epics sung in humanity's 100,000 to 50,000 years of prehistory, Gilgamesh is the earliest example we have. Its language marks the start of written history and that history begins with a cataclysm, a 'time before' and 'time after.' The story of all peoples is one of this terrible disaster, where great societies had arisen and then been destroyed by an archaic Flood. Most famous among these legendary antediluvian societies is Atlantis. J. R. R. Tolkien constructed part of his Middle Earth stories around an Atlantis idea, in which his hero, Aragorn, is descended from antediluvian superpeopleGilgamesh describes that watershed, that moment at which people still remembered what was before, and what came after. It is likely that Gilgamesh's antediluvian and post-diluvian claim to primacy constitutes the indelible and eternal cultural threat which so unsettles the ISIS zealots.

It unsettles - but also inspires them! The Millennial mind fixates on the turn of ages, and no such time is more fundamental than the Flood, which was likely (if you believe quasi-historical theorists like Graham Hancock) an account of the ending of the Ice Age. If you wanted to understand ISIS's motives in a nutshell, look at their obsession with the Flood. They constantly borrow from the Flood myth, meaning that they intend to create a new watershed moment with a flood of blood to wash the world and erase its memory of what came before. They want to construct a new turning point and create a new reality. Directly below and after the jump, hear the opening of the Epic of Gilgamesh sung in its original language and hear it recited in English.

Peter Pringle performs. "By 2000 B.C., the language of Sumer had almost completely died out and was used only by scholars (like Latin is today). No one knows how it was pronounced because it has not been heard in 4000 years. What you hear in this video are a few of the opening lines of part of the epic poem, accompanied only by a long-neck, three-string, Sumerian lute known as a "gish-gu-di". The instrument is tuned to G - G - D, and although it is similar to other long neck lutes still in use today (the tar, the setar, the saz, etc.) the modern instruments are low tension and strung with fine steel wire. The ancient long neck lutes (such as the Egyptian "nefer") were strung with gut and behaved slightly differently. ... The location for this performance is the courtyard of Nebuchadnezzar's palace in Babylon. The piece is four minutes long and is intended only as a taste of what the music of ancient Sumer might have sounded like." Video Source: Youtube.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Syria's Conflict and Ancient Plunder

One of at least 18 Odyssey mosaics reported stolen from northeastern Syria in early 2013. This is a detail of Odysseus tied to his mast, resisting the sirens. Despite reports, conflicting information originally places this mosaic in Tunisia, not Syria. Image Source: Past Horizons.

Since 2011, reports have circulated that Syria's classical heritage is being ruined or plundered by the conflict in that country. When war began, there were some 78 formal archaeological digs in the country. Then the conflict between the population and the government, followed by the Islamic State, led to an obliteration of Syria's precious past. Islamic State militants, like the Taliban, abhor graven images, although they are still willing to sell the stolen artifacts which they don't destroy. They are not alone on that black market.

Full mosaic: Odysseus and the Sirens at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, Tunisia (2nd century AD). Image Source: Wiki.

On 2 September 2014, the New York Times reported that the Islamic State has set up a nasty sideline selling Syrian archaeological artifacts:
We have recently returned from southern Turkey, where we were training Syrian activists and museum staff preservationists to document and protect their country’s cultural heritage. That heritage includes remains from the ancient Mesopotamian, Assyrian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic periods, along with some of the earliest examples of writing and some of the best examples of Hellenistic, Roman and Christian mosaics.
In extensive conversations with those working and living in areas currently under ISIS control, we learned that ISIS is indeed involved in the illicit antiquities trade, but in a way that is more complex and insidious than we expected. ...
ISIS permits local inhabitants to dig at these sites in exchange for a percentage of the monetary value of any finds.
The group’s rationale for this levy is the Islamic khums tax, according to which Muslims are required to pay the state treasury a percentage of the value of any goods or treasure recovered from the ground. ISIS claims to be the legitimate recipient of such proceeds.
The amount levied for the khums varies by region and the type of object recovered. In ISIS-controlled areas at the periphery of Aleppo Province in Syria, the khums is 20 percent. In the Raqqa region, the levy can reach up to 50 percent or even higher if the finds are from the Islamic period (beginning in the early-to-mid-seventh century) or made of precious metals like gold.
The scale of looting varies considerably under this system, and much is left to the discretion of local ISIS leaders. For a few areas, such as the ancient sites along the Euphrates River, ISIS leaders have encouraged digging by semiprofessional field crews. These teams are often from Iraq and are applying and profiting from their experience looting ancient sites there. They operate with a “license” from ISIS, and an ISIS representative is assigned to oversee their work to ensure the proper use of heavy machinery and to verify accurate payment of the khums.
In addition to the looting, ISIS seems to be encouraging the clandestine export of archaeological finds, which is primarily centered on the border crossing from Syria into Turkey near Tel Abyad, an ISIS stronghold. There is reason to suspect that ISIS has approved and encourages the transborder antiquities trade.
To control history, especially to squander or erase it, is to control the future. There are some 10,000 archaeological sites scattered across the country. All are now vulnerable.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Lost Cities: Kowloon Walled City, the Faux and the Real

From Yahoo and WSJ Live, a retrospective on Hong Kong's infamous Kowloon Walled City, which was demolished 20 years ago:
The Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong was once the densest place on earth, a virtually lawless labyrinth of crime, grime, commerce and hope. A Wall Street Journal documentary tracks its colorful legacy 20 years after its demolition.
For nearly a century, Kowloon Walled City was a gang-ruled place of low rents, no licences or taxes, drug trades, brothels and illegal dentists. Somehow, it gained further mystique because it sat across the street from an international airport, and landing jets notoriously scraped just over the slum's rooftops. The fascinating culture of this city-inside-a-city has been represented across eastern and western pop culture in video games, mangas and movies. Known as the City of Darkness in Cantonese, it particularly resonates with depictions of gritty urban landscapes in the 1980s and 1990s, and served as an inspiration for Ridley Scott's futuristic Los Angeles in Blade Runner. It recently inspired designers of Gotham sets for the British-American movie, Batman Begins (2005). City of Darkness Revisited notes only two films were actually shot inside the real Kowloon Walled City (see a clip of footage from the real city shown in Bloodsport below the jump):
only two films were actually shot within the confines of the Walled City, the Jean-Claude van Damme vehicle, Bloodsport [1988], and the far superior Johnny Mak film, Long Arm of the Law [1984]. In fact, the Walled City and one of its alleys only make a short appearance in Bloodsport, when the Jean-Claude character and his Chinese minder are making their way to an illegal fighting venue supposedly located there.
An interior facade reveals the city's staggering honeycombed character, built up without any architects. Image Source: La boite verte



Images Source: Greg Girard see more of his photos of the real Kowloon Walled City here. Other photos of the city are here and here.

Former inhabitants testify to Kowloon's tight-knit society:
"We all had very good relationships in very bad conditions. Even now, many people stay in touch with each other even though some old friends are overseas," Shum said. "People who lived there were always loyal to each other. In the Walled City, the sunshine always followed the rain."
Such is the nostalgia for this grim yet fascinating slum, that Japanese business interests have built a reproduction of Kowloon Walled City as an arcade and theme park south of Tokyo (see the theme park's main site here). The development blog, here, insists on historic faithfulness ("all materials produced from the scratch"; "real garbage from Hong Kong were sent by parcel"). HuffPo:
Kowloon Walled City, an infamous now-demolished Hong Kong slum, is enjoying new life as a three-storey Japanese arcade and theme park just south of Tokyo.
David Gilbert, a digital product manager, posted photos of the Kawasaki Warehouse on his blog, documenting stunning details of the resurrected Walled City – in all its dark and rusty glory – save for hints of modernity in its restrooms.

"The juxtaposition of a high-tech Japanese toilet in an authentically grimy bathroom had to be seen to be believed," described Gilbert.

Set designer Taishiro Hoshino, the mastermind behind the arcade theme park's time-bending alchemy, paid close attention to details from the actual slum city.

Hosino and his team examined photographs and video of the Walled City, retraced Chinese calligraphy on signage, tracked down Hong Kong mailboxes, balcony bird cages, and reproduced its neon signs.

Striving for full authenticity, he even persuaded a friend in Hong Kong to mail him her family's trash.
"I was later told that they were totally confused about my request," explained Hoshino in a detailed "Behind The Scenes" post on his website.
This development echoes other odd Millennial efforts to transform famous ruined (and not-ruined) locations of the 20th century into 21st century entertainment centres - a tourist-industry trend notably evident at Chernobyl and formerly-shuttered asylums and prisons in the United States. More images of the original city are below the jump.

The outside facade of the Japanese Kowloon Walled City theme park, which has been artificially aged and grimed up.  Image Source: HuffPo.

More images from Japan's faux Kowloon Walled City theme park, complete with faux brothels, fake open air meat markets, real Hong Kong mailboxes which were shipped to Japan as props - and grimed-up toilets, whose conveniences are actually clean and hyper-modern.  Images from HuffPo.


One of the meticulously-created Japanese faux-Kowloon mock-ups. Image Source: Hoshinogumi

"A slight departure from the theme park's authenticity, those wishing to leave must walk through a red-lit hexagon passageway, stepping over stones set over an illuminated pool toward a circular ying-yang door." Image Source: HuffPo.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Cryptic Messages

Image Source: Live Science.

Live Science reports on a crypt which has been uncovered in the Sudan, in the old Christian Kingdom of Makuria, which reached its golden age from 750 to 1150 CE. The crypt is located in what was the capital city, Old Dongola, once an important centre in medieval Nubia (see a brief history of the region here). The Live Science report is based on a research publication from 2009. The archaeologists from the University of Warsaw who excavated the crypt and environs in 2009 have a Website here; you can see their 2012 excavation of the city's royal palace, here.

From the Kingdom of Aldoia, south of the Kingdom of Makuria, north of Khartoum: "Bishop Marianos (1005-1039) and Virgin with Child, after 1005 [CE]." Image Source: Early African Christianity.

Ruins of a Coptic Christian church in Old Dongola, Sudan. Image Source: SuperStock.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Conan the Barbarian's Friday Night

Promotional art by Renato Casaro for Conan the Barbarian. Image Source: Wiki.

I have discussed humankind's vast period of unrecorded history - recalled only in legend. In the 1930s, pulp writer Robert E. Howard tried to imagine that world for us with his stories of Conan the Cimmerian. He must have struck a nerve, for his stories have remained persistently popular since they were first published. For tonight, see a classic film below the jump: Conan the Barbarian (1982) a monosyllabic, entertaining gruntfest with pretensions to high philosophy (after the "what is best in life?" speech, my favourite line is "language and writing were made available"). The film was directed by John Milius and the screenplay was written by the director and a young Oliver Stone, with the lead played by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In the film, Conan spans barbarism and new technology: "the secret of steel." James Earl Jones played Conan's mirror image villain, who in the same atmosphere cultivates a religion that is not "just another snake cult"; Thulsa Doom is the sinister, ruthless bringer of infinite, abstract thought to a brutal world. Conan must use his sword to hack and slash his way through a web of bad ideas. Sandahl Bergman played Valeria, the Valkyrie thief who grapples with the gods for Conan's soul. Conan's friend, Subotai, played by Gerry Lopez, was modeled on one of Genghis Khan's actual generals, and was not on a fictional character developed in the Conan pulps by Robert E. Howard. Also the below the jump - two Conan audiobooks of original 1930s stories. The audiobooks automatically start playing when you open the page, but can be paused on the left sides of the audiobooks' control bars.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Ancient Cities 5: Mirador, Cradle of Mayan Civilization

For the Mayans, the end of the world meant their ancient metropolis would be swallowed by jungle. Image Source: Ghost Hunting Theories.

The history of the ancient world is being rewritten by a spectacular archaeological find in Guatemala, at the lost city of Mirador, the cradle of Mayan civilization (Hat tip: Ghost Hunting Theories). El Mirador, home to the world's largest pyramid by volume (La Danta Pyramid) and thousands of still-buried pyramids (including Le Tigre pyramid), is larger than modern downtown Los Angeles.

The startling new find is a carved version of the Popol Vu, the creation story of the Mayan people. The frieze in question, dating back to 300 to 200 BCE, proves that Mayan mythology predates the cultural influence of Roman Catholicism by more than 1,000 years.

The city is hidden by a canopy of jungle, which swallowed it after the fall of Mayan society. For those fascinated by the Mayan 2012 predictions, Mirador reveals what the end of the world meant for its people. Descendants of the Maya still live on to this day, but their civilization is the stuff of archaeological digs. Imagine today's great metropolises - New York, London, Paris, Beijing, Buenos Aires, Delhi, Istanbul, Tokyo, Jakarta, Mexico City, Moscow - swallowed by forests. Then imagine what it would be like for the descendants of inhabitants of those centres to live on in relative obscurity. To contemplate surviving such a power shift is to understand the seeming implications of the 2012 Mayan prophecy.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Göbekli Tepe: The Divine Origins of Civilization?

"Now seen as early evidence of prehistoric worship, the hilltop site was previously shunned by researchers as nothing more than a medieval cemetery." Göbekli Tepe in November 2008. Image Source: Berthold Steinhilber via The Smithsonian.

In recent years, startling archaeological discoveries have indicated that human civilization is millennia older than we have long thought it is.  Case in point: Göbekli Tepe, a Neolithic santuary perched atop a hill in southeastern Anatolia in Turkey. This sacred place, with its megaliths and strange animal carvings, is 6,000 years older than Stonehenge. That makes Göbekli Tepe 11,000 to 12,000 years oldWiki: "The site was most likely erected by hunter-gatherers in the 10th millennium BC and has been under excavation since 1994 by German and Turkish archaeologists. Together with Nevalı Çori, it has revolutionized understanding of the Eurasian Neolithic." It is considered by scholars to be one of the most, if not the most, important archaeological site in the world.

The site in 2011. Image Source: Teomancimit via Wiki.

Göbekli Tepe comprises twenty round structures - stone circles made up of edifices weighing dozens of tonnes - which took enormous effort to build. Then, strangely, the entire complex was buried by local people 2,000 years after it was constructed, around 8,000 BCE. This is somewhat equivalent to ancient Egyptians burying the pyramids. That act adds to the questions and a dark mystery surrounding the site's purpose. Why cover up something so spiritually significant? To our mindset, it would suggest the site was cursed; some have linked it to the Garden of Eden and Cain and Abel stories in the bible. Its lead archaeologist has called Göbekli Tepe not the 'Garden of Eden,' but the 'Temple of Eden.' One theory suggests that the burial reflected a great conflict between the dying hunter-gatherer society and a rising agricultural society, indicated by evidence of mass human sacrifices in the nearby Stone Age village of Caynou. If the place was cursed, what does it mean that it is now being unearthed around the turn of the Millennium?

Only four of the site's monolithic circles have been excavated. The German archaeologist who has worked the site since the mid-1990s is Klaus Schmidt of the German Archaeological Institute (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut); he believes these structures constituted the world's oldest known, and possibly first, temple. He calls it, "the first human-built holy place." He bases this conclusion on the fact that there is no evidence that people lived at the site, even though it looked over what was once a fertile valley:
Prehistoric people would have gazed upon herds of gazelle and other wild animals; gently flowing rivers, which attracted migrating geese and ducks; fruit and nut trees; and rippling fields of wild barley and wild wheat varieties such as emmer and einkorn. "This area was like a paradise," says Schmidt, a member of the German Archaeological Institute. Indeed, Gobekli Tepe sits at the northern edge of the Fertile Crescent—an arc of mild climate and arable land from the Persian Gulf to present-day Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Egypt—and would have attracted hunter-gatherers from Africa and the Levant. And partly because Schmidt has found no evidence that people permanently resided on the summit of Gobekli Tepe itself, he believes this was a place of worship on an unprecedented scale—humanity's first "cathedral on a hill."

Schmidt says the monuments could not have been built by ragged bands of hunter-gatherers. To carve, erect and bury rings of seven-ton stone pillars would have required hundreds of workers, all needing to be fed and housed. Hence the eventual emergence of settled communities in the area around 10,000 years ago. "This shows sociocultural changes come first, agriculture comes later," says Stanford University archaeologist Ian Hodder, who excavated Catalhoyuk, a prehistoric settlement 300 miles from Gobekli Tepe. "You can make a good case this area is the real origin of complex Neolithic societies."

What was so important to these early people that they gathered to build (and bury) the stone rings? The gulf that separates us from Gobekli Tepe's builders is almost unimaginable. ... The [standing stones are] utterly foreign, placed there by people who saw the world in a way ... [we] will never comprehend. There are no sources to explain what the symbols might mean[, according to] Schmidt ... . "We're 6,000 years before the invention of writing here," he says.
In other words, Schmidt hypothesizes that religious worship came before agriculture in the development of civilization. It was worship that impelled people to settle in order to build holy sites. And out of that settlement came domesticated animals and agriculture, the need to have captive and controlled sources of food. Thus, Stone Age peoples did not foresake hunting and gathering simply in order to settle down. They did so for a greater goal of appealing to their gods, of giving deities physical form and building a place where spirits could live, and be visited by passing hunter-gatherer bands.

The  carved beasts in this complex are not the ones associated with farming, but rather frightening creatures: lions, boars, spiders, vultures, snakes and scorpions. Perhaps it was a location where prehistoric peoples could conquer their fears. It might be a burial mound for as-yet-undiscovered warriors, or the centre for a death cult.

This interpretation means that Göbekli Tepe was a spiritual waystation, a holy pit stop on a nomadic circuit. It is as startling a vision of the deep past as it is revolutionary. It means that prehistoric human worship, the need to capture the unknown, may be the oldest of higher human impulses. That impulse may even predate spoken language, let alone written language, by several millennia.

"According to archaeologist Klaus Schmidt, 'this is the first human-built holy place.'" Göbekli Tepe in November 2008. Image Source: Berthold Steinhilber via The Smithsonian.

Because this is a civilized, non-settled Stone Age site which predates the invention of agriculture and writing (normally taken as the civilization's starting points), Göbekli Tepe is a magnet for Millennial mythology-mongers and conspiracy theorists.

Göbekli Tepe particularly lends itself to the Millennial alien astronaut concept. American journalist Linda Moulton Howe just visited the site. She marries Schmidt's stunning archaeological work to Internet-driven Millennial crypto-mystery-making. The Examiner reports that Moulton Howe thinks that structures at the site were parts of an alien machine, incredibly surrounded by vibrating pillars. Her wild theories are an example of the current symbols and metaphors which people use to make the inexplicable make sense.

Göbekli Tepe in November 2008. Image Source: Berthold Steinhilber via The Smithsonian.

"An arm, a fox and other strange carvings adorn stones at Turkey's Gobekli Tepe."
Göbekli Tepe in November 2008. Image Source: Berthold Steinhilber via The Smithsonian.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Ancient Cities 4: Khirbet Qeiyafa

 Khirbet Qeiyafa. Image Source: Times of Israel.

Did the ancient land of Israel exist? Archaeologists have debated this question for decades. Of course, their findings have political implications in today's Middle East and their debates may well be influenced by those implications. Now, a dig at the ancient city of Khirbet Qeiyafa is providing a 3,000 year old history lesson on the past - and the present.

On 8 May 2012, archaeological finds 15 miles southwest of Jerusalem seemingly confirmed the existence of the biblical figures King David and King Solomon. The confirmation rests on excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa (which may have been the biblical city of Sha'arayim or Neta'im), dating back to the 10th century BCE.

Most notably, reports suggest that model shrines discovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa were meant to represent Solomon's Temple, the original home of the Ark of the Covenant. Carbon dating places these relics within the time frame of biblical accounts of David's kingdom. Not only is the timing correct, but the relics potentially support the possible existence of a Jewish realm with a dedicated religion. Then there is the already-observed fact that Khirbet Qeiyafa was a walled city, indicating that it was a town within a larger polity with a centralized administration.  Live Science:
For the first time, archaeologists have uncovered shrines from the time of the early Biblical kings in the Holy Land, providing the earliest evidence of a cult, they say. ... Excavation[s] ... have revealed three large rooms used as shrines, along with artifacts, including tools, pottery and objects, such as alters associated with worship.

The three shrines were part of larger building complexes, and the artifacts included five standing stones, two basalt altars, two pottery libation vessels and two portable shrines, one made of pottery, the other of stone. The portable shrines are boxes shaped like temples.

The shrines themselves reflect an architectural style dating back as early as the time of King David (of the biblical David and Goliath story), providing the first physical evidence of a cult in the time of King David ... . Radiocarbon dating on burnt olive pits found in the ancient city of Khirbet Qeiyafa indicate it existed between 1020 B.C. and 980 B.C., before being violently destroyed. ...

[Lead archaeologist Yosef] Garfinkel suggests some of the features and styles of the structures appear analogous to those described in the Bible. For instance, one of the shrines, the clay one, is decorated with ...two pillars ... . The two pillars are suggestive, he said, of Yachin and Boaz described in the Bible as belonging to Solomon's Temple.
The Temple's two pillars - which  Garfinkel associates with the portable shrines - represented the Pillars of Creation, the Trees of Eden. Also consistent with biblical accounts, according to Garfinkel, is the lack at Khirbet Qeiyafa of cultic figurines of animals and people, and the absence of pig bones at the site, indicating a religious dietary law against the consumption of pork.

Depiction of Solomon's legendary Temple in Jerusalem. Image Source: King Solomon Legend.

Another imagining of the Temple of Solomon. Image Source: Imagebearer's Weblog.

"Yosef Garfinkel with a shrine model made of stone, found at Hirbet Qeiyafa." Image Source: Hebrew University of Jerusalem via Times of Israel.

Times of Israel describes the model shrines:
Model shrines of the type found at the site would have been used in ritual practice. One of the models, 8 inches high, is made of clay, and includes a main door and two pillars as well as decorative elements like two lions on the doorstep and three birds perched on the roof. Garfinkel suggested the pillars were suggestive of the ones known as Boaz and Yachin, which the Bible says existed in Solomon’s Temple. 
The other shrine, made of limestone and standing 14 inches high, includes stylized roof beams and a recessed doorway, which Garfinkel said could help settle disputes about how best to translate some of the Hebrew words used in the Bible to describe architectural elements of the Temple.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Mournful Effect of Impending Mayan Doomsday

North Group temples, Palenque, Mexico. Image (13 Feb. 2012) © A. Evans, National Geographic.

National Geographic travel writer Andrew Evans is currently continuing his tour through the Mexican ruins of Mayan civilization (previously mentioned here) to get to the bottom of the 2012 Mayan end-of-the-world prophecy.  His latest post is a poignant and touching commentary on what it really means for civilization to end, yet keep on living; to endure a massive revolution in time, and come out the other side; to persist past catastrophe, and endure with that traumatic legacy across millennia.  Everyone should read his commentary on Palenque, as he ponders the haunting fact that the great Mayan 900-year-old society came to a sudden end within the span of a year or two; and no one really knows why:
Wandering among the limestone ruins of temples and palaces of the past, I could not help but wonder how such a smart and sophisticated society could crumble into ruin.

The Maya of Palenque had aqueducts of running water, intelligent architecture, intricate artwork, ball courts and residences that will last much longer than most of the chipboard-walled homes built in America today.

Just as traveling in foreign places makes you reconsider home, standing atop a ruined civilization makes you reconsider your own. Palenque was built around 100 B.C. and was abandoned around 800 A.D. That’s 900 years of civilization that came to an abrupt finish.

In historical terms, our own civilization has yet to stand the test of time. New York City is not even 400 years old—I thought about New York because I spent the morning at Palenque estimating the expanse of the ruins in terms of Manhattan city blocks. I wondered: What would America’s biggest city look like if it were abandoned for the next 1,400 years? Which buildings would stay standing for the long haul, and which ones would crumble and fall? Even in my own relatively brief lifetime, the New York City skyline has changed in a major way.

... [V]isiting Palenque showed me that a world can disappear without actually disappearing.

For the ancient Maya of Palenque, the world most definitely ended. Their city and society ceased to function, and the grandeur and knowledge of their age fell into ruin and forgetting. And yet the Maya are still here. Millions of Maya still live in Mexico today—they live quite a different reality than they did 1,400 years ago, but the people themselves have not disappeared.

Also, the ruins of Palenque still stand—just as they were part of an ancient civilization, they have become part of our civilization today. They are a tourist attraction that inspires the whole world in myriad ways.

Yesterday, resting on the Pyramid of the Cross ... I observed the different visitors interacting with the strange and exotic archaeological sites around them. ... And I, observing these New Age manifestations in silence, found myself in agreement with American explorer John Lloyd Stephens, who in 1840 described Palenque’s “mournful effect.” While their ancient civilization is long finished, the mystery of the Maya is alive in the ruins of Palenque today.

Sunday, December 25, 2011


Woodstock, Vermont Christmas Parade. Image Source: Discover New England.

Happy Christmas! For the day, here are a couple of New England Christmassy photos. Below the jump, a light post with twelve 'top ten' videos - one for each of the twelve days of Christmas - and each one relevant to the blog's themes.

The Polar Express train at Edaville, Massachusetts. Image Source: Discover New England.