Not Your Father’s World History Part 4:|
“The Sun dimmed... ice formed
in summer mornings.”
22 October 2005
Curious Article No. 13:
From 6000 to 4000 bce southeastern Europeans were using a script called Vinča,
which predates by millennia the Egyptian and Sumerian writings and remains
undeciphered. The more recent end of this period, about 3500, saw the invention
of the wheel by the Sumerians. A bit later in the Austrian Alps, 3325, someone
shot Ötzi the Iceman in the shoulder with an arrow. Element isotopes in his
teeth and bones indicate he grew up in the Eisack valley, in the southern Tyrol
village of Feldthurns. Germans Helmut and Erika Simon found him in 1991.
In apparent response to a seven-tenths of a degree shift in the earth’s axial
tilt, the Sahara dried out in two phases, from 4700 to 3500 bce and more
drastically from 2000 to 1600. During the first of those phases the Kiffians
dispersed in search of better water prospects. Pending DNA analysis, they may
turn out to have fathered the ethnic divisions we now know as Berber, Egyptian,
Chadic, Cushitic (whose descendents live around the Horn of Africa), and
Semitic. At least one subset of the latter group, the Akkadians, made it all the
way into Mesopotamia. They first settled side-by-side with the unrelated
wheel-inventing Sumerians but through a series of conflicts eventually blended
with them to form the nation history records as Babylonia.
A tremendous catastrophe occurred in the autumn of 1627 or 1628 bce. It was the
eruption of Thera, on the Greek island of Santorini, which either destroyed or
at least fatally weakened the Minoan civilization based on nearby Crete.
Minoans had traded as far afield as Spain and Mesopotamia, and they
enjoyed paved roads and indoor plumbing. They spoke and wrote in a mysterious
language we call Eteocretan and buried their dead in ceramic
|Satellite image of Thera
The volcano’s plume was
probably tall enough that people could easily see it from Egypt, 450 miles (700
km) distant and its ejected volume exceeded 25 cubic miles (100 cubic km).
Chinese chronicles recorded, “The sun dimmed… ice formed in summer
mornings and there was frost in July. Hot and cold weather arrived in disorder.
The five cereal crops withered and died.” They blamed their king for the
famine and overthrew him. Many infer that the Exodus of the Bible occurred at
this time, that the “pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a
pillar of fire to give them light” refers to Thera's plume. After the
Trojan war Crete fell into the hands of the Mycenaeans, who were imperious and
bellicose where the Minoans were happy-go-lucky and pacifistic.
King Tutankhamen, who undoubtedly knew all about Thera from his
history lessons, died around 1325 bce. His reign was lackluster but he’s famous
to us through the quirks of fate that allowed his tomb, whose treasures showcase
the very pinnacle of classical Egyptian artisanship, to escape looters.
Tut’s favorite perfume, discovered in alabaster jars, featured the rare essence
spikenard which had to be imported all the way from the Himalayas.
Despite all the CAT scanning of late we still don't know whether or not King
Tut was murdered though the mummy had a broken left thigh which, if not
postmortem, could have gone gangrenous. In any event when he died a senescent
priest named Ay either forcibly married his widow Ankhesenamen and snatched the
throne, or at least intended to. She would have none of that, though, and fled
300 miles (480 km) north to the Nile delta. Now the Hittites in Asia Minor had
known Tut as Nibhuruia and his wife more generically as Dahanunzu (“King’s
Wife Supreme”). From Memphis she wrote to the Hittite king, in the
Akkadian language, “He who was my husband has died. A son I have not.
Never shall I take a servant of mine and make him my husband…. They say your
sons are many, so give me one son of yours. To me he will be husband, but in
Egypt he will be King.” In response the king did send one of his sons,
Zananza; but Ay was way ahead of the game and had him bumped off when he reached
the Egyptian border. Ay did indeed end up King, either with Ankhesenamen
or without her.
By 1200 bce the Olmecs or Zoque had established a preëminent
presence on the Gulf of Mexico. They went on to devise one of the New
World’s first writing systems (some believe the Zapotecs had a slight edge
on this) and to use the zero for the first time anywhere. They left a great deal
of dramatic, often heart-rending artwork in the form of figurines, masks, and
most famously colossal stone heads weighing up to twenty tons and exhibiting
thick lips and wide noses. Many hold that these heads, along with some skeletal
remains, indicate a direct migration from Africa on the part of the
Olmecs, specifically from the Mende-Loko-speaking region around modern
So far mainstream anthropologists don't buy this, though. They point out that
the people living on the Gulf of Mexico who still display these same
quasi-negroid features carry exclusively Asian DNA. They also judge the
epicanthal folds on the stone heads’ upper eyelids to be more Asian than
African, and assert that the Olmecs spoke a language from the Zoque
subfamily as do some 70,000 Mexicans to this day in the areas of Chiapas,
Veracruz and Tabasco.
Some major scientific coups took place between 600 and 200 bce that you don't
normally hear about. In 600 bce or so Egyptian king Necho II commissioned a
Phoenician crew to circumnavigate Africa. They went clockwise starting from the
top of the Red Sea and after three years arrived home at the Nile delta. The
main things that shocked them were that as they rounded southern Africa below
the equator the sun was in the “wrong” part of the sky and the
seasons were reversed.
Photo: Keith Schengili-Roberts
No more than a hundred years later metallurgists in southern India developed the
earliest steel called wootz. It displayed unique swirly patterns on its surface,
and a sword made out of it bent to a ninety degree angle would spring back. In
the sixth century bce Anaxiamander of Miletus proposed that life developed
through natural rather than mythological processes, and that human beings
ultimately evolved from fish. During the fourth century bce Aristotle quoted the
followers of Pythagoras as saying that the earth is round and orbits the sun. In
330 bce Heraclides of Pontus taught us that the earth rotates daily on its axis
and in 240 bce Eratosthenes of Cyrene correctly deduced the earth’s
circumference within an accuracy of twelve percent.
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Text © Peter Blinn