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Africa
Southwest Asia
Egypt
Indus Valley
China
Europe
South America
Mesoamerica
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Africa

 

Southwest Asia

…in 1938, Dr. Wilhelm Koenig, a German archeologist, was inventorying artifacts at the Iraq State Museum in Baghdad, dating from about 250 B.C. , when he noticed what seemed to be the impossible resemblance of a collection of two-thousand-year-old clay jars to a series of dry cell storage batteries. A typical jar was 130 mm (5-1/2 inches) high and contained a copper cylinder, the bottom of which was capped by a copper disk and sealed with bitumen or asphalt. An iron rod was suspended from an asphalt stopper at the top of the copper cylinder into the centre of the cylinder. The rod showed evidence of having been corroded with an acidic agent such as wine or vinegar. A few years later, Dr. Koenig's suspicion was put to the test. Willard Gray, a technician at the General Electric High Voltage Laboratory in Pittsfield , Massachusetts , finished an exact reproduction of the Baghdad jars. He found that an iron rod inserted into the copper tube and filled with citric acid generated 1.5 to 2.75 volts of electricity, enough to electroplate an object with gold. Gray's experiment demonstrated that practical electricity could have been applied to metalworking by ancient craftsmen after all. (64)

In June 1936, a German archaeologist named William Konig, from the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, was opening a Parthian grave when he came upon a clay vase that contained a copper cylinder, inside which was an iron rod held in place by asphalt and molten lead. It looked to Konig like a primitive battery; fellow archaeologists disputed this, since the grave was dated to about 250 BC. But Dr Arne Eggebrecht constructed a duplicate, and poured fruit juice into it; the result was a half-volt current that lasted for eighteen days, with which he was able to coat a silver figurine in gold in half an hour. Having observed that on many gold-covered Egyptian statues the gold seemed to be too fine to have been glued or beaten on, he had become convinced that the ancient Egyptians knew the secret of electroplating. (123)

Egypt

 

Indus Valley

 

China

 Hsu Fu petitioned the emperor of China in 219 BC with claims to have special knowledge of a wonderful domain of 'magic mountain islands' to the east of China in the Pacific: In the midst of the Eastern Sea there are three magic mountain islands, Pheng Lai, Fang-Chang and Ying-Chou, inhabited by immortals. We beg to be authorized to put to sea...to go and look for the abodes of the immortals hidden in the Eastern Ocean." The target of this voyage, which did receive the emperor's blessing, is stated to be far off 'in the midst of the Eastern Sea', but again there is no consensus as to its location. Hsu Fu went to look for it with a well-stocked fleet, said to have been carrying large numbers of young men and women and 'ample supplies of the seeds of the five grains’ - which suggests settlement plans. The Shih Chi records that he 'never came back to China'. But confusingly, the same chronicle also reports other voyages - equally fruitless in terms of any definite discovery - which sought the same islands much closer to the Chinese coast: From the time of the Kings of Chhi [e. 378 BC]...people were sent out into the ocean to search for the islands of Pheng Lai, Fang-Chang and Ying-Chou. These three holy mountain isles were reported to be in the midst of Po-Hai [the Gulf of Bo Hail, not so distant from human habitations...Many immortals live there, and the drug which will prevent death (pu ssu ehih yao) is found there, but the difficulty [is] that...before you have reached them...these three holy mountain isles sink down below the water - or else a wind suddenly drives the ship away from them. So no one can really reach them... So we have a confirmed cartographic science in China from around 2000 years ago (Chang Heng, Phei Hsiu), and references to an ancestral tradition more than 2000 years older than that - which presumably was itself not new in 2000 BC when 'special officials' already existed dedicated to the archiving and probably copying of ancient maps. There are, I think, too many such time-capsules of ancient geography scattered across too many sources from too many lands - myths and folklore, maps and traditions - for every example to be explained away as coincidence. I am convinced that something must lie behind all this and that the odds are rising in favour of a significant forgotten episode in the story of civilization localized in time at the end of the Ice Age. The hypothesis I have followed, which received virtually unlimited support from world deluge myths, is that the discontinuity - some might call it the Fall - was a direct product of episodes of post-glacial flooding and linked cataclysms. So it follows that the evidence for what we have lost - which might explain how and by whom the world came to be mapped more than 12,000 years ago - should be found on the bottom of the sea. (124)

Europe

From 1990 to 1992, a drill operated by the European Greenland Ice-Core Project recovered a cylindrical ice sample 9,938 feet long, pieces of which were distributed to participating laboratories. The ages of successive layers of the ice cap have been accurately determined, so the chemical makeup of the atmosphere at any given time in the past 9,000 years can be estimated by analyzing the corresponding part of the core sample. Dr. Rosman focused on the ratio of two stable isotopes, or forms, of lead: lead-206 and lead-207. His group found that the ratio of lead-206 to lead-207 in 8,000-year-old ice was 1.201. That was taken as the natural ratio that existed before people began smelting ores. But between 600 BC and AD 300, the scientists found, the ratio of lead-206 to lead-207 fell to 1.183. They called that "unequivocal evidence of early large-scale atmospheric pollution by this toxic metal." (94)

All ore bodies containing lead have their own isotopic signatures, and the Rio Tinto lead ratio is 1.164. Calculations by the Australian-French collaboration based on their ice-core analysis showed that during the period 366 BC to at least AD 36, a period when the Roman Empire was at its peak, 7O percent of the global atmospheric lead pollution came from the Roman-operated Rio Tinto mines in what is now southwestern Spain. The Rio Tinto mining region is known to archaeologists as one of the richest sources of silver in the ancient world. Some 6.6 million tons of slag were left by Roman smelting operations there. The global demand for silver increased dramatically after coinage was introduced in Greece around 650 BC. But silver was only one of the treasures extracted from its ore. The sulfide ore smelted by the Romans also yielded an enormous harvest of lead. Because it is easily shaped, melted and molded, lead was widely used by the Romans for plumbing, stapling masonry together, casting statues and manufacturing many kinds of utensils. All these uses presumably contributed to the chronic poisoning of Rome's people. Adding to the toxic hazard, Romans used lead vessels to boil and concentrate fruit juices and preserves. Fruits contain acetic acid, which reacts with metallic lead to form lead acetate, a compound once known as "sugar of lead." Lead acetate adds a pleasant sweet taste to food but causes lead poisoning--an ailment that is often fatal and, even in mild cases, causes debilitation and loss of cognitive ability. (94)

My personal view is that the concept of the spherical earth was well known to the first great historical civilizations such as the ancient Egyptians and the Sumerians 5000 years ago and will ultimately be proved to date back to a much more remote period even than that. But wherever it comes from originally, we owe a debt of gratitude to Ptolemy for its preservation and repromulgation in the second century AD - for, despite the intellectual ravages of the Dark Ages that were to follow, his vision of the earth as a sphere was never quite forgotten. Other significant contributions that Ptolemy made to the scientific mapping of the world include the establishment of functional parallels of latitude, and of a prime meridian, passing through the Canary islands, that was to serve as zero degrees longitude for sixteen centuries. Ptolemy was not the originator of the Geography - as he himself goes to great lengths to point out. Instead, he tells us that his role has been to refine and correct an earlier Geography prepared by his predecessor, the Phoenician geographer Marinus of Tyre, who was active around AD 100 or 110 and whose great work was itself called Correction of the World Map. Ptolemy's maps may actually have been the end-products of a long process of decline, degradation and accumulated errors introduced by many different hands into a far older and once far superior map-making tradition. (124)

South America 

A line of 2,300-year-old stone towers north of Lima, Peru, form the oldest known solar observatory in the Americas, a team of archaeologists has found. The discovery that the line of stone markers tracks the sun's progress across the sky also suggests that sophisticated sun worship may have thrived in the region nearly two millennia prior to the famous sun cults of the Incas, the team says.

Known as the Thirteen Towers of Chankillo, the structures sit atop a low ridge in north coastal Peru, part of a ceremonial complex dating to the 4th century B.C. Ranging from 2 to 6 meters high, the towers form a toothed horizon along the ridge. The 4-square-kilometer site also contains multiple structures and plazas, including two structures that precisely flank the towers to the east and west. Earlier excavations uncovered pottery, shells and stone fragments littering the site around one of the structures.

Archaeologists have known of the site since the 19th century, but rather than linking it to the path of the sun, researchers originally thought it tracked the moon's movement. Ivan Ghezzi, director of the National Institute of Culture in Peru, wanted to investigate the site further, however. Taking the evidence of shells and pottery as suggestive of rituals, Ghezzi and archaeoastronomer Clive Ruggles of the University of Leicester postulated that the two flanking structures might be observing points from which the people could examine the towers. The team then compared the towers' locations with the sun's position throughout the year, including a precise calibration to the sun's position during the June and December solstices in 300 B.C.

Viewed from either observing point, the spread of the towers precisely follows the full range of movement of the sun, tracking its progress accurately to within two to three days, Ghezzi and Ruggles reported March 2 in Science . During the winter and summer solstices, the sun's position was also symmetrical, setting on either end of the line of towers when viewed from the opposite observing points. Furthermore, the regularly spaced gaps between the towers suggest the structures' arrangement may have been used to count off the days of a solar calendar, the team said. (43)

The Moche were especially skilled metalworkers, using gold, silver and copper in innovative combinations and developing a chemical plating process for gilding copper objects. This technology had disappeared among the societies encountered by Europeans after 1492. The Moche civilization collapsed near the end of the eighth century for reasons unknown. When the Spanish arrived in Peru in 1528, the Incas ruled the area where the Moche had once flourished. But archaeologists have come to realize that much of the Inca art and technology was based on the innovations of earlier cultures, notably the Moche, who are known to posterity almost entirely through the beautiful ornaments and art from their tombs. (102)

Mesoamerica

 The Maya were sophisticated mathematicians. They used a base-twenty system in which they expressed the quantity thirty-nine for example, as nineteen numbers after twenty, and the value sixty as three twenties. They had no way to express fractions in mathematical notation, but they computed the length of the solar year to 365.242000 days, compared to our own Gregorian calendar figure of 365.24~50Ci days (the true value is approximately 365.242198 days). The Maya used two calendars. One was the familiar solar calendar in which a year equaled 365 days, but whereas we intercalate an extra day every four years to compensate for the year being actually 364.25 days long, the Maya blithely ignored this and let the seasons creep around the calendar. The second calendar (which may have been formulated by predecessors of the Maya) involved a 260-day year, composed by intermeshing the sequence of numbers from one to thirteen with twenty named days. (51)

[The Maya] are renowned for their achievements in mathematics, especially as applied to astronomy, but how they came by this knowledge is as much an anthropological mystery as their origin. Eventually, they were able to predict eclipses of the Sun, but not which of these would be visible to them; they did not know that the Moon revolved around the world, or the world around the Sun. They calculated the average synodical revolution of Venus with great accuracy an error amounting to just 1 day in 6,000 years. (150)

Mathematics was the key skill, both in recording astronomic data and in the construction of the calendars; unlike our Western, decimal metric form, the system is vigesimal, that is, based on a computation of 20. It is thought that they were among the first to use the concept of zero. (150)

...none of the basic calendars can be understood without considering its relationship to the others. They interlock, they are interdependent, their combination providing important insights and perceptions that would be missed if left unsynchronized and considered only individually. It is thought that the Maya developed at least 20 calendric cycles, 17 of which are on record. Each of these had their dedicated association with, for example, the cycles of Venus, other planets, the Moon, the Sun, the Earth, the span of human life, rituals, and the organization and planning of agriculture and other daily activities. Most importantly, each calendar was the basis of divination and prophecy. Some of the calendars are thought to be extremely ancient and certainly those established by the Maya drew on earlier forms, for example those of the Olmec, which they inherited and perfected. (150)

It was the Maya's discovery of precession that provided the ground for their concept of 'Suns' or World Ages and also for the creation myth recorded in the Popul Vuh. Jenkins sums up the matter succinctly: 'the end date of the Long Count Calendar in 2012 pinpoints a rare alignment in a vast cycle of time called the precession of the equinoxes.' (150)

The start-date of the Long Count Calendar, 13 August 3114 BC, is sometimes referred to as the 'Birth of Venus'; That they understood the morning and the evening star to be the same planet says much about the Mayan genius for astronomy and the extraordinary quality of their naked-eye observation. Much of this was undertaken at a unique circular building at Chichen Itza, known as the Caracol, which was built as an observatory specifically to record the movements of Venus. The extremely accurate data recorded there, are contained in several codices, the fullest account being that of the Dresden Codex which is in the form of an almanac. It included five repetitions of the full cycle of Venus, that is, five sets of 584 days, or a total of 2,920 days, which is 8 years, together with the dates of its transit across the Sun. The Codex also includes almanacs for the movements of Mars and Jupiter, but it is Venus that dominates, and it was the only planet for which the Maya calculated extensive data. (150)

North America

 

Other