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Introduction to Catastrophism, Lost Civilizations, Forgotten Technologies, and Missed Opportunities:
Today, many of us are (largely) a people without a past

(latest major update of this section on or about 5-9-2000)

_________by J.R. Mooneyham_________
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Back to Perspectives 59,999,999 BC- 51,000 BC...



Today, many of us are people without a past. Why? Many of us simply ignore the past; have little or no sense of how and why everything has changed over time. As students we are too caught up in play or puberty or other matters-- and so rarely learn much history along the way. As teachers we are often pressured to teach only uncontroversial or widely accepted ideas-- as well as focus on those subjects most directly applicable to employment. Alas, real history is rarely uncontroversial or widely accepted or judged readily applicable to the workplace. And so it often gets minimized or even distorted or censored in the classroom. As parents we are often too busy with other matters to teach much history to our children-- even the recent history we experienced ourselves.

Sometimes campaigning politicians and the media dish out some small bits of history to us-- but usually only where such supports an agenda of some sort, such as electing someone, or selling a new product or service. At times the news media may try to fill in contextual gaps with a little history to explain why the news of the day is meaningful (or not). In neither case can you necessarily assume that the history being provided is strictly true; for history is often at least as prone to interpretation and 'spin' as the Bible.

So these sources are woefully inadequate, so far as acquiring a real sense of history is concerned.

This leaves many of us with one last (and often unsolicited) major source of history teachings in our lives: nearly a lifelong exposure to a combination of organized religion and politics. This reference is itself inextricably intertwined with much of recorded human history so far-- and so often affects our perspective on any other history many of us may obtain from other sources, for good or ill. Such religious/political sources are inherently biased; for they are ever in the business of recruiting volunteers and minimizing defections to competing camps. Thus, their own version of history typically portray themselves and their practices as the moral ideal, commiting few if any mistakes along the way. And all other factions are almost invariably portrayed as inferior; untrustworthy; suspect.

In the end, few of us get much truth and accuracy in history from such sources.

This sad state of affairs can leave us with an unavoidable clash between science and politics/religion, where history is concerned. Religion/politics/nationalism will often enjoy the upper hand here, being as how it more easily evokes emotion and 'gut feelings' from us-- while science typically may only appeal to our cold logic and reason. Our intellects.

Pure passion for a cause is fun, while thinking is hard work. So reason often gets short shrift here. At best, science may only evoke our curiosity and sense of wonder. But religion, politics, and business may wield tools like guilt, fear, patriotism, and peer pressure, as well as ritual compulsions and greed. So wherever truth and religion/politics/business part ways, many of us find it much easier to follow the more deceptive path.

Just one of these crossroads involves human evolution, and the true span of past history. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, some would have us believe that human beings (and the entire Universe itself) basically popped up out of nowhere something less than 10,000 years ago. Apparently by a mechanism similar to magic, which cannot be explained scientifically. The Divine Being(s) responsible for all this also supposedly planted enormous amounts of false evidence pointing to utterly different explanations, just to see what we would make of it all. Yes, though on the one hand many of these folk will urge that their respective God(s) only be taken with the utmost seriousness, on the other hand they suggest He/They to be a merry prankster, when they can explain their views in no other fashion.

Humanity's religions have come a long way since the dawn of recorded history. The earliest beliefs were that mysterious spirits inhabited practically every element of the surrounding environment: trees, streams, mountains, animals, stones, etc. And these spirits were perhaps related to believers themselves, such as departed relatives, or children yet to be born. Sometimes they were instead alien and terrifying.

As the millennia passed, and humanity struggled with new ways of organizing themselves into city-states and nations, they were reorganizing their religious beliefs as well. Eventually the more complex societies on Earth settled upon various 'pantheons' of very human-like 'gods' ruling their world-- sort of a reflection of the emerging elite of the societies themselves: priesthoods and similar hierarchies with a definite upper class ruling over all others.

Still more time passed, and nation-states became still more centralized, with power and control being increasingly concentrated into but a single individual: a caesar, pharoah, king/queen, emperor, or supreme priest/pope. Again, a striking similarity to the governmental structure appeared in the evolution of religious beliefs of the time, with the appearance of monotheism-- the belief in a single God greater than all the rest of the higher beings or spirits. Our King can beat your King; our God can whip your God. This trend was evident in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

There are exceptions of course, with religions like Hinduism in Asia, which to this day maintains something more like the crowded pantheon of an earlier time. But the primarily monotheistic states had come to dominate the world by the eve of the 21st century, as their form of organization had proven superior to pantheon-states up through the present-- at least where war, economics, and technology development are concerned.

Education of the masses within the monotheistic states (which really only began in earnest within the past few centuries) has focused primarily upon making the populations suitable for employment in industry and commerce, and so it is little wonder that relatively few of these citizens are fully cognizant of how their civilizations, religions, and even humanity itself evolved over the eons.

Indeed, it is not difficult to find citizens of even the most highly developed states today (such as USAmerica) who will firmly refuse to acknowledge mankind's ascent from chimp-like predecessors-- or even a world history longer than 10,000 years or so.

And yet a staggering wealth of evidence has been uncovered (with more coming to light every day) supporting a multi-billion year old Earth and millions of years of evolution gradually transforming apes into human beings.

But more than that, new discoveries are showing many compelling (and fascinating) reasons for us to embrace and accept the truth of human evolution. Reasons for us to hail the astonishing achievements of our deepest forebears. For our prehistoric ancestors often performed amazing feats on their way to creating the foundation for modern human civilization. It was they, not us, who developed the power of language, tamed the wilderness and the great beasts, and conquered virtually every habitat the Earth has to offer-- all often with little more than a stone axe and wooden spear for tools.

So just what sort of discoveries display our evolutionary forebears at their best?

Things like the near-extinction of the human race around 70,000 years ago, where we came darn near to imitating the dinosaurs' disappearance act. One or more super volcanic eruptions plunged a world already locked in an Ice Age into still worse conditions: something approximating the nuclear winter which might be expected after a global nuclear war in the 21st century.

And our ancestors had to cope with this catastrophe with a technology base for which the cutting edge was represented by the first crude flame lamps and perhaps spoken language.

If not for the fierce fight for survival put up by our forebears during that time, we would not be here today. This may even be where much of our present day machismo relating to 'never giving up or quitting' originally came from: the DNA of survivors who fought against the ultimate Darkness, winning thru sheer (even perhaps unreasonable) tenacity. And yet, virtually no one is aware of that prehistoric war against all odds waged by our predecessors against an unforgiving cosmos. We even dishonor the scars of that war among the present-day population with racist words and actions-- for the different colors of skin among us likely appeared in the aftermath of that near extinction, for reasons explained elsewhere in this document.

So the many skin colors among us today are actually medals of honor and courage and determination, earned for our entire race by our distant ancestors. We should celebrate them-- not denigrate them.

But there's plenty more surprises where that came from. Like our possible merman heritage.

Evidence is mounting that our distinctive hairless appearance (and several other differences) compared to apes in general came from our ancestors being isolated in a semi-aquatic environment for a million years or so. If that isolation had continued much longer, we might well have went the same way as those other land animals which returned to the sea; those which eventually became today's whales and dolphins. If we'd taken that course all the way though, it is likely we would today be little more than hairless streamlined webfooted chimpanzees spending equal amounts of time among watery shallows and swamp trees. We might not even possess a spoken language yet, on that road not taken, due to being as well adapted and comfortable in our environment as dolphins are today (to see more about such possibilities refer to Our Aquatic Stage? ).

Fortunately for us, changes in the environment forced our ancestors out of the water again, and onto a more difficult path. But not before possibly bestowing upon us many of the bodily changes we like so much today, such as our near hairlessness, walking upright, the power of speech, and more.

Beyond the intriguing evolutionary twists and turns are the possibilities involving lost civilizations and forgotten technologies.

Human legends and mythology include popular concepts of one or more technologically advanced civilizations that existed before the dawn of recorded history; civilizations that equaled or surpassed our own in many ways, only to meet with a sudden, violent end, perhaps due to their own excesses in war, hubris, immorality, or greed.

The sudden, cataclysmic end (our myths continue) also destroyed or well hid the proof of these civilizations' existence from later generations. And the added weight of at least ten or twelve millennia of natural decay and deterioration atop that (not to mention scavenging and additional vandalism upon the wreckage by later generations of people) has surely erased whatever other minute traces might have remained.

Though the myths include many different names and titles, the most popular is Atlantis-- the great island that sank beneath the sea, amid earthquake, volcanic eruption, or -- perhaps-- man-made disaster.

But sudden catastrophic ends to entire cities or civilizations which leave behind no trace at all-- as described in our myths-- can't happen, right?

Wrong.

We know for a fact that such things as catastrophic, sudden sinkings (or disappearance by other means) of substantial land masses can and do happen at times-- the most famous modern example perhaps being 32 plus acres of the notorious Caribbean pirate haven of Port Royal, in 1692 AD. The eruption of Krakatoa somewhat later also swallowed up a sizeable community in the blink of an eye. Ten percent of the Hawaiian island of Oahu suddenly fell into the sea around a million years ago. Then there is the matter of the entire continent comprising today's undersea Kerguelen Plateau, which sank 20 million years ago in the southern Indian Sea. Too, we have indisputable proof of other ways cities or settlements of substantial size can be suddenly destroyed or hidden by natural forces alone; witness Pompeii, buried alive by a sudden volcanic eruption.

Heck, for that matter, entire planets can and are destroyed and remade on a regular basis, cosmically speaking. Our Earth itself is actually version 2.0-- version 1.0 was utterly destroyed via collision with another world, and remade into the world we live on today, around 4.5 billion years ago (that's also when the Moon was made-- it was a leftover from the collision).

And if you add advanced technology to the picture, the disappearance or destruction of large metropolitan areas is made simpler still; imagine a nuclear weapon dropped on Rome at the height of its empire-- or on the capital of Egypt in ancient times. If such a thing had occurred, we might to this day have little or no idea that Egypt or Rome had been mighty and advanced nations for their times.

But nature, of course, offers far more likely methods of wiping civilizations off the faces of worlds. For instance, the cosmos can just lob an enormous rock or iceberg at us: consider a comet or asteroid miles in diameter, packing the destructive power of many times the total nuclear arsenals of all the nations of 20th century Earth combined. Now picture the results of this mass impacting the center of a great civilization. Poof: In a matter of seconds there's virtually nothing left.

So yes, anything imaginable could be erased from the face of the Earth in an instant-- and in many different ways.

Entire city-states-- even sprawling, advanced civilizations-- can be wiped clean in seconds, with little or nothing left behind to prove they ever existed.

But even if we accept the fact that a civilization can be erased from existence in many different ways, still, no ancient civilization could ever have possessed skills or technologies which would surprise late 20th/early 21st century folks, right?

Wrong again.

We have been surprised many times with archaeological discoveries of remarkably advanced technology at various ancient sites, such as what appeared to be crude electrical batteries in design (by accident or intention no one is sure) from 1000 BC Iraq [pages 20-21, "Ancient Electricity?", Feats and Wisdom of the Ancients, Library of Curious and Unusual Facts, Time-Life Books, 1990], and Greek-made mechanical analog computers for sea-going ship navigation from around 1 AD [pages 93-94, "An Ancient Computer", Feats and Wisdom of the Ancients, Library of Curious and Unusual Facts, Time-Life Books, 1990], as well as others. Even in matters as seemingly straightforward as earth moving and construction, there remain cases of ancient engineering that defy our attempts today to reconstruct how they were accomplished with the resources available at the time. Indeed, some ancient construction projects would challenge even our latest equipment and skills today!

And there's always the 'road not taken' to consider. That is, technology developments that pursue other avenues than our own have, for a variety of reasons. There's numerous points where the evolution of a culture's technology can choose one road rather than another, with astonishingly different consequences for civilization decades or centuries afterwards. One example is our own late 19th through early 20th centuries. At that time the internal combustion engine was struggling against steam and electric technologies to become the primary motive force for a whole new industry: personal automobiles. Internal combustion won, and that technology became the basis for an enormous chunk of our economy and industrial base in the decades that followed, with both good and bad consequences.

But with a slight nudge, we might have went with electric or steam-powered vehicles instead. And thereby changed the history that followed in very important ways.

Wouldn't it be fascinating to see the 1999 AD version of one of those alternative realities? Where the global industrial base had chosen steam or electricity as the motive force for automobiles and planes and much, much more? The planet might be a lot cleaner, pollution-wise. But who knows what the other consequences would have been?

Heck, we might even be much more advanced over where we are now, if we'd chosen another technological path way back then.

Anyway, my point here is that our technological history could have diverged not just at the end of the 19th century, in regards to automobile engine technologies, but at many, many places in the road which led to where we stand today.

Perhaps the most intriguing points for such divergences could have been in our deep, unrecorded past, at a time when most of human civilization was just beginning to coalesce from the chaos of competing tribes...

...or, about the time that the earliest references to Atlantis and other lost civilizations place those mythical places in prehistory.

And there's also this: if an ancient civilization did happen onto an advanced technology wholly unknown to us today, would we even recognize it as such in our archaeological digs? Maybe not, if it was either sufficiently advanced, or simply too different from what we expect technology to be, today. For example, signs of advanced biotechnology from the distant past could be very difficult to discern from natural evolutionary processes-- even if all the evidence itself had not decayed to dust during the intervening millennia. Indeed, virtually nothing but rocks have survived from the human past of as recently as 10,000 BC-- and it's upon those that we base almost everything we know about that time. Such rocks represent only some 5% of the tools and other items people were making and using, but everything else has turned to dust before we could examine it.

Perhaps we've already found examples of 27th century equivalent technology in a few ancient sites-- and simply not yet recognized it as such (only recently, for example, we realized that a 10th century site displayed signs of steel-making techniques previously thought to be much newer).

So, to sum up, could an entire city-state or even a whole nation be wiped off the map in just a few minutes?

Most assuredly so! We have plentiful (and terrifying) proof of it. Indeed, at the dawn of the 21st century we are increasingly worried that humanity itself may face a world-wide disappearance if a suitably sized and directed asteroid or comet appears in our skies any time soon.

Could there have existed a technologically advanced civilization up to 100,000 years ago, that today we have no notion of at all, but for myth and legend?

Of course! The enormous gaps in our records and other historic documents tell us we are missing a great deal of knowledge-- we know there's something there, but we just don't know what it is. The hidden truth might be much the same as what we currently guess about it-- or it could be astonishingly different.

For instance, there's plentiful evidence that vast areas of today's sea bottom were dry and inviting regions for people tens of thousands of years ago. Indeed, substantial portions of these may have been among the best environments on Earth for civilizations to flourish within at that time-- considering there was an ongoing Ice Age making the rest of the world a pretty miserable place to live.

But anything built in those places was swept away or submerged when the glaciers melted and the oceans rose. The disappearance of the glaciers caused a big increase in volcanic activity too, which would have contributed still more to the great global erasure of humanity's past up to that point (scientific citations for this are presented later in this document).

Besides those massive geological events, there were also cases of both accidental and willful destruction of what precious bits of ancient knowledge and history we did save from the floods, lava, and time itself. Such as the Library of Alexandria in Egypt, and the destruction of similar native libraries in the americas by the invading europeans.

So we know for a fact that there's lots that we don't know about our past, and our ancestors. But what little we do know often amazes and confounds us.

Just imagine the secrets yet to be revealed about humanity's past-- as scientists continue to probe the uncharted origins of our civilization.

Up to now, precious few reasonably plausible scenarios have been put forth for just exactly what, when, how, and why something like Atlantis could have arisen and fallen in the mists of pre-history-- and exactly where we might look for clues to its existence today, despite what we can assume was an overwhelmingly efficient destruction of virtually everything related to such a thing, more than 10,000 long years ago.

So, without further ado lost civilization lovers-- here's a thread of continuity between you and some form of the Atlantis mythos-- how and why one (or more) lost but advanced civilizations and their bodies of knowledge might have become that way-- for real. Lots more about the latest scientific finds regarding prehistoric catastrophes, human evolution, the best (and worst) moments of human history, and other matters are included as well. Enjoy!


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The above article(s) come from and make references to a collection copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 by J.R. Mooneyham (except where otherwise noted in the text). Text here explicitly authored by J.R. Mooneyham may be freely copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes in paper and electronic form without charge if this copyright paragraph and link to jrmooneyham.com are included.

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