Home' Nova National : March 2010 Contents Hold the
© NOVA MARCH 2010
There are many environmental
mysteries, ancient and modern.
The most recent, those to do with
the Copenhagen summit and
local politics, escape me almost entirely. But
strangely, the oldest encounters of humans
with the physical world recapture my hope
in humanity, and a sense of wonder about
what might be possible in the time ahead of
us, this time of climate change.
Let's begin with some of the most ancient
of mysteries. The memory of sitting inside
Newgrange, a couple of weeks before the
winter solstice in Ireland, remains one of
the most extraordinary moments of my
life; a living mystery to make contact, at
least through proximity, with the builders
so long ago, who would have stood where
I stood in the cosy inner chamber. Why do
archaeologists call this place a burial mound,
when the passageway within is perfectly
situated to capture, on the shortest day
of winter, dawn's eastern midwinter light,
penetrating the megalithic mound, filling
the inside with sun for 17 minutes, a
conception that the long nights are now
curtailed and summer will inevitably return?
Isn't it the rebirth of life? An insemination
Ancient mysteries speak
eloquently to us now as
we face choices that
shape the future, says
of light into the earth's womb? The sense of
wonder in that place is palpable.
In 1969, a younger Helen O'Kelly
witnessed the event when her father
discovered the roof box. "He was the first
person in about 5,000 years to see it," Helen
says, "a very emotional experience, a cultural
confirmation of a culture so old." Fascinating,
too, that the site was a place identified
with Oenghus, the Irish god of love.
When I read once that this "tomb" was
enclosed around 3200 BC, I felt a chill go
down the back of my neck. For inexplicably,
around the same time, the Egyptians started
building pyramids, and mummifying, no
longer leaving their dead to the western
desert. I have no idea what this vague
coincidence may mean, but there is
something in me that nevertheless feels a
sense of wonder. Wonder at the megalithic
people on the edge of Europe who would
toil away for 20 years building Newgrange,
with its scrolling spirals recollecting the
movement of the sun above and beneath the
earth, and then their near-contemporaries,
those ser ving the sky-climbing pyramids,
declaring their compact with time, to endure
for millennia. A mystery!
A close enigma is the east-facing Sphin x
-- apart from its own antiquity, the question of
how a layer of erosion, vertical undulations,
appears on the body and not the Great
Pyramid nearby. Was it rainfall, dating the
Sphin x much older than her companions?
The geologists' debate about limestone
textures is still raging. The outcome shifts
the ground from underneath us. Was
the Sphinx constructed in 2500 BC, as
commonly understood, or much, much
earlier, 10,000 BC, when the rains were
heavy, and the climate much wetter? Quite
a different picture!
The mystery crosses the water. In
Egypt, the people built pyramids and
travelled down rivers in boats made of
reeds, and worshipped feathered serpent
gods. Is it merely a coincidence of materials
being applied to a similar task in the New
World by the Mayans and Aztecs? Is it just
that we humans shared a consciousness in
those days, Sheldrake's morphic resonance,
manifesting either side of the Atlantic?
But one can get lost in these ancient
mysteries. I am less fascinated by the
possibility of a vanished Atlantis, than
amazed by our just extinct cousins, the
Neanderthals, a species probably separate
from we sur viving humans, homo sapiens,
encountering each other in Europe during
the Ice Age. How would our history have
been if the last Neanderthal hadn't died out
as recently as 24,000 years ago on the south
coast of Spain? What would they have taught
us about being human? Human ingenuity?
Human emotions, like love and anger? What
a bridge that would have been to cross, but
now gone, a mystery never to be answered!
The Zanclean Flood, described in 1961
by scientists, was a pre-human event around
5.33 million years ago, an extraordinary
breaching of the barrier between the Atlantic
Ocean and the dried up Mediterranean Sea.
As a one kilometre high waterfall would have
begun, the waters apparently dug a 200 km
channel across the Straits of Gibraltar, with
the dessicated Mediterranean filling up, at
its most intense stage, at a rate of about 10
metres a day. How extraordinary! And yet
this geologically established, pre-human
event is recounted to have happened in
earlier times by Pliny the Elder in the first
century AD. Now that's a mystery.
If I could do so safely, I would loved to
have glimpsed St Brendan on his voyages
into the western Atlantic, braving, in his
leather-clad boat, the driving seas on his
quest for the blessed island.
How similarly wondrous were the
Vikings travelling the northern waters,
encountering Valhalla-size icebergs,
snatching a new life in the absurd extremes
of volcanoes and glaciers of Iceland and
the longed for vine-lands on the tip of
Newfoundland, the last a voyage doubted
until confirmed by archaeological discoveries
Although confounding, I find these kind
of mysteries easy enough to step into. They
are cameos, delightful to pick up and play
with, and of no apparent consequence.
'When I read once that this "tomb" was enclosed around 3200
BC, I felt a chill go down the back of my neck..'
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