Book Review: Voices of the Rocks
The book mentioned in News Notes in this issue of The Mutable Dilemma is called Voices of the Rocks, written by Robert Schoch Ph.D. with Robert McNally. It is a delightful exception to the numerous books on catastrophes and ancient civilizations that are either largely fantasy and myth, based on astral experiences or imagination, or they are debunking books by materialists. Schoch is a geologist with an open mind, a tenured professor at Boston University who has personally investigated a variety of sites with “structures” that might have been built by ancient cultures. The book was published in 1999 by Harmony Books, a division of Random House Inc.
Schoch had always been interested in the geological history of our planet, including the study of past catastrophes when earth was impacted by bolides, the general term for solid objects from space that are big enough to make it through our atmosphere without burning up. Bolides can include pieces of comets, asteroids, or any other space debris. Schoch became involved in the journey that led to this book when he met John Anthony West, a maverick Egyptologist who challenges the beliefs of the establishment anthropologists. West was looking for an open-minded geologist to check his theory that the famous Great Sphinx of Giza was older than the period of the Pharaoh Khafre who is credited with carving it as well as his associated pyramid. Schoch agrees that the second of the great pyramids along with its temple complex and the Sphinx were designed as a group, but the evidence suggests that the Sphinx was already there and that Khafre repaired it when he built the associated structures around 2500 B.C.
The basis for the greater age of the Sphinx is the major difference in the degree of weathering of most of the Sphinx, in contrast to the rear of the animal and the rest of the associated complex. Schoch is convinced that the original carving dates back to at least 5,000 B.C, and it may be 2,000 or more years older. At that time, the climate of Egypt included much more rainfall, and most of the Sphinx and its immediate surroundings show weathering caused by water. The back end of the animal and other structures in the vicinity, including mud brick tombs not far away, show only the weathering of wind-blown sand associated with a dry climate which has been present for some 7,000 years. Also, the extensive repairs to the Sphinx are dated to the Old Kingdom, and it would hardly have needed them if it were built during that period. Schoch suggests that the animal was originally carved as if it were coming out of the rock face, and that when Kafre built his pyramid near-by, he finished excavating the rock to expose the rump which has only about half as much weathering as the rest of the animal.
Though the Sphinx got Schoch started on this quest in 1989, he has covered a lot of territory since then, in space, time, and shifting scientific paradigms. An older Sphinx upsets the establishment timetable which starts civilization in Sumeria in about 3,000 B.C., and which has primitive, stone-age cultures living in Egypt before that. However, accumulating evidence from archaeology in other regions is joining to push back the origin of animal husbandry, agriculture, and sizable cities. Catal Huyuk in Anatolia and Jericho in modern Israel were sizable cities as early as 8,000 B.C. Neolithic paintings of star constellations in the cave of Lascaux, and notches carved on bones which represent the phases of the moon, are dated to 15,000 B.C. Humans did not suddenly get smart in 3,000 B.C. Schoch tries to sort out the fantasy of writers who think knowledge had to be brought to humans by aliens from other star systems from the increasing discoveries of archaeology that humans have been creating complex cultures, art, and artifacts for a very long time.
Schoch makes a real effort to find evidence for Plato’s Atlantis, checking out every area suggested for its location, but he is unsuccessful and ends by keeping the door open. He dismisses Lemuria, and he learned to scuba dive in order to investigate supposed ancient ruins offshore of an island near Okinawa, only to find they were natural rock formations formed by geological processes. Here too, he does not totally dismiss the possibility that some ruins on the island of Yonaguni in the Ryukyu chain date from the distant past. He checks out the claims of ancient maps, and finds the evidence inadequate. He discusses the theories of Santilana and von Dechend in Hamlet’s Mill, as evidence for astronomical knowledge conveyed in world-wide myths, but I think he has failed to recognize the importance of their main point; that precession was a source of the universal flood myths.
Schoch is still looking for “real” floods, and, of course, there were major floods in the past. Schoch suggests some past catastrophes involving fire and/or water were caused when bolides hit earth. He mentions the work of Clube and others that I wrote about in the 1996 summer Asteroid-World and in my part of the Millennium book published by ACS. I was especially fascinated by Schoch’s material on the period around 1200 B.C. which has never been adequately explained by history and archaeology. During this period, many cities in the Near East were destroyed by fire, and some were never re-built. Whole peoples were displaced and moved into new territories, often fighting the local inhabitants. The period has been called a “dark age,” when civilization was set back in major ways. Most historians have cited a record of Egypt being attacked by the “sea peoples,” but a few groups looking for new homes or booty was hardly a sufficient explanation for the huge disruption of much of the Near East. Schoch makes a good case for the devastation being caused by fragments of an asteroid or comet hitting the areas around the eastern Mediterranean.
In summary, I was delighted and impressed with the book, and recommend it to anyone interested in the past. And, as Schoch points out, the past is also the future. He strongly urges an expanded effort to look for space objects that could cross the orbit of earth, and to figure out appropriate ways to deflect them if they are on a collision course with earth. As he points out, the nature of the object will determine the proper technique for dealing with it. A collection of loosely connected ice and gravel would be handled differently than a solid object of rock and metal.
The main missing piece in Schoch’s survey of known impacts like Tunguska, is the probability that the “great fire” of Chicago in 1871 was caused by fragments of a bolide. As I wrote in a past Mutable Dilemma, the book named Mrs. O’Leary’s Comet offers very good evidence that the simultaneous, incredibly hot fires that swept across much of Michigan and Wisconsin and killed thousands of people and animals on the same night as the Chicago fire were caused by the fragments of the comet Biela. The heat of the fires was so intense, blades of grass burst into flames. Spontaneous fires erupted in basements and metal implements were melted. Some of the latter can be seen in a Chicago museum. That was before the days of TV and radio, so the news of the simultaneous and widespread devastation was not put together until recently.
One of the reassuring theories mentioned by Schoch is that there may be space regions where impacts are more frequent and that history suggests the earth passes through such regions at intervals of about 1,000 years. If Biela and Tunguska were due to the most recent pass through this theoretical dangerous region, we have a few hundred years to prepare for the next one.