What does it say? What did somebody take the trouble to write down by carving it into a block of wood, maybe seven thousand years ago? Was it a grocery list? A things-to-do list? There’s just no way to tell. Maybe if we had dozens of samples, and a guess that the language was some form of ancient Greek turned out to be right, we might someday apply enough computer analysis to read this.
Conferring with Susan, my editor, this morning, her advice to me was to top off my sanity tank by letting go of the nooze and working on my book all day. I’ve been doing that, and I feel saner already.
My current villain, Ysbott the Snake, fleeing a well-earned execution, has found a young girl named Qeqa living all alone in a strange, uninhabited sector of Lintum Forest. How has she managed to survive? She claims she’s been protected by “gnomes” who are only visible when they choose to be. It’s got to be a lie–but how else could she be living there? She’s strong and healthy, well-fed… and she just might turn out to be a more dangerous character than Ysbott himself.
You can’t spend much time with the Lady of the Lake without encountering a pre-Christian tradition among the Celtic peoples that certain lakes, ponds, and bogs were sacred places endowed with spiritual energy. Celtic chieftains threw valuable items into those pools as sacrifices. Kings sometimes sacrificed their finest swords.
Might Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, have been recovered from such a place? That would certainly explain why people believed the sword to have special qualities. I think that might resonate with anyone familiar with Japan’s sword tradition.
Well, the landlord’s done mowing the lawn, so I’ll go back outside for another session with my book.
(Can I get this post written before I have to go to the supermarket? Well, let’s try.)
In ancient days when Rome wallowed in its ruin and records were but poorly kept, if at all, there was said to be a Lady of the Lake who gave King Arthur his sword, Excalibur; and when Arthur died, it had to be returned to her.
For old-time Celtic peoples on both sides of the English Channel, certain ponds and lakes and bogs were considered holy places, mysterious places, places of power; and precious things were thrown into the water as sacrifices–swords, helmets, golden cups and cauldrons, and sometimes a prince or a princess, too.
There was probably more than one Lady of the Lake. What was she? A pagan priestess? But why should Christian kings and knights consult a pagan priestess? Was she mortal or immortal? She may have been a scholar: literacy would have been a rare gift in those days. We are talking fifteen hundred years ago, or more. And of course she would have precious swords: kings and chieftains had been tossing them into the lake for centuries.
How did the Lady of the Lake come to be responsible for raising and instructing Lancelot? How came she to fall in love with Sir Pelleas? Was she a witch? Was she Merlin’s pupil, who later turned against him because he had conceived an unlawful passion for her?
These are mysteries that are probably going to stay mysteries, try as we might to unravel them. But who knows what other discoveries we will make along the way?
History is full of momentous events, shocking events, that can’t be fully understand because so little of the record has survived. What does survive is mysteries. Here’s one of them.
Sometime around 1595 B.C. the king of the Hittites, Mursili I, marched his army all the way down Mesopotamia from what is now Turkey, all the way to Babylon, then the greatest city in the world. The Hittite ruler sacked the great city, putting an end to the dynasty made famous by Hammurabi, radically disrupting the international political system of the Ancient Near East.
But he didn’t stay long. Babylon was much too far from the Hittite center of power, for any Hittite government to be established there. Mursili looted the place and then marched home. He wasn’t back for very long before he was assassinated.
We don’t know why he attacked Babylon. It was about as far as you could go from Hittite lands and still find any cities at all. There were no roads. Bringing an army all the way down there must have been a colossal undertaking.
In Babylon they must have known the Hittites were coming; but a) their own country was undergoing civil strife, and not in a good position to defend itself; and b) “The Hittites? Did you say Hittites? Don’t they live somewhere way the hell up there in the mountains? What do you mean, ‘The Hittites are coming’?” It would have been very hard news to believe.
History is the collective memory of mankind. With it we can hope to understand our own time. We can at least try. Livy and King Solomon would agree: what has been done before is what is being done now; there is no new thing under the sun.
Inquire of the Lord for wisdom, and for understanding.
An out-of-place and drastically overgrown thylacine? Naah–couldn’t be!
Things like this just don’t happen today. They are preserved in history.
During 1764 through 1767, a rural region in France was terrorized by a wild animal called “the beast of Gevaudan.” Incredibly, it attacked some 200 people, with 90 fatalities. Survivors described it as an extra-large wolf; but some contemporary illustrators drew it with a long, stiff tail unlike any wolf’s. Besides, wolves hunt in packs; the Beast hunted alone.
The royal government sent special hunters to kill it, there were at one time an estimated 10,000 hunters tracking it–and finally a local man shot it dead.
Once upon a time, before the Sahara was a desert, people lived there and sometimes painted pictures on the rocks. Sometimes they just spread a hand on the rock and squirted paint around it: probably a kind of signature.
We are occasionally asked to believe that lizards did this, too.
Socotra Island, in the Arabian Sea, is over 200 miles from the nearest land. If you want to get there, you need a boat or a plane. So scientists had a big surprise a couple of years ago when they discovered prehistoric stone tools there.
Imagine several square miles of territory peppered with unexploded bombs and containing uncounted thousands of prehistoric stone jars. This is the Plain of Jars, in Laos. In the picture, the little girls have climbed on top of one of the biggest jars.
I first heard of this place in the 1960s, when the Vietnam War was spilling over into Laos. “Jars?” I wondered. What could they be talking about?
Because the region is difficult to get to, and because it’s not safe to do archeological work on a site full of live ordnance just waiting to go off, there’s not a lot that can be said with certainty about the Plain of Jars. Archeologists date them from circa 500 B.C. to 500 A.D. The jars are carved from stone, mostly sandstone. They generally contain ashes, dirt, teeth, bone scraps, and small grave goods. They are apparently connected with funeral practices featuring cremation. Hard to be sure: we are short on written records.
So whose jars were they? Who were the people that carved them and put them there, and what happened to them? What kind of civilization did they have?
If we, the Western world, don’t get our act together, someday people will be asking those questions about us.
As you can see by the map, the island of Socotra is in the middle of the ocean, and you can’t go there unless you have a boat, a helicopter, or a small plane.
I am purposely ignoring the dismal and unedifying news of this day, in favor of something that’s not news at all, but really, truly puzzling. I like a good puzzle–don’t you?
In 2008, a Russian scientific expedition discovered Olduwan stone tools on Socotra. “So what?” you say. Well, “Olduwan” refers to the oldest and most primitive stone tools we can find, named after Olduvai Gorge in Africa. They are so primitive that some scientists think they were made not by human beings, but by Australopithecus-type ape-men. Others say no, they’re too advanced for non-humans, they must have been made by this hairy little fellow, Homo habilis.
Okay–let’s agree that Mr. Habilis made those tools.
So how in the world did they wind up on Socotra? Hold on, let me ask that in italics–How in the world did Olduwan tools wind up on Socotra? I mean, like, if you used tools like this to build a boat, you’d better have an awful lot of time to devote to it, and a great fondness for swimming many miles from the nearest land. Or was Mr. Habilis getting there by air?
I don’t know how those tools wound up on an island in the middle of the ocean. Maybe their makers hitched a boat-ride from regular human beings. The Darwinian fairy tale offers no explanation for this–but if you’re into Evolution, anyone out there, go ahead, give it a try. See what kind of far-fetched story you can come up with. I’ll be gentle with you: after all, I used to be one of you myself.
But Olduwan tools in the middle of the ocean? Nah! Go figure!