Ancient High Technology

Debunking the Myth of ‘Primitive’ Ancestors

In its September issue, Atlantis Rising’s (#125) reported on a piece of “40K-Year-Old Jewelry” (pg. 14) newly discovered in eastern Russia. An artificial hole in the Siberian chlorite bracelet “required a high-speed drill” to create, using “a tool 30,000 years ahead of its time.” Such a find contradicts mainstream archaeological opinion denying ancient man anything but the most rudimentary material culture. But the ice age bangle is only one among many recent examples of surprisingly sophisticated technology centuries, even millennia, before the advent of our so-called “Modern Age.”

Many of these seemingly anomalous artifacts—such as the Greek Antikythera Device, a second-century-BC analog computer, or Baghdad’s third-century AD electric battery—are familiar to Atlantis Rising readers. They may be less aware, however, that equally remarkable specimens of advanced scientific application date back to the deep past. Nor must we look far from home for their physical proof.

One thousand years ago, a technologically sophisticated people remembered as the Hohokam flourished throughout the American Southwest. Centered in what is today northern Arizona, they engineered a colossal irrigation network of cement canals, which, if placed end to end, would have stretched from Phoenix to beyond the Canadian border.

“But it was a small number of decorated marine shells dated to about AD 1000,” writes Emil W. Haury, a foremost authority on the Hohokam, “That intrigued us most. We were baffled by the incredible fineness of the working of horned toads, snakes, and geometric forms that adorned them. Our study pointed to only one plausible hypothesis: The shells were etched. We knew full well that this meant crediting the Hohokam with the first etched artifacts in history—hundreds of years before Renaissance armorers in Europe came upon the technique.”

Those ancient Americans first discovered “the corrosive power of fermented cactus juice, which produces a weak, acetic acid. Shells soaked in the vinegar would be eaten away unless protected by a resistant substance, such as pitch. Hence, the procedure by simple reasoning: For a design of pitch on a shell, soak it in acid, scrape off the pitch, and the result is an etched design … The invention of etching enabled the Hohokam to create some remarkable works of art.” (Emil W. Haury, The Hohokam: Desert Farmers and Craftsmen, University of Arizona Press, 1976) They were also advanced metal-smiths. Small, silver bells that Haury excavated surprised his fellow archaeologists, who, until then, assumed that Hohokam furnaces were incapable of reaching the 2,006 degrees Fahrenheit necessary to melt silver.

Another Southwest culture, contemporaneous with the Hohokam, was the Anasazi. Its urban engineers filled New Mexico with enormous structures containing more than 3,000 individual rooms. The grandest of all such buildings is Pueblo Bonito, the “Beautiful Village.” It rises in five tiers or stories above two acres at the foot of Chaco Canyon’s northern rim. In pristine condition, Pueblo Bonito covered three times the square footage of the White House, in Washington, D.C., was as large as the Roman Coliseum, and contained 800, spacious rooms. Walls were originally three feet thick to support a ceiling weighing 90 tons. A smaller edifice, Chetro Ketl, alone absorbed approximately 50 million stone blocks. Altogether, building these Great Houses required 900 million stones and a quarter-of-a-million coniferous trees. Nor was their felling and transportation a nearby affair. After having exhausted local stands by the mid eleventh Century, ponderosa pine, spruce, and fir that went into construction came from mountain ranges up to 70 miles away. How this immense haul to Chaco Canyon was undertaken over such distances is a mystery, because not one of the easily damaged trees bares a single scratch or mar.

The Anasazi were also operators of an information-sharing technology unmatched until the advent of the telegraph. They set up signaling posts at regular intervals along a vast network covering twenty-five thousand square miles of territory throughout the San Juan Basin. During daylight hours, data was flashed from one relay station to the next in code by highly polished obsidian mirrors. From dusk until dawn, their places were taken by bonfires able to pass on an equivalent amount of news. According to Tom Windes, an archaeologist who researched Chaco Canyon for 30 years, “You could flash messages in minutes across the whole Chaco world. It even looks like a dual-route system in some places, so if one went down, you would have another line to back it up.” (Craig Childs, House of Rain. NY: Back Bay Books, 2008) The prehistoric network was re-mapped in 2000, and information from 30-year-old plane table maps of the archaeological zone were fed into high-powered computers for analysis, with results far beyond anything the operators expected. Monitors lit up with, as archaeologist Craig Childs explained, “a master plan of alignments that had never before been recognized.”

The Anasazi built a spectacularly enormous dam in New Mexico’s Animas Valley. Accidentally discovered July 1892, during federal efforts to define the state boundary line with neighboring Arizona, government surveyors measured the dam at five-and-a-half miles across. A juncture where its course changed direction was occupied by an artificial breach that had once allowed drainage. Were this feature still operable, the engineers determined, it could have formed “a reservoir with an average length of five miles and a width of one-quarter mile.” They estimated that “the maximum depth would be about twenty feet, and the mean depth about ten feet.” The entire structure, which had “the appearance of great age,” was built from eight million to ten million cubic yards of material, which made the dam seem “almost impossible that it could have been the work of human hands.” (Gaillard, D.D. American Anthropologist. 9:311–313, 1896)

Anasazi greatness was not alone expressed in such colossal undertakings. Naturally, a majority of its smaller-scale, more perishable, far less significant details have vanished, just as most of the smaller items disappear with the collapse of any civilization. But in rare instances where these cultural minutiae survive, they may throw more light on their former owners and operators than a reservoir or monument. A case in point was the discovery as recently as 1997 of a human jawbone from Colorado’s Rio Blanco County. Still in place, a canine tooth had been neatly bored to remove decay by an obsidian drill that, under microscopic scrutiny, left discernable striations on the surface enamel. Dated to before AD 1200, the tooth had been treated by a form of dentistry, centuries ahead of its time.

At least 1400 years earlier, Maya dentists likewise treated tooth cavities with iron fillings, as described in the July 26, 1929, issue of Science magazine: “Two teeth containing circular holes filled with iron pyrites were found by the Marshall Field Expedition to Honduras;” both are still on display at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History.

Dentistry’s oldest-known example was discovered just 16 years ago. According to an April, 2001, New Scientist, the well-preserved, 8,000-year-old skull of an adult human male belonged to a highly advanced, if utterly unidentifiable, culture in Pakistan, earlier even than the Indus Valley civilization, which orthodox science says began circa 3300 BC. “A molar still firmly fixed in the jawbone,” writes encyclopedist William Corliss, “shows a tiny, perfectly round hole that, under the microscope, shows concentric grooves left by a drill. The top of the hole is rounded by chewing, indicating that the patient survived.” (William R. Corliss, Archaeological Anomalies: Small Artifacts. MD: The Sourcebook Project, 2003)

Examples of Pakistani, Maya, and Anasazi dentistry are extraordinary, because none of them was carried out in a crude or primitive fashion but, on the contrary, evidenced forms of applied technique unmatched until the late nineteenth century. In other words, they demonstrate that earlier civilizations achieved levels of technological sophistication lost with their downfall and independently reinvented only centuries later.

Equally far ahead of their time were the Chimu, pre-Inca civilizers of Pacific-coastal South America. “A set of surgical instruments which was used to carry out abortions in ancient Peru” was described in a 1968 issue of the archaeological journal, Antiquity (42:233). “The instruments were found, among scalpels, needles, forceps, and bandages, in burial grounds dating from the Chimu period (about AD 450–750) and have been described by Dr. Oscar Urteaga-Ballon of the National University of San Marcos and Dr. Calvin Wells of the Castle Museum, Norwich. There are four dilators and five curettes, which closely resemble the modern instruments used to scrape a uterus in order to produce or complete an abortion.”

Nothing comparable to these specialized surgical instruments was known again until the early twentieth century. They represent proof that such artifacts could only have originated with a highly advanced people, a conclusion reaffirmed by a small, Chimu rattle currently at Germany’s Ethnographical Museum of Gothenburg. “To a 150-mm copper handle”, S. Linne writes in the Anthropological Institute Journal (X6, X7, 1957), “is affixed a slightly oblong, hollow head containing two 5-mm copper pellets and made of two, bell-shaped halves of 0.5-mm copper sheeting. These two halves are expertly welded together in a virtually prefect joint, no seam whatever being visible in the metal itself, although the joint had opened along some thirty millimeters.”

A 1960 report in New Scientist (7:1216), tells how a Keltic “axe belonging to the Hallstatt period, 800 BC to 400 BC, has recently been found in Poland. Metallurgical examination has shown that the socketed head of the axe was forged from a block that had been formed by welding together two, dissimilar metals. This proves that the iron workers of 2,500 years ago must have been able to distinguish between two, different, iron alloys, and it presupposes a high degree of metallurgical knowledge.”

Yet more remarkable, because it is more advanced than current metallurgy, is India’s Iron Pillar of Delhi, where it has stood exposed to subcontinental monsoons for the last sixteen centuries. During all that time, the 23-foot tall, six-ton column remains almost entirely rust free—an unsolved mystery until only last year, when scientific analysis found a very thin layer of crystalline iron hydrogen phosphate hydrate formed on the pillar’s high-phosphorus-content metal; together, they result in unparalleled corrosion resistance. With this recent discovery, industrial metallurgists are presently attempting to back-engineer its 1,600-year-old technology for modern application.

Delhi’s Iron Pillar is dated to AD 403, when the Gupta Empire presided over India’s Golden Age, an era of extensive inventions and discoveries in science, engineering, art, literature, astronomy, religion, and philosophy. With its collapse in 550, all high achievements of previous centuries disappeared.

The “Ancient Origins” website reports that “technology used by craftsmen 2,000 years ago to apply thin films of metal onto their statues surpassed modern standards for producing DVDs, solar cells, and electronic devices.” The statement refers to a July 2013 article in the professional journal, Accounts of Chemical Research, which concludes, “the high level of competence reached by the artists and craftsmen of these ancient periods… produced objects of an artistic quality that could not be bettered in ancient times, and has not yet been reached in modern ones” ( artifacts/golden- years-metal-coating-techniques-used-2000-years -ago-outshine-modern-methods-008576).

These conclusions are based on electron-microscope examination of gilded statuettes displayed at the Cairo Museum and associated with the Twentieth Dynasty Pharaoh, Ramses III. His own tomb in the Upper Nile Valley suggests the Egyptians possessed an artificial light source of some kind, because all four walls of the subterranean vault were profusely decorated with sacred art and highly detailed, hieroglyphic passages from the Book of the Dead. Archaeologists found no evidence that torches ever entered the sepulcher, nor was its ceiling smudged by either taper smoke or ancient efforts to scrub it clean. They speculated that a line of hand-held mirrors reflecting sunlight down into the underground chambers was a possible method of interior illumination. But experimental attempts recreating the hypothesis convincingly demonstrated its awkward impossibility.

As long ago as the late nineteenth century, the English astronomer, co-discoverer of helium, and Egyptologist, Norman Lockyer (1836–1920), wondered if ancient electric lamps would explain the absence of lampblack deposits. If not, how then, were artists able to paint such elaborate and fine art across so many hundreds of square feet? A hint may be found 53 miles due north, in Hall 5 of the goddess Hathor’s Temple, where a trio of stone reliefs depict “the Dendera Light,” so called because it appears to portray a pair of men standing behind “two, enormous light bulbs,” writes Corliss, “each containing a snake-like filament, and voltage electrical insulators. Furthering the electrical interpretation are long cables connecting each ‘bulb’ to a central power source. One has to admit that a flavor of high technology pervades this 1800-year-old scene preserved in the Dendera Temple.” (Corliss, op. cit.)

Egyptologists predictably ridicule any suggestion of such anomalous technology as a fanciful misinterpretation of common, symbolic imagery from Egyptian religious belief. In their view, the Dendera reliefs show Djed pillars and lotus flowers containing snakes, standard aspects of Nile Valley myth, nothing more. True, the illustrated supports are recognizable versions of the Djed pillar, symbolic of stability. But it was also the emblem of Ptah, the Memphite patron god of craftsmen, “the divine artificer,” associated with the high technology of ancient Egypt. Indeed, its very name derives from the Dynastic word for Memphis—Hikuptah—“Home of the Soul of Ptah.” This entered Classical Greek as Aiguptos, then Latin as Aegyptus, which developed into English as Egypt.

“Ptah is the Creator god par excellence.” His association, then, with the Dendera light through his Djed symbol is appropriate to a technological interpretation, which receives further support in the lotus-like “bulbs,” because this flower connoted the brightening of light, most often, but not invariably experienced at dawn. The snakes inside the “lotuses” are likewise apt, since they epitomized power. Another symbol of light—a standing baboon—carries a feather, signifying perfection, over the solar crown of Shu, the Egyptian version of the Greek Atlas, founder of Etelenty, Plato’s Atlantis.

Given their individual meanings, these well-known symbols at least suggest hi-tech lighting at the Nile Valley in dynastic times. Dendera itself was not that ancient, but, as Corliss observes, was “built as a sort of museum during the Greco-Roman period” memorializing Egypt’s much earlier, by then (circa AD 200) long-gone cultural greatness. Perhaps the three stone reliefs nostalgically referenced a technological aspect of Egypt’s former golden age. They may have been placed deliberately in the temple of Hathor, because she is the goddess of miners, who perhaps depended on artificial light as much in the deep past, as they do today.

While symbols comprising the controversial panels are common enough, far more pertinent to our discussion, the scene they portray is not. It is absolutely unique; nothing like it appears anywhere else outside Dendera. During the mid-1990s, Reinhard Habeck and Peter Krassa, intrigued and challenged by these puzzling inconsistencies, carefully constructed a working model based faithfully on Dendera’s 1800-year-old reliefs, utilizing only those materials familiar to dynastic Egyptian craftsmen. To the German electrical engineers’ astonishment, their recreation generated sufficient light to brightly illuminate an entire city block (Krassa, Peter. Das Licht der Pharaonen, Hochtechnologie und elektrischer Strom im alten Ägypten [“Light of the Pharaohs, High Technology and Electrical Power in Ancient Egypt”]. Germany: Herbig Verlag, 1996)

The chosen examples of forgotten, sophisticated science described here, as amazing as they may seem, are only a fraction of the advanced standard of living achieved and lost, centuries and sometimes millennia before the rise of our Industrial World.

CAPTION: Ancient Hohokam canal cleaned out by the Mormon pioneers in 1875. Park of the Canals in Mesa, AZ. (Photo by Tony the Marine)

By Frank Joseph