The ancient Hindu sacred texts maintain that time, for human cultures, is divided up into discrete ages or “yugas.” The Satya Yuga was a time of peace and plenty; people were long-lived giants, morally upright, who had no need to toil away on farms or in mines. Morally, economically, and health-wise they degenerated a bit in the following Treta Yuga, and declined even more in the Duapara Yuga. Most Hindu scholars believe that we are now in the terrible Kali Yuga (named after the seemingly demonic Hindu goddess) a time of moral decline, poor health, pollution, and poverty.
It is immediately obvious that this cycle resembles the four yearly seasons, with the Satya Yuga corresponding to spring, the Treta Yuga to summer, the Duapara Yuga to autumn, and the Kali Yuga to winter. Hindu scholars disagree widely as to the length of the ages; some believe that all four ages total 24,000 years (the precession of the equinoxes lasts almost 26,000 years). Others believe that they are longer, perhaps totaling in the millions of years; and some believe that they are of unequal length, with the Satya Yuga being the longest and the Kali Yuga being, mercifully, the shortest. Most scholars believe that Mankind descends through the ages and then slowly climbs back up again, repeating the process over and over.
Interestingly, the ancient Greeks (who traded with India and even had colonies there) believed in four ages also: the happy Golden Age, followed by a decline through the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, and, finally, the degenerate Iron Age. Some few Greeks also believed in an even more terrible Leaden Age, and some believed in a Heroic Age, coming right after the Bronze Age. In the Golden Age, no one had to work and no one aged. But such beliefs were widespread in still other cultures.
The Mayans were obsessed with time and with astronomy, as were most ancient cultures, and had several complex calendars, which were quite accurate. Bear in mind that their beliefs evolved over time and varied from one city-state to another. One of their calendars was the Calendar Round, with a starting point on 8/11/3114 BC, or just over 5,000 years BP (before the present). As we shall see, this approximate date may be quite significant. In the Long Count, 20 days are a Winal, 18 Winal are a Tun, 20 Tun a Katun, and twenty Katun make a B’ak’un (12/21/2012 just began a new B’ak’tun). There are still longer and higher categories in the system; the longest is the 63,081,429 year long Alautun. These are not Yugas in the Hindu sense, or Golden and Iron Ages, but some Mayans did believe that a prior world was destroyed by a flood (flood myths are nearly universal, and many of them probably refer to the rise in sea levels when the last ice age glaciers melted, 11,700 years ago).
The Hopi Indians traditionally believed in past ages that ended in terrible cataclysms caused by human sinfulness; the good people were saved by a deity known as Spider Woman, and were physically transformed to live in a transformed world. We are now in the Fourth World, and the Third World was in some sense below this one, and people emerged into this world through a hollow reed, surfacing in the Grand Canyon (where there are persistent rumors of an underground “Egyptian” complex, which may or may not be significant). Remember that the Hindus and Greeks also believed in four ages.
Christians and Jews believe in one cycle, beginning with Adam and Eve and ending with the coming (or return) of the Messiah. But, on closer examination, this one cycle can be subdivided. There was the age (perhaps very short) in the Garden of Eden, then the age before the flood, and then the present age. That would make three ages, and the world after the Messiah would be the fourth and final (and true golden) age. In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the story takes place in the Third Age, which ends with the overthrow of Sauron—so we would now be in the Fourth Age. Tolkien, by the way, was a Christian author.
There is now overwhelming evidence that there were discrete ages in the past, which ended in catastrophes and/or rapid natural climate change. The last major glaciation probably began about 76,000 BP, perhaps triggered by a mega-volcanic eruption—Mt. Toba in Indonesia. If conditions (solar energy output, the positioning of the continents, etc.) were just about right for an ice age, the dust and aerosols from such an eruption could block sunlight and lower temperatures worldwide causing ice sheets to form. But the evidence is uncertain, including the exact dates, and Toba may have caused merely a temporary cold snap, followed by a warming, and then the real ice age. During the last glaciation, temperatures varied widely, with relatively warm periods alternating with cold snaps, or “stadial” events: the Oldest Dryas, Older Dryas, and the terrible Younger Dryas, beginning 12,900 BP, when temperatures worldwide plunged drastically until a sudden warming and a melting of the ice sheets around 11,700 BP (Plato said Atlantis was submerged around 11,600 BP). There followed a relatively warm and rainy period, the Holocene Optimum, from about 9000 to 5000 BP, at which time the earth became colder and dryer, a condition persisting, with some variations, to this day. During the Holocene Optimum the Sahara was mostly grassland with riverine, montane, and coastal forests. Note that the end date, around 5,000 years ago, corresponds closely with the beginning date of the Mayan Long Count calendar.
In fact, catastrophes and mega-catastrophes seem to be a regular thing on our planet in addition to sudden and extreme climate changes. There are mega-tsunamis, comet and asteroid impacts, and volcanic explosions exceeding anything in historical times. Mega-tsunamis can be triggered by massive underwater landslides or by the sudden release of meltwater as ice dams erode and collapse toward the end of an ice age. The largest volcanic explosions can release 10 trillion tons of hot ash at once, and there have been large fissure eruptions covering thousands of square miles, like the Siberian Traps, India’s Deccan Traps, and America’s Columbia and Snake River Plateaus. As to impacts from space, astronomers now believe that small comets and asteroids explode in our upper atmosphere with Hiroshima-sized blasts almost yearly, and there are hydrogen-bomb sized detonations near or on the earth’s surface every 185 years or so, on average. Larger blasts, like the one that may have annihilated the dinosaurs, are less common. One group of scholars has interpreted an ancient Assyrian clay tablet as describing a huge impact on 5123 BP that may have destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. This date is close to the end of the Holocene Optimum and the beginning of the Mayan Long Count.
Author and researcher Robert Schoch suspects that at times there are super-massive CMEs (coronal mass ejections) from our Sun that can blast and burn large areas of the earth’s surface with a kind of super lightning; he points to fused areas of the lunar soil, or regolith, to the vitrified stone forts in Scotland and elsewhere, and to fused desert sands in some areas of the Sahara. These might be explained by comet or asteroid airbursts on Earth or micrometeorites striking the Moon, but Schoch’s theory would also explain the reason for the vast underground cities (no one knows who built them, or when, or why) in Turkey, and the shallow but extensive network of tunnels in parts of Europe. Ancient, perhaps prehistoric, people may have been able to foresee these events and take cover for weeks, months, or even years. Paul LaViolette has pointed out that the cores of certain galaxies, the so-called Seyfert galaxies, periodically explode with energy (gamma rays) exceeding that of all the stars in the galaxy combined. These explosions are thought to be the result of stars falling into super-massive black holes (or, per La Violette, super-massive neutron stars). La Violette refers to these as galactic super-waves, and believes that they are not uncommon in our own galaxy and have repeatedly devastated Earth. Dr. Schoch suggests that they may also trigger super CMEs. So there is no shortage of age-ending disasters, but is there evidence of past civilizations being destroyed by them?
Certainly lesser disasters and less extreme climate changes have occurred in historical times. Egypt’s Old Kingdom collapsed in about 4181 BP during a prolonged drought. Drought and global cooling (possibly triggered by a large volcanic explosion) seems to have contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire and the onset of the Dark Ages. And evidence for prehistoric human civilizations mounts almost daily. Archaeologists used to believe that writing, agriculture, seafaring, large towns or cities, woven fabrics, fired ceramics, and cut stone buildings dated back only five or six thousand years ago. But now we know that people were farming at least by 12,000 BP, and had fired ceramics and woven fabrics by 28,000 BP or earlier. Prehistoric seafarers colonized Australia/New Guinea by 50,000 BP and probably much earlier, and they colonized the island of Crete by 130,000 BP. The walled town of Jericho is 10,000 years old. Massive cut stones and carvings at Gobekli Tepe in what is now Turkey are about 12,000 years old. And these are just a few of the discoveries of recent years. Michael Cremo, Richard Thompson, and others have uncovered evidence that our human species may date back millions, even tens of millions of years. It is entirely possible that fairly advanced cultures may have existed in the very remote past and left no clear (and dateable) trace. Stones are hard to date; metals corrode or (in the case of gold) are scavenged and repurposed; ceramics break into fragments; and fabrics rot away. And what trace would be left if people had few tools and no real machines, but existed at a higher spiritual level and perhaps had true psychic powers, including healing, levitation, and psychokinesis? Greek and Hindu traditions certainly seem to hint at something like this.
But if there were past ages ending in cataclysms, was there any regularity to it all? One fairly long cycle we are aware of is the precession of the equinoxes, which takes almost 26,000 years; astrologers use 25,920 years and divide that into 12 astrological ages, each one lasting 2,160 years. Clearly, the exact length is a bit uncertain. Most astronomers believe that precession is caused by the Earth’s “wobbling” in a slow circle as it turns on its axis. Recently, some people have proposed a new theory, claiming that precession is caused by our Sun and the star Sirius orbiting a common center of gravity. Some basic astronomy and simple math shows that this theory does not work. At 8.6 light years from our Sun, Sirius’ gravity is too weak to be detected from here. I used the respective masses of our Sun versus Sirius A and B and found that this center would be about 2.86 light years from Sirius and 5.74 light years from our Sun, and the circumference of the elliptical orbit would be very roughly 36 light years. Even if the Sun orbited with Sirius at the same speed as Jupiter orbits our Sun, it would take very roughly 843,087 years—a bit long for the precession. In reality, the gravitational attraction is so weak that it would take far longer than that. In addition, the Alpha Centauri A, B, and C system is only 4.2 light years from us, and, given the relative masses of that system and our Sun, the gravitational attraction would be 2.74 times that of Sirius. If we were orbiting anything, it would be this star system, but even that would take too long; and there is no evidence that we are orbiting Centauri at all.
Is there any evidence that any of the known mega-disasters and major climate changes line up with the precessional cycle, or that there is any regularity at all? The last major glaciation, as stated above, probably began about 76,000 years ago; the Younger Dryas 12,900 years ago; the end of the glaciation was 11,700 years back; and the end of the Holocene Optimum some 5,000 years ago. There is no regularity at all to these dates, let alone anything corresponding to the full precession (25,920 years) or half a precession (12,960 years). Major impact events have been roughly dated at 803,000 BP, 52,000 BP, 9600 BP, 6400 BP, 5150 BP, and 4345 BP, continuing on until geologically very recent times. Chinese records show several thousand people were killed by a meteor shower in AD 1490. Again, there is no regularity. And we cannot be sure which events ended entire civilizations, except that the rise in sea levels at the end of the last ice age probably destroyed the largely coastal and seafaring cultures that gave rise to the legend of Atlantis. Nor can we ascertain the morality of prehistoric cultures in most cases or their level of spiritual advancement. And it is unlikely that one culture at any one time included the entire human race; in recent times the world has included airplanes and television and tribes of headhunters armed with bows or blowguns.
All we can see with any clarity is a depressing picture of human beings developing civilizations and then being all but wiped out by catastrophes that they may or may not have deserved. Then they rebuild over millennia, only to have it happen all over again, an endless closed loop or circle. But all knowledge is never wiped out, and perhaps each time the beginners start at a higher level (at least technologically), making the succession of ages an ascending helix. Certainly the fossil record on earth from the beginning of life to the present seems to show advancement in complexity and consciousness; and, if the Big Bang theory is correct, the entire universe seems to be evolving—but what of morality? What of spiritual enlightenment? Will we develop “free” energy and interstellar flight and yet be so selfish and depraved that we destroy ourselves even before nature does? If we knew more of our own forgotten past, perhaps these questions could be answered.