Mabon and the City Beneath the Sea, Part I

There is a city under the North sea. It was the center of European civilization until it was inundated by the rising sea about 8500 years ago. Fantasy? No, fact.

In recent years, archaeologists, palaeontologists, oil-company geologists, other scholars, and several British universities have been investigating the sea around the British Isles. , because bottom dredging by the oil companies had been brining up bones of land animals and even human artifacts. Their conclusions are amazing and yet perfectly logical, and will require rethinking everything we thought we knew about European prehistory. Twenty thousand years ago, at the peak of the last glacial period—the Ice Age—when most of what is now Europe was covered by ice, sea level was at its lowest, and the British Isles were just the highlands of a continental shelf that may have ben s large as Europe is now. The researchers have named it Doggerland, after the Dogger Bank, a submerged ridge in the North Sea. You can Google on that name, read about the research, and see the maps and underwater photography of the river beds where the Thames and the Rhine once converged into a single river. Further, the outline of a city has been found. Enough data has been pieced to gether to show that it was large, with perhaps 10,000 inhabitants, larger than some of the ancient cities of Mesopotamia, the oldest of which is Jericho, which began growing about a spring about 10,000 years ago. But the city under the sea had probably existed for several thousand years before its drowning about 6500 BCE.

Our knowledge of the ancient world has been steadily expanding since the early 19th century. It was only when Champollion translated the Rosette Stone that we learned how old Egyptian society was. Their written history began about 3000 BCE. It was thought until late in the 19th century that civilization had spread out from Egypt, and that written history had not began elsewhere around the Mediterranean and in Mesopotamia until about 1000 BCE. It was believed that Homer’s Troy and the palace of Minos on Crete, where the Minotaur lived, were fairy tales, whereas Ur of the Chaldees and Nineveh must have been real places, because they were mentioned in the Bible. However, a German rug merchant and amateur scholar, Heinrich Schliemann, became convinced from details in the Iliad that Troy had been a real city, and he went to Turkey to look for it. He was asking some farmers if there was any oral tradition about where Troy might have been. They pointed at a nearby mound and said, “That’s Troy, right there. We’ve always known that.”

“Why didn’t you ever tell anyone?” Schliemann asked.

“Nobody ever bothered to ask us,” one farmer said. “After all, we’re just ignorant peasants.”

So Schliemann dug and shocked the world: there was Troy, buried for about 3000 years. Inspired, Sir Arthur Evans dug on Crete and found Minos’ palace, a vast, rambling structure with hundreds of rooms, a labyrinth—but the pre-Greek word meant “House of the Double Ax,” a motif in the recoverable art on walls that had been buried for about 3500 years. Also inspired, other archaeologists began digging up the sites, quite well-known, of the ancient cities of Mesopotamia, now called Iraq. One of the most amazing was Nineveh, the city that Jonah was supposed to preach to. Its last king, Asshurbanipal, was a genocidal monster, but also a scholar. He has assembled a library of Babylonian, Akkadian, and Sumerian writings that dated back to about 5000 years ago. At that time they wrote on clay tablets with styluses. When the palace of Nineveh was burned down about 600 BCE, those tablets were baked hard as rock, and so were there to be found 2500 years later.

What has all that to do with Mabon or Doggerland? We thought we knew that the Neolithic Revolution, the invention of agriculture and villages that grew into cities, began about 10,000 years ago—but then a vast temple complex dating from about 12,000 years ago, was discovered. Did it predate the beginning of agriculture and settled life? And then there’s the problem of Stonehenge.

The people who spoke proto-Indo-European, as Sir Coin Renfrew has shown, began spreading out from Turkey about 10,000 years ago. (No, there was no invasion by patriarchal Indo-Europeans into peaceful matriarchal lands. Deal with it.) They spread along an arc, up the east side of Europe, west across the top, then southward, reaching Spain about 3000 years ago, building, as they went, circles and avenues and other structures of huge stones (“megaliths,” using Greek roots) Stonehenge is obviously one such site—but it was also different.

Working for Scientific American Books, I had the immense privilege and pleasure of editing six books by Sir Fred Hoyle, astronomer and science-fiction author, and becoming his friend. In two of these books, he documented his proof that Stonehenge had been, as one archaeologist had guessed, a calculator that predicted, and still predicts, all eclipses of the Sun and the Moon. The first version of Stonehenge was modest: holes in the ground for counting, wooden posts to measure critical lines of sight. After Sir Colin Renfrew recalibrated radiocarbon dating, it turned out that it was constructed about 3000 BCE and so was as old as the first pyramids in Egypt. The big stones were not erected until about 1500 years later.

Where had this advanced astronomical knowledge come from? There is no evidence of an advanced civilization in Britain 5000 years ago. The amazing Mesopotamian astronomers, who had also invented trigonometry, in service of the state religion focused on the seven Visible Gods, could also predict eclipses—but not until about 500 BCE. Stonehenge has seemed inexplicable. Was it the brainstorm of a prehistoric Archimedes? Or perhaps of a Merlin, whom legend says “sang the stones into place”? Legend says the same of Orpheus, in Greece. Could that be a memory that architectural expertise was preserved by an oral tradition? And singing makes memorization ever easier, as the Homeric bards knew, as is common experience in learning songs. But given that there was a civilization in that area 3500 years (or less) before the first version of Stonehenge, perhaps there is another explanation.

Googling for further archaeological data about Britain turns up more interesting facts. Humans began migrating north out of Africa about a million years ago, and some were living in Britain by about 900,000 years ago; presumably they migrated south during the glacial periods, then back into Britain during the interglacial periods, like the one we are now living in. It has been known that there was a land bridge from the continent to Britain during glacial periods, like the one across the Bering Straits, but it now appears that, for much of the last 20,000 years, most of the North Sea and out into Atlantic was a fertile plain, populated with animals, edible plants, and trees. The oldest house found in Britain dates to 8500 BCE, contemporary with the city under the sea. It has puzzled the physical anthropologists, because the standard model of prehistory has been that the people there at that time were nomadic hunter-gatherers. Did they instead have houses? Much Greek archaeology is done underwater, because the rising sea level has drowned many villages that were on the coasts of Greece 2000 years ago. As that happened, people would gradually rebuild their towns further uphill every few centuries. Did the inhabitants of the city under the sea also rebuild further uphill? That seems plausible. There is a submerged village off the coast of the Isle of Wight that dates to about 6000 BCE, and it seems likely that more such sites could be found. One thing we do not know about that civilization of 10,000 years ago is whether they were literate. The art of writing was lost (except in Egypt) during the Dark Age from 1200 to 800 BCE, and had to be reinvented. Could the same have happened in Britain? We will know about that if dredging turns up stones inscribed with an unknown alphabet, perhaps recording a proto-Basque inscription.

(What has this to do with Mabon? More will be revealed.)

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