This morning’s search for meaning!

Finding the Foortpath website logo
Finding the Foortpath website logo

This morning’s search for meaning!

Finding the Foortpath website logo

This morning’s search for meaning!

Behind The Ice Curtain

Date Published: March 16, 2021
Ridge of ice-covered mountains in the mist

Has the ‘Ice Age’ drawn a misty curtain across the full history of the human story?Geologists speak of five main recorded ‘ice ages’ in Earth’s known history. For you fans of your glacial epochs out there, I’ll list them for you here (read them off the Huronian (2.4-2.1 billion years ago), Cryogenian (850-635 million years ago), Andean-Saharan (460-430 mya), Karoo (360-260 mya), and Quaternary (2.6 mya- to present era). Don’t worry, I won’t be remembering all the names either! goes on to detail that there have been approximately a dozen major (more ‘local’) glaciations over the past million years, the most recent, often simply known to us today as “the Ice Age”, reached peak conditions some 18,000 years ago giving way to the Holocene (the current geological era) epoch around 11,700 years ago.

They explain too that scientists have determined that variations in the Earth’s orbit, shifting plate tectonics, and axial tilt changes spur the waxing and waning of these periods. All causing massive continental sinking and lifting of land masses and unimaginable changes in sea levels when tens of thousands of cubic miles of water were released into the oceans that were locked up in continents of glacial ice.

We have during this current Holocene period (geological recent times), lived in very stable conditions. There have been localised natural destruction events as happens on a living, changing planet, and weather systems fluctuate cyclically. We are, of late, witnessing an acceleration in these destructive events which may have something to say about the time in which we live today and if or how close we are to the next cyclical geological change.

Today though I wanted to look back a little and consider what this “Ice Age” was, and more importantly, not just what it reveals but what it may be concealing.

The history of the human story has developed a lot since I was at school in the 70’s and 80’s. There were the biblical times – and maybe religiously and culturally nothing seemed to matter too much before that – and then the vagaries of some shadowy (in my mind) 3-4 thousand years of ‘first’ development of settled civilisation around the fertile crescent. This is a sweep of land arching from Egypt, up across the Levant – now Lebanon and Syria and southern Turkey – and back down towards the Persian Gulf through the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what was known as Mesopotamia; home to the Assyrians, Babylonians and Sumerians in an area including modern day Iraq.

Assyrian stone tablet carved with figures of Mesopotamian Gods

History, especially what used to be termed in my school days as ‘pre-history’, is recorded by the remaining evidence to hand. There is one flaw with this practice and that is… us. The eye sees what the eye is expecting to see.

‘Scotomisation’ is derived from the Greek word skotos (to darken) and means a spot on the visual field in which vision is absent. It is also used to describe a psychological tendency, within people to see what they want to see and not see what they don’t want to see – in situations, in themselves, in anything, even in a painting – due to the psychological impact that seeing (or not seeing) would inflict on them.

When evidence was found in the past, so many times it did not fit an established mainstream narrative and was dismissed. One excellent example of this I have read about in, was a French Canadian archaeologist called Jacques Cinq-Mars who made discoveries in the 1970’s and 1980’s of human activity at Bluefish Caves in northern Yukon, Canada.

Contemporary 20th century scholastic research had human history in North America beginning no later than 13,000 years ago. The theory that suggested that Asian hunters crossed a now submerged land bridge known as Beringia which once linked Siberia to Alaska during the last Ice Age. The theory was called the “Clovis First” model, after a distinctive type of spear point these people carried with them. Excavating underneath this “Clovis” level in the sub-soils was frowned upon for its naivety and ridiculed by the establishment; to the point of having funding withdrawn.

Cinq-Mars however was a little more curious and courageous than most. His discoveries at Bluefish caves suggested that there were people in North America at least 24,000 years ago, almost twice as long as “Clovis First” suggested. Other sites, from Meadowcroft in Pennsylvannia to Monte Verde  in Chile, archaeologists had unearthed stone tools and butchered animal remains that pointed to an earlier presence of humans in the Americas. However, rather than launching a major new search for earlier evidence, the finds stirred fierce opposition and bitter debate, “one of the most acrimonious – and unfruitful – in all science,” noted the journal of Nature.

After decades of a scientific atmosphere that Tom Dillehay, the principal investigator at the Chilean site of Mount Verde said was “clearly toxic and clearly impeded science”, he remarked about conferences where evidence was being presented, “some Clovis First people had a suffocating air of defiance and superiority.”

Today, the Clovis First model has collapsed. Twenty years after funding for the Bluefish Caves site trickled to a stop, a new study by the University of Montreal reported new evidence of human activity in the Bluefish Caves as well as other emerging discoveries across both continents of the Americas that continue to push back the story of human history there.

Quentin Mackie, another archaeologist involved in the study noted, “…it was a classic example of enough criticism lowered my motivation to even find out more. I’m not proud of that.” For Mackie and others, the protracted battle over the Clovis First model now stands as a cautionary tale for archaeologists. Notes Mackie, “Clovis First will, I believe, go down as a classic example of a paradigm shift, in which the evidence for the collapse of an old model is present for many years before it actually collapses, producing a sort of zombie model that won’t die.”

Scientists, in all fields, must be willing to revise their thinking in the face of evidence, no matter how much they are invested in a theory, if their committed and ultimate goal is finding the truth of what they study.

The boundaries of our knowledge are constantly being pushed back in the light of new discoveries. The amount of times I regularly read “we may have to re-define our understanding of human history” or similar statements.

Global sea levels, we are told, were 120 metres lower than they are today, at the peak of the last Ice Age just 18,000 years ago. If we look around our globe and see where the main cities and conurbations are, they are often on the sea and along rivers. This is beneficial for food supply, washing and drinking (in the case of freshwater) and for travel by boat. ‘Doggerland’ is a, now submerged, area of land in the southern North Sea that connected Britain with the Continental land mass. Fishing trawlers have pulled up many remains  of mammoths, lions, antlers and a few ‘prehistoric’ tools and weapons. There are many submerged cities around the world that are starting to be studied. From Yonaguni Jima off Japan, the ‘Japanese Atlantis’, to Mahabalipuram in South Eastern India which was partly exposed by the tsunami in 2004, confirming local folklore of an ancient civilisation, Heracleion off the shores of Alexandria in Egypt known as the lost city of Cleopatra, and many more.

Atlantis type city remains submerged city beneath the sea

In geological time, this Holocene period since the Ice Age is a blink of an eye, and has been relatively geologically stable. But when one does consider the change that would be brought to bear on societies today, by devastation beyond our imaginations, of tectonic plate movements and rising sea levels that happened only some 12,000 years ago or so; one has to ask the questions – Exactly how much civilisation was lost in these colossal sea level rises? Were those people much more advanced than we previously thought? Are those cultures that society once regarded as the ‘first’ cultures, that seemed to blossom out of the dust of the ‘fertile crescent’, just survivors of a more ancient back story that a few are only beginning to consider? Piece by piece evidence is quietly being unearthed around the world, one hopes theoretical dogma doesn’t once again turn a blind eye to what is presented.

1 Comment

  1. timberyard3

    Once again an excellent thought-provoking article which has left me wanting to learn more. I seem to remember a foreword to a copy of the Guinness Book of records that I was given as a Christmas present, as a child, that talked of the age of the Earth being condensed into one year. Known history occupied the last few seconds before midnight on the last day. Who is to say there couldn’t have been dozens of civilisations that have come and gone in the past and they will have left no trace as the very continents they were on have come and gone too?
    You mentioned Doggerland and only recently I have read a book by Julia Blackburn called Time Song – Searching for Doggerland. Julia has a deep interest in all things old and this book documents her journey of discovery of what is now a very extensive knowledge of a huge area of the North Sea that was once inhabited by humans and a wide range of animals – mammoths to give but one example.
    Your post puts into perspective the pettiness of our modern day squabbles and I thank you for that.


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