But the texts also tell of leaders who arrived in the wake of the disaster, armed with exceptional knowledge. These are the people I call the Magicians of the Gods.
They understood how to construct buildings on a grand scale, how to organise and govern and how to engineer tools of remarkable sophistication. Some of the technology they describe appears to rival modern electronic wizardry.
Temperatures plunged, starting a new Ice Age
The Zoroastrian’s wise man, Yima, was said to possess a miraculous cup in which he could see anything that was happening anywhere in the world, and a jewelled glass chariot that could fly.
In carvings uncovered at ancient sites as far-flung as Turkey and Mexico, these wise men are depicted in strangely similar costumes: they are bearded men, holding a bag or bucket with a curved handle, with the heads of birds or fish.
The Babylonian priest Berossus, writing in the 3rd century BC, described a mythical figure who arrived in Mesopotamia. His name was Oannes and he had ‘the whole body of a fish, but underneath and attached to the head of the fish there was another head, human. Joined to the tail of the fish [were] feet like those of a man, and it had a human voice.’
It sounds very much as if Oannes was a human being, wearing an elaborate fish costume that might have been holy robes or merely a piece of showmanship.
At the semi-subterranean temple of Tiahuanaco in western Bolivia, South America, similar shamanic figures are depicted wearing garments from the waist down patterned in fish scales.
Experts disagree over the age of these carvings, but they do also show animals that appear to be toxodons — gigantic, rhino-like animals that became extinct around 12,000 years ago.
The Magicians of the Gods, it seems, roamed all over the world.
In the Middle East, Oannes was accompanied by seven sages, who are repeatedly described as conjurors, sorcerers, warlocks and magicians, who were masters of chemistry and medicine and who understood carpentry, stone-cutting and metal-working.
Magicians such as these also turned up in Egypt at the same time. At the Temple of Horus in the Egyptian city of Edfu, inscriptions known as the Edfu Texts describe god-like beings who were refugees from a sacred island that was destroyed by flood and fire.
Their home, the ‘mansions of the gods’, was utterly destroyed and their civilisation wiped out, but a few survivors had, luckily, been at sea when the disaster struck.
They set sail in ships to wander the world, with one purpose: to reinvent their homeland. As the Edfu Texts recorded, their goal was ‘the resurrection of the former world of the gods’.
The seven sages who arrived in Egypt understood how to lay foundations and plan the construction of buildings. They were so steeped in knowledge that the primitive people who revered them believed they were wiser and more powerful than their own old gods.
Arab tradition says that the secrets of this technology were buried in the pyramids at Giza millennia later.
The 9th-century historian Ibn Abd El Hakem believed the pyramids were designed not as tombs, but as places of safekeeping for books of knowledge dating to before the Great Flood.
These books contained ‘profound sciences, and the names of drugs and their uses and hurts, and the science of astrology, and arithmetic and geometry and medicine . . . arms which did not rust and glass which might be bent but not broken’.
That evidence of a civilisation far older than the Babylonians and the Egyptians, a civilisation that was all but destroyed by a comet 12,800 years ago, has long been lost.
But there are other historic sites, just as breathtaking as the pyramids but much less known.
Nothing less than an interplanetary hand grenade
One is Gobekli Tepe, which literally means Potbelly Hill, in Turkey. It is the oldest work of monumental architecture in the world and it is massive.
It is here, according to the late archaeologist Professor Klaus Schmidt, that neolithic man discovered farming. It is also the place where ancient humans first tackled megalithic stone carving, erecting pillars that weighed 20 tons. This is architecture on the scale of Stonehenge, but far more sophisticated — and, while Stonehenge is generally reckoned to be 4,600 years old, Gobekli Tepe is at least 12,000 years old.
Bizarrely, as far as archaeologists can tell, the astonishing strides in human development made at Gobekli Tepe came out of nowhere. It’s as if its people quite suddenly ‘invented’ both agriculture and monumental architecture at the same moment.
Now, it seems unthinkable that primitive hunter-gathers could suddenly dream up all the technology and know-how required, without any process of experimentation.
Surely Gobekli Tepe is powerful evidence of knowledge imparted by a prior civilisation.
But the site is also significant for a far more ominous reason.
Complex zodiacal signs are inscribed on one of its limestone pillars, incorporating astronomical data supposedly not discovered until thousands of years later.
Even more puzzling is the position of the stars — not quite where they would have been in the sky 12,000 years ago . . . but exactly where they are today.
It is as though these mysterious, impossibly learned builders constructed their temple as though it existed in the present day.
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