How Much Did the Ancients Know?

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In the news
of “The only surviving copy of the 500-year-old map that first used
the name America” going on display at the Library of Congress it
appears that
Reuters
is rather amazed by the map. Others also seem amazed
that there is such accurate detail of regions not yet explored by
Europeans in 1507 on the map. How a German monk named Martin Waldseemuller
made these maps is simply a mystery according to the mainstream
media.

I suppose that
is better than calling the map a forgery as is often done with anything
that violates the history we are taught in school. Usually it is
far easier to declare something that doesn’t match to be untrue
rather than to do the investigation and find out what is really
lacking is one’s knowledge of the subject. It is not much different
than what we see in the election campaign with regards to Ron Paul
on subjects the other candidates haven’t done their homework on.
Ron Paul is cast as a "kook" or what he talks about as
"imaginary" simply because the critics don’t know or understand
it.

What we are
taught in school is what is considered "safe" or "acceptable"
for the masses. It is not information that will encourage critical
thinking, but lessons that will reinforce that the world is what
one is told it is. If they say that Europeans thought the world
to be flat until Columbus sailed off to the islands around Cuba,
that’s the way it was. That’s the acceptable history; a history
that we are to believe is a slow progression from following game
animals and picking berries to the technology we have today.

Advances in
technology and knowledge are not that simple in the real world.
It is all rather fragile. It takes effort to preserve it and advance
it. If there are no rewards for that effort, advancement stops and
what exists begins to decay. Not only that, there are always people
who actively try to restrict knowledge to the few. Knowledge that
is limited in who knows it is the most easily lost. Knowledge has
to be spread far and wide to have the best chance at survival.

Mapping of
the world has always been very important to civilization. From the
following of game animals to knowing where your aircraft and tanks
are on the battlefield, knowing where you are and where you are
going has been extremely important. Knowing it better than the other
guy even more so. Because of this, maps are special, and until recent
centuries very expensive and very restricted. Even today there are
maps that are restricted for national security by various governments.

When we look
at what has been left by the ancient world, many just see an amazing
structure or an interesting story/myth. What we really see is knowledge.
Sometimes it is in a form that is dismissed today as myth. Sometimes
it is written in stone. In the form of myth, knowledge is more easily
remembered. Instead of memorizing numbers and facts they are encoded
into a story that is easily remembered and passed down from one
generation to the next. The durability of a stone structure is another
way to achieve the same goal, where it’s alignments to the planet,
the solar system, and the universe combined with its own dimensions
become a storehouse of knowledge that could last for thousands of
years. It is man's desire that his work, his contributions live
on beyond his time that drive such things, to create something to
say that he was here.

As more is
discovered about the past, a different picture of the ancient world
arises. This picture not only changes for the ancient world we have
been taught about (from 6,000 years ago to the present) but one
far older. It defies the view of the world handed to us that man
had civilization prior to the establishment of the earliest known
cities that sprang up out of nowhere. From the weathering of the
Sphinx indicating it
is much older than conventionally accepted
to knowledge making
its way from
one corner of the world to another long ago
things were likely
quite different than what we were taught they were. We weren't taught
an accurate history, but rather the history we were supposed to
know, shaped over time by those in power from era to era.

Both stone
monuments and myths show that ancient man knew astronomy to a level
not equaled in many ways until the 20th century. From Mexico to
Egypt to Scandinavia and beyond it is clear that man charted the
movements of the moon, the sun, and the stars and knew the precession
and size of the earth.

Should it be
any different with mapping of the Earth itself? I would think that
it would not be. Any civilization capable of calculating the diameter
of the planet, the movement of the earth in the universe over time
scales of tens of thousands of years should have also had the capability
of mapping the globe provided they had the desire to explore.

In
Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings: Evidence of Advanced Civilization
in the Ice Age,
Charles H. Hapgood goes into detail
on several ancient maps showing how much knowledge went into creating
them. This knowledge did not exist in the 16th century or at least
should not have.

Hapgood shows
how various maps from the age of exploration were apparently pasted
together from a variety of sources including the newest explorations
of the day. Often the "new" information from explorers
was of much lower quality than that from unknown sources. The maps
are a mixture of types of projection (some not known to the map-makers)
and scale. Much as if someone without knowledge was simply trying
to make something out of bits and pieces of information in front
of him, not knowing from where much of it came or the details of
its presentation. The maps indicate the decay of more advanced knowledge.

Graham Hancock
does a little follow-up of Hapgood’s work in his book Underworld:
The Mysterious Origins of Civilization
by generating what
the coast lines should have looked like at the end of the ice age
using satellite measurements and other data. The book details the
search for the cities of an ice age civilization, which like today’s
cities would be near coastlines. Coastlines long ago submerged.
The matching of ice age coastlines and old maps is remarkable.

The idea that
there was prior knowledge is rather logical. Piri Reis is recorded
as having said he compiled his maps using ancient sources as well
as knowledge of explorers. His famous 16th-century map also shows
great detail and knowledge that he should not have had by conventional
"wisdom." (Even the US military found Piri Reis’s map
of the coastline of Antarctica without ice to be a probable and
reasonable interpretation of the map. The letter from 1960 is quoted
here.)
Even Columbus has been recorded as saying that he had ancient maps
to guide him. Educated Europeans knew the world wasn’t flat, as
did the sailors with practical knowledge. If anyone thought it was
flat, it would be the masses that were intentionally denied knowledge.

The masses
were simply kept in the dark regarding the nature of the world.
The information had survived from the earlier time, just in incomplete
pieces and kept secret among the few. We now know just some of the
technology and knowledge of the Roman Empire that was lost in the
dark ages. From Galen with medicine in Rome to Heron’s use of steam
power in ancient Greece, mechanical computers (Antikythera mechanism),
bearings, siege machines, and more were lost for centuries. So what
of even older knowledge?

Man’s knowledge
hasn’t been the consistent advance with minor setbacks, but one
of advancement, setbacks, and outright crashes. We are supposed
to believe those crashes do not occur. (Where have we heard that
before? Real estate? Stock market?) It’s not just a dark age where
a few hundred years of advancement are lost, but rather a crash
where man is taken down to a level where he essentially begins again.
As castrophism gains ground scientifically there is reason to believe
such a crash could have occurred.

Natural disaster
and man himself are the largest dangers to knowledge. We see war
and tyranny even today destroying the knowledge of the past. Be
it the destruction of artifacts in the museums in Iraq to fundamentalists
of all religions and beliefs destroying the monuments, libraries,
of those that they conquer. The Spanish burned the libraries of
the Maya, a disaster not unlike that of the loss of the library
of Alexandria. Today we are supposed to worry about the sea rising
a few inches; at the end of the ice age it rose hundreds of feet.
Even if the bad events were just a few feet at a time, what would
that do to a civilization?

The amazement
at how a German monk knew what South America looked like before
any European supposedly had been there isn’t well placed when such
aspects were common of maps made at the time. We know that this
knowledge came from maps that were very old when mapmakers compiled
the information in the 15th to 17th centuries. There really isn’t
any mystery to the creation of the maps themselves. The mystery
is what is our real past? If we could ask these mapmakers of five
centuries ago, they could not answer us. They were just the last
in a long line of people who copied and preserved very ancient knowledge.
Whatever our real history is, I know it isn’t the neat and tidy
story we were taught in school.

December
7, 2007

Brent
Peterson [send him mail] is
a mechanical engineer working in product design and development
living in the Chicago suburbs with interests in history and transportation.

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