Thursday, April 19, 2012
P is for Pagel (A To Z Challenge, Star Wars Blogathon)
When I was a kid, a big book making the rounds among adults was a book called Chariots of the Gods. I can remember hearing my parents talk about it with their friends one night when they had the neighbors over for dinner.
I'm not sure why it was being discussed when I was 7 or 8; the book was published in 1968, a year before I was born, and had been debunked only a few years later, but I can recall it making a stir at the particular dinner party my parents were having; perhaps it took a while for things to filter down to Hartland, Wisconsin, back then. That was, after all, pre-Internet and pre-cable TV. Back then, news traveled more slowly than it does now, I guess.
My parents talked about the book Chariots of the Gods, which hypothesized that early human civilizations were the results of visits from aliens; the structures people like the Egyptians built were supposedly beyond the technology those societies had, and from that, as well as the similarity of drawings and other art, the author (Erich von Daniken) came up with his theory that aliens had visited early cultures and spurred them on.
A few days after that party, I found the book in my parents' room and snuck peeks at the pictures in the book; my parents thought the book was inappropriate for kids and didn't want us to read it. I can recall seeing pictures of symbols carved into mountains that von Daniken said were proof of aliens visiting Earth -- because the symbols were so large they could only be seen from the sky, he said.
As a young kid, I found it amazing and a little scary -- the proof seemed iron-clad to me, and spooked me quite a bit about stuff like Easter Island's Moai sculptures (which to this day I find both fascinating and a little creepy.)
About twenty years later, I went on a summer study program to Morocco, that being part of a year in which I realized a lot of things about my life. One of the things I realized was that maybe Chariots of the Gods, which by then had embedded itself into my subconscious, might have been less than accurate; I was in Morocco during the celebration of a birthday of the King, and some of the farmers had taken it upon themselves to carve into the mountains birthday greetings in Arabic. These were large Arabic letters visible from miles away, and I saw a few of them on a day when we were driving to Casablanca and asked one of the hosts to explain them to me.
It seems pretty obvious that no aliens were wishing King Hassan a happy birthday in 1994, and so the giant messages were aimed at earthbound people and made by farmers in a poor country without much in the way of technology.
That kept me satisfied for the past 18 years or so, until I was thinking about it this morning and wondered to myself: Well, why did those ancient civilizations have to make their signs and glyphs permanent?
Turns out they maybe weren't permanent. Having gone back to read up on them this morning, I learned -- because, remember, back in 1974 I only looked at pictures and read the captions, so my decades-old memory was based on minimal information in a discredited book -- that the Nazca Lines, the ones that really stuck in my memory, maybe weren't permanent at all.
The lines -- the monkey shown at the left was part of them -- were created simply by moving red gravelly pebbles and showing the white rocks underneath. The white lines you see are areas cleared of pebbles, and the resulting trenches are all less than 6 inches deep. But the scope of the entire Nazca site is huge -- 500 km square, which is probably pretty big in real measurements. (Not being a drug dealer or gun nut, I'm not up on my metric system.)
The lines, created by the Incas, are said to be visible from foothills around the site, which is on an arid plateau in Peru, but while they can be viewed from the hills, scientists didn't realize they were shapes at all until about 1940 when one scientist flew over them and saw the shape of a bird in one.
So the Nazca lines were not, as I remembered, permanent in the sense that they weren't made to last forever; they're just areas cleared of stones, like a drawing on the beach in the sand. It was an accident of geography that they've lasted for nearly two milennia.
Or was it?
Today's Star Wars Blogathon question, worth 36 points:
On what planet was the Jedi Temple located?
Commenter number 2 gets 10 points, plus the last commenter gets 10 points.
Remember: You can get 1,000 points by mentioning the Yellow Hill fundraiser on your blog; here's the post where I explain that, and you can click here to go directly to the Yellow Hill fundraising page. If you don't want the points, you can in the alternative link to/mention it and get a free book of mine.(Find my books here.)
Have you written your blogfest entry? The Triweekly Blogfest Challenge -- prize is $10 -- is to post something on the theme of "Han shot first, but Time-Traveling Elvis shot second" by April 29.
Here are the standings.
PS TO Andrew: No time limit on the Yellow Hill post, but you can only do it once.