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KRONOS Vol IV, No. 1



The initially intended title of this essay was "Anthropology and Catastrophism". Being an unusually broad discipline, anthropology, though centered in the social studies, overlaps substantially into both the humanities and the life sciences. Moreover, it embraces several highly distinctive subdisciplines, of which the most widely recognized in America are: ethnology, prehistoric archeology, human biology, and linguistics.

Nonetheless, broad as anthropology is, I soon found it too narrow to deal adequately with the subject of the role of global catastrophes in shaping the evolution of our planet, our forebears, and ourselves. For this reason, I have coined the term "polymathics" to designate the investigative field proper to polymaths, or simultaneous practitioners of a plurality of related disciplines. And, while I still have a relatively proprietary relationship to this neologism, I should like to take advantage of that situation by defining polymathics as a macro-discipline whose constituent disciplines are not merely juxtaposed but integrated, in such a way that each enhances the others. For multi-disciplinary research has no qualitative edge over specialized research unless intellectual cross-fertilization takes place. However, when such fertilization does occur successfully, the result can hardly help being insight of a kind that no isolated discipline is likely to yield by itself.

If there is a theme that links all the disciplines making up the exploratory armamentarium of a catastrophist, that theme is diachronic alteration, or change through time. For the catastrophist, it is not merely literate man that has a history but the entire solar system which forms his immediate stellar environment. In place of the dichotomy between nature and history which, for all too many academicians, has led to the split between "the two cultures" regretfully detailed by C. P. Snow, (1) catastrophists posit a history of nature, to which both historical documentation and natural science are indispensable.


One of the charges most frequently leveled against catastrophists is that they ignore or defy "the laws of nature". In making such charges, uniformitarians overlook the shrewd polemic analysis proffered by Lawrence Dennis, who defined wars as disputes, not under laws, but over laws.(2) In political conflicts, the victors make the laws; in scientific conflicts, they "discover" the laws. In both cases, however, the laws are labile.

In short, many of the so-called "laws of nature" are simply those formulations which happen to be fashionable among scholars of a given period, region, or school of thought. Those theorists who complacently identify their own views with natural law might then quite justifiably be said to be "playing nature" in the same sense in which people who arrogate excessive political or religious authority to themselves are often described as "playing God".

There is, however, at least a possibility that it is not only postulated, or subjective, laws which change through time but also inherent, or objective, laws. I am led to this surmise by a recent development in historical linguistics. All historical linguists recognize that languages change through time, with the result that the ancient form of any given written vernacular is usually unintelligible to a fluent but historically untrained reader of the modern form of that vernacular. The way in which most linguists account for this loss of recognizability is by saying that speech-sounds and lexical forms - or, at most, sound-systems and grammatical structures - have changed. But, since 1957, Transformational linguists have preferred to formulate diachronic change primarily in terms of alteration of the laws that generate language rather than in terms of alteration of the surface features resulting from those laws.(3) A physical analog to this linguistic analysis would be the hypothesis that catastrophic occurrences of sufficient scope alter not only physical structures but also the laws in accordance with which physical structures are formed. Astrophysicists are already approaching such a view with regard to the description of light-imprisoning stars known as "black holes, " which, they say, distort not only matter but space and time as well (4)

Two other recently discovered astronomical phenomena which seem, by their very existence, to defy "natural law" as it has been conventionally formulated for the past half-century are quasars and BL lacertae objects.(5) Both appear to be bodies of stellar size that radiate energy of a magnitude more appropriate to galaxies or galactic groups than to objects such as our sun. While it is possible that overreliance on the spectral "red shift" has led observers to overestimate the distance of such objects, it now seems more likely that these objects generate or transmit a kind of energy that exceeds nuclear forces by the same orders of magnitude as those by which nuclear forces exceed gravitation and magnetism. Needless to say, such energies lend themselves far more readily to a catastrophic than to a uniformitarian view of the cosmos and of the transformations that the cosmos has undergone.


Of all the evidence for catastrophically sudden events in the history of our planet, none, it seems to me, is less deservedly ignored - by catastrophists themselves as well as by uniformitarians - than that of geological stratigraphy. The very existence of such universally accepted geochronological terms as era and period (or of such petrological terms as formation and bed or such paleontological terms as zone and assemblage) clearly implies unconformities in the Earth's crust. If the Earth's history were composed solely of such constant small-scale occurrences as erosion and sedimentation, stratification would be minimal everywhere and absent in many places. Yet we know that it is global in extent and that, in most places, it exhibits sharp contrasts both in rock types and in fossils contained from stratum to stratum.

Despite the patently sensational - and hence implicitly extremist - aura of the term "catastrophism," it is undeniable that catastrophists take a broader view of Earth history than do uniformitarians. For uniformitarians assert that our planet's evolution has been uniformly gradual and that no genuinely global catastrophes have occurred. Catastrophists, however, do not merely reverse this assertion. On the contrary, they agree that most of the terrestrial past has been a record of undisturbed gradualism. But they maintain that this record has been punctuated periodically by violent and world-wide episodes of what geologists call diastrophism - that is, major rearrangement of the Earth's surface. (The term diastrophism, which was introduced only in 1881, comes from the same root as catastrophe and probably originated as a uniformitarian euphemism for catastrophism.) In petrological terms, periods of uniformity are marked by rock strata and those of upheaval by stratal boundaries; in paleontological terms, periods of quiescence correspond to time zones and those of disturbance to zonal borders. Moreover, the ordinal magnitude of the time-zone involved corresponds to the magnitude of the catastrophes that preceded and followed it. What we might call macro-catastrophes may reasonably be inferred to have bracketed eras, such as the Mesozoic; meso-catastrophes, to have bracketed periods, such as the Cambrian; and micro-catastrophes, to have bracketed epochs, such as the Pleistocene.

At time-zone boundaries, the three types of biological event that signal radical discontinuity with the evolutionary past are, in order of decisiveness: (1) extinction, (2) speciation, and (3) biotic dominance. Unfortunately, biologists are inconsistent in their use of these terms, with the result that further qualifications and distinctions need to be made before they can be employed without ambiguity.

The most salient type of extinction is what may be described as phyletic death without issue. In the case of such extinction, not only is an entire taxon (ranging in scope from a species to a phylum) eliminated but it leaves no known descendant taxa. An example of this evolutionary process is provided by the trilobites, a class of arthropods that had dominated the Cambrian seas but disappeared at the conclusion of the Paleozoic era. Where fine distinctions are necessary, this may be characterized as primary extinction.

An intermediate type of extinction involves phyletic death, but not without issue. The disappearing taxon gives phylogenetic birth to another taxon of equal taxonomic rank. An example of this evolutionary process is provided by the thecodonts, a Triassic order of reptiles ancestral to the crocodilians. This, by contradistinction, may be called secondary extinction.

A minimal type of extinction involves the elimination of most but not all subtaxa of a given taxon. An example of this evolutionary process is provided by the ginkgoales, an order of Mesozoic gymnosperms that appeared in the Permian Period, reached its peak in the Jurassic, declined throughout the Cenozoic Era, and is represented today solely by the cultivated Chinese ornamental plant Ginkgo biloba, the maidenhair tree. This, in turn, may be called tertiary extinction.

A table of major extinctions during the 600,000,000 years of the Phanerozoic macro-era follows:

Era Period Epoch Taxon Rank
Paleozoic Cambrian
(spiral echinoderms)
Ordovician protomedusan
(earliest jelly-fish)
Silurian cystoid
(spherical echinoderms)
Devonian graptolite
Carboniferous mesosaurian
(aquatic reptiles)
Permian pteridosperm
(seed ferns)
Mesozoic Triassic
(reptile-like mammals)
Jurassic pantothere
(long-jawed mammals)
Cretaceous saurischian
(largest dinosaurs)
Cenozoic Tertiary Paleocene
Eocene belemnite
(squid-lake molluscs)
Oligocene aepyornith
(elephant birds)
Pliocene oreopithecian
(man-lake apes)
Quaternary Pleistocene mammutid

* NOTE: This chart has been prepared on the basis of present understanding and may prove to be subject to significant future modification.

In reading this diagram, one should locate all extinctions at the terminal rather than the initial boundaries of time-zones. A more elaborate diagram would not only give more detail but reveal what the foregoing diagram does not - namely, that the number of macrotaxa disappearing at the transitions between eras is greater than the number of those disappearing at the transitions between periods. At the Permian-Triassic interface, for example, during what G. G. Simpson, himself a uniformitarian, calls "The Permo-Triassic Crisis, "(6) not only trilobites and pteridosperms but also eurypterids and labyrinthodonts became extinct. (Eurypterids were giant water scorpions, at 12 feet the largest arthropods that have ever existed, from which early fish defended themselves by becoming armored. Labyrinthodonts were the giant amphibia that dominated the Permian landscape and presumably gave rise to the reptiles.) At the Cretaceous-Paleocene interface, in the course of what many herpetologists have referred to as "The Great Dying, " not only dinosaurs but ichthyosaurs, pterosaurs, and toothed birds became extinct as well.

The inverse of extinction is speciation, which, in its broader sense (the one employed here) means the appearance not only of new species but of new taxa of any rank, up to and including phyla. Generally speaking, the ratio of macrotaxic speciations - that is, births of higher taxa, such as phyla, classes, and orders - to macrotaxic extinctions in Phanerozoic time has been about 4 to 1. A table of major speciations during the Phanerozoic follows:

Era Period Epoch Taxon Rank
Paleozoic Cambrian
(exoskeletal metazoa)
Ordovician vertebrate
(bony chordates)
Silurian plant
(non-aquatic autotrophs)
Devonian insect
(six-legged arthropods)
Carboniferous spermatophyte
(seed plants)
Permian pelycosaur
(mammal-like reptiles)
Mesozoic Triassic
(flowering plants)

Cretaceous cheilostomate
(flat bryozoans)
Cenozoic Tertiary Paleocene ungulate
(hooved mammals)
Eocene cetacean
(whales and dolphins)
Oligocene elephantoid
(mammals with trunks)


Quaternary Pleistocene hominian
(human beings)

* NOTE: This chart has been prepared on the basis of present understanding and may prove to be subject to significant future modification.

Here it is at the beginning rather than at the end of the time-zones that the biological transformations listed should be envisioned as having taken place.

On the table of speciations, as on the table of extinctions, the format fails to reveal fully the extent of biotic change at the interfaces between eras. At the opening of the Paleozoic, most of the major animal phyla appeared with extraordinary-abruptness. Among the neonate taxa were molluscs, graptolites, and echinoderms. (In fact, the only animal phylum that seems to have flourished in the preceding Proterozoic Era is the coelenterates.) The Mesozoic opened with the birth of the two classes that today dominate the vegetable and animal kingdoms - the flowering plants and the mammals, respectively. And the Cenozoic dawn broke on a majority of the placental orders with which we are most familiar, including primates, carnivores, and rodents.

The periodization of rock formations correlates well not only with extinctions and speciations but also with successions of dominance. A table of floral and faunal dominance during the Phanerozoic follows:

Era Period Epoch Autotrophs Animals
Paleozoic Cambrian
(seaweed and diatoms)
(marine arthropods)
Ordovician algae
(seaweed and diatoms)
(chambered molluscs)
Silurian algae
(seaweed and diatoms)
Devonian lycopods
(club mosses)
(armored fish)
Carboniferous pteropsids
(tree ferns)
(giant amphibians)
Permian cordaites
(strap-leaf trees)
(mammal-like reptiles)
Mesozoic Triassic
(maidenhair trees)
(reptile-like mammals)
Jurassic cycads
(palm-like gymnosperms)
(herbivorous dinosaurs)
Cretaceous conifers
(evergreen trees)
(predatory dinosaurs)
Cenozoic Tertiary Paleocene anthophytes
(flowering plants)
(carnivorous mammals)
Eocene anthophytes
(flowering plants)
(six-horned ungulates)
Oligocene anthophytes
(flowering plants)
(giant ungulates)
Miocene anthophytes
(flowering plants)
(toothed whales)
Pliocene anthophytes
(flowering plants)
(early mammoths)

Quaternary Pleistocene anthophytes
(flowering plants)

* NOTE: This chart has been prepared on the basis of present understanding and may prove to be subject to significant future modification.

In a few cases, a taxon proves to have been both monoperiodic and holoperiodic - that is, speciated at the lower boundary of a period and extinct at the upper boundary of the same period. Such a taxon is the placoderms, a class of cephalically armored Devonian fish that had not yet appeared in the preceding Silurian period and no longer existed in the following Carboniferous period. The placoderms, moreover, were the dominant marine fauna of their time, as their equally monoperiodic and holoperiodic kinsmen, the labyrinthodonts, were the dominant terrestrial fauna of the Carboniferous.

Returning to the interfaces between eras, we find, not surprisingly, that such major breaks in terrestrial development correlate well not only with macrotaxic speciations and extinctions but also with conspicuous episodes of multiple diastrophism, or rearrangements of the Earth's crust. The chief manifestations of diastrophism are:

1. continental rearrangement (involving changes both in the number of continents and of their locations)

2. orogeny, or mountain building

3. magmatism, both volcanic (above ground) and plutonic (below ground)

4. glaciation, or ice-sheet formation

The interface between the Archeozoic and Proterozoic eras, about 2.5 billion years ago, was marked by the merger of two previously distinct continents, known as Pan-Africa and Baikalia, into the single supercontinent of Pangea I; by the orogenic episode known as the Laurentian Revolution; by widespread volcanism and glaciation; and (in all probability) by the speciation of protistans, or unicellular organisms with nuclei, such as amoebae, where previously there had only been monerans, or unicellular organisms without nuclei, such as bacteria.

The interface between the Proterozoic and Paleozoic eras, conventionally dated about 600 million years ago, as marked by the split of Pangea into the four continents of (North) America, Europe, Asia, and Gondwanaland; by the orogenic episode known as the Killarneyan Revolution; by wide-spread volcanism and glaciation; and by the speciation of a majority of the animal phyla now extant.

The interface between the Paleozoic and the Mesozoic eras, conventionally dated about 220 million years ago, was marked by the rejoining of the four Cambrian continents to form Pangea II; by the orogenic episode known as the Appalachian Revolution, which created the Ural as well as the Appalachian Mountains; by extensive glaciation; and by the extinction of nearly two thirds of all the families of organisms that had existed in the mid-Paleozoic.

Finally, the interface between the Mesozoic and the Cenozoic eras, conventionally dated about 65 million years ago, was marked by the fragmentation of Pangea II into no fewer than seven continents (all those with which we are familiar today in addition to India, which was then located midway between Australia and Eurasia); by the orogenic episode known as the Laramide Revolution, which may also have produced the Andes; and by the extinction of most of the Mesozoic amniote orders, both endothermal and ectothermal, as well as by the spawning of most of the more familiar avian and mammalian orders.

But it is not only the major breaks between eras that yield clear evidence of diastrophe. The breaks between periods and epochs also yield such evidence, though the diastrophism involved is less extreme. The orogenic activities that separate periods are usually called "disturbances" by geologists and those that separate epochs, "phases".(8) Examples are the Palisadian Disturbance of the Triassic-Jurassic interface, which witnessed the birth of the dinosaurs, and the Pyrenean Phase of the Eocene-Eligocene interface, which witnessed the origin of the Himalayas and the extinction of the diatrymids, a family of predatory flightless birds measuring up to seven feet in height.


In nearly every discipline from cosmology to history, there exists a virtual conspiracy of silence conceming the shakiness of regnant chronologies. The only occasion on which the unreliability of a long respected chronology is readily admitted is one that occurs when that chronology is finally abandoned in favor of another which is regarded as more "up to date". Such an abandonment occurred in the 1960's, when dendrochronology replaced radiocarbon dating among archeologists, especially those specializing in European prehistory. More precisely, archeologists who had previously accepted carbon-14 dates without reservation, encountered evidence that the amount of radiocarbon in the atmosphere varied from one millennium to the next, whereupon they insisted that all carbon dates be "calibrated" - that is, revised - so as to agree with North American dates derived from counting the growth rings of the bristle-cone pine, an evergreen that may live as long as 5,000 years.(9)

The weakness in bristle-cone calibration dating, of course, is the assumption that bristle-cone pines invariably produce growth rings at the rate of one and only one per year. Those dendrochronologists who work with a variety of trees readily acknowledge that bad weather throughout the growing season can easily result in growth rings so narrow as wholly to escape detection in the absence of microscopic examination. To this I would add the suggestions, first, that exceptionally bad - that is, cold or dry - weather during the growing season might result in no annual ring whatever and, second, that exceptionally good - that is, warm and moist - weather during the dormancy period might equally result in two or more growth rings in a single year. In any case, there is no evidence that botanical chronologies are intrinsically superior to radiometric chronologies. In some cases, uncalibrated carbon dates agree better with dates derived from other techniques, such as the thermoluminescence of ceramics, than do calibrated dates. For this reason, many senior prehistorians, including Grahame Clark of Cambridge University, have declined to jump on the bristle-cone band-wagon.(10)

A far more glaring chronometric discrepancy than that between the two forms of radiocarbon dating is that between two divergent methods employed by paleo-anthropologists and primatologists for determining the approximate point in time at which the hominids, or human beings (in the broad sense), separated phylogenetically from the pongids, or apes (in the narrow sense). The more traditional method, current since the 19th century, employs the techniques of gross anatomy in comparing the fossil teeth and bones of extinct hominids and pongids. Practitioners of this method generally arrive at a time-depth ranging up to 35 million years for the man/ape split. The newer method, developed during the 1960's by a group of researchers who now call themselves "molecular anthropologists, " employs microscopic techniques in comparing the blood-proteins of these same extinct taxa. Startlingly, the results of these two procedures differ, in some cases, by a full order of magnitude! More precisely, various anatomists date the man/ape split between 10 and 35 million years ago, while moleculists date it between 3 and 5 million years ago.(11)

Chronological discrepancies of this sort do not disappear when we move from the domain of prehistory to that of history. In some cases, in fact, scholarly disagreements seem only to become exacerbated. An example of a chronometric free-for-all is provided by the pre-Macedonian history of Egypt (which, ironically, is regarded as the standard by which most of ancient history between China and the Atlantic should be measured). Between the time of Jean-Francois Champollion in the early 19th century and that of Eduard Meyer in the early 20th, estimates of the interval separating the founding of the Middle Kingdom and that of the New Kingdom ranged from about 200 to about 1600 years.(12) Since 1910, to be sure, a rough consensus has emerged which sets this interval at about 400 years. But this consensus seems to reflect not so much new data or new chronometric techniques as scholarly intolerance of uncertainty and the need to set up a "chronological pillar" on which the even shakier chronologies of surrounding regions can lean.


Ancient historians often justify their highly arbitrary chronologies by appeal to synchronisms - that is, to presumed simultaneities of historical events in two or more early urban centers, such as Syria and Mesopotamia. For the most part, however, the centers in question are so close to one another that implications for more distant cultures are minimal. In fact, both accurate and far-flung synchronisms remain dubious until the middle of the first millennium B.C., * when we encounter the first multicontinental empire, that of the Achaemenid Persians, which embraced Greeks, Egyptians, and Indo-Aryans in a single political ecumene.

[* Velikovsky has presented material casting doubt on the accuracy of synchronisms as far down as the Hellenistic period. See I. Velikovsky, Peoples of the Sea (Doubleday: N.Y. 1976), passim.]

Because of the unreliability of pre-Achaemenid synchronisms as conventionally stated, I am inclined to refer to the "history" of the period between the foundation of the Sumerian city-states and the Persian Conquest as protohistory. Moreover, since notational systems of a type which many historians regard as "documentation" may well date back to the Mesolithic period of Europe, when the mysterious Azilian signary was in use in France, I am further inclined to expand protohistory at the expense not only of early history but also of late prehistory. In my usage, then, protohistory embraces the entire era between the introduction of farming about 10,000 years ago and the creation of international world-creeds like Buddhism about 2, 500 years ago. Synchronicity, however, remains a useful means of relating events in disparate regions, provided that we concede the tentative nature of all accepted synchronisms prior to the middle and last third of the first millennium B.C.(13)

To my mind, the most striking thing about Old World protohistoric synchronisms is the correspondence in cultural trifurcations between the three Mediterranean civilizations centering on Crete, the Nile Valley, and Syria, respectively. The fact that all three can so readily be divided into early (or old), middle, and late (or new) phases strongly suggests that factors other than purely local and internal ones are involved.(14) And the fact (despite considerable diversity of scholarly opinion concerning dating and periodization) that both Britain and Iran may also exhibit equivalent triadism makes it further unlikely that the external factors involved are diffusive cultural influences alone. From this trifurcatory progression, I draw two tentative conclusions: first, that the period from 3200 to 700 B.C. had, notwithstanding its two internal "punctuations" (circa 2200 B.C. and circa 1500 B.C.), a degree of distinctive identity that set it off from earlier and later periods of cultural development; and, second, that the immediately pre-Venusian (or Jovian) crisis was, in at least some respects, more clearly marked, in terms of historical evidence, than was the immediately post-Venusian (or Martian) crisis.

In support of the first of these generalizations, I would cite certain cultural traits which seem to me to be characteristic of early, or localized, civilizations generally, as against later, or imperial, civilizations. Foremost among these were: urbanization typified more by the construction of monumental ceremonial centers than by heavy residential population; literacy based on ideographic rather than alphabetic scripts; and metallurgy consisting of the smelting of non-ferrous metals, such as copper and gold, rather than of iron. In support of the second, I note that evidence of fire and flood in the ancient Near East is far more widespread at the interface between the Early and Middle Bronze Ages than at that between the Late Bronze and Iron Ages.

On the other hand, while direct evidence is more abundant for a crisis about 2200 B.C. than for one about 700 B.C., the indirect evidence is reversed and points toward the latter date. For, during the 7th pre-Christian century, which initiates what Karl Jaspers refers to as "The Axial Period" of human civilization, (15) most of the Old World ecumene witnessed an ideological transformation that was, relatively speaking, so abrupt and so fundamental as to suggest that it was ecologically rather than developmentally precipitated.* Among the manifestations of this transformation were: the appearance of philosophers and historians where previously there had been only priests and scribes; the propagation of world-creeds like Buddhism, paralleling the spread of world-empires like that of the Achaemenids; the creation of metal coinage and therewith of money economies; and a reversal of religious attitudes such that erotic theriomorphic pantheons were progressively displaced by desexualized and dematerialized godheads which increasingly emphasized human aloofness and uniqueness at the expense of human embeddedness in nature.

[* Cf. Ramses II and His Time (N.Y. 1978). pp. 4344. - The Ed.]


In the task of reconstructing the protohistoric past, linguistic evidence is intrinsically less weighty than stratigraphic evidence, not only because words can constitute maps without territories but also because their significance depends almost wholly on interpretation. Because of this hermeneutic relativity, verbal evidence can rarely if ever be reliably said to "speak for itself". In many cases, the same lexical evidence that is cited in favor of one reconstruction can equally well be cited, with appropriate reinterpretation, in favor of a contrary reconstruction. An excellent example of this ambiguity is the nomenclature of early Aryan, or Indo-European, "nature" deities, as attested primarily (but by no means exclusively) in the Rig-Vedic hymns of ancient India. Representative theonyms of this type are Agni, "fire (god)," Vayu, "wind (god)," and Usas, "dawn (goddess);" well known cognates in other Indo-European languages are Latin ignis, "fire, " Lithuanian vejas, "wind," and Greek eos, "dawn".

In most discussions of such names, the uniformitarian assumption is made that they typified the nature-worship of naive primitives living in idyllic communion with unspoiled environments. Yet, following Mircea Eliade's principle that it is never the ordinary but solely the extraordinary that is sacralized by any people, (16) I would hypothesize that Agni initially meant "fire in or from the sky," Vayu, "hurricane or typhoon," and Usas, "ruddy haze in the sky (seen throughout the day and not merely at twilight)". In other words, I see these awesome beings as having been, at first at least, "unnatural" - and hence supernatural - in contradistinction to those natural phenomena which were originally sacred only to the extent to which they served to remind the god-fearing of the terrifying power of catastrophic events, such as the pre-Martian crises cited in the previous section. (In favor of this interpretation is the fact that synonymous nouns which described exclusively ordinary phenomena were never used as names of deities. An example of this dichotomy of sacred and profane is the vocabulary for fire, which, in addition to Agni and its cognates, included Hittite puhar, Greek pûr, and of course the English word fire itself, all three of which referred to ordinary - and hence unvenerated - combustion.)

Further examples of such interpretive ambiguities are the paradoxical polysemy of certain Indo-European nouns, such as Sanskrit áçman- and Greek ákmon which were cognate and could mean either "stone" or "heaven, " and the puzzling divergence of meaning between some nouns, such as Greek pétros, "stone, " and pétra, "cliff, " and the verbal stem - in this case pet-, "to fly" - from which they seem to be morphologically derived.(17) In the former case, the conventional explanation is to assert that the early Indo-Europeans conceived of the sky as a stone vault. In the latter, it is usual to dismiss the root resemblances as coincidental and to hold that two distinct lexemes are involved. A comparable duality of meaning occurs in the seemingly cognate German nouns Himmel, "heaven, " and Hammer (whose meaning is now as in English but which appears, in early Germanic, to have meant "stone"). And it recurs in Latin caelum, which meant both "sky" and "chisel". For a catastrophist, however, none of these cases is surprising. He assumes that, during interplanetary encounters, meteor showers are both frequent and devastating and that ancient vocabularies will predictably associate large loose stones with celestial disturbances.


Before we leave the subject of the protohistoric Indo-Europeans, it may be worth noting that there are non-linguistic as well as linguistic aspects of their culture that suggest catastrophic influences. One of these non-linguistic culture-patterns was the smelting of iron in the area of Anatolia or Ciscaucasia. Another was the domestication of horses and the development of a newer and more mobile form of pastoral nomadism based on that accomplishment in the steppes north of the Black and Caspian seas. And the third was the cremation of the dead in eastern Europe. All three of these innovations appeared about the middle of the second millennium B.C. Iron metallurgy was probably disseminated, if not invented, by the "Hittites"; * horse pastoralism, by the proto-Scythians; and cremation, by the proto-Celts. All three, moreover, may be very plausibly connected with catastrophic occurrences. For either meteorite showers or ferrous dustings of the landscape would naturally lead to greater awareness of iron and an inclination to experiment with it. Tectonic upheavals, furthermore, would make normally settled peoples migratory and would lead them to search, in their eagerness for relocation, for more rapid means of transportation, which horses could and did provide. Natural cremation, finally, must have been the lot of many individuals caught in the wide-spread conflagrations that seem to have terminated many protohistoric subperiods; and, since the fires were, or appeared to be, of celestial origin, it would predictably have occurred to the god-fearing that this mode of disposing of bodies was divinely favored, if not celestially ordained.

[* But see Ramses II and His Time, op. cit., pp. 221-237. - The Ed.]

Considering the explosive force with which Indo-European-speaking peoples erupted from the Eurasian plains into the devastated centers of ancient Old World civilization from the Indus to the Aegean, we should perhaps not marvel at the fact that Indo-Europeans have subsequently colonized and proselytized most of our planet. No other ethnolinguistic group so well merits the sobriquet "disaster's darlings". For no other people has so prospered from adversity.

Unfortunately, however, Indo-European prosperity seems to have been purchased at the high price of collective amnesia. Unable to make full peace with the past, we have laid furious siege to the future, as though we could thereby obliterate what we chose to forget. Yet, until such time as we can convert mythology into history, we live in danger of compulsively re-creating the natural catastrophes from which we gained our initial cultural opportunities. Instead of being natural, of course, re-created catastrophes would probably take the form of thermonuclear war and environmental contamination, from which full recovery might be an impossibility, not only for our own species but for the entire planetary biosphere. To forestall such global self-destruction, it is unlikely that any political structure or ideological commitment will suffice. If holocaust is to be avoided, insight must be achieved. For, as George Santayana repeatedly warned, those ignorant of the past are doomed to repeat it.


1.  Charles P. Snow, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, Cambridge University Press, London, 1959.
2.  Lawrence Dennis, The Dynamics of War and Revolution, The Weekly Foreign Letter (privately printed), New York, 1940.
3.  Noam Chomsky and Morris Halle, The Sound Pattern of English, Harper, New York, 1968.
4.  Nigel Calder, The Violent Universe: An Eyewitness Account of the New Astronomy, Viking Press, New York, 1970.
5.  Michael J. Disney and Philippe Véron, "BL Lacertae Objects," The Scientific American, August, 1977.
6.  George G. Simpson and William S. Beck, Life: An Introduction to Biology, 2nd edition, Harcourt, New York, 1965.
7.  Autotrophs are organisms that photosynthesize or chemosynthesize food. They include not only "free" plants, such as mosses, but protistans, such as rhodobacteria.
8.  Strictly speaking, geological phases are segments of stages, which in turn are segments of epochs. In effect, however, since an epoch (such as the Holocene) can last as little as 10,000 years, phases function, in relation to longer time-zones such as eras and periods, as chronological boundaries.
9.  Colin Renfrew, Before Civilization, Knopf, New York, 1974.
10. J. Grahame Clark, World Prehistory in New Perspective, 3rd edition, Cambridge University Press, London, 1977; pp. xix-xx.
11. David Pilbeam, The Ascent of Man, MacMillan, New York, 1972; pp. 46-47.
12. Eva Danelius, "The Identification of the Biblical 'Queen of Sheba' with Hatshepsut, 'Queen of Egypt and Ethiopia,' KRONOS I:3 (Fall, 1975), p. 4.
13. See Immanuel Velikovsky, Worlds In Collision, Doubleday, Garden City, N. Y., 1950; Ages In Chaos, idem, 1952; Earth In Upheaval, idem, 1955; et al.
14. Barbara Bell, "Dark Ages in Ancient History, " in C. C. Lamberg-Karlovsky and Jeremy A. Sabloff, editors, The Rise of Fall of Civilizations, Cummings Publishing Co., Menlo Park, California, 1974.
15. Karl T. Jaspers, Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte, Piper Verlag, Munich, 1949; ch. 5, "Die Achsenzeit und Ihre Folgen".
16. Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane, Harcourt, New York, 1959.
17. J. Peter Maher, "*Hekmon: '(Stone) Axe' and 'Sky' in Indo-European Battle-Axe Culture," B>The Journal of Indo-European Studies, Winter, 1973. (The reconstructed word for ax is here transcribed in what is usually called the "Laryngealist" manner.) Interestingly, however, Maher himself does not interpret the dual meaning of *akmonas evidence of catastrophic occurrences but only of synesthesia "manifest in the worldwide metaphors connecting man's own axes and missiles with the sky's thunder" (p. 461).

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