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Open letter to science editors

 

KRONOS Vol IV, No. 4

ASH (Continued)

In the Winter 1973-74 issue of Pensée - under the heading "ASH" - a series of letters, spanning nearly twenty years, was published. This correspondence stands as a vivid testimony to Velikovsky's lengthy, and often futile, efforts to have radiocarbon tests performed on Egyptian antiquities of the New Kingdom.

The "ASH" report, as published, concluded with the letter of a Dutch chemist (dated April 19, 1973) to Mr. A. Bruce Mainwaring, at the time coordinator of a Carbon 14 project sponsored by the Foundation for Studies of Modern Science (FOSMOS). Mr. Mainwaring was informed that the British Museum had just denied having ever made "measurements on material from the tomb of Tutankhamun". This was a direct contradiction of test results reported by Dr. 1. E. S. Edwards - the keeper of Egyptology at the British Museum - in a letter (dated April 6, 1971) addressed to Dr. Henry N. Michael at the University Museum, University of Pennsylvania.

Edwards' letter contained a reference to two British Museum samples from Tutankhamen's tomb. They are BM-642A (Reed from Tutankhamen's tomb) and BM-642B (Dom palm nut kernel from Tutankhamen's tomb) which yielded dates of c. 846 B.C. and c. 899 B.C., respectively. With regard to these two samples and two others, Edwards remarked that "all the results are lower than we should expect".

For the time being, the dates obtained for BM-642A and BM-642B remain unpublished by the British Museum (but see the October 1973 FOSMOS-MASCA report by A. Bruce Mainwaring, pp. 11-13). The possible reasons for the Museum's attitude are left to the wonderment of the reader.

In an attempt to force the issue, Dr. J. D. H. Iles of Toronto wrote to the British Museum on April 24, 1975, almost two years to the day from the time that Bruce Mainwaring was first apprised of the Museum's denial. Thus unfolds another intriguing, albeit frustrating, chapter in the continuing story of "ASH ".


24 April, 1975

The Director, THE BRITISH MUSEUM

DEAR SIR:

The above is a photocopy of p. 19 (and the immediately preceding portion of p. 18) from the Winter 1973/74 issue of PENSEE, from Portland,Oregon.

I emigrated from Britain in 1952, but like many other emigrants I retain a great affection and respect for British institutions - especially the most stalwart ones like The Bank of England and (of course) The British Museum.

That the Museum would knowingly suppress facts or knowingly impede progress in its own line (as it were) is quite unthinkable - or should I say 'WAS' unthinkable?

I hope you will be able to reassure me that the matter has been rectified - that you have had the courage to "publish and be damned". You might just as well with the cat out of the bag anyway, and what a nasty smelly fur-bearin' critter it turns out to be!

Can you imagine an H. M. Bateman cartoon of the Egyptology Department in a state of shock! ! !

Yours faithfully,

J.D.H. ILES, M.D.

P. S. If no reply is received, it will have to be assumed, alas, that none is possible. O tempora! O mores!


9 May, 1975

Dr. J. D. H. Iles,
44, Fairfield Road,
Toronto, Ontario

DEAR SIR,

I am writing in answer to your letter of 24 April.

The British Museum radiocarbon dating laboratory publishes results only when it is satisfied that both the scientific measurements and the archaeological provenance of the material being measured are impeccable. The measurements identified by numbers BM 642A and BM 642B were of material from the Museum's own collections which could not reliably be associated with Tutankhamun's tomb. The samples were included in a programme of measurements of Egyptian materials of interest both to the British Museum and to the University of Pennsylvania partly because it was hoped that the measurements would finally resolve the question whether they came from Tutankhamun's tomb or not. On the basis of the datings it was decided that the samples did not come from the tomb and, as no other attributions could be suggested and there was no detailed information as to archaeological context, it was decided that the results should not be published. The datings were given in confidence to the University of Pennsylvania where Mr. Mainwaring saw them. Mr. Mainwaring appears to have misunderstood Mr. Burleigh (who is one of the senior staff of the Laboratory but not its head); it is not the case that results which do not conform to a preconceived theory are suppressed but there are, as I expect you know, many problems in the radiocarbon dating of Egyptian material. Mr. Barker's letter to Mr. Van Oosterhout was, therefore, strictly accurate.

Yours faithfully,

G. B. MORRIS
Secretary


May 14th, 1975

Mr. G. B. Morris
Secretary
The British Museum
LONDON WC1B 3DG

DEAR MR. MORRIS,

Thank you for taking the time and the trouble to answer my letter about radiocarbon dating of putative XVIIIth Dynasty material.

Are you not, however, begging the question rather than resolving it?

As I understand it, Tutankhamun's tomb had never been disturbed, by robbers or anyone, until it was discovered; presumably all the precious contents were most carefully catalogued. Surely, then, you either knew or you did not know, already, whether those palm kernels (etc.) came from the tomb; the question of their origin - if it was really in doubt - quite obviously could not be resolved by dating. Contemporaneity would be the utmost that radiocarbon dating - or any other method, indeed - could possibly prove.

I suggest that there were no serious doubts about the origin of the material UNTIL the results of radiocarbon dating.

One can only suppose that so much painstaking scholarship and so many reputations are bound up with accepted ancient Egyptian chronology that the archeological Establishment will go to almost any lengths to preserve it intact; anything that doesn't fit - palm kernels or whatever - is quickly jettisoned.

But what about those chips of Cedar-of-Lebanon from Tutankhamun's casket? As you are no doubt aware, radiocarbon dating showed that the wood could not have started to grow as a sapling for at least two centuries after Tutankhamun's death. On the other hand, if Tutankhamun actually died about 850 B.C. - and was buried with the palm kernels - , the Cedar-of-Lebanon used for his casket could easily have been two centuries old or more at that time.

I'm afraid I still think suppression is rife in this field, but the truth cannot be suppressed indefinitely.

Yours faithfully,

J.D.H. ILES, M.D.


17 June, 1975

DEAR DR. ILES,

Thank you for your letter of 14 May.

I am afraid that you have been misinformed about the state of Tutankhamun's tomb. Not only was it entered by thieves in antiquity but, as a result of the collapse of a later tomb from above, there is a strong possibility that some of the material found in the tomb was of more recent date. It is consequently wrong to assume that all the material from the tomb must date from the same period. Furthermore, if any material is to be used as a means of checking on the date of Tutankhamun's death it is necessary to demonstrate that there is no possibility of its being accidentally mislabelled or confused with other Egyptian material during the interval between the opening of the tomb and the time when the material was submitted for dating. The material dated by the Museum's Research Laboratory did not meet these requirements and was dated in order to settle the doubts. Mr. Harold Barker, Keeper of Conservation at the British Museum, having read all the correspondence in Pense'e concerning the fragments of wood measured by Dr. Ralph, suggests that this material too is by no means sufficiently firmly documented to satisfy these same criteria.

Yours sincerely,

G. B. MORRIS
Secretary

(Dictated by Mr. Morris, and signed in his absence)


August 5th, 1975

DEAR MR. MORRIS,

Thank you for your letter of June 17th.

It suggests that, from the standpoint of conventional Egyptian chronology, the set-up is neat, watertight, and the very embodiment of heads-I-win-tails-you-lose:-

If an object is unquestionably XVIIIth dynasty in origin there would be no point in testing it; the result would be a foregone conclusion because the date is already KNOWN - it would, moreover, be a futile waste of time, energy and precious material!

It follows that any object that is submitted for radiocarbon (or other scientific) testing MUST ipso facto be of doubtful origin.

One is left wondering how long the Establishment can keep it up.

Yours sincerely,

JOHN D. H. ILES, M. B., B.CH.


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