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Open letter to science editors

 

KRONOS Vol VII, No. 3

Vox Populi

ON "THE YEAR -687": A POSTSCRIPT

To the Editor of KRONOS:

After accepting my paper, "On 'The Year -687' ", the editor called my attention to Robert R. Newton's latest volume,(1) which also discusses the Ch'un Ch'iu eclipses and Immanuel Velikovsky's theories. Newton's remarks parallel my own on many points. However, his eclipse identifications differ in two cases from those given in my Table 2 (see KRONOS VI:4, p. 12).

For the tenth eclipse, in the fifth month of the fifteenth year of Duke Hsi, Newton gives August 28, -644, while I gave it as February 4 of the same year. This is one of three records which do not indicate the cycle-day. However, it appears that neither eclipse was visible in China (see p. 409 of Newton), so his choice of date is no improvement.

The fifteenth eclipse (in the text and in my table) appears in the entry for the seventeenth year of Hsuan, in the sixth month, on the 40th day of the cycle. I gave it as October 11th of that year (-591), which falls on cycle-day nine. Correcting "seventeenth" to "seventh" year, Newton gives it as May 8, -601, which brings the cycle-day (40) into agreement with the text. This interpretation does not have much effect on the overall picture of agreement, and it has no effect on my calculations of the beginning of the civil calendar in various years. However, I should have paid more attention to Legge's notes on these dates.

Newton(2) also discusses the physical consequences of Velikovsky's claim that the geographic poles suddenly shifted by about 20 within historical times.(2a) I would like to offer a few further comments on this subject here. After discussing the distribution of the ice sheet during the last glaciation, Velikovsky wrote:

The Brahman charts of the sky show a large difference from what modern astronomers would expect to find. Calcutta being removed 180 longitude from Baffin Land [sic], the Brahman charts would rather correspond to a position of the earth in which the axis would pierce the globe at Baffin Land, close to the present magnetic pole....

It is probable that twenty-seven centuries ago, or perhaps thirty five, the present North Pole was at Baffin Land or close to the Boothia Felix Peninsula of the American mainland.(3)

Velikovsky did not cite any source. I do not believe there were any such Brahman star charts, nor could there have been. If compiled from observations made at a single location, a star chart or catalogue could reveal the latitude of the place, from the declination of the southernmost stars represented in it, if identifiable. An observer at the equator can see every star in the sky visible to the naked eye on successive nights of the year. An observer at a given latitude x in the northern hemisphere can see every bright star down to a southern declination of 90 -x. (For an observer in the southern hemisphere, the situation is reversed.) The latitude of India ranges from about 8 to 32 N., a distance of more than 1500 miles. We cannot exclude the possibility that the range of places where ancient astronomical observations were made extended even further south, to Ceylon perhaps, or from the deck of a ship in the Indian Ocean. But for the sake of argument, let us assume it is definitely known that all the observations used in compiling our ancient chart were made in one place, say as far north as New Delhi.

The latitude of New Delhi being 28.4 N., an observer situated there can see all bright stars except those within 28.4 of the southern celestial pole. These will be perpetually below the horizon. Let us assume that our chart shows all naked-eye stars except those in a small region of the southern sky with a radius of roughly eight and a half degrees. (For a region as small as this to be conspicuous, the rest of the chart would have to be fairly crowded.) This would tell us the ancient position of the celestial, but not the geographic, north pole only that it once lay somewhere on an arc centered on New Delhi with a radius of approximately 81 degrees. Such an arc would pass through not only Baffin Island, but also Greenland and a long stretch of Canada's arctic coast. The ancient pole, then, could lie anywhere along this arc.

Here is what I believe actually happened: On the endpapers of Charles Hapgood's Path of the Pole(4) is a map showing putative positions of the north pole during the past 80,000 years. Citing paleomagnetic studies of Pleistocene volcanic deposits, Hapgood argued that from about 50,000 until some 12,000 to 17,000 years ago, the pole was situated at a point near 60 N., 80 W. This is just south of Baffin Island. Hapgood believed that polar displacements have occurred many times in the Earth's past, accompanied by violent folding and faulting. His mechanism is climatic, not astronomical: centrifugal force, acting on the gradually accumulated mass of ice at the poles, periodically displaces the whole lithosphere. Although Hapgood did not publish his theory until 1958, like Velikovsky he had discussed it earlier with Einstein, who contributed a foreword to the original edition. Velikovsky may have seen Hapgood's map, or one very much like it, and confused it with the "Hindu astronomical tablets" he mentioned only a few pages earlier: "Composed by the Brahmans in the first half of the first millennium before the present era [they] show a uniform deviation from the expected position of the stars at the time the observations were made (the precession of the equinoxes being taken into consideration)."(5)

The source cited for this assertion is page 76 of John Bentley's (rather jaundiced) Historical View of the Hindu Astronomy.(6) On this page and on several others, Bentley has worked out tables showing errors in the longitudes of the Moon and planets, not the fixed stars, since the beginning of the latest world-age in Hindu cosmology, the Kali Yuga, using rules of calculation left by Hindu astronomers of an assuredly much later age. Their treatises have in common that they assume a conjunction of the moon and planets, and the lunar node, at sunrise at the vernal equinox at the beginning and end of a Yuga or Mahayuga,(7) with an integral number of revolutions for each, such as will yield mean motions closely approximating estimates derived from observations. The artificiality of such a scheme is evident, and the discrepancies from modern calculation of the mean motions are of a magnitude far too trivial to be explained by catastrophism. Bentley's assumption seems basically reasonable: that these discrepancies would be at least at the time the rules were composed.(8)

Sean Mewhinney

Ottawa, Ontario

NOTES

1. Robert R. Newton, The Moon's Acceleration and Its Physical Origins, Vol. 1: As Deduced from Solar Eclipses (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1979). His table of early Chinese eclipses appears on pages 152-3.
2. Ibid, "The Work of Velikovsky," pp. 180-186.
2a. See also Dwardu Cardona, "The Problem of the Frozen Mammoths," KRONOS I:4, pp. 77-85.
3. Immanuel Velikovsky, Worlds In Collision, p. 326.
4. Charles H. Hapgood, The Path of the Pole (Chilton, 1970). The original edition was published in 1958 as Earth's Shifting Crust.
5. Worlds In Collision, pp. 313-14.
6. (Osnabrück, Biblio Verlag reprint of the 1825 ed., 1970). Jaundiced because Bentley was laboring to show that the fantastic ages claimed for the books of the Hindus were merely gross impostures intended to keep the people from turning to the true religion, namely Christianity. For an amusing counterpoint to Bentley, there is V. Thiruvenkatacharya's privately printed booklet, The Antiquity of Hindu Astronomy and the Tamils (Madras, 1970), which claims an antiquity of 920,160,000 years for Zoroaster and quotes Madame Blavatsky as an authority for the date of the beginning of the Kali Yuga.
7. A Mahayuga lasts 4,320,000 years and consists of four Yugas in descending order as follows: Krta, 1,728,000 years; Treta, 1,296,000; Dvapara, 864,000; and Kali, 432,000. The present Kali Yuga is assumed to have begun in 3102 B.C.
8. For a more sophisticated extension of this approach, see Roger Billard, L'astronomie indienne: Investigation des textes sanskrits et des données numériques (Paris, École francaise d'extrême-orient, 1971). For a discussion and critique, see Bartel L. van der Waerden, "Two Treatises on Indian Astronomy," and David Pingree's reply, in Journal for the History of Astronomy, Vol. XI (1980), pp. 50-62.

[Editor's Note: Paragraphs five and six argue not only that there were no charts of the sort mentioned by Velikovsky, but also that such charts could not possibly have provided the requisite information in any case. These arguments seem to me to be incorrect. If Velikovsky saw a reference to a Brahman chart that put the celestial equator within a few degrees of the zenith of, say, Calcutta, that would have been more than sufficient for his purposes. And who can say for sure that Velikovsky did not ever see such a reference? The explanation in paragraph seven is then unnecessary; it is but unsupported speculation in any case. - LER]


To the Editor of KRONOS:

The following are a few comments on Sean Mewhinney's article "On 'The Year -687' ".

Since mention was made of de Mailla's Sung Dynasty compilation of Chinese history, the Tong-Kien-Kang-Mou (KRONOS VI:4, p. 21), its description of the meteor fall of the year 687 B.C. could have been referred to. The possibility that sources considerably later than Confucius had access to authentic information cannot be discounted, especially in a society like the Chinese where cultural traditions were continuous.

The extraordinary prominence accorded to the event in the Tong-Kien-Kang-Mou indicates that something more than a meteor shower of the kind witnessed regularly in our days, and associated for instance with the constellations Perseus or Taurus, was involved. We may surmise that what made the meteor shower of March 23rd, 687 B.C. so unusual was either the quantity and/or brightness of the incident meteors, or some other attending phenomenon. The passage reads as follows:

In the fifth day of the fourth moon, Heaven itself showed its displeasure with unmistakable signs. In the night of this same day, even though the sky was quite free of clouds, not a single star appeared; but in the middle of the night a rain of them was seen which, on approaching the earth, immediately disappeared.(1)

The disappearance of the meteors on their approach to the Earth's surface, due evidently to their burning up in the atmosphere - a detail unmentioned in the Spring and Autumn Annals - helps establish the fact that the meteorites were not especially large; thus, whatever feature made this particular shower so prodigious as to be seen as a sign of heavenly displeasure - and thus worthy of record - it was not the size of the incident particles. The quantity of the meteors must have been impressive: the description "like rain", even if taken not quite literally, would imply a copious meteor shower by any standards. Even so, meteor showers that could fit this description have been witnessed on rare occasions in modern times. What is truly remarkable, however, is the observation, included in all of the accounts, that even in the absence of any clouds,the fixed stars were not visible. I cannot think of any other physical explanation except that the view was obscured by a canopy of dust particles. Furthermore, though the dust could conceivably have been of terrestrial origin, the explicit connection of the dark, yet cloudless sky and the meteor shower makes it rather certain that the dust obscuring the stars on that occasion was of cosmic origin. It would seem that some of these cosmic dust particles penetrated the Earth's atmosphere and caused the observed "rain of stars" that burned up before reaching the surface.

We may thus safely conclude, on the basis of the Chinese reports of March 23rd, 687 B.C., that on that night our planet passed through a fairly substantial cloud of cosmic debris thick enough to obscure the light of the stars. Whatever else may have transpired on that day has to be determined from other sources.

Jan N. Sammer

1. Storia Generale della Cina, ovvero Grandi Annali Cinesi, tradotti dal Tong-Kien-Kang-Mou dal padre Giuseppe-Anna-Maria de Moyriac de Mailla, Gesuita Francese Missionario in Pekin , Vol. III, p. 60 (Siena, 1777).


MAYAN AND BABYLONIAN OBSERVATIONS OF VENUS

To the Editor of KRONOS:

While discussing the Venus Table in the Dresden Codex, Anthony Aveni (The Skywatchers of Ancient Mexico, 1980, p. 187) remarks: "It is puzzling that the 90-day interval in the table is so different from the true disappearance interval (about 50 days) and that the morning and evening star intervals are represented as being unequal." Then in a footnote (which references Antonie Pannekoek, A History of Astronomy, 1969, p.33) he states: "It is curious that the Babylonians also counted a three-month disappearance interval. . ."

This is certainly a strange state of affairs, but what about the other intervals? The Venus table in the Dresden Codex consists of five pages (pp. 46-50). Each page represents one synodic revolution of Venus, and consists of four columns. The bottom line contains the number sequence 236, 90, 250, 8 - the intervals of visibility and invisibility of Venus. In another line a running total is accumulated, the last column being 2920 days, which corresponds to five Venus synodical revolutions and eight Earth years rounded to the nearest integer (5 x 584 = 8 x 365 = 2920).

Pannekoek quotes from F. X. Kugler (Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel II, Munster 1909, p. 253) regarding Section B of Tablet K.160 (an Ammizaduga tablet). The corresponding intervals (in months:days) are 8:5, 3:0, 8:5, and 0:7 for a total of 19 months and 17 days. Pannekoek claims that these intervals have been deduced from observational data [Sections A1 and A2] and remarks that many erroneous values are used in deducing the mean values. For comparison with modern values and the Dresden Codex a 30-day month is assumed in the table below. Note how closely the invisibilities in K.160 agree with the Codex. The visibilities, unlike the Codex, are equal, which one would expect with virtually circular orbits.

Lynn E. Rose and Raymond C. Vaughan refer to sections A1, B, and A2 of K.160 as Sections I, II, and III. Their study ("Section II: The Artificial Insertion", KRONOS V:4, pp. 32-47) shows how Section II could have been derived from Section I, based on their reconstruction, and assuming that the inventor had only an early version of Section I available. They point out that the eastern visibilities average 240.2 days, and the longer western visibilities average 249 4/9 days. Their joint average is 8 months,4 37/45 days, which rounds to 8 months, 5 days, giving the same value as Section II (Ibid., p. 40).

But suppose we substitute the segregated values from Section II, and compare them with the Dresden Codex, as shown in the table below. Note that they differ by no more than one day, except for the morning star visibility, which differs by nearly four days.

This is extremely curious! Could the Venus Table of the Dresden Codex be based on ancient sources? J. Eric Thompson - the late eminent Mayan scholar - states that the fear of Venus at the heliacal rising after the inferior conjunction was real ("Maya Astronomy", The Place of Astronomy in the Ancient World, ed. F. R. Hodson (London, 1974), p. 87). Perhaps as long as the placement of the eight-day visibility was accurate the other discrepancies could be tolerated. This suggests that the number sequence 236, 90, 250, 8 might represent Venus' orbit prior to the first Mars encounter.

The artificial insertion is extremely limited as a table of Venus predictions, even if one attempts to expand it by substituting months other than those specified. One pass through the Venus Table in the Dresden Codex, however, gives dates of appearance and disappearance for 5 synodic revolutions, whereupon Earth and Venus have returned to the same position relative to the fixed stars. The table can then be re-entered on another line of dates of appearance and disappearance. This can be repeated thirteen times, covering a total time span of 104 years.

The Mayan calendar included a 360- and/or 365-day count, and a 260-day cycle, which all ran concurrently. They did not intercalate months as the Babylonians did, nor days as we do (for leap years), though they did make adjustments to keep the error within bounds, thus providing an accurate record of the passing of time. Being based on this system, the Venus Table of the Dresden Codex offers a useful standard for comparison purposes. The actual difference between the Babylonian and Mayan records may well be less than is apparent, since the number of days in a month was an assumed value for comparison purposes.

William James Douglas

Rockville, MD

TABLE OF VISIBILITIES OF VENUS IN DAYS
Modern (Venus) Babylonian(2) (Ninsianna) Mayan(1) (Kukulkan) Visibility

Section II Section I(3)

263 245 240.2 236 Visible as morning star.
50 90 90 90 Invisible during superior conjunction.
263 245 249.44 250 Visible as evening star.
8 7 7 8 Invisible during inferior conjunction.
584 587
584 Total

1. Mayan data is from the Dresden Codex, which is dated ca. 1250 A.D., based on a lost version ca. 750 A.D.

2. Babylonian data is from clay tablet K.160 and related tablets (often referred to as Tablets of Ammizaduga). They are conventionally dated to about 3500 years ago, but should be more like the eighth century B.C. (Lynn E. Rose, "Babylonian Observations of Venus", Pensée IVR III (Winter, 1973), p. 20).

3. Rose and Vaughan obtained these "Section I" values as follows: 240.2 is the average of the eastern visibilities; 90 is the average of all superior conjunction invisibilities, plus two excessively long inferior conjunction invisibilities; 249.44 is the average of all of the longer western visibilities, excluding one visibility of only seven days; and 7 is the median of all of the shorter inferior conjunction invisibilities, excluding the two excessively long inferior conjunction invisibilities that were averaged in with the superior conjunction invisibilities

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