Saturday, August 28, 2010
By Baal, it’s a Kangaroo!
Or Cultural Diffusion and how we learnt to build Pyramids!
Once more a happy greeting to my multitudes of readers, I hope both of you are well, for me it has been not so, the scourge of a virus producing cluster migraines laid me low and whimpering for eight days straight. By Jove I wish they still had laudanum dispensed over the counter! I could have done with a stint of indulging in the Black Drop Habit like those romantic poets in Ken Russel’s surreal film Gothic. Anyway In an effort to distract from the blinding headache I slowly worked on part two of the ancient discoverers of Australia.
This time around it is the Phoenicians’ turn, now first we have to ask who were the Phoenicians and why would they be connected with Australia? Give Wiki a quick check (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenicia)and you’ll find a passable explanation of their origins society and influence, without getting into the overly academic. In short they where a city state civilisation based on the Levantine coast from Acre (now in Israel) north to encompass all of modern Lebanon. Their most famous or according to roman writers’ infamous successor was the Phoenician colony of Carthage which to Rome’s dismay dominated the western Mediterranean. Now according to historians we owe the Phoenicians a great deal, the phonetic alphabet for one. They also established a Mediterranean wide trading system that sourced tin from Britain, gold and iron from Spain and shipped wine to Egypt. On the whole they were the bustling middlemen of the ancient world, evidence also exists for linking them with trading ports along the Red Sea and across to India. According to the Greek historian Herodotus; Pharaoh Necho II around 600 BC launched an expedition manned by Phoenicians down the east coast of Africa to circumvent the continent. It took three years and is currently being re enacted (http://phoenicia.org.uk/ ) in a rebuilt replica of a Phoenician trading vessel based on the results of maritime archaeology. Herodotus seems to have considered this an amazing event well worthy of noting (vol 1 book IV section 42) and it if it happened it did prove the Phoenicians capable of long distance voyaging. Though Herodotus himself expressed amazement at the report and used it as a lead in for the feats of the Persian king of kings Darius the Great. The Persian monarch no doubt was looking for more lands to conquer and launched two similar expeditions to explore the eastern Indian Ocean from India to Eastern Africa and one to chart the west coast of Africa.
The results must have been unsatisfactory since there is no record of follow up voyages. This is the main written basis (apart from various exaggerated interpretations of biblical text) for Phoenicians wandering over to the Antipodes. The oft quoted land of Punt as a source of gold has been interpreted as to mean any patch of turf from the Red Sea to the Pacific Ocean. In truth those brief mentions are a bit lean to base anything on. Now we do have archaeological evidence to back up the written accounts of Phoenicians regularly trading with Britain and the lands around the North Sea and down the western coast of Africa, possibly as far as Guinea. So long distance voyages were a fact of life, however in this age of easy ocean spanning travel we need to examine this a little deeper.
According to most written and archaeological accounts sea travel was essentially a coastal affair with the vessel pulling into shore as often as possible to resupply with food and water. The slightly later Greeks when travelling in triremes always beached their ships over night unless engaged in a longer crossing like from Sicily to Tunis. This coastal habit has been frequently mentioned by historians of the Mediterranean like Braudel. He felt that environmental determinism, ie how the land and environment shaped a people was essential to understanding their history and interactions. In this theory he believed that the capacity and technology for deep-ocean going travel encompassing a week or more out of sight of land was more common to fringe ocean dwellers along the Atlantic, where it was an essential survival skill for fishing and trade. There may be something in this since the oar driven trireme was the dominant vessel for warfare in the Mediterranean, from the Phoenicians up to the Venetians and Turks in the sixteenth century. However attempts to use this style of vessel in any but the calmest Atlantic weather usually resulted in them sinking. I bring up this little fact on ship capacity and technology to knock the first supposition on its head. There isn’t anyway short of teleportation that a Phoenician trireme was going to cross the Indian Ocean or the Timor Sea. Its survival from storms, disease or lack of water put the odds more in the range of winning lotto.
Now on to the Phoenician workhorse; a sail equipped cargo craft.
I am proud to admit our ancestors were no dumb bunnies, they came up with some very impressive solutions to a whole range of seaborne technical problems. Such as stitching and laminating hull planks to increase flexibility, thus reducing stresses from the battering of waves. The use of adjustable timber nails to fit and wedge the internal ribs and a sail capable of tacking into the wind. What an amazing feat, all this without the aid of Atlanteans or descended Spacemen! Either of which would be hard pressed to tie a bowline knot, let alone design a rugged sea going vessel and all its rigging. What the Egyptians were to pyramids the Phoenicians were to nautical engineering, if anyone could design and build seagoing vessels then it would have to be them. But you ask how does this justification of Phoenician naval magnificence sit with them not getting to Australia? Well considering their well founded sea travelling reputation they are the favoured choice for any pet theories on cross oceanic cultural fertilization. In plain language they’re supposed to have taught both the Mesoamericans and the Khymer to build pyramids. Now that’s really strange since there isn’t a single pyramid in all of Phoenicia!
Cultural Diffusion or how we learnt to build Pyramids!
Thus as expected we come back to pyramids, we just can’t seem to get away from them. These monumental structures have been touted as an apparently mysterious unifying feature amongst some prominent ancient cultures spanning two millennia. You’ll be shocked to hear that to a large number of ‘alternate’ experts the creation of these ceremonial or memorial edifices was only possible due to the guidance of benevolent aliens. Or far ranging seafarers, stocked with a cargo load of easily translated arcane scrolls, take your pick. Perhaps the universal concept of a dwelling could also be due to a similar cultural diffusion, there has to be a speculative book in that, I can just imagine the title now; Ancient Atlantean Mysteries and the Secrets Origins of the Modern House! With a title like that you could sell to both the Post-Modern set and the New Age Alternates, add in a genuine ‘Atlantean layout compass’ and bingo you’ve got the Feng Shui market as well.
Back to our friends the Phoenicians, for the amazing and instantaneous transfer of knowledge as maintained in the more luridly titled books it is somehow naturally assumed that every cargo vessel blown across an ocean to a remote and uncivilised shore naturally included an astronomer, engineer and stone mason. All of whom are experts in Egyptian building technology. Though strangely these ‘Phoenician’ passenger manifests are always lacking bronze or iron workers and carpenters, a singular omission. These passengers must have been blessed by the gods to survive weeks of drinking their own urine and been granted miraculous foresight to stock up on extra provisions.
Atlantean Cultural Diffusion, or not?
I suppose that’s how the Atlanteans disseminated their accumulated millenniums of ancient knowledge, passed down by wise and benevolent higher beings. I mean its pretty obvious they anticipated the island destroying cataclysm. Didn’t they? You can just picture it the high priest loftily announced that the sacred texts needed a refreshing jaunt around the harbour with the entire priesthood in a few very well provisioned vessels. Don’t worry about the earthquakes or lava spewing volcano, it’ll be fine, bye see you next month. Yeh right, as if that didn’t arouse the odd suspicion amongst the populus! Let’s ignore the fact that knowledge of engineering and astronomy belonged only to a minute fraction of a percent of the population, say one in four thousand. Anyway what escaping ship isn't complete with out its ravishing blonde princess?
Phoenicians- weather, sailing vessels and distance
So back to our Phoenicians who according to a number of experts in Australia not only discovered the sunburnt country but set up the ancient equivalent of a Rio Tinto mine and export facility in Queensland, located either at Sarina, Cooktown or Gympie, depending on whose internet version you find.
Now having raised those myths we will first deal with the possibility of Phoenicians discovering Australia.
The monsoonal weather system that sweeps the Indian Ocean dictates the sailing season in the entire South East Asian region, when it is in its east to west phase the passage to India and Arabia from the Spice Islands is fast and relatively safe. As the weather pattern swaps the converse is true, any ship’s captain reliant on the winds and who has knowledge of these phenomena will utilise this natural cycle, either for profit or survival. However this means that sea journeys in the East Africa to south East Asian arc have to be undertaken as annual expeditions. Which means travelling from the Red Sea to say the island of Timor could take an entire sailing season at the least. You have to remember that pre steam ship travelling was not fast, a good day’s sailing gave you fifty to seventy five miles with a following wind. If we accept the supposed claim of Phoenicians on the east coast of Australia then from a Timor base they would have had to sail a further fourteen hundred miles via the southern coast of New Guinea to reach the Torres Strait and then over a thousand miles south through the Great Barrier Reef to reach Sarina. That’s forty to fifty days straight passage without stopping for food, water or repairs. Considering they are also sailing along the extremely dangerous Barrier Reef. . . Well lets face it the odds of survival are not ones any sane person would bet on.
Okay that’s the distance and weather matters dealt with, now on to the chance of Phoenician discovery, if they reached the Timor islands region then it is only a three hundred miles to the northern tip of Australia. So if our intrepid ancient explorers had made it to the Spice Islands it was only a short step to Terra Australis!
By Baal it’s a Kangaroo!
Extract Captain Hanno’s log of the Baal’s Pride out from Byblos via Punt
Worshipful prince Hasdrubal lord of our city, may the goddess Arstarte smile upon you! As instructed I am dictating this record to Hamicar our third scribe, it is now two moons since we left the Aromatic Islands to the north on their report of a large land in the Southern Ocean. It is truly vast, greater in extent than the lands of the Pharaoh, we have sailed for all of that time along the coast of a great land. I tremble to report that so far we have discovered little in the way of trade opportunities or treasures. On our journey to the west the land is rocky with gigantic stone cliffs covered in trees, so broken and perilous was the passage that we lost one of our vessels to hidden reefs. Further south we could only find a land like unto the barren coast of Libya extending for many days sail, in desperate want of water we headed once more north.
Worshipful prince, I humbly report that this land is inhabited by tribes of Nubians similar to those on the coast south of Punt. We have landed and tried many times to engage them in trade, they speak no language any of our crew has heard nor are they always friendly, some times they have driven us away with spears and cast whirling bent sticks. The coast here is also inhabited by fierce monsters like unto the Nile crocodile but larger, several of our men have fallen victim to their savage attack. Searching for food and game has been difficult, though there is plentiful fish.
Worshipful prince, it has been a moon’s sail towards the rising sun and still we have found no towns or cities, the Nubians here have no metal, cloth or pottery, not even villages. It is my misfortune to report that we have not seen any sign of gold, tin or precious gems, due to the ferocity of these southern Nile crocodiles it has been impossible for our assayer to test for gold dust in the rivers. I also beg leave to report that a poisonous serpent has slain the assayer when he was exploring inland. The men with him did report a strange animal, it has the appearance of a gazelle but lacks horns instead it has a long tail and it stands on two legs and moves in great bounds by beating its tail on the ground.
Worshipful prince, I have had to abandon the expedition. In the furtherest east we came upon a great reef extending south for many days sail and at frequent peril of grounding the crew clamoured to return to our home waters for they are frightened by the numerous fearsome and perilous beasts. There may still be treasures and trade as yet undiscovered but we can find no sign of them and none of the Nubians can tell us what lies there.
Tyranny of Distance and The Reality of Improbability
So as you can see the Tyranny of Distance strikes again for Australia! As well as the simple fact that Phoenicians are merchants and traders like the Portuguese in the 16th century. Both societies required a port and goods to trade laid on, they don’t have the time or the resources to build extensive facilities. After all its always easier to seize some one else’s like the Portuguese did to Malacca when they arrived in the Spice Islands. The other fact that explodes the myth of Phoenicians in the Sunburnt Land is profit. As I said above they are primarily traders, and ships the essential transport vehicle of commerce are expensive. This being an accepted fact it is highly unlikely they’d send a fleet thousands of sea miles into the unknown with what would have to be hundreds of valuable skilled workers and supplies relying on dozens of supply ports along the way. As we have seen with the early modern exploitation of the Spice route by the Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch, long distance expeditions are frighteningly expensive. Losses were always high, several ships may depart on any venture, but that’s not how many return. Frequently a single leaky worm riddled vessel limps back to port crew decimated by scurvy and tropical diseases as it ties up to the docks all the investors pray that its packed to gunwales with gold, diamonds or spices. The alternative is too horrible to contemplate looming financial disaster and ruin.
When looked at the whole Phoenician –Australia situation as a simple cost –risk benefit analysis the prospect of their venturing this way diminishes dramatically. More telling is the local ready source of markets and resources, in other words follow the money! If gold and slaves are there for the picking on the East African coast and spices, gems and Lapis lazuli can be easily traded in India, then why risk the perils of distant and dangerous Terra Australis? Unless of course you have a few convicts to offload?
Naw, Punt salt mines are closer.
Bye all and as the doctor says – take the damned pills!