By Ritesh Singh, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur
One Sentence Summary: Recent research shows that ancients could probably pass on concrete knowledge of happenings of end of Last Glacial Maximum (eLGM) around 10,000 Before Common Era (BCE) to present times.
Abstract: I review a research which argues that ancients could pass on concrete knowledge of the happenings of end of Last Glacial Maximum (eLGM) to present times. Using Archaeoastronomy, it dates the origin of an Indian myth of correlating an astronomical event known as Rohini-Sakata-Bheda by Mars or Saturn (RSB) with huge disasters, to eLGM. I review climatic research to show that both the RSB and the myth exceedingly relate to eLGM. Thus, I argue that the myth related to RSB should have been carved with some knowledge of the events in the 10th millennium BCE close to eLGM. Hence, I conclude that the ancients could have been doing meticulous observations as long as 12,000 years ago meaning careful astronomical observations may have started much before what we currently think.
Start of the Paper: The research (1) attempts to date the origin of an Indian myth of correlating an event known as Rohini-Sakata-Bheda by Mars or Saturn (RSB) with huge disasters. RSB is said to occur when Mars or Saturn pass through the triangle formed by α, ε and γ stars of Taurus constellation (1). There are at least eight separate works referring to this event by several authors in the Indian literature showing that it was thought of as very significant even though it occurred only five times in the last 12,000 years (1). Although, sometimes other astronomical bodies are also mentioned along with Mars and Saturn, it is the mention of Mars and Saturn that is unchanging in various references (1).
In texts like Grahalaghav and Brihat-Samhita, RSB is correlated with huge and undefined disaster (1) even though they are separated by more than a thousand years which suggests that the time from origin of this myth to its descriptions is much more than the time span between various descriptions; otherwise there would have been more changes between the various descriptions. Moreover, Grahalaghav itself notes that RSB could not occur in the present epoch and must refer to another epoch (1).
Mahajani et al. (1) plotted the motion of Mars and Saturn from 10,000 BCE till present. They found that only instances of RSB occurred in 9860 BCE, 9828 BCE, 9371 BCE, 9339 BCE and 5284 BCE. They did not find any Saturn based RSB till 10,000 BCE suggesting that mention of Saturn in the myth could have been a later addition.
Sea-level records from Vostok and Byrd in Antarctica, Huascaran, Greenland, and Sajama in Bolivia (using Nitrate as a proxy) show that temperatures in the 10th millennium BCE were either just starting to rapidly increase from a local minima or were undergoing a local minima followed by rapid rising of temperatures (2). Some other records are inconclusive (2). Moreover, all the mentioned records except that of Sajama show that the rise that began in 10th millennium BCE culminated in attainment of highest temperatures in the last 25,000 years (ignoring small timescale fluctuations). Volcanism also increased rapidly in this period to two-six times the background levels (3). Moreover, CO2 recorded in Antarctic ice cores shows that it started increasing rapidly in this period (3). These data suggest that the time period corresponding to RSB in 10th millennium BCE was characterized by large scale melting of ice resulting in flooding of rivers, rise in sea levels and increase in natural disasters associated with climate change (1, 2, 4).
All of the ancient civilizations lived on the banks of rivers. So, usual flooding of rivers would not have been such a surprising event for it to be given so much importance in the literature. And since usual river flooding would have happened very often it could not possibly have been associated with such an extremely rare event like RSB. These discrepancies are removed if we consider that the myth could be pointing to end of Last Glacial Maximum (eLGM).
Furthermore, sea-level records, using various proxies, from Lambert glacier region, Soya coast, Vestfold hills and Windmill islands in Antarctica (5) and those from the Great Barrier reef, Senegal river, Negril, Black river in Jamaica, Barbados, Huan peninsula, Tahiti and Malaysia (4) and Greenland (3) show that the period close to that of RSB in the sixth millennium BCE was characterized by attainment of highest sea levels in the last 10-25 kiloannum. Moreover, all the mentioned records except Greenland show sharp reduction in the rate of global warming and temperatures becoming more or less constant (relative to the rapid rise) during this time (4, 5) (data from Malaysia, Huascaran and Guliya (China) (2) even suggest that the sea levels started decreasing during this time) (4). Moreover, volcanism decreased rapidly and was quite less compared to 10th millennium BCE during this time (3). Furthermore, rate of change of atmospheric CO2 had become negligible by this time (3).
Thus, the association of RSB with massive flooding would have occurred in the 10th millennium BCE which would have been confirmed in the sixth millennium BCE. They would have noted that beginning, peak and end of massive flooding happened with events of RSB. They would also have noted the high rarity of RSB as well as the high rarity of sea level rise. With so many observations co-aligning the formation of myth seems very logical. Although (1) cites indications of rate of sea level rise increasing in Maine in the sixth millennium BCE, it does not seem to be a global phenomenon.
Below, I consider all relevant natural disasters given in (6) (except floods) and some others. Consensus is growing on the issue that the following natural disasters may increase in magnitude and/or frequency because of climate change such as that which occurred at eLGM: avalanche (8), blizzards (9, 10), droughts (9, 11, 12), dust storms and wind storms (9), earthquakes and resulting tsunamis (13, 14) (eLGM would have caused earthquakes because of postglacial rebound and because water due to severe flooding could percolate through fracture zones leading to increase in pore pressure), El Nino Southern Oscillation (7, 15), cyclones and tornadoes (6, 9), landslides (9), heavy precipitation (10, 16-18), volcanoes (3, 19), wildfires (9, 20), thunderstorms (10, 17), pandemics and insect outbreaks (9, 21, 22), health problems (23) and difficulties in adaptation; and famines due to adverse effects on plants and animals (12).
All the adverse effects of climate change that are being discussed today would have taken a demonic form at that time because both rate and magnitude of the change was much higher. All these events together may have led to megafaunal extinctions, the disappearance of Clovis culture and Homo floresiensis; and inclusion of deluge myths in cultures all over the world. Thus, severe climate change at eLGM would have caused havoc in terms of almost all natural disasters which would have led to closely associated events like RSB leaving a deep mark in human minds of those times. The above climatic review also has implications for the results of contemporary global warming.
Furthermore, the astronomical description in the myth is well structured but the description of associated disaster is not (1). Moreover, regarding RSB, Brihat-Samhita says that whole world will be plunged in “ocean of undesired [happenings]” (“undesired [happenings]” is better translation of anishta than “misery” (as given in (1)) because ishta means “desired” in Sanskrit and an negates it) and Grahalaghav says “great disasters occur” (1). This tells that the disaster was not one specific event but a collection of many and of different types, again pointing to eLGM.
With all the above evidences, it becomes clear that the formation of the myth of RSB related disasters, whenever it occurred, should have been done by somebody with some knowledge of the events in the 10th millennium BCE as also proposed by (1). That they were meticulous observers and accurate describers, is clear from the concrete description of the event (1) at least some part of which would have occurred during eLGM showing that careful astronomical observations may have started much before what we currently think. It is also clear that the observers could note that the planets were wanderers, an amazing achievement for their times.
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