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Thursday, 21 April 2016

History, legends and myths

“And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth. And for two and a half thousand years, the ring passed out of all knowledge.” J.R.R. Tolkien, excerpt from The Lord of the Rings.

One of these legends – or even myths – was the city of El Dorado until it was rediscovered in 2009 by satellite (Guardian). Now the city of El Dorado is part of human history again. Could this example imply that more - or even most - ancient human myths and legends tell the “truth”?? In general, most scientists will assume that legends and myths are virtually the same as fairy tales.

Until writing these blogs, I assumed that the Great Flood as mentioned in the Bible and many other sources, was just a story to educate churchgoers to stop sinning. A fairy tale, if put bluntly. I was really surprised to find out that scientific evidence indeed confirms a massive global flooding of some 120 to 140 meters (some 400 feet) during 11,000 BC to 4,000 BC. The icing and melting of polar caps is a totally natural evolutionary and historical phenomenon.

Considering the human habit to build settlements near oceans, rivers and seas, a substantial part of our then human civilisation must have disappeared below sea level during the great global flooding. Just imagine a 120 to 140 meter (or 400 feet) sea level rise in your back garden. And some 30% of my country is already below sea level anyway. Some legends and myths are bound to become true as less than 0.05% of the ocean floor has been mapped to a level of detail useful for detecting items such as airplane wreckage or the spires of undersea volcanic vents (Scientific American).

Most scientists suffer from the “Not Invented Here” syndrome (part 1, part 2 and part 3 of my blogs). Consequently, legends and myths remain what they are now until scientific discoveries show that they were indeed part of human history. Such discoveries need to be foolproof however or else they will be contested by the majority of Science.

Often the “Not Invented Here” syndrome is a consequence of a single rather than a multidisciplinary scientific approach. Carbon dating in geology once seemed like a foolproof technology to me until I understood its limitations. Any statue directly carved out of rock (eg, Egyptian Sphinx) is a problem as rock may date back millions or even billions of years. Such information is not very helpful.

The Great Flood washed away a lot of scientific evidence which may take centuries to be revealed again to humanity, like Bimini Road, or the Greek city of Pavlopetri part of UNESCO's underwater cultural heritage, or the underwater city in Gulf of Khambhat (India). And always within close vicinity towards our current shores. The explanations for that vicinity are surprisingly simple once you picture the impact of a 120 to 140 meter (400 feet) flood in your mind.
Today I am inclined to believe that legends and myths must have a core truth. Actually, I didn't really expect the unicorn to be part of that truth. Nevertheless, scientists recently discovered that this animal co-existed with humans until some 30,000 years ago (eg, GuardianScience).

I think and feel that Tolkien was remarkably astute in his observation: “And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth”.

Clannad & Bono - In a Lifetime (1986) - lyrics, Wiki-1, Wiki-2


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