Narrow Passage

While on a rare family visit (it’s scary to get out too much) we visited Watkins Glen State Park in upstate New York.  My mother’s family has roots in this area, and we’ve visited it several times in the past.  There are always people there, but in manageable numbers.  The website declared it was mandatory to wear a mask (“New York tough”!) and to keep social distancing.  It perhaps didn’t help that we went during a heat wave when a walk along a waterfall-laced path seemed like a refreshing idea.  I guess I had in my head the modest crowds we’d encountered in our many past visits.  We were, however, not the only tourists (although somewhat local) with that particular plan.  Not by any metric I can conceive.

If you’ve never been to Watkins Glen, the park has a Civilian Conservation Corp-built stairway and trail (approximately 600 stairs) through a glacial and water-cut gorge.  The sedimentary layers are fascinating for anyone with an interest in geology and for those who like to ponder the millions of years required for the laying down and lifting up of multiple bedding planes.  The gorge itself has a curvilinear appeal that is almost mystical.  Waterfalls produce negative ions which, everyone knows, tend to make people happy.  I was, however, more on the terrified side of the spectrum.  It became clear even before we reached the gorge that there were hundreds of people already in the park.  Most of them unmasked.  Large crowds gathered around the more picturesque waterfalls, blocking the narrow walkways.  Tourists have no idea what “six feet” might possibly mean.  Stair-climbing is an aerobic exercise, and wearing a mask in such circumstances is the only smart thing to do.

While on the considerably less crowded trails of the Pennsylvania outdoors venues we more commonly frequent, I’m nervous when someone walks even more than six feet away in the opposite direction.  This felt like a nightmare to me.  Too many people paying too little heed to the mandated caution.  I’ll be quarantining myself for two weeks for sure.  Maybe more.  I don’t get out much in any case, but even though we were obstructing our view through cloudy glasses and trying to get adequate oxygen through made-to-specification cloth masks, there’s only so much that prophylactics can do.  I jog at first light to avoid other health nuts on the local trails.  I go to stores only for necessities.  Being in a canyon with the careless invincibles inspired less than confidence in this petrified pilgrim.  Knowing human nature, it seems closing popular state parks until people get smart may be the best way out of a tight squeeze.

Anthropocene

The word “Anthropocene” has been showing up quite a bit lately.  For a period of many years I was an avid, self-taught amateur geologist.  In my dreams I still am, I guess.  My interest in the ages of rocks began when I, like Charles Lyell, began to consider the implications of their extreme longevity.  The Bible, of course, famously intimates we live in a comparatively new neighborhood.  Having grown up believing that literally and firmly, and also having started a modest fossil collection, I failed to see the conflict.  I mean, there were fossils right down there by the river.  Tons of them.  Some Young Earth Creationists had already begun, by that point, to suggest they’d arisen because of Noah’s flood, but dinosaurs still seemed to be a problem.  In many ways rocks broke me out of my fundamentalist stupor.

While at Nashotah House I taught electives on Genesis 1-11.  I read about the geologic ages of the planet and would fall into Devonian dreams of a world entirely different from ours—a world in which there was no Bible for there were no humans to make God in their image.  I knew that we lived in the Quaternary Period of the Holocene Era.  I don’t think the term Anthropocene was in wide use then.  Parsing it is simple enough—it is the “human age.”  The age in which the planet was, has been, and is being altered by human behavior.   There’s no agreed-up start date for the Anthropocene, but it will likely be set in the twentieth century; the twentieth century in our way of counting.  There have been millions of centuries before that.

A couple of weekends back I attended a church program on plastics.  These useful polymers are deeply, deeply integrated into our lives and are promoted by the far too powerful petroleum industry.  The problem with plastics is that they break down and invade the bodies of animals and humans.  And although they do decompose it takes many centuries for them to do so.  Naming the Anthropocene is an effort to get us to see that a human perspective is far too brief to deal with the many issues we raise.  Our practices on this planet will likely not destroy the earth, but they may very well make it uninhabitable by us, or by creatures we like to see.  Life is persistent, and rock lasts for eons.  Even stone’s not eternal, however, and the idea of the Anthropocene is to get us to look at ourselves and realize that our use of this planet, as toxic as it is, is shortsighted.  We will someday be the fossils under a bridge long crumbled to dust for those in the future who know of no such thing as Genesis.  Perhaps we should act like it.

Rock Solid

Old interests don’t die so much as they become sublimated.  As a child I picked up a cheap “gem display” in a small cardboard box at a yard sale, probably for a quarter.  A couple of the samples were missing, and those that remained were tiny, but I was fascinated that rocks came in such varieties, especially since the ones I tended to find on my own were all shades of gray.  Science education wasn’t especially great in my small town, and besides, I had a massive interest in not going to Hell, so religious study took precedence over my predilections toward scientific studies.  Still, as a child and later, I read a lot about science and I never doubted that it could teach us about the natural world.  Years later I rediscovered my love of rocks.  I joined the Wisconsin Geological Society.  I bought a rock hammer.  I began hounding.

One of the first truisms you learn about life is that movers don’t like heavy things.  Seems that if you are in the business of helping people move (for money, no less), you might be stoic about such matters.  But I have yet to move and not have the guys complain about all those boxes of books.  Well, the rock collection is even heavier.  I discreetly marked the boxes “heavy collection,” hoping nobody’d say “What you got in here, rocks?”  Because, well, yes.  I like rocks.  While in Wisconsin the collection grew—we lived in a house at Nashotah, and we had space.  I had a rock tumbler going in the basement.  We attended rock and gem shows.  Then we moved three times in three years.  I became embarrassed of my petrine peccadillo.

On my way out the door yesterday, I spied a fossil I’d picked up in Ithaca.  Immediately my old inclination to rocks returned.  I don’t know why I bought so many books on geology and seriously considered changing professions after my academic position fell apart.  Perhaps in a life so unstable rocks seemed solid, reliable.  Or maybe it was nostalgia for my young days when a cheap white box of neatly labeled specimens provided hours of transfixed wonder.  I still pick up interesting rocks, and even go to places where collecting is permitted.  This whole world under our feet is full of surprises and an interesting stone can send me into a reverie that is, if I’m honest, as spiritual as it is scientific.  

Eternal Return

For those of you who don’t live, eat, and breathe academic religious studies, it’s my duty to point out that the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature (AAR/SBL) annual meeting begins this week.  For those of us in the biz it’s like the sun holding still at Makkedah as we try to prepare for our various roles.  This year the conference is in warm and sunny Denver, so be sure to dress in layers.  The meeting was held in Denver many years ago now, and I remember very little of it other than it being the year my final published paper from my Nashotah House days was read.  Or started to be.

I don’t know whether it was the altitude or the time of year, but I wasn’t feeling well the last time we met in Denver.  Although it may not show on this blog, I’m really into geology and the city has a great mineral collection in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.  I went out to look at the collection the morning of my paper and had the great embarrassment of being sick while in the museum.  I went back to my hotel for a nap and when it was time to read my paper I had to excuse myself because running my eyes across the lines of text made me nauseous.  Concerned-looking philologists didn’t know what to do as I sat through the session with my head between my knees.  That’s how I remember Denver.

Perhaps this year will offer redemption.  You see, it’s very different attending the conference as the representative of a press instead of an institution.  Your time is completely booked.  People want to discuss their book ideas with you.  For a few short days of the year you’re one of the popular guys.  But for me, there are colleagues from every stage of my career on hand.  Not too many people from Nashotah House come, although there are more now than there were when I was about the only faculty member who went.  I see those I knew from Oshkosh and Rutgers, Gorgias and Routledge.  Those I knew as friends before we became professional colleagues.  They’re not after me to publish their books, and sometimes that’s all it takes to make three days of popularity really count.  Later today I’m off to Denver and I won’t have time to see the sparkling minerals this time around, but hopefully I’ll remember it more fondly when its over.

Getting Dirty

Composting is a very biblical activity.  Adam, according to the second creation account in Genesis, was formed from the divinely created dirt.  Some scholars try to capture the word-play in that story by suggesting “human” was made from “humus,” but since that sounds like chickpea dip it may not help so much after all.  Besides, we now know that soil has a complex and fascinating history.  Erosion grinds up rocks.  Organic matter dies and decays, forming the loosely packed substrate in which plants can survive, slowly breaking up the more dense pieces through the transformative power of water.  It is, imprecisely speaking, a miracle.  When Adam drops dead, he becomes once more part of the soil from which he was formed.  It’s poetic.  Elegant.  Economical.

Now that we have a house we’ve decided to try our hand at composting.  We’d considered it many times over the years since, what with recycling and hoarding, we’d managed to get our weekly garbage down to one fairly small bag.  Besides, since our government won’t be nice to the planet, somebody has to.  Institutional people that we are, my wife and I had to read up on composting before giving this very natural decomposition a try.  Things have to be just so for the process to work perfectly.  It was in the process of this reading that the biblical aspect became clear to me.  

The trick is to make sure the neighbors don’t complain about the smell.  That, in part, determines what can or can’t go into the compost bin.  Meat and dairy can’t go into the mix.  Since I’m primarily vegan such things aren’t generally here to be disposed of in any case.  Even the drier lint can go there, for the clothes that we wear become part of who we are, right Henry David?  And here’s where there’s a danger of TMI, although it’s good theology—cast-offs from our selves can also be composted.  Hair, for example.  The composting literature we have seems to take Adam himself out of the equation by specifying pet hair, but hey, mammals are mammals.  The longer I thought about this, the more obvious it was that burial, ideally, is a form of composting.  Giving back to the earth from which we’ve sprung.  That simple wire bin out by the garage is in the process of making the substrate for new life.  We may not be farmers, or gardeners like Adam, but composting feels like giving back somehow.  It’s an act of creation.

Nothing Better

While it may seem that the largest challenge on a blog like this is writing all these words every day, that’s often not the case. Early on in my blogging life, I learned that images draw readers in. That may no longer be the case, but I do try to ensure that my posts have apt illustrations. Due to the fact that I can’t keep up with technology, I no longer know where these images are even stored, so when I was seeking a picture—amid thousands—that I had saved on my backup drive, I came across a series of photos taken in central Pennsylvania. These showed some road-cuts with obvious and impressive folding of geological layers characteristic of orogenous zones. Geologists only discovered the earth was ancient in the nineteenth century, and evangelicals have been disputing it ever since.

Genesis, so the spotless thinking goes, says the world was created in six days. So, by God, in six days it was created! When Darwin simply put the pieces of the puzzle together, evangelicals objected loudly. They started electing US presidents in the next century—a blink of the eye in geologic terms. They don’t dispute non-biblical dinosaurs, however. Their kids would object. The impressive sedimentary layers (or for that matter, igneous or metamorphic) were, they claim, made by God to look old. To fool us. That’s the kind of deity he is. So I got to thinking of a “to do list” for a God with nothing better to do than to oversee intricate and complicated layers of rock that make sense in geological time, but which, apparently, are only planted here to test the faith of brand-spanking new Homo sapiens.

One thing such a deity might do is take care of social injustice. Since he is a father, I suspect we ought to listen to his son, my evangelical friends. Jesus of Nazareth seemed pretty set on helping other people and everyone loving one another. This was, of course, between stints of helping make the planet look older than it actually is so that sinful scientists could trick their compatriots into going to Hell by believing false evidence. There are so many things you could do if you had the time to make such intricate traps. Why not write another book, for example? The Bible could use a good sequel. But no, it is far better to spend divine time making a world look older than it is. And if I had been able to save the time looking for that image that took over half an hour to find, a post such as this would’ve never been created at all.

Where Angels Drink

Moving water is an impressive erosive force. When I have the opportunity to visit family in the western United States, we generally visit a cold, meltwater stream in the mountains where numerous circular cavities dot the resistant granite and basalt that make up the main exposed rock of the mountains. These cavities are nearly perfectly round, and can be quite deep. They are formed by pebbles and other sediment settling in natural depressions in the rock and being swirled around as the waters gush down the mountain. Over the millennia, the swirls grow into deeper holes, trapping the pebbles that will act as a natural drill, cutting away the circular depression as they are roiled around by the endless flow of water. Some of these potholes can grow quite large, but the ones I generally see have the diameter of perhaps a basketball, and are only about a cubit deep. They are young potholes.

At least that’s what I used to believe. The last time I was in the mountains, some younger members of the wider family were there. They came back from visiting the exact same creek that I had the day before, reporting that they’d seen the angels’ drinking cups. Excited in the way that only kids can be, they chattered on about the potholes and quickly moved on to other diversions. My mind, however, was fixated at the geologic phenomenon I had just seen. More precisely, I was amazed at how a religious explanation had come to account for a well understood aspect of nature. The previous day I had explained to my daughter the forces of nature that had carved these curiosities quite without angels. I had witnessed a kind of mythopoeia: the birth of a myth. The children probably did not make up this name, but I had never before heard it.

A very large pothole from Wikicommons (in Finland)

A very large pothole from Wikicommons (in Finland)

When potholes grow very large they are sometimes called the more secular giant’s cauldrons or giant’s kettles. When we see something in nature that appears to be intelligently designed, the mind naturally moves to the realm of the mythical. We don’t believe in giants any more, but angels are somewhat commonplace in the repertoire of supernatural creatures taken seriously. Surveys continually show that many Americans believe in angels, whether guardian or garden variety. Many people claim to have seen them. I can’t make that boast myself, but I now have a suspicion of where I might look to find angels. Particularly if it is a hot night in the mountains, I will, I’m sure, find them at their favorite watering holes.

Bedrock

Sadly it is a rare occasion to read a truly stupendous book. There are lots of wonderful books in the libraries of the world, great and small. When I read a tome that brings two of my favorite subjects together in a genteel cotillion, subjects which are generally portrayed as aiming heavy weapons at each other from deeply sunk trenches, it deserves the epithet of stupendous. David R. Montgomery’s The Rocks Don’t Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah’s Flood is one of those books. By page 8 I was thinking that Montgomery was someone with whom I’d feel comfortable raising a glass and sharing a story. He is a rare, serious scientist who considers that maybe religious stories have something to tell us about being human. The book, as the subtitle indicates, is about the Noah myth. Geology is the science that has taken the brunt of (the relatively new religion of) Creationism’s umbrage. Still, like a rational scientist, Montgomery doesn’t get mad or fly off into hyperbolic denunciations. He takes his rock hammer and taps until the flood myth crumbles.

Unlike many sober writers on the subject, Montgomery considers the possibility that folklore may in fact give clues to science. Those cultures that have flood stories, he patiently explains, probably has reasons to tell such myths. In this one book we are taken on guided tours of the Grand Canyon, bits of the Himalayas, “ancient” Mesopotamia, the scablands of eastern Washington, and even the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. At each station, we learn a bit about floods and rocks and fantasies. Although not a biblical scholar, Montgomery obviously did his homework and gives a fresh view of how Christians went from non-literalists in the first centuries of the church, through the scientific revolution, only to become literalists in the geologically very recent twentieth century. Creationism has nothing to do with real floods and quite a lot to do with personal insecurities.

It must be easy for scientists to trumpet bravado throughout the infinite universe. The scientific method is our best testable explanation for the physical world. Montgomery resists that temptation, realizing that religion does count for something after all. Religion evolved for a reason. Maybe it isn’t scientific, but it helps people to make sense of their world. Instead of characterizing religion and science as combatants in a war, Montgomery likens the opposition to a dance where the partners sometimes step on each other’s toes. I read his book dreaming my geological dreams, lost in deep time, and thinking that the world is maybe even more wondrous than miracles could ever convey. And we have occasional floods, and floods sometimes give us reasons for going on. There’s perhaps something religious about that.

Bretz v. Noah

Until I met my wife I’d never been west of the Mississippi. Or even Ohio for that matter. Together we’ve traveled, in a fashion broken by years, from coast-to-coast and even overseas. Nothing in my life had prepared me for seeing the American West. No, I’ve not seen cowboys, but the landforms are so different from the weathered, ancient Appalachians among which I grew up. Eastern Washington is a fascinating landscape and with my occasional flirting with geology, I recently read John Soennichsen’s Bretz’s Flood: The Remarkable Story of a Rebel Geologist and the World’s Greatest Flood. Within the last couple of years I’d read about Glacial Lake Missoula, a juggernaut of an ice age lake that had flooded parts of Idaho and Washington thousands of years ago when its ice dam gave way. J Harlen Bretz was a turn-of-the-(previous)-century geologist who defied convention and insisted that the evidence of eastern Washington proved that a massive flood washed over the area, giving distinct shape to the region that empties into the Columbia River basin. For much of his career he was ridiculed by other geologists. The reason? The Bible.

Geology was the science that gave Darwin the idea for his evolutionary theory. The factor that had been missing from science, before geology, was time. The 6000-year-old earth just wasn’t old enough to account for the slow changes required for one species to morph into another. As scientists came to realize that billions of years were available, it became clear that change occurred even more slowly than the GOP is happy with. For geologists, anything that happened quickly was anathema. As Bretz’s Flood makes clear, a sudden flood sounded far too much like old Noah to be science. Catastrophism had been cleanly rejected by geologists because even if the evidence supported it, it looked like a return to mythology and superstition. Interestingly Bretz began his academic life among the Methodists of Albion College, and continued to quote the Bible to his last days. He was, however, an atheist.

The Bible has shaped our culture more thoroughly than Noah’s putative flood has shaped geology. I’ve read many geological studies over the years and any that are written for non-specialists never mention great floods without at least a nod to Noah. In fact, as Soennichsen points out, Bretz has ironically become a hero of Creationists who see the Missoula flood as Noah’s event. A large portion of Bretz’s career, however, was dogged by geologists duty-bound to deny a sudden flood just because the Bible tells us so. Sudden events are smeared with the residue of the divine.

J Harlen Bretz is hardly a household name, but his career is a microcosm of American culture. Glacial Lake Missoula did exist, as geologists now accept, and long before Noah was a twinkle in Moses’ eye. When the dam burst, the fable did fall, and down came the ark, Noah and all.

Failing Geology

Rocks of ages

Watkins Glen, New York, sports a natural wonder that has occasionally drawn me to the Finger Lakes region to refresh my memory of the view. The eponymous glen has been carved out of the relatively soft shale by a tireless stream that falls to the level of nearby Seneca Lake. The relentless persistence of this water has left a canyon of striated layers over a period of 12,000 years. Even today tourists from around the world flock to the site, captivated by its natural beauty. To assist walking the gorge, 832 steps have been added alongside a mile and a half of the stream, taking the visitor past, and occasionally behind numerous small waterfalls. When we visited yesterday, what struck me—beyond the sheer number of out-of-shape Americans complaining of the number of stairs (this was well before the hundredth riser), a number that continually thinned the further we climbed—was the special compensation that biblical literalists claim to accommodate their view. The typical response is that all geologic wonders are a result of Noah’s flood, despite the different erosional rates and dates of the sites. Watkins Glen is a fairly new piece of earth architecture.

Some years back while driving out to the western United States, my family camped in Makoshika State Park in Montana. This particular park, apart from its wild, arid, and rocky scenery, also boasts many dinosaurs. You can sidle right up to the exposed, fossilized backbone of a hadrosaurus, and triceratops skulls can be found in situ. Preparing to hike one of the trails, we stopped at the ranger station for a map. As usual, interpretive displays explained what we were about to see. As we entered, an older couple spoke with the ranger. One of them said, “How can that be, since the earth is only 6,000 years old?” Special compensation is required to refuse the evidence that lies all around us. The Fundamentalist movement seldom takes into account that this distorted and bizarre worldview is almost uniquely American. Religion drives their scientific outlook, even as they are relying on the factuality of actual science to prolong their lives with medical advances or to allow them to read this blog (although the latter is not likely).

The same flood had to carve out the buttes of Makoshika and expose its Cretaceous fossils of 65 million years ago at the same time as eroding the first 6,000 years of Watkins Glen, leaving the remaining 6,000 to be worn away during our world’s lifespan so that we might declare the great works of God. It is a worldview that demands a constant center stage for a feeble explanation based on the worship of a misunderstood book. And yet they come to see the beauty. No matter how many persuasive words might be penned, the possibility of changing this outlook will elude us. Reinforced by television personalities and politicians, this utter breakdown of reason is one of our national characteristics. As a nation we suffered through eight years of “leadership” by a president who did not believe in science, and we are still paying off his tab. In another 6,000 years or so we may succeed. By then, however, I expect, if I’ve learned anything from the movies, we will have reversed roles with the great apes.

Noah Trumps Geology

Back in the days when I was still young enough to dream, but old enough not to change anything, I wanted to become a geologist. I was near the end of my teaching stint at Nashotah House at the time, and my life-long interest in fossils fired up like a liquid oxygen barbeque. My interest began in paleontology, since I’ve always loved dinosaurs, and grew to encompass all kinds of rocks and minerals. Geology promotes a literal groundedness that few other areas of study can rival – it embraces the stuff of the earth itself. Moving halfway across the continent with boxes full of rocks, however, dampens the rock-hounding ardor a bit. I still read about geology: it is the discipline that pounded the final, resounding nail into the coffin of the six-day creation myth. While still living in Wisconsin my family used to drive out to the mountainous north of Idaho across, among others, the vast state of Montana. It was geology in motion.

My in-laws soon learned of my geology bug, and I was pleasantly surprised with a book on the great flood two Christmases ago. Not the great flood of Noah, but that of J Harden Bretz. David Alt’s Glacial Lake Missoula and Its Humongous Floods provides an introduction to a series of great catastrophic floods in the western United States. Not that anyone remembers them; the last of the deluges drained into the Pacific about 13,000 years ago. What connects these floods to this blog is the reception history of this idea. When geologist J Harden Bretz discovered the unmistakable evidence for the floods in the landscape of Montana, Idaho, and Washington, geologists refused to accept it. The reason? Catastrophism was unacceptable to geologists of the turn of the twentieth century. Although Alt does not come right out and say it, clearly one reason that uniformitarianism prevailed was because of Noah’s flood.

Ironically, geologists had been forced into a conceptual stalemate because of a biblical myth. The story of Noah’s flood had been (still is, by some) used to explain everything from the Grand Canyon to the extinction of our beloved dinosaurs. In response, geologists posited a long, slow, gradual process behind the sculpting of the earth’s surface. By the day of Bretz, nothing moved fast in geology, not even floods. It required many decades for the science to recover from the stigma of biblical catastrophism. Today geologists largely acknowledge that at several points during the Ice Ages (yes, they did happen!), an ice dam flooded what would now be recognized as Missoula, Montana, under a gigantic lake. That lake burst its ice dam repeatedly and gushed down toward the Columbia River and out into the ocean long, long ago. Long before the putative Noahic flood of some 4000 years ago. The landscape it left behind is impressive to both geologists and biblical scholars. And the story of this flood’s rediscovery demonstrates once again the continuing influence of Noah on otherwise rational minds.

Jehovah’s Eden

As a religious studies specialist, I inhabit a world where definitive answers are comparatively rare. It is clear that my assigned Jehovah’s Witnesses case-workers are not similarly constrained. While I was out earlier this week, they left a copy of the newest edition of the Watchtower for my edification. The cover shows an Edenic garden and bears the legend, “The Garden of Eden: Myth or Fact?” Now, I thought I knew the answer to that one. So I started to read. I learned that it was because of philosophers and their nonsense that people ceased to believe in Eden. Most people in world believe there was a paradisiacal garden, way back when, so it must be fact. I also learned that the reason we can’t find Eden today is that the Flood wiped it away. Seems a shame; with proper drainage it could be as dry as Aden and as rich as Dilmun.

The story in the magazine is set up as a series of objections raised as to why the Garden of Eden is rejected by skeptics. Literalist biblical answers to the objections are then offered. Ironically, one of the most obviously missing objections is that of geology. The article states that, prior to being destroyed by the flood, Eden would likely have suffered from the devastation of earthquakes. The area, it seems, is in the earthquake belt. Still, the garden was created “some 6,000 years ago,” despite what all those earthquake-toting geologists tell us. Somebody has forgotten to set their calendar back by a few billion years.

A more serious objection missing from the critique is that of mythology itself. Those who’ve studied the background to the story of Eden realize that most of the elements in the story are recycled myths known among the Mesopotamians. Special trees, crafty snakes, people being created from clay – all these are standard elements in Mesopotamian mythology that predates the Genesis creation accounts. If modern people understood that the point of mythology is to convey truths that are beyond the factual, perhaps we wouldn’t have such insistence that Eden is fact, despite the facts of science. The Garden of Eden: Myth or Fact? Clearly myth. And that rescues the story from the burden of bearing facts it was never intended to convey.

The Power of Pyramids

One of the benefits of teaching is the constant refreshment of ideas presented by students to air out the stuffy closets in minds that tend to close around academic orthodoxies. Each field of studies has its sacred shrines not to be disturbed, and none more so than the field of religious studies. That’s why I appreciate the openness of student minds. This summer I was introduced to the alleged Bosnian pyramid that I posted about some months back. Having reviewed the statements of both archaeologists and geologists it is easy to see how what looks like a pyramid might not be a pyramid at all. Some experts even theorize that the pyramids of Egypt took their inspiration from the shape of a natural desert mountain.

Wikipedia's photo of the "Bosnian Pyramid"

As we were winding up our classroom discussion of Egyptian mortuary cult and its awe-inspiring pyramids, another student asked me if I had heard of the Okinawa pyramids. I hadn’t. Back in my student days I recall a professor entering my Egyptian Religion course after having just read a book on the mystical power of pyramids wherein the author claimed that dull razors placed under a small-scale pyramid would come out sharpened the next morning and other such nonsense. We all had a good laugh and got onto the serious business of comprehending the fascinating world of Ptah and Atum. When I first heard the phrase “Okinawa Pyramids” I had to fight down the immediate flash of embarrassment of unrestrained academic laughter should I be found even considering such a proposal.

I have always, however, listened to those willing to ask about even the most anomalous incidents of history. Two years back I had a student share the “helicopter hieroglyphs” of ancient Egypt with me, despite a fully understandable reading of signs that can look like a helicopter to the uninitiated. The Okinawa Pyramids, however, were different. As the student whipped out his laptop and pulled the images up from the internet, I was intrigued. These were not pyramids, but rather monolithic blocks 60–100 feet below the surface of the ocean near Japan. My amateur study of geology has taught me that many species of rock naturally have squared fractures along various planes and facets, but the number of offset angles and the profusion of the squared edges forced my mind open just a bit. What is more striking yet is that there is no Wikipedia article on this formation at all, despite its discovery in the 1980s. Most intriguing of all is that the complex seems to have sunk at the end of the last ice age, thus predating even the pyramids of Egypt. Even the stepped pyramid of Djoser.

Is there evidence of a pre-civilization civilization under the coastal waters of Japan? I am not qualified to decide. I feel safe in saying that whatever is there is not a pyramid, but I am impressed by the photos and the relative silence about them even on the web. Since the best photos are copyright protected, I’ll provide a link for anyone wishing to creak open a dusty mind-closet and wonder about the implications.