Voices of the Rocks

Robert M. Schoch and Robert Aquinas McNally. Voices of the Rocks: Lost Civilisations and the Catastrophes which Destroyed Them, Thorsons, 2000.

This book seems to be on a winner in that it links two very lucrative contemporary themes, apocalyptic speculation surrounding "killer asteroids" and heterodox archaeology, centred around our old friend Egypt.
Schoch's main thesis, that the Sphinx is much older than conventional archaeologists believe, is an example of what might be called a medium-rank anomaly. If true it would not challenge any fundamental scientific principle. After all, the people of 10,000 years ago were just as intelligent as ourselves, and Schoch is not evoking any paranormal magical technology, ancient astronauts and the like; on the other hand it is just about surprising enough for the scholarly community to demand really good evidence before they would so drastically revise their chronologies, and it is not at all clear that he has assembled such overwhelming evidence as yet.

At times, I got the feeling that Schoch, a geologist, doesn't quite grasp the passions and furies which drive history. At one point he argues that the conventional view that the mass burnings of many ancient Mediterranean cities were the result of war, invasion and rebellion, must be wrong, because why would rational invaders burn cities that they would want to use and exploit? Well, because invaders and revolutionaries are not usually rational; cities were burned and their inhabitants massacred out of pure ethnic or class hatred, and certainly many peasants did not want to live in the cities; they saw them as sinks of iniquity and vampiric tax gatherers, to be wiped off the face of the earth, not occupied.

The belief that destruction comes from the skies, and not from ourselves is a comforting one, but the other thesis, which challenges the notion of sustained, fast, single-track progress is less so. The notion that many times in, say, the last 30,000 years cultures have risen and fallen, most usually to peasant Jacqueries, of which Kampuchea and Rwanda were but the most recent, is pretty scary, evoking the possibility that ours might just go the same way, and the future might not be the Universal Denmark, but the Universal Somalia. -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia Supplement 31, September 2000.

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