J Harlen Bretz

11 Dec 2015

I've been reading Graham Hancock's latest book, 'Magicians of the Gods' which is an update on his successful 'Fingerprints of the Gods' which was very popular some years ago. It is on loan from Laurence Dixon and due back in January and hopefully Laurence will come up with a nice review to go into one of our journals.

Hancock begins with some fascinating information about Gobekli Tepe in SW Turkey and the way the columns are decorated. You don't get this in dry archaeological reports - but Hancock manages to make his trip to the site an exciting affair. The two columns at the centre of each circle appear to be anthropomorphic figures - giants of some kind. The Hancock inference, if not directly said, is that survivors from the destruction of Atlantis arrived in the region and kick started agriculture and modern civilisation. Of course, this assumes that hunter gatherers are necessarily grunts and not capable of constructing in stone or gathering enough people together to build something monumental. It also assumes that hunter gatherers were limited to hunting and gathering when there is a lot of evidence being gathered that pre-agricultural people were nursing favoured plants and weeding out unwanted plants, even taking cuttings of things like figs and nuts. Hancock goes on to bring in Iraq and the figure of Oannes, a man like being within a fish body and compares this with a small figure of a vulture with human like appendages on top of one of the pillars. It is a quite small figure and is not representative of the column as a whole - which is basically a semi human figure with a fox pelt over one arm (enclosure D). He then brings in a Mexican image of a man inside what he says is a serpent. Von Daniken claimed it was an alien inside a space ship - but Hancock is probably on firmer ground. The point is all three images are separated by thousands of years which Hancock actually acknowledges - but still thinks there is some kind of link. Gobekli Tepe is an interesting site - and is only partially excavated. The fact that Klaus Schmidt died in 2014 is a potential problem as we don't know what the future focus will be - but presumably whoever takes over will continue to dig out the succession of stone circles. What I find so curious about the site is that each circle was filled up with soil and flattened across the top and a new circle built above it. What was going on there? This smacks of ritualistic closure - but they went on to build something similar on top. How long a time separated the rebuilding of the circles is something yet to be determined. We are told the earliest date for them is around 9600BC - which Hancock thinks is significant. Not sure if he is right there. Just because it marks the end of the Younger Dryas episode, and the beginning of the Holocene properi may well be accidental and of no significance whatsoever.

Hancock's visit makes a good opening chapter and had me wanting to read more - but nothing new actually emerges from his visit. The next focus is on Catastrophism - which leads the reader slowly into the idea of Atlantis and a lost civilisation that produced survivors that spread around the world bringing with them an ability to teach the hunter gathering section of the human species the goodies of growing their own crops, ultimately building towns and cities and creating an elite who had the time and foresight to investigate the sort of things Hancock has been investigating. An inquisitive mind is essential. We don't know what was destroyed of mankind's endeavours at the end of the Ice Age - if anything of great moment. However, catastrophism is at the root of SIS and as a society we may not be very interested in lost civilisations but we certainly are interested in past catastrophes, great and small. Having said that it is credible for Hancock to look at Gobekli Tepe and wonder why it was built and if the builders had arrived from elsewhere having survived a momentous natural disaster, the end of the Ice Age. We have no clues or evidence to show that there was an advanced civilisation prior to the beginning of the Holocene - in spite of anything Hancock may say.

Hancock then comes to rest on the figure of J Harlen Bretz and provides some interesting information you can't read in mainstream geological literature. The book is a gem just for bringing up this single subject - but Hancock has lots of other subjects, and people, within the pages of his book. It is fascinating to realise that Bretz was a Catastrophist - or came up with a theory to explain the Scablands that was purely catastrophic in nature. You don't get this sense of the man in the Wikipedia entry. Bretz was basically innovative and his detractors had little imagination. Bretz was undoubtedly treated badly by his peers - like Alfred Wegener. In the early to mid 20th century uniformitarianism ruled geological theory like a glove with a brick inside. If you diverged from the dogma you were a heretic and both Bretz and Wegener were viewed in such a manner. If you even hinted at a touch of catastrophism you were likely to be hit in the face with that glove - very hard. Hence, the Hancock version of the Bretz story is something to savour as Bretz was clearly a passionate man and believed in his version of events - until he became tired of forever foisting off his critics and conceded a few points. This is not mentioned in mainstream accounts and therefore Hancock is providing us all with a service - a knack of getting at the truth, a real journalistic skill. Bretz claimed the Scablands were formed by a dramatic flood of water as the Cordillera ice sheet melted - and it must have melted rapidly in order to produce a wall of water. Catastrophism at the time was virtually a forbidden subject for any geologist to announce yet alone advocate. Nowadays he might lose his job if he came out against the consensus view (especially in regard of climate and co2) but in those days he appears to have been secure even if he was regarded as a heretic. This view was aided by the fact he appears to have been a bit of a tub thumper (taking Hancock literally) which could not have gone down too well. Bretz clearly thought he was right in his diagnosis of the Scablands and pushed his theory for all he was worth. In other words, he was a strong character, not something you necessarily associate with a scientist. We might imagine him taking part in debates and holding his corner to good effect. He always had the knowledge in his tinder box that he had been to the Scablands on countless occasions and seen them in person whereas most of his detractors never actually got out of their leather armchairs in academiia, so to speak, and field visits were not actually part of their curriculum. They were arguing from a sitting position whereas Bretz was a doer and finder. Its a lot like Met Office characters sitting in front of their computers and telling us what the weather is going to be tomorrow.

Basically, what happened is that his theory was eventually watered down - and Bretz agreed to take part in the process. Instead of meltwater from an ice sheet it was determined that the same meltwater actually melted quite slowly and after many years formed a lake - Lake Missoula in Montana. This lake of water was held back by an ice dam, it was theorised, and this ice dam broke open on several occasions - releasing water down across Washington State via the Scablands and into the ocean. Quite how ice was able to hold back a huge amount of water is not part of the theory - it is probably reproduced by computer simulation in any case. Why would ice melt to form water at the ice sheet but remain as ice at the margins?

To cut a long story short Bretz agreed with the idea that a succession of floods occurred - thinking no doubt that would be an end to the criticism as he had conceded to the uniformitarians. These people are not happy bunnies unless uniformitarianism is installed full score with bunting. Various articles by others went on to suggest more than five or six floods occurred and Hancock even claims one study proposed up to 80 flood events - based on the idea that ice dams are regularly breached in Iceland and at a few other locations. This avoids the fact the Icelandic frozen lakes have volcanoes underneath - and it is heat from rumblings in the belly of the Mid Atlantic Ridge that cause the ice dams to breach. The heat necessarily to melt the ice dams on a regular basis was lacking as far as hypothetical Lake Missoula is concerned - and Hancock examines a few other arguments. In other words, Bretz had been compromised and had even written a paper in order to satisfy his critics and accepted the Lake Missoula hypothesis rather than his single massive flood as a result of a melting ice sheet. The reason he was forced to do that was that he had no way to explain why the ice sheet melted so quickly. Even he, presenting a catastrophist theory, was not prepared to go the whole hog and say that a movement of the poles might have been responsible. He was not mainstream - but he was nearly mainstream. He was schooled in mainstream.

The flood as he originally perceived it was magnificent and quite terrifying as a witness of the power of the earth and its vagaries. Meltwater poured out of the ice sheet and through the Scablands of Washington State (and perhaps Oregon too), cutting out multiple channels as we might imagine a wall of water to do, ripping up trees and vegetation and scouring the rocks and shifting gravels and mud and soils, scooping them up and washing them into the ocean and leaving behind bare rock that was cut with deep ridges as a result of the scouring capabilities of lots of water. One can see a similar thing here in Europe if you have the eyes to look for it.

The treatment of Bretz is reminiscent of the treatment of Wegener and his theory of Continental Drift - again a theory that is pulpably catastrophic in nature. He too was schooled in mainstream and was loathe to go the whole hog. He would not come up in public with a viable explanation of why the continents might move around the globe. Mainstream actually brags about eventually adopting the Wegener theory but this is an untruth. They will even say that after many years geologists came to realise that Wegener had something important to say - which again is an untruth. Mainstream likes to spout the virtues of mainstream. In reality it is all about propaganda - and the song sheet is firmly uniformitarian and anything remotely catastrophic is heresy. What mainstream came up with is a watered down version of Wegener - what is now known as Plate Tectonics. Drift, or expansion, occurred extremely slowly - uniformitarianly in motion. It is so slow that GPS cannot pick it up. It is supposed to be happening all the time, every second of the day, onwards and outwards, an ever expanding Atlantic Ocean driven by volcanism at the Mid Atlantic Ridge (and simliar outflows). Crust is also supposed to be sinking into the Mantle at a slow and inexorable rate, dipping downwards and being swallowed up in the innards of the earth, a process occurring at what are known as subduction zones. This too has never been seen in action. Theory outweighs field evidence as far as academic geology is concerned - and catastrophism is to be avoided at all times. This is why the Younger Dryas Boundary event is denied - and this is why ocean currents are given pride of place instead of geological processes. The problem is that the uniformitarian process is too slow to account for trees growing in Arctic regions - which is why the otherwise discredited co2 theory has been adopted by the academics (to keep their Gradualist message on song). We are led to believe that high levels of co2 during the Jurassic are the reason why trees were growing near the poles - even when that region was in darkness for six months of the year. The stupidity of the uniformitarian argument is ignored - it must be so and so it is (and co2 provides the populist explanation). In other words, co2 is a convenient theory and this is perhaps why science establishments are vocal in their support of CAGW. Where would they be without it. Up a gum tree.

This is the bit where Hancock has the scoop - the role of the uniformitarians in the watering down of the catastrophism of Bretz. It is so watered down it can be compared to the trace elements that remain in the concoction of a homeophathic bottle of water.  Bretz was at fault for conceding in the first place - and only he knows why he did that (but he is dead and buried). This is also the bit that mainstream hides from Joe Public, using smoke and mirrors to alter the heresy. Later commenters on the Scablands used the ice dams in Iceland and elsewhere to slow down the outflow of water, and as many outflows as they envisaged toned down the savagery of the event. Ultimately the uniformitarians produced a series of flood events that were so weak and inconsequential that they could never have produced the gouged landscape of the Scablands. The theory contradicted the field evidence. Bretz had it right in the first instance - and this is what Hancock is at pains to get across.

Hancock is scathing of the uniformitarian agenda - and this is in full accord with the thrust of SIS articles. His story is also reminiscent of the uniformitarian treatment of the Alaskan Muck deposits. Velikovsky was attracted by these but subsequently, over the years, the story has been watered down - and doctored. Nothing catastrophic must be seen to have happened. The fact that a geologist working for a gold mining company in Alaska described the digging out of a vast amount of material, the muck, a mix of mud, frozen water, and trees, vegetation, and a lot of bones, even perhaps human manufactured stone tools (refuted by mainstream), in order to get at the gold in river gravels below is neither here nor there. Armchair academics know best - and the muck is nothing more than a loess deposit laid down during glacial conditions. You might be excused for banging your head on the wall but this is what people are reduced to when facts are treated as fanciful imaginings in the minds of pseudo-scientists (even if you have a degree in the relevant subject and have been working in the region for half your life). We can see the same process in the criticism surrounding the Younger Dryas Boundary Event - mainstream arguments are designed to undermine the evidence, even when it has been teased out in a laboratory.

Hancock actually moves on to the Younger Dryas Boundary event and he does this because he requires a source of heat to melt the ice sheet. Bretz avoids the question which is why ultimately he has to concede to the Gradualists. In Hancock's view (and that of others) the heat is provided by an exploding bolide - above the ice sheet. He requires the ice to melt quickly in order to keep the original version of Bretz alive - and perhaps a comet or meteor did explode in the atmosphere above the ice sheet in order to melt enough ice to cause a rush, or flood event. However, what is wrong with the idea the poles moved. This would immediately cause the ice sheet to melt - rapidly. Bretz was mainstream enough not to consider this as a possibility - but Hancock? He mocks uniformitarianism so why doesn't he say a pole shift could account for the meltwaters as envisaged by Bretz (and at the same time explain the configuration of the Late Glacial Maximum ice sheet). The reason is clear enough. If you even think about pole shift you are branded a nut job - look at the way Charles Hapgood was treated (and is still being parodied by the thought police). Perhaps Hancock wants to avoid such a diversion.

The idea of a cosmic imput into the end of the Ice Age is well put by Hancock - don't get me wrong. The distribution of erractics may actually mark the course of floods of meltwater rather than the boundaries of the LGM ice sheet - and his geological friend John Shaw is well aware of this (see Hancock's earlier book, Underworld). What we need to take onboard is the fact that 2000 years, at least, of warming took place prior to the Younger Dryas - why would there be a great amount of ice to melt into flood waters when there was plenty of time for it to dissipate prior to the Younger Dryas. Not only that the glaciers in the Younger Dryas were in no way as big as they were in the Late Glacial Maximum. This is because the period was not universally cold and therefore not universally building up an ice sheet. It dd not actually build up an ice sheet but some mountain glaciers returned, shadows of their former self. Prior to the YTounger Dryas, during the 2000 years of warm weather, there could not have been much ice in north west Europe or North America by reason we have lots of evidence of human activity. The ice must have melted long before the Younger Dryas - which puts Hancock's chronology to shame. We know that the Black Sea filled up quickly at the end of the LGM - and this process had slowed by the time of the Younger Dryas. Was there any ice still around to cause a dramatic flood event?

This is not to say a comet or meteor flux did not provide the heat to melt the Late Glacial Maximum ice sheet as we only have to expand the Younger Dryas Boundary event theory in order to visualise the possibility that the Oldest Dryas event, dated between 18,000 and 15,000 years ago also involved a a cosmic vector. It seems logical when you think about it - a comet in an orbital cycle that periodically caused the earth to rock on its axis of rotation. How that might happen is beyond me - in the same way that it was beyond Bretz to explain how the ice sheet could have melted so rapidly as to create a massive flood of water.