Subterranean Humanity

14 Mar 2013

At .... some intersting images of underground settlements in different parts of the world. Derinkuyu in Turkey, for example, discovered in the 1960s when a house collapsed above into one of the passageways. It is basically an 18 storey underground town and was built, it is thought, in the 8th century BC, or thereabouts. Was it in response to the end of Bronze Age destructions?

It was big enought to house 20,000 people, at one point, and presumably it was built as some kind of bunker - so what was happening in the sky? The Derinkuyu and other similar subterranean hideaways can be found in Cappadocia and proved useful as a retreat against invading Islamic armies, stocked with food and supplies, they were capable of sustaining a long seige - but not forever.

The island of Malta also has its subterranean complexes - such as the Hypogeum of Hal-Safleini, also discovered by accident and as recently as 1902. There were also some 7000 skeletons, in heaps around one of the entrances - but why this should be so is unknown. It was built at 3 levels and made entirely out of megalithic like stones. It is extremely old and has some peculiar acoustic properties. Deep male voices could reverabate throughout the entire complex - and somebody like Brian Blessed could make your eyes swim. Standing inside the temple complex with somebody, or a group of somebodies, chanting, enhanced the sensory experience as it seems to stimulate the brain (according to experimentation).

Nigel Pennick, in The Subterranean Kingdom (2001) describes various underground complexes including the famous Palaeolithic caves such as Altamira and Chavet, the secret underground city of Ivan the Terrible, the Aztec subterranean temples beneath Mexico City and the catacombs beneath Paris and Rome, and various other places.

Much subterranean activity appears to have had a ritual dimension, linking the upper world with the lower world, the dominion of rumbling underground gods. It is thought druids (he claims but I'm not sure on this one) observed the passage of the heavens from the bottom of deep pits and wells, a practise also known amongst North American native people such as the Hopi. They observed the sky from vertical shafts of underground shrines. The interior of passages in Europe is another mystery, large chambers approached by narrow passages (such as Newgrange and Knowth, West Kennet and Waylands Smithy, and Maes Howe etc) which also seem to have had an astronomical function. They were, perhaps, celestial observatories, he speculates, rathere than tombs (a lesser function) and the tradition continued into the Christian era, with crypts and grottoes, hermitages and vaults. There is also that peculiar cave at Royston in Hertfordshire, carved out of the chalk bedrock and adorned with what looks like Masonic symbols etched on its walls.

In Cornwall the fogous are another mystery, underground buildings that have parallels of a kind in Scotland, Ireland, Scandinvia, Iceland, the Shetlands and Orkneys, as well as parts of France, and were in effect, hidden refuges designed to mislead enemies. They were useful in slave raids, for example, and slaves were big business in the ancient world and during the medieval period. Arab slave boats came to Cornwall and southern Ireland and these hideaways were ideal for women, children, and even the menfolk. Vikings and others also took part in slave raids, selling the people on to others - even taking their own people when the price was tempting. In lowland Scotland and Ireland, there were earth houses, known in Gaelic as uamh (pronounced weem) and they too were used in dangerous times. Very often these hideaways had deliberate narrow entrances and tricky bits for the strangers to negotiate, such as heaps of stones or isolated steps in the middle of passageways, false tunnels and so on. The idea was to inhibit intruders and help the defenders by reducing the threat. By making a passage narrow, with corners and awkward bits to negotiate, the defenders were faced with one raider at a time, and not a group of them. The groups had to get round the hindrances and in doing so would have been open to serious casualities. One earth house in Co Down is 120 feet long and 6 feet wide but its entrance is just a couple of feet in girth, a distinct disadvantage to intruders.