"WITH EYES TO THE SKY”: THE SUBMERGED TOWN OF ATLIT-YAM, THE ENIGMA OF EUROPEAN MEGALITHS AND THE BIRTH OF CELESTIAL RELIGIONS
of Ignazio Burgio.
The prehistoric megaliths that arise throughout Western Europe, between Portugal and the North Sea, have always caused the curiosity and the questions of all those who have studied them. In recent decades, however, the archaeologists with his latest discoveries has even more entangled the mystery by finding megaliths similar to those Europeans also in the south of Egypt, in the Sahara, and on the seabed in front of the Israeli coast, in the submerged town of Atlit-Yam. But what discovered among this ruins could perhaps shed a little more light about the origin and the function of the ancient megaliths.
If the most famous megalithic monument, Stonehenge
in southern England, keeps still today many mysteries about, for example, its original architecture, the methods of its construction and its real purpose, many of those stone monuments displaced by the Iberian Peninsula to the islands above Scotland leave still without clear answers the archaeologists and the researchers of the prehistoric Europe. Both the countless vertical stones (or menhirs
), or the circles of stones (or cromlech
) suggest us that they are the product of an unique culture (or people), socially and hierarchically organized under a religious authority capable of directing the construction of these monumental works too complex and imposing, whose raw material, the heavy granite boulders of several tens of tons, often had to be extracted with rudimentary tools and transported to several kilometers away from the caves. The astronomical knowledges of these religious leaders should then be no doubt of all respect for those times, because - as is well known - many monuments show precise alignments with the solstices and moon phases as Stonehenge certainly, but also for example in the circles of stones of the Hebrides (Callanish, Isle of Lewis), Scotland, Brittany, Galicia, and so on. But for what purpose ?
The researchers generally think that many of these monuments, especially the circles of stones - or cromlech - like Stonehenge, was calendars for use by various agricultural seasons: benchmarks set in the stone forever in order to hand down to the future generations the best time to start sowing, the harvest and perhaps other habits of vital importance for the survival of those archaic society at the edge of subsistence that still did not know writing. But a conclusion like this certainly does not exhaust all the doubts and the questions that put these monuments. For example, until recently it was believed that the megalithic culture came from the eastern areas and then reached the West with the peoples in possession of agricultural techniques (or even by gradual learning). But more careful studies by radiocarbon analysis have shown that the truth is exactly the opposite: the oldest European sites are those in the French region of Brittany and in the Spanish Galicia, which from the west then spread to est, inside the European continent. The most ancient megaliths seem to be those closest to the Atlantic coasts and dates back at least to the sixth millennium B. C. However, it is not ruled out the possibility that the origin of the same megalithic culture is even older and coming from different geographical area. This also because until now the absolutely oldest megaliths are not located nor in Western Europe or on the land, but in the submerged city of Atlit-Yam
We have already met this city in the article about the devastating tsunami
provoked by Etna around 6000 B. C. (see “The fury of the sea's god : the tsunami provoked by Etna 8000 years ago and the submerged city of Atlit-Yam" in this site). The Israeli divers, that coordinated by Ehud Galili
have plunged since the 80s in the sea at the foot of Mount Carmel (northern Israel), have been able to observe the ruins of a Neolithic settlement with a type of mixed economy: hunting, rudimentary agriculture, and especially fishing. Just looking at the large quantity of fish still stored, the archaeologists have concluded that the town was abandoned suddenly, most likely due to the unforeseen invasion of the waves generated by the collapse of the east flank of the Etna
, before that the next growing of the sea level, because of the glacial thaw, submerged the uninhabited settlement. Among the rests of houses, walls, circular buildings and stone-paved areas (roads or probably squares), divers have found two other types of ruins, which are very important not only for their absolute antiquity but also because they cast a significant light about the events of this city now submerged. The first is a well for water, the oldest example found at present in the world. Until to a certain point in the history of Atlit-Yam it provided fresh water to people, animals and perhaps even to community gardens. But at a unspecified time its function drained and, as discovered underwater archaeologists analyzing its content, it was used as disposal pit. In the opinion of the researchers the advancing sea polluted with brackish water the underground stream feeding the well itself, therefore making it unusable. Then where the inhabitants found the fresh water for their use? The Israeli researchers are convinced that inside the settlement likely flowed a source comes from above Mount Carmel. There were found the ruins of seven vertical monoliths, real menhirs, arranged in the shape of semicircle open to the north-west. Their base was shaped and colored by the water current, that of a real stream at a time when Atlit-Yam was on dry land. Near these, flat stone slabs are also found lying horizontally, with other oval monoliths showing engravings of schematic anthropomorphic figures: the archaeologists have suggested that the place was used as a ceremonial center. The inhabitants apparently elevated the source to religious and ritual area as to protect it magically by the threatening advancing of the sea. This very close correlation between the megaliths and the water – both the threatening of the sea as that vital of the stream - may be the key to shed more light about the mysteries of the European megaliths.
In the French region of Brittany, the island of Er Lannic
, in the Gulf of Morbihan, contains the ruins of two circles of stones one of which completely submerged by water, the other only half in the surface. The place was at least 5000 years ago the top of a hill, and then, after the construction of the two megalithic complexes, was invaded by the lifting of the sea. Certainly it should not be an isolated case. Recent satellite observations suggest that even in the bottom of the north seas might lie the ruins of other oldest megalithic constructions, built before or during the end of last ice age, before the waters submerged the lands on which stood. Until the VIII - VII millennium B. C. European geography was very different. The coasts were more extensive, Ireland was joined to England and this to the continent. If in the long period of melting of the ice, from 9000 to 6000 B. C., many lands of Northern Europe were freed from ice blanket and were opened to the colonization of the groups of nomadic hunters, many other lands near the sea gradually ended underwater, threatening those human settlements along the coast living mainly of fishing, which in those days was still the livelihood activity more convenient and profitable. The groups of nomadic hunters of the inland certainly led a hard and precarious life: perpetually in motion following the herds of wild cattle, in a territory with a climate still so cold to turn out difficult for agriculture and always under the threat of dangerous animals, wolves, bears, etc. The coastal groups instead could more easily afford of living in settlements, stable and of a certain size until to reach the size of real cities, just as Atlit-Yam in the Mediterranean, largely thanks to the generousness of the sea, that providing moreover sought shells and the precious salt, also allowed to make profitable trade with the groups of hunters of the inland or with the settlements along the nearby coasts. We can therefore understand how those "fishermen-citizen" were very reluctant to leave their comfortable source of livelihood, the blue, although threatening, lying of the sea, to retire in inland areas and to resign to a tough and precarious live of hunters . But despite that, the advance of the sea forced many groups of fishers to move along the western coast of the Europe, to the south, in the Iberian peninsula, and to the north, in today's British and French zones. It was then in that continual emergency situation that the shamans, or someone with the mind more acute, perhaps had to notice something that is fundamentally our assumptions as a solution to the mystery of the megaliths.
Even in periods of calm the sea was not moving inflexibility and steadily: now rose and now retreated, although when he returned back flowed always some less, and so ended in the long period to advance. The fisherman of the Neolithic had certainly learned to live with the phenomenon of the tides
that along the Atlantic coast and in North Europe are much more pronounced and showy, as are well aware tourists who visit for example the famous island of Mont St. Michel, between Brittany and Normandy. The prehistoric settlements then certainly arose at a safe distance from the coastline, until the ice melting did not force those poor groups of fishermen to move frequently their villages because of the growth of the high tide. The shamans interrogated by their fellow citizens were forced to think and raising their eyes to the sky had to notice the connection between the phases of the moon and the tides, and the different levels of high tide according to the different seasons of the year: more pronounced in winter, from the winter solstice on, because, of course, of the closer of the earth orbit to the sun and therefore of greater gravitational attraction. But 9000 years before Galileo and Newton the man of the Neolithic could not understand the principles of celestial mechanics nor the concept of universal gravitation. So the mental relationship that he established between the stars and the tide was of magical-religious kind, and according to this same logic was also the solution that the shamans had to suggest: to build complexes of stone monuments that had multiple functions: to calculate or report the season and the moon phase of greater (or lesser) height of the tide, the seasonally measures of the level of the water, and certainly also to magically implore the favor of heaven with ceremonies and sacrifices (perhaps even humans) in order to prevent the advance of the sea.
So probably were not agricultural reason to push for the construction of these real stone calendars, but the need to predict the timing with which the sea invading, month after month and year after year, lands and coastal villages, and with this logic, therefore, may be explained even the archeoastronomical alignments of the stone circles both with the moon phases, of full moon and new moon, than the solstices, periods, that is, where the "influence" of the stars on the sea is stronger (or even less, as in summer, period more reassuring for the Neolithic fishermen). Several megalithic complexes certainly ended submerged under the advancing waves devouring the earth. Then around the sixth millennium B. C. the sea level was stabilized and the European coast took the current geography, so the descendants of those men fleeing the coasts, took a sigh of relief and certainly think that the gods of the sun and the moon had finally appreciated the invocations, the ceremonies and the same megalithic architecture, although crude, handed down by their ancestors. To avert further dangers - the tidal cycle was always there "to warn" - was consolidated so a real kind of heavenly religion, which acknowledged as the supreme deities the sun and the moon, which certainly must take the place of existing cults related to the hunting, the animals and the natural fertility, that certainly survived among the groups of the internal regions. In the Anatolian city of Catal-Huyuk
(VIII - V millennium B. C.), for example, were found frescoes with herds of cattle showing an identical style to that of European caves of previous millenniums. And even clay heads of bulls that adorned the houses, and statues of nude female with prosperous forms (the so-called "Paleolithic Venuses", true icons of the cult of the natural "Big Mother", fertile and generating, also found in other parts of Europe).
Over the centuries and of the generations the close correlation between the megalithic complexes and their astronomical significance surely began to ease and even the monuments of stone were built for only ceremonial and funeral functions. Even the archeoastronomical alignments were often missing or had only a secondary function (of religious value). According to several researchers just the cults originally linked to this type of megaliths were handed down the millenniums and were at the origin of the religion of the Druids after the arrival of the Celts. Some archaeologists and researchers are indeed of the opinion that the dating of the European megalithic construction is one of many evidences (linguistics, archaeological, etc.) of the presence of the Celtic culture in Europe from early Paleolithic era, before the end of the last glaciation (see Alinei-Benozzo in Bibliography). Assuming that this is true, it should take into account that the ruins of several ancient megaliths in Britain and in the Spanish region of Galicia should be the work of people fleeing - to the north and south - the advancing tide in depth along the low coasts of the Gulf of Biscay. So the place of origin of this supposed Celtic-megalithic culture, for the truth, should be sought on the Atlantic seabed in front of the French and Spanish coasts.
Unfortunately, despite all these considerations is not yet possible to fully reconstruct the puzzle about the monuments of stone. Just think that if the submerged menhirs of Atlit-Yam apparently could seem a curious phenomenon isolated and distant from megalithic context of Western Europe, unlike other findings lead to further broaden the geographical area of megalithic of "European" type. In southern Egypt, in the Saharan desert, at Nabta Playa
, 100 kilometers at west of Abu Simbel, were found the remains of five rows of menhirs, two of which are aligned according to the cardinal points. Close to these is also a circle of stones very similar to Stonehenge although smaller, and as the English equivalent is also orientated to the summer solstice (and according to some researchers including the Egyptologist Robert Bauval
, which recently studied the location, even with the constellation of Orion). What is most striking, however, is the age of Egyptian "cromlech": it was built around 5000 B. C. by people from outside who resumed possession of those places - in those days regularly wet from the rain - after they were abandoned because of a long period of drought. In an article published in the journal "Nature" in April 1998, Fred Wendorf, J. McKim Malville, Romuald Schild
and Ali al Mazar
, the archaeologists who have studied the megaliths, have concluded that the calendar of stone used to signal the arrival of the monsoon season, and then the precious rain. A confirmation of what, has been observed that the stone structures arise over those that once were the shores of an ancient lake, and that some of the menhirs had to lie submerged in the water, perhaps with the task of assessing the level: the size of the lake ranged in fact with the change of the precipitations, even drying up completely. Obviously is not excluded that the megalithic complex was mainly a sacred place associated to a cult of the water.
The megalithic complexes of Nabta Playa arose not so much later of the submerged menhirs of Atlit-Yam, and how they were too closely related to the water: in the mind of the Neolithic man the periodic cycles - monthly or yearly – of any type of water, beneficial or dangerous, of the rain, of the rivers, of the tides, were together and were certainly more and more religiously associated with the magical power of the stars. It seems, it was an important cultural development of peoples of the Old Continent, because - as I said – they developed astronomical-astrological knowledges and religious beliefs, which in many parts took the place of the existing natural cults (or "ctonii," according to the terms of the ethnology) without eliminating it altogether. How to determine whether the megalithic culture was born in Atlantic and then spread to East, or whether it was the exact opposite, may depend only by future archaeological finds. Nobody can say in fact how many cities and megalithic monuments still hide in the sands of the deserts and in the bottom of the seas (Mediterranean included), but we have the feeling that should really be so many!
Other article about Atlit-Yam: "The fury of the sea's god": the tsunami provoked by Etna 8000 years ago and the submerged town of Atlit-Yam.
Other articles in English: click here
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Notes. The underwater photos of Atlit-Yam were courtesy grant from the Israel Antiquities Authority - www.antiquities.org.il
-. Other images come from www.wikipedia.org
Other useful site: Scienze e dintorni
Note. The Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), Dr. Ehud Galili
, courtesy sent us a copy of an official comment published in April 26, 2008 in the Geophisical Research Letters, where himself and other researchers of the IAA criticize the thesis supported by the researchers of the Pisa's INGV (Pareschi, Boschi, Favalli) about the role of the Etna's tsunami in the desertion of the pre-pottery neolithic settlement of Atlit-Yam. On the basis of the remains of the water wells and of theirs content, as of the pathological analysis of the skeletons found in the graves, they rule out that there are signs of the passing of a tsunami, that probably occurred after Atlit-Yam was submerged by the sea: “...Instead, the data indicate that the village was abandoned ca. 8000 years B.P. due to the gradual post-glacial rise in sea level rise, similar to coastal Neolithic villages all over the world. The site was first covered by coastal sand dunes that protected it from abrasion by marine agents and then submerged by the rising sea. Due to the sea level rise, the subsequent PN villages in the region were built farther to the East...”.
Citation: Galili, E., L. K. Horwitz, I. Hershkovitz, V. Eshed, A. Salamon, D. Zviely, M. Weinstein-Evron, and H. Greenfield (2008), Comment on ‘‘Holocene tsunamis from Mount Etna and the fate of Israeli Neolithic communities’’ by Maria Teresa Pareschi, Enzo Boschi, and Massimiliano Favalli
, Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, L08311, doi:10.1029/2008GL033445.
Prof. Andy Kaulins (web site: www.megaliths.net
) has deciphered the megaliths of ATLIT-YAM like a sky-map in which many constellations are represented inside an external circle symbolizing the Milk Way. See at this posting: tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/LexiLine/message/1731
has linked this article in his news.