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“Witch Marks” Found In Medieval Church Were To Keep Evil Spirits Away

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WEIRD ANTI-WITCH MARKS DISCOVERED AT 700-YEAR-OLD MEDIEVAL CHURCH IN ENGLAND
Photo Credit: http://creativevisionspublications.com/

Jocelyne LeBlancGuest Writer

Ancient graffiti called “witch marks” were discovered in the ruins of a medieval church in the English village of Stoke Mandeville and they were put there in order to keep evil spirits away.

St. Mary’s church was constructed around the year 1070 as a private chapel for the lord of Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire, England. It was renovated in the 1340s which made it bigger so that locals could also attend the church. But then in the 1860s when a new church was built, St. Mary’s was demolished.

“Witch marks” found on the medieval stones of St. Mary’s church in Stoke Mandeville, England (Image: © HS2 Ltd)

It was during the preparations for the construction of a new high-speed railway that revealed the ancient marks in the ruins of the church. The village, as well as the church, are directly in the path of where the tracks will be.

While archaeologists were excavating the church site, they found the remains of walls measuring about five feet in height as well as intact flooring. The most interesting discovery was stone beams that had very peculiar markings on them. The odd circular patterns that are called “witch marks” resembled wheel spokes with a hole that was put in the center with several lines spreading out from it. In fact, they found two different stones that contained those markings – one of them was on the ground level while the other was at an elevated location.

More “witch marks” carved into the stones of St. Mary’s church. (Image credit: HS2 Ltd)

Those types of radial markings were also used as sundials to divide the day up with morning, mid-day, and evening prayers. However, since one of the stones was found at the ground level, its purpose was more than likely to protect the location against evil. In a statement, the project officials explained them as being put there to “ward off evil spirits by entrapping them in an endless line or maze”.

A CG rendering of what St. Mary’s looked like in its prime, 700 years ago. (Image credit: HS2 Ltd)

These “witch marks” have been found at other medieval locations around the United Kingdom and were normally etched into stones near entrances, fireplaces, and windows to stop evil forces from entering. And they’re not just found in churches as the etchings have been discovered in houses, barns, and even caves.

Recommended Articles by Jocelyne LeBlanc
About the Author

Jocelyne LeBlanc works full time as a writer and is also an author with two books currently published. She has written articles for several online websites, and had an article published in a Canadian magazine on the most haunted locations in Atlantic Canada. She has a fascination with the paranormal and ghost stories, especially those that included haunted houses. In her spare time, she loves reading, watching movies, making crafts, and watching hockey.

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Archeology

Karahan Tepe Is Probably Older Than Gobekli Tepe

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Archaeologists work at the historical site of Karahantepe, Şanlıurfa, southeastern Turkey, Nov. 27, 2020. (DHA Photo)
Archaeologists work at the historical site of Karahantepe, Şanlıurfa, southeastern Turkey, Nov. 27, 2020. (DHA Photo)

Paul SeaburnGuest Writer

Google “World’s oldest temple” (go ahead, we’ll wait) and the #1 answer is the famous Göbekli Tepe (Göbeklitepe) in southern Turkey, believed to have been built 11,000–12,000 years ago as a place to worship the dog star, Sirius. Loaded with T-shaped carved stone pillars, it predates Stonehenge by 6,000 years and puts Utah’s sole monolith to shame. Unfortunately for fans of the Göbekli Tepe, it may soon be knocked down to #2 with the announcement that the Karahan Tepe or Karahantepe in Turkey’s southeastern Şanlıurfa province contains hundreds of statues and artifacts that initially appear to predate Göbekli Tepe. Can Göbekli Tepe fans demand a recount?

“Life in Göbeklitepe is not only limited to a period of ‘T’-shaped stones. It reflects a much longer process; there is a settlement of 700 to 800 years. It is certain that Karahantepe is somewhere in this period. It may cover a longer period of time or it may begin before. The excavations here will reveal all these, but at least we can say that this process coincides with a significant time period, a contemporary period. This means 11,500 years before today.”

Professor Necmi Karul of the Prehistory Department at the İstanbul University is the leader of the “Göbeklitepe Culture and Karahantepe Excavations” project and explains in Hurriyet Daily News that while the site was initially discovered in 1997, surveys did not start until 2018 and excavations didn’t begin until September 2019. The surveys found at least 250 T-shaped Neolithic-era obelisks were found. The obelisks appeared to be similar to those at Göbekli Tepe and the excavations are proving it.

“The excavation program continues in Karahantepe in an intensive and rapid manner. There are more years of work, but we will have reached an older excavation center. This is 12 thousand years old, the other will be much older. It will probably become a priority place than Göbeklitepe. It will be our new focus of attention.”

Archaeologists work at the historical site of Karahantepe, Şanlıurfa, southeastern Turkey, Nov. 27, 2020. (DHA Photo)

Speaking at the 10th International Resort Tourism Congress this week, Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Nuri Ersoy excitedly delivered the news, saying the discovery “will make a sound in the world!” That would certainly be the case in both of the minister’s departments. Göbekli Tepe has been regarded as the world’s oldest temple since its discovery and its monoliths and artifacts continue to be intensely studied — as will those at Karahantepe. The fame and publicity has resulted in Göbekli Tepe becoming a major tourist attraction for Turkey, and, while Karahantepe might take some of that away, together they should increase the total number of visitors and tourist dollars for the country.

“This year we have found very important finds highlighting the human symbolism. We discovered sculptures and new buildings. The statue head is quite interesting. The statue head, 50 cm in diameter, is carved into the bedrock. Again, we found structures carved into the bedrock around it. “

Archaeologists work at the historical site of Karahantepe, Şanlıurfa, southeastern Turkey, Nov. 27, 2020. (DHA Photo)

Karul points out that, while both Göbekli Tepe and Karahan Tepe are loaded with T-shaped columns, the statues are different, with Göbekli Tepe having more animal representations while Karahan Tepe has more humans. That could mean the two sites, while similar, were separated by more than their 35 km (21.7 mile) distance. So far, the tools found at Karahan Tepe indicate it was a hunter and gatherer community.

Get your algorithm read, Google. There’s a new oldest temple in town.

Some Further Reading, If You’re Curious…
Recommended Articles by Paul Seaburn
About the Author

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as “The Tonight Show”, “Politically Incorrect” and an award-winning children’s program. He’s been published in “The New York Times” and “Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humour. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humour to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn’t always have to be serious.

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Archeology

Ancient Anomalous Human Skeletons: Humanity Could Be Much Older Than We Think

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Ancient Anomalous Human Skeletons: Humanity Could be Much Older Than We Think
Image Credit: CCD

J.P. Robinson, Guest Writer

There are many reported human skeletal finds which are in discordance with current evolutionary beliefs dating back to anomalously ancient geological periods in the distant past, way before it is accepted that human beings ever existed.

One intriguing report surfaced in an American journal called The Geologist dated December 1862:

“In Macoupin County, Illinois, the bones of a man were recently found on a coal-bed capped with two feet of slate rock, ninety feet below the surface of the earth. . . The bones, when found, were covered with a crust or coating of hard glossy matter, as black as coal itself, but when scraped away left the bones white and natural.”

The coal in which the remains were found have been dated at between 320 and 286 million years old, which, despite a lack of supporting evidence and little information on the discovery, is certainly worthy of inclusion here.

Representational image. “The bones of a man were recently found on a coal-bed capped with two feet of slate rock, ninety feet below the surface of the earth…” (CC0)
The Foxhall Jaw

A better documented account of an anomalous find is of a human jaw discovered at Foxhall, England, in 1855 which was dug out of a quarry at a level of sixteen feet (4.88 meters) under ground level, dating the specimen to at least 2.5 million years old. American physician Robert H. Collyer described the Foxhall jaw as ‘the oldest relic of human existence’. The problem with this particular fossil was its modern appearance. A more apelike mandible would have been more acceptable despite its great antiquity, but many dissenters disbelieved the authenticity of the bone ‘probably because the shape of the jaw was not primitive’, according to paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn.

The Foxhall jaw is anatomically modern yet was discovered in strata dating back more than 2.5 million years. (Author provided)
Buenos Aires Skull

A fully modern human skull was found in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in an Early Pliocene formation, revealing the presence of modern humans in South America between 1 and 1.5 million years ago. But once more, the modern appearance of the skull doesn’t fit with conventional thinking on human origins so was discounted on these grounds alone. Here we see a clear example of dating by morphology, and a distinct disregard of all other data, no matter how credible. The thinking is simple; if it looks modern – it must be modern. No modern humans could possibly have existed that far back in time so it must be ruled out.

This ‘modern’ human skull found in Buenos Aires could be 1.5 million years old. (Author provided)

This approach employs illogical thinking if one considers that the skull was found in a Pre-Ensenadean stratum, which, according to present geological calculations, dates back up to 1.5 million years. The scientific data, as with a plethora of cases worldwide, does not match the final analogy, and instead of pursuing the matter further until a satisfactory scientific conclusion is arrived upon, the discovery has slipped unsurprisingly into anonymity.

The Clichy Skeleton

In a quarry on the Avenue de Clichy, Paris, parts of a human skull were discovered along with a femur, tibia, and some foot bones by Eugene Bertrand in 1868. The layer in which the Clichy skeleton was dug out from would make the fossils approximately 330,000 years old.

It wasn’t until Neanderthals became accepted as the Pleistocene ancestors of modern humans that French anthropologists were forced to drop the Clichy skeleton from the human evolutionary line, as a modern type of human could not predate their allegedly older Neanderthal relatives. Neanderthals are conventionally understood to have existed from 30,000 to 150,000 years ago, and the Clichy skeleton which dated at over 300,000 years ago was simply not an acceptable find despite the evidence to support its authenticity.

Comparison of Modern Human and Neanderthal skulls from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. (DrMikeBaxter/ CC BY SA 2.0)
The Ipswich Skeleton

In 1911, another anatomically modern human skeleton was discovered beneath a layer of glacial boulder clay near the town of Ipswich, in England, by J. Reid Moir. Found at a depth of about 4.5 feet (1.37 meters) between a layer of clay and glacial sands, the skeleton could be as much as 400,000 years old.

Naturally, the modern appearance of the skeleton was the cause of strong opposition, but if the find had of been Neanderthal-like, there would have been no questions raised over its position in the glacial sediments. As Scottish anatomist and anthropologist, Sir Arthur Keith explained, “Under the presumption that the modern type of man is also modern in origin, a degree of high antiquity is denied to such specimens.

British archaeologist J. Reid Moir. (Author provided)

The deposits in which the Ipswich skeleton was excavated from were recorded by the British Geological Survey as an intact layer of glacial boulder clay which had been laid down between the onset of the Anglian glaciation and the Hoxnian glaciations, a period that stretched between 330,000 and 400,000 years ago. Some authorities have even put the beginning of the Mindel glaciation (which is equivalent to that of the Anglian) at around 600,000 years ago, which could potentially allow the Ipswich skeleton to also date back that far.

The Castenedolo Bones

Situated in the southern slopes of the Alps, at Castenedolo, six miles (9.66 km) southeast of Brescia, lays a low hill called the Colle de Vento, where millions of years ago during the Pliocene period, layers of mollusks and coral were deposited by a warm sea washing in.

In 1860, Professor Giuseppe Ragazzoni travelled to Castenedolo to gather fossil shells in the Pliocene strata exposed in a pit at the base of the Colle de Vento. Reporting on his finds there Ragazzoni wrote:

“Searching along the bank of coral for shells, there came into my hand the top portion of a cranium, completely filled with pieces of coral cemented with blue-green clay characteristics of that formation. Astonished, I continued the search, and in addition to the top portion of the cranium I found other bones of the thorax and limbs, which quite apparently belonged to an individual of the human species.”

Modern human skull found at Castenedolo, Italy. (Author provided)

Once more, negative reactions ensued by both geologists and scientists who were unwilling to accept the Pliocene age offered by Ragazzoni for the skeletal remains. It was explained away by an insistence that the bones, due to their clearly modern characteristics, must have come from a recent burial and somehow or other found themselves among the Pliocene strata. If in doubt, simply explain it away with logical thinking, even if you ignore the facts within plain sight and filter out the parts which do not fit.

Ragazzoni was understandably not pleased with the reception he received and the disregard given to his legitimate discovery of an anomalously ancient human skeleton, so he kept his eye on the site where he had found the relics once the land was sold to Carlo Germani in 1875, (on the advice of Ragazzoni, who had advised that the phosphate-rich clay could be sold to farmers as fertilizer).

Many more discoveries followed from 1879, as Germani kept his word and informed the professor immediately upon finding more bones in the pit. Jaw fragments, teeth, backbone, ribs, arms, legs and feet were all dug out of the Pliocene formation which modern geologists have placed at around 3-4 million years old.

Representational image of various human bones in a pit. (CC0)

‘All of them were completely covered with and penetrated by the clay and small fragments of coral and shells, which removed any suspicion that the bones were those of persons buried in graves, and on the contrary confirmed the fact of their transport by the waves of the sea’, said Ragazzoni.

And on February 16, 1880, Germani informed Ragazzoni that a complete skeleton had been discovered, enveloped in a mass of blue-green clay, remains which turned out to be that of an anatomically modern human female.

The complete skeleton was found in the middle of the layer of blue clay. . . The stratum of the blue clay, which is over 1 metre thick, has preserved its uniform stratification, and does not show any sign of disturbance” wrote Ragazzoni, adding, “The skeleton was very likely deposited in a kind of marine mud and not buried at a later time.”

Example of a grave and skeleton at a maritime museum. (Marlene Oostryck/CC BY 3.0)

After personally examining the Castenedolo skeletons at the Technical Institute of Brescia in 1883, Professor Giuseppe Sergi, an anatomist from the University of Rome, was convinced that they represented the remains of humans who had lived during the Pliocene period of the Tertiary.

Writing of his disdain towards the naysayers within the scientific community Sergi commented, “The tendency to reject, by reason of theoretical preconceptions, any discoveries that can demonstrate a human presence in the Tertiary is, I believe, a kind of scientific prejudice. Natural science should be stripped of this prejudice.”

Anomalous Skeletons Have Their Place Too!

Unfortunately, this prejudice which continues to this day, shows no signs of abating, as Professor Sergi recognized back in the 19th century, ‘By means of a despotic scientific prejudice, call it what you will, every discovery of human remains in the Pliocene has been discredited.’

So why does its modern appearance override the other factors? It doesn’t seem to be a very scientific approach to disregard an archaeological find simply because it does not conform to contemporary evolutionary theses. The examples cited in this article are only a small selection which has been rescued from obscurity by vigilant researchers, but how many more cases have suffered similar dismissal due to their anomalistic circumstances ?

Representational image of human skulls. How many more cases have suffered similar dismissal due to their anomalistic circumstances? (CC0)

If science continues to sweep unusual discoveries under the carpet, how are we supposed to progress as a species if we are intent on denying data which contradicts our rigid paradigms? It would appear that the knowledge filter has been in place for some time, much to the detriment of humankind and our quest to illuminate our foggy, mysterious ancient past.

Of course we cannot be sure of the validity of the anomalous finds mentioned above, but by ignoring the sheer volume of cases which question current scientific paradigms regarding the evolution of man, we are being denied the whole story – which can only be detrimental to the ongoing study of human evolution .

Top Image: Representational image of human skeletons. The discovery of anomalous skeletons suggests humanity may be older than we think.

This article was taken from the chapter ‘Bones and Stones’ in The Myth of Man by J.P. Robinson.

Some Further Reading, If You’re Curious…
References
  • Robinson, J.P. 2018. The Myth of Man, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
  • Keith, Arthur, 1928. The Antiquity of Man, Vol. 1, Williams and Norgate Ltd., London
  • Ragazzoni, Giuseppe 1880   La collina di Castenedolo, solto il rapporto antropologico, geologico ed agronomico
  • Sergi, Giuseppe, 1884. L’uomo terziario in Lombardia Archivio per L’Antropologia e la Etnologia

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Discovery Of 9,000-Year-Old Female Hunter In Peru Is Rewriting History

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Discovery of 9,000-Year-Old Female Hunter In Peru Is Rewriting History
Photo Credit: beltsazar / Adobe Stock

A grave in Peru has been shown to contain the world’s oldest female hunter. This news is potentially explosive. It may change our understanding of gender relations in the ancient Americas and even the nature of prehistoric societies. Randy Hass, an anthropologist from the University of California, was working with his colleagues at a high-altitude site in an area known as Wilamaya Patjxa, in southern Peru, when they found six burials, dating back almost 9,000 years, which contained the remains of six individuals. During their work the team collaborated with the local Aymara community.

Teenage Female Huntress Buried with Her Tools

One burial pit was not like the others. Based on the hunting toolkit found with the deceased, the team initially thought that the burial was of a male hunter. However, the bones were very slender, light and appeared to be those of a femaleScience quotes one of the team members, bio-archaeologist Jim Watson, as saying “I think your hunter might be female.” Indeed, the grave contained the remains of a young woman who died between the ages of 17 and 19. Her gender and age were determined based on an analysis of proteins in her teeth.

Artists depiction of female hunter 9,000 years ago in ancient Peru. Source: Matthew Verdolivo / UC Davis IET Academic Technology Services

Anthropologist Randy Haas told Sky News that the female hunter had been buried with “stone projectile points for felling large animals, a knife and flakes of rock for removing internal organs, and tools for scraping and tanning hides.” The stone points would have been attached to shafts and used as spear throwers and hurled at animals with great force. A pigment chunk was also found with her that was used in the treatment of hides.

The teenage female hunter was discovered with a hunting toolkit at the Wilamaya Patjxa in southern Peru. (Randall Haas / University of California, Davis 
Was the Discovery an Outlier?

The female hunter was found near the grave of a male who was also buried with a hunting toolkit. The team of researchers also found evidence of animal bones in the sediment of the burial ground, including Andean deer and vicuña. Haas told Science News that these two animals “were the main targets of ancient hunters in that part of the Andes.”

However, many believed that the find was a once-off and that the female big-game hunter was an outlier. Science quotes Meg Conkey, an archaeologist who did not take part in the study, as stating that “sceptics might say it’s a one-off.” Moreover, the presence of hunting gear in a grave does not necessarily mean that the deceased was a hunter. Haas and his team set out to prove that there had once been other female hunters in the Americas.

Tracking Down Female Hunters in the Americas

Haas and his colleagues were prepared for this and conducted an exhaustive study of the research literature on 107 burial sites in the Americas. All of these sites are between 6,000 and 12,500 years old. In total, the researchers found ten women who had been buried with hunting toolkits. Their research has led them to conclude that women routinely participated in big game hunts. The researchers wrote in Science Advances that “the findings are consistent with non-gendered labour practices in which early hunter-gatherer females were big-game hunters.”

Based on their study of other sites, the research team believes that “females accounted for between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of ancient American big-game hunters,” reports Science News. They are convinced that the evidence is strong for their theory. The researchers also consider that archaeologists did not recognize that females were big-game hunters in the past because of sexism.

Excavations at Wilamaya Patjxa in Peru, where the female hunter burial was found. (Randall Haas / University of California, Davis)
Gender Equality Among Hunters

Gizmodo quotes the researchers as saying that “modern gender constructs often do not reflect past ones.” In other words, just because women in the recent past were not big-game hunters this does not means that there weren’t any female big-game hunters in the Americas 9,000 years ago. Up until recently, the “man the hunter hypothesis” was widely accepted, according to Science. This held that women did “women’s work” and that males engaged in activities such as hunting and as a result were the dominant gender. This was based in part on modern studies of hunter-gather groups such as the Hazda of Tanzania.

Inspired by their ground-breaking discovery in Peru, the researchers argue this was not the case. Big-game hunting would have required team work, a group of people working together and a great deal of labour. Therefore, women would have had to cooperate with men to ensure success in hunting expeditions. Quoted in Gizmodo, the researchers argue that there was “broad participation from both females and males” in the hunting of big game.

Women Warriors Challenging Gender Stereotypes

Ashley Smallwood of the University of Louisville in Kentucky told Science News that “it is time to stop thinking of [ancient] female large-game hunters as outliers.” The discovery of the ancient female huntress in Peru could transform our knowledge of gender roles in the past. If women hunted this would imply that there was more equality between the genders in prehistoric societies.

However, some have argued against these findings and state that the researchers cannot prove their arguments about female hunters because the sample that they investigated is simply too small. However, the research is aligned with recent discoveries that challenge the traditional assumptions about gender roles in prehistory. Archaeologists have found evidence of a 5,000-year-old female warrior in California, while other finds suggest that there were female fighters in both Mongolian and Viking societies in the distant past.

This article (Discovery of 9,000-Year-Old Female Hunter in Peru Is Rewriting History) was originally created for Ancient Origins and is published here under Creative Commons.

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Archeology

Melting Stone With Plants: Was The Mythical ‘Green Chisel’ A Real Ancient Tool?

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Melting Stone With Plants: Was the Mythical 'Green Chisel' A Real Ancient Tool?
Photo Credit: Anjocreatif

Archaeology is not an exact science. It is full of doubts, uncertainties, surprises, and unanswered questions. One of its unsolved mysteries concerns the methods of ancient stone work, which is lost in the mists of time. All existing stones, listed in the Mohs Scale according to their hardness – from the 1st degree (softest, talc), to the 10th (hardest, diamond) – are workable with tools made of something harder than them. This means they are worked and altered with a mineral tool with a higher degree of hardness, or more often with a metal tool.

From the 1st to the 6th degree (mostly calcareous stones), copper or bronze tools are enough. But for stones from the 7th upwards (much harder and mostly siliceous) we need iron or steel tools. In this article, we are interested in the examples of how ancient stoneworkers worked the oldest, hardest stones.

Why the Hardest Stones?

Many of these finds date back to periods or geographical contexts where iron did not exist: i.e. in the Old World before 1200 BC and in the New World before the Conquest. Nevertheless, surprisingly, just the hardest stones were used by ancient peoples in those situations – and with great skill and extremely sophisticated workmanship. Indeed, it seems that they were even preferred, despite the difficulties in working them (during which, moreover, they can chip badly). It was as if shaping them was commonplace for the ancient stonemasons.

We have emeralds, quartzes, obsidian jewels, and amulets with very fine incisions and carvings; slender vases in syenite with very thin sides with a smooth, impeccable finish; the cup of King Narmer, in porphyry; diorite tablets with bas-reliefs on a perfectly smooth background, and long texts in minute hieroglyphic or cuneiform characters, traced with perfect graphics, without smudges, as if they had been stamped rather than carved.

And then there’s the disquieting geometries in diorite of Puma Punku, of maniacal rigor and the incredible puzzles of the Peruvian walls (and Egyptian and Japanese walls too), with millimetre-precision junctions between the immense andesite blocks with 20, 30, or even 40 corners. There are also basaltic boulders three meters high as the grandiose Olmec heads. The 70-ton granite blocks with very clear cuts, that were emptied to create the sarcophagi of the Serapeum of Saqqara, whose even the internal surfaces are as smooth as the outer ones, are another marvel. The shiny cylinders of ‘carrots’ also appear to be dug into granite by drills that seemed to have been as fast as their modern counterparts.

All this work was done by ancient stonemasons on hard siliceous rocks – up to the 8th or 9th degree of the Hardness Scale.

They made vases with smooth finishes and bas-reliefs without smudges, as if they had been stamped rather than carved. (Heagy1 / CC BY-SA 4.0)

None of this, in theory, was feasible by just muscular strength and with the ancient tools in the archaeological record. The stone workers apparently manipulated hard stone with a high degree of skill – but they were without strong saws, bits, special steel drills, and motor-powered tools. It simply seems impossible. But how did they do it? With what?

Inferences and Theories

Obviously, that inexplicable technical perfection has generated a lot of inferences and theories of every kind, many of which arbitrarily transpose means, methods, and knowledge of today into the most distant past. We see a hypothesis suggesting stone was ground, mixed with water, and cast into molds (with a disproportionate expenditure of energy). In another one, the stone is said to be softened by a mix of sour plant juices and shaped, then it would harden.

Other suggestions say the ancient people used lasers, radioactivity and so on, or that they had very advanced machines provided by a mysterious lost civilization. And, of course, there’s the hypothesis that the work was done with the assistance of aliens. But no evidence has ever been found for such devices.

To this technological enigma, excluding fanciful speculations, I intend to offer an explanation in line with ‘Occam’s razor’: with all factors being equal, the solution to a problem is the simplest one.

Using Acid to Work the Hardest Stones

The thesis is that the only practical system available to act on the mentioned minerals, refractory to (or unmanageable by) physical action, was chemistry – specifically exploiting the natural capacity of certain elements to break down other materials due to their incompatibility; incompatible chemical principles put in contact with each other will react by destroying each other. That is, to cause a guided reaction, and to stop it at the right time: the stone would be disintegrated by treating it with a corrosive substance (one incompatible with it) that chemically attacked it, instead of, or before tools were used on it.

In short, an acidic chemical would do most (or part) of the work necessary to produce the desired effect – all while saving time, effort, and material. This, as we shall see, was entirely within the reach of the ancient craftsmen, even if it is not clear how they came to understand that natural phenomenon and its possible advantageous uses.

The fact is that this intuition was, apparently, operatively implemented, and in a very simple and not at all mysterious way. Because – unlike other proposed solutions – the acid does not change the structure of the stone, but literally liquefies it and, if carefully managed, it can eliminate from a block all the superfluous parts (or materials) not included in the project design.

Acid-Washed Stone – a common treatment to show the beauty of a stone without cutting and polishing. (cobalt123 / CC BY-SA 2.0)

The difference compared to manual tools is that it does it without friction – it’s done at the atomic level . That’s all.

We have both direct (material) and indirect (immaterial) clues of the reliability of this hypothesis.

Direct clues are the concrete evidence of the use of that method in artifacts and buildings. The results of the process described above are stunning when they are observed with the naked eye.

But I have no doubt that when they are enlarged under a microscope they would show the uniformity of a ‘controlled dissolution’ made by an acid even in the hardest parts of the stone to reach. This is in contrast to scratches which would have been made by metal tools. As a ‘chemical chisel,’ acid can creep everywhere.

As I said above, there is no archaeological evidence for modern technologies and tools used in the ancient past. But acid has always existed in nature. If we wanted to, we could still use it today.

With it, we could – drop by drop – engrave and pierce precious stones, create the empty cavity of a vase and smooth its sides, model statues, and even make coffins out of huge granite blocks. Layer by layer the acid would consume the inside of the stone and smooth it; or, if we wanted to mark it instead, we could cover it with a film of wax (which doesn’t react to it), scratch away the wax in areas we wanted to mark the stone, and then pour acid on those areas.

This could explain how Moses engraved the Tables of the Law, as the Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 48b,  describes how Shamìr is used to cut stone. To write on stone at that time, it would make sense that Moses used the same method of first marking the letters with ink, then passing Shamìr over them, and then they were engraved.

Did Moses engrave the Tables of the Law with acid? (James Steidl / Adobe)

By penetrating natural fissures with acid, we could remove boulders from their rocky bed and cut them as we wish. And maybe we could use it in the building industry in the form of a corrosive paste or mortar which disappeared after having eaten away the roughness and smoothed away the differences in height between boulders. It would eliminate the space needed for joints and give the structure the appearance of a dry-stone wall.

I believe this was the only way that it was possible for the ancient stonemasons to work very hard silicon-based stones. It would also be used for softer stones like limestone, marble, and alabaster, since the same acid also attacks all other types of stone. Indeed it attacks every material except gold, lead, and wax.

For us, it is important because it is the only natural solvent for silicon – and that aspect allows us to identify it with certainty because there is nothing else capable of so much. It is hydrofluoric acid (chemical symbol HF), one of the most aggressive, extremely reactive, caustic, and poisonous chemicals. The ancient stonemasons used that. That was their secret tool.

Sourcing the Secret Stonework Tool

But how did they get it? What did they extract it from?

Indirect clues will indicate its origin. Ancient legends speak of a magical ‘something’ that could weaken or destroy every type of stone: a ‘something’ that, from time immemorial, was reserved for the mighty ones and unknown to everyone else. But at a certain moment, it was replaced by iron, abandoned, and eventually forgotten. That’s how things happened in the Old World at least; in the New one, history handed it over to oblivion.

There isn’t much to tell though.

There is a transient reference to the ‘farr’ of Persian king Zal which was a symbol of his celestial investiture, which acted as HF. Another, no less scanty reference mentions an obscure ‘plant mixture’ conceived by Egyptian scholars to soften stone. This was perhaps the same ‘unknown cement’ that was thick as a sheet of paper and that the Arab scholar Abd el-Latif (12th century) said connected the stones of the Great Pyramid, in which some ‘plant residues’ have recently been found. This is all from Egypt, although there traces of the technique abound.

Instead, we find a lot of data (certainly from Egyptian sources) in myths and texts, including the Bible, of ancient Israel, however there this discovery – a gift of God, which later disappeared – was only used twice. The Jews called it Shamir.

Was unknown cement used in the construction of the Great Pyramid? (primavera108 / Adobe)
Shamír

The first time Shamir was used was to engrave the Tables of the Law and the names of the 12 tribes on the gems of priestly vestments. The second time was to cut the stones of the Temple of Solomon as God commanded: these were calcareous stones, but the gems were almost all siliceous, which confirms that Moses used hydrofluoric acid – Shamìr.

The description of its appearance is rather vague and ambiguous, but its behavior isn’t. It worked the hardest stones and left perfect, smooth, residue-free surfaces; it had to be kept in a lead basket (an airtight vase would have exploded), and insulated with wool and bran; it had heavy collateral effects (it scalded Moses and poisoned and killed the Temple workers); in the long run it became inactive.

This is the unequivocal picture of the action of that powerful acid, but it does not help us to understand its origin and nature.

Excluding that it was, as hypothesized, mineral (diamond) or animal (worm), maybe it was plant-based?

Some writings related to Shamìr warn not to identify it with Euforbia, a stinging shrub; but why would they do that, if not because it was also a plant? And unfortunately, the information stops there.

Connecting Shamír and the Pito of Peru

But the astonishing answer comes, unexpectedly, from distant Peru, where oral tradition says ever since the ‘ancients’ started to assemble the stones of their huge walls, they used the mysterious Pito, a plant that was described as a low creeping grass with red leaves.

The tradition affirms that Pito or, rather, it’s extract, is capable of melting every stone (the explorer Percy Fawcett talks about an amphora stolen from an Inca tomb, incidentally broken, and of how the liquid leaked out and dissolved the stone below) and iron too. It also declares that – as God had given Israel Shamir to work on the Temple – the local gods had once given men, in order to alleviate their labors, two plants: coca and Pito; not to be confused, however, with the caustic Efedra. Does it remind us of something?

Archaeologists still argue as to how the precise stonework found in places such as Cusco in Peru was achieved. (CC BY 2.0)

Jewish myths mention a wild rooster that used Shamìr to make many small holes in rocks in which to plant trees. In Peru they also associate Pito with a bird which, according to several witnesses, is accustomed to rubbing the leaves of the plant onto rocks with its beak: this softens the stone, in which then it digs itself a nest.

But there’s more. The wild rooster also used Shamìr to erode the glass slab placed upon its nest covering its little ones and the Peruvian bird did exactly the same with the Pito herb, but that slab was made of iron.

These similar narratives cannot be pure coincidence. In different contexts, these birds are apparently using two distinct corrosive chemical agents which act in exactly the same way in the stories. So, on both sides of the ocean, we have two elements with common characteristics and the same range of action: the unique capacity to attack silicon.

And now everything can be reduced to a simple syllogism: if two factors have the same effect on a third, it means that they are equal. Even the legends tell the same story. In short, the active component of Pito and Shamìr was the same.

Moreover, from the descriptions we have established that Shamir was HF and that Pito was a plant; therefore HF was derived from a plant. Ultimately both those substances – Pito and Shamìr – were actually only one with the same formula: hydrofluoric acid, HF, which was extracted from plants. However, they were probably not of the same species because the same plants do not grow in the two geographical areas.

But it is also true that over 40 plants of various species have high contents of the poisonous HF, which they absorb from soil and synthesize, to protect themselves from herbivores, in the form of a compound called fluoroacetic acid.

And to extract hydrofluoric acid from fluoroacetic acid is no more difficult than to make tea: you just have to boil the plant in water, distill the solution, and then concentrate it. HF dissolved in water is manageable, very carefully, at room temperature.

Shamìr/Pito: Continents Apart, Techniques in Common

At this point it is relevant to identify Shamìr and Pito with the richest HF spontaneous plants.

The most probable suspects are Dichapetalum in Africa and Palicourea in South America (coincidentally, the areas of our interest). Both of them are not very attractive and of little economic value, having no known uses (only as a rat poison for Dichapetalum). Today they are not the object of any particular attention.

But, in the mists of time, the discovery of their special virtue, exploited in various ways according to their availability and needs, enabled the first civilizations to create and advance in epigraphy, sculpture, and architecture.

In Peru and Bolivia, where Palicourea abounds, it was used directly and in abundance in the pre-Inca building industry. In Egypt and outside Africa, I believe that only the acid derived from Dichapetalum was used to carry out smaller, expensive works.

Dichapetalum plant. (Vinayaraj / CC BY-SA 3.0 

Who by, where, and when that precious resource was identified is not known and the “how” is perhaps trivial. Maybe the ancient peoples really noticed what the birds were doing or they saw the action of the plants themselves. Regardless, ancient craftsmen learned from experience, and, as they had learned to use fire, water, and wind energy, they also discovered plant or animal juices that melted stones, healed, or killed. They observed that strength, realized its potential, and put it to good use.

Yet the real mystery is not how that knowledge was acquired, nor who transmitted it to whom, but how it travelled between such distant continents. Because, if it is impossible to believe in a coincidence like that shown by myths, it is equally impossible to understand its path unless we rethink the past on very different terms. But this is another story to be investigated elsewhere.

I wish I could demonstrate the validity of this hypothesis by giving it proof and concrete and irrefutable evidence. Modern science can do it. I would like those who have asked the same questions about these mysteries to join me in this research and finally give credit to the skills and knowledge of those who preceded us.

This article (Melting Stone With Plants: Was the Mythical ‘Green Chisel’ A Real Ancient Tool?) was originally created for Ancient Origins and is published here under Creative Commons.

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