Review of Civilization One by Knight and Butler
Civilization One: The World is not as You Thought it Was by Christopher Knight and Alan Butler, 2004, London: Watkins Publishing; 258 pages, illustrations, index
Christopher Knight’s and Alan Butler’s Civilization One reads like the notes for a much better book that could be written by authors less awestruck by their own cleverness. Superficial and often unreadable for the density of mathematical equations, the book commits the first sin of popular literature: it is no fun to read. Crammed into just over 250 pages are so many unbelievable assertions and unproven speculations that it would take a book-sized rebuttal to adequately do justice to the triumph of numerology represented in these pages. In such space as this, I can only briefly address a few of their major claims.
The book surrounds the mystery of the Megalithic Yard, a hypothetical unit of measurement 82.96656 cm long identified by engineer Alexander Thom as the unit used to build the great structures of Ireland’s and Britain’s Neolithic, sites like Newgrange and Stonehenge. The whole edifice of Civilization One is predicated on the acceptance of the Megalithic Yard as something more than a coincidence or the thousand year average of humans measuring with their palms, ten of which average just about the same as the imagined measurement. Moreover, given the poor condition of Neolithic monuments today, it is impossible to record their measurements to the ten-thousandth of a millimeter, the standard apparently used to derive this unit of measurement.
This is no problem for Knight and Butler, who accept the Megalithic Yard (MY) uncritically here, as Knight has in his earlier books like Uriel’s Machine (2001), which claimed the survival of ancient cultic (“angelic”) knowledge in present-day political elites and Freemasons. Here the two authors, speaking of themselves always in the third person (“Chris picked up the phone and told Alan…”), use the MY as the basis for their own numerological investigation into the origin of ancient civilizations worldwide. They link the MY to the rotation of the earth, asserting that the ancients viewed circles and the earth as having 366 degrees, six more than today. This 366 is the number of rotations the earth makes during one revolution of the sun (the difference between this and the 365 solar days is due to earth’s forward motion around the sun) and because the moon’s circumference is 3.66 times smaller than earth’s (a neat but meaningless coincidence for people who lived before zero and decimal places). The authors believe a lost civilization understood these facts and used them as the basis of their measurements, handing them down. For this to be true, the ancients would need to have known that the earth was round, that the earth travels around the sun, and the distance from the earth to the moon. The authors give no evidence for this other than the presence of the assumed MY, their sole evidence for this lost civilization.
Knight and Butler freely admit that they began their speculation by assuming that the Megalithic Yard is geodetic: “This means it was derived from the geometry of the earth itself – specifically it was based on the polar circumference of the planet.” The authors are then amazed to discover that if you assume the Earth has 366 degrees, each of which is divided into 60 minutes and then 6 arc seconds, you find that each second is 366 MY long. They provide no reason to assume these values other than “Alan [Butler] had reasons to believe” it was so. Nevertheless the fact remains: they assumed the MY was geodetic and used their math to prove their own assumption. They measured out their MY by using the rotation of earth itself and were then shocked to discover that their measurements had a relationship to the earth. This is something like watching a chicken lay an egg and then feeling shocked that the egg hatched out a chicken.
Building on their “findings,” the authors correlate MYs with other historic units of measurement, demonstrating that cubes made from sides with fractional MYs produce known units of weight and volume, including pints and pounds. They then go on to make some outlandish claims based upon the recurrence of numbers like six and ten when cosmic values like the mass of the earth are converted into ancient measures. Even the authors admit that these arguments are unconvincing, but they believe they should be taken as part of a “holistic” approach to science and math. If it feels good, believe it.
Nevertheless, let us assume for a moment that all of these measurements are completely correct and genuinely ancient. What would they prove? They would only prove that people with the same geometric knowledge as the ancient Greeks invented some units of measurement that caught on in some parts of the ancient world. This is a far cry from Knight’s and Butler’s ultimate contention that so miraculous is the number 366 when used in “base 10” that it can only represent the legacy of a lost civilization channeled directly from the “Great Architect of the Universe.” Further, the Megalithic yard is so versatile that according to the authors, it also represents the note C-sharp and the color blue when converted into sound and electromagnetic waves. The authors claim that the magical properties of 366 have shaken their agnostic world-view.
But this is to be expected from authors who have clearly done little research. They display no awareness that knowledge is a process of accretion, wondering why early people, with the same brains as today’s humans, could not have invented higher math. They seem not to remember that one must first have giants before one can stand on their shoulders. Worse, their so-called “facts” show no sense of any critical thinking. At one point the authors outrageously say that 730 million Egyptians were mummified, misunderstanding the website they lightly paraphrase, whose own material was lifted verbatim from the Microsoft Encarta encyclopedia. The Encarta claimed 730 million bodies—cats, humans, ibises, etc.—were mummified, a number that is still high by other estimates. Such poor research makes it hard to trust their unreferenced information, and an over-reliance on the deus ex machina of a lost civilization destroys the few genuinely interesting arguments they present in the book.
Since so much of their work revolves around the magic of 366, the mystery of Civilization One lives and dies by the reality of the Megalithic Yard and the 366-degree circle. This reality never conclusively shown, but through repetition of their assertions Knight and Butler want us to believe that it is, promising still more information in a forthcoming book. The authors never really explain where those extra six hypothetical degrees went to leave us with a 360-degree circle, but perhaps they don’t have to. It seems clear from their work that the missing six degrees are the six degrees of separation which link every actor to Kevin Bacon and every numerological coincidence to a lost civilization.
This review first appeared in Skeptic 11.3 (2005). © 2005 Jason Colavito. All rights reserved. Reproduction of this article is strictly forbidden without the express written permission of Skeptic magazine and the author.