Apparently I don’t keep up with all of my pseudo-archaeology. I try, heaven knows. But there’s just so damn much of it. Every time I turn around somebody or another is making wild claims about the human past. Somehow, I missed Andrew Collins’ silly foray into alternative archaeoastronomy called The Cygnus Mystery. Obviously modeled on Robert Temple's The Sirius Mystery and Robert Bauval’s The Orion Mystery, Collins’ 2007 book and DVD and his 2010 article in the Lost Knowledge of the Ancients Graham Hancock reader claim that ancient sites around the world can be linked to the constellation Cygnus, or the Swan.
I’m sure you’ll remember Collins from his Gateway to Atlantis (2000), where he claimed Atlantis was really Cuba and was destroyed by a comet. His work on Cygnus is more difficult to critique because it is based largely on assumptions and interpretations rather than disprovable fact.
Let’s first dispense with the facts of Cygnus, such as they are. Cygnus is a cruciform constellation defined by six primary stars, comprising the center point and the four arms of a fairly (but not perfectly) regular cross on the familiar Christian pattern, with three short arms and one longer one. It was one of Ptolemy’s 48 constellations and therefore has a pedigree stretching at least to ancient Greece. The Greeks envisioned this constellation as a swan and identified it with the swan form Zeus used to seduce Lyda, or the swan Orpheus became after death. The Arabs considered it an eagle. In North America, native peoples viewed the constellation as a goose. In all depictions, the bird is seen in the spread eagle pose, with wings and tail represented by the short arms of the cross and the head and neck of the bird represented by the long arm, either seen as a long neck or a large beak.
Based on this, Collins asserts that at the Lascaux Cave, an image of a seated, short-necked bird with wings folded is therefore a 17,000-year-old depiction of Cygnus, despite the clear and obvious differences between it and the Classic version of the constellation. He also claims a Paleolithic depiction of a woman’s vagina at Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave is also the constellation, representing the “dark rift” of the Milky Way emerging from its stars.
From here, it is a short hop to his next series of claims. For him, any depiction of a bird in the ancient world is therefore Cygnus. Better still: Since the stars of Cygnus form a rough cross, he also claims for the constellation a role as the originator of Christ’s cross and every other cruciform religious symbol. The ancients, apparently, had never conceived of anything as complex as a cross until they envisioned one in the sky. But, according to the evidence, the bird constellation only became identified with a cross medieval Europe, when “pagan” constellations were unsuccessfully Christianized. (Based on this, many mystics currently claim the constellation to have magical powers sent from Christ.)
Sadly, Collins knows enough to reference the work of David Lewis-Williams on the role of altered states of consciousness in the development of spirituality but then uses this as mere coloring to claim that the true source of spirituality was Cygnus—and the alleged cosmic rays he thinks fell to earth from that part of the sky, sparking human evolution. There are cosmic rays that have been detected in that part of the sky; but in order to claim the ancients knew of them, he has to propose an advanced ancient civilization, alien intervention, or (his current version) that altered states of consciousness made cosmic rays visible to shamans! His specific claim is that shamans saw “phosphenes” deep inside caves—flashes of light due to cosmic radiation, though he does not explain how they would connect these underground flashes to a specific sector of the aboveground sky. The shamans somehow intuited these flashes came from outer space, were mutating their DNA, and should therefore be enshrined in world religion as a manifestation of the divine creation of humanity.
Whether this is technically possible or not, this claim rests entirely on the assumption that a vagina and a sitting duck are representations of Cygnus—which can’t be proved. Other authors, like Richard Leviton, are even more explicit and consider Cygnus the constellation where “ET activity” meets “mystical initiatory experience” because—wait for it—Cygnus is a swan and swans are compared to vimanas (flying chariots) in Sanskrit literature, and vimanas are really alien spacecraft (because ancient astronaut theorists tell us so); therefore, Cygnus is the sign and the seal of alien intervention!
Collins, like other alternative thinkers, can imagine no internal mental processes and thus has to find an external reason—like cosmic firecrackers—that ancient people would meditate deep in caves. Lewis-Williams was able to explain this perfectly well through appeals to sensory deprivation and altered states of consciousness without any compounding and confounding external stimuli. There is no reason to add them in on the strength of Collins’ ideas about the real purpose of pictures of female anatomy. Nor is there any reason to suspect, on the sole strength of this ambiguous cave art, that Paleolithic people would have had any idea about the “mutagenic” effects of Cygnus’ cosmic rays, much less the ability to turn them into a tenet of world religion.
I hope it also goes without saying that Cygnus would not have been the “original” of the Christian cross or the Orphic cross, as Collins claims, since the Greeks viewed the constellation as a bird, not a cross.
10/1/2012 11:45:20 pm
you either read the book with bias, or did not read it at all. your conclusions are tersely emotional, and ignore the esoteric history of cygnus as a one-time pole star..
10/2/2012 12:36:09 am
I did not criticize the idea that ancient people 15,000 years ago might have cared about the general region of Cygnus as the home of the pole star, but what evidence is there that the cave art in question represents specific constellations? We cannot trace constellations back before Babylon with any confidence, let alone project them back 20,000 years on the strength of images that have much better and more coherent explanations.
10/2/2012 04:03:26 am
Collins is not a "scientist", and is cut from a different cloth than those who constantly ask "where is the proof?". As a reader of his books, I have been genuinely entertained, and he even managed to provoke a thought or two in my mind. The proper approach to reading one of his books is to ask "what if?".
10/2/2012 12:06:23 pm
I've not read the book, but find interesting the idea that cosmic rays from the centre of the galaxy would trigger human evolution.. a theory worth considering regardless of what pseudoscience exists in the book. The Galactic Centre has a profound effect on human civilisation that we do not fully understand. Unfortunately, there are many who intuit this, but then discredit the theory by making up pseudoscience which is empirically incorrect. Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater.
2/16/2013 04:54:24 pm
Please, then, provide us with ACTUAL science that indicates that "the galactic center" has ANY effect on human civilization, beyond happening to be the center of the galaxy our world is in.
10/2/2012 12:19:13 pm
Let's also remember that the best of science once thought that the Earth was flat and the best of science wanted to silence Galileo.
terry the censor
10/9/2012 04:13:44 pm
Mr. Colavito shows that Collins' theory has no basis in fact -- indeed, Collins makes up facts.
Dr Greg Little
10/10/2012 06:15:56 am
With respect to the identification of Cygnus with the bird painting in Lascaux Caves it wasn't Collins who came up with the idea that it was Cygnus, it was the archaeologists who investigated it. Of course there are various archaeological papers that have asserted that there are alignments between Cygnus and significant aspects of ancient sites. There is nothing wrong with debating someone's assertions by being "scientific" but the selective presentation you make shows so much bias that you have no credibility.
10/10/2012 06:24:25 am
So much bias that I have no credibility? I think you are confusing judgment with bias. Bias means that I would never consider the argument, dismissing it as prima facie stupid, or failing to evaluate it fairly. Judgment means evaluating the evidence and presenting a conclusion. You may well disagree with that conclusion, but I have laid out the evidence I used to produce it.
Dr Greg Little
10/10/2012 12:59:05 pm
You didn't read the 350-page book. That says volumes, so to speak. Instead you watched a 50-some minute documentary that actually stated at the end that it was impossible to cite all the evidence in the book. It's like doing a book report on some huge text by only reading a comic book. You started with a bias that your "review" actually admitted--that you review "pseudo-archaeology." It's useless going further. My assessment is that "main stream" archaeologists and archaeology followers are simply envious and jealous of those who get attention in what they see as their personal domain. Mainstream archaeology doesn't sell books well for a simple reason--they all are walking to the same beat, following a set of predetermined beliefs that must be supported. Anyone who steps out of those "belief" bounds is bashed. Archaeology ought to follow a path like psychology did--but the problem is that they are terrified that their belief system is wrong. But you are certainly entitled to your beliefs and statements about all of this. But it is no wonder that archaeology is in ruins. (smile)
10/10/2012 01:09:50 pm
I trust you realize that this is a blog post and not a full book review, magazine article, etc. Specifically, I was reviewing Collins' article in the "Graham Hancock Reader," which presents the material I discussed, and as the most recent word on the subject should therefore be the most current version of Collins' theory.
Dr Greg Little
10/10/2012 01:42:17 pm
OK, I understand. But what is on Hancock's site isn't close to the full story. (There is more on Collins' Cygnus speculations on You Tube--if you search for Secret Caves of Giza."
terry the censor
10/10/2012 03:49:43 pm
Dr. Little, I can't take your critique here seriously. One, you say Collins' idea was actually introduced by archeaologists who investigated the caves, yet you provide no names. Two, you turn around and say archeologists are not open to these very ideas!
Dr Greg Little
10/11/2012 02:38:18 am
You want me to basicalloy retype everything in Collins' book here? Read the book, the references are there. Of course, you won't.
10/11/2012 03:22:29 am
Forgive me, but I hope you realize that I read an extraordinary amount of "alternative" work every year, far more than anyone could reasonably be expected to put up with. When you say "of course you won't," you are being needlessly insulting.
terry the censor
10/11/2012 05:15:54 am
> You want me to basically retype everything in Collins' book here?
10/10/2012 06:32:06 am
It was said here that Andrew did not say how the shamans could have known the light flashes were from Cygnus. I have not read the book but I clearly remember from the docco about it that Andrew claims that they knew it from observing when Cygnus went below the horizon, so that in these times the cosmic rays emitted from CygnusX-3 were absorbed by the Earth rather than being seen in the caves and that the shamans could see that and put 2 and 2 together. Although, another neutron star almost directly opposite Cygnus in the sky was also emitting high energy rays.. so when Cygnus set, theoretically, the neutron star in Simeis 147 should have taken over the light show. Also - I would ask if high energy rays do not pass right through the earth making no difference if Cygnus was set or not?
10/10/2012 06:34:30 am
That's rather a lot of assumptions to get the shamans to the suggestion that flashes of light in caves came from Cygnus, isn't it?
Dr Greg Little
10/10/2012 01:51:05 pm
The assertion that the deep cave light flashes came from Cygnus comes from to sources. In the early 1980s the NUSEX group in France picked up cosmic rays on a set of sensors located deep in Mont Blanc. Another such array 500 meters below ground in Minnesota, called "Soudan I" picked up the same. Another array in Germany called "Fly Eye" got them too. All 3 sites published the source as Cygnus X3. They called these very powerful rays "cygnets." Until that time they had not realized that cosmic rays could be so powerful that they could penetrate deep into the earth.
10/10/2012 01:54:10 pm
I know the rays actually exist; the question is whether Paleolithic people could have known that. To prove that would require a nearly unfathomable number of assumptions to overcome a near total absence of evidence.
Dr Greg Little
10/10/2012 02:02:51 pm
You are right. It is speculation, and that's what speculative writers do. It is a lot like archaeologist Dr Ken Feder, the most ardent and visible archaeological skeptic, holding up 3 pot shards and generating an entire back story of an entire culture--which he has done on documentaries. A lot of archaeology is speculation. So it's an interesting idea generated by a few facts that are tied together in a specific way. There are certainly other ways to tie them together. But as far as current physics relates, so far cygnets are only ones they have been able to detect in deep earth.
10/10/2012 07:17:27 am
I don't think so actually. All the genius had to do back then was take drugs, sit in caves, watch the stars and build things. For a start, realistically, radiation does cause variation which is the bread and butter of evolution. Secondly, the geometry of the universe may hold secrets - a language - regulation science has yet to establish but that could be intuited, instead. Nothing much else to look at but the stars, back then. No t.v. No internets. No phones. just the stars. Who knows how the mind might choose to represent what it understood, what it read in the stars? in the language it saw? Who says there isn't one? Can we see high energy rays? maybe not with our eyes but it is not impossible that we might perceive it physically.. I mean it's not like there was nothing emitting from Cygnus X-3 to perceive. The jumps are big, yeah, but sometimes you have to judge a thing by its sublimnity and beauty, for the proper scientific measures of judging it have not been invented yet.
10/10/2012 07:23:45 am
My point exactly. We can't know, and any attempt at guessing is just that--guesses. It is simply impossible to prove that Paleolithic people had esoteric knowledge of cosmic waves, and even if they did, that they attributed them to the sky or even a specific constellation. Why would they assume, for starters, that the rays came from the sky? Wouldn't the logical assumption be that they emerged from the earth, which is, by all accounts, the primary focus of the oldest surviving myths?
Dr Greg Little
10/10/2012 02:05:26 pm
Unrelated? Are you related to Rocky Colavito?
10/10/2012 11:24:43 pm
Only as closely as I am to Colavita Olive Oil. We share a common ancestor about 200 years ago, but that's as close as it gets.
Algore King of the Gores
6/12/2013 07:53:18 am
The book makes a interesting read, and the idea's put forward, are just as plausible as any others.
6/10/2015 05:58:13 am
Relative to this statement: 'His specific claim is that shamans saw “phosphenes” deep inside caves—flashes of light due to cosmic radiation, though he does not explain how they would connect these underground flashes to a specific sector of the aboveground sky'
6/10/2015 09:32:36 am
I personally found this book very interesting, It is important for us to always retain an open mind, as this is how many of our greatest discoveries have been made. If no one ever challenged the norm there would be no progress. Andrew Collins has made a valid case for a different hypothesis about a time when none of us modern humans were around. Remember we have no real idea of how our ancestors thought processes worked or what they were trying to achieve.
Liz, you are partially correct in saying, "Remember we have no real idea of how our ancestors thought processes worked or what they were trying to achieve." The "we" applies to rationalists that dictate thought processes from memory (rote). Prior to dependencies on known thoughts, our ancestors would not only have been open minded, they would have used prescience aiding devices to bring about unknown thoughts. Once tested, these "unknown thoughts" became the fields of academic rituals for those that did not have the original thought but desired to maintain it for posterity, i.e., Religion. The talismans of shamans brought about consciousness with added power of belief.
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