THE CYGNUS KEY: THE DENISOVAN LEGACY, GÖBEKLI TEPE, AND THE BIRTH OF EGYPT
Andrew Collins with Rodney Hale | 464 pages | Bear & Company | 2018 | ISBN 978-1591432999
READ PART 1
In the first part of my review of The Cygnus Key, I reviewed Andrew Collins’s views on the supposedly prehistoric origins of a cult that worships the constellation of Cygnus the Swan as a vulture that leads souls to heaven. I also noted that this part of the volume, a third of its length, is essentially little more than a summary of Collins’s previous books going back a decade. In the remainder of the book, Collins finally gets to the meat of his thesis, starting with what he calls “The Giza Revelation.”
It was … disappointing. Collins and his co-researcher, Hale, offer more math games based on the geography of the Giza pyramid field, and a lot of it is simply unconvincing since the supposed correlations don’t actually align to any of the obvious or inherent features of Giza but instead are predicated on the belief that the imaginary lines drawn on the Giza plateau align to the position of Cygnus’s various stars as viewed from unlikely angles, such as a point on the east side of Khafre’s pyramid where a line drawn perpendicular to the Sphinx’s head would hit it, if, from that point, you then turn 37 degrees to the south based on a fictive 3-4-5 triangle created with this point and a nearby hill. If that sounds confusing, well, Cygnus is apparently so mysterious that it defies logic. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the irregularly shaped hill of Gebel el-Qibli can support many different fictitious lines since its shape is variable enough that the point you choose atop it to represent your anchor point can alter the angles enough to “align” with anything. Their drawing of the feature does not match topographic maps of it, except roughly, but it looks like they were aiming for the highest point. It’s actually quite interesting how the choices made by the mapmakers change the “alignments” depending on where the isobars are drawn. Any theory must also contend with any erosion that Gebel el-Qibli experienced over the past 5,000 or more years.
Anyway, Collins’s geometric speculation finds its basis in the occult ideas of R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, which casts a bit of a pall over the proceedings. At one point, Collins claims that dividing the distance from Gebel el-Qibli by three (to represent the units of a 3-4-5 triangle) produces a length equal to the height of Khafre’s pyramid, and this “could not be without meaning.” From this he concludes that Khafre’s pyramid is actually the most important pyramid and the key to understanding all of history. He speculates that a “bad omen” led Giza’s builders to complete the Great Pyramid first, thus obscuring the world-historical importance of the measurements of Khafre’s pyramid. At best, if we take everything he claims at face value, he only proved that in the pre-dynastic period, two rocky outcroppings were used to situate a stone platform with some simple geometry.
But Collins descends into numerological mumbo-jumbo, spouting old Victorian ideas about the ratios and proportions of the Great Pyramid and its supposed relationship to Earth measurements and astrology. He throws in some of Robert Temple’s ideas about Egypt pioneering Pythagorean ideas about music, and the supposed cosmic import of musical octaves—the so-called music of the spheres, thought to be the inaudible sound of the stars as they circle the sky. It’s all material that has been debunked before, and is presented here undigested, another random block of fringy speculation with little overarching story or through-line. Instead, it degenerates into a lengthy digression on Classical and Mesopotamian religious beliefs about the “world-soul” and Orphic beliefs about life after death.
Surely at this point even the most credulous of Collins’s readers will wonder what all of this retreaded material from his earlier books has to do with the Denisovans and the supposed subject of the current volume. Perhaps Collins started to realize the same thing because he tracks back to Göbekli Tepe to argue that parts of that site are also in a 4:3 ratio, which, rather than recognizing as a fairly common and aesthetically pleasing rectangular shape, he instead links to Pythagorean triangles and cosmic music. Therefore, he concludes, the site was actually meant to be a machine for generating terrific acoustics, and this knowledge of using stone to make pretty music “was carried from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic world of Anatolia into Egypt’s Nile Valley at a very early date.” He compares this to other fringy claims that various ancient stone buildings “resonate” at various frequencies to imagine a vast diffusion of secret sonic knowledge from Anatolia across the Old Word.
The fifth section of the book extends the geometry games further. Collins claims that an equilateral triangle drawn from the Second Pyramid at Giza to the Red Pyramid at Dashur and a limestone quarry used in pharaonic times can be bisected by a straight line drawn from Khafre’s pyramid to Helwan, the prehistoric site. Well, almost. It’s off by a degree, but what’s one degree between friends when your whole argument is that Egyptian architects were precise to a hundredth of an inch?
Based on his piles of overlapping triangles, Collins next argues that Heliopolis, the sacred heart of Egypt, was an interloper that “stole” the claim and history of the true genesis point of Egypt, Helwan. This leads to many chapters exploring, sometimes factually and sometimes speculatively, the sacred geography of ancient Egypt. I have no idea what this endless digression into mythology and etymology is meant to accomplish, since it has precious little tie to the overall thesis of the book except to attempt to link any and every mythic bird to Cygnus. By the end, this includes: swans, vultures, falcons, eagles, herons, the Roc, the bennu bird, and a generic “bird.” At some point, this becomes untenable. If it can be anything, then there is no way to distinguish factual connections from random speculation.
This leads into material about the Edfu Building Texts recycled from Collins’s own Gods of Eden, derived from Eve E. A. Reymond’s 1969 book The Mythical Origin of the Egyptian Temple. Beneath all of the blustery discussion, the salient point is that he wants us to take the texts literally when they say that all Egyptian temples are copies of pre-dynastic primeval originals from a now-destroyed island, thus allowing Collins to suggest that Egyptian culture came to Egypt from abroad, in the Neolithic, as a result of the Younger Dryas comet impact (the one no one has yet proved happened). Collins echoes Graham Hancock here, who delivered the same claim in Magicians of the Gods, and Hancock was in turn recycling material from Collins. He speculates that Egyptian knowledge of architecture and geometry and astronomy all came from Helwan, where a cult spent more than 6,000 years (9600 BCE to 3000 BCE) perfecting them without leaving behind much more than a trace of such knowledge. Imhotep supposedly had access to these teachings and used them to develop temples and the Step Pyramid.
Does this sound a bit like the medieval myth of Hermes preserving antediluvian knowledge in Egyptian temples and pyramids before the Flood? It should. Even though Collins avoids mentioning it, there are enough clues in his book to make manifest that this medieval legend is the ultimate source of his own speculation, and the framework that allowed him to slot all of history into a fictional narrative, even if we did not already know this from his previous books.
And those claims are a doozy! Collins and Hancock both agree that a wandering tribe of learned super-geniuses from Göbekli Tepe spread culture around the ancient Near East and were immortalized as the founders of the Egyptian temples, the Seven Sages, the Watchers, etc. etc. He argues for a connection between Göbekli Tepe and Egypt based on similarities that are hardly unique: orienting some structures to the north, using 3:2 ratios (though it was 3:4 that was so important earlier in the book), venerating the circumpolar stars, etc.
A sixth section tries to make something more of this than coincidence and the rather frequent cross-cultural interest in stars that never set. Not to belabor it, but Collins again resorts to recycling, recapping much of his own Cygnus Mystery (2006) and his book on Göbekli Tepe to argue for a massive Cygnus cult headed by adepts who passed on “starry wisdom.” Whether that phrase and earlier references to when stars or times “were right” is intentionally echoing H. P. Lovecraft, I cannot say. Instead, I will focus on the main claim, which is that Collins claims to trace a cosmological view that sees the sky as rotating around a cosmic axis and a swan as the guardian of such a pole back to Siberian shamanism and to Central Asia, which he connects to the homeland of the Aryans—sorry, Indo-Europeans—and the Bronze Age white-skinned mummies with European features found in China. He tries to make a case that Central Asia had a large and active lost white race who became the Indo-Europeans and the Yi people of southeast Asia. All of these groups, he says, centered around the Altai Mountains, where the Denisovans lived about 40,000 years earlier. Therefore, he says in triumph, it is not entirely speculation to suggest that a lost white race of giant Denisovan Nephilim interbred with dark-skinned humans to birth the Aryan race—sorry, Indo-Europeans—and invent high civilization. Oh, and of course this region was also the paradise of Shamballa, or Shangri-La, as well as Hyperborea.
What a shame that Heinrich Himmler missed out on all this by focusing on the Himalayas instead of the Altai Mountains as the homeland of the Aryan race.
Anyway, Collins thinks that Greek references to Hyperborea preserve a memory of the Denisovans because in Aelian’s On Animals 11.1, he quotes Hecataeus of Abdera to the effect that Apollo’s priests in Hyperborea were three brothers “six cubits in height” who could command swans. This, he says, is a recollection of Siberian shamans who worshiped Cygnus and whose high stature derived from their Denisovan ancestry. Far be it from me to complain, but the passage from Aelian, describing a temple, choruses of singers, etc. is far enough removed from shamanism that it would be difficult to draw conclusions, even if we do suspect shamanic influence on the priesthood.
The recourse to shamanism involves citing claims that the appearance of number like 72 and 432 in Siberian tradition is proof that (a) the Siberians inherited a prehistoric estimate of the precession of the equinoxes identifying one the motion of the stars as 71.6 years per one degree of a 360-degree circle and (b) encoded an approximation of it (72) in their rituals and myths. I discussed this six years ago, and my thoughts on it have not changed:
The fact is that the numbers they identified in myth have a much simpler explanation: they are all multiples of 2 and 3, the smallest numbers capable of generating complex multiples. We tend to think in tens because we use Arabic numerals, but this isn’t how ancient people thought. Early peoples, who did not use a decimal system, tended to use multiples of 2 and 3 because these were the easiest numbers for generating large multiples. We do not need to make recourse to the stars—much less astrological constellations not finalized in size, shape, or form until the Greeks—to explain them. Consider this: If we already believe the ancients had the 360 degree circle, why do we need precession to “explain” “precessional numbers” since they are all fractions of or multiples of the 360 degree circle?
But all of this is dependent on the accuracy of one modern book by an Altaic novelist and spiritual writer, Nikolai Shodoev, and I have been unable to confirm that the elaborate calendrical system he describes is recorded in any other mainstream scholarly source.
Collins suggests, as Hancock has—based on the Hamlet’s Mill of Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend—that this ancient wisdom diffused Indo-European territories from Europe to India and also to some pre-Aryan cultures that were the first to inherit this wisdom, including the Sumerians and the people of Göbekli Tepe. Others, like the Chinese, he implies, gained the same knowledge secondhand from the first groups.
Having done all this, Collins then asks if we can assume that mere human beings—you know, the species that went to the moon and eradicated smallpox and invented the internet—were capable of inventing the ability to multiply groups of two and three, or to observe the stars. He says no and suggests that only Denisovans could have originated such advances. Not to put too fine a point on it, but he believes that the fact that Denisovan fossils are associated with early and advanced jewelry and needlework, and that 3% of Asian DNA can be traced to Denisovans means that these people bred their superior genes into anatomically modern humans and thus transferred genius through interbreeding.
From the slim evidence that Denisovans were a contributor to the early human story, Collins concludes that we can project Classical Greek accounts of Asian cults 40,000 years into the past to conclude that the Denisovans were giants who worshiped swans and were remembered accurately tens of thousands of years after their extinction, while the same Greeks couldn’t quite remember who the Mycenaeans were less than a thousand years before their own time, and had almost entirely forgotten the Minoans. Similarly, he attributes folktales of a swan maiden to Denisovans, as though swans and animal transformation stories were so rare that only a 40,000-year memory of strange white giants could explain them.
He also claims, based on a German genetic study of Denisovan DNA, that the Denisovans had “autistic” genes that made them mathematical savants. He claims, based on no evidence I know, that Denisovans had an alien, supernatural appearance: “their heads large and perhaps elongated, their jaws would have been of greater size, while their strange, eyes, deep eye sockets and thick brow ridges would have made them look just a little scary.” He compares them to the “largest” WWE wrestlers. No evidence of these traits exists; this is entirely speculation based on the robustness of the four known bone fragments. Certainly, there is not a lick of evidence for elongated skulls. Collins simply applies Ancient Aliens accounts of space aliens to the known features of other hominin species.
To cut the remainder short, Collins believes that the Denisovans were centered in the Ergaki mountains, which he feels were the natural feature that served as model for the pyramids of Egypt, Göbekli Tepe, and even the Hindu Mount Meru—the very axis of the world. He gives too much credence to a local legend that a giant sleeps under the earth. It’s so common a trope worldwide that it is almost quaint to see him try to argue that the story actually refers to robust Denisovans at 40,000 years’ remove.
And that’s it.
The book ends with no payoff and no conclusion, only speculation that the Denisovans invented math and swan-worship and passed that on to the humans who eventually colonized the Old World during a series of invasions from central Asia, culminating in the Indo-European colonization of Europe and South Asia. The claim is unproven, but also largely uninteresting. Beneath the layers of myth and occultism, there just isn’t much too it unless you are a Theosophist or astrologer and attach some sort of real meaning to the precession of the equinoxes and the perturbation of the spheres.
In this volume, Collins seems to be striving to be taken seriously. He does not mention the Nephilim or the Watchers by name, though they stand behind everything he says, and he studiously avoids all but sidelong references to high technology and lost civilizations. But the more seriously he wants to be taken, the more boring his book becomes, and the more obvious the lack of research and depth in his writing. His sources are almost uniformly old and out-of-date, many going back to Victorian times, and he seems incapable of critically assessing information, placing unusual levels of trust in others’ work.
The undercurrent, though, connecting the Denisovans to high culture and also to white skin and Indo-Europeans—which Collins never explicitly states, and often buries under conflicting and contradictory claims—is nevertheless disturbing. It’s another version of an old story, of a small, white elite, possessed of nearly supernatural powers, who seeded culture around the world. It’s another variation of the Watchers myth, this time with a non-human species substituting for the Fallen Angels, but run through the Victorian ideology that led to the modern myths of Atlantis, Mound Builders, Solutreans, etc.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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