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Writing about Outrageous Hypotheses and Extraordinary Possibilities: A View from The Trenches

Yonaguni

Recently I've been spending much less time at Giza. The research for my new book involves diving to possible sites of underwater ruins all around the world. Some of Santha Faiia's photographs from these dives are on display in the Gallery pages of this website.

The most difficult problem that we have faced, and an extraordinarily complex one, is how to decide whether these predominantly monolithic structures were shaped and carved by human hands or whether they could have ended up looking the way they do as a result of natural weathering. If they are natural then their significance does not exceed their geological curiosity. But if they were made by people then, ultimately, they have the potential to force through a revolution in society's perception of prehistory. This -- to state the obvious! -- is because they must have been carved out the surrounding bedrock before sea-level rose to its present height. In some cases this suggests an age of at least 12,000 years.

Might these underwater structures be relics of a lost, antediluvian civilisation - and since they are found all around the world, might this prehistoric civilisation have been global before it was destroyed?

There is incredibly strong resistance to such ideas. An example is the way in which ignorant, idle people, who are often too cowardly or too incompetent to scuba dive in the dangerous waters that swirl around the Japanese island of Yonaguni, nevertheless rush to assert that the underwater structures there are purely natural geological phenomena that have had nothing to do with the works of man. The same goes for what I call the "tourist academics" who come to Yonaguni, do four or five dives and leave, again declaring that the structures are natural.

A recent example of the latter is the German geologist Wolf Wichmann who made a total of just three dives at Yonaguni this summer and then declared - in Der Spiegel magazine (34/1999)- "I didn't find anything that was man-made."

Here, translated into English, is Der Spiegel's story about Wichmann's "expedition":

STEPS TO NOWHERE

Just off the coast of Japan there is a submerged rock monument 10,000 years old - perhaps a relic of a previously unknown super civilisation?

The expedition ship dropped anchor near the south Japanese island of Yonaguni under a bright blue sky. Wolf Wichmann, a graduate geologist from Seevetak, near Hamburg, struggled into his neoprene suit and stuck a hammer and foot-rule into his belt. Then the rock expert, a good 9000 kilometres from home,jumped into the sea.

Almost immediately the expert found himself facing a massif that was straight out of a sci-fi movie. Below him a stepped tower some 25 metres high rose from the ocean floor. The frogman swam past platforms and patios covered with algae, and inspected flights of steps and huge chunks of rock that looked as though they had been cut by a diamond saw.

What kind of architectural alien was lying there in Japan's territorial waters? The oldest structure in the world? Atlantis in the Pacific? One of the greatest discoveries in the history of archaeology? This mysterious monument has been the cause of scares and flash headlines for months on end.

The sandstone block is some 200 metres long, its highest plateau some five metres below the surface. According to experts, this structure must have been sinking slowly into the ocean for over 10,000 years.

The pyramids were discovered by skin-diver Kihachiro Aratake back in 1986. While plotting an underwater chart he discovered, 250 metres from the island, a rocky massif whose cliffs rose upwards like the "walls of a castle". The structure looked like "an Inca temple", said the diver. He was seized by "fear and emotion". "I thought I was seeing something supernatural."

There might actually be something in that. 10,000 years ago, primitive hunter-gatherers roamed the coasts of Japan. So who created this monumental structure?

Japan's marine scientists haven't got a clue. "It is unlikely to be anything natural" said the oceanographer Terukai Ishii from Tokyo. Masaaki Kimura, a marine researcher at the Rykyus University (Okinawa) talks about "a masterpiece". He thinks the sandstone is a sacred edifice built by a hitherto unknown "new culture" possessing advanced technical abilities. But which one?

The debate going on in the Orient has awakened the curiosity of the West. People with second sight find themselves magically attracted by "Iseki Point ("ruins"). At the beginning of 1998 the geologist Robert Schoch, who believes the Sphinx was built by the people of Atlantis, swam down to the site and declared it to be "most interesting". The guru of ancient antiquity and best-selling author Graham Hancock was also investigating the site. After an excursion in a submersible he records that at the base of the monument can be seen a "clearly-defined path".

However the rock expert Wolf Wichmann could not corroborate these conclusions. In the company of a team from SPIEGEL TV he returned to explore the coastal area, under threat from tsunamis. In a total of three diving operations he gathered rock samples and measured the steps and "walls". He was unconvinced by his findings: "I didn't find anything that was man-made".

During the inspection it was revealed that the "gigantic temple" (Aratake) is nothing but naturally produced bedded rock. The sandstone is traversed by vertical cracks and horizontal crevices. Perpendicularity and steps have gradually developed in the fracture zones. The plateaux at the top are referred to by Wichmann as typical "eroded plains". Such flat areas occur when bedded rock is located right in the path of the wash of the waves."

Suggestive pictures rich in detail and contrast may indeed reveal something else, but in general the mass of rock looks like a structure rising out of a sandy bed, with no sign of architectural design. The plateaux have gradient sections, and there is no perpendicular wall. Some of the steps just end nowhere; others are in a spiral, like steep hen-roosts.

The stony blocks show no signs of mechanical working. "Had the 'ashlars' been hewn by tools, they would have been studded with flutes and cuts and scratches", said Wichmann. Three circular recesses on the topmost plateau, referred to by Kimura as column foundations, are nothing but "potholes". These occur when water washes through narrow spaces.

Facts like these fail to stem the current epidemic of mystery-fever. The Yonaguni monument has for some time played a key role in the world picture of archaeological dreamers. An "Atlantis Team" boldly declared on the Internet: "We found ourselves at the opening of an arched arcade of stone". At other websites the crag becomes a "ceremonial centre with broad promenades, flanked by pylon gateways."

Oceanographer Kimura bolsters such propositions with even more exploratory results. He has also discovered even more sites in the waters around the island near Okinawa. Cones and rock debris overgrown with algae become "boulevards, altars and rooms in temples."

The media are keen to take part in this explanatory drivel [presumably with the exception of Der Spiegel and Der Spiegel TV?]. In Japan Yonaguni has long been the navel of the world, and a new Mecca of primordial times. Brewers and Japan Airlines are on the bandwagon of the sub-aqueus Babylon in the Far east. The TV Broadcasters CNN and Channel Four were already there with their camera teams. Now the experts from the BBC wish to plumb these legendary depths.

The natives of Yonaguni are quite glad to see this ballyhoo of people. The monument's discoverer, Kihachiro Aratake, is gratified by the influx of visitors to his small island home. "I am happy that everyone comes here, the foreigners too!" beams the explorer.

These patriotic high spirits are not without some self-interest, however. Kihachiro Aratake runs a big diving shop on the island. His parents own a hotel there.

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