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The Cygnus Mystery: Did Cosmic Rays Affect Human Evolution? (cont.)
By Andrew Collins

Age of the Artist

Yet aside from this clear evidence of human creativity and imagination 70,000-80,000 years ago, it was not until the start of the Upper Palaeolithic age around 40,000 years ago that something quite dramatic began to occur. At a time coincident to when homo sapiens first entered a Europe dominated by his Neanderthal cousins, there is clear evidence for the sudden emergence of a complex life style, the earliest known to human kind. It involved religious expression and practices, including detailed funerary rites, as well as magnificent new forms of art, such as the carving of animals, birds and humans in bone and stone and, crucially, the manifestation of highly sophisticated cave art, such as the extraordinary painted galleries discovered as recently as 1994 at the Chauvet cave in France's Ardèche region. Occupied as early as 32,000-30,000 years ago, it contains images and sculptures of whole menageries of wild animals, including horses, rhinos, lions, mammoths and bison. Alongside these are perhaps the oldest known painted representations of human forms anywhere in the world. These take the form of a painted torso and legs of a full-bodied woman, typical of later 'Venuses' found either in statue form or as high relief in other caves, and an accompanying bison-headed figure known as the Sorcerer, both of which are to be found in the very deepest part of the cave system.

Rapidly, hundreds of caves across Western Europe became full of accomplished art forms, a tradition which continued through until around 17,000 years ago, when suddenly there was a renewed interest in sacred painting deep underground. This trend ended finally around 11,000 years ago when the Upper Palaeolithic age climaxed coincident to the cessation of the last Ice Age.

What Denis Montgomery wondered was whether, in addition to other environmental, climatic and human factors, the increase in cosmic rays around 35,000 years ago, perhaps from the assumed supernova explosion which caused the creation of the Cygnus Veil, acted as a mutagen to effect sudden changes in the brain's neurological processes. This in turn might have brought about the enlightened age of the cave artist in Western Europe. It could also explain why the Neanderthal peoples suddenly became extinct around this time, perhaps as a result of too much competition from their competitive new neighbours, the homo sapiens.

Montgomery's unique ideas were privately published, and, inevitably, largely ignored by the scholarly community. Adding to his problems was the realization by astronomers during the mid 1990s that the Cygnus Veil, the nebula at the centre of what Montgomery came to refer to as 'the Cygnus event', was found to be not 150 light years away from the Earth, as had previously been thought, but much further away, probably about 1,800 light years from here. At this greater distance any supernova would have been little more than a bright light source in the northern sky, lasting for a period of several days before gradually dying away. Doubly damning were recalculations concerning the age of the supernova event, which now appears to have occurred as recently as 5,000-8000 years ago (even though some astronomical sources still reckon it took place much earlier, perhaps 10,000-15,000 years ago). Thus there was no way that the Cygnus Veil can have been responsible for the high levels of cosmic rays reaching Earth's atmosphere prior to the emergence of the first European cave artists some 32,000 years ago.

Enter the Meinel Group

It would not be until 2005 that this same cosmological conundrum would be tackled again. At the conference of TAG (the Theoretical Archaeological Group) in Sheffield, England, held in December that year, Dr Aden Meinel - a retired veteran of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who in the 1980s was responsible for the launch of space telescopes such as Hubble - told a packed audience of archaeologists and students that the high levels of Beryllium-10 in the Greenland and Antarctica ice cores were responsible for sudden changes in evolution in both animal and human life around 40,000-35,000 years ago. He also reported that he had been able to use the ice core evidence to determine the approximate coordinates for the source of the cosmic rays, and that these pinpointed a planetary nebula (a mass of glowing gas and cloud) known as the Cat's Eye in the northern constellation of Draco, the celestial dragon. This Meinel and his colleagues saw as the remnants of what was once a galactic binary system consisting of a super giant and a once active black hole that had spewed out jets of plasma, superheated ionized gas, at velocities close to the speed of light. These, he proposed, had crossed thousands of light years of space to reach the earth around 40,000 to 35,000 years ago, causing the changes in evolution witnessed at this time.

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