Godpyre: The Cosmology of North African Paleovolcanism (cont.)
By R. Avry Wilson @2005-2006
Figure 2. Africa during the early Holocene.
In a nutshell, the prehistory of northeast Africa’s indigenous population would have gone something like this: First, pushed away by the hyperaridity of the Sahara during the LGM and on until the onset of the Holocene, communities settled around wetter and warmer areas, which in the case of eastern-central Africa happened to include volcanic fields of activity. Second, with the advent of a greener Sahara in the first couple of millennia of the Holocene Era, people re-inhabited the northern expanse in greater numbers, bringing with them memories of where they came from (at the same time the core that settled around the cordoned-off grasslands and forests would have stayed on, continuing a relationship with the volcanic activity). During the Holocene there were a number of VFs (volcano fields) active where they would have lived. Greater proximity to VFs provides a stronger case for witnessing and thereby incorporating these awesome events into myth. Lastly, toward the age when true civilizations began to form c.5-6kya, hyperaridity returned to the Sahara and the diasporas spread to the desert’s outer rim once again, settling for good among the surviving oases (like Dakhla, Kharga, and Farafra), the Nile Valley, and so on. But like the hardier types mentioned earlier, not all sought refuge in greener environments; those with good survival skills and a fair serving of intestinal fortitude stayed on at remote locations in the eastern desert of Egypt (for instance at Gilf Kebir). Indeed, studies of ceramics [Lange: 2000] found at desert locations have proven to be the original source of certain styles only seen later on in ancient Egypt. This in itself tells us that at least a portion of their history has its roots outside of the Nile Valley, providing further testimony how distant legend and myth also made its way to the river. But ceramics are only part of the tale because of the hint of earlier mummification found in the desert (i.e. the ‘Black Mummy’ exposed recently by Savino Di Lernia of the University of Rome) and the fascinating and archaic rock art found all over northeast Africa which presumes an early source for what would later become the ancient Egyptian hieroglyph writing system. Because of these ample archaeological results outside of Egypt which suggest a root of influence, the next question concerns what exactly would have been the inspiration for volcanic allusions found in ancient Egyptian tales and religious texts.
Volcanic fields of Africa
Libya, Meidob, etc
At some point during their travels and occupations of northern Africa, groups would have undoubtedly been familiar with the geographically associated VFs of their environment. Two fine examples are found in the modern-day countries of Libya and Sudan (although such examples are not limited to these areas) (Figure 3). During the initial transit from the Sahara, they’d have left behind the Libyan, Chadic, etc VFs only to see the Sudan VFs looming on the horizon after naturally following the path of aridity encroachment (in both easterly and south-easterly directions), finally arriving at the southern Nile where they would continue to co-exist under the shadow of volcanism at the Bayuda VF in Sudan (item 15 in Figure 3.). Of course, they would not have been the first to come across such things along the southern Nile as we would expect other tribes to already have held extensive and continuous occupation of this section of the river. The combined experiences of the regionally indigenous folk and those who slowly migrated there would eventually lead to a wider and perhaps new cosmology, thereafter solidifying the early references of volcanic mythos in northeastern Africa. Such religious grandeur undoubtedly bled north along the Nile as the millennia passed, bringing with it much more inspiring and awesome beliefs and concepts then might have been developing to the north. After all, imagery wrought from a naïve comprehension of earth forces certainly outweighs ‘lesser’ god figures associated with members of the animal kingdom (less, perhaps, the lion and crocodile), water, or even sky. The sheer overwhelming nature of volcanic-based cosmology forces it to become a lasting staple within the whole of religious beliefs that were yet to blossom. This has been largely overlooked when investigating ancient religion because the idea of an ancient relationship with volcanism is simply not present nor considered during the research. Applying these concepts reveal startling realities and open the door to fully appreciating some of the ideas seen in ancient Egyptian religion.