Mostly Barking By M.J. Harper
Dear Graham Hancock Fans,
Since Iíve been chosen as author-of-the-month and have been asked to say a few words to you, Iíd better start by saying what I think about Mr Hancockís books. On the whole, I agree with my Aunt Vera who, when asked where her family was from, said, "Mostly Barking."
On the other hand, if only one per cent of what Graham says is true, heís entitled to a Nobel Prize. No, my main gripe with this whole Alternative History lark is that you all suffer from two chronic failings:
Since this may surprise you -- and it will certainly astonish the academics -- Iíll give you an illustration of what I mean. Letís take the only one of your current enthusiasms I am really familiar with: this business about the three Giza pyramids being laid out like the stars of Orionís Belt with the Nile acting as the Milky Way alongside.
Now, frankly, Iím not much impressed by the three pyramids duplicating Orionís Belt. After all, it canít be that difficult to arrange ("Left a bit, Khufru"). No, the tricky part is arranging for a very large river to flow past when youíre stuck in the middle of a howling desert.
Ah...I see...you thought the Nile was already there, did you? OK, well Iím going to demonstrate this ainít necessarily so and, as they say on Time Team, Iíve got just ten minutes to do it.
So where do we start? Well, obviously where the Nile starts, at its source in the Orongaronga Hills or wherever. (Look it up, Cynthia, these people are sticklers for detail.) Letís imagine weíre a little drop of rain falling on the Orongaronga Hills and then hence into this tiny rivulet that will eventually become the mighty Nile. The first question that arises is where do we go? Do we go south to the Cape? East to the Indian Ocean? West to the Atlantic? Or north to Lake Victoria? We go north to Lake Victoria. Anything strange about that? Nothing whatsoever. A perfectly natural thing to do.
Now while we are wending our way through Lake Victoria, weíve got just enough time to ask a vital question: whatís the one thing you know about Lake Victoria? Go on, have a good think...yes, thatís right,...itís the fact that itís sort of square-shaped. Not exactly the kind of shape we ordinarily expect from our lakes -- looks more like a reservoir on a giant scale. Is that significant? Not particularly; after all, a lakeís got be something-shaped and being squarish is as good a shape as anything else.
Or is it? No, I donít care what you say, thereís something not-quite-right about square-shaped lakes. I donít know what it is but Iím going to file it away as an oddity because... you never know. Well actually there is a way of knowing and itís called The Golden Rule. The Golden Rule says "Whenever anything odd hoves into view, look round for something similarly odd, because two odd things side-by-side make a coincidence, and we donít like coincidences, do we?" One of the longer rules of our profession but one of the best.
And, yes, as luck would have it, right next door, there is another slightly odd-shaped lake, Lake Tanganyika. Now this is odd in quite a different way: itís sort of long and zig-zaggy. Again, Iím not quite sure why but this is not a shape I associate with lakes. The nearest thing that springs to mind is when they build a dam in a gorge and form a long snaking reservoir and thousands of protesting villagers have to be moved.
That word "reservoir" has popped up again. Interesting. Nevertheless, not much to show for our efforts so far...a couple of lakes that might or might not be oddly shaped. The ten minutes will soon be up...we need something big to happen, and quickly. OK, try this for size: having got through Lake Victoria, where does our little molecule of water head for? It canít really go back south again, so does it take the short hop east down to the Indian Ocean? No, for some reason, it decides against that course of action. Does it take the slightly longer but still eminently reasonable direction west across to the Atlantic? No, for some reason it doesnít like that way either. What it does decide to do is to go north, crossing the worldís biggest swamp (the Sudd) without draining away, then it crosses the worldís biggest desert (the Sahara) without evaporating away, all the time steadfastly ignoring the siren calls of any and every nearby bit of sea in order to disgorge itself into the furthest bit of ocean the African continent can offer.
Now I know what youíre thinking. Youíre thinking "Big Deal." And quite right too, because the world is chock-full of geographical oddities and so what if this is one of them. But I also know something else youíre thinking. A tiny, bell-like voice somewhere in the furthest reaches of your brain is saying "Well, fairís fair, Iíd never thought of the Nile as a geographical oddity before, so Iíve got to give him that one."
Thanks, but thereís really no need. Once youíve conceded itís an oddity the Golden Rule comes into play and all we have to do is look round for something similar and since the Nile is an immensely long, north-south, geographical oddity situated in East Africa, all we need to come up with is another immensely long, north-south, geographical oddity situated in East Africa. Now thereís a stroke of luck... The Great Rift Valley. As that great epistemological philosopher, Harry Hill, once said, "What are the chances of that happening?"
So, now we have not merely an odd coincidence, we have an oddly complementary coincidence: river/valley, valley/river. At this point Iím afraid Iím going to have to stiffen up the sinews. Donít -- whatever you do -- check this out. A lot of people stumble across interesting coincidences from time to time, then they go haring off to tell some expert all about it and, after a few carefully chosen words from the expert, they walk away slowly with a flea in their ear, resolving not to bother with coincidences anymore.
In this case, for instance, the expert will carefully explain to you that the Great Rift Valley is a tectonic feature caused by continental plates moving apart and therefore cannot have anything whatever to do with temporary surface features like rivers. Your correct response to this is to
What do we know about the Great Rift Valley? For certain, as opposed to tectonic speculation. Well, at one end is Lake Tanganyika, at the other end is the Dead Sea which happens to be the lowest point on the earthís surface. So, itís not a giant step to say we have an enormous "dammed lake," a several thousand mile valley with a lovely gradient and, apparently, a missing river. By weird contrast, right next door and exactly parallel, we have the enormous "reservoir lake" (Lake Victoria) out of which flows a river (the Nile) several thousand miles long that by rights shouldnít be there.
Donít you just itch to put the one in the other? I know I do. But we must resist any such foolishness. It could all be a geographical oddity. We need another Golden Rule moment. So, letís see, what was the original problem? Oh yes, I remember now, there was
We apply the Golden Rule and look for something similar nearby. And there it is, right on cue, good old Mesopotamia, which is
I tell a lie, two mystery rivers -- the Tigris and the Euphrates. You didnít know the Tigris and the Euphrates were mystery rivers? You really thought two rivers running straight and parallel across a desert for a thousand miles and never joining up despite them never being more than an incised meander apart is a natural state of affairs? Blimey, even my dog spotted that one.
So get to it. Join up the dots, explain whatís going on. Thereís enough of you and, letís face it, unlike me, you havenít got anything better to do with your time. If itís any help I think Lake Van holds the key. No, thatís all youíre getting. Youíre on your own from now on. And buy my sodding book, you tight bastards.
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