Underworld

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Chapter Twenty-Seven
Confronting Yonaguni

The Path and The Terraces

Our third and fourth dives were spent examining the ‘pathway’ or ‘loop road’ which runs along the base of the main monument directly beneath the terraces in its south face at a depth of 27 metres; and the terraces themselves which begin 14 metres vertically above the pathway.

The Terraces

At this level a spacious patio about 12 metres wide and 35 metres in length opens out and in its northeastern corner, at depths decreasing from 13 metres to seven metres, the structures known to local divers as “the terraces” are found. There are two main ‘steps’, both about two metres high with sharp edges and clean near-right-angle corners. Above them there are then three further smaller steps giving access to the top of the monument which continues to rise northward until it comes close to the surface.

Here, very clearly, I could see the basis for the argument advanced by Wolf in Der Spiegel that the whole mass of the structure - with all its striking and emphatic terraces and steps, its perpendicular and horizontal planes - could be explained by the effects of high-energy wave action on a large outcrop of naturally bedded sedimentary rock.

When it first began to form, aeons ago, the sandstone (or more correctly in this case ‘mudstone’) of the body of the monument was deposited in layers of varying thickness and consistency, traversed “by vertical cracks and horizontal crevices.” As sea-level rose and turbulent waves began to strike progressively higher levels of the structure these cracks and crevices were gradually exploited and opened up -- with the softer layers separating into flat slabs of assorted shapes and sizes which could then be washed out by the sea. In such a fashion, explains Wolf, “perpendicularity and steps” gradually developed in the fracture zones creating, entirely without human help, the most striking effects of the structure as we see it today.

According to this reasoning, therefore, I was to envisage the 12 metre x 35 metre flat-floored patio as having been cut out of the side of the original outcrop by wave action which removed the sedimentary mudstone layers in slabs -- with the terraced sections being formed out of the surviving harder members of rock after the softer layers had been washed away.

I helped Wolf measure the two highest steps, then drifted off to the edge of the patio and looked down the sheer 14 metre wall that drops to Professor Kimura’s “loop road” -- the flat rock-floored ‘pathway’ that runs along the bottom of the channel immediately to the south of the monument. Although 25 metres wide at the depth of the terraces the channel narrows to a width of less than four metres at the depth of the path. It’s north wall is the sheer south face of the monument; its south wall is at first not sheer but slopes for some distance further to the south at an angle of about 40 degrees before rising more steeply towards the surface. The 40 degree section is heavily but rather neatly stacked with blocky rubble that consists of an infill of smaller stones supporting a façade of a dozen much larger blocks arranged, as Professor Kimura points out, in a straight line “as a stone wall”. Kimura is in no doubt that this wall is the work of human beings.

But because it is 27 metres down, and our dive computers didn’t like the decompression implications of doing it as the fourth dive of an already hard day, we decided to leave it till the following morning.

The Pathway

We dropped in near the twin megaliths, then followed the clearly-demarcated rock-hewn pathway that seems to start (or finish?) here, veering to the left of the ‘entrance tunnel’ that we had passed through the day before, winding gradually to the south into deeper water around the western side of the main monument, then finally turning eastwards into the channel in front of the terraces at a depth of 27 metres.

As we entered the channel I pointed out to Wolf a pattern of three symmetrical indentations, each two metres in length and only about 20 centimeters high, cut at regular intervals into the junction of the northern side of the path and the base of the main monument. I also indicated two other details that I find particularly impressive in this area: (a) the way that the floor of the path appears to have been deliberately flattened and smoothed to give almost a paved effect; and (b) the way the path is completely free of any rubble until a point about 30 metres to the east of the terraces (where several large boulders and other stony debris have fallen or rolled).

When Wolf and I later discussed the path and the terraces he remained adamant that all the anomalies in these areas could have been produced by the effects of local erosive forces, mainly waves, on the ‘layer-cake’ strata of the Yonaguni mudstones. In short while he could not absolutely rule out human intervention he did not feel that it was necessary in order to explain anything that we had so far seen underwater.

At this point I drew his attention to a project done by Professor Kimura and his team from the University of the Ryukyus in cooperation with the Japanese national TV channel TBS. The result had been a high-quality six-hour documentary, aired over New Year 2001, that made many useful and original contributions to the debate on the Yonaguni controversy.(15) I wanted to acquaint Wolf in particular with the comments and demonstrations of Koutaro Shinza, a traditional Okinawan stonemason who had shown himself to be an expert in exploiting the natural faults, cracks and layers in sedimentary rocks to facilitate quarrying. According to Shinza, who TBS brought to Yonaguni:

“When I saw the undersea ruins I knew instantly it was a stone quarry. I showed photographs to other stonecutters also and they all said the same. I conclude that it was done by human hands. Its absolutely impossible for something like this to be produced by nature alone”(16)

Since Shinza’s technique of quarrying along the lines of weakness of existing joints and fractures is functionally identical to the “method” used by the sea in Wolf’s scenario to break up and separate the Yonaguni mudstones into the terraces and steps we see today, I asked him whether he could be absolutely certain that he could tell the difference. He admitted that he could not be certain -- although the fact that he had as yet seen no definite tool marks on any of his dives was another reason to assume that humans had not been involved.

GH: Kimura makes a lot of the tool marks issue. He says he has definitely found marks. But I wouldn’t be very hopeful after 10,000 years of submersion underwater to find tool marks. It’s a long time. This, of course, is hard stone.

WOLF: Very hard stone, yes. And it is heavily overgrown with organisms in many places. So we might find some marks, indeed, if we were looking a bit and if we knew where to look exactly and how to identify them clearly. But this I mean is necessary.

Had the sea randomly removed the rock layers to leave the terraces, or had it been ancient stonemasons working to a plan?

Neither scenario, we realised, could be unequivocally falsified - or proved -- by the empirical evidence presently to hand.

But there was another way to come at the problem which could at least test the logic of both propositions.

Part of Professor Kimura’s evidence for human intervention in the construction of the main Yonaguni monument is the stark absence of fallen stony rubble in the pathway beneath the terraces - which he suggests should be cluttered by debris, perhaps even completely buried under it, if the terraces had been cut naturally by waves breaking-up the pre-existing bedding planes. Where we do see debris on the path itself it is in the form of a cluster of large boulders (not slabs) 30 metres to the east of the terraces. And the only other area that might be described as debris lies neatly stacked at an angle of 40 degrees against the sloping south face of the channel, touching but never trespassing the southern edge of the path. This is the embankment with a façade of a dozen megalithic blocks arranged in a row that Kimura has identified as man-made. I confess, however, that on all my many visits to Yonaguni -- including these March 2001 dives with Wolf -- I have regarded this embankment as nothing more than rubble fallen from the south side of the channel and thus paid no special attention to it. It has only been since March 2001, looking back at the photographs and video images, that I have begun to realise how odd it is that not a bit of the supposed “fallen rubble” transgresses the path itself, how very ordered it seems to be in general, and how very probable it is that Kimura is right.

But on the trip with Wolf I focussed only on the issue of the apparent “clean-up” operation that had been done on the path.

I began by reminding him of our earlier discussion about the twin megaliths, each six metres tall and weighing 100 tons, which he claimed had fallen from above into their present position on the northwest corner of the monument from some hypothetical former high point.

WOLF: I see what you're going for.

GH: Well, what I'm going for is the problem of the path as we come in front of Iseki Point, as we come in front of the main monument. There’s a sheer wall above the path 14 metres high and then the terracing begins. Now if ever there was a place on this structure where large slabs of stone should have fallen it is here on the path, directly under where the terraces were created. And so what's bothering me is if you can accept that the two parallel megaliths fell from a high place and lodged in position in the northwest corner of the monument and stayed there permanently, why don’t we find the path in front of the monument littered with the equally big or bigger slabs of rock that must have been dislodged during the formation of the terraces?

I sketched the north and south walls of the channel, with the path at the base, and the embankment of “orderly rubble” gathered up against the south wall.

GH: Piled up here against the south wall is a huge amount of large stones which continue, in fact, up to this level [indicates sketch]. And I can very well accept that those stones fell off the top of the south side and found themselves in this position. As a matter of fact Professor Kimura doesn’t say that. Professor Kimura says that these stones were placed here by human beings.

WOLF: Yes, yes, I know I know.

GH: And he may or may not be right on that matter, but I'm prepared to accept that the reasonable possibility, with the forces of gravity as I understand them, is that stones which had been up here along this also rather flat area on top of the south side, may have been washed off in water and tumbled down and piled up here [indicates embankment]. And that's what I see. I see stones that fell from up here on the south side. What I can't understand, once we come to the huge main terrace with its steps on the north side of the channel, is why under this nice vertical cliff, I don't find any stones at all lying on this 3-metre wide path. And I don't accept that they all rolled from the [north] side into this embankment [on the south side] conveniently leaving the path immediately beside it free. To me that’s against logic and nature.

WOLF: We're just guessing. So imagine that this flat area around the terraces was not removed all in one go. What I mean is little small tiny pebbles, cobbles, whatever, over a long time have fallen down and they have somehow been transported and rode supported by gravity, here into this part [indicates embankment area on south side of channel] being sheltered from further transport, first of all, by these large boulders.

GH: Again I find it difficult to grasp you here. If I stand beside these steps [indicates the two big steps in the main terrace], they tower above my head. This means a layer of rock at least two and a half metres thick, all the way around here [indicates patio area] has been removed completely to leave behind just the steps.

WOLF: Yes.

GH: I mean this patio is, what, 30 or 35 metres in length?

WOLF: Round about.

GH: And we have a layer of rock 2½ metres thick; that's a hell of a lot of rock.

WOLF: We're not talking about two or three years.

GH: We're talking of a long period of time. So you're explaining this by saying that small pieces were broken off little by little and taken away by the tides?

WOLF: Yes, right in general.

GH: Yeah. I find the more elegant explanation is it was tidied up by human beings. -

WOLF: Fine.

GH: - after they finished their job.

WOLF: But where should they put it then? Somewhere here around?

GH: Wherever they wished.

WOLF: Come on.

GH: If human beings do take material away from sites, they take it right away get it away this is known human activity very normal they don't leave the rubble lying around on the site, this is normal.

WOLF: This is clearly what Kimura says.

GH: It's Kimura's argument, and I find it persuasive.

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