Friday, 26 June 2015

New Yorkers: Pillar Saints or Phoenixes?

The ruins of New York have long puzzled archaeologists. Why were those tall towers built? By whom were they built and how? For what purposes were they used? When? Why so many and so close together?  Why in that place? 

Archaeologists and students of the strange have voiced many theories, ranging from the bizarre to the incredible. We’ve been offered the notion that they were nesting sites for huge exotic birds, like Sinbad’s Roc or intelligent Pterodactyls which survived the extinction of the dinosaurs.  Were they perhaps built like the nests of flamingos, heaps of mud close together in the shallows of a salt lake? Were their builders genetically engineered by alien visitors from other worlds, perhaps mingling their own DNA with that of reptiles and mammals? Others suggest that they may have been bat-people, or just giant bats which flew by night to suck the blood of their neighbours. Or is that just too batty? Even less credible is the belief that they were normal human beings, one version of which claims that they ruled a vast worldwide trading empire like the Phoenicians or Venetians before them. The prevailing academic view however is that the only evidence of human occupation found so far is that of primitive scavengers from long after the abandonment of the site by its builders, whoever or whatever they may have been.

Now another couple of contenders have entered the fray. Dr. Verity Learned, an expert in studies of hermits and the desert saints of early Christianity, specialising in St. Simeon Stylites, has published an article drawing attention to the similarities between these tall structures and the pillars and rocks upon which the saints of Egypt and Syria perched. ‘We know that the saints spent years sitting or standing, sometimes in contorted positions, exposed to the weather and enduring austerities. Their disciples or local villagers would occasionally bring food for them, to be drawn up in a basket on a rope. They obtained great prestige, and their reputation for holiness caused them to be consulted on political questions by the Imperial authorities.’ When we spoke to her the learned doctor added that “Later monasteries, such as Mt. Athos, demonstrated a similar arrangement, where visitors and supplies had to be drawn up by rope. This was partly a defensive measure to protect them from marauders.” As further evidence she referred to Skellig Michael, a small steep rocky island off the south coast of Ireland occupied by early medieval hermits, on the top of which they built small stone cells. She thinks that a direct connection between New York and Ireland and even the Middle East is quite possible. “It is known that Irish monasticism was influenced by that of Egypt. These men sought isolation in remote deserted places. There are stories of saints such as Brendan making voyages into the Atlantic seeking even more remote places. Some seem to have settled in Iceland. Why not New York? Was there anywhere more remote and inhospitable?” She also pointed to the Round Towers of Ireland. These are generally thought to have been built by medieval monks, with entrances well above ground level. Of course, they are round rather than rectangular in section, and much less tall, besides being of dry stone construction rather than consisting of some smooth monolithic artificial stone, but they may have monks in common. Dr. Learned refused to be drawn on the questions of who built New York and how. “The monks didn’t build Skellig Michael or the rocks of the desert. They just occupied them. Maybe they just found and occupied New York.”

Dr. Abel Brightman, Professor of Xenoarchaeology, has a quite different idea. “I think these structures were the self created pyres of Phoenixes”, he said. His new publication ‘Phoenixes of New York’ claims that New York was a colony of very bright birds. Their light illuminated America and the Atlantic. Their radiance awed the rest of the world. Mere humans in early times bowed before their might and majesty.

 “Obviously they came from the Middle East,” he said. “They built the Pyramids and the Sphinx. They were responsible for the achievements of Egyptian civilization. The Pharaohs were their servants.”  Why then did they leave? “In a word, ingratitude” says Prof. Brightman. “They were very sensitive souls, and it greatly saddened them to feel that the people for whom they had done so much, did not appreciate them.”  Dr. Brightman continued, “Their noble light-filled souls had an affinity with that most noble of metals, gold. They required gold as part of the complex process of self immolation and resurrection. Egypt was well placed to supply them, and also to gather the other ingredients such as the exotic spices and incense imported from Arabia, India and further afield.  Indeed, as the Pharaohs became more arrogant, they took to having themselves buried with lots of gold, in imitation of the Phoenixes, although none of them ever managed the difficult process of resurrection from the dead. That meant that less and less gold was left for the needs of the Phoenixes.” So they collected all the gold that wasn’t buried and flew to New York? “Not exactly,” said Dr. Brightman. “We have depictions of the Pharos, the Great Lighthouse of Alexandria. It’s very like the towers of New York, and with a huge fire at the top. I think that some of the Phoenixes stayed for a while to civilise the Greeks and Macedonians when they reached Egypt, and to help them built great structures like the Pharos, as the greater and more numerous Phoenixes of the past had helped the Pharaohs by building greater structures for them. Alas, they found the Greeks, and even more so the Romans, too crude and difficult to civilise. They felt that they could no longer bear to live amongst them, so they either flew away, or self-immolated and reincarnated elsewhere. Probably the Pharos was illuminated by Phoenix light. It would have been in keeping with their generosity of spirit and nobility of soul to have so self-sacrificingly and freely assisted the backward humans around them.” 

Why did they choose New York? “Note the similarity between New York and Alexandria. Both are at the mouths of rivers which provide access to large territories. They are easy landmarks for Phoenixes in flight and safe routes to follow on recreational journeys or when training the young to fly. Phoenixes were great nature-lovers; they were attuned to the serenity and sublimity of riverside landscapes, especially the fertile areas which attracted human settlement. As human settlement spread, the Phoenixes felt increasingly restricted and even persecuted.”  So what happened when humans arrived and settled New York? Why didn’t they mention anything about the presence of Phoenixes and their towers? The Professor shook his head sadly. “It just goes to show their greed, ingratitude and insensitivity,” he sighed.

What happened to the Phoenixes? “I don’t know, but sadly I suspect that humanity killed them, either directly or indirectly by taking over their habitat.” 

New Yorkers were just too delicate to live amongst humans? Who knew? 

Has one of the mysteries of the ages, alongside such enigmas as Stonehenge and the Pyramids finally been solved?

Well readers, what do you think?

1.     They’re both quite wrong. New York was built by the angels as the site for the Second Coming, but He changed his mind when He took a good look at the place.
2.     Maybe even He couldn’t afford the property prices!
3.     My granny dreamt that a Phoenix gave her a feather, but it vanished when she awoke.
4.     New York was built as a base for extraterrestrials from Alpha Centauri. They had a war with the extraterrestrials from Beta Reticuli who built Stonehenge, in which both places were wrecked.
5.     New York must have been for the birds. I had a parrot which kept squawking ‘Nuuu Yaawwakkkk Nuuuu Yyaaawwwkkkk’. It died of climate change, or was it mange?
6.     It’s all down to Climate Change, I tell you, Climate Change! Once those glaciers get moving they’re awful hard to stop.
7.     Yes, somebody should have done something about it. Not me obviously.
8.     Of course it should have been you. If you’d taken your clothes off and pretended really hard to be warm, sympathetic magic would have melted the glaciers and restored the earth to its pristine state.
9.     What about the Fallen Woman of New York? Was New York Babylon and she the Great Whore of Babylon?
10.  No. New York was Sodom, and she was Lot’s wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt.
11.  She was obviously a strong independent Woman, pulled down by male spite!!!
12.  Probably she was a nun, who got there before the monks, but they refused to acknowledge her. Typical Male Chauvinists!!!
13.  The towers are reminiscent of medieval dove cotes or pigeon lofts. Recent research suggests that Phoenixes did not become extinct; they evolved into Passenger Pigeons and roosted in these towers, from whence they spread over the continent in great flocks. Unfortunately, humans arrived and ate the birds.
14.  Hey! They were fighting Global Cooling by sticking close together. I do the same by sleeping on top of a stack of chicken coops. All that rising hot air keeps me toasty!
15.  Tweet! Tweet! We’re still here, but not doing much building since humans stole all our resources.
16.  No! No! It’s got nothing to do with birds or Phoenixes or monks or Biblical characters. Science knows that Neolithic Man could do wonderful things with stone hammers and copper chisels. Just look at the Pyramids! They probably just knocked up New York for practice.
17.  And when they got bored, they just knocked them down again? That’s why they’re all so crumbly?
18.  Imagine how beautiful they must have been, with trees and flowers and moss growing all over them. They were wonderful nature refuges for birds and butterflies and bees and bats. New York was probably the Garden of Eden. It inspired all those attempts by oriental monarchs to make Paradise Gardens.
19.  The Hanging Gardens were in New York, which was also Babylon.
20.  Obviously those towers can’t have been made by humans. They’re far too big and useless. Nobody could climb so far up and down for any purpose of work or daily living, so there would be no need for them. Even if people had the technology to make such strong thin walls to carry the weight of such great height, it would have been wasteful to make them so tall.
21.  They’re all that’s left of the Tower of Babel. People wanted to climb up to Heaven. That’s why they’re so tall. They were temples. Maybe that was as high as they could get before the slaves and overseers responsible for dragging up building materials died of exhaustion or starvation. 
22.  Perhaps it was like Easter Island. They used up all their trees and slaves and resources building these useless stone monuments to their own futility.
23.  Their arrogance angered G-d, who destroyed the upper parts of their work, confused their language, and scattered them. That’s why nobody lived there when later settlers arrived.
24.  The gods were really aliens from other planets who genetically engineered humans to serve them. The towers are obviously alien structures for alien purposes. They probably used their genetically modified human slaves to build them.
25.  Social insects such as ants and termites and bees can make large structures out of stuff they chew. An extinct species of insect probably made the towers.
26.  It seems that the genetically modified human-insects could chew rock and make huge towers out of it for the alien gods. What happened to them and where did they get all that rock?
27.  The aliens may have taken them away when they left, or exterminated them.
28.  I think some of the human-insects escaped and hid underground. There are said to be extensive tunnels under New York. Archaeologists don’t like to talk about them. Maybe that’s where all the chewed rock for the towers came from. Perhaps there are underground cities there, as in Cappadocia. Maybe the insects are happy to stay hidden deep beneath our feet. Maybe it’s best to leave them there.
29.  I like the notion of those old Celtic monks crossing the Atlantic in their leather boats and finding the island of New York covered by mysterious apparently uninhabited ancient towers, festooned with trees and bushes and grass and flowers. How beautiful and peaceful it must have been, with no noise but the bees and the birds and the rustling of the leaves amid the murmuring sound of the water. They probably thought they’d reached the Land of the Fairies, and decided to stay to Christianise it. These fairy towers are much bigger than the Irish fairy hills. The fairies may also have been larger and more numerous. It must have taken real Saints and a powerful lot of prayers and Holy Water to Christianise New York.
30.  Ha! Ha! New Yorkers became fairies and went underground! Who’d a thunk it? Anyone know a good exorcist? How about a shrink?
31.  No! No! This discussion is proceeding entirely in the wrong direction. There’s no need to hypothesize fairies or aliens or gods or phoenixes or humanoid insects, or any such nonsense.  There’s no need to suppose anyone but humans built these structures. We don’t know who or how. They certainly had technology which we can no longer imitate or understand. There’s reason to suspect that there have been civilizations which have left little trace and this is one of them. We can however infer the purpose of these structures by analogy. In renaissance Italian cities, such as San Gimignano, for example, there were bitter rivalries between competing noble families, which were expressed by striving to out-build each other in raising the tallest family towers. Those were of course much smaller , but the same principle of intense family or commercial or civic rivalry  can explain the devotion of resources to such otherwise pointless buildings, and explain why there are so many of them packed so closely together. This was obviously a powerful city riven by jealousies among the powerful, whose vanities were expressed by this conspicuous consumption.  There’s another example in the tribes of Red Indians on the North West Pacific coast of North America. They made displays of tall decorated totem poles and displayed wealth and prestige by throwing lavish feasts called potlatches where they gave away their possessions. All very small by the standards of New York, where we need not doubt that conspicuous consumption was displayed with even more extravagance. 

   Thanks folks, that’s all we have room for this week. Don’t forget to check back next week for another episode of Mysteries of Archaeology, when the topic will be ‘Was There Ever Such a Place as the United States, and if so Where?’ As you know, we do our best to support the Archaeological Community in its endeavors to bring the past to light and entertain our audience.  Like everything else Archaeology has to pay its way by being entertaining, controversial and popular. At the end of the series we’ll be giving a prize for the idea we like the best. We love to hear from you, so don’t let ignorance inhibit your creativity.  Fame and Fortune, if not Truth, await!    

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