Voices of the Rocks: A Scientist Looks at Catastrophes and Ancient Civilizations

Voices of the Rocks: A Scientist Looks at Catastrophes and Ancient Civilizations

By Robert M. Schoch, with Robert A. McNally
New York: Harmony Books. 1999. Hardback, 264pages.

The scientific study of the nature and structure of our planet and its geological history has advanced enormously in recent decades, so that we arc now able to make verifiable statements concerning much that was formerly in the realm of myth and speculation. In this book, Robert Schoch, assisted by science writer Robert McNally, applies the latest geological and astronomical understanding to address some big issues and events in the history of humanity and especially of ancient civilizations. This well-written book counters many of the extravagant and sensationalist claims by authors such as Graham Hancock, who foretell great cataclysms supposedly due to planetary alignments, which, as Schoch notes, occur on average once every century!

Robert Schoch is well trained in both geology and anthropology and is committed to the proper application of the scientific method. He describes the profound paradigm shift that has taken place in geology, in that we now see "the history of Earth, of all living beings, and of human civilizations [not as slowly changing, but] as a series of stops and starts, in which equilibrium comes to an abrupt end with a sudden severe catastrophe." Such catastrophes include the impact of extraterrestrial objects, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and floods.

In just 264 pages of well-referenced chapters, Schoch guides the reader through many exciting topics: catastrophism, the age of the Great Sphinx of Giza (7000 to 9000 years), the megalith circle at Nabta in the Nubian desert (one pair providing "a line of sight to the horizon where the summer solstice sun rose about 6000 years ago"), and the engineering sophistication of Jericho (8300 BC) and ancient Catal Huyuk (Turkey). Schoch maintains that civilizations date back thousands of years earlier than most archaeologists wish to admit.

Many theories about the lost civilization of Atlantis are discussed. Schoch favors the ideas of Mary Settegast, who in her book Plato Prehistorian equates the Atlanteans to the Magdalenian Paleolithic culture of the Lascaux cave art in western Europe. He also discusses the widespread traditions of a great flood, volcanic catastrophes, and wobbles of the Earth's axis.

Only as recently as the 1950s have scientists agreed that most craters on the Moon and quite a few on Earth resulted from meteorite impacts. Recent astronomical observations have also confirmed the presence of many asteroids whose orbits may intersect the Earth's. Such bodies and cometary debris are capable of occasionally hitting our planet. Schoch discusses the evidence for such "fire from the sky" and the "coherent catastrophism" of British astronomers Clube and Napier, who propose that predictable astrophysical events regularly send swarms of objects into the inner solar system and thus endanger the earth, Schoch discusses the human and environmental effects that follow such meteorite showers.

Schoch ends by summarizing the modern scientific view of the terrestrial environment and the factors that keep it in healthy balance. He shows that the new developing paradigm for our planet includes the Gaia hypothesis of James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis, with life itself playing a major role in shaping the environment. Increasing human interference in the earth's climate and the threat of significant meteoritic impact provide a sobering finale to this comprehensive presentation.

This book is an excellent companion to another scientifically researched recent book covering the pre-Middle-Eastern origins of civilizations: Eden in the East: The Drowned Continent of Southeast Asia by Stephen Oppenheimer. This book is thoroughly recommended to all readers who would like to understand better how modern geological knowledge illuminates our wondrous and complex human history.


March/April 2000