Of Monkeys, Men, and Cataclysms

By Blair A. Moffett
[From time to time Sunrise receives correspondence from readers who have questions about particular articles that appear in its pages. Because of their general interest we share the following series of queries prompted by the article "Flame of the Gods" that was published in the May 1973 issue.]
QUESTION: "In "Flame of the Gods,' ' Mr. Moffett makes two statements I would like follow-through upon. He says that the 'monkey' people of the Ramayana are better defined than the 'bear' people in this text. I would like to know just how. Then when he talks of neanderthaloids and Homo sapiens fossilis he states there is evidence of their interbreeding, yet does not give specifics. It is an insistence of the scientific community that such never happened, yet he states such has. On what grounds does he make this hypothesis?
"I am interested at the same time to know if Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision has ever been correlated with H, P. Blavatsky's books."

The reference to the "monkey" and "bear" people in the Ramayana simply reflected a straightforward reading of the English translation of the Ramayan of Valmiki made by R. T. H. Griffith, Principal of Benares College, in 1874. The two leading generals of the "monkeys" or Vanar -- Hanuman and Sugriva -- are named there and both play prominent roles in Rama's war against Ravana, the Vanar legions themselves figuring more prominently than do the "bear" legions in alliance with Rama. In fact, in the epic no "bear" is singled out by name, and the "bear" legions appear only relatively anonymously and in second place to the "monkeys." In addition, Rama asks his friend Hanuman to find Sita, his wife, who had disappeared. The loyal Hanuman, at great risk to his own life, and after many adventures testing his courage and intelligence, at last finds Sita who has been kidnapped by Ravana through a trick and taken to his stronghold on the island of Lanka, headquarters of the Rakshasa host.

Inasmuch as the "bears" are depicted as having the same distinctively human qualities as assigned to the "monkeys" in the epic, I think we are justified in concluding that they, too, were some sort of hominid and not a mere animal species such as the bears today. It would have been helpful if the epic had better delineated the "bears," for then we could more accurately analyze if and where they might figure among early hominids! By getting and reading a good translation of this marvelous Indian record of prehistory -- as I think it is -- one can decide for oneself how he or she would characterize the "bear" people.

Turning now to the query: neanderthaloid versus Homo sapiens fossilis, it is true that formerly anthropologists regarded the two types as quite distinct sorts of early men, and the former as hardly a man. This all came about because of a description of neanderthaloids based on the only skeleton then found (in La Chapelle-aux-Saints by the Abbe Bouyssonie), prepared by M. Boule of the Institute of Human Palaeontology in Paris in 1908. That report is now acknowledged by many anthropologists to have done much to disseminate misleading ideas about the whole neanderthaloid question. As recently as 1957 it was still being cited as a major source of information about the nature of the neanderthal man. But in that year the La Chapelle skeleton was re-examined by two anatomists, from Johns Hopkins University and St. Bartholomew's Hospital Medical College of London, who found that it was very atypical, being that of an old male who had suffered extensively from arthritis of the jaws, spine and lower limbs (which had led M. Boule to ascribe to neanderthaloids; a shuffling, ape-like gait with head lowered), and moreover that reconstruction of the skull had been defective. After that expert re-examination, and in the light of some 60-odd fossil skeletal remains of neanderthaloids since found (some 10 of them after 1950), the picture began to change in several major respects.

Even several years before 1957 anthropologists had revised the Boule view. A Barnes & Noble College Outline Series paperback titled General Anthropology, by Jacobs and Stern, dated 1952 and 1955, acknowledges that the neanderthaloids "are a largely European specialization in the evolution of Homo sapiens during a relatively late Pleistocene period" and says "the existing evidence indicates that the neanderthal race became extinct but does not negate the possibility that traces of neanderthal ancestry have survived in Homo sapiens populations."

By 1960, when Alan H. Brodrick published his Man and his Ancestry, the evidence showed neanderthaloids in northern, eastern, and southern Africa and western, central, and southeastern Asia, as well as in western and southeastern Europe. (This type had formerly been seen as a distinctively European species.) Moreover, with the increased finds of types of fossil Homo sapiens over the same areas and in various sorts of association with the neanderthaloids, they were both seen to have consisted of wide ranges of variation within their respective categories, many of whom apparently lived side by side for thousands of years. The neandertbaloids are now believed to have existed from the time of the Wurm-Riss Interglacial (about 190,000 years ago) up to about 35,000 years ago. And it is now held that varieties of Homo sapiens fossilis appeared in Europe as early as 250,000 years ago, flourishing there until about 18 to 20,000 years ago when the present type of man (Homo sapiens sapiens) is said to have made his appearance. It is true that outside Europe Homo sapiens fossilis has been assigned an age of not more than about 100,000 years (e.g., the Florisbad skull in southern Africa); but in all areas he has been found in some form of association with neanderthaloid types. And, although neanderthaloid did become extinct, it is no longer believed that he faded away "almost suddenly" with the advent of Homo sapiens fossilis as you can read in old textbooks. On the contrary, he existed together for thousands of years with the other type, with hybridism apparently taking place.

The source for the statement that there is evidence for the interbreeding of neanderthaloid and Homo sapiens fossilis types is from Brodrick, from a number of statements he makes in his book, but also is based on the broad outline of his whole presentation. In particular, he says on page 269: "We cannot, in fact, separate the sapiens story from that of the various sorts of Neanderthaloids. There is evidence for the coexistence of the two types (e.g., at Mount Carmel) and there are alas indications of interbreeding" (italics mine). Two other distinct references to such hybridism can be found on pages 210 and 224-25.

Finally, I can refer you to The Emergence of Man, by John E. Pfeiffer, 1969, for up-to-date authoritative statements about how anthropologists regard neanderthal man. On page 164 Pfeiffer says: "Not all questions about Neanderthal man have been answered. He was one of the subspecies of Homo sapiens which lived in the Old World from about 70,000 to 25,000 years ago, and it should be no surprise that he walked fully erect.... Anatomical evidence does not support the stereotype of Neanderthal man as a semihuman brute." You can see how anthropology has swung almost 180' in its estimate and now tends to see neanderthal as just one type of early Homo sapiens, which, as did others, fell by the wayside and became extinct.

In these questions I have found that it is important always to bear in mind that almost no two scientists think exactly alike or draw identical conclusions from their evidence. So that when one refers to the 'scientific community' one is really referring to a great number of trained individuals all of whom are examining certain data: a few will draw what might be termed conservative or "safe" conclusions from it; there will probably be the greater number in the middle who will center somewhere near one or another viewpoint about what the evidence means; and there will be a relatively small number who go even farther in their conclusions to attempt to link these with broader or more imaginative perspectives about what the evidence really indicates. And the conclusions of today are often the manifest errors of tomorrow; this seems especially true right at this particular period of time when in all fields specialists and scholars are being inundated with unmanageable quantities of new data. Our state of knowledge is in great flux. This is not only exciting to any researcher: it also means the way is easier now for making relative quantum leaps in expanding our picture of the true probabilities and possibilities inherent in data. For me, this open-ended and open-minded state of affairs is what makes a knowledge of the theosophical philosophy so useful to almost any individual seriously interested in expanding his understanding of things as they are -- not as the former schools and textbooks say that they are.

And this leads to the query whether I. Velikovsky's book Worlds In Collision has ever been correlated with H. P. Blavatsky's books. I know of no such broad-scale effort, but your question is most interesting because in her Secret Doctrine (1888) she offers considerable data showing earth evolution as proceeding by means of, or, perhaps better, through catastrophism (i.e., periodic turnings over of the earth, changes of the poles, and consequent risings and fallings or sinkings of lands and seas with attendant transformations of earth populations of plants, animals and humans), rather than through a uniformitarianism such as advanced by the Darwinists and by the accepted geology of her day; and which in fact is the predominating theory today. However, pioneering researchers, such as Velikovsky with his books (not only Worlds, but also Earth In Upheaval, 1955, a fascinating companion study), in presenting rich testimony not only from the literatures and similar records of early peoples, but also from physical and scientific data, are beginning to bring about considerable rethinking on the part of a number of scientists of this whole uniformity stand. Another recent study which you might consult is The Path of the Pole by Professor Charles Hapgood, 1970, which offers extensive and convincing evidence for numerous shifts of the earth's poles with the attendant cataclysmic phenomena. Hapgood's findings support Velikovsky's general thesis of catastrophism as presented in Earth In Upheaval.

Personally I have little doubt that these researchers have hit upon many forgotten truths about the earth in some of its inner and magnetic connections with its neighbors in the solar system, and that what they term the catastrophism theory of earth evolution is truer and more correct in describing the facts than is uniformitarianism, which was largely advocated because it was needed to justify the Darwinian theory of the last century (but which in its specifics has never been proven).

In mentally trying to work out correlations of these researchers with H. P. Blavatsky, I think it is important to bear these points in mind: first, that apparently all of the truths now being brought forward about earth evolution, and many, many more not yet rediscovered by our scientists, have been preserved in certain very ancient records (for example, the Stanzas of Dzyan), but only some of them have been outlined in her writings because, as she maintained, many would not be understood in our age of development. The other point is one that is reiterated in many pages of The Secret Doctrine (Cf. I, 310, 318 and 325; and II, 291, 335, 471, 538, and 632-3), which is that to comprehend nature's real processes and events, to fully unlock the door to them, one must be able to turn seven keys of inquiry or -- to change the figure -- to turn the key of inquiry seven times in nature's lock.

Scientists such as Hapgood and Velikovsky have turned perhaps one or two of these keys in their explanations or attempted interpretations of their evidence. These are very important keys, of course, and we can only be delighted to see them used. But we must remember that there are other and additional factors at work in the total process of nature, of which they are not aware or at least have not considered. Some of these factors are brought more clearly to light as she turns others of the seven keys of inquiry about many natural phenomena connected with earth evolution. For example, she argues that natural and geological cataclysms occur hand in hand with the evolution of the races of men and associated lives such as the animals and vegetation of the earth. While the actual time-periods of such eras of violent house cleaning by nature have always been withheld, nevertheless H. P. Blavatsky includes a large amount of numerical calculations about those cycles, enough so that a careful student can get a good picture of how and why they take place, and even perhaps estimate generally when some of them have ensued (or will in the future) in different areas.

My own studies lead me to believe that one such period of earth cataclysm occurred about 11 to 13,000 years ago, perhaps especially in the region of the Atlantic basin, when the most recent great ice age retreated or waned relatively suddenly, and when volcanic, earthquake, and landslip activity was widespread. It was in that period, for example, that Plato reported the large island of Poseidonis -- centered in what is now the Atlantic Ocean -- suddenly sank. It is also then that our science shows the great North American icecap melting relatively quickly, causing enormous uplifts of certain land areas and sinkings of others, as the weight of the ice disappeared.

(From Sunrise magazine, October 1973; copyright © 1973 Theosophical University Press)

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