Herodotus Returns

Bhimbetka rock shelters, India
May 1, 2010, 3:13 pm
Filed under: Hunter-Gatherer, India, Rock Art, Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

I recently had a chance to visit the Bhimbetka rock shelters in Madhya Pradesh, India, which hold one of the greatest galleries of prehistoric art anywhere in the world. This cluster of sandstone rock formations were home to nomadic hunter-gatherers from as far back as 100,000 years ago right up to the 1700s (Medieval period). That’s 1117 centuries of continuous habitation. On the walls of the shelters, there are layers upon layers of beautiful paintings, dating back about 10,000 years. Some depict daily life – people herding animals, for example – others are more enigmatic depictions of mythical beasts and anthropomorphic figures. An article about my visit is forthcoming in Culturama magazine in Chennai. I’ll post the pdf when it comes out.

photos courtesy of Archaeological Survey of India.


Vimanas: Ancient Indian Flying Machines, UFOs, or Sanskrit Sci-fi?
April 1, 2010, 9:15 pm
Filed under: India | Tags: , ,

I just wrote this article for Heritage Key about vimanas, the mysterious flying machines cited throughout ancient Indian sanskrit texts. There’s a small army of alternative historians out there who believe that these flying machines were real, that ancient Indians had flying technology, fought battles in flying saucers, then lost this secret knowledge in the corruption of the modern period. Sounds ridiculous, right?

“Flying chariots,” “celestial cars,” “mechanical birds,” “winged vehicles,” and “aerial cities.” These may sound like the swarming aircrafts from James Cameron’s sky-battles in Avatar, but, in fact, they come from a much older source: ancient Indian literature. Called vimanas (pronounced “vimans”) in Sanskrit, such flying vehicles appear throughout India’s ancient texts. They are especially prominent in combat sequences, when gods and divine beings battle their enemies high above the earth.

Chariots flown by gods are not unique to Indian mythology: the Greek god Apollo flies the Sun Chariot; Kay Kavus, the mythological Persian king steers a flying throne to China; and Thor, of the Norse tradition, commandeers the Chariot of Thunder. The peculiar thing about vimanas is that a contingent of modern writers insist that these flying vessels are not limited to mythology – that is, they were actual machines, constructed and flown by ancient Indians.

More on Vimanas from Heritage Key.

Last speaker of ancient language Bo dies in India
February 5, 2010, 10:04 am
Filed under: India | Tags: , ,

BBC reports that an 80-year-old woman named Boa Sr, the last to speak the ancient language Bo, has passed away in the Andaman Islands, located off the eastern coast of India. The Andamans are fascinating – an anthropologists’ dream, they’re called – because some of the island’s languages date back 70,000 years to pre-Neolithic times. As evidenced by Boa, who lived as the world’s only speaker of Bo after her parents died 30 years before, many of these languages are slowly dying out. I recommend you check out the audio file of Boa Sr speaking Bo. She sounds like she is singing.

She said that Boa Sr’s death was a loss for intellectuals wanting to study more about the origins of ancient languages, because they had lost “a vital piece of the jigsaw”.

“It is generally believed that all Andamanese languages might be the last representatives of those languages which go back to pre-Neolithic times,” Professor Abbi said.

Here’s more on the BBC story.

A few tangential searches about the Andaman Islands brought me to an article about the Sentinelese, an aboriginal group inhabiting a small island in the chain that has had little contact with the outside world. Here’s a great article about the Sentinelese from the scholar Adam Goodheart.