Monday, May 23, 2011

The Atlantis of Japan--Yonaguni

Are these terraces a freak of nature, or proof of the existence of an ancient civilization?

    What?  Underwater pyramids near Japan? Yes, in shark-infested shallow waters off the island of Yonaguni Japan lie stepped pyramids.  Nobody knows who made these pyramids.  Indeed, it may be that much of the site is natural.  The rocks are shale, which is naturally flat.  Because Japan is in an earthquake zone, geologists say that these rocks can split along a fault, creating a terraced effect. 
        Thus, listening to the geologists,  the hugeness of the geometric features actually support the notion that the site may naturally have terraces.  On the other hand, the details may argue in favor of human activity.  For example, in the second drawing there appears to be a drawing of a human face. However, I should point out that this photo came from a for-profit TV show and it's not clear to what extent the photo is digitally "enhanced"  (i.e., fraudulent). 
        I kind of think that the answer may lie somewhere in between.  The large terraced features are much more likely to be natural than man-made, given the nature of the shale rock layers.  But the details are too perfect, and tend to suggest that people may have helped to smooth over the features of the site. 
        If for the sake of argument, we assume that the site was sculpted to some extent by humans, what does this show?  Unfortunately we can know very little about who might have used the site.  We can't conclude that this was some super lost civilization liike Atlantis.  We really need to examine pottery, tools, artwork and written records (if any exist) to know about a society.  We have none of this in the case of Yonaguni.  A pottery fragment or two would go a long way towards helping us understand the role of humans at the site, but so far nothing like that has been found, as far as I know. 
      Nor do we know when the Yonaguni Monument may have sunk beneath the waves.  One hypothesis is that it may have gradually been overtaken by water at the end of the last Ice Age, some 11,000 years ago.  Alternatively, it may be sunk more abruptly during an earthquake, perhaps as recently as 1500 years ago. 
      Ultimately, Yonaguni may not tell us much that science didn't know already.  We know that anatomically modern humans have been around been around for some 40,000 years or so.  So there have been several opportunities for proto-civilizations to rise and fall, although archeology doesn't attest to much of a civilization prior to the Sumerians.
     I am not a professional anthropologist by any means, but it seems to me that some of the early civilizations might have been seafaring ones, and it wouldn't come as a great surprise if the end of the Ice Age might have set back the advance of civilizations such as Yonaguni. Our main problem is that it is hard to gather data on civilizations that are now underwater, but in this case the lack of data shouldn't be construed as proof they didn't exist.  
     I think it would be really cool to try to map likely locations for port cities during the ice age and to have the resources to excavate them.
     It will be interesting to see what future archeologists make of the the Yonaguni site. 

Is this real?  This shot came from a video on History Channel, but I'm not sure if it is simply digitally enhanced, or completely made up (i.e., fraudulent).  We need to see the unaltered photography.  If the lines are real, I don't see how they could be natural. But I think this is digitally "enhanced."  I believe TV make it up to make their documentary more exciting.  Other photos of the same formation look like this:

You can see the video "evidence" at about 33:00:

The straight lines and "stairs" look very impressive.  However, they remind me of the cleavage planes of crystals as seen under a microscope.  Below you can see some electron micrographs of the break plane of a crystal, which I guarantee was not made by a pre-ice-age civilization, but by scientists in a laboratory.  A geologists could better comment on what rocks can look like in a heavily faulted region such as Japan, but I think I need to see something besides planar formations and right angles to get excited.  

P. A. Gurjiyants et al., Effect of growth conditions on the strength of shaped sapphire, Journal of Crystal Growth, Volumes 198–199, Part 1, March 1999, Pages 227–231,