Cataclysms are the reasons for our wrong chronology
Paper read at the international meeting of chronologists
in Potsdam, Sept. 12th to 14th, 2008
Uwe Topper
Berlin · 2008.
The academic convention concerning historiography is not acceptable to reasonable thinking. Three main points are missing in the present concept of history:
  • 1. A trustworthy description of the development of this view of history, or: history of the foundations of historiography.
  • 2. Research into the chronological bases of historiography.
  • 3. Taking into account the catastrophes of cosmic origin which occurred during the recent history of man and changed his environment drastically.

As far as the first point is concerned, I can summarize in a few sentences the results we reached so far. The lifelong work of Wilhelm Kammeier has not been ignored by scholars (though it might seem so) but is now more or less integrated in academic research except that the author‘s name is not mentioned. He had scrutinized a great number of medieval documents and found that they are all productions of a later age. By this not only the chronology of the Middle Ages is shown to be non-existent, but also a huge gap is left for historiographers which they so far can hardly fill with facts. All pre-Renaissance history has to be completely re-written, and legends or sagas cannot fill this gap. Archaeology as well has to be readjusted as it was founded on the same timetables that historiography had proposed, and even the aims of the excavations have to be reconsidered. Only after analysing all excavation reports can there be a readjustment of the preliminary results of those excavations. Especially coins and pottery have to be re-classified completely.

Point two: At first a thorough clarification of the process of the construction of the present chronology has to be established. Mentions of Scaliger, Calvisius and Petavius are not enough because the whole development of computistics within the church is a labyrinthine matter that can only be clarified by returning to the beginning of Christian dating by Anno Domini (AD, modern years counting from the birth of Christ) which might be located near AD 1500. In case the churches refuse to cooperate, their chronology has to be regarded as fake and work has to begin at point zero.

It has been proposed to use foreign dating – such as Muslim Hijra years – to fill in the missing time, but this does not really satisfy because those foreign chronologies – this judgement pertains to all of them – are not free from falsifications, moreover they are mostly based on the Christian way of constructing chronology and adjusted to our own.

Scientifically based chronology will turn out to be the only solid ground for a new approach provided that those physical or chemical procedures do not turn out to be vicious circles like radiocarbon dating or dendrochronology have so far. For the moment I can only think of using astronomical and calendric traditions that might bring light to our problem.

Now point three which I shall elaborate in detail: The reason for the wrong chronology lies in the frequent catastrophes of cosmic origin. This has been locked out of academic thinking for a century and a half, partly on scientific grounds which include errors, but mostly on an emotional (and even religious) foundation.

Catastrophes have brought human civilization to a standstill several times in history, living conditions have been interrupted, and the cultural development had to start anew. To deny those facts in historiography is an error and a serious twisting of facts. Since the position of the earth had been changed momentarily by every such catastrophe, all kinds of mathematical retrocalculation of cosmic events such as eclipses or positions of planets must be wrong. Any historiography based on such retrocalculations turns out erroneous results.

Those who knew this problem had to fake their „chronicles“ in order to bring heaven and earth into harmony, a treacherous harmony that has never endured for a long time. The work of the mainly religious chronologists (computists of the church) has to be regarded as consciously faked papers with the purpose to eradicate the memory of those cataclysms and to fill in the unknown gaps.

As far as geological history is concerned, the possibility of cosmic intruders such as meteorites, comets, asteroids and the like – commonly placed under the label „bolides“ – has been taken into account since the Steinheimer Becken (Steinheim Meteor Crater) in southern Germany was examined thoroughly more than half a century ago. The idea then was extended to other locations and nowadays it is rather fashionable to discover more and more impact craters. This has nothing to do with our item.

The new term of the catastrophes I have in mind is „cosmic jolt“ or „leap“ of the earth. Such a leap cannot result from a bolide crushing into the crust of the earth. We still do not know what unleashes such a jolt as I am proposing, but this does not concern our present chain of thoughts. Such a jolt implies that the axis of the earth jumps for a tiny fraction in its orbit around the sun, a fraction that can only be measured afterwards by calculating the precession and its speed. After a short lived instability the earth regains its stable orbit and continues to circle the sun on the usual parameters. A jolt can be ascertained from historic documents of astronomical and calendric nature.

Certainly, such a jolt has far-reaching consequences for life and environment: Sea coasts and islands change places, mountains are rising or sinking, volcanoes erupt and ravines open for new rivers, the atmosphere will be darkened for many years, in certain regions life will cease altogether, cultural achievements have to be regained by hard efforts for generations. Denying those accidents gives us a wrong picture of human evolution.

There is another reason why those cosmic interruptions should not be excluded from historiography: the retrocalculated chronology after such an event must be wrong.

Is there documentary evidence for such jolts? There are many such items of evidence, but they have not been taken seriously or not related to each other to give a clear sight. The geological transformation is the most obvious proof, but so far it has been put off into far-away, prehistoric times, mostly ending with the end of the last Ice Age. North Sea and Baltic coasts have changed enormously during the last millennium as maps of the Renaissance still recall. In mountain ranges such as the High Atlas in Northern Africa one can easily make out three levels of land rising, the original limits of human activity are well visible.

My research into the three coastlines on the Iberian peninsula during the 1970s gave me a basic knowledge of those three catastrophes during recent history although in my publication then (1977) I did not yet recognize how young those events really were. Instead of the then proposed 9000 years of Plato I now have to get down to only one thousand years as far as the last three land risings (= jolts) are concerned. We now propose 650 BP, 740 BP and 950 BP. Those dates are hypothetical and more uncertain the farther back they reach.

Now let us regard astronomical documents proving those jolts. Arabs as well as Greeks have handed down to us a great amount of astronomical data that can be exploited to this effect. Although modern astronomers agree that the angle of the earth’s axis (the ecliptic epsilon) is not unchangeable but undergoes a certain movement calculated as a curve diagram, they do not know or recognize that this same movement can be interrupted at certain moments and thus give different parameters for years gone by. Medieval and antique observations give us sufficient data to previous interruptions of the diagram. Even the short periods of instability after a jolt are documented by ancient astronomers.

We have to relearn four important items:

  • A: When the earth jumps on its precession cycle as proposed, the cardinal points of the year as well as the length of the seasons change. This has been marked in calendars.
  • B: Although north remains north on earth after a jolt, the north pole in the sky changes its place for the observer.
  • C: By a jolt the speed of the precession is altered. This can be ascertained after some lapse of time.
  • D: Astronomical retrocalculations of past years and events are broken up by the jolts. This deletes modern chronology.

Let us consider those four points in detail.

Point A concerns the change of the angle of the earth regarding the precession cycle

The cardinal point of the year had been measured in bygone times by a great number of Euro-Asian astronomers with considerable accuracy. The angle of the solstices as well as the declination combined deliver the obliqueness of the ecliptic with sufficient precision, a term that all classic and Islamic astronomers dominated. Their values differ slightly from the actual values, and do not integrate into the graphic curve developed from actual values and retrocalculated for classic or Islamic times. Therefore those ancient values are nowadays termed wrong, especially the values given by Ptolemy.

The anomaly of the circuit of the earth, its aphelion and perihelion, could be determined as well very early, be it by the differing length of the seasons (analemma with gnomon) or by the changing width of the visible sun’s diameter measured in a camera obscura of a round observatory. Both ways are believed to have been practiced by Ptolemy who might even have used measurements obtained by Hipparchus said to have been made around three centuries previously.

Arabs and Persians worked out highly accurate determinations of the apsides with values until the fragments of spheric seconds. Those informations correlate between each other but do not accord with modern retrocalculations. To attribute those discrepancies to lapses in copying or to results of bad instruments sounds absurd. Even the movement of the apsides along the ecliptic was calculated then and its velocity was noted. These values differ as well from the actual ones. What is more: Between those two groups of data we have no intermediary values

Point B: The movement of the Celestial North Pole

The term „precession“ denotes the uneven circling of the earth like a spinning top which means that its axis moves in relation to the pole, and thus the equinox wanders backwards.

A simple way to understand this as a layman is to observe the movement of the polar star during the centuries. Christopher Columbus, while crossing the Atlantic some five hundred years ago, had difficulties in determining true north because the amount of deviation of his compass was not known to him. But the polar star did not help him either without special mathematics because at that time it stood more than three degrees from the center of the sky, circling around it. Today Alpha Ursae minoris (our polar star) is only half a degree distant from the real pole and therefore quite apt to be used as guidance, but even this small difference can be noticed by any shepherd.

The slow dislocation of the polar star in the course of centuries is an effect of precession and its most obvious example. Joseph Scaliger who – like later Sir Isaac Newton – secured his chronological work by involving astronomy, used an ancient tradition which said that a star in the constellation of Draco, Thuban by name (meaning the serpent), had been the polar star in those times, supposedly the times of the Phoenicians. According to mythology it should have been the star we now know as Gamma Draconis, the brightest in the head of Draco, also called Etamin (because the Arabs called it Ras at-Tannin, head of the serpent) and around which the whole firmament turns. Yet Scaliger named another star Thuban, the one we today call with the same name (Alpha Draconis) because it would lay on the precession circle as retrocalculated from data available to Scaliger (the same we use today). Only this star could have been the polar star of the ancients, argued Scaliger, and this holds until now, except that the „historical“ moment would be chronologically far off: 2800 B.C., i.e. two thousand years to early for any Phoenicians. (Note: Kunitzsch, Almagest 1974, p.172 relates this exceptional mistake of Scaliger to John of London, 1246 and repeats this p.224)

Aristotle in his work „De Coelo“ described the earth as a globe floating motionless in the centre of the universe and around which are circling the sun, the moon, and all the stars except one star: the polar star. This one is an unchangeable point which sailors use to determine their course.

Now, which star did Aristotle refer to? His thought is quite correct at least from our actual point of view. But in his time – say around 300 B.C. – there was no star at that point of the sky that could have served as polar star if we use our data for retrocalculation. The earth‘s axis would point to a section of the northern sky without any stars in the (present-day) constellation of Camelopardalis. Not even approximately would there have been a star to serve as guide for sailors. Then what is Aristotle talking about? We don’t know but can deduce that the sky at the time of Aristotle looked different from what it would have looked like if modern retrocalculations are applied.

A similar observation can be made concerning the polar star of the Arabs. They chose Kochab (which equals Beta Ursae minoris) and called it al-Kaukab al-Shamali, star of the north, from which it took its modern name Kochab. Yet if we retrocalculate from modern values the Arabs would have lived more than three thousand years ago or at least have retained such an old term which in their own time was useless. As far as I can see modern retrocalculations going back more than six centuries do not give any meaningful results when compared to old traditions.

Point C: Variation of the speed of precession

Well known is the conclusion that nearly all data and descriptions in the Almagest of Ptolemy are somehow wrong; they do not fit his time if retrocalculated nor do they fit any other time. This had been noted by the first critical astronomers, the Arabs, when they compared the Almagest to their own findings. And critics never were silent about this point until today. As a modern example I only mention the well-known American astronomer Robert Newton who categorically said that the whole Almagest is a fraud. Values for the movement of Venus are completely wrong if looked upon with modern data in mind. Locations of fixed stars are absolutely wrong as well. Exceptions are the length of sidereal and tropical year and moon observations.

How can this be explained? The only solution that makes sense to me are the jolts that have taken place in the meantime.

I might compare the jolts to the sporting behaviour of a marathon runner who knows well his capacities. He will always have the same length of pace and run in constant evenness so his speed will be absolutely uniform. When he arrives at the finish line, his steps can be counted back and one can be sure to find the spot where he set his foot 5 km before. But a photographer who took a snapshot of that special spot can prove that the calculation gave a wrong result. The runner jumped once in a while on his way, maybe for sheer joy, while nobody noticed it or thought it worthwhile to talk about. Every jump changes the position of his steps.

The example is only partly working to its purpose because the jumps of the earth were noticed and recorded and they can even today be recognised in traditional literature. If the Almagest is sorted out as untrustworthy and fraudulent, this does not concern us here. It belongs to points 1 and 2 in the beginning of this lecture.

If the earth moved along its path at even speed and with the same parameters as today, then some of the data obtained by the old astronomers would be correct. But if the earth made some jumps in the meantime, then certain data will be wrong such as the anomalistic year, the precession and the angle of the ecliptic.

Let us look again at the runner: It could even happen that some photographs of his steps do coincide more or less with the calculated ones, yet the number of steps will be different after each jump. In our case this means the number of years. As the steps of the runner had not been counted, this point would not be detected. Only if his jumps were very big would some person say: There is something wrong here. And this phrase was exactly the one Sir Isaac Newton exclaimed when he checked the chronology of Scaliger and Petavius. Thus modern chronology criticism started.

Precession jolts since Babylonian time

Our actual value (since the Renaissance) of the speed of precession is 72 years for one degree displacement of the spring equinox. This was not always like that.

In the Middle Ages the speed was a bit quicker. As Arab astronomers wrote, the precession speed at their time was around 65 to 66 years per degree, starting from al-Battani (around 880 AD) to Kushayr and as-Sufi until Haraqi (1112 AD). An anonymous contemporary of Zarqallu (11th century) noted likewise 66, and the book of Alfonso X, the Wise (13th century) gives the same value.

We can retain: All values for about four hundred years oscillate around 66. As chronology criticisers we doubt the lapse of 400 years and even the exact dating of those texts but it seems clear to me that they pertain to the time before the Renaissance. The astonishing uniformity of the value cannot be explained by copying because the values differ very slightly and are often declared to be the result of painstaking calculations. Even a slow change within this interval can be noticed.

Let us step back into classical time: Ptolemy gave the speed as exactly 100 years per degree (and the Arabs confirmed this for Ptolemy). It might seem this is just a round number but the mistake can only add up to a few years, as this value had been handed down by Hipparchus as well nearly three hundred years earlier.

Recently even older dates have been discovered: Dennis Rawlins found an old manuscript in 1981 (published only in 1999) that shows that Aristarchus 130 years before Hipparchus had nearly the same value of 100. (Quoted in German by Sepp Rothwangl, internet). This means once again that an original value for the precession speed had been handed down by the Greeks over something like four centuries. Again I have to admit that we now don’t know when this really was and for how long the speed was uniform. But since the Arabs knew this value it must have been calculated some time before them.

Stepping back again until Babylonian time we suddenly are confronted with the value 50, as Rothwangl asserts quoting cuneiform tablets. The big year of precession, he continues, of the astronomer Kidinnu amounted to 18.000 years thus corresponding to what was passed on by Greeks concerning a phrase of Heraklitus which can only be found in Aetius. Here now the tradition is very weak and contestable, yet lacking other information we can resume the following: From Kepler to us there is the factor 72, while it is 66 for the Arabs and 100 for the Greeks of post-Alexander time; for the Babylonian epoch it was supposedly 50.

To call these figures rounded to fit magical purposes is not logical as 72 is our real value and yet this figure couldn’t be more symbolical for a Christian scientist. I regard all these values as calculated by astronomers on the base of real observations in their own time. The calculation can depart from the difference between sidereal and tropical year or using information of generations past about the location of stars on the ecliptic. Both methods had been used.

It strikes me that any intermediate values are missing. The change of the precession speed was not slow and surreptitious but abrupt. At certain moments the speed changed suddenly, that is what I call a jolt.

Point D: Chronology by means of retrocalculation

Archaeo-astronomers researching megalithic monuments or medievalists analysing astrolabes always use a simple method to find out the age of the object in question: They look for an indication of the spring equinox (or any other similar date) given by their object and then just apply mathematics like a ruler using 72 years for 1 degree precession. Why so? Because this speed has to be a natural constant value and holds good for millenniums and even millions of years. The law of uniformity is fully acknowledged. The result is wrong.

How wrong can be shown by an example: Alfonsine tables always give 17 degrees distance to the positions of Ptolemy. The official chronologic distance is 1120 years. Applying the modern rate of 72 the distance would be a hundred years more. Taking into account Ptolemy’s rate the distance would be completely out of order: 1700 years. Only with the Arab value of 66 we arrive at 1120 years. This looks well arranged. The conclusion would be that the speed of precession between Ptolemy and Alfonso was stable at 66 years per degree.

But what if a jolt had happened in-between? Then the time lapse between the two persons is wrong. As long as we take a wrong precession speed for our retrocalculations the results must be erroneous. If jolts have taken place, all chronography based on astronomy is wrong. Jolts have taken place as I just tried to prove. Then Christian years before the last jolt (around 650 years ago) are wrong.

The model of a Platonic Year (of roughly 25.900 years) as revolution of the sky by precession is unreal. Not even an ellipse or oval form would help to improve the dates, because in this case Kochab could have never been the polar star of the Arabs. It stands too far off in time when calculated with actual values. For the last millennium we can only pretend to know that precession has always been retrograde.

There is another hint to the correctness of the above thoughts, the notion of trepidation of the Arab and early Renaissance writers.

The Latin term trepidatio, also called accessio and recessio, or in Arabic iqbal and idbar, had been observed as fact by certain astronomers of the Middle Ages. This to-and-fro movement of the position of the equinox and other data could not be foretold by the known mechanisms of anomaly and never found a satisfying theoretical explanation. It was observed only some short decades and then vanished. John of Königsberg (Regiomontanus, end of 15th century) wrote a pamphlet refuting vehemently this notion of irregular movements. I suppose that in his time trepidation had definitely ceased.

The Indian astronomers are said to have been the first to give knowledge of the trepidation, and from there via Persia it may have reached the Arabs who handed it on to Andalusian and Christian scientists. Those held fierce discussions about this subject. King Alfonso X is on record as having considered trepidation as a fact when he started to reign (around 1260 AD), but towards the end of his long rule he disregarded it (in 1290 A.D.). The disturbance had ceased, the values had gone back to constancy. This fits our supposition that the last but one jolt had taken place around 1260 A.D.

French astronomers in Paris have noted the same: Campanus de Novare (1261-64) used compromise values, but from 1290 onwards the Toledan tables give stable data. Morelon (1997) names five French astronomers who agreed on this. Trepidation is thus revealed to be an indication of an unstable movement of the earth after a jolt.

Result: Retrocalculation of bygone times by an unchanging value of precession (of actual observation) or of the steady decrease of the angle of the ecliptic or the constant movement of the apsides cannot give true years if jolts and an abrupt change of those parameters are not taken into account. Best results may be obtained when traditions of earlier astronomers and calendar usage are considered as valuable.

Quoted Literature

Humboldt, Alexander v. : Kosmos (1845. Nachdruck Frankfurt/M., 2004)
Kunitzsch, Paul : Ibn as-Salah.
Zur Kritik der Koordinatenüberlieferung im Sternklatalog des Almagest (Göttingen 1974)
Newton, Robert R. : The Crime of Claudius Ptolemy (Baltimore, London 1977)
Rashed,  Roshdi (Hrg.): Histoire des Science Arabes (Paris 1997)
Rothwangl, Sepp : internet (2003)
Topper, Uwe : Kalendersprung (Tübingen 2006)

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