The Silurian Hypothesis: A Civilisation Before Man?

Discussion in 'Earth Mysteries: The Land' started by tzb57r, Apr 18, 2003.

  1. tzb57r

    tzb57r Devoted Cultist

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    A brief thought experiment on the detection of previous intelligent life on Earth.

    What evidence is there that homo-sapien is the first intelligent species to have evolved on this planet?
    Right now we assume that finding no indication of previous intelligent species indicates that they did not exist. I have been conducting a small though experiment to determine what factors would influence the likelihood of finding leftovers from mankind in 50 million years time.

    Let us first assume that intelligent (technological) society will result in communal living for the exchange of ideas and the bringing to bear of sheer weight of numbers to the solution of problems. Communal living appears to have been a key stepping stone to technological society for mankind in the early Neolithic. What would be chance of any of our cities, towns or villages being excavated in 50m years and still being recognised for what they were? I believe this would be about zero. Many of our largest cities lie on coasts, likely to be subjected to coastal erosion and for those like LA subjected to subduction. For those in ideal conditions would be left? Quite a lot really for those in perfect fossilisation conditions. However the problem here becomes digging in the right spot. I have no idea how much of the Earth’s surface is currently built on but I would guess much less than 0.1%. This leaves a much reduced likelihood that we would accidentally stumble upon remains.

    Assuming that previous a civilisation has been technologically advanced enough o launch spacecraft then this must give us a much better chance to detect them. Like us the most obvious place to put spacecraft is in orbit. Over 50 million years I would expect all satellites to crash back to Earth due to small orbital deviations and atmospheric slowing. Even up at geo-stationary orbit the solar wind and just a few hits by dust particles will I would expect to de-orbit a satellite over a few million years. This leaves spacecraft orbiting the sun, I believe these would suffer the same fate as those orbiting the Earth and would eventually be swept up by planets or spiral into the sun. Spacecraft sent out of the solar system would fare better, but by now are so far away and so out of power that we will never find them.

    Spacecraft on the moon or other lifeless bodies may have fared much better, but are likely to be buried by regolith and so we are back to the problem of digging in just the right place. Perhaps Star Trek type orbital sensors will one day help us identify such things on the moon, but this is some time away.

    Why come up with this seemingly daft idea? Intelligent life has only evolved in one place that we know about. Only one planet known to us right now has the conditions that permit intelligence life to evolve. If it evolves once why not twice, why not several times, every time resulting in mass extinction and self termination once the means are available. We are already in the middle of a mass extinction event and I personally would not trust our current clutch of world politicians and religious fanatics as far as I could kick JDAM bomb.

    Any thoughts?
     
  2. taras

    taras Apparitional entity

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    An archaeological dig in (somewhere in the middle east?) came to a halt several years ago after they dug down as far as they could and reached a layer of solid glass - something which cannot naturally occur, but would happen if a nuclear device was detonated over a sandy area. However, according to the stratigraphy, the event would have taken place millions of years ago... indicating a nuclear-type war millions of years ago.

    Can't remember where I read this, but I think it was in Paragon Books' "The UnXplained" (stories from which - from experience - are normally very accurate and not "made up".)
     
  3. Anonymous

    Anonymous Guest

    I think this glass has been attributed to a meteorite impact (which could produce similar results).

    Another idea to investigate whether there has been a previous intelligent species on Earth is to examine the fossil record. Is there evidence of unexplained mass extinctions? Certainly the fossil record in 50mya time will indicate that all the larger mammals became extinct almost overnight - with no evidence of meteor impact or anything (from a future geological standpoint, the extinction of the Australasian megafauna - 60,000 ya - and the African megafauna - happening right now - would appear to have happened at the same time)

    So, are there unexplained mass extinctions?

    Yes...... :eek:

    My personal view is that either sentient species have existed on this planet before, or else we are very, very alone in the universe and whilst life is common, sentience is not.
     
  4. Anonymous

    Anonymous Guest

    There's a thread somewhere on this site about just this subject which poses a good one: Mining.

    Mines are a good indicator of an industrial culture and they are very persistent: even filled-in, they're obvious. They're not subject to surface erosion in the way cities are, and they aren't bits of evidence which can corrode or be eaten. They're just non-natural breaks in geological structure.

    Find an ancient mine, and I'd say you had an ancient industrial culture.
     
  5. Anonymous

    Anonymous Guest

    Mining,
    the flint tools of Stone age cultures (they preserve the signatures of flintknapping for millions of years)-
    and, a new one to me- Bottles.
    Many people think that glass is a slow-flowing liquid, and would not preserve the shape for megayears-
    apparently this is not so,
    and a bottle buried in sediment could preserve it's shape for millions of years.
    Even better would be those big glass insulators off electrical gear...
     
  6. McAvennie

    McAvennie Justified & Ancient

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    The theory of other beings being here before us is certainly plausible and one that I would not write off.
    I remember once hearing that if the history of the universe was scaled into 24 hours Mankind would appear at 1 minute to midnight.
    One element of Forteana that cannot be explained away :)
     
  7. Dennis_De_Bacle

    Dennis_De_Bacle Justified & Ancient

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    Here is the thread.:)

    edit: Found this one as well, Dinosaur civilisation
     
  8. river_styx

    river_styx Justified & Ancient

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    I think writing or some other form of communication is good evidence of a civilisation although some native american tribes are known to pass most of their knowledge on by voice they still have art and literature.
    There's also the possibility that whatever traces of this previous race that were left have been assimilated into our history and mistaken as being part of our evolution like the ancient battery that was dug up not so long ago.
     
  9. Anonymous

    Anonymous Guest

    If we're talking millions of years, then I doubt we're going to dig anything up that looks like a relic of this former civilisation. We should probably be looking at the molecular level for man made alloys where there shouldn't be any. It seems unlikely anything would survive that long.
    Anything surviving from our current society is growing increasingly unlikely as every record now seems to only exist as digital media which is hardly as enduring as a stone tablet.
    Nice idea, though. It would be interesting to learn of a previous civilisation that actually managed to up-sticks and leave of their own accord.
     
  10. Anonymous

    Anonymous Guest

    one of the most obvious results of a nuclear war would be fallout, all the radioisotopes used in nuclear weapons last millions if not billions of years which is why they are so dangerous to use. It would be nice to find out what exactly that was though, do you have the article available? glass can be formed in the sand when it is superheated and rapidly cooled, folgerites (sp?) are an example, they are made when lightning strikes a beach or in the desert. Tektites are glass madefrom meteor impacts. Those little bits of glass are proof the Earth was hit with a large meteor 65 mya. I can only imagine what dinosaurs might have evolved into had they been given another 65 million years of evolution. They say some of the smarter ornithiomimids might have evolved into bi-pedal, intelligent, humanoid creatures. :blah:
     
  11. Anonymous

    Anonymous Guest

    What about other intelligent creatures on the earth right now? Apes, monkeys, dolphins, cuttle fish, octupus and certainly whales are all intelligent animals. Who's to say to what extent? If they were found quarrying iron ore would that qualify? I think its very arrogant to assume just because were top of the food chain and driving around squandering resources that this somehow qualifies us as being civilised. Sure we have art and music and other cultural aspects to our society or civilisation, this is a common aspect of all human civilisations, but should we expect these to be a prerequsite for being intelligent?

    Would we even be able to recognise another type of civilisation other than one we are familiar with? It may appear so alien and removed from what we know it be that it appears to be nothing. I do not think we are that civilised at all at the present time. We appear to be technologically adavanced, we are compared to other animals on the planet, but how much further has technology got to go. In a thousand years time our cutting edge technology will look like knapped flints.

    I like the idea of a civilisation managing to leave the earth ages ago, flying off into space to scope it out. A little like Battle Star Galactica. I also don't find it to hard to believe that in the past there were other technologicaly advanced civilisations that have bitten the dust along the way, and there knowledge has been part abosrbed and part misunderstood.
     
  12. Mattattattatt

    Mattattattatt Abominable Snowman

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    Y'know the frustrating thing?

    If there was evidence of a previous civilisation (and I would expect it to be less advanced as we are now and not moreso) then it would be tiny pieces. If you found, say, a metal girder in a strata of rock, it would say absolutely nothing about the building it belonged to or the people who built it. All you'd find was a joist, which needn't bear any relation to modern architecture. Also, the majority of our "advanced" society are buried in graveyards or cremated, not half as good at preserving remains as silt or tar. In fact, if we find anyone in such places, we give them a "proper burial". Therefore, I wouldn't expect these people(?)'s remains to be uncovered. Even if we found some clue, we many never get close to uncovering anything else.

    Although, musing, maybe these periodic mass extinctions actually coincide with the time it takes for civilisation to evolve? :p
     
  13. Kingsize Wombat

    Kingsize Wombat Abominable Snowman

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    The normally quite sober "The Atlantic" reports on an Academic paper called
    The Silurian Hypothesis: Would it be possible to detect an industrial civilization in the geological record?

    The answer is not as clear cut as you might think.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/04/are-we-earths-only-civilization/557180/
     
  14. maximus otter

    maximus otter Recovering policeman

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    You don't have the "Need to Know"
    Cynically I'm seeing some crossover/cross-fertilisation here: 56M years ago there was a sudden increase in the Earth's temperature known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). "During the PETM, the planet’s average temperature climbed as high as 15 degrees Fahrenheit above what we experience today."

    As temperature rises today can only be caused by human use of fossil fuels ( :rolleyes: ), it would be great for Warmistas if we could reify the idea of an ancient civilisation that destroyed itself by climate change caused by - ta-dah! - the use of fossil fuels!

    :dhorse:

    Can anyone say "desperation"?

    maximus otter
     
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  15. Kingsize Wombat

    Kingsize Wombat Abominable Snowman

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    Ahem, that whole discussion was the catalyst for this study!

    Not so much "desperation" as rigorous scientific thinking.
     
  16. maximus otter

    maximus otter Recovering policeman

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    You don't have the "Need to Know"
    Sorry, I'm obviously pre-coffee as I'm not understanding your reply.

    maximus otter
     
  17. Kingsize Wombat

    Kingsize Wombat Abominable Snowman

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    Ok, the point of this analysis was to see if we could rule out that a previous, non-human civilization caused global warming in the distant past.

    The result was that we can't - though it is highly unlikely to have happened that way.
     
  18. EnolaGaia

    EnolaGaia I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ... Staff Member

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    I have to disagree with this characterization of the paper's thrust.

    It doesn't appear to me the authors were specifically striving to rule out anything. Instead, they were opening up discussion of what evidence might allow us to 'rule in' the existence of an earlier industrial civilization.

    Climatic changes - particularly those involving abrupt temperature changes - were explicitly cited as the class of events most likely to be similar to Anthropocene outcomes, and the events mentioned were treated as examples.

    I don't see where the authors ever claimed a strong correspondence between industrial civilization extinction and climate change resulting from industrial operations.

    I only see them illustrating the sort of large-scale geological evidence that would have to exist to give us any chance of stumbling upon it, while choosing to frame this illustration in a context currently familiar to us - i.e., climatic disruption from large-scale energy utilization.
     
  19. AlchoPwn

    AlchoPwn Abominable Snowman

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    Rather than Dr Who, perhaps we should be more concerned about the H.P. Lovecraft angle. What if the civilization wasn't even remotely like our own because the sentients involved weren't remotely human in either form or mindset?
    :parapet: Is Yithian going to pop his head over the parapet, or would that blow his cover?

    From an archaeological perspective, it would be very hard to detect traces of such a civilization. For example, when we look at the evidence that modern structures leave when left un-maintained, they decay at an alarmingly fast rate. Yes, even the plastics, when subjected to intense sunlight and the potential of geological pressure will probably not retain their form for more than a few thousand years. Then there is the question of whether we would even detect the evidence of such a civilization if it were in front of us, rather than assuming it was a "natural formation from pre-existing conditions".

    As to the use of fossil fuels posited by Maximus Otter, again, we probably couldn't tell that there had been fossil fuel use. We know about big die-offs such as the KT boundary event from the worldwide evidence in the sedimentary layers, but more minute traces would be hard to find. For example. traces would be present in the layers of the ice pack, but that melts periodically. What is interesting there, for the Climate Change deniers is the rate of the evidence of carbon accumulation for such events in the past was far more gradual than the current spike, which starts in the early 19th Century and keeps going up and up until the present time, just like the global average temperatures over the same period, where records were kept.

    In fact, we need not assume that a civilization actually used technologies like our own at all. While they are plausible, as we have invented them, hence other sentients could feasibly also invent them, they are not the exhaustive answer to the same technical problems we face. In many ways, human technology has always been a reaction of human incapacity, rather than human ability. Had we been a -physically stronger and more durable species, our rate of technical development may have been greatly reduced due to lack of necessity. For example, a species of woolly mammoths with opposable thumbs are unlikely to develop cloth or spears, as they have thick natural coats and don't eat meat (which begs the question of why they would develop said opposable thumbs).

    Arguably beavers and many insects and even a few birds develop their own technology of habitation construction, which begs the question of at what point do we regard another species as having a definable civilization anyhow? :thought:
     
  20. Kingsize Wombat

    Kingsize Wombat Abominable Snowman

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    Well, I'm not going to disagree with you there, I was merely shooting for a one-sentence answer.
     
  21. Kingsize Wombat

    Kingsize Wombat Abominable Snowman

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    That is - for me - the biggest question. I think there is a very good argument to me made that termites have a kind of civilization. As per Wikipedia:

    Termites build structures, have a hierarchy, communicate and certainly try to dominate their environment.
     
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  22. Quake42

    Quake42 Warrior Princess

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    Fascinating stuff. I think we might already have a thread on dinosaur civilisations - perhaps they should be merged?
     
  23. EnolaGaia

    EnolaGaia I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ... Staff Member

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  24. Yossarian

    Yossarian Junior Acolyte

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    I think the point of the paper wasn't so much, "is there evidence of a pre-human civilisation?", as a means to ask the question, "what evidence will we leave behind?" - i.e. how permanent will our impact on the world be, and the "was there a civilisation before us?" element is more there as a means to frame that argument. I may be wrong, though.

    That said, the points on insects, birds, etc. I find very interesting - I'm a firm believer that we don't fully understand what "intelligence" is, when it comes to identifying it in animals, so it may well be that we don't know what "civilisation" is either. A strong argument could perhaps be made for recognising the social structures or hierarchies of some animals as "civilisation", rather than just seeing it as something inherently human.

    I'm reminded of the old Douglas Adam quote about dolphins...
     
  25. Naughty_Felid

    Naughty_Felid No longer interesting

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    https://www.scientificamerican.com/...vilization-have-existed-on-earth-before-ours/

    Robert E Howard may have had contact with the long dead shade of Conan?

    One of the creepier conclusions drawn by scientists studying the Anthropocene—the proposed epoch of Earth’s geologic history in which humankind’s activities dominate the globe—is how closely today’s industrially induced climate change resembles conditions seen in past periods of rapid temperature rise.

    “These ‘hyperthermals,’ the thermal-maximum events of prehistory, are the genesis of this research,” says Gavin Schmidt, climate modeler and director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “Whether the warming was caused by humans or by natural forces, the fingerprints—the chemical signals and tracers that give evidence of what happened then—look very similar.”

    The canonical example of a hyperthermal is the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), a 200,000-year period that occurred some 55.5 million years ago when global average temperatures rose by 5 to 8 degrees Celsius (about 9 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit). Schmidt has pondered the PETM for his entire career, and it was on his mind one day in his office last year when the University of Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank paid him a visit.


    Frank was there to discuss the idea of studying global warming from an “astrobiological perspective”—that is, investigating whether the rise of an alien industrial civilization on an exoplanet might necessarily trigger climate changes similar to those we see during Earth’s own Anthropocene. But almost before Frank could describe how one might search for the climatic effects of industrial “exocivilizations” on newly discovered planets, Schmidt caught him up short with a surprising question: “How do you know we’re the only time there’s been a civilization on our own planet?”

    Frank considered a moment before responding with a question of his own: “Could we even tell if there had been an industrial civilization [long before this one]?”

    Their subsequent attempt to address both questions has yielded a provocative paper on the possibility Earth might have spawned more than one technological society during its 4.5-billion-year history. And if indeed some such culture arose on Earth in the murky depths of geologic time, how might scientists today discern signs of that incredible development? Or, as the paper put it: “If an industrial civilization had existed on Earth many millions of years prior to our own era, what traces would it have left and would they be detectable today?”

    Schmidt and Frank began by forecasting the geologic fingerprints the Anthropocene will likely leave behind—such as hints of soaring temperatures and rising seas laid down in beds of sedimentary rock. These features, they noted, are very similar to the geologic leftovers of the PETM and other hyperthermal events. They then considered what tests could plausibly distinguish an industrial cause from otherwise naturally occurring climate changes. “These issues have never really been addressed to any great extent,” Schmidt notes. And that goes not only for scientists, but evidently for science fiction writers as well, he adds: “I looked back into the science fiction literature to try to find the earliest example of a story featuring a nonhuman industrial civilization on Earth. The earliest I could find was in a Doctor Who episode.”

    That 1970 episode of the classic TV series involves the present-day discovery of “Silurians”—an ancient race of technologically advanced, reptilian humanoids who predated the arrival of humans by hundreds of millions of years. According to the plot, these highly civilized saurians flourished for centuries until Earth’s atmosphere entered a period of cataclysmic upheaval that forced Homo reptilia to go into hibernation underground to wait out the danger. Schmidt and Frank paid tribute to the episode in the title of their paper: “The Silurian Hypothesis.”


    ADVERTISEMENT
    LOST IN STRATA
    Any plausibility for the Silurian hypothesis stems chiefly from the vast incompleteness of the geologic record, which only gets sparser the farther back in time you go.

    Today, less than 1 percent of Earth’s surface is urbanized, and the chance that any of our great cities would remain over tens of millions of years is vanishingly low, says Jan Zalasiewicz, a geologist at the University of Leicester in England. A metropolis’s ultimate fate, he notes, mostly depends on whether the surrounding surface is subsiding (to be locked in rock) or rising (to be eroded away by rain and wind). “New Orleans is sinking; San Francisco is rising,” he says. The French Quarter, it seems, has much better chances of entering the geologic record than Haight–Ashbury.

    “To estimate the odds of finding artifacts,” Schmidt says, “The back-of-the-envelope calculation for dinosaur fossils says that one fossil emerges every 10,000 years.” Dinosaur footprints are rarer still.

    “After a couple of million years,” Frank says, “the chances are that any physical reminder of your civilization has vanished, so you have to search for things like sedimentary anomalies or isotopic ratios that look off.” The shadows of many prehuman civilizations could, in principle, lurk hidden in such subtleties.

    But exactly what we would look for depends to some degree on how an Earthly-but-alien technological culture would choose to behave. Schmidt and Frank decided the safest assumption to make would be that any industrial civilization now or hundreds of millions of years ago should be hungry for energy. Which means any ancient industrial society would develop the capacity to widely exploit fossil fuels as well as other power sources, just as we have today. “We’d be looking for globalized effects that would leave a worldwide trace”—planetary-scale physical-chemical tracers of energy-intensive industrial processes and their wastes, Schmidt says

    Next comes the issue of longevity—the longer a civilization’s energy-intensive period persists and grows, the more obvious its presence should become in the geologic record. Consider our own industrial age, which has only existed for about 300 years out of a multimillion-year history of humanity. Now compare that minuscule slice of time with the half-billion years or so that creatures have lived on land. Humanity’s present rapacious phase of fossil fuel use and environmental degradation, Frank says, is unsustainable for long periods. In time it will diminish either by human choice or by the force of nature, making the Anthropocene less of an enduring era and more of a blip in the geologic record. “Maybe [civilization like ours] has happened multiple times, but if they each only last 300 years, no one would ever see it,” Frank says.

    Taking all this into consideration, what remains is a menu of diffuse long-lived tracers including fossil fuel combustion residues (carbon, primarily), evidence of mass extinctions, plastic pollutants, synthetic chemical compounds not found in nature and even transuranic isotopes from nuclear fission. In other words, what we would need to look for in the geologic record are the same distinctive signals that humans are laying down right now.

    SIGNS OF CIVILIZATION
    Finding signs of an altered carbon cycle would be one big clue to previous industrial periods, Schmidt says. “Since the mid–18th century, humans have released a half-trillion tons of fossil carbon at high rates. Such changes are detectable in changes in the carbon isotope ratio between biological and inorganic carbon—that is, between the carbon incorporated into things like seashells and that which goes instead into lifeless volcanic rock.”

    Another tracer would be distinctive patterns of sediment deposition. Large coastal deltas would hint at boosted levels of erosion and rivers (or engineered canals) swollen from increased rainfall. Telltale traces of nitrogen in the sediments could suggest the widespread use of fertilizer, fingering industrial-scale agriculture as a possible culprit; spikes in metal levels in the sediments might instead point to runoff from manufacturing and other heavy industry.

    More unique, specific tracers would be non-naturally occurring, stable synthetic molecules such as steroids and many plastics, along with well-known pollutants including PCBs—toxic polychlorinated biphenyls from electrical devices—and CFCs—ozone-eating chlorofluorocarbons from refrigerators and aerosol sprays.

    hing the presence of industry from nature, Schmidt notes, is developing a multifactor signature. Absent artifacts or convincingly clear markers, the uniqueness of an event may well be seen in many relatively independent fingerprints as opposed to the coherent set of changes that are seen to be associated with a single geophysical ca“I find it amazing that no one had worked all this out before, and I’m really glad that somebody has taken a closer look at it,” says Pennsylvania State University astronomer Jason Wright, who last year published “a fluffy little paper” exploring the counterintuitive notion that the best place to find evidence of any of Earth’s putative prehuman civilizations may well be off-world. If, for instance, dinosaurs built interplanetary rockets, presumably some remnants of that activity might remain preserved in stable orbits or on the surfaces of more geologically inert celestial bodies such as the moon.

    “Look, 200 years ago the question of whether there might be a civilization on Mars was a legitimate one,” Wright says. “But once the pictures came out from interplanetary probes, that was settled for good. And that view became ingrained, so now it’s not a valid topic for scientific inquiry; it’s considered ridiculous. But no one’s ever put the actual scientific limits on it—on what may have happened a long time ago.”

    Wright also acknowledges the potential for this work to be misinterpreted. “Of course, no matter what, this is going to be interpreted as ‘Astronomers Say Silurians Might Have Existed,’ even though the premise of this work is that there is no such evidence,” he says. “Then again, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
     
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  26. EnolaGaia

    EnolaGaia I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ... Staff Member

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  27. Naughty_Felid

    Naughty_Felid No longer interesting

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  28. EnolaGaia

    EnolaGaia I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ... Staff Member

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    No problem ... I've posted a request to merge the threads.
     
  29. Jim

    Jim Abominable Snowman

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    I've investigated into the Silurian hypothesis. While interesting it's w/o science. More far fetched than antediluvian theories about Atlantis or Lemuria.

    The science is with the fact that man was at a higher stage of advancement then previously thought at a earlier date.
    Examples being: Göbekli Tepe, the sphinx (forget about Zahi Hawass) and the recent report of finding in Siberia.
     
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  30. blessmycottonsocks

    blessmycottonsocks Justified & Ancient

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