Re Hamlet's Mill
Re Hamlet's Mill
With all its flaws, Chris asks
what good is this book.?
True, HM is a flawed and hasty book.
It could have used a rewrite and a good editor.
As one critic points out, it smacks of being a
first draft. The authors' flagrantly display their
scholarly prejudices along with their beliefs.
However when it came out, there was no other
discussion of its topic. Now archaeo-astronomy
and ethno-astronomy are legitimate subject areas.
Short answer to Chris' question is:
This book is valuable because it presents a
cosmological vision of cyclical time not presented
in any other easy to find single source.
This is the baby that ought not be tossed out
with the bath water.
The precession of the equinoxes actually exists
So does the 60 year cycle of conjunction between
Saturn and Jupiter. This is not philosophical conjecture.
Both these cycles are observable phenomena.
The authors present the idea that intelligent
people did observe them, that they developed a
cosmological vision based on these observations
and that the language in various cultures'
supporting myths refer to these observable
phenomena in their text. The image of the mill
used in the title only dates to the final centuries BC,
but an earlier understanding of cyclical time is not
limited by this metaphor.
The authors focus on language and don't explore
very well how much support their ideas about
transmission of precessional knowledge get from
the presence of sexagisimal numbers embedded
in mythic tales, This would be useful to them
because in this case, math cross-checks myth.
Certain numbers that appear repeatedly in Eurasian
myths correspond to the lengths of precessional
time cycles and their subdivisions as measured by
the sexagisimal units. Early in the 20th century there
was apparently a lot of controversy over whether
the appearance of these numbers was evidence of
or simply a mathematical coincidence rising out of
the sexagisimal number system. It's the fact that
these same numbers appeared regularly in cuniform
tablets recovered during the excavation of 5000 year
old Mesopotamian cities that seemed to raise the
question of how far back precessional knowledge
might go. The persistence of the sexagisimal number
system itself is plain. The ancient Mesopotamian
invention for measuring circles and the passage of time
is so effective that we still use it today.
From the critics of HM I have learned that you are
a Pan-Babylonian if you believe that the Sumerians
or Babylonians originated the zodiac of 12 equally
divided parts, had knowledge of the precession and its
effects and that this knowledge diffused to other civilizations.
It is true that HM proposes such a scenario. Likewise
I have to admit that I am presently one of these people.
I'm not convinced that it spread across the entire planet in
ancient times, but I'm convinced that it spread thruout the
The existence and diffusion of a cosmological vision
based on precessional knowledge and transmitted by
various means is not simply the stuff of idle speculation
by the authors of HM.
There are monuments
Civilizations widely separated in time as well as by space
have actually used precessional numbers to design
monuments in ways that make it clear they understand
the phenomena behind them.
For example, as late as the 7th century AD, monuments
like Ankor Wat or Borbudor demonstrate that the
precessional numbers were transmitted somehow for more
than 3000 years.It seems remarkable that after all that time
two kings relied on the authenticity of these numbers to provide
them with a legitimate cosmological image. Likewise it seems
clear that at these sites the numerology at work in the Hindu
and Buddhist mythological motifs portrayed by sculpture
are working also as a vehicle for astronomical information.
Additionally, the numerical evidence shows conflation of the
precessional numbers with other cycles and circles like the
Yugas at Ankor and the wheel of Dharma at Borbudor.
It is likely that the precessional references at these late temples
in did not originate within those religious traditions but come
from older sources.
An interesting reference to the conjunctions of Saturn and Jupiter
appears in Keith Critchlow's Islamic Patterns. He demonstrates
how star-shaped patterns that deliberately derive from the trigons
of conjunction form the basis for a cluster of well-known tilework
In summary, for all its flaws HM is the tip of a big iceberg.
I still give the authors credit for taking a crack at a slippery
subject. I have yet not read the criticism of the book by Edward
Leech who says that alleging knowledge of the precession before
Hipparchus in 2nd century AD, is just "false".
However amidst Santillana and von Deschend's jumble there
is what seems to be a lot of fascinating circumstantial evidence re
the existence and survival of precessional knowledge. Some of it
seems to get support from elsewhere. Some perhaps not.
Fortunately now-days if you are interested in ethno-astronomy there
are a lot of other places you can start, like for instance the books
of Anthony Aveni, E.C. Krupp or McKim Malville.