The little island of Yonaguni is the last of the Ryukyu Islands, a chain stretching in a long scimitar curve from southern Japan south and west toward the Chinese mainland. Okinawa is the largest of the Ryukyus; probably the only one familiar to westerners other than trivia-buffs boning up on their geography.
Little Yonaguni is not renowned for much, even locally, but it boasts some fine diving, with interesting underwater formations, and coral reefs teeming with extravagant fish designed by the celestial Faberge. Apart from this, it is also one of the few places on earth where hammerhead sharks school. I'm not sure what they learn in school, apart from eating scuba divers --but intrepid divers willing to trade the possibility of becoming hammerhead-lunch for a chance to watch them at their lessons, travel to Yonaguni for the sight.
Kihachiro Aratake is a director of Yonaguni-Cho Tourism Association, and scuba diving instructor; he looks like a character out of a Kurosawa movie set in medieval Japan, a fierce-looking, bearded man, with the over-developed upper body of a weight-lifter, but with one leg shriveled and almost useless from a childhood bout with polio. Aratake-san moves painfully, crabwise, over land, directing the useless shriveled leg with one hand to support it. But once in the water, his one sound leg propels him with as much power and assurance as most of us ever attain with two.
In 1987, Aratake-san was systematically exploring the underwater off-shore perimeter of Yonaguni, looking for new, interesting sites to take his diving clients to. At the eastern-most point of the island he came across an astonishing rock-formation that, in his own words, took his breath away, an underwater cliff-face cut into a series of immense geometric terraces, with broad, flat horizontal surfaces, and sheer vertical stone risers -- it might have served as a grandstand for the retinue of whoever the Japanese equivalent of Poseidon may be; a place where gods convened to watch titanic underwater spectaculars.
In Aratake-san's view, if not a product of the sea-gods themselves, it could only be artificial; man-made -- a monument rather than a natural, geological formation.
Word of the Yonaguni 'monument' spread slowly, locally, and in 1990 came to the attention of Prof. Dr. Masaaki Kimura, a marine seismologist, with the Department of Physics and Earth sciences at the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa. Prof. Kimura was also interested in the legends of lost, antediluvian civilizations, and some years previous had written a book arguing the existence of the legendary Lemuria, supposedly sunk beneath the waters of the Pacific in the very distant past.
Over the next seven years, Prof. Kimura dived the site repeatedly, aided by a succession of students, and compiled a large and meticulous dossier, complete with maps, drawings and models of the site. Prof. Kimura also found a number of other apparently artificial underwater sites on Yonaguni and other Ryukyu islands. He is firmly convinced these formations are manmade, or at the very least, man-enhanced -- Sculpting natural landscapes is of course an Oriental tradition, as in the Chinese Feng-shui. And the Ryukyus were under Chinese control for centuries, passing into Japanese hands relatively recently.
Over the past few years, Kimura's findings have been the subject of considerable press/TV in Japan, hotly contested and/or ridiculed by many of his colleagues -- only one of whom, however, has taken the trouble to dive the site himself (though east really is east, and west is west, and rarely indeed do the twain meet, academics are the same the world over.) In other words, only one of these opposing views however strongly expressed is actually worth seriously considering. Despite the considerable amount of attention paid to Yonaguni, not a word of it leaked to the West until 1995/6 when reports of it began to appear on various websites.
It was around this time that I first heard of it myself, through my friend and Japanese translator of my book, Serpent in the Sky, Shun Daichi. Shun is also translator for Graham Hancock's book, Fingerprints Of The Gods, a best-seller throughout the world, but a runaway bestseller in Japan, with over 2 million copies in print. Graham is no longer 'one of us', that is to say, a broke writer.
But Hancock, like all of us involved in this quest, took a very deep interest in the Yonaguni discovery. As it happened, this interest was communicated to Yasuo Watanabe, an admirer or Graham's books, and also a wealthy Japanese businessman, a manufacturer of orthopedic devices, with factories in the U.S. In early 1997, Watanabe-san invited Graham and his photographer wife Santha to Yonaguni to dive down and inspect the formation for themselves.
After a few days of diving, both felt that those vast, regular, horizontal and vertical surfaces, as well as the overall apparent structural coherence of the site could only be a result of human artifice, not of nature. But geology is not Hancock's field, and he suggested to Watanabe-san that he invite Robert Schoch and myself to Yonaguni to take a look -- along with a repeat visit by himself and Santha, and with Robert Bauval as well. Schoch is of course a stratigrapher. Geomorphology is his field. I am --after looking at an awful lot of rocks in Egypt under Schoch's expert tutelage-- an informed amateur if no more.
The invitation was extended, and accepted with enthusiasm not unmixed with trepidation. Trepidation, because the underwater domain, in my opinion, belongs to fish, and apart from dolphins, whales and the like who have gleefully adapted to that environment, it is not a rightful place for mammals to inhabit. The prospect of scuba diving scared the hell out of me. Schoch was only marginally less daunted. But enthusiasm overrode all.
This is what was at stake. According to a generally accepted geological scenario, the sea levels began rising following the precipitous meltdown of the last ice-age, beginning (for reasons totally unknown, and hotly debated) around the 13th millennium BC. Then, around 9600 BC (the date, curiously enough, given by Plato for the sinking of Atlantis) the already rising sea-levels had an abrupt mega-reinforcement. An ocean of fresh water, backed up behind a gigantic ice dam stretching across most of northern North America suddenly gave way. A vast volume of water coursed down the American central plains, scouring out what is now the broad Mississippi Valley, and poured into the Caribbean sea. In as long as it took that water to make its way around the seven seas, (not much more than days) the world's sea levels rose around 100 meters, or over 300 feet. This scenario was developed by Prof. Cesare Emiliani, head of the Geology Department at Florida University in Miami.
What this means, in turn, is that, short of some freakish form of subsidence or volcanic activity, anything manmade and deep underwater, has to date from a time prior to the rise in sea level; it has to be at least 12,000 years old.
The top of the Yonaguni formation is some 20 feet below the surface, the bottom around 80 feet. It is some 250 feet long. If artificial, this cannot be the work of primitive hunter/gatherers.
In other words, if demonstrably artificial, the Yonaguni site represented the 'smoking gun' that would, in our view, clinch once and for all the reality of that antediluvian, vanished, highly sophisticated civilization described by Plato, referenced in legends throughout the world, postulated by doughty 'Atlantis' hunters over the past century, and much buttressed --in the eyes of many-- by our geological work on the Sphinx and the complementary astronomical work of Robert Bauval and Graham Hancock.
The controversy directed at our respective geology and astronomy to date has largely taken the predictable form of academic abuse. The opposition arguments leveled in various specialized or mainstream journals, and on various television shows and interviews, have ranged from misguided and ill-informed through derisory to downright silly. All have been rebutted in turn at length by Schoch or me, Bauval and Hancock when given the chance -- which was not always. And the problem with criticism --no matter how unfounded -- is that reasoned rebuttal takes an astonishing amount of time and effort, much more time than it takes to hurl abuse or make snide comments. Nevertheless, we would be the first to acknowledge that, sound as we think our work is, it does not take the form of the 'smoking gun'. On the basis of very good photographs posted on various websites, and reproduced in the pages of Ancient American Magazine both the hyper-cautious Schoch and I found it hard to imagine that the Yonaguni site was other than man-made.
Schoch passed his diving tests and got his certification; I did not, since the time available was too short to cajole myself through enough acclimatizing hours to do the simple underwater things that everyone else does without much ado ... and it was time to head for Yonaguni.
In a former lifetime, Yasuo Watanabe may well have been Lorenzo de Medici; his patronage was done at that princely level: first class tickets everywhere (I could get used to that!), lavish accommodations throughout, and on Yonaguni, where the cuisine was not perhaps what Epicurean researchers and world-class gourmets such as ourselves were accustomed to, our host imported, from his lavish resort on the neighboring island of Ichigaki, his Japanese-and-French trained chef to cater to our group -- now comprised not only of Schoch, myself, Santha and Graham (Bauval couldn't make it) but also Kim, Steve and Dale, three of Watanabe-san's American business associates --accomplished scuba divers all-- Shun Daichi who joined in from Japan for the fun, and a four-person English television crew shooting a series on Graham Hancock's upcoming new book Heaven's Mirror , for Channel 4 in the UK and Discovery Channel in the US.
En route, Schoch and I had worked out our projected upcoming science/media campaign: Schoch would look to get an article into Nature or Science, the two most prestigious hard-core English-language scientific publications, followed by articles in specialized geological journals, while I would go after The Smithsonian or possibly even National Geographic (on the off chance that I might catch this dreary, knee-jerk, establishment mouthpiece in a rare moment of intellectual honesty and receptivity.) Thereafter it would be television all the way.
And so began the diving. First a practice afternoon in calm, warm waters. Happily, with Master Diver Hiroshi Kubota (over 4000 dives) glued to me like a Siamese twin, the open ocean actually proved less terrifying and considerably more manageable than my friend Darryl Britain's redoubtable swimming pool. I could do it...sort of...
The next day serious diving began, with Aratake-san leading the way, and each of us beginners with an accompanying dive master to fish-herd us out of trouble. We needed them, too! A fierce current surged past the formation; so strong that to get close looks we had to grab fingerholds in the coral-encrusted terrace surfaces (in most of these finger-holes, little sea-urchins lived whose needle-sharp spines went right through your protective gloves if touched, so you had to look sharp before grabbing) and then hold on for dear life to avoid being swept off and out to sea. It was like trying to swim upstream into a gigantic fire hose.
Watanabe-san, not a diver himself, but a keen fisherman, fished from his luxury fishing boat alongside, and the tuna and snapper he caught on his boat were back on ours within minutes, transformed into sushi by our chef-in-residence. For sushi-lovers, five-minute-old sushi is instantly addictive.
The Yonaguni formation is spectacular, as spectacular in its way as the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls, but as we went down on repeated dives, studying the details, both Schoch and I were having misgivings. Those sweeping horizontal terraces were not quite horizontal; the vertical risers were not really cut at 90°; a long, two foot wide channel with perfectly aligned parallel sides that, on the photographs, looked as though it had been routed out smoothly by some giant, stone-cutting machine, on close inspection, revealed a ragged unworked bottom, and, once out of camera range, the channel disappeared into the clearly natural underwater bedrock as two parallel unmistakably natural fault lines.
We were becoming unwillingly convinced that we were confronted by something brand new in geomorphology, rather than something very old in archæology -- exciting in its own way for Schoch, not for me! We could find no evidence of human-worked stone -- but on the other hand, everything was encrusted by several inches of coral so it was impossible to examine the raw rock surfaces.
On our last day, Schoch and I went exploring a formation half a mile to the north, where a high, steep, bare rock slope descended into the sea. Though the slope itself, now a tumult of ragged, fractured planes, did not much look like the underwater formation we'd been studying, it was clear enough that it was basically the same geomorphology -- just that the slope, exposed only to wind and rain, had taken on a very different and ragged appearance over thousands of years.
However, where the slope met the sea's edge and continued on beneath the surface, there we saw what looked very much like the 'monument' we'd been diving the past few days. Just above sea level, we were confronted by a peculiar, and in Schoch's long experience, unique geomophological formation; beds of a compressed mud rock, similar to shale, laid down in almost perfect horizontal strata, but fissured and faulted vertically in almost perfect squares and rectangles. Imagine a huge stone layer cake, already cut and ready to serve.
That formation, under the water, subjected to thousands of years of tides, typhoons, and those powerful persistent currents we'd been diving in, would eventually break off into those near perfect horizontal and vertical surfaces as chunks or 'servings' of stone layer cakes torn away from the bedrock.
So, not only could we find no hard evidence of human hands working the site, we also had what we felt was a plausible explanation for the formation of the 'monument' based on observable strictly natural processes. It was precisely what we were hoping not to find, but we couldn't ignore it. On our return through Okinawa, we had a conference with Prof. Kimura who took out his voluminous dossier and seven years of careful work attempting to prove the site was artificial. We remained unconvinced. Prof. Kimura, for all his careful work, in our view, had not looked carefully enough at the natural processes at work.
Certainly the last word has not been said. We only had a few days of diving under difficult conditions. We had not explored the other sites Kimura and others have discovered on Yonaguni and elsewhere in the Ryukyus. Anything vaguely resembling our 'monument' but occurring in a different kind of rock -- the limestone formations to the west of the island, for example-- would be powerful evidence in favor of artificiality, since limestone would not naturally break off into those terrace-like formations.
Graham Hancock could not argue Schoch's geology, but he was familiar with South American sites we had never seen, and these, he said, were remarkably similar to our Yonaguni site. He felt, and feels, that it may well be basically a natural formation, but worked by human hands in deep antiquity. It was certainly oddly coincident that very ancient tombs on the island (no one knows when they were built) looked remarkably like mini-versions of the Yonaguni 'monument'. Moreover, if that geological scenario of the precipitous sea level rise ca. 9600 BC is valid, and our lost civilization scenario is also valid, then it follows that somewhere on the continental shelves there ought to be vestiges of that civilization -- providing they weren't all swept away by that prodigious surge of water. In principle again, (without going into details in this website update) the most likely places would seem to be the northern Pacific and perhaps the eastern end of the Mediterranean. But there the matter rests -- until or unless we are enabled to research the matter further. And until then, no smoking gun! In this case, if not elsewhere, we would love to be proven wrong.
If there was an up-side to the adventure for Schoch and myself --apart from the fun and the sushi-- it was a good test of our own ability to be 'objective' in the face of evidence we did not want to see. We'd often wondered, if compelling counter evidence for our water-weathering theory ever came up, would we be as incapable of accepting unwelcome evidence as Egyptologists and archæologists have been of accepting ours?
We had a lot at stake here. We hoped to verify the 'smoking gun' that would substantiate our lost civilization scenario once and for all, and change all of history in the process. There were all those articles we were hoping to write, scientific and mainstream, to say nothing of the television, the exposure, and next-to-last but not least, the financial rewards -- heretics have to live, too! Finally, we really hated to disappoint our very generous host. But there was no way to avoid our own conclusions.
If nothing else, the experience leaves us convinced that if, indeed, opponents of our geological/astronomical work on the Sphinx and Giza Plateau ever managed to present serious evidence to support their position we would be capable of taking it in stride, and if valid, backing off our own position, no matter how much we have at stake. Given the level of the arguments put forward to date, this is not much of a concern. Our geology and the Bauval / Hancock astronomy stand. But we must go on looking for the smoking gun.
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