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The Apkallu Initiative: A Minilithic Artefact for Rebooting Human Civilization in the Event of Global Cataclysm

Kelvin Long is a familiar face on Centauri Dreams, the author of several previous articles here and many publications in the field of interstellar studies. The creator of Project Icarus, the re-design of the Project Daedalus starship of the 1970s, Long was a co-founder of Icarus Interstellar and went on to head the Initiative for Interstellar Studies. He also served as editor of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society during a critical period in the journal’s history, and authored Deep Space Propulsion: A Roadmap to Interstellar Flight (Springer, 2011). Today he turns his thoughts to catastrophe, and the question of what would happen to human civilization if it were reduced to a small remnant. Could we preserve the most significant treasures of our science, our culture, in the face of a devastated Earth? Exploring these ideas takes us deep into the past before turning toward what Kelvin sees as a possible solution.

by Kelvin F Long

The year is 2050. Earth is a thriving metropolis with a population exceeding 9 billion. Progress has been made in harmonising social-cultural tensions around the world and nation state war is now an infrequent event. A young child of the future steps out into the bright sunshine of a gorgeous new morning. Her day is still ahead of her as she out stretches her arms and smiles at the mellifluous call of the singing birds. But then looking up, she notices something in the distance, a long streak across the sky that is moving rapidly, and seems to be descending towards the ground. It disappears behind the horizon, and shortly later a blinding flash engulfs the world. The girl looks on stunned, eyes struggling against the light, to see the gradual build-up of a mushroom cloud that starts to reach high into the atmosphere. The impact event was hundreds of miles away, yet soon it engulfs the world in a global climate change and sends Tsunamis sweeping over coastal cities destroying all in the path. In response to oceanic earthquakes, the water becomes so big, that it pushes across the flat land masses; unrelenting mega white horses to a trampled poppy field below. One day, this will form into wedge shaped chevron deposits hundreds of feet high, composed of ocean floor micro-fossils. Within days of the event the girl will learn that billions of people are wiped out as the human civilization draws to a rapid stagnation. All infrastructure and governments are gone, and only small pockets of communities around the world survive, numbering thousands at best. She was one of the lucky ones, her small community of one hundred people survived just barely on their high mountain top position. This is fortunate for a girl named Hope.

Introduction

The future is uncertain. Whilst it is important to emphasise the positive reasons for the exploration of Earth and space, it is also important not to be in denial about the risks that really face us; for they are not insignificant. They are many and varied in type. From the potential for nation state warfare, to disease pandemics, to global climate change, to risks from above such as impact events by asteroids or comets or even the possibility alien invasion. The sure way to guarantee our survival is to follow the lead of Elon Musk and to make the human race an interplanetary species; and indeed to go further with an interstellar species. But until we have reached this point we are vulnerable. The proposal made in his article is not an alternative to the current plans for the colonization of space and the continued building up of infrastructure, but it is a complimentary pathway to increase the probability of human survival into the coming centuries. In particular, it should be taken on board that the assumptions of this project is that a possible future exists where rocket technology no longer even exists as a worst case survival scenario.

The Apkallu initiative is a proposed project to help reboot human civilization, on the assumption that some small pockets of human communities survive around the world during a global cataclysm, but all the remnants of our industrialised and developed civilization are destroyed. This includes our cities, our farms, our libraries, our infrastructure, and our transport networks; in essence the human race is thrown back to being a hunter-gatherer species and must begin again. It is named after the Sumerian sages who are said to have helped humankind establish civilization and culture and giving us the gifts of a moral code, mathematics, architecture, agriculture and all ways necessary to teach us how to become civilized. The Sumerian civilization is one of the first to appear in recorded history, which included the invention of its own writing form called Cuneiform. Before we discuss what the Apkallu initiative actually is, it is worth reminding ourselves of some essential context.

Impact Threats and Other Risks to Human Survival

We know that objects have impacted the Earth throughout its history and continue to do so today. Approximately 66 million years ago, it is believed that an impact event resulted in the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) extinction. This led to devastation in the global environment and a prolonged winter which affected the photosynthesis of plants and plankton life. It also resulted in the destruction of a plethora of terrestrial organisms, including mammals, birds, insects and most famously the dinosaurs. The object, an asteroid or comet, was 10-15 km in diameter with a likely impact velocity of around 20 km/s and an associated kinetic energy of impact of around 30,000 – 1000,000 Gtons TNT equivalent, depending on the assumptions. It left an impact crater in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and likely created 300 feet high Tsunami’s over an impact zone of around 3,000 miles.

Another example is the Arizona Meteor crater, which was the result of a Nickel-Iron object around 50 m in size impacting the Earth 50,000 years ago. With impact velocities ranging from 2.8 – 20 km/s this would have impacted with an associated kinetic energy of 10.7 – 26.2 Mtons TNT equivalent. Today, a crater remains of the impact event, 1.2 km in diameter and over 550 feet deep.

In 1908 a comet is believed to have impacted eastern Siberia, causing a flattening of a forest 2,000 square km in size. Since no impact crater was found, it is believed that the object disintegrated at an altitude of 5 – 10 km above the ground. The estimated energy of the air burst explosion was 10 – 15 Mtons TNT equivalent; depending on the assumptions one makes.

In July 1994 a comet split into 21 fragments ranging in size up to 2 km, and impacted the upper atmosphere of Jupiter with an impact velocity of around 60 km/s. The total energy of these impacts was around 6,000 Gtons TNT equivalent creating dark red spots with some being 12,000 km in size. Had this comet impacted the Earth, it would have posed a major threat to human existence.

During late 2017 we observed the close flyby pass of an asteroid of interstellar origins named ‘Oumuamua. Much of the nature of this objects remains uncharacterised, but some sensible estimates of the maximum potential impact energy suggest 4.2 – 46.9 Gtons TNT equivalent, had it impacted the Earth.

Then in April this year that an object named Asteroid 2018 GE3 passed closed to Earth and was spotted 119,500 miles away, which is closer than the Moon, which orbits at an average distance of 238,900 miles. The object was first observed by the NASA funded Catalina Sky Survey project based at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. It was first observed a mere 21 hours before the closest approach to the Earth. The object was estimated to be at least 150 – 360 ft in diameter.

How many more are out there waiting for us? No doubt some will argue that the impact risks are statistically small and we should not be concerned about them. We know there are many asteroids in our own Solar System, varying in size from 1 m up to 1,000 km. Approximately 16,000 objects have been found near Earth, but this is a small fraction of the estimated total that is out there, which varies between 1 – 2 million. Statistically, this presents a threat to human existence and life as we know it. Indeed, it is the belief of this author that impact events which can lead to global devastation of the human population may be as frequent as 1/1,000 – 1/10,000 years.

In addition to impact risks there are many other threats to human existence. This may include the implications of magnetic field reversal. Such an event occurred 41,400 years ago during the last ice age, called the Laschamp event. It caused a magnetic field reversal leading to a drop in its strength. This resulted in more cosmic rays reaching the Earth and an increased production of the isotopes Beryllium 10 and Carbon 14.

There are also the risk of enhanced solar activity such as through large scale solar flares, or the possibility of the Sun entering unstable periods in its evolution for which are current models of stellar-structure are not aware. This could be due to the passage of our Sun through the spiral density arms of the galaxy. There are the risks of nation state war or even global thermonuclear war that could drive us towards extinction, either through direct destruction or through altering the climate. There are the risks of human disease pandemic, which surely must become more probable in an increasing global population. There are the risks of human destruction of elements of the biosphere, such as pollutions of the oceans, soils, deforestation or polluting of the atmosphere. There are the risks that microbes could be introduced into our biosphere from an alien planet that is infectious to our biodiversity.

Then there is the actual risk of alien invasion, from a species set on conquering other lower species or seeking resource acquisition no matter the costs. It may be assessed that some of these are low probability. However, the fact that there are so many risks to the future survival of humankind should be a concern, and it is vital that we take a proactive approach to adaptability and survival, instead of a reactive one when such events occur.

Assumptions of a hypothetical Near-Human Extinction

Imagine a situation where human kind is nearly wiped out by some global cataclysm. This could be an impact event or one of the other risks highlighted earlier. In a worst case scenario, but one where some humans survive, we might make the following assumptions:

  • 1. All infrastructure is destroyed, to include buildings, power utilities, city plumbing, dams, transport networks, agriculture and farming, huge portions of the plant and animal kingdom.
  • 2. All information sources are destroyed, to include all the world libraries, computers and electronic memory. It is possible that some books will be discovered over time as communities explore the rubble remaining from the metropolis. Books would become precious beyond their current value.
  • 3. The global climate is in turmoil and hostile, but with isolated regions of stability such that with determination survival is possible.
  • 4. The geological, climatic, oceanic activity and effects of the cataclysm event, within weeks, months or years will gradually return towards some level of stable Earth.
  • 5. Small pockets of humans survive around the Earth, perhaps 10s to 100s each but with the total not exceeding thousands.

Given this scenario, we can note that the surviving generation will remember the world as it was before. They will use this knowledge to teach their children. At this point knowledge is based upon direct memory. Those children will then grow up, with their parents dying off, and they will remember what their parents taught them and some of those children may even have some memories of the world before. But for the most part we are dealing here with recent history and part mythology. The grandchildren will also be born and grow up, but they will have no direct memory of the world the way it was before. At this point we are dealing with history and mythology. Within the third or fourth generation there is a risk that all knowledge will be lost, and especially if that knowledge is not captured and written down. All received knowledge then becomes both mythology and fantasy.

There are solutions to this practiced by the Native North Americans for example, which is to communicate stories verbally and also use this to impart wisdom, and those stories are accompanied by rituals. However, one cannot believe that such a method of communication does not contain significant information error propagation with each successive generation, compared to the original version.

The History of Humans on Planet Earth

In the event of a global cataclysm, assuming small pockets of human communities survive, but the majority of human civilization and associated technological infrastructure is destroyed, how can we ensure a chance at rebooting human knowledge? Indeed, is it possible that this has in fact occurred in the recent past and this is a part reason for the many Megalithic structures on Earth?

Until recently, Sumer was the earliest known civilization in the historical Mesopotamia, and is located in modern Iraq. It dates back to 3,000 B.C and was likely settled around 4,000-5,500 B.C by proto-Euphrateans or Ubaidians. The people from this era are credited for many great inventions and discoveries which led to the advance of their society. This includes in mathematics, geometry, agriculture, architecture, economics and law to name a few. One of the most famous objects discovered from this period is the Code of Hammurabi, a 2.25 m tall stone wall consisting of 282 laws, such as “an eye for an eye” and is the first legal system from the Old Babylonian period.

The Code of Hammurabi, created 1750 B.C, currently housed at the Louvre, Paris (image credit: K. F. Long)

It is important to note that in the Babylonian creation mythologies, which were written in Cuneiform, there are around a thousand lines of text on seven clay tables. The focus of this text is the creation of humankind for the service of the gods. These texts are called the Enûma Eliš, and arguably they have a clear lineage to the Judeo-Christian Bible. The Cuneiform script was scribed, using a wedge-shaped marker onto a wet clay tablet and also cylinder seals. These are small round objects typically an inch in length engraved with information. Once dried the inscription was permanent. The information preserved on tablets and seals was Cuneiform text but also contained figurative scenes or descriptions of events or objects. Such objects are breathtaking in their clarity, gorgeous in their artistic nature, and contain a wealth of information about the society, its rituals, values, business, science and technology.

Photographs of Sumerian Cylinder Seals from the Private Collection of the Author (image credit: K. F. Long)

The Holy Bible records a flood story that engulfed all of planet Earth. This is recorded in Genesis chapters 6 – 9, and the flood seems to last for around one hundred and fifty days. Other cultures have recorded similar stories. For example the Sumerian tale of Ziusudra and the Atra-Hasis also describes a global flood story that is similar to that told in Genesis. In the Sumerian story the flood lasts for seven days. An account is also told in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is more similar to the Biblical story. Also, the Hindu mythology tells of a great flood in the Satapatha Brahmana. It is very easy to dismiss the possibility of a global flood as pure mythology, but the occurrence of a similar story in so many cultures around the world is at least suggestive that it may be a memory of an actual event which many today are regarding as mythology. Indeed, science may be catching up with the past.

Geologists and climatologists study a period in Earth’s history called the Younger Dryas, which occurred 12,900 to 11,700 years ago and saw a return to glacial conditions which temporarily reversed the gradual climatic warming after the last glacial maximum which began receding around 20,000 years ago. It led to many catastrophic effects including the decline of the Clovis culture in North America and the extinction of many megafauna which included the Mammoths; the last of which survived into the Holocene around 4,500 years ago in Africa, Europe, Asia and North America.

Illustration of the Younger Dryas period

In recent years, evidence is emerging that the Younger Dryas period may have been caused by a cometary impact event on the North American ice sheet, around 12,900 years ago. The evidence for his includes the discovery of a 10 million ton deposit of impact spherules across four continents, and the discovery of a Nano-diamond rich layer. In addition, analysis of underground soils indicates massive wildfire and abrupt ecosystem disruption on California’s Northern Channel Islands. Scientists have also discovered very high temperature impact melt products as evidence for an air burst explosion. All of this is dated to around 12,900 years ago, at the onset of the Younger Dryas. If this is proven to be correct, then a global cataclysm may indeed have occurred in our recent past. Speculating, if any advanced civilizations existed on Earth prior to this date, they may have been wiped out by this cataclysm forcing civilization to start from the beginning again.

At some point in our past we moved from a hunter-gatherer species to an agricultural-farming one, where we embraced the domestication of animals and crops. This is marked by a period called the Neolithic, and occurred around 10,200 years ago. It is considered to be the last period of the stone age and commenced the beginning of the Neolithic revolution. It ended with the emergence of the Copper and Bronze and Iron ages and our new abilities to use metals. It is remarkable that we have apparently exploded technologically and social-culturally over the last 10,000 years or so to the state where we have computers, cars, aeroplanes and communication satellites. What was it that propelled us forward over such a short space of time? Why had we not achieved this level of maturity previously? Was it the formation of a critical population density? Was it global climatic conditions? What is our tribal nature and inability to get organized? What it some other threats to our existence?

Homo sapiens in our modern form may be several hundred thousand years old. Paleolithic cave art certainly goes back to 40,000 years but may be 60,000 years if we include what is currently being claimed to be art from Neanderthal man. Evidence from the out of Africa hypothesis puts homo sapiens at around 130,000 – 180,000 years old. But there are alternative versions which claim populations emerging out of Africa as early as 350,000 years ago. Evidence for older findings includes discoveries of anatomically modern human skull fossils at Jebel Irhour in Morocco (315,000 years) and Middle Awash in Ethiopia (160,000 years). The history of human evolution is far from settled and ‘thinking man’ may be much older than we realised.

Ancient Megaliths

A story from ancient Sumeria is that of an amphibious being called Oannes (also known as Adapa) who apparently taught humankind wisdom. The story was told by Berossus in 290B.C, a Chaldean Priest in Babylon. Berossus described Oannes as having the body of a fish but underneath the figure of a man. He is said to dwell in the Persian Gulf, rising out of the waters in day time and furnishing humankind in the instruction of writing, arts and other subjects. Here are the words of Berossus:

“At first they led a somewhat wretched existence and lived without rule after the manner of beasts. But, in the first year appeared an animal endowed with human reason, named Oannes, who rose from out of the Erythian Sea, at the point where it borders Babylonia. He had the whole body of a fish, but above his fish’s head he had another head which was that of a man, and human feet emerged from beneath his fish’s tail. He had a human voice, and an image of him is preserved unto this day. He passed the day in the midst of men without taking food; he taught them the use of letters, sciences and arts of all kinds. He taught them to construct cities, to found temples, to compile laws, and explained to them the principles of geometrical knowledge. He made them distinguish the seeds of the earth, and showed them how to collect the fruits; in short he instructed them in everything which could tend to soften human manners and humanize their laws. From that time nothing material has been added by way of improvement to his instructions. And when the sun set, this being Oannes, retired again into the sea, for he was amphibious. After this there appeared other animals like Oannes.“

Whether this is pure fiction or has any resemblance to historical events does not matter, but it is this story that has given rise to the idea of building what this author is calling a ‘minilithic artefact’ under the Apkallu Initiative as will be discussed further below. As an aside it is worth noting that in his book Intelligent Life in the Universe, written with L. S. Shklovskii (Pan Books, 1977), the astronomer Carl Sagan opened a discussion on the Sumerian civilization with “I came upon a legend which more nearly fulfils some of our criteria for a genuine contact myth”.

On planet Earth we know that species rise up and fall and suffer extinction. The fossil record has shown this for many a species. There are also arguments that Homo Sapiens are not the only occurrence of intelligence on Planet Earth (see for example the recent book Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith’ on the Octopus, William Collins, 2016). Why then is it not possible, in the last million years, that an earlier species of man, or other life form on Earth, could have evolved to similar levels of intelligence to that which we possess today, to include a technological level similar in extent? Such a people would predate modern recorded history, and it is at least plausible that some memory of them could be preserved in the creation mythologies of our various ancient cultures.

Many ancient Megalithic structures have been found by archaeologists around the world. This includes for example the Great Pyramid and the Great Sphinx in Giza (4,500 years old), Tiwanaku and Pumapunku in West Bolivia (3,500 years old), Stonehenge in England (5,000 years old), Machu Picchu in Peru (550 years old) to name a few. However, recently our linear understanding of human evolution from a hunter-gatherer species to an agricultural-farming one has been placed under scrutiny, by the discovery in 1996 of Gӧbekli Tepe, a site in the South eastern Anatolia region of Turkey, which may date back to 12,000 years old. The site demonstrates a superior knowledge of construction techniques, geometry and other disciplines and to enable its construction would have required a food surplus to exist – before the arrival of the Neolithic revolution. In addition, it is arguable that to get to a point where you can construct something like Gӧbekli Tepe would take thousands of years of advancement of knowledge in itself. This might suggest that the builders were 15,000 – 20,000 years old.

A potentially even older site has also been found in West Java, called Gunung Padang, which was discovered in 1914. It may be the largest megalithic site in South Eastern Asia. Radiocarbon dating puts the site at several different eras spanning 6,500 – 20,000 years ago, although the dating claims are controversial among archaeologist in Indonesia. A large structure has also been discovered beneath the surface some 15 m down and includes large chambers. This discovery, and that of Gӧbekli Tepe, is telling us that our linear understanding of history is in need of revision.

Interglacial Periods in Earth’s History

Given the existence of Gӧbekli Tepe and Gunung Padang, the idea that an earlier intelligent and advanced civilization existing on Earth is not so implausible. However, were there opportunities in Earth’s history for this to occur? An examination of climatic conditions would seem to suggest so.

During the history of Earth there have been five major ice ages, and we are currently in the Quaternary Ice Age at this time, which spans from 2.59 million years ago. Within the ice ages are sub-periods known as glacial and interglacial periods.

Recent measurements of the relative Oxygen isotope ratio in Antarctica and Greenland show the periods of glacial and interglacial periods throughout history over the last few hundred thousand years. This is a measurement of the ratio of the abundance of Oxygen with atomic mass 18 to the abundance of Oxygen with atomic mass 16 present in ice core samples, 18O/16O, where 16O is the most abundant of the naturally occurring isotopes. Ocean water is mostly comprised of H216O, in addition to smaller amounts of HD16O and H218O. The Oxygen isotope ratio is a measure of the degree to which precipitation due to water vapour condensation during warm to cold air transition, removes H218O to leave more H216O rich water vapour. This distillation process leads to any precipitation having a lower 18O/16O ratio during temperature drops. This therefore provides a reliable record of ancient water temperature changes in glacial ice cores, where temperatures much cooler than present corresponds to a period of glaciation and where temperatures much warmer than today represents an interglacial period. The Oxygen isotope ratios are therefore used as a proxy for temperature changes by climate scientists.

The Vienna Standard Mean Ocean Water (SSMOW) has a ratio of 18O/16O = 2005.2×10-6, so any changes in ice core samples will be relative to this number. The quantity that is being measured, δ18O, is a relative ratio calculated as in the units of % parts per thousand or per mil. The change in the oxygen ratio is then attributed to changes in temperature alone, assuming that the effects of salinity and ice volume are negligible. An increase of around 0.22% is then defined to be equivalent to a cooing of 1˚C.

There are differences in the value of δ between the different ocean temperatures where any moisture had evaporated at the final place of precipitation. As a result the value has to be calibrated such that there are differences between say Greenland and Antarctica. This does result in some differences in the proxy temperature data based on ice core analysis, and Greenland seems to stand out, such as indicating a more dramatic Younger Dryas period (11,600 – 12,900) than other data.

An analysis of this data shows that the climate has varied cyclically throughout its history and is manifest of natural climate change. In particular what emerges out of the data are some interesting lessons about the recent history of planet Earth. Data shows the rapid oscillations of the climate temperature from the average temperature of today, indicative of glacial and interglacial periods. In particular, the data shows that during the Holocene period, beginning approximately 11,700 years before present, the temperature varied between 2-4 ˚C.

It is reasonable to assume that human civilizations under development will do better when the climate is kinder. This means that the warmer it is the better civilisations will do, and the colder it is, the harder the struggles. In particular we can expect that during the conditions of a colder climate that agricultural farming will suffer, and so there will be less food to go around, which will affect both lifespan and population expansion. To support this it is worth noting that the current epoch, the last 10,000 years has been one of the longest interglacial period for at least the last quarter of a million years and it is reasonable to therefore assume that this is one of the factors which has allowed human development from the emergence of the Neolithic period coming out of the last ice age.

The data also shows that there was a large global warming period known as the Eemian around 115,000 – 130,000 years ago. The average global temperatures were around 22 – 24 ˚C, compared to today where the average is around 14 ˚C. Forests grew as far north as the Arctic circle at 71˚ latitude and North Cape in Norway Oulu in Finland. For comparison North Cape today is now a tundra, where the physical growth of plants is limited to the low temperatures and small growing seasons. Given that homo sapiens may have been here since around 300,000 years ago, this seems like a major opportunity for the development of human society from a people of hunter gatherers to one of agricultural developers and the development of a civil society.

There have been other interglacial periods that have resulted in global temperatures being either equivalent or above the average today, and the data shows temperature spikes of periods at around 200,000 years, 220,000 years, 240,000 years, 330,000 years and 410,000 years. Each of these interglacial periods will typically last at least 10,000 years.

Temperature Proxy Data Showing Opportunities for the Rise of Advanced Civilization in Recent Prehistory

The Apkallu Initiative

It is fully admitted that much of the above contains speculation, but until we have a firmer grasp of history it would be unwise to rule such possibilities out. We turn our attention then to the future and solving the problem of how to preserve human knowledge in the event of a global cataclysm such that humankind can restart again so that within centuries we mature back to similar levels of today’s technological advancement. Ultimately this is a statistical problem, in that by reducing the time of each cycle for maturing to technological capability, one improves the probability of survival. It is sensible to think of this concept as a civilization accelerator.

The Apkallu Initiative is therefore a proposal to construct a minilithic artefact (analogous to Megalithic artefacts) that can survive for a time duration exceeding 100,000 years. This duration is chosen for three principal reasons:

  • 1. The recent ice core records suggest that within that time period there may be several opportunities (~4) where the climatic conditions are sufficiently supportive for human existence to facilitate growth beyond basic survival.
  • 2. It approximately corresponds to four processional cycles of the Earth around the equinoxes, which typically last 25,920 years. We note that many of the ancient Megaliths seem to have been preoccupied with the measurement of the equinoxes; which may relate to lost memory of previous cataclysms.
  • 3. It is difficult to design for an artefact that can survive longer than this, although desirable.

The artefact would be a form of archaeological-architectural device from the standpoint of future humans who uncover it. The device would be replicated perhaps 1,000 times and distributed around the seven continents of the Earth. Ideally, some could also be placed in space, on the Moon or Mars. The idea is that any future human surviving a global cataclysm that finds this artefact and studies it sufficiently, it will give them the knowledge they need to rapidly advance human civilization at an accelerated rate.

Painting illustrating future man finding the archaeological artefact (credit: K. F. Long)

The artefact would be a form of long distance communication. We have of course attempted message plaques in the past such as the Voyager Golden Record and the Pioneer Plaque. Indeed, the Code of Hammurabi from the Sumerian civilization is a form of minilithic artefact, but just specific to moral and legal codes. Another example would have been the tablets for the Biblical Ten Commandments.

There is a question of what materials to construct the artefact from. Plastics and metals will likely degrade over thousands of years. Electronic memory is not useful if it is subject to flip switching and also requires a computer interface to read it. It therefore seems sensible to construct the artefact out of stone; perhaps in a similar manner to the Sumerian Cuneiform on wet clay tablets. One of the options may be Diorite. It would perhaps be useful to depict both logograms, with syllabic and alphabetic elements, as well as phonetics and even determinatives to create appropriate semantic descriptions.

There is a question of what information should the artefact contain. It should contain the foundation knowledge of human civilization. This is a subjective decision. One example we might take lessons from for example was the Trivium (logic, grammar, rhetoric) and the Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy) of the classical world. Both were considered preparation work before delving into the study of philosophy and theology. In addition to these, the artefact might contain many other disciplines of thought, such as human biology, medicine, architecture, chemistry, physics, law, history, music, language, agriculture, botany, ethics and other subjects. Experts in appropriate disciplines would need to be consulted to derive the say 12 base foundation knowledge or tenets that govern a field from which in principle all else can be derived given time.

The goal of the information content imprinted onto the artefact would be as follows:

  • Goal 1: The continued survival of the human species at peace.
  • Goal 2: The accelerated technological, social-cultural growth of human civilization from an assumed stagnated level.
  • Goal 3: The preservation of moral and ethical philosophy

There is also a question of what language. One approach would be to take lessons from historical artefacts which contained several languages to ensure future interpretation. This includes the Rosetta Stone (2,200 years old) which contains ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, demotic and ancient Greek. Another example is the Fuente Magna of the Americas (5,000 years old), found in Bolivia but contains both ancient Pukara and a proto-Sumerian alphabet. Another example is the Behistun inscription (2,500 years old) found in Iran, which contains three different cuneiform script languages, that of Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian.

There is also the question of the size and shape of the artefact, and although you want it big enough to find, you also want to manage the construction cost of the project. Something around 6 – 12 inches would seem a good optimum size. The exact shape would have multiple surface areas to facilitate different disciplines of knowledge. One idea is a Dodecahedron, which has 12 faces.

The proposal of the Apkallu Initiative is to form a team which then designs and leads the construction of such an artefact. This can then be reproduced and distributed to different locations around the world. Some would eventually be displayed in art galleries or museums and some will be lost to the land and sea, but the hope is that in the event of the cataclysmic scenario described above that future human will stumble across such an artefact, and after studying it, teach their community everything they need to become a civilized and socially-technologically advanced society. Currently no team has been formed, but this article is an initial invitation of interest and anyone interested can contact the web site: https://www.apkalluinitiative.com/

Our ability to become an interstellar capable species depends in the near term on our ability to survive here on Earth or in near-space. The preservation of the deep knowledge and learning of the human experience is critical to this future, if we are to continue to progress, avoid stagnation and decay or even complete extinction or avoid repeating mistakes of the past.

Finally, such a project has the potential to inspire long-term thinking among differing human societies, and so in itself may be a self-perpetuating mechanism toward social-cultural harmonization and increased global awareness of our fragility in the great Cosmos. In addition, because of its interdisciplinary nature, it has the potential to involve all of humanity on its journey, as we jointly work toward a back-up plan to ensure that humanity can survive in the millennia ahead.

The author dedicates this article to the efforts of Graham Hancock and Randall Carlson, whose significant research inspired this initiative. It was written to garner scrutiny of the idea, before deciding whether to proceed or not. Feedback is invited.

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{ 158 comments… add one }
  • Harold Shaw July 9, 2018, 15:51

    If your imperative is to increase the survival chances of the homo sapiens that survive and propagate our own extent civilization, then I think we need to consider the reality that our civilization didn’t survive. We were not fit enough and we are likely not the only type of civilization possible.

    For an industrial civilization, learning a powerful and dangerous theory or technology before the people had the necessary tools to avoid another civilization reset.

    If math and philosophy are symbiotic invented tools used to understand reality, then the tools we developed weren’t sufficient. The tools were either immature but headed in the right direction or just headed in the wrong direction. It would be prudent to protect the survivors from ourselves.

    Imo, we can have all confidence in the images we can create from the understanding of natural phenomenon our tools have provided. Perhaps an approach that avoids demonstrating the tools used and just includes images of discoveries, such as cell structure, anatomy, astronomical images, maps of the Solar system and other systems. It could include information that would even shorten the time survivors spent as hunter gatherers; anatomy for instance. The goal would be to provide high confidence information and inspire the civilization to explore how we discovered that information, thus creating their own tools. With guidelines for images, we could curate a collection of images that could be carved into stone and used anywhere stone is used.

    Could holography be applied? Perhaps a small object with microscopic carving that could include holograms encased in a clear extremely hard material that could be polished.

    The survivors who find this relic may not be homo sapiens, instead our transformed progeny.

  • Nate July 9, 2018, 17:26

    These data wafers last as long as age of univers, or so it is claimed.:
    https://www.theverge.com/2016/2/16/11018018/5d-data-storage-glass

  • Paul Knabenshue July 9, 2018, 22:59

    It is an interesting proposition. I believe there was an episode of Star Trek – Next Generation, where the crew stumbled across an artifact which allowed Picard to live a life as part of an alien civilization which was preparing for the death of their planet. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Inner_Light_(Star_Trek:_The_Next_Generation)
    Putting some sort of artifact on the moon, mars, and even in a long period orbit might be useful. Of course, placing the objects in key locations on earth (mountain summits, in temperate climates) might prove useful as well. A very compelling idea….

    • ljk July 10, 2018, 9:19

      There is also this episode of ST:TNG, where we find out why most of the intelligent species in the Star Trek universe are humanoids:

      http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/The_Chase_(episode)

      Apparently the Milky Way galaxy was pretty devoid of intelligent life when the first humanoid species appeared on the scene. So they seeded their genetic material throughout the star systems and left a message in their DNA to be decoded four billion years later.

  • xcalibur July 10, 2018, 3:54

    To briefly recap my previous comments, the artifacts should be distributed widely across the continents (including Antarctica), and ideally in space. I agree that caves would make excellent locations. The artifacts should range from miniliths with only vital information to large archives, and should range from easily discoverable to well-hidden.

    I would now like to discuss the most indispensable information to be included on artifacts. Here is a preliminary listing:

    • Mathematical concepts: Numbers 0-9 in a few different number systems (hindu-arabic being preferred), brief introductions to Arithmetic, Algebra, and Calculus, along with their respective Fundamental Theorems, partial list of prime numbers, the Fibonacci Sequence, a brief introduction to base number systems (including binary, octal, decimal, duodecimal, hexadecimal, and sexagesimal), etc
    • Geometric concepts: Pi/π, Pythagorean Theorem, Golden Ratio, etc
    • Weights and measures in metric, including a line gauge
    • Notable formulas in chemistry, physics, etc, including e=mc², with brief explanations
    • Calendars and important dates
    • World Map: consisting of a few different projections, with scale
    • Solar System chart
    • Astronomical charts
    • Human anatomy: muscular, nervous, skeletal, lymphatic systems, etc
    • Diagrams of a human stem cell, bacteria cell, virus, and human DNA strand (with magnification)
    • Diagrams of atoms and molecules (with magnification)
    • Diagrams of the printing press, steam engine, and transistor
    • Brief guide to agriculture
    • A few important statements, translated into several world languages. My vote goes to: “I think, therefore I am”, and Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If feasible, I would include the rest of the aforementioned Declaration, the US Declaration of Independence (especially the second paragraph), and the Bill of Rights, as well as other quotes from political and general philosophy.
    • Symbols and summaries of the major world religions (e.g. a Cross, John 3:16, and Nicene Creed for Christianity)
    • Famous works of art (Mona Lisa, Great Wave off Kanagawa, etc)

    This is only an initial brainstorming, and could probably use plenty of refining. However, this listing should be adequate as a rough draft and starting point for discussion.

    • xcalibur July 10, 2018, 4:32

      Addendum, because of course I think of more right after I post.

      • Overview of the scientific method
      • The electromagnetic spectrum
      • Periodic Table
      • Music theory, scores for major works of classical/jazz and folk songs, recordings if feasible
      • Photographs: the Earth from space, cities, landmarks, wilderness

      As I said, this is only a rough draft. I’ll probably think of more, but I’ll leave this as is for now.

      • xcalibur July 11, 2018, 2:08

        Postscript:
        I’d expand photographs to include people, scenes of daily life, and common human activities.

        I’d also add
        • Writing systems: Latin alphabet, IPA (international phonetic alphabet), Greek, Cyrillic, Arabic, Hebrew, Brahmic scripts, Hangul, Braille, etc. If space permits, the most common Chinese characters/kanji with a guide to radicals, and kana.

        I might also expand Mathematics to cover Number Theory, Trigonometry, and other significant topics. As I said, Hindu-arabic numerals are preferred, as is the base-10/decimal system.

        More elaborations: the diagram of the printing press should include movable type. The diagrams of germs, cells, molecules, dna etc. should be alongside explanations of germ theory, atomic theory, and genetics. The theory of evolution, and our descent from apes, should be covered adequately. There should be explanations of electricity, magnetism, gravity, heat, and light.

        Overall, my primary objective is to create a core of information to help bootstrap civilization if necessary. In my view, there have been five major revolutions in history: agriculture, writing, printing press, industry, and information technology; therefore, I aimed to cover each of these in my listing. There were two lesser (but still very significant) revolutions that took place in the Early Modern West: the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, and I wanted to capture these as well. There are also the breakthroughs of modern medicine & germ theory, evolution/genetics, the microscopic scale, and atomic theory, which I made sure to reference. In general, mathematics and science are fundamental disciplines for civilization, thus my emphasis on them.

        Documenting who we are as humans (as the Voyager Golden Record did) is a secondary objective. The larger archives would contain a comprehensive amount of cultural data, but I think room can be made for a few basics on the miniliths. The overview effect of the Earth from space is important — if nothing else, I want to include that. It’s also a good idea to record who we are, our civilization, and our environment. If our ancestors evolve away from homo sapiens, and/or an extinction event significantly alters the global ecosystem, such data would be more informative than it seems.

        One of the challenges here is defining an ‘information core’ of reasonable size for a minilith. There’s an enormous amount of knowledge to cover, and as I worked on this, I found myself continually expanding my scope, perhaps excessively. However, I still think my ‘core’, even including the additions in this postscript, should be concise enough. The details can always be worked over later — this is a rough draft, intended as a foundation to build from.

        • xcalibur July 12, 2018, 3:22

          PPS: While I said base-10/decimal is preferred, I’d be willing to accept base-12/duodecimal alongside it. I understand that duodecimal has enthusiastic supporters, due to the greater divisibility of 12.
          That should be all.
          BTW, if anyone wants to respond, I suggest clicking ‘reply’ on the first post, that should make matters easier.

          • xcalibur July 20, 2018, 19:23

            PPPS (because I’m always thinking of more)

            • Economic concepts, including money, trade, and finance
            • Energy sources, and how they’re harvested and exploited. This would include fossil fuels, wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, and nuclear. In particular, I would discuss the potential of uranium-238, thorium, and breeder reactors. I would issue stern warnings regarding reliance on a non-renewable resource like fossil fuels, and the dangers of nuclear weapons (as these issues could potentially cause our downfall, and the need for the artifacts).
            •Life sciences: I’d expand on evolution, and cover the history of life on earth, how ecosystems work (primary producers, apex predators, keystone species, etc), and so on. I’d make particular mention of extinction events in Earth’s history.
            •Earth sciences: geology (including volcanism & tectonic plates), oceanography, climate, etc.
            •Medicine: I referenced germ theory and human anatomy before, but I’d be sure to include a primer on modern medicine in general, including antibiotics, painkillers, and sterilization of equipment. I’d include nutrition and exercise science.
            •Sanitation: indoor plumbing, treatment of sewage, bathing, washing hands, washing clothes, the importance of soap, etc. This could be tied in with Germ Theory.
            •Rule of Law: I mentioned the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and political philosophy above, but I’d be sure to expound on the importance of Law being the highest authority (rather than god-kings, as was common in history). I would mention separation of Church and State, and the importance of transparency and divided power in government.

            Under math, I’d include differential equations. I’d display all equations in decimal and duodecimal (base-10 because it’s predominant, base-12 because of its graceful qualities). Base-12 would use the Pitman numerals for the last two values (which resemble the numbers 2 and 3 rotated). Since the metric system is base-10, I would add an alternative base-12 version of the weights/measures and line gauge.

            Alongside political philosophy and the rule of law, I would emphasize the need for rational, empirical, logical, and scientific thought. I would issue an explicit warning against fundamentalist ideology.

            I thought I was done with this, but there were a few important points I missed, and that led me to expound further. As I said, this is meant as an informational core. It may seem a bit lengthy, but I would strongly recommend detailing each of these points, at least briefly. Perhaps information could be inscribed in miniature, with the reader using magnification — that may be an effective means of working around space constraints.

  • Triffin July 10, 2018, 9:00

    In addition to my comment about “electricity” we should also include
    a detailed map identifying the locations of all the world’s major libraries

    Triff ..

  • ljk July 10, 2018, 9:35

    Glass artist Josh Simpson (who is married to American astronaut Catherine Coleman), who specializes in making glass planets, has created his own version of Apkallu with the Infinity Project:

    https://www.megaplanet.com/the-infinity-project/

    To quote from the above link:

    “Since 1976, more than 3,000 Infinity Project planets have been hidden, tucked, nestled, perched, sunk, tossed and otherwise scattered all over the earth, in spots that are clever, mundane, unique, historic, inaccessible, dangerous, hilarious, gorgeous and breathtaking.”

    More articles and a TED Talk video here:

    https://blog.cmog.org/2015/06/10/something-to-leave-behind-former-explainer-participates-in-josh-simpsons-infinity-project/

    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/where-in-the-world-are-josh-simpsons-planets/

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZqcbuq8IsA

  • Paolo GRAMAGLIA July 10, 2018, 9:51

    I’m a layman, sorry for disturbing you all, distinguished readers! Imho, as soon as a viable holographic AI-based self-powered interactive interface for learning is developed (which should be utterly comprehensive of ALL of our current developments and insights in all of the realms of human knowledge), let just all of us know about it, locate it in multiple places all over the world, teach how to use it so that the survivors can enjoy of its aid as needed.

    • ljk July 10, 2018, 10:25
      • Paolo July 11, 2018, 4:52

        Intriguing, but I was actually thinking about juke-box shaped stand-alone intelligent multimedia “oracles” scattered around the world in thousands units…

        • ljk July 11, 2018, 8:46

          Where will they get their power from and who will maintain them?

          • Paolo July 12, 2018, 12:02

            Self-powered (with redundance: plutonium, solar, wind), self-healing (but as long as we are here we could check them at fixed intervals and update them constantly). A lot of money. But maybe in 20 years from now?

            • ljk July 17, 2018, 10:59

              Too much vagueness here. This includes saying these issues will all be solved by the future, which is imbued with magical properties.

              And the big one: WHO will pay for such machines, especially if they will not reap a profit from them?

  • ljk July 10, 2018, 10:09

    DESIGNING FOR DEEP TIME: HOW ART HISTORY IS USED TO MARK NUCLEAR WASTE

    by Kelli Anderson

    Thesis paper online here:

    http://www.kellianderson.com/MSthesis.pdf

    Planning for deep time: Nuclear monuments and Aboriginal art

    Darren Jorgensen, Feature – commissioned by Ben Eltham:

    https://www.artlink.com.au/articles/3210/planning-for-deep-time-nuclear-monuments-and-abori/

  • Kelvin Long July 10, 2018, 11:02

    ljk: thanks for tipping me off to the Josh Simpson glass project. I may contact him later to garner his involvement. I like what he is doing, but other than an artistic endeavour I am not sure what will be achieved by it. If he had etched a message on each sphere at least, unless there is one? But this sounds like a useful data point for the Apkallu initiative so thanks.
    Thanks to all the others who contributed comments, and also the awesome ideas list provided by xcalibur. I have to travel so won’t be able to respond much further, but later on I will go through all these comments again and process them as input into the Apkallu initiative. Then I will decide if this is worth proceeding with. Meanwhile, anyone that is interested in getting involved, please visit the web site and contact me there:
    https://www.apkalluinitiative.com/

    Kelvin

    • xcalibur July 11, 2018, 2:16

      Thank you! I put forth my best effort in creating a ‘core’ of ideas to build off of. As I said, it’s only a first step, but hopefully it can work as a foundation stone for the finished product. I’d be willing to give further consultation on this matter if needed.

  • stephen July 10, 2018, 21:22

    If it’s in a cave, then instead of just a box, we could have a whole room full of useful artifacts.
    The written materials could be in several different sizes as a clue that there is information written microscopically. Then we’d include microscopes and magnifying glasses.
    Items written in several different languages with some sort of glossaries included.
    The path leading to the chamber could be smoothed over, obviously artificial, as a clue that somebody left something there.

    I read an sf story, I don’t remember the title or author, but a children’s nursery rhyme had been propagated and remembered over the course of centuries–this was on a colony planet, and it turns out the rhyme was an instruction for how to find and activate a spaceship which was still functioning after all those years.

    So nursery rhymes and other poetry might help somehow.

    • Mark Zambelli July 17, 2018, 11:04

      (That sounds like it might be from the ‘Dragonriders of Pern’ series…it’s been a while and I’m away from my references but maybe ‘Nerilkas Story'(?spelling)… just a guess though)

      • ljk July 18, 2018, 14:27

        The nursery rhyme “Ring Around the Rosies” is from and about the Black Death plague that ravished Europe in the 14th Century CE, so the idea of preserving memories in that way does have merit.

        FYI: The rhyme describes how Europeans dealing with the plague would put rose petals in their clothing pockets in the belief that they would ward off the disease. Wrong advice, but the point is the idea has survived to modern times.

  • Mark July 11, 2018, 12:00

    Interesting article and comments. My thoughts, in no particular order:
    – You need to use microscopic nano-writing on stone or titanium or other impervious material. Thousands of pages etched on a chip of material the size of your thumbnail.
    -There needs to be way more than 1000 of these. Think billions. So small, and so cheap to mass produce, then scattered around the world.
    -Some could be placed in special places but most should be just lying around where befuddled future folks can find them and investigate.
    -Not sure what putting them on the moon would do, because anyone standing on the moon already has some awesome technology.
    -This needs to be a comprehensive encyclopedia of basic math, science, and technology.
    – Someone suggested putting instructions for building a microscope reader from molten sand in full size “font,” which is a fabulous idea but just in case, a long-lasting rudimentary microscope should be included and packaged with a percentage of the artifacts, just in case. Remember glass lasts a very long time in nature.
    – You need to start by teaching the language. Pick a language, doesn’t matter which one. The first “page” would start with basic children’s books such as, “See Spot run,” and progress onward until the language is taught. Then the rest of the encyclopedia is presented in that language.
    -Dispersal to the ends of the earth is trivial – simply contact the folks who ran America OnLine, and emulate the way they spammed AOL membership CDs. This technique would put the encyclopedic artifact in everyone’s hands, and landfills will contain millions of them, to be dug up later when needed.
    – Nuclear war, superflu, asteroid impacts, volcanoes, idiocracy, serious business yes but all of these ends pale in comparison to the one proven and most fearsome true destroyer of human civilization: The Zombie Apocalypse. The artifact must not be made of anything edible, especially grey matter. DNA must thus be ruled out as a medium for this message.
    -Mark

  • Paul Knabenshue July 11, 2018, 14:37

    I have mentally revisited this article on several occasions. I applaud what Elon Musk and other visionaries are doing to promote human survival as a multi-planet species. The insight regarding the impact on human survival from threats posed by long period comets, interstellar asteroids, or even super volcanos (all real threats) – can be sobering. Given that humanity is barely 75 years into the space age (if one counts the V2 launches as the beginning), if we can ‘survive’ for another hundred years or so – imagine the possibilities to ensure better planetary defences or even interstellar travel and space based colonies? Another angle to ponder – to borrow a page from doomsday preppers – would be to identify what knowledge, technologies, and even tools/raw materials to stockpile for the continued survival and progress of humanity? The international seed vault is but one example (https://www.theverge.com/2017/5/19/15664298/svalbard-global-seed-vault-norway-doomsday-climate-change). Of course, locking away a mankind survival kit may make for a very quaint time capsule in 25-50 years time. Maybe the investment would best be directed toward proper planetary defence solutions, such as how to best identify and quickly engage planetary impactors, or how to defuse a super volcano (https://nypost.com/2017/08/24/nasas-plan-to-defuse-yellowstones-continent-killing-super-volcano/). Then there is the threat of pandemic, or nuclear war to contend with. Certainly no shortage of challenges, maybe the best we can do is to promote the recommendations of good gents like Mr. Long, Mr. Musk and other visionaries.

  • Kelvin long July 13, 2018, 1:04
  • craig watkins July 14, 2018, 18:24

    Another strategy would be to make these beautiful or at least notable objects. Use something that resists corrosion and physical abuse, and shaped so that would be bound to attract wonder, attention and cause someone to take care of and protect the object. For example, using some type of durable material that would be impossible to make without modern technology (engineered ceramics, cubic zirconia, etc…). Also, its very geometrical properties could be a demonstration of technological thought. A dodecahedron seems like a good idea, but I wonder if a perfect sphere, cube or cylinder would provide more immediate utility to a developing society. Its mere existence would hint at something to be discovered, whether or not the inscriptions could be deciphered.

    • ljk July 17, 2018, 10:55

      Gold is wonderful at remaining untarnished for millennia. Of course it is also quite wonderful to thieves in any era.

      Then again, aluminum was once a very precious metal until they found a way to manufacture it, so who knows?

  • Jim Baerg July 14, 2018, 22:43

    From the Babylonian legend you quoted
    “From that time nothing material has been added by way of improvement to his instructions.”
    This suggests that some thought needs to be given to avoiding the recipients of this data treating it as ‘holy writ’ not to be deviated from.

  • ljk July 17, 2018, 10:53
  • Mark Zambelli July 17, 2018, 11:35

    While still in the realm of sci-fi, at least right now, a Mid Earth Orbital ‘factory’ satellite would be a great way to slowly churn out copies of this minilithic item and let them rain down from on high. If they’re small and lightweight enough they would drift slowly down without too much, or any, heating.

    Then satellite could last millenia with autonomous self repair and several small objects falling per day shouldn’t cause problems especially if they’re seeded in sparsely populated regions and coastal areas to be washed-up perhaps. Once civilization is no more then the satellite could even step-up it’s production rate.

  • Daniel July 18, 2018, 5:44

    “The idea is that any future human surviving a global cataclysm that finds this artefact and studies it sufficiently, it will give them the knowledge they need to rapidly advance human civilization at an accelerated rate.”

    Then the knowledge should split per categories, engineering, farming, banking >:), software development :)).

    But what if there are some smartphone swiping teenagers who will find the artefacts?

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