A lost city where underwater “platinum coffins” were discovered by Japanese insurgents in WWII and boulders float through the air.
Today we visit Pohnpei Island in the Federated States of Micronesia. As with so many islands in the area the locals had to lie down and take it as the major colonial powers (Spain, Germany, Japan and the USA) made the rules for nearly 500 years. There are over 600 islands in Micronesian and they have been independent since the 1980s. There are four states: Yap and Chuuk are covered in other articles in pacificvoyages. There is also Kosrae but here we dive into Pohnpei.
The ruins of Nan Madol are located on the eastern periphery of the island and used to be the ceremonial and political seat of the Saudeleur dynasty that united Pohnpei’s estimated 25,000 people from about AD 500 until 1500 at which time the central government took a long leap off a short pier. This was a huge population in ancient times so they must have been very well organized to have kept everyone fed.
There are no other places like Nan Madol in the Oceania. The square mile complex has been called the Venice of the Pacific and the Atlantis of the West. Some claim it is a lost city and was built by space aliens. In the absence of a record fabulists weasel in through the historical gaps and crank out narratives that are at odds with common sense. The place was still occupied when the Spanish landed in 1529 and it wasn’t lost even if the ruling dynasty (that lasted many centuries longer than the US has been around) was out of business. And it wasn’t really a city but was more like Beverly Hills, an enclave for the well to do.
The complex is crisscrossed by seawater canals and the 100 plus houses and public buildings were made of stone on dozens of manmade islands. There are walls up to 26 feet high and the stones are long, six sided basalt mega crystals.
Pseudoarcheologists tell us that, lacking metal tools, these island people could not have cut the stones; some weighing up to 50 tons. They also couldn’t have moved them without outside help. It’s true that they didn’t shape the stones but that’s because this mineral occurs naturally when certain lava cools. No one, as in no European, saw them being moved so it’s obvious that somehow the locals suspended gravity and they were levitated in place. This is where the space aliens proved to be so helpful.
It seems this alien rock moving has gone on all over the ancient world as the people from the past had a real passion for moving big stones as we see on Malta, in Egypt, England, France, Central America, India and Easter Island. Man o man those aliens were busy. All that’s required for this theory to stand up is a suspension of gravity and some willing space aliens.
Much of this mishegas has been promoted by the writer Erich von Däniken who is one of the most popular loose screws in a field rife with untightened screws. Von Däniken books have sold more that 60 million copies; his most popular one is Chariots of the Gods, a 50 year old book perennially outselling any book on archeology.
When he’s not in jail for fraud (which has happened more than once) he roves about and lectures to rapt audiences that historians, archeologists, geologists and basically anyone with carefully researched histories are a bunch of liars. People are hardwired to fill in the blanks if they encounter the unknown. From this desire springs religions, confirmation bias and superstition. Nan Madol is pretty remarkable but the joint was occupied until the early 1800s so there’s no great mystery.
Harmless fun? Maybe, but magical thinking has been a real trend in this country recently and it has led to dire consequences.
The Crystal Council has deemed basalt a spiritual rock that has healing properties. From their website “Basalt, is a broad term for a mineral that forms when magma from volcanoes solidifies and hardens into rock. This stone is found worldwide and is one of the oldest and most abundant minerals on earth. It is challenging to acquire due to most countries making it illegal to sell or distribute.” So they claim it is incredibly common but government conspiracies make it very hard to get.
So what is truth? What is reality? One philosopher/mathematician, Don Hoffman claims that reality is created by your mind and that all that you see are like computer desktop icons which only refer to a deeper reality; one we cannot know. He has tenure at UC Irvine so there’s that.
Sam Harris is an off-the-reservation non academically attached intellectual who claims stridently that that we have no freewill and that everything we see is on tape delay. He says everything is written and we are just actors in a play that we haven’t rehearsed but it’s written nonetheless.
Michio Kaku is a physicist who says the quantum flux prevents determinism and anything is possible. In fact, everything is not just possible but is happening all at once in 11 dimensions. Hookay, Mich.
So what are the facts surrounding Nan Madol? Well we know it was an elegant expression of cooperation over many centuries to establish a tiny kingdom in a tropical paradise. Maybe they suspended the laws of the Universe for a minute or maybe they just put their backs into it. In any case it’s one more place you and I are traveling to that we will never go.
Or will we? They have beaches and beer.
Easter Egg: A Croatian diver held his breath underwater for nearly 25 minutes, breaking his own Guinness World Record.
Well, to be precise, Budimir Buda Šobat prevented his oxygen intake while in a pool for 24 minutes and 33 seconds, far greater than most people’s maximum of about two minutes.
He hyperventilated pure O2 and then with otherworldly control slipped beneath the surface for longer than the duration of a Seinfeld episode.
I have the record for the most number of records not attempted. One item I didn’t build was the world’s largest mousetrap because the record holder pictured in the book was an elderly man with a sour wife; I couldn’t bear to make him even more sad. The mousetrap was a measly six feet. I can’t find the photo but the poor guy caused a run in huge mousetrap records and now they have grown big enough to kill a baby stegosaurus.