A guy named Hugh Newman has a video that was recently shared with me that I thought was interesting. In it, Newman highlights some legitimate Neolithic artifacts from Scotland that are fascinating on their own. As so often happens with mystery-mongers, however, he assigns some pseudoarchaeological claims to the little spheres.
Using his video, which I link to here, here are the Pseudo- claims:
1) A “scottish sphere” was found in Tiwanaku
2) There are “99 stones around the perimeter of Tiwanaku which you also have at Avebury,” ostensibly creating some sort of connection.
2) The anthropomorphic statuary from Bolivia show “Caucasian looking features.”
4) That the Scottish spheres represent “Platonic solids”
Let me first share a little background on what the Scottish spheres actually are. And I think even Newman won’t disagree with this section.
The balls consist of about 425 known examples of carved stone, approximately 7 centimeters in diameter. The types of stone range from very hard granite to relatively soft sandstone. Very often they exhibit symmetry with spirals and lobes or knobs carved into the surface. Most of the time, the lobes are prominent and easy to spot, sometimes they’re quite subtle.
As to what purpose these little balls served, no one really knows. Speculations range from fishing weights to mace heads. Some are happy just to call them art. And we may never know what they were created for. However, what we do know, through experimental archaeology, is roughly how long it took to carve one. About 12 hours. And while we don’t know specifically when they were made because nearly all of them were found in non-archaeological settings (like those found by farmers in their fields), we do know that they probably date to between 3200-2500 BCE since they’re typically found in Neolithic contexts. One of the most recently found was found at Orkney, in norther Scotland, and within a Neolithic site.
A “Scottish” Sphere in Tiwanaku?
The first claim Newman makes is that there appears to be a connection between the site of Tiwanaku and the Scottish spheres because one is found in Bolivia. Lets look at this claim on its face before we look deeper into what else Newman says about this. While he’s careful, in the videos I’ve watched, not to show the interpretive display associated with the object in the Museo Nacional de Arqueología de Bolivia, he does say that the museum records it as found near Tiwanaku and is associated, at least by Newman, to the Tiwanaku culture. If that the case, then it places the earliest date of this artifact to around 650 AD. The distance in time and space between this object and the spheres on the British Isles is not insignificant. Roughly 3,000 years and about twice as many miles!
This distance in time and space is definitely not insignificant when you consider neither culture was sea-faring. And for contact to have happened between them, it had to have occurred over 3,000 years earlier than Tiwanaku’s culture. This would imply that either the people of Neolithic times on the British Isles were not only sea-faring peoples but accomplished explorers and traders or that the archaic people of the Andes were. Since we have zero evidence or good reason to think either is the case, what else might be happening? What other explanation might there be for Newman’s video show and tell?
If Newman were completely fabricating or at least misleading the viewer, we might expect some of his “facts” to be shown as false. And we might also expect that he’s keeping certain information away from the viewer of his video. In other words, he might be showing the viewer only what he wants them to see, and reinforcing his conclusions with facts that simply aren’t real.
Let’s test this.
In the video, Newman is actually standing in the Museo Nacional de Arquelogica de Brazil. We can see the alleged “stone sphere” over his shoulder. Yet, he only shows the briefest glimpse of the artifact in question. And he seems to avoid the other artifacts within the display altogether. And he definitely doesn’t show or read the small interpretive sign that accompanies the display. My guess is that the reason for this is that the assemblage, when taken as a whole, do not fit with the narrative Newman prefers. He spends more video time on Scottish spheres half a word away than he does on the wonderful artifact right in front of him.
My trip to Bolivia won’t be until 2019, and I’ve added this museum to one of my stops mostly because I’m very curious about that little interpretive sign–a white card that I noticed in another video provided by the Bolivian Ministry of Culture. They show just a tad bit more of the display but only a glimpse of the card. In their video, the display appears to be one that shows an agricultural or subsistence interpretation. There’s a metate–or grinding stone–on the right side. Several stones that look like they might be manos–or pestles–in the middle, and a rather large cooking vessel on the right. Between the cooking vessel and the pestles resides the “Tiwanaku sphere.”
Not really a Sphere
It’s not a sphere at all. It appears to be a six-lobed, carved stone. The size is difficult to assess in either video, but it looks to be at least 15 cm or more across. Based
on the context, and having to guess from there, I’d say it’s probably a cooking stone. Heat it then place it in water. Or possibly a weight for a fishing net. Similar objects have been found in North American sites, such as Poverty Point, where they are called PPOs (Poverty Point Objects). Experimental archaeology has shown that different shapes produce heat that reaches different temperatures for differing periods of time. In North America, these sorts of cooking stones are often clay, baked loess, or quartz. The shape can provide maximum surface area while making it easy to extract with a tool. But, like I said, I’m totally guessing with very little information.
So the “Tiwanaku sphere” isn’t really a sphere. It does, however, bear some similarity to the Scottish spheres (most of which actually look more spherical and are believed to have started as spheres
at least) by having symmetrical lobes. It’s also carved of stone. And also not a Platonic solid, much like the Scottish spheres (more on this later). The difference, and this is a big difference, is the size. It’s difficult to judge the size of the Tiwanaku artifact given that there really isn’t something adjacent for scale. But, when comparing to the metate in the display, it appears to be at least double the size of the Scottish spheres which are, on average, 7 cm in diameter. They fit in the palm of a small hand. The Tiwanaku artifact would more easily be carried in two hands.
And The 99 Stones in Tiwanaku and Avebury?
Newman claims that there are “99 stones around the perimeter of Tiwanaku, which you also find at Avebury.” As he shows one of the Posnansky photos of the Kalasasaya at Tiwanaku, we can only assume that this is what he really meant. Especially since Tiwanaku itself does not appear surrounded by stones. There are, however, stone pillars that were described by Squier and, later, Posnansky, which surround what Squier calls a temple (the Kalasasaya), creating a perimeter of sorts. They were believed to originally be part of a wall and are now incorporated in the reconstructed wall.
For the moment, let’s imagine that this is a fact: both Avebury and the Kalasasaya feature at Tiwanaku have 99 stone pillars standing at their perimeter. The next question would be, “why is this significant?” The answer, of course, is that it isn’t. Coincidences happen. And, if one goes looking long enough, one will find such equivocations all over the world. If it wasn’t one site, it would be another. This is simply starting with a conclusion and looking for data that fit. It’s also the opposite of how science is done.
I really wonder how Newman arrived at this specific number? The exact number of stones originally at the Kalasasaya probably isn’t known. And never will. But it seems to be that there are roughly 20 pillars on each side. Early photographs show a pattern of 10 pillars on each side, not counting the corners. A little math gives you 88 stone pillars. Squier (1877), notes that the dimensions of the Kalasasaya are 388′ x 445′. Again, a little math gives you about 111 pillars since he states they’re spaced “at approximately 15 feet apart, measuring from centre to centre.” In her theses, Amy Lubke (2012) notes that the rectangle formed by the Kalasasaya is 120m x 130m with the pillars about 4.5m apart and “relatively evenly spaced.” She’s getting her data from Squier, so it should be no surprise that a little math gives us, again, about 111 pillars. So, yeah… near enough to 99. If you count the stones mapped in by Posnansky, you can, perhaps, come up with 99 depending on how you treat stones at corners, gates, and openings. But nobody is specifically saying 99 except Newman that I can find. This is because there are gaps that both Squier and Posnansky admit to, citing their likely removal by locals for re-purposing.
At Avebury, over 6,000 miles away and 3,000 years earlier there is a henge (a mounded ring of earth with a ditch) surrounded by sarsen stones. You can say stone pillars if you like. Cleal (2001) says that it is thought there were originally 98, though there are less than that now. So… again not the figure of 99. The irony is, in one of the counts I did using the Posnansky map, I came up with 98 stones. This, of course, doesn’t account for stones we simply have no data on because they were removed.
And how do they compare?
So how do the stones around Tiwanaku’s Kalasasaya compare with Avebury? Both are around 100 stones. Avebury was thought to originally have 98. And 88 stones can be counted around the perimeter of the Kalasasaya in an old photograph or computed to have been about 111 using some math and measurements. But some are undoubtedly missing completely. Avebury is circular. The Kalasasaya is rectangular. The full perimeter of Avebury is a diameter of 331.6 meters. The perimeter of the Kalasassaya is 500 meters. The average sarsen stone at Avebury is about 4m tall. The average at the Kalasasaya is about 3m tall. Avebury was constructed nearly 5,000 years ago. The Kalasasaya was constructed about 1,800 years ago. And, finally, the upright stones of the Kalasasaya were probably intended to be part of a larger wall.
In short, they don’t really compare. They’re two cultures that worked with stone, vastly separated in time and space.
Hugh Newman is also quick to point out some “Caucasian-like features” on the anthropomorphic figures in the museum. He doesn’t really say what those “features” are though. I would say he leaves it for the viewer to decide, but this really isn’t the case. What he’s really doing is leading the viewer into his racist perspective. It’s probably not an overtly racist perspective. I mean, I don’t think he set out to promote one race over another. Rather, I think this is a very unconscious bias as a result of looking for an extraordinary position to explain what otherwise needs no explanation.
Instead of accepting that Bolivian natives arrived in South America through a migration that began over 15,000 years ago, Newman (and others) would rather push the very extraordinary claim that there is a connection with white Europeans. The unsaid assumption is that the “brown savages of Bolivia couldn’t possibly have been clever enough to design and build symmetrically carved stone implements with 6 sides, much less the monumental structures we see at places like Pumapunku or throughout Tiwanaku.”
However, when you look at photos of indigenous Bolivians and compare with the statuary, the resemblance even today is remarkable. You can even see the cheek-pouch on one of the statues representing the ancient tradition of chewing coca leaves. Luckily, I really don’t think a lot of people will buy into this once they give it a modicum of thought.
The last major claim Newman has made about the Scottish spheres in general (and because he’d like to erroneously include the Tiwanaku artifact among them, the claim extends to it) is that they are evidence that Neolithic people understood Platonic solids.
Platonic Solids in a Nutshell
A platonic solid is a polyhedron (a 3-dimensional solid shape with many faces) constructed by placing polygons (a 2-dimensional shape with straight sides and angles) together in such a way that they have all the same number of sides and the same angles which touch each other. There are only 5 known Platonic solids: cube, tetrahedron, octahedron, dodecahedron, and the icosahedron. They were first postulated by Plato in his writings where he suggested that solids were associated with the classic elements of earth, air, water, and fire, with the fifth element (the icosahedron) used by the gods for arranging the constellations in the sky, what Aristotle would later call the “ether.”
So, why aren’t the Scottish spheres Platonic solids?
It’s true that many of the carved spheres found in Neolithic contexts around Scotland do r
esemble some of the Platonic solids. The key word here is “resemble.” It’s true that the symmetry of some of the spheres can be associated with Platonic solids. The nodes of the spheres, which range from carved circles or spirals to small bumps, are often very symmetrically arranged, sometimes in the positions of the polygons of a Platonic solid. But, and this is very big but, the nodes aren’t polygons. Remember, polygons are flat, 2-dimensional shapes. Sometimes they can be organized to become polyhedrons—a 3-dimensional shape. And sometimes a polyhedron’s sides have congruent, regular angles that make a Platonic solid.
I’m sure Newman didn’t arrive at his Platonic solid claim on his own. He probably got there by way of Keith Critchlow who wrote, “these Neolithic objects display the regular mathematical symmetries normally associated with the Platonic solids, yet appear to be at least a thousand years before the time of either Pythagoras or Plato.” In his mind, they looked like Platonic solids therefore they must be. Except, not only are the nodes not polygons, but there are also many, many of these spheres that either have too many nodes to be Platonic solids, many do not have nodes at all!
In the end, there simply isn’t any good reason to think that the Scottish spheres are Platonic solids. Nor is there any good reason to think that the artifact, which admittedly does resemble one of the larger Scottish spheres, is, itself, a Scottish sphere. It’s a single artifact, it’s known context is hidden by Hugh Newman in his video, and the distance through time and space too great to even consider it remotely probable.
But did you ever wonder why the implication clear in his video is that Scottish people traveled to Bolivia in the Neolithic rather than the other way around? Isn’t it just as likely that they are all Bolivan spheres?
Note: Watch this space in the near future. I’ve been in contact with theMuseo Nacional de Arqueología de Bolivia, and they’ve agreed to send me some data on the display with the sphere. This will probably be just the interpretive card, but perhaps they’ll send some additional data as well.
Cleal, R. (2001). “Neolithic and Early Bronze Age”, in A. Chadburn and M. Pomeroy-Kellinger (eds.), Archaeological Research Agenda for the Avebury World Heritage Site. Wessex Archaeology/English Heritage, Wessex, 63-67.
The Orcadian (2013). Dream comes true as carved stone ball unearthed on the Ness. (8/7/2013) https://www.orcadian.co.uk/dream-comes-true-as-carved-stone-ball-unearthed-on-the-ness/
Critchlow, Keith (1982). Time stands still: new light on megalithic science. St. Martin’s Press, New York.
Lubke, Amy (2012). “Stone in the Center.” All Student Theses. 43. http://opus.govst.edu/theses/43
Posnansky, Arthur (1945). Tihuanacu the Cradle of American Man. J.J. Augustin, New York
Squier, E. George (1877). Peru, Incidents of Travel and Exploration in the Land of the Incas. Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York