Beam me up, an­cients

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION TRAVEL - GRA­HAM ERBACHER

Of stone cir­cles, crop cir­cles, mounds and an­cient phe­nom­ena, I have seen a few. I have a travel com­pan­ion fas­ci­nated by such mat­ters and I don’t need much per­suad­ing. Read­ing a T&I cover story on Stone­henge and Wilt­shire’s Great Stones Way (Fe­bru­ary 11-12), I was able to tick off most of the at­trac­tions. I have pon­dered the majesty of the Great Pyra­mids of Egypt and been bailed up by wild dogs at the pyra­mids of Teoti­hua­can in Mex­ico. And, of course, I have lapped up all those doc­u­men­taries that “fi­nally re­veal the true sto­ries” be­hind how the pyra­mids were built and why Stone­henge was so ar­ranged — the back­bone of the SBS li­brary, along with never-be­fore-seen colour footage of Adolf Hitler.

One of the most fas­ci­nat­ing sights is the Uff­in­g­ton White Horse, in Ox­ford­shire, Eng­land, which is a huge Bronze Age chalk hill fig­ure that, with its sleek lines, is a de­sign mas­ter­piece. But the strange thing is, only an aerial view gives you the full ap­pre­ci­a­tion of its form; there is no per­fect “view­ing plat­form” on Earth.

I’m the sort of guy who is happy to leave the how and why of th­ese relics in the realm of won­der, but it brings to mind the must-read of the 1960s and 70s, Char­i­ots of the Gods? Un­solved Mys­ter­ies of the Past. The ques­tion mark in the ti­tle, I’m sure, was au­thor Erich von Daniken’s wink, wink that what you were about to read was ut­ter tosh, but nev­er­the­less, here goes. The the­sis was that an­cient as­tro­nauts ar­rived on Earth with their so­phis­ti­cated ways, be­stow­ing knowl­edge on the lo­cals. To bor­row a line from co­me­dian Kitty Flana­gan, “It’s so much bet­ter than sci­ence, it’s pseudo- sci­ence!”

We’re lucky here in Aus­tralia to have our own links with an­cient Egypt, like the Obelisk in Syd­ney’s Hyde Park, a sand­stone struc­ture topped with a fil­i­greed bronze pyra­mid. De­tect a whiff of fraud? It was ac­tu­ally built in 1857 as a sewer vent. But 75km north of Syd­ney, search out the Gos­ford Hiero­glyphs in bush­land at Kar­i­ong. You’ll need a “mud” (be­ing the op­er­a­tive word this wet March) map from the in­ter­net and it in­volves clam­ber­ing up a rock cleft but there they are, about 300 carv­ings in sand­stone, dis­cov­ered in the 1970s and the sub­ject of much spec­u­la­tion. The idea of an­cient Egyp­tians ar­riv­ing on our east coast and mak­ing tracks sev­eral kilo­me­tres in­land to tell their story tick­les my fancy. More pro­saic ex­pla­na­tions in­volve a sol­dier once sta­tioned in Egypt; an aca­demic fallen on hard times (the area was home to tran­sients dur­ing the De­pres­sion); or some tal­ented school­child­ren. Be warned: re­cent carv­ings sug­gest the crafts­men of the erotic tem­ples of In­dia have called this way too, but have sadly lost their artistry.

Back on the trail in south­ern Eng­land, a road sign pro­claims, Crop Cir­cle Next Round­about. Should I be tak­ing a photo of the round­about? And what of the elab­o­rate stick struc­tures on my beach that weren’t there late yes­ter­day? So much is un­ex­plained in the Twi­light Zone.

Su­san Kuro­sawa is on assignment.

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