Atlantis and the Kingdom of the Neanderthals
100,000 Years of
By Colin Wilson
Published by Inner Traditions
336 pages, paperback
It is now exactly 50 years since the publication of Colin Wilson’s first book, The Outsider. Since then he has gone on to become the most prolific writer of his generation, perhaps even of any generation.
According to his new bibliography, he has now published 169 books, alongside over 3,000 articles and essays. Perhaps no other writer of his generation has covered such a wide variety of topics either.
Since originally being known as an existentialist philosopher and psychologist, Wilson has written books on criminology, history, paranormal phenomena, astronomy and literature, as well as more than 20 novels in different genres.
In fact one of the reasons why he is not taken more seriously by academics is because he has disobeyed the unwritten rule of carving out and staying within your own tiny area of expertise, and in the process trod on the toes of so many ‘experts’ in different areas.
There is no doubt that if he had stuck to his original ‘brief’ as England’s answer to Sartre and Camus, he would be of a much higher critical status. But as his recent autobiography makes clear, his omnivorous intellect – together with financial considerations – made this impossible.
This book (his 170th) continues Wilson’s recent interest in the lost civilisation of Atlantis, completing a trilogy which began with From Atlantis to the Sphinx and The Atlantis Blueprint.
It offers a broad and comprehensive overview of all the evidence suggesting that civilisation is much older than conventional archaeology tells us.
Peoples like the Egyptians and the Maya appear to have developed very advanced technologies very suddenly – but in reality, they probably only inherited knowledge from earlier peoples.
Wilson suggests that the roots of civilisation and advanced technology go as far back as the Neanderthals. Recent archaeological evidence suggests that the Neanderthals’ popular image as thick-headed brutes is massively wide of the mark.
100,000 years ago they dug mines to obtain ochre, used furnaces, made altars and had a wide variety of stone, bone tools and wooden utensils. They buried their dead in sophisticated rituals, using quilts of woven flowers, and even used a kind of ‘superglue’, made from birch tree. They also clearly had an artistic side too: they decorated rock with geometric patterns, and made small carved statues.
One of consistent themes through all Wilson’s books – no matter their subject – has been his sense that there is ‘something wrong’ with normal human consciousness. Our normal consciousness is narrow and weak, and there is a wider and fuller type of awareness beyond it, which gives us a truer picture of reality.
We occasionally catch a glimpse of it in states of intense concentration or crisis, when a veil seems to fall away and we experience a sense of freedom and meaning. And in this book he suggests that prehistoric peoples naturally possessed this ‘fuller’ kind of consciousness.
He suggests that shamanic and prehistoric cultures experienced a kind of ‘group consciousness’ similar to that which certain animal groups seem to possess (as when flocks of birds or schools of fish turn in unison). Prehistoric peoples – including the Neanderthals – did not exist as separate individuals as we do, and as a result they possessed a kind of natural telepathy, which partly explains some of their remarkable feats.
Wilson also discusses the powers of autistic savants, who are – for example – able to ‘see’ the answers to incredibly complex mathematical problems. Prehistoric and ancient peoples may have possessed this kind of intuitive intelligence too, which accounts for their astounding mathematical and astronomical knowledge, such as the Assyrians’ discovery of the 15 digit Nineveh number, or the cosmological knowledge which enabled the pyramid builders to calculate the exact size of the Earth, the Moon, Sun and other planets.
Finally, Wilson suggests that prehistoric peoples may have had a more intense vision of the world than us. The ancient Egyptians and our Cro-Magnon ancestors naturally possessed the faculty which the German poet Goethe described as ‘active seeing’: the ability to see the world around us in a completely fresh and real way, similar to the intense perception of children.
We appear to have lost this faculty, but it is possible for us to reawaken it. In one of his many entertaining autobiographical passages, Wilson describes his own attempts to do this, staring at the trees in his garden in a state of concentrated stillness until he begins to see them in a completely different way.
Such a wide range of material and these potentially complex ideas might have been daunting, but Wilson’s prose is so readable and engaging that you are carried along at high speed and feel disappointed when each chapter ends.
Atlantis and the Kingdom of the Neanderthals is a fascinating contribution to the debate about ancient civilisations, written with rare psychological insight, and a more than worthy addition to Wilson’s canon.
– Reviewed by Steve Taylor in New Dawn No. 99