An informed, freethinking re-creation of ancient trade routes, rooted in research and serious fieldwork.
McMahon starts by discussing Ireland’s wealth of glyphs and rich veins of copper and how great civilizations throughout history expanded their dominance by possessing various metals, including gold, copper, iron ore and tin (to alloy with copper and make bronze). He then moves on to the civilization of Egypt, pointing out how its symbolic language is similar to that found in Ireland and how it speaks of places: latitude, longitude, shadow angles, length of voyages and distinguishing landmarks. This was a sophisticated communication system, expressing a deep understanding of how to get from A to B, and the author steps into the shoes of ancient mariners to grasp how they read the world. Much of navigation, he notes, has to do with geometry—staying true to line by using water clocks, shifting shadows or Icelandic spar, a crystal that can help find the sun on a cloudy day. The author describes the tools that seafarers used to measure angles, heavenly cycles, the applications of Venus and the connections between the constellations. He sees a commonality in Native American Micmac and Egyptian glyphs and hypothesizes that sailors voyaged from Nubia to what is now Michigan in order to obtain pure deposits of copper. It seems like a fantastic proposition, but McMahon’s reasoning is far from far-fetched. Certain leaps of faith are required, however—for instance, the author asserts that the word “underworld” actually means “the West”—and occasional sentences are unclear (“The mysterious rotation of the main chamber of many mound designs from a central axis relates to the longitude of that location measured by the earthly view of the Venus pentagram”). More often than not, however, readers will glide along with ease and pleasurable surprise in the wake of McMahon’s investigations. This is a charged anthropological story, one that the author relates in a clipped, distilled manner. The sentences are often short and incantatory, all the while connecting the dots in an elegantly simple process of following history’s clues.
An often engaging book that shows readers the beginnings of the great voyages and the ancient symbols of seafaring communication.