Saturday, 1 February 2020

Denisovans at the Gates of Dawn: Interview with Andrew Collins

This article first appeared in New Dawn Magazine issue 177, November - December 2019. © Brett Lothian

Denisovans at the Gates of Dawn: Interview with Andrew Collins

Andrew Collins is a British writer and researcher specializing in books that “challenge the way we perceive the past.” They feature such subjects as ancient astronomy, archaeoastronomy and the origins of civilization. A central theme of Collins’s books is that the Watchers and Nephilim of Enochian literature, as well as the biblical “fallen” angels and Anunnaki of Mesopotamian mythology, are memories of a human elite group that helped forge the foundations of civilization in Anatolia and the Near East. He asserts that this same region, particularly eastern Turkey, was the site of the biblical Garden of Eden and terrestrial Paradise. In this exclusive interview for New Dawn magazine Andrew Collins talks about his outstanding new book, co-written with Gregory L. Little, Denisovan Origins: Hybrid Humans, Göbekli Tepe, and the Genesis of the Giants of Ancient America and lots more.

Andrew Collins at Göbekli Tepe © Andrew Collins

1) In your fantastic new book Denisovan Origins: Hybrid Humans, Göbekli Tepe, and the Genesis of the Giants of Ancient America, you quite aptly begin with the paradigm shattering findings at Göbekli Tepe. Can you explain to our readers just what Göbekli Tepe is and how it has changed our understanding of human history?

Göbekli Tepe is arguably one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the twenty-first century. It is a series of stone enclosures with rings of carved T-shaped pillars facing two large monoliths standing at their centres, like twin gateways into some invisible liminal realm. Located on a mountain top in SE Turkey, Göbekli Tepe was built enclosure by enclosure between 11,600-10,000  years ago. Thereafter the site was abandoned, its inhabitants spreading out across Anatolia and the Near East, and eventually into Europe, creating what is known as the Neolithic revolution.

Göbekli Tepe’s importance is its immense sophistication, and the fact that it constitutes the world’s earliest known monumental architecture. Of even greater importance is that it shows us that even by this age modern humans had a tiered hierarchical societies able to pull off such incredible feats of engineering. The question then becomes: Who built it and why?

For me it existed as part of a response to the cataclysmic events surrounding the Younger Dryas comet impact event of approximately 10,800 BCE. Caused most likely by multiple fragments of Comet Enke entering the upper atmosphere, air blasts triggered unimaginable wild fires across the Northern Hemisphere. The ash, smoke and debris rising into the air brought about a nuclear winter that instigated a 1200-year long mini ice that gripped both the American and Eurasian continents and did not end until 9600 BCE, the very time frame of the construction of Gobekli Tepe.

There is very clear comet imagery on one of the standing monoliths at Gobekli Tepe which tells us that its purpose was to create a place of easy access to the sky world, which was thought to lie in the northern part of the heavens. Here the supernatural creatures thought to be responsible for such cataclysms were seen to roam, their arrival in the skies marked by the appearance of comets.

These were ideas I first proposed in my 2014 book Göbekli Tepe: Genesis of the Gods. I am now pretty sure they are correct, as they have now been adopted by other researchers in this field, who also see the construction of Göbekli Tepe as a response to the Younger Dryas comet impact event.
© Andrew Collins & Gregory L. Little

2) The enigmatic Denisovans are the most recently discovered additions to the Homo genus, can you tell us what we know about these mysterious archaic hominids?

The Denisovans were not even known about before 2010. It was in this year that a small fragment of finger bone found two years earlier during excavations at the Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia was sequenced. This was undertaken by the Max Planck Institute of Physical Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who determined that the bone came from a girl of around 13 years old who lived approximately 50,000 years ago. The uniqueness of the individual’s genome made it clear that she belonged to a previously unknown hominin group that would thereafter be known as the Denisovans after the place of their discovery (incidentally, "Denisovans" is correctly pronounced dee-niss-o-vans and not denis-o-vans). The exact status of the Denisovans does, however, remain undecided since some scholars are convinced they are simply an early form of Homo sapiens, and not a unique human type, the reason why they have so far not been given their own species name.

What the so-called Altai Denisovan genome also made clear was that this unique human group shared more gene alleles with Neanderthals than they did with modern humans, leading to the surmise that the Denisovans must have been a sister group of the Neanderthals. This conclusion was backed up in 2016 with the discovery during excavations at the Denisova Cave of two fragments of a Denisovan skull that was particularly robust like that of Neanderthals and other early hominin. Even earlier the discovery, again at the Denisova Cave, of two enormous molars had also suggested that the Denisovans would be found to be particularly robust in nature. However, this is now known to be only part of the story, for a recent examination of the finger bone of the 13-year-old Denisovan girl who lived 50,000 years ago makes it clear that the Denisovans had long, gracile fingers like those of modern humans. This means there is every chance they looked more like us, and also perhaps thought more like modern humans that they did Neanderthals.

What is more, evidence of a sophisticated mindset existing in connection with the Denisova Cave’s Denisovan layer had already been noted. This stems from the discovery of the beautiful choritolite (chlorite) arm bangle dubbed the Denisovan bracelet, which shows evidence of sophisticated drilling, sawing and polishing, along with the earliest known bone needles used to make tailored clothing. In addition to this, fragments of a bone whistle or flute were found in the cave’s Denisovan layer, telling us that the Denisovans must have had an understanding of music, while more recently archaeologists working at the cave found an ocher “pencil” with evidence of usage. This suggests that the Denisovans were able to write and draw. The discovery of horse bone fragments and equine DNA has suggested to some scholars that the Denisovans might even have domesticated and ridden horses.

All this implies that certainly by 45,000 years, and arguably earlier, the Denisovans displayed immense technological capability and advanced human behavior. It is also now thought they developed what is known as blade tool technology, which is the product of a complicated process known as pressure flaking. This is where a handle-like instrument, usually made of bone, antler or wood, is applied to a prepared stone core to literally prise off long, slim blades or bladelets.

This blade tool technology, which starts its life in southern Siberia and northern Mongolia, is then carried westwards across the Ural Mountains into Europe, as well as into southwestern Asia, where it is introduced to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic world of southeastern Anatolia around the same time that Göbekli Tepe comes into existence. This recorded path of blade tool production suggests that the ancestors of those who built Göbekli Tepe came not just from the north, beyond the Caucasus Mountains on the Russian steppe, but from much farther east – beyond the Ural Mountains in western Siberia somewhere. It is even possible they came from as far away as the Altai Mountains of southern Siberia, where the Denisova Cave is located, or even northern Mongolia, close to the great inland sea called Lake Baikal.

Archaeologists now believe our earliest ancestors first encountered Denisovans and Denisovan-Neanderthal hybrids somewhere in northern Mongolia around 45,000 years ago. Sites in this region such as Tolbor-16 show evidence of modern human occupation, and yet they also have the same high culture associated with the Denisovan layer in southern Siberia’s Denisova Cave. This, then, is where our own slow rise to civilization began at the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic epoch.
The Denisova cave, tooth and jewelry. © Andrew Collins
3) DNA evidence has shown that ancient modern humans interbred with not only the Denisovans, but the Neanderthals as well as certain as yet unidentified archaic homonids. Can you explain this complex web of interactions and how modern humans have benefitted from this gene flow?

What becomes clear is that both the Denisovans and modern humans must have gained their gracile fingers from the same source, a common ancestor of both populations from whom we split around 700,000 years ago. If correct, then it means that the stubby, blunt-ended fingers displayed by Neanderthals only developed after they split from the Denisovans some 400,000 years ago (and arguably earlier still).

All this gave every branch of hominin – Denisovans, Neanderthals and modern humans – the chance to develop their own unique genome, which helped engineer their physical appearance, capabilities, and material culture. By around 45,000 years ago the Denisovans were out in front with an acute level of human development, suggesting that as we encountered them in places like northern Mongolia we not only interbred with them, but also at the same time gained their technologies and understanding of our relationship to the cosmos. This then would have been the legacy passed down through their hybrid descendants to the founders of human civilization.

After this time the Denisovans disappear from the scene, in Siberia and Mongolia at least. However, one recent genetic study suggests that some Denisovan groups might have survived in Island Southeast Asia and Melanesia through till as late as 15,000 years ago. This tells us that the sophisticated Denisovan mindset might well have been behind the spread of Australo-Melanesian ancestry from Island Southeast Asia all the way across the South America, where both Australo-Melanesian and Denisovan DNA has been found among certain tribes of the Amazon.
Homo species interbreeding

4) A key theme of Denisovan Origins is the cultural and technological exchange that interacting and hybridizing with archaic hominids such as the Denisovans afforded us. In your opinion, how did this put us on the road to the flowering of modern civilization?

What the evidence is beginning to tell us is that the Denisovans were truly sophisticated in many ways – they created beautiful jewelry, almost certainly wore tailored clothing, used musical instruments, and may even have ridden horses. On top of this, there is every possibility that they were sea voyagers, and might well have traveled between Island Southeast Asia and the Americas, South America especially. All of these technologies were thereafter passed on to their hybrid descendants, who carried them out to the farthest reaches of the Eurasian continent. Yet it is the Denisovans’ apparent invention of blade tool technology that becomes crucial in telling us exactly how far their legacy reached and which cultures benefitted from it.

The westward pulses of Denisovan technology would eventually flower among the Eastern Gravettians of central western Russia at key sites such as Kostenki and Sungir. From these sites, as well other settlement areas in places like the Czech Republic, the Denisovan legacy was carried westward in western Europe by Proto-Solutrean groups, from whom emerged the Solutreans of southwestern Europe. Also benefitting from the Denisovans’ blade tool technology were the much later Swiderian and Post-Swiderian groups, who thrived just before, during and immediately after the Younger Dryas impact event of circa 10,800 BCE. They were an incredibly sophisticated bunch transporting exotic materials for use in blade tool manufacture across many hundreds of kilometers at a time. Indeed, in their eternal search for exotic materials the Swiderians of Poland created some of the earliest opencast mining operations anywhere in the world. As a whole, the Swiderians were nomadic groups of what might be described as complex hunter-gatherers. They used trade and commerce to gain control of communities as far west as the Carpathian Mountains of central Europe and as far east as the western foothills of the Ural Mountains, the later being their most likely original homeland.

It is the Swiderians who I believe came to bear on the Pre-Pottery Neolithic peoples of southeastern Anatolia, resulting in the rapid emergence of Göbekli Tepe circa 9600 BCE. You can see clear similarities between the carved art of Göbekli Tepe and that being produced around the same time by Mesolithic peoples of the Ural Mountains. The 11,600-year-old Shigir Idol best exemplifies this connection. This is a carved wooden totem pole that was found alongside other fragments of similar idols in a peat bog in the Middle Urals in 1984. It is fashioned from an enormous tree trunk and was originally around 5.3 metres in height. The style of carving, particularly of the human heads it displays, bears striking similarities to some of the carved human heads unearthed at Göbekli Tepe. It is surely no coincidence then that the same blade tool technology found at Mesolithic sites in the Ural Mountains is found also at Pre-Pottery Neolithic sites like Göbekli Tepe. There was clearly a connection between these two very distant worlds as early as 9600 BCE.
Solutrean and Pre-Clovis points side by side. © Andrew Collins

5) To this day, legends such as the destruction of Atlantis, floods of astonishing proportions and of the very sky itself falling persist all over the world about a cataclysmic catastrophe on a scale we can barely imagine, which you date to a single day around 10,800 BCE. Can you explain for our readers just what did happen on that fateful day long ago and what evidence there is to support this?

The Younger Dryas comet impact event occurred around 10,800 BCE. It was a devastating cataclysm that ignited as much as 10 percent of the world’s biomass. However, the cosmic events just kept coming, with further fragments hitting the Northern Hemisphere periodically for around 11 years, with some estimates suggesting they continued through until around 11,340 BCE; this being at least 500 years after the initial impact event.

What we can say is that the termination of the Younger Dryas around 9600 BCE coincides almost perfectly with Plato’s proposed date for the destruction of Atlantis, and also the emergence of Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Anatolia.
Göbekli Tepe © Andrew Collins

6) After the Earth shattering events of the Younger Dryas impact, the way humans think, our social organization and the way in which we interact with the environment was forever altered in many parts of the world. Can you explain these drastic changes and how they are still impacting us today?

Understanding why Göbekli Tepe was built so soon after the Younger Dryas episode can be shown to relate to the state of mind prevailing among indigenous populations in the wake of this terrible human tragedy. Those that did survive would have feared that it would all happen again, and next time the world really would come to an end. Paranoia of this kind will have been widespread.

Visionary writer Barbara Hand Clow has aptly termed this fragile state of mind catastrophobia, the fear of further catastrophes.  I think she is entirely right in not only predicting the existence of catastrophobia, but also in the way it would have affected generations of humanity for many thousands of years afterward.

But how could you stop people feeling this way? How could you prevent catastrophobia from eating at the heart of a community every time a comet appeared in the skies? There were no psychoanalysts or counsellors back then, who could offer advice on how best to overcome this problem. There were, however, go-to people who would have been considered able to allay the fear of further catastrophes. These were the complex individuals known as shamans.  They can act as human interfaces between the world of the living and a perceived otherworld existing beyond the normal senses, and accessible only through dreams, visions, and the achievement of altered states of consciousness.

Shamans are able to induce trance-like states to propitiate, appease or negotiate deals with, among other things, the supernatural creatures seen as responsible for malefic intrusions into the physical world. This includes the appearance in our skies of comets, which in many ancient societies were seen as harbingers of death and destruction. Supernatural creatures of this type were generally considered animistic in form, most obviously monstrous canines (dogs), lupines (wolves), and vulpines (foxes).  Comets were also associated with snakes, which in myth and legend are occasionally seen as responsible for natural catastrophes associated with impact events.

Mississippian era shaman dressed as a bird-man representing the character Brain Smasher encountered on the Path of Souls cosmic death journey. In the sky, Brain Smasher is identified with the constellation Cygnus. © Andrew Collins

7) Of particular interest to our more esoterically minded readers is the belief system, cosmology and spiritual practices of the “Shamanic Elite” that are so central to your theories, and no doubt formed the very bedrock of so many of our ancient and modern spiritual belief systems. Just what did these enigmatic bird shaman believe and how did they practice their religion?

From the Upper Paleolithic age through till Neolithic times there would appear to have been certain universal principles in cosmology that were reflected not only in shamanic beliefs and practices, but also in ideas regarding both the origin of the soul and its destination in death. They featured the Milky Way as a kind of road or river along which the souls both of the deceased and those of shamans would take to reach an afterlife among the stars. Such beliefs were universal in both the Eurasian continent and in North America. For these beliefs to have existed simultaneously on both continents means that they must be at least 12,000 years old, and arguably much older still, for it was shortly after this time that the Beringia land bridge linking the Russian Far East with North America was drowned beneath the waters of the Beringia Sea. After this time there would have been no widespread contact between the two continents.

As many as 30 to 40 Native American tribes of North America share a belief in what can only be described as the Path of Souls death journey. This involved a leap of faith at the time of death (either for the deceased or the shaman in a death trance) towards a portal located where the ecliptic, the sun’s path, crosses the Milky Way on one side of the sky. This portal was located generally in the Orion constellation, with the messier object named M42 in the sword being singled out for this purpose, or in the Pleiades star cluster located in the constellation of Taurus, the bull. The first appearance of the Pleiades following a period of absence each year signaled the beginning of a new year or season on both the American and Eurasian continents. It was a perfect time keeper, and so must have become important to ancient peoples at a very early date.

This soul journey was often made, certainly for shamans, when either of these asterisms, Orion or the Pleiades, were about to sink below the western horizon shortly before the rising of the sun at the time of the midwinter solstice.

From here the soul was thought to travel along the Milky Way sometimes going to the south, and even directly beneath the earth, until it would eventually turn northward and reach a point where the starry stream split into two separate branches. Each branch symbolised one of two possible outcomes for the soul: one led to the afterlife, while the other led only to oblivion (or at best reincarnation). A supernatural figure standing at the fork in the Milky Way would pass judgment on the soul. It could be male or female, although most usually it was a supernatural bird or birdman, which went by the appealing name of Brain Smasher or Skull Crusher. Its purpose was, we believe, to liberate the spirit of the person trapped inside the soul in its form as a skull or head. This enabled the freed spirit to enter the afterlife proper. As Graham Hancock points out in new book America Before, a very similar skull crushing figure stood at the same position in the soul’s journey in ancient Egyptian tradition.

These ideas are connected with the age-old belief that the seat of the soul was located in the head, the reason why the skulls of deceased peoples were revered during the prehistoric age as points of contact, not just with its former owner, but also with any ancestor associated with the person’s familial line.

Brain Smasher in Native American tradition was almost certainly identified with the Cygnus constellation, which is positioned exactly where the Milky Way splits into two separate branches. Almost universally Cygnus is seen as a sky bird. What species it takes varies from country to country. Across most of the Eurasian continent it is usually seen as a swan or goose flying down the Milky Way. In southwestern Asia (Armenia and ancient Greece in particular) it was the vulture, while in North America it was very often a large raptor or vulture. Among the Algonquian-speaking peoples of the Great Lakes-St Lawrence River region it was a crane, goose, as well as the Thunderbird.

The one thing these birds have in common is that they were all considered soul birds – vehicles for the soul to travel from this world to the next, and then, when required, back again to the world of the living. It is most likely for this reason that bird related paraphernalia, such as bones, skulls, feathers and talons have been incorporated into the ritual clothes of shamans since the age of the Neanderthals.

I have no doubt that belief in a universal cosmic death journey involving Orion, the Pleiades, and the Cygnus constellation, all linked via the Milky Way, is as least as old as our first point of contact with Denisovans in places like northern Mongolia some 45,000 years ago. Why do I think this? Firstly, because these beliefs are so universal, and secondly because there are a great number of tribes and clans, particularly in Mongolia, southern Siberia, Central Asia and North Asia that have traditions of a progenitor referred to as the Swan Maiden. She descends from some kind of heavenly Birdland, often located in the north, and is forced to remain on earth when a mortal male steals her swan shrift or wings, which she has removed in order to bath in a body of water in mortal form. The man forces her to marry him and they have children who become the earliest ancestors of a particular human group or culture. The Swan Maiden of the story very often tricks her husband into giving her back her swan shrift, and once she has this she departs immediately for her home world.

Beyond the western shores of Lake Baikal – itself the location of a swan maiden legend – is the archaeological site of Mal’ta, which dates back 24,000 years. Here, aside from a large number of mammoth ivory female figurines, archaeologists have found as many as 14 mammoth ivory pendants of straight-necked swans, some with eyeholes at one end. They almost certainly depict swans in flight, even though the birds’ outstretched wings have been truncated. Four at least of these swan pendants, when uncovered, were found to be aligned north-south, as if this had some significance. After due consideration, noted Russian paleoarchaeologist Antoliy Derevianko wrote that this deliberate north-south directionality of the swan pendants, along with the special attention paid to them by the Mal’ta community (one was found with a child burial), suggests a connection not only with the north-south migration of birds, but also with the universal idea that in death the human soul took the form of a bird.  Derevianko also saw the existence of these swan pendants as a “significant first appearance of animism” in Siberia.

So we know that from as early as 24,000 years ago, and arguably much earlier, the swan was seen as a vehicle of the human soul on its way to a northerly placed heaven, no doubt the same Birdland from which the Swan Maiden at the root of many Siberian and Mongolian cosmogonic myths was seen to come. I would identify that Birdland with the stars of Cygnus, its bright star Deneb in particular, which I suspect has been seen as a point of entry and exit to the afterlife since the Upper Paleolithic age. Indeed, around the time of first contact between modern humans and Denisovans in northern Mongolia some 45,000-40,000 years ago the stars of the Cygnus constellation acted as pole stars, meaning that they were at the center of the heavens each night. This pivotal location, known as the northern celestial pole, has universally been seen as a hole through which the souls of both shamans and the deceased reach the afterlife.

Thus these beliefs are the legacy of our first contact with Denisovans as much as 45,000 years ago, their persistence lingering through till the age of Göbekli Tepe. Here the oldest and most sophisticated stone enclosures are orientated north-northwest towards the setting of the Cygnus star Deneb during the epoch of their construction. Similar ideas were carried into Egypt around 8000 BCE and later came to influence the design, layout and geographical orientation of the three main Pyramids of Giza, which all reflect the astronomical positions of the Cygnus constellation, the subject of my book The Cygnus Key (2018).
Artist representation of a Denisovan - Modern Human hybrid.  © By Russell M. Hossain
8) A large part of Denisovan Origins, focuses on the peopling of the Americas, where you and your co-writer Gregory L. Little propose a radical re-thinking of the established paradigm. Using both archaeological and DNA evidence, you both quite skillfully paint an entirely new and far more interesting picture of America’s ancient past, even explaining the mysterious finds of giants that the mainstream continually ignores. Can you give us a brief outline of this radical reinterpretation?

Until recently North American anthropologists, paleogeneticists and archaeologists all perpetuated the view that the First Americans came across from the Russian Far East some 15,000 years ago. They created what are known as Pre-Clovis bi-points, which with the emergence of the Clovis culture around 13,200 years ago would evolve eventually into the highly distinguishable Clovis Point.

This view has now changed. Firstly, a large number of Pre-Clovis sites have yielded types of stone tools and projectile points that have nothing to do with the later Clovis culture. Many of these sites are in the American Southwest suggesting a point of foundation in this region and not in the American Northwest, close to the former Beringia land bridge. Secondly, there is now overwhelming evidence from various genetic studies telling us that the picture is even more complicated, with migrations across the Beringia land bridge taking place as early as 24,000 years ago, while the presence of Australo-Melanesian DNA in South American tribes suggests further migrations to South America no later than 10,000 years ago.

Paleogeneticists and archaeologists are unwilling to accept that peoples carrying Australo-Melanesian ancestry arrived in South America directly from Island Southeast Asia and Melanesia. Instead, they propose that Australo-Melanesian peoples must have embarked on an extremely arduous coast-hopping journey all around the rim of the Pacific until they reached the Aleutian Islands off Alaska, where Australo-Melanesian DNA has also been found among the indigenous Aleuts. From here they would have traveled down the Pacific coast of North America, finally entering South America.

Such a theory can certainly explain the presence of at least some Australo-Melanesian ancestry in the Americas, although it makes far more sense to assume direct transpacific journeys as well, perhaps using the ocean currents and prevailing winds that would take a vessel from the northern coast of Sahul, the former continent embracing Papua New Guinea, Australia and Tasmania, past New Zealand and down to the Antarctic continent. From here the ocean currents would have carried a vessel toward the southern tip of South America, from where it would have been an easy journey northwards along the continent’s west coast, making landfall in what is today Chile, or along the continent’s east coast, making landfall in Argentina, Uraguay, or Brazil. Navigable rivers would then have permitted a vessel entry into the interior of South America, accounting perhaps for the presence of Australo-Melanesian ancestry among certain tribes of the Amazon. With all these journeys Denisovans or, more likely, Denisovan hybrids, would no doubt have been present, explaining the presence of Denisovan DNA in some South American tribes and populations.

Then there is the likelihood also of Solutrean peoples from southwestern Europe crossing the ice flows that spanned the entire Atlantic Ocean from northern Spain across to the area of the Chesapeake Bay on the Atlantic coast of the United States at the height of the last ice age circa 22,000-20,000 years ago. This might explain why a large number of Pre-Clovis bi-points have been found in the Chesapeake Bay area that closely resemble very similar so-called leaf points manufactured by the Solutreans of southwestern Europe between 22,000-17,000 years ago. One particular example of a Pre-Clovis projectile point found in the Chesapeake Bay area is even made of a type of stone only available in France.

The presence of Solutreans in North America is backed up by genetic evidence, particularly in the fact that a particular mutation of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) found extensively among the Algonquian-speaking peoples of the Great Lakes-St Lawrence River and known as haplogroup X is found also among the indigenous peoples of southwestern Europe, this being the former territories of the Solutreans. It is not found anywhere in the eastern half of the Eurasian continent, telling us that it did not enter North America from the Russian Far East.

In the book I show that the Proto-Solutrean ancestors of the Solutreans came originally from as far east as Siberia and Mongolia and were most likely North Asian in origin. This is important since there is every reason to suspect they were carrying at least some Denisovan ancestry, as well as haplogroup X. Such a surmise makes perfect sense of the fact that the Algonquian-speaking peoples with the highest incidence of haplogroup X, the Ojibwa and Cree, also have the highest incidence in North America of Denisovan DNA, something that surely cannot be coincidence.
Map of the ocean currents and prevailing winds that may have determined trans-pacific oceanic voyages. © Andrew Collins

9) In Denisovan Origins you explain how the Denisovan and the Neanderthal homonids minds, most likely worked in a very different way to that of our own. In your opinion, just how did these archaic homonids differ from us mentally and what advantages did this give them?

There is good reason to suspect that the Denisovans had a completely different mindset to that of modern humans – one that acted almost like that of someone who would today form part of the autistic spectrum. If so, then some of their number might well have displayed what is known as savant syndrome, enabling them to advance quicker than their western counterparts, the Neanderthals. This is suggested by the fact that the Denisovans are known to have possessed two genes – ADSL and CNTNAP2 – that have been linked to autism in modern human populations. Is it possible that autism, and the savant-like qualities that often accompany autism, were responsible for the rise of the shamanic civilization at the start of the Upper Paleolithic age? This is the theory outlined in both Denisovan Origins and my previous book The Cygnus Key.

* This is part one of my two part interview with Andrew Collins, more to come very soon.

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

The Great "PC" Mass Debate: The Truth

The Great "PC" Mass Debate: The Truth

All pictures used are the copyright of Tricho Serious Ethnobotany unless stated otherwise.

One of the most prevalent and enduring myths of modern Trichocereus taxonomy is the true identity of what is commonly known as Trichocereus pachanoi "PC." Now, before we go any further you might want to know what "PC" actually means, it stands for "Predominant Cultivar" and I think this is probably the best way to designate it until actually proven otherwise, as in Australia and the US, it is by far the most commonly found Trichocereus pachanoi variety. Whether it is a clone, or more likely a cultivar, we will address below.

A lot of speculation and internet rumors have been spread about this fantastic plant, mostly unnecessarily. And quite often the "information" being spread about this plant is quite simply inaccurate. I think it is high time that these myths are put to bed once and for all. So let's take an in depth look at the main theories that are being spread as the truth shall we?

One of the first myths being spread about this plant was the "Backeberg clone" myth. Thankfully this myth has largely fallen by the wayside. As you can see in the picture below, Curt Backeberg's Trichocereus pachanoi (left) that was pictured in his book Die Cactacae was rather different to the plant we know as "PC" on the right.

Next up was the "Pachanot" theory by Keeper Trout and M S Smith. The main thrust of their theory is that the flower tube of "PC" has white hairs, where as the original description of Trichocereus pachanoi states that it has black hairs on the flower tube. Well the truth is (that Trout himself admits) that "PC" does indeed have black flower hair, it just bleaches white in the sun, rapidly. As you can see in the below picture from Zed240 it actually does have black flower hair.

Copyright Zed240

The other main part of the "Pachanot" theory is that "PC" has a different morphology to the Trichocereus pachanoi growing in Ecuador and Peru today, and to Keeper Trout and more M S Smith it looks more like a Trichocereus bridgesii or hybrid there of due it having skinny columns and the tip somewhat resembling a Trichocereus bridgesii, despite it fitting perfectly into the descriptions of what constitutes a Trichocereus pachanoi and no other described Trichocereus.

I can see how this mistake was made as "PC" does look very different to a large amount of the Trichocereus pachanoi that we see from habitat. The main problem with this is the fact that Trichocereus pachanoi is a highly variable species, with many different morphologies, that all fit into the published descriptions. With more and more people seeking these plants in habitat and providing pictures, it is becoming clear that there are in fact plants in habitat, in Peru that closely resemble "PC." As you can see from the pictures below from Huan Shuma of Chavin Herbalist.

Copyright Chavin Herbalist

Copyright Chavin Herbalist

Copyright Chavin Herbalist

Copyright Chavin Herbalist

Copyright Chavin Herbalist

Copyright Chavin Herbalist

Copyright Chavin Herbalist

Copyright Chavin Herbalist

Copyright Chavin Herbalist

Copyright Chavin Herbalist
Also there are Trichocereus pachanoi that have been grown in western horticulture for decades that also closely resemble "PC" that no one has ever questioned as being "true pachanoi." As you can see from the pictures below from Feild's cactus farm.

T. pachanoi 'Field's'

T. pachanoi 'Field's'

Another different T. pachanoi at Field's
Now, the latest theory that is spreading like wildfire is the Trichocereus riomizquensis theory from Patrick Noll. Let's take a look at the points Patrick makes and see if we can get to the bottom of this.

Firstly Patrick states "The original site is the Rio Mizque and we and my friends from Sacred Succulents visited the original site a couple of times." This is a blatant lie, as Patrick has never visited South America at all, Sacred Succulents have no doubt.

Next Patrick states "It is extremely similar to Trichocereus pachanoi, but differs in substantial points like the hairs on the flowers and the overall rib structure." This has already been dis-proven above.

Patrick continues "Though it is common belief that the San Pedro cactus aka Trichocereus pachanoi grows in Bolivia, all the San Pedro related plants we ever came across IN THE WILD either belonged to Trichocereus bridgesii or Trichocereus scopulicola." Again, we? Dude, stop lying, what Sacred Succulents did had nothing to do with you. As far as I know the only Trichocereus scopulicola that Sacred Succulents have found have been in western horticulture, not in habitat.

It was widely believed that Trichocereus scopulicola had gone extinct in habitat, although I have on good authority from someone in Bolivia right now (at the time of writing) that this is actually not the case. Also Sacred Succulents and others have indeed found Trichocereus pachanoi growing in Chochabamba, Bolivia. Which Patrick himself uses to back up his theory. But, importantly he admits that it is not growing "IN THE WILD." Remember this as it will be further addressed later on and is important.

Patrick continues "This is a long-spined version of this but there also are a lot of short-spined ones on that site. I seen them. Just like this PC, they have 6-7 ribs, those weird areoles and golden spines without swollen spine bases. Overall, they are just a short-spined version of Trichocereus bridgesii." Referring to the plant below.

I actually have a number of short spined Trichocereus bridgesii and they look very different. As you can see below. Also, these plants are consistently very potent.

Also where Patrick mentions "This is a long-spined version of this but there also are a lot of short-spined ones on that site. I seen them." He provides no actual photographic evidence for these supposedly shorter spined variants from the site he never actually visited at all, outside of the photo of a small pup. However, there are these plants with much longer spines as you can see below.

Now, what these plants actually are is a good question. Again, unlike patrick I actually grow a number of these plants from Sacred Succulents and have a bunch of F2 hybrid seedlings coming along from them as well and to be honest, I don't know what they really are. I could guess, but that is all it would be. I know they're not Trichocereus pachanoi, bridgesii or scopulicola. Given their location and morphology it's possible they are related to Trichocereus schoenii, or they just could be hybrids from the local gardens. Who knows? All of these plants appear to be growing right next to houses or close to them. They do not appear to be wild plants. Without detailed information about their history in the area from the local inhabitants, it really is impossible to tell with any real certainty.

*Further notes about these plants after growing them for a few more years. I've noticed with one of my Trichocereus "riomizquensis" from Sacred Succulents that I moved into a more shaded position, the spines became far less prominent, and it still looked very different to "PC" and short spined bridgesii. As you can see below. Which makes me think that the short spined "riomizquensis" that patrick talks about and only shows with one photo of a pup growing in the shade, is just how these highly variable plants grow in more shaded positions. Now, have you ever seen "PC" change so drastically from one position to another or even bridgesii for that matter? It just doesn't happen. Nothing anywhere near close to it. Because, they are not the same plant, not even all that close. If these are really short spined bridgesii as patrick asserts, it would be growing very blue in the position it is in, like the actual bridgesii clump I have growing right next to it. Even "PC" would be bluer than this "riomizquensis" in this position. This is why you need actual real life experience and observation, not just looking at pictures of other peoples plants on the internet.

Next Patrick makes another bold claim that I am not sure is exactly correct, in an effort to prove his assertion that all the "PC" plants are in fact one clone. "We tested it numerous times…almost none of those Californian plants were able to mate with each other…simply because they were genetically identical and cuttings of each other." Almost none, is not all. So his own statement disproves his theory.

I also highly doubt that a large amount of real testing has actually been done, let alone for the "PC" plants also growing in Australia. Unfortunately, the more the myth spreads that they are all one clone, the less likely people will actually put this theory to the test. Also, Patrick doesn't actually grow "PC" as it is quite rare in Europe, if it exists there at all. So how he is including himself in the "we" is beyond me. But this is par for the course with Patrick, claiming others work as his own and using it for his own benefit.

Interestingly a new myth I've just become aware of being spread around by "Willy Myco" on youtube is that because all "PC" are supposedly clones, that being cloned over and over has somehow weakened their genetics, causing them to be weaker in potency. Of course this is laughable as there is no scientific evidence of this in plants what so ever. It seems this myth has transferred over from the cannabis community somehow, but has absolutely nothing to back it up.

Now anyone who grows "PC" knows that this plant is tough as nails, thrives in all sorts of harsh conditions and grows very quickly, so how someone could infer that it has been "weakened" genetically is beyond me. Potency is highly variable and that does have a genetic component obviously, but this being cloned weakening "PC" myth is just unscientific nonsense.

Also working against this nonsense is the fact that numerous verified Trichocereus clones such as Trichocereus bridgesii 'Eileen,' Trichocereus pachanoi 'Yowie,' Trichocereus peruvianus 'Sharxx Blue' etc etc etc have all been cloned potentially thousands of times by now, with absolutely no reported "weakening" of their potency at all.

Interestingly however it has been shown by Oxford University that cloned plants are not always genetically identical. To quote the scientific paper Regenerant Arabidopsis Lineages Display a Distinct Genome-Wide Spectrum of Mutations Conferring Variant Phenotypes published in Current Biology, "Using DNA sequencing techniques that can decode the complete genome of an organism in one go (so-called 'whole genome sequencing') the researchers analysed 'clones' of the small flowering plant 'thalecress' (Arabidopsis). They found that observable variations in regenerant plants are substantially due to high frequencies of mutations in the DNA sequence of these regenerants, mutations which are not contained in the genome of the parent plant."

Personally I think there are just far too many "PC" plants that have obviously been growing for decades and decades for them all to be clones, there are just too many of them that are far too large, it really doesn't make sense to me at all. Being an early cultivar is far more likely.

Returning again to Patrick and his theory, he doubles down on the already dis-proven flower hair argument "Do you see all those white hairs? Good, because it´s important to differentiate between certain Trichocereus species. Trichocereus pachanoi tends to have black or brown hairs, while this PC has white hairs. And that´s typical for the Bolivian San Pedro strains." Well I'm sorry to say that the flower hair bleaching white is also a common trait of Ecuadorian and Peruvian species, as you can see in the pictures below.

Trichocereus macrogonus

Trichocereus pachanoi 'Yowie'

Trichocereus pachanoi 'Field's'

Trichocereus knuthianus
Trichocereus pachanoi 'Etienne'

Trichocereus pachanoi 'Rod' which is widely regarded as being an Ecaudorian pachanoi. Copyright Rodni Chisar at Trichocereus Australia

Copyright Chavin Herbalist

Copyright Chavin Herbalist

Copyright Chavin Herbalist

There are certain other falsehoods that have been spread by San Pedro "mastery" and others about the infamous "PC," that I would like to dis-prove also. Being that the "saw tooth" look is some kind of distinguishing feature, and that "PC" does not have V-notches above the areole. As you can see in the photos below, "PC" can have V-notches and the "saw tooth" look is apparent in other non-questioned Trichocereus pachanoi. And most importantly with the "saw tooth" aspect of certain Trichocereus, it is largely dependent upon conditions, grown hard with little water in full sun and the "saw tooth" look becomes pronounced, in lots of Trichocereus, where as a more pampered, shaded plant will not show it as much, if at all, even the same clone.

Trichocereus pachanoi "PC" with V-notches
"Saw Tooth" Trichocereus pachanoi "Yowie"
"Saw Tooth" Trichocereus pachanoi "Rod" Copyright Rodni Chisar at Trichocereus Australia
"Saw Tooth" Trichocereus pachanoi "Field's"
"Saw Tooth" Trichocereus pachanoi "Etienne"

Also it has been suggested that the Trichocereus pachanoi "PC" spread around Australia by Robert Field, is "really" a Trichocereus "riomizquensis" from Friedrich Ritter. Well I know Robert personally, he is as genuine a man as you will ever meet and I can guarantee you that he has never changed a plant name in his life, he even still calls his Trichocereus peruvianus, Trichocereus rosei which is the name he received them as. There are numerous other examples as well. This is a good thing, as it allows us to trace the provenance of these plants. So, if Robert Field actually received his Trichocereus pachanoi "PC" as a Trichocereus "riomizquensis" from Ritter, he would call it that, but he does not, he calls it Trichocereus pachanoi, which is what he received it as back in the 1950's.

It has been supposed that Friedrich Ritter began to spread Trichocereus "riomizquensis" around in the 1950's, but I can find no evidence to back this up at all. Keeper Trout made some interesting comments in a forum in this regard "Its weird Ritter would find it in the 1950s, wait until 1980 to publish the description and not include anything capable of segregating it from pachanoi in his description." Trout continues "Another bit of oddness is that this name was not published by Ritter until around 8 years after the seeds reached NMCR." So, the plants that NMCR have as being Trichocereus "riomizquensis" from Ritter did not arrive there until around 1972?

Keeper Trout states on his website about the Trichocereus "riomizquensis" from Ritter at NMCR the following "Trichocereus riomizquiensis FR856 type from Chuyllas, Bolivia (Rio Mizque). Seeds had been obtained from Riviere de Carault in November of 1972 and were planted on the first of July in 1980 by Horst." So, even with this 1972 date, Trichocereus pachanoi "PC" had still been spread around long before Ritter's Trichocereus "riomizquensis" ever had, for decades in fact, nailing the coffin shut on that theory once and for all, it is simply impossible for "PC" to be Ritter's "riomizquensis." Here are some pictures from Keeper Trout of the plant in question from NMCR.

Admittedly that plant above is in terrible condition, which makes its use for identification purposes largely useless, but I have never seen a "PC" look anything like that at all and I've seen it in all sorts of conditions and states of neglect. Now, M S Smith however has this same plant from this same source growing and has provided some better pictures of how it looks in better condition. But, it still is not a perfect match for "PC." It is similar, because they are both Trichocereus pachanoi. See below.

Another myth is that because it grows rather vigorously, that it must be a hybrid.. As any one who has grown a seed batch of Trichocereus knows, some plants grow faster than others, even different plants in the same seed batch, it's just the way it is. So, just because a plant grows vigorously in comparison to others, it in no way proves it is a hybrid, not at all.

Something that I myself am guilty of spreading is that "PC" is either very weak to completely inactive. Certainly the "PC" in Australia is weak compared to other Trichocereus pachanoi and especially short spined Trichocereus bridgesii.

It has been brought to my attention that a lot of people in the US have been getting good results with "PC" at twice the normal 30 cm dosage, especially with older sections. Whether certain "PC" are stronger than others, how much conditions play a role, stressing of the plant etc etc, needs further investigation.

Another myth spread by people, especially San Pedro "mastery" about "PC" is that it doesn't grow blue columns, well tell that to this "PC." The blueness of Trichocereus pachanoi is largely dependent upon how much shade it is getting. Again, people who aren't actually growing the plant, reading too much bullshit on the internet, not enough growing.

The other main point used to back up the "PC" is from Bolivia, and is therefore a Trichocereus "riomizquensis" is a number of plants growing in Chochabamba, Bolivia. The main problem with this apart from the fact that the plants found there do not really resemble "PC" that much at all, certainly no more than numerous other Trichocereus pachanoi as seen above, who actually do look much closer, and obviously are Trichocereus pachanoi, is that they are growing in public and private gardens and could very well have come from literally anywhere.

Trying to say that these plants are 100% Bolivian is like trying to say that my various Trichocereus pachanoi are Australian because they grow in my garden..

Interestingly Patrick only includes the pictures of these plants on his website that have the whitest flower hair, deliberately excluding the pictures of the same exact plants that show it does indeed have black hair, that again just bleaches white in the sun. They could possibly be native to Bolivia, but even if so, that only proves that Trichocereus pachanoi also grows there, it proves nothing in regards to "PC." Here are the plants in question below.

Returning to Keeper Trout and M S Smith for a moment, here is some interesting quotes from Keeper Trout talking to M S Smith in a forum "Michael dismissed it for not having black hairs on the ovary but the reality is it does in fact have black hairs on the ovary. At least mine do. They are simply overgrown with lighter wool. Comparing flowers of mine in detail with flowering shots a friend took of Peruvian plants do not reveal any significant differences."

Trout continues, "I could dismiss about half the bridgesii's as not being bridgesii on far more grounds. (I do not though) Michael makes a lot out of what he can find in other people's travel photos yet (no offense intended Michael) I would much rather trust the first hand observations of friends with extensive field experience in Ecuador and Peru who claim that the plant Michael rejects as not occurring in those countries, is in fact growing there."

Another factor working against "PC" being from Bolivia or that it is a Trichocereus bridgesii or hybrid there of, is the fact that it does not grow four ribbed columns, which is very common in the species of Bolivia such as Trichocereus bridgesii and Trichocereus scopulicola and their hybrids. Also the plants Sacred Succulents consider to be Trichocereus "riomizquensis" do indeed also grow four ribbed columns. "PC" never does, even though there is so much of it growing all over Australia and America, and has been for decades upon decades.

Not to mention that Trichocereus bridgesii is widely regarded as being the most consistently potent Trichocereus there is. Has "PC" ever been accused of that? Or anything close? Think about it...

4 ribbed Trichocereus bridgesii next to "PC"

4 and 5 ribbed Trichocereus scopulicola

4 ribbed Trichocereus "riomizquensis" from Sacred Succulents

Now, just so everyone knows, no real expert or properly trained botanist considers Ritter's Trichocereus "riomizquensis" to be a separate species, none at all. They all consider it a Trichocereus pachanoi, at most it is simply a regional variant. Here's Ritter's original picture below in which you can see it is plainly just another Trichocereus pachanoi.

The fact of the matter is that Trichocereus pachanoi "PC" has always been considered a Trichocereus pachanoi, it wasn't until amateur enthusiasts on the internet who cannot even pronounce the name correctly began to muddy the waters that this has been in dispute. As you can see above, literally every supposed distinguishing trait that supposedly separates Trichocereus pachanoi "PC" from the supposed "real pachanoi" is complete and utter bullshit.

It is obvious to me that certain dishonest people who have read too much nonsense on the internet and have not actually grown the plant in question at all, suffering confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance have tried to make the evidence fit their theories and deliberately omitted anything that did not, instead of using all the available evidence to draw a logical conclusion as one should.

Interestingly after the time of writing and this post being spread around, Patrick decided to address it. He now claims that it is not his theory, and not his name attached to his theory, despite attaching his name to it and publishing it as his own work on his website.. If it is not his theory, then who's is it? Why is no one being credited for their work? Just makes you either a thief or liar, or both.

As you can see below. He also admits that it has a poorly documented background, despite sounding extremely sure of himself on his website that it came from Ritter, stating it as a matter of fact. To quote Patrick again "This plant was originally collected by Friedrich Ritter and described as Trichocereus riomizquensis." But, he offers no proof of this in anyway what so ever.

Also of note is he has changed his original version of his theory after this post was spread around, to include that there are in fact plants in habitat in Peru that look extremely similar, somewhat pulling back from his original assertions that only "Bolivian" plants look anything like "PC," which is a start..

It is obvious he has no actual confidence in his own theory, will not stand by his own words and really, doesn't have a clue about Trichocereus pachanoi "PC" at all, which he does not even grow and cannot even pronounce correctly... If you want to have faith in the "riomizquensis" theory, when the author of it obviously doesn't and refuses to stand by his own words, that's up to you... Certainly does not inspire confidence in me.

For a start, Patrick has never been published anywhere. He's full of shit. I challenge anyone to find this mysterious publication from 20 years ago lol. Good luck. You can find everything I've ever had published at a google search. He has self published some terrible coffee table books that read like they were written by a slightly retarded child, but they have nice pictures, of other people's plants, again gaining the benefit of others work. The guy is not an expert, he is a parasite.
Of course the old get out of jail free card, being DNA is thrown about, but are we really going to need it when ALL of the internet age theories have so easily been proven to be so completely wrong? When literally everyone who has been growing this plant for decades considers it a Trichocereus pachanoi?

Are we really going to DNA test every single Trichocereus pachanoi in existence to certify that they are really Trichocereus pachanoi? Or every other Trichocereus for that matter? Do we really have to DNA test every single plant to be sure what it is? If that is the case, then no one can positively identify anything! That seems ridiculous to me..

If you have to DNA test the most common Trichocereus cultivar there is, that all of our elders (who we should respect) consider to be a Trichocereus pachanoi, to correctly identify it, you really can't identify Trichocereus plants very well at all and should immediately stop pretending to be an expert.. But this is what happens when you grow a tiny collection, stunt the poor things in little pots, have never even seen a real mature Trichocereus in real life, look at pics on the internet and somehow think that makes you the world's greatest Trichocereus expert lol..

With all this being said, we can all rest assured that without a shadow of a doubt, all the theories that Trichocereus pachanoi "PC" is not a "real" Trichocereus pachanoi, are quite simply just wrong. "PC" is a Trichocereus pachanoi. There is literally nothing at all to separate it. Not one thing. People can lie, make up stories and pretend whatever they like, it does not change the truth.

If you do not want to be caught out lying, making things up, deliberately omitting all the evidence that contradicts your theory and talking about a plant you have only seen pictures of, don't lie, make things up, omit evidence and pretend to know about a plant you do not even grow... Stop being a blatant fraud.

One thing you will notice with every single one of the people pretending to be experts on Trichocereus pachanoi "PC," Trichocereus and San Pedro in general on youtube is, they are selling you products. It's marketing. They are using the "PC" name, and interest in the subject to drive traffic to their shops to flog their wares. For them, it's all about the money. Always has been, always will be. 
Especially the disgusting people who refer to sacred medicine as being like "trading cards" for "collectors." You know who you are you slimy little money hungry worms, it's people like you who ruin it for everyone and epitomize everything that's wrong with our society. 
Ever wonder why Trichocereus are so expensive now when they never used to be? You can thank your sacred trading card medicine "experts." To me, they're just parasites.
And please, for heavens sake people, at the very least, brush your teeth and learn how to pronounce Trichocereus pachanoi properly before you make a bunch of videos pretending to be an expert online. Seriously, it's just embarrassing.
Here's a clue, Trichocereus pachanoi was named after Abelardo Pachano Lalama, now botanical names ending in a "i" such as pachano-i, the "i" is pronounced "eye." So, say it with me now, nice and slowly children,  pachano -i. See, that wasn't so hard was it...

Now go out and actually grow these plants yourself, then you can talk about them, if your eyes see past the dollar signs that is.

*Just for good measure, here are some more pictures of Trichocereus pachanoi "PC."

*Please feel free to comment about your experiences with Trichocereus pachanoi "PC." Especially in regards to potency, but please be specific about your conditions, if, how and for how long you have stressed the plant, age of the material used, condition of the material used and anything else that you can think of that would effect how potent it is or the potency of the experience. Thank you.