There are good reasons to think that Earth has turned over on various occasions. But who can be surprised that this notion—so removed from everyday experience and common sense—seems less than instantaneously persuasive?
The good reasons include telling evidence in narrative testimony and correctly interpreted myths of the ancients, embedded patterns in ancient cultures that give evidence of inversions, and the insights and arguments of two formidable researchers. Now we can 1) add new reasons that strengthen the case; 2) specify the approximate dates of four inversions; 3) comprehend that Earth is actually prone to inversion; and 4) point to where to find more evidence. We can also see that understanding inversions not only helps us correct errors in interpreting past planetary and Earth science but also provides clues relevant to climate change.
Ancient Sources and Velikovsky
Herodotus wrote that Egyptian priests had told him that four times since Egypt became a kingdom “the Sun rose contrary to his wont; twice he rose where he now sets, and twice he set where he now rises.” The Egyptians had a name for the Sun when it rose in the west, “Re-Horakhty”.1 And the concept of the Sun rising in the west occurs in both Christian and Muslim literature. There were also accounts of stars reversing the direction of rising, while various texts talk of north becoming south at a time of chaos. This reversal also appears in Greek literature, most notably in the Statesman of Plato.
This evidence, and much else, was interpreted by Immanuel Velikovsky in his Worlds in Collision (1950) in connection with his theory that Venus had emerged from Jupiter and repeatedly approached Earth during the Bronze Age. New evidence and reinterpretation make it clear that Velikovsky was basically right. Venus did not emerge from Jupiter but was rather pulled by Jupiter’s immense gravity from outer space. Turned into a molten comet by tidal heating as it passed Jupiter, Venus headed into the inner solar system. It approached Earth every 52 years, causing catastrophes. On four occasions Venus came close enough to cause super-catastrophes. It was during these close approaches that Earth turned over. Velikovsky ascribed this to electromagnetic forces, but gravitational interaction seems a more likely cause.
In addition to ancient testimony, Velikovsky found further evidence of reversals. The Chinese zodiac is retrograde. The name Arab derives from the word for the setting of the sun, so that that the Arabs, as seen from the Levant, were the people of the setting sun. Egyptian administrator Senenmut had the ceiling of his tomb painted with a stellar array that was retrograde, fitting a world that had inverted. In other words, the evidence goes beyond written narratives or rather easy-to-interpret myths, which some observers (incorrectly) dismiss as fanciful or ambiguous. It also is too plentiful and fitting to be outweighed by exaggerated counterfactual objections, e.g., that such an inversion would create a colossal flooding of Earth’s entire landmass, for which there is no evidence. In fact, there is plenty of evidence of lesser but still gigantic tsunamis that were evidently set off by inversions that took place over ten days, thereby mitigating the inertial effect that a more rapid inversion would have on the oceans.
In effect, therefore, the first two stages of the Reversing Earth theory—the ancient sources and Immanuel Velikovsky—provided plenty of reasons to think that Earth had inverted in a very specific pattern. Still, Velikovsky did not offer a clear scientific mechanism for the inversions.
The Theory’s Third Stage
In a third stage of development, British researcher Peter Warlow devised an explanation of the mechanism of inversion. Warlow argued that Earth resembled a kind of top termed a tippe top, which would turn itself over when sufficient torque was applied to its axis. But when Warlow published his hypothesis in a scientific journal, his methods and conclusions were criticized in an apparently devastating manner.2 Faulting Warlow’s mathematics, his critic, Victor J. Slabinski, wrote that the required torque to cause an inversion of Earth would have to come from a body at least 417 times the mass of Earth, among other objections. Slabinski’s arguments drew a well-argued counterattack from David Salkeld. Still, the criticism obliged Warlow to rethink his arguments. Eventually he published a book entitled The Reversing Earth3 that provided a more persuasive mechanism.
Warlow argued that we need to separate the spin of Earth from its body. In a tippe top model, upon the approach of a planet like Venus or Mars, even as the spin continued with only a small diminution, a modest torque would set off a fast precession of the body whereby the body would invert 180 degrees in several stages in as little as a day or two. This inversion would take place along Earth’s “secondary equator” between its land and (Pacific) ocean hemispheres, roughly at 60ºW and 120ºE.
Warlow further contended that there was no such thing as a geomagnetic reversal. Attached to Earth’s spin, the geomagnetic field would remain pointed in the same direction, albeit temporarily dipping to an intensity of perhaps 15 percent. He claimed to find evidence for various magnetic reversals in the geological record, but over time it became clear that there was very little evidence for reversals during the crucial Bronze Age catastrophes. In fact, we now know that the geomagnetic field is connected to Earth’s body, not its spin; the center of the field is located at 25ºN, 153ºE in the direction of the northwest Pacific, and it has been approximately in this position for hundreds of millions of years.4 Thus it is somehow connected to the solid body of Earth, and during an inversion it would invert along with the body. Therefore, magnetic reversals are not linked to inversions of Earth.
Curiously, the demise of Warlow’s magnetic reversal hypothesis (that there were no magnetic reversals) actually strengthened his fast precession theory of inversions because no longer did it face the lack of evidence of magnetic reversals during the Bronze Age catastrophes. Also, we no longer have to posit thousands of inversions caused, presumably, by thousands of approaches of heavenly bodies, to match the thousands of magnetic reversals on the record.
Warlow’s book also offered rich evidence and analysis that went beyond Velikovsky, for instance, in specifying exactly how Plato included evidence of inversion drawn from tradition in his Statesman, even though he misunderstood it. He also provided a perceptive account of how humans undergoing inversion would think about it.
With the removal of magnetic reversals from the discussion and recognition of Warlow’s true contributions, we have entered the fourth stage of the development of the theory of inversions. We now also have a better understanding of why Earth seems so labile, so prone to tipping over: a new theory of the origin of the Pacific Basin concludes that Earth originated in the outer solar system and was pulled by Jupiter’s gravity inward. As it passed Jupiter, tidal heating turned it molten, and Jupiter’s gravity extracted Mars from the Pacific Basin. Even though Earth’s surface was over time restored to a nearly spherical contour, the deep scar created an anomaly in Earth reaching down more than 2000 km and thus made Earth unusually unstable.5
This helps to explain why just a brief interaction with a passing planet can set off the fast precession/toppling that Warlow describes. What portion of the effect is caused by the tippe top phenomenon and what portion by the scar left by Mars is difficult to determine; but at any rate we can see that, far from being a rigid, smooth, round billiard ball, Earth is a lopsided, unstable, wobbly spheroid that can in chaotic fashion topple over in response to a relatively minor torque.
In a more general sense, we can say that the Reversing Earth theory has also gained momentum from all of the new evidence and reinterpretation supporting Velikovsky’s Venus theory and the related Outer Solar System Origin of the Terrestrial Planets theory (OSSO).6 These theories are mutually supportive, so that new evidence for one strengthens the case for all of them.
In addition, there is a new Martian Theory of Mass Extinctions, whereby the five great mass extinctions of prehistory were set off by close encounters with Mars that triggered gargantuan outpourings of lava. It is likely that the closest of these approaches of Mars also caused inversions of Earth, and these were much faster (presumably because Mars had practically struck Earth) and thus much more devastating ones than the Bronze Age inversions, which seem to have taken ten days each. Each rapid inversion would have included gigantic tsunamis that would have profoundly upturned the water column and inundated the land, which would explain better than anything else the exceptional devastation of the mass extinctions. Evidence of such tsunamis has been mistakenly attributed to bolide impacts.7 Repeated very close approaches of Mars could have caused several inversions in a row, while the rapidity and hence the destructiveness of the inversion could have been related to the closeness of approach, which would explain why the largest five mass extinctions differed in extent.
Where can we seek new evidence? Because circulation of seas and lakes changed direction relative to the shores during inversions, it might prove possible to find evidence of a switch in direction in ocean sediments and lake varves. Very likely, Bronze Age archaeological sites also contain much more about inversions, e.g., burial orientations. A promising area is the orientation of temples and other buildings. For instance, the original orientation of the temple of Amun-Re at Karnak aimed at the rising summer solstice Sun during the First Intermediate Period and early Middle Kingdom around 2050-1950 B.C. in an era when the Sun rose in the west. Then, after another inversion, New Kingdom pharaohs built chapels, windows, and even a mini-temple to view the rising winter solstice Sun in the east.
Meanwhile, the dates of Venus’ first approach and the first two inversions neatly fit the construction phases and intricate patterns of stones at Stonehenge. We now can also see that the appearance of the Earth’s shadow starting on the west of the Moon, cited as a particularly dangerous omen by the Babylonians, seems to have originated during an epoch of an inverted Earth.
In China, the myth of Archer Yi who, with his vermilion bow, shot down nine of ten suns that were making Earth too hot had a variant that the suns were sequential.8 We can see that this referred to ten successive days on which the Sun followed a different course across the sky during an inversion until Earth reached a 180° inversion and settled on the tenth sun. Archer Yi was Comet-Planet Venus. Its curving twin tails made a bow, with sunlight being blocked by Venus’ body from the central portion of its tail. The bow, directed by the solar wind, tracked the Sun as it emerged in a different location each morning. Ancient sources report the ten suns as an ill omen appearing toward the ends of the Xia and Shang dynasties9, and we can suppose that they appeared, perhaps partly obscured by atmospheric and planetary dust, toward the ends of the neolithic Longshan period around 2200 B.C. and the Western Zhou dynasty somewhat before 771 B.C. as well.10 While Shang was characterized in myth as eastern, the Xia dynasty was characterized as western11, and this would apply to the Western Zhou dynasty as well, i.e., Xia and Western Zhou were times when the Sun and Venus rose in the west.
The east-west pattern of Chinese dynasties supports what the Egyptian priests told Herodotus about the Sun rising twice in the west and setting twice in the east: clearly, they meant that there were four inversions. As the Aztecs put it, we now live in the age of the Fifth Sun.
Thus the various findings and theoretical explanations in Stages 3 and 4 make it increasingly difficult to deny that Earth has a built-in capacity for inversion, that it has indeed turned over upon occasion, and that it may turn over again.
Kenneth J. Dillon is an historian who writes about science, medicine, and history. See the biosketch at About Us.