This magical story is inspired by the most haunting and least explored country in the world – Namibia – with its foggy Skeleton Coast, buried goldmines, shocking secrets and awe-inspiring sand dunes.
Spread across the face of its deserts are hundreds of miles of ‘fairy circles’ : vast enough to be seen from space. They grow and die with the same lifespan as humans, yet no-one has been able to explain why or how they appear.
Then one day, three teenagers and their families arrive from different parts of the globe. Helped by bushmen, the buried possessions of a Victorian explorer, and a golden leopard, they solve the mystery of the African Circles. What will be discovered beneath the hallowed ground? And how will it change the future of the planet above it?
There are many striking and mysterious patterns in the hallowed ground we call Mother Earth, some created by ancient civilisations. Their true impact can often only be appreciated from the air.
The Nazca lines in the desert of the same name, in southern Peru, are one example. They cover an area of 170 square miles and were created between 500 BC and 500 AD. Many are lines but there more than 70 designs of animals such as spiders, fish, monkeys and the most dangerous animal of all: humans.
There are many theories as to the purpose of the lines. Some believe that they were markers on the horizon to show where the sun and other celestial bodies rose on significant dates such as a solstice: a sort of outdoor observatory. Others think that they were created to be seen by deities in the sky, or that they marked paths to where water deities could be worshipped. No definitive answer has been found.
Like Joe in the opening chapter of my novel, I first witnessed the African Fairy Circles in Namibia from a plane. I was puzzled and then bewitched. It was as if the Earth’s face had erupted in a kind of acne. Or, as one documentary rather more romantically put it, as if the desert was “mimicking a mackerel sky” of scattered clouds.
Fairy Circles are one of the great, unsolved mysteries of Nature.
There are tens of thousands of them. They stretch about fifteen hundred miles, north to south from southern Angola, through Namibia to the Orange River in South Africa. They are a band about a hundred miles inland, in an arid no-man’s land between savannah and sand dunes.
In 2014 similar circles were discovered in Pilbara, Western Australia but they exist nowhere else on Earth.
The Fairy Circles vary typically between two and fifteen metres wide, although there are reports of circles up to twenty-five metres wide. They are circular patches of barren land often encircled by a ring of grass. The soil at the centre of the circles is wet and dark when you dig down but contains no organisms. The soil is dry around the so-called “luxury belt” of grasses that ring them. This has led to the view that the circles are “water traps” created by the plants to keep them supplied through the long, dry season.
Scientific studies favour two causes for the circles: sand termites working underground that eco-engineer the landscape above their heads; and, as mentioned above, natural competition between desert grasses for scarce water and nutrients. Yet, after much study and mathematical modelling of their patterns, there is still no definitive scientific agreement about what forms the circles.
There are also ever-growing curiosities, such as the recently discovered similarities in patterns between the Fairy Circles and human skin cells.
Professor van Rooyen undertook a long-term project in 1978, hammering metal stakes into the centre of numerous circles. He returned to test them twenty-two years later and found that they hadn’t moved an inch.
Walter Tschinkel discovered by comparing satellite photos over time – from 1956 to 2006 – that the circles do have a lifecycle. Their lifespan differs between the smaller and larger circles, but they are born, mature and die, on average, across 45 to 60 years. Some can even reach the age of 100 or more. In other words, they have eerily similar lifespans to humans. It was this fact that totally gripped me and set my mind racing.
I then discovered that some of the Namibian tribespeople believe that each circle is the soul of an ancestor, or of someone slaughtered by foreign invaders. Or that they are the footprints of the Supreme Being.
These powerful myths and legends started to create others in my head. I started to think about what else might be causing the circles. Perhaps there were unknown sources of radiation from underground. Perhaps the circles are a giant message, an alphabet that could be decoded by mathematically modelling satellite photos.
As Sir Tim Smit, co-founder of the Eden Project, said: “We are a species bound together by stories and it is they that let our imagination take flight. Sometimes these stories are called myths and a huge idea springs into your mind…what if these aren’t stories? And you feel the hair stand up on the back of your neck.”
My just-published novel – “Hallowed Ground: The Mystery of the African Fairy Circles” – for young and older adults alike – is one such myth.
For a compelling documentary on the Fairy Circles, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=2VNyo9AoA8I
Thank you, Paul Twivy and Rachel’s Random Resources.
About the author
Paul Twivy studied English at Oxford University and became one of the most famous British admen. He has written comedy and drama for the stage and radio. He edited the bestseller Change the World for a Fiver. He is married with five children. He was inspired to write Hallowed Ground by his first-hand experiences of the extraordinary landscapes and culture of Namibia.