One of the striking features of Mesopotamian art, especially those produced during the Neo-Assyrian period in the first-half of the first mellinium BCE, are the depictions of strange, hybrid fish-men and bird-men, who are shown performing sacred rituals. The palace walls of the Assyrian kings were decorated with larger-than-life relief carvings of these other-wordly beings. Numerous clay figurines and cylinder seal impressions of these weird entities have also been recovered. But who were they? And why were they accorded so much importance in the royal architecture?
In the cuneiform texts, the term Apkallu (meaning “sage” or “wise”) was used to refer to the hybrid fish-men, who had come to Babylon in the antediluvian times, and served as the counselors of the ten kings who ruled before the deluge. The seven Apkallu were also referred to as the Seven Sages. They had emerged from the Erythrean sea (Indian Ocean), one by one, and transmitted all the laws of civilization to the people.
The Chaldean astrologer Berossus – who was a contemporary of Alexander and a priest at the temple of Bel - wrote about the Apkallu in the Babyloniaca (c.281 BCE). He said that the first of the Apkallu who came in the antediluvian times was called Uanna (Akkadian) or Oannes (Greek). In those days, there was a great crowd of men at Babylon, and they lived without laws. In the first year of the reign of Alulim, the first king of the Sumerian King List,
“There made its appearance, from a part of the Erythraean Sea which bordered upon Babylonia, an animal endowed with reason, who was called Oannes. The whole body of the animal was like that of a fish; and had under a fish's head another head, and also feet below, similar to those of a man, subjoined to the fish's tail. His voice too, and language, was articulate and human; and a representation of him is preserved even to this day.
This being in the day-time used to converse with men; but took no food at that season; and he gave them an insight into letters and sciences, and every kind of art. He taught them to construct houses, to found temples, to compile laws, and explained to them the principles of geometrical knowledge. He made them distinguish the seeds of the earth, and shewed them how to collect fruits; in short, he instructed them in everything which could tend to soften manners and humanize mankind. From that time, so universal were his instructions, nothing material has been added by way of improvement. When the sun set, it was the custom of this being to plunge again into the sea, and abide all night in the deep; for he was amphibious. After this there appeared other animals like Oannes, of which Berossus promises to give an account when he comes to the history of the kings.”
When we read this astonishing piece of information recorded by Berossus, it becomes abundantly clear that the Apkallu were not simply priests dressed in a fish-skin cloak: they lived in the waters, and combined characterestics of both human and fish. In the cuneiform texts, they were referred to as “creatures of the apsu”, where apsu meant the “sea of freshwater” under the Earth i.e. the underground aquifers. Presumably, there are tunnels and passages that connect the aquifers with the seas, rivers and the oceans, which is why they were seen emerging from the Erythraen sea.
The Apkallu were sent by the god Ea (Enki), who was the Lord of the apsu, and the protector of mankind. Ea was the god of wisdom, civilization, water, fertility, crafts and magic. The late Babylonian Epic of Erra, has the following lines about the Apkallu:
“Where are the seven Apkallu of the apsu, the pure puradu-fishes,
Who are perfect in lofty wisdom like Ea's, their lord,
Who can make my body holy?” (Poem of Erra; Tablet 2, line 162) 
The Apkallu were often described as “puradu-fishes” (i.e. carp), which assures us thay they were indeed visualized as an unusual blend of human and fish. In one of the Bit meseri incantations, the names of the seven Apkallu are enumerated. They are collectively referred to as the “pure puradu-fishes of the sea”, and extolled for their ability to “control the plans of heaven and earth”.
“U-Anna, who accomplishes the plans of heaven and earth,
U-Anne-dugga, who is endowed with comprehensive understanding,
Enmedugga, for whom a good destiny has been decreed,
Enmegalamma, who was born in a house,
Enmebulugga, who grew up in pasture land,
An-Enlilda, the conjurer of the city of Eridu,
Utuabzu, who ascended to heaven,
the pure puradu-fishes, the puradu-fishes of the sea, the seven of them, the Seven Sages, who have originated in the river, who control the plans of heaven and earth.”
The Apkallu were great builders as well, as is evident from the epithet of An-Enlilda, “the conjurer of the city of Eridu”. The Seven Sages were associated with the founding of the seven ancient cities of Sumer: Eridu, Ur, Nippur, Kullab, Kesh, Lagash and Shuruppak. As per the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Seven Sages had also laid out the plan of Uruk.
Let us pause for a moment here and reflect. The Apkallu are described as hybrid fish-men, who lived in the “apsu”and emerged from the sea. They possessed extraordinary wisdom and powers, and passed on all the skills of civilization to the people in the antediluvian period. Is this an accurate retelling of our remote history, or has it been colored by a fertile imagination? Could it be that, below the surface of the Earth, there is a subterranean world populated with fantastic beings, in the midst of the underground aquifers?
What do we know about the ecology of the aquifers? Practically nothing. The vast reservoirs of fresh water under us extend up to 30,000 feet below the surface. Nearly 30% of the total freshwater of our planet is contained in these aquifers, the rest being locked up in glaciers. The subterranean aquifers have many vertical levels separated by layers of porous rock, which resembles the “multiple levels of the underworld” that so many ancient cultures spoke about. The tiered watery underworld of myths does, in fact, exist! The underground aquifers are the source of freshwater to the rivers, lakes etc., and all these waterbodies are interconnected by a complex network of subterranean passages.
Without having explored the aquifers - and, more broadly, the subterranean geography of our planet - for signs of life, how can we dismiss these ancient accounts as fictional tales? So many ancient cultures talk of a perpetually pleasant land located beneath the Earth’s surface, peopled by supernatural beings. This other-wordly dimension is said to be accessible through caves located under mountains, rivers and seas, which are cleverly camouflaged and guarded to prevent unwanted intruders.
In Mesopotamian legends, the underworld is protected by seven gates. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh travels to the underworld by entering a tunnel located at the base of the twin peaks of Mount Mashu. He travels in complete darkness for twelve hours, before reaching the garden of the gods, a paradise full of jewel-laden trees.
Native American tribes such as the Hopi, Navajo, Iroquois, Sioux etc. believe that their ancestors emerged from a subterranean land, through caverns and tunnels. Every time the Hopi Supreme Creator Sotuknang destroyed the world, some of the righteous Hopi were taken to safe locations in the subterranean world.
In Irish legends, the underworld Annwyn was populated with fairies and demons, and could be reached through portals hidden inside mounds or tumuli. The Greeks built sanctuaries in caves, for they believed that certain caves had passages that led to the underworld. The Mayans regarded caves and cenotes as openings to their watery underworld of nine subterranean levels.
In Indian legends, there are seven subterranean regions which are collectively called Patala or Naga-loka. These are the realms of the divine human-serpent hybrids called Nagas, and other supernatural beings such as the Rakshashas (giants), Yakshas (dwarfs), and many types of hybrid beings, all of whom are progenies of the Seven Sages of Vedic tradition. The subterranean regions where the Nagas dwell are said to be delightful, filled with resplendent palaces ornamented with precious gems, groves, lakes and rivers. The sun and moon cannot be seen there, but the jewels decorating the hoods and body of the Nagas emit an effulgence (possibly referring to bio-luminiscence) that illuminates the region.
The need of the hour, perhaps, is to explore the subterranean aquifers for signs of life, using various types of remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROV). Till the time that happens, we should keep an open mind and let the ancients speak for themselves, so that we may be able to comprehend the truth of what they were trying to tell us.
Now, in addition to human-fish hybrid figures, many bird-headed figures as well as winged human figures embellish the walls of the Assyrian palaces and are incised on the cylinder seals. The question is, what do these beings represent?
The Assyrians of the first millenium BCE used to perform apotropaic rituals to block the entry of evil in someone’s house, particularly in the form of epidemic diseases. Wiggerman notes in his book, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, that, in the incantations, the bird-headed beings were also referred to as the “Seven Sages” and as the “creatures of the apsu”.
The ritual texts specify that the householder has to make groups of clay figurines of the seven fish-apkallu, the seven bird-apkallu, and other gods and monsters. After the completion of the rituals, which involved ritual cleansing and incantations, these groups of figurines were buried under the floor of the house in different places, in order to expel evil and prevent the entry of evil into the house.
Therefore, the Apkallu were depicted both as human-fish hybrids and human-bird hybrids. It is not clear why both representations were used, since no explanations are provided in the texts. Perhaps, the Apkallu were shape-shifters, and they could change into a human-bird hybrid form, if required? In the Indian legends, there is a story in which Vasistha and Vishwamitra – both of whom belonged to the group of Seven Sages – had transformed into birds and fought against each other for many years. Since the concept of shapeshifting was widely prevalent in the corpus of ancient legends, this could be a likely explanation for the bird-headed Apkallu.
The winged human figures are easier to explain. The Epic of Erra tells us that, after the Flood, the storm god Marduk had banished the Apkallu to the apsu. Subsequently, human sages called Ummanus were given the task of cleansing Marduk’s shrine. Thus, the winged human figures are Ummanus, who took over the duties of the Apkallu after the deluge. Since the Ummanus wear a “horned crown” – a sign of divinity in ancient Mesopotamia - and also have wings, it is likely that they were demi-gods, who were born from the union of the gods and mortals.
In most artistic representations, the Apkallu carry a "ritual bucket" called banduddu in their left hand. This bucket contains holy water, which the Apkallu sprinkle using a "pine cone" called mullilu, that they hold in the right hand. This is an act of ritual purification, which may have been performed to restore fertility, exorcise demons, heal diseases etc.
One might wonder, what really is “holy water”, and how it can have so much power. We know that water takes millions of years to trickle down to the lowest levels of the aquifers. As such, this water is not only cleansed of impurities, but it also absorbs many minerals on its way down, which may impart it a lot of potency. Moreover, the ritual texts specify that the Apkallu sprinkled the water while uttering sacred incantations, which might further increase its effectiveness.
Scientific experiments have shown that sound vibrations can fuel chemical reactions between air and liquid, by increasing the amounts of dissolved oxygen or other gases. Japanese scientist and healer Masaru Emoto’s experiments have shown that music and sound waves alter the crystalline structure of frozen water.
Interestingly, the ritual bucket motif appears on a monolithic, T-shaped, pillar at the archaeological site of Gobekli Tepe in Turkey, where the oldest layer of the site has been dated to c.9000 BCE - a few centuries after the end of the last Ice Age. On one of the T-shaped pillars, a row of buckets has been carved across the top in relief, resembling the buckets held by the Apkallu. Just below the buckets, is the carving of a vulture holding a circular object. This could represent a bird-apkallu sprinkling holy water using a pine cone, in order to make the lands fertile.
The implications of this are staggering: at around 9000 BCE, the people who built Gobekli Tepe may have seen the Apkallu, as they went about performing purification rituals! Since Gobekli Tepe was built a few centuries after the end of the Younger Dryas period (when a global deluge may have been precipitated by comet impacts), it seems that the knowledge of the Apkallu extended into the antediluvian times, which is exactly what the Sumerian legends tell us.
Apart from the ritual bucket, the Apkallu may hold in their left hand a prayer bead (rosary), a flowering bunch or a scepter. These objects reveal the roles of the Apkallu as the sages and royal priests of the kings. Evidently, the modes of worship instituted by the Apkallu, at the very dawn of civilization, have persisted till the modern day in many religions. For instance, rosary beads are still used as meditation aids by Hindus, Buddhists and Christians. Holy water is sprinkled by the church priests for baptism while in Hinduism, holy water called “amrita” or “shanti jal” is sprinkled on the congregation for purification and blessings.
Some researchers have pointed out that the mitre – which is the tall cap with a front and a back part, sewn at the sides, worn by Catholic priests – could symbolize the fish-head above the head of the Apkallu. As Berossus had stated, the entire corpus of wisdom, in every field of knowledge possessed by the Babylonians, had been transmitted by the Apkallu. The reason why this wisdom and ritual practices became globally dispersed is because, the Apkallu had traveled across the world, in their mission of propagating the laws of civilization.
The Dogon tribe of Mali in West Africa say that, thousands of years ago they were visited by amphibious, fish-men called the Nommo, who came from the Sirius star system and taught the Dogon many skills. The Nommo had a humanoid upper torso and a fish-like lower body, just like the Apkallu. They descended from the sky in a vessel accompanied by fire and thunder. After arriving on our planet, the Nommo dug a reservoir of water and dived into it, since they needed a watery environment to live in. They are referred to by the Dogons as their “Teachers”, and the “Masters of Water”.
As per oral tradition, the Anishinaabe people of North America were living along the Atlantic Ocean coast when the seven great Miigis beings appeared out of the sea. They taught the Mide way of life to the Waabanakiing peoples. Of the seven great Miigis beings, six beings remained, who established the odoodeman (clans) for the peoples in the east.
The Aboriginal Australians in the Kimberley region of north-west Australia speak of powerful spirit beings called Wandjinas, who came down from the Milky Way and brought the law, culture, and language of their people. They created the Earth and all life upon it. After teaching the Aboriginals everything they needed to know, the Wandjinas entered a nearby water hole. They are believed to live at the bottom of the water source associated with the rock paintings. As powerful Rain Maker spirits, they control the clouds and rainfall, and punish those who break the laws with floods, lightning and cyclones.
Interestingly, the term “Wandjinas” contains the term “jinas”, which is related to the term “djinn”, “jinn”, or “genie”, that refers to the invisible spirits that can influence people. The winged human sages of Assyrian art (i.e. the Ummanus) were actually called “winged genies” by archaeologists, when they were first discovered.
Outside of Mesopotamia, the most extensive mention of the Seven Sages are found in India. In the Vedic tradition, the Seven Sages were collectively called the Saptarsis (Sapta = Seven; Rsis = Sages). They were described as the “mind born sons of Brahma” (manasputra) and the “lords of creation” (prajapatis). In the texts, they are generally enumerated as: Marici, Atri, Angiras, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu and Vasistha.
The epic tradition indicates that the Saptarsis were the teachers and priests of Iksvaku, the first king of the solar dynasty in the Golden Age, as well as his successors. The divine Saptarsis established human lineages, who took over the mantle of Saptarsis from their predecessors. Thus, the Vedic convention mirrors that of Mesopotamia, where the antediluvian Apkallus of divine origin were followed by mortal Ummanus in the post-diluvian period.
The Rig Veda tells us that, “they who were versed in ritual and metre, in hymns and rules, were the Seven Godlike Rsis.” A Vedic hymn describes the sage Vasistha as the “knower both of earth and heaven”. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says: “The seven great sages and the four ancient ancestors were born from my mind and received my power. From them came all the creatures of this world.” The Mahabharata describes the seven luminous sages as “the Seven Bright-Crested Ones: by their unanimous opinion there came into being what is called the supreme sastra (i.e. sacred scriptures)”.They were the “foremost knowers of the Veda, who were created as teachers of the Veda,” and the “teachers of the science of moksha (liberation)”.
In essence, the entire corpus of Vedic wisdom possessed by the ancient Indians, in all branches of knowledge such as yoga, medicine, astrology, weaponry, architecture, music, language, grammar etc. had been composed by the Seven Sages and promulgated by them.
The Vedic texts, however, are explicit about stating that the Seven Sages are not of this world. Vedic astronomers identified them with the seven prominent stars of the Great Bear asterism (Ursa Major constellation). Their identification was as follows: Marici was the star Alkaid, Atri - Megrez, Angiras - Alioth, Pulastya - Phecda, Pulaha - Merak, Kratu – Dubhe, Vasistha – Mizar.
As per the tradition, the Saptarsis come to the earth in the Satya Yuga (Golden Age) and stay on for some time in the Treta Yuga (Silver Age) when they re-promulgate the Vedas and establish lineages. Their human descendants carry on the tradition till the end of the Dwapara Yuga (Bronze Age). During the Kali Yuga (Iron Age), which is the present age of ignorance and violence, the Vedic wisdom and Rishi lineage is gradually lost. The Seven Sages appear on the Earth once again after the end of the Kali Yuga to establish dharma and re-promulgate the Vedas.
It is obvious from these accounts, that our ancestors across the world believed that the Seven Sages, who were represented in the form of human-fish or human-bird hybrids, were extraterrestrial visitors to our planet. While there may be some disagreement regarding their exact place of origin – whether it’s Sirius star system, the Great Bear constellation, or some other stellar system in the Milky Way – there is unanimity on the fact that they were other-wordly entities. To put it simply, the reason why they look so alien is because they were aliens!
They might have come here with an objective to ensure that our planet serves as an effective “school” for the evolution of consciousness. This is what the ancient wisdom teachings assert – that souls incarnate on the Earth many times, and progressively purify their minds of egoic thoughts, desires and habits, until they become aware of their own divine essence. This is why, not only did the Seven Sages teach humanity all the skills of civilized life, but they also imparted a wealth of esoteric wisdom to assist us in our progressive ascension.
The reason why the Apkallu fashioned a habitat for themselves in the freshwater aquifers below the Earth, was possibly because such an environment suited their “alien” physiology. Recent scientific discoveries indicate that subterranean life may be the most common form of life on the other planets of the Solar System and beyond. Surface living may be an exception, rather than the norm.
In 2019, scientists found geological evidence of a “planet-wide groundwater system” on Mars. Pluto has an underground ocean below its thick frozen shell, as does Europa, the fourth largest of Jupiter’s 67 confirmed moons. These subsurface oceans may act as incubators of life, being sheltered from extreme temperatures and high-energy radiation.
Europa is a particularly interesting case, since water from its underground ocean bubbles up to the frozen surface. The exchange of chemicals and energy between the surface and the ocean increases the odds of oceanic life being present on Europa. “At least three million tons of fishlike creatures could theoretically live and breathe on Europa”, according to Richard Greenberg of the University of Arizona in Tucson.
If alien fishes may live in the underground oceans of other planets, then why not fish-men hybrids like the Apkallu? If such beings from other planetary or stellar systems arrive on the Earth, wouldn’t they prefer to build their habitat in an environment similar to their home planet or star? Which, in this case, would be the subterranean aquifers of the Earth.
The easiest way of getting here from another planetary or stellar system would be by hitching a ride on comets. Since the Apkallu possessed supernatural wisdom and powers, they may have figured out how to control the trajectory of comets and use them for traveling across the cosmos. In 2017, the first interstellar space rock called Oumuamua, crossed the Solar System in a hyperbolic orbit and accelerated away from the Sun like a comet. Astrophysicist Chandra Wickramasinghe, who along with Sir Fred Hoyle had proposed the theory of cometary panspermia, was quick to pounce on the significance of this discovery. With his colleagues, he authored a paper in which he wrote, that,
“the theory that comets and cometary bodies are the means of transport for biology throughout the galaxy has been extensively discussed by Hoyle, Wickramasinghe and their many collaborators for over nearly 4 decades...the discovery of our first “visitor” on a hyperbolic orbit confirms our inextricable connection with life that may exist in distant planetary systems.”
Evidently, when we scrutinize the archaeological evidence and oral traditions of the Seven Sages from a logical perspective, taking into account our current understanding of the universe, we find that there is nothing in these accounts that is implausible. It may run counter to our preconditioned modes of thinking, which is based on what we have seen or heard over the past few centuries. However, the ancient accounts also inform us that these supernatural beings avoid interaction with humans in the dark age of Kali that we are now passing through.
Every now then, though, we hear stories of people who have had strange encounters with mysterious entities, which could imply that the subterranean denizens that were spawned by the Seven Sages are slowly becoming active, after many centuries of hibernation. We could be living in an era, when some of the most enigmatic mysteries of the past, which have been relegated to the realm of myths, come out of the closet and see the light of the day.
 Berossus from Alexander Polyhistor recorded in Eusebius and Syncellus (translated from the Greek) taken from Cory 1828, pp. 24-38.
 Kvanvig, Helge (2011), Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, p 162
 Hess, Richard S.; Tsumura, David Toshio, eds. (1994), "I studied inscriptions from before the flood", Ancient Near Eastern, literary, and linguistic approaches to Genesis 1-11, Eisenbrauns, 4
 The Epic of Gilgamesh: The Babylonian Epic Poem and Other Texts in Akkadian and Sumerian. Translated by Andrew R. George, Penguin Books, 2003, Tablet 9.
 Lorena Laura Stookey, Thematic Guide to World Mythology (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004) 80
 Boye Lafayette De Mente, America's Famous Hopi Indians!: Their Spiritual Way of Life & Incredible Prophecies!, Cultural-Insight Books (2010), p 18-35.
 W. Buck Baker, Celtic Mythological Influences on American Theatre, 1750-1875 (University Press of America, 1994) 31
 “Descent into the Underworld”, https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/descent-underworld
 The Vishnu Purana Book II Chapter V, translated by Horace Hayman Wilson, , at sacred-texts.com, https://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/vp/vp063.htm
 Robert Beer, The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs (Serindia Publications, 2004) 70-71.
 F. A. M. Wiggermann, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts, IYX&PP Publications, Groningen, 1992, p 14, 65
 Srimad Bhagavatam 9.7.7, http://www.vedabase.net/sb/9/7/7/en1
 Kvanvig, Helge (2011), Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading, Brill, p 160-163
 Institute for Basic Science, "Seeing chemical reactions with music", Eurekalert 10-Aug-2020, https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/714790
 “Emoto Research – How Music Affects Water and What This Means to Us.”Latest Products RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Sept. 2015. <http://www.mindpowermp3.com/Emoto-How-Music-Affects-Water-and-What-This-Means-to-Us.html>.
 "Anishinaabe clan system", Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anishinaabe_clan_system
 David Wroth, "Wandjina Dreamtime Story", Japingka Aboriginal Art, July 2019, https://japingkaaboriginalart.com/articles/wandjina/
 Rig Veda 10.130.7, tr. Ralph Griffith
 Rig Veda 07.033.12 tr. Ralph Griffith
 The Bhagavad Gita 10.6-7, tr. Eknath Easwaran
 Mahabharata 12.322.26-28
 Mahabharata 12.327.61-62
 Mahabharata 12.327.66
 This tradition is based on information scattered across multiple texts. Matsya Purana 144.93-98, Brahmanda Purana 220.127.116.11-45, Vayu Purana 1.57.38-40, Matsya Purana 1.24.106, Vishnu Purana 3.2.44
 Jackson Ryan, "Scientists find first evidence of huge Mars underground water system", CNET Feb. 28, 2019, https://www.cnet.com/news/mars-orbiter-scientists-find-first-evidence-of-huge-mars-underground-water-system/
 Mike Wall, "On Jupiter's Moon Europa, Underground Ocean Bubbles Up to Surface" Space.com March 06, 2013, https://www.space.com/20078-jupiter-moon-europa-ocean-surface.html
 Victoria Jaggard, "Could Jupiter Moon Harbor Fish-Size Life?", National Geographic, November 16, 2009, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2009/11/jupiter-moon-europa-life/
 N. Chandra Wickramasinghe, Edward J. Steele, Daryl. H. Wallis, Robert Temple, Gensuke Tokoro, Janaki T. Wickramasinghe, "Oumuamua (A/2017U1) – A Confirmation of Links between Galactic Planetary Systems", Advances in Astrophysics, Vol. 3, No. 1, February 2018 https://dx.doi.org/10.22606/adap.2018.31003