A Brief Rant Against the Soft-Headed Sophistry of Graham Hancock
“When Zeus grew to manhood, he took revenge on Kronos, ‘driving him from the sky to the very depths of the universe’ after first – in imagery that calls to mind the debris stream of a comet – forcing him to vomit up the stone.” —Graham Hancock, inanely trying to insinuate that ancient Greek origin myths refer to a comet impact 12600 years ago which destroyed a technologically advanced global civilization (the stone, incidentally, is what Kronos swallowed believing it was the infant Zeus, and which Hancock suggests was inspired by a sacred stone originating from the comet)
Since my return to America in late 2018 I have been continually exposed to the Prehistoric Technologically Advanced Global Civilization hypothesis; and as some of you may have already noticed, I have little use for it. Consequently, two good people with whom I exchange ideas have, in the interests of broadening my horizons and opening my mind, urged me to read Graham Hancock’s relatively recent book Magicians of the Gods: The Forgotten Wisdom of Earth’s Lost Civilization (Coronet, 2015), and so I have been reading it. I’m still not finished with it, being about three-fourths of the way through at the time of writing this, but even before finishing the thing and offering my own alternative interpretation I feel the need to get a few things off my chest. I feel the need to vent my frustration with this guy Hancock. My spirit is moved to rant against some of the lamest pseudoscientific sophistry I’ve read in a long while (although that's largely because I read hardly any academic cultural Marxist stuff).
But before taking some pokes at Hancock I suppose I should briefly summarize the gist of his book. According to the author, there was a Prehistoric Technologically Advanced Global Civilization on this earth long before the dawn of the first walled towns of Sumer, long before even the monumental temple complex (or whatever it was) of Göbekli Tepe in what is now southeastern Turkey. This advanced global civilization, centered on the legendary Atlantis, was destroyed by the cataclysmic impact, or near impact, of a comet around 12,600 years ago, which brought about the relapse into the Ice Age known as the Younger Dryas. There were some Atlantean survivors of this cataclysm however; and so they traveled to places like Turkey, Egypt, Peru, and Easter Island to teach the primitives there the technological rudiments of the destroyed advanced civilization. Also they left warnings of the expected return of the earth through the debris stream of the fatal comet, which are claimed to exist to this day—which is good, because the warnings were intended for our age, as we are expected to risk another cometary cataclysm soon.
The book begins with some actual science, that is the evidence for something like a cometary impact on the mile-thick ice sheet of what is now Canada. The alleged fact that the impact, or rather impacts, struck mile-thick sheets of ice instead of bare earth allegedly accounts for the absence of any obvious huge craters dating to that time. After his pitch for the cometary impact he largely leaves real science behind, except for some enigmatic archeological finds and some carbon-14 dating data, much of the latter of which, however, he rejects because the dates aren’t early enough to suit his theory.
|Graham Hancock (all right, so I did the nose glasses, and the hair)|
Which brings me to the ranting part. One of the first archeological sites he discusses as alleged evidence for the alleged advanced prehistoric civilization is Göbekli Tepe, the oldest known megalithic site on earth—although Karahan Tepe, a similar neolithic sanctuary nearby which has not yet been excavated, may be a little older, to say nothing of any number of sites which Prehistoric Advanced Civilization people declare to go back much earlier. Here is how Hancock rolls: He considers the site to have been a kind of sanctuary for teaching the prehistoric advanced knowledge of the ancients to neolithic hunter/gatherers. Some of the evidence for this notion that he gives are: large megaliths and stone carvings requiring organized labor and new stone-working skills suddenly appear out of the stone age; agriculture and walled towns began in the area not long after Göbekli Tempe was founded; similar carvings are found in other parts of the world, although assumed by archeologists to have been made literally thousands of years later; and of course there is the advanced star map on one of the pillars, namely the one designated by archeologists as pillar 43.
What is this astonishing advanced star map you say? Well I’ll tell you. It’s a pillar with a scorpion and some crudely carved birds on it. The birds are so crudely done that they look like a young child made them, though of course chiseling them out of stone would be beyond most children. Hancock seems to have got the idea of the star map from the fact that a scorpion is there, and also a rough circle over one of the birds’ wings, suggesting the constellation Scorpio and also the sun—why not the moon when the stars are out, I don’t know. Then he identifies the crude birds with other constellations, and behold! An amazingly accurate depiction of the sky when the sun is passing near Sagittarius, which is near Scorpio, and directly in front of the center of the Milky Way galaxy, and somehow indicating an amazingly advanced knowledge of the entire precessional cycle of the earth in a way that I don’t remember.
(Hancock places much emphasis on the precession of the equinoxes, or the wobbling of the earth on its tilted axis so that a circuit of different stars serve as the North Star over a period of approximately 26,000 years. By figuring out that a monumental structure is facing a certain constellation in a certain way he can “deduce” that that is when the monument was constructed. For example the Sphinx at Giza was facing the constellation Leo at dawn of the vernal equinox some 12,000 years ago, indicating that the Sphinx, which is lion-shaped, was a sign for future ages to indicate the date of that time.)
But let’s look at this star map. True, there is a scorpion there on pillar 43. But if it is supposed to represent Scorpio it is facing in the wrong direction, and composed of different stars from the constellation now known as Scorpio. The Scorpion is one of the few constellations that actually looks somewhat like the thing after which it is named, so why in hell the wise ancients would put a scorpion right next to it made of different stars is beyond me. Hancock’s theory is that there was a prehistoric tradition of having a scorpion in the sky there, and that it became identified with different stars at some time; but why have the original scorpion be different from the group of stars that obviously looks like a scorpion? Furthermore, why would most of the other constellations around it all be deformed birds? We are to suppose that the ancients of Göbekli Tepe had a scorpion constellation which looked nothing like a scorpion (though right next to a constellation that does look like one but is identified with a deformed baby bird), with nearby a constellation of the Vulture, and the constellation of the Other Vulture, and the Constellation of the Vulture Besides the First Two…which is nonsensical. Nevertheless Hancock states, “The general context of the surrounding constellations is also an excellent fit.”
Furthermore, if the message of these ancients was so important, then why didn’t they simply inscribe an actual star map instead of crudely executed animals? If they had carved the actual positions of stars on that pillar people would be able to identify them easily, but instead the advanced masters had some kid scrawl deformed vultures.
|the supposed star map from the pillar at Göbekli Tepe,|
extracted from Hancock's book
The same sort of argumentation applies to a great many of Hancock’s presumed messages from the prehistoric Magicians of the Gods. If they wanted to promulgate their advanced knowledge, why didn’t they teach letters and numbers? Evidently they didn’t even do a good job of teaching agriculture, considering that the archeologists digging up Göbekli Tepe found no evidence of agriculture at the oldest level. All remains of plants and animals were from wild varieties, not domesticated ones. Furthermore, there was no evidence of pottery, as pottery evidently hadn’t been invented yet. Also, numerous tools have been found on the site, and all of them are of course stone-age ones made of chipped rock. Göbekli Tepe apparently really was constructed by relatively advanced neolithic hunter/gatherers for some sort of ceremonial purpose. Nevertheless, Graham Hancock, after spinning conjecture after conjecture and then considering them to be accepted facts, says this with regard to the scorpion and the crude birds:
When you have eliminated the impossible,’ Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes famously pronounced, then ‘whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’ By a process of elimination we have seen that Göbekli Tepe cannot be inviting us to consider the equinoxes, and nor can it be inviting us to consider the summer solstice, even at the favourable moment of sunset. This leaves us only with the winter solstice with the sun in Sagittarius targeting the centre of the Milky Way galaxy, the definitive astronomical signature of the years between 1960 and 2040 in our own epoch – a signature that recurs only at 26,000-year intervals.
After copying that quote into my notes I found myself also writing down, “Jesus what crap.”
Here’s another example of the man’s astonishing sophistry—or maybe schizoid conjuring up of narratives, whichever you prefer: He points out that the King’s Chamber in the Great Pyramid of Giza has the dimensions of 15 Egyptian cubits by 20 by 25. This factors down to the dimensions of 3x4x5. Now: If you cube all three numbers you get 27, 64, 125, and if you add those together you get 216; and 216 divided by 3 is 72—which amazingly indicates that the early Egyptians also were well aware of the 26,000 year precessional cycle, because there are 72 years for every day of precession. He uses similar far-fetched numerology to demonstrate that the builders of the pyramid knew the size of the earth, as the base and sides of the monument, when multiplied by a certain number, are approximations of the diameter of the earth. In his own words, “Its derivation from the 3:4:5 triangle inside the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid is therefore most unlikely to be an accident and the relationship of all this to astronomy and geodesy—earth-measuring—is clear.”
Likewise with the great temple site at Baalbek in Lebanon. The Roman temple to Jupiter there had 54 columns. He says, “It so happens that 54 is one of the sequence of precessional numbers. It derives from 72, the number of years required for one degree of precessional motion. We then add 36 (half of 72) to 72 itself to get 108 and divide 108 by two to get 54.” So having 54 columns is evidence for Hancock that Roman temple architecture had roots in a prehistoric civilization that did numerological tricks with the number of years in the precessional cycle. I was a little surprised that he didn’t mention at all the fact that a Hindu or Buddhist mala or rosary also has the magic number of 108 beads, also presumably indicative that the ancient Indians also had advanced astronomical knowledge of the precessional cycle.
The man goes on and on with this nonsense. It seems to me that he starts off with enough actual hard science to get maybe—just maybe—30% of the way to where he wants to go (technologically advanced prehistoric global civilization), and then relies on mysteries and maybes and conjectures and suppositions and intuitions and feelings and what ifs and mythological legends (lots of them) and emphasis on similarities and coincidences, adding maybe onto maybe onto what if to get the rest of his way to the pre-established goal. He makes countless suppositions and says things like “I think it likely” and “the possibility must be considered,” then after a few pages drops the likelihoods and possibilities and treats them as established facts upon which to build the next course of suppositions.
I won’t even belabor the point, not very much anyway, of his undue emphasis on ancient mythology to glean evidence for his prehistoric advanced civilization. He accepts the parts that seem to support him and as a matter of course ignores the rest. For example he accepts the existence of Atlantis from Plato’s dialogues, but rejects the idea that it was in the Atlantic Ocean (he would prefer to believe that it was in Indonesia), and also conveniently ignores the fact that ancient Athenian barbarians (who could not have been many, and could have been no higher than at a Bronze Age level of civilization and technology) somehow defeated these technologically advanced Atlanteans. He considers the apocryphal Jewish apocalyptic text the Book of Enoch to be historically reliable, with the angels called Watchers (and obvious angels in the Book of Daniel are also called Watchers) identified as technologically advanced members of the global civilization. He considers ancient Persian tales of people hiding underground and preserving “seeds” not only of plants but of animals and humans to be describing cryogenic sperm and egg banks. He considers Noah’s ark to have been a technologically advanced biosphere. “Last but not least, there are hints of a lost lighting technology in Noah’s Ark….” Humbug on advanced prehistoric masters who left no advanced artifacts and had the artistic talents of preschool children.
It is clear that Hancock is not trying, with this book and presumably with others, to persuade professional scientists with a convincing case. The book is directed towards a mass market audience, and persuades the easily persuadable kind of folks who get their scientific ideas from grocery store book racks and fringe YouTube videos. The Wikipedia page devoted to Hancock, or rather devoted against him, calls him a pseudoscientist; and although Wikipedia is a cesspit of leftist views and edits vindictive propaganda hit pieces against some people (Stefan Molyneux immediately comes to mind), in this case I have to agree with Wikipedia. Nevertheless, of course the man should be able to say what he pleases, especially if he actually considers his theories to be true. At the very least he is challenging the status quo with alternative views, which may help mainstream archeologists to stay on their toes.
Anyway, as I said above, this is mainly just a rant for the purpose of releasing pent-up frustrations with Graham Hancock. (I’ve heard that lately he has been championing the use of psychedelic drugs also, but I’m not even going there.) After I finally finish reading the book—and I admit I’ve learned a few things about the Younger Dryas and some megalithic sites—I will offer to you, good reader, my alternative hypothesis accounting for those same great monuments, without the need of shadowy prehistoric techno-Atlanteans leaving enigmatic hints to tantalize the likes of Graham Hancock.
|ruins of the Roman temple to Jupiter in Baalbek, Lebanon|