Graham Hancock and the ‘Lost Civilisation’


Holiday reading

Fingerprints of the Gods, paperback edition 1996

Fingerprints of the Gods, paperback edition 1996

I feel ashamed that I have not written a blog post for almost a year. This is compounded by the feeling of guilt that what I am about to write ought to have been written more than seventeen years ago. In March 1996, I was waiting for a flight at Manchester Airport, taking me on holiday to the Canary Islands. I spotted a book, Fingerprints of the Gods: a Quest for the Beginning and the End that piqued my curiosity. I had been vaguely aware of its publication and knew something about its use of the ideas of Robert Schoch regarding the date of the Great Sphinx at Giza, but had never picked up a copy as its very size (607 pages in the paperback edition) daunted me. Nevertheless, I bought a copy, thinking that it might be light relief from the more academic books I was taking as holiday reading.

Despite the reputation of the Canary Islands for a temperate and dry climate all year round, March 1996 was one of the coldest and wettest months in more than fifty years. Expecting temperatures in the low twenties, I had taken no warm or waterproof clothing other than the coat I had worn on the journey to the airport in England. As a result, I had plenty of time for reading, being stuck in my holiday apartment at Puerto Rico de Gran Canaria, a singularly unattractive holiday resort. I managed to read Fingerprints of the Gods from cover to cover in a couple of days, despite my growing unhappiness. It started badly for me, with a discussion of the Piri Re‘is map, which does not show Antarctica as Hancock claims. It went downhill from there but I was determined that I would create a website refuting its claims as soon as I got home.

The Great Sphinx at Giza in 1988

The Great Sphinx at Giza in 1988

Back in Chester, I started writing up some notes for a website that was originally called “Cult and Fringe Archaeology” and was hosted on my personal website. However, it quickly became apparent that Hancock’s data was largely recycled from earlier writers, so I focused more on the first appearance of the data and its refutation. I wrote a little about Graham Hancock, dealing with his misuse of Egyptology. I eventually became diverted from dealing with his work into the wider implications of Bad Archaeology. And there things have languished since the spring of 1996.

Fingerprints of the Gods

Criticisms of the very brief page on the “lost civilisation” on the main website have become more frequent in recent months. I admit that I have not written the refutations of his arguments that I originally intended (indeed, I say on the page that “[A] comprehensive analysis of his works would require a massive book, since it would need not only to refute his claims but also to present the comprehensive contextual evidence to show why his ideas cannot stand up”). This post is the start of my attempt to remedy that omission.

Fingerprints of the Gods, second edition 2001

Fingerprints of the Gods, second edition 2001

First published in 1995, the book is divided into eight separate parts, most with numerous chapters (52 in total), almost 50 pages of references and 8 pages of bibliography. A second edition, issued in 2001 with a different subtitle, includes a new introduction in which Hancock dismisses his critics and three appendices (almost a hundred pages of transcripts of interviews with BBC reporters, an attempted critique of radiocarbon dating by Sean Hancock and a critique of the radiocarbon dates for Tiahuanaco, also by Sean Hancock); the cover of the paperback loudly proclaims “Includes 40,000 word update”.

According to the cover blurb of the first paperback edition (1996), the book contains “a drastic re-evaluation of man’s past, using the high-tech tools of modern archaeology, geology and astronomy… [and] reveals not only the clear fingerprints of an unknown civilisation that flourished during the last ice-age, but also horrifying conclusions about the type and extent of planetary catastrophe that would have had to occur in order to obliterate almost all traces of it”. This is not the first book to make such sweeping claims, but it is certainly the one to attract the most attention.

To live up to the claims of the blurb, the evidence it presents must be powerful and will have to explain the data relating to the last Ice Age (which I take to mean the Devensian/Weichselian/ Würm Glaciations in Europe, Wisconsin in North America, Mérida/Llaniquihue in South America) better than existing models. It is widely recognised among archaeologists that the book utterly fails to do this, but Graham Hancock quickly developed a loyal and vocal following.

He and a coterie of similar writers (including Robert Bauval, Robert Schoch, Rand and Rose Flem-Ath among others) tried to promote themselves as the “New Egyptologists” during the late 1990s, modifying a term used by archaeological theorists during the 1960s and 70s. The Egyptological establishment was and remains unimpressed. His analyses of South American and Meso-American archaeology have perhaps had less impact on popular consciousness, although Tiwanaku is mentioned by some commenters on the main site as an alleged problem for the mainstream.

The name of Khufu inside the Great Pyramid; after claiming it was fraudulent, Hancock later admitted that it dates the construction to Khufu's reign

The name of Khufu inside the Great Pyramid; after claiming it was fraudulent, Hancock later admitted that it dates the construction to Khufu’s reign

Unlike many Bad Archaeologists, though, Hancock has modified his conclusions in the light of irrefutable evidence that earlier conclusions were wrong. This is unusual and something he uses to reassure his supporters that, unlike writers such as Erich von Däniken, he is capable of recognising that conclusions may have to be changed in the light of new evidence. Indeed, he continued to write further books (Keeper of Genesis with Robert Bauval, Heaven’s Mirror and Underworld), further exploring his idea of an advanced world-wide civilisation during the later Pleistocene.

The ‘lost civilisation’ does not stand up to scrutiny

Archibald Sayce: a man who really did discover a lost civilisation, the Hittite Empire

Archibald Sayce: a man who really did discover a lost civilisation, the Hittite Empire. Source

So, why do mainstream archaeologists reject his hypothesis of an Ice Age civilisation? Hancock and his supporters maintain that this is because of the hidebound nature of academic archaeology. This shows a failure to understand how academia works. Careers are made by overturning accepted hypotheses: the person who discovers a previously unknown civilisation would have their future career assured, but only if they are able to provide evidence that it actually existed. This would take the form of remains dating to the period that civilisation flourished.

What does Hancock do? Faced with a complete lack of contemporary evidence for his “lost civilisation”, he claims that it can be detected through its influence on later cultures. In one or two cases, he tries to show that the accepted dates for monuments of known civilisations are wrong and that they are actually from the eleventh millennium BC. In these cases, his redating of the monuments has not been accepted by mainstream archaeologists. I will be working on a detailed refutation of the eight major sections of the book over coming weeks, which will be published on the main site.

36 comments

  1. Most people just go on a diet after the excesses of the Holiday season: you are climbing mountains. Please watch your footing, some of those rocks are very treacherous :). Looking forward to reading your comments, though. I’m sure nobody could put it better . . .

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  2. I can’t wait to read the rest of your Hancock critique! It’s so interesting that he was the original inspiration for your fabulous website.

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  3. It’s awfully nice that Hancock changed his mind about the Khufu cartouche — It’s less nice that he’s basically singly responsible for bringing the claim to mainstream audiences. I’m pretty sure Zacharia Sitchin was the first to claim the cartouche was fake in the first place, but Hancock just took Sitchin’s word for it and stated it in Fingerprints as if it were an established fact.

    These days I’m not really sure what Hancock believes about the nature of the “Lost Civilization.” I know a few years ago he was saying it might just be a shared cultural tradition that was at the edge of historical times, but I guess with the success of Ancient Aliens he’s now hinting that it may be aliens, or other dimensional. Completely unrelated: Hancock is using far more hallucinogenic drugs these days, as opposed to the marijuana he took in copious amounts when he was researching Fingerprints.

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    1. hancock never said it had anything to do with aliens actually he said sitchin and he are good friends but agree to disagree on that subject,

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  4. Nobody is debating the fact of my discovery of a lost civilization .6 sites with carved stone artefacts retrieved of all descriptions ..Why? nobody of any significance knowlege or capabilities has been to “Badgers Den” 10 Hunter Str. Dannevirke .Tararua . New Zealand to view ,hold , inspect ,analyze,test,comment in person …..face reality you wafflers ,talk is cheap ..come visit my collection and sites then you just might comprehend ….the real artifacts and truth are found still underground not in museum vaults ,thank goodness they are exposing themselves through erosion etc.so interested people as myself can find and appreciate them …the brain and computor cannot partake in field trips but should be able to analyse the results …so ! my friends i keep looking, restoring ,observing,recording ,photographing ,displaying and polishing …….all for the joy of discovering this “Lost Civilization …My Passion.!!! Badger Bloomfield …Independent Archaeologist …

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  5. Keith, it’s been far too long – good to see you back.
    Hancock gave up on the search for a lost civilisation in 2005 and turned to Ayahuasca and writing novels.
    But you’ll be pleased to know that he is currently putting together a sequel to Fingerprints of the Gods with the rather Danikenesque working title “Magicians of the Gods”.
    I look forward to your critique.

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  6. I read through a number of your posts last year after discovering JasonColativo.com to find critical reviews of “America Unearthed”. I am happy to see you are back and to read another voice of reason to refute pseudoscience and fringe history.

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  7. Good to see you back. The popularity of Hancock and others like him is just symptomatic of the general lack of critical-thinking skills of many adults these days, as well as a poor understanding of archaeology and the scientific method in general. And there is always the tedious if not comical argument that academia is trying to hide “the truth” from all of us. The truth is, as I see it, is that academia does not have time to waste on nonsense. Still, it’s good to see folks like you taking the time to set the record straight. I look forward to more.

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  8. Keith,

    Welcome back! I have missed your blog. Have you ever considered reviewing Rene Salm’s “The Myth of Nazareth”?

    Thanks,

    Matt

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    1. I have to confess that I’ve never read it, although I’m aware of the main thrust of its arguments. I’ll look into it. Funny, I was going to ask if people had any suggestions for recent books of Bad Archaeology they’d like me to look at (as if I’m running out of reading material!).

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      1. I’m sure there’s no shortage of bad archaeology to cover, not to mention reading for your day job. Anyway, keep up the good work!

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  9. I recall that Hancock got a TV program to spout his ideas, maybe a decade ago. It was amazing how long he could spend basically saying that all the evidence for his worlwide civilisation was hidden under the sea therefore it was being ignored but hey, look at these large stone ruins which prove that they existed.
    Or at least that’s what I remember from it.

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  10. One of the reasons that Hancock does so well is that he knows how to tell a story. Too many historians are boring beyond belief. Still, the idea of that civilization is a tad older than we think did get a boost with the discovery of Gobekli Tepi.

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  11. Alas, Mr Hancock was recently on mainstream television (‘Breaking the Set’ on Russsia Today) peddling his various, ahem, ‘theories’ to the unsuspecting general public. Including the theory about the super-duper ‘mother culture’ that was first peddled by Bachofen a hundred odd years ago. Well, you know what they say – The more things change the more they stay the same.

    Here’s a link to the ~15 minute interview:

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  12. Hi Keith,

    Unless I am mistaken, yet to see your greater critique? So far your analysis very Ad-hominem for mine (however as you highlighted, you need a fair bit of time to deconstruct!).

    It is just that I saw your post late 2013 and yet to see anything since.

    Look forward to your technical analysis, if anybody else can point be in the direction of specific technical critique, it would be much appreciated. Until now I have yet to see this.

    Also would love to know how many of the commenters have read any of Graham Hancock’s work? Although he is criticized for being psuedo-scientific, he never speculates in the realm of the unknown without prior acknowledgement to the reader. All his other evidence is clearly referenced and factualised.

    Again, if anybody can show me information to contrary (and in instances where he has retracted his claim, I think it would be unfair to list them here), I would love to see them

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  13. The undersea archeology off Gujarat and Japan ? seems valid .. what is the mainstream interpretation as of 2015 – and the link with the Younger Dryas . ?
    The claim that Giza Pyramid was built in prehistory – without the use of symbolic communication ? – not possible ?

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  14. Nice article…but really bothersome is the meaningless snipe in the first paragraph about “mexico and belize” being North America. Well, yes, in an absolutist and pedantic sense. But southern Mexico all the way through southern Panama is without a doubt “mesoamerica”….I.e. Central America.

    So while I accept your general critique, that type of literalism and critique…arguing against a statement that isn’t even false…does belie the likelihood that you are willing to dismisses moments when this man MAY be correct in order to err on the side of your deconstruction, whether or not it is merited in that instance. The man stretches the truth enough that it is childish for you to insert false correctives at meaningless points, when there are plenty of meaningful areas to concentrate your critique.

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    1. Your comment really belongs with this page. I freely admit than I am a pedant and that I am rather prone to making sniping comments when confronted with what I see as arrant stupidity. I’m actually praising Hancock for not making that all-too-common error.

      Yes, I can be childish. It’s my way of trying to inject a little lightheartedness into what would otherwise by a very dry and humourless analysis of something I find really rather tedious.

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  15. What say you regarding Schoch’s claims that the quarry surrounding the sphinx has water erosion? What say you regarding Gobekli Tepe?

    I was taught in college that Kufu’s pyramid at Giza was built during his lifetime over a span of less than 30 years…. How many stones? How large? How far was the main quarry? The math doesn’t add up.

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    1. Just to clarify, G.Hancock makes wild conclusions way too often, and I rarely agree with him. But Schoch’s water erosion theory isn’t really that wild of an idea. It doesn’t really validate much of Hancock’s work, but it casts doubt on much of what I’ve learned studying ancient architecture. I am very well versed in the history of architecture around the world, but only to the point that my textbooks would allow. Nothing of Gobekli Tepe was ever mentioned during my 4 years of studying. Seemed like a dated curriculum.

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      1. Water erosion is a possible mechanism, but so is exfoliation caused by the evaporation of weakly saline water. This exfoliation is happening today and can be observed. It’s a common problem with soft, porous stone. Given that we don’t have good knowledge of how the levels of the local water table have changed over the millennia, there could have been periods where such exfoliation was actually much worse than today as well as periods where it may not even have happened. That is the most economical explanation. There are too many problems with Schoch’s water erosion during a pluvial period several millennia before the traditional date of the Sphinx for Egyptologists to take it seriously.

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        1. I read the exfoliation theory put forth by only a handful of geologists, and it seems very ad hoc to me. When Schoch brought his findings back to america and debated the issue in front of several credible geologists, his theory was supported by far more geologists that those that questioned it.

          As for 274 blocks/day being placed perfectly for 365 days a year by 5000 people from quarries that range 100m-900km, it is much more than impressive. That’s basically 1 stone every 5 minutes 24 hours a day for 365 days a year by 5000 people….. again, much more than impressive. I’m not saying impossible, i’m just saying that the ‘less than 30 years’ theory taught in schools doesn’t provide a level of technology that could reasonably accomplish the task in that time.

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        2. Also, please don’t cite a theory like exfoliation without providing your source. It makes it sound like you’ve come to that conclusion by using your own geological expertise, but I’m pretty sure you do not have your PhD in geology. All we can do is come to our own conclusions based on the opinions and writings of experts. We are not the ones out there studying the sites. We are just reading the works written by people who have done the actual research and forming our own conclusions.

          In my personal opinion, post-secondary schools in north america right now are not accurately teaching the history of architecture.

          The textbooks site the mudhuts of mesopotamia from 14,000 bc with clerestory lighting, and in-house graves as the earliest signs of settlements and residential architecture…. in my opinion, Gobekly Tepe casts doubt on the whole thing.

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          1. I have actually worked in a place where exfoliation of stone (in this case, sandstone) was a daily occurrence, leaving little piles of sand at the base of walls. Weaker strata within the stone eroded at a faster rate. That was my observation, over almost 15 years. In the case of the Sphinx, I am prepared to accept what most geologists who have provided their expertise to Egyptologists at face value: that exfoliation is the cause.

            Schoch provided an alternative (not necessarily more plausible) explanation that deserved testing. The way to test it was to see how well it matches the archaeological evidence. If, as Schoch’s hypothesis suggests, the Sphinx existed at the time of the last major pluvial in Egypt, then it should have a context. There ought to be evidence of a society that carved stone, that had some form of leonine symbolism, that had a presence on the eastern edge of the Giza Plateau… And this is where archaeologists simply wouldn’t give Schoch’s ideas a second viewing. Enough is known of Egyptian society at the time of the last pluvial to realise that the Sphinx makes no sense that early. Yes, it could be pushed back to Archaic times (3100-2850 BC) but no earlier.

            I find it really ironic that you can criticise me for not being a geologist when offering up a geological explanation for the weathering of the Sphinx but are quite unconcerned about Schoch’s/Hancock’s lack of archaeological expertise when they cavalierly try to rewrite the history of early Egypt!

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            1. Schoch comes to his conclusions based on geology. He claimed the erosion patterns were caused by rainfall. That is geology. His expertise. I’m not going to defend Hancock, he’s a journalist that came up with some wild theories with very little relevant training(if any).

              For me, based on all the information I’ve read, it’s hard to take the current accepted accounts of architectural history seriously when Gobekli Tepe has proven all the timelines to be wrong.

              Maybe Schoch’s water erosion theory is wrong, but to assume that we’ve already gotten it all figured out doesn’t jive.

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              1. But it’s archaeologists who are doing the work at Gobekli Tepe and working out what its implications are for human history. It’s exciting stuff. It’s the sort of thing that takes years, even decades, to get into textbooks. And when it comes to government education policy, those who impose curricula on the children of the majority don’t seem to have learned any history/prehistory since the 1940s.

                Blame the politicians, who have no idea what sorts of discoveries and reinterpretations of old data have taken place since then. And blame people like Schoch and Hancock who don’t engage with modern archaeological research but parrot interpretations from two generations ago so that they can demolish these ridiculous straw men and who equally quote century-old works of cranks with approval without doing the research to understand why they have been ignored by mainstream archaeologists.

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                1. I agree with everything you said there. I wish people like Schoch would engage more with modern archaeological researchers.

                  Still, while mainstream archaeologists didn’t accept Schoch’s theory regarding the Sphinx, it took years before any geologists stepped up and disagreed with him. His theory was accepted by pretty much every geologist for a while. It really isn’t all that controversial among the majority of geologists. I’ve read a handful of papers by a handful of geologists that challenge him, but to me, their explanations still seem ad hoc and they are still in the minority when talking geology.

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    2. Gobekli Tepe is a wonderful and important site. It is changing how we view the origins of agriculture, settled life and organised religion. This is being done by archaeologists, not pseudoscientists.

      Khufu’s pyramid was probably built in around 24 years, not 30. You’d need to move around 274 blocks into position each day to build it. Obviously, the lower courses could have been built with many more blocks manoeuvred each day, with fewer as the height increased. That’s impressive but not impossible: a workforce of 5000 would be more than adequate. The maths is simple and it does add up.

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