10 Amazing Discoveries That Will Won’t Make You Question Everything

Sometimes, just the name of a website is enough to make my heart sink. So, when my partner began reading out the name of a page that a mutual friend had ‘Liked’ on Facebook, I had an awful feeling of déjà vu: Spirit Science. As if to confirm my worst fears, the Welcome page includes this gem of wisdom:

Spirit Science is about the harmonic merging of things that previously we have believed did not fit together. Things such as “Spirit” and “Science”, perhaps “Democrats” and “Republicans”, or even all the way to Dance and Mathematics.

It’s not just the New Age claptrap or the USA-centric view of the world that disturbs me about this. My initial reaction was “how can anyone believe that there isn’t a link between Dance and Mathematics?”. My second reaction was “I understand the words and I understand the grammar, but do these sentences actually mean anything?”. What on earth is “harmonic merging”? It appears to have something to do with “the blending of Male and Female energies”. Okay, it’s now more than 40 years since I studied physics at school, but I don’t recall energy being gendered. Wikipedia doesn’t seem to know about it, either, so it must be really cutting-edge knowledge. Never mind. The page our friend had ‘Liked’ was 10 Amazing Discoveries That Will Make You Question Everything. Bahkti had brought it to my attention because he thought that I ought to write something about it. The image at the top of the page shows the remains of the Antikythera Mechanism. That’s no bad thing. Showing people that the Classical world produced intricate gearing that could be put to use to make an orrery is good. If the list of “Amazing Discoveries” is going to be of this sort of object, then it could serve a useful purpose, even if it is embedded in a site stuffed to the brim with New Age nonsense. I should have known better.

Spirit Science’s “10 Amazing Discoveries That Will Make You Question Everything

What are the true origins of humanity? There are so many ancient artifacts from the past that still perplex us today. How did ancient civilizations create such intricate and advanced technologies? There are so many mysteries surrounding humanities past that we are finally becoming aware of. There seems to be a lot more going on than meets the eye… Here is a list of some of the most amazing discovery’s to date! 1: The London Artifact

Leaving aside the appalling grammar, if the London Hammer is the author’s Number One “Amazing Discovery”, then I’m afraid that I hold out little hope for the rest of the list. So, bear with me while I deal with just the first two items in the list. I had hoped to be able to deal with all ten, but I have had only two days to do the necessary research and I would like to have some time at the weekend away from my computer screen and reading mostly nonsense!

1: The London Artifact

The so-called ‘London hammer’

The so-called ‘London hammer’

This artifact is speculated to be so extremely old that part of the wooden handle has turned to coal. Coal is known to take millions of years to form, so then how is this possible? How old could this strange artifact actually be?”. The short answer is “probably between 100 and 200 years”. How can I be so sure? Critics will say it’s my arrogance or my closed-minded refusal to accept evidence that goes against conventional views. Nonsense. It’s a nineteenth-century mason’s hammer, just like the one displayed on this page, albeit with a slightly longer head. We actually know a reasonable amount about the circumstances of discovery, too, which give the lie to the claim that “the wooden handle has turned to coal”. For one thing, even the most cursory glance at the photograph of the hammer shows that its handle is wooden and has definitely not turned to coal! Max Edmond Hahn (1897-1989) and Emma Zadie Hahn (née Pearl) (1899-1995), his wife, found it in June 1936 on the banks of Red Creek, south of their home in London (Texas, USA). According to some versions of the story, the discovery took place in 1934; sometimes, Max is called Frank, for reasons unknown. They picked up a rock nodule with a piece of wood sticking out from it, which they found odd. It was sitting on a ledge by a waterfall on the river, not attached to any of the solid rocks around it. There are several areas where small waterfalls exist on Red Creek, the closest being about 10 km south-west of London. Some time later (perhaps in 1946 or 1947), their son George (1921-2011) broke it open. Part of the broken nodule has survived and has an unfossilised mollusc shell partly embedded in it (photograph here). Inside the nodule was a metallic hammerhead, to which the wooden handle was attached. The hammer was clearly of recent manufacture.

A nineteenth-century mason's hammer.

A nineteenth-century mason’s hammer. The resemblance to the “London Artifact” is unmistakable. [Source]

That ought to have been the end of the story. A nineteenth-century quarryman or rockhound dropped a hammer near a waterfall on Red Creek. However, it came to the attention of the Young Earth creationist Carl Baugh (born 1936). It is unclear if Baugh was alerted to the hammer by an article by Walter Lang (1913-2004) in the Bible-Science Newsletter 21 (6), 14, ‘Modern hammer in Silurian rocks’, or vice versa. Lang appears to be the first to claim that the hammer had been studied by metallurgists at a laboratory in Columbus. This has widely been taken to mean Battelle Memorial Institute, a claim directly rebutted in the February 1985 issue of Creation Ex Nihilo. According to Lang, the scientists “were convinced that the rock itself could not have been formed except where there was a great deal of water and pressure” and that the handle had been “partly coalified… under pressure with water and volcanic action”. If The Battelle Institute did not supply the data, where did Lang get the opinions? Might they have come from Baugh? Baugh runs the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose (Texas, USA), which opened in 1984 as the Creation Evidences Museum. The hammer was one of its principal exhibits from the outset; Baugh is believed to have purchased it in 1983. It was Baugh who dubbed it the “London Artifact”, which means that all claims using this term go back ultimately to his authority. He is widely regarded with scorn, even by other creationists, for his promotion of dubious and even fraudulent objects. Baugh has tried to use the hammer to show that rock could form in a very short time (like Young Earth creationists everywhere, he ridiculously attributes the formation of the geological column to the effects of Noah’s flood), that people at the time of Noah were skilled metallurgists and that the Ordovician rock from which he claimed it had come could not be anything like as old as science asserts. He continues to promote objects that have long since been debunked. This includes the London Hammer, about which the Creation/Evolution Journal (5 (1) (Winter 1985), 46-7) devoted two pages to a rebuttal of Baugh’s claims by the anthropologist John R Cole. This was in the year after his Museum opened, yet he ignored the criticism. The nodule in which the hammer is embedded is the real source of the claims of antiquity. If it is genuinely part of the local geology, then it potentially provides evidence either for the recent formation of the rocks – as Baugh would like – or it provides evidence for human (or human-like) technology in the very remote past indeed. However, there is no evidence whatsoever that the nodule was ever part of the bedrock (which, incidentally, is Cretaceous, not Ordovician in date). Remember, it was found on a ledge near a waterfall. This is the key to understanding the object. The nodule is not bedrock, but a concretion made from once dissolved carbonate minerals that precipitated out as the water evaporated. In other words, the nodule could easily be of nineteenth-century date. Instead, we see the claim for (relative) antiquity parroted on websites, sometimes with reference to a book by Hans-Joachim Zillmer, Darwin’s Mistake: Antediluvian Discoveries Prove Dinosaurs and Humans Co-existed (Frontier Publishing, 1998). Most of these sites call him simply Hans and then proceed to mangle his surname in ways that show a blatant disregard for copyright laws in their authors’ use of cut-and-past facilities. Zillmer makes a great play of the chemical composition of the hammerhead, reporting that it consists of “96.6% iron, 2.6% chlorine and 0.74% sulphur”; this is the analysis that is often wrongly attributed to the Battelle Memorial Institute. Those dependent on this unsourced analysis have tried to claim that this is an impossibly pure form of iron and that iron cannot be combined with chlorine. This claims are nonsense. For one thing, steel contains 98-99.8% iron, while many iron ores (such as biotite) or meteoritic iron naturally contain chlorine, so it’s not a question of adding it. Finally, the idea that the handle has turned to coal is just plan silly. It is quite visibly wood, although the ends apparently show a little carbonisation. Carbonisation is a process that can happen to vegetable matter, especially wood, on heating. It is not “partly coalified”. If anything, it’s on the way to becoming charcoal. No, the London “Artifact” is not an “Amazing Discovery That Will Make Me Question Everything”!

2: The Fuente Magna Bowl

Fuente Magna: a bowl with a cuneiform inscription

Fuente Magna: a bowl with a cuneiform inscription, allegedly found in Bolivia [Source]

This is one of the most controversial artifacts in South America. It is a large stone bowl, similar to a container for making libations, baptisms or for purification ceremonies. Found by a villager near Lake Titicaca, the engraved writing lining the bowl is thought to be Sumerian!”. If this is a genuine archaeological discovery, then it is potentially one of the most important ever discovered in the Americas, which would justify calling it “The Rosetta Stone of the Americas”. Its supposedly Sumerian cuneiform inscription would demonstrate contact between the Old and New worlds millennia before the Vikings. Fuente Magna, by the way, means “Great Source” and it is not clear that it is a placename. I wonder if it is a Spanish name for the bowl itself; in fact, some websites (obviously translated by an automated algorithm from Spanish) treat it as the name of the object.

The location of Hacienda Chúa

The location of Hacienda Chúa, according to Bernardo Biados and Freddy Arce [Source]

The first thing to note is that we do not have a proper findspot for the bowl. It is supposed to have been found by a worker on the Chúa Hacienda, which belonged to a family named Manjon and is said to be 75-80 km from La Paz. According to Yuri Leveratto (Crónicas indígenas del Nuevo Mundo, second edition 2010, Lulu, page 55), the Chúa Hacienda lay on the northern side of Lake Titicaca. Websites describing the bowl sometimes refer to the findspot as an ex-Hacienda and sometimes capitalise it as CHUA, as if it is an acronym (such as for the Complejo Hospitalario Universitario de Albacete), which it is not. Reporting some research undertaken by Bernardo Biados (an “Independent Education Management Professional”) and Freddy Arce Helguero (a prominent Bolivian pseudoarchaeologiost, who died in 2011), who travelled to Chúa in 2000, no trace of the Manjon family could be found. However, an old man of 92, named Maximiliano, recognised the Fuente Magna bowl from a photograph. He called it el plato del chancho (“the pig bowl”), explaining that it had been used as a food-bowl for pigs until it was taken to the Museo de Metales Preciosos (also known as Museo del Oro) in 1960. The problem with this account is that it is based on the recollections of an old man whose full name is not recorded, made forty years after the event.

Maximilian (born c 1908), alleged discoverer of the Fuente Magna bowl

Maximilian (born c 1908), alleged discoverer of the Fuente Magna bowl [Source]

Unfortunately, this is as far as we can get: Google’s links containing Manjon, Chúa Hacienda and Bolivia almost all link to pages discussing the Fuente Magna bowl. None link to a Chúa Hacienda owned (or formerly owned) by a Manjon family in Bolivia. That is worrying, when we do not have a contemporary account of the bowl’s discovery and rely on the memories of an old man interviewed forty years after allegedly making his discovery. One has to question whether his recollections are correct: if he used it as a pig feeder, that suggests it was complete, yet we are told that it had to be “restored” (which seems to mean stuck back together) in 1960. This makes me wonder if Maximiliano’s plato del chancho was an entirely different vessel. Worse, the accounts of the discovery are contradictory. Many of them show tell-tale signs of being translated from a Spanish original by a computer program, perhaps Google Translate. The principal confusion is over the date, which is given variously as the 1950s, 1958 or 1960. Also, some writers claim that it is stone, others that it is ceramic. The bowl apparently first came to the attention of the archaeologist Max Portugal Zamora (1907-1984) some time after its discovery. Zamora was the director of the Museo Nacional de Arqueologia Tiwanaku in La Paz from 1936, where he became an expert on the archaeology of the Andean Altiplano and pre-Columbian parietal art. His published works (see the bibliography in his obituary) show no evidence for an interest in the bowl until 1975 (published as ‘La Fuente Magna’, Hoy (Suplemento L.P. 6 – VII), 8), although a number of websites assert that he “restored” the bowl in 1960. The recognition of cuneiform writing is attributed to Mario Montaño Aragón (born 1931), which he published in Raíces semíticas en la religiosidad aymará y kichua (Biblioteca Popular de Ultima Hora, 1979). The details of discovery appear to come directly from Aragón’s account (unless they come from Zamora’s paper, which I have not seen).

A sample of the supposed cuneiform inside the bowl

A sample of the supposed cuneiform inside the bowl [Source]

Much of the recent interest in the bowl appears to stem from work by two people: Hugh Bernard Fox (1932-2011), an anthropologist at Michigan State University and poet, and Clyde Ahmad Winters, an Afrocentrist scholar (who believes that the Olmecs “were the descendents of the Atlanteans that formerly lived in ancient Libya”. Fox disagreed with Aragón’s assessment of the writing as cuneiform, preferring to see it as Phoenician. Winters, on the other hand, sees it as proto-Sumerian. Obviously, both can’t be right! It is also possible, of course, that neither is right. Despite identifying the inscription as Phoenician, Fox neglects to translate it. Winters’s translation reads:

[Right side] (1) Girls take an oath to act justly (this) place. (2) (This is) a favorable oracle of the people. (3) Send forth a just divine decree. (4) The charm (the Fuente Magna) (is) full of Good. (5) The (Goddess) Nia is pure. (6) Take an oath (to her). (7) The Diviner. (8) The divine decree of Nia (is) , (9) to surround the people with Goodness/Gladness. (10) Value the people’s oracle. (11) The soul (to), (12) appear as a witness to the [Good that comes from faith in the Goddess Nia before] all mankind. [Left side] (1) Make a libation (this) place for water (seminal fluid?) and seek virtue. (2a) (This is) a great amulet/charm, (2b) (this) place of the people is a phenomenal area of the deity [Nia’s] power. (3) The soul (or breath of life). (4) Much incense, (5) to justly, (6) make the pure libation. (7) Capture the pure libation (/or Appear (here) as a witness to the pure libation). (8) Divine good in this phenomenal proximity of the deity’s power.

That is not the end of the matter. Yet another translation, attributed to Alberto Marini runs:

The Lord of Serenity with the light gathers and herds together the large animals and the goats and the kids (weakened by lack of fodder, or wandering in search of food) to the open fields for rest.

Marini suggests that “[i]n this context, “rest” appears to mean slaughter, for sacrifice or butchery, and to convert their hides to leather for apparel”.

Real proto-cuneiform

Real proto-cuneiform: it’s very different from the “writing” on the Fuente Magna bowl [Source]

As with the question of the language, here we have two supposed authorities producing quite different translations, allegedly from the same original language. Again, both can’t be right (and I have a suspicion that neither is correct). Supporters of the bowl’s authenticity claim that it is evidence for transatlantic contacts before the Vikings. It sits alongside other supposed evidence, such as the (probably non-existent) Paraíba stone, the Newark “Holy Stones” and the Los Lunas inscription. What the supporters cannot agree on was the date of the hypothesised contact. Was it c 3000 BCE, as Clyde Winters would have it? Or was it in the middle of the first millennium BC, as Hugh Fox believed? Why is the rest of the iconography of the bowl like that of the Tiwanaku culture, about 600-950 CE? What can we make of this very confusing tale? For one thing, no Sumeriologist has accepted that the symbols on the interior of the bowl are “proto-Sumerian” (by which the authors promoting the Fuente Magna bowl presumable mean Sumerian hieroglyphs or proto-cuneiform). Indeed, these symbols seem to be part of the general iconography of the pre-Columbian Altiplano cultures and bear only the vaguest resemblance to Sumerian hieroglyphs. They seem real enough. It is the cuneiform that is the most worrying aspect. Despite Hugh Fox’s belief that the inscriptions are Phoenician, no examples of Phoenician cuneiform have been found farther west than Malta. By the time the Phoenicians established colonies in the western Mediterranean basin, they had given up cuneiform and were using an alphabet ancestral to all modern western scripts. And the cuneiform looks very wobbly. Real cuneiform is written in neat rows, not vague panels, as we see on the bowl. That is a feature of proto-cuneiform. It looks to have been executed by someone who has seen a cuneiform text and is attempting to copy it onto a surface that they have no skill in working. To put it bluntly, it looks like a fake. The bowl has also been a problem for debunkers. Most seem happy to dismiss it as a hoax having no provenance. This is a little unfair. Whatever we might think of the work of Bernardo Biados and Freddy Arce, they did actually travel to the alleged site of its discovery and interviewed the person who claimed to have found it. This is very different from asserting that “there is no provenience. None. Nada. Zilch. We have anecdotes of it being “discovered””. As we’ve seen, this isn’t quite the case. The provenance may not be secure, but there is at least a likely location. Discussion on Wikipedia that led to the deletion of a page dedicated to the bowl wrongly stated that the script was first said to be cuneiform in 1985, while Jason Colavito has wrongly claimed that “[n]o one paid attention to it until 2000”: we have seen that a book published in 1979 already made that claim. So, Spirit Science, your item number 2 is also not an “Amazing Discovery That Will Make Me Question Everything

The lessons of these objects

The first thing I have learned (actually, had confirmed) is that the web is not a good source of information about controversial archaeological discoveries. The overwhelming majority of websites that discuss these objects simply repeat the same stories, often through the overuse of cutting-and-pasting. Actually finding something different, something that does not merely parrot the original outlandish claims can take a lot of hard work. I have spent the best part of two days to write this post, which I originally believed I could do in a couple of hours. However, it has been worth it, even if I haven’t achieved my target of dealing with all ten items in Spirit Science’s laughable list of Amazing Discoveries That Will Make You Question Everything. To make matters worse, an increasing number of claims come from YouTube videos. Indeed, one is the source of Spirit Science’s silly page. It was posted on 8 October 2012, so I wonder why it took Spirit Science so long to mine it for (mis)information. Spirit Science concludes by saying:

Do you think discoveries like these should be discussed in schools more openly? When we can see the value in showing all angles of humanities past – then we can collectively put the puzzle pieces of Earth’s past together.

[The strange grammar and spellings are in the original]. I am appalled at the laziness of those who repeat the claims about these items. They seem content to trust what any anti-establishment source tells them and yet they are the people who accuse debunkers of being closed minded. Just look at some of the comments posted to Spirit Science’s page or the YouTube video. They are the ones who cannot see that their gurus are leading them astray, that the information they are being given is at best dubious, at worst, fraudulent. They seem incapable of critical thinking. The debunkers are often not much better, I’m ashamed to say. Putting in the time and effort to research objects of dubious provenance and authenticity may be a waste of time, when it’s far simpler just to say “hoax!” and hope that people will believe you. I am often criticised in comments on the main site for not providing all the detail necessary to show an objector that the conventional interpretation of site is correct. Even when I do, they don’t want to know, or will change tack to question something else that I’ve written. Perhaps I am wasting my time. On the other hand, given the sheer numbers of sites that make wrong claims about the past, I feel duty bound to provide a voice of reason. If I am able to correct at least one person’s misconceptions, then I hope that my efforts are worthwhile.

Hancock’s Fingerprints of the Gods, Part II Foam of the Sea: Peru and Bolivia

From early modern maps, we are whisked away to South America. To most of Graham Hancock’s readers, this will be exotic stuff. At school, we learn about Sumeria, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome, but it is a rare teacher who will spend time on the lesser known civilisations of South America (which, to readers of literature like Fingerprints of the Gods, includes Mexico, which is actually in North America). True, most of his readers will be aware of the Maya (North American, incidentally) and the Inka, but Hancock is about to unleash all manner of unfamiliar names. Little wonder, then, that the material he discusses in Part II may seem impressive and good evidence for a “Lost Civilisation”.

Chapter 4: the Nazca lines

The Nazca Lines, seen from the air, are a jumbled mess (Source)

The Nazca Lines, seen from the air, are a jumbled mess (Source)

As with his discussion of early modern maps, Graham Hancock begins with something that is depressingly familiar to readers of “alternative history”, the lines and symbols that are scattered across the Plain of Nazca, in the Ica region of Perú. The Plain lies some 360 km south-south-east from Lima and is accessible only by road. The lines were rediscovered in 1926 (although Wikipedia says 1927) by Toribio Mejía Xesspe (1896-1983), a Peruvian archaeologist, while hiking in the hills on the edge of the Plain. He presented his discoveries at the International Congress of Americanists in Lima in 1939, but was unable to date or explain them. The contention of Bad Archaeologists that they can only be seen from the air, an assertion probably first made by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier in Le Matin des Magiciens (page 247 “visibles seulement d’un avion ou d’un ballon”) is disproved by the very means of their discovery!

Graham Hancock begins the chapter with a beautifully written description of his wonder at flying over the lines: when he writes well, his prose is good. We are soon treated to something that is an ugly feature of his writing, though: his snide dismissal of expert opinion when it does not agree with him. “Experts have pronounced upon the antiquity of Nazca, basing their opinions on fragments of pottery found embedded in the lines and on radiocarbon results from various organic remains unearthed here. The dates conjectured range between 350 BC and AD 600”. Notice how they have “pronounced”, as if this is a statement of authority with no data to back it up, using mere “fragments of pottery” by which they have “conjectured” a date range at which the lines might have been made. If only he had taken note of that little word “conjectured” plastered across the Antarctic continent on Philippe Buache’s map, but I digress…

He generously dismisses the Ancient Astronaut explanation for the lines but soon returns to expert-bashing, complaining that archaeologists “lump both cultures together as ‘the Nazcans’ and depict them as primitive tribesmen who unaccountably developed sophisticated techniques of artistic self-expression, and then vanished from the Peruvian scene”. I do not know of a single archaeologist who would call any ancient people “primitive tribesmen”. We are witnessing another technique typical of the pseudoscientist: the setting up of a straw man rather than engaging with the real hypotheses of archaeologists. It is not the last time he will use it.

The spider geoglyph

The spider geoglyph (Source)

We are told that the astronomer Phyllis Pitluga has identified the geoglyph of a spider as a representation of the constellation we know as Orion and suggests that lines radiating from it “appear to have been set out to track through the ages the changing declinations of the three stars of Orion’s Belt”. Hancock attributes this to a personal communication. Elsewhere, Dr Pitluga is on record as saying that “she doesn’t agree with the notion that these are representations of constellations”. So which version do we believe? Moreover, in his Between the Lines: the Mystery of the Giant Ground Drawings of Ancient Nasca, Peru (University of Texas Press, 2006), Anthony Aveni has pointed out that she selected only three of fifteen lines emanating from the figure without disclosing the selection criteria: this looks a bit like cherry-picking the data.

Hancock also tells us that the spider has been identified as a member of the Order Ricinulei (although he calls it a genus) by the astronomer Gerald Stanley Hawkins (1928-2003), best known as author of Stonehenge Decoded rather than as an arachnologist. Describing it as “one of the rarest spider genera in the world”, supposedly only found in the Amazon rainforest, he then takes a swipe at orthodox opinion by asking “[h]ow did the supposedly primitive Nazcan artists travel so far from their homeland, crossing the formidable barrier of the Andes, to obtain a specimen?”. According to the British Arachnological Society, Ricinulei is rather more widespread than this, being found in humid parts of Africa, the southern United States, Central America and South America. While the Nazca Plain is not a humid place, the Nazca culture developed a system of irrigation using puquios, underground channels with ojos (eyes) as access points: these sound an ideal habitat for Ricinulei, which inhabit caves as well as leaf mould in rainforests. It would be instructive to find out if any have been found in puquios, many of which still hold flowing water.

More straight lines

More straight lines (Source)

So much for the spider. What about the lines? Hancock marvels at the ability of the Nazca culture to construct lines that run dead straight for more than eight kilometres, “marching like Roman roads across the desert, dropping into dried-out river beds, surmounting rocky outcrops, and never once deviating from true”. He thinks that this precision is hard (but not impossible) to explain and has given the game away in his simile of Roman roads: we know that long-distance alignments were built by Roman engineers using very basic technology that would not have been beyond the capabilities of the Nazca culture.

Graham Hancock closes the chapter much as he opened it, with an eloquent description of flying over the lines. This time, though, he has set the reader up with enough innuendoes about the origins and date of the geoglyphs to be able to treat us to a string of non sequiturs whose sole purpose is to make the lines more mysterious. He quotes Maria Reiche, the foremost expert on the lines as saying that they “give the impression of a cipher-script” and mentions “strange local traditions” that associate them with “the Viracochas”.

Chapter 5: recreating the past from legends


Euhemeros (Source)

We begin a chapter on the “mysteries” of Perú with a statement that underlies so much of the reasoning of “alternative historians” that it could almost form a creed: “[n]o artefacts or monuments, no cities or temples, have endured in recognizable form for longer than the most resilient religious traditions”. Hancock goes on to cite the Egyptian Pyramid Texts, the Hebrew Bible and the Hindu Vedas as “vehicles of knowledge voyaging through time”. This could almost be a manifesto for writers as diverse as Erich von Däniken, Immanuel Velikovsky or Desmond Leslie, who cite ancient myths and legends as evidence for real events in the past. This is technically called euhemerism, after the philosopher Euhemeros (Εὐήμερος), who lived in the late fourth century BCE and who believed that the Greek gods had been real flesh-and-blood people living in the remote past; the myths surrounding them could be interpreted to reveal the history of these very early times. Needless to say, this flies in the face of the modern understanding of the role of myth.

Graham Hancock intends to use the recorded mythology of the Inka (or Inca) state as a means of reconstructing the early history of Perú and interpreting its archaeological remains. We are introduced to the Viracochas, whom Hancock portrays as the founders of Peruvian civilisation. Wiraqocha (also known as Viracocha, Huiracocha, a more Spanish spelling, or Apu Qun Tiqsi Wiraqutra) is indeed the name of the creator god of the Inka, who is credited with creating the sun, moon and stars as well as humanity, by bringing stones to life. His first creatures were giants who somehow offended him, so he sent a flood to destroy them. For his second attempt, he breathed life into smaller stones, creating humans. Eventually, Viracocha walked away, across the Pacific, leaving his creations behind, although some believed that he would return in times of national crisis, much like King Arthur in Britain. In a different version of the legend, the world has passed through five ages: the first age was one where the gods ruled and there was no death; the second was the age when the giants were created; the third age saw the creation humans; the fourth was a warrior age, the time of the civilisations preceding the Inka Empire; the fifth was the Inka Empire, brought to an end by the campaigns of Francisco Pizzaro (1471-1541).

A representation believed to be Wiraqocha from Tiwanaku (Source)

A representation believed to be Wiraqocha from Tiwanaku (Source)

According to Hancock, Wiraqocha means “foam of the sea” and he compares this with the etymology provided by Macrobius for Aphrodite. He does not quote Macrobius directly (the discussion of Aphrodite is in Book III of the Saturnalia), getting the reference second hand from Giorgio de Santillana (1902-1974) and Hertha von Dechend’s (1915-2001) Hamlet’s Mill (Gambit, 1969), a work a pseudoscience claiming to trace all myths back to an original “lost knowledge” that included an understanding of the precession of the equinoxes. Again, we see his reliance on secondary sources rather than doing what any careful scholar would do, which is to return to the original to see if it really says what the secondary source claims it does. Anyway, why rely on Macrobius, a Roman writer of the fifth century CE, when Hesiod’s Theogony (Θεογονία) lines 195-6, written c 700 BCE, provides the earliest authority for Ἀφροδίτην ἀφρογενέα (“foam-born Aphrodite”)? If this is indicative of the depth of research undertaken by Hancock and his team, it should serve as a warning not to trust any of his statements without first checking. It is even unclear why he includes this information, for, as he says, “[n]o doubt it is just a coincidence that the Greek goddess Aphrodite, who was born of the sea, received her name because of ‘the foam [aphros] out of which she was formed’”.

Which brings us on to the etymology of Wiraqocha. Despite Hancock’s certainty that it means “foam of the sea”, for which his authority is The Facts on File Encyclopaedia of World Mythology and Legend (Blandford, 1992), there are other explanations for the name. The Oxford Dictionary of World Mythology, a more academic source than the Facts on File series, suggests that the name means ‘the lake of creation’. Indeed, in Quechua, wira does not mean “foam” but “fat”, “grease” or “wax”: “foam” is phosoqo. Qocha (or qucha) means “lake” or “pond”. This may appear to be petty nit-picking, but it serves to illustrate Graham Hancock’s methods: present data without indicating that there are interpretations other than those he chooses to vouchsafe to the reader. It also shows how he will use one source as an authority without indicating its limitations or its tendentious nature (although, in this instance, it is the use of a popularising rather than an academic text).

An eighteenth-century depiction of Wiraqocha as a European (Source)

An eighteenth-century depiction of Wiraqocha as a European (Source)

Like many “alternative historians”, Graham Hancock is impressed with the Conquistadores description of Wiraqocha, noting how they described his appearance as similar to depictions of Saint Bartholomew or Saint Thomas. He takes this to mean that Wiraqocha was seen as a bearded “Caucasian”. Some early Spanish chroniclers, including Pedro Cieza de León (c 1520-1554), Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa (1532-1592) and Juan Diaz de Betanzos (1510-1576), attribute the initial lack of hostility shown to the Conquistadors by the Peruvians to the alleged resemblance of the Spanish to Wiraqocha. However, this is now thought to be Spanish propaganda, as none of the legends mentions his allegedly pale skin and there are South American peoples who do cultivate beards, including the Aché of Paraguay. It is worth noting that the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl was also depicted with a beard, but according to the Anales de Cuauhtitlan, Quetzalcoatl’s beard was actually part of a mask and was made from feathers. This all suggests that it is unwarranted to assume that an historical Wiraqocha was of European origin, as Hancock insinuates.

Chapter 6: Wiraqocha the civiliser

Discussion of Wiraqocha continues into the next chapter, where his role as the bringer of civilisation—arts, technology, farming and so on—is stressed. In this sense, he performed for the Inka the role that was given by the Egyptians to the god Osiris. These are widespread myth types and are perhaps part of an attempt by ancient peoples to explain the origins of their cultures and to show why their cultures differed from those of their neighbours. The euhemerisation of the character is unnecessary, as a character of this sort is clearly a widespread mythological motif.

Typical Inka masonry in Cuzco

Typical Inka masonry in Cuzco (Source)

At last, though, we are treated to some archaeological observations. First comes Graham Hancock’s impression that “by no means all the so-called Inca masonry could be attributed with any degree of archaeological certainty to the Incas”. But it is no more than that: an impression. He gives no references to back up the statement. Here we see yet another of his techniques that is so far from the scholarship to which he aims: innuendo. This is nothing more than a rhetorical trick, allowing him to counter critics who might bring forward proof that the masonry is indeed to be attributed to the period of the Inka Empire with a simple “But I never said it wasn’t Inka”.

The fortress of Saksaywaman

The fortress of Saksaywaman, high above Cuzco (Source)

The first Inka site that Hancock mentions by name outside Cuzco is Saksaywaman (often spelled, as Hancock does, in a Spanish form as Sacsayhuaman). Accounts of the conquest of Perú show that it functioned as a citadel protecting the city of Cuzco and that its function during the attempted insurrection of Manco Inka was to act as a fortress. There are descriptions of the complex before it was demolished that show that it held store-rooms in a labyrinthine arrangement, had towers and rooms with large windows overlooking the city. The walls are made from andesite blocks that have been cut into irregular but loosely fitting shapes, a typical Inca technique. This, and the fact that they slope in towards the top have ensured that they are highly resistant to earthquake: the destruction of the site has been deliberate and is not the effect of time. The stone blocks were initially shaped by pounding with river pebbles and dragged to the site by rope (and, to forestall accusations that this is all hypothesis, there is a description of a storeroom for building materials by Diego de Trujillo (1505-1575) that mentions these) and finally dressed on site. Sakaywaman is not a mysterious site by any means.

This does not deter Graham Hancock. He uses the rhetorical question with the aplomb of von Däniken: “How had the Incas, or their predecessors, been able to work stone on such a gargantuan scale? How had they cut and shaped these Cyclopean boulders so precisely? How had they transported them tens of miles from distant quarries? By what means had they made walls of them, shuffling the individual blocks around and raising them high above the ground with such apparent ease?”. Throw in a non sequitur (“These people weren’t even supposed to have had the wheel, let alone machinery capable of lifting and manipulating dozens of irregularly shaped 100-ton blocks”) and the innuendo is complete. Hancock is not going to tell you that the answers are already known.

Typical Inka masonry at Saksaywaman (Source)

Typical Inka masonry at Saksaywaman (Source)

The date of the fortress is also dismissed with a curt “[r]adiocarbon was redundant in such circumstances; thermo-luminescence, too, was useless”. This is irrelevant. Hancock seems not to know or not to care that there are other ways of dating masonry. The walls have foundation trenches, which will cut through earlier deposits, will be backfilled with material that (if one is lucky) contains objects contemporary with the construction and the walls will be butted by deposits that formed after the foundation trenches were backfilled. This is very basic stuff. If Hancock does not know it, then he has no right in producing a book criticising the data obtained by archaeology. If he does, then he is deliberately leading the reader astray. I suspect that I know which is the more likely scenario.

There are historically derived dates for the Inca Empire, which have now been tested against radiocarbon chronologies by Anna Adamska as part of her Master’s thesis for the University of Warsaw. The radiocarbon determinations match the historical dates well and suggest that the pre-Imperial phase of Inka culture lasted some 120 to 150 years from c 1275-1425 CE. What Hancock is not going to tell you is that Saksaywaman overlies an earlier structure, whose pottery places it in the Killke culture and which has produced a radiocarbon date (!) of c 1100 CE. Sakaywaman must therefore be later. Garcilaso de la Vega and Juan de Betanzos both attribute its construction to Inka Yupanki, who flourished around 1450 CE. Although Hancock approvingly quotes Garcilaso de la Vega when he describes how a later Inka had attempted and failed  to move blocks on the scale of those used at Saksaywaman, he notably fails to quote him as an authority for the date of the site. This is selective use of historical sources! Never mind, Hancock is going to stick with his manifesto from the start of Chapter 5: cultural myths are “vehicles of knowledge voyaging through time” that apparently trump historical sources and archaeological data.

Chapter 7: Mr Hancock takes the train

One of the best known views on Earth: Machu Pichu in June 2009 (Source)

One of the best known views on Earth: Machu Pikchu in June 2009 (Source)

One has the impression that Hancock is rather fond of Wiraqocha. At least, he keeps mentioning him; now we are told about the flood story associated with him and his appearance in the country of Tiwanaku. But this is not where the train is going (the book has an underlying travelogue theme), so Hancock makes “a mental note to find out more about Lake Titicaca, and the mysterious Tiahuanaco”. Instead, he is off to Machu Pikchu, with long enough to muse about the myths “voyaging through time” on an unspecified type of vehicle.

On arrival at the site, Hancock is impressed by the terraces on Wana Pikchu, the sugarloaf peak that overlooks Machu Pikchu and speculates that perhaps “somebody had been up there and had carefully raked the near-vertical cliffs into a graceful hanging garden which had perhaps in ancient times been planted with bright flowers”. Never mind that these terraces are typical Peruvian cultivation terraces—we don’t want to ruin things for the reader by doing anything so mundane as research into the economy of these people, do we?—and that the site is hardly a representative of “ancient times” when it dates from the reigns of Pachakutiq Inka Yupanki (1438-71) and Tupaq Inka Yupanki (1472-93). By that sort of reckoning, the Tower of London would be practically prehistoric.

Hancock does mention the consensus date of construction, only to dismiss it. Instead, he prefers to use archaeoastronomy and the wildly speculative ideas of the astronomer Rolf Müller (1898-1981), who detected alignments in the site that he claimed dated it to 4000-2000 BCE. At last, Hancock is getting near to the sort of antiquity he wants for the type of masonry found on Inka sites. There is a wonderful dismissal of academic historical methodology and praise for archaeoastronomical ideas in a footnote: “Another scholar, Maria Schulten de D’Ebneth, also worked with mathematical methods (as opposed to historical methods which are heavily speculative and interpretive)”. Hancock appears never to have heard of Garbage In, Garbage Out (GiGo)!

And that’s it for this chapter. No attempt to engage with the archaeology of Machu Pikchu at all; the best he can do is mention the Intiwatana (Intihuatana in its Spanish spelling), the complex carved piece of bedrock probably given its name by Hiram Bingham, discoverer of the site, referring to it as “unusual” as if it were the only one of its kind. Never mind the known cultural context, just bamboozle the reader with unfamiliar terms.

Chapter 8: In which Mr and Mrs Hancock take an aeroplane ride to Bolívia

Lake Titicaca seen from space

Lake Titicaca seen from space; Tiwanaku lies to its south, at thebottom of the picture (Source)

Remembering the mental note he made on the train journey to Machu Pikchu, Graham Hancock now decides to investigate Tiwanaku and Lake Titicaca. The Lake is an unusual place, a lake suspended some 3.8 km above sea level on the Altiplano of the high Andes. Despite Hancock implying that it is saline (he refers to its fauna as “marine”) and was formed by the uplift of the Andes some 100 million years ago trapping a quantity of ocean water, it is a freshwater lake and occupies the bottom of a pull-apart basin that formed during the late Oligocene and Miocene (i.e. around 28.1 to 7.25 million years ago).

What we are reading is a presentation of five bullet points (“mysteries”, Hancock calls them) that contain data designed to make us think that Lake Titicaca has an unknown history. The fossilised sea shells found on the Altiplano are not evidence that this area had a marine ecology during the human past, while the alleged “marine icthyofauna” (here Hancock is quoting Arthur Posnansky (1873-1946), an amateur archaeologist who dated Tiwanaku to c 15,000 BCE: ask yourself why he is not quoting an expert in the ecology of Lake Titicaca) do not appear in available information about the fauna of the lake. These two bullet points are pure innuendo designed to create an impression: their “facts” are either irrelevant to the archaeology of Tiwanaku or are just plain wrong.

Bullet point 3, which Hancock considers mysterious, concerns the evidence for different levels of the lake in the past. There is no mystery: geologists have named and dated these five precursors to Lake Titicaca. Lake Mataro, at an elevation of 3,950 m, appears to be the earliest and perhaps dates from the Late Pliocene (3.6-2.6 million years ago); Lake Cabana, at an elevation of 3,900 m, appears to be Middle Pleistocene in date (1.8 to 0.8 million years ago); Lake Ballivián, at an elevation of 3,860 m, dating from 120,000 to 98,000 BP; Lake Minchin, at an elevation of 3,825 m, dates from 72,000 to 68,000 BP; Lake Tauca, at an elevation 3,815 m, from 18,100 to 14,100 BP. Hancock completely misrepresents these shorelines as evidence that the Andes are still rising and mistakes shorelines from two separate lakes as evidence that the uplift is greater in the north than in the south. For this, he does not quote geologists, but refers instead to Hans Schindler Bellamy’s (1901-1982) Built before the Flood: the Problem of the Tiahuanaco Ruins (Faber & Faber, 1943); Bellamy was a follower of the lunatic ideas of Hanns Hörbiger (1860-1931), for whom the entire universe was made from ice. One suspects that Graham Hancock is not really expecting his readers to follow up on the utterly ridiculous “authorities” for his fatuous assertions.

For point 4, Hancock returns to Arthur Posnansky, whom he cites as providing “irrefutable evidence that the city of Tiahuanaco was once a port, complete with extensive docks, positioned right on the shore of Lake Titicaca”. This is just plain wrong. Tiwanaku did have a port, at Iwawi (or Iwawe), on the current shoreline of Lake Titicaca some 18 km to the west-north-west of the city, with which it was connected by road. This was known in the 1960s, so there is no excuse for Hancock (or his researchers) not to have discovered the fact. Unless, of course, he doesn’t want his readers to know about it, as it would spoil his idea that Tiwanaku was itself a port. Better still, it has been shown that Iwawi was the port by which stones were brought to Tiwanaku for the construction of its monuments. Point 5 merely uses Immanuel Velikovsky’s (1895-1979) completely discredited idea that a relatively recent, catastrophic uplift pushed Tiwanaku above the level of the lake. What Hancock omits from his quote from Earth in Upheaval (Doubleday, 1955) is the contention that the site was pushed the full 3.8 km above sea level after its construction!

Chapter 9: connecting Titicaca with Egypt

A figurine thought to be of Tunupa

A figurine thought to be of Tunupa (Source)

We return to some further musings on Wiraqocha, where he is identified with a minor figure known as Tunupa (or Thunupa), the name of a dormant volcano some 379 km to the south-south-east of Tiwanaku. There seems to be some confusion over Tunupa, as there is a Bolivian myth that makes the volcano female; unless Tunupa had serious hormonal problems, it is difficult to see how she might have possessed a beard. At Ollayantambo, there is a “representation” of Wiraqocha or Tunupa in a rock face, where hollows in the rock form the eyes and mouth (it is unclear if they are natural or artificial) and the nose is formed by a partly carved protruding section; ruins above the face may be the remains of a crown. Locals believe the image to be bearded and represent it as such in drawings of the formation.

According to Paul Richard Steele and Catherine J Allen’s Handbook of Inca Mythology (ABE-CLIO, 2004), Tunupa was the principal god of Aymará speakers (who include the people of the Tiwanaku region) who is today thought to be responsible for lightning and is identified with Santiago; on the other hand, the early seventeenth-century writer Juan de Santa Cruz Pachacuti Yamqui Salcamayhua attributed the creative acts of Wiraqocha to him, although he later turned people who had offended him to stone, including the citizens of Tiwanaku. Pachacuti identified him with Saint Thomas. The Augustinian Friar Alonso Ramos Gavilán, a contemporary of Pachacuti, identified Tunupa with one of the disciples, although the influence of his religious beliefs may well have influenced this identification. It is only Pedro Cieza de León (1518-1554) who describes Tunupa as white, an essential part of Hancock’s exposition of the character (and one that appears to be quite a sensitive issue to him); as one of the writers of the conquest period, it is possible that he was influenced by the Spanish propaganda that made Wiraqocha a white man.

Graham Hancock draws a parallel between Tunupa and the Egyptian Osiris, quoting Gavilán’s version of the story, in which he is murdered and placed aboard a raft on Lake Titicaca. Blown by the wind, it was swept into the Rio Desaguadero and, eventually, underground. We are once again given two rhetorical questions, designed to make us suspect that the stories have a common origin: “Are such parallels to be dismissed as coincidences? or could there be some underlying connection?”.

A boat made from Totora reeds

A boat made from totora reeds, Lake Titicaca (Source)

This digression into Egyptian mythology has an underlying purpose. This is to introduce the famous totora reed boats of Lake Titicaca that so impressed Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002) as being similar to Egyptian papyrus boats that he sailed the Atlantic in a futile attempt to show that Maya culture derived directly from Egypt. His references are all to a single work… yes, Heyerdahl’s The Ra Expeditions (Allen & Unwin, 1970). This is neither good research nor real scholarship. If Hancock wants his ideas taken seriously by academia—and I’m not convinced that he does—then he needs to use the methods of rigorous scholarship that are the norms in academia. Instead, his methods give the impression that he wants to win over (uninformed/poorly-informed) public opinion.

Chapter 10: Tiwanaku explored

A view of Tiwanaku from the top of the Akapana

A view across the Kalasasaya at Tiwanaku from the top of the Akapana (Source)

To read only Graham Hancock’s account of Tiwanaku, one would think that almost no archaeological research has been carried out at the site, that its conventional dating has been arrived at by little more than guesswork and that there are no solid data by which to uncover the history of the site other than the ramblings of Arthur Posnansky. But we are not going to rely on a single source. Instead, we will find out if there is more to Tiwanaku than is presented in Fingerprints of the Gods.

The Templete

The Templete (Source)

Graham Hancock begins with a good description of what he calls the “sunken temple” (in Spanish and in the academic literature, it is usually referred to as the Templete Semisubterráneo) but fails to recognise that it is a typical feature of earlier highland cultures. Similar and earlier examples are found in the cities of Chavín, Qalayu and Pukará and became a standard element of the cities from Tiwanaku’s expansionist period. As ever, he will not tell his readers that there is a cultural context for phenomena he wants to present as unique and mysterious. The centre of the Templete, the floor of which sits two metres below ground level, was occupied by a group of stelae (now mostly missing, apart from the Pachamama, otherwise known as the Bennett Monolith, a 20 tonne stone standing 7.3 m high), which Pedro Cieza de León thought to have been idols. Hancock does not describe the Pachamama, as it stood in La Paz from 1933 to 2002, a symptom of the looting that Tiwanaku suffered in the centuries after its abandonment. Instead, he describes the sandstone Monolito Barbado or Bearded Monolith, thought to represent Wiraqocha Kon-Tiki, “Lord of the Waters”; although it “dominated it [i.e. the Templete], like the conductor of an orchestra”, Hancock seems unaware that the Pachamama would have dwarfed it. Hancock’s idea that the two other surviving stelae were “possibly intended to represent Viracocha’s legendary companions” fails to take into account the fact that there were originally numerous others, long since taken away.

Heads embedded int he wall of the Templete

Heads embedded in the wall of the Templete (Source)

The walls of the Templete are formed from 57 monolithic pillars of red sandstone, with smaller sandstone blocks filling in between them; some 175 limestone heads, all different, are arranged around the walls. Hancock considers these heads the “most striking feature” of the Templete and says that “[t]here were several different (and contradictory) scholarly opinions as to their function”, although he does not reveal what these “scholarly opinions” might be. One plausible suggestion is that the heads represent different ethnic or tribal groups subsumed into the Tiwanaku Empire. These sunken courts were an important element in civic ritual in the culture of Tiwanaku and, here in the heart of the Empire, the portrayal of idealised ethnic types may have been an attempt to draw all together in a symbolic representation of that Empire.

Hancock then turns his attention to the Akapana, a pyramid of South American type, consisting of seven stepped terraces on a base with a complex ground plan, measuring 257 by 197 m and rising to a height of 18 metres. Each walled step shows a different construction technique, the lowest having rusticated stonework and the upper six with ashlar masonry; each wall is a skin containing compacted soil. There is a staircase on the western side, leading to the top of the pyramid; on the uppermost terrace is a cross-shaped sunken courtyard. Originally, the staircase was lined with reliefs depicting the Chachapuma (Man/Puma), which have been removed and can now be seen in the Museo regional de Arqueología de Tiwanaku. The sides of the pyramid are aligned on the cardinal points and it has been suggested that the pyramid was dedicated to solar worship. Hancock is impressed by the alignment on the cardinal points and is reminded of the “pyramids at Giza in Egypt”, although this is about the only feature they share.

A restored section of the Akapana

A restored section of the Akapana (Source)

Climbing to the top, Graham Hancock “realized that the true function of the pyramid was probably never going to be understood”, showing a tremendous pessimism that is not shared by most archaeologists. While we can never recover all the subtleties of a prehistoric culture, with its complex belief systems, legal codes, social relations and so on that are lost to history, we can nevertheless formulate hypotheses about the past and test them against the data. After all, isn’t this what Hancock is claiming to do? A great deal more is known about the Akapana since excavation began under Carlos Ponce Sanginés (1925-2005) than Hancock tells us. Paul Goldstein, for instance, has argued that the Akapana pyramid is the most important feature of the city, with its image recurring in reliefs across the site, as first noted by Posnansky. E Fred Legner has suggested that the Tiwanaku culture had a three-tiered cosmology, with the Templete representing the underworld of fertility gods and the ancestors (Ucu Pacha), while the Akapana and Puma Punku represent the Hanan Pacha (upper world) where the celestial gods reside; humans occupy the central world (Cay Pacha).

Hancock is amazed by the drains of the Akapana. They consist of sandstone channels held together with I-shaped copper clamps, which he compares with cramps used in Egypt, contending that they are “not known to have been employed anywhere else in South America”. Whether they were or not is a question I will leave to those better informed about the archaeology of the continent, although they were certainly used at Ollantaytambo (Perú), some 531 km north-west of Tiwanaku. Metal clamps (although possibly of gold) also seem to have been used in Inka architecture. However, the mention of Egypt is utterly gratuitous and tendentious: Hancock has been at pains to point out supposed resemblances between South American and Egyptian culture (Wiraqocha/Osiris, totora reed boats on Titicaca/papyrus boats on the Nile and the alignment of the Akapana/the alignment of the Giza pyramids) that have no basis in what we know of the archaeology of the two places. His impression that the Akapana is somehow “some kind of arcane ‘device’ or machine” is no more than that: it is an elaborately constructed pyramid, typical of the region, with drains presumably to remove liquids. We are experiencing another of those innuendoes that pepper the book. Without actually claiming anything positive, Hancock is insinuating in our minds that the Akapana is somehow connected with a high technology.

The monumental eastern entrance to the Kalasasaya

The monumental eastern entrance to the Kalasasaya (Source)

Next, he moves on to the Kalasasaya and, in particular, the Puerta del Sol (“Gate of the Sun”). The name Kalasasaya seems to mean “standing stone(s)” (kala means “rock” or “stone”, while saya or sayasta means “standing”) and consists of a platform around 130 by 120 m and around 2 m high. Like the Akapana, it is aligned on the cardinal points, with its long axis pointing west to east; it is entered by steps on the eastern side. Along the northern and southern walls are seven small semi-subterranean rooms. The Puerta del Sol, which was ruinous at the start of the twentieth century, has been reconstructed but is not in its original location; it was clearly once part of a larger structure. He cites Hans Schindler Bellamy and Peter Allan’s The Calendar of Tiahuanaco: the Measuring System of the Oldest Civilization (Faber & Faber, 1956) as an authority for the calendrical nature of the Puerta and suddenly, the chapter ends.

Chapter 11: fish, elephants and Toxodon

The start of this chapter is taken up with a good description of the astronomical phenomenon of the obliquity of the ecliptic. He needs to do this to set the reader up for Arthur Posnansky’s date of 15,000 BCE for the Kalasasaya, which he derived from astronomical alignments. Posnansky’s alignments did not match those of today, so he sought out a date at which they would make sense. Currently, it is around 23.4°, while Posnansky’s calculations require an obliquity of 23.15°. Checking the tables available to him, he discovered that the last time the axial tilt corresponded to this angle was around 15,000 BCE.

Hancock repeats his dismissal of orthodox archaeological opinion, stating that “not a single orthodox historian or archaeologist was prepared to accept such an early origin for Tiahuanaco preferring, as noted in Chapter Eight, to agree on the safe estimate of AD 500”. As I have already noted, this is not a “safe estimate” but a rigorously determined date based on radiocarbon determinations of the stratigraphy of the site. Posnansky’s calculations, on the other hand, depend on establishing alignments between elements of a structure that was ruinous even before he started to survey it. The “high-powered team” of scientists that Posnansky co-opted to check his calculations (Hans Ludendorff (1873-1941), director of the Astronomical Observatory of Potsdam), Friedrich Becker (1900-1981) of the Vatican Observatory, Arnold Kohlschutter (1883-1969) of the University of Bonn and Rolf Müller, whom we have already met) may indeed have verified them, but Hancock remains painfully unaware of the Garbage in, Garbage out maxim.

El Fraile

El Fraile (Source)

We then get descriptions of two of the carved monoliths inside the Kalasasaya. The first, known as El Fraile (“The Friar”), was discovered in 1932 and erected in the south-west corner of the enclosure. It stands some 3 m high, slightly taller than Hancock’s estimate. According to Hancock, his lower garment is made from fish scales, represented by stylised fish heads. I confess that I cannot see these. Instead, there appear to be two alternating symbols, one consisting of a sub-square outline with nothing in the centre, the other, an inverted Y with a cross-bar at the top. The second, I suppose, could be a fish face, but this requires some imagination to see. Similarly, the supposed crustaceans on the belt look to me to be stylised human heads. Perhaps someone with a greater understanding of Tiwanaku art can help me out here…

Nevertheless, Hancock needs these fishy details, which had been “persuasively interpreted by Posnansky as meaning fish in general”, to make the connection with the Mesopotamian Adapa (better known as the Greek Oannes (Ὡάννης), also found as Հովհաննես (Hovhannes) in Armenian). Representations of Adapa in the guise of the Babylonian Uanna or Uan (from which the Greek and Armenian forms derive) show him as a man wearing a fish; this is supported by the story of the Seven Sages (Apkallu), of whom Adapa was the first, as being semi-aquatic demigods who were sent from Dilmun by Enki to teach human beings how to live. We are clearly supposed to remember Wiraqocha in this connection.

The Ponce monolith

The Ponce monolith (Source)

Next, we are given a brief description of the other monolithic statue, this time that known as the Ponce Monolith, after its discoverer, Carlos Ponce Sanginés, who found it in 1957. It is thus not in its original position, like so much else in the mostly reconstructed Kalasasaya. It, too, stands 3 m tall but was carved from andesite. On the basis of excavations in recent years at Pumu Punku, a kilometre to the south-west of the main complex at Tiwanaku, it has been suggested that stonework in andesite pre-dates stonework in sandstone; it is unclear is this distinction can be extended to statuary. The entire statue is covered in symbols and again, although Hancock claims that its lower garment is made from fish scales, they appear to be the same as those on El Fraile.

The Puerta del Sol

The Puerta del Sol (Source)

Finally, we get to the Puerta del Sol, a monolithic doorway around 3 m high and 4 m wide, around 10 tonnes in weight. Hancock seems to be unaware that it is not in its original position, as was Posnansky. He also wants to think of it “as a sort of Arc de Triomphe, though on a much smaller scale”, although it was clearly one part of a larger structure, as shown by the mortise holes on its front and side elevations. It has been speculated that it originally formed part of Puma Punku. It is the frieze that holds Hancock’s attention, with its central character, a representation of Wiraqocha in the form of a god of thunder (he holds a thunderbolt in each hand), weeping for humanity. Either side of Wiraqocha are three rows of eight characters, making 48 in all, consisting of 32 effigies human faces on the top and bottom rows and 16 with a condor’s head on the middle row; all face Wiraqocha.

Why anyone should think this calendrical is beyond me. For a calendar, one needs different symbols for each period being measured. There are only two symbols here, unless one creates a calendar that has periods named “third condor-headed figure on the left of Wiraqocha”, “fourth person, top row, to the right of Wiraqocha”. A more unlikely representation of a calendar is difficult to imagine. Once again, as with the insinuation of a technological purpose for the Akapana, we have talk of “something coldly mathematical, almost machinelike” about the Puerta del Sol. Perhaps it is to someone unfamiliar with the canons of Tiwanaku art…

A supposed elephant carving on the Puerta del Sol

The risible “elephant” on the Puerta del Sol (Source)

On which subject, we have one of Hancock’s favourite rhetorical tricks. Turning to the bottom register of the frieze on the Puerta, he describes how he can discern “a clear carving of an elephant’s head, ears, tusks and trunk”, even though elephants have been extinct in South America for around 12,000 years. On closer inspection, they turned out to be “composed of the heads of two crested condors, placed throat to throat (the crests constituting the ‘ears’ and the upper part of the necks the ‘tusks’)”. This, of course, is how they are seen by conventional archaeologists. However, because Hancock wants them to be elephants (remember that, in his opinion, Tiwanaku dates from a time five thousand years before their extinction), he says that they are indeed meant to depict elephants because “a characteristic visual trick the sculptors of Tiahuanaco had employed again and again in their subtle and otherworldly art had been to use one thing to depict another”. Nevertheless, they resemble elephants only as child-like cartoonish figures: without having the thought “elephant” planted in the mind first, one simply wouldn’t see them. This is probably an indication that they aren’t there at all.

Better than the elusive condor/elephants, Hancock claims that another creature depicted in this bottom register “had been convincingly identified by several observers as Toxodon”, an extinct creature that he says was semi-aquatic. Although this was formerly believed to be the case, current opinion is that its skeletal structure and distribution in arid areas preclude it. Of course, the “several observers” are characters we have met before—Arthur Posnansky, Hans Schindler Bellamy and Peter Allan—whose qualifications to identify extinct species in pre-Columbian South American art are not well established. The relief and the figurine he shows that are claimed to be Toxodon bear little relationship to the reconstruction drawing he also reproduces of the beast.

Identifying two other extinct species—Shelidoterium and Macrauchenia—he concludes that Tiwanaku “was a kind of picture-book from the past, a record of bizarre animals, now deader than the dodo, expressed in everlasting stone”. Those clever Tiwanakis were evidently able to predict which creatures out of all those that inhabit the Altiplano were destined to become extinct after they had abandoned their unfinished site.

Chapter 12: Puma Punka and Aymará

Jumbled masonry at Puma Punku

Chaotically jumbled masonry at Puma Punku (Source)

We are coming to the end of Mr and Mrs Hancock’s South American Odyssey. It feels as if it has been a long (and slightly repetitive) journey, but we’re not quite done. We can’t ignore Puma Punku (“Puma Gate”), another platform that lies around a kilometre to the south-west of the main complex at Tiwanaku. He quotes Posnansky’s ridiculous interpretation of the site as “two artificially dredged docks on either side of: ‘a true and magnificent pier or wharf … where hundreds of ships could at the same time take on and unload their heavy burdens’”. We have already seen that the port of Tiwanaku lay 18 km to the west-north-west, at Iwawi, and that the level of the lake was not this high at any time when Tiwanaku was occupied. Puma Punku is instead a terraced mound resembling a low pyramid with only three steps. A radiocarbon date from the soil fill of the lowest terrace of the structure is 1500 ± 25 bp, which calibrates to 569 ± 21 CE (527-611 CE at 2σ, meaning that there is a 98% chance that the sample falls in that date range), gives us a terminus post quem. This is an important archaeological principle by which a deposit cannot be older than the date of the youngest object in it: in other words, there is a 98% probability that Puma Punku dates from after 527 CE. Other evidence—such as the radiocarbon chronology of Iwawi—shows that the level of Lake Titicaca at this time was much the same as it is today. So Puma Punku is not a port structure.

A reconstruction of Puma Punku

A reconstruction of Puma Punku, based on excavations by the University of Wisconsin in 2002 (Source)

The structure lies in ruins that Posnansky thought had been caused by cataclysmic flooding from Lake Titicaca. This is to ignore the effects of humans, particularly after the Spanish conquest of the Inka Empire, when we know that the site was raided for building stone. We do not know why the site was abandoned, but it was left in an apparently unfinished state. Its massive building blocks, weighing up to 131 tonnes, came from a quarry close to the shore of Lake Titicaca, 10 km away, yet more evidence that the water level was close to that of today.

Hancock then summarises the sophistication of Tiwanaku’s agricultural regime. This is a reasonable, if limited summary of what was known in the early 1990s, although, of course, ongoing research has added more detail. Nevertheless, there are implications that its sophistication is somehow inexplicable, not the result of millennia of experimentation; instead, Hancock suggests that “somebody as yet unidentified by scholarship” brought about an agrarian revolution. This shows an adherence to the Wiraqocha-as-civilisation-bringer type hypothesis for innovation (if we can call it that) rather than the sort of explanation generally preferred by prehistorians: human beings are endlessly inventive and will constantly seek out solutions for the challenges they face.

Next we get an utterly bizarre assertion based on an idea of Ivan Guzman de Rojas (born 1934), a Bolivian research scientist: “that Aymara might be not only very ancient but, significantly, that it might be a ‘made-up’ language”. By contrast, the linguist Martha James Hardman de Bautista has seen affinities with the Jaqaru and Kawki languages, proposing that they should be classified in a new language family that she calls Jaqi (although others have proposed the terms Aru or Aymarán). There really is no mystery here: it is a human language like any other.


This has been a long post, because there is a lot to summarise. The next one in the series will also be long, so don’t expect it any time soon!

However, it has been worthwhile in introducing us to some of Hancock’s techniques. While his descriptive prose is good, it is marred by his obvious dislike of academics, particularly archaeologists. He can be snide in his dismissals of our work, especially when it does not agree with his conclusions. He is prone to the logical fallacy of the straw man, putting into the mouths of archaeologists ridiculous ideas that they have never held so that he can demolish them with ease. Instead, he enjoys citing as authorities people who are writing outside their areas of expertise and will quote secondary sources without checking that the original source said what the later source claims it did. There is a tendency to present only one interpretation of the data as irrefutable while dismissing out of hand the opinions of experts without showing why he considers them wrong; he also has a tendency to rely on only one source of information on a particular subject. He is all too willing to give the impression that a site is mysterious when it has been the subject of intensive research over many years and will claim that answers that have already been found do not exist. His use of quotations is also interesting, in that he will cite sentences from a source that backs up his claims, stopping short where they begin to suggest a different interpretation.

Too often, the writing is impressionistic, giving no data or references to back up his assertions, or he proceeds through a string of non-sequiturs. In this way, he is a master of innuendo, which in his hands becomes a rhetorical trick, allowing him to counter potential critics with a simple “But I never said that” (as he has indeed done since the publication of Fingerprints of the Gods).

His attitude to myths and legends is one that is common to many Bad Archaeologists and it is worth quoting him again on this: “[n]o artefacts or monuments, no cities or temples, have endured in recognizable form for longer than the most resilient religious traditions”. In other words, we can raid religious traditions to provide evidence for real events in the past, a technique known as euhemerism.  He prefers to use archaeoastronomy as a tool for dating sites in the mistaken belief that its mathematical basis makes it somehow more rigorous than archaeology, being apparently unaware of Garbage In, Garbage Out.