Yesterday, Graham Hancock posted a response to the SAA open letter to Netflix regarding his science fiction series, Ancient Apocalypse. Hancock had some questions. I thought I’d add some answers. My answers do not reflect the views of the SAA and I’m not even a member of the SAA.
SAA: This series publicly disparages archaeologists and devalues the archaeological profession on the basis of false claims and disinformation.
GH: What false claims? What disinformation?
- That radiocarbon dates at Maltese temples are unreliable for one. Even though they are considered quite reliable based on their stratigraphic contexts. And based on their correlations with other dating methods (i.e. thermoluminescence, optically stimulated luminescence, and accelerated mass spectroscopy).
- That a myth central to Hancock’s thesis about the creation of Cholula’s pyramid has no provenance prior to the colonial period. In other words it’s colonial in origin.
- Invented star alignments to Maltese temples based on ages that are highly improbable.
- Invented reality regarding the geologic formation of beach rock. Claiming experts won’t study the so-called “Bimini road” when the process is extremely well understood in geology and experts looked at this particular site decades ago.
- Dating Derinkuyu to the “last ice age” without a shred of physical evidence.
- Presenting the YDIH data as factual when none of the claims needed for support can be tested or verified.
- Claiming that the symbols on a single “T” pillar at Gobeckli Tepe represent star constellations from over 11,000 years ago without sampling all the icons of all the pillars of the site and associated sites and correlating their constellations. Or just plain assuming that the dots in the sky we see in the modern or even historical times would be the same patterns of dots the inhabitants of Gobeckli Tepe might have seen 11,000+ years ago.
- Claiming a culture wiped out 13,000 years ago taught people 11,000 years ago how to farm and build monumental architecture (then people 10,000 years ago; then people 9,000 years ago, then people… all thousands of years after they were “wiped out”).
And that’s just from the top of my head from the ancient aliens-like show he just had on Netflix. If we scrape his 30 years of books (none of which he’s retracted or recanted), we can go on and on and on and…
SAA: I write to encourage you to… provide disclaimers about the unfounded suppositions in the show…
GH: What unfounded suppositions?
Deja vu all over again. See above.
SAA: The effects of this show run directly counter to the purpose, mission, goals, and vision of the SAA.
GH: So, a television series should not have been made because the SAA doesn’t like its content?
This is one reason why Hancock is so poor at his self-described profession of “journalism.” Perhaps he’s right, we’ve had it all wrong all along: he’s not a “pseudoscientist” or “pseudoarchaeologist” at all. He’s a pseudo-journalist.
This is also a reason why Hancock has difficulty relating to archaeologists and the scientific application of archaeological data: context. The sentences preceding his SAA quote above provided the context for their statement he ultimately quoted about running counter to SAA purpose, mission, and goals.
A genuine journalist would have read and understood it, yet he even raises the question again below as you’ll see. I’ll break the purpose, mission, and goals down again:
- Support its members’ work to understand humanity’s past through ethically based scientific and humanistic investigation.
- Promote preservation of archaeological resources and cultural heritage through support of legislation and education.
- Create collaboration between the profession and descendant communities, and to assist professional growth.
- The members of the SAA champion archaeologists in their efforts to advance knowledge of and protect the past for society and to build a more just and equitable future of the profession
In their letter, the SAA wasn’t stating “a television series should not have been made because the SAA doesn’t like its content,” rather they were providing context as to why they find the content objectionable. One might expect a genuine journalist to have understood.
SAA: We have three principal concerns with regard to Ancient Apocalypse: (1) the host of the series repeatedly and vigorously dismisses archaeologists and the practice of archaeology with aggressive rhetoric, willfully seeking to cause harm to our membership and our profession in the public eye…
GH: Since the late 1990’s I, Graham Hancock, the host of the series, have been insultingly dismissed and repeatedly attacked by archaeologists using aggressive rhetoric and seeking intentionally to do harm to my reputation, my family and my work. The SAA’s open letter is just one of the more recent examples of this ongoing highly personalised vendetta.
Maybe in his pseudo-journalistic mind. The same mind that thinks all archaeologists are representative of the profession as a whole. The reality is that the vast majority of the thousands of professional and academic archaeologists that are active haven’t the slightest clue of who Graham Hancock is. Fewer still have bothered to critique him or his “work.” Of the tiny majority of the remainder who actually bother to criticize him focus solely on his opinions and conclusions.
Sure, these opinions and conclusions result in critics labeling him as a “pseudoscientist” and as a “pseudoarchaeologist.” These are fairly applied labels given the pseudoscientific nature of his work. His counter, of course is to deny that he’s ever claimed to be either a scientist or an archaeologist and that he’s simply a “journalist.” However, one should expect that journalistic integrity demands that all data about a topic are fairly considered, not simply those data which are supportive of your conclusion. If you’re cherry-picking your data (which Hancock demonstrably does), then you cannot consider yourself a true journalist.
The question therefore is: does he prefer to be labeled a pseudo-journalist or a pseudoarchaeologist? Neither of these labels can be considered attacks on him by archaeologists. They are attacks on him by himself since he’s the one that refuses to adhere to standards within science and journalism which happen to overlap. Integrity. Honesty. Ethics. Reason. Logic.
SAA: (2) Netflix identifies and advertises the series as a “docuseries,” a genre that implies its content is grounded in fact when the content of the show is based on false claims about archaeologists and archaeology.
GH: What false claims? In what ways exactly is the content of the Ancient Apocalypse docuseries not “grounded in fact”? And what false claims about archaeologists and archaeology is its content based on?
It’s like deja vu all over again. See above.
SAA: (3) the theory it presents has a long-standing association with racist, white supremacist ideologies; does injustice to Indigenous peoples; and emboldens extremists.
GH: This is a spurious attempt to smear by association. My own theory of a lost civilization of the Ice Age, and the evidence upon which that theory is based, presented in Ancient Apocalypse in 2022 and in eight books over the previous 27 years, is what I take responsibility for.
It definitely is not an attempt to smear by association. It’s a reasoned attempt to explain a very dangerous concern to Hancock. One that I genuinely feel he is not fully considering.
I do not think Hancock is racist.
I put the previous statement on its own line so it will stand out. Make no mistake. I do not consider Graham Hancock to be a racist. I do, however, think his conclusions are.
Discussion of race these days is an extremely polarizing and triggering topic, so I have no doubt that if any Hancock supporters are reading this, they’ve probably ready to check out. But I challenge them to keep reading.
The idea that the indigenous peoples of places all over the globe (the vast majority being people of color) were, at a minimum, taught to be agriculturalists, architects of monumental architecture, etc.—that they did not arrive at these accomplishments on their own—is extremely appealing to nationalists and racially motivated individuals and groups around the world. It makes it easy to justify the domination and oppression of descendant populations.
If there’s any doubt that this is happening today:
In China, ethnic Uyghurs are being systematically erased by the Chinese government which refuses to allow them to adhere to their own cultural traditions.
In Burma, the Rohingya people have been systematically persecuted, killed, and oppressed by the Burmese government since the 1970s.
Similar actions in other parts of the world in recent decades: Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, Congo…
During the formative decades of the United States, the notion that the Mound Builders were not the same as the Indians (many people attributed the various mounds to “the Lost Tribe of Israel”) was extremely popular and many during the Jackson administration used it to justify support of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 which resulted in the Trail of Tears.
So when I tell you that much if not all of the positive support for Hancock’s Netflix series in the media was within media outlets that are generally—even specifically—supportive of extreme right-wing and racist voices, the news should come with a cause for concern. Regardless of what Hancock genuinely is, his message is appreciated and well-received among white supremacists and racists.
The Daily Caller published at least 4 articles each by Kay Smythe. Hancock seems to welcome her attention even though The Daily Caller is known for its climate change deniers and sensationalist narratives along the lines of the National Enquirer.
Matt Walsh did a YouTube video supporting Ancient Apocalypse. This is the guy that self-describes as a “theocratic fascist” is described by most others as a transphobe and homophobe.
VDARE article by Edward Dutton – infamous for supporting neo-Nazism, sexism, climate change denialism, transphobia, anti-semitism, etc. A true deplorable if ever there was one.
Barstool Sports a blog site that focuses on sports and popular culture. They once commented about a woman in skinny jeans. “you kind of deserve to be raped, right?”
The only skeptic I could find that offered any support for Hancock was Michael Shermer, an apparent transphobe and potential misogynist accused of raping up to five women took to social media in support of Hancock.
GH: Ancient Apocalypse does not in any way “disparage the cultures of Indigenous peoples”;
“Could those farmers, who archaeologists tell us never built anything bigger than a shack, really have achieved all this?”
That line is a direct quote from the show’s third episode.
In each episode, Hancock finds a way to say the indigenous people of each of the sites he visits were too primitive to figure out agriculture or monumental architecture and that foreign visitors had to show them. In some cases, he uses colonized myths to reinforce it.
Never does Hancock describe what it is that he means by “civilization,” what it means for that culture to be “advanced,” or how it is that this unknown culture was able to understand agriculture and monumental architecture itself. Was there another “lost, advanced civilization” that taught his mystery civilization? And who taught them? Is it “lost, advanced civilizations” all the way down?
GH: That archaeologists have not found material evidence that would convince them of the existence of a lost civilization of the Ice Age, is not by any means compelling evidence that no such civilization could have existed. The axiom is old but true that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” – especially so in the case of archaeology when only limited areas of the Earth’s surface have ever been subject to archaeological survey at all.
Absence of evidence is not evidence for absence. There is a lot to misunderstand with this antimetabole, and Hancock barrels through it with abandon.
First, Hancock is admitting here that he has a claim: “a lost, ice-age, advanced civilization taught hunter-gatherer societies around the world agriculture and monumental architecture (or did it for them).”
Second, he’s saying: “just because archaeologists have yet to find evidence of it, doesn’t mean his claim isn’t true.”
An unspoken third point, however, is also part of the misunderstanding: “because archaeologists haven’t disproved the claim, it is therefore true.” This part is unspoken/unwritten and simply left to implication since saying it aloud reveals the circularity of the argument.
But let’s say this isn’t the implication at all. In that case, the claim isn’t that of archaeologists; it is that of Hancock’s. Therefore demonstrating its authenticity is his burden. Let’s assume Hancock genuinely believes he’s demonstrating his claim to be true with nonsense like the Bimini beach rock and spurious star alignments. Why, then, would he state that there’s an absence of evidence?
Let’s just ignore all that and go straight to the last part of the misunderstanding of “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” (and this is the cool part).
It actually is evidence of absence if evidence is expected.
Let me explain: you friend Bart claims he discovered a new species of mammal that has six legs. He can’t tell you where to find it. He has no DNA. No photos. No video. There’s no footprints, scat, fur left on bark, recordings of its mating call, or even a description of its odor. No one has observed this mammal. But he’s sure it exists. The Earth is big. Maybe it stays deep in the jungle, high on mountain peaks, deep underground, or lives in the ocean. You don’t know. Just because you haven’t found evidence of it is no reason to say it can’t exist.
And I’ll agree with that.
But since should be some evidence (tracks, scat, DNA…) and none is found, and because there is no fossil evidence of a last common ancestor that this mammal could have branched from (congenital abnormalities aside), one can safely conclude that, with confidence, this species probably does not exist.
There should be evidence of Hancock’s “lost, ice-age, advanced civilization.” Ostensibly, among the reasons they are “advanced” is that they had monumental architecture and agriculture. This evidence should be visible in the world regardless of them being 13,000 years old.
We have evidence for the technology of humans 20,000, 100,000, 300,000 years in the past. There’s no reason we would not see evidence of this mystery culture.
We’ve sequenced the DNA of all major agricultural staples. They show a chronological development coinciding with the archaeological evidence of the emergence of agriculture.
Conclusion: There may, indeed, be some yet to be discovered culture that existed during or before the ice-age that had agriculture and built monumental architecture. If so, I’d love to be among those that gets to excavate and explore it. But there really is no good reason to think it exists.
SAA: Contrary to Hancock’s claims, archaeology does not willfully ignore credible evidence nor does it seek to suppress it in a conspiratorial fashion.
GH: I do not claim that archaeology wilfully ignores credible evidence, only that it appoints itself the sole authority on what is or is not “credible” and therefore rules out certain evidence that I and others regard as both credible and significant
The problem with this alleged appointment is that it assumes “archaeology” is an institution. It isn’t. There are organizations like the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA), the Biblical Archaeological Society (BAS), the Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaeological Society (Y.A.Y.A.S.), the British Archaeological Association (BAA), and so on.
Each of these has it’s own goals, agendas, priorities, etc. Some are similar or the same, but there is diversity within and among them.
And the vast majority of their members haven’t the first clue who Graham Hancock is!
SAA: Archaeologists devote their careers and lives to researching and sharing knowledge about the past with the public. When Hancock refers to professionals as “so-called experts” and accuses them of being “patronizing” or “arrogant,” this disparages our public reputation.
GH: I also have devoted my career and life to sharing knowledge about the past with the public. When archaeologists label me as a “pseudoscientist”, a “liar”, a “racist” and a “fraud” they directly disparage my personal reputation.
Which ones? Surely your beef is with them, specifically, and not all archaeologists. Wouldn’t this be similar to disparaging all journalists if one or two wrote a mean-spirited or hostile review? I get that being called “pseudoscientist,” “liar,” and “racist” are uncomfortable. Particularly the latter. But this isn’t coming from archaeology or even archaeologists in general. It’s coming from individuals. Not all of them archaeologists (probably very few of them).
SAA: Our archaeological community is not monolithic but extremely diverse. Our membership represents a wide range of nationalities, ethnicities, genders, and beliefs.
GH: Is American archaeology a shining example of ethnic diversity and inclusiveness? Detailed census data for 2010-2019 (‘Archaeology Demographics and Statistics in the US’), suggest otherwise:
I appreciate Hancock showing this data.
Don’t get me wrong, at first glance, I thought to myself: “holy-shit. We suck.”
But then I looked at university data in general and compared. Sure. We could do better. But we’re doing noticeably better than most professions in general. Hancock repeatedly states he’s a “journalist.” Compare archaeologists with journalists.
Hancock’s original stats are shown just to the right. As you can see, they’re the same numbers in the first pie graph (upper left). He’s right in that we don’t do particularly well in regards to ethnic diversity within our field. But I’d make two key arguments here: 1) we do at least as well as the journalist category (the pie chart on the right above. 2) most archaeologists work for private companies doing cultural resource management (CRM). They’re basically what we call ‘shovel bums’ in that they travel from project to project in rural America digging test pits and recording results for Section 106 Surveys.
As an archaeologist doing survey on a pipeline project (or highway, power line, etc), you will inevitably run into law enforcement, land owners, hunters, and curious looky-loos who want to know what you’re doing. It’s already uncomfortable sometimes as a white person. I can’t even imagine what the experience might be like from the point of view of a person of color. That said, we have a significant number of archaeologists of color doing work in places like Tulsa and Southern Alabama among others.
SAA: Netflix and ITN Productions are actively assaulting our expert knowledge, fostering distrust of our scientific community, diminishing the credibility of our members in the public eye, and undermining our extensive and ongoing efforts at outreach and public education.
GH: I repeat that no individual archaeologist was disparaged in the series.