Archaeologist Helps Pseudoarchaeologist find His Lane

Caricature of Graham Hancock in headphones with his quote from the Joe Rogan Experience
Graham Hancock Quote

A couple weeks ago, Flint Dibble appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast for a nearly 4.5 hour debate with Graham Hancock. These are a few of my thoughts on this marathon discussion.

Clovis First, Man!

This is always Hancock’s go to it seems. That Clovis was the earliest North American stone tool tradition isn’t something that’s been taught for decades. In fact, it wasn’t even taught when I was an undergraduate student.

Hancock brought up Jacques Cinq-Mars and Tom Dillehay, suggesting that a “Clovis first” cabal ruined their careers. At least Cinq-Mars’ career. He played a clip of Dillehay speaking about the treatment of skeptics to the idea that Clovis wasn’t first and that there were data pointing to people in places like Blue Fish Caves, Meadowcroft, and Monte Verde. It wasn’t nice. And Cinq-Mars probably had it just as bad.

But Hancock says of Cinq-Mars that his “career was wrecked” and the insults and humiliation “destroyed his life.” It’s true his funding dried up. At least for a while. His life, however, was hardly destroyed and his career continued as good or better than one of most archaeologists. He was able to continue his work at Blue Fish, he just stopped going to conferences. He became the Curator of Quebec Archaeology in 1991, less than a decade after some of the conferences where he met with skepticism and laughter. But he continued his work in the Yukon, even expanding the research area.

In 1996, the year before Tom Dillehay invited skeptics to Monte Verde to see the evidence for Pre-Clovis people for themselves, Cinq-Mars’ work at Blue Fish Caves was being highlighted through the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre (YBIC)—hardly the accolade expected of someone with a “destroyed life” and “wrecked career.”

Clovis Point
Clovis point created by pressure flaking and
adding a flute

In 1997, Tom Dillehay won over many of the hard-corps skeptics in North American academia to the notion that there exist pre-Clovis people in the archaeological record. Dillehay’s career continued on its trajectory. If anything, it was advanced because of his work in discovering pre-Clovis artifacts and features. Cinq-Mars continued his work as an archaeologist, all the while collaborating with scholars from the 1990s through 2002 when he retired. Indeed, he continued publishing even after retirement, with his final publication in 2008. Jaques Cinq-Mars passed away at age 79 in 2021. Tom Dillehay is the Rebecca Webb Wilson University Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Religion, and Culture at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.

And, as Flint Dibble pointed out in the podcast, the vast majority of the world’s archaeologists aren’t focused on North American settlement and, like any human institution, there are going to be assholes.

But I would add, that while there were certainly some assholes involved (laughing and ridiculing presenters at public conferences is bad form—even if they’re wrong), the Clovis first mindset isn’t evidence of how archaeology is stifling, resistant, or suppressive. It’s evidence of the willingness for archaeological conclusions to evolve with new data. Revision is what science is about: always moving toward closer approximations of the truth. Once extraordinary evidence was in, the claims were validated.

Percentage of the Sahara Excavated?

A remarkably short-sighted and ignorant assumption on Graham Hancock’s part. Not that only jas a very small percentage of the Sahara Desert been excavated. It’s short-sighted because it assumes “excavation” is the end product of all archaeological investigation. And it’s ignorant because it shows that Hancock’s understanding of archaeological methods and theory are extremely limited.

So much sand. So few screens to sift it through…

Sure, he’s no doubt aware of remote sensing techniques like GPR and Lidar. But he seemed hung up on the word “excavation.” He asked Dibble, “A fair bit of archaeology has been done in the Sahara desert but we’re looking at 9.2 million square kilometers… tell me, how much of the Sahara do you think has actually been excavated?”

For an archaeologist, this is a ludicrous question, one that suggests a certain level of ignorance on how archaeology works. Excavation is a destructive process, so we tend to use it in small doses. We use excavation to sample sites if they’re in little danger. Sometimes we excavate fully if the site is in danger of being destroyed (i.e. in the flood plain of a damn construction, frequently attacked by looters, in the way of a highway, etc.).

We do, however, a lot of survey. Survey is done in a variety of ways from hands-on shovel testing every few meters to see what’s under the ground in a 30 cm x 30 cm hole, to reviewing Lidar results, to using geophysical methods of magnetometer, ground penetrating radar, conductivity, etc.

Surveying allows for statistical sampling of large areas of land without the time- and money-consuming effort of excavation. Not to mention, when you excavate, you create collections of artifacts and features that need curation, conservation, and management. In perpetuity. Excavating without consideration of this is irresponsible.

All that said, I call bullshit on Hancock’s claim that “the fact of the matter is around about one percent of the Sahara has been excavated.” One percent of 9,200,000 square kilometers is about the size of Portugal. I very seriously doubt that that much of the Sahara even should be excavated.

The Sahara Desert. All 9,200,000 square km of it.

But this is the kind of smoke and mirror bullshit Hancock likes to use to point out that because archaeologists haven’t looked everywhere, they can’t say there’s no advanced civilization from before the last Ice Age.

Like most purveyors of pseudoscience, Hancock would have anyone skeptical of his claim prove a negative rather than he be required to show evidence for the positive. His real problem is that archaeologists are very good at finding some extremely ephemeral hunter-gatherers of the Pleistocene and the very few artifacts and features they leave behind. Yet no sign of an “advanced civilization”—ostensibly a sea-faring one, since they’re supposed to be sharing so much knowledge with the world. No ports. No ships. No cities. No agriculture earlier than what is expected.


This is a site where apophenia truly takes over for many people. Its easy to see why. I wrote about the Yonaguni geologic formation a few years ago.

There are enormous underwater geologic formations with rhombohedral and near-right angle jointing and fracturing that has the appearance of steps and stepped monumental architecture around the world. It looks like something man-made. And it’s this “looks like” method of arriving at conclusions that drives much of Hancock’s overall schtick.

There are some problems with this geologic formation being man-made, however.

  1. There is no comparable style of architecture on the island of Yonaguni. Or on nearby Taiwan. Or in Japan. Not now or at any period between now and 10,000-14,000 years ago when the underwater formation was at or above the surface.
  2. The site is underwater and has been for 10,000-14,000 years. The very top of this geologic formation probably dipped under water even at low-tide at around 8,000-10,000 years ago with sea-level rise from the end of the Last Glacial Maximum.
  3. The archaeological record has yet to show a human presence on the island that early. It doesn’t mean they weren’t there, it just means the evidence for their existence has yet to be discovered. It also means that the human presence, if it existed, was so ephemeral as to be near invisible. Humans on nearby Taiwan were in their pre-pottery Neolithic stage. They were still perfecting agricultural techniques, but their hunting skills were evident through their stone tools.
  4. The geology above the surface bears a remarkable similarity. The strike and dip of the joints and fractures match that of the underwater formation. The horizontal beds of sandstone and mudstone above the waves reflect those below.

Hancock sees steps. And I get it. The formation underwater presents itself with a “stepped” appearance.

But look at photos of this site again. Either at my link above, or just Google it. Look for the ones where there are divers next to the “steps.” As yourself, who builds steps with 8- to 12-foot strides?

On the Bimini Road Again

Another case of apophenia.

The so-called Bimini Road first gained attention in the 1970s when Edgar Cacye first claimed to channel “Atlantean souls” that said Atlantis was in the Gulf Stream near Bimini. It was around this time that stories of the Bermuda Triangle were beginning to circulate in a way that, today, would be called “going viral.” The “Bermuda Triangle” as a term might have first been coined in a 1964 magazine article in Argosy, “The Deadly Bermuda Triangle.” The author, Vincent Gaddis, described strange occurrences dating from the mid-1800s to the 1960s and eventually published the book, Invisible Horizons. This was followed by Charles Berlitz’s The Bermuda Triangle (1974) and Richard Winer’s The Devil’s Triangle (1974).

When geologist Eugene Shinn makes it to Bimini in the mid-1970s to look at the beach rock formations, he encountered all sorts of New Agers, who apparently thought he and his fellow researchers were strange for not getting naked and feeling “force field.” The waters were filled with boats of New Agers competing to see who would discover Atlantis first.

This is all important context because Hancock shows a video clip of Eugene Shinn in which a colleague recounts meeting Shinn as he was carving a stone statue which he apparently joked about dropping it in the water, one supposes near the Bimini beach rock formations, as a prank on the New Agers. Personally, I find this pretty funny. And a good lesson that just because you find object underwater, it still needs proper context to be meaningful.

Hancock clearly took umbrage with the story and used it as a point to discredit Shinn’s work. But this is a logical fallacy since even if he pulled a prank and everyone agreed it to be unethical, it doesn’t mean the analysis of the beach rock is wrong. Particularly when the science is explained and available to be critiqued. And it shows more of Hancock’s sheer ignorance on the way archaeology works.

This wouldn’t be a “planted artifact” in spite of Hancock’s accusation. At worst, it would be littering. Any archaeologist that encountered it would certainly be confused, but probably only mildly. The statue being loose and on top the sea bottom would have been seen without context. If Shinn carved it of stone, it was probably a soft stone, so clean edges and tool marks would give away its modern origins and, honestly, it would probably be blamed on the New Agers as some sort of weird new age offering since they’re part of the site’s overall context. And, if the New Agers found it, who cares? If they’re deceived then that’s what they get for looting an alleged archaeological site.

The Bimini beach rock. From Shinn 2009

Hancock also say’s of Shinn’s work, “almost every that’s said in the 1980 and later [papers]” is contradicted by his 1978 article, which Hancock describes as “very hard to find.”

I found it in about 10 minutes. I’ve read it and found nothing contradictory. The essence of all the papers with Shinn as an author is:

  1. Beach Rock formation
    • Rapid process of cementation of calcium carbonate precipitated from sea water during tidal actions along the shore
    • This CaCO3 acts to bind the sand grains and other loose bits together
    • The process is so fast human skeletal remains & artifacts are found embedded in beach rock in the Pacific from WWII
    • Often contains abundant fragments of glass and other man-made items suggesting less than a few hundred years old in some cases
    • The process creates “ribbons” or road-like belts of rock parallel to the shore through wave actions
    • There are alternating laminations of course to fine sand due to wave action; forces repeated deposition and sorting
    • These laminations almost always dip toward the sea.
  2. Beach Rock Fracturing
    • Fractures while exposed to sun
    • Fractures when underlying sand is undermined due to wave action.
    • Fractures happen also due to daily and seasonal temperature extremes
    • When sand is undermined, the fractured beach rock sinks to fill the void, a process that can slowly take the beach rock to bedrock where it will rest
  3. Where found
    • Found on beaches throughout the Bahamas, Caribbean, and the Pacific
    • Often presents itself with a “fitted together” appearance.
      • Cement sidewalks have similar fracture potential due to temperature and undermined sediment
      • This is why contraction joints are used in sidewalks
    • Heron Island, Australia has beach rock nearly identical to the Bimini site.
  4. Natural Vs Man-Placed
    • Man-made walls & roads (structures) are built with blocks chose for “best fit” in size/shape.
    • Builders are unconcerned with internal “beach bedding”–the laminate layers sorted by wave action
    • Cores of Bimini beach rock show seaward dip of the laminate layers.
    • Cores also showed course-to-fine, course-to-fine, … layer process
    • Bedding & dipping would be random if placed by man.
  5. Present Depth of Beach Rocks
    • Mangrove peat found 9-10 feet below sea level in North Bimini
    • The mangrove peat dates to around 4,370 +/- 100 BP
    • Erosion settles beach rock below formation level over time due to undermining
      • Evident at swimming beach with glass in beach rock at 3-5 feet below sea level
      • Rocks sitting on Pleistocene bedrock
      • Suggests up to 15 feet of sand removal to lower the rocks
    • Sea Level Rise & Beach Erosion
      • Puts beach rocks at current positions
      • Radiocarbon dating places formation at about 2,200 +/- 100 yrs. BP
        • 5 feet sea level change
        • 10 feet undermined sand removal

Some of the figures from the papers change, but nothing drastically nor in a way unexpected with scientific data. As data get better and as more data comes in, figures should change. Means and totals will fluctuate. But nothing I saw was contradicted from Shinn’s 1978 article to later articles with his name on them.

It’s easy to see why Hancock wants to ignore the work of Shinn and others who have examined the so-called Bimini Road: it’s a hoax on the gullible when it comes to alleged proof of an advanced civilization. And I think even Hancock understands this since he admitted, “yes, we can say there’s no evidence for an advanced civilization” (1:27).

That doesn’t stop him from showing the Piri Reis map, which I wrote about a few years ago.

Khufu Graffiti

Flint pointed out that there is a graffiti in a chamber of the Great Pyramid that mentions Khufu by name. Hancock said it was suggested Vyse put that graffiti there himself, but Flint responded that it was a form of Khufu’s name that was unknown in Vyse’s time.

Hancock asked how he knew…

“I don’t know, man. I don’t read hieroglyphs.”

For Hancock, this was a kind of “gotcha moment,” but only because Dibble wasn’t all that familiar with the Howard Vyse-the-Forger argument, the source for which was probably Zecharia Sitchin. In 1980, he wrote The Stairway to Heaven (look around page 265 or so), in which Sitchin attempts to convince readers that ancient astronauts once visited and interfered with human societies. This is pretty much all conjecture on Sitchin’s part, but then he was a guy that pretended to read ancient languages and make money from people that believed he could.

Is it possible that Vyse forged Khufu’s cartouche? Sure. But it doesn’t seem probable given that part of the overall graffiti Vyse discovered is covered by other blocks. In other words, it was written by the work gang before it was placed. And there is evidence of other Khufu graffiti both on the pyramid and in the Red Sea Scrolls.

“Friends of Khufu,” work-gang graffiti first discovered in the Campbell chamber by Vyse.

The entire graffiti reads “semuru Khufu” (with Khufu’s Horus name in a cartouche), which means “friends of Khufu.” The top (right edge) of the cartouche is obscured by a perpendicular block of stone.

Waah! He Called Me Racist!

Except he didn’t.

Right around the moment he seems to get the sense that even Joe Rogan wasn’t buying the evidence of Gunung Padang (around 2 hours in), Hancock switches gears to accusations of racism he feels are directed at him, first mentioning the Benjamin Steele article in SEO Journal.

I think he’s trying to underscore the significance of how search algorithms can effectively associate someone with negative results since he shows a Google Featured Snippet that about Graham Hancock and includes the bit about how “archaeologist Flint Dibble say’s Hancock’s claims “reinforce white supremacist ideas, stripping indigenous people of their heritage and instead giving credit to aliens or white people.” This is a slightly edited quote from Dibble’s article in The Conversation in November 2022.

Along with that Featured Snippet, there are other quotes not by Dibble but by seemingly random people on social media claiming Hancock to be “racist” or “a white supremacist like Trump.”

These aren’t Dibble’s words. And anyone who read Dibble’s article in The Conversation with a rational frame of mind would understand the distinction Dibble was making between Hancock and the racist/white supremacist literature that Hancock uncritically cites throughout most of his works.

Dibble is trying very hard to do Hancock a solid and show him why it’s important for him to be more critical of the very texts (like Ignatious Donnelly) that he tends to cite. Modern day racists and white supremacists are very active! And they read Hancock’s works. And they agree with him.

It’s interesting he begins with the work of Benjamin Steele. In Steele’s own article, he notes that where racism and white supremacist history of modern pseudoarchaeology is discussed, associated social media comments are overwhelming filled with “disparaging comments [that] are misogynistic, racist, and homophobic.”

This shows that they are listening. They are out there reading things they agree with, using narratives like Hancock’s to justify their hatred for others. And by not simply being a bit more critical of 19th century source material, Hancock and others enable this sort of narrative.

Regardless, Hancock wasn’t listening.

About Carl Feagans 398 Articles
Professional archaeologist that currently works for the United States Forest Service at the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee. I'm also a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army and spent another 10 years doing adventure programming with at-risk teens before earning my master's degree at the University of Texas at Arlington.

1 Comment

  1. Pseudo-archeologists, like all woo mongers, are the moles in whack-a-mole – they pop up again no matter how much you hit them. All because so many people refuse to be educated and substitute magical thinking as it makes them feel good.

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