Online Introduction to Underworld
From Fingerprints of the Gods to Underworld

An Essay on Methods
By Graham Hancock

The central claim of my 1995 book Fingerprints of the Gods is not that there was but that there could have been a lost civilisation, which flourished and was destroyed in remote antiquity. And I wrote the book, quite deliberately, not as a work of science but as a work of advocacy. I felt that the possibility of a lost civilisation had not been adequately explored or tested by mainstream scholarship. I set myself the task of rehabilitating it by gathering together, and passionately championing, all the best evidence and arguments in its favour.

In the early 1990’s when I was researching Fingerprints there were a number of new ideas in the air that seemed to me to have an important bearing on the lost civilisation debate. These included Robert Bauval’s Orion correlation, Rand and Rose Flem-Ath’s work on Antarctica and earth-crust displacement, and the geological case presented by John Anthony West and Robert Schoch that the Great Sphinx of Giza might be much older than had hitherto been thought.

At the same time I was aware of a huge reservoir of popular literature, going back more than a century to the time of Ignatius Donnelly, in which the case for a lost civilisation had been put again and again, in many different ways and from many different angles. I knew that not a single word of this vast literature had ever been accepted by mainstream scholars who remained steadfast in their view that the history of civilisation is known and includes no significant forgotten episodes.

But, I thought, what if the scholars have got it wrong?

What if we’ve forgotten something important in our story?

What if we are a species with amnesia?

After all, scientists are now pretty sure that anatomically modern humans, just like us, have been around for at least the last 120,000 years.

Yet our “history” begins 5000 years ago with the first cities and the first written records. And the prehistory of this process has presently only been traced back (often quite tentatively) to the end of the last Ice Age around 10,000 years ago when it’s thought that mankind began to make the transition from hunter-gathering to food production.

So what were we doing during the previous 110,000 years?

And isn’t it odd that we only really remember the last 5000 well and have to “reconstruct” our picture of everything that went before from extremely scanty remains that have accidentally survived the passage of time?

So I decided that I would re-examine the popular literature on Atlantis and other lost civilisations, including the work of writers like Erich von Daniken and Zecharia Sitchen, to see whether there was anything in it that might strengthen the new synthesis I had in mind.

I also made a clear decision at the outset that it was not my job to present an “objective” or “balanced” case for a lost civilisation by giving deference to orthodox views on the matter. Rather I saw my role as doing the best that I possibly could to present a persuasive counter-case to the orthodox position and to undermine the largely unquestioned support and acceptance habitually given to the mainstream version of the past. In the late 1980’s when the idea of Fingerprints first began to take shape in my mind, orthodox history and archaeology enjoyed absolute intellectual dominance over the unorthodox, “alternative” camp. Reasonable people who even speculated vaguely that the Great Pyramids of Giza might have been more than tombs and tombs only were branded as “pyramidiots”, anyone with an interest in Atlantis was automatically assumed to belong to the lunatic-fringe, and in general the notion of a lost civilisation was rapidly on its way to becoming the non-issue of the twentieth century, good only for popular entertainment but of no serious weight.

I felt that the only way to confront this mindset was to write a passionate one-sided book — and this is exactly what I set out to do with Fingerprints of the Gods.

I sought out what I thought was most provocative and intriguing in the popular literature from Donnelly to von Daniken, and in the exciting new ideas of Bauval, the Flem-Aths, West and Schoch. I also looked for any and every weapon I could find in mainstream historical and archaeological research that I might be able to turn against the orthodox view of the past. At the same time I spread my limited funds as widely as I could, engaging myself at first hand in the mysteries of some of the most intriguing and spectacular ancient sites around the world — amongst them the Pyramids and the Sphinx of Egypt, the Nazca Lines of Peru, the megalithic city of Tiahuanaco in Bolivia, and the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon at Teotihuacan in Mexico. In each place I built my own synthesis upon a superstructure that others had already erected, trying to bring together disparate evidence and observations with the objective of reinvigorating the lost civilisation idea from the doldrums into which it had fallen.

I think I succeeded in this objective. As increasing numbers of university lecturers in disciplines like archaeology and ancient history will tell you, part of their job now is to “debunk Hancock” to credulous students — in other words, those students who are foolish enough to suspect, as I do, that there really could have been a lost civilisation.

I know of three books that have been written rubbishing my work, an official “debunking” website has been founded with the same purpose, and I recently had the privilege, alongside my friend Robert Bauval (author of The Orion Mystery), of finding myself the subject of an entire episode of BBC2’s prestigious science series Horizon.

The thrust of Horizon’s argument was that the idea of any kind of great lost civilisation of prehistory is nothing more than “preposterous”, “misleading”, “insidious” “garbage”. “You could summarise it by saying a load of codswallop” proclaimed Colin Renfrew, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge. The programme portrayed me essentially as a charlatan, or as a fool, or perhaps as a bit of both. No merit whatsoever was found in anything I have ever written. My ideas were dismissed as valueless and I was accused of presenting evidence selectively in order to bias the reader in favour of the lost civilisation hypothesis.

Thus the very method that I had chosen to restore balance to an extremely one-sided debate — by writing a book that one-sidedly champions and advocates the neglected possibility of a lost civilisation — was now being cited as a fundamental critique of my work.

A different approach, not a different position

Fingerprints of the Gods was intended to shake things up.

It did.

And I stand by it.

The book raised many legitimate questions and brought together new arguments and evidence in support of the lost civilisation hypothesis.

But I researched and wrote it between 1991 and 1994 when serious debate on this possibility was rare. Fingerprints was part of a process that stimulated serious debate and as a result the standards of evidence and argument today are much higher than they were in the early 1990’s.

Then my top priority was to cram in and get down on the page anything and everything that I thought might weigh in favour of the lost civilisation idea. This was more important to me at that time than taking meticulous care with the quality of every source or being choosy about what leads I followed. I was also too quick to attack weaknesses in the orthodox position while failing to take proper account of orthodox strengths.

The result was that my case for a lost civilisation was anything but bullet-proof ,and Fingerprints has come in for a massive amount of criticism — some of it richly deserved. Often, for example, I ignored the official carbon dates for sites I was writing about — just brushed them aside on the grounds that C-14 can’t date stone monuments directly — and got on with finding my own way through all the good (and bad) reasons to doubt the orthodox chronology.

This was a mistake. With the benefit of hindsight I now recognise that I should have taken much fuller account of the C-14 evidence for megalithic sites like Tiahuanaco, and presented it to my readers in sufficient depth and detail before making the case for an alternative chronology. I should have understood that in the long run no attempt to propose much greater antiquity for any archaeological site is likely to thrive unless it can deal with the carbon dates on which the orthodox chronology usually rests.

However, what I’m referring to here is the whole approach that led me to be so cavalier about C-14, not any of the basic questions about the past that I raised in Fingerprints and my other books. I still think, for example, that a great mystery surrounds Tiahuanaco in Bolivia and that it’s origins may be much older than we are taught. I’m glad I presented some of the evidence for an older Tiahuanaco in Fingerprints, and in Heaven’s Mirror, but I also recognise in retrospect that my case was weak because it failed to deal with the C-14 evidence against an older Tiahuanaco.

Accordingly I’ve set out with Underworld to write a book of historical dissent that is nevertheless rooted and grounded in accepted archaeological evidence in a way that Fingerprints is not — and wasn’t intended to be. By way of direct comparison, Underworld contains a challenge to the orthodox chronology of Malta’s megalithic sites that’s just as ambitious as the challenge to Tiahuanaco’s antiquity in Fingerprints. The big difference is that in Underworld I thoroughly examine the Maltese C-14 evidence, and indeed the other ingredients of the orthodox chronology, and take full account of these in the case I make.

So there is definitely a change of approach in this new book. But this should not be confused with any fundamental change of attitude on my part towards my previous books – because there has been no such fundamental change. In response to a question on this subject put to me recently on the Message Board of this site I wrote:

I regard all my work as a continuity. Like every other human I make mistakes. Like everyone else I learn from my mistakes, grow in the process, and try not to repeat them in future.

But you would be wrong to imagine because I recognise and am willing to admit to mistakes when I’ve made them that this means any kind of “retraction” of my previous work..

The central point of Fingerprints, Keeper [of Genesis] and Heaven’s Mirror is that there has been a major forgotten episode in human history localised around the end of the Ice Age and that this forgotten episode will likely be proved to have involved the loss of an urban civilisation that was at least advanced enough to have mapped the world. Maybe there was more than one lost civilisation? I’ve never ruled out that possibility.

After what I’ve learnt in order to write Underworld I feel a lot closer to proving this central point, not a lot further away.

Another Message Board contributor also asked me what if anything I retracted in my previous books. I replied:

It’s not a matter of retracting anything, but a matter of evolving as a person, as a researcher and as a writer. It’s also a matter of listening to my critics and trying to find a new approach that takes their reasonable concerns into account. Although not all their concerns are reasonable some of them are. Contrary to appearances I don’t disagree with everything they say about me. More often what I disagree with is how they say it.

In a way I’m lucky to have such vigilant critics because it keeps me on my toes.

Because I very much wanted to avoid another battle over old bitterly contested ground, Underworld is not a book about Egypt, Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, Easter Island or Angkor — which were primary subject areas in my earlier books.
Geographically the main above-water focus in Underworld is on India, Malta, Japan, China and Taiwan.

There is a section on ancient maps in Fingerprints and there is a major section on ancient maps in Underworld. The work on maps in Underworld is all new, and does not cover any of the ground covered in Fingerprints. Nevertheless the chapters on ancient maps in Underworld strongly support the notion advocated in Fingerprints — i.e. that the world was mapped at various stages during the meltdown of the Ice Age.

In summary I regard Underworld as a much stronger defence than anything I have previously written of the essential concept of my previous works — namely that there has been a significant forgotten episode in human history, that the post-glacial cataclysms have something central to do with it, and that civilisation as we know it has far older roots than is presently accepted. At the same time, my objective from the outset has also been to present a very simple and yet completely new idea that’s never been explored or worked through before.

The jigsaw-puzzle lost continent

In Underworld the simple new idea on which the whole investigation is founded arises from facts of geology that have been well-known for decades. At the end of the Ice Age, over a 10,000 year period between 17,000 and 7000 years ago — just before the supposed beginnings of civilization — 25 million square kilometers of what were then the most habitable lands on earth were flooded by rising sea levels as the ice caps melted. That’s a landmass roughly equivalent in size to the whole of South America (17 million sq kms) and the United States (9.6 million sq kms) added together. Its an area almost three times as large as Canada and much larger than China and Europe combined. And it’s also an area on which hardly any archaeology has ever been done. How can we be sure, therefore, that archaeology has got the story of the origins of civilization right when so many of the places where our ancestors lived shortly before what we think of as the start of civilization have never been studied by archaeologists at all?

We have to remember that the world was very different just before the end of the Ice Age. Huge expanses of the northern hemisphere that are centres of habitation today were then buried beneath ice caps three kilometres thick and almost as uninhabitable as the surface of the moon. Our ancestors were forced to migrate — typically to low-lying coastal areas close to fertile river deltas and the resources of the sea. They could not have anticipated that the ice-caps from which they had fled would melt, causing sea-level to rise more than 400 feet, flooding for ever the lowlands on which they had taken refuge.

The result is a jigsaw-puzzle “lost continent”, scattered under the oceans at depths down to 400 feet that I have set myself the challenge of exploring. Since nobody else is doing it I’m searching for evidence of earlier civilisations that might have flourished there before history began..

In many ways it’s a quixotic and seemingly hopeless quest. The sea covers 70 per cent of the earth’s surface and as recently as 1997 a chain of submerged mountains 1000 miles long and almost 10,000 feet high was discovered on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. The point is that if things on the scale of underwater mountain ranges can go undetected until so late in this age of high technology then it’s obviously not going to be easy to find much smaller targets like flooded cities and monuments. Even at the crude mapping level, it’s one of the absurdities of scientific priorities that we now have a better map of the surface of Venus than we do of the 88 million square miles of our own planet’s sea-floor.

But the search could be narrowed. Thanks to the generosity of Dr Glenn Milne of the University of Durham’s Department of Geology, I was able to study state-of-the art computerised “inundation maps” that he and his colleagues have prepared which can simulate the earth’s coastlines as they would have looked at any point during the meltdown of the Ice Age. I was able to see that the 25 million square kilometres swallowed up by the rising seas in this period included vast areas that lay adjacent to recognised early centres of agriculture and civilisation:

  • Malta, home to what are supposedly the oldest freestanding temples in the world, is today just a tiny island in the Mediterranean. But until the end of the Ice Age it was joined to Sicily by a landbridge 60 miles long.
  • Beside the Fertile Crescent, the Persian Gulf was dry land until around 12,000 years ago with a vast river running through it formed out of the combined streams of the Tigris and the Euphrates. The southern part of the Gulf was not fully flooded until about 8000 years ago.
  • Around India close to a million square miles were lost — mostly in the northwest and the southeast.
  • A thousand-mile wide strip of coast was inundated off China’s east coast as far north as Korea.
  • Further south an Ice Age continent called Sundaland connected the Malay peninsula to Indonesia and the Philippines until around 10,000 years ago.
  • On the western side of the Atlantic the Florida and Grand Bahama Banks were fully exposed until after 7000 years ago — the same time that the first traces of agriculture began to appear in mainland Central America.

What helped to narrow the search further were the flood myths of the ancient peoples of these regions which science confirmed had indeed suffered extensive inundation at the end of the Ice Age.

And as a keen scuba-diver I was able to check out any site where fellow divers had reported strange or unusual underwater structures.

Over the past five years I’ve put in hundreds of dives all around the world, and taken big physical risks following up what sounded like promising leads only to find they came to nothing in the end. I’ve ruled out some of the underwater sites I’ve dived on as being man-made but too young and others as not being man-made at all — just weird natural formations. But the remarkable thing, since I do not have the resources of a marine institute behind me and have to rely on simple detective-work to plan my dives, is that I have successfully explored, and now described in Underworld and filmed for my Channel 4 television series, a handful of genuinely mysterious underwater ruins in the Mediterranean, in the Indian Ocean and in the Pacific which cannot be explained within the established model of prehistory. All were last above water at the end of the Ice Age between 8000 and 12,000 years ago, and all are too large and complex to have been made by any known culture of that period.

There are extraordinary local flood traditions in each case, and quite frequently specific references in myths to submerged ruins in the vicinity. Local fishermen often know about the ruins — sometimes having to dive down to them to free trapped nets. In some cases there are also ancient maps (copied during the Renaissance from even older source maps) that show regions that are now flooded very much as they would have looked during the Ice Age when sea-levels were much lower. For example Portuguese maps drawn in the early 1500s show the northwest coast of India not as it looked in the 1500’s but as it last looked around 14,000 years ago just before the first of the three great meltwater pulses that terminated the Ice Age. Such “ghost lands” also crop up on ancient maps of the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Pacific, all areas in which unexplained underwater ruins have been found. The mystery of these extraordinary ancient maps, and what they might mean for the story of civilisation is explored in Part V of Underworld.

In January 2002 underwater cities off the coast of northwest India made news headlines all around the world. The two cities, which have been discovered by India’s National Institute of Ocean Technology, each cover an area of about 10 square miles and lie 120 feet deep in the Gulf of Cambay in an area that until as late as 6900 years ago formed a huge fertile valley that was entirely above water. Then the seas rose again and the Gulf of Cambay was flooded.

It therefore seems probable, from the sea-level data alone, that these mysterious submerged cities, which had towering walls, massive geometrical buildings and huge engineering works such as dams, must be more than 7000 years old. Even greater antiquity has been suggested by the recovery of some 2000 man-made artefacts from the sites. Recently tested at two different laboratories in India, the artefacts produced radiocarbon dates ranging from 8500 to 9500 years old.

That’s more than 4000 years older than any advanced city-building culture so far recognised by archaeologists, and of course great cities like those now at the bottom of the Gulf of Cambay don’t grow up overnight. For technical reasons the carbon- dates are from artefacts lifted only from the upper strata of the sites. Once proper coring can be done to deeper layers of the submerged cities much more ancient dates are to be expected.

So if they are what they seem to be the cities in the Gulf of Cambay add up to the Holy Grail that I’ve been searching for — a lost civilisation of the Ice Age, destroyed, as the myths say, by a great flood. In a sense I need nothing more to prove my case.

The mystery of the U-shaped structure

Yet there are so many underworlds.

I’ll not add here to what I have to say in the book and the television series about Malta, China and Japan — or why and where I think the Grand Bahama Bank as it last looked 6000 years ago is portrayed on the infamous Piri Reis Map of 1513.

I’d like to close with the Indian “theme” of the last few paragraphs but in a place about as far away as you can get from the Gulf of Cambay and still be in India.

The place is called Poompuhar. It lies on southeast India’s Coromandel coast facing the Bay of Bengal between modern Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. Its immediate offshore area has been the subject of marine archaeological investigations by India’s National Institute of Oceanography since the 1980’s — and numerous non-controversial finds of man-made structures dated between the third century AD and the third century BC have been made in the “inter-tidal zone” close to shore at depths down to 6 feet (approximately 2 metres).

These finds of structures in shallow water (some so shallow that they are exposed at low tide) have been quite widely written-up in the archaeological literature. But for some reason other discoveries that the NIO has made in deeper water off Poompuhar have attracted no attention at all. Most notably these other discoveries include a second completely separate group of structures fully three miles from the Poompuhar shore in water that is more than 70 feet (23 metres) deep. The lack of interest is surprising because to anyone with even minimal knowledge of post-glacial sea-level rise their depth of submergence is – or should be – highly anomalous. Indeed according to Glenn Milne’s sea-level data the land on which these structures were built last stood above water at the end of the Ice Age more than 11,000 years ago.

Is it a coincidence that there are ancient Tamil flood myths that speak of a great kingdom that once existed in this area called Kumari Kandam that was swallowed up by the sea? Amazingly the myths put a date of 11,600 years ago on these events — the same timeframe given by Plato for the end of Atlantis in another ocean.

Like the cities in the Gulf of Cambay the underwater structures three miles offshore of Poompuhar were first identified by an instrument called sidescan sonar that profiles the seabed. One structure in particular was singled out for investigation and was explored by divers from India’s National Institute of Oceanography in 1991 and 1993. Although they were not at that time aware of the implications of its depth of submergence — i.e. that it is at least 11,500 years old — the 1991 study confirms that it is man-made and describes it as:

a horse-shoe-shaped object, its height being one to two metres. A few stone blocks were found in the one-metre wide arm. The distance between the two arms in 20 metres. Whether the object is a shrine or some other man-made structure now at 23 metres [70 feet] depth remains to be examined in the next field season.

The 1993 study refines the measurements:

The structure of U-shape was located at a water depth of 23 metres which is about 5 kilometres off shore. The total peripheral length of the object is 85 metres while the distance between the two arms is 13 metres and the maximum height is 2 metres Divers observed growth of thick marine organism on the structure, but in some sections a few courses of masonry were noted

After 1993, no further marine archaeology was conducted along the Poompuhar coast until 2001 when I arranged with the NIO to dive on the U-shaped structure with funding from Channel 4 television in Britain and the Learning Channel in the US. Exclusive footage of the structure was filmed and is shown in episode 2 of the Underworld television series. Chapter 14 of the book is a report of our dives at Poompuhar, and what we found there.

Dr A.S. Gaur of the NIO told me on camera that it would have required “a very great technology” to build the U-shaped structure — one far beyond the abilities of known cultures in India 11,500 years ago. For Dr Gaur this is a reason to doubt the accuracy of the sea-level-data which suggests that the structure was submerged so long ago. However the NIO have not yet been successful in recovering any datable materials or artefacts that could tell us its age more directly (for example by C-14 or TL tests).

My own expedition to Poompuhar with the NIO in 2001 was limited to diving on the U-shaped structure and one neighbouring structure. But what’s really exciting is that more than 20 other large structures are known to be located in the same area down to depths of more than 100 feet. These have so far been identified only by sidescan sonar and never yet explored by divers. I’ve organised an expedition jointly with India’s National Institute of Oceanography and John Blashford-Snell’s Scientific Exploration Society in Britain to map and investigate these other structures in March/April 2002.

The Cambay and Poompuhar discoveries are both reported in depth for the first time in Underworld and set into the proper context of the flood myths and inundation history of the broader regions to which they belong.

If they are what they seem to be — a caution I must repeat since so little research has actually been done by anyone — then they signal an exciting new era in Indian archaeology in which the investigation of submerged ruins will play an increasingly important role. How do the Poompuhar finds compare with those in Cambay? Are they both parts of the same lost civilisation? Or do they perhaps represent two separate Ice Age cultures, one based in the north and the other in the south of the subcontinent?

Further exploration, involving divers, sonar scans and the recovery and analysis of artefacts will provide the answers.

And for reasons that I explain in Underworld, I think India’s most ancient scriptures, the Vedas, also have a lot to tell us. There are tremendously good reasons to disbelieve the scholarly consensus (certainly the consensus amongst Western scholars) that the Vedas were composed as late as 1500 B.C. Parts of them probably do date from then; but some of the hymns could be much older than that — carried down by oral traditions from much earlier times.

I think it all goes back to the Ice Age.

And in Underworld I try to explain why.

Graham Hancock
Graham Hancock
February 2002