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Nic Flemming, Senior Scientist at the Southampton Oceanography Centre, has reviewed the second episode of my TV series Underworld: Flooded Kingdoms of the Ice Age. This extremely hostile review, which purports to have been “provided in the public interest and to promote archaeology” appears on the sceptical website Ma’at. I note in passing that Dr Flemming was invited to appear in Flooded Kingdoms of the Ice Age. He initially welcomed the idea and was keen to offer his data and input to the producers; however on learning that a certain Graham Hancock would be presenting the series Dr Flemming withdrew his cooperation entirely.

This suggests to me – how can it do otherwise? – that Dr Flemming made up his mind about Flooded Kingdoms, and formed a negative attitude towards it, from the moment that he heard of my involvement. Since Ma’at, though “sceptical”, prides itself on balance, I question the choice of a reviewer whose mind had been so demonstrably made up against the series – even before a single frame of film had been shot.

I will respond to Flemming’s review section by section. In each case, for reasons of clarity, I set out Flemming’s own words first, followed by my responses.

Sections 1 and 2 have already been posted.

Section 3: Mythology

Nic Flemming wrote:

Graham Hancock is correct in this assessment of the last Ice Age:

- The global sea level was about 150 metres lower during the peak of the last Ice Age, about 20,000 years ago.

- Human beings, and all the normal vegetation and fauna of the neighbouring land-mass, extended out onto the continental [shelf] during the Ice Age period from roughly 100,000 years ago to 5,000 years ago.

- As the sea rose again vegetation was gradually killed off by salination and inundated and animals and people who had been on the continental shelf moved inland where they joined the people who had already been living there.

- Flood myths which occur all over the world are the "folk memory" of the experience of suffering 10,000 years of rising sea level.

The thesis that the late-glacial rise of sea level was the cause of widespread flood myths was presented in great detail in a book published by F.J. North in 1957. (see refs below). I read this a few years later, and expanded the logic in Chapter One of my book "Cities in the Sea", published in 1970 in the USA, 1971 in UK, and a few years later in Japan. This model is widely accepted, and has been developed independently by several researchers.

This second programme criss-crossed between three general mythologies - the "Flood Myth", the Myth of the "Golden Age", and the Myth of "The Fall of Man". Certainly these do interact on each other, as is evident from the Old Testament, and other religious texts. Life is, and always has been, a rather frustrating and puzzling experience. There are good times, but still, most of us also experience some pretty nasty things. When this happens we long to know why. Was life always so unjust? Did people always suffer? Do the gods really care nothing about us? Thus many belief systems produce ideas or concepts relating to a period when things were better in the past, or, in some religions, when they will be better after death. The change from that idyllic past to the reality of the present is portrayed either as simply loss of the perfect state - "Golden Age" - or a moral punishment for sin - "Fall of Man".

The myths as referred to by Hancock are somewhat wrapped round each other, and imply that the Indians (and other peoples) believe in a wonderful period in the past when people had been richer and happier and that they also believe in Flood Myths. Both events are in the past! By Hancock's logic, the cultures that existed at the time of the sea level rise were the rich and technically developed cultures of the Golden Age.
The confusion or merging of the myths is very convenient for the "Flooded Kingdoms" proposition but it does not work.

The Fall and the Golden Age have no reference to place and time. They are purely spiritual or psychological concepts, even though they are sometimes fitted into a theological chronology.

The Flood is very much time and site specific.

The Flood Myth becomes embedded in stone age culture during the period 20,000 to 5,000 years Before Present (BP) because of the intensive way which pre-literate peoples relate to the land and nature in general.
If you live by hunting and finding wild plants and roots and insects which are good to eat, and rely on finding regular supplies of freshwater in the ground, you develop an encyclopaedic knowledge of the terrain. Aboriginal peoples in Australia, and probably other hunting cultures such as African Bushmen, memorise voluminous path or track narratives, describing every rock, shelter, shrub, and spring, shade, and danger along hundreds, if not thousands, of miles of track. These memorised records have to be handed down from generation to generation, along with all the additional data about seasons, migration of animals, geographical variation in climate, and so on.

One can see the impact that a continuously rising sea level would have on coastal pre-literate hunting or migratory cultures. Even if the vertical change within a few decades might seem small, the horizontal incursion was observable, and hunting tracks that were functional during one generation could be flooded and useless two or three generations later. Rising sea level became one of the things a young hunter had to know about, along with the danger of storms, dangerous animals, poisonous plants, and so on. It was obvious. The late Rhys Jones reported Australian tribal track records which had loops that extended offshore from the present coastline and tracked back again, because the "mental tape record" had not been altered. In some cases it was easier to keep the "tape" intact and add footnotes in daily life, rather than to alter the "master tape in the mind".

When I was researching in 1982 on the Aborigine crossing routes from Timor to North Australia the Aborigine Council Leaders in Bathurst Island were perfectly aware that their ancestors had crossed the sea walking on the sea floor when the sea was lower. They had not learnt this from modern scientists. They saw us as the novice beginners studying an obvious fact, and they encouraged our research using divers.
By about 10,000 years BP we find Neolithic villages in many parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia. (See Mellart, the Neolithic of the Middle East) Several such villages have been found under the sea. (See Galili, Efstratiou, Flemming, and others). Towns such as Catal Huyuk in Turkey were founded in this period. The Neolithic people had settled down, started building villages and small towns, and began to practice agriculture and, on the coast, more advanced methods of fishing.

When the sea level rose over a Neolithic village the occupants were forced to abandon a significant investment in capital structures. That hurt. In practice, a rise of one metre per 100 years would force the occupants to abandon houses on the waterfront, and build on the landward side of the settlement, until, due to the topography of the site, the whole settlement might have to be deserted. This process seems to have occurred at Aghios Petros (Efstratiou, Flemming) and at Atlit (Galili).

All this time we are talking about pre-literate cultures. In particular it is inconceivable that they could have had a system of counting time which was fixed to an absolute reference point over thousands of years. By the time the sea level settled down at its present level 5000 years ago, the demonised and threatening rise of the sea was something which had occurred in the far off past. It had become a legend: "In the time of the gods", "Before the great king who founded our city", (eg.Gilgamesh), or whatever was the local myth system.

The cultural specification of the date of the Flood could only be fixed when a culture had advanced to the point of possessing a writing system and a dating system, and the technology for preservation of records. When this was occured, the regional or local Flood Myth became fixed at a defined time, and was not dragged forward by the oral transmission of the story from one generation to the next. This fixing of the Flood Myth happened at different times in different cultures, with the earliest ones we know of in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the story of Noah, and some Indian legends. The story in each case becomes embellished with details of the culture at the time it was written down and not when the sea was rising. This is also true of the Welsh legends recorded by F. J. North, which only trace back one or two thousand years to the date of being written down.

The important point to note is that this sequence leads to Flood Myths which were written down and known now as always being written by people who have invented writing (obviously) , and who are therefore already living in cities. They describe the Flood as if it inundated a culture like their own, with buildings and roads.

Additionally they compressed the timescale, because no one could have enumerated a timescale of thousands of years until considerably later (as, for example, Plato did).

All scientists and archaeologists who have studied this problem have concluded that the Flood Myth does refer to the cumulative memory of the post-glacial sea level rise, but that the reference to great cities and catastrophic floods is inadvertently attached from the culture and technology of the time when the stories are written down. They should be separate.

The mistake Graham Hancock makes in this programme is to move the Flood Myth and the big cities and the writing back together into the Paleolithic at 10-20,000 years ago.


Graham Hancock replies:

In this section of his review Dr Flemming presents his own unproven theory of flood myths as though it were an established and universally accepted fact and compares my Flooded Kingdoms theory unfavourably with it.

Also presented as uncontested fact is Dr Flemming’s attempt to explain certain other categories of myth in terms of his own idiosyncratic understanding of human nature and postulated psychological needs. For example this passage:

‘Life is, and always has been, a rather frustrating and puzzling experience. There are good times, but still, most of us also experience some pretty nasty things. When this happens we long to know why. Was life always so unjust? Did people always suffer? Do the gods really care nothing about us? Thus many belief systems produce ideas or concepts relating to a period when things were better in the past, or, in some religions, when they will be better after death. The change from that idyllic past to the reality of the present is portrayed either as simply loss of the perfect state - "Golden Age" - or a moral punishment for sin - "Fall of Man".’

I feel that Dr Flemming is not justified in sounding so adamant and matter of fact about such myths. His explanation for them may be correct but is by no means certainly so.

The same goes for his demeaning judgement of preliterate cultures. He tells us it “is inconceivable that they could have had a system of counting time which was fixed to an absolute reference point over thousands of years.”

On this matter I refer Dr Flemming to the works of Alexander Marshack where he will find much that contradicts his extremely rigid and unevidenced view. Nearer to hand is Richard Rudgley’s excellent “Lost Civilisations of the Stone Age” which might also change his mind about what is and is not “inconceivable” amongst preliterate cultures.

Finally in this section of his review Dr Flemming suggests that sea-level rise at the end of the Ice Age took place at the rate of 1 metre ever 100 years. This is close to the average rate over the 10,000 years of the meltdown but it does not tell us anything useful about the rate of the metdown at particular periods. Indeed most authorities would now agree that roughly half of the post-glacial meltdown was compressed into just three episodes of very rapid melting and sea-level rise – at roughly 14,000, 11,000 and 7000 years ago. Some such as Professor Shaw at the University of Alberta speak of rises “of several metres in sea-level over a matter of weeks”. Dr Flemming seems to be entirely unaware of this work.

A response to Section 4 (Sonar) of Flemming’s review will follow in due course.

Graham Hancock

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Subject Views Written By Posted
Review of Nic Flemming's Review, 3, Mythology 12 Graham Hancock 24-Feb-02 00:27
Channeled Scablands 2 Lan Fleming 24-Feb-02 01:20
Re: Review of Nic Flemming's Review, 3, Mythology 2 Scousebob 24-Feb-02 02:21
Graham: further material on changes in sea-level Flemming seems unaware of 3 R Avry Wilson 24-Feb-02 02:52


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