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, 2 and 3 have already been posted.
Section 4: Sonar
Nic Flemming wrote:
The programme got back in the water off southeast India, at Poompuhar. Fishermen had been losing nets snagged on underwater outcrops. Unfortunately the film crew could not dive on the outcrop that was suspected most surely of being archaeological, so they dived on another one. The underwater photography was quite genuine, and was not computer enhanced. Bedding planes in the rock were pointed to with a knife, and presumed to be the boundaries of man-made blocks.
Subsequently computer graphics were used to re-create the shape of the structure that Hancock thought had been discovered and which he said could be a ritual enclosure. This reviewer, and Dr Neil Kenyon, a scientist at SOC specialising for decades in acoustic surveying of sedimentary and sea bed geological structures, concluded that the outcrop was completely natural.
In the last few minutes the programme moved back to the subject of Cambay.
I had expected this site to be treated in detail, with lengthy viewing of many sections of the side-scan sonar record over many miles of ship-track, indicating the vast area of rectangular structures that constituted the city.
But this was not given to us. The same tiny images which have been on Graham Hancock's web-site for many weeks were flashed onto the screen, discussed very briefly, and then removed. Of the "nine-miles" of presumed city only one or two images each a few hundred metres across have been shown to us.
Yet these scratchy side-scan images were suddenly morphed into a magnificent city with multi-storey buildings in a drama worthy of Toy Story or Monsters Inc.
Experts on acoustics, sidescan sonar, and sub-bottom profiling at the Southampton Oceanography Centre, UK, have examined the images on the official Graham Hancock website. Their opinions are not identical, but can be combined and summarised as follows:
Any resemblance of the images to a rectangular structure on the seabed is a coincidence. Sonar images are not black-and-white photographs. The non-expert viewer interprets them as a perspective snapshot of an area viewed from a particular point. In fact the side-scan image is built up line by line below a ship, which is always looking straight down and to each side along each line. Thus the apparent shape of "objects" in the image depends upon the ship's speed, the lateral range of the sonar beam on each side, and the speed of the paper in the printer. Since none of those data can be deduced from the images displayed on the web site, the shapes shown on the screen of the side-scans are largely a coincidental illusion. No further information on the missing data was provided in the programme.
The "diamond" pattern with the proportions shown presents a strong illusion of being a rectangle with vertical relief, illuminated from the upper left. The human eye is strongly conditioned to make this deduction from our experience of photography and perspective drawings. Side-scan Plate No. 3 is labeled 97m x 24m, in a ratio of 4:1 (approx). But the picture is at best 2:1, and so the image should be compressed top-to-bottom by a factor of two (or, less probably, compressed left-to-right by much more). The most probable correction results in a pattern of lineation intersecting at 10-15 degrees. It is interesting that Hancock himself reports in the book Underworld (p.675) that neither the Indian National Institute of Oceanography, nor the Archaeological Survey believed that the findings were of human origin, and the NIO experts considered that the illusion in the side-scan images was synthesised by the acoustic process and had no significance. NIO is a world-class institution, and I would trust their judgement.
Side-scan systems either print strong echo = black, or strong echo= white. It is not clear which convention is being used. This again emphasises that the illusion is arbitrary, like those trick games: 6 cubes or 7? A duck or an old woman?
In Plate No. 3 there are regions of the picture at top left and bottom right which do not show the linear-intersecting pattern. In both cases there is a simple lineation from upper right to lower left, just striations. Because of the strong currents in the area these features are probably linear dune-like ribbons sculpted in sand or other loose sediments. These blend in the centre of the picture into the intersecting pattern. This transition is perfectly natural in geomorphological features, but is very odd in a human structure. The same transition is apparent in Plate 4, at the upper left.
There is no evidence in the sidescan image to confirm precisely the origin of the reported outcrops, My first impression , before I had even seen the pictures, was that the "underwater city 9 km long" would turn out to be natural fossil beach rock. Further scrutiny, combined with the so-called artifacts (see below) suggests that the hard ridges are outcrops of shale or mudstone. Beach rock is a natural cementation of beach sands rich in siliceous sands and carbonates which react with sunlight and salt water at the water's edge on tropical beaches. The result is a strip of rock a few metres wide that can extend horizontally for many miles. If more sand is transported onto the beach successive layers of rock accumulate to seawards, absolutely flat and straight along the beach, but with a very slight tilt towards the sea, which was the original beach gradient. Such features can be many tens of metres wide, even a hundred metres or more.
The sub-bottom profiler images look much more complex than necessary. The exaggerated features at the bottom of the picture are simply the double echoes which result in a second version of the true echo at the top of the picture, but with twice the amplitude. These can be ignored. From the web site it is not possible to read the scales, either vertical or horizontal, but the features are probably a few metres high, and tens of metres across. This is in the range of the dimension one would expect from beach rock strips, and reasonable for one limb of an eroded anticlynal bedrock structure.
Since the position of the track of the sub-bottom profiler is not known in relation to the sidescan images, it is not possible to correlate them accurately. The discussion on the TV programme that the sub-bottom profiler showed "deep foundations" was absurd. Acoustic profiling images always show deep lines of greyish scattering within soft sediments, and a hard echo with pure white paper underneath from rocky surfaces. The contrast between the two looks like "deep foundations". It always does.
Graham Hancock replies:
At no point anywhere in the above does Dr Flemming acknowledge the expertise and judgement of the scientists from India’s National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) concerning the sonar images of geometrical structures on the bottom of the Gulf of Cambay. It is as though those scientists, who worked on the spot and were directly involved with the acquisition and interpretation of the sonar images, simply do not exist – or at any rate as though their scientific judgement of the images is believed by Fleming to be worthless by comparison with the judgement of the great experts from the Southampton Oceanography Centre, UK!
For the record I do not regard the opinions of the NIOT scientists as worthless. I know them to be conscientious and highly experienced people and I trust their informed first-hand judgement of the data far more than I trust the judgement of the chaps at Southampton -- who have got no nearer to the original material than seeing only a tiny fraction of it second-hand in my film and on my website. I do not get the impression from Flemming’s review that he has even bothered to talk to the people at the NIOT. He just ignores their input to this whole debate. Yet it is their input and expert judgement that was the source of the Indian government’s announcement that cities 9500 years old had been discovered in the Gulf of Cambay.
Does Flemming have some information about the NIOT that casts their scientific judgement into doubt?
If not then how does he justify brushing aside their findings in such an arrogant and dismissive way?
I note, however, that he exempts another Indian institution from this blanket dismissal. This is the NIO (National Institute of Oceanography) of which he states: “NIO is a world-class institution, and I would trust their judgement.”
Now this raises a rather interesting point with the regard to the U-shaped structure at Poompuhar of which Flemming confidently writes:
“Bedding planes in the rock were pointed to with a knife, and presumed to be the boundaries of man-made blocks. Subsequently computer graphics were used to re-create the shape of the structure that Hancock thought had been discovered and which he said could be a ritual enclosure. This reviewer, and Dr Neil Kenyon, a scientist at SOC specialising for decades in acoustic surveying of sedimentary and sea bed geological structures, concluded that the outcrop was completely natural.”
Since Flemming assures us that the NIO is a world-class institution and that he would “trust their judgement” I can only assume that he must be ignorant of the fact that it is the NIO’s judgement, not mine, that the U-shaped structure at Poompuhar is man-made and that it was the NIO first, long before me, who speculated that it might have had a ritual function. Here is the relevant passage from the NIO’s own Journal of Marine Archaeology (Vols 5-6, 1995-6) which describes the early explorations of the structure: “A few stone blocks were found in the one-metre wide arm. The distance between the two arms is 20 metres. Whether the object is a shrine or some other man-made structure now at 23 metres depth remains to be examined in the next field season.”
The rest of the story is told in Underworld. Dr Flemming has a copy. Yet there is no hint in his review of my film (a review in which he praises the judgement of the NIO) that the NIO in fact judges the U-shaped structure to be man-made. He simply informs us that he and a colleague of his at Southampton, on the basis of my film alone, are confident that it is “completely natural”.
To reach such a level of confidence on the basis of a few seconds of film (especially when than film was shot in poor visibility) seems to me hardly to be good science. And while Dr Flemming is not required to read my book he is out of line to pronounce the U-shaped structure natural so quickly when he has clearly not even bothered to read the NIO’s own published findings about the structure.
I take the opportunity to note at this point that I have been instrumental, in conjunction with the NIO and with the Scientific Exploration Society in Britain, in setting up a three-week marine archaeological expedition at Poompuhar starting on 18 March. I and my wife Santha will be participating in this expedition, the purpose of which is thoroughly to explore and (if possible) classify the U-shaped structure and up to 27 other major sonar anomalies that are known to be located in its immediate vicinity about 5 kilometres off shore of Poompuhar. I am, in other words, submitting my “Flooded Kingdoms” hypothesis about Poompuhar to rigorous on the spot testing – and potential disproof if I am wrong.
Isn’t there some sense at least, no matter the generalised hostility towards me from the academic community, in which this deserves to be recognised as good scientific method?
A response to Section 5 (sea-bottom samples) of Flemming’s review will follow in due course.