by Peter James

Journalist Graham Hancock earned a tidy sum with his book Fingerprints of the Gods, in which he claimed that the mother of all civilisations flourished about 12,000 years ago on an ice-free Antarctica. To do so he rehashed Charles Hapgood’s 1950s “pole-shift” model, which proposes that ice ages were caused by the polar ice caps shifting position, rather than climate change.

Hancock has now switched to the latter, generally accepted model, claiming that his “ice age civilisation” flourished on coastal areas that were swallowed up by rising seas at the end of the last glacial period, principally near India, Malta and Japan. The switch is made with no apology or explanation to his readers. Anything is grist to Hancock’s face-saving mill, and in Underworld he now attempts to hijack the very evidence that once debunked him.

Contradicting Hapgood, and his own 1995 work, Hancock now says sea levels did rise massively at the end of the last ice age. The idea that this spawned legends of a deluge is hardly new. Yes, there are many sunken settlements yet to be recovered by archaeology, but do any date from the ice age, as Hancock claims?

He treats the most tenuous pieces of evidence, such as a tooth from Malta (now apparently lost), to lengthy documentary massages–glossing over the fact that he cannot produce a single artefact incontrovertibly dated to the ice age from any of his underwater “sites”. Other rambling chapters rake over Renaissance maps, previously used to “show” how knowledge of an unglaciated Antarctica was passed down from its lost super-civilisation 12,000 years ago.

Sad though this stuff is, there are some signs that Hancock is now trying to understand the scientific norms he continues to “challenge”. Question is: will he be prepared to refund the readers of his earlier books?

Peter James is a historian of the ancient Near East and Mediterranean.

The orignal of this review was printed in New Scientist and can be found here.