This response was originally posted on the GHMB, 4 March 2002
Over on Ma’at Nic Flemming has reviewed the third installment of Flooded Kingdoms of the Ice Age, the TV series based on my book Underworld. At the end of the review, Flemming provides us with the following explanation of his motives:
“I prepared these reviews of the three Flooded Kingdoms TV broadcasts because they have been accompanied by a sequence of newspaper articles and radio broadcasts implying that the information has reached many millions of people. It is important that the views of scientists and archaeologists who have worked on other submarine prehistoric sites should also be heard by the general public. This review is provided in the public interest, and to promote archaeology.”
These are noble sentiments and I applaud Dr Flemming for his public spiritedness. But now that I hear him express himself in such terms I find it even harder to understand why he declined to appear in Flooded Kingdoms when our producers invited him to do so at the very beginning of work on the series. I’m genuinely curious as to how he squares his outright refusal to appear and give his point of view with his belief that it is “important that the views of scientists and archaeologists who have worked on other submarine prehistoric sites should also be heard by the general public.” As I’ve said before I don’t think that a scientist who had already formed and demonstrated such a negative opinion of the series before a single frame had been shot was an ideal choice by Ma’at to give an objective and balanced review of the series.
Nonetheless because of Dr Flemming’s seniority in the world of marine archaeology, and the high status and respect that he commands in that world, his review stands as an example of contemporary archaeological analysis and, by his own logic, must contain some of his best arguments against the Flooded Kingdoms hypothesis. [Explanatory note: Flemming states that in preparing his reviews of my series he assumes “that the best part of the evidence, and the best part of the argument in favour of a presumed advanced civilisation on the continental shelf has been included in the TV broadcasts”; conversely it is reasonable for me to assume that Flemming has put his best arguments into his reviews of the series].
I am obliged to say that when I consider Dr Flemming’s review in this light, it convinces me more than ever that Underworld needed to be written and that it is a good thing that the TV series has been shown and has reached an audience of millions — since in the process members of the public have, at the very least, been made aware than an alternative view does exist to that of senior figures such as Dr Flemming into whose hands the soul of marine archaeology appears to have fallen
I will not “review Flemming’s review” of programme 3 point by point as I did for programme 2 — since many of the issues remain the same. However I will highlight here a few points that particularly caught my attention.
(1) Dr Flemming writes: “Archaeologists working all round the world have already found over 100 prehistoric sites on the continental shelves, and these fit into the usual sequence of ‘Palaeolithic to Neolithic’. We want to find many more sites, of course, and to find out about the maritime skills of the people who lived in them. But it is unbelievable that between these Palaeolithic or Neolithic settlements on the continental shelves there was an alternative branch of the human race, one that was technically sophisticated and living in big cities.”
Despite such complacency, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, Dr Flemming can hardly deny that only a miniscule fraction of the submerged continental shelves to which he refers has ever in fact been properly surveyed and studied and that the greatest part has never been looked at at all. It therefore may not be good logic to conclude from the unsurprising nature of the 100-plus prehistoric sites so far known to marine archaeologists that everything that awaits us on the flooded Ice Age lands must necessarily be equally unsurprising.
On the contrary, the history of science, and of archaeology itself, bears witness to the fallacy of such thinking. Consider for example the state of ancient Indian archaeology around the year 1906. By use of the “Flemming logic” archaeologists of that time would have been obliged to conclude — on the basis of all their previous excavations and accumulated knowledge — that it was “unbelievable” that the ruins of an advanced urban civilization, as old as the oldest Mesopotamian ruins, would one day be discovered in India. Yet this was precisely what happened in the 1920’s with the discovery of Harappa and Moenjodaro – and the gradual revelation thereafter of the spectacular Indus Valley Civilisation, the very existence of which was not even suspected in 1906.
The lesson to be learned from this is that it cannot always be good archaeology to expect only the expected. Or as Heraclitus put it: “If you do not expect it, you will not find the unexpected, for it is hard to find and difficult.”
(2) Dr Flemming, in my view, is too quick off the mark in his decisions about whether an underwater structure that he has glimpsed only momentarily in my films, or on my website, is man-made or not. Thus though he has never dived there himself he concludes in a flash that the underwater structures of Yonaguni are entirely natural. In passing he disdains and utterly discounts the opinions of two scientists, Professor Maasaki Kimura of the University of the Ryukyus and Sri Sundaresh of India’s National Institute of Oceanography – both of whom have dived extensively on the Yonaguni structures and both of whom state on camera that the structures have been shaped by human beings. Here Dr Flemming explains why he discounts their views:
“A sequence of dives with Wolf Wichman, a German geologist, are well done, and there is a discussion with Hancock asserting that the landforms must have been cut by humans, while Wichman asserts that they are natural. Japanese archaeologist Professor Kimura and visiting Indian archaeologist Dr Sundaresh considered it to be man-made.
”There are real ambiguities in separating man-made and naturally occurring rock features. Neither geologists nor archaeologists have a monopoly of wisdom on this. However, the geologists have an advantage if they can say ‘I have seen exactly the same kind of formation many times before in all sorts of totally natural conditions’. The archaeologists then have to prove that in this particular case the formation is not natural (like all the others) but is man-made. In the absence of pottery, organics, soil, bones, or any other artefacts this is very difficult. That is the present status of Yonaguni. Geologists think it is natural.”
I’m genuinely surprised that Dr Flemming does not know Professor Kimura’s qualifications. He is not an archaeologist, as Flemming states, but a geologist. So it is not true to say that the present status of Yonaguni is as a structure that geologists think is natural. The truth is that Yonaguni is a structure over which geologists have not yet reached any consensus – some think it is natural, some think it was shaped by man, some are undecided. Details of the balance of opinion are given in Underworld pages 596-605 but I note that Dr Flemming states in his review: “The book ‘Underworld’ has also been published, and I have not read it.”
(3) I’m baffled by the speed with which Dr Flemming rushes to judge the large stone circle at Kerama as an entirely natural structure without ever having dived on it himself and contrary to the stated opinion of Wolf Wichmann, an extremely scceptical marine geologist, who did dive on it with me and could find no natural explanation for it. Is Dr Flemming some sort of comic book superhero? Does he have X-ray vision? What secret quality is it that he possesses which enables him to reach judgements of such certitude on sites of which he has no direct experience himself and, in the case of Kerama, in the teeth of the on-the-spot judgement of an experienced marine geologist who had just spent the first part of the programme arguing that the Yonaguni structures are entirely natural?
(4) Ditto Dr Flemming’s judgement, based as he admits only on what he’s seen on my website and on my films, that “the sites of Cambay and Poompuhur are almost certainly natural rock.” Again he disregards the expert onsite opinion of the NIOT scientists in the case of Cambay and the NIO marine archaeologists in the case of Poompuhar.
(5) Dr Flemming is just plain wrong to insist as strongly as he does on the average rate of sea-level rise being an accurate guide to the full story of sea-level rise at the end of the Ice Age. Flemming seems simply to ignore the work of geologists like John Shaw, Paul Blanchon and Cesare Emiliani who have shown, quite conclusively I believe, that the meltdown of the Ice Age was chaotic and that there were at least three large spikes or peaks in sea-level rise any one of which could have catastrophic effects along coastlines. The kind of rise (of about 1 metre per century) that Flemming assures is all we have to consider would, he writes, “gradually eliminate certain hunting grounds during a person’s life time, but would not cause any personal risk. The chances of being killed or drowned by a storm or a big wave or coastal flood was exactly the same as it is today and probably less because the population density was lower.”
Irrespective of the still unsettled arguments amongst specialists as to how fast episodes of sea-level rise in fact were Dr Flemming seems unaware of the increased volcanism and earthquakes that are now known to have accompanied the main meltwater pulses which would almost certainly have magnified the cataclysmic effects for humanity. In addition there is the matter of the havoc that would have been wrought whenever a glacial lake, storing perhaps 2,000 years of meltwater, spilled out its contents all at once from the full height of the ice-cap two miles above sea-level into mountain-sized waves that rolled down across the land reshaping everything that lay in their path.
(6) Dr Flemming writes: “The sites visited by Hancock in Malta and Bimini did not show any signs of submarine archaeological relics and were natural geological features. I have dived on both sites myself in the 1960’s and 70’s. I informed Hancock’s film company in June, 2000 that these sites were natural”
Despite his remarkable prescience and X-ray vision I find it hard to understand how Dr Flemming could have informed us in June 2000 that the sites we ultimately dived on for episode 1 of the series “were natural”. In June 2000 we ourselves did not know about the existence of either of these sites.
4 March 2002