Link to Netflix, Ancient Apocalypse: https://www.netflix.com/title/81211003
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SAA: This series publicly disparages archaeologists and devalues the archaeological profession on the basis of false claims and disinformation.
GH: What false claims? What disinformation? Even archaeologists make occasional factual errors in their papers, and I can’t exclude the possibility, here or there across nearly 30 years of output on this subject, that I may have made some honest factual errors. But I have never knowingly made “false claims” or deliberately spread “disinformation” and would never do so. I have been outspoken about the many failings of archaeology as an institution, but at no point in Ancient Apocalypse is any individual archaeologist disparaged. With its 30th November 2022 open letter, however, the SAA seeks to disparage me as an individual, to defame my reputation for honest reporting and to do harm to me personally. In such a case it is not enough simply to state, without substantiation, that I have made false claims and spread disinformation about archaeologists. Yet the open letter presents no facts and no substantiation only the opinion of the SAA – the honesty and “authority” of which, the SAA seems to assume, must be accepted without question or quibble.
SAA: I write to encourage you to… provide disclaimers about the unfounded suppositions in the show…
GH: What unfounded suppositions? A statement of authority is in no way substantiation for such a slur.
SAA: The effects of this show run directly counter to the purpose, mission, goals, and vision of the SAA.
GH: So, a television series should not have been made because the SAA doesn’t like its content? And the tens of millions of viewers who have engaged with the series should never have been allowed to see it or make up their own minds about its content? Is it the “mission” of the SAA to control the narrative about the human past, to exclude alternative narratives, and to deny viewers the right to make informed choices?
SAA: We have three principal concerns with regard to Ancient Apocalypse: (1) the host of the series repeatedly and vigorously dismisses archaeologists and the practice of archaeology with aggressive rhetoric, willfully seeking to cause harm to our membership and our profession in the public eye…
GH: Since the late 1990’s I, Graham Hancock, the host of the series, have been insultingly dismissed and repeatedly attacked by archaeologists using aggressive rhetoric and seeking intentionally to do harm to my reputation, my family and my work. The SAA’s open letter is just one of the more recent examples of this ongoing highly personalised vendetta.
SAA: (2) Netflix identifies and advertises the series as a “docuseries,” a genre that implies its content is grounded in fact when the content of the show is based on false claims about archaeologists and archaeology.
GH: What false claims? In what ways exactly is the content of the Ancient Apocalypse docuseries not “grounded in fact”? And what false claims about archaeologists and archaeology is its content based on? The open letter offers no substantiation for these grave defamations, nor any proof that the SAA’s own claims about the series are true and grounded in fact.
SAA: (3) the theory it presents has a long-standing association with racist, white supremacist ideologies; does injustice to Indigenous peoples; and emboldens extremists.
GH: This is a spurious attempt to smear by association. My own theory of a lost civilization of the Ice Age, and the evidence upon which that theory is based, presented in Ancient Apocalypse in 2022 and in eight books over the previous 27 years, is what I take responsibility for. It is nonsensical to blame me for the hypotheses of others, either now or in the past, or for how others have reacted to those hypotheses.
SAA: Popular television series such as Ancient Aliens on the History Channel have promoted false claims about the ancient past for many years. These claims frequently rob Indigenous peoples of credit for their cultural heritage. However, Ancient Apocalypse is more harmful than Ancient Aliens. It not only disparages the cultures of Indigenous peoples but also carries the harm a step further by disparaging archaeologists. The combative tone of Graham Hancock damages the public’s perception of archaeology.
GH: Ancient Apocalypse does not in any way “disparage the cultures of Indigenous peoples”; it does, however, claim that the relatively simple technologies that archaeologists attribute to all humans in prehistory are insufficient to explain some key anomalies that prehistory presents us with – including but not limited to ancient, highly sophisticated knowledge of an obscure astronomical phenomenon known as the precession of the equinoxes, knowledge of how to calculate longitude thousands of years before our own civilization could do so, knowledge of the correct dating – to around 11,600 years ago – of the global sea-level rise that modern geologists call Meltwater Pulse 1B, and the chronological implications of the precipitation-induced erosion seen on the Great Sphinx of Giza. I have already addressed the claim that “Graham Hancock damages the public’s perception of archaeology” – a claim rooted in the notion that archaeology, unlike other professions, is somehow above challenge, and that “the public’s perception of archaeology” should be kept in conformity with the perception of archaeology favoured by the SAA. One again it seems that the SAA’s primary motive is to control and monopolise the narrative about the human past.
SAA: After more than a century of professional archaeological investigations, we find no archaeological evidence to support the existence of an “advanced, global Ice Age civilization” of the kind Hancock suggests. Archaeologists have investigated hundreds of Ice Age sites and published the results in rigorously reviewed journals. The assertion that Ancient Apocalypse is a factual “docuseries” or “documentary” rather than entertainment with ideological goals is preposterous. If there were any credible evidence for a “global Ice Age civilization” of the kind Hancock suggests, archaeologists would investigate it and report their findings with rigor according to the scientific methods, practices, and theories of our discipline. If the evidence warranted scientific peer-review, we would acquire funding to test it, publish our results, and promote it in our own outreach materials.
GH: That archaeologists have not found material evidence that would convince them of the existence of a lost civilization of the Ice Age, is not by any means compelling evidence that no such civilization could have existed. The axiom is old but true that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” – especially so in the case of archaeology when only limited areas of the Earth’s surface have ever been subject to archaeological survey at all.
The 27 million sq. kms. of prime coastal lands that were submerged by rising sea-levels at the end of the Ice Age, and that are now under as much as 120 meters of water, have hardly been surveyed at all, with the bulk of marine archaeology focussed on shipwrecks from the historical period and only very recently an interest in the submerged continental shelves inhabited during the Ice Age. The 9 million sq. kms. of the Sahara desert, green and fertile for long periods during the Ice Age, have received only very limited archaeological attention. The roughly 6 million sq. kms. of the Amazon that are still hidden under dense canopy rainforest have likewise received minimal archaeological attention until very recently. The massive Ice Age Sunda Shelf, of which the Indonesian islands and the Malaysian peninsula are the surviving remnants after sea-level rise at the end of the Ice Age, has never benefitted from a comprehensive marine-archaeological survey. Moreover, as the reaction of the SAA to Ancient Apocalypse makes clear, archaeologists have already convinced themselves that the very notion of a lost civilization of the Ice Age is preposterous – with the result that no effort is made to mount a targeted search for such a thing, while those outside the profession who have the temerity to mount searches of their own are labelled as pseudoscientists and frauds.
As to the SAA’s reference to what it claims are the “ideological goals” of the series, what are these alleged “ideological goals”? Absent any clarification – and none is provided in the open letter – this is merely another spurious, unsubstantiated slur.
SAA: Contrary to Hancock’s claims, archaeology does not willfully ignore credible evidence nor does it seek to suppress it in a conspiratorial fashion.
GH: I do not claim that archaeology wilfully ignores credible evidence, only that it appoints itself the sole authority on what is or is not “credible” and therefore rules out certain evidence that I and others regard as both credible and significant – such as the geology of the Sphinx, or the fact that Plato’s date for the submergence of Atlantis (9,000 years before Solon’s visit to Egypt, i.e. approximately 9,600 BC, i.e. approximately 11,600 years ago) coincides so closely with the date of Meltwater Pulse 1B as established by modern geologists.
Neither do I claim that archaeology seeks to suppress credible evidence. My claim is that the problem is one of perception within archaeology where, without any “conspiracy” involved, unexamined preconceptions and received wisdom about the origins of civilization inevitably bias judgements about the possibility of a lost civilization of the Ice Age.
SAA: Archaeologists devote their careers and lives to researching and sharing knowledge about the past with the public. When Hancock refers to professionals as “so-called experts” and accuses them of being “patronizing” or “arrogant,” this disparages our public reputation.
GH: I also have devoted my career and life to sharing knowledge about the past with the public. When archaeologists label me as a “pseudoscientist”, a “liar”, a “racist” and a “fraud” they directly disparage my personal reputation. And as I have already stated, no individual archaeologist was disparaged in the series; my critique is focussed on the profession in general, on its paradigm of the origins of civilization – which by definition excludes a lost civilization of the Ice Age – and on its potent, near monopolistic influence, through the education system and through the media, on public perceptions of the past.
SAA: Our archaeological community is not monolithic but extremely diverse. Our membership represents a wide range of nationalities, ethnicities, genders, and beliefs.
GH: Is American archaeology a shining example of ethnic diversity and inclusiveness? Detailed census data for 2010-2019 (‘Archaeology Demographics and Statistics in the US’), suggest otherwise:
Of particular note in Figure 1 is the revelation that only 1.2 per cent of American archaeologists are of indigenous, Native American origin. How can a predominantly white profession claim inclusivity and objectivity in its studies of Native American prehistory and its comprehension of Native American knowledge when Native Americans constitute such a tiny percentage of the total number of researchers?
Turning to the SAA itself, the latest year for which I have full data on membership to hand (from the SAA’s own Census and Needs Assessment Surveys) is 2015 when 77.7 per cent of SAA members who responded were white (non-Hispanic), 6.7% were Hispanic or Latino, 2.5% were multiracial, 2.4% were of another race, 1.9% were Asian or Pacific Islander, 0.8% were Native American or Alaskan Native, 0.3% were Black or African American, and 7.7% chose not to answer the question (Laura Heath Stout & Elizabeth Hannigan, ‘Affording Archaeology: How Field School Costs Promote Exclusivity’, in Advances in Archaeological Practices 8 (2) 2020, p. 124.)
Writing in 2021, as part of a document on their ‘Historically Underrepresented Groups Scholarships Fund’ (HUGS) the SAA warns that:
Absent significant new recruitment, 10 years from now, the membership of the Society will probably still be predominantly white, with even higher proportions of this ethnic group among its senior leadership. Viewed in the context of the 2010 demographic profile for U.S K12 students, the disparity between SAA membership and societal composition may become more pronounced in two decades. (Dianne Gifford-Gonzalez & Anna S. Agbe-Davies, The SAA’s Historically Underrepresented Groups Scholarships Fund: A New Opportunity and Challenge, November 2021, p. 12. Emphasis added by the SAA author.)
Each year, the SAA offers up to four scholarships to ‘underrepresented groups’ via HUGS and up to eight scholarships to Native Americans via the Native American Scholarships Fund. As the SAA sees it:
Scholarship outreach to students of underrepresented groups signals that we as a profession have invited them to join our ranks and to carry out the Society’s mission. (Dianne Gifford-Gonzalez & Anna S. Agbe-Davies, November 2021, p. 15.)
However, in an article directly critiquing scholarships and the expense of education in archaeology, Laura Heath-Stout and Elizabeth Hannigan argue that “the creation of additional scholarships… is a means of altering the perception of the archaeological community without substantially changing demographics…” Consequently:
any attempt at acknowledging pervasive issues in archaeological academia is used by institutions as evidence that they have already succeeded. If the organization is pressured to implement additional approaches to promoting diversity, they can refer back to their scholarship program as a successful example of diversity work and refrain from broadening their efforts. (Laura Heath Stout & Elizabeth Hannigan, ‘Affording Archaeology: How Field School Costs Promote Exclusivity’, in Advances in Archaeological Practices 8 (2) 2020, p. 130.)
It’s the view of archaeologist Bill White that, structural racism is baked into American Archaeology. (Bill White, ‘The 2020 Race Uprisings and Archaeology’s Response’, June 17 2020
Here is an abstract for a recent presentation at the SAA 2021 Annual General Meeting:
Regrettably, after multiple complaints of archaeological disrespect towards indigenous human remains in this presentation, Deborah Nichols, then President of the SAA replied:
“submissions might be flagged if they analyze looted artifacts, report doing work without the appropriate permits, or promote pseudoarchaeology…” No one flagged Weiss’s and Springer’s abstract, Nichols says, though she called their argument “dated.”(Lizzie Wade, ‘An archaeology society hosted a talk against returning Indigenous remains. Some want a new society, April 19 2021
It is surely a telling comment on the character of the SAA that alarms can be set off by anything perceived as “pseudoarchaeology” but that racist disrespect of Native American remains is permitted and is criticised, if at all, only as “dated”. Science magazine, journalist Lizzie Wade cites indigenous archaeologist Dr Kisha Supernant:
Supernant was shocked to hear such arguments presented at an important archaeology conference. “There are Indigenous members of the SAA, myself included, and there’s so little care given to how a paper like that might have harmed us,” she says. “It was a very difficult experience to sit through that paper … when your very humanity and human rights are being questioned…”
For Supernant, it is too little, too late. She’s leaving SAA and hopes to build a new professional organization, tentatively called the Society for Engaged Archaeology. When she tweeted about her idea… she received a flood of interest and support. “This was the last straw that galvanized a number of us to seriously start doing that planning,” she says. “I understand that institutions are slow to change. But I don’t feel confident that the SAA actually wants to.” (Lizzie Wade, April 19 2021
SAA: Netflix and ITN Productions are actively assaulting our expert knowledge, fostering distrust of our scientific community, diminishing the credibility of our members in the public eye, and undermining our extensive and ongoing efforts at outreach and public education.
GH: I repeat that no individual archaeologist was disparaged in the series. There should be no sacred cows, however, when it comes to the criticism of institutions. My critique of archaeology as an institution is no different from any critique of any large, powerful and influential bureaucracy – such as the United Nations, or a major police force, or a multinational company – and when I see failings I have the right as a human being with free speech to call those failings out, just as I called out the failings of the international aid business in my 1989 book Lords of Poverty. Moreover, the influence of my perception of archaeology as an institution, even on a platform with the massive outreach of Netflix, is minimal by comparison with the all-pervading influence of archaeology through the education system and through the media on public understanding of “the facts” of the past. In short Ancient Apocalypse is an attempt to restore some balance to what has, hitherto, been a very one-sided debate.
SAA: The assertions Hancock makes have a history of promoting dangerous racist thinking. His claim for an advanced, global civilization that existed during the Ice Age and was destroyed by comets is not new. This theory has been presented, debated, and refuted for at least 140 years. It dates to the publication of Atlantis: The Antediluvian World (1882) and Ragnarok: The Age of Ice and Gravel (1883) by Minnesota congressman Ignatius Donnelly. This theory steals credit for Indigenous accomplishments from Indigenous peoples and reinforces white supremacy.
From Donnelly to Hancock, proponents of this theory have suggested that white survivors of this advanced civilization were responsible for the cultural heritage of Indigenous peoples in the Americas and around the world. However, the narratives on which claims of “white saviors” are based have been demonstrated to be ones modified by Spanish conquistadors and colonial authorities for their own benefit. These were subsequently used to promote violent white supremacy. Hancock’s narrative emboldens extreme voices that misrepresent archaeological knowledge in order to spread false historical narratives that are overtly misogynistic, chauvinistic, racist, and anti-Semitic.
GH: There have indeed been suggestions in the past that a comet impact may have been the agency that destroyed a lost civilization of the Ice Age. But neither in Ancient Apocalypse, nor in my books, do I draw upon these prior hypotheses. My work on this matter – in Magicians of the Gods (2015), America Before (2019), and Ancient Apocalypse (2022) – is entirely based on the findings of around 100 scientists published in major peer-reviewed journals since 2006 concerning the Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis, which remains the subject of extremely active and ongoing research, publication, discussion and scientific debate. (https://cosmictusk.com/ydi-bibliography/).
As to the allegations made in the open letter that my work promotes racism and white supremacism – as well as misogyny, chauvinism and anti-Semitism! – it must, presumably, be an inconvenient fact for the SAA that there is not a hint of misogyny, chauvinism or anti-Semitism in Ancient Apocalypse and that neither race nor white skin are mentioned in any episode of the series. The SAA is therefore reduced once again to smearing by association and to making thinly-veiled accusations that my interest in the possibility of a lost civilization of the Ice Age, most recently explored in Ancient Apocalypse, is in some way inherently racist and white supremacist. Although there is much more to say in refutation, it is sufficient to note here that, since I began work on this subject more than 30 years ago, the locations I have considered as a possible homeland for a hypothetical lost civilization of the Ice Age do not include any part of “white” Europe but do include the ancient Americas, the ancient Sunda Shelf (submerged lands around Indonesia), ancient Antarctica, and ancient India.
So if not from Ancient Apocalypse, where do the SAA’s accusations of racism and white supremacism originate?
The answer is spin around some of the contents of some of my previous books, in particular my 1995 book Fingerprints of the Gods, now 28 years old, where I reference several indigenous Native American myths in which white-skinned bearded gods are portrayed as the bringers of culture and civilization, very often after some great global cataclysm.
Since the SAA is accusing me of empowering racism and white supremacism by citing these myths, the issue of whether or not they were tampered with by the Spaniards becomes central. In its open letter the SAA presents it as an established fact that the myths were indeed tampered with in Spanish interests – and it’s true that growing numbers of archaeologists do believe that. It is not a fact, however. Rather it is a body of opinion and conjecture which even today is subject to dispute and disagreement and which, in the early and mid-1990’s when I researched and wrote Fingerprints of the Gods, was not a prominent view on the subject. Certainly some authorities – for example – Inga Clendinnen in 1991 (Inga Clendinnen, “Fierce and Unnatural Cruelty”: Cortés and the Conquest of Mexico, Representations, University of California Press, Winter, 1991) were very much in the “tampered with” camp. But in stark contrast a great many more equally well-qualified scholars had no doubt that the myths collected by early Spanish visitors to Mexico in the decades after the Conquest were authentic and untampered with.
So when I reported these as authentic indigenous myths in Fingerprints of the Gods in 1995 I not only did so in good faith but also found myself in the good company of, amongst many others, Jacques LaFaye, then Professor of Latin American History at the Sorbonne (Quetzalcoatl and Guadeloupe, 1987), Michael D. Coe, then Professor of Anthropology and Curator in the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University (Mexico, 1988); Mexicanist John Biershorst (The Mythology of Mexico and Central America, 1990); renowned Mexican anthropologist and historian Miguel Leon-Portilla, then at the Instituto Indigenista, Interamericano, Mexico City (The Broken Spears: Expanded and Updated Edition, 1992); David Carrasco, Director of the Moses Mesoamerican Archive at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (Quetzalcoatl and the Irony of Empire, 1992); and historian Hugh Thomas (Conquest: Montezuma, Cortes and the Fall of Old Mexico, 1993).
None of these works, or the use within them of myths of returning “white saviors” – as the SAA typecasts these complex and varied accounts – attracted the least outcry of racism or white supremacism at the time they were published. Nor do they do so now. Neither have there been accusations of racism and white supremacy made against other authorities who have subsequently drawn upon the same corpus of Quetzalcoatl myths that I drew on in Fingerprints of the Gods in 1995. These authorities include Neil Baldwin (Legends of the Plumed Serpent: Biography of a Mexican God, 1998); John Pohl, Aztecs and Conquistadors: The Spanish Invasion and the Collapse of the Aztec Empire, 2005); and Michael Wood (Conquistadors, 2010).
Of the greatest significance to the ongoing debate over the authenticity of indigenous Mesoamerican myths about a returning “white savior” (again, “white savior” is the SAA’s phrase, not mine) have been two studies in particular. These are the revised edition (2000), with an important new chapter added, of David Carrasco’s Quetzalcoatl And the Irony of Empire, and H.B. Nicholson’s magisterial Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl: The Once and Future King of the Toltecs (2001, reprinted in 2008 and again in 2015).
Although based on his 1957 PhD thesis, which I did not have the opportunity to examine when I was researching Fingerprints of the Gods, Nicholson’s Toplitzin Quetzlcoatl strongly reinforces the authenticity and legitimacy of the same indigenous Mexican myths, collected by Spaniards in the decades after the Conquest, that I drew upon. Yet far from there being any outcry about it, the book has been twice reprinted since 2001 and widely lauded by scholars. As David Carrasco puts it: “No one has been able to organise the existing primary sources or interpret them as deeply and clearly as he has. No one has surpassed Nicholson, and no one will.”
It’s not necessary to multiply examples here. To state matters briefly, my response to the SAA’s accusations of racism and white supremacism is that they are not based on a representative analysis of the content of my work, or of my general outlook and behaviour, but solely on the fact that I cited certain indigenous myths from the Americas that certain scholars think were tampered with by Spaniards. In Fingerprints of the Gods, I concluded responsibly, in line with consensus of many authorities at the time, that the myths are authentic and I reported them accordingly.
There is a further point that needs to be driven home, however. If the myths were not tampered with by the Spaniards, if they are genuinely indigenous as I believed in 1995, and as I still believe today, then even the elastic logic of the SAA cannot stretch to attaching a racist or white-supremacist burden to them. On the contrary, it seems to me that if any party is guilty of racism and white supremacism here it is SAA itself with its predominantly-white membership and its claim to possess superior knowledge of the truth about indigenous myths – knowledge superior even to that of the indigenous inhabitants of Mexico in the 16th century who shared those myths in the first place.
I will close with comments by David Carrasco on anthropologist Inga Clendinnen’s attempts to dismiss (on the grounds that it is a “splendidly implausible” web of Spanish fictions) the notion, central to the myths, that the Aztecs believed Cortes and the white-skinned, bearded Spaniards “were the returning Quetzalcoatl” — and the parallel notion that this belief greatly weakened Moctezuma, making him hopelessly indecisive and ultimately leading him to abdicate. These myths primarily come down to us through the 16th century Florentine Codex of Fray Bernardino de Sahagun who was fluent in Nahuatl (the Aztec language), who worked assiduously with teams of indigenous knowledge-keepers to prepare the twelve books of the Codex, and who was undoubtedly the most thorough and principled of all the Spanish collectors and compilers of the indigenous myths, traditions and histories of Mexico. Clendinnen, however, wants to claim that the myths of the returning Quetzalcoatl have no indigenous origin, were entirely concocted by Cortes himself in a 1520 letter to the King of Spain and were later picked up second-hand by Sahagun.
“I have no doubt”, writes Carrasco,
that Cortes was striving to impress the royal mind with his extraordinary management skills, or that his literary craft was elegant and profoundly political… What is challenging to me is Clendinnen’s claim that this Spanish political fiction of both Quetzalcoatl returning and Moctezuma’s vacillation and collapse was picked up by Sahagun, who ‘powerfully reinforced’ it, erroneously thinking it was an Indian belief when in fact the ruler’s gesture of abdication was a ‘very late-dawning story, making its first appearance thirty and more years after the Conquest.’ The stunning implication is that this Spanish fiction – the story of Moctezuma’s paralysis – parades down the years through the literature and scholarship and is internalized by commentators less wary than Clendinnen, all the way to Leon-Portilla, who falls unconsciously under Cortes’ charismatic pen along with the rest of us. This means Leon-Portilla’s extensive Nahuatl training and sense of the Aztec ethos (not to mention Sahagun’s profound familiarity with Spanish-Native exchanges) contribute no effective critical stance in relation to the Spanish literary craft… which later Spaniards were not aware of and which a number of Indians internalized as their own…
Carrasco concludes that the work of Clendinnen and others carries “a bloated sense, a transcendent sense, that the Spaniards, led by the incomparable Cortes, made up the facts of the story while the Indians merely repeated them, unknowingly…”
The same sense of superior knowledge – of claiming insights that the indigenous inhabitants themselves supposedly did not share — applies to the spin put by the SAA on the myths of Quetzalcoatl’s return that I reported in Fingerprints of the Gods. Far from seeking to promote racism and white supremacism, my purpose in that book, and in all my subsequent work – very much including Ancient Apocalypse – has been to honour indigenous voices and perspectives in ways that the SAA, despite much virtue-signalling, does not.