Updated: Dec 6, 2022
Link to vlog is here
My job is always a little slow right before Thanksgiving. School district administrators seem to check out early because they are just sick of dealing with constant requests and complaints. That left me some time last week, while slogging through paperwork, to listen to, and occasionally visually attend, the new Graham Hancock series on Netflix, The Ancient Apocalypse.
As always, Graham (and I will call him by his first name because I’ve interviewed him, even though I’m sure he wouldn’t remember or admit it), claims that he’s examining only ONE BIG STORY, but in fact, is trying to cram 3 to 4 hypotheses together into a GRAND THEORY that will explain, if not quite everything, then SO MUCH.
First, he looks at the evidence for previously unknown and/or lost civilizations—which there is some. Then he looks for commonalities, in terms of mythological motifs and architecture, among various of the known ancient civilizations. Finally, he looks for evidence of a massive natural disaster which could have affected the development of civilizations immediately before and after the final stage of the last Ice Age and how civilization developed after that. There is some evidence for this.
All of these piles, I will call them piles, of evidence are then jumbled together to try to make the case that there was an Ice Age civilization (I immediately thought of Game of Thrones as Atlantis) which scattered after a cataclysm which suddenly warmed parts of the Earth and then froze it again and gave rise to subsequent civilizations.
Graham still seems to be looking for the MASTER PLAN, even though none of the evidence he cites really needs such a narrative. Below, I’m going to unpack why.
Let me say from the outset that I personally have no problem with the idea that there were civilizations prior to the last Ice Age and that our present narrative about the history of civilization is woefully inadequate. I’ve been saying that for years, simply because there is evidence for it and it seems to make sense.
While the Ice Age impacted the entire planet, ice sheets did not cover the entire earth and there were many places in the Americas, Africa, Asia and certainly Australia, where there was little or no ice at all. At this point, the number of possible ruins, settlements and ancient cities which have been found that were demonstrably covered by rising sea levels runs into at least the dozens if not hundreds of examples.
There are earthworks and ruins throughout parts of South America, Africa and the Middle East that can only be seen from the sky because of their size. Some of the sites that have been dated indicate origins that violate the official archaeological narrative about human development. This alone indicates that there is still a metric buttload (excuse my plain talk here) that we don’t know about how and where humans lived.
Additionally, many of the mythological stories of flood and earth upheavals which he mentions, from diverse, although always Northern Hemispheric, sources could contain elements of truth and be actual accounts of observation of sudden catastrophic events occasioned by the planet passing through comet debris giving rise to what is often called the Younger Dryas period, when the gradual warming of the planet was temporarily interrupted by what appears to be a celestial impact of some kind.
Something indeed happened in the North which resulted in the rapid extinction of megafauna (or at least helped it along) and the laying down of a layer of burned material in the geologic record, at least in the Northern Hemisphere.
So, I have no issue with any of those suppositions. It’s how Graham mixes and mashes his cultural information and runs roughshod over other important pieces of data and methods of approach to which I take exception. Part of Graham’s beef is with mainstream archaeology itself, which is fair enough some respects, but also causes him to make overbroad generalizations in others.
It is one thing to say that human civilizations, at least on some parts of the planet, were disturbed, altered or destroyed by celestial doom and then had to reassemble themselves, and another thing to assert that there was one master civilization which bequeathed its knowledge to all subsequent civilizations everywhere. Graham somehow wants to say both, when by his own accounting, such is not necessary.
First, he and some of his archaeological authorities provide evidence that, during the last Ice Age, there was probably more land to walk around on, since the ocean level was an average of 400 ft lower than currently. Humans walk around a lot, being an inquisitive primate species.
The implication here, for me, is that early civilizations probably did what later civilizations did, shared lots of information along trade routes. If that is the case, then there probably isn’t a need for anything like a central Atlantis---information will be passed along and preserved simply because that’s part of what humans do.
One of my favorite stories of this kind of transfer involves how surprised archaeologists were when they found cloves in the burial site of a Mesopotamian noble woman who was interred about 4000 years ago. At that point, as far as anyone knows, the plants that generate cloves only occurred on one or two islands in one place in the world—on the other side of Asia, far into the ocean (Indonesia).
Yet, here were cloves in this woman’s grave. They probably came via India.
What a grand tale of trade and travel lay within these little flower buds.
Graham then uses the oversimplified argument of “look at how alike all these ancient monuments are” (pyramids, ziggurats, earth mounds, etc.) insofar as they are all mini mountains and often evince specific astronomical alignments to stars and the solstices/equinoxes, and more rarely, to moon cycles, as proof of a central nexus of knowledge that this hidden destroyed civilization maintained.
He criticizes mainstream archaeological interpretations of such buildings and alignments as relying on “mere coincidence of development.” My criticisms of mainstream archaeology notwithstanding, the mainstream narratives are more sophisticated than that.
Graham seems to forget that the purpose of a large building in the ancient world (or in our own BTW) was to magnify the political power of a ruling authority who usually was invoking a religious dispensation in some way. Most monolithic structures were not built all at once but over time, in stages, at places where religious/political authority was already recognized, like a local shrine or water source.
How do we know this? If there are written records, which there are in some instances, they tell exactly why and when such structures were built and by whom. In other cases, as in Indigenous N. American monuments, there is often extensive oral tradition providing historical contexts. Sometimes the evidence is right in front of a person.
Astronomical alignments were often incorporated into such structures because the skies provide the basis for calendrical systems, the measurement of time, seasons, and eventually history. Sirius was significant to the Egyptians because its rising in the summer portended the all important flooding of the Nile. Early in Egyptian history, that flooding encompassed a large part of the plain in which the great pyramids and the Sphinx, a now recognized older structure, sit.
Even after the Nile changed course over time, as the desertification processes sweeping through northern Egypt increased, the original site of the first shrines there were recognized and immortalized—and the Pharaohs that could organize the building of the monuments thought they’d be remembered too.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t mysteries about the pyramids. Of course there are, it’s not like the builders wrote everything down simply so we later generations would understand every detail. It’s just that we’re talking about human beings here, not mystic descendants of some cosmic species.
When the Mayans were building their pyramids and aligning them to the motions of celestial bodies, they were not only creating observatories to keep track of the divine order of the cosmos, they wanted their structures to mirror that order and perfection they saw in the heavens, an order that was not reflected in the earthly world of drought, floods and earthquakes. This is not some quaint interpretation, but what the present living Mayan people have said about their ancestors.
Aligning large structures to the principal movements of the Sun and fixed stars and asterisms makes eminent sense in cultures/civilizations that come to increasingly rely on common agricultural practices and the rituals of meaning which will unify and consolidate communities in those practices.
Such things were done in China under the Confucian rule of secular authorities for centuries simply because it helps the whole to keep track of things. It’s also a way of invoking the order of the cosmos and reproducing it on earth, a kind of representative magic. It is not rocket science, actually.
The fact of pyramidal structures isn’t rocket science either. Humans seem to be somewhat vertically oriented, being a largely hierarchical species (in this sense we take after Woodland Chimps more than Bonobos). We tend to “look up” to people and classes in power—and the folx in those positions want the masses to do just that.
If one looks at the evolution of pyramids in Egypt, China, or Meso-America, one sees the same patterns. The initial structures were small and then over time, got larger and larger as subsequent generations took over, as settlements spread out. One didn’t destroy the old; the older was surpassed by succession, its power and prestige incorporated into new structures, recycled, refitted. In fact, Graham describes this process several times.
And, pyramid shapes, if they’re made correctly, are more stable from an engineering standpoint, particularly in areas of flood or earthquake (especially important since river valleys were the foci of civilization development). There’s nothing secret about this, look it up. This isn’t feigned coincidence, it’s mathematics and engineering.
It’s why Monk’s Mound (Cahokia) in E. St Louis has survived repeated floods and earthquakes. If you pay attention to what kind of building is being built where, it suddenly becomes clear why pyramids are the logical (not coincidental) choice of many ancient monument builders (and for some reason we tend to focus on the pyramids, not the numerous square and rectangular buildings that are also, always present).
The notion that different humans in various cultures would not be able to figure out these mathematical and engineering principles independently--that such knowledge would have to have been bequeathed to them from a superior source, comes the closest to smacking of racism (and reproduces Western conceptions of the processes of civilization building at the same time).
There are numerous examples in recorded history of humans in different places "discovering" similar principles of building and technology, and even ideas, with NO possible means of known diffusion or contact--even recently. For example, it certainly looks like Leibniz and Newton each independently developed the principles of Calculus, within only months of each other. The theological arguments that gave rise to eventual Protestant movements in early modern Europe arose more or less simultaneously in three different locations in Europe without any obvious source of transmission.
There are also frequent cultural instances of parallel development where no source of transmission is present, but the idea or technology crops up anyway, such as the mathematical idea of Zero as an abstract (not a place holder) which has only happened three times in recorded human history, but among cultures that were not connected, and one of these (the Indus Valley civilization) did not build any large pyramidal structures at all--probably because they were not needed as the Indus River valley was pretty stable (the abstract Zero is not needed for stable pyramid construction) at the time.
Mathematical and engineering principles are universal in our physical focused world so the need and drive to grasp them is really all that's needed. Any talented, smart human so oriented would be able to figure them out. The real question that has exercised historians of World Civilization is not where "Atlantis" might have been, but how these kinds of informational "moments" of simultaneous parallel growth occur--because such might imply some form of "leap of consciousness," phenomenon that is yet unexplained. Perhaps Graham should focus more on what historians are actually saying today rather than digging around in his past resentments.
Finally, in order to get me on to the next track, it is simply not necessary that a social collapse necessitates the existence of a super-civilization to get things started again. Before the rise of Classical Greece, there was a tumultuous collapse of civilization in the Mediterranean, probably caused by a gigantic volcanic explosion that destroyed the Minoan culture and most everyone else—certainly put a dent in the trade routes. There was a “dark age” and then poof, classical Greeks are everywhere.
This happened in Europe more than once and we have information about many of the phases. The Bronze Age in Europe ended very suddenly, it appears to have been a pandemic. Several of these cycles recurred until the huge die off in the Black Death. Similar phases of civilization collapse and re-emergence have occurred throughout human history.
In each case, survivors figured out ways of going on and passed information to successors, sometimes newbies who had migrated into an area as in the case of Celts and Germanic tribes, or the Aryan migrants into N India during the collapse of the Indus civilizations, and sometimes by regrouping and creating a new order, as the Egyptians after the Hyksos invaded, or the Han Chinese after the Mongolian Empire fell (another final casualty of the Black Plague pandemic).
No Atlantis or a “giant in the earth” is needed to pass on information. Regular humans do it just fine, but might be collectively remembered as great ancestors.
And this leads me to two of Graham’s most egregious theoretical toe stubs. First, his invocation of Gobekli Tepe as the Rosetta Stone of this great Apocalypse which ended Ice Age civilization, and second, his abortive attempt to cram the Great Serpent Mound of Ohio into this narrative.
I agree with Graham that Gobekli Tepe and other similar sites in Turkey are remarkable. They are old, they violate the mainstream archaeological narrative about nomadic societies and reveal that there are all kinds of ways in which Western obsessions with linear cultural development (i.e. hunter-gatherer, agriculture/husbandry, village, city) are probably just simply wrong.
Because only a tiny portion of the Gobekli Tepe site has been excavated, I think it’s really too soon to try to understand what all the carvings could possibly mean. It’s like trying to understand the contents of a book by reading a few possibly random pages in the middle of it. No one, Graham, archaeologists, or religious millenarians should be trying to sell us a definitive interpretation yet.
But, of course, Graham goes ahead anyway, speculating wildly about how the dating of the site must, by implication, be related to the climactic shifts that occurred during the celestial splat that impacted the ending of the last Ice Age. It might be—but, there’s really no way to know.
The notion that hunter-gatherers could, by themselves, not be organized enough to build structures like Gobekli Tepe only shows that we probably don’t know much about hunter-gatherers. Many Indigenous nomadic/semi-nomadic groups, such as the Cheyenne and Shawnee specifically built large, even monumental structures, specifically for clans to gather around during certain times of the year in order for the whole people/nation to reacquaint themselves.
The pre-Islamic shrine or Kaaba at Mecca existed for precisely the same reason. Muhammad simply adopted/adapted the shrine for a new use. There is substantial evidence that Stonehenge was used in a similar way by the semi-nomadic peoples who predated the Celts.
And the fact that Gobekli Tepe was purposely buried is fascinating, but not without precedent. Among many Indigenous peoples, not only in the Americas, but in India and throughout Asia, if a religious structure loses its potency and is no longer considered important, functional, or becomes associated with bad rule/magic or sorcery, it is often ceremonially destroyed, buried or abandoned.
Thus, Pueblo peoples throughout the SW in North America would burn and/or deliberately bury kivas or other ceremonial buildings. Throughout northern India during the immediate post-Ashoka period, Buddhist shrines would be buried or left to the jungle. The Mayan people buried or left their structures to be similarly consumed by the forests prior to the Spanish. European Christians deliberately buried or obliterated whole villages or centers of worship that they couldn’t rehab into churches in both northern Europe and in the Americas.
Deliberate abandoning or burying of sites because they are no longer considered centrally sacred is not at all uncommon—and this should probably be the first proffered explanation of Gobekli Tepe’s internment.
And finally, WTH is Graham doing with the Great Serpent Mound in Ohio?
In the series, Graham is upset because the authorities who oversee the wellbeing of the Mound structure won’t let him near it. He insinuates that it’s mainstream archaeological bad guys who don’t want to be associated with his superior alternative theories, who are just covering up the truth, and are preventing him from filming at the site of the Serpent Mound, although, obviously, no one can keep him from making a story about it.
Keep in mind this is the same Graham who, earlier in his literary history, tried to argue that Indian Mounds may have been built by Celts or lost Israelites. Keep in mind that less than a decade ago, Graham was also arguing that the secret tomb of Merlin might be found on an island off the coast of N. America.
When I pointed out to him that the graves in question (there’s actually more than one on the site he mentions) follow the exact layout of the standard Algonquin gravesite for a revered leader or religious figure, he refused to respond.
His association with Gregory Little has at least moderated his views enough that he no longer believes in literal “giants” who bequeathed their inherited Ice Age civilization culture to subsequent generations (only giants in terms of knowledge), and acknowledges that the Mounds and other great earthworks were built by Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Bully for him.
His outrage at not being allowed to film the Great Serpent Mound directly belies his inability to understand how the administrative position of that artefact has changed. First off, we know who built the Serpent Mound and when it was constructed.
Although the term Fort Ancient is still used as a basic descriptor of the cultural period archaeologists reference (the label itself is an old settler term), among current scholars it is generally understood that divisions of the Shawnee developed the site into its present form. It is a relatively recent structure as the mound works in the Ohio go and was constructed in order to signal Shawnee participation in the agricultural maize cult that had spread across much of the Eastern Woodlands.
So, it is not surprising in the least that the Serpent Mound has astronomical implications to it as almost all of the great mound structures in the Ohio Valley do. It would probably not be surprising that the Serpent Mound was built on a previously sacred site. Again, that’s common and would do nothing but prove that the desire to tap into already established traditional sacramental places appears to be a common human tendency.
Seneca historian and lore keeper, Barbara Alice Mann speaks directly about the long history of Western interpreters attempting to make over the Serpent Mound in their own cultural images. Graham is every bit as guilty of this. While he doesn’t go down the serpent as Satan route (like some millenarian Christians), he makes the same error that most Euro-mythological universalists do by referring to the Serpent Mound as representing a snake eating an egg.
The problem with this is, the motif of an egg eating snake appears nowhere in any N. American mythology. Interpreting the snake effigy (for that’s what it actually is, not a mound) through Western lenses has created a host of problems which always occur when ONE DOES NOT CONSULT THE DESCENDANTS OF THE ACTUAL CREATORS OF SUCH AN OBJECT.
As Mann puts it, 'Simply plopping mangled tradition into the discussion as generically “Indian” leaving it shorn of the associational matrix peculiar to its nation of origin, is disingenuous and not very helpful.'
In short, what Indigenous tradition maintains is that the original site was of Cherokee origin and was taken over by the Shawnee, who were often allies (and occasional rivals) of the Cherokee, when the former were driven from, what is now Ohio, in a series of armed conflicts. The “egg” is not being swallowed, it is the Ulunsu’ti stone carried in between the horns of a great Horned Serpent, often referred to as an Uketena.
That the Horned Serpent, a potent representation of the power of earth, water, and serpent, would be found close to round and geometric structures, usually representing powers of sky, fire and eagle (of which an effigy is relatively nearby), is for Mann, indicative that the Serpent Mound must be seen within its total environment, not as a stand-alone monument.
The Horned Serpent was/is an extremely powerful force/being that many Indigenous peoples of N. America recognized. In fact, Graham mentions them earlier in his documentary (and misrepresents a Zoroastrian myth along the way incidentally—only telling what of the story he found useful, and not indicating that the story was preserved by Muslim tradition in Iran), but for some reason, cannot wrap his mind around the idea that the Serpent Mound is a Horned Serpent.
Rather than being a victim of mainstream archaeological naysayers, Graham was probably not allowed to film at the site because of his history of playing loose with Indigenous data and because Indigenous representatives are now permitted to weigh in on who gets to visit that site, since it’s so remarkable and Westerners seem to covet it. It’s just as likely that Shawnee consultants said no, because Graham didn’t come to them and ask nicely. So bad, so sad, wahh.
After watching all the episodes, all I could think of was “Graham, just stop. Unless you get past your own blind obsessions, you need to stop.” And BTW--highlighting your interviews with Joe Rogan is not going to gain you more of a sympathetic audience.
For the purposes of the vlog I intend to quote more from Mann’s discussion of the Serpent Effigy/Mound, but I will close here with her ending words on the topic: “….I encourage scholars to forge respectful relationships with those [Indigenous] descendants, that they may spend quality time in tradition—and among traditionals---listening as much as talking, absorbing instead of Euro-forming. Nothing will be lost in the process, but much stands to be gained, by all."
Don’t even get me started on how he refuses to deal with and/or misrepresents almost all of the major religions.