Hit Netflix documentary Ancient Apocalypse promotes white supremacy and racist conspiracy theories, archaeologists – including a Research Fellow at Cardiff University – are claiming. However, an independent researcher and author has said such claims are fuelled by "jealousy" – and that bringing in "woke argument" is "nothing short of desperation on the part of academia".
The show, narrated by author Graham Hancock, theorises that an advanced civilisation was all but wiped out by catastrophic climate change and floods around 12,800 years ago. Mr Hancock suggests this 'ancient apocalypse' was caused by a series of comet strikes that triggered a 1,000 year long mini ice age – a period known as the Younger Dryas.
He believes that survivors from a lost 'high culture' then helped re-start civilisation, sharing their knowledge and skills with the tribes of hunter gatherers who mainstream archaeologists and academics insist were the only human cultures that existed at the end of this ice age.
Scientists and sceptics do appear to be slowly coming round to the theory – known as the Younger Dryas Impact hypothesis – that comet strikes caused this ice age. While this theory is still dismissed by some who consider it to have been 'debunked' more than a decade ago, more recent research has given greater credence to the theory – and forced sceptics and scientists like Michael Shermer to reconsider their previous rejection of the idea.
However, the existence of a lost civilisation, such as Atlantis, is still vehemently disputed by mainstream archaeologists. And some argue that such claims "repurpose long debunked and racist conspiracy theories".
In a huge 40-tweet thread that has been retweeted by many fellow archaeologists and scientists, Dr Flint Dibble from Cardiff University's School of History, Archaeology and Religion, says: "In his new Netflix 'documentary' Ancient Apocalypse, Graham Hancock has declared war on archaeologists. His rhetoric sows distrust in experts, and Atlantis conspiracy theories promote white supremacy."
Dr Dibble told Wales Online that explaining how Mr Hancock's "Atlantis conspiracy theories" promoted white supremacy' would take a "long essay", but he provided links to various articles on the topic and his own previous twitter thread on the subject.
In one of these articles, titled 'Did Aliens Build the Pyramids? And Other Racist Theories', Stephanie Halmholfer writes "Pseudoarchaeological arguments may seem to be simply fun to entertain. But they are invariably heavily biased against Black people, Indigenous peoples, and other people of color (BIPOC), who are doubted to have been responsible for their own histories.
"Pseudoarchaeology is useful to white nationalism specifically because it casts doubt on the achievements of BIPOC communities, opening the doors to rewriting history through a white power lens."
However, indigenous Native American and Mesoamerican history traditions, like many others around the globe, do say they were taught the arts of civilisation by mysterious 'others' or 'gods' – and tell of cataclysmic floods and other natural disasters, that wiped out their predecessors.
Nonetheless, Professor John Hoopes – a specialist in the archaeology of southern Central America and northern South America at Kansas University's Department of Anthropology – is largely dismissive of these traditions. And he says that "pseudo-archaeology" and Mr Hancock’s theories "align with and reinforce white-supremacist dogma" – despite race not being mentioned in the Netflix documentary.
Professor Hoopes told Wales Online: "The discussion of race in 'Ancient Apocalypse' is conspicuous by its absence. Hancock does not need to identify the individuals in the myths he describes as white because most of his audience already knows it. This is what permits him to conceal what archaeologists recognize as the implicit racism in his theory."
Prof Hoopes said that the "myth of Quetzalcoatl" – a great culture hero of Mesoamerican civilisations – "as a heavily bearded white man who arrived by sea from the East was a story created by Spaniards after their initial conquest of Mexico".
And he said that the "most likely explanation" for Native American history traditions and folklore tales featuring culture 'transformer' heroes who taught the arts of civilisation was that "someone in the present is seeking to elevate their status and they embellish or invent these culture bringers, so that they can claim descent from them and thereby justify a privileged status".
When asked if this applied to Mesoamerican traditions such as Quetzalcoatl, Professor Hoopes replied: "I’m asserting that the idea that Quetzalcoatl was white, had a heavy beard, and arrived from the East across the sea is a Spanish invention. The accounts of Tolpitzin Quetzalcoatl, a culture hero of Tollan, are probably an Aztec-era embellishment, perhaps of an earlier Toltec story that has not survived."
"Asserting that Quetzalcoatl was a real, historical individual is like asserting that Aeneas, Odysseus, Herakles, or even King Arthur were historical individuals. There may be a grain of truth somewhere in the story, but we can’t say which it is—or whether it’s even there."
California State University art historian Professor Manuel Aguilar-Moreno writes in his book 'Handbook to Life in the Aztec World': "This cultural hero [Quetzalcoatl] was credited with bringing his people the greatest developments and splendours in the arts, sciences, written words, and all elements of civilisation."
Mr Hancock has criticised archaeologists for being too dismissive of these traditions. This view is shared by independent researcher Freddy Silva, author of 'The Missing Lands: Uncovering Earth's Pre-flood Civilization'.
Mr Silva told Wales Online that dismissing these indigenous history and origin stories "smacks of arrogance and elitism". He asked how archaeologists would feel if they were told their "family’s history was just hearsay", that "oral tradition was myth" and that "the local university was in a better position to decide what is acceptable and what should be discarded"?
"Myth was a theatrical device for encoding valuable information in a memorable format," added Mr Silva.
So, how much credence does mainstream archaeology give these stories? Dr Dibble said: "It's going to vary from archaeologist to archaeologist. Mainstream archaeology – or, as we call it, archaeology – is not some sort of monolith.
"We disagree with each other all the time and we update our opinions all the time, based on new evidence. So, everybody has a different point of view on how to integrate oral history, as well as written history, into archaeology"
With regards to the ubiquity of flood myths, Dr Dibble said that flooding is "a common issue" that "happens all the time". He added: "It's a a huge, monumental thing that impacts people, so it's no wonder that stories are going to come from it".
On the subject of indigenous folk lore and traditions saying the art of civilisation had been taught to them by mysterious 'others', Dr Dibble said: "I think mythology has that because people in the past tried to explain in some ways, via a story, how their culture was. And remember, these stories were educational, in a sense.
"They taught people how to behave – just like our stories do today. They teach people social norms. And so, I think that that's the case for all of these stories."
"I don't think that necessarily means there's some global civilisation until we have absolute evidence for it. Until we can actually find that civilisation, I'm not going to be convinced of that.
"These are valuable stories, to these cultures, that help them teach each other, and their children, about what their society was, just like our own stories that we use today."
In Episode 6 of Ancient Apocalypse Mr Hancock explores giant earthworks in the United States, including the majestic Serpent Mound, which is attributed to indigenous Native Americans who were the ancestors of the Shawnee Tribe, Algonquian-speaking people who originally occupied lands in southern Ohio, West Virginia and western Pennsylvania.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPL), a nonprofit legal advocacy organization known for its legal cases against white supremacist groups, has said that claims these mounds were not built by Native Americans, but by an earlier Caucasian people, were part of the narrative used to remove Native Americans from their lands. In 1830, then US President Andrew Jackson defended the the Indian Removal Act by saying: “In the monuments and fortifications of an unknown people, we behold the memorials of a once-powerful race exterminated to make room for the existing savage tribes.”
The SPL – which has itself been accused of being a hate group in conservative news outlets – says "the modern far right is crisscrossed with pseudo-scientific research into lost Aryan super-civilizations, biblical giants, ancient astronauts and the occasional inter-dimensional alien".
In Ancient Apocalypse, Mr Hancock does not deny these mounds were build by Native Americans. He says Serpent Mound – as with others found in the US – contains sophisticated celestial alignments with equinoxes, solstices and true north.
"The mound-builders cleverly incorporated a whole series of sky-ground alignments into serpent mound's design," says Mr Hancock.
In the show he speaks to Geoff Wilson from the independent 'Friends of Serpent Mound' group. Mr Wilson says: "To construct it and to figure out where all these astronomical alignments that are incorporated into its design is just an amazing sheer work of genius from the prehistoric Native Americans."
Mr Hancock agrees, saying: "And that genius is easily overlooked, actually. Is archaeology taking the the astronomy of the site seriously?"
Mr Wilson replied: "I don't think so, no. There's very few people who pay attention to it or even consider it."
Archaeologists largely agree that serpent mound was first built around 2,300 years ago. However, Mr Hancock believes archaeo-astronomy suggests the mound could be 10,500 years older than this.
Due to a 26,000 year cyclical wobble of the earth's rotation on its access, the point on the horizon where the sun sets at solstice slowly shifts. While the snake's 'jaws' at Serpent Mound are no longer perfectly aligned with the setting sun during the summer solstice, he says they would have been around 12,800 years ago – right at the start of the Younger Dryas ice age.
However, this date of construction of 10,800 BCE – even earlier than Gobekli Tepe in Turkey – is rejected by mainstream archaeologists. Wales Online asked Dr Dibble if archaeo-astronomy was taken seriously by archaeologists such as himself, and at sites such as Serpent Mound.
He said: "I have no problem with the idea of thinking about how ancient humans thought about astronomy. We certainly have hypotheses that have been peer reviewed and published about how different structures are potentially aligned astronomically.
"There's nothing wrong with making such claims. They are difficult to falsify, so they're difficult to prove that that was the intent, for example, of people in the past. But that doesn't mean that we should not hypothesise along those lines.
"My major issue with the way Hancock uses them is that he argues that because there are these alignment they therefore date to a certain period. That's not how we date things.
"We try to use more precise evidence, that actually reveals chronology, whether that's radiocarbon dating, thermoluminescence dating – so scientific type stuff – or by looking at the stylistic trends in a material culture, that we have by the millions – stone tools, or pottery.
"Those are very secure ways to date things, at least within a span of a few hundred or a thousand years. We can't use astronomical alignments as replacement for archaeological chronology and that's something he tries to do throughout the documentary and in his writings."
"There are a lot of things we don't know, but at the same time, we do have a lot of evidence out there, for this period – 10,000BC. For, really, any period in human history and pre-history, except for really early – when you're talking about half a million years ago… OK, the evidence there is extremely sparse. But when you're talking about 10,000 years ago, in archaeological terms, that's reasonably recent in human pre-history and so we have thousands of sites and we have an abundance of evidence."
In Ancient Apocalypse, Mr Hancock talks with researchers who say that the alignments of multiple Megalithic sites in Malta show the movement of the star Sirius being tracked by their builders at the end of the last ice age. When asked about this, Mr Dibble said he'd "had to cut out a bunch" of his thread, because he was trying to summarise an eight part TV series in less than 50 tweets.
However, referring to the astronomical alignments in the US, at Serpent Mound, Poverty Point and Jackson Mound, Mr Dibble said: "He [Mr Hancock] goes through this very quickly. If you pause it, on the images that show these alignments, it's never exact. It's always off by many, many degrees."
Regarding similarities in construction techniques in disparate cultures – such as the megalithic polygonal masonry found in Egypt, South America, Easter Island and other places – Dr Dibble said: "There are similarities between everything because, obviously, there's a limited way to make architecture."
Mr Hancock and other ancient apocalypse theorists have also pointed at striking similarities in statues and other iconography. This includes deities being depicted with distinctive 'hand bags', or figures clasping their hands on their hips in way that draws attention to the navel.
Dr Dibble said he "hadn't read much" about about these and consequently "didn't know much about them". But he said that "pseudoarchaeologists who think these things are linked, culturally" were committing "hyper-diffusionism".
Diffusionism – believing that technology is passed from one culture to another, rather than being invented independently – is "way too simplistic and does not give credit to how humans actually react," said Dr Dibble. Prof Hoopes also says diffusionism – or "the fallacy that knowledge or human development flowed from a single source at any given time in history" – is one of his main complaints about Mr Hancock and other researchers like him, who academia deem to be "pseudoarchaeologists" .
Dr Dibble maintains that Mr Hancock is a purveyor of "pseudoarchaeology and fake history". And he claims this can cause real harm to our society.
He told Wales Online that this is particularly problematic in an era of conspiracy theories as it erodes the public's trust in experts. He said that this could have far reaching impacts on society – such as impeding the response to pandemics.
Regarding pseudoarchaeology and its alleged links to the far right, Dr Dibble said in a tweet: "This is the dark side of pseudoarchaeology. It’s no longer entertainment, but extremely subversive and vile.
"Racist pseudoarchaeology is closely aligned with Nazi scholarly theories about Atlantis. As Steph Halmhofer notes: 'Atlantis also played a large role in 1930’s Nazi Germany when Heinrich Himmler and Herman Wirth founded the Institute for the Study of Atlantis.'."
"The institute’s purpose was to find proof Atlantis had once existed to prove the superiority of the Aryan race.”
Dr Dibble adds: "Pseudoarchaeology, in many of its forms, functions to steal credit from indigenous people – It couldn’t have been black and brown people who built the monuments, it was Atlantides or aliens or white people."
He told us: "I do want to emphasize that I don't think that everyone who enjoys or reads or watches or listens to pseudoarchaeology is a racist or white supremacist. That is no way my argument."
"People engage with this for a variety of reasons, ranging from entertainment to curiosity. That said, I hope that any reasonable people would engage with any nuanced critique that shows how these theories imply that Indigenous people did not deserve credit for their cultural heritage, as well as the long history of that."
However, the accusation that the lost civilisation hypothesis attempts to "steal credit" for these incredible structures from indigenous peoples – and in doing so promulgates far right and Nazi ideology – is rejected by author and independent researcher Freddy Silva. Mr Silva, who shares Mr Hancock's belief in a lost civilisation from the Younger Dryas epoch, told Wales Online: "Historians, archaeologists and the like fritter away much of their time attacking each other, and after the backstabbing is over they turn on independent researchers. An academic mafia run by vainglorious A-types.
"We get more attention than their out-of-touch theories built on pottery shards and other detritus. They don’t talk to people outside their narrow and myopic world, yet they build a picture of the ancient world that, they feel, is solid and unquestionable.
"Well, it isn’t, and, time and again, independent thinkers like Graham and myself show the advantage of thinking outside the box and looking at the problem by embracing a multi-disciplinary approach.
"As to the claims of white supremacy, allow me fill you in. If one examines all remaining traditions left behind by indigenous peoples, you will find a common theme: that before a massive flood destroyed the earth 12,000 years ago, there were hunter gatherers and there was a parallel civilization of more advanced people, “humanlike but not quite human.”
"They were described as lighter skinned with blonde hair and blue eyes, or red hair and green eyes. They were also much taller and often had elongated skulls.
"These are their own words. And these ‘gods’ (a god being any person who understood the forces of nature) were not a focal point of worship. The interaction was collaborative and mutually respective.
"So to bring a 'woke' argument into this discussion is nothing short of desperation on the part of academia to again discredit any work performed by people who are not ‘in the club’. And, with the popularity of this Netflix series, their jealousy is all too plain to see."
Wales Online has also approached Mr Hancock and Netflix for a response
Do you believe in the lost civilisation hypothesis put forward by Mr Hancock, Mr Silva and others? Or do you believe archaeologists like Dr Dibble and Professor Hoopes, who say there is no evidence to support this theory? Or do you have your own theories? Let us know in our comment section.
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