I’m looking forward to the release this summer of a Netflix series featuring Patrick Mahomes, quarterback of my beloved Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. I’m less enthusiastic about the streaming service’s offering of Ancient Apocalypse, whose main contention is that human civilization is much older than what most historians and archaeologists contend.
According to host Graham Hancock, around 12,000 years ago a cataclysm wrought havoc on an advanced Ice Age civilization.
Survivors dispersed throughout Earth, introducing primitive populations to agriculture, architecture, legal systems, astronomy, and other advances. While such claims have long been made by ancient astronaut aficionados, Hancock posits a slightly less ridiculous narrative centering on Atlantis.
However, there are already scientifically-grounded explanations for these societal development and there is no need to bring lost continent refugees into the equation. Hancock claims the explosion in knowledge was too much to be practical, citing Göbekli Tepe as one example. Yet Damian Fernandez-Beanato writes in Skeptical Inquirer that archaeological records for the Fertile Crescent, home of Göbekli Tepe, show gradual development: “Archaeologists found that pre-Neolithic people, increasingly sedentary and starting to cultivate plants more and more, led to sedentary and farming people in the Neolithic. There are known precursor cultures.”
Fernandez-Beanato further points out that the megalithic structures at Göbekli Tepe were constructed many thousands of years before the invention of the wheel, the domestication of the horse, and the advent of writing – developments conspicuously absent for a society supposedly advancing at lightning speed.
Hancock sometimes plays the Galileo Gambit, dismissing archeologists as stuck in their stodgy ways and as hostile to new evidence or ideas. But as Fernandez-Beanato notes, solid proof for
Hancock’s hypothesis would show that modern knowledge or capabilities immediately preceded the Neolithic transition. That ancient peoples had impressive accomplishments consistent with the resources and abilities available works against Hancock’s proposal.
Further, Ancient Apocalypse mistakenly casts the established scientific position on the advent of farming as occurring after the end of the Last Glacial Period. This dismisses recent findings that pushes back the origins of the Neolithic transition. Another falsehood is the assertion that Antarctica appears on maps drawn before it was discovered. What those maps actually show is the Terra Australis, a hypothetical continent thought at the time to exist.
Pseudoscientists play the Galileo Gambit when they are dismissed by experts in the field. Hancock speaks of “official” archeology, which is not a thing. It merely serves to set him up as a brave interloper daring the question enforced orthodoxy.
Further, pseudoscience frequently relies anecdotes over data. Fernandez-Beanato writes, “When analyzing the so-called Bimini Road with other team members (a biologist and a wreck searcher, no geologist or archaeologist in sight), Hancock and the biologist mention that they have never personally seen beach rock fractured that way, as if that were anything to go by in science.”
Other evidence-free claims such as humans existing in the Americas 130,000 years ago are presented as fact rather than wild speculation.
There is plenty of genuine archeology out there, online and in libraries, and I would suggest seeking out that instead. Or at least check out the Mahomes documentary rather than Ancient Apocalypse.