Dr. Jon Epstein
Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice
In “Magicians of the Gods”, investigative journalist, and archaeological gadfly, Graham Hancock follows up his investigations into humanities deepest history first presented in the 1995 bestseller “Fingerprints of the Gods”. As in its’ predecessor, “Magicians of the Gods” poses the questions; what if our civilization is not the first and was instead a legacy of an earlier advanced culture that had a firm grasp on architecture, astronomy, and all the related knowledge that directly influenced the civilizations in the Fertile Crescent and beyond in the earliest days of their seemingly abrupt beginnings? What evidence do we have that this may be the case? What form would it be likely to take? What might this evidence tell us, both about those who first created it and about ourselves?
In order to explore those questions, and the deeper implications that he believes those answers express, Hancock begins his narrative in the ancient region of Anatolia, that is now South Western Turkey, near the border it shares with Syria, at Gobekli Tepe, understood by archaeologists to be a site of profound significance. Extraordinary in its size, sublime in its craftsmanship and masterful in its construction, the site is jaw dropping. Accurately dated to the tenth millennium BCE Gobekli Tepe is now considered among the most important megalithic sites in the world, and is deeply and significantly “out of place” with our current understanding of Neolithic culture, its social organization, its understanding of the natural world and its abilities. Additionally, it is not unique. Another seemingly identical site, Kaharran Tepe, has recently been found on a Turkish farmers land within sight distance of the other. Currently understood to be built between 12,000 and 11,000 BCE, and buried and abandoned around 9600 BCE, Gobekli Tepe appears, and disappears, 5000 years before the first hints of civilization appear, down river in what is now Iraq, in 4500 BCE. Archaeologists were resoundingly, and more or less uniformly, dismissive, incredulous, and eventually a bit shell shocked but accepting of the science, because that is what they do.
Hancock, on the other hand, had been expecting such a discovery for some time, and was not at all surprised. Having laid out the possibility of just such an occurrence in Fingerprints, for Hancock it was simply one more example, albeit one of monumental significance, of the now highly probable possibility that we may have failed to notice, or simply ignored, an earlier civilization destroyed as a result of cataclysmic, rapid, and global climate change that occurred between 12,800 and 11,600 BCE.
According to Hancock, the evidence of such an event, and the civilization that it destroyed has been “hiding in plain sight” encoded in ancient megalithic structures, preserved in myth, and described in religious texts. The nature of that evidence, and what conclusions can be drawn from it, is meticulously cataloged and detailed in Fingerprints of the Gods and explored further in a string of bestsellers throughout the 1990s: Heavens Mirror: Quest for the Lost Civilization (with photographer Santha Faiia) and Underworld: Flooded Kingdoms of the Ice Age. It is not unreasonable to attribute the significant increase in the popular interest in ancient civilizations that peaked in 2012 (when the impending “Mayan apocalypse,” which Hancock had been debunking for some time prior, did not occur) to his success. The Literary Review labeling Footprints of the Gods “one of the intellectual landmarks of the decade” further cemented his reputation as the foremost explorer of ancient mysteries.
This assessment apparently stuck in the craw of professional archaeologists everywhere who seem to feel that as a result of his success, their domain is being trampled by patchouli wearing, dope smoking, new age crystal licking, tree huggers, untrained and unruly and poorly informed, looking for aliens, Jesus, or worse and interfering with the work of “real scientists” such as themselves.
Maybe, but here’s the thing: I am a college professor, a scientist, and a researcher. I am good at it, as a matter of fact, and have the string of letters after my name to prove it. As a college professor I have the opportunity to socialize with professional archaeologists regularly. Without exception I have never brought up the name Graham Hancock without getting an extraordinarily dismissive assessment of his work. I have been told he is a “pseudo-scientist”, a “crackpot,” and even worse a “charlatan”. Yet when I have asked how they arrived at their assessment, which I would like to point out I was sincerely interested in, I have found, again without exception, that not one of them had actually read as much as a single word of his work. Not a single word. Worse, I was told by a world famous, highly credentialed, respected and well placed member of the archaeological establishment that they didn’t need to read it to know what it is: dangerous nonsense that disrespects science. I replied that I had no idea it was that insidious, and thanked her for her time.
So that happened.
Archaeology is a very conservative discipline, and moves at a much slower pace than many related sciences, a pace that is largely dictated by the time and effort it takes to actually do archeology. Methods of excavation and extraction of artifacts, the “raw data” of the science, is done with the utmost care, and painstaking technique. Everything is mapped. Everything is coded, cataloged, and preserved. The time spent on a dig can span decades, and is often limited by geography, climate, and physical accessibility. Politics, in all its forms, is ALWAYS a factor, sometimes at gunpoint. Additionally, and of significant concern, is that many of civilizations earliest sites, as well as the remnants of literally thousands of years of history and what remains of our greatest empires now lie directly in harms’ way, as they have for some time in the war torn region that includes Iraq, Iran, Syria, Kurdistan, Palestine, and Israel. Archaeology is diligent, hard and dangerous work.
Archaeology is also largely an inductive science. What this means is that conclusions are drawn in archaeology by the examination of often very limited information, drawn in some cases with only a handful of artifacts, sometimes not even that, which then provide the foundation for a “bottom up” method of scientific theory building in which broader statements of fact are derived from limited data. As new data becomes available theory will be modified to account for any changes the new data represents. Any reader who has heard the story of the blind men and the elephant can easily see how this can often prove problematic.
Deductive reasoning, on the other hand, is widely considered to be the more appropriate method for arriving at supportable, verifiable, and testable conclusions. Deduction was succinctly elucidated in the 1890 novel The Sign of the Four by the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes : “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Simply put the deductive method in science is “top down.” Using the deductive method you begin with the general, and through the process of elimination move towards the specific, which can then be phrased as statements about how variables can be understood logically, in some form of causal relationship with one another. In the language of science this is referred to as “hypothesis building,” and the results, when tested, are expressed as correlations, the extent to which two or more variables are related to, and effect, one another. When two variables are 100% correlated you can assume the presence of a cause and effect relationship, that is; a change in one variable (called the independent variable) will lead to a direct and equivalent change in the other variable (called the dependent variable) one hundred percent of the time. In the real world of the sciences the identification of true cause and effect relationships occur exclusively in the “hard sciences,” such as physics, chemistry or geology, and are a practical impossibility in the social sciences due to the complexity of the subject matter.
The controversy revolving around the dating of Abū al-Haul, The Great Sphynx of Giza, the largest and most enigmatic megalithic sculpture in all known history, provides an instructive example of how these contrary methods of logic in the sciences can prove to be very problematic. Egyptology, the academic discipline concerned with all facets of the Ancient Egyptian world, has held fast to the assertion that the monument in question was built by the Pharaoh Khafre at around 2500bce. A survey of the relevant textbooks at a local college bookstore demonstrated that this date is received as absolute fact, and not in dispute, a conclusion that was supported by the fact that not a single textbook provided a reference or citation to any outside source in regard to this, as well as many additional, sites, in Egypt. The academic equivalent of “received knowledge.”
Using the inductive method, the date of 2500bce for the building of the Great Sphinx has been arrived at using at least three pieces of related, although circumstantial, pieces of evidence. The first piece of evidence is the physical location of the Sphinx itself in relationship to the other monuments on the Giza Plateau, notably the Pyramids and the second in particular because of its relationship to a funerary complex which surrounds it. The second piece of evidence is a statue of the Pharaoh Khafre which was found buried in the sand in the vicinity of the Sphynx. The third, and the “smoking gun” as far as Egyptology is concerned, is the presence of a reference to someone of great importance whose name began with Khaf which is obviously (but not necessarily) the first part of the name Kahfre on the remains of a stone plaque referred to as “The Dream Stele.” Interestingly the fact that stele was actually erected by Thutmosis IV centuries after the time of Khafres’ reign, and therefore it cannot in anyway be considered authoritative, and is at best a description of how history was understood by Egyptians thirteen or so centuries after the monument was allegedly built is not considered to be problematic because, as the “official “website authoritatively states, “There’s no requirement to set the date a date older than 4500 years….[because] we can present other evidence that ties the Sphinx to Pharaoh Khafre’s building program at Giza.” 1
To recap: The Sphinx is near the pyramids for a reason, most likely the second pyramid which is associated with Khafre AND since a statue of Khafre was found buried near the Sphinx AND since there is a ‘Khaf’ on the much more recent Dream Stele, therefore it is reasonable to conclude that the Sphinx was most likely constructed by Khafre. Khafre reigned from 2558-2532bce, therefore the Sphinx is somewhere in the vicinity of 4500 years old.
Other scientists from disciplines other than Egyptology have reported much different results which place the original construction of the Sphinx at far earlier dates, dates that place the construction before the rise of Egyptian civilization. For example the extensive research carried out by geologist Robert Schoch2, in which through the process of deduction arrived at the conclusion that the Sphinx has been heavily eroded over a period many years due to its exposure to large amounts of water. In other words, the Great Sphinx shows obvious evidence of extensive rain damage. The Northeastern Sahara desert, which is home to the Sphinx, last saw significant rainfall 5500 years ago, necessarily placing its construction to a time before 3500bce, a time period that predates the first Pharaohs by at around a Millennium and Pharaoh Khafre by much more than that. The reaction to this information by Egyptologists was dismissive,3 for reasons that go beyond Egyptology. According to the available evidence in the early 1990s, civilizations that we capable of megalithic building did not appear until around 3500bce, and did not appear in Egypt until around 2700bce.
To recap: An extensive geological survey of the Great Sphinx to examine the long term effects of erosion and weathering lead to the conclusion that in addition to the erosion caused by wind born sand expected in a desert environment the Sphinx bore the unmistakable effects of water erosion caused by long term exposure to rain in a temperate environment. Because the Northeastern Sahara has been a desert since approximately 3500bce, the Sphinx could not have been built any later than that date, 5500 years ago.
Which brings us back to Graham Hancock, who we left standing at Gobekli Tepe in Turkey. Gobekli Tepe offers incontrovertible evidence that humans were building extraordinarily complex megalithic sites, containing multiple examples of megalithic statuary, 6000 years before the accepted date of the Sphynx. Furthermore it is known that the original foundation of ancient Egypt was laid by people who were not native of Egypt, but were instead from the Fertile Crescent, in which Gobekli Tepe occupies a northern location. As a result the position taken by Egyptologists that the Sphinx could not be any older than 4500 years because humans had not yet learned the skills necessary for building it until that time is false. Humans were capable of such undertakings for thousands of years prior to that time. Therefore, following the deductive method, an earlier date for the Sphinx is NOT impossible, simply improbable, and hence (following from the principles of good science) should be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly.
As is evident from reading Magicians of the Gods, Gobekli Tepe appears to be the first in a cascade of the dominoes providing evidence of a much different world history in which we are at least in part a legacy of an older, lost civilization. From Turkey, Hancock turns his attention to Indonesia at a site called Gunung Padang. Long thought to be a natural hill upon which a Megalithic site had been constructed in 1500bce, recent archeological and geological research on the site have determined that not only is it NOT a natural topographic feature but rather a pyramid, but its date of construction has been determined, through radio carbon dating, to have been between 20,000 and 13,000bce.
In short order Hancock demonstrates that the extraordinary number of archaeological sites, such as Gobekli Tepe or Gunung Padang, that seem radically out of place might actually make more sense when you consider the possibility of an older, antecedent, civilization, because then they may no longer be out of place. A simple, yet appropriate, solution. We shouldn’t be surprised by any of this, Hancock tells us, because we have been sharing stories of that previous civilization in the myth, legends, and religious teachings of hundreds of cultures, from all over the planet, since, literally, the beginning of history. For example a previous civilization would explain the references in the book of Genesis to “the land of Nod” that was “To the East of Eden”, and the “heroes of old and men of renown” described in the story of Noah.
The memory of a great flood, as described in the story of Noah, is actually a trope, and occurs in hundreds of variations all over the planet. There are flood stories from every continent, and all tell essentially same story of a sudden and catastrophic flood that caused profound changes to the planets geography, climate and wild life and wiping out all traces of humanity with the exception of a few survivors, often depicted as having been “chosen” to do so through divine intervention for reasons pertaining to the continuation of both the human race and various, specific, traditions. An additional common feature in many of the flood myths is the idea of a high civilization, with knowledge of science, mathematics, architecture, agriculture and astronomy being destroyed and lost to the sea forever. According to one author, Plato, that place was called Atlantis, and it was destroyed by flood, Plato tells us, in around 9600bce.
The “great flood” has long been considered a myth, an epic morality tale, and researchers have trying to uncover evidence of this event for centuries. The more religious see this search as a way of proving the truth of their traditions, and there have been many expeditions to the Ararat Mountains, the place the Old Testament reports as the final resting spot of Noah’s Ark, in search of its remains. If the ark is found on the top of a mountain, it is argued, that would serve as evidence of both the existence of Noah as an actual historical figure (which it actually would not), and verify what they already believe to be true about a great flood in our remote Biblical past (an ancient vessel on top of a mountain MIGHT do that). Gobekli Tepe is also in the Ararat Mountains, a mere 300 miles or so from Mount Ararat itself.
For researchers like Hancock, however, an event such as the Great Flood would appear to be a necessary condition of their theorizing, and has long been his detractors “ace in the hole.” If there was a previous advanced civilization, where did it go? It is very unlikely, they argue, for such a civilization to thrive without leaving evidence of its existence. But, turning again to Sherlock Holmes, it is also true that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. In other words, just because no evidence has been found does not mean that it can’t, or won’t, be found.
It is now known that it is highly probable that a very large comet, which had fragmented, impacted with Earth in about 11,000bce in the Northern Hemisphere on the Laurentide Ice Sheet located near the Great Lakes in North America4. This impact, it turns out, was devastating, and has been linked to the Holocene extinction, the rapid disappearance of a large number of plant and animal species, specifically the larger species of mammals such as mammoths and the mega-predators, in the early stages of the 11th millennium BCE. Because of its speed and intense heat this impact also resulted in the instantaneous melting of the ice sheet upon which it landed causing a huge, and global flood that devastated everything in its path, changed the geography of the planet, and caused intense climate change resulting in what is referred to as “the big freeze.” This approximately 1000 year event is called “The Younger Dryas” in the Earth sciences, and corresponds to the same historical period as Gobekli Tepe. What this means, in practical terms, is that not only is it possible that the people living during that period would witness the comet impact and its aftermath, it is impossible for them to not have, and it is very likely that this event was something they talked about for generations to follow . It’s not every day that the entire planet you call home is devastated in cataclysmic comet impacts, fires, floods, and extinctions, and there are lessons to be had about that event that our ancestors would undoubtedly knew future generations would want to know. Those stories have become our myths and legends. Like Atlantis. We will probably never know if there was ever a place called Atlantis in early antiquity, but we now know that it is not impossible, however improbable.
And so what was considered ”dangerous nonsense” turns out to be not so nonsensical after all. This was no surprise to me, and had his detractors actually read his work, as opposed to Googling it, they might not have been as dismissive in their assessments, and would stop their inaccurate labeling of him as a “pseudo-scientist.” Graham Hancock is NOT a scientist, and has never claimed to be one. He does, however, possess an honors degree in sociology from Durham University where he trained with criminologist Stanley Cohen, a major intellectual figure in British sociology, and where he learned the techniques of social science research. What he is, is an investigative journalist. An investigative journalist armed with the training and knowledge of how to do thorough research.
I am not qualified to assess many of the assertions Hancock makes in “Magicians of the Gods”. As an investigative journalist, Hancock has been immersed in the literature of virtually every academic discipline that concerns itself in any way with our remote past for the past several decades; archaeology, astronomy, myth and folklore, religious studies, geology, climatology, Egyptology, history and more. In a very real way, it is this eclecticism (in higher education it is referred to as “border crossing”) that causes academics to dismiss his work. The boundaries between the academic disciplines are furiously guarded, and a researcher from one discipline, working outside of their home discipline, or more importantly criticizing, another discipline is considered a “breach of etiquette”. By using that criterion, Hancock is an extremely rude man, and his assessment of the field of archaeology as an institution is not a positive one. Further, his critique has not set well with a number of archaeologists who take his criticism of their science as a personal affront. In the issue of fairness, however, I found all of his criticism of academic work in general to be presented in a thoroughly professional manner. The appropriateness of the evidence he presents in his critique is outside of my areas of expertise, but in my opinion often merits a response from those who are experts.
For example Hancock raises questions regarding the role of the Inca in much of the megalithic construction in Peru and throughout the Andes. These questions appear to me, as a professional researcher and scientist, to be fundamental in terms of the prerequisite social organization, division of labor, innovation and technology necessary to even conceive of a site such as are found throughout the Andes, let alone construct it. In order for me to accept the paradigmatic narrative of Inca civilization, I would be forced to reject firmly established “truths” from my own discipline, which were arrived upon through empirical examination of well established, statistically supportable, and verifiable concepts regarding social and cultural organization drawn from a hundred years of peer reviewed, published, science. Science, drawn through the process of deductive, empirically verifiable research leads me to conclude that while we do not know who built Macchu Pichu, Puma Punka, or Sacsayhuaman we do know who didn’t: The Inca. The remaining Inca descendants, by the way, agree. Given that they disagree with both social science AND local tradition, the burden of proof in regard to this question is firmly in archaeology’s court.
“Magicians of the Gods” is an absorbing read. While dense, due to it being thoroughly researched and referenced, the reader is moved along by the search for the illusive “Magicians” of myth and legend (yes, there apparently may be something to that) making the book a challenging, but highly enjoyable, read. Hancock maintains an approachable perspective throughout the narrative, and avoids much of the more esoteric threads presented in its predecessor Fingerprints of the Gods. In particular the archaeoastronomy reported on in his earlier works is kept to a minimum in this volume, which will be good news for those who were sent looking for calculators and star charts while trying to navigate Heavens Mirror.
Much of what Hancock suggests is speculative and it is to his credit that he never claims to have found the “truth.” In this way his years studying social science clearly paid off. Every assertion he makes is qualified, every personal opinion stated as such, and every wildly improbable theory (of which there are many)5, is debunked, rather than dismissed. It is my sincere hope that this volume continues to spark public interest in our deepest past. There is obviously much more to our story, Gobekli Tepe was THE smoking gun, but much of what is to be learned is currently being erased by violence, fire, decaying bodies, blood and oil. Literally. The sooner we come to understand that ours is a single purpose, that humanity has a common destiny, the sooner we can focus our attention towards the past in the search for our origins and move into the future with a new, and clearer understanding of ourselves, and the potential we share.
On November 23rd, the Greensboro College Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice will present Graham Hancock: Magicians of the Gods, a Lecture/Panel Discussion. Details are as follows:
Huggins Auditorium. Odell Building
815 W Market Street
Greensboro, NC 27401
This event is free and open to all but space is limited so please RSVP by email to michelle.hines [at] greensboro.edu
2. Schoch, Robert M.; West, John Anthony (1991). Redating the Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt. Annual Meeting, Geological Society of America. San Diego, California: Geological Society of America. p. A253.
3. Hawass, Zahi and Mark Lehner, “The Sphinx: Who built it and why?,” Archaeology, Sept/Oct 1994, pp. 30
4. Firestone RB, West A, Kennett JP et al. (October 2007). “Evidence for an extraterrestrial impact 12,900 years ago that contributed to the megafaunal extinctions and the Younger Dryas cooling”. Proceedings of the. National Academy of Science. 104 (41): 16016–21.
5. The “theory” which seems to have grabbed the public attention most recently is what is referred to as “Ancient Alien Theory.” This idea was first made popular by Erich Von Daniken in his bestselling book Chariots of the Gods which argues, among other things, that many of the encounters with Angels and what have you in ancient religious texts and iconography are evidence of extraterrestrial interactions with humans. The long running Television series Ancient Aliens, that is currently being shown in the United States on the History Channel follows that particular thread. What is ironic, and completely overlooked by the series regulars, is that by making the argument for ancient aliens, they are actually accepting the mainstream, academic, assessment of ancient humans potential rather than being radically opposed to it as they claim. The a priori assumption that provides the foundation for their “theory,” and why it is actually supportive of mainstream science can be understood like this:
The archeological record provides many examples of sophisticated architecture, construction and designs that appear to be far beyond the capacities that science tells us were possible at that time in human history. Yet humans did things back in the day that humans could not do. Science can provide no real answers for those anomalies at this time. Therefore, an alien intervention is the only logical answer.
Or simply “Humans were too dumb back then, so it was aliens.”