A new Netflix series called Ancient Apocalypse shot to the top of the streaming service's rankings the week it was released. It claims that an advanced civilization which thrived during the Ice Age was wiped out by comets and floods, but left humanity with science and technology. In the world of archaeology, such claims aren't new, and are referred to by experts as "pseudo-archaeology." This episode of IDEAS unearths the long history of pseudo-archaeology, how it's been deployed to advance political and cultural ideas, and where it crosses over from pseudo-science to religious myth-making.
In case you didn’t see it, Graham Hancock appeared on Russell Brand’s podcast this past week to promote Ancient Apocalypse and to attack archaeologists yet again for being mean to him by asking for evidence for his claims. Hancock looks tired and angry during the interview, and even Brand notes that he seems unduly dejected and downtrodden for a man with one of the world’s most popular streaming nonfiction series.
Ancient Apocalypse host Graham Hancock gave a lengthy, self-pitying interview to London Real in which he celebrated his own bravery while offering a series of oxymoronic and illogical arguments in a sustained attacked on Wikipedia, archaeology in general, and one archaeologist in particular.
This year wasn’t quite as bad as 2021, so I can’t be too upset at a year that, if nothing else, did not get appreciably worse. On the other hand, nothing really improved either. Between inflation and further work cuts in my failing industry, it’s been hard. When a prominent astrologer said this year would be the best of my life, I wasn’t sure whether that was a promise or a threat. It’s a good thing astrology is bunk, or else I would be painfully depressed to think this was the best things will ever get.
In a more general sense, this was a year devoted mostly to UFOs, which dominated the paranoid paranormal discourse for the first ten months, until Atlantis made a late run for the crown.
Here, then, is the year that was, edited and condensed from my blog posts and newsletter.
British journalist Graham Hancock’s Ancient Apocalypse has become a surprise cultural phenomenon since its November 11 release on Netflix. The archaeology-themed series garnered an impressive 24.62 million hours of viewing in its first week of release, landing in the streaming service’s top 10 in 31 countries. It has also sparked unparalleled outrage from archaeologists and journalists, resulting in dozens of think pieces decrying the show’s many false claims and illogical arguments, analyzing its racist implications, and declaring the series everything from “fishy” to the “most dangerous” show on Netflix. “Why has this been allowed?” asked Britain’s The Guardian. The answer to that seemed pretty obvious: Hancock’s son, Sean Hancock, is Netflix’s senior manager for unscripted originals.
Hancock’s show speculates that a crashing comet destroyed Atlantis, or a similar lost civilization, 13,000 years ago in a series of events remembered as the Great Flood. Ancient monuments and wisdom are therefore the legacy of Atlantis’s survivors, not Earth’s diverse peoples and cultures. Explaining all the reasons Hancock is wrong would take a whole book. Fortunately, I’ve written two. Reader, he is wrong...
Read the rest in The New Republic!
Netflix released the first viewership figures for Graham Hancock’s Ancient Apocalypse, and the numbers were less impressive than I expected. Netflix reported that for the week of Nov. 14-20, the show’s first full week of release, viewers of Netflix’s English-language services worldwide watched 24.61 million hours of the show. By contrast, the comedy series Dead to Me had 30.3 million hours viewed in half the time (it was released mid-week) and Warrior Nun, released the same day as Apocalypse, had 27.74 million hours viewed. All of them paled before 1899, which had nearly 80 million hours viewed in its first few days of release.
The success of Graham Hancock’s Ancient Apocalypse surprised me greatly. The show reached #2 on Netflix’s viewership rankings in the U.S. and U.K. and was in the top 10 worldwide. Consequently, it has become the most-watched speculative history series in a decade, likely outstripping the viewership for previous ratings titans in the genre, like History’s Curse of Oak Island (3 million at its peak), Ancient Aliens (2 million at its peak), and America Unearthed (1.5 million at its peak) and easily leapfrogging similar series on the Discovery, Travel, and Science channels, which averaged around 600,000 viewers. (Netflix does not release exact viewership figures.) Part of the reason is likely due to Netflix itself. Cable channels narrowcast. Viewership for the History or Science channels is primarily older white men, while Netflix, which has found success with other New Age shows like the Gwyneth Paltrow Goop series, can put Ancient Apocalypse in front of all four quadrants: men and women, young and old. Thus, they can appeal to a wider anti-establishment audience that would not tune in on cable.
Graham Hancock has made this show before. Netflix’s Ancient Apocalypse is in substance and style very much like the Channel 4 / TLC series Quest for the Lost Civilization that Hancock made nearly twenty-five years ago, albeit with different archaeological sites. In the intervening decades, all that has really changed is the use of drones for better aerial footage, a lot more dramatic music to paper over gaps in logic, and a growing bitterness behind Hancock’s carefully rehearsed enunciation. Each episode, for example, starts with an angry rant about Hancock’s greatness and his critics’ meanness. He opens time and again with some variation on “many archaeologists hate me” and poses as a truth-teller who will singlehandedly overturn archaeology.
I have had to take on additional work due to rising costs, and that has left me with less time to write blogs recently. However, I want to briefly make note of two important developments that are worthy of note. First, next month Graham Hancock is getting a splashy eight-episode Netflix series to present his false claim that a lost Atlantis-like civilization was destroyed by a comet at the end of the last Ice Age. The series is dishonestly framed around the notion of Hancock as a truth-teller locked in battle wih a blinkered “academia,” a favorite theme of Hancock’s since his Fingerprints of the Gods phase. Hancock will be appearing on Joe Rogan’s podcast on the day of release to promote the series, in which Rogan also appears. I imagine I’ll have something to say about the show when it debuts on Nov. 11.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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