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.
Things began poorly when Hancock tried to praise his own show, forgetting he had himself made similar previous series. “I think it’s the first time that a thoroughly researched alternative view of pre-history has been presented on a major platform.” Good to know Hancock’s own previous series, which aired on outlets like TLC in the U.S. and Channel 4 in Britain don’t count, nor do shows Hancock himself has appeared in such as The Mysterious Origins of Man, from NBC, or a half-dozen or more History Channel documentaries.
“Hunter-gatherers are very smart people,” Hancock says, backtracking on his own show’s repeated insistence that they were incapable of basic tasks such as piling rocks atop one another. Nevertheless, despite praising ancient people for their intelligence, he repeats the argument that any achievement that seems to take effort must be the work of a lost civilization, since everyone else was too dim or lazy to bother. He gives the example of the Great Pyramid’s close alignment to true north and asks why anyone would bother with that much work unless a lost civilization had given them secret technology or hidden scientific wisdom to make such an effort worthwhile.
Hancock also clarifies that he is “not talking about a super-civilization” that had electronics or “sent people to the moon”—directly contradicting his colleague Randall Carlson, whom Hancock previously praised as “brilliant” and who asserted recently that Atlanteans had a lunar base. Instead, he says that his “lost civilization” had technology equivalent to an eighteenth-century Western level, a claim he has made more than once, despite providing no evidence of such basics as the wheel, domesticated crops, etc. back in the Ice Age.
Around 17:30, Hancock goes on an extended rant about archaeologists and (especially) Wikipedia using labels to dismiss his claims as lacking scientific evidence, which somehow segues into Hancock announcing that he isn’t a scientist—thus proving the point—and descending into a weird postmodern analysis of “narratives” in which Hancock has absolved himself of the need for evidence by reducing scientific conclusions to mere stories. In his view, any story is potential truth and the most interesting story wins. It is deeply unclear how Hancock can proudly state that he is not a scientist and not doing science while also asking the viewer to accept that his “alternative narrative” must therefore be equal to the scientific conclusions built atop mountains of physical evidence and centuries of painstaking research. He hammers this point repeatedly, that the media in general, and Wikipedia in particular, take the conclusions of scientists more seriously than those of Hancock, an admitted non-scientist who is not involved in the actual research on which those conclusions are based—and then he backtracks by claiming to be a “thorough” researcher who “goes out in the field” to do “real” investigation! Just not the scientific kind? Then what? Hancock wants to have his views accepted as coequal expertise by, essentially, asking for the very essence of expertise to be destroyed.
“It’s a propaganda campaign by a certain interest group that wants to see me marginalized,” Hancock says, apparently unaware of the irony that he is operating a multimedia propaganda campaign to marginalize scientific knowledge in favor of occultism and speculation. Also: How do you marginalize someone whose book sales and TV audience dwarf those of scientific journals by many multiples?
Hancock praises himself for using “2,000 footnotes” which readers of his books can use to follow up and evaluate whether a source “is worthy or not.” Skimming his references, we see frequent citations to midcentury pseudoscience books, outdated scholarship from the nineteenth century, incomplete early science from the postwar era, and many popular books of dubious accuracy. But even great footnotes don’t mean that an author has understood and utilized the material accurately.
Around 25:00, Hancock next tackles the question of racism, claiming that it should not be discussed because “I’m a person with feelings” and it makes him sad. “It’s a cheap trick. It’s a low blow,” Hancock says. He attempts to defend his use of “white god” stories in Fingerprints of the Gods, calling archaeologists “racist” for noting that indigenous stories had been altered by or for the Spanish. “I find no evidence of that,” he says, not looking very hard, since the Spanish explicitly write that such figures were Christ’s Apostles visiting America, and many supposed Native stories bear obvious signs of Biblical influence—something even the Spanish friars Hancock claims to be objective recorders of truth noted themselves.
Here, as you know from my New Republic piece, I differ from many others who wrote articles against Ancient Apocalypse in that I don’t believe Hancock is explicitly racist or that his show promotes racism directly. Those who have called Hancock racist are wrong, though I am not aware of any archaeologists who have called Hancock personally racist. I have a more subtle view, which is that Hancock’s ideas, derived from colonialist and imperialist nineteenth century sources (Ignatius Donnelly being the most important) repeat those structurally colonialist narratives, even when Hancock explicitly incorporates Black or Native people into his lost civilization’s ethnic milieu. He attempts to correct Victorian biases but nevertheless repeats the notion that most non-European cultures, needed a superior Western-style civilization for their achievements. Hancock betrays no awareness of the difference between structural racism and a Klan rally, arguing that omitting any mention of race absolves one of racism and that one can’t perpetuate structurally racist narratives if one is not personally a white supremacist.
Hancock decries how his show has become fodder for “U.S. culture wars,” though omitting that he has personally patronized, retweeted, and praised right-wing, alt-right, and right-adjacent podcasts and magazines that supported his show and has exploited the right-wing media sphere to promote himself. Indeed, Hancock stops to offer criticism of (largely imaginary) archaeologists who refuse to “sex” skeletons because of woke ideology denying gender. He says modern ideas shouldn’t be imposed on the past. “When the past speaks for itself, it’s beautiful, it’s clear, it’s open.” Insert your own jokes about the beauty of your favorite historical atrocity.
It’s hilarious that Hancock is attempting to refute accusations that his show is racist, colonialist, and imperialist while sitting in a set designed around the aesthetics of the British Empire at its 1920s-1930s height.
You might remember that last month Hancock challenged archaeologist John Hoopes to a debate and Hoopes declined, though several others offered to take his place. Hancock says he won’t debate any other archaeologist or critic than John Hoopes (whose name he mispronounces repeatedly while calling him a “coward”) because only Hoopes is worthy of his time due to being “my principal critic.” He says that only a debate on the Joe Rogan Experience would be acceptable, despite having previously asked to debate at a Younger Dryas comet impact conference. “I don’t want any of these other minor figures who are simply trying to ride off my reputation to boost their own profile,” Hancock says. “I want the main antagonist.” Now, truth be told, by volume, I think I’ve published more criticism of Hancock than Hoopes has, over a longer period, so I’m not sure how Hoopes became Hancock’s official nemesis.
“The best way to sort out a disagreement like this is face-to-face,” Hancock says, reiterating that there is “something strange” about an archaeologist who won’t participated in a debate on a podcast. But that isn’t how scientific disagreements are settled. Hancock could, of course, publish scientific evidence of his lost civilization, but instead he wants to trade words—to tell stories. Because in the end it’s all about stories, about believing in people and narratives rather than facts and evidence. This ties in to the misrepresented version of the Clovis-First hypothesis that he presents immediately after. Consider his primary problem with labeling archaeology a “science”—the development of tentative narratives about the past from material evidence:
I’m not sure that it is a science because there are so many things about it that can’t be tested in scientific ways. Basically what archaeologists are doing is they’re dealing with relatively small amounts of material that they’ve dug up out of the ground from relatively small amounts of sites and they are then drawing conclusions from that—which are their conclusions, which they then present as a narrative, which magically transforms into statements of fact. These are not statements of fact. They are statements of opinion based on a particular interpretation of a particular set of artifacts. That’s what we’re dealing with with archaeology, and I don’t think that that’s science, particularly so when it comes to prehistory, when it comes to the time of the Ice Age.
Notice that Hancock’s problem is the idea that anyone but him should be allowed to tell a story—to construct a narrative—which he sees as the domain of storytellers, not scientists. He seems to want science to be a pointless collection of data points and facts, which cannot or should not be analyzed beyond a disconnected, atomized level. (Most scientific literature is fairly clear on the distinction between facts and inferences, but Hancock seems to be railing against midcentury schoolbooks, the bête noire of all ancient mysteries writers.) Only by delegitimizing the very idea of drawing conclusions from evidence can Hancock thus justify drawing conclusions without evidence.
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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