Yesterday the Huffington Post released one of its periodic excursions into ancient astronauts. Ex-New York Post gossip editor, current Playboy writer, and bestselling novelist Paula Froelich visited the National Museum of Art in Iraq. What did she take away from her trip? Aliens.
But what bothers me is that Froelich is now a travel writer who won a medal from the travel writers’ professional organization, yet to judge from this piece her approach to other cultures is apparently to divorce them from context and interpret them through the lens of her own media-created ideas.
This goofiness pales beside the claims coming out of Indonesia for a lost super-civilization, which I learned from an article by Martin Clemens has become Graham Hancock’s new “evidence” for a lost civilization on the order of Atlantis. In a recent piece Hancock reported on the claims coming from the Indonesian government that the site of Gunung Padang, a megalithic construction atop a hill on the island of Java, dates back to the Ice Age.
The visible megaliths atop the hill sit above organic material radiocarbon dated to 1500-500 BCE, a bit older than the consensus Western time frame for the site of 500-1500 CE but younger than the Indonesian government estimate of 2500 BCE. However, Indonesian government geologist Danny Natawidjaja says that his team’s work in 2011 drilled into the hill and found rocks, organic material, and possible cement that had radiocarbon dates back to 22,000 BCE. The dated organic samples were not associated with artifacts and therefore are dependent on the hypothesis that the entire hill is an artificial construction.
Natawidjaja claims that archaeologists rejected his findings and are close-minded and unscientific compared to geologists. “I've already got myself into a lot of hot water with this,” he told Hancock. “My case is a solid one, based on good scientific evidence, but it's not an easy one. I'm up against deeply entrenched beliefs.” Natawidjaja has yet to provide evidence that the material extracted from within the hill was placed their artificially or was ever a single, exceedingly ancient construction—as opposed to a “tell,” a large mound created by thousands of years of successive occupation. His evidence is a geophysical survey using ground-penetrating radar, which he says shows in clear detail each stone of a massive, artificial pyramid.
He did not provide these images and instead asserted that they showed a pyramid built in a style comparable to “the pyramids of Egypt.”
As I reported almost exactly a year ago in evaluating Frank Joseph’s claims for the same site, these claims are highly suspect for several reasons. First, Western archaeologists believe that the site is not a pyramid but a natural volcanic mound and that its architecture ties to similar sites built between 500 and 1500 CE (a statue found at the site was inscribed with a date of 1341 CE, though this only indicates it was still in use in that year). Second, the radiocarbon tests were on organic material from within the hill not associated with any artifacts or megaliths. Third, the Indonesian government official ultimately overseeing the investigation is a known believer in fringe theories about Ice Age civilizations, and Indonesia has been actively working to discount Chinese claims to greater antiquity by promoting Indonesia as an older font of civilization.
Even non-Western Indonesian archaeologists such as Ali Akbar of the University of Indonesia cautioned that radar images and a core sample are not enough to prove an artificial construction. Natawidjaja told Hancock, in a roundabout way, that he agrees and plans to dig into the hill this year if the government permits it. Local archaeologists are currently lobbying the government to protect the site from further disturbance, but Natawidjaja sees this as efforts to suppress his work. Natawidjaja is apparently the Indonesian Scott Wolter, but with more power. He claims that archaeologists are in a conspiracy against him to protect their dogma about the site’s age.
Natawidjaja told Hancock that he believes (but of course) that Plato preserved evidence of this pre-Ice Age civilization in his description of Atlantis, whose alleged demise around 9500 BCE Hancock calls an “uncanny coincidence” when compared to the end of the Younger Dryas around 9500 BCE, which melted the glaciers of the Ice Age. Natawidjaja says he is certain an advanced civilization existed in the Ice Age, and Hancock speculates that the Gunung Padang “pyramid” could contain the Hall of Records of Atlantis, a concept that exists only in the psychic readings of Edgar Cayce and other channeled fringe literature. (Funny, it used to be under the Sphinx when Hancock last went looking for it, in Messages of the Sphinx/Keeper of Genesis ).
But what I find fascinating is Hancock’s subtle announcement about his plans for his “sequel” to Fingerprints of the Gods (actually, the fourth or fifth in the series). If Fingerprints was a none-too-subtle rewriting of Ignatius Donnelly’s Atlantis: The Antediluvian World (1882), his sequel will be an apparently close paraphrase of Donnelly’s Ragnarok: The Age of Fire and Gravel (1883). Donnelly, in that book, proposed that a comet had hit the earth around 11,000 BCE, destroying an advanced civilization, and remembered only dimly in legend as the cause of fires, poison gases, and the Great Flood: “the so-called Glacial Age really represents a collision of the earth with one of these wandering luminaries of space.”
Compare that to Hancock:
Since 2007, however, masses of scientific evidence have come to light that have identified the smoking gun for me in the form of a comet that broke into multiple fragments now known to have hit the earth 12,980 years ago. The impacts (some on the North American ice cap, some elsewhere) caused floods and tidal waves and threw a vast cloud of dust into the upper atmosphere that enshrouded the entire earth for more than a thousand years, preventing the sun's rays from reaching the surface, and setting off the Younger Dryas deep freeze. (emphasis in original)
And where did Donnelly place his comet strike? Oh, right: The North American ice cap.
As for geology, well the so-called Younger Dryas Boundary Event is still controversial, and the evidence for a comet strike being the main cause of the end of the Younger Dryas is not nearly as conclusive as Hancock asserts. It may have happened that way, or it might not. Currently, critics seem to have the upper hand in pointing to serious problems with the hypothesis. (I could link individually to criticisms, but Wikipedia, for all its faults, has a good list in its references.) Hancock wants us to believe that Gunung Padang and Göbekli Tepe in Turkey are remnants of this Ice Age civilization, despite the challenges of explaining how Göbekli Tepe could be part of what we think of as urban “civilization” in a culture that lacked agriculture or permanent settlements.
Bonus trivia: Edmond Halley, of comet fame, proposed the idea first, in 1694, in arguing that a comet caused the Great Flood and destroyed antediluvian civilization.
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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