In his rebuttal, Hancock is notably more concerned with threats to his book sales than to the content of the criticisms against him, devoting significant space complaining about Carl Feagans’s negative review of America Before on Amazon than to any specific criticism of his work. He is upset that “319 visitors have upvoted Feagans’ hostile review,” making it the top review for the book despite “79 per cent” of reviewers giving the book five-stars.
Having been involved with this project since the beginning, I can tell you that Hancock is wrong to think that the special section is a panicked response, a “sure sign that the archaeological establishment feels the ground moving under its feet.” Instead, it exists almost entirely because most archaeologists are not aware of or actively engaged with popular “alternative” descriptions of the past, and the section was intended to raise awareness of the growing gulf between academic and popular understandings of the past. I didn’t choose the topic of my article; John Hoopes asked me to write on the long, sordid history of the Mound Builder myth in the frame of America Before, tying my article to my upcoming book, The Mound Builder Myth. I also didn’t choose the term “pseudoaracheology,” and it is debatable how to define the difference between “pseudoarchaeology,” “alternative archaeology,” and whatever popular quasi-mystical reimagining of the past we find in some of Hancock’s more spiritual works.
Instead, let me present what Hancock says about me:
Meanwhile blogger Jason Colavito, who also contributes an article to the issue, strives mightily to accuse me of condoning white nationalist racism while being obliged to admit that: “Hancock is careful to attribute his lost civilization to a Native American origin.”
I guess Hancock missed the important sentence that followed: “By building on a scaffolding of discredited nineteenth-century views like those I examine in my book, Hancock serves to perpetuate Victorian assumptions about the limits of Native potential, despite his own stated respect for indigenous peoples the world over.” In other words, I didn’t accuse him of condoning white nationalist racism. Instead, he is like my college classmate, ignorantly test-driving racism without fully understanding the origins of the claims he puts on offer. Remember, in Fingerprints of the Gods Hancock explicitly said he wanted to “pay tribute to Ignatius Donnelly,” who declared Atlantis the homeland of the white race, and twelve times described his lost civilization as belonging to “white” people. By America Before he had changed his tune and made them Native American, but that didn’t really change the history of the myths that he has upcycled into an upscale Pleistocene analog for globalization and climate change.
And Hancock knows this.
Last year, he and I had a lengthy discussion about racism in the nineteenth-century pseudoscience and historical fictions he draws upon, and he read the manuscript for my The Mound Builder Myth, offering extremely kind words for the book. (I have the emails, and regardless of our differences in historiography, I have always maintained that he an excellent popular storyteller.) He felt strongly enough about the book to recommend it to his publisher, though his publisher declined to take it. This is the same book my article summarizes, and he knows the difference between me accusing him of condoning racism and explaining that perpetuating old ideas, largely uncritically, reinforces the constellation of beliefs that gave rise to them. The Mound Builder myth emerged from anti-Native American racism, and there isn’t any way around the fact that it existed largely to justify cultural and physical genocide and land grabs.
In America Before, Hancock goes farther than in past books toward trying to reframe his ideas in opposition to the white nationalist assumptions of past versions promulgated by authors like Ignatius Donnelly, Pierre Honoré, and Jacques de Mahieu. He condemns anti-Native racism in the strongest possible terms. I’m not sure that this entirely erases the impact of the lost “white gods” of Fingerprints of the Gods, but it is a step in the right direction.
Volkswagen undertook enormous efforts to cleanse the Beetle of its Nazi heritage, and it will take similar efforts to purge “alternative” archaeology of the racism and genocidal nationalism that birthed it. Given, though, that it lacks any scientific support, there isn’t really much impetus to reconstruct it on new lines. I give Hancock credit for trying, to a degree, by substituting one, possibly genetically distinct, subset of Native Americans for white people in the latest version, but it doesn’t do anything for the assumption implicit in the idea of a lost globalizing superpower that everybody else on Earth was too benighted to figure out how to pile up dirt or stone, or to look up at the night sky.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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