Graham Hancock's Ideas about Ancient North America Were Proposed 200 Years Ago, by a Plagiarist and Fraud
If you’ve been reading fringe media or even the mainstream news this week, you likely saw one of dozens of articles claiming that a new scientific paper evaluated the evidence for an advanced civilization millions of years ago. They were lying. The paper isn’t about proving such a civilization existed. It was a thought experiment asking us to consider the impact of civilization on the planet and how permanent our footprint will be in the long term. There is no evidence of an ancient lost civilization millions of years ago and the authors even wrote in the Atlantic that they don’t believe there ever was such a civilization, though they suggest that it might be worth looking for any geological traces of one, if only for the accidental discoveries it might produce. It’s about as much proof of prehistoric Old Ones as At the Mountains of Madness.
Meanwhile, you have probably heard that Graham Hancock is writing a new book called America Before about the prehistory of North America, and his thesis is going to be that a comet struck the continent during the Ice Age, wiping out an advanced civilization whose legacy is embodied in the astronomical alignments of the famous mounds of the Ohio Valley and elsewhere. He wrote on Twitter last week that he is currently writing a chapter about Ohio’s Serpent Mound. There is a degree of irony that Hancock’s book is essentially a mirror image of my own current project, which is a narrative history of the rise and fall of the mound builder myth—essentially the same “lost civilization” hypothesis.
The interesting thing is that this material can be found all the way back in 1801, in the work of Michel Guillaume Jean de Crèvecoeur, also known as John Hector St. John, the former French consul at New York and a friend of Thomas Jefferson. Crèvecoeur was an unrepentant plagiarist, and he accidentally concocted the myth that a comet destroyed a lost civilization in America when, in creating his Travels in Upper Pennsylvania and the State of New York, he pieced together from a series of books a fake speech to place in the mouth of Benjamin Franklin. He first has Franklin talk about a lost white race that must have been the true builders of the mounds. Then he has him say:
“This planet is very old,” he continued. “Like the works of Homer and Hesiod, who can say through how many editions it has passed in the immensity of ages? The rent continents, the straits, the gulfs, the islands, the shallows of the ocean, are but vast fragments on which, as on the planks of some wrecked vessel, the men of former generations who escaped these commotions, have produced new populations. Time, so precious to us, the creatures of a moment, is nothing to nature. Who can tell us when the earth will again experience these fatal catastrophes, to which, it appears to me, to be as much exposed in its annual revolutions, as are the vessels which cross the seas to be dashed in pieces on a sunken rock? The near approach or contact of one of those globes whose elliptical and mysterious courses are perhaps the agents of our destinies, some variation in its annual or diurnal rotation, in the inclination of its axis or the equilibrium of the seas, might change its climate, and render it long uninhabitable.” (trans. E. A. and G. L. Duycknick)
This is basically Hancock’s entire raison d'être at this point, and it is all the more remarkable that the idea is a fortuitous product of Crèvecoeur’s random selection of texts to raid. Here I will share just a small part of my analysis in my book:
When Crèvecoeur was casting about in 1801 for material to plagiarize for his Voyage, there was surprisingly little to choose from if he wished to write about the mounds except for the material emerging as a result of the Webster controversy. As an admirer of the Americans, he could not help but want to contribute to the glorification of the country through the creation of an epic past equal to that of Greece and Rome. But what to do? Crèvecoeur picked up a copy of Gilbert Imlay’s Topographical Description of the Western Territory of North America, a best-seller a decade earlier, and started copying. The connection must have occurred to him because an appendix reproducing Benjamin Franklin’s views on immigration to America appeared just pages from an appendix by a soldier named Jonathan Heart speculating on the history of the ancient earthworks in the 1797 edition Crèvecoeur used.
4/18/2018 10:05:02 am
Another case of a fringe author recycling material written decades earlier. You see this all over the fringe, Hoagland's moon claims recycle Apollo era claims by George H. Leonard, writers of Ghost books steal stories from earlier collections of ghost stories, even fictional ones to bulk out their books.
4/18/2018 12:19:11 pm
"Thought experiment" Excellent! Yes, I know, Gedankenthingy like Einstein's elevator, but also just like Plato's Atlantis which is a story about a story about someone telling someone a story about someone telling a story.
4/18/2018 02:19:05 pm
"Graham Hancock's Ideas about Ancient North America Were Proposed 200 Years Ago, by a Plagiarist and Fraud"
4/18/2018 03:15:34 pm
It's as true now as it was when he wrote Fingerprints.
4/18/2018 06:19:08 pm
Hi Jason -
G. P. Grondine
4/18/2018 08:18:00 pm
An Anonymous Nerd
4/18/2018 09:16:36 pm
G. Hancock is depressing.
4/18/2018 10:01:53 pm
>>Meanwhile, you have probably heard that Graham Hancock is writing a new book called America Before about the prehistory of North America, and his thesis is going to be that a comet struck the continent during the Ice Age, wiping out an advanced civilization whose legacy is embodied in the astronomical alignments of the famous mounds of the Ohio Valley and elsewhere.<<
4/18/2018 10:16:33 pm
Yes, that's what he's doing.
4/18/2018 11:39:57 pm
First off, let us start with the mysterious "Hopewell" mounds of the Ohio valley.
4/19/2018 02:16:19 pm
Well done, Chief. "Bread dances"! I remember my father building huge structures, mostly out of mashed potatoes, to explain the constellations, because that's how knowledge is transmitted.
4/19/2018 03:35:55 pm
Really ? My mom used to bake cookies in the shape of our deities, and that night we would have the dance of the cookie gods. But then we were from the Mesoamerican Andena tribe and there was lots of pot and coke involved.
4/22/2018 02:23:33 pm
Ah something new. I had not read of this Frenchman before. Thanks Jason for bringing it to us.
4/27/2018 04:10:34 pm
LOL! "At the Mountains of Madness" is one of my favorite Lovecraft stories. Apparently there is a group that is convinced that the stories might be true etc. Certainly Hancock's attitude seems to reflect the anti-scientific attitude that seems to come to the surface in some of Lovecraft's work.
10/15/2018 01:56:48 pm
Lazy. Why don't you refute case by case the results of the scientists to which Hancock refers? Seems he's done more real work than any armchair critics who parrot weak dogmatic arguments about "myth" and "pseudoscience". It's easy to parrot the accepted "scientific" norm. Still don't believe the "catastrophists" claims? At least they present actual geological and astronomical studies and data. At least, whether you realize it or not, the actual methodology of science overturns its own dogma in due time. We just have to put up with "experts" in the meantime.
3/26/2019 07:04:52 am
Very poorly written 'blog post'. Instead of proving your point you go on disproveing work of another author. Is it because he got more recognition than you?
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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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