When, I wonder, will archaeologists take to heart the old dictum that absence of evidence is not the same thing as evidence of absence, and learn the lessons that their own profession has repeatedly taught—namely that the next turn of the excavator’s spade can change everything? So little of the surface area of our planet has been subjected to any kind of archaeological investigation at all that it would be more logical to regard every major conclusion reached by this discipline as provisional—particularly when we are dealing with a period as remote, as tumultuous, and as little understood as the Ice Age. (p. 153, boldface in original)
In another place, Hancock offers praise for genetics by denigrating archaeology: “In other words, genetics, unlike archaeology, is a hard science where the pronouncements of experts are based on facts, measurements, and replicable experimentation rather than inferences or preconceived opinions,” he writes (p. 113). Later, he complains that standard archaeological methods of analysis, including seriation and the use of stylistic differences to identify cultural changes are invalid since we moderns use so many different styles, so why should we not expect ancient people to have made objects according to their fancy?
With characteristic spleen, Hancock has made a foundational error between the methodology of archaeology, where indeed conclusions are provisional, and the kinds of declarative stories that appear in introductory textbooks, before students have learned about the sources and methods used to create narratives. Throughout the book, Hancock devotes an unwieldy amount of space to complaining about what he sees as dogma and a hidebound resistance to change in archaeology. Since he is continuing to argue for claims he made nearly 25 years ago in Fingerprints of the Gods, there are layers of irony here.
The main subject of his outrage is the Clovis-First hypothesis, proposed in the middle twentieth century, when Hancock was young. The hypothesis dominated only for about 35 years, until 1997, when Monte Verde became the first site in the Western hemisphere widely accepted as predating Clovis. (There are still some Clovis-First believers, though the consensus has moved on.) But because those 35 years were the heart of Hancock’s adolescence and adulthood, they cast the shadow of eternity over his view of science and seem to him an unchanging, unshakeable dogma. For me, growing up many decades later, it was something that people used to believe but which has never been a dominant force in my intellectual life, like Freudian psychology, Man the Hunter, and the other furniture of midcentury minds.
I haven’t conducted a quantitative analysis, but it seems to me that Hancock’s passages expressing outrage at archaeologists and the profession of archaeology have grown longer with each passing book. In this volume, it really becomes quite overwhelming at points, easily outpacing discussion of the supposed lost civilization, at least in the two-thirds of the book I’ve read so far.
4/2/2019 10:01:14 am
I'm trying to think of an example where a turn of the spade changed everything in archaeology?
4/2/2019 10:31:23 am
Chariots come to mind. Every book from my childhood stated 1800 BC Egypt. That is no longer true. Since first learning of the Thera Event, the eruption has only become larger.
4/2/2019 10:47:42 am
Moving back the date when chariots were developed (which didn't occur with a turn of the spade) isn't exactly my idea of changing everything. Following Hancock's logic that spade would have to turn up a chariot with a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on it or at least the chariot would turn up in a circa-20,000BP context.
4/2/2019 12:00:11 pm
4/2/2019 12:14:53 pm
Difficult for some to accept really doesn't equal changes everything.
4/2/2019 12:23:26 pm
"Egypt was the be-all-end-all of Civilizations."
4/2/2019 02:43:06 pm
The imaginary books I tell myself I read in childhood all said chariots were first invented in the steppes of Central Asia, filtered down to Assyria and thence to Egypt.
An Anonymous Nerd
4/2/2019 08:28:07 pm
None of this was changing everything and none of this was at one turn of the shovel. The closest I can think of was that site in Turkey that suggests sedentary hunter-gatherers did stuff that more-advanced cultures could do. I can't believe I'm drawing a blank on the name.
An Anonymous Nerd
4/2/2019 08:30:24 pm
And I must add: That site was very, very far from one turn of a shovel. Was, and still is, a lot of work that's still going on.
4/2/2019 08:53:12 pm
Gobekli Tepe in Turkey.
An Anonymous Nerd
4/2/2019 08:21:58 pm
There isn't. At least not one turn of a shovel, and not in real archaeology. Not, really, in any academic field.
4/2/2019 10:16:14 pm
They do love their "smoking guns".
4/2/2019 10:06:22 am
Come on Jason, don't be a tease, Hancock has promised to bring his 'Lost Civilization' story to a "stunning conclusion". Has he found it at long last?
4/2/2019 11:01:33 am
4/2/2019 11:52:23 am
It will be interesting to see how he mangles genetics, especially witnthe gains made in the field each year.
4/2/2019 11:54:59 am
95% of the universe is dark matter and dark energy. I would not be surprised if archeology has thus far figured out 5% of the story.
4/2/2019 12:59:21 pm
Which is still (literally) infinitely more than Hancock has ever figured out.
4/2/2019 07:19:24 pm
"95% of the universe is dark matter and dark energy."
4/2/2019 12:13:01 pm
“Those of us working on an alternative history of humanity need to hold ourselves to standards of evidence AT LEAST AS HIGH as is demanded of mainstream scholars if we are ever to get history rewritten.”
4/2/2019 12:34:20 pm
He was probably soooooo baked when he wrote that.
Polish Priests Burn Harry Potter books
4/2/2019 12:45:00 pm
4/2/2019 12:28:24 pm
Of course you know all about faith
4/2/2019 03:38:08 pm
"Of course, a PhD in my field means Middleman for the pharmaceutical companies, or Providing Habitual Drugs."
Victor Charles Bravo
4/2/2019 05:28:41 pm
The hill are alive with sound of farting. With farts they let for a thousand years.
4/2/2019 08:49:42 pm
My father-in-law (RIP) taught Criminal Law at a New Orleans Law School.
4/2/2019 09:02:49 pm
No such thing as "New Orleans Law School" just blah to all the rest.
4/2/2019 10:18:52 pm
This should get interesting.
4/3/2019 06:04:55 am
To be fair there is a Something-or-Other New Orleans School of Law.
4/3/2019 06:17:16 am
Actually there are two: a Tulane Law School and a Loyola Law School.
4/3/2019 06:57:59 am
And I overlooked that Riley said "a" school law thingy. My bad.
4/3/2019 07:11:46 am
Let Kent know “no blood, no foul.” Trying to find a niche in an eco structure can sometimes hurt feeling. I ain’t hurt. Hope no one else is.
4/4/2019 10:51:14 pm
We already have autosomal Ancient DNA from North America to South America. There's no European or otherwise Old World DNA.
4/7/2019 10:21:41 am
Hancock and his supporters COULD hire real archaeologists and find a supporting educational institution - especially one in Asia or Africa - to do archaeology where and how they liked.
4/7/2019 12:49:32 pm
Sadly, Hancock has become bitter in his old age has become the Rodney Dangerfield of archaeology, whom no serious scientist respect, depsite having discovered what he sincerely believes to be a fantastic, Earth-shattering, discovery of his "Lost Civilization." Like many fringe researcher, including many Young Earth Creationists and Flat Earthers, he recognizes that mainstream scientists, e.g. archaeologists, are intelligent people and concludes they must recognize and understand the validity of his arguments. As a result, the inevitable conclusion that he and other fringe researchers come to is that there must either some ulterior motive, e.g. money or pride, or some mental and emotional defect that prevents mainstream scientists from recognizing the brillance and truth behind the specific fringe idea being proposed. With fringe researchers, the anger comes from Hancock being unable that he can be at fault in the nonacceptance of his ideas. The fringe researchers, who understand that they in the entertainment business and not real research, sit back and enjoy the cash, the crowds, and enjoy life in general.
4/7/2019 03:50:20 pm
As a UK resident I looked at Mr Hancock's website for the first time to see his own claims for this book. Introducing himself he says that he was the East Africa correspondent for "The Economist" a respected weekly political/economics journal in the UK with a long and distinguished history. I have not yet found a copy of "America Before" in a bookshop, and am looking forward to Jason's review later in the month.
4/7/2019 04:44:13 pm
Am I a bad person for thinking that bit about The Economist is a lie?
4/29/2019 07:14:04 pm
You are mistaken. He was a stringer for various newspapers and magazines and was (freelance) East Africa correspondent of The Economist in the early 80s.
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