Micah Hanks Tries to Explore History Again, Wrongly Calls Iron in Egypt "Anomalous"
Yesterday Graham Hancock posted a link to a YouTube video of a lecture he gave at the Earth-Keeper Arklantis Event last fall in Little Rock, Arkansas. The lecture lasted more than two hours and presents mostly material we’ve already heard about his forthcoming book on American prehistory, the peopling of the Americas, and the possibility that a comet impacted North American populations during the Ice Age. But what interested me more was the tone of annoyance and almost anger Hancock seemed to adopt in speaking of a largely imaginary group of academics that he feels have held American history captive for decades
Hancock’s ideas about human prehistory continue to evolve, and this makes him very angry that other people have also developed new and better ideas over time. In 1995, Hancock believed that a lost Atlantis-like civilization was in Antarctica and that the Earth’s crust slipped over its core and slid so far that Antarctica flash-froze. By 2005, he had abandoned this idea and instead claimed that a lost Atlantis-like civilization existed on the continental shelves, drowned when the Ice Age ended and floods overtook the ancient coasts. Ten years after that, Hancock changed his mind again and then claimed that a comet hit North America and the resulting catastrophic impact incinerated northern Atlantis-like cities and drowned the rest. But despite failing to admit that his wrongheaded ideas were the result of incomplete information and bad research, he is outraged that scientists have abandoned the Clovis-first hypothesis without apologizing for it.
Hancock says that he is glad that Clovis-first has been abandoned, but he feels that it is outrageous that only now do major journals “admit” that the hypothesis was flawed. I was taught that Clovis-first was wrong when I was in school nearly twenty years ago, back when Hancock still believed in earth-crust displacement and Atlantis in Antarctica. So I’m not sure exactly what his problem is with twenty-first century science. He seems to be railing against his childhood textbooks, which he takes for platonic constant of the One True Science. The Clovis-first hypothesis was proposed in the 1940s, and it had its heyday from the 1950s to the 1980s, when it was already under challenge. I’m not an expert in the literature here, but I know that scholarly literature arguing for pre-Clovis occupations has been around since at least 1979, and the U.S. government included such occupations in their descriptions of American archaeology in the 1980s. It’s true that it took longer than one might have liked for evidence of pre-Clovis occupations to be fully accepted, but all of that has come and gone. Hancock, trapped in the past, wants to relive old battles, secure in being on the victorious side because the war is over.
Speaking of outdated and incorrect literature…
I think it’s cute that podcaster and blogger Micah Hanks still tries to pull together articles on the model of those that I write, diving deep into the literature on some obscure or odd subject. Hanks tries really hard, but he doesn’t have the depth of experience in the literature to quite pull it off to deliver something effective. Our case study today comes from Hanks’s Mysterious Universe article from yesterday, which takes for its premise the wrongheaded conclusion that archaeologists don’t believe the Egyptians made use of iron objects, a false premise he tries to undercut with recourse to Victorian literature. While it might be simple to just dismiss his article as another fringe-type writer strip-mining the public domain with little understanding beyond a Google search, it actually represents a deeper problem in the popular understanding of history, which is the distorting effect that Google and U.S. copyright law have on our understanding of the past.
Hanks begins his article by alleging that archaeologists believe that the Egyptians made use of only copper instruments. “It has long been maintained that the ancient Egyptians had likely been restricted to use of copper in their metal works during the period in which the pyramids were constructed,” he wrote. He supported his claims with recourse to nineteenth century literature, where he attempts to trace the history of a curved iron blade found by Belzoni at Karnak, resembling a scimitar and said (at the time) to date from 600 BCE. He quotes a number of Victorian authorities from the 1880s and 1890s who were unsettled about when and whether the Egyptians used iron
Such “anomalous” discoveries involving iron have long been offered as proof that smelting processes were in use far earlier than once believed. However, as I noted a few months ago here at Mysterious Universe, the most recent study which sought to tackle this mystery, appearing in an article last year titled, “Bronze Age iron: Meteoritic or not? A chemical strategy”, found that chemical analysis of iron samples from the Bronze Age were, without question, of meteoritic origin. This seems to upend the notion of “precocious smelting” that might have occurred during the Bronze Age.
He then suggests that modern science can help us to better understand Victorian discoveries of iron objects in Egypt, which he (wrongly) says archaeology continues to see as anomalies.
It’s nice that he remembers that article about meteoric iron from last year, but it’s equally clear that his understanding of the subject is limited to what is available free on the internet, and even then, only insofar as his cursory interest in specific characters and objects can take him. For example, if Hanks had probed a little deeper, he would have seen that in 1867 the Rev. Basil Henry Cooper became the first to deduce that the Egyptians had used meteoric iron to produce their iron objects. But if he expanded his search beyond public domain texts, he would have learned that in the first half of the twentieth century, scientists demonstrated for the first time that Egyptian iron objects were meteoric in origin. The claim that the Egyptians used iron is so uncontroversial that it appears in the standard translation of the Pyramid Texts, some of Egypt’s oldest writings, where iron is featured prominently as a sacred metal.
Had Hanks opened a standard text on Egypt from the twentieth or twenty-first centuries, he would see that the question of iron in Egypt has been an active area of research for a century. No one doubts that iron objects were used at least as far back as dynastic Egypt can be traced, and even into the predynastic, but there is great dispute about when iron came into common use for anything other than ceremonial objects. The general consensus, if one can be said to exist, is that the iron objects used in the Pyramid Age were both meteoric in origin and ceremonial in usage, and it is not until the New Kingdom that iron objects started to be used for more workmanlike purposes.
Here, then, is the problem: Hanks’s article is a fairly accurate summation of the state of archaeological knowledge around 1910 or 1920. But he betrays very little understanding of the literature on Egyptian iron use beyond the 1922 limit of public domain literature. For example, many of the facts I listed above were published in J. R. Harris’s 1962 revision of A. Lucas’s 1934 book Ancient Egyptian Materials, which in turn cites a half dozen or more books and articles from the first half of the twentieth century on the subject, more literature than many more modern books, which treat the question as more settled in light of additional research. But Google distorts academic and scholarly perspectives by privileging full-text Victorian public domain texts over copyrighted modern ones, where the vagaries of its previewing service mean that much of the text remains behind a paywall. So in a very real sense, the accessible scholarship on a subject, particularly an obscure one, remains mired in Victoriana because the available research materials tend to date from before 1922, those which Google has free reign to post in full.
It’s hard not to think that Hanks would have produced a different article if he had access to a scholarly full-text database, as most libraries offer, rather than simply relied on Google searches, as seems apparent from my own efforts to replicate his research process by entering keywords into Google Books, which returned the exact sources he cited in his article when searching out information on Egyptian iron tools and Belzoni’s scimitar-like iron find.
2/27/2018 11:34:54 am
I don't recall Clovis being taught as religious dogma back in the mid-80s. In the early 90s Tom Dillehay gave a presentation at my university on his work at Monte Verde. This was back when the findings were still in the controversial stage. I don't recall the audience, which was mostly archaeologists from my department and staff archaeologists from the state archaeology office, jeering at him and throwing rotten tomatoes.
2/27/2018 07:44:16 pm
In response to your question, there are three arguments the fringe loves to trot out:
2/27/2018 08:00:21 pm
It seems as though you can see similar logic in cryptozoology. Scientists were wrong in thinking that the coelacanth was extinct so that obviously means that they are wrong in their skepticism about the existence of bigfoot or giant birds and a wide sort of creatures in between. There are so many things wrong with this perspective, but it continually gets thrown out there. Well, that and the usual conspiracy theories about suppression of the evidence by shadowy government agencies.
2/27/2018 12:49:30 pm
The major joy ( and frustration ) of scientific investigation is that the more we learn, the more we realize what we don't know.
2/27/2018 12:56:55 pm
That is something that many fringe folks can't or won't grasp--that science is a process not necessarily a product. They seem to view it as something where an ultimate unshakable truth emerges that permanently settles an issue. Any deviation from this is model is taken as a sign of weakness rather than strength.
2/27/2018 10:00:37 pm
2/27/2018 01:00:28 pm
Well at least Mr. Hanks is attempting to research things using sources and somewhat of a rational view. Too bad the later sources are not available online as you say. That is a very good point and I have noted this in my searching as well. I think Hancock's idea of there being cultural sites beneath the water in coastal areas is valid but this would not reveal anything beyond native sites seen further inland at that time. I think that speaks to the fringe ignoring really interesting information in favor of pie in the sky theories that make better television and radio programming. This also leads us to the kind of alternative media mafia that exists in a kind of self perpetuating sphere. If you don't agree with the Aliens and Pyramid power plants then you don't get any interviews or tv deals and you don't get invited to "Contact in the Desert" or "Conscious life expo." We are now looking at a bonafide industry instead of groups of researchers having conferences to share data and ideas.
2/27/2018 11:36:04 pm
Honestly, it's VERY easy to get around the paywall issue with regards to research. You go to your local community college and take a class or two. As a student, you have access to the library resources, and there are pretty much no community colleges that don't have full access to EBSCO. Plus you get to learn something else cool, too--whatever you chose for your class.
2/27/2018 03:50:03 pm
I started University in 1978 and majored in Anthropology with a minor in History. In the Anthropology courses I took the attitude was that man was probably in the Americas pre-Clovis but that the evidence for such a presence was bluntly very weak. Certainly at the time that was indeed the case.
2/27/2018 06:51:10 pm
The graphic accompanying the Wikipedia article on Clovis https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pre-clovis-sites-of-the-americas.svg shows 15 pre-Clovis sites from southern to northern South America on the west side to California to southwest Canada to Alaska to the eastern seaboard of North America, Texas, and Brazil on the east side of South America.
2/27/2018 07:25:49 pm
I may be wrong ( and according to some, I usually am ) but the original Clovis site was in Clovis, New Mexico. Subsequent discoveries of points and flint knapping tools similar to the ones found at the original site were called Clovis points.
2/27/2018 11:25:05 pm
In what way do you think or hope that saying all that makes a difference?
2/27/2018 11:41:01 pm
Machala, a number of no-longer-existing cultures are named after a site of discovery. However, in this particular case, due to the widespread nature of the points in question, I tend to think it's more of a technology named after a site, which was adopted widely and quickly. It's hardly the only time that's happened in human history.
2/28/2018 11:49:22 am
We have c. 18 Clovis in the lower 48 states. As compared to, so-far, 15 pre Clovis in all of the Americas. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Clovis_sites. and David J. Meltzer, First People in a New World, University of California press, Berkeley CA, 2009, pp. 239-280.
2/28/2018 12:06:48 pm
I'm sure someone's considered this but what about the possibility that Clovis flint-knapping technique was invented independently in multiple locations? Not arguing for or against just saying it seems like an obvious avenue of exploration.
3/1/2018 12:53:18 am
Americanegro, it's possible but not HIGHLY likely. We should see a broader range of styles than we do if it were independently invented, just like we see in writing systems, textiles, and even bow and arrows. It's far, far more likely to be the spread of a technology rather than a bunch of similar technologies. Whether that's through trade or conquest, no idea.
3/1/2018 11:36:30 am
The Clovis flint-knapping technique is itself a style. A style of performing a manual operation. Similarly there are [only so many] styles of making pottery, shaping a bowl by hand, building it up by the sausage method, etc. Two hands, ten fingers. This is not like saying "suppose two cultures invented the Greek alphabet independently."
3/4/2018 03:59:52 pm
Americanegro, pottery is quite possibly not the best choice you could have made in order to point out that it's possible to develop a technology independently, since the small differences in pottery techniques is, in fact, often how different civilizations are distinguished. Clovis, in fact, is a style that is contrasted with, say, Bare Island, Cascade, Cumberland, Eden, Folsom, etc. It's considered specific ENOUGH by archeologists to actually BE a marker of a civilization. So yeah, basically it IS similar to "two societies invented the Greek alphabet independently." Or "two societies invented Wedgewood independently." Like I said--possible; more than one society has developed a nearly-interchangeable popular motif as another society independently--but NOT very likely.
3/4/2018 06:24:14 pm
I anticipated you'd go that way with pottery when I mentioned it, just surprised it took so long to look up.
2/28/2018 11:42:20 pm
"I started University in 1978 and majored in Anthropology with a minor in History. In the Anthropology courses I took the attitude was that man was probably in the Americas pre-Clovis but that the evidence for such a presence was bluntly very weak. Certainly at the time that was indeed the case."
2/27/2018 03:56:06 pm
“Tube-shaped beads excavated from grave pits at the prehistoric Gerzeh cemetery, approximately 3300 BCE, represent the earliest known use of iron in Egypt. Using a combination of scanning electron microscopy and micro X-ray microcomputer tomography, we show that microstructural and chemical analysis of a Gerzeh iron bead is consistent with a cold-worked iron meteorite. Thin fragments of parallel bands of taenite within a meteoritic Widmanstätten pattern are present, with structural distortion caused by cold-working. The metal fragments retain their original chemistry of approximately 30 wt% nickel. The bulk of the bead is highly oxidized, with only approximately 2.4% of the total bead volume remaining as metal. Our results show that the first known example of the use of iron in Egypt was produced from a meteorite, its celestial origin having implications for both the perception of meteorite iron by ancient Egyptians and the development of metallurgical knowledge in the Nile Valley.”
2/28/2018 01:55:23 pm
I can tell you based on personal experience that most archaeologists have tremendous difficulty dealing with material evidence of recent asteroid and comet impacts, and that you can use their ability to deal with that evidence as a marker of their competency.
2/28/2018 03:29:07 pm
Yes, we anthropologists here at the super top secret Conspiracy to Undermine Nephilim Testimonials have been working overtime to destroy the lives and careers of any archaeologists who even think about letting those 9 feet tall skeletons come to light. You have been warned!!
3/1/2018 10:29:13 am
When I go out on the local powwow circuit, I have to interact with biblical lilteralists, ancient alien fans, and those who have read Zimmerman's book or seen his work on the internet. Usually I can point them in the correct direction with a few kind words.
3/1/2018 11:49:59 am
So nice to hear Chief tell about going "out on the local powwow circuit". You can't make this stuff up.
3/2/2018 10:33:55 am
Good morning, Stupid Asshole -
3/3/2018 02:59:18 pm
This compels me to revise the "times E.P. Grondine has called me a 'stupid asshole'". It's now three. I'd be interested to hear about the mental process that makes you think that makes you look good in some way. The pottymouth is getting old Buckwheat.
2/28/2018 04:23:05 pm
Ah, another "look at me!" post. Remember Chief that you're still on the hook to explain the Stoney Giants' Pointing Device as detailed in David Cusick's 1828 work which you claimed not to have heard of in spite of referencing it in one of your "books".
3/1/2018 10:09:28 am
Look, you stupid asshole, "giants" and "stonish giants" are English translations of two very different words in the western Iroquois. The "stonish giants" appear to be European visitors, while the "giants" were Andaste. You may want to treat Native American oral and written histories as trash, I don not.
3/1/2018 10:40:03 am
"Let me close this by stating once again that it is likely that I have more friends of African American descent than you do, and in my opinion it would be good for you if you got your ass up from the computer and went out and met some of them."
3/1/2018 12:55:48 pm
3/1/2018 05:47:34 pm
"Look, you stupid asshole,"
3/2/2018 10:54:18 am
Hi Machala -
3/2/2018 01:19:04 pm
"Yes, diet plays a big role, but in this case the descendants are 7 feet plus - usually around 7 and a half feet, and BIG."
3/3/2018 12:31:12 pm
Hi Ted -
3/3/2018 02:34:16 pm
Dude, you probably haven't met the last person to call you "Chief" yet, but deo volente that day will come soon, like a thief in the night.
3/1/2018 12:55:51 am
Real World Control
3/2/2018 05:33:23 pm
The message was garbled. It actually said "Everything here is cool, you just stay wherever you are."
2/28/2018 07:44:07 pm
"Clovis First" was still being taught in my high school American history class in the late nineties. Of course it was also taught by a teacher who handled the subject by showing us videos from the seventies while he napped in the back. It led into his week long bigfoot unit the following week.
3/1/2018 11:13:04 am
That's a problem with rarely offering anthropology courses in high school. Teachers sometimes feel obligated to try to fill in the gaps while pursuing their own hobby interests at the same time. But, a week-long unit on Bigfoot would have probably held students' interest better than most other topics.
3/1/2018 07:34:51 pm
Your teacher was an idiot. Too bad. Clovis has nothing to do with American History. Besides, if he wasn't an expert in meteor and comet impacts he wasn't qualified to teach American history anyway.
3/2/2018 11:23:39 am
Look, you stupid asshole -
3/2/2018 12:56:52 pm
3/2/2018 01:25:50 pm
That's the second time in as many days that you've called me a "stupid asshole" old man. I look forward to your documenting even ONE case where a kid was scared by hearing about an asteroid that killed dinosaurs. That's what you consider "a good writing exercise"? And you're the guy who wants archaeologists to be required to be experts on asteroids? It's like you're TRYING to sound like an idiot.
3/2/2018 08:55:38 pm
No matter what the actual sources, when I see people using the names Americanegro, Joe Scales, and E.P. locked into a catfight in the same series of posts, two images come to mind:
3/2/2018 10:05:18 pm
It's good to know who likes to make fun of retarded people. :(
3/3/2018 10:28:32 am
Hey Doc, I know you're still smarting from having a simple analogy you made and misunderstood being explained to you by the likes of me. And then of course when you doubled down refusing to see the irony of screwing it up, you drew the ire of my brother from another mother. But didn't you say quite a few times that you had moved on? That you wouldn't be interacting with the likes of us again? What was that, four or five times now? Yet you come back; again and again.
3/3/2018 02:42:03 pm
Here's the internet math: when someone on the internet says they're going away they mean "Be on the lookout for my next post."
3/3/2018 10:35:15 am
Oh, and one more thing Doc...
3/3/2018 03:10:40 pm
3/3/2018 07:09:12 pm
Just so you're clear:
3/4/2018 10:13:18 am
Yes, the zany shenanigans of Doc Rock on Spring Break. Do you suppose his "carry on ladies" remark wasn't meant for us? Maybe he's watching his favorite Girls Gone Wild video and thought they were really there for him...
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