New Scientific Paper Offers Evidence for Younger Dryas Conflagration; Lost Civilization Believers Immediately Lay Claim to Findings
[Update: This evening Graham Hancock announced that John Anthony West has died. "He beat the cancer, but the fight took too much out of him and he has moved on now, with great dignity and style, to his next great adventure. I love him, I admire him and I consider him to be a great light in the world that has by no means gone out."] According to the Daily Grail, alternative archaeologist John Anthony West, 85, will be taken off a ventilator tomorrow when he is moved to hospice care. West had been in declining health for more than a year after forgoing conventional cancer treatments in favor of untested alternative care. West, who worked as a tour guide in Egypt for many years, came to prominence 25 years ago when his book reprising some of the claims made by occultist Schwaller de Lubicz about the age of the Great Sphinx earned him a slot on NBC’s 1993 documentary The Mystery of the Sphinx. While West made few original contributions to historiography, his passion for the subject helped to popularize a particular vision of ancient Egypt as the receptacle of wisdom from a lost civilization such as Atlantis.
Meanwhile, Graham Hancock and his fans are claiming victory in the battle to control perceptions of the past after a recent journal article concluded that a comet struck the Earth around 10,000 BCE and created a massive fire wall that consumed 10% of the Earth’s land surface. The two-part article, “Extraordinary Biomass-Burning Episode and Impact Winter Triggered by the Younger Dryas Cosmic Impact ~12,800 Years Ago,” was published in the Journal of Geology and had 24 coauthors, many from the Comet Research Group. (Part One and Part Two; full text here.) In it, the authors tested sediments from four locations across the Earth: “In four ice-core sequences from Greenland, Antarctica, and Russia, similar anomalous peaks in other combustion aerosols occur, including nitrate, oxalate, acetate, and formate, reflecting one of the largest biomass-burning episodes in more than 120,000 y[ears].”
In publishing copies of the papers, George Howard of The Cosmic Tusk claimed that the papers were a major step in shifting global paradigms. “The work below in Two Parts and published in the Journal of Geology is a masterpiece. Michelangelo’s sense of relief and accomplishment on the last brush stroke of the Sistine Chapel can compare to the satisfaction enjoyed by the lead authors of this paper. […] A great intellectual cleansing is underway. Tired old ideas, such as the notion that the heavens are simply our pleasant backdrop, rather than our regular antagonist, are being swept away.”
I have no opinion on the reality of the comet collision. It is a question of geology beyond my expertise. But I do have an opinion on Graham Hancock implying that he deserves any sort of credit for the claim that a comet hit the Earth at the start of the Younger Dryas.
As should be obvious, Graham Hancock did not invent the claim. He merely reported on and adopted the claim made by the members of the Comet Research Group and used it to replace his earlier claim, that the Earth’s crust slid across the planet’s surface, that he had borrowed from Charles Hapgood (who derived it, ultimately, from Brasseur de Bourbourg—but that’s another story). The Comet Research Group’s hypothesis is the latest in a long line of similar claims.
Nor did Hancock invent the claim that such a comet, should it have existed, was remembered in the mythology of ancient peoples as the titanic force that destroyed a lost civilization such as Atlantis. Most directly, he borrowed that claim from Andrew Collins, who had published it in the 1990s. But it is the same claim we find in Immanuel Velikovsky’s works (with a comet-like Venus substituting). That, in turn, was a reworking of material from Atlantis theorist Ignatius Donnelly’s Ragnarok, which was a book-length argument that a comet had struck basically exactly where Hancock and the Comet Research Group put it and that it was responsible for the end of Atlantis and the formation of world mythologies. Going back still further, Edmund Halley proposed that a comet collided with the Earth and wiped out the antediluvian high civilizations by causing Noah’s Flood. He made that claim in the 1600s. Any of these authors deserve credit ahead of Hancock, whose true genius is repackaging other people’s work and associating it with himself by calling his conclusions the results of passionate investigation.
But there is a deeper problem here: The impact of a comet proves nothing about the existence of Atlantis, a lost civilization, the antediluvian world, or any of the other high cultures men like Hancock use to populate the past. The comet would have hit whether or not Atlantis existed, and with no evidence for its existence, we cannot use the comet to argue that it did.
Besides, the new findings directly contradict ancient mythology. The stories Hancock has consistently associated with the end of the last Ice Age involved a great flood, not a fiery conflagration. Surely a fire that consumed 10% of the Earth would be something that would have made an impression. Ignatius Donnelly at least tried to shoehorn in a great conflagration by identifying the fiery death of Phaeton in Greek mythology with the crash of the comet, but only because Plato had said in the Timaeus that the Egyptians believed the myth to represent a great conflagration that destroyed all of the Earth except Egypt; however, this destruction, they said, was not the great flood that supposedly marked the end of the antediluvian world. No Flood myth has terrifying walls of fire destroying much of the Earth, a significant weakness if we are meant to argue that Flood myths are actually fiery comet myths. Indeed, ancient myths specifically state that fire is the destructive force for the next disaster. Berossus said so, and so did the Enochian myth of the prophecy of fire and flood. The medieval Arab-Islamic pyramid myth agreed.
But the effort to make Atlantis real dies hard. Would it surprise you to learn that the new In Search Of series starring Zachary Quinto is planning to revisit the tired old story of Atlantis? I found this out when the producers of the show contacted me last night to invite me onto the program to offer a “dissenting voice” to the claim that Atlantis really existed. We’ll see how that turns out.
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.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter, The Skeptical Xenoarchaeologist, for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.