Graham Hancock has made this show before. Netflix’s Ancient Apocalypse is in substance and style very much like the Channel 4 / TLC series Quest for the Lost Civilization that Hancock made nearly twenty-five years ago, albeit with different archaeological sites. In the intervening decades, all that has really changed is the use of drones for better aerial footage, a lot more dramatic music to paper over gaps in logic, and a growing bitterness behind Hancock’s carefully rehearsed enunciation. Each episode, for example, starts with an angry rant about Hancock’s greatness and his critics’ meanness. He opens time and again with some variation on “many archaeologists hate me” and poses as a truth-teller who will singlehandedly overturn archaeology.
Ancient Apocalypse is, loosely, an eight-part, four-hour adaptation of Hancock’s Magicians of the Gods, with a bit of his America Before, both of which I have reviewed at length and to which reviews I direct readers for more substantive criticism. [Note: Click the links to the reviews before criticizing me for not providing a point-by-point rebuttal; I already did that.] In this review, I will try to highlight what is new or different rather than what repeats the books, sometimes nearly line-for-line.
Hancock has not lost his ability to communicate clearly and engagingly. His series is slick, and his presentation could give the History Channel’s shaggy pseudo-documentaries pointers on being compelling. But beneath the surface level, the show feels very much like a score-settling vanity project. Hancock’s son, Sean Hancock, is an executive overseeing unscripted programming at Netflix, and perhaps this explains why the streamer allowed Hancock to show old clips of his “enemies,” edited to make them look like arrogant buffoons, while only Hancock’s point of view is presented as valid. It’s one-sided to the point of undermining its own credibility.
Each of the eight episodes centers on a different ancient site, followed by Hancock’s theorizing, a discussion of myths and legends of some Flood hero or another, and then supposed connections to other sites across time and space. There is a lot of overly dramatic music and golden hour aerial drone shots, a blatant appeal to pathos to lend portentous grandeur to the proceedings.
Part I: Once There Was a Flood
Gunung Padang, Indonesia
Immediately in the first episode, we see that Ancient Apocalypse is handsomely shot and filled with well-done CG, but, like every show of its kind, it assumes the viewer already knows the story and read Hancock’s books. I am not sure that people unfamiliar with his claims will be sucked in by the staccato, superficial storytelling and the lack of a buildup to what are supposed to be grand revelations.
The first episode focuses on Gunung Padang, the focus of part of Magicians of the Gods, the book this series loosely adapts. As in the book, Hancock celebrates the idiosyncratic ideas of Danny Hilman Natawidjaja, who became a laughingstock after trying to prove a natural hill was an artificial pyramid. Hancock believes all other scientists are conspiring against Natawidjaja’s revelations. He claims there are three underground chambers within the hill, though is unclear that the voids are artificial. Hancock claims archaeologists are refusing to investigate, and he accepts the unconfirmed claim that the site dates back to 9600 BCE. He similarly claims Gunung Padang’s architects sailed to Micronesia to build its stone structures, traditionally dated to recent centuries.
The episode sets the template for the series—angry, one-sided, impressionistic rather than factual, more intent on using rhetoric and implication than evidence, and overly enamored of Victorian notions of a lost imperial race, mostly because Hancock is tilting against Victorian ideas of “progress,” “civilization,” and academia that haven’t been current in more than a century. In this episode, Hancock implies heavy things can’t be carried by lazy, primitive Natives, which is why a superior imperial force must have civilized them with technical knowledge in the Ice Age, just as Ignatius Donnelly might have said, and did say in Atlantis: The Antediluvian World. In this show, Hancock does not use the word Atlantis to name his lost civilization, but since he did in America Before, I will employ it in this review for brevity, rather than the longer lost sea-faring, technologically advanced civilization of the Ice Age.
Hancock repeats his prior claim that the end of the Ice Age was the Great Flood of mythology, and with little discussion of the spread of mythology or the dependence of stories on one another (particularly remodeling due to contact with Abrahamic faiths), he repeats Ignatius Donnelly’s ideas about global flood myths representing a real catastrophe. Instead, he presents the only options as a real event or “coincidence.” False dichotomies quickly become the show’s stock in trade.
Part II: Stranger in a Time of Chaos
Hancock asserts that an ancient lost civilization built the great pyramid of Cholula, a claim Ignatius Donnelly once made. We hear that it is a “black hole” in Mesoamerican history, with an unknown origin. Archaeology tells us it began as a platform for a temple to Quetzalcoatl in the third century BCE. Instead, it quickly becomes evident that Hancock is reverting to Donnelly’s idea of a global pyramid-building Atlantean culture as he begins comparing the wildly different pyramids of cultures separated across time and space and asserting they were all developed from sacred mounds and platforms erected by the culture he won’t call Atlantis. This allows him to gloss over the differences in architecture and time to emphasize sanctity and “the ideas that underpin them.” He nevertheless pretends to be shocked that pyramids worldwide are tall and tapered—the only shape for high structures before steel-frame construction—and contain chambers, a feature so obvious its existence should be a given. Hancock relates a supposed Native story about the pyramid being the work of giants who survived the Flood and criticizes archaeologists for dismissing it as myth, without telling the audience that at least since the nineteenth century scholars have recognized it as a localization of Bible stories (the Flood and the Tower of Babel) by Christianized locals and recorded by Catholic priests. Hancock accepts the story and declares the Nephilim-Giants to be the “intellectual giants” of Atlantis.
Hancock then interviews Marco Vigato, author of Empires of Atlantis, a book about the white heroes of Atlantis’s Aryan empire with their superior white genes (75% Atlantean and 25% pre-human, he claims), and tries to redate various Aztec ruins to Atlantean times based on weathering. Most of the episode, though, merely summarizes Hancock’s familiar argument that (white) culture heroes from myth are survivors of Atlantis.
Part III: Sirius Rising
Hancock argues against Victorian ideas of linear progress, an idea scholarship has not endorsed in a century, in order to claim an advanced civilization could disappear. He spends quite a bit of time trying to argue that Malta’s great ruins are undatable and that Malta’s established history is an academic conspiracy to hide Atlantis. He claims there is no evidence of a learning curve and Malta was too small to justify big buildings. “Think about it: Could those farmers, who archaeologists tell us never built anything bigger than a shack, really have achieved all this?” Relying on a legend that a Giant built the temples, and he again rewrites the Giant to be someone of intellectual genius—something that has no real basis in logic except in the Nephilim stories of Enochian literature, where the Giants inherit the forbidden knowledge of the Watchers.
In 1917, some teeth found in the Maltese cave of Għar Dalam were identified as Neanderthal, and in 2016, a pediatrician wrote a book to suggest the initial identification was correct. Hancock uses this to argue, nonsensically, that archaeologists are obsessed with a false paradigm and therefore Homo sapiens came to Malta with the Neanderthals in the Ice Age, five thousand years earlier than thought, and built massive temples, which they aligned to Sirius in 11,000 BCE. There is no evidence Sirius was the target of any temple; the researcher who hypothesized it did so by making assumptions about the purpose and unity of Maltese temples for which there is no proof.
Hancock spends much of this episode arguing that native Maltese were too stupid, lazy, or ignorant to do think, build, and do, so only geniuses from another culture could pile rocks or watch stars. But Hancock is the ignorant one, falsely claiming that Malta is “linked” directly to Egypt because they paint the “Eye of Horus” on their boats. The eyes are not of Horus but at just eyes, continuing a tradition imported from either Phoenician or Greek times, when those cultures used eyes on their boats.
Part IV: Ghosts of a Drowned World
Bimini Road, the Bahamas
The Bimini Road, seriously. Hancock refuses to believe it is natural and says it is “reckless” not to try to prove it is an Atlantean wall, so he brings a marine biologist (!) with him to “prove” it is a “manmade structure.” This leads to a discussion of old maps allegedly showing Antarctica (they were the hypothetical southern continents from Greco-Roman myth) in which Hancock repeats old lies about the mapmakers admitting to relying on Ice Age originals. They said no such thing. The most famous such map literally says the opposite: “Behold!” Oronteus Finaeus wrote in 1531: “he presents for your gaze provinces, islands, seas, rivers, and mountains unseen before now, known neither to Ptolemy, nor Eudoxus, nor Eratosthenes, or Macrobius, but which have lain in shadows up to the present day.” Hancock did not read the Latin text and literally says in his show that it is based on older sources. He did not read the map he cites as evidence. Similarly, he repeats old clams about the Piri Reis map and adds a ridiculous one: that a clear set of mountains drawn on a rotated depiction of Cuba (much of the map is twisted to fit the vellum) is in fact the Bimini Road on a lost Ice Age island. We end with a recitation of Plato’s Atlantis allegory, which Hancock takes for history.
Part V: Legacy of the Sages
Hancock, still mired in his long-ago schoolboy lessons, seems think 1994, when Göbekli Tepe was discovered, is “recent” (and not nearly 30 years ago!) and therefore, like all aging schoolboys who rail against their hated lessons, crows that Göbekli Tepe challenges what “we’ve been taught”—as though knowledge wouldn’t or shouldn’t change over decades. Again, Hancock complains about “hunter-gatherers” being unable to carve or to build, as though one’s means of subsistence defined one’s intellect. Indeed, he even criticizes the “ambition” of “your average hunter-gatherer.” Yes, he called them lazy. He also alleges that stone carving emerged perfected, as though a gift from Atlantis, because there is no evidence of improvement, even while admitting that most of the similar sites beyond Göbekli Tepe are unexcavated. He also assumes that any potential connection to Sirius must be proof of a shared Atlantean heritage, though Sirius is the brightest and therefore most obvious target for naked-eye early astronomers.
Weirdly enough, while real scientists are happily studying how monumental architecture and settlement might lead to agriculture, Hancock rejects this revolution in our understanding of the origins of agriculture, instead insisting on the old twentieth century notion of agriculture yielding towns and monuments in order to defend his idea that only the Watchers and Nephilim—sorry, Atlantean sages—no, wait, sages with cute purses. For him, Göbekli Tepe is a “reboot” of Atlantis after the Flood.
The episode finishes with Martin Sweatman’s nonsensical interpretation of Göbekli Tepe’s iconography, itself based on Hancock’s own prior speculation. I have critiqued his bad ideas many times and need not repeat his Graham Hancock fan fiction here. Hancock calls Göbekli Tepe a “memorial” to the dead of Atlantis.
Part VI: America’s Lost Civilization
Poverty Point and Serpent Mound
Having mostly exhausted Magicians of the Gods, Hancock moves on to adapting his next book, America Before. It’s interesting that he again frames his argument around schoolboy lectures, complaining about the Clovis-first idea of the peopling of the Americas. He wrongly says this was the “dominant paradigm” until 2010 (he’s a decade late) and seems angry to have discovered that schools don’t teach it anymore because it gives him fewer reasons to argue archaeologists are resistant to evidence.
The episode looks at Poverty Point, Serpent Mound, and other mound sites, noting their astronomical alignments, which he attributes to Atlantis. He knows this sounds racist, so he offers a lengthy discussion on Native heritage and the atrocities committed against Native peoples and their cultures. “I’m not saying the ancient Americans living here weren’t capable of discovering and incorporating these astronomical observations into their sites by themselves,” he says, undermining his own argument for a lost civilization in the hope of not appearing racist.
Hancock makes much hay out of the administrators of Serpent Mound banning him from filming at the site, which Hancock calls “censorship.” Having been burned with shows like America Unearthed, they decided not to support fringe ideas about non-Native civilizations being responsible for Native sites. Hancock calls this “ideological” discrimination and he gets very mad about it.
Part VII: A Fatal Winter
Archaeology says the massive underground cave city of Derinkuyu (and around three dozen others) in Cappadocia was built below ground with hand axes in the first millennium BCE, the date of the oldest artifacts found there. Xenophon discusses it in his Anabasis. Hancock, though, disagrees. In Magicians of the Gods he placed it in the Paleolithic, claiming with no particular evidence that the underground cities were bunkers to protect against a comet crash. He alleges that because hand axes were known to have been used at the end of the Ice Age in the region, “there is no reason” Derinkuyu couldn’t have been carved then. Vitruvius probably reported truly in On Architecture 2.1.5 when he said the Phrygian built underground because they inhabit a “country destitute of timber,” so they “choose natural hillocks, which they pierce and hollow out for their accommodation, as well as the nature of the soil will permit.” Hancock, though, tries to link Derinkuyu to a late Persian variant of the Near East Flood myth in the Zoroastrian Avesta (Fargard 2.21-43) in which Ahura Mazda orders Yima to hide animals and seeds in a stone enclosure against a fatal winter. Hancock says it describes an underground city like Derinkuyu, though in the text it is clearly a building with walls and a roof. Hancock says that the winter would be heralded by a celestial snake—a comet—but that detail he finds key doesn’t appear in the Avesta. Hancock has conflated the text with the Bundahishn, which speaks of the evil spirit and his demons moving “like a snake” as they rose up to heaven and returned (ch. 3). It’s not the same story, as Hancock knew when he discussed both in Magicians of the Gods, but here he purposely runs them falsely together to create a “stunning implication” that simply isn’t there.
Part VIII: Cataclysm and Rebirth
Scablands, Washington State
The final episode rehearses uncredentialed autodidact Randall Carlson’s claims about the catastrophic formation of Washington State’s scablands previously given in Magicians of the Gods. Nothing new occurs here, but the usual evidence for the alleged Younger Dryas comet, previously featured on Ancient Aliens after appearing in Magicians of the Gods follows. As I noted many times, even if the comet really did hit, there is nothing to connect it to the destruction of a lost civilization—except that Ignatius Donnelly wrote a book about it as his sequel to Atlantis: The Antediluvian World. Hancock does his best to argue that the constellations were known 10,000 years before evidence for their imagined shapes exist and that astrological codes can pinpoint when the next comet will hit. After all, Joe Rogan pops by to endorse the idea, so it must be as true as his vaccine denialism. The dramatic music swells, the rhetoric reaches a fever-pitch, and yet nothing more than a few stories and some rhetorical sleight of hand holds together Hancock’s efforts to play prophet and warn that our own new Atlantis is destined to fall if we don’t bow before nature and repent the hubris of our civilization.
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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