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Lost Civilizations and Imaginative Conjectures

An Analysis of Myth and History in Graham Hancock’s Magicians of the Gods

Few topics in science evoke more wonder than the idea that there was once a great prehistoric civilization now lost to history, whose scant remnants are presented in breathtaking revelations by independent scholars insightful and brave enough to think outside the box of mainstream archaeology. Most prominent among those who promote this view is Graham Hancock, author of The Message of the Sphinx, The Mars Mystery, Underworld: The Mysterious Origins of Civilization, The Divine Spark, Sign and the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant, Fingerprints of the Gods, and now,Magicians of the Gods. This latest work, at over 400 pages, expands upon his earlier books, all of which are oriented around his belief that a worldwide civilization existed more than 20,000 years before present (BP).

What happened to this advanced culture? It was wiped out by a planet-wide cataclysm that Hancock now suggests was triggered by a comet strike on the Earth, as evidenced by many geological features he thinks have no better explanation than a massive flood caused by the comet impact that erased nearly all traces of this advanced civilization. This initiated the Younger Dryas period of intense cold, ca.12,900- 11,700 BP, followed by a disrupting period of gradual warming at the end of the last glacial maximum from 27,000-24,000 BP when, presumably, this ancient advanced civilization flourished. The Younger Dryas was followed by extensive flooding of the continental shelf land areas previously exposed due to falling sea levels during the glaciations. The flooding was caused by rapid warming of the entire planet at the end of the Younger Dryas.

According to Hancock’s theory, flood myths across the world record the history of this event in mythic form, as does the myth of Atlantis. While the Younger Dryas may well have had a sudden onset, possibly measured in a few decades, and the rise in sea levels at the end of that period may also have been as sudden, there is no evidence of any civilization developing before the Younger Dryas. As this issue of Skeptic includes an analysis of the astronomical and geological aspects of the theory by geologist Marc Defant, I will here focus on myth and history as Hancock presents them in Magicians and his other books.

Gunung Padang

To begin, according to Hancock, not all traces of this advanced ancient civilization were destroyed. As he has argued in previous works, for example, the Sphinx needs to be redated to make it part of this much earlier civilization, as does a pyramid buried at Gunung Padang, a megalithic site in Java. Hancock praises the work of geologist Danny Hillman Natawidjaja, who he sees as persevering in the face of hidebound scientists who want to stop his investigation because they fear the “truth” about the past. According to Hancock, a cabal of these dogmatic scientists petitioned to have Natawidjaja’s work halted, until the president of Indonesia heroically stepped in and put an end to their machinations.

As is often the case, the truth is more complex and less heroic. Dyna Rochmyaningsih notes in an article in Nature, the motives driving the excavations at Gunung Padang are far from purely scientific:

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About Skeptic

SPECIAL ISSUE: Did a Mysterious Unknown Advanced Civilization Help Ancient Peoples Build Their Monuments? SPECIAL SECTION — EVALUATING THE EVIDENCE FOR AN ADVANCED LOST CIVILIZATION: Debating Science and Lost Civilizations: My Experience on the Joe Rogan Experience by Michael Shermer; Conjuring Up a Lost Civilization: An Analysis of the Claims Made by Graham Hancock in Magicians of the Gods by Marc Defant; Lost Civilizations and Imaginative Conjectures: An Analysis of the Myths and History of Graham Hancock’s Magicians of the Gods by Tim Callahan. SPECIAL SECTION — AN ACADEMIC HOAX: Failure to Communicate: Why We Published the “Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” Hoax Exposé by Michael Shermer; The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct: A Sokal-Style Hoax on Gender Studies by Peter Boghossian (aka Peter Boyle, Ed.D.) and James Lindsay (aka, Jamie Lindsay, Ph.D.); More Fashionable Nonsense Some thoughts on “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” Hoax by Alan Sokal. ARTICLES: Big News on Homo naledi: More Fossils and a Surprising Young Age by Nathan H. Lents; The Real Origin of UFOs and Aliens: How the Media Shaped Our Ideas About Extraterrestrials by Tim Callahan; Publicly Funded Stem Cell Research: California’s $3-Billion Experiment in Public Science by Raymond Barglow; How to Tame a Fox and Build a Dog by Lee Dugatkin and Lyudmila Trut; Science, Facts, and “Provisional” Knowledge by David Zeigler. COLUMNS: The SkepDoc: Juicing for Health or Torture by Harriet Hall, M.D. The Gadfly: Our Angry Era by Carol Tavris. JUNIOR SKEPTIC: Zombies: The Gruesome True Story of Zombies by Daniel Loxton