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Conjuring Up a Lost Civilization

An Analysis of the Claims Made by Graham Hancock in Magicians of the Gods

Graham Hancock’s 2015 book Magicians of the Gods: The Forgotten Wisdom of Earth’s Lost Civilization1 is something of a sequel and update to his 1995 international bestseller Fingerprints of the Gods: The Evidence of Earth’s Lost Civilization,2 which was translated into 27 languages and sold more than three million copies.3 In Fingerprints, Hancock uses creation myths in ancient texts and wild geological scenarios to suggest that 12,450 years ago major crustal shifts moved Antarctica to its present location. Portions of a supposedly highly advanced unknown lost civilization (none other than Atlantis) living on Antarctica at the time were able to survive the destructive cataclysms and go on to convey their knowledge to the builders of the megalithic structures of Egypt, Maya, Babylon, and other known great civilizations. He also claims that the Mayan calendar portended world cataclysms in 2012. In Magicians, Hancock now says he got it all wrong—there was no crustal shift; instead he thinks this advanced civilization was destroyed by a comet.

Magicians appears to be on its way to becoming another bestseller for the British writer. Although Hancock has few scientific credentials (an undergraduate degree in sociology from Durham University), 4 his early career as a journalist5 helped him navigate through a wide range of scientific research, but without benefit of specialized training in astronomy, geology, history, archaeology, or comparative religion and mythology. Hancock is obviously bright, articulate, and a good writer and storyteller who comes across as eminently reasonable, which makes it all the more difficult to tease apart fact from fiction in the many claims made in his books, documentary films, and lectures.

Göbekli Tepe

The centerpiece of Hancock’s Magicians is a remarkable archaeological site called Göbekli Tepe in Turkey dated to 11,600 years ago. He contends Göbekli Tepe is too advanced to have been built by hunter-gatherers alone, and must therefore have been constructed with the help of people from a more advanced civilization. Unfortunately for Hancock these people left behind no hard evidence for their existence, so he is forced to allude to what he thinks is sophisticated architecture, along with a few carved figures that he asserts represent astronomical constellations. From these speculations Hancock concludes: “At the very least it [Göbekli Tepe] would mean that some as yet unknown and unidentified people somewhere in the world had already mastered all the arts and attributes of a high civilization more than twelve thousand years ago in the depths of the last Ice Age and sent out emissaries around the world to spread the benefits of their knowledge.”

It’s a romantic notion, but not the conclusion that the late great German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt came to after excavating Göbekli Tepe for more than two decades beginning in 1994. The site, he says, was used from 11,600 to about 10,000 years before the present. Lower sections were backfilled giving way to new structures on top. The fill is refuse containing sediment, hundreds of thousands of broken animal bones, flint tools for carving the structures within the site and for hunting game, and the remains of cereals and other plant material, and even a few human bones. There is no evidence that the site was ever used as a residence, and the megaliths found there (Schmidt called them “monumental religious architecture”) along with carvings and totems, imply ritual and feasting.

The main features of Göbekli Tepe are the Tshaped 7- to 10-ton monolithic pillars cut and hauled from crystalline limestone quarries on the tepe (hill) and erected within 10- to 20- meter ring structures made of rocks annealed by clay mortar that encircle the pillars. The stone statues are clearly anthropomorphic— arms and hands can be seen on the sides of the pillars reaching around to the front. A variety of animals, mostly representing the wild animals found within the refuse, have been carved on the pillars.6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Figure 1—A T-shaped megalith with animal carvings at Göbekli Tepe.
Figure 2—Hancock claims that the “teapot” asterism of the constellation Sagittarius fits the vulture from Göbekli Tepe better than the archer (Page 319).
Figure 3—Two interpretations of the “teapot” asterism by the author: Uncle Sam and a commando insignia. It is easy to find matching patterns if you are motivated to do so.
Figure 4—The star pattern is from the day sky in 10,950 BCE (using the astronomical computer program Stellarium) with the images from pillar 43 at Göbekli Tepe matched with the constellation as proposed by Sweatman and Tsikritsis. I argue that the correlations are purely speculative.
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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
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