The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine

The Course of Empire: Destruction, representing the ruin of Atlantis, painted in 1836 by Thomas Cole.

Alternative Civilization and Its Discontents:
An Analysis of the Alternative Archaeologist Graham Hancock’s Claim That an Ancient Apocalypse Erased the Lost Civilization of Atlantis

In the Fall of 2022, Netflix released Ancient Apocalypse, an eight-part documentary series written and presented by Graham Hancock, the author of numerous bestselling books about ancient human prehistory with whose work I have engaged many times over the years, both in the pages of Skeptic and on Joe Rogan’s popular podcast. The quality of the editing, graphics, music, and voiceover of the series is superb, the cinematography gorgeous, the aerial photography stunning, and the overall presentation so compelling that I binge-watched the series — twice!

Briefly, Hancock contends that tens of thousands of years before ancient Mesopotamia, Babylonia, and Egypt (that is, deep in the last ice age), there existed an even more glorious civilization — Plato called it Atlantis — that was so thoroughly wiped out by a series of comet strikes around 12,000 years ago that nearly all evidence of its existence vanished, leaving only the faintest of traces that he thinks include a cryptic warning that such a celestial catastrophe could happen to us.

The eight named 30-minute episodes in the series, each with a catchy title, include:

  1. Once There Was a Flood: the Indonesian archaeological site of Gunung Padang is explored by Hancock, as he believes it was once inhabited by a lost civilization when the site was part of a larger landmass known as Sundaland, wiped out in a cataclysm.
  2. Stranger in a Time of Chaos: the Mexican pyramid of Cholula, the largest such structure in the world that Hancock claims shows signs of a forgotten past, is also the source of the mythic hero Quetzalcoatl, who arrived by ship after the cataclysmic flood to bring ancient wisdom to the survivors.
  3. Sirius Rising: the megalithic temples of Malta show patterns of once having been connected and much older than archaeologists believe, and also demonstrate astronomical knowledge that Westerners only discovered in recent centuries.
  4. Ghosts of a Drowned World: the Bimini “road” off the coast of the Bahamas, believed by geologists to be a natural rock formation, is argued by Hancock to have been an ancient megalithic platform and possibly an outpost of the fabled lost continent of Atlantis, now underwater but well above ground during the last ice age. Evidence is presented in the form of a map purporting to show that the ancients knew about the Americas long before Columbus.
  5. Legacy of the Sages: the mysterious site in Turkey called Göbekli Tepe, agreed upon by mainstream archaeologists to be thousands of years older than any other megalithic structure in the world, is claimed by Hancock to have been constructed under the skilled direction of an advanced ancient ice-age civilization, and not the mere work of hunter-gatherers, who otherwise would have been unable to construct such a monument. Animals carved in bas-relief on the sides of the giant stone pillars are claimed to represent astronomical constellations as they would have appeared over ten thousand years ago.
  6. America’s Lost Civilization: several structures of North America, most notably Serpent Mount in Ohio and Poverty Point in Louisiana, are claimed by Hancock to have much older origins than mainstream archaeologists believe and incorporate a legacy of knowledge from an ancient civilization with advanced understanding of astronomy.
  7. A Fatal Winter: another site in Turkey called Derinkuyu, an underground city with a vast network of tunnels, represents what Hancock believes to be survival bunkers for the people living under assault from strikes by cometary debris 12,800 years ago.
  8. Cataclysm and Rebirth: numerous geological features of the Channeled Scablands of the western United States show what Hancock, along with his colleague Randall Carlson, believe to be direct evidence of the cosmic cometary event that erased nearly all evidence of the advanced civilization they believe thrived during the last ice age.
Cholula Pyramid, Mexico (Photo by Michael Shermer)

Cholula Pyramid, Mexico (Photo by Michael Shermer)

The series ends in dramatic fashion with Hancock delivering a take-home message for us moderns: that comet stream will one day return to do to us what it did to the Atlanteans, so we should prepare ourselves now. “Perhaps our own ‘advanced’ civilization should heed their warning,” Hancock pronounces in prophetic fashion in the final line of the series, “lest our own story end the same way.”

Graham Hancock is an engaging figure, drawing in his viewers and readers like one of the sage ancient wisemen he believes once flourished on Earth (and to an American audience, his soft British accent peppered with punctuated emphasis, confers apparent intelligence and gravitas to his presentation). He is a warm, thoughtful, caring, generous, and intelligent man whose life’s work I find compelling even while rejecting its central premise. He’s a stand-up guy who truly believes he has made an important discovery about the human past that has implications for our future. He is not the deluded wackadoodle pseudoscientist his critics portray him as, and most of the reviews of the Netflix series have been unduly harsh. The Guardian reviewer, for example, described the series as “the most dangerous show on Netflix.” Dangerous?! Two other articles in this issue of Skeptic review Hancock’s archaeological and geological claims in detail, so let me here offer an overview of why I am skeptical of his alternative theory of history, but also why I think there is a place in science for alternative voices to challenge the status quo.

Why I Am Skeptical of Hancock’s Alternative Theory of History

The Netflix series is based on a number of Hancock’s well-written and wildly popular books (again, note the catchy titles), including Fingerprints of the Gods: The Evidence of Earth’s Lost Civilization (1995), The Message of the Sphinx: A Quest for the Hidden Legacy of Mankind (1997), Underworld: The Mysterious Origins of Civilization (2002), Magicians of the Gods: The Forgotten Wisdom of Earth’s Lost Civilization (2015), and America Before: The Key to Earth’s Lost Civilization (2019). As with the Netflix series, I carefully consumed Magicians of the Gods and America Before, and like the television presentations, I find the claims made within strangely compelling, at least initially. But are they true? Here are a dozen reasons why I’m skeptical.

1. There isn’t just one “alternative” to mainstream archaeology, there are dozens of alternative theories. To name a few that have not fared well in the marketplace of ideas:

  • The theory that lost tribes of Israel colonized the Americas (and other places).
  • The Mormon archaeological theory that Native Americans are descended from one of these lost tribes of Israel.
  • The claim that the Kensington Runestones of Minnesota prove the theory of the Nordic Viking peopling of the Americas centuries before Columbus.
  • The Black Egyptian theory that ancient Egyptians were predominantly Black because Egypt is in Africa.
  • Thor Heyerdahl’s theory that the peoples of Polynesia came from South America, not Southeast Asia.
  • The archaeological theory that South American Olmec statues look African in their features, suggesting therefore that the peopling of the Americas also included voyages from Africa to South America.
  • The theories of Erich von Däniken, Zecharia Sitchin, Giorgio Tsoukalos, and other ancient alien theorists, proposing that ancient monumental architecture is best explained as the products of superior, extra-terrestrial intelligences visiting Earth in the distant past.

In response to this litany, Hancock reasonably responds “what does this have to do with me and my theory?” The answer is “nothing” and “everything.” Nothing, because to his credit he is just as skeptical as I am of these alternative archaeologies. Everything, because Hancock portrays himself as a lone rogue scholar being unfairly ignored by mainstream archaeologists, whereas in fact there is a parcel of such rogues, all equally convinced of the veracity of their claims. Most mainstream professional archaeologists do not have the time to engage everyone who has an alternative theory about the ancient past. Even if they did, most are specialists in one narrow area of research, so the time to fact-check every claim made in a broad series like Ancient Apocalypse would be overly demanding, with little professional reward.

2. Negative evidence and anomaly hunting.

No matter how devastating an extraterrestrial impact might be, are we to believe that, after centuries of flourishing, every last tool, potshard, article of clothing, and, presumably from an advanced civilization, the writing, metallurgy, and other technologies — not to mention their trash, homes, and bones — were erased? Not likely.

The larger problem with such alternative theories, however, is that they lack convincing positive evidence in their favor and upon which they can be tested, but instead are based almost entirely on a handful of anomalies allegedly not explicable by mainstream archaeologists (along with gobs of conjectures about what “might” have happened to explain this or that archaeological feature). In skeptical circles this method is termed anomaly hunting, and it’s easy to do because no scientific theory explains every last bit of data. Anomalies may one day be explained by the accepted theory, or they may lead to a complementary or alternative theory, or they may remain unexplained forever.

3. Cherry-picking data, confirmation bias, and starting with a conclusion and working backward through the evidence to make it fit.

Examples abound:

  1. Christian fundamentalists start with the assumption of a flood and go in search of Noah’s Ark and evidence of floods.
  2. Creationists begin with a belief in a young Earth and instant creation in seven days, so they reject the theory of evolution and look for any anomaly in science that seems to go against the findings that support a 4.6 billion-year-old Earth.
  3. Hindu creationists believe in an exceptionally ancient human lineage that dates back tens of millions of years and therefore accuse the scientific establishment of suppressing the fossil evidence of extreme human antiquity. For example, the self-identified “Vedic archaeologist” Michael Cremo, in his book Forbidden Archaeology, believes his findings support the story of humanity described in the Hindu Vedas.

That these challengers to mainstream science are wrong, however, doesn’t mean Hancock is also wrong. We must assess each claim individually. However, this does strongly suggest that if your alternative explanation is based primarily on the cherry picking of data to fit only your preconceived hypothesis, and if it begins with a conclusion and then works selectively backward through the evidence to make it fit what you’d like to be true, it very likely means that you’re subject to the confirmation bias, or the tendency to look for and find confirming evidence for our beliefs while ignoring or rationalizing away any disconfirming evidence.

To be sure, Hancock is correct when he points out the many theories in the history of science that have been subject to confirmation bias and where entire communities of mainstream scientists have prevented alternative challenges from getting a fair hearing. The system is not perfect. However, that doesn’t mean every alternative theory to the mainstream is correct. It only means we must be vigilant.

4. Patternicity: the tendency to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless noise.

Examples from Hancock’s work include:

  • Matching the alignment of buildings on the ground with stars in the sky, which Hancock, following Robert Bauval, does in comparing the layout of the Great Pyramid complex in Egypt to the constellation of Orion in the winter sky (primarily the three stars in Orion that make up the figure’s “belt”), is an example of patternicity. There is no independent evidence that the ancient Egyptians intended the layout of their buildings to match that constellation.
  • The comparison between disparate cultures of artifacts and monuments from one society and then highlighting similarities with those of another to conclude a common source, when in fact they are more likely explained by independent invention, especially given common circumstances. In many instances, Hancock rejects cultural diffusion, parallel invention, and “coincidence” as explanations, and instead strongly suggests that cultural features between civilizations that appear to match are the result of a common ancient source — his sought-after lost civilization. In fact, we should conceive of such similarities as cognitive commonalities in thinking about the world: there are only so many variations on a handful of themes in human life, so we shouldn’t be surprised when people come up with ideas similar to one another across time and space. The similarity of rituals and symbols, for example, does not automatically prove either cultural diffusion or ancient origin but instead could be the result of cognitive commonalities.
  • John Taylor provides a splendid example of patternicity in his 1859 book The Great Pyramid, when he computed that if you divide the height of the pyramid into twice the side of its base, you get a number close to pi; he also thought he had discovered the length of the ancient cubit as the division of the Earth’s axis by 400,000 — both of which Taylor found to be too incredible to be coincidental. Other alternative archaeologists “discovered” that the base of the Great Pyramid divided by the width of a casing stone equals the number of days in the year, and that the height of the Great Pyramid multiplied by 109 approximately equals the distance from the Earth to the Sun. And so on.

In his classic 1952 book Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, in his discussion of the many alternative theories about the Great Pyramid of Egypt, Martin Gardner revealed the poignant problem with patternicity when “just for fun” he analyzed the Washington Monument and “discovered” it possessed the property of “fiveness”:

Its height is 555 feet and 5 inches. The base is 55 feet square, and the windows are set at 500 feet from the base. If the base is multiplied by 60 (or 5 times the number of months in a year) it gives 3,300, which is the exact weight of the capstone in pounds. Also, the word “Washington” has exactly 10 letters (2 times 5). And if the weight of the capstone is multiplied by the base, the result is 181,500 — a fairly close approximation of the speed of light in miles per second.

After musing that “it should take an average mathematician about 55 minutes to discover the above ‘truths,’” Gardner concludes “how easy it is to work over an undigested mass of data and emerge with a pattern, which at first glance, is so intricately put together that it is difficult to believe it is nothing more than the product of a man’s brain.”

In my opinion, the many patterns Hancock has found in the archaeological record lie not in the soil, but in his mind.

5. Alternative archaeologists disparage mainstream archaeologists and accuse them of being closed-minded dogmatists engaged in a conspiracy to silence the truth.

Graham Hancock with colleague Randall Carlson in the Channeled Scablands, Washington State, USA

Graham Hancock with colleague Randall Carlson in the Channeled Scablands, Washington State, USA, during the filming of Hancock’s Netflix series Ancient Apocalypse. The series launched November 2022. (Photo courtesy of Santha Faiia)

This calumny is gainsaid by a paper published in the prestigious journal Nature just weeks before Graham and I collided in Joe Rogan’s studio, in which scientists put forth evidence that they believe indicates humans (or possibly Neanderthals) inhabited the San Diego area of Southern California some 130,000 years ago, an order of magnitude earlier than mainstream archaeologists’ timeline for the peopling of the Americas. The evidence for this conjecture, however, is not as strong as the popular media made it out to be in the considerable press coverage this paper received. The “butchered” mammoth bones may, in fact, have been broken in the excavation of a road recently constructed at the site, and the “stone tools” were nothing at all like the finely crafted Clovis points found all over North America, and instead might be just broken rocks. That was, in fact, the conclusion in another paper published in the journal PaleoAmerica after our debate and as Hancock’s America Before was going to press, and is what most mainstream archaeologists now believe the truth about the find.

Here again we see the problematic practice of anomaly hunting. The vast majority of evidence indicates the peopling of the Americas happened some time between 23,000 and 13,000 years ago, depending on the accuracy of the dating of these earlier artifacts and the margins of error around the calibrated date. However, if people were in the Americas 130,000 years ago, where is all the evidence for their existence between 23,000 years ago and that much older date? Where are their stone tools, their homes, their trash? Hancock responds to this plaint that the spiral of silence around challenging the Clovis-first dogma has prevented archaeologists from searching for such chronologically intermittent artifacts. In fact, many archaeologists reject Clovis-first and have embraced the earlier dates for human migration into the Americas, so apparently mainstream scientists are not as dogmatic as Hancock would have his readers and viewers believe. Further, as Jason Colavito pointed out in his extensive and detailed review of America Before in Skeptic 24.2 (2019):

Even accepting the most extreme pre-Clovis arguments, the presence of humans implies nothing about the existence of a lost Atlantislike civilization. For example, Aboriginal Australians have been present Down Under for 65,000 years or more, but their traditional way of life did not include Atlantis-style cities.

6. Falsifiability, conjectures and refutations, and the burden of proof.

In his 1959 book, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, the philosopher of science Karl Popper proposed a solution to “the demarcation problem” of distinguishing science from pseudoscience: “the criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability.” In his 1963 book Conjectures and Refutations, Popper outlined how scientists operate by conjecturing ideas to their colleagues and considering the refutations in response. There’s nothing wrong with making conjectures — it is the lifeblood of science — but most ideas that scientists (like all the rest of us) propose turn out to be wrong. So constant dialogue and interaction with one’s fellow experts in a field through correspondence, phone calls, published papers and books, conferences, and the like, are crucial for gauging if one is running off the rails. That is why it is dangerous to work in isolation, which is an inherent limitation of being an outsider to a field. It’s not that outsiders can’t or don’t make contributions — occasionally, they do. However, they usually don’t because most of us most of the time are wrong about our conjectures, so refutations from colleagues are vital.

During our debate on Joe Rogan’s show, I asked Hancock several times, “What would it take to refute your hypothesis?” I never received a reply, so I subsequently wrote him:

You still have no evidence whatsoever for the lost civilization. Not a single tool. No writing. Not even any pottery. Even after nearly four hours in Joe’s studio I still have no idea what you mean by “advanced”, despite my asking you repeatedly. Your comments were filled with many modifiers like “perhaps,” “maybe,” “possibly,” etc. It’s fine to speculate, and you may even be right. But to overturn the mainstream theory in any field you need to do more than that.

Tellingly, on the matter of whether the absence of evidence is the evidence of absence, in America Before Hancock writes:

When, I wonder, will archaeologists take to heart the old dictum that absence of evidence is not the same thing as evidence of absence, and learn the lessons that their own profession has repeatedly taught — namely that the next turn of the excavator’s spade can change everything? So little of the surface area of our planet has been subjected to any kind of archaeological investigation at all that it would be more logical to regard every major conclusion reached by this discipline as provisional — particularly when we are dealing with a period as remote, as tumultuous, and as little understood as the Ice Age.

Agreed, but the burden of proof is on claimants to provide positive evidence in favor of their hypotheses, not on skeptics to provide negative evidence, whatever that would be in the absence of evidence. And most scientists are disinclined to play “burden tennis” with claimants of alternative theories — “whack, the burden is on you; no, whack, the burden is on you!” and so on. In the end, all archaeologists and skeptics will change their mind about Hancock’s lost civilization when that spade upturns unequivocal evidence. Until then, it is reasonable to be skeptical.

7. The dangers of reading the past from the present.

In researching Hancock’s many claims I consulted the professional archaeologist and skeptic of alternative archaeology, Ken Feder, about the symbolism found on the monumental stone structures at Göbekli Tepe. Hancock thinks these symbols represent stellar constellations or carry some deeper meaning about nature at the time they were carved. Feder replied:

There appears to be a conceit on the part of modern people that all ancient art must in some way be representational, depicting things the artists actually saw and experienced. But we don’t insist on that for modern artists. Their art requires no concrete explanation. We allow them to be creative, imaginative, and to just make stuff up because it’s cool or represents things they hallucinated in trance and then interpreted through the prism of religion.

Feder added that the paintings of Magritte, if we took them literally, would represent the “period when gravity was abolished, at least for men in suits and apples.” The point is that we must be extremely cautious about reading into the past our own ideas, and the further back in time we go, the more problematic it is to do so.

To that end I also queried the archaeo-astronomer Ed Krupp, Director of the Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles and the author of several books, on when it is appropriate (or not) to interpret archaeological sites as astronomical in nature.

The broad account of the interpretation makes me very skeptical. We have no dictionary for the symbolic vocabulary of Göbekli Tepe imagery. This appears to start with the assumption the figures are recognized constellations (several problems right there) and then goes back in time with planetarium software in search of a fit. Starry Night and Stellarium [computer programs that show the night sky any time in the past] have a lot to answer for. They are dangerous weapons in the hands of amateurs.

Regarding the carving of a scorpion on one of the T-shaped pillars at Göbekli Tepe, Krupp noted of Hancock’s interpretation:

It all seems to rest on the Scorpion, which he argues must be Scorpio (sic. He means “Scorpius”). Then he turns the other images, which have no known relationship to any known constellation imagery into constellations in the same territory. This gives him the Milky Way in Sagittarius, although it is not depicted. Then he takes the disk, calls it a sun symbol, and says it is in the center of the Milky Way in Sagittarius, à la the 2012 Maya Calendar End Times Follies. Because the Maya calendar allegedly marked the start of a New Age, he implies the Göpekli Tepe carving also marks the start of a New Age (and the end of the earlier era). That, in turn, is linked to the alleged Dryas impact. It all appears to be contrived data of high order.

8. The Impact Hypothesis as the Ancient Apocalypse.

Hancock’s proposed cataclysm that wiped clean the historical record is what is known as the Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis (YDIH), which scientists first proposed in 2007 as an explanation for the North American mega-faunal extinction around 12,000 years ago. It has been the subject of vigorous scientific debate ever since, and while there is some evidence for it — growing stronger every year — it may not have done what Hancock needs it to in order to account for his alternative history. The YDIH is discussed in more detail in the other two articles in this issue.

In addition to the lack of any impact craters dated to around that time anywhere in the world, the radiocarbon dates of the layer of carbon, soot, charcoal, nanodiamonds, microspherules, and iridium, asserted to have been the result of this catastrophic event, vary widely before and after the mega-faunal extinction, anywhere from 14,000 to 10,000 years ago. Further, although 37 mammal species went extinct in North America (while most other species survived and flourished), at the same time 52 mammal genera went extinct in South America, presumably not caused by the impact. These extinctions, in fact, were timed with human arrival, thereby supporting the more-widely accepted overhunting hypothesis.

9. The argument from ignorance and personal incredulity.

This is the argument that if scientists cannot explain X, then Y is a legitimate theory. It is sometimes rendered as the argument from personal incredulity — because I cannot explain X, then my theory Y is valid. This is similar to the “God of the Gaps” argument that creationists use (if evolutionists cannot explain the gap X, then God did it). In Hancock’s case, the gods are the “Magicians” who brought us civilization. The problem here is twofold: (1) scientists do have good explanations for Hancock’s Xs (e.g., the pyramids, the Sphinx), even if they are not in total agreement, and (2) ultimately, one’s theory must rest on positive evidence in favor of it, not just negative evidence against accepted theories.

10. The Bigotry of Low Expectations.

Hancock’s biggest X is Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, with its megalithic T-shaped 7- to 10-ton stone pillars cut and hauled from limestone quarries and dated to around 11,000 years ago when humans lived as hunter-gatherers without, presumably, the know-how, skills, and labor to produce them. Ergo, Hancock concludes, “At the very least it 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.” This sounds romantic, but who is to say what hunter-gatherers are or are not capable of doing? To be fair, however, as Hancock told me in a requested response to this article:

Until the discovery of Göbekli Tepe archaeologists did not believe that hunter-gatherers were capable of large-scale megalithic construction; that supposedly came later when established agricultural communities allowed surpluses to be generated, thus freeing up people to become architects, engineers, site managers, etc. Since the discovery of Göbekli Tepe the old model of agriculture first, megaliths second, has largely been abandoned, but it was held as something of a “sacred truth” for many years.

Finally, it should be noted, Göbekli Tepe was a ceremonial religious site, not a city, as there is no evidence that anyone lived there, and there are no domesticated animal bones, no metal tools, no inscriptions or writing, and not even pottery — all products that much later “high civilizations” produced.

11. Catastrophism and Uniformitarianism.

Hancock has spent decades in his vision quest to find the sages who brought us civilization. Yet, decades of searching have failed to produce enough evidence to convince archaeologists that the standard timeline of human history needs major revision. Hancock’s plaint is that Mainstream Science is stuck in a uniformitarianism model of slow gradual change and so cannot accept a catastrophic explanation. Not true. From the origin of the universe (big bang), the origin of the moon (big collision), the origin of lunar craters (meteor strikes), and the demise of the dinosaurs (asteroid impact), to the numerous sudden downfalls of civilizations documented by Jared Diamond in his book Collapse, catastrophism is alive and well in mainstream science.

12. Atlantis.

The centerpiece of Graham Hancock’s theory is Atlantis, a mythic utopian society that has been projected to have been located in the Mediterranean, the Atlantic (the Canaries or the Azores being remnants), Iceland or Sweden, the Caribbean (linked to the Bermuda Triangle), or the Pacific (between South America and Antarctica, or somewhere between Australia, New Guinea, and the Solomon and Fiji Islands). As the myth has it, the evidence for the lost continent was washed away when it vanished beneath the waves, but that hasn’t quelled the imagination of Atlantean hunters. In 1954 the science fiction author and skeptic L. Sprague de Camp counted 216 different “Atlantists,” only 37 of which concluded that Atlantis was imaginary or allegorical, with the rest convinced the real lost continent could be found. In 1989 the French underwater treasure hunter Pierre Jarnac tallied over 5,000 book titles about Atlantis, but this was pre-Internet. In his 2012 book Atlantis: In the Textual Sea, Andrea Albini reported that over 23 million web pages were devoted to the imagined lost civilization.

There is, in fact, no point in searching for Atlantis because, in my opinion (and that of most historians and scholars), Plato made up the story as a social commentary on Athens and a warning to his fellow Athenians to pull back from the precipice that war and wealth were pushing them over. In the Timaeus, Plato’s dialogist, Critias, explains that Egyptian priests told the Greek wise man Solon that his ancestors once defeated a mighty empire located just beyond the “Pillars of Hercules” (usually identified by Atlantologists as the straights of Gibraltar). “This vast power gathered into one, endeavored to subdue at a blow our country and yours and the whole of the region within the straits; and then, Solon, your country shone forth, in the excellence of her virtue and strength, among all mankind.” Afterward, however, “there were violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea.”

The fodder for Plato’s imagination came from his experiences growing up at the terminus of Athens’ Golden Age, brought about, in part, by the costly wars against the Spartans and Carthaginians. He visited cities such as Syracuse, featuring numerous Atlantean-like temples, and Carthage, whose circular harbor was controlled from a central island, as in the Atlantis myth. Earthquakes were common: when Plato was 55, one leveled the city of Helice, only 40 miles from Athens, and, most tellingly, the year before he was born, an earthquake flattened a military outpost on the small island of Atalantë. Plato wove historical fact into literary myth, as he did for his more famous work, The Republic, in this case to warn how a utopia can become corrupted into a dystopia. As he explained: “We may liken the false to the true for the purpose of moral instruction.” The myth is the message.

Out on a Limb

I believe that science needs outsiders and mavericks who poke and prod and push accepted theories until they either collapse or are reinforced and made even stronger. Of all the alternative archaeology theories I’ve read, I find Hancock’s to be the most intriguing, even compelling, in the romantic sense of Golden Age myths and what they may mean for us. Yet I do not think he has convinced professional archaeologists of the factual nature of this particular story, and that’s how it usually goes in science.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Hancock’s alternative theory of history is extraordinary, but his evidence isn’t even ordinary. And Hancock doesn’t help his cause when he reveals what he really believes about this lost civilization, which he outlined to Joe Rogan on the eve of the Netflix series, and at the end of America Before:

I suppose the time has come to say in print what I have already said many times in public Q&A sessions at my lectures, and that in my view the science of the lost civilization was primarily focused upon what we now call psi capacities that deployed the enhanced and focused power of human consciousness to channel energies and to manipulate matter. …

My speculation, which I will not attempt to prove here or to support with evidence but merely present for consideration, is that the advanced civilization I see evolving in North America during the last Ice Age had transcended leverage and mechanical advantage and learned to manipulate matter and energy by deploying powers of consciousness that we have not yet begun to tap. In action such power would look something like magic even today and must have seemed supernatural and godlike to the hunter-gatherers who shared the Ice Age world with these mysterious adepts.

It is already a big ask of professional scientists to go down one alternative path with you to the lost civilization of Atlantis, but when you then ask them to do so by means of the paranormal or supernatural, you shouldn’t be surprised to encounter substantial hesitant skepticism. END

About the Author

Michael Shermer is a New York Times bestselling author and Presidential Fellow at Chapman University where he teaches Skepticism 101. He is the host of the popular podcast “The Michael Shermer Show.” His latest book is Conspiracy.

This article was published on June 16, 2023.

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