This is Graham Hancock’s most recent book, a follow-up to Magicians of the Gods, painstakingly evaluating the evidence that hints at a lost civilization in deep antiquity (Atlantis?)
An admission, I used to be a “young-earth creationist,” which means that I was among the Christians that believe that God created the world and universe about 6,000 years ago. A commonly-held and dogma-driven view of history that we now view as absurd and anti-rational which necessitates ignoring a lot of evidence. Almost nobody (Christians included) is now a young-earth creationist — but (even the intelligentsia of) society still holds some very dogmatic views of history that require ignoring a lot of evidence. Graham Hancock has written several books thoroughly documenting and analyzing this evidence. According to the mainstream view of history, our species suddenly jumped from scratching about in the dust to building the pyramids and other megaliths of tremendous proportions and size — civilizational endeavors requiring mastery of complex mathematics and engineering principles. While our modern civilization can barely keep the lights on in a lot of places (and can’t even keep the Notre Dame cathedral from burning down), we’re made to believe that ancient humans jumped right from chasing down megafauna on the flatlands with spears to the decadent project of building giant monuments perfectly aligned to the astrological starscape above, in a matter of (at the most) a few thousand years, while they were mired in a barbaric and deeply superstitious societal state. Indeed, “young civilizationists” (like young-earth creationists) believe that something magical happened about six millennia ago.
A more rational and scientific view of ancient history is becoming clearer, with a lot of resistance from the young civilizationists; that there was a relatively advanced civilization present about 12,000 years ago that had mapped the earth and the night sky and seeded the ancient civilizations around the globe that we all learned about in grade school, before its demise.
Be a skeptic, NOT a dogmatik
You might say…
I’m a skeptical thinker. This Atlantis stuff is wu-wu pseudo-scientific nonsense, I don’t buy it.
Sorry, you’re not a skeptical thinker, you’re a dogmatic thinker, or a dogmatik (a word I just invented). A skeptical thinker would instead say, “You think Atlantis existed? Well, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence…” and then change their mind if convincing evidence is presented. As a conspiracy-curious type, I’ve watched all the documentaries on “flat earth” and there is some evidence but it fails to measure up to the extraordinary and outlandish claim. I’ve read two of Hancock’s books now which methodically break down the evidence for Atlantis — and there is a lot of it, +1200 pages, and hundreds of footnotes. And I know the next argument that the staunchest Atlantis-skeptic would raise…
Have you read every article, book, and paper cited in the footnotes? How do you know that he’s not just cherry-picking his data to support the story he wants to tell?
No, of course not. Intellectual progress requires “good faith” discourse, it requires the mutual assumption that nobody is lying maliciously. I wouldn’t read a book by an author who I assumed was a rank propagandist. If an author hasn’t done his homework, it’s usually painfully obvious. A rigorous author should NOT simply say, “this study supports my case [insert footnote]” — they should be able to quote a passage from the study that clearly supports the author’s case. In reading this book review you have to assume that I don’t have some sneaky ulterior motive for my curiosity about Atlantis. One of the signs of an intellectual worth putting faith in is that they present and address the counter-arguments against the case they are making — Hancock does that over and over again in his books, to the point of tedium. The final argument a “skeptic” might make is…
Does it really matter if Atlantis existed? It was so long ago. Why does the origin of civilization even matter?
Now you’re starting to ask interesting questions. I’ll address them towards the end of this book review.
In public school, very bored, teenage-you was taught in history class that Native American Indians came to North America relatively recently. But more recent discoveries are overturning this young-civilizationist dogma…
Far from being very recent, it is beginning to look as though the human presence in the Americas may be very old — perhaps more than 100,000 years older than has hitherto been believed. (p. 11)
Anciency of Native Americans
WHEN TOM DEMÉRÉ DUG DEEP enough he turned up evidence of humans in North America 130,000 years ago that was sufficiently robust to make it through Nature’s rigorous peer-review process and into print in April 2017. (p. 105)
the enduring presence of humans of some kind in the Americas from perhaps as far back as 130,000 years ago until today. That’s a very long time. It might even be long enough — speaking entirely hypothetically, of course — for something that we would recognize as an advanced civilization to have emerged in the Americas alongside the hunter-gatherers (pp. 114–115)
The Cerutti Mastodon find is paradigm-shifting, one of the key pieces of extraordinary evidence that supports the extraordinary claim of anciency.
the real importance of the Cerutti Mastodon Site is that it provides the first solid evidence — solid enough to make it into the pages of Nature — of a truly ancient human occupation of the New World. If humans were in North America 130,000 years ago (more than twice as long as the span of the known human presence in Europe), that gives them 117,000 years to have evolved a high civilization before the Younger Dryas cataclysm struck. (p. 655)
The Mystery of the Mississippian Mounds
For thousands of years, Native American Mississippians have been in the business of building grassy mounds. They aren’t nearly as epic as Egyptian pyramids or Stonehenge, but they hint at an advanced civilization in America.
But in antiquity the North American mound-building phenomenon was centered on the Mississippi River (p. 367)
It is my case in this book that we do indeed find such a descendant civilization in the Mississippi Valley and that, like ancient Egypt, it carries the DNA of a “ghost” civilization of remote prehistory. (p. 512)
Undoubtedly they expressed themselves in many different ways. Yet when it came to their earthworks, for some mysterious reason, they all did the same things, in the same ways, repeatedly reiterating the same memes linking great geometrical complexes on the ground to events in the sky. (p. 369)
This fundamental, endlessly reiterated, endlessly reincarnated design, he says, “seems to have no home base — no specific country or culture responsible for its phenomenon.” This, however, is precisely what we would expect if it’s “home base” were a lost civilization destroyed so completely, and so deeply buried in time, that it has been reduced to the stuff of myths and legends. (p. 65)
Poverty Point is a notable megalithic mound site in modern-day Louisana.
Poverty Point does incorporate solstice alignments … [and] may indeed be the world’s largest solstice marker.” (pp. 380–381)
All these places are man-made sanctuaries that speak to the union of heaven and earth at key moments of the year. They might rightly be described as hierophanies because their fundamental purpose is to reveal and manifest the sacred connection between macrocosm and microcosm, sky and ground, “above” and “below.” (pp. 30–31)
Ice Age Americans were Atlanteans?
This is what the book suggests without using that word. I’ll call them Atlanteans I think it’s deservedly evocative in the light of the evidence laid bare here. We know from more recent history that the cold is a crucial ingredient in the ascent of civilization. Intense seasonal cold is an evolutionary pressure that selects for intelligence. It produces (often) a K-selected culture that builds things to last. Life was very chilly in America for the 100,000-year ice age that proceeded the present.
A LOST ADVANCED CIVILIZATION OF the Ice Age with global navigational and mapmaking skills equivalent to our own in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries would have had the capacity to establish outposts on every continent but must also have had a homeland. (p. 614)
if North America is where a lost civilization of prehistoric antiquity vanished, then by far the most significant problem we face in investigating it is the way that the “crime scene” was systematically “wiped down” by the cataclysmic events at the onset of the Younger Dryas. (p. 618)
That would be the…
Younger Dryas Cosmic Impact
Central to Hancock’s grand vision of a lost civilization is a catastrophic cosmic encounter of biblical proportions. This book and its predecessor describe in-depth what’s increasingly being accepted by mainstream science, that an unfortunate encounter occurred between a comet (and its entourage of civilization-killing asteroids) and a Hoth-like North America about 12,000 years ago. The reason this isn’t as mainstream as “an asteroid killed off the dinosaurs” is that the epicenter of the impact was a giant continent-wide ice sheet that covered most of modern-day Canada, so we don’t have a convenient “smoking gun” impact crater.
The book begins around the year 19,000 BC in Ohio…
a spectacle awaits you the like of which exists nowhere in the world today outside of Antarctica. That sight, a sheer, looming, continuous cliff of ice rising more than a mile high and extending across almost the entire width of North America from the east coast to the west coast, marks the southernmost extent of the ice cap in these parts. (p. 25)
Numerous ancient cultures viewed a comet in the night sky as a bad omen. Might this be the cultural echo of the destruction wrought by the Younger-Dryas comet impact? It was hell on earth, quite possibly the most traumatic event our species ever experienced, read my writing on the forgotten shrivers.
what the evidence from the Greenland ice cores seems to indicate is an epoch of 21 years in which the earth was hit every year, with the bombardments increasing annually in intensity until the fourteenth year, when they peaked and then began to decline before ceasing in the twenty-first year. (p. 533)
the Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis continues to make complete sense to me and to a great many scientists, and its 21-year window of maximum devastation, peaking around 12,822 years ago, deserves special attention. (pp. 598–599)
The specter of destruction was cinematically epic…
All living things within 100 kilometers of the [Michigan] impact died instantly. They were either burned by the heat blast or killed by the shock wave. On the East Coast, 1000 kilometers from the impact zone, the blinding flash on the horizon was followed by a sky that darkened ominously as it filled with the giant ice boulders ejected by the impact. Three minutes after the flash, the dark sky advanced relentlessly, and the ground shook as the first seismic waves from the extraterrestrial impact site arrived traveling at 5 km/sec. By this time, all animals and humans were aware that something terrible was happening. The sky continued to darken, and then filled with bright streaks as the ice boulders in suborbital flights re-entered the atmosphere at speeds of 3 to 4 km/sec…. [As] the giant ice boulders started falling … the thumping of the impacts sent shock waves through the ground that traveled at 5 to 8 km/sec…. The shaking ground started to liquefy, trapping everyone. The ground had turned to quicksand, making it impossible to walk or run … At the peak of intensity, a hail of glacier ice chunks, many as big as a baseball stadium, left steam trails in the sky as they re-entered the atmosphere at supersonic speeds and crashed into the liquefied ground accompanied by the thunder of sonic booms. (pp. 583–584)
It’s thought-provoking, isn’t it, that cosmic impacts, whether by asteroids or by comets, can sometimes be of such magnitude that they drastically redirect the evolutionary path of life on earth. (p. 89)
Interestingly enough, some of the easiest people to convince of the Younger-Dryas impact and subsequent destruction of civilization are Christians, it’s highly consistent with the mythological great deluge described in the first book of the Bible. The break up of the North American ice sheet would have caused floods of mythological proportions all around the world. Genesis describes a decadent, deeply-corrupt, and sinful civilization deserving of total destruction. Hancock views the Atlanteans as sort of enlightened colonists, spiritual seafarers but the evidence that we do have for them hints at decadence. Did the Spartans leave a bunch of megaliths erected to immortalize their own greatness? What does that say about the Atlanteans?
Might the Atlanteans have seen this great tribulation coming (and done something to try to keep the flame of civilization alive)?
Its astronomer-priests are therefore most unlikely to have missed the signs in the sky as our planet began its long journey toward intersection with a particularly lumpy and debris-filled filament of the Taurid meteor stream where the menacing serpentlike tails of the outgassing larger fragments might have served as visible omens of the terrors to come. (pp. 601–602)
Genetics has become an increasingly precise science, a most tantalizing recent discovery is that Amazonians banged Australasians.
Such a signal was completely unexpected given the vast distance between Australasia and the Amazon and the absence of any overland DNA trail. Skoglund and Reich therefore subjected it to particularly rigorous testing, applying four different methods of statistical analysis to compare the genomes of 30 Central and South American peoples with the genomes of 197 other populations from around the world. “We spent a really long time trying to make this result go away,” Skoglund explained, “but it just got stronger.” In the end “a statistically clear signal linking Native Americans in the Amazonian region of Brazil to present-day Australo-Melanesians and Andaman Islanders” was confirmed. (pp. 172–173)
Hancock suggests that Atlanteans moved (probably via ships) proto-south Asians to the Amazon.
what has been preserved in those isolated, unadulterated Amazonian genomes that speaks to an ancient connection with Australasia might not be the traces of a full-scale migration but something more like a one-off settlement by a relatively small group. (p. 175)
We banged Denisovans — an interesting factoid:
the current estimate is that 0.13 to 0.17 percent of Native American DNA is of Denisovan origin (p. 119)
The Denisovans were one of the ancient species of sapiens that we competed (and sometimes had firelit cozy-cave sexy-time) with.
Were Atlanteans Neanderthals?
Since the beginning of the second decade of the twenty-first century, however, and with increasing certainty as the evidence has become overwhelming, a new “image” of the Neanderthals as sensitive, intelligent, symbolic, and creative beings capable of advanced thought processes and technological innovations has taken root among archaeologists and is set to become the ruling paradigm. (pp. 145–146)
You are a hybrid.
Humans today are therefore, to a greater or lesser degree, hybrids who have inherited genes from Neanderthals, Denisovans, and archaic Homo sapiens. (p. 155)
The Amazon was Architected?
That’s what several chapters of the book hint at, but I’m not convinced, the Amazon is at least two million years old, dramatically pre-dating even the Atlanteans. But, Hancock points to the very special soil found in the Amazon as evidence that the rainforest was engineered for human habitation.
The book describes Terra Preta, an extraordinarily fertile type of biochar soil found in the Amazon…
So fecund is terra preta, even after thousands of years of use, that it can still regenerate barren soils it is added to, and has been described as “miracle earth.” (p. 229)
Most researchers believe that terra preta soils formed as composted material accumulated via incidental human activity (often in debris piles referred to as middens). (p. 230)
Isn’t it more logical that the settlement and expansion of human populations in the Amazon was a planned affair in which the spread of terra preta was a precondition for the development of large settlements rather than a consequence of it? (p. 234)
Terra Preta I found particularly fascinating as a “doomsday” prepper/survivalist dude. This soil is what I’d want for my “Earthship!” Before you go search Amazon.com for this Amazonian soil, sorry you can’t buy it. Fortunately, it’s not really complicated that complicated to DIY Terra Preta, there’s a book about it, Terra Preta: How the World’s Most Fertile Soil Can Help Reverse Climate Change and Reduce World Hunger — that I might read.
The book concludes…
the rainforest itself is an anthropocentric, cultivated, ordered “garden,” and that a “miraculous” man-made soil — terra preta — was developed in the Amazon in deep antiquity, bringing fertility to otherwise agriculturally unproductive lands and imbued with astonishing powers of self-renewal that modern scientists marvel at and do not yet fully understand. (p. 650)
Painel do Pilão is another outstanding geo-astronomical site featuring a conspicuous “calendar.”
the rock art and alignments at Painel do Pilão tell us that cultures in the heart of the Amazon 13,000 years ago “engaged and utilized sophisticated knowledge of astronomy (p. 294)
Painel do Pilão is important because it tells us that the “meme” of sacred structures aligned to the solstices and equinoxes, found in monumental art and architecture all around the world, has been present in the Amazon for at least 13,000-years (p. 295)
These studies demonstrate that far from being a “pristine” natural environment, the Amazon is largely a human creation. (p. 239)
The Close-Mindedness of the Mainstream
One of the points that Hancock’s work drives home is that institutional archeology is extremely resistant to changing paradigms and new findings. New evidence must be disregarded if it doesn’t conform to established paradigms, theories, and dogma.
the archaeological mainstream is an intensely conservative and territorial scholarly community, resistant to change, whose deeply embedded prejudices deny that our “Stone Age” ancestors could have possessed anything other than the most primitive and rudimentary technological abilities. (p. 178)
as so often in science, statements touted as facts turn out to be opinions contradicted by other opinions that are also touted as facts. (p. 591)
Contrary to the mainstream, my broad conclusion is that an advanced global seafaring civilization existed during the Ice Age, that it mapped the earth as it looked then with stunning accuracy (p. 601)
The Piri Reis map stands as unignorable evidence that someone mapped the American continents before the European explorers.
it is my contention that these anomalous maps can be traced back to lost source documents that could only have originated with a civilization at least advanced enough to have explored the world, and to have mapped and measured it, when it was still in the grip of the Ice Age. (p. 188)
Megalithic Geometric Heritage
I have long argued — were incorporated into a system of architecture central to the beliefs and lifeways of a lost civilization of remotest prehistory. When that civilization was destroyed in the series of cataclysms that brought the last Ice Age to an end, there were survivors who took the system with them, seeking to replant it in the many different parts of the world where they found refuge. (p. 253)
Instead I suggest that the similarities and differences between certain ancient monumental structures, created around the world at different times by different cultures, are best explained by a remote common ancestor civilization that left a legacy of ideas and knowledge in which they all shared (pp. 253–254)
Once again I suggest we are looking at the remnants of an advanced system that propagates itself through time and across cultures with powerful memes among which geometry and cosmic alignments take a large share. We do not know where or when this system originated. (p. 315)
It’s almost as though a guiding hand has been at work behind the scenes of prehistory. If so, whether through secret groups of insider initiates or by some other means of cultural transmission, this hidden influence appears to have been active in the Americas since before the onset of the Younger Dryas, to have undergone long periods of inactivity, and to have reemerged again and again at crucial junctures to shape the direction of civilization. (p. 604)
The most parsimonious explanation:
traces of the same spiritual concepts and symbolism that enlighten the Egyptian texts are found all around the world among cultures that we can be certain were never in direct contact. Straightforward diffusion from one to the other is therefore not the answer, and “coincidence” doesn’t even begin to account for the level of detail in the similarities. The best explanation, in my view, is that we’re looking at a legacy, shared worldwide, passed down from a single, remotely ancient source. (pp. 421–422)
What’s tantalizing, however, is that the influence of the lost civilization declares itself repeatedly in the commonalities shared by supposedly unconnected cultures all around the ancient world. The deeper you dig, the more obvious it becomes that they did not get these shared features from one another but from a remote common ancestor of them all. (p. 648)
It’s a tantalizing hypothesis that’s no longer in the category of silly history channel documentaries and click-baity Youtube videos. Plato called this civilization Atlantis, but we frankly have no idea what they called themselves. They may have lived in the center of what’s now the Sahara desert, or the south-western coast of Spain, or quite possibly, in North America — we really don’t know. We have no idea what their language was like. The names of their greatest men and women are forgotten. But we owe them a lot. Their deliberate efforts and sacrifices resulted in civilization flowering around the globe.
But there is one thing that we know we have (somewhat) in common with them, they most certainly had a universalist theory of ethics and morality. This means everybody has to play by the same rules, it stands in stark contrast with tribal morality where there are different rules for different types of people. If there’s one thing that we know from more recent history, it’s that civilization is downstream (and sometimes it can be a long stream) from universalist morality.
If we look at the world now or any point in the last several thousand years, the best societies — the places where you might choose to live if you had a choice of where to be born — were the places with the most universal system of ethics. Where a poor farmer had the same rights as a rich aristocrat. For at least a hundred thousand years, life in Europe was brutal and short, but then something changed, and in a relatively short period of time historically there was tremendous innovation, invention, renaissance, the abolition of human serfdom and slavery, rule-of-law instituted, human rights enshrined, and great leaps forward in medicine and science. What was that something? What changed? We didn’t undergo a drastic genetic change making us more intelligent. It was a modicum of universalist morality in the form of Christianity — every man had a soul of equal weight worthy of God’s forgiveness and promise of everlasting life. And I know what some of you are thinking…
What about empire building, slavery, colonialism, aristocracy, etc? There’s a lot of nasty tribalism in the history of Chistendom that dosen’t seem very “universalist.”
While western philosophy and the Bible espoused universalism, we were mostly pretty bad at implementing it because men lust for booty and power. But that modicum of universalist ethics was enough to get us from a state of stark barbarism to where we are. When and where more universalist ethics arose, protestant northern Europe, there was even more innovation and acceleration towards a brighter future. And the one country founded explicitly with universalist morality, the United States, became “the shining city on a hill,” the envy of the world. The place everyone wanted to go to. Tribal morality gets you a hundred thousand years of chasing boars through a forest and “royals” raping peasant girls with impunity while universalist morality gets you from the first airplane flying on Kittyhawk beach to footsteps on the moon in 66 years.
If the Atlanteans mastered engineering, mathematics, and astronomy to a level on par with 18th or 19th-century European civilization and then tried to disseminate that knowledge around the globe to humans living in a brutal state of nature (and Hancock’s books make a strong case that they did), they most certainly had a universalist system of morality. So I say Atlanteans’ lives mattered! But, considering their morality I’m sure they would respond…
Yes, of course, all lives matter.
While it would seem that they succeeded in implanting megalithic memes reflective of the heavens above in proto-civilizations around the globe it would seem that they largely failed to impart the primacy of universalist ethics to the savages who regarded them as gods or magicians. We would have to learn the hard way over the proceeding millenniums that history records.
In my philosophical work, I’ve made the case that modern western civilization (largely propelled by regression to tribal morality) is headed towards a dark age, but this challenging time ahead may serve as a crucible that reignites universalist morality. If we can reembrace this edifying philosophy, the great leap forward will be dizzying, we will cure cancer, we may defeat death, we will colonize Mars, and I, for one, look forward to salsa dancing on Olympus Mons!
Why does Atlantis matter?
The more pragmatically-minded may question…
Why does any of this matter? Our civilization is plagued by some tremendous problems, how does what happened to our species 12,000 years ago help us now?
Well, I’d contend that almost all our current civilizational problems emanate from institutional arrogance and anti-rational dogma. Institutions are necessary for civilization, do you want to be able to order food from the convenience of your couch with your smartphone or do you want to hunt squirrels with a pointy-stick to get something to eat? If you want civilization we need institutions (education, medicine, police, small government, media, medicine, religion, etc), and we badly need better institutions. The more people can learn to question the dogma broadcast by institutions the better they will be. The young civilizationist dogma is so foundational to our public education that the more people who question that the more people will question the other (more much damaging) dogmas that children are indoctrinated into at a young age, and bad institutions will crumble. The more people will think to themselves, they lied to me about the origins of civilization so…
Maybe they also lied to me when they said I should pay taxes to the state because of “the social contract.” I’m not going to pay my taxes anymore!
Maybe they also lied to me when they said that we need to spend trillions of dollars fighting a war on the other side of the planet to “spread democracy.”
Maybe they also lied to me when they said that because all humans are (metaphysically) equal we need to force equality of outcome with globalist, big-government socialism.
Maybe they also lied when they said that scientific progress towards a better world demands billions and billions of tax-payer dollars.
Maybe they also lied to me about more recent history, when they did their damndest to convince me that white, European people are fundamentally evil.
Maybe they also lied to when they said that “vaccines are safe and effective — line up and take our vaccines!”
Maybe they also lied to me when they said that I shouldn’t have children if I want to save the world from appocalyptic climate change.
When this seemingly inconsequential dogma about the origin of civilization topples, it will be a weighty domino that takes down other, more harmful dogmas.
The book is long (over a thousand pages) and dense, I found it less readable than some of Hancock’s other books that I’ve enjoyed. America Before will be tougher for laypeople, casual readers, and non-academics to get through, minus one star. The first ten chapters are pretty dry stuff.
America Before is dripping with white guilt, giving rise to cognitive dissonance that I couldn’t countenance as Hancock suggests that the Atlanteans were…
- Colonizers with a universalist ethics
- Who imposed their culture on barbaric savages around the world
- And they were probably white-ish having spent a hundred thousand years living in the Northern latitudes — Hancock cites myths describing Atlantean Magicians as having distinctly European features.
I considered titling this book review something like Atlanteans were Colonizing Western White Supremacists (who we should thank for civilization!), but that might very well get it censored on social media! Hancock has made a career of fighting mainstream historical dogma but he doesn’t challenge the VERY stylish neoliberal dogma that “white men are especially evil, the cause of everything bad that happened in the last 2000 years of history.” This is the one dogma you can’t challenge if you want to write a New York Times bestselling book, even one about the seafarers of a long lost civilization that had a lot in common with brave European, Christian men who set off across uncertain seas to bring to the light of civilization and reason to a savage and superstitious world.
If you’re new to Hancock’s work or curious about Atlantis, read Magicians of the Gods instead.