As the saying goes, ‘you know you’re over the target when the flak is heaviest’. What then should we make of the fact that The Society for American Archaeology (SAA) has devoted 27 pages of the November issue of its journal, The SAA Archaeological Record (freely available as an online mag or as a PDF), to multiple critiques of Graham Hancock’s most recent book America Before: The Key to Earth’s Lost Civilization (Amazon US / Amazon UK)?
Under a theme of “Pseudoarchaeology, Scholarship, and Popular Interests in the Past and Present”, seven contributors put forward their thoughts on various aspects of Hancock’s book and his approach to history and archaeology:
“Introduction” – John W. Hoopes
“Y Not a Pacific Migration? Misunderstandings of Genetics in Service to Pseudoscience” – Jennifer A. Raff
“The Cerutti Mastodon, Professional Skepticism, and the Public” – Carl Feagans
“Whitewashing American Prehistory” – Jason Colavito
“The Mysterious Origins of Fringe” – John W. Hoopes
“America Before as a Paranormal Charter” – Jeb J. Card
“I Don’t Believe, I Know”: The Faith of Modern Pseudoarchaeology – David S. Anderson
To their credit, the SAA aren’t simply dismissing Hancock out of hand – indeed, editor Christopher B. Rodning says that is important that archaeologists understand what Hancock is saying, and why people are interested in it:
This past year has witnessed the publication of another book by Graham Hancock, the writer and former journalist whose books — 10 since 1992 — have sold millions of copies. His literary record makes him one of the major writers in the genre of pseudoarchaeology. It is important for archaeologists to think carefully and critically about what Hancock and similar writers are saying, how they are saying it, and why there is widespread public interest and fascination with it.
It’s definitely well worth a read, at the very least for the ‘orthodox’ rebuttals to some of the claims in America Before (as I mention in my review of the book, one of the important aspects of reading works that put forward new ideas and challenge the orthodoxy is to recognise that not all ‘leads’ will pan out to be true).
On the flipside, there’s a few instances in which the contributor seems to basically be saying “yes it’s a mystery, but he’s suggesting something non-orthodox…so he’s wrong.”
Graham has responded to the critiques in an article on his website in which he observes that such a significant attack suggests that he is rattling some cages:
I can only be grateful to the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), the professional association for the archaeology of the Americas, for devoting no less than 27 pages of the November issue of its journal, The SAA Archaeological Record, to an attack on my 2019 book, America Before: The Key to Earth’s Lost Civilization.
More than an attack, the issue self-admittedly sets out to inoculate students, journalists and members of the general public from contamination by my arguments – tantamount to thought-crimes – that civilization may be much older and much more mysterious than we have been taught.
For a writer such as myself, with a controversial, non-mainstream view of the past, to face pushback on this scale is a sure sign that the archaeological establishment feels the ground moving under its feet.
In the end, I think it’s healthy to see both the likes of Graham Hancock challenging orthodox/entrenched views, and also for the ‘orthodoxy’ to engage with those challenges, defend their position, and reach a non-professional audience. It not only helps us all walk further down the path of knowledge, but also – if the discussion is largely open and genuine – may open the gates to new paradigms and understanding.