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Graham Hancock being interviewed on London Real
Graham Hancock being interviewed on London Real

Graham Hancock vs the Archaeological Orthodoxy

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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.

  1. Well, this has been going on for years now and apparently there is nothing new under the sun. I said it ten years ago, and I will say it again:

    There is no such thing as ‘orthodox’ or ‘speculative’ here. If Mr. Hancock cannot handle the scientific scrutiny of a peer review without a hissy fit, his books should under “Speculative Fiction – Alternate History”. And, no, it is not an attack.

    There is only one thing that will solve this, and that is hard evidence, although I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s not in the writer’s interest to see an actual resolution. So, here’s to another ten books. May the conflict between the forces of orthodox and un-orthodox continue to sell more of them.

    1. It is only by testing hypothesis that one advances. Hancock may be right or wrong or partly of either but to wave his ideas away reflexively is a mistake. Test them, do further study.

  2. Awesome work Graham , My motto is question everything, those of us with an open mind will be the ones to advance the current view of the past and how old it could be not the same old history that’s thrown up allover again and again ,to continue on that path will lead to what could be a false History of man and the world , what a loss to mankind that would be .

  3. Like JH Bretz, Graham got out of his chair, went out into the field, opened himself to the evidence we are all free to see, and soaked it in. To do science, we need to see the evidence, and to create hypothesis to explain the evidence.

    That requires another step, interpretating the evidence. If you hold on to your interpretation too early, you may tend to overlook those nagging details that don’t work. That keep you from finding more (new!) evidence, refining the interpretation.

    Once you can explain ALL of the available evidence you have a theory. But: if there’s ONE piece of evidence that it can’t explain … bad theory, back to work. That can lead to a lot more work!

    While he refines -his- hypothesis, Graham isn’t ignoring evidence to the same extent that his attackers are. This can only (ultimately, as it did with Bretz) to a better theory.

  4. One ongoing uncertainty I have about pre-conventional ‘forgotten’ history is where did all the evidence go? Conceivably it could have been pulverised and swept away with geological or astronomical catastrophes of gigantic proportion – such as wiped out the dinosaurs, quietly aided and abetted perhaps by light-fingered and manipulative, fanatical adherents to the status quo, always there to mop up any surviving evidence. The sneering naysayers of unconventional science may be more radical and dangerous, and prepared to go to greater extremes of subterfuge, than could ever be thought possible, including the wilful destruction of promising careers.
    So many small indicators of this thinking, that we even know about, and not just almost harmless repositioning of survey posts, or mind-blowingly heavy-handed and pointless plowing up of some exciting new archaeological or palaeontological treasure trove, because of their embarrassingly counter-convention evidential worth.

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