R.M. Schoch, with R.A. McNally, Voyages of the Pyramid Builders: The True Origins of the Pyramids From Lost Egypt to the Ancient Maya (New York: Penguin, 2003).
Before proceeding with Prof. Schoch’s text, it might be worth noting a page or two from the history of New World archaeology. When Europeans first encountered the remnants of high civilization in the Americas in the early 16th century, they concluded that the locals could not have built such impressive monuments. Despite the evidence around them of contemporary Inca and Aztec achievements, they classified natives as “savages” and were especially confounded by the failure of the Bible to mention these new peoples across the ocean, since the Bible was taken to be the font of all knowledge. Thus speculations began immediately about the Lost Tribe of Israel or some other ancient European culture visiting the Americas in the deep past. Such ideas had the added advantage of divorcing native American monuments from their native American builders and assigning them, instead, to Europeans.
In the 19th century, when the great Maya cities were being discovered, the systematic investigation of Egypt and Mesopotamia was also underway. Reasoning from apparent similarities in the appearance of New and Old World pyramids, it was thought that perhaps the Egyptians or the Mesopotamians had visited the Americas and instructed the locals in how to build such monuments (it was still assumed that the “savage” locals were inherently incapable of such feats). The basic assumption in all of this was that civilization had arisen only once (usually somewhere in Eurasia) and spread, or “diffused,” from that source to all other locations. This notion is called “diffusionism.” It derived great strength from the documented diffusionist movements of recorded history (Greeks and Romans around the Mediterranean, and Europeans around the globe). “If these people could do it, why not the ancients?”, went the reasoning. This was not an unreasonable stance, given the state of the evidence at the time.
However, as archaeological techniques became more sophisticated, and especially after 14C dating was introduced after World War II, it became impossible to maintain this diffusionist position. 14C dates in particular showed that pyramids around the world had appeared in widely divergent times, and that megalithic monuments in northern Europe, previously thought to have been inspired by more “advanced” Egyptians or the like, in many cases pre-dated the appearance of the supposedly seeding culture. Further comparison between ancient Old and New World conditions revealed major differences in the way various cultures built and used their monuments. Differences in chronology, technological development, agricultural techniques, crops grown and animals domesticated strongly suggested that no systematic contact among the dispersed ancient cultures had taken place. In short, the diffusionist model simply failed to explain much of the observable data, and the more the data mounted, the weaker the model became. If anything, it raised more problems than it solved: Why were Old and New World writing systems so different? Why were their languages so different? Why did the Old and New World agricultural systems differ so markedly? Why were their crops so different from each other? Why were there no horses or donkeys in the New World, if Old Worlders had arrived in numbers in the distant past? And so on.
The global diffusionist model therefore was deemed inadequate to explain the evidence and was replaced with the “indigenous development” or “independent invention” model, whereby different civilizations arose in different times and different places. This new model far better explained the observable data and, like any good model, also prompted interesting and searching questions, of the sort archaeology is still investigating today: Since civilizations arise independently, what conditions are needed for this to happen? Indeed, what is a “civilization” in the first place? What characteristics are shared by the world’s civilizations? And how do they differ? How do we explain both the similarities and the differences? Why do many early civilizations display a proclivity for big construction projects? What local conditions helped shape each particular civilization? Are civilizations reflections of human psychological architecture? And so on. In archaeology today, these are the questions researchers are asking and investigating, and they do so under the dominant model of “indigenous development.”
Within this model, local diffusions are entirely acceptable, indeed fully expected. It is hardly surprising that Mesopotamia should have exerted influence on nearby Egypt, or that pre-Maya cultures (e.g., Teotihuacan) exerted influence over later developments in Mesoamerica. None of this is controversial or surprising, although a resistance to diffusionist explanations in some circles is indeed a feature of the professional outlook, in no small measure as a result of books like this one by Prof. Schoch. It is feared in some quarters that if you concede a diffusionist inch, they’ll take a mile. To some extent, this fear is borne out by Prof. Schoch’s book, as we’ll see below. But as with any vital scholarly discipline, there is really a spectrum of opinion on this issue, so that this exclusionary outlook is not shared by all professionals. Most, like myself, are quite happy to make a sharp distinction between local diffusions (“local” being broadly defined, even though it may span thousands of miles of a landmass like Eurasia) and the global proposals of hyperdiffusionism, and then to analyze the material accordingly. There is also a variety of ways diffusion can take place, many middlemen might be involved, and direct contact between a “source” culture and a “recipient” culture is not automatically implied by even proven cases of diffusion.
These subtleties aside, the bald fact is that any claim that widely dispersed cultures, on a global scale, show consistent evidence of a shared and direct inheritance from a single source is plainly and demonstrably false. To argue that view, as Prof. Schoch does here, requires one to ignore literally museum-fuls of hard information and to accept that dozens of very basic questions that are answerable under the “indigenous development” model are, in fact, totally unanswerable.
Anyone is welcome to formulate any opinion they want about the past. But it is quite a different matter to expect others to accept it when it is based on as flimsy, shoddy, and willfully ignorant an analysis as is offered in this book. Lest there be any doubt: the subtitle of the book is “The TRUE Origins of the Pyramids …”: it makes a claim to be an accurate and true account of the past. As such, it marks the end of Prof. Schoch’s credibility as a serious scientist. It certainly marks the death knell of his credibility as a thinker about the ancient past. This book offers no insights into the past, suggests no productive lines of inquiry, and explains nothing. To accept its contentions, one has to adopt a head-in-the-sand attitude toward decades of careful research and ignore the documented finds at innumerable archaeological sites all around the world. If this is Prof. Schoch’s view of how scholarly inquiry works, he is likely to find himself alone in it among his peers.
For just some of the productive investigations into how civilization actually arose in different parts of the world, see B. Allchin, The Rise of Civilization in India and Pakistan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982); G.L. Barnes, The Rise of Civilization in East Asia (London: Thames & Hudson, 1999); J. Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies (New York: Norton, 1997); C.C. Lamberg-Karlovsky and J.A. Sabloff, Ancient Civilizations: The Near East and Mesoamerica (Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, 1995); C.K. Maisels, The Emergence of Civilization: From Hunting and Gathering to Agriculture, Cities, and the State in the Near East (London: Routledge, 1990); id, Early Civilizations of the Old World: The Formative Histories of Egypt, the Levant, Mesopotamia, India and China (London: Routledge, 1999); C. Renfrew, C., The Emergence of Civilization: The Cyclades and the Aegean in The Third Millennium (London: Methuen, 1972); A.J. Spencer, Early Egypt: The Rise of Civilization in the Nile Valley (Norman: Oklahoma University Press, 1993). This is by no means a comprehensive list.
Thesis of the Book
The thesis of the book can be summed up in two sentences:
- All pyramids on the planet derive from a single source, a protocivilization located on the landmass of Sundaland which sank into the Indian Ocean after a comet impact some 8000 years ago.
- Survivors spread out from this doomed landmass and brought pyramid-knowledge with them; traces of their existence survive in monuments, legends, myths, and religious traditions around the globe.
If all this sounds familiar, it is because this scenario has been with us, in more or less this form, for at least 121 years, and in earlier forms for about 400 years. It is so familiar, in fact, that I shall call it the Standard Pseudoarchaeological Scenario (SPS). Books advocating some version of the SPS are so numerous that a complete list is impossible here. A selective citation to illustrate its longevity and extent might include: I. Donnelly, Atlantis: The Antediluvian World (New York: Harper, 1882); H. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1893-97); the numerous books by James Churchward on the sunken continents Mu and Lemuria in the 1920s and 1930s; the numerous books of Lewis Spence on Atlantis in the 1920s to 1940s; the supposedly psychic visions of Edgar Cayce about Altantis in the same period (see E. Cayce, Edgar Cayce on Atlantis. New York: Time Warner, 2000)); and the recent “work” of Graham Hancock and John Anthony West. These citations represent just the tip of the SPS iceberg.
The “thesis” of the book, like most pseudoarchaeology, is therefore unabashedly hyperdiffusionist. It views as anathema the suggestion that cultures can develop in quite parallel ways independently of each other.
The diffusionist tenets of pseudoarchaeological books have been demolished in such works as K. Feder, Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology (Mountain View: Mayfield. 4th edition, 2002); P. Jordan, The Atlantis Syndrome (Phoenix Mill: Sutto, 2001); or W.H. Steibing, Ancient Astronauts, Cosmic Collisions, and Other Popular Theories about Man’s Past (Amherst: Prometheus, 1984).
Prof. Schoch’s historical methodology is startling in its crudity. He considers any man-made bump on the earth’s surface a pyramid, regardless of context. Along with “standard” pyramids (Egyptian pyramids, Mesoamerican pyramids, and Chinese pyramids), Prof. Schoch includes in the category “pyramid” such non-pyramidal structures as the rotund tumulus-and-passage grave at Newgrange in Ireland (ca. 3500 BC), the round mound of Silbury Hill in England (ca. 2000 BC), the shallow stepped platforms of the Canary Islands (16th century AD) and the mounds of the Mississipi Valley (ca. 700 BC- AD 800), Javanese Buddhist temple complexes (8th century AD), and the Khmer monumental assemblages in Cambodia (11th-13th century AD). In casting his net this wide, Prof. Schoch hamstrings his own argument, since he treats as similar structures so different in style, scale, location (both global and local), form, function, construction technique, and chronology that any meaningful unifying analysis becomes an exercise in pure silliness. One might as well declare that “All rocks are the same because they are hard and made of stone,” and thereby negate the whole business of geology, Prof. Schoch’s specialist discipline.
For the second edition, I recommend he include the Royal Mounds (sorry, “pyramids”) of the Lydian Kings in Turkey (8th -6th centuries BC), or the Bronze Age beehive tombs (sorry, “pyramids”) of Cyprus and Crete, or the Bronze Age round towers (sorry, “pyramids”) called nuraghi on Sardinia. While we’re at it, there are also the Iron Age round towers in Ireland. I see no reason for him to swallow the “conventional” line on the Pyramids on Mars, either. He can surely learn much about them from Graham Hancock’s little-vaunted The Mars Mystery (1998), or from watching Dr. Who.
Like all works in the genre, the book’s mode of presentation is specious, tendentious, misrepresentative, misleading, and disingenuous. (Examples can be found in the next section, “Detailed Commentary.”) It has to be so, in order to argue such a silly thesis in the face of so vast a body of countervailing data. I’ve always maintained that “Flawed methods lead to flawed conclusions.” Prof. Schoch’s book is the current posterchild for this maxim.
What follows is a lengthy analysis of the book chapter-by-chapter. For those unready for a long read, I recommend cutting straight to the “Summary” at the end, right before the “Conclusion.”
Introduction (pp. 1-6)
The book gets off to a specious start. Citing the discovery of Caucasian mummies (apparently Celtic) at Ürümchi in western China, Prof. Schoch argues that if people could spread east and west from a common source over huge expanses of land (as the Celts did, from central Europe west to Ireland and east to China), why could not people have done likewise over the oceans? It might be suggested in response that travelling safely over vast expanses of sea is a somewhat different sort of proposition for humans than travelling over vast areas of land. It might further be suggested that this is a rather obvious fact and not really a source of terrific bafflement.
For a recent, thorough analysis of the mummies, with a sensible interpretation of their meaning, see J.P. Mallory and V.H. Mair, The Tarim Mummies: Ancient China and the Mystery of the Earliest Peoples from the West (London: Thames & Hudson, 2000). The book is uncited in Prof. Schoch’s bibliography.
Prof. Schoch then lists “pyramids” around the world (including Egypt, Kush, Mesopotamia, England, Ireland, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Mexico, Maya, Mississipi valley and Peru). He asks (p. 3):
How can it be that a form as distinctive and powerful as the pyramid was built in such widely separated locales? It seems too much to believe that the world’s many pyramids are the product of coincidence and convergence.
There are two main problems with this “question.” First, as already stated, Prof. Schoch lumps together into the same category monuments that are incredibly divergent in every category of analysis. In fact, it takes a spectacular and willful ignorance of context to argue that monuments so hugely different can be considered significantly similar. That a geologist, of all people, should be so unconcerned by context is incomprehensible.
Second, a form of structure that is bigger at the bottom and narrower at the top (a shape which, to be sure, does indeed characterize most of his monuments) is forced on any human culture that wishes to build big and high but lacks sophisticated materials to do so (chiefly concrete, developed from mortar and fully exploited by the Romans). When faced with the task of building a large and impressive structure when stone, mudbrick, or packed earth are the only available construction materials, a structure of such form is all but inevitable. Any three-year-old with building blocks can happen upon this principle, without instruction from adults or Sundalanders (see L. Sprague de Camp, The Ancient Engineers [New York, 1963], 56). That the “pyramids” Prof. Schoch sees are all built from these materials is significant, as is their huge divergence in the various categories listed above. These facts strongly suggest that the “pyramids” he treats as stemming from one source were in fact independent developments, showing up as they do in different forms, in different places, at different times, and for different purposes. Only by reducing their form to its most basic characteristic (big at bottom, narrower on top) and doing likewise with their function (all connected to spirituality in some way) can a similarity between these various buildings be argued. Such reductionist thinking, if applied to other fields of knowledge, paves the way to pointlessness: All buildings with roofs fall under the same category of offering shelter, and so come from a single cultural source. All clothing covers nakedness, therefore all clothing falls under the same category and comes from a single cultural source. All literature is written down and more-or-less tells stories, therefore global literature falls under the same category and comes from a single cultural source. And so on. Pseudoarchaeologists may find such reductionist propositons intriguing. Most of us, I think, find them asinine and unhelpful in explaining anything.
The far more interesting question staring Prof. Schoch in the face is this: “What drives early civilizations to build large monuments?” This question, however, is a difficult one to address and cannot be answered with fantastical myths about sunken continents and struggling survivors, so it is bypassed entirely.
Since the research “question” that sparks his investigations is wrongheaded and meaningless, the book thereafter represents an effort to “solve” an non-issue. By page 3, the whole book has been rendered pointless.
Prof. Schoch then moves to explaining his cyclical and catastrophist model of human civilization, where high cultures come and go in the face of intermittent natural catastrophes, with comets featuring as prime suspects. This echoes the reconstructions of ancient history proposed by Immanuel Velikovsky in the 1950s and 1970s, and long since invalidated. (Velikovsky is uncited in Prof. Schoch’s bibliography.)
There follows a summary of the book’s contents, with the premise of a single, protocivilization on a sunken homeland on Sundaland facing a natural catastrophe that drove its survivors to sail the seas bringing wisdom, light, and pyramids to the benighted regions. This is, in short, the premise of the SPS.
This tedious rehashing of prior pseudoarchaeology Prof. Schoch has the sense of humor to call “fresh,” “new” and “unexpected” when he ends the introduction with the following pontification (p. 6):
Science is less a body of knowledge than an attitude, a willingness to lift the sacred veil and look behind it. That is what Voyages of the Pyramid Builders does. It offers the challenge of a fresh look and the thrill of exploring the new and unexpected.
Oh dear. Here we go again.
Chapter 1: Giza and the Question of Time (pp. 7-20)
The “conventional story” of humankind’s rise to civilization in the Near East is surveyed (7-10). It is mistakenly asserted that Sumeria is thought to have seeded Egyptian civilization (p. 8). That is an old view no longer widely held, though some influence between the regions is largely accepted as a fact by most specialists today. An old pseudoarchaeological saw makes an appearance: because Old Kingdom mummies have not been found in the Giza pyramids their status as tombs is questionable. (Note the rhetorical choice Prof. Schoch makes in asserting that “academic Egyptology” describes the pyramids as “elaborate tombstones” [p. 10], presumably to lend that interpretation an air of total absurdity. There is a significant difference between a “tomb” and a “tombstone.”)
This supposed “problem” is an illusion. Old Kingdom human remains have been found in pyramids. Indeed, the “Red” pyramid, built before the Great Pyramid by Khufu’s father Sneferu, yielded remains of Sneferu himself. On this, A.Batrawi, “The Skeletal Remains from the Northern Pyramid of Sneferu,” Annales du Service des Antiquites de l’Egypt (1951), 435-40; or more recently, S. Ikram and A. Dodson, The Mummy in Ancient Egypt: Equipping the Dead for eternity, (London: Thames and Hudson, 1998) 317-30, esp. 320 on Sneferu’s remains.
We therefore have to accept that Old Kingdom pyramids built before the Giza monuments were tombs (as with Sneferu in his “Red” pyramid) and Old Kingdom pyramids built after the Giza monuments were tombs (as revealed by the Pyramid Texts and other inscriptions, associated with the pyramid of Unas, for instance), but the Giza pyramids themselves were not tombs. How much sense does that make?
Thus the absence of bodies in the Giza monuments is a non-problem. Most of the Royal Burials in the Valley of the Kings yielded no mummies — do we then conclude that the empty ones were not tombs (even though others clearly were)? The same is true of Greek and Roman tombs by the thousands. If there are no bodies or inscriptions surviving, do we conclude they were not tombs, even if other identical monuments were tombs? See The Wrong Question. The archaeological context of the Giza pyramids leaves no doubt as to their funerary function. This context earns a single sentence in Prof. Schoch’s coverage: “Despite all the attention focused on the pyramids of Giza, we should not forget that the site also contains a great many other structures, such as temples, causeways, and tombs.” Again, the rhetoric is designed to mislead: the Giza complex is overwhelmingly mortuary in character, with “causeways” and “temples” quite secondary in prevalence and functional sequence to the tombs (that is, they are there because the tombs are there, and the tombs far outnumber the causeways and temples). It’s as if one were to describe a graveyard as having “a great many other structures, such as pathways, statues, and benches” in an attempt to downplay its evident funerary character. In my humble view, this sort of thing borders on outright deceit.
The context at Giza is only mentioned to introduce the Sphinx, which is treated next (p. 11-12). The “water-weathering” hypothesis, rejected by most geologists as wrongheaded, is revisited (see pp. 278-98 for a longer presentation of the “evidence”). Using it, the Sphinx is redated to ca. 7,000-5,000 BC. I lack both the space and the expertise to evaluate Prof. Schoch’s attempted redating of the Sphinx, but from a logical perspective it is highly problematic, …since it rests on a series of propositions that must be accepted in full for Prof. Schoch’s date to be right:
- Water is the predominant cause of the weathering patterns seen on the Sphinx.
- The main source for the culpable water is rain.
- The only time rain water could produce such patterns is the era 7,000-5,000 BC.
If any of these propositions is wrong, then his case collapses. As it is, they are all contested, every one of them.
That said, the six brief paragraphs on these two pages may be key to understanding the entire book. Prof. Schoch has been arguing about the Sphinx redating for over a decade. The main problem with his idea is, to quote his own assessment of the Fourth-Dynasty Sphinx, (p. 11), “It fails to fit the evidence.” The structures surrounding the Sphinx are Fourth Dynasty and, more importantly, there is no sign of a Sphinx-building culture in Egypt or anywhere else in the era 7,000-5,000 BC. Since he has chosen not to look for clues in the immediate context of the Sphinx, and since he refuses to countenance that his reasoning about its older date may be wrong, he is led to construct a context for his earlier Sphinx. Hence the pyramid-builders of the title. Astonishingly, the context he ends up proposing for his early Sphinx lies not at Giza in Egypt, nor even in Africa, but underwater in Indonesia. To some, this may appear a bit of a stretch.
We return now to the text. Having “established” the older Sphinx, Prof. Shoch turns to the pyramids themselves, especially that favorite of the pseudoarchaeologist, the Great Pyramid (GP). He asserts that only “two pieces of evidence” attribute the GP to Khufu: the remarks of Herodotus and the quarry marks found in 1837 by Howard-Vyse. Herodotus is dismissed as a writer “who sometimes got it right and sometimes got it wrong” (p. 12). His testimony is therefore ignored, even though it is not even argued that, in this instance, he got it wrong (since, by Prof. Schoch’s own assessment, Herodotus might also have gotten it right). We then get the extraordinary claim that:
He [Herodotus] is but one source among many, and practically all of the others claim that the GP existed before Khufu (p. 12).
This assertion is false, but it cannot be checked, since the “many sources” attesting the pre-Khufu GP are not listed anywhere. In fact, Prof. Schoch goes on to describe only one such source, the Inventory Stela. This, it is claimed, shows that the Sphinx pre-dates the GP and that the GP predates Khufu. Since the quarry marks are genuine and cannot have been forged, perhaps the pharaoh Khufu named himself after the pyramid, not vice versa. (For the Inventory Stela text, see J.H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1906], 1:177-80.)
This is the sort of tortured “logic” pseudoarchaeologists are forced into when making their cases. There is the GP, ascribed to Khufu in dozens of ancient sources and a long line of tradition traceable back through the Middle Ages to antiquity. There is the Inventory Stela, which actually states that Khufu built his pyramid at Giza. But we’re asked to accept that the pyramid the Stela reports as built by Khufu (tellingly called “his pyramid”) is one of the smaller, satellite pyramids near the GP, that the Stela shows that the GP predates Khufu, and that Khufu named himself after the GP. This preposterous and impossible scenario is only raised in an attempt to overcome what is an overwhelming body of evidence for the association of Khufu with his Great Pyramid. Beyond that, it has no redeeming qualities.
Prof. Schoch continues in this sort of vein, making claim after claim that would take pages to refute in detail. Suffice it to say, that the entire case rests on possibilities and lacks any hard evidence in support. Even the 14C dates Prof. Schoch reviews, derived from organic material embedded in the mortar used in the pyramids, and which are older than the traditional dates by a few centuries, argue forcefully against pyramids as old as Prof. Schoch’s older Sphinx. So Prof. Schoch raises another possibility: the pyramids were built and rebuilt many times, thus allowing for some form of pre-Egyptian monumentality around the Sphinx. Nothing at all at the site suggests this was the case (contrast that with the rebuilding of Mesoamerican pyramids, which is readily discernible in the record). Once more, this is raised merely as a possibility to justify an earlier possibility. This is what passes for “science” in Prof. Schoch’s book.
The possibility of major buried or flooded sites holding the secrets of the early Sphinx and pyramid-builders is raised next. The stone circle at Nabta and some impressive rock-paintings are called on as evidence of the terrific social, political, and economic capacities of the pre-dynastic Egyptians.
Chapter 2: The World’s Many Pyramids (21-53)
The second chapter opens with a definition of “pyramid” (21-23). According to Prof. Schoch a pyramid has only two defining characteristics: (1) an “architecture of mass” and (2) a concern for spirituality. Any monuments that meet these two criteria are “pyramids.”
This “definition” is notably vague and could be applied to almost any large-scale religious or quasi-religious monument around the world. Prof. Schoch anticipates this objection by insisting that the pyramids’ characteristic “architecture of mass” allows for “little or no interior space” (p. 22). The scale “little or no” is impossible to calibrate, of course, which makes it worthless as a means of demarcating “pyramid” from “nonpyramid.” As it is, nearly all pyramids have interior spaces of some sort, sometimes quite substantial (the Grand Gallery in Khufu’s pyramid comes to mind). The very criterion – “architecture of mass” – is itself a meaningless, non-existent architectural category, since all buildings have mass. If there is some threshold of mass that distinguishes “pyramid” from “nonpyramid,” Prof. Schoch does not indicate it.
The spirituality of pyramids is also hardly surprising. It will be remembered that all the ancient pyramid-building cultures also built impressive, non-pyramidal monuments (irrigation and canal systems, terraced fields, city walls, fortresses, palaces, etc) that attest to their architectural and constructional skills. It is not as if they were only building pyramids, even when they are defined as loosely as Prof. Schoch would like. In other words, pyramids are particular types of monument, invariably built to honor the most important entities in their lives (their gods or their rulers’ burials). Is it any wonder, therefore, that they have broadly “spiritual” associations? Very significant is that the “spirituality” associated with pyramids differs so profoundly from place to place: from human sacrifices atop Aztec pyramids to king-worship outside Egyptian ones to the Buddhist beliefs that underlie Angkor Wat – there is major divergence in what form of “spirituality” drives people to erect large monuments. So just as the forms of Prof. Schoch’s “pyramids” vary enormously, so does the nature of the “spirituality” that is associated them. Only by reducing all these different traditions and ritual practices to the most basic characteristic of “spirituality” can Prof. Schoch suggest a connection. What value is there in such a simplistic analysis? Is our understanding really being advanced by painting over the huge differences that separate these monuments and their various functions?
In short, Prof. Schoch’s “definition” of a pyramid is an inadequate analytical tool, due to its vagueness. Its main advantage is to allow him to lump together as “pyramids” vastly divergent monuments. Later on (p. 50) he resorts to the vaguest criterion imaginable:
In a manner of speaking, the existence of pyramids depends on the eye of the beholder.
In other words, a pyramid is any building Prof. Schoch would like to think was a pyramid.
Next, we are presented with a survey of structures from Aspero in Peru (ca. 3500 BC), to Mesopotamia (ca. 2500 BC), to Egypt (ca. 2500 BC), to Nubian pyramids (8th-4th century BC), to Indian stupas (3rd century BC to present), to Cambodian temples (10th-12th century AD), and so on. The grab-bag includes monuments that are staggeringly distinct from each other in every category of analysis. But armed with his all-inclusive “definition” of a pyramid, Prof. Schoch is free to rove wherever his imagination takes him.
The descriptive sections comprise usually reasonable summaries of known facts about each of the places visited, but attempts to imply supposed links between them are unsuccessful. A typically egregious example of how rhetoric is used to mask the weakness of Prof. Schoch’s case for linkage is this comment about the Apsero pyramids (p.24):
The method of construction was unique. Workers wove strong, reedy grasses into nets that held about half a bushel of rubble. The filled bags were then laid in place to construct the mass of the pyramids, much as the Egyptians used blocks of stone or the Mesopotamians mud brick.
The inference here of similarity between Peru, Egypt and Mesopotamia is belied by Prof. Schoch’s own testimony: the Peruvian construction method is entirely unique and is more different than similar to that used in Egypt and Mesopotamia, which also differ from each other in construction material. When you think about it, the inferred construction-method link is limited to the “similarity” of putting things on top of other things.
Another example (p. 34):
Ancient Indians buried their dead, as did predynastic Egyptians, under round burial mounds shaped like the huts in common use.
But predynastic Egyptians did not shape burial mounds like their houses: they were simple mounds over burials. So the real questions is “Is marking a grave with a mound really that much of innovation as to defy any explanation except by diffusion?” Also, from their simple beginnings, Egyptian and Indian practice diverged considerably. The Egyptians moved to creating labyrinthine, rectilinear underground burial complexes and then to rectilinear mastabas and then to rectilinear pyramids; the Indians moved to above-ground, circular burial vaults (called stupas).
A third example of Prof. Schoch’s weak attempts at suggesting links is the connection between the passage in the burial tumulus at Newgrange in Ireland with the tomb of Pacal at Palenque in Central America (p. 50), on the apparent basis that both lead from the outside to the inside:
It [Newgrange] also has a secret passage, a narrow entryway that begins in the mound and extends underneath it — something like Pacal’s burial vault at Palenque.
What else, one might ask, are access corridors to subterranean burial chambers built under superstructures supposed to do, if not “begin in the mound and extend underneath it”? Note the rhetoric: the architecturally sophisticated pyramid at Palenque is here reduced to a “mound” to liken it to the simpler tumulus at Newgrange. There is nothing “secret” about the passage at Newgrange: its entrance is the focal point of the monument’s exterior and, as such, it is marked by huge carved stones placed directly outside it. The next observation almost made me feel sad. We are told that the white stone facing at Newgrange is reminiscent of the “whiteness” of Djoser’s pyramid at Saqqara, Khufu’s pyramid in Egypt and the White Temple at Uruk in Iraq. Can weaker argumentation be imagined? Presumably, had Newgrange had red facing it could be linked to Sneferu’s Red Pyramid; if it were grey, it could be tied in more closely with Pacal’s pyramid at Palenque and possibly Angkor Wat; if brown, it could evoke Indian stupas …. This is really so flaccid a mode of argument as to fall below meaningful analysis. To be fair, Prof. Schoch includes Newgrange and other doubtful examples of pyramids (Silbury Hill, Yonaguni, and Cuba) under the rubric “Pyramids or not?” But that does not excuse his consistent attempts to forge connections between these monuments in his readers’ minds. (Later in the text (pp. 226, 228) Newgrange is lined up alongside other pyramids without qualification.)
These are just three examples from a field of many more that illustrate the general mode of argument pervading the chapter. In every case, the similarity is not as striking as implied, and the differences downplayed, because they are far more significant and would probably convince his readers of the opposite — had they been presented.
The supposed direct link between Old and New World pyramids goes all the way back to Ignatius Donnelly in 1882 (and before) and has been demonstrated as baseless by genuine archaeology: see, e.g., J. Lepre, The Egyptian Pyramids: A Comprehensive Illustrated Reference (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland Co., 1990).
There are, to be sure, some basically similar features among some of these monuments. Mesopotamia ziggurats (2500 BC), the first Egyptian pyramid at Saqqara (2600 BC), Maya pyramids (4th-9th century AD), and the Cambodian temple at Baksei Cham Krong (10th century AD) are all stepped, insofar as they are built as platforms of decreasing size put one atop the other. Some of them (ziggurats, Maya temples and Baksei Cham Krong) have temples on top and steps leading up to that temple. But are these basic similarities so baffling as to require a common source to explain them? Is it not a step formation a very obvious way to build a high structure with bricks or stone? If you want to put a room on top of it, don’t you need steps to get up there? The real mystery is why any of this should be considered mysterious. It’s just common sense.
Chapter 3: Coincidence of Connection? The Mythic Foundation (pp. 54-81)
With this chapter we enter a favorite shopping mall of the pseudoarchaeologist: myth and religion. The world’s legends and religious traditions are as varied and colorful as humankind’s unbounded imagination, so they offer rich pickings for the pseudoarchaeologist. That said, there are only a limited number of stories that be told about, say, goings on within a family of immortal gods or among a cadre of heroes, so there are bound to be overlaps in motif from region to region, and over time. As a result, myth and religion present a terrific smorgasbord of potentially linkable categories: there are motifs and images, words and phrases, characters and personalities, numbers and symbols, rituals and practices, and, failing any of that, there are always claims based on intent and motive. Armed with a ruthlessly selective approach to the evidence and divested of any requirement to consider context, the pseudoarchaeologist is free to run riot through world myth cycles and religious traditions making as many superficial connections as can be found between and among the above-mentioned categories. This means, of course, that checking or rebutting claims based on crude comparisons of myths and legends and rituals is immensely difficult and time-consuming. A good rule of thumb is to be alert to the overall method and constantly ask “Are the same categories really being compared, or is a word here being compared to an artistic motif there and linked to a ritual over there? How similar are these stories, anyway? What differences are there, and are they substantial?” The most basic question — “What am I not being told?” — requires much research for those who have the time or inclination to pursue it.
An example of looseness of comparison is when Prof. Schoch attempts to tie the function of Indian stupas as reliquaries for small bits of the Buddha’s dismembered body to the dismemberment motif in the Osiris-Seth-Isis myth cycle in Egypt (pp. 65-66). But unlike Indian stupas, Egyptian pyramids are not reliquaries of Osiris’ bodyparts. And unlike the Osiris story, the Buddha was not dismembered and put back together to reign over the underworld. The “connection” is wholly superficial, and probably meaningless given the extent of human mythology on a global scale. What other myths in the world feature the motif of divine dismemberment or lording it over the underworld, but cannot be tied to pyramid-like structures?
As a rule, significant variations and differences go unmentioned; links can be asserted where they don’t exist. We encounter an example of the latter almost immediately (p. 57) when we are told that the story of Genesis where God says “Let the waters under heaven come together into a single mass, and let dry land appear” offers, in Prof. Schoch’s words, “much the same image” as the Sumerian creation myth of earth originating as a mountain rising out of the sea. Personally, I don’t see much the same image here: there is no mountain even suggested in the Genesis story, nor is the land said to “rise” from the sea — it just appears. I suppose “much the same image” could be claimed on the basis of the presence in both of land and sea, but then again what creation myth worth its salt can fail to address how and why the earth and the sea came into being?
The essence of this chapter’s “argument” is as follows. Mountains appear in many world myths and religions. Pyramids are artificial mountains. While there are differences in how pyramids are built and used, there are great similarities too, the most basic being this mythic one. But pyramids are also similar in having other buildings associated with them; in being associated with kings and despots, and with human sacrifice; in having spaces built under or inside them; in aligning with heavenly bodies (yes, the self-styled “Orion Correlation Theory” is here too). Thus, while certainly different in many respects, pyramids share many similarities that Prof. Schoch thinks are highly significant.
That there are some similarities between pyramid-building cultures is undeniable, so that when Prof. Schoch points out the prevalence of despotism in early societies or notices that many pyramids are associated with despots (as temples or as tombs), he makes a valid observation. Indeed, if pursued, these observations lead to very interesting questions that archaeologists do ponder (as outlined in the introduction above), such as “Why are early civilizations more likely to be despotic than not? Why the impulse to build large monuments?” etc. However, the answer that Prof. Schoch wants his readers to accept — that they all share a common cultural source — is, as we’ve seen, no answer at all and entirely unsupportable by the evidence. So pointing out valid similarities (alongside invalid ones) is no help to Prof. Schoch’s case. Indeed, it is a hallmark of pseudoarchaeology to mix reliable information with unreliable or superficial information, thus blurring the distinction between the two.
However, I am neither qualified nor inclined to counter all the claims of similarity made in this chapter, as that would require dozens of pages. But it is worth noting, once more, how major and significant differences are glossed over, even in the foundational claim about mythic mountains underlying pyramid building. Yes, mountains appear in world religions and myths, but they appear differently in different religions and myths. In some cases, mountains are platforms for worship, in others they are the dwelling places of the god(s), in still others they are the gods themselves. Likewise, the supposed similarity in pyramids being associated with other monuments evaporates when one realizes they are associated with different monuments in different places: the Egyptian pyramids are located away from residential centres and are associated with other burials, causeways, some temples and statues. Mesoamerican pyramids are located right in the heart of their cities, are themselves temples, could sometimes be used also as tombs, and are associated with open plazas, houses, and palaces. Angkor Wat is a sacred complex with temples, canals and vast artificial lakes. Do we just ignore these significant differences in the associated monuments and focus only on the bald fact of association? Apparently, Prof. Schoch expects us to. But why it should be considered significant escapes me.
I could go on, but the pattern is by now abundantly clear. I invite readers to do their own research into such matters as despotism in the ancient world (from China to Mesoamerica) or the practice of human sacrifices (which is not always associated with pyramids) or pyramidal associations with hollows or buried spaces or water to see how very differently things were done by different peoples in all the areas where Prof. Schoch would like us to see significant similarities (which, let us not forget, the book’s subtitle tells us stemmed from a single source).
Some argumentation is so weak as to demand brief address. In linking pyramids to caves, Prof. Schoch points out (p. 70) that the Spanish called the Peruvian pyramids at Aspero huaca, derived from the Inca word guaca, meaning a tomb or buried treasure or holy place.
By blending all these meanings, huaca points to an ancient equation between caves, holy sites and tombs.
Perhaps it does. But what has this to do with the pyramids at Aspero? They were built thousands of years before either the Spanish or the Inca appeared on the scene, by a culture that has left us no writing. So we have no idea what the original builders called their pyramids, and thus no indication that this supposedly fundamental set of associations had anything to do with their construction.
Prof. Schoch addresses the crucial question of independent invention or diffusionism as explanatory models for human antiquity, but he only gives this vital matter a little over two pages of space (76-78). He correctly says that one can be neither an absolute independent inventionist nor an absolute diffusionist: people clearly can do many things for themselves, but they are equally constantly facing outside influences. This is common-sense and wholly uncontroversial. I fail to see how it advances his case, except to lay the groundwork for later innuendo favoring global diffusionism. There is a hint of that future here, when he writes about diffused cultural traits (p. 77):
[…] Original ideas later diverged in certain details, but their basic key aspects continue to point to a shared genesis ….
This is true in limited scenarios of diffusion (such as languages), but clearly it is going to be applied on a global scale to pyramids. On that plane, it will be far weaker for reasons explained at the outset of this review and amply demonstrated by the sheer lameness of argumentation in this book.
Two further comments on this section. I note that the only supporter of independent invention Prof. Schoch quotes is James Frazer of the 1890s. Surely more recent independent-inventionist scholarship is available (as it is in profusion, see above)? Second, Prof. Schoch’s illustration of diffusionism with the example of Indo-European language is fine — but it is a specialized type of diffusionism, restricted to certain parts of the globe where speakers of this language family moved (overland, I note). On a wider perspective, there are other, entirely unrelated language families out there (Asian, American Indian, African, Aboriginal, Polynesian). So it is not the case that all languages came from a single source, though specific languages can often be traced to a single localized ancestor — hence the various language “families” studied by linguists. Early languages are therefore excellent examples of localized diffusion but offer no evidence for global diffusion. (By the way, some diffusionist linguists do argue for a single original human language, which they call Nostratic, spoken perhaps 70,000 or 100,000 years ago, but most historical linguists think it is impossible to carry valid word reconstructions back that far. So the verdict has to be, “unproven.” The case for Nostratic is made by Prof. Schoch, badly, on pp. 273-74.)
The chapter ends, bizarrely, with the Tower of Babel (pp. 78-81). Here Prof. Schoch paraphrases the Biblical story which, in his mind, links languages to pyramids. So, he asks, if languages spread around the world from one source, as the Tower of Babel story presents it, why cannot it not be the same for pyramids, which are also in the story? Does it need to be pointed out that a Biblical tale is not actually regarded by scholars as the definitive account of human developments in either language or architecture? The fields of historical linguistics and cognitive psychology have been addressing the question of language origins for decades, just as archaeology has been doing for human societies. Prof. Schoch shows no knowledge of any of these disciplines. Instead, he rests his case on an assumed coincidence within a Biblical parable. The reader can judge how scientific, never mind convincing, that procedure is.
The crucial move from local to global diffusion is then made, cunningly. We hear that scholars admit pyramidal connections among Old World pyramids or among New World examples. Why, then, do they deny it between the Old and New World (p.81):
Thus while scholars are willing to accept diffusion within the two worlds, they are adamant that the similarities between the two realms must be the result of independent invention alone.
The rhetoric is clearly designed to portray the “scholars” as blind and unreasonable, willing to accept A but not an apparently perfectly reasonable extension of A into B. Nowhere, here or anywhere else in the book, is the reason scholars think this way explained. Works that might make their reasoning clear are absent from the bibliography. Nor is it revealed that many archaeologists used to be diffusionist until the evidence convinced them otherwise. (A cynic might suggest that here lies the motive for citing mythologist James Frazer of the 19th century as the poster-boy of independent invention – to suggest it’s always been the dominant view and so imply that opposition to diffusionism is entrenched closed-mindedness). The innuendo (and it is an impression, not an explicit statement) is that scholars, for no good reason, decided on independent invention as the explanation for the appearance of Old and New World cultures and stuck with it because, presumably, it just felt good. It is in passages like this that Prof. Schoch shows his new colors as a genuine pseudoarchaeologist. A presentation like this would be unacceptable as valid argument, were it presented to Prof. Schoch’s peers in geology about that subject.
Having set up this “problem,” Prof. Schoch asks whether this devotion to independent invention is:
more ideology than science – one that ignores good evidence that the pyramid builders of the Old and New worlds knew each other …
With a sinking feeling, one senses the impending presentation of the usual “evidence” for pre-Columbian contact. And indeed, the hemorrhaging starts in the next chapter …
Chapter 4: The Peopling of the Americas (pp, 82-99)
The chapter gets off to an unpromising start when Prof. Schoch, himself an academic, paints what can be called the Standard Pseudoscience Image of Academia. This runs as follows. Graduate schools in general, and archaeological ones in particular, produce narrow specialists, each defending their turf and leery of outsiders. (A further claim here, not averred by Prof. Schoch but widespread in the genre, is that graduate students are trained only to ape the “opinions” of their teachers.) We are told that “academic archaeologists” fear that their area’s “primacy and significance” will be reduced if diffusion is admitted — the realization that the Olmecs came from China, according to Prof. Schoch, somehow diminishes the value of the Olmecs and “the political stock” of those who study them. “In such a climate,” he concludes (p. 83), “even the least suggestion of cultural diffusion draws fatal fire.”
This is almost pure nonsense. It is not absolute pure nonsense because it is true that graduate schools produce specialists and that the vast amount of data from the past ensures that graduate students have to pick a particular field of research. To put it another way, one could not become a specialist in every field of research in the time it takes to get a PhD in archaeology (about six-eight years) — there is simply too much of it, even for a lifetime of study. This is also true of graduate students in nearly every area of human knowledge, including Prof. Schoch’s own discipline of geology. It is, really, a pretty obvious feature of specialization in general. Beyond this truism, the rest of Prof. Schoch’s contentions about how archaeological training works are total nonsense. First, it is not true that “the least suggestion of cultural diffusion draws fatal fire,” since most archaeologists find evidence of localized diffusion everywhere and generally have no problem with it. It is true that suggestions of global diffusion will draw fire, but not because archaeologists are terrified for their specialty’s turf and their own political clout, but because the evidence is against it. Therefore, championing it reflects a descent into pseudoarchaeology — which is the only way hyperdiffusionist models can be sustained. If a modern chemist were to write a book advocating phlogiston theory, that chemist would draw “fatal fire” from his peers. Do we conclude that that fire is founded only in political concerns? Or is it because phlogiston theory is demonstrated rubbish?
Second, it is not the case that archaeologists:
devote their entire lives to knowing everything there is to know about a very small area and refrain … from commenting on other specialists’ areas of competence (p. 83).
The picture is too simplistic. Despite their understandable localized focuses, archaeologists do speak to each other across regional and chronological boundaries, and they have not failed to look at “the global picture.” The regular meetings of the World Archaeology Congress are a case in point, as are the excellent popular works by Prof. Brian Fagan of the University of California at Santa Barbara (esp., People of the Earth: An Introduction to World Prehistory [New York; HarperCollins, 1995, 8th edition] or Journey from Eden: The Peopling of Our World [London: Thames and Hudson, 1990]). If anything, comparative studies in archaeology are a growth industry. What is true, however, is that none of these comparative studies are diffusionist, which clearly is the source of Prof. Schoch’s dissatisfaction. This is less a political fact, however, than a scientific one.
Third, it is absurd to suggest that archaeologists cleave to notions of “primacy and significance” for the cultures they study and defend those notions for political reasons. If this were so, we’d all be prehistorians, studying the first human societies, which must be the most “significant,” by Prof. Schoch’s definition. If it were so, then the archaeologists who excavate 19th-century New Orleans would really be archaeologists of Old World France, since New Orleans clearly sprang from the latter. But they’re not, they’re interested in New Orleans in Louisiana. This is because, quite contrary to Prof. Schoch’s portrayal, archaeologists do not rank cultures according to “primacy and significance” and study only the “important” ones. Rather, we hold that all human societies, of whatever time period, location, or origin, are worthy of study. There’s no scrimmage-like scramble to be studying “the first.”
Thus, the whole argument of this passage — that diffusionism is resisted by archaeologists for political reasons — is way, way off the mark. As I’ve said before, many archaeologists were diffusionists until the 1920s, when new methods and more rigorous techniques made that position untenable. Now this did indeed coincide with a change in the nature of the discipline, but one that does not help Prof. Schoch’s case. What happened to archaeology toward the middle of the 20th century was that it became professionalized. Prior to that, the field had been largely the domain of intellectually curious amateurs who found rich patrons to fund their endeavors (Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon are prime examples of this relationship and, to a lesser extent, the self-funded Heinrich Schliemann and Arthur Evans). With the work of people like Flinders Petrie in the first third of the 20th century, archaeology gained recognition as more than an amateur entrepreneurial enterprise and earned widespread university accreditation as a scholarly discipline; people began to get paid for doing it full-time. With this professionalization of the discipline, the number of full-time practitioners expanded, standards of argument and evidence became much more rigorous, and analytical techniques improved through collaboration with natural scientists (notably the development of 14C dating). It is not at all encouraging for Prof. Schoch’s case that it was precisely under these more demanding intellectual conditions that global diffusionism collapsed as an explanatory model for the appearance of human civilizations around the world. Its simplistic vision of the past was not borne out by the evidence, now interrogated more closely by more specialists than ever before. I suppose it stands to reason that Prof. Schoch would try to undermine the entire enterprise of “academic archaeology” by portraying it as a political Royal Rumble between blinkered champions of localized cultures. His attempt fails dismally, since it bears no relation to reality. It is also a model that could be asserted for any and all areas of university research — and it would fail to account for the manifest intellectual progress in any of them.
For a recent and readable history of the discipline, see J. and E. Romer, The History of Archaeology (New York: Checkmark Books, 2001); B.G. Trigger, A History of Archaeological Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989). For a more specific review of diffusionism and its ideological implications, see J.M. Blaut, The Colonizer’s Model of the World: Geographical Diffusionism and Eurocentric History (New York: Guilford Press, 1993).
To appear even-handed, one supposes, Prof. Schoch next takes shots at the New-Agey, crystal-gazing, aliens-built-the-pyramids brand of diffusionism. My one criticism here is that Prof. Schoch sets up genuine archaeology and New Age diffusionism as opposite poles of a spectrum, as if the two were equivalent in some way, in being extremes. He seems to be positioning his diffusionist views as somewhere in the middle, and therefore more reasonable. In fact, genuine archaeology is a fully fledged and vital academic discipline, conducted at very high levels of intellectual engagement demanding tough standards of argument and evidence. It does not mark an extreme on a continuum with New Age speculations, since archaeology itself comprises a continuum of approaches, methods, conclusions, and scenarios that are constantly shifting in the face of new evidence. New Agey diffusionism, in contrast, is so much wishful thinking, dogma and speculation that recycles discredited claims rather than move understanding forward. Prof. Schoch’s diffusionism is more akin to the latter than the former, despite his protestations to scientific rigor. Scientific rigor, in fact, is almost completely absent from this book.
I must conclude that Prof. Schoch’s presentation of these two thought-worlds is both disingenuous and misleading.
Prof. Schoch next turns to the difficult issue of prehistoric settlement of the Americas, marshalling a select body of specific pieces of evidence to argue for a prehistoric melting-pot in pre-Columbian America. People, it seems, converged on America from Asia, Polynesia, Africa and Europe. And they did so before the last Ice Age ended.
The peopling of America is a very difficult issue, and as yet far from resolved. But, thus far, the evidence of mass convergence from all points is just too scanty and indeterminate to sustain it as a valid model. In many cases, the evidence has not even been verified. Prof. Schoch’s firmly stated conclusions, therefore, ought to be taken as extremely provisional.
His survey of other pre-Columbian visits to the Americas, real (the Vikings) or imagined (St. Brendan in the 6th century BC, a Chinese fleet in 1421-23), is not helpful to his wider case. Presumably they are included only to lend weight to the possibility that pre-Columbian America was a sort of clearing-house of foreign visitors.
For an excellent demonstration of why this scenario is unconvincing, see Feder, Frauds, Myths and Mysteries (2002), 86-148; Steibing, Ancient Astronauts, Cosmic Collisions (1984), 131-166.
Prof. Schoch ends the chapter in particularly unsophisticated style (pp. 97-99). Outlining a methodology for detecting diffusionism as opposed to independent invention, he suggests the following: (a) a single “element” appearing far apart at the same time says nothing about diffusion and suggests independent invention; (b) multiple similar “elements” appearing far apart and separated by “sufficient time” suggest diffusion. The schema is unworkably simplistic, since “elements” are not defined, categories of comparison are not delineated, and criteria for comparison are not charted out. This allows Prof. Schoch to pick and choose among as many unspecified “elements” as he sees fit. As long as they are separated by “sufficient time” (also unspecified), he can claim diffusion as their link. The uselessness of this vague “method” can best be illustrated by seeing its effect on Prof. Schoch’s own thesis. On his own evidence, pyramids clearly diffused from Peru (Aspero, 3500 BC) to Egypt (Saqqara, ca. 2600 BC).
Chapter 5: Across the Atlantic to the New World (pp. 100-135)
This chapter picks up the argument of the previous one, and assembles all the “evidence” (that is, individual anomalies and dubious artifacts) that Europeans made it to America in significant numbers in prehistoric times. It makes for depressing reading. Staples of the pseudoarchaeological diet are now regurgitated for the nth time: the Mayan Popol Vuh, legends as real history, mythological parallels in Old and New Worlds, the flood myth, bearded white gods in Peru, similarities of artistic or literary motif, or ritual … If you’ve read your Graham Hancock, none of this will come as news to you.
I cannot possibly address it all in detail, so some striking or particularly wierd passages will be the focus of my attention.
Prof. Schoch begins with supposedly mythological connections, which offer very shaky ground for firm diffusionist argument (see above, on chapter 3). He points out that the Mayan Popol Vuh (which he calls “scripture”), a pseudohistorical megastar, contains many motifs, numbers, words, images etc that find echo in Hebrew and Near Eastern myths. Lots of examples are cited. But there are two good reasons for severe worry about all this, and Prof. Schoch actually provides them, but does not explore their ramifications. First, the original Popol Vuh is lost. It exists only in a later transcription from Mayan glyphs into the Latin alphabet. Its original contents are thus not properly known, and the depth of influence of Spanish culture and religion on the transcription is far from clear. Second, the translator of the Popol Vuh into Spanish was a parish priest. Is it not highly likely, therefore, that the Popol Vuh as we have it has been corrupted by Spanish influences to “bring it into line” with the Church-endorsed contemporary belief, documented elsewhere by Prof. Schoch (pp. 84-85), that the Amerindians were transplanted Babylonians? Given the inestimable loss of the original, this suggestion cannot be verified directly in this case. But it is manifestly the case in many areas of Spanish “reporting” of native culture, which warns against taking these colonial-era accounts at face value. Bizarrely, Prof. Schoch later (p. 120) recognizes the pervasive power of Spanish influences in “reporting” native myths. For some reason, he doesn’t see the manifestation of the same problem with the Popol Vuh. Or perhaps he does, but chooses not to draw attention to it.
The problem of slippage between categories is illustrated on p. 106. Here Prof. Schoch points to the heart-excising human sacrifices of the Mesoamericans. He can find no parallel for such actions among the Egyptians. So he shifts the plane of comparison to Egyptian mythology and the heart-eating goddess Amemit to find a “similarity.” But note, a mythological motif in one place is being compared to an historical practice in another, in order to imply a connection. And this is not at all untypical of the text as a whole. It surely is not hard to see how such a procedure can lead to any number of illusory “conclusions.”
Some “similarities” are meaningless: the widespread worship of the sun, for instance (p. 105). Does it require diffusion to explain why divergent peoples might have deified the sun? Undeterred, the “similarities” come thick and fast and range over multiple categories. Like the good pseudoarchaeologist he has become, Prof. Schoch expects to overwhelm his readers with quantity, not quality of evidence and hopes his readers will not stop and look too closely at any of it. Missing from all of this is any account of why the Old and New World cultures were so very different, and in the most basic ways (see above). No amount of comparison of Old World Myth with New World Artistic Motif can overcome the fact, for instance, that the New World did not know of the wheel (for “industrial” use), the plough, the horse, or why maize and potatoes only came to the Old World in post-Columbian times, etc etc. Are we really to accept that Old Worlders sailed the prehistoric seas taking great care to bring their mythological motifs with them, but that they forgot the means of feeding themselves? Are we to accept that they brought their hieroglyphics with them but, for some reason, decided to formulate a suite of entirely new signs (Maya) to denote entirely new languages (Maya, Nahuatl) unrelated to the ones they spoke in their native lands (Egyptian, Hebrew)? Even if we credit such differences to post-diffusion divergence in the wake of a shared ancestry stemming from a third location, then we still have to ask “Is it really believable that people will sail the vast expanses of the planet’s oceans without bringing their food-producing methods with them? That they will re-invent the art of writing to express a language unrelated to their own?” These are just some of the very basic issues hyperdiffusion is unequipped to explain.
We are then subjected to a survey of much “evidence” of pre-Columbian contact with the Americas, such as the Bat Creek Stone (allegedly inscribed with Hebrew script) or the Micmac/Egyptian hieroglyphic writing system (as alleged by pseudohistorian Barry Fell in the 1970s; the system of writing appears to have been invented by the French). In presenting these sorts of scattered, scanty and disputed anomalies, Prof. Schoch violates a vital distinction he had made earlier (p. 97) between mere “contact,” which carries no historical significance, and “influence,” which does. A single Roman (?) terracotta head found in Mexico City (p. 124) is evidence of contact, not influence, yet it is presented here as “distant corroboration” (p. 123) for conclusions reached on the basis of supposed mythological similarities. It seems that Prof. Schoch cannot stick to his stated methodology for more than 27 pages.
One passing point. It is perfectly possible that Old World vessels were blown west in storms and their wrecks washed up on American shores (with the crew dead, presumably). Such accidental encounters would account for single anomalies like the Roman (or Viking) head in Mexico or the Roman amphorae found near Rio de Janeiro. But they are not historically significant, since the contact was not systematic. Prof. Schoch, as we have seen, pays lipservice to this distinction, but ignores it in practice.
For an assessment of all this (since it is, none of it, original), see Feder, Frauds, Myths and Mysteries (2002), 149-76.
There is some particularly flaccid argumentation from plant “anomalies,” including a tentative proffering of the mystery of the so-called cocaine mummies (pp. 127-131). To adopt an apt metaphor, the focus throughout is on the trees in order to obscure the existence of the forest. Despite the handful of plants that Prof. Schoch argues are mysteriously found on both sides of the Atlantic, the plants grown and eaten as basic dietary staples by the people in the Old and New World remained strikingly different until systematic contact commenced after Columbus: maize for the Amerindians, grains for the Eurasians. This fact is inexplicable, if hyperdiffusionism between the continents occurred on anything like the scale Prof. Schoch wants us to accept. It is also possible for plants to disperse widely around the planet by various means (wind, sea, in the guts of birds or marine animals), giving rise to all sorts of naturally-occurring anomalies that do not require human agency, such as the appearance of tropical plants and the rarest orchids in the Burren in County Clare, Ireland. Plants can move without people as their medium of transport.
Finally, it is important to note that some of the “similarities” documented here exist only in Prof. Schoch’s head, as when he infers a connection (pp. 122-23) between the Mexican god Quetzalcoatl and the African python because some Mexican depictions “look something like” some Sudanese images of pythons. This is Rorschach testing, not argument.
In a similarly internalized frame of mind, Prof. Schoch considers his own inability to conceive of something as proof that it could not happen. A case in point is this statement about the uses of cotton on both sides of the Atlantic (p. 129): “There are so many steps from [cotton] seed to shirt that independent invention of the same processes on both sides of the ocean is an improbable explanation at best.” The same could be said of pottery, or bread making, or weaving, or bows and arrows. The steps from raw material to finished product in each case are not at all “obvious,” yet these are all features of life found in widely dispersed ancient cultures. So do we conclude that they all came from a single source, because Prof. Schoch can’t see how they can have developed independently? Can we expect Voyages of the Bread Makers next? In this sort of “reasoning,” Prof. Schoch falls into the habitual pseudoarchaeological trap of assuming that some ancient people (you can guess which ones) were too stupid to figure things out for themselves. I find it far less amazing that ancient people could be independently ingenious and creative than that a supposed scientist in 2003 should find this fact “improbable.”
The chapter ends with some rampant speculation as to the identity of the ancient travellers. By now diffusion is asserted as a “fact … so obvious that the question becomes not so much whether ancient mariners crossed the Atlantic, but who those mariners were and which group might have brought the idea of the pyramid along on their journey across the ocean” (p. 132). Employing the classic pseudohistorical format of rhetorical questions, Prof. Schoch opts for a motley crew of Nubian, Phoenician and Carthaginian mariners sharing ships to cross the Atlantic. But that’s not all. Transatlantic traffic included Hebrew refugees from Roman oppression who made it to the Southeast, the Romans themselves (chasing the Hebrews?) who ended up in Mexico and Brazil, and, just for good measure, Celts from Spain and Libyans who took off to Oklahoma.
So many Old World sojourners, so little evidence.
It is noteworthy that all the “could”s, “might”s and “may”s of the main text are abandoned in the conclusion, as we are presented with a series of conclusive, declarative statements of fact
Other groups also made their way across the Atlantic … Ogam-writing Celts from Spain … made their way at least as far … as Oklahoma (p. 135).
We note that, the Viking booths in Newfoundland excepted, no assemblages of pre-Colombian Old World artifacts have been found in New World contexts. We would expect such if ancient N. America was the sort of Grand Central Station Prof. Schoch is proposing it was. Another major obstacle to this scenario is provided by biology. If Native Americans had had such frequent and varied contact with Old Worlders going back centuries before the appearance of Columbus, why did they display such weak resistance to Old World germs in 1492 and after? The fact that contact with a handful of Europeans (survivors from a shipwreck, for instance) could ravage entire regions of the New World strongly suggests that the population had had no significant contact with Eurasians before 1492. Yet everywhere Europeans went in the post-Columbian period, they brought ravaging diseases. This is another fact hyperdiffusionism is unable to account for.
In all this, the pyramid is lacking from the Transatlantic scenario, so says the good professor. So it may well be asked why we have spent 35 pages reviewing supposed Transatlantic connections? Never mind, let’s press on. Early New World pyramids pre-date all this Old World adventuring in the States, Mexico, and Brazil, so the Old World can’t be the source of pyramids. Time to look across the Pacific.
Chapter 6: Across the Pacific to the New World (pp. 136-165)
This chapter very much follows the model of the previous one in arguing from anomalies, suppositions and possibilities before ending with a series of definite statements about diffusion across the Pacific from Asia to the Americas. Once more the claims are diffuse and varied and will not be treated here comprehensively. The pattern set so far, however, suggests that very little Prof. Schoch says ought to be taken at face value without careful checking, which is not facilitated by the book’s lack of notes. Caution is even more necessary when reading Prof. Schoch’s interpretations of his “evidence.”
For instance, Prof. Schoch presents us with the supposed Jomon (Japanese) connection to early Ecuadorian pottery, as proposed 38 years ago by Betty Meggers, Clifford Evans and Emilio Estrada (The Early Formative Period in Coastal Ecuador [Washington: Smithsonian, 1965). Remarkably, their study is not cited in Prof. Schoch’s bibliography, which prefers a twenty-page summary for a popular book penned by Prof. Meggers in 1971. In any case, Prof. Schoch presents the suggested Japan-Ecuador connection (from nearly forty years ago) and concludes (p. 146) “Because it runs so profoundly counter to the prevailing paradigm, Meggers’ work has drawn heavy academic fire.” The basis of this fire is portrayed as resting solely on a lame appeal to “coincidence” to explain the similarities between Jomon and early Ecuadorian pottery. The independent inventionists appear on the back foot here, blindly spouting their dogma.
Note the closed-minded and authoritarian characterization of the “academics” defending their beloved paradigm. But there is far more to this picture than Prof. Schoch tells his readers. First, Meggers et al. presented the possible Jomon connection very tentatively and with a full appreciation of its challenging ramifications (see Meggers et al., pp. 157-58). They were aware that their proposal was an extreme one and invited further testing. Other, more proximate sources for the Ecuadorian pottery style have been proposed in the interim, but the fact of the matter is that archaeological investigation in Ecuador has been very patchy, unsystematic, mired in political and financial problems, and threatened with looting. Over 100 early Formative sites remain to be investigated in Ecuador — and they’re just the ones we currently know of. Without fuller study of local conditions, the tentative Jomon hypothesis cannot be said to have been tested fully and must remain an outside contender until all the data are in. This is because the Ecuadorian early pottery resembles several different styles of Jomon pottery, all from different Jomon periods. This would require multiple trans-Pacific visits by Japanese boats to Ecuador. Second, the currents from Japan would deposit early mariners on the coast of California. Why, then, did they make the extra 4,500 mile southward trip to Ecuador before starting the pottery classes? Aside from the pottery, convincing ties in many other walks of life would need to be demonstrated to make the transoceanic hypothesis compelling; after all, it is unlikely the Jomon would only have brought their ceramic knowledge with them. Thus, early Ecuadorian settlements would need to be fully investigated with respect to possible Jomon connections in settlement patterns, lay-out of domestic dwellings, burial practices, artwork, religious practices, and so on. Prof. Schoch only cites a mace and a virus as further support. If some overlap in styles of pottery is the extent of supposed the Jomon-Ecuadorian link, it looks weaker than Prof. Schoch presents it. See G. McEwan and D. Dickson, “Valdivia, Jomon Fishermen, and the Nature of the North Pacific: Some Nautical Problems with Meggers, Evans, and Estrada’s (1965) Transoceanic Contact Thesis,” American Antiquity 43 (1978), 362-71
Having said that, local origins for the pottery also remain to be fully tested before a development schema can be charted for early Ecuadorian pottery. For a recent summary of all this, see Jorge G. Marcos, “A Reassessment of the Ecuadorian Formative,” in J.S. Raymond and R.L. Burger (eds), Archaeology of Formative Ecuador (Washington: Dumbarton Oaks, 2003), 7-32. For Meggers’ more recent thoughts, see B.J. Meggers “Jomon-Valdivia Similarities: Convergence or Contact?” New England Antiquities Research Association Journal 27 (1992), 23-32.
What is noteworthy here is how misleadingly Prof. Schoch presents the whole Japan-Ecuador situation. The Jomon hypothesis is portrayed as a virtual lock and “academic” opposition as grasping at straws and politically motivated. In fact, the whole matter is unresolved and in need of far closer analysis and much more data before any firm conclusions can be reached either way. In the interim, the most that can said about the similarities between the Jomon and Ecuadorian pottery styles is that they are interesting. Whether they are historically significant simply cannot be established on the present state of knowledge. Prof. Schoch, a supposed scientist, does not inform his readers of this simple fact but prefers to mislead them with a slanted account, unburdened by detailed research.
There now follows a catalogue of “similarities” between Mayan pyramids and Southeast Asian temples. The procedure is the same as that noted above: superficialities played up, differences played down. The chronological difference of several centuries between the earlier Maya pyramids and the later Cambodian temples is not mentioned. The Rorschach test is in evidence, as when Mayan macaw glyphs are reinterpreted as elephants to forge a link with Asia (p. 149). The flaccidity of this mode of analysis is evident within the text itself. Olmec iconography is declared “African” in one place (p.112) and Chinese in another (p. 160). With the Rorschach method of iconographic analysis, anything can be what you want it to be.
In short the same sort of “argumentation” is in evidence here as we’ve had in Chapter 5, and the same weaknesses purvey the entirety. The system is to assemble a batch of supposed “anomalies,” link them (however weakly) with some far-flung culture, and then conclude a direct connection to explain the link thus established. It must stand as among the least sophisticated modes of archaeological “analysis” imaginable. It helps if one can rely on prior “authorities,” such as Barry Fell (marine biologist, here presented as an “epigrapher”), Marija Gimbutas (of UCLA, who concocted a modern feminist myth of an ancient Mother Goddess presiding over a utopian Neolithic egalitarian matriarchy, with writing), or a professional musician (David Eccott). On the basis of this body of “work” and other speculations, Prof. Schoch can cobble together a scenario as outlandish as this: sign writing from Neolithic Goddess-worshippers in Europe (unverified and rejected by experts) underlie the Minoan Linear A writing system (undeciphered) which in turn underlies the Indus Valley script (undeciphered) and links with the rongo-rongo script of Easter Island (undeciphered) to end up as marks on Maya-pyramid bricks (pp. 150-152). It’s remarkable how such certainty can emerge from such uncertain bases. What underlies this sort of thing is the pseudoarchaeologists’ love of seeing “patterns” and coming up with a scenario to explain those patterns. That the patterns are historically meaningful, or that the scenario jibes with the observable evidence or context is of no concern to the pseudoarchaeologist. This is what makes their efforts so inherently useless.
An interesting passage appears near the end of the chapter (pp. 160-64). Here Prof. Schoch attempts to answer the sorts of criticisms I’ve raised above: why would Old Worlders travel to the new world without bringing their basic technology with them, the wheel for example? Prof. Schoch’s answer, in all seriousness, is that the wheel is only advantageous in hindsight and, in any case, the Aztecs had the wheel but used it differently (for toys) and they lacked large draft animals. This answer, such as it is, entirely dodges the objection. If Hebrews, Egyptians, Nubians, Chinese, and Romans were crossing into Mesoamerica in any sort of a regular basis so as to pass on their cultural traits, as Prof. Schoch suggests, would they not have brought their own draft animals (horses, oxen) with them? Would they not have set about establishing settlements in a pattern familiar to them, using methods of agriculture familiar to them, living in houses of a familiar form? Would they not have shown the locals the value of the wheel for things other than toys (wheel-barrows, for instance)? After all, wheeled carts can be pulled by people too. These are precisely the sorts of things post-Columbian Europeans did in the Americas and everywhere they went, it is precisely what the Vikings did in Newfoundland, and it is precisely what the ancient cultures of Eurasia did as they moved about that huge landmass. Why would it be different for alleged journeys into the New World?
To escape these very basic objections, Prof. Schoch resorts to the old saw “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” However, this axiom does not offer an “evidence-be-damned” carte blanche for reconstructions of the past (that is, one can point to evidence when it exists but invoke this axiom when it does not). Rather, it is a very limited principle with limited applications; e.g., one would not conclude that an ancient city never contained any textiles because none were found in excavations there — textiles biodegrade, so the absence of evidence for textiles is not evidence for their absence in ancient times. Thus, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” is not a catch-all principle applicable in all situations, as it is (mis)used here.
The inherent contradiction in Prof. Schoch’s position is that he wants us to accept historically significant, culturally-altering pre-Columbian interventions into the Americas from all over the globe, but he wants them to have left little or no direct evidence of their presence (in contrast to, say, the masses of hard evidence left by the later post-1492 European interventions, or even the traceable remains of the brief Viking sojourn in ca. 1000). In this way, therefore, he wants his cake and eats it too (p. 164):
…Smaller numbers of Old World outsiders made landfall in the New World, blended with the locals, and contributed their skills, energies, and ideas to the mix that created the civilizations of the Americas.
It remains to be seen just how Prof. Schoch will reconcile the chronological difficulties thrown up by this scenario, but the “evidence” he has collected for this blending of skills, energies and ideas is decidedly skewed away from rather obvious realms of endeavor (how to grow food efficiently; what sort of crop produces the best results for your efforts; how to move larger amounts of material around with wheels and carts; how to lay out settlements into forms familiar to the Old Worlders; how to write down what you say; etc) and into strange and esoteric realms (the number seven is sacred; the circle is divine; this mythic motif would look nice in your art; here’s a nifty plant, but you can’t eat it; etc). To my mind, this scenario is singularly unconvincing.
In fact, Prof. Schoch’s later testimony highlights his contentions’ dubiousness. On p. 175 he recounts how Herodotus (at 4.42, unreferenced by Prof. Schoch) tells of a Phoenician circumnavigation of Africa in ca. 600 BC. The crew, reports Herodotus through Prof. Schoch, was away three years and put into shore during the winters, sowed and harvested crops, and moved on again when the weather was favorable. Thus the Phoenicians, on a long sea journey, did precisely what Prof. Schoch’s pre-Columbian travellers to the Americas (including Phoenicians, it will be remembered) cannot have done: they brought their crops and food-producing system with them. Similarly, a Chinese account of a seafaring expedition of the 3rd century BC, cited by Prof. Schoch as possibly having reached the New World (p. 186), includes the detail that the crews were given “the seeds of five grains” as they set out. Had Old World seafarers behaved this way in their supposed journeys to the Americas, there is no reason why the plough and large-grain wheats should have been unknown there until the systematic immigration of Europeans in the 15th century.
Chapter 7: How the Pyramid Builders Sailed (pp. 166-190)
The main objection to this chapter is that the establishment of an ancient potential to cross oceans does not demonstrate those oceans were actually crossed, let alone in the directions Prof. Schoch wants.
There is some absurd argumentation, such as the contention that because the Romans were landlubbers (which would come as news to the Britons, and to the Roman merchants who sailed the Indian Ocean), modern academic scholarship, which traces its ancestry back to Rome, has ignored nautical matters and considered the seas impassable — until this book, of course. This suggestion is not only silly, it is toweringly silly. The fact that many archaeologists were sympathetic to hyperdiffusionists before the middle of the 20th century would tend to argue against this scenario. It is also highly unlikely that Renaissance and Enlightenment scholars, working in countries with major overseas commitments (Holland, Britain, Spain, France, Portugal, or Venice) would be uninterested in nautical matters. There also is the rather extensive bibliography on ancient seafaring that tends to undermine Prof. Schoch’s claim that marine matter has been of no interest to “scholarly thinking” (which, in any case, does not exist as a distinct, monolithic entity). It really is a sad indication of this book’s level of argument that something as plainly nonsensical as this is presented as “argument.”
The Egyptians were in Australia (p. 173).
Contrary to the claims on p. 176, the Romans did not “finally destroy” the Carthaginians in the Second Punic War (218-202 BC, not 201 as printed) but in the Third, fifty years later (149-146 BC). He claims the Carthaginians were “worried about the Romans” in 300 BC, when the first war between the two states did not break out until 264 BC; prior to that, they had enjoyed entirely peaceful relations. Checkable details like this, it seems, were beyond the depth of Prof. Schoch’s research.
After reviewing Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki and Ra voyages (pp. 177-181), Prof. Schoch concludes that Old Worlders taught New Worlders (such as those around Lake Titicaca in Bolivia) how to build ocean-going reed boats:
… Whoever first brought them the prototype of that design and had taught them how to build it must certainly have crossed the Atlantic’s blue water (p. 181; note the sudden “certainty”).
If this happened, why didn’t the New Worlders use them? Why are all the pre-Columbian contacts with the Americas unidirectional, from the Old to the New? Why don’t we have Roman records of strangers showing up from the West in reed boats, or Chinese accounts of Amerindians sailing to their shores from the direction of the rising sun? What made the Amerindians so passive and incurious? Might it be that, like most pseudoarchaeology, there are deep-seated cultural assumptions at work here?
Similarities in raft design (not exactly the most complex marine vessel) in the South America and Southeast Asia can only be the product of diffusion (pp. 181-84):
The evidence begs us to draw the link.
At the chapter’s end, we are actually no wiser as to “how the pyramid builders sailed.” We have been presented with numerous possibilities for ancient seafaring, we have seen the value of Polynesian navigation extolled, but nothing by way of hard evidence has been presented or serious technicalities addressed. The level of argument is illustrated by this “observation” (p. 189):
Surely, if Pailug [a Polynesian navigator] could find his tiny bull’s eye [Tahiti], so might a Chinese master of the Shang Period locate the vastly larger target of the Americas.
Such a fortiori arguments are pointless, unless the favored proposition (the Chinese in America) has been established by corroborating evidence. It has not.
Chapter 8: Fleeing the Angry Skies (pp.191-236)
By Chapter 8, several elements of the Standard Pseudoarchaeological Scenario have been put in place: we have mysterious global connections, bitterly denied by dust-encrusted academics; we have the possibility of busy prehistoric seas. We are lacking a hidden homeland and a reason for the migrations therefrom. In this chapter, Prof. Schoch points toward the latter, in a format beloved of the pseudoarchaeologist: the catastrophe.
Catastrophe is the preferred mode of erasure for the civilizations of pseudoarchaeological works for two main reasons. First, it is much more dramatic than long declines due to droughts or internal political dissension. Second, it seems to offer an explanation for why no hard evidence exists for the lost culture: the catastrophe was so extensive, the evidence has been destroyed. Thus, the catastrophic end to the supposedly lost culture is both impressive and convenient. This is why catastrophes are a staple of the SPS. (It goes without saying that of course catastrophes occur, and of course they can destroy human settlements. But sunken or displaced continents notwithstanding, such disasters often serve to preserve, rather than erase evidence of the past: Pompeii, Herculaneum, Thera, Hellenistic Alexandria, Helike etc).
For some reason, the chapter opens with the suggestion of regular Norse visits to N. America in 1000-700 BC (pp. 191-96). This has no bearing on the chapter’s stated theme.
As the killer of the pyramid-builders, Prof. Schoch seems to plump for a “coherent comet” impact (that is, one that comes in waves, as did the Levy-Shoemaker impact on Jupiter in July 1994). In taking this option, Prof. Schoch proves himself curiously topical, as he addresses an age when the threat of extinction from killer asteroids or comets are repeatedly beamed into people’s homes in television documentaries. This, presumably, is coincidence.
But Prof. Schoch goes further than his specific pyramid-building culture and widens his presentation into a Velikovskian version of history, with dynasty changes in China, crusades, wars and migrations triggered by celestial events, sometimes in the form of catastrophic impacts (curiously, Velikovsky is uncited in Prof. Schoch’s bibliography). He dates these events to AD 1178 and AD 536, 207 BC, 1159 BC, 1628 BC, 2345 BC, 3150 BC, and 4400 BC. Aside from taking what written accounts there are for these dates at face value, Prof. Schoch’s evidence for the events is limited to tree-rings from Ireland and America, and ice-cores from Greenland. These suggest climate changes at the various junctures in the past just listed. Prof. Schoch can conceive only of intrusive catastrophic events to explain these climate changes, and he brings only these explanations before his readers. But many factors can shape changes in ice cores and tree rings, and brief periods of bad climate can be generated without celestial or volcanic catastrophes (remember the fuss over el Niño some years ago? Or the current extreme worldwide weather patterns, occurring without a comet impact?). As a whole, it is fair to say that human observations of the climate have not been conducted for long enough to allow us to say we understand its long- or short-term fluctuations fully. Tree rings, for instance, reveal good and bad years of growth. But it does not stand to reason that bad years are due to celestial catastrophes: insect infestation, change in soil acidity, poor rainfall, a localized drop in nutrients — all these can lead to a bad year (or years) for particular trees. Ice cores do indeed open windows onto past climates, but the processes generating those climates are not obvious. Some ice cores (such as the Vostok ice core from central Antarctica) do not support notions of global catastrophes falling from the sky. So perhaps the Greenland conditions were not global, but more localized. In addition, ice-core deposits (going back over 100,000 years) are harder to read as chronological markers than are tree rings (going back, at most, a few thousand years), so that correlating the two types of evidence is haphazard at best and wide open to wishful thinking: it is tantalizing to link tree-ring bad year A with ice-core deposit B, when in fact they may have occurred decades or centuries apart. This is not to say that any of these procedures is invalid or worthless; rather, extra caution and care is needed when using them, especially as evidence for major claims. In a manner that is by now predictable, Prof. Schoch brings none of these difficulties to his reader’s attention, and caution is pushed aside. Changes in ice cores and tree rings are described as self-evident catastrophes, and then the hunt is on for the culprit. Once more, lack of sophistication is dominant characteristic of his presentation.
In a major section of the chapter (pp. 209-228 BC), Prof. Schoch rehashes catastrophist reconstructions of history clearly drawn from the works of Immanuel Velikovsky and David Keys’ recent Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origins of the Modern World (2000). Anyone familiar with these (dubious or discredited) books will find Prof. Schoch’s distillation of it rather tedious.
There is ample evidence of shoddy research: on p. 207 the famous Tunguska explosion in Siberia is dated to 30 June 1908 (correct); on p. 210 it is dated to 30 June 1178 (incorrect), and correlated with a lunar impact observed that year by monks in England. In assembling his written evidence for the dates of the catastrophes, Prof. Schoch ruthlessly plunders the records for any indication of celestial mischief, and he is not averse to shifting his chronological focus to make things fit: thus for the 207 BC “catastrophe,” he cites sources from 210 to 200 BC. Likewise for 1159 BC, when evidence over a 300-year period (1200-900 BC) is cited as if it pertained to a single event, presumably in this one year. The “evidence” for single-event impacts shifts about disconcertingly.
Here is a particularly egregious example that illustrates Prof. Schoch’s style of argument. He cites the Confessio of St. Patrick as evidence for a catastrophe in western Britain in AD 536 (p. 213). There are two problems. First, the Confessio was written almost a century earlier, around AD 450; it offers no evidence for conditions in AD 536. Second, Prof. Schoch cites his source as follows:
[Patrick escaped captivity and sailed to Britain] The sea journey took only 3 days, but for 28 days after the ship landed Patrick and his fellow travellers wandered through what he described as a desert, where there was no food to be had … it appears something untoward was going on in western Britain.
In fact, the Confessio (at section 19, unreferenced by Prof. Schoch) says:
And after three days we reached land, and for twenty-eight days journeyed through uninhabited country, and the food ran out and hunger overtook them.
It’s hard to find evidence of a celestial disaster in Patrick’s rather mundane presentation of a difficult journey.
The attempt to link the famous Alpine Iceman (died ca. 3200 BC) to celestial catastrophes is outright farcical (pp. 225-26). Yet it is symbolic of the wider attempt in this chapter to link swathes of human history to asteroid-related catastrophes, catastrophes evidenced by some tree rings and some ice cores. To call this argumentation thin would be inaccurate: it is gossamer.
There is a suggestion, drawn from select mythological motifs, that comets stand behind dragon imagery (pp. 229-32). Bull worship is similarly celestially linked (pp. 232-235). Apparently it was impossible for ancient people to be impressed by the physical power, ferociousness, and fertility of living bulls. Bull worship is all about star-allegories, it seems, and that goes all the way back to the cave paintings of Lascaux (24,000 BC) Not just that. The very notion of sky gods, of whatever variety, is “certainly rooted” in comets and asteroids (p. 236). The sun, moon, and stars were clearly insufficient in themselves to impress the ancient mind. It took comets and asteroids to do that.
Chapter 9: Seeking the Source (pp. 237-69)
Finally we get to the source of the pyramids. It is a surprising one: Sundaland, the sunken landmass around Indonesia. Prof. Schoch wends his way there by way of rampant speculation piled upon rampant speculation. The periodic catastrophes “documented” in the previous chapter allow Prof. Schoch to propose that prior cataclysms had destroyed civilizations we don’t know about (p. 237). This seems odd, since the periodic events he has discussed already did not erase all traces civilization in China, or Greece, or Turkey, or Britain. Those places are well represented in the archaeological record, even at the very times of the celestial unpleasantness supposed by Prof. Schoch. That only the most significant evidence for his case should have suffered this comprehensive and catastrophic erasure while other events leave material for us to study is, well, handy for Prof. Schoch. Some might think it a little suspicious, even.
For the moment, however, Prof. Schoch is content to review stories of the Golden Age or the Ages of Man in various myth cycles, suggesting that they reflect historical reality. He also raises Atlantis, Mu and Lemuria but demures from making judgments on their veracity (pp. 237-39), preferring the tried and trusted technique of the rhetorical question:
Have we lost sight and sense of ancient source of civilization?
It all looks terribly familiar, doesn’t it?
There is a misleading presentation of the “conventional” position on the rise of civilization in the Middle East and China. Prof. Schoch presents a diffusionist view as the standard one (civilization moving east to India and China from Iraq). In fact, most think Chinese civilization arose independently (the Indus Valley is more uncertain, given its proximity to Sumeria). There may have been a real diffusion of ideas across large areas of the Eurasian landmass, but direct diffusion, as implied here, is not the “conventional” view.
We are then told of sea-level fluctuations over the past 20,000 years (pp. 242-44). Despite the use of dramatic, catastrophist language (“sudden” appears a lot, as does “flood,” which elicits images of tidal waves and so forth), Prof. Schoch nowhere presents evidence for sea level rises more dramatic than 4 inches (which occurred “almost instantaneously”). For the most part, the sea crept upward at rates of less than an inch a year. He is right to suggest localized severe flooding was a possible peril, when glacial ice sheets collapsed into the sea. But that can have nothing to do with equatorial Sundaland, which was never in the vicinity of such glacial sheets. The whole section is thus grossly misleading.
There then follows a rehashing of physician Stephen Oppenheimer’s 1998 hyperdiffusionist book Eden in the East, which made the case for an Indonesian origin of civilization five years before Voyages of the Pyramid Builders was published and relies on much the same body of “evidence” as all pseudoarchaeological works (pp. 244-49). There are two huge problems at the center of this Sundalanders-fleeing-the-flood scenario. First, if Sundaland was the true home of civilization as early as 6,000 BC why don’t we find the first towns or cities and pyramids in modern Indonesia, the exposed portions of sunken Sundaland? Prof. Schoch raises this problem – and promptly submerges it under the sea (p. 247):
… The settlements of the Sundalanders, particularly those in what were once fertile valleys, deltas and lowlands, are buried under fathoms of saltwater
(note that Prof. Schoch, three pages previously, had characterized the water covering Sundaland as “relatively shallow”; this shallowness is here converted into “fathoms of saltwater,” since inaccessibility is now required.) This quasi-response leads to the second problem. Why did the Sundalanders not simply abandon their inundated lowlands and move to higher ground as the sea crept upward at the rate of a few inches a year, at most? The modern archipelago of Indonesia is home to some 225 million people. Why was this land so totally uninhabitable to Sundalanders? Perhaps they were allergic to land more than 300 feet above their era’s sea-level. But if so, Sundaland also abutted the modern Southeast Asian mainland. Why did the Sundalanders feel the need to sail off to Iraq and Peru in search of valleys and lowlands, when they could have moved to safe lowlands in nearby China or Vietnam or Malaysia?
In the final analysis, here’s what we’re asked to accept. By Prof. Schoch’s own crude standards of argument, diffusionism works on the appearance of “elements” in two or more places with “sufficient time” between appearances to allow for population movements to bring “elements” from one place to the other (see above on Chapter 4). In the case of pyramids, the earliest examples are not found in Indonesia or Borneo, the exposed parts of sunken Sundaland. Therefore, Sundaland is the home of pyramids. It may just be me, but something seems not quite right.
There is a two-part chronological problem. If Sundaland was inundated ca. 6,000-5,500 BC and the first cities arose in Sumer and Peru ca. 3,500-3,000 BC, what were the Sundalanders doing for the intervening 2,000 years? That seems rather a long time to be in your boats, sailing about looking for appealing lowlands. Prof. Schoch later (p. 270) gets around to this issue by extending the sinking of Sundaland “sometime between 6000 and 4000 BC.” Once more, specifics are conveniently malleable.
The other part of this problem is that, on current evidence, Sundaland had been subsumed into the sea by 8,000 BC (the process took about 9,000 years and was not the result of an overnight inundation). Had it popped back up again in the interim only to be resubmerged in a comet impact in 6,000-4,000 BC?
The gradual inundation of Sundaland is documented in: T.J.J Hanebuth, K. Stattegger, and P.M. Grootes, “Rapid flooding of the Sunda Shelf: A Late-Glacial Sea-level Record,” Science 288, no. 5488 (2000): 1033-1035; S. Steinke and T.J.J. Hanebuth, “On the Significance of Sea-level Variations and Shelf Paleo-morphology in Governing Sedimentation in the southern South China Sea during the last Deglaciation,” Marine Geology 201, no. 1-3 (2003):179-206. For maps of the region, showing the progressive inundation of Sundaland that is inconsistent with Prof. Schoch’s imagined comet impact, see H.K. Voris, “Maps of Pleistocene Sea Levels in Southeast Asia: Shorelines, River Systems and Time Durations,” Journal of Biogeography 27, no.5 (2000): 1153-1167. (My sincere thanks to Paul Heinrich for these references.)
One can only guess at why a professional scientist and a trained geologist like Prof. Schoch shows no interest in the results obtained by colleagues, published in standard peer-reviewed journals like Science and Marine Geology, both of which are readily available in Boston University’s library, where Prof. Schoch presumably did the (minimal) research for this book. I would interpret this sloppiness and apathy as yet another sign of Prof. Schoch’s descent into abject pseudoarchaeology.
Undaunted, Prof. Schoch forges on with linguistic evidence of the spread of Austronesian and Austroasiatic languages westward over the Eurasian landmass and eastward into Polynesia — both largely unproblematic in the “conventional” take on things. Unable to point to any early pyramids in Indonesia, Prof. Schoch retreats to the familiar pseudoarchaeological redoubt of the universal and global Flood Myth, which in fact is neither universal nor global (pp. 249-55). On the Flood Myth, see A. Dundes (ed), The Flood Myth(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988). Prof. Schoch goes further and ties the flood myths to water-monster/dragon tales, all of which we are supposed to infer derive from a single source.
There is fallacious logic. Prof. Schoch charts the spread of Germanic languages from central Europe to northern Europe to illustrate how charting the spread of languages works. He then states (p. 252), “In the same way, the multitude and diversity of flood stories from the Austronesian traditions suggest that this region of the world was the origin of the flood myths found among the Semites, the Greeks and the Indians” (emphasis added). This, however, is an example of slippage of categories compared: the spread of languages is one thing; the appearance of motifs in stories is quite another. To invert the analogy, it is highly unlikely that the Dutch independently invented a Germanic language (with its particular syntax, verb structure, vocabulary, etc) without any contact with neighboring German speakers. But it is not at all unlikely that floods featured independently in the stories of people who live near bodies of water — as most will have done, be it a river, a lake, or the sea. Such people must have experienced destructive flooding from time to time, and quite independently of each other. That stories of divine retribution tied to flooding emerged does not therefore require diffusion from a single flood-story source, in contrast to the spread of languages, which does.
Flood myths, by the way, are not unique in their wide dispersal around the world. There are plenty of examples of stories in world myths, from widely divergent places, that look strikingly similar and have no obvious physical inspiration (unlike floods, which must have been a common experience for many ancient peoples). One is the Child of Destiny story: a child, sometimes twins, is favored by gods; threatened with death by evil ruler; escapes death to be nursed and raised by animals or peasants; and returns late to avenge the wrong and take rightful place in society. This motif is found again and again in legends from Greece, Rome, Israel, China, Germany, and Polynesia. Did the Sundalanders invent that one too? Or are we dealing with motifs that carry powerful attractions for our shared hyman psychology, and so show up in various guises around the world? (Don’t forget that the Child of Destiny stories are not identical, just as the Flood Myths are not identical: they differ in details markedly from place to place.)
Ancient stories of sibling rivalries are taken to be historical records of cultural clashes (pp. 255-58). There is more bizarre logic. Prof. Schoch writes (p. 257):
It does seem odd that horse warriors [Indo-Europeans who came south into India] would know so much about the sea.
Why knowledge of horses and the sea should be mutually exclusive is not entirely clear.
In introducing the Mesoamerican connections, all mythic or ritualistic, (pp. 258-61), Prof. Schoch makes two important refinements to his speculations. First, the Sundalanders did not themselves build the pyramids in India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Cambodia, etc. Rather, they influenced the cultural legacy that led to the appearance of pyramids. This allows him to dodge the issue of great differences in style between pyramids, but he makes no effort to explain why gargantuan chronological gaps should characterize each pyramid-building effort in each region, despite the shared foundational contribution of the Sundalanders in 6,000-4,000 BC. Perhaps some populations were just slower than others in getting the message. Second, Sundalander influence on Mesoamerica is indirect, mediated by the mobs of pre-Columbian visitors imagined in Chapters 4-6. This claim flatly contradicts Prof. Schoch’s own “methods,” which find the earliest pyramids in Aspero in Peru in 3500 BC. How can this be, if the supposed source, Old World pyramids, only appear a millennium later, at the earliest?
Prof. Schoch returns to climate change to explain the flooding that drove the Sundalanders out of their homeland (pp. 261-66). Coherent catastrophic celestial impacts are identified as the source of rapid periods of warming and cooling, of the sort that make seas rise and drive Sundalanders to migrate. Logic now falls apart entirely, or rather it is hurled bodily out the window. Austrian geologists, working on tree-rings and Greenland ice cores, have identified a series of impacts in 7630 BC(± 170 years). This, of course, is nowhere near the supposed Sundaland migration of 6,000 BC (a time for which no impacts can be “identified” in the tree rings and ice cores; there is no mention now of the 4,000 BC date for the migration). So we get this (p. 266):
Though the 7553 BC event may not have been the direct cause of the final flooding of Sundaland, it could have set the stage for the warming that led some 1,500 years later to the catastrophic collapse of the Laurentide Ice Sheet and the sudden release of thousands of cubic miles of water into the world’s oceans.
Thus, we have a “catastrophic” event that spans 1,500 years and requires us to accept that the collapse of an ice sheet in Canada caused such instant flooding all the way across the Pacific in Sundaland that the people there had to go to Iraq, but took 2,000 years to get there.
The chapter ends with some speculation about the Sundalanders themselves (pp. 266-69). Since there is no evidence at all for them, nothing can be said for sure. Everything reported here – from copper smelting to agriculture to their mythology – is pure speculation. One notes, with concern, the appreciation expressed for the exploded-planet maverick Alan Alford (p. 268).
Chapter 10: Civilization’s Beginning, Isolation’s End (pp. 270-277)
The book ends with a “reconstruction” of the Sundaland Saga, as implied in the disjointed chapters that precede it. There are repeated appeals to hidden or lost evidence, to gaps that can’t be filled, and for readers to maintain open minds (p. 272). Despite all the missing evidence and the yawning gaps, the rampant speculation marches on. There is “the message” at the end, in the form of sermonizing about human unity and the badness of killing each other which, while admirable, is really irrelevant to the contentions of the book. The “warning motif” makes its predictable appearance: pyramids, it seems, warn us about comet impacts. (Though exactly what good the study of Giza or Palenque or Uruk might do in respect to comet impacts is not clear, beyond saying “Comets happen”.) There is further sermonizing about how we have underestimated the abilities of prehistoric peoples — an underestimation I, for one, have never encountered among either professionals or members of the public. There is the myth of academic belief in the “sudden” appearance of civilization — a belief held by no archaeologist I know of. The book ends with a lecture about how pyramids remind us to cherish civilization, which can be snuffed out at any moment.
In short, this is all standard pseudoarchaeological fare.
At the end of the day, the reader ought to ask the hard question: “What evidence – hard evidence – is there for any of this, even for the Sundalanders themselves?” The answer is “None.” With that simple observation, the essential uselessness of the book is brought sharply into focus. We are asked to accept culturally significant diffusion from a vacuum – from an unevidenced culture in unevidenced towns/cities with unevidenced pyramids. Personally, I can hardly think of a reconstruction of history more preposterous. But this, too, is standard pseudoarchaeological fare. This is why we are enjoined to have open minds.
Appendix: Redating the Great Sphinx of Giza (pp. 278-98)
The title of the appendix is self-explanatory. Here, Prof. Schoch attempts to answer his critics. Nothing he says, however, can justify his highly tendentious suggestion of a 7,000 BC Sphinx, which rests on a series of three disputed propositions, all of which must be accepted in full for him to be right (see above, on Chapter 1).
Chapter 1 is a rehash of mystery-mongering speculations about the Giza pyramids that goes back at least to Piazzi Smith in the 1850s and has ancestry going back even earlier.
Chapter 2 is a rehash of global-pyramid notions that goes back, ultimately, to the 16th century but is here expanded to include many non-pyramidal structures.
Chapter 3 is a rehash of similarities in world myth systems, all superficial and made across categories without regard for local contexts.
Chapters 4-6 are a rehash of longstanding diffusionist “evidence” for the pre-Columbian connections between the Old and New Worlds, here taken to absurd lengths so that the Americas resemble a cultural assembly point with Phoenicians, Nubians, Carthaginians, Romans, Hebrews, Africans, Norse, Japanese, and Chinese finding their way here continually and consistently over a period of 20,000 years or more. The Welsh (under Prince Madoc) are curiously absent.
Chapter 7 is a rehash of diffusionist sailing experiments from the likes of Thor Heyerdahl, with some more pre-Columbian contact “evidence” thrown in.
Chapter 8 is a rehash of catastrophist versions of history à la Velikovsky and David Keys. Prof. Schoch, like Velikovsky, prefers celestial to volcanic culprits.
Chapter 9 is a rehash of the Atlantis motif, with Sundaland (drawn from Stephen Oppenheimer) now added to the list of sunken landmasses that were home to influential protocivilizations that have, disappointingly, left us not a single scrap of evidence for their existence – not a burial, not a pot sherd, not a bone pin. Nada.
Chapter 10 is a rehash of all this rehashing.
In the final analysis, what makes Prof. Schoch’s book so utterly useless is that, like its predecessors, it asks and answers no significant question about the past. If all the pyramids on the planet (or man-made mounds, or raised areas) owe their existence to a single, seeding protocivilization, why are the buildings so different? Why are they so varied? Why were they built so far apart in time and space? If Sundaland was the true home of the pyramid, why isn’t modern Indonesia, the closest landmass to it, awash with the oldest forms of this structure? Or, at least, why isn’t there even one there? Why do the earliest examples in Prof. Schoch’s classification show up all the way across the Pacific in Peru (p. 23)? Even more importantly, where did the Sundalanders get their pyramids from? Was there an even earlier protocvilization standing behind their culture? If so, where did that culture get its pyramids from? If, eventually, we accept that somewhere, sometime a human culture developed pyramids independently, why is it so hard to accept that Egyptians, Maya, Chinese or Aztecs could do likewise? Why must they be considered so deficient in intelligence and creativity that they needed instructors to show them how to build something high that was bigger at the bottom and narrower on top?
Prof. Schoch, however, dodges all of these severe problems by (a) proposing a sunken (and so hidden) homeland for his pyramid builders and (b) offering some vague cyclical notions of history in which unevidenced periods of human development are occasionally erased by natural catastrophes. That latter claim only ensures that the roots of human civilization will remain forever hidden from us, and that expectations for evidence for any of it are hopeless. It is, in essence, a self-immunizing and untestable claim, one put beyond checking by any reasonable means.
In answer, then, to the question “Where did pyramids ultimately come from?” Prof. Schoch, like his fellow pseudoarchaeologists, can only shrug and say “Dunno.” And it takes him almost 300 pages to do so.
Contrast this silliness with the detailed, nuanced, sophisticated, and evidence-rich replies given to the same questions by real archaeology (for a terrific and readable summary, see P. Jordan, The Atlantis Syndrome [Thrupp: Sutton Publishing, 2001], 104-163). The development of pyramids (and non-pyramids), in various parts of the world has been closely examined by scores of dedicated researchers, the evolution of the form charted, construction techniques examined, functions and meanings deduced, dates worked out and assigned – all with a clear and consistent respect for the environmental, cultural, and historical context of each. There quite simply is no comparison between the dead-end promise of re-hashed hyperdiffusionism such as Prof. Schoch offers us, and the immensely productive lines of inquiry archaeology has been pursuing for decades, and continues to pursue today.
Given all this, in order to maintain the “thesis” of a lost protocivilization residing on a predictably sunken homeland, Prof. Schoch has to display such willful ignorance of the facts, such superficiality of analysis, and such an unwillingness to interrogate any of his sources that his status as a serious scientist has to be questioned. I say this without any animus toward Prof. Schoch, whom I do not know personally, but as a bald statement of fact. If a person treated Prof. Schoch’s area of specialization – geology – in as shabby and slipshod a manner as he treats ancient history and archaeology, Prof. Schoch would view that person as an uninformed crank, and he would be entirely right to do so.
People can be wrong and people can be misguided, but there is no excuse for a professional scientist knowingly to ignore enormous amounts of data in the service of a silly, unoriginal, and pointless speculation. Far from representing science, as Prof. Schoch claims it does (p. 6), this book makes a mockery of it.