The New Atlantis and the Dangers of Pseudohistory

Investigation into the background of their “new” thoughts reveals that not a single element is original. In reality, they are a mosaic of retooled flotsam and jetsam from various speculative movements that have been with us since the 16th century.

Skeptic, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2001, pp 78-87
Reproduced with permission

Where did civilization come from? Since the original publication of Graham Hancock’s Fingerprints of the Gods in 1995 there has been a remarkable revival in speculative or “alternative” answers to this basic question. [1] That book alone has sold over four million copies worldwide, and a new volume of mysteries (entitled Underworld) is promised by Hancock for publication in October 2001. The history sections of bookstores are now cluttered with scores of alternative works capitalizing on Hancock’s success. [2] In addition, expensively produced television programs documenting “quests for lost civilizations” or “the secrets of the Sphinx” are shown all over the world.

There is no denying the success of what we are calling the “New Atlantis” – a phenomenon that inspires an almost religious devotion among its supporters. It combines a mystical New Age approach to human potential (we are all “lost” and need to look back to better times) with a unique blend of anti- and pseudoscience. New Atlantis writers deride academics but try to invoke sciences like astronomy and geology to argue their case. Thus they take on the mantle of authoritative science while inviting their readers “to make up their own minds” and not be dictated to by arrogant and faceless specialists.

The New Atlantis is fast colonizing modern views of the ancient past. However, the dangers of this movement are not always recognized by the academic community, whose skeptical guardians are more interested in citing Creationism or paranormal beliefs as exemplars of modern irrationalism. This article demonstrates that history too is vulnerable to the forces of unreason and needs to be defended.

Atlantis Rising

The New Atlantis belief system can be defined by five key features:

1. There was a highly sophisticated civilization that appeared at least 15,000 years ago and is now lost to history.

2. This civilization was destroyed, almost without trace, in a catastrophe at the end of the last Ice Age.

3. Its elite survivors were able navigators who spread across the globe bringing the spark of civilization to benighted primitive populations.

4. The evidence for the existence of this Lost Civilization is indirect and circumstantial, such as inexplicable cultural similarities between supposedly separate ancient civilizations (such as pyramids on both sides of the Atlantic or a fascination with the stars) or the mysterious achievements of some ancient cultures (for example, the Nazca lines in Peru or the statues on Easter Island).

5. More familiar ancient cultures are alleged to allude to the arrival of these elite “Atlantean” visitors in legends and art (such as the Olmec Heads in Mexico, widespread myths about the flood, or tales of civilizing gods arriving from across the sea).

With ideas like these, the New Atlantis is mounting a serious and fresh challenge in the mind of the public to orthodox views of ancient history and how civilization arose. [3] Since the Second World War, professional archaeologists have painstakingly pieced together from thousands of sites around the globe an account of the emergence of civilization that stresses a process of slow and independent evolution. The hard evidence strongly implies that on a global scale civilization arose separately and at different times in the Americas, China, India, the Middle East, and Africa. [4] In this light, any “Atlantean” explanations can be viewed as a kind of historical creationism: gradual, indigenous evolution is replaced with the instantaneous conferral of high culture from an external source.

Proponents of this so-called alternative view invariably interpret non-acceptance of their theories by professional scholars as a consequence of a blinkered and arrogant academic prejudice against “new thinking” that threatens to upset the status quo and show the experts up as wrong. Their writings are laden with rhetoric that characterizes university scholarship as religious dogma and criticism from professionals as a sort of inquisition bent on suppressing the truth. But investigation into the background of their “new” thoughts reveals that not a single element is original. In reality, they are a mosaic of retooled flotsam and jetsam from various speculative movements that have been with us since the 16th century. [5]

The myth of Atlantis, to be sure, is much older. The idea of a lost continent first appeared in Plato’s philosophical dialogues, the Timaeus and the Critias, composed in the 4th century BCE. Plato tells the story of a conflict between the empire of Atlantis and the Athenians, which took place about 9,000 years earlier (and thus around 9,600 BCE). The struggle culminated in the destruction of both Athens and Atlantis by a god-sent catastrophe. Although several serious archaeological efforts have been made to find it, [6] it is most likely that Plato’s Atlantis was a philosophical device invented to make a political point. The people of Plato’s Atlantis are the villains of the tale, and his purpose in introducing them is to illustrate how free virtue (represented by Athens) can overcome despotic power (represented by Atlantis), even when virtue is outmatched.

The father of modern Atlantis mythology, Ignatius Donnelly, a veritable continent of inspiration for the generation of Atlantis writers that followed him.
Caricature by Joe Lee.

Notice that the imperialist Atlantis of Plato’s political homily has little similarity with the civilization-granting Atlantis of modern alternative historians. Despite the bloody testimony of recorded history as to what actually happens when technologically advanced human cultures encounter less complex ones, the notion of Atlantis as a benign agent of civilization was widely promoted by Ignatius Donnelly’s 1882 Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, a work expressly inspired by Jules Verne’s 1870 science-fiction classic, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. [7] In mounting his case for an Atlantean source for all ancient civilizations, Donnelly sought to overwhelm his readers with a mass of often highly dubious “evidence,” rather than with cogency of argument. As his biographer, Martin Riddle, states:

In the use of his information, Donnelly combined common knowledge with new scientific discoveries, and the works of pseudo-scientists… Since Atlantis was basically a lawyer’s brief on behalf of a speculative theory, Donnelly conformed to legal rather than scientific rules of evidence. He discarded all contradictory evidence and even distorted illustrations to make his point. Donnelly exercised no critical judgement of his sources whatsoever. He simply accepted at face value and quoted those authorities who presented evidence that would corroborate his hypothesis, even though they might long since have been discredited. [8]

These dubious qualities of Donnelly’s work find clear reflection in the methods of New Atlantis writers, such as Graham Hancock. On his webpage, for instance, Hancock envisions his role in the following terms:

A parallel for what I do is to be found in the work of an attorney defending a client in a court of law. My ‘client’ is a lost civilization and it is my responsibility to persuade the jury – the public – that this civilization did exist. [9]

Hancock’s case for his Lost Civilization is therefore subject to the same weaknesses as those Riddle identifies in Donnelly’s case for Atlantis, and in adopting a legal mode of argument Hancock all but admits that he is not interested in finding out what actually happened in the past but only in selling to the public his own peculiar view of it.

A former Financial Times journalist, Hancock had hinted at the idea of a Lost Civilization (which he studiously avoids calling “Atlantis”) in his first bestseller, The Sign and the Seal, which purported to trace the Ark of the Covenant to a church in Ethiopia. [10] (In the tradition of Ignatius Donnelly, Hancock’s speculations were also inspired by a work of fiction: the film Raiders of the Lost Ark.) En route Hancock had visited the Giza plateau and, like so many others before him, had been captivated by the “mystery” of the Great Pyramid, which seemed to him to embody the legacy of some lost and ancient knowledge – it could not be “merely” the mundane funerary monument described by Egyptologists. This is a crucial aspect of the New Atlantis. Writers like Hancock skillfully exploit our instinctual awestruck responses to ancient monuments – which are perfectly valid – but use them to undermine and denounce the “orthodox” work of scholars who treat “ancient mysteries” with matter-of-fact reason and thus appear to undervalue or downgrade the monuments’ majesty. But this is an appeal to emotion, not a basis for historical inquiry.

In his next book, Fingerprints of the Gods – equal parts breathless travelogue and speculative theorizing – Hancock elaborated his “new” idea that a 12,000 year-old sophisticated and vanished culture had given rise to the familiar civilizations of the ancient world. Anyone familiar with the long history of Atlantean speculations, however, would hardly find much of this “new.” But for a new generation of readers, it all seems so fresh and convincing. Television and the Internet have also allowed alternative ideas to reach a far wider audience than was imaginable just a few years ago. Hancock’s success has energized the world of “alternative history.” His gift as a synthesizer has allowed him to weave together a variety of “theories” from diverse sources and thus lift the old idea of a vanished “original” culture to new and persuasive heights. His approach appeals to widespread popular disaffection with both the material answers offered by science and the responses of traditional religions to the “big” questions of where we came from and where we are going. Now paperbacks with embossed pyramids on their covers and with pages of apparently scholarly notes and appendixes are piled high in bookshops all over the world.

Thus it is that a nameless Lost Civilization has become the focus of a passionate quasi-religious quest. When Hancock joined forces with tour guide John Anthony West and former engineer Robert Bauval (who had linked the Giza Pyramids with an ancient lost culture in the Nile Valley), other blockbusters in books and TV specials followed. [11] Now Hancock and Bauval are leaders of a cult-like following, and make no secret of the spiritual and mystical purpose of their inquiries.

Mysterious Methods

The methods of the alternative historians can appear convincing to a public often unacquainted either with the dubious heritage of their ideas or with the investigative procedures used by conventional archaeologists and historians. The proponents of the New Atlantis bolster their case by deploying the authority of hard sciences such as astronomy or geology. In each instance their methods amount to little more than sleight-of-hand and add only a veneer of reason to what are, at heart, irrational and unsubstantiated beliefs.

Patterns Of Stars

A linchpin method in the case for the Lost Civilization is the identification of architectural star maps. As presented by Hancock and Bauval, [12] the argument runs as follows. Monuments around the world can be aligned with certain constellations, but only as they were in the sky in the deep past. The astronomical phenomenon of precession – a “wobble” in the Earth’s axis as it rotates – changes our view of the relative position of the stars in the sky in a grand cycle that lasts 26,000 years. It is then observed that the correlation between stars and monuments is closest (or, as they put it, “locked”) in the era of 10,500 BCE. Since, according to conventional history, precession was not discovered until Hipparchus in the late second century BCE, this correlation constitutes evidence for advanced celestial knowledge passed down from the Lost Civilization and here commemorated in architecture on the ground. By compiling examples of such star-to-monument maps, the proponents of the New Atlantis can present a persuasive-looking body of evidence, apparently rooted in hard science and spanning the globe. Readers often find such evidence cogent, since it seems anchored in hard fact (precession) and is presented with scientific looking diagrams and numbers that suggest precision and authority.

The heritage of this idea, however, is far from scientific. Since precession is a cyclical process with a 26,000-year duration, it is worth asking why the alternative historians fix on the commemorated date of 10,500 BCE as opposed to, say, 36,500 BCE or 62,500 BCE. Any of these other dates would also produce a “lock” between monuments and stars and, to the minds of professional ancient historians, none is any less ludicrous than 10,500 BCE. The answer is telling. In the 1920s, the American psychic Edgar Cayce – known as the “Sleeping Prophet” – proposed, on the basis of a dream, that a chamber containing the records of Atlantis lay beneath the Giza Plateau. Cayce dated the construction of the chamber to ca. 10,500 BCE – the very date supposedly deduced “scientifically” by Bauval and Hancock from their star-alignments. [13] The fact that both consider 10,500 BCE as a key date in their argument without admitting that it ultimately derives from the psychic visions of the “Sleeping Prophet” amply demonstrates their standards of scholarship.

American mystic Edgar Cayce connected the monuments of Giza to Atlantis, and introduced the 10,500 BCE date used in calculations by contemporary New Atlantis authors.
Caricature by Joe Lee.

In any case, the argument from star maps is no argument at all. While it is certainly true that Egyptian buildings could be aligned with celestial bodies (sun temples, for instance, always faced east), there is not a shred of evidence that intentional star maps ever determined the lay-out of Egyptian architecture. Indeed, without corroborative ancient testimony the alternative historians show nothing about the intent of the pyramid builders and far more about their own ability to construct patterns. Furthermore, the approach assumes that constellations constitute an objective reality observable by all societies in all ages and are not localized cultural inventions.

Hancock and Bauval exploit the fact that the Greek constellations (Orion, Leo, etc.) can appear to be globally universal and natural features of the sky. In fact, they are composite cultural constructs. The Greek constellations were named centuries after Old Kingdom Egypt (when the pyramids were built), and many use individual star names derived from Arab astronomers, themselves working centuries after the Greeks. In the case of Orion, it is true that it was comparable to the Egyptian constellation Sahu and that this constellation represented the god Osiris. [14] But the bald recognition of something like the Greek Orion among Egyptian constellations does not provide evidence in and of itself that the Giza pyramids were master planned and engineered to mirror three stars in that constellation, let alone that this was done 8,000 years prior to their construction.

In fact, the broader study of ancient astronomy undermines any “diffusionist” position like that adopted by the New Atlantis. For example, Mayan astronomers recognized the three bright stars in what we call “Orion’s Belt” but identified them as the back of a tortoise, not a tall hunter-god in the sky. There are many other examples that show clearly that there is no common source for the recognition of constellations across ancient cultures. The opposite is true: different ancient cultures saw different shapes in the sky. [15] If they had all been instructed by the same Lost Civilization that was fixated on the stars, why is this so?

The accuracy of the alleged star maps themselves is hotly contested, with most astronomers unconvinced that the alignment of stars to monuments is purposeful. This is because the alignments are selectively attributed by Hancock and Bauval. In the case of the Giza pyramids, why do only the three stars of Orion’s Belt feature in the pyramid “map”? At least twelve other easily visible stars make up Orion. None of these align with pyramids. Why not? In fact, of the eighty identifiable pyramids in Egypt, [16] only these three at Giza can be tied to specific stars. That is, less than four percent of Egyptian pyramids “map” stars. This is hardly convincing evidence that the Egyptians thought in terms of constellation maps when situating pyramids. Indeed the local topography of the plateau at Giza with its sharply sloping rear face and steep gradients toward the Nile left the pharaohs with little choice but to place their pyramids in a diagonal line atop the ridge, each with a clear view of north. [17]

Neither of these two ways to align a star pattern in the sky with the orientation of the pyramids on the ground produces a match.
Diagrams courtesy of Ed Krupp, Griffith Observatory.

As with the Giza pyramids, the map of the constellation Draco which Hancock sees among the monuments at Angkor in Cambodia dissolves when it is realized that he has chosen only ten monuments from a field of over sixty temples, and that the monuments and stars do not line up precisely. The direct written testimony from the Khmers who built even the supposedly “aligned’ monuments at Angkor is preserved in inscriptions telling us who built them, when, and why. There is no mention in these texts of star maps. So Hancock simply ignores the inscriptions and does not present them to his readers.

When confronted with objections such as these, Hancock is on record arguing that they are “nit-picking” and “pedantic,” that the builders of the ancient monuments were aiming at a “pleasing symbolism,” not precise accuracy in their maps, and that the monuments need to be understood on an “intuitive and spiritual level.” [18] Aside from their less than scientific nature, all of these arguments fundamentally undermine the initial reason for proposing the sky-ground connection in the first place, namely, the discernment of uncannily accurate and precise star maps among ancient monuments. Simply put, if there are no accurate star maps, then there is no case to be made. The advocates of the New Atlantis thus demolish their case out of their own mouths, apparently unaware that they are doing so.

Riddles of the Sphinx

Similar problems arise with their attempt to appeal to geology and astronomy by redating the Sphinx (traditionally dated to about 2500 BCE) based primarily on one geologist’s opinion that it was weathered by water. Since, the argument goes, such conditions did not exist in Egypt after about 5000 BCE, the Sphinx predates Pharaonic Egypt by millennia. Furthermore, the lion-shaped Sphinx would have faced directly the rising constellation of Leo in the era of 10,500 BCE. [19] Here is an apparent corroboration of deductions from one hard science (geology) by another (astronomy). But Leo was certainly not a constellation recognized by the ancient Egyptians, who had a lion constellation in an entirely different part of the sky. The star-alignment argument is therefore bogus. And although the cogency of the argument from weathering patterns has aroused much feverish debate, [20] there is a fundamental problem with it that is rarely pointed out. No other monument in the world has been dated using erosional processes because the rate at which it occurs is not consistent enough to provide a reliable clock. In the absence of any corroborative evidence, the Sphinx cannot be backdated by millennia on the basis of erosional patterns alone.

Myths, Numbers, and Dates

Other methods of the New Atlanteans are equally questionable. In using mythology, for instance, the argument proceeds entirely from personal impression. Hancock interprets the supposedly universal Flood Myth at face value: it is a remarkably consistent eyewitness account of the global disaster that brought down his beloved Lost Civilization. He shows no knowledge of the detailed research into the Flood Myth which has revealed that the myth is not universal and that its various manifestations are quite distinct and dissimilar in detail. Many supposedly native Flood Myths in the Americas appear to have come into existence, or were greatly modified, after encounters with Spanish missionaries preaching the Judaeo-Christian version. [21] Hancock ignores the implications of this for his theory and displays only dismissive contempt for academic interpretations.

Then there are number games. Alternative historians seek to “prove” that ancient monuments are crammed with meaningful numbers by playing with the arithmetic of their proportions. For instance, Pi is found to be “encoded” in the dimensions of the Great Pyramid even though Pi was supposedly not discovered until Pythagoras (2000 years after the pyramid was built); the encoding thus constitutes further evidence of advanced knowledge passed down from the Lost Civilization. A similar procedure was employed in “deducing” the Bible Code, which has been shown to be nonsense. [22] Usually, people looking for meaningful numbers find the numbers they want to find and, in so doing, they reveal more about their own patience and cleverness than about objective reality. [23] Concrete proof of this fact is provided by Hancock’s use of similar numerical speculations applied to the proportions of and spatial relationships between certain photographed features on Mars to argue for an ancient civilization there. [24] The features have since been shown to be entirely natural.

Author Graham Hancock has extended his search for ancient civilizations to Mars, where he has identified landmarks that he thinks might have been created by intelligent beings.
Caricature by Joe Lee.

The disdain New Atlantis writers display for the sort of evidence on which conventional ancient history relies is almost boundless. To present an argument that relys on a pattern created by a modern writer (star-alignments or “meaningful” numbers, for example) over the direct written testimony of the ancient people who actually built the monument(s) is, to put it mildly, perverse. To dismiss out-of-hand the evidence of radiocarbon dating for megalithic sites on the argument that it can date only associated organic materials and not the stone itself is not only perverse, it is irrelevant. For even if the radiocarbon method could date stone, it would yield figures in geologic, not archaeological time. Archaeologists, interested in when the stones were subjected to human manipulation, would still be looking to associated indications of human activity to date that activity. When alternative historians keep the radiocarbon dates at certain sites that make nonsense of their proposed dates from their readers it speaks volumes about the reliability of their arguments.

At Tiwanaku in Bolivia, for instance, radiocarbon material suggested that the earliest possible human occupation of the site came no earlier than 1500 BCE (or possibly later, since that very early date stems from a single sample). Yet New Atlantis speculation dates the site to between 15,000 and 10,000 BCE on the basis of star-alignments. [25] But no trace of an occupation of that date was found at the site. It is worth asking how the huge monuments got built by a presumably large population that left no vestige of its presence, but later and less populous occupations are so readily discernible in the archaeological record? Egregiously, when it suits them, New Atlantis writers accept conventional dates for certain sites. But you cannot have it both ways and say that conventional dating methods at site A yield accurate dates, but at site B the same methods mislead us by ten millennia. Moreover, the dating arsenal of conventional archaeology is multi-faceted and includes dendrochronology, stratigraphy, pottery analysis, comparison with other dated sites, assessment of written testimony where available, and so on. It is logically untenable to isolate and dismiss select radiocarbon dates at some sites (as Hancock does at Tiwanaku) without addressing the domino effect for these other dating methods and their impact elsewhere. Needless to say, the alternative historians make no effort to address such complexities.

Hidden Evidence

In the absence of hard evidence for their case, New Atlantis writers like to claim that evidence yet to be found may prove them right. In his new book, Underworld, Hancock makes the case that the crucial evidence for his beloved Lost Civilization lies under the oceans of the world. The arguments of the book are outlined on his website, where he cites the extent of oceanic seafloors, compares them to the extent of known underwater sites (numbering about 500), and then asks how orthodox archaeologists can deny the possibility of vital material still hidden under the world’s seas. [26]

The answer is that scholars do not deny the possibility of vital evidence under the sea; marine archaeology is an active (if horribly expensive) wing of the profession. Rather, they take the view that possible or hidden evidence is, in effect, no evidence. Historical hypotheses need to be based on available and checkable evidence, not on what might be. Taking Hancock’s stance, one could argue that unicorns, goblins, and dragons frolic and interact in a fascinating alternative ecosystem, as yet undiscovered. The possibility of the existence of that ecosystem, however, in no way proves its existence or even makes it a likelihood. What is more significant is that, to date, no unicorns, goblins, or dragons have ever been found, nor has any hard evidence surfaced that suggests they exist. Likewise with Hancock’s hidden marine evidence for the Lost Civilization. Hidden or potential evidence is no evidence upon which to surmise the existence of anything.

An Analogy

In almost every instance, the methods of the New Atlanteans are disingenuous, uninformed, and tendentious. When confronted with hard evidence they resort to ad hominem attacks and loaded anti-establishment rhetoric. To make an analogy:

I have found that some of the monuments on the Mall in Washington, DC align with some of the stars in the constellation Ursa Major as it was in the sky in 11,000 BCE. Clearly, these monuments were built in recognition of this fact and thus constitute evidence for a Lost Civilization from that era. American historians who argue otherwise are arrogantly trying to claim American history for themselves, when it really belongs to all of us. You don’t have to be a professional historian or have a Ph.D. to do history. University historians are conducting an inquisition when they challenge my views about the monuments on the Mall, and their closed-mindedness is revealed when they won’t even mention it in classes on American history. Their opinion that written evidence proves that these monuments were built for specific reasons rooted in identifiable circumstances and that the sites were chosen for reasons other than the Ursa Major alignment is just that – opinion, not fact. They have their opinion and I have mine. I’m just presenting my opinion and I have every right to do so. That five million people have read my book and accept my views proves I have something valid to say. Evidence yet to be found may prove me right; nobody can say for sure it will not. That orthodox scholars are so keen to discredit me shows I have them scared….

And so on. The absurdity of such a position needs no further comment. [27]

What’s At Stake

In the debate about the New Atlantis, far more is at stake than dusty arcana in ancient history. History represents our collective memory of where we came from and how we arrived at where we are. As such, it can be used to direct and justify public policy (as it has with civil rights legislation, for instance). When history is decoupled from rational analysis, and careful scrutiny of evidence is superseded by speculation and bald assertion, history is transformed into myth. People whose sense of history has become mythologized can be very dangerous. A striking example of this is the role Atlantis played in Nazi ideology. It was considered the original home of the Aryans, the first great civilization from which all others had arisen. [28]

Although the link between the Nazis and the Occult has been the subject of a great deal of absurd speculation, there are striking parallels between the New Atlantis and the ideas expressed by the numerous volkisch (”people’s”) groups in Germany after the First World War. There is the same fascination with “original” cultures and even an obsession with arcane astronomy. [29] Heinrich Himmler was an enthusiast for many of these ideas and founded the Ahnenerbe as a branch of the SS to promote this alternative archaeology and anthropology in the service of the Third Reich’s racial ideology. The dire consequences of that ideology are obvious. Expeditions were organized to Tibet to search for Aryan origins, and one was planned to that favorite of modern alternative historians, Tiwanaku in Bolivia.

To be sure, the Nazis represent an extreme example, but they are nonetheless illustrative of what can happen when myth replaces history. In modern flashpoints, such as Northern Ireland and the former Yugoslavia, mythologized history has been used to justify atrocities of all sorts. [30] While Hancock and other New Atlantis writers are neither Nazis nor nationalistic mythologizers, many of their propositions have buried within them some disturbing ingredients that echo less attractive voices from the past. For example, by maintaining that the survivors of the Lost Civilization seeded ancient cultures, the proponents of the New Atlantis are perpetuating the insidious idea that only one people have been capable of generating civilization in human history. Whether intentionally or not, such a claim systematically disinherits the diverse peoples of the world of their rightful ancient heritage. It implicitly tells the Cambodians, the Maya, or the Egyptians that their ancestors were incapable of such wondrous achievements without external guidance. Such arguments look a lot like neocolonialism.

Thus the crucial matters at issue are:

How do you do history? Is one version of history any better than any another? Isn’t history all a matter of interpretation?

These are hotly contested points even within the ranks of professional historians. There are those who hold relativistic positions that, in their extreme form, deny the very existence of any historical facts – it’s all a matter of perspective. [31] Such attitudes leave the door wide open to the claims of the out-and-out pseudohistorians, who can then present themselves as harmlessly offering their own version of the past, just as the various professionals offer theirs. But historical facts can and do stand independently of personal perspective: was Lincoln assassinated or not? Did the Second World War happen or not?

A logical corollary of the extreme relativistic position is that all views about the past are equally valid. But few even of the relativists would agree, for instance, that creationism is historically accurate or that the Holocaust never happened. In reality, some historical claims are demonstrably more valid than others. And it is the way the validity of any historical claim is established (or not) that marks professional history as distinct from pseudohistory. A true investigator into the past will want to scrutinize all of the pertinent evidence, or as much of it as is feasible, and subject that evidence to a rational analysis. Any claim or interpretation based on partial or selective source-gathering might be shown to be incorrect by evidence not taken into account, so it is better to address that other evidence first in order to ensure accuracy. And an irrational analysis of any amount of evidence –

I know I’m right because I commune with the Egyptian god Horus through my computer

– is uncheckable and so worthless from the outset. That is why most professional historians (archaeologists included) provide large bodies of evidence in support of their logically deduced conclusions. They may disagree vehemently among themselves about those conclusions and even about how they were reached, but at least they are all playing off the same rule book. In contrast, the New Atlanteans ignore, bury, or dismiss countervailing evidence (such as the nonalignment of most Egyptian pyramids with stars, inconvenient inscriptions, or radiocarbon dates).

Following the legal model, every effort is made to prove the contention at hand, not to test its validity against all the available evidence. As a consequence, implausibility, illogicality, inconsistency, and fallacy abound in their arguments. Thus Hancock can argue, on the one hand, that the evidence for his Lost Civilization is all under the sea while maintaining, on the other, that Tiwanaku was one of its settlements; at 12,000 ft. above sea level, Tiwanaku is one of the highest archaeological sites on the planet. They assume fallaciously that because there are gaps in the conventional picture of the past and because debates occur among specialists, all conclusions formed by conventional scholars are questionable and every issue in ancient history is up for debate. This position is akin to the technique of creationists in exploiting gaps in the fossil record and disputes among evolutionary biologists to “prove” their case.

The New Atlanteans roundly criticize conventional ancient historians for basing their conclusions on patchy evidence, while presenting not a shred of their own. They harp on the gaps in “orthodox” knowledge and yet can say nothing solid about their Lost Civilization. Perhaps most tendentious of all is Hancock’s claim that, since he is not an historian and does not claim to be, he is somehow immune from the standards of historical methodology, which apply only to “academic historians”. [32] This is nonsense. There is no immunity from requisite procedure in history any more than there is in, say, physics. A fundamental principle in science and scholarship is that rules of procedure bind all practitioners, regardless of their prior training or particular backgrounds.

Any attempt to by-pass or deny the validity of those rules to prove your case is a cardinal characteristic of pseudopractice in any field. If we are to retain any genuine sense of where we all came from and the forces that have shaped who we are today, we must combat both relativistic professional views of the past and their bastard amateur offspring. We must insist that the past actually happened and that it is possible to determine what happened, even if imperfectly, through rational analysis of all available evidence and logically consistent discussion.

We must shut the door on claims that all views are equally valid, that history is entirely “constructed” by personal perspective, or that what constitutes historical evidence is a matter of opinion. We must let the New Atlantis languish like its Platonic progenitor at the bottom of the abyss, unmissed and unmourned.


1. Hancock, G. 1995. Fingerprints of the Gods. New York: Doubleday (second edition released April 2001 in the UK). See also 1998. Heaven’s Mirror: Quest for the Lost Civilisation. New York: Crown.

2. Just a sampling: Brennan, H. 1999. The Atlantis Enigma. London: Piatkus; Bauval, R. 2000. Secret Chamber: The Quest for the Hall of Records. London: Arrow; Collins, A. 2000. Gateway to Atlantis. London: Headline; Gilbert, A., and M. Cotterell. 1996. The Mayan Prophecies. London: Element; Hancock, G. 2001. Underworld. Forthcoming; Hancock, G. and R.Bauval. 1997. The Message of the Sphinx: A Quest for the Hidden Legacy of Mankind. New York: Crown; Hodge, S. 2000. Atlantis. London: Piatkus; Picknett, L., and C.Prince. 1999. The Stargate Conspiracy. Boston: Little, Brown & Co. Rux, B. 1996. Architects of the Underworld: Unriddling Atlantis, Anomalies of Mars, and the Mysteries of the Sphinx. Berkeley: Frog; Wilson, C. 1996. From Atlantis to the Sphinx. London: Virgin.

3. They are often presented to the public in this role in television specials and in the written media. A recent example: Pethokoukis, J.M. 2001. “So How Old Do I Look: The Great Sphinx Stumps the Experts Again,” Mysteries of History, a special edition of US News & World Report, 9.

4. Allchin, B. 1982. The Rise of Civilisation in East Asia. London: Thames & Hudson; Haas, J. 1982. The Evolution of the Prehistoric State. New York: New York University Press; Lamberg-Karlovsky, C.C., and J.A.Sabloff. 1995. Ancient Civilisations: The Near East and Mesoamerica. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press; Renfrew, C., and P.Bahn. 2000. Archaeology: Theory, Methods and Practice. London: Thames & Hudson, third edition.

5. Feder, K. 1999. Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology. Mountain View: Mayfield, third edition; James, P. and N.Thorpe. 1999. Ancient Mysteries. New York: Ballantine; Steibing, W.H. 1984, Ancient Astronauts, Cosmic Collisions, and Other Popular Theories about Man’s Past. Amherst: Prometheus; Jordan, P. The Atlantis Syndrome. Phoenix Mill: Sutton Publishing.

6. Luce, J.V. 1969. End of Atlantis: New Light on an Old Legend. New York: McGraw-Hill; Zangger, E. 1992. The Flood from Heaven: Deciphering the Atlantis Legend. New York: W.Morrow.

7. Donnelly, I. 1882.:Atlantis: The Antediluvian World. New York: Harper, revised edition (rep. 1949).

8. Riddle, M. 1962. Ignatius Donnelly: Portrait of a Politician. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press (repr. 1991), 198.

9. See Hancock, G. “Writing about Outrageous Hypotheses and Extraordinary Possibilities: A View From The Trenches” at He goes on (loc. cit.) “So it is certainly true, as many of my critics have pointed out, that I am selective with the evidence I present. Of course I’m selective! It isn’t my job to show my client in a bad light!”

10. Hancock, G. 1992. The Sign and Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant. New York: Crown.

11. Bauval, R., and A.Gilbert. 1994. The Orion Mystery: Unlocking the Secrets of the Pyramids. New York: Crown; West, J.A. 1993. Serpent in the Sky: The High Wisdom of Ancient Egypt. Wheaton: Theosophical Publishing House, revised edition. The television appearances of Hancock, Bauval, and West on network specials and on cable channels (e.g., Arts and Entertainment, The Learning Channel, The Discovery Channel, The History Channel) are too numerous to document.

12. See above, nn. 1 and 11.

13. Cayce, E. 2000. Edgar Cayce on Atlantis. New York: Time Warner. On Cayce’s Atlantean visions see also Feder, James and Nickell, and Steibing (see above, n. 5).

14. Neugebauer, O. 1975. A History of Ancient Mathematical Astronomy. 3 volumes. Berlin. Springer Verlag.

15. Aveni, A. 1997. Stairways to the Stars. New York: John Wiley & Sons; Krupp, E. 1997. Skywatchers, Shamans and Kings: Astronomy and the Archaeology of Power. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

16. Lehner, M. 1997. The Complete Pyramids. London: Thames & Hudson.

17. According to Egyptologist Kate Spence, a view of the north was vital to the pyramid builders; see her interview in BBC Horizon: Atlantis Reborn (aired 4 Nov. 1999) and in revised version on 14 Dec. 2000); transcript available at Spence’s arguments in her Nature article show convincingly that the Egyptians did not know of precession; see Spence, K. 2000. “Ancient Egyptian Chronology and the Astronomical Orientation of Pyramids.” Nature 408: 320-324. Her position has naturally come under sharp attack by Bauval on Hancock’s website:

18. Hancock in BBC Horizon: Atlantis Reborn interview (see above, n. 17) Attitudes like this are found in abundance on Hancock’s website, especially

19. On weathering, see Schoch, R.M. 1999. Voices of the Rocks. New York: Crown, and West (in n. 11); on Leo alignment: Hancock (in n. 1).

20. Hawass, Z., and M.Lehner. 1994. “Remnant of a Lost Civilisation?” Archaeology September/October: 44-47; Jordan, P. 1998. Riddles of the Sphinx. New York: New York University Press.

21. Dundes, A. 1988. The Flood Myth. Berkeley: University of California Press.

22. Thomas, D. 1998. “Tolstoy Predicts Bulls’ Sixth Championship (in Code of Course).” Skeptical Inquirer 22.6: 16-17; Shermer, M. 1997. “O Ye of Little Faith: Cracking the Bible Code and Other ‘Proofs’ of God.” Skeptic 5.2: 50-55.

23. Dudley, U. 1998. “Numerology: Comes the Revolution.” Skeptical Inquirer 22.5: 29-31, 59. It is also entirely possible for “significant” numbers (like Pi) to be generated unintentionally by rigid adherence to simple sets of proportions, such as those employed by the pyramid builders.

24. Hancock, G. 1998. The Mars Mystery: The Secret Connection Between Earth and the Red Planet. New York: Crown.

25. Hancock in (n. 1); Posnansky, A. 1945-1957. Tiahuanacu: The Cradle of American Man. 4 volumes. New York: J.J. Augustine. Note that alternative writers cannot agree on a specific construction date within that 5000-year window, a span of time equivalent to the entire recorded history of humanity. Their star-alignment dating methods, therefore, might strike some as not particularly reliable.

26. See (as of February 2001; the introduction to the site changes from time to time.) (Jan 2020: link not functioning. See instead [Ed.])

27. Remarkably, it has been proposed that secret Masonic and astrological symbols have been “encoded” into sections of Washington D.C.’s lay-out; see Ovason, D. 2000. The Secret Architecture of Our Nation’s Capital. New York: Harper Collins.

28. Goodrick-Clark, N. 1985. The Occult Roots of Nazism. New York: New York University Press.

29. Godwin, J. 1996. Arktos: The Polar Myth in Science, Symbolism, and Nazi Survival. Kempton: Adventures Unlimited Press.

30. Kaplan, R.D. 1993. Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History. New York: St. Martin’s Press; Ignatieff, M. 1993. Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationlism. London: Penguin.

31. Evans, R.J. 1999. In Defense of History. New York: W.W. Norton, revised edition; Windschuttle, K. 2000. The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists are Murdering Our Past. San Francisco: Encounter Books.

32. This claim was put baldly to Garrett Fagan by Graham Hancock in a private correspondence, but it is aired in full in his website (see above, n. 9).

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