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Analysis of Hancock’s Position Statement on C-14

“…Hancock will accept C-14 dates when they suit his case and challenge them (without substantiation, argument, evidence, or analysis) when they do not. “

I read with interest Graham Hancock’s “Position Statement on C-14 Dating,” as posted to his website on March 14, 2001. This document had been promised by Mr. Hancock back in November 2000 as a reply to my detailed arguments concerning the untenability of his position on C-14, which he stated sketchily in his books and explained more fully in his interview with the BBC Horizon team (click here for my critique).

I am thus somewhat dismayed that now, four months later, Hancock can do little more than restate his original position. He nowhere addresses the argument of my critique, nor offers any further logical or detailed justification for his position on C-14. Rather, he merely reiterates it. For this reason, I find his response deficient and unconvincing. Most of the text, in fact, is a reprint of his interview with BBC Horizon team on C-14 (the text of which was already posted in the Forum section of his website), and the opening section of it is an irrelevant analysis of the BBC Horizon affair. Since Hancock has not answered a single one of my arguments, I see no need to repeat any of them here. They all stand unchallenged and they reveal Hancock’s position on C-1 4 to be tendentious, founded in ignorance of even basic archaeological procedures, illogical, and inconsistent. Hancock’s restatement of his position does not change its nature.

In short, Hancock has not replied in any way to my critique of his position on C-14. I suggest this is because he is unable to do so.

However, Hancock’s reply does contain some insights into his approach to historical research that should be discussed here.

The first an most noticeable feature of his approach is that it fails utterly to appreciate the nature of historical inquiry. Hancock twice asserts that it is his “right” to propose any thing he wants. Of course it is. No one, certainly not I, have ever challenged this right. However, proposing a “theory” and seeing it validated by criticism and checking are two entirely different things. I could propose that golden unicorns from Wales built the pyramids and aggressively assert my right to do so. And I would still be wrong. For historical theories to be accepted, they must check out against the evidence and be logically consistent. Hancock’s “theories” do neither, and so they are (quite rightly) rejected.

The second feature of Hancock’s mindset I find revealing is his attempt to reduce historical debate to the level of opinion:

Dr. Fagan obviously believes that Posnansky’s conclusions about Tiwanaku are wrong and he is entitled to his view. By the same token, however, nothing on earth obliges me to agree with Fagan’s own position … [my italics].

Hancock is effectively saying that we have difference of opinion and, since nobody would argue that a person is not entitled to their opinion, we should just agree to disagree.

This argument, of course, entirely misses the point. My position on Tiwanaku is not an “opinion” in the same the way, let’s say, that my preference for alternative rock music is an “opinion.” Rather, what Hancock calls “orthodox opinion” on Tiwanaku (which I support) is an explanatory hypothesis designed to make sense of the evidence yielded by the site. That hypothesis is based on scrutiny of all the data from the site subjected to rational analysis and logical discussion, and contextualized within the overall picture of Central Andean history. Hancock thinks he can just dismiss out of hand such a carefully constructed hypothesis as an “opinion” and then state his own “opinion” which is not only unsupported by the evidence but actually runs contrary to it. That is a head-in-the-sand approach, not historical argument.

This is a very important point, since Hancock seems to think that merely mentioning the “orthodox” opinion is sufficient justification for dismissing it before presenting his maverick views: “Indeed I preface my discussion of Tiwanaku in Fingerprints by warning readers that the orthodox date for the city’s florescence could be as late as 500 AD and make it clear that I am about to explore an:

alternative chronology … not accepted by the majority of scholars …

I assert again my right to do that, to present whose work I want – having acknowledged the orthodox view as I most certainly did.”

In other words, Hancock sees no need to argue a position, he just needs to state it. He sees no need to show why the orthodox conclusions about Tiwanaku are mistaken, to throw light on their flaws, to adduce the evidence which the orthodox view fails to explain, or to show how his alternative chronology better fits the evidence and explains the site more convincingly. In his world, he can just acknowledge the existence of a large body of data and the detailed hypothesis formulated to explain them, then bypass that hypothesis and present his alternative.

Linked to this position is Hancock’s characterization of criticism of his propositions as “harassment or smear campaigns.” Apparently, once proposed, Hancock’s positions should be immune from criticism and accepted without argument. For I have leveled detailed arguments against his position on C-14; I have not “harassed” him nor conducted “smear campaigns.” That he should interpret criticism in this way, however, is most revealing.

It should be clear to the reader how Hancock’s approach, if adopted universally by historians, would lead to scholarly stagnation and intellectual anarchy. Theories, now reduced to “opinions,” would require no evidence to support them, and they would not require that competing theories be argued against in detail. Instead, new theories would be lined up alongside old ones as matters “opinion.” Proponents would drone on ad nauseam about their right to propose new theories and complain about the “harassment” and “smear campaigns” conducted by critics. There could be no progress, no advancement of knowledge in such a system; there would only be the endless proposing of new “opinions,” whose advocates did not feel the need to take any other “opinions” into account in their formulation. History, as a discipline, would grind to a halt, wither, and die.

This is one reason, among many, why Hancock and his ilk have to be opposed. His approach to history is a dead-end.

A third feature of Hancock’s position statement is worthy of analysis. He states:

I am prepared to accept that there is not a single carbon date from the site earlier than 1500 BC.

The subtext here is that facts require Mr. Hancock’s acceptance to be valid. In reality, it doesn’t matter what Hancock accepts or does not accept: there are no dates from the site earlier than 1500 BC. End of story.

Hancock’s statement is also illogical and inconsistent. He asserts that Posnansky’s star-alignment dates are convincing, at least to the satisfaction of Hancock’s “gut feeling” (but true historians follow the evidence, not their gut-feelings). Later, in order to explain the total absence of any evidence for his proposed 12,000-year-old occupation, he avers that a:

cataclysmic breakdown of ice masses that had formed over the Andes before the last glacial maximum 17,000 years ago makes it plausible that gigantic meltwater floods would have devastated the vicinity of Tiwanaku not just once but several times between 17,000 and 7000 years ago. With such a scenario in mind, and remembering that the site has also been repeatedly plundered and re-arranged by human beings as well as by nature, I certainly am not prepared to give up its megaliths without a fight to the relatively recent dates within which archaeologists wish to enclose them.

First, archaeologists have no “wish” to enclose anything within any period: they deduce the dates from the evidence they find. Second, Posnansky’s star-alignments allegedly date the original construction of the site. But how can they be accurate, when the site has, in Hancock’s own scenario, suffered 10,000 years of cataclysmic flooding and centuries of human re-arrangement and plundering? How can the original positions of the stones be known for sure? Were the stones, the most visible parts of the site, somehow immune from the iceflows, flood waters, and human devastations? Hancock’s scenario is implausible, illogical, and inconsistent. No wonder professionals reject it summarily.

And yet, says Hancock:

Despite the radiocarbon results from tiny parts of the excavated two per cent of the site [which is an argument dealt with at length in my C-14 post and just restated here], I predict that the idea of an older Tiwanaku is not going to go away.

This is a self-fulfilling prophecy, so long as writers like Hancock continue to tout the idea of an older Tiwanaku, even in the face of all the available evidence (which they simply leave unaddressed).

Hancock sees:

no reason to discount my gut feeling that Posnansky’s hands-on experience and painstakingly-acquired knowledge of the site over a period of 40 years are worth a lot.

Thus Hancock seems to think the “hands-on experience and painstakingly-acquired knowledge” of professional archaeologists working at the site over the past 30 years are worthless, since he ignores them completely (despite his passing allusions to “orthodox opinion”). It should be worrisome for his supporters that Hancock would bypass the findings of these recent investigations, conducted using all the tools of modern archaeology, in favor of the 60-100 year-old maverick ideas of an amateur archaeologist. In what other field of human intellectual endeavor would readers find this approach convincing? If a surgeon preferred century-old methods to those available today, I suspect he or she would not get a lot of business.

Finally, Hancock states:

My reservations about radiocarbon will continue to apply to sites that are primarily megalithic and that either demonstrate alignments older than the radiocarbon dates or that contain other features … that suggest greater antiquity.

Apparently, then, Hancock will accept C-14 dates when they suit his case and challenge them (without substantiation, argument, evidence, or analysis) when they do not.

So much for Hancock’s “methods.”