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Ancient Apocalypse ‘hooey’
Debunking Graham Hancock’s Netflix TV series
Jim D. from the US and Andrew L. (undisclosed location) both wrote in to CMI and asked some perceptive questions about a Netflix series called Ancient Apocalypse by Graham Hancock. This eight-part documentary series has garnered many views (reportedly, reaching top-ten status in 31 countries).1 The show has also been alluded to by several other questions sent to CMI. Gavin Cox responds to Jim and Andrew’s questions, repeated below in green text.
Jim D. asks:
I was recently asked to provide a biblical creationist response to several questions regarding a Netflix 8-part series called Ancient Apocalypse by Graham Hancock (an investigative reporter who has researched the issue for 30 years). He seems to have a novel evolutionary theory that claims to reject uniformitarianism, yet fully accepts carbon dating and much of the evolutionary story. He believes he has explanations for most OOPARTS. Graham Hancock claims there are many “black mat” layers found around much of the world that seem to be extinction layers (such as at Murray Springs). He claims that many extinct animals are found below the layer, but none of these animals in layers above. He believes the black mat layers are due to cosmic impacts. They are thin layers of carbon that indicate great heat. I cannot find any mention of them in biblical creation websites. Can you please shed some light - thanks!
Thanks for your email. We’ve had several enquiries about this series. Unfortunately, it would require a lot of staff time to go through each episode to research all the points he is making and try and bring a response, if that is what is needed (plus an office Netflix account). What I will say is that Hancock’s approach will interpret any piece of data through his (materialistic, but ‘anti-establishment’) worldview, much the same way as a ‘mainstream’ evolutionist will do. In one sense, he is following the ‘evidentialist approach’, but he goes too far in that all his evidence is ‘cherry picked’ to support his theory. At CMI we are presuppositional, meaning we start with the Bible and treat it as the only filter with which to interpret historical data. Having said that, it will appear to outsiders that we are evidentialists also, meaning we actively look for evidence that supports the Bible. But unlike Hancock, we are upfront about our ‘bias’, which is for the Bible and its inerrant teaching on earth history (Creation, Flood, Babel, etc.).
Graham Hancock features in a Netflix series called Ancient Apocalypse.
Importantly, Hancock rejects using Scripture as the only way to interpret historical data. His is a hybrid approach, which discounts the (evolutionary) idea that humans were ‘primitive’ prior to and during the Ice Age and adds the (pseudo-biblical) idea that an advanced culture was destroyed by a cataclysm during a period called the ‘Younger Dryas’ (YD), supposedly around 12,900–11,700 years BP (before present). The YD represented a return to glacial conditions, which reversed the initial warming that happened after the Last Glacial Maximum, supposedly, c. 27,000–20,000 years BP. If you are interested on reading up on the YD see: Ice core oscillations and abrupt climate changes: part 1—Greenland ice cores, and scroll down to the sub-heading “The special Younger Dryas event”.
Hancock’s series is severely criticized on a Wikipedia page. Although we don’t consider this site to be an unbiased academic source of information, it is still informative to read what it has to say in this case:
“Archaeologist Flint Dibble said the show is ‘lacking in evidence to support Hancock’s theory’, while there is ‘a plethora of evidence’ which contradicts the dates Hancock gives. In one episode, Hancock says the megalithic temples of Malta, built in 3600–2500 BC, were actually built during the last ice age. Maltese archaeologists dismissed these claims; one, who briefly appeared in the episode, implied her interview had been manipulated. John Hoopes, an archaeologist who has written about pseudoarchaeology, said the series fails to present alternative interpretations or evidence contradicting Hancock. Answering Hancock’s claims of a cover-up, an article in Slate noted that archaeologists would be thrilled to uncover an ice age civilization, if the evidence really existed.”2
I would say the dates about which the evolutionists disagree with Hancock are all incorrect as well! The dating game is real. Without a reliable way to calibrate the dates, radiocarbon dating is beyond salvage, and only muddies the waters of ancient human history (even being described as a big joke among archaeologists). In at least some cases, dates are only published that ‘agree’ with the conclusions of the publishers, although the technique does give more accurate dates for more recent artifacts. See for instance: How old? When archaeology conflicts with the Bible, 14C dating—who is fooling whom? Also, Carbon 14—still drawing a blank. Especially see Dr. Robert Carter’s major article: How carbon dating works.
Ice Age humans not primitive? Yes!
Regarding Hancock’s ideas that humans were not primitive during the Ice Age, we would agree! All those ooparts (‘out of place artefacts’ for instance, the Antikythera Mechanism, and so-called Baghdad battery) he draws attention to do damage to the evolutionary idea that humans become more primitive the further one goes back. Such ancient technology is best placed within the Biblical time frame, after humans traveled out from Babel, c. 2200 BC. We at CMI reject the idea of multiple Ice Ages that pre-date the Flood. For CMI’s understanding on the Ice Age and how only the Flood can explain it, see: The unique post-Flood Ice Age, and follow the many linked articles.
CMI would also expect that, after the Flood, there would have been a period of unstable climate, and seismic conditions (severe earthquakes and volcanoes) possibly lasting for centuries. Catastrophic flooding would have occurred, especially after the Ice Age, which would have produced many destruction layers (see Missoula flood). You mention meteorite impact layers with extinction of animals? Possibly, although the same ‘evidence’ can be misinterpreted from volcanic activity also, see: Immense impacts or big belches? Obviously, an extinction event would mean you won’t find the same animals above the layer as below it, that would be self-evident during a big catastrophe which changed the (local) environment and climate extensively.
A search of creation.com will actually bring up a lot of literature about impact layers. For instance: Did a Chicxulub impact wipe out dinosaurs?, Precambrian impacts and the Genesis Flood, The Vredefort Dome, South Africa, The K/T impact hypothesis and secular neocatastrophism—why is this important to Flood geology?
The ‘black mats’ that Hancock refers to are not necessarily ‘proof’ of an asteroid impact during the YD that killed off large animals in North America, or the demise of the so-called Clovis people. For instance, in Chile’s Atacama Desert, Rio Salado, black mats can be seen containing high levels of iridium. Iridium is found in asteroids, and is normally uncommon on earth’s surface. However, tests done by the U.S. Geological Survey have now questioned the whole idea of the YD impact theory. First, many layers with high concentrations of iridium were found not to ‘date’ to the YD period, meaning there was likely not a single catastrophic event. It was discovered the local terrain, including wetland soils and vegetation cover, made these areas ‘dust traps’, which naturally concentrated terrestrial iridium. The paper published in PNAS in 2012 concludes:
“Black mats are common features in paleowetland deposits and typically represent shallow marsh environments. In this study, we investigated black mats ranging in age from approximately 6 to more than 40 ka in the southwestern United States and the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. At 10 of 13 sites, we found elevated concentrations of iridium in bulk and magnetic sediments, magnetic spherules, and/or titanomagnetite grains within or at the base of black mats, regardless of their age or location, suggesting that elevated concentrations of these markers arise from processes common to wetland systems, and not a catastrophic extraterrestrial impact event.”3
Although the researchers caution that they haven’t disproved the YD impact event theory at this stage, their findings seriously question it, and more data will likely sign the YD impact theory’s death warrant.
It also needs to be kept in mind that these supposed ‘impact layers’ or ‘black mats’ are only observed in the present by people who were obviously not there to directly observe what happened. Such data can only be understood through a worldview. We at CMI believe the Bible is the only sure foundation upon which to base one’s thinking, and therefore it is the only correct interpretation of historical data. However, evolutionists disagree vehemently with Hancock because of his hypothesis that humans have a much longer history on earth as technologically advanced people.
23 Neolithic temples in Malta, like Ggantija and Mnajdra, seem to be difficult to date, and not without controversy. The same might be said of Gobekli Tepe, and similar buried temples in Southern Turkey.
If dates for these megalithic structures are based on carbon dating of associated artefacts, then I believe they are not an immediate threat to a YE timeline, given the assumptions of radiometric dating, etc.
Ideas like pre-flood or Babel knowledge being applied to megalithic construction around the world, the impact of the centuries long ice-age, and associated ideas like men a few generations from Noah seeming like gods, etc. are interesting, and I believe can all be explained within a YE framework, but I want to be a bit more narrow in my question.
There are claims that these structures can be aligned to the position of the star Sirius, if we account for Precession; and if true, then there seems to be a more reliable astronomical basis for dating the structures from about 9150 through to 4250 BC that would be more difficult to dismiss.
I don’t have verified scientific papers to challenge, and admit the question is prompted by Graham Hancock’s Netflix series and some superficial web searching; so I only raise this as a general discussion point: How should we respond to Precession-based dating claims like this (i.e. Milankovitch and ice ages aside)?
Many thanks for your email to CMI, which has been forwarded to me to respond to. The first part of your question, re. carbon dating and the timing of civilisation after the Flood, has been well covered on creation.com as you have correctly noted.
I can recommend these articles on these topics:
- How old? When archaeology conflicts with the Bible
- How does Göbekli Tepe fit with biblical history?
- Egypt’s Great Pyramid, pre-Flood, or post-Flood?
- Time fears the pyramids? How they fit into the true biblical history
Graham Hancock’s Netflix series Ancient Apocalypse promotes the idea of dating man-made structures on Malta (Neolithic temples including Ġgantija and Mnajdra) using precession of stars (specifically Sirius). However, there is a lot that is assumed. First, what is the evidence that a particular building was indeed aligned to a certain star or system? There is no text or inscription on the building that records this as fact. Even assuming an initial stellar alignment, it could be that the investigator is aligning the building with stars that the builders did not have in mind when they originally constructed their building. In this case, all the clever alignments done in computer software bear no relationship to the alignment of the building, and so all their conclusions will be incorrect, being that they are based on faulty assumptions. Furthermore, the dates of ancient celestial alignments in a computer software are merely theoretical. Nothing can predate Creation week! ‘Dates’ that pre-date the Bible’s timeline do not mean the Bible’s timeline is not trustworthy.
The megalithic temples in Malta are all orientated differently. Unless there is an inscription discovered to explain why, then every proposed solution is merely a working hypothesis at best. No one can know for certain that the orientations follow, for instance, the star Sirius. There could be any number of different reasons the temples are in different orientations.
Furthermore, archaeoastronomy is a relatively new discipline, and the one particular aspect that Hancock is relying upon to date the Malta temples is but one facet of this developing field. An introduction to archaeoastronomy warns of the potential pitfalls and miss-use of data to ‘prove a point’. Leading practitioners of archaeoastronomy have admitted that the ‘science’ had speculative beginnings when it was first being developed:
“In the past decades it [Archaeoastronomy] has stepped away from its quite speculative beginnings that have led to its complete rejection by the archaeology community.”4
One of the main reasons for the field’s initial rejection, and ever present fundamental weakness is that:
“… alignments are by themselves meaningless pointers towards an abstract declination and need to be filled with astronomical meaning.”4
Such “astronomical meaning” would refer to monumental evidence, material culture, or inscriptions that demonstrate links between the monument and known stars, the sun, or planetary alignments. For instance, a good use of archaeoastronomy by Stonehenge experts was used to determine that the Neolithic builders understood the 365.25 solar day, and encoded that knowledge into the number of standing stones they erected. However, that same evidence could not be used to ‘date’ Stonehenge. Furthermore, it is only a working hypothesis (though a good one), as the original builders didn’t leave an instruction manual!
The ‘roll’ of the Flood
We would expect any geographic location on the earth’s surface to have shifted since before the Flood. The preferred Flood model at CMI is known as Catastrophic Plate Tectonics (CPT) [admittedly, not all creationists accept the theory, furthermore, it is not predicted by Scripture]. During CPT, the continents would have moved to their current locations from a single central landmass, and the movements would involve changes in latitude (not just east-west longitudinal changes).
The CTP model suggests the Earth’s rotation would have been disrupted during the Flood, following Euler’s equations for rigid bodies.5 There is an interesting YouTube video discussing this by geophysicist and creationist John Baumgardner (he discusses this at the 56-minute mark).6 So any alignments seen before the Flood would be different after the Flood If this is not taken into account, backdating alignments will only lead to confusion.
We also might expect that the processionary wobble of the Earth would have taken a while to stabilize after the Flood. In this case, the different Maltese temple builders could have been trying to track the position of Sirius. If so, the present wobble of the Earth is a remnant of the Flood’s impact upon Earth. The changes in star alignments that the ancient builders observed through time would therefore reflect the normalisation of the Earth’s procession within biblical post-Flood history. This is compared to the tens of thousands of years of history Hancock supposes. Nevertheless, this is more speculative, and is not necessary to answer this question.
If you want to read up on catastrophic plate tectonics, then this is a good place to start:
Catastrophic plate tectonics: the geophysical context of the Genesis Flood.
If you take a look on creation.com, there has been some very useful information written on the vagaries of precession-based dating schemes. You mention the Ice Age and Milankovitch cycles, take a look at:
Astronomical troubles for the astronomical hypothesis of ice ages.
Sothic theory woes
Dating using alignments to stars forms the back-bone to an important, but controversial, dating scheme for Egyptian chronology known as the Sothic theory. However, such schemes are themselves contradicted by ancient historic sources. See: Fall of the Sothic theory: Egyptian chronology revisited.
Gary Bates, in his go-to article Egyptian chronology and the Bible—framing the issues, states of the Sothic theory:
“Due to the enormous confusion caused by conflicting sources, Egyptologists were looking for a way to order and date, in particular, Manetho’s thirty dynasties. Many think that there are astronomical cycles that exactly match Egyptian records. One attempt to align them came via Richard Lepsius who noticed references in Egyptian documents to the heliacal rising of the ‘dog star’ Sirius (Egyptian sopdet, Greek sothis). From this, chronologists came up with the idea of using it as a frame of reference for fixing dates of some of the pharaohs based on a 1,461-year cycle of the Egyptian civil or administrative year of 365 days. Because the rising of Sirius occurs every 365.25 days—i.e. once per Julian year—it was believed that the Egyptians calculated their astronomical year by using this rising. This was subsequently seized upon and popularized by Eduard Meyer and famous Egyptologist James Breasted (whose chronologies have been a mainstay for many years).
However, there is widespread disagreement over the idea that the Egyptians built their calendar on the Sothic cycle and it is confusing for the layperson to navigate. Some swear by this method of fixing dates while others reject it completely (as it is with many things ‘Egypt’). For one thing, one would need to know the actual place of Egyptian observations of Sirius. For example, there is enough latitude difference between Upper and Lower Egypt to throw off cumulative dates. Although there are six mentions of the rising of Sothis in Egyptian texts, none of them mention the name of any pharaoh whose reign they supposedly occurred in, and one would have to presume the king lists were correct to correlate them. Given the wide disagreement, it would be unwise to date chronologies by any Sothic cycle. (For more on this read Fall of the Sothic theory: Egyptian chronology revisited). As with much in trying to determine all things ‘ancient Egypt’, often one fact, or one line of evidence is presumed to be correct (like an astronomical fixing—there were others besides Sothis, such as moon fixes). That is then used as a fixed point for determining all other dates. However, where there is contention of any fixed point, it is unwise to use it as one’s starting point.”
Practice critical thinking
Another popular theory promoted by Graham Hancock (and ‘fellow traveller’, Robert Bauval) is that the pyramids at Giza were aligned to the stars in Orion’s belt. According to calculations, the Sphinx and the three pyramids at Giza would align with Orion’s Belt in 10,450 BC. If the Flood didn’t happen, and if the Egyptians really did align the pyramids and Sphinx with these stars, this could be true. Yet there is no textual evidence that they did. Furthermore, the actual alignment with the pyramids to Orion’s belt is not that convincing upon closer inspection. And, we have a reasonable approximation as to when the Giza Pyramids and the Sphinx were built. The 10,450 BC date is more than 8,000 years off! And more importantly, contradicts biblical history.
Regarding Graham Hancock, CMI has come across some of his prior ideas and debunked them. For instance, see: The Ice Age and ancient maps. There are a number of maps dating from the Middle Ages that detail the Southern Hemisphere, including the coast of Antarctica. Mike Oard has shown, in his post-Flood Ice Age model, that warm water would have surrounded Antarctica for quite some time. This would enable maps to be created in the few centuries immediately after the Flood, showing ice-free water. Hancock, not accepting the global Flood, or its effects, seeks to date the time of an ice-free Antarctica thousands of years earlier (and therefore the maps and the existence of people who drew them). It is also possible that the depictions of Antarctica on those maps are nothing more than a distorted rendering of the Atlantic coastline of southern South America or even a composite of several maps where the southern-most extent was accidentally rotated. The maps are surprisingly accurate in the Mediterranean region (and in at least one case, Scandinavia), even solve the longitude problem centuries before longitude could be properly measured. The farther away from the central reference point one gets, the less accurate the maps become. Thus, a mapping of a portion of Antarctica prior to the modern era is unlikely, but not impossible.
In The Sphinx mystery deepens, the editors of Creation magazine state:
Robert Bauval and Graham Hancock are two British academics who have co–authored a book Keeper of Genesis. In it, they argue that the Sphinx was built by the survivors of an earlier race than the pharaohs, and that it, the Great Pyramids and other monuments at Giza form an astronomically aligned diagram.
Discussing work allegedly going on to locate and open ancient cavities under these monuments, they refer to archaic texts which speak of a ‘hall of records’ preserving the entire knowledge of a lost civilisation which ‘discovered the secret of immortality’.
They refer to the work of geology professor Robert Schoch to claim that the Sphinx has ‘distinctive erosion patterns which could only have been caused by rain’. They say this shows that it was built more than 7,000 years ago, making it some 2,000 years older than the pharaohs.
CMI has commented on this assertion and the following three points can be made:
(1) According to Scripture, all surviving structures/monuments must have been built by civilisations after the Flood, because it was so catastrophic.
(2) That includes the Giza monuments,7 which must have been built post-Flood, several centuries after Babel. Any recollections of ‘lost’ civilisations possessing ‘secrets of immortality’ may well represent memories of the pre-Flood world, with its huge lifespans (see Genesis 5).
(3) Post-Ice Age rainfall would have been much greater, meaning the environment, including North Africa, would have been wetter. There is a general consensus that the Sahara was lush and green for centuries (inland Australia also) because it had much more rainfall in the ancient past. There is also evidence that Egypt was greener during the early dynastic periods than the later ones. This means the Sphinx was subject to more rainfall erosion.8 The biblical model places the Ice Age, not tens of thousands of years ago, but more recently in the past. This then would have been much closer to the present than the speculative dates Hancock proposes.
Regarding ancient technology and the dating of the Flood, we need to keep in mind that our worldview in not supposed to be shaped by secular thinking. Especially when it either dismisses the Flood or diminishes the way it would have caused a total catastrophic reshaping of the entire earth’s surface. Humans, their technology, and civilisation would have been obliterated. and their technology and civilisation. However, post-Flood, such technologies re-surfaced post-Babel. These monuments may have encoded into their structures such astronomical knowledge.
- Stunning Stonehenge! ‘Stone Age’ relic or post-Babel construction?
- Stonehenge: new discoveries are still stunning archaeologists! Durrington’s mile-wide circle.
- Carbon 14—still drawing a blank by Gavin Cox
These articles on Stonehenge deal with the dating issues you raise, including carbon dating. These were all post-Flood monuments.
In answer to your question ‘how should we respond to the precession-based dating claims of Graham Hancock’ and his other ideas in Ancient Apocalypse? Regarding anything written by Graham Hancock (and his associates) we at CMI are healthily sceptical.9
I hope this helps.
References and notes
- Ancient Apocalypse: Season 1, accessed Dec 20 2022; top10.netflix.com. Return to text.
- Ancient Apocalypse; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Apocalypse, accessed Dec 20 2022. Return to text.
- Pigati, J.S., et. al., Accumulation of impact markers in desert wetlands and implications for the Younger Dryas impact hypothesis, PNAS 109(19)7208-7212, Apr 23, 2012 | doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1200296109. Return to text.
- Brown, D., Modern Archaeoastronomy: From Material Culture to Cosmology, Journal of Physics: Conference Series 685:012001, 2016 | doi:10.1088/1742-6596/685/1/012001. Return to text.
- Euler’s equations for rigid bodies describe the rotation of rigid bodies using a rotating reference frame that is fixed to the body. Given changes in the mass distribution, a spherical object (like the Earth) will start to spin in a chaotic manner, due to forces exerted on it. It would take some time for the spin to settle down. This motion relates to CPT as it describes the motion of the earth, spinning chaotically around its axis during (and most likely for a while after) the Flood, when the tectonic plates were moving around due to subduction of the pre-Flood ocean floor. Return to text.
- Michael Bernard, Catastrophic Plate Tectonics - Key to Understanding the Genesis Flood - John Baumgardner, 25 Oct 2016; youtu.be/HtwJD61JSrg. Return to text.
- I asked Dr Robert Carter to comment on this. Here is his reply: “The structural integrity of the pyramids depends on the relationship between gravity, mass, and friction. The density of limestone is about 2.7 g/cm3. Water is 1.0 g/cm3. Thus, if you submerged a pyramid in water, you instantly change all the static forces inside it. You also hydrate the frictional surfaces, meaning everything can slide around much more easily. Also consider the surface area of one pyramid face. If there were even a slight current, the pressure would be enough to easily topple the structure, especially considering that the blocks weigh less in water and that water would be lubricating the joints between them. Putting aside the fact that they must be created from Flood-derived rocks, and the fact that we know who built them and when these people lived, I cannot see any way that they would ever have survived the Flood.” Return to text.
- It does rain in Cairo. A few raindrops fell on the Giza plateau during CMI’s tour there the fall of 2022. Return to text.
- Wikipedia pulls no punches regarding Hancock’s previous drug addiction. During a TED talk (which was pulled from YouTube, but still available on the TED website, he stated: “that for 24 years” he was “pretty much permanently stoned” on cannabis. During his TED talk he recommended taking ‘ayahuasca’, an Amazonian brew containing a hallucinogenic compound of DMT, and after 6 years it enabled him to kick his cannabis addiction in 2011. One wonders how all this affects his worldview and ability to assess multiple competing hypothesis and large data sets? Return to text.
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