Atlantis Returns

Some time ago, a few colleagues and I made two films for the BBC’s Horizon strand about the myth of Atlantis. The idea was inspired by a two part Horizon made a quarter of a century earlier about Erich von Däniken. We focused on a British writer called Graham Hancock. His best selling writings had many ingredients in common with von Däniken and, as we discovered,  the 19th Century re-invention of Plato’s Atlantis by an American politician and populist writer Ignatius Donnelly. It was Donnelly, rather than Plato, who fixed on a simple idea: an ancient culture – terrestrial or not – had been destroyed in a cataclysm of some kind and that its survivors had wandered the earth or arrived in spaceships to inspire the rise of civilisations in different regions of the world. We contended that this imaginary history was underpinned by 19th Century racism: civilisation was created by indigenous peoples but by superior outsiders. The second documentary, which focused on Hancock, was controversial in its day – and we were required to defend it at what was then called the ‘Broadcasting Standards Commission’. I described the sequence of events in a chapter contributed to ‘Archaeological Fantasies‘, edited by the late Garret Fagan. After the fuss died down, and life went on I noticed that if I ever had to refer to the documentary it became increasingly necessary to remind people who Graham Hancock was… Why on earth had the BCC bothered to invest time and creativity in such an obscure figure?

Recently, the Daily Telegraph published a profile of Hancock – and this appeared to signal to be a resurgence of interest. He has turned, appropriately, to writing fiction – but has a new ‘best seller’ which offers new evidence. As ever, the evidence is not his – he doesn’t discover anything as even von Däniken claimed he did (falsely) but is marshalled to support his old idea of the race of survivors gifting civilisation to other regions of the world. He calls them ‘mystery teachers of heaven’… Hancock’s ‘new evidence’ seems to be based on genuinely fascinating new archaeological discoveries at Göbekli Tepe (not by him!) and on evidence of a meteorite impact 12,000 years ago – a date which as some readers may remember is derived from a mystic called Edgar Cayce and is one of Hancock’s obsessions.
It is tempting to look at Hancock’s new evidence and what he makes of it. Dissect it. Analyse it… be forensic. But that’s hardly necessary. In fact, it’s the kind of diversionary tactic used on stage by magicians.
But his core theory – if that’s the word – is the same. Rather than tackle the alleged evidence it is better to look at the logic.

He seems to be saying:

We have new archaeological sites where the tropes of civilisations – monuments etc – appear earlier than the conventional time period. Fine. If the facts change…

Secondly, there is evidence of a ‘cosmic impact’ that caused massive destruction 12,000 years ago. Interesting!

Let’s call these X and Y.

What Hancock derives from X and Y = ‘wandering group of superior survivors who endow civilisation’. Let’s call that Z.

This is argument by juxtaposition. In logic terms it’s nonsense. There is no evidence of a link between X and Y to begin with – and even if there was Z does not follow.

This isn’t a world shattering theory as Hancock and his admirers claim. It is argument by innuendo.

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