books book reviews

Toenail clippings of the gods

reviewed by T. Nelson


Magicians of the Gods
by Graham Hancock

Updated and Extended Edition, Thomas Dunne Books, 2015. 592 pages

Reviewed by T. Nelson

G eologists believe that 12,800 years ago, as the Ice Age ended, the two-mile-thick Laurentide ice sheet in central Canada began to melt. This resulted in massive flooding, which may have disrupted the thermohaline circulation in the Atlantic, causing a stark period of cooling which lasted for 1300 years known as the Younger Dryas. During this period, the woolly mammoths and numerous other large mammalian species became extinct, and the Clovis culture in North America was wiped out.

Self-described unconventional thinker Graham Hancock hypothesizes that the melting was caused by a giant comet striking the Earth 12,800 years ago, melting the ice. Since no comet remains have been found, he speculates that it must have exploded in the atmosphere.

So far so good. But then, he says, 11,600 years ago, the same comet hit again. This time it ended the Younger Dryas by striking the ocean. Instead of causing cooling, all the water warmed the atmosphere up to exactly the same temperature as before.

He predicts the same comet will return some time between now and 2040, causing a similar catastrophe. But consider: if this comet crashed into the earth every 1200 years, then it must also have hit nine more times until the present, and the next one would be 400 years from now. So where does he get the year 2040? Read on!

A disappearing culture, relatively advanced (by stone age standards) getting wiped out is plausible, and so is a comet. But did one cause the other? And how would a comet breaking up over a continent-wide ice sheet cause the massive fires he talks about?

Instead of answering these questions, Hancock suddenly turns his attention to ancient Egypt, discussing the possibility, repeated ad nauseam on TV, that the three pyramids at Giza are arranged according to the three stars in the belt of the constellation of Orion. And maybe, he says, the Sphinx was carved in 10,500 BC, at the start of the Younger Dryas. And the betyls, which are carved meteorites used in worship, they're somehow related to the myth of the Lord of Heaven descending to Earth, which is how, he says, the ancients described the comet:

Could it, for example, go back all the way to the time memorialized in the Edfu texts—the time when the Island of the Gods was destroyed in the cataclysmic flood caused by the assault of the “enemy serpent” so evocatively described as the “Great Leaping One”?

Yes, I suppose it could. A lot of things could have happened. Naturally, though, if they did, mainstream archaeologists would all conspire to cover them up.

Okay, so after disposing of all that extra material that didn't fit in his previous book (which he urges you to read), he gets back to the end of the Ice Age. He runs through a number of ancient myths that (he claims) represent learned wise men dressed in fish costumes. After their advanced civilization was wiped out by the Ice Age, these wise men set out on a quest to restore civilization, which is why the ancient Egyptians and others were able to develop an advanced civilization so quickly.

Then there's the Roman temple of Jupiter at Baalbek, which contains some gigantic stones weighing over 100 tons. The conventional view is that the Romans built three sides that enclose the temple and then gave up. Hancock says the structure doesn't look Roman, so it must be much more ancient. Why else, he says, would the Romans have simply abandoned it?

Why else indeed. My theory is the Romans got halfway through before they said to themselves: “Hey, what are we doing?! And why are we using such big rocks? Let's carve our bas-reliefs and go home!” I've done things like that myself.

As the book goes on, Hancock goes back to astronomy, making far-fetched connections between archaeological sites and star formations. Forget Giza and Orion. Hancock waxes really enthusiastic about a paper by a guy named Paul Burley who makes an even more implausible claim about a mysterious 11,500-year-old site called Göbekli Tepe in southeast Turkey. Hancock quotes this line from the paper as being particularly significant:

What's important here is for some unknown reason the builders of Göbekli Tepe constructed a temple apparently highlighting a time 11,600 years into their future. [Emphasis in the original]

This he backs up with a highly imaginative overlap of modern-day constellations with some randomly chosen points on a diagram carved on the temple. For example, the left front claw of a crab partially overlaps with three of the stars in Corona Australis. Two stars in Scorpio sort of overlap with the neck of a duck-like feature. The overlap is pure fantasy, but Hancock is convinced and enthusiastic. “They are speaking to us,” he writes, by which he means they're warning us about that comet: the Mayans even marked the date on their calendar. He says we are halfway through the astronomical precessional cycle of 25,920 years, or about 12,954 years, which means, he says, it's due any day now.

I'm not quite sure that calculation could be right. But Hancock is sure. He writes [p.430]:

There is danger.

This theory, he admits, has met with a certain amount of resistance.

He's right about that part. A weird fact about science: the stronger the science, the more people are willing to admit not knowing the truth. Conversely, where the science is weak, the wider the door to wild speculation.

You might say getting over-excited about such stuff is harmless, and like the similar stuff on TV maybe it encourages young people to get interested in archaeology. And that is certainly possible, as is the possibility that a civilization existed before the Younger Dryas and that survivors dressed up as fish (to represent the Great Flood, I guess) carried knowledge across it to the Egyptians. But what a terrible thing to do to such a nice theory.

may 21, 2017