Hancock’s approach to archaeological discovery is rooted in the pop cultural perception of archaeologists as intrepid explorers a la Indiana Jones.
That someone could take the grain of an idea rooted in scientific fact and expound upon it at length to construct an entirely new historical narrative sounds more science fiction than factual historical analysis. And yet such works exist within the context of nonfiction, so long as they are deemed pseudoscience. This must be incredibly frustrating to those who spend their lives digging through the literal and figurative sands of history for unimpeachable, empirical facts that can then help us learn where we’ve been.Yet given the tenor of our times and what is allowed to pass for news – regardless of any basis in reality – this approach to science writing can’t help but feel a natural outgrowth of our own cultural malaise and willingness to believe anything and everything that is laid out before us.
Such is the case with the works of so-called pseudo-archaeologist Graham Hancock and his studies of ancient societies that may or may not have existed. Using kernels of scientific fact – the majority of which are cribbed from the pages of the respected scientific journal Nature – Hancock presents his myriad theories of human civilization, its origins and where many contemporary archaeologists are wrong in their line of thinking. Granted many of his counterarguments on this last point have long since fallen out of fashion (see, for instance, the whole pre-Clovis mess), something he only hints at in passing in order to better substantiated his own often tenuous arguments.
But goddamn if he isn’t entertaining. Hancock’s approach to archaeological discovery is rooted in the pop cultural perception of archaeologists as intrepid explorers a la Indiana Jones. It makes for exciting reading, but leaves those willing to dwell a little more on Hancock’s theses left feeling a little less than satisfied. With America Before: The Key to Earth’s Lost Civilization, much as he did with Fingerprints of the Gods and its follow-up Magicians of the Gods, Hancock seeks to shake up the commonly understood idea that the first humans to arrive in the modern-day Americas did so via the Bering Strait land bridge that appeared somewhere just after the last ice age.
Using a handful of researchers published results from sites tested in the United States, Central and South America, Hancock pieces together an appealing alternate history in which humans arrived much, much earlier, living in the Americas as much as 130,000 years ago or more. Not only were there humans living in the Americas, Hancock argues, but they were, in fact, far more advanced than we could’ve ever imagined. Nothing like the commonly-held view of the cave man, these early humans were instead capable of creating vast societies consisting of thousands of individuals living as far south as the Amazon. This last point helps set the stage for the many fabled “lost civilizations” said to have once peopled the Americas prior to European contact.
And given the sheer scope of the Amazon and its archaeological impenetrability, it’s an easy argument to make: There very well could still exist evidence of these formerly grand prehistoric civilization that predated any known society in all areas, we simply haven’t come across them yet. It’s a convenient argument that follows the reasoning of UFOlogists, Bigfoot and ghost hunters and other fans of cryptids: just because it hasn’t been proven otherwise doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t/didn’t exist. This is something Hancock plays to the hilt, making America Before an engaging look at what could’ve been. The fact of the matter is, we most likely will never have any way of knowing definitively.
Yet as long as there exist those willing to speculate and think well outside the box, pseudosciences will continue to hold the public’s imagination, regardless of what mainstream science puts forth. And the fact of the matter is, oftentimes these pseudoscientific conclusions are far more interesting and fantastic and thus garner a greater share of attention. Hancock has once again proven himself the master of this approach in his matter-of-fact explanations of theories both fringe and mainstream. America Before makes many fascinating assumptions and speculations as to what our world was really like more than 130,000 years ago, but it can’t help but feel at times like science fiction and wishful thinking that advanced societies and lost civilizations were roaming the Americas before, during and after the last ice age. That said, it’s entertaining as hell to enter the speculative world of Hancock’s America Before and, so long as the “pseudo” portion of his archaeological credentials is recognized accordingly, it’s an engaging, easily digestible look at a potential history.