Graham Hancock’s Half Hours on Netflix

In 1991, Michael Palin crossed the border from Sudan into Ethiopia as part of his Pole to Pole BBC travel series. As he writes in his account of the journey:

It all looks unfamiliar and potentially threatening but to our enormous relief our Ethiopian contacts — Graham Hancock, a journalist and Santha Faiia, a Malaysian photographer who has lived a long time in the country — are there to meet us… Graham has a well-researched theory that the Ark of the Covenant is held in a chapel not far from here, and he has just completed a book on his findings.

Palin of course had no way of knowing that Hancock’s book, The Sign and the Seal, would be a popular bestseller and launch Hancock’s career as a celebrity pseudo-historian. Publishers packaged it to look like an earlier “crypto-history” sensation, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, while the title of his 1995 follow-up, Fingerprints of the Gods, recalled Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods. Hancock is now identified with extravagant claims about the existence of a global pre-Ice Age civilisation, evidence for which can supposedly be discerned in various archaeological remains, but which professional archaeologists have either failed to notice or refuse to accept.

As well as the books themselves, there have been lucrative Daily Mail serialisations and documentaries on British television. Now, there is a series (produced by ITN Productions) on Netflix, where his son is a senior manager. The title, Ancient Apocalyse, echoes Ancient Aliens, although as recently quoted in the Telegraph Hancock says that he’s “so pissed at the f—ing ancient-aliens lobby. They’ve turned this entire field into a laughing stock”.

The series of eight half-hour episodes also features Hancock’s collaborator Randall Carlson; the two men appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcast in 2017, in debate with Michael Shermer, and Rogan is an interviewee in the Netflix series. These associations show how Hancock here serves as a gateway into the wider conspiracy milieu – Rogan is infamous for Covid misinformation, while Carlson’s YouTube output includes “They’re Lying to Us About Global Warming” and “Why Aren’t COVID Vaccines Working?”

As for the documentary series itself, a professional archaeologist named Flint Dibble has an overview:

Hancock argues that viewers should “not rely on the so-called experts”, implying they should rely on his narrative instead. His attacks against “mainstream archaeologists”, the “so-called experts” who “practice censorship” are strident and frequent. After all, as he puts in in episode six, “archaeologists have been wrong before and they could be wrong again”.

One particular problem with Hancock’s theories is the idea that sophisticated ancient remains cannot have arisen out of the ancient civilisations themselves:

Scholars and journalists have pointed out that Hancock’s ideas recycle the long since discredited conclusions drawn by American congressman Ignatius Donnelly in his book Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, published in 1882.

…Like many forms of pseudo archaeology, these claims act to reinforce white supremacist ideas, stripping Indigenous people of their rich heritage and instead giving credit to aliens or white people.

Further criticisms have been expressed in Twitter threads by (among others) Ella Al-Shamahi, Jonathan Jarry, Jens Notroff, John Hoopes and Holly Walters.