No, There Wasn’t an Advanced Civilization 12,000 Years Ago

Jun 12, 2017

By Michael Shermer

Graham Hancock is an audacious autodidact who believes that long before ancient Mesopotamia, Babylonia and Egypt there existed an even more glorious civilization. One so thoroughly wiped out by a comet strike around 12,000 years ago that nearly all evidence of its existence vanished, leaving only the faintest of traces, including, Hancock thinks, a cryptic warning that such a celestial catastrophe could happen to us. All this is woven into a narrative entitled Magicians of the Gods (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015). I listened to the audio edition read by the author, whose British accent and breathless, revelatory storytelling style are confessedly compelling. But is it true? I’m skeptical.

First, no matter how devastating an extraterrestrial impact might be, are we to believe that after centuries of flourishing every last tool, potsherd, article of clothing, and, presumably from an advanced civilization, writing, metallurgy and other technologies—not to mention trash—was erased? Inconceivable.

Second, Hancock’s impact hypothesis comes from scientists who first proposed it in 2007 as an explanation for the North American megafaunal extinction around that time and has been the subject of vigorous scientific debate. It has not fared well. In addition to the lack of any impact craters determined to have occurred around that time anywhere in the world, the radiocarbon dates of the layer of carbon, soot, charcoal, nanodiamonds, microspherules and iridium, asserted to have been the result of this catastrophic event, vary widely before and after the megafaunal extinction, anywhere from 14,000 to 10,000 years ago. Further, although 37 mammal genera went extinct in North America (while most other species survived and flourished), at the same time 52 mammal genera went extinct in South America, presumably not caused by the impact. These extinctions, in fact, were timed with human arrival, thereby supporting the more widely accepted overhunting hypothesis.

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13 comments on “No, There Wasn’t an Advanced Civilization 12,000 Years Ago

  • I like to think of myself as a sceptic, and I have read Graham Hancock with some disbelief. Despite this he is a very widely travelled archaeologist who seems to visit the out of the way sites not favoured or glamorous from a scientific funding point of view. He asks some very searching questions which on the face of it are hard to reconcile with the current accepted world history.
    I don’t like some of his conclusions about alien warnings of future impending doom, but I am keeping an open mind that there is still more to learn about the time frame 5,000 -10,000 years prior to our existing human history explaining the development of societies and culture.
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  • @OP – No, There Wasn’t an Advanced Civilization 12,000 Years Ago

    But there was very likely a stone-age one 11,000 years ago!

    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/gobekli-tepe-the-worlds-first-temple-83613665/

    Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple?

    Six miles from Urfa, an ancient city in southeastern Turkey, Klaus Schmidt has made one of the most startling archaeological discoveries of our time: massive carved stones about 11,000 years old, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery.
    The megaliths predate Stonehenge by some 6,000 years.
    The place is called Gobekli Tepe, and Schmidt, a German archaeologist who has been working here more than a decade, is convinced it’s the site of the world’s oldest temple.

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  • I read Hancock in the nineties while I was in high school and undergraduate. I remember thinking that he told a good story and led me to other authors of variable worth.

    The way I think of Hancock’s work is much the same as what Hitch said about Irving’s “The Goebbels Diaries”. I learned a great deal about ancient civilizations that I hadn’t learned from many other works on the subject, even if I don’t agree with where he went after presenting those facts. Further, reading Hancock’s work can be an interesting thought exercise. I recall that he made a pretty good case for, even if his hypothesis, re: an unknown highly advanced civilization, was false, that there was at least much more contact between those different ancient civilizations that we know existed than we have supposed. I recall that shortly after I had read one of his books a research paper had been put out detailing discovery of drugs native to the Americas extracted from ancient Egyptian mummies dated around 1000 B.C. (cocaine and nicotine).

    It’s interesting to see that he has shifted the location of his hypothetical advanced ancient civilization. My memory could be faulty, but from what I recall of my reading his books he had hypothesized that it was located on the Antarctic land mass. Of course, this explanation required that at some point in the time frame, Antarctica would have had to not be covered in ice. He pointed to some data that suggested that (at least parts of) the land mass was not covered in ice as recently as 10,000 BC.

    I am surprised to see that there is now the creation of a completely unsubstantiated impact event to explain this hypothetical civilization’s demise; though now that I think about it, part of the hypothesis for why Antarctica became covered in ice so rapidly invoked the so-called “tectonic shift” where, by some unknown mechanism, the entirety of the Earth’s crust was thought to shift over the mantle in such a way that the various plates all maintain the same relative position to each other but are in different positions relative to the axes/equator. So maybe invoking a completely unsubstantiated mechanism by which to explain things is not out of character for him.
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  • I’m not a fan of the ‘Humans killed everything’ hypothesis. First of all, the population sizes. How much megafauna was there at the time, over how large of an area, versus how many humans were actually present. If we’re talking giant herds of buffalos, bisons, and mammoths, a bunch of tribes of a 100 or even 1,000 hunter-gatherer wouldn’t make a dent.

    First, no matter how devastating an extraterrestrial impact might be, are we to believe that after centuries of flourishing every last tool, potsherd, article of clothing, and, presumably from an advanced civilization, writing, metallurgy and other technologies—not to mention trash—was erased?

    Some of their hypothesis has to do with the rise in sea levels. Basically, we’re looking in the wrong place, and should be looking 50-100 meters below sea levels.

    at the same time 52 mammal genera went extinct in South America, presumably not caused by the impact.

    If we’re talking catastrophic climate change (possibly brought about by a cataclysm), the effect would be world wide, and the world would be almost unrecognisable. It’s not that ridiculous.

    This sounds romantic, but it is the bigotry of low expectations. Who is to say what hunter-gatherers are or are not capable of doing?

    Their argument is how much hunting and gathering you would need to do to support the manpower to build such temples, versus what an hierarchical, agricultural society would be able to provide. If the temple is indeed 11,000 years old, then it IS evidence of a advanced ancient, lost civilisation (meaning, ‘we don’t know anything about it’), hunter gatherers or not.

    Finally, their argument is also based on the north american landscape, and how it is littered with evidence of giant, sudden floods. Is it, is it not, who’s to say.

    To be honest, the general idea of a cataclysmic impact ushering the beginning of the holocene, and completely reshaping the fauna, climate, landscape, wiping out proto-civilisations, has some legs. I’m not attached to the idea that much, and how they link the knowledge of those ancients with myths and legends, but, it’s worth a look. If anything, explaining what sites like Gobleki Tepe actually represent in our history.
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  • obzen #4
    Jun 14, 2017 at 4:54 am

    Their argument is how much hunting and gathering you would need to do to support the manpower to build such temples, versus what an hierarchical, agricultural society would be able to provide. If the temple is indeed 11,000 years old, then it IS evidence of a advanced ancient, lost civilisation (meaning, ‘we don’t know anything about it’), hunter gatherers or not.

    We need to separate the OP claim from my link about Gobekli Tepe!

    The Gobekli Tepe temple is “advanced for the stone-age” and evidence indicates it was built with stone-age tools. It is not “an advanced civilisation”, as described in the OP.

    To be honest, the general idea of a cataclysmic impact ushering the beginning of the holocene, and completely reshaping the fauna, climate, landscape, wiping out proto-civilisations, has some legs.

    I don’t think so! The geological evidence for the claims are missing from the rocks and the ice-cores, where such a geologically recent event should be very prominent.

    Also, any impact event which was not big enough to register globally would only wipe out a local population, and as trade was operating over considerable distances at that time there should be some evidence of artefacts elsewhere.

    We see examples where volcanic activity and tsunamis devastated populations such as the Minoans, but they were not total losses, and there is archaeology as evidence.

    Climate change, invasive species, and migrating diseases, are much more credible explanations for large extinctions.

    If we’re talking catastrophic climate change (possibly brought about by a cataclysm), the effect would be world wide, and the world would be almost unrecognisable. It’s not that ridiculous.

    I think a claim of such an event as recently as 12 -14,000 years ago, is ridiculous in the absence of supporting evidence in climate records.
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  • 16,000–13,000 BC Oldest Dryas cold, begins slowly and ends sharply (B-S)

    12,700 BC Antarctic Cold Reversal warmer Antarctic, sea levels rise

    12,400 BC Bølling oscillation warm and wet in the North Atlantic, begins the Bølling-Allerød period (B-S)

    12,400–11,500 BC (much discussed) Older Dryas cold, interrupts warm period for some centuries (B-S)

    12,000–11,000 BC Allerød oscillation warm & moist (B-S)

    11,400–9,500 BC Huelmo/Mascardi Cold Reversal cold in Southern Hemisphere

    11,000-8,000 BC Late Glacial Maximum, or Tardiglacial (definitions vary)

    10,800–9,500 BC Younger Dryas sudden cold and dry period in Northern Hemisphere (B-S)

    From wiki, basically.

    I’m not a specialist, not even have a strong interest in the subject either way, but I’d like to see this stuff properly ‘debunked’ rather than just dismissed out of hand by amateurs.

    I’ve seen the discussion between Shermer and Hancock on (yes, I know) the Joe Rogan podcast, and really didn’t like Shermer’s approach which was dismissive, contemptuous, uneducated, and not really grounded in anything but ‘science says’. But that’s what Shermer does, he is used to fight pseudo-bullshit, so I wasn’t surprised he was so antagonistic. And I know, people like Hancock have a bad rep, because of the whiff of that pseudo-science, I’m not buying his conjectures wholesale either.

    Maybe one day, we’ll get a clearer picture of what the world was actually like 15,000-10,000 years ago, the main narrative atm is kind of unclear and IMO, stretched thin in parts.
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  • obzen #7
    Jun 15, 2017 at 8:05 am

    If you look at the graphs linked @#6, you will see these variations are not “catastrophic climate change from impacts”, but are variations within the normal cycles at the onset of an interglacial period.

    You will also note that those in the last 15,000-16,000 years are small (especially in Greenland) in comparison to earlier variations and that in Greenland, there is a much greater difference between peaks and troughs, than in Antarctica.

    Some of the timed changes you quote , are local to particular regions rather than global. They relate to locally shifting weather patterns and ocean currents, caused by the overall warming, and the feedback changes in the surface reflectivity (albedo) when exposed or covered with ice, or by large in-flows of fresh water into oceans.
    Changes in volcanism can also have large impacts on climate.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Younger_Dryas#Causes

    A hypothesized Younger Dryas impact event, presumed to have occurred in North America about 12,900 calendar years ago, has been proposed as the mechanism which initiated the Younger Dryas cooling.[97] Among other things, findings of melt-glass material in sediments in Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Syria have been reported. These researchers argue that this material, which dates back nearly 13,000 calendar years, was formed at temperatures of 1,700 to 2,200 °C (3,100 to 4,000 °F) as the result of a bolide impact. They argue that these findings support the controversial Younger Dryas Boundary (YDB) hypothesis, that the bolide impact occurred at the onset of the Younger Dryas.[98] The hypothesis has been questioned in research which concluded that most of the results cannot be confirmed by other scientists and that the authors misinterpreted the data.[99][100][101]
    After a review of the sediments found at the sites, new research has found that the sediments claimed by hypothesis proponents to be deposits resulting from a bolide impact in fact date from much later or much earlier time periods than the proposed date of the cosmic impact. The researchers examined 29 sites that are commonly referenced to support the impact theory to determine if they can be geologically dated to around 13,000 calendar years ago. Crucially, only three of those sites actually date from that time

    The analysis behind the impact hypothesis (let along the claims about “advanced civilisations”), appears to be sloppy and flawed.
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  • Graham Hancock is an audacious autodidact who believes that long before ancient Mesopotamia, Babylonia and Egypt there existed an even more glorious civilization.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_Hancock

    Graham Hancock (born 2 August 1950) is a British writer and reporter. Hancock specialises in unscientific theories[1] involving ancient civilisations, stone monuments or megaliths, altered states of consciousness, ancient myths and astronomical/astrological data from the past.

    One of the main themes running through many of his books is a posited global connection with a “mother culture” from which he believes all ancient historical civilisations sprang.[2]
    His work is viewed as an example of pseudoarchaeology; his work has neither been peer reviewed nor published in academic journals.

    Like most pseudo-science, his writings simply muddy the waters for those seeking a clear view, but do not have the skills to identify real scientific studies!
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  • There is however, often real evidence that ancient civilisations had much greater capabilities than some modern people give them credit for!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-40316930

    A traditional Polynesian voyaging canoe has returned to Honolulu in Hawaii, completing the first-ever round-the-world trip by such a vessel.

    The boat, the Hokule’a, took three years to journey around the globe.

    Its crew navigated without modern instruments, using only the stars, wind and ocean swells as guides.

    They aimed to use the same techniques that brought the first Polynesian settlers to Hawaii hundreds of years ago.

    Built in the 1970s, it has travelled around 40,000 nautical miles (74,000km) on this latest trip, known as the Malama Honua voyage, meaning “to care for our Island Earth”.

    Its aim has been to spread a message about ocean conservation, sustainability and protecting indigenous culture.

    “Hokule’a has sparked a reawakening of Hawaiian culture, language, identity and revitalized voyaging and navigation traditions throughout the Pacific Ocean,” said the voyage organisers on their website.
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  • Ice cores drilled in Greenland with a 20 year spike Platinum prove a comet/s did hit the Earth 12900 years ago and the temperature dropped very suddenly.
    The researchers checking sites did not check for Platinum only Iridium originally, which was low. Now they have checked the original sites again and a Platinum spike has been found at many at the correct level. One interesting observations at some Clovis sites is platinum and carbon on top of tool left on the ground but not underneath. The Greenland ice cores also show the 1908 Comet airburst over Siberia as a Platinum spike, I think this proves the 12900 year comet storm happened just need look at the big picture over multiple disciplines and places.
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  • google_user #11
    Aug 16, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    Ice cores drilled in Greenland with a 20 year spike Platinum prove a comet/s did hit the Earth 12900 years ago

    On average 40,000 tons of space dust drop through the atmosphere every year, while small impacts are fairly common. A shower of small meteorites from a disintegrated comet would leave dust deposits.
    In any case the so-called “supporting evidence” is sloppy and flawed, and includes false claims. {see #8)

    http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/about-us/75-our-solar-system/comets-meteors-and-asteroids/meteorites/313-how-many-meteorites-hit-earth-each-year-intermediate

    and the temperature dropped very suddenly.

    Temperatures were all over the place as the weather and climate belts adjusted as ice-sheets waxed and waned at the end of the last ice age, so these events could be disconnected.

    The Greenland ice cores also show the 1908 Comet airburst over Siberia as a Platinum spike, I think this proves the 12900 year comet storm happened just need look at the big picture over multiple disciplines and places.

    The Greenland ice-cores show lead concentrations from Roman smelters, and pollution from the industrial revolution in Europe.

    The problems with these claims about a civilisation is that the sources are known to be deeply into pseudo-science, unreliable, and prone to making wild assertions – and – there is conflicting evidence from reputable sources.

    I think this proves the 12900 year comet storm happened just need look at the big picture over multiple disciplines and places.

    I think the problem is that when researchers look elsewhere in the world, rather than cherry-picking bits and pieces which suit Graham Hancock’s proposed preconceived notions, the matching of dated material and evidence of a dated global level event, is lacking!
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  • All the data from many sources are in and from this data it is conclusive some ET object or objects
    hit about 12850 +- years ago some place in Canada. and as far east as Syria. so this article is rubbish.

    It is typical of the campaign that denied any humans before Clovis, stupid. The final nail was the platinum spike in Greenland ice core form the 1908 Comet in Siberia and other spikes of know ET objects then a big peek around the start of the Younger Dryas plus other traces for mass burning. an ammonia peak.
    even animals on islands with no humans died out so how did that happen. The traces of the fallout from this ET object has been found on every continent including Antarctica. There is a nice layer in the sediment of a Mexican at the correct time it has all the fallout from the event. There are to many traces around the world to list them all, so as said stand back and look at the big picture
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