• Graham Hancock Drills for the…Truth?

    Pseudoarchaeologists misrepresent archaeological evidence.  Duh.  Sometimes it’s from ignorance, sometimes from wishful thinking, and sometimes from repeating the misrepresentations of previous “alternative scholars.”  Sometimes, though, it looks like there’s an element of downright dishonesty.  Here’s a tiny but entertaining example from Graham Hancock’s 1998 opus, Heaven’s Mirror: Quest for the Lost Civilization.

    Hancock is a leading light of the lost-supercivilization fraternity – Atlantis by any other name.  In Heaven’s Mirror, sumptuously illustrated with photographs by Hancock’s wife, Santha Faiia, the great man roams the world finding clues to an ancient cabal of astronomer-priests who knew all about precession by 10,500 BC, and whose coded wisdom determined the layout of monuments from Egypt to Tiwanaku, from Angkor Wat to Yonaguni.  Among the usual suspects, Hancock extensively references Hamlet’s Mill, one of the most peculiar works of pseudohistory ever to come out of academe, and worth discussion in its own right.

    Hamlet’s Mill, first published in 1969, is a wild gallop through comparative mythology, based on the insistence that everybody except the book’s authors (and especially all anthropologists and archaeologists) are interpreting everything from antiquity all wrong.  All mythology, all over the world, can apparently be boiled down to an ancient ur-myth rooted in sophisticated astronomical observations, codified for the sake of secrecy, and then hyperdiffused from its origin in the Middle East to the rest of the planet.  A central motif, related to the whirling axis of the earth, is a vast rotating drill or mill.  The book is chaotic, totally disconnected from archaeological evidence, shamelessly speculative, and generally batty, but beloved of pseudoarchaeologists because it seems to give scholarly backup to their Atlantean fantasies.  Anyway, back to Heaven’s Mirror.

    HancockFig1and2

    On p.146, near the end of a chapter on Angkor Wat, Hancock presents the image in Figure 1.   He does not give the source of the image, but it’s off a statue of the Pharaoh Senwosret II, found in the precinct of his pyramid at Lisht.  The pharaoh is enthroned, and this image is from the side of the throne (Figure 2).  Hancock describes it as:

    …Horus and Set co-operating, pulling on either end of a long rope wrapped around a vast drill and thus rotating it. (Ref: Hamlet’s Mill, illustration opposite 162, caption.)

    The theme continues on the next page with a photo of the same motif in a relief from Karnak, captioned (in part):

    The stylized drilling device…is continuously mislabelled by Egyptologists as ‘the uniting of the two lands’ whether Horus and Set turn it, or the two Nile gods (as is more often the case), or the two lions of yesterday and today.

    Now, I’m going to tell you why Egyptologists have the temerity to identify this image with ‘uniting of the two lands.’  First off, the ‘two lands’ in question are Upper and Lower Egypt, semi-mythically unified by the first pharaoh (‘Lord of the Two Lands’) at the beginning of Egyptian history; the dual nature of Egypt was a constant theme through the next three thousand-odd years, as was the king’s responsibility to keep the two united.   The scene on the Lisht throne is a common one, and absolutely crawling with standard unification symbols.  But you won’t see them in Hancock’s version.

    HancockFig3a

    Figure 3 shows Hancock’s version side-by-side with the original – Hancock’s drawing omits a number of crucial details, ones that make it perfectly obvious what the so-called “drill” really is.  For example, the original has that heart-shaped object at bottom-centre, on which Horus and Set are resting one foot each.  In Hancock’s version, the gods seem to be doing some kind of hokey-cokey, with their feet hanging rather awkwardly in midair.  At the top, the hieroglyphs inside the cartouche (oval feature) are missing, also the crossbar at the bottom of the cartouche.

    Figure 4
    Figure 4

    These are important omissions.  The body of Hancock’s “drill” is in fact a hieroglyph (Figure 4) – a stylized drawing of a windpipe and lungs, with the phonetic value smʒ (sema).  It’s used in the word for lungs, of course; but also in the words for unite (smʒ), union (smʒt), confederate (smʒy), etc.  It is the standard centrepiece for this kind of scene, and also commonly used on its own in amulets, friezes and reliefs to express the concept of union. To construct his “drill”, Hancock has carefully omitted the lungs and the bar at the top (which serves double purpose here as the base of the cartouche).  Furthermore, he has omitted the name of Senwosret, to obscure the fact that the head of the so-called drill is a perfectly ordinary cartouche, the conventional way of enclosing the king’s name.

    Figure 5
    Figure 5

    Another dead giveaway is the omission of the lotus blossoms and papyrus bells (Figure 5), symbols of Upper and Lower Egypt respectively, the two polities whose union is being commemorated. Why Hancock replaces two of them with crescents, I cannot say. What he calls a “rope”, however, is in fact the elongated stems of these totemic plants, knotted around the shaft of the smʒ glyph. Which brings me to the knot itself, which would make it impossible for Horus and Set to rotate the so-called drill.  Another significant change is substituting crude flowerpots for the glyphs in which the flowers are rooted, which are again symbols for Upper and Lower Egypt.  The case for unifications symbolism is pretty clear.

    Figure 6
    Figure 6. Version presented in Hamlet’s Mill

    So much for Egyptologists “mislabelling” the scene.  Rather, Hancock has misrepresented it.  He is clearly following the lead of Hamlet’s Mill, which uses the same image (Figure 6), and his caption on the Karnak scene is largely a paraphrase of the Hamlet’s Mill caption.  So to that extent, Hancock’s ignorant interpretation is almost a cut-and-paste job from previous wishful thinkers.  But there is a difference: Hamlet’s Mill at least presents the image unchanged; Hancock carefully edits out, with suspicious thoroughness, precisely the details that give the lie to this misrepresentation.  To me, that seems pretty dishonest.

    Category: ArchaeologyPseudoarchaeologySkepticism

    Article by: Rebecca Bradley

    13 comments

    1. Dear Rebecca,

      Some issues here:-

      1. Hamlets Mill is a seminal work and not only Graham Hancock but the Grand Old Dame of Egyptian Archaelogy Jane Roberts (Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt). subscribe positively to Giorgio de Santillana’s views. And Santillana admits that when we read ‘Hamlets Mill’, we are entering a Fugue, in fact throughout his book he warns against jumping to wrong
      conclusions.

      2. Graham Hancock is a journalist and not an archelogist. Going by his world-famous book ‘The Sign and The Seal’, what he writes does strike a chord.

      3. ‘The Dead Sea Scrolls’ by Baigent and Leigh show archaelogists in very
      poor light – exception being John Allegro and Eisenman of course.

      4. Robert Bauval n ‘The Orion Mystery’, says, I quote:-

      – “The Greatest Culprit in the HIstory of Egyptian Archelogy was James Henry Breasted (page 66) who misinterpreted the Pyramid Texts to show a Solar Cult’

      – and ‘he was followed by EA Wallis Budge’ (page 71)

      – ‘Finally in 1969, the eminent and respected British philologist Raymon Faulkner produced a definite translation – “The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts”‘ (Page 73)

      So we can excuse Graham Hancock for “mislabelling the scene”, as long as he brings key issues to the foreground which is our forgotten heritage. And MIT does not hire, much less allow them to research and publish material which can be described as :- ‘… chaotic, totally disconnected from archaeological evidence, shamelessly speculative, and generally batty, but beloved of pseudoarchaeologists because it seems to give scholarly backup to their
      Atlantean fantasies’.xxxxxxx
      I remain,

      your faithful servant,

      1. There’s a lot to reply to in your comment, so I’ll take it point by point.

        “…1. Hamlets Mill is a seminal work…”
        No, it’s not. Seminal works are wellsprings of productive research. Hamlet’s Mill is a bizarre academic curiosity, influential only in pseudoarchaeological and pseudohistorical circles.

        “…and not only Graham Hancock but the Grand Old Dame of Egyptian
        Archaelogy Jane Roberts (Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt)…”
        You’re confused. Jane Roberts was a “psychic” who claimed to channel an entity called Seth. Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt was written by Jane B. Sellers, who is certainly not a Grand Old Dame of Egyptology (and, btw, resented the misrepresentation of her work by the likes of Hancock and Bauval & Gilbert, though she later agreed to be an Author of the Month on Hancock’s website).

        “…subscribe positively to Giorgio de Santillana’s views…”
        Please note that, though de Santillana was deemed the senior author, much of the book was written by his co-author, Hertha von Dechend.

        “And Santillana admits that when we read ‘Hamlets Mill’, we are entering a Fugue, in fact throughout his book he warns against jumping to wrong conclusions.”
        …ironically, while jumping to indefensible conclusions throughout his (sic) book.

        “…2. Graham Hancock is a journalist and not an archelogist….”
        Believe me, I would never mistake Hancock for an archaeologist. He is, however, a doyen of pseudoarchaeology, which requires (indeed, virtually demands) no qualifications.

        “…Going by his world-famous book ‘The Sign and The Seal’, what he writes does strike a chord….”
        Er, what? Anyway, that’s the 1993 book about failing to find the Ark of the Covenant, and nothing to do with his “lost civilization” stuff.

        “…3. ‘The Dead Sea Scrolls’ by Baigent and Leigh show archaelogists in very poor light – exception being John Allegro and Eisenman of course….”
        So what?

        “…4. Robert Bauval in ‘The Orion Mystery’, says, I quote:-
        – “The Greatest Culprit in the HIstory of Egyptian Archelogy was James Henry Breasted (page 66) who misinterpreted the Pyramid Texts to show a Solar Cult’
        – and ‘he was followed by EA Wallis Budge’ (page 71)
        – ‘Finally in 1969, the eminent and respected British philologist Raymon Faulkner produced a definite translation – “The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts”‘ (Page 73)…”

        So what? None of that has anything to do with the iconography under discussion. If you’re trying to make that point that Egyptological interpretations have changed since the early days, well – so what? That’s what happens in a healthy discipline as more evidence comes in. The rich iconography of the Two Lands, however, is well studied and well documented.

        “…So we can excuse Graham Hancock for “mislabelling the scene”, as long as he brings key issues to the foreground which is our forgotten heritage…”
        Hancock misrepresents evidence to push an indefensible agenda. My post was one small but concrete example of such misrepresentation. No, it is not excusable.

        “…And MIT does not hire, much less allow them to research and publish material which can be described as :- ‘… chaotic, totally disconnected from archaeological
        evidence, shamelessly speculative, and generally batty, but beloved of
        pseudoarchaeologists because it seems to give scholarly backup to their Atlantean fantasies’….”
        Heh. Ever hear of postmodernism?

        Note: it would do you no harm to read some books NOT written by alternos
        – if only to see what amazing light is being shed on our “forgotten
        heritage” by the scholars who actually do the hard work of excavating and
        analyzing the evidence.

        1. Phew !!! You’re terrific Rebecca, I’ll concede that. A few last words …

          – You have a rationale and; to be fair; I will go through some professional publications by actual archaeologists before I de-bunk their stuff …

          – Yes, I meant Jane Sellers, not Jane Roberts, though I have all her books as well 😉

          – NOT willing to die just yet, I’ll still reiterate my fondness for Graham Hancock and Santillana … Why ? They did something admirable viz to bring a ‘dead science’ like Archeology out of the closet. Another favourite is Robert Bauval (though NOT related to the topic under discussion) who discovered the Orion Co-Relation Theory (OCT). Archaeologists were sitting right under the Belt of Orion for 3 centuries and did not see what he did – i.e the Belt of Orion is represented on the ground by the 3 Great Pyramids. The OCT is, of course, fact, which no self-respecting astrological journal was willing to publish according to his book ;The Orion Mystery’.
          xxxxxxx
          I remain,
          your faithful servant …

          1. Two things. Archaeology is alive and healthy, thank you, and does not need parasites like the pseudoarchaeologists to, er, bring it out of the closet. If you knew a little more about actual archaeology, you’d know that.

            Second, OCT is not “fact” – it is a pyramidological hypothesis, and comprehensively debunked. Which, of course and alas, has not damaged its attractiveness to the credulous. BTW, what do “astrological journals” have to do with archaeology?

            PS – why do you end your comments with a row of little Xs? If they’re meant to be kisses, then that is both patronizing and deeply creepy.

            1. 1. Obviously I’m out of my depth here, so I’ll concede….
              No, actual archaeology is beyond me as PGW, in my book, stands for PG Wodehouse ….

              2. Unless I’m mistaken, journals are where a scientific hypothesis is published, right ? Or are Astrological Journals different from other professional journals ? For instance, Akraim ;Swastika City; has been in the news for the last few years but unless there is a paper published on the subject, it is still in the realms of ‘interesting news’, not archaeology.

              -end-

              In response to your PS : Ooops … First, forgive the faux paus, it was unintentional !!! Little ‘x’ for kisses ? How weird !!! Is there a problem expressing it in words ? Or do people still get burned at the stake ? Anyway, could you please pass it away as a cultural handicap. Engineers (where I live) are a bit archaic and use ‘x’ to end a section, rather than a decimal (.) or angled bracket (<). Never a minus (-).

              Second, I think you have a gift (this is a compliment !!!) and …. Phew !!! I feel so stupid !!! I was about to suggest why don't you write a book, when I googled your name and discovered you are already a
              literary star !!! I look forward to reading the 'The Gil Trilogy', The Lateral Truth and the Hong Kong stories. I also look forward to a book on Egyptian Archaeology in the near future . . .

        2. I was actually finding some of your observations interesting until I got the comment about postmodernism. I hope that was a joke.

          Also, Hancock does a half decent job of synthesizing a huge amount of research from different fields, and makes ABUNDANTLY clear that his interest in a lost civilizations is his own personal speculation.

          I would also suggest that this mistake is probably easily explained by confirmation bias.

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