When the trailer for Netflix’s Ancient Apocalypse came out, for a very short while, I was hyped like a Latino kid on Christmas Eve (when we get the presents): Holy sh*t!!!! There will be a full-length, Netflix-budgeted documentary series about the Bronze Age Collapse? Goddammit Netflix! you’ve actually done it again! You managed to target my very niche obsessions directly, and take them mainstream!
I mean, why aren’t more people obsessing over the Bronze Age Collapse? It is a story of an actual, relatively sudden, systemic Fall of Civilizations, 3.200 years ago, of which there are actually some records. It is a perfect test fable for the fragility of human culture, and a sobering example of how climate change, its ultimate factor, can wreak havoc on even the most robust, human-made systems.
For our current context, this is perhaps the most relevant period of Antiquity. And that’s not counting the fact that those doomed Bronze Age people had no way of predicting what would befall them, and their environmental impact was negligible. This series couldn’t have come at a better time! Better still, the promotional material for Ancient Apocalypse showed Mesoamerican archeological sites (which are two thousand years younger than the BAC, but whatever); would that mean that this documentary will explore if and how the Americas were impacted by the Bronze Age Collapse? That’s a dream come true. It’s hard enough to find documentaries about late Precolumbian Americas, it’s near impossible to find anything about the Americas before the CE.
My excitement was predicated, though, on the fact that someone like me could only associate an “ancient apocalypse” with the Bronze Age Collapse,
because I am a man of culture because I like… read and stuff. And I love Antiquity as a much-too-broad historic period, there are no gringos or Britons fucking up stuff! I guess most people would reasonably associate “ancient apocalypse” with the extinction of the dinosaurs, something about the Ice Ages, or maybe the destruction of Pompeii. But let’s set some points of authority here: If you’re going to make a documentary about Antiquity and an end-of-the-world level event, the only reasonable thing it should be about is the Bronze Age Collapse, most people should assume it’s about the Bronze Age Collapse and you should deliver something about the Bronze Age Collapse. Or anything just as interesting. As long as it is historical.
Well, at the same time I clicked on the trailer for Ancient Apocalypse, I had the good sense of opening another tab to Google Graham Hancock, the documentary’s creator. Meanwhile, YouTube’s algorithm recommended me one of his TED Talks (burgundy flag), with a tile about something involving a Great Lost Civilization (red flag 2: Civilizations are never really completely “lost”, they just become dispossessed, ask the millions of Maya people living today in Guatemala and Southern Mexico).
Turns out Graham Hancock is not a renowned archeologist or, at the very least, a well-liked social sciences communicator. Nope, instead, Hancock is yet another … I’m going to say journalist, but his actual profession is pseudo-archeologist. How do you become a career-pseudo-archeologist? Why, it’s quite simple: You walk on the shoulders of previous “pseudo” giants, you take one observable fact, that people have a harder time trying to explain than they should (Rapa Nui’s Moai’s, the Pyramids, Flood Myths), you develop around said fact an entire canon of worldbuilding with less rigor than Joanne Rowling, you promote it using all the audience handling techniques from televangelists and you decry everyone who is an actual specialist on the fact you’re repurposing as a sellout, an enemy of the truth and as a Galileo wannabe burner. Also, pseudo-archeologists and pseudo-historians have a legacy of being pretty racist, what with most of their schtick being that any group of Brown people that did something fantastic did it with the help of Aliens and/or the Atlantians. Funnily enough, just like Archeology is a field that requires interdisciplinary approaches, so does pseudo-archeology: It expands itself on the pseudo-knowledge of pseudo-biologists, pseudo-anthropologists, pseudo-scientists, and pseudo-astronomers, which are different from astrologists because astrology is a respected science in the pseudo world.
Hancock represents an evolution from the racist tropes of pseudo-archeology in that he believes every archeological site known to humanity was brought about by the descendants of a Globe-spanning civilization that existed before the Younger Dryas, AKA, the end of the Last Glacial Period. They were, basically, the actual Prometheus that brought the light of civilization to the brute Hunter-Gatherers that populated the world (Red Flag 2: Calling Hunter-Gatherers “uncivilized”). But not in a racist way! Because this Globe-spanning civilization was, like, totally multi-racial (though this term cannot be applied in any context before the 1600s) and they helped everyone from the proto-cities in Anatolia (Göbekli Tepe, 10,000-11,000 years old), to sites in Indonesia that are 3,000 years old, to Mesoamerican pyramids to Micronesian city-dwellings that were built in Europe’s Early Middle Ages. If what I’ve just listed doesn’t make any sense, that’s OK, it makes even less sense in the documentary.
Or so I’ve been told, because I refused to watch it. I refuse to set the record straight if I am making any misrepresentations on the content of this series because this series is founded on bullshit science. Also, I refuse to watch it today, because in a world of algorithms, there is no difference between engaging with a direct source for critical purposes and endorsing it, even if my streaming it wouldn’t make a difference in any direction, as it became a ratings hit, unfortunately. Also, Hancock’s son works for Netflix). Instead, I decided to wait, and do the one thing Graham Hancock refuses to do: Inform himself via people that are actual specialists on the subjects. Because luckily for … truth and human knowledge, there is a whole community of YouTube and Nebula EDUCATORS that specialize in topics of Archeology and Anthropology, or correspondingly, Ancient History or Pre-History. People that actually care about science and discovery, and also happen to be pretty good communicators at the same time.
Some people will still claim that, in order to debunk pseudo-babble in any are of knowledge, you have to read and interact with the original source of the falsehood. And I say bullshit, because unlike Graham Hancock and all the people that believe in him or other peddlers of pseudo-science, I am aware that I know very little about Archeology and Ancient History. Or vaccines for that matter, so I choose to shut up and let the people that have a certified authority on the matter, based on their studies and acquired skills, to do the talking, even if they are Harvard graduates. Moreover, I’m not going to quote these scholars, because I’d inevtiably misrepresent them, and that’s something Graham Hancock does when he interviews actual specialists. So I’m going to just embed the videos or video series in which they debunk Ancient Apocalypse. They’ll make for a wicked smart investment for a midweek or weekend binge, because unlike with the source material, you will actually learn stuff.
If you want to see the kindly takedown, please check Stefan Milo (for Milosavljevich), an Anthropologist and Archeologist from U. Sheffield. He mostly specializes on Hominids, the Pleistocene and Prehistory. The video, unlike his beautifully animated documentaries, narrated with an Attenboroughian cadence, this one is done more as an off-the-cuff podcast, so you can listen to i while doing regular morning stuff and its 132 minute length will fly by. Make sure you check the rest of his channel, and if you have a Nebula TV subscription, you can…
Miniminuteman (Milo Rossi)
Here’s where I scramble your brains with the fact that two of the best and most popular Archeology educators on YouTube are both named Milo. Milo started his career on Tik Tok debunking a whole subgenre of idiot influencers that peddle pseudohistory bullshit (think “the Buttes at Monument Valley are the trunks of Hyperborean megatrees”). Then he transitioned to long-form videos that are just as entertaining. Because Milo also happens to be… how can I put this lightly? The most Massachusetts person to have ever existed (or New Englander, if that’s the more correct denomination of origin). He’s brash, funny, dickish, and pure chaotic goodness. Because he uses his Masshole powers, aided by rigorous research and actual great pedagogical skills to get the audience freaking excited for things like a deep dive on an history textbook from the mid-19th century. Being meticulous, he made four episodes taking Ancient Apocalypse apart, and also because Milo claims if Graham Hancock can make money stretching his Planck-length arguments into eight episodes, he might as well too, but with science. And booze.
An important question is… why bother? I mean, not why people like Milo bother to do these videos, it’s literally them doing their calling. What I mean is, what’s so wrong about people believing that there was an ancient, technologically advanced civilization 12,000 years ago, especially if they’re not based on the racist assumptions of stuff like the ancient aliens or the Atlanteans-Hyperboreans? Well, first, because it’s still racist as shit to think hunter-gatherers were somehow less evolved humans that needed someone more technologically advanced to guide them into civilization. But also because it perpetuates something we keep missing when we wonder how people in Antiquity built anything: They were just as intelligent as we were. And I’m not talking about how complex their feelings were, the sophistication of their analytical skills, or their imagination. I mean that, literally, their brain capacity and neural complexity were the same as ours, just with more dysentery.
But also, as Milo Miniminuteman concludes in the final episode, the problem with series like Ancient Apocalypse is that they prime people against science, ironically, by weaponizing critical thinking. Because people like Graham don’t want their target audiences to be skeptical, they want to make their bullshit canon and they are the underdogs that are oppressed by The System of … Big Archeo and Big Anthro or something … who are coming for you and you discovering the truth! And if all of this sounds like a structural foundation for fascism, that’s because it is. It’s easy to dismiss pseudo-science when it’s the sciences our culture doesn’t respect, the Soft Sciences, but other than the fact that we should start appreciating them (except for Economics, which is still in their equivalent to the phrenology era), they lead to a slippery slope, proven over two years of Pandemic.
Alberto Cox also recommends Ancient Americas and for people to start realizing that, and he means no disrespect to all of our neolithic ancestors with this, you don’t need aliens or ancient civilizations to learn how to create a megalithic site.