FT’s very own couch potato, STU NEVILLE, casts an eye over the small screen’s current fortean offerings
Graham Hancock has been one of the fixtures of the “alternative archaeology” scene for around 30 years. Following his breakout work, The Sign and
The Seal, featuring his theories about the Ark of the Covenant, Hancock has been developing his own hypotheses about prehistory. Despite mainstream scepticism (or maybe because of it), he has continued to delve, and his new series Ancient Apocalypse (Netflix) is the latest of his expositions.
An opening montage, with an accompaniment of urgent strings, establishes his controversial status among the mainstream, with snippets of the BBC referring him as a “pseudoarchaeologist... dismissed by academics”, a US interview where he’s accused of picking a fight with academia, Joe Rogan telling him that many of his ideas “have been substantiated”. Then, a tight face shot – “I’m Graham Hancock” – and a quick slideshow of the places he’ll cover in his quest to discover the lost civilisation of the Ice Age. He theorises that there was a large, advanced culture that predated the Indus, Mesopotamian and Egyptian ones which succumbed to some form of disaster prior to what we now regard as recorded history. To test this idea, Hancock dons the standard British TV archaeologist/explorer
Men in waistcoats and flat caps digging away in far-flung corners
garb of pale chinos and a shirt with the sleeves rolled up and goes and looks at things, with occasional pointing. Each episode clocks in at around 30 minutes, so they deserve kudos for not calling it Hancock’s Half Hour.
Episode one sees him at the Gunung Padang site on Java – establishing shots of local dress, jeeps, trees, chickens. The Mountain of Light looks like any other jungly hillside but for the thousands of hexagonal basalt blocks at the summit. They are natural volcanic formations, but they’ve been worked and assembled into structures. Further, they didn’t come from here, but from some distance away, and successive digs by local archaeologists have found evidence of habitation and structural work going back a very, very long way indeed – way past the earliest signs of settlement by the now indigenous people. Hancock meets up with local geologist and Peter Lorre lookalike Danny Hillman-Natawidjaja, to explore the other side, where there’s a huge, near pyramidoid complex. Ground penetrating radar turns up some interesting stuff in the shape of underground chambers. All very familiar from elsewhere on Earth, but it’s the dating that stands out – when this was built, the locals had just got around to poking at things with pointy sticks.
Hancock has been doing this long enough that he knows how to string an argument together and how to keep it focused: he ties it all in nicely with established geological history and local legend along with global mythology. The short running time holds the interest well, and each site – Cholula in Mexico, Gobekli Tepe, Malta – is given a good contextual examination. It does lack any counterargument, but in fairness to Hancock he gets plenty of that every time he raises his head above the parapet. Whatever you think of his ideas, this is a good, calm and rational showcase.