Ancient Apocalypse is one of the newest ‘docuseries’ to arrive on Netflix. The show presents the theories of Graham Hancock, a self-proclaimed journalist “investigating pre-history.” Hancock’s primary belief is that archaeology and academia have been misinformed about our past and that human civilisation, contemporarily thought to have begun around 4000 BCE, actually extends long back into the Ice Age. However Netflix’s support of this so-called “conspiracy theory” has received extensive backlash from archaeologists.
In the 8-part series, Hancock tours viewers around some of the world’s most intriguing archaeological sites to provide evidence for his lost civilisation, which he believes existed some 11’000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice age. Hancock believes that this advanced civilisation was wiped out at the end of the last Ice Age, in a huge flood that is reflected in the myths and legends of many cultures. It was the survivors of this apocalypse that taught early hunter-gatherer groups the advanced technologies to build the civilisation we have today.
The overarching message of Ancient Apocalypse is that archaeology is lying to us. Regarding his theories of an Ice Age civilisation, Hancock states in the first episode, “the extremely defensive, arrogant, and patronising attitude of mainstream academia is stopping us from considering that possibility”. This bashing continues throughout the show, and in episode 6, Hancock is even refused entry to Serpent Mound (a National Historic Landmark in Ohio) by the Society of American Archaeology. He used this narrative to further distance the viewer from mainstream academia.
This of course has resulted in pushback from academics, pointing out that Hancock cherry-picks his evidence and is often inaccurate: the only site in the series that actually dates back to the Ice Age is Göbekli Tepe in Turkey. The Society of American Archaeology fought back against Netflix’s labelling of the show as a documentary, insisting it is reclassified as science fiction. However, some claim that is unlikely to happen since Netflix’s senior manager of unscripted originals happens to be Hancock’s son.
Aside from archaeological inaccuracies, the whole theory reeks of alarming white supremacist undertones. The notion that extinct civilisations, which Hancock describes in his other work as “white, auburn-haired men”, taught indigenous people new technologies, arguably strips these groups of their own autonomy and distinct cultures.
This is certainly not the first time conspiracy has fuelled distrust in science and academia. The anti-vax movement is a classic example of how the spread of disinformation has led to a distrust in science and medical care.
Supporters of Hancock say this questioning is necessary, pointing to previous scientific blunders, such as the drug Thalidomide which caused thousands of children to be born with deformities after it was prescribed to pregnant women. Insufficient science communication is certainly an issue, which has distanced academics from the general public. However, Hancock’s demonisation of academia and polarising views are doing nothing but driving that distance further.