British writer Graham Hancock has riled the archaeology community with his Netflix documentary, Ancient Apocalypse. The series follows Hancock to ancient sites around the world in pursuit of proof that an advanced human civilisation existed thousands of years before the first cities of Mesopotamia. Hancock, a former Economist correspondent, argues that most archaeologists are too stubborn to admit even the possibility of such a civilisation.
Several archaeologists have rebuked Ancient Apocalypse since its release in November. They claim that it propagates false theories, avoids inconvenient facts and regurgitates old beliefs about ancient myths. One Guardian columnist called it ‘the most dangerous show on Netflix’. Flint Dibble, a research fellow at Cardiff University, described it as ‘an eight-part conspiracy theory that weaponises dramatic rhetoric against scholars’ on the Conversation.
It is true that Hancock fails to execute the documentary that might have supported his ambitious theory. He refers to himself several times as a ‘journalist’, yet includes only one source who contradicts his own viewpoint throughout the entire series. The sources he does rely on are often of doubtful expertise. Every question is loaded. But once you cut the melodramatic production and awkward camera angles away, an important point remains.
Academia, and thus scientific research, has become an irrefutable source of knowledge in British society. In debates among friends, a participant need only find the most convenient academic paper to render subsequent opposition futile. In news media, journalists refer to research as if it were gospel. The institution of science has become de facto judge, jury and executioner.
Many accept this state of affairs because our society perceives science as an omniscient and objective power. This absolute adherence is dangerous because, as Hancock attempts to show within archaeology, academia makes mistakes.