Saturday, April 23, 2016

Epstein's Folly

I have in the past discussed the woo writer and all round fringe thinker Graham Hancock1. Here I will discuss a review of Hancock’s latest woo-fest Magicians of the Gods2. The review by a Prof. Jon Epstein is a wonderful example of a Professional academic latching on to a woo claim in order to feel bold, daring and cutting edge.3
In other words just another intellectual with a severe case of epater le bourgeoisie. Shock for the sake of shock in other words. Also Prof. Epstein, who teaches Criminal Justice and Sociology and seems to have no relevant degrees in Anthropology or Archaeology, like so many before him is so interested in proving how bold, daring and outrĂ© he is in a field that he seems to know little of, that he accepts the bold, daring, cutting edge and new ideas of Graham Hancock. However the ideas of Graham Hancock are not bold, daring or new they are instead rehashes of old and I mean old notions going back over a century. Basically Hancock simply regurgitates and re-chews the fringe claims of Ignatius Donnelly from two of Donnelly’s books.4
The following is a series of quotes from Prof. Epstein’s review if Hancock’s book with my comments.
Prof. Epstein in this book states among many, many risible things that Hancock’s books are good:
"... due to it being thoroughly researched and referenced, ..."
Anyone who characterizes Hancock’s works has thoroughly researched and referenced is at once not to be taken seriously. Hancock habitually ignores evidence that flatly contradicts his fantasies.5
... "Gobekli Tepe, understood by archaeologists to be a site of profound significance. Extraordinary in its size, sublime in its craftsmanship and masterful in its construction, the site is jaw dropping. Accurately dated to the tenth millennium BCE Gobekli Tepe is now considered among the most important megalithic sites in the world, and is deeply and significantly “out of place” with our current understanding of Neolithic culture, its social organization, its understanding of the natural world and its abilities. Additionally, it is not unique. Another seemingly identical site, Kaharran Tepe, has recently been found on a Turkish farmers land within sight distance of the other. Currently understood to be built between 12,000 and 11,000 BCE, and buried and abandoned around 9600 BCE, Gobekli Tepe appears, and disappears, 5000 years before the first hints of civilization appear, down river in what is now Iraq, in 4500 BCE. Archaeologists were resoundingly, and more or less uniformly, dismissive, incredulous, and eventually a bit shell shocked but accepting of the science, because that is what they do."6
Well the site is indeed quite impressive and early but Prof’ Epstein’s gee whiz purple prose is off the wall nonsense. First Epstein carefully elides the fact that there is little evidence even with the ruins of Gobekli Tepe of the practice of agriculture at the time or at this site. Instead the site seems to have been built by Hunter-Gatherers and they are not in any sense evidence for Hancock’s Super-Civilization before civilization. It in fact occurs In the area that Archaeologists have considered the place of origin for the earliest agriculture on Earth. A couple of thousand years after Gobekli Tepe is the site of Catalhoyuk which is one of the earliest settlements in the world with clear evidence of Agriculture. The evidence for example suggests that Gobeki Tepe fits into a model of the gradual development of Hunter Gathers into agriculturalists. Further Archaeologists are not in any sense blown away by Gobekli Tepe instead it is woo writers like Graham Hancock who are.7
Further Prof’ Epstein’s comment that Gobeki Tepe appears and disappears 5,000 years before the first hints of civilization is simply utterly false and shows an abysmal level of knowledge of Middle Eastern Archeology. For example Epstein ignores the sites of Catalhoyuk and Jericho to say nothing of Archaeology in Southern Iraq.8 
So I guess Epstein has never heard of the truly impressive walls of Jericho that date to c. 8000 B.C.E., and have been known since the 1950s. The gee whiz reporting of the site by Epstein is pure fringe talk. And of course Epstein ignores all the evidence that indicates that most of the site predates settled agriculture. The statement of the Archaeologists being dismissive, incredulous, (shell shocked is especially amusing), are pure fringe speak and straw manning.   
But then this is only the beginning of Prof. Epstein’s distortions.
"The nature of that evidence, and what conclusions can be drawn from it, is meticulously cataloged and detailed in Fingerprints of the Gods and explored further in a string of bestsellers throughout the 1990s: ..."
Characterizing Hancock’s book Fingerprints of the Gods has “meticulously” anything except mendacious is risible. The book is characterized by myriad distortions, fabrications and nonsense. The chapter on the Bolivian site of Tiwanaku is especially distorted.
The bottom line is that describing Fingerprints of the Gods has meticulously catalogued is risible. The bibliography contains much pseudo nonsense. It is slight, superficial and recycles old debunked "mysteries" like the Piri Reis map with little to no awareness that they are thoroughly debunked. It recycles the discredited "White Gods" mythos. And its treatment of the age of Tiwanaku, mentioned above, and the Mayan calendar nothing less than absurd.9
 "...the Sphinx bore the unmistakable effects of water erosion caused by long term exposure to rain in a temperate environment. Because the Northeastern Sahara has been a desert since approximately 3500bce, the Sphinx could not have been built any later than that date, 5500 years ago."
Hilarious! Epstein seems to be utterly unaware that the "geological" evidence for an early date for the Sphinx has been debunked well over a decade ago and the "unmistakable" evidence of "water" erosion not so unmistakable. Epstein should look up salt exfoliation which is occurring on the Sphinx to this day.
Epstein is simply repeating fringe talking points here has if the refutations have never existed. By the way the evidence for Khafre building the Sphinx is more than what he gives.
The bottom line is that the damage to the Sphinx is almost certainly not the result of water erosion but salt exfoliation and the massive water erosion thought of by promoters of woo simply not needed.10
"Furthermore it is known that the original foundation of ancient Egypt was laid by people who were not native of Egypt, but were instead from the Fertile Crescent, ..."
First the idea that the founders of historic Egypt came from the Fertile Crescent is an old one. (Look up the Dynastic Race idea.), going back to the late 19th century. Epstein seems to be utterly unaware of recent Egyptology that while accepting that cultural influences came from the Fertile Crescent, that Egypt developed mainly in situ. In other words there was no Dynastic Race invasion from the Fertile Crescent. Epstein seems to be just accepting what he is told by the fringe.
Epstein should really get with the program. The Dynastic Race idea has not been held by the great majority of Egyptologists for well over a generation. The current notion is that Egyptian civilization / state was not the result of an invasion but internal developments. The evidence suggests influence from Iraq not an invasion at all.11
"As a result the position taken by Egyptologists that the Sphinx could not be any older than 4500 years because humans had not yet learned the skills necessary for building it until that time is false."
"Therefore, following the deductive method, an earlier date for the Sphinx is NOT impossible, simply improbable, and hence (following from the principles of good science) should be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly."
This reads like a pure strawman. I wonder if any Egyptologist ever held this position. However I will point out for the alleged time period of the early Sphinx (Before 8,000 B.C.E.), there is indeed no evidence for those skills in Egypt. There is plenty of archeology of early pre-dynastic sites in Egypt and it appears little evidence in this time period for such skills.
Prof. Epstein is truly engaging in straw manning. I have yet to read any Egyptologist whose position about the date of the Sphinx rests on the notion that it could not be earlier than 4,500 years ago because before then people in Egypt didn’t have the skills to build it. It instead rests on a whole series of pieces of evidence that point towards the reign of Khafre, (c. 2,500 B.C.E.).
Further in the philosophical sense nothing is impossible. That however does not mean that every possibility, however unlikely, should be investigated. The bottom line is that a society that could build the sphinx at the date suggested by the promoters of woo like Hancock would I would think leave evidence of its existence in Egypt. It did not. In fact agriculture does not seem to have existed at this time in Egypt. (c. 8,000 B.C.E.) In fact this culture seems to have not left an archaeological trace. In other words it does not appear to have existed.
Further Prof. Epstein ignores the fact that this fantasy about the early date of the Sphinx has been investigated thoroughly and found to be, to put it mildly, wanting. It is simply not worth taking seriously in the slightest. Prof. Epstein is distorting by denying that it has been investigated.12
"Hancock turns his attention to Indonesia at a site called Gunung Padang. Long thought to be a natural hill upon which a Megalithic site had been constructed in 1500bce, recent archeological and geological research on the site have determined that not only is it NOT a natural topographic feature but rather a pyramid, but its date of construction has been determined, through radio carbon dating, to have been between 20,000 and 13,000bce."
No need to take Prof. Epstein’s research seriously here. Even Wikipedia has done a good job of laying out just how dubious this woo fringe stuff about this site is. First it is much later than 20,000-13,000 B.C.E. and secondly it is basically one maverick Archaeologist promoting this woo.
Firstly the actual monument on the site is much smaller than the fantasy promoted by woo merchants. Secondly the date c. 1,500 B.C.E. seems to be about right. Both Hancock and Epstein support a fantasy about the site that is rejected by the great majority of Indonesian Archaeologists.13
"The memory of a great flood, as described in the story of Noah, is actually a trope, and occurs in hundreds of variations all over the planet. There are flood stories from every continent, and all tell essentially same story of a sudden and catastrophic flood that caused profound changes to the planets geography, climate and wild life and wiping out all traces of humanity with the exception of a few survivors, often depicted as having been “chosen” to do so through divine intervention for reasons pertaining to the continuation of both the human race and various, specific, traditions."
Yes the great flood is a common trope but it is far from universal. The bottom line is that many peoples do not have myths of a great flood and further that the spread of Europeans all over the world in the last few centuries also spread a particular tradition of the great flood that affected mythological traditions all over the world. The result being that often it is hard to discern “authentic” traditions about a flood from European influences.
Further there is the simple fact that there is literally NO evidence for a worldwide great flood. At best the increase in flooding related to the end of the last glacial period may have inspired flood myths but that is mere speculation. However there is still no evidence of a catastrophic worldwide great flood at all.14  
"It is now known that it is highly probable that a very large comet, which had fragmented, impacted with Earth in about 11,000bce in the Northern Hemisphere on the Laurentide Ice Sheet located near the Great Lakes in North America4. This impact, it turns out, was devastating, and has been linked to the Holocene extinction, the rapid disappearance of a large number of plant and animal species, specifically the larger species of mammals such as mammoths and the mega-predators, in the early stages of the 11th millennium BCE."
There is some evidence for this but it is hardly conclusive but in fact speculative. And even if it is true it does not support the notion of a worldwide great flood or Hancock’s pre-historical Super Civilization in the slightest.15
"... I found all of his criticism of academic work in general to be presented in a thoroughly professional manner."
Ah so when he accuses professional Archaeologists of suppressing the truth, of fraud and lying and being close-minded etc., he is being thoroughly professional!? When Hancock, distorts, and strawmans and in effect fabricates he is being professional!?
Prof. Epstein’s definition of “professional” is obviously quite different from most peoples.16
"In order for me to accept the paradigmatic narrative of Inca civilization, I would be forced to reject firmly established “truths” from my own discipline, which were arrived upon through empirical examination of well established, statistically supportable, and verifiable concepts regarding social and cultural organization drawn from a hundred years of peer reviewed, published, science. Science, drawn through the process of deductive, empirically verifiable research leads me to conclude that while we do not know who built Macchu Pichu, Puma Punka, or Sacsayhuaman we do know who didn’t: The Inca. The remaining Inca descendants, by the way, agree."
Here Prof. Epstein tries to bullshit his way by using a variation of arguments from authority and incredulity. He in effect is saying that according to his expertise the Inca could not have built these sites because they were too primitive socially to have done so. No doubt Prof. Epstein is an expert on the social and administrative organization of the Inca Empire (Snark).
Actually what Prof. Epstein is doing here is pulling it out of his ass. First no one I’ve known of including the Inca themselves have ever claimed that Puma Punka, (Part of the Tiwanaku site in Bolivia), is Inca. As for Sacsayhuaman, (at Cuzco) from some modern studies much of the site appears to be indeed pre-Inca, (900-1200 C.E.), but that provides little comfort for the woo merchants and believers in a “lost” civilization. This simply a claim that the site was built by the locals just before the establishment of the Inca dynasty c. 1200 C.E. Even if this view is true it is also clear that the Inca also did building work at Sacsayhuaman al.17
Also the sad fact for Hancock and Prof. Epstein’s fantasies is that Macchu Pichu is indisputably Inca dating to the first half of the 15th century C.E. and built for the Inca Emperor Pachakuti As indicated quite clearly by archeological remains dug up at  the site to say nothing of the historical traditions recorded by the Spanish..18
Further Epstein and Hancock ignore the very large number of Inca sites all over Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador that show strong indeed overwhelming similarities with Macchu Pichu. And of course Both Epstein and Hancock ignore the extensive work that has been done of Inca building techniques showing just how sites like Macchu Pichu were built.19 But of course Prof. Epstein just like Hancock ignores and / or is ignorant of this work.
And of course Prof. Epstein is clearly supremely ignorant, it seems, of the actual social organization of the Inca Empire. The bottom line was that the Empire was well organized with an efficient, if ruthless bureaucracy and perfectly capable of great public works, like for example the Inca road system.20
All of his guff about “verifiable concepts”, “peer review” and “cultural organization” is mere bullshit to cloak an argument from incredulity. Prof. Epstein just cannot believe that primitive natives could have done it. So in this respect Prof. Epstein exactly duplicates Hancock’s argument from incredulity, i.e., the natives could not have done “it” because they could not have done it. This attempt to steal the heritage is rather blatant.
The bottom line is that sites like Macchu Pichu were built all over the Inca Empire and work was continuing on them right up to the Spanish conquest.21
Oh and by the way Prof. Epstein repeats Hancock’s bromides that the Inca descendants attributed the building of places like Machu Picchu to others, (Other than themselves or their ancestors.) that is to put it mildly distorted to say the least. Aside from sites like Tiwanaku (Not Inca), and other sites the vast majority of Inca sites the Inca descendants attribute the sites, (Like Machu Picchu) to their ancestors and the archaeological evidence supports this. The fact Prof. Epstein just accepts this from Hancock is actually quite funny.22
The fact is the Inca Empire was the largest Bronze Age Empire ever and was a sophisticated governmental and bureaucratic system perfectly capable of great public works. But then both Hancock and Prof. Epstein are engaged in denigrating the accomplishments of the natives by attributing much of what they did to others. Like Hancock’s treatment of the Maya the denigration by Prof. Epstein of the Inca is annoying but typical of writers in the woo genre.23
“I have found, again without exception, that not one of them had actually read as much as a single word of his work. Not a single word. Worse, I was told by a world famous, highly credentialed, respected and well placed member of the archaeological establishment that they didn’t need to read it to know what it is: dangerous nonsense that disrespects science. I replied that I had no idea it was that insidious, and thanked her for her time.”
Of course Prof. Epstein is bullshitting again when he asserts not a single Archaeologist has read Hancock. Some have and concluded, correctly, that Hancock is crap further given Prof. Epstein’s rather obvious biases I seriously wonder if he is reporting this conversation fairly or accurately. Still the bottom line is that Hancock is another in the long list of crank woo writers who have written tome upon tome of rubbish. It is more than a bit absurd to expect Archaeologists to read all this sewage. Frankly they have better things to do. After all does one expect Physicists to read the acres and acres of speculative, nonsensical “Spirit Science” and Paranormal woo that clogs the shelves of book stores. I don’t think so. One doesn’t have to read Hancock to know he is spreading absurd woo, especially when one’s trained colleagues have already done so and concluded it is crap.24
Epstein is just one of many examples of an accredited scholar who latches on to one, or more, fringe claims and of course has a deep distrust of those disciplines, and such fields are accused by said scholar of being hidebound, dogmatic et.. That the scholar in question has little or no knowledge of the field(s)  h/she distrusts is also very common.
What is also common is the attitude of epater la bourgeoisie. The delicious sensation of feeling that they are being daring, bold and forward  thinking for advancing fringe notions.
Sadly Epstein is simply recycling has "new" and "daring" really old notions and fantasies for advancing woo.

1. See Here and Here
2. Hancock, Graham, Magicians of the Gods, Thomas Dunne Books, New York, 2015.
3. See Epstein, Jon, “But then, just for the hell of it, you decide to up the ante”- Review- Graham Hancock’s Magicians of the Gods, At Sacred Geometry International at Here.
4. The books are Donnelly, Ignatius, Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1882, Ragnarok: The Age of Fire and Gravel, D. Appleton & Co. New York, 1883.
5. For example the date of Tiwanaku. See Fagan, Garret, Analysis of Hancock's Position Statement on C-14 Dating, In The Hall of Maat, Here, and An Answer to Graham Hancock, also at In the Hall of Maat, Here.
6. All quotes from Epstein are from his review mentioned in Footnote 3.
7. See Hodder, Ian, The leopard’s Tale, Thames and Hudson, London, 2006, pp. 200-206., See also Gobekli Tepe Wikipedia  at Here.
8. IBID., Hodder, pp. 134, 171, 178, 235, 246, Kuhrt, Amelie, The Ancient Near East, v. 1 Routledge, London, 1995, pp. 19-27, Daniel, Glyn, The First Civilizations, Penguin Books, London, 1968, pp. 65-81, 164, 192-193, Hawkes, Jacquetta, The First Great Civilizations, Penguin Books, London, 1973, pp. 43-48, Iraq, Roux, George, Ancient Iraq, 3rd Edition, Penguin Books, London, 1992, pp. 33-84.
9. Hancock, Graham, Fingerprints of the Gods, Three Rivers Press, New York, 1995, pp. 21, 76-98, 160-161. Two books on Tiwanaku that wash away Hancock’s absurdities are Janusek, John Wayne, Ancient Tiwanaku, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2008, and Kolata, Alan L., The Tiwanaku, Blackwell, Oxford, 1993.
10. There is a large literature on this  I will simply refer the readers to, Lawton, Ian & Ogilvie-Herald, Chris, Giza: The Truth, Invisible Cities Press, Montpelier VT, 2001, pp. 292-320.
11. See Romer, John, A History of Ancient Egypt, Penguin Books, London, 2012, pp. 3-112, Hoffman, Michael A., Egypt Before the Pharaohs, Second Edition, University of Texas Press, Austin TX, 1991.
12. Footnote 10.
13. Gunung Padang , Wikipedia Here.
14. See Stiebing, William H., Ancient Astronauts Cosmic Collisions and Other Popular Theories About Man’s Past, Prometheus Books, Buffalo NY, 1984, pp. 3-27.
15. IBID., and Younger Dryas impact hypothesis, Wikipedia  Here. Includes some useful criticism of the hypothesis.
16. See Colavito, Jason , Graham Hancock Discusses Getting High, Pyramid Myths, and Looking for Hidden DNA Messages, Jason Colavito, at Here.
17. McEwan, Gordon F., The Incas: New Perspectives,  W.W. Norton, New York, 2006, p. 76. Morris, Craig, von Hagen, Adriana, The Incas, Thames and Hudson, London, 2011, pp. 124-126, D’Altroy, Terrence N., The Incas, Blackwell, London, 2002, pp. 121-124.
18. Morris et al, pp. 190-195, D’Altroy, pp. 126-127.
19. See Protzen, Jean-Pierre, Inca Architecture and Construction at Ollantaytambo, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1993, by same author see Inca Stonemasonry, Scientific America 254(2) pp. 94-103, 1980, and Inca Quarrying and Stonecutting, Nawpa Pacha, 21, pp. 183-219. Morris et al, pp. 86-90.
20. See McEwan, pp. 83-136, Kolata, Alan L., Ancient Inca, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2013, pp. 199-239, D’Altroy, pp. 205-262, Morris et al, pp. 32-47.
21. Morris et al., pp. 77-101, McEwan, pp. 171-177.
22. Morris et al, p. 192, D’Altroy, p. 133.
23. For Hancock’s denigration of the Maya see His Fingerprints of the Gods, pp. 160-164. There we find comments like:
Isn’t all this a bit avant-garde for a civilization, [Hancock is here talking about the Mayan Calendar, the Mayan numerical system and Mayan Astronomy.] that didn’t otherwise distinguish itself in many ways? It’s true that Mayan architecture was good within its limits. But there was precious little else that these jungle-dwelling Indians did which suggested they might have had the capacity (or the need)  to conceive of really long periods of time. (p. 163)
Isn’t it a bit odd that this otherwise unremarkable Central American tribe should, at such an early date, have stumbled upon an innovation [Hancock is here talking about the zero] which Otto Neugebauer, the historian of science, has described as ‘one of the most fertile inventions of humanity’. (p. 161)
So the Maya are a "jungle dwelling" "tribe" that had few worthy accomplishments and so any worthy accomplishments could not have been their's including the zero!? The contempt and condescension just drips from Hancock.
24. For Archeologists treating Hancock seriously and dismissing him as a purveyor of woo see a collection of reviews of fringe nonsense published in American Antiquity, v. 80, no. 3, pp. 615-629, Hancock ‘s Fingerprints of the Gods, is reviewed by Feder, Kenneth L., pp. 617-618. See also see the various reviews of Hancock’s material at In the Hall of Maat at Here.

Pierre Cloutier

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