'Ancient Apocalypse' Netflix series unfounded, experts say 2
The producer of 'Ancient Apocalypse' is Graham Hancock, a journalist with a degree in sociology. Image: Netflix

Experts say Netflix’s ‘Ancient Apocalypse’ is promoting unfounded conspiracy theories

A popular new show on Netflix claims that survivors of an ancient civilization spread their wisdom to hunter-gatherers across the globe. Scientists say the show is promoting unfounded conspiracy theories.
Michael Hartlep | Dec 10 2022

Once upon a time, some 12,000 years ago, an ancient, sophisticated Ice Age-era civilization flourished. Its people pursued astronomy, science, art and architecture. 

Until, that is, disaster struck: A huge comet crashed into Earth, triggering violent floods. As the glaciers melted and sea levels rose, the waters erased every trace of the advanced, global civilization. Only a lucky few survived. 

Those survivors, the story goes, scattered across the globe, seeking out hunter-gatherers to share their ancient wisdom with. In turn, the pupils started building gigantic temples and observatories to watch the stars and warn future generations of the dangers that might strike from above. 

That is the narrative promoted by "Ancient Apocalypse,", a popular Netflix docuseries that, since airing in mid-November, has found itself among the platform's most watched shows. 


Archaeologists call series a conspiracy theory 

But there's a problem: According to scientists, the show's thesis is, to quote one commentator, "bunk." Other critics call it an eight-part conspiracy theory set to dramatic music. 

In late November, the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) sent an open letter to Netflix executives, urging the platform to replace the show's "docuseries" classification with "science fiction." The group also urged Netflix to add disclaimers labeling the show's content "unfounded." The company hasn't responded to the letter, a spokesman for the Society of American Archaeologists told DW.

Flint Dibble, an archaeologist at Cardiff University in the UK, told DW he was "annoyed, surprised and dismayed" when he watched the show, prompting him to write a long Twitter thread debunking it. 

He says the show's producer, Graham Hancock, a British journalist with a degree in sociology, was appealing to "conspiracy theory crowds by attacking a sort of mainstream archaeology, as he puts it."

In fact, throughout the series, Hancock clearly shows a contempt of what he calls "mainstream archaeologists," who he says are unwilling to engage with his theory, or worse, are hiding key evidence from the wider public. 


Simply no evidence, archaeologists say 

But the theory, Dibble and many others say, is purely false: There is simply no evidence to hide.

Dibble says there have been "hundreds, if not thousands" of excavation sites dating back to the period Hancock references in "Ancient Apocalypse."

"None of them show any evidence of some sort of advanced global connectivity or something like that," he says.


Underwater evidence

Dibble's research specializes in the Iron and Bronze Ages, and he has taken part in numerous excavations in Greece. In a recent call with DW, his annoyance was palpable.

He addressed several of Hancock's claims: First, that key evidence might have disappeared underwater. 

That, Dibble says, could easily be debunked, "because there's a lot of underwater archaeology. We have a good understanding of what's going on underwater." 

Archaeologists have, for example, examined Doggerland, an area that once connected the UK and the European continent. Arrowheads and spear points from bone and antler were analyzed.

Off the Egyptian coast, archaeologists have excavated the ancient port of Pharos, famous for its monumental lighthouse.


Domesticated plants and animals introduced by survivors

Next, the series claims that survivors of the doomed civilization introduced hunter-gatherers across the globe to agriculture, as well as domesticated plants and animals.

Again, false, Dibble says.

"Why do we have different domesticated plants and animals, for example, in the Americas versus in the Near East?" he asks. "If it was a global civilization, there would be the same set of crops and animals."

And, he says, Hancock's hypothesis is nothing new. The idea of some mythical pre-flood global civilization dates back to a story about Atlantis that has been floating around for nearly 200 years.

But that theory has been disproven over and over again, he says.

"It's not like archaeologists are just ignoring this; we've investigated all these sites,” he says, adding that archaeologists have "millions of artifacts that date to that time."

There's also no evidence of megalithic architecture and monumental structures like the ones mentioned by Hancock suddenly appearing at a similar time, he says. Rather, excavations have proven that the pyramids, for example, developed over a period of time — in some cases, even over generations. 


Ice Age hunter-gatherers were complex

Archaeologists also bristle at Hancock's implication that Ice Age hunter-gatherers were "simple” and incapable of architecture and science.

Rather, they say, in order to survive in the Ice Age, people needed to develop complex survival strategies, depending on the regions and climate they inhabited. 


Why get involved?

Why are professional archaeologists like Dibble or the SAA even engaging in this one-sided debate? 

Because they're worried. Polls conducted by Chapman University in the US show an increase in paranormal beliefs, ranging from aliens visiting Earth to haunted houses.

The polls also show an increase in beliefs that ancient civilizations such as Atlantis existed. These beliefs, experts say, can feed into a wider, growing skepticism — if not outright rejection — of established scientific wisdom. 

That is why Dibble is worried — and speaking out against "Ancient Apocalypse."

”Once you start thinking that archaeologists are wrong, then you think doctors are wrong. Then you think politicians are lying, and so you can't trust anything,” he says.

And soon, experts worry, people are lost to ever more violent conspiracy theories, ever more difficult to reason with. 

Netflix hasn't responded to requests for comment.

Edited by: Clare Roth