We got the story of Atlantis first from Plato, who got it from his ancestor, Solon, who got it from the Egyptians. Now mainstream historians and archaeologists don’t believe it existed. Joseph Campbell was quoted as saying there hadn’t been enough time for humans to develop a high civilization earlier than the Sumerians, Egyptians, and Indians, but that’s not accurate.

We’re now aware that our kind of human being has been around for at least 100,000 years, maybe 200,000, or even longer. Considering that the history we know much about (beginning mostly with writing) is only five to six thousand years, that leaves plenty of time for a high civilization to develop. Why don’t we see traces of these civilizations? Maybe we do. Graham Hancock has spent more than twenty years writing about the evidence for a previous high civilization, most recently in Magicians of the Gods. 

There are many megalithic monuments around the world. In most cases we have only vague ideas when they were built, and how is a complete mystery, though archaeologists (in some cases) think they know. The most obvious examples are the Great Pyramid and the Great Sphinx, though there are many more.

The above two are probably the most famous monuments in the world. We, with modern technology, might be able to duplicate the Sphinx, but it would take a major effort. as it’s 260 feet long and 65 feet high, and carved out of bedrock. Few people nowadays would be willing to make that kind of investment.

The Great Pyramid is not only immense, but mysterious. The first mystery is how it was built. It has well over a million stone blocks in it, most of them weighing at least a ton, some well over a ton. The ceiling of the King’s Chamber is roofed with slabs of about 70 tons apiece. How would you, first of all, cut the stones very precisely, then move them, and finally place them with extreme precision? Precision is one of the other mysteries of the pyramid, but far from the last.

The timeline of civilization says that agriculture began around 8,000 BC, and towns were necessarily built, since people would have to stay in one place to farm. That makes a place like Göbeckli Tepe particularly mysterious.

It’s a site in southern Turkey, the beginning of which has been dated to about 9600 BC, making it the oldest known megalithic monument in the world (with one possible exception). It seems to have been used for more than a thousand years, then covered up. That it was covered is convenient for archaeologists because it means that the organic material covered can be accurately dated. It must be from when each area was covered, rather than from when it was built, which means the structures could be much older, but these are certainly old enough.

And it’s IMMENSE! The archaeologist interviewed by Graham Hancock five years ago said that after eighteen years of continuous excavating much more is still buried than has been uncovered.

Making it even more mysterious, the builders seem to have been hunter-gatherers. How did they acquire the skills, when they had to spend most of their time acquiring food in order to survive? Besides, the best workmanship so far uncovered is also the oldest. What does that mean?

That’s a parallel with ancient Egypt, which had few pyramids built before the Great Pyramid, but nonetheless created it as a masterpiece of architecture; then, within a few hundred years, apparently forgot how pyramids are built. Those built in the late third millenium BC are ruins. For a monument 4500 years old, the Great Pyramid is in pretty good shape. Why would the oldest Egyptian monuments so exceed more recent ones? The obvious hypothesis is that they had learned from a predecessor civilization, rather than developing the necessary techniques themselves.

Even older is the Great Sphinx. About 25 years ago it was studied by geologist Robert Schoch, who determined the erosion of its body was from rain, and lots of it, not wind. It seems that the last time there was lots of rain in Egypt was about 5,000 BC, so Schoch decided it couldn’t have been built any later, which means it might have been built much earlier. But according to the commonly accepted historical timeline, there were no high civilizations that could have built anything like it or Göbekli Tepe anything like as early.

There are some four hundred legends of the Great Flood around the world, including in the Americas, where legends from the Middle East are unlikely to have reached. The Flood was universally believed to have occurred by Europeans until about two hundred years ago when Enlightenment thinkers reacted against the Bible and the idea of the supernatural. Ice ages were conceived of partly as a way to account for things like boulders found in geological areas they weren’t related to. But an ice age doesn’t preclude a Great Flood, or vice versa. The first could have led to the latter. And a supernatural cause isn’t necessary either.

But a Great Flood, or equivalent calamity could explain why we don’t know about civilizations predating Sumeria, India, and Egypt. Written documents from before the calamity haven’t survived–or haven’t been found yet, though one of the Assyrian kings claimed to have a library of books from before the flood, which he claimed to be able to read, which apparently since have been lost –so our information about it is only legendary.

But legends, especially widespread ones, usually have some truth to them. If such a catastrophe had happened, what would a high civilization do, especially if it saw it coming? It would probably try to preserve as much of its knowledge and wisdom as it could. How would it do that? One way would be to teach the skills of civilization to other humans. According to widespread legends, that’s precisely what happened.

One legend is about a being named Oannes who wore a fish suit, but had human feet and, after teaching skills of civilization all day to humans of what is now southern Iraq, retreated to the sea for the night.

Another group were the Seven Apkallus in the northern Middle East, who are depicted as looking like part men and part bird.

A third was Osiris, who taught the ancient Egyptians, then is said to have traveled around the rest of the world to teach others.

A fourth was Quetzelcoatl in Mexico, who arrived from the eastern sea with a group of other teachers, but ran into a hostile god who apparently objected to his trying to end human sacrifice in the region.

Yet another was Viracocha in the Andes in South America. Interestingly, both Viracocha and Quetzelcoatl are depicted as WHITE men with full beards, unlike the natives of both regions, who were and still are dark skinned. Their whiteness may help explain how the Spanish were so easily able to take over the Aztec and Incan empires: they looked like the revered legendary gods. By the time the natives found out they weren’t, it was too late.

Not only does this ancient culture seem to have sent out missionaries of a sort, but Hancock suggests that monuments like Göbekli Tepe and the Great Pyramid were built as time capsules to prevent antediluvian knowledge and wisdom from being lost. The catch is that a civilization must have attained a high level of knowledge to access what’s in these time capsules. We seem to only now be getting there.

Another way to preserve knowledge is orally. There are also numerous legends of spiritual teachers whose traditions go back thousands of years. Could these traditions have been begun by a civilization (or more than one)  both spiritually and technologically advanced?

Hancock notes that there are things about the statues found at Göbekli Tepe that remind him of ancient statuary he’s seen elsewhere in the world. These statues seem to be part human, part animal, with human arms extending across their bellies with fingers almost touching, and holding things that look like bags. Hancock remembers artwork in Mexico with similar figures, as well as in Easter Island. If this is accurate, they may have been products of a worldwide civilization.

Other mysterious sites are in western South America: around Cuzco, Tiahuanaco, Lake Titicaca, etc. Again, structures are built of unbelievably large stones precisely cut and set. When Hancock asks the archaeologist who, with his father, has been studying the area for over a hundred years, how the building was done, the archaeologist thinks there was lower gravitation (perhaps a device to make things lighter?) allowing stones to be put into place relatively easily. The archaeologist also thinks the stones were subjected to extreme heat to make it possible to shape them like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and fit them together. In this case too, the most ancient monuments are the most impressive. Later South American civilizations were also impressive, but couldn’t compete with their predecessors.

Even older than Göbekli Tepe, apparently, is Gunung Padung in Indonesia. Hancock points out that Indonesia is the remains of a fabled extension of the Indian subcontinent called Sundaland, which was destroyed by flooding, volcanoes and earthquakes, probably during the time the last Ice Age was ending. It was supposed to have been a large and fertile land with mountains and at least four river systems, and with schools of wisdom too. Gunung Padung, in the local language, means Mountain of Light or Enlightenment.

It was believed to be a natural hill until archaeologist Danny Natawidjaja and his team began using ground penetrating radar and other techniques to survey the area. Then they realized that it was a pyramid, and began using radiocarbon dating on organic material underlying the surface structures, then from tubular drills penetrating to much deeper levels.

The first results were dated between 500-1500 BC, but lower levels gave increasingly older dates. 3,000-5,000, 9600, 11,000, 15,000, then 20,000-22,000 and even earlier, which means they began to be built before the end of the last Ice Age.

The end of the last Ice Age was the beginning of a tremendously traumatic period in earth’s history, when many animals, and even a number of genera (related species) went extinct. The worst part of it seems to have been between 10,800 BC and 9600 BC, called the Younger Dryas, when temperatures, which had been getting warmer, suddenly got colder again. Before that time North America had been home not only to the Clovis people (who may have gotten there two or three thousand years before), but to mammoths, horses, camels, giant sloths and beavers, and saber-toothed tigers. None of these species were alive at the end of the period, and though the Younger Dryas was a worldwide phenomenon, North America (maybe the Americas in general) seems to have been hardest hit. What happened?

Some scientists now think that a large comet came very near to earth and parts of it separated, several chunks hitting the immense glaciation covering most of what is now Canada. Ice and ground vaporized, and were propelled into the upper atmosphere, blocking the sun, which caused the downturn in temperatures that lasted about 1200 years. It also started an immense flood from the melted glacier and a very large lake that then was located approximately on the US/Canada border. An area in eastern Oregon called the “scablands” seems to be the result of this flooding.

The scablands are a large area in which canyons were eroded, and some scientists now think, very quickly. The archaeologist Hancock interviewed said it wasn’t just water, but soil, boulders, and huge chunks of ice running very fast through the passage that became the scablands. There’s still very little topsoil in the area.

This seems to have been a very large but localized flood. The extreme erosion happened because the flood, immense as it was, was still confined to relatively small passages. That amplified the force of the liquid mixture in its ability to erode.

Whether there was actually a universal flood remains an open question. There were certainly local floods that surpassed any seen before, and there have been reported fossils of whales in mountains in Alabama and Ontario. Were these relatively recent fossils, from only about 10,000 years ago, or are they much older? Also reported have been a cave in England full of bones of hippopotami and a site where mangled bodies of polar and equatorial animals were mixed together. The latter case sounds like evidence of a universal flood. The former may be something else.

Fascinating as tracking down evidence of Atlantis or other ancient civilizations may be, it doesn’t really matter anymore, does it? Hancock gives some reasons to believe it does.

One is that the various legends of the Flood often include the idea it happened because of human wickedness. High as our civilization is, our behavior often isn’t admirable. Consider the way we treat each other and the world in which we live. Cruelty and exploitation characterize our behavior. If God is watching, it’s quite possible She is displeased.

But there are other indicators. One is a column in Göbeckli Tepe that draws attention to the winter solstice when our sun aligns with the center of the Milky Way galaxy when rising in the constellation of Sagittarius. That’s been where it rises since 1960, and will continue to be through 2040. The The Mayan calendar also predicted an age ending and one beginning in this period.

A precessional cycle; that is, the wobble in the earth’s rotation that causes constellations to seem to move slowly across the sky especially in relation to the equinoxes and solstices, is not quite 26,000 years. We are about half a precessional cycle from the time the asteroid some scientists tell us hit the earth and started the Younger Dryas period, that is, more than 12,000 years ago. There are meteor streams which come near us cyclically, and Hancock believes ancient astronomers in Göbekli Tepe, Egypt, and Mexico left us warnings that the cataclysm that destroyed their civilization may return to destroy ours. If an asteroid of, say, one mile in diameter were to hit the earth, it would destroy our civilization, and possibly the whole human race. Humans who could survive such a catastrophe would be those used to surviving on very little, the hunter-gatherer societies that remain today.

We have the science and technology to possibly be able to ward off such a collision, if we could detect the body coming soon enough. It would take quite an effort, but the potential is there. But will we make the effort? If the danger is now, we’d better start planning pretty soon.

I’m not very optimistic. Hancock says that when NASA became aware of the danger in the late 20th century, they were told to play it down. We’ve heard a lot about climate change, and while some accomplishments have been made, they haven’t been enough to make a substantial difference. If an asteroid collides with earth, climate change will be the least of our problems–it will probably occur too, but so will explosive destruction, fire, flood, earthquakes, volcanoes, as well as a possible new ice age.

If one wants to see such a collision as punishment for our collective sins, it would be ironic if it came after we had ALREADY made great progress in destroying ourselves and our civilization by refusing to change our destructive habits in terms of how we treat our habitat and our fellow humans.

I hope my pessimism is misplaced. Right now I see few signs that it is.