Going to read all of this later, but an archeology channel on youtube is doing a series on Graham Hancock's Netflix series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iCIZQX9i1A
The other problem with these theories is - where did they go? The sea level rise was fast on a geological scale, but not a human one. Yes, some sites would get flooded but presumably not fast enough to drown their inhabitants and make them forget how to do all the civilization things that would be leaving large monuments behind. We’d expect to find sites inland, or we’d have to explain why the civilizations completely collapsed prior to the sea level rise.
Pre-glacial maximum agriculture would probably have lost the domesticated crops. CO2 levels were too low during the glacial max to allow high enough productivity to make agriculture worth pursuing.
So we'd need to be looking for signs of ag from roughly 100,000 years ago when CO2 levels were similar to the current era.
Interesting post! I've written on this topic, both for popular audiences (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1090513822000447) and for academic ones (https://aeon.co/essays/not-all-early-human-societies-were-small-scale-egalitarian-bands). I don't want to argue here for Pleistocene Great Pyramids or Buckingham Palaces, but here are two points that I think should increase priors about Gobekli Tepe- or Stonehenge-levels:
1. I think there's increasingly evidence that domestication (genetic changes resulting from patterns of human cultivation/resource management) runs deep. One of the coolest but underrated findings, I think, is evidence of incipient grain domestication at the Last Glacial Maximum at Ohalo II in Israel more than 10,000 years before the onset of the Holocene (https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0131422&xid=17259,15700019,15700124,15700149,15700168,15700173,15700186,15700190,15700201). The title and abstract are all about weeds, but just as striking is the proportion of domestic-type rachises, which is much higher than in wild populations (although still quite low compared to "fully" domesticated situations). This site's discovery was a serendipitous fluke (it has a fascinating backstory); many instances of Pleistocene domestication have probably eluded us.
2. I wouldn't discount how sophisticated societies can become without domesticated plants. In my Aeon essay, I focus on the Calusa, who had what seems like a tributary state/kingdom (they are also covered in The Dawn of Everything). They inhabited modern-day Florida, collected tribute from an area the size of Belgium, and were capable of profound feats, constructing huge mounds and a 4-km-long canal. But their resource base was, for the most part, fish. To your point about how easy it is to record such societies, they were observed during the Spanish colonial era and were near modern-day centers of anthropological research. Yet they were largely unknown to archaeologists until the 1970s. So I think we should expect to have overlooked lots of sophisticated non-agricultural peoples, especially in the Pleistocene.
Minor Correction: It is "Mohenjo-daro" not "Mojeno-Daro"
Am I the only one who thinks Shermer is overrated as a Skeptic and a Rationalist?
While I was criticising the racialists, I read his critique in "Why People Believe Weird Things", and it was just terrible. He made logical errors one could drive a truck through (his essay in "The Borderlands of Science" is much better, though it focuses only on sports).
And don't even get me started on his chapter on Objectivism. He literally writes a chapter on a philosophy while never discussing what that philosophy is, while relying on third hand accounts of the founder's personal circle, third hand accounts that are from sources he knows are biased.
An interesting and thought provoking article on a topic that attracts craziness and bullshit science. I was particularly impressed by your point about livestock and crops. I follow developments in paleogenomics and you are absolutely correct.
There is NO EVIDENCE of any Ice Age domesticated plants.
As you say, that pretty much kills scenarios two and three. However, I am not convinced that societies of greater numbers and complexity than we imagine possible did not exist. We have wildly underestimated the abilities of Paleolithic peoples to shape and exploit their environment. Their numbers and social complexity were probably much greater than we currently estimate.
For example, did you know that Neanderthals "farmed"?
The groundbreaking research in Gibraltar has proven through paleopollen analysis, that Neanderthals living there over 100kya created an extremely high concentration of nut bearing trees around their settlements. Not only trees, there are high pollen markers for a range of other edible/useful plants concentrated around these Neanderthal settlement sites. Including wild grasses, the partially burned grains of which have been found around these Neanderthal hearths.
Silviculture or the "farming of trees" is probably the earliest form of "agriculture". Deliberately planting nuts or seedlings for nut trees around your dwelling places is "farming" in the broadest sense and it doesn't domesticate the trees. Unlike say, what we can see happened with wheat, barley, oats, corn, and rice.
Here/s the "thing", silviculture combined with seasonally flooding wetlands (like in the Amazon or Cambodia) can generate HUGE surpluses of food in those areas. You can build a fairly big population and society on nuts, fish, natural fruits, natural grains, and wild game. In Turkey, the nut would have been the pistachio.
So, while I agree with you that scenarios two and three are pretty much "off the table", I think that something like Gobekli Tepe was "doable" by Paleolithic Ice Age cultures. I think we "lowball" their numbers in our population estimates and that they were capable of more than we give them credit for.
One obvious area of investigation would be Beringia. Paleogenetic evidence shows that ALL Native American populations are descended from an ancestral population of "Beringians" who became genetically distinct from the East Asian populations around 35-40kya.
Beringia didn't "sink beneath the waves" until around 15kya. So, for around 20,000 years there was a human population in Beringia that we know next to nothing about. I'm not going to rule out the possibility that they had "kingdoms" and built their own version of Gobekli Tepe. In human terms 20kya is a VERY long time.
If there was no pre ice age civilisation, why not? After the ice-age we domesticated several different crops in different parts of the world within a couple of thousand years. Yet humans have been humans for at least 50k years. Was there never a 2000 year period with favourable conditions before that? What changed?
I suspect that part of the story may be that we needed to kill off all the mega-fauna before farming would seem like a good idea. Kill one mammoth and invite all your friends to a 3-month feast, or toil in the fields day after day - which would you choose?
So, new theory; salmon return to their point of birth because they were engineered that way by the Ice Age Civilizations. The fish that weren't eaten were ground up to power their Mako Reactors.
As for what happened to them.... um... Chtulhu.
Schoch is living proof of the scope of academic freedom facilitated by faculty tenure. Early in his career he went off on a frolic and a folly with his claims about the weathering regime and seismic properties of the Sphinx site. This descended to fascination with parapyschology and the paranormal. At least when Linus Pauling went off the rails on the virtues of Vitamin C to cure the common cold, he had racked up two Nobel Prizes, in chemistry and the peace medal.
I feel like all this "you can't look into something too outlandish, its okay to look into even really dumb and offensive ideas if someone believes in it" is going to end up with Scott doing race science on the blog.
Huh, it appears that Hanson moved his blog to Substack and retroactively transferred all the old posts. And this didn't include the Disqus comments, which Web Archive doesn't save also, so presumably those are lost forever?
ETA no, apparently they're still at https://disqus.com/home/forums/overcoming-bias/, for however long that'll last.
1) The sites would be a) underwater, b) reincorporated into later sites, c) not yet found. I think there's an effect at play whereby we take absence of evidence (of older sites) as evidence of absence - and it is - but its also evidence that older stuff may be harder to find. We have the near-complete archaeological record for everything built yesterday, and decent for the Romans, but little for the Harappans.
Also, I read once that the world mid ice-age would be far drier, dustier and windier than ours. I'm fairly sure that would only increase the pressure for low-lying coastal cities, making them more vulnerable to sea-level increase.
2) The crops and livestock would probably go feral, or vegetable equivalent? We push things so far out of their evolutionary niche that there must be some fairly strong pressures for them to revert. That and the fact that these modifications were relatively easy to achieve suggest this is fairly possible. Same for livestock, and Younger Dryas extinction event could have taken away the livestock animals of choice (Aurochs, various Buffalo etc).
Maybe a better angle is animal hybrids/ invasive species? Then again, who knows how obvious it would be 12 millennia down the line, and if the invaders would survive the YD event.
3) Don't have much of an opinion against the lead stuff.
I want to bring up the Polynesians as an example of a culture (or group of cultures) that reached a quite advanced level, well beyond the average hunter-gatherer tribe, without creating much that would be clear to archaeologists of ten thousand years in the future.
They had complex societies, built quite sophisticated structures (buildings and ships) out of wood, lived in permanent villages, and had some forms of agriculture (but mostly sweet potatoes, yams, taro etc) supplemented with plentiful seafood. They seem to have got their standard of living quite high in most places.
But they never figured out metal, and they (almost) never built monuments out of rocks. The exception of course was Easter Island, where they went absolutely crazy for building monuments out of rocks; other Polynesian people from Hawaii to New Zealand presumably could have built rock monuments if they felt like it, but they never bothered.
Anyway, when I think about Goblecki Tepe I think about a Polynesian-style society, existing in a state that's well beyond primitive hunter-gatherism, but not yet quite a civilisation. It's easy to imagine the Mediterranean or Middle East might have been full of societies at this sort of level of development, ten thousand years ago, but the Goblecki Tepe people were like the Easter Islanders of the bunch -- some weird obsessives who decided to move big rocks around instead of carving stuff out of wood.
"Except for Gobekli Tepe" risks sounding like "Apart from that, Mrs Lincoln..." Karahan Tepe is beginning to make it look like GT is just part of something much much bigger, and eventually you get to the stage you have to extrapolate back into the ice age even if your date for the finished sites comes just afterwards.
Separate point, are your three categories of civilization enough? GT/KT occupants may have been doing highly organised and very cool stuff which counts as a wholly new way of being civilized, vs being primitive but still amazingly cool. Compare naive approaches to SETI which specify the universal sweet spot where species have invented TV broadcasting, but not cable.
Cayonu Tepesi is also in Turkiye, not Iraq
Eh, Polynesians crossed the Pacific in like 1000 AD, right? What was their material tech level?
There's also myths/linguistic evidence that the Sumerians came from somewhere, maybe Arabia maybe India? And that they were a more successful civilization before. What's under the sands in the Arabian and Sahara deserts? Did people settle around the Nile after abandoning civilizations that are now under the Sahara?
This is difficult to think about without numbers that I don't know. How efficient is hunting/fishing/foraging in the now submerged environments? How many free hours did people have available x what population could be sustained?
Stone construction seems to be more of a lack-of-adequate-plant-materials thing, so maybe in the earliest days of forested Europe you just did everything with wood and mammoth bone or something.
We also can't really compare modern hunter gatherer environments with primeval ones. Modern hunter gatherers live in the most marginal territories. Really fertile locations have all been taken over by agriculture. How productive is an 11000BC fishery? How productive is would-be-prime farmland left fallow for mammoth and deer and whatnot to use?
I somewhat adhere to a desperation theory of farming's evolution: humans come into extremely fertile environments and their population booms, they exhaust the environment and now you have large groups of people struggling to not starve. Then you get war, slavery and desperate innovation and eventually that stabilizes into farming communities.
Maybe there's a more wobbly cycle of population boom and bust with agricultural/pastoral tech slowly developing throughout the cycles until suddenly it's fully developed Agriculture and the cycle is broken and we get cities and pyramids.
Regardless flood myths and garden of Eden myths abound. It seems feasible to think that during humanity's expansion across the Earth there were long periods of time where a new environment was colonized and life was good for centuries or more.
"The top 80m of the Great Pyramid would rise above the waterline, forming a little island. The part of the Pyramid above the water would still be taller than the entire Leaning Tower of Pisa. It would be pretty hard to miss!"
However, as you're previously established, underwater pyramids are natural. Nobody would agree that it's proof of anything!
Tekeli-li! Tekekl-li! No cyclopean cities sunken to the depths of the ocean or buried beneath Antarctic sheet ice? Ah, well!
I broadly agree with this - it's not impossible we had more developed human societies further back than we currently think, but they would be at the very low level. No Atlantis, Lemuria or Mu. No fantastic lost technologies more advanced than what we have now. But cultures on the level of Australian Aboriginal clans? That seems feasible, especially if we're proposing a civilisation/civilisations that lived along coastal regions which were later flooded and thus wiped out evidence of their existence:
"The regions of heaviest Aboriginal population were the same temperate coastal regions that are currently the most heavily populated, the Murray River valley in particular.
...Aboriginal Australians were limited to the range of foods occurring naturally in their area, but they knew exactly when, where and how to find everything edible. …But food was not obtained without effort. In some areas both men and women had to spend from half to two-thirds of each day hunting or foraging for food. Each day, the women of the group went into successive parts of one countryside with wooden digging sticks and plaited dilly bags or wooden coolamons. Larger animals and birds, such as kangaroos and emus, were speared or disabled with a thrown club, boomerang, or stone. Many Indigenous hunting devices were used to get within striking distance of prey. The men were excellent trackers and stalkers, approaching their prey running where there was cover, or "freezing" and crawling when in the open. They were careful to stay downwind and sometimes covered themselves with mud to disguise their smell.
Fish were sometimes taken by hand by stirring up the muddy bottom of a pool until they rose to the surface, or by placing the crushed leaves of poisonous plants in the water to stupefy them. Fish spears, nets, wicker or stone traps were also used in different areas. Lines with hooks made from bone, shell, wood or spines were used along the north and east coasts. Dugong, turtle and large fish were harpooned, the harpooner launching himself bodily from the canoe to give added weight to the thrust. Both Torres Strait Island populations and mainland Aboriginal peoples were predominantly hunter & gatherers, who relied on wild foods.
…In present-day Victoria, there were two separate communities who farmed eels in complex and extensive irrigated pond systems; one on the Murray River in the state's north, the other in the south-west near Hamilton in the territory of the Djab Wurrung, which traded with other groups from as far away as the Melbourne area (see Gunditjmarad. A primary tool used in hunting is the spear, launched by a woomera or spear-thrower in some locales. Boomerangs were also used by some mainland Indigenous Australians. The non-returnable boomerang (known more correctly as a Throwing Stick), more powerful than the returning kind, could be used to injure or even kill a kangaroo.
…The typical Aboriginal diet included a wide variety of foods, including introduced pigs, kangaroo, emu, wombats, goanna, snakes, birds, and many insects such as honey ants, Bogong moths and witchetty grubs. Many varieties of plant foods such as taro, coconuts, nuts, fruits and berries were also eaten.
Permanent villages were the norm for most Torres Strait Island communities. In some areas mainland Aboriginal Australians also lived in semi-permanent villages, most usually in less arid areas where fishing could provide for a settled existence, with places like Budj Bim in particular growing to comparatively large settlements. Most Indigenous communities were semi-nomadic, moving in a regular cycle over a defined territory, following seasonal food sources and returning to the same places at the same time each year. From the examination of middens, archaeologists have shown that some localities were visited annually by Indigenous communities for thousands of years. In the more arid areas Aboriginal Australians were nomadic, ranging over wide areas in search of scarce food resources."
So a semi-nomadic, semi-settled (along the coasts where fishing provided a plentiful and reliable food source to support settled population) at a relatively low technological level (no metal-working) which was later flooded out of existence? That is not beyond the bounds of possibility.
Plus, it shows that the notion of the idyllic hunter-gatherer lifestyle where you spend a couple of hours max gathering food then can loll around with plenteous leisure is a bit of a just-so story; food gathering and hunting can take up most of your day, then you have to weave baskets, make implements, and do other work to support your lifestyle even if it's not settled agriculture. I think that's a lot closer to the truth of our ancestors than the Noble Savage versus the Puny Farmers modern version of myths.
On the crops point, a decent sized coastal civilization could survive on fishing with no access to crops.
There isn't huge civilisation that has managed to but the Jomon of Japan and the Indians of the Pacific Northwest had sedentary societies based on fish (and tree nuts). The Jomon were reasonably sophisticated.
It might also explain why their sites are hard to find as they would be coastal or in deltas.
Hancocks view seems (to me) to be that converging cultural evolution must be explained by som previous civilisation (Atlantis). I dont think we need Atlantis to explain that convergence. If we have cataclysmic events such as the YD (agnostic to YDIH...), we would expect genetic bottle necks and thus less genetic variation. Different cultural norms and technologies would then account for more of the variation in outcome for different human groups, and it would also be necessary to accelerate innovation and cultural learning. So, cultural evolution would speed up when populations decrease.
I think there is indirect evidence for this alternative explanation, for example that the Toba eruption seem to have caused increased cultural development in South Asia. (A counter effext would probably be that smaller population tolerate less division of labour, but that might be more important after scaling of food production post domestication of crops - i dont think hunter-gatherers could increase division of labour significantly, by just having larger groups.)
Also, I think my explanation has more parsimony (?) because we only need the general mechanism of shifted levels of selection throught less genetic diversity - we dont need to postulate Atlantis. And as I said, we can still allow for the YDIH, which I personally find plausible and not at all debunked.
I suspect embyronic agriculture prior to around 10,000 BC was mostly about cultivating what we would call herbs, i.e. small scale additives to their food, for taste variety and to disguise the taste of slightly off meat, and for specialised medicine. Staple food crops, and human digestion capable of processing them in bulk, then gradually developed from this.
The other problem with supposed early civilizations at that time is robbers. The wonder is that agrarian societies were _ever_ able to take off, when they would have been sitting targets surrounded by nomadic hunter gatherer tribes all too eager to grab any of their produce! One can only assume there were many hostile takeovers, until eventually the agrarians themselves became as fierce as, and more than equal to, the tribesmen assailing them.
Say you as a modern person knew about wheat and rice and experienced a cataclysm / ice age where you and your family migrated and lived as hunter gatherers for 500 years or 2,000 years. Would you what..save the seeds for that long? If you travelled from a wheat friendly growing area across ice to a mountainous region or desert region or swampy region and could no longer grow wheat, then it is quite possible for that food source to die out. We are not talking about a bloody empire collapsing due to war, that’s simply not a valid comparison to there being a 1 mile thick sheet of ice extending halfway down North America where nothing can be grown.
We in fact do not even need to speculate and already major food and medicinal herbs from Ancient Rome and from ancient India are well known to have gone extinct. Even now we see foods going out of use and are no longer grown for various reasons. Swine breeding skills hit an all time low in the Middle East after the rise of the Islamic world and Ottoman Empire, what if thst was the only place swine were bred in the ancient world?. Khamut, millet, teff, amaranth, and other far less popular grains have nearly fallen out of use for human consumption. Even some very popular breeds of dogs from only 500 years ago are extinct and we only have old descriptions and drawings of big work dogs used to turn stone mills which were replaced by horses, oxen, and machinery.
Looking to ancient Roman birth control plants to soma in India to the Keykeon of the ancient Eleusinian mysteries. We find a wide range of key medicinal and culturally significant plants where people were once highly motivated to cultivate them which are now extinct, gone, or unknown. Look to kombucha Scobie cultivars which are purely a human construct snd if we lost them all and couldn’t maintain them for even 5 years then they’d be gone forever and need to be reinvented, leaving zero trace on wild populations of bacteria-fungal hybrids.
Heck even look to the Torah for foods which can and cannot be eaten from only 3k to 5k years ago! We can’t even agree on the identity of such animals now or even what they looked like or if they have any modern equivalent. But we have no reason to doubt ancient Jews knew what animals they ate and didn’t eat and they weren’t making up mythical antelope or birds they ate which we can’t figure out now. So the idea host we would doubt the total loss of knowledge and cultivation of animals, fungi, and plants by ancient peoples is very silly in the face of all the evidence of key foods being lost far more recently.
The idea that plants of human internet and cultivation could not be lost to time over 10,000 or 20,000 years leaving no record or wild plants with clear DNA evidence of cultivation is not far fetched at all. It is what we would expect.
I find this argument to be very weak and armchair based with no grounding in well known biology and history. A few other points, cultivated plants and animals often do very poorly in the wild and would be expected to die off or go feral. They would quickly die off and leave minimal to no DNA impact on the general wild population, if it still exists. Take wild cows such as the auroch which is now extinct.
Also what evidence are we using here? Worse than the lead studies which have not been done, has anyone really done extensive DNA evaluation of wild plants with zero current or known historical cultivation to evaluate their DNA for any evidence of human cultivation? This has not been done, the vast majority of wild plants haven’t even been sequenced for DNA and plant DNA is rather weird vs animal DNA anyway. So not only would such evidence be logically unlikely to persist with cultivated varieties being less competitive than wild types, the attempt hasn’t even been done to collect vast DNA samples for loads of wild plants to look for unknown human cultivation impacts.
If my math intuition is right, your “ever” predictions can never be evaluated on the negative side (no shares never pay out).
If you limit with “within the next X years”, how much do your percentages go down? (X=25 seems reasonable to me).
Not just a pedantic point. I wonder sometimes what shape the curve of knowledge about our origins has into the future. Do we reach some
horizontal asymptote of sadly imperfect knowledge about ice age peoples not much beyond present understanding? Or do we learn more and more as we develop highly sensitive reconstructive techniques?
Pretty much the only thing I know about this debate is from reading this OP, and I don't have strong opinions about it. But here are some questions/thoughts I have that are maybe irrelevant, but seem to me worth discussing:
#1. Scott says 80m of the great pyramid would still be above water if sea levels rose. I'm sure he's right. But how long would that pyramid last? Would the seawater erode the pyramid within a few centuries? [ETA: to be clear, when I say the pyramids might have eroded in a few centuries, I don't mean they would have been reduced to silt, only that the foundations of the pyramid would have weakened enough for the top of the pyramid would sink below sea level and no longer be visible.]
#2. Scott mentions civilizations and localities that wouldn't be directly affected by the rise of sea levels. But I can bet they'd be affected somehow, and quite possibly for the worse. If the low-lying lands provide a lot of resources the higher-lying lands need, maybe the higher-lying lands' civilizations would decline, too.
#3. Scott wrote that "civilizations don't lose agriculture." Do we know that to be true? I mean, I grant that if there's no evidence of it ever happening, then that fact favors the "don't lose agriculture" argument. It probably favors it quite strongly. I'm just not ready to accept it happening.
Again, maybe the above concerns are already well answered in the discussions on this topic. And I'm not particularly invested in any of the answers. But I thought I'd mention them.
On the Where are the remains question Hancock's reply is, Gunung Padang on high ground, Gulf of Cambay if you want to look underwater, buried under a mile of ice at the South Pole (but I think he has retracted that).
On lead, can't find any mention of it in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metallurgy_in_pre-Columbian_America so perhaps some civilizations manage without?
I would say this mostly comes down to how you classify a civilization. But if we by civilization mean any form of human cooperation involving more than the tribal amount of people (100-150 individuals) then civilization most probably involves agriculture (although some river-dwelling cultures can sustain surprisingly large populations only from fishing). Most people would probably also make a civilizational requirement of some sort of institutions meaning some sort of organized religion and/or communal building works.
This is a very low bar to pass. And it is also more or less impossible to prove that this has never happened. You point to paleogenomics as proof that agriculture is no older than 10-12 ka old. But this assumes that ice age civilizations cultivated the same crops as later civilizations, which is far from certain, especially since the climatological conditions were vastly different.
Archeological remains are an equally uncertain way to determine if ice age civilizations have existed. The sea-level rise is a weak defense. Not only because vast areas have not been flooded but also because archeologists are quite adept at finding things under water. Especially in the Mediterranean most coastal areas are thoroughly looked over in the hunt for shipwrecks. Any major building works there would surely have been found as well. But major building works are not an absolute prerequisite for a civilization. Even more, building works do not have to be in perpetual stone. They could just as well have been made of perishable wood.
Even if absolute proof against ice age civilizations can not be found I still find them highly improbable. Agriculture was invented by humans in numerous places on this planet. The very earliest agriculture took place around 12,000 years ago in the Levant. But agriculture was independently invented in China at least 10,000 years ago, in America 9,000 years ago and even in Papua 8,000 years ago.
Considering that humans have collected and eaten grains for several hundred thousand years it is remarkable that farming was invented in so many places in the span of just a few thousand years. This is a very strong indication that it was something unique to this period of time, most likely the end of the ice age, that made agriculture worthwhile. This, in turn, is a very strong indication that agriculture was not developed before its assumed origin around 12,000 years ago.
I believe one strain of the Atlantis theory is that somewhere like the Mediterranean or Black Sea was a valley enclosed by higher land and remained below sea level for some time, but at some point the oceans rose enough to "breach the levees" and flood these areas. Not literally overnight, but quickly enough that civilization collapsed rather than migrated in an orderly fashion. So it would not be as simple as "if you were X+i meters above water, and the sea level rises X meters, you're still above water."
Marshlands and shallow water can be very productive for gathering, though this runs kind of counter to the thinking in the previous paragraph.
I'm curious: if the Romans hadn't had such thorough written records, what would we know about Carthage? If Western civilization hadn't traced itself back to the Iliad, when would we have found Troy? I guess you could argue that civilizations develop myths and literature before the capability to "delenda est", but probably some peoples exterminated their neighbors and the memory of that didn't survive because they themselves were conquered later.
How about Argument 4: where are the trade goods?
From Bronze Age civilizations, we have evidence of wide-ranging trade networks, where tin, glass, copper, amber, sea shells, and the like was transported between Western Europe and the Middle East, and women lived and were buried a thousand kilometers from where they were born. Where are the stone-age sites (however small) that have goods that are clearly from thousands of kilometers away?
Bolstering argument 1, we *have* sunken ice age sites, particularly in Doggerland. They don't show an advanced civilization.
I suppose the uncharitable position is that, at least as long as I can remember, say the 1970s, there’s been a consistent flow of modern sophisticated talking heads attempting to downplay the accomplishments of ancient humans, perhaps not realizing that their alternative explanations are even more far-fetched than, “They figured it out, it’s just engineering.”
I regard ancient tales of Atlantis every bit as credible as “Goliath was 3m tall.” Technically possible but probably a hyperbolic way of saying, “Taller than anyone we’ve ever seen.” See also “twice ten thousand time ten thousand” i.e. “An unimaginably big army.” I suspect at best a bunch of travelers’ tales that accumulated fancy with the retelling.
> So if there were Ice Age civilizations, what did they eat? It couldn’t have been any of our known crops, which post-date them. Could it have been their own crops, which were later lost?
They farmed silphium! And that’s why they went extinct! 😂
"The empire divided longs to unite, the empire united longs to divide, but the Chinese never fragmented so hard that they forget how to cultivate rice and rice went extinct."
May be a naive question, but if they did lose a crop that went extinct, how would we know? Is it just outside view that like, we don't know any crops with a gap where they were forgotten and rediscovered (or forgotten in their place of origin after having spread somewhere else)? Or just "we haven't domesticated any crops that seem like they should have been domsticatable by old civs, but weren't, so there probably weren't any "forgotten" crops."?
(Further outside view would suggest given that last line, the base rate of crop forgetfulness can't be very high, so it would be a low chance that it just so happens that *every* crop from Ice Age civs was forgotten, so even if this claim doesn't check out, the line of reasoning should, I think.)
Re: water level rise- listing what would remain from ancient civilizations after a 120 meter rise in sea level and then implying that we would find something isn't a good argument. Schoch's claim is that we do have something- the Sphinx! I don't particularly agree with Hancock's theories but he regularly makes the point that a lot of dating for structures relies on narrowing the band of time down to when we assume they were built based on how we think civilization progressed. Its rare to find a site like Gobekli Tepi which was used, then buried and so doesn't have millenia of subsequent use cluttering up the age range of its construction.
Also I doubt that the top of the great pyramid would be visible thousands of years after a massive flood, its limestone blocks would be worn by the waves and the top would collapse.
I think it was Rogan that had Shermer and Hancock on at the same time to debate this. It was so frustrating to listen to. They got to a point where writing in the Americas came up. I don’t even know if it’s true that there were no writing systems comparable to old world writing systems in the Americas (Olmec hieroglyphs seems to suggest it isn’t true) but they both seemed to think it was true, iirc.
Hancock proceeded to propose that a lack of writing suggested they were *more* advanced because they had to remember stuff! And Shermer let him get away with it by arguing whether that was true instead of just refusing to accept the attempt to redefine what “advanced” even means. Just so much skullduggery and semantics.
There’s a reason writing systems arose around early Bronze Age population centers. Once the population grows to more than what we evolved to be around (40-50 ppl in a tribe iirc but definitely not more than 200) it’s hard to keep track of stuff! Who owns what? How do you prove it? Etc.
First off: Thank you. I really appreciate it when you take frequently dismissed theories seriously enough to engage with and challenge them in plain language.
However, you say it’s not strawmanning to argue against an ice-age civilization capable of building Buckingham Palace. But I don’t think that’s what someone like Graham Hancock is arguing for?
He certainly suggests that there had to be someone around with far more impressive capabilities than we typically give people of the time credit for.
But unless you think capabilities can only arise along one narrow, technological “track”, that does not imply a Buckingham-level civilization.
Rather, we can imagine that the capabilities of a potential advanced, ice-age civilization might look to an 18th century British architect, much like the capabilities of a typical student at Hogwarts might look to us: Surprising and impressive, weirdly old-fashioned, and still... Most of the problems solved with magic at Hogwarts could easily be solved with science and technology instead of owls and levitating candles.
(It’s worth remembering that to students at Hogwarts, ‘magic’ or ‘sorcery’ isn’t particularly mysterious. It’s as predictable and teachable as our science and technology. When something goes wrong it’s due to boring reasons like a lack of talent, skill, training, focus, etc. and/or circumstances beyond the practitioner’s control. The Hogwarts student, then, has access to two separate “classes” of capabilities – sorcery and muggle technology – that hardly overlap or build on each other at all, but seem to be equally reliable when it comes to solving problems in the real world.)
Now, add to that:
Technological development builds on itself and stretches toward new capabilities to match our needs and wants. Once we invent the wheel and axle, we no longer prioritize inventing new ways to transport stuff using less energy – that problem has been solved. Instead we improve on the wheel, and use the wheel to stretch toward new capabilities.
However, imagine a civilization that didn’t invent wheels and axles for some reason, but instead invented the hot air balloon and used that to solve most of their transportation needs for centuries, and then built on that to solve other problems, and reach ever new capabilities.
If we discovered that civilization millennia after they invented the hot air balloon instead of the wheel, it would probably feel even stranger than arriving at Hogwarts. Everything would be different: food production, architecture, the economy, residential patterns, wants and needs, problems and solutions.
What I hear when Graham Hancock describes an “advanced civilization” living 12.000 years ago, is not a description of a civilization on the brink of our kind of Industrial Revolution. Rather, I picture a people that would have seemed like a weird Hogwarts to someone from pre-industrial Britain: Surprising and impressive, weirdly old-fashioned, and still...
To their hunter-gatherer contemporaries, the hypothetical ice-age civilization could have had a staggering understanding of geometry, astronomy, navigation, mathematics, engineering (all stuff that a sea-faring civilization would do well to learn), maybe politics, economy, job specialization ... And yet, for all kinds of reasons, they might not have engaged in much mining, or building their own megalithic structures, or agriculture on a large scale...
(Put another way, the hypothetical ice age civilization’s way of thinking about something like geometry and engineering – unrecognizable to us – might provide *some* 1700s capabilities, without necessarily being accompanied by all the other capabilities and motivations required to build a structure like Buckingham Palace.)
The motivations and capabilities to build megalithic structures and scale up agriculture could instead have emerged when mostly fish-eating survivors from such an ice-age civilization brought their capabilities to grain- and meat-eating tribes with other wants and needs, and became their wizards and demigods.
I’m not sure I believe it, but it seems like a more generous way to understand the argument than to evoke the picture of Enlightenment-era London, and it is a seductive way to explain what seems like an architectural and developmental missing link.
Also: I would find it surprising if there weren’t peoples living along the coast, living off the sea in some way, prior to a younger dryas impact, or if these peoples were not more advanced than contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes. That would go against the pattern, and would require some explanation. So my doubt isn’t so much about whether younger dryas coastal dwellers were more technologically advanced than more nomadic tribes inland, but about how large a technological lead they had.
This is an interesting argument. But how do we feel about the possibility of *dinosaur* civilizations?
My limited reading suggests that the most advanced hunter-gatherer cultures relied heavily on fishing. Especially if obtaining a fish surplus is easier from the ocean than from rivers or lakes, we’d expect these civilizations to be more heavily concentrated in coastal areas than agrarian ones. It makes it more likely they all could have flooded.
The fact that the continents were biologically separate until the last few centuries introduced "invasive species" everywhere is clear proof that there were no ancient civilizations that routinely travelled between continents before that.
Argument 1 states that most of Athens, except the Acropolis, would have been destroyed. So it shows that we would have one restruture to know of the existence of ancient Greeks and nothing else.
1) We have found megalithic structures underneath the ocean, they are hard to explore and to date, we mostly have no idea who built them. (one example https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantelleria_Vecchia_Bank_Megalith)
2) Any sites that would have "barely survived" by sea-level rise only (like the tip of a pyramid example), could have been destroyed in a different fashion. Assume cataclysm, it could have been a massive wave that destroys even the acropolis (massive wave could have happened by YD rapid sea-level rise). Assume slow and steady sea-level rise, simple soil deterioration would cause the and collapse of any shallow foundation structures. As far as we know, none of ancient sites are underpinned on bedrock.
3) Any site that barely survives can easily be erased from the map. VIolence plus 10,000 years of decay would leave nothing but ruble. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/150901-isis-destruction-looting-ancient-sites-iraq-syria-archaeology
3) If everything but the tip of building gets destroyed, you are suggesting everything but a small part of the most majestic building mankind has made would have survived. This argument makes a strong case against your point, that it is in fact perfectly normal that in cataclysm chances of survival of regular buildings are null. As far as crops and organic material, decay under the ocean would have taken care of it. Very hard to determine what crops they used in ancient Sundaland, doggerland or Caribbean if it is all underwater.
4) Agriculture could have fled with the survivors from the now underwater areas to the higher elevation regions in Mesopotamia where they start. Not a coincidence that the site of the oldest megalithic structure we know of is very close to the first known agricultural hub.
In short, we need to look under the ocean in coastal regions. Another interesting area is western Sahara, where we know sand has replaced what was a tropical area. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-really-turned-sahara-desert-green-oasis-wasteland-180962668/
Lead argument is interesting and first time I see it. The most interesting argument is the lack of ironwork from any site older than 3000BC. We have no record of steel or harder metals which would show an Great Britain level of civilization.
While some may argue the Pyramids are older than they are (as Schoch does with the Sphinx) let's just assume their current dating, 5000 years BP. It is in a plateau of that lead use graph. a site like this assuming methods of construction and civilization would have lead to increase in use of lead, but it does not.
The fact that Giza was built in absence of these metals (lead or iron) is of itself fascinating. We cannot rule out that a Great Britain level civilization could have looked different if they are using different materials and methods to create their build-environment. It is hard to find preserved organic matter, even harder underneath the ocean.
I think you have to start with basic skepticism in that we have zero records of advanced human societies dating before the onset of the Holocene. That's an incredible evidentiary bar to be overcome by anyone arguing the opposite. But the Pleistocene epoch lasted for 2.5 million years, only ending 11,700 years ago, and humans and proto-humans were around for all of it. We don't know a lot in relative terms about human life in the Pleistocene, but we do know that the environment in which those humans lived was very different from our own. It was very cold, icy, windy and filled with giant animals quite capable of killing a human being in seconds. Not an environment likely to be conducive to advanced human civilizations.
But however much we know about the Pleistocene from geology and genetics, the archeological record from it is almost nil, nor do we have even the roughest of sketches from other ways of knowing. Most of our myths and religions, even if you were take them literally, don't extend back in time into the Pleistocene. The line of cultures in all parts of the world stops well short of there. Any way you cut it, a 2.5 million year long epoch across all corners of the Earth is a lot of time and space for which we have very little information with respect to how we were existing within it.
And it could be a mistake to think that because much of the Holocene archeological record would survive a 400 foot rise in sea levels, therefore were there to have been advanced human societies in the Pleistocene, those records would've survived as well. In relative terms, the geology and climate of the Holocene has been warm and stable (it's probably not a coincidence that it has given rise to such human flourishing). Do we really understand the cataclysms that would be associated with the transition from a 2.5 million year long geological age into the next? Do we really understand the dissipating effects of tens or even hundreds of thousands of years of Ice Age pressures on archeological artifacts as compared to the impact of thousands of years in a warm and stable climate?
"Graham Hancock suggests “ancient sea kings” drew the Piri Reis map which seems to depict Antarctica; anyone who can explore Antarctica must be at least close to 1700s-British level."
I wouldn't lean too heavily on Hancock; his 1995 book "Fingerprints of the Gods" went on a long ramble from the Piri Reis map to the then-popular Mayan Calendar end of the world foretold, where SOMETHING was going to happen in 2012:
"The reader will also not have forgotten the date calculated by the Ancient Maya calendar for the end of the world:
The day will be 4 Ahau 3 Kankin [corresponding to 23 December AD 2012], and it will be ruled by the Sun God, the ninth Lord of the Night. The moon will be eight days old, and it will be the third lunation in a series of six …
In the Mayan scheme of things we are already living in the last days of the earth.
In the Christian scheme of things too, the last days are understood to be upan us. According to the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Peansylvania: ‘This world will perish just as surely as did the world before the Flood … Many things were foretold to occur during the last days, and all of these are being fulfilled. This means that the end of the world is near … ‘
Similarly the Christian psychic Edgar Cayce prophesied in 1934 that around the year 2000: ‘There will be a shifting of the poles. There will be upheavals in the Arctic and the Antarctic that will make for the eruption of volcanos in the Torrid areas … The upper portion of Europe will be changed in the twinkling of an eye. The earth will be broken up in the western portion of America. The greater portion of Japan must go into the sea.’
Curiously the epoch of the year 2000, which figures in these Christian prophecies, also coincides with the Last Time (or highest point) in the great upwards cycle of the belt stars of the Orion constellation, just as the epoch of the eleventh millennium BC coincided with the First Time (or lowest point) of that cycle.
And curiously, also, as we saw in Chapter Twenty-eight:
A conjunction of five planets that can be expected to have profound gravitational effects will take place on 5 May in the year 2000, when Neptune, Uranus, Venus, Mercury and Mars will align with the Earth on the other side of the sun, setting up a sort of cosmic tug-of-war …
Could the recondite influences of gravity, when combined with our planet’s precessional wobble, the torsional effects of its axial rotation, and the rapidly growing mass and weight of the Antarctic ice-cap, be enough to spark off a full-scale crustal displacement?"
I've enjoyed previous books of his, especially about the Sphinx, but it's best to take him as writing entertainment (no matter how seriously he may or may not take it). He's had to trim his sails over the decades as new pop culture theories have come into and fallen out of fashion (e.g. the Mayan Calendar bit) and as archaeological discoveries unfold new material, so whatever he says today may or may not be modified from what he said in the past, and what he will say in the future.
If the lost civilisations crowd stuck to the boring but possible "human civilisation extends back further than the official record", they'd have better success. But that's not half as interesting as "amazing lost high tech societies that have left traces all over the world and possibly secret mystic cults handing down their hidden knowledge not to be openly revealed until we achieve a level of progress comparable to theirs!". The more colourful story will always do better.
I don't know for sure, but it seems to me like islands surrounded by ocean are going to be more vulnerable to erosion than hills are, and that a region that is under water on average is going to tend to flatten out over time.
In other words, even if an Acropolis-like monument were high enough up that it would be above water if you instantly flooded the existing terrain, the land around it would still wash away pretty quickly. If there's hard enough bedrock underneath the dirt, you might still have an island, but it probably wouldn't be shaped much like the original hill, and the ground probably wouldn't stay stable enough to continue supporting the monument for very long.
You know, your predictions technically weren't limited to Earth - would you give the same odds for ever finding alien precursor structures more advanced than Buckingham Palace :p
So, on the broader question, I agree, there most likely weren't even Stonehenge-level civilizations around 11,000 years ago. There just seems to be a general dearth of positive evidence for that across numerous criteria.
But, I wouldn't assign much weight to specific criteria like lack of evidence for lead mining. Ancient civilizations may have mostly made use of lead, but that doesn't mean that you can't have something similar the the level of cultural sophistication of Pharaonic Egypt without it. Technology doesn't progress according to a precise ordering which is consistent across civilizations. Some innovations, like the wheel and axle for transport, seem quite basic, but were actually quite complicated to come up with, and were gradually spread from a point of origin rather than being developed independently in numerous civilizations once they reached an adequate level of sophistication. There have been large and powerful empires which got by without the wheel, or systems of writing capable of expressing most of their spoken language. So for many specific criteria like use of lead, we don't necessarily have to defy the data that suggests their absence to posit that powerful civilizations might have gotten by without those things.
But as a broad picture, any large civilization which did manage to get by without those things would have to have left surprisingly little trace of its existence.
The thing missing here is what glaciers can _erase_; glaciers are incredible at eroding mountains, and leave permanent grooves in solid bedrock. Any stonehenge type structure in Minnesota or Ontario would have been completely destroyed by the ice sheet, as would any evidence of crops... but that only works for non-equatorial latitudes.
All of this is an indirect argument that a greater EA cause area should be writing down extremely important knowledge on long-lasting storage (e.g., stone etchings in a geologically stable desert area). Even weak evidence of past civilizations that had scale but Didn't Make It To Technology should motivate us to preserve knowledge!
Fun read! Up for a Long Bet Scott?
The agricultural argument is definitely the strongest of the three.
The argument from lack of identified sites is not terribly strong. If there are any lost cities away from the former coast, they could just be lost. 13000 years is a long time for a city to be razed, eroded, quarried for materials, or buried. There’s certainly a lot more 4000-year-old cities which have not been found or which have been destroyed entirely. Archaeologists knew about the Gobekle Tepe site for 30 years but assumed it was a neolithic graveyard of minor importance before it was eventually excavated in full. Shimao was only excavated in 2011. In this context the absence of direct evidence for 13000-year-old cities is no more than mildly suggestive.
The lead argument would need someone to actually check the prehistoric lead levels, as you mention. (If there are future ACX grants then this could be a great project to fund.) It seems likely but not certain that this would find no evidence of emissions—in which case it would suggest there was no very old civilization *with relatively advanced metallurgy*, not that there was no very old civilization at all. The pre-Columbian civilizations show that it’s possible to have a very advanced civilization with extensive empires, monumental architecture, etc using basically neolithic tech which would not show up in the lead measurements.
If there’d been an agricultural society in the east during the Green Sahara period wouldn’t their agriculture be lost as a result of such substantial environmental change?
Major Climatic disruption that end civilisations seem like they would be enough for agriculture to be lost
Can we get an introduction, or at least some context?
> You can separate these kinds of claims into three categories:
What kind of claims? Do I have to read all three links above in order to read this post? Just the subreddit? How much do I read on the subreddit?
On civilisation: The Danish public intellectual Georg Brandes, 1846-1927 (responsible for making Friedrich Nietzsche and Henrik Ibsen known to a larger European public & famous himself in his day), was once asked by a journalist what he himself believed in. Brandes tried as best he could to ignore the question, but the journalist kept coming back to it, and in the end Brandes gave in and said: "I believe in the stupidity of man and the possibility of cultural decline."
Re: how does lead get into human bones
Lead is chemically pretty similar to calcium and ends up in much the same places in the body. One of the easiest ways to ingest lead is to have it react with vinegar, forming lead tetraacetate which is soluble in water.
Interestingly, lead tetraacetate is also slightly sweet-tasting, and it is suggested that the Romans used it deliberately in cooking. See Wikipedia page on "defrutum":
"In ancient Rome, grape syrup was often boiled in lead pots, which sweetened the syrup through the leaching of the sweet-tasting chemical compound lead acetate into the syrup. [...] A 2009 History Channel documentary produced a batch of historically accurate defrutum in lead-lined vessels and tested the liquid, finding a lead level of 29,000 parts per billion (ppb), which is 2,900 times higher than contemporary American drinking water limit of 10 ppb."
What brought this post on? Is this something that's in the news or something? It seems only remotely more plausible than Flat Eartherism or the Covid vaccine giving you 5G reception.
Here's something I wonder about sometimes: Archaeologists/paleontologists tend to say “X is Y years old” when Y is the (estimated) age of the earliest instance of X that we have found so far. But obviously based on that evidence Y is a lower bound on the age of X, not our best estimate of its age. Couldn't we use some statistical technique to actually estimate when X began, given the observations of it that we have found?
Like to take a really dumb/oversimplified version of this, suppose that we have findings of arrowheads roughly every 10,000 years, up until 60,000 years ago (these are made-up numbers). Then you might say that “arrowheads (and presumably arrows) are between 60–70 thousand years old.” Doing this right would be much more nuanced and sophisticated, and would probably involve some factors like the expected rate of decay of such things, how hard we have looked for them in various places, etc.
Has anyone done this? Or even seriously discussed it?
This post made me realize that I always picture the ice age in terms of snowy landscapes and mammoth hunters, but indeed it’s not like the whole earth was covered in snow. I guess it’s because the places I have lived were such climates during that time? Maybe that biases what we see in archeology museums.
Tic-Tac Man likely evolved from dinosaurs not primates and didn't feel the impulse to build monuments. The World Soul then was interested in converting spirit into light. Highly evolved primates, OTOH, are mostly here to make noises and pro wrestling matches.
Per my understanding there is actually no consensus of what kinds of human populations existested before and during the Last Glacial Maximum (19,000 to 14,000 ago), because the ice sheets have wiped out even the mountain tops in the Northern areas. The historical consensus of the human population during this period of ice sheet and global climate fluxes seems to be a debated and evolving scene
This of course has created plenty of more or less credible academic theories and even cult-like pseudohistories.
Regarding the pseudohistories, most of them are harmless speculative prehistory or linguistics, but some of these were connected to the idea of Great Finland, which was popular in some circles when Finland allied with Germany in the second world war- and now these "sagas" have gained followers in the ultranationalist web forums.
For the evidence of how ice-age wiped out everything in Northern areas, see for example https://www.science.org/content/article/last-ice-age-wiped-out-people-east-asia-well-europe
Forgive me if someone has mentioned it, and I missed this, but surely the clincher for the absence of advanced civilizations much before around 10,000 BC is that human populations simply weren't high enough.
The stone age was a hard time to survive, especially in the colder climate back then in temperate regions, and probably most population levels barely held their own, even with every fertile woman pregnant throughout their child bearing age.
They would also likely have been spread out too thinly for various reasons, such as competition for food and the avoidance of social strife that would otherwise have occurred in communities larger than most people's then wilder natures to handle. It isn't just crops and animals such as dogs that were being domesticated back then, but ourselves! Members of a small community may have been content and loving in each other's company, but those detestable strangers living in the next valley could have been fair game (perhaps literally!)
Also, despite a few carefully arranged burials that have been discovered, primitive people back then must often have been fairly lackadaisical about hygiene, with discarded food remains and even bodies left lying around near homes. So epidemics of diseases would have been an ever present threat, increasing in proportion to population density in a given area.
By pure serendipity, Youtube recommendations came up trumps this week. Here's a two-parter (I think it's two parts anyway) about Graham Hancock's new TV series:
I didn't go looking for a rebuttal to Hancock, I don't know who this guy is, and frankly some of his mannerisms are a bit irritating, so this is not me putting up someone I follow and like to show "See, see? Hancock is wrong!"
I don't think I'm giving anything away by revealing he doesn't accept Hancock's hypothesis, but he does try to give it a fair shake:
- Who is Hancock?
- What are his qualifications?
- What is his hypothesis?
- How do you prove a lost civilisation?
It also helps that Hancock is pinning his dates down to around 12,000 years ago as the beginning of the end for his lost civilisation, so we're not dealing with "something that was around 40,000 years ago but all traces have been obliterated because of environmental change over that span". His lost civilisation overlaps with the accepted beginnings of civilisations as we know them, so there should be remaining evidence somewhere. The big question then becomes - is there, and if so, where?
Ongoing response thread to this on twitter looking interesting: https://twitter.com/samoburja/status/1632112167670673408?s=46&t=Vr6FkO5lnC-pKto0THM8ZQ
"anyone who can explore Antarctica must be at least close to 1700s-British level."
Not to nitpick, but when I see an unexplained, undefended assumption this large in an opinion piece, it throws doubts on other opinions in areas I lack the background knowledge to evaluate. High arctic Inuit survived and colonized a harsh environment without being "1700s-British level" and Polynesians engaged in impressive ocean navigation. This is, as far as I can tell, a completely unwarranted assumption, and it raises the question of how many others are lurking that I missed.
Minor point on "civilizations don't lose agriculture".
In the first chapter or so of "Guns, Germs, and Steel" Jared Diamond makes the case that environment shapes civilization by pointing to the Polynesians. That it was the same origin civilization, but on some islands the culture regressed to primitive hunter-gatherer state whereas other Polynesian cultures grew and became complex and thriving, and attributed the difference to the geography and resources of the islands they colonized.
(Not expecting civilizations, I'd still not be thinking about wheat or barley. More like, Atriplex, Chenopodium, beetroot and so on. I'd look into edible plants from brackish sites, based on the map.)
I agree, but for the sake of argument, I also realize how fragile and small early civilisations are. If some of the key farming tribes of the fertile crescent were wiped out, at a certain time, by decease or a catastrophe, the development of agriculture might have been stalled by perhaps millennia. And there are actually food that have more or less disappeared in certain areas, like the Taro and Carob in Europe.
But we also need a sudden disaster, not sea levels increasing 'slowly' for thousands of years. This could happen if high levels were reached in the Mediterranean, and then a barrier broke (for example at the Strait of Messina) and flooded a certain area (East of Tunisia?)
If we can find a region somewhere, that fit into that description, there might have been some pre-ice-age civilisation that died out. Not very highly advanced though, but above the level of hunter gathering.
Amundsen got to the South Pole in 190x with Inuit technology. Possibly with the slight edge of better rifles for seal shooting and better nav instruments than the 1700s. It was modern technology which actually scuppered British ant/arctic exploration in the 19th century, state of the art tinned meat with no vitamin c in it.
But that's a side issue. If you actually read Hancock the idea is the Antarctic was ice free when it was mapped.
BP - Before Present
BC - Before Christ
For starters, the Arctic is not a sort of entry-level version of the Antarctic. For second, why do you think a mission failure is always evidence of insufficient technology, which is what we are talking about? Do you think NASA tech took a sharp step backwards after Apollo 12? For thirds, that is not the claim we are discussing.
These arguments aren't very convincing.
> Argument 1: Where Are The Sites?
They don't need to be high up, just made of wood and steel - Disintegrated.
> Argument 2: Where Are The Crops And Livestock?
Part of a fragile circular ecosystem which wasn't robust to the collapse of civilization - or else, evolved into something else over the intervening millennia.
> Argument 3: Lead Levels. Many ancient civilizations mined lead
Maybe they weren't even interested in lead.
I do agree with your predictions; "0.5% chance we ever find something demonstrating equal or greater architectural advancement to the Great Pyramid, dating from before 11,000 BC" seems basically OK, because even if there was anything, the fact that we haven't found signs of it suggests all traces would simply be gone - or else, we wouldn't know what to look for, and thus can't be expected to find signs even if they do exist. Try looking, for example, at the global temperature fluctuations over the last million years; we aren't sure why they're doing that, and we assume natural causes. If a civilization in the future was looking back for evidence of us, would they even realize lead was the smoking gun?
To be a bit pedantic I think it would help alot to define "about as advanced" especially for case 1. I mean, suppose that they generally have all the other tech and social organization that the stonehenge people did except it just takes a long ass time/different conditions to manage agriculture and without that the incentives don't favor the creation of large monuments?
In other words is "about as advanced" about their level of monument building, their mastery of basic crafts or their social organization? It seems plausible these diverge.
It'd be buried pretty deep, all surface markers probably buried under rubble thousand of feet deep or glaciers?
The Sphinx and Pyramid of Giza are scientifically (politically) claimed to be built in 2500 BC with zero recorded accreditation from that era (makes perfect sense).
Both found with damage from flooding. Both "abandoned" and "re-discovered" in an excavation in 1400 BC by a later pharoah. The Sphinx was completely buried in sand, forgotten.
The "ancient" Egyptians have zero ancestral memories or recorded knowledge of building them. They didn't know what a Sphinx was or the purpose of the Pyramid. And they never rediscovered the "lost" technology to make them again.
Isn't Science awesome, the best (Omniscient); can fill in for every gaping hole in history.
"So a 120m sea level rise wouldn’t be enough to wipe out evidence of our crop of ancient civilizations, and shouldn’t be enough to wipe out evidence of a previous crop, unless they had a very different geographic distribution than ours."
If there were ice age civilizations, they had a very different geographic distribution than ours.
Coastlines weren't the only thing that changed. Climate zones, wet and dry spots, biomes moved all over the place. Amazonia was a steppe, Sahara was green, Anatolia was forested. There is very limited overlap between "places optimal for habitation in 15 000 BC" and "places optimal for habitation today", and they just happen to be the places with the oldest known civilizations (Levant and Anatolia). They're also the most heavily archaeologically surveyed. We barely touched the ground in e.g. Central Asia and North Africa.
The spike in lead levels in 1000BC is due to Phoenicians opening silver mines in Spain. Did this produce a dramatic increase in the availability of silver? Or was it just that the mine was much dirtier than older mines? (Yet another possibility is that it is closer to Greenland, as the wind blows.)
I really like your willingness to assign probabilities, including your efforts to assess the outcome of your predictions. Personally I would assign different probabilities to the three discoveries:
Gobekli Tepe: You put 20%. I think that's too low. The place wasn't even discovered until 1963, suggesting that there very likely are other undiscovered sites (my impression is that that region of Anatolia has had a grossly disproportionate amount of archeological study). Your probability was based on finding a site 2,000 years older, but still. I'd bump it up to 40%.
The other two sound extremely unlikely to me. This raises the problem of how to estimate rare outcomes, because if an outcome is rare, the estimate generally is made without empirical data. That said, I'd put "pyramids" at 0.01%, and Buckingham Palace at <0.0001%. Though you had a "less than" estimate for the latter.
Hi Scott, wouldn’t the fact that all those agricultural crops start at exactly the same time across the globe support pre 10k bc agriculture and the younger dryas?
Sparta: I'm late to the party, but: there's (almost) nothing left there (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sparta#Archaeology_of_the_classical_period). There are other much better examples; Athens, as you say or Mycenae.
The Jared Diamond article reads like something I might have written after watching a Disney movie. The logic is riddled with holes. Agriculture led to malnutrition. I got that. Settlements led to intellectual pursuits and the systematic acquisition of knowledge-- nowhere mentioned.