If, for a moment, we suspend our scepticism regarding Hancock’s ‘Lost Civilisation’ and attempt to understand the character of the society he hypothesises, we immediately run into problems. He is apparently more keen to discuss its legacy than its nature: the pyramids, the maps, the layout of temple complexes are all incontrovertibly much later than the end of the civilisation. This means that there is no contemporary evidence he can bring to bear, other than the disputed underwater ‘sites’ such as Yonaguni or the ‘city’ in the Bay of Cambay, which have produced no archaeological material.

World-wide but only coastal

We are told that the civilisation was world-wide, yet it seems only to have occupied the coastal plains that were exposed during the late Pleistocene marine regression. It was apparently maritime, hence the production of allegedly accurate maps in the remote past, which were used as mariners’ charts. It was, in some undefined way, more ‘spiritual’ than contemporary civilisation. Its people – or at least its priests – were concerned to warn future civilisations of the terrible dangers of earth crustal displacement or, since Hancock abandoned Antarctica as the home for ‘his’ civilisation, of climate change and rising sea levels.

Spiritually enlightened but vague

Although these ideas are rather appealing in a ‘lost golden age’ way, they are woolly and vague. Indeed, it is the very lack of precise characteristics that makes them so appealing, as the individual reader can impose their own interpretation of what these positive features were like. It is evident that Hancock is pushing an idea that is very like Plato’s Atlantis: a lost ideal state, although in this case, it was wiped out not as a punishment for its degeneration by the gods but as a result of natural forces beyond its control. That part of the moral fable is lost, but the rest is there. Hancock seems to be saying that if we can recapture the lost values of that civilisation – especially its spirituality – then we, too, can live in a golden age, and all those problems that trouble the modern world will become a thing of the past. In other words, he is peddling a religious, almost messianic message. It is little wonder that his readers betray all the symptoms of following a guru.

As a typical Bad Archaeologist, Hancock is unwilling to put forward testable hypotheses about the nature of the ‘lost civilisation’: he is content to assert that it existed and leave it at that. Dealing with the mundane details is not in his repertoire, as he has convinced himself that he has answered the Big Question (a question which, it must be pointed out, is entirely of his own making and not one that exercises Real Archaeologists). In other words, in our state of suspended disbelief, we have not learned anything concrete about this ‘lost civilisation’.