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Online Introduction to Underworld
From Fingerprints of the Gods to Underworld

An Essay on Methods
By Graham Hancock

The jigsaw-puzzle lost continent

In Underworld the simple new idea on which the whole investigation is founded arises from facts of geology that have been well-known for decades. At the end of the Ice Age, over a 10,000 year period between 17,000 and 7000 years ago -- just before the supposed beginnings of civilization -- 25 million square kilometers of what were then the most habitable lands on earth were flooded by rising sea levels as the ice caps melted. That's a landmass roughly equivalent in size to the whole of South America (17 million sq kms) and the United States (9.6 million sq kms) added together. Its an area almost three times as large as Canada and much larger than China and Europe combined. And it's also an area on which hardly any archaeology has ever been done. How can we be sure, therefore, that archaeology has got the story of the origins of civilization right when so many of the places where our ancestors lived shortly before what we think of as the start of civilization have never been studied by archaeologists at all?

We have to remember that the world was very different just before the end of the Ice Age. Huge expanses of the northern hemisphere that are centres of habitation today were then buried beneath ice caps three kilometres thick and almost as uninhabitable as the surface of the moon. Our ancestors were forced to migrate -- typically to low-lying coastal areas close to fertile river deltas and the resources of the sea. They could not have anticipated that the ice-caps from which they had fled would melt, causing sea-level to rise more than 400 feet, flooding for ever the lowlands on which they had taken refuge.

The result is a jigsaw-puzzle "lost continent", scattered under the oceans at depths down to 400 feet that I have set myself the challenge of exploring. Since nobody else is doing it I'm searching for evidence of earlier civilisations that might have flourished there before history began..

In many ways it's a quixotic and seemingly hopeless quest. The sea covers 70 per cent of the earth's surface and as recently as 1997 a chain of submerged mountains 1000 miles long and almost 10,000 feet high was discovered on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. The point is that if things on the scale of underwater mountain ranges can go undetected until so late in this age of high technology then it's obviously not going to be easy to find much smaller targets like flooded cities and monuments. Even at the crude mapping level, it's one of the absurdities of scientific priorities that we now have a better map of the surface of Venus than we do of the 88 million square miles of our own planet's sea-floor.

But the search could be narrowed. Thanks to the generosity of Dr Glenn Milne of the University of Durham's Department of Geology, I was able to study state-of-the art computerised "inundation maps" that he and his colleagues have prepared which can simulate the earth's coastlines as they would have looked at any point during the meltdown of the Ice Age. I was able to see that the 25 million square kilometres swallowed up by the rising seas in this period included vast areas that lay adjacent to recognised early centres of agriculture and civilisation:

  • Malta, home to what are supposedly the oldest freestanding temples in the world, is today just a tiny island in the Mediterranean. But until the end of the Ice Age it was joined to Sicily by a landbridge 60 miles long.
  • Beside the Fertile Crescent, the Persian Gulf was dry land until around 12,000 years ago with a vast river running through it formed out of the combined streams of the Tigris and the Euphrates. The southern part of the Gulf was not fully flooded until about 8000 years ago.
  • Around India close to a million square miles were lost -- mostly in the northwest and the southeast.
  • A thousand-mile wide strip of coast was inundated off China's east coast as far north as Korea.
  • Further south an Ice Age continent called Sundaland connected the Malay peninsula to Indonesia and the Philippines until around 10,000 years ago.
  • On the western side of the Atlantic the Florida and Grand Bahama Banks were fully exposed until after 7000 years ago -- the same time that the first traces of agriculture began to appear in mainland Central America.

What helped to narrow the search further were the flood myths of the ancient peoples of these regions which science confirmed had indeed suffered extensive inundation at the end of the Ice Age.

And as a keen scuba-diver I was able to check out any site where fellow divers had reported strange or unusual underwater structures.

Over the past five years I've put in hundreds of dives all around the world, and taken big physical risks following up what sounded like promising leads only to find they came to nothing in the end. I've ruled out some of the underwater sites I've dived on as being man-made but too young and others as not being man-made at all -- just weird natural formations. But the remarkable thing, since I do not have the resources of a marine institute behind me and have to rely on simple detective-work to plan my dives, is that I have successfully explored, and now described in Underworld and filmed for my Channel 4 television series, a handful of genuinely mysterious underwater ruins in the Mediterranean, in the Indian Ocean and in the Pacific which cannot be explained within the established model of prehistory. All were last above water at the end of the Ice Age between 8000 and 12,000 years ago, and all are too large and complex to have been made by any known culture of that period.

There are extraordinary local flood traditions in each case, and quite frequently specific references in myths to submerged ruins in the vicinity. Local fishermen often know about the ruins -- sometimes having to dive down to them to free trapped nets. In some cases there are also ancient maps (copied during the Renaissance from even older source maps) that show regions that are now flooded very much as they would have looked during the Ice Age when sea-levels were much lower. For example Portuguese maps drawn in the early 1500s show the northwest coast of India not as it looked in the 1500's but as it last looked around 14,000 years ago just before the first of the three great meltwater pulses that terminated the Ice Age. Such "ghost lands" also crop up on ancient maps of the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Pacific, all areas in which unexplained underwater ruins have been found. The mystery of these extraordinary ancient maps, and what they might mean for the story of civilisation is explored in Part V of Underworld.

In January 2002 underwater cities off the coast of northwest India made news headlines all around the world. The two cities, which have been discovered by India's National Institute of Ocean Technology, each cover an area of about 10 square miles and lie 120 feet deep in the Gulf of Cambay in an area that until as late as 6900 years ago formed a huge fertile valley that was entirely above water. Then the seas rose again and the Gulf of Cambay was flooded.

It therefore seems probable, from the sea-level data alone, that these mysterious submerged cities, which had towering walls, massive geometrical buildings and huge engineering works such as dams, must be more than 7000 years old. Even greater antiquity has been suggested by the recovery of some 2000 man-made artefacts from the sites. Recently tested at two different laboratories in India, the artefacts produced radiocarbon dates ranging from 8500 to 9500 years old.

That's more than 4000 years older than any advanced city-building culture so far recognised by archaeologists, and of course great cities like those now at the bottom of the Gulf of Cambay don't grow up overnight. For technical reasons the carbon- dates are from artefacts lifted only from the upper strata of the sites. Once proper coring can be done to deeper layers of the submerged cities much more ancient dates are to be expected.

So if they are what they seem to be the cities in the Gulf of Cambay add up to the Holy Grail that I've been searching for -- a lost civilisation of the Ice Age, destroyed, as the myths say, by a great flood. In a sense I need nothing more to prove my case.

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