Review of Underworld
Let's get this straight, right from the outset - Underworld is not Fingerprints of the Gods. I say this, because I know that fans of Graham Hancock's work like to compare his latest efforts with the monolithic benchmark that is FOTG. And this simply isn't a valid comparison - FOTG smashed its way into our consciousness in the main because it introduced us to (or re-introduced to some) the amazing mysteries that were present in what we thought was a mundane old world. A decade or so on, most of us are a lot more informed, and in some cases a little cynical, about the world of 'alternative archaeology'. Thus, any appraisal of Hancock's latest work, Underworld, must be made with this in mind.
The reason I sound this warning is because Underworld is the closest thing (in style at least) that Hancock has done to FOTG. The book takes the form of a 'travelogue', travelling to various parts of the world, discussing historical mysteries and visiting mysterious sites, searching for a lost civilisation...sound familiar? However, this time Hancock moves off land and into the formerly concealed depths of the coastal seas of the world. Underworld is based on the premise that if there was a 'lost' civilisation in the depths of antiquity, it is probable that they lived in coastal areas, and would therefore have been inundated by rising sea levels in and after the Ice Age. By searching in the seas around coastal areas, Hancock believes that evidence of these civilisations will come to light.
Underworld weighs in at close to 700 pages, and consists of 30 chapters - truly a daunting prospect for the casual reader (although certainly offering value for money). However, Hancock makes the job a little easier for the reader by breaking the book into six parts, based on geography and subject matter. Part I, 'Initiation', is basically an introduction to the story and subject matter. Parts II and III are on Hancock's investigations into the historical and oceanic mysteries of that often neglected land, India. Part IV covers the megaliths of Malta, while in Part VI the focus moves to Japan, Tiawan and China. Separating these last two parts is Part V, which changes the pace of the book for a short while by taking a look at anomalies in ancient maps of the world. Let's take a look at each part in a little more detail.
Part I introduces the reader to Hancock's idea of the inundation of a lost civilisation, starting with the story of the Indian site of Poompuhur where a possibly man-made ancient structure lies hidden at the bottom of the Bay of Bengal. From here, Hancock briefly discusses the events and findings that led to his investigation, with a little scuba diving information thrown in for good measure. These first two chapters serve as an excellent introduction to the book, as well as whetting the appetite of the reader for what is to come. Hancock then jumps to a discussion of the civilisation of Sumer, and a few of its flood myths and stories of aquatic gods. Here Hancock is in his element, researching mysterious ancient traditions and suggesting there is more than meets the eye. Part I is then wound up with an in depth look at the changing weather and ocean levels during and after the last Ice Age, which helps inform the reader of the possibilities of a submerged civilisation.
Part II is devoted entirely to India. It begins with a discussion of ancient Indian history and culture, noting such things as superhuman feats of memory, the Vedas, and Indian myths in general. After this introduction, Hancock then takes the reader on a trip through parts of India, reminiscing about the time in his youth spent growing up there. This chapter showcases Hancock's writing skills, with florid descriptions really transporting the reader to 'his' India. The following chapter consists of a summary of Vedic flood myths, as well as a little of the cross-over between ancient astronomy and myths. Once the 'flood' element is set up by this chapter, Hancock goes on to discuss inundation maps, glaciation and ancient floods for the following two chapters. I found this section of the book quite tedious, with it moving a little too much into the 'science reference' material than 'ancient mystery'. However, it is understandable that Hancock is trying to back up his claims, especially with the current climate for alternative publications - so perhaps this is more a reflection on my past readings. All the same, I had to fight the urge to 'skim read' this section, and was thankful to return to the travelogue with the commencement of Part III.
Part III continues with the topic of India, with just a short excursion to the Maldives interrupting this theme. Hancock dives at the site of Dwarka, visits the sacred mountain of Arunachela and discusses the mythic city of Kumari Kandam. Along the way there are more details on flood myths, and post-glacial inundations. There's some very interesting information contained in these sections, and Hancock provides a statement summing up the intrigue which forms the basis for much of the book:
What I found most striking...was the way in which two areas rich in flood myths...where underwater ruins had been found...were also the two areas most clearly defined by Glenn Milne's (inundation) maps
Part III comes to an end with the story of Hancock's dives at Poompuhur, and with it Underworld moves away from the shores (or more correctly, the coastal seas) of India. It has to be admitted that by now, despite the new and interesting things I had learnt about India, it was a pleasure to move to a new location.
Part IV changes the scenery to that of Malta, and here we really strike the whole gamut of storylines. We have the mystery of the Maltese megaliths, the excitement of a dive gone wrong, the intrigue of possible archaeological fraud, and the soap opera of the personalities involved in the story. The real pleasure of this section, however, was seeing the often neglected archaeology of Malta take a front seat for a change. A renegade researcher, Anton Mifsud, takes centre stage as he argues for an earlier date for the beginnings of Maltese settlement. Along with his research comes the claim of an archaeological cover-up to remove traces of the evidence for this culture. Certainly interesting reading, and I found Part IV to be the most interesting so far. Little did I know that the best was yet to come.
Part V was 'it' for me. Perhaps it's the researcher in me, because it certainly was a departure from most of the book in style. Here Hancock, with the help of his research assistant Sharif Sakr, presents an excellent investigation into the anomalies of early maps. The reader is given an interesting short history and introduction to map-making, and from this point it is basically strange fact after strange fact, all pointing to an ancient tradition of mapping the globe. Noticeable is how Hancock deliberately avoids the map material provided in FOTG - perhaps a statement that he does not want to rest on his laurels. Key facts are presented to back up his claims, and despite the odd 'leap of faith', I felt that this section really was worth the price of the book alone.
Part VI sees the return of the travelogue, with Hancock now diving on sites in the vicinity of Japan and Taiwan - most notably the famous Yonaguni site. There are some revelations in this section as well, with the megalithic culture of Japan being a real eye-opener to me. The material on the Jomon is first-rate, and again revealed my ignorance of archaeology in this part of the world. Again, Hancock turns to the myths of the region, although he does admit he may be reaching at times with the stark admission "Yes, I do realise that there might be dozens of...worthier explanations". This willingness to admit he may be wrong is a refreshing aspect of Underworld, and it is encountered again when he meets up with geologist Dr Wolf Wichmann. In this section Hancock details the views of three separate geologists on the Yonaguni site - Wichmann, Kimura and Schoch. It is a benefit to Hancock's argument that Wichmann, although disagreeing with him on Yonaguni, is quite impressed by the Kerama site. Underworld is then brought to a close with an overall look at sites, maps and myths from the whole area of Japan, Taiwan and China. A short postscript mentions the recent Cambay finds, and serves as a handy final punch for Hancock's theory.
My impressions? Quite a long, and at times tedious read, Underworld nevertheless struck me as a fascinating and passionate exposition of a man's search for what may be a missing chapter in our history. I certainly don't agree with a number of Hancock's ideas, but I'm not so naive as to throw the baby out with the bath water. Once again, Hancock comes through with some great research for others to build on. One thing is sure...his commitment has to be applauded - the man could sit behind a desk and write a bestseller at this stage of his career, but instead he puts his time, money (and health) on the line to investigate his ideas.
What really sets Hancock apart from the rest of the crowd though is his writing. From describing somebody as reacting "in the manner of a man suppressing a sneeze", to sublime phrases such as "the alchemy of his own prestige and authority transformed (his theory)", Hancock's writing style is a joy to the reader and makes his material all the more readable. Critical, or perhaps more correctly, jealous, scholars should take note of this when they complain about the man's ability to reach the public. The description of his time spent as a youth in India makes for a nice diversion to the ever-present archaeological investigation, and shows a more personal and honest side of Hancock that the reader may not have seen before.
Of course, it's not all wine and roses though. Hancock still tends to jump to a conclusion, although perhaps not as often as in his earlier work. A further problem is that these leaps of logic are sometimes undertaken unconsciously, as when he describes the apparently parallel blocks of Yonaguni as having been "placed" upright. The trouble with this is that the casual reader will tend to take this on board without having the opportunity to think critically about it, and leads to erroneous conclusions. Another criticism is that sometimes Hancock is very selective with the material to best fit his hypothesis. For instance, while he mentions the connections between astronomy and myths, at one point referencing Hamlet's Mill, when it comes to flood myths the treatment is all of a sudden very literal...despite Hamlet's Mill covering this area itself in quite a different light. Note that I'm not saying that flood myths shouldn't be taken literally - just that the obvious alternatives might have got a little more coverage. However, that would have made the book a thousand pages long, and I can understand the necessity of not straying too much from the central theme. As an aside, it's interesting to note too, that 'Antarctica as Atlantis' and Earth Crustal Displacement seem to have been quietly exorcised from Hancock's vision.
My greatest problem with Underworld though lies in the fact that the 'smoking gun' is never found. While there are certainly some fascinating finds, at no point is unassailable evidence put forth. The dives on each site are usually too murky, too short, badly planned or not possible. I can understand the difficulties involved - indeed Hancock spells them out for the reader - but surely if the stakes are so high something better should be offered? At times, the book and research seems like an after-idea to the television series that was filmed concurrently. Extremely important dives are shortened dramatically because of the filming schedule. This is inexcusable - if you are committed to doing a serious investigation then this sort of happening simply reduces your credibility. However, it's a sign of the times, and Hancock is not alone in this fault - the big dollars on the line quite often win over what should be the simple necessities. The reader is inclined to feel the same as Hancock when he sums up his frustration with the phrase "I felt like Tantalus, the thirsty Greek king whose fate it was to stand forever up to his neck in water that receded whenever he tried to drink it".
Despite these criticisms, overall I would heartily recommend Underworld to anyone who is interested in fresh views on ancient times, most especially those in the 'alternative scene'. Hancock's writing is second to none, there is plenty of interesting research material, and the subject matter makes for good reading. He seems to be trying to reinvent himself a little in light of the wave of critical attacks he has had to face - he speaks more scientifically, finds more current references, and also disclaims himself a number of times to the effect that he 'is no scientist' and that there are 'other possibilities'. Sometimes the 'scientific talk' actually detracts from the book - I've always felt that this sort of book should not have to be, nor be read, as a scientific reference of facts. They are instead speculations told in a readable manner, and the reader, as well as critics, should note this. In this case though, Hancock presents a credible hypothesis, researches it with enthusiasm, and writes about it beautifully. While noting my criticisms, as well as the length and depth (pun not intended) of this work, I recommend Underworld (both the book as well as the underlying hypothesis) as one to take a good, long and honest look at. His best since Fingerprints of the Gods (there you go, I made the comparison).