In Ancient Apocalypse, journalist Graham Hancock takes his three decades of research on early human civilizations that may have existed before the time period historians and archaeologists upon and tries to piece it together into a big picture. His thesis is that all of these pieces show that there were human civilizations that reach as far back as the Ice Age, when humans were still considered hunter-gatherers and not capable of advanced achievements like building or farming. This is thousands of years before what is considered to be the first human civilizations.
Opening Shot: Journalist Graham Hancock sits down to be interviewed, and the producer interviewing him asks him to describe himself. Cut to a bunch of news and interview clips where he’s asked questions about his controversial hypothesis about human civilization.
The Gist: The first episode takes him to the Indonesian island of Java, to a site called Gunung Padang. There is extensive evidence at the site that the thousands of rock slabs, made from volcanic basalt, that are strewn about the site were brought there by humans in order to build a temple over 9,000 years ago. Interviews with local historians and archaeologists show Hancock that the slabs were cut by humans, and some were even attached to each other via some sort of mortar mixture.
Through the use of ground-penetrating radar and other new technology, Hancock is also shown that there’s evidence of a three-tiered underground chamber under the site, starting at 10 meters deep. In fact, there is evidence that the temple was built on the ruins of an even earlier civilization that may show that we had organized civilizations even earlier.
He theorizes that during the Ice Age, when lower sea levels meant that Java was part of a subcontinent named Sunderland, a sudden rise in those sea levels caused a great flood that ended that civilization. It’s the same great flood recounted in various cultures, including the story of Noah.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Ancient Apocalypse is reminiscent of a show like In Search Of, which combined science with speculation to talk about all sorts of phenomena.
Our Take: If you have an open mind towards what Graham Hancock is trying to explain in Ancient Apocalypse, then the show should be fascinating as well as entertaining. It helps that it has a dramatic soundtrack, spectacular cinematography and graphics that make what Graham is talking about sound more like settled fact than speculation. But a closer listen makes you realize that Hancock, even after all this time and research, is indeed still speculating and theorizing, using assumptions that can’t be easily proved or disproved.
For instance, when he talks about the columnar basalt that is scattered around the Gunung Padang site, he says that they’re “clearly” cut by humans. But how is it so clear? Straight lines? A certain pattern or shape that was repeatable? He doesn’t really say. In fact, he doesn’t even speculate on what tools this ancient society used to make or transport these columns to the site, just that they did.
Graham’s air of authority, driven by those decades of research, make his speculation sound more factual than it really is. But when he gets to the idea about how this civilization was killed by the same great flood that other cultures and religions have detailed over the millennia, he delves more into educated guesses than evidence and facts. Then he says that “the way archaeology works is that there will continue to be resistance to new evidence.” There is certainly a wistfulness in that and other similar statements he makes, which makes you wonder if the resistance is an institutional weakness of the archaeological community or if there’s something regarding Graham’s work itself that they’re resisting.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: Hancock is shown on the top of a mountain at the oldest man-made pyramid on earth. “And it’s not in Egypt,” he says.
Sleeper Star: This is certainly a show that relies on its spectacular cinematography; William Fewkes is the director of photography, working under series director Marc Tiley.
Most Pilot-y Line: To many of your viewers, showing multiple segments of Hancock’s interview on Joe Rogan’s podcast might not be the most efficient way to convince them of Hancock’s authority in this field.
Our Call: STREAM IT, mostly because of the cinematography. Ancient Apocalypse might be fascinating to you if you take Graham Hancock’s narration at face value, but even if you don’t, the questions he generates might be enough to keep you watching the series to see where else he goes.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.