Was an advanced civilization lost to history in the global cataclysm that ended the last Ice Age? Graham Hancock, the internationally bestselling author, has made it his life's work to find outand in America Before, he draws on the latest archaeological and DNA evidence to bring his quest to a stunning conclusion.
We’ve been taught that North and South America were empty of humans until around 13,000 years ago – amongst the last great landmasses on earth to have been settled by our ancestors. But new discoveries have radically reshaped this long-established picture and we know now that the Americas were first peopled more than 130,000 years ago – many tens of thousands of years before human settlements became established elsewhere.
Hancock's research takes us on a series of journeys and encounters with the scientists responsible for the recent extraordinary breakthroughs. In the process, from the Mississippi Valley to the Amazon rainforest, he reveals that ancient "New World" cultures share a legacy of advanced scientific knowledge and sophisticated spiritual beliefs with supposedly unconnected "Old World" cultures. Have archaeologists focused for too long only on the "Old World" in their search for the origins of civilization while failing to consider the revolutionary possibility that those origins might in fact be found in the "New World"?
America Before: The Key to Earth's Lost Civilization is the culmination of everything that millions of readers have loved in Hancock's body of work over the past decades, namely a mind-dilating exploration of the mysteries of the past, amazing archaeological discoveries and profound implications for how we lead our lives today.
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AN ENCHANTED REALM
ARCHAEOLOGY TEACHES US THAT THE vast, inviting, resource-rich continents of North and South America were among the very last places on earth to have been inhabited by human beings. Only a handful of remote islands were settled later.
This is the orthodoxy, but it is crumbling under an onslaught of compelling new evidence revealed by new technologies, notably the effective sequencing of ancient DNA. The result is that many of the most fundamental "facts" of American archaeology, many of the "ground truths" upon which the theories and the careers of its great men and women were built in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, now stand exposed as fallacies.
Far from being very recent, it is beginning to look as though the human presence in the Americas may be very old — perhaps more than 100,000 years older than has hitherto been believed.
This greatly extended time frame, taking us back deep into the Ice Age, has profound implications for how we view, interpret, and date all the monuments of the Americas built before the time of Columbus. The possibility that they might have an unrecognized prehistoric backstory can no longer be discounted. Moreover, the New World was physically, genetically, and culturally separated from the Old around 12,000 years ago when rising sea levels submerged the land bridge that formerly connected Siberia to Alaska. This separation remained total until just 500 years ago when genetic and cultural exchanges restarted during the European conquest. It follows, therefore, that any deep connections between the Americas and the Old World that are not the result of recent European influence and that cannot be attributed to coincidence must be more than 12,000 years old.
It was with all this in mind, on June 17, 2017, that I made my first visit to Serpent Mound, a national historic landmark in southern Ohio described as "the finest surviving example of a prehistoric animal effigy mound in North America, and perhaps the world."
It's in Adams County, about 75 miles east of Cincinnati and 7 miles north of the town of Peebles by way of SR-41N and OH-73W. With its rolling hills and green meadows, this is a predominantly rural, substantially forested part of the state, running northward from the Ohio River. On that vibrant summer day every tree was in full, luxuriant leaf, every flower was in bloom, the fields glowed, and the winding lanes seemed part of a bucolic dream.
In some remote epoch, however, this entire idyllic area suffered a devastating cataclysm, the most striking remnant of which has all the features of a classic impact crater 14 kilometers in diameter with a pronounced central uplift, sunken inner ring-graben, transition zone, and outer rim. Millions of years of erosion have softened its contours but Google Earth or an overflight reveal its obvious crater-like appearance. Most geologists agree that it is the result of some kind of explosive event but the nature of the explosion for a long while remained unsettled and there were heated arguments between those who favored volcanism and those who favored an impact by an asteroid or comet. Because Serpent Mound is the best-known feature within it, and because of the uncertainty caused by the dispute, the crater was therefore officially known for many years as the "Serpent Mound Cryptoexplosion Structure." Only since the late 1990s has mounting evidence led to today's widespread consensus that it was, as many had long suspected, formed by a hypervelocity cosmic impact.
As to timing, the impact was "later than Early Mississippian, because rocks of this age [about 345 million years old] were involved in the disturbance, and earlier than the Illinoian glaciation (125,000 years ago), because these sediments are undisturbed in the northern part of the structure."
That's a pretty wide window! Nonetheless, most of the experts seem confident that the crater's age must be in the hundreds of millions, not just hundreds of thousands, of years. And while it's thought unlikely that the Native Americans who built Serpent Mound could have known anything about cosmic impacts, many scholars speculate that as keen observers of nature they would certainly have noticed the curious, jumbled, cataclysmic, ringlike structure of the area and been impressed by it.
"They had to know there was a significance to that spot," says Ohio geologist Mark Baranoski. "They placed a deep reverence in old Mother Earth. It's almost mystical that they built a spiritual site." Similarly, geoscientist Raymond Anderson of the University of Iowa describes Serpent Mound crater as "one of the most mysterious places in North America. The Native Americans found something mystical there. And they were right."
Dating back to the time of the impact, an intense magnetic anomaly centered on the site causes compasses to give wildly inaccurate readings. There are also gravity anomalies caused by the impact and there are multiple underground caverns, streams, and sinkholes that, in the view of Ohio archaeologist William Romain, would have been seen by the ancients as entrances to the underworld: "Among many peoples, unusual or transitional areas such as this are often considered sacred. Indeed such places are often considered supernatural gateways, or portals, between the celestial Upperworld and the Underworld. ... One can only conclude that the Serpent Mound builders were aware of at least some of the more unusual characteristics of the area and that they located the effigy in this anomalous area for a very specific reason."
As we drove the last few miles along OH-73W, I could reflect that we were entering the lair of the Serpent — a sacred domain where the forces of earth and sky had once collided with sufficient energy, according to the calculations of state geologist Michael Hansen, "To disturb more than 7 cubic miles of rock and uplift the central portion of the circular feature at least 1,000 feet above its normal position."
One might expect the great effigy mound to be located on the high point of that central uplift, but instead it uncoils and undulates along a sinuous ridge in the southwestern quadrant of the crater near the edge of the ring-graben. At the northern end of the ridge, where it takes a turn to the northwest, lies the serpent's head.
I'd seen it all in plan and maps many times before, but now, for the first time, I was about to see the real thing. I was traveling with my wife, photographer Santha Faiia, and with local geometrician and archaeoastronomer Ross Hamilton, who has devoted much of his life to the study of Serpent Mound and whose book on the monument is a thought-provoking reference on the subject.
Not only here but elsewhere in the world I have noticed that very special ancient places such as Serpent Mound seem able to invoke mechanisms to protect themselves from human folly. Among these mechanisms, from time to time, a passionate and devoted individual will be prompted by a particular site to go forth as its advocate — Maria Reiche at the Nazca Lines, for example, or Klaus Schmidt at Göbekli Tepe — and ensure not only its preservation but also the dissemination of key knowledge about it.
For the past decades, with absolute commitment, lean and gray-bearded and ascetic as a Buddhist monk, Ross Hamilton has been that individual for Serpent Mound.
GROUND AND SKY
WE TURN OFF 73W JUST before Brush Creek and enter a manicured park, maintained by the Ohio History Connection. Leaving our vehicle, we follow the footpath through scattered stands of trees, pass the visitor center, and come after a few moments to a grass-covered embankment about three feet high.
"The tail of the Serpent," Ross says.
I frown. It's a bit of an anticlimax! I don't immediately see the mystic spiral I've been expecting from the plans I've studied. But modern steps surmount the outer curve and from this vantage point the inner coils of the earthwork become visible.
The effect remains underwhelming, largely because the present management of the site has allowed a thick clump of trees to block the view that would otherwise open up to the north across the full length of the Serpent's body from its tail to its head.
To see the immense effigy as a whole, therefore, rather than in isolated parts, we need to observe it from the sky. Fortunately, Santha has come prepared for this with a recently acquired MavicPro drone equipped with a high-resolution camera. She fires up the little quadcopter right away and suddenly we're looking down through the monitor from an altitude of 400 feet with the Serpent beneath us, unfolding outward from that coiled tail.
The site is almost deserted but there are a few people in the shot and they give me a sense of its scale. I know it already from my background research, but to see it with my own eyes is quite another matter. This undulating Serpent, with its gaping jaws, is 1,348 feet long. The earthwork mound that forms its body averages around 4 feet in height and tapers from a width of about 24 feet to about 22 feet through its seven principal meanders before narrowing farther into the spiral of the tail. People beside it appear as midgets or elves in the shadow of a dragon and for the first time, with a shiver down my spine, I become aware — not in my intellect, but in my heart, in my spirit — that a mighty and uncanny power slumbers here.
Ross seems to read my mind. "Some call it a Manitou," he says. "But I'd go further. I'd say our Serpent is Gitché Manitou — the Great Spirit and ancestral guardian of the ancient people."
For those reared in the materialist-reductionist mind-set of Western science, the Native American notion of Manitou seems slippery and elusive. Though it may be materialized it cannot be reduced to matter. Nor can it be weighed, measured, or counted. It is an unquantifiable, formless but sentient force, "supernatural, omnipresent and omniscient," in one sense a spiritual entity in its own right, in another the mysterious, unseen power that animates all life and that can manifest both in natural phenomena and in man-made objects and structures that have been created with correct intent. "The profoundness of a spiritual presence of Manitou, and through it recognition of the supernatural," comments one authority, "was and is a tangible entity seen and felt by hundreds of generations of the Indian people of North America. ... In essence, Native people perceived a spiritual landscape imprinted on the physical landscape as both one and the same. This 'duality' of the natural world still inspires the Native population to revere as sacred certain places and rocks deemed to possess 'Manitou.'"
THE SERPENT AND THE EGG
WE BRING THE DRONE DOWN to earth for a battery change then send it back into the sky.
From an altitude of 400 feet it's notable how the sinuous natural ridge on which Serpent Mound was built has distinct "head" and "tail" ends and how the head of the Serpent is placed at the "head" end of the ridge, while the undulating body, all the way back to the tail, follows the contours of the ridge exactly.
Encouraged by the modern management of the site, however, the luxuriant tree cover that prohibits observation along the main north–south axis also crowds the east and west sides of the body, seeming to hem in the great Manitou. A tangled mass of greenery chokes the steep western slope of the bluff down to Brush Creek, and I note how the tree growth is particularly tall and dense to the northwest, around the Serpent's head, as though intentionally allowed to flourish there to blind it.
I ask Santha to point the camera at the head — which is not a work of artistic realism but is instead a triangular geometric construct extending forward from the Serpent's neck and formed of the two gaping "jaws" with a curved earthwork running between them.
Partly within those gaping jaws sits a substantial and clearly defined ellipse. It's a feature that Ephraim Squier and Edwin Davis, the earliest scientific surveyors of the mound, were intrigued by. Writing in 1848, in the very first official publication released by the then newly established Smithsonian Institution, they observed that this curious structure was
formed by an embankment of earth, without any perceptible opening, four feet in height, and ... perfectly regular in outline, its transverse and conjugate diameters being one hundred and sixty and eighty feet respectively. The ground within the oval is slightly elevated: a small circular elevation of large stones, much burned, once existed at its centre; but they have been thrown down and scattered by some ignorant visitor, under the prevailing impression probably that gold was hidden beneath them. The point of the hill within which this egg-shaped figure rests, seems to have been artificially cut to conform to its outline, leaving a smooth platform.
Squier and Davis go on to remind us that "the serpent, separate or in combination with the circle, egg, or globe, has been a predominant symbol among many primitive nations." They draw our attention in particular to the southwest of England, where Stonehenge stands, and to the nearby great henge, stone circles, and serpentine causeways of Avebury, but nonetheless decline the twin challenges of tracing "the analogies which the Ohio structure exhibits to the serpent temples of England" and of pointing out "the extent to which the symbol was applied in America." Almost wistfully, however, they describe such an investigation as "fraught with the greatest interest both in respect of the light which it reflects upon the primitive superstitions of remotely separated people, and especially upon the origin of the American race."
Scholars in the nineteenth century, and indeed well into the early twentieth century, routinely applied words like "primitive" and "savage" to the works of our ancestors. At Serpent Mound, however, as Ross Hamilton points out, these so-called superstitious primitives were demonstrably the masters of some very exacting scientific techniques. He gives me a penetrating look. "Just consider the precision with which they found true north and balanced the whole effigy around that north–south line. It was a long while before modern surveyors could match it. In fact everyone got it wrong until 1987, when William Romain carried out the first proper survey of the mound and gave us a map with correct cardinal directions."
Connecting the hinge of the effigy's jaws to the tip of the inner spiral of its tail, Serpent Mound's meridian axis combines aesthetic refinement with astronomical and geodetic precision of a high order. Moreover, although they themselves took the matter no further, Squier and Davis were right to draw comparisons with Stonehenge and Avebury, for these great English earthworks, as we shall see in the next chapter, both bear the imprint of the same "artistic science."CHAPTER 2
A JOURNEY IN TIME
JOIN ME IN A TIME machine. I've set it to take us back to the peak of the last Ice Age 21,000 years ago and to bring us, on a midsummer's day, to the amazing, mysterious, and atmospheric location where the Great Serpent Mound National Historic Landmark can now be found.
Of course there was no "National Historic Landmark," no such entity as the United States of America, and no Adams County in the very different world of 21,000 years ago. At that time, from roughly the Ohio and the Missouri Rivers northward, a wide horizontal strip of the United States, and all of Canada as far as the Arctic Ocean, lay beneath a giant shroud of ice.
At no point, however, even at the last glacial maximum 21,000 years ago, did the ice ever advance quite far enough to the south to bury the sinuous natural ridge on which Serpent Mound stands today.
We'll get to the question of when the great effigy itself was first heaped up in the form of a serpent. But for now let's step out of our time machine onto that serpentine ridge and breathe the crisp fresh air under the blue midsummer skies of an unpolluted world.
We might see some of the great beasts of the North American Ice Age — the famed "megafauna," such as mammoths, mastodons, giant sloths, short-faced bears, and saber-toothed tigers. They thrived at the last glacial maximum and would continue to do so for several more millennia until they were all swept from the earth between roughly 12,800 and 11,600 years ago in what is known as the "Late Pleistocene Extinction Event." The creatures I've named were by no means its only casualties. All together thirty-five genera of North American megafauna (with each genus consisting of several species) were wiped out during this enigmatic cataclysm that brought the Ice Age to an end. But all that was still far in the future 21,000 years ago, and we're not at Serpent Mound for the megafauna. Instead I want you to shade your eyes and look to the horizon, approximately a dozen miles to your north. There, armored in brilliant, scintillating, dazzling reflections, a spectacle awaits you the like of which exists nowhere in the world today outside of Antarctica. That sight, a sheer, looming, continuous cliff of ice rising more than a mile high and extending across almost the entire width of North America from the east coast to the west coast, marks the southernmost extent of the ice cap in these parts. Elsewhere it stretched out its lobes and tongues a few tens of miles farther south, but here, just short of the outer rim of Serpent Mound crater, the advance was decisively stopped.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "America Before"
Copyright © 2019 Graham Hancock.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of ContentsTable of Contents
Part 1 – Manitou : The Mystery of Serpent Mound
1. An enchanted realm
2. A journey in time
3. The dragon and the sun
Part 2 – New World? : The Mystery of the First Americans
4. A past not so much hidden as denied
5. Message from mastodon
6. Millennia unaccounted for
Part 3 – Genes: The Mystery in DNA
8. Hall of Records
9. The strange and mysterious genetic heritage of Native Americans
10. A signal from the Dreamtime?
Part 4 – Memes: The Amazon Mystery
11. Ghost cities of the Amazon
12. The ancients behind the veil
13. Black Earth
14. Gardening Eden
15. Sacred Geometry
16. The Amazon’s own Stonehenge
17. The Vine of the Dead
Part 5 – Stuff Just Keeps on Getting Older: The Mystery of the Primeval Mounds
20. The Poverty Point time machine
21. Glimpses behind the veil
Part 6 – Equipped for Journeying: The Mystery of Death
23. The portal and the path
24. Astronomy and geometry in the afterlife
Part 7 – Apocalypse Then: The Mystery of the Cataclysm
26. Fire and ice
27. Cape Fear
Part 8 – SURVIVE! : The Mystery of the Invisible Man
28. Hunter-gatherers and the lost civilization
29. Unknown unknowns
30. The key to earth’s lost civilization