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Graham Hancock:
The Lost World


Graham Hancock

photo by Santha Faiia

His approach to the study of ancient civilization has rocked the scientific world and got NASA worrying. He has sold millions of books worldwide, and attracted an almost cult-like following. Now Graham Hancock is donning his mask and snorkel and fishing around in the waters off Okinawa for the ancient civilization of Mu. Lost the civilization or lost the plot? Sam Johnson investigates.

Raiders Of The Lost Ark
If it is possible to be a legend whilst one is still mortal, Graham Hancock is about as close to reaching that status as anybody. He has been called the "inventor of a new genre of history mystery investigation" in his radical approach to the study of past civilization. Monuments of old, such as the Egyptian Pyramids, South American Incan cities and possible underwater ruins in Okinawa and elsewhere, are the keys Hancock hopes to use to unlock the mystery of the numerous unanswered questions about pre-historic civilizations. Such revolutionary theories inevitably bring out the skeptics, who are already smelling blood.

photo by Santha Faiia

photo by Santha Faiia

Genius to some, crackpot to others. Either way, the statistics are impressive. His books have been translated into 27 languages and have topped bestseller lists around the world, nowhere more so than here in Japan, where his most famous book, "Fingerprints of the Gods," was a literary phenomenon.

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Hancock grew up in India and spent his early career as a current affairs journalist. "I didn't have any interest in historical mysteries or in the past, anything really," he says. But his journalistic instincts sparked an investigative journey into global pre-history, starting with a search for the lost Ark of the Covenant in Ethiopia.

"The extraordinary possibility that Ethiopia actually might have the lost Ark of the Covenant appealed to my imagination and I wanted to know more. It appealed to my curiosity; it made me wonder. And I started to realize that there were a lot of unanswered questions in Ethiopia - it was all very mysterious and strange. I suppose it was the background in journalism, that here were a series of questions and I wanted to find the answers... It was a doorway, I went through a door that led me into a path of inquiry and as I started on that path, I found I couldn't stop."

photo by Santha Faiia

photo by Santha Faiia

In researching this project Hancock found himself spending a lot of time in Egypt where he stumbled across another question waiting to be answered in the form of the Great Pyramids of Giza. "I often think, with monuments like the pyramids... they're a huge statement. They sit there in the desert and they say, "Figure me out. Go on, figure me out!' And that's what they did to me. They made me want to know more."

For Hancock, though, the mystery of the Pyramids was less to do with the awe of their physical structure, but more their spiritual significance. "I feel that the Giza monuments concern the human spirit, the human soul. To me, the key to the monuments is to understand the religious discipline that surrounds it... a religious discipline that asks fundamental questions: Why are we alive? What is the purpose of my life? What happens to me when I die? These are questions that modern science is incapable of answering. Go to any scientist and he'll tell you when you die, you're dead. And your body rots. And that's it. And that scientist may be right. But he's not telling you a fact; he's telling you his opinion. There's no empirical evidence whether there is anything else [after death] or not, it's a mystery. And that mystery is what the ancient Egyptians were interested in and their predecessors were interested in. When I talk about a lost civilization, I am more and more convinced that I'm not talking about a technical or technological civilization; their path was not material - their path was spiritual."

photo by Santha Faiia

photo by Santha Faiia

Poseidon Adventure
Hancock's current project is based in Yonaguni in Okinawa, where he and his team are investigating submerged ruins of a possible civilization from twelve thousand years ago. The project was started by Kimura Masaaki, a professor based in Okinawa. Hancock pounced on the theory when he heard of the possibility that this remote Japanese island could hold such an important discovery.

"I'd been to a talk in Okinawa when I was travelling in Japan in 1996 and I was shown some photographs of the underwater monuments at Yonaguni and it immediately intrigued me. The whole focus of my work has been on the possibility of a civilization that was destroyed during a flood at the end of the last ice age. The geology of the area around the vast monument was above water somewhat more than ten thousand years ago. Now it's an extraordinary work of art and architecture covered by about thirty meters of water. We have since learned that there are many other structures. Within one kilometer of that monument there are four others that we know of. And further north of Okinawa there are four other structures. I think it is really impossible to overstate the importance of these underwater monuments."

Both Hancock and Kimura believe the ruins to be part of an ancient civilization, often called "Mu," or "Atlantis" in the West, although Hancock himself does not like to use those terms.

photo by Nanasai

photo by Nanasai

Naturally, skepticism about these findings abounds. The author John Anthony West, no stranger to controversy himself, who has argued that the Pyramids of Egypt have an astrological explanation, was disappointed on visiting the site. West has said that although he had been very excited on seeing photographs of the Okinawan sites, when he visited them he found that the "structures" merely disappeared into normal seascapes when outside the scope of the dramatic photos he had earlier been shown, and that supposed "canals" were more likely natural fault lines. He concluded that this was not a man-made structure, but "something new in geomorphology."

Certainly Hancock remains convinced. At the very least the discoveries warrant serious scientific investigation. "More work needs to be done into the mystery of underwater ruins. Very little archeology has been done underwater, almost none. There is a science of marine archeology, but it concentrates mainly on shipwrecks.

"I just think that we are very lucky that such a marvelous monument has been preserved in Japan, the best in the world as far as I'm concerned, and worthy of detailed research by scholars all over the world. It really deserves close attention."

That the Okinawan discoveries have not caused more significant ripples in the historical and archeological worlds is something that puzzles Hancock. "I think that scholars find it very difficult to come to grips with what it actually is," he says. "It's such a contradiction of the orthodox picture of history, and I think historians prefer to ignore it. But I'm quite certain that it'll be getting a lot more attention in the future."

photo by Nanasai

photo by Nanasai

Mars Attacks
It could be that Hancock and others have already played into the skeptics' hands by advocating even more unorthodox theories, such as that there could potentially be a human link between the Egyptian pyramids and similar structures found on Mars, a theory discussed in Hancock's book, "The Mars Mystery."

"There are a number of questions that need to be dealt with first. One of them is that since 1976, NASA photography of Mars has showed things that look like artificial structures on the surface of Mars. They might not be artificial... I think we should be landing there before we can be certain. But if those things are pyramids on Mars, you have to ask yourself how likely it is to be a coincidence that there are also pyramids on earth. But we have to cross the first bridge first. Are they pyramids, or are they mountains? I don't know. What I tried to do in the book is to send out the information to allow people to make up their own minds as far as possible. There are certain mathematical regularities about that site, certain angles which repeat that you would not expect to happen in nature, so it can be that they are artificial."

NASA is not interested in even talking about these possibilities. Public awareness may force those in control of research in space to be more open about their investigations and findings.

"NASA is very anxious not to talk about the subject. They do everything possible to crush it; they do everything possible to close off inquiry into it; they have a consistent, solid propaganda campaign against those being artificial structures. I don't know why. What's wrong with a free spirit of inquiry? I think it's a very strange, very unscientific, slightly sinister position that NASA takes, but when they say they are natural structures, they could be right. But they also could be wrong. And I think the issue needed airing... And that's why I felt the book had to be written."

photo by Nanasai

photo by Nanasai

The Last Crusade
Hancock's main project now is in Okinawa, where he continues to conduct research in preparation for his forthcoming book on the underwater monuments. He is, as ever, accompanied by his wife, Santha, responsible for photographing their findings. Further diving and exploration is serving up exciting new discoveries for Hancock, Santha and their colleagues. "We've found more and more monuments. We rely on lots of local divers there who've been diving regularly and we've been taken to many new sites around Yonaguni and I myself was involved in the discovery of the sites. I think that it's becoming clear to me what we're looking at is an enormous sacred area, which is very large in extent. There is a lot to be discovered there."

Whether or not Hancock succeeds in getting the Okinawan discoveries accepted by the international academic community, his name in Japan seems already assured. "Fingerprints of the Gods," sold over 2 million hardback copies here - approximately half all the book's global hardback sales - and Hancock himself has become something of a personality. A manga version of "Fingerprints" has been released, turning Hancock into an Indiana Jones-esque hero, grappling with the mysteries of the depth and the accepted order of things in an unrepentant search for the truth. So what does he think of all the fuss?

"I'm flattered and charmed, I think it's great. I love it. I just love it."

Graham Hancock spoke to Mary Devlin and Maki Nibayashi. A full transcript of the interview is available here.

An exhibition of Graham Hancock's work and discoveries is currently on show at the Shin Umeda City Museum in Osaka, and will be coming to Isetan, Shinjuku in August 2000. For information on the Osaka show, call NTT Hello Dial on 06-6454-8600.

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