This sometimes brilliant critique of paleo-archaeology’s blind-spots, and the resulting light it sheds into the prehistory of magic, can sometimes feel scattered and over-ambitious. But, then again, that’s commendable scholarship on the author’s part, rather than something to sneer at. I just wish he’d separated this massive tome into two volumes, rather than one.
The book was written by Gordon White, whose extremely enlightening and enjoyable podcast Rune Soup I listen to occasionally. It is a vastly comprehensive catalog of ancient sites and their connections to what he terms “star lore” insofar as that can reveal a prehistoric magical tradition. Unfortunately, that’s only one of the book’s focus.
The other focus seems to be in properly situating the lost Atlantis in a more plausible–and decidedly Eastern–historical context. While I am not well-versed enough in the archaeology of the Indonesian islands, and his argument is very sensible and plausible, I often felt this was something of a distraction from the “main plot” of the book.
Or, perhaps, that was bias I came with to this text. As a cursory read of some of my posts–and any conversations on the topic we might have in person–might suggest, I am also very deeply interested in the “prehistory of magic” (less specifically on the “Western esoteric tradition” as Gordon White puts it). I also happen to hold a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology, which meandered across the archaeology of the Americas, and prehistoric archaeology of the Iberian peninsula; through more “modern” indigenous cultural groups worldwide, as in situ models for how prehistoric populations lived and thought; through human evolution, with specific emphasis on the evolution of cultural expression; and ending somewhere along the prehistoric evolution of religious practice. It was a circuitous path that conferred me little more than enough college credits to graduate from something and hold a degree, along with a lot of “useless” knowledge.
In truth, I decided to study anthropology because I wanted to find Atlantis–there, dirty secret’s out. I quickly decided there was nowhere in the archaeological record where such a civilization could fit, even if it could vanish so entirely that no real, physical traces could be discovered. It killed a youthful fantasy, but I got over it quickly. What was known of human history was fascinating enough to keep me hooked. That said, I did enjoy his “take down” of academia, since I eventually ended up sharing many of Gordon White’s feelings for its stuffy imperialism and quit halfway through my Master’s. It was refreshing to read a well-argued challenge, based on a sound interpretation of the evidence alone.
But the whole “Atlantis deviation” remains a distraction and, I fear, a detraction once plausible scenarios for alien contact come into the discussion at the end of the book. I have nothing against the thought we might have been visited be extraterrestrials at some point in our history, especially in the ways the author describes, but I often roll my eyes at the implicit bias in expecting this to fuel the explosion in human consciousness that resulted around 60,00-40,000 years ago. The argued/canon evidence for a “humans only” hypothesis is pretty strong. There really is no need for aliens, and any perceived “jump” in culture can be explained by events and circumstances on the ground–on Earth.
So what did I enjoy this book and why would I recommend it? Simple.
The scholarship, though sometimes unfocused, was thorough and refreshing. The only problem was that it was collected into a single volume, rather than separating them appropriately by the two separate topics covered.
Oh, and the author does an amazing archaeological site description of Gobekli Tepe, my absolute favorite site in “prehistory,” along with a few other intriguing possibilities to broaden my research horizons. Gobekli Tepe is always a win.
Buy the book here, and tell me what you think.