GRAHAM HAN-COCK UP AS WILEY RETRACT GUNUNG PADANG PYRAMID ARTICLE

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Leading academic publisher Wiley has been forced into a humiliating U-turn retracting a peer reviewed article which went viral after it appeared to vindicate the controversial theories of British journalist and author Graham Hancock about the hill of Gunung Padang in Indonesia.

The article by Danny Hilman Natawidjaja and eleven others, was published in October 2023 in the peer reviewed journal Archaeological Prospection and it appeared to endorse Mr Hancock’s central thesis that there was a developed civilisations which flourished during the most recent Ice Age and left evidence of its existence which Mr Hancock has recognised
across the planet, including at the hill of Gunung Padang, “the mountain of enlightenment”, in Indonesia.

In their paper Danny Hilman Natawidjaja and his colleagues hypothesised that far from the earliest human activity at Gunung Padang being dated to c 2500BCE, which is the
conclusion of other archaeologists working at the site, that earliest activity is in fact some twenty thousand years earlier, with the earliest structure on the site being a terraced “pyramid” sculpted from the natural lava of which the hill is made, constructed between 25 000 and 14 000 BCE.

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Usually dismissed as a pseudo archaeological writer by mainstream archaeologists, Mr Hancock himself appeared delighted with the conclusions of the paper, as well he might, but it was soon noted that he had been writing about the work of the Indonesian team since at least 2014 and the acknowledgements to the paper in Archaeological Prospection thanked,

“…Mr Graham Hancock for kindly proofreading the manuscript and his team for shedding light on Gunung Padang in Netflix’s Ancient Apocalypse.”

Made by ITN Productions for Netflix and first broadcast in November 2022, Ancient Apocalypse was a top 10 show in 31 countries for the streaming service, but the series attracted trenchant criticism from archaeologists worldwide, with the Society for American Archaeology claiming the series disparaged archaeology and demanding that it should be relabelled as science fiction.

Now far from “disparaging archaeology” a paper had been published which appeared to use archaeology to reach conclusions which chimed with Mr Hancock’s theories and Mr Hancock
posted gleefully on eX-Twitter in November 2023, shortly after the paper was published,

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“Ep 1 of my Netflix series Ancient Apocalypse showcases Indonesia’s Gunung Padang, possibly the world’s oldest pyramidal structure, & honors the work of indigenous geologist Danny Hilman Natawidjaja. The archaeo-mafia were furious. But now… vindication”

Vindication, or perhaps not?

In fact far form offering vindication for Mr Hancock and his theories, the moment the paper was published the “archaeological mafia” that is archaeologists who understood geophysics
and its application, and the known history of Gunung Padang, were quick to point out there were serious issues with the data as presented. Not least that the paper appeared to date the earliest human occupation at the site by using Carbon 14 dates of organic material which were not shown to be associated with any human derived material or structures.

In a video peer review of the paper published on the YouTube platform Dr Flint Dibble of Cardiff University spoke with Indonesian archaeologists Dr Lutfi Yondri and Harry Sofian who have specific knowledge of both the site and of Indonesian pre-history.

The three archaeologists accepted the authors of the article had used a range of useful techniques, but described significant issues with the interpretation of the various data sets.

Dr Yondri also expressed surprise that, as someone who had actually excavated at Gunung Padang, he had not been consulted by Danny Hilman Natawidjaja and his colleagues.

Even more concerning were the suggestions that at least some of the authors were associated with leading political figures in Indonesia, hinting that nationalist politics might have a role in colouring the approach to the site.  There was also an apparent association with a theory that Plato’s Atlantis could be located in Indonesia.

Now, while in another tweet Mr Hancock had dismissed critics of the series as engaged in trying to bully the publisher, Wiley seems to have vindicated not the authors of the paper and Mr Hancock, but their critics.

The statement explaining the retraction of the paper issued by the publisher on 18 March  states,

“Following publication of this article, concerns were raised by third parties with expertise in geophysics, archaeology, and radiocarbon dating, about the conclusions drawn by the authors based on the evidence reported. The publisher and the Co-Editors-in-Chief have investigated these concerns and have concluded that the article contains a major error. This error, which was not identified during peer review, is that the radiocarbon dating was
applied to soil samples that were not associated with any artefacts or features that could be reliably interpreted as anthropogenic or “man-made.”

The retraction concludes,

“Therefore, the interpretation that the site is an ancient pyramid built 9000 or more years ago is incorrect, and the article must be retracted.”

The statement notes that Danny Hilman Natawidjaja and the other authors do not accept the retraction.

However, while stating that there was an investigation into the paper by the publisher, Wiley and Sons, and the Co-editors in chief of the journal, Eileen Ernenwein and Gregory Tsokas, Wiley do not answer the fundamental question as to how such a flawed article came to be published in the first place?

While there is no evidence anyone behaved unethically, that the article was published is a damning indictment of the peer review process of one of the World’s leading academic publishers and leaves begging the questions as to whether Wiley and the editorial team of Archaeological Prospection, was merely incompetent, overseeing a flawed system without enough checks and balances, or whether the system of peer review and publication itself was gamed in some way to ensure a paper, which should not have survived its first encounter with an editor, ended up not only being published, but going viral across the world’s media.

The lapse is particularly inexplicable when You Tube, eX-Twitter and the rest of the archaeological social media are full of the comments of professional archaeologists who took one look at the paper and knew exactly what was wrong with it and why it should never have been published.

Lead Image:  Ganung Padang, Raiyani Muharramah CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

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1 COMMENT

  1. I just wish those pseudo-archaeologists would tattoo this info on their foreheads viz Plato said “Atlantis was beyond the Pillars of Hercules” ie. the Straits of Gibraltar! It wasn’t in South America, North America, India or half way up Mt. Everest, Crete, etc. etc. The most likely site being Southern Spain which IS just beyond the Pillars of Hercules!

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