In Ancient Apocalypse, Graham Hancock revisits the Bimini Road, an impressive coastal stone structure in the Bahamas islands, just off Florida. The structure has been a favourite of Atlantis theorists for a long time, and Hancock uses it as part of his evidence that there was a now lost technologically advanced civilisation during the last ice age, whose survivors helped our more recent ancestors build the society in which we live now.
Hancock’s discussion of the Bimini Road, or Wall, as it’s sometimes called, gives us a great opportunity to explore one of the core questions of pseudoarchaeology: Is it possible? Let’s start by saying that when someone asks “is it possible?” in archaeology, the answer is almost always yes.
Our knowledge of the past is very imperfect. We can’t be present to observe events and people in the past, of course. The traces left behind, especially after thousands of years, are degraded and transformed. It’s very difficult to prove anything about the past, and almost impossible to prove a negative with complete certainty. We usually can’t know that something didn’t happen in the past.
So as an archaeologist, I can’t prove conclusively that aliens didn’t build the pyramids, just as I can’t prove conclusively that an ice-age civilisation didn’t build the Bimini Road. But “is it possible?” is not a very useful or productive question to ask about the past, precisely because the answer is so often yes. Answering the question doesn’t teach us anything. It doesn’t increase our knowledge of the past.
Archaeologists have much better questions to ask about the past. They allow us to constrain our interpretations, and to get closer to a realistic picture of past events and people. Once we’ve established that most things are possible in the past, we have to ask ourselves what is likely or probable, and what is necessary to explain the archaeological record.
Is it necessary to conclude that the Bimini Road was built by an advanced ice-age civilization? Is it the only possibility? Among the possibilities, is it the most likely? Let’s find out.
The Bimini Road (From Shinn 2009)
The Bimini Road has been associated with the lost civilisation of Atlantis since at least the 1960s, so this is not new ground, but it is also well explored ground. The main argument that the Bimini structure is human-made is that it is composed of fairly evenly sized and distributed square blocks of rock, and as one of the guests on the show tells us, nature doesn’t make 90 degree angles.
This makes intuitive sense to many people, but of course, nature does make 90 degree angles. Nature makes all kinds of amazing geometrical shapes that range from the very simple (Spheroids, squares, hexagons) to the stunningly elaborate (e.g. snowflakes, river deltas). Many of these structures involve the growth of crystals, for example, and many of them are so regular, even the complex ones, that they can be represented by mathematical equations.
In an experimental study that replicates the kind of right-angle fractures in rock that characterize the Bimini Road, Gauthier et al. (2010) tell us that “these patterns are formed by constrained shrinking of the medium due, for instance, to cooling or drying leading to fracture. The crack networks form mostly 90 ◦ or 120 ◦ angles.”
From Shinn (2009), we learn that the Bimini Road is not the only such formation known in the Caribbean, and that they also occur elsewhere around the world. They seem to occur in tropical seas. They are made up beachrock, “a friable to well-cemented sedimentary rock that consists of a variable mixture of gravel-, sand-, and silt-sized sediment that is cemented with carbonate minerals and has formed along a shoreline. Depending on location, the sediment that is cemented to form beachrock can consist of a variable mixture of shells, coral fragments, rock fragments of different types, and other materials (from the Wikipedia article).”
Beachrock is constantly forming, and Shinn even observed modern glass fragments embedded in the Bimini beachrock. Under the right conditions, through the processes described by Gauthier et al., beachrock breaks up into rectangular pillow shaped blocks like the ones that make up the Bimini Road and other similar formations.
So it is in fact possible that the Bimini Road is natural. There are known natural processes that could have formed it. We can observe those processes at work right now, in the present, and we can replicate them experimentally.
Following our archaeological logic, that doesn’t mean that we know for a fact that the Bimini Road was not built by an ancient lost civilization. But it does mean that the explanation proposed by Hancock is not the only possible one, and is not a necessary one. From there, we have to ask ourselves which of the available explanations is the most likely to be true, and which one is the most consistent with the available evidence.
There is no other evidence at Bimini of the civilization that might have built the road. There are no remains of advanced tools, or other artifacts. There are no traces of a technologically advanced settlement to which the road might have led, for example.
There are, however, known natural processes that can produce the road. Until I have more evidence to the contrary, I accept, however tentatively, that the Bimini Road and other formations like it are natural phenomena, and not the productions of a lost civilization.
Hancock repeatedly complains that archaeologists aren’t finding the vanished ice-age civilisation because its remains have been largely submerged by rising sea levels in places like the Caribbean and Sundaland in Indonesia.
He says archaeologists aren’t finding these remains because we “never bothered to look.” That would come as a surprise to the archaeologists studying Doggerland, for example, the large, fertile ice-age plain on which our ancestors lived, hunted, and gathered, and which is now the North Sea. It would also surprise our colleagues studying now submerged archaeological sites in the Gulf of Mexico, not far from Bimini.
The fact that I think there is a good and sufficient natural explanation for the Bimini Road doesn’t mean I ignore other possibilities, or that I deny or even actively suppress them. I am fully aware of them, and I am even quite interested in them. As a scientist, I welcome hypotheses, the more diverse the better, and from whatever source.
But it’s important what I do with those hypotheses: I evaluate them. If I find any evidence that the Bimini Road, or any other archaeological feature was created by a lost ice age civilisation, you would be the first to know. I promise.
Gauthier G, V Lazarus, L Pauchard 2010. Shrinkage start-shaped cracks: Explaining the transition from 90 degrees to 120 degrees, Europhysics Letters 89.
Shinn EA 2009. The mystique of beachrock, International Association of Sedimentologists Special Publications 41:19-28.
7 thoughts on “Ancient Apocalypse archaeology update 4: Was the Bimini Road road built by a lost civilization?”
Reblogged this on JaySea Archaeology.
I was not able to find any other structures that even come close to be similar to the Bimini Road. As far as I am aware there are no other structures that have stones of the same shape and size next to each other.
Please let me know what structures you are talking about.
From Shinn EA 2009 (as cited & linked to above):
“Similar road-like alignments of oblong beachrock can be found throughout the Bahamas. A large area of identical pillow-shape rocks can be seen in 3–5 m of water off the east side of Andros Island near Nichols Town. … Other personal observations have been made in Abaco and the Exuma Islands in the Bahamas and off the northwest coast of Vieques Island, Puerto Rico.”
“Hurricanes Charley in 2004 and Katrina in 2005 exposed and undermined beachrock with identical shapes as those at Bimini on the east side of Loggerhead Key at Dry Tortugas”
“One of the more interesting recently discovered beachrock sites is at Pulley Ridge in 90 m of water on the west Florida shelf. … Pulley Ridge is for the most part capped by a veneer of live coral but in places the underlying rock
is exposed, revealing pillow-shape limestone blocks with dimensions identical to the stones off Bimini”
“Similar rows of carbonate beachrock to those at Pulley Ridge have been reported from the same water depth (90 m) in the northern Gulf of Mexico (unpublished Minerals Management Report).”