Alternate historical chronology
|Fiction over fact|
|How it didn't happen|
An alternate historical chronology is a historical approach that discards or rearranges elements of the commonly-accepted history of human civilizations and replaces them with new narratives. Alternate historical chronologies can be used to prop up ideological or political claims, to reap profits from book sales, or simply to attack an established branch of knowledge for being non-inclusive. These chronologies frequently present themselves as self-enclosed systems that derive their authority from the creator's personal charisma. Revisionist histories — dissenting views within the academic discipline of history — should not be included within this category, provided that they are based upon logical arguments, verifiable data, and are formed by individuals conversant in accepted historiography.
While creationism often goes hand in hand with alternate historical chronologies, such examples are not included here since they don't simply try to re-date certain events or epochs, but seek to rewrite all of human history to fit with scriptures. Also, creationists rarely even try for the more "sophisticated" arguments below, instead going for a pretty straight-out "'cause my holy book tells me so" approach.
Alternate historical chronology is not to be confused with alternate historical fiction.
Alternate histories, though seemingly false, can be particularly compelling because of their broad scope and their originator's ability to pick and choose evidence used. The cherry-picking of evidence can easily sway some people into thinking that such alternate histories may be genuine, while on the other hand, it may take a specialist or someone with far wider-reaching knowledge of history to realize how the alternate idea(s) can be wrong. Cherry-picking historical evidence, especially to say that certain periods didn't even exist, is particularly unusual, because it is impossible to separate historical evidence in such a manner; we could have no evidence of Europe existing between 500 and 1000 CE, but that doesn't mean that those dates didn't exist, because we'd also have to show the same anomaly for every other country and continent on the planet.
In addition to selective evidence, alternate historical chronologies can be especially attractive to some because of the compelling narratives that they can generate. Defying established history and attempting to replace it with what is essentially unproven or even fantastical theories can be done to suit a range of political ideals. As with conspiracy theories, one of the primary drivers for people who believe alternative histories is possibly a need to feel that they know better or more than everyone else, including (or especially) established experts or the "official" consensus stories. While most credentialed historians are highly skeptical about these unproven and often highly unusual ideas, sometimes their proponents often make inroads into popular media. It does not help matters that booksellers, including Amazon, frequently include these and other pseudohistorical works in their history sections alongside actual, legitimate history books.[note 1]
A perhaps more honest use of such alternate chronologies is within speculative fiction (the more general euphemism for science fiction). In such cases, the author is direct about such changes in the sense that the work is presented as fiction, and that they have altered history to make for a better story. Usually, such alterations are quite noticeably large and dramatic compared to the often subtle changes made by some alternate historians who question or completely deny aspects of conventional history or established dates and ancient history, but don't do anything so spectacular as claiming Nazi Germany won the Second World War.
"Theorists" and their "theories"
Please note that none of these "theorists" are trained historians. It is also clear that their chronological shenanigans come in two basic varieties: They either excise or telescope commonly accepted periods into one another to shorten the accepted chronology, or they stretch existing eras or insert new ones to lengthen the accepted chronology. This is basically a secular phenomenon analogous to the difference between Young Earth creationism's human history of about 6000 years and Vedic creationism's billions of years.
Attempts have been made throughout history to verify the accuracy of Biblical scripture through the use of falsified historical information, and Immanuel Velikovsky's ideas are one example of this trend. While his ideas are not directly linked to those of Fomenko or Illig presented below, Velikovsky is arguably responsible for launching the genre of modern, secular alternate historical chronology. As several of his books became bestsellers, not only did they spread his ideas to a wide audience, but they also illustrated that there was money to be made from publishing such pseudohistory.
Velikovsky first published what he would call the Revised Chronology as a pamphlet entitled Theses for the Reconstruction of Ancient History in 1945, but his ideas only reached a wider audience with his 1952 book Ages in Chaos. At the core of Velikovsky’s work is an attempt to reconcile the history of the ancient Near East, particularly that of Egypt, with the historical accounts found in the Bible. A central concept for Velikovsky is that of alter egos: historical characters who are named by different names in different sources, but actually refer to the same person, a central concept for all of those alternate historical chronologies that seek to collapse accepted chronology into a shorter timeframe. In this way, Queen Hatshepsut becomes the Queen of Sheba, and Thutmose III King Shishak of 1 Kings 11:40. On average, the Revised Chronology requires that the commonly accepted chronology of Egypt be changed by about 500 years.
Anatoly Timofeevich Fomenko
Fomenko is considered a top mathematician, being a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, but he is most (in)famous for his historical work, revising orthodox historical chronology. Fomenko's new chronology asserts that most of recorded history was composed by Church mandate, for the purpose of validating the historical placement of Biblical events, and that real history only begins in the 11th century CE! He does not explain away the Old Kingdom of Egypt and Ancient Mesopotamia. His chronology is commonly rejected among professional historians, including most fellow Russian academics, as being non-historical in nature. After being continuously slapped down in and by the academic, peer reviewed literature in the 1980s, Fomenko turned to peddle his pseudohistory to the general public in the 1990s, happily coinciding with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which created both an intellectual and economic marketplace for such ideas.
His theories have been endorsed by several prominent people in Russia, including former chess champion Garry Kasparov, a genius and polymath of much renown — so it must be right, especially because Kasparov has numbers and graphs.
Illig's phantom time hypothesis was first published in 1991 and consists of the idea that several pre-1000 CE centuries, specifically the period 614-911 CE, were fabricated and "inserted" into the historical record. Supposedly, this took place at the command of Holy Roman Emperor Otto III who wished to be on the throne come the "millennium".
This theory would eliminate or displace, among other things, a fair number of the Merovingian ruling dynasty and most of the Carolingians (including Charlemagne), the Battle of Tours in 732, the Viking raids of the 8th and 9th centuries, and the establishment of both the Duchy of Normandy and the Kingdom of East Francia, which later became the Holy Roman Empire.
Illig's theory is geographically limited to France and Germany, so it is unclear how he intends to account for the events that are supposed to have happened elsewhere in the world during the period in question.
Fringe geologist Robert Schoch has made several claims about mysterious vanished but very ancient civilizations, citing, among other things, the supposed water erosion of the Great Sphinx of Giza, the Yonaguni Monument, as well as equally dubious "evidence" from Easter Island that he claims push back the indigenous settlement there by at least 10,000 years. Schoch has attempted to bolster his chronology by citing the existence of very early megalithic monuments in today's Turkey as if their age, which is widely accepted among historians and archaeologists, somehow lends credence to his claims about the vast antiquity of the Sphinx and Easter Island culture. However, in a stopped clock moment, Schoch did at least dismiss the Bosnian pyramids crankery.
Peter James is a British ancient historian who has published Centuries of Darkness (ISBN 9780813519517), a work which questions the idea of a lengthy Dark Age in the Near East between the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.
In his work on an alternate historical chronology, James shares some common ground with Immanuel Velikovsky and David Rohl. James' attempt at historical revisionism could be the most seriously argued yet. To the general reader, it may be unclear whether to treat James' work as pseudohistory or legitimate questioning of the received wisdom on some issues.
James has also published The Sunken Kingdom: The Atlantis Mystery Solved (ISBN 9780224038102), in which he and his co-authors claim to have uncovered a real historical basis for Atlantis in what is today Manisa in Turkey.
Chronology of the Ancient Near East
That said, there are historical events for which there are different absolute dates with at least comparable plausibility.
- For instance, both Amazon and its audiobook spinoff Audible feature Graham Hancock’s works in their history sections.
- Gary Kasparov Mathematics of the Past
- Jason Colavito, 2004, Who Lost the Middle Ages?
- See also the German Wikipedia article on the "Erfundenes Mittelalter".
- Robert Schoch, The Great Sphinx
- Robert Schoch, Yonaguni, Japan
- Jason Colavito, August 14th, 2012: Rongorongo A-Go-Go: Robert Schoch's 12,000-Year Easter Island Delusion
- Jason Colavito, August 15th, 2012: Robert Schoch's Wacky Easter Island-Gobekli Tepe Theory: The Hypocrisy of Alternative Dating
- Website of the book Centuries of Darkness by Peter James, I. J. Thorpe, Nikos Kokkinos, Robert Morkot, and John Frankish
- See the Wikipedia article on Chronology of the ancient Near East.