Maxwell C. Hill’s “To the Ends of the Earth” is a book. I can say that without any fear of being charged with committing the heinous crime of hyperbole. Even though I read it as a PDF, and thus cannot make any claims as to how much use the physical copy would be as a paperweight, doorstop, table-leg stabiliser or projectile weapon, I feel fairly sure the book would be adequate with respect to these tasks. It would be an expensive object of this kind, given that the hardcopy costs fifty cents shy of sixty dollars, and thus not worth your time if you are on a budget (the electronic version, which was locked such that an honest reader could not annotate its pages, is a mere $38, which is also not a bargain).
Is “To the Ends of the Earth” worth paying money for as a book?
No. It is a terrible example of the form with respect to the two following features:
With respect to the first point, imagine reading a book in which the author, every few chapters, doesn’t just remind you who, say, the great philosopher Aristotle was, but laboriously goes into the very same details you have already read about why he was important. Hill summarises Aristotle’s life several times, so as to press upon you the fact that Aristotle was sure the Earth was a globe.
Well, Hill wants to rewrite human history (and pre-history) and argue that not only did the ancient Greeks (and Egyptians) attempt a circumnavigation of the globe, but they also seeded the mythologies of the Pacific, taught the South Americans how to build stone polity complexes and eventually settled in Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu, before being wiped out by the Moa Hunters.
It’s quite the story.
The book starts, like all good crank books should, with a foreword by a once respectable, now outlying celebrity-cum-academic who is in no way qualified to pass judgement over the quality of the arguments being advanced in the text. Hill chose David Bellamy, who once graced our screens as a respectable nature documentarian. These days, however, he is more famous for his claims that anthropogenic climate change is both a fraud and a conspiracy that has been foisted upon us by the Green movement1. It is perfunctory as forewords go: it really only exists to give the text a veneer of academic respectability. Although Hill goes on to cite other authors in support of his thesis, Bellamy is as good a contemporary figure as Hill can get to endorse him. The other contemporary scholarly voices whose works are cited in support to Hill’s thesis are either likely to be shocked at how their words have been interpreted or are not scholars with expertise relevant to the topic under consideration.
Hill starts out well enough: the initial chapters are divided between sections labelled “Facts” and sections labelled “Theory,” and, for the most part (well, the first page or two), he doesn’t start out mixing the two. There are some odd inferences to be sure: Hill makes sure to give a nod to the Celtic New Zealand Thesis (as espoused by Martin Doutré) early in chapter one, when he suggests that a Ptolemaic crew setting out to circumnavigate the globe might have included some Celts, but within a few pages Hill moves from accepted facts to grand inferences based upon suppositions. Within the space of a page the suggested attempt at a Greek circumnavigation, ordered by Ptolemy II, becomes this convoluted theory:
Very likely this fleet sailed directly from the city of Alexandria as in Ptolemy’s time access to the Red Sea had been made possible with the completion of a Red Sea Canal first begun in the time of Neko II who came to rule Egypt in 610BC.
From the Red Sea Ptolemy’s voyagers would have had to cross the Indian Ocean, landing in India. Like other sailors on very early voyages such as the ancient Egyptians, the Greeks would make frequent landings to take on fresh supplies. In time this fleet would have had to enter the Pacific Ocean to complete the round-the-globe circuit, and it is speculated that one or more of these ships headed south finding its way to New Zealand.
He has no hard evidence for this but he doesn’t mark it out as supposition; this is to be taken as true and historical.
Like many amateur historians, Hill subscribes (either out of ignorance or convenience)
to older, out-of-date theories to substantiate his radical claims, borrowing them from fields like Sociology and Anthropology.
For example, Hill subscribes to the notion that Polynesians, uniquely, have what is called a “rocker jaw,” (p. xviii) so the presence of skulls in Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu (New Zealand) without rocker jaws, pre-Tasman, is taken to be good evidence that there was an unrecorded population of Caucasians living here before Tasman’s “discovery” of this place.
The problem with this story is that even if we grant that Polynesians do display rocker jaws with more frequency than Caucasians, it isn’t the case that:
a) all Māori, pre-contact, had rocker jaws and
b) that Caucasians did not have rocker jaws pre-contact (and miscegenation) with Polynesians.
This kind of antiquated anthropology, with its dubious reliance on morphology, just gets asserted by people like Hill (and Doutré, who makes similarly claims about Polynesian morphology), as if it was true, is true and will forever be true. However, it’s not a currently accepted theory (indeed, it’s a long debunked one) and so the “evidence” Hill presents, so to speak, ends up not giving much, if any, support to his theory because his evidence is both inconsistent with the larger set of historical evidence about human history and pre-history and, because he seems unaware of such debates, shows up his research as being highly selective.
Hill also has a thing for skin tones in ancient artwork, specifically the use of different colours to distinguish peoples. With reference to examples of Mesoamerican art (p. xviii) Hill takes it that the characters portrayed with fairer skin tones are obviously Caucasians, and are portrayed in contrast to the darker tones of the local population. He fails to consider that the different skin tones used in such paintings were used to show the difference between one group and another, and not to suggest ethnicity or coloured “otherness.”
You might also ask “Why white?” The notion of whiteness, as an ethnic identifier, is a modern invention and it makes no sense in a Mesoamerican context. “White” people are not actually white: at best they are a gentle to ruddy pink (with orange hues) and identifying Causcasians as “fair skinned” is not necessarily an association people would have had in earlier times.
The failure to consider other hypotheses, ones which might not actually suit his thesis, is endemic to Hill’s thinking, and the book is filled with examples. Still, consider the additional horror of finding out that something the author explained only a few pages earlier was going to be explained to you in some detail again. Hill, it seems, wants to press upon his readers just how important the Athenian-resident philosopher Aristotle was, because he details Aristotle’s life and achievements three times throughout “To the Ends of the Earth,” never really adding any additional details but, rather, rewriting his previous attempts.
This constant restatement has a curious effect in that Hill ends up merely adopting the theories of others without saying anything interesting or new. He lifts the theories of Thor Heyerdahl into his Greek/Egyptian story of circumnavigation, adding in just a little more causal racism, writing:
There they built the huge stone monuments that exist to this day and lived in peaceuntil around 300AD. Then, for some reason the then leader of these people took what remained of his people back to the Pacific where they landed on Easter Island.
Yet, much later in his book, when one of Hill’s collaborators pours scorn on Heyerdahl’s theory Hill either doesn’t see the discrepancy or doesn’t care.
Another major plank of Hill’s argument, such as it is, is linguistic similarity. He is hung up on the word “Ra,” which occurs both in ancient Egyptian and the Austronesian language family with roughly the same meaning (p. xix). Hill portrays this as a “Gotcha!” moment, a piece of irrefutable evidence that links one culture to another (or, more specifically, shows that one culture influenced the other). Hill believes that “Ra” can only be common to both language groups if someone introduced it to the other (and he points his finger at the famous Greek and Egyptian navigators, Maui and Rata). Yet, there is another possibility, one that, once again, Hill either ignores or fails to think of. What if the word “Ra” only coincidently means the same thing?
He has other examples, like this:
Bryan Dillion, a recognized man in salvages and ship wrecks in the United Kingdom and overseashad been involved for many years researching and locating old ships. He told Noel Hilliam the original name for the Red Sea Canal was; “Hav–iki”. Is this “Haviki” the origin of the widely used Polynesian words “Hawaii”, “Hawaiki”, etc? (p. 6)
Aside from the fact that this similarity is a stretch, it also raises the question of “Why? Why name Hawaiki after a canal?” This seems like a desperate attempt to find evidence that supports a claim of linguistic similarity rather than evidence of such similarity.
Linguistic similarities between two or more languages are only interesting if there are lots of items in common. You can’t just point at a few key words and go “Aha!” like Alan Partridge. You need to show that there are lots of “Aha!” moments which indicate that one language has influenced the other. Otherwise, given the complexity of languages and the very limited set of sounds humans are able to make, it’s kind of expected that some words2, in otherwise distinct languages, will be the same. Indeed, without some good comparative linguistics at hand to sort through the perceived similarities and differences, it’s hard to take Hill seriously (which goes back, once again, to my point about his use of what seem to be outdated or folk theories: only academics like me, with a general knowledge, are going to take the time to address this material. Most specialists won’t bother, and, in cases like these3, I wouldn’t really blame them.
When it comes to seeing similarities, however, Hill wins awards for his interpretative map-reading.
Max Hill’s argument about the failed circumnavigation of the world by the ancient Greek and Egyptians ends up being a very complex story indeed. The Greek and Egyptian duo of Maui and Rata (classic Greek and Egyptian names, aren’t they?) never quite completed their journey. Their two years in the Pacific: immortalised in the myths of the Pacific peoples. Their arrival and settlement in South America: the beginning of civilisation in that part of the world. But, because they set out and never returned, their story could not be told unless a second expedition was sent out, near two centuries later, to find out what happened to the first. By this time the descendants of Maui and Rata’s crew had fled South America to Rapa Nui and, from there, into the rest of Polynesia. When the second crew finally caught up with their cousins, they told them quite a story, one which was then taken back to Alexandria and put into the records of the Great Library there.
How do we know this? Well, most of the details are pure conjecture on the part of Hill, but he does point towards a series of maps based upon the work of Claudius Ptolemy.
Hill’s argument as to why a series of 16th Century maps show that Claudius Ptolemy knew (but was mistaken about the shape) of Australia is quite long and relies a lot on restatement. He does this a lot. Imagine the horror, every few chapters, of being reminded of who, say, the great philosopher Aristotle was. Hill summarises Aristotle’s life at least twice times so, it seems, to press upon the reader just how important the Athenian-resident philosopher Aristotle was. Yet Hill’s coverage does not add much to the telling of his story. Yes, Aristotle would have believed the Earth to be a sphere (a perfect one at that) but just because Aristotle believed such a thing, this in no way tells us that a circumnavigation of the world was attempted by those Greeks in ancient times.
Hill’s constant harking back to Aristotle is about providing opportunity and motive: if a great figure like Aristotle believed the Earth was round, surely lesser figures would have sought to prove it.
One of these figures is the aforementioned Claudius Ptolemy. The work of this Ptolemy is so important that Hill feels the need to go over it not once, not twice, but three times, ballooning the book from a tedious volume to a truly frustrating epic. According to Hill, Claudius Ptolemy’s maps surfaced in the 16th Century and were folded and were subsequently incorporated into the maps of the day. I reproduce some of them below, with Hill’s highlighting of the remarkable presence of the continent we now know of as Australia. As you will see, the resemblance is remarkable.
Astounding images of Australia, aren’t they. The little nodule to the side, New Zealand: uncanny.
If you want an example of looking for evidence and finding it, this is it. At best, Hill has an argument for map-makers putting in land masses where land masses will turn out to be (even though they get the shape wrong). His argument that it is Australia (and a bit of Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu) even goes against his own argument about other badly drawn maps (notably on page 14).
Hill’s argument rests upon the map claim: I think he realises that his other arguments, those based on folk comparative linguistics, petroglyphs and the like are subject to some debate but who would argue with a map? If you could show that the ancient Greeks knew of Australia… Well, suddenly all your intellectual fancies about a pre-Māori culture in Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu might look plausible.
Well, no. Aside from the issues of whether the maps show such land masses as Australia, even of Hill’s claims were true, this would not tell us much about whether these Greek and Egyptian “discoverers” were also “settlers.” Tasman “discovered” New Zealand but did not settle it.
Discovery does not entail that someone is going to be living there shortly.
Still, at times like this, people like Hill, and Doutré, and Brailsford et al, will then point towards Māori oral history and cite the stories of the Patupaiarehe and the Tūrehu, the first peoples of this place, as evidence of a pre-Māori culture. Note that this ends up being a weird double standard in the work of people like Hill, Doutré et al, because they are normally quite dismissive of any oral account of Māori origin but will happily believe any such account that suggests Māori were not here first.
Still, the stories of the Patupaiarehe and Tūrehu are an acknowledged part of Māori lore and these people were said to be here first. What gives?
Without wanting to rehash earlier posts upon the subject, the Patupaiarehe and Tūrehu play the role of the fey folk in such cultures as the Irish, the English and so forth. In these cultures there are “first peoples” who are spiritual, rather than physical creatures and whose role is both to guide and to warn the current generation who to live in and respect the land.
Hill is not content to just cite the existence of the Patupaiarehe and the Tūrehu as pre-dating the Māori: he also challenges the Great Fleet narrative of the arrival of the Māori in Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu. What’s interesting about this aspect of his argument is that he’s dealing with an out-of-date hypothesis about the migration of Pacific peoples to New Zealand. The notion of a Great Fleet is a nice story but the evidence indicates that the settlement of this place by the people who would become the Māori took place over a lengthy period of time (which also makes sense of some of the oral history, where we have cases of waka arrive in a place, only to find their family members were already there).
There are a lot of arguments in Hill’s book that I do not have the time to delve into. Hill and Gary Cook’s use of Barry Fell’s “translations” of Polynesia petroglyphs as evidence of the Greek/Egyptian journey is certainly interesting (in a “stretching credibility”) kind of way, but it would make this overly lengthy review a much more tedious read, as would fulminating against Hill’s claim that the Moriori are not Māori (let alone the claims of one “Moriori Chief Philip Ranga”). Add in Barry Brailsford’s work on the Waitaha people (which confuses an actual iwi with a mythic one whose imperium reached the shores of South America), claims about comparative artwork from distant cultures, and you have a book which is packed to the brim with… “intellectual fancies” is the best term I can think of here.
People have read “To the Ends of the Earth” and been convinced of. Many more will read it and find it perfectly acceptable. Historical, even. It will prove to be a problematic book: read by a lot of people and used as proof someone other than the Māori got here first and that the reason why this isn’t common knowledge is a conspiracy of silence by the governments of the day, the academic historians, the judiciary and people like me. For some it is simply a book which contains the evidence they have been looking for. For others, it will become evidence for their view because they don’t understand it’s shortcomings.
I can sort of (sort of) understand why people find books like this persuasive. Whether Hill knows this or not, providing lots of disparate arguments in support of your thesis, regardless of whether they are plausible or implausible, is a good way to get people on side. On a surface level, it looks like there is a good case for Hill’s thesis of a Greek/Egyptian attempted circumnavigation of the globe, leading to the pre-Māori settlement of Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu. Certainly, if you thought Hill was wrong, you would have to go through and debunk a lot of arguments, arguments which rest on references and facts et al. Add in the fact that this book will be derided by serious academics, who, in many cases, won’t even read it before passing comment on it4 and you can see that the “average New Zealander,” who distrusts educated, ivory-tower folk, are going to say “Finally, a book which speaks truth to power!”5
The thing is that “To the Ends of the Earth” rests upon bad arguments, misinterpreted evidence, out-moded theories: most of the debunking of it already exists in the peer-reviewed literature. Hill’s book, though, is the history people think is true and the history some people think is being kept from us. You can lob King and Belich at these people, and it likely won’t change their minds, because books like these have, as their audience, people who seek confirmation of their view that, in some way, they aren’t as privileged as the rest of society makes them out to be.
Also: Did I mention ARISTOTLE?
- Hill refers to Bellamy’s arguments about anthropogenic climate change as: “a factual and scientific landmark.” (p. xv) Hill says this about a lot of people and their fringe theories.↩
- “Words” isn’t exactly the best term to use here, but the general point is good, even if the terminology I am using is inexact.↩
- There are lots of cases where I would blame them. This is just not one of them.↩
- And this happens: Prof. Margaret Mutu (whose work I quite like) didn’t read Dr. Paul Moon’s “This Horrid Practice” before passing comment on it in the media. Moon is a proper historian: imagine how such academics are going to treat Hill.↩
- They aren’t really going to say that, exactly, but you get my point.↩