I've posted a slew of new content on JasonColavito.com. Here's a brief overview of what's new:
I've been hard at work creating another new, free eBook for you to download. This one is Ancient Atom Bombs: Fact, Fraud, and the Myth of Prehistoric Nuclear Warfare. This 25-page eBook builds on the most popular article on my Lost Civilizations Uncovered website, "Ancient Atom Bombs?", to explore the ways alternative authors misuse ancient mythology to create misleading and sometimes outright false claims about nuclear war in prehistory. Substantive new content critically examines the use of the Mahabharata in alternative works--which, let me tell you is no easy task. That Indian epic is 1.8 million words long, and alternative authors don't provide citations of books and chapters for their fancifully mistranslated quotations. But I did it. I went through the whole mess and found the exact quotes to show exactly how ancient myth has been systematically altered to prove something that never was. Download and enjoy!
I've added a new section to JasonColavito.com for free eBooks. Today, I've posted my first free eBook, The Origins of the Space Gods: Ancient Astronauts and the Cthulhu Mythos in Fiction and Fact. Origins offers a brief introduction to the theory I presented in The Cult of Alien Gods about the origins of the ancient astronaut theory in the work of H. P. Lovecraft, and it updates my 2005 book with some new information and analysis supporting my theory. The 30-page eBook is available as a PDF and .mobi file.
Depending on how this goes, I will be posting additional eBooks in the future.
If you do download my eBook, please consider sharing it with a friend, family member, or colleague.
Graham Joyce’s horror thriller The Silent Land was published in Britain late last year and is now being released on this side of the Pond. The book has received generally good reviews, and it has strong word-of-mouth. I, on the other hand, have mixed feelings about the novel.
Silent Land tells the story of Jake and Zoe, a couple in their early thirties (reviews inevitably describe them as “young,” which I guess implies something about the presumed readership). They are on a ski vacation when an avalanche buries them. Jake rescues Zoe, and they return to their hotel to find that all of the people are gone. More disconcerting, candles refuse to burn down, and food left out on counters refuses to rot. Something is very wrong. They try to leave town, but every path out curves back into town, like a Mobius strip. After a while (and this gives nothing away since the characters discuss it themselves early on) Jake and Zoe begin to assume they are dead and in some kind of limbo, one governed by their memories of their earthly lives. Eventually, they discover the truth.
Here is where my mixed feelings come in. The story is told with an economical, but controlled style that effortlessly moves the narrative along. The characters are, if somewhat stereotyped, also well-written and engaging. The heart of the novel relies on the emotional connection of the characters and questions about love, marriage, and devotion. So skillful is the storytelling that it almost made me not notice that the central 150 pages of the 250 page book were essentially filler that could have been skipped with no violence done to the premise. Against the positives of the writing weighs the negative of unoriginality. Anyone who has seen the pilot episode of the Twilight Zone, “Where Is Everybody?”, or the British version of Life on Mars will find no surprises in the narrative. In fact, the whole story pretty much hinges on combining elements of those two TV shows. The ending to the novel stacks up clichés, leaving the whole somewhat less than its parts.
Nevertheless, The Silent Land is wildly entertaining and moves along with a brisk efficiency. It was fun to read, but effervescent. Like the twilight land through which the characters move, the book itself fades away into our collective memory, merging with all the other versions of this story that have come before, until, finally, they can no longer be distinguished.
To follow up on the media circus surrounding a new claim that Atlantis has been found in Spain, I’d like to talk a little bit about how one would prove that a new discovery was “really” Atlantis. It isn’t as simple as finding an ancient site and then trying to match it to Plato’s description, no matter how loosely one interprets Plato’s texts (composed c. 360 BCE).
A major hurdle is proposing a plausible method of transmission whereby knowledge of a given site can be retained and communicated through the centuries. How would Plato have known the details of whatever archaeological remains you’ve dug up? In his dialogues, Plato claims that his knowledge of Atlantis derives from Solon, who got it in turn from the Egyptians. If we take this at face value, we would need to prove a relationship between Egypt and the unnamed site prior to the age of Solon (638-538 BCE) and Egyptian knowledge of the site’s layout, politics, internal organization, and destruction. We would also need to prove how and where Solon’s information was retained and communicated for roughly three centuries between him and Plato. Needless to say, there is not a single scrap of evidence—no statue, no vase painting, no inscription, no papyrus fragment, no wall painting—nothing that indicates Egyptian or Greek knowledge of anything like Atlantis prior to 360 BCE.
Contrast this with an actual documented instance of historical memory. In the Iliad (c. 800 BCE), Homer records the story of Troy, long believed to have been a legendary city as mythical as Atlantis. But Homer included bits of genuine Bronze Age information, including references to a helmet made of boar’s tusks that was used only in Mycenaean Age (prior to 1200 BCE), which indicated a core of genuine history underneath layers of myth. The Greeks, however, lived among the ruins of the Mycenaean Age but knew so little of that time that they assumed the ruins were the work of Cyclopes and the men of that era demigods. These same people somehow retained street-level knowledge of Atlantis but not their own cities?
Homer’s geographic information led Heinrich Schliemann to a site in Turkey where he found a city that has been identified as the site of Troy. However, Homer’s information was not perfectly accurate, but rather highly distorted, the result of imperfect transmission across centuries, contaminated with error and more recent information.
But this is not all the ancient evidence. Homer was not alone in mentioning Troy—an entire series of myths and epics by many hands recorded parts of its story. We also have Bronze Age Hittite records recording interactions with Wilusa (another name for Ilion, or Troy). The Hittite records confirm that a ruler named Alexander once reigned in Troy, just as in Homer the son of Troy’s king is Alexander (also called Paris).
In this case, we have contemporary records, an archaeological site, and later Greek recollections of genuine Bronze Age material. These many strands work together to tell us that the site Schliemann found in Turkey is the place known as Troy. What do we have to support claims for Atlantis? We have Plato’s (fictional) dialogues, and nothing else. The Egyptians, who recorded interactions with ancient peoples ranging from the Minoans and the Mycenaeans to envoys from the Near East, are silent about Atlanteans. The Greeks included Atlantis in no myths, legends, or epics. Nearly every ancient city that was genuinely prominent in the Bronze Age has myths associated with it, even if that city ceased to exist in later ages, as Martin Nilsson explained in his classic The Mycenaean Origins of Greek Mythology almost a century ago. But somehow Atlantis got left out. Even the ancient authors themselves were fairly certain Plato made it all up.
In absence of any evidence outside of Plato for Greek knowledge of Atlantis, and in the absence of any plausible way for the Greeks (or even the Egyptians) to have known about the destruction of Atlantis, or proof that they did, we must conclude that Atlantis was what Plato meant it to be: a fictional double for Athens.
Last night (March 13), the National Geographic channel ran an hour long documentary chronicling the efforts of Hartford University archaeologist Richard Freund to find the lost city of Atlantis. The program, titled Finding Atlantis, presented a few intriguing finds and then spun those discoveries into a web of pseudoscience masquerading as science.
Freund, who previously appeared in a 2004 Nova special where he identified artifacts found in Israel as part of the legendary Temple treasure lost after the Roman invasion of Jerusalem, argues that a site on the southern coast of Spain is Plato’s Atlantis as well as the biblical city of Tarshish, a trading center mentioned briefly in the books of Chronicles, Kings, and elsewhere. Freund claims that the Spanish site conforms to Plato’s description of Atlantis because geophysical scans indicate that the city stood on an island surrounded by water, as Plato described.
Plato, however, said Atlantis was “larger than Libya and Asia together” (this island is not), and composed of several concentric rings with artificial canals connecting the rings of land in a riparian system (again, the Spanish site does not match). Finally, Plato claimed that the island was destroyed by an earthquake 9,000 years before Plato’s time (c. 9,400 BCE). Again, the Spanish site does not match. Initial radiocarbon dates place it anywhere from 5,000 to 2,400 years old.
Nevertheless, Freund believes that the circular shape of the site and the fact that it was possibly destroyed by a tsunami proves that the site was the legendary Atlantis, and he repeatedly emphasized how close the match was—close if you agree to change the facts that Plato wrote to “more plausible” versions. Doing so, of course, means that Freund is free to reconstruct an imaginary Atlantis of his own devising, one which is very different from Plato’s but which he can imaginatively recreate to match anything he happened to find on the ground.
I found especially ludicrous his attempt to explain a carving of a warrior holding a sword and a shield as a soldier “guarding” an aerial map of Atlantis, claiming the circular shield with its pattern of concentric circles, so very similar to other ancient shields, was really a 2,000-year-old remembered tradition of the layout of Atlantis! This in an age that did not make any other aerial maps! Earlier, Freund and his team were giddy with excitement after finding geometric-shaped rocks that they thought were the walls of Atlantis. They were completely natural in formation, but still Freund counted them as evidence on the grounds that Atlanteans “might” have built walls with them anyway—underwater, apparently, since they formed beneath the ocean.
There is no doubt, of course, that there is a real archaeological site buried in southern Spain. What it is exactly, we just don’t know. However, let us give Freund the benefit of the doubt and agree that everything he claims about its age and layout are true. What does this tell us? Nothing, actually. Freund can propose no method by which this fallen city is somehow remembered in street-level detail from Spain to Egypt to Plato over the course of thousands upon thousands of years without leaving a single trace in the records of Egypt or Greece or anywhere else. Not a single inscription, or papyrus, or statue, or vase painting. Nothing at all from 5,000 BCE until 360 BCE when Plato wrote the Timaeus and the Critias, the first ever mention of Atlantis. By this standard, we must take the Cyclopes, the Odyssey, the Underworld, and the Golden Fleece as true people and events, too, since they are amply better documented in the ancient record.
Most disturbing, I think, is Freund’s attempt to argue that Atlantis was really the biblical city of Tarshish. This is the entirety of what is known of Tarshish, from 2 Chronicles 9:21: “every three years once came the ships of Tarshish bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks.” (This is repeated in Kings 10:22). Obviously, Freund said, this is Atlantis because both Tarshish and Atlantis dealt in “metals,” the only ancient cities, he said, to do so. This is patently false, since other ancient sites, like Colchis on the Black Sea, were famous for their metalworking. Incidentally, southern Spain boasts neither apes (native to sub-Saharan Africa), nor peacocks (native to India and parts of sub-Saharan Africa), nor ivory (Africa again). This kind of Bible-mongering serves little purpose except to try to rope in Atlantis as confirmation of the Bible’s literal truth—something Freund inadvertently emphasizes when using biblical terminology such as the “holy of holies” when describing decidedly non-Hebrew sites. It is no coincidence that Richard Freund’s specialty is biblical archaeology and Judaic studies, not Classical, Bronze Age, or Neolithic archaeology.
But let us grant him his point and pretend that Atlantis is Tarshish. If this is true, then we have a contradiction. Tarshish traded with the Israelites during the reign of Solomon, traditionally around the tenth century BCE. This is thousands of years after Plato’s Atlantis sunk beneath the waves (9400 BCE), and at least a thousand years off from the proposed dates when the Spanish site was destroyed (possibly around 2000 BCE). Never mind that the books of Chronicles and Kings were likely composed no earlier than 560 BCE, at which time Tarshish must still have been an active port—one still in operation when Jonah tried to sail there in the Book of Jonah (composed c. 500 BCE). So Tarshish and Atlantis, like Schrodinger’s cat, both exist and do not exist, are active and destroyed, simultaneously. The only way to make the two into one is to change Plato, and once you change Plato you are no longer looking for “Atlantis” but are instead naming whatever you find in honor of Plato’s fictional allegory.
Apparently Freund dropped in to an active Spanish archaeological investigation into an actual ancient city, ongoing since 2005, and has hijacked it to generate publicity for his research into the connection between Solomon and Atlantis to prove the Bible true. Here is what the Spanish anthropologist Juan Villarias-Robles told the Telegraph about Freund:
"Richard Freund was a newcomer to our project and appeared to be involved in his own very controversial issue concerning King Solomon's search for ivory and gold in Tartessos, the well documented settlement in the Donaña area established in the first millennium BC.
"He became involved in what we were doing and provided funding for probes through his connections with National Geographic and Associated Producers.
"He left and the film company told us the documentary would be finished in April or May. But we did not hear from him and are very surprised it has appeared so soon and makes such fanciful claims."
National Geographic should be ashamed to present such poor reasoning and Biblical nonsense as science, especially without a single skeptical or opposing viewpoint.
The capital's conservative daily, The Washington Times, devoted an unusual amount of space recently to a work of pseudoscience from Algora Publishing, a small press that distributes a number of books on "alternative" archaeology. On February 25, Fox News columnist Martin Sieff wrote a lengthy review of Emmett Sweeney's new Atlantis: The Evidence from Science (Algora, 2010), praising the book for its evenhanded exploration of the science supporting claims that Atlantis really existed. This review, however, seems to reflect a hidden anti-science, perhaps even creationist, agenda.
Sweeney is the author of a number of volumes defending the work of Immanuel Velikovsky, the 20th century writer who claimed that the planet Venus was really a comet that swung by earth in prehistory, influencing the course of civilization when it parted the Red Sea, destroyed Minoan civilization, and what-have-you. According to Velikovsky and Sweeney, earth's history has been grossly distorted by historians and must be set right. Velikovsky, whom Sweeney follows, claimed that the Dark Age between the Mycenaean era and Archaic Greece (the period from 1200 BCE to 800 BCE) did not exist and was the creation of close-minded scholars. By happy coincidence, if one accepts Velikovsky's claims, the historical chronology given in the Bible could be reconciled with Egyptian king lists and records, thus proving that the Bible was literally true.
None of this was discussed in Sieff's Washington Times review, which instead attempted to give legitimacy to Sweeney's catastrophism by giving a foothold to his work on Atlantis. At no time does Sieff discuss a troubling conflict of interest. Sieff is a founding member of the pro-Velikovsky group, the Society for Interdisciplinary Studies, a former editor of its magazine, and an active proponent of catastrophism. He wrote more than two dozen articles in support of catastrophism, some as late as the 1990s. (Here is his entry in the Velikovsky Encyclopedia.) By hiding Sweeney's connection to Velikovsky, as well as his own, Sieff plays the part of the disinterested journalist, legitimizing an ideological agenda in the guise of journalism.
Sieff even goes beyond Sweeney to argue that a "sophisticated global, seafaring civilization certainly existed in the geological conditions before the last ice age." He bases this claim on the work of Charles Hapgood, a professor who misread ancient maps in the mid-20th century and imagined that they showed Antarctica, not officially discovered until 1818. These maps were supposedly so accurate only a sophisticated global culture could have made them; however, repeated debunkings over the past 50 years showed conclusively that Hapgood was wrong, a fact even Hapgood seemed to acknowledge before his death.
That Sieff relies on discredited and false evidence to support a radical rewriting of ancient history is no surprise; everyone who supports "alternative" archaeology does so at some point. What is extremely surprising is that the Washington Times ran this bit of rank pseudoscience. Here, it seems that a hidden agenda is at work. As noted above, acceptance of Atlantis is the stepping stone to legitimizing Velikovskian theories--or at the very least, de-legitimizing secular archaeology. Once the accepted, secular story of cultural evolution has been questioned, creationist theories become that much easier to put on par with actual science.
Given that the Washington Times is a known outlet for conservative attacks on science, as well as for the views of its owner, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, the entire affair seems to be of a piece--covertly attempting to subvert science in the name of dogma, catastrophist, religious, or otherwise.
I've been cited as a major source for a doctoral dissertation about Lovecraft and science. Here are the details:
Confronting the "Boundless and Hideous Unknown": Science, Categorization, and Naming in H. P. Lovecraft's Fiction, a doctoral dissertation by Matolcsy Kalman (University of Debrecen, Hungary, 2010).
Kalman cites my Knowing Fear as a major source for understanding the role of science and knowledge in horror fiction in general, and Lovecraft's relationship to both in particular. My book is used as a framework and major source for Kalman's dissertation. Read it here.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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