I’m continuing my review of archaeologist Brian Haughton’s Hidden History (2007), a set of 49 mostly unrelated descriptions of various historical mysteries of interest to “alternative” believers. This bland, noncommittal book raises an interesting question: In an era of instant access to facts, is there a point anymore to books that are little more than collections of facts without a systematic purpose or any authorial evaluation or application of said facts? If the book is not a reference work, then what is it except a more limited Wikipedia in print? If the author brings nothing to the table, what is the reader paying for?
Today I thought I’d start looking at Brian Haughton’s Hidden History: Lost Civilizations, Secret Knowledge, and Ancient Mysteries (New Page, 2007). This book promises to be something more than your standard alternative history text because Haughton holds a master’s in Greek archaeology and a bachelor’s in European archaeology. Therefore, I expect a more interesting and lively presentation than the uneducated or under-educated writers in the field. I am writing this paragraph before reading the book, so I can only speculate that the mysteries discussed within will be more professionally reviewed than Joseph of Childress might do. What follows, I will write after reading.
I just received the new edition of Skeptical Inquirer (July/August 2013), and there are a couple of interesting things in it. First, I want to point out the excellent work Benjamin Radford did in exposing plagiarism in The Element Encyclopedia of Vampires (2009), which was filled with cut-and-paste plagiarism from websites. This was an even more egregious case of plagiarism than the self-copying I have documented in the work of David Childress, Erich von Däniken, and others. I dock Skeptical Inquirer points, though, for claiming the article was reviewing “plagiarism in New Age books” when in fact it is one book. I sort of hoped for a broader investigation given all the obvious plagiarism I’ve uncovered in alternative archaeology texts.
Mondays are my busiest day of the week, so today I thought I’d share an interesting bit of information that turned up recently in a Cracked.com article on historical mistakes. Regular readers will recall that alternative historians are obsessed with the idea of finding early medieval Irish Ogham writing virtually everywhere on earth. Ogham, of course, is easy for non-specialists to confuse with any random scratch mark because it is made up primarily of straight lines and angles. Barry Fell famously declared nearly every set of angular lines appearing on any rock evidence of Ogham. Scott Wolter thought he found some in Oklahoma. Worse, the Nigerian scholar Catherine Acholonu-Olumba, who holds a wide range of alternative beliefs centered on Afrocentric claims to history, has even proposed that Ogham is not Irish or medieval but rather a pre-Sumerian African invention!
I’m going to put this out there because I have no idea what to make of it. Alan Butler and Scott Wolter’s wife Janet are planning to accuse the Grange, an agricultural fraternal group, of being complicit in international goddess worship. Butler made the strange claim on the Intervention Theory website after reporting that he and Wolter held a secret meeting in Los Angeles to investigate an undisclosed top secret mystery that would “blow the minds” of everyone on earth. Janet Wolter specializes in seeking out hidden goddess worship in mainstream organizations. She and Scott must make quite the pair when they get talking about Mary Magdalene.
(Disclosure: Alan Butler threatened to sue me in 2005 for publishing this review of one of his books because he erroneously believed I required his permission to do so.)
Anyway, Butler wrote:
Over the past two days, I’ve looked at Steven Pinker’s views on the fictive history of Homeric Greece and the imaginary world of the Hebrew Bible. Today, I’m going to look at his ideas about the Roman Empire because, well, apparently most of his critics have focused (understandably) on his mathematical and ideological arguments in The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011). Nothing in his book is what it seems, and it is perhaps telling that in this chapter’s overview of historical incidents of violence, he does not travel beyond the West—nothing of ancient China, or Vedic India, or the various peoples of Mexico.
Yesterday I looked at Steven Pinker’s discussion of violence in the non-existent fantasy land of “Homeric Greece” (an amalgam of elements of Mycenaean, Dark Age, and Archaic Greece, infused with Indo-European mythological survivals), so today let’s look at this equally odd discussion of violence in the Hebrew Bible, which immediately follows in his first chapter of The Better Angels of Our Nature. I am going to assume that he is joking when he asks us to think that the murder of Abel, at a time when the world population was “exactly four,” should be read as a homicide rate of 25 percent, “a thousand times higher” than today.
On Tuesday, Stephen Corry offered an interesting critique of Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011), the book in which the evolutionary biologist claims that violence has declined over the past several millennia. Pinker essentially argued that the increasing power of the state and its increasing role in everyday life reduced the occurrence of violence in the lives of individuals, displacing that violence to state-sanctioned wars. I’m oversimplifying, of course, and Pinker also adds feminism, capitalism, and liberalism to the list of forces—coincidentally the forces that represent the liberal wing of the modern West—that yield peaceful, happy societies. Humanity, Corry cites Pinker as arguing, took a definitive turn toward peace—again coincidentally—just about the same year Pinker himself was born, about six decades ago.
Conflicting Accounts of Whether Producers, History Channel Capitalized on Dan Brown for "Holy Grail" Documentary
I’ve talked quite a bit about responsibility, both the responsibility of the media to avoid intentionally misrepresenting history, archaeology, and anthropology to their audiences, and the responsibility of those who claim to speak for those disciplines to play fair with the facts. I will remind everyone once again that this is not a legal requirement: No law prevents you from lying through your teeth about history, so long as you don’t libel those you discuss—and one cannot libel the dead.
Take a look at this interesting piece about Steven Pinker and the misuse of anthropology. I’m not sure what I think yet; I’m still digesting it. Perhaps tomorrow I will have more thoughts on it.
I received notice from Amazon.com that America Unearthed host Scott Wolter’s new book, Akhenaten to the Founding Fathers: Mysteries of the Hooked X®, has been delayed for a month. The publisher had planned to release the book on June 1, and Wolter had been promoting the book’s publication in radio appearances. No reason has been given for the delay.
Obviously, after Scott Wolter and A+E Television Networks, the parent company of H2, the channel that broadcasts America Unearthed and owns its trademarks, spent so much time and effort accusing me of infringing on their trademarks, I of course wanted to know whether A+E Television Networks (AETN) applied the same scrutiny to Scott Wolter’s own products. So I’ve been pressing AETN to state definitively whether they endorse Wolter’s work the same way that they lend their name, trademarks, and authority to books by the casts of American Pickers, Pawn Stars, Ice Road Truckers, and other programs. Those individuals’ books carry the History name or logo and are sold in the History online store while From Akhenaten lacks the History imprimatur.
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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