Today, I have three odds and ends to discuss: the Maya apocalypse, Beowulf’s dinosaurs, and another black mark against Theosophy. What unites all three topics is a common theme about the need to believe and the pious fraud involved in exploiting one's own and others' beliefs.
In the minutes leading up to the “end of the world” tomorrow, Giorgio Tsoukalos, the “star” of Ancient Aliens, is throwing a carnival-like circus party in New Orleans where he plans to descend onto a stage in a mock spaceship to ring in the Maya Apocalypse. (As I write this, it’s already 12/21 in Australia, and, so far as I know, the continent still exists.) Tsoukalos told Janet McConnaughey of the Associated Press that he chose New Orleans as the site of his acrobat, laser, and fire-thrower circus show—to benefit the Peter Mayhew Foundation—in order to honor the city for surviving Hurricane Katrina. Yes, the Associated Press covers Ancient Aliens as though it were news.
Today, I have two brief topics to cover. First, Ancient Aliens’ dumb new promotional spot; then, the Lovecraftian connection to the ‘mysterious’ Newport Tower.
During Season 4 of Ancient Aliens, H2 aired a promotional spot in which Giorgio Tsoukalos claimed that a straw suit worn by the Kayapo is a memory of an alien space suit. I completely demolished this stupid claim in April by looking at what the Kayapo themselves said about it, namely that the suit was a beekeeping suit worn by the supernatural protector of bees. Despite the facts, H2 filmed a completely different promotional spot for Season 5, airing this week, in which Tsoukalos is again claiming that the beekeeping suit is just like “a modern day astronaut suit.” If they can recycle debunked claims, I can recycle my debunking. Read my takedown of this dumb idea here.
Did you see the preview for Ancient Aliens that’s running on H2 this week? In the brief promotional clip (apparently filmed specifically for promotional purposes), Giorgio Tsoukalos shows a picture of a jet pilot in a flight suit with an oxygen hose dangling from his mask and asks: “What if our ancestors encountered something like this and misinterpreted it as an elephant’s trunk?” He compares the flight suit to statues of the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha.
In discussing the alleged “Pygmies” of the Arctic—a holdover from Classical mythology—I referred to Kirsten Seaver’s work connecting the imaginary pygmies to the Skrælings, the Norse name for the native peoples of Greenland and eastern Canada. But I became sidetracked over an incidental question that arose in reading her article on the pygmy-Skræling connection.
In her 2004 book Maps, Myths and, Men, Seaver reported that the Danish antiquarian Carl Rafn had been the first to identify an old windmill in Rhode Island, the so-called “Newport Tower,” as a Norse church. She didn’t give a reference for the claim in the book, but in her 2008 article “Pygmies of the Far North” she claimed that the Newport Tower discussion occurred in Rafn’s 1837 book Antiquitates Americanae, specifically on pages 400-405, a reference she repeated again in 2010’s The Last Vikings.
Back in May I wrote a blog post about early modern maps of the Arctic and the Classical sources they used to imagine a magnetic mountain at the North Pole. John J. McKay has an interesting blog post exploring this same topic and offering an interesting sidelight on the Arctic lands.
Yesterday I posted a new section of my Library dedicated to articles about the connection between fossil discoveries and the myths and legends they inspired. One of the articles I posted is a true rarity, the complete text of W. B. Scott’s “American Elephant Myths,” an influential and much-cited 1887 article from Scribner’s that attempted to trace the influence of fossil mastodon and mammoth bones on the myths and iconography of Native Americans.
An area that fascinates me is the way ancient (and not-so-ancient) peoples used fossils, archaeological remains, and ruins to imagine a new mythic past for themselves. That’s why I just posted a translation of Boccaccio’s report of the discovery of a fossil giant. Adrienne Mayor sparked this interest with her book The First Fossil Hunters (2000), which received wide praise for its investigation of the connection between fossils and Greek and Roman mythic figures. In that book, Mayor states that Georges Cuvier (1806) was the first to propose such a connection, but it was "subsequently forgotten amid the exciting scientific discoveries of his day.” With the exception of Othenio Abel (1914), many critics said Mayor was therefore the first to address the subject in two centuries.
This is in no way intended to disparage Mayor’s admirable book, but after reviewing nineteenth century books on geology, this simply isn’t true, and I think I may know what really happened.
We have previously discussed the mountain in France where true believers in the Maya apocalypse are gathering in advance of December 21. They believe that an alien spaceship within the mountain will carry them to safety. Well, as it happens, this isn’t the only alien mountain where the deluded are gathering. According to articles in the Daily Mail and other British newspapers, another set of true believers have gathered at Mount Rtanj (also called Šiljak after its highest peak) in Serbia, believing that an extraterrestrial-built pyramid is concealed within the mountain and will save them from disaster.
Generally, I’d just put this down to another bit of random weirdness, but as it happens there seems to actually be a reason behind the eruption of 2012 fervor around Mount Rtanj.
Despite my attempt to rest my wrist following a bout of carpal tunnel, somehow I managed to write more over the last two days than usual. Well, today I’m resting, so I’m going to direct readers to an excellent blog post by Frank Johnson over at Ancient Aliens Debunked describing the alleged “Nuremburg UFO Battle” of 1561, a staple of ancient astronaut claims, having appeared everywhere from the Weekly World News to Ancient Aliens to Graham Hancock’s Supernatural (where he suggested it was a mass drug hallucination). A bit of background will help place Johnson’s critique in context.
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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