In working on my book about the myth of the Mound Builders, I encountered a bizarre historical sideshow that is probably worth mentioning, if only because it gives the lie to the idea that some sort of conspiracy has forever kept the “textbooks” clean of fringe ideas.
Graham Hancock's Ideas about Ancient North America Were Proposed 200 Years Ago, by a Plagiarist and Fraud
If you’ve been reading fringe media or even the mainstream news this week, you likely saw one of dozens of articles claiming that a new scientific paper evaluated the evidence for an advanced civilization millions of years ago. They were lying. The paper isn’t about proving such a civilization existed. It was a thought experiment asking us to consider the impact of civilization on the planet and how permanent our footprint will be in the long term. There is no evidence of an ancient lost civilization millions of years ago and the authors even wrote in the Atlantic that they don’t believe there ever was such a civilization, though they suggest that it might be worth looking for any geological traces of one, if only for the accidental discoveries it might produce. It’s about as much proof of prehistoric Old Ones as At the Mountains of Madness.
As many readers already know, actress Roseanne Barr became an internet laughingstock recently when she praised Donald Trump for his heroic role in an imaginary effort to free thousands of children from a Democrat-run pedophilia network. This bizarre counterfactual belief is part of the so-called QAnon conspiracy, an internet-driven conspiracy theory which holds that Trump and Special Counsel Robert Muller are working together to take down Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who are the masterminds of a global child abuse network and terrorism syndicate. Barr removed her tweets referencing QAnon but did not apologize for her belief in the conspiracy.
I have always found it interesting that the people who claim that academics are hidebound dogmatists willing to die to prevent the truth from escaping nevertheless try to cloak themselves in the borrowed authority of academia. To an extent, this must be a way of trying to give spurious grandeur to incomplete or incorrect claims, but I read with concern the latest Author of the Month Author of the Month posting on Graham Hancock’s website because it starts off with a laundry list of credentialed scholars who have held unusual or incorrect beliefs about the peopling of the Americas. The purpose of such a list can only be to make author Gary A. David appear more serious than his oddball ideas would otherwise come across. Regular readers will remember David as the writer who wrongly asserted that Hopi settlements were laid out in the shape of the constellation Orion, a claim belied by geography and chronology.
Last week I talked a bit about Josiah Priest, the author of American Antiquities (5 editions, 1833-1835), which was one of the first fringe history books in the modern style. By that, I mean that it’s a collection of random rumors, confusion, and lies, liberally spiced with plagiarism and recycled older work, enlivened by misspellings and a general lack of overall plan or coherent argument. It’s the common ancestor of the collected works of Erich von Däniken, Peter Kolosimo, Robert Charroux, and all the others of their ilk. The mischievous side of me has half a mind to gently rewrite it more contemporary English and see how many fringe publishers would snap it up. But I digress.
David Warner Mathisen is a one trick pony, a self-described “star myth investigator” who reads basically every story in world mythology and religion as a description of astronomical movements. He was inspired by Hamlet’s Mill, the complex and dense but ultimately self-referential fantasy concocted by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend to argue for the existence of a lost civilization based on the flawed assumption that only an advanced civilization could have gazed up at the sky and told stories about the stars they saw there. Mathisen’s schtick, which he has been promoting since he started selling books on the subject back in 2015, is predictable, but his attempt to tie his hobbyhorse to the spectacular Bronze age gemstone that made headlines last year is bizarre even by his standards.
I read an interesting article about some bad research published recently in the Journal of Coastal Studies claiming that the ancient Greeks visited North America in the early decades CE, and perhaps as far back as the Bronze Age. It’s a rather textbook example of how cherry picking ancient texts outside of their established context can lead to poor results. I first learned of the claim on Friday in Hakai magazine, but it took me a few days to digest the complex chain of faulty reasoning involved. While the original journal article is locked behind a paywall, the lead researcher posted a copy to Research Gate, so we are fortunate to be able to analyze the actual arguments rather than a media summary of them.
THE CYGNUS KEY: THE DENISOVAN LEGACY, GÖBEKLI TEPE, AND THE BIRTH OF EGYPT
Andrew Collins with Rodney Hale | 464 pages | Bear & Company | 2018 | ISBN 978-1591432999
READ PART 1
In the first part of my review of The Cygnus Key, I reviewed Andrew Collins’s views on the supposedly prehistoric origins of a cult that worships the constellation of Cygnus the Swan as a vulture that leads souls to heaven. I also noted that this part of the volume, a third of its length, is essentially little more than a summary of Collins’s previous books going back a decade. In the remainder of the book, Collins finally gets to the meat of his thesis, starting with what he calls “The Giza Revelation.”
A Turkish academic who claims to “speak for science” said that Noah used a cellphone to call his son before the Flood and powered the Ark with a nuclear reactor. The latest bizarre pseudoscience out of Turkey comes a year after the Turkish government claimed that the patriarch Abraham’s father built Göbekli Tepe and a couple of years after Turkey’s strongman president claimed that Muslim explorers built a mosque in Cuba long before Columbus visited the island. Such claims are part of a growing religious fundamentalism in the Turkish state, where the secularism of Ataturk has eroded in recent years in favor of Pres. Erdoğan’s policy of Islamization.
This week the new Kensington Rune Stone Park Visitors Center opened in Minnesota to tell the story of the Kensington Runestone, the controversial inscribed slab uncovered in the nineteenth century bearing a runic inscription. (The building signage puts a space between “rune” and “stone,” but the park’s website does not.) Outside of Minnesota, the broad consensus remains that the object is a Victorian hoax created by Scandinavian immigrants, but within the region where the object was found it has a dedicated group of true believers who hold it to be proof that Scandinavians explored the interior of the future United States a century before Columbus opened the Americas to European penetration. The Visitors Center, designed in consultation with Rune Stone advocate and fringe history speculator Scott Wolter, falls squarely into the latter camp.
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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