For a show that almost literally no one watched—averaging only around 500,000 viewers across its four-episode run, fewer than syndicated reruns of off-network sitcoms—Megan Fox’s Legends of the Lost has inspired a lot of discussion and upset online, particularly around the question of Viking women warriors. Frankly, I find this to be the least interesting “mystery” on Fox’s show, but it raises a fascinating question about archaeological vs. historical knowledge and how an idea does or does not become a consensus concept in the creation of our story of the past.
It feels like a lifetime ago that Megan Fox launched Legends of the Lost with an episode devoted to the question of women’s roles in Viking society, and it is just possible that the number of articles and reviews devoted to the show outstripped the number of people who actually watched the series. Indeed, if December hadn’t been such a slow month, I’d have probably ignored the show entirely. But I reviewed that first episode, and archaeology professor Howard M. R. Williams of the University of Chester, who specializes in mortuary archaeology, particularly in Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian contexts, has posted a lengthy rebuttal to my review, and those of other critics of Fox, accusing me of not fully appreciating the depth of originality in Fox’s depiction of Viking life, calling my review “completely wrong.”
Recently, Maharashtra state archaeologist Tejas Garge announced that his team had uncovered petroglyphs depicting humans and animals. “Our first deduction from examining these petroglyphs is that they were created around 10,000 BC,” Garge told the BBC. When the BBC reported on the discovery of 12,000-year-old petroglyphs in the Konkan region of the western Indian state of Maharashtra, a strange choice made by BBC Marathi reporter Mayuresh Konnur (or whoever translated his work in to English) has led to a hyperdiffusionist claim that Ice Age Indians traveled from Africa and brought knowledge of animals like rhinoceroses and hippopotamuses with them. Consider this reaction from the fringe: “So, how are archaeologists going to explain the thousands of rock carvings discovered on hillocks in the Konkan region of western Maharashtra that show images of hippos, rhinos and other never-seen-in-India creatures interacting with humans 12.000 years ago?” Paul Seaburn of Mysterious Universe ignorantly asked.
Spooky Archaeology: Myth and the Science of the Past
Jeb J. Card | 424 pages | University of New Mexico Press | June 2018 | ISBN 978-0-8263-5965-0 | $75.00
In H. P. Lovecraft’s 1927 novella The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, the warlock Jedediah Orne of Salem provided some sage advice for anyone who would attempt to resurrect the past: “I say to you againe, doe not call up Any that you can not put downe; by the Which I meane, Any that can in Turne call up somewhat against you, whereby your Powerfullest Devices may not be of use.” This sense that the past is a dangerous territory that can disturb the present is an essential element of Gothic fiction, but it is also an underlying tension that has troubled the field of archaeology since it began to separate from antiquarianism in the nineteenth century. What would unearthing the past reveal, and how might it challenge the assumptions of the present?
Thursday Odds and Ends: History Channel Ratings, Dating the Thera Volcanic Eruption, and Hermes' Receipt of Angelic Knowledge
Today I have a few brief topics to discuss as we await tonight’s broadcast of Ancient Aliens. The first is an update on the ratings for Ancient Aliens and its lead-out, In Search Of. According to figures released by Nielsen, Ancient Aliens is trending downward, sinking since the start of the current run of episodes to just 1.075 million viewers, a loss of about 10 percent of its audience from the start of the current half-season. I wonder if the new, slower format and primary focus on one ancient astronaut theorist and one location or “quest” per show is boring some of the audience. Meanwhile In Search Of pulled a surprising reversal. While it has not improved its ratings over its run, it did outdraw Ancient Aliens—just barely—this past week, bringing in 1.090 million viewers. A modestly larger number of men and older people watched In Search Of than Ancient Aliens. The two shows are now running neck-and-neck, but largely due to Ancient Aliens’ declining ratings than any particular momentum behind In Search Of.
Friday Roundup: ABC News Endorses Ancient Astronaut Theory, King Arthur Identified (Again), and More!
It’s been a busy week in the world of the weird, so today I thought I’d do one of my periodic news roundups. Let’s begin with ABC News—the U.S. one, not the Australian one—and a horrid clickbait article I came across yesterday. The article was published over the weekend under the byline of Morgan Winsor, one of ABC’s digital breaking news writers. The piece purports to be a report on the many ways that UFOs have captured the human imagination since ancient times. Instead, it’s poorly researched clickbait cobbled together from reruns of Ancient Aliens (a corporate cousin since the History channel’s parent company is partly owned by Disney, the parent of ABC) and Google searches.
THE SECRET TOKEN:
MYTH, OBSESSION, AND THE SEARCH FOR THE LOST COLONY OF ROANOKE
Andrew Lawler | June 2018 | Doubleday | 448 pages | ISBN 9780385542012 | $29.95 USD, $39.95 CA
A recurring theme in fringe history is anger at the scholarly establishment, which tends to manifest as the conviction that academics have something to hide about history. But the roots of that rage are more frequently found in the difference between what the public wants to know about history—stories of triumph and tragedy, grand historical narratives, and the actions of sainted heroes and ancestors—and what academics want to study about history—the holy trinity of race, class, and gender; the minutiae of daily life; and anything that calls grand narratives into question. Neither approach is prima facie wrong, but the difference produces an uncomfortable tension between what popularizers want to write about and what scholars think they should be writing about.
Russians Push "Alien" Peruvian Mummy Narrative; Plus: Forgery Scandal Calls Ancient Luwian Inscriptions into Question
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post outlining Russian efforts over the past sixty or seventy years to use UFO and ancient alien ideas as political weapons to undermine the West. I therefore read with interest reports coming out of Russia this week that scientists in that country identified a set of three-fingered mummies from Peru as being non-human. The story ran in Sputnik News, a Kremlin-backed propaganda publication, before being picked up by one of Rupert Murdoch’s tabloids. The FBI and Scotland Yard have investigated Murdoch’s companies for their questionable Russian connections for years, including Murdoch’s interest in companies with ties to Russian Pres. Vladimir V. Putin’s United Russia party. Murdoch has also used his media businesses to support U.S. Pres. Donald J. Trump against allegations of Russian collusion with a soft line on Russian propaganda efforts.
INDIANA JONES IN HISTORY: FROM POMPEII TO THE MOON
Justin M. Jacobs | xiii + 266 pages | Pulp Hero Press | 2017 | ISBN: 9781683900993 | $24.95
Justin M. Jacobs’s Indiana Jones in History: From Pompeii to the Moon is an interesting but incomplete book, one filled with fascinating information, told from a distinctly modern perspective, loosely related to its title subject, but somewhat inartistically expressed. Jacobs is an expert in Chinese history at American University and his academic experience manifests both in a certain clunky quality to the prose and in a notable distaste for Western civilization that colors much of his discussion of Western interactions with Eastern cultures and leads to an extreme conclusion that I found both unjustified and dangerous.
You probably saw the news that broke yesterday that a new paper in the journal Nature claims that an unknown human species occupied the Americas around 130,000 years ago and butchered a mastodon found in California with large rocks. The study used uranium-thorium dating to date the bones, which were originally discovered 25 years ago, and the team conducting the study used experimental techniques involving rocks and elephant bones to attempt to prove that the damage to the mastodon’s bones had been caused by intention butchering with stone tools.
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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