In a website posting about the sword and its close cousin copies last week (updating a 2005 discussion), Roman artifact retailer (and reproduction specialist) David Kenney wrote that he felt it represented proof of ancient knowledge of trans-Atlantic contact:
My observations based on over a decade of research of artifacts from various ancient European and Asian cultures of different eras suggest that at some point in antiquity there was a widely held belief among tribal peoples of central to northern Europe and Asia, that there was a legendary or mythical sacred island, or islands, or place to the far north in the west that was associated with a meteor strike; iron; the magnetic; the water compass; navigation; a blade smith deity; a volcano (that included volcanic lightning); a war deity (connected to a warrior); a female sea deity who can be armed; fertility; regeneration; solar worship; a suggestion of prophecy; and the celestial (most notably the Pole star). Most likely much of that belief was based on ancient sea lore about visitations to Iceland and Greenland - that traveled among peoples who did not have a known, or accepted, written language. Notice that when the sword is vertically oriented to the north with the blade downward, the statuette hilt’s face looks to the west.
The blather about lands to the north is a somewhat confused description of the Greco-Roman Thule with a strong assist from comet-oriented pseudo-history such as Ignatius Donnelly’s Ragnarok and Graham Hancock’s rewrite of the same, Magicians of the Gods. But if we want to get down to brass tacks—and here I am too exhausted to go through the usual thousands of years of bibliography—it probably traces back to scientific articles from the early 2000s that made the claim that the Greek explorer Pytheas had visited Ultima Thule, the legendary northern island, where he saw “the grave where the Sun fell dead,” where Phaeton crashed. It is a frequent claim that the myth of Phaeton actually describes a meteor strike, and since 1976 scientists have tried to place this strike on the island of Saaremaa in the Baltic Sea, though with unconvincing arguments drawn on the similarity between Phaeton’s crash site in the Hellenistic Argonautica of Apollonius. It bothers me, though, that the quote given for Pytheas returns no matches, and I was not familiar with where it came from. As best I can tell, the line, given in scientific articles and book chapters like this one, is a mangling of a line from Geminus of Rhodes, who reported that the barbarians showed Pytheas the place where the sun set—a far cry from a meteor crash site. For anyone who cares, the exact words are in Geminus’ Phaenomena at 6.9, where he writes that Pytheas “in his treatise ‘On the Ocean’ [writes]: ‘the Barbarian showed us the place where the sun goes to rest. For it was in the case that in these parts the nights were very short, in some places two, in others three hours long, so that the sun rose again a short time after it had set’” (trans. Arthur G. Chater). If that sounds like an asteroid crash to you, more power to you. Geminus does not call this place Thule, but later writers understood it to be such. Modern writers have copied from each other so much that the original context all but vanished.
So there’s the secret origin of our wacky claim about meteors on far northern islands and thus our north-pointing magic sword. What a crock.
Finally, I want to mention that Micah Hanks has a new article “investigating” how science accounts for ghosts. Amidst the usual thicket of verbiage that ultimately amounts to nothing, he offers up this faulty peroration:
In this case, as with every institution of a “good” scientific theory, we need one that predicts a number of observations accurately—based on data, rather than faith or belief—using a basic model consisting of arbitrary elements to help guide these observations. Our theory must also correctly, and definitely, predict future observations of the phenomenon in question.
So the question at the end of the day, rather than being “do ghosts exist”, should instead be this: “If ghosts represent any valid, tangible phenomenon, what might account for their existence, and can this—whatever it may be—occur in keeping with a good scientific theory?”
So the question at the end of the day, rather than being “do Smurfs exist”, should instead be this: “If Smurfs represent any valid, tangible phenomenon, what might account for their existence, and can this—whatever it may be—occur in keeping with a good scientific theory?”
That said, ghosts are a phenomenon, though one that all extant evidence suggests resides within individuals’ perceptions as mediated through cultural expectations. Is that not valid enough for Hanks? And if tangibility is a criterion for ghostly reality, please do let me know what a ghost feels like. I have never been so favored as to touch one.