Regular readers will remember that back in May adventurer Barry Clifford, 70, announced that he had discovered the wreck of pirate Capt. Kidd’s Adventure Galley in the territorial waters of Madagascar and presented a large chunk of what he claimed was Kidd’s silver as proof. Now a new report from UNESCO conclusively demonstrates that Clifford’s claims are false. UNESCO investigators determined that the “silver” was actually a chunk of lead from some long-ago ballast, and no evidence of a shipwreck appeared at all. The remains identified as a ship are in fact broken parts of the old port. Clifford, they said, provided no evidence that anything he found was related to Kidd, or even from the same time period. This, however, is not the interesting part.
The interesting part is that Clifford and an independent producer working for the History Channel (yes, them again) are crying foul and accusing UNESCO of trying to suppress the truth and being biased against Clifford’s unorthodox style of self-aggrandizing “discovery.” This is because UNESCO specifically accused Clifford of hyping the find in the media without following the protocols of the 2001 Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage, to which Madagascar is a signatory:
The work of the film team and its lead‐explorer, undertaken in spring 2015, as well as prior work by the same explorer, was distinguished by a media‐led approach, which has not respected the regulations of the 2001 Convention, and which jeopardized the scientific understanding of the sites concerned and the preservation of the artefacts recovered.
The 2001 Convention requires underwater archaeology to be conducted by qualified archaeologists. Neither Clifford nor any member of his team is an archaeologist.
UNESCO previously determined that Clifford’s most famous find, his alleged discovery of the Columbus’s Santa Maria, was actually a ship from around 1700.
Sam Brown, a filmmaker producing a feature on the discovery for the History Channel, did not take kindly to having his profit center questioned by an international body. He told the AFP that “UNESCO will attempt to discredit Barry Clifford by whatever means they can.” He then accused UNESCO of operating without transparency and of not looking in the right place. As the History Blog noted, this is rather ironic given that Clifford admitted that he had not been transparent with reporters and hid the fact that he had never tested the supposed “silver” before announcing it was part of Captain Kidd’s treasure.
For his part, Clifford maintains that the lead bar might really be silver and that we can’t know for sure whether the UNESCO-cited tests were accurate—a conspiratorial position very similar to that of several other History Channel stars. He further claims that UNESCO has an anti-American and anti-British bias that led them to conspire against him—again like some History Channel stars who accuse various agencies of secretly being in the employ of Freemasons, Catholics, or the Jews. Clifford told the Washington Post that the attacks on his evidence-free conclusions are “asinine” and “political.” The Post dryly notes that Clifford fraudulently represented one of his colleagues, John de Bry, as an archaeologist despite having no degree in the field, and that he turned on de Bry the moment de Bry began helping UNESCO unravel the Kidd story, decrying de Bry as a fraud despite being able to produce no evidence beyond his own misrepresentations.
Clifford shares one more similarity with the stars of the History Channel: He believes he can determine facts just by thinking about them, saying he identified the debris off Madagascar as the Adventure Galley based on intuition. “Intuition means a lot when you’re looking for things and discovering things.”
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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