Today I thought it might be fun to look at a Victorian anticipation of modern fringe history claims. I came across this article in doing some research, and it is a doozy!
In 1868 the British engineer and philologist Hyde Clarke was expelled from the Anthropological Society of London for exposing financial improprieties. Thereafter, he continued his anthropological researches but chose instead to publicize them through other channels. In 1885 he read a 46-page paper before the Royal Historical Society comprising an “Examination of the Legend of Atlantis in Reference to Proto-Historic Communication with America.” It was published in the Society’s Transactions the following year and also reprinted as a book.
Clarke’s piece is quaint in what we would today consider its outright ignorance. He, for example, rightly recognizes cuneiform as the oldest written characters, but wrongly concludes that it dates back to a time before spoken words! He suggests that Native American rock art represents a survival of prehistoric cuneiform, from Native Americans who migrated to the Western hemisphere before the invention of spoken language.
But this serves mainly as Clarke’s opening for agreeing with Ignatius Donnelly that there is no reason to support the notion that Native Americans came from Asia across the Bering Strait, a theory that was in his day 200 years old. Instead, Clarke says that Donnelly and others have convinced him that an origin from across the Atlantic cannot be excluded.
Clarke though was dealing with a very short chronology. He assumed that “Mexican” culture, by which he lumped together all the Mesoamerican peoples, was so similar to the cultures of the Old World that migration must have occurred within historic times. He did not have a conception of deep time, and this is where his analysis began to lead him down the wrong path, for, unable to conceive of migrations 10,000 or 15,000 years ago, he instead felt compelled to identify Mesoamerican civilization as quite similar to the Chinese and thus of recent vintage.
He relies on what he calls the doctrine of the Four Worlds to support his belief that the world had been mapped in ancient times. Briefly, the idea refers to the Classical conception that the lands known to the ancients (Europe, Africa, and Asia) were balanced by a fourth continent on the other side of the earth. Clarke, however, prefers to read the three Classical continents as one and to count Australia and the two Americas as the other three, though there is no evidence that the mysterious “fourth” continent was ever anything more than a philosophical speculation.
Suffice it to say that Clarke relies heavily on Donnelly but has grown uncomfortable with the idea of a sunken continent: “Had there been the supposed Bridge of Atlantis then there would have been the same animals on both sides—tapirs in Africa and elephants in America—and this was not the case.” Indeed, he even rejects some of some Atlantis claimants’ efforts to claim American sculptures as African elephants. Therefore, he pulls a Graham Hancock and dispenses with the continent in favor of hyper-diffusion: “We may dispose of the communication by the sunken continent and accept that by vessels across the wide ocean, carried in paths to and fro by the currents.” To that end, he follows a fellow named C. E. Leland in identifying the word Odin (in his Germanic form, Wotan) with Buddha and Voodoo! I’m not sure if “C. E. Leland” is meant to be the Charles G. Leland who made many and varied connections between the Old and New Worlds, such as the claim that the Maya were Buddhists.
But it gets worse: Voodoo is also Freemasonry according to, Clarke, anticipating Scott Wolter by a century and a quarter. After stating that the serpent is the mark of these masons, secret possessors of the Eleusinian Mysteries, he writes:
In some cases, as in Hayti, the rites degenerate into orgies accompanied with cannibalism. Connected with these mysteries are secret meetings, initiations, degrees, ceremonies, signs, symbolic language (what is understood as free masonry), and these are to be recognised not only in Africa but also in Australasia. The information as yet obtained is very scanty, as the societies are maintained in secrecy. Africa is the great centre for information with regard to the mysteries, as for other institutions.