Afrocentrist Clyde Winters Used My Translation of Manuscript 512 to "Discover" an Ancient Malian City in Brazil
Before we begin today, I want to point my readers to a fiery resignation letter that former Mutual UFO Network official James E. Clarkson published last weekend after discovering that New Age cult leader JZ Knight, who claims to be the mouthpiece for Ramtha of Lemuria, purchased a position as an “Inner Circle” member of MUFON, giving her a position of power and influence in the organization. Clarkson said that he refused to mortgage his integrity to a cult leader who channels an entity from the prehistoric continent of Lemuria. He added that he was disappointed that MUFON continued to deemphasize scientific investigation in favor of money-making entertainment: “It is hard to watch an organization that you once served proudly become an income-generating entertainment company.”
And now on to today’s topic.
My first thought was: Oh, good. Afrocentrist Clyde Winters knows who I am. In an article published yesterday on Ancient Origins, Winter cited me in discussing Manuscript 512, a controversial eighteenth-century Portuguese-language document describing the discovery of a Greco-Roman-style city in Brazil. Here is what Winters has to say about my translation of the manuscript and the attendant introductory note I placed before it:
Although Colavito believes that Manuscript 512 is historical fiction, the inscriptions can be read in the Vai script and may date back to Malian colonies that formerly existed in Brazil. Colavito is a sceptic of the possibility of reading Manuscript 512 because of Barry Fell’s attempt to translate the document using Ptolemaic Egyptian. This translation was unacceptable because the Brazilian signs do not resemble any signs from Egyptian script.
Winters concludes that the symbols reported in the manuscript are actually those of the Vai syllabary, a writing system invented in 1831, but which Winters incorrectly believes to be of prehistoric origin. Winters claims that the Manuscript 512 symbols are “identical” to Vai symbols. The problem with that is that these symbols are not identical. For example, the manuscript contains a symbol that shows a triangle topped by a cross. This is not a Vai symbol. Winters redraws both sets of symbols to emphasize similarities, though the redrawn versions of the Vai syllabary look different than the standard versions.
I suppose I should be flattered that Winters chose to use my translation to “discover” evidence of a lost Malian city in Brazil, but since I know the limitations of my own work, it also makes it painfully apparent that Winters hasn’t done much with the original Portuguese. Case in point: In comparing the symbols from the manuscript to the Vai syllabary, he appears to be using the set of symbols I gave on my website. Here is where a limitation comes into play. Those symbols I took from Wilkins, and they are tidied up and redrawn from the Portuguese manuscript. The manuscript version, though, differs in minor but important respects. I had no energy to hand draw all of them anew. When the original manuscript symbols are compared to the published version and then to Winters’s redrawn version, the compounding errors become quite apparent. An example is below, but the quality is not terribly good since there are few high-quality images available to work with:
It is no wonder, then, that I don’t trust Winters to “translate” the “Vai” inscriptions. His version is absurd, yet another example of the iron rule that mysterious symbols are carved only by illiterate explorers who somehow manage to be ignorant of their own language. Consider this “translation” of the series of symbols that the manuscript pretends were carved above the portico of a large building: “The favorable subject (of the cult) at present in the sepulcher, he Kafe pe (in an) unblemished place the priest of the cult makes Good, this place.” There’s an ungrammatical mouthful.
From such translations, Winters makes the following conclusion: “It appears that the principal mausoleum was that of a Governor or King called Kafe. The inscriptions make it clear that the city was a principal city of the Malians - where citizens could make libations - and that the caves in the vicinity were used as tombs by the ruling elites.”
The problem is that to accept Winters’s claims is to believe an absurdity: that the Malians came to Brazil to build a massive stone city of arches and statuary and carved stones and basalt columns and yet neglected to give themselves such luxuries in their mud-brick homeland. Why would a far-off colony hold a monumental imperial capital, while major cities like Timbuktu in the homeland languished as what one nineteenth century French explored called “a mass of ill-looking houses built of earth.”
The more parsimonious answer is that Manuscript 512 is a fantasy, a piece of fiction drawing on Classical antecedents and forms to craft a piece of fiction.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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