It seemed to me that a growing number of people have been coming to my website in search of information about Scott Wolter and America Unearthed rather than other topics, but I wanted to run the numbers to confirm my impression had a basis in fact. It turns out that “Scott Wolter” is now the number one search term bringing readers to my website, and my reviews of America Unearthed were the most-read pages on my website for the past two weeks. I’m truly surprised that such a fact-free, unentertaining show has apparently surpassed Ancient Aliens in impact.
Since it seems an increasing number of my readers are interested in diffusionism and (presumably) real archaeological cultures, rather than the complete fantasy of aliens, I thought I would share a little bit about the archaeology of settlement.
I grew up in Auburn, New York, which many of you know from my books. A couple of miles from the Victorian-era city center was the town dump, but as the city grew, houses encroached on the dump, and no one really wanted to live near a reeking pile of garbage. So the city covered over the dump with a thick layer of dirt around 1910, laid down some roads—not all of which were ever finished—and planted trees. In the 1910s and 1920s, new neighborhoods grew up atop this dump, and one of the houses became the one where I grew up.
The great thing about living atop a Victorian dump as a kid was that all sorts of weird things would erupt from the unsettled ground, and you couldn’t dig a hole or plant a tree without turning up some remnant of the past. Usually it was just broken pieces of glass, rusty metal, or shards of china. But sometimes it was more interesting. I once found a complete blue-painted metal coffee pot, barely rusted; and one time, after a storm, a large sink hole in a neighbor’s yard revealed the rusted remains of an early automobile. Too big to move, it was quickly reburied and is still down there even today. Far too often the roots of trees and bushes would churn up clam shells, which my father attributed to former residents’ long-ago clam bakes. Much, much later I would learn their true—and disgusting—purpose. The Victorians used clam shells to clean themselves before the invention of toilet paper.
From the artifacts that bubbled up from the earth, a picture of the daily life of people living around 1890-1910 emerged in a way that textbooks rarely illustrated. But the dump beneath my childhood home was no anomaly; everywhere that people live, piles of trash invariable arise. Archaeologists use the trash heaps—middens—created by long ago cultures to learn about how they lived, what they ate, and the tools they used.
Alternative archaeologists make grand claims about settlements in the United States of cultures from all over the world (funny, isn’t it, that they never seem to look for Hebrews, Romans, or Atlanteans in sub-Saharan Africa, southeast Asia, or Polynesia), and ancient astronaut speculators imagine aliens living and working alongside, or lording over, humans. Yet where is the trash? Do we really expect that the aliens never dropped a screw, or broke a laser-blaster? How is that Romans, Celts, Irish, British, Gauls, Hebrews, Phoenicians, Africans, Indians (from India), Atlanteans, Muvians, Lemurians, and more all managed to live in North America, colonize it, and interact with its people without leaving behind a single piece of trash with the markers of their cultures. We are expected to believe America is lousy with Old World cultural influence, but somehow all that survived were a few luxury artifacts—swords, inscribed stones, crosses, etc.—and absolutely no garbage, no assemblages of artifacts in the style of the Old World, nothing.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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