For the next few weeks, I’ll be reviewing chapters from Frank Joseph’s new alternative history anthology, Lost Worlds of Ancient America (New Page Books, 2012). This is my review of Chapters 25 through 30.
(I apologize if this post loads slowly. There are a lot of pictures.)
I’m starting to get fed up with Ancient American writers’ penchant for fake evidence. In Chapter 25, a Japanese scientist reports on the “connection” between Japanese dragon iconography and the so-called “piasu of Alton, Illinois,” which Nobuhiru Yoshida admits he had never heard of before an alternative historian sent him a drawing of the supposedly ancient rock art image of a dragon. Checking Frank Joseph’s other work, I find that this image is in fact a “re-creation” of an original—which, I suppose must have existed at some point since it is reported in an 1887 book, The Piasa, by Perry A. Armstrong and in earlier French travelers’ diaries. However, Armstrong’s description shows that the recreation can’t be accurate since the colors of the recreation (white, black, red, and gold) do not match those described (“but three colors were used”—red, black, and green). But—importantly—in 1887 these paisu (there were two) were already long-gone, and the only early traveler’s description, by Marquette in 1653, includes none of the imagery (such as bat-like wings) found in the recreation. This is because the drawing was probably the common Mississippian "underwater panther" image. The Alton images had been long-eroded when Marquette visited, and the last remnants were destroyed in 1856 when the rock on which they were carved was used to build the Illinois state prison at Alton. The drawing used by Joseph and Yoshida was a Victorian engraving commissioned to illustrate Armstrong’s book based on elderly residents’ memories of what the eroded outlines once looked like. IT IS NOT DRAWN FROM A REAL ARTIFACT. IT IS A VICTORIAN ARTIST’S IMAGINARY VERSION, SO YOU CAN’T BASE CLAIMS OF IDENTITY ON IT.
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Chapter 26, by Bruce Scofield, attempts to take seriously Father Crespi’s fake gold artifacts supposedly depicting trans-oceanic contact in prehistoric Ecuador. The locals near Crespi’s residence understood that Native people were making the “artifacts” and selling them to him for profit, but to this day some people defend the largely ridiculous-looking pieces. Additionally, Scofield discusses genuine archaeological interest in the similarity between Valdivia pottery of Ecuador and the pottery of Jomon-era Japan that suggested in the 1960s trans-oceanic contact. This theory lost support when no other evidence of Japanese artifacts in America could be uncovered to demonstrate anything beyond a coincidental connection of pottery shapes. Scofield accepts the connection as real and spins an elaborate fairy tale from it that, lacking any real physical proof in the form of Old World artifacts in Ecuador, is speculation without support. I simply can’t take seriously anyone who bases claims on artifacts from the Crespi collection like this:
Other Crespi artifacts are more accomplished artistically, but they are obvious stylistic pastiches, using techniques like vanishing points and perspective not invented until the Renaissance and otherwise evincing stylistic evidence of twentieth-century manufacture.
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Chapter 27, again by Yoshida, attempts to prove Japanese contact with Easter Island and South America based this time on the fact that domes are round. Really, that’s it. A tower at Mt. Hoshigajo has a dome atop it and was built around 600 BCE. This is apparently similar to a structure seen in a Victorian lithograph of Easter Island, which, conveniently, is not reproduced. Yoshida describes it as depicting an “open enclosure” which must therefore be identical with Japanese stone enclosures. Um, no. Polynesia is littered with such “open enclosures” and they are a key element of Polynesian culture. (One, the “House of the Octopus,” has a legend attached that is a dead ringer for Cthulhu’s R’lyeh.) He then compares the dome at Hoshigajo to the “La Olla” dome in Ecuador. Yoshida claims this site, which archaeologists attribute to the Inca (c. 1400 CE), is actually must older (c. 2000 BCE), but provides no evidence why this is so other than local myths, which, as I have said more than once, don’t mean anything. The Greeks used to say the Mycenaean ruins were built by Cyclopes near the dawn of time, but that didn’t make it true. Oh, and if you try to look up “La Olla,” don’t bother. That’s not its name. Try “Olla del Panecillo,” which will inform you that the site is in fact neither ancient nor Inca. It was, apparently, built in the colonial period (though I have not seen the report of this myself). At any rate, unlike the Japanese building, the Olla was a partially-underground cistern for collecting water. Not the same thing as a mountaintop shrine.
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Chapter 28 comes from the late Beverly H. Moseley, Jr., who was best known for creating imaginative reconstructions of ancient artifacts from a diffusionist perspective. This “article”, however, does nothing but report the discovery of a Chachapoya city in Peru. The only sop toward diffusionism is a bizarre claim that the Chachapoya were “white-skinned ‘giants.’” The claim comes from Cieza de Leon, a Spanish chronicler who described them as “the whitest people” in the Indies. This was not meant as a racial claim, since other Spanish chroniclers described all Peruvians as “white.” They just meant that their complexion was less ruddy than some other peoples, which modern analysis attributes to the founder effect, there being no genetic connection to Caucasians in their preserved mummies.
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Chapter 29 is another entry from Wayne May, this time about stone “cairns,” or burial rocks, in Pennsylvania. (The word "cairn" is thrown in to offer a spurious hint of Celtic practice.) There is nothing too interesting here, merely a mention that the Cherokee and/or the Delaware of the region buried warriors beneath granite boulders. I’m not sure what this was meant to prove since such burials are well-documented among the Cherokee into the historic period. Typically, a warrior buried away from home was interred and rocks piled upon the tomb. Visitors would add rocks, causing the piles to grow impressively.
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We finish Section II with Chapter 30, another entry from Frank Joseph, this time about stone walls in Texas and Iowa. The so-called “rock wall” of Rockwall, Texas (which took its name in 1851 from the “wall”) has long been mistaken for a manmade structure, but geologists have known since 1909 that it is really “a series of disconnected sandstone dikes” (i.e. a rock seams cutting across strata) that erroneously “suggest the idea that they were fragments of a ruined wall,” as Science reported in 1909. Completely natural, this “wall” falls under the alternative history category of “looks like, therefore is.” Joseph then describes similar features in Iowa, which in all likelihood have the same explanation.
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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