This afternoon the publicist for America’s Stonehenge, the likely colonial era set of root cellars claimed to be a pre-Columbian site (often attributed to the Phoenicians), sent me an email demanding that I remove a January 2013 America Unearthed review referencing the site due to what the publicist determined were “inaccuracies” that “bordered on slander” some three years after the fact. I present his laundry list of complaints below, followed by my comments keyed the numbers in the complaint.
It is perhaps noteworthy that Mark Eddy, who is associated with the fringe “Exogeny Network,” is not a historian, and has only a surface understanding of the difference between fact and interpretation, chooses to complain for the most part about my understanding of the episode of America Unearthed rather than America’s Stonehenge. Also: slander is spoken defamation; libel is published defamation.
I will not be removing the review for the following reasons:
1-3. According to my notes, the episode in question did not clearly specify who the characters were meant to be or the years in which the reenactments were meant to occur. My impression of what seemed to occur is how I saw it (I even used the word “presumably” to indicate my uncertainty); the issue has no bearing on America’s Stonehenge as a business and is an issue with America Unearthed, the only party that might legally object to my description of their program, though the First Amendment would prevent this. If I misinterpreted it, that is more likely the fault of the production design than my ignorance. I’m happy to acknowledge that the character was meant to be Robert Stone rather than William Goodwin, the preceding owner of the site, if that is indeed the case.
4. Rudeness isn’t a crime. Kelsey Stone is, I believe, younger than me, so in the time-honored tradition of age hating youth, he’s a “kid” relative to me. If not, he’s still much younger than Scott Wolter.
5. Plymouth State University archaeologist David R. Starbuck, writing in The Archaeology of New Hampshire (2006), states that William Goodwin moved some stones and that many individuals over the intervening decades attempted to “restore” the site to its presumed original condition. Granted, it is not entirely clear from Starbuck’s text how much of the movement he attributes to Goodwin himself, but other books state the same thing, including James Hafnor’s Strange But True, America (2009), Curtiss Hoffman’s People of the Fresh Water Lake (1990), and George Sullivan’s Discover Archaeology (1980). It is hardly a minority opinion.
6. Quarrying techniques were not relevant to my review, which was not a history of America’s Stonehenge but a review of a television show. If you want to play that card, then the issue that arises is that the quarry marks, as Starbuck notes, are of a “post-1830s origin.”
7. The carbon dating of the site was done on a piece of charcoal that is not clearly associated with the stone construction. All it proves is that someone was there at a particular period and had a fire. Again, my review is not a comprehensive history of the site, and it wasn’t relevant to my review, which is why I exercised my discretion in omitting it.
8. The alignments are only relevant if one can (a) prove they were done purposefully and (b) prove that the rocks have been in position since 1800 BCE. Since, as Starbuck notes, many stones have been moved in the past century, this is not certain. It is not my job to “prove” the alignments don’t exist; it is the claimant’s job to prove they are purposeful and relevant.
9. I was 16-year-old kid at the time. You’re seriously going to blame me for being a goofy kid and taking a picture in the mid-1990s? Guess what—I also touched Mark Twain’s typewriter in Elmira against the rules when I was 15. Yes, I was bad to the bone.
10. The question of whether the “sacrificial table” is a soap-making stone is one of archaeological interpretation, for which I have archaeologists who say that it is one and a self-interested, self-promoting business that says it is not.
11. This point has nothing to do with any alleged libel and is a matter of interpretation. If my judgment is that diffusionism is not supported by evidence, you may agree or disagree based on what you consider the strength of the argument. No one is forcing you to accept a conclusion. Listing a bunch of sites that you feel is superficially similar is not the same thing as demonstrating that I somehow libeled America’s Stonehenge in following the generally accepted archaeological conclusion that it is a colonial era site.
12. I imagine I must have watched whatever video was on offer back in the mid-1990s, though I don’t remember it. I’m not sure, though, how more versions of the same claims would impact my review of a TV show. If the claims aren’t convincing at first glance (a prima facie case, for fans of rhetoric), the audience isn’t required to try to make the claimant’s argument for him.
Finally: All of my comments were directed at the supposed archaeological site of Mystery Hill, not the business operating as America’s Stonehenge. From what I can remember, America’s Stonehenge operates a fine and upstanding tourist attraction, and I recommend all of my readers to visit it for themselves. Unless America’s Stonehenge would like to claim that its business is advocating a particular type diffusionism and not selling access to the Mystery Hill stone site, I don’t see how I have defamed them in any way. I know from the books I bought at the gift shop 20 years ago that the site offered different perspectives on who built the site—Irish monks, Phoenicians, etc.—so “colonials” ought not to be in any way at odds with their business model, nor can my conclusions be considered outside the scope of their alleged aim to explore all possibilities. But, if they’d like to argue otherwise, they can surely try to explain why only one point of view is acceptable to supposedly open-minded purveyors of possibilities.
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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