Today I encountered something so sad and so shocking that I was rendered momentarily speechless. Over on PZ Myers’ blog, I read that Ancient Aliens is being used by one Texas public school as a serious investigation of the human past. The report comes from the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, a group that has monitored the influence of creationism in Texas schools since the 2007 law allowing for the teaching of the “influence” of the Bible on history and literature.
In a comment about yesterday’s blog post about the Akashic Records and their origin in Theosophy, John J. McKay asked if I knew anything about the Theosophical connection to James M. Churchward’s imaginary Naacal Tablets, supposedly prehistoric records of a lost civilization on the sunken continent of Mu. The connection did not immediately spring to mind, so I thought I’d look into it.
Note: This post is only about a specific claim Scott Wolter made prior to hosting America Unearthed. For my reviews of the show, please see my America Unearthed reviews page.
America Unearthed star Scott Wolter claims to hold a 1987 honorary master's degree in geology from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. This claim appears in his corporate biographies, and he claimed the degree in a 2009 Coast to Coast interview. He uses this as one of his credentials as a "forensic geologist," for which his primary training is a bachelor's degree in geology, awarded in 1982.
I consulted the University of Minnesota, which keeps a list of all honorary degrees awarded by the University dating back to at least 1932. These awards are bestowed upon "individuals of local, statewide, national, or international prominence who have achieved distinction and recognition in public service, enterprise, philanthropy, education, science, literature, or the arts." (They are not, of course, actual academic degrees.)
Scott Wolter is not on that list.
He's also not on the second, independent list the college keeps.
The last time the University awarded an honorary master's degree was 1956.
This is not conclusive, of course. The online lists may be in error. I also consulted news accounts from 1987 and found no report of Wolter's alleged honorary degree in the commencement activities from that year. More damning? The profile of him that ran in the University of Minnesota alumni magazine in summer 2001 makes no mention of the alleged master's degree, reporting only his 1982 bachelor's degree.
(Interestingly, the 2001 profile also contains Wolter's admission that he had no experience or training in examining ancient stone materials, and that his expertise was largely in scientific testing of concrete.)
I could find no evidence that Wolter was ever granted the honorary degree he claims. I may have missed it, I suppose. But given the lack of evidence in any of the usual sources, it is up to Wolter to prove this degree actually exists.
Today I’d like to follow up on my review of Ancient Aliens S05E05 "The Einstein Factor" from yesterday. In the program, Giorgio Tsoukalos, Jason Martell, the late Philip Coppens, and others asserted that the ancient peoples of India believed in a parallel dimension called the Akashic Records in which all of the information in the universe is stored and which geniuses can access in order to receive new ideas from this alien world. One part Borges’ “Library of Babel,” one part Lovecraft’s “Through the Gate of the Silver Key,” this realm of infinite knowledge is supposedly the only way new concepts enter our reality, discounting the role of human imagination and creativity.
As I pointed out yesterday, these Akashic Records are a modern creation, not a genuine ancient concept. I thought it was worth looking at this in a bit more detail.
We open America Unearthed S01E05 “A Deadly Sacrifice” with yet another dramatic recreation. This time we see a man in a pit bathed in blood from what sounds like a bull sacrifice above the pit. After this gory interlude, we move forward to the opening credits. A sweeping green vista emerges and the on-screen graphics inform us that “For more than a century, relics with mysterious symbols have been discovered in Oklahoma.”
Among these was a 500-lb. rock carving unearthed in 2010. The graphics tell us that the carving was of a bull, “a cult symbol… but one from a different era.” Different than what? Oh. “Ancient Egypt.” Yeah, um, no. Bulls were cult symbols everywhere bulls could be found, which included almost all the Old World. But this effectively tells us that the show has a preconceived idea of where we’re going with this “investigation” and is not interested in looking any more broadly than needed.
A good journalist lets readers know about potential conflicts of interest. Even though this isn’t something I like talking about, I need to touch on a potential bias I have in reviewing Ancient Aliens S05E05 “The Einstein Factor.”
In this episode, the program informs viewers that human genius is attributable to alien intervention. I do not wish to come across as conceited, but I am one of those people who fall into the 99.9th percentile on standardized intelligence tests. I was a National Merit Scholar, finished in the 99.9th percentile on the SAT, was salutatorian of my high school class, and graduated at the top of my college class. I was repeatedly offered membership in MENSA (to which I always said I had no interest in paying to tell people I’m smart), and on standardized IQ tests (which I don’t put a lot of stock in, given their Western biases) I consistently score north of 165. This isn’t bragging—millions of people around the world have equal or better results—but (not that I compare myself to Einstein in any way) it does mean that I find it personally insulting to be told that all of this is the result of aliens tampering with my DNA. I imagine that would surprise my mother, too.
So, let’s begin.
I unfortunately have some work and other obligations to attend to today, so I’m going to present a few news updates as today’s blog post.
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.
Yesterday I mentioned the claim that H. P. Lovecraft modeled the ancient ruins in The Dunwich Horror on the alleged prehistoric stone ruins of America’s Stonehenge (formerly Mystery Hill) in New Hampshire. This reminded me of another instance where Lovecraft is tied to one of America Unearthed star Scott Wolter’s pseudo-investigations.
Archaeologist Marc A. Beherec argued in Lovecraft Annual no. 2 (2004) that in “The Mound,” one of Lovecraft’s tales ghostwritten for Zealia Bishop, Lovecraft alluded to the 1924 discovery of alleged artifacts in Arizona proving the existence of a lost medieval Jewish-Roman colony in Arizona called Calalus. I do not have that Lovecraft Annual, so I’m not sure about the exact arguments Beherec offered; I don’t recall anything about “Roman” Arizona in “The Mound.” The only reference to Arizona I recall from “The Mound” was an un-sourced quotation from H. R. Wakefield’s “He Cometh and He Passeth By” (1928). I suppose one could read the whole story as a reference to a “lost” civilization in the West, but there were plenty of claimants to that title.
(Update: I later learned that the lines were from chapter VII of “The Mound,” where Lovecraft mistakenly places them in New Mexico: “Surely this was the clever forgery of some learned cynic—something like the leaden crosses in New Mexico, which a jester once planted and pretended to discover as a relique of some forgotten Dark Age colony from Europe.”)
I was so happy to discover that there are only two episodes left in the first season of America Unearthed. [Update: I am informed that the full first season will be 13 episodes and H2 has simply failed to list air dates beyond 1/25 on the show's website.] Then, of course, I was saddened to see the topics left to cover in the alternative history program’s two remaining hours: ancient Egyptian bull worshipers in Arkansas and America’s Stonehenge, formerly known as Mystery Hill.
I have absolutely no idea what type of “mysterious” boulder with an “Egyptian” carving of the Apis bull the show plans to investigate this coming week, but America’s Stonehenge is someplace I’m very familiar with. The site is an arrangement of various small stone grottos and a ring of small standing stones located in Salem, New Hampshire.
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.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.