Mondays are bad days for me. I’m flooded with work and have virtually no time for anything else. But I made a few minutes to share with you this bizarre image from an advertisement appearing in England for tours led by “Dr.” John Ward, the boon companion of Intrepid magazine owner Scotty Roberts and his partner in the History Trippers television pilot, currently under consideration by a major media conglomerate that really should know better. It’s one of the more bizarre things I’ve seen this week.
This week, the new head of the Discovery Channel, Rich Ross, announced that he was ending that network’s practice of showing fake documentaries, like the one about the prehistoric shark falsely claimed to still be alive, or the one about man pretending to get eaten by a snake. According to Ross, the network with make “true” information “mandatory” on its shows. Unfortunately, H2 is owned by a different conglomerate, and we’re stuck with hour after hour of flights of fancy passing for science.
Due to some preexisting commitments, I have a little less time this evening than usual, so my review may be a bit spottier than usual.
Due to some previous commitments, I may or may not be able to review America Unearthed as it airs this evening. I will do my best to review it, but depending on time it may have to wait until tomorrow. But as we wait for this evening’s episode, in which Scott Wolter investigates Cleopatra’s Needle in Central Park, it’s amusing to take a look at his response on his blog this week to comments speculating about Kathleen McGowan Coppens’s mental health.
I had hoped to review Josh Gates’s new pseudo-archaeology travel show Expedition Unknown today, but then I learned about some ridiculous news from the world of pseudo-archaeology. So, today I’m going to have a split post that will discuss the latest claims for the reality of the island of Atlantis and then briefly provide a capsule review of Gates’s latest entry into the America Unearthed and Curse of Oak Island knockoff genre.
I went into reading Jon M. Sweeney’s recent book Inventing Hell: Dante, the Bible, and Eternal Torment (Jericho Books, 2014) knowing nothing about the author and little more about the book. The blurb promised that the volume would provide an analysis of Dante’s source for the Divine Comedy and explain how Dante revised and refashioned earlier ideas about the afterlife to provide a new vision of eternal damnation that later Western figures would adopt and adapt for centuries to come. However, the book is a bait and switch, and its real purpose quickly becomes clear: It is a work of Christian (specifically Catholic) apology, from an author who has written seven books on Francis of Assisi and various tomes on the papacy and medieval Catholicism. Sweeny converted to Catholicism in 2009 and writes with the zeal of a convert, though on his blog he denies that Catholicism plays a defining role in his religious views.
Last year award-winning British author Adam Nicolson, 5th Baron Carnock, published The Mighty Dead, which was retitled Why Homer Matters for American audiences. This week he spoke to National Geographic News about his claim that the two Greek epics attributed to the ancient blind poet Homer were written by a collective and date back to 2000 BCE. I have not read Nicolson’s book, so I can’t say that I have a complete understanding of his arguments, but if we can go by his interview with National Geographic reporter Simon Worrall, Nicolson has managed the neat trick of developing a thesis that is both overstated and unoriginal.
In comments on an earlier blog post, the commenter “Dan” pointed to an old USA Today article from 2001 that I had not seen but which sheds new light on Scott Wolter’s geological acumen. The story concerns the AVM Runestone (or Rune Stone), which I knew was a hoax, but whose full story I wasn’t aware of. I missed the USA Today piece in my research because it doesn’t appear in the version of Lexis-Nexis I have access to, nor does any other mention of the incident. Scott Wolter has removed references to the incident from his website.
I’ve been putting together a page of documents related to so-called “out of place artifacts” and ancient high technology, and in so doing, I’ve been looking up some of the texts used by Cremo and Thompson in their lengthy tome Forbidden Archaeology (1993), particularly in the appendix on supposed human-made artifacts in pre-human contexts, which is reproduced across numerous fringe websites and recycled in ancient astronaut, lost civilization, and creationist books down to the present. I already knew that Cremo and Thompson were ideologues rather than scholars, but I was surprised by what I found when I tried to trace back a piece they presented about coins and tools supposedly found in a prehistoric limestone deposit in France.
The Waubansee Stone is, to my mind, not the most interesting of relics. It is a glacial erratic, a rock left behind by a retreating glacier, on which is carved a crude representation of a human face. Despite several descriptions by fringe history writers describing it as “expertly” carved, it is not a particularly excellent example of a human likeness, and for the most part it resembles late eighteenth or early nineteenth century folk art styles. In 1976 Richard F. Bales of the Chicago Historical Society suggested that a European immigrant serving in the U.S. Army carved the face because it gave him the “feeling” of medieval European art, though he admitted that it was too crude to form good judgment.
I had one of those weird moments this morning that shades into disturbing. This morning at the grocery store a man I have never met walked up to me and asked, “Did you attend Ithaca College?” He told me that the reason that he asked is that he attended a conference there, and the school showed him pictures of its former students, in which he saw me. “I’m usually pretty good with faces,” he said, indicating that he recognized me from a 15-year-old photograph. I’m not sure whether it’s stranger that Ithaca College is using pictures of me (without my knowledge) or that even with different glasses and beneath a scarf and winter hat I’m that recognizable.
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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