Regular readers of my blog will remember the infamous scene in America Unearthed S01E07 “Mystery of Roanoke” when show host Scott Wolter and Roanoke Colony expert Scott Dawson got into a heated argument over the Dare Stones, a set of hoax stones supposedly detailing the fate of the Roanoke colonists. Dawson tried to present a scientific perspective on the Roanoke Colony and its archaeology, but Wolter insisted that Dawson was closed-minded for failing to accept Wolter’s ideas without proof.
In National Geographic magazine’s November 2012 issue, there was a story about how the gradual disappearance of the Dorset people in the late fourteenth century. The Dorset were a Native people who inhabited parts of what is now Nunavut and Greenland from 500 to 1500 CE; they are believed to be the skraelings the Vikings met, and the Inuit have legends about destroying their culture after their arrival in the Arctic. The article discussed the work of archaeologist Patricia Southerland to unravel the story behind the Dorset’s eventual disappearance. Southerland had uncovered Norse artifacts at Dorset sites, which she interpreted as evidence of contact between the Dorset and the Norse.
This month, in the March 2013 issue, National Geographic ran a selection of correspondence from readers about this article. Even in the edited form presented in the magazine, the letters made very clear that the story touched a nerve.
One of the problems I’ve often encountered in discussing speculative claims is that many readers aren’t familiar with the concept of the burden of proof and therefore feel that the skeptic has an equal obligation to disprove a claim that the advocate has in proving it. But “prove me wrong” just doesn’t work as science or history; otherwise, we’d spend all our days trying to disprove the existence of every wild claim ever made and have to provisionally accept anything anyone ever said as true until proved otherwise to the satisfaction of the most diehard believer. And as we’ve seen, no evidence will ever convince the most zealous advocates that they are wrong. That’s why science deals in probabilities, not absolutes, and makes provisional claims based on evidence, not absolute truth claims from dogma.
In the comments thread to one of my earlier blog posts about America Unearthed, one reader took exception to my suggestion that the evidence Scott Wolter used to spin his stories was no better than the stories of unicorns. Why should Wolter have all the fun? I thought it might be entertaining to use the America Unearthed system of speculation to see if we can “prove” that unicorns exist. So, here is my outline for how to develop a new episode of America Unearthed entirely from hot air. Read and enjoy, but note that nothing here is as it seems….
1996: Geologist Confirms Tuscon Artifacts Fake, Caliche Formed in Just "Hours"
For whatever reason, America Unearthed has attracted more readers to this blog than any topic I’ve ever covered. The result is that I have received enormous amounts of information from people both supportive of and opposed to show host Scott Wolter. This surprises me immensely because I had no idea prior to the launch of his show in December 2012 that so many people cared so passionately about this formerly obscure man and his fringe work.
Well, one of my correspondents has provided me with some interesting archival documents that shed additional light on the Tucson Artifacts, the lead crosses and other objects discussed on last Friday’s episode. As I pointed out at the time, Wolter intentionally avoided telling viewers about the story presented in the Latin inscriptions on the artifacts. The tale of Jewish migrants to Arizona and their centuries-long occupation directly contradicted his Templar-Masonic fantasy. The new information I received proves conclusively that (a) the inscriptions are crude forgeries and (b) the objects’ caliche covering was faked.
I typed my wrists sore yesterday writing up reviews of America Unearthed and Ancient Aliens, so I’m going to keep this short today and let the pictures do the talking. On America Unearthed S01E10 “A Desert Mystery,” Scott Wolter argued that the image of a dinosaur appearing on some fake lead artifacts found in Tucson, Arizona could not be a dinosaur because dinosaurs did not have forked tongues. Therefore, the artifacts must be genuine because the dinosaur was “really” a lizard—this despite the fact that no lizard looks anything like the dinosaur whose anatomy we are asked to believe is accurately transcribed.
Have you ever seen Blake Edwards’s Trail of the Pink Panther (1982), the last of the Pink Panther films to feature Peter Sellers as the bumbling investigator Inspector Clouseau? Sellers had died in 1980, and Edwards thought it would be a fitting tribute to the late comic actor to stitch together unused outtakes from The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976) and newly-shot footage featuring other actors to edit the material into a ramshackle new plot. (Sellers’ widow successfully sued, claiming the film had destroyed Sellers’ reputation.) I bring this up because season five of Ancient Aliens reminds me increasingly of Trail of the Pink Panther in that every episode seems stitched together from topics and discussions borrowed from earlier episodes, very gently revised to give the semblance of a “new” episode to heavily recycled material. That Ancient Aliens features the final performance of the late Philip Coppens only makes the parallels more uncanny.
Let’s begin by stipulating something America Unearthed won’t tell you. The Tucson Artifacts discussed in “The Desert Cross” explicitly state in Latin and Hebrew that they were created by a mixture of Romans, Gauls, and Jews who came to early America and suffered a war with the Toltecs. The artifacts claim to have been deposited from 775 CE to 1000 CE by people who formed a colony called Calalus that lasted for several centuries before vanishing. You hear nothing of this on the show because this story, with its Jews, undermines the Christ-centric fairytale Scott Wolter wants to tell, a conspiracy-oriented fairytale that directly contradicts the artifacts themselves.
This episode didn’t play fair, and it ended up outright lying, even about its own lies, in pursuit of what I can only describe as a hidden agenda, one designed around Wolter’s apparent fixation on a Templar-Freemason conspiracy around the bloodline of Christ. (Yes, it’s the Da Vinci Code plot. Tune in next week for that episode.)
Do you remember the Ancient Aliens episode about prophets and prophecy from a couple of weeks back (S05E07 from February 8)? The one where they claimed that Moses, Enoch, and Elijah were carried off by aliens for a spell and met with them in their spaceships? Good. Because you’re getting it all again. Tonight’s Ancient Aliens promises to review how and why the Hebrew Bible contains accounts of alien abductions, including the stories of all the aforementioned prophets. They aren’t even waiting a month between recycling material anymore.
The last few blog posts have been a bit on the heavy side, with all those boring “details” and “facts.” So, today I thought I’d present something more fun: The very first recorded appearance of the Loch Ness Monster in literature! The tale comes from the abbot St. Adamnan (or Adomnán) of Iona, who wrote a Life of St. Columba around 700 CE, recording the life and times of his relative, the sixth century Irish missionary monk St. Columba.
After Europeans realized that Christopher Columbus had discovered new lands, not a new path to Asia, as he had claimed, national jealousies helped inspire a range of claims that other European groups had made the same journey earlier and should be granted pride of place. Many these claims are familiar: Irish monks under Saint Brendan, Welsh explorers under Prince Madoc, and the Norse. The last on that list had the virtue of also being true.
In 1558, a Venetian named Nicolò Zeno published a book and an accompanying map claiming that his ancestors, Nicolò and Antonio Zeno, brothers of the naval hero Carlo Zeno, had made voyages of equal importance to Columbus, and a century earlier to boot, earning Venice a place at the pre-Columbian table and a triumph over its rival Genoa, home to Columbus. The book supposedly summarizes the correspondence of the two brothers about their adventures—correspondence which was conveniently destroyed before scholars could examine it when the younger Nicolò Zeno tore the original manuscripts to pieces. Oddly, the book freely mixes supposed quotations from the letters and first person narration by the later author, all cast in the same first-person voice, as though one writer took on three personalities.
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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