I admit to being somewhat mystified by claims of a Smithsonian conspiracy to suppress the truth about American history. Why the Smithsonian? Why not the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Why not the British Museum, which, arguably, was more influential for most of its existence? It must be because the Smithsonian is a charitable trust administered by the United States government and therefore connected to the Lovecraftian evil that is the U.S. government.
America Unearthed's Zuni Elder Is an Ancient Astronaut Theorist, Believes Aliens Have Underground Base
Today I’d like to talk about Zuni elder Clifford Mahooty since I did not have the time to explore his background in sufficient detail in my review of America Unearthed S02E05 (about an alleged 1909 discovery of an Egyptian city in the Grand Canyon, drawn from an Arizona Gazette newspaper hoax). It really deserves its own post anyway. I keep making the mistake of giving America Unearthed the benefit of the doubt, and I need to learn that every single thing on the show is completely misrepresented, and usually fake.
I think it’s important to begin by stating up front what I just discovered: that Clifford Mahooty is not exactly what the show portrays him to be. While he is in fact a former Zuni official, he is today best known as an ancient astronaut theorist and has appeared on Ancient Aliens to discuss “star beings,” Pueblo gods he considers space aliens who genetically engineered the Zuni. Needless to say, traditional Native American beliefs do not include the idea that humans were genetically engineered by magic space beings from another dimension.
Well, this was a new one: For the first time, a government official issued a warning about an episode of America Unearthed. An article in the Centralia (Illinois) Morning Sentinel reported earlier this week (in print only, not online) that an Illinois state archaeology official asked viewers to exercise caution when evaluating claims about the alleged Egyptian artifacts of Burrows Cave, which Illinois considers a hoax. Illinois shouldn’t be too worried, though. While Wolter, in edited remarks, betrayed no doubt that the Burrows Cave artifacts were genuine in 2009’s Holy Grail in America he later went on record on his corporate website as declaring several Burrows Cave artifacts a “hoax.” However, if you believe his Akhenaten to the Founding Fathers (2013), despite “one absolute fake and likely three additional ones” he now says “a final conclusion … cannot be reached due to a lack of evidence” (p. 160).
The sheer volume of fringe stupidity broadcasted and printed each week is overwhelming. Even in my little corner of the world, ancient history, the amount is simply astonishing. If I had no actual job and spent all day doing nothing by evaluating fringe history claims, I would never be able to fit it all in. Take, for example, Rene Barnett’s NightVision radio show on LA Talk Radio, a program that has plenty of fringe history and which I usually have no time to listen to.
It amazes me how thoroughly ancient astronauts and aliens have returned to the forefront of pop culture since 2009. Who would have thought ten years ago that there would be room for more than one weekly show about ancient aliens? It seems like just yesterday that ancient aliens were on the outs...
A decade ago Erich von Däniken tried to turn his ancient mysteries into a theme park in Switzerland called “Mystery Park.” Featuring recreations of “alien” mysteries like the pyramids of Giza and the Nazca lines, the park opened in 2003 with support and financing from the Swiss government and closed three years later after unexpectedly low attendance of just 200,000 annual visitors. Critics complained that the park was a giant propaganda exercise designed to promote von Däniken’s ancient astronaut beliefs with even less subtlety than his books.
Today I’m visiting family, and they get Destination America, the digital-tier cable channel that currently broadcasts a slate of paranormal programming and rural-themed cultural shows aimed at what Sarah Palin famously called “the real America,” non-urban areas. You don’t have to take my word for that. Check out their programming, shows about Alaskan railroads, barbecue, monsters of the South, bars, the bayou, logging, ghosts, bacon, demonic possession, etc.
Or, more offically, Discovery Communications specifically targeted the network at “Middle America” and men, code for conservatives living in places between the East Coast and West Coast liberal elites. “We became convinced there was an opening there to build a channel based on middle America, strong values, behavior and customs,” Discovery CEO David Zaslav told USA Today in 2012, sounding like an anthropologist studying a strange and foreign tribe. The president of the network, Henry Schleiff, said the channel would focus on optimism.
Merry Christmas! I’m celebrating the holiday today, so in lieu of a lengthy blog post today, I’m going to share a few of the strange images I’ve found in the British Library’s release of one million pre-1900 engravings, drawings, photographs, and other illustrations. Christmas was traditionally the time for stories of ghosts and other spirit monsters, so today’s selection is an appropriate way to honor the spectral tradition of Christmas with some monstrous imagery.
Before anyone complains: Look up the tradition of the Christmas ghost story. It’s real.
As I’m sure many of you already know, Scott Wolter has posted on his personal blog a further discussion of his “findings” about Viking runic artifacts on America. He posted this material on Sunday, and there are relatively few major revelations in it. However, Wolter did provide an important detail about the attempted “translation” of Nancy Millwood’s North Carolina rune stone that accidentally reveals how America Unearthed is purposely manipulating even their own “findings” to create innuendo rather than fact, more propaganda than fair presentation.
This week I’m going to be taking it a little easier since it is Christmas week, and I have other priorities besides writing about the latest crackpot ideas. My blog posts will probably be a bit on the short side this week. However, I do have a couple of thoughts to share today.
The story of the search for Vikings in the America is an interesting counterpoint to the type of fringe history claims usually discussed on America Unearthed. If you’ve read my previous blog posts on the Vikings, Vinland, and Martha’s Vineyard, feel free to skip down to “The Episode.” Otherwise, please take a minute to read a bit about the background. Even if you’ve seen some of this material before, I’ve added a few new details.
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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