For the next few weeks, I’ll be reviewing chapters from Frank Joseph’s new alternative history anthology, Lost Worlds of Ancient America (New Page Books, 2012). This is my review of Chapters 19 through 24.
If I’ve learned anything from the first 18 chapters of Lost Worlds of Ancient America, it’s that most Ancient American magazine articles follow the same pattern:
It’s sort of cute that Chapter 19 opens with the proud declaration that author Rick Osmon holds an “associate of science degree,” as though this were a major credential. It’s also sort of cute that Osmon thinks that the medieval Welsh built a fort in Indiana, based largely on nineteenth century speculation about a lost white race—much of which was the product of hoaxing and outright fraud, including “translation” of the “Walum Olum” text about a white race encountered by the Delaware faked by C. S. Rafinesque, a botanist who originally believed ancient people from India built America’s prehistoric earthworks. He faked the text because his career had been ruined by Caleb Atwater, another mound investigator, after Rafinesque accused Atwater of stealing his work and Atwater used his influence to have Rafinesque kicked out of the scholarly community. (Atwater’s letters were pretty nasty, even by today’s standards.) Thomas Jefferson rejected Rafinesque’s last-ditch plea for a post at the University of Virginia, and the scholar needed a big find to get back on track. Suddenly he miraculously translated a shocking new text that, not coincidentally, proved all of Rafinesque’s theories about the peopling of the Americas to be correct. This story is much more interesting than anything in Osmon’s article.
It is perhaps telling that Osmon relies on nineteenth century testimony about archaeological sites rather than any evidence from the sites themselves to make his connections between the mounds of America and Wales. He discusses discredited racist books from the 1800s as though their prehistoric race war theories were true, and he takes at face value claims about stone fortresses that he never visits or in any way proves exists. There is no point evaluating is speculation when the facts upon which it rests have not been established.
* * *
Chapter 20 gives us speculation that the geometric earthworks of America were primarily military installations. There is no evidence of this, of course, but the author, the late chemist Victor Kachur (he died in 2009), relies on eighteenth century speculations to demonstrate that these structures were once fortifications, mostly on the grounds that they look roughly like Celtic earthen fortifications. I’d be willing to bet that most large piles of dirt tend to look alike, regardless of who piled the dirt. Kachur believed the Burrows Cave fraud to be real—and Etruscan!—so there isn’t much stock to put in his article.
* * *
In Chapter 21 David Feldman reports on rock art he found on his land in Lancaster, Kentucky. His investigation was encouraged by agricultural engineering professor Myron Paine, described as “nominated for Who’s Who in Engineering (1977).” No, I do not know what this has to do with rock art. I was in Who’s Who in America for a few years back in the late 1990s, and that does not qualify me to comment on agriculture. But soldiering on…
Feldman found some petroglyphs which, according to the photo, included a circle circumscribing an asterisk, a few crossed lines, and a triangle. He sent a picture to the most famous alternative fantasist about early America, Barry Fell, who immediately recognized the shapes as the “language of ancient Libya.” What’s more: the glyphs recorded a solar eclipse of April 23, 255 CE. The article concludes by saying “Dr. Fell’s translation is published here for the first time…” AND THEN DOESN’T INCLUDE IT! I can’t possibly evaluate an absent translation, and the photograph attached to the article does nothing to suggest any written language was intended by the rock artist, much less a record of an eclipse.
* * *
Chapter 22 is another article by Archie Eschborn, this time on his pet project, the “pyramids” at the bottom of Rock Lake, Wisconsin. Most scientists believed these structures are glacial deposits, but according to Eschborn, they are manmade buildings constructed when the lake’s level was much lower, in the medieval period. Since no photographs or independent evidence were provided, I can’t judge the claim. But I can say this: Even if we assume they are manmade buildings, it does not lead directly to Eschborn’s claim that a lost white race built them. Interestingly, Frank Joseph has been involved with promoting these pyramids since the late 1980s and also wrote a book about them and the whole lost white race thing. The leap in logic from “there are structures underwater” to “colonists from Europe built them because Indians are too stupid” is beyond speculative.
* * *
In Chapter 23 William Donato resurrects the Bimini Wall—a geological, not archaeological, series of fractured stones off Bimini—as a supposed outpost of the “Empire of Atlantis.” Since geology tells us these rocks were never an artificial stone wall, there is no purpose in following Donato’s rampant speculation to its ridiculous conclusion. I will briefly note that his connection of the Native Americans to Atlantis rests on the claim that the Cherokee believe they are refugees from “five islands in the Atlantic Ocean…allegedly destroyed for the immorality of their human inhabitants,” like Plato’s Atlantis. However, this myth appears to be a late one, created almost certainly in the post-contact period by projecting outward into the Atlantic an earlier myth once centered on a Mississippian mound site. Donato, though, doesn’t even get the myth right. There was only one island in the myth, not five, and the island was said to be somewhere beyond South America, not in the Bahamas as Donato would have it. The immoral people—the Ani-Kutani priestly clan—were not the inhabitants of the island in the Atlantic but were instead one of eight clans descended from the island immigrants and were killed by other Cherokee for their abuse of power while in America. But not all Cherokee agree; some earlier informants told visitors myths stating they came from Asia.
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Chapter 24 continues the Atlantis theme with a report from J. M. Allen claiming that Bolivia was Atlantis. His evidence includes coincidences and spurious similarities, with hardly a word uttered about the fact that Plato wrote of Atlantis nearly 1,000 years before Tiwanaku flourished in Bolivia. He claims that the “Legend of Desaguadero” tells “how a great city was punished by the gods and sank beneath the sea, paralleling Plato’s version.” This it most certainly does not. The legend of the Desaguadero River tells how the god Tunupa preached at Tiwanaku (putting up a cross in the version recorded post-conquest by Spanish missionaries), but the people rejected his message and instead tied him to a pole and set him afloat in Lake Titicaca to die. But miraculously the rocks at the end of the lake opened, forming the Desaguadero River that carried the god away to Lake Poopo, never to be seen again. This is not the same thing. Instead, Allen’s version conflates this common version of the story with another, that of Pachacuti Yamqui, which does not agree with any other source. In this version, Tunupa is said to be St. Thomas, and he got mad at villagers for being rude to him, sinking the village in which it stood beneath the waters of a lake.
For the record, here is the entirety of the sole passage about Tunupa in all the ancient texts that supposedly parallels Plato exactly:
Note that this is explicitly a “village” and not a city, like Tiwanaku, which he later visits. This argues against Allen’s interpretation of the village as the “capital” of the Empire of Atlantis. This passage is in a series of stories, all parallel, in which the god visits a village, becomes angry, and delivers some sort of vengeance on the inhabitants. It is more or less the story of Sodom and Gomorrah or the vengeance of Zeus when denied hospitality—that is, a folk tale about angering the gods.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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