A new Netflix series called Ancient Apocalypse shot to the top of the streaming service's rankings the week it was released. It claims that an advanced civilization which thrived during the Ice Age was wiped out by comets and floods, but left humanity with science and technology. In the world of archaeology, such claims aren't new, and are referred to by experts as "pseudo-archaeology." This episode of IDEAS unearths the long history of pseudo-archaeology, how it's been deployed to advance political and cultural ideas, and where it crosses over from pseudo-science to religious myth-making.
This year wasn’t quite as bad as 2021, so I can’t be too upset at a year that, if nothing else, did not get appreciably worse. On the other hand, nothing really improved either. Between inflation and further work cuts in my failing industry, it’s been hard. When a prominent astrologer said this year would be the best of my life, I wasn’t sure whether that was a promise or a threat. It’s a good thing astrology is bunk, or else I would be painfully depressed to think this was the best things will ever get.
In a more general sense, this was a year devoted mostly to UFOs, which dominated the paranoid paranormal discourse for the first ten months, until Atlantis made a late run for the crown.
Here, then, is the year that was, edited and condensed from my blog posts and newsletter.
In a podcast interview this weekend, government contractor, cable TV personality, and future UFO book author Lue Elizondo said that he hopes to serve in Congress in the next five years—an aspiration he has teased less explicitly in the past. Elizondo expressed a number of right-leaning political views, making it clear that his intention is to run as a Republican. Wyoming has only one representative in the House, currently Liz Cheney. Unseating the incumbent will be a tough task for a looney tune whose claim to fame is promoting leaked government “UFO” footage and speculating about interdimensional underwater space monsters. Who are we kidding? He will fit right in.
Speaking at the Young America’s Foundation on Monday, former senator and current CNN pundit Rick Santorum raised eyebrows when he appeared to denigrate Native Americans by suggesting the United States had been terra nullius when white English colonists established the country as a Judeo-Christian religious republic. “We birthed a nation from nothing,” he said. “I mean, there was nothing here. I mean, yes we have Native Americans but candidly there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture. It was born of the people that came here.” As, should be obvious, there were Native cultures from one end of the Americas to the other prior to the colonial era. The myth of an empty continent peopled only with savages was always a bit of European propaganda used to justify colonization and conquest.
On February 4, Chariots of the Gods author Erich von Däniken put out an official statement attacking me by name and disputing accusations that his history of using phrases like “failure” to describe the “Black race” constituted racism. The statement appears to be a reaction to tweets I made in response to a recent New Yorker article which interviewed von Däniken to comment on Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb’s claim that the interstellar object ‘Oumuamua was a piece of technology from an alien world. I noted at the time that von Däniken had a history of making statements that were racially insensitive or which expressed transphobic and homophobic views. That did not sit well with him.
Before we begin today, a quick note that one of the men who participated in the failed insurrection at the Capitol rioted and threw a wooden post while wearing a Giorgio Tsoukalos Ancient Aliens sweatshirt. I need not point out exactly how on-brand it is for angry, rioting right-wingers to also be Ancient Aliens fans.
For years now, I have ended each trip around the sun with a summary of the preceding twelve months in fringe history, space aliens, and the weird. Most years, these summaries run into the thousands of words because so much happened. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic and the American presidential election severely curtailed the number of extreme claims made about ancient history, as conspiracy theorists turned their attention toward disease and politics. Last year, I said I was ready for a long, difficult year to end, and now those look like the good old days. This year I published a new book and wrote two more, and I look forward to what I hope will be big things next year when publishers get a look at my newest manuscript. In the meantime, we can look back in sadness and anger.
The Two Faces of Columbus: How a Genocidal Tyrant Became an Anti-Discrimination Icon for Italian-Americans
On Thursday, New York governor Andrew Cuomo said that he was not ready to remove a statue of Christopher Columbus from New York City because of what it means to Italian-Americans, specifically the role the figure played in helping to usher Italian-Americans into the America’s social mainstream. His comments, along with the destruction and removal of several Columbus statues across the United States, sparked a discussion about the role of Columbus in American life, but missing from the discussion was an acknowledgement of the role that the flawed symbol of Columbus played in standing against exactly the kind of racism and oppression that the vile real-life figure of Columbus perpetuated. The dual nature of Columbus as evil man and hopeful symbol needs unpacking to fully understand how the same statues can represent completely opposite ideas to different groups with shared antipathy to white supremacy.
A+E Networks Cancels "Live PD" on A&E after Protests but Leaves Racist History Channel Shows on the Air
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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