It’s been a while since I ventured into the wild world of copy-and-paste fringe “writing,” so today it’s time for a return to the classics. Today’s entry comes from Clyde Winters, an Afrocentric writer who publishes articles on Ancient Origins that largely recycle material first publicized by the Afrocentric writers of the 1970s, and even Leo Wiener in the 1920s. In an article published on Ancient Origins yesterday, Winters alleges that the so-called “Brazil Tablet” found by Col. Percy Fawcett is evidence that the Mande tribe of West Africa colonized Brazil in the Middle Ages. But what should surprise us more is that Winters appears to be recycling his latest article from his own decade-old discussion board postings, and possibly from still earlier work, all without acknowledgement. Nothing, it seems, is ever truly “new” in fringe world.
Here is where I put in my usual disclaimer: Not all text recycling is bad. I don’t begrudge anyone turning articles into books, for example. Everyone from Malcolm Gladwell to me has done that (albeit Prometheus Books refused to publish a disclaimer to that effect in my Cult of Alien Gods, over my objection). Instead, the problem comes where authors present the same work, in the same medium, as “new” content even though it is years or even decades old, and widely available elsewhere, without telling readers that they are reading old work.
We can dispense with the so-called “Brazil Tablet” fairly easily. The object was purchased by King Solomon’s Mines author H. Rider Haggard in Brazil and given as a gift to Percy Fawcett. Haggard, according to modern fringe writers like David Childress, claimed that British consul O’Sullivan Beare had given it to him and that Beare had found it in a lost city in 1913. While existing images show what looks like a modern piece in archaic style, Fawcett thought that it was an Atlantean object deposited in a lost city, possibly Z, which he thought the Portuguese had found in Brazil based on texts like the infamous Manuscript 512. (Winters compares the symbols on the statue to the fake alphabet in Manuscript 512.) Barry Fell also fell for it, declaring it a Phoenician artifact, and from there it entered fringe history. Winter first wrote about it in 1977.
Fawcett himself wrote in the book posthumously published in 1953 as Exploration Fawcett that the statue was 10 inches high, of basalt, and “that it came from one of the lost cities.” Oh, and it supposedly gave an electric jolt to anyone who held it. He said that he took it to the British Museum, whose experts, if we read between the lines, tried to kindly tell him that it was a fake even though he had no intention of listening because of his preconceived notions. “If not a fake,” they told him according to his own account, “it’s quite beyond out experience.” He added that they could offer no information about the statue. Dissatisfied with the answer, Fawcett turned to “psychometry”—E.S.P.—to psychically intuit the object’s true history. The frauds who claimed psychic powers all told him that the object was fabulously old, older the Egypt, and had come from a colony of Atlanteans.
As you can imagine, there is no reason to suspect that the object is from Atlantis, or even ancient. It has no provenance and there is little we can tell about it from a drawing. Stylistically, it looks modern.
So far as I know, all modern accounts derive from Fawcett’s and the object itself seems to exist only as an outline drawing, the original having been taken with Fawcett on his ill-fated final expedition because he believed it to be a key to finding “Atlantean” settlements. The version I have seen was published in Le Bulletin de l’Institut fondamental d’Afrique noire in 1977, in an article called “The Influence of the Mande Scripts on American Ancient Writing Systems.” I believe it is copied from Expedition Fawcett.
[Update: I found that Expedition Fawcett contains the shaded version of the statue drawing, and Winters redrew it for his article.]
Here is how Winters presents his account of the tablet, which Ancient Origins illustrated with a modern drawing colored to look like a three-dimensional object:
The most startling evidence of Malians in Brazil is the "Brazil Tablet". Col. P.H. Fawcett said the Tablet was found in an unexplored region near the Culuene river. The interesting thing about this Tablet was the fact it had "African pigment" and features.
Now compare Winters’s account with a description of the tablet given in 2013 on a discussion board:
The most startling evidence of Malians in Brazil , is the "Brazil Tablet", discovered by Col. P.H. Fawcett in an unexplored region near the Culuene river. The interesting thing about this Tablet, was the fact it had "African pigment" and features.
This same text has been banging around discussion boards at least since a Yahoo Groups posting in 2006 and another forum posting in 2005, which were both by Winters himself. I don’t have access to Winters’s other 1970s-era articles to know whether he was copying wholesale from his really, really old work or recycling only more recent discussions. But the long and short of it is that he and Ancient Origins are happily recycling old content and passing it off as new.
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