Alternative history thrives on ignorance. I came across this fascinating bit of historical nonsense describing the ridiculous work of Augustus Le Plongeon, who imagined himself a reincarnated prince of Atlantis and thought that the Maya were coeval with Egypt and both equal sons of Atlantis. The following quotation comes from "A Monument to Atlantis," published in Mind magazine around the turn of the twentieth century.
Le Plongeon was fooled by his own ignorance: Mistaking central Mexican characters for Maya, he imagined a connection that did not exist between the differences in central and southern Mexican writing and Egyptian characters. Unaware of the true age of the Mexican sites, thousands of years younger than Egypt, he imagined them coeval with Egypt. The date, so specific at 11,500 years ago, derives entirely from Plato, applied only because of the assumption that Egyptian writing existed in central Mexico and proved a connection to Atlantis.
But the key to why such theories found audiences (and still do today) can be seen in the first paragraph, where the writer remarks that Americans will be proud to lay claim to an ancient site older than any known in far-off Europe, making America on par with its Old World competitor. Cultural politics trumped reasoned fact, as, sadly, such appeals continue to do today. (Compare with Graham Hancock's equally fictitious 7,000-year-old Mexican pyramid, another mis-dated through ignorance.)
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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