One of the traits of alternative history that we’ve seen time and again is the amplification effect. A fact, however carefully stated, inevitably grows into some monstrous chimera as it is repeated and distorted from one author to the next in a game of Chinese whispers (a.k.a. “telephone”) until it attains a sort of mythological status among believers. It’s how, for example, Ignatius Donnelly’s modest Bronze Age-level Atlantis morphed into the high-tech metropolis of modern myth, or the way the Zeno Narrative grew into the legend of Henry Sinclair and the Holy Bloodline.
That’s why I was flabbergasted to read this bizarre comment left on my blog yesterday, in response to Scott Wolter’s admission that his honorary master’s degree was a cup of coffee:
Scott, Just a few words of encouragement to keep up the work. I live outside Louisville, Ky and have always been fascinated with our own local legend of Welsh Prince Madoc, Sadly I recently ran across a statement that the state of Indiana has declared that any pre-columbian discoveries were not to be presented as such, Such a prohibition is ludicrous in the extreme, and sounds like the last shriek on the retreat against people like yourself who are attempting to uncover the truth, Stay the course,
That would be a truly astounding event if a state government passed legislation restricting how its residents could present historical evidence. Of course, like so many alternative history claims, this one is another game of telephone.
The most prominent online source is from 2009, when David Pratt wrote an article advocating trans-Atlantic diffusionism. He showed some pictures of Roman coins found in Indiana, which archaeologists believe are coins lost from Victorian-era collections—something that my own mishap nearly losing my own Roman coins to a careless clean-up renders quite plausible. Anyway, Pratt writes the following, which is almost certainly the warrant for my blog poster’s claim: “The coins were removed from public display in the Ohio Museum, because the museum belongs to the state of Indiana, whose archaeological policy is that there is no documented evidence of pre-Columbian contacts.”
This is not exactly the same thing, and a conclusion from facts isn’t really a “policy.”
Tracing back Pratt’s source from his footnote, we find that he derived the information from J. Huston McCulloch’s 2001 article on the coins, “A Few Coin Finds.” Here’s where it gets fun.
In the early version of McCulloch’s article cited by Pratt, McCulloch described secondhand information from Troy McCormick, the former director of a different museum, the Falls of the Ohio Museum, where the coins had been on display:
For several years, the Falls of the Ohio Museum had an exhibit about the find that displayed several casts of both sides of the two originals, so as to reflect the approximate number of coins originally in the hoard. The two original coins, depicted above, are in storage and were not on public display. McCormick has informed me that the exhibit has recently been removed from public display, because the Museum belongs to the state of Indiana, and the exhibit conflicted with the state’s archaeological policy that there is no documented evidence of pre-Columbian contacts.
From this article, Jeffrey Scott Holland repeated the claim in 2008’s Weird Kentucky, amplifying it this way: “Apparently, Indiana has a specific archaeological policy forbidding the suggestion that pre-Columbian contact with other cultures occurred…” Notice how McCulloch’s insinuation became Holland’s outright assertion, without facts to back it up. In 2011, Rick Osmon, using the same source material, in The Graves of the Golden Bear, simply plagiarized McCulloch, down to repeating the paragraph I quoted above verbatim as though Osmon had himself spoken with McCormick instead of McCulloch!
But take a look at the current version of McCulloch’s article, updated in February 2012, which presents a revised set of facts:
For several years, the Falls of the Ohio Museum had an exhibit about the find that displayed several casts of both sides of the two originals, so as to reflect the approximate number of coins originally in the hoard. The two original coins, depicted above, are in storage and were not on public display. I have recently (2/12) been informed that the replicas are still on display, despite an earlier report to the contrary, in the Interpretive Center as part of the Myths and Legends exhibit, and will remain there at least into 2014.
Well. It seems that McCulloch never checked with the museum before writing his first claim, based on secondhand information, and from that faulty fact other authors borrowed and amplified the idea that Indiana somehow officially declared pre-Columbian contact verboten.
I assume from the link McCulloch provided that the museum in question is at the Falls of the Ohio State Park, run by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. There is no evidence of any policy forbidding discussion of pre-Columbian contact, only the common sense fact that good science indicates no such contact took place in Indiana. I have an inquiry in to the park, and if I hear back I’ll update this with the information.
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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