I have always found it interesting that the people who claim that academics are hidebound dogmatists willing to die to prevent the truth from escaping nevertheless try to cloak themselves in the borrowed authority of academia. To an extent, this must be a way of trying to give spurious grandeur to incomplete or incorrect claims, but I read with concern the latest Author of the Month Author of the Month posting on Graham Hancock’s website because it starts off with a laundry list of credentialed scholars who have held unusual or incorrect beliefs about the peopling of the Americas. The purpose of such a list can only be to make author Gary A. David appear more serious than his oddball ideas would otherwise come across. Regular readers will remember David as the writer who wrongly asserted that Hopi settlements were laid out in the shape of the constellation Orion, a claim belied by geography and chronology.
Well, David has a new claim tied to his most recent book, Journey of the Serpent People: Hopi Migrations and Star Correlations. His article begins by drawing on contested claims from an older generation of scholars to suggest that the ancient Americas had received people from every race and continent before the Native Americans, which he bases on a number of known frauds, including the lost continent of Mu, which James Churchward invented in 1926, and the likely hoax of Walam Olum, which Constantine Rafinesque almost certainly fabricated in 1836 as the culmination of his years-long descent into mound builder mysticism. To this, David adds the modern mistake of believing that the Solutreans of ancient Iberia were the first Americans:
In Journey of the Serpent People I discuss the possibility of ancient Solutrean mariners circa 20,000 years ago skirting the ice-edge of the North Atlantic in a counterclockwise fashion to land on the eastern seaboard of North America. I also mention the possibility of some native groups using various sorts of watercraft to skirt the frigid North Pacific in a clockwise fashion from East Asia to Alaska, before sailing south to Vancouver Island and beyond. Whether or not the Lenni Lenape actually made the type of journey described in the Walam Olum, scientists now claim that at least some native people did.
What is interesting here is less David’s hyper-diffusionist overkill than it is the fact that like so many in his fringe field, his concept of archaeology and anthropology is frozen in his memory of long-ago high school textbooks. He is railing not against the modern understanding of the multiple migrations and proposed coastal routes that led to the peopling of the Americas but rather against the 1960s and 1970s idea of Clovis-first and the Ice Free Corridor through central Canada:
This argonautic scenario ostensibly makes a lot more sense than the monolithic paradigm propounded by most mid-20th century archaeologists—that is, the juggernaut-hordes of Clovis hunters heroically defying the harsh elements as they massacred multiple species of megafauna to extinction on their inexorable drive southward.
David spends the vast majority of his article arguing for a sea-route that has already entered into mainstream discussion. The Clovis-first hypothesis has been obsolete for my entire adult life, and I’m not sure what the point of setting it up as a straw man is except to try to play off the audience’s high school memories. Most disappointing of all is the fact that David never gets around to defending the strange claim that all of this is building toward: that the Hopi preserve an accurate memory of peopling the Americas 13,000 years earlier by sailing to the New World across the Pacific:
…Frank Waters, in his 1963 classic titled Book of the Hopi, states that the Hisatsinom (ancestral Hopi, formerly known as the Anasazi), including the Snake Clan, trekked northward to the “Back Door of this Fourth World,” or the Arctic Circle. This implies that the “ice-free corridor” was not the main route; Hopi legends say it was the trans-Pacific. As we approach the first quarter of the 21st century, we find increasing evidence of multiple entryways into the New World—many doors, many “windows of opportunity.”
The problem with all oral histories recorded in the twentieth or twenty-first centuries is that they are influenced by the education and knowledge of the modern storytellers. When we hear in Lemurian fringe literature of Hopi storytellers identifying their ancestors as having traveled through “South America” and “Canada,” this is clearly a modern interpretation since these places did not bear those names, and the modern teller of oral history must interpret any information from old stories through the lens of his or her modern knowledge of geography. Therefore, “south” becomes “South America,” and “cold” is assumed to describe Canada.
That said, there is a recorded story about an ocean crossing, but as Harold Courlander described back in 1971 in The Fourth World of the Hopis, it contradicts the more common story of the Hopi emerging from the Underworld, and it is only with strained effort that the two can be merged into a single myth. “Generally speaking, the [underworld] story is centered in Walpi (which is modern Koechaptevela) on First Mesa, while the water crossing story is heard most frequently in Oraibi, on Third Mesa, but there are conflicts of view even within these villages,” Courlander wrote. Here, though, the identification of the “water” as the ocean is a modern interpretation of a story that at first apparently referenced only water in a general sense. Courlander said that in his judgment, the water version has been “reinforced by infiltrating scientific views that Indians arrived in the New World via the Aleutians and the Bering Strait.” The long and short of it seems to be that Western scientific ideas have pushed the water myth into a specific shape, and after Courlander collected his account, New Age beliefs about Mu and Lemuria changed the story yet again to move the story into the southern Pacific rather than the northern part of the ocean. Since we have no good evidence of what the story said before European contact, there isn’t much to glean from it, must less proof of 13,000 or more years of unbroken tradition.
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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