I have two topics to discuss today, the first of which is interesting but incomplete and the second of which appears to be outright fraud. Our first story is making the rounds of the mainstream news and fringe history websites, which are extremely excited by a claim about Mayan cities coming out of Quebec.
According to Canadian news reports, a 15-year-old named William Gadoury located the potential site of an unknown Maya city by projecting images of the Mayan constellations onto a map of the Maya lands. Gadoury had become interested in the Maya several years ago because of the 2012 Maya Calendar doomsday hype, and he wondered why Mayan cities were not located in the most favorable locations. Therefore, he decided to compare the locations of Maya cities to the Maya constellations. By overlaying 23 constellations on to a map of the Maya lands, he claimed to have found a 90% correlation between 117 Maya cities and the stars of these constellations.
In turn, Gadoury noticed that the constellation of Orion was missing one of its stars on the ground, so the Canadian space agency provided him with satellite photographs that allowed him to locate a square shape on the ground that might or might not be a Maya pyramid associated with a large city. The teen’s work received praise from Dr. Armand Laroque, a geologist and remote detection specialist at the University of New Brunswick.
Fringe history supporters were thrilled at the news reports, and Greg Taylor of the Daily Grail compared the find to the work of Robert Bauval, the amateur Egyptologist who proposed that the Giza pyramids represented the constellation Orion. But before praising Bauval, it’s important to note that he didn’t develop the program of thought that he celebrates as his own invention. Indeed, Bauval didn’t invent the idea that architecture represented the stars: He borrowed it from Robert Temple, as he admits in The Orion Mystery. Nor did he invent the idea that buildings may have targeted stars, and idea that predated him by a century or more. Temple had suggested in The Sirius Mystery (1976) that the Egyptians and the Mycenaeans worked together to lay out sacred cities to create the form of the constellation Argo across Greece and Egypt in honor of amphibious aliens from Sirius. Bauval took his inspiration from that claim and looked for other constellations. Again: Bauval said that himself.
Gadoury’s idea is interesting, but neither mainstream nor fringe historians have so far detailed some of the problems with the idea. First, no one knows exactly which stars the Maya used to represent their constellations. As Heather Irene McKillop wrote in The Ancient Maya: New Perspectives (2004), “However, even the basic details about the number and positioning of the Maya constellations, the timing of their zodiac, and their constellations’ place in the night sky are the subject of some disagreement.” The constellations differ in various Postclassic Maya codices, on buildings, on paintings, and in monuments. Susan Milbrath, writing in Star Gods of the Maya (1999), concurs and adds that the Postclassic constellations from after 1000 CE can only partially be correlated with what constellations may have existed in in the Classic period, when the majority of Maya cities flourished, and especially in the Preclassic, when many were founded. Some constellations were certainly the same, but others may have been very different.
Gadoury used a list of 22 constellations from the Madrid Codex, representing 142 stars. He correlated these to 117 Maya cities, and he suggested the existence of a 23rd constellation not in the codex to account for cities that did not fit his scheme, according to the Journal de Montreal. The Madrid Codex is a Postclassic codex, so it is not easy to correlate its list of constellations with what the Preclassic and Classic Maya may have seen in the sky.
Beyond this, there is the question of how Gadoury selected constellations and mapped them onto the ground. What level of accuracy did he assume? Were the city groupings accurately located in relation to one another, or were they separate? As Taylor noted, it might be a case that there are simply so many cities that you can connect the dots however you choose. This seems perhaps more likely since Gadoury was looking for a particularly common shape—a triangle—that represents, he said, part of Orion, and added that shape to the Madrid Codex’s list of constellations without explaining why one from a different and contradictory index of constellations should be arbitrarily added to the Madrid list.
So, while this was an interesting hypothesis, it is incomplete as presented in the media and needs much more information before we can evaluate whether Gadoury’s claims are correct. I personally would doubt it since he also claims that his method proves that the Inca, Aztec, and Harrapan civilizations all built cities to match various constellations. It sounds more like a case of cherry picking, especially since it would require warring and feuding city states to coordinate across space and across centuries.
King Og Speaks (Again)
Last month I wrote about an apparent April Fool’s Day prank in which a blogger alleged that he was publishing the translated text of an Aramaic manuscript of a book written by the giant Og, of Bible fame. The text had been published by a person writing under the name Peter Demmon, who is not just a blogger but also an aspiring writer of online horror fiction. He is the son of New York fanzine editor, science fiction writer and journalist Calvin W. “Biff” Demmon (1942-2007), who had become a born again Christian later in life. The younger Demmon, who is now an ex-Christian with the explicit goal of trying to get readers to question their faith, discovered my criticism of his allegedly ancient book by Og, and he has doubled down on the claim that it is true, arguing that I am somehow wrong for doubting (a) that the book exists and (b) that were it to exist that it was actually written by a giant named Og.
Demmon apparently believes that rehabilitating the giants will undermine Christianity, and he is using the supposed Book of Og in an online anti-Christian werewolf novel he is in the process of writing.
Demmon implies that he feels that I have erred in not accepting his assertion than an otherwise anonymous Father Martin exists and provided him (and him alone) with the translation of this ancient text from the Vatican archives. He alleges that the Og text must be real because it is referenced in a 1693 book, A New History of Ecclesiastical Writers. Nice try, but no. This only shows the underlying poverty of Demmon’s research in creating the hoax. The New History says “There is also a Book of King Og placed in the number of Apocryphal Books by Gelasius.” This is not proof that the book exists, but it is proof that the writer was following the well-established conflation of the postdiluvian King Og the Giant with the antediluvian giant Ogias, who is the featured giant in the Decretum Gelasianum, a Catholic list of canonical and non-canonical books. In that list, attributed (falsely) to Pope Gelasius, we read of an apocryphal “Book of Ogias, Called a Giant, of Whom the Heretics Assert He Fought with a Dragon after the Flood.” It’s an easy enough error to make, to the point that many English translations of the Decretum give “Og” for the Latin’s original “Ogias,” and the conflation goes back to Late Antiquity when Jewish sources identified Ogias as Og and proposed that Og therefore had survived the Flood. (The Babylonian Talmud differs and makes Ogias the father of Og.) See for example the discussion in Henning’s famous article on the Manichean Book of Giants. His other piece of evidence for the existence of the book, the transcript of the blasphemy trial of Charles Southwell (mistakenly given as “C. Howell” by our author), similarly is no independent confirmation. It provides a partial transcript of the list of canonical and non-canonical books from L. E. Du Pin’s History of the Canon from 1699. Du Pin’s list as given in the original 1699 printing is simply a table cross-referencing discussion elsewhere in the book. He cross-references the listing for Og to page 28, where Du Pin explains that he learned of the “Book of Og” from “Gelasius,” which is to say from the Decretum Gelasianum. Oh, well. It was a nice try. At any rate, the Book of Ogias is almost certainly the Manichean Book of Giants, which is known only from fragments.
So whatever Demmon claims to be publishing, it is not the Book of Ogias unless he has sections of the Manichean text unknown to any other scholar. His superficial understanding of apocryphal literature and the academic literature on it laid bare his hoax quite easily, but even if the text were somehow based on a real ancient source, it does not prove the existence of Og. Enoch did not write the Book of Enoch; Dares Phrygius did not compose the history of the Trojan War that passes under his name, and Orpheus did not write the Orphic Argonautica, despite it supposedly being a first-person account of his time aboard the Argo. There is a long tradition of writers ascribing texts to ancient figures to make them seem more important, and there is no reason to suspect that any surviving papyrus passing under Og’s name would be any different.
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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