I have two somewhat silly topics for today. The first deals with a bizarre minor claim about the death of Atlantis, and the second is a funny bit of Templar nonsense.
The Mayan Atlantis Frieze
Yesterday the Humans Are Free conspiracy website published a new article reviving the claim that the lost city of Atlantis had been found off the coast of Cuba. This is the same website that this morning published an article by conspiracy radio host Dave Hodges interviewing conspiracy author Daniel Estulin about the “super-elite” Bildeberg Group purposely trashing the global economy to force poor people into the major cities in order to exterminate “90%” of humanity to make an all-rich paradise unsullied by the poor. So who exactly will be doing all of the service jobs for these rich people? And how will they still be rich when money has no value?
Anyway, back to Atlantis. Alexander Light rehashes claims from the past few years about an elaborate city, giant pyramids, and massive sphinxes off the Cuban coast, plagiarizing a 2012 article from Before It’s News that was itself rehashing material from 2001. It falsely claimed that the Cuban Missile Crisis was an effort to prevent the Soviets from finding Atlantis and that the pyramids of the “city” exactly match Plato’s description—that would be the same Plato who never wrote about any Atlantean pyramids. Anyhow, the claims are old news and were debunked back in 2012, when Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews of Bad Archaeology noted that the claims only regained popularity after they showed up on Ancient Aliens.
I don’t care much about this rehashing of old material per se, but I feel compelled to comment on the image Light chose to illustrate the story, something presented as a genuine piece of Mayan art from the city of Tikal. At face value it seems to depict a Mayan escaping a volcano. Note, too, the collapsing pyramid at left.
Other sources routinely describe this as a “photograph” and as a depiction of the sinking of Atlantis. Some online speculators even try to identify the fish in the lower left corner with the coelacanth! Worse, others claimed last month that it was Freemason or Illuminati work!
You may wonder why you haven’t seen this piece of art all over the place since it’s apparently such a dramatic depiction of a volcanic eruption. Well, there’s a convenient explanation for that. Supposedly the piece was cut from atop a Maya temple at Tikal and shipped to Berlin where it was destroyed during World War II. That’s the story David Hatcher Childress tells in Lost Cities of Atlantis (1996) and Lost Cities of North and Central America (1992). Naturally, the only documentation of it is this single “photograph,” which I’m sure you recognize is almost certainly a drawing.
So where did the picture come from?
It was published in 1939 in Atlantis: Mother of Empires by Robert Stacy-Judd, an English architect best known for—wait for it—working in the Mayan Revival architectural style! An accomplished artist, he decorated his buildings with imaginative art in the style of the ancient Maya. His book was a merry mix of fact and fiction, and the illustration above was almost certainly created by him as a fictional depiction of the Atlantis he thought lay behind Maya civilization, drawing on the similar claims of Ignatius Donnelly and Augustus Le Plongeon.
The drawing appears as a plate opposite page 91 in the book (which was, of course, reprinted by David Hatcher Childress for Adventures Unlimited in 2007) with a caption describing it as a photograph of a bas-relief depicting the sinking of Atlantis. Stacy-Judd’s discussion in the body of the text gives more details. He starts by saying that the “photograph” is in his own private collection.
The picture was taken by Teobert Maler in a remote and at the time unknown spot deep in the jungles of Yucatan. Maler stated just prior to his death that the recorded scene was but a portion of a continuous frieze which surrounded the interior of an underground chamber.
Yes, conveniently, the image is not from one of Maler’s innumerable published works but is a secret image disclosed only in a proverbial deathbed confession. More conveniently, the location was unknown! Note for later that Stacy-Judd claims only that Maler took a photograph of the frieze underground and did not publish it. This will become important.
As you can see, the composition, the use of light, etc. are all different. After reviewing hundreds of Maler’s photos, it’s apparent that the Stacy-Judd image lacks the fine-grain details of the stone work we’d expect to see in a real image. It’s too smooth, too lacking in granular detail. Instead, it is most similar to the romanticized drawings and paintings done by Catherwood. It contains elements not seen in typical Maya art, including the crumbling pyramid and the modern arrangement and use of perspective. Its lines are harder, squarer than typical Mayan art, but much in keeping with the Art Deco-inspired Mayan Revival style (also called Aztec Revival) favored by Stacy-Judd.
It’s a well-done drawing, but one almost certainly done by Stacy-Judd, not Teoberto Maler. Stacy-Judd had the artistic skill to pull it off as well as the well-documented interest in using Maya artistic conventions and themes in his own professional work. Until someone produces an original photograph—or better yet, the frieze itself—there is no reason to doubt this is a fake.
The claim that it was destroyed in World War II in Berlin I can trace back no farther than Childress, though he must have gotten the idea from somewhere. Did he notice that his claims contradicted those of Stacy-Judd’s 1939 book, which never said anything about the frieze leaving the Americas? The claim developed in an interesting direction, though. Frank Joseph, in Survivors of Atlantis (2004), among his other books repeating the same claims, called the frieze “the single most persuasive” piece of evidence that the Maya descended from the Atlanteans and asserts that it was found high up on the Central Acropolis at Tikal before the section was removed and sent to Vienna where it was displayed until the Soviets looted it in 1945. Joseph claimed that the frieze was the prized treasure of the Vienna “Voelkerkunde Museum” (Museum für Völkerkunde, now the Weltmuseum) until the Soviets looted it—all without ever producing a single record of its existence! How can it have caused a “sensation” in Vienna as Joseph claims without ever being mentioned in the Viennese press? (The actual Mexican artifacts from the museum are largely collections sent to Vienna by Dominik Bilimek and Philipp J. Becker, not Teoberto Maler.) He asserts in another book that Maler’s “copies” of the frieze are stored at the University of Pennsylvania. Without citing sources, Joseph claimed that the frieze caused Maler to abandon skepticism in favor of all-out belief—something not even Stacy-Judd attributed to the long-dead scholar.
This all seems to be a corruption of Childress’s 1992 claim that Maler shipped the entire frieze from the North Acropolis to Berlin where it was displayed until the Americans bombed the museum in World War II, probably based on Joseph’s obvious understanding that Maler was Austrian, that the North Acropolis frieze is still in Tikal, and that the Allies never bombed the Hofburg in Vienna, where the Austrian Mexican antiquities collection is housed.
This jumble of claims is quite confusing. Why would Maler, a Mexican citizen working for Harvard’s Peabody Museum, ship part (or all) of the frieze to Vienna? Had he found it during Maximilian’s reign, it would have gone to Mexico City; later, Maler had no connections with Vienna at all. Why are there no in-situ photographs, or even photographs from the half century it supposedly spent on display in Vienna? Why is there no museum record? The Habsburgs weren’t shy; they would have trumpeted an artifact that would be as sensational as the Babylonian account of the Flood that was the British Museum’s big sensation. Why does Joseph’s account disagree on every detail from that of Stacy-Judd, who had claimed that Maler took the photo in secret, that the frieze was underground, and that he confessed this only at the end of his life? Why does his account seem to be a Mad Libs version of Childress’s account?
The incident Joseph and Childress describe in varying forms seems to be a distortion of a real incident from the city of Yaxchilan, where Percival Maudslay cut down a lintel to ship to the British Museum. It was accidentally shipped to the Museum für Völkerkunde in Berlin, where it remained until it was destroyed during Allied bombings in World War II. We know this lintel wasn’t the alleged Atlantis frieze because a plaster cast still exists in London. This incident must have become attributed to Maler because he took over for Maudslay and also discussed the lintel in his Researches in the Central Portion of the Usumatsintla Valley (1903), in which he documented the city and its art. This incident has been conflated with Maler’s involvement with Tikal, which he explored with Carl Gustav Bernoulli, who had two carved wooden lintels shipped to yet another Völkerkunde Museum, this one in Switzerland. Finally, the University of Pennsylvania involvement must come from the fact that the school conducted the most extensive excavations as Tikal, in the 1950s, and therefore had copies of Maler’s published materials as archival records.
The Phantom’s Templar Treasure
This morning newspaper readers across the country learned the actual secret resting place of the lost treasures of the Knights Templar when the Media-Academic-Oreo Cookie conspiracy chose to reveal this information not via a cable television documentary but rather through a vaguely racist comic strip best known for introducing the superhero uniform of form-fitting full-body tights. That’s right, if you are one of the dwindling number of readers of The Phantom, you learned that the Knights Templar treasure is squirreled away in darkest Africa, where it is guarded by a white man who pretends to have supernatural powers and administers justice to the African natives.
Here’s the panel from today’s strip:
You will of course recognize in this the latest derivation of Jean de Châlons’s “confession” under torture during the trials of the Templars in June of 1308:
Then he [Jean] said that, learning beforehand about this trouble, the leaders of the Order have fled, and he himself met Brother Gerard de Villiers leading fifty horses, and he heard it said that he had set out to sea with eighteen galleys, and Brother Hugues de Châlons fled with the whole treasury of Brother Hugues de Pairaud. When asked how he was able to keep this fact secret for so long, he responded that no one would have dared reveal it for anything, unless the Pope and the King had opened the way, for if it were known in the Order that anyone had spoken, he would at once be killed.
The Phantom is a problematic comic in that it emerges in the 1930s in a colonialist world, where indeed his first home was a European colony in the East Indies, where the natives were superstitious cannibals. While the Phantom was an American creation, the figure’s home was retroactively reconfigured as British India and then Britain’s east African colonies as the Empire retreated. In time, the Phantom’s fictional homeland of Bangalla (originally Bengali before the writers realized it was a real place) achieved independence. Nevertheless, despite changes to the character to reflect changes in society over the decades, the Phantom as a figure is still a colonialist and imperialist figure, a white man posing as a supernatural god and dispensing justice while accumulating untold wealth. There’s a very thoughtful essay about the Phantom and its complex relationship to colonialism here.
In other words, the Phantom is a perfect analogue for what many Templar theorists imagine of their knightly heroes after they allegedly came to the Americas and ruled over the natives and were worshiped as Great White Gods.
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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