When I first started investigating the claims of ancient astronaut writers and alternative history speculators, one of the things that most shocked me was that the ancient texts they cited frequently said nothing like the words they attributed to them. I’ve frequently, for example, mentioned how Giorgio Tsoukalos cites the medieval Arabic text of Al-Maqrizi as supplying proof that aliens provided pyramid planning information, even though the text says no such thing. The late Philip Coppens similarly attributed to the Famine Stela the false claim that non-human intelligences gave Imhotep plans for the pyramids, even though that text also failed to say any such thing. Erich von Däniken simply made up material about alien genetic engineering and inserted it into the Genesis Apocryphon.
But usually there’s a little effort toward having some kind of relationship to the text in question.
That’s why I was dumbfounded when reader Scott Hamilton pointed me to a series of articles that ran in UFO Digest last month on the Vikings’ encounters with Neanderthals. Yes, you read that correctly. You can read the whole series here, which links to the fifth article, containing links to the previous four.
Not only is the Ibn Fadian (sic) manuscript revered for its depiction of early of Viking society, but it may be the first and only civilized and documented account of one of the last surviving pockets of organized Neanderthal existence.
I’m not going to go through the entire five-part series point for point because it will quickly become obvious that there is something seriously wrong with it. According to author Doc Vega, an Arabian traveler named Ibn Fadian (sic) met with the Vikings in 928 CE and recorded an encounter with a tribe of thick-browed, primitive savages of unusual ferocity. After these monstrous foes raided the Viking camp and attacked the king in his drinking-hall, the Viking heroes, under Buliwyf, launched a reprisal, leading to the discovery that the attackers, called the Wendol, were cannibals. Buliwyf, despite a prophecy of his coming death, plans to attack the Mother of the Wendol, the tribe’s queen, whom he kills. The Wendol launch an attack in reprisal, and Buliwyf dies, etc. etc. Throughout the five-article series, Vega erroneously refers to Ibn Fadian as “Ibn,” mistaking the conventional term for “son of” for a first name, or “Fadian,” mistaking it for a formal cognomen. His first name was actually Ahman.
By now the attentive reader will recognize that this is (a) the plot of Michael Crichton’s 1976 novel Eaters of the Dead and also (b) the plot of Beowulf.
So let’s establish a few facts. First, the manuscript of Ibn Fadlan (correct transliterated spelling) contains none of the information given in Vega’s summary. Ibn Fadlan did write an account of meeting the Vikings in what is now Russia in 922 (not 928), but this brief description is ethnographic in nature and contains nothing about any battle with a tribe of Neanderthals, whom Vega also identifies as a pack of wild Bigfoot. (Bigfoot, as ancient astronaut writer Lloyd Pye argued, is a Neanderthal.) You can read the entirety of the section on the Vikings here. What he lacks in Neanderthal battles he makes up for in a fixation on the studliness of Vikings: “I have never seen more perfect physiques than theirs—they are like palm trees, are fair and reddish… One man will have intercourse with his slave-girl while his companion looks on. Sometimes a group of them comes together to do this, each in front of the other.” He also recorded the first and only eyewitness account of a Viking funeral, complete with burning ship.
So where did the rest of the story come from?
Well, as it happens, Michael Crichton got mad at a friend of his for claiming that Beowulf was one of the most boring works in literature, so he decided to prove this idea wrong. Therefore, he rewrote Beowulf in a new setting to make it seem fresh and alive. Buliwyf in the novel is very obviously Beowulf, and the Wendol and their queen are quite clearly Grendel and his mother. Crichton gave this book the patina of historicity by grounding it in Ibn Fadlan’s actual journey to Russia and thus subtitling the book “The Manuscript of Ibn Fadlan Relating His Experiences with the Northmen in A.D. 922.” But that was just coloring, the true-life part of the text comprising only the first three chapters of the novel. The rest is Crichton’s own imagination rewriting Beowulf in the guise of a scholarly commentary on Ibn Fadlan. Crichton also cites the fictitious Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazred in the novel’s bibliography!
Crichton explicitly imagined the Wendol as primitive sub-humans, depicted as Neanderthals or some other early human species. The film version, The 13th Warrior, toned this down and merely made them uncivilized humans.
How Vega could have missed this I cannot imagine. The information is not hard to find. Crichton presents it himself in his own afterward to Eaters of the Dead, which Vega is using as his source. Consider how obtuse one has to be to make the following claim about a novel:
Thus, this manuscript is a factual account written as a reference for his king to be informed of foreign society’s daily life and ultimate intentions toward other nations. Therefore “Eaters of the Dead” is more like a diary of Fadian’s (sic) experiences. Even in this light, the manuscript is no less entertaining than a fictional account embellished with wild fantasies. In fact, the most amazing thing about “Eaters of the Dead” is the fact that it is not a tall tale at all but the very real account of events that are nothing short of remarkable.
But how could he justify using the novel and not the actual manuscript as the basis of a five-part series on Viking-Neanderthal interactions? So far as I can tell, Vega—a former journalist, novelist, and conservative political blogger—isn’t joking. He was really fooled by Crichton’s presentation of “scholarly” commentary on Ibn Fadlan’s “manuscript” and like the people who quest after the Necronomicon took the whole thing to be real. And based on Vega’s articles, the internet has lit up with people taking all this seriously as real history.
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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