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 thought you might appreciate this extract from one of his blog entries (http://open.salon.com/blog/doc_vega/2012/10/19/did_tom_clancy_novel_plots_became_reality):
7/31/2013 01:36:08 pm
Lovely. This would certainly be news to Lovecraft.
7/31/2013 12:46:01 pm
That is absolutely extraordinary. This is jaw-dropping. This is the craziest, most depressingly funny thing I've read since I came across a website that claimed UFOs were really fallen angels.
7/31/2013 04:46:50 pm
I remember reading Eaters of the Dead. I hate to say it, but Chrichton failed at his mission, in my opinion. I found the book confusing and irritating, rather than engrossing. On the other hand, I always found Beowulf to be engrossing and intriguing. ...and frustrating, because I would look at the Old English version and feel like I could ALMOST read it but FAIL. Oh, well.
7/31/2013 07:38:48 pm
Kudos for attempting the Old English text.
The Other J.
7/31/2013 09:48:21 pm
It's not easy, but it's worth it. I spent a year learning Anglo-Saxon so I could study the original. There were only five of us in the course, and the prof had us write our own translation. But it does take time to get in the swing of the language. Once you do, you start to see elements of it popping up all over the place, it's weird (or wyrd). Mainly in connecting words, place-names, the sinew of the language. The Normans really did a number on it.
8/1/2013 08:32:14 am
I think I've seen that version! It read very smoothly in English, much easier in some ways than the excerpt in my high school lit book. That was where I first encountered the Old English text; it was one of those "enrichment" pages that had the Old English and two different translations of given lines, to illustrate how language changes over time & etc.
The Other J.
7/31/2013 09:54:53 pm
I'm not really interested in the rest of those articles -- I was already chucking at Bulywif and Wendol. But how do they square sasquatches being Neanderthal, when Neanderthals were shorter than modern humans, and a sasquatch is supposed to be over 7 feet tall? Something tells me evolution is out of the question.
8/3/2013 06:39:57 am
5/11/2018 11:34:31 pm
Neanderthals were SHORT, while Cro-Magnon men were tall.
7/28/2018 09:49:15 am
Have you any knowledge within anthropology at all? Perhaps one should understand that which they were saying prior to speaking.
8/3/2013 02:52:45 pm
I think the Neanderthal/sasquatch link has been heavily influenced by Danny Vendramini and his book "Them and Us". Keep in mind, this guy is a TV producer and script writer with no formal training in anthropology. Here's the website he runs:
7/31/2013 10:42:55 pm
I am expecting Dr. Brett Dufour (aka Eric Johns) our local neuroscience PhD (amateur
8/1/2013 02:29:58 am
I really liked Eaters of the Dead, certainly one of Crichton's better efforts. I can see how a reader might be pulled in to thinking this was real, but not someone actively researching the topic. I knew all along what Crichton was doing, but then I have a Masters in Middle East history and was familiar with his "source".
8/4/2013 08:20:53 am
For being such a "boring" story, "Beowulf" certainly keeps returning in various forms -- films, books, comics, music, games and even as an episode of "Star Trek: Voyager." I read a narrative translation of "Beowulf," as well as a poetic translation...enjoyed the poetic quite a bit more. Read "Eaters of the Dead" when it first came out, and recognized it right away as a novelization of "Beowulf" that used the fiction of an historical narrator to give it both a fresh POV and a sense of verisimilitude. Not everyone recognized it at the time, and it took people pointit out for other to say, "Oh, yes, I knew that all the time." It's quite a tribute to Crichton's skill as a storyteller that it SEEMS quite realistic, but a tribute to foolish gullibility for anyone to actually think it IS real. As far as my favorite adaptation of the old story, that would be the film "Outlander," which is also fictional.
8/2/2014 02:38:26 pm
Sorry guys but I'm one of those people who managed to keep my imagination even after my masters degree in anthropology. I have always believed Beowulf was a story of another species of human.
1/24/2016 04:33:58 pm
I got that the Wendol may have been extant Neanderthals. However, what I didn't get is why the 'mother of the Wendols' was so important that killing her meant their total extinction.
2/27/2016 01:24:07 pm
Im just a science fiction junkie with NO formal education. I read this novel many years ago and somehow always took for granted that the wendol were cro magnon. Am I correct in understanding that the musculature and bone structure of Neanderthal indicates they were pretty inefficient spear throwers? How about bow users? Just curious. I don't know where I picked that up. They used spears but how well?
3/14/2016 06:16:09 pm
3/15/2016 02:47:04 am
Yeah the throwing stick would make sense- used to make those when I was a jid- re really amazing how much distance- not to mention raw power- that generates. Increased torque BT "lengthening" the forearm--- kinda sorta. O k I'll take that as "understood". (We still wiped em out tho). Good on us. Slings and Laminated recurve bows beat atl-atls EVERY time. Hah!
10/15/2017 07:18:47 am
I have always thought that the " enemy" in the film were Neanderthal or Wild men who bumped into medieval people all over Europe and my still be out the deep in the northern forests
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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