Over at the A Hot Cup of Joe, Carl Feagans has a thoughtful analysis of the disturbing implications of recent social media postings from Xplrr Media about “200” skulls in Peru that are most likely deformed due to ritual head binding and which Feagans says seem to have been found in an area looted by grave robbers. (The woman who found the skull says she works with an archaeologist, but that archaeologist is a member of UFO groups.) Xplrr Media said that the skulls are a “DNA game changer.” Xplrr’s owners said they are working on “access” to the remains to “test” the DNA of the deformed skulls. Why test their DNA? Who knows? The most common reasons to do so for fringe historians like Lloyd Pye, L. A. Marzulli, and Brien Foerster are to look for (a) aliens, (b) Nephilim, or (c) a lost white race respectively. The continuing quest for an Old World (or even out of this world) origin for New World civilizations brings me to my topic for today.
A couple of weeks ago I presented a translation of the French academic journal article that introduced the idea that the Knights Templar had voyaged across the Atlantic and set up shop in the Americas. This article, written by the French diffusionist writer Eugène Beauvois in 1902, was a sequel to an earlier piece, “Traces d'influence Européenne dans les langues, les sciences et l'industrie précolumbienne du Mexique et de l’Amérique centrale” (“Traces of European Influence in the Languages, Science, and Industry of Mexico and Central America”), which the author had published in 1897. I’m happy to share the translation I have recently completed of this journal article. While it was not as original in content as its successor, it does contain certain formulations of the “White people ruled ancient America” myth that are familiar from fringe history accounts today.
Beauvois’s arguments are instantly familiar to any fan of diffusionism: He points to the existence of “white” gods in Mexican mythology, whom he identifies as Celts from Ireland. He speaks of the supposed similarities between Mexican religious rituals and Christianity, and he makes tortured connections between Nahuatl words and words in Latin, Gaelic, and other European tongues. He argues that the Mexicans were unable to develop the arts of civilization until white Europeans delivered them. (Here he focuses on medieval Irishmen, but he suspects ancient Old World peoples, too.) None of his claims has a scrap of evidence behind it, and most are almost laughably naïve, both in the faith the author places in his own ingenuity and in the objectivity of the Spanish missionaries whose Biblically biased reports strained to find any hint of Christianity that they could use to justify conversion and conquest.
But what’s worse is that Beauvois also accepts the Zeno Narrative and the Zeno Map as genuine medieval survivals. These documents, composed in the 1550s by Niccolò Zeno, a young Venetian nobleman, as a hoax designed to give Venice claim to priority over the Genoese Columbus in terms of exploring the New World, had long been suspected of being a hoax when Beauvois wrote. The text had recently undergone a bit of a renaissance of acceptance due to Richard Henry Major’s 1875 translation and lengthy argument for its authenticity, but the number of scholars rejecting the Zeno Narrative had grown over the two decades that followed, culminating in Fred W. Lucas’s definitive debunking in 1892, in a volume Beauvois would not have seen because it was published in too limited an edition.
Beauvois also shares with modern fringe writers a penchant for mistranslation and misrepresentation. At one point, to try to claim that white people brought the Bible and monastic texts to Mexico, he quotes Domingo Muñoz Camargo’s Historia de Tlaxcala 2.3 to the effect that an ancient myth said that the visitors were “white, bearded, and governed by small books.” He got that from an 1843 French translation by Henri Ternaux-Compans and used it even though he knew full well that the Spanish original said that they were white, bearded, and “had helmets on their heads as symbols of their governing power.” He even quoted this in his notes, but implied that he blamed the editor of the Spanish text for omitting his preferred reading! That editor, Alfredo Chavero, wrote (en español) that Ternaux-Compans “published a paraphrased translation. The translation was bad, and copies of it are quite rare.” Beauvois, who quotes from this volume, could not fail to know this.
Where Beauvois attempts his own translations from Spanish or Latin, the results are underwhelming. He clearly had enough facility with both languages to translate almost correctly, but he had a tendency to omit words and phrases at will, and when he wasn’t sure, he seemed to make things up. In one laughable instance, in translating Diego Duran’s Historia 52, it seems that he mistook the typesetter’s use of a hyphen to divide a polysyllabic word in breaking it to fit on two lines for a hyphenated compound. This wouldn’t be a huge deal except that he was also ignorant of Duran’s Portuguese-inflected archaic Spanish, so he misread that word--dobleses—as “doble-ses,” a nonsense phrase made up of the word “double” and a non-existent reflexive pronoun, instead of as dobleces, “folds.” He might also have misread the word as dobles or “doubles” due to the hyphen. (To confirm this, I checked the modern Spanish critical commentaries to confirm that dobleces is the correct modern reading.) It’s a small but telling error.
But the technical errors pale in comparison to the stunning admission that Beauvois makes in the course of the article. At one point, he notes that readers might be hard-pressed to decide whether the white colonizers were really Irishmen or Scandinavians, and he concedes that it can be quite difficult to distinguish between the influence of the two groups once one starts attributing every aspect of Mexican civilization to medieval Europeans. It didn’t really matter, he said. Dans l’une ou l’autre alternative, la source sera toujours européene—“With either alternative, the source will always be European.”
I give him points for honesty. Beauvois was a Eurocentric racist, and he was proud of it. His “it’s always European” claim is only one step above the satirical version of an ancient astronaut theorist’s refrain that the answer is always “aliens.” For Beauvois “European” was an answer in search of a question.
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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