"Expedition Unknown" Host Josh Gates Tells "USA Today" That Yonaguni Is "Convincing" Candidate for Atlantis
USA Today has a deserved reputation as “McPaper,” but as the country’s most-read and most widely circulated daily, it has outsize influence relative to the depth and quality of its reporting. The paper’s print edition reaches more than three million Americans, and its website many millions more. That’s one reason that I was disappointed to see USA Today offer a low-quality clickbait article on “10 mythical sites that just might exist.” The article was written Larry Bleiberg from a list provided by Expedition Unknown host Josh Gates. The list is, in reality, little more than a promotional summary of recent episodes of Gates’s show, but it shows that Gates is either less interested in the “truth” than he claims, or is happy to promote fanciful claims to draw viewers from among true believers in fringe claims.
The list is not numbered, so I can’t rank them. Instead, I’ll take the list from top to bottom and add a bit of commentary.
The Lost City of Gold
Here Bleiberg and Gates intentionally conflate separate ideas to mislead. The Spanish did indeed believe that the Inca had hidden vast amounts of gold and silver, and some also believed that there was a lost city of gold, El Dorado. However, this wasn’t the city that Gates sought in the expedition Bleiberg praises. Gates sought Paititi, which was not described as a lost city of gold in the early Spanish text that first described the alleged lost city. The only treasure mentioned in it is found when the city’s leader built “a square chapel wholly of gold and adorned it with precious gems” (my trans.). It’s just not the same.
This is not a myth, or a place, so its only reason for being listed is that Gates did an episode about the eccentric old man who purposely buried a box of treasure and left clues to its whereabouts. Recently, a man disappeared while looking for it and is believed to have died.
The Buddhist kingdom of Shambhala inspired the fictional lost kingdom from 1933’s Lost Horizon. Gates believes that Shambhala was a medieval Buddhist kingdom in the Mustang mountains of Nepal that he visited in a recent episode. It’s possible, but the legends of Shambhala don’t explicitly claim it to be Buddhist (it’s also found in Hindu texts, for example), and most also allege that the people were pre-Buddhist “sun worshipers.” Extant ancient texts describe the Zhang Zhung kingdom of the Sutlej Valley as being Shambhala, and the Zhang Zhung were of the Bon faith. Whatever its origin the story as we have it is almost entirely fictitious, and it’s difficult to square the story as we have it with the textual claims of non-Buddhist peoples of the upper Indus watershed.
This one we’ve been over a dozen or more times, but Gates is convinced that “there must be a kernel of truth somewhere” to the myth of Arthur, even if he doesn’t know what it is. My feeling is that Arthur is a composite figure, drawn from bits and pieces of a number of half-forgotten characters, which would explain why his stories seem to point in so many different directions. But I will concede that there is no proof of that guess, at least no more than any other.
Atlantis is where logic goes to die. Gates told USA Today that he believes that Atlantis was located in Japan, in the ruins off Yonaguni. “I was blown away by what’s down there. There are seeming architectural ruins, with angular lines, staircases and even rooms. I was very skeptical at first, but I don’t [know] what it is.” While some fringe historians like Graham Hancock have argued that the stone formation off Yonaguni represents megalithic Ice Age architecture, geologists and oceanographers (and even “maverick” geologists like Robert Schoch and fringe writers like John Anthony West!) agree that the formation is natural. Even if it were not, there is not a shred of evidence to connect an Ice Age stone temple in Japan to Plato’s description of a wealthy city “beyond the Pillars of Herarcles,” no more than one could connect Plato’s allegorical myth to any other stone site anywhere on the Earth except by rewriting Plato to order. For this claim to be logical, one would need to provide reasons why Plato was wrong on some details but not others, along with evidence for how knowledge of the sunken site was transmitted across time and space, leaving no trace until Plato wrote of it.
Fountain of Youth
Gates doesn’t offer any evidence for a real Fountain of Youth, only a plug for the tourist site in St. Augustine, Florida. Therefore, this doesn’t really quality as “might be real.”
Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Gates locates this ancient wonder “somewhere in central Iraq,” which is a complete “duh” moment. Yes, that’s where Babylonia was and therefore where its wonders must have been. Care to be a bit more specific? A handful of candidates have been proposed, but since the Babylonians built in mud brick, it’s a bit difficult to identify the gardens after the buildings fell to ruin.
Tomb of Genghis Khan
Since Genghis Khan was a real person, he had a body and therefore most likely a grave. In an episode of Expedition Unknown Gates visited Genghis’s mountain birthplace and suggested he might have been buried there. There’s no proof either way, but there’s no real reason to suspect his gave is “mythical” so much as it is “lost.”
Lost City of the Kalahari
This one was just deceptive. In 1886, the circus performer G. A. Farini claimed in his book Through the Kalahari Desert to have come across the ruins of a stone city, which he described in a few lines of text and then in, of all things, a poem:
A half-buried ruin—a huge wreck of stones
The full description is in my Library.
Gates searched for the city in an episode of Expedition Unknown and correctly noted at the time that the site Farini most likely reached (his claimed route in the book was geographically impossible) is a natural rock formation that has the appearance of a city, but here Gates suggests that because there are genuine, though much smaller, undocumented ruins in the Kalahari that these unrelated ruins retroactively justify Farini’s misinterpretation.
The White City
Here again logic fails Gates. Gates attributes the modern myth of the White City to Hernan Cortes, even though the conquistador, in his fifth letter to Charles V or September 3, 1526, the alleged source for his claim, makes no mention of a White City, instead speaking only of the alleged wealth and political complexity of the region around Trujillo, Honduras. The White City appears in legend only in 1927, when Eduard Conzemius reported that the local Natives confirmed that the story was completely made up, from a rubber-tapper’s hearsay. For the legend to be true, one would need to find what that rubber-tapper described: “the ruins of a very important city with white buildings of a stone similar to marble, surrounded by a large wall of the same material” (my trans.). The current exploration of a newly documented set of cultural remains in Honduras can’t very well be that, and finding previously unknown ruins doesn’t retroactively make a modern bit of folklore into a correct tradition unless one can demonstrate that the ruins are in some way actually connected to the origins of the story. The fact that they are buried beneath the ground would argue against anyone having seen them gleaming in the Caribbean sun in the 1920s and 1930s as the legend alleges.
3/19/2016 12:52:43 pm
I've watched most of these shows. Gates' usual MO is to go off the deep end by getting carried away with the discovery while introducing the mystery and while attended by a fringe theorist. Then, by the end of the show, he comes back down to earth and "kind of" settles on a real world explanation, but never tightly closing the door on the possibility of a fantastic discovery. Regarding the underwater Japanese Atlantis, my recollection is that he did come back to reality by the end of the show. In the Shambala show, I think he stayed with the "discovery" of a couple of old Buddhist temples and their surrounding environs as the real Shambala, which is almost certainly incorrect. I hope that his actual experience with these shows is that "The producers made me say it."
3/19/2016 07:19:53 pm
Wait. Isn't this the same guy that, in an earlier show, used to jet off to some place, spend half a day or so doing "research" (usually involving no actual science, controls or actual RESEARCH) and then return to LA to spend six months "analyzing" whatever his "research" had turned up? All of which gave a hazy mist of "sciency" cover to whatever he supposedly uncovered? Yeah. Not someone I attach a lot of credibility to... ;-)
3/19/2016 01:07:58 pm
I actually like Gate's show. I guess I must not be watching it too closely as I never noticed any serious claims about what the sites are. I always viewed it as "here is one possibility you decide." Sometimes it does present some actual archaeology as well.
3/19/2016 03:51:16 pm
I enjoy Gates as well. He doesn't take it too seriously, usually, and is more or less just following someone that is doing something that they claim is related to whatever particular story the show is about. It often is more of an update to what is happening rather than a fantastic discovery. I like it because it shows that there is still interest in some of these stories that in todays age could become forgotten, myth or history alike. Lets face it, who wouldn't sign up to travel and have all these "adventures" if you could get someone else to pay for it.
3/20/2016 12:04:38 pm
I used to love watching his previous show, Destination Truth, not because anything that was "discovered" was remotely credible, but rather because they were really good at showing at least some of the local flavor of the places they went, and they tried to be at least somewhat respectful of the local peoples and traditions. It seems to be something that very few shows even attempt to do. I keep thinking I should try the new show and see if it has the same kind of dynamic...
3/20/2016 04:50:32 pm
"I keep thinking I should try the new show and see if it has the same kind of dynamic... "
3/19/2016 04:31:31 pm
3/19/2016 07:27:40 pm
Actually, the legend is that everyone knew about his death, but they took him (and supposedly a vast amount of treasure -- but there always has to be treasure) to a place somewhere on the "sacred mountain" and there dug a huge pit. They buried Genghis in the pit, killed his favorite horses, concubines and wives, and put them in the pit, heaped the treasure around them, and then buried the whole kaboodle. They killed anyone who was not a Mongolian who was present (including all the slaves that did the work, and any chance passersby that saw the funeral caravan), stampeded horses repeatedly across the grave site to preserve secrecy and then all went back to Kara Korum to elect the new KhaKhan. They supposedly left a thousand horsemen on permanent guard around the mountain who were to kill anyone who approached the mountain, a custom which was kept until perhaps the 1600's, by which time all evidence of the grave site was concealed by time and forest growth. All of this because, according to the Mongols, Genghis would arise again to lead them to world domination UNLESS his grave were discovered and looted (there always has to be that "will come back from the dead to lead us again" legend too).
3/19/2016 07:38:55 pm
Ancient secular history wasn't that reliable. Large portions of stuff by Tacitus, Plutarch and Suetonius cannot be evaluated simply because it was mostly based on gossip.
3/19/2016 04:52:36 pm
"Legend has it that he was buried secretly, and as his men returned to Karakorum, anyone who might have known of his death was killed to prevent the truth from being known."
3/19/2016 05:20:19 pm
If only Josh Gates met the requirements of juvenile non-fiction (Ancient Aliens, Curse of Oak Island, America Unearthed, etc, etc, etc)
3/19/2016 10:04:56 pm
After 3 episodes i got fed up by his shameless selfpromotion and his liberties with the truth to sound dramatic.
3/21/2016 01:39:51 pm
The Ghost of Gates
6/22/2016 05:23:19 pm
In regards to your analysis of Atlantis, Plato didn't just come up with a story out of nothing, he learned about Atlantis during his time in Egypt. The true site of Atlantis has been discovered and it fit nearly every description Plato wrote except one: "beyond the pillars of Heracles" which was actually misinterpreted by modern folks. Most people living in the Mediteranian region refered to the strait of Gibraltar as the pillars of Heracles, but the Egyptians, who educated Plato on this subject, refered to the now sunken city of Heracleion as "the pillars of Heracles"... so all of Plato's descriptions actually do fit perfectly with the ruins of Santorini.
6/8/2017 10:10:47 pm
What happened to you? Did someone stomp on your dreams as a child?
5/22/2018 12:02:32 pm
As someone who has a degree in anthropology I find his style too much for me and cannot take him seriously. He may have a degree in archaeology (undergraduate), but he certainly does not act like he does. Other than having a knowledge of scuba he seems to know nothing of archaeological methods or the civilizations he is investigating. He comes off as a clown and tries to take control of the entire group at the same time which is very irritating to watch. His self-proclamation of having a degree in archaeology at the beginning of each show is a bit hubris.
9/4/2019 08:32:55 pm
Gates is a fraud and so are all of his shows. Not one episode of any of his shows has ever uncovered anything. The formula is simple. Take a myth, talk to some fools that believe in it, shoot some footage of nothing, then throw it all together in a way to create fake suspense that will sucker the unintelligent among us. Hey, that's a show!!
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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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