Last night, on the season finale of SyFy’s Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files (S03E12), the team of mostly competent (though often inexplicably credulous) investigators broke from their stated purpose of examining paranormal videos to take on instead the “mystery” of Stonehenge. Things started out badly but gradually got better as the episode wore on.
We begin at the top of the hour with the entire six-person investigation team sitting in their “Situation Room” to discuss which three of them will make a pointless trip to Stonehenge on the network’s dime before traveling to Michigan for the actual investigation. Yes, they plan to investigate the mysteries of Stonehenge in Michigan. It makes sense when you hear why.
The initial discussion is not promising, especially since production details strongly suggest it was recreated after the fact. Former FBI agent Ben Hansen is talking with “scientist” Bill Murphy (actually a longtime paranormal promoter), who never met a shadow he didn’t think was a ghost:
The team then introduces the suggestion that ancient people, using technologies available to them, could have built Stonehenge relatively easily. Why, one crazy old coot in Michigan even claims that it was possible to do it with only a few people working on each stone! Photographer Lanisha Cole is shocked: "That would challenge that theory that was built by aliens!"
Heaven forefend! It bothers me that the ancient astronaut theory is the only one suggested, granting it false power as a legitimate theory. However, when the investigation picks up in the second half hour (after an investigation of an Icelandic sea serpent shows it was probably some floating plastic trash), it becomes obvious that the ancient astronaut theory is being used for two subversive purposes: (a) to provide a fake paranormal “mystery” to justify the inclusion of Stonehenge on this show, and (b) to set up a straw man argument that the program can knock down while vindicating the theories of an everyman from Michigan.
So, the team travels to England where they meet with an archaeologist whose comments are edited down to make it sound like archaeologists have no possible conception of how Stonehenge’s stones were moved, rather than merely arguing about the exact method whereby they were moved with some combination of levers, rollers, and manpower.
Bill Murphy misunderstands the builders of Stonehenge as Druids, which is always a good sign of a thorough investigation.
At any rate, the whole trip to Stonehenge was more of a free vacation than anything else since we then travel to Lapeer, Michigan to meet with retired construction worker Wally Wallington and WWE wrestler Kofi Kingston. Wallington believes that well-known ancient principles including the fulcrum and levers can be used to move large rocks. This has been known since at least the time of the Greeks, so it is not exactly breaking news. Kingston is there to cross-promote SyFy’s broadcast of WWE wrestling.
The show then hustles poor Wallington off the screen never to be seen again. The rest of the team demonstrates how levers and fulcrums can be used to move and raise large blocks. In one afternoon they recreate a Stonehenge trilithon of several tons using only simple technology and four people. This only reinforces the point that the ancient used big rocks because it was much less work to carve one rock and move it to the site than to carve five smaller rocks (think of the surface area) and make five round trips from the quarry to the build site.
Back at the situation room, probably only a few minutes after the initial staged conversation, the team evaluates the results:
I get the impression that Austin Porter is generally more skeptical of supernatural claims than most of the other investigators. (Porter’s biography discusses his scientific training and then throws in random claims about “paranormal experiences.”) But it’s rather hard to tell since all the cast are playing characters in heavily edited, staged, and recreated scenes as much as they are actually investigating mysteries. For example, we are asked to believe that in a staged discussion of a (hoax) video of a ghost, computer effects specialist Devin Marble failed to recognize the ghost as a simple special effect.
It seems that the network has a quota for how many mysteries the show can solve without leaving open a paranormal explanation. But in the case of Stonehenge, as in more than two thirds of their investigations, the Fact or Faked crew did a service by explaining how hard work and ingenuity trump the facile appeal to aliens over on the History Channel and H2.
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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