Officials in Jackson County, NC approved a request from Committee Films to shoot a segment of America Unearthed at the sacred Cherokee site of Judaculla Rock, over the objects of a state archaeologist and a descendant of the rock’s former owner. The decision came earlier this week but was only made public yesterday afternoon. Shooting is scheduled to occur today and tomorrow, according to a report in the Sylva Herald.
Pisgah National Forest archaeologist Scott Ashcraft objected to Committee Films’ request because he believed that the producers intended to present “misinformation and lies,” according to emails Ashcraft sent to county officials. Ashcraft had been approached to appear on the show, but he wrote that “I am divesting myself from this project at this time” because producers for the show were “under-informing, misleading and misdirecting me along the way.”
Keith Parker, whose family owned the rock before donating it to the county in 1959, was equally appalled by what he heard from producers who contacted him, according to the Sylva Herald. “I originally thought this would be scholarly, but apparently this is pure sensationalism,” he said.
What annoys me most of all is that I had to read about this in the Sylva Herald because Jackson County officials refused to provide information about public records to me, or even to return my calls after passing me from low-level officials to the voice mail of higher-ranking officials. It’s that kind of petty inefficiency that leads to claims of conspiracy. Similar problems occurred when I tried contacting the National Forest Service last year to inquire after their alleged anti-Wolter conspiracy. No one responded to my repeated requests for comment. The same thing happened earlier this year with the National Park Service, which did not even deign to give me a copy of the press release provided to other journalists, let alone respond to my requests for comment, about the Mexican obsidian spear head found in Hawaii.
Similarly, when I tried to obtain Erich von Däniken’s correspondence with the White House from the National Archives, I encountered yet another wall of indifference. I filed all the right forms and received no response from the Archives, despite having passed the legally-mandated response time. I filed them again and still nothing. It took months of complaining and emailing before I finally got connected to the boss of the person in charge of the specific warehouse, but even then it was still a while before they finally processed my request.
It’s really enough to make someone think that there is a conspiracy.
In a somewhat related bit of news, you will of course remember that America Unearthed investigated whether the Polynesians had reached the Americans before the time of Columbus. The primary strands of evidence used by scholars who support such contact include, among other things, the sweet potato, the bottle gourd, the shape of Chumash canoes, and pre-Columbian chicken bones—all alleged to be evidence of ideas or material brought from Polynesia.
Of these, only the sweet potato is remains strong evidence after the latest research, and even it might be a bit less certain than first thought. The Chumash canoes cannot be shown to be dependent on Polynesian models, and the evidence for contact is circumstantial. The most recent genetic research on the bottle gourd connects American bottle gourds to African rather than Asian sources, and at any rate the gourd was in the Americas for thousands of years before the Polynesians left Asia. With the determination that marine currents could carry bottle gourds, some now wonder whether the sweet potato might have traveled the same way, but there is no good evidence to determine whether this actually happened.
Now the chickens are being called into question as well.
In 2007, carbon dating of chicken bones found in Chile determined that they dated to between 1321 and 1407, and DNA research suggested that they had a mutation found in Polynesian birds. However, new DNA research on ancient and modern chicken bones found in both South America and Polynesia determined that the birds are genetically distinct, and that the earlier studies were flawed because they compared the Chilean chicken bones to modern Polynesian chickens, who are not representative of pre-Columbian populations.
National Geographic has many more details about the controversy, but the most interesting part is a paragraph at the end of the article that talks about what’s missing from the archaeological evidence for Polynesians in the Americas:
If the presence of pre-Columbian chickens is a good indicator that Polynesians succeeded in crossing the Pacific, the absence of one of their old shipmates--Rattus exulans, the Pacific rat—makes an equally compelling case against it. The Pacific rat is known to have traveled everywhere with their Polynesian hosts, and wherever they landed they invariably established thriving local rat populations that live on to this day. There are no Pacific rats in South America.
I could imagine a situation where a single Polynesian ship could reach America without a rat (unlikely as it is since the Polynesians used them for food), but surely any sort of sustained or repeated contact should have delivered some rats in exchange for the sweet potatoes. Easter Island, for example, had a thriving Polynesian rat population thanks to Polynesian settlers.
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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