France's Top Ethnology Museum Plans to Hold a Discussion about Dinosaurs and Space Aliens in North American Rock Art
Sixty-two days ago, musician Tom DeLonge announced that he would have a major UFO “disclosure” announcement within sixty days. When the deadline hit on Sunday, DeLonge said that the announcement had been postponed for several weeks. What could be worth the wait? Whatever it is, it certainly isn’t of such pressing importance that DeLonge would place public service over publicity in order to ensure that the public had vital information.
Today, though, I would like to call your attention to a strange event taking place this coming Sunday in Paris at the Musée de l’Homme (the Museum of Man), one of the country’s most important anthropological and ethnographic museums. The museum is planning to hold a film screening and debate on the following question: “The United States: Art at the Time of the Dinosaurs?”
No, it is not about whether dinosaurs made art. Instead, it’s about pseudohistorical claims that humans lived alongside dinosaurs in historic times. Now, before you get too outraged, relax: All is not as it seems, and it looks like the dinosaurs won’t have a very easy time of it next Sunday.
I learned about this from Irna of Le Site d’Irna, who posted about the event on Facebook.
I will translate the museum’s page about the event, which will include the screening of a French-language documentary Mémoires de pierre (“Memories of Stone”), about prehistoric rock art.
Embark with investigators Paul Bahn and Jean-Loïc Le Quellec, two internationally renowned archaeologists, for a journey across the American West in the footsteps of its first occupants. This is an unprecedented exploration of the longest rock art galleries in the world, containing several thousand paintings and mysterious engravings, among which it is believed one can recognize the silhouettes of Martians or prehistoric animals!
Le Quellec, who wrote textbooks on African rock art, is using pseudohistorical claims as a hook to lure an audience to a lecture about rock art. But just imagine that—a major country’s top anthropological museum is hosting a “debate” about whether Native American rock art depicts dinosaurs and space aliens!
This would seem entirely bizarre if it weren’t for the fact that French scholarship on rock art is inseparably entwined with the legacy of Henri Lhote, the French explorer who, under the direction and with the support of the Musée de l’Homme, traveled into remote regions of the Sahara in the middle twentieth century to document otherwise inaccessible rock art. Lhote served as the head of the Musée de l’Homme’s Department of Prehistoric Saharan Art, but Lhote achieved his greatest notoriety for his popular claim that the art he uncovered documented the arrival of space aliens. In his influential and important 1958 volume The Search for the Tassili Frescoes (English translation, 1959), Lhote identified one such image as “the great Martian god,” and his claims sparked the interest of ancient astronaut theorists in Europe. Among those who accepted and built upon his claims were Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwels, Robert Charroux, Peter Kolosimo, and Erich von Däniken.
I assume that Le Quellec’s presentation must be in conversation with this legacy since Le Quellec wrote the afterward to a 2010 biography of Lhote and works in the same specialization—Saharan rock art. Le Quellec is a noted French debunker of pseudoscientific quackery, having published several books deconstructing archaeological fantasies, including one titled Martians in the Sahara: A Chronicle of Romantic Archaeology. I can’t resist translating the publisher’s press release summarizing this 2009 book, one that I perhaps ought to read:
Martians landed in the Sahara in prehistoric times (the proof: they are represented in the Tassili frescos!). Men knew the dinosaurs (there are footprints that prove it!). Biblical giants really did exist (their skeletons were found!). Noah’s Ark and the Garden of Eden were found in Turkey. The Nazca lines are ancient landing strips. The ancient Maya used crystal skulls with mysterious powers...
Another of his books, 2010’s The White Lady and Atlantis: Ophir and the Great Zimbabwe: Investigation of an Archaeological Myth, appears to be still more interesting and picks up on the idea that archaeological fantasies are the result of a pungent brew of ignorance, racism, and politics.
I will again translate the publisher’s book description, but this one requires a little more explanation since the book concerns a strange claim that is not as familiar to American readers. I had only a vague recollection of it as a footnote in the story of racist interpretations of Great Zimbabwe. The book concerns a piece of bushmen rock art from Namibia known as the White Lady, first documented in 1918 by a German explorer. In 1929, and more famously in 1945, a French ethnologist, the Abbé Henri Breuil, claimed that the painting resembled Minoan paintings of athletes from Knossos and therefore represented proof of Mediterranean contact with Namibia, possibly from Phoenicia, and consequently Great Zimbabwe could reasonably be considered the Ophir of the Bible, and of Phoenician origin. The white supremacist governments of southern Africa utilized this claim to diminish Black African accomplishments. Le Quellec’s book description picks up from here:
This meticulous investigation, conducted around a famous rock image, the “White Lady,” makes it possible to take stock of the mythical presuppositions infusing a number of scientific researches, particularly in the case of studies of rock art.
It is a shame that these apparently quite interesting and important books have not been translated into English and are apparently virtually unknown outside of France. [Update: As Irna mentions below, The White Lady is available in English from ArchaeoPress.] On the plus side, the Musée de l’Homme presentation introduced me to a new skeptic of archaeological fantasies whose work I will need to follow. I am also interested in his 500-page (!) 2013 book refuting Carl Jung’s claims about prehistory, mythology, and archetypes. Joseph Campbell would probably roll over in his grave, but I have a feeling I’d find a lot to like in the book.
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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