Friday Roundup: ABC News Endorses Ancient Astronaut Theory, King Arthur Identified (Again), and More!
It’s been a busy week in the world of the weird, so today I thought I’d do one of my periodic news roundups. Let’s begin with ABC News—the U.S. one, not the Australian one—and a horrid clickbait article I came across yesterday. The article was published over the weekend under the byline of Morgan Winsor, one of ABC’s digital breaking news writers. The piece purports to be a report on the many ways that UFOs have captured the human imagination since ancient times. Instead, it’s poorly researched clickbait cobbled together from reruns of Ancient Aliens (a corporate cousin since the History channel’s parent company is partly owned by Disney, the parent of ABC) and Google searches.
I’ll leave aside the modern material about Roswell and UFO sightings to focus on Winsor’s credulous claims about ancient astronauts. Consider this:
Early cave drawings, ancient texts and centuries-old paintings appear to depict or describe human contact with extraterrestrial beings and UFOS, or unidentified flying objects. For instance, the 1710 painting by Dutch artist Aert De Gelder appears to show a UFO illuminating the baptism of Jesus Christ.
The image in question actually shows a halo of light surrounding the Holy Dove, who shines heavenly light down on Jesus. The painting was digitally altered to make the halo appear more craft-like when it aired on Ancient Aliens in 2012. But I am more disturbed that Winsor presents this material straight-faced, with no more qualification than “seems,” implicitly giving the blessing of ABC News and the Walt Disney Company to the ancient astronaut theory.
This is not the first time ABC News has run credulous UFO clickbait stories, but it is the first I’ve seen in five years that endorsed the ancient astronaut theory. The last time, it was warmed over Zecharia Sitchin given the imprimatur of the American Broadcasting Company.
Next up: King Arthur! A British retiree claims to have identified the real King Arthur and his hometown and is now promoting a new book in which he identifies Arthwys ap Masgwid, the son of the king of Elmet in the fifth century, as the real Arthur. He did so, he claims, by reading all of the legends of Arthur recorded centuries to a full millennium later and trying to fit them to a timeline of known battles in post-Roman Britain. Eagle-eyed readers will immediately realize that the problem with this theory comes in assuming that records centuries after the fact accurately reflect the participants in post-Roman battles rather than a fictionalized version of them built up over centuries.
Anyway, Adrian Grant, 70, a retired geography teacher, had this to say to the Daily Mail:
'I think I have uncovered the truth. This study was conducted with a view of separating fact from fiction and history from legend.
I needn’t point out that assuming that the legends accurately record Arthur’s military career is a fool’s errand. Compare, for example, the fantastical stories told of Charlemagne a few centuries after his death. If we did not possess records of Charlemagne’s reign, the myths would paint a completely incorrect picture of who he was and what he did.
I should, however, point out that Arthwys ap Masgwid has previously been identified as a candidate for Arthur in British antiquarian research, but isn’t usually considered because too little is known of him to tie him to the Arthurian legends. Just for kicks, there’s one more fun fact: Arthwys was a descendant of Coel Hen, who, without much justification is frequently identified as the Old King Cole of nursery rhyme fame. Will wonders never cease!
Finally, we’ll leap back in time even further to the Indus Valley civilization. On the Penn Museum website, George F. Dales has a fascinating article challenging the myth—frequently found in fringe literature and older scholarly works alike—that Mohenjo Daro was destroyed all at once, with the bodies of the citizenry preserved where they fell, evidence of nuclear disaster (fringe claim) or massacre (older Aryan invasion claim).
It would be foolish to assert that the scattered skeletal remains represent an orderly state of affairs. But since there is no conclusive proof that they all even belong to the same period of time, they cannot justifiably be used as proof of a single tragedy. Part of this uncertainty results from the unsatisfactory methods used by the excavators to record and publish their finds. But even allowing for this serious methodological shortcoming, it is possible to re-evaluate the published evidence and to come to some definite conclusions concerning the massacre myth.
I will leave you to read the conclusions yourselves, but suffice it to say that Dales believes that the evidence better represents a longer and less violent process. It’s an interesting example of how ideological perspective shape the interpretation of evidence, and how shifting ideologies result in radically different ideas over time.
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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