Friday Roundup: Dodge Promotes Fringe History, Noah's Fossils in Texas Front Yard, and More WV Giants!
It’s been an interesting, if disappointing, week in the world of fringe history. Robert Sheaffer of the Bad UFOs blog finished his review of the 25th annual International UFO Congress yesterday, and he described Jacques Vallée’s talk about premodern UFO sightings. It turns out that it’s exactly what you’d expect: A giant commercial asking UFO believers to give him money to pay him to correct all the mistakes I caught him making in 2009’s Wonders in the Sky. But that wasn’t the only cash grab in the fringe history world…
If you were watching Vikings last night on the History Channel, you would have seen the network’s latest effort to endorse fringe history outright. During a commercial break, the network provided an enhanced content sponsored segment which ostensibly was meant to provide additional information about the work of the Vikings while also promoting the sponsor’s product. To do so, History chose Scott Wolter and let him assert, without contradiction, that the Kensington Rune Stone is evidence that the Vikings traveled to Minnesota. This assertion appeared under the Vikings banner and the History Channel logo, in service of selling the Dodge Ram 1500.
History purposely chose to give Scott Wolter a platform to promote conspiracy theories that even Wolter himself professes to doubt—he thinks the makers of the stone were Knights Templar, not descendants of Vikings—and exposed viewers of a scripted drama to false historical claims. (Wolter explained that since some Norse were among his imaginary Templars “it still works.”) At best, one might argue that people watching a show like America Unearthed know what they’re getting into, but to inject that into a drama and its very different audience is disturbing. It’s to be expected from History, but Dodge should be ashamed of itself to associate its brand with false information.
Speaking of bad ideas, there was a depressing story that came to us yesterday from Tyler, Texas, where a local man has become firmly convinced that some fossils in his backyard are fossil remains from Noah’s Flood. He claims he was spreading dirt in his front yard when he found unusual stones. He immediately suspected that he had uncovered proof that God’s wrath had settled in his front yard, so like anyone would, he called a creationist museum to discover whether he had proof of divine judgment. He spoke with Joe Taylor, a Primitive Baptist creationist who owns the Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum in Crosbyton, Texas, who confirmed through photographs that the rocks were in fact antediluvian fossils.
“From Noah’s flood to my front yard, how much better can it get,” Tyler resident Wayne Propst told KYTX-TV. His aunt added: “To think that like he says that we have something in our yard that dated back to when God destroyed the earth. I mean, how much better could anything be.”
The fossils in question appear to be standard issue fossils of the kind you’d find most anywhere: snails, small shells, etc. They are much less impressive, for example, than the fossilized sheets of shells that ended up in my childhood backyard thanks to a fortuitous unearthing of an old, and shattered, slate sidewalk that had once been a subaqueous floor. I keep a chunk of it on display in my office. Propst, however, is so excited that his fossils allegedly date from Noah’s Flood that he and neighborhood children spend their days digging through his yard in search of more.
The story would hardly be news if it were reported correctly: Local man find typical fossils. It’s only a story because a creationist imposed an ideological belief onto the discovery, and the owner of the house, who professes a literal belief in the Bible, took it as proof that God had touched his yard.
Speaking of those touched by magical thinking, I should follow up on yesterday’s discussion of “giants” in West Virginia. The two authors posted a second part of their investigation into the giant, and in it they correctly note that Ernest Sutton’s measurement formula would underestimate the size of the alleged giant. But rather than recognize that Sutton was likely incorrect in his measurements in 1929, they instead believe that because he seemed to have learned how to measure by the 1960s that this implies accuracy three decades earlier.
This is because the authors believe that in 1960 a third giant had been unearthed in the mound during a secret excavation Sutton conducted. They allege that the West Virginia state archaeologist destroyed Sutton’s records of the “giant” in order to suppress the truth. Sadly, though, the authors fail to back up their claim. While they uncovered a notebook of Sutton’s describing the excavation, in contains no suggestion of any “giant,” or that the burial found within was anything other than normal. The authors believe the skeleton was an eight-foot giant whose bones were stolen by one of Sutton’s assistants and sold to a wealthy Western buyer, but they only believe this because an “anonymous source” claimed to have remembered seeing this happen 56 years ago.
The authors use this to suggest that they have proof that the giant skeletons are part of a larger conspiracy involving America’s wealthiest families, but they offered nothing in terms of evidence that would challenge my conclusion from yesterday that they are over-interpreting the evidence due to their own paranoid and conspiratorial world view. They offered no documentary evidence, no proof of conspiracy, and no information to let us judge whether their witness—who cannot be less than 70 years old—is either correct or even has any proof of what they fail to show is more than hearsay and rumor.
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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