Fringe History Claims Spur Opposition to "America Unearthed" Permit Application in North Carolina
Fringe history might be good for TV ratings, but it isn’t good for convincing the guardians of America’s historic sites to let you use those sites to support outrageous ideas. That’s the lesson America Unearthed executive producer Maria Awes learned this week when she applied last week for a permit to shoot at Judaculla Rock, a sacred Cherokee site in North Carolina. The site has been the property of Jackson County since 1959, and while open to the public free of charge, government permission is required to film on the site.
Awes requested permission a week before the scheduled shoot, but her request stirred opposition from Pisgah National Forest archaeologist Scott Ashcraft, who also serves as the head of N.C. Rock Art, according to an article in The Sylva Herald. Ashcraft felt betrayed after his involvement with America Unearthed turned sour.
Ashcarft works for the U.S. Forest Service, which America Unearthed accused of conspiring to suppress the work of Scott Wolter in its pilot episode in 2012 when the Forest Service denied Committee Films permission to shoot at the Track Rock site in Georgia.
On Monday Ashcraft sent an email to Jackson County officials urging the county to exercise careful scrutiny of Committee Films’ request to film at the site based on what he described as the program’s record of “sensationalized, unscientific programming” that would likely depict the ancient site in a false light.
Aschraft had been working with Committee Films on an upcoming episode of America Unearthed, but he told Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten that he severed all ties with the production company after discovering that America Unearthed was intentionally developing a narrative designed to misinform viewers. He said that “they were purposely under-informing, misleading and misdirecting me along the way” to force him into supporting a predetermined narrative over his attempts to “push through their veil of misinformation,” according to documents obtained by the Herald.
Keith Parker, whose family had owned the rock before 1959 and has been involved in preservation efforts for decades, also told the county that he wanted Committee Films barred from the site.
Awes told the Sylva Herald that the county had no reason to worry about the show’s depiction of Judaculla Rock, and she promised that the program would conclude that the rock was a Cherokee or pre-Cherokee artifact, though only after examining “other theories.”
According to Cherokee legend, the carvings on Judaculla Rock are the work of a giant for whom the rock is named and provide instructions for entering the spirit world. Archaeologists believe that the petroglyphs and pock-marks were carved in the Late Woodland or Mississippian periods, but their meaning is unknown. The rock has spawned some fringe theories about trans-Atlantic contact because the giant Judaculla was said to have slanted eyes like Asians. Others have speculated on various Old World origins for the carvings, which archaeologists speculate may have been a map or an astronomical chart.
But take a gander at what Awes thinks America Unearthed does:
“We present ideas about things to get people interested about history. It’s not to get people to look at things one way or another.”
I laughed out loud after reading that line since every episode ends with Scott Wolter issuing a conclusion designed to convince viewers that his investigation has yielded tangible results, regardless of whether they factually do so.
The county manager was scheduled to decide on the permit yesterday. His secretary told me that she did not know what he decided, and he was not available this morning for comment. I left voice mail, but Wooten has not yet returned my call. The Sylva Herald told me he has not returned their calls or emails on the issue either. I will update this post later today once the information has been released, either to me or to the Herald.
Update: As of close of business today, Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten still had not responded to my request for information, and the county had not yet made public whether it issued a permit.
3/14/2014 05:00:41 am
It's a glorious thing when chickens come home to roost.
Steve St C
3/14/2014 01:26:53 pm
This is perfect. Jason's wanna-be academics have already decided that AU will not be issued a permit to film there LONG BEFORE there is any evidence to do so.
3/14/2014 01:35:23 pm
I believe that for the most part they were referring to the difficulties caused by developing negative relationships with officials and scholars, not that they know the permit would be denied. In fact, I would imagine the permit will be issued because I can't see any compelling government interest in preventing access. Personally, I don't believe the government should use ideology as a litmus tests for permits since that leaves open too much room for censorship.
3/14/2014 02:24:56 pm
Please don't feed the Troll!
3/14/2014 04:07:11 pm
Really?? That's an interesting take on this statement by BL, "their own ineptitude has resulted in blocked access to interesting sites." Oddly, I read that as BL stating that he already know from your writeup that AU would not be permitted to film the site. Wow, how could I have formed that conclusion?
3/15/2014 12:49:15 am
Jason got it right. I am referring to past negative relationships that the show has developed. I am basing my assessment on past shows like UFO HUNTERS which successfully burned enough bridges that filming permits and guest where harder to come by. I did see this one coming, as more guest come forward and say they are not happy how the show presents them and that their comments have been altered to leave out things they wanted to say (which has happened). Filming permits are the same way and I bet it has happened already with AU, since on the serpent mound episode they did not go into the park and they filmed only on the rim of the Grand Canyon which does not require a filming permit.
3/17/2014 05:48:18 am
Steve St C....I don't need a PhD in predicting the future to know that sooner rather than later the name Scott Wolter will become a punchline, and that fewer and fewer people will give him the time of day. Likewise, I don't need a PhD in history to know that you are not the descendant of Jesus or that Henry Sinclair never came to America. Come to think of it, I don't have a PhD in comedy either, but I sure do find your rants to be hilarious.
3/14/2014 05:11:44 am
I was wondering when this would happen. I look forward to reading about further developments.
3/14/2014 05:22:36 am
Of course Committee Films and America Unearthed won't be admitting to the fans that their own ineptitude has resulted in blocked access to interesting sites. So, Scott Wolter will once again be harping about a vast academic and governmental conspiracy to keep him from getting to the truth. Round and round it goes.
3/14/2014 10:37:58 am
You're 100% correct. Scott now has "proof" that his knowledge of the "real truth" is being suppressed. I can just see the episode: Scott is standing outside the park when he gets a phone call telling him he's barred from going near the rock. He then launches into a diatribe about how they don't want him to reveal evidence to the pubic.
3/14/2014 05:32:47 am
I saw this one coming. I am glad Jason was able to find out about this information before the show was aired. Not uncommon with shows like AU, the reputation of the show and its presentation is beginning to catch up with it. Not uncommon and I won't be surprised if the show does not go beyond the third season because of this reason. Really it is not that uncommon either and other fringe shows had suffered the same fate because of not being able to acquire filming permits.
3/14/2014 05:52:59 am
So it turns out that if you misrepresent academics, push a decidedly anti-academic narrative, accuse the government of a vast conspiracy to suppress you and present ridiculous and/or discredited fringe theories as equal to actual archaeology and science; the academics and the government aren't very willing to help you?
3/14/2014 06:29:07 am
I'm actually torn about this. Although I loathe the way AU (and other fringe scientists) spin and trample evidence and known facts, I don't believe it's usually a good idea to try to suppress their access to government property (of course, assuming it doesn't promote vandalism). Let them promote the ridiculous ideas. Sooner or later, the facts will present themselves (in this blog or other outlets) and the public can see just how flimsy all of their claims are.
3/14/2014 06:34:31 am
One things I think they (as in the parks) should be concerned about is shows like this could encourage vandalism much like the AA theorists who recently did some damage in to the great pyramids
3/14/2014 07:30:56 am
It's about time. One must assume that other ancient (U.S.) sites will follow suit.
3/14/2014 09:52:48 am
Here are some sample comments from readers of The Sylvia Herald in response to the article Jason referenced above regarding Scott Ashcroft:
3/14/2014 09:57:17 am
I'll never understand the textbook argument. Textbook manufacturers make superficial changes every 2-3 years to make sure that students have to buy new books and can't keep reusing old editions. They'd *love* to have a reason to force schools to buy all new books, such as an important new theory.
3/15/2014 05:13:45 am
Great points jason. And as a dad with two teenagers, the books today are a mess of facts, graphics, tables, ad graphics. I'm serious their text books in math or chemistry, earth science, social studies and so crammed with every possible self serving political groups agenda their teachers don't use them. Basic textbooks in say trig or physics from the 70s were more effective.
Rev. Phil Gotsch
3/14/2014 11:18:31 am
The question of who "owns" history -- and its interpretation -- is THE question under discussion …
3/14/2014 01:09:59 pm
No, Phil. The question under discussion is under what circumstances, and by what method, fringe ideas should be introduced into a discussion that heretofore has had the legitimacy of empirically structured enquiry leading to logical conclusions. To put it another way, what requirements does the fringe historian have to meet in order to be allowed into the discussion in the first place?
Rev. Phil Gotsch
3/14/2014 03:27:33 pm
"Uncle Ron" --
3/14/2014 01:29:58 pm
3/14/2014 01:32:05 pm
I've never had any contact with him period so far as I can recall.
3/14/2014 02:21:04 pm
"[S]he promised that the program would conclude that the rock was a Cherokee or pre-Cherokee artifact, though only after examining “other theories.”
3/14/2014 04:29:47 pm
Considering the dustup with "The Spearhead Conspiracy" episode, and the claims made by past guests (Scott Dawson, Joe Rose, etc.), I wonder if the Committee Films' production methods are coming back to bite them. It also makes me wonder if word of mouth may have something to do with this latest development.
3/15/2014 12:58:00 am
I think Committee films production style is coming back to haunt them. I do however think it can change all that has to happen is Wolter to express that he thinks that should happen. The Finding Bigfoot cast did so with Ping Pong productions and the producers apologized for what they were doing and change their tactics to something the cast was comfortable with.
Michael C. Dunn
3/14/2014 05:51:55 pm
It would be hard to get a whole program out of it without lots of fanciful stuff. A few years ago we visited Judaculla Rock, which is hard to find even with GPS. My then-12 year old daughter said, "We drove all this way just to see a ROCK? So I guess she won't be watching.
3/15/2014 02:59:29 am
Another one, AU and the Holly Grail in Maine: http://bangordailynews.com/2014/03/14/news/midcoast/the-holy-grail-in-maine-history-channel-researchers-theory-touches-off-fresh-debate-about-phippsburg-artifacts/
3/15/2014 03:51:06 am
Thanks for the very fresh link!
3/16/2014 10:13:47 am
I enjoyed that the coordinator of NEARA and a skeptic is named Roslyn...
3/15/2014 05:07:40 am
It's public land, they have the right to shoot there as long as they don't interfere with any tourists. This idea that only the right folks should determine access to land the taxpayer has paid for is ridiculous. What's next? To ask ones intent of their views of a site before we allow them to visit it? Does one get asked their views on Custer at the little big horn? Sure AE is probably going to have an alternative take, but even views that you know are wrong have the right to be heard, liberty isn't always perfect but I'll take it over having the experts determine what we can hear or say or film.
3/15/2014 05:29:02 am
Here is a link to the Bureau of Land Management's requirements to film of public land for commercial purposes
3/15/2014 07:26:56 am
I do not think they should be denied permission to film, but I do think it is good that there is some public rebuttal (outside of this blog and the unofficial AU FB page) of the claims the show makes. Hopefully more newspapers will cover the show when it comes to their areas, and they can provide more (and more accurate) perspectives than those presented on AU.
"Awes told the Sylva Herald that the county had no reason to worry about the show’s depiction of Judaculla Rock, and she promised that the program would conclude that the rock was a Cherokee or pre-Cherokee artifact, though only after examining “other theories.”
3/15/2014 09:12:54 am
Ashcraft butted in, Gunn, because he claimed the show lied to him and manipulated him during the interview process. He didn't do it just for the fun of it.
3/15/2014 09:55:40 am
I kind of thought, what with a park in your neck of the woods displaying "information which is blatantly, historically false", you would be happy that Ashcraft would try to protect a sacred site. The fact he refused to be coached into supporting alternative ideas that could damage the image of Judaculla Rock impresses me.
3/15/2014 02:39:18 pm
Please don't feed the trolls!
3/16/2014 05:31:12 am
I will feed you, nevertheless, Zookeeper, mainly because you seem to be a bad zookeeper, by negative design.
3/16/2014 11:39:48 am
This is where we get into dangerous territory. According to Ashcraft, the producers wanted him to support the ideology they wanted to present on AU, which conflicted with his responsibility to the truth. In exercising his responsibility to the park and preventing any damage to Judaculla Rock in the public's eye, he's petitioning for disapproval of any filming.
3/17/2014 05:27:02 am
Yes, we are talking about "responsibility to the truth." But Only Me, comes now the inevitable question "what is truth?"
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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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