For the next few weeks, I’ll be reviewing chapters from Frank Joseph’s new alternative history anthology, Lost Worlds of Ancient America (New Page Books, 2012). This is my review of Chapters 31 through 35.
First up is Chapter 31, Frank Joseph’s article about aircraft in the Andes, based on the claim that the Nazca Lines can only be seen from the air. So can a football gridiron, but that’s hardly its purpose. Think about this: Catholic churches are traditionally in the shape of a cross. Does this mean that medieval people had airplanes to view the crosses from the sky? No, it does not. Symbolic constructions do not need to be viewed to be useful. Thus, the speculation about whether the Nasca people (the “s” spelling is used for the people, the “z” for the place) had hot air balloons is irrelevant until an actual hot air balloon or its remains can be found at a Nasca site. And that hasn’t happened yet.
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Chapter 32 gives us David D. Cain’s discussion of a crushed gravel and shell road tamped into the earth in West Virginia. Conveniently, this “road” no longer exists and can’t be viewed to determine anything about it. Instead, we have old travelers’ reports from the nineteenth century that are none too clear about whether the site was manmade or natural. The description Cain gives of a long seam of small broken stones glued together with a thick mortar sounds like a natural deposit of sedimentary rock. Even if there was a manmade road in that location, I fail to see how it is proof of a lost race or giants, as Cain claims. I’m fairly certain Native Americans were capable of stomping on crushed rocks to push them into clay if that’s what they really wanted to do. Phoenicians and giants need not apply.
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Chapter 33 gives us an engineer’s perspective on why the Inca were “more advanced than imagined,” according to Arlan Andrews. His evidence is the Sayhuite Monolith, a large Inca stone covered in zoomorphic carvings. He interprets this as a scale model for a hydraulic pump system used in Inca irrigation. While the extreme claim about it being a hydraulic pump is not supported by archaeology, Andrews might actually be right about the reason traces of mercury were found on the stone. It may well have once been flooded with mercury to make little rivers. According to John E. Staller’s Pre-Columbian Landscapes of Creation and Origin (2008), the boulder was designed to reflect the symbolic “channeling of fluids” through a landscape representing the Inca world. The mercury, if used, would have been the “male generating principle”—i.e., semen—flowing through the landscape. (The Chinese used mercury for model rivers as well.) Weird, but plausible enough to require Andrews to present an actual Inca hydraulic pump to make his case—and none exists.
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Chapter 34 goes out on a ridiculous limb. Larry Brian Radca, a broadcast engineer who intuited “astronomical revelations on 666” tries to make the case for ancient knowledge of electricity by claiming without proof that the Denderah carvings of lotus buds are light bulbs (a theory long debunked) and that some elaborate lamps on the Mount of Olives were electric rather than merely the result of fire and mirrors. His case rests on the work of ancient astronaut theorist Robert Charroux, who reported the existence of electric lamps in southern Brazil on the authority of Barco Centenera, an early Spanish traveler. Charroux and Radca leave out the fact that Centenera’s work is A FICTIONAL POEM by a priest whose stated intent was to show the presence of the Lord in America. The poem, La Argentina, contains valuable descriptions of early Spanish colonial practice but cannot be taken as entirely faithful to facts. The passage in question, in Canto V (lines 58ff), states that the poet saw a twenty-five foot high column, atop which stood “a great silver moon / That shone across the lagoon.” (De plata estaba puesta una gran luna / Que en toda la laguna relucía.) (5.68-9) This is the entirety of the proof of what Charroux claimed in Forgotten Worlds was “a kind of large, non-flaming light in good working order. It was certainly not powered by batteries, but it gave light uninterruptedly and there is reason to believe that the source of the light was chemical and electrical.” Did you get all that from Centenera’s poetic line-and-a-half? Charroux could because the poem appears never to have been translated from Spanish, making it easy to say whatever he wanted to about it.
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We conclude this section with another Frank Joseph chapter, Chapter 35, on the stone spheres of Costa Rica. Joseph claims that they are the result of attempts to harness piezoelectricity from rock. This is rather silly since there isn’t a single surviving piece of equipment that would have run on electricity found anywhere in prehistoric Costa Rica. Joseph repeats false claims that the spheres are amazingly precise and nearly perfect in their rotundity. They are not. The claim arose from a misunderstanding of original reported measurements, which seemed accurate to three decimal places but were actually average measurements of the highly imperfect spheres; their original precision can’t be measured that accurately anyway since most are heavily eroded and/or damaged. And another claim bites the dust.
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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