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 6 and 7.
Chapter 6 begins with a non sequitur from editor Frank Joseph, who argues that the late David Allen Deal (who died in 2008) was eminently qualified to determine the authenticity of alleged prehistoric stone and clay inscriptions because he had previously studied how Native American cultures used astrology. No, I don’t understand the connection either.
Deal begins by disparaging the nineteenth-century director of the Smithsonian’s Bureau of Ethnology, John Wesley Powell, whom Deal accuses of being “dictatorial” and establishing a “hard-core line” from which no academic “ever wavers,” namely, that there were no pre-Columbian incursions into North America from Europe or the Near East. Powell, it goes without saying, never established a dictum that all must follow. He commissioned Cyrus Thomas to explore America’s ancient mounds to settle the question of their construction. Thomas found no evidence in any mound of anything other than Native American artifacts, and correctly concluded that ancient Native Americans built the mounds. This is not the same as dictating a dogma that all must follow—or what? The Smithsonian Bureau of Ethnology does not have the statutory power to punish anyone, and one of the Smithsonian’s current employees, Dennis J. Stanford, openly advocates ancient European origins for North American Paleoindian technology.
Deal is so firmly focused on proving alternative claims true that he refuses to accept even that the Cardiff Giant was a hoax. This leads to the focus of his article, and attempt to prove that a series of fired clay tablets from Michigan, the Soper-Savage collection—found between 1890 and 1911—are genuine relics of prehistoric European and Near Eastern colonists. These stones are drawn in no historically recognized style but are rather a pastiche of ancient art styles as known in the nineteenth century, with the rather florid embellishments of the Victorian era married to faces drawn in a severe style common in nineteenth century line art. Others are crude cartoons that would embarrass a modestly talented child. They just look fake, and every archaeologist who has examined them in modern times recognizes them as fakes. Perhaps most telling, the “discoverer” of the tablets, James Scotford, also offered for sale “genuine” copies of Noah’s diary. His neighbor and his stepdaughter both testified that he had faked them all. Even the Mormons—no fans of conventional archaeology—agreed the artifacts were fake.
But no matter. Deal had no interest in providing real evidence for the tablets’ age. Instead, he wants to talk about his hatred of archaeologists and their idea, “ideas that have become coagulated, solidified, and found so prevalent to this very day in our schools of higher indoctrination.” Deal believes that archaeologists are trained to separate Old and New World concepts and thus are not qualified to evaluate Old World influence in the New. An untrained artist like Deal, however, is uniquely qualified to understand complex subjects that mere archaeologists can never hope to grasp.
Deal brings up dozens of alleged discoveries of cuneiform, hieroglyphic, and Hebrew inscriptions claimed in the nineteenth century as genuinely old. All of these have been determined to be fakes (and it is telling that no such inscriptions have ever emerged by chance from modern excavations or even construction digging since the Hebrew American myth fell out of fashion after 1911). He passes over each so quickly that no evidence is asserted for their authenticity beyond Deal’s hatred of archaeology. When confronted with the fact that many of the inscriptions are unrecognized, ersatz copies of ancient alphabets as if written by a modern person who did not understand them, Deal instead determines that they are in fact American adaptations of Old World scripts which he (and he alone) has deciphered! Better yet: these alphabets were “never seen before or since.” I’d say that’s pretty good evidence that it’s a fake, but Deal believes in the miraculous survival of one and only one example of each of the various adapted alphabets. Good for him. But it makes it hard to decipher an alphabet based on only one example. What do you use for a control?
He concludes that the Michigan tablets show Coptic religious doctrine, including coequal Christ and Satan as joint sons of Yahweh, and therefore could not have been faked by Trinitarian American Christians. He provides no evidence to demonstrate this in the tablets other than his word that he has seen what he wished to see in them. In my review of the Soper-Savage Collection tablets available online, I could not find this religious doctrine depicted unambiguously.
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Chapter 7, again by Frank Joseph, is rather sedate by the standards so far established. Joseph reports first on a pair of iron harpoons supposedly made by the Hanseatic League and found in North Dakota in the 1930s. I can’t evaluate this claim since Joseph provides no information to substantiate it, and there is no information readily available in the literature about his alleged discovery, or the discoverer, a Henry Nathan Madenwaldt, for whom no records seem to exist. This leads me to think something has been left out of the story.
From there Joseph asks us to believe the stacked stones in Canada are remnants of Osiris worship because the roughly T-shaped stones supposedly look something like an ankh to him. These stones are well-known to archaeology and were built by the Inuit and their ancestors from Alaska to Greenland down to the present day. There are two types: the inuksuk, which were used as markers, and the inunnguaq, which represent the ancestors or divinities—hence the T-shape. (View a bunch of these sculptures here.) ONE IS EVEN ON THE FLAG OF NUNAVUT. Joseph discounts this because some modern Inuit did not recognize one particular one in northern Quebec, nicknamed Thor’s Hammer, as Inuit work. That may be true, but the Arctic peoples have undergone severe population disruption and replacement many times, and cultural continuity cannot be guaranteed in any one spot. Not all were built by Inuit; some were built by other native peoples of the Arctic. Even the Greeks failed to recognize their Mycenaean ancestors’ achievements as Greek—they thought the Cyclopes built their cities.
Finally, Joseph asks us to believe that the serpent effigy mound found in Ontario is a Maya site on the basis of the Maya never built serpent shaped earthworks. There, I said it. Why would the Maya travel all the way to Canada to build something they never built back home but somehow failed to leave a single Maya artifact or inscription? He then offers numerological mumbo jumbo about how the eight small mounds around the biggest one represent death because eight equals death due to “the eight hours we sleep each night.” Do I even have to point out that the current system of hours belongs to Western culture (specifically Greek and Roman) and was not part of Native American life—or even that of the Biblical Hebrews? Or that until the invention of modern clocks, hours had different lengths depending on the season? The sun dial, which measured time before clocks, had longer hours in summer and shorter in winter. Oh, and just so you know, before the invention of modern clocks, the day had twelve hours, varying in length by season, while the night had no hours at all. The night was divided into four watches, again varying by season. This is why our clocks have two twelve-hour periods instead of one twenty-four hour period: the nighttime hours were added later, by the Church, after the original clock face (the sun dial) had already been long established.
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Well, that was fun. It seems we’re up to 0-7 on “compelling evidence of ancient immigrants.” It’s possible something in these chapters might have been evidence of ancient immigrants, but the two authors provide so little support that there is no way to find their claims “compelling,” especially when it is so easy to find holes in their logic.
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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