Note: This article has been edited to correct the name of excavation expert Kevin Richeson.
You’ll recall that America Unearthed decamped to Rockwall, Texas to investigate a geological formation called a clastic dike that local residents have tried to represent as a prehistoric artificial wall since its discovery in the nineteenth century. Most recently, local businessmen have tried promoting the formation as the remains of the antediluvian civilization of the pre-Flood giants, a claim that even creationist geologists like John Morris have debunked as categorically untrue. (I have a fuller discussion of the history and geology of the formation here.)
Well, filming is apparently complete, and the Rockwall Herald-Banner is reporting on the production. It’s an enlightening and somewhat depressing article.
Staff writer Emma Mills made a few weird errors in the piece, for example misreporting the wall’s discovery date as 1952 instead of 1852, and it’s somewhat disconcerting that the newspaper ran a fluff piece providing no indication of the results of the investigation, with all parties involved apparently agreeing to hold off on revealing the “truth” until “November sweeps.” I did, however, enjoy the sly bit of commentary Mills inserted into the article, describing America Unearthed as a “documentary-style” program rather than a documentary, even if she got wrong the channel on which it airs (H2, not the History Channel, which changed its name to History years ago, anyway).
Here’s what happened:
…cast and crew of the national television show spent five days tunneling 45 feet down into the earth to uncover a piece of the massive limestone wall-like formation, whose origins have been debated since a group of settlers first discovered it in 1952 (sic).
Now let’s get into what we’ve learned from the article. First, let’s look at the words of Kevin Richeson, described as a local excavation expert:
We know that there are countless rumors surrounding this piece of history, and so our goal here was to bring in the most qualified experts possible and just present the straight scientific facts to the people [watching the show]. (brackets in original)
Ha! Doesn’t Richeson know that the H2 network considers America Unearthed to be “entertainment” and that “facts” take second position to ideology and cash? I know Steve St. Clair reads this blog, and if you’ve followed the comments on my last America Unearthed post, you’ll remember that St. Clair feels that such programs are not obliged to be truthful, nor should audiences expect truth from them. I’ll direct him to Richeson’s comments about what other people who appear on America Unearthed think is happening when they sign up to participate. At least one thinks he’s on there to “present the scientific facts” rather than the most profitable story!
Here’s another bizarre tidbit: The rock wall site is owned by Rob Cameron, who told the newspaper that he had to receive permission from the History Channel (I assume he means Committee Films) to allow guests onto his own land before the production team “had to” cover the site again. (I am not familiar with Texas excavation laws, so I do not know the rules for uncovering rocks in Rockwall.) Those must be some air-tight contracts the production uses. I can’t imagine signing away all rights to access my own land to preserve the secrecy of a digital-tier cable show.
Cameron threw a wrap party to celebrate filming and to give high-ranking dignitaries the chance to tour the wall site. Among the guests was 90-year-old Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX), the chairman emeritus of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology! (He currently serves on the committee as a regular member, but no longer chairs it.) It shouldn’t surprise me that a member of the science committee is touring an alleged Biblical “giant’s” fortress or outpost of Atlantis; it’s par for the course nowadays. On the plus side, less scrupulous advocates can now assert that there is a U.S. government conspiracy to suppress the truth since a “high ranking government official” visited the site and then it was immediately reburied—to keep the public out! But seriously, the attendance of Rep. Hall belies Wolter’s repeated claim that the U.S. government is working to suppress the truth and block him from conducting research.
Other guests included a number of local dignitaries, including the town’s mayor, David Sweet, and the district attorney, who identified the wall as the central point in forming identity of the town. Here’s what Sweet had to say, and I think it just about sums up the story of the rock wall:
One of the neat things about Rockwall is that, no matter what the truth is, whether it’s man-made or a natural occurrence, it’s always going to be a part of our history. Long after the experts have given us their definitive answers, I think people will continue to speculate and pass down the legends for generations to come.
Think about that: Even after there’s a “definitive” explanation (as though 100 years of geologists and even creationists studying it and declaring it natural wasn’t as close to definitive as science can get) they’ll keep right on making alternative claims. There’s a whiff of anti-elitism in Mayor Sweet’s words, the same distrust of science that led local businessmen to try (and fail) to rope creationists into validating the wall (and thus the town’s identity) when their hand-chosen geological experts failed to return the “right” result years ago. If you don’t like science, try creationism. When creationism failed, New Age believers turned in 2001 to a self-described “psychic” to “channel” information from the spirit realm about the wall and its relationship to Atlantis.
Since the late 1800s, Rockwall residents have been trucking in experts of all stripes with regularity to try to create a case for why their town should be a pre-Flood, pre-Columbian archaeological tourist destination, and to this day they’re still upset that science—and even the fake science of creationism!—fails to play along. Now, it’s Scott Wolter’s turn.
I can’t wait to see what he has to say; I sincerely hope that he’s able to recognize a clastic dike when he sees one.
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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