I Talk Nephilim with Sharon Hill; Plus: The Radiocarbon Mysteries of Gunung Padang and My Adventure with a Cheap Chinese Watch
After a long holiday weekend, I don’t really feel up to doing any in-depth investigation today. So instead, please enjoy an interview I recorded with the always interesting Sharon Hill for her 15 Credibility Street podcast. We discussed the Watchers and the Nephilim, along with the long shadow they cast over fringe history claims, from lost civilizations to pyramid mysteries to the quest for giant human remains.
I also want to say a quick word about Rebecca Bradley’s fascinating series of blog posts on the archaeology of Gunung Padang, the megalithic Indonesian site that seismologist Danny Hilman Natawidjaja, ex-Nazi leader and current Atlantis advocate Frank Joseph, and lost civilization advocate Graham Hancock allege is 20,000 or so years old. Bradley expertly dissects Natawidjaja’s claims, showing that advocates’ geological claims are ill-founded and the so-called pyramid is likely a natural hill topped with a much more recent human building. In her latest post, Bradley explains how Hancock has exaggerated the radiocarbon data, which Natawidjaja seems to have purposely accepted at face value rather than critically analyze it. You’ll have to read Bradley’s post for a breakdown of why the dates are “no more than suggestive” and why the supposed “mortar” holding the “pyramid” together is actually natural, but the best part is the last one: A supposed Ice Age artifact uncovered within the pyramid, at a depth of 11 meters – the depth that Natawidjaja claims goes back to nearly 12,000 BCE, though he revised his estimate of the object’s age to 5200 BCE – is not a ritual disc but a Dutch East Indies-issued coin, minted sometime between 1914 and 1945. “Its presence in deposits which, according to Natawidjaja and Co, are 7000+ years old,” Bradley writes, “strongly suggests that something is rotten in the state of Gunung Padang’s radiocarbon dates.”
So, to finish up today, I’d like to talk about my new wristwatch, just because.
Nowadays, almost everyone has a cellphone that tells the time. As a result, wristwatches have become fashion accessories more than necessities, but I still prefer to glance at my watch rather than fish the phone out of my pocket to check the time. That said, I didn’t really think much of watches for most of my life. When I was a kid, I had inexpensive quartz watches that would last, in general, about 1-2 years before dying. In high school, I got the wristwatch I wore most of my life, a Nautica. But after seventeen years, I got tired of it (and since watches have grown so much bigger, it stated to get mistaken for a woman’s watch), and it needs both a new strap and battery, which is a big investment in a watch that only cost $50 to begin with. With all the batteries it has eaten over the years, I’ve spent I’ve spent double the watch’s value on batteries, and double again on straps. It’s economically silly.
So, in 2012 I “invested” money in a “luxury” wristwatch, a Lucien Piccard (no, not an original from the 1920s), which I got at what the retailer swore was a huge discount. It was just about the usual price for such a watch. It lasted four years, but after its second battery change, it stopped keeping time and would gain or lose half an hour a day, and the date would change irregularly. I didn’t want to waste a ton on another expensive watch just for wearing around the house or out running errands. I have a mechanical dress watch and a 1913 pocket watch that keeps perfect time, but I wanted something cheap, yet still nice looking, that I did not need to worry about breaking, losing, or having stolen. If I had infinite money, I’d have a box of watches for different occasions and in different colors. I do not have infinite money. My father, antique dealer, gave me a couple of midcentury stainless steel mechanical watches. They were aesthetically beautiful, but one ran only two weeks before seizing up, and the other will only run when I am not wearing it. On my wrist, it stops dead. Neither is valuable enough to spend the money to have repaired or rebuilt.
After seeing the ridiculous prices for most “quality” new watches, even on the low end, I decided to be adventurous, so I went to eBay and ordered a $12 Chinese “luxury” mechanical watch. I bought a rose-gold (colored) M. G. Orkina skeleton watch, and when it arrived, I was pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t expecting much, but it shockingly appeared exactly like the glamor photos of it, and it is strikingly beautiful. I actually have had people stop me to ask about it. It also has run well for nearly two weeks. On the other hand, it has flaws. The “genuine leather” strap is clearly a lie. The face is about three degrees off correct alignment. The rose gold accents don’t include the numbers on the dial, the hands, or the gears, which are regular gold color. Oddly, this last fact actually works to its benefit because the face plate is rose gold, and the two-tone colors blend nicely. I am confident that this is an accident. The watch also loses about 30 seconds per day, which I am told is typical for a standard Chinese movement, but noticeably worse than most others.
I’m getting to why I’m telling you this.
I was curious if other owners of the watch found that it kept running for a decent amount of time. In reading reviews on Amazon.com and elsewhere, I found that I seem to have lucked out in getting a decent version of the watch. Older models sold a few years ago were cruder (to judge by the photos), broke down quickly, and often had silver-colored gears (because the standard movements were whatever color the bulk order provided), which must have made them quite ugly. Older photos differ from my version, suggesting an increase (probably a small one) in quality. But after the technical issues about crappy cheap watches that arrived broken or died young, the most frequent complaints were utterly bizarre, with the most frequent being this: that the Roman numeral used for 4 was IIII instead of IV. Several people complaining about this for this watch and other similar models claimed to have returned watches for this reason, assuming it is a factory defect! Are we so far removed from history that few remember that analog clocks always used IIII instead of IV?
This is because they follow traditions from before Roman numerals were codified in modern times. In the past, Roman numerals could be expressed in any form that got the job done, but modern people didn’t like that looseness and codified them relatively recently. If you read, for example, old books or look at old cornerstones, you’ll find more than a few that give the century marker for the 1900s as MDCCCC instead of MCM. There are many myths about the use of IIII on clocks, and Mental Floss collects them here.
What I can’t figure, though, is why the Chinese companies would purposely make watches that are beautiful on the outside but crappy inside. I get that there is a market for disposable junk, the watch equivalent of costume jewelry. I also understand (but not endorse) that Western companies seem to all informally agree to purposely make affordable watches uglier than expensive ones, even though in many cases the design not correlated to cost, as though to encourage customers to spend more than they can afford. But even a rock bottom quartz drugstore watch will keep time for a few years. The Chinese clearly could make a beautiful watch that lasts for only a few dollars more, and I’d gladly pay $20-$25 for one that would last a few years and look good. Surely there must be style-conscious customers between “extreme cheapskate” and “conspicuous consumption” that are worth catering to, thus undercutting Western watches (many of which are made from Chinese parts) by making stylish ones affordable. If you go up to the $50 range, watch experts who care much more than I do write that the Chinese watches are good enough to last 2-3 years, but at that price, you might as well get one from America, Japan, or Europe, with a warranty they will actually honor, and a better than average chance of lasting 5 years or more.
Oh, well. Maybe the Orkina watch will turn out to be as good as it is pretty. But somehow I doubt it. At any rate, it was only $12, including shipping, so whaht the heck, right?
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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