J. Hutton Pulitzer: "Failed Blogger" Jason Colavito Wrong to Criticize Claims of Europeans in Medieval Arizona
This week J. Hutton Pulitzer and Scott Wolter released their next commentary track on the 2012-2013 season of America Unearthed. It is the second in their series and the latest release from the pair’s new XpLrR partnership. It was, of course, more of the same conspiracy mongering, but Pulitzer’s Trumpian levels of blowhard ignorance make me feel embarrassed for Scott Wolter, and that takes some doing. This week’s commentary track covers S01E02 “Medieval Desert Mystery,” which I reviewed in 2012.
Pulitzer begins the latest podcast with a rant about how archaeologists aren’t really academically qualified to study the past because they have “a humanities degree,” which he says qualifies a person to become an archaeologist, an anthropologist, a pastor, a poet, a writer, etc. “Humanities degrees a lot of time aren’t subject to the scientific method,” Pulitzer said. I am not sure he understands how degrees work. At most schools, a bachelor’s degree contains a major, and these are not interchangeable. Some liberal arts colleges do not offer majors, and others don’t list them on their degrees but rather in their transcripts. However, regardless, (a) a major in archaeology is not the same as a major in poetry, and (b) a bachelor’s degree is not the same as a master’s or Ph.D., which are much more specific in their focus.
Regular readers will remember that the second episode of America Unearthed had Wolter examine a rock carved with runes in Arizona that allegedly was the grave marker for “Rough” Hurech, a fictional British person for whom the United Kingdom has no record. Despite confirmation from the relevant U.K. government offices that the show lied about there being records of Hurech, and despite expert analysis that the runes were incoherent fakes, and despite the confession of the hoaxer who carved them, Wolter maintains that “facts are facts” and the stone is legitimately medieval.
Wolter and Pulitzer commiserate over their mutual hatred of academics and their close-minded refusal to accept their claims. Pulitzer made a weird claim that when confronted with twenty confusing symbols, experts must concede that ambiguous “gibberish” (his words) could be real ancient writing because if only twelve of twenty symbols carved on a wall make sense, it’s unfair to call the whole inscription a fake.
Wolter is also upset that he has been called racist, and he says “this is one of their techniques” that academics and skeptics use to distract audiences from the “facts.” Pulitzer denies that racism is a real social problem, claiming it is “an academic word” used to make people “shut up.” Wolter, taking a page from Donald Trump, threatens violence against anyone who calls him racist. “The next person who calls me racist to my face, I’m not going to like what happens.”
Beyond this, Wolter also claims that “a woman” has driven a wedge between him and Henrik Williams, the runic scholar, arguing that personal disputes have prevented Williams from viewing Wolter’s claims objectively. Williams reviewed the “Rough Hurech” stone and determined that the inscription was modern, and he produced a paper about it. Wolter claims that “some debunker site” (that’s me!) “sprang” this on him unfairly and that “they wrote a blog saying what an idiot I am.” Pulitzer calls me “a failing blogger who writes horror fiction” and can’t correctly identify runes. I am not now nor have I ever claimed to be someone who can read runes. He specifically criticizes me for saying the runes looked like Latin letters. He’s making false claims about these sentences:
I’m not a runic expert, so I can’t read the text; nevertheless, at first glance the letters looked more like stylized Latin letters than the Northern European runic alphabets of Scandinavia (derived from Old Italic) I had seen before. This is because they are meant to be Anglo-Saxon runes, which look much more like Latin letters.
While Pulitzer rants about my review, Wolter chooses to consider research to be a personal affront to him, and he also chooses to conflate comments left on a blog post by readers with my own words. The article was not “sprung” on Wolter by me. It was reported, in Swedish, by Swedish Public Television, and Williams’ paper was published on the Uppsala University website in English before I ever wrote about it.
Wolter makes excuses for himself, claiming that he had nothing to do with the translation that America Unearthed commissioned from Mike Carr (Wolter says he does not know who translated the stone) but reiterating that the show “found” “Rough” Hurech in British records. I showed that the British have no such records through the expedience of simply asking for the records America Unearthed used. There were none.
[Update: Henrik Williams informs me that records for a Peter de Hurech of 1200 do exist, though he was never named “Rough.” The 1984 edition of the A History of the County of Stafford lists him as a tenant of Philip de Kniver from the year 1200, as known from a deed of 1377, and suggests he might have been the Peter of Whittington active in the 1180s. According to the 1377 deed, he held the manor of Whittington during his life and passed it on to his heirs, who lived their until the 1500s, so it is entirely unlikely that he traveled to Arizona and died there in 1200. Now why was it that no one from America Unearthed knew where they supposedly got that information?]
“I stand behind the research we did,” Wolter said.
Pulitzer read my review of America Unearthed S01E02 but seems to have not understood it. He alleges that I tried to “prove” that the rune stone is “not old” because the site had been visited and documented in the 1980s. “Does that make this site not old?” he asks. Pulitzer asks whether the 1984 archaeological survey could have missed the stone. “And that’s what they use to say this is certainly a modern forgery, and to me that’s highly deceptive.” One explanation, and the one Williams found to be correct, is that they were carved after the 1980s. The lack of documentation for the runes in the 1980s doesn’t prove that they weren’t there, but it is suggestive. Pulitzer says that merely “documenting” the cave isn’t the same as having a full television crew there to videotape the damage that relic hunters did in digging up the site to reveal runes.
In my review I said that the lack of documentation was “almost certainly” proof they weren’t there—but not on my own accord! I cited that to archaeologist Steve Ross, who actually said this in the episode. In fact, Ross also disagreed with Wolter’s assessment, repeated here, that the rock was buried in 1984 and therefore invisible. Wolter and Pulitzer are mad at me for paraphrasing the actual episode in a review of it. The fault there lies with the producers, not with me, for allowing a non-fringe opinion to leak through.
“It’s like logic doesn’t matter,” Pulitzer said of the “later analysis” of the episode. Given that this later analysis is me and the Archaeological Fantasies blog, it’s not hard to figure out whom he’s talking about.
Running out of material to discuss about the episode, Pulitzer moves on to a different subject, arguing that archaeologists are trying to hide the truth by hiding evidence of diffusion under the category of “foreign goods” found in sites. Pulitzer says that the phrase is used by archaeologists to hide materials for which “there is no logical explanation.” I have no idea what he means about “foreign goods,” which generally refers to objects and materials not obtained in the local area.
Pulitzer also feels that carbon dating is unfair. “It’s probably not a valid way” to date a site, he said, because wood isn’t the same as stone. Clearly, Pulitzer doesn’t understand that archaeologists know that carbon dating can’t date stone directly. That’s why they tend to date organic material found beneath stone constructions, under the logic that newer material is unlikely to have been introduced underneath a preexisting foundation. Pulitzer introduces this argument because he wants to deny that the ancestral Puebloan peoples (Anasazi) lived when archaeologists said they do. Similarly, he dismisses dendrochronology as “counting the tree rings” without understanding anything about how those rings are fitted into a chronology based on patterns of wide and thin rings related to annual weather. For him it’s voodoo magic and something to scoff at as a humorous attempt to deny prehistoric European visitation. (Wolter, however, notes that it is a “scientific method.”)
Pulitzer says that archaeologists don’t want to admit that “Tucsonian white” (?) pottery dates to 800 CE because it would prove that Europeans colonized Arizona. “They’re basing it all on the Columbus myth!” he fumes, failing to recognize that no one has believed in “Columbus-first” since the 1830s.
Pulitzer says that “Tucsonian white” pottery—which I am not able to identify—was carbon dated to 800 CE but reassigned to 1300 CE because of Columbus, which makes no sense to me logically. Is he referring to black-on-white pottery? Is he talking about the correction of radiocarbon dates?
Wolter then devotes part of the podcast to blasting the Smithsonian Institution for refusing to accept the Bat Creek Stone, and he rehearses various fringe history anti-Smithsonian conspiracies. He becomes quite angry: “This is the biggest fraud I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said, his voice becoming harsh. He starts to grow louder and angrier, sounding Trumpian in denunciation of “this corrupted attitude we have in archaeology today. It’s criminal in my opinion.”
Pulitzer next introduces a conspiracy theory by which he argues that murex (sea snail) shells used for making purple dye among the Phoenicians were found in Arizona mounds. He alleges that the Phoenicians brought the murex to Arizona and archaeologists are trying to hide it. He did not provide any references to this, and I was unable to find information, even among the fringe, of murex in Arizona. I can’t identify the origin of his claim, and Wolter, learning of it just now, declares it “evidence” of archaeological suppression. Pulitzer also claims that “ivory artifacts” have been uncovered in America, though he doesn’t say where. Ivory artifacts from Clovis-era sites (mammoth tusks) have been uncovered, and are widely reported. I think, though, he is referring to Victorian era reports like this one.
After this, Pulitzer returns to me again, saying that “some sci-fi writer out in the boondocks” is calling Wolter “racist” while I am in fact the actual racist for denying white people their accomplishments in colonizing America before Columbus. “No, this is your history!” Pulitzer says to his audience, assuming that they identify with the “your” in that sentence—seeing themselves as the Europeans making America great again. Wolter agrees that archaeologists are offensive to Native Americans by “telling them what their history is.” This is an ongoing conversation in archaeology, and a source of tension between scholars and native peoples who wish to control their own cultural heritage, but often do so in ways that reinforce traditional but not objectively true views. I couldn’t possibly do justice to the length conversation about cultural sensitivity and accommodation that you can find in the academic literature, and the arguments for and against challenging traditional narratives. Pulitzer, who knows nothing of this literature, says that modern scholars are worse than the Victorians because the Victorians “may have been racist, but at least they were intellectually honest most of the time.”
Honest racism. Now that’s a scientific standard Pulitzer can get behind!
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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