Monday Omnibus: Scott Wolter Is Clueless, L.A. Marzulli Wants an OBGYN, and Andy White Debunks Giants
I’m feeling a bit uninspired today, so I’m going to go over a few odd and ends that I found interesting and amusing over the last couple of days. First and foremost I want to follow up on Saturday’s episode of America Unearthed because Scott Wolter weighed in on it on his blog this morning and revealed that he still isn’t aware that the story of Captain Kidd’s secret numerical code and his treasure falling into the hands of John Jacob Astor is a nineteenth century hoax.
When it comes to Kidd's "treasure" it's impossible to know if he ever stashed any of it and if the note he passed on to his wife lead (sic) to anything tangible. I suspect it did and only she knows if the numbers in the note made sense…
It’s plain to see that Wolter isn’t aware that the numbers were created by Franklin Harvey Head in 1898 as part of his humorous hoax pamphlet Studies in Early American History: A Notable Lawsuit. It’s very hard not to conclude from this that Scott Wolter fails to do even elementary research on the subjects that he gives voice to as the face of America Unearthed. (He’s not a producer of the show, so in many episodes he is acting out the writers’ and producers’ script.)
To put it differently: It took me less than five minutes after hearing the episode topic to use Google to discover not just that the subject was a hoax but to find Head’s original text of the hoax. To remain ignorant of this months after the fact (the episode was filmed in September) heavily implies that Wolter rarely strays beyond what people he trusts tell him, even to do cursory background research. This does not help me to feel more confident in his judgments.
Also not helping: Wolter admits that travel writer William Scheller ended up on the show not because of any special knowledge of pirates (he has none) but because of his close connection to a show staffer:
Bill Scheller was another wonderful guest who also happens to be the father of the then fiancé of the "Kidd" episode writer, Nina Bouphasavanh. In November, we attended David and Nina's wedding and had a fantastic time along with Bill and the rest of the crew.
What a surprise! The writer, whose previous job was for the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods, put her future father-in-law in the show and seems to have scripted his lines. This, though, leads to another confusing problem: Scheller doesn’t seem to be a stupid man—he wrote 33 books that presumably required research, including Amazing Archaeologists and Their Finds (1994) and The World’s Greatest Explorers (1992). When he agreed to act out his future daughter-in-law’s script, did he purposely play dumb about Capt. Kidd’s fictional pirate code, or did he choose not to look into the story before passing it on to Wolter?
Bouphasavanh is an Emmy-winning former TV journalist (she worked here in Albany, New York for WTEN) who seems to have purposely decided to abandon journalistic ethics in service to Committee Films, or else to have revealed extreme incompetence as a researcher. Leaving out essential information is a major ethical breach. Disturbingly, she also used to provide media training to the Department of Homeland Security before moving on to America Unearthed.
L. A. Marzulli on Giants
After appearing on Search for the Lost Giants last week, Nephilim researched L. A. Marzulli posted on his blog that he found the show’s treatment of him to be fair and a beachhead for greater promotion of the Nephilim on cable television:
I thought the piece on the History Channel’s In search of the Lost Giants (sic), was fair and balanced. They did a good job and I got to talk about the theory of the Nephilim. It’s a beginning! Thank you History.
He also put out a call for an OBGYN to help him investigate what he heavily implies are human fetal remains: “We have an artifact that is being kept safe is cold storage. We need a forensic Pathologist to examine it. We are also in need of a OBGYN to examine it too.” While he never says that the item in question is remains, it is hard to think of what else would need cold storage and a pathologist to investigate it. It’s rather disturbing that Marzulli would call remains (whatever they are, human or animal) an “artifact” but also disturbing that he would be holding said remains in cold storage rather than turning them over to the authorities. If they are human remains (or even half-human angel people, as he hopes to find), this would be a crime. If he knows they are not human remains, then it seems he would be deceiving his readers.
Andy White on Giants
If’ you’ve been following archaeologist Andy White’s blog, you’ve seen that he has been doing some tremendous working peeling back the layers of myth encrusting gigantology. In his latest piece, White goes for the jugular, looking into the origin story told by gigantologist Jim Vieira of Search for the Lost Giants about why and how he got into gigantology. Vieira claims that he became interested after reading in the History of Deerfield, Massachusetts (1895) that among the Native American graves found in the town was a skeleton with a “head as big as a peck basket, with double teeth all round.” The discoverer estimated, based on its thigh bone, that the skeleton was eight feet tall.
White has done terrific work tracing the “double teeth” terminology and showing that in the nineteenth century it referred to molar teeth, not two rows of teeth, and that untrained observers routinely mistook worn front teeth for “double teeth.”
But frankly the much more interesting work he’s done has involved drilling down into the numbers to see how the size estimates for such “giant” skeletons came about. White has shown that most often the size of the skeleton was estimated from femur size (rather than measuring the entire disarticulated skeleton), but that the Victorians used inconsistent formulae for translating femur length into height.
In another post, White provides this chart showing how different formulae developed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries yield wildly different estimates for the height of a skeleton with a 20 inch femur:
The long and short of it is that early anthropologists tended to overestimate height based on femur length, and if we were to apply more modern measurement estimates, many of the “giants” would vanish before our eyes. I’m sure the occasional extra-tall outlier would still show up from time to time, but such work casts serious doubt on the amount of credence gigantologists or anyone else should place on height estimates derived from formulae rather than direct measurement of the entire skeleton.
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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