Is the Loch Ness monster a marketing hoax? That’s the claim from University of Bristol emeritus professor Gareth Williams in a new book set to be released next week. According to Paul Seaburn of Mysterious Universe, Williams believes that the proof can be found in a 1950 novel by D. G. Gerahty called Marise, written under the pen name Stephen Lister. In 1980 Gerahty confirmed that he was recounting parts of his own autobiography when he wrote that he had been part of a 1930s marketing campaign to invent the Loch Ness monster as a way to increase tourism for local hotels.
The story has been a standard feature of accounts of Loch Ness since at least 1984 (in Henry Bauer’s Enigma of Loch Ness), but I am interested in Seaburn’s attempt to refute the suggestion by an appeal to ancient texts, citing the Life of St. Columba as proof that the monster had been present since at least the sixth century, when Columba battled the creature: “Should we believe an ad man and doubt a saint?” Seaburn asks. Well, there are three issues to deal with: First, the Columba story is quite clearly mythical, parallel to dozens of other serpent-slaying saint stories. Second, the Columba story takes place in the River Ness, not the Loch, and strictly speaking does not confirm anything about a lake monster. Third, in Marise, Gerahty claims that he helped the monster be “reborn,” suggesting that he concocted the creature from St. Columba’s account and more recent events (Williams cites Ogopogo as one inspiration).
Meanwhile, over at Ancient Code, Ivan Petricevic is recycling another moldy old claim that has gone viral on Facebook as a result of his composting efforts. In his article, Petricevic claims that an ancient hominid skull and the skull of an auroch both feature small round holes that could only have been made by bullets. He recycled much of the material in this article from pieces that ran in the Inquistr in May, on Message to Eagle last December, and in Ancient Origins in August 2014. These, in turn, were repeating claims made by David Childress in Technology of the Gods (2000), recycling still earlier material from his Lost Cities & Ancient Mysteries of Africa (1989), both drawing on even earlier ancient mysteries books, specifically Rene Noorbergen’s Secrets of the Lost Races (1982). Noorbergen had claimed that the two skulls’ holes could only have been made by bullets, discounting spears and other weapons. The claim, in turn, came to Noorbergen from even earlier ancient mysteries books like Duncan Lunan’s Man and the Stars (1974), which in turn copied the claim from pp. 43-44 of Andrew Tomas’s We Are Not the First: Riddles of Ancient Science (1971). His specific phrasing—about the lack of “radial lines” around the hole indicating it was not a spear puncture—was repeated verbatim down to the present by authors who know progressively less.
As Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews explained on Bad Archaeology in 2008, Noorbergen was wrong, and all these writers keep repeating and repeating the same lies without verifying the claims. Specifically, the so-called “bullet” hole to the head somehow failed to kill the hominid in question, despite Noorbergen’s claim that the entire skull had been blown out from the inside, which is an exaggeration of Tomas’s original claim that the right side was “shattered” similar to the way a bullet wound shatters skulls. Tomas mistook postmortem damage for injury at the time of death. The skull in fact shows evidence of healing around the hole, indicating that the bone had been damaged by an abscess or other pathology of the soft tissue above it, and later healed.
Similarly, the auroch’s wound wasn’t fatal, despite a bullet supposedly striking right between its eyes in the middle of the forehead. I remember once hearing that the wound was thought to be the result of a stone hurled by slingshot, though I can’t confirm that. The claim that it’s a bullet hole comes again from Andrew Tomas, who followed the hominid skull claim with the auroch one in two successive paragraphs of his We Are Not the First.
Tomas makes no attempt to provide evidence for his claims, and in fact he merely suggests that each round opening “looks very much like” a bullet hole, with no effort to prove the point. He provides no sources, and so far as I can tell the observation is original to him.
So, in short, Andrew Tomas made some unsupported claims in 1971, and they have been repeated uncritically and often verbatim ever since.
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.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter, The Skeptical Xenoarchaeologist, for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.