Editor's note: Following a complaint from Brien Foerster, this post has been edited to remove references to destructive removal of the stone fragments.
You will I trust recall that Brien Foerster, the fringe theorist, publicly stated that he had taken fragments of stones at Puma Punku in Bolivia for the purpose of having them tested at a laboratory here in the United States as part of an effort to prove that archaeologists have been lying about the age of the ancient site to cover up the involvement of space aliens, a lost civilization, or Bible giants. Foerster stated this on an online fundraising website where he requested that his supporters give him cash to pay for the testing.
At the time, I criticized Foerster for violating Bolivia’s cultural heritage laws since he provided no evidence that he had received permission to damage the ancient site or an export permit to remove artifacts from the country—something Bolivia doesn’t give to amateurs.
Now it turns out that the laboratory Foerster and his research partner, David Swenson, a retired biologist who believes Bigfoot is interbreeding with human women, wanted to test their artifacts refused their request, and this is almost certainly because they did not have the proper export permits and could not demonstrate that they had acquired the artifacts legally. But that’s not how Swenson saw it when he reported this on the project’s fundraising webpage.
It is with some sadness and some anger that the PRIME lab at Purdue informed me that they do not do samples like ours. I felt like I was talking to Jay Carney (Presidential spokesman) in that none of the answers I got rang true. After 6 months of discussion and leading me on, they pulled the plug. You know, scientists need to grow a pair! Fear of hurting their reputation for shaking up the established paradigm is no way to live.
Swenson immediately jumps to a conspiracy to explain why his and Foerster’s plans have been thwarted. Swenson assumes that the Purdue Rare Isotope Measurement (PRIME) Laboratory, in the university’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, is somehow in cahoots with archaeology to defend the “established paradigm.” This type of knee-jerk reaction is diagnostic of a conspiratorial mindset as defined by Michael Barkun, and is exactly what his Culture of Conspiracy framework would have predicted in the face of a challenge to deeply-held beliefs.
PRIME Lab is funded by the National Science Foundation and must comply with U.S. law regarding the testing of artifacts imported from abroad. U.S. law forbids the importation of antiquities without a permit, following international cultural heritage treaties. Foerster exported the artifacts from Peru, with which the U.S. has a bilateral treaty forbidding the importation of antiquities without a permit, and the State Department forbids the importation of material “stolen” (removed without permission) from a “monument” after the implementation of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act of 1983. Puma Punku is, of course, part of the Tiwanaku UNESCO World Heritage Site and subject to the restrictions of CPIA and other cultural patrimony laws.
Several years ago Bolivia, in fact, refused to renew Harvard University’s summer archaeological field school at the site because it allowed untrained students to excavate at the site. Bolivia now allows only certified archaeologists with documented funding to work at the site. Brien Foerster is neither of those things.
Swenson promised to seek “options” for alternative ways to test the sample. A portion of the smuggled artifact had already been examined by New Zealand geologist and engineer Chris Gulliver, who had no problem with examining illegally removed artifacts but could come to no conclusion about the same other than that the stones had been cut mechanically and had been buried in soil for a long time, according to an email posted on the fundraising page.
Foerster and Swenson follow in the footsteps of the Spanish conquistadors, who had trouble believing that Native people could have built Tiwanaku. Pedro Cieza de Leon, for example, wrote in his Chronicle 1.105: “For myself I fail to understand with what instruments or tools it can have been done; for it is very certain that before these great stones could be brought to perfection and left as we see them, the tools must have been much better than those now used by the Indians” (trans. Clements R. Markham). He goes on to say: “From this, and from the fact that they also speak of bearded men on the island of Titicaca, and of others who built the edifice of Vinaque, it may, perhaps, be inferred that, before the Yncas reigned, there was an intelligent race who came from some unknown part, and who did these things. Being few, and the natives many, they may all have been killed in the wars.”
This, of course, is the foundation for all that occurs now, but note that Cieza de Leon drew an inference—in fact, the natives told him they did not know who built Tiwakanu—and later writers like Erich von Däniken and Graham Hancock took his inference as fact and have developed a mythology of aliens or Caucasians who were the “real” builders of the site. Arthur Posnansky provided the final part of the claim—that the site is immeasurably old, based on his faulty assumption that the semi-subterranean temple was perfectly aligned to the sun as it appeared in 15,000 BCE. This final claim is the one Foerster and Swenson wanted to test, in order to suggest proof for the other claims.
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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