Let’s begin by stipulating something America Unearthed won’t tell you. The Tucson Artifacts discussed in “The Desert Cross” explicitly state in Latin and Hebrew that they were created by a mixture of Romans, Gauls, and Jews who came to early America and suffered a war with the Toltecs. The artifacts claim to have been deposited from 775 CE to 1000 CE by people who formed a colony called Calalus that lasted for several centuries before vanishing. You hear nothing of this on the show because this story, with its Jews, undermines the Christ-centric fairytale Scott Wolter wants to tell, a conspiracy-oriented fairytale that directly contradicts the artifacts themselves.
This episode didn’t play fair, and it ended up outright lying, even about its own lies, in pursuit of what I can only describe as a hidden agenda, one designed around Wolter’s apparent fixation on a Templar-Freemason conspiracy around the bloodline of Christ. (Yes, it’s the Da Vinci Code plot. Tune in next week for that episode.)
Did you know there really was a hidden culture of ancient Jews in the American Southwest? It’s true. They were not, however, the Mormon master race who first people America, nor the alleged Judeo-Roman hybrids of the Calalus literature. Instead, they were a group of conversos, Jews who converted to Christianity under the threat of expulsion from Spain but maintained Judaism in secret, under a veneer of Catholicism. Known as the crypto-Jews, a group left Spain for the New World, eventually settling in New Mexico, where they kept a vigil on Friday nights (the Jewish Sabbath) and abstained from eating pork. For five centuries these Latino crypto-Jews retained Judaic practices, and a few remaining crypto-Jews still do down to the present day, though many have lost most other traces of their ancestors’ Judaism. The story is fascinating, and it’s told in Stanley M. Horde’s To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico (2008).
This would have made an excellent episode of America Unearthed, looking for a real example of a “lost” culture that could be reconstructed only from the scant traces it left behind in the later practices of its successors. Its origins certainly predate the Roanoke colony that was the subject of an earlier episode, so it ought to fall under the show’s purview. But, sadly, the living people are Latino, so that’s not what we got this week. Instead, we’re treated to another “investigation” of how a group of supposedly lost white colonizers blazed a trail across America, left behind nothing except some highly dubious luxury goods, and vanished in large measure due to cultural contamination from the uncouth savages with whom they practiced miscegenation. (See also: Roanoke colony, Minnesota Vikings, Welsh Indians, Oklahoma Celts, New England Phoenicians, etc.) I don’t think anyone involved with this show is actually racist, but it’s hard to believe they could be blind to the clear implication of nearly every episode that advanced white culture inevitably succumbs to the savagery and sensuality of surrounding dark-skinned primitives. Heck, this week Wolter even blames swarthy Mideast Muslims for “forcing” the pure white people out of Europe! Does he even know the artifacts state that these Templar superheroes were largely Jews?
I don’t want to get political, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that this narrative has attracted such a large following (more than one million weekly viewers just for this show) in this particular time in United States history, when a particular demographic of white Americans is experiencing anxiety about the country’s multicultural future, when, in short measure, white Americans will become a plurality rather than an outright majority for the first time since the colonial era.
The episode opens in Tucson with a recreation of events from 1924, when a cache of “artifacts” were unearthed. This scene is oddly filmed from the artifacts’ point of view, with unnamed men uncovering, moving, recovering and staring at them in sepia-toned video, concluding with Scott Wolter opening a box in 2012 in his Minnesota lab (which could not possibly be the actual box from Arizona despite the implication since the artifacts are safely housed at the Arizona Historical Society) and looking dramatically into the box. Then we cut to the opening credits.
The show proper starts with a long tracking shot of the Arizona desert over which a graphic informs us that ritual objects and a lead cross were unearthed in 1924 on which was the date 800 AD. Here is the first omission: Another cross is actually dated 775 CE, but that one doesn’t conform to the narrative. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I’ve written about this before. I’ll be coming back to my thoughts on this as the show progresses. For now, the program is content to use a meaningless graphic saying, in scare quotes, that Christopher Columbus “discovered” American in 1492, implying this is a lie. Well, yes, it’s a lie in that the Vikings were in North America in 1000 and the Native Americans “discovered” America some 15,000 or more years ago. This does not, however, have any relationship to whether Romans were in Arizona in 800 CE. (I will be using the modern dating terminology of BCE and CE to talk about dates and the older AD system when speaking of the date on the cross itself.)
Scott Wolter is bringing his son with him to view the artifacts inscribed in very poor Latin, and Wolter calls this an “important” group of evidence—of what, I wonder? At the Arizona Historical Society, Wolter reviews some paperwork and photographs documenting the unearthing of various lead artifacts found by Charles Manier and Thomas Bent, and he meets with Chuck Bent, Thomas Bent’s grandson. Chuck suggests that there was a secret surrounding the artifacts and says that they were kept hidden in his grandfather’s house. Chuck says that Thomas doubted the explanation offered by “these academics” (as Wolter scoffs) that the crudely-formed swords were faked and planted in the ground as a hoax. Wolter is indignant that academics weren’t “all over” the artifacts, which bear no resemblance whatsoever to any medieval weaponry or symbolic ritual artifacts. They look like what they are: crude modern approximations of medieval material.
I suppose it goes without saying—not that Wolter would say it—that lead, being one of the heaviest elements, produces swords that weigh far too much for everyday use, nor is it common to find ritual artifacts made of lead in Europe. I’m not able to find any discussion of the use of lead for ritual objects, making swords, and military standards, which were almost always made of gold, silver, bronze, or iron. According to standard encyclopedias, medieval lead was used for cast objects (which the swords were not), small decorative badges for pilgrims (which these were not), and far after our period cast reliefs and coffins (which these were not). I can’t find anything about swords.
Wolter once again asserts that historians are unwilling to “rewrite history” to account for Wolter’s own discoveries. His head seems to grow larger with each episode.
So, Wolter and Bent travel out to the site where the artifacts were dug up to look at the rocks from which they were extracted. He hopes that the caliche (hardened rock formed of calcium carbonate) will match traces on the artifacts and thus prove the rocks dripped calcium carbonate over the artifacts for a long time, which is not as clear an indication of age as Wolter suggests. The rate of caliche formation is largely dependent on the amount of water present, which can cause it to form in mere months or years rather than centuries, and the presence of plants other than cacti at the site suggests enough water to have a fairly quick-forming process. For example, should the artifacts have been dug into a natural bed of caliche, water action over several years could have caused new caliche to form around the artifacts from bits leeched from the surrounding bed, embedding the artifacts into the stone. Many people have seen their drainpipes fill up with caliche in short order and would not be surprised by this. [click here for more on the artifacts' caliche]
At the Arizona Historical Society, we see the various lead artifacts, and we see some very quick looks at the inscriptions on the crosses. No Hebrew inscriptions are shown, only the Latin ones. Why is that? Wolter is smart enough to realize that the AD dating system might not have been used in 800 CE. As I discussed before, it was not in widespread use until after 1000 CE and almost nowhere outside of the Carolingian heartland before that time, though the possibility cannot be entirely discounted.
Grant Wolter “translates” the text on the cross, but while he seems to have general notion of Latin, he seems to be reciting someone else’s translation because—again, as I already discussed—the Latin is atrocious. It contains innumerable errors, including such basics as the difference between “to” and “from.” The grammar is worse than schoolboy Latin, and some have tried to suggest that it is the result of a non-native speaker writing it in 800, which is not likely since anyone fluent enough to write would know the basics of prepositions—especially since those prepositions did not change in the daughter Romance languages into which Latin evolved, and which any medieval travelers would have spoken. In my previous post, I discussed the finer points of the linguistic milieu of early medieval Italy and Gaul and how it fails to support the claims made for the crosses. The crosses also use the letter “z” which is not found in Latin except for transliterating Greek words.
Studies by less enthusiastic advocates have demonstrated that the fractured Latin on the lead artifacts can be traced to specific phrases from the Classical authors (like Cicero), specifically in editions available in the Tucson Public Library in the 1920s. We are to believe that our illiterate inscriber was fluent enough to quote Cicero and yet so illiterate as to not understand the Latin he quoted?
It bothers me that Wolter does not discuss the content of the inscriptions on the artifacts, probably because the story they tell is so stupid and fails to support his bloodline of Christ Da Vinci Code Templar fantasy, to be expounded next week in an episode about the bloodline of Christ. The story written across the artifacts (in a remarkably complete, if fractured narrative—another indication of a crude hoax) in both Latin and Hebrew is that a group of Romans, Gauls, and Jews left Rome and came to America where they built a long-lasting colony called Calalus (775-c. 1000 CE) and interacted with the Toltecs of Mexico. Wolter leaves all this out because it would imply the existence of a colony for which no buildings, no trash middens, no artifacts of any kind remain. This is intentionally deceptive and leaves out an important factor in considering how to evaluate these artifacts. Worse, by leaving out the Jews it only reinforces the idea that this show is obsessed with finding Aryans in America. The entire connection to ancient Mexico (the Toltec) is also left out, the defining narrative of the artifacts. This is another unforgivable lie by omission and one understandable only in the context of trying to hide anything testable. There are no Toltec artifacts in Tucson either.
Scott Wolter seizes upon the appearance of the name Theodorus on the cross to jump to the conclusion that this was the same Theodorus who was allegedly Charlemagne’s lieutenant in the 770s. I am not able to find any reference to a Theodorus among the entourage of Charlemagne; the closest I could find was a Theodorus of the Huns who visited Charlemagne in the 780s, or Theodulf of Orleans, an ally of the Frankish king’s in the 790s. James Wald reminds me that a Theodoric (not Theodorus) was a commander under Charlemagne, but continued on past 775. In fact, I can’t find any reference to this Theodorus outside discussions of the Arizona artifacts. When Wolter claims that “some” say Theodorus came to America in 775 CE, he is actually quoting another of the Arizona lead crosses, one which he had declined to feature on the show because its wretched Latin is so obviously a fake. He’s quoting the artifacts themselves as evidence for the artifacts!
One cross has a dinosaur drawn on it. A dinosaur.
Wolter looks at the artifacts under a 3-D microscope, which he claims will help him to use “archaeopetrography” (his self-created “new” science) to date the crosses. That went so well with his previous investigations. At any rate, petrography of course refers to rocks, and the crosses are made of lead. I suppose the crystallization of the minerals on the rock is what will pass for stone. Wolter notes that the deposition of the minerals on the crosses could take as little as decades but perhaps centuries. He fails, however, to consider the amount of water at the site where these were unearthed, thus meaning that his findings are speculative and have no real value since we can’t know how fast caliche was forming in the place where they were deposited without knowing about the water table, capillary action, rainfall, etc.
Wolter becomes very excited after discovering an image of the Cross of Lorraine on one artifact, the symbol of the Knights Templar. Do I even need to say that the Knights Templar weren’t formed until the 1100s? If they hadn’t decided to dig for the Ark of the Covenant on the Temple Mount, no one would have cared at all about them. Sigh. Wolter says that the same symbol represented the dragonfly to Native Americans so both groups “shared” it. There’s a connection all right, but only in the sense that Hitler, the Hopi, and Helena Blavatsky “shared” the swastika. Similar symbols do not imply cultural connections. The Cross of Lorraine on the artifact appears to be surmounted by a stereotypical crown, with large, rounded drapery between supporting arches—a style of crown not used until the modern period. Medieval crowns were bands of gold. (It might be an episcopal crown, but I could not tell from the short shot.) Another artifact shows what appears to be a “church” complete with a Gothic arch, an arch not used until the High Middle Ages.
Next up we go looking for the source of the artifacts’ lead, but this is a wild goose chase. It makes no difference to the story whether the artifacts were made from local or non-local lead; any result Wolter would interpret as evidence of “Romans.” If it is local, the Romans were mining; it not, they brought it from home.
A careful shot of the crossed X’s in the Exxon Mobile logo is meant to imply a modern connection to the Templars via the Cross of Lorraine.
Wolter calls up a friend identified as a “Masonic Historian” and launches into a weird conspiracy theory about how the Knights Templar gave rise to the Freemasons, but this is rampant speculation with no basis in fact whatsoever. There is no evidence of any Templar activity from the fourteenth century to the rise of Masonry three hundred years later. This idea’s inclusion here is out-and-out conspiracy-mongering. Wolter thinks that the artifacts display “Masonic” symbols, part of a 1,500-year-long cult. But both Wolter and his friend are more interested in the Exxon Mobile logo! The “expert” explains that the red and white logo represents the Templar’s red and white colors; the crossed X’s are the Cross of Lorraine, and the blue bar under the logo is the Atlantic Ocean, across which the Templars sailed to establish their secret club hideouts.
In the real world, we know that the colors come from the fact that Exxon (and Mobil) were once part of Standard Oil, whose colors were the American red, white, and blue. The crossed X’s were put in place to symbolize reliability, according to Exxon. The X’s weren’t added until 1966 (when the current Exxon name was adopted), and an actual document exists showing the many draft versions of artist Raymond Loewy, from which the one with crossed X’s was finally chosen. Among the logos are a few that look something like the Masonic square and compass, as Wolter immediately notes. Even if Loewy did this on purpose, the entire corporate executive suite would have to be in on it, or else oblivious to it. There is no conspiracy here, much less any truth to Wolter’s claim that it is “accepted as fact” that Freemasons are Knights Templar. There is no continuity whatsoever in this. But what difference does any of this make to crosses from 800 CE?
As we barrel toward a conclusion, Wolter tests the caliche and finds that the caliche matches the limestone surrounding the artifacts. No fooling. As I noted before, he failed to check for groundwater, capillary action, rainfall, and other factors that influence rate of deposit. Instead, he simply declares that there is no evidence of hoaxing, which is not the case. Since Wolter failed to examine the Latin on the crosses, or to even tell viewers about the story told by the artifacts—much less its clear evidence of hoaxing—the only one hoaxing anyone is the fakery the show is pulling on the audience by lying through omission to turn what was originally a hoax about a Roman-Jewish colony in America into an Aryan-Templar fantasy.
Wolter entrusts his son Grant to determine whether the AD dating system was used in 800 CE. “It does work because they were using AD,” he says, and that’s the last word. No one even bothers to check to see how and when the system was adapted gradually and incompletely across medieval Europe. As a point of fact, “Romans” from Rome (as the Latin on the artifacts state—not that you’d know from this show) did not adopt the AD system until much later, after 1000. Under the medieval popes, they used the ab urbe condita (AUC) system (or the reigns of the popes), even despite Charlemagne’s only partly successful attempts to impose AD in Germany. At any rate, in 775 it would be even less likely than in 800.
We return to the bad drawing of a stereotypical early twentieth century image of an Apatosaurus (brontosaurus) or diplodocus, and Wolter declares that the forked tongue makes it a lizard. No lizard looks like this, with a humped back, tapering tale, and long neck, and the drawing is, to my artistic eye, quite obviously a modern forgery made by someone with as little knowledge of biology as he or she had of Latin. [Update: I checked my Victorian-era natural history books, which I am loathe to do because they are very fragile, and I found at least one depicting a prehistoric monster similar to the one on the artifact with the same telltale forked tongue. See follow-up here.]
Wolter concludes that a “precursor” to the Knights Templar came to America as religious refugees—a precursor organization for which not a lick of evidence exists in Europe. Prove that this “precursor” group existed 300 years before the Templars. Wolter reminds us again about his work on the Kensington Rune Stone, which the show simply presents as settled fact despite the widespread criticism of his geology, and this somehow “proves” that Wolter is right about the “precursor” group, which makes no sense since accepting the Rune Stone implies nothing about anything that happened prior to 1362.
Even Chuck Bent seems confused that Wolter concluded that the artifacts were genuine when Wolter comes to tell him, probably because he knows that the Latin inscriptions say and is dumbfounded that Wolter hasn’t paid any attention to that in crafting his Templar fantasy. The heavy editing of the scene makes it hard to judge just what Bent was really thinking. The critical questions he asked suggest that he was less certain than the show makes him seem about accepting Wolter’s verdict.
“Who were these people, who made the artifacts, and where did they come from?” Wolter asks. Well, the artifacts actually say, but since you didn’t bother to read, you don’t know. They say that a group of Romans, Gauls, and Jews came over and interacted with the Toltecs. You are purposely hiding this information in order to preserve the mystery, create false connections to the Knights Templar, and avoid the real problems with the inscriptions, not least of which is the completely absent “colony” of Calalus that the artifacts assert actually existed. Instead, you want us to believe that “some Muslim group” “persecuted” the “precursors” of the Knights Templar—a story completely contradicted by the artifacts you created this story to support!
For crying out loud, even David Hatcher Childress managed to get the Jewish part right in mongering this mystery.
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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