Well, that was interesting. I’m not sure I exactly followed how having every single one of his claims proved wrong led Scott Wolter to becoming more convinced than ever that he’s right, but such is the belief of every crank committed to an ideology masquerading as a science.
Over the past few days, I’ve explored the convoluted story of “Prince Henry,” as Scott Wolter calls him, more properly Henry Sinclair, 1st earl of Orkney and Baron of Roslin. (His princely title rests on the fact that Henry’s Norwegian-held title of jarl, or earl, of Orkney was once translated as “prince” because of its higher rank in Norway, above a duke.) I want to encourage anyone who has not done so to please read my long and thorough discussion of the origins and growth of his legend. It is essential background for understanding what has gone terribly wrong in Scott Wolter’s quest, including the conflict of interest Wolter failed to disclose about his close relationship with the Sinclair family and their joint pursuit of investigations.
The Sinclair (a.k.a. St. Clair) family has been pushing the Henry Sinclair narrative since the nineteenth century when Thomas Sinclair, Mrs. May St. Clair Whitney-Emerson, and others wrote books and delivered lectures to steal back the honor of discovering America for the Northern European race from that upstart and rogue referred to as “the Italian,” Columbus, who was not of the “blood royal” of the Viking-Norman Duke Rollo whose noble descendants the family of the time believed traveled six times to America, with Henry being the last and greatest.
To refresh your memory, the short version is this: In 1784, a German with romantic dreams of his lost Scottish noble ancestors suggested that Henry Sinclair of Orkney could be identified with “Prince Zichmni,” a fictional character in a Renaissance-era hoax called the Zeno Narrative about two Venetian brothers’ alleged trip to the North Atlantic. I’ve written about this hoax as well, and I’ve published it in full on my website. In the most generous reading of that hoax, the story takes Zichmni only to Greenland in the years after 1394, where he supposedly founded a colony. Only significant special pleading can extend that to America. It is the only evidence of a voyage by Henry Sinclair.
Later, Richard Henry Major took up the claim, arguing that Zichmni was a corruption of “d’Orkney” as transcribed by someone with bad handwriting. His influential preface to his translation of the Zeno Narrative (the basis for all later Sinclair claims) later inspired in 1992 a descendant of Henry Sinclair named Andrew Sinclair to declare his ancestor a Knight Templar and a discoverer of America. Not only was Henry born too late to be a Templar (by fifty years at least), his ancestors actually testified against the Templars in 1309.
Now, to add some details specific to the claim that Henry was active in Nova Scotia in 1398.
Henry Sinclair was made Jarl (Earl or Prince) of Orkney in 1379 by King Hakron of Norway and was in Norway that year and the one after, meaning that the Zeno narrative cannot be chronologically correct, as the Zeno brothers met Zichmni on his magic island in 1380. Zichmni engaged in various battles in the 1380s and went to live in Greenland after 1394. Henry Sinclair, by contrast, disappears from the historical record after attending the coronation of the King of Pomerania in Norway in 1389 (meaning he could not have been in America then), and his grandson reported that Henry died in a battle to defend Orkney, probably the 1401 English invasion of Orkney that he was required by feudal obligation to Norway to repel.
The Icelandic historian Thormodus Torfæus, writing in his massive Latin history of the Orkneys, the Orcades, in 1697 (p. 177), claimed that Norwegian records (now lost) stated that in the late 1380s, Henry was virtually running Norway and had no time to sail to America. “In the year 1388, Henry Sinclair, Jarl of Orkney (being declared the next in rank to the king, by Archbishop Vinold of Nidar and the rest of the bishops and senators, with the other councillors of the Norwegian kingdom), proclaimed, by a long document, that Eric was the true heir and successor to the kingdom of Norway” (translation corrected from Thomas Sinclair, who gave the wrong date). Eric III took the throne in 1389, but most modern historians believe Henry Sinclair’s role was entirely ceremonial, not an expression of real power. It’s possible that such a gentleman as Henry could have decided to take a few years off to sail to America, first to build the Newport Tower, and then again to dump the Templar treasure, but I would imagine his Norwegian overlords would be particularly pissed at him since the Norwegian king had declared as a condition of making him Earl that he should always be available to aid the king with one hundred men on but three months’ notice and should attend the National Council on demand. Any extended absence, like a several years’ long voyage to America would have required Royal consent, and neither Torfæus nor any extant record indicates any such thing.
Our final episode, S01E13 “Hunt for the Holy Grail,” opens with a reenactment of a cloth-bound bundle being lowered by rope into what resembles a mine shaft in the presence of Knights Templar, as marked by their red crosses on white cassocks above chain mail. Then we cut to the opening credits for the final time this season.
The next scene shows Scott Wolter’s laboratory in winter. He is reading an email from Dennis “Den” Parada, a treasure hunter with an outfit called Finders Keepers who believes he knows the location of buried Templar treasure at Hobson Island in Nova Scotia, brought to the island by Prince Henry Sinclair. Wolter immediately calls Steve St. Clair, the director of the St. Clair Sinclair DNA Project, which is attempting to prove the truth of the Henry Sinclair voyage and is examining Native American DNA to investigate whether Sinclair and the Holy Bloodline interbred with Native populations.* The two have been friends at least since the Atlantic Conference of 2008, when St. Clair sponsored a reading of some of Wolter’s work on the “hooked X” and its relationship to the Templars and the Sinclairs.
[* Note: This sentence was modified in response to criticism from Steve St. Clair that the original version was too harsh and did not appropriately reflect his views.]
Wolter travels to Nova Scotia to meet with the Parada, and we have long scenes of Wolter driving across Canadian highways. As he does so, Wolter asserts that “legend says that a Scottish prince named Henry Sinclair with strong ties to the Templars brought it [the treasure] here in 1398.” Nothing in that sentence is true. The “legend” was created by Andrew Sinclair (yes, another Sinclair) in 1992, in The Sword and the Grail, based on a scholarly argument about the Zeno map made in 1784 and again in the mid-1800s. From 1784 to 1992, the actual family claim was that Henry came as the last of a series of Viking (Norse) expeditions. Only after 1992 did these transform into “Templar” expeditions. Henry had no ties to the Templars, disbanded 50 years before his birth and against whom his ancestors gave testimony at their 1309 trial.
The Holy Grail is back to being a cup again this week, though with shout outs to the “holy bloodline of Jesus and Mary,” and Wolter claims that Henry was the last person to have held it—of which, of course, no documentary evidence whatsoever exists, being based entirely on the 1992 claim that Henry was a Templar. Especially interesting is Wolter’s cockamamie assertion that the Templars may have found “scrolls” and “technology” under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem—shades of Laurence Gardner’s monatomic gold-producing Ark of the Covenant, Graham Hancock’s electric-generator Ark of the Covenant, and the ancient astronaut writers’ extraterrestrial communications device Ark of the Covenant. What does Wolter really think happened in the ancient past? Aliens? Atlantis?
Parada shows Wolter a map of Oak Island, the often-discussed “mystery” island of Nova Scotia that Joe Nickell persuasively identified as a nineteenth-century Freemasons’ initiation site. Parada thinks that Oak Island was actually Templar, but that Prince Henry moved the treasure to Oak Island from Hobson Island nearby.
Parada, treasure hunter Patrick Whelan, and Wolter travel to Hobson Island in ridiculously overproduced overhead shots of them speeding across the waters beneath waves and cresting musical accompaniment. They stroll through some rocks on which one displays a very rough, wide-angled “V.” Wolter immediately relates it to the “upper part of the hooked X” despite it, of course, not being an X. All involved declare it a “V” even though the image clearly shows a horizontal line connecting to the left-hand leg of the “V” at its top. All see the horizontal line and declare it “just like” the one on the hooked x, even though the Kensington Rune Stone’s hooked x is on the right stave of the X, partway down the stave, and perpendicular to the stave—all different from this figure.
Next, Parada claims to have found a treasure map made of stone. So the three men trudge across more rocks and boulders. Parada claims that the rocks and boulders have been laid out carefully in the shape of the three hundred islands off Nova Scotia, with several of the prominent rocks representing different islands the Templars visited. A computer-generated map tries to make the correlation, but I am not able to see a connection—there is no similarity of shape between rock and represented island, and the relative proportions between the rocks are not scientific in the least. For example, the rock representing Gooseberry Island is so large (twice the size of the alleged island it represents, proportionally) that it covers a great deal of the ground meant to represent the water between it and Frog Island, another rock disproportionately large for representing its intended island. Consequently, I can see nothing here other than self-deluded individuals who are seeing what they want in the random shapes of nature.
Nevertheless, this “map” supposedly points to the “Castle at the Cross” at New Ross, an archaeological site that Sinclair researchers have been promoting as a “mini-castle” built by Henry Sinclair since the 1988, particularly Michael Bradley, the author of Holy Grail across the Atlantic. So far as I know, the 1988 book is the first Sinclair castle claim, supported in 1997 by a self-published book by Joan Hope. To my knowledge, no archaeological reports about the site have been published, but all that remains are an earthen mound, some large stones, and a well—surely not the remains of a full castle, or even a “mini-castle.” The photographs of the site show some loose stones in the shape of some squares, whereas an actual castle would have had many more stones to build walls and battlements. [Update: Joan Hope's book is online, and she states that the stones we see on the show are actually the remains of a seventeenth century mansion.]
Wolter and St. Clair speculate that New Ross was named for Rosslyn (Roslin), the Sinclair family seat in Scotland and the home of Rosslyn Chapel, built by Henry’s grandson William. How Rosslyn Chapel would encode information about Henry’s activities in Nova Scotia is beyond me since the theory seems to be that he built a castle and died in Nova Scotia, never having returned to Scotland and Orkney. (Actual fact: He was succeeded no later than 1404 by Henry II Sinclair, and William Sinclair wrote that Henry I had died defending Orkney.)
The team learns that material beneath one of the rocks was carbon dated to the 1300s (though no report is cited), but no one on the program thinks for even a minute about the actual people known to have lived in the area in the past—the First Nations (Native Americans). The Maritime tradition among native groups include burial mounds, not unlike the earthen mound at the New Ross site, and of course Native peoples and their villages existed in the area right up to the contact period. The area was also not unreasonably far south of the known Viking settlement at L’anse-aux-Meadows (Vinland) located to the north in Newfoundland. Further, the first colonists in the area, dating back to the 1600s built buildings in stone. Any of these possibilities, including the Viking one (which would be a significant and major find, if true), is much more probable than anything Templar.
The owner of the land asserts that the First Nations people have a legend of men who came wearing a red cross on a white cassock, which the team interprets as representing Knights Templar. However, I am unable to find any evidence of this legend. If it did exist, I would imagine it referred to the Catholic and Anglican missionaries who came in the 1600s, with their robes and crosses—no one mentions chain mail, for example. Europeans have been settled in Nova Scotia since 1605, making this the more likely source for any legend, especially since there are very few genuine historical traditions from the 1300s retained in oral folklore.
If you’d like proof priests in cross-bedecked vestments were wandering the area, here it is: Jessé Fléché, a French priest, accompanied the French explorer Poutrincourt to French Acadia, which became British Nova Scotia. There, he caused a scandal by converting the natives en masse to Catholicism without permission from the Jesuits, who were supposed to do such things. So successful was he that the local Mi’kmaq (Micmac) took his title, “Le Patriarch,” and corrupted it into Patiliasse, still their word for “priest.” They also adopted the red cross on a white background as their flag. Fléché’s activities around Port Royal are described by Marc Lescarbot in The Conversion of the Savages, written in 1610. There, we can see that the cross was not an uncommon symbol and quickly adopted by the natives:
Now this Membertou to-day, by the grace of God, is a Christian, together with all his family, having been baptized, and twenty others with him, on last saint John’s day, the 24th of June. […] Chkoudun, a man of great influence, of whom I have made honorable mention in my History of New France, because I saw that he, more than all the others, loved the French, and that he admired our civilization more than their ignorance: to such an extent, that being present sometimes at the Christian admonitions, which were given every Sunday to our French people, he listened attentively, although he did not understand a word; and moreover wore the sign of the Cross upon his bosom, which he also had his servants wear; and he had in imitation of us, a great Cross erected in the public place of his village, called Oigoudi, at the port of the river saint John, ten leagues from Port Royal.
Surely, this type of conversion scene is what any local legend refers to.
Based on Joan Hope’s fanciful blueprint of the “castle,” the team plans to dig for the Templar treasure, though I note that instead of using ground-penetrating radar, which could seek out the foundations of the castle—and which Wolter used in episode 2, “Medieval Desert Mystery”—the team instead turns to a “long range locator,” better known as a dowsing rod hooked up to an electric beeper. The dowsing rod has its own fascinating history, originating in the worship of Thor and the idea that certain sticks were imbued with the power of lightning. It does not, however, have even a shred of scientific accuracy, running entirely on the ideomotor effect whereby the operator’s hands subconsciously move the locator wand. This is why robots and dogs can’t use dowsing rods or long range locators. Anyway, the magic stick is used to find where to dig for “gold”—major amounts of gold, they say, at least 50 ounces.
Anyone with a moment’s scientific training can see that the investigation will turn up nothing. Finders Keepers tried this same trick looking for Civil War gold on some Pennsylvania state game lands last year and got themselves kicked out of the state lands when they wanted to dig in search of what they thought was a ton and a half (!) of gold.
Didn’t Wolter learn anything from his Minnesota “giant” investigation, when the dowsing rods turned one false hit after another?
The program describes the team—now comprised of several Finders Keepers—as using a metal detector next, but somehow the metal detector returns radar results about the shape of an underground chamber hidden near the bottom of the well. I am not familiar with the device, but I don’t understand how a metal detector would deliver the shape of openings off the well but not any information about the metal content therein. I guess it must be a resistivity detector that looks for potential metal deposits by mapping underground resistance. [Update: It's apparently an electromagnetic conductivity meter which uses magnetic fields to map conductive material below ground.] This is doubly confusing when later in the episode, Parada claims that his machines found “no void” to excavate, leading to the conclusion that the chamber is filled with water. Then how did the metal detector find it? Parada claims that an “energy force” is disturbing the readings—and Steve St. Clair suggests that the Ark of the Covenant (recovered, of course, by the Templars) is sending out special beams to disrupt their work. Seriously, what do these people really believe about the ancient past?
The team sends a diver down the well, and he finds the opening, a portion of the wall that has been “bricked off,” probably to close off a natural opening to keep the well from collapsing. There is no arch or other support, so the well wall must have always been there. Everyone is excited, and Wolter practically shouts at Steve St. Clair that they are close to finding “your family treasure.” Surely the Holy Grail doesn’t actually belong to Steve St. Clair. They pump the well, and Wolter feels that the opening behind the well wall is the “treasure room” of the Holy Grail. Therefore, they bring in a drill to look for the chamber that is somehow both there and not there, and Wolter refers again to “strange energy” when the drilling equipment experiences brief battery problems.
Drilling down finds boulders beneath ground, which Wolter suggests is a wall but is more likely actually rocks since this is, after all, a rocky island. There is no void, and the dowsing rod is wrong. They move the drill over a bit and try again. They bring up backfill that Wolter claims means that someone in the past has dug out the site, certainly a possibility given that the area has been used for various purposes for at least four hundred years—no Holy Grail required. In a third location, guaranteed by the “metal detector” to be the right location this time, they drill and find absolutely nothing—no hole, no void, no treasure. “We’re not going to find shit,” Wolter says, complaining bitterly about “all these things we’ve been talking ourselves into.” He concludes—correctly!—that the backfill of soil created a density difference that showed up as a void on their machine—which I suppose means that it is a resistivity detector.
Wolter also asks where the gold the dowsing rod found really is. Parada makes excuses: “Something in the ground”—magic energy—is “throwing everything off.” It’s a classic excuse used by dowsers everywhere: When we’re right, credit the rod; when we’re wrong, blame unseen forces and mysterious, undetectable “energy.” Parada explains that he had been “warned” that the “ghost of Prince Henry,” in Wolter’s words, is preventing them from finding the treasure.
Wolter concludes that the Templars or another group had moved the treasure, and Steve St. Clair appeals to the show’s own Bible, The Da Vinci Code (weirdly, the movie and not the book), as precedent, for in the movie Robert Langdon also finds that the Holy Bloodline conspiracy had removed the evidence before he could find it. Wolter says that the Templars keep moving the treasure so it can never be found—and can keep generating new episodes! “The signs are everywhere. The clues are everywhere. It’s here somewhere in North America, and I’m going to find it.” Somehow, however, the complete failure of this entire investigation—finding no treasure, no chamber, no Templar artifacts (not even a lead cross!), no actual castle—leaves Wolter “more convinced than ever” that he is on the right track.
The series ends with Wolter reasserting that history is wrong and that the true history of “this country” (Canada?—or did he forget he’s not in the United States this week?) needs to be unearthed. He promises that he has “thousands” of leads, “and I’m just getting started.” He concludes by saying that “There’s a pattern woven into the fabric of this country, something that connects the people of the past to each other, and to us in ways I’m only starting to understand.”
The season concludes with Wolter drawing a line to connect selected ancient sites he chose to investigate this season. He connects them in a way that forms a Fibonacci curve emerging from the Kensington Rune Stone, which is cute, except that it connects only seven of the thirteen sites from this season (six, actually, since the Dare stones have two locations on the map). It was Wolter—not science—that selected those sites to investigate, possibly to conform to the pattern, and there is no logical reason to select those from among the “thousands” of sites Wolter claims to know about; he didn’t even choose just his alleged Templar sites, including as he did the non-Templar Dare Stones and the non-Templar Mystery Hill. The Fibonacci curve does not fit very well (some sites are off by what seems to be tens or hundreds of miles), and no accounting is made for spherical geometry, so the curve that looks good on a flat map may not actually be in the Fibonacci ratio on a spherical surface. In fact, I’m not certain Wolter’s hand drawn spiral is an actual Fibonacci spiral, though I don’t have a way of measuring my TV screen to find out.
So we end with a threat for more of the same next year, continuing on the quest to find Europeans in America and more Jesus/Holy Bloodline material. I had hoped that after this season Wolter would expand to non-European, non-Caucasian claims, but at this point he seems dedicated to establishing a white presence in medieval America. I think, though, that the most fitting description summing up all of America Unearthed over these past thirteen episodes is one Wolter delivered himself in this episode: The show is about “all these things we’ve been talking ourselves into.”
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.
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