Tonight’s episode of America Unearthed, S02E08 “The Underwater Pyramids,” attempts to investigate whether the Aztecs ventured to Wisconsin. This is not a completely ridiculous question, and American archaeologists have devoted considerable ink to discussing the evidence for a Mesoamerican influence on the Mississippians, the mound building culture responsible for Aztalan, one of the sites featured in this episode. Although there is considerable circumstantial evidence that some type of influence occurred (in one direction or another), only one Mesoamerican artifact has ever been found at a Mississippian site, a single obsidian scraper found at Spiro Mounds in Oklahoma, identified as Mesoamerican only in 2002 through a geological analysis of the source of the obsidian. This might have made a good episode of America Unearthed, but it would have meant exploring real science rather than seeing Scott Wolter in a submarine.
The lack of a proven connection between the Mississippians and Mesoamerica is not for want of trying. As I reported almost a year ago in revisiting Wolter’s efforts to link the Maya to Georgia:
The scholarly consensus is that direct contact between Mesoamerica and the Mississippians was either non-existent or very rare, and that the only limited contact would have been the diffusion of ideas and the movement of raw materials along trade networks, without direct movement of peoples. However, more than a few archaeologists seriously speculated that a band of traveling merchants, most likely the Aztec pochteca, could have evangelized Aztec religion while questing for raw materials. If these merchants did in America as they did in Mexico, they would have taken control of weaker societies, imposed their ideology, and ruled among them, thus creating what is now known as the Southeast Ceremonial Complex, the religious ideas and iconography long suspected of having a Mesoamerican connection.
Thus, Wolter’s investigation, while not mainstream, is hardly beyond the pale for archaeological research. The trouble is that there isn’t any solid evidence that the Aztec ever did this, despite the perceived similarities between Mississippian religion and Mesoamerican religion. I had an archaeology professor in college who was convinced that some type of connection must have existed, and I certainly don’t begrudge anyone actual research trying to find evidence of one.
Aztalan, however, is probably not the right place to be looking being about as far as possible as one could get from the Aztec heartland. The story of Aztalan in Wisconsin is colorful, but not all that complex. I don’t suppose it will surprise anyone that it emerges from the same milieu of nineteenth-century racism as other claims for various lost races that supposedly built America’s mound sites. Although Wolter focuses on the Aztec, they were first proposed as the builders because early scholars believed that they were the descendants of a lost white race, possibly the Lost Tribes of Israel.
The story of Aztalan begins, in prototype, with Baron Alexander von Humboldt, the Prussian polymath whose monumental works on the Americas were, early in the nineteenth century, considered a definitive account of the geography, biology, and anthropology of the New World. Humboldt delivered one of the first reports of the Aztec myth of their homeland of Aztlán, which in legend was a place located somewhere in the mysterious north. “It is almost certain,” he wrote in his Researches Concerning the Institutions and Monuments of the Ancient Inhabitants of America (1810), “that we must look for the first country of the Mexican nations, Aztlan, Huehuetlapallan, and Amequemecan, at least North of the 42d degree of latitude” (trans. Helena Maria Williams). This would place it in the northern United States or Canada.
He came to this conclusion, incorrectly, by assuming that the Aztec origin myth was literally true in his preferred version (many versions differ considerably) and approximating how far a group of Aztecs might walk at each leg of the fifteen-stage journey over 416 years. Nevertheless, Humboldt himself noted that his own theory failed to fit the facts since an Aztec painter depicted Aztlán with a palm tree, which “certainly does not indicate a northern region.” He dismissed this problem through appeal to his own genius, suggesting that the Mexican painter had been in error, ignorant of the true history of his own people and wrongly projecting Mexican scenery onto North America.
Humboldt was so taken by the myth of Aztlán that he proposed renaming the Mexica, as the indigenous people who ruled pre-Conquest Mexico called themselves, as the “Aztecs” after the myth. Europeans and Americans immediately adopted the suggestion because it help erect a wall between the Aztecs, whom many believed had originally been “white” or a Lost Tribe of Israel, from the modern Mexicans, whom they viewed as racially inferior. They are still called Aztecs today.
In 1833, the pseudo-historian Josiah Priest, forerunner of Scott Wolter in that he too made fanciful claims based on half-understood facts, popularized Humboldt’s belief that the Aztec homeland was located “at least north of the 42d degree of latitude,” which is to say, around the Great Lakes. Priest’s version, in his American Antiquities, which included a botched quotation from Humboldt missing several words, achieved great popularity, appearing in a direct plagiarism in the work of Benjamin Moore Norman and in a slightly less direct lifting in the American Magazine, then in its final months of publication, just after the departure of its famous editor, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Both copied Priest’s ungrammatical, botched quotation of Humboldt verbatim and failed to distinguish between Humboldt’s ideas and Priest’s own.
Priest married this suggestion from Humboldt to accounts from Indian agent William Walker and pamphleteer Frederick Falley about legends of the Wyandots, a Huron people who in his day lived in what is now Ontario, Canada and Michigan but today live in Quebec, Kansas, Michigan, and Oklahoma. According to Priest, the Wyandots had said that a lost race—the builders of the mounds of the Midwest—had been driven from their earthen cities by a savage horde, and these people therefore fled to the south, where they became the Aztec. Needless to say, Priest considered the lost race to be white, the only race capable of building mounds or pyramids.
Therefore, for Priest, Aztalan had to be the wild and wet homeland of the Wyandots, the area around the Great Lakes. He equated Aztalan with “the region of the western states,” by which he meant the modern Midwest, then the western borderlands of the United States. It was populated, he said, with (white) people “believed to be from Asia; of Tartar, Hebrew, and Scythian origin.” Unlike modern Lost Tribes theorists, who favor an Atlantic crossing, earlier Lost Tribes writers like Priest assumed the Hebrews had walked to America across the Bering Strait. Here he followed Caleb Atwater, the early proponent of a lost race of Mound Builders, who had likewise assumed that civilization began in Vedic India, from which a lost white race had colonized America before the savage Native Americans arrived and killed them off. At the time, the white race was thought to have originated somewhere in central Asia, giving rise to Vedic India and Europe.
With the wrongheaded belief that the Aztec homeland was the Great Lakes already established, it is no surprise that N. F. Hyer quickly identified the newly-discovered earthen ruins of Aztalan, Wisconsin with the mythic Aztec homeland. As the American Magazine reported in 1837, in calling for the site’s preservation, the site was certainly evidence of a lost race of mound builders, stunning confirmation of Humboldt’s theories about the location of the Aztec homeland and Caleb Atwater’s equally certain view that a lost Old World race (the pre-Hindu Vedic Aryans) had built America’s mounds and forts before decamping for Mexico to become the civilized peoples of that region.
You will, of course, recall that Scott Wolter accused the Smithsonian Institution of being in a conspiracy to suppress the truth about the pre-Columbian history of America. It is therefore with interest that we read in the official Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge series Increase A. Lapham’s Antiquities of Wisconsin, written in 1853 and published two years later. In it, Lapham, a civil engineer rather than a hated “academic” (Wolter’s trusted friend Alan Butler trained as a civil engineer), surveyed the site for the Smithsonian and delivered the true history of Aztalan State Park, including the fact that its name was nothing more than the speculation of a known individual at a known date:
The “ancient city of Aztalan” has long been known, and often referred to, as one of the wonders of the western world. Many exaggerated statements respecting the “brick walls” supported by buttresses, the “stone arch,” &c, have been made; for all of which there is little foundation in truth. The remains were discovered in October, 1836, and hastily surveyed in January, 1837, by N. F. Hyer, Esq., who soon afterwards published a brief description of them, with a rude wood-cut, in the Milwaukie Advertiser, the first, and then the only newspaper, in this part of the country. This survey was made before there were settlements in the neighborhood, and was done in. a cursory manner. The brief account, however, as published, gave a very good general idea of the works; and has been the foundation of all subsequent plans and descriptions up to the present time.
Increase A. Lapham’s etymology of Aztalan is incorrect and is a by-product of a claim from Humboldt relating Aztalan to atl, the Nahuatl word for water. Josiah Priest picked up on this as well and added to it with other claims about atl. He, like Humboldt, identified Aztalan with atl, or water, and used this to connect it to the Great Lakes, but he added in an idea from Francisco Gómara, the sixteenth-century Spanish historian, who claimed that “in Mexico they call water atl, a word that seems like, if it is not already, from the island” of Atlantis (my trans.). Priest agreed that North America was undoubtedly the Atlantis of Plato.
On the other hand, pro-conspiracy proponents can point to U.S. President Martin Van Buren’s refusal to save the site from destruction in 1838 as evidence that the government was trying to suppress the truth. But unfortunately that doesn’t tell the whole story. While Van Buren did allow the site to be plowed under, its mounds destroyed and its stone walls broken, he was actually acting out of the belief that the site was Native American and therefore not worth saving.
The most prominent figure looking to protect the site was Edward Everett of Massachusetts, who wanted to save Aztalan because he thought it was an outpost of a lost white race whose existence would justify Native American removal policies. This truth was so carefully suppressed, of course, that Everett only learned about the site by reading about it in the Wisconsin territorial newspapers shipped to the capital. He petitioned Van Buren to save the site, but Van Buren did nothing to prevent it from going up for sale. A pioneer family purchased it for $22 and promptly plowed it under. Charles A. Alexander commemorated the site with an 1839 poem, “The Fall of Aztalan.”
The site had been part of the territory reserved for Native Americans prior to the Removal Act. In 1921 it was donated to the Wisconsin Archaeological Society and became a park.
By the end of the nineteenth century, it was fairly well established that the site was not the work of the Aztecs or a lost white race but rather of Native Americans. Indeed, by 1901 standard textbooks like Pre-Historic America even routinely debunked the last major claim about the uniqueness of Aztalan: Contrary to early reports, its walls were not made of brick but only of clay and grass, a wattle-and-daub structure that was hardened with fire, giving the false appearance of stone. Sure, Lapham had noted that in 1853, but fringe claims die hard. It was no Old World or Aztec fort, but another earthwork of the Mississippians, part of the same cultural complex that reached across the Midwest and the South from the tenth to thirteenth centuries CE and had its cultural focus at Cahokia. It was indeed heavily fortified, probably due to a Mississippian incursion causing friction with local non-Mississippian tribes.
So uncontroversial had Aztalan become—and so irrelevant to fringe history—that neither Robert Silverberg’s study of Mound Builders of Ancient America (1968) nor Stephen Williams’s Fantastic Archaeology: The Wild Side of North American Prehistory (1991) made mention of it. Instead, the biggest controversy at the site was whether butchered and broken bones represented cannibalism or mortuary dismemberment. At one time, cannibalism was thought to be one of the most important food sources at Aztalan, but today the bones are considered to be mortuary, not culinary, processing.
Then why are we talking about Aztalan?
Oh, right: Because of ex-Neo-Nazi convicted pedophile Frank Joseph (a.k.a. Frank Collin). In the years after Joseph had been released from the prison where Richard Burrows had been a guard, he had been busy promoting Burrows Cave and making a name for himself as a fringe author. He developed an interest in Lake Michigan area archaeology, declaring in David Hatcher Childress’s World Explorer magazine that the Loop in Chicago had once been a Phoenician site of infant sacrifice. In FATE magazine in 1989, he reported on as many as nine submerged “pyramid” structures of Rock Lake, just three miles from Aztalan. Mainstream archaeology suggests that these are submerged earthen mounds, either natural glacial deposits or possibly manmade structures built by a Mississippian group when the lake’s water levels were lower, but Joseph had come to believe that they were made of bricks and stones and were therefore unlikely to be Native constructions. As with Aztalan, if artificial the appearance of brick is probably due to the fire-hardening used on clay mounds. Although the structures had been discussed since at least 1937, Joseph’s article brought them into the fringe history orbit.
Joseph would go on to write an entire book about Atlantis in Wisconsin (1995) based on Rock Lake and Aztalan. In that book, Joseph presents the claims of emeritus engineering professor James Scherz, who asserted that an unnamed Native American elder told him that the Chinese (“Chinetec”) and the Vikings (“Redbeards”) had invaded America around 700 CE and drove the Mexicans to Wisconsin, where they buried gold at Rock Lake. Chinetec? Seriously? Even the Chinese don’t call themselves Chinese; it’s a Western term derived from a Persian version of the Sanskrit name for the Qin dynasty. However, Sherz went farther and told Joseph he believed the site actually dated to at least 1600 BCE.
Scherz would later work with Scott Wolter on Holy Grail in America (2009), where he claimed to be an expert in “prehistoric cartography” as presented on the Burrows Cave artifacts, which in turn had been promoted by Joseph. Scherz and Burrows wrote a book together, and Scherz founded a group to investigate the “true” origins of America’s mounds, which he does not feel are all Native constructions. It is a small world.
At any rate, Frank Joseph was sure the site couldn’t be Native American because “its dynamic civilizers dominated” the land and therefore had to be from somewhere else. He proceeded to use psychical research to gain paranormal insight into the deceased inhabitants’ lives.
On the strength of such claims Joseph met with Childress in the early 1990s to take him to Aztalan and the nearby site of Rock Lake. Childress, giddy with ignorance, declared Aztalan “a miniature version of Teotihuacan” because both had … vaguely tapering structures in sort of a line. He speculated whether what he called the rites of cremation burial at the site connected it to the “Hindus and Buddhists of the Orient as well as the Atonists of Egypt.” Childress and Joseph made a dive at Rock Lake, but they found nothing. Childress reported that Kinglsey Craig, a “researcher” at the Epigraphic Society, the site had been destroyed when Genghis Khan’s hordes crossed the Bering Strait and invaded Canada and the upper Midwest in 1233, rampaging across the continent until the Pueblo killed them off when they tried to take over the Southwest. The warrant for this was Ethel Stewart, who had claimed a connection between Athabaskan languages and central Asian tongues as late as the 1200s. Childress also met with Scherz, who shared with him stories of Hindu invaders of early America!
Childress published these claims in Lost Cities of North and Central America (1993), from which they cross-pollinated with other pseudo-historical claims, as well as his own self-congratulatory claim that he had found the hypocrisy of archaeologists who had cried racism over other diffusionist claims: This evidence showed that pre-Columbian Asians had reached America, and one could not be racist against the same population for invading America repeatedly over the millennia. He castigated the “dogma” of academics and demanded that the “truth” about North America be set free and then promptly related Aztalan to Burrows Cave (drawing no conclusion on authenticity) and Egyptian voyages to America. Yes, the David Childress of 1993, before Ancient Aliens, was essentially Scott Wolter. Perhaps in twenty years Wolter will be up to his armpits in Martians, too.
So: Aztalan has been attributed to Aztecs, pre-Vedic Indians, Vikings, Egyptians, and Mongols—anyone but Native Americans! How could they possibly pile dirt in large mounds? And if you suggested the question was racist, well Childress would tell you that the Native Americans were just another type of Asiatic invader.
We open with a gun being loaded and two men sitting in a boat on Rock Lake near Lake Mills, Wisconsin, around 1900. They start shooting at ducks, miss, and try to row to shore. They strike something hard in the water, and CGI creates an image of a massive pile of rocks beneath the water, forming a perfect pyramid with a sea monster in the shape of a plesiosaur passing by.
After the opening credits, we cut to Scott Wolter traveling by SUV to Lake Mills. We listen to a phone recording by Jeff Stockinger, a local man, informing Wolter that the Aztecs “may have” built “pyramids” under Rock Lake. Wolter travels to a brewery where promotes the local Stone Teepee brand of beer, whose label contains three stone pyramids, from the recent (post-1970) legends about the lake. Stockinger contacted Wolter about it and he offers a diagram that was made in 1970 for Skin-Diver magazine and reproduced by Frank Joseph in FATE.
Wolter tell us who the Aztecs were and offers a few factoids—emphasizing, bizarrely, the class segregation of the Aztec capital, an aspect of Aztec civilization of particular interest to conservative historians. He says the Aztec built a wall to separate rich and poor, but that isn’t right; the elite lived on the central island and the poor outside of it. Wolter carefully ignores the special island nature of the Aztec capital for reasons that become clear later. Stockinger informs Wolter that there is an alleged lake monster in Rock Lake, which really belongs on a different show. Wolter, acting macho, promises that he won’t get “creeped out” by the monster and plans to use a submarine to penetrate the water.
After the first break, we get an on-screen recap of the nothing that has happened so far, and Wolter then repeats the same information verbally. Then Wolter shows off a pair of small submarines whose yellow color prompts Wolter to inform us that he dislikes the Beatles. I don’t care about the submarines and have no interest in their technical details, with which the show is rather enamored. The two submarines are owned by a pair of brothers, Russell and Doug Canfield, who are trying to market and sell them online, and I’m not in the business of giving free advertising, especially when the show isn’t willing to tell viewers that they’re essentially doing a promotional spot for the owners, who are attempting to sell a reality television show based on their submarine adventures. Backdoor pilot? If so, I’m not watching.
Scott Wolter interviews Dr. Roberto Rodriguez, a journalist who claims to study indigenous migration patterns via maize (his PhD is in communication), and who tries to explain patiently to Scott Wolter that if corn came to North America 6,000 years ago, it was not brought by the Aztecs in 1300 CE. Rodriguez, however, says he “stumbled on” a map that said that the Aztecs came from the north to Mexico. I am pretty sure this is the same Robert Rodriguez who advocates a maize-based curriculum for Arizona schools.
After the second break we get an on-screen recap followed by another verbal recap and a montage of scenes from the first twenty minutes of the show, including the entirety of the cold open. In sum, the show concedes that the first twenty minutes contained nothing we needed to see.
Rodriguez, now identified as an “Aztec Migration Expert” (his PhD dissertation was on communication about maize) tells Wolter that there was a connection between Native Americans and the Aztecs, and Rodriguez promises to show an “ancient map” at the L. D. Fargo Public Library. This ought to be good, since there are no Aztec-era maps of Wisconsin. Oh, of course: The “ancient” map was drawn in 1847.
Rodriguez and Wolter discuss Aztlán, the mythic Aztec homeland of which the Aztecs told stories, claiming it was somewhere from the north. Rodriguez claims to have found a map dating back to the 1500s identifying the Salt Lake as the Aztec homeland. We do not see this map, and I would very much like to see it. Both men assert that the United States purposely suppressed the “antigua residencia de los Aztecas,” but Rodriguez is a bit dishonest. He is a political activist who has been claiming since 1998 that the 1847 map “ends” the immigration debate by “proving” that the Mexicans were indigenous to the United States—as though the fact that America absorbed half the country from Mexico didn’t already imply as much. Rodriguez suggests that the Nahuatl language family’s widespread geographical distribution proves a connection between the Aztecs and Wisconsin, which is about like saying the Ireland and India are closely related because of the Indo-European family of languages.
I did some research into Rodriguez’s claims in his dissertation from 2008 on maize wisdom (yes, really), and it turns out his map from the 1500s doesn’t say what he says it says. In a 1562 map by Diego Gutierrez he finds a place called Aztatlam near Yuma, Arizona. He admits that there is no evidence this is related to Aztlán. Instead, the Salt Lake claim he assigns to a toponym of “Tulah” found on an 1856 map, which he declares to be the Toltec capital of Tula! The Aztec toponyms derive from the erroneous belief that the Aztecs built Pueblo ruins. Some of the earlier terms derive from the misapplication of the more broadly-defined Aztec ethnonym (before Humboldt assigned it to the Mexica, it belonged to most Mexicans) in fanciful geography. Any appearance after 1810 is simply the influence of Humboldt.
Diego Gutrierrez’s map, which is in the Library of Congress and reproduced below, is, as you can see, too inaccurate to declare evidence of the Aztec homeland in Yuma. It’s most likely a fanciful attempt to situate Aztlán somewhere in the vague area north of the explored lands in central Mexico. Indeed, Astalam, as the place is called, is actually located in north-central Mexico on the map. You can blow it up at the Library of Congress website to see for yourself.
A lot of submarine promotion occurs as we go to commercial.
After the break, we get another on screen recap followed by a verbal recap. Wolter then tries to legitimize cryptozoology (!) by telling us that kangaroos used to be cryptids before they were found, so why the hell not a plesiosaur in the lake. Maybe he’d like to look for the UFOs and the ghosts Frank Joseph “investigated” there, too.
He travels around the lake and sees nothing in the murky water. Thus endeth the quest for Aztec pyramids.
As we head to commercial, Wolter travels to Aztalan State Park, having seen no pyramids. After the break, we get another on-screen recap followed by a verbal recap for those of you who missed the two or three facts in this hour.
Wolter asks Bob Birmingham, the former Wisconsin state archaeologist, if Aztalan was the original homeland of the Aztecs. Birmingham tells Wolter Aztalan was built about 1000 CE, and Wolter immediately notes that the Vikings found America that year. Birmingham explains the lifestyles of the Aztalan people, but Wolter decides that the mound city resembles Aztec pyramid cities. The trouble, though, is that despite the plaza and the social segregation of the Aztalan site, Mexican cities had the same pyramid-and-plaza setup since the time of the Olmec, thousands of years earlier. It is the same setup we find from Peru to Canada, and indeed it is also the same type of setup, in general terms, that we also find in ancient Greek agorae, Roman forums, and nearly all ancient cities.
Birmingham tells Wolter about the Princess Mound, where a high status woman was buried with thousands of shell beads. Wolter draws facile connections between the Aztecs and Aztalan based on sacrifice, corn, and pyramids—deciding to ignore the widespread use of these almost everywhere in the Americas, and for thousands of years. Birmingham explains to Wolter that there is no connection between the Aztecs and Aztalan, reminding him that an early settler named the site fancifully. He explains that the Mississippians built the site, but since they are Native Americans and not sexy foreigners, this is squeezed into the last few seconds of the show.
“Who’s to say the Mississippians of up hear in Wisconsin didn’t become the Aztecs of the American southwest and later Mexico?” Wolter asks. “I’m not saying it happened, but it is a possibility, even if Bob [Birmingham] doesn’t think so.” There is literally no evidence that the Aztecs originated in Wisconsin—not genetic, not cultural, not archaeological. There is no trail of material culture leading from the Mississippian sites to Mexico; only one single Mesoamerican artifact was ever found in a Mississippian site, and virtually nothing Mississippian in any Mexican context. Wolter nevertheless concludes that the Aztecs had to have come from the United States, conflating Wisconsin with the Southwest as though both were equally plausible. The Southwest is certainly a possibility, albeit an unlikely one, but Wisconsin is insupportable under any fair reading of the evidence. Wolter, how
ever, is content to restate essentially the argument of Josiah Priest, made nearly 200 years ago, and based on no better evidence: The Aztecs said north and the United States is north of Mexico; therefore, because the United States is better than Mexico the Aztecs had to come from here. Your civilization belongs to us. I will admit that this is a different turn for the show, extending its imperial ideology in a new direction. But since we already know from Wolter's radio interviews that he thinks that the Mississippians were chased out of America by the superior power of the Knights Templar, it is not as much of a shocking stretch as it seemed.
1/18/2014 03:12:27 pm
This episode seemed incredibly padded. Similar to the Great Wall episode it seemed pointless, full of hot air and even Scott didn't seem to buy into it. I'd actually rather have him looking for Templars and the Welsh Indians, at-least he makes a compelling host in those episodes, even if bat-sh*t crazy.
1/25/2014 12:34:37 pm
Jason D., you should be careful with those "bat-sh*t crazy" comments.... Scott and others will claim again that Jason C., acuses Scott of a mental illness... :-)
1/26/2014 04:27:31 am
Fair enough, we know Wolter and lot are very good at mis-attributing things, in fact doing so is his schtick.
1/18/2014 03:55:03 pm
Since this is the second consecutive episode that exhibited booze in the beginning, I wonder if it's a subliminal suggestion.
1/18/2014 08:16:38 pm
Indeed, I noticed that as well.
1/18/2014 10:23:58 pm
If I took a shot every time he said "I think" or "I believe", I'd wake up the next day to find my liver packing a suitcase and telling me "I need some time to myself".
1/19/2014 03:15:33 am
I try to follow a regional theme for food and beverages while I watch the show. For Wisconsin I had PBR and deep-fried cheese curds, Hawaii was a Mai Tai and SPAM, and Colorado was Coors and magic brownies.
1/20/2014 03:08:27 am
Fun fact: funny-sounding local brews are one of Wisconsin's proudest traditions. It's just a shame "Fat Squirrel" and "Horny Goat" didn't get any air time.
The Other J.
1/20/2014 09:03:24 am
Fun Fact: In the 1990's, when the major breweries started to collapse and consolidate and the microbreweries started to emerge, Wisconsin had more breweries per capita than Germany. I'm not sure if they still do, but they're up there.
1/21/2014 05:25:25 am
New Glarus- same company that makes Fat Squirrel.
1/18/2014 04:32:35 pm
I can honestly say I had never heard of Rocky the Lake Monster before tonight I saw this episode. So...technically I learned something.
The Other J.
1/20/2014 08:59:23 am
That's two of us. I've been to Rock Lake, I've been to Aztalan a few times, and never heard of the monster.
1/18/2014 05:30:51 pm
as someone that's lived in Lake Mills my whole life, this episode was funny. what really got me was that we have a "lake monster".
1/20/2014 04:23:15 am
you too? I am from NH and watching the episode on Phoenicians in an "ancient Stonehenge" here was hysterical. people here already knew the real backround...It is funny, when the series first started I told my geologist son, hey, maybe there is a science show that is actually science based...what a joke that has turned into. he travels for work at various sites, so when he comes back I fill him in on the latest stupidity. Also, I have noticed that some parts seem to be ads for other stuff. as the sub scenes finished I told my husband , " gee, what a good free ad". and the wasted "recap" time is absurd, Scott laughing all the way to the bank. as I have said before, my big concern is the continuing current assault on reson, logic, expertise, education...and replacement with the "gut feeling", emotion and lazy acceptance. last week, my daughter's mother-in-law told me after a radio weather report ..."you know, look at the weather. I don't believe about that whole global warming thing"...I took a deep breath and just reminded her, politely, that weather and climate aren't the same thing. I WANTED to ask if she has read any of the scientific reporting on the UN panel or ANY other scientific research...but then, for my daughter, left it at that. Thomas Paine and Jefferson must be weeping in their graves.
1/18/2014 05:46:59 pm
I was definitely hoping Scott would surface in time before something bad happened. I'd hate to lose a perfectly good submarine.
1/18/2014 07:51:09 pm
Not going to lie, I laughed.
1/18/2014 08:14:18 pm
It was definitely a joke, for anyone humor impaired or with a stick in a certain orifice.
1/18/2014 10:25:40 pm
I don't think the battery was designed with muckraking in mind, underwater or otherwise.
1/19/2014 01:51:30 pm
"I'd hate to lose a perfectly good submarine."
1/20/2014 04:25:03 am
ahhh...too funny :)
1/18/2014 05:47:17 pm
1/18/2014 06:05:08 pm
what a joke..i live 15 miles a way and am shocked to find out about this..my roommate and i as soon as the episode started predicted he wouldnt be able to view the pyramids...kindof like the hidden cave that was in a no fly zone in the grand canyon or burrows cave that someone willing to make headstones into fake relics wouldnt for attention wouldnt want to be famous...i watch this show to laugh at it..best part was when the guy from north carolina laughed at his theory of the early settlers and that chick carving the stones
1/18/2014 06:47:30 pm
Why do I continue to get my hopes up? I agree there was real potential here but what actually played out was yet another mess of painfully obvious product placement (beer, submarines, etc.) and wild theories.
1/18/2014 07:32:35 pm
I'd like to comment on the linguistic evidence cited in this show, as well as in the comments on one of the episodes to deal with runes.
1/20/2014 05:57:40 am
Mark M says: "On the subject of Vikings in America, another of the reasons to be suspicious of the Kensington Runestone...."
1/20/2014 09:11:40 am
Mark M and Gunn Sinclair may both be wrong about the KRS. Scott Wolter states the stone was buried to be located by connecting the stone holes. Debate will always be present about the runic letters and who carved them. Recent work or the latest theory is it is a fake carved by G Cooley in the late 1800s.
The Other J.
1/20/2014 09:21:24 am
Thanks for this -- very informative. Are you a linguist?
1/31/2014 05:39:35 pm
Sort of. I'm only an undergraduate student, but I have taken classes specifically dedicated to Old Norse and American Indian languages, and have read plenty on my own about them. I have also run into countless examples of people making "groundbreaking" linguistic discoveries, that are immediately and effortlessly debunkable if you know the first thing about linguistic science.
1/18/2014 08:05:32 pm
Scott "Standing on the shoulders of giants" Wolters regularly accuses us "the haters" (in layman`s term the critical thinkers) to take his words out of context.These are Scott Wolter`s words A posteriori.
1/18/2014 08:10:55 pm
"According to Wolter`s standards,my 7 yr old little sister is also an "historian""
1/18/2014 08:36:28 pm
Indeed,We should petition Professor Wolter to have my 7 yr old sister on his show.She is an authority on Tooth Fairy secret rituals.
1/18/2014 10:28:23 pm
1/18/2014 10:54:07 pm
Listen to this clip:
1/18/2014 11:31:28 pm
1/19/2014 12:45:01 am
In all fairness,I almost feel sorry for Scott Wolter,he lives in the fantasy world of a 12 yr old who takes Dan Brown`s novels as scientific literature.No wonder why he has such animosity towards academics & scientists. He is incapable of producing one rational argument.
1/19/2014 01:42:03 am
Tara you left off the most important part of Scott's comments about this blog and Jason
1/19/2014 02:05:22 am
This is exactly why I've only watched a couple of episodes to get the feel for the show and gauge Jason's interpretation for myself. Since then I've refused to actually watch the show, because that only gives it more support. I'm happy to support Jason's work because he's always up-front about where this stuff is coming from and I happen to believe in a little thing called journalistic integrity. AU lacks either.
1/19/2014 05:26:41 am
Tara, according to Russell Fridley's obituary (at minnesotahistory.net/?p=2822): "He did not believe that Vikings carved the Kensington Runestone, but even supporters of the Runestone liked Russell Fridley." Among other things, it also says, "When someone came to him with a new idea, he was always encouraging. . . . When you told him, probably in too much detail, he would respond with a pleasant, humorous, or encouraging comment. He was good with the legislature, in getting money for the historical society, and good with his staff, in getting productive work out of them." I can believe that he said that to Wolter, but I am not convinced he really meant it.
1/19/2014 06:06:10 am
I used Scott Wolter's own words,taken from the
1/19/2014 06:28:22 am
Understood. And I never heard of Fridley until you brought him up in your post. However, my quick investigation suggested that he probably did not have the low academic standards that you ascribed to him with your comment, based on Wolter's statement, about being glad you weren't one of his students, and I thought it was fair to his memory to point out an alternative explanation for what he purportedly told Wolter.
1/26/2014 07:23:34 am
Your sister could also probably do a quick search and see that the king of England in 1000 CE was in fact Ethelred II, not Henry I, as SW tells us for some reason...
1/26/2014 05:56:40 pm
Oh, didn't you know? The Normans got to England almost 100 years earlier than the lies they told us about Hastings. The Bayonne Tapestry is just covering up the truth. Harold II did die in battle. He was abducted by aliens.
1/18/2014 08:27:08 pm
Come on Scott Wolter, the Aztecs originating in Wisconsin? You may as well just start teaching Archaeology from the Book of Mormon. I don't know why I watch this garbage.
1/19/2014 01:21:36 am
You could always do like I do. I record it, but not watch it on Saturday night and read the blog here on Sunday. That way I can go back and look at the episode if there is actually anything interesting in it. If not, just a simple 'delete'.
1/23/2014 04:00:00 am
To me, this blog is infinitely more interesting than the show itself. I gave up watching it but come here instead for the recap and the related scholarship. Does that still count as generating interest in the show? Its not like I'm seeing the advertisements.
8/18/2014 09:40:21 am
That's exactly the kind of thinking Scott Walter uses. Using something as evidence in your argument that you know little to nothing about is pretty underhanded.
Scott is action man! Seriously, he is having a ball doing this show. I wonder how much he is getting per episode? The show has really all about Scott and his personality, facial mannerisms, you gotta love when he says to an expert, I disagree. It's entertainment period. I've decided not to get upset by its bad science anymore and just enjoy the comedic aspect of it. It's like Monty Python in a way.
1/23/2014 04:01:40 am
"It's like Monty Python in a way."
1/23/2014 04:01:57 am
"It's like Monty Python in a way."
1/23/2014 04:02:16 am
"It's like Monty Python in a way."
1/19/2014 01:19:32 am
Two comments that are not really related to the content of the show last night. The first is when I read Jason's comments about pseudo-historian Josiah Priest. The name struck me as familiar and it turns out that he is the one who wrote a book in 1839 about one of my direct ancestors in "The Low Dutch Boy Prisoner".
1/19/2014 02:18:00 am
I was kind of excited at first about this episode, since it seemed to be a 2-for-1: Scott was going to look for pyramids and lake monsters! Although I knew that he wouldn't find either, there were a few things about last night's show that I noticed seemed out of place for America Unearthed. The first thing was that he didn't leave the town of Rock Lake -- how come he didn't fly off to the Four Corners or Salt Lake once Robert Rodriguez told him he thinks that's where the Aztecs orginated? The next odd thing was that Scott talked to a real archaeologist, Bob Birmingham, and didn't challenge his conclusions (I suppose, though, that Scott may have already known that whatever rock formations are underneath the lake were the product of glaciers, as he quickly mentions at the end of the show). The last thing was that Scott didn't hook up with Jeff Stockinger back at the brewery to let him know what he found; he at least extended that courtesy to other tipsters from previous episodes.
The Other J.
1/20/2014 09:29:51 am
And I could never picture duck hunters being that well-dressed, especially in Wisconsin. Wisconsinites expect that sort of sartorial sense from Illinois vacationers.
1/19/2014 04:17:15 am
I think this was the first episode to even mention the Mississippian culture (only for Wolter to dismiss them). Them and the Pueblo are the TWO BIGGEST CONTRIBUTORS TO PRECONTACT NORTH AMERICAN RUINS! Yet Wolter seems to go out of his way to give them any credit or screen time.
1/19/2014 04:21:13 am
I didn't have any major problems with this episode - mostly because there was nothing to it. The most interesting thing was the sub infomercial and near-fatal accident (for God's sake Scott, please come back up!).
1/19/2014 05:14:37 am
An Over-Educated Grunt
1/19/2014 06:42:07 am
First he's Robert Langdon, then he's Robert Ballard! Is there no limit to the Bobs that he will imitate? Next we will all be saying "Scott's your uncle!"
1/19/2014 07:06:27 am
Wait, what? No love for Dr.Henry Wolton Jones JR. ??
An Over-Educated Grunt
1/19/2014 07:12:42 am
Hell no, he's a real-life David Hatcher Childress.
1/19/2014 07:44:23 am
WOW - What a show. When it opened I thought I was watching Duck Dynasty. Then we went to a bar and had a real Aztec beer. Then we went to the lake and got to the bottom before our battery went dead and no rock pile existed. The logic would be to use the other yellow submarine that stayed on top. When Scott got that scary feeling I thought of the lake monster I saw fly by and had to pause. To get another beer. When I got back up to speed we were standing on a small hill explaining all the other hills and a town center. I knew we were near the end when we got back to the corn field . When I eat my corn flakes for breakfast I will always thank the Aztec's. When I do the number two in the bathroom I will always think of the show.
1/19/2014 08:17:36 am
Years ago there were some people who believed professional wrestling was real. At that time wrestlers would never violate "kayfabe" and admit that matches were staged. Vince McMahon of the WWE started using the term "sports entertainment" for his exhibitions.
1/19/2014 10:55:42 am
In pro wrestling, depending on storylines, wrestlers will play a hero-type "face" or a villain-type "heel", and they switch between them periodically, changing their various gimmicks and costumes and stuff.
1/20/2014 06:13:00 am
And, of course we old-timers remember this:
1/19/2014 11:00:19 am
Don't get Wolter started on Native Americans and Freemasonry! He thinks that the Midewin (Mide) rituals of the Ojibwa are evidence of medieval Templar-Masonic influence in America.
1/19/2014 11:06:35 am
Been reading the debate on the out of Africa versus the multiregional theories of behavior modern man, given some of the dig site carbon dating, one could make an argument that modern man started in he Americas and followed he horse into Asia, now wouldn't hat screw up Scott's theories. Ha ha
1/19/2014 01:03:15 pm
Worse, if there were Aquatic Apes in Antarctica more than 3 million years ago when it was warmer and had trees, if they
1/19/2014 04:13:36 pm
Is Scott aware that plenty of Western cultures in North America got along just fine before white Europeans showed up? Because he seems to think they couldn't have wiped their proverbial noses without Masons or Templars.
Day Late and Dollar Short
4/19/2015 04:46:24 am
Sorry, was reading old posts, but as a member of the Red Cliff Band of Chippewa (Ojibwe) Indians of Northern Wisconsin, and someone who participates in Mide rituals and culture, I am very interested in this theory. Could you direct me to where he made these claims so I may investigate it myself? I hope it is more amusing than offensive, but won't hold my breath.
1/19/2014 01:24:48 pm
I did not see any apes or horses out of Africa in the show. I thought the subject was Corn. What the people ate and what they did with the cobb before newspaper and banana leaves. For a minute I thought Scott and his retired archeologist were going to dig into the waste pile to support their Aztec theory on the run.
1/19/2014 01:40:01 pm
Its a TV show for gods sake not unlike survivor and it is being treated as if it should be taken seriously. Get a grip!
Rev. Phil Gotsch
1/19/2014 02:04:59 pm
It's a TV show produced for commercial purposes ...
The Other J.
1/20/2014 09:41:10 am
Which is why we shouldn't take Wolter at his word or believe his claims -- they're made on television, and as such they don't carry any actual truth or f actuality. It's just like you keep repeating, it's only entertainment, and if you believe entertainment like Wolter, you're a stupid dupe who deserves to be a mark.
1/19/2014 02:20:41 pm
Seems some nerves have been *touched* here
1/19/2014 02:27:30 pm
do I tell my grandchildren to place it in Star War category or Christopher Columbus was the first to America?
An Over-Educated Grunt
1/19/2014 02:26:18 pm
Why shouldn't it be taken seriously? Why exactly should I as a paying customer, since this is on a cable station, tolerate shoddy programs and slipshod science? Why should I put up with garbage just because it's not on PBS? Time was when this wouldn't even have made it into A&E's Saturday morning Woo block. Now it's one of their subs' biggest draws.
1/20/2014 04:46:13 am
it does matter because many kids ARE taking this stuff as truth. a few years ago, as a high school teacher, I saw lots of kids really worried that on tv..."history" shows and "Science" shows were saying that Dec 2012 would be the end of the world..."the Mayan calendar" says...etc. I had to keep spending time explaining the latest BS to worried kids up until the "end". there is enough REAL frightening crap going on .
1/19/2014 03:43:18 pm
Anybody got an Oreo?
1/19/2014 04:07:51 pm
Scott's obsession with the Templars and Masons is beyond tiring, as is his use of the words "maybe" and "possible" to justify his arguments. In theory, anything is possible. However, Wolter really, really needs to incorporate Occam's Razor into his reasoning skills.
1/19/2014 07:50:27 pm
1/19/2014 07:59:19 pm
The 1847 map they showed is in the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection:
1/20/2014 07:07:24 am
Apparently my website is giving Tara Jordan some trouble in posting. While I try to see if I can get the problem resolved, she has asked me to post the following on her behalf:
Rev. Phil Gotsch
1/20/2014 09:23:38 am
1/20/2014 09:30:45 am
I believe, Phil, that she was making a rhetorical point that Wolter is attempting to use his geological credentials (which, of course, exist) to give credibility to findings that do not actually involve real geological investigation. She isn't questioning that he is a licensed geologist but that he is utilizing the trappings of the profession without performing its functions vis-à-vis this episode. Thus, one might say, "Phil pretends to be a 'clergyman,' but he endorses un-biblical positions on lying!" It's not a question of the credentials but rather a rhetorical exercise in stating that the results do not conform to the perceived norms for the profession.
Rev. Phil Gotsch
1/20/2014 09:33:31 am
Thus you excuse your endorsement of Tara Jordan's ad hominem snark ...
1/20/2014 09:38:32 am
I'm not endorsing it, and I've posted comments from people on the other side of the issues in the past when there has been a comments problem. Yes, that means I'd even do the same for you. I recall reading somewhere about how important it is to do unto others and to turn the other cheek, but I can't quite remember the source...
1/20/2014 10:46:25 am
Funny you should mention endorsement and ad hominem remarks.
1/20/2014 02:45:44 pm
Rev. Phil Gotsch
1/20/2014 09:40:53 am
I find it telling that geologists in Minnesota and elsewhere in the U.S. are not coming to his defense or endorsing his claims on this program.
Rev. Phil Gotsch
1/20/2014 09:50:59 am
Scott Wolter is the HOST of the "America Unearthed" H2 TV shows …
1/20/2014 09:54:31 am
Except when I try to discuss it, at which point it offends you.
Rev. Phil Gotsch
1/20/2014 10:31:39 am
1/20/2014 11:44:54 am
1/20/2014 12:04:20 pm
"But (IMHO) they have the positive value of encouraging interest in and discussion of North American history and pre-history..."
The Other J.
1/20/2014 10:14:06 am
The biggest disappointment in this episode is he didn't even find anything close to a rock formation in the lake. Whether the formation is natural or man-made, there's no excuse for that, because sonar has been used to show where the formations are on the lake. The Chicago Tribune reported on this back in 1999, and the article is still available for anyone to read:
Rev. Phil Gotsch
1/20/2014 10:55:38 am
For sure …
The Other J.
1/20/2014 12:07:26 pm
A.) I'm not a producer, and I'm not being paid by A&E to read a newspaper article and make a few calls.
1/20/2014 02:34:23 pm
the first thing I thought of was sonar as well! Jason, you usually are more vocal in the comments, watching your words more carefully?
Rev. Phil Gotsch
1/20/2014 03:34:36 pm
I am a personal friend and professional colleague of Scott Wolter -- not his agent or personal representative … so I'm not comfortable giving out his contact information …
1/20/2014 12:05:05 pm
He doesn't like the Beatles?
1/20/2014 01:21:06 pm
He apparently prefers the Rolling Stones, although "Magical Mystery Tour" would suit the show much better. lol
The Other J.
1/20/2014 02:57:54 pm
If you haven't, check out "Their Satanic Majesties Request" (1967). It's the Stones trippiest record.
1/20/2014 04:01:46 pm
Ah, yes indeed. Amazing that the Stones are still playing on and holding their own..
1/20/2014 04:49:28 pm
Correction: 'with Mick and Charlie in the background'. Jason needs a preview and edit feature here. lol
Rev. Phil Gotsch
1/20/2014 04:56:13 pm
The DECADES-long persistence of classic bands is interesting … however … one may call to mind the certified genuine authentic actual axe used by Abraham Lincoln to chop down George Washington's cherry tree … It has had only one new head and three new handles … !!!
The Other J.
1/20/2014 07:39:21 pm
Man, I had to do a double-take -- that's Mick Jagger with short hair just looking scowly in a suit. Why were they there?
1/21/2014 05:38:14 am
From Underwater Pyramids to Roll Stone tribute blog in less than 100 posts.
1/21/2014 03:54:18 pm
i think archie died, shame to see the website is down.
1/22/2014 10:10:36 pm
Can you not just get a show with one off these networks or at least a special funded to show opposing view points and more actual historical evidence?
1/23/2014 01:04:58 am
Debunking isn't titillating. People want to be something other than just informed. That's why science shows don't do so well unless there is something more entertaining to it. Sometimes they will have people on who actually have some background on the subject (not so much on Scott's show) but that isn't the rule, and more's the shame. The public is becoming more ignorant of science and seem to want sensationalism in it's place.
Rev. Phil Gotsch
1/24/2014 08:20:14 am
Jamie Eckles -- I agree …
1/23/2014 04:19:22 am
On the subject of "It's just a show and we should all sit down and relax" I'd like to propose a test.
1/23/2014 09:00:53 am
1/23/2014 09:05:58 am
Sorry about that... It fell off the first page of my email and I missed it. I sent you a response just now.
1/24/2014 01:06:33 pm
Jason and everyone else, I wrote on Scott's blog posing some questions under "anonymous" because I didn't feel like creating an account. I posted the link below. Wolter gave a response that answered a portion of my question. I was. Just pleased that finally I was able to get a hold of him
1/25/2014 06:56:53 pm
I'm going to say, good day sirs, I will no longer be watching sir douche. keep up the angry contentment, its keeping the series A ok.
ps imm on 2 u
1/25/2014 06:58:29 pm
1/25/2014 08:14:49 pm
I gotta be honest. The only reason I still watch this show is to see what kind if complete bull Scott is going to pull out of his rear end each week.
2/22/2014 05:43:10 pm
Fast forward to rerun of episode aired 2/22/14. Having more than s few questions, I googled the series. The first link I clicked was to this post. I really was curious about Roberto Rodriguez, who so reminded me of the Robert Birmingham I went to school with. I was aware that he became an archeologist.
5/20/2014 03:39:11 pm
Scott has frequently told us that just because he cannot find evidence, doesn't mean things didn't happen......so this episode is nothing new. I had to laugh when he found himself stuck in the mud on the lake bottom and wondered would I rescue him if I were there???
Come on Man!
2/5/2015 05:53:22 am
I'm certain we don't have ancient history correct, but Scott Wolter's American Unearthed gets us nowhere closer to the truth.
9/2/2015 09:10:11 am
I think there are definitely structures beneath Rock Lake, but this desire to say people other then the ancestor of the local Natives built them distorts the whole thing.
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.
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 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.