What is it about the so-called “long” nineteenth century (broadly defined—1789-1914 in Europe or 1776-1917 in the U.S.) that is so endlessly fascinating to fringe history folk? So much of what America Unearthed investigates comes directly from material published during these years, from the “mystery” of the Newport Tower (1839) to the Stone of Destiny (1861) to “Aztec” pyramids in Wisconsin (1837/1900) to the Grand Canyon “Egyptian” tomb (1909) to tonight’s investigation into the alleged connection between the Serpent Mound of Ohio and—let’s not mince words—a glacial deposit mistaken for an artificial mound in Scotland in 1871, a claim first published in April 1890.
Sure, it was the height of bizarre ideas about history: the myth of the lost white race of the Mound Builders, the search for the Lost Tribes of Israel in America, the search for Atlantis and the Phoenicians everywhere in the world, Root Races, Lemuria, and the White Master Race. But why did those ideas persist even after mainstream history had long since discarded them as uninformed speculation tempered by fluid prejudice? Medieval fringe history—the claims of the fictitious Sir John Mandeville, for example—finds few advocates, and early modern fringe history—Hy-Brasil, for example—tends to exist as a subset of Victorian ideas about it. The Zeno Narrative is a great example: written in the 1500s, all of the discussion about it focuses on claims made for its alleged connection to Henry Sinclair in 1783 and 1875.
Practically, this is probably the case because Congress froze the public domain in 1923 with the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, enacted as a result of lobbying by the Walt Disney Company, a co-owner of H2. This means that Victorian material is free to use, but later ideas require hefty licensing payments to their authors. This impoverishment of the public domain produces a sad state of affairs where it is simply cost-prohibitive to work with more recent material unless you have a lot of money.
On the other hand, there is still a sense that the Victorians (broadly defined; pre-war Edwardians are close enough) were the last adults, the serious, sober people who were the last to participate in the vanished, romantic, gilded high culture of the pre-World War I era. As we mark one hundred years since the Great War, we can see just how vast a sea-change there was between 1914 and 1918, and especially after 1945, when the old Western aristocratic high culture was all but obliterated. Lytton Strachey may struck wildly at the Victorians, but the failures of their successors—the Depression, World War II, etc.—seems to have locked the people of 1776-1917 into the role of the Great Men, a semi-mythical race of demigods who form our fantasies (Jane Austen romances) and our nightmares (Gothic horror). I am always struck by the fact that not far from my house, wealthy people fight to squat in the carriage houses beside crumbling Victorian mansions, turning them into “romantic” luxury homes while the mansions themselves are subdivided into apartments, torn down, or left to rot. It’s symbolic of the way our culture—for myriad reasons—has mythologized the Revolutionary Era and the Victorian Era the way the Greeks thought of the Bronze Age as the Age of Heroes.
But enough of that. You’re interested in the specific moldy Victorian idea we’re trying to pump new blood into tonight.
This episode of America Unearthed examines serpent mounds in Ohio and Scotland. The Ohio mound is well-known, and indeed is among the most famous effigy mounds in the world. It is attributed to the Fort Ancient culture on the strength of 1991 radiocarbon dating that places its origins around 1120 CE, though some favor an origin with the Adena culture from the first centuries BCE. No Adena artifacts have been found at the mound. The Scottish mound, located at Loch Nell (Lochnell) on the west coast, is incredibly obscure. I can vouchsafe that it does in fact exist, but just what it is was for a long time a matter of dispute. Archaeologists, as we shall see, have determined it is a natural glacial deposit.
The question of a connection between serpent mounds traces its origins back to ancient and not-so-ancient ideas about serpent worship. To understand that, however, requires a bit of background on the idea of biblical inerrancy. Since before the time of the Church Fathers, Jews and, later, Christians recognized that the pagans had myths parallel to Biblical stories, particularly the close resemblance between the Flood stories of Babylon (known from Berosus and Macrobius long before the decipherment of cuneiform) and that of Genesis. The longstanding Judeo-Christian reading was that the pagans had a corrupt version of biblical truth, absorbed stories ignorantly from the Jews, or had been deceived by demons who distorted divine truth to masquerade as gods themselves (e.g. Flavius Josephus, Against Apion 1.23; Eusebius, Praep. Evang. 9.1; Augustine, City of God 7.33 and 8.23-4, etc.).
By the time of the Spanish Conquest, when Europeans encountered the indigenous religions of the Americas, they unabashedly declared that the Devil had come to these people and made a parody of Christianity for them to follow. The diabolic remained the language used to describe American indigenous religions for a couple of centuries, until the missionary work of conversion had done its job.
In the eighteenth century, Jacob Bryant brought this trend to its scientific height, producing an elaborate multi-volume work called The New System or Analysis of Ancient Mythology (1774-1776) in which he employed Enlightenment rationalism to ancient myth by attempting to reduce all of the pagan mythology to history. This had been a popular pastime, indulged in by the likes of Isaac Newton and the Abbé Banier, but Bryant went further, declaring that all ancient myths were corruptions of the narrative of Genesis, which he took for reliable history. In so doing, he declared Noah’s Ark the original of most myths about boats and that the pagan gods were distortions of various biblical figures. Ham, for example, became the Egyptian sun god Amon, who in turn gave rise to the Aryan solar cults, largely because Ham’s descendants settled the known world but were rebellious and impious.
In vol. 1 of the New System Bryant declared that “The symbolical worship of the serpent was, in the first ages, very extensive; and was introduced into all the mysteries, wherever celebrated.” In the second volume, he went further. Using Hyginus as evidence, he claimed to have proven that the Greek and Latin words for serpent, draco, originally referred to an enclosure, “formed of earth, and esteemed of old oracular,” so that a dragon was symbolic of a sacred mound. He got this from Fabula 140: “Python, son of Earth, was a huge dragon. Before Apollo, he used to be in the habit of giving oracular responses on Mount Parnassus” (my trans.). For Bryant, this meant that Python, the large snake, was some sort of building where oracles gave readings since obviously giant snakes didn’t exist. His warrant here is his claim that draco was a corruption of Tarchon, the Etruscan culture hero and eponymous founder of the Tarquin dynasty. Tarchon, he thought, corrupted into Trachon and then Draco. Bryant contended that the temples of Tarchon included serpent gods, and “When the Greeks understood that in these temples people worshipped a serpent Deity, they concluded that Trachon was a serpent: and hence came the name of Draco to be appropriated to such an animal.”
This, then, is the origin of the idea that serpent mounds have a connection to one another and to the divine. “All these histories relate to sacred inclosures; and to the worship of the serpent, and rites of fire, which were practised within them. Such an inclosure was by the Greeks styled τεμενος, and the mound or high place ταφος and τυμβος; which had often a tower upon it, esteemed a sanctuary and asylum.”
But Bryant, who was simply rationalizing anything and everything through false etymologies and wishful thinking, focused heavily on post-Noachian history, and so he chose to read the serpent as a corruption of references to towers and enclosures built by the sons of Noah. We can therefore take leave of Bryant here, but not before mentioning two small, unrelated points of interest:
First, Bryant also concluded that the Nephilim—those famous ancient astronaut fallen angels—had their home base in Thessaly because the mother of Phrixus and Helle, Nephele, was obviously a corruption of the Nephilim, whom he decided were the ancestors of the Greeks!
Second, Bryant introduced in his Observations on the Plain of Troy (1795) the idea that the Trojan War was a myth and that Troy never existed. Although he was roundly criticized by his contemporaries, the widespread popularity of his books as fonts of scholarly learning gave rise to the Troy-as-myth idea so skilfully exploited by Heinrich Schliemann in crafting his heroic triumph over a nonexistent orthodoxy still celebrated by fringe historians today.
More important to the study of serpent-shaped mounds was the British divine John Bathurst Deane, grandfather of P. G. Wodehouse. He agreed with Bryant in reducing all of world mythology to corruptions of Genesis. However, he differed from Bryant in that he preferred to read mythology as corruptions of the Eden story—the ancient history that Noah’s children would have known as they sailed on the Ark—rather than of Noachian history, which to Noah’s kids was simply their own lives. He expounded on this in an 1833 tract called The Worship of the Serpent. Thus, for Deane, serpents were all corruptions of the first and worst of all serpents, the tempter from the Garden of Eden. For Deane, this serpent was “far from allegorical” and an actual creature, subject of hatred by the faithful and worship by the ignorant:
The worship of the serpent may be traced in almost every religion through ancient Asia, Europe, Africa, and America. The progress of the sacred serpent from Paradise to Peru is one of the most remarkable phenomena in mythological history; and to be accounted for only upon the supposition that a corrupted tradition of the serpent in Paradise had been handed down from generation to generation. But how an object of abhorrence could have been exalted into an object of veneration, must be referred to the subtilty of the arch enemy himself, whose constant endeavour has been rather to corrupt than obliterate the true faith, that, in the perpetual conflict between truth and error, the mind of man might be more surely confounded and debased.
In a chapter devoted to serpent worship in the Americas, Deane connects the serpent of Eden to various Central and South American snake gods and asserted that the Egyptians brought serpent worship, along with Isis worship, to Peru. However, Deane said that he had no reliable information about North America above the Rio Grande and therefore could not speak to serpent worship there, though he suspected it.
You’ll recognize Deane’s claims, of course. This imaginary universal cult of serpent worship inspired Helena Blavatsky’s Brotherhood of the Serpent in The Secret Doctrine (1888), which inspired Peter Tompkins to declare them ancient astronauts in Mysteries of the Pyramids (1987). This became the slightly different version of the same aliens called the Brotherhood of the Snake in William Bramley’s Gods of Eden (1989). These find echo, not coincidentally, in David Icke’s Reptilians, which literalize the imaginary serpent cult with an assist from V and Robert E. Howard.
Deane’s book, however, also served as the basis for a popular tract believed to have been written by the Rev. Hargrave Jennings in 1889 called Ophiolatreia: Serpent Worship, a miscellany published anonymously and composed of lengthy excerpts, many from Deane, strung together with a thin tissue of connecting text. I won’t mince words: Jennings differed from Deane in that he believed all global serpent worship was connected not to the Bible but to penis worship because snakes look like penises, the most important and essential element of fertility: “Ophiolatreia, the worship of the Serpent, is of Phallic origin.” (How’s that for your “sacred feminine”?)
Along with his Old World examples, Jennings included the mounds of the Midwest, which he linked to Mexico and the Aztecs—thematically rather than archaeologically. He described the Serpent Mound at great length, but instead of declaring it an Old World construction, he instead related it to other effigy mounds of the vicinity, such as the lesser-known Alligator Effigy Mound of Granville, Ohio (which is more likely to be an underwater panther, a figure from Native mythology) and mounds of other animal shapes in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin.
However, instead of reaching the obvious conclusion that the Serpent Mound was simply one of many different animal-shaped mounds, he instead works it into a global penis-worship cult:
Upon the basis, therefore, of the identity which we have observed in the elementary religious conceptions of the Old and New World, and the striking uniformity in their symbolical systems, we feel justified in ascribing to the emblematic Serpent and Egg of Ohio a significance radically the same with that which was assigned to the analogous compound symbol among the primitive nations of the East. This conclusion is further sustained by the character of some of the religious structures of the old continent, in which we find the symbolic serpent and the egg or circle represented on a most gigantic scale. Analogy could probably furnish no more decisive sanction, unless by exhibiting other structures, in which not only a general correspondence, but an absolute identity should exist. Such an identity it would be unreasonable to look for, even in the works of the same people, constructed in accordance with a common design.
In short, Jennings felt that the Ohio mound, being similar to Old World constructions in general shape, proved some sort of ancient religious connection. For him, that was all about penis worship. While Jennings did not relate the Ohio mound specifically to Loch Nell’s serpent mound, he did relate it to the megaliths at Avebury, near Stonehenge, which formed a circle with two parallel wavy lines leading up to it. Deane had seen it as a symbolic serpent, and so too did Jennings. Jennings also made mention of serpent carvings on Scottish stones.
The next year, however, one of the Victorian period’s most famous archaeologists linked the Ohio Serpent Mound to the Loch Nell mound. His name was Frederic Ward Putnam, and it is to the remarkable efforts of the “Father of American Archaeology” that we owe the preservation of the Ohio Serpent Mound; but before we look at his claim we need to review the controversy over the Serpent Mound of Scotland.
The Loch Nell mound was discovered in 1871 and first described in a magazine article by Miss C. F. Gordon Cummings in Good News in 1872. It was thereafter the subject of some dispute as to its origins. Various writers declared it a snake, a dragon, or a lizard; Cummings favored the lizard interpretation, though she speculated whether the mound could have been inspired by fossil dinosaurs or a global cult of prehistoric serpent worship. She also noted that another investigator wondered whether it had been built by Egyptian serpent-worshipers on the strength of British-Israel claims associated with the Stone of Destiny that held that some Egyptians had traveled to ancient Scotland!
John Stuart of the Society of Antiquaries examined the site and found reports of its shape gravely exaggerated in a note published in the Society’s Proceedings of March 13, 1876:
When at Oban last autumn, […] I took an opportunity, at the same time, of inspecting a gravel hillock on the shore of Lochnell, which has of late attained some notoriety from the wild fancies of amateur archaeologists, who, out of a natural eskar, have invented a “serpent mound,” and adapted it to theories of serpent worship, neither of which ever had existence beyond the imaginations of sundry writers who have celebrated them both in prose and verse.
On the other hand, Nature received a letter from a correspondent who declared it artificial in their issue of July 10, 1879:
I walked over yesterday from here to examine this for myself. I started with some feelings of doubt as to whether it was not one of those fantastic shapes naturally assumed by igneous rocks, seen through the spectacles of an antiquarian enthusiast. I came away quite satisfied that it is an artificial shape, designedly given, and deliberately intended to represent a snake. It partly closes the entrance of a singular little rock amphitheatre with a waterfall at the head (the north end of it), the Loch being to the southward. There is a raised plateau to the northward of the serpent, nearly square. The ground is apparently a rubble of gravel, stones, and dirt, such as is found in moraines. The head of the snake had been opened, and showed a quantity of stones with some indication of a square chamber in the middle.
On the strength of such claims, James Forlong included the Loch Nell serpent mound as an example of serpent or phallic worship in his Faiths of Man (1906), a massive encyclopedia of religion still reprinted today.
Robert Angus Smith, writing in 1885, reported that as soon as investigators got to the site in 1871, they found none of the stones said to mark the spine of the snake. Whatever artificial mound there was had eroded heavily, and Smith was unable to see a difference between the serpent mound and any of the other mounds surrounding the lake.
F. W. Putnam, of Harvard’s Peabody Museum, approached the problem in 1890, writing in The Century magazine. He wrote that he found it beyond coincidental that Old World and New World people could all adopt a symbol of a snake swallowing an egg—as though such events were unprecedented in nature. He suggested that serpent worship traveled from Asia, across the Pacific Islands, and thus to the Americas. He did not, however, visit the Scottish site himself (though he had personally investigated the mound in Ohio) and instead relied upon the 1872 popular magazine article discussed above for his information, an article eighteen years out of date when he wrote. Based on this, and the illustration from it that he reproduced for his own article, he asked:
Is there not something more than mere coincidence in the resemblances between the Loch Nell and the Ohio serpent, to say nothing of the topography of their respective situations? Each has the head pointing west, and each terminates with a circular inclosure, containing an altar, from which, looking along the most prominent portion of the serpent, the rising sun may be seen. If the serpent of Scotland is the symbol of an ancient faith, surely that of Ohio is the same.
He concluded, based on this evidence, that the mound builders had come from serpent-worshiping people in central Asia, “the land, more than any other, that we have reason to consider as the original home of the brachycephali, one of the early peoples of America,” whose representatives also spread their serpent faith westward, influencing Europe and thus the Celts. Putnam was referring to an obsolete idea that different skull shapes among Native burials represented different migrations of people to America.
This, as I understand it, is the foundation for the claim of a connection between the two mounds. Given that Putnam was using material already outdated in 1890 and was appealing to migration theories that went out of fashion over the next few decades, especially after the discovery of the Clovis culture and the recognition that the Americas were peopled much earlier than the historic period, his article fell into obscurity until fringe writers started rifling through Victorian literature for new, weird claims.
However, based on Putnam’s work, in 1910 Theosophy adopted both mounds as evidence of the “universality of the Secret Doctrine” of Helena Blavatsky, who preached the serpent as a wisdom symbol and such mounds as evidence of ancient Initiates into the cult of the Ascended Masters, whom we know today as ancient astronauts.
George Herbert Cooper repeated Putnam’s claims in Ancient Britain: The Cradle of Civilization (1921), which was as cranky as its title implies (one of his major sources was Ignatius Donnelly), but he adjusted the claim to make both mounds into reflections of “the ancient sky divinity worship which includes the solar system as well as the visible constellations.” He assumed both represented an unrecorded constellation drawn from a cherry-picked set of stars typically assigned to the area around Perseus, and included charts showing the Ohio mound alongside the constellation. Graham Hancock would be proud. Other researchers have tried to connect the mound to Draco.
Cooper then decided that this represented a transmission from prehistoric Britain to primeval America of a sky-serpent cult and that this was related to the serpent of Eden. I could do an entire article on nothing but Cooper’s bizarre Atlantis-Stonehenge-numerology-Berosus claims.
It seems that it was once again ex-Neo Nazi Frank Joseph who popularized the link between the alleged serpent mound in Britain to the Serpent Mound in Ohio for modern fringe history audiences. Writing in The Destruction of Atlantis (1987; new edition 2002), Joseph closely paraphrased Putnam, including quoting the same sources Putnam had himself quoted. He attributed the Ohio Serpent Mound to an attempt to memorialize a meteor strike (the land beneath the mound had been hit almost 300 million years ago, but nothing would have been visible at the time of construction) and suggested that the Scottish mound was similarly an attempt to record a volcanic event. Apparently Native people somehow sensed the lingering magical or magnetic power of the meteor. Because Joseph’s book was a hardcover release from a major publisher (Simon & Schuster), it reached an outsized audience compared to other fringe history books—indeed Joseph later claimed that the book made enough money to fund eight years of research.
Writing in 2007, Andrew Collins, best known today for being on Ancient Aliens, picked up on Joseph’s work and lamented that another, recently-discovered serpent-shaped mound in Britain made from piles of stones was to be buried under a highway: “These [piles] form a series of linked opposing curves, creating a zigzagging mosaic pathway that bears striking similarities to a similar mound structure in Ohio, USA.” Collins insinuated that the British government was intentionally hiding the Bronze Age structure with its plans to encase it in concrete for future generations, to prevent students of “earth mysteries” from accessing it.
For Andrew Collins, however, the existence of the serpent mound is never in doubt but its connection to Ohio is somewhat more tenuous: “Regarding the comparisons with Ohio’s own Serpent Mound, located in Serpent Mound Park, Adams County, the matter becomes that much more tricky, even though the similarities between the two are striking to say the least.” An archaeologist, Keith Ray, told Collins that there was no connection between British mound (presumably one under the highway) and American mounds, separated in time by thousands of years, but Collins does not care: “Despite this the similaries (sic) cannot be overlooked, and should be examined without prejudice.”
Unprejudiced modern investigation would seem to confirm the Victorian doubters’ views. The so-called Serpent Mound was in fact a curving deposit of stony debris left behind by a retreating glacier, according to Audrey Shore Henshall’s Chambered Tombs of Scotland, vol. 2 (1972) as well as Graham Ritchie, writing in The Archaeology of Argyll (1997), and about half a dozen other geological and archaeological sources I checked. There is a genuine prehistoric cairn, or burial mound of stones, located at the head of the glacial deposit, called an esker or kaim, but the snake-shape itself is natural. In this view, the stone cairn near this curving deposit may have been intentionally placed to represent the head of a serpent on a natural feature. Or it could have been placed there coincidentally. Its natural status is confirmed by the presence of a similar, though less perfect, serpentine esker four miles to the east on a farm in Glenlonan, and a smaller one at Lochmelford.
However, the U.S. Department of the Interior reported to UNESCO in its application for World Heritage status for the Ohio Serpent Mound that it was comparable to a manmade Loch Nell Serpent Mound! They appeared to be basing their claims, once again, on Putnam, whose research seems to underlie the Serpent Mound application. An idea, no matter how wrong, never dies.
So, with the exception of the unnamed Nature correspondent, we can see that claims for Loch Nell having a serpent mound fall into two categories: those who base their claims on an 1872 popular magazine article (or Putnam’s summary of the same) and see it as artificial, and those who did firsthand research at the site and declared it a natural formation.
Hiss! Hiss! We open with a claim that there are mounds located worldwide that are “linked” by symbolism across oceans—a claim given in the on-screen text that is utterly false. There is no demonstrable connection between cultures across time and space that suggests any direct connection from one mound to another, a claim already specious when Ignatius Donnelly made it in Atlantis: The Antediluvian World (1882).
After the credits, we go to Oban, Scotland where Wolter “investigates” the alleged Serpent Mound, long known as a glacial deposit. Wolter asserts that he was on vacation in Scotland with a camera crew when Alan Butler asked him to come view the Loch Nell Serpent Mound. Disclosure: Regular readers will recall that Butler and his writing partner, Christopher Knight, threatened to have me criminally investigated for reviewing one of their books, and A+E Networks threatened to sue me on behalf of Scott Wolter over claims Wolter owned the letter X with a hook on it.
Butler shows Wolter the 1872 romantic drawing of the Scottish site given above and suggests that it is an accurate representation of the mound. Butler asserts that the mound was covered in stone, but the archaeologists who investigated the site failed to find evidence of this as early as 1876. Butler betrays not a moment’s doubt that this glacial deposit was in fact a Bronze Age construction designed for ritual sacrifice. No evidence of human sacrifice has been found in connection with the serpent mound; what was found was some evidence of high status burial in the small cairn, typical of other cairns. Wolter, to his credit, recognizes that this is an esker, a natural formation. But he then lets this pass right on by to talk about serpent lore—without explaining why we should believe that the esker was seen as a serpent by the Scots of the Bronze Age. Seriously, the area is lousy with cairns. What makes him think this one was placed here for serpentine reasons?
In trying to tie back to past episodes Wolter asserts that there is “some truth” to the legend that a sea-serpent inhabits Rock Lake, which he “links” to the Aztecs despite having failed to prove the existence of an Aztec connection last week. He further misuses the word “archaeoastronomy” to refer to ancient people’s astronomical knowledge, and he insinuates a connection among the non-existence (modern) lake monster and the Scottish snake. This is part of a concerted effort to attribute Mesoamerican and Native American culture back to prehistoric Europeans, as we shall see.
Despite having already declared Loch Nell a natural deposit just seconds ago, he then says it was “intentionally” built to align to the sun. To prove this, he uses a phone app that has clearly provided its services for promotional consideration since the show becomes a commercial for the app I won’t name. Wolter asserts, without evidence, that the site he had already declared natural is somehow “probably” aligned to the sun, the moon, the stars, etc. just like Stonehenge, El Castillo, and the Washington Monument. He and Butler seem giddy at the idea of human sacrifice and “pagan rituals,” though Wolter concedes again that the esker was a natural feature.
I am frankly confused: If not for the fact that I strongly suspect he is reenacting Frederic Putnam’s 1890 article, I can’t fathom why he is pretending that this natural formation is somehow an astronomically aligned semi-artificial construction. There is no evidence that the glacial deposit has been significantly altered in orientation since its deposit. The only unnatural feature is the Bronze Age burial beside it, and we have no way of knowing what those people thought of the mound. There is no clear evidence of serpent worship in the area, or in Scotland in general, from the era, let alone connections to the global serpent cult of John Bathurst Deane or the global penis cult of Hargrave Jennings or James Forlong.
After the first commercial, we have a written recap followed by an oral recap repeating the claim that Wolter travels on vacation with a camera crew. We then travel to Ohio, but oddly enough the show seems to assume that the viewers already know about the Serpent Mound of Ohio, having mentioned it a few times so far without ever naming what it is.
Wolter meets with Ross Hamilton, a fringe author who thinks there is a secret code in the Serpent Mound meant to signal someone “from above.” He was called out last year by Indian Country as part of the “crazy theories” that threaten the mound. Hamilton asserts that the mound was built around 2000 BCE or earlier and claims that carbon dating places it at least in the 300s BCE, while the Adena maintained the site in the early centuries BCE. However, this does not match archaeological evidence, which dated the site based on charcoal found in mound to 1120 CE (plus or minus 70 years). Hamilton is referring to 2011 radiocarbon tests on charcoal that did not come from a secure context and may represent an Adena occupation from before the mound was built, as Brad Lepper discussed last year.
Hamilton believes that the Serpent Mound is part of a zodiac-inspired set of earth magic alignments in mound sites across the Midwest. There is no clear alignment to Draco as Wolter and Hamilton claim; indeed, there is no evidence that Draco existed as a constellation in 2000 BCE for any imaginary mound builders to imitate. Western constellations evolved around 500 BCE in Babylon. The Serpent Mound may well have had astronomical alignments; this is not controversial. What is controversial is claiming that the Native Americans of 1000 CE were not capable of discovering this on their own. Wolter wants to know if the Scots had “knowledge transfer” to Ohio, a diffusion of knowledge from Europe to America. Why shouldn’t it go the other way? Why didn’t the Native Americans give the snake to Scotland, especially since Hamilton’s fanciful dating of 2000 BCE or more proposed an older date for the Serpent Mound of Ohio than the fake one in Scotland? Surely that is equally likely, unless there is some reason that Native Americans should be in tutelage to Europeans.
Hamilton brings up the idea that the mound represents the Eden serpent and thus points to the Garden of Eden here in America—but of course.
After the break we get more recap before Hamilton tells us that the Cherokee believed the U.S. had once been a garden, which Hamilton identifies as the Garden of Eden. Wolter, thankfully, doesn’t buy that the Serpent Mound was Eden. Hamilton, though, directs Wolter to Iowa to view more effigy mounds, which are smaller and of many different animals. This would, of course, make the serpent seem less special if taken at face value. But we will not do that, of course. So, we’re off to Iowa, where Wolter continues what he calls his quest to find the true Mound Builders. He meets with James Scherz, who is not what the show claims him to be. He is not a historian of any kind, as they pretend, at least no more than I am. Wolter fails to disclose that Scherz worked with him on Holy Grail in America in 2009, and that Scherz is a fringe theorist who accepts the Burrows Cave artifacts as genuine pieces of ancient European art. Indeed, he coauthored Richard Burrows’ 1992 book on the cave. Scherz is a civil engineer, not an archaeologist, and as professor he taught plumbing. He has a vested interest in promoting European visitation to America because he owns a collection of Burrows Cave artifacts whose value depends on acceptance of prehistoric trans-Atlantic contact.
Scherz claims that the effigy mounds of Iowa at Effigy Mounds National Monument are connected to Ohio, and Wolter then asks if all are connected back to Scotland. No one stops to think that if Native people made mounds in shapes other than serpents, then maybe the one particular serpent in Ohio is not directly inspired by Scotland.
After the break we get another on-screen recap followed by an oral recap for those who don’t like to read. Wolter tells us that if “pagan worshipers” from Scotland came to America, it would “open a whole new chapter of American history.” I am frankly flabbergasted that Wolter and Scherz attempt to link the Mississippians to Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, and thus to Aztalan and global serpent worship. Native Americans used feathered serpent imagery, likely derived in some way from Mexico (probably diffusion of ideas rather than direct contact), but there is no evidence of sustained trade or shared culture with Mexico. Only one Mesoamerican object has ever been found at a Mississippian mound site, a single obsidian scraper. This idea is instead warmed-over John Bathurst Deane and unsupported by archaeology. I am disturbed that the upshot of this “investigation” seems to be the implication that all Native American cultures—including the Aztecs, supposedly celebrated last week—are derivatives of European culture via global serpent worship centered in Europe. This is Deane via Putnam again, not facts. I wish Putnam never speculated on global serpent-worship. It would have saved us much heartache.
Wolter travels to Cahokia, the Mississippians greatest mound city, and I am becoming increasingly disturbed. I promised myself I would try to hold back on accusing this show of outright cultural appropriation of Native American culture, but what am I to do when Wolter is all but explicitly claiming that the Bronze Age inhabitants of Scotland gave the Aztecs and the Mississippians—indeed all Native Americans—their culture and their religion?
At Cahokia Wolter plans to search the mound city for effigy mounds even though a better use of resources would be to look for, I don’t know, some kind of Scottish artifacts back at the Serpent Mound, or any sort of evidence of a connection between Scotland and America in 2000 BCE.
This is exactly what so infuriates archaeologists about pseudo-archaeology. It takes a nearly-meaningless coincidence: a snake-shaped mound from 1120 CE (or 312 BCE or whatever) looks vaguely similar to a naturally-occurring glacial deposit used by Scottish people for a burial in 2000 BCE, and on this minor coincidence is proposed a global serpent-worshiping cult that both exults the prowess of Europeans as world-bestriding powerbrokers and also denigrates Native Americans as mere adjuncts to Europe, in awe of the strange white men from over the sea, so impressed that they surrendered their entire culture and faith to European models.
Here’s a news flash: Snakes are found in America and Europe. You don’t need a conspiracy of pagans or penis-worshipers to explain the prevalence of serpents.
After the last break, we get still more of the same on-screen and oral recaps, this time with a dash of David Childress (“I have to wonder…”) thrown in just for fun. Wolter flies over Cahokia to scan it for effigy mounds. He laughably compares Monk’s Mound, the largest at Cahokia, to “the Pyramid of Giza,” apparently unaware that there are three major pyramids and many minor ones at Giza. Wolter purposely ignores the well-established cultural chronology of America’s mound building cultures, from Poverty Point at the dawn of mound building to the Mississippians at its apex, and instead babbles about “connections” as though archaeologists have not been investigating the succession of American cultures for the past two centuries. By obscuring this cultural sequence, Wolter can make claims for mysterious “connections” independent of the actual people who lived in, on, and around these mounds.
Wolter finds no effigy mounds in Cahokia, and instead delivers one of his now-standard rants in which he states his belief in trans-oceanic contact while mainstream experts look on in vague disgust.
In sum: Wolter thinks symbols of serpents represent a connection across the Atlantic despite the lack of archaeological evidence, and he doesn’t care that none of his investigations turned up any solid proof of a connection.
This season’s through-line however seems clear: Native Americans are not the true force behind the American mounds. The Mound Builder myth lives, despite Cyrus Thomas putting it to rest in 1894.
According to H2’s published schedule, tonight’s America Unearthed was the first of three consecutive episodes searching for the hidden history of white (well, whitish) people. This episode starts off slowly, invoking the nineteenth century myth of the Mound Builders in order to look for a nebulous “connection” between America’s mound builders and Europe. Next week, the show asks explicitly if a Lost Tribe of Jews built Ohio’s mounds. In the third act of the trilogy, Wolter will investigate whether white European people had already colonized North America before Native Americans ever set foot on the continent. I can hardly wait. It’s like they’re tempting me to make the case for out-and-out racism. Seriously: What does America Unearthed have against Native Americans’ ability to come up with their own religions, their own architecture, and their own culture?
Note: This post was updated on 1/26 to include information from Brad Lepper on recent radiocarbon work at the Serpent Mound in Ohio.
1/25/2014 04:03:13 pm
Good review, except that I thought Wolter did a pretty good job describing Native Americans from the past, not to mention that much of the show dealt with Native Americans and some of their own views. And, well, the show did mention the possibility of spiritual leaders exchanging back and forth between Europe, not just completely one way. For this reason, I don't see the "racist" angles Jason almost sees.
1/25/2014 05:42:46 pm
KRS has NOTHING to do with this episode. Under the new rules of this blog and it comments, your post should be deleted.
1/25/2014 11:00:03 pm
KRS is a fake
Funny man, if this were true, you're comment here would be deleted for mentioning that rock. I didn't mention it, only the pre-existing (IMO) knoll, which I'm comparing to possible astronomical use, as this subject was brought up both in the AU show, and by Jason himself in the heading. Slow down, Partner...you're too eager.
Earth Mysteries Mootist
1/25/2014 11:16:17 pm
Andy Collins has been around since the 1980s. I like his early article on how to become a psychic archaeologist in one of his early Supernaturalist magazines.
1/26/2014 12:29:21 am
So, I get up in the morning and we're back to the Runestone? You're skating close to being off-topic, though you did connect your discussion back to the episode. Any further discussion of the KRS, however, belongs in the Forum.
1/26/2014 03:27:05 am
Jason, go back and read my comment. Then read the comment by the person who jacked you up. I didn't mention the KRS. In fact, I brought the knoll up with perfectly good intentions of suggesting the possibility that astronomical renderings may have been planned or used there. The ice up here in MN is thick. I am a writer, and I watch closely what I say.
1/26/2014 08:03:44 am
I see that poor Scott Wolter did not date opine on an origin point
1/27/2014 06:16:10 am
I'd like to on-topically (since it was mentioned in the first episode) point out that there is indeed a mystery about the Newport Tower. Specifically, who built it and when. I personally care not a whit about that, only that it surely was not built by colonials as a windmill.
2/22/2014 02:58:34 pm
No hooked X involved?
1/25/2014 04:21:33 pm
Awesome review. I knew I had heard of James Scherz before, I just couldn't remember how.
Scott David Hamilton
1/25/2014 04:27:05 pm
I'm curious, how did they explain the egg in the mouth of the Serpent Mound, if the serpent is also supposed to be the one from the Garden of Eden. Is there egg-consuming angle there I'm missing?
1/26/2014 03:33:19 am
Fruit. Not you--the egg. (New rules. Humor okay. Thick ice.)
1/26/2014 07:08:01 am
the egg is from my design at the newport tower
1/26/2014 01:18:06 pm
There is an oval shape at the end of the mound, but what it might represent is anybody's guess these days. Given observations of real serpents, an egg would be a logical choice, but it could just as easily be a round piece of fruit: an apple, say, or as some versions have it, a fig. Another interpretation of it, among many other guesses, is that it represents the serpent's open mouth. To me, that immediately suggests the bit about "you will become like gods, knowing good and evil". You have to ask yourself: doesn't that prove that southern Ohio was the real location of the Garden of Eden? Well, no you don't, and no it doesn't, but I couldn't resist the temptation. :-)
Maybe it's a Native American riddle: what came first, the snake or the egg? Why is the snake preparing to eat the egg?
1/31/2014 04:23:51 pm
OMG, every time I think I'm making this stuff up, I find out I'm not making it up! From "Ohio History, Vol 10":
1/25/2014 06:00:05 pm
"...Which begs the question,is there a connection between the people who built the mound in Scotland & the one in America?."
1/25/2014 06:29:28 pm
Ouroboros, huh? If that's a symbolic way of saying Scott stuck his foot in his mouth, I would tend to agree.
1/25/2014 07:18:58 pm
I would say his "foot" being stuck really far up his "mouth" is definitely a revised comment policy-friendly way of describing it.
1/26/2014 03:43:42 am
I think Wolter was suggesting a cross-over of ideology between the Old and New World, not that Scots actually built the mounds, or effigies.
The Other J.
1/26/2014 07:34:26 am
Wolter used "begs the question" incorrectly, and that always bugs me. But he unintentionally got it right a few times, since he already assumed the truth of what he was trying to prove -- like Scottish people gave Native Americans their culture, despite no evidence of such.
1/25/2014 06:04:36 pm
Your analysis is clearly thorough and very well educated, therefore as someone who appreciates history I find myself rather captivated by your assessments. What I am not seeing in the show however is a deliberate attempt to minimize the accomplishments of Native Americans, but rather the desire to spark intrigue regarding the true history of this nation. Of course we see blatant displays of reaching accompanied by exaggeration, but at least to me anyway the intent is not malicious beyond that.
1/26/2014 12:32:50 am
Imagine that I went to Europe and proclaimed that since Quetzalcoatl predates Jesus by several centuries, and the two are very similar, therefore all of European religion and culture was a derivative of Mexican originals because Europeans simply dropped everything to adopt the beliefs and practices of the strange people who showed up one day from Mexico and really wowed them with their greatness. That would, I'm sure, appear to you to be a minimization of European achievements. It shouldn't be any different going the other way.
1/26/2014 01:05:57 am
1/26/2014 03:11:48 am
Correct Jason, if that sequence of events did occur then it would certainly be unwarranted as well as essentially disparaging to Europeans. And again I fully understand your point, however when a spring house is speculated by Wolter to be of early European descent is that also racist when in fact it is of colonial descent? Is his misinterpretation of the "rock wall" in Texas also racist because he doesn't falsely attribute it to known natives as opposed to a far more ancient and mysterious society, this when of course neither would be true since it is a natural formation?
1/26/2014 03:17:19 am
Now I am the one who is confused. My comments on the racist implications of cultural appropriation are limited only to attempts to reassign Native American culture, religion, and architecture to European sources, so colonial material such as the spring house (or Mystery Hill, another colonial-era site) does not apply.
1/26/2014 04:08:14 am
Given that this episode visited a site in Ohio, I visited the Ohio Historical Society Archaeology Blog this morning and see that Dr. Brad Lepper, Ohio State Archaeologist, posted an article today titled: "Ancient Aliens Are Modern Malarchy" under the topic of Pseudoscience. In his article, he mentions the underlying "racism" or "ethnocentrism" of a theory that I think applies to the discussion of America Unearthed.
I think one of the things that shouldn't be missed here is that Wolter does actually believe in pre-Columbus "white" involvement in what is now America. In this episode of AU, I don't see him trying to imprint whiteness over the land, though. I think he was more interested in the concept of outside influence, period, whether even from Egypt.
1/26/2014 04:16:54 am
You can't say that Native Americans were in "survival mode" for 15,000 years. That's a fantasy of primitivism. There were periods of stability and periods of instability, periods of prosperity and periods of challenge--just like everywhere. Europe has had plenty of violence, too, but no one claims that this disqualifies them from having their own culture or architecture.
1/26/2014 04:36:25 am
I should have mentioned that this was from a long-term cemetery containing a few hundred sets of remains, not from a single massacre site.
1/26/2014 04:59:53 am
Okay, but well, I did say from that particular period.
1/26/2014 05:24:42 am
But Gunn: Stone Age Europeans built mounds, too! No one claims that the tumuli of Britain were too advanced or sophisticated for Europeans to have built, or that people from Atlantis or Mars or whatever had to come and share with them the secret of piling dirt in big heaps. So why are Native American constructions somehow to astonishing to be the work of non-Europeans?
1/26/2014 05:53:17 am
"So why are Native American constructions somehow too astonishing to be the work of non-Europeans?"
The Other J.
1/26/2014 07:46:36 am
Gunn, there are a lot more mounds than suggested by the show. There are around 200 effigy mounds in Effigy Mounds National Monument, about 14 left in southeastern Minnesota near the Mississippi, and a few in Ohio. But over 90% of the mounds in America are in Wisconsin -- and that's what's left after erosion and farming.
1/26/2014 08:11:50 am
Jason, even if the 1800s map is inaccurate, most experts if
1/26/2014 08:18:52 am
If the trek of the Aztecs was not in a loose straight line but a continual migration, the alternative idea is the northern section
1/26/2014 04:11:17 am
Not trying to confuse you my friend and again my fullest respect for your knowledge and work. All I am simply trying to say is that Mr. Wolter displays a tendency to either misinterpret or exaggerate in an equal opportunistic fashion, at least from my humble vantage point.
1/25/2014 06:48:33 pm
Nice review, Jason. I also cringe in advance at how this trilogy will turn out.
1/25/2014 07:38:07 pm
The so-called research is so unbelievably lazy. Do you think the audience would shrink if Wolter was replaced as host? I mean, AU runs on its own steam, don't you think.
1/26/2014 08:53:59 am
But with more thorough correctly-interpreted research, there's no show. At least not one that can attract viewers on commercial television. The intrigue would be gone and they'd be left with a boring documentary on PBS, which I would watch, but presumably isn't their goal.
1/26/2014 09:11:06 am
I beg to differ. There is no reason a fact-based show can't be exciting. NatGeo's "Brain Games" manages to be factual and fun at the same time, and Time Team (British version) has always been both factual and fun. You are giving America Unearthed a pass for using controversy as a substitute for good writing and intriguing research.
The Other J.
1/26/2014 09:38:37 am
I'd add Horrible Histories to that list of entertaining and factual shows. It's hilarious (British humor), and it's also the first place I ever learned that cowboys in the Old West unionized.
1/26/2014 11:13:17 am
I guess I do give them a pass just on the basis that it's a show created by someone, pitched and sold for a certain purpose, and it apparently is accomplishing its goals. Making these changes would change the show. If someone can make the changes, and make it enjoyable to watch so it's not canceled after 6 episodes, I'm all for it. I'll have to keep an eye out for the 3 fun and educational shows mentioned.
1/26/2014 11:18:37 am
Tomorrow I'll be posting recent research I've found that provides exactly the same fascinating detective story looking for the true history of the Serpent Mound, "archaeoastronomy," a continent-wide cult of serpent worship, etc., but is also true. I hope this will show that it is easy to tweak the AU format to make it both interesting and true. It took me all of 15 minutes to find the scholarly research in a database, and it duplicates every aspect of Wolter's show except for the Eurocentrism.
1/25/2014 08:21:06 pm
In this episode,Mr Wolter actually spent a couple of minutes doing geology(explaining the formation & the composition of the mounds).
1/26/2014 05:15:13 am
I agree that the Rock Lake Monster flashback in this episode was a low point. Yes, this hurt his credibility, and something else should've been inserted in its place.
1/25/2014 09:41:23 pm
Just more Latter Day Saint garbage to me.
1/25/2014 11:01:07 pm
I have been asking for an episode on Cahoka since the pilot. How foolish I was.
1/25/2014 11:24:40 pm
If it's any consolation, at least Cahokia wasn't immediately attributed to any of the previously mentioned candidates from season one or episodes from this season. No time-travelers, no aliens, no lake monsters. No megalithic yards or penises seeking the "sacred feminine", either.
1/25/2014 11:53:39 pm
There are several good documentaries on Cahokia and the culture there. I seriously doubt that Scott will subject himself to dealing with the experts at that site. Might be embarrassing for him.
1/26/2014 04:27:49 pm
Immediately? No, although last week's episode suggested that the Mississippians were the *ancestors* of the Aztecs, yet had somehow already established their Aztec identity. (The builders of Aztalan were called Aztecs more than once, I seem to recall)
1/26/2014 01:03:29 am
On the plus side AU is getting people to do internet searches on these important archeological sites, people are not as dumb as one thinks. Those that believe in astrology and fringe history are going to anyway. Other folks will be interested from the show and do their own research. My biggest issue with the episode us thus belief that the North Atlantic is easily crossed. Until the 15 centuries, ships built Europe other than Viking vessels which essentially hugged land were not built for the North Atlantic. Before the astrolabe, again developed in the 15th century, it was very difficult for vessels to know their latitude. The explosion of navigation technology, mathematics, ship building techniques driven by much more stable Europe allowed for true ocean crossing vessels by 1450 or so. And if Romans or whomever we're crossing in 300ad, where are the writings? I'd love to find a roman vessel say in the Hudson or a Chinese one underwater in San Fran bay or a Polynesian catamaran in Peru but until that occurs, there was no contact of cultural impact until Columbus.
1/26/2014 01:24:44 am
The review’s intro and background summary set the stage nicely and helped me get grounded in source material on this topic. Thanks for that extra effort Jason!
1/26/2014 02:41:29 am
What is infuriating is Scott Wolter`s laziness, especially since as a geologist,he has basic training in scientific inquiry & critical thinking.
1/27/2014 02:40:42 am
The sad thing is, he knows very well he is violating them. When the real scientist engages in speculation, he not only tries to support it with data, he acknowledges up front that it is speculation, and seeks critique.
1/27/2014 04:57:06 am
1/29/2014 01:29:05 am
Wow! That clip was telling! So obviously this is some new usage of the term "Scientific Method" that I wasn't previously aware of...
The Other J.
1/26/2014 07:51:07 am
They were especially careful to use that "some say" construction when they were saying the Ho-Chunk shaman got their mound-building knowledge from Europe.
1/26/2014 02:32:16 am
I noticed how a few titbits were dropped through the show but never expanded:
1/26/2014 05:32:45 am
If you don't mind, RLewis, "for Christ sakes" is more appropriate at the end of a prayer...and at any rate, His name should be capitalized. Just a friendly reminder.
1/26/2014 06:30:57 pm
I doubt if anyone but you was offended. " For christ's sake" is not "rough language". You speak for yourself, only, and you sound very entitled and preachy.
1/26/2014 06:58:27 pm
Zoë, please, don't go there. Your second paragraph was unnecessary; you made your point in the first one.
1/26/2014 10:36:13 pm
As per my new comments policy, I'm cutting off discussion of this thread. Any more name-calling or debate over language will be deleted.
1/27/2014 05:02:14 am
Thanks, Jason. The following comment is for you only--nobody else here, to avoid return comments as you wisely wish, but it is important to be said nonetheless:
1/27/2014 05:46:31 am
PS: If this had failed, I was going to appeal to the memory of your Italian Catholic grandmother--or great-grandmother, then.
The Other J.
1/26/2014 07:55:07 am
I've driven through Ohio quite a bit, and southeast Ohio along the West Virginia/Kentucky border certainly seems like another country.
1/28/2014 10:51:58 am
Jason, Gunn was allowed one more statement, so I will take one, too.
1/29/2014 06:47:18 am
Actually, Zoë, this isn't strictly a science forum. Theology, ideology and a lot of other "ologies" are part of the mix. It's part and parcel of the research Jason puts in to explore the exotic claims he finds.
1/29/2014 06:50:31 am
I'm going to cut this discussion off here. It isn't on topic, so let's leave it at that.
1/26/2014 02:54:15 am
This episode puzzled me. Claims of early North America and Europe connected by traveling priests? Jason, please help clarify that statement... The land bridge between Alaska and Asia would have been the only means of connection. However, to last in extreme cold on foot, or perhaps on foot, would have taken well over a year. It is hard to picture ocean vessels constructed crossing the Atlantic 1000 BC. It's almost laughable. Also what really got me laughing while watching the episode is when Wolter talked about the legend on the Lake monster and obviously has to have truth because it's a legend??? I am flabbergasted how this show brings in "experts" and "historians" and when Wolter questions them, they always say, " well that's what has been told, or been said, etc." Told by who? Lol
1/26/2014 03:04:32 am
F. W. Putnam actually suggested the Bering Sea land bridge in 1890 as the way serpent worship traveled from Asia to America. Wolter doesn't like Asia and prefers to see the Atlantic as a "super-highway" for Scots from the Bronze Age to Henry Sinclair. I have no idea why an entire continent (America) would simply bow down to some weird Scottish dude who showed up ranting about snakes and/or penises. Surely, to be persuasive, the priest ought to have brought something valuable, like bronze-making technology, or even wheat. Oh, but you can look for bronze artifacts or for the remains of wheat. You can't look for snake/penis stories.
1/26/2014 06:54:17 am
While in the Navy I was on parts of the North Atlantic..it is a very rought place..no vessel I know of circa 1000 BC could have crossed it ..the Viking vessels were very sophisticated for riding the waves but they were open and really could only do a few days at a time at sea away from land..they jumped from land mass to land mass..they never sailed across the mid atlantic.
1/26/2014 04:19:21 am
To the ancient YHWH worshipers, the serpent was a symbol of wisdom, not evil. Also among the Greeks. The serpent in the Garden certainly knew something that Eve did not and Moses had a serpent rod that he used to express the power of YHWH. It was the offshoot group that Jesus was involved with who, centuries later, made Satan into a demon and the serpent into Satan. So it's no surprise that this idea of all non Christians worshiping a snake comes from a Christian culture.
1/26/2014 04:44:14 am
The egg is a symbol of the cosmos.In Hinduism cosmology,it is the source of the universe.The egg as a container of the universe.
1/26/2014 06:58:56 am
Satan was an evil figure in Judaism long before Jesus. During the Babylonian Captivity, Zoroastrian influences transformed Satan from the questioner of Job into an antithesis of God. This reflects Zoroastrian dualism, with Satan taking on the evil features of Angra Mainu. Plus, it was only in the 6th century BC that full monotheism took hold in Judaism and it became necessary to explain evil in a world with only one supreme being. To be sure, Christianity, especially in the Middle Ages, spent a lot of time with the fire and brimstone.
1/26/2014 07:24:25 am
Mandalore, can you quote me something from the Old Testament to support the idea that Satan was seen as the New Testament demon?
1/26/2014 03:09:18 pm
I don't understand what you are asking. Are you asking for proof that pre-Christian Judaism foresaw how future Christians would view Satan? If not, can you rephrase?
1/26/2014 11:29:54 pm
I'm asking for you to show me Biblical support or some other source, for your claim that "Satan was an evil figure in Judaism long before Jesus."
1/27/2014 12:53:27 am
This guy has some interesting podcasts on the history of Satan and ancient religion in general.
1/27/2014 01:11:38 am
I see now. I tend to use Bright, History of Israel (2000), which is what I am drawing from for this. Satan (a title that meant 'the accuser') was early on seen as not as an evil figure but someone who tests men (Job, passim; Zech. 3). In texts written at a later date, he appears as a figure who specifically tempts men to commit sins (I Chron. 21.1; II Sam. 24.1). Later he appears as a force specifically opposed to God, in particular throughout the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs and the Book of Jubilees. (Satan is also called in these texts by the name of Beliar and Mastema.) In these writings Satan is very much depicted in a dualistic force opposed to God (Testament of Levi 19; T. of Judith 20; T. of Gad 4). Such dualism reflects Zoroastrian concepts of good Ahura Mazda vs. evil Angra Mainu. (Among other things too, Zoroastrianism ideas of a saoshyant may have influenced Jewish ideas of a messiah.) Interestingly, and I didn't know this until I was just reading, after the first century BC these concepts of Satan tended to moderate somewhat except in certain sects, especially apocalyptic ones like the Essenes (Bright, History of Judaism , 450). It was these sects that may have influenced Christian concepts of Satan.
1/27/2014 11:00:32 am
Mandalore, those are interesting. The only ones I have immediate access to are the ones in the Biblical canon which are Chron. 21.1; II Sam. 24.1 which tell different versions of the same story. But the version in Samuel does not mention Satan at all but puts "the Lord" (YHWH) in the same place as Satan in Chronicles.
Rev. Phil Gotsch
1/26/2014 04:50:59 am
I don't at all see these very interesting questions of cultural diffusion, cultural influence and sharing, migration of people and ideas, as being ANYTHING at all about "Eurocentrism" or "racism" or "white" supremacy …
1/26/2014 05:05:26 am
The problem, Phil, is that making multiple clams with little to no evidence that continually point in the same direction tells you something about the mindset of those involved, conscious or not. When known racists are following similar lines in similar ways, it is not unreasonable to wonder if there is something behind it. If the evidence was good, it would be a different story.
Rev. Phil Gotsch
1/26/2014 05:25:54 am
The facts of history -- known, unknown, hidden, proposed -- are THE questions under investigation and discussion …
1/26/2014 05:30:01 am
But, Phil, I wasn't complaining that looking for evidence of European contact was racist. I was speaking of Wolter's specific claim: That the Bronze Age Scots brought serpent worship to America and gave the entire continent its religion. This is cultural appropriation on a HUGE scale. Wolter does not, for example, assert that serpent worship in India is a result of Scottish influence, or in Egypt. He specifically placed the Native Americans in spiritual tutelage to the Scots and asserted that, if his ideas were true, a whole continent somehow abandoned its beliefs and bowed down to the faith of a few wandering Scots. Surely you can see how this is troublesome and how it smacks of a Eurocentric view of history.
An Over-Educated Grunt
1/26/2014 05:52:30 am
Precisely. One of the severe problems with AU is there is virtually no examination of any given site. There is a flying visit, then off to the next quarter - baked idea. The reason is because the evidence at any given site is thin on the ground at best. If you skip from site to site you can present the illusion of weaving a rope from these thin strands of evidence, never mind that there is no actual connection. When it becomes obvious that you are looking at a net of ropes made out of fantasy, you have to question what the weaver is thinking, because there is nothing else with which to work.
1/26/2014 07:13:32 am
I wish that racism only existed in the dustbin of history, Phil, but it does not. If you are indeed "truth seeking" you can't pretend that it no longer exists. Those who repeat claims by racists and have no evidence but their feelings to back it up deserve to have their motives examined as part of their claims. Mentioning that problem is not in any way out of the realm of reasonable discussion.
1/26/2014 05:22:01 am
I'm afraid, Phil, that I can't see any other way around it. What else am I to think when all of the proposed influence goes in one direction, from Europe to America?
Rev. Phil Gotsch
1/26/2014 05:33:16 am
Well … FACTS (and their interpretation) are supposed to DOMINATE this sort of discussion, yes … ???
1/26/2014 05:42:43 am
Funny you should mention it, Phil. Some of Scott Wolter's competitors in the fringe history field make just that claim, that Native Americans discovered Europe. I wrote about it for Skeptic: http://www.jasoncolavito.com/native-american-discovery-of-europe.html
1/26/2014 06:02:17 am
I think the problem resides in the fact that Scott Wolter considers Amerindian civilizations & cultures as cargo cults nations.
1/26/2014 06:36:23 am
There is agreement across professional disciplines that the presentation of NEW ideas and theories is done following well-defined scientific protocol and in a manner that is unbiased.
1/27/2014 05:39:44 am
Phil is right about one thing; AU does raise an interesting anthropological question, but it's not the one the show is espousing. The question should be: What drives invasive cultures to go to any length to supplant native cultural accomplishments and concepts with their own?
Rev. Phil Gotsch
1/26/2014 05:49:08 am
There is of course the now famous (and intriguing) similarity noted between the Clovis and Solutrean lithic traditions …
1/26/2014 05:54:27 am
I wrote about the Solutrean for Skeptic almost a decade ago. http://www.jasoncolavito.com/discovery-of-america.html
1/26/2014 06:09:36 am
Doesn't the latest evidence show that this Clovis technology traveled from the East Coast, inland? Also, I believe evidences are showing up going back farther than previously expected.
1/26/2014 06:20:00 am
The trouble is that the Solutrean ends in Europe around 13,000 BCE, while the oldest Clovis dates are around 11,000 BCE. There is a big gap that can't easily be bridged; worse, recent studies of Atlantic ice determined that the Solutreans could not have hugged the ice to America. DNA studies also discount the "Haplogroup X" connection to Spain, assigning it to a founding population from Asia.
Rev. Phil Gotsch
1/26/2014 07:09:45 am
For sure … First of all, of course the "dates" in archaeology (for, say "Solutrean" or "Clovis" lithic technologies) are the dates we HAVE … They are necessarily TENTATIVE …
1/26/2014 07:14:22 am
Jason, the time-frames roughly overlap, and it would take perhaps a few thousand years for this prospective weapons technology to have spread far and wide across the continent...and I don't know about this inability to follow the ice you're speaking of.
1/26/2014 07:22:20 am
See, here's the thing, Phil: Wolter's entire "evidence" is that a natural feature in Scotland looks like a mound in America and on that he places all of American religion and culture in the box of "given to them by Europe." That isn't a reasonable argument, and it originates with the Victorians, who had other motivations than truth. Can you see the problem?
Rev. Phil Gotsch
1/26/2014 07:30:39 am
Jason … Absolutely, the Scottish putative "Serpent Mound" somehow having something to do with the Ohio CLEARLY "Serpent Mound" is … HIGHLY speculative …
1/26/2014 07:40:52 am
Jason said: He places all of American religion and culture in the box of "given to them by Europe."
1/26/2014 08:33:22 am
This episode demonstrated a lack of sophistication and competency when it comes to presenting the research and evidence to support the claims that were made. The information presented is speculative and incomplete and sometimes totally false, so they leave the door wide open for criticism.
1/26/2014 08:36:54 am
New research is closing some of the "gap" in time.
The Other J.
1/26/2014 08:55:30 am
The show constantly collapses speculation with history, and consistently slides that speculation into factual assertions. Like this week where they used last weeks still-unfounded underwater pyramids and admitted fable of a lake monster as evidence for this week's claims.
1/26/2014 06:51:55 am
ok..have a question...in native american cultures was there use of a standardized currency? The idea of private property, writs and all that? The reason I'm asking isn't just out of ignorance but I wonder the impact of these institutions, obviously Europe and Asia developed these to some extent..although the idea of natural rights didn't come into affect until I think around the Magna Carta..that said did the lack of a currency limit Native American development? I grew up like Jason in NY and the Confideracy in Western/Central NY was very well developed in terms of institutions, property rights to some extent and free trade...
1/26/2014 07:10:22 am
While I am not an expert on Native American currency or property concepts, the lack of such things do not necessarily hamper advancements in civilization. Coins were not invented in the ancient Mediterranean/Near East until the 6th century BC (by the Lydians). Even after that time, there was no common currency save within huge empires (e.g. Rome). Even in the Bronze Age, before 1200 BC, the Near East was made up of a patchwork of states and empires that were tied together in a complex economic system. Free trade was a very very late concept.
1/26/2014 07:22:00 am
Just one example from America:
The Other J.
1/26/2014 07:30:15 am
For me, the biggest problem was the presence of James Scherz. I've never seen Holy Grail In America (or if I did, it didn't register with me), and I wasn't aware of his work prior to this episode. But I had heard of him, because he was interviewed in the 1999 Chicago Tribune article about the Rock Lake pyramids; he's the one who ran the towfish sonar over the lake, and declared that the mass they found on the sonar could be the fabled pyramids, or could be a mass of weeds.
1/26/2014 07:42:32 am
Hamilton's speculative dates of 2000 BCE or older would make the mound about the same age as the cairn at Loch Nell, so it would be a wash which way the diffusion went. The Ohio mound, though, is thousands of years younger, from a time when there wasn't any Scottish serpent worshiping culture at all. If you accept the 1120 CE date, they were Christians at the time!
1/26/2014 08:48:35 am
Worse... Saint Patrick and Saint Augustine are almost
1/28/2014 04:16:01 am
"Yes, Scandinavia is converted after
1/26/2014 07:58:53 am
There is a pattern.We always see the same type of individuals outside their respective fields of expertise pretending to rewrite history.
1/26/2014 02:07:43 pm
1/26/2014 07:13:54 pm
An Over-Educated Grunt
1/27/2014 07:59:26 am
There isn't really a license to be an expert on ancient earthworks, you realize. Civil engineering as a discipline tends to be pretty heavily involved with earthworks, and I know several civil engineers who are heavily involved with historic preservation projects, which leads to a pretty good degree of familiarity with the field. For that matter, I spent the better part of my graduate career puttering around on the very narrow border of archaeology and civil engineering. On the soils side of it, there are useful lessons from both sides to apply to the other. None of that would show up if you just look at a list of degrees.
The Other J.
1/26/2014 08:18:47 am
Correction: It wasn't a Royal Scottish Researcher who called me out for suggesting they could have consulted Scherz on where to look in Rock Lake for the pyramids. It was a certain friend-of-Wolter's holy man.
1/26/2014 08:50:52 am
The Other J.
1/26/2014 09:07:16 am
Rev. Phil Gotsch
1/26/2014 09:23:01 am
My ONLY connection to the "America Unearthed" series is my longstanding friendship and collegial relationship with Scott Wolter …
1/26/2014 09:33:10 am
I wrote to Wolter on his blog about the sonar. He said he did not have the time. Here is the link to his response. I wrote as anonymous. http://scottwolteranswers.blogspot.com/2014/01/this-latest-episode-allowed-me-to.html#comment-form
The Other J.
1/26/2014 09:34:29 am
I'm not saying you have anything to do with the show. But you did suggest that I should round up my own sponsors and donors and put a team together to do my own research -- insinuating that the production required some capital for research that they don't have, along with the inability to check a newspaper archive.
Rev. Phil Gotsch
1/26/2014 02:43:13 pm
Again … I have no role in producing or directing the "America Unearthed" TV shows … So your gripe is NOT with ME ...
The Other J.
1/26/2014 04:38:55 pm
I think you have that backwards -- your gripe was with me last week for asking why they didn't contact Scherz. Now that we know Wolter is friends with Scherz and has been since at least Holy Grail In America, I think there's no excuses for them not to have contacted him -- I mean, they had him on the show.
1/27/2014 05:13:48 am
A native Iowan myself, I've been to the Effigy Mounds National Monument a few times. J makes a good point; the most impressive thing about the mounds are their sheer number. Otherwise, we're talking about what are essentially small piles of dirt and rock in vague shapes.
The Other J.
1/28/2014 05:03:04 am
Animal crackers -- you're right, that's just what they look like. An enterprising Ho-Chunk clan could market that.
1/28/2014 07:13:47 am
Completely fair point, of course. We have no idea if there were extra details that have since eroded away, fallen victim to vandals, or otherwise obscured over time.
1/26/2014 08:40:42 am
I couldn't help but notice a touch of "Ancient Aliens" in Wolter's desire to maintain ratings for this absurd show. Yes, I watch it: it helps me to keep my BS detector calibrated.
1/26/2014 09:16:41 am
They use many of the same tactics and even cover some of the same sites. It was nice to see the Serpent Mound discussed without any mention of aliens. AU attributes it to European contact, and AA attributes it to "sky god" contact. There still aren't absolute answers about what it is and when it was constructed, so these shows have free reign until then.
1/26/2014 09:01:30 am
The Clovis/Solutrean connection
Rev. Phil Gotsch
1/26/2014 09:25:51 am
Yes … Or, "indépendant invention" is also a possibility …
An Over-Educated Grunt
1/26/2014 10:51:48 am
Do you consider the Western Roman Empire and the First French Republic contemporaries? That's the closest you can close the gap between Clovis and Solutrean. There are enough artifacts in both cases to provide a pretty solid date range, and they don't really overlap. If they are contemporary then so are we and Charlemagne.
Rev. Phil Gotsch
1/26/2014 12:47:19 pm
Well, again, the dates that we have are the dates that we HAVE … It isn't a good idea to imagine or contend that they are *set*in*stone* so to speak ...
1/26/2014 02:12:10 pm
The Atlantic is a formidable vast stretch of ocean. It is the Hudson River.
1/26/2014 09:47:32 am
Like many here I've become a loyal viewer of America Unearthed, just to provide some context for Jason's reviews. I suppose higher ratings are just going to encourage the cranks to keep on making this kind of garbage. I know I should stop watching, but I just can't help it- it's one of the funniest shows on TV.
1/26/2014 01:38:37 pm
One thing that the above drawing of the Serpent Mound shows, that doesn't come across in most photographs, is that it sits on the edge of a rather high bluff. This surprised me when I visited the place.
The Avro Arrow
1/27/2014 04:13:22 am
What I can't understand is why Wolter's doesn't do a show on Kennewick Man or the new Viking finds on Baffin Island, as these are legitimate ongoing scientific investigations concerning pre-Columbian contact between Europeans/Polynesians with North American Native peoples. These would make terrific episodes rather than some ridiculous lake monster or natural rock wall.
Rev. Phil Gotsch
1/27/2014 04:37:37 am
Contact the H2 History Channel with your suggestions ...
1/27/2014 06:19:07 am
OK, take it outside History Channel. Why doesn't Scott Wolter write something or even say something about those topics? Is it because real scientists are working on them and he doesn't relish that collision?
1/27/2014 09:35:45 am
Rev. Phil Gotsch
1/27/2014 11:11:08 am
2/3/2014 01:02:24 am
Rev. Phil, check out SW's blog! In a recent comment he
1/27/2014 10:20:31 am
"These find echo, not coincidentally, in David Icke’s Reptilians, which literalize the imaginary serpent cult with an assist from V and Robert E. Howard."
The Other J.
1/28/2014 06:41:20 am
Is that the same Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus? I thought that was first ordered to be translated by Cosimo de'Medici, and Isaac Newton did one as well.
1/28/2014 07:12:07 am
No, the Emerald Tablet lent its name to a 1925 hoax that claimed to be a "translation" of a whole set of tablets written by Thoth of Atlantis: http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/thot/esp_thot_1.htm
The Other J.
1/28/2014 08:42:50 am
1/27/2014 11:59:49 am
Jason, I came to the same conclusion that you and many of these people did, but from our Native American research perspective. There were several statements made that just were not factual. Scott didn't do this, but several of his speakers stated speculations as facts . . . That's the same bad habit that we complain to white archaeologists about. Read my article in the Examiner tomorrow.
1/27/2014 02:37:41 pm
Interesting material at the websites linked to your name. I read through a lot of it just now. Interesting take on the Lost Roanoke Colony. I have an old children's level history book that says a Native American from the island told a white surveyor about 115 years after the events that the Colony had gone safely to a neighboring island to live with Native Americans, but that later the entire area was overrun by adversaries, and the colonists were taken inland to various areas as slaves, or to otherwise be absorbed into the Native populations.
1/30/2014 05:26:30 am
I went to the site below and came away blown away. So, apparently the Mound Builders originated from the Maya, and not Mexico, for instance--according to what we know so far.
1/30/2014 05:28:56 am
Don't trust Richard Thornton. His material is not supported by archaeological evidence. I've discussed his work several times, going back to the premiere episode of America Unearthed, on which he appeared (but doesn't typically disclose in his articles).
1/30/2014 07:48:08 am
"This is what I wanted here all along...more input--and scientific input--from Native Americans."
1/30/2014 03:31:19 pm
"Richard and Scott will convince everyone, including Jason, when they can produce factual peer-reviewed evidence."
1/30/2014 05:17:24 pm
Actually, the Mississippians followed on the heels of the Late Woodland period. They began in the Mississippi Valley (Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri) and had three periods of development: Early, Middle and Late, which varied from region to region chronologically. They didn't start the practice of mound building in earnest until the Middle period, 1200-1400CE.
Rev. Phil Gotsch
1/31/2014 03:18:00 am
Only Me --
1/31/2014 03:48:34 am
Gunn, I hope they do discover something. I'm always pulling for the little guy to show the big guy how it's done and that they got it wrong. But, I don't believe there's any conspiracy by academia to suppress "unpleasant" ideas, as SW believes, and I don't believe they would just ignore evidence to maintain the status quo. Also, they may be wrong 1 out of 100 times, but not the 100 out of 100 that's implied by "the history we've all been taught is wrong." So, if Richard Thornton has found new evidence, hopefully he has presented it to those who disagree with his position for their consideration.
1/31/2014 08:50:28 am
"NONE of the Indigenous Peoples of The Americas discovered or used those technologies ..."
Rev. Phil Gotsch
2/2/2014 09:46:02 am
There is NO evidence that Indigenous Peoples in The Americas used forged or smelted tools of bronze or iron …
2/2/2014 11:09:03 am
Okay, I was looking over different sources about the Mississippians and one of them mentioned the inability to smelt iron or make bronze.
2/2/2014 11:52:37 am
"There is NO evidence that Indigenous Peoples in The Americas used forged or smelted tools of bronze or iron"
Rev. Phil Gotsch
2/3/2014 01:59:44 am
Yes … As I already noted, indigenous people in The Americas used native gold and copper and VERY rarely iron meteorites … But they DIDN'T mine and smelt any ORES … They NEVER made or used bronze ...
2/3/2014 03:28:47 am
Archaeometallurgy in Global Perspective 2014, pp 329-359
Rev. Phil Gotsch
2/3/2014 03:53:12 am
2/3/2014 04:02:49 am
David A. Scott's Ancient Metals: Microstructure and Metallurgy (2010) says that the Wari and Tiwanaku people used two different alloys of bronze.
Rev. Phil Gotsch
2/3/2014 05:40:09 am
Rev. Phil Gotsch
2/3/2014 04:29:48 pm
"Bronze" … ???
1/30/2014 04:43:27 pm
Anyway, here's Richard Thornton's Examiner article describing last week's AU.
2/1/2014 05:06:21 am
In terms of AU and texts with similar themes, Wolter would do well to read up on Joseph Campbell. Scott can't seem to wrap his mind around the concept that historical cultures around the world share the same basic iconography and myths - not because they are directly connected by physical human contact, but because they are connected by universal experiences. Therefore, stories of dragons in China have little (or nothing) to do with similar stories in Mexico or Europe.
2/1/2014 08:30:02 am
The same thing could be said of the Hooked X, though regionally rather than world-wide, in contrast. Rather than a proliferation of Hooked X's everywhere, it is relatively rare, but not used exclusively by one group. (It is, however, a good, solid clue to other unspoken, related medieval matters.)
2/3/2014 01:32:26 am
The slight variations from an earlier rune alphabet
2/3/2014 01:38:43 am
i feel its impossible to date the Auld Troublemaker's runes
2/4/2014 08:15:57 am
Jason--Thanks for reviewing the show, your apparently vested interest in American archaeology is noted. Couple of points. The carbon dating to 312 BCE and before was retrieved and tested by Dr. William F. Romain and Dr. William Monaghan. Monahan is in charge of the Glenn Black Laboratories at IU. An organization, the Friends of Serpent Mound, unloaded thousands of dollars from their treasury and contributed it to ease the costs of the testing. That information should be published this year but later; I announced it prematurely on the show, and have taken a lot of flack over it--something I deserve for jumping the gun. Our local group read your article above, and the general consensus was that it appeared you had prewritten some things, and that you added that in to your commentary. Nevertheless, it is an interesting read. The alignment to the large asterism of what we today call Draconis actually stands well to the very best star charts, and is published, for anyone who wants to see the actual map, in Star Mounds: Legacy of a Native American Mystery (available on Amazon). The technical crew at America Unearthed skewed the alignment, presenting it their own way, which was completely wrong. The actual alignment is interesting because it suggests a date by the fact of the previous Pole Star, Draconis-alpha, falling to the precise center of the work, i.e., beneath the seventh coil from the tailing--equidistant from either extreme of the effigy. The other stars fall with exactness upon the very margins of the work, and are all of the higher magnitude for that region. Also, the best and most accurate map of the effigy was used (Romain: 1987, Ohio Archaeologist). Wish you well, and hope you never lose interest in the ancient sites.
2/4/2014 08:39:20 am
Thank you for the additional information about the carbon dating.
10/19/2022 08:17:05 pm
I am a geologist in Ohio who is personally familiar with the Serpent Mound along with several other mounds. I have no expertise in archaeology, but I enjoy reading about the topic and attending lectures by actual archaeologists. So my expertise is limited to geology and the scientific method.
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