Finally, in the season finale, the network and the producers release Wolter from the constraints of respectability and allow him free reign to return to his old ways and speculate wildly about all our old friends—the Templars, Henry Sinclair, Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and the Holy Grail. It’s what we’ve been waiting for all season, and really the only thing that separates America Unearthed from its competitors. But this time, even the free-range speculation doesn’t quite rise to the looney levels of the past, mostly because we’ve seen it all before. Rather than offer anything new, this episode plays as a retrospective of Wolter’s previous Templar episodes, failing to go beyond what we’ve heard before and not quite managing to support—even with Wolter’s upside-down bizarre logic—the assertions he makes. America Unearthed in its last minutes went the Ancient Aliens route and has become an ouroboros eating its own tail.
Please note that since this episode is made up of old claims, this review contains some text originally written for my pre-air preview of this episode from February and my discussion of Ashlie Cowie’s Templar work in 2016.
We open with Wolter narrating the “legends” that that the Knights Templar fled to the New World—a legend that didn’t exist before Eugène Beauvois invented it in the early 20th century. Wolter promises that a “new clue” will finally vindicate his two decades of Templar speculation, and we cut to the opening credits for the final time.
At Placentia Bay in Newfoundland, Wolter travels out to an uninhabited island where an inscription is visible for one hour per day at low tide. Three days earlier, for no good reason, Wolter speaks by phone with Allen Dawe, an engineer who asked Wolter about the inscription via email. We cut back to the “present” as Wolter blathers on about the Templars having the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, and written proof of Jesus’ child by Mary Magdalene—the standard Da Vinci Code stuff. Wolter falsely claims that the Templars were “seen fleeing in ships” from La Rochelle, but that is a falsehood born from an uncritical reading of Templar testimony given under torture following the suppression of the order, combined with fringe history speculation that originally had no factual basis before justification was found later. Wolter also states that Henry I Sinclair, Earl of Orkney “took” the Templars to the New World, though he neglects to note that Sinclair lived 80 years after the suppression of the Templars. The on-screen map follows a speculative reading of the hoax Zeno Map and Narrative, a Renaissance fiction. Wolter finishes by saying that the Templars possessed the actual Holy Grail.
Viewing the “carving” reveals a graffito on Haystack Rock on Long Island in Placentia Bay in Newfoundland. Among other unusual symbols on the rock is a line cut by three horizontal bars. The heavily stylized letters likely are nineteenth century initials, which experts like archaeologist Douglas Speirs believe read “E. L. Mst,” for “E. L., Master (of the ship),” but fringe history believers have used it to speculated about transoceanic contact between Templar groups, evidenced only by this badly carved graffiti, since all secret organizations ambiguously mark their imagined territory with confusing scribbles so that no one will understand the claim. Wolter says that the inscription is actually the “pontifical cross” and represents Templar infiltration of Canada.
To support his reading, Wolter enters into evidence the Navigatio, telling the story of St. Brendan the Navigator, whose trip to a fruitful island across the Atlantic is sometimes fantasized to be America.
Wolter, however, initially believed that the inscription seemed too recent to be Templar, but he changes his mind after looking more closely and claiming that the erosion is consistent with 600 years because the rock is very hard, though others who examined it believed that the carvings are too sharp to be that old, especially since it is underwater for 23 hours a day. Perhaps most ridiculously, the carving is only a couple of inches tall, making it a rather pointless marker of Templar visitation. You’d think they’d have written something larger and less ambiguous to mark their passage.
After the break, Wolter travels to Scotland to visit a cave in East Wemyss in Fife. The caves contain ancient carvings of Pictish origin dating back as far back as the Bronze Age. Wolter wants to see a location known for its extensive nineteenth century graffiti. Well Cave, which was thought to contains no Pictish carvings, had previously been featured in a 2004 episode of Time Team. He is there with Tony McMahon, described as a Templar historian (though his Templar work is actually a novel), and Wolter relates “legends”—of modern provenance—that the Templars hid in the caves for decades (!) after the suppression of the order, even though Scotland took a very light hand in punishing former Templars.
Among the hundreds of nineteenth century carvings in the cave, Wolter is particularly interested in a carving he told locals that he will link to the Knights Templar. The carving, showing a straight line crossed by three perpendicular lines beside a curved line all enclosed in a circle, cannot be absolutely dated. Local heritage experts who examined the carving in 2012 suggested it could be medieval in origin, perhaps from the twelfth century. Based on reports that Knights Templar had been in the area in the Middle Ages, one suggestion is that the carving was intended as Cross of Lorraine. However, there is no proof that the symbol was carved by the Templars.
Wolter examines the graffito and declares it to be Templar, but a competing, and better supported, hypothesis is that the carving is, like every other known piece of graffiti in the cave, an eighteenth or nineteenth century creation. Archaeologist Douglas Speirs had this to say about the carving in 2014:
So I would read the Wemyss Caves carving as someone’s monogrammed initials, specifically, a capital letter “T” and a smaller letter “C” all contained within a circular incised cartouche. However, what has confused things is the carver’s excessive use of artistic flourishes, specifically, the decorative use of serifs and the addition of a decorative, serifed cross bar on the “T”. This makes the letter difficult to read and gives it the appearance of a letter “E” or even of a Christian heraldic cross device, similar in form to a Cross Lorraine or a Greek cross crosslet. […] I am quite sure that this is just a mid-19th century monogrammed initial left by a visitor to the Caves. I do not think it has any deeper significance or meaning although I would note that the carving does look cross-like and is similar to crosses known from Templar sites.
Wolter disagrees and claims that the soot does not match Speirs’s analysis. I am not able to say since I am not there to look, but it doesn’t matter either way. The Templars operated in Scotland and their presence would not be anomalous in any way. Indeed, standard histories of Fife quite clearly discuss local Templars and the survival of some Templars in the area after the suppression of the order.
Wolter claims that the triple bar (pontifical) cross connects the two inscriptions, though they do not look much alike. The symbol is also a rather common shape. Wolter notes that the Wemyss family was connected to the Sinclair family by marriage—though, really, who wasn’t back then?—so he travels to Rosslyn Chapel to look at the lozenges that Ashlie Cowie—yes, him again—claimed represented latitudes of Templar voyages from Jerusalem to the Faroe Islands.
The carving itself isn’t much to look at. A roughly triangular grid, it was hidden behind a coating of lime for 500 years until the lime coating flaked off in the 1940s. Historians believe that the carving was a stonemason’s plans for the chapel’s turrets, drawn when the crypt served as a workshop during construction of the chapel. For the most part, this interpretation is so uncontroversial that even the late Philip Coppens dismissed the drawings as mere “mason’s marks” in his 2004 book on The Stone Puzzle of Rosslyn Chapel, and Templar-Sinclair conspiracy theorist Andrew Sinclair agreed they were “architectural designs to aid the masons” who built the chapel in his 2012 book The Secret Scroll.
In his book, Cowie dismisses this because the three-dimensional turrets do not share precisely the same angles as the two-dimensional chart, though they share the same shape and decorative cap. Instead, he claims that the chart represents a 15° longitudinal slice of a world map in the projection laid out by Claudius Ptolemy in the second century. The horizontal parallel lines, he said, must be the lines of latitude recognized “used” by the Vikings: every 15 degrees of latitude from the equator up to 75°. Further, he concludes that the central line represents a previously unknown “Viking prime meridian” that, not coincidentally for a Scottish author like the proud Scot Cowie, would center the Viking “power base” on Scotland rather than, say, Norway.
I’m sure many of you are already skeptical, and I’m sure it won’t help matters to learn that the chart does not depict any landforms or coastlines and includes no writing to identify it. Beyond that, the latitude lines are not equally spaced despite allegedly representing 15° segments. The grid could, in theory, sit atop any 15-degree slice of the world if it were indeed a world map, but Cowie says that he’s convinced it belongs to North America because Rosslyn Chapel was built by Sinclairs, who descend from the Viking Rollo and therefore were privy to the secrets of Vinland. The chapel, he said, was built on the Viking Meridian and is, for his imaginary Viking-Scottish heroes, the Center of the World.
Wolter listens politely to a chapel historian tell him that the marks were mason’s working drawings, and he announces that “I’m not buying it.” He claims that a star seen on the wall is actually a map of the apparent path of Venus, which in Wolter’s bizarre cosmology means that it is a “tell-tale mark of the Templars,” though stars are among the most common shapes used in design. Wolter says that the presence of stars at Templar churches in Europe and on the American flag prove that the Templars traveled from Europe to America by following Venus—the “blazing star of the West.” This is another modern Templar hoax invented by Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas in The Hiram Key in 1997. As I discovered when I examined the question back in 2013, Knight and Lomas appear to have made up the story out of whole cloth and then attributed it to ancient scrolls that they refused to identify or reveal.
Nevertheless, Wolter accepts the claim at face value and declares that this can all be proved by fanciful Venus alignments at the Old Stone Mill in Newport, Rhode Island, a colonial-era windmill known as the Newport Tower and imagined to be the work of Vikings or other Europeans since an 1839 craze for all things Viking swept America. (Wolter explicitly “disagrees” with the windmill claim and cites octagonal stone churches in Europe as proof, though there is also an octagonal stone windmill in Britain that served as the real model for the Newport construction.) We’ve already had an episode about this, but after the break we do it all again—this time in search of what Wolter explicitly identifies as the Holy Grail and claims to be the object of his lifelong quest.
After the break, Wolter returns to Newport chasing what he claims is the Rosslyn “treasure map,” following Cowie’s unsupported claims. Wolter partners with former MLB player turned archaeologist Brad Lidge (who specializes in Roman archaeology) and gives Lidge a rundown of his fantasies about the Newport Tower. He claims, falsely, that it is “exactly” the same as medieval Templar architecture, though even a superficial comparison will note that no Templar building in Europe is so crudely piled. He claims that the cockeyed keystone is off center to align with the winter solstice at the completely not significant time of 9 AM EST on the winter solstice, an hour not known from literature to have any occult value. “What is it going to take for archaeologists to take this structure seriously?” Wolter asks Lidge, who appears to agree with Wolter, though his statements seem to be edited to make him seem more in agreement. Lidge suggests that an excavation is necessary to find the truth—though every excavation until now has turned up nothing pre-colonial—and everybody gives up because there is no way to get permission to excavate on this show’s narrow timeline.
Instead, Lidge and Wolter go to visit the “In Hoc Signe Vinces” stone along the coast. It’s a Victorian fraud inscribed with the words Constantine allegedly saw in the sky during his vision of the Cross, but Wolter declares it a “Templar motto” (apparently because it is used by the Knights Templar group within Freemasonry as such) and says that the stone is the landing site where the first Templars landed in America. The men start to dig it out the beach, and we cut to commercial.
Wolter and Lidge uncover the stone, whose inscription is not in medieval style—it’s carved in an elongated newspaper-style sans serif first used in the nineteenth century for one thing—and Wolter explains that he believes the phrase to be the motto of both Freemasonry’s Templars and the originals. However, the Templars used as their motto the first two lines from Psalm 115, “Not to us, Lord, not to us / but to your name be the glory.” Don’t take my word for it. Here is how the Freemasonic Knights Templar themselves described their motto in the 1880s: “The Templar Banner of the United States is a modern design, without any warrant for its adoption. It is a great mistake to suppose that the motto ‘In Hoc Signo Vinces’ was ever that of the Ancient Templar Order…”. Wolter announces for the first time in this segment that as a Freemason he has joined the Masonic Knights Templar, and it is therefore no surprise that he simply imagines that the modern knights are identical to the ones they cosplay.
Lidge tells Wolter that he is impressed by Wolter’s phantasmagoria of half-baked ideas. “The anecdotal evidence is starting to add up,” he said, and my respect for his mid-life career shift bottomed out.
The men and imaging expert Jerry Lutgen use Reflectance Transformation Imaging to study the inscription, and we cut to commercial before learning the results of the analysis but not before Wolter speculates that Henry I Sinclair, Earl of Orkney carved the stone, some 90 years after the end of the Knights Templar.
In the final segment, Lutgen and Wolter analyze the data and descend into numerology. Wolter claims that the “sacred” Masonic ration of 2:1 can be found in the inscription, whose first line is twice as long as the second. This, he says, is “a huge clue to the Templar treasure.” Providing no proof that the inscription predates the nineteenth century other than a feeling and a comparison to other hoax inscriptions like the Narragansett Rune Stone and the Kensington Rune Stone, Wolter simply declares that the inscription “could be” six hundred years old and runs off to tell Dawe everything that we just saw for the last hour. But nothing Wolter presented was “proof” in the conventional sense, merely a bunch of assertions based on earlier assertions based on fantasy. Wolter discovered no Templar treasure but tells Dawe that finding the “treasure” will be Wolter’s goal for next season.
Wolter states that “despite what the skeptics and deniers might claim, I’m going to get to the truth.” Hey, I guess that’s me!
Yes, we end on the same damn cliffhanger as we have for the past three seasons. Wolter promises a treasure he never finds and insists that proof positive is just around the corner, if only his overlords in cable TV would grant him just one more season.
Frankly, if he knew where the treasure was, he should have just gone and gotten it already. That would be the fastest way of shutting up the “skeptics.” Without it, all we have are misrepresentations, lies, and fantasies masquerading as argument and evidence.
In short, it’s the same old thing. Somehow, the “truth” is always just over the horizon, at the end of the next season, always coming but never arriving, like the Second Coming, a consummation devoutly to be wished but one beloved more for the promise than the fulfillment.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter, The Skeptical Xenoarchaeologist, 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.