In my review of the pilot episode of History’s revived In Search Of with Star Trek actor Zachary Quinto as host, I noted that the show seemed to stand with one foot in Leonard Nimoy’s shadow and another in the standard History channel mold of wallpapering the screen with nutjobs pretending to be experts. Over the course of its run, In Search Of has covered many topics of no interest to me, including high-concept ideas like life after death and mundane subjects like sinkholes, the subject of an entire episode. As the season comes to a close, not much has changed since the pilot, but the audience for the series never really grew beyond the spillover from its Ancient Aliens lead-in, nor did the series build much of an independent fan base. Last week’s episode, the first to air without a new Ancient Aliens as lead-in, fell to just one million viewers and a 0.17 share of the 18-49 audience. For comparison, the show’s primetime rating is the same share and fewer viewers than the noon Inside Politics newscast on CNN.
I don’t bring this up to laugh at In Search Of as much as to make the point that there is a ceiling on the audience for the kind of uninspired retread program that In Search Of represents, and tonight’s two-hour finale exemplifies that way cable “documentary” shows—and I use the term loosely—waste time recycling old garbage and calling it something new and exciting. In fact, the original In Search Of did the same investigation in its first season, clocking in at just a half hour, and it was wilder in its speculation and broader in its scope—covering Edgar Cayce, Charles Hapgood’s map claims, and Ignatius Donnelly’s ideas—and more definitive in its ridiculous conclusion that “the memory of Atlantis is no myth; it is history.”
By contrast, our In Search Of is a more milquetoast affair, in the style of modern pseudo-documentaries that want to imply a lot while saying very little and taking up as much time as possible watching people walk around and look off into the distance.
Indeed, so similar are the segments of this episode to two recent Atlantis documentaries that it almost seems ridiculous to offer much of a review of the episode at all. I almost want to just pull paragraphs from my earlier reviews and call it a day, so little new was contained in this show. (Disclosure: I was invited to appear in this episode, but I declined because I was not able to travel to Africa on short notice for the shoot.) The first half of the episode is basically the same as James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici’s NatGeo Atlantis documentary from January 2017, right down to the appearance of amateur historian Robert Ishoy and religious historian Richard Freund in both, and the second half mirrors with uncanny precision the same information portrayed last September in the Science Channel’s Mysteries of the Missing with Terry O’Quinn. Both Mysteries and In Search Of adapt theories presented by the late Michael Hübner that were reported in Mark Adams’s 2015 book Meet Me in Atlantis, the fairly obvious inspiration for the episodes, and both use Andrew Gough, giving that Heretic magazine ignoramus best known from his appearances on Forbidden History the same platform to recycle the same unoriginal ideas.
But the problem is deeper than that. The hypotheses put forward for Atlantis in this episode are old, so old that they have been discussed to death, with no new revelations, and no discovery of Atlantis. This two-hour episode covers three primary hypotheses: (a) Atlantis was a memory of Minoan civilization in the Aegean. (b) Atlantis was located in Sardinia and identified with its Bronze Age Nuragic culture. (c) Atlantis is located in Morocco, in what is now the Sahara Desert.
None of these hypotheses is new.
Given the lack of originality in these ideas, and the fact that all have been discussed and critiqued for a century or more, there is little left to offer in this review than a brief description of what In Search Of made of the old material, and whether they had any inkling that their new ideas were not new.
The show opens with a summary of Plato that is just wrong, since Quinto claims that Atlantis vanished without a trace, while Plato clearly tells us that Atlantis left behind a giant pile of mud that blocked part of the ocean from being navigable. This is indicative of the quality of the episode and the depth of research that went into its production. The producers started with the assumption—never proved—that Atlantis existed, and through circular reasoning, it attempted to prove the reality of Atlantis by interpreting various data points in light of the assumed reality of the fictitious city.
To launch the quest, Quinto meets with Ishoy, who is described by the ludicrous title of professional “Atlantis historian.” He hands him a list of 51 traits of Atlantis derived from Plato’s writings, which are used to frame the “investigation,” just as they were in the earlier documentaries. Quinto expresses his confusion as to why Plato would tell a false story without acknowledging it as fiction. Clearly, he has not read Plato. I suppose that makes the shadows in the cave a true story, too. Quinto also meets with a “paranormal investigator” who is “based in the Bermuda Triangle” and “only available via Skype,” and that makes me wonder why the producers insisted that I had to be in Africa to be on the show while this bozo gets to Skype in to say nothing of any importance.
It’s probably worth disclosing that Ishoy and I have exchanged emails a few months ago when he complained that it was unfair of me to point out in a previous blog post that he holds no academic credentials in history, saying that it impugned his honor for me to describe his original credential—a college term paper he wrote decades ago—as poorly researched.
Much of the first half-hour is given over to exploring some Bronze Age ruins in Greece, including underwater ruins and those of the Minoans’ great palace at Knossos, under the assumption, put forward by Figuer and Frost more than a century ago, that Atlantis might have been a Bronze Age culture destroyed by the Thera volcano—whose eruption he wrongly dates to 2000 BCE instead of the more accurate 1600 BCE (+/- a few decades). Quinto and the producers seem unaware of the origins of the claims they investigate, and they simply present the idea as conventional wisdom. They decline to address the shortcomings of the idea, namely that the Bronze Age cultures of the Aegean continued on for nearly four centuries after the volcanic eruption before the Bronze Age collapse that led to the Greek Dark Ages. The volcano blew up an island and weakened the Minoans, but it did not destroy a whole civilization. The show elides the fact that Plato placed the death of Atlantis in 9600 BCE, and Minoan civilization is not that old. They ask us to take Plato literally, except for the parts that don’t fit.
Frankly, the show is slow, and that paragraph above represented the entire content of 20 minutes of screen time, much of which was devoted to glamour shots of Quinto looking pensive and confused, and frequent repetition of suggestive narration, largely without factual foundation.
As the second half-hour opens, the show claims that the Minoans worshipped Poseidon, based on the appearance of tridents, but this is not secure at all, since Poseidon was (a) a Greek god not Minoan, (b) of Indo-European origin, (c) well-attested as a god of the earth (he is the earth-shaker) as far back as Linear B, but not firmly connected to the sea until Homeric times. The evidence for Poseidon at Knossos is not Minoan; it is Mycenaean, from the time, long after the Thera volcano erupted, when the Mycenaeans had assumed control of Knossos. He was assimilated to the Minoan bull cult but there is no way to trace this back before the Mycenaean invasion, and at any rate the evidence suggests Poseidon was the Indo-European horse god before being reassigned to the sea.
In the second half-hour, Quinto tells a whopper of a lie, claiming that “scholars around the word” support the claim that Atlantis had colonies all over the world, and the show recycles Ignatius Donnelly’s claim that Atlantis spread advanced culture all over the world. I suppose it depends on what you mean by “scholar.” On the History Channel, the term seems to refer to people who pretend to be historians and can chant litanies from nineteenth century books with the firm conviction that they had invented them all by themselves.
Much of this half-hour is given over to retracing the steps of Cameron and Jacobovici’s documentary from last year, right down to having Ishoy assert, falsely, that the Nuraghe civilization of Sardinia was that of Atlantis. A supposed mystery is raised in the form of petroglyphs that two men assert are a lost alphabet that they intend to decipher. Quinto promises to check in with them later. The show declines to provide much by way of facts about prehistoric Sardinia, nor do they clearly acknowledge that Sardinian civilization does not date back to 9600 BCE, the date when Plato placed the extinction of Atlantis. For some bizarre reason, Quinto tries to gin up interest into Sardinia by likening the dangers to visiting Nuraghe sites to the fictitious “curse” of Tutankhamun, a curse invented in large measure by novelist Maria Corelli, ultimately from medieval Islamic legends about Egypt. But this is the History Channel, so why should a few facts get in the way of a sensational story?
As the first hour comes to a close with nothing to show for it but some pretty high-definition photography of ancient sites and the ramblings of old men who have exempted themselves from the norms of historiography and of science, not a single opinion dissenting from the reality of Atlantis has been uttered, and I can’t fathom what the producers imagined I would have contributed to this program. I am rather relieved not to have been a part of it, and I fear that they never looked beyond the aesthetics of my website and actually thought I hunted Atlantis.
Quinto ends to hour by saying that the civilization of Sardinia “might somehow relate” to Atlantis. The producers never did make that very clear, and Quinto’s unintentional acknowledgement of the producers’ incompetence is entirely apropos, particularly when Quinto admits that they are throwing spaghetti at the wall by hunting data points they can twist into evidence for Atlantis “anywhere we can find it and by any means necessary.”
The second hour resumes the quest for Atlantis on Sardinia, but they are clearly grasping at straws. Carvings resembling bull horns are said to be evidence of Atlantis because the bull was sacred there, but the bull was one of the most common symbols in ancient religion, of no particular uniqueness. Quinto is astonished and feels that there must be a connection between Minoan and Sardinian bull cults. Presumably, he is completely ignorant of all the other faiths that involved bulls and cows, not least of which the Indo-European culture of India, where the Vedic faith was full of bulls and cows of a sacred nature. (Hinduism retains this today.) Similarly, the appearance of black, red, and white stones are taken to be evidence since Plato spoke of such colors. They also happen to be the most common colors of stone used throughout the Mediterranean.
Ishoy repeats his claim that the circular Nuraghe towers represent Plato’s circular city of Atlantis, even though a tower is not a city, and no tower meets Plato’s assertion that the city was more than 100 stadia across. In Search Of, unlike its predecessor series, simply omits inconvenient facts rather than try to slap together some sort of explanation. I’ll note again here that the “checklist” has yet to address Plato’s date of 9600 BCE, and that Sardinia was never destroyed and sent beneath the waves. Plato also said that Atlantis had elephants, and no elephant have been alive on Sardinia in 30,000 years. Their bones were mistaken for those of giants.
Freund pops up to tell us that the Atlanteans survived the disaster and moved to central Spain, which has been his bugaboo since his controversial 2013 documentary. Jessica Farrell, a self-described hematology expert, asserts that Rh-negative blood—associated in fringe literature with space aliens—is actually the royal blood of Atlantis. She runs a registry to track Rh-negative people, and she suggests that people with this blood type might be a different species of human and tend to seek truth, have a mission in life, and a bunch of other pseudoscientific traits she believes blood type impacts. This made me question Farrell’s credentials, and it turns out she is not exactly who In Search Of claims she is. Her LinkedIn page says she is a personal assistant by trade and has a business degree. She does not list any credentials in hematology.
What is with the History Channel and assigning its amateur talking heads dubious pseudo-scholarly titles?
Quinto discovers that he is Rh-negative, and Farrell tells him that this means he is “more likely” than not a descendant of Atlanteans. It’s worth noting that there is no evidence whatsoever that Rh-negative blood has anything to do with Atlantis since, as we might guess, no Atlanteans have ever been dug up to genetically test. The claim actually derives from the appearance of Rh-negative blood among the Berbers of the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. In other words, it’s circular reasoning.
In the final half-hour, Andrew Gough joins Quinto in Sous Massa, Morocco to hunt for Atlantis, reenacting his appearance in O’Quinn’s documentary last year. What’s interesting is that in 2017, he was there to chaperone Michael Hübner’s brother to describe Hübner’s work, but now Gough refers to him only as a “German scientist” who crunched data and otherwise he talks on his own authority, broadly asserting that Morocco exactly matches what Plato described. That must be why Morocco is currently under a giant mud pile in the middle of the ocean. Oh, right: It isn’t. Gough must enjoy these free vacations, given the number of them he takes at TV channels’ expense. Given what the producers told me in the spring, I imagine that they envisioned me slotted into the role Gough is playing here, but I don’t think they would have been happy with what I had to say.
Quinto asserts that the Morocco hypothesis is “a radical new theory,” even though it goes back perhaps to Alfonso X of Spain (depending on your interpretation of the text) and was widespread in the France of the Belle Époque. Even David Hatcher Childress devoted part of one his books to the idea several decades ago. Basically, the producers have no idea about the history of their own topic and are merely skimming the surface and passing off their cursory research as revelation. Online articles hyping Mark Adams’s book described the idea as “new” back in 2015, so that is as far as the show’s producers seem to have gone in examining the claim.
Gough asserts that Atlantis wasn’t an island because Plato’s word for island, νῆσος (nesos), really meant anything that borders water. I guess he is referring to Sophocles’ poetic use of νῆσος to refer to the Peloponnesian peninsula, which is not the same as saying all Greeks used it to describe a coastline in general. So far as I know, and so far as Classics scholar James Diggle of Queens College Cambridge knows, that is the only use of νῆσος as a peninsula; from the time of at least Herodotus, there was a separate word for peninsula. Plato would have known it and used it. Gough further asserts that Moroccans have destroyed the “central city” of Atlantis by carting it off in trucks and grinding it up for construction material. This seems rather ridiculous since the Moroccans, being cultured people, are unlikely to be part of a vast conspiracy to destroy proof of Atlantis—and for what end?
In the last few minutes of the show, Gough gives a nearly verbatim recreation of his claim from O’Quinn’s Atlantis documentary that the shore of Morocco has eroded formations that create natural harbors of red, white, and black stone like those Plato described. Quinto then remembers that his other kooks had asserted that there was a lost alphabet on Sardinia that they hoped to decipher. He updates the story at the end by quietly saying that they did not decipher it, despite a promise in Hour One that they would do so in a few days. It was a plot point that went nowhere, designed as a cliffhanger that the producers knew they would not resolve. Like everything else about this show, it was a tease and a cheat, a question posing as an answer.
Quinto concludes that the show by saying that he believes Atlantis was likely real, and we get a montage of all the talking heads talking about the many places they believe Atlantis to be. But this actually undercuts the message since all of their many claims—from the Bermuda Triangle to Thera and beyond—cannot possibly be simultaneously true. The more people who confidently assert one location or Atlantis, the more obvious it becomes that none of them knows whereof he speaks. All of these men—and they are all men—want to believe in the unproveable. I ended up losing a lot of respect for Quinto, who accepts phony evidence and fallacious logic as though it were scholarly research. He is more gullible and credulous than I would have imagined, or at least agrees to play dumb on TV.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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