I’m continuing my review of archaeologist Brian Haughton’s Hidden History (2007), a set of 49 mostly unrelated descriptions of various historical mysteries of interest to “alternative” believers. This bland, noncommittal book raises an interesting question: In an era of instant access to facts, is there a point anymore to books that are little more than collections of facts without a systematic purpose or any authorial evaluation or application of said facts? If the book is not a reference work, then what is it except a more limited Wikipedia in print? If the author brings nothing to the table, what is the reader paying for?
PART TWO: UNEXPLAINED ARTIFACTS
19. Nazca Lines. It probably goes without saying that the Nazca lines are not what we would traditionally call artifacts in that they are not portable. Haughton’s discussion hits many of the exact points raised by Graham Hancock in Fingerprints of the Gods, down to quoting Maria Rieche’s claim that any alien spaceships would sink into the soft soils. He concludes by repeating the archaeological consensus that the lines were ritual in nature.
20. The Piri Reis Map. This time it’s actually an artifact! Haughton summarizes Charles Hapgood, Erich von Däniken, and Graham Hancock on the map and then relates a reasonable, if not entirely correct, version of scholarly thinking on the map’s origin, again closely echoing the selection of authors and claims listed on the map’s Wikipedia page, while leaving out virtually everyone else, especially actual scholars who have worked on the map.
21. The Phaistos Disc. Despite spending many pages summarizing various researchers’ ideas about the disc, Haughton correctly notes that there is no evidence supporting any of them.
22. Shroud of Turin. A potted history of the Shroud turns toward a discussion of various weird theories, including Christopher Knight’s idea that it’s a Templar artifact. Knight is the sometime writing partner of Alan Butler, and the two tried to sue me in 2005 for reviewing one of their books without permission. But in another infuriating lack of purpose, Haughton simply declares it impossible to evaluate whether the Shroud is really the cloth of Christ, leaving it up to “faith.”
23. Stone Spheres of Costa Rica. This is another entry that is shockingly close to Wikipedia’s page on the same. Consider this:
The information in Haughton’s chapter follows Wikipedia’s entry in organization as well as detail before veering off into a longer archaeological history and summary of alternative ideas, as though Haughton had started with it and added details drawn from other readings.
24. Talos. Talos is a Greek mythological figure, probably of Minoan origin. The giant bronze man is therefore not an artifact because he did not exist. However, Haughton seems to have derived his information about Talos from Robert Graves’s The Greek Myths, a book of lies, since he cites Graves specifically. He fails to notice, though, that Graves was not the first to propose Talos represented the lost-wax casting technique, a claim made in 1914 by A. B. Cook. Using the passive voice, Haughton fails to identify exactly who is claiming Talos was a robot (von Däniken, among others). This leads to an irrelevant discussion of Leonardo da Vinci’s automata followed by this gem of illogic: “even though Talos was probably a figure of myth, the giant bronze man of Crete was perhaps the prototype of all modern robots.”
25. Baghdad Battery. A fine discussion summarizing standard accounts.
26. Hill Figures of England. I guess I’m still waiting for the “hidden history” since this is yet another conventional, if boring, overview of various facts related to chalk drawings.
27. The Coso Artifact. This allegedly primeval piece of technology embedded in a rock is simply a 1920s spark plug. Haughton’s chapter simply summarizes Pierre Stromberg’s “Coso Artifact: Mystery from the Depths of Time” (2000), including the same photographs. I have nothing to add to lightly unacknowledged copying.
28. Nebra Sky Disc. This is a fine discussion of recent research on the Bronze Age star map.
29. Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood. Since neither is real, these are not artifacts. I suppose that the pretended Ark remains on Ararat are close enough for New Page Books. Again, Haughton confines himself to summarizing recent claims about the Ark and the Flood, with nothing beyond an encyclopedia’s purview to list facts.
30. The Maya Calendar. Since the 2012 apocalypse came and went, there isn’t much left to talk about here, except the author’s use of (a) a photograph of a replica instead of the real Aztec stone calendar and (b) statement that the Aztec calendar was “based” on the Maya, when in fact they derive from an older common source.
31. Antikythera Mechanism. A standard description, with little to recommend it since it sucks much of the life out of the story of Greece’s computer through overwhelming volumes of technical data.
32. Ancient Aircraft. He reviews the old standards of the von Däniken and Childress versions of ancient history and dismisses them, correctly, as wild misinterpretations and wishful thinking.
33. Dead Sea Scrolls. Not really a mystery but more of a “hmm, interesting” set of artifacts for the collector of anomalies.
34. Crystal Skulls. Another oldie-but-goodie, correctly listed as a modern fake.
35. Voynich Manuscript. Still undeciphered; therefore, Haughton has nothing to add beyond a catalog of failed attempts to read it.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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