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 is the third and, mercifully, final part.
PART THREE: ENIGMATIC PEOPLE
Haughton uses “people” rather loosely since many of those that follow were not real in the sense that they did not actually exist.
36. Bog Bodies. Haughton catalogs many bog body finds but offers little beyond a list. I’m really not sure what the reader is to glean from this except that the ancient Northern peoples liked to throw criminals and sacrifices (not necessarily mutually exclusive) into bogs.
37. Tutankhamen. A standard biography of the young pharaoh offers nothing interesting, not even a feint toward the “curse” angle. Just a long list of facts.
38. Robin Hood. This chapter is more or less an unacknowledged summary of J. C. Holt’s standard Robin Hood (1982/1989) with a few updates from more recent research. Holt’s book is not overlong and is a much more entertaining exploration.
39. Amazons. Finding a topic that combines Haughton’s interests and expertise, he turns in an actually interesting and compelling chapter—notably different because he actually attempts to evaluate recent claims that the Amazons were based on Russian female warriors and place it in the context of what we know about the development of Greek myth. In adding more of his own expertise and analytical skill, the chapter rises above the others, ultimately suggesting that the Greek myth originated not in fact but in the creation of an Other that inverted Greek culture for effect.
40. Ice Man. Another laundry list of technical facts followed by a catalog of successive ideas about the European mummy’s untimely death.
41. Knights Templar. This chapter is especially disappointing because it introduces the vast number of Templar conspiracies but instead of examining any of them, Haughton merely summarizes the historical record and the lists various conspiracies without comment.
42. Floresians. These are the so-called “hobbits” of Indonesia. Haughton reports the controversy over the small skeletons as it stood at the time of writing, but you won’t learn much that wasn’t in the news reports and magazine articles of the time.
43. The Magi. Haughton takes the Biblical Nativity narrative at face value and catalogs various euhemeristic attempts to explain it with appeal to sundry astronomical events. He does not consider alternatives, such as the possible fictional nature of such an account.
44. The Druids. Wouldn’t this have more logically followed the Bog Bodies section? Surely this book could have been organized with some kind of framework beyond randomness. I’d probably have gone chronological myself. Anyway, Haughton mentions Caesar’s description of the wicker men, made famous by the movie, which I will quote in full: “Others [of the Gauls] have figures of vast size, the limbs of which formed of osiers they fill with living men, which being set on fire, the men perish enveloped in the flames” (Gallic War 6.16). Oddly, he does not mention the movie, the reason the wicker fellow is “famous”—an odd omission given the plethora of movie titles littering other chapters, especially the following chapter. Otherwise, he provides a summary of the Classical writers’ evidence of Druids and the modern attempt to revive Druidism. This is somewhat less exciting than Night Gallery’s “Last Rites for a Dead Druid.”
45. Queen of Sheba. This chapter attempts to relate Sheba to female rulers in Saba, so it’s not entirely a waste of time.
46. Tarim Mummies. These are better known as the Caucasian mummies of China, and they represent what appears to be several Indo-European that migrated out of the Central Asian steppes at various points. This chapter manages to rise up to interesting solely because the “mystery” forces Haughton to discuss context and attempt to evaluate evidence, breaking him out of his rigid formula of simply listing facts in chronological order.
47. The Green Children. This is a medieval myth about supernatural children at Woolpit recorded years after its alleged occurrence. Haughton reports Paul Harris’s “widely accepted” explanation from the 1998 Fortean Studies, that the children were Flemish refugees who developed chlorosis due to malnutrition. Harris also moves their appearance forward in time from that given in the medieval accounts for convenience. Widely accepted by whom Haughton says not, but this is a post hoc rationalization without evidence, as Haughton himself recognizes.
48. Apollonius of Tyana. Well, at least this time we have an actual person. Haughton summarizes the ancient account of his life, including his miracles, and then does nothing with this. You’d be better off actually reading Philostratus’ (probably fictional) Life of Apollonius of Tyana, of which this chapter is little more than un-credited, un-analyzed summary.
49. King Arthur. Haughton summarizes the voluminous Arthurian literature and comes up with a milquetoast conclusion that Arthur was “probably” an amalgam of a few post-Roman chieftains and Celtic mythology.
The book concludes with a section on forty additional mysteries, which I guess formed the basis of the sequel Haughton published a couple of years later. I will not be reading that one since this book was slightly less useful than Wikipedia and significantly less interesting than even David Childress’s warmed over self-plagiarisms. Disorganized and unsystematic, this book is primarily of value only to those largely unfamiliar with ancient history. Its occasional sops to the prejudices of its presumed audience mark this book as one that is trying to sneak facts to alternative history believers, and this is a noble effort. But for Haughton’s complaints that archaeologists’ books are too dry and technical and suck the fun out of history, he need look no further than his own work and try taking his own advice.
The title of this book was Hidden History. The only way this title applies is if you are an acolyte of alternative history, for whom the world of fact is truly an undiscovered country.
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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