In which I can’t escape the goddamned ancient aliens…
Today we’re looking at Book IV of Gavin Menzies’ The Lost Empire of Atlantis, in which the author decides he wants to attribute pretty much the entirety of megalithic Europe to the Minoans. Since the megaliths of Europe are vastly older than the Minoans, forgive me if I don’t spend as much time carefully examining every stupid claim.
Menzies feels that the Egyptians brought the Minoans to Nabta Playa, a stone circle in the Nubian desert, to teach them about the stars—a neat trick since Nabta Playa is 5,000 years older than the Minoans and would have been long abandoned at 1600 BCE. Menzies’ weird interpretation relies on the work of alternative writer Thomas G. Brophy, who felt (with the help of Robert Schoch and John Anthony West) that the stone circle represented alignments to the stars tens of thousands of years before their construction through knowledge given to the Egyptians by space aliens, which he calls “some other intelligence.” Menzies leaves that part out. Scholars from the University of Colorado criticized these findings: “These extremely early dates as well as the proposition that the nomads had contact with extra galactic aliens are inconsistent with the archaeological record. Inference in archaeoastronomy must always be guided and informed by archaeology, especially when substantial field work has been performed in the region.” Instead, the circle appears to have been aligned to stars at the time of the circle’s construction, of which: duh.
Menzies claims that the Minoans learned to build stone circles from Nabta Playa and then, bypassing their own homeland, spread this innovation to Malta and Western Europe. Menzies covers circles built in 4000 BCE, 3000 BCE, etc. He fudges the dates by saying that the Minoans “adapted” preexisting circles. But if we acknowledge that there were circles before the Minoans, why are the Minoans necessary at all?
“All building on European stone circles ceased by 1450 BC, when Thera’s volcano erupted, destroying the Minoan civilisation.”
Everything about this is wrong. To take but one example, the 1450 BC date was a mid-twentieth century estimate superseded by modern dating (of an olive tree buried by the lava flow), which places the eruption at 1627 to 1600 BCE with 95% confidence. This was two centuries before the collapse of the Minoan civilization. This was confirmed by other dating methods; however, there are some dissenters who favor a date c. 1550 BCE, still a century earlier than Menzies’ date.
This chapter is about Stonehenge. Menzies thinks it’s the Minoans’ “masterwork.” He believes that the Minoans rearranged a preexisting structure sometime around 1750 BCE, having been traveling to Britain since 2300 BCE. I repeat that there is no evidence of Minoan presence outside Crete before 2500 BCE and no evidence of Minoan presence outside the eastern Mediterranean before the second millennium BCE. There is not a single Minoan settlement, burial, or occupation site from Britain. Menzies uses L. A. Waddell’s old book about the “Phoenician” origins of the Britons as his proof of Minoan influence, merely rewriting the references to Phoenicia to refer to Minoans instead. He never acknowledges that Waddell was writing about imaginary Phoenicians and not imaginary Minoans, choosing not to footnote his quotes from Waddell, which would have required him to share the title of Waddell’s 1925 book: The Phoenician Origins of the Britons, Scots & Anglo-Saxons (which also tried to connect Stonehenge to Mediterranean mineral trade.) We then get a summary of Gerald Hawkins’ early but flawed computer investigations of Stonehenge, and the chapter ends.
Menzies believes he has made an astounding discovery, claiming that barrow tombs near Stonehenge look like tombs found near Phaestos in Crete and, despite the stylistic differences in construction and grave goods and the age difference, must therefore be the same. At least he admits this time it could be coincidence. Using the rule of “looks like”, Menzies claims that the artifacts from the tomb are Minoan because the Minoans and British used “bronze” and had “knives” and “swords.” He provides photos that he says prove the identity of the Stonehenge, Minoan, and North American (!) artifacts. I’m sorry, but they’re not even close. The artifacts share a generally similar shape derived from function, but beyond that the details are all different. The animal effigies are in different art styles; the knives and swords have different fine details; the fishhooks aren’t even the same shape.
This is all warmed over crap from Phoenician Origins, specifically Waddell’s chapter (unacknowledged by Menzies) of “Prehistoric Stone Circles in Britain Disclosed as Solar Observatories Erected by More-ite Brito-Phoenecians and Their Date.” In that chapter Waddell lays out the same imaginary evidence for Egyptian and Phoenician beads and trinkets in Britain and, dismissing the possibility of long-distance trade networks, supposes them to be evidence of actual movement of peoples. Again, Menzies has simply substituted in Minoans to freshen up the 1925 steaming pile of pseudo-science.
Having imaginatively “established” Minoans in Britain, Menzies now fantasies about they could have sailed to America using the route the Vikings took, or perhaps across the Gulf Stream, as some Native Americans were known to have done in the early modern period. He argues that the Minoans brought voles to the Orkneys (maybe, but probably people from France or Spain), took Egyptian mummification techniques to Scotland (but skipped everyplace between there and Egypt), and spread a particular haplogroup of DNA to America. The haplogroup X lies have been debunked before. (See here.) So far, nothing convincing as this chapter sputters out.
For the final chapter of “Book IV” we look at the body of a boy dug up near Amesbury. Now here is where things get tricky. This body, called the “Boy with the Amber Necklace” dates back to 1550 BCE and, according to isotope analysis, had been born and raised in a warm climate. The scientists suggested Iberia or the Mediterranean. Prior to the Roman era, Spain was part of the Celtic (and pre-Celtic) world and would have been in cultural contact with Gaul and the British Isles. So, this makes sense. Menzies reads this, however, as confirmation that the boy was a Minoan “fleeing” the Mycenaeans. Remember, Menzies just argued that the Minoans didn’t “fall” until 1450 BCE, a full century after he now says they were fleeing their collapsed civilization.
A second body was determined to have come from a cold climate, probably the Alps, another part of the megalithic culture zone. Menzies “reinterprets” this to refer to Lake Superior despite the bones displaying no identifiers characteristic of Native Americans. He then fantasizes that the Lake Superior man brought his son, the amber necklace boy, to England to be educated on Crete! He says he is trying to get DNA tests performed on a skeleton from Rock Lake on Lake Superior to prove a connection. Sigh.
Now, relying on Gunnar Thompson’s shoddy research in American Discovery: The Real Story (1992), Menzies asserts that the “National Bureau of Standards” confirms that the mound builders used “Old World” metal casting techniques. Nope. Even Gunnar didn’t say that. He said an employee at the NBS wrote that metallurgical tests determined that “ancient tools were cast.” The NBS said nothing about Old World connections. That part relies on the “New York Testing Laboratory” of Long Island City, N.Y., an organization that so far as I can tell went out of business in the 1980s after a century-long run. Thompson’s discussion is taken almost word-for-word from Arlington Humphrey Mallery’s 1951 book Lost America: The Story of Iron-Age Civilization Prior to Columbus and repeated uncritically by Menzies. According to Mallery, the NBS employee, George A. Ellinger, was speaking only for himself and not officially for the NBS. Ellinger, an expert on metals, worked for the NBS from the 1930s to apparently the 1960s, winning the Award for Merit from the American Society for Testing and Materials in 1968. He spoke to Mallery in 1948.
Neither Gunnar Thompson nor Menzies mentions this fact, and they present this research as though it were new, current, and confirmed. Modern research has not supported any of the early twentieth century findings. But even taking it at face value, since we know that the South and Central Americans had casting technology, it just doesn’t make sense to imagine the Minoans bringing it to Lake Superior and leaving no trace until we hit the Mississippian areas of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys, areas that had indirect cultural contact with Mesoamerica. (Technology could have traveled, or perhaps even cast artifacts—those Ellinger examined showed evidence of being reworked many times.)
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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