As I mentioned the other day, I’m revising my early reviews of America Unearthed to collect them for a book. Once again, I noticed that in my review of S01E02 “Medieval Desert Mystery,” I overlooked a significant problem because I wasn’t aware at the time just how badly the show fakes its material. In the episode, Scott Wolter finds a stone in Arizona covered in runes that allegedly state that the rock marks the burial place of “Rough Hurech,” an Englishman of the year 1200. After hearing from those who can read runes that the rock was actually hoaxed gibberish (no coherent words can be formed from the runes), I didn’t think much about the translation. That was a mistake.
As a side note, in re-researching this episode, I also found that the white supremacist group Stormfront (to which I am not linking do to its extreme nature) discussed this episode on its message boards as a “program of interest to white people,” and users stated that “we have our own media now,” in response to America Unearthed (among several shows). While this is not the producers’ or Scott Wolter’s intention, it is disturbing that the show has been adopted by white supremacists as part of the “white pride” movement.
(Note: What follows contains some text that originally appeared in my first review of the episode.)
In the episode Mike Carr, by phone, tells us that the runes identify the deceased as Peter “Rough” Hurech, a name associated with Staffordshire in England. As we shall see momentarily, this man probably never existed. According to Mike, the rune stone reads: “The body in contrast with the soul fits/lays / Rough Hurech here / He enjoyed entertainment, joy, merriment, the secret stolen / Rough Hurech’s body—fame and glory / Dust beyond Eden / Eden’s temple.” Remember that others with knowledge of runes have analyzed the rock and concluded it was gibberish and does not contain any name whatsoever. We do not hear how Mike translated the runes, but I was able to find parts of the translation appearing verbatim in the Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, where the entry for the word líc (body) gives the specific definition “the body in contrast with the soul or vital principle…” The italicized words were the definition and the roman words explication. The translator of the rune stone appears to have misunderstood the explanatory definition and included the entire explanation in his translation. Similarly, the three synonyms “entertainment, joy, merriment” smack of a dictionary definition, not unlike Bosworth’s “joy, music, musical accompaniment of a song, mirth, jesting” given for gleow. The amateur effort on display in taking all possible synonyms as part of a single meaning strongly smacks of fakery, or at least a translator out of his depth, seeing connections where none exist in ambiguous, random lettering. I also wonder if the otherwise unattested nickname “Rough” came from finding “rough” as the definition for hrio, hrúh, and hreó, words very similar to Hurech.
The odd phrase “Eden’s temple” appears to be a reference, probably of Mike Carr’s own devising, to Beth-eden, the “house (i.e. temple) of Eden,” on the plain of Damascus, in Amos 1:5, which speaks to God’s promise to destroy the pagans of Eden (a Syrian city—not the garden) and the surrounding region, but also implies that Mike means to relate Hurech to the Crusaders, who around 1200 had just lost control of Damascus and the Holy Land to Saladin. It is impossible for me to say at a distance, but the translation appears to be geared toward providing a putative justification for Hurech’s travels—that he had left England for the Crusades. That said, I’m not able to find any other standard use for the phrase “Eden’s temple” or “House of Eden,” a very weird set of words that are not usually used in reference to Paradise.
Readers will recall that Wolter traveled to England to meet with Alan Butler, an alternative history author whose research has focused on ancient goddess religions and his belief that the Knights Templar and Freemasons perpetuate goddess ideology. He also tried to sue me back in 2005 for reviewing in Skeptic magazine without express permission a book he and Christopher Knight wrote about megalithic architecture in which they claimed that an Atlantis-like civilization encoded cosmic information into the measurements of Neolithic stone circles. I didn’t think much of the book, and I thought less of him and Knight after their threatened lawsuit.
Butler claims that county records in Staffordshire associated a certain Peter Hurech with the Whittington Inn, a manor house built in 1310, converted into an inn in 1783, and now serving as a pub. The building stands atop land that paranormal researchers looking into the inn’s alleged ghosts say was purchased by Hurech for 20 shillings for a farm back in the 1100s. However, according to William Page’s History of the County of Stafford, the land actually belonged from the 1160s to Philip de Kinver, also called Philip Helgot, who was in debt and had to forfeit the land to Thomas fitz Bernard from 1181 until Geoffrey fitz Peter took over in 1183, before returning six months later to Philip de Kinver, who held it past the point when Hurech would have left. Philip was compelled to pay £20 to build a hunting lodge for King Henry II to settle the back rent he owed on the farm; it is this lodge that eventually grew into Whittington Inn when a nobleman of that name expanded the lodge into a manor in 1307-1310. Peter Hurech, should such a man have existed, would therefore have been a tenant of Philip, though only the elite could own significant property such as a manor, but Butler claims he actually built the Whittington Inn, the present form of which is not older than 1310, and mostly rebuilt after the 1600s. Since we know who actually owned the property, this Peter Hurech could not be an actual nobleman of any note, raising the question of where a tenant farmer got the money to fund an expedition. Hurech, Butler asserts, can be traced in English records down to around 1200, but he left no offspring and his surname died out in Staffordshire after 1200. We never see a single actual record, only Butler reading a text message he asserts came from the county records office. This is highly suspicious.
Obviously, I was not willing to take Butler at his word given our history. I contacted the Staffordshire County Records Office and inquired about the claims made on the program. The duty archivist at the records office was unfailingly polite but quite obviously concerned about the claims made for information provided by her office. Not only did the county records office not provide any information about the Hurech family to America Unearthed or to Alan Butler, but there is no existing record for anyone of the name Hurech in Staffordshire or Stoke on Trent in any extant index for any century, not in the electronic index nor the manual index. No record of “Hurech” or any similar name appears in any of the indexes to twelfth century records in the four volumes of the Collections for the History of Staffordshire series published by the Staffordshire Records Society (formerly the William Salt Archaeological Society) that cover the relevant century. While the archivist cautioned that such indexes are compiled based on archivists’ judgment and therefore are partial, so an obscure name may exist within the body of the records without being indexed, the county has no record of any family by the name of Hurech. On the program, the research discovering the “Hurech” records is presented as having taken but an afternoon (by 4 PM!), an impossibility given that the name is not indexed.
This is only to be expected, of course, since surnames only began to be adopted among the Norman nobility in the twelfth century and only filtered down to the common people in the thirteenth and fourteenth. It is only after 1300 that we see surnames passed from father to son, thus creating family names. So where did America Unearthed get its name from? That I do not know for sure. It is possible that the name was created backward from Mike Carr’s fanciful reading of the fake Arizona runes. It is also possible that the “Hurech” Butler was referring to was an attempt to retroactively Anglo-Saxonize the Norman name of the known Staffordshire nobleman Hugh fitz Peter (died c. 1210), the son of Peter de Birmingham, who was active around this time and held lands in Staffordshire. Although no such name appears in Anglo-Saxon records, Hu- (“mind”) is a Saxon first element cognate with Hugh (Old French Hue, meaning “mind,” “heart,” or “soul”), and –ric (“ruler”) a second element, so the name Huric is a possible construction that someone might mistake for a Saxon form of Hugh, especially in back-constructing a moniker for a ruler named Hugh. It might also be a mistake for other Peters operating in the area, like Peter de Broc (de Brok), if the “B” was misread as an “H.” This family shares many of the traits ascribed to Hurech, for Peter de Broc, who died in 1219, was the last of his line, after which his family vanishes from Staffordshire—his lands reverting to Hugh de Loges. The last occurrence of the de Broc name occurs in the Book of Fees in the 1300s, but not in Staffordshire but rather in Hampshire.
The most likely scenario, however, involves a British ghost hunting group, Elite Paranormal, who investigated the manor for ghosts in 2011. Their website is the only other place where the name Peter de Hurech appears, and they claim he held the land (as a “manor,” or estate) prior to 1187 as a tenant of Philip of Kinver, although they give no source for the claim. They correctly note that the current manor house itself was not built until the 1300s. I would imagine that the America Unearthed team read this webpage, misunderstood it, and derived their claims about Peter from that. I tried to contact Elite Paranormal to find out where they got their information, but I haven’t heard back yet.
Again, it is possible that a Peter de Hurech exists in the Staffordshire county records, but it’s up to Alan Butler and Scott Wolter to show where since the county archivist was unable to find it and is not able to confirm that the office provided any Hurechs to America Unearthed or Alan Butler, much less by 4 PM on the day of filming.
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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