I’ve been writing about alternative history since 2001, when I first started publishing articles about the then-popular ideas of Graham Hancock, Robert Bauval, Robert Schoch, and their friends. More recently, I’ve devoted enormous amounts of space to cataloguing the fabrications and plagiarism of David Childress, Erich von Däniken, and their friends. But in all that time, with the exception of Childress’s negative comments about me in the Chicago Reader in 2006, these alternative theorists have been content to largely avoid engaging me, probably because they never really considered my website to be much of a threat to building their audiences.
Not so the new group! Over the past few weeks, I have apparently upset multiple alternative theorists, many of whom appeared recently on America Unearthed, and they want me to know it. The most recent is Richard Thornton, who last night wrote to suggest that I did not fully understand his hypothesis that the Creek tribe of Georgia descended from Maya gold miners from Chichen Itza. He insists that I will understand after giving him $15 for an eBook with 350 photographs that prove his position.
“I really could care less what you say,” Thornton wrote, “except you are misleading people by pretending to be an authority on something that you are not.”
My misleading “authority,” of course, is that I wrote a book on alternative history and write a blog about it. This stands in contradistinction to Thornton, whose authority is that he wrote a book about an alternative interpretation to history and runs a website about it.
I have never claimed to be an authority on ancient history, and I rely heavily (and with citations!) on the efforts of scholars who do the hard work of generating new research about the past. Something all alternative speculators share in common is the inability to understand that the burden of proof falls on the person making the claim to provide evidence for it. The skeptic’s role is to evaluate this evidence and analyze whether it justifies accepting the claim.
Richard Thornton cannot provide a single Mesoamerican artifact found in Georgia. That’s because only one has ever been found in the whole southeastern United States—a single obsidian scraper pulled from Spiro Mounds in Oklahoma. Despite the fact that archaeologists have been looking for such connections for two centuries, Thornton claims that American archaeologists’ “unfamiliarity” with Mesoamerica prevented them from recognizing Mesoamerican constructions in America.
Instead, his evidence is the same as that offered by the Atlantis theorizers of the past: coincidences of architecture and language. He believes that the Track Rock site is shaped like a Central American pentagonal mound, and he feels that the Native village name of Itsate (as recorded by early mapmakers, not known for their phonetic fidelity) is “identical” to the Itza Maya’s word for themselves. He claims that a similar nearby place name, “Itsaye,” means the “Place of the Itza” in Itza Maya, but standard works on the Itza Mayan language give “Location of the Maya” as “Tah Itza” and its derivative Tayasal. “Itza” as a modifier typically follows the noun; it does not precede it—hence Chichen Itza (Well of the Itza) and Peten Itza (Island of the Itza).
But as Thornton points out, I am not an authority on the Maya language, and I can only report what the experts on Maya language have written. They have written that even a few coincidences of words are not enough to prove a relationship. Nor am I an expert on southeastern archaeology; there too I can only report what the archaeologists working in the region have found. Mark Williams, an archaeologist, wrote that “This is total and complete bunk. There is no evidence of Maya in Georgia.” Johannes Loubser, who excavated at the Track Rock site, concurred. Thornton has the right date for the site, c. 800-1100 CE, but scholars do not agree with him that the Creek were actually Itza Maya. The Creek, or Muscogee, descended from Mississippian mound building cultures responsible for mounds throughout the southeast.
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