Today I have two topics to discuss: A “Roman” hoax in Florida and an odd claim that Stonehenge was a make-work welfare program for the unemployed.
Earlier this month, South Floridians were excited at the possibility that Roman ruins had been found in Miami. A Facebook post depicting fallen pillars at a construction site in the city quickly went viral. According to the post, “This find will change everything we know about modern history if it can be dated and identified to truly be Roman.” The Our Crave “lifestyle” website ran this picture of the alleged discovery along with the first article about the claim:
Our Crave asserted that it had contacted the National Archaeological Museum of Perugia and learned from them that many Romans fled the collapse of the Western Empire in the fifth century. The article speculated that the Romans intermarried with local Native Americans.
Internet users were quick to relate the allegedly Roman ruins to claims popularized by an episode of America Unearthed that ran in late December 2013. In that episode, show host Scott Wolter concluded that Alexander Helios, the son of Cleopatra, was buried in Illinois. According to the Miami New Times, one Twitter user said “The Romans were in America... That’s why Caesar is buried in I think it’s Illinois... Huge cover-up. Cleopatra too.” A commenter on Our Crave compared the claims to those of another America Unearthed episode, which asserted that the Phoenicians had colonized New Hampshire.
According to the Times, so many people were interested in the downtown Miami construction site that work crews had to erect opaque tarps to keep the gawkers away.
The story took just minutes for the New Times to debunk. The columns in the photograph belonged to the building that had just been demolished, the historic Urmey Hotel, one of the older buildings in the city. It sported some Neoclassical columns, though the stonework depicted in the photograph appears to be belowground support columns from the foundation.
The flap is another example of how fringe history claims can spread quickly online and feed into a larger alternative view of history, as the reaction to this story demonstrates.
And now for something completely different…
Will Toren was once a champion on Jeopardy, and his current employer, The Desert Sun newspaper, bills him as the paper’s “resident know-it-all.” In last week’s “Ask Will” column, Toren offered his views on the building of Stonehenge. They were, shall we see, unusual.
He believes that standing stones were the result of later peoples’ jealousy of Neolithic burial mounds. He feels the stones were erected by building a large tumulus, pushing the rocks up the mound, and then removing the dirt from beneath until the rocks settle into place:
It seems to me more than possible that the idea for building Stonehenge evolved over a desire to "top" the mound builders and the realization that if someone (or to be more accurate dozens of someones) were to push a massive rock up to the top of the mound, then dig out the dirt beneath it in a strategic way, it would be possible to produce something marvelous.
He then attributes the building of the site to Druids. John Aubrey proposed that theory in 1640, but scholars rejected it around 1800 when John Lubbock demonstrated that the site had been built during the Bronze Age, much older than the Iron Age Druids.
Many archaeologists believe that the use of circular henges is associated with contact with people from Continental Europe, particularly the so-called Beaker culture.
Toren goes on to discuss the monument as a make-work project designed to prevent idleness among the lazy welfare recipients who were living off of handouts from hardworking job creators:
Civilization itself is said to begin when the number of people a society can feed begins to far outstrip the number of people needed to work to feed them. But since "idle hands are the devil's workshop" (again with the supernatural) people have to be given something to do, lest they get rowdy.
Yes, Stonehenge was a “big government” project in an age that didn’t have big government, or much of one at all. Toren has a very deterministic view of civilization, and it’s rather hard to imagine how he sees there being a lazy class of unemployed freeloaders in British early Bronze Age society, when the only people who (may have) lacked an occupation were the families of the elites. The rural poor did not have the luxury of sitting around waiting for the rich to give them stuff.
Archaeologists believe that the people who built Stonehenge lived in an agricultural society, with most farming crops and raising livestock, primarily pigs and sheep.
The economy of the Bronze Age in Britain wasn’t defined by official employment statistics. Almost everybody farmed, and the only way not to be a farmer was to have a skill you could trade for food or to be a member of the elite (who, in many cultures, owned lands that others farmed, and collected a percentage of the yield). How else does Toren imagine this surplus farm yield was being distributed? As far as archaeology knows, there wasn’t a Bronze Age welfare office where freeloaders could cash in hand-carved food stamps, at least not until Rome instituted free grain distribution to the urban poor several thousand years later. (The situation was different in the Ancient Near East, where large cities necessitated more complex economic and social relationships.)
But this isn’t an isolated opinion. Consider Toren’s views on zombies, published a couple of weeks earlier. He explained that zombie movies represent the triumph of economic determinism, for they are cheaper (!) than training stunt people for ninja movies. (He may want to check the CGI and makeup budget for a zombie movie.) He also claims that zombies serve as political allegories for the job creators and the mindless takers sponging off of them:
Those who identify with the so-called "1 percent" can see themselves in the rugged heroes, forced to rely on their own craftiness to stand up to the mindless masses concerned only with filling their bellies. Those more in step with the "occupy" movement movement (sic) can identify with the struggle to remain an individual against an overwhelming tide of conformity.
Indeed, those mindless welfare hordes are coming for your brains, or money, or both; in this analogy brains and money are interchangeable, and only certain people have them. Even Toren’s “opposing” view from the “Occupy” perspective (because we are apparently living in 2011) is really the same one: that there are a brave few übermenschen defined by superior individual willpower and character but who are constantly threatened by a soul-sapping, society of moochers trying to destroy their power.
Stonehenge, zombies… It’s all about protecting the hardworking makers from those lazy takers. No wonder he dismisses the bloodsucking aristocratic vampires (like, say, Lord Ruthven, Sir Francis Varney, Countess Carmilla, Count Dracula, Edward Cullen, etc.) not as wealthy leeches living large off of non-elite society but rather as amoral sex fiends who cannot control their “carnal desire and sexuality.” You know: liberals.
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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