It’s been a big week for former America Unearthed host and current fringe media gadfly Scott F. Wolter. In this important moment of reckoning with systemic racism, the History Channel chose this weekend to begin making available episodes of the Eurocentric, conspiratorial, pseudohistorical America Unearthed for free on YouTube as a teaser for purchasing complete seasons, including the one featuring Wolter nodding in agreement to praise of the Confederacy and its pro-slavery terrorist group Knights of the Golden Circle. Promoting a series whose defining message is “whites were here first” is an odd way for History to honor its supposed commitment to diversity and tolerance.
Wolter also appears in the new series American Runestone, currently airing on a Swedish TV service. I don’t get Viaplay, the channel where it airs, but Swedish TV critics have been fairly savage. The series follows filmmaker Peter Stromare as he uses every trick in the cable TV fake history handbook to try to convince audiences that the Kensington Runestone is a marker left by the Knights Templar in the 1300s. Wolter is on hand to provide “science,” but Swedish historian Adam Hjorthén was having none of it. In the Afton Bladet he accused the program of being anti-science and of doing damage to European efforts to promote science and reason in a time of pandemic and fear. He noted that Stromare’s Twitter account urged fans to “listen to the experts” about the virus, but as soon as he was on TV, suddenly Stromare was spouting conspiracy theories about “fighting” the “academics” who are hiding the “truth.” “How is it possible,” Hjorthén asked, “to proffer such fundamentally different opinions in just three months? What does it say about our time?”
Hjorthén notes that the series includes Wolter, a fruitcake whose first TV job was hunting for the Holy Grail, a psychic medium, metal detectorists, and assorted nut-jobs. What it doesn’t include are actual experts in medieval runes or other relevant evidence. “The guiding star in the series’ battle against the undefined mass that it calls ‘the academics,’” Hjorthén writes, “is Stormare’s ‘gut feeling.’ This is not an objective inquiry we can follow, but a speculative search for evidence of a history that the series has already accepted as truth.” Worse, he says, the series devolves into a racist effort to prove that white Scandinavians “discovered” America, a particularly troubling theme in this summer of reckoning with the impact of systemic racism.
“It is to be hoped,” Hjorthén writes, “that Peter Stormare and Viaplay simply do not understand that their new series embodies two right-wing populist doctrines - the anti-establishment scorn of academics and social science, and the defense of the white man’s central role in history.”
I wouldn’t count on it. It’s kind of a theme on cable TV.
To that end, Scott Wolter showed up Tuesday night on Jimmy Church’s radio show to promote his newest obsession, a set of stones from Texas he thinks represent a European occupation from around 1500. The interview is a bit of mutual masturbation as Church and Wolter praise one another obsequiously (“It’s what makes you special!” Church gushes) and both allege that some sort of supernatural force is guiding their efforts to explore European occupation of the ancient Americas.
That said, the interview takes up most of three hours, and that is way more time than I am willing to listen to anyone blather on, much less Scott Wolter. I’ll note a few highlights.
Wolter is totally into the Texas “mystery stones” right now—to the point that he traveled by car from Minnesota to Texas twice during a pandemic to see the stones. They’re some crudely carved stones with cartoonish inscriptions and (nonsensical) Hebrew text allegedly found in a cave in 1968 (but not actively examined until 2000) resembling a Hollywood-style treasure map. Wolter thinks they’re ancient and “cool.” Their current owner is dying of cancer and is “living for this”—meeting Scott Wolter and getting Wolter to investigate the stones.
According to Wolter, the cave has a date carved in it from 1501 and the stones bear dates from the early 1500s and the 1700s. The dates are too late for me to care that much—they are after Columbus, so despite their anomalous placement in Texas, they don’t change history in any major way. I’m certain they are fakes since they look as fake as fake can be. Some contain images of a stereotypical Egyptian headdress, even though medieval and Renaissance artists depicted Egyptian kings in the style of Ottoman sultans or European kings. Even Wolter said that the stones look as though they were recently carved, but he has convinced himself that they have centuries of weathering. I’m also a bit concerned that Wolter is excited that a runic inscription found on a preexisting fake rune stone in Oklahoma is duplicated on one of the new Texas stones. Wouldn’t the more logical conclusion be that the new one is a fake rather than the product of a “crypto-Jewish community” of Templar/Viking rune initiates, as Wolter claims. A second Texas stone also duplicates another (fake) rune inscription from Oklahoma.
Wolter is very excited about the stones, which number in the hundreds, but even Wolter’s own “experts” tell him that the Hebrew inscriptions don’t make sense in Hebrew, so he is now assuming it’s a “Spanish/Portuguese blend” written in Hebrew letters! While this should indicate that the text is a fake, Wolter wants to connect these to the (equally fake) Tucson Lead Artifacts. Frankly, the idea of a Spanish/Portuguese blend is weird enough, but Wolter decides that these are the gravestones of the crypto-Jews of Spain. The crypto-Jews—converts to Catholicism who maintained Jewish practices after Spain forced them to change faiths—maintained traces of their culture in New Mexico down to modern times, so the idea that there were colonial-era Jews in Texas isn’t that far-fetched.
Wolter says that other stones contain a range of Masonic/Bloodline symbols including the all-seeing eye, the eight-pointed star, etc. Listening to the two men describing stone carvings that even they admit to barely understanding and struggling to find the right photos that radio listeners can’t actually see does not make for compelling radio.
As a result of this “discovery,” Wolter now believes that a community of “crypto-Jews” occupied America from the early Middle Ages down to the 1760s. He seems unaware that this is also very similar to the claim of Mormonism, which imagined that Jews colonized America twice—once in ancient times and again much later, until they all died to make way for Christians to colonize America.
If you were going to fake stones for Wolter to get excited about, you could do worse than to pick a topic that I specifically singled out as a potential topic for America Unearthed in a season one review. The story Wolter spins from the stones—about a community, led by king, interacting with Native Americans, possessed of mystical secrets—is a combination of the story from the Tucson artifacts and the story of the conversos that I outlined in describing and reviewing Wolter’s investigation of the Tucson artifacts. I certainly hope that the stones predate my commentary, since I don’t want to be responsible, but no matter the timeline, these stones seem custom-made to appeal to Wolter as a sequel to the Tucson Lead Artifacts.
But if the claims about the stones being made by colonial era Europeans are true, I’m not thrilled with his sources conducting amateur archaeological digs, removing them from archaeological context, nor am I thrilled with Wolter breaking off pieces of them to conduct tests without any input from professional archaeologists. Unfortunately, Texas has no law protecting artifacts found on private land, except in the limited case where human remains are found. Currently 95% of Texas’s land is privately held.
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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