It’s often the case that we in the Western world tend to downplay how utterly horrifying so much of the world was before modern medicine. As a result, when we see the frightening results, many, especially “alternative” theorists, are prone to attribute the unusual to extraterrestrials and lost civilizations when more mundane explanations better fit the evidence.
Fair warning: What you are about to see contains disturbing images.
In 1995, Robert Connelly photographed misshapen skulls and declared them evidence of alien-human hybridization. Most were the result of head-binding, a well-known anthropological phenomenon. But the skull below has taken on special life with ancient astronaut theorists because its shape is inconsistent with head-binding.
Most scholars who have looked at the skull recognize it as hydrocephalic, but it doesn’t really hit home until you see an actual person suffering from this rare condition, which is usually treated before it reaches an advanced stage. The October 2013 Fortean Times has a picture of Roona Begum, an Indian toddler with untreated hydrocephaly.
In the condition, the skull expands—in this case to three times its normal size—to accommodate fluid buildup in the brain. The child was eventually treated and underwent several operations to remove fluid and resize the skull.
The October Fortean Times also gives a positive review to Gary Lachman’s biography of Helena Blavatsky, with which I had some differences a few months back. The reviewer praises the book for being “even-handed,” which means that it treats both supernatural and non-supernatural explanations as equally valid. Readers, the review says, are “free to decide for themselves” whether Blavatsky really commanded supernatural powers of alien beings from parallel universe versions of Venus and the moon. This strikes me as akin praising a history of NASA for giving equal time to moon landing hoax claims while leaving it up to readers to “decide” the “truth.” False equivalence and artificial balance are ways of surreptitiously giving extra support to the side that lacks evidence, a subtle form of manipulation.
I should also give notice to another review, of The Piltdown Man Hoax: Case Closed by Miles Russell (History Press, 2013), a book unread by me, but which the review says makes a compelling case that the Piltdown hoaxer was Charles Dawson, as long suspected. According to the review, Russell has established the Dawson was responsible for at least 33 other fake artifacts, including a filed-down tooth he passed off as a transitional species between dinosaur and mammal in 1891, accepted at the time as Plagiaulax dawsoni in his honor. Like the Piltdown skull, many artifacts Dawson faked were designed to fill the gaps in biological or cultural evolution, including a horseshoe meant to bridge a gap in the development of horseshoes! A recurring theme is that Dawson’s fakes received acceptance because scientists had trouble conceiving of a gentleman faking mundane artifacts—despite, of course, the widespread and admitted fakery in the antiquities market for ancient art. Surely, fakers would fake something more profitable, like statues, not bone fragments and horseshoes. At any rate, this looks like a book to add to the reading list.
One thing I do want to know more about is a story apparently included in the new Legendary Beasts of Britain by Julia Creswell (Shire Publications, 2013) in which the Fortean Times reviewer says Britain’s last dragon hunt, in 1812, was occasioned by panic over the introduction of pheasants, mistaken for dragons. This seems like something worth following up on as an example of how monsters and aliens emerge out of practically anything. Sadly, though, I’m not able to immediate track down any sources for this, which must, I suppose, be local records in Wales.
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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