The Agony and Ecstasy of Documentaries: Richard Thornton's Praise and L. A. Marzulli's Anger
Before we begin today, I want to let everyone know that Aaron Adair, the author of The Star of Bethlehem: A Skeptical View, will be appearing on Paranormal Review radio tonight at 10 PM to talk about ancient astronauts. Many of you will know Aaron from his blog and from his occasional comments here on my blog. Be sure to check it out. I was asked to be on the show, too, but I can’t make the broadcast tonight. Aaron will undoubtedly do a great job!
Now on to more depressing news…
Richard Thornton, the Examiner.com writer who has parlayed his brief appearance on America Unearthed into supposed confirmation that the Mayans lived in Georgia, is promoting a new documentary that he says “will rock the world of anthropology to its roots.” Thornton begins his discussion with the false claim that anthropology and archaeology recognize no influence between Native groups across the Americas:
Euro-centric scholars have long viewed the indigenous peoples of the Americas as primitive societies that generally stayed in one place and that had little knowledge of what lay beyond the horizon. Architects and urban historians, in particular, have repeatedly pointed out the shared architectural traits of communities in several parts of the Americas, but were consistently ignored by anthropologists. No one within the anthropology profession of the United States could produce an explanation of how crops from South America and Mesoamerica ended up in North America, unless their seeds were carried by humans.
All of that is of course false, for many reasons. There is widespread acceptance of Mesoamerican influence on the southwestern United States, where Mesoamerican-style ball courts can be found. Similarly, a Mesoamerican blade was found at a Mississippian site in Spiro Mound in Oklahoma. Archaeologists have long suspected Mesoamerican influence on Mississippian iconography, though no direct evidence to support this has yet been found. But the transmission of ideas need not reflect the immigration of people. All it requires is for neighbors to share new things in a chain stretching from Mesoamerica on north. Maize, for example, could then spread up from Mexico, up the Mississippi and its tributaries, and into upstate New York without any given person going any farther than the neighboring village to share a few seeds.
Thornton next says that academics are in a conspiracy to suppress evidence of contact between Mesoamerican and Georgia. He cites the case of Arthur Kelly, who chaired the University of Georgia’s anthropology department until 1963. Thornton says he was sacked for advocating Mayan contact in Georgia, though it was a funny kind of sacking that left him a full professor until his retirement in 1969. I can’t find any evidence that, despite his peers’ rejection of his interpretation of Georgian material as Mesoamerican, he was in any way suppressed or sacked. After his death, several glowing tributes were published.
Thornton also says that Neo-Nazis and Satanists are using intimidation tactics to try to stop filmmaker Antara Brandner from reporting on the alleged Mayan connection to Georgia in her new documentary. Brandner’s previous film dealt with crop circles and environmentalism.
But rather than give any details about the documentary, Thornton instead recites his greatest hits, repeating claims he has been making nonstop for years. To this he has added a new one: He now claims to have found a connection to Peru and believes he has discovered large monumental Peruvian statues in Georgia:
Already, stone statues have been identified that are 16 feet and 28 feet tall. The shorter one is already out of the ground. It has not been decided how to move the larger statue safely out of a river gorge. They are the largest indigenous stone statues in the Americas.
Under Georgia law, it is legal to loot artifacts on private land, provided that the looter has written permission from the landowner and has notified the Georgia Department of Natural Resources in writing five days before the looting begins. Thornton did not indicate whether he met this minimal requirement, assuming that these statues are on private land. If they are on public land, it is simply illegal to touch them at all. It seems less likely that a river gorge would be private land, but without details there is no way to know.
But while Thornton is thrilled that a documentary is giving credence to his ideas, L. A. Marzulli, the Nephilim researcher and Christian fundamentalist, is deeply angry that another television documentary is making use of his ideas without giving him enough credit. Marzulli reports that another ancient mysteries researcher, whom he does not name (no, it’s not Scott Wolter), contacted him to discuss the hunt for lost “giant” skeletons without disclosing that he had a contract with a major television network to participate in what Marzulli calls a series of documentaries about the alleged giants.
Marzulli feels betrayed that his erstwhile colleague took advantage of research material he provided regarding a photograph of a supposed giant on Catalina Island without crediting Marzulli with the “discovery.” The researcher flew out to Catalina Island to view the original photograph after Marzulli described it to him. “While the picture that I discovered in the archives is not my property, the research and discovery of what turns out to be an 8.5 footer is.” In other words, Marzulli is claiming ownership over knowing that a photograph exists in an archive. Marzulli is upset that the documentary is scheduled to run in November and might lead people to believe that someone other than Marzulli was the first person to have seen the photograph in the archive in this current decade. (The archival material has been available to researchers for decades.) Honestly, I’m at a loss as to what exactly he’s mad about.
The crux of the argument relates to a photograph of Ralph Glidden, the showman and fraud who displayed Native American bones in a grisly tableaux of Catalina Island and claimed a lost race of white giants lived there. Glidden’s photograph shows himself standing before a skeleton, which Marzulli claims is eight and half feet tall, based on mathematical modeling. It’s also cute that Marzulli calls contacting three “technicians” to examine the photograph without telling them about one another a “triple blind study.” (Later, he amends this to a “quadruple blind study” with four experts.) Marzulli has no idea what “blinding” really means.
The trouble is that Glidden is known to have faked a lot of his material, purchasing bones from elsewhere and staging fake digs for publicity. Since this alleged giant skeleton does not appear in the records of Glidden’s museum (only the photograph does), nor is there a record of it being sold off with other parts of his collection, the burden of proof is on Marzulli to prove that the bones depicted in the picture are real and ancient human bones. The staging of the scene looks extremely fake, and I would be hesitant to assume anything in Glidden’s photos is what it appears to be. The measurements calculated by the technicians also assume that the skeleton is fully articulated and laid out in a natural position. The photograph, however, seems to show a partially disarticulated skeleton, and any attempted measurement has to account for the original anatomical position of the bones. Arms, for example, do not typically emerge from skulls.
9/26/2014 06:14:50 am
Marzulli wants to mystify the rational, while others want to rationalise the mystical
lil ole me...
9/28/2014 03:00:25 am
TripleSix, the good folks on the internet radio program
9/26/2014 07:24:20 am
I was going to mock the Nazi/Satanist paranoia, but then I saw that the Examiner article ends with something much worse:
9/26/2014 07:34:20 am
>>>WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE?!?!
9/26/2014 07:36:10 am
666, that pomegranate thing wasn't funny the first time and isn't helping you appear sane.
9/26/2014 07:43:03 am
Last time I ate pomegranates I really received religious mystical experiences,
9/26/2014 07:44:19 am
Let's limit shamanism to central America and keep it away from the Middle East
9/26/2014 07:46:45 am
"Let's limit shamanism to central America and keep it away from the Middle East"
9/26/2014 07:52:02 am
Then shamanism existed in the Ancient Near East.
9/26/2014 08:31:48 am
666, I'm no specialist in Babylonian floral depictions, but from a purely logical standpoint, you realize none of that follows, right?
9/26/2014 07:36:01 am
Well, first, Examiner.com is a content farm with random material created by "citizen journalists," so it doesn't have any real credibility. It exists mostly to confuse readers into thinking it's a newspaper so they can serve up crippling amounts of advertising.
9/26/2014 07:39:03 am
Jason, I realize it's not the New Yorker, but it's not an Internet 1.0 tinfoil amateur website either. And are you saying that "hauling their professor’s books to the local land fill" is par for the course with this guy?!
9/26/2014 08:00:34 am
9/26/2014 08:28:19 am
Based on these discussions, advocating book destruction still strikes me as being extreme even by his standards, but at least I can now see how it coheres with with his overall mode of expression. (The latest article in general seems particularly unhinged, however.)
9/26/2014 10:51:29 am
Thank you for the vote of confidence, Jason!
9/26/2014 03:04:45 pm
Good luck, Aaron!
The Other J.
9/29/2014 09:17:00 am
You did great on the show -- very succinct, clear, showing the answers to questions that don't seem obvious until they're pointed out. It sounded like the hosts were swayed, if not persuaded.
9/29/2014 03:28:00 pm
Thank you very much for that assessment. I think I could have worked better on succinctness since the time seemed to fly by, and the hosts said there were lots more topics to talk about. Heck, we didn't even get into interpreting ancient texts, which is where the real fun is at!
9/29/2014 04:50:25 pm
"It's an ad hoc addition, and running the math that will bring down the probability of the theory being true the same way the evidence itself does."
9/29/2014 05:56:50 pm
With the ad hoc hypothesis, it messes with the priors. You first have a prior probability of AAT, call it P(A). Then you have the additional condition that the aliens must be of a certain type, such as they don't eat food to take the example from the aftershow. What's the probability that an alien doesn't need food. It's definitely not 100%, but let's call it P(B). So, if you include this ad hoc addition, the new prior probability is P(A+B) which is less than or equal to P(A). And considering P(B) is probably very small (the idea of a sentient being not needing food is against the laws of physics, i.e., 2nd law of thermo), and P(B) is independent of P(A) since being an alien in no way entails you don't need food, P(A+B)=P(A)*P(B)<P(A). And since P(B) is very small, P(A+B)<<P(A). So the ad hoc addition really brings down the prior probability because you need both propositions A and B to both be true. So just imagining something that is neither something your original thesis entails nor is itself very likely makes your priors drop. And often just as much as the evidence would have otherwise.
The Other J.
9/30/2014 12:38:40 am
9/30/2014 01:32:17 pm
Aaron, I appreciate your offer of referring me to a textbook, but I'm pretty good at this stuff :)
9/26/2014 02:24:12 pm
Nothing to see here, to quote South Park. Mayans in Georgia based upon an English, sounding word for lake, (maia), via the H2 AU hucksters, is nothing more than saying the skunk ape is real or the chupacabra isn't really some kind of messed up wild boar. This doesn't prove there are any obvious conspiracies. The ancient natives traveled and were smart. It's no surprising that villages traded with European colonists later. I thought this whole Mayan thing died out with that 2012 hoax everyone was pushing until it turned 2013, and all along the original descendants of Mayans were saying the calendar was never a doomsday clock, but just a calender. Nobody from that fringe has even apologized for the hoax. Nobody's even been called on it really. Unless one of you know of a site where someone did.
Not the Comte de Saint Germain
9/26/2014 04:37:52 pm
Nope. But a lot of the New Agers didn't expect an apocalypse, just a "transformation of consciousness" and a new astrological age, the same one New Agers have been awaiting since their subculture emerged in the 1960s. The media picked up on the doomsday predictions even though there weren't many people who expected doomsday. The number of people who were joking about the end of the world in December 2012 was vastly greater than the number who actually expected it to happen. In contrast, the original New Age concept was so vague and unfalsifiable that its advocates can (and do) still say something fundamental changed in people's consciounesses, or better yet, their subconscious minds. There's no proving or disproving that.
9/26/2014 04:43:50 pm
Did you go to an end of the world party on that day? I did. It was rather lame, unfortunately :(
Not the Comte de Saint Germain
9/26/2014 04:53:21 pm
No. I did my celebrating earlier in the year, by writing this:
9/26/2014 04:58:57 pm
Does not refer to Ley Lines or the fact that Queen Victoria was a man. Your research is quite shoddy :)
Not the Comte de Saint Germain
9/26/2014 05:04:53 pm
Yes, it does refer to ley lines. Look carefully at where the links lead. (A couple of them don't work anymore, unfortunately; one was the website of a bona fide worshiper of Enki.)
9/26/2014 05:07:50 pm
Oh well. At least we'll always have Mr. Supriem...
9/26/2014 05:34:11 pm
HOLY SHAZBOT, NtCdSG! I don't know how you found the time to cobble all that together, but you really made my day. Thank you!
9/26/2014 05:37:55 pm
If any of it is news to you, you're a lightweight, Only Me :P
9/26/2014 05:54:51 pm
I'll admit, EP, I haven't the exposure, resources or general knowledge of the conspiracy-alternate history-alien genre that some of you seem to have, but I also admit I don't have the patience to "get my hands dirty" with a lot of it, either. I honestly feel the thought processes in the ol' organic computer shutting down, as if to protect itself from what it considers a virus.
9/26/2014 05:57:43 pm
"Idiot" is an old-timey euphemism, Only Me. If we had a literal "idiocracy", we'd not have to deal with much of this.
The Other J.
9/26/2014 07:05:30 pm
"If any of it is news to you, you're a lightweight, Only Me :P"
9/26/2014 08:14:57 pm
You should see what John Major-Jenkins had to say about that, first he claimed the world would end, (1998), then as the event got closer denied saying the world would end:
9/27/2014 05:20:27 am
He's got nothing on the guy who claimed that his intercession on humanity's behalf *saved* us from the 2012 apocalypse!
9/27/2014 04:44:44 am
The Problem with the Star of Bethlehem is people thinking it has to be something unique or Special.
9/27/2014 04:47:43 am
Do you think the Magi rode dinosaurs to Bethlehem? I mean, the Bible doesn't say they didn't and it would be SO COOL!
9/27/2014 12:42:50 pm
It's cool if that's your "creative interpretation" of the Star, but I think Jupiter being behind the inspiration of the Star has already been looked at and discounted.
9/27/2014 12:50:51 pm
Considering the 2 centuries that some theologians and scientists have made claims about the Star, I think you shouldn't claim what it was so simply--especially when the conjunction you speak of requires redating the death of Herod the Great to make the theory work. And there is a lot more to the description of the Star than "we saw it". There is a reason I wrote a book on the subject.
9/27/2014 12:58:02 pm
The 4 BC date for Herod's Death is ridiculous on it's own for many reasons.
9/27/2014 01:22:00 pm
If church fathers used the nativity accounts, as scholars have done, then they would have placed the birth of Christ between 6 and 4 BC. Josephus asserts Herod died in 4 BC, which is a date most scholars agree on, thanks to the work of Emil Schürer.
9/27/2014 01:45:27 pm
Aaron, I have a question. Why are we so sure that the Star is an astronomical entity at all? (I mean, we may think that it's fictional, but a fictional astronomical entity of some sort...)
9/27/2014 04:55:52 pm
@JaredMithrandir: the church fathers derived their belief of the 3/2 BCE birth year from a simple but flawed calculation. In Luke 3 it says Jesus was baptized by John when JC was "about 30". Since we don't know when the baptism happened, and "about" leaves a lot of wiggle room; for example: if JC were 34 and came to John in 29 CE, that would put Jesus's birth in 6 BCE. So, even assuming all the details from the Gospels are correct on these points, there isn't strong reason to go from the 3/2 BCE date.
9/28/2014 03:14:14 am
Aaron, rather than Venus or Saturn conjunct Jupiter or Mars,
9/28/2014 06:25:08 am
"Began to be about 30" clearly means soon after he turned 30. He was born in Tishri 1, there are symbolic reason I think the Baptism could have been Tishri 10.
9/28/2014 06:46:39 am
@J.A.: the supernova hypothesis has the issue that we have no record of a supernova before the death of Herod; some argued about a comet in 5 BCE as being a nova, but the evidence is strongly against it. We also have no records that really tell us what the ancients would have thought of a supernova. If they interpreted like a comet, then it's a bad omen. Most importantly, novae cannot do the things the Star is described as doing.
9/27/2014 05:43:39 pm
9/28/2014 06:37:50 am
The actual Julian star was a comet, but it was believed by many (or at least part of the Julian propaganda machine) to be Caesar's soul ascending to heaven--early sources also thought it was a new star rather than a comet, so that made it all the more amazing. So it was not an astronomical phenomenon in the minds of the faithful, it seems.
9/28/2014 12:42:06 pm
Aaron, I have checked the original Greek and it does seem to be a lot more unambiguously astronomical than I had originally supposed.
9/28/2014 02:44:03 pm
I think the oldest source on the Shekhinah glory being associated with the Star is from Kenneth Boa and William Proctor in 1980, "The Return of the Star of Bethlehem". It grew out of the divinity degree that Boa earned from Dallas Theological Seminary in the 70s. The claim about Shekhinak and the Star also seemed to be littered around various evangelical websites. Google brings up a lot of results about that. But the association between the Star and the Pillar of Fire go back at least to Aquinas.
Day Late And Dollar Short
2/26/2015 07:30:02 am
I am curious about the stone statues Thornton has (allegedly?) found. Is this just a claim, or was the smaller of the statues moved by one of the organizations he is associated with? I was hoping to find a picture, or article, but have come up short.
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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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