One of the big assertions ancient astronaut and alternative history writers use to justify their belief that ancient myths provide a reliable guide to history is Heinrich Schliemann’s discovery of Troy, allegedly by following directions from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. As I’ve written about before, this is in fact a myth, concocted by Schliemann as a publicity stunt. But the myth took hold, and in 1912, an audacious newspaper hoax sought to capitalize on it.
William Randolph Hearst’s New York American, in its October 12 edition, carried a two-page spread allegedly written by Paul Schliemann, the grandson of Heinrich, asserting that his grandfather had bequeathed to him research that led him to absolute proof of the existence of Atlantis. According to Paul, Heinrich had asserted that when he excavated Troy, he found a vase inscribed in “Phoenician hieroglyphics” which stated that “King Chronos of Atlantis” had sent it. The Phoenicians, of course, write with an alphabet, not hieroglyphics.
“Heinrich” supposedly claimed that at the Louvre, he found “Central American” vases from Tiwanaku (which is actually in Bolivia, in South America) which also had the same decorations and patterns as the Trojan vase. Like an Edwardian Scott Wolter, Heinrich Schliemann said he examined the Trojan and Louvre vases under a microscope to determine whether they were made of the same clay. They were, and that clay could only have come from Atlantis!
“Heinrich” also claimed that he read a papyrus written by the Ptolemaic scribe Manetho (who, in reality, is known only from later Greek summaries of his work) that confirmed Egyptian knowledge of Atlantis 16,000 years ago.
From there, Paul takes up the story, and it descends into a Da Vinci Code or Indiana Jones type of thriller, involving hidden messages spread around the world, including among the Maya and the Buddhists, Atlantean artifacts hidden in ancient sculptures, and so on. It’s fun in its way, and perhaps as a novel might have amounted to something. The whole story can be read here.
Of special note is that “Paul Schliemann” or whoever the real author was makes use of Augustus Le Plongeon’s theories about the Maya as the font of civilization, especially his claims about “the Land of Mu,” which identified with Atlantis. Many of the connections the fake Schliemann made between artifacts around the world are obviously derived from Ignatius Donnelly and Le Plongeon, but in places they also anticipate James Churchward.
In point of fact, the real Heinrich Schliemann did not believe there was a reality behind Atlantis. It’s interesting to see, though, that a century ago the media were just as willing to profit from the same fictions and lies that the History Channel and H2 make money on today. It is even more interesting to see that in 1912, even lies were expected to have a better understanding of history and a greater command of the relevant literature than anyone who appears on television today.
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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