I keep coming back to the concept that ideas have consequences, and it seems to be a key concept that many “fans” of conspiratorial history theories don’t acknowledge or care about. Five times in the last two days, I’ve received messages telling me to stop analyzing America Unearthed because it’s “entertainment” that isn’t meant to be taken seriously. If it were true that TV were a consequence-free medium, we would all be in a happier place. But it isn’t. Consider the following four news stories from the past few weeks:
On November 15, the Society for American Archaeology, an organization representing archaeologists, sent a letter to the National Geographic Society demanding the cancellation of the National Geographic Channel program Diggers, which they claim is giving viewers wrong ideas about how and where they are able to dig up historic artifacts without a permit. Society president Jeffery Altschul explained that the program failed to meet expected standards for archaeological ethics. Without this information, viewers could cause serious damage to archaeological sites with careless, uncontrolled digging.
On November 21, a group of ghost hunters became enraged that their ghost hunt at a historic (but decrepit) Louisiana mansion failed to turn out like the televised version on Syfy’s Ghost Hunters and its imitators. Therefore, they did the only logical thing: They set a fire in the mansion in the hope of provoking the spirits. The Greek-revival style mansion burned to the ground, which, to be fair, probably wouldn’t have happened had the owners (past and present) not left it to rot for decades, like far too many of America’s historic homes, for want of money.
Currently, the state of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) is investigating the History channel’s reality series American Jungle for violation of state hunting laws. The show depicts Native Hawaiians hunting a cow with spears, for which the show did not have a permit. Just as America Unearthed depicted show host Scott Wolter apparently asking Pennsylvania residents to trespass on land the show was banned from filming on (though the actual trespassing occurred months earlier), the DLNR claims that the American Jungle program uses on-screen graphics to depict the show’s stars hunting animals at night on public land, activities explicitly banned under Hawaiian law, and for which the show had its request for a permit denied:
Activities such as night hunting both on public and private land, are illegal under Hawaii Revised Statues §183D-27 and Hawaii Administrative Rules §13-123-6. The Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW), which oversees DLNR’s hunting program, denied a permit request last spring for the production to film on state forest lands.
The show may have filmed (again illegally) on private land, but if so, they were lying to viewers about the location of events, according to the DLNR.
Hawaii’s DLNR reported that after the American Jungle episode aired, they immediately began receiving comments from mainland viewers that “have already made it clear that the program gives a warped interpretation of Hawaii’s hunting program.” Translation: People started asking if they could come hunt in the jungle, too, because they saw it on “entertainment” TV. The program, the DLNR said, also is culturally insensitive, depicting types of hunting that did not occur in prehistoric or historic times, again giving viewers the wrong impression about Hawaii.
Hawaiian Gov. Neil Abercrombie released the following statement:
Portraying our local hunters as primitives demeans our people and their contributions to subsistence and wildlife conservation. This appears to be a fictional ‘reality’ production with no connection to actual hunters in Hawaii. If we discover any laws or regulations have been broken we will vigorously pursue legal and/or criminal charges.
The History channel declined comment when media sources contacted them, probably because the choice between admitting to crimes and admitting to lying was not particularly appealing.
I wonder what the governor will think when America Unearthed airs its Hawaiian-themed episode in a few weeks. In that episode, the show will go in search of mythical little people called the Menehune who steal bananas, but who do not exist in Hawaiian folklore before the Contact period.
Finally, just to show this is not a uniquely American phenomenon, two amateur German archaeologists allegedly scraped off a portion of the painted cartouche of Khufu from the relieving chambers above the Great Pyramid’s King’s Chamber in an effort to determine whether the paint had added to the pyramid after the Old Kingdom, thus lending support to their claim that the pyramid is 20,000 years old. As a technical matter, proving the paint recent wouldn’t really do anything toward extending the pyramid’s construction back 15,000 years. If, on the other hand, results showed the paint were significantly older than the conventional date for the pyramid, this would be more interesting, though hard to reconcile with development of hieroglyphics, which did not exist 20,000 years ago.
The paint in the relieving chambers is the only occurrence of Khufu’s name in the otherwise unmarked pyramid, though Herodotus reported the existence of scenes from Khufu’s life in the complex surrounding the pyramid. Some believe the paint was faked in the nineteenth century to cover up the true age of the pyramid, a conspiracy theory popular with fringe historians, particularly followers of Zecharia Sitchin, Erich von Däniken, Colin Wilson, and Graham Hancock, all of whom prominently accused Col. Richard William Howard Vyse of faking the paint. Hancock later reversed course in his famous 1998 “Position Statement” and accepted conventional dates for the pyramid’s construction, though maintaining that an unspecified lost culture had “planned” the pyramid around 10,500 BCE. Sitchin was the first to make the claim in service of claims that the pyramids were extraterrestrial “ground markers” for incoming space flights.
The Germans told reporters that they believe the world governments are hiding the “truth” about a lost advanced civilization that flourished during the Ice Age, a conspiracy theory advocated by such luminaries as Ignatius Donnelly, R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, Graham Hancock, John Anthony West, and others. Obviously, they derived their ideas from fringe history claims and then decided to act on it.
The two Germans’ work was allegedly sponsored by the Dresden University of Technology, where they are students, according to the Egyptian government; however, I can find no proof of this assertion. The Egyptian government apparently was referring to the two unnamed Germans’ use of university lab resources to test the paint. The two students do not appear to be the traditional age for college students. Photographs show two much older men.
The German government condemned the students’ actions, but the resulting publicity yielded a flurry of internet speculation about the “true” age of the Great Pyramid, led by the Daily Grail, which eschewed elementary logic to suggest intimations of conspiracy. (Full disclosure: Daily Grail Publishing’s Dark Lore series reprinted one of my essays on ancient astronauts.) It bears repeating: Even if the paint were faked in the Middle Kingdom or the nineteenth century, this implies nothing about the actual construction of the Great Pyramid. (But the paint is not fake.)
Ideas have consequences, and fringe ideas are no exception.
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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