Since the middle nineteenth century fringe historians have claimed that the perfection of the Great Pyramid of Cheops speaks to a supernatural origin. A new study by the Glen Dash Research Foundation and the Ancient Egypt Research Associates finds that the pyramid is lopsided, with its western side 5.55 inches (14.1 cm) longer than the other three. Granted, over the course of 756 feet (230 meters), 5.55 inches isn’t very much. It’s also a bit surprising that this study is news considering that the measurements obtained from it are within a miniscule deviation from those of Flinders Petrie from 1883. Petrie thought it was the south side that was fractionally longer, but the fact that the sides were not identical in length has been well known since at least 1883.
Coincidentally, this was just about the same time that Ignatius Donnelly was taking the world by storm with his claims about Atlantis, in his books Atlantis: The Antediluvian World (1882) and Ragnarok: The Age of Fire and Gravel (1883). It is perhaps a bit interesting to see an online claim about Atlantis trying to undo some of Donnelly’s racist claims.
In his two books, Donnelly specifically identified the people of Atlantis as Caucasians, and he argued that Native American references to “white” gods supported the claim. He identified the Aztec mythical homeland of Aztlan as this lost Atlantis, and he specified that “white men” lived in Aztlan, the ruling class over a slave race of “black men.” He quoted a perhaps apocryphal account by the Spanish missionary Fray Diego Durán that alleged that Aztlan’s very name means “whiteness.”
In 1997 Rand and Rose Flem-Ath tried to argue that Aztlan-Atlantis was actually Antarctica, and in a recent article on Ancient Code, Flem-Ath’s implied connection to Antarctica’s whiteness is made more explicit, with the name now heavily hinted to refer to the white snows of the frigid continent. “Many researchers maintain that Aztlan means ‘place of whiteness.’ This is why it has commonly been connected to Atlantis and Antarctica,” writes site owner Ivan Petricevic.
Our writer, steeped only in fringe history, then adopts Charles Hapgood’s argument from Maps of the Ancient Sea-Kings to claim that Antarctica suffered a “crustal displacement” that more or less instantly froze the continent. He even accepts the long-debunked Piri Reis map and the Oronteus Finaeus map as “proof” of an ice-free Antarctica in antiquity. (Seriously: The Oronteus Finaeus map specifically states in plain text that its southern continent—actually a distorted Tierra del Fuego—was not based on ancient maps of any kind.)
Here Petricevic overplays his hand, quoting out of context Jane Francis of the University of Leeds as saying that Antarctica only froze “recently” in geological time. He pulled that quote from a 2011 BBC article that specified that this “recent” event took place 100 million years ago, a fact Petricevic omits. Instead, because he hasn’t bothered even to read Maps of the Ancient Sea-Kings, he thinks it an independent confirmation that Antarctica was ice-free in 1200 BCE when he cites a 2009 message board discussion of W. D. Urry’s 1949 conclusion that Ross Sea sediments were deposited by flowing Antarctic rivers in the past 6,000 years. The message board posting is derived directly from Maps, pp. 96-97. Urry dated the sediments to the Pleistocene based on radium content and then claimed that their physical shape suggested riverine deposits. Later study found that Urry made some incorrect assumptions (not his fault—it was the best information available in 1949) about the consistency of radium deposits, and more accurate dating placed the last warm period around 65,000 years ago rather than 6,000, according to an article in a 2005 academic book on the Global Coastal Ocean.
Since we’re on the subject of over-valuing stuff from the 1960s, Micah Hanks has become fascinating with what he thinks is his discovery that the “archetype” of Doctor Who has appeared in literature before the BBC series launched in 1963. He cites a didactic 1928 science book (Through Distant Worlds and Times by Milutin Milankovich) that used the conceit of a professor and a companion traveling through time to explore climate change as his example, along with Carl Jung’s vision of wizened old man guiding a blind woman. “I find it unceasingly fascinating that this particular archetype of the time-traveling ‘professor’ and his companion appears to reemerge throughout various literary disciplines,” he writes. He then quickly goes off the rails by abandoning the time travel conceit and bringing in evidence of any older man with a younger companion, such as Merlin and Arthur, before arguing that all of this reflects the persistence of mythology and its psychological meanings. “Perhaps, rather than an age-old retelling of the same familiar tale, the similarities that emerge from of our mythologies are instructions, of a sort, about deeper psychological realities within the mind.”
I will say no. First, his examples are not related to each other. Merlin and the Jungian old man are not related to time travel. The 1928 book is not mythological. The conceit of the brilliant professor and the ignorant companion comes from a very clear narrative function: The brilliant old man needs someone to explain things to, or the audience won’t have any idea what’s going on. It’s a conceit as old as Greek dialogues—no, scratch that: Gilgamesh explained things to his ignorant companion Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Someone has to feature as the audience surrogate in a narrative, and to assume the role of ignoramus. Holmes must have his Watson. The time traveler and companion motif can also be found in the Mr. Peabody and Sherman shorts from Rocky and Bullwinkle (1959-1964), airing before Doctor Who began. Even before the 1928 science book, H. G. Wells featured a time traveler and companion in his 1888 short story “The Chronic Argonauts,” a sort of dry run for his more famous Time Machine.
But what is more interesting is that a review of fictional time travel narratives find that the companion trope is much less common than the narrative of the single traveler, who speaks directly (or via an omniscient author) to the audience. In other words, it is more often the special information-dispensing requirements of visual media (and didactic literature) that create the need to insert a companion into a time travel story.
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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