If you are in Australia, it’s time to get ready for the Ancient Astronauts: Australian Tour 2015. According to an article in Australia’s Newcastle Herald, Erich von Däniken and David Childress have teamed up to give lectures this month at four locations in Australia, by arrangement with Australian fringe magazine Nexus. The journalist even expressed astonishment that von Däniken was still alive, saying that he had assumed he died years ago! This is one of the more bizarre pairings on the fringe history circuit, and one made possible entirely by Ancient Aliens, which the Herald reporter correctly credits for reviving the ancient astronaut theory from the dustbin of history. You might remember that before Ancient Aliens Childress would say things like “Däniken’s explanation didn’t quite make sense to me” and, only a couple of years before the show started, “these giant ruins aren’t built by extraterrestrials. I say they were built by humans.” Now he’s on tour with the very man he used to write books arguing against. Would you mind keeping them for a while, Australia? We’ve had rather enough of them over here.
Meanwhile, speaking of bad ideas that just keep chugging along, Ancient Origins ran a two part article yesterday (part one and part two here) re-litigating the Mound Builder controversy by using excerpts from nineteenth century literature to support the case that the Smithsonian has imposed a global anti-diffusionist “dogma” on history and science. The authors of the piece, Jason Jarrell and Sarah Farmer, are devoting themselves to a project to “document” how Old World peoples were the true Mound Builders. (They also hunt Bible giants, whom they consider to be among the New World colonists.) The description must be read to be believed:
Their goal is to produce a book which charts the ancient mound builders, among whom were anomalous physical types, through world history in a cohesive fashion, and to positively identify their origin, through a re-evaluation of the physical remains, dating, artifacts, and ceremonial traditions of the Archaic and Early Woodland Cultures of North America, which will be decisively compared to ancient European and Eastern analogues.
In short, they are planning recreate the work of Caleb Atwater, the early nineteenth century writer who did the same thing.
Jarrell and Farmer quickly proved themselves unworthy of the great task they have assigned themselves. They, for example, accept uncritically the Victorian claim that the Serpent Mound of Ohio is similar to the fictitious serpent mound of Loch Nell, a natural glacial formation known since the nineteenth century not to be a manmade earthwork. They also make a facile argument that the presence of geometric shapes in the earthworks of Europe and America implies a connection, as though circles were somehow uniquely European inventions.
In the second part, they take quite literally Victorian reports of giant skeletons in both Europe and America and therefore conclude that the giants lived in both localities. They also assert that the Beaker culture of Europe (c. 2800-1800 BCE) gave rise to the Adena (c. 500 BCE) because of perceived similarities in their cultural productions, specifically the fact that both groups build circular earthworks, the circle of course being a shape so impossible that only Europeans could conceive of it. They attempt to elide the chronological difference with an appeal to radiocarbon dates, arguing that a radiocarbon date of 1200 BCE from Topher Mound in Ohio pushes the Adena back in time, and they marry this to the Beaker culture by folding in the successor cultures to the Beaker, particularly those that gave rise to the Celts. To back this up they turn to nineteenth century sources that attributed the American mounds to “Druids” or “Celts.”
In short, their claims are the most slavish recreation of Victorian Mound Builder myths I have seen in quite a while, apparently assuming that virtually every old claim is prima facie true. This should not surprise anyone, of course, since the authors assert that mound research became corrupted in the 1890s, when the Smithsonian imposed an anti-diffusionist “dogma” (better known as publishing the results of actual archaeological research) on antiquarian speculation, so for them only amateur speculation from before the 1890s is untainted by evil science. That the Mound Builder controversy also roughly coincides with the last time that large numbers of scientists who rejected the theory of evolution were still operating is probably no coincidence since our authors are busy looking for Bible giants, too.
But while our authors take a virtual sledgehammer to cultural heritage in service of their goals, we can at least be thankful that they are confined to online articles and a future book. I am saddened to report that in the real world, Islamic State militants destroyed the priceless Lion of al-Lat, a first century BCE statue from Palmyra and an artistic masterpiece. The lion was destroyed because of its association with al-Lat, a pre-Islamic Arabian goddess and mentioned by name in Herodotus (Histories 1:131, 3:8) and the Quran (53:19-23).
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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