Here we are, I got the first episode of America Unearthed watched, and wow, just wow. Where to begin exactly? This post is super long because there is just so much, um, stuff…in it. I’m going to summarize things at the bottom for you to make following all the claims in the show easier, but I really can’t not break this massive pile of…not evidence…down. If you don’t want to read the whole post just skip to In Summary at the bottom. Don’t be surprised though, if you ask me a question, I refer you to read the whole post.
Let’s start with Scott Wolter .
As the show will tell you, frequently, Wolter is a self proclaimed Forensic Geologist. Now, I personally was very excited to hear this, Forensics are a pastime of mine. Sadly, this show didn’t really show us much of what a Forensic Geologist does, maybe in another episode? Wolter however, presents himself as an authority on a variety of topics including pyramids, ancient rock carvings, and driving while talking on a phone.
His actual credentials are a Bachelor’s degree in Geology he received in 1982 from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is an avid fossil hunter, and owns the company American Petrographic Services. Under the Services tab there’s a link that explains some about the forensics his company does, which is kind of cool.
Now there is some controversy over whether or not Wolter has an Honorary Masters Degree in Geology presented by UMD. Honestly, whether or not this is true is irrelevant. The only thing this reflects on is Wolter’s character, not his expertise. An honorary degree is not the same as an actual degree. Honorary degrees are symbolic and reflect a variety of things, including donations to the school, life achievements, and the gaining of credibility to the school by handing these degrees out to well known celebrities. It’s like getting a gold sticker because someone likes you. Sure it’s awesome, it’s probably really freaking awesome, but it doesn’t make you an expert in the field.
As to Wolter’s character, we can get a better feel for this by watching the show that’s basically about him, reading his blog, and seeing how he handles negative comments and criticism. Wolter addresses the current nonsensical controversy over his honorary degree by telling us about personal tragedy. I do feel sorry for him, but everyone I know has some deep personal tragedy in their lives, that’s not a defense against criticism. Also, his responses to legitimate criticisms about his methods are problematic at best, (see the comments section in this post), though to cut him some slack, the amount of anonymous posters in the comments section was annoying.
So, on to the actual show.
The intro gives us the creepy flashing pictures and eerie music one would except from a horror flick, or a Supernatural episode. We get a brief explanation about a mysterious archaeological site investigated in 2000 inside Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest. Then we’re given our first claim of the show, which is that “Controversial Evidence has since emerged linking the site to Mayan prophecy.”
We’re also told, as music swells and we pan to an angry Scott Wolter storming from the forest to his vehicle, that in “June 2012 federal authorities prohibit access to the site.” This becomes a recurring theme in the episode. It’s also not made clear why at any point, since the area Wolter was going to is a National Forest and therefore open to the public for free. A quick check of the Chattahoochee National Forest website, dealing specifically with this episode of American Unearthed, tells us that “Track Rock Gap is open to public visitation and no fee is charged. We have several suggestions to enhance your visit.” They even have hand downloads and directions to help you find the place. They do have a highlighted box there that explains what the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) is and what it does. One notable line from the box reads “If someone wants to conduct research, they must get a written permit from the USDA Forest Service after it has consulted with other agencies and Tribes. Careful guidelines and restrictions must be in place before the research begins.” So, if it is true that Wolter was asked to leave the Chattahoochee National Forest, it might have been because he was trying to work without proper permission. This is just a guess though.
So after a riveting scene of Wolter speeding away from the Forest while talking on his cell phone, we’re transported to Wolter’s lab in Minnesota where we meet Jon Haskell. He’s simply introduced to us as a photographer, but Haskell has also worked as a media producer creating work for the History Channel dealing specifically with the Track Rock Gap and trying to tie it to both Mayan and Totonac influences. After hearing Wolter’s story about how the Feds won’t let him into the Track Rock Gap site, he offers to show Wolter his footage from the filming he did there in 2011. When Wolter asks how Haskell got into the site to film, Haskell replies, “I had a permit”. We get a few fleeting glimpses of stacked stone walls, and nothing else. Haskell describes other structures, some ceremonial and some having to do with irrigation, but we’re not shown any of this, we’re just meant to take Haskells word on it, and we’re not told why we should trust him. How do I know I can trust his interpretations of the structural remains as a ceremonial structure? How do I know that he knows the difference between an irrigation system and a wall trench? Maybe he does know, but were not told why or how, or why we should trust him. All we know is that Wolter does, and when Haskell mentions a flat stone foundation, Wolter immediately suggests is a pyramid base. Haskell for his part doesn’t seem convinced, but agrees anyway. This also seems to be a running theme in the show, people not sure how to react to the things Wolter says to them.
Well, after not seeing much of whatever it is that Haskell wanted to show Wolter, Haskell suggests we go talk to a man named Richard Thornton. He is presented to us as a Maya/Georgia researcher and an expert on “Creek Natives of Georgia” (shows words, not mine). Thornton is a writer at The Examiner.com, and apparently has an ebook for sale, but beyond that has no real credentials.
So after some more footage of Wolter driving to epic music, we get some random shots of back country road signs and a ‘Beware of Dog’ sign posted on a random poarch. This again, is more like a Supernatural episode where the monster comes and eats you, than a documentary. Thornton eventually comes out and greets Wolter and straight off the bat tells him that there is definitely a Mayan/Georgia connection, and the Academics are trying to keep the truth from all of us, but refusing to discuss it. This gets Wolter all riled up again about not being able to go to the Track Rock Gap site and they both have a moment of hate on the academic world. In these moments I think Wolter forgets that he’s trying to portray himself as part of that world, and that he’s got several connections in it with people I know. So I find these tirades humorous.
Eventually Thornton offers to show us some evidence of the Mayan/Georgia connection. The evidence that is provided is hearsay for the most part. He says there are cultural and linguistic connections, and similarities between the building construction. He even has some more pictures of the area where Wolter was not allowed to go. (Seems everyone but Wolter could get in, this makes me wonder what exactly Wolter did to get blacklisted, or did he even really try to go?) This gets Wolter thinking, and he suggests Archeoastronomy. We get a quick blurb on the scren about what that means, and it’s not a complete definition. It’s much more indepth than just “The ancient practice of aligning buildings with celestial bodies.” There’s reason for ancient peoples to do so, and it concerned real world applications like agriculture, not just a random whim. We’re also told the site is radiocarbon dated to 1000 AD, but the significance of this is not given. Thornton seems to back up what Haskell said about ceremonial structures and then adds that there are agricultural terraces, but fails to mention the irrigation channels or the pyramid base slab.
Thornton doesn’t actually provide any real evidence of anything. Yes, he shows us a few pictures of possible stone walls, but it’s very brief and they really could be anything. He claims this is what Mayan sites look like before they are restored by architects like him, but even Wolter is underwhelmed by Thornton’s evidence. He then provides a 3d map of the area showing the locations of some structures and possible terraces based off elevation data that we don’t know how he got. Again, as neat as this image is, it doesn’t prove anything except that there is indeed a site of some sort there, and we already knew that. He provides no linguistic evidence, no cultural evidence, nor any reason to trust his word over that of “some professors who have never seen the site.” Thornton randomly says there are some markers that have to do with Archeoastronomy, which has become the word of the day, but makes no effort to show them to us or explain why they are markers. His crowning piece of evidence is a circle that he’s labeled ‘Spring’, and were told it feeds the terraces, but again, nothing is provided as explanation. To make matters worse, the 3d graphic the show begins to use here sets up the map to look like the spring has something to do with Archeoastronomy, which we’re never clear on if it does.
So at the end of this visit Wolter again wonders why he can’t go see the site himself, and by now I am beginning to notice how much like Erich von Daniken he sounds like. Von Daniken has always resented that he can’t just walk into any archaeological dig he wants, regardless of safety or security issues. Wolter is beginning to sound the same, and I’m seriously doubting the validity of his claim at this point. But since Wolter can’t see the site with his own eyes, he’s going to do the next best thing, LiDAR!
At this point were 10 minutes into the show…just letting you know.
The LiDAR crew gets exciting and dramatic adventure type music as we soar over the area that is presumably the site in question in an airplane. Chris Guy and Jamie Young are our LiDAR experts, and Guy gets to be the one to explain how the machines work. He also gets to be the one Wolter explains to that there are Mayan Pyramids down there and that he’s sure the LiDAR is going to pick them up and prove him right. Also, he can’t go down there himself and look because the Feds won’t let him. Guy looks less than impressed with Wolter’s ideas, but manages to get through it.
Once we get back to the ground, Young helps us go over the data that was recovered by the LiDAR and sure enough, some structures start to pop up. Again, we already know there is a site down there, so the fact that we’re seeing man-made structures really shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. However, LiDAR images are really cool to look at, so we can forgive Wolter for being so excited by them. Wolter again explains the Mayan thing, and Young expertly doges the whole conversation, well done sir.
I’m also noticing how much money the History Channel has to throw around here, and I would really like them to give me a show where I can go head up a real archaeology dig and actually afford to use all the cool toys and get all the post excavation data analysis done. Seriously.
Anyway, we’re finaly at a commercial break here, and the show kindly sums up the evidence we have so far. 1) Piles of unidentified rock that could be anything, 2) Archeoastronomy, because things line up with stuff in the sky. Is it random? We don’t know, and 3) Terraces, which aren’t evidence of anything beyond the possible practice of agriculture.
We also randomly decide to go to the Forsyth Petroglyph in Athens, GA., because it’s a possible stone clue. Clue to what, I have no…ah…clue.
Anyway, while we’re here watching Wolter get really personal with a large chunk of rock (seriously, it’s a little creepy), we meet Gary C. Daniels, author of ‘Mayan Calendar Prophecies‘. Daniels appears to be another tv content producer who has worked with History Channel in the past on more Mayan Doomsday related stuff. Also, there was something about him doing a masters thesis for a website, but I’m pretty sure that was just poorly worded, since otherwise, it makes no sense. Anyway, both men agree they like the look of wet rock, and then discuss the meaning behind the rock, kind of. Daniels tells us that the rock is a Starmap that recorded an event in 536 AD which was apparently a comet impact. Also, the Maya and the Creek peoples used the same symbols to record the same event. Other than a few shots of nested circle symbols that Wolter insists on calling spirals for some reason, and a few shapes that look like teardrops (but we see them so briefly they could be anything,) we don’t get any explanation for the rock or the symbols on it. We’re just expected to accept whatever Daniels says without reason. I’d like to know how Daniels know the symbols represent a comet impact, which ones are the stars? WHich one the comet? and which ones look like Mayan symbols over not Mayan symbols?
The best description I can fond of the Forsyth Petroglyph is on the Eastern State Rock Art Research Association website.
“Visitors to the University of Georgia in Athens will find two petroglyph boulders on the campus grounds. One is located next to the Museum of Art. The other is within an enclosed garden at the School of Law. These petroglyphs were removed from their original locations in the 1960s. The original location of the stones was near Cumming, Forsyth County, Georgia. The petroglyphs are carved on coarse crystalline granite. Design elements include concentric circles, stick figures, and cupules. Archaeologists believe that the petroglyphs were made by ancestors of the Creeks or Cherokees dating back to Late Woodland period (c. AD 1000).”
So the Forsyth Petroglyph actually predate the Creek culture, therefore the Creek and the Maya couldn’t have “used the exact same symbols to record the exact same event.”
Since we’re on a random tangent about petroglyphs, Wolter decides now is a good time to mention Mayan Blue. Not because he has any around, but because now seems like a good time. Daniels agrees that he knows what it is, and Wolter claims the Mayan’s were getting the clay used to make Mayan Blue from Georgia, because…we don’t know yet, and Wolter isn’t telling. Just to keep on topic, Daniels mentions that he knows of a Falcon Dancer Plate that was found somewhere in Georgia and that it matches another relief in Chichen Itza. Also, somewhere in Georgia there is one skull that shows signs of cranial deformation, the practice of shaping the skull of babies to achieve a flattened look in adulthood, which was practiced by Mayan Elites, and also other peoples. This is a very random segment in the show where we’re just throwing things at a wall and seeing what will stick. In reality none of this is evidence of a Mayan connection, as most of it is again hearsay. To Wolter’s credit, he’s not claiming aliens for any of this, so points to him on that.
However, both Daniels and Wolter degrad into a tirade about academics and their evil pains to keep the truth from real researches, like him and Daniels. Daniels makes a joke about how science changes one death at a time, and Wolter exclams that he’s not going to wait for these guys to die off, he’s getting answers now! I’m forced to reflect on if Wolter has asked any questions yet? Mostly he’s just told us what he wants us to believe and paraded an array of unaccredited men in front of us, telling us to believe them too for no reason. Then he rants about ‘armchair’ academics who don’t agree with him or who constantly point out his lack of evidence. I’m forced to wonder if Wolter actually understands how archaeology works, and judging by his constant misconceptions and criticism I’m guessing he doesn’t. I find this weird because I know that he knows some very good archaeologists who have explained how all this works to him before.
But were off to Ocmulgee Mounds in Macon, GA., where we’re told we’re “visiting a related site.” Daniels shows us one particular mound that looks to be tiered. Wolter says its a spiral mound and Daniels makes a strange claim here that the only other one in the world is located in Xochitecatl, Mexico. Daniels also explains that the Creek peoples still practice their Snake Dance on this mound, where they walk around the mound in procession till they reach the top. Since were only shown the site from a forested trial, and bearly for more than a minute, and then it’s covered up by Wolter comparing it to a photo image, we can’t really tell where we are. Also, we don’t get very close to the mound either, and its a really bad angle. It makes me suspicious as to why they chose to use such a crappy shot of this spiral mound if it’s so special. But if we are where they say we are, then the mound they are looking at is part of the Lamar Mounds and Village Site, and the particular mound they’re looking at is Mound B. This mound is completely round in shape and has a spiral ramp going all the way up to the top. Dr. Mark Williams, the investigating archaeologist of this location, believes that the ramp plus other evidence suggest that the mound was in the process of being expanded when it was abandoned. What’s most important about this mound is that it, again, predates the Creek culture to which Wolter and Daniels need to it fit in order for their Mayan/Georgia idea to work.
We also spend some time looking at a reconstructed earth lodge that faces the rising sun. We’re told this is also evidence of Mayans because no one else ever in the history of the world would ever have thought to build a mound that faced the rising sun, ever. At this point the not-evidence that is being pushed as evidence is getting, as Wolter likes to say, Silly. This doesn’t slow Wolter down though. He decides if he can fly to Mexico and find one thing there that looks like something here, he’ll have proven the Mayan/Georgia link, academics be damned!
So now we’re off to Chichen Itza in Yucatan, Mexico. This time the drive footage is Wolter in the back seat, but we still get the epic adventure music.
Once we’re there we meet Alfonso Morales and actual Mayan Archaeologist. For real, this guy is an actual academic archaeologist with 30 years in the field. He’s also a huge debunker of the whole, Mayan Prophecies crap, so I have to wonder what the show told him in order to get him to be on it?
Well anyway, once in Chichen Itza, Wolter makes an almost profound statement. He say that “Many people think the Mayans died out completely, but they didn’t.” He’s right, the Mayan people still exist, they are a living, breathing, marginalized, ignored, and rightfully tick off people. Things like what Wolter is trying to do here, kind of tick them off, but no one ever goes and asks their opinions of this kind of stuff, so on with the show. Morales handles Wolter with grace and ease. Wolter tells Morales about his whole Mayan/Georgia connection thing and Morales agrees that it could be possible, which surprises Wolter so much he actually replies with “Oh, so you agree with the speculation, then?”
Wolter also mentions the LiDAR images to Morales and says it’s similar to what we sees here. I have no idea what that means, and from Morales look, neither does he, but rolls with it anyway. He seems to sum up his stance on Wolter’s idea by smiling and saying “Maybe if you could find a Mayan up there or we can find a Georgian down here.” He seems to be implying that Wolter needs evidence to back up these claims. Wolter goes on about the Forsyth Petroglyph, comparing the nested circles to the obvious spirals on the temples. Then Wolter brings up the whole 2012 thing and Morales patiently explains why Wolter is wrong.
One thing that is interesting is the Falcon Dancer and the Bird Man motif. Morales shows Wolter relief on one of the temples that looks similar to the supposed bronze plaque he got from Daniels. The reason for this is trade. There’s been known trade routes from Mesoamerica to America for some time now. Nothing direct, but slow, hand over hand trade moving goods and ideas from one end of the continent to the other, but I don’t think Wolter knows this.
Finally, Wolter brings up Mayan Blue and Morales takes him to see a sinkhole that is a sacrificial pit for children to the rain god. He explains to Wolter how the Ancient Mayans possibly painted the children blue, before sacrificing them to the gods. Thus there is a large amount of Mayan Blue clay at the bottom of the sinkhole, along with the remains of the victims. I’d like to point out here, the whole time Morales is explaining this to Wolter, we’re being shown images of ‘savage’ Mayans, killing and ripping out the hearts of other unidentified ‘savages’. It’s very predictable, disrespectful, and an extremly tired trope. Can we please move past this crap imagery of native peoples? Anyway, Wolter explains to Morales how he thinks the clay used for Mayan Blue comes from Georgia, and at this point Morales seems to be so used to Wolter explaining stuff to him, he just smiles and nods.
Once that was over, we’re magically back to Wolter’s lab in Minnesota, where Jamie Young is explaining LiDAR again. He shows us the data that his company recovered from the flyover of Track Rock Gap (remember that place?) and tells us how it matches up with Thornton’s 3d map. This shouldn’t be a surprise since Thornton’s map was created using elevation data, so all it really does is prove Thornton’s data was good data. Remember, we already know there is a site there, so this isn’t proving or telling us anything we don’t already know. There’s also data from a flyover of Mound B from the Lamar Mounds, but again, nothing new here.
So with all his not-evidence piling up, Wolter decides the linchpin in his assemblage will be proving that Mayan Blue is made with Georgia clay. We’re introduced to his young lab assistant Adam, and we spend several minutes watching Wolter make Mayan Blue while CSI style music blares in the background. During this time Wolter makes another claim, “If the Georgia clay in my samples matches x-ray results of real Mayan blue, then we have a hard geological link between the Mayans and Georgia.” Which, if I may say, No you don’t. The only thing this test is going to prove is that, chemically, Georgia clay is similar or identical to the clay used in making Mayan Blue. This is not the same as saying, Georgia clay is the only thing that could have been used to make Mayan Blue. You see, this is where a huge discussion about Soils and, soil composition and association should have occurred, but it didn’t. It is incredibly misleading to even suggest what Wolter is saying here and as a geologist, Wolter should know better. Especially after he admits that there are known sources for the clay used to make Mayan Blue in Mexico.
But we go to the X-ray Defraction Lab of the University of Minnesota anyway with a sample of the clay. At this point it becomes evident that we didn’t really need to make the Mayan Blue, because what we’re testing here is the clay itself, not the finished product. We meet Nick Seaton who is a Defraction Specialist at the University, and he doesn’t seem all that thrilled to have Wolter there. Wolter gives Seaton the whole Mayan/Georgia connection and the camera spends a lot of time not showing you Seaton’s face when Wolter is talking because Seatan is having a hard time not looking either board or ticked off. However, we do run the sample and compare it to actual Mayan Blue, and low and behold, it’s a match. I’m not even a little surprised, because again, this proves nothing except that the chemical makeup of the Georgia clay is similar to that of the clay used to make Mayan Blue. Again, this is not the same as saying that Georgia clay is the clay used to make Mayan Blue. (I know this is going to be a sticking point). Despite all of that, Wolter is thrilled and immediately begins crowing about how he was right all along and how he’s proven academia wrong.
Thankfully at this point the show is over, and we’re basically wrapping up the not-evidence and as Wolter is going over his list he says there has to be a Maya/Georgia connection and “Whatever it was it must have involved archeoastronomy.” This is perhaps one of the most nonsensical things he’s said all episode, especially since he spent no time making any argument of the sort. It’s just a random throw away statement that proves to me that Wolter has not clue what archeoastronomy is, he just likes saying the word.
The evidence Wolter provides thorough out the show is as follows:
1) Ruins – Before we go further, let’s understand that there is a known archaeological site in Track Rock Gap. It was examined by Dr. Mark Williams at the University of Georgia, and has been written and cited in several papers authored by Dr. Williams. Understand also, that the Track Rock Gap area is open to the public and is free to access, so basically anyone can got here. Wolter’s claim that he was denied access was either because he failed to get proper permission to be on a protected archaeological site, or he tried to sneak in and endangered the site. All other ‘evidence’ presented to support the site being of Mayan origins was hearsay, poorly presented, and never verified. The singular exception being the 3d map provided by Thornton, which was made using elevation data, and all that happened there was the map was verified by LiDAR data. Nothing new was learned or provided.
2) Archeoastronomy – It is clear to me after watching this episode that Wolter doesn’t understand the concept of archeoastronomy. I’m not sure what he thinks it actually is, as he never really provides us with any idea. He just throws the word around a lot and people just nodded when he said it. The one exception to this being Morales, and Wolter basically talks over him the whole time he is there. The reality is that archeoastronomy was used by most ancient cultures because they were agriculturalists and relied on knowing when the seasons were changing so they could get the best results from their crops. This translated into complicated religious cultures, with seasonal ceremonies and important buildings that aligned with certain celestial bodies during certain times of the year. This is common across almost all agricultural cultures and is not evidence of any one culture being the originator over another.
3) Terraces – What the hell did terraces have to do with anything Mayan? This is never explained. Yet it’s still touted as being evidence of something.
4) LiDAR – All the LiDAR data did was verify the location of the site and the validity of the data used to create Thornton’s map. As we don’t know where Thornton’s data came from, this is all moot.
5) Petroglyphs – These predate the Creek culture, so as Wolter’s claims stand as presented in this episode, invalidate them as evidence. Also, they don’t even begin to match the Mayan symbols seen at Chichen Itza. Also, how does Daniels know how to read these glyphs?
6) The Falcon Dancer – First, the exact discovery location of the Dancer was never stated. It was ipled that it was found near Track Rock Gap area, but it wasn’t. Second, this is a very common image found all through the southern area. Third, and this should be of little surprise, there were well known trade routes reaching from Mesoamerica into the area. We know this, we’ve known this for decades. It’s kinda what archaeologists do. When we find similarities like the Dancer, we track them down and find out where they came from and how they got here, and most of the time it was trade. Please quit thinking of ancient peoples as being backward and ignorant. They were intelligent, resourceful, active people, who liked trading things.
7) Linguistics, Culture, etc. – Again, any evidence provided here was all hearsay and never presented in real life or verified. Most of it was mentioned in passing and never really looked at in the first place.
8) Mayan Blue – This was a massive red herring Wolter used to give a science-y edge to the show, complete with a Mr. Wizard meets CSI montage. It literally means nothing of importance and proves nothing of substance.
Overall, Wolter paraded a variety of men before us. Most of whom we’re meant to believe outright, without question. None of them provided any actual evidence, nor proved any actual controversy. That’s the most confusing part of this whole thing, there is no controversy. It’s never explained to us why we should care about this Maya/Georgia connection, we’re just told that we should. Who cares? What changes if this is true?
Finally, Wotler’s explicit disregard for the actual Creek, Cherokee, and Mayan peoples is simply shameful. The Creek and Cherokee even created a video helping to debunk the whole Mayan thing. And the Mayans? What does Wolter seem to think about them? I think the way he treats Morales and portrays the Mayan sacrifices speaks volumes
Want more on this topic? Go to Reviews: America Unearthed.