The Dare Stones


The Dare Stones are one of those ‘artifacts’ that I find the belief in them hard to understand. There is so much that I find to be obviously wrong with them, that I have a hard time figuring out why anyone would believe them to be real. Though to be honest, it seems not a whole lot of people really do find them to be authentic, just a few who might have an investment in them.

So what are the Dare Stones?

AU s1e7 dare stones 4

One of the Dare Stones. Image via America Unearthed screen shot.

Like many of the questionable artifacts we’ve looked at over the years, these also have dubious origins. In 1937, one L. E. Hammond, claimed to have found a stone he thought was inscribed by Eleanor Dare, the daughter of the John White, Governor of the lost colony of Roanoke (Childs 2013). Hammond said he found the stone off Highway 17 in North Carolina, while hunting for hickory nuts (Childs 2013).

Hammond claimed that he struggled to decipher the stone himself, and decided to seek help (Pearce 1938). Hammond took the stone to Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia,  where it was examined by Dr. Haywood Jefferson Pearce, Jr., professor of American history. Pearce seems to have been convinced of the authenticity of the stone, and penned a preliminary examination of the stone, published in The Journal of Southern History (Pearce 1938). In his article, Pearce uses cautionary language about the authenticity of the stone, but writes as if he is certain it’s real. He makes several assumptions (Pearce 1938) based on the Stone being real:

  1. That the colonists didn’t go to Croatoan as has been usually assumed by Historians.
  2. The colonists did not go to the mainland opposite Roanaoke island.
  3. The colonists did go inland to the lower reaches of the east bank of the Chowan River.
  4. The colonists for two years…suffered ‘misery and war’ and in two more years were reduced by sickness to ’24’.
  5. Of these 24, all but 7 were massacred by the Indians in 1591.
  6. Among the dead were Ananias and Virginia Dare, the husband and daughter of Eleanor Dare.
  7. The massacre was reported to the Jamestown people and was instigated by the priest.
  8. The approximate burial-place of the massacred was a small hill, four miles east of the Chowan River on which a rock inscribed with their names was placed.

Pearce, seeming to sense that there would be fall out for his examination of the stone, asked a few valid questions about the stone. Two of which were why was Croatoan written on the palisade door if they didn’t go there, and why didn’t Eleanor state her exact whereabouts in the message inscribed on the stone?

Pearce states that he was impressed by the stone for a few reasons, including how well the account on the back of the stones adheres to known historical sources from the time, including the mention of 7 survivors (Pearce 1938). He was also impressed by the authenticity of the language and grammar used on the stone, which matched the known language of the time (Pearce 1938). He did mention the unconventional 3 letter signature of Eleanor at the end of the stone, it was almost unheard of for women to sign their names this way, usually it was with only 2 letters (Pearce 1938).

Hammond, after being well received at the university, worked with researchers there to decipher the stone and even took them to see approximately where he claims to have found the stone (Pearce 1938). There is no report to say if any further examination of the stone was ever made.


A photograph of professors (l to r) James G. Lester, Haywood Pearce, Jr., and Ben W. Gibson examining the first Dare Stone. Image courtesy of Brenau University, Gainesville, Ga. (Childs 2013)


Pearce managed to convince his father, Pearce Sr., owner of private school Brenau College in Gainesville, Georgia, to buy the stone (Childs 2013). Pearce also knew he needed more evidence to confirm the authenticity of the stone, and he knew if he could find the second stone alluded to in the first Stone’s inscription, it would go a long way to proving the stone was real.

After the publication of his article, Pearce was contacted by a Capt. J. P. Wiggins, a former mayor of Edenton, North Carolina. Wiggins seemed to remember as a young man seeing a moss covered stone up on a knoll, or small hill (Sparks 1941). He said he could take Pearce to the location, but he couldn’t promise that the stone was still there. The location and description seemed to match the first stone’s story of the burial place of the 17 dead. Pearce lead his first survey of the area in February of 1938, and the found the large stone. When it was uncovered though, there was no writing on it. Still convinced that it was an unmarked grave Pearce went back in August of that year and excavated the entire hill. Nothing was found. He returned to the area one last time in March of 1939, with the same results (Sparks 1941).

Frustrated but not defeated, Pearce decided to tackle this another way, he offered a $500 reward for information on the second stone (Childs 2013). With money on the line, Pearce’s luck was about to change.

Enter Eberhardt.

In the summer of 1939, William “Bill” Eberhardt, a stone cutter, told Pearce that he’d found the second stone (Childs 2013). Not only that, he’d found a total of 13 other stones there as well. He said he’d found them near Pelzer, SC, and showed Pearce the site (Childs 2013).  To his credit, Pearce didn’t immediately take to Eberhardt’s claims at first (Sparks 1941). Pearce told Eberhardt that the first stone presented was probably a Spanish grave marker, and the second two stones were dated wrong, not to mention the 300 mile difference (Sparks 1941). Pearce made the mistake of telling Eberhardt what he was looking for, that an authentic stone would have been dated 1591 and have seventeen names inscribed on it (Sparks 1941). A week later Eberhardt showed up with just the right stone (Sparks 1941). Of greatest interest to this one was the inscription on the side of it; “Father wee goe sw.(Sparks 1941).” This seemingly small detail was quite a clever ruse set in place to make the distance seem more logical and more plausible. Eberhardt was paid for his discoveries, and over the course of time he managed to ‘find’ 42 stones in total, bilking the Pearce’s for $2000 in total (Childs 2013).

Eberhardt’s stones expanded the story started on the original Dare Stone, and now there was a proper epic. Adding to the story of woe and misery on the first stone, the Eberhardt stones expanded on the story creating a world where the seven:

“survivors journeyed southwest from the Edenton, N.C. area through South Carolina to Georgia. Eleanor and the six survivors found refuge with friendly Cherokees in “Hontaoase.” Eleanor married an American Indian chief in 1593, gave birth to his daughter Agnes, and finally died in a cave on the Chattahoochee River near present-day Atlanta in 1599 (Childs 2013).”

Reinvigorated by this new discovery, Perce had Eberhardt show him where the stones had been found, and sure enough, there were still indentations in the ground (Sparks 1941). Bolstered by this, and that all investigations into the stones and Eberhardt showed that the stones were authentic and Eberhardt so uneducated to have forged them (Sparks 1941), Pearce bought the hill the stones were found and began excavations. Despite their efforts, nothing was found here either.

In August of 1939, Pearce received a new bit of information, this time from one I. A. Turner, of Atlanta, GA. He to had found a rock and this one furthered the goose chance that Pearce was on (Sparks 1941). Still unaware of the situation, Pearce sent Eberhardt to investigate harder in Georgia and sure enough, just outside of Gainesville, GA, Eberhardt found nine more stones, all with the date 1591 on them (Sparks 1941). Over the next few years more stones would be found, with the direct aid of Eberhardt, and the winding saga of Eleanor Dare would wrap up nicely, carved in stone.

But this is where things get weird.

In April of 1941, Boyden Sparkes published a very critical article in the Saturday Evening Post, claiming the whole thing was a hoax and that Eberhardt was behind it along with Pearce himself. (Sparks 1941, Childs 2013).

Sparkes’ story in the Saturday Evening Post uses strong language and makes direct assertions. However, Sparks makes a very convincing effort to prove the stones are an elaborate hoax, including being able to interview almost all of the parties involved.

Sparks begins his unraveling with an account from 1937, a year before Pearce publishes his article. In this account an unnamed man routinely was coming to Roanoke trying to sell several get-rich scams, including proposing a hoax whereby a “bogus stone relic” would be ‘discovered’ and point to the fate of the Lost Colony (Sparks 1941). This man claimed that he had workers who could carve the stones, and presumably hide and then discover said stones (Sparks 1941).  This all seemed to have something to do with an upcoming production about the history of the lost colony, and the man was trying to get rich off of this. No one took the bait, that time. Sparks was able to track Hammond’s whereabouts at the time, and they appeared to correlate strongly with the unnamed man trying to sell a fake stone and a hoax (Sparks 1941).

Sparks makes the assertion that at the time of the publication of his article, Pearce would have been aware that the stone he was writing about was the same stone (Sparks 1941). He even admitted to Sparks that he never bothered to investigate the correlation (Sparks 1941). This didn’t sit well with Sparks, who decided to really delve into Hammond and Eberhart’s backgrounds.

Eberhart himself was well acquainted with creating and selling fake artifacts. He even had an antique dealer who refused to deal with him anymore, since they couldn’t sell any of Eberhart’s forged Aztec or Mayan relics (Sparks 1941). This same dealer had been able to sell Eberhart’s other “Indiana Relics” before (Sparks 1941). Perhaps these were stretching the imagination too much (Sparks 1941). Also the appeared to be evidence of the soapstone pieces being treated with a blowtorch to make them seem older (Sparks 1941). However State Geologists said the relics had been recently made (Sparks 1941). The all reportedly happened before Eberhart was working with Pearce, but how did Pearce not know about this part of his past?

Sparks discovered that Eberhart and I. A. Turner had been friends, or at least acquaintances, for 10 years or more (Sparks 1941). He also discovered the the “four different people” that are credited with finding more stones, were either linked back to Eberhart or Turner, or were led by the nose by the two men in their ‘discoveries’ (Sparks 1941). Eberhart was involved in finding all but two of the 42 Dare stones, the exceptions being the first stone found by Turner and a stone found by William Bruce (Sparks 1941). Even the stones supposedly recalled by a man named Jett from his childhood, would never have been rediscovered had it not been for Turner’s involvement, and both of those have serious flaws of their own (Sparks 1941).

Turner, when interviewed directly by Spacks, admitted that he and Eberhart had planned to go in half with the profits from the stones (Sparks 1941). He also has an interesting story that appears to link Hammond, who apparently came to Turner looking for a someone who could fake a rock with the word “Yahoo” on it (Sparks 1941). He offered to pay $30,000. for it, but Turner didn’t think he had the money so refused the work (Sparks 1941).

Sparks directly investigated the discovery location of the half stone produced by Jett’s wife (stone no. 46), and went to talk directly with her father, J. H. Whitmire. He was shown the chest where the stone that she produced was stored, and the chest was apparently a large storage chest where all kinds of items were tossed. These items included heavy farm tools and used millstones, along with other ‘Indian Rocks’. Sparks notes that anyone could have come and planted the broken stone here, and since the Jetts were approached by Turner to produce their stones,  Sparks seems to think it was a good chance that this was the case.

To support that claim, Sparks points out that the stone (No. 46) had been stored in the chest for somewhere around 15 years. Yet the stone itslef was nearly pristine when found presented by Mrs. Jett. Sparks says:

“One of the least credible facts about the collection is that the half of Stone No. 46 represented to have been for twenty-six years part of a barn pillar, and then for fifteen other years somewhere on the ground, and the half that had been knocked around fifteen years in a chest of heavy tools, after such varied experiences fit as neatly as a freshly broken teacup. (Sparks 1941)”

This isn’t the first time the neat and unworn conditions of the stones were questioned. Sparks mentions that it appeared to be Eberhart’s habit to present stones that were “clean” (Sparks 1941). The stones had been repeatedly scrubbed with steel-wool and had their in inscriptions scraped out (Sparks 1941). Whatever the reasoning given for this activity, it effectively made it impossible to glean anything useful from the stone itself, and I agree with Sparks in that Pearce should have known better.

The Language of the Stones.


This ‘clean’ condition spurred Sparks to interview other authorities in the field to get their opinions on the Dare Stones. He spoke with Professor Jim Lester, who was working at Emory college. Lester commented on the “freshness” of the stones and the groves of the engravings. On Stone no. 25 he noticed that the strange manner that the letters ever engraved on the stones appeared to be done in a way as to not disturb the lichen on the stone (Sparks 1941). Lester notes:

“. . .I am forced to believe less in the authenticity of this stone. than in any. . . . It makes me believe it has been doctored . . . the lack of lichenous material in the grooves seems to be the first glaring drawback to any of the stones that I have seen.” (Sparks 1941)

It was Lester’s opinion that the stone he looked at was a fake (Sparks 1941).

Sparks began to look at Pearce’s own writing on the stone, and started to take his argument apart one bit at a time. Starting with Pearce’s claim that the methods used to inscribe the stones couldn’t be replicated with modern techniques. Sparks looked up the first stone cutting company in the New York phone directory and asked them if they could reproduce the stones:

In New York I took photographs and geological descriptions of the stones to the Mount Airy Granite Company. The telephone directory showed it to be the most convenient. I asked Abe Goldsmith, in charge, “Could you do work like this?” “Sure. Any stonecutter could.” “Could you make the work look old?” “All stones are old. But it would be easy enough to ‘age’ the surface-tumble it in a barrel. Acids. Wrap the stone with wet sacking sprinkled with iron filings. Any number of ways.” (Sparks 1941)

Next he looked at Pearce’s claims that the lettering was consistent with the time period. He spoke to  Dr. Samuel Tannenbaum, an Elizabethan scholar and paleographer, and an expert in historical writing styles. The problem that Tannenbaum discovered was that the very shape of the letters was all wrong:

“There isn’t a Gothic letter here. And this settles the whole matter! The forgery becomes obvious to anyone who knows how the Elizabethans wrote. In England in 1590 only men like Francis Bacon, Edmund Spenser, Walter Raleigh, Philip Sidney could write Roman script. Few enough could write at all. Even those men wrote their text in Gothic, but as a mark of culture used Roman letters in their signatures. Every letter on these stones is a Roman letter. The best man in England would have slipped, made here and there a Gothic letter.” (Sparks 1941)

Finally Sparks looked at the language on the stones, that Pearce claimed was acceptable for the time period. Sparks hat 712 words from the stones analysed and found issues with the spelling, namely that there wasn’t any:

“No Elizabethan was ever so consistent in spelling.” Said Tannenbaum. “Francis Bacon spelled his own name something like thirty different ways. Walter Raleigh spelled his name, I think, forty-five ways. Elizabethans had no principles of spelling because they had no dictionary. Here the consistency is supposed to have been observed through twelve years of forest wandering by people shut off from white civilization. “Shakespeare had a vocabulary of fifteen thousand words. Next best was John Milton with eight thousand words. The average person today has at most three thousand words. Isn’t it extraordinary to find ‘primeval’ and ‘reconnoitre’ when they do not appear in Shakespeare . . . ?” (Sparks 1941)

A simple check of the Oxford Dictionary finds that the earliest known use of “primeval” was in Urquhart’s Rabelais, 1653 (Sparks 1941, Oxford Dictionary). “ Reconnoitre,” wasn’t in used before 1707 in English (Sparks 1941, Oxford Dictionary). The word “trale” [trail] was used to denote the scent of a quarry rather than a pathway in the 1590’s (Sparks 1941). The presence of these words on stones that were supposed to date to 1591 should be enough to debunk the stones (Sparks 1941). Unless you want to argue that these are really the first recorded uses of these words. (please don’t)

The last interesting bit of Sparks’ investigation into the stones was an exchange he had with Paul Green, the author of the Historical play we mentioned way back at the beginning.

He told me: “Whoever inscribed those stones plagiarized at least the framework of my play. There is no basis in history for such an Eleanor Dare. Her name is mentioned; she had a child, Virginia. After research, I conceived the need of a pioneering type of woman, capable of leadership. (Sparks 1941)

When Sparks published this article, it, understandably angered Pearce. At some point there Perce confronted Eberhardt. In response Eberhardt forged another stone with the inscription “Pearce and Dare Historical Hoaxes. We Dare Anything (Childs 2013).” He threatened to turn it over the the Saturday Evening Post and admit to faking the stones if Pearce didn’t pay him to stop (Childs 2013). At this point Pearce admitted being duped publicly (Childs 2013).

But despite all this, the Dare Stones still have their faithful followers. Retired Brenau history professor, Jim Southerland, thinks the first Dare Stone is authentic, and the stones have enjoyed renewed popularity thanks to shows like America Unearthed and the History Channel’s production Roanoke : Search for the Lost Colony (AccessWDUN 2015). Unfortunately both shows did more to prove the stones were fake than real.

All of the Dare Stones follow a predictable pattern that should be familiar at this point; mysterious and unreliable discoveries, dubious finders, no documentation, and no archaeological evidence to support them. Throw in this very well documented conspiracy that appears between Eberhardt, Turner, and possibly Pearce, and you simply can’t trust these artifacts at all.

It’s interesting to think that the first stone might be real. It’s a nice bit of closure for a missing colony. However, all evidence that we have suggested that the colonists went to Roanoke island, and there is some archaeological evidence to support this. What’s the complete story? Probably nothing close to the epic written in stone by Eberhardt and Turner. Still, they get points for creativity.

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Sparkes, Boyden
1941    “Writ on Rocke: Has America’s 1941 First Murder Mystery Been Solved?” The Saturday Evening Post. (26 April 1941)  Retrieved 7/13/2016

Childs, T. Mike
2013    The Dare Stones.
NC Government & History Library, 2013. Retrieved 7/13/2016

Pearce, Haywood J.
1938    “New Light on the Roanoke Colony: A Preliminary Examination of a Stone Found in Chowan County, North Carolina.” The Journal of Southern History 4.2 (1938): 148-63. Retrieved 7/13/2016

Brenau University Homepage for the Dare Stones

History Channel

2013    Roanoke: Search for the Lost Colony.


Categories: Artifacts That Aren't, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Unlucky Mummies Get a Bad Wrap.



On episode 52 of the Archaeological Fantasies Podcast we talk about Mummies!

We all think we know about the story of King Tut, but a lot of it was embellishment at the time, as well as confusing the story of Tut’s discovery with stories of other mummies at the time. Ken, Jeb, and I talk about the reality of the Mummy’s curse, in this episode. We’re also able to sus out where some of the myths about the Mummy’s curse come from, who probably started them. We also make some possible connections between King Tut and Cthulhu (noting a trend?) and talk about the long term impacts of the idea of the mummy. It’s a great episode, go give it a listen!

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Were-sheep-man and the Hexham Heads

The Hexham Heads are a fun little discovery that took on a life of their own…almost literally. We talk about them on episode 51 of the Archaeological Fantasies Podcast. Go give it a listen!

Supposedly, found sometime in 1971 by two young boys, Colin Robson and his brother Leslie, in their back garden in Hexham, England (Andrew 2012, Ferrol 2012, Urban 2014), these two tiny stone heads created a stir almost as soon as they were found. Kept in the home of the two boys, the heads were said to have the power to rotate around as if looking at things (Urban 2014), pull hair (Ferrol 2012), cause random items to break without reason (Andrew 2012), and other supernatural like occurrences. It’s also claimed that during Christmas, a strange flower blossomed on the location one (or both?) head was found, and that a strange light glowed there (Andrew 2012). The pinnacle of strange phenomena attributed to the heads actually happened to the neighbor, Ellen Dodd.

Dodd owned the other half of the duplex the families shared. According to the story, she woke one night to see a half-sheep, half-human creature in her bedroom. It reportedly “padded” it’s way downstairs and put the front door as she watched (Urban 2014). It is interesting to note that also that evening there was an apparent prank involving a drunk who had stolen a sheep’s carcass and was staggering down the road Dodd lived on, carrying the thing on his shoulders (Ferrol 2012, Urban 2014). Dodd also claims the same night, she heard a scream next door and the sound of something breaking (Andrew 2012). The Robsons claim the noises had to do with a werewolf sighting in their side of the house (Andrew 2012).

The heads themselves look like petrified apple-doll heads. They are made out of what turned out to be cement, and were carved as toys by Des Craigie, a former resident at the duplex that Robson and Dodd shared (Ferrol 2012, Urban 2014). He made them for his children to play with back in the 1950’s, and reproduced them on the spot when asked (Ferrol 2012, Urban 2014). So case closed right? Well…

‘I really don’t think it matters too much when the heads were made, or who made them, the things worked and that’s what matters.’ (Clarke 2012)

The story of the Hexham heads really doesn’t take off until Dr. Anne Ross becomes involved. Ross was a well known expert on Celtic culture. Unfortunately, the heads appeared to have confounded her. Ross erroneously dated the heads to be about 1800 years old and said that they were originally used during Celtic head-rituals (Andrew 2012). Ross kept the heads with her in her home for some time to study them, and during that time, she experienced paranormal phenomena of her own, including a visit from a werewolf (Andrew 2012, Clarke 2012, Ferrol 2012, Urban 2014).

Dr Ross, in whose home the stones were temporarily stored. When I interviewed Ross in 1994 she told me the stones brought an “evil presence” with them: “There was no doubt the haunting was that of a werewolf,” she told me. “The thing took form very gradually, and when it actually became not just audible and hinted at but tangible and visible, something had to be done, because it was definitely growing…” (the house was subsequently exorcised, but that’s another story….) Clarke 2011

The Heads change hands a few more times after Ross is done studying them, and like all good paranormal artifacts, they vanish. The current location of the heads is not known.

The Heads are an interesting tail for other reasons though, and most of that stems from the hype that formed around them. Jeb and I talk about this in the podcast episode. Like the quote above says, despite the Heads being confirmed as non-paranormal in origin, there is still a belief that they possess paranormal powers, this time brought on by the mere belief that they should possess such powers.

The reasoning behind this is akin to the ideas in the 1972 movie by Nigel Kneal called The Stone Tapes. In the movie, the team is studying stones that apper to have recorded paranormal phenomena cause by the strong emotions felt by the victims at the time of their demise (its a decent movie, go watch it). Ross and others make a similar plea here, that since so many people experienced what they thought was paranormal activity in the presence of the Heads, the Heads now actually possess paranormal powers similar to those originally experienced.

Can this really happen? Well, it is certainly well documented that if someone believes something strongly enough, their minds will create the desired effect. There are enough placebo studies to prove that, not to mention studies on superstition and witchcraft. So, do I think the Heads now possess supernatural powers that they didn’t before? No. Do I think that people believe that they do? Yes.

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2012    The Curse Of The Hexham Heads? April 20, 2012 Accessed 9/10/2016

Clarke, David
2011    Celtic curse tested? May 4, 2011.  Accessed 9/10/2016

2012    Heads and Tales. December 22, 2012.  Accessed 9/10/2016

Ferrol, Stuart
2012    “In Search of the Hexham Heads, part one”. Fortean Times (294). pp. 42–7 (November 2012). Accessed 9/10/201

Screeton, Paul
2012    Quest for the Hexham Heads.

The Urban Prehistorian
2014    The Hexham Heads part 1 – the discovery. The Urban Prehistorian blog. Jan 27 2014. Accessed 9/10/2016

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DNA in Archaeology with Jennifer Raff



Episode 50 of the Archaeological Fantasies is live, and Ken and I were able to finally sit down with someone who knows quite a bit about the use of DNA and genetics in archaeology. Jennifer Raff, who’s covered all this wonderfully over at her own blog Violent Metaphors, was just the podcast guest I’ve been looking for to help us sus out all the ins and outs of genetic evidence in archaeology.

We’ve mentioned Jennifer and her co-author Deborah A. Bolnick’s work before when Ken and I talked about the Solutrean-Clovis hypothesis. Her and Dr. Bolnick’s paper really digs into the supposed genetics that are supposed to support this rather flawed hypothesis.

I’m not going to rehash all of this in this post, Jennifer has don the lions share on her blog and paper, and then again on the podcast. I suggest you go give it all a read and a listen . It really clarifies questions I had about ancient genetics and prehistoric DNA.

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Archaeological Fantasies and the genetic history of the Americas

We recently had Jennifer Raff on the Podcast (it went live Monday). This is a repost from her excellent blog where she talks about her paper that we mentioned in the show.

Violent metaphors

The excellent podcast Archaeological Fantasies recently had me on as a guest for a wide ranging discussion on genetics. We covered everything from the genetic prehistory of the Americas to issues surrounding ancestry testing companies. Here’s a link to the episode (apologies for the fact that I kept cutting in and out–apparently our university wireless connection isn’t very good).

Since so much of our discussion focused on haplogroup X2a and models for ancient American prehistory, I decided to break from the normal tradition here at VM and actually re-publish a post to make it easier for people to get answers to any questions they might have. And if you have specific questions about content from the podcast, please feel free to leave them in the comments on this post.

This post was originally published last year to address some questions that Deborah Bolnick and I were getting about our paper…

View original post 1,356 more words

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Ciudad Blanca or The Lost City of the Monkey God.

lcotmg af49

In the most recent episode of the Archaeological Fantasies podcast we interviewed Chris Begley about the mysterious Ciudad Blanca aka the White City or the Lost City of the Monkey God.

Like many fictional places in the world, Ciudad Blanca has quite the history. The first official mention of “The White City” is attributed to Charles Lindbergh, who supposedly reported seeing “an amazing ancient metropolis”  while flying over Honduras in 1927. This  appears to be a misinterpretation of history as Lindbergh and his fellow pilots called many of the ruins they saw “white” because they were made of limestone and reflected light quite well (Colavito 2013). They were describing their explorations and the term “Ciudad Blanca” became a descriptor of the area, even having a biological preserve named after it (Colavito 2013).

Academically in the same year, “Ciudad Blanca” was used to describe some “important ruins” that had been written about by Eduard Conzemius in his report on the Paya Indians of Honduras. He mentions that the city had been calls thus because the walls of the ruins had been built out of a white stone (Conzemius 1927). Neither Lindbergh nor Conzemius were talking about a mythical city however, they were simply describing what they saw.

In 1933, Honduran president Tiburcio Carías hired George Gustav Heye to perform a study on the native people “before their way of life was disturbed” (Raphael 1934). Captain R. Stuart Murray was hired to lead the expedition and he brought back a few artifacts, and a lot of stories. Including:

 “There’s supposedly a lost city… which the Indians call the City of the Monkey God. They are afraid to go near it for they believe that any one who approaches it will, within the month, be killed by the bite of a poisonous snake.”(Raphael 1934).

A second expedition was made to look for this lost city, but it wan’t found.  It’s around this time that the “White City” and the “City of the Monkey God” apper to have been blended together. Other than both being ‘lost’ cities, there don’t apper to be a good reason for this, but this blending became permanent fairly quickly.

In 1940, Heye hired another adventurer, Theodore Morde to go on a third expedition, specifically looking for the lost city. Morde took with him Laurence C. Brown, and after about 4 months in the jungles, the two returned with artifacts, and the claim that they had found the Lost City of the Monkey King (Reading 1940). The men also claimed that they had found evidence of gold, silver, and platinum and oil (Reading 1940), but it’s not clear if they were saying that the resources were found associated with the lost city, or were just spotted as the men explored.

Morde wrote vividly of the lost city he had found:

Morde later described travelling for miles up rivers, through swamps and jungle, and over mountains before reaching the ruins. “The City of the Monkey God was walled,” Morde wrote. “We found some of those walls upon which the green magic of the jungle had worked small damages and which had resisted the flood of vegetation. We traced one wall until it vanished under mounds that have all the evidence of once being great buildings.” The jungle was too thick to see much else, but his Indian guides told him that, according to legend, it hid a great temple with a vast staircase leading to “a high stone dais on which was the statue of the Monkey God himself. Before it was the place of sacrifice.” He wrote, “Towering mountains formed the backdrop of the scene. Nearby, a rushing cataract, beautiful as a robe of shimmering jewels, cascaded into the green valley of the ruins.” (Preston 2013).

Artist Virgil Finlay’s conceptional drawing of Theodore Moore’s “Lost City of the Monkey God” – The American Weekly, Public Domain,

At the time, the two men refused to give the location of the lost city since they were planning on returning to do a more thorough excavation (Reading 1940). Sadly this would never happen as Morde committed suicide in 1954 (Preston 2013).

Thus we jump forward to 2013 and bring Chris Begley into the story.  Begley is a veteran of archaeology in Honduras. He’s spent years exploring and documenting ruins in the area. In 2013 he took novelist Christopher Stewart into the Honduran jungle to retrace Morde’s steps and relocate the fabled City of the Monkey King. We interview Begley about this on the podcast. Predictably, they didn’t find the lost city, but really, how would they know if they did?

Jump forward again to 2015, when an archaeological team lead by Christopher Fisher went into the Honduran jungle to record extensive plazas, earthworks, mounds, and an earthen pyramid found by a LiDAR survey done in 2012 (Preston 2015). The LiDAR survey was funded by two documentary film makers,  Steve Elkins and Bill Benenson (Preston 2015). Fisher’s team found 52 artifacts, including large stone statues, stone seats, and other ceremonial objects, apparently buried at the foot of the earthen pyramid (Preston 2015). The media surrounding both the LiDAR survey and the archaeological survey constantly threw round the names of White City or the Lost City of the Monkey God, but other than getting eyes on their articles, there’s nothing to support that either place was found.

This is the critical flaw in the story of  Ciudad Blanca, there is no way to know if it is ever found.  By definition a Lost City is lost. So if someone really did know where it was, and then shared that, then it’s not really lost. Then there is the lack of information about said city. There’s no descriptors of the city other than ‘white walls’, so if a location is suspected of being Ciudad Blanca, there would be no way of telling.

Preston leaves us with a quote from Begley that sums up the search of all such ‘lost cities’:

after a brutal, weeks-long trek, they arrive at a large ruin, which may or may not be Morde’s City of the Monkey God. Begley announces dryly that, by definition, the ruin cannot be the White City, “because the White City must always be lost.”  (Preston 2013).

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Conzemius, Eduard
1927     “Los Indios Payas de Honduras, Estudio geografico, historico, etnografico y linguistico” in Journal de la Societé des Americanistes. Tome 19,p. 302. Retrieved 8/1/2016.

Colavito, Jason
2013    On the Development of the Ciudad Blanca Myth. Retrieved 8/1/2016.

Raphael, Leona
1934     “Explorer Seeks Fabled Lost City; Spurns Weaker Sex Companionship”. Calgary Daily Herald. p. 34.,5791667 Retrieved 8/1/2016.

Preston, Douglas
2013    “The El Dorado Machine”. The New Yorker: 34–40.  Retrieved 8/1/2016.

2015    Exclusive: Lost City Discovered in the Honduran Rain Forest. National Geographic Retrieved 8/1/2016.

United Press

1940    “Seek Long Lost City of Monkey God”. The Sunday Morning Star. United Press. April 7, 1940. p. 7.,6520116&hl=en Retrieved 8/1/2016..

Reading Eagle
1940    “Razor Blades Used by Natives In Latin Areas 1,500 Years Ago”. Reading Eagle (New York). August 2, 1940. p. 11.,6150529&hl=en. Retrieved 8/1/2016.

Chris Begley:

Transylvania University Bio

>National Geographic Bio

Kentucky professor a real-life Indiana Jones

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Irish Freemason Ritual Bath-houses in Pennsylvania. America Unearthed S1E8.

AU s1e8 entrance

So after I had my rant about this episode, I decided rage quitting the episode was a bad idea. That said, I really am going to try and keep this brief, (for me).

I wanna jump into this episode and skip my usual critique of the art-film at the beginning. I want the readers to be aware of the BS that Wolter pulls in this episode.

In the beginning of the show, after we establish that Wolter is investigating a stone chamber that he thinks is made by the Masons, due to his ‘feels’, Wolter finds out that he specifically has been denied access to the property this site is on. That means that Wolter, his crew, and anyone associated with him isn’t allowed access to the property that the mysterious site is on. To get around this, Wolter convinces one of the men he’s supposedly helping to trespass for him, pretending to be hunting, while obtaining more pictures, film, and questionable measurements. This is unethical at best, and probably illegal. Wolter knowingly sent an individual, who himself was knowingly perpetrating fraud, into an area he knew he was restricted from. Then they filmed the whole thing.

My biggest problem, beyond the probable illegality of the whole incident, is the audacity Wolter shows here. After raging on about being denied access, he then displays his apparent belief that his personal desires and endeavors trump the rights and expected privacy of the lawful landowner. He blatantly goes against the wishes of the landowner and coerces others to perpetuate fraud with him, all in the name of getting useless ‘data’ to reinforce his own biased, preconceived notions.

Now, that all said, If you would like to skip the rest of this review and go straight to the In Summary section feel free, but if you ask me question that I covered in the post, I will refer you to read the whole post before answering you.

During the art-film intro we’re told that:

“There are more than 800 mysterious stone sites in the Northeast corner of the US. Their origin and purpose are unknown, Many are not open to the public, in 2012 a new site was added to the list. Experts believe that one ritualistic element sets it apart.”

The ‘experts’ he’s talking about can only be himself, as no actual archaeologist or historian believes these are anything other than root-cellars and spring-houses, and the ritualistic element he’s talking about is the water basin inside this particular spring-house.

The show stages him receiving an email from two gentlemen talking about a stone chamber they found in Western Pennsylvanian. The two men are puzzled as to what they found, and why they didn’t just go to the State Arch or Historical Society I have no clue, but they ask Wolter to tell them what it is. They send along pictures and Wolter is, of course, immediately excited and he rushes to call them back.

Next we see Wolter talking to the two men, who I’m not going to name here because I don’t feel it’s fair. These two really appear to be duped by the show and Wolter, and are used to do things that are probably not entirely-legal, at least that’s how it seemed to me. Anyway, Wolter immediately starts telling the two men that this is probably a religious site, most likely built by Masons, and there’s no possible way it could be built by Native Americans or by farmers looking to get water and store veggies. Keep in mind he’s never seen the site, and as we find out, he never will.

AU s1e8 mad

Apparently, the owner of the land in question, who is not one of the two guys, knows about Wolter, and refuses to let the man on their land. This of course sends Wolter into a furry and we get to listen to his usual rant about The Man keeping him away from solving mysteries and how this can only mean that the landowner is hiding something and is afraid of THE TRUTH!

Well, the real truth is that the landowner could be denying him access for any number of reasons including a desire for privacy, or to control the use of their own land. Either way, Wolter now cannot legally enter the property, and instead of going to the landowner and trying to talk with them about it, he hatches his basically illegal plan. He’s going to send one of the men onto the property, in bad faith, posing as a hunter. Then that guy will take all the measurements and pictures that Wolter thinks he needs to prove himself right.

This action does two things that pretty much ends the show here. 1) any information Wotler receives from this can’t be taken seriously. Despite the five second crash course Wolter gives the chosen man, there is no way these can be accurate measurements. 2) Wolter will never see this site beyond pictures and film. So unless he plans to do some fancy forensic photography with that (which he doesn’t apper to), he’s got nothing to work with here. Oh yah and 3) This is basically, if not actually, illegal.

So while one man is off ‘hunting’ in the woods, Wolter and the other man stay behind, and Wolter tells the woeful tail of how he’s had this happen before. He’s talking about the time he wasn’t kicked out of the Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest, but this guy doesn’t know that so he listens dutifully. Wolter also goes on about Freemasons and how this was a secret bathing chamber due to the spring, as it’s true because it’s the only thing that comes to his mind.

Now as I said above, this is clearly a spring-house, and this basin Wolter is all hot about is clearly the receptacle for the water, so you know, water can be drawn from it. Spring-houses were also know for being cool places, which made them ideal for storing food stuffs that you didn’t want to spoil. The reason there are so many of them all over the country is because they worked, and farmers liked to drink clean water and not eat spoiled food. However, it seems to Wolter, the average farmer is a myth, much like Native Americans in any aspect. Let alone the aspect of building stone structures. Which, contrary to Wolter’s blanket statement, Native Americans are actually known for. Maybe not this structure however, it is clearly modern. So Wolter gets some points for this one, kinda.

So anyway, the man who was off hunting returns with measurements and more footage. Wolter tells us that with this minimal data he’s going to tell us who built it, when and why. The measurements are exactly what Wolter wanted them to be, how convenient for him, and Wolter immediately launches into archaeoastronomy. I’m not even going to go into that here, just follow the link.

So now Wolter wants to build a model chamber just like this one so he can prove that the light of the summer solstice will illuminate the chamber. Then he gloats like he got away with something, and he takes his measurements and peels off. He calls Cari Merryman, a designer, while he’s driving (tisk tisk, Wolter). He wants her to build a model of the chamber from the measurements he just got.

AU s1e8 chamber

While we wait for that to happen, we head out to Groton, CT at the Gungywamp Archaeological Site. We meet Steve Sora, who the show tells us is a Gungywamp Researcher who retells the 800 stone sites thing.  Sora is a Knights Templar theorist and he takes us back to see a particular stone site. Sora claims that there are 27 stone structures that date back to 2000 BCE, long before the first colonist. He says no one knows who built them, and so it must be the Irish or Vikings. Native Americans need not apply.

The reality of Gungywamp is that Native American artifacts have been located all over the site, and there are known Colonist settlements there as well. Archaeology points to these stone structures either being Native American in origin or used as root cellars, or both. There’s no evidence to suggest that anything other than the obvious happened here.

Sora and Wolter get fascinated with one particular structure, claiming that it’s a Calendar Chamber and aligns with the twice yearly equinoxes. Wolter fails to mention that any given point on the ground can be made to align with the sunrise at any point in the year. He also fails to recognize that ancient Native peoples were more than capable of creating solar calendars, and did so frequently, such as  Woodhenge at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. Wolter does some stuff with his expensive compass and then declares the site evidence of the Irish, and to prove his point we fly off to Ireland.

AU s1e8 ship

We go to Craggaunowen Museum in County Clare, Ireland and we meet Tim Severin, who the show tells us is an adventurer. Severin is best known for his recreations of ancient maritime sailing feats. Don’t get me wrong, that’s cool! What it doesn’t do though is prove anything actually happened. But honestly, it doesn’t sound like Severin is trying to say it did, only that it could have. Which is acceptable.

But we’re here to talk to him about St. Brendan the Navigator, a 6th century Irish Monk who is said to have sailed to America. Now there is no evidence that St. Brendan was a real person, let alone that he sailed around the world in a skin boat. But in order for Wolter’s story to work, we have to assume this. Wolter thinks that because Severin recreated the famous voyage, it must have been possible. Severin did make it to Newfoundland, but none of that proves a) that Brendan was a real person or that b) he sailed from Ireland to America.

So next we go to Newgrange, County Meath, Ireland to talk with Alan Butler again, who this time the show tells us is a Megalithic Era Historian. Last time we talked with him in Episode 2, Butler was presented to us as a historical genealogist who helped us track down the non-existent Rough Hurech.  Now he’s trying to help Wolter make a connection between Newgrange and the stone chamber in Pennsylvania. There isn’t one of course, the two structures look nothing alike and moreover, there is a huge difference in the time scale that Wolter wants us to swallow. Again, foiled by maths! It doesn’t stop Wolter from getting all excited about the spirals carved on Newgrange, because in Wotler’s mind apparently, no one else ever could have come up with the spiral design.

All this globe trotting is done now though, as the model (remember that?) is now finished and Wolter takes us home to look at it. And I will say, it is a very nice model. I have thing for miniatures and this tiny spring-house is no exception. She even makes the spring water run, how cool is that? Wolter is likewise impressed, as he should be, and now he’s decided that this model made by ill-gotten means, definitely proves that Freemasons built it. Why you ask? Who knows. What did all that time spent in Ireland mean to all this here? Again, Who knows. Maybe Wolter just needed a vay-kay on History Channel’s dime?

AU s1e8 model 3

One last thing Wolter needs to do before he ends the show, and that’s to shine s flashlight down the entrance to see if it reaches the back of the chamber. He decides that since this does work, which should surprise no one, as there is no control here or anything to make this an actual experiment, this is evidence of Dualism. Why? Because the sunbeam is the representation of the fertilization of the male and it pierces mother earth where the spring come from. So the sun is like cosmic sperm, warm and spread over everything, and the water is like a woman, cold and wet? And somehow the sun is, um…doing…the earth to fertilize the water? Cause I’m most concerned when my water isn’t fertile….ok anyway.

Aside from my disturbing mental images, there is a lot wrong with Wolter’s recreation and interpretation. I honestly don’t have the space to get into it, but it revolves around using unreliable data to build an unreliable model to then shine a flashlight down at a random angle to ‘prove’ that it lines up with the sun. Then using all that error ridden not-evidence to say that this proves Freemasons built the chamber.

Wolter closes the episode by saying “Archaeoastronomy ties many cultures together throughout history.” To which I say, no it doesn’t. It doesn’t even mean what you’re trying to make it mean.

In Summary:

There’s not a lot to put here.

Really there are only two major points:

1) Wotler blatantly went against the expressed wishes of a Landowner and probably broke the law for no good reason.

2) This is a stream-house built by farmers to keep dirt and whatnot out of their drinking water and to create a cold storage location to keep food fresh longer.

That’s really it. All that was pretty much covered in the first 20 minutes of the show. Except for the kick-ass model reveal at the end, this was pretty much a waste of time.


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*All picture are from America Unearthed S1E8 and are used under the fair use act.

For more on the topic see:

Colavito, Jason
2012    Review of America Unearthed S01E08: “Chamber Hunting”.

Categories: America Unearthed, America Unearthed | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Missing Colonists and Secret Colonies in North Carolina: America Unearthed S1E7

As always, feel free to skip to the In Summary section at the bottom, but as always, if you have a comment or question, which I do welcome, don’t be surprised if I tell you to read the whole post first.

We open to creepy horror music and someone stringing red strings between Polaroids pictures and pins on a map. We soon see it’s Wolter and he’s writing things on the Polaroids like “Revenge”, “Have Mercy”, and “Murder”.  He steps back and looks satisfied with his work for a moment. We then get the standard intro where Wolter tells us history is wrong, and he’s going to get it all figured out for us.

AU s1e7 scott w map

We soon find out that today’s topic is the Lost Colony of Roanoke. The story is that in the late 1500’s, the 119 English colonists that had settle there vanish without a trace. Wolter tells us that there are 48 clues left behind that have been sitting ignored for a century. He calls them the ‘Dare Stones’

The name refers to one particular colonists, Eleanor White Dare, the daughter of John White, the colony’s governor. Supposedly, Eleanor Dare wrote 48 or so stone tables and left them like a bread crumb trail as a way of indicating where the Roanoke colony went when they left their original location. Why she chose to chiseled these messages in literal stone and then left them scattered about is never really addressed.

According to Wolter these stones began popping up during the Great Depression and were found over a period of four years. Wolter tells us that these stones are considered fakes by academics, but “academics have been wrong before so I’m going to study them myself.” Good thing we have his infallible research methods to save us all from the hap-hearted methods of ignorant, trained, professional academics.

First we go to Brenau University in Georgia to see the Dare Stone Collection. Here we meet Dr. Jim Southerland who was a professor of history (he’s retired now). As Dr. Southerland tells us about the story behind the Dare Stones, we’re shown images of sacred white people in pilgrim costumes being hunted by half-dressed, savage, Indian looking individuals. A favorite motif of this show. I guess at least in this episode we’re going to acknowledge the existence of Native Americans?

Wolter asks Dr. Southerland if the stones are real and Dr. Southerland shuts him down with a simple no. Dr. Southerland then says, in a perfect set up for Wolter, that if the stones were real, they would be in the history books, to which Wolter replies, well maybe they should be. Wolter never asks why the stones are not considered real, he also never tells us why he thinks they are real. We’re just observers on this journey and it doesn’t have to make sense to us.

au s1e7 orignial dare stone

So while epic music plays we watch Wolter examine a stone under the microscope and we’re given a weak definition of weathering. Wolter then tells us that “if Forensic Geology shows significant weathering, then the stone is authentic.” This is next to nonsensical as a statement. If Forensic Geology, or just Geology as the kids call it these days, find evidence of weathering, that really only tells us that the stone has been exposed to…weather. It doesn’t tell us who carved the stones, doesn’t tell us who the stone was carved by, doesn’t tell us where the stones  were carved, or anything really all that important about the stones. It most certainly doesn’t prove the stone is authentic.

After a bit of song and dance, Wolter produces a fun 3d image with colors showing the grooves and valleys of the surface of the stone. Again, other than looking cool, this tells us nothing of value, and Wolter says as much. He admits that the stone is not one that will give a nice linear age. Not that knowing the overall age of the stone will tell us anything. Wolter makes a weak argument for secondary deposits, which he claims formed as a result of weathering and are useful in creating a timeline for an artifact. Witch as usual is almost true, but fails to connect it to this situation.

Still, Wolter declares the stones real, despite being told they were in-fact, not. He wants to see the other stones, claiming that if he sees as much weathering on the other stones as he did on the first, they might be legitimate clues to the lost colony. He doesn’t explain how this is, it just is. He also likes the fact that the stones don’t match, it makes him feel they are more authentic because they were carved where they were found. Sure, we’ve got nothing to support this idea, but let’s run with it anyway.

AU s1e7 dare stones loc

While Wolter touches the stones with his bare hands, we’re shown a map showing the locations the stones were supposedly found in. The first stone being discovered some 60-80 miles from the Roanoke Colony. Also the stones were found scattered between the colony and Atlanta, Georgia. There doesn’t seem to be a real trail to them, just clusters that don’t even pop up until 60 miles inland. Why would the colonists even come inland?

AU s1e7 fort raleigh

Without answers and convinced that the stones are real, we’re off to Fort Raleigh, NC National Historic Site. We meet Rob Bolling, a National Park Service Ranger at the site.  Who gives us a run down of the history of the site, and tells us that the colonists from the Roanoke Colony probably assimilated in the local native tribes. We get to see the remains of the colony and we see the earth fortifications. Wolter gets all worked up over the shape of the fortification. I’m mildly supersized he doesn’t try to connect that to archeoastronomy.

AU s1e7 map to Croatan

After Wolter tries and sells his story to Ranger Bolling, we’re off to modern-day Cape Hatteras, NC. which was historically called Croatoan. We meet Scott Dawson the owner of the Hatteras Histories and Mysteries Museum. He tells us about the 2010 archaeology dig on the island and how he is convinced beyond a doubt that the missing Colonists came back to Croatoan when they left Roanoke.

While we’re being told all this, the show is rolling footage of Eleanor Dare being forced to leave by spear-point by dark-skinned savages. Nothing like a bit of racism to help a story along.

Wolter doesn’t like Dawson’s idea that the settlers came back. I guess he’s invested in the idea of native sages capturing and murdering innocent white settlers. Wolter begins to attempt to tear Dawson’s theory apart. Wolter says, “You’ve got a compelling story, you have documents and artifacts, but the Dare Stones stand in contrast to that.” I’m thinking Dawson needn’t be worried since Wolter is trying to trump Dawson with artifacts that accepted frauds by everyone but Wolter. Which Dawson quickly points out to Wolter. He calls out Wolter’s story as speculation and points out that no one agrees with him.

Wolter doesn’t handle people pointing out he’s wrong well, and this is no exception. He tries to bully his point to Dawson, who has none of it. Then he tries to change tactic and suggest a new theory that he’s been told is equally unlikely, and when that fails he claims to have factual evidence (which he doesn’t) and that all he can do is testify to it. Dawson is done at this point and the show sifts to images of calming waves and more footage of Wolter driving.

AU s1e7 dissapointed face 6

We end up in an airport terminal where we just happen get to overhear Wolter having a conversation with his wife complaining about how Dawson was mean to him, and how the man is keeping him down, and something about the establishment. He closes by telling us he’s not mad at Dawson, he’s just disappointed.

AU s1e7 Wolter ass faces 3

In order to cheer him up, Wolter’s wife gives him a new clue about a map. We see him open up to an article in his email, and after reading it he announces that he’s going to England!

We go to  Salisbury, Wiltshire, England to talk with a Dr. Stephanie Pratt who the show tells us is an art historian. They have a very convenient conversation about fakes and how they are both good at spotting them. After a bit of tea, Pratt tells Wolter about the  La Virginia Pars map.

au s1e7 map patch

The map was drawn by John White and on it there are two spots that have been covered up (British Museum). One appears to be a repair, and the other covers up a diamond-shaped fort in the bay of a waterway (Ambers et al 2012). Both of these are considered corrections and were common techniques for doing so (Ambers et al 2012).


Image via the British Museum, 2016. Number – 1906,0509.1.3, Description – Front:Middle Transmitted. Light image of the northern patch in “La Virginea Pars”. Image has been enhanced by scaling the lightness of the transmitted visible light image.

Wolter gets excited that this drawing matches his sketch for the earth fort at Fort Raleigh. He asks if the fort could have been where the settlers meant to move to?  Dr. Pratt agrees. Wolter wants to know why this would have been covered-up, and Dr. Pratt tells him it was for protection against Spanish competition in the area. Wolter then declares, “Both the Dare Stones and this map show that the colonists must have gone inland.” But why? Wolter’s own map shows no reason to think that.

So now Wolter seems to think that Raleigh actually had the colony moved secretly and then had the symbol for the fort on the map covered up to keep the colony secret.

AU s1e7 fort locations

So we’re off to St. John’s College in Cambridge England to talk with  Dr. Mark Nicholls a British historian, about Sir Walter Raleigh who was John White’s boss for the Roanoke Colony expeditions. Dr. Nicholls tells us a lot about Sir Raleigh and a about a contemporary of Raleigh’s named Dr. John Dee. Dr. Dee belied that the British had been to the Americas before anyone else, and therefore had a prior claim to the land, this historically made it easier for Britain to claim the land.

Dr. Nicholls mentions sassafras as a possible cash crop that Raleigh might have been looking for. Wolter latches onto this, as he’s seen Sassafras around the Roanoke area. Dr. Nicholls mentions that Sassafras was thought of as the only treatment for Syphilis, and so Wolter accuses the then Queen of having Syphilis. This doesn’t go over well with Dr. Nicholls.

After some clever editing, Wolter launches into one of his weird “who asked” round-ups where he starts telling the random person he’s with his next steps on his journey, and what evidence he think’s he needs to prove himself right. These segments are always awkward, but I guess they need them to help keep the story on track.

Finally we are going back to America, looking for a place where the secret fort on the map, the sassafras, and the Dare Stones all come together. Wolter has decided that spot must be Scotch Hall Preserves Golf Course because it corresponds with the symbol on the map. We meet Jim Hughes the Scotch Hall spokesman. Walter launched into his newly revised story about secret forts and, Eleanor Dare running for safety to a place where she thought her father might have built a fort, and deadly natives, and sassafras. Hughes just nods politely through the whole thing, and then, in a very Southern way tell Wolter, “That’s a hell of a story, Scott.” Let it not be said that Mr, Hughes is a gentleman.

Wolter decides that he’s right to think this golf course sits where the secret fort of Sir Walter Raleigh used to sit. All he needs now it to tie the Dare Stones into it, however weakly, and so he declares, if he finds quartzite in the area then that ties the area back to the Dare Stones.How you ask? I have no clue, and I wager Wolter doesn’t either.

Quartzite is pretty much found everywhere and trust me the South-Eastern coast is lousy with it. So basically Wolter doesn’t have to look long in landscaped flower beds to find what he wants, and bam! ‘Proof’!

Wolter always tries to go out on a great quote, and this episode doesn’t disappoint. He wraps us saying:

“History ignored them because they didn’t fit into the story we were told, but now MY science tells a new story.”

Yes Wolter, Your science is best science.

In Summary:

Points for reading all this!

So let’s look at the not-evidence and not-clues Wolter tries to provide us.

  1. The Dare Stones.
    1. So for starts, the first stone is found almost 80 miles North from the Roanoke colony site. Which overshoots the supposed secret fort by 10 miles or more. The next set of stones don’t pop-up till 300 or more miles South and West in South Carolina.
    2. Secondly, No one thinks these stones are real. Most of these popped up quickly from 1937-1940 and none were found before or after. Also the language on the stones don’t match up to historical standards.
    3. Lastly, as Wolter presents it, are we supposed to believe that while being forcibly and violently abducted and marched south, Eleanor Dare had time to chisel 47 stone tables chronicling her story?
  2. The Covered Up Fort.
    1. This covering technique is a well know way to correct a map. So to see something like this shouldn’t be immediately suspect. However, being able to see under it to see the mistake is a neat trick. That said, this proves nothing. No one knows why this was covered up, and Wolter certainly didn’t provide any evidence. Even his chosen location didn’t pan out, so.
  3. Croatoan, aka Cape Hatteras, NC.
    1. This is the most likely place that the missing settlers went to. For starts they lived here prior to their migration to Roanoke. While here, they fostered close relations with the Coratoan tribe. It was also around 60 miles at the long end away. It just makes sense that they returned to the place they knew where there were still settlers and friendly Natives to protect them, as opposed to wandering off 80+ miles out of their way, in a direction they hadn’t explored yet, and knew there were hostile Native Peoples. The other direction, West and South towards Atlanta, Ga. Makes no sense no matter how you try to spin it.
  4. Sassafras
    1. Ok, the main reason this still here is because Wolter got stuck on this being a cure for Syphilis and that Queen Elizabeth I has the disease. There is no evidence that the Queen had it, but Wolter pursues this idea through the last part of the show anyway.
  5. Quartzite
    1. This stuff is all over the place, especially in the Southeastern reigns. So it’s rather easy to find in North Carolina. Now, in the show, Wolter hows himself looking for Quartzite in flower beds and in people’s yards. Not the first place I would have looked, but to each their own I guess. This also proves nothing of value to his argument. As we’ve said in almost every other show where Wolter has tried to use rocks as evidence of things, finding a random rock in a random location doesn’t link the rock you’re looking at to the rock you found.
    2. Also, all the science-y crap that Wolter tries to bamboozle everyone with amounts to Jack-and-… There is nothing in the weathering pattern of these stones that can tell us anything about the creators or the time periods of the stones. So all that examination and jargon is just window dressing to make everyone think something deeper is going on, when in reality it’s a shell game.

A Few Last Things.

The original topic of this show lacked any actual substance. As a result, the show quickly shifted from the topic of the authenticity of the Dare Stones to a quest to find the lost colony of Roanoke. When this didn’t pan out as well as the show seemed to hope, the show tried to turn to a weird secret conspiracy to hide the colony from possible Spanish competition.

We never really examine the Dare Stones, never look over what they say, or how they say it. Never look at the actual discovery locations, or who discovered them. We just hear the words repeated a lot in the show and are expected to know what they are, for no reason. This isn’t uncommon for the show, but given that these Stones are Wolter’s big trump card till he gets fixated on Sassafras and Syphilis, I would have expected them to spend a lot more time trying to convince me that they are real.

All said and done, I feel like the show knew it had a dud on its hands and tried to cobble something together. Well, it didn’t work to well, in my opinion.

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Ambers, Janet, Joanna Russell, David Saunders and Kim Sloan

2012    Hidden history?: examination of two patches on John White’s map of ‘Virginia.’  The British Museum Technical Research Bulletin.  Vol 6.  2012. Accessed 5/17/2016

The British Museum Collection Online.

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The Importance of Myth and Oral Traditions

Lady in the rain

Episode 30 has dropped ( a while ago now) and it’s chocked full of Ken and I ranting about how important Myth, Oral Traditions, and even local lore can be to archaeologists and archaeology as a field. 

I know that I harp a lot about the misunderstood and misused records of Native American mythology, but there’s a good reason for it. Too often the fringe likes to turn to the myths and oral traditions of a random tribe in order to try and support a story they are trying to sell. The problem they inadvertently run into is taking a myth or oral tradition out of context.

Context, as we know, is Queen, much like the GPS is God. When you chose to ignore context, you can make up anything you want and probably find something out there to support it. That doesn’t make it true or correct, and the refusal to see that is just insulting at best. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen or read some fringe theorists spouting off about how they know more about what a Native tradition “really meant” than the living decedents of that tradition. What’s more is by trying to force traditions that aren’t yours to fit your favorite story, you’re missing out on actual information that is being conveyed via these rich and varied traditions.

So give the episode a listen, or a second listen, and let us know what you think!

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The Importance of Myth and Oral Traditions
Categories: Concepts and Themes, Podcast | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

The Origins of the Oak Island Saga Pt2: Smith’s Cove and Boobie Traps.

Smith's Cove

Oak island showing Smith’s Cove via Google Earth 2016

Despite the lack of treasure found on Oak Island, there appears to be something strange about the whole thing, and that’s enough for some adventurers. The Money Pit is far from the most intriguing thing on, or around rather, the island. Many think this possibly man-made feature is the reason for flooding in the Money Pit. Since the discovery of the Money Pit, six more companies have tried, and failed, to recover treasure from the island and many blame this watery obstacle for it.

What is this most dastardly foil of an obstacle?

Smith’s Cove appears to have come into the Oak Island Saga some time in 1965. Robert Dunfield agreed that the Money Pit was flooding due to some kind of boobie trap, and he thought the source was probably the beach (Oak 2015). He drew several diagrams, outlining what he thought had occurred to create a funnel system, starting at Smith’s Cove and ending at the Money Pit (Oak 2015). This idea caught on quickly with other treasure hunters and became part of the cannon of the Oak Island Saga.

When the Triton Company took over excavations in 1971 they made note of what they thought were man made structures:

“Historians and archaeologists who have worked closely with Triton throughout the operations believe that this structure is probably the remains of the original builders’ coffer dam[sic] erected during excavation of the flood tunnel and its underwater collector drains. Other discoveries made by Triton at Smiths Cove include: matted organic material identified by the National Research Council as coconut fibre[sic] (which is consistent with 1850 reports of masses of coconut fiber underlying the beach where it seems to have been used as a filter to keep the collector drains from clogging); the remains of a ruler or framing square; an unusual antique wooden box; and a wrought iron caulking tool.” (Oak 2015)

Now, a cofferdam is often constructed as a way to enclose an area in order to pump it dry so that it can be used as a staging ground of other work or other land use. It’s also a practice that’s been around for along time. So it’s not unusual to see something like this in action dating back to the earlier centuries, especially on an island that has a historical connection to shipping and fishing.

Much has been made of the artifacts found around Smith’s Cove, but as these were discovered as part of a treasure hunt and not an actual archaeological dig, thereby implying the context of these artifacts is completely gone, the reliability of these artifacts is questionable. Take for example Triton Co.’s interpretation of the wooden box found being used for rock removal during tunnel digging (Oak 2015). There is absolutely no reason to assume this based on what has been presented to us. The only evidence offered up by the sympathetic website, Oak Island Treasure, is that the movie ‘The Great Escape’ used what they assume is a similar process in a digging scene (Oak 2015). Not exactly convincing.

There are other issues with the idea of a flood system boobie trap.

An independent study was done by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) for Triton Co. and their results were not exactly supportive of this idea. Despite being very limited in their ability to collect data, WHOI, was able to do some testing.

The major issue WHOI encountered was Triton’s control over what they were allow to even look at. The chief researcher involved in the investigation stated that the researchers were led to the spot and handed material supposedly retrieved from under the sand (Joltes 2002b). No archaeological excavation was conducted and the WHOI researchers were not allowed to collect their own samples for comparison (Joltes 2002b).

Despite this, WHOI did a variety tests and looked at a few key points of evidence offered by Triton Co. The first of which was getting a C14 date for the coconut husks allegedly found on the island and inside the Money Pit. The dates obtained by the C14 tests indeed show a date of 1130, +/-70 years. The major issue here is that these samples were handed to WHOI and they were not allowed to collect comparative samples to make sure that these samples were legitimate and from the area in question. As we know from historical documents, Oak Island was used for shipping and fishing (O’Connor 2004, Bartram 2005), and many guess that it was used for pirate smuggling (Nickell 2000, O’Connor 2004, Oak 2008). These coconut husks could easily have gotten there as part of packing marital used in cargo shipping (Joltes 2002b). Or the dates could be compromised by mishandling or other contaminates. As WHOI couldn’t collect comparison samples, there’s no way to know or trust this date.

WHOI also poured a sensitive dye into Borehole 10-X, who’s water levels vary at the same rate as the Money Pit, and then monitored the coastline around the island to check for evidence of the dye (Joltes 2002b). No dye was detected emerging anywhere around the island (Joltes 2002b). They also conducted side-scan sonar studies of the area looking for any kind of channels between the Money Pit and the shoreline, finding nothing (Joltes 2002b). Thus concluding that:

‘no direct connection to the surrounding ocean was found during the study (Gallo, 2002).’ (Joltes 2002b)

So where is the water coming from if not the sea?

Well for starts the water in the hole and the Money Pit is not actually seawater. It’s ‘brackish’ indicating  a freshwater lens on the island (Joltes 2002b, Bartram 2005 ). Geologically this is possible as Graham Harris explains:

Geologically the island is a drumlin. Composed almost entirely of dense glacial till, it is a remnant of the last Ice Age. This till overlies anhydrite bedrock, with which is associated some minor limestone. Anhydrite possesses the dubious property of being exceedingly soluble, more so in salt water than in fresh. Paradoxically Oak Island is the only island in the region to be underlain by anhydrite. On the adjacent mainland, and on other islands in the region, sounder limestones and slates can be found at shallow depth.

…digging the first shaft through dense till into the underlying anhydrite is a simple operation fraught with little peril. But once the excavation fills up with water, drawn into it through systemic seepage paths within the anhydrite, these seepage paths will enlarge progressively. The greater the pumping activity the greater the rate of solution of the anhydrite and, of course, the greater the rate of inflow. Once started it is a vicious circle, and one likely to prove catastrophic as the solution passages enlarge.

Treasure-seekers centuries later would repeatedly attempt to dewater the workings by pumping – an exercise as fruitless as trying to pump the Atlantic Ocean dry! In recent years, massive sinkholes have developed offshore showing that the seepage paths radiating outwards from the base of the Money Pit have grown great indeed.

– Recovering the Oak Island Treasure, Graham Harris, C&G Association Journal, Spring 2002. (Bartram 2005).

If Smith Cove isn’t connected to the Money Pit via a drainage system, why are there man made structures there?

Aside from possible shipping use, there is another interesting and plausible suggestion for man-made structures in Smith’s Cove. The production of salt from sea water.
Salt was important back before the invention of refrigerated shipping for preservation of perishable cargo, especially fish  (King 2010). The first recorded owners of Oak Island were Gifford and Smith, two New York fishing agents in 1753 (King 2010). As salt was both an expensive and important part of the fishing industry, its perfectly acceptable that Gifford and Smith were also manufacturing their own salt. More support of this is in the shape and location of the five finger troughs that are found in Smith Cove (King 2010). There is also evidence of boiling pits used in the manufacture of salt and this whole process easily explains the presence of the artificial beach created by the cofferdam (King 2010).
Last and probably least, when Triton Co. brought in WHOI to examine their evidence, they showed the WHOI researchers a video. This enhanced CBC video, taken from the bottom of Borhole 10-X, supposedly shows a wooden casket and an severed hand. WHOI researchers were unable to see anything in the film. The water was so murky and the video so badly lit, that it was impossible to distinguish objects clearly (Joltes 2002b).

There is one last factor to consider here, Oak Island is irrecoverable compromised as a site.

Since the late 1700’s Oak Island has been a treasure hunters’ paradise, peaking in the 1960’s with as many as 40 active treasure pits (Bartram 2005). As such there are more holes on that island than in Swiss cheese. What little archaeological evidence recovered shows this to true. Not to mention all the stories about Oak Island’s Treasure are just that, Stories.

There are no known hard records for the discovery of the Money Pit or excavations of the Onslow or Truro companies from the 1800’s (Bartram 2005). There is, however, a strong oral tradition passed from McInnis, Smith and Vaughan that spawned several newspaper articles during the time (Bartram 2005). From these, the folklore of the island was born properly and has since been handed down as fact and evidence even when devoid of both.

The truly sad part of all this is that any actual archaeology that may have been on that island is now probably distorted beyond recovery. All in the name of some rumored treasure that no one is really clear what it might be. It really give new meaning to the terms ‘Fool’s Gold’ and ‘Wild Goose Chase’.

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Resources :

Bartram, John A.
2005     Appendix: On the claim for a flood tunnel. History, Hoax, and Hype: The Oak Island Legend. Sun 19 of June.  Retrieved 1/19/2016

Nd    Oak Island Mystery. Retrieved 1/19/2016.
McCully, J.B.
1862    Correspondence in the Liverpool Transcript. October 1862. Liverpool, Nova Scotia. Retrieved 1/19/2016.

Forks, J.P.
1857    Correspondence in the Liverpool Transcript.  20 August 1857 Vol. 4 No. 32. S.J.M. Allen Editor. Liverpool, Nova Scotia. Retrieved 1/19/2016.

Joltes, Richard
2002a    Oak Island Research. p. 1. August 2002. > Retrieved 1/19/2016

2002b    The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Report. History, Hoax, and Hype: The Oak Island Legend.
Retrieved 1/19/2016.

King, Dennis
2010    A Solution To The Mystery Of The Oak Island Five Finger Drains. February 2010. Retrieved 1/19/2016.

Nickell, Joe
2000    The Secrets of Oak Island. Skepitcal Inquirer. Vol 24.2, March/April 2000. Accessed 1/19/2016

Oak Island Treasure
2008    History. Oak Island Treasure. Retrieved 1/19/2016.

2015    Smith’s Cove – a closer look at Oak Island’s artificial beach. Oak Island October 15, 2015. Retrieved 1/19/2016.

O’Connor, D’Arcy
2004    The Secret Treasure of Oak Island: The Amazing True Story of a Centuries-Old Treasure Hunt. The Lyons Press. Guilford, CT.,+D%27Arcy.+1988.+The+Big+Dig.+New+York:+Ballantine.&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwin2-WT877KAhWFpR4KHYyKCrwQ6AEIJjAA#v=onepage&q&f=false Retrieved 1/19/2016.

Woods Hole 10x dye test. Forum Discussion on the Oak Island Treasure forum. Retrieved 1/19/2016

Categories: Curse of Oak Island, Mystery Sties That Aren't, The Oak Island Saga | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment
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