Posts Tagged With: debunking

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

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

The Pyramids That Are Not, The Bosnian Pyramids.

Episode 29 of the Archaeology Fantasies Podcast is live. If you haven’t given it a listen, go do it now! I apologize ahead of time for the fact that I can’t say Sam Osmanagich’s name correctly.


We’re talking about the Bosnian Pyramids.

For those who don’t know, the Bosnian Pyramids are not actual pyramids, they are a cluster of natural hills in central Bosnia and Herzegovina that started life off roughly pyramid in shape. I say they started that way because years of “excavation” on the hills has transformed them into what Sam Osmanagich, the ‘founder’ of said not-pyramids, wants them to be.

Osmanagich has decided that several of the hills in the range are actually pyramids and he’s renamed them as he sees fit. Visocica Hill, at 720 feet, is renamed the Pyramid of the Sun. Pljesevica Hill, at 350 feet, is renamed the Pyramid of the Moon. He claims there are others, a Pyramid of Love, A Pyramid of Earth, one to a Dragon, ect. I’m not entirely sure why any of them have the names that they do, but it made sense to Osmanagich, so we’ll run with it.

Osmanagich also makes the claim that there are labyrinths under the pyramids and long man-made tunnels. These tunnels supposedly connected the pyramids at one point and then filled in with sea water when the glaciers melted.

Let me state here that no professional archaeologist believes these are pyramids, calling it:

“A cruel hoax on an unsuspecting public [which] has no place in the world of genuine science (Bohannon 2006).”

That hasn’t stopped Osmanagich, who in true fringe style has tried to connect the names of actual archaeologist, geologists, and other scientists to his work. Most have either denied association with the project or been exposed as either unqualified or frauds (Rose 2006).

But what of the claims?

Aside from claiming hills are pyramids when they are clearly not, Osmanagich claims they are the oldest pyramids in the world. He says they are 12,000 years old putting their construction during a time when most of Europe was under a glacier and agriculture wasn’t really a thing yet (Woodward 2009). I’ve never really seen how he proposes prehistoric Hunter-Gatherers managed to build the largest pyramids on earth or why they would bother. He’s made a lukewarm argument that they are burial mounds, but there are no bodies associated with them.

What’s more, these incredibly advanced Hunter-Gatherers also apparently knew how to make and pour cement, and that is how they covered the sides of the pyramids (Woodward 2009). Never-mind that the geology of the hills matches that of the surrounding area, and the ‘cement’ Osmanagich is finding is actually alternating layers of conglomerate, clay and sandstone (Woodward 2009). Osmanagich’s cement idea is supported by French materials scientist, Joseph Davidovits, who also thinks the real pyramids in Egypt were made with poured concrete blocks (Woodward 2009). Because of this idea, Osmanagich instructed his workers to carve the hillside to create the impression of a stepped pyramid for the Pyramid of the Moon (Woodward 2009). So, like other fringe researchers in the past, he’s altered the area to fit his expectations, and then wants to pass it off as being authentic.

In this vein, Osmanagich has started digging in the ‘tunnels’ beneath the hills. Stating that he is going to widen these tunnels and extend them so that they will connect  witht the other pyramids (Woodward 2009),  never mind if they don’t currently. He claims that there are boulders that bear carvings that date back to 15,000 years ago, but that claim was challenged by a geologist and former employee who claimed the carvings appeared overnight, put there by another one of Osmanagich’s workers (Woodward 2009).

Yet Osmanagich is unapologetic in his blatant alteration of the area, and why shouldn’t he be?

Osmanagich says he plans to dig all the way to Visocica Hill, 1.4 miles away, adding that, with additional donations, he could reach it in as few as three years. “Ten years from now nobody will remember my critics,” he says as we start back toward the light, “and a million people will come to see what we have.” (Woodward 2009)

Osmanagich has official backing from the Bosnian Government (Woodward 2009). The Pyramid of the Sun Foundation, owned by Osmanagich, rakes in hundreds of thousands of dollars in public donations and thousands more from state-owned companies (Woodward 2009). He’s got copious amounts of attention from the media and was awarded a seat on a scientific council in Russia (Woodward 2009). Creating fake archaeology and history is quite lucrative.

All that said, Osmanagich still can’t answer basic questions about the construction of the site. Things like, where did the workers come from? Where did they live while they worked? Who fed them? How did they make the cement? Where are the mixing stations, the pouring platforms, the tools? Where is the trash from all these people living one place? Where is the graveyard for the workers that died? Who organized them? What compelled them to build? And so on, and so on, and so on.

As is so often with the fringe, they see something big and shinny, and don’t think about the details. The details that real archaeologists want, the details that are real evidence. The details that every actual archaeological site possesses. These are always lacking because they are overlooked. As Ken likes to say, you can fake an artifact, but you can’t fake a whole site. Osmanagich had already run up against this with the international archaeological community, and it’s starting to catch up to him at home as well. We’ll just wait and see were all this ends up, but I’m guessing it’s not going to end well.

In the meantime go listen to episode 29 of the Archaeology Fantasies Podcast and hear what Ken and I have to say on the matter.

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Bosnian Pyramids Website. Accessed 2/19/16

Open Protest Letter to the Bosnian Government. written by the The European Association of Archaeologists – (EAA) Accessed 2/19/16

Woodard, Colin
The Mystery of Bosnia’s Ancient Pyramids. Smithsonian Magazine Online. December 2009. Accessed 2/19/16

Rose, Mark
2006    Bosnian “Pyramids” Update. Archaeology Magazine Online. 14 June 2006. Accessed 2/19/16

John Bohannon, 2006 “Researchers Helpless as Bosnian Pyramid Bandwagon Gathers Pace”. Science. 314:1862. Accessed 2/19/16


Categories: Mystery Sties That Aren't, Podcast, Weird Archaeology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Dubious Mystery of Mystery Hill and America’s Stonehenge.


Now dubbed “America’s Stonehenge” in Salem, New Hampshire, the location once known as Mystery Hill continues to draw tourists to what is touted as being evidence of pre-Columbian contact. Evidence of who is still up for debate.

The site itself is about 30 acres of land just off route 111 in Salem. It’s a sprawling complex of stone structures, walls, natural caves, and some would say Megaliths that are no taller than tree saplings (Wright 1998). It’s a well known tourist destination that is open to the public for a fee, and hosts hiking trails, llama pins, and an interpretive museum.

The site itself is supposedly shrouded in mystery as to it’s origins and purpose. It has multiple claims to it’s origins, all of which appear to be pre-Columbian in nature. Few even acknowledge the possibly that prehistoric Native peoples lived in the area before White settlers came. All of them ignore the documented history of the site, or the damage done to it by it’s prior inhabitants. So what is this mysterious hill all about?

The Known History of Mystery Hill.

We know the area was owned back in 1837 by Jonathan Pattee, and that he built most of the structures originally on the property (Gilbert 1907). We know at that time the area had a good number of natural boulders and rock outcroppings, and that there were several natural caves that Pattee used as storage (Gilbert 1907). We know this based on evidence including drill marks on the stone used to build the structures that match 19830’s quarrying practice (Starbuck 2006).

We also know that William Goodwin bought 20 acres of the land in 1937 and dubbed the area Mystery Hill (Wright 1998, Starbuck 2006, Crystalinks N.d.). The overall layout of the area was drastically altered by Goodwin who was convinced the area was evidence of Culdees in America (Starbuck 2006, Crystalinks N.d.). Goodwin apparently believed these Irish monks came over to America in the 20th century and constructed the caves around the site as part of their monastery (Starbuck 2006). Due to this belief, Goodwin and his supporters apparently further quarried the area and moved stones and structures around to what they believed were the ‘original’ locations in order to further support their ideas (Starbuck 2006, Crystalinks N.d).

In 1957 the land was leased to Robert Stone, and ten years later the Stone family bought the land (Starbuck 2006). The land still belongs to the Stone family, and they have made a few improvements of their own (Crystalinks N.d.). Adding a museum and changing the name to “America’s Stonehenge” due to the parallels that Stone sees to the great megaliths of Stonehenge in England and other Celtic sites (Starbuck 2006). There is still no evidence of ancient Celts in the area.

Several archaeological digs have been done in the area. One of importance was led by Gary Vescelius in 1955 (Starbuck 2006). His team recovered over 7000 artifacts, all of which were Native American or 18th and 19th century in origin (Starbuck 2006, Crystalinks N.d.). These artifacts were noting out of the ordinary for the area and line up perfectly with what is expected from the archaeology in the area. There was no evidence of anything related to Irish monks or Celts.

The Stone family still owns the land and it has become a bit of a tourist location. The museum there acts as an interpretation center for the site and offers a variety of ideas for the visitor to chew over, and appears to display the artifacts discovered during the actual archaeological digs done on the site.

What’s so Mysterious about Mystery Hill aka America’s Stonehenge?

To answer that we’d have to look a the variety of claims made about the site. They run quite the gambit, and none of them go for the ordinary or the everyday.

We already know of Goodwin’s belief that Irish monks made their way to America and picked this area as the site for their monastery. But there is also the belief that the site is far older than that. An idea put forth by Barry Fell in his book America B.C. claims that the site was occupied by Iberian Celts due to scripts he saw around the area (Wright 1998, Starbuck 2006, Crystalinks N.d). Fell claims to have found inscriptions that link the site to Baal worshipers as well (Wright 1998, Starbuck 2006). These scripts are only seen as such by Mr. Fell and no authority on Ogham, Phoenician or Iberian scripts believes them to be authentic in any way.

The current popular idea about America’s Stonehenge is that the site is actually a giant astrological calendar set up by Bronze Age peoples of unknown origin (Feder 2010, Crystalinks N.d.) The date commonly pitched for the site is 4,000 years old, and is claimed to have been gotten from retrograding the alinement’s of the sun with the standing stones (Wright 1998, Cryistalinks N.d.). The two major issues with this is the known relocation of most of the site by Goodwin and, presumably, the Stone family (Wright 1998, Starbuck 2006, Feder 2010, Crystalinks N.d.). Because of this, no reliable information can be gleaned from the positions of any of the stones, standing or otherwise.

The second major issue with this is that there is no physical evidence of Bronze Age peoples on or around the site. When Ken Feder toured the site, he noticed a lack of bronze artifacts. When he asked about their absence he was told. “You don’t think those ancient people would have left all those valuable bronze tools just laying around, do you? (Feder 2010).” Actually yes, that’s exactly what we expect. Bronze artifacts are found all over Europe, Africa, and Asia. It’s the reason we know there was a bronze age.

Other fun stories about the site come from David Starbuck when he visited the site in 1970 his guide told him that the whole site , stone chambers, trails, walls, and all were actually a giant representation of an Indian or Asian face wearing a peaked hat. This image was a ancient mental concept that had crossed the Bering Straights ten thousand years ago and that this image had been repeated in ‘Indian’ art all across American for thousand of years (Starbuck 2006). Starbuck rightly points out that “Every time another absurd theory is added to the mix, it becomes harder to accept any of the elaborate tails told about the site. (2006)”

So Where is the Evidence for Mystery Hill?

There are two major pieces of evidence offered up regularly. The first is a large flat stone carved with grooves set above an empty chamber that is called the “Sacrificial Table”, The second is a series of Carbon-14 dates. Unfortunately neither are terribly convincing.

The “sacrificial table” as it’s called, is clearly a cider press or rather large lye stone. Pretty much anyone familiar with 18th -19th century homesteading knows what these are as both were pretty indicative of everyday life. You can even Google either term and see lots of images of stones that are similar to identical to the “sacrificial table”. I can only assumed here that the owners of the site still call it that to drum up drama. As for the “Oracle Chamber” underneath it , it’s merely a happy coincidence that the chamber produces echoes. Obviously it was meant for liquid collection and probably storage as well.

The C-14 dates are a little more inserting. Normally C-14 dates would be good forms of evidence. Especially when taken with care and taken in context. Apparently however, the samples taken from the Mystery Hill site don’t quite fulfill this criteria. C-14 dates are taken from charcoal samples at a site, preferably taken from the feature meant to the be dated. According to Starbuck, the charcoal samples from Mystery Hill were taken randomly from the site with nothing of human origin in association with them. Meaning they were completely random samples of charcoal that had no known association with features. What this means in greater context is that the dates are meaningless. I have seen pieces of the testing results report created by Geochron Laboratories, Inc as linked on the Mystery Hill site. Irregardless of the date given, if the samples were taken willy-nilly from wherever on the site and nothing of context was associated with them, it really doesn’t mater.

Now, if we assumes that the samples are good, and were taken with care and context, the dates provided still aren’t that shocking. with a date of 2995 BPE +/- 180 years. That still puts the site well within the expected habitation for prehistoric Native peoples. It’s also still not evidence of anything European or Celtic in nature. As all of the archaeology done on the site backs up the presences of Native peoples on the site (Wright 1998, Starbuck 2006, Feder 2010, including at the quarry sites (Crystalinks N.d) there is no reason to think that these C-14 dates are indicative of anything out of the ordinary.

So What’s Left?

Not much really. Evidence shows that the Mystery Hill/American Stonehenge site is what it appears to be to the trained eye. A multicomponent site having both a prehistorical component and evidence of 18-19th century habitation. Which should surprise no one. There is even documentation of Johnathan Pattee owing and building on his land. Natural caves were known to exist there, as were natural outcroppings of rock. As we move forward there is documentation and evidence of William Goodwin et all moving and changing the site, thereby destroying any context the site had. There is even some suggestion that the alteration of the site continues to modern day, making it impossible to trust any interpretation of the site’s structures

There is no evidence of anything else.

Bob Goodgy, then president of the New Hampshire Archaeological Society, put it best when interviewed by Karen Wright in 1998:

“Goodby assured me that no reputable archaeologist took the pre-Colombian lure seriously. The inscriptions were bogus, and there was no other evidence that an ancient, old-world culture had ever occupied Mystery Hill: no signs of the food preparation, garbage disposal, living areas, or burial grounds that are associated with other megalithic sites. Although there is an unusual amount of stonework on the hill, he said, it doesn’t differ in kind from other structures built by New Englanders in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. (Wright 1998)”

Starbuck adds a few words of his own about the whole deal:

“The moment the first stone was moved to a new location by William Goodwin, the entire site lost any chance of being taken seriously by scholarly community.  … Yet site integrity is everything to an archaeologist, and this site is severely compromised. (Starbuck 2006)”


“If an early site truly has merit, it doesn’t require bizarre interpretations. (Starbuck 2006)”



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N.d.    Americas Stonehenge. Accessed 1/15/2016

Feder, Kenneth
2010    Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology: From Atlantis to the Walam Olum.  pg 10 – 12 Accessed 1/15/16

Gilbert, Edgar<
1907    The History of Salem, N.H. Rumford Press. p. 418 Accessed 1/15/2016

Starbuck, David R.
2006   The Archeology of New Hampshire: Exploring 10,000 Years in the Granite State. pgs 106-109. University of New Hampshire Press.,+David+R.+(2006).+The+Archeology+of+New+Hampshire:+Exploring+10,000+Years+in+the+Granite+State.+University+of+New+Hampshire+Press.+ISBN+978-1-58465-562-6.&source=bl&ots=5VH1937Wgk&sig=C1NVrWpFv_d_fXEYMAOl13xO0vw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiBpLnRhMbKAhVGNj4KHT-kAUEQ6AEIHzAB#v=onepage&q&f=false Accessed 1/15/2016

Wagg, Jeff

2009    “Lie Leaching”. JREF Swift Blog. James Randi Educational Foundation. July 24,2009. Accessed 1/15/2016

Wright, Karen
1998    Light Elements: Yankee Doodle Druid
What were people in New Hampshire doing 4,000 years ago with a sacrificial table? Discover. Sunday Feb 01, 1998 Accessed 1/15/2016

Categories: Columbus was Second-ish: Who Discovered America Anyway, Mystery Sties That Aren't, Weird Archaeology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A 12th Century Englishman in Arizona : Unearthed America Episode 2

Time for Episode Two! Again, there is just too much to cover here, so if you’re just looking for a brief rundown feel free to skip to the In Summary section at the bottom, but don’t be surprised if you ask me a question later I tell you to read the whole post. That said, let’s get to this.

This episode we begin with thundering percussions and the images of two zombies, or wounded men, stumbling along in what could be a desert. The music turns creepy, further enforcing the images of zombies, then one guy drops, apparently dead, and the other guy hoists him up and carries him off. Eventually the surviving man collapse in a cave and is given water by a wide eyed and fully decorated generic Native Man. Then we see the surviving man covering the dead man’s hand with dirt, and then, finally carving runes into a piece of stone with a metal chisel and rock.

This riveting bit of silent cinema pretty much presents the whole premise of the episode, but not in any way that is intelligible. In order to make sense of the scene we just witnessed, we need Scott Wolter.

We met Wolter in episode one, and if you want to recap his creds and such, go back and read the first bit of that post. Unless something new develops, I’m not going back over all that.

So now in episode two we catch up to Wolter in the modern day in his research laboratory in Minnesota. The whole scene is set up like something from the Da Vinci Code movies complete with mysterious adventure music, further hinting at some great mystery that is about to be revealed to us.

Wolter is sitting pensively at his desk and is apparently opening his daily mail, where he receives a handwritten letter. The letter tells Wolter of another American Runestone, this time in Arizona, and could Wolter come look at it since he worked on the Kensington Runestone? Well, of course we can!

So now we’re watching driving footage of Wolter set to riveting music as dry grass and barbed wire roll past. We’re heading out to the Mustang Mountains in Sierra Vista, Arizona.

Once we get there we meet Paul Weishaupt and Jim Cardamone, two local rock climbers from around the area. Honestly, I want to say, these guys are hard core. They are easily old enough to be my grandfathers, and they are still rock-climbing like teenagers.

Wolter asks them how they found the location of the runestone and Weishaupt mentions an old story he heard from a rancher about a missing archeological site. Then one day he and Cardamone were looking for new places to rock climb, I assume because they’ve already conquered the known mountain range, and they came on a cave with rock art and decided this must be the missing site. While they were looking around they noticed the stone outside the cave.

Wolter wants to know when they are going to take him to see it, and they give each other a knowing look. They tell Wolter that they’re going to take him up tomorrow, in 99 degree weather, up a slope that’s known for shifting underfoot. Wolter is, understandably, a little apprehensive about it, but the next shot we get is a clear 5am morning scene of Wolter packing in for the long hike. Seriously, 5am, 99 degree weather, slidey rocks, these dudes are hard core, I mean that with all sincerity.

Anyway, today we add a person to the crew. Steve Ross, he is the State Land Department Archaeologist for Arizona. He’s in charge of all the archaeological resources in Arizona, or his department is, and if his department is like mine, he’s got his hands full with day to day work. So it’s really nice of him to take time out to do this, though from the look of him he’s not unfamiliar with the terrain. Basically, he’s there to make sure nothing happens to the actual archaeological site and Wolter et al are about to hike into.

Ross explains that the cave and its art was recorded in 1984, and has been known by the state since. Apparently, Weishaupt and Cardamone called him about it when they discovered the site, which is the responsible and legal thing to do in pretty every state in the Union, just FYI. Now all we have to do is climb up to the site, and again Weishaupt and Cardamone lead the charge with pretty much everyone else lagging behind. Dudes are machines.

As we approach the cave though, the music and cinematography changes from Lord of the Rings to creepy horror music. We do get our first really glimpse of the stone though, and even with the brief and quickly panning shots of the rock you can tell it’s new. You can see every strike mark from the chisel, the lines are so fresh you can still see the edges, there is no weathering on the stone at all. You can see the disappointment on Wolter’s face when he sees the stone. It’s going to be hard to pass this off as an actual artifact, but it doesn’t take Wolter long to recover. Wolter tells us he knows a guy who knows runes, and so he snaps a picture on his phone and emails it off.

Ross tells us that when the site was recorded in 1984, there was no mention of the runestone. This, I think is what gets Wolter fired up again. I’ve noticed he doesn’t like “academics” telling him things. So Wolter makes an accusation that whoever located the site, purposefully didn’t recorded the runestone. Ross patiently explains to Wolter that everything present gets recorded on survey, no matter how recent or weird, Wolter doesn’t seems convinced.

Since they’ve climb all the way up there, and I presume it’s getting hot, Wolter decides to look around and pretty much everyone seeks shelter inside the cave. We get to look at the rock art, and Wolter again insists that the nested circles are spiral and so the art must be a starmap, and he tries to say something about Archaeoastronomy again. Ross assures Wolter that he knows what Archaeoastronomy is.

While we’re in the cave Wolter makes a comment about the walls of the cave showing evidence of having material removed. Ross agrees and he points out that the floor of the cave by the mouth of the cave has been removed. He tells us that this is a common Looting practice. For those who don’t know, Looting is where people come to known sites and try to dig them up without permission in order to find artifacts they want to keep for themselves or sell on the black market. It’s illegal and all around a lame thing to do. Don’t be lame, don’t loot.

Back to the show, Wolter decided that the looting is good news, because that explains why the stone looks so new. It originally must have been buried and the looters must have uncovered it. Then the looters left it to sit in the open instead of trying to take it with them? It is a big rock, but then again, looters are known for taking stone cutting saws to rock art in ordered to cut it from the rock face in order to sell it, so why this would have slowed them down I have no idea.

Here is also where my issues with Ross start. I know he’s trying to be nice, he’s trying to deflect the weird, and I think he’s trying to not set Wolter off. He obviously doesn’t agree with anything Wolter is saying, or continues to say, but he is trying to be way too diplomatic when dealing with Wolter. Because of this he almost comes off as agreeing with Wolter on many occasions. I’m not sure how much of this is accidental, on purpose, or how much is editing after the fact. If anyone has connections with Ross I’d love to ask him if he’d be willing to talk.

Anyway, about the time Ross is trying to convince Wolter that the stone is not that old, Wolter gets an urgent text. The text that he cuts Ross off to check, is from Mysterious Mike (my nickname for him) who is telling Wolter that the stone is a memorial stone. Wolter begins to chant “memorial stone, memorial stone”, as he continues to look around. He gets on a roll and begins creating links between things that are clearly not connected. Ross tries to explain looting again, but Wolter’s on a tangent about Cultural Diffusion, which Ross tries to nix without success.

Further exploration of the cave reveals a small passage that no one but Cardamone can apparently fit into. So Cardamone crawls into it with a head mounted camera, and we find lots of bees in a narrow stone passage that goes upward at an angle. Cardamone crawls out eventually and Wolter ask Cardamone if he thought a body would fit in there, and since Cardamone had just fit in there the answer was, yes. Energized by the prospects of the memorial stone and a crawlspace that a body fits in, Wolter starts asking Ross if they could excavate in the cave for a possible body and if he could sift through the looter’s backdirt pile. These requests make me even more convinced that Wolter has no clue how archaeology works.

Fortunately, Ross does and he gives a decent, if brief, explanation of the Arizona Antiquities act of 1960 and how the RPA (The Registered Professional Archaeologist organization) works. Basically, most states have an Antiquities Act that date around the 60’s or 70’s which makes illegal the random digging of historical and archaeological sites. They lay out the need for preserving significant sites and set up a series of requirements in order to get permission to excavate a site in order to protect them. One of these is usually having an archaeologist who is registered with the RPA. The RPA regulates professionalism in the field of archaeology and makes sure that those who are registered are qualified to lead excavations and do proper research. There’s a great podcast over at the CRM Archaeology Podcast that talks about the RPA.

Well, basically being told ‘No’ on the excavation doesn’t sit well with Wolter. He begins to speculate about the discovery of a body and how if that body was a European man then that would be a historic discovery. And Ross agrees that it would indeed be such, assuming Wolter found anything of the sort. So Wolter starts to list off all the forms of not-evidence he’s accumulated in mere hours of looking around. 1) Evidence of looting, 2) the lack of weathering on the runestone, 3) a hole a body could fit in. Let me point out, none of this is evidence of anything. Wolter really just seems to be trying to create a mystery out of whole cloth, I’m not entirely convinced even he believes anything he’s saying here.

I also want to point out that I don’t think Wolter believes Ross about there being laws against random digging. I think Wolter believes that he should be able to dig wherever he wants, and Ross is just being mean, or trying to withhold evidence or something like that. We’ve watched Wolter literally laugh in Ross face all episode, so I really think Wolter thinks Ross is just trying to stop Wolter personally from excavating. This also furthers my belief that Wolter doesn’t understand how archaeology works, even though Ross has explained it to him. None the less, Wolter keeps trying to convince Ross to let him dig and Ross is not budging. Then Wolter suggests using ground penetrating radar, or GPR, to get a look at what is under the dirt without having to dig. Honestly this is a great idea, and Ross tells him he can do that since it won’t disturb the site. This seems to appease Wolter and we finally are able to leave the cave for the day.

The next scene finds us in Wolter’s hotel room at night. We watch Wolter use an entire piece of paper to write a two line appointment, and then he moves to check his email. Conveniently, the email browser is open to an email congratulating Wolter on his book, and then we see that we have an email from Mysterious Mike. From this email we learn Mike’s last name is Carr, but nothing else. The email, classily titled ‘HOLY SH*T!’, tell us “The Inscription…I’ve got a name.” Apparently the name is too heavy to send in a mere email. This prompts Wolter to call Mike on his cell. Mike apparently confirms that the runes on the stone are 12th century Anglo-Saxon runes. There’s no evidence to suggest that they were carved in the 12th century, or that there is a body associated with them, but whatever. We also don’t get to know what the name of said non-body is. We’re saving that for after the commercial break.

The next time we are back at the cave we have added to our party Brad Goforth with GPRS : Ground Penetrating Radar Systems, INC. He’s here to run the GPS and translate the results for us. First however, Wolter has breaking news on the Runestone front. Wolter tells us that “The last time we were here we thought we had a body”, which is not true, the only one who thinks there’s a body here is Wolter. Still, he gathers everyone around so he can read the translation that Mike has sent him.

Now, this part is going to take a minute because there is a lot wrong with this stone and it’s translation.

The translation that Mike has given Wolter reads as follows:

“The Body(in contrast to the soul) fits/lays

Rough Hurech here

He enjoyed (entertainment, joy, merriment) the secret stolen

Rough Hurech’s body – fame and glory

Dust beyond Eden – Eden’s temple”

And then there is a ‘cross’ stamped into the bottom.

This translation makes no sense. I mean, yes it’s a bunch of words that refer to a body and apparently a name, but beyond that what is it telling us? And here are the other issues with the ruenstone and this translation:

  1.  We’re told that the runes are 12th century Anglo-Saxon runes. But in the 12th century it would have been more common to see plain Old English, Latin, or French written with an alphabet that looks very similar to our modern English alphabet. As in, you could probably recognize the letters, even if you couldn’t understand the word they spelled.
  2.  As far as I can tell these are not Anglo-Saxon runes, 12th century or otherwise. These appear to be a mix of both the Elder Futhark and the Younger Futhark, seeing as the Sowal rune (the ‘s’ or lightning bolt shaped runes) is represented in both forms.
  3.  The runes themselves don’t spell anything. I, like a lot of people, have some experience with runes and runic translations and frankly, the ‘words’ that are spelled out on the stone are nonsense. The runes as I can see them are “ksils-ss-sudins-peiss-runsns-psshks-sst-msys-emens.” They don’t spell any words in Old English, Latin, French, or modern English for that matter. Also, there is no evidence of any word that would line up with the name Hurech on that stone.
  4.  Also there are 9 words on the stone compared to the 20+ Wolter reads off. I know that sometimes in translations one word can become two, but nine to twenty? That’s more than a 2:1 ratio.
  5. Who the hell is Mike? We are never properly introduced to him and Wotler never tells us why we should believe anything the man tells us via his cryptic emails and text messages. I did a brief search for Mike Carr, and yes there is a man who works at the University of Edinburgh and he has studied the medieval period, there is also a Michael Carr who is a Templar theorist who likes to push the idea that other Europeans made it to America before Columbus. Not to mention every other Mike Carr who lives around the globe.
  6. We’re also never given the Old English translation, just the modern one. Again, we just have to take Wolter’s word for things, there is no actual evidence presented.

Wolter gets all worked up over the name and Ross tries once again to bring reason to the conversation but Wolter just laughs at him and dismisses him, silly academics, what do we know?

Fortunately at this point we move on to the GPR, and Goforth explains how the GPR works. It’s a great explanation which is basically, the GPR unit projects radar waves into the ground. Those waves bounce back and the unit uses those to create an image of what’s below the surface. The images do take a bit of knowledge to translate, but even the untrained eye can usually see where the differences in soil density occur. Goforth does show us what the data look like after one pass, and tells us that more passes are needed. So we spend some time watching Goforth wrestle the GPR over the cave terrain accompanied by epic struggle music. I am a little leery of the results from the GPR, mainly because of how uneven the ground was that was being surveyed, that can affect things, but not so much.

After the initial demonstration we never see the GPR output again, so we have no clue what it looks like, but Wolter and Goforth do appear to find an anomaly. Ross seems to notice it in the data too. Wolter immediately  tires to argue that this could be the location of the body since it’s right under the runestone. Ross asks how big it is and we learn that it’s roughly 3 or 4 feet and is about 2 feet below the surface. It’s a little short for a full grown man and very shallow for a grave. Ross tries to point this out, but Wolter keeps trying to use this as a way to convince Ross to let him excavate. Ross tires to explain to him again how the excavation process works, and then Wotler gets another urgent Text message.

I know that the show is staging these texts and that they are trying to use them as a way to impart urgency, but really what all this does is make Wolter look incredibly rude for interrupting actual conversations to check information on his phone that could wait till he’s done talking to people. These are all staged texts anyway, I wonder if the producers didn’t time the texts on purpose to interrupt Ross so people couldn’t hear him explain to Wolter why he legally can’t excavate the cave? That’s me speculating though, don’t take that too deep.

Either way the text message is this:

I traced the Hurech surname to medieval Staffordshire, England. If you go there, you might find more clues to the mystery.

One more thing…before you leave the southwest, you NEED to check out the Gila Mounds

There could also be a connection there…

To this new bombshell I say, Oh really? You traced an Anglo-Saxon surname all the way back to medieval England? No, Really? (Read the sarcasm.) This is one of the points where the misrepresentation in the show just really got to me. There is absolutely nothing special about finding an Anglo-Saxon surname ANYWHERE in Europe. Wolter, however gets all giddy about it, because English names in England are really …um…rare?

This pretty much wraps up our time at the cave. The current crew is dismissed and Wolter announces that we’re going to go to the Gila Mounds before we head to England. All I can think at this point is that the History Channel is rolling in the dough.

A few tidbits on the Gila Mounds. They are attributed to the Mogollon peoples who lived in these cliff dwellings from between 1275 and 1300 AD. These dates become important later on. The Gila Mounds are the only location that contains Mogollon sites. These dwellings are very impressive because they are built in and from the surrounding caves, and they look like miniature cities inside the cliffs, like ships in bottles. This is where we find Wolter after the commercial break.

While Wolter is examining the dwellings from afar we get to meet Steve Riley who is the superintendent for the Cliff Dwellings and he tells us a bit about them. They were used for about one generation and then apparently abandoned. Wolter tells Riley about the dead English man and Riley calmly tells him that there’s no evidence of European contact at the dwellings. The only connections the dwellings have is to the Native peoples of the area. Once we’re done talking with Riley we get lots of images of Wolter looking around the dwellings while pseudo-native sounding music plays in the background. However, when were done with that, we’re told that the connection between these sites and our dead Englishman is unknown. Never fear gentle reader, there will be a connection.

To find that connection we travel all the way to Kinver Edge, Staffordshire, England. We get to watch more footage of Wolter driving to epic music…we love watching Wolter drive. once there we meet Alan Butler who is the author of the book “The Goddess, the grail and the lodge”. Butler is a Knights Templar conspiracy theorist and apparently a close friend of Wolters, as we find in the awkward banter between them when they meet.

Now, Butler is apparently up to speed on what Wolter’s been up too with the 12th century English man and tells us he’s been doing some research at the records office. He didn’t find anyone named Rough Hurech, but he did find a Peter Hurech, and has concluded that they are the same man. Why? Honestly, there is no reason to connect the two, but Butler tries anyway. Butler tells us that back in the day people didn’t go by their birth names very much, they all had nicknames and those nicknames were often used in legal documents. What this has to do with anything, I have no clue. Butler goes on to tell us that Peter, who in his opinion must have been Rough (who knows why), got the nickname because he was one of the guys who wrestled buffalo with his bear hands. How do we know that? We don’t. Butler goes on to tell us that whoever was with Peter when he died in the cave in Arizona (again no evidence of this exists) that person must have only known him by his nickname, and so that was what he carved in the stone. Wolter loves all this and completely agrees with it and as with so many things on this show, hearsay becomes gospel and we all just have to accept it.

Butler also wants to show us something, and we hike along till we get to a very neat location. We see before us one of the famed Kinver Edge Stone Houses. These houses are famous and are simultaneously built into and out of the the sandstone cliffs surrounding them. Butler looks at Wolter as they arrive and says “look familiar?” Well, no, not really. One is carved out of the sandstone, one is built inside the cave. One is literally solid rock, the other is made of stacked stone and mud dab. The Gila Mound cliff dwellings were built in the late 1200’s, the Kinver Edge stone houses weren’t formally recorded until the late 1700’s , but we’re not told any of this in the show.

Butler does say that the houses only date as far back as the 1500’s but argues that it’s possible they were inhabited as far back at the 1200’s. That’s a significant margin of error and as I understand it currently, there is no evidence to support that claim. But Butler also doesn’t try to offer any, he just says it, therefore it’s true. Wolter does mention how the time difference in the dwellings bother him, but he concludes that it’s the academics who are wrong about the times, not him. Wolter then decides that it looks “so much like what we find in New Mexico” and launches into a flight of fantasy deciding that Peter “Rough” Hurech is now the one who brought the idea of living in caves to “the Natives” insinuating that the natives peoples couldn’t have been smart or creative enough to create these dwellings on their own, they have to be taught this by white men.

Butler has one more surprize for us, and takes us on another walk to what is apparently Peter Hurech’s old house. Which it must be noted is a traditional English manor style house turned into a pub, and is not part of the Kinver Edge rock houses nor does it appear to be built into any type of rock. It’s known that the rock houses passed from generation to generation inside of one family, so where is Hurech’s rock house? Fortunately the house is now a pub, and Butler and Wolter decide to have a pint. This is our wrap up scene where the two go over all their not-evidence to make the case that Peter Hurech was Rough Hurech, and Rough Hurech is buried in the Arizona desert. Just as we think there can’t be anymore not-evidence added to the growing pile, Butler gets an urgent text and it’s from the lady in the records office. We find out that there is no record of the Hurech family after 1200. I must ask at this point, does she mean just Peter Hurech’s line, or all Hurech’s everywhere just dropped off the planet in the 1200’s? What about a change in the spelling of the name? What about marriage out of the name? Butler doesn’t ask these questions, neither does Wolter, they just take it as the final piece of evidence that Peter and Rough are the same person.

The two men finally reminisce about all the coincidences in their not-evidence, even though I’ve seen no coincidences in any of this, and then ask why would Hurech go all the way to America? They settle on either he was prospecting minerals/metals or that he was just an adventurous guy. They don’t ask how he got there, who was with him, why there’s no other evidence of their travels, or any other relevant question. We’re left with this nugget form Wolter, “this bolder with his name on it is the only evidence we have that he made this trip.” and then we toast Hurech with a pint and we’re out.

Honestly, this episode is just simply astounding at the amount of unrelated randomness they try to string together. Not to mention, I got the feeling several times during the show that Wolter didn’t even believe what he was saying.

In Summary:

The evidence listed randomly throughout the show is this:

  1. Runestone with 12th cen runes. – As stated above, there might be a few 12th century runes sprinkled in the gibberish that is trying to get passed off as a runic inscription, but thats it. The inscription itself means nothing, it’s basically a bunch of ‘s’s with a few other letters added for show. It forms no words that are recognizable. Not to mention, if the stone was carved in the 12th century, it would be far more likely to have been written in Old English, Latin, or French and written with an English alphabet, not a runic alphabet. Also, the translation of the inscription is very suspect. It’s makes no linguistic sense, and what’s more, the translation has far to many words to have come from the nine ‘words’ that are visible on the stone. Also suspect is this Mysterious Mike guy. Who is he? Where does he come from? How is it that he got such a weird translation? Why can’t we see the original Old English translation before it’s translated into Modern English? How do we know he’s an expert? Why is he never properly introduced in the show? I get that he could be busy and not have time to make an appearance, but why doesn’t Wotler explain his credentials to us? Why is he always just, “Mike?”
  2. A name on the stone, Rough Hurech – As said above, there is no apparent word or words that matches up with the name Rough Hurech. Mike’s translation is dubious at best, possibly completely made up.
  3. A possible body – We’re offered two choices for the location of a possible body. One is shoved up the vertical shaft in the back of the cave, and the other is buried in a 3-4ft anomaly at the front of the cave. Keep in mind that anomalies correspond with a density shift in the surrounding soils. This can be caused by a variety of things and it takes someone familiar with the GPR to decipher what the anomaly really is. I’ve seen graves on GPR data, the very brief look we had the data didn’t look anything like a grave, but it was also incomplete and we were never shown the complete data in the show. I think it should be noted that neither Goforth nor Ross, who did see the data, said that the anomaly could be a possible grave. Ross did his best to tell Wolter that it was too small and too shallow. I think Wolter knew this, but tried to press his point anyway.
  4. GPR showing a small anomaly – See above.
  5. The Gila Mounds Cave dwellings of the Mogollon peoples – Here’s where things start to get weird, and I think Wolter and company begin to lose track of their dates. The Gila Mound cliff dwellings date from the late 1200’s to the early 1300’s. Now if you’re not paying attention, this sounds like it lines up with a 12th century English guy right? Wrong. The 12th century ranged in dates from the 1100’s up to the 1190’s. The cliff dwellings dates place them in the 13th century, and at the tail end of that century at that.  That’s a huge difference in time. Also, there is no evidence of any European contact, period.
  6.  Peter Hurech – I’m sure there was a guy named Peter Hurech who lived in the 1200’s. I don’t doubt his line died out for any number of reasons in that same time span. There is absolutely no reason to connect Peter to our imaginary Rough. 1) Unlike Peter, we have no evidence of Rough being anything more than fantasy. 2) Even if Rough was real, there is no reason to connect him to Peter other than a last name, and if Rough was real, there is no reason he couldn’t have been a sibling, a cousin, or just someone with a similar name. Also Peter lived in the 1200’s, which puts him in the 13th century again. This does line him up with the cave dwellings, but not with the 12th century runes.
  7. The Kinver Edge Stone Houses – These beautiful and impressive structures weren’t formally recorded until the late 1700’s. I’ll buy that they existed before that. I’ll even buy that there was some kind of structure there 200 years before they were recorded. But 500 years before? In their current condition? That’s stretching it a bit for me. Especially since there’s no evidence supporting that claim. Even Butler has to make an allowance just to get the dates to fit, and he’s already stretching the truth a bit to get them to 15oo. This is also another place where math gets us a little messed up. If we’re trying to say that Peter Hurech was the guy who took the knowledge of the stone houses over to the poor natives in America and is the same as the 12th century Englishman in the Arizona cave, we not only have to age the stone houses back an extra 600 years, we have to knock Peter back two centuries, and then explain why it took two centuries for the Mogollon peoples to decide to use the knowledge that Hurech apparently gave them to create the cave dwellings. It doesn’t add up. At some point both Wolter and the show began to confuse the 12th century with the 1200’s, and those two things are not the same.

Honestly, this episode was ridiculous and painful to watch. The only good things that come from it were the two Rock Climbers and the use of the GPR.  Everything else was completely irrelevant and not even remotely connected. That runestone was an obvious fake, and the translation was probably made up. The rest of the show was just drawing random lines that never actually connected. And this is only the second episode.

Notes of Interest:

Some of you may know that Jason Colavito also does review of the America Unearthed show, he’s been doing them far longer than I have so he’s more up to date on the show. That said, I do know they are out there, but I DON’T read them until AFTER I’ve written my own blog. I don’t want to be influenced by anything he may say or know that I don’t.

That all said, as I was reading his second review of the second episode, I was struck by the apparent non-existence of even Peter Hurech. I highly recommend you go read this post as well, it makes me dislike this show even more.


Want more on this topic? Go to Reviews: America Unearthed.

Categories: America Unearthed, History Channel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Mayans in Georgia: America Unearthed Episode One. **Now With Updates!**

** Update 11/2/14: From time to time we receive information after posting that requires us to update information. When this happens I like to make a noticeable “Update” tag. In this case the update regards Richard Thornton, you can skip down to it, look for the bold Update tag. **

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 we’re 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.

**Update 11/1/14**  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), he is however, a member of the Perdido Bay Muscogee-Creek Tribe. From doing research online and via the links provided by Thornton’s comments below, Thornton is an architect and city planner, he’s worked with The State of Oklahoma to design Trail of Tears Memorial in Tulsa, he maintains a blog at People of One Fire, is a writer at The, and has an ebook for sale. This show is not the first time he’s made the claim that the Maya’s were responsible for native sites in Georgia, and it’s also not the first time his claims have been challenged by professional archaeologists. Johan Normark, a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Historical Studies at University of Gothenburg in Sweden who focuses on Mayanist research among other topics, took Thornton’s claims to task on his own blog. Normark has a lot of good information on his blog about the Maya/Georgia topic, also the comment section continues to poke holes in Thornton’s claims, and they do a better job than I have time for on this post.

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 by 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 Archaeoastronomy. 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, at least on the show. 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 seems underwhelmed by Thornton’s evidence. Thornton 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. Thornton randomly says there are some markers that have to do with archaeoastronomy, 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 we’re 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 archaeoastronomy, which we’re never clear on if it does. **Update 11/1/14**: According to Thornton’s comments below there is some 8+ hours of tape that were never used in the episode. This only further leads me to believe that the show is participating in cherry-picking in order to create a narrative that is entertaining over informative. I understand that some editing must occur, however, they seem to leave quite a bit out that would have been more informative if left in.

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 we’re 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) archaeoastronomy, 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 we’re 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 we’re 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 archaeoastronomy.” 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 archaeoastronomyis, he just likes saying the word.

In Summary

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 in the show. 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)  Archaeoastronomy – It is clear to me after watching this episode that Wolter doesn’t understand the concept of archaeoastronomy. 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 archaeoastronomy 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, since the source was never provided in the show, 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.

**Updates 11/1/14** I have been contacted by both Haskell and Thornton after the posting of this article. Both of them have made it clear that there is a great deal missing from their statements to the show. I have offered Haskell the chance to clarify his position, and he respectfully declined. The offer stands should he change his mind, but I understand if he does not. Thornton, I feel, has made his position clear, and I have corrected the related sections appropriately. You can read his comments in the sections below, as well as follow the links provided in text to get a better idea of his claims and evaluate the evidence yourself.

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The Genetic Disk (Updated)

NOTE: In an earlier version of this post I mentioned that I had been unsuccessful at contacting Dr. Vera M. F. Hammer to get her comments on the Genetic Disk. After this post was published, and through the wonders of twitter, I was able to get in contact with her and she gave me some great insights into her involvement with the disk. Also, I’ve learned a bit about mineralogy and the differences between chert and schits and so have changed parts of the post due to this new information. I will note the areas that have been changed with an UPDATED tag. Thanks again to Dr. Hammer and to Edward Habsburg (@EdwardHabsburg)  who connected us. 

The red flags on this one just fly through the air. Just about nothing about this “artifact” makes sense. Honestly, it’s a little hard to know where to start here with this one.  I guess a description is in order.

The disk is said to be made out of lydite and measures 22 cm in diameter and weighs 2 Kg.  It’s apparently solid black in color and shaped like a Bi Disk. It’s carved on both faces, and has random images carved on it depicting what some are calling “the cycle of life.”

I can’t find any official origin story for the disk. What I can cobble together from the websites that focus on the disk is only that it was found somewhere in Columbia by a gentleman named Jaime Gutierrez-Lega, who  is a well known industrial designer in Columbia. At some point after it was found it was taken to the Museum of Natural Sciences of Vienna, Austria, and reportedly studied by Dr. Vera M. F. Hammer. She somehow managed to date the stone and apparently assigned it to the Pre-Columbian Muisca-culture.

Now, lets really begin to break this one down, because I’m rather surprised this one fools anyone once you really start to look at it.

First, There is no account or record of the Genetic Disk ever being discovered. This is kind of unusual because even fake artifacts have origin stories usually listing time(s) and place(s), often giving details of how the artifacts were found and by who. This time all we have is “The Disk was found in Columbia by Jaime Gutierrez-Lega.” This doesn’t tell us anything, and it’s sure  doesn’t help create confidence in authenticity.  Columbia is a big place, where in Columbia was it found? How did Gutierrez-Lega discover it? Was he digging with a group or did he just stub his toe on it? Why is there no record of it being discovered? Are there any other witnesses to the discovery? What did he do to preserve it? Where did he take it? Who else saw this artifact? Does Mr. Gutierrez-Lega even know he’s associated with the Disk or is he a convenient target for the conspiratorial minded?

What I have been able to cobble together about the Genetic Disk I’ve found on a variety of personal blogs, that I will list in the resources below. However, other than repeating the same shoddy details, they mainly just marvel over how cool the carvings are on the Disk and how they clearly show “the process of life” including two naked individuals, images of sperm, fertilized eggs, embryos, and some other random squiggles.  I mean, these are cool images, very sleek and modern looking, but they are not evidence of anything by themselves.

(UPDATE) Second. The claim here is that lydite is as hard as granite and is also delicate and flaky, making it too hard for prehistoric people to carve and too delicate for them to carve in such detail anyway. The first problem is that the way people are trying to support these claims is comparing the MOHS scale reading of lydite to that of granite. Never-minding that lydite and granite are two completely different types of rock (Hammer 2013), the MOHS scale  does not apply to rock, so the hardness of the rock used to carve the disk is not relevant (Hammer 2013)

As to not being able to carve something like this mysterious delicate and flaky rock, I’d like to point out that prehistoric peoples were incredibly gifted at carving shell and thin sheets of Mica into gorgets and other forms of jewelry. They were just as capable at carving delicate materials as they were crafting stone tools.

Now, that’s not saying I believe that the Genetic Disk is made out of any of these materials. There is nothing supporting the descriptions of the Disk. It is my opinion that the stone the Disk is made of is not lydite at all. Dr. Hammer gave a good deal of information on the actual  composition of the material of the disk, and I am leaving that for the section below.

(UPDATED) Third. Lets begin to look at the people involved with the disk.

The supposed finder of the Genetic Disk is Jaime Gutierrez-Lega, who  is an Industrial Designer known for his modern and sleek designs in his artwork. We know Gutierrez-Lega is a real person, but I have no idea what, if anything, he has to do with archaeology. I can’t really say more than that with any certainty. I have not been able to find a way to contact him. However, if this story is remotely true, I find it very suspicious that an modern artist found an artifact out of the blue, that looks very sleek and very modern in design. I’m not saying Mr. Gutierrez-Lega has done anything, it’s my guess he’s probably not involved, or if he is, he’s been horribly taken out of context and his goodwill taken advantage of.

Which brings us to the next participant. As I stated at the beginning of this post, Dr. Vera M.F. Hammer recently contacted me to answer my questions about her involvement with the disk. She was very kind to do so, and it was very exciting to talk to someone living who is involved in something like this. I have reproduced  Dr. Hammer’s account here.

Dr. Hammer is a Mineralogist, not a Geologist as some sites (myself included, sorry.) have said.  Since 1992 she has worked as a curator for the Natural History Museum in Vienna, Department of Mineralogy and Petrography.  According to Dr. Hammer she first encountered the disk in 2001 through Mr. Klaus Dona, an individual I didn’t touch on last time, but will get to this time. But first, Dr. Hammer’s account:

“I was asked in the year 2001 by Mr. Klaus Dona, who curated the exhibition “Unsolved Mysteries” in the same year in Vienna, to make XRD analyses of some of the exhibited objects. Most of the objects include new materials and I told him that this were fakes, but this is not what he wants to hear… Even other scientists from our Museum told the owners of the objects, and Mr. Klaus Dona, that all that stuff is not what they believed. Some of the exhibited objects were curiosities by the nature, others man made new stuff which you can buy in any touristic shop in that areas. But anyway, our comment about the so called „genetic disc“ was only that it consists of feldspar, quartz and mica, which was proved by XRD measurement.

My former director who was petrologist said, that this rock could be lydite (a grey to black fine grained schist) or an artificial product made of this minerals. I never classified the disk or any other of these objects to a special cultural period or give any statement of age, which in fact are not part of my competence. So, this was the only information we gave, not more! All interpretation of symbols and signs, age or anything else arise in the head of the owner and/or the curator of the exhibition! There was no author given in the catalogue about “Unsolved Mysteries”, so in fact, I don’t know who writes all that nonsense!”

Dr. Hammer’s statement pretty much concludes this whole thing. The one and only official researcher who is mentioned as having studied the Disk tells us it is a fake.

So let’s take that closer look at Mr. Klaus Dona.

Mr. Dona appears to be based out of Austria and calls himself a Spiritual Archaeologist. I’m not sure what that means, but I’m pretty skeptical it’s a real sub-field of archaeology. Mr. Dona’s website is Unsolved Mysteries, where he sells some books, has some more extensive explanations of the Genetic Disk and other artifacts. In his explanation for the Disk he says “Geologists at the University of Bogotá date it to a prehistoric epoch. The most recent examinations were unable to find evidence of faking.” Except for the researchers at Natural History Museum in Vienna telling him they were fakes and also the fact that Geologists aren’t going to be able to date an artifact, also I notice he’s stopped giving the names of his researchers.

Mr. Dona also has a hard time keeping his own facts straight. In a video on YouTube titled “Klaus Dona – The Hidden History of the Human Race – Must Watch” at about 25:50 he begins to talk about the Disk. He says there is no way to identify the culture that produced the artifacts and that the way the artifacts were dated was by guessing the artifacts were older than any known civilization in the area, therefore they must be 6,000 years old. Very scientific. He doesn’t mention how any of these things were found, where exactly they were found, why they are considered older than all other civilizations in the area, or who the researchers were that helped date and identify and interpret the Disk et al. He gives no evidence whatsoever to back up any of his claims.

Fourth. It is really hard to date rock, and assuming you could get a date, you would literally be dating the rock itself, not the artifact that was made out of the rock. There is often no organic material on rock to date to get an age for the artifact, and so, often the age of rock artifacts is reliant on the context of the area it was found in, or, as in the case of stone tools, the style in which the artifact was made.  So how they got a date for the Disk is beyond me. Unless people are trying to say that the age of the rock is concurrent with the age of the Muisca-culture, in that case, there is no evidence to support this. Though according the Mr. Dona, they are basically just making it up. 

Fifth and lastly. I don’t see any similarities between the artwork on the Disk and the artwork left behind by the Muisca-culture. The few Muisca items I’ve seen don’t look anything like the Disk. Which I guess is the point, but if this was a culture that lived along side of the Muisca, why is there no other evidence of their presence? If this was a more advanced people, visiting their vast knowledge on an ancient peoples, why is there no further evidence for their presence? If this was the work of aliens, then why is there no further evidence….well you get the point.

(Updated) My Observations.

The Genetic Disk is just so bizarre to me because, if you ask any questions at all about it, the whole story begins to fall apart. The one named researcher who supposedly helped date and decode the disk clearly did not. Not only that, she clearly told Mr. Dona that the Disk and it’s related artifacts were fakes. The museum where the Disk was supposedly studied is a fake place. There is no documentation, fake or otherwise, to support where and how the disk was found. The material of the disk could probably be man-made, meaning that the Disk could have been (probably is) a cast. Mr. Dona, being informed of this, continues to change his story about the Disk, evolving it to meet his needs. I mean, the only thing I am convinced of is that somewhere there is an object that looks like the picture above.  There is absolutely nothing supporting the validity or reality of the disk.

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Hammer, Vera M. F.

2013    Personal Correspondence via Email. December 17, 2013.

N.d    Personal reference page – Accessed 12/11/2013

Hurst, K. Kris.

N.d.   Musica Culture.”> Accessed 12/11/2013

Questionable Resources:

Above Top Secret. The Awesome Mystery of the Pre Columbian “Genetic Disc”. Astonishing Knowledge!  Accessed 12/11/2013

Klaus Dona, Spiritual Archaeologist. Accessed 12/11/2013

Onovus: Ancient Mysteries and Present Discoveries. Genetic Disc | Advanced Biological Knowledge in Ancient Times. Accessed 12/11/2013

Unsolved Mysteries: The Genetic Disc. Accessed 12/11/2013

Categories: Weird Archaeology | Tags: , , , , , | 52 Comments

Debunking, Blogging, and Public Outreach: Blogging Archaeology Carnival 2014!

blogging-archaeology banner

Sadly, I won’t be making the SAA‘s in Texas next year. Neither will my friend Doug over at Doug’s Archaeology, but he came up with a great idea for those of us who can’t make, something called a blogging carnival and he’s hosting the first round of questions for November (Which is also Movember, so get to growing guys).  If you’re a blogger focused on archaeology, you should definitely head over to his post about the carnival and join in. As for me:

To Blog or not To Blog.

I’m not sure I’ve ever done a whole post explaining this. It’s kind of hidden all over the blog in the About sections and such.  I started this blog 4 years (going on 5) ago now because I got really excited about the Skeptical and Atheist movements on the internet. I started with making videos on YouTube, which take a lot of time to make and edit. I didn’t really like it, and personally, the Atheist and Skeptical communities on YouTube started having issues and I didn’t really want to be part of the in-fighting, so I bowed out. I’m a writer anyway. Blogging just seemed like a natural choice to jump too.

When I made the decision to open this blog I realized I had to revamp the way I was doing things. I original wanted to create a space where people could come and get solid information on topics that are often avoided or not thought about by professional archaeologists.  Blogging is a great place for this; citations appear in-line, references are written out, you can link to important sites, also the text of the blog is searchable, and you can link things together easier. Blogging was just the better medium for a topic as difficult as debunking.

Blogs also allow for better organization of topics. I handle several reoccurring topics here, the two biggest being Women in Archaeology and Weird Archaeology which both branch into subtopics like Mother’s of the Field and The 10 Most Not-So-Puzzling Ancient Artifacts. I can group all of the individual posts together to make them more readable as groups, not something easily done on YouTube at the time.  I also have more control over the blog. I can moderate the comments better, respond quicker, and in general have better conversations with my readers.

You Haven’t Left Yet?

Why am I still blogging? Because I feel I am filling a gap in the archaeological community.

We archaeologists tend to forget that there are people out there who are not archaeologists, and who don’t understand why we say the things we do. There are a lot of blogs out there in the topic of archaeology and CRM that mainly focus on discussing the topic among educated archaeologists. I learn a lot about sub-fields and new research techniques, all of which is perfectly understandable to me because I’ve done this a while now. But if you’re just a random person with an interest in archaeology and you don’t want to be talked to like a 1st grader, there isn’t a whole lot out there aimed at you.

I’m not knocking websites and organizations that try to teach kids about archaeology, I even do it in my spare time. But a 30 year old isn’t a child.

Carl Sagan mentioned in his book Demon Haunted World how he got picked up at the airport by a driver who was completely ignorant of science, yet loved the topic. The only sources of information on the topic of science this driver had access to were pseudoscience and woo. Sagan didn’t blame the driver for his lack of formal education, he blamed the scientific community for not providing better access to real science to the lay person.

We have a very similar problem in the Archaeological community. Because we are not more accessible to the public we have issues with aliens, Atlantians, ethnocentrism, looting, and validating our field of study to governments. The other side of this coin is that we so rarely prepare students and professionals to talk with members of the public. We’re great talking to each other and presenting papers and posters, but when was the last time you genuinely explained to an individual outside of our community why we don’t dig for dinosaurs or pan for gold? People don’t know how we know what we know, and they are earnestly interested. I’m not saying things aren’t improving as time goes on, but it’s not where I think it should be yet.

Kenneth Feder in a recent article in the SAA’s membership magazine made a call for archaeologists to really step up to the plate. He took the responsibility of knowing bad archaeology from good away from the lay person and placed it squarely with us. We need to answer the awkward questions about the unintentional racism in ‘alternate  explanations’ for the building of Native earthworks. We need to answer the strange questions about ancient alien technology. We need to explain simple terms and concepts to  lay people because they don’t know what we do. We need to do this with a touch of humor and a lot of solid information, people like information.

So that’s why I’m still here. I like tackling psuedoarchaeology, it’s always entertaining and it’s a great way to teach critical thinking. I like talking about women archaeologists because it’s a giant hole in our history and it helps show people that there is more to archaeology then a bunch of stuffy old white guys (nothing against the stuffy old white guys in archaeology).

I’m going to keep at this too, for basically the same reasons, expanding the focus of this blog as I go. I’m thinking T-shirts…

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Where the Vikings Weren’t – The Kensington Runestone.

Even though I’m only going to focus on one of the American Runestones (of which there are several), to date, none are thought to be authentic by anyone who is knowledgeable of such things. This doesn’t stop the conspiratorially minded however.

Probably the most popular of the American Runestones is the Kensington Runestone. Named for Kensington, Minnesota, the settlement it was discovered near in 1898 (Blegen 1968:6, Fridley1979:152). Specifically, it was found in the largely rural township of Solem, Douglas County, Minnesota (Blegen 1968:6, Fridley1979:152).

As the story goes, a Swedish immigrant farmer Olof Ohman and his son found the stone lodged into the roots of a tree they were removing from a field to be plowed (Blegen 1968:6, Fridley1979:152). According to the story, the two didn’t even notice the inscription until much later, after Ohman’s son dusted the stone, and dug the dirt out of the engravings with a stick (Blegen 1968:6). From there the story gets a little blurry, apparently there was an excavation looking for artifacts associated with the stone, but all they found were pieces of stone originally thought to be bone (Blegen 1968:36). Future exactions found nothing associated with the stone (Fagan 2006:119). Currently the stone rests in a Runestone Museum, located in downtown Alexandria, Minnesota.

The stone itself is a large slab of greywacke, roughly the shape of a tomb stone, that has runic inscriptions on two sides (Blegen 1968:10). The inscription tells the story of an ill-fated Norse excursion in the area that would become Minnesota (Fagan 2006:118). However, from the time of its discovery, the stone has been a source of controversy that still lasts today.

The Kensington Runestone. Image via Wikicommons.

Very briefly and incompletely, runic scrip is the written language of the ancient Norse. Metaphysics aside, the script consists of somewhere between 16 -24 individual symbols that represent consonants and vowels, exactly like the English Alphabet. Rumor has it that it once competed with our own letter system for dominance during the medieval period, if true, it obviously lost. So to find something like this, even in 1898, was quite the discovery.

After the initial buzz around the stone died down, the stone apparently dropped out of public eye until sometime in 1907, when Norwegian-American journalist, Hjalmar Rued Holand became aware of the existence of the runestone and purchased it for about $10 (Blegen 1968:10). Holand spent most of his life trying to prove a Norse voyage into the American Midwest sometime in the 14th century (Fridley1979:152), which the stone’s authenticity would have supported nicely.

Holand took his new possession to Europe with him to a very cold reception. Swedish linguists dismissed the stone as inauthentic and the general public was simply not interested. Holand persisted, writing articles and books arguing for the stone’s authenticity, briefly getting support from William Thalbitzer and S. N. Hagen, who agreed with the stones authenticity (Wahlgren 1958, Time 1951). However, prominent linguists Sven Jansson, Erik Moltke , Harry Anderson, K. M. Nielsen, and Erik Wahlgren denied it flatly (Wahlgren 1958, Time 1951). The stone again dropped out of the public eye until about 60 years later.

In 1968, Theodore C. Blegen decided to take-up the Runestone again, this time returning to the place where it was found, and giving all the evidence a much more thorough going over (Fridley1979:152). He looked over the original major criticisms about the stone; the authentication of the inscription, the linguistics of the inscription, the discovery of the stone, and the testimonies of involved parties (Fridley1979:152).

Blegen focused particularly on an interview done by Dr. Paul Carson, Jr. in 1976 with Frank Walter Gran about Frank’s father, John P. Gran (Blegen 1968, Fridley1976:154). The interview centered around John confessing that he and Ohman had carved and hidden the stone as a prank against “people who were really educated (Fridley1979:154).” This was significant because it was suggested that the inscriptions were carved by two different individuals, one right handed and one left, and John was left-handed (Fridley1979, Blegen 1968). Supporters of the stone’s authenticity try to dismiss this confession as one made out of jealousy by Gran (Williams 2012:11).

Belgen also found that the Scandinavian runic scholars who studied the inscription, nearly unanimously, condemned the stone as a fraud (Wahlgren 1958, Fridley1979:152).

The inscription on the Kensington Runestone tells about an ill-fated voyage of thirty individuals who came to America in 1362 (Fagan 2006:118-119). Basically, they came, they saw, they got hassled badly, they went home. If their trip was true and correct, it would have made these Norse explorers the earliest known in the interior of North America. But the problem is, the story of the runestone doesn’t quite hold up to scrutiny.

Firstly, the language and the lack of case sensitive modifiers used on the stone was not what one would expect from 14th century Norse. Certain words in the inscription were not in use at that time (Wahlgren 1958, Fridley1979:152, Fagan 2006:119, Williams 2012:13), however, those same words were common to the area that Ohman’s friend, Sven Fogelblad, was from (Fridley1979:153). Fogelbald was an itinerant teacher and former minister originally from an area of Sweden well known for having lots of authentic runic inscriptions lying around, and who had known and apparently studied under Claes J. Ljungstrom, himself a widely known and prominent runologist (Fridley1979:153).

Also suspect were certain runic symbols that were not known to the Futharks  (the name of the Runic Alphabets) in use in the 14th century, but again these were know to Fogelbald and apparently were rather specialized to his particular region of Sweden (Wahlgren 1958, Fridley1979:152, Fagan 2006:119, Williams 2012:13).

At first blush there appears to be several versions of the Futharks at use on the stone’s inscription. However, sometime in 2004 it was suggested that the runes mimic those in the notes of an 1883 journeyman named Edward Larsson. Honestly, the only place I can find reference to this is on the Wiki and their reference is in Swedish. My Swedish is not good enough to read a whole paper, sorry. In the same paragraph the runic inscription is tied to the Knights Templar, so, take that how you will (I call it a red flag.)

Based on all this, Blegen put forward the probability that the stone had been carved by two separate individuals working together and that several individuals were involved in the hoax beside Ohman and Gran, including Fogelblad, and Andrew Anderson, Ohman’s neighbor (Fridley1979:153).

So, what all do we have here than?

Pretty much all the authorities from the time of the discovery, as well as modern ones, dismiss the stone as a hoax. The language on the stone is wrong, the runes used are wrong, we have a confession of sorts (though honestly, this is the weakest piece of evidence), and there has never been any other form of evidence to suggest the Norse made it as far inland as Minnesota. Where does that leave us? For me this one gets put pretty solidly in the ‘Hoax’ category. It’s not evidence of anything except someone’s ability to carve runes on a flat stone.

Still there will be those, like the Runestone Museum in Minnisota, who want the stone to be a real artifact. I suppose you can manufacture some kind of debate there if you want to, but honestly, it’s pretty cut and dry.

Go to  Columbus was Second-ish: Who Discovered America Anyway? or Where the Vikings Weren’t for more on this series.


Blegen, Theodore Christian
1968 The Kensington Rune Stone: New Light on an Old Riddle. Minnesota History Society. USA. Retrieved 7/08/2013.

Faram, Arthur D.
2013 Solving the Runestone Mystery. The Kensington Runestone : An Ancient Mystery Solved. Updated: 02/11/2013. Retrieved 2/18/2013.

Feder, Kenneth L.
2006 Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology, 5th ed, McGraw-Hill, New York. NY.

Fridley, R
1976 The Case of the Gran Tapes: Further Evidence on the Rune Stone Riddle. Minnesota History Society #45 152-156. Winter. <;. Retrieved 2/18/2013.

Time Magazine
1951 “Olof Ohman’s Runes” <,9171,859375,00.html&gt;. 8 October. <,9171,859375,00.html&gt; Retrieved 7/08/2013.

Wahlgren, Erik
1958 The Kensington Stone, A Mystery Solved. University of Wisconsin Press. Retrieved 7/08/2013.

Williams, Henrik
2012. “The Kensington Runestone: Fact and Fiction” . The Swedish-American Historical Quarterly 63 (1): 3-22.

Categories: Columbus was Second-ish: Who Discovered America Anyway, Where the Vikings Weren't | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Where the Vikings Weren’t – The Vinland Map

Vinland Map.

The Vinland map is an interesting artifact, one that captured my attention as a child. Frankly, I think the evidence points to the map being a fake, but there are a some who still fight for it to be real.

The Vinland map first surface in  1957 glued inside the of the cover of a bound volume of Hystoria Tartarorum (Feder 2006:119, Wiki). Apparently, the book was originaly owned by a Spanish-Italian book dealer named Enzo Ferrajoli de Ry. He hired London book dealer Irving Davis to offer the book to the British Museum. When that offer was refused Ferrajoli sold the volume, for $3,500, to an American dealer Laurence C. Witten II, who offered it to Yale University, who took the book (Wiki).

At first, it was dated to around 1440 and people suggested that the map was actually a copy of an earlier map based on Viking knowledge of Canada and Greenland (Feder 2006:119). Yet, even from the beginning there were skeptics.

One reason the British Museum had turned down the map when offered was because their Keeper of Manuscripts detected elements of handwriting style not developed until the 19 century (Seaver 2004). Also, map Scholar Douglas McNaughton pointed out that the map was in a style unlike any other 15 Cen map (Feder 2006:119). There was no delineation boarder showing the dived between heaven and earth, the orientation was wrong, and there was no mention of the map in the book in which it was bound (Feder 2006:119). The parchment appeared to have been soaked in some  unknown substance that was not able to be tested for and the out line of the map seemed to consist of two separate tracings, one in a feint graphite or ash, the other one more yellowish (Baynes-Cope 1974). This yellow line was of more interest because the black ink used to outline the continents appeared to have a diffused yellow band around it, which was typical for old inks, and normally takes hundreds of years to form. However, under the microscope it was discernible that the yellow line had been drawn on first, then retraced with the black in to mimic the appearance of old ink (Feder 2006:119).

Also, there is the appearance that they map was on drawn on a single sheet of paper, but rather two separate pieces (Baynes-Cope 1974). Evidence of this is that several place-names start or finish right before the inner edge of the map instead of  being written straight across it (Baynes-Cope 1974). Even the rivers of eastern Europe run parallel to it (Baynes-Cope 1974).  In 2005 a team from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, led by Dr. René Larsen, studied the map and confirmed that the two halves of the map were entirely separate (Larsen and Poulsen 2005). It was suggested that two separate blank leaves in the original “Speculum Historiale”, of which the first dozen or so pages are missing, could have been used to create the  map (Seaver 2004). This would explain the chemical treatment of the pages to disguise differences in color and texture, and the noticeable notch in the bottom could have been cut to disguised the slight size difference (Seaver 2004). All of which were common tricks of the fake antique trade.

All of this before we even discuss the ink!

The ink was instantly a point of contention as it was not conventional iron-gall ink, and didn’t match any known formula available at the time (Baynes-Cope 1974).  Also, microscopist Walter McCrone, examined the physical characteristics of the map with a scanning electron microscope and election and ion microprobes (Feder 2006:119). He found the presence of titanium dioxide, the name for a yellow pigment called anatase or titanium white, which was not manufactured until the 1917  and required a knowledge unknown until this time (Feder 2006:119).  His conclusions are backed up by a second study and by  British researchers Katherine Brown and Robin Clark (Feder 2006:119). Interestingly, this ink is not found on any of the pages of the book (Feder 2006:119).

As always there must be deceters, one of which is Larsen himself. At the International Conference on the History of Cartography in July 2009, Larsen revealed that his team had continued their investigation after publishing their original report, which was apparently not in support of authenticity. He letter explained to Reuters that:

“All the tests that we have done over the past five years — on the materials and other aspects — do not show any signs of forgery” (Acher 2009).

He says that his team studied the ink and the wormholes in the document and found that the wormholes were consistent with the book the map is bound in (Acher 2009), which contradicts earlier studies (Feder 2006:119), and that the ink could have gotten it’s traces of anatase from sand that could have been used to dry the ink (Acher 2009). Of course there is no evidence of this and Larsen and his team did not examine the crystals of the anatase to see if it matched up with anatase found in sand.

Kenneth Towe, a retired geologist from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. says,

“The problem is if the anatase…came out of gneiss or any other natural source, it is going to have a totally different appearance than the anatase that appears on the Vinland map ink,” he notes. Towe says the Vinland ink has small round crystals produced chemically, whereas sand would have larger fractured crystals from grinding along with other minerals like quartz. “Even if sand has been found on other maps,” he adds, “it still has never been found on the Vinland Map.” (Borrell 2008)

Though it is true that the parchment on which the map is drawn does carbon date to about 1440 (Acher 2009, Borrell 2008, Feder 2006:119), that doesn’t actually mean the drawing of the map itself was made at that time.  Clever forgers of the past have used old papers to create the look of authenticity. So why exactly did Larsen change his story? We may never know.

Still, the map is an interesting item, though at this point I would guess most scholars don’t believe in it’s real. What’s more important, we don’t need it to be. We have other, very credible evidence of a Viking presence in America long before Columbus. At this point the authenticity of the map is more to do with Yale than with history.

Go to  Columbus was Second-ish: Who Discovered America Anyway? or Where the Vikings Weren’t for more on this series.


Acher, John
2009  “Vinland Map of America no forgery, expert says”. Reuters. 17 July 2009. Retrieved February 4, 2013.

Baynes-Cope, A.D
1974     “The Scientific Examination of the Vinland Map at the Research Laboratory of the British Museum”.Geographical Journal (The Geographical Journal, Vol. 140, No. 2) 140 (2): 208–211. doi:10.2307/1797077.JSTOR 1797077.

Borrell, Brendan
2008    Pre-Columbian Map of North America Could Be Authentic–Or not, Scientific American. July 22 2008. Retrieved February 4, 2013.

Feder, Kenneth L.
2006    Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology, 5th ed, McGraw-Hill, New York. NY.

René Larsen & Dorte V. Poulsen,
2005    “Report on the Assessment and Survey of the Condition and Technique of the Vinland Map and the Bindings of the Tartar Relation and Speculum Historiale.” Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Retrieved February 4, 2013.

Seaver, Kirsten A.
2004     Maps, Myths and Men. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Images provided by  Wikimedia Commons, unless otherwise stated.

Categories: Columbus was Second-ish: Who Discovered America Anyway, Where the Vikings Weren't | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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