Posts Tagged With: pseudoarchaeology

The American Stonehenge on Mystery Hill – America Unearthed S1, Ep 6.



Yay! We’re about half way through the first season! I grossly underestimated how long it would take to review this series. There is just so much that needs to be addressed in each episode, it’s daunting. I am learning to break-up the posts into smaller posts that I can then link you too for more information. It’s still a lot of research and reviewing though, but I think it’s worth it.

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

AU s1e6 1

We open this episode with a sepia toned film of a man getting his hair cut while listing to the old-timmey radio. An announcer is telling us, H.G.Wells style, about a mysterious collection of stone structures that has been discovered. We then see haircut man walking though the woods and stopping, awestruck, when he finds several piles of stone.

Wolter does a voice over here talking about Stonehenge, calming that it’s origins and meaning are still shrouded in mystery. This is not true in the way Wolter means it, but hey, we have to set a tone right?

Wolter goes on:

“Some advanced civilization that knew enough about the sun moon and stars to align theses stones in a very specific way.”

Yah, it’s called every ancient civilization ever, Wolter, seriously.

He then goes on to make the extraordinary claim of the the show, that there is a Stonehenge in America and that this henge and actual Stonehenge were built by the same people.

We start in Salem, New Hampshire at a place now called American Stonehenge, but what was once called Mystery Hill.  We meet Kenlsey Stone, son of the owner, who meets us at what is the central observatory of area. It’s a large covered gazebo. (Your +25 sword of BS slaying has no effect on it, and it’s not on fire.) There are small ‘standing stones’ that are arranged around the central point. It’s apparent from a casual glance that these stones were placed in a deliberate pattern and probably line up with something, probably solstices, equinoxes, and cross quarter days.

AU s1e6 2

Wolter correctly points out here that many ancient cultures all over the world made note of these points of the year. He then ruins it by throwing up a simplistic definition of  archaeoastronomy. He tells us that he saw archaeoastronomy in Georgia and that somehow connected Native Americans to the Mayans. (spoiler: he didn’t and it doesn’t)

He then makes another claim that caught my attention:

“The ancient practice of archaeoastronomy seems to tie many advanced cultures together.”…”and it also seems to tie them to America”

Couple of things her.

  1. Archaeoastronomy is a very common practice in most, if not all, prehistoric, ancient, and some modern cultures. It’s not a definitive sign of advance vrs not-advanced cultures. It was a tool necessary for everyday life, especially among agricultural societies. It was practiced in large scale, as seen in Stonehenge and the like, as well as on a small scale. My point here is it’s not a mystical magical unifying secret that only elite cultures were capable of understanding. It was part of basic everyday life, and was common because anyone can keep an eye on the sky and see that things change up there according to the seasons. It’s pretty much common sense.
  2. I think Wolter just made the claim that the  diffusionism of archaeoastronomy came out of America. I may just be confused here, but if that is true, this is a major deviation from his normal claims that everything was brought to America by white people.

Now we’re focusing on one stone in particular, and we get to watch Wolter rubbing it as epic music swells in the background. Wolter asks Stone what happens in the circle and Stone tells us that the sun rises in the middle of the stone, but that they think it might have risen at the top point of the stone at some point in the past. Wolter agrees and there is a fancy computer generated model to show us where the sun might have been in 1800BC. We’re not immediately told why this date is important, but hey, we’re building anticipation here!

AU s1e6 4

Wolter tells us that things can move the axis of the earth, like earthquakes, (or just the natural wobble of the planet), and we can use that for dating purposes. He then makes the claim that archaeoastronomy is more accurate for dating than C14 dating. This argument is, weird, and important for the story Wolter is trying to tell here and I’ll get to that in a minute.

Wolter tells us that the stones in the circle look weathered, which really means nothing. Any stone exposed to the elements will be weathered and Wotler has admitted as much in previous episodes of the show. I’m guessing he’s just talking out loud here.

Before we move on to how this henge is connected to Stonehenge, let’s recap a little here.

  • We are being grossly misled here by not being given the full story of Mystery Hill and Americans Stonehenge. I cover it detail in my blog post here, but to briefly recap:
    • The area known as Mystery Hill was once owned by Jonathan Pattee in 1837 (Gilbert 1907) and always had a bunch of natural caves and rock outcroppings. Pattee also built tons of structures on the land himself and these were commented on historically (Gilbert 1907, Starbuck 2006).
    • The land passed into the hands of William Goodwin in 1937 who dubbed the area Mystery Hill (Wright 1998, Starbuck 2006, Crystalinks N.d.). He then began to move and quarry the rocks and structures already on the land in order to “restore” what he thought was Irish monastery (Starbuck 2006, Crystalinks N.d.) completely destroying the context of the area.
    • Robert Stone bought the land in 1967 and the Stones have made a few improvements of their own (Starbuck 2006, Crystalinks N.d.). Adding a museum and changing the name to “America’s Stonehenge” trying to link the area to Stonehenge in England (Starbuck 2006).
    • Several archaeological digs have been done in the area. Of them, the one led by Gary Vescelius in 1955 recovered over 7000 artifacts, all of which were Native American or 18th and 19th century in origin (Starbuck 2006, Crystalinks N.d.).
    • What all this means is that American Stonehenge is completely out of context and even if it had been an actual ancient site, there is no way to ever know this due to the activities of Goodwin et al. Also, nothing has ever been found to suggest the area was ever settled by Ancient -Europeans.
  • Wolter makes a claim that archaeoastronomy is a more accurate way to date a site than C14 dating. He’s not entirely wrong, in some situations this can be correct. However, the reasons he’s making this claim isn’t because of these unique situations.
    • Mystery Hill has been excavated several times in the past, and one of the most recent excavations sent off charcoal samples to an actual lab to be c14 dated. The dates that came back do not support Wolter’s claims that the site dates back to  3800 ya. or 1800 BC.
    • Wolter is also neglecting to mention that you can make the sun line up with pretty much any single object if you just move around it till the sun lines up. You can probably witness something in your back yard (if you have one) lining up with the sun rise/set by chance. Or you can do what was probably done here, and deliberately put something there (see my note above about Goodwin et al).
    • Wolter’s computer generated model, though cool to look at, would only be valid if there wasn’t evidence that the stone he was using was probably moved and set up there intentionally by Goodwin et al.
    • Wolter appears to be trying to obfuscate the actual facts here in order to manufacture a mystery where there is none. Which is the show’s M.O., it’s just way more pronounced here this time.

But, we’re not done here yet.

After Wolter get’s done rubbing all the stones and making weird claims about archaeoastronomy, Stone tells us that he’s got more to show us. Stone claims that this evidence will tie America’s Stonehenge to the actual Stonehenge. Of course Wotler wants to see it!

What is this amazing evidence you ask?

Lines on a map.

Stone takes us to his computer and pulls up Google Earth, and then proceeds to draw a line between to points. What two points? Why, Americas Stonehenge and actual Stonehenge! Amazing!

Unless you remember your basic math and graphing skills here and remember that you can draw a straight line between any two arbitrary points.

To add to the drama of this magical line, Stone proceeds to show us that the line continues (as all lines do) and then “ends” in Beirut. Why does it end here? Because why not? There is no explanation as to why our arbitrary line between two arbitrary points must end in Beirut, it just does. That’s good enough for Wolter who immediately begins making up a connection for it. It has something to do with Phoenicians around 1200 bc, and the math is all bad, but whatever! We have our connection!

At this point we get to meet Dennis Stone, father of Kenlsey Stone, and we get a very brief and sterilized history of Mystery Hill. We’re told about Johnathan Pattee and how the area used to be called  Pattee’s Caves back in 1907. We’re even taken to what is possibly Pattee’s old house and Wolter makes his proclamation that Pattee couldn’t have made any of the structures on the site because:

“There’s no way Pattee could have built this, it just wreaks of being really old”

Very scientific of you Wolter.

Wolter tells us that if it’s old, it’s important. Not important enough to actually research, but hey, we’re busy building a mystery here. Wolter also dismisses Pettee’s ability to have built structures on his own land despite evidence that he in-fact did:

“He built massive stones walls when he had all these trees and he could have used wood? I don’t buy that”

Yes, it’s much more believable that Ancient Phoenician-European-Irish Monks came to New Hampshire in 1800 BC to build a monastery in the middle of nowhere so they could recreate Stonehenge and worship Baal. Oh wait, we haven’t gotten there yet.

So now Wotler is telling us that large flat rocks are like clocks and indicate the age of a structure. He doesn’t tell us how this works, but it apparently confirms something of his story. Stone tells us that there’s more on site to connect it to the Phoenicians and we’re introduced to the Baal Stone.

AU s1e6 baal stone


The stone, with it’s random scratching, was supposedly translated by Barry Fell back in the 1970’s and apparently is a dedication to the god Baal. Wolter makes a big production out of examining the stone, and eventually decides that the stone is old.

Personally, anything translated by Barry Fell is immediately invalid. Also the writing doesn’t look anything like the Phoenician alphabet. So I’m not going to beat this dead horse.

phonician alphabet

Phoenician alphabet. By Luca – Own work, Public Domain,

The Stones inform us that they have one more mega piece of evidence that connects the site to the Phoenicians, a giant sacrificial table.


Image from Ken Feder during his visit to Americas Stonehenge in the 1990’s

The table is an impressive structure. It’s roughly 9′ by 6′ and has an inner groove running the perimeter of it. It appears to be set up on stone supports and the drainage groove feeds directly into what appears to be a chamber of some sort.

Wolter is suitably impressed and begins talking about Exfoliation Weathering, defining it as loss of stone surface due to changes in moisture and temperature. Basically the stone was exposed to the elements, as is clearly the case. He tells us again that such weathering can be used like a clock, but never really gets beyond the whole “looks old to me” thing.

What the table is supposedly set up over is what the Stones are calling the Oracle Chamber. It looks to  me like a natural chamber that was used as a cold cellar, probably by Pattee. The Stones explain that the table was purposefully set up over the chamber so that when a sacrifice was done someone else, a priest possibly, would stand below and speak. The voice that would come from under the table would have been a “god” voice.

Wolter makes a reference to his idea that ancient Celtic Egyptian Mithra Cults existed in Oklahoma, and then throws out a new buzzword; Archaeoacoustics which he says is the ancient architectural sound design that played a part in rituals. Which, as usual, is simplistic enough as to be misleading.

Well, needless to say, Wolter has decided that this site is now actually the handy-work of  Phoenicians, based on nothing, and we’re off to find more not-evidence to support this already decided conclusion.

Before we go though, I want to spend a moment with this new dump of information.

  • Things to remember about the Mystery Hill/American Stonehenge site.
    1. Goodwin et al moved things around. There’s actually pretty well documented evidence of this via pictures throughout the years. The website Mystery Hill NH, Americas Stonehenge provides a lot of this themselves. Whether they knowingly throw doubt onto the site or not, they have historical pictures that clearly show the progress of the changes at the site.
      1. Jason Colavito, also has an excellent show and tell of the changes started by Goodwin and continued into at least the 1990’s. His photos cover not only the movement of the the “sacrificial table” but also the renovation of several of the stone structures on the site.
      2. The pictorial sequence of the “sacrificial table” is of most interest here because you can see where it was originally located. It’s clearly set close to the ground, with perhaps enough space for a small jug or large bowl. Which is exactly what one would expect to see of a Lye Stone or Cider Press (more on that in a moment). In subsequent images you can tell that the stone has been moved and set up on legs, presumably over the so called “Oracle Chamber”, and that other stones have been added and subtracted over the years.
    2. It is well documented that when Johnathan Pattee bought the land there were numerous natural caves and rock outcroppings that he was known for using for storage and quarrying purposes.
    3. Of all the archaeological excavations that have been done on the site, none have ever found anything that was unexpected or out of place. All artifacts have been Native American or 18th-19th Century in origin.
  • Let’s talk about the Cider Press, aka the sacrificial table.
    • As stated above, the stone was obviously moved after Goodwin purchased the land and has been updated ever since.
    • Before it was moved, it was in the appropriate configuration to be what it actually is, a cider press or lye stone. It’s large size and square shape make me more comfortable saying it’s a cider press over a lye stone, but honestly the construction for both is similar and if you google cider press stones, you will see identical stones found all over the country.
    • Both cider presses and lye stones were a common household item in the 18th and 19th centuries. One was necessary for making soap, the other necessary for making hard cider, which is as American as apple pie.

But we’re off to Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA. to talk with Professor Mark McMenamin who is presented to us as a Phoenician Researcher. Dr. McMenamin is a professor at Mt. Holyoke College, but his field is geology and paleontology. Dr. McManamin dose however have an interesting hobby, and that’s proving Phoenicians made it to America before anyone else. His evidence? Seven unprovenanced coins found across the US. He’s published several books and articles touting support for his theory, but in the end, it falls short in the evidence category.

With this in mind though, it’s no wonder Wotler wants to talk to him. As we watch Wolter drive (he drives a lot) while epic music plays, trying desperately to convince us we’re not just filling time, Wolter provides a voice over. He’s still trying to tell us that the arbitrary line drawn through the two Stonehenges is legitimate and that the Phoenicians did it deliberately because they knew about the sky.

“If the Phoenicians knew about the Polaris star, chances are they knew about the rest of the sky too.”

Apparently, it was easy to not notice the sky back in ancient times. I mean, looking up was hard and all, so ancient man didn’t bother with it much. Unless they knew about one star in particular, then they might have noticed the rest of the sky was up there too, maybe.

Once we get to Dr. McMeanamin, he tells us about his idea that there is a map on the back of Carthaginian coins. He says the strange shapes found at the bottom of some coins are actually maps of the world.

AU s1e6 9

To make this true, you have to add squiggles where there aren’t any (Africa in the picture) and ignore bumps that are clearly there (between Sardinia, Sicily and Italy and again between Italy and India in the picture) Also why is everything so badly out of proportion? You’re telling me they can sail across an ocean, trek inland to Salem, New Hampshire, rebuild Stonehenge with perfect alignment with not just actual Stonehenge but also Beirut, but they can’t get land masses in proper proportion on their stunningly artistically detailed coins? Of which they apparently only brought seven with them?

But Wolter is A-Ok with all this and loves the whole idea of secret, nearly illegible, maps on coins. How would you even use such a tiny and imperfect image to navigate anyway? There’s so much wrong with this.

Anyway, since History Channel has more money than it know what to do with, it sends Wolter off to England to visit actual Stonehenge. We meet Dr. Henry Chapman and Wolter immediately launches into his hard sell that the Phoenicians built the American Stonehenge. Not only that but the Phoenicians actually built both Stonehenges! Wolter shows Dr. Chapman his line on Google Maps, and Dr. Chapman give him a hearty Nope.

Dr. Chapman points out several flaws in Wolter’s story, one of which being math. There’s an 800 year difference between the Phoenician culture and the building of Stonehenge. Dr. Chapman also brings up that we know Stonehenge is an ancient calendar and that it’s not surprising that since humanity is similar and is observing similar things, they would develop similar ways of tracking such things. Or what we call convergence in the field.

Predictably Wolter doesn’t like this answer, but Dr. Chapman doesn’t budge. So we cut that interview short and race back to America so we can watch the summer solstice at America’s Stonehenge.

We fade out around this point with Wolter’s insistence that these structures are built by ancient people. Wolter is now telling us that Stonehenge was somehow used for navigation, and that the people who came here were proto-Phoenicians. I guess at lest he’s adapted his story based on new information…kinda. Wolter makes a bunch of  “I believe” statements and says:

“Someone had to assemble those stones, someone with a vast knowledge of archaeoastromnomy”

Someone like Johnathan Pattee, William Goodwin, and the Stone family?

In Summary

What you really wanted to read.

There was a surprising amount in this episode, but most of it was easily debunked.

The two man cruxes of Wolter’s argument can be basically eliminated.

  1. The site known as Mystery Hill/Americans Stonehenge is out of context and comprised. This is documented by not only Goodwin’s own work but by historical photographs. Everything there has been altered, the Stonehenge, the Table, the Oracle Chamber. Walls have been built, structures have been renovated. And these changes have persisted up into the 1990’s. If there ever was a site there, it’s gone and there’s no way to get it back.
  2. Barry Fell is not a reliable translator and the Baal Stone is clearly not Phoenician. You don’t have to be an expert to see that.

Everything else about this place is just trimmings. It’s typical speculation with no evidence to support it. Even Wolter’s line through both Stonehenges is complete bunk since I can link Stonehenge with any other point on a map, two points make a line! Math!

What evidence there is consistently links the site to both Native American occupation and 18th -19th century occupation. There is nothing to support the presence of anyone else being there.

Wolter’s dismissive attitude towards the actual evidence in support of his own unsupported ideas is distressing, and is getting worse as the series goes on. Just something to keep in mind.

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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: America Unearthed, Columbus was Second-ish: Who Discovered America Anyway, History Channel, Mystery Sties That Aren't, What the Phoenicians Weren't Doing in America | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What is Archaeoastronomy?

moon in the trees

This is a topic that’s been bothering me since I started watching America Unearthed. Though to be fair, it’s not the first time I’ve seen the term misused, it’s just the point that drove the issue home for me. What I want to do here is give people a working idea of what the concept of Archaeoastronomy is. Probably this post is going to be updated occasionally as new and creative fringe uses of the term pop up.

Archaeoastronomy is a word that gets abused by everyone in the pseudoarchaeology fringe. I’m not really sure if it’s that the word just sounds cool, or if those in the fringe get a basic definition of a word and then run with it. The reality of the word is that it describes a collection of techniques used by most ancient peoples and it describes a field of study in the archaeology community.

How is archaeoastronomy describe by archaeologists  vs. what is commonly touted as archaeoastronomy in the fringe community?

Scott Wolter likes to describe archaeoastronomy in incredibly simplistic and misleading ways in his show America Unearthed. He also likes to change his definition from show to show using things like “The ancient practice of aligning buildings with celestial bodies.” or “Archaeoastronomy: ancient use of the sun, moon, stars, and planets in architecture and design.” This is simplistic to the point of being incorrect.

A correct explanation of archaeoastronomy is as described by the Center for Archaeoastronomy (CfA N.d);

The study of the astronomical practices, celestial lore, mythologies, religions, and the world-views of ancient cultures.

It is the anthropology of astronomy. It is observing how ancient peoples interacted with astronomy and not just how they aligned buildings to the “celestial bodies”.

I hope the difference in these two definitions can be easily seen. America Unearthed and similar fringe groups are only concerned with a single trait of the overall practice of archaeoastronomy. They only see one type of the many different expressions of archaeoastronomy in the world and from this they draw some pretty narrow, and very misleading, conclusions.

As can be seen in the archaeologist’s definition, we can see that this field is firstly concerned with the culture of the people practicing archaeoastronomy. What are their beliefs, how did they express them, how did they relate to the world, how did they translate that into their experience of space, and so on. We try to answer these questions through the clues left behind by ancient peoples in their surviving mythology, the ceremonial artifacts and religious spaces left behind, and yes, through the megaliths and structures that still stand today.

Archaeoastronomy is observable in most ancient cultures around the world, most notably in the cardinal orientation of the Great Pyramid at Giza in Egypt, the alignments of some of the Ohio Mounds, the Venus alignment of the Maya Palace of the Governor at Uxmal in Yucatan, as well as the most famous Stonehenge. The effort put forth in the planning, building and use of these buildings and structures is of great importance not only to the people who built them, but to modern archaeologists who study them. We can learn a great deal from these structures, about the cultures of their peoples, and most interestingly about the development of science and cosmological thought from the ancient astronomies and surviving indigenous traditions around the world (CfA N.d).

Obviously, archaeology plays a huge role in this study, but it’s not the only part. Living peoples, descendants of the cultures being studied, are hugely important to this field. These same living peoples are often, if not always, discounted by fringe groups when the concept of archaeoastronomy is brought up. This is a major flaw. Aside from completely ignoring indigenous peoples and native cultures still alive today, it also disregards actual ancient cultures and their life-ways and accomplishments.

Also importantly, and aside from ancient cultures, the way Wolter and the fringe use their idea of archaeoastronomy elevates it to some kind of mystical mumbojumbo. It strips it of any actual meaning  and allows the fringe to apply it to whatever they want, whenever they want. Doing this allows them to make far-out claims that have no evidence or support, but now they simply apply a scientific sounding word and give a half-assed definition and voila! Instant cult science!

Wolter and the fringe try to muddle the idea of archaeoastronomy so as to make it appear that the use of it among ancient people is rare and mystical. That the mere presence of something that might align with the sun or moon is truly unusual and sticks out. The reality of ancient peoples use of archaeoastronomy is actually quite mundane. This is not to say the set-up for this is easy or simplistic. It merely means that it was a lot more commonplace than the fringe wants to believe.

Archaeoastronomy was a necessity for survival for many people. Especially, people who were dependent on seasonal changes for their prosperity. At its most basic core, archaeoastronomy created calendars and seasonal planners for the peoples that used them. Certain alignments and astrological occurrences were essential to knowing when to harvest, winnow, and gather in order to have successful food supplies and social interactions. It is completely understandable that nearly every culture shares markers for major seasonal events like the equinoxes and solstices as well as regular monthly occurrences like full and new moons. These are easily observable and simply common sense to keep track of. To find buildings and megaliths that aligning or track these events is not surprising, though still important.

Again, this is not dismissing the use of archaeoastronomy among ancient peoples. It was and is an important part of their cultures. It is no coincidence that buildings and structures dedicated to tracking important astronomical events are almost always sacred or important municipal places in ancient societies. It should not be a surprise that cultures that were so closely tied to nature and the elements would likewise make such places important to them. We as archaeologists recognize this and take this into account when such places are uncovered or shared with us. This is not the case with the fringe.

Not only do pseudo-researches like Wolter assign meaning where there is none, due to their misunderstanding or misuse of the idea of archaeoastronomy, they create connections that make no sense within archaeology. They use the idea of archaeoastronomy as evidence for their conclusions, and often times as the only form of evidence. Calling things like early American cider presses, “sacrificial tables,” and then linking them to Stonehenge via arbitrary lines on a map is not archaeoastronomy. It’s fanciful thinking, especially in the absence of any other form of evidence.

Using the concept of archaeoastronomy as the fringe often does, one could go out into any field and find any large stone and then claim that said stone is linked to some type of astronomical alignment. This is all that is required in the cult science of the fringe to prove authenticity. Fortunately in actual archaeology, much stronger requirements for evidence exist. There must be other things associated with said stone, evidence of human use, artifacts, evidence of habitation or long periods of camping, evidence of other structural alignments, ethnographic evidence among the surviving peoples associated with said rock, ethnoastronomy (the study of contemporary native astronomies), surviving myths or oral histories of said rock. In archaeology one can’t simply say a rock is a marker without proving it.

Though archaeoastronomy is one of the most misused and misunderstood concepts in archaeology, it need not be. It is not evidence of supper advanced uber-races or aliens, it not evidence of diffusionism, it’s not a rare occurrence among the ancients. It’s also not evidence of a conspiracy of roving Europeans in the New World or of Atlantans disseminating knowledge. It is not the random connection of lines on maps stretching continents and oceans. It is not the abused am misused idea that the fringe wish it to be.

It is a concept encompassing not only cultural practices of ancient peoples but also the study of said peoples. It includes the study of ancient mythologies, oral histories of surviving peoples, cultural traditions, artifacts, structures, and megaliths. It recognizes the work of ancient peoples and understands their connection to their land and nature.

Let us understand archaeoastronomy for what it is, and not be fooled when used otherwise.

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Johnston, Grahame
2012    Archaeology And The Study Of Archaeoastronomy. 12 Dec 2012. Accessed 2/8/2016

Ruggles, Clive
2007    Course AR3015: An Introduction to Archaeoastronomy. . Accessed 2/8/2016

Center for Archaeoastronomy. (CfA).

Accessed 2/8/2016
Accessed 2/8/2016
Accessed 2/8/2016

Categories: Archaeology, Concepts and Themes | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Archaeology Fantasies Podcast is Two Months Old! Get Caught-Up Now!

In January we launched the Archaeology Fantasies Podcast over at the Archaeology Podcast Network. It’s Co-hosted by Sara H. and Dr. Kenneth Feder, who is the author of Dubious Archaeology and Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries, and they deconstruct a variety of pseudoarchaeology topics. It’s been two months now and the show just continues to get better, if I may say so myself. Seeing that we’ve got several episodes in the can, I wanted to recap them and let all of you get a chance to get caught up.


The intro episode where we discussed what exactly pseudoarchaeology is and how Cult Science influences the average archaeology enthusiasts. We talk about how the media is out for ratings and not so much to inform, and how that is actually making it more difficult to correct misconceptions about archaeology.


Ken gets introduced to one of the more popular pseudoarchaeology topics on the internet right now in the form of the Genetic Disk. We discuss how pseudoarchaeologists try to lend validity to a fraudulent artifact by attempting to use actual scientists by quoting them way out of context. We show what happens when those same scientists find out their being misquoted, and we go over Ken’s check-list for how to spot pseudoarchaeology.


We delve a little deeper into the fringe and start to explore the world of Giants. There’s been a lot of talk about them lately so we thought we’d examine why they are so popular, and why there is exactly no evidence supporting their existence.


We examine the recent revival of the Mound Builder Myth. Ken walks us through the origins of the myth and how Cyrus Thomas proved the mounds were built by Native Americans. We discuss why there is a modern revival of the myth and what’s contributing to it. We also encourage everyone to take a mound to lunch and go visit your local mound parks.


We start to wade into the murky waters of the Creationism by tackling the global flood myth and the story of Noah’s Ark. We explain what kinds of geological and archaeological evidence we would expect to see if the global myth was true, and how we see exactly the opposite.

We’ve got a lot of great content coming up, including interviews with a variety of experts and researchers. With two episodes a month coming out on Mondays, there’s a lot to hear and learn. Get caught up now before you get too far behind. There’s not much more I can say except, Go listen and comment!


Want more on this topic? Go to ArchyFantasies Podcasts.

If you want to send us your questions or comments email us at

Categories: ArchyFantasies Podcasts, Creation Science and Intelligent Design, Those Mysterious Mound Builders, Weird Archaeology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Newberry Tablet

While I was critiquing the 3rd episode of America Unearthed Season 1, I came upon a few new artifacts/concepts in pseudoarchaeology. One in particular caught my attention, because as I worked to debunk it, the red flags around it grew. I realized that it really needs it’s own entry into the blog, because there is a lot of well meaning buk out there, there are no attempts to explain why this artifact is a hoax.

The Newberry Tablet.

Screen shot of pictures of the Newberry Tablet from 1888, via America Unearthed S01E03 on The History Channel 2

Screen shot of pictures of the Newberry Tablet from 1898, via America Unearthed S01E03 on The History Channel 2

This artifact has a classic hoax origin story. It has multiple versions of the story, vague details, conflicting information, and no actual documentation to back it up. The story as per the Fort de Buade Museum and America Unearthed S01E03 (Wolter 2013), Two unnamed lumberjacks were working to clear some trees in 1896 in the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) near Newberry, Michigan, when they discovered the tablet. It’s not entirely clear how or where exactly the Tablet was when discovered. Another source, says the Tablet was found in 1897 on the McGruer farm near Newberry, MI (Pohlen 2014). This story tells us that the tablet was found after felling a tree where it was tangled up in the roots of said tree (Pohlen 2014). This sounds familiar to me, it’s almost exactly the Kensington Runestone origin story verbatim. Pholen’s version of the story says that stone figures were found with the tablet, and the Fort de Buade Museum supports this.

The St. Ignace News has a completely different story all together:

“The most common story of their discovery, according Fort de Buade’s curator, Bill Peek, takes place in 1896. Two hunters were pursuing a mink near Newberry that had run into the root area of a fallen tree. They grabbed shovels and began to dig, but hit stone. They dug up the three statues and tablet.” (Coe 2012)

The Fort de Buade Museum and America Unearthed (Wolter 2013) versions loose track of the Tablet around this point, only mentioning that pictures were taken of the the Tablet in 1898 (Fort N.d, Wolter 2013). Pholen’s (2014) version says that McGruer tossed the Tablet in his barn where it got broken. This could be where the whole idea that the Tablet was destroyed come from, as was thought at first in America Unearthed (Wolter 2013). The pictures were allegedly sent to the Smithsonian Museum who declared the Tablet a hoax. All sources of the story accuse the Smithsonian of not knowing what the 140 symbols on the tablet were. The Fort de Buade Museum and America Unearthed (Wolter 2013) versions accuse the Smithsonian of trying to cover up the existence of the Tablet by claiming to have lost the pictures they had been sent.

According to the The Fort de Buade website, the controversial Dr. Barry Fell, got ahold of the images in 1988 and was able to identify the writing as written in ancient Hittite-Minoan. He was able to translate it as being instructions for getting good luck from the gods. According to Pholen’s (2014) version the symbols were describing how birds ate grain that was scattered before them. America Unearthed (Wolter 2013) version says the tablet is Minoan script, and the it’s untranslatable, but Wolter speculates that it’s probably some form of record keeping for Bronze Age Copper Mining.

According to the Fort de Buade website and The St. Ignace News (Coe 2012), in 2007 the Tablet and it’s associated bits were perched from Dr. Donald Benson when he passed away. He had kept it in his private collection for 30+ years and the condition of the items had degraded significantly. However, they now reside in the Fort de Buade Museum in Michigan, and due to this, is sometimes referred to as the the Fort de Buade Tablet as well.

Now that we have the story, let’s break this all down.

We’ve covered the issues with the origin of the Tablet. It has multiple versions and conflicting information. It invokes the idea of conspiracy of a cover-up at the academic level, and most importantly, it has no documentation. It’s also interesting to me how closely at least one of the versions is to the Kensington Runestone, especially since the Tablet is being used to prove Pre-Columbian European contact.

The multiple translations of the Tablet are also problematic. If we set aside Wolter’s speculation, because he doesn’t offer a hardcore translation, we’re still left with three options. 1) It’s a good luck spell, 2) It’s about birds eating grain, or 3) it’s not translatable. The third option comes about because of what the writing is supposed to be, at least two of the possibilities have never been deciphered.

Hittite – Minoan Cryptic/Cuneiform. I have no clue what kind of writing this is supposed to be. There is Cypro-Minoan which post-dates Minoan Linear A, both of which are currently untranslatable, and there is Hittite Cuneiform, which has several dialects. As far as I understand, the Minoan and Hittite writing systems are not related, despite being part of the Indo-European language family. This language family is the largest in the world, btw, so this really shouldn’t be surprising.

Examle of Cypro-Minoan via "Tablet cypro-minoan 2 Louvre AM2336" by Unknown. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Example of Cypro-Minoan via “Tablet cypro-minoan 2 Louvre AM2336″ by Unknown. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

0726 La Canée musée linéaire A by Ursus - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - httpcommons.wikimedia.orgwikiFile0726_La_Can%C3%A9e_mus%C3%A9e_lin%C3%A9aire_A.JPG#mediaviewerFile0726_La_Can%C3%A9e_mus%C3%A9e_lin%C3%A9aire_A.JPG

Example of Minoan Linear A via 0726 La Canée musée linéaire A by Ursus – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Example of Hittite_Cuneiform via "Hittite Cuneiform Tablet- Cultic Festival Script" by Mr. Granger - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Zero, Public Domain Dedication via Wikimedia Commons -

Example of Hittite Cuneiform via “Hittite Cuneiform Tablet- Cultic Festival Script” by Mr. Granger – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Zero, Public Domain Dedication via Wikimedia Commons

Also, none of these forms of writing look like what was presented to us as the Newberry Tablet:

Screen shot of pictures of the Newberry Tablet from 1888, via America Unearthed S01E03 on The History Channel 2

Screen shot of pictures of the Newberry Tablet from 1898, via America Unearthed S01E03 on The History Channel 2

So basically, the writing on the Tablet is not any of the scripts it’s claimed to be, and even if it was, the two most commonly picked candidates are unreadable anyway. All this tells us there is no way it could be translated to anything. It also negates the argument that the Tablet couldn’t possibly be a fake since it was found in 1896 and the Minoan civilization was not discovered till the 1900’s by archaeologists. It’s not Minoan, so that’s not a valid argument. It’s also clearly not Viking, Phoenician, or Hebrew, so no luck there either.

There is also the issue of the condition of the modern tablet.

Screen shot of the Newberry Tablet

Screen shot of the Newberry Tablet as it is currently  in the the Fort de Buade Museum via America Unearthed S01E03 on The History Channel 2.

When Wolter is shown the Tablet on America Unearthed (2013) it sets off red flags for me. It looks nothing like the pictures we’re shown from 1898. Yes, as the story goes the tablet was lost and not cared for very well, but again, there is no documentation for any of this. Personally, and this is all my opinion based on the pictures and the stories given, this modern Tablet and the Tablet in the picture do not look the same. Obviously, there is no way to prove this one way or the other, but it’s still a red flag for me.

There’s also the story of the how the Smithsonian was trying to cover up the existence of the Tablet. There’s no reason to believe this story, there’s no reason to not. Simple fact is, there’s no evidence other than hearsay that the images were ever sent, looked at, or lost. When the images were discovered again they apparently were in the Michigan Archives, according to the the Fort de Buade Museum. I suppose the Smithsonian could have sent the pictures back secretly and hid them in the Michigan Archives, since there’s no evidence one way or the other, or maybe the pictures were never sent in the first place. There’s no way to prove either story. Interestingly however, Pholen’s (2014) version of the story has the Smithsonian backing off their declaration that the Tablet was a hoax. He speculates that the Tablet is genuine but doesn’t go as far as to claim the Smithsonian thinks the Tablet is proof of anything. I’d like to know who he talked to in order to get that information, it would be nice to have better documentation on this Tablet in general.

A final thing to add here, there was, in the late 1880’s and early 1900’s a rush of fraudulent artifacts that were found in Michigan. Some 3000 or more hoaxes were recovered during this time, most were immediately dismissed, some still have staying power.  None of them are seen as authentic by professional archaeologists. I find it interesting that the tablet and its associated figures were somehow spared this examination, since they were ‘found’ in the same time period and the same area. I suspect, especially since all versions of the story have the Smithsonian declaring them frauds, that they were part of the Michigan Relic hoax, if not directly, indirectly. Again however, since there is a timespan of nearly 60 years where the tablet was missing, so there is no way to verify this.

So what do we have left with the Newberry Tablet?

What we can say for sure is that the tablet is not Minoan, Hittite, or any of the other cultures it’s supposed to be written by. Since it’s not any of those cultures, there is no way it could be translated. So any claims that the Tablet proves contact with Pre-Columbian peoples is not valid.

It is my opinion that the Tablet in the Museum is not the same Tablet as the one in the pictures from 1898. I base this on the images as they have been provided. It’s not the best way to evaluate them,  I admit that, which is why this is my opinion on the matter and not a fact of any kind. If evidence comes to light that can prove the Tablet’s existence and location over the 60+ year gap between photographing and being purchased by Dr. Donald Benson, then I would re-evaluate my position.

With all of that, I must declare this Tablet a hoax. Neither the facts about the Tablet, nor the speculation is convincing enough to say otherwise.


Coe, Aabra
2012    Unknown Origin of Artifacts in St. Ignace Museum Piques Curiosity of Many. The St. Ignace News, 8/23/2014. Retrieved 12/09/2014

Fort de Buade Museum
N.d    Newberry Stones. Retrieved 12/09/2014

Pohlen, Jerome

2014    Oddball Michigan: A Guide to 450 Really Strange Places. Pgs 39-40. Chicago Review Press, Chicago, IL. Retrieved 12/09/2014

Wolter, Scott
2013    Great Lakes Copper Heist. America Unearthed, Season 01 Episode 03. History Channel 2. January 4.


Categories: America Unearthed, America Unearthed, Columbus was Second-ish: Who Discovered America Anyway, History Channel, How Bronze Age Minoans Were Not in America., Weird Archaeology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 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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Why We Believe Weird Things and How to Address it. Pt 1.

Last Fall I took an exciting class by Dr. Larry Zimmerman, called Lost Tribes and Ancient Astronauts. It was an absolutely excellent class and a good end to my last semester in college (for a while). I took it mainly so I could better address this blog, and I got good feedback and good ideas on how to expand the scope of the material here. So with that, let’s start with another look at why people believe weird stuff.

Here’s the secret to this question; we all believe some weird stuff. Each and every one of us has some strong belief, unsupported by facts, that we believe about the world, ourselves, or the unexplained. It’s a natural human state. Michael Shermer argues that it’s an evolved trait to keep us alive. Neurologists see it as faults in our brains. Anthropologists see it as a way of creating group cohesion and society. There’s probably a bit of truth to all of those as they can all produce verifiable evidence to support their ideas. Where the belief in weird things becomes an issue is when those holding the beliefs refuse to modify said beliefs in the face of facts and evidence.

So why do people hold onto weird beliefs when all else is stacked against them?

There are a variety of reasons, from the flippant (It’s fun, makes them feel special, provides escapism, allows a rich fantasy life, etc) to the more serious (Mistrust or misunderstanding of science, poor or improper education, willful ignorance, cultural or societal pressure, blatant lies and purposefully misleading information, etc). The more flippant reasons are hard to address because they are personal and individual choices. Often I’ve noticed these are attached to one person or small group of people. Many times the believer is aware they have a weird belief and can weather social pressures to change it because it’s a choice to believe and they’ve accepted it. They respond with humor, or by ignoring the questioner, sometimes they do respond with anger, but not often. Examples are the beliefs that the Cubs will win the World Series in my lifetime, or the Bears will ever go to the Super Bowl again, I believe it can happen…someday.

The second set of reasons, the more serious ones, are easy to address but very hard to correct. These lead more into the identity of an individual, so by questioning the belief you are attacking the individual. This almost always gets a angry or hostile response because no matter how delicately you try to word it, nonacceptance of the believers’ belief is equivocated with nonacceptance of the believer as a person. Again, we’ve all been here, rejection is not a pleasant feeling, especially when its based on something that we hold important to our idea of Self. Challenges to an individual’s religion, political persuasion, belief in the supernatural, or a particular conspiracy almost always result in an angry response. These are often a long lecture on why the individual believes such things, and why you are the one who is wrong for even questioning that in the first place. These individuals I call True Believers, because in my experience there is nothing that will be said that will ever change their mind, often they are happy to be confrontational and make a show of the disagreement.

These two sets of reasons for belief can and often do overlap. It can complicate how to respond, but more and more often a response is needed. Sometimes it’s easy to just shrug and say, Live and Let Live, increasingly it is not. The difficult part is learning to tell the two situations apart, and this often comes down to personal choices.

That said, there are definitely correct ways to respond and wrong ways. When we engage the True Believer, it is tempting to get angry and try to point out their errors with sarcasm and snark. Its irritating to answer the same question over and over, it’s insulting to have your credentials questioned, I get it, I do. There are several replies to comments on my blog where I gave in to that urge. But, as relieving as it was, it’s not the best way to respond.

The reason for this is that I’ve found that no matter how you respond to a True Believer, they will nit-pick your words and twist them in any way possible to fit their needs. The best response here is to simply stay cordial, and when the times comes (you’ll know when you get there), disengage with grace. The worst that is going to come from this is the True Believer will crow about how they’ve beat you with their logic, the best that will come from it is you being nice to someone with an honest question.

This latter part is the most important!

There is so much bad information out there these days, and there are lots of individuals who are out there simply to take advantage of the misinformed by presenting themselves as authorities (*cough cough History Channel cough cough Graham Hancock *). This creates a situation where people with honest questions are trying to find answers and they are turning to people who they think they can trust. Those people are often us, we the “educated”, we the “professionals”, we the “authorities”. When we respond to these questions with arrogance and snark, it turns people away and they turn to other sources of information, often getting sucked down a rabbit hole of bad reasoning and no evidence. So be nice, answer honestly, and if you don’t know, just say so. We don’t know everything.

Is it ever ok to respond with Sarcasm?

Well…yes, and no.

See, I have a very low opinion of the media right now. So if there was ever a time I would say “Go forth and Snark thy Enemies” it would be when dealing with reporters et al. The problem here is that they will repeat what you say and publish it for everyone to see. They will blow it way out of proportion and make you sound like an arrogant jackass. If you’re good with this, then go forth! If you’re not, then hold your tongue and either turn down the interview (best option IMO) or try to give the most innocuous response possible. Keep in mind, whatever brush the media paints you with, they paint us all with, just fyi.

This all said, it is important that we begin to aggressively address misinformation and pseudoscience. The Age of Information is also the Age of Misinformation packaged as actual information. It’s difficult for us as busy professionals to combat the crap that TV and popular books spew at the curious and uninformed. However, it is also the exact reason we need to combat it! So let’s blog, let’s tweet, let’s podcast and You Tube and Tumblr! Let’s get out there and reach out!


If you want to reach out with questions or comments you can email us at or @ArchFantasies on twitter.

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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

Gen Con 2012 Wrap-Up

This year at Gen Con was a blast, probably because I am gainfully employed, and could actually spend money this year…but I digress.

Be that as it may, it was also the best year for my presentations. I sold out ticket wise, had some really great questions form the audience, and I even learned a little about planning and will be adjusting accordingly.

First, the presentations!

This year I presented my usual introduction to Archaeology vs Pseudo-Archaeology, I changed things up a bit by takeing out the Ark and adding Piltdown Man. I also kept the 2012 break down in there just because this is the last year I can do it. I also added a bit more on the “why we belive” part since explanations about how we believe and why we belive has expanded and frankly it’s damn interesting.

The other bit I did was the “10 most not so puzzling ancient artifacts”. Granted, I still have two posts to do here on the blog, but I was able to get a wrap up done for Gen Con. Everyone seemed to like it, and I got some great Q&A afterwards, but I don’t think I got my point about skepticism across. I will have to work on that for next year.

Things I learned:

  1. It pays to know people who own a projector. Also, I probably want to get one of my own for next year.
  2. I really need to get hand-outs so I can cite my sources better and give people my contact information.
  3. I must register my events early next year so I don’t have a lecture that interferes with my gaming. I mean, I love talking about archaeology, but I also want to roll dice…just saying.

Also, the group who was Skeptical Gamers seems to have dried up and blow away. That really makes me sad. I had all these visions of us eventually getting a skeptical tracks like Dragon Con and bringing in skeptical gamers from all over to talk and then geek out over Flux or Catan, or even a pick up table top game.

Who knows, maybe I just need to put a call out for more skeptics next year, get more people involved and try to revive this on my own, or maybe I should keep it as a one woman show for now? IDK.

And yes, I did get to game, I played four great indy games, one of which I got recognized at by the GM. He apparently did some research on me and found out I was an archaeologist, and then ask me to use my powers for good. I got to say, I really enjoyed his game, he gave me the archaeologist character and then gave another guy a character inspired by Von Daniken. Hilarity ensued, plus it was an ego boost.

So next year I’ll be doing either two or three presentations, my usual Intro, possibly a revamp of the 10 Most, and then my new series “Who Really Discovered America?” People are probably not going to like the conclusion, so yay. I’ll also be scheduling them either early in the day or later in the evening, after the Dealer Hall closes. Maybe one of each to get a feel for things?

Anyway, I had a blast this year, and I’m already planning for next. Thanks everyone who came to see me talk, I do hope to see all of you next year too!

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The 10 Most Not-So-Puzzling Ancient Artifacts: Out-Of-Place Metal Objects

As we move though The 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts list, we come to a couple “catch-all” categories. The first is Out-Of-Place Metal Objects, which is a subcategory of what are called OOPArts, or Out-Of-Place Artifacts.

This really is a huge catch-all and includes many objects that are both real (in that they exist, but are not necessarily what they are claimed to be) and those that are fake. There are really too many for me to address in one post, and I will be getting back to them individually at a later point. I get lots of questions about these little tid-bits of metal, and every time I investigate them, they turn out to be little more than urban legends, if they exist at all.

I do want to point out here, that the term OOPArt is not professional jargon. I would wager if you walked up to the average archaeologist and asked them about OOPArts, they’d have no clue what you were talking about, and after you explained it, they would try not to laugh. It is however a big part of pseudoscience and should be a clue that whoever you are speaking with is not an expert in the field.

Now, we’ve covered a few of the OOPArts already, The Antikythera Mechanism, the Klerksdorp  Spheres, and recently the Coso Artifact. Of just these three, only the Mechanism is a real artifact, and it’s not a puzzle as to what it is. The Spheres aren’t even metal, and the Coso Artifact is a corroded spark-plug. This appears to be the reality for most of the OOPArts, that they are either items that are thought to be metal but aren’t, are metal but are being claimed to be older than they are, or simply made up.

As I said before, I will be going over these individualy, but right now I want to make sure that we all understand that OOPArts are mostly made up, never what they claim, and rarely ancient.

Categories: 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts, Out-Of-Place Artifacts, Weird Archaeology | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The 10 Most Not-So-Puzzling Ancient Artifacts: The Coso Artifact

The next item on the 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts list is the Coso Artifact…or as it should be more correctly named; The 1920’s era Spark Plug that got confused for a Geode. Which if you know anything about how metal corrodes, debunks this entirely. It also takes all the fun out of writing a big’ol blog post about this, so let’s start at the beginning shall we?

Radiograph of the Coso Artifact

In February of 1961, Wallace Lane, Virginia Maxey and Mike Mikesell, who were looking for minerals to sell in their shop in Olancha, California discovered a specimen that looked rather different than their normal fair. The outer layer of the specimen was encrusted with fossil shells and their fragments. In addition to shells, the discoverers noticed two nonmagnetic metallic objects in the crust, resembling a nail and a washer.

The next day, in his workshop at their store, Mike Mikesell claims to have ruined a nearly new diamond saw blade while cutting the specimen in half. Inside Mikesell discovered a perfectly circular section of very hard, white material that appeared to be porcelain. In the center of the porcelain cylinder was a 2-millimeter shaft of bright metal which responded to a magnet. There are the only hard facts we have on the origin of the Artifact. Beyond this, things start to get hazy, and red flags begin to pop up.

We don’t know what all was done to examine the Artifact early on. We know that Virginia Maxey claims that she took the “geode” to a geologist who dated the artifact to be about 500,000  years old. We don’t know who this geologist is, what he did to examine the Artifact, what his real conclusions were, or if he really existed.  Whoever he is, I question his expertise, because this is object is obviously not a geode.

You can see the concretions growth around the spark-plug.

Remember the Klerksdorp Spheres that I went over in an earlier post? This is the same kind of thing. Only instead of making a sand candle, this is more like growing salt crystals. Think back to when you were a kid and for a science project you made a supersaturated liquid, added a string, and watched crystals grow.

Ok, never did that one? Go to you kitchen, boil about a cup of water, take a spoon and quickly start adding either salt or sugar, stirring slowly so you don’t over cool the water, until the salt/sugar refuse to dissolve completely anymore. This might take a bit, and it will take a good deal of salt/sugar. Next take a thin fibrous string, soak it in the liquid and then hang it up so that one end is still in the liquid. Now wait, for a while, like a day or better. You’ll notice that crystals start forming on the string as the liquid evaporates, the more you were able to dissolve into the liquid, the bigger your crystals will grow.

Click through for better directions

Now, this isn’t a perfect analogy, but it is pretty much what happens when you leave ferric (iron) metals in damp ground for long periods of time. The water begins to oxidize the metal, the oxidation acts like glue sticking things too it (like the sand in the sand candle), and the larger the bit of metal, the bigger the concretion will grow. Just like in the example, you need something for the concretions to adhere to, like the string, only here it’s our ferric object which also causes the oxidation.

This is a common occurrence, especially in historic archaeology, where we find nails, hinges, door knobs, handles, files, etc by the bucket full. The first time you see one, you think it’s some kind of rusty potato, but it’s obviously metal of some kind. It’s hard to identify these objects, and you basically learn from experience to tell what they are, when you can. This concretion is also common in underwater archaeology, but underwater archaeologists have sophisticated ways of removing the buildup without damaging the artifact underneath. You can go watch the process in action at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum right now as they clean a cannon recovered from a sunken ship.

Quick recap.

So far we have an unidentified metal and porcelain artifact recovered by some rock-hounds. They don’t know what it is so they take it to a mysterious, unnamed geologist who somehow dates it to being 500,000 years old, despite the oxidation that the geologist should have noticed.

To add to this, the Coso Artifact possesses no characteristics that would classify it as a geode [Stromberg 2000]. Geodes consists of a thin outer shell, composed of dense chalcedonic silica, and are filled with a layer of quartz crystals [Stromberg 2000]. The Coso Artifact not only has neither of these characteristics, but its outer shell is softer than a Geode [Stromberg 2000]. These are glaring differences that a geologist would have noticed.

Cut and Polished Geode

Identifying the artifact was actually a pretty simple feat and the story about it is rather funny…to me anyway, so instead of typing the whole thing out, I will simply quote form the article,  “The Coso Artifact: Mystery From the Depths of Time?”  by Pierre Stromberg and Paul Heinrich:

“To help us to learn more about spark-plug technology of a century ago, we enlisted the help of the Spark Plug Collectors of America (SPCA). We sent letters to four different spark plug collectors describing the Coso Artifact, including Calais’s X-rays of the object in question. We expected the SPCA to provide some vague hints or no information at all about the artifact. The actual answers were stunning.

On September 9, 1999, Chad Windham, President of the SPCA, called Pierre Stromberg. Windham initially suspected that Stromberg was a fellow spark plug collector, writing incognito, with the motive of hoaxing him. His fears were compounded by the fact that there is an actual line of spark plugs named “Stromberg”. Though Stromberg repeatedly assured Windham that his intentions were purely for research, he was puzzled why Windham was so suspicious and asked him to explain. Windham replied that it was so obvious to him that the artifact was a contemporary spark plug, the letter had to be a hoax. “I knew what it was the moment I saw the X-rays,” Windham wrote.

Stromberg asked Windham if he could identify the particular make of the spark plug. Windham replied he was certain that it was a 1920s-era Champion spark plug. Later, Windham sent 2 identical spark plugs for comparison. Ten days after Windham’s telephone call, Bill Bond, founder of the SPCA and curator of a private museum of spark plugs containing more than 2000 specimens, called Stromberg. Bond said he thought he knew the identity of the Coso Artifact: “A 1920s Champion spark plug.” Spark plug collectors Mike Healy and Jeff Bartheld (Vice President of the SPCA) also concurred with Bond’s and Windham’s assessment about the spark plug. To date, there has been no dissent among the spark plug collectors as to the identity of the Coso Artifact. “

So, a definitive ID, and no decent among experts on the subject. We know the Coso Artifact wasn’t a Geode and that it is a 1920’s spark plug. Now what?

Now we have to deal with those who ignore facts in order to pursue their own belief. Included in this group of people are, of course, the Ancient Alien folks, who claim that the Artifact is evidence of early contact with aliens who’s space craft apparently broke down and then left spare parts behind. Also in this group are the Young Earth Creationists who seem to think the Artifact somehow proves a young earth…by being dated at 500,000 years old, and ignoring the fact that simple math once again eludes them.

And so there you have it folks, The Coso Artifact aka The 1920’s era Spark Plug that got confused for a Geode. I won’t lie, I was a little disappointed with this one, but hey, they can’t all be winners right?

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“The Coso Artifact.” Bad Archaeology. Accessed July 9th 2012.

Stromberg, Pierre

2000. The Coso Artifact : Mystery from the Depths of Time. The Talk Origins Archives. Accessed July 9th 2012.

Stromberg, Pierre and Paul V Heinrich

2004 “The Coso Artifact: Mystery From the Depths of Time?” Reports of the National Center for Science Education. March–April 2004. Vol 24 Issue 2. Accessed July 9th 2012.

Categories: 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts, Ancient Astronauts, Creation Science and Intelligent Design, Weird Archaeology | Tags: , , , , , , | 17 Comments

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