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:
It pays to know people who own a projector. Also, I probably want to get one of my own for next year.
I really need to get hand-outs so I can cite my sources better and give people my contact information.
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!
This appears to be more of a category than an individual artifact, it seems to cover a couple of different artifacts that share the common thread of vaguely looking like flying objects. Or at lest that’s what you’re supposed to think. Two major items stand out in this category, The Saqqara Bird and the Tolima Artifacts, though it can also be said that flying carpets, winged chariots, and dragons also belong here (more on this later).
Let’s start with the Saqqara Bird.
The Saqqara Bird is an actual artifact kept in an actual museum, it was uncovered by actual archaeologists and studied by same. The Bird’s existence is not in question and not disputed. It’s the Bird’s function that people want to debate, and by people I mean the Fringe.
The Bird was discovered in 1898 by Dr. Khalil Messiha during an excavation of the Pa-di-Imen tomb in Saqqara, Egypt (Fitzpatrick-Matthews 2010). It is made out of sycamore wood and appears to have a falcon shaped head, complete with Horace like eyes. It’s exact function is unknown but it is mostly accepted that the Bird was part of a mast-head used on sacred boats like those used during the Opt Festival, of which we have documentation (Fitzpatrick-Matthews 2010, Orcutt 2001].
Now, some will have you think that the Bird is a scaled down replica of a glider. There are several issues with this, mainly that, if you faithfully replicate the Bird to a larger scale, it will not fly. I know most of us have seen the Ancient Aliens episode where they make a model, and then fly it, but they also make several modifications to it, none of which have any evidence of existing. To be a final nail in the glider coffin, others have tried to replicate the models and have found them to be lacking. Larry Orcutt points out in his article “Model Airplane?” talking about the Bird:
“The requirements for a Free Flight model glider to be automatically stable in flight are that it should:
Balance somewhere between 25% and 60% of the wing chord back from the leading edge. The wing chord is the average width of the wing, measured from front to back. A glance at the bird shows that the body is made from a single piece of wood whose proportions are such that the balance point is at or behind the trailing edge of the wing. The bird’s head region has clearly never had a weight attached to it or buried within it. Such a weight would be needed to bring the balance point forward into the range given above.
Have a horizontal tail surface of around 20 – 25% of the wing area. Despite some claims to the contrary, no such tail surface currently exists and there are no traces of a tail plane’s attachment point on the bird’s fin or rear body. The fin is the vertical tail surface that forms the rear of the bird’s body.
Be shaped to provide spiral stability. The presence of a large fin at the rear of the body must be balanced by a dihedralled wing if the bird is to glide without tipping over sideways into an terminal spiral dive. A dihedralled wing is one with the tips raised above the center of the wing like virtually all passenger planes and model aircraft. The bird has the opposite wing arrangement. Its wing tips are drooped to give anhedral, which would only serve to increase the bird’s spiral instability.
As can be easily seen, the bird meets none of these requirements for flight, so it is quite unlikely that it ever flew or that accurate replicas could fly. [Orcutt 2001]”
He also shows several examples of the mast mounted birds that look very much like the Bird, and has a link though to a report on the replication and attempted flight of the Bird.
Next, let’s look at the Tolima Artifacts.
Again, these are another set of real artifacts recovered in real digs and displayed in real museums. It’s the interpretation of said artifacts that is disputed. Not by anyone who knows anything about them, or the Tolima people, but by Ancient Alien theorists and such. These little gold charms are so low-key you’ll be hard pressed to find anything academic on them. However, you can go see them in several museums around America, including the Smithsonian in DC and The Field Museum in Chicago. To the Ancient Alien people though, these small gold artifacts are hard evidence of ancient Jet fighters.
I really can’t even begin to tear this one apart because it’s just so ridiculous to me. Where the Fringe sees an airplane, I see fish and moths. Maybe it’s because I understand that ancient peoples took liberties and stylized their interpretations of their world, especially when it came to ritual items. Maybe it’s because these things don’t look a damn thing like airplanes or jets. IDK.
Da Plane Boss, Da Plane!
But honestly, let’s look at the larger issue with this whole ancient airplane thing, Where are the remains of these planes? Where are the parts, the broken bits, the actual plane themselves? Where is all the stuff associated with flying planes? Where are the airports, the air towers, the luggage claim racks…
If man was making them, where are the production sites? If Aliens flew them down, why is there no physical evidence? What did these things run on? Jet fuel is an expensive, complicated, explosive mix. How did our ancestors make it and not kill themselves?
This brings us to the more imaginative part of this entry, the whole idea that flying carpets, dragons and winged chariots were really ancient man’s way of interpreting ancient flying machines. In order for these ideas to work we have to make several assumptions that no one should be comfortable making.
First, we have to assumes that the mythologies of ALL ancient peoples are accurate and true.
Second, we have to assume that whenever the ancients said “God or Gods” they were really talking about aliens, they just didn’t know it.
Third, we have to assume that our ancestors were too ignorant of the natural world to understand a non-natural object, and instead of faithfully representing the actual object in story and art, they took artistic liberties to create winged chariots, flying carpets, and yes, Dragons.
Fourth, we have to ignore that our first assumption and our fourth assumption are in opposition.
Fifth, we have to never ask what happened to all the physical evidence advanced machinery would have left behind, or where these “Alien Gods” went to, or why they came or left in the first place.
In order for the Saqqara Bird and the Tolima Artifacts to be real, all these questions and assumptions need to be addressed. Evidence needs to be produced, and reality itself has to shift. I’ve yet to hear anything resembling a reasonable answer to the logical objections to the idea of ancient airplanes. If one could be provided, it would be the first.
Reinterpreting the Known World.
Another thing sticks out here that is of some interest, and that is the reinterpreting of actual artifacts. It’s something I’ve noticed the Ancient Alien theorists do often. They take known discoveries and try to make them fit the Alien narrative. They reject documented and researched interpretations by experts and substitute their own, that are often based on nothing more than observing a photograph. I’m often left wondering why? What makes a non-professional individual reject the accepted opinion of a professional and supplement a much less informed opinion instead? Why do they think these two opinions are equal in validity?
This has nothing to do with intelligence, I want that to be clear. It has everything to do with experience and education. All three of those things are separate and are not actually dependent on each other, so none of this “they’re stupid” talk. Irrational? Perhaps. Uniformed? definitely. But not stupid.
Whatever the answer to those questions might be, we in the “Mainstream” will continue to be plagued by weird reinterpreting by the “Fringe”. Which leads to the other problem I have with this kind of thing, misinformation.
Regardless if the misinformation is being distributed knowingly or unknowingly, the biggest problem is that they can put that bad information out there faster than most people can fact-check. Which creates confusion in a normal, rational, individual. What can be done about that?
Critical articles like these, critical arguments, critical thinking, and access to open, honest facts, are the only way to combat this barrage of misinformation. People need access to factual information so that it can be used to counter the bad information. People also need to be taught how to think both skeptically and critically, something a lot of people think they are doing, but in reality are not. I feel that these goals are being met to some degree. Open Access is a huge thing among scientists today, and I think it will only continue to become the norm. That thought gives me hope.
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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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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. http://ncse.com/rncse/24/2/coso-artifact Accessed July 9th 2012.
Before we can fully appreciate the Antikythera Mechanism, I first have to point out that clockwork and steam powered mechanisms were well known and in use in Ancient Greece, Egypt, India, and China. Things such as mechanical clocks, Automa, and various forms of calendars were in use. Two and a half millennia before the Mechanism, India used gears to drive doors and lift water (Dunning 2009).
One of the most well known developers of steam and clockwork devices in ancient Greece was Hero of Alexandria, aka Heron. His writings on hydraulics, pneumatics and mechanics were translated into Latin in the sixteenth century and later were reconstructed (Handworx). His designs produced a variety of machines including an aeolipile, a rocket-like reaction engine and the first recorded steam engine (Handworx).
China also enjoyed clockwork devices that did a variety of things including keeping track of directions and counting the distance traveled. The South Pointing Chariot dates back to 2600 BC and is considered one of the most complex devices of it’s time (Handworx). The chariot sported a figure that always pointed south and drums that kept track of the revolution of the wheels, allowing users to measure distance (Handworx).
Which brings us to the Antikythera Mechanism, so called because it was found by sponge divers at the bottom of the sea near the island of Antikythera near Crete (Antikythera).
This is a first for this series, because this artifact is actually real.
Now if you read the blurb about it in The 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts, you’re led to believe that the ancient world had no clue how to make these kinds of devices, and that nothing with gears ever existed until 1575! Please re-read the previous paragraphs, then let’s move on.
The Antikythera Mechanism is real, and we do know what it was used for, though the fine details are still up for debate. The Mechanism itself dates from around the end of the 1st century B.C.E. and is one of the most sophisticated mechanisms of it’s time (Antikythera, Dunning 2009). However, close examination of the device shows that every piece is exact and hasn’t been modified after manufacture (Antikythera). Meaning, this was the end product of a great deal of trial and error, like any great invention. Those working on the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project (AMRP) speculate that there may have been as many as ten prototypes leading up to the Mechanism (Antikythera).
The Mechanism is understood to be a complex astrological calendar keeping track of astronomical phenomena (Freeth 2006). It calculated celestial information and displayed cycles of the phases of the moon and lunar/solar calendar (Freeth 2006). It also could predict lunar and solar eclipses on the basis of Babylonian arithmetic-progression cycles (Freeth 2006), which are calculations that are older than most civilizations, ’cause the Babylonians kinda rocked.
There are about 82 surviving fragments and through the AMRP’s efforts, those pieces have been scanned, digitized and 3D-afied (Antikythera). The AMRP also made all of their research available to the public, and you can read where they are with their research at the Overview page for the project. They also have a You Tube channel with some cool short vids. They’ve reported their finding to the journal Nature as well, talking about their use of surface imaging and high-resolution X-ray tomography of the surviving fragments (Freeth 2006). Using these methods they have managed to reconstruct the gear function and double the number of deciphered inscriptions on the fragments (Freeth 2006). Which, among other things, leads to really cool pictures.
These claims that the ancient world was without the knowledge to produce such devices are completely unfounded and can only come from a lack of knowledge about ancient times. Also, to say that we humans needed alien intervention to create something as complex as the Antikythera Mechanism is insulting. Our ancient ancestors are the same as modern humans. If we could figure it out today, which we have, then our ancestors could have figured it out too. Given resources and time, humans have proven they can do almost anything they put their minds to, for good or evil. We have no need for Aliens, Atlantians, or even Gods to aid us, and I think that is what this device shows best.
The Mechanism is a testament to human ability as much as any great earthwork or monument. Let’s not cheapen it.
The Story of how the stones were found is kinda up in the air. The major story states that a Chinese archaeologist named Chu Pu Tei, found the stones in 1938/37 while he was looking at some caves. Inside the caves he found a series of graves that each contained a skeleton measuring a little over a meter in height (about 3 feet for the non-metric speaking). Buried with these tiny people were mysterious grooved stones, that became known as the Dropa Stones.
Now, the stones made their way from Chu Pu Tei’s possession to that of another researcher by the name of Professor Tsum Um Nui, of the Beijing Academy for Ancient Studies. He was able to translate them, and he found out that the little people were indeed aliens and they had been hunted to near extinction by the local humans, because they were short and ugly. Apparently, the humans and the aliens were able to solve their differences, because the aliens are also the supposed ancestors of the Dropa tribe, which is still around today.
Somewhere in there the stones traveled to Russia, and were photographed, then lost, and pretty much everyone associated with them vanished as well. So now all we have are a few grainy pictures that look a lot like Bi discs, and no-one with first hand knowledge. Completely believable, Right? Right?
To break this story down will take a bit. Let’s look at all the Red Flags:
Red Flag #1 – The story appears on several web sites, most of which looked copied and pasted, there is no author mentioned, and no citation.
I went over why this is a red flag in the first post in this series on the Grooved Spheres. There are a few occasions where no citations are ok, such as the above story where there is no real citation to give. Another time would be first hand or original research. The stories on these websites don’t fall into either category.
Red Flag #2 – None of the names of any of the researchers appear to be real, and there is no record of the Beijing Academy for Ancient Studies.
This one is probably the most damning. None of the named participants in this hoax have any record of existing. On top of that, Professor Tsum Um Nui’s name isn’t even Chinese. It appears to be a badly adapted Japanese name.
Of even more interest is the fictitious Beijing Academy for Ancient Studies. There is no such place in record, ever. Yet this is where Professor Tsum Um Nui supposedly translated the stones in only 24 years, which could be considered Red Flag #2.5.
Red Flag #3 – The remains of the ‘aliens’ as well as the Dropa Stones have all managed to vanish, as well as anyone who might have ever seen the stones.
There is no real way to verify if this picture is authentic, even the site where I found it is quick to point that out. Be that as it may, this tiny skeleton and the disks pictures at the beginning of the post are nowhere to be found. As a matter of fact, there is no mention of the remains recovered from the caves that Chu Pu Tei discovered, or of any other grave good recovered from those burials. There are no mentions of lost documentation, only a slight mention here and there that Chu Pu Tei might have written a report that was suppressed by the Chinese Government. The only recovered items from the cave graves appear to be the stones, and those are lost within a few decades of discovery. So basically, there is no physical evidence, or any kind of written documentation, of the stones or the graves.
Red Flag #4 – The few pictures we have the Dropa Stones are identical to what are called Bi Discs, which are known artifacts that are part of the Chinese culture.
The Bi Discs are flat disks made of jade with a hole in the center of the disk. Thousand’s have been recovered from Neolithic burials all over China. They appear to be indicative of social status and rank , and were recently used in the Beijing Olympic Medals which were designed to look like bi discs on the back . They also seem to be tied to the concept of Heaven (sky), and were very important in the day-to-day lives of ancient Chinese .
Red Flag #5 – The actual Dropa people.
I spent a fair amount of time looking for these people in some kind of link I could give you. Pretty much the only one I can find that doesn’t mention these people as some kind of Alien-Human hybrid is Bad Archaeology. I’m not saying these people don’t exist somewhere in China, I’m just saying that I can’t find any academic sources to back up their existence in the first place. I’m also not saying that Bad Archaeology is not a good site, its exactly the opposite, I am saying that I would be much more comfortable talking about a group of people if I could find some anthropology sites or reports on them.
So, you can clearly see the massive issues with this particular ancient artifact. Most of the UFO sites that I came across discounted the stones as a Hoax, going as far as to blame Von Daniken for really pushing the story. As far as anyone can tell the first mention of this story was in a German Vegetarian Magazine, and then the same story was translated and reprinted in a Russian yellow-rag two years later . The story was never taken seriously and almost faded away till Von Daniken got hold of it, wrote two books about it, and then another book named Sungods in Exile got published by an unnamed author under a nom-de-plume of David Agamon, who later came out and said the whole story was fiction . Von Daniken hasn’t yet recanted.
So, not only is the origin of the story of the Dropa Stones dubious, but the story itself is as well. There is no evidence of anything related to the stones, and no one to back up any of the claims made by the story. It’s even difficult to prove that the real Dropa tribe exists. All that can be said is somewhere, someone put pen to paper and wrote a story of a Chinese archaeologist finding something cool. That’s all you can prove, and that’s all these stones are, a really long-lived story.
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