I'm happy to announce that Jim Vieira will be doing his second tour of duty as a guest in my Forbidden Archaeology class. He'll be with us for two class periods in mid-October. During the first class period he'll give his presentation; during the second the students will ask him questions. In between class periods he and I will discuss double rows of teeth, the secrets of the vast academic conspiracy of which I am an important part, and great moments in the history of stone masonry. I'll also make him walk through my art exhibit downtown.
This year in Forbidden Archaeology, the students are making videos as group projects. They are currently working on finishing up their scripts, and we'll start taping segments next week. There is a range of a topics, but all have something to do with "fringe" claims about the human past. Barring any total breakdowns, there will be seven student videos in all. Hopefully I'll be able to start posting them in December.
As I was planning out what to this semester, I decided that making videos would be a way for the students to work on several different elements of critical thinking and communication. It would also give us an opportunity (I hope) to engage with a different audience than the 2016 class did with their blog posts. It's an experiment, so I won't really know what the broader impacts are until the videos are done and we see what the reaction is.
I made an example video so the students could get a better idea of what I was thinking of in terms of length, graphics, etc. I chose to talk about the "red-haired cannibal giants" of Nevada, and I threw this video together in a few hours on Friday afternoon. Enjoy!
I wasn't planning on writing a blog post today, but two things came across my desk this morning as I was going through emails and making my "to-do" list. The first one was this article in The Conversation about the history of "fake news." The second was this top ten list of giant human skeleton claims.
The multiple connections between these stories operate on several levels. The piece in The Conversation, written by a professor of media studies at Penn State, had me shaking my head not because it was wrong, but because I'm frustrated that pointing out that 19th century newspapers often fabricated stories to increase circulation rates as insightful. As anyone who follows the history of pseudo-archaeology knows, made-up stories in 19th century newspapers about made-up places, made-up artifacts, and made up giant skeletons are integral to the perpetuation of the tangled mess of 19th century claims about the human past that persist today among "forbidden history" advocates of all stripes (Young Earth Creationists, white supremacists, Atlantis enthusiasts, giantologists, etc.).
It's bizarre that the same crowd that cries "fake news" and "conspiracy" today relies so heavily and so uncritically on newspapers that have been shown to have produced multitudes of fake stories for the purpose of selling copies.
I don't know how many discussions I've had with people on line who say that, unlike now, the media could be trusted back in the 1800's because there was no reason for them to lie.
Did you know, for example, that we discovered life on the moon in 1835?
I think there's a deep parallel between the creation and spread of fake news stories about giant skeletons in the 1800's and the resurgence and re-spread of those same stories now. I suspect that, in both cases, it has something to do with the emergence of new technologies of mass communication (the proliferation of cheap newspapers then, the internet today). Some of the same dynamics are at work in encouraging the publication of fantastic claims and rewarding those that create and spread them.
Which brings me to the second piece: a Listverse article titled "10 Forbidden And Creepy Claims Of Giant Human Skeletons" by Duane Wesley. I'm linking to this dumb article not to increase it's exposure, but so you can see it for yourselves.
Wesley places himself among the world's most gullible people by citing for support, in the first paragraph, the satirical World News Daily Report article that has demonstrated the critical thinking skills of so many believers in giants. He then lists nine well-worn "giant skeleton" reports from late 19th and early 20th century newspapers. For good measure, he throws in as evidence a more recent satirical article (also from the World News Daily Report) about a giant skeleton unearthed in Australia.
And why does Duane Wesley do this to us?
To make a hundred bucks, apparently.
That's how it works, I guess. You go look at other lists of giant skeletons, switch up the order, cite a publication that's one step below The Onion on the credibility scale, send it to Listverse, get your money through PayPal, and go buy some groceries or cat food or whatever you think is a suitable way to spend the money you earned for making America dumber.
Congratulations, Duane: you're part of the problem.
If you heard the "tick . . . tick . . . tick . . ." of another dumb Nephilim story yesterday, you're not alone: less than 24 hours after the report of the discovery of a "graveyard of not-so-tall 'giants'" excavated in China, the 5'11" remains have been interpreted as those of the Biblical Nephilim.
There was at least one individual that broke 6', but most were shorter.
Nephilim. Under 6'. Go figure.
Giantologist Goes Full Nazi, States that Trump Ascendancy "Has Been Positive" for Aryan Fringe Agenda
For those of us that pay attention to how "fringe" claims about the human past are related to racist political agendas, the connections are often so obvious as to border on the mundane. The last time I wrote about such things (in my discussion of the cartoon-like ideas about race and prehistory that underpin the Alt-Right's vision of making America great again) I got an earful from people uncomfortable with the notion that there is or could be a real connection between the fake history promulgated by white supremacists and the decisions made by our new government. In my opinion, it's clearly evident that our interpretations of the past matter a great deal to our actions in the present. And it's incredibly naive to assume that there's some kind of natural firewall that insulates the levers of power from the demonstrably false ideas about the past that are the stock-in-trade of "fringe" theorists.
It's an objective fact that white supremacists were not disappointed that Donald Trump was elected president. Whether they will be disappointed by what the Trump administration actually does, of course, is a different question. Whatever happens, however, it's clear that Trump's ascendancy has encouraged and emboldened white supremacists across the country.
My example today provides another data point illustrating the triangulation of white supremacy, "fringe" history, and contemporary politics.
Patrick Chouinard's book Lost Race of the Giants was published in 2013. I bought it back then as I began working to understand where all this business about giants was coming from. I read the first part of it but then gave up and didn't finish -- my impression was that it was a poorly organized, unoriginal mess that recycled much of the same material as the other books on giants that I had already been through. I got bored, so I stopped reading.
Lost Race of Giants was published by Simon & Schuster, which maintains an author page for Chouinard. Just yesterday, Simon & Schuster announced that it was dropping a book deal with Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulous in the wake of his recent remarks about pedophilia.
Since the publication of his 2013 book on giants, Chouinard (aka Patrick Fox) has shifted his focus to positioning himself as a vocal proponent of a basket of "lost white superior Aryan giant Atlantean race" ideas that can be sold to and consumed by white supremacists. Here is a flyer, for example, promoting Chouinard's services:
Here is Chouinard's Twitter page:
There's no ambiguity about where Chouinard stands on the relationship between his white supremacist agenda and his claims about the human past.
In this interview from January of 2017, Chouinard (going by the name of Patrick Fox) says that he is "forever dedicated to the pro white cause" and joined the National Socialist Movement in 2016. As far as our current political situation, Chouinard states that
". . . we should promote a reverse or counter youth culture based on NS straight-edge values that could take advantage of the increasing awareness of pro-white values and ideas that have been launched by the success of Donald Trump. I do not think Trump is our man by any means, but his effect is clear and has been positive for us. I see NS Straight-edge youth as the shock troops or our movement and can be used the way Tom Metzger used the skinheads several decades ago."
Setting aside questions about the quality of Chouinard's "research" and my feelings about his political views, I find myself oddly appreciative of his decision to clearly identify as a white supremacist. His forthright declaration stands in contrast to the milquetoast evasions of others who have written on a similar set of "fringe" topics in the same publications as Chouinard. Say what you want about his claims, but at least he's clear about where he's coming from.
My Forbidden Archaeology class wrapped up at the beginning of last week. Since going through the final projects and getting grades submitted, I've been occupied with prepping for my upcoming field school, finalizing a paper on the minimum size of demographically viable hunter-gatherer populations, and participating in a family-wide wave of coughing, aching, and vomiting. Good times.
Some of the student projects were pretty interesting, and I plan to put some of them up on the course website eventually. After that I'll weave the website content into the Argumentative Archaeologist site. It might be a while before any of that gets done (don't expect anything before the holidays are over).
In the meantime, I wanted to post a link to a short video that two of the students produced of their interview of Jim Vieira. I wrote a bit about Vieira's visit here. The students have possession of a lot more footage of Vieira in class, as well as he and discussing such compelling issues as "double rows of teeth." The students have told me that they'll still be working with that footage, and I hope that it happens (both are taking my field school, so I will be able to ask them about it weekly).
Here is the video they submitted as part of their final project:
If you have anything more than a passing interest in understanding the "fringe" world, you're familiar with the Nephilim. These offspring of angels and humans, despite being mentioned by name only three times in the bible (Genesis 6, Ezekiel 32, and Numbers 13), are a growth industry. Their resume is no longer limited to serving as the whip hand of the conspiracy-rich bowels of occult Christianity but now also includes significant penetration into popular culture. They've been adopted by vampire enthusiasts and they've got their own band and a role-playing game. The concept of human-supernatural sex was given some good PR by this Katy Perry song.
While the Nephilim haven't reached Ancient Aliens and Atlantis status yet, they're clearly going in the right direction. At this rate, they'll probably be openly fielding political candidates by the time the 2020 election cycle begins.
Expanding the Nephilim franchise won't be without it's tensions. In traditional circles, Nephilim (at least in Genesis 6:4) are thought to be the offspring of male angels and female humans. Those "mighty men" apparently continued to pass on the supernatural genes, corrupting the human bloodline with their Nephilim DNA (albeit in a more diluted form as time went on). While I'm not sure what Nephilim fundamentalists think of the possibility of female Nephilim in this scenario, market realists will immediately recognize that limiting the illicit/supernatural Nephilim sex fantasies to males on females (and males on animals, as the case may be) will constrain growth. For those of you worried about the stagnation of Nephilim market capitalization, I'm happy to report a data point that suggests the forces of democratization continue to gain ground:
As readers of my blog know, I find the topic of "giants" fascinating. It was a no-brainer to include it as one of the three topical areas to be covered in the inaugural run of Forbidden Archaeology. As I've said before, the main premise of the class is that credible ideas about the human past can withstand scrutiny and challenges, while incorrect ideas can be shown to be incorrect. Forbidden Archaeology is a course in critical thinking, argument, and communication. How do you know whether a claim about the past is credible or not? My goal is to give the students the confidence, tools, and information they need to understand the history of ideas and critically evaluate claims based on evidence.
Part of the work the students are doing in the course is writing blog posts. The point of the posts is to help students learn to communicate persuasive, insightful, evidence-based arguments through writing. The student blog posts related to "giants" are listed here. I wanted to integrate those posts into a synthesis of what we discussed in the class.
Our discussion of "giants" began with some background, tracing the origins of western giant mythology through the Bible, Greek and Roman writings, and early European sources. We discussed the somewhat isomorphic narratives found in ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean writings (e.g., Hesiod's Five Ages of Man, the Old Testament, the Book of Enoch, and The Epic of Gilgamesh), noting the parallels in some ancient notions about a past world populated by giant, quasi-supernatural, human-like beings. One student wrote about the association between giant mythology and cannibalism (the giants often tend to be cannibals).
I introduced the idea (following Adrienne Mayor and others) that at least some ideas about giants may have been related to ancient peoples finding a way to accommodate into their worldview the remains of large, extinct animals that they would have no doubt encountered from time to time. It's an easy enough mistake to make, especially for people with no formal training in comparative anatomy confronting the remains of Ice Age megafauna in an era before the concept of extinction took hold.
That human societies use mythology to make sense of the world around them and to shape their views of themselves is not surprising, of course, and I think we can see this sort of thing play out repeatedly through time with respect to "giants." We discussed how giants played into the mythologies of post-Roman Europe in a number of interesting ways. The Historia Britonnum (a "history" of the indigenous people of Britain written around AD 828), for example, borrowed heavily from Roman and Greek mythology. Europeans continued the tradition of interpreting the bones of extinct megafauna as those of human giants, whether wicked or noble. The stone constructions left by the Romans themselves were later regarded as the work of giants from a past age. Interpreting megalithic constructions as the work of giants is common today, despite plenty of positive evidence that normal-sized people can and do move big rocks.
Science began to chip away at the evidence for giants in the 1700's, marked first perhaps by Hans Sloane's argument that some of the bones identified as those of giants actually belonged to elephants. Pushback came in the form of the famous 1735 "list of giants" by Claude-Nicholas Le Cat. Le Cat's address was reprinted in the Encyclopedia Britannica and hopped across the Atlantic at some point in the late 1700's (the earliest American printing I have found so far in a 1765 Maryland newspaper). Abridged versions of Le Cat's address were printed time and again in American newspapers from the 1840's until the 1890's as the reporting of giant bones ramped up and reached its peak.
The decades-long American fad of giant skeleton reports differs from what happened in Europe earlier, and it remains a fascinating subject to try to understand. The "giant phenomenon" occurred in the context of the appearance of new information technologies (i.e., telegraph and rotary printing press), the forced removal of Native Americans from the eastern U.S., and the debate over the "Mound Builders," among other things. A couple of students wrote about the historic contexts of ideas about a "giant race" that preceded Native Americans: the "white giant" myth of the Comanche didn't hold up to scrutiny, and early excavations of earthen mounds in Wisconsin found no evidence of giants.
Despite the lack of evidence, the "Mound Builder" myth survives in the public imagination. It is used as a hook in a recent travel piece written for a West Virginia newspaper, for example, and the "Adena giant" narrative is still regularly pressed into service. Two students looked at specific cases related to claims of "giant" skeletons in North America: one found that a "missing" giant skull from Texas was neither missing nor giant and another fleshed out the case of "giant skeletons" from Branch County, Michigan.
The main agendas underlying modern beliefs in giants in the United States are related to two main Christian communities: (1) Young Earth Creationists; and (2) Nephilim enthusiasts. (After teaching this class, I think there is more overlap between these two orientations than I previously recognized). The relationship between Christianity and giants was one of the subjects of an attempted survey about beliefs in giants.
The appeal of giants to the YEC crowd is that the existence of giants would prove evolution to be false and the Bible to be true (that's the rationale, anyway, based on the flawed argument that giants would show that things get smaller over time rather than bigger). The struggle against evolution has compelled Young Earth Creationists to somehow deal with the accumulation of fossil evidence that is consistent with a very long (i.e., six million years) human evolutionary timeline rather than a very short (i.e., six thousand years) Biblical timeline. One student wrote about how creationists have tried to characterize the fragmentary remains of Meganthropus as a giant, and another wrote about the idea that Neanderthals were the Biblical Nephilim. In both of these cases, just as in ancient Britain and the ancient Near East, we see the struggle to somehow reconcile and explain facts of the natural world.
Even after teaching this course, it is still not clear to me exactly what the Nephilim enthusiasts are all about (other than monetizing gullibility). The Nephilim Whirlpool is an absurd mishmash of giants, religion, mythology, aliens, paranormal, and conspiracy theory that takes Genesis 6.4 as the "Rosetta stone" to understanding the world. One of my goals in talking about it was to illustrate that, in the absence of a mechanism for discriminating between credible and non-credible "evidence," you are compelled to concoct a story that can incorporate, literally, everything. Thus, for example, all of the stories from all mythology, extra-biblical or not, can be accepted literally and scooped up into the Nephilim dragnet.
Another was to show how the absence of evidence (i.e., where are the bones?) is used by Nephilim enthusiasts to support the claim of a "multi-thousand year cover up" rather than the much more parsimonious position that the lack of giant bones suggests a lack of giants. It's impossible to have a conversation about evidence in that kind of framework.
Although Nephilim theorists exemplify the baloney cannon approach to the human past, they're not alone. Manufactured and misinterpreted "evidence" related to giants is everywhere. One student wrote about Klaus Dona, for example, one wrote about the "giant's armor" at Schloss Ambras, one wrote about the taxidermied giant Kap Dwa, and another wrote about claims connected to the "Balanced Rock" of upstate New York. On the biological side, one student explored claims about Rh negative blood (commonly related to Nephilim heritage) and another asked if there were any known genetic disorders that could have contributed to the often-cited (but never demonstrated) triumvirate of large stature, dental anomalies, and polydactyly.
When you discard the desire to use evidence to discriminate credible ideas from non-credible ones, you're just throwing it all into a blender and drinking whatever comes out. Is there anything left after we do that to "giants"? In reality, probably not much. That doesn't mean it isn't worth exploring further and still trying to understand why people believe what they believe. In eastern North America, are you left with anything after you throw out the obvious hoaxes, fabrications, and gross misrepresentations, disregard the "double rows of teeth" mirage, and adjust for some patterned over-estimates of height? Maybe, and maybe not. Perhaps we're still left with the possibility that relatively tall individuals are over-represented in the earthen mounds of eastern North America. Perhaps the "Adena royalty" hypothesis will still be standing after the dust settles. Or maybe it too, like so many reported "giant" bones, will crumble away when exposed to the air.
An important part of my Forbidden Archaeology class this semester is teaching students to independently understand, evaluate, and communicate about claims concerning the human past. The topical subject matter of the course is, obviously, focused on so-called "fringe" claims that fall outside of what mainstream archaeologists typically spend energy considering but are strongly represented in popular media. The students should come out of the class having a general understanding of the tools and processes we use to learn about the past and discriminate credible from non-credible explanations.
Each student will be writing three blog posts. The topics of the posts for the "giants" section, in general, are concerned with understanding or evaluating claims, evidence, or context related to historic or contemporary ideas about giants. I tried to assign topics that would encourage students do a little online digging and, hopefully, contribute something new to the discussion.
Effective communication in a blog post is not the same as effective communication in a term paper. This is the first time that many of these students have written in this kind of format, and it is my first time working simultaneously with twenty different individuals writing about twenty different topics. Ideally the process will get smoother and faster as the course continues.
Here are the first of the "giants" posts to go live:
Please feel free to leave comments for the students: it's in their job description to interact with people about their posts (as long as it stays constructive).
Well, that was fun!
And because I know that it's sometimes hard to reliably detect the presence/absence of sarcasm in the written word, I'll clarify and say that I'm not being sarcastic: Jim Vieira's visit to my Forbidden Archaeology class was legitimately fun.
Those of you who followed this blog prior to the #Swordgate debacle know that I spent a lot of my writing energy in 2014 and 2015 discussing issues related to "giants." It's a topic that has interested me since I stumbled across accounts of "giant skeletons with a double row of teeth" in the nineteenth century county histories of Indiana while preparing CRM reports in the early 1990's. The story of my arrival to the topic is not that different from Vieira's (he came across the stories by accident, also). I had recently become aware of the online newspaper archives of the Library of Congress and was working on the "double rows of teeth" issue when Search for the Lost Giants aired. It was strange for me to watch that program, because I found myself hoping that I didn't get scooped on my linguistic solution to the strange dental descriptions but also wishing that their intense focus on the topic would help dispel some of the bizarre claims about "double rows of teeth" that have been around at least since Brad Steiger's 1978 book World's Before Our Own.
I went at the issue of "double rows of teeth" pretty hard in my blog after that original post, gathering documentary evidence (primarily in the form of newspaper accounts and dictionary entries) to demonstrate how changes in the popularity of a combination of linguistic idioms explains most of the cases of "double rows of teeth." I used specific examples to illustrate my case, including several that Vieira had discussed repeatedly. I admit to being frustrated that my ideas about "double rows of teeth," which I felt constituted a well-researched, relatively elegant, and original solution to an interesting riddle seemed to go unacknowledged by Vieira. That frustration came through in my last post on the subject.
Vieira and I talked about all that and a lot more during his visit to Columbia. Some of those conversations were private and some were in front of the class. We more-or-less beat to death numerous inter-connected issues related to the topic of "giants" over the course of three days. We talked about the nature of science, the nature of evidence, the many and varied motivations and psychologies of the "fringe" world, the relationships between the "fringe" and "mainstream," strategies for communication, human anatomy, the price of tea in China, etc. In my opinion, there really wasn't much of substance about which we had significant disagreement (including "double rows of teeth"). One sticking point was my contention, in which I remain firm, that the New England Patriots are, in fact, evil cheaters. That's part of my belief system and I'm not budging. I think we did tentatively agree, however, that all New York City professional sports teams suck, and also that the Dallas Cowboys suck, have always sucked, and will suck until the end of time. I may be embellishing that a little bit.
A couple of the students in Forbidden Archaeology collected video of Vieira (totalling about six hours, including both class sessions, a one-on-one interview with him, and Vieira and me discussing various issues related to giants) for their final project. They've got control of all that footage for now. It will be really interesting to see what they produce from it. Vieira and I agreed that we both need to give their project the green light before it will be made public. I'll keep you posted on that.
In the meantime, here's a short clip of Vieira in class yesterday. I don't remember the exact question to which he was responding, but his answer speaks for itself.
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