For those of you that enjoyed the weekly videos from last spring's Broad River Archaeological Field School, I wanted to make you aware of this compilation of the entire season into a single 2:16 presentation. It will be a good refresher for me to watch the whole thing, as I'll be spending much of this semester working on analysis and write-up of the data from the first two seasons of work at 38FA608. Enjoy!
In the week before SEAC, I had the students in my South Carolina Archaeology class sorting sherds in my lab. As the first part of a group/individual ceramic project, they were getting some experience identifying vessel portion, kind of temper, surface treatment, and decoration in sherds from a surface collection from Allendale County, South Carolina (the Larry Strong collection -- the same one I used to get some data for this Kirk paper). For the second part of the project, I'm going to supply them with the combined data and ask them to: (A) match the groups to named ceramic wares using information on excellent sites such as this one; (B) create a graphic depiction of change through time in temper, surface treatment, and the frequency of decoration; and (C) address in writing several questions linking the pottery to patterns of social/technological change.
I'm posting some quick images of most of the rim sherds (and some decorated non-rims) here so they will be able to look at them without coming back to the lab repeatedly while they're working on their projects. I know that some of you will know what these types are -- please don't deprive my students of the joy of discovery!
Also - hi students!
We have reached the point in semester where those of us involved in the educational parts of academia -- faculty and students alike -- are starting to feel the strain: you can see it in the body language, the class attendance, and in my Facebook feed peppered with complaints from colleagues about plagiarism and requests for extra credit.
For me, the grind of the "fringe" material we're dealing with in Forbidden Archaeology is contributing to the fatigue. I've been immersed in this stuff since August. The silliness, lies, and willful ignorance are wearing on me.
The feeling of fatigue crystallized as I listened to this presentation by Alex Koritz, a so-called "Heartland Mormon" who believes that events described in the Book of Mormon unfolded in eastern North America. I played a short chunk of the video (from about 9:00-20:00) in class as part of our discussion of claims about the "missing copper" of the Great Lakes, and asked the students to try to identify and evaluate Koritz's claims and figure out his orientation on the fly. I listened to the remainder of Koritz's presentation over the course of a few days during my walks to and from campus. Between what Koritz says and the questions from the audience, it's really a depressing brew of so many of the concepts we've dealt with this semester (claims about giant skeletons, re-dating the Sphinx, "Mound Builders," government and academic conspiracies, misrepresentation of Native American oral traditions, misconceptions about what archaeologists think and do, misuse of genetic data, etc.). It is sad.
One of the most distressing things that I heard from Koritz was that the Heartland Mormons apparently plan to excavate an archaeological site in Iowa. During the question/answer session, Koritz mentions that Wayne May, editor of Ancient American Magazine, is "overseeing" an excavation of a Hopewell site (about 1:12:30):
"Even in the Midwest there are still Hopewell digs going on. We were back in Illinois recently . . . um . . . if you know Wayne May, he's actually overseeing one on the Mississippi River."
Fetishizing fake artifacts and making fantastic maps is one thing, but excavating a site?
[Update (11/13/2016): I think that an excavation has already taken place.]
This webpage, dated January 2015, describes the purchase of property and the intent to excavate a Hopewell site that the Heartland Mormons claim may be the sacred city of Zarahemla:
"For the past several years Ancient American Magazine publisher Wayne May has been exploring the possibilities of what could be one of the most significant archaeological finds in history, the Zarahemla temple site of the Nephites of the Book of Mormon! Before this can be positively established, archaeological work must be done to verify that this was anciently a Hopewell Mound Builder Civilization site along with having evidence of a temple structure."
The site shows aerial photographs of the property across the river from Nauvoo, Illinois, where May et al. claim there is evidence of a rectangular "temple structure" and provides a figure that purports to show the locations of buried walls as determined using ground-penetrating radar (GPR):
I can't fully evaluate the GPR work without seeing a formal report, of course, but I can tell you that I'm extremely skeptical of the accuracy of the information in that image. GPR works by pulsing radar waves into the ground and detecting the reflections that occur when the waves encounter a material with different electromagnetic properties. By measuring the strength and travel time of the reflected pulses, it's possible to collect information about subsurface deposits. But those data are not simple. GPR data do not come in maps such as those shown above: such maps are produced from careful processing and analysis of dense datasets. GPR cannot, by itself, tell you the kinds of materials that are buried or give you precise depths. The resolution of GPR varies with antenna size -- the greater depth penetration required, the lower the frequency of antenna that must be used and the lower resolution that you'll receive. I don't know what kind of hardware, software, and methods were used to produce this illustration of a buried rectangular structure, but I will tell you that GPR did not identify the material as wood and did not provide those direct depth figures.
Who produced this drawing? The website address on the image is not functional. I found a single page for a company called H3 Tec here. There is additional information about H3 Tec's claim of a technology for long-range detection of precious metals scattered around the web (e.g., here, here).
Shooting radar waves into the ground and drawing maps are non-invasive activities: you can do that all you want without permanently affecting the archaeology. But apparently this GPR study is just a prelude to an actual excavation. The webpage says the following:
"I would like to invite you to join with other fellow "Heartlanders" to help us raise the funds for the purpose of conducting the archaeological studies and dig. The dig will be conducted by non-Mormon semi-retired archaeologist, Dr. John Melancon, who is also one of the few American archaeologists fully certified to conduct digs in Israel because of his training in Hebrew archaeology."
So who is this famous archaeologist who, with your generous support and Wayne May's guidance, is going to uncover the temple at Zarahemla?
Melancon apparently runs a company called Underground Discovery & Exploration. From that website, we learn that:
"Dr. John Melancon is a world renown archaeologist that maintains a semiprivate museum in HENDERSON TX. Dr. John Melancon is notably the worlds foremost authority on Spanish and Knights of the Golden Circle Society treasure maps, symbols and signs.
As an archaeologist, Dr. John Melancon desires to preserve the integrity of history. Treasure hunters seek out the knowledge Dr. Melancon has amassed over the past 35 years of the secret Civil War society, KGC."
As you can see from the screenshot, the posts on the Underground Discovery & Exploration website are not about archaeology. The focus is on treasure hunting.
I was unable to find much about actual archaeology that Melancon has done. I found several announcements for presentations he has given to church groups (e.g., this one, this one, and this one). He has a listing on "Worldwide Who's Who," an "international branding and networking organization" that charges membership fees. I did find several others things of interest, however, including this 2013 newspaper story about a treasure-hunting controversy in New Mexico involving Melancon. He apparently started and ended this blog with a single post in 2014. His LinkedIn page states that he has been Senior Vice President of a Bible museum in Branson, Missouri, since 2015, with responsibilities that include:
"Curating and displaying artifacts, procurement of artifacts, archaeology overseas and in America. Translation of some inscriptions and oversight of the archaeological portion of the museum. Assisting in operation of the balance of the the museum."
[Update (3/14/2017): Dr. Bobby Sparks, President of the Bible History Museum in Branson, Missouri, informed me via a comment below that Melancron "was associated with the project early on, but due to circumstances, he is no longer identified with the project"].
This page from 2011 crows about the treasure hunting expedition that Melancon will be leading to Black Mesa (perhaps the same one later described in the newspaper article above?). The language will sound hauntingly familiar to those of you who have followed this blog closely:
"As one well known treasure hunter said, “How did you get permission on one of the biggest treasure sights in the world?” Simple. We are Expedition Resources: an unbeatable team, experience, technology, and a solid track record. What are you waiting for? Call us today to be a part of the greatest team, greatest treasure hunt, and greatest expedition! MAKE HISTORY!!!"
That's a bold statement. Can Melancon claim an A-Team van and a costume to compete with those fielded by the TreasureForce?
Whatever kind of van he might have, it's not at all clear to me that Melancon has the expertise to excavate a Middle Woodland site in the Eastern Woodlands. I cannot comment of the actual archaeological excavation he's done before (I would love to see an example), but I will tell you that doing "Hebrew archaeology" in the Middle East is different from doing Hopewell archaeology in the Midwest. The techniques are different, the deposits are different, the cultural materials are different, and the research questions are different. And once shovels go in the ground, you can't put things back.
So what's the plan here? What's the goal? What's going to happen if human remains are encountered? How are the deposits that are exposed going to be documented? What's going to happen to the cultural materials after they come out of the ground? Can my archaeological friends in Iowa tell me anything about what's going on?
I'm all for public interest in archaeology, but I'm not for the sacrifice of a legitimate archaeological site for the purposes of fantasy.
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