"Social Implications of Large-Scale Demographic Change During the Early Archaic Period in the Southeast"
I've loaded a pdf version of my 2016 SEAC presentation "Social Implications of Large-Scale Demographic Change During the Early Archaic Period in the Southeast" onto my Academia.edu page (you can also access a copy here). Other than a few minor alterations to complete the citations and adjust the slides to get rid of the animations, it's what I presented at the meetings last Friday. I tend to use slides as prompts for speaking, so some of the information that I tried to convey isn't directly represented on the slides. There's enough there that you can get a pretty good idea, I hope, of what I was going for.
I've spent the last several hours doing my prep for Monday's Forbidden Archaeology class. Following an introduction to the topic of pre-Columbian transoceanic contact last week (mostly an overview of the historic, political, social, and scientific debate about the "mound builders"), we'll be jumping in by discussing two classic cases of inscribed stones: the Newark Holy Stones (1860) and the Bat Creek Stone (1889).
It's been fun reviewing these two cases. In my opinion, neither is strong evidence for anything "real" other than late 1800's hoaxery. Their historic contexts are interesting, as are the differences in the motivations of the hoaxers. Both the Newark Holy Stones and the Bat Creek Stone still have their share of fans, but apparently there's some tension over what exactly the stones mean.
Brad Lepper and Jeff Gill have written extensively about the Newark Holy Stones, a pair of stone artifacts inscribed with Hebrew lettering purportedly "discovered" in southern Ohio earthen mounds. Lepper argues that the stones were created in attempt to show that the indigenous peoples of the Americas were related to Old World peoples as known in the Bible, thereby undermining the polygenist framework that was being used to justify slavery. After the first stone (the Keystone) "found" by David Wyrick didn't pass the sniff test of those who examined it, he miraculously found another soon after (the Decalogue Stone).Thousands of person-hours of careful excavation on Ohio Mound by people other than Wyrick has failed to produce any more ancient Hebrew artifacts. Brad Lepper, however, did succeed in finding an illustration that may have been the source of design that Wyrick used for the Decalogue Stone.
To me, the most interesting thing about the Newark case is that the hoaxer (presumably Wyrick) was apparently attempted to "humanize" Native American populations by bringing them into a Biblical framework, rather than de-legitimize them by providing evidence that others built the mounds.
The tale of the Bat Creek Stone is, in some ways, even stranger. The Tennessee stone, described as engraved with "letters of the Cherokee alphabet) appeared in the famed Twelfth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology (1894). Cyrus Thomas argued that the Cherokee were responsible for building the mounds of Tennessee and North Carolina, and Robert Mainfort and Mary Kwas argue in this 2004 paper that the man who "found" the stone was probably trying to make his boss happy. Mainfort and Kwas suggest that Thomas realized the stone was a fake after it had been published, explaining why no-one really talked about it for the next 70 years. The Bat Creek Stone was resurrected from obscurity when Henriette Mertz realized the engraving looked like a Semetic alphabet if you turned it over. In the early 1970's, Cyrus Gordon confirmed that the engraving was Paleo-Hebrew, and the Bat Creek Stone was back. Mainfort and Kwas found an 1870 illustration that likely served as a source for the inscription, but, of course, that hasn't convinced everyone.
The original contexts of these two cases appear to be quite different. In one, the artifacts were apparently planted to produce evidence that Native Americans were tied to the history of the Old World. In the other, the artifact was apparently produced to attempt to tie the construction of mounds to a specific Native American group.
Both cases were discussed in the (2010) documentary Lost Civilizations of North America (you can watch the tralier here and read a 2011 critique by Brad Lepper et al. here). Conservative political commentator, conspiracy theorist, and Mormon Glenn Beck took up the cause of the Newark Holy Stones and the Bat Creek Stone in this 2010 rant. The stones were taken up on America Unearthed in 2013 and 2014 and, not surprisingly, accepted as authentic with no reservations. That garnered some high fives in 2012 from various Mormon organizations searching for evidence of ancient Israelite migrations to the New World. Apparently, however, America Unearthed left the Mormons hanging by not embracing the authority of The Book of Mormon or even acknowledging it exists. This 2015 "America Revealed" spoof video is worth watching for several reasons.
Last week, my answer to the question "how many blog posts discussing banjos will you write in August?" would have been "zero." Today marks number three. That shows you just how hard it is to predict the future.
This is going to be a short one. I wanted to follow up on the yesterday's discussion of who "invented" the banjo. The banjo display in the Museum of Appalachia states that "the Sweeney brothers of Appomattox, Virginia" made the first five-string banjo in this county -- in 1831." Joel Sweeney was a minstrel performer who popularized the banjo among white audiences.
I'm still trying to figure out exactly what Sweeney is being credited with "inventing," since African American banjos that pre-date Sweeney had the same basic design as the "modern" five-string banjo: a membrane stretched over a skin, a stiff neck, and several strings, one of which was a "drone" string. Was it that Sweeney used a wooden frame instead of a gourd? Or that he used a fretted neck? Or that he standardized the five-string arrangement (African American banjos had a varying number of strings)?
If we're going to give Sweeney credit for making the first banjo in the country because he used a wooden frame instead of a gourd, it seems like we should also give credit for creating a new instrument to whoever made the bedpan banjo, the toilet seat guitar, and the horse jaw fiddle that are also on display in the museum.
This painting titled "The Old Plantation" (attributed to John Rose, ca. 1785-1795) shows an African slave playing a four-string (fretless?) banjo on a South Carolina plantation. The banjo appears to have a stretched membrane and a short drone string. As far as I can tell, it's the oldest depiction of a banjo in North America.
Yesterday I wrote a brief post about my visit to the Museum of Appalachia in eastern Tennessee. My main point was that it's a fantastic museum, different from anything I've seen before (and I've seen a lot of museums). You can read that post for my somewhat soppy overview paragraph about what makes this museum so interesting (to me, anyway).
The first building that you visit at the museum is called the "Hall of Fame." The sign in the entryway explains pretty well what the goal is. This is one of the most interesting places in the museum, introducing you to the people and culture of the region though an incredibly varied display of personal artifacts, photographs, and anecdotes, with many of the placards written out by hand and signed by the museum's founder, John Rice Irwin. You can read about Viola Carter's cowbell, look at Felix "Casey" Jones' devil's head, and see a fiddle made from a horse mandible.
There's a lot in the "Hall of Fame," and the slower you move the more you will absorb. I was on medium speed, still having a lot of miles to cover that day to get back to Columbia. So I didn't read every word or every display. Some of the things I bring up here may well be in the museum, somewhere.
One of the things that makes this museum great, I think, is its affection for its subject: it's a museum about Appalachia and Appalachians, created by Appalachians. It is kind of an "inside" ethnography that embraces the distinctiveness of Appalachia, communicating and often celebrating characteristics that outsiders might see as strange, even embarrassing or depressing. The museum doesn't try to make an argument, or even to explain, it just gives you a chance to run your fingers over the fabric so you can maybe get some idea of its patterns, weaves, and textures.
Pride in the distinctiveness of Appalachian culture emerges loud and clear. Two items that jumped out at me from the "Hall of Fame" displays were the crossbow and the banjo. I didn't know much about the history of either of these items in American material culture. I left the museum with the impression that both were home-grown in Appalachia. A little online research, however, suggests the introduction of both to the region was via enslaved peoples from West Africa (the case for the African origin of the banjo is stronger than that of the crossbow). This is fascinating for several reasons, not least of which is that it's an interesting historical case of the transmission of technologies (one musical and one subsistence-related) between two very different groups. Appalachia remains one of the whitest regions of the county.
The Museum of Appalachia has at least two crossbows on display, along with stories about the men who made and used them. I had never before heard of the tradition of "mountain crossbows," and there isn't a whole lot of information online (at least not that I've found so far). I ran across a discussion on this forum and learned that there's a short section on crossbows in the book Guns and Gunmaking Tools of Southern Appalachia by none other than John Rice Irwin (future purchase).
Based on the few things I've been able to read so far, the consensus seems to be that crossbows were made and used for hunting because their use did not require manufacture of bullets or purchase of powder (or cartridges, etc.). In other words, they were inexpensive to operate. Th poverty angle makes sense for the "why" question.
But the question of why crossbows were used doesn't explain how they came to be used. Where did the crossbow tradition come from? It's possible it came from Europe along with the people (predominantly "Scotch-Irish") who settled the region: while the crossbow had largely disappeared from military use by the mid-1500's (replaced by firearms), the weapons were apparently still used for civilian hunting until the 1700's (unfortunately the only source I've got on that so far is Wikipedia).
One alternative to the "brought them along" scenario that I've seen mentioned is the idea that the use of crossbows was transferred first from the early Spanish explorers in the southeast to Native American peoples, and then later from descendants of those Native Americans to the European settlers of Appalachia. Another is that crossbow technology was transferred to Native Americans and/or Appalachian Europeans from West Africans brought to the New World as slaves. In his paper "Notes on West African Crossbow Technology," Donald Ball argues that a good case can be made for transfer of crossbow technology from Africans to Native Americans:
"Available descriptions of crossbows as they occur in western Africa and among Native Americans in the southeastern United States are sufficient to postulate the transmission of a type of this weapon into the New World by slave populations and the adoption of an altered form of that technology by various indigenous tribal groups. Despite featuring a crude facsimile of the gunstocks used by their Anglo neighbors, the utilization of a simplified notch string release system (less the split stock and release peg exhibited in west African examples) may be interpreted as a modification of a much older design which had effectively been abandoned in Europe by the time of the New World entrada yet continued to flourish western Africa until at least the 1920s (Powell-Cotton 1929). Though it is but a small example of transplanted technology, further research on this topic may potentially further reveal a heretofore unheralded example of African-American contributions to the cultural mosaic of the material folk culture of the United States."
Ball observes that known Appalachian crossbows have a "trigger" mechanism more like western European crossbows than the "string-catch" system seen in West African and Native American crossbows. I don't know how many examples of nineteenth-century Appalachian, Native American, and West African crossbows are known (my guess is not many), but it would be really interesting to find out what we know know about the age and provenience of New World examples and what could be learned by compiling data about their construction. I'm guessing someone (perhaps Donald Ball) has already done that work. I'm going to track down his "n.d." paper that he lists as "submitted to Tennessee Anthropologist."
The West African origin of the banjo is firmly established. Like many other people (I presume), I was under the false impression before last week that the banjo was an indigenous American invention. When I looked at the fascinating display of home-made and "early" banjos at Museum of Appalachia, I didn't see anything that made me question that. The museum displays what they claim is possibly the "County's Second Oldest Banjo" (dated to 1833), specifying that the oldest known 5-string banjo was constructed in 1831 by the Sweeney Brothers.
A few minutes searching online reveals that the history of the banjo in America doesn't start with the Sweeney Brothers -- not by a long shot. Joel Sweeney (1810-1860) was a minstrel performer who is known as the first white person to play the banjo on stage. He popularized the banjo among white audiences and played a prominent role in developing the five-string banjo, but he didn't invent the banjo or build the first one in the country. Historical documents make it clear that enslaved populations from West Africa brought the tradition of the "banjo" with them, creating instruments in the New World from whatever suitable materials could be found and utilized. Thomas Jefferson described slaves playing an instrument called the banjar in Notes on the State of Virginia (1781):
"The instrument proper to them in the Banjar, which they brought hither from Africa, and which is the original of the guitar, its chords being precisely the four lower chords of the guitar."
Here is an NPR story on some recent research trying to trace the African origins of the banjo.
The five-string banjo is a fundamental component of bluegrass music, an indigenous American art form with a center of gravity in Appalachia. As far as I'm aware, the other stringed instruments that contribute to the distinctive sounds of bluegrass (e.g., the fiddle, the guitar, the mandolin) have roots in western Europe, the ancestral home of most of the settlers of the region. It's fascinating to me both that (1) the distinctively American sound of bluegrass owes much to the combination of European and African instruments and (2) I didn't already know that.
The oldest banjo in the country wasn't made by Joel Sweeney, but by some African whose name we'll never know. It would be amazing if any of those pre-Sweeney, African New World banjos still survives, considering they were probably made with all (or mostly) perishable parts. I'm wondering if archaeology can contribute anything to fleshing out this story.
Yesterday I spent several hours at the Museum of Appalachia in Clinton, Tennessee. I found this place to be intensely interesting and, frankly, at times surprisingly moving. I'm not sure how much time I'll have to write over the next couple of weeks: I'm back home again from the last trip of the summer and we've got a lot to do as a family to transition to the school year. I wanted to put this post here as reminder of some of thoughts I had about Appalachia as I crossed the region several times this summer. I hope that I can circle back around and develop some of my thoughts at some point (no guarantees).
I became aware of the Museum of Appalachia through it's entry in Roadside America, which described the museum as having a "seemingly endless supply of oddities" including a wood burl devil's head and a Civil War-era perpetual motion machine. I would've enjoyed the museum just for those things, but the fact is that it is really much more than a collection of oddities. Many of the items in the museum (which sprawls across 65 acres and several buildings filled with artifacts) are attached directly to stories about the people connected to the material culture. The items (such as homemade crossbows, polka dotted furnishings, whittled toys, and unique musical instruments) and the narratives evoke peoples' lives and experiences in a way that I have never seen before in a museum, blending the personal and historical to create (in me, at least) the sense that I knew these folks. My own family history, flirting with the fringes of Appalachia, probably contributed to that sense of familiarity. This museum makes history both big and small at the same time, and gives a voice to the textures, rhythms, and trajectories of people, societies, and ways of life that don't get much play in the "big" narratives of history -- a remarkable achievement.
For now, I'm just going to post some photos I took.
A display of home-made banjos. The museum has what it claims may be the second-oldest banjo in the country, dating to 1833 (I think). Because of its association with bluegrass music, the banjo is often thought to be an indigenous American instrument. There are multiple racial elements to the introduction and spread of the banjo, however. I don't know much about it yet, but the banjo was apparently brought to the Americas by slaves from West Africa. Appalachia is largely white ("Scotch-Irish"), and I didn't see much mention of African Americans either in connection with musical traditions or any other aspects of Appalachian life.
There were millstones and grinding stones all over the place. Some of the millstones were composite, but many were one piece with a round hole in the center. This stack of stone cylinders made me wonder how the millstone holes were created -- did they use some kind of tubular drill? So far I've found no evidence of that online, and I'm guessing the stone cylinders are from cores taken for the purposes of mineral exploration. Any thoughts? One of the reasons I'm interested in this is because of the "fringe" claim that circular holes in hard stone (e.g., in ancient Egypt) could not have been created without some kind of advanced technology, despite the existence of copper tubes used in conjunction with sand to drill though granite.
Regular readers of this blog may remember last year's story of the Helenwood Devil, an anthropomorphic clay statue made in the 1920's apparently for the purpose of liberating money from the gullible and/or curious. I was made aware of the Helenwood Devil (aka "The Devil of Scott County") in a piece about a "race of horned humans" posted by Kristan Harris. The account also appeared on the Greater Ancestors World Museum (GAWM) website, where it was interpreted as good evidence for angel-human hybridization.
To Harris' credit, he edited his story after I wrote about the artificial origin of the "devil" statue. The tale remains on the GAWM website to this day, however, serving as evidence not of the Nephilim but of what happens when you are so in love with an idea that you can't even bear to shine the dimmest critical light on your heap of "evidence." Just look at the thing:
You've really got to hold your nose to let that thing pass the sniff test.
With Harris' rejection of the Devil, membership in the Fan Club was down to one. It is with regret but not surprise, however, that I report to you that membership is up: the account of the Helenwood Devil is, once again, put forth as "evidence" for whatever it is that Fritz Zimmerman is talking about in his 2015 book The Encyclopedia of Ancient Giants in North America. The book, which appears to be yet another uncritical cut-and-paste compilation of media accounts marketed as "research," includes the Helenwood Devil in the chapter titled "Giant Humans With Horns" (pg. 295). Either Zimmerman didn't do the basic research necessary to discover that the Helenwood Devil was actually a clay statue, or he doesn't care. I'm not sure which is worse, and I'm not sure it matters. Uncritically presenting the Helenwood Devil account as "evidence" for anything is, in my opinion, a self-evident demonstration of an extreme disinterest in the process or outcomes of research. That's as nicely as I can put it.
Here's another post about how the inability or unwillingness to use whatever tools are available to discriminate between credible and non-credible evidence is symptomatic of pseudo-science in general.
On a related note, L. A. Marzulli vouches for Zimmerman's abilities in the forward (sic) to the Encyclopedia, stating that Zimmerman is a "champion of the truth" and a "class A researcher." So there you go.
I've been writing publicly about pseudo-archaeology for almost a year now. While I've grown used to some of the nonsense out there, I'm still surprised by how tenaciously some self-proclaimed fringe researchers cling to pieces of "evidence" that are either known or probable frauds. Why do they do this?
Can you do "science" about the past based on hoaxed evidence? A reasonable person (especially one who actually does science) would of course answer "no." If you have bad data that you know are bad data, you throw them out. To do otherwise would be . . . what? Stupid? Self-defeating? You can fill in the blank for yourself.
Here are a couple of examples.
Example 1: The Helenwood Devil
I wrote this post about the Helenwood Devil in March (and then this follow-up post and this one a few days later). The so-called Helenwood Devil was a "horned giant" from Tennessee that was "discovered" in 1921. It turned out to be a clay statue that was sculpted in an abandoned coal mine by Cruis Sexton prior to being toured around and exhibited as a curiosity. You can judge the quality of Sexton's handiwork for yourself by looking at the photo.
I found accounts of the Helenwood Devil as a legitimate "horned giant" on two sites: The Rundown Live and The Greater Ancestors World Museum (GAWM). Kristan Harris corrected his story, but the GAWM chose not to. Chris Lesley commented on on this post last night:
"The first logical fallacy committed here is called a "strawman". I don't judge the articles, the GAWM website is there for Giant Hunters as an exhaustive resource, even though there is about 500 yet to be loaded to the site. I have compared the Helenwood devil with the plaster apeman skull called "Peking Man" which still exists in evolutionary examples. Are we to assume that you as an evolutionist who criticize others beliefs, hold to a different standard. I suggest you look into "Peking Man" and lets see how that level of criticism stands. So I am to assume that plaster skulls are acceptable when they fit your beliefs. The next problem is that you have brought the label "runt-hunter" on yourself. You pick out the easiest target and generalize all the articles as such. This is like trying to prove real apples do not exist by showing the public one "plastic apple." I let the public decide which ones are plastic, I am not arguing for the authenticity of the Helenwood Devil, I remain neutral my scientific model is not only safe but its superior to the lesser belief of Common-Ancestry". So you say this one (Helenwood Devil) is fake, . . .great! I am not threatened in any way. It will remain, instead of controlling what people think, as academia does, I suggest that each person judge for themselves in each case and ignore fallacious arguments such as cherry-picking, runt-hunting, double standards and Strawman attacks that misrepresent the motives of others. . thanks."
So there you have it. According to Lesley, the Helenwood Devil, despite being made of clay in 1921, persists as a possible piece of evidence that Creation Science should consider. I guess we should each make up our own minds about what a clay statue from the Roaring Twenties has to do with creation or evolution.
There are several other interesting things in Lesley's post.
First, he's mentioned "Peking Man" before, but I wasn't sure exactly what he was getting at. I checked around and it turns out that it is a popular contention among creationists that the plaster casts of the Homo erectus fossil material from Zhoukoudian are not accurate because they were made by evolutionists with an agenda (the originals were lost during World War II). You might be able to get a little traction with that argument if the Zhoukoudian skulls were the only remains of Homo erectus that we have to look at, but they're not. Not even close (there are many from across Asia and Africa).
Lesley is familiar with a "straw man" argument because he is making one about "Peking Man." Why not go after all the fossils of Homo erectus that are not plaster casts?
If there was a purported Homo erectus that was built out of clay in an abandoned coal mine, I think I'd want to throw it out of the analysis and try to focus on cases that may actually have something to do with reality. But maybe that's just me. I'm not even sure our understanding of Homo erectus would change that much at this point if we just threw out the Zhoukoudian material. This is because a robust understanding of the past, generally, doesn't depend on any single data point: we can throw out the ones that are suspect and still arrive at a plausible interpretation that can be evaluated in the light of new evidence. And we're much better off doing that than holding on to unreliable data and incorporating it into an analysis.
Finally, Lesley accuses me of "cherry-picking" and "runt-hunting" because I single out and examine cases that are not credible. It should go without saying, but it probably won't so I'll say it: that's what scientists do. We actually try to find and throw out bad data.
So far, I have yet to meet a case for a "giant" that I think is strong. And I haven't just looked at the "bad" ones (if they're so bad, why are we even talking about them anyway?) -- I've looked at many that are put forward as "strong cases." I've looked at the case for "three rows of teeth" from Amelia Island that Lesley himself challenged me to look at. I've looked at the case for the "eyewitness account" that Jim Vieira and Fritz Zimmerman published on. I've looked at many others that have been the subject of articles, blog posts, television programs, etc. Where are all the good cases that I'm missing? Are there any that are not "runts" besides the large skeletons reported by the Smithsonian (the institution accused of covering everything up)?
Back to the Helenwood Devil: if you're really just "putting it out there" so that people can decide, why not at least include the picture of the actual Helenwood Devil (and a link to the story) rather than an unsourced, unrelated image of horned skull that is probably also a sculpture?
Keeping the Helenwood Devil in the mix is almost as clear a marker of silliness as you could put on yourself.
Which brings us to the second example.
Example 2: Hutton Pulitzer's Embrace of the Fake
It appears to me that the non-existence of a mechanism for detecting and throwing out fakery is an important component of the "fringe" game in eastern North America. In my last post about the continued silliness of Hutton Pulitzer, I discussed the strange misconception of science among "fringe" theorists that seems to omit any possibility of proving your ideas wrong. That misconception, whether intentional or not, is coupled with an embrace of just about every fraudulent "artifact" that has ever come down the pipe: Newark Holy Stones? Bat Creek Stone? Kinderhook Plates? Soper Frauds? The reluctance or inability to critically examine individual pieces of evidence means that everything counts as evidence: good, bad, real, fake . . . throw it all in the pot, stir it up, jabber about it, try to sell books, etc.
In this post from July I wrote about the allegedly fake copper artifacts that Pulitzer includes in his video of "Copper Culture Artifacts." They're still there, and the video is still there. Fake artifacts? Someone who was really interested in answers and analysis would have removed artifacts that could be fake. So either Pulitzer doesn't care, or he has decided they're genuine. I don't know which it is. If I had to bet, I'd go with Curtain Number 1.
According to internet chatter, his books about treasure hunting are just as meticulously researched as his informational videos about archaeology.
Pulitzer's embrace of the fake went up a notch with his attempt at a defense of the Burrows Cave artifacts. If you don't know anything about Burrows Cave (and the connections between Russ Burrows, Frank Joseph, and Ancient American), please read some of Richard Flavin's posts that I linked to on my Burrows Cave page. There is perhaps no faster way to identify yourself as someone who is not interested in critical thought than by rushing to the defense of Burrows Cave.
Keep up the good work, guys!
Research Hint: Writing “Minoan” on Photographs of Native American Remains Does Not Actually Prove They Are Minoan
If you're a writer, you may have noticed a recent shortage in the supply of capital letters and exclamation points. All good scientists know that correlation does not equal causation, but I would like to go out on a limb and propose an explanation: J. Hutton Pulitzer (aka TreasureForce Commander) has used them all.
Okay, that's a bit of an overstatement. He didn't use them all, just more than his fair share. The occasion was his announcement that he has proved that "Minoans discovered America 4000 years BEFORE Columbus!" (emphasis in original). Pulitzer's liberal use of all caps and exclamation points, apparently to indicate the importance of his claims and communicate his significant enthusiasm for them, has left the rest of us a little short. This post will be necessarily conservative in its use of those two precious commodities.
You should look at Pulitzer's post and decide if you think the monopolization of the supply of capital letters and exclamation points was justified.
As you might guess, I'm not impressed.
My first reaction as I skimmed through Pulitzer's post about his "audit archives research" on May 24th was "wtf?" (normally that would be in caps, but there's a shortage on you know). He posts some pictures of some oxhide ingots from the Uluburun shipwreck (as his "comparative" sample) and then 16 photos of features and artifacts from archaeological sites in Tennessee and Kentucky, all now labeled "Minoan" by Pulitzer. The photos appear to have come from the WPA Archaeological Photo Archives of the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Tennessee. Obviously, whoever decided to post all these photographs online really dropped the ball on keeping all this "forbidden history" hidden from the public. Maybe there was a memo missed somewhere.
Too late now: the cat's out of the bag. (I really feel like that statement would have popped more with some exclamation points, but somebody hogged them all. At least there's still italics.)
Pulitzer shows more photos of European oxhide ingots, then a bunch more photos from Tennessee: excavated wooden post structures, pit features, etc. Then some unlabeled pictures of pottery, some other pictures copied out of books, more stuff, some other stuff . . . it just goes on and on. He even reproduces the photograph that I took of a page from Betty Sodders' book for a post about the alleged oxide ingot of Lake Gogebic, Michigan. Then he shows us the same "Minoan large ox hide ingot" that he's already showed us. I guess he really likes that one. I'll go ahead and show it to you also. There (here's the source).
The artifact from Drake Mound, as well as several of the other artifacts shown by Pulitzer, do have the same basic shape as some of the European oxhide ingots: roughly rectangular with four concave sides. But are they same size? Do they weigh the same? Are they made from pounded copper or are they cast? And why do some of them have pairs of holes drilled in them? Do any European oxhides have holes drilled in them?
Those are questions that someone who was actually doing research would attempt to address. If it were me, I would start with size: how big are the copper reels that Pulitzer says are actually cast oxhide ingots, and how do those dimensions compare with those documented for European oxhide ingots? For a moment I thought about doing that comparison myself, but then I decided I've got better things to do with my time and the person making the claim should do some work. I'll help out by pointing him to this source: Copper Oxhide Ingot Marks: A Database and Comparative Analysis. It's an M.A. Thesis by Alaina M. Kaiser from 2013. There are metric data in Appendix IV. You're welcome.
What about dates from any of the features or structures that are claimed to be Minoan? Any information on those?
The features from the Charles Lea Farm site that Pulitzer labels "Minoan Ox Hide Ingot Mold" are unusual. I'll reproduce one of those photos (source) also so you can see it: it appears to be some kind of basin-shaped feature with four incurvate sides and elongated corners. Yes, it's shaped similarly to an ox hide ingot. I honestly don't know what it is (or in what context it was found at the site) and I would be curious to hear from archaeologists who might know more about these. Woodland or Mississippian? It's unfortunate that there's no scale with the photo. I don't know if there's any kind of written report that describes these features in more detail (there appear to have been at least two at the site).
Writing "Minoan" on a WPA photograph does not actually mean that one has proven that the remains are Minoan. It only means that one has photo editing software, which is all that is required to make an assertion. If I were to write "idiot" on a photograph of a person, for example, I have only asserted that the person is an idiot: I would still have to demonstrate idiocy in order to prove my claim. I think I would do that by paying more attention to the question marks (you'll notice there are still plenty of those to go around) than to the exclamation points. With all the melodrama and hullabaloo surrounding the fantastic assertions of Pulitzer about "forbidden history" and his "smoking gun archaeological evidence," you would think there would be more indications of effort.
At the end of the piece, Pulitzer is quoted as saying “If there ever was a better open and shut archaeological case this discovery is it!” I'm not sure what the case is supposed to "better" than, but I can list a lot of things it's worse than. I wish I had a spare exclamation point to put there.
Addendum (6/4/2015): This post has been up since yesterday, and I have a couple of things to add to it.
First, on the initial reaction to the piece. As soon as this was posted, I was told by some fans of "forbidden history" that I should be focusing on the substance of Pulitzer's "theory" rather than simply attacking his style. If you read the piece carefully, you'll find that my major point is that there IS NO SUBSTANCE to attack (Hey look - the drought in capital letters has eased up! And so has the shortage of exclamation points!!). You'll see I never actually said Pulitzer's "theory" is wrong: I said I wasn't impressed with what he presents. He didn't even do the simplest things he could have done to actually make a case based on evidence, basically relying almost completely on assertions (bolstered by lots of exclamation points and capital letters - those seemed to comprise the main forms of support). I pointed out a couple of things that would be easy steps to take if one wanted to present a case that the Tennessee and Kentucky materials were actually made by Minoans. The photo of the alleged "Minoan Ox Hide Ingot" from the Drake Mound in Kentucky has a scale with it, for example, and measurements of that artifact could be compared with are metric data available for ox hides from Europe. Why not do a comparison? As I said in the piece, I thought about doing it myself, but it's really not my job: it's the job of the person making the claim. You want to claim something from Kentucky is an "exact match" to something from Europe? Prove it! My point is that he doesn't even try to prove it, he just proclaims it. The piece was about the silliness of making assertions without putting even a minimum amount of effort into trying to back them up. Pushing the "!" key is easy, doing the other stuff is a bit harder.
Second, interested archaeologists and others with more knowledge than me about these kinds of copper artifacts have started pointing out publications that are available online that contain useful information. I thought I would provide links to those here so that anyone who's interested can go and see for themselves:
Kristan Harris, latest resurrector and purveyor of the "buried city under Moberly, Missouri" story, is still not convinced that the 1885 account was a hoax. I wrote a short piece in April linking to a series put together for the Moberly Monitor-Index in 2014 by D. Craig Asbury, a local historian. Asbury's story contains a retraction attributed to the editor of the newspaper that originated the account of the "buried city." Apparently, however, the editor of the paper saying "we made it all up" wasn't sufficient evidence for Harris to conclude that the story was, in fact, made up. Harris emailed me to say "I came across the “April Fools” explanation and am not sold on it at all." So . . . Harris thinks the ancient city buried in coal under Moberly is still there, awaiting re-discovery and exploration.
Then what are we waiting for? There are several hardware stores in the area that I'm sure would be glad to outfit Harris on his expedition to the buried city. Maybe he could pitch a series to History and monetize the "search for truth." Dowsing, drilling, radar, nutty guests, finding nothing season after season . . . "The Curse of Oak Island" has provided a proven template. Harris would just need a buddy to act as co-pilot (I've got a suggestion for that role) and a willingness to back up his words with action. I'm surprised he's not out there already: we are talking, after all, about "stone benches, bronze and flint knives, stone and granite hammers, metal statues, metallic saws and a stone fountain that flowed with “perfectly pure water"” in addition to the usual giant skeletons. Forget the radio show, let's go change history!
Now, not to dampen anyone's enthusiasm for this important story and all of its promise for exposing the "forbidden history" of this country, but I wanted to pass on a few more retractions just for the record. Craig Asbury located these and graciously emailed me and gave me his blessing to include them here. I have bolded the most important lines just in case you're really busy putting your expedition team together.
From the Rockingham Register (April 30, 1885):
"A Base Fabrication.
In our last week's issue we published quite a lengthy article taken from the Saint Louis, Mo., Chronicle, giving what purported to be an account of a most marvelous discovery at Moberly, in that State, in the shape of a buried city, surpassing, the wonders of Pompeii. We published the article because the paper containing it was sent us by H. A. Paul, one of Harrisonburg's boys, now a resident of Moberly. We have since found out that it was a miserable fabrication, the only truth connected with it being that there is a hole in the ground at that point made by a shaft's having been sunk in search of coal, which is now filled with two hundred feet of water. It was interesting reading, however, if for no other reason than to show how thoroughly the art of lying has been mastered in these latter times. We will settle the matter with Al. the next time we see him."
From the Daily Evening Bulletin (April 13, 1885):
The True Story of Mr. Tim Collins' Coal Mine.
SEDALIA, MO., April 13.--Mr. Tim Collins, of Moberly, Mo., who was in the city, states that the sensational story of a buried city being discovered under his coal shaft is a sheer fabrication designed to do him great injury. No such discovery, or anything like it, he says, has been made. The names of parties as given are fictitious.
He has not himself been in Moberly this week. His shaft is not 360 feet, but only 265 feet deep, and terminates in a six-foot coal vein, which is being successfully worked. He has not, and never has had, any business connection with Britton A. Hill, or any other St. Louis party, and no Sedalia parties are assisting him financially. He expects to return home, and says he is going east in a few days to secure funds for enlarging his mining facilities, and claims his mine is the best ever opened in the state."
From the Chariton Courier (April 24, 1885):
"THE St. Louis Evening Chronicle published a sensational account last week concerning the finding of a lost city 360 feet underground in Moberly. In last Saturday's issue of the same paper is published an apology for the publication of the hoax, in which the editor would make its readers believe that he was the victim of a misplaced confidence in one J. W. Estes, his correspondent and who is also on the editorial staff of the Moderly Headlight, and that in order to atone to his readers and punish his untruthful correspondent had sent a special correspondent to Moberly, who proceeded to horsewhip the aforesaid Estes in the most approved style of the art. Query: Who told the biggest lie, Estes or the special reporter?"
Those last two are available through the Library of Congress website (where Harris was unable to find any evidence of any retractions). The Daily Evening Bulletin story is here; the Chariton Courier story is here.
Finally, a somewhat related non-update for the "see no evil" files: the story about the Helenwood Devil still appears on the Greater Ancestors World Museum website. In case you missed the news (here and here), the "giant with horns" was actually a clay statue made by a guy in a coal mine and hauled around the country as a pay-per-view curiosity. It's been almost two months since my original post on the subject, and still Cruise Sexton's handcrafted monster is put forward as "evidence" of something having to do with Creationism (I still haven't figured out what the connection is supposed to be). Isn't it time to set the Helenwood Devil free? It's making all the other purported horned giant skeletons look bad.
Update (5/18/2015): I made a few minor alterations to the original text of this post.
I wrote a post last weekend showing that a 1921 story about a "horned giant" from Tennessee was actually describing a crappy clay statue. I wrote a subsequent post wondering why the two giant enthusiasts who had embraced the Helenwood Devil as authentic did not, after being made aware that it was just a statue, change their stories about it.
I spoke too soon.
I am happy to report that Kristin Harris has now (literally) stricken the references to the Helenwood Devil from his recent story about a horned race of humans, acknowledging that the "It was a statue, not a giant human skeleton." He also changed the headline.
Harris wrote me an email and asked me to print his response, so I will:
"Dear respected Andrew White PHD,
It was brought to my attention that you wrote an article on my piece on Humans with horns. Or skeletons found with horns. http://www.andywhiteanthropology.com/blog/what-do-giant-enthusiasts-do-when-the-truth-turns-out-to-be-inconvenient-nothing-apparently
First, you should know that I received no such email from you at this address written as mentioned in your article. If you could provide me a copy of this message It would be much appreciated. As an investigator, I claim by no means to be perfect. I always encourage everyone to do their own investigation and find facts for themselves. This way imperfections are corrected and together as a society of individuals who strive for truth in history, we together can come to a conclusion.
I would first like to point out you did not mention the other 3 articles including, valid evidence, connecting credible institutions and scientists, with publications that skeletons have been found with horns. I really appreciate your contributions to the subject because I believe you bring a level of professionalism that some do not understand. However actions like these make me question your motives. If you were working together with a coworker to discover the truth, would you do it laced in ridicule? This is not about me, it’s about a search for truth. We must work together in order to come to a logical conclusion.
There are many people involved who have many different reasons for searching for truth or believing in giants. They are not all scientific. But it is important to listen to everyone, question everything and don’t believe it unless you can prove it with your own research. Not everything can be explained by science, at least not yet. I will properly edit the article by striking through the old information and correcting it to properly portray our conversation.
Thank you for the correction, and again that is why you are an asset to the community.
All I ask is you publish my response in full, as transparency is very important in science and we should questions those you work in compartmentalized working environments.
Keep in touch.
Kristan T. Harris"
I admit that I was a little surprised by this email - I think Harris is only the second person who is interested in this sort of thing who was said "whoops" in response to something I've pointed out (the other being Terje Dahl regarding the "replica" of the Denisovan tooth he vouched for on Search for the Lost Giants). I've written about who-in-the-hell-knows-how-many hoaxes, misrepresentations, and misinterpretations having to do with "giants," and there have been precious few moments where someone has said "hey, you know what, that looks like it was bullshit." So I give Harris credit for that.
One clarification: I didn't say that I emailed Harris, but wrote that I had commented on his story:
"I made both of the charter members of the Helenwood Devil Fan Club (Harris and GAWM) aware of my post by commenting on their pages."
The image to the left shows my comment. I assumed that commenting on the story itself was the best way to make readers aware that part of the story was inaccurate.
I also commented on the story on the Greater Ancestors World Museum (GAWM) website, but that site remains unchanged (and my comment has not been "approved," so . . . go science!). I know the operator of that site (Chris Lesley) is aware that he is continuing to promote a clay statue as evidence of something having to do with biblical human origins, as he has commented on the original Helenwood Devil post. But he's apparently in no hurry to distance himself or his "scientific model of origins" that is "boldly superior to all previous and existing models globally" from a clay statue built in an abandoned coal mine and carted around the country to liberate the gullible and the curious from their quarters. Other than some blogger who thought the story about the Helenwood Devil described a petrified pterosaur, the GAWM seems to now be the sole supporter of Cruis Sexton's manufactured monster as something relevant to understanding prehistory.
The Helenwood Devil Fan Club now has a membership of one.
All views expressed in my blog posts are my own. The views of those that comment are their own. That's how it works.
Follow me on Twitter: @Andrew_A_White
Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sick of the woo? Want to help? Please consider contributing to Woo War One (a small and somewhat silly GoFundMe campaign). All proceeds will be used to fight the woo.