With hopes for release of the fabled "white paper" evaporating and the recent documentation of the thirteenth Fake Hercules Sword (and because my kids woke me up at 3:00 a.m. and I couldn't get back to sleep), it seems like a good time to take a look back at some great moments in Swordgate history. These are just a few of my favorites in roughly chronological order.
- December 16-18: The Sword Rain Begins
For once in my life, I was happy to be a born procrastinator. If I was a person who acted quickly, I would have thrown out my obsolete history textbooks with the publication of the original Boston Standard story proclaiming them all to be wrong. Thank goodness I dallied! Within 48 hours of the spread of the original sword story, what started as a trickle of other "Roman swords" had turned into a torrent (the Florida sword, the California sword, the Italian eBay sword, the Design Toscano swords . . .). This was an amazing display of the ground-up capacity of the internet to produce new and useful information to solve a puzzle. It was clear that the proponents of the "Roman sword from Nova Scotia" were unprepared to explain the number of similar swords that existed and the rapidity with which they would surface. The appearance of these swords and what they could tell us about the "Roman sword" claim quickly began driving the story. It's clear to me, looking back now, that Swordgate was actually won within the first 48 hours of the battle.
- December 17: The Legal Threats Begin
As the appearance of more and more "Roman swords" diluted the impact of Pulitzer's "100 percent confirmed" claim, he threatened me with legal action several times (you can read about his threats to me here and here and to Jason Colavito here). He was ostensibly upset both about some third party comments an old blog post of mine and that I had used "his" image of the sword without his permission. It was pretty silly: here was someone trying to make hay by fighting to reveal "forbidden history and hidden truth," claiming he was going to sue me for copyright infringement for using the same photo of the sword that everyone else was using. In one email, he threatened to file a lawsuit primarily for the purpose of costing me money:
"See, takes nothing to file the suit, takes a tremendous amount to get out of one."
Yes, those first 48 hours of the battle revealed a lot.
- December-January: Adding Weak Coffee to Weak Coffee Does Not Make Strong Coffee
Adding weak coffee to weak coffee does not make strong coffee (I remain sorry that I'm unable to credit this metaphor to whomever I stole it from, but I find it useful and I'm going to continue to use it even though it's not original). We were told that the "Roman sword" was the "smoking gun" artifact that made the case for a Roman occupation of Nova Scotia. As the credibility of both that claim and the individuals tied to it (Pulitzer and the Ancient Artifact Preservation Society) were being irreparably weakened by the mounting evidence that the sword was not an ancient Roman artifact, Pulitzer began to emphasize other pieces of his "case." We were told of a Roman shield boss found on Nova Scotia in the original article (with a picture showing a shield boss from the British Museum with an "InvestigatingHistory.org" copyright mark, which remains in the Daily Mail story to this day even after Pulitzer threatened to sue me again for pointing it out and then said he'd have it fixed). We were also treated to a story about "crossbow bolts" that are likely pieces of old logging tools and an inscribed stone that,when viewed in the right orientation, clearly says "Harold." Needless to say, none of these these pieces of evidence added any significant weight to the sword claims. But they were pretty funny.
- December 22: The Sword Magically Reveals Its Origin Story
As an early Christmas present, we were told that the beat-ass looking copper alloy Hercules sword supposedly found in the waters off Nova Scotia possessed magical navigational qualities by virtue of a lodestone embedded in the hilt that "causes the sword to point to true north." Pulitzer provided zero evidence for this assertion, and seems to have borrowed the narrative wholesale from David Kenney's Roman Officer site (the home of the Florida sword, which was one of the few swords Pulitzer was aware of when he came up with his Roman Scotia story). That the sword's background story was cribbed from another source will surprise no-one who has followed Pulitzer's penchant for "borrowing" content and putting his name on it. Incidentally, in his blog post about the magical qualities of the sword, Pulitzer also asserted (again) the existence of an "original" in a Naples museum (he has never produced any evidence of such an original) and made the evidence-free claim that ancient Romans made a set of ten swords. Those claims have been hanging out there for months now with nothing to back them up.
- January 10: Commodus's Secret Probably Not Destined to Become One of the Summer's Top Beach Reads
Apparently the "magical Herculean north-pointing navigational device" scenario was an important element to Pultizer's planned book titled Commodus's Secret: Dirty Secrets Behind History Channel's "Curse of Oak Island" and the Truth about the Lost Roman Legion, Holy Solomonic Relics and the Secret of Hercules of the North. The book was available for pre-order until I started writing about it (here and here), after which the sites and videos advertising the book became inaccessible. I have no idea how many people pre-ordered the book, whether any of those people have attempted to get their money back, and what the results of those attempts have been. Although I can't say the book won't come out, I am not optimistic that you'll be able to spend your summer on the beach reading about Commodus and his legions of swords.
- January 11: World's Greatest Treasure Hunter Thinks Brass is Gold
,If I was trying to convince the world I was the best treasure hunter ever, I would try to avoid saying stupid things directly related to the identification of valuable metals like, say, gold. In a very clear case of "I don't know what I'm talking about," Pulitzer identified exposed brass on the knees of the Hercules figure on the hilt as gold. After I pointed out the dumbness of that assertion (along with several other obvious misinterpretations by Pulitzer in that post and a follow-up), I saw calls online that I should be fired from my job. Sorry, Pulitzer fans, but that didn't happen: no matter where I work or don't work, no matter how disappointing it is, and now matter how awesome Pulitzer's Commander costume is, brass is still not gold.
- January 13: The Real Human Media Finally Chime In
Several weeks elapsed between the the cut-and-paste kissy face echo chamber produced by online "news" sites reproducing the original Boston Standard story and the participation of actual human journalists doing what journalists should do: asking questions to put the story in context. In mid-January, we saw new critical articles in the The Halifax Chronicle Herald and the Iquisitr. A story titled "The Curse of Hoax Island . . ." appeared in Frank Magazine. Pulitzer responded to the Frank Magazine piece by releasing an audio clip purportedly demonstrating that the author of the story, Mike Gorman, wouldn't listen to Pulitzer's side of the story. The audio clip was, in fact, edited from an unrelated conversation between Pulitzer and Gorman from about a year earlier. Oh my.
- January 17: Pulitzer Lies (Again) About the Other Swords
Evidence not breaking down in your favor? Threats of lawsuits not working? Can't scrub away the inconvenient facts? Just keep on lying, I guess . . . Keeping track of all the different swords became tricky as more and more surfaced, and, somewhat ironically, it seemed to become easier for Pulitzer to confuse his followers about them (either that or he couldn't keep track of them all himself). He has consistently misrepresented the identities and characteristics of the other swords since they started appearing, trying to explain them away as some kind of elaborate mirage. I wrote about one of the clearest demonstrations of his propensity to lie here, describing a series of bizarre audio responses to someone in his Facebook group who had dared to publicly question him. You can still find examples online of his followers purposefully confusing the various swords, I suppose because it lets them keep the dream alive. (I've got a page devoted to the Fake Hercules Swords -- keeping track of them really isn't that complicated).
- January 18-25: A Triple Punch Knocks the "Roman Sword" to the Canvas
Swordgate came to a head in late January when three independent analyses convincingly nailed the "Roman sword" into its coffin for good. Two of those analyses (those of Myles McCallum and Christa Brosseau) were summarized in serial episodes of The Curse of Oak Island wherein the Nova Scotia sword itself was examined. The third analysis is the ground-up, group effort that unfolded on this blog. By the eve of the sword's appearance on The Curse of Oak Island, we had amassed a critical mass of data that allowed us to identify a set of casting anomalies common to the blades of several of the swords, including the "Roman sword" from Nova Scotia. Given the greater amount of detail and presence of features on the California sword that are absent from the Nova Scotia and Italian eBay swords, those "Type J" swords almost certainly post-date the California sword. If the California sword is a recent creation, then, so are the rest of the swords that represent later generations. I remain very proud of the data gathering and analysis that we accomplished on this blog: it is, as far as I know, an effort and a result that has no precedent. Stop me before I tear up!
- February 1: Godzilla vs. King Kong
For my tenth "great moment," I'm going to choose the public war of words between Pulitzer and Kevin Burns (the executive producer of The Curse of Oak Island). You can read my take on the exchange here and here. Jason Colavito's discussions are here and here (I borrowed the Godzilla vs. King Kong analogy from him). At this point, the authenticity of the sword itself was no longer a question for serious consideration and The Curse of Oak Island (aka Watching Paint Dry Inside 10X) had strangled just about all the publicity it could from the whole debacle. Pulitzer still didn't quit, of course, eventually producing a 200-page "report" attempted to rebut Christa Brosseau's analysis using a combination of technical misinterpretations, cut-and-paste content, and overwhelming file size. One can online imagine what the "white paper" will be like if it ever appears.