Book Review: The Lost History of Ancient America

Book cover image from Amazon.com

Editor-Joseph, Frank. (2016). The Lost History of Ancient America:How Our Continent Was Shaped by Conquerors, Influencers, and Other Visitors from Across the Ocean. Wayne, NJ: New Page Books. 288 pp., ISBN: 978-1632650689 (paperback). $16.99

Frank Joseph, editor of The Lost History of Ancient America, this collection of very short articles from the fringe magazine, Ancient American, proudly states in his introduction that “skeptics no longer have an academic leg to stand on.” He then predicts in the same breath, “but must fall back […] on argumentum ad hominem and argumentum ad verecundiam. That is to say, he predicts those that do not accept the un-sourced claims of the largely anonymous writers in this poorly edited volume will attack the character and authority of the claimants. Or, at least, skeptics will rely on the authority of others rather than the writers within the volume.

Frank Joseph Collin (“Joseph” is his middle name) is a former editor, now correspondent, for Ancient American magazine, a fringe, hyper-diffusionist periodical that features many articles about how ancient peoples in the Americas had contact and help from smarter, more technologically advanced, white people from places like Europe well before Columbus arrived. In the early 1980s, prior to his gig at Ancient American, Joseph/Collin served time for child molestation, which was probably the reason he lost his leadership position in the Illinois Neo-Nazi party (Steiger and Steiger 2012). This is the kind of revelation by a skeptic that Joseph/Collin was poisoning the well about in his introduction, but I mention it because the racist perspective of the Neo-Nazi party may not be far removed from that of the many hyper-diffusionist arguments presented in his book.

The book itself is comprised of 42 articles from the Ancient American magazine, divided into 11 sections such as “Underwater Discoveries” and “Giants.” The cover of the book is very nicely done and appealing. The binding, page weight, and typeface are likewise very well done. New Page Books has done a very nice job putting the physical product together and they deserve credit for it. From there, the best compliment I can give Joseph is that there is an index and an attempt to provide chapter notes. The index is 8 pages and, with 266 pages of content, that equates to about 1 index page per 33 content pages. Personally, I thought this was okay. But the chapter notes were a clear deficit. Even though the chapters were short, roughly 4 pages per chapter (this was also a deficit given the complexity of the topics they purported to raise), notes were often missing for some very specific, and notable claims. Six chapters had no notes at all. The writers within this volume were making some very hefty claims and absent were the most rudimentary of notations to cite the sources of the claims.

As an example for a lack of sourcing and general incompetence of the writer and editor, I offer chapter 17, “America’s Oldest Rock Art.” The contention that this is the oldest rock art probably isn’t in dispute. First, the incompetence. The writer, Wayne N. May states that the oldest examples of rock art in North America is near Pyramid Lake in Nevada. This is true. He goes on to describe the rock art, which is probably accurate (a single photo accompanies the chapter). Then he writes, “[a]lthough not duplicated anywhere else in North America, related etchings came to light earlier at Winnemucca Lake, in Oregon, evidence that the culture responsible for the Pyramid Lake rock art was not confined to a single site in Nevada.”

The problem for May and, by extension his editor (Joseph), is that Winnemucca Lake isn’t in Oregon. It’s in Nevada. Near Pyramid Lake. They’re the same set of rock art.

The lack of sources presented is also a problem. Any good editor of a volume that claims to shake the foundations of academia, as Joseph is wanting to claim, would insist that statements of fact have some sort of reference. May writes that the rock art was “dated by radiocarbon testing of a carbonate layer underlying them to roughly 12,800 BCE. This time signature was supported by geochemical data and sediment and rock samples from adjacent Pyramid Lake, which show they were exposed to air from 13,200 to 14,800 years ago.” May isn’t wrong with this information, but it’s insulting to the researchers (Benson et al 2013) not to give them credit and insulting to May’s readers not to allow them the opportunity to obtain more in-depth writing on the topic. Benson et al conclude that these petroglyphs share qualities with petroglyphs in Long Lake, Oregon, undoubtedly what May intended to write originally. May also seems to think that the dates somehow overturn the very fabric of North American archaeology, which they do not at all. Indeed, they offer a fine-tuning of data. Somehow, academia is to people like May and Joseph, a religion with a dogma. It is, however, anything but this. Through out my own undergraduate and graduate studies, professor after professor taught the same thing with regard to the peopling of the Americas: the dates are what we currently have evidence for; go out there and find evidence for older dates.

In the very first chapter, “Horses in America Before Columbus,” the writer, Steven E. Jones, insists that he has data to show bones of modern horses that were in North America after the Pleistocene and before Columbus—essentially between 11,700-458 years ago BP. He cites The Wyoming Archaeologist and a radiocarbon date range of 1426-1481 CE “using AMS methods, long before Columbus. The authors express difficulty in explaining this early date,” but he doesn’t include the rest of the data, which includes a second data range of “1400-1633 CE (2 standard deviations)” (Eckles et al 1994: 56). In other words, they did more than a single test and one of the tests included an upper range consistent with Spanish exploration. Jones also spoke of Pratt Cave, where two horse bones were recovered (a metapodial and a portion of a phalanx), both on the surface of the cave interior. Radiocarbon dating of samples at strata below the surface revealed the oldest date in the cave to be 2820 +/- 180 years BP (Lundelius 1979: 242, 246). That didn’t keep Jones from stating that there was a date range of 6020 to 5890 BCE for bones deposited on the surface after the samples below that dated to a maximum of about 870 BCE! Ludelius states in his paper on Pratt Cave that the surface bones were from a “small form about the size of an ass” and, although he couldn’t be sure if it was domestic or feral, it was certainly modern and likely introduced to the cave by a predator. It would seem that Jones is pulling data from thin air since he offers no citation that explains the extreme age he claims. Lundelius certainly didn’t use that age.

One of the underlying themes in Ancient America is a bizarre support of the LDS Church and Mormon mythology that essentially equates to “white people came here and built all the cool stuff we give brown natives credit for.” This sometimes-not-so-subtle racist agenda manifests itself in the chapter, “A Gnostic Presence in Prehistoric Michigan” in which the writer, Steven A. Wilden, presents a set of stone “relics” created by hoaxers in the early 20th century as evidence that Gnostic-Christians were responsible for some if not all the “Moundbuilders” activities—at least in Michigan. Wilden spends little time actually discussing the history of the alleged artifacts (like who found them, where, when, what contexts, etc.) and most of the chapter of eight pages (one of the longest in the book) is devoted to his perspective on Gnostic-Christian lore. Honestly, my eyes glazed over a bit. The real story is that around 1890 James Scotford, who later teamed up with Daniel Scoper, manufactured a collection of “artifacts” that would eventually number at least 797 pieces! They undoubtedly made sufficient money creating these forgeries, but never confessed their work. However, no additional pieces were ever found after their deaths and Scotford’s stepdaughter later admitted in an affidavit that she observed him making the things. The LDS church was briefly interested, but even they eventually denounced the objects as frauds and forgeries (FARMS 2004). In other words, one of the writers that Joseph is sure will remove all legs of skeptics is continuing to pander a well-documented hoax.

There is also much cherry-picking of data in Ancient America. In the chapter, “Ancient Old World Axes in Pre-Columbian America,” J.S. Wakefield is quick to quote Petrie (1917: 8) when he compares and contrasts Egyptian ax technology to that of Peru, noting the absence of the style in Europe or elsewhere. Wakefield makes the leap that this is a sign of hyper-diffusion, ignoring the rest of what Petrie had to say on the same page in the very same paragraph. You see, Petrie gave a very reasoned explanation for the absence of the style in Europe:

“The Egyptian, like the Peruvian, was inventing his form in the copper stage, when hammering was the process rather than casting; hence both went on the natural lines of lengthening the blade along the handle, to give a larger bearing and means of firm lashing.”

Even without Petrie’s wonderful explanation, it is ludicrous to conclude two independently developed styles equates to Egyptians of the 12th Dynasty (1991-1803 BCE) sharing their technology with Peru nearly 500 years later. Particularly without much, much more evidence.

Conclusion

Frank Joseph’s (a.k.a. Frank J. Collin) Ancient America is not groundbreaking, earth-shattering, or at all significant in the telling of any realistic truth about the archaeology and history of the Americas. I could easily go on and an on with each and every single chapter in this “edited volume,” but I’ll leave that for other critics who I’m sure will have a few words to offer about “giants,” “Vikings,” and assorted other nonsense.

Most of the book didn’t even seem to directly challenge what Joseph said it would, which was that people other than Native Americans visited the New World before Columbus. Much of the book presented the most spurious of evidence if any. Very little was sourced and when it was it was often insufficient. In the opening of my review, I said that the writers of the chapters in this “edited volume” were mostly anonymous and it’s true. And this is also part of why I include inverted commas around “edited volume.” A good editor would have highlighted each writer with a short biography that gives the reader confidence in the writers’ experience as well as a way to look for other works they’ve written. It’s a pretty decent honorific to contributors as well. He does, however, ensure that their titles are displayed in their by-lines, though this is curious since few actual edited volumes do this as doing so is viewed as pretentious.

But that is what sums up works of pseudoarchaeology: pretentious. For all their claimed disdain for academia’s “dogma” and the “mainstream” of archaeology, pseudoarchaeologists and pseudohistorians want the appearance of doing science and academic work. They manufacture conferences, edited volumes, and pretend-journals, but all to house their preconceived conclusions to which they accept only that data which are supportive.

References

Benson, L.V.; Hattori, E.M.; Southon, J.; and Aleck, B. (2013). Dating North America’s Oldest Petroglyphs, Winnemucca Lake Subbasin, Nevada. Journal of Archaeological Science, 40(12), 4466-4476.

Eckles, David; et al (1994). An Early Historic Period Horse Skeleton From Southwestern Wyoming. The Wyoming Archaeologist, 38(3-4), 55-68.

FARMS (2004). The Michigan Relics Revisited. Insights, 24(5). http://publications.mi.byu.edu/publications/insights/24/5/s00001-24-5.pdf

Lundelius, Jr., E. L. (1979). Post-Pleistocene mammals from Pratt Cave and their environmental significance. in H.H. Genoways and R.J. Baker (eds.), Biological Investigations in the Guadalupe Mountains, National Park, Texas, National Park Service, Proc. Trans. Series. 4: 239-258.

Petrie, W.M. Flinders (1917). Tools and Weapons. London: British School of Archaeology in Egypt.

Steiger, Brad; Steiger, Sherry (2012). Conspiracies and Secret Societies: The Complete Dossier, 2nd ed. Visible Ink Press (p. 18).

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About Carl Feagans 335 Articles
Professional archaeologist that currently works for the United States Forest Service at the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee. I'm also a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army and spent another 10 years doing adventure programming with at-risk teens before earning my master's degree at the University of Texas at Arlington.

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