Category Archives: Pseudoarchaeology

2010: The Year in Pseudoarchaeology

Compared to previous years, 2010 wasn’t really a productive one for the pseudoarchaeologists. Very little has been said about the Bosnian Pyramid, and rightfully so since it wasn’t a pyramid. The James Ossuary went back to the toilet it came from. The Jesus tomb was a bust, but made Simcha Jacobovici some money. And so on.

Still, there were a few pseudoarchaeological happenings in 2010 and here’s a summary:

Shroud of Turin
At the beginning of the year, in January, a Jewish death shroud was found in the Old City of Jerusalem that dates to around the time of Jesus. The significance is two-fold: it’s the first shroud found in Jerusalem and the textile is simple two-way weave. The find itself isn’t pseudoarchaeological, but it does have some ramifications on a long-held pseudoarchaeological find: the Shroud of Turin. The Turin shroud has been known for some time to be a 14th century hoax, with its ocher and vermillian (paint) facial image that is inconsistent with a cloth being wrapped around a skull. The real shroud, more recently discovered is nothing like the one purported to be that of Jesus. The Turin shroud has a complex weave, rather than the simpler, two-way weave. A complex weave is consistent with the 14th century, but evidence now shows the first century CE to have much simpler textiles.

Crucifixion Nail
In March, certain individuals claimed to have found a crucifixion nail of Jesus Christ. My skepticism surrounded the way in which the nail might be dated: it had no context and had been handled a lot. Sure enough, a few days later Bryn Walters of the Association for Roman Archaeology echoed my skeptical point of view in a bit more detail.

Noah’s Ark! Again!
A Chinese Christian cult discovered the lost boat of Noah
. Yeah, not a year goes by that someone doesn’t discover Noah’s Ark. It’s a myth people! A story! Based on earlier flood tales like the brief story of Utnapishtim in Gilgamesh. Some of the Noachian myth are line-for-line copy. Gilgamesh was the earlier of the two, and didn’t purport to be fact. The Noachian tale has everything you would expect from a story borrowed from another culture: parts that are word-for-word the same, embellishments and hyperbole, and no basis in reality whatsoever. It’s amazing how people are so willing to spend money on “expeditions” that purport to bring back “proof” that no one ever gets to see. Amazing.

The Saint
Saint John the Baptist
, a character in Christian mythology that may or may not have actually existed had his 15 minutes of pseudoarchaeological fame in August when officials in Bulgaria claimed to have discovered some of his remains in a small reliquary. Found under the basilica of an ancient monastary, this little alabaster box contained a few cranial, dental, and hand bones. Clearly motivated by religious and nationalist agendas, some Bulgarian officials rushed to the “holy relic” conclusion without any evidence. Since John the Baptist is alleged to have had his head separated from his body, the cranial section becoming a legendary trophy, one is left to wonder what contet might explain cranial and post-cranial bone if the claim were true.

Indiana Jones?
The Hollywood rumor mill buzzed
about an Indiana Jones sequel. The last movie ended with space-aliens. How do you top that? Go to the Bermuda Triangle, apparently. If the make it, I’ll suspend disbelief for a couple of hours to enjoy the show… I doubt it will ever top The Last Crusade, however.

Pseudoarchaeological Vomit
Glenn Beck opened his mouth
and spewed forth what can only be expected: nonsense. But for a change, he pretended to know something about archaeology! According to Beck, the Newark mounds in Ohio are measured differently in his reality than in everyone else’s. And Victorian era hoaxes are evidence that a lost tribe of Israel built the mounds and founded, apparently, the Mormon Church.

I did, however, just write a short rejoinder of sorts, in which I respond to a commenter who objected to my labeling the artifacts Beck discussed as “frauds” and “hoaxes.” I maintain their hoaxes, but it is possible they’re genuine artifacts.

“Biblical” Archaeology
Most of the pseudoarchaeology of 2010 centered around religious claims. Which is one of the reasons why I wrote, Why Biblical Archaeology So Very Often Equals Pseudo-archaeology. So-called theologians seek to “prove” through science their particular notions of god and why their particular scriptures are that god’s word. But, more often than not, these theologians (a questionable term in itself) resort to outright deception or poor science to support conclusions they already have. In the article linked above, I used Bryant Wood as an example where he uses shoddy science and deceptive data to arrive at dates more to his liking for Jericho.

I suspect the “biblical” archaeologists and their pseudoarchaeological methods were always there but found a shadow in the grand claims of the now much quieter significance-junkies and mystery-mongers like those who jumped on the Bosnian “pyramid” band wagon. Perhaps Michael Cremo, Hancock, and Osmanagic will return to regal us with new extraordinary claims that haven’t even the most ordinary of evidence to support them, putting all this religious pseudoscience back in its closet.

Yonaguni – It’s Just Rocks, Guys.
Still, even though I wrote the post in 2009, the Ruins of Yonaguni remain a hot topic in 2010, with a very active comment thread. It seems that there are those who will not be convinced that the geologic formations under the surface of the Yonaguni coast -that small island of Southern Japan- aren’t made by aliens, high-tech ancients, or [insert wild claim]. The rock formations were last above sea level prior to 10,000 years ago, so it’s possible they were walked on and even admired by humans in the area. But the geology under the sea exactly matches that above the surface, yet mystery-mongers and significance-junkies still insist it can’t happen in nature, this is an undersea city, etc. Never mind that were the megalithic structures formed by man an not nature, the caloric requirement would be so great that the earliest Joman people (14,000 – 5,000 BCE) would have needed an agricultural infrastructure that went way beyond the rudimentary, semi-sedentary Neolithic lifeway that presents itself in the archaeological record.

That’s all I’ve got this year. I’m looking forward to 2011. I can only imagine what pseudoarchaeological finds await us! But we should start a pool on the first claim of “Noah’s Ark Found” for 2011. I’m saying April 14th, 2011.

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The Newark Decalogue and Keystone Revisted

Jim Goodman comments on my post, The Pseudoarchaeology of Glenn Beck, to point out the waste of his tax dollars on my education. Perhaps. But I doubt any of his tax money went to my tuition.

Still, his primary criticism surrounds a portion of that post which deals with some 19th century hoaxes used to promote a political agenda of the day, which is to say that there were many folks who were opposed to attributing the construction of the various mounds of the northeastern United States to the ancestors of Native Americans who lived there upon the arrival of European settlers. The mounds, they claimed, must have been built by ancient Europeans, therefore it was right to displace the Indians (i.e. Trail of Tears).

My chief disagreement was with Beck’s implication that there was somehow evidence that the “lost tribes of Israel” made their way to the Americas because of these artifacts. The “lost tribes” notion is one that Beck’s adopted religion of Mormonism believes.

The artifacts in question are primarily known as the “Decalogue” and “Key stone,” both inscribed with Hebrew script. The former includes a bas-relief of Moses (it reads in Hebrew square script, mosheh above the figure’s head) and an abbreviated version of the Ten Commandments from the Torah -the Decalogue- on the sides and back.

Beck’s implication in the video linked in the previous article was that these are artifacts suppressed by “mainstream archaeologists” and evidence of a much earlier presence of Israelites in America. Ironically, one of the purposes for the hoax in the 19th century was, in part, to justify our actions in stealing land from the Native inhabitants. Another part of it was that there existed a ethnocentric bias against Natives in that settlers of European descent couldn’t accept that they were capable of the technology or had the know-how to build the intricate mounds that exist in places like Newark, Ohio. Beck exhibits this same ethnocentric attitude even today in his show, but perhaps for somewhat different reasons.

The commenter, Jim Goodman, was, however, right to criticize my conclusions that the stones were forgeries. They’re hoaxes, but further investigation on my part reveals that they’re very likely the real thing.


Not having an expertise in ancient phonetic scripts, I had to rely on whatever information I could obtain from my university library or the internet on these stones. Most of the sources I was able to locate were either of the Glenn-Beck-America-is-the-Land-of-the-Lost-Tribes-of-Israel variety or of the aliens-are-among-us-variety. I remembered a Skeptical Inquirer article from years ago on the subject, but that issue has been long absent from my personal library. The author of that article eventually commented on my Beck-post, confirming what I remembered and linking to an article at Ohio Archaeology that sums it up.

Recently, however, a friend sent me a link to an article by Rochelle Altman, who is an expert on ancient phonetic scripts, in which she goes into great detail about the “…Newark Ritual Artifacts.”

Her explanations are convincing as well as her arguments, and I’m inclined to accept her conclusions that the artifacts themselves are genuine, Late-Medieval ritual objects. She bases this on the “stylistic features on the bas-relief sculpture [...] and the Late Medieval Hebrew base-script used for the consolidated grid font that appears in the inscriptions.” She goes on to say, “[t]he artifacts are authentic, if not what they were thought to be in the 19th century, and, unfortunately, even today.”

The likely source of the objects is a European settler, from whom these may have been stolen and subsequently deposited at the sites where they were located in the early 19th century. The Decalogue and Keystone may not be forgeries, as I stated in an earlier post, but they are certainly hoaxes when presented as artifactual evidence of an “ancient America” with ties to the “lost tribes of Israel” and the other mumbo-jumbo Glenn Beck was alluding to in his program.

I highly recommend Rochelle Altman’s article, “‘First, … recognize that it’s a penny’: Report on the ‘Newark’ Ritual Artifacts,” found at The Bible and Interpretation. I find that I have to thank Altman and my friend for setting me straight on this and I wish I would have found this article earlier. I find I must also offer some thanks to commenter Jim Goodman, though I was already thinking of writing a short article either by itself or a part of my annual round of of pseudoarchaeology (which will be published here in a day or so). I doubt, however, that I’ve fully satisfied Mr. Goodman: the Newark artifacts might not be fakes, but they are frauds in the manner by which they are being promoted.

The sad truth, pointed out by Altman, is that the true nature of these artifacts is being sidelined by nutters and skeptics alike (though she certainly didn’t say “nutters”).

EDIT (12/28/10): after a personal correspondence with Brad Lepper, I’m, again, back to wondering about the veracity of the artifacts. It is very suspect that a person who had a preconceived notion of how the mounds were built (David Wyrick thought the mound-builders were not the Natives that lived in the region and was digging to prove it) should find just the sort of artifact that could be used to show the site was not Hopewell.

It’s also convenient that the person who was able to translate it happened to be on-hand.

So, were these artifacts entirely fraudulent, created in the 19th century and planted as a means to confirm a conclusion about Native Americans that was popular among many? Or were these genuine artifacts, salted in the places Wyrick was to dig. It would be simpler to salt the site with genuine artifacts if they were available -not inconceivable given the number of European immigrants out nation had up to then. But, it’s also not inconceivable that the artifacts could have been created of locally quarried limestone, then salted at the site.

What Lepper and Altman agree on, however, is that this is not evidence of any “Lost Tribes of Israel” in the Americas.

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The Pseudoarchaeology of Glenn Beck

It should be no surprise that, since he has little grasp on the rest of reality, that Glenn Beck would fare any better at understanding archaeology.

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direkt

In the first few seconds of that video, Beck gets much wrong. He states that the little square he drew in the Octagon section of the Newark Earthworks (Newark, Ohio) is “made up of staves” which are each 606 feet long. He points to the four corners of these “staves” in his chalkboard diagram to illustrate precisely the four lengths he’s referring to.

Except his measurements are utterly wrong. And not by just a few feet. The average length of each of his “staves” is about 1,000 feet -nearly 400 feet more than he says. To illustrate this in a diagram that’s somewhat more precise than his chalkboard drawing, I’ve created the following graphic using Google Earth with a KMZ file[1] I borrowed from James Q. Jacobs (thanks, James. Hope you don’t mind).

Newark Earthworks
A true measurement of the Newark Earthworks

The measurements aren’t precise. I didn’t go to the ground and survey the site with a transit. But my margin for error is less than 10 feet. That still leaves 300 feet unaccounted for with Beck’s assessment. The “stave” above measures 1090.39 feet as indicated by the Google Earth ruler.

Next, Beck goes on to describe the angle of the pyramids and how its somehow significant that this angle precisely matches the angle taken from the center of the circular formation when measured against the line bisecting the octagonal formation. These, he claims, are both 51.8 degrees.

They aren’t. He’s closer than with the “staves” argument, however. The angle he shows on his chalkboard (what’s with that thing, anyway?) is one that’s very subjective. If you know what angle you want, you can just about arrive at it simply by moving your radius since the circular earthwork isn’t a perfect circle nor do the two openings perfectly align with the northeast opening of the octagonal formation, as you can see in the diagram above. I placed the center of the circle to be equidistant from the two openings of the circle but inline with the center of the two furthest openings -the southwest (on the circle) and the northeast (on the octagon).

From here, if you draw a line due north (true), which is easy to do in Google Earth, you end up with an angle of 50 degrees (+/- 0.5), which is as much as two full degrees from Beck’s “51.8 degrees” that the Great Pyramid of Giza is. Beck calls this the “exact same calculation,” but it really isn’t. The calculation for the Great Pyramid was arrived at through trial and error. Earlier pyramids had different angles. The Bent Pyramid, for instance, has and angle of 55 degrees until the upper courses, which change to 43 and 44 degrees. 55 degrees was probably too steep and it was probably too costly in manpower and resources to totally scrap the pyramid. By the time Khufu and Khafre built theirs, many lessons had been learned. 51-52 degrees (we no longer have the casing stones to be exactly sure) was ideal since it went up without falling over.

And that’s an important distinction between the “51.8 degrees” of the Giza pyramids and the Newark Earthworks. One is a structure’s angle going up. The other is an angle resulting from an alignment with an 18.6 year lunar cycle[2]. The two have nothing to do with each other and Beck is creating a correlation that doesn’t exist.

So then Beck’s poor grasp of archaeology moves on to moundbuilder pseudoscience, fakes, and forgery that has long been cast aside by scholars. He starts on about the “Newark Holy Stones,” one of which is often referred to as The Decalogue and was alleged to have been found by David Wyrick in 1860. It’s called the “Decalogue” because it depicts a bas relief of a man, ostensibly a priest, with a condensed version of the 10 Commandments inscribed in a crude form of Hebrew. Another stone is the “Keystone,” named for its shape, which also has Hebrew script.

That these two stones (and others) are fakes and frauds really isn’t in question. The only question is did Wyrick fake them himself or did he have help? Or was he duped by others. The implication by Beck and 19th century believers, was that this was evidence of the so-called “Lost Tribes of Israel” -a motif that Beck, a Mormon, has a lot of investment in. But, if this were evidence of such a “Lost Tribe,” then the script on the alleged artifacts would have been pre-Exilic Hebrew. Instead, the forgers, probably being ignorant of this, used a post-Exilic script[3] .

In the 19th century, there was a prevailing myth of a “Moundbuilder society” that somehow vanished. This often became twisted into the agendas of certain religious and political causes but the credit couldn’t possibly go to the Native Americans. To recognize these people as the rightful designers and builders of such magnificent and detailed constructions would mean admitting that the Native Americans were something more than the “savages” and “heathens” they were characterized and marginalized as. Such characterizations made it far easier to force them off their lands, displace them, and treat them as less than white.

Fortunately, such beliefs and agendas have been forced out of academia early on by the likes of Cyrus Thomas, who had a Federal Government budget to find out the truth of the Moundbuilder mystery. His work was empirical and it concluded that the mounds “were built by the Indians.” In addition, he had the occasion to debunk some of the “tablets” that were cropping up here and there, including the Davenport tablet to which he launched a full, empirical investigation that discovered that it had been planted recently (to 1894) in a mound in Davenport, Iowa[4].

The stones and tablets Beck presented are frauds. Beck is a fraud.

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References and Notes:
  1. http://www.jqjacobs.net/archaeo/sites/newark.kmz []
  2. Lepper, Bradley T. Feb. 13, 2007. Octagon Earthworks’ alignment with moon likely is no accident []
  3. Deal, David A. (1996). “The Ohio Decalog: A Case of Fraudulent Archaeology,” Ancient American, #11 []
  4. Feder, Kenneth L. Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology Mayfield Publishing Company 1990 3rd ed []

The Pseudoarchaeology of Saint John the Baptist

Head of Saint John the Baptist on a plate, a s...
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Yet another example of religiously (and probably nationalistically) motivated pseudoarchaeology has emerged in the news. A Bulgarian archaeologist and at least one overly nationalistic politician with a bad mouth claim to have discovered the remains of Saint John the Baptist in a small reliquary made of alabaster found under the basilica of an ancient monastery.

The remains include a few small cranial, dental, and other bone portions identified as from a hand. On the reliquary, a container that especially designed for “holy” relics, is an inscription which includes, “Sveti Ivan,” which means “Saint John,” along with the date June 24, a day traditionally considered as St. John’s birthday.

Thats it. That’s all the evidence apparently necessary for archaeologist Kazimir Popkonstantinov and Minister Bozhidar Dimitrov to safely conclude that they have, indeed, found the mortal remains of Saint John the Baptist.

Never mind that relic fraud was a very, very common practice in antiquity. Never mind the stories of Saint John’s death and distribution of his remains are inconsistent with what is claimed to be found. Never mind that it appears to be in the best interests of a certain nationalist politician to have a sensational find.

Perhaps this is the remains of John the Baptist. And my natural skepticism of religious claims on reality isn’t the reason I make the accusation of pseudoscience. Its the rush to conclusion and the sensationalist propaganda that gives the unwary public of Bulgaria (and the world) the impression that archaeology is being done -proper, scientific archaeology. When, in fact, quite the opposite is happening. We already know that early churches (as well as modern ones!) are willing to claim possession of of relics that belong to demigods and sub-deities they refer to as “saints” in order to motivate and inspire their tithing memberships. We already have examples of medieval frauds that have been used in this way (the shroud of Turin, for example).

What we don’t have are strontium analyses of these bones, which might reveal whether or not the individual traveled the Near East in the same places as John were alleged to. Or comparisons of the bones to determine if they are even of the same individual. Or of the same sex as John! There aren’t even any radiocarbon dates of the remains that I’ve been able to locate.

But even a simple literary review would reveal some problems with either the remains or what is believed known of John. The cranial remains and post-cranial remains, by legend, are to have been separated. Yet the reliquary has remains that are both cranial and post-cranial. If any of the remains belong to John, then either some do not or what is believed “known” about the man is wrong.

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Why “biblical archaeology” so very often equals “pseudo-archaeology”

An aerial view of Jericho showing the ruins of...
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There are doubtless many who consider themselves “biblical archaeologists” who are a genuine passion for archaeology and science and approach their work scientifically, allowing the data to lead them to whatever conclusion it must.

But it seems that the focus of “biblical archaeology,” by and large, isn’t about science rather mythology. Specifically, convincing the world that mythology isn’t mythology. There’s a lot of history in the Judeo-Christian scriptures. Lots of it. Unfortunately, there is a lot of political and ideological propaganda in it along with etiological myth. The story of Joshua’s conquest of Israel appears to be one such culmination of propaganda and origin myth, which is constantly hammered by “biblical archaeologists” as a path of “proof” that every word of the bible is true. It’s not enough to lean on these mythical stories as sources of inspiration and inquiry, in much the same way we do Sumerian and Akkadian texts. Because of religious fundamentalism, these stories must be literally and divinely true.

Except they just don’t pan out that way when science is applied to the sites mentioned in the Joshua story. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of place-names in the biblical narrative which match quite well. But this is also true of nearly all the great works of cultural literature in antiquity (Gilgamesh, Homeric epics, etc.).

Take Jericho, for instance. Kathleen Kenyon excavated this site between 1955 and 1958. Her results showed that the destruction of Jericho was at around 1500 BCE, during the period that Egypt was expelling the Hyksos, so it was very likely destroyed by the Egyptians. In addition, Kenyon’s results demonstrated that the site was abandoned by the alleged “conquest” in the 13th century BCE.

More recently, Bryant Wood attempted to contest the dating of the destruction level at Jericho. Wood’s key point of evidence is a radiocarbon sample that was among the many samples collected by Kenyon. He puts a lot of words and a few other points of more spurious evidence around it, talks it up like he’s being fair and balanced, but comes down on the side of a 1440 BCE date during the Late Bronze Age. Did you see it? If you go to his article on the site linked, the key piece of evidence he cites as his source is footnote # 39, which leads to Kathleen Kenyon’s fifth volume on her excavations report: Excavations at Jericho Volume 5: The Pottery Phases of the Tell and Other Finds (Jericho 5) (London: BSAJ, 1983). Her co-writer was Thomas A. Holland also an archaeologist.

But here’s the problem with Wood’s key point of evidence: it doesn’t exist.

The British Museum retracted the date due to the discovery of calibration problems with the equipment used to take the radiocarbon measurements. Once the date was corrected for the sample, it was consistent with Kenyon’s original 1550 BCE destruction date for Jericho IV. For corroboration, in the event that you might think there’s a vast secular conspiracy to suppress archaeological data and biblical mythology, you could have a gander at Bruins and van der Plicht, who also dated samples found in the same layer (charred cereal grains) independently and without any intention of proving or disproving Wood’s speculations. Their data falsified Wood’s and supported the conclusion that City IV was destroyed around 1550 BCE. Clearly during the Hyksos conflict and probably sacked by Egypt.

To my knowledge, Wood has never, ever retracted or revised his conclusions. In the face of scientific evidence and empirical data, this is, itself, is evidence of bad science. Indeed, the very nature of starting with a conclusion (that biblical narratives like Joshua’s “conquest” are proof of supernatural beliefs) then sorting out the material record so as to fit that data, is pseudo-archaeology.

Now Wood is at it again. He claims to have “discovered” Ai -a site that was discovered in 1933 by Judith Marquet-Krause. The site and Marquet-Krause’s conclusions were confirmed by Joseph Callaway, an archaeologist of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, albeit quite reluctantly:

For many years, the primary source for the understanding of the settlement of the first Israelites was the Hebrew Bible, but every reconstruction based upon the biblical traditions has floundered on the evidence from archaeological remains [...] the primary source has to be archaeological remains ((Dever, William (2003) <i>Who were the early Israelites and where did they come from?</i>, quoting: Callaway, Joseph A. [1985]).

The “biblical archaeology” venture which includes Wood appears to be mostly a tourism / evangelism scam than an actual excavation if you look at this post on the same site. It’ll be interesting to see what evidence he has to support the apparent notion that the site which has been known as Ai for the last 80 years isn’t. It must be some extraordinary evidence indeed. But , if his track record is any gauge, it will probably be spurious data, cherry-picked to concur with pre-conceived conclusions, while contradicting data are carefully swept aside, discarded and ignored.

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An Apologist for Noah?

The Deluge tablet, carved in stone, of the Gil...
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I recently received a comment on my post about the pseudoscientific / pseudoarchaeological quest for “Noah’s Ark,” the mythical boat that carried two of “every kind” (which most creationists describe as analogs to “species”) of animal along with a family of the only righteous man in the world for 40 days and nights while the entire world was flooded. This flood myth obviously didn’t happen, which is what I said in my earlier post. But this is, perhaps, not so obvious to those for whom the sciences of geology, biology, and archaeology are not studiously read.

Which is painfully obvious from Rick’s comment to me:

Regardless of whether or not the ark has been found, one of the things I get tired of hearing is the straw man argument about how a worldwide flood is impossible. Those who make arguments such as this show their ignorance of the Bible and its account of the flood. The Bible does not say that every species on the planet was on the ark. It says that two of every kind of land animal was on the ark. That means, two dogs, not two pit bulls and so on. Also, the Bible states that the mountains were raised up and the valleys sank down after the flood. This means that preflood mountains would have been lower than those of today, and it likely means that the oceans were not as deep. Regardless of whether you believe the story or not, if you’re going to try to tear apart the story, at least use the actual text and stop making up your own.

First, a “strawman” argument is one that mischaracterizes the argument of another by restating another’s argument in such a way to make it more easily defeated, leaving the old, but difficult to refute argument behind in hopes that the other will as well.

I made no strawman argument. I said, “obviously a global flood didn’t happen” (or something very close to this). This is obvious since there would be countless examples of physical evidence for such a flood in the geological record. Something similar to the evidence for an asteroid impact that had a global effect at 65 million years ago, which is the K-T boundary -that thin layer of sediment that is found the world over and in the same consistent location of the geologic column. Above this layer the fossil species present take on an entirely new taxonomy -the dinosaurs extinct and their fossil remains lying below. Yet there is no evidence which supports the mythical claim of global flooding. There is plenty of evidence for regionally constrained floods at various places both temporally and geographically, each of these using but a minuscule of the water necessary for a “global flood.” Moreover, there is a continuity present in the archaeological records of civilizations going back to over 10,000 years where human occupation is always present somewhere on the Earth’s surface and in many, many places at once. Where a civilization collapses or evolves, others take its place either elsewhere or in the same locality.

In addition, there is no possibility that a boat was constructed in human history which allowed for two representatives of each species in the Near East, much less the planet, to be safely carried for 40 days. Such an endeavor boggles the mind when one thinks of food, waste, and habitat required. And, in spite of Rick’s attempt to admonish me on the difference between “kind” and “species,” I still don’t see where he’s made a distinction. This is a failing of creationists and biblical literalists that cannot be overlooked.

Finally, his last statement that I should make an effort to use the actual text should I wish to “tear it apart” is worth serious consideration. So here I do so.

The Gilgamesh epic is demonstrably the literary progenitor of the Noachian myth. I’ll include passages from both Genesis and Gilgamesh here in a line-numbered format to compare:
1.
2. At the end of forty days
3. Noah opened the window he had made in the ark and released a raven,
4. Which flew back and forth as it waited for the waters to dry up on the earth
5. Then he released a dove to see whether the waters were receding from the earth
6. But the dove, finding nowhere to perch, returned to the ark, for there was water over the whole surface of the earth. Putting his hand out, he took hold of it and brought it back into the ark with him.
7. After waiting seven more days, he again released the dove from the ark.
8. In the evening the dove came back to him and there in his beak was a freshly-picked olive leaf! So Noah realized that the waters were receding from the earth.
9. After waiting seven more days, he released the dove and now it returned no more.
–Genesis 8:6-12
Now Gilgamesh:
1.
2. When the seventh day arrived,
3. I sent forth and set free a dove.
4. The dove went forth but came back since no resting place was visible, she turned around.
5. Then I set forth a swallow
6. The swallow went forth but came back, since no resting place for it was visible, she turned around.
7. .
8. .
9. I then set free a raven. The raven went forth and, seeing that the waters had diminished, he eats, circles, caws, and turns not around.
–Gligamesh XI, 145-54
In the Gilgamesh passage, I left two blank lines to maintain the correlation between the two and show the parallels. The Genesis passage shows clear embellishments (again, a common literary device of the period) I took the Gilgamesh passage from Pritchard (1958, pp 94-95).
It follows that if there are clear parallels and evidence of borrowed motifs between earlier flood myths and the Noachian one, then other sub-myths within the overall myth of Genesis would also be expected to have been borrowed. This isn’t evidence of “intellectual dishonesty” on the part of the authors of Genesis, rather this is evidence of the practice of the day. Nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples (as well as many sedentary peoples) had strong oral traditions (and still do) in which they pass on information from one generation to the next which they find important or vital to their culture. In so doing, embellishments naturally occur in the evolution of the story. What may have once been a factually based account of a real event becomes convoluted and embellished to the point that it can only now be considered a myth. Myths and stories get embellished also due to the encounters of the story-tellers with other story-tellers.
We must consider that even Abram (later “Abraham” in the “J” source, a name redaction justified by the “P” source) admits that he is nomadic and originally Sumerian. The myths in question are, indeed, Sumerian (a.k.a. Chaldean). There is even emerging evidence of a diaspora in the Persian Gulf region, perhaps due to inundation of the Persian Gulf basin before 4,000 BCE, which may be the progenitor for the flood myths themselves. Certainly the origins of the Sumerians (they come from “Dilmun” according to their own writings, a place described as “eden” and “paradise”) is largely a mystery: their language is a linguistic isolate and their religion acculturates itself gradually -almost seamlessly- with the earlier Ubaid culture at around the Jemdat Nasr period (4000-3100 BCE).

The Gilgamesh epic is demonstrably the literary progenitor of the Noachian myth. I’ll include passages from both Genesis and Gilgamesh here in a line-numbered format to compare:

First, Genesis:

1.

2. At the end of forty days

3. Noah opened the window he had made in the ark and released a raven,

4. Which flew back and forth as it waited for the waters to dry up on the earth

5. Then he released a dove to see whether the waters were receding from the earth

6. But the dove, finding nowhere to perch, returned to the ark, for there was water over the whole surface of the earth. Putting his hand out, he took hold of it and brought it back into the ark with him.

7. After waiting seven more days, he again released the dove from the ark.

8. In the evening the dove came back to him and there in his beak was a freshly-picked olive leaf! So Noah realized that the waters were receding from the earth.

9. After waiting seven more days, he released the dove and now it returned no more.

–Genesis 8:6-12

Now Gilgamesh:

1.

2. When the seventh day arrived,

3. I sent forth and set free a dove.

4. The dove went forth but came back since no resting place was visible, she turned around.

5. Then I set forth a swallow

6. The swallow went forth but came back, since no resting place for it was visible, she turned around.

7. .

8. .

9. I then set free a raven. The raven went forth and, seeing that the waters had diminished, he eats, circles, caws, and turns not around.

–Gligamesh XI, 145-54

In the Gilgamesh passage, I left two blank lines to maintain the correlation between the two and show the parallels. The Genesis passage shows clear embellishments (again, a common literary device of the period) I took the Gilgamesh passage from Pritchard (1958, pp 94-95).

It follows that if there are clear parallels and evidence of borrowed motifs between earlier flood myths and the Noachian one, then other sub-myths within the overall myth of Genesis would also be expected to have been borrowed. This isn’t evidence of “intellectual dishonesty” on the part of the authors of Genesis, rather this is evidence of the practice of the day. Nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples (as well as many sedentary peoples) had strong oral traditions (and still do) in which they pass on information from one generation to the next which they find important or vital to their culture. In so doing, embellishments naturally occur in the evolution of the story. What may have once been a factually based account of a real event becomes convoluted and embellished to the point that it can only now be considered a myth. Myths and stories get embellished also due to the encounters of the story-tellers with other story-tellers.

We must consider that even Abram (later “Abraham” in the “J” source, a name redaction justified by the “P” source) admits that he is nomadic and originally Sumerian. The myths in question are, indeed, Sumerian (a.k.a. Chaldean). There is even emerging evidence of a diaspora in the Persian Gulf region, perhaps due to inundation of the Persian Gulf basin before 4,000 BCE, which may be the progenitor for the flood myths themselves. Certainly the origins of the Sumerians (they come from “Dilmun” according to their own writings, a place described as “eden” and “paradise”) is largely a mystery: their language is a linguistic isolate and their religion acculturates itself gradually -almost seamlessly- with the earlier Ubaid culture at around the Jemdat Nasr period (4000-3100 BCE).

So, Rick, as you can see, I used the actual text, that is to say, Gilgamesh, in order to “tear apart” another. Both are made up. Gilgamesh and other stories of flood and deluge in the Near East make no inherent claim to be truthful or “divine word.” Perhaps they were once considered so. Perhaps they were stories based on some kernel of truth -a flood that actually occurred and devastated families and societies along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in antiquity. Evidence of such flooding is present in both the geological and archaeological records. None of these floods are on a scale larger than their local regions.

I created no strawman. It is obvious to those who aren’t overly bound by superstition that a global flood did not occur. It is obvious, too, that there was no “Noah” or an “ark” to waste money looking for. I have great admiration for biblical stories and the knowledge that can be gleaned from them, but at least know where to add the requisite grains of salt to my intellectual meal.

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Real Archaeologists Don’t Wear Fedoras and Crack Their Whips

Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark
Image via Wikipedia

At least not without copious amounts of beer.

The rumor mill is a-buzz with chatter about Indiana Jones V. After going from magical boxes to magical cups (even die-hard fans will try to pretend magical stones didn’t really happen with a second movie) then finally to crystal skulls from space aliens, there can only be an improvement, right?

Perhaps an adventure about real archaeology? Yeah, right.

According to Den of Geek, the best rumors place the next Indiana Jones in the Bermuda Triangle.

From the link above:

“George [Lucas] and Steven [Spielberg] have been working on a script and it’s almost there,” a source told the New Zealand website. “Harrison is on stand-by for filming next year. This looks like being an emotional and exciting conclusion to the franchise, with Indy facing his biggest challenge yet.”

For most Indy fans, the Bermuda Triangle, an area of the western North Atlantic where a number of ships and aeroplanes have disappeared, is where The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull should have gone [...] the premise at least sounds vaguely plausible…

Plausible?

At least it gives me more pseudoscience and pseudoarchaeology to write about!

In my opinion, the best efforts of the Indiana Jones franchise are the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.

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Noah’s Ark Found… again.

Noah’s Ark Ministries International, a Chinese Christian evangelical group, claims to have found “Noah’s ark” in Turkey.

It’s overdue. Various groups have been claiming every 2-3 years that this mythical boat has been found, but actual evidence never finds its way to the hands of independent investigators. The last ark discovered was by Bob Cornuke in 2006. It, too, never found its way to any real scientists to investigate.

The current “discovered ark” is alleged to be “carbon-dated to 4,800 years ago” by the Chinese “investigators.” There’s no revelation of the methodology or procedures used in conducting the radiocarbon dating, but even if the dates are correct, there’s ample evidence that the region was forested in the Bronze Age. There should be wooden structures.

My prediction: the site will always remain “a closely guarded secret”; no scientific publication of the find(s) will see the light of peer-reviewed literature; any additional information will be in the form of press release from the “ministry.”

Obviously they haven’t located “Noah’s ark.” There’s no reason to accept such a story was accurate given the earlier progenitor of the tale in the form of Gilgamesh, from which the anonymous authors of Genesis borrowed heavily, sometimes word-for-word.

What they should be looking for is Utnapishtim‘s boat or, better yet, Ziusudra‘s raft. But there is no evidence for a flood that was able to reach the peaks of Mt. Ararat -nor is there enough water in the entire world to make it happen. There are probably any number of real reasons to send archaeological expeditions to Mt. Ararat, but any of them looking for a boat that contained two of every species on the planet during a global flood is a colossal waste of time.

EDIT: On Paleobabble, Mike Heiser shares an email he received from someone alleging inside information to a very elaborate hoax. “In the late summer of 2008 ten Kurdish workers [...] are said to have planted large wood beams taken from an old structure in the Black Sea area”

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I nailed it. So to speak.

A few days ago, I posted some questions, skeptical of the recent news that a “crucifixion” nail of the time of Jesus was found. Primarily, I questioned the very notion that the nail could be dated with any accuracy. Other than saying, “its probably of the Roman period,” very little else can really be said of the nail’s provenience.

In a new article that I noticed on the interwebs, the director for the Association for Roman Archaeology, Bryn Walters, has made a few comments. He described the circumstances by which the nail came to light:

Mr Walters said that about seven weeks ago he had been asked to inspect the nail. “It was a Roman nail. There are millions of Roman nails, perhaps billions. It could not possibly be from a crucifixion be cause if it had been hammered in, it would have been bent — and this is dead straight.

“They did not tell me where it came from. I would not accept it as a nail coming from any crucifixion. It was perfectly preserved. It was four inches long, which I would say was a bit short for a crucifixion. A cruci fixion pin could be longer than that.

Oh, and he also said:

“I know of only one nail from a crucifixion, and that is kept secretly in Jerusalem. That was a nail ham mered through a heel: it was dam aged and rusty.”

Walters went on to describe the men that presented it to him as “not religious” and having “nothing to do with the Christian Church.” And, he included a comment that the nail could just as easily been part of 17th or 18th century residential construction at the fort it was found in, which is an 18th century fort on Madeira Island in Portugal at a port called Funchal.

Veneration of relics is something that has always existed in the early Christian Church. As far back as the 4th and 5th centuries CE, there are examples of this in Church literature. At around this time, the practice “expanded in the form of a liturgical cult, receiving theological justification”[1]. In his book, Relics of the Christ, Joe Nickell classifies relics in four ways:

  1. First Class: the body of a saint or a portion of it (bone, fragment of flesh, etc)
  2. Second Class: item or piece of an item once used by a saint (clothing, etc.)
  3. Third Class: an item deliberately touched to a first class relic
  4. Fourth Class: anything deliberately touched to a second class relic with the intention of creating a fourth class relic.

Relics had a importance to 5th and 6th century religionists since without a relic, new shrines and other religious architecture couldn’t be built. The acquisition and possession of a relic at a fort could have meant justification for continued occupation of the site.

What politician doesn’t want to keep military installations in his district?

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References and Notes:
  1. Nickell, Joe (2007). Relics of Christ. University Press of Kentucky, pp. 18-19 []

The Dating of Iron Nails

A recent story making it’s rounds among those who fancy an interest in archaeology, history and “biblical” versions of both carries the headline “Archaeologists find crucifixion-style nail from the time of Jesus.”

My first thought was this would be cool. There are so few nails found that can be attributed to actual crucifixions, so this could provide some additional insight into the manufacture, style, etc. I was eager to read of a context that places the nail in the ground, perhaps with a talus or piece of wood still attached like that of the poor fellow’s heal found back in the 1970s[1]. His nail was bent, making it difficult to remove from the wood and foot. Its thought that the economic demands on Romans resulted in the removal of nails after the death of crucifixion victims for re-use.

But, as it happens, this nail wasn’t found in an original context. It was “discovered in an ornate box at a fort,” possibly from the period of the Crusades. The first crusades didn’t begin until almost 1200 years after the alleged time of Jesus. Still, the nail could be from his time. But there’s no mention of how the nail was dated. Only that it dated from the time of Jesus.

One way, might be to test the patina on the surface of the nail. If the nail still retained original organic material or blood residue, this could possibly be dated. Similar dating has been done to rock art, but I’m not sure how the oxidation involved with iron might affect such an effort.

The Mirror says the nail is smooth, indicating that it had been handled by many people over a long period of time.

Darn. The patina idea wouldn’t work anyway. It was worn smooth.

The newspaper quotes Christopher Macklin of the Knights Templar of Britannia as calling last summer’s find “momentous.”

But there’s no mention of why it might be “momentous.” I’m still scratching my head and wondering why something “momentous” wouldn’t be mentioned by the “archaeologists” involved or why The Mirror wouldn’t be specific on this. It might be from the alleged time of Jesus. It might not.

He said evidence the nail had been handled a lot “indicates it was of great interest to many people” and that he believes the original Knights Templar thought it was a genuine artifact from Jesus’ crucifixion.

Rational clarification: evidence that the nail had been handled a lot indicates it was perceived to be of great interest.

We know that the Crusades were an attempt to “retake” Jerusalem and the “Holy Land.” We know that thousands upon thousands were killed in the name of superstition in an attempt to do so. We also have evidence that humans are willing to propagandize their political and religious positions, and what better way to do it than with a “holy relic” that rallies and inspires people? Why shouldn’t we believe that it is at least just as likely that the nail is every bit as fake as the shroud of Turin?

Moreover, of what significance is a single nail with no provenance or context outside of a fort that belonged to a 13th century military arm of a religion bent on controlling the minds of humanity?

I’d be more interested in the box it came in.

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References and Notes:
  1. Haas N. (1970) Anthropological observations on the skeletal remains from Giv’at ha-Mivtar. Israel Exploration Journal, 20:38-59 []