The Pseudoarchaeology of Glenn Beck

It should be no surprise that Glenn Beck has a poor understanding archaeology.

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

So what the heck is a stade?

Before I dive into the actual data, let’s look a minute at what Beck is referring to by a stade. It comes from the Latin word stadium, which is from the Ancient Greek word ??????? (stádion). For the Greeks, one stadion was 600 podes (“podes” is the plural of “pous” which means “foot.” Think of the word podiatrist–a foot doctor).

The length of the pous, or foot, in the Greek world had regional variation, so, as you can imagine, historians and the like have been arguing about what the actual length of a stadion might be for years. It also might not surprise you that, depending on which measurement is assumed for the stadion, different results can be interpreted from ancient texts that use it.

But many scholars agree that 157.7 meters (517.3 feet) is a reasonable figure to assume. It was arrived at by Lev Vasilevich Firsov (Engels 1985:306), who applied modern measurements to 81 measurements provided by Eratosthenes and Strabo:

[H]is methodology is a simple one. He takes 81 measurements of distances recorded by Eratosthenes and preserved mainly in Strabo. For each one, he divides the straight-line distance by the number of stades recorded by Eratosthenes. Finally, he averages the 81 lengths of the stades he derives from this method and obtains 157.7 meters for the length of Eratosthenes’ stade.

Donald Engels (1985). The Length of Eratosthenes’ Stade. American Journal of Philology 106 (3), page 306.

Back to Glenn Beck’s Chalkboard

So, the stadion or stade in the ancient Greek world was roughly 600 Greek feet. Since there are at least a half-dozen versions of the stade-to-modern-foot (with the best scholarly version being the Eratosthenes Stade mentioned above), where does Beck get “606 feet” from?

Most likely, he’s using the Ptolemaic or Attic stade which is 187 meters (606.96 feet). He doesn’t say why he’s using this version. But then he doesn’t really say why he’s using a Greek unit of measure that was in use at around the 3rd century BCE for a North American structure probably built between 100-500 CE. And half the planet away. The connection, assuming the measurements are accurate, would be spurious at best.

Are the measurements accurate?

The short answer is no. And not even by a little. His measurements are way off. And not by just a few feet. The actual average length of each of his “stades” is 1,124.5 feet (Beck says 606 feet). To illustrate this in a diagram that’s a little more precise than his chalkboard drawing, I used QGIS to create the following graphic with GPS data collected by James Q. Jacobs, which is posted on the internet. His data, as far as I’m aware, are accurate to within a few feet. Let’s call it 5. Hell, let’s be generous and call it 10 feet.

Lidar & measurements
Lidar overlay in QGIS with the measurement window open. Point data from

You can see in the measurements window above that Beck probably would have been better off just claiming the 8 sides of the Octagon were his stades. At least they’re closer to the 606 feet (187 meter Ptolemaic) stade he favors. The west northwest side is about 622.1 feet. He also says they’re “exactly the same,” but there’s little reason to think so.

Next, Beck goes on to describe the vertical slope of the Great Pyramid and how it is somehow significant that this angle precisely matches the horizontal angle taken from the center of the circular formation when measured against the line bisecting the Octagon formation. These, he claims, are both 51.8 degrees.

Insert a dash of Pyramidiocy

Interestingly enough, they are both roughly 51.8 degrees. Holy cow! What are the odds?!

Well, roughly 1 in 360 if you’re willing to round to the nearest degree. I’d buy lotto tickets every day at those odds.

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 about 52 degrees (+/- 0.5), which is consistent with Beck’s “51.8 degrees” Great Pyramid of Giza association. 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.

To be the “exact same calculation,” the Native Americans that constructed the Newark Octagon between 100-500 CE would have had to be concerned with their non-existent pyramid being stable. Or would have at least needed the non-existent blueprints used by Kafre’s builders about 3,000 years earlier!

And there’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 consistent with an alignment with an 18.6 year lunar cycle. The two have nothing to do with each other and Beck is creating a correlation that has no common causation.

Better Explanations for Newark Alignments

At least one good explanation for the Newark alignments is pure happenstance. Perhaps consciously or unconsciously the Hopewell builders were keeping to the lay of the land. This would assume that Native Americans occasionally incorporate the natural landscape into their worldviews, cosmologies, and traditions. Which they do. Supporting this idea is the fact that the geologic strike of the landscape is about 232°, which is consistent with the azimuth of the center line at 231.88°.

Earthwork Angles
The angle of the Octagon and Circle center line is roughly 52 degrees, as is the slope of the Great Pyramid. But the azimuth also follows the geologic strike of the landscape.

Another idea is that the Hopewell people were using the sides of the Octagon to align with moon rises. Ray Hively and Robert Horn (2006) found that the center line of the Octagon and Circle align to the north-most instance of a moon rise. In fact, they found that Moon appears to change the direction on the horizon for rise and set at least 8 times, and all 8 instances correspond to an alignment within the Newark earthworks. The most significant being the north-most moon rise which is aligned to the center line.

Moon Rise
The moon rise aligned by the center line of the Circle and Octagon. It only happens every 18.6 years. Image courtesy of Ancient Ohio Trail.

Moundbuilders Were A Lost Tribe From Israel?

Beck then 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 Hebrew. Another stone is the “Keystone,” named for its shape, which also has Hebrew script.

Newark Holy Stones
The Newark Holy Stones, a faked set of artifacts with a diffusionist mission. Photo courtesy Ohio State University.

That these stones 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 someone else entirely? 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, may have 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 ancient Hebrew. Instead, the forger(s), probably being ignorant of this, used a modern script creating an error in transcription (Lepper and Gill, 2000).

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 since many thought the credit couldn’t possibly go to the existing Native Americans of the time. 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 being. 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 were 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, for which he launched a full, empirical investigation that concluded that it was planted recently (to 1894) in a mound in Davenport, Iowa (Feder 1990).

The stones and tablets Beck presented are frauds. The spurious measurements and similarities he creates with the “looks-like” method are simply ignorant.

References and Further Reading

Engels, Donald (1985). The Length of Eratosthenes’ StadeAmerican Journal of Philology 106(3): 298–311.

Feder, Kenneth L. (1990) Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology. California City, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.

Hively, Ray, & Robert Horn (2006). A Statistical Study of Lunar Alignments at the Newark Earthworks. Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology, 31(2), 281–321.

Lepper, Bradley T. and Jeff Gill (2000). “The Newark Holy Stones,” Timeline (a publication of the Ohio Historical Society), 17(3), 16-25.

About Carl Feagans 398 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.


    • Thank You! I knew I’d read of these in Skeptical Inquirer some years back but couldn’t put my hands on the issue. Turns out it must no longer be in my library (probably loaned out never to be seen again!).

      I highly recommend Brad’s article at the link he cited. Very informative and was just the article I was looking for.

      Thanks again, Brad!

  1. GB’s pseudoarchaeology matches his pseudo-history/economics/ . . . fill in at will.
    I’m waiting for him to make the case for Joseph Smith’s golden tablets.
    He does have some apt criticism of “manifest destiny”, yet to put it into opposition with “providence” doesn’t read history too well. Most scholars would say the terms walked hand in hand in America’s culture and world view.

  2. Beck’s pseudo-archaeology is based on his Mormon belief that Jews migrated to the Americas from the coast of Oman and established cities and a civilization that covered enormous areas. The mound builders are way to modern to have anything to do with the mythology found in Joe Smith’s Book of Mormon tales.

  3. […] the octagon from the center of the not completely circular formation in the earthwork. Back at A Hot Cup of Joe, it is shown that this math is incorrect. However, let’s say it was the same for the sake of the […]

  4. Mr. Brad Lepper’s opinions on the “holy stones” appear to be “wholely stonewalling”, unsupported by the facts and evidence. Rather, his bias and unfettered speculation appear to be the basis for his theory. See below for a good, unvarnished analysis of the truth, including an accurate assessment of Mr. Lepper’s musings:

    A disinterested reading of Mr. Lepper’s linked article reveals unsupported conclusions and assumptions. To cite a few: (1)”Long dismissed by professional archaeologists”. Not only are there no references or citations, but a relyiance on the opinions of others to prove one’s case lacks credibility absent the facts upon which the asserted opinion are based. (2) His “ethnocentric” theory has no apparent basis in fact or credible relation to the holy stones, and his opinion that “When viewed in this context, the “Holy Stones” appear to be scientific forgeries designed to refute arguments for polygenesis and to undermine the scientific support for slavery promulgated by the “American School” of Physical Anthropology” is mere wishful thinking at best. (3) That “they were hastily conceived and rather sloppily executed scientific forgeries” – again, no proof.

    Not surprisingly, author grad student cfeagans is just as lacking in intellectual honesty, claiming, without any support, “That these two stones (and others) are fakes and frauds really isn’t in question.” Really, oh arbiter of all that is true?

    That my tax dollars went to and are going to fund Lepper and cfeagans’ “education” and “work” is scandalous. Neither of you appears able or disireous of discerning or even seeking the truth. Manu up and stowe your personal bias and prejudices, and just focus on the facts.

  5. Thank you for taking the time to put this together. I grew up in Newark Ohio and have spent a lot of time around these mounds.

    Its extremely disturbing to me that not only have a majority of these mounds been destroyed and replaced by parking lots, apartments and freeways and the “Octagon” is being used as golf course landscaping (which until recent years was closed to the public) BUT the idea that there are people who actually believe that these huge and yes, geometrically imperfect mounds were created by Hebrews and not the natives is insulting and delusional.

    Unlike the stone pyramids of Egypt the Newark mounds are made of earth (soil) and it is absolutely silly to suggest that they could be geometrically perfect. The mounds are about as symmetrical as an orange or a grapefruit. To the naked eye the mounds do fit the kindergarten description of a circle, of a square and of an octagon but when measured using exacting survey equipment one would find that there are irregularities throughout.

    As these mounds are mathematically imperfect measuring from a location even just a quarter inch away from a previous measurement would cause very different results when calculating degrees based on projecting lines to an infinity point like north.

    Also, GB was using a site map that was hand drawn and is over 150 years old. It goes without saying (but I will say it anyways) that the map used in the segment is a bit different than the correct map made by modern surveying equipment and therefore any calculations made based on it would be incorrect! Also by the time that map was made the mounds were still over 2000 years old and due to weather it would stand to reason they changed somewhat.

    Another little tid-bit that was not mentioned is that along with the geometric mounds there are numerous effigy mounds throughout the surrounding area and Ohio depicting animals and celestial events which had significance to native people and clearly do not correlate beyond sheer coincidence to anything found in Egypt or Israel.

    GB also said something about Ohio, Cherokee people… the Cherokee were not in Ohio.

    GB takes the liberty of suggesting that because that circle is somehow oriented north and because the Octagon shares a common angle and a measurement of 606 feet with the great pyramid this means the mounds were constructed by the same people. I hate to break it to anyone who believes this story but the mounds are significantly longer/wider than 606 feet.

    You can draw a line pointing any direction out of a circle, as it has no sides and then claim it’s oriented any way that suits you. In fact the entire original complex is more or less aligned with viewable elements of the Milky Way galaxy.

    The two primary Newark mound sites were connected via mounds (coincidentally some of which ran thru where my grandfathers house now stands) that were oriented East and West. Furthermore, the Newark complex was connected to another complex south of Newark by mounds that were more than 50 miles long.

    Mr. Beck can draw a line from the center of that mound right to his toilet, calculate the degree between that and north and Google something that has the same degree… speaking of toilets that’s where this whole idea belongs.

    What possible explanation could one come up with to justify what (if indeed Hebrews were roaming around in my little hometown over 2000 years before it was “discovered”) reason did they have for building mounds? Do the Hebrew people have a history of mound building? No they don’t, but Mormons do have a history of creating fantasy to justify their own hokey Jedi religion. Beck is a Mormon. That “Dr” is a Mormon and the website he suggested we all check out is owned by Mormons.

    Is it not bad enough that as a result of this country’s rush to expand that we destroyed most of the Native Americans and one of the most historically significant prehistoric sights in the world (Newark) but to have someone like Glen Beck take what little tangible history natives (not Indians) have left and attempt to rob them of their peoples achievements and essentially rewrite history for ratings and a Mormon evangelical agenda is repulsive, reprehensible and is a perfect example of how history is lost.

    GB and Ahmadinejad should really compare notes… they could prove once and for all that the holocaust did not happen because the Jews were actually tromping around in Ohio building mounds at the time and couldn’t have possibly been in the death camps. Just think of the ratings!

    It’s a shame that it would be almost blasphemous to claim that someone other than Leonardo Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa but it’s considered time well spent to rob an entire culture of their history.

    I remember when I was about ten years old; a team of anthropologists and historians cut into and removed roughly a 10-foot section of the “ Great Circle” to study its composition. Quickly, hundreds of Native Americans responded by setting up traditional housing around the sight and performing blessings in protest. I do not however remember any Hebrews participating…

    Justification for this segment is based off of some little statue found “cemented” shut and buried in an area that was used for fairgrounds and flee markets for years throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s. I’ve personally been in the museum that contains that little statue and aside from that item the museum houses thousands of legitimate Native American artifacts. So if we were to believe that the statue is indeed Hebrew and was placed in the mound by them 1000s of years ago we would then deny the legitimacy of the thousands of other artifacts based solely on this one find? This whole idea is as silly as believing a discarded soda can discovered there meant that the natives drank Pepsi. Clearly, the site was contaminated by people who moved into the area at the turn of the century… end of story.

    Well gotta go… I have to continue my hunt for the Fountain of Youth and Bigfoot… maybe Mr. Beck can use his magic mound north pointing formula to help me locate them… and hopefully his brain.

  6. I just came across this article now, but I realize it’s a few years old. Actually, I will address the Great Pyramid’s angle and attest to the fact that Glen Beck is correct with his 51.8 degrees. As with many people who look for symbolism in the pyramid, he’s talking about the perfect one, when it had its casing stones yet, not some less than perfect rocky remains. The angle can be esily calculated using the formula: atan(4/PI). To switch the arguement away from his intent then becomes a strawman. In addition, due to camera angles, I learned long time already that you can’t use google earth to make such a calculation, for to do so you would perhaps be inclined to debate that the length of my house is different than what I claim it is and what it actually is. I know. I tried that.

    • Glenn Beck is not correct. There simply is no way to discern precisely the degrees of the Great Pyramid since the casing stones are absent. We can infer the angles, as you state. But that’s the best we can do. But that’s not what Beck is wrong about. I *did say* that the angle is between 51-52 degrees. What Beck is wrong about is the correlation to the Newark Earthworks. My measurements and the margin for error I mention in the article hold up quite well. In fact, I did this same exercise on a topo map with largely the same results. The camera angles of the satellites are certainly something to consider, but they’re not that problematic. Camera angle is, at best, going to skew results perhaps 10 m. That still leaves 91 meters unaccounted for! So you can use Google Earth to make calculations if you needn’t be precise to more than 10 meters or so. I think I’ve narrowed that gap even more since I’m using the .kmz file I mention the article (did you actually read it or just skim it?).

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