The Pseudoarchaeology of Glenn Beck

Lidar Earthworks
Newark Earthworks - the Octagon and the Circle rendered in Lidar in QGIS

Remember Glenn Beck? Here’s that time in 2010 he thought he could prove the Lost Tribe of Israel built the mounds of Newark. This is revised version of a blog article I wrote in 2010. I had to change so much, from images and links that were broken to some information that was wrong on my part, and I added so much, I thought I’d re-post it. Much of it is fresh.

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 jqjacobs.net.

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 362 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.

2 Comments

  1. It’s hard to believe that Glenn Beck didn’t know those artifacts are widely considered to be frauds. So far as I know the upper echelons of the LDS also agree they are fakes.

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