New Age

10 Amazing Discoveries That Will Won’t Make You Question Everything

Sometimes, just the name of a website is enough to make my heart sink. So, when my partner began reading out the name of a page that a mutual friend had ‘Liked’ on Facebook, I had an awful feeling of déjà vu: Spirit Science. As if to confirm my worst fears, the Welcome page includes this gem of wisdom:

Spirit Science is about the harmonic merging of things that previously we have believed did not fit together. Things such as “Spirit” and “Science”, perhaps “Democrats” and “Republicans”, or even all the way to Dance and Mathematics.

It’s not just the New Age claptrap or the USA-centric view of the world that disturbs me about this. My initial reaction was “how can anyone believe that there isn’t a link between Dance and Mathematics?”. My second reaction was “I understand the words and I understand the grammar, but do these sentences actually mean anything?”. What on earth is “harmonic merging”? It appears to have something to do with “the blending of Male and Female energies”. Okay, it’s now more than 40 years since I studied physics at school, but I don’t recall energy being gendered. Wikipedia doesn’t seem to know about it, either, so it must be really cutting-edge knowledge. Never mind. The page our friend had ‘Liked’ was 10 Amazing Discoveries That Will Make You Question Everything. Bahkti had brought it to my attention because he thought that I ought to write something about it. The image at the top of the page shows the remains of the Antikythera Mechanism. That’s no bad thing. Showing people that the Classical world produced intricate gearing that could be put to use to make an orrery is good. If the list of “Amazing Discoveries” is going to be of this sort of object, then it could serve a useful purpose, even if it is embedded in a site stuffed to the brim with New Age nonsense. I should have known better.

Spirit Science’s “10 Amazing Discoveries That Will Make You Question Everything

What are the true origins of humanity? There are so many ancient artifacts from the past that still perplex us today. How did ancient civilizations create such intricate and advanced technologies? There are so many mysteries surrounding humanities past that we are finally becoming aware of. There seems to be a lot more going on than meets the eye… Here is a list of some of the most amazing discovery’s to date! 1: The London Artifact

Leaving aside the appalling grammar</ Grammar Nazi Mode>, if the London Hammer is the author’s Number One “Amazing Discovery”, then I’m afraid that I hold out little hope for the rest of the list. So, bear with me while I deal with just the first two items in the list. I had hoped to be able to deal with all ten, but I have had only two days to do the necessary research and I would like to have some time at the weekend away from my computer screen and reading mostly nonsense!

1: The London Artifact

The so-called ‘London hammer’

The so-called ‘London hammer’

This artifact is speculated to be so extremely old that part of the wooden handle has turned to coal. Coal is known to take millions of years to form, so then how is this possible? How old could this strange artifact actually be?”. The short answer is “probably between 100 and 200 years”. How can I be so sure? Critics will say it’s my arrogance or my closed-minded refusal to accept evidence that goes against conventional views. Nonsense. It’s a nineteenth-century mason’s hammer, just like the one displayed on this page, albeit with a slightly longer head. We actually know a reasonable amount about the circumstances of discovery, too, which give the lie to the claim that “the wooden handle has turned to coal”. For one thing, even the most cursory glance at the photograph of the hammer shows that its handle is wooden and has definitely not turned to coal! Max Edmond Hahn (1897-1989) and Emma Zadie Hahn (née Pearl) (1899-1995), his wife, found it in June 1936 on the banks of Red Creek, south of their home in London (Texas, USA). According to some versions of the story, the discovery took place in 1934; sometimes, Max is called Frank, for reasons unknown. They picked up a rock nodule with a piece of wood sticking out from it, which they found odd. It was sitting on a ledge by a waterfall on the river, not attached to any of the solid rocks around it. There are several areas where small waterfalls exist on Red Creek, the closest being about 10 km south-west of London. Some time later (perhaps in 1946 or 1947), their son George (1921-2011) broke it open. Part of the broken nodule has survived and has an unfossilised mollusc shell partly embedded in it (photograph here). Inside the nodule was a metallic hammerhead, to which the wooden handle was attached. The hammer was clearly of recent manufacture.

A nineteenth-century mason's hammer.

A nineteenth-century mason’s hammer. The resemblance to the “London Artifact” is unmistakable. [Source]

That ought to have been the end of the story. A nineteenth-century quarryman or rockhound dropped a hammer near a waterfall on Red Creek. However, it came to the attention of the Young Earth creationist Carl Baugh (born 1936). It is unclear if Baugh was alerted to the hammer by an article by Walter Lang (1913-2004) in the Bible-Science Newsletter 21 (6), 14, ‘Modern hammer in Silurian rocks’, or vice cersa. Lang appears to be the first to claim that the hammer had been studied by metallurgists at a laboratory in Columbus. This has widely been taken to mean Battelle Memorial Institute, a claim directly rebutted in the February 1985 issue of Creation Ex Nihilo. According to Lang, the scientists “were convinced that the rock itself could not have been formed except where there was a great deal of water and pressure” and that the handle had been “partly coalified… under pressure with water and volcanic action”. If The Battelle Institute did not supply the data, where did Lang get the opinions? Might they have come from Baugh? Baugh runs the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose (Texas, USA), which opened in 1984 as the Creation Evidences Museum. The hammer was one of its principal exhibits from the outset; Baugh is believed to have purchased it in 1983. It was Baugh who dubbed it the “London Artifact”, which means that all claims using this term go back ultimately to his authority. He is widely regarded with scorn, even by other creationists, for his promotion of dubious and even fraudulent objects. Baugh has tried to use the hammer to show that rock could form in a very short time (like Young Earth creationists everywhere, he ridiculously attributes the formation of the geological column to the effects of Noah’s flood), that people at the time of Noah were skilled metallurgists and that the Ordovician rock from which he claimed it had come could not be anything like as old as science asserts. He continues to promote objects that have long since been debunked. This includes the London Hammer, about which the Creation/Evolution Journal (5 (1) (Winter 1985), 46-7) devoted two pages to a rebuttal of Baugh’s claims by the anthropologist John R Cole. This was in the year after his Museum opened, yet he ignored the criticism. The nodule in which the hammer is embedded is the real source of the claims of antiquity. If it is genuinely part of the local geology, then it potentially provides evidence either for the recent formation of the rocks – as Baugh would like – or it provides evidence for human (or human-like) technology in the very remote past indeed. However, there is no evidence whatsoever that the nodule was ever part of the bedrock (which, incidentally, is Cretaceous, not Ordovician in date). Remember, it was found on a ledge near a waterfall. This is the key to understanding the object. The nodule is not bedrock, but a concretion made from once dissolved carbonate minerals that precipitated out as the water evaporated. In other words, the nodule could easily be of nineteenth-century date. Instead, we see the claim for (relative) antiquity parroted on websites, sometimes with reference to a book by Hans-Joachim Zillmer, Darwin’s Mistake: Antediluvian Discoveries Prove Dinosaurs and Humans Co-existed (Frontier Publishing, 1998). Most of these sites call him simply Hans and then proceed to mangle his surname in ways that show a blatant disregard for copyright laws in their authors’ use of cut-and-past facilities. Zillmer makes a great play of the chemical composition of the hammerhead, reporting that it consists of “96.6% iron, 2.6% chlorine and 0.74% sulphur”; this is the analysis that is often wrongly attributed to the Battelle Memorial Institute. Those dependent on this unsourced analysis have tried to claim that this is an impossibly pure form of iron and that iron cannot be combined with chlorine. This claims are nonsense. For one thing, steel contains 98-99.8% iron, while many iron ores (such as biotite) or meteoritic iron naturally contain chlorine, so it’s not a question of adding it. Finally, the idea that the handle has turned to coal is just plan silly. It is quite visibly wood, although the ends apparently show a little carbonisation. Carbonisation is a process that can happen to vegetable matter, especially wood, on heating. It is not “partly coalified”. If anything, it’s on the way to becoming charcoal. No, the London “Artifact” is not an “Amazing Discovery That Will Make Me Question Everything”!

2: The Fuente Magna Bowl

Fuente Magna: a bowl with a cuneiform inscription

Fuente Magna: a bowl with a cuneiform inscription, allegedly found in Bolivia [Source]

This is one of the most controversial artifacts in South America. It is a large stone bowl, similar to a container for making libations, baptisms or for purification ceremonies. Found by a villager near Lake Titicaca, the engraved writing lining the bowl is thought to be Sumerian!”. If this is a genuine archaeological discovery, then it is potentially one of the most important ever discovered in the Americas, which would justify calling it “The Rosetta Stone of the Americas”. Its supposedly Sumerian cuneiform inscription would demonstrate contact between the Old and New worlds millennia before the Vikings. Fuente Magna, by the way, means “Great Source” and it is not clear that it is a placename. I wonder if it is a Spanish name for the bowl itself; in fact, some websites (obviously translated by an automated algorithm from Spanish) treat it as the name of the object.

The location of Hacienda Chúa

The location of Hacienda Chúa, according to Bernardo Biados and Freddy Arce [Source]

The first thing to note is that we do not have a proper findspot for the bowl. It is supposed to have been found by a worker on the Chúa Hacienda, which belonged to a family named Manjon and is said to be 75-80 km from La Paz. According to Yuri Leveratto (Crónicas indígenas del Nuevo Mundo, second edition 2010, Lulu, page 55), the Chúa Hacienda lay on the northern side of Lake Titicaca. Websites describing the bowl sometimes refer to the findspot as an ex-Hacienda and sometimes capitalise it as CHUA, as if it is an acronym (such as for the Complejo Hospitalario Universitario de Albacete), which it is not. Reporting some research undertaken by Bernardo Biados (an “Independent Education Management Professional”) and Freddy Arce Helguero (a prominent Bolivian pseudoarchaeologiost, who died in 2011), who travelled to Chúa in 2000, no trace of the Manjon family could be found. However, an old man of 92, named Maximiliano, recognised the Fuente Magna bowl from a photograph. He called it el plato del chancho (“the pig bowl”), explaining that it had been used as a food-bowl for pigs until it was taken to the Museo de Metales Preciosos (also known as Museo del Oro) in 1960. The problem with this account is that it is based on the recollections of an old man whose full name is not recorded, made forty years after the event.

Maximilian (born c 1908), alleged discoverer of the Fuente Magna bowl

Maximilian (born c 1908), alleged discoverer of the Fuente Magna bowl [Source]

Unfortunately, this is as far as we can get: Google’s links containing Manjon, Chúa Hacienda and Bolivia almost all link to pages discussing the Fuente Magna bowl. None link to a Chúa Hacienda owned (or formerly owned) by a Manjon family in Bolivia. That is worrying, when we do not have a contemporary account of the bowl’s discovery and rely on the memories of an old man interviewed forty years after allegedly making his discovery. One has to question whether his recollections are correct: if he used it as a pig feeder, that suggests it was complete, yet we are told that it had to be “restored” (which seems to mean stuck back together) in 1960. This makes me wonder if Maximiliano’s plato del chancho was an entirely different vessel. Worse, the accounts of the discovery are contradictory. Many of them show tell-tale signs of being translated from a Spanish original by a computer program, perhaps Google Translate. The principal confusion is over the date, which is given variously as the 1950s, 1958 or 1960. Also, some writers claim that it is stone, others that it is ceramic. The bowl apparently first came to the attention of the archaeologist Max Portugal Zamora (1907-1984) some time after its discovery. Zamora was the director of the Museo Nacional de Arqueologia Tiwanaku in La Paz from 1936, where he became an expert on the archaeology of the Andean Altiplano and pre-Columbian parietal art. His published works (see the bibliography in his obituary) show no evidence for an interest in the bowl until 1975 (published as ‘La Fuente Magna’, Hoy (Suplemento L.P. 6 – VII), 8), although a number of websites assert that he “restored” the bowl in 1960. The recognition of cuneiform writing is attributed to Mario Montaño Aragón (born 1931), which he published in Raíces semíticas en la religiosidad aymará y kichua (Biblioteca Popular de Ultima Hora, 1979). The details of discovery appear to come directly from Aragón’s account (unless they come from Zamora’s paper, which I have not seen).

A sample of the supposed cuneiform inside the bowl

A sample of the supposed cuneiform inside the bowl [Source]

Much of the recent interest in the bowl appears to stem from work by two people: Hugh Bernard Fox (1932-2011), an anthropologist at Michigan State University and poet, and Clyde Ahmad Winters, an Afrocentrist scholar (who believes that the Olmecs “were the descendents of the Atlanteans that formerly lived in ancient Libya”. Fox disagreed with Aragón’s assessment of the writing as cuneiform, preferring to see it as Phoenician. Winters, on the other hand, sees it as proto-Sumerian. Obviously, both can’t be right! It is also possible, of course, that neither is right. Despite identifying the inscription as Phoenician, Fox neglects to translate it. Winters’s translation reads:

[Right side] (1) Girls take an oath to act justly (this) place. (2) (This is) a favorable oracle of the people. (3) Send forth a just divine decree. (4) The charm (the Fuente Magna) (is) full of Good. (5) The (Goddess) Nia is pure. (6) Take an oath (to her). (7) The Diviner. (8) The divine decree of Nia (is) , (9) to surround the people with Goodness/Gladness. (10) Value the people’s oracle. (11) The soul (to), (12) appear as a witness to the [Good that comes from faith in the Goddess Nia before] all mankind. [Left side] (1) Make a libation (this) place for water (seminal fluid?) and seek virtue. (2a) (This is) a great amulet/charm, (2b) (this) place of the people is a phenomenal area of the deity [Nia’s] power. (3) The soul (or breath of life). (4) Much incense, (5) to justly, (6) make the pure libation. (7) Capture the pure libation (/or Appear (here) as a witness to the pure libation). (8) Divine good in this phenomenal proximity of the deity’s power.

That is not the end of the matter. Yet another translation, attributed to Alberto Marini runs:

The Lord of Serenity with the light gathers and herds together the large animals and the goats and the kids (weakened by lack of fodder, or wandering in search of food) to the open fields for rest.

Marini suggests that “[i]n this context, “rest” appears to mean slaughter, for sacrifice or butchery, and to convert their hides to leather for apparel”.

Real proto-cuneiform

Real proto-cuneiform: it’s very different from the “writing” on the Fuente Magna bowl [Source]

As with the question of the language, here we have two supposed authorities producing quite different translations, allegedly from the same original language. Again, both can’t be right (and I have a suspicion that neither is correct). Supporters of the bowl’s authenticity claim that it is evidence for transatlantic contacts before the Vikings. It sits alongside other supposed evidence, such as the (probably non-existent) Paraíba stone, the Newark “Holy Stones” and the Los Lunas inscription. What the supporters cannot agree on was the date of the hypothesised contact. Was it c 3000 BCE, as Clyde Winters would have it? Or was it in the middle of the first millennium BC, as Hugh Fox believed? Why is the rest of the iconography of the bowl like that of the Tiwanaku culture, about 600-950 CE? What can we make of this very confusing tale? For one thing, no Sumeriologist has accepted that the symbols on the interior of the bowl are “proto-Sumerian” (by which the authors promoting the Fuente Magna bowl presumable mean Sumerian hieroglyphs or proto-cuneiform). Indeed, these symbols seem to be part of the general iconography of the pre-Columbian Altiplano cultures and bear only the vaguest resemblance to Sumerian hieroglyphs. They seem real enough. It is the cuneiform that is the most worrying aspect. Despite Hugh Fox’s belief that the inscriptions are Phoenician, no examples of Phoenician cuneiform have been found farther west than Malta. By the time the Phoenicians established colonies in the western Mediterranean basin, they had given up cuneiform and were using an alphabet ancestral to all modern western scripts. And the cuneiform looks very wobbly. Real cuneiform is written in neat rows, not vague panels, as we see on the bowl. That is a feature of proto-cuneiform. It looks to have been executed by someone who has seen a cuneiform text and is attempting to copy it onto a surface that they have no skill in working. To put it bluntly, it looks like a fake. The bowl has also been a problem for debunkers. Most seem happy to dismiss it as a hoax having no provenance. This is a little unfair. Whatever we might think of the work of Bernardo Biados and Freddy Arce, they did actually travel to the alleged site of its discovery and interviewed the person who claimed to have found it. This is very different from asserting that “there is no provenience. None. Nada. Zilch. We have anecdotes of it being “discovered””. As we’ve seen, this isn’t quite the case. The provenance may not be secure, but there is at least a likely location. Discussion on Wikipedia that led to the deletion of a page dedicated to the bowl wrongly stated that the script was first said to be cuneiform in 1985, while Jason Colavito has wrongly claimed that “[n]o one paid attention to it until 2000”: we have seen that a book published in 1979 already made that claim. So, Spirit Science, your item number 2 is also not an “Amazing Discovery That Will Make Me Question Everything

The lessons of these objects

The first thing I have learned (actually, had confirmed) is that the web is not a good source of information about controversial archaeological discoveries. The overwhelming majority of websites that discuss these objects simply repeat the same stories, often through the overuse of cutting-and-pasting. Actually finding something different, something that does not merely parrot the original outlandish claims can take a lot of hard work. I have spent the best part of two days to write this post, which I originally believed I could do in a couple of hours. However, it has been worth it, even if I haven’t achieved my target of dealing with all ten items in Spirit Science’s laughable list of Amazing Discoveries That Will Make You Question Everything. To make matters worse, an increasing number of claims come from YouTube videos. Indeed, one is the source of Spirit Science’s silly page. It was posted on 8 October 2012, so I wonder why it took Spirit Science so long to mine it for (mis)information. Spirit Science concludes by saying:

Do you think discoveries like these should be discussed in schools more openly? When we can see the value in showing all angles of humanities past – then we can collectively put the puzzle pieces of Earth’s past together.

[The strange grammar and spellings are in the original]. I am appalled at the laziness of those who repeat the claims about these items. They seem content to trust what any anti-establishment source tells them and yet they are the people who accuse debunkers of being closed minded. Just look at some of the comments posted to Spirit Science’s page or the YouTube video. They are the ones who cannot see that their gurus are leading them astray, that the information they are being given is at best dubious, at worst, fraudulent. They seem incapable of critical thinking. The debunkers are often not much better, I’m ashamed to say. Putting in the time and effort to research objects of dubious provenance and authenticity may be a waste of time, when it’s far simpler just to say “hoax!” and hope that people will believe you. I am often criticised in comments on the main site for not providing all the detail necessary to show an objector that the conventional interpretation of site is correct. Even when I do, they don’t want to know, or will change tack to question something else that I’ve written. Perhaps I am wasting my time. On the other hand, given the sheer numbers of sites that make wrong claims about the past, I feel duty bound to provide a voice of reason. If I am able to correct at least one person’s misconceptions, then I hope that my efforts are worthwhile.

Who “discovered” ley lines?

Alfred Watkins (1855-1935)

Alfred Watkins (1855-1935) (source)

The name that springs instantly to mind is Alfred Watkins (1855-1935). The story of his “discovery” of an ancient system of lines crossing the British landscape is well known to present-day ley line afficionados and to the small number of archaeologists who have ever looked into them. I quote his summary of the system on the main site, but it is worth repeating here:

…imagine a fairy chain stretched from mountain peak to mountain peak, as far as the eye could reach, and paid out until it touched the “high places” of the earth at a number of ridges, banks, and knowls. Then visualize a mound, circular earthwork, or clump of trees, planted on these high points, and in low points in the valley other mounds ringed round with water to be seen from a distance. Then great standing stones brought to mark the way at intervals, and on a bank leading up to a mountain ridge or down to a ford the track cut deep so as to form a guiding notch on the skyline as you come up. In a bwlch or mountain pass the road cut deeply at the highest place straight through the ridge to show as a notch afar off. Here and there, at two ends of the way, a beacon fire used to lay out the track. With ponds dug on the line, or streams banked up into “flashes” to form reflecting points on the beacon track so that it might be checked when at least once a year the beacon was fired on the traditional day. All these works exactly on the sighting line. The wayfarer’s instructions are still deeply rooted in the peasant mind to-day, when he tells you—quite wrongly now—“You just keep straight on”.

According to a later account, all this came to him “in a flash” on 21 June 1921 during a visit to Blackwardine; according to his son Allen, this happened while poring over a map. A variation on the ‘origin myth’ quoted by John Michell holds that the revelation happened whilst out riding in the hills near Bredwardine in 1920, observing the Herefordshire landscape he loved. It is unclear why there are two different versions of the story; Tom Williamson and Liz Bellamy note wryly in their excellent Ley Lines in Question (Tadworth: World’s Work, 1983) that John Michell’s version reflects how “ley hunters would like to think it happened”.

What is strange is that few people ever bother to read what Watkins himself says in the Introduction to his first publication on the subject, Early British Trackways, in 1922. There, he says:

I knew nothing on June 30th last of what I now communicate, and had no theories. A visit to Blackwardine led me to note on the map a straight line starting from Croft Ambury, lying on parts of Croft Lane past the Broad, over hill points, through Blackwardine, over Risbury Camp, and through the high ground at Stretton Grandison, where I surmise a Roman station. I followed up the clue of sighting from hill top, unhampered by other theories, found it yielding astounding results in all districts, the straight lines to my amazement passing over and over again through the same class of objects, which I soon found to be (or to have been) practical sighting points.

So, what Watkin noted was an alignment of sites on a map; he may have seen this while planning his journey to Blackwardine, during the journey or upon arrival at his destination. At any rate, we can put the minor controversy of the exact details of his “discovery” to rest.

But to what extent was this his discovery? Wikipedia is in no doubt: “The concept of “ley lines” originated with Alfred Watkins in his books Early British Trackways and The Old Straight Track, though Watkins also drew on earlier ideas about alignments; in particular he cited the work of the English astronomer Norman Lockyer, who argued that ancient alignments might be oriented to sunrise and sunset at solstices.”. Much as I am criticised by commentors here for quoting Wikipedia, it has become one of the most widely used sources of information in the world today and is often the first (and, indeed, only) reference source to which people will resort. It also tends to reflect received wisdom (even when that wisdom is wrong). And that is what seems to be the case with its entry for ley lines.

Back to Joseph Houghton Spencer

Joseph Houghton Spencer was a nineteenth-century antiquary, who published papers on Castle Neroche, Taunton Castle and other sites of interest in the Taunton area. He was an architect by profession, restoring the church at Goathurst (Somerset) in 1884 and designing a number of others. He was based, unsurprisingly, in Taunton (Somerset, England). His antiquarian interests are best represented through his transcripts of historic parish registers, which continue to be used today.

He came to my attention thanks to a member of my local archaeological society, who knows my interest in Bad Archaeology. During some research this member was undertaking on medieval routes in north-eastern Hertfordshire, he came a cross a paper published in The Antiquary Volume XIX (1889, pages 94-101), titled Ancient trackways in England (a number of sources incorrectly give the volume of The Antiquary as XX).

Barton Grange, Taunton (source)

Barton Grange, Taunton (source)

The paper starts with an account of “a broad pathway, about 600 feet long, which is crossed by another of the same length, thus forming a Greek cross” in woodland at Barton Grange in Taunton. From this, he leaps to a number of conclusions that go way beyond the evidence: noting that the Grange “is said to have been the summer residence of the Prior of Taunton” and that these paths were known as “the “Monks’ Walk”” in the 1880s, he concludes that they were part of the putatively monastic layout. He then proceeds to extend the centre lines of these paths to tracks and monuments outside Barton Grange Park and surmises that to avoid blocking the view from the central crossing of the two main paths, “openings were left in the walls when the building was first projected on the line of sight”. In other words, he is suggesting that the layout of the paths pre-dates the monastic foundation.

Next, astronomical alignments are brought into play: one line “points directly towards the position on the horizon where the sun sets on June 21”. He also brings into play various prehistoric earthworks, including hillforts and round barrows, prominent hills and “suggestive names”, such as Cold Harbour, Pipe House, Horn Ash, Three Ashes and Stony Knap, without explaining what is “suggestive” about them. One line is extended out to the south coast at the Isle of Portland and in the opposite direction across the Bristol Channel to south-west Wales and further, across the Irish Sea and into the Atlantic Ocean “at or near Killala Bay”. This makes the supposed St Michael’s Ley seem positively parochial! The other principal line is also extended, using Roman roads as well as the usual hills and earthworks together with “Black’s “Atlas”” to the North Sea, “nearly in a line with Spurn Head”. He then devises lines parallel to these, passing through Castle Neroche.

What does he make of all this?

Having recorded these observations, I venture to suggest the following explanation:

The general design of the works seems to be a central line of long distance signals, with more frequent posts to the right and left connecting the natural harbours at the mouths of the Wey, Axe, Otter, Exe, Teign, Parret, Brue, Avon, Medway, Thames, and Humber; also St. Gennys, near Bude Haven, an important position on the Cornish coast, and Minehead.

These direct signal-line stations, though no doubt connected with each other by trackways, would not always afford the best lines for the principal roadways; and we find that the early ridgeways, so far as they have been traced, connected nearly all the foregoing points; but, owing to the physical and other difficulties, not in straight lines. There seem to be indications of other parallel arrangements of fortified posts and beacons, and it is probable that, upon further research, it will be found that these north-west and north-east lines are preserved as guiding ones throughout the entire district, which was under the control of these early, perhaps Phœnician, far-seeing engineers.

This is all very similar to Watkins’s system, but without the insistence that the hypothetical tracks need to follow precisely the alignment marked by various monuments and landscape features.

Like Watkins, Houghton Spencer seems to have regarded the system as surviving through the medium of christianised pagan sites. He hypothesised that the system fell into disrepair “until the dissolution of the religious houses by Henry VIII. Then the idea was lost, and, consequently, no regard was paid in building, from the seventeenth century downwards, to the far-reaching lines of the cross”. Unlike Watkins, who saw medieval church builders as merely building on ancient markers, Houghton Spencer believed that the medieval church retained a knowledge of this system, although “in the hands of laymen it has been carefully preserved for more than three centuries, and by no one more conservatively than the present owner… to whom I would venture to suggest that a careful excavation at the cross-centre would probably be attended with interesting results”. Also unlike Watkins, everything in the system hinges on these crossing paths at Barton Grange, described as “[t]his cruciform centre of, perhaps, both civil and religious government”.

The paper concludes with a typical late nineteenth century farrago of quite unscientific linguistic speculation. Using Greek and Hebrew to seek etymologies for English placenames provided Victorian antiquaries with opportunities to show off their learning, but carry little weight today except among misguided amateurs. Once again, though, Watkins was equally keen on “suggestive names” to determine the passage of a ley line, where no physical marker could be found.

1880s Ordnance Survey map of Barton Grange and the woodland walks to its south-east

1880s Ordnance Survey map of Barton Grange and the woodland walks to its south-east

Of course, to a twenty-first century archaeologist, these broad pathways present no problem. They are typical of eighteenth-century gardens created by landscape gardeners to enhance the country estates of the wealthy. Barton Court is a probably sixteenth-century house, now much altered; nineteenth-century Ordnance Survey maps show the layout of the woodland walks and they look absolutely typical of this type of garden feature. The two principal arms of the cross run to the corners of the roughly rectangular woodland and appear to survive, albeit overgrown, to the present day. We can discount any great scheme of alignments, spiritual and political centre of ancient Britain, routes to the significant harbours of Britain and so on.

Watkins or Houghton Spencer?

So, who did ‘discover’ (recte ‘invent’) ley lines? The term ley belongs to Watkins, completely misunderstanding Old English lēah (principally meaning ‘woodland clearing’ in placenames). The ley line system as widely (mis)understood today is his concept, modified by the New Age speculations of writers such as John Michell. But was Watkins drawing on this paper by Joseph Houghton Spencer? He does not mention it in any of his published works. The Woolhope Club, the antiquarian and natural history society of which Watkins was a prominent member, did not subscribe to The Antiquary, so he will not have seen Houghton Spencer’s thirty-year-old paper in the club library. Although the two ideas are so close in conception, there seems to be little cause to accuse Alfred Watkins of plagiarism. The idea of ancient trackways of any age—prehistoric, Roman or medieval—or any character—military ways, saltways, trade routes—was part of the general culture of Late Victorian and early twentieth-century antiquarian speculation. A more rigorous approach to studying tracks has never really been at the forefront of archaeological research: some of the worst “research” was been carried out on Roman roads (for instance, The Viatores Roman roads in the south-east Midlands, while well intentioned, is a triumph of enthusiasm over rigour).

On a final note, I’d like to correct a misconception in the Wikipedia entry for Alfred Watkins, quoted above. According to the editors, “[a]rchaeologists in general do not accept Watkins’ ideas on leys. At first they regarded the ancient Britons as too primitive to have devised such an arrangement, but this is no longer the argument used against the existence of leys”. That is just plain wrong, although it is the sort of accusation flung at archaeologists by ley hunters. As Tom Williamson and Liz Bellamy point out, academics largely ignored it, even if O G S Crawford did regard Watkins as a crank, his reason for notoriously refusing an advertisement for The Old Straight Track in Antiquity. There was a general perception that prehistoric people had little use for such a complex system. The prevailing (but incorrect) view of Neolithic Britain as a heavily forested landscape, save for a few pioneering farms, made the establishment of the network a virtual impossibility in the view of prehistorians. It was left to amateur enthusiasts to take up Watkins’s idea. No, the problem that academics had with the concept of ley lines was that Watkins, like Houghton Spencer before him, failed to provide any evidence for the antiquity of the system. Despite Wikipedia, ley lines do not exist!

An underwater city west of Cuba

Underwater pyramids west of Cuba

A computer-generated image of the supposed pyramids and other city features west of Cuba

Whatever happened to this story? Back in December 2001, the media were abuzz with claims that “explorers… have discovered what they think are the ruins of a submerged city built thousands of years ago”. It was a big claim that got attention from respectable sources, such as National Geographic, as well as the more woo-woo crowd, such as Linda Moulton Howe of cattle mutilating aliens conspiracy fame. The news was greeted with delight by those who believe Atlantis to have been a real place rather than a political fable by Plato. More specifically, it appealed to those who, following the supposed psychic medium Edgar Cayce (1877–1945), believe Bimini in the Bahamas to be a part of the sunken island.

Sonar data supposedly showing sunken structures

The initial side-scan sonar data supposedly showing sunken structures

What were the claims based on? In 2000, Paulina Zelitzki and Paul Weinzweig, owners of Advanced Digital Communications (a company that appears not to have a website), were one of four companies commissioned by the Cuban government to undertake sonar surveys off the Guanahacabibes Peninsula at the western tip of the island. Advanced Digital Communications had previously had success in locating the remains of the USS Maine, which sank under mysterious circumstances in Havana Harbour in 1898, during the Spanish-American war. It was hoped that they could locate further sunken ships. They were astonished to find in the survey off the Guanahacabibes Peninsula that some of the sonar images appeared to depict symmetrical features aligned to a grid. This prompted them to undertake a second survey, using a submersible robot. It was this second survey that returned data that seemed to show pyramids and other structures. Indeed, according to Paulina Zelitsky, the images suggested that the “city” was built from blocks of cut and polished granite.

An analogue of the Face on Mars?

An analogue of the Face on Mars under the sea off Cuba?

Here, at last, was something that seemed to be good physical evidence for the existence of an advanced civilisation at a time when sea levels were much lower (the inference being that this would have been during the Pleistocene Ice Age). Some of the claims repeated on the web included the identification of a sphinx, a structure resmbling Stonehenge and a monument identical to the “Face on Mars”. All of this is under 600-750 m (2000-2500 feet) of water, a very long way down indeed. It was so deep that it caused problems for the Advanced Digital Communications team, who could not explore the site in the detail needed to confirm their ideas.

In order to get better data, Paulina Zelitsky began raising funds for a third expedition to the site. It was announced in October 2004, in a story that seems not to have been picked up by the world’s media (although various New Age and fringe type websites noted it), but “they could not complete the mission due to technical deficiencies of the submarine that rendered it unable to take images from the marine bottom”. One wonders why they went under-equipped when on the verge of so important a discovery. Nevertheless, Zelitsky announced that they would be returning in 2005, with funding from National Geographic Society. Since then, silence (apart from its inevitable appearance on Ancient Aliens).

Problems, of course

Pleistocene sea levels around western Cuba

Pleistocene sea levels around western Cuba: pale blue shows exposed land now under water, while the approximate position of the site discovered by Paulina Zelitsky is marked with a yellow cross

The depth of the alleged remains is the biggest problem of all: during the Pleistocene, sea levels dropped as water was locked up in the ice sheets that developed around the globe. At the maximum extent of the ice, the drop in level was around 100 m, which is very different from the 600-750 m depth of the alleged remains. At no point during the Ice Age would they have been above sea level unless, of course, the land on which they stand has sunk. This is the claim made for Atlantis: according to Plato’s account (the only primary source for it), it was destroyed σεισμῶν ἐξαισίων καὶ κατακλυσμῶν (“by violent earthquakes and floods”). However, if we take Plato at his word – as we must if we assume Atlantis to have been an historical place – the violence of its sinking makes it improbable that an entire city could have survived plunging more than 600 m into an abyss.

Remember that this was μιᾶς ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτὸς χαλεπῆς (“in one fearful day and night”); also recall that διὸ καὶ νῦν ἄπορον καὶ ἀδιερεύνητον γέγονεν τοὐκεῖ πέλαγος͵ πηλοῦ κάρτα βραχέος ἐμποδὼν ὄντος͵ ὃν ἡ νῆσος ἱζομένη παρέσχετο (“and this is why the sea in that are is to this day impassable to navigation, which is hindered by mud just below the surface, the remains of the sunken island”). Rapid sinking would devastate structures; the persistence of mud just below the surface suggests that the sinking was not to a depth of 600-740 m. Unless we are prepared to jettison Plato’s text – the sole source for the story of Atlantis – we cannot identify the features found by Paulina Zelitsky with Atlantis.

The next problem involves trying to understand what the sonar shows. All the fancy graphics showing pyramid-like structures are computer generated: they are not photographs of things seen under the sea. All the detail is limited to the resolution of the side-scan sonar, which is not good enough to determine whether the supposed structures exhibit 90° angles, let alone confirm the claims that some stones are covered in hieroglyphs. The initial images, which do not have the three-dimensional data provided by the side-scanning sonar, show rectilinear but not rigorously right-angled features, so I suspect that the angularity of the generated images is an artefact of the processing, much like many of the details claimed for the ‘Face on Mars’. We have some interesting sonar images that are basically like ink-blot tests: they need interpreting and the interpretation is entirely dependent upon the preconceptions an biases of those looking at them. Paulina Zeltisky was predisposed to see artificiality, because that is what she was being paid to do (even if the artificiality she was specifically interested in involved sunken ships). Others have seen geological formations.

So, what happened to the story?

Although some conspiracy theorists have suggested that either Paulina Zelitsky’s findings from 2004 or 2005 were suppressed by Teh Military or she was prevented from returning to the site, again by Teh Military, in reality, the story simply went cold. Despite initial enthusiasm in some quarters, including from the Cuban marine geologist Manuel Iturralde-Vinent, experts were not convinced that Paulina Zelitsky had really discovered a sunken city. Zelitsky continues to work as an oceanographic engineer based in Ontario (Canada) and has not announced any plans since 2004 to return to the site. Although some may see this as evidence that she has been warned off it, it is more likely that she has been unable to persuade anyone to finance an expedition in search of something that in all likelihood doesn’t exist.

The story was given a new lease of life thanks to its exposure in Ancient Aliens, but no new information about it has emerged. After the initial flurry of excitement, once scientists began to look critically at the data, especially the sonar images, the story could be seen to be nothing more than hype. For anyone outside the small band of “alternative researchers” and New Age true believers, the story simply died for lack of evidence. But when did a lack of evidence ever stop woo-woos making unsupported claims?

Over 1,000 Mayan Codices discovered in museum basement”: really?

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The Dresden Codex

A page from the Dresden Codex, one of only four Maya books to survive, unless this story is true

Here’s something that seems to have passed by the mainstream archaeological news outlets. A press release by someone called Gregg Prescott MS, a Self-Growth Expert, claims that “Over 1,000 Mayan codices were discovered in the basement of a Los Angeles museum, presumably owned by Randolph Hurst [the source of this abstract wrongly gives the name as Randolph Hunt] and donated to the museum. Two other codices were found by the Maya Itza Council and have been analyzed for the past 10 years. If that’s not enough, 7 additional codices were found by a treasure hunter. Carbon dating has authenticated these sacred texts and professional photographs have been taken for the Maya Itza Council to analyze the meaning behind these lost codices”. This is a remarkable discovery, to put it mildly. So why has the archaeological community not been agog at the news?

The first problem is that we are not being given the sorts of details that help check the story. At which Los Angeles museum were the codices found? There are lots of them. Not to be told which one holds them in its collections is a worrying oversight. Secondly, what is the Maya Itzá Council? It’s difficult to find out much about it, although it seems to be affiliated to the Council of World Elders, dedicated to “Healing the Earth for World Peace”, a laudable aim that no-one other than a crazed psychopath would disagree with. It has its own museum, which is a treasure-trove of New Age wonders, including a crystal skull, dated by the Hopi people to “approx. 30 000 years of age”. The leader of the Maya Itzá Council and its representative in the Council of World Elders is a Maya named Hunbatz Men. The pronouncements of the Council seem to be taken seriously by UFO buffs and alternative spiritual practitioners. The third problem is the discovery of two codices by the Council. Where did it find them? Fourthly, what qualifications do its members have for their analysis? The decipherment of Maya hieroglyphs is still in its infancy and many puzzles remain to be solved: do members of the Maya Itzá Council have the relevant expertise to read them? The fifth problem is the identity of the treasure hunter who found seven more codices. A sixth problem revolves around the details of the radiocarbon dating. Can we see some actual dates? Which laboratory performed the analysis? Finally, no visual evidence is being offered us. Can we see some of the “professional photographs”? I’d be happy to see a photograph taken with a mobile ’phone camera!

Hunbatz Men

Hunbatz Men, leader of the Maya Itzá Council

Apparently, Hunbatz Men has asked for the codices from the unnamed museum, but “upon conferring with the museum’s curator, he was denied due to the new antiquities laws”. Those darned politicians, always putting laws about museum property in the way of genuine researchers! Why can’t they be allowed to hand over unique and priceless antiquities to the representative of a group working towards world peace? What killjoys! Apparently, “[i]t would take considerable time, around 10 years or so, to purchase these items”. It sounds like a curious museum that would even contemplate the sale of a collection of Maya codices whose contents would doubtless transform our knowledge and understanding of the Maya civilisation.

Never mind, Hunbatz Men is leading a pilgrimage of thirteen crystal skulls from Manhattan (why?), which began on 27 October 2011, and will end with a ceremony in Los Angeles on 11 November. Are any readers going to this event? It’s billed as a Gateway Event and “the Ceremony of the Thirteen Crystal Skulls, a ceremony that was last performed 26,000 years ago, will be open to the general public”. Something not to be missed. Unfortunately, I’m on the other side of the Atlantic and I’m sure that I’ll be doing something too important to miss next Friday to be able to pop across to Los Angeles to attend. Pity. Never mind, the “event is expected to be televised to 2.5 billion people. After the ceremony, the Mayan elders will speak to the world for about 30 minutes”. Perhaps I’ll catch it on the television, if I can be bothered to tune in. It will probably be at an unearthly hour, given the difference in time zones, so I may well miss it.

The thirteen crystal skulls

The thirteen crystal skulls are bringing their ancient wisdom to seed a vortex, perhaps somewhere near you!

On the way from east to west coast, the party will be “stopping at sacred power points along the way to perform ceremonies that will seed each vortex with the ancient wisdom of the Crystal Skulls”. One can only assume that these are not the dreaded vile vortices, but something much more wholesome. At least there don’t appear to be any on the North American mainland. Phew! On reaching Arizona, “there will be an historic meeting with the Hopi and Tibetan Elders at the Hopi Mesa”. I hope we’ll be told about the relevance of the Tibetan elders to this pilgrimage of nineteenth-century carved skulls. After this conclave, the group will move on (inevitably) to Sedona “to prepare for a Crystal Skull Ceremony to be held in the heart of the Red Rocks, on the land that for the Indigenous Tribes People has always been Sacred Ground”. Heady stuff!  You can even take along your own crystal skull to be blessed by Hunbatz Men.

Bernard Perona, now known as "Drunvalo Melchizedek"

Bernard Perona, now known as “Drunvalo Melchizedek”

Tied into all this is someone called Drunvalo Melchizedek, who runs something called the School of Remembering. According to the online biography on his website, he is the author of four books (The Ancient Secret of the Flower of Life Volumes I & II, Living in the Heart and Serpent of Light: beyond 2012), “the first person in the world (in modern times) to mathematically and geometrically define the human body light body” [sic] and is a consultant for a magazine called Spirit of Maat. It almost goes without saying that he is a resident of Sedona.

It turns out that his real name is Bernard Perona. His books have been panned by critics. On perusing his Wikipedia page, I spotted the Flower of Life, something I’ve seen before, sent to me in several anonymous emails over the years. Intriguing. Drunvalo Melchizedek no longer runs the Flower of Life workshops, so I’m not sure about the connection. He is somehow associated with Hunbatz Men, promoting him and his pilgrimage. Everything seems to tie in to the 21 December 2012 “end” of the Maya Long Count Calendar (the correlation between the Mayan calendar and our own is not as well established as the promoters of 2012 would like it to be, though), which Melchizedek believes will also see the end of the precession of the equinoxes (although he does not explain how precession will be stopped and what cataclysmic effects this will have on the seasons that are so vital for food production).

We are quite clearly in New Age territory. New Agers aren’t known for their rigorous testing of factual claims. Indeed, they tend to pour scorn on ‘materialists’ who insist on testable evidence, preferring to rely on revealed, channelled and traditional wisdom. This makes me doubt that we’ll be shown any evidence for this miraculous discovery of a previously unknown hoard of Maya codices. If we go back to the source of the story, Gregg Prescott MS (what do those letters stand for?), we find that he’s linked to a re-release of a film 2012, promoting some very New Age ideas about the end of the Maya Long Count.

I have a faint suspicion, that I hardly dare articulate, that these codices don’t exist, at least, not in our plane of existence, and that it’s all a hoax connected with some 2012 bollocks. But it would be wrong of me to be so uncharitable, wouldn’t it?

Stop press! Update 6 November 2011, 16.27

A photograph of one of the alleged newly discovered Maya codices

One of the alleged newly discovered Maya codices, from Nohan Normark’s Archaeological Haecceities

Thanks to Johan Normark, I am going to eat my words. Some evidence has been produced for the existence of the codices (well, one of them, at least) in the form of a photograph. It’s a very odd looking Maya codex. The layout and the artwork are nothing like the four known codices. I suppose we could put that down to having only a very small sample against which to compare it. As I can’t read Maya hieroglyphs, I have no idea whether the text is readable or gibberish. But the illustrations leave me (almost) speechless. We appear to be looking at a treatise on acupuncture! The illustrations are not in a Mesoamerican style but look childish and lacking in the baroque decorative elements that are characteristic of Maya art. It seems safe to conclude that with the photograph than Johan has managed to locate, we are dealing with a very clumsy hoax.