Archive for the ‘Exploration’ Category

Not Quite the Whole Nine Yards

August 14, 2015

An interesting mini update on the old ‘Whole Nine Yards’ chestnut, from this post on firearms site ‘Forgotten Weapons’. The question of the possible machine gun origin for the phrase is raised in the embedded video, and then, in the comments, we find this:


“The 350-round belt of 0.50in used in the inboard guns on each side of the M2 .50 gun system of the P-51 Mustang and P-47 Thunderbolt (four guns on the six-gun P-51, six guns on the 8-gun P-47), was exactly 27 feet, or 9 yards, in length when fully assembled.

The 240-round belt used on the outboard guns on each side was 18 feet 6 inches long altogether. But “the whole six and a half yards” doesn’t sound nearly as emphatic.


To figure it for yourself, treat each round of ammunition in its link as being .915 inch in width. A calculator helps.”


I had previously said that no such machine gun belt existed, and therefore this origin, despite being the most commonly accepted one, was nonsense. I’m still sort of right on the first point, and entirely right on the second (unfortunately – I’d love this one to be true!).


The first problem is that by this chap’s own calculations, this particular ammunition belt is just shy of nine yards – 8.89583 yards to be precise. This might sound like nitpicking, and frankly, it is. If this really were the origin of the phrase, I doubt anyone would care if it was slightly shorter or longer than the exact nine yards, and linked ammunition being flexible, there would be a fair amount of ‘slack’ that could vary the precise length quite considerably (which is I suspect why this myth refuses to die – you can’t actually disprove it by measurement alone, and most people don’t have a spare full belt of .50 BMG lying around…). But hey, I ran the numbers as he suggested, and it isn’t quite ‘the whole nine yards’ to start with.


There’s a bigger logical problem with the claim, one that has always dogged it in fact. That is, all of the aircraft claimed were fitted with more than one belt of ammunition, and it wasn’t possible to fire only one gun at a time. So you could never ‘give him the whole nine yards’ unless you experienced a malfunction of all of your other guns. Sure, the phrase could have stuck despite this, but it just doesn’t ring true.


Much more importantly than either of these minor gripes is that we already know that the phrase pre-dates the existence of aircraft machine guns by several years. The first machine gun was fired from an aircraft in 1912, whereas the first known incarnation of our phrase (in the form ‘full nine yards’) dates back to 1907.


So I’m afraid that, as much as I like the idea, this nine yard long machine gun belt is just a coincidence. It’s possible that Second World War air and ground-crew might have used it to refer to these belts, but there’s no actual written evidence for this, and above all, it cannot be the actual origin of the phrase.
As far as I’m concerned, we have a provisional origin for this phrase, and it’s baseball. If we’re to confirm or refine this conclusion further, we need to look back in time from 1907, not forward.

Eye-Eye, Cap’n!

December 24, 2011
Perusing the most interesting Lifehacker blog yesterday, I came across mention of a suggestion that pirates’ eye-patches were used to preserve night vision when moving between the deck and interior of a ship. It’s one I’ve heard before, and Wikipedia refers to it in more general, nautical terms. The first listed source is the Encyclopaedia Britannica, though I can’t find any entry entitled ‘Eye Eye Matey’. The redundant section immediately below references the Mythbusters episode where they tried it out, and found it to be plausible enough. As that last link shows though, there is no actual historical precedent for the idea.

This led me to consider where the pirate/eye-patch thing did in fact come from.

Here I will direct readers to the rather good Athenaeum Electronica blog, which has covered this very issue in some detail. I broadly agree with their concluson that our modern and specific association with pirates most likely originates with the classic 1950 movie version of ‘Treasure Island’, as depictions of patched-up pirates are few and far between prior to that.

However, I think there’s more to it than that, something that the great post linked above has missed by limiting his research to pirates specifically. The one-eyed, peg-legged sailor is actually an older trope, used to imply the rough and dangerous life of a naval seaman or officer; see the early C19th cartoon reproduced here, this 1851 fictional description of veterans at the Greenwich Hospital (complete with ‘iron hooks’!), or this 1828-dated fictional use of a ‘factitious leg and black eye patch’. Whilst these injuries may not have been as ubiquitous in reality as the stereotype implied, they would have been fairly common amongst veterans of all services, and sadly are again common today thanks to the Afghan and Iraq wars. And sailors could still find work with a missing eye, as Samuel Johnson’s diary shows. The skillset of a seaman was far more valuable to a ship’s captain than his depth perception. In any case, direct injury wasn’t the only threat to one’s eye; disease too was a serious problem.

I would also note that the line between historical pirates and other sailors was less clear in the past, what with the prize money system and letters of marque. Today’s sailors have nothing in common with their piratical counterparts.

This being so, consider this Punch illustration from 1896:

Perhaps it was intended to reference the fairly-recently (1883) published ‘Treasure Island’, but given the inclusion of a sailor’s hat, I have a feeling that it’s really a continuation of the ‘disabled seaman/old sea dog’ trope that’s still going today, independent of (or perhaps interdependent with) things piratical. After all, Robert Louis Stevenson didn’t just create the idea from whole cloth. He designed Long John Silver’s appearance to be familiar to the audience – not necessarily as a pirate, but as a grizzled sailor.

I realise International Talk Like a Pirate Day is a way off, but be sure to include an eye-patch in your Pirate Regalia…

The Truth Behind Zombies

November 10, 2010

“What do you mean ‘what’s historical about zombies’?”

My title is that of a recent halloween special from the Discovery Channel. It’s the sort of semi-serious documentary that we’ve seen done countless times for the ever-popular vampire, but relatively rarely for my personal favourite, the zombie. “Fear File: Zombies” from the History Channel (2006) is the only other I’ve come across. Perhaps zombies are catching up with mainstream popularity – aside from Halloween theming, Discovery probably had an eye on the superb TV adaptation of “The Walking Dead” graphic novel series. Anyway, the show was pretty good overall. They got Max Brooks (who I was lucky enough to get to sign my copy of ‘The Zombie Survival Guide’) to contribute, and involved the ‘Zombie Research Society’, who seem to be ‘legitimate’ in the sense that they “study” zombie lore as an intellectual exercise – not because they think it will actually happen. I’m tempted to join.

As ever though, it fell short in a couple of areas. Brooks did factor in a virus-based origin for version of the zombie, but his inspiration is well known to be the slow, lumbering re-animated cannibalistic corpse created by director George Romero for his 1968 ‘Night of the Living Dead’. Brooks’ reply whenever asked about the eternal fast/slow zombies issue makes this very clear .

So its odd that the programme focused almost exclusively upon the ‘zombie as virus’ where fear of scientific research is the key idea, and “zombies” are created from living humans, turned in a matter of seconds and retaining their speed, co-ordination and strength (in some cases, more so – please don’t ever bother watching the “remake” of “Day of the Dead”). Not at all like the “living dead” first seen in the Romero films.  They used lots of clips from “28 Days Later” but none whatsoever from Romero films (despite the infamous lack of copyright that he has over ‘Night’). They didn’t even MENTION Romero.

They also conflated Romero “ghouls” (to use his original choice of name) with the Haitian zombie. I don’t have a problem with that (particularly as its likely origin as a slavery metaphor is briefly explored) – though many claim that Romero’s “Living Dead” have nothing to do with the Haitian zombie, the parallels and cinematic precedents are obvious. The zombies in 1932 movie ‘White Zombie‘ are even referred to as the “living dead” at one point in that movie. By 1975, TV Guide was referring to NotLD’s monsters as “zombies”.

There are important differences between the two, notably the notion of a puppetmaster magician behind it all, that make the Romero zombie and indeed the virus/plague zombie, much closer to the vampires of Matheson’s novel ‘I Am Legend’ (1954) – Romero’s acknowledged main inspiration. Another way to look at it is that Romero and post-Romero zombies are both part of the ‘survival horror’ sub-genre – movies featuring Haitian style zombies are more mainstream straight horror movies.

In any case, to completely ignore Romero’s role in reinventing the zombie as we know it, and skip from the Haitian zombie straight to the post-28 Days Later viral version, makes this a far from complete survey of the fictional roots of the modern zombie.

My other problem with the show is the uncritical acceptance of the “zombi powder”/Tetrodotoxin/puffer fish poison paralysis hypothesis pushed in the 1980s by Wade Davis, who makes facetime in this programme. Just as vampire fans had to put up for years with out-of-date ideas being presented as current by documentaries like this, so are we faced with Davis’ problematic findings given as fact.

Though a trained scientist, Davis seems to have fallen far short of the scientific method in the testing and peer review of his work. No data from his first supposedly positive test for the toxin in question, nor from a subsequent negative test were ever published. Instead he published anecdotal findings in an anthropological memoir entitled  “The Serpent and the Rainbow” (a movie was later made based upon it). Many refutations have been published, from an exchange of letters in New Scientist to a series of articles.

The definitive academic work on the Zombie in folklore and fiction (‘American Zombie Gothic’) also covers the controversy. Here’s the abtract from ‘The Ways and Nature of the Zombi’ byAckermann and Gauthier, published in The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 104, No. 414 (Autumn, 1991), pp. 466-494:

“This article presents a review of zombiism and our personal investigations on the hitherto little-known spirit zombi. The Haitian zombi is of African origin. Numerous references zombis or zombi-like entities are found in Equatorial and to Central Africa and in the Caribbean. There are two types of zombis, the zombi of the body, or living dead, and the zombi of the soul. Both are closely related to the Haitian concept of a dual soul, which is also of African origin. Properties of the spirit zombi are described. Zombi stories or sightings may be explained by the observation of vagrants or exploited mentally ill. The various “zombi powders” so far studied seem to belong to the domain of sympathetic magic, and their pharmacological effectiveness remains to beproved.”
Full article here (paywalled).

And some of the main issues:

“Davis’s thesis is problematic in several respects: (1) many characteristics of the flesh-and-blood zombi can be explained by mental disorders, notably amnesia and catatonic schizophrenia (Bourguignon 1959; Dewisme 1957:138; Mars 1945, 1947; Metraux 1968:249; Simpson 1954); (2) one of his eight zombi powders did not contain any puffer fish; (3) only two zombi powders contained small, apparently innocuous, amounts of tetrodotoxin (Booth 1988; Davis 1988a:194, 1988b); (4) it is not clear which samples were studied in which laboratories and what the exact results were; (5) most samples contained human remains and a confusing variety of ingredients of weak or uncertain effect (Davis 1984, 1988a:107); and (6) the poison was administered in a seemingly ineffective way: in at least three instances, the powder was to be strewn on the ground in the path of the intended victim or on its doorstep, over a buried magic candle.”

Essentially, whilst the Haitians involved believe in the power of the powder, the actual toxin content is low to non-existent in all samples tested. Thus the “hypnotic” hypothesis also offered in this documentary is closer to the mark, though the actual active hypnosis aspect is overplayed. See Derren Brown’s “Tricks of the Mind” for a good explanation of the more mundane reality of hypnosis, of which a substantial component is make-believe and playing along.

As the article puts it;

“Zombification thus appears as a case of sympathetic magic, a kind of perverse homeopathy.”

Some go even further;

“The controversy involves the role of a powerful poison called tetrodotoxin in the creation of zombies. Davis’ critics say there is either no tetrododoxin or little in the samples of zombie powder brought back by Davis to support his hypothesis. But there is more to it than that. The pharmacologists are accusing Davis of not playing by the rules by suppressing information that fails to bolster his case, while playing up a number of unconfirmed experiments that are repeatedly cited in his work as “personal communications.” Some of the critics seem especially irked because Davis sought out their assistance but allegedly refuses to listen when told his conclusions are not supported by the evidence. “I feel like I’ve been taken for a ride,” says [C.Y.] Kao [of State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, who is also quoted in the article as saying ‘”I actually feel this is an issue of fraud in science.”
‘Voodoo Science’, Science, New Series, Vol. 240, No. 4850 (Apr. 15, 1988), pp. 274-277

There’s more where that came from (thanks to JREF forum posters for some of these);

  1. ‘Zombie fish eaters?’, Garlaschelli, Chemistry in Britain, Nov. 2002 – also available online (though with an horrific background).
  2. ‘Clinical findings in three cases of zombification’, Littlewood and Douyon, The Lancet, Volume 350, Issue 9084 , 11 October 1997, Pages 1094-1096 (online here).
  3. ‘Tetrodotoxin and the Haitian zombie’, Yasumoto and Kao, Toxicon Volume 24, Issue 8 , 1986, Pages 747-749
  4. ‘Tetrodotoxin in “zombie powder”‘, Yasumoto and Kao, Toxicon Volume 28, Issue 2 , 1990, Pages 129-132 (NB that Kao and Yasumoto concluded that “’the widely circulated claim in the lay press to the effect that tetrodotoxin is the causal agent in the initial zombification process is without factual foundation’.)
  5. ‘Evidence for the presence of tetrodotoxin in a powder used in Haiti for zombification’, Benedek and Rivier, Toxicon Volume 27, Issue 4 , 1989, Pages 473-480
  6. ‘Tetrodotoxin and the zombi phenomenon’, Anderson, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Volume 23, Issue 1 , May-June 1988, Pages 121-126
  7. ‘Zombies and Tetrodotoxin’, Hines, Skeptical Inquirer Volume 32.3, May / June 2008

All are critical in tone. Even those who laud Davis’ contribution to the anthropology of zombification acknowledge that he fell short with the actual science behind the process.

I can’t be too hard on Discovery however, since even the sceptical organisation CSI (formerly CSICOP) has endorsed Davis’ hypothesis without reservation. Unfortunately the rebuttal to this piece from that organisation’s own journal, is not accessible online (see Hines above).

It’s also the standard journalistic method as applied to many documentary programmes, as I’ve commented before. A sort faux neutrality based on the idea that all viewpoints may be valid. Hence rival beliefs and opinions are presented with equal weight without any real analysis of either. Fictional aspects of the zombie may be a matter of opinion (personally I favour slow ones), but the reality need not be.

Towards a Typology of Vampire Killing Kits

October 2, 2010

It seems we have a new VKK on the market – a “high-end” piece regardless of its authenticity and age.

For once we have hi-res images to work with, and it’s almost believably “19th century”, with a pistol that’s clearly hand-made. However, there is a lot of bright steel and fresh scratching on the under-side of the pistol. The red felt lining, though worn in places, is pristine in others and still suspiciously bright. In fact the dye used in its manufacture has stained the ivory on both pistol and the case.

One might expect someone familiar with working with such materials not to have made this mistake, which must have manifested soon after manufacture of the kit and marrs an otherwise attractive object. Someone turning out a modern curio, on the other hand, might not anticipate this result or have hung onto the kit long enough to see the dye bleed in this way. I also see the remains of adhesive on the inside of the lid, and have to wonder whether this kit might too once have borne a spurious “Ernst Blomberg” trade label. I’m not discounting the possibility of a very late (post-Dracula!) C19th kit,

Whatever the authenticity/age of this new kit, I thought it a good opportunity to try to make sense – if such a thing is even possible – of the some of the kits out there.

As you can see from Spooky Land’s attempt to classify and categorise VKKs, it is a daunting task, as no two kits are identical, and very few are even similar, despite the precisely-worded (“Blomberg”) label that many they share. This in itself suggests many different places and persons of origin. However, there are some parallels between kits that may be significant.

According to the seller of the new kit, there were three others like it from the same source. This we can’t confirm, but aside from its unique ivory case and accoutrements, this new kit is very similar to a pair of equally fancy kits sold by Sotheby’s in April 2007.

A very similar fourth kit with cruciform pistol was sold by Fain & Co in 1997.

Like the other three, it is also inscribed ‘I.H.S.’ (for the first three letters of Christ’s name in Greek). A fourth kindred kit is that published in Guns & Ammo magazine (1989) that I mentioned last time. There are no images of this kit anywhere else online, so far as I know (including on G&A’s own site);

It too is really nicely done, and though without “IHS” inscription, contains that unusual under-hammer cruciform pistol. To get techy for a moment, the similarity between the pistols is far from superficial. All are muzzle-loaded, featuring a combined mainspring and (under-)hammer that is ‘cocked’ into a notch on a folding trigger. When this is pulled, the tensioned spring slaps down onto a percussion cap at the breech and fires the main charge. A crude but clever way to incorporate a gun barrel into a wooden cross-shaped stock. The Fain kit lacks the combined ramrod/stake of the Forgett piece, as well as the bevelled arms of the cross/stock on the latter (probably an attempt at ergonomics)! The new (Greg Martin) gun opts for a folding knife-bayonet in lieu of a stake. The other cross-pistols also have wooden ivory-faced cruciform stocks, where this new one is solid steel with ivory cladding. Otherwise they are clearly either by the same maker, or are close copies of each other.

There is one other possible example of kit with cross-pistol at the Gatlinburg branch of Ripley’s, however the contents of the kit don’t seem to match their own caption. In any case, the pistol visible in that kit does have a similar underhammer system of ignition albeit fitted to a much more conventional mid-C19th pistol.

Where to go from here? I decided to look for parallels beyond kits with cruciform guns. I found it in the Ripley’s kit from San Francisco, which has a cross in the same style as the guns (possibly even a gun in its own right) which, like the two Sotheby’s kits and this new example, is also ivory-clad and marked ‘IHS’.

We then have yet another Ripley’s kit with what appears to be a folding plug bayonet (with silver-tipped stake attachment) for its (unusually flintlock), again marked ‘IHS’. Incidentally, despite its cheesy appearance, it is also more convincing than most kits, as the typically French case design, complete with cruciform cut-out for the bayonet, all look to be genuinely mid-C19th in date. It is essentially a cased pistol with the one specialised “anti-vampire” component, rather than the usual mish-mash in which the pistol is just one element.

There are then many more kits containing small wooden crosses faced with ivory – it is tempting to include these also, but I don’t want to over-reach myself by making such tenuous connections.

Returning to the Mercer museum’s kit – proven to be of modern manufacture, let’s not forget – we find yet another cross, lacking the IHS inscription but containing the same clipped circular religious medallion at its centre as the Forgett kit’s cross-gun. The author of the Guns & Ammo article supposed this to be St Peter, but given the analogies of impaling demonic creatures with long phallic objects, this is most likely Saint Michael.

This probably relates to the association of St. Michael with the exorcism of evil spirits in the Catholic religion. Not really something seen with the folkloric vampire, and so tempting to take as another hint that we’re dealing with the post-Dracula era.

From the Mercer kit, which has silver balls marked with crosses, we can also include this kit, now in the Victoria Police Museum in Australia.

This in turn takes us right back to the Forgett kit, as all three contain silver (possibly actually pewter) balls (i.e. bullets) with crosses cut into them. As I’ve commented before, the literary references for this practice date from the ’60s and ’70s.

The Victoria Police Museum kit is another fascinating one for which I have some more details. The pistol is a late percussion type made by Calderwood & Son of Earl Street, Dublin. This version of the name plus its obsolete form lets us date the gun to the period 1857 to 1870. No other kit contains a pistol of this size and type. In addition, its case bears an unusual inscription in a vaguely medieval script;

aski kataski
haix tetrax

It’s a version of an old supposedly magical phrase (think ‘abracadabra’) found on the statue of Artemis at Ephesius (c500BC) – a phrase of unknown origin that was used in everyday magic and ritual in the classical world. It seems to have survived via Gnostic Christianity into the 19th century in the form found on that lid – which whatever the maker’s rationale for using it, certainly appears in Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical glossary (Theosophy being a new age religion from the 1870s onwards). It’s still in ‘use’ today with ritual ‘magicians’ of one sort or another. The inscription is in a bizarre typeface resembling none I have ever seen (answers on a postcard). It is inlaid in a style that to me suggests mid-19th century at the earliest – but shows cleaned areas in the aged/treated wood around each letter, suggesting that they are later additions. Pistol cases typically either eschewed decoration altogether, or had an escutcheon plate or decorative shape inlaid into the centre of the lid. The lining itself is not very mid-C19th as it uses cut-out forms with finger slots instead of the usual divided compartments. I think it likely that this is a re-use of an older pistol case.

What conclusions can we draw from this group of kits? Sadly, not many. Though far from being copies of each other, there are clear connections between these half-dozen or so kits that suggest a common origin. One possibility is a ‘school’ of vampire kit makers turning out multiples in order to make money. Another, just as likely, is that we are witnessing an organic string of copyists taking ideas from a kit or kits that they’ve seen and making their own version with the antique items and craft skills that they have available to them. In any case, this web of connections includes our only proven fake, casting doubt upon the others by association and to varying degrees. This doesn’t automatically make them all fakes of course.
Given that Val Forgett was a replica gunmaker by trade from 1956 onwards, it would be a neat conclusion indeed if we could say that he was the originator of the Blomberg kits. However, he was also an international dealer in antique arms and armour, and claimed in the article that he bought the kit ‘at a gun show’ in the US. This is unlikely to be the kit allegedly sold by Michael De Winter in England in 1972, as he made no mention of such an unusual pistol. Is it the product of an imitator? As with most other questions surrounding these kits, we are unlikely to ever know unless more VKKs can be scientifically tested or at least subjected to closer scrutiny by specialists outside the auction houses that do so well out of selling them.

America Discovered by a Welshman?

June 5, 2007

The short answer? No. Even if Prince Madoc of Wales did indeed make it to North America in the 12th century, as most accounts maintain, the Vikings beat him to it by about 200 years. But did the Welsh come in a respectable and very British second place? Probably not…

Wikipedia (as of 4.6.07) has a good summary of the legend and assessment of the evidence. Basically the claim goes that a medieval Welsh prince landed in North America and founded a settlement there, leaving behind physical evidence and tales of white, Welsh-speaking indians! So, who’s backing this theory?

Most of the proponents of the theory are long dead antiquarian-type writers, but the highest profile modern-day supporter seems to be Alan Wilson, who has written extensively (and misleadingly) about King Arthur. He is yet to put pen to paper re Madoc, but appears in media articles and various websites about the legend. His version posits an earlier “Madoc”, of the 6th century AD. But as a fellow poster on the JREF sceptical forum has pointed out, Madoc as an historical figure appears to be no better documented than King Arthur or Robin Hood. In other words, we can’t even be sure he existed, let alone made to America.

For me, the most striking parallels with other pseudohistorical and cult archaeological theories (and indeed conspiracy theories) are the superficially convincing pieces of “evidence”, usually visual in nature. Interesting or impressive enough to sow seeds of intrigue and a sense of forbidden knowledge, something greater than ourselves and our dull, modern lives. Ideally, it will play on some pre-existing notion or agenda in the audience’s minds (holocaust denial being the most extreme example). The ludicrous Noah’s Ark in Turkey is a prime example – an impressive but entirely natural feature attributed biblical significance.

In this case, the amateur historians in question claim that a natural rock formation with native American archaeology is somehow a Welsh fort, that Tennesse native American burial mounds are in fact British (Bronze Age) burial mounds, and that their round wood-and-hide Bull Boats were in reality Welsh coracles. All of these would be possible to prove with proper archaeological investigation – needless to say neither the “amateurs” nor real archaeologists have set out to do so. It’s enough simply to suggest the possibility, and both believers and casual (dare I say “Reader’s Digest”) readers will be sucked in – the former because they need little encouragement, and the latter through inability or unwillingness to look deeper.

This leads into another familiar aspect of cult archaeology – the notion that ancient and/or “other” cultures would not have been able to achieve these things without outside (European, Atlantean, alien, spiritual, whatever). As someone with a great deal of respect for the accomplishments of ancient cultures, I find this attitude both ignorant and inadvertently bigoted.

What other evidence is there for this theory? Reports of “white” indians are quite common in the historical literature – no doubt the result of explorers encountering the variety of human genetics in a generally darker-skinned group of populations. With regard to the Mandan tribe, the tribe that Madoc’s settlers supposed integrated into, the claim is not only that some were white, blue-eyed and bearded, but that they spoke Welsh. My personal assessment of this, without having access to original sources, is that the Westerners were falling into the old trap of pattern-recognition; they had never heard that particular language before, and reported it as either sounding like Welsh, or actually being the Welsh language. In the absence of any quality evidence, these anecdotes can and probably should be discounted, except as an interesting insight into the minds of 18th century white men. The most oft-quoted figures to have spoken of Welsh indians were those accompanying Lewis and Clark on their 1806 expedition. In fact these men did not stumble upon such natives, but were actively searching for them based upon stories that were apocryphal even in their time. The quote found at this website is about as definitive as their results were to be – not very!

Finally, there is even a touch of conspiracy theory about this whole palaver. Because of the political and national consequences of a story like this actually being verified, some Welsh people are understandably keen to do so. Sadly, because the evidence is so lacking, it’s necessary for such supporters to reach, and reach badly. The Madoc story has been ignored, treated as myth, criticised, and pooh-poohed by serious academics since it first emerged, and this is naturally viewed as deliberate suppression of (Welsh) history by a very few (I’m sure most are quite happy with Madoc as a mythical figure, or simply don’t give a monkey’s!). Fansite highlights one little conspiracy theory – that the 18th century explorer John Evans, who came back from America having tried to find evidence of the Madocites with nothing to report. The webmaster accuses him in a roundabout way of wilful suppression of evidence. Quite bizarre, but typical of those who badly, desperately want their particular myth to be real.

So what can we learn from this particular convoluted tale? First, Wales has made a valuable contribution to British and world history, but they were not the first Europeans in the New World. Second? The Vikings were. And they kicked serious bottom.