Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Truce Truth?

December 25, 2013


A brief seasonal post to comment on Snopes’ enthusiastic take on the infamous ‘Christmas Truce’ of 1914. Such a truce did actually happen, but I feel the Snopes article might give the reader the impression, by omission and by implication, that it was a)universal across the trenches, and b) an effort by working class soldiers to actually stop the war from progressing, only to be bullied into continuing the war by the officer class and harshly punished afterward.

The Long, Long Trail has an excellent balanced summary of what actually happened at Christmas 1914. The background is important here. By Christmas 1914, offensive action by both sides was stagnant, and fighting men were coming to terms with the idea that they would be there for the long haul, and that the war certainly wouldn’t be “over by Christmas”. They longed for a break from the boredom, the adverse living conditions, the threat of death and disease, and the tension and stress of the sporadic fighting. At this stage in the war, the memory of home and Christmas would have been quite fresh, and the arrival of parcels from home, including the official “Princess Mary boxes” of chocolate, nuts and cigarettes, fostered a festive mood. Though the so-called ‘Rape of Belgium’ had taken place, the levels of resentment and hatred for ‘the Hun’ amongst the British troops had yet to peak. The Germans were in much the same boat, and as the lines of the front were so close together, it was not difficult to communicate a desire for cease-fire. This is exactly what happened at many points along the front. Curiosity too played a part, cease-fires being an opportunity to learn something of the enemy, his equipment, tactics, and psychology. In any case, the following year, similar behaviour (at least one incident did occur) was actively discouraged by British and no doubt German command.

Many of the actual meetings began as practical opportunities to bury the accumulated dead, with the spiritual/psychological bonus/trigger of it being a time of a shared religious occasion. Both sides saw the lull as a chance to get into no-man’s land and seek out the bodies of their compatriots and give them a decent burial.  Once this was done the opponents would inevitably begin talking to one another. The 6th Gordon Highlanders, for example, organised a burial truce with the enemy.  After the gruesome task of laying friends and comrades to rest was complete, the fraternisation began.

Though these truces were indeed spontaneous and strictly unofficial, this was no overt protest against authority or the validity of the war. A number of officers did take part or at least observe, even if they were obliged to report what was happening to commanders. Whilst threats of courts martial were made to prevent a recurrence, no significant punishments were actually meted out. Comments about the theoretical moral significance of the cease-fires came from officers as well as men;

“These incidents seem to suggest that, except in the temper of battle or some great grievance, educated men have no desire to kill one another; and that, were it not for aggressive National Policies, or the fear of them by others, war between civilised peoples would seldom take place”.
-Captain Jack, the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), 13th Jan 1915

But neither this officer nor his men were thinking to try to end the war by their actions. Even some of the senior ‘brass hats’ did not entirely disapprove, as long as efforts to actually win the war were resumed afterward. Some Germans did tell individual Brits that though they could not visit them again, they would “remain (their) comrades” and if they were forced to fire, they would aim high. This by no means reflects a consensus among the troops, as evidenced by the next four years of bitter fighting! Officers did not generally seek to stop the fraternisation; they passed reports up the command chain instead. No doubt some of them did not approve, but neither did some of the men, as letters show. Interestingly, a young Adolf Hitler is supposed to have commented that;
 ‘..such a thing should not happen in wartime…Have you no German sense of honor left at all?’
Certainly not everyone felt like taking part, nor did they all have the opportunity to do so. Some soldiers sent to parley with the enemy ended up as prisoners. The truce(s) were also very much a British/German thing, reflecting the great effort put into averting Britain’s entry into the war, Germany being somewhat kindred, and no direct threat to British sovereignty. The mood of the French and Belgian troops would have been much less buoyant, fighting as they were in their own occupied and war-torn countries. Cease-fires were a result of young men with national but not personal scores to settle, coming from equally diverse backgrounds with plenty in common culturally. They could have been friends under different circumstances. Many had family in Germany, and some German soldiers had lived or even been brought up in Britain. It seems strange to us that sworn enemies having reconciled so easily in this way, could so easily go back to killing each other. It’s a paradox, but it’s not unusual as far as the experience of fighting men goes.
This was not a unique reaction to nor a rejection of the new form of ‘total’ war. Similar incidents of “peace breaking out” are said to have taken place in the Napoleonic Wars, the American Civil War, the Revolutionary war, the Crimean War, and even the Second World War (see Gilbert’s ‘Stalk and Kill’, 1997). In all the theme is similiar, bored battle-fatigued combatants in close proximity start larking about with each other. Gilbert’s stories involve one side holding up a target for the opposing side to shoot at and then cheering or deriding them depending on the marksmanship. They usually seem to be in a spirit of camaraderie, albeit with the enemy. It always ends the same way – back to the business of war the next day. The Civil War story is interesting in that during an unofficial truce one side accidentally fired a round. As the two sides picked up their arms to resume fighting, the offending party sent the man over the trench who had fired the shot and made him parade back and forth carrying a heavy beam for two hours. This appeased the offended party who did not fire at the man but applauded their efforts.
Some have drawn parallels with medieval “truces of God” which allowed combatants to observe sacred feasts whilst on campaign. But there’s also a psycho/sociological angle, that many of us in the civilian world just don’t get. You don’t have to hate your enemy or want to kill him individually, to have no hesitation to kill him in battle. It’s the warrior’s paradox; something peculiar to fighting men and women that people find increasingly difficult to understand. Patriotic ideals aside (though there was no shortage of these during the War), it’s about doing what you’ve been trained to do, no hard feelings (at least at this stage of the war). Richard Dawkins has speculated that one of his theories may apply here, wherein two competing groups will work together for mutual benefit; in this case, getting a break from the fear and tension of war. Participants would have known that it couldn’t last, so took advantage of the opportunity to blow off steam.
I would conclude by saying that though ‘the truce’ happened, it wasn’t really the universal realisation of the futility of war that many think. No more than 50% of the Western Front took part, and many protested the fraternisation, both officers and men. The great human cost of the war as it developed, and the subsequent reaction against imperialism and economic/territorial war between states, has led us to reimagine the various separate incidents of fraternisation as a single organised legendary event. So much so, that people receiving a version of the story in their email inboxes in recent years have questioned its veracity, hence the Snopes verdict. However the phenomenon has been altered by time and hindsight, there’s no doubt that the men of both sides appreciated the chance for a brief return to normality and civilisation, and looked forward to the return of real peace to Europe.

Easter a pagan festival? Eggstremely Unlikely!

March 31, 2013

As alluring as the idea is to atheists like me, the claim that Easter was derived from a pre-existing pagan festival in honour of the goddess ‘Eostre’ turns out to have very little basis indeed. It amounts to one reference. CJ Romer has this tied up on his blog;

Eostre never existed???: why Easter is NOT a Pagan Holiday

CJ is a Christian, so in case you think there’s bias at work, here’s another three-part debunk from a Neo-Pagan writer;

Eostre: The Making of a Myth

An instructive lesson in not buying into claims just becuase they agree with our (pagan or atheist) preconceptions and biases.

Sanity Clause

December 23, 2012

OK, this one actually IS relevant to the season. This is a fascinating piece on the ‘links’ between shamanism, drug-taking, and the modern figure of Santa Claus. Not because of the hypothesis itself, which is pretty tenuous to say the least, but for the fact that it’s actually self-debunking. It starts out making specious connections between the (pre)historic reality of spiritual leaders taking drugs to (amongst other things) experience flight, and the folkloric/fictional activities of St. Nicholas and his derivatives. But the last third or so makes pretty clear that there’s no evidence for any of it, and those who actually work in the relevant historical fields aren’t convinced. Ronald Hutton’s comments should carry particular weight. Even the editor has left a qualifying ‘may’ in the title. Thus, no journalistic standards have been compromised, and yet I wonder whether most readers won’t still come away with the impression that Santa = Shaman.

Whilst part of me wants to rant about this, actually I wonder if this isn’t a clever way for everyone to enjoy this story. My own work on the vampire killing kits ended up being reported in a similar way, and despite my best efforts, many would still have failed to pick up the message I’ve been trying to convey (they’re not ‘real’, but they’re still worthy of interest). But the comments on the above article demonstrate a good deal of incredulity and some actual scepticism, so people are thinking critically about this kind of bold historical claim.



Of Bulgarian Vampires

July 29, 2012

This post by Nils at Magia Posthuma raised my eyebrow. It seems the so-called Bulgarian vampire story was even more wildly popular than I’d realised. As I haven’t yet covered it, aside from a couple of comments on Nils’ blog, I thought it worth a post. He has subtly hinted that all may not be as it seems, but as the internet is not known for its subtlety, I think there needs to be an overtly critical voice out there. As you might imagine, I am that voice.

I’m afraid the evidence for these interments being ‘vampires’, imagined revenants of another sort, or even necessarily deviant burials at all, is pretty thin on the ground. Or, for that matter, IN it.

As usual, we have little to go on, and it’s perfectly possible that a forthcoming academic article might reveal all. But as we’ve seen in the past (check out the onward links there too), sometimes the eventual publication doesn’t live up to the media hype that we’ve all been suckered in by previously.

Here’s one of two ‘vampires’ from the Bulgarian dig in question (higher res available at the source, Fox News);

As you can see, there is disruption to the ribs area, but nothing that couldn’t be the result of burial under several feet of earth. It certainly appears to be unrelated to the iron lump that is claimed to be the ‘rod’ (by implication, stake) used to dispatch the undead creature/innocently decomposing corpse. The lump itself is just that – an unidentified angular ferrous object. If it’s the head of an iron shaft, that shaft must be huge. Far too huge, in fact. Why manhandle a valuable piece of metal into position when by far the most common folkloric weapon against vampires and revenants was a wooden stake? Perhaps that’s why they missed the heart or even chest/abdomen (it was not always necessary to penetrate the heart in folklore) completely. It looks for all the world as though the ‘vampire’ play-acted along, taking the ‘stale’ between body and arm like one of the henchmen in countless Hollywood swashbucklers. It’s not that iron wasn’t used as a weapon and a preventative measure against vampires; it certainly was in various Slavic countries.

After the story had circulated a while longer, it acquired a further embellishment, thanks to National Geographic, who claimed that the corpse’s teeth had been ‘pulled’. This seems to be based on the fact that the skull is missing many of its teeth, indeed much of its alveolar process – but only, I noticed, in the post-excavation images of the skeleton as it was being pimped to the media.

(Higher res available at the source, Fox News);

I’m as sure as I can be [edit – I was wrong on this – see the comments below] that this is indeed the same skeleton, that associated with the larger of the two iron lumps. If it isn’t, it’s a third skeleton, and only two have been claimed as ‘staked’. Photos show that the other skeleton and ‘rod’ are clearly different. Note that, like the other one, this too retains its teeth as discovered (image from Heritage Daily);

This being the case, why is it in substantially worse condition? Far from the loss of teeth being a counter-vampire measure, it appears that it is wear and tear, presumably sustained in the rush to get the thing on TV. Deliberate damage doesn’t bear contemplation. It usually takes weeks of post-ex work to clean, draw, document and analyse human remains. Yet here the poor bugger was hoiked out of the ground like a fossil in a plaster jacket, and wheeled in front of the cameras. This can’t be a good thing.

I would note here that the pointy teeth are a creation of fiction, starting with ‘Varney the Vampire’ in the 1850s. Iron teeth are sometimes referred to in folklore, but not their removal as a preventative measure. The usual threat cited is the use of the corpse’s teeth to chew on their burial shroud or on their own limbs, in the manner of the German Nachzehrer (though this belief was more widespread than just the Germanic world).

In the footage linked, note also the claim by the museum director that;

‘Iron rods were used for the richer vampires’.

This is the first time I have ever heard such a claim, and I’m pretty familiar with the literature by this point. It appears to me to be a way of heading off another obvious criticism of the ID for these finds – that historical vampires were not high status individuals. They were working class people, relatives and friends of those who were compelled to ‘slay’ their troublesome dead bodies. The vampire lord is another creation of fiction, as this media piece correctly points out.

This is all a bit of a shame. These are clearly deviant burials of potentially historically significant individuals, worthy of further study for both reasons. As much as I love vampirey news, and I’m sure all this is a wonderful boon to the Bulgarian tourist industry, I think forcing this evidence to fit Western preconceptions about vampires – derived from fiction –  is wrong. I can tell you that I’m not the only historian or archaeologist who is of this opinion, either.

I recommend reading Nil’s discussion of the background and characters surrounding this discovery, which also details the reburial of another skeleton. I’m not wild about this either, as it further prevents serious scholarly study of the remains and condemns them forever as ‘vampires’. I just hope all possible analysis was completed before the skeleton went back into the ground.

The Angle of Mons

April 3, 2012

I’ve so far refrained from commenting on the ‘Angel of Mons’ story, mostly because this Fortean Times article absolutely nails it, and though I’ve yet to read it, I’m sure the full book on the subject (also by Dr David Clarke) thoroughly pokes its dead husk with a stick.

There is also an earlier and more extensive article by Clarke in Folklore journal, reproduced here, a Skeptoid podcast, and just to give some balance, one of the original sources for the claim of ghostly and/or angelic warriors helping British soldiers at the Battle of Mons is online at This includes ‘eyewitness’ testimony all apparently based upon an original work of fiction by author Arthur Machen, and all investigated by Clarke and others over the years. The ‘Angel’ is about as open and shut case as it’s possible to get where eyewitness sources are concerned.

But I recently received a Google alert directing me to this blog, which scoffs at Clarke’s scepticism and asserts that;

The issue in the 21st Century isn’t whether the event actually happened – It is whether such an event Could happen.”

Er, is it? I’m not sure how that follows, but even if angelic apparitions were documented and scientifically verified reality, there would still be reason to believe that this incident never happened. And contrary to another statement from the linked blog post, it isn’t because the ‘Angel’ was really;

“…collective hallucination arising from battle fatigue…”

…as the writer claims others claim. No-one today is seriously suggesting this, least of all Clarke, though he does detail this explanation as part of his research. The author of the blog piece clearly hasn’t properly read the article that he links to, as the consensus explanation for the ‘Angel’ is that it was a fictional story that grew legendary ‘legs’.

The invocation of ‘Ockham’s razor’ is also odd, given that even the most ardent believer must admit that the existence of angels is not scientifically evidenced, nor is it today a mainstream belief in the UK, where this commentator is based. But then, phrases like “paradox ridden fairytale” and “meat grinding existentialism and…no hope materialism” being applied to science gives you an idea of the ‘angle’ the writer is taking here. It’s a licence not only to believe what one likes, which I certainly don’t challenge, but to claim it as falsifiable truth.

Well, sorry chum, but it doesn’t work that way. As for;

“why therefore go to all the trouble to dismiss and destroy the Mons story which is a manifestation of human spiritual hope amongst the dark meat grinder of holocausts such as a world war ?”

You said it yourself. Mythmaking under the pressures of one of the most horrific conflicts humanity has ever known is a fascinating and important area of study, whether or not you believe that the events described actually happened. But at the same time, a proper investigation into such stories will almost certainly have to tackle the question “did it really happen”? Some of us feel that it’s important to separate fact from fiction for the same reason that fictional literature, movies and video games are enjoyable and rewarding, but it wouldn’t be healthy to live our lives as though the events described in them were real – as appealing as that idea might sometimes be.

PS Yes, it’s a lame title. Deal with it.

Early in the hi…

March 10, 2012


Early in the history of this blog (and for some years afterward), I covered a lot of speculative nonsense regarding the famous Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland. The claims made back then have never gone away, but they haven’t received a whole lot more attention either, aside from a lengthy Slate article a few months back. This did at least give some time to the sceptics, though it was clear that the author had taken a liking to the purveyors of the theory, found it appealing, and ‘wanted to believe’, as Fox Mulder might put it.

This kind of story tends to get picked up in cycles, every few years, whenever lazy journalists need a quirky ‘discovery’ type story. Well, I have a feeling the ‘musical cubes’ will soon be back, thanks to this presentation by the author of the Slate article at none other an august institution than Princeton University. Thanks to foremost cube-critic Jeff Nisbet for the heads-up.

This post is quite long, but not nearly so long as either the linked video or the original article. Consider that I’ve sat through both so you don’t have to. I should also point out that one of my comments – I can’t remember what – has been deleted from that third section of the article, along with the preceding comment by fellow critic Jeff Nisbet that. It’s possible that there was a good reason for this, but it’s pretty poor form. Nonetheless, plenty of negative comments from both Jeff and I remain, along with lots of other sceptical people, including musicians.

Now, many people will assume that because Princeton have given the ‘theory’ stage-time, they are in agreement with the presenter and the originator of the claims. This is not the case. He has been permitted (or invited) to speak on the basis of the very real physics behind the very bogus historical claims. Physicists are not historians, nor even necessarily critical thinkers.

Also, the presenter himself expressed similar doubts in his original article, citing my ‘prolific’ responses to the original claims, and in the comments pages, actually admitting that;

‘I think the early BSHistorian articles–which I get to later–are probably the best summation of all the very reasonable doubts about this project.’

Wilson restates these doubts in the video with tentative phrases like ‘could have been’, ‘no record of’, and ‘possibly a coincidence’ (more of these below). For all that he is pushing this idea, at least unlike the guys that originated the claims he is, to an extent, allowing the reader/viewer to make up his or her own mind up. He also points out that a section at the end doesn’t make musical sense, and puts this down to the changes in the stonework that are documented as having taken place. But he’s happy to accept that the rest is OK, despite the Victorian restoration of the chapel being extensive. How do we know which bits are original and therefore part of the supposed piece of music?

At one point he compares the composer’s efforts to ‘recreate’ the ‘music’ to the frog DNA used to plug the gaps in the dinosaur DNA in ‘Jurassic Park’. He also points out the various ‘arbitrary decisions’ made by the composer in that process and admits that even if the music can be considered genuine, its modern-day creator must be regarded as the ‘arranger stroke co-composer’.

Strangely, Wilson claims it can’t be a moneymaking scheme/scam because the two men involved don’t make much money from it. The fact that they only managed to strike a deal giving them £1200 a year for it does not inform us as to their motives in doing so.

The only new piece of information in the whole presentation is a piece of music found in the notes of Gilbert Hay (an associate of the chapel builder), about which Wilson states:

‘…not precisely a melody that you would find in Stuart’s – erm – transcription, but it’s the same key, its the same tonic, and its the same notes.’

He then goes on to admit, rather contradictorily, that one could ‘absolutely see this as reaching for evidence, but it is there’. He also waves away some pretty important scepticism from Professor Warwick Edwards at Glasgow University on the basis that his specialist period is the 16th century rather than the 15th and quotes him as stating ‘I don’t really know’. It’s difficult to tell, but to me it sounds like Edwards would rather not get too deeply involved either as a supporter or a critic, which is pretty standard amongst academics. Indeed, Wilson bemoans the fact that these two ‘eccentric eccentric people’ are ‘not being taken seriously by the academy’. Academics will tend to ignore speculative claims rather than get tarred by the woo brush, even if they are debunking rather than endorsing.

A couple of points he gets plain wrong. He makes the old mistake of believing that the ‘green man’ is a pagan symbol. More importantly though, he claims that the cube carvings were ‘carved in place’, when in fact all of the internal decoration of the chapel is applied, as is evident from the missing chunks today and as depicted in art (see Robert Cooper’s ‘Rosslyn Hoax’ book, Jeff Nisbet’s research, and some of my earlier posts e.g. this). Many of these chunks of masonry were restored or replaced in the 19th century. I don’t know where to start with his claim that the cubes are ‘so geometrical in a way that was not a common theme at the time’, since medieval architecture is based upon geometry. Unless he’s referring to the shape of the cubes themselves I suppose.

We also get a claim I’ve seen before (not least in the book that originally laid out the musical cube idea) that this was a ‘…time when you’d want to keep quiet about being interested in maths or music.’ Yes, music was the preserve of the rich and the church, and rules were laid down about it, but I’ve yet to see any real evidence of suppression beyond this. Medieval historians – comment below!

I would have said that Wilson simply does not understand critical thinking when he says;

‘If aliens found it, they could draw the same conclusion that the Mitchell’s did’.

He bases this on the fact that the Chladni patterns are a natural phenomenon. The clear problem with this is that they are only the hypothetical basis for the claims made. That seeing a pattern where none exists is a mistake that anyone could make is obviously not evidence that it does!

Yet Wilson apparently does understand both critical thought, and the dangers of becoming too personally invested in an idea. He points out that the originators of the cube hypothesis are ‘two men who believe’ (emphasis on believe) and most importantly that ‘their opinion is unfalsifiable’. Despite this admission that it could well all be bollocks, Wilson nonetheless believes it to be ‘very compelling’, and places his emphasis on how plausible the hypothesis is:

‘Because if it’s plausible, it’s ‘the most fascinating thing I’ve ever seen.’

Unfortunately, ‘is it plausible?’ is entirely the wrong question to ask. Plausible does not equal historical, and speculative history relies upon the superficial plausibility of the claims made to bamboozle the laymans and (some of) the enthusiasts. If there’s a whizz-bang gimmick to awe the rubes, so much the better; in this case it’s the impressive (and very real) phenomenon of ‘Chladni’ patterns. ‘Plausible’ essentially suggests that if it sounds or even ‘feels’ right, so perhaps it is.

No. No, no, no. There are times when speculation is justified or even necessary in the study of the past, but it must be carried out within a framework of evidence. It’s exactly the same principle as the old ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’ for claims of the pseudoscientific or paranormal. You can infer foundations from a ditch on an archaeological site, but you can’t speculate that it was an elephant hopscotch arena.

The claim that the cubes represent musical notes has serious implications for the established history of music, and the medieval understanding of science, so we need a damn good reason to believe it. Moreover, there is a far more parsimonious explanation for the ‘motet’ – that it is an elaborate example of bad pattern recognition. The fact that the claim is unfalsifiable is not just a caveat, it undermines the whole thing.

I can’t help feeling that if anyone in the audience was fooled by all this, had Wilson pointed out that one of the originators of the cube theory has since turned his hand to producing ‘music’ from DNA, they might not have been. No-one is seriously suggesting that music is somehow encoded in Beethoven’s DNA – nor should they be suggesting that someone did so with the Rosslyn ‘cubes’. You can generate ‘notes’ from any sequence – it’s what you do with them that makes them a piece of music.

Turin Breaks

December 20, 2011

More Turin shroud nonsense, this time from some scientists. More detail in said scientists’ own words that you won’t find in the media here. Now, the ‘scientists say’ headline is always annoying, because like most people, individual scientists and even teams of scientists, get things wrong. Saying ‘scientists say’ makes it sound like Science itself has pronounced on the matter. In fact, it has – the scientific and historical consensus on the Turin shroud is pretty damn solid.

But if one scientific study contradicts this, it’s surely worth looking at. Unfortunately this seems to be another case of specialists in one area trying to apply their skills outside their area of expertise. Just because these guys have recreated the shroud using intense ultraviolet radiation, doesn’t mean that’s the only way of doing it. High-end replica medieval swords are CNC-machined – one would not suggest that medieval blacksmiths had access to the silicon chip. In fact, plenty of others have recreated the ‘shroud’ using other, medievally-appropriate means. Even if, as claimed in this report from the same institution, no-one has precisely managed it at a chemical level, just because this method works doesn’t mean it was supernatural levels of UV (i.e. God did it). At least the article contains a balancing quote from another Italian academic, but because he isn’t quoted giving his reasoning, he just comes across as a scoffer.

We might also wait for replication of the findings before even accepting that this method is a valid means of reconstruction, let alone the way the Almighty pulled it off.

That about sums it up. I will add that it’s extremely intellectually dishonest of this ENEA organisation to imply that they’ve proven the shroud genuine. It’s also confusing, because the lead scientist in question also contributed to this sensible piece on the dangers of pareidolia. Clearly the image on the shroud doesn’t fall into that category, but I’d expect someone who’s aware of that phenomenon to be a little more critically-minded.

Oh, and it’s not really news. This lot published their findings 18 months ago now (more from 2008 listed here). This more PR-friendly attention-grab may prove to be a risky strategy – going for short-term press attention over scientific credibility could backfire for them what with the deep cuts being made to government-funded institutions around Europe. Unless the alternative energy source that ENEA is hoping to harness is…no, it couldn’t be

For more, see Doubtful Newsblog, which links to a Telegraph blog post from Tom Chivers with a wonderfully Brian Coxesque title;

‘The Turin Shroud is Fake. Get Over It.’

Doggone Dogon.

November 23, 2011

I was reminded today of the myth that a certain African tribe (the Dogon) were privy to special astronomical knowledge that could only have been conveyed to them by aliens. The best debunk I’ve seen of this is on a site that I wouldn’t necessarily expect to find it on – well done to the author. Absolutely nothing I could add.  There’s also a summary and a letters page of sorts on Skepdic.

The tl;dr is that it’s likely that the Dogon had taken on board new information about the star in question (Sirius) from prior western visitors. Rather than aliens.


Now you’re just making me Cross…

April 13, 2011
At least she was in Wayne’s World…

This piece about some berk who thinks he’s found nails from the true cross just beggars belief.  I’m sorely tempted to create a press release about evidence of an ancient zombie holocaust, just to see which news agencies will run it. Apparently there’s a “History” Channel “Documentary” (scare quotes intended) forthcoming about it. I will no doubt watch it and may yet tear it apart in a fuller post if I have time. Meantime, this and related articles are just so full of holes I barely know where to begin. So, I’ll just rant away.

It starts with the title – “Did Journalist Find ‘THE Nails’ Used to Crucify Jesus?”. Dear Journalists – if you have to phrase your article as a question, the answer is probably “no”. That being the case, perhaps you should see what Justin Bieber is up to rather than run the piece.

Then we have;

“Controversial journalist Simcha Jacobovici says he may have found the nails that were used to crucify Jesus more than 2,000 years ago.”

That should really be all that we read on this subject, because that doesn’t just summarise the “news” of the “find” (OK, I’ll stop with the quotes now) – it IS the “news” (sorry, I did try). A journalist, a “controversial” one no less, is not in ANY WAY qualified to announce ANY archaeological find, let alone one of this supposed magnitude. He should be dismissed out of hand, but he isn’t. Why IS that, mainstream media? Why must you provide a mouthpiece for this idiocy?

Anyway, with a heavy heart, let’s proceed. I can’t really sum the remaining evidence for this claim better than JREF poster pobblob14;

“This guy finds two nails at Tel Aviv University. Those nails showed up there, apparently without labeling or other attribution, at about the same time as two nails from a tomb got lost.

The tomb where two nails (that might or might not be these nails) were found is the one with an ossuary marked Caiaphas, who might or might not have been that Caiaphas.

Therefore . . . Jesus? Did I miss a step in there someplace? Is he suggesting that Caiaphas kept the nails as a souvenir or something, and that when he died, somebody tossed the nails into the tomb (one in the ossuary, one on the ground), because . . . .

Was this argument constructed by the Underpants Gnomes?”

Perhaps; I imagine this chap is certainly banking on the missing Profit?! step working out for him. I’m guessing the James Ossuary debacle (here’s a hint – it turned out to be BULLSHIT) wasn’t without its benefits. And not being an academic, he has no reputation at stake. Win-win!

Anyway, if it isn’t already obvious, the above aren’t so much reaches as rocket-assisted takeoffs. There’s no provenance for the nails, let alone sound provable links between the rest of it. but wait – we’re told that the nails are bent…

“…in a way that is consistent with crucifixion.”

What, in the name of Sweet Zombie Jesus, is the difference between a nail used to, I don’t know, stick an ikon over a fireplace (say) and one used to nail someone to a bleedin’ tree? What is this claim based on? The nail in the picture doesn’t look long or substantial enough to successfully crucify Jesus’ pet CAT, let alone the big man himself. It could be ANYTHING. The one in the picture doesn’t even match the vague description of the missing nails – it’s sure as hell not “8cm” long.

Sorry, this one’s making me all shouty. I’ll leave it there and post this highly relevant Black Adder clip. This is an old, old well of snake oil that this guy is dredging. Bring on the documentary. It should make Deadliest Warrior look like The World at War…

A Faked Fake?

January 24, 2011

Take a look at this Ebay auction for another of those “Vampire Killing Kits” I’ve written so much about. Before I write more of the same – why does this matter? Well, like all VKKs, this one is potentially worth a lot of money. It’s currently over $1000 without the reserve having been met. Similarly presentable kits have sold for thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars at auction. On the off-chance that the buyers of these things aren’t already fully aware of the spurious origin of the VKK, I offer this post.

This is quite a nice one, though bearing in mind the known facts surrounding these kits, the unequivocal date of 1835-45 seems a little over-confident. But hey, this is Ebay.

The kit is a “Blomberg”, complete with artificially aged contents-list, bottle of “serum”, and “efficient pistol” by the usual Belgian gunsmith, sold separately on due to Ebay’s fear of anything vaguely weapon-shaped.

So far, so typical. Here’s where it gets interesting. Have a look at the pistol, specifically the gunmaker’s name engraved under the barrel:

Those of you who know their VKKs ought to spot right away that the maker of this kit has managed to misspell the name “Nicolas Plomdeur” – an actual Liege pistol-maker – as “Nicolas Plomduer”. At least one other Blomberg kit has been observed with the misspelling “Plombeur”, which at least makes linguistic, if not historical, sense. But this “Plomduer” boob is a first, to my knowledge. It’s very unlikely indeed that a renowned gunsmith would allow a pistol to be sold with such a blatant error intact – reputations rely upon quality and consistency (and all this would take is a new barrel, not scrapping of the whole gun). So, perhaps a period copy aping Plomdeur’s work? Unlikely. For one thing the engraving is not very period-appropriate. It looks fresh and unworn. It is stamped rather than hand engraved – and lightly stamped at that. Examples of the real Nicholas Plomdeur’s work survive, and none of them resemble this mark. Finally, it’s marked on the underside flat of the barrel. Why? Gunmakers usually signed their work on the lock, sometimes on the top or side flat – never the underside. The point of applying the name was pride in one’s work and an early form of “brand-awareness”. It was a mark of quality – not to be hidden from view. As the barrel appears to be a “turn-off” type, it’s possible that it’s misaligned, but if so, the threads have been re-cut and the barrel shortened – suspect in itself if the case. So someone has applied this mark in the last few years (or decades at most) in a deliberate attempt to deceive.

An example of a genuine Plomdeur pistol with engraved name (surname only in this case)

For another thing, the “Blomberg” label is also misspelled in the same way. Therefore either the kit was made with the error on both items, or a subsequent owner has made a new contents list to match the pistol (the other way around being unlikely, as the case has apparently been made or re-made to fit this pistol. The current seller admits to having fabricated the powder flask, which looks no more or less aged than any other major component. It fits the case as well as any other component. In other words, the admittedly fake piece is indistinguishable from the supposedly genuine ones. This should sound a note of caution over the whole idea of these kits. Even if there are real ones out there, you’re going to need close examination and probably scientific testing to determine whether it might be “real”.

See how many other spelling and punctuation mistakes you can spot.
Prof. Blomberg may be fictional, but he’s usually more thorough than this…

As for the complimentary copy of “The Creature Vampyre”, it’s clearly modern, and not just in terms of its “binding”. It’s also entirely fictional, and doesn’t even use the same name as the guy supposedly responsible for putting these kits together (whose name is Ernst, not Charles). Whilst it doesn’t change the nature of the kit, it certainly doesn’t help its claim to authenticity any.

All of this points, in my view, to deliberate fraud. Maybe not by the current seller, but by whomever vandalised that percussion pistol and faked the contents list. As ever with these pieces – caveat emptor.