It was a dark and stormy night…

May 31, 2012

When Bob and I went on a ghost tour in Savannah, Georgia. Well, it was certainly dark, what with it being night and all, and there were occasional flashes of lightning. At the end of the tour, the heavens let loose and soaked us. Coincidentally, there were orbs all over the place outside the Mercer-Williams House.


Also, dolphins:


Eve has an article up at Skepchick

May 30, 2012

It’s about the history of the word bitch. With much thanks to Maria Walters (totally not a bitch).


around the world in ‘mysterious’ scripts & texts (3) (‘fringe’ historical linguistics 14)

May 28, 2012

Hi again, everybody!  Thanks again for your comments!

More about Greek scripts: Linear B is one of a number of syllabic scripts found in Crete during the twentieth century by archaeologists such as Arthur Evans.  In 1952 it was persuasively (and, to some, surprisingly) deciphered as very early Greek by the talented and well-informed amateur Michael Ventris and the linguist John Chadwick – although not only non-mainstream writers but also some mainstream scholars (notably Sinclair Hood, W.B. Lockwood and George Thompson) have rejected or at least questioned this decipherment.

Linear A, though visually similar to Linear B, cannot be read as Greek and has resisted authoritative decipherment; Cyrus Gordon’s Semitic interpretation has not been generally accepted.  (Note also other material by Gordon in which he argues that examination of Cretan texts corroborates his theory that Greek and Hebrew cultures stemmed from a common Semitic heritage.  See earlier for more on Gordon.)  The classicist Simon Davis reads Linear A – along with the ‘Minoan Pictographic’, Eteocretan, Cypro-Minoan and Eteocypriot scripts – as Hittite.  Other ‘decipherments’ of Linear A are offered by outright amateurs.  (I discuss the special case of the Phaistos Disk below.)

In a very different vein, Ross Hamilton argues that the specific letter-forms of the Greek alphabet were based on the patterns in the Great Serpent Mound (Ohio) and display spiritually significant links with this artefact.  Hamilton is aware that the alphabet had a Semitic source (very probably Phoenician) but garbles the details.  His philology is of the usual amateurish kind; for instance, he equates Greek ophion (‘serpent’) with the word Ohio. He also ignores well-established etymologies, and his own ‘evidence’ mostly involves impressionistic reactions.

The famous Phaistos Disk is a flat disk of baked clay, sixteen centimetres in diameter, which was presented to the learned world in 1908 by French and Italian archaeologists excavating the Minoan palace complex at Phaistos in South-Central Crete (built about 1700 BCE).  It is inscribed on each side with a text apparently running from right to left and spiralling in from the rim to the centre (though some read it with the opposite ductus).  There are some 240 character-tokens in all, representing 45 distinct types, some pictorial and some apparently abstract; they are divided into 61 groups by broken radial lines.  Very remarkably given the early date, the signs were impressed into the clay when it was soft by means of a set of cut punches.  Neither the Disk itself nor the characters resemble any other items yet discovered in the Aegean (including Linear A), and both the intended use of the artefact and the interpretation of the text remain mysterious. The body of material dealing with the Disk is too large to cover in detail here; but I’ll summarize.

Most professional scholars who have recently analyzed the text(s) on the Disk, especially those most relevantly qualified, consider that it is written in a syllabary (because of the actual and predicted total numbers of sign-types; see earlier on such tests).  However, there is also a mainstream consensus that the Disk probably cannot be deciphered because the text(s) is/are too brief.  (Extended bodies of text in the same script, or better still a bi- or multi-lingual text of some length such as the Rosetta Stone which was crucial in the decipherment of Egyptian, might resolve this problem.)

In contrast, some scholars have argued that the Disk is in fact a modern forgery.  Jerome Eisenberg supports this view with analysis of the possible motives of those involved in forging it and with close comparison of the forms and sequences of the symbols and those found in other ancient scripts.  Eisenberg clearly has a case, but his views have received trenchant criticism.  The Greek authorities have so far refused to allow thermo-luminescence analysis of the Disk, which would probably settle the matter (though this method is itself not unproblematic, as is illustrated by the case of Glozel).

Many (often less qualified) authors have advanced and continue to advance ‘decipherments’ of the Disk, sometimes in non-linguistic terms (calendars etc.) but more usually finding novel syllabic or non-syllabic writing systems – and often languages or locales favoured by themselves for extraneous reasons.  None of these proposals presents a justified overall reading; and naturally they all contradict each other.  The languages identified in these proposals include Greek of various types (some invented, some typical of the wrong period), various Semitic languages, Basque, Luwian or other Anatolian languages, Hittite, early Slavic and even Polynesian.

The Canadian Jean-Louis Pagé’s bilingual book links his ‘decipherments’ of the Disk and other mysterious texts with his own version of the ‘Orion’ theory of the Giza Pyramids, etc.  He upholds the historical reality of Plato’s Atlantis, locating it in the Arctic and attributing its destruction to a sudden polar shift in 9792 BCE; he also posits extraterrestrial intervention in the origins of human civilization; and he regards most of the Disk symbols as logographic/ideographic and pictographic (but it is not even clear which known or reconstructed language he thinks is represented, and he does not propose any phonological forms).

There has never been serious doubt about the pronunciation of the Etruscan language used by a powerful civilization in central Italy in pre-classical and early Classical times and written in a modified Greek alphabet (presumably originally learned from the Greek colonists of Italy).  However, the texts (mostly very short) resisted interpretation until recent times, and major issues remain.  But these issues mainly involve mainstream work and are thus largely outside my remit here (unlike some non-mainstream claims regarding the Etruscan language itself, which appears to be non-Indo-European; I may deal with these later).

The Picts were an Iron Age society which existed in Northern Scotland from around 300 to around 850 CE.  Stylized rock engravings on the ‘Pictish Stones’ have previously been interpreted as rock art, possibly heraldic in nature.  However, Rob Lee & colleagues conclude that the engravings in fact represent aspects of the Pictish language.  Arnaud Fornet argues that Lee’s group has misinterpreted the engravings in ascribing a linear order to the ‘texts’ and that the material genuinely is in fact artistic rather than linguistic (compare the Australian Panaramitee rock-art).  Other writers regard the Pictish rock-carvings as semiotic rather than linguistic, but with a range of interpretations.

The Picts also had a fully-fledged written language, employing the Ogam script used to write known (mainly Gaelic/Q-Celtic) languages.  The texts can thus be pronounced (as in the case of Etruscan), but they are not extensively understood and the language is unidentified.  The two main views are a) that it is P-Celtic (similar to early Welsh; P-Celtic was used further south in Scotland), and b) that it is a non-Celtic (and quite possibly non-Indo-European) language probably representing a very early settlement population; a minority view c) is that it is an unusual variety of Q-Celtic or intermediate between P- and Q-Celtic.  Further work both on this general issue and on the relationship between the new and the old findings is awaited.

More next time!




This Week in Conspiracy (27 May 2012)

May 27, 2012

It’s been a sporadically busy week, moments of frantic activity followed by stretches of soul crushing boredom that would kill weaker bloggers. I should have something coming up at the Swift Blog in the next few days, and Eve and I filmed the first episode of a new online video series for the Independent Investigations Group–Atlanta and Doubtful News called, The Week in Woo, which is a survey of goofy news. The “pilot” is very brief, and I do not expect to be able to keep working on it once we move to Wisconsin, but we’d like to bequeath the show to IIG-Atlanta. Here’s a brief, quick-and-dirty clip that basically shows off our virtual set, made by Mark Distler of Abrupt Media.

But all the digital wizardry in the world can’t stop the never-ending, crushing torrent of conspiracy theory. So let’s have at it:

First is the pope’s “Holy Roman” 14th Amendment, cartel-corporate, socialist-fascist, socialist-communist, de facto American Empire, the de jure government of the 14th Amendment American “National” Republic founded in 1868 having been cleverly replaced with a de facto Emergency War Powers government by an executive order of that wicked Masonic president, Commander-in-Chief FDR, on March 6, 1933.”

Twit of the Week:

ben goldacre (@bengoldacre)

5/23/12 6:18 PM @jonronson @aperks these shadowy global one world government conspiracies get a bit samey after a while.

Ain’t that the truth, Ben?

Conspiracy theory of the week:

That’s it for now. As always, I have a couple of irons in the fire, so stay tuned!


around the world in ‘mysterious’ scripts & texts (2) (‘fringe’ historical linguistics 13)

May 22, 2012

Hi again, everybody!

As Pacal has noted, a few qualified linguists have (surprisingly) endorsed some of the North American ‘epigraphist’ claims.  One of these linguists was Cyrus Gordon, a very erudite but increasingly non-mainstream Semiticist and the self-proclaimed decipherer of the allegedly Phoenician Paraíba Stone inscription found in Brazil.  Gordon’s decipherment of the Paraíba Stone has not been accepted by other linguists, and indeed the most common mainstream view is that it is a nineteenth-century forgery.  Gordon also upholds a Hebrew reading of the Bat Creek Stone (see earlier) and interprets (with Fell and the maverick Frank Hibben) the Los Lunas Decalogue Stone (also mentioned above) as an abridged version of the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) in a form of early Hebrew.  As has been noted (thanks again, Pacal!), another such scholar is David Kelley, who urges scholarly caution but endorses some of the finds (notably the Grave Creek Mound Stone, which he regards as obviously alphabetic) as genuinely ancient.  Kelley obviously knew his linguistics, but his decisions as to the strength of the evidence for specific claims sometimes appear strange.

The most ‘sober’ and judicious epigraphists outside the linguistic mainstream, who reject the more dubious cases as non-linguistic or as fakes and display some knowledge of the relevant disciplines, include James Whittall, William McGlone et al.and David Eccott.  However, even these writers accept some of the epigraphist claims, without (as it seems) adequate justification.

I’ll now continue commenting on specific cases of (unpersuasive) non-standard ‘epigraphics’ around the world, recommencing with more cases from Central and South America.

Michael Xu proposes links between the Olmec script of Central America (now known from a date of 3,000 years BP) and the Shang Chinese script; but he does not appear to be very familiar with epigraphic or historical linguistic methodology.  Olmec has not been persuasively deciphered; thus one cannot be sure that any pairs of Olmec and non-Olmec symbols have the same meanings.  In addition, many of the symbols used by Xu are pictographic and as such are liable to be independently invented.  David H. Childress (who presents himself as something of an ‘Indiana Jones’ figure) relates the Olmec script to various Old World scripts including Egyptian hieroglyphs.  The Afrocentrist writer Clyde Winters ‘deciphers’ Olmec in terms of the (in fact relatively recent) African Vai writing system, used to write Mande/Manding languages.  R.A. Jairazbhoy links Olmec and other Central/South American cultures and languages with Egyptian and Chinese.

Marcel Homet claims to have discovered inscriptions in Cretan, Phoenician, Sumerian and other Old World characters in South America, some engraved more than 10,000 years BP among the Brazilian megaliths of Pedra Pinta.  Harold Wilkins relates South American material of this kind to Egyptian, Phoenician, Indian and other Asian scripts.  Erich von Däniken presents examples of ‘undeciphered inscriptions’ allegedly discovered in South America.  The Fuente Bowl (found in Bolivia) has been interpreted as bearing text in early Sumerian or other Mesopotamian languages incuneiform script’, or else as in a script related to the Phaistos Disk script, in Rongorongo, and in Indus Valley Script.

Turning to other continents: I’ve commented earlier on the inscriptional Chinese, Mongolian, Malayalam etc. allegedly found in various unexpected locations as reported by Gavin Menzies – and on the ideas of David Leonardi and others regarding the Hebrew and the Egyptian scripts.  Tarek Abdel is another writer who rejects the standard decipherment of Ancient Egyptian.  Abdel’s own decipherment is confusingly presented in poor English.  He does not seem to understand established methods: he believes that the original decipherer Jean-François Champollion and his successors were merely ‘guessing’ and often guessed wrongly.  As with Leonardi’s re-decipherment, it is strange, if this is so, that newly-found texts are regularly deciphered on the basis of the established decipherment with few anomalies persistently resisting analysis.

Another non-mainstream writer on Egyptian is Okasha El Daly, who believes that the Egyptian script had already been deciphered in the ninth century CE by Arab scholars, notably Abu Bakr Ahmad Ibn Wahshiyah.  However, it seems that – while these earlier scholars had indeed come to the insightful view that the script was by dynastic times predominantly phonological (contrary to appearances) – they did not take the further step (later enabled chiefly by the discovery of the Rosetta Stone with its parallel texts) of deciphering the texts in specific terms.

Some Latter-Day Saints sources continue to promote the veracity of the ‘Reformed Egyptian’ in their Book of Abraham and other texts associated with The Pearl of Great Price.  When the early LDS leaders claimed that this was the language of the plates which an angel lent to them to be mystically translated, Egyptian had not yet been deciphered by Champollion and others, but nothing learned since that time has confirmed LDS ideas on this front.  The small pieces of genuine Egyptian text presented in LDS sources were already known at the time and have subsequently been interpreted quite differently.

Because of the high status of Ancient (Classical) Greek culture and language (and the current reduced world importance of Greece and Greek), Greek and its scripts attract many non-mainstream theories.  Notably, the non-mainstream philologist Joseph Yahuda – supported by Panagiotes Kouvalakis, Konstantinos Georganas, Kostas Katis and others – believes (without adequate evidence) that examples of early pre-linguistic symbolization from the Aegean area represent early versions of the Greek alphabet.  The generally accepted derivation of the alphabet from the Phoenician abjad (consonantal alphabet) is thus denied.  It is also mistakenly stated that the alphabet is in fact derived from the syllabic Linear B script used to write early Greek; obviously, this latter claim appears to contradict the former.  George Chryssis holds that the Greek alphabet not only was invented and used by the Greeks before Phoenician times, but that it eventually made its way to the Levant, to be used first by the allegedly Greek-speaking Philistines and subsequently by the Phoenicians and the other Semitic-speaking peoples of that region (the reverse of the mainstream position).

Even among those non-mainstream authors who accept – along with mainstream Hellenists – the Phoenician origin of the Greek alphabet, there are novel claims regarding the date at which this took place.  The mainstream view is that the event should be dated to the ninth and eighth Centuries BCE, after a long period of illiteracy in Greece following the collapse of the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations and the loss of their linear scripts.  Greek legend attributed the introduction of writing to the hero Cadmus; and Martin Bernal – who is best known for his theory that many key aspects of Greek thought, culture and language derived from Egyptian origins (see earlier) – argues that the transfer of literacy to Greece did indeed occur at a much earlier date than is generally supposed, around 1500 BCE.  He holds that the patterns of uniformity and diversity displayed by the various early regional forms of the alphabet (including derived scripts such as the Etruscan alphabet used in Italy), together with the distribution of letter-forms in the associated abjads, strongly suggest a much longer history of the system in the Greek-speaking world.  However, these arguments appear indecisive.  In addition, there is no actual trace of the Greek alphabet at these early dates.

Several non-mainstream theories about early Greek involve the poems attributed to the probably legendary poet Homer: the Iliad and the Odyssey, which were originally oral epics and very probably pre-date, in their earliest (lost) forms, the revival of Greek literacy arising from the introduction of the alphabet.  Barry Powell argues that a single ancient scholar invented the Greek alphabet precisely for the purpose of recording the Homeric poems.  Other classicists, while admiring Powell’s erudition, generally find his often technical arguments obscure, speculative and unconvincing.

More next time!




This Week in Conspiracy (19 May 2012)

May 20, 2012

Oh, things are coming together. NATO in Chicago? Bilderbergers in Virginia? It can’t be a coincidence!

Frank Conniff (@FrankConniff)
5/19/12 12:41 AM
Arizona keeping Obama off state ballot until he presents documentation proving that he won’t still be black in November.

This Creature from the Ocean’s Floor, better known as the Law of the Sea Treaty, has been created and written specifically to undercut America’s sovereignty and move us towards global governance and a New World Order where the constitutional rights of the American people, our national sovereignty and the military power of the United States would be subordinated to the whims of a group of corrupt, unelected, third-world bureaucrats who have no interest in Freedom and Liberty.

Headline of the Week:
Conspiracy Theorists are known for their subtle understatement. Take what Paul Krugman described as “bank jog” becomes: “BREAKING!!! DOOM ON!!!! Bank Run Greece… NOW!!!!

Twit of the Week:
This week’s conspiracy themed tweet of the week goes to Melissa Lee, who wasn’t even looking for it:
Dear Roger Ailes, I’ll think about it. -Shadowy Leftist Forces #ActuallyGoFuckYourself

The Conspiracy Theory of the Week:
…is not a conspiracy theory, rather a conspiracy spoof from Comedy Central called: “Birthers Divided on Whether or Not to Get Behind Ridiculous Nonsense.”

That’s it for now. I’m off the clock.

UPDATE! I’m back on the clock. I went back to William B. Bruer’s Unexplained Mysteries of World War II to try to find the reference to the cartoon I mentioned above. Instead, I found a reference to 2 suspicious advertisements in the New Yorker that were investigated by the FBI after Pearl Harbor. When I went to look for a website to link to, now having the ad, I found that some toilet hack had basically plagiarized Breuer’s entire chapter. So enjoy. Still looking for the cartoon reference!

UPDATE AGAIN! Ken has straightened me out on the “cartoon” I was looking for. This was another crossword puzzle, where words like “Omaha” and “Overlord” appeared. The story is here. In appreciation, I include a thank you specifically tailored to awesome Kens:


LAST UPDATE! I SWEAR: Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III pointed out that the authorities got concerned when Lex Luthor rolled out his own atomic bomb in the Superman series. Unfortunately, I do not have any fun MST3K videos about people named Bodsworth, so I will just have to send him my deep thanks! It’s a fun find from yesteryear!


New Article Up at CSI

May 17, 2012

As you likely know, I have “The Conspiracy Guy” column at CSI’s website now, and my most recent contribution is up. It’s called, “Out of Mind? Out of Sight!” And yes, I am very proud of that title. I want to invite you to respond to it here, since there is no option to reply at the CSI website.