Friday, March 03, 2006

From Vinland to "Celtic America" (Part 4)

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Reading of Richard Nielsen's championing of the Kensington Runestone, I was reminded of another independent scholar of marginal archaeology--another engineer, coincidentally--the late Bill McGlone of La Junta, Colorado.

McGlone in turn had been influenced by Barry Fell (1917-1994), a marine biologist and oceanographer. Growing up in New Zealand, Fell had been well aware of the far-sailing Polynesian culture, and he developed a side interest in ancient navigation. He had also learned the Gaelic language while studying at the University of Edinburgh.

(Here are a Wikipedia entry and a detailed obituary with a complete list of Fell's publications.)

In 1976, Fell published America B.C., an unorthodox survey of North American prehistory, which claimed evidence for visits by ancient Phoenicians, Celts, and others. The evidence was chiefly "epigraphic," that is to say, based on inscriptions on rocks and caves, etc., here and there. Fell did not even visit all of them, but in his office at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology collected, transcribed, and in some cases translated inscriptions copied for him by various other people.

Two potential problems arose: sometimes the collectors "improved" the inscriptions, and in other cases, natural features such as cracks in the rock were seen as letters. Still, overall impression of America B.C. and Fell's subsequent two books were intriguing.

American archaeologists were not impressed. Since it was known that no pre-Columbian culture north of the Valley of Mexico had writing, therefore there could not be any writing, and therefore no one studying ancient writing systems. Epigraphy was for archaeologists working Europe, the Middle East, or Asia. American archaeologists studied artifacts, human physical remains, dwellings, and associated evidence such as pollen and tree rings, but not epigraphy.

Only artifacts would prove convincing, just as the sparse artifacts found in the mid-1960s at L'Anse aux Meadows had carried more weight than all the sagas in proving that the Norse had visited North America.

More to come.

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