Friday, February 6, 2009
Review of last year's NEARA conference.
On Saturday, November 8th I attended a conference put on by an organization called NEARA. NEARA is an acronym for the New England Antiquities Research Association and they are known for examining the many archaeological oddities found here in New England. There is speculation that everyone from the Phoenicians to the Vikings and even the Chinese landed on and possibly settled the shores of New England many years before Columbus discovered the new world. This conference would deal with many of these alleged pre- Columbian people's, and being that this is something which interests me quite a bit, I was very excited when the big day finally came.
I showed up a bit late and walked into the first speaker's presentation. His name was Norman Brockenshire and he spoke about many artifacts that he'd found on his property in the town of Batavia in upstate New York. On this property he has found quite a few hundred arrowheads, as well as large burial mounds which he suggests is evidence that his property may have been the site of the genocide of an ancient people who had settled in North America previous to the Indians. His assertion was that these people were of Caucasian/ European origin, and he referenced the Book Of Mormon numerous times to support this claim.
Brockenshire himself is also Mormon, but he repeatedly kept saying that he had no bias or agenda. Although his presentation was interesting, he provided no actual physical evidence that an early Caucasian civilization had existed here in North America, other than the claims made by the Book Of Mormon. Being that this was the backbone of his presentation, I'm not fully convinced that he is completely bias or agenda free.
The next speaker was Daniel Fernandez- Davila. His presentation was quite intriguing and his presence was very dynamic. He spoke of some fascinating discoveries in the Peruvian mountains where a civilization known as the Chachapoyas had previously existed. His slides were completely amazing, as were the stories he was telling of how rigorous and dangerous it was to travel so far into the mountains to find burial sites, some of which couldn't be reached unless you rappelled 300 feet down the side of a mountain! Mr. Fernandez- Davila was a real expert and a real professional whose confidence and humor were quite infectious. He was also the only actual archaeologist who spoke at this conference.
Immediately after Mr. Davila concluded his presentation he left along with almost half of the conference attendees. I found this a bit odd, but took it as a sign that he may have been the scheduled highlight of the day. My assumption would prove to be correct, as from this point on the conference degenerated into a veritable circus of speculation and pseudo science. For instance, the next speaker William Smith spoke about a mysterious character named “Nephi” whom he ascertained was an ancient Israelite Samaritan who had traveled to North America in 50 BC. Again the Book Of Mormon was used as evidence to support these claims. This speaker's presentation was completely full of ridiculous assumptions and conjecture for which he had little or no evidence for. A funny looking rock he found on his property in Ohio that he thinks is a sundial is what he bases many of his claims on. The fact that he followed Mr. Davila's presentation only made him look even more ridiculous.
During the break I decided to look at some of the books for sale, as well as look into the location of some local historical sites. Most of the books were very poorly written and self published, and many came with a hefty price tag as well. Call me cheap, but $30 for a 100 page homemade Kinko's “book” isn't exactly a great deal in my opinion, especially when most of the information contained in it can be googled or found on wikipedia for free. I'd arrived at the conference with a bit of worry that I might be tempted to spend more money than I should, but after looking at the book selection I realized that I had nothing to worry about.
Once the break was over I returned to the conference room, albeit slightly annoyed. I had hoped that the quality of the speakers would improve after Mr. Smith's downright embarrassing presentation. They did not. Instead they kicked off the second half of the day by playing a ridiculously contrived looking trailer called “The Hooked X: Key to the Secret History of North America”. Set to some stolen Lord Of The Rings music, this trailer had some riveting sound bites like “This will change history forever!” and “The dialect, the code, it all made sense!” The assertion is that the hooked x is a secret Templar symbol, found on everything from runestones here in the US, to the mysterious Newport Tower, to Christopher Columbus's signature. One of the speakers named Scott Wolter would elaborate on this further when he finally gave his presentation.
After an extremely boring travelogue of Israel that went way overtime it was finally time for the much ballyhooed Mr. Wolter to give his talk on the Kensington runestone. Scott didn't talk about the stone much, except for linking the "hooked x" rune it has with similar hooked x runes on stones found in Maine and Rhode Island. What Scott did do is jump to at least ten different conclusions, saying that the Vikings sailed over here with a Cistercian monk who had carved the Kensington stone using a secret code. He asserts that the same Cistercian monks built the Newport tower, which he claims was used for goddess worship. The hooked x as he explains it is a coded symbol to mean male and female energy, plus an unborn child. It represents the holy trinity if you will. This assertion fits in neatly with Dan Brown's popular book The Da Vinci Code, and Scott even mentioned a scene from the Da Vinci Code movie as an example of what the hooked x means. He also gave some VERY questionable examples of how the windows in the Newport tower are used to chart the summer and winter solstices. The icing on the cake though, was when he gave some ridiculous example of how if you trace the latitude and longitude of the tower and then somehow use the path of Venus's orbit, the tower will align directly with the Kensington runestone.
This kind of ridiculous guessing game speculation that passes as "research" was present in almost every speaker's presentation. I actually left before the second to last speaker went on. His name was William Penhallow, and he was introduced as a Freemason. That made him the fourth out of seven speakers who declared themself to have some sort of religious affiliation. Although his academic credentials actually did look quite impressive compared to all the other speakers, sans Daniel Fernandez- Davila, I was far beyond my tolerance level for hearing about Mormons, the lost tribe of Israel or the Knights Templar. Mr. Penhallow does have an MS in Physics and is a retired Physics professor, which makes me want to take him a bit more seriously than most of the other speakers, but the old "Even though I'm a Mason/ Christian/ Moonie/ Mormon/ whatever, I don't have an agenda, I just want to know the truth" alibi was something I did not want to hear any more of. I don't know if that was Mr. Penhallow's angle or not, I just know that his introduction was enough to persuade me to hit the road early.
The ride home got me thinking about a great many things, the least of which was how much personalizing was going on with the speakers. What I mean by personalizing is when someone observes artifacts and then immediately assumes that the person(s) who left them behind had a similar mentality to their own, or were somehow related to them. For instance, Scott Wolter looked at the Kensington runestone and determined that it was a coded Templar message. Now if we are to assume that the Vikings who'd traveled all the way to Minnesota were some of the first Europeans to arrive here in North America, it strikes me as odd that they'd travel all that way only to leave a coded message (?) To me that just seems like Scott is assuming that his self important egoism must be present in the consciousness of every average person, much like the first speaker (Norman Brockenshire) giving so much credit to the Book Of Mormon, when he himself is Mormon. Based on some of the speaker's disclaimers, these aren't exactly what I would call unbiased conclusions.
NEARA collectively has an agenda, and that agenda seems to be the assetion that the Knights Templar secretly discovered and settled here in North America before it was discovered by Columbus. The fact that they made a documentary about this that they are releasing next year leads me to believe that they are confident that their research can prove these claims, or can provide a compelling argument for them at the very least. This seems like quite a risk for a non- profit organization to be taking, as they may very well shoot themselves in the foot and derail any mainstream credibility they actually do have. Then again, with so many dramatic speakers and the fact that The Da Vinci Code was such a popular book, they will likely gain a large following of gullible rubes who are desperate for something to believe in. Conspiracy theories are all the rage these days, and it really doesn't take much to get people on the bandwagon. Especially when you're talking about organizations which most Americans have already heard about like the Templars and the Freemasons.
With all my criticism of the various agendas I've spoken of, it would lead the reader to assume that I must have one of my own. I will admit that that assumption would be 100% correct. In fact, I will admit that on a personal and spiritual level that I found many of the speakers at the NEARA conference to be downright bigoted and offensive. The reason why I say this is because I am not a Christian. In fact, I harbor a very deep disdain for the Judeo Christian mentality, which many of the speakers at this conference reinforced.
What I find most distasteful about Judeo Christianity is the idea of "one god, one way, my way, the ONLY way" which the various branches of it espouse. As I mentioned several times, many of the speakers made the "I just want to know the truth" disclaimer, and then proceeded to try to push their own religious bias on the audience. I'm inclined to believe that many of them did this without even realizing it, as this is the kind of warped mode of thinking which has polluted the worldview of much of Western society today. Christians will push their agenda both consciously and often unconsciously, as they are taught that they follow the only true path, and all non believers will be condemned to hell. They'll use this as both a guilt trip and a threat, either to try and convert you or insult you. When they tell you that they're only trying to save you by showing you the truth, it's the guilt angle. When that doesn't work, they'll tell you that you're going to hell to insult and scare you.
Most Christians are completely incapable of looking at the world from any other perspective besides their own, and given that it is predicated on a mentality of "one god, one way, my way, the ONLY way" it's not a particularly open minded one. Their arguments for why their religion is the only "true" religion are usually based on the existence of the Bible. The Bible is what they will inevitably claim is proof that their god exists, yet the Bible has had some 40 + authors and been revised an untold amount of times. I for one am very wary of anyone who uses a book full of questionable accounts to define something as deep and complex as spirituality. The ridiculous book table at the NEARA conference was proof that you don't need to be talented, enlightened or even intelligent to write a book. From a purely critical and academic standpoint the bible proves absolutely nothing, but even the most level headed of Christians refuse to admit this.
The Christian bias was even evident with the speakers who didn't claim any religious affiliation, but attributed the discovery of North America to the Templars and/ or the Freemasons. In the wake of all the post Davinci Code fervor, many Christians were insulted at Dan Brown's assertion that Jesus wasn't immortal, and had actually married Mary Magdeline and settled in France. I feel though, that many more Christians "in name only" found a renewed interest in their part- time religion after the Da Vinci Code was sold to millions of readers. It seems that even though the Templars and the Freemasons represented esoteric and arguably heretical offshoots of Christianity, it is much easier for the average Christian to accept that renegades of their own faith were secretly behind many of the world's most significant historical events than it is for them to accept that non Christians were. Again, the act of projecting is present here, which has much more to do with a person's ego than it has to do with following any spiritual "truth".
In defense of some of the speakers, I will say that when dealing with such mysterious and odd artifacts one cannot help but find one's imagination running a bit wild. The thing is though, to get to the bottom of the mystery one must also accept that if the actual truth shatters their preconceived notions of what they want it to be, it is their obligation to accept that and report their findings accurately. Much like the Tocharian mummies in China, one does not have to look too far to realize that even mainstream archaeology is often heavily political and biased. When these amateurs come up with alternative theories that serve to promote their own biased worldview they are behaving in exactly the same way that the people they claim to be against are behaving. They need to be mindful of this, and it didn't seem like too many of the speakers at this event were able to take any pause and ask themselves if there might be some wishful thinking happening in their research.
What I found to be the saddest thing about this conference was that like the majority of the speakers, most of the conference goers weren't actually historians, archaeologists, paleontologists, or specialists in anything even close to resembling what I thought an “antiquities research” group would attract. Instead, the conference seemed to be largely attended by conspiracy theory nuts, Nostradamus followers, Dan Brown fans, Coast To Coast AM listeners, and people like Norman Brockenshire and William Smith who had just happened to stumble on interesting and odd artifacts on their property. When I casually mentioned to one gentleman that I thought there might be some “speculating” going on, he got kind of irritated and replied “Well this stuff is ALL connected ya know!” Our conversation was then interrupted by a gentleman who claimed that he could prove that the Chinese discovered America before anyone else did.
The saddest thing is, the people having these discussions were all well into adulthood. At 36, I was easily the youngest person in attendance, and often felt like I was surrounded by a bunch of children on a scavenger hunt.