Imagine a reality show where the key figure is a guy struck in the mold of a hands-on Indiana Jones, a forensic geologist who isn't satisfied with just the story rocks and geologic stratification can tell him and who is willing to investigate and see if there is any connections between artifacts, theories, and legends. No matter how wild the legend or strange the theory. And if you can imagine a show like that, you can imagine "America Unearthed," a new series on History 2 Channel.
Scott Wolter is the forensic geologist. He's not too satisfied with the idea that Columbus was the first European to discover the Americas or with the notion that other ancient cultures didn't at some time venture forth and have commerce with areas that are now located in the US. As he notes in the promotional video clip for the show, "Sometimes history isn't what we've been told."
Of course, this is no novel concept. Anyone that has taken more than the rudimentary core history classes offered at any college can tell you that much of what we learn in grade school and high school about American history is condensed, pasteurized, embellished, and over-simplified. All the nuances that make up history -- the minor causes and effects, the cascading events, the revolutions of various types, the eras, the reigns, the myriad conflicts, and millions of personal stories that make up the historical record -- are glossed over in the 400- page tomes handed out to students prior to college. And then there are the momentous discoveries -- an old diary, a letter, a tract, an artifact -- that belies what the historical record has traditionally stated -- that sometimes makes us question what we know of the past.
But Wolter is pretty convinced that early American history is not just Native Americans and then the coming of Columbus. And he is searching America for those bits of etched stone and carved tree and bone and cave painting to put together a story about America that pre-dates Columbus and Hudson and the other, more traditionally acknowledged explorers.
The University of Minnesota researcher believes there are plenty of clues to bolster the argument. He opened his mind to the idea that academia wasn't too enamored of change and that theories and current beliefs were established and would be defended by those that had taught, espoused, and polished them over the years. He came up against such academic certainty when he worked on the Kensington Stone.
The Kensington Stone, a runestone, was discovered in Minnesota near the town of Kensington (thus, its name). It was a slab of greywacke covered with Nordic symbols and believed to be left by Scandinavian explorers in the 14th century. Although called a hoax by many academics, Wolter was convinced of its authenticity. He also understood what it would mean to historians and their theories and academic papers, things many had based their careers on.
In "America Unearthed," Wolter tests some of his theories and the theories of others, investigating the provenance and chains of evidence, even doing some tests in the labs at the University of Minnesota, in attempts to establish links between ancient civilizations with early Americans. In the series premiere, the scientist looked into the possibility that the Creek natives of the southern US might have been an offshoot of the Maya civilization. In the second episode, he follows the trail of a recently discovered runestone in a cave in the desert of Arizona.
The show is a little "CSI," a little "Brad Meltzer's Decoded," a little "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" (without all the Nazis and the shooting). It is a lot interesting.
And who knows? Scott Wolter could be correct. There could have been several cultural incursions into the Americas that pre-date the landing of Columbus. Besides, Native Americans still take exception to the story that Christopher Columbus "discovered" America -- when millions of Americans were already here when he arrived.
"America Unearthed" airs on History 2 Channel on Fridays at 10 p.m. (EST).
Take Home Message: Always keep an open mind. Just because something is accepted as established and inviolable does not make it so. It only remains so through tradition, mindset, and simple inertia. New ideas will assail the old and only through observation and testing can they be adjudged fairly. Obstinance and obstruction leads to stagnancy. Besides, those new ideas, if proven to be incorrect or inaccurate, can reinvigorate and strengthen existing concepts and possibly generate new avenues of discovery.