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Unearthing Ancient America

Book Review of: Unearthing Ancient America

The lost sagas of conquerors, castaways, and scoundrels

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Review of Unearthing Ancient America, by Frank Joseph (softcover, 2011)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)


This book presents an interesting take on the prehistory (history before records were kept) of the Americas. It's a compilation of articles by various authors (including Frank Joseph). Frank Joseph's underlying justification for this book is that establishment archaeologists and historians do not accept anything other than "Columbus was the first European in America."

In my (rarely, if ever, humble) opinion, what opens the door to the premise that Europeans were in the Americas millennia ago is the period known as the Dark Ages. The Catholic Empire (commonly misnamed the Catholic "Church") plunged Europe into about 1,000 years of extreme ignorance, superstition, and stupidity. For a large part of this era, literacy was punishable by death--that's an indication of how serious they were about this. When the Empire clamped down on reason and curiosity, it destroyed people and records it considered heretical to its dogma or threatening to its power. So, not only was a great deal of progress lost but so was a great deal of information.

The various authors provide intriguing circumstantial evidence supporting their position, but their conclusions tend to arise from conjecture rather than logical construction. This doesn't mean they are wrong. It does mean they haven't made their case by the standards of, say, formal debate. I was struck by two other things, the first of which is a lack of physical artifacts. The ones referenced are nearly all held by private owners or are lost somewhere.

Now when I say artifacts, I'm speaking of things like the tools these authors claim to have found and the large coffins they claim somebody found. Where are these? The book contains photographs of a few items, so that helps. But mostly, we're left with the same kind of undocumented "proof" that people offer for UFOs. This seems to be especially true for the items that are of particular consequence.

On the other hand, the large constructed mounds referred to by several authors aren't privately held or lost. While there's probably no way to prove these mounds were constructed hundreds or thousands of years ago by Europeans, it doesn't seem there's a way to rule this out either.

And that raises another issue. What about other types of monuments? These have information encoded into their physical arrangement. The information appears to reveal European awareness of the Americas long before Columbus.

The DNA issue raised in this book is also intriguing. The claim made is this proves the "diffusionist" viewpoint. I hadn't heard that term before reading this book and it wasn't defined. So I'm guessing it  means that Europeans diffused throughout the Americas and other far flung places like the South Pacific millennia ago. But does it really prove anything? Compared to what?

Unfortunately, the book doesn't present the dissenting (official?) counterarguments. So we have no way of being able to judge the explanations and pick one. We have merely the one-sided presentation of a particular viewpoint on the DNA.

A huge weakness of this book is its information base. The bibliography is composed of sources that are minor or dubious (there may be exceptions, but I didn't spot any). That doesn't mean the sources are worthless or wrong, but it does mean the book confines its research to "acceptable" sources--those acceptable to the viewpoints of the "diffusionists." That "approved sources only" approach is the same one that Frank Joseph complains the establishment takes. To get at the truth, we need to examine all sources and filter out those that don't pass scrutiny.

Once we have the sources sorted out, then we need to apply the scientific method to what we find. Some of the authors may do this, but I got the impression that generally the "diffusionist" authors do not. Since counterviews weren't rigorously examined, I can't tell for sure if anyone did apply the scientific method though I can tell for sure that many did not.

Maybe this book was too broad in scope to adequately address any particular issue. While it fails to be definitive, this book does provide cause for thought and further exploration. We have to remember that science, at least officially, seeks objective and verifiable truth. On the one hand, this book raises interesting questions. On the other hand, it doesn't provide objective and verifiable answers although the general tone is that it does. Lack of disproof is not proof, and lack of proof is not disproof. Something more is needed in either case.

Some of the physical evidence described by this book just is not explained by our current official canon of knowledge. I think this book makes a good "eye opener" for anyone interested in prehistory. At the very least it should cause people to question official dogma. The next logical step is to ensure that valid sources are considered rather than rejected out of hand, then the scientific method is rigorously applied.

Frank Joseph is sure that the establishment rejects valid sources out of hand. He seems to make a fairly compelling case that this is true in many instances. He frequently expresses his frustration over not being taken seriously by the establishment. Yet, he doesn't deliver the objective and verifiable answers that would solve that problem for him. Nor does he, curiously enough, include input from establishment experts in this book.

This book consists of nine chapters in 270 pages. Each chapter contains three to six articles (or essays) by contributing authors. Mr. Joseph introduces each author with a short bio.

A note on the editing

Having worked previously for many years myself as an editor, I was disappointed to keep encountering editorial errors in this book. Certain ones are like nails on a chalkboard for me. For example, Mr. Joseph let slide a particularly grating word combination, "absolutely unique." The word "unique" is an absolute. There's no modifier with it. In this particular article, the author used the word several times in rapid succession, too. I realize the typical editor-in-chief is not an English major, and that publishers no longer budget for proper copy-editing. But I still would like to see authors and editors take more care with English.




About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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