Author:  Frank Joseph (editor)
Publisher:  New Page Books
ISBN-10: 1601632045:  ISBN-13: 978-1601632043

Ever hear about the Phoenician monument found in Los Angeles? Or how the Romans founded a colony in Chile? Or how the Egyptians traveled to the New World and brought back corn? No? Neither have most other readers out there. But Frank Joseph and the contributing authors of The Lost Worlds of Ancient America want to change that. More importantly, they want to divulge to their readers the underappreciated evidence of pre-Columbian contact between the Americas and the Old World, or as they call it, the theory of “cultural diffusionism.”

Scholarship has long recognized that sailors from the Old World visited North America before Columbus’s 1492 voyage. Most well-known is the Viking explorations in Newfoundland. As the historian James Loewen pointed out almost twenty years ago in his bestselling Lies My Teacher Told Me, there is a enough evidence for pre-Columbian visits by Africans, Europeans, and Middle Easterners to the Americas to warrant some discussion in history courses.

Where Joseph’s edited volume departs from this mainstream view regards (a) the extent of this contact and (b) the specific interpretations of the archaeological evidence. The book’s goals are part of the overall mission of Ancient American, an archaeology magazine geared toward popular audiences, where Joseph served as editor-in-chief from 1993 to 2007. The expressed aim of both the magazine and the book under review is to write a “New History of our nation” by providing “neglected” and “suppressed factual evidence,” reported by “certified experts and nonprofessionals alike” who are explicitly beyond “the Establishment” (see and p. 16).

From the outset, the editor creates an atmosphere of contention, confrontation, and anti-intellectualism that casts doubt on his credibility. The challenge for the reader is to ignore the authors’ charged rhetoric and consider the individual arguments on their own merit. Almost all of these short chapters—typically between two and six pages—appeared previously in Ancient American. The contributors consist of “university-trained geologists, college professors, science writers for prominent periodicals, award-winning investigators, physicists, engineers, zoologists, radio broadcasters, artists, newspaper columnists, society presidents, and so on—but no mainstream archaeologists” (p. 16). Interestingly, the fields of research and training for the “college professors” and “science writers” include Physics, Creative Writing and Poetry, Education, and Agriculture. That is to say, none of the apparent specialists have any formal training in archaeology. (The tour guides perhaps come the closest.)

The inclusion of scholars and writers beyond the academic field of archaeology is admirable—sort of a democratic or populist form of research. However, Joseph’s explicit exclusion of trained professionals undermines his claims to legitimacy. By ignoring academic researchers, the editor weakens the book’s arguments and shows himself to be less interested in serious debate than he is in provoking controversy merely for the sake of controversy. It is easy to envision the academic study of archaeology—which, by the way, consists of highly-trained specialists, professional organizations, peer-reviewed journals, and university and government oversight—as a closed club of ivory tower elites. The reality, of course, is that the apparent bureaucracy and rigorous means of entering this field (that is, earning graduate degrees) serves as a filter for theories and arguments that lack substance.

This is not to say that The Lost Worlds of Ancient America is entirely devoid of interesting evidence. More often though, it is the conclusions that are so problematic. For example, the book’s second chapter points out the large numbers of Roman coins found throughout North America. Instead of giving serious consideration to all the possible (and more probable) explanations, the authors jump to the historically unlikely conclusion of Roman exploration in the New World. (Is it not interesting that these coins might have been kept by the earliest European explorers, or that they were carried by ancient shipwrecks adrift?) Casting these sorts of explanations as definitive conclusions further erodes the quality of individual chapters. After all, the best academic papers are always those that take a cautious approach to their own conclusions, pointing out the flaws along with the merits.

Readers who are fascinated by conspiracy theories, hidden “truths,” and hypercriticism of the academic “Establishment” will find many aspects of The Lost Worlds of Ancient America compelling. Unfortunately, these readers will, at best, be led astray and, at worst, find themselves further alienated from and embittered toward professional archaeologists specifically and academia in general. For readers with a serious interest in pre-Columbian America, The Lost Worlds will produce little more than furrowed brows, head scratches, and eye rolls, all at the expense of thought-provoking debate and intellectual stimulation through the study of history.

Follow Here To Purchase The Lost Worlds of Ancient America: Compelling Evidence of Ancient Immigrants, Lost Technologies, and Places of Power