Saturday, May 24, 2008

Under the Microscope: Mystery of the Crystal Skulls

Welcome back to a series that's been on the back burner for a while. For those who haven't seen the previous entries, I'll tend towards stream-of-consciousness. I haven't read much about the crystal skulls beyond the Skeptic's Dictionary entry, but good old critical thinking and the pattern recognition of woo thoughts will serve me well enough.

One thing that's been annoying me for a while is the network decay of the Sci-Fi channel. When I first started watching it, it had oodles of old sci-fi TV series I missed, campy nostalgia, Twilight Zone marathons (thankfully preserved), Farscape, that sort of thing. There's been a steady invasion of woo, where they'll show idiots looking for ghosts, people who get hysterical over blurry dots in the sky, and that sort of thing. It'd be really cool if the paranormal existed, but I'd rather they didn't insult my intelligence with this sort of stuff. Science fiction interests me because of the science: Either clever applications for our hopes and dreams, or the inaccuracies in fiction that we can shrug off or make fun of. I don't know what, if anything, is going through the woo segment of Sci-Fi's viewer's minds when they tune in, but I have a hard time imagining that they can enjoy the regular sci-fi material on the same level.

But I've digressed. Onto the show. Pressing the play button now...

Intro: Jumps right to talk of alien origins, alleged impossibility of making them, magical powers, and that 2012 apocalypse thing where all 13 of them have to be collected to stop it... And some guy asks if NASA brought one back from the moon right before the Indiana Jones plug.

Some guy named Lester Holt: Tells about some people who claimed to have found one in an expedition, and since replicas have been made, I'd have to see evidence of authenticity. Mention of Mayans (reasonable), Atlantians (*cough*Bullshit*cough*) and aliens, again. Some guy rambles about them being made of the same stuff as silicon chips. Gee... quartz crystal made of silicon oxide, silicon chips made of silicon... Silicon and oxygen are two of the most abundant elements on Earth's surface, so I wonder why we'd make stuff out of it.

Talk of "mixed" results from "scientists" and mention of possibility of hoaxes. Can't (allegedly) date crystal, so can't date them. Of course, I'm no archaeologist, but I know you can date stuff by context. Unless they found the skulls alongside other artifacts, I'd be questioning their age, especially if found by unspecified places. Now talking about how Indiana Jones will dig the skulls out of obscurity with hints of how the Troof will be found with new examination. Talking about some guy they're fancying as an Indy-type Adventurer Archaeologist. Anna Mitchell-Hedges tells about finding it. Apparently kept it for herself, rather than giving it to the Maya's descendants. Guy shows a replica with separate jaw, talks about the ridges matching those of a real skull. Some restorer takes it to a lab to examine it, shines lasers though it, and find the light goes through to the eyes and teeth, which doesn't strike me as magical, just interesting craftsmanship. Talk of an alleged lack of tool marks, though I suppose one could carefully sand those away, or just rationalize away actual marks.

Guy comes up talking about how science is repressing the truth "under pain of whatever" as a blanket defense mechanism. You know how that goes: "I CAN'T be wrong, therefore everyone must be out to get me." Talk of alleged hidden complexities, saying the skull was made of multiple parts fused together in zero gravity. I'm not seeing it. Hoagland or whatever his name was. I'm sure a few blog searches will bring up lots of crazy with that name (I thought his name was familiar). Started billing up Mitchell-Hedges as heroes, and talk of treasure maps and never-before-seen photos. I imagine those of you with archaeological inclinations are laughing at the treasure map bit, since it's my understanding that the bulk of treasure-filled places are more likely to get raided long before it's old enough to be considered history.

Talk about 'energy' of crystals that shows up when you carve 'em into skulls. Says they were made by aliens (why human skulls if we're dealing with aliens) planting them on 'vortex lines', which was about where I had to momentarily pause to ready myself for the onslaught of particularly dense magical thinking. I wonder how the Sci-Fi execs kept a straight face, or if they kept one.

Okay, resuming. Talking about gravitational hotspots, linking to pyramids. Talking about the skulls being scattered across the world, you know, like in a fantasy series or RPG, rather than you know, people living on a silicate rocky planet with nearly identical skull shapes and desires to avoid death independently getting the idea to carve skulls out of shiny quartz.

Talk of the 2012 thing with the Mayan calendar, which allegedly ends (just another cycle) on 2012. Talking about them all activating on that date and awakening mankind and such, and that we should change our ways. Now showing some martial arts guy. Talking about 8 skulls found with 5 more to be found to round off 13. So... how exactly do they know it's 13 total? An undescribed Mayan legend, like we should trust a superstitious ancient culture. (Yeah, they did build some nifty things, and kudos to them for that, but I think we have a better grasp on reality.) Start the teasers for after the commercial, with talk of government conspiracies covering up links to aliens. Area 51 people allegedly talking to the skull. More dire warnings. The usual stupid.

20 minute mark. I'm thinking of breaking this up into a two-parter, now. At least I can enjoy a Doctor Who commercial... Wait, why didn't my DVR record Friday's episode? Did they skip for a special.

Establishing location at Belize, talking about the Mayans. Complimenting their literacy and record keeping, which is always a nice thing for a civilization, and probably for archaeologists, too. Looking for the location where the Mitchell-Hedges one was allegedly found. Apparently there's no evidence she was there in the first place. Mayan descendant talks about the origin story, with gods giving the skull to the Mayans, and alleged knowledge given. You know they're going to translate gods to aliens.

Talking about alleged paranormal properties, now. Bringing up alleged images which all look to be extreme pareidolia. Boy, am I disappointed to exactly the level I predicted so far. Planting other skulls around the one he was pareidolia, pulled out an infrared camera, apparently doesn't know what a tetrahedron is, and 'proves' they generate 'bio energy' by him warming up when he touches them. Exactly what you'd expect from some guy getting excited. Earlier mentioned some contemporary skull as a 'control' but we see nothing more about that. Geeze, they maybe they should have spent more time on that to give us something meaningful to critique, rather than a "Trust us, we're using technology!"

Some people wading in a river looking for quartz. Talk of how ancient cultures saw crystals as special, as if that meant anything beyond motivation for making stuff out of them. Commercial teaser with another guy saying we can't duplicate the technology to make them, and alleges it came from Mars, with a showing of the face. I wonder if Phil Plait has some reflexive habit by now from all the idiots who keep bringing that up. Lot of empty doggerel gets me spontaneously rubbing a pair of spots behind my ears. Think I developed that as an alternative to verbally ranting about logical fallacies at work. Anyway, rest of the teaser was trying to link a Mayan city to Atlantis. Classic woo.

Doesn't help my opinion of Sci-Fi channel that a Ghost Hunters commercial came up... You know, screw this. I'm taking a Sonic break, and I'll pick it back up after some Naruto filler episodes. Everything's better (well, maybe not this) after your weekly dose of magical ninjas. Saving as draft...

And I'm back in at the 40 minute mark. This is going to be a long one. Returns with some of those river goers finding and cracking open quartz geodes. Local ruins include some structures on top of terraces. Host goes on about the nasty local insects and the jungle in general. Yeah, yeah. Ushbaantun, or however you spell it. Compares it to some place called Lubaantun, which they start talking about as being a part of Atlantis, which they now talk about as if it's proven to be real. Now they're saying proving the skull's from Atlantis would be a blow to human evolution, and the whole thing would explain Stonehenge and Nazca lines, as if the locals were too stupid to do it themselves. They didn't say it outright, but I called it in one of the earlier posts. There's nothing magical about those wonders: Just simple human ingenuity.

Back to claiming the skull can't be made by humans. Back to Hoagland and his crazy ancient astronaut stuff and NASA conspiracies. Viking I on Mars, and back to the Face on Mars. I bet they won't mention what the stuff turned out to be on reexamination. Claiming it's half feline, which is new to me, but it's pretty much just a second level of pareidola. Claim of the Martians being solar system-wide civilization. Got some vague "enhancement" he applies to NASA moon photos to find crystal towers, and oh my dear Ammy, it just got stupider while I was typing. "Galactic disaster" with a planet getting blown up, chunks of it flying off, and a shot of CGI dome cities getting rained on by meteors, complete with stock laser sound effects... for meteors.

I think I've been poking the ID and altie crowd enough I forgot just how stupid all the other brand of woo gets. This particular stupid doesn't burn, but clamps my brain in a vice, exerting an uncomfortable pressure. I mean really. Could they have just done thirty minutes establishing the skull's "bio energy" detailing how they allegedly controlled the experiment, rather than just flash us some predator-vision shots from the infrared camera? Do we really have to see them rush to cram in this badly written Z-movie plot? Wouldn't it be better to show us actually learning just one thing, rather than being implicitly told to trust them on one point before they shift along to a few hundred other crazy assumptions?

Blurry shot of some rock that looked vaguely skull-like, claiming it's a robot. One blurry shot made from maybe 100 pixels. And he constructs an entire NASA conspiracy around that. Was Hoagland the guy who got punched by Buzz Aldrin? (Checked. Nope. Some other guy. Maybe I should email Buzz with a request.) Now going on back to ancient legend, saying it's near Hoagland's story. Methinks there's stretching involved, possibly including some deliberate in order to attract more woo tourist dollars. Talk about the 'skull of doom' being used to 'will death', which seems fairly obvious an application for superstitious people to end up wasting their time and failing at. Guy finds a hole in the ruins and thinks it's special by default. I hope a woo non-archaeologist like him doesn't get that digging permit.

Commercial teaser, talking about the Mayan calendar and the 2012 prophecy. Last time I checked, that's still just an end of a cycle around it. Approaching the one hour mark. I think I'll finish this tonight. I've got a DVR. My shows can wait.

Another Indy plug. Guy digging in the ruin's named Bill Homann. Local Mayan guy's named Leonardo. Going to the island of Roatan, however it's spelled. Have to type fast, since I don't feel like rewinding. Talk of buried treasure, and they've moved to pirates. Who didn't bury treasure, by the way. They tended to spend their earnings pretty quickly. Glad they didn't go down that yarn, at least, talking of sunken treasure, and some gold thrown overboard with a "crystal object" that they presumed was a skull. Finding some metal that's looking like just a plain wreck. Back to a hand-drawn treasure map that was shown earlier.

Moved onto a woman with a skull named "Max" that's a cloudy piece of quartz. Claims it's a cancer treatment. Now we're moving into altie territory. Apparently her daughter lived for 3 more years, rather than some months. Yeah. That's reeeeeal impressive. Bunch of cuts of people looking into the skull inside a pyramid. I really hope no one makes presumptions about sci-fi fans if they saw that without much experience of the geek clique.

---Oh, Ammy, it burns. Talk about the treasure being cursed as some voodoo-esque guy talks about the proper way to sacrifice a white rooster to avoid the curse. Commercial teaser goes back on the alien angle.

At the 1:10 mark, in the commercials. I'm going to take a break. That makes a lot more sense. ...Wrestling commercial. They're still showing wrestling. On Sci-Fi channel. Back on the boat.

Divers looking for a cave from a photo. Back to Belize and supposedly where they found that first woman's skull. He took her word for it she found it there. Asking if the Mayans could have made it. Apparently they ask a real archaeologist who says the Mayans could have made the skull, but they still question where it came from. They also find someone making the argument that she purchased the skull from contemporary manufacturers and includes a catalog from the time with a skull. Knows how much she paid for it.

Now showing tool marks. Some have parallel marks that look like diamond tool marks that placed it in the late 1800s or later. And now, that they've established that, now they're claiming the superior technology was ancient. And now they're reminding us about the vague laser experiments, and now they're talking about "sensory" stuff the skull would do, like give off sounds and smells or glow (probably by indirect light), likely as the result of people overinterpreting. Also trying to claim it's some 'solid state CD' and showing more pareidotastic images. Commercial teaser about the horrible upcoming disaster plucked from nowhere.

Please note at this point, if I'm rambly and incoherent, it's because they're so rambly. They don't really bother to establish much of anything, and they've made flimsy ad hocs for the token skeptics' remarks. A hoax involving a handful is far more plausible than the mass conspiracies they're talking about. I hope 2012 hurries up so that I can whack the stupids with Armageddon's eternal procrastination.

Back on Atlantis. Talking about Plato's story, despite the lack of other mentions of what would be a very well-known spot... Oh. My Dear. Ammy. They're citing Edgar Cayce. Talking about Lubaantun having good masonry instead of concrete, apparently trying to claim that as evidence they were Atlantean descendants. Talking about Mayan calendars and how good they were, to the point one of the talkers claims it was more accurate that "ours." Now talking about rare alignments... which are commonplace. Claiming it'll cause magnetic reversal. Phil, if you're reading this, I apologize for any keyboard damage.

More Cosmic Keystone talk. Vortex points, and that crap with an alleged expert. 12 people wandering around a bunch of arranged rocks in some ritual... Oh, my dear Ammy, they're citing Battlestar Galactica! And some kind of similarity behind the legends and it.

...You know it's getting bad when I, an atheist, keep invoking the name of my favorite videogame deity. At the 1:36 mark and commercials. Just got to hang on a little longer. I've seen woo splatter before, but this really stands out at the moment. Back on the boat...

Back to the power points, giving the planet acupuncture or whatever. Talk of someone hiding a skull in a cave somewhere with a 70 year old photo for reference. I predict this will also come up empty. They find some matching location, though, and they shift gears to mention how the Belizians want any skulls found to be kept in museums and such. Though I think it's a moot point, I'd definitely side with them, especially since I suspect these nutters would get the skull alone and ruin any context it's found in.

Ramble about how we're (always) troubled and on the verge of an awakening. Oh. My. Dear. Okami Amaterasu. They're now trying to suggest that all the effort to get back to the moon is solely about how to get back to the "robot head" since the MIB apparently figured out how to talk to the thing. Ow. Ow. Ow. Move into the cave, talking about how hard it is to move about. Certainly looks hard. They've climbed around, and think it's buried in a hole they can't get down. And mention of another curse. Commercial teaser: Talking about engaging in ancient rituals to find another skull. Someone really should have settled on the genre of crazy, because this is jumping all over the place.

I'm so glad this is wrapping up. Here comes the search for another skull. I'm beginning to wonder if this Leonardo guy does this all the time for gullible tourists. Description of some ritual where master priests would pass on their knowledge to an apprentice and die. Why mention this stuff, rather than spend time actually examining the skulls?

"A site never seen by Western eyes." Isn't Belize "Western". Oh well. Anyway talk of holy ground and "energy", while they're making Indy comparisons, saying a skull's probably in a hidden chamber of a covered pyramid they're on. Burn some incense and crap, and that's it. Closing on platitudes, false statement about "evidence for both sides" and saying we'll know for sure in 2012, when these people will get to waffling and "reinterpreting."

And I breathe a sigh of relief as my DVR moves to the front end of the new Battlestar Galactica, which I haven't watched at all. I may have to play a bit of catch up.

6 comments:

Joshua said...

"solid state CD"

Oh, really, they have optical semiconductors? Fascinating!

Akusai said...

Wow. Your courage is inspiring, though I fear you might just wither up and die of the stupid over the course of the night.

That was actually even worse than I expected it to be. When I was a paranormal-obsessed youth I read a lot about the crystal skulls and so I expected the show to focus mainly on Mitchell-Hedges and her story.

Instead they brought in woo from everywhere.

King of Ferrets said...

Atlantis, conspiracies, ancient civilizations, 2012 doom prophecies, Indiana Jones, voodoo... AHHH MY BRAIN IS BLEEDING! I think I'll go get my dose of Naruto Shippuuden... (because I'm nerdy enough to watch anime before it comes out in America!)

Dunc said...

Jesus H Christ on a pogo stick... And I thought the broadcast some real crap on the UK SciFi channel (well, they do, but this sounds like it's in a different league).

Of course, I'm no archaeologist, but I know you can date stuff by context.

Yeah, but none of the artefacts in question have come from proper archaeological digs. As far as I can recall, there is no evidence that any of them are genuine archaeological artefacts.

You might be interested in the Bad Archaeology page on the subject:

"The Mitchell-Hedges skull is only the most famous example of a number of similar objects, none of which has ever been found in adequately documented circumstances, nor have any ever been found indisputably in ancient deposits. A 1996 study of several examples by the British Museum indicated that they were made recently, probably in Germany and certainly after the mid-nineteenth century."

Tom Foss said...

Doctor Who was on hiatus for some music-oriented reality show in Britain last Friday; for some reason, Sci-Fi Channel decided to take the same week off, rather than catch up a little (being two or three episodes behind the BBC...maybe there's some kind of weird delay agreement). All I know is that I'm all sorts of psyched to [totally legally acquire] the Library episode on Saturday.

apparently doesn't know what a tetrahedron is

What did he think it was? I've encountered idiotic tetrahedron misunderstandings recently too.

Claiming it's half feline, which is new to me, but it's pretty much just a second level of pareidola.

Wait...doesn't that mean that Mars is Thundera?

"Galactic disaster" with a planet getting blown up, chunks of it flying off, and a shot of CGI dome cities getting rained on by meteors, complete with stock laser sound effects... for meteors.

Oh, holy crap, it is Thundera. You know, just once I'd like to see some woo that didn't sound like it was ripped off from Saturday morning cartoons.

They also find someone making the argument that she purchased the skull from contemporary manufacturers and includes a catalog from the time with a skull. Knows how much she paid for it.

Anecdotal piffle, obviously. Bring on the aliens!

They're now trying to suggest that all the effort to get back to the moon is solely about how to get back to the "robot head" since the MIB apparently figured out how to talk to the thing.

With the right script, that could be the most awesome thing ever.

Why mention this stuff, rather than spend time actually examining the skulls?

As you already know, I'm sure, it's because the skulls aren't interesting. They're utterly prosaic; it's far more interesting to examine the trumped-up woo-legends than to look at some skulls that will turn out to have been bought from one of those mail-away catalogs that sells mostly swords and movie prop replicas.

Thanks for this report; your sacrifice is much appreciated.

Dunc said...

Just thought I'd dig this up again to append a link to a very good article on the subject from the May/June 2008 issue of Archaeology: Legend of the Crystal Skulls.