America Unearthed

Rock Wall

Rock on! H2, the History Channel’s more intense little brother, has a show called America Unearthed that is challenging long-held beliefs about our country’s history.

Scott Wolter, a forensic geologist from Minnesota, travels the U.S. (with fact-seeking jaunts to other countries) to investigate sites, symbols, stones, and archaeological souvenirs in hopes of identifying their age and origin.

When I first heard of this show– specifically, when I learned that the word “forensic” was involved– it piqued my interest. A forensic geologist is someone who is likely to draw their conclusions based on scientific evidence, not on speculation and conjecture. I thought, “wow, it’s about time that someone examines such sites and theories about pre-Columbian settlements in the Americas from a lab-based perspective.”

Narrow-minded academics have long dismissed the possibility of visitors to our continent before Columbus. Our schools conditioned us to believe that 1492 was the first time a seafaring visitor from across the pond set foot in our neck of the woods. Every October we celebrated how this Spanish, no, Italian, no, Spanish? explorer reached an island in the Caribbean and “discovered” it, earning a handsome reward even though one of his crew allegedly saw it first.

The older I get, the more silly and unrealistic this seems to me. I don’t have a problem with celebrating the holiday as it can be a good launching point for kids to understand America’s history. But we should be willing to consider that other people made it here first, namely the Vikings and the Welsh. Unfortunately, artifacts that relate to their presence are often poo-pooed as fame-seeking hoaxes, and that’s where Wolter’s skills come in.

While I have my own issues with carbon dating, a discussion for another day, that’s not the kind of one-note investigation Wolter does. He lets the rocks tell the story through techniques like determining if their weathering is authentic, scrutinizing them under cutting-edge microscopes, and seeing if structures line up with phenomena like the summer solstice. What he finds can blow our conventional notions of history out of the water.

Rocks have always fascinated me and my whole life I’ve been bringing interesting specimens home. On this note I appreciate how much attention Wolter gives to artifacts made from the bones of planet earth and how rigorously he might scrutinize them. Every rock tells a story, from the igneous basaltic to the organic sedimentary (thank you seventh grade science for introducing me to the nomenclature).

In one recent episode, he looked into the possible presence of Mayans in the American South. Too weird, you say? I’d watch the episode before making a judgment. In another, I was absorbed in his analysis of lead artifacts from Arizona that predate Columbus by nearly 700 years. I was quite surprised at which people group could have been involved– cross of Lorraine, anyone? And a medieval Englishman buried in a Southwestern desert to boot?

Wolter’s detective work does not stay in Anno Domini, however. The week he traveled to the Great Lakes on a mission to do with copper the discussion went all the way back to the Bronze Age. This reminded me of a riddle I’d like to throw his way, and that’s whether the location of Ophir, the place where King Solomon acquired his gold, could have been Peru.

The more I think about what matters could be subjected to forensic geology, like possible vertical weathering on the Sphinx, the real Mt. Sinai being Jabal al Lawz with its mysteriously blackened summit, the granite and other stone inside of the Great Pyramid having been a part of a reactor, not a tomb, the more useful this science becomes to me. Some of these theories may sound nuts but it’s this kind of sleuthing that can shed light on mysteries that are millennia old.

The show isn’t strictly scientific or it could be boring; there is a lot of opinion involved and Wolter’s area of expertise is geology more than culture-specific archaeology. I’m not one to accept something as truth or fact just because someone tells me so, therefore I find myself talking back to the TV, such as during the show in which a stone chamber in Pennsylvania was examined. I’m not an expert like Wolter, but it was obvious that the chamber in question was Colonial due to the type and quality of the workmanship. His conclusions matched that and were more specific, but before he aired his findings I was squirming at discussions that earlier cultures might have been involved.

I had the same reaction to an episode featuring an artifact found in the Arkansas River. I understood why Wolter immediately recognized possible Egyptian symbolism, but the art was not Egyptian. So I spent the first part of the hour saying, “hey! Whoa! That’s not Egyptian!” while that possibility was discussed. His conclusion wound up being something quite unexpected, but also very logical if the artifact was indeed real. This particular show introduced me to a possible aspect of American history that I was completely unfamiliar with.

One of the most recent storylines of America Unearthed dealt with the “myth” that the Welsh had been in America a thousand years before the pilgrims. This is a mystery I was introduced to as a child while reading Madeline L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet. The protagonist in that book travels back in time to meet Madoc Gwynedd. While many elements of L’Engle’s books might be considered the stuff of fantasy, this actually has some basis in reality.

In Welsh folklore, Madoc Gwynedd, a prince, traveled to America in 1170 A.D. Reports of Welsh-speaking or European-looking Native Americans are often traced back to his voyage. Some accounts place the Welsh in America as early as 562 A.D., with a whopping 700 ships arriving in 574 A.D. after a natural disaster in their homeland. What makes the Welsh storyline in Wolter’s show so intriguing is its possible involvement in the death of an American hero in the early 19th century.

Wolter likes to take on subjects that have been debated for hundreds of years and sometimes he’s not very tolerant of differing views, such as in the Croatoan episode. There are parts of the Croatoan mystery that aren’t necessarily going to be proven by science and it’s possible that the lost colony split up to travel in different directions if they survived. I appreciate his work on this topic and yet don’t think this could be neatly resolved in one episode like Law and Order. Anil Balan has a good overview of the Croatoan story on his blog,

Overall, I find Wolter’s willingness to literally jump into the sands of time to hash out the history of our land and culture refreshing. I question a significant amount of history that has been taught to me as fact and on the other side of the television screen find a sort of kindred spirit who also seems to want to boil things down to the bare, jagged, bedrock truth. In this case truth is also peppered with his interpretation of history based on his findings, but it’s intriguing nevertheless.

I don’t know what Wolter’s credentials are or what his educational background is and those don’t jump out at me on his company’s site. However, America Unearthed will cause you to rethink what was impressed upon you in history class because it is partially science-based and dares to ask the questions that most mainline academics will neither ask nor answer. Scott Wolter is not afraid to ruffle feathers, vivisect the verboten, or inspect the improbable.

While I will continue to debate certain points of this program from the comfort of my living room, it is a fascinating foray into the mists, minerals, and metamorphisms of our past. Whether you process the show as entertainment or absorb it as mind-bending fact, it will push at the boundaries of your beliefs. As Napoleon said, history is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.


…and assign your nuggets to the dust, your gold of Ophir to the rocks in the ravines… -Job 22:24


Update: Having just watched the latest episode of this show which focuses on the Narragansett runestone, I realized that I have a significant disagreement with a premise that ties many of Wolter’s theories together. He believes that many of the inscriptions he investigates point the way to the Holy Grail, which in his view is the bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Tied into this belief is his examination of a tomb in Jerusalem that some believes holds the bones of Jesus and many of his family members.

As C.S. Lewis said, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” The central premise of Christianity is Jesus rising from the grave and conquering death. If He was lying about who He was, why listen to what He said? Why believe in a hope beyond this fallen world?

I don’t doubt that the Knights Templar and other groups who made “Christianity” into a mystery religion could have believed in such a bloodline, so these artifacts could be tied up in some kooky mystical quest leading to more lies. But Christianity was never intended to be completely accessible only to a chosen few or lofty knowledge intended for the elite– it’s open to everyone.

Jesus loved children but didn’t have biological children– we are His children. The Holy Grail bloodline theory is way out of step with the Manufacturer’s Handbook and so it has zero credibility with me. The Templars  might have thought they were protecting that, but, uh, guys, He’s still alive.


One more addition here since this post gets so many hits: I asked Scott Wolter directly about his qualifications. He said he headed up the forensic analysis on the fire-damaged structural concrete at the Pentagon after 9/11 and has done highly sensitive forensic work for local, state (actually, all states), and federal governments including murder cases.

After talking to him I feel that he comes under attack for using his expertise on archaeological cases mainly because he challenges the status quo. I sometimes disagree with the conclusions he reaches based on the evidence he’s found, particularly on biblical artifacts, but admire his willingness to use his scientific skills to make us rethink history. He really knows his rocks and I don’t think many people would be willing to challenge his seasoned geology skills.

Being a rock the boat sort myself, I appreciate what Mignon McLaughlin said: Every society honors its live conformists and its dead troublemakers.  Maybe Scott Wolter’s just a little ahead of his time.


©2013 H. Hiatt/ All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/

2 thoughts on “America Unearthed

  1. Hello Scott Silviano Martinez here. I would like your Email adress ,I have some rock writing in northen N.M. thanks


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