The Museum of Hoaxes
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Pseudoscience Hoaxes
Chariots of the Gods?
Chariots of the Gods?, written by Erich von Däniken, was first published in 1968. It became an international bestseller. The thesis of the book is that ancient human civilizations had contact with visitors from outer space. These "ancient astronauts" were supposedly responsible for many of the great architectural feats of history, such as the Egyptian pyramids, the Nazca lines of Peru, and the statues on Easter Island. Mainstream archaeologists dismiss von Däniken's argument as pseudoscience. A charitable view of von Däniken would credit him with really believing all the arguments he makes. A more cynical view paints him as a... More…
Carlos Castaneda and Don Juan, 1968
In 1968 Carlos Castaneda, a graduate student in anthropology at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), published The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. It described his encounters with Don Juan Matus, a Yaqui shaman from Mexico. Don Juan supposedly trained Castaneda in ancient forms of knowledge, such as how to use drugs to communicate with animals (or even to become an animal). Castaneda's book became a bestseller and was an important influence on the New Age movement. Castaneda was awarded a doctorate by UCLA in 1972. Castaneda insisted Don Juan was a real person, but this is widely doubted by scholars. Skeptics... More…
The Loch Ness Monster
Ancient Scottish legend told of a "beast" that lived in the waters of Loch Ness. St. Columba, for instance, was supposed to have encountered a large serpent in the River Ness over 1400 years ago. But the modern history of Nessie began in 1933 when a new road was completed along the northern shore of the Loch, providing easy access to unobstructed views of the water. Soon after this, a couple spotted an "enormous animal" in the Loch. The Inverness Courier wrote up their sighting, describing what they saw as a "monster;" intense media interest followed; and thus was born the modern Loch Ness Monster. More…
Redheffer’s Perpetual Motion Machine, 1812
In 1812 a Philadelphia man, Charles Redheffer, claimed to have invented a perpetual motion machine that required no source of energy to run. He built a working model of the machine and applied for funds from the city government to build a larger version. But when inspectors from the city examined it, they realized that Redheffer had simply hidden the power source. To expose Redheffer, they commissioned a local engineer to build a similar machine, and when they showed this to Redheffer he fled the city. (This replica is still owned by the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.) A year later, Redheffer attempted the same scam in New York City.... More…
Prophecies of Nostradamus, 1555
Michel de Notredame, better known as Nostradamus, rose to prominence as an astrologer supported by the patronage of Queen Catherine de Médici. He wrote prophecies in an ancient form of French worded so ambiguously that it could be interpreted to mean almost anything a reader desired. This artful ambiguity has allowed his followers to credit him with predicting many events. Although his supposed predictions are only ever noticed after the events have occurred. More…
The Toledo Letter, 1184
A letter supposedly written by the astrologers of Toledo began circulating throughout Europe in 1184. It predicted the world would end in September 1186, amidst awful calamities. People were advised to flee their homes and find safety in the mountains. The letter caused panic throughout Europe. Of course, the world didn't end, but that wasn't the end of the letter's career. Variants of it, with names and dates altered, continued to circulate for centuries, and continued to cause panic. More…
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  • All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.