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ms cardiff giant
Syracuse-based artist Ty Marshal has created a replica of the Cardiff Giant, according to its original size specifications (ten-feet tall). His replica is going to be buried in Syracuse's Lipe Art Park and then unearthed on October 16, the anniversary of the date on which the Giant was first "found" on William Newell's farm back in 1869.

After being unearthed, Marshal's giant will remain on display in the park, under a tent, for one week. Visitors will be allowed to view it for 25 cents. Then, using a horse and cart, the Giant will be transported to the Atrium in Syracuse's City Hall Commons where it will be displayed until the end of October. Visitors will also be able to buy Cardiff Giant-themed merchandise: soap, chocolate, wine, and coffee. (As a long-time collector of hoax-themed merchandise, I HAVE to get all of that stuff!)

You can find more details about Marshal's project on his website: syracusecardiffgiant.com.

There's actually a long history of recreating the Cardiff Giant. Back in the 1870s quite a few showmen paid artists to recreate the Giant, which they then displayed, as a way to cash in on the popular interest in the phenomenon. The most famous of these replicas was displayed by P.T. Barnum in New York City, and (much to the annoyance of the owners of the real giant) attracted more visitors than the actual giant, which was simultaneously on display a few blocks away.

In 1976, a service club in Cardiff, New York created a "Mrs. Cardiff Giant", which they buried and then unearthed. You can see it (note the breasts) in the slightly blurry picture below.

ms cardiff giant

Currently there are four Cardiff Giants on display (not counting Marshal's new one): at the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown (this is the real giant), the Fort Museum in Fort Dodge, Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Detroit, and the Circus Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin.
Categories: Art, Celebrations, History
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 29, 2011
Comments (2)
Archaeologists have found a burial shroud sealed within a 2000-year-old tomb in Jerusalem. Comparing the newly found shroud to the Shroud of Turin adds to the evidence that the Shroud of Turin is a fake. From nationalgeographic.com:

The newfound shroud was something of a patchwork of simply woven linen and wool textiles, the study found. The Shroud of Turin, by contrast, is made of a single textile woven in a complex twill pattern, a type of cloth not known to have been available in the region until medieval times, Gibson said.
Categories: History, Religion
Posted by Alex on Mon Dec 21, 2009
Comments (44)
A version of the Gospel of St. Mark, once thought to date from the Byzantine era, has now been determined to be a late-19th-century fake. From the Chicago Sun Times:

The manuscript, written in Greek, originally was believed to have been written as early as the 14th century. But strong suspicions that it might not be nearly so old surfaced in 1989, after it was discovered that a blue pigment on one of the pages wasn't available until 1704, Mitchell said.
It took carbon dating, advanced microscope technology and good sleuthing to discover the faker's crafty handiwork.
Through analysis of parchment, ink and paints used in the book, Joseph Barabe, a senior research microscopist at Westmont-based McCrone Associates, determined the book was created after 1874 using materials not available until the late 19th Century.

More support for Jean Hardouin's Theory of Universal Forgery.
Categories: History
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 16, 2009
Comments (2)
Every few years I post an update about the Vinland Map (a map, supposedly from the early 15th century, showing part of North America). In 2002 I posted that an analysis of the map's ink proved it was a fake, but in 2003 I wrote that a new study indicated it might be genuine. And in 2004 I linked to a Scientific American article that described historian Kirsten Seaver's theory that the map was created in the 1930s by a German Jesuit priest, Father Josef Fischer, in order to tease the Nazis by "playing on their claims of early Norse dominion of the Americas and on their loathing of Roman Catholic Church authority."

Now a scholar, Rene Larsen of the School of Conservation under the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, says that the map is genuine:

Larsen said his team carried out studies of the ink, writing, wormholes and parchment of the map, which is housed at Yale University in the United States.
He said wormholes, caused by wood beetles, were consistent with wormholes in the books with which the map was bound.
He said claims the ink was too recent because it contained a substance called anatase titanium dioxide could be rejected because medieval maps have been found with the same substance, which probably came from sand used to dry wet ink.

I don't expect Larsen's arguments will end the debate, since the opposing sides in the controversy seem to be pretty well entrenched.
Categories: History
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 20, 2009
Comments (5)
A new theory about the Shroud of Turin: Lillian Schwartz, a graphic consultant at the School of Visual Arts in New York, thinks Leonardo da Vinci created it. Her reasoning is that "the face on the Turin Shroud and a self portrait of Leonardo da Vinci share the same dimensions."

The self-portrait of da Vinci and the face on the shroud do look similar, but I thought it was pretty well established that the shroud dates back to at least 1355, which would make it too old for da Vinci to have created, since he was born in 1452. [Daily Mail]
Categories: History, Religion
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 06, 2009
Comments (11)
Swiss art historian Henri Stierlin argues that the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti on display in Berlin's Pergamon museum is a fake. He says that it was created around 1912 as a way for an archaeologist to color test ancient pigments found at the digs, but when a German prince mistook it for an ancient work of art, the archaeologist didn't have the courage to correct his important guest. And so the statue came to be regarded as an ancient work of art. [Agence France Presse]
Categories: Art, History
Posted by Alex on Thu May 07, 2009
Comments (4)
Shroud of Turin News: A Vatican historian says she's uncovered documents indicating that between 1204 and 1353 the Shroud of Turin was kept hidden by the Knights Templar, who worshipped it as a holy relic. Apparently they required their members to "venerate the image by kissing its feet three times." (Some of their other rituals may have involved spitting on the cross, stripping naked and kissing their superior on the buttocks, navel, and lips, and submitting to sodomy.) The Vatican is still remaining mum about whether they think it's the genuine shroud in which Christ was buried, or a forgery. [Times Online]
Categories: History, Religion
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 06, 2009
Comments (5)
A carving on the ancient Ta Prohm temple in Cambodia has become a favorite of creationists, because it looks kinda like a stegosaurus. And, of course, if there's a carving of a stegosaurus on an ancient temple, that supports their belief that dinosaurs and humans once lived together.

However, as Brian Switek points out on the Smithsonian blog, two other explanations are more likely:

a) The carving is something other than a stegosaurus:
If viewed directly, the carving hardly looks Stegosaurus-like at all. The head is large and appears to have large ears and a horn. The “plates” along the back more closely resemble leaves, and the sculpture is a better match for a boar or rhinoceros against a leafy background.

b) The carving may be a stegosaurus, but it's not an ancient carving:
There are rumors that it was created recently, perhaps by a visiting movie crew (the temple is a favorite locale for filmmakers), and it is possible that someone created something Stegosaurus-like during the past few years as a joke.
Categories: History, Religion
Posted by Alex on Fri Mar 13, 2009
Comments (19)
Some guy named Bill Veall claims to have discovered the world's largest rock sculpture. It's somewhere in the Peruvian Andean mountains, and it's in the shape of a "sacred lamb". He says he found it by using satellite imaging techniques to search for ancient shapes and formations. I guess that rules out any possibility he's just seeing what he wants to see. (sarcasm)



From Sky News: "Mr Veall, who studies the relationships between astronomy and archaeological monuments, has faced a series of doubters who claim he doctored the images to create an elaborate hoax."

Big red flag indicating the skeptics may be right: Veall won't release the coordinates of the site. He says, "If I gave you the co-ordinates of the site, a million people would find it immediately... But we want to secure and preserve the site until we can get a scientific team to have a look at it."
Categories: Art, History, Places
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 09, 2008
Comments (25)
The story of the 18th-century contest (sponsored by the British government) to find a solution to the problem of how to determine longitude at sea has received much attention, mostly due to Dava Sobel's best-selling book about it.

But Pat Rogers argues in the Times Literary Supplement that Sobel (and just about every other historian who has written about the subject) has fallen for a hoax. Specifically, all of these historians have described one Jeremy Thacker as an inventor who, early in the contest, almost found the solution to longitude. But Rogers argues that Thacker didn't exist. He was merely a literary joke, probably created by John Arbuthnot.

The evidence for this thesis: 1) Thacker's pamphlet, Longitudes Examin'd, is the only evidence of his existence. He doesn't pop up anywhere else in the historical record. 2) The pamphlet is written in an "absurdly grandiose style." 3) "His unblushing admission that he only cares about the £20,000, with no figleaf claims of benefit to mankind, is equally untypical."

Rogers connects Thacker to Arbuthnot because the pamphlet was later included in a collection of The Miscellaneous Works of the Late Dr. Arbuthnot.

I haven't read any counter-arguments to Rogers' thesis, so I'll leave this as undetermined.
Categories: History, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 18, 2008
Comments (7)
My doctoral dissertation was partially on the subject of the Great Moon Hoax of 1835. I never finished writing the dissertation, but I did spend a LOT of time researching the moon hoax, and I always thought that it would make a great subject for a general-interest book -- using the moon hoax as a window on New York City and America in 1835.

Turns out I waited too long. Someone beat me to it. Matthew Goodman has recently come out with The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York (published by Basic Books). From the book description:

Told in richly novelistic detail, The Sun and the Moon brings the raucous world of 1830s New York City vividly to life—the noise, the excitement, the sense that almost anything was possible. The book overflows with larger-than-life characters, including Richard Adams Locke, author of the moon series (who never intended it to be a hoax at all); a fledgling showman named P.T. Barnum, who had just brought his own hoax to New York; and the young writer Edgar Allan Poe, who was convinced that the moon series was a plagiarism of his own work.
An exhilarating narrative history of a city on the cusp of greatness and a nation newly united by affordable newspapers, The Sun and the Moon may just be the strangest true story you’ve ever read.

So now I'll have to go to Plan B: the moon hoax of 1835 as the setting for a science fiction novel. One of these days I might get around to that.
Categories: History, Science
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 06, 2008
Comments (3)
It's probably not going to be received by the book-buying public with as much enthusiasm as the latest John Grisham thriller, but this is the kind of book that gets me excited. It's a new (and what looks to be very well researched) history of the Cardiff Giant hoax titled A Colossal Hoax: The Giant From Cardiff That Fooled America by Scott Tribble. It's due out at the end of November. A bit pricey, but that's often the case with non-mass-market books. From its blurb:

In October 1869, as America stood on the brink of becoming a thoroughly modern nation, workers unearthed what appeared to be a petrified ten-foot giant on a remote farm in upstate New York. The discovery caused a sensation. Over the next several months, newspapers devoted daily headlines to the story and tens of thousands of Americans-including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the great showman P. T. Barnum-flocked to see the giant on exhibition. In the colossus, many saw evidence that their continent, and the tiny hamlet of Cardiff, had ties to Biblical history. American science also weighed in on the discovery; and in doing so revealed its own growing pains, including the shortcomings of traditional education, the weaknesses of archaeological methodology, as well as the vexing presence of amateurs and charlatans within its ranks. A national debate ensued over the giant's origins, and was played out in the daily press.

Ultimately, the discovery proved to be an elaborate hoax. Still, the story of the Cardiff Giant reveals many things about America in the post-Civil War years. After four years of destruction on an unimagined scale, Americans had increasingly turned their attention to the renewal of progress. But the story of the Cardiff Giant seemed to shed light on a complicated, mysterious past, and for a time scientists, clergymen, newspaper editors, and ordinary Americans struggled to make sense of it. Hucksters, of course, did their best to take advantage of it.

The Cardiff Giant was one of the leading questions of the day, and how citizens answered it said much about Americans in 1869 as well as about America more generally.
Categories: History
Posted by Alex on Fri Oct 17, 2008
Comments (3)
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