Barry Fell

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By Madison Echlin

Barry Fell [1]

Barry Fell was one of the most prominent 20th century pseudoarchaeological voices that supported the argued for pre-columbian contact. He theorized that the New World had been colonized by Celts, Basques, Phoenicians, Libyans, Carthaginians, Egyptians, Arabs, and Minoans before the most recent discoveries by Christopher Columbus and Leif Erickson. [2] The only ones that seem to be left out of the discovery of the New World would be von Daniken's ancient astronauts.

Biography

Howard Barraclough Fell or Barry Fell was born June 6th of 1918 and died in April 1994. Fell was born in Sussex, England, and then moved with his mother to New Zealand in the early 1920s after his father died. He returned to the British Isles to receive his Ph.D. at the University of Edinburgh in 1941. Fell also served with the British Army during World War II, but returned to New Zealand to resume his academic career as professor of zoology at the Victoria University of Wellington. Fell was well known for his knowledge on fossil sea urchins and was recruited by Harvard University in 1964. He emigrated to the US to join the staff of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard where he worked until he retired in 1979. Fell was a professor of invertebrate zoology and his primary research included starfish and sea urchins, though he is best known for his controversial work on pre-columbian contact.

Fell had a lot of interest in inscriptions and linguistics and became a sort of amateur epigrapher. He has also been deemed the greatest linguist of the twentieth century because of his research on inscriptions. However archaeologists refer to him as a self-promoting pseudo scientist who is blindly trusted in anthropological matters and threatened to undo more than a century of careful progress in archaeological research. Fell thought that he could provide objectivity to controversial areas within archaeology and anthropology because he was a marine biologist and somewhat distanced from the controversy. [1] Instead Fell brought to light many conspiracy and pseudo-archaological theories that furthered controversy because he had no idea what he was talking about since he wasn't versed in archaeology or anthropology.

Publications

Barry Fell wrote America B.C. in 1976, Saga America in 1980, and Bronze Age America in 1982. In these writings he proposed and supported with evidence that North America had been visited and colonized by practically everyone before Christopher Columbus stumbled upon the New World. His evidence ranged from linguistic to architectural. He argued that there were linguistic connections between Native American languages and different European languages. He also claimed that inscriptions found in the New World were written in many ancient European alphabets. He was really interested in writings and inscriptions especially Ogham. Ogham is an ancient British and Irish alphabet, consisting of twenty characters formed by parallel strokes, on either side of, or across a continuous line. Fell spent most of his career trying to find these inscriptions but his findings were either completely fake and just scribbles or they turned out to be plow lines made in the stone. Fell’s architectural evidence that there were colonizers before Columbus was that there were similarities between stone structures in North America (mostly New England) and ancient Europe. His most famous examples or research evidence were Mystery Hill, especially the sacrificial altar stone, Poulnabrone Dolmen, the Davenport tablet, and the Bat Creek Inscription among many others.

Pseudoarchaeological Research

Mystery Hill

Mystery Hill is in North Salem, New Hampshire and it is otherwise known as America’s Stonehenge. It is called America's Stonehenge because of the rock creations that look as though they are in the same orientation as those at the real Stonehenge. There is a theory that they have something to do with the stars and the rising and setting of the sun, as if the stones are an astrological compass. Barry Fell gravitated towards Mystery Hill because it looked like European stone creations and, therefore, served as proof of colonization before Columbus. The sacrificial altar stone at Mystery Hill is a long stone slab that was supposedly used for religious sacrifices where the blood flowed into divots in the stone and was drained off the slab. [3] This was supposedly proof of the ancient rituals and therefore ancient cultures created Mystery Hill. However, this was a completely false theory, the stone altar was actually used for the creation of soap in the 19th century. All of these claims about the builders, the time period, and the use of the structures have been purely speculation, which have been disproven by actual archaeological research and findings.

Poulnabrone Dolmen

Poulnabrone Dolmen is one of Ireland’s oldest megalithic monuments. It is considered a portal tomb which are used to mark burial places in a very distinct way, there are more than 100 throughout Ireland. Portal Tombs are relatively simple single chambered graves that are made out of massive stones that most archaeologists speculate that the construction of such structures involved ramps, rollers and lots of leverage to heist the main top stone on top of the side stones. [4] However, Poulnabrone Dolmen was linked to the architecture at Mystery Hill because of the similar stone structure and building style. Therefore, Fell argued that it must be connected and constructed by ancient Europeans.

Davenport Tablets

In 1877, Reverend Jacob Glass excavated a mound at the site known as Cook's Farm in Davenport, Iowa. He supposedly found two inscribed tablets made out of slate and later another was discovered at the site. The phonetics were researched and found to claim Hittite (Indo-European) origin. [5] These tablets were said to be inscribed in paleo-Hebrew and early Canaanite. However, Dr. E Foreman of the Davenport Academy of Sciences stared to examine the tablets closely and came to the conclusion that they were not genuine. He argued that modern tools were used to make the engravings and for as old as these tablets supposedly were there was little to no signs of weathering. [6] It was soon discovered that these slate tablets were actually roof tiles from Reverend Glass's church that were forged to look like they had old pre-columbian inscriptions. Glass had copied Hittite characters and the calendar from an 1872 copy of Webster's Dictionary. Fell used the Davenport tablets as evidence of contact with North Americans and Europeans in ancient times and described them as American Rosetta Stone. However, once the tablets were proven to be fraudulent Fell downplayed their importance, but still believed in their authenticity. [2]

Bat Creek Inscription

Stone tablets had been found in mounds that bore supposed inscriptions in European, Asian, or African alphabets. The Bat Creek inscription found in 1889 claimed to be written in paleo-Hebrew or a pre-Hebrew text. This stone was held as the best evidence, basically proof, that there was pre-columbian contact between the Old and New Worlds. However, if this was true, if there was actual pre-columbian contact as Fell and many others proposed, then North American archaeologists should find Old World artifacts and inscriptions regularly. However, with the exception of L’Anse Aux Meadows there has not been a single example of either ever found in North America. [7] L’Anse Aux Meadows is at the tip of Newfoundland and it was an actual Viking colony. The colony only existed for twenty years and then it was abandoned because that part of Newfoundland had long hard winters.

The lack of Old World contact evidence is not for the lack of trying. In the past two decades the most extensive excavations and archaeological investigations have been conducted in the U.S., but the evidence of Old World contact has not been found. The Bat Creek stone would provide the best evidence of Old World contact with the Americas, if it is authentic. However, the stone is a fraud and its inscription was copied or forged from a published source. [7]

Supporters

One of Fell's few academic supporters was David Kelly of the University of Calgary. Born April 1st, 1924 in Albany, New York and died May 19th, 2011. Kelley enrolled at Harvard University to study anthropology after several years in the army and received a PhD. Kelley is known for deciphering Mayan glyphs and has been published in the prestigious Review of Archaeology in the fall of 1991. He was the first to recognize that the Maya script was phonetic, and not ideographic. Kelley asserted that some of the Mayan glyphs were Tiffinagh, a script dating back to the 3rd century. Kelley was also an expert in many other academic fields like astronomy, genealogy, and ethnohistory. However, Kelley never confirmed the existence of Ogham nor many other findings associated with Fell, even though his findings could have been used to support Fell's claims of pre-columbian contact. [8]

Most, if not all, professional archaeologists and linguists share the same opinions about Barry Fell and his findings. Not one will take him seriously, except to express the damage he has caused in terms of advancement in the field or archaeology and the damage inflicted on legitimate archaeological inquiry. Fell claimed to have supporters in European Universities and museums who are experts, but none of the names have been recognized by American experts contacted about Fell's reliability. [2] Further research showed that most experts he claimed supported him and the experts that were listed in his publications were for the most part amateurs, or also not versed in the field of archaeology or anthropology.

Deconstructing Barry Fell

Marine biology and archaeology are two completely separate disciplines, but because Barry Fell had a PhD people assumed he knew what he was talking about when it came to anthropological findings, never mind that PhD was in marine biology. Since Fell wasn't versed in archaeology or anthropology he ignored the usual rules of evidence for anthropologists. His publications were aimed at non-specialists and he did not publish his works in peer-reviewed journals which is the usual procedure of the field. He instead published in popular books or the Epigraphic Society of North America which was made up of his followers. [1] In all respects Barry Fell was a bad archaeologist or a pseudo-archaeologist. His theories have been called an insult to archaeologists and an insult to Native peoples. [8] Most of Fell's hypotheses fall apart under scrutiny, though they may seem scholarly at first. For example, Fell argues that Iberian Celts can be linked to Ogham writers in Ireland and Celtic kingdoms in New England, this hypothesis depends on linking architecture of megalithic structures in Europe and America with the Celts. However, Fell claims that Ogham writing is only found on stone buildings in America because early Christian missionaries got rid of Ogham from all of the similar structures in Europe. [2]

In another example, Fell argues that the Phoenicians got their raw materials from North America, even though they claimed to have gotten them from Gaul. He insisted that Gaul was a codeword used to deceive commercial rivals. Fell also argues that all of the gravestones with Basque sailor names had been removed from their original sites by New England farmers which would explain why no bones or any other artifacts have been found with the gravestones. All of these hypotheses look highly suspicious since there is a lack of material evidence for every claim. [2] These examples bring up major objection to his theories because with so many mini-kingdoms throughout North America, why is it then that there is no hard evidence for Fell's claims other than his own forgeries?

Most of Fell's arguments are based on the similarities between Native American artifacts and those of Europe and North Africa. However, there are many well established journals that deal with similar objects that have arisen independently in different cultures. It is not just a matter of comparing the outlines of tools or other artifacts but it is necessary to also understand the context in which the artifacts are found. For example, when talking about tools archaeologists take into consideration the method of manufacturing, the types of materials that were used, the object's function, when it was manufactured, and if the artifact was found with corresponding objects. It is common for non-archaeologists to take material culture outside of the context in which they are found and create a story based on isolated data thrown together to prove a point. Some point to the racist implications of Fell's theories, and how most, if not all of his works, are classic examples of pseudo-science. [9] Fell's response to the objections from professional archaeologists is to refer back to linguistics. He asserts that artifacts can be forged to look similar but similar languages are a different story. He says he is not an archaeologist but an epigrapher who studies the same words evolving in separate languages and scripts. But again, Barry Fell had a PhD in marine biology and was a professor of zoology at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, he was not an archaeologist, anthropologist, linguist, or epigrapher in the academic sense. He was an ammeter pseudo-archaeologist untrained in the field he is most famous for.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Matthews, Keith, et al. 2011 [1] Barry Fell. Bad Archaeology, 6 Sept. 2011.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Frawley, Peter, 1977 [2] Barry Fell and His Big Idea: Wherein a Harvard Zoology Professor Tells the Tale of All the Folks Who Got Here Before Columbus. The Harvard Crimson, 15 Feb. 1977.
  3. Stone, Dennis, et al. 2019 [3] What is America's Stonehenge?. America's Stonehenge, 2019.
  4. Nuallain, Sean O., 1979 [4] The Megalithic Tombs of Ireland. Penn Museum, 17 Mar. 1979.
  5. Campbell, John, 1882 [5] Proposed Reading of The Davenport Tablet: Reading the Hittite Inscriptions. The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal, 1882.
  6. Pinksy, Randy, 2007 [6] The Davenport Conspiracy: Revisited and Revised. Pseudoarchaeology Research Archive Research Paper, 2007.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Mainfort, Robert C., and Mary L. Kwas. 2004 [7] The Bat Creek Stone Revisited: A Fraud Exposed. American Antiquity, vol. 69, no. 4, Society for American Archaeology, Oct. 2004. pp. 761-69.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Bradley, Michael Anderson, 1998 [8] Grail Knights of North America. Google Books, 1998.
  9. Frawley, Peter, 1977 [9] The Great American Excursion. The Harvard Crimson, 16 Feb. 1977.