In Search Of… Review: S1E2 Strange Visitors

This episode rocks! (Spoiler: No, it doesn't)
This episode rocks! (Spoiler: No, it doesn't)

Now we get into the racism. Pity. I saw the title Strange Visitors and it made me think of aliens. You know, like the opening to the old Superman show that proclaimed him a 'strange visitor from another world.' But straight up, we get into some very unamusing nonsense.

We're dealing with a ruin on a hill in New Hampshire, known then as Mystery Hill, mysterious because it is said to predate European settlement. According to Wikipedia, the site is now called 'America's Stonehenge'. Make of that what you will.

The racism starts pretty early. It's not KKK level racism, it's just your basic 'Native people lived in harmony with nature but were otherwise basically idiots' level racism. The ruins can't be Native American, you see, because they aren't 'buffalo hide teepees' (actual quote). Native Americans didn't build permanent settlements, you see. Nothing remains of any of their settlements, Nimoy says.

This is… You know this isn't true, right? I mean I don't even have to put a link in. If you just do a Google search for 'Native American archaeological sites', you'll find information about hundreds of permanent sites all across North America, and they're just the ones we know about.

The narration then gets a little more factual and less insulting. 'Indians of this region did not build in stone'. Okay. Maybe we could have just gone with that to begin with? That was all we needed. Anyway, the owner of the site shows a visiting professor* around the place, but then we cut away before we learn anything of substance.

In the American Southwest, we learn that the Native inhabitants eked out a precarious existence and built clay brick buildings. You know, permanent sites and shit. 'Life hasn't changed much for the inheritors of this land', Nimoy says, the visuals proving his point by showing a man on the back of a horse, herding goats. You know, the way people used to before the introduction of horses. It is then explained that the techniques to build the Pueblo dwelling were not the same as those used at Mystery Hill. Again – could have just started with that. Really just could have.

In Wyoming, we are shown a stone circle, used as a calendar by the local Native Americans. We are told this also has nothing to do with Mystery Hill.

In summary so far: there's a stone ruin in New Hampshire, Native Americans couldn't have built it because they didn't build permanent structures and besides, the permanent structures they did build were completely different.

As a wise man once said, 'highly illogical.'

The central corridor in the Mystery Hill ruins leads to a larger area. We are told that it resembles the walled in streets of Europe, and that the professor investigating the ruin thinks that the large area is a sort of temple.

So, Vikings or Irish? Taking all bets!

In the next scene, we're talking about Leif Erikson, so my guess is Vikings. Surprisingly, the narration doesn't attempt to link Erikson's settlement at L'Anse aux Meadow with whatever was built at Mystery Hill, claiming that while Erikson had reached North America, he'd never settled there.

This is rather extraordinary for its time. The excavation of L'Anse aux Meadow began in the 1960s and the place was made a World Heritage site just a few years after this episode was broadcast. It's been used as an argument for just about every silly 'Old World Group X came to America' theory since then.  Maybe it was nice of them to lay off for a bit. We skip ahead to the Spanish and Colombus, but this seems like just more padding.

A sample of charcoal from between the rocks at Mystery Hill is dated at 3000 years old – coming from 1000 BC. So not Vikings?

The owner of Mystery Hill points out a number of rocks that supposedly show various directions of astronomical significance. Um, by that I mean of significance vis-a-vis the stars, not that they were so significance was so great it was astronomical. Just being clear. The presence of stones that could be used as a calendar is different from the way the stones were used as a calendar in Wyoming because shut up that's why. What's more, it means that the place was built by Druids.

Sorry to all takers on the Irish vs Vikings bet.

We see some stock footage of neo-pagan Druids. We are told that a particular Mystery Hill rock might have been used for sacrificial purposes. Might be. Oh absolutely, it might be!

Finally, finally, the narration suggests a possibility. One group of people who lived in the area are indeed known to have built stone building in a European style. Who were they? Have a guess? Go on, you'll kick yourself.

English colonists! Remember those guys? But the professor says that a particular chamber means that it couldn’t have been the English, because he's seen similar chambers in the Mediterranean. You know, where the Druids live.

We go onto another academic, Professor Barry Fell, who is described as a Harvard Archaeologist. I'll get back to that point, because it's interesting in being technically true but still massively misleading. Fell has been examining 'inscriptions' from sites all across North America, and claims that European settlement was common in pre-Columbian times.

Professor Fell was indeed a Professor and did indeed teach at Harvard. However, what he taught was invertebrate zoology. He was an archaeologist, of sorts, but a fringe amateur archaeologist. So like I said, 'Harvard archaeologist' is technically true but still massively misleading. He has a cool accent, though. I thought he was Australian, but it seems he was a Scot who was raised in New Zealand.

Portuguese people are great fishermen, and may have been driven off course. True fact.

Now while I sort of like Professor Fell – I have a soft spot for tweedy eccentrics – what he has to say leaves a bad taste in my mouth as he claims that in ancient times Europeans settled the East coast of North America and the Mississippi Valley and its branches. In other words, hands off of the achievements of the Mississippi Mound Builders, you Indians! Those successes belong to White people.

Now we're off to the Minoans of Crete. Poor guys. Their culture died out, and so we can do with it what we like. Nimoy gives some history of Minoa, which is probably out of date but I can't be bothered to look up, and then starts on that glorious In Search Of… wild speculation. Lost civilizations came to Crete, which then became overfull of refugees. 'Recent discoveries in the Caribbean suggest that they may have traveled to the Americas.'

I think I see where this is going. These wild claims, unbacked by any evidence, are then repeated and called a 'discovery'. Professor Fell claims that proof of this can be found on rocks at Mystery Hill. For example, a rock that has a couple of diamond shapes on it is purported to be in Phoenician. We are then told that the Phoenicians and the Minoans are the same people.

Okay, I am looking this up now and… the Minoans were proto-Greeks and not Phoenicians at all. They had their own alphabet, distinct from the Phoenician alphabet. That's what I thought.

Having made this unsupported claim, Nimoy's narration takes on a triumphant tone, declaring 1976 the year that this the Minoan Theory would be proven. Then one last swipe at the Native Americans, with the narration declaring that the Minoans must have found the place primitive, so perhaps that's why they left.

So, this one not as fun as last weeks. Kind of racist and nasty, which made the awful, awful level of research less laugh-worthy and more angry-making.

* Commenter 'John' points out that the visiting 'Professor' is Hans Holzer, the prolific and spectacularly dull author of over a hundred books on various psychic, pseudoscientific or parapsychological topics. He also turns up in the In Search Of episodes Ghosts and Reincarnation, but his is probably best known today for his involvement in the Amityville Horror case.

Best Line:

Tie.

Nimoy:

"…a polished slab of rock. The grooves might once  have run with blood to appease a god whose voice rumbled up from the Earth. It appears that the builders of Mystery Hill imported their gods as well as their science. "

Professor Fell

"Well they [the inscriptions] really tell us that America in ancient times was a melting pot of the races of Europe, just as it is today."

Summing up

In Search Of… S1E2: Strange Visitors.

Spookiness: 2/10, Racism: 8/10, Eccentric interviewees: 9/10, Intrusive Electronic Music: 7/10, Nimoyness: 7/10

Total: 33/50. Credit.

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4 thoughts on “In Search Of… Review: S1E2 Strange Visitors

  1. John

    I just wanted to say this, and I don't want to spur an argument. People will believe what they want. But something can be talking about race, and not be 'racism'. The race (no pun intended - well okay - a small pun) to use the term 'racism' is a crowded one. I think it's over-use has blurred the meaning of the word. To the point where many call something factual 'racism' simply because the topic has to do with a race. A basic definition of racism is "discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior". There is a difference between racism and prejudice. Intent.

    Anyway, the episode marks the inaugural appearance of Hans Holzer. This guy wears so many hats, and seems to have a variety of professions, all of which IN SEARCH OF... seems to believe he's an expert.

    This was an interesting episode, but contains too many shots of Holzer standing next to someone, pointing and babbling inaudibly. The credits show he wrote the episode, which may explain why he's in so many shots even though he provides so little analysis.

    This should have just been called "Mystery Hill". At the start, we see shots of underwater bricks that look like roads. But then the show goes straight to Mystery Hill, and really just stays there. The underwater road will wait for a future episode.

    Mystery Hill is interesting, but not enough to carry an entire episode. Like other Holzer episodes, it kind of just plods along and by the halfway point, I was looking at my phone to play Words With Friends. This seems to be a Holzer consistency throughout the series. Take a semi-interesting topic, and make it boring.

  2. BG Hilton

    Yeah, I see where you're coming from, but 'prejudice' is a very broad sort of principle whereas racism is more specific. I guess I could say 'racially based prejudice' but (whether the dictionary agrees or not) I think 'racially based prejudice' basically comes to the same thing as 'racism' in practical terms. I'm also not so convinced that intent matters that much. And I think it's entirely possible to be racist without meaning to be. I've done it myself, though I hate so say so, and more than once. Like I say, I doubt the people in this episode are deliberately attempting to erase Native American history, but in pure practical terms that's an outcome of what they're doing. I think it's a racist action, whether or not it's an intentionally racist action, but by the same token I'm happy to agree to disagree with you on this.

    I'd completely forgotten that Holzer was in this episode. I have to agree that he's sort of the place where fun ideas go to die. His role on the 'Ghosts' in just kills the episode. Apparently, he hosted his own ghost-based TV show, which I haven't seen and don't think I would care to watch.

    As for the underwater road, I'm pretty sure they come back to it in the Atlantis episode, which is not one of the best episodes, but at least it's Holzer-free.

  3. John

    I had bought the entire series a few years back on a nostalgia impulse buy. I watched about a dozen - from throughout the series. Then the DVD's went into a closet - not to be seen for 3+ years. While checking one out last week, I stumbled onto this blog when googling Dr. Peter Ryal from one of the episodes. I've now decided to go through the entire series myself, and read along with your entertaining blog. I will now try to keep a "Hans Holzer Tracker". I have a feeling he's made more appearances than we know about. I'll also see how many times he gets writing credits. Granted, this could take a LONG time, but hey, I'm a patient fella.

    Also, I see your POV on race. We'll agree to not be in full agreement, but I'm thrilled that for once the topic came up and remained civil. Usually if you bring up race, it's a recipe for a conversation to plunge into the depths of name-calling and self righteousness. Glad that's not the case here!

    Until I watch another episode...

  4. BG Hilton

    Fair enough. I try not to be self righteous, but that doesn't mean I'm not opinionated. Fair warning though I have similar things to say on other episodes dealing with archaeology and anthropology.

    I'm glad you're enjoying the commentary. In Search Of... is a show that I find both entertaining and exasperating, so it's always fun to work with.

    And that's a good idea about Holzer. I might revisit some past episodes to look for him an another frequent guest, Francis Hitchings.

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