‘History’ hoaxes topic of Suffield Historical Society talk

By Lisa Stone - ReminderNews
Suffield - posted Mon., Oct. 28, 2013
Attendee Geoffrey T. Whittum shares his photo album of unique boulders with Professor Feder. Photos by Lisa Stone.
Attendee Geoffrey T. Whittum shares his photo album of unique boulders with Professor Feder. Photos by Lisa Stone.

Frauds and hoaxes in the world of archeology were the topic at  the Oct. 16 meeting of the Suffield Historical Society. Guest speaker Professor Ken Feder of Central Connecticut State University told the group that hoaxes depend on the gullibility of the public and its desire to have its beliefs confirmed.

To be successful at misleading the public, “the best thing to do is do your homework,” said Feder. “Find out what the people believe and why they feel the need to believe it. Give the people what they want. Explore their desire to believe what they do. Explore what people need to have as confirmation about science and religion and give it to them.”

Over the years, many archeological “finds” have been proved unequivocally to be  hoaxes. Feder cited a Japanese archaeologist, Shinichi Fujimura, who claimed he had found proof that civilization originated in Japan. While some believers contended that Fujimura had what they called “the hand of God,” skeptical scientists found evidence that he had been digging at his supposed “discovery sites” just prior to unearthing his “finds”. Artifacts that he claimed pre-dated any other evidence of civilization had, in fact,  been purchased on the mainland of Asia and then “planted” in Japan, Feder said. While Fujimura proclaimed that his discoveries would force archaeologists to “rewrite history,” the only revision was the footnote that his “finds” were actually frauds.

Feder said that the best perpetrators of archeological fraud learn from previous frauds. He cited  “The Cardiff Giant Naked Man,” supposedly discovered by New York farmer Stub Newel, who in 1869  claimed that he unearthed a petrified giant prehistoric man while he was digging a new well. The “giant” was touted by many as proof of the veracity of the biblical story of David and Goliath, and exhibited under a circus tent to wide acclaim.

However, the ruse was finally revealed by its perpetrator, George Hull, as a sculpture carved out of 2,990 pounds of rock.  Hull may have intended the hoax as a prank aimed at those who believed in the literal truth of biblical stories. A year after the “discovery,” Mark Twain wrote “A Ghost Story” in which the Cardif giant’s spirit demands to be reburied.

Suffield Historical Society President Ed Chase said that the society aims to attract speakers on topics with general appeal.  “We try to have a good time and make it interesting for our members,” he said. “If we don’t have a guest speaker, we have members bring in articles that hold some historical value to them and tell the group about it. It is very much like show and tell.”

The Historical Society runs the King House on Main Street, which closed for the season Sept. 30 and will re-open May 1, 2014 for Wednesday and Saturday visiting hours.

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