Saturday, December 19, 2009


In Plain Sight: Old World Records in Ancient America , Gloria Farley, 1994, ISAC Press, Columbus, Georgia.

This ambitious book recounts a lifetime of work by Gloria Farley, an influential proponent of North American epigraphy, the discovery and decipherment of petroglyphic inscriptions in languages from the Old World here in the New World. Believers are convinced that evidence exists for untold numbers of visitors prehistorically to North America from many different parts of the world including Europe, the Mediterranean, and Africa. Beginning with a fascination with the Kensington Rune Stone, Farley went on to discover and record petroglyph inscriptions in western Oklahoma, northeastern New Mexico, and southeastern Colorado, that she believed proved prehistoric visitation by parties of explorers. Reading this book really brought me a sense for her passion for the search, and her excitement at new discoveries and inscriptions. I came away with a strong feeling for her dedication to the importance of her quest.

The inscriptions discovered by Farley were, for the most part, deciphered by Barry Fell. Fell’s work is considered by most professional archaeologists to be seriously flawed, he worked almost entirely from drawings, photographs, and latex peels that his many followers (including Farley) sent him. It has also been proven that in many instances he (or the original site recorder) altered the images to improve his results. I have visited a number of the sites deciphered by Fell (and some of the sites recorded by Farley) and can attest to examples of inaccuracies and alterations in the images. It would be unfair to Farley, however, to blame her for all of Fell’s flaws. Unfortunately she believed in him implicitly.

Evaluating the claims in her book is really the only fair way to deal with her work. According to my notes, in her book Farley claims discoveries of inscriptions in 31 various Old World languages and/or scripts. I say languages and/or scripts because in many cases the inscription as deciphered is claimed to be a inscription in one language, but written in a different script. So for instance, an inscription might be read in the language of Phoenicia, but written in Numidian script. Also, there are a couple variants of Ogam found, and deciphered, which do not exist in the Old World (where most linguists insist the only real Ogam is found). As for subject matter, inscriptions cited in her book made references to at least 28 Old World deities from Scandinavia, through Europe and the Mediterranean, to Africa. Perhaps the hardest part for me to accept is the unbelievable proliferation of supposed evidence based upon the slenderest of influences. In case after case finding a petroglyph that looks like a symbol from some Euro/African script is later referred to with “we now know that travelers from (wherever) were here”. In one example a stone from Oklahoma that was carved with a horizontal line and three symbols was declared to actually be a Lybian boundary marker with a four-word sentence on it in the Egyptian language, but written in Numidian script. One rock shelter near the Colorado/Oklahoma border was found to have inscriptions in it written in Iberic, Numidian, Egyptian, and Ogam.

In my opinion Gloria Farley was a victim of the thrill of discovery, which can be quite addictive. The adrenaline rush of a good discovery on the scale of these supposed discoveries leads one to really want to repeat the experience. In the real world, however, scientific and historical discoveries are expected to live up to certain standards of proof. If you don’t subject your supposed discoveries to these standards of proof you don’t have to worry about being wrong. One really good rule of thumb to apply is “Occam’s Razor”, the dictum that states that the simplest, and easiest interpretation is most likely to be the correct interpretation. So we have to ask ourselves, what is easier to believe? Either an anonymous Native American carved an abstract symbol (or a doodle) on a rock face in southeastern Colorado, or a party of ancient Celts were in western Oklahoma and southeastern Colorado and they left proof by carving an inscription into a cliff in the language of the Numidians written in the script of ancient Carthage. Why Champollion’s decipherment of the Rosetta Stone in the 1820s is beggared by comparison! I know how I have to interpret this, how do you?

This book review was originally written for the Nov./Dec. online newsletter of the Pleistocene Coalition and can be seen with minor editing changes on that organization's website.

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