I used to love watching the History Channel but every time I turn it on lately it seems to be showing some garbage about Revelations, Nostradamus, UFOs, el Cupacabra or the Bermuda Triangle. I watched one today called ‘Ancient Aliens’ about Erich von Däniken‘s theories regarding evidence of extra-terrestrial visitors to Earth. I find some of this stuff, like Piri Reis‘s map, inexplicable and fascinating. I don’t mind the History Channel covering these topics. I think they’re well within the purview of History and are worthy of investigation.
What I object to is the History Channel’s irresponsible treatment of the material. They are not making any effort at all to distinguish between facts and speculation and sometimes they just report the speculations of unqualified commentators as fact. For example, in this episode of ‘Ancient Aliens’ the commentator says “Joseph Seiss demonstrated that the pyramids of Giza lie at the intersection of the longest line of latitude and the longest line of longitude.” This is the picture they’re showing at the time.
The important part here is that the commentator reports this as fact, as though it is not in question at all. They use a flimsy appeal to authority to support it. “Who is this Joseph Seiss character?,” was my first question. Turns out he was an American Lutheran Dispensationalist minister and amateur archaeologist who wrote a book named “A Miracle in Stone: The Great Pyramids of Egypt” in 1887 espousing this view. Hmmmm, some expert, huh?
Right off the top of my head I’d say Seiss was wrong because Giza doesn’t lie on the Equator, which is technically the longest line of latitude. The Great Pyramid actually lies at 29°58’44″N and 31°8’3″E, according to Google Earth. Now obviously the East measure is entirely arbitrary since 0° is defined as the longitude line that runs through Greenwich, England. But the North value means something relative to the rotation of the Earth. What it means is that Giza is not on the Equator, the longest line of latitude!
As for the claim regarding the longest line of longitude I couldn’t actually say. Theoretically they are all the same length but the Earth is an oblate spheroid, not a sphere, and of course there is surface topography. I’d hazard a guess that the longest line of longitude would have to run through the highest point on Earth, Mount Everest, or through a North-South running mountain chain such as the Rockies or Andes, so I think we can safely conclude this is bunk too. In any case the technology didn’t exist in 1887 to be able to say accurately what longitude line would be longest if measured on the Earth’s surface. I think at that time they were still debating whether or not the Earth was a perfect sphere.
Conclusion? The whole Seiss thing is easily demonstrable complete and utter bullshit that the History Channel reported as fact. I know plenty of otherwise intelligent, educated professionals that don’t know the odds between horizontal v. vertical, let alone latitude v. longitude. How many people, without the necessary knowledge to be critical of such claims, swallow them whole? Most of the population probably.
I consider it irresponsible in the extreme for an ostensibly educational TV channel to so blur the lines between fact and fiction. The History Channel is trusted by many people to be purveyors of historical facts and they are betraying that trust. Don’t even get me started on their Nostradamus shows! History Channel, consider yourself scolded! You have become a laughingstock, but it’s not too late to turn it around. Start now by eschewing the mystical in favor of the historical. There are an infinite number of dramatic and compelling stories in History that you haven’t ever covered. Why don’t you get back to addressing those instead of this sensationalist garbage? Until you do, I for one will be boycotting you.