Apocalypse Island: an History Channel hoax

Last week I saw in television one of the worst documentaries that I happened to watch in recent years. The gist of the story is that, on a remote island off the Chilean coast, there is a mysterious Mayan monument that could provide the key to understanding the supposed prophecy of the end of the world on December 21st, 2012. The protagonist of the story and discoverer of the monument in question is the explorer Jim Turner, accompanied by the anthropologist Jeff Salz.

Isla Robinson Crusoe, Juan Fernández, Cile

From the outset, it was clear the spectacular character of the documentary. Turner was presented as an archeologist expert on Mayan culture and its journey to the island as a real adventure in one of the most remote places on Earth. Although this way of presenting a scientific discovery, albeit questionable, might be accepted by a television point of view, provided the treatment is serious, I soon realized that the documentary was something very wrong. The statements made were generic, the language used was totally inaccurate, the entire adventure sounded completely false, since the fact that to go on an island that is accessible for two months a year, they had expected so much for the last 10 days to create a climate of tension in the viewer.

But let’s see what are the salient points of story.

  1. According to Turner, on a Chilean island in the South Pacific archipelago Juan Fernandez, there is a megalithic monument erected by the Maya, related to the famous prophecy of the end of the world during the winter solstice of 2012.
  2. This monument would mark the only point on Earth from which we could see, at the end of 2012, three very special astronomical events: the passage of Venus across the Sun, a total solar eclipse and the alignment between Earth, the Sun and a black hole at the center of our galaxy.
  3. Furthermore, it could be a reference to find what the documentary calls the Holy Grail of Maya archeology, that is, the tomb of Chan Bahlum II, son of the great Mayan King Pacal.

How much of this is true? Let us start from the famous island, that the Chilean government renamed Robinson Crusoe Island purely for touristic reasons. It can be accessed easily by sea or by air, since it has both a seaport and an airport, as you can see from the map and satellite images that I report here for your convenience. 650 people live permanently on the island. So, the whole adventure to land on a beach on the island is pure spectacle.

Isla Robinson Crusoe — Island map


San Juan Bautista — Seaport

Second, the Mayan empire was far from the island in question and there is no evidence that the Maya had reached not just that specific island but even any coasts of Chile from which the island is well 423 miles (about 674 km). The Mayan empire was in fact situated in current areas of Veracruz, Yucatan, Campeche, Tabasco and Chiapas in Mexico, most of Guatemala and some areas of Belize and Honduras.

Third, by closely observing the so-called monument it is quite clear that it is just a spire of volcanic origin. History Channel provides the audience, so even quite subtle, with a reconstruction of the supposed monument, but it is computer graphics, not a real image. The movie does not show any evidence of stone working and all things considered, even if to bring up the pareidolia, that is, that particular form of illusion that makes you see faces and figures human or animal in the natural and random forms, it is very difficult to think that this rock formation represent a jaguar behind an ancient Mayan king.

The alleged Mayan monument

Fourth, from the island in question it will not be quite possible to see the total eclipse of the Sun on November 13th, 2012, nor the complete transit of Venus in front of our star on June 6th of the same year, since it is outside the range of maximum visibility for both astronomical events, as shown by the two maps of NASA published below.

Transit of Venus across the Sun

Total Solar Eclipse

Next: the supposed alignment between Earth, Sun and the galactic center. Let’s start by saying that for astronomers the real, that is, non-geometric center of the Milky Way galaxy is a radio source in the constellation of Sagittarius, probably a supermassive black hole. Now, the Sun and the Earth will align with that source once a year without anything to happen, of course, as Sagittarius A* is located 26,000 light years from us. The galactic year, i.e. the orbit of the Sun around the geometric center of the galaxy, is about 250 million years, but the plane of the solar system is not coplanar with that of the galaxy. In fact, it forms almost a right angle. Besides, the whole system oscillates above and below the plane of the galaxy 2.7 times for each orbit, and the last crossing there was a few million years ago. Therefore on December 21st, 2012 there will not any alignment with the center of the galaxy. Anyway, even if lying in the galactic plane, the projections of the sky at 12 pm on the day in question will show that our star will be far from Sgr A* at least 6 degrees, that is, 12 times its apparent diameter.

No alignement among Earth, Sun and the Center of Galaxy on November 12th, 2012

I’m not even discussing the fact that the Maya were able to calculate the passage of Venus across the Sun at a distance of thousands of years or even knew of the existence of a black hole at the center of the galaxy. Both these statements are false, as archaeologists and astronomers know. In fact, it is impossible to the naked eye to see the transit of Venus because the sun is too bright and Venus too small. In addition, we have no evidence that the Maya were able to predict solar eclipses in other locations around the world. Their experimental observations and their predictions were related to the places where they lived. They were not in fact able to perform complex calculations to predict astronomical events in other places and, moreover, after millennia.

As for Chan Bahlum II, now known as K’inich Kan B’alam II, he reigned from 635 to 702 AD on what is now the archaeological site of Palenque. Like his father, Pacal the Great, whom he succeeded in 684, he promoted the art and architecture in the region, but we have no evidence he has ever moved from there.

Finally it must be said that neither Jim Turner nor Jeff Salz Jim are archaeologists or have some experience and expertise in ancient Mayan sculptures. In fact, they are both anthropologists, although Turner has written a thesis on a possible correlation between the Dresden Codex and the tomb of Lord Pacal. Of course, the fact of not being an archaeologist is not to say that his hypothesis is wrong, but after checking as all the other statements have no scientific foundation, one wonders why History Channel has put on such a media farce.

The amount of gratuitous statements in the documentary, the sensationalist tone, the alleged difficulties the expedition encountered in arriving at the monument but, above all, the attempt to present the documentary as a scientifically reliable, represent a true action of misinformation whose sole aim is the economic return for the broadcasting network. This is totally unacceptable: a television channel can not make fun of people in this way. It is serious, in cultural terms, that a channel which proposes itself as a source of cultural and historical information, aired such buffoonery, thus in effect promoting ignorance and superstition.

Comments (5) to «Apocalypse Island: an History Channel hoax»

  1. utente anonimo says:

    Bellisimo articolo il tuo.Grazie mille.Davvero non capisco il perche' di questa farsa,a parte il ritorno economico.
    Ci fanno solo un sacco di figuracce.

    • Jezz says:

      Ahhh io ho visto il documentario il 30/12/2011…e devo dire che subito ho capito che era un “fake” colossale!
      La cosa che subito salta all’occhio…sono le inquadrature aeree…come mai non sono andati con un elicottero..invece di farsi 8 giorni di nave,visto che sull’isola ci sono punti dove atterrare…come ad esempio i 2 posti pianeggianti dove loro hanno montato le tende?
      E come sono state fatte le riprese aeree per “lievitazione” della troupe televisiva?Ahhhhhh
      Sul monolite…durante la scalata si vedono le inquadrature dall’alto in basso…..quindi il cameramen già era salito sul monolite prima dei 2 avventurieri….tutta una farsa….a scopi solamente televisivi!

  2. utente anonimo says:

    niente da ridire competente ed attento ….grazie

  3. utente anonimo says:

    Pur essendo ignorante in materia, nutrivo perplessità sulla scultura… Grazie al vostro articolo mi rendo conto che tutto il filmato non ha quasi niente di attendibile. Complimenti e grazie per tutte le delucidazioni…

  4. Mike Nassau says:

    Very nice review. I have linked to it at http://apocalypseisland.webs.com/ See my website for more maps and photos, etc., plus the views of Simon Haberle (Archaeologist who has worked on Robinson Crusoe Island) and Jeff Salz (the adventurer/anthropologist who accompanied Turner in the show).

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