|Frank Joseph, |
The Lost Treasure of King Juba:
The Evidence of Africans
in America before Columbus
(Bear & Co., 2003)
By now everyone with a passing interest in accurate history knows that Columbus wasn't the first European to find the New World. The Viking claim is well established, there are tantalizing hints of African voyages to South America, and Chinese voyages seem to have left an anchor lying about the North American coast. So Frank Joseph's claim that The Lost Treasure of King Juba: The Evidence of Africans in America before Columbus shows the arrival of Roman-era Africans in Illinois is not by itself particularly outlandish.
What makes it increasingly unbelievable is the book written to support the theory. After a laughably melodramatic and poorly researched introductory narrative about Caesar, Cleopatra (lovingly referred to by Joseph as "the Egyptian whore" at every opportunity) and the life of the Mauritanian empire, Joseph follows a hypothetical crew of exiled Romans, Africans, Celts, Christians and Jews across the oceans in extreme and unsupported detail. Their journey ends in Illinois, where the action skips ahead to the discovery of a vast mound of archeological artifacts by one Russell Burrows, amateur artifact seeker. The multicultural transplants apparently left a huge legacy of artifacts to prove their existence, many of which were sold.
Or perhaps not. Only one person seems to have actually visited the site, and the story soon turns into a quest for the mythic Treasure of King Juba. Joseph seems convinced of the site's legitimacy and tries to pull the reader onto his train of thought. Gaps in the story are blamed on the narrowness of current theory, while every scrap of obscure artistic knowledge possible is brought to bear on numerous illustrations of the surviving artifacts. He spends a high number of pages examining the relics that seem to have escaped the cave and trying to link them to the African migrant theory. Unfortunately the research is brief and repetitive. Most of Joseph's historic information is based on extremely outdated history texts.
The bibliography grows worse when the action moves to the discovery of these supposed immigrants' archeological evidence. Joseph relies heavily on his own personal correspondence, articles from his own Ancient American magazine and on writings by the supposed discoverers and promoters of the site. It's a heroic effort and gives the impression that Joseph could make this case if anyone could. But even if the bibliography were rich and varied, the tale of this great discovery is hobbled by the fact that no one but the self-proclaimed discoverer seems to have ever seen the actual site or have any idea where it really is. Joseph's agonizing recounting of many attempts to rediscover the site do more to turn it into a Cibola of archeology than convince a reader of its existence.
Joseph tells an interesting story, and The Lost Treasure of King Juba is at least as entertaining and plausible as a collection of Prince Valiant comics. It's an intriguing premise, too; what amateur archeologist doesn't dream of lost cultures being discovered in the backyard, history rewritten in one great find? Still, I hope the site discussed throughout The Lost Treasure of King Juba: The Evidence of Africans in America before Columbus is fictitious or fraudulent. If real, it represents the greatest loss to archeology since the days of using mummies as engine fuel. I would hate having to believe that a find of such significance was destroyed, plundered, its context irreparably damaged and then blown up by a paranoid, attention-seeking treasure hunter. Luckily for me, Frank Joseph leaves little reason to worry.
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