|The History Channel show "Apocalypse Island" is full of errors|
The History Channel production Apocalypse Island commits some grievous errors of fact. The premise of the show is that "Adventurer" Jim Turner has discovered what he believes to be a Mayan monument on an island hundreds of miles West of Chile. To Turner, these eroded volcanic spires look like the Mayan Sun god and a crouching Jaguar, and he concludes that they must have been sculpted by the Maya.
We examine the premise, and the evidence as presented in the show, and reach an entirely different conclusion.
According to a clip on the History Channel website, the island in question is one of the Juan Fernandez Islands, a group of small, volcanic islands located 667 km (360 nmi; 414 mi) off the West coast of Chile.
The islands were created by volcanic activity from the Juan Fernandez hotspot, which penetrates through the Nazca plate, producing the islands and an undersea ridge.
The westernmost island is named after Alexander Selkirk, who was marooned there for four years between 1704 and 1709. The largest island is named after the fictional character which was probably inspired by his story, Robinson Crusoe.
Maya? In Chile?
The Maya were a culture that thrived in Meso-America, specifically the region that is now Southern Mexico and Guatemala. Guatemala is at about 14° North, while the islands are at about 33° South. According to the 'measure' tool on Google Earth, the islands are more than 5,300 kilometers (2,800 nmi, 3,300 mi) away from the coast of Guatemala. Unlike other cultures, the Maya were not known as a seafaring people, and yet we are asked to believe that they found and traveled to this lonely group of islands.
No explanation was given for this inconsistency.
Monument, or Spire?
|Image Credit: Oregon State University|
Pictures of the so-called monument show volcanic spires. Volcanic spires can be found worldwide, but are especially common along the Pacific Rim. Turner asserts that the formations are man-made, "carved out of the mountainside". At no point does Turner provide any evidence that they were carved, and the show does not examine them in any detail, but rather shows a 'reconstruction' of what Jim Turner thinks they may have looked like shortly after they were carved.
The formations are very similar to other eroded volcanic spires found around the world. For example, shown to the right is a group of eroded spires in the Altiplano region of the Andes, in Northern Chile. Turner does nothing to distinguish his 'monument' from other volcanic spires.
Turner implies that the Maya predicted both the transit of Venus (June 5-6, 2012) and the total solar eclipse (November 13, 2012), and that "… the only place where you can witness these cosmic events in the western hemisphere is out there on the island".1
As is typical with these claims, nothing can be further from the truth. In fact neither event will be visible from the island. The islands will in fact witness the solar eclipse, but it will be a partial eclipse, as the islands lay outside the path of totality.
Did the Maya predict either?
The Maya drew up tables showing the Venus cycle and solar eclipses, and they were pretty good at predicting when Venus would appear, and when the next solar eclipse would be visible… from Mexico. There is no evidence that they were able to predict solar eclipses for other parts of the world, and there is no evidence that they could predict transits of Venus at all. Unlike the large disk shown in the video clip2, the actual disk of Venus will appear to be very small, and will not be visible to the naked eye, simply because of how bright the sun is. It may be possible to see the transit by projecting the sunlight through a pinhole onto a light colored surface, but without the benefit of lenses to magnify the projected image, it is highly doubtful that the Venus transit would be visible even then.
The notion that the Maya might have pinpointed the location of these events a couple of millennia ago is completely ludicrous. Even if they somehow got hold of a modern-day computer and planetary data equivalent to the accuracy of the latest JPL ephemeris, they still wouldn't be able to do it because of the unknown future variability of the Earth's rotation, leading to an uncertainty of many hours in mean solar time and consequent large errors in longitude. - bikenbeer2000
Transit of Venus
At the Transit of Venus website the visibility of the Transit of Venus can be calculated for any point on the globe. We tried to find a point on any of the islands of the Juan Fernandez group that provided a view of the transit. However, the timing of the start of the transit corresponds closely to the time that the sun sets. bikenbeer2000 used Starry Night to calculate the visibility of the transit, and achieved much the same result, showing that Venus would be encroaching on the edge of the sun as a tiny notch, which would be invisible to the naked eye.
Again, we tried every potential point on the islands that we could find, striving to maximize altitude, but we were unable to find a position on any of the islands that afforded a view of the transit.
Total Solar Eclipse
At http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEgoogle/SEgoogle2001/SE2012Nov13Tgoogle.html the path of totality of the November 13 total solar eclipse is shown. Once again, the islands are close to the path of totality, but not within it. It appears that the islands will see a near-total solar eclipse, but will not see a total solar eclipse.
The Australian Maya
It appears that both the transit of Venus and the total solar eclipse will be visible from Cairns, Australia, on the North-East coast. If Turner's premise is that the Maya could predict both the total solar eclipse and the visibility of the transit of Venus, then by his reasoning they should have had a presence there. Perhaps Turner should plan his next expedition there?
David J West
A contributor to the website has reviewed the show
Nearly every assertion made by Turner during the show is factually incorrect. The island was 5,300 km away from the Maya, the "monument" is an eroded volcanic spire, and it is not possible to see either the transit of Venus or the total solar eclipse from the island.