Is a Chunk of History Missing?

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
First-time Visitors: Please visit Site Map and Disclaimer. Use "Back" to return here.

Occasionally a crank theory comes along that is original and weird enough to amaze you with its audacity. Velikovsky's rewriting of Biblical times might have been of that type, if the arrogance of his followers in pushing Velikovsky as a martyr hadn't ruined all the fun. Most conspiracy theories are pretty humdrum. Take some well-known event and say it really didn't happen the way all the evidence points, but was the result of a plot, and all the evidence was faked to cover up the plot:

The Phantom Time Hypothesis

Then there's the Phantom Time Hypothesis, developed by Heribert Illig and Dr. Hans-Ulrich Niemitz, among others. The genesis of the idea seems to been inspired by problems dating medieval documents. A number of forgeries apparently date from centuries before they became useful. Either somebody was amazingly prescient, or there's a problem with the dating. Two rather more prosaic explanations come to mind:

Then there's a third possibility. Somebody dropped 297 years out of the calendar, and the years 614-911 never happened. Advocates of the theory make the standard boilerplate appeals to open-mindedness in presenting it. In support of this idea, advocates of the hypothesis point to hiatuses in construction in Constantinople, and in development of theological doctrines, and the fact that the Gregorian Calendar adjustment of 1582 was too small for the alleged interval since the adoption of the Julian Calendar. 614-911 was the early Middle Ages, a period about which we lave less than perfect history. There was one key figure in European history who lived in the Phantom Time era: Charlemagne. So he's dealt with in classic conspiracy theory fashion: he never existed. Apparently neither did Alfred the Great and his son Edward, the first king of unified England. Also sixty Popes, four antipopes, and 18 archbishops of Canterbury.

Ignoring the problems of how somebody fudged the calendar, got everybody in Europe to go along, invented not just Charlemagne but entire royal lineages, and somehow got everyone to keep all their stories straight, one critic of the theory points out a fatal flaw. The theory is hopelessly Eurocentric.

For example, Mohammed either died in 614, a decade before he began dictating the Koran and 18 years before the history books say, or he lived until 929 A.D. I think we'd have spotted that already. The Phantom Time Interval completely encompasses the explosive growth of Islam. So one day it's 614 and Mohammed is an obscure visionary trader in Arabia, the next it's 911, and somehow Mohammed's ideas have spread from the Atlantic to Central Asia. And Arabs have suddenly occupied Persia and Egypt, as well as Spain, and they've been in Spain for 200 years. They've also built the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

The Phantom Time interval closely approximates the Tang Dynasty of China, a high point of Chinese culture and political power. So there's a neat conspiratorial interpretation. The Tang Dynasty is an invention, a classic "golden age" myth. The only thing lacking is some explanation of how someone from medieval Europe convinced the Chinese to create a fake dynasty complete with bogus archives.

Then there are other lines of evidence. We have historical records of every appearance of Halley's Comet since 240 B.C., including Chinese records from 684, 760, and 837. The 837 approach was one of the closest and brightest ever. The Chinese were punctilious astronomical observers and modern orbital calculations match not only the dates but the positions in the sky recorded by the Chinese. 76 years x 4 = 304, not too different from the 297 years of the Phantom Time interval, except that nobody back then knew there was a comet reappearing every 76 years, so why would they have picked that interval?

The Chinese also recorded eclipses, planetary conjunctions, and even occultations of planets by the moon. During the the Tang dynasty, total solar eclipses were recorded in 756, 761, 879, and 888 and partial eclipses in 702, 729, 754, and 822. Needless to say, these observations can be checked with modern astronomical software. They really happened. Velikovsky could blow off astronomical observations by appealing to calendrical uncertainties, but there's absolutely no way you can just drop 297 years from the calendar in the last 2000 years and not notice it.

Anatoly Fomenko

The Phantom Time Hypothesis is timid and restrained compared to the ideas of Anatoly Fomenko. In History: Fiction or Science he drops 1100 years.

According to the Midwest Book Review (July 17, 2004):

This research started in fact as a unbelievable byproduct of Russian-American competition in Moon exploration, when famous NASA scientist Robert Newton discovered a very strange phenomenon in lunar mechanics.

Shades of Harold Hill and the Missing Day story! The Robert Newton cited is a well known researcher in celestial mechanics, best known as author of The Crime of Claudius Ptolemy. There is no evidence that Fomenko and Newton ever collaborated on any research.

All the criticisms of the Phantom Time Hypothesis apply in spades here. We lose a whole bunch of Chinese dynasties. There are several dozen eruptions of Mount Vesuvius recorded during that interval. Were they all faked? Were these forgers really clever enough to anticipate that scholars centuries later would be interested in the supernovae of 1006 and 1054, so as to create spurious records of those events? None of these theorists seem to appreciate, either, that it is possible to radiocarbon date stuff like papyrus and mummies to cross-check ancient chronologies. And then there's the lead from Roman smelting that turns up in the Greenland Ice Cap, right where traditional chronology would have us believe.

The Midwest Book Review promises:

This book is also the first volume in seven comprising "Chronology", the fundamental oeuvre that exposes and expounds the numerous inveracities of the traditional version of history.


I got the following e-mail (spelling is original):

The Phantom Time Hypothesis may deserve a more profound analysis. You may be aware of the large number of inconsistencies between dendrochronology (including dendro-calibrated 14C) and other dating methods. To falsify the PTH, it would be sufficient to proove beyond resonable doubt the validity of just one scientific dating method that allows links to the history of the Roman Empire. Most regrettably, the current dating methods require ad hoc hypotheses (e.g. To match eclipse reports, R. Stephenson had to presume that Earth's rotation did not decelerate during the early christian centuries [due to the tidal drag observed otherwise]).

So I replied:

I had no trouble locating radiocarbon dates for timbers at Herculaneum and for the Dead Sea Scrolls, both of which date just where conventional chronology says they should. In fact, in both cases the dates are older. In Herculaneum, timbers dated by radiocarbon and dendrochronology come out between 300 BCE and 72 CE. That's understandable since the timbers would all have to date from before 79 CE. The Dead Sea Scrolls date to the 1st and 2nd centuries BCE, which makes some archaeologists happy but not those who argue for dates in the first century CE.

And got back:

14C values were calibrated to match dendrochronology. The latter has to match historical chronology to have a chance for acceptance (Kuniholm: "Even before measurement began, we knew that we would have a tree-ring data set that should show various end dates with A.D. 79 as the latest possible terminus").

I also asked: "And how and when exactly DID Islam spread?" and got back:

„Muhammad is not an historical figure, and his official biography is a product of the age in which it was written” [Nevo/Koren 2003, 11].

O-kay then. Charlemagne isn't historical, Mohammed isn't historical. I think this is about as profound an analysis as we need.

Return to Pseudoscience Index
Return to Professor Dutch's Home Page

Created 18 January 2006;  Last Update 02 June, 2010

Not an official UW Green Bay site