Modern revivals of the claims

In a press release of 28 August 2002, the “experts in ancient British history”, Alan Wilson and Baram A Blackett, announced that they had discovered “proof of Prince Madoc in America circa 560”. The first thing to notice is that they have pushed the twelfth-century Madoc back into the sixth century. According to Wilson, conventional historians “often give a false date of 1170 and this legend has replaced the facts. At the moment, there is a small group of wreckers trying to steal our research and to promote this misdating…”. It is unclear why they dismiss the (admittedly flawed) work of more than four centuries of historians as that of “a small group of wreckers”, but it perhaps suits the new version of the myth they are trying to create.

The Bat Creek Stone

The Bat Creek Stone: is it really written in Middle Welsh?

The Madoc they seek to identify as the European “discoverer” of America is one Madog ap Meurig, whom they make a brother of Athrwys ap Meurig ap Tewdrig, a sixth-century ruler of Morgannwg (Glamorgan). It may be no more than coincidence that Athrwys ap Meurig ap Tewdrig is Wilson and Blackett’s candidate for “King” Arthur, but I suspect not. This Madoc is not attested in any of the medieval genealogies, though, and there do not seem to be any medieval stories about him. Nevertheless, this does not prevent the authors from recognising his name inscribed on the so-called Bat Creek Stone, an object excavated in 1889 from Mound 3 at Bat Creek in Loudon County (Tennessee, USA) by John W Emmert under the direction of Cyrus Thomas (1825-1910), an ethnologist working for the Smithsonian Institution. While Thomas initially believed the inscriptions to be in Cherokee, later scholars such as Cyrus Herzl Gordon (1908-2001) identified them as Hebrew, dating from around 100 CE.

The Coelbren alphabet

The Coelbren alphabet: could this have been used on the Bat Creek Stone?

Wilson and Blackett identify the script as Coelbren, which they describe as “an ancient British alphabet known and recorded by historians and bards down the ages”. According to their translation, the inscription reads ‘Madoc the ruler he is’ (they do not explain why they have not rendered it in more idomatic English and it has to be suspected that it is to give an air of antiquity and authenticity to the text). Coelbren consists of thirty-one symbols, with twenty-one basic letters and a further ten for mutated consonants.

According to the press release, public bodies in the UK have “failed to engage with this vital research effort… they’re afraid that an independent group such as ours has made such progress. They prefer to ignore and neglect ancient British history rather than to deal with it. The Welsh people have suffered, and the opportunity to boost the economy, to bring thousands of jobs to Glamorgan and Gwent, where Madoc and his brother Arthur II ruled, has not been exploited”. The accusation that the work is being ignored and, worse, causing suffering is a typical pseudoscientific ploy.

In a similar way, Wilson and Blackett’s American colleague Jim Michael has complained that in “Britain and America the academics have been slow to respond… There is a theory that there was no European settlement here before Columbus, despite the evidence, but this is for political and theoretical reasons”. The recognition of the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows (Newfoundland, Canada) is thus passed over in complete silence. One can only ponder what the “political and theoretical reasons” of failing to adopt the unsupported speculations of Wilson and Blackett might be.

Wilson, Blackett and Michael have identified the main mound at Bat Creek as the tomb of Madoc. They tie in the date of ‘their’ Madoc of 562 CE with a radiocarbon determination, which is quoted as 32 CE – 769 CE (although not actually cited in the press release), from the mounds. Their talk of DNA analysis seems to have come to nothing; certainly, nothing has been reported, either in support or in refutation of their claims.