Romeo's head

Mark Graham

Romeo Hristov is worried. "I know my colleagues," says the 35-year-old Ph.D. candidate in archaeology. "They will say, 'He is dreamer. He is romantic. He is not serious person'...Is very dirty game." His thick, Bulgarian voice rises until he is almost yelling, spitting out words. "They attack each other like dogs. Like dogs."

He closes his eyes and trails off, struggling to control his emotions. It is a Saturday night in late August, and Hristov is sitting in a Highland Park coffeehouse, looking very much a stranger in a strange land. Fortunately, the designer-clad couples and foursomes seem too absorbed in their own world to notice the intense, dark man speaking loudly.

Hristov, who has just finished a 13-hour shift at a construction site, is wearing blue jeans and a cheap polo-style shirt. His black rubber-soled shoes have holesin them, and he is wearing crooked, broken glasses with a lens missing, held together at one corner with what looks like a twisted safety pin. He is clearly exhausted, yet he has summoned the energy to meet with a reporter, to talk of his obsession with a tiny Roman terra-cotta head.

Hristov believes the head provides evidence that Europeans landed in what is now Mexico long before Spanish conquistador Hernán de Cortés weighed anchor at Veracruz in 1519. Hristov has spent more than a decade chasing down this head and the dozen other items recovered from pre-Columbian archaeological sites that may prove such contacts.

It is a quest that has taken him from his native Bulgaria to Central and South America, and now to the United States. And it is a journey that now may be paying off. After years of struggling to get published in English-language periodicals, he finally has gotten an article about the head accepted for publication. "Mesoamerican Evidence of Pre-Columbian Transoceanic Contacts" is scheduled to be published this fall in Ancient Mesoamerica, a respected journal put out by Cambridge University Press.

In it, Hristov and his co-authors present results of tests on the head that suggest the piece is indeed an authentic Roman artifact dated somewhere between the second century B.C. and the sixth century A.D. Hristov and company conclude that the piece is "the first hard evidence from Mesoamerica to support pre-Hispanic transoceanic contacts between the Old and New Worlds."

One might well conclude that Hristov has reason to feel optimistic about his future in archaeology. He doesn't. Instead, Romeo Hristov has become a bitter man, given to sudden black rages and diatribes about the profession he claims to want to join.

"You don't know how tough was this research, how many people try to stop it," he says darkly.

Perhaps it is no surprise that Hristov is embittered. He is attempting to provide hard scientific evidence for one of the most disfavored theories in the history of American archaeology. He maintains that sporadic pre-Columbian contacts not only existed and are provable, but have been ignored by a profession blinded by conventional wisdom. To prove his point, he has set out to examine every one of the possible European or Asian objects recovered from the pre-Columbian archeological record. He is at work on a book that will examine all known cases and hopes to be able to prove or disprove each. Although his research is not yet completed, he believes that his little Roman head is not the only authentic evidence of transoceanic contact prior to Cortés.

Hristov has found it nearly impossible to get funding to carry on his research. His term as a visiting scholar at Southern Methodist University recently expired, and he says he has been gently told to move on.

"He's swimming upstream," says a dubious David J. Meltzer, professor of anthropology at SMU. The problem, Meltzer says, is that Hristov is treading a well-worn path. "It's been tried before, literally for centuries, and it really hasn't gotten very far. Perhaps for good reason."

And so Hristov is nervous about this interview, fearing he has been too frank about what got him interested in a project that even he describes as "quixotic."

"I was interested [in archaeology] since a boy," explains Hristov. "It was sounding exciting. I was hoping to have hobby and profession together...I was interested with all this air of adventure. It was science combinated with adventure, with the story of this heroic person." He mentions two or three popular archaeology books from decades past, especially Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki and The RA Expeditions.

And then he erupts.

"You know, they all want to say they got interested in particular problem after reading this academic journal, after examining carefully the evidence." He shakes his head, clearly tired of hearing colleagues pretend they never dreamed of being Indiana Jones. "Is bullshit, all bullshit."


Hristov is not a crackpot. He is well read, thoughtful, versed in archaeological findings, history, theory, and methodology. His paper does not contain wild speculation, does not attempt to extrapolate from supposed "cultural similarities," does not take liberties with the evidence. Indeed, Hristov and his head raise a number of interesting questions -- not least among them being why a man with so much obvious talent has chosen to beat his cranium against a concrete wall, to come so far and dedicate so much effort to what many consider archaeology's equivalent of UFO studies.

Since the 16th and 17th centuries, when reports of fabulous Mesoamerican ruins buried in the jungles of Mexico and Guatemala began to filter back to the Anglo world, the pre-Columbian civilizations of Central America have fascinated the public. Early visitors to the ancient Mayan and Aztec sites described the remarkable accomplishments of the mysteriously vanished peoples: the complex written language carved in stone, the advanced knowledge of mathematics and astronomy; the buildings themselves, which rivaled the pyramids in size and architectural sophistication. The cities had obviously been great population centers, supporting as many as 100,0000 urban dwellers.

Who were these people, and what happened to them? Since the modern "science" of archaeology did not yet exist, answering these questions fell to a motley bunch of lawyers, doctors, soldiers, adventurers, and con artists, self-described "men of science."

Some guesses were better than others. Juan Galindo, an Englishman turned Latin-American mercenary and explorer, was sent by the Guatemalan government to investigate in 1834; he opined that the ancestors of the local Indians had built the monuments. Over the next century, a slew of proto-archaeologists weighed in with decidedly different opinions. The great Central American civilizations of the past were said, variously, to be derived from seafaring Phoenicians, the lost tribes of Israel, the Hindus, the Chinese, the Egyptians, even the fabled inhabitants of Atlantis.

Not surprisingly, many of these theories were put forth in the service of racism. Surely, the reasoning went, "savage" Indians and pre-Hispanic peoples whose lands were being claimed in the name of manifest destiny could not have built such advanced civilizations. Instead, there must have been contact between the pyramid builders and those lights of Western civilization, the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians.

Even the most rational and enlightened men of the time fell under the sway of what came to be dubbed "diffusion" theory. As one latter-day critic put it, diffusion theory operates a bit like A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court; cultural developments are assumed to arise in one place and spread from there, carried across sometimes great distances by the occasional castaway or long-forgotten group of pilgrims.

There were other views. A few isolationists argued that similar cultural developments could evolve in separate areas of the world independently of one another. Thus began the spade-wielding world's own nature-vs.-nurture debate, an argument that still flares in academic journals, burning hot and converting few.

A century and a half later, the standard view of academics is in accord with Galindo's original guess. The pre-Columbian cultures of Central and South America, most scholars agree, developed in near-complete isolation from those of Europe and Asia. Occasionally items have been uncovered that seem to challenge this orthodoxy; for the most part, they have been politely ignored.

Such was the case in 1933, when a Mexican archaeologist named Jose García Payón unearthed an oddity while digging on a small hill in the Toluca Valley of central Mexico, about 40 miles west of Mexico City. The upper layers of the site yielded pottery that indicated it had been occupied by the Matzatlincas, a local Indian tribe that first overran the Mexican basin in the eighth century. The site appeared to have been used by the Matzatlincas continuously from the eighth century until 1510, when, according to Indian accounts recorded in the 16th century, the settlement was destroyed by the Aztec emperor Moctecuhzoma Xocoyotzin (commonly anglicized as Montezuma).

García Payón found nothing unusual until he began examining two burial mounds.

He dug a small channel down from the center top of one mound, through an intact layer of indigenous concrete. Underneath, he found two "important personages," as well as associated grave goods. Although the layers in which the burials were found dated to the 12th century, García Payón concluded that the burials themselves were inserted at a later date. The pottery, gold, crystal, bone, and turquoise grave goods were readily identifiable as Matzatlincan and could be firmly dated to the period between 1476 and 1510 -- before Cortés. García Payón found something odd scattered among the trove: a small terra-cotta head "not associated with the area."

García Payón, who is widely viewed as one of the fathers of modern Mexican archaeology, didn't know what to make of it; perhaps wisely, he didn't even try. During the next 30 years, he showed the strange little head to only a few people, who took it as a curiosity. In 1959, he showed the head to Dr. Robert Heine-Geldern, a prominent German anthropologist, who pronounced it Roman. Heine-Geldern wrote an article about the find, in German, as did García Payón, in Spanish, but for the most part the head was ignored. During the '60s, it served as fodder for a brief but lively revival of the great diffusionist debate, but subsequently was lost and forgotten, until 1987, when a young Bulgarian archaeology student named Romeo Hristov began looking for it.


"I was much more interested in the Western culture than my own," Hristov says. "It sound silly, but I love the American West. Movies like High Noon and Rio Bravo. Europeans, they are dubious about the Americans' culture. But they are wrong."

Hristov was born in Mezdra, Bulgaria, a small Balkan town 60 miles northwest of Sofia. He wasn't born into an academic family: His father was an electrician, his mother a secretary. He was a bookish boy who grew up dreaming of going to faraway places and of escaping the squalor and conflicts of the tribe he refers to as "homo Balkanicus" ("They enjoy reviving up the same mistakes every generation," Hristov says of his people.)

He also grew up watching a lot of "half legal" American movies. "I especially remember Gary Cooper. I love this person -- man without illusion, who stay strong in something that they have to do...I have something of this image of American in myself."

Gary Cooper wasn't his only hero. In 1978, Hristov read The RA Expeditions and became a believer. It was the latest in Thor Heyerdahl's series of adventure tales. Beginning in the late '50s, Heyerdahl, an anthropologist by training and a born showman, lashed together a series of primitive boats. With a crew of striking, bronzed young men, he sailed across the Pacific and a number of other bodies of water to show that prehistoric travelers could have made the journey too.

Though Heyerdahl certainly proved it could be done, the view among academics was that he hadn't proved it had been done. Where Heyerdahl really got himself in trouble with the academy, though, was in his theories based on shaky linguistic similarities. In Kon-Tiki, Heyerdahl argued that Polynesian culture derived from Peru, based largely on fancied similarities between the name of an Incan god and a Polynesian god. (In academic writings, Heyerdahl also relied on arguments about the alleged intelligence of certain races.)

"You know, Heyerdahl's contribution has never been accepted," Hristov says. "He was the first person who sell book in numbers larger than the academic [market]. Heyerdahl had not very, very deep knowledge. But he was the man who for the first time go one step ahead to prove what [prehistoric peoples] really can do.

"But many people enjoy to reject that. Archaeologists are very poor and very jealous, and they never forgive him."

Hristov got the notion of studying transoceanic migrations early on, after writing an undergraduate paper at University Sveti Clement Ohridski in Sofia. The paper, which was on pre-Columbian transatlantic contacts, was presented to a symposium of Eastern Bloc science students. "One of the professors in the Sofia University, the dean of the department of ancient history and archaeology, she encouraged me in this area," Hristov recalls. In 1985, he ran across a reference to the Roman head in a 20-year-old issue of the Journal of Science & Life, a popular Russian scientific periodical. "It was the first place where I read reference of this head, and I got very excited to go to Mexico," he recalls. One of the things that impressed him most, he says, was that nobody was making extraordinary claims about the piece. "I just had feeling it might be real," he says. "I myself have a lot of doubts about what is reasonable, what is possible for the cross-oceanic contacts. The problem is there is lack of hard evidence for contacts. So that is what I concentrate on. This is the piece that seems most reasonable, most plausible, most real."

With the help of a cultural attaché to Brazil who taught at Sofia University, in 1990 Hristov was able to leave Bulgaria. "He get me half-legal visa to Brazil and then, a few months later, I go to Mexico," he recalls. Hristov wanted to finish his degrees in Mexico so he would be able to do field work at the same time. In 1990, he enrolled as a student at the National School for Anthropology and History in Mexico City. Though he spoke fluent Spanish, Hristov says, he had "a really hard time" for the first year. He worked odd jobs to make ends meet: construction, cashier, retail clerk, photographer's assistant. When he ran out of money, he says, he would catnap in the subway or in a sympathetic friend's office.


From the moment he arrived, he spent his spare time looking for the Roman head. By the time he began his search, nobody had seen the piece for three decades. García Payón had died, and his files and personal items had been split among at least four museums and libraries. Hristov checked, but none of the four had the little head listed among its inventories. "It later turn out, was donated by García Payón to National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, where was misclassified 'Colonial.'"

Hristov set out to search the museum's storage -- no simple task, since he had to rely on intermediaries. "You couldn't do it yourself," he explains. "I was having to ask people to try to get some access" -- waylaying scholars, former directors, curators, guards. "If you are outsider, Mr. Nobody from foreign country, it not easy to get bureaucrats to help you look," he says. It was a task made infinitely more difficult by the nature of the work he was pursuing. Mexico has enormous pride in its past, and a European seeking evidence that transatlantic travelers influenced that culture was not likely to get the red carpet.

"They are not rude," he says of various curators who at first denied him access to collections. "They just find a reason not to do it. But you always find somebody [to help]."

In 1991, he met Dr. Santiago Genovés, a man who would become his mentor and who, over the years, helped open doors for Hristov. As a young man, Genovés had sailed on two of Heyerdahl's expeditions. (Genovés is listed as one of the co-authors in the article to be published in Ancient Mesoamerica. He could not be reached for comment.)

"I was looking for the piece two and a half years. It's not easy to convince to check. But if you persist, bring beer, tell dirty jokes, eventually they start to like you." In 1992, during a break between classes at the National School of Anthropology, he got lucky. During a conversation with a former curator in the National Museum, the curator recalled having seen the piece Hristov was seeking. "He said, 'Romeo, this piece, I saw it in the storage about several years ago. It is in small Plexiglas box, like you buy for cheap jewelry.'"

Eventually, Hristov found someone who knew a sub-director of the museum, who spoke to the curator in charge of the area, who agreed to let him search.

"Well, after about one hour we find it," he recalls. "It was very emotional, the first time I hold it in my hands. You think, 'How many stories are in this?' It is priceless object, in cheap plastic box, just like he say." Hristov shrugs. "But that is Mexico."

Hristov spent two years researching the most reliable method for dating the piece and how to fund scientific testing. He settled on thermoluminescence testing, a process that is considered the gold standard for ancient terra-cotta and other items fired in kilns. In vastly simplified terms, thermoluminescence testing measures particles of energy given off by pottery manufactured at very high temperatures. By figuring out rates of energy emission and working backward, it is possible to arrive at reliable dates for the manufacture of ancient pottery.

Hristov worked his network of academic contacts and eventually received an introduction to a visiting scholar, Dr. Gunter Wagner, a director of the laboratory at the Max Planck Institute of Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany. Wagner was consulting on a laboratory project for the government of Mexico, and Hristov's friends arranged a half-hour meeting between the two. "It was magic," Hristov recalls. "Finally, after two years, you find someone who believes. We don't even know the same language. He speak a few words in English, I speak a few words in German, a few in Italian -- but we understand each other perfectly. I don't know how, but he explains to me the limits.

"Then he said, 'Well, I am very interested in this project, and we can work together.' I said, 'But I have no money, just some crazy idea in my Bulgarian head.' He just smile and say, 'Don't worry.'"

In 1994, under Genovés' guidance, Hristov applied for a grant from the government of Mexico to finance travel and other incidentals related to testing the head, as well as to examine, photograph, and catalog all known pre-Columbian artifacts with Negroid and Caucasoid features. In the meantime, armed with Dr. Wagner's commitment, he went ahead with the testing. In the summer of 1994, Hristov and a colleague took a tiny sample of terra-cotta from the broken neck of the piece, and a courier carried the sample, specially sealed to keep out light, to the Planck Institute. The results indicated that the piece dated to the late second or early third century. The margin of error was plus or minus 400 years, meaning the piece could have been manufactured anywhere between the second century B.C. and the sixth century A.D.


Hristov's fortunes were looking up. In February 1995, he was awarded a $30,000 grant from the Mexican government. To be absolutely safe, Hristov decided to have the piece tested again; in the fall of 1995, he got the second set of results, which were identical to the first. Although there is some disagreement among art historians about exactly where in the Roman Empire the piece originated, all agree it is of Roman origin.

It was time to publish. In 1996, Hristov drafted an article and sent it off to Antiquity, a British journal that had published diffusionist theories. He is still bitter over the reception. "They just reject it," he says. "They don't even give me a chance to say nothing."

By this time, Hristov had completed both his bachelor's and master's degrees, and was doing his doctoral work at the University of Salamanca in Spain. Undeterred, Hristov sent his article on to Current Anthropology, an American journal. This time, he got some criticism. "The objections were just kind of general objections, against diffusionism as methodological framework." His voice deepens with anger. "They suggest to me several readings. Things that I had read years ago. Like I am just a kid who don't know nothing," he finishes, indignantly.

Meanwhile, Hristov continued his course work. "I was traveling constantly between Mexico and Spain between 1996 and 1998," he recalls. And in his spare time, he was tracking down the other 12 items he thought might provide proof of pre-Columbian transoceanic contacts. In 1996, he came to the United States to examine and test an allegedly Phoenician head that had been recovered from Mesoamerica. (The piece turned out to be only 150 years old.) As always, he also came to look for money.

"I hope to establish a small research foundation to finish this research and to publish my book," he says. "And I have 10, 12 interviews, maybe more, but I never get nothing." Among other likely spots, he approached a foundation at Brigham Young University, which ultimately passed on the research but may still publish Hristov's book.

On the recommendation of Dr. David Kelley, in 1998 Hristov came to Dallas to look for money and to continue his research as a visiting scholar at SMU. By now, the second publication had passed on Hristov's paper, and he was beginning to despair of ever getting published. He was also starting to get the message. "In the beginning, I think that the problem is just the lack of evidence [in the past]," Hristov says. "But now I realize, nobody wants this research done."

In January 1998, he submitted the article to Ancient Mesoamerica. "General editor there was relatively open-minded," Hristov says. The editor sent the piece to three reviewers -- all of whom had been associated with diffusionist theories in the past. "Was just luck," says Hristov. The reviewers suggested a few changes, which Hristov gladly made, and the piece was accepted.

In the article to be published in Ancient Mesoamerica, Hristov and his co-authors, Drs. Genovés, Wagner, and Peter Schaaf (who introduced Hristov to Wagner), studiously avoid drawing conclusions about how a Roman artifact might have gotten into a pre-conquest Indian grave.

In person, Hristov is somewhat less reticent; indeed, he starts to speculate like -- heaven forbid -- a diffusionist. "The most obvious route of importation is through the Mediterranean, outside of Gibraltar, across the middle of the Atlantic. Probably the first place of importation was someplace along the Gulf of Mexico, probably Huasteca. We don't know more about how it got to the central Mexican highlands." In the next breath, however, he mentions the Matzatlincas' 1476 military expedition from the Gulf. In 1476, the Matzatlincas helped the Aztecs defeat an enemy tribe and were rewarded with great treasure.

"There are very clear references to this in historical sources. Probably the head was believed to have some sort of religious or magic importance." The soldiers, he surmises, brought the object with them from the coast to their home in the central highlands of Mexico.


As for how the item reached the coast of Mexico, Hristov points to several well-documented legends, first described to Spaniards and recorded during the 16th century. In particular, Hristov cites a local Indian legend recorded in the years immediately after the conquest by Father Diego Duran, a Dominican missionary. In his History of the Indians of New Spain, Duran reported of a redheaded, bearded Caucasian named Topiltzin-Papa, who was said to have landed in Mexico sometime between the 10th and 13th centuries.

Some scholars question Duran's impartiality as a historian, pointing out that he was an advocate of the "lost tribes of Israel" theory. Hristov rejects this view. "Many of the fathers were related to this idea," he says. "[Duran] is just describing things, not making claims."

Hristov has not limited his quest to the Roman head. He has examined or attempted to examine a supposed Phoenician head in the American Museum of Natural History; a Roman medal in the state of Veracruz; photographs of a possible Han Dynasty bronze figurine last seen in a private collection in Mexico; and two supposedly Egyptian figurines last seen in El Salvador. He has examined, too, a "half-dozen" other archaeological oddities from which, he says, he can draw no conclusions, since he deems the context in which they were found "too unreliable." The Chinese bronze, he believes, may be authentic. As always, he is searching for the object, as well as for funds to do definitive testing.

"I was expecting more understanding and cooperation from my colleagues in the States, but I never get any," he says. "I was realizing things are really bad since [Mexico], but I was thinking that the principal problem with the colleagues in America was the evidence and the data." He sighs bitterly. "But that was an illusion."

But some of those colleagues reject this view as so much misplaced self-pity. "The martyr complex," says SMU's Meltzer. "You see a lot of that in archaeology. I tried it myself for a while. Didn't work."

Hristov is not the only person attempting legitimate research in this area. In a series of excavations between 1985 and 1996, a Spaniard, Pablo Atache Peña, discovered evidence of Roman landings along the Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa.

His findings are likely to be controversial, since for many years, the Canary Islands have played a prominent role in various of the more screwball diffusion theories, especially the Atlantis and "out of Egypt" hypotheses.

Peña's discovery, which has been published in Spanish-language journals but not yet in English, is particularly exciting to diffusionists for several reasons. First, the Canary Islands are located in the middle of crosscurrents that lead directly to Mesoamerica. Second, although historical sources seem to describe six of the seven Canary Islands, many scholars view these descriptions dubiously, since until Peña, no evidence of Roman occupation had been found.

In a letter of introduction, David Kelley, professor emeritus of archaeology at the University of Canada, presents one view of this dispute. "There is a strong preconception among American archaeologists and anthropologists that there were probably no contacts -- certainly no culturally important contacts -- between the Old World and the New World.

"Controversial conclusions face enough difficulties," he continues, "but when the research itself is condemned a priori, it becomes very difficult to get appropriate funding or recognition." Kelley knows of what he speaks. Although he is now credited with helping to decipher the complex code of hieroglyphics in which the ancient Maya wrote, for many years Kelley was blacklisted in the profession and could not get a job. His offense: heresy, for daring to go against the conventional wisdom in suggesting that the Mayan language was a combination of not only pictographs, but also phonetically constructed words.

Although ultimately proven right on that one, Kelley has published other works that, in his words, "are normally ignored." A diffusionist to the bone, Kelley has more controversial theories that propose specific Eurasian origins for many Mayan words, as well as for the Mesoamerican calendar.

Not surprisingly, Kelley is a fan of Hristov's work. "Hristov is firmly in the group of competent professional scholars," Kelley writes. "In most other aspects of archaeology, a scholar who worked as diligently and critically as Hristov would already have received recognition and credit."

Of course, Hristov's friends are themselves considered by many a suspect group. Understandably so. For if the academy seems to have no time for the diffusionists, it is not merely a matter of history but of the increasing professionalization of archaeology. Like the other social sciences, archaeology yearns to put itself on a sounder scientific basis, and in so doing, to move away from mere speculation that cannot be scientifically verified.


Dr. David Freidel, professor of anthropology at SMU and a specialist in pre-Columbian archaeology, says Hristov's approach is pseudo-scientific. "The serious thing to do would be to do a map of the area, to systematically investigate the sites where this object and the others were found, to see if similar items can be uncovered. So he's not really approaching this as a serious archaeologist.

"I'm actually teaching a course this spring, based on my encounters with Mr. Hristov and others. The title is Fantastic Archaeology."

During the '60s, thanks in part to Heyerdahl and other popular diffusion adherents, a war of words between diffusionists and isolationists was waged. In 1962, an anthropologist named Robert Wanchope published a slim tome titled Lost Tribes & Sunken Continents, which tracks the history of these skirmishes. One chapter, "Dr. Phuddly Duddy and the Crackpots," tracks the "strained relations...between the professionals on the one hand and the thousands of Lost Tribes, Lost Continents and Kon-Tiki enthusiasts on the other.

"The professional anthropologists," he continues, "are looked on by supporters of the other theories as mentally fossilized ivory-tower isolationists, while the Ph.D.s regard their amateur harriers as, at best, misguided mystics whose primarily emotional rather than intellectual."

Other scholars, writing in academic organs with names like American Antiquarian, picked up where Wanchope left off. "Doctrinaire diffusionists are a menace to sound archaeological theory," wrote one.

Both sides accused the other side of trying to con a gullible public; both demanded the other side put up hard evidence or shut up for good. The isolationists won over the academy, eager to bolster the profession's scientific bona fides. The diffusionists won over the public, eager to hear romantic, if unproven, adventures; since its publication, Kon-Tiki has sold millions of copies.

And while Hristov may be unable to raise the money to continue his research, he is currently meeting with producers working on projects for the BBC and the Discovery Channel.

To be fair, Hristov is extremely cautious in his claims. "As a result of my research," he says, "it may be possible to make a little more solid case for diffusion. The more hard evidence, the more reasonable is diffusionist model to explain cultural similarities."

But scholars have placed an extremely high burden of proof on Hristov and his brethren. One or two or even three proven contacts are not likely to improve the diffusionists' case. "If there were [significant] contacts, you'd see it," Meltzer says. "If a population was healthy enough to make it across the ocean, you'd see a pretty big impact. And you just don't see it."

Hristov believes such demands are unfair, because there won't be evidence of repeated contacts in the record. "All this big flotilla of ships have traveled only in the mind of the diffusionists," he says. "The number of cases of contacts, and the number of people involved in those contacts will be small." Moreover, he says, what proof there is commonly gets overlooked. "Many Mesoamericanists are trained to see this as ridiculous, unscholarly pursuit...Many cases are not reported or ignored."

Meanwhile, his academic career is headed nowhere. "I always want an academic career," he says. "I never have any question that I can be real good. Top of the hill.

"Of course, I am making so much troubles about me that it will be kind of a surprise if happens. But I am trying." Again, Hristov compares himself to Gary Cooper in High Noon, the lonely hero who knows what he must do. "Just write about me that I am man who believe in what he is doing, man who is not afraid to take risk, and man who is only interested in doing the scholar[ly] thing in face of almost impossible odds."

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