Tartaria and the Mud Flood
In recent years, a new alternative world history claim has arisen from the Internet — and it's a doozy. It revolves around an alleged worldwide cataclysm believed by adherents to have taken place sometime in the 1800s, a disaster that wiped out a worldwide advanced civilization and allowed the nations as we know them today to rise up. The event was a "mud flood" in which several meters of mud washed in and buried the ground levels of houses and buildings everywhere. Those cities and towns that were partially buried constituted the worldwide advanced civilization called Tartaria, which had free wireless energy and was populated — at least in part — by giants. It was a civilization "reset": out with the old, in with the new; and that "new" civilization is us. If this sounds too silly to be worth anyone's time to even listen to, then consider the fact that of all the hundreds of topic suggestions in the Skeptoid queue, this is the one that I chose for this week. And I chose it for good reason, so attend.
Let us begin by surveying the evidence put forth for what some adherents call "mud flood theory", and this takes us about 12 seconds to do. Find any old-timey black and white photo where people are digging — particularly if there's an old steam shovel or mule teams being employed — and it doesn't even matter what they're digging, you can say they're digging out from the great depth of mud that covered their city. Then find any modern photograph of any old building that has floors below grade, especially if it has basement windows peeking out, or if there's excavation going on next door which has exposed its basement walls or foundations, and say that the building's lower levels were obviously buried by mud. I don't want to sound dismissive, but that is indeed the entirety of the evidence that has motivated these people to discard all of known history and embrace this alternate version.
As far as the previous civilization being named Tartaria goes, this part is more interesting. As you may or may not know, Tartars was the generic name used by Europeans up until the middle of the 19th century for the people who inhabited the largely unexplored regions of Asia, including what we now know as Manchuria, Siberia, and Central Asia. Many pre-20th century world maps showed these regions labeled simply as Tartary; and as geographical knowledge gradually increased, Manchuria and Mongolia became Chinese Tartary, Siberia became Great Tartary, and Central Asia became Independent Tartary. These placeholder names quickly dropped out of use as the true place names and nations became known. However, today most people have no idea that such a large part of the world was called Tartary relatively recently. And when they watch a YouTube video showing so many old maps boldly labeling central Eurasia with an unfamiliar name, it can be pretty surprising. In fact it can be so surprising that it might leave a person open to an astounding explanation for it.... such as "mud flood theory".
I hesitate to overuse the term conspiracy theory because it's often misused to refer to anything from UFO stories to urban legends to actual conspiracies, but this is indeed one. Believers claim that this ancient history of Tartaria as an advanced civilization, and of the mud flood that destroyed it, are "covered up" by today's world governments. They conspire to keep it a secret and to keep historians teaching a false history (the version you and I know). The reason for this is not at all made clear so far as I could find; but nevertheless, a conspiracy theory it is.
Tartaria and the Mud Flood is truly a 21st century conspiracy theory, in that it exists almost entirely on the Internet — if not entirely. While some parts of the narrative go back centuries — and we'll talk about those — the whole thing as a single consolidated claim only goes back to around 2017. August of 2016 is when the first videos began to appear on YouTube about the Mud Flood idea, and we know this because of tools such as Google Trends. This is a tool that allows you to see the popularity of specific Google search terms over time. When we search for "mud flood" or "mud flood theory" or "tartaria" we learn that the Internet was essentially devoid of any interest in these things until about December of 2018. Ever since then, there has been mounting interest in those subjects among Internet users.
YouTube is what drives a lot of these pop-culture trends on the Internet, so we should expect that when we go to YouTube and do a search for videos on those subjects that were posted in that date range, we're probably going to find at least one early influential video. Long time Skeptoid listeners might remember that this is exactly how we found the original YouTube upload that constituted the "case zero" for the "Finland does not exist" conspiracy theory. Applying that same methodology here, I did find a YouTube user, Philipp Druzhinin, who had been posting videos about a mud flood since August of 2016. At first there wasn't much interest in his videos; they had very low viewership. That is, until December 2018/January 2019 — the same time that Google Trends reported the Internet became aware of the subject. Druzhinin had an enormous spike in his downloads right at that time. Which one triggered which? I don't know, and it doesn't really matter. Lots of conspiracy theorists have made Mud Flood videos, and it makes no difference who was the lucky one to get the early traction; what matters is that this is when the subject first became a thing.
But taking Druzhinin's YouTube channel just as one representative example, the descriptions on his videos and his Facebook postings indicate run-of-the-mill broad-spectrum conspiracy mongering. We find the familiar anti-Semitic themes such as the Rothschilds and George Soros; central banking; the Illuminati; microchip implantation and 5G; Q-Anon; climate change denial; the familiar tripe of who's "really" running our lives; pretty much the entire catalog of modern conspiracy mongering. Make no mistake: Tartaria and the Mud Flood does not come from historians or archaeologists or geologists, it comes from the darkest underbelly of Internet conspiracy theory culture.
Thus, we might be tempted to stop here and say that it's not worth the trouble of a debunking. And in many cases that would be correct; but here, we're seeing an almost unbelievable growth in popularity. Look at any of the videos or search any of the forums where "mud flood theory" is discussed, and you'll see that a depressing number of people fully embrace it. The number of YouTube videos promoting it as fact continues to rise and some of them have download counts in the millions. So let this episode — and particularly its transcript page with the high Google ranking accorded to all Skeptoid episode transcript pages — serve as an alternative destination for those using the Internet to seek out more information on Tartaria and the Mud Flood.
Now obviously, it requires little more than awareness of the existence of basements and sub basements to accept many of these photographs without being forced to throw out all of world history and insist upon the existence of an ancient advanced civilization. Watching the YouTube videos, I recognized at least one other photograph as depicting a time when Seattle raised some of its street levels (burying many first floors in the process) in order to reduce the steepness of some of the city's hills. Similar earthmoving projects have been undertaken in cities all around the world — particularly in the decades around the turn of the 20th century, when streetcars and automobiles quite suddenly came into wide use and required regrading in areas that were already developed. This is one reason you can go to virtually any large old city and find "underground tours" and such. Given these few facts about urban buildings, there remains no evidence at all that anything like a worldwide mud flood buried cities everywhere.
Quizzically, many of the photographs I found in the YouTube videos and web forums depict Robert Wadlow, the tallest person in history at 272cm (8'11") who died in 1940. His identity is never given on these web pages — I recognized him simply because he's easily recognizable and his photos are generally well known — but I couldn't figure out what the conspiracy theorists thought he had to do with the mud flood. Wadlow was born in 1918 and died quite young, so his photos show him with antique cars, clothing, and street scenes. Recalling that the mud flood is claimed to have happened in the 1800s, my guess is that these photos appear — to some undereducated people — to be from about that time period, thus making Wadlow one of the giants who lived in Tartaria. Photos of other people affected with gigantism are also shown, always old black and white photos. It seems clear that the believers consider photos of Wadlow and others like him to be the Tartarian giants that populated the Earth prior to their presumed demise in the mud flood.
Paradoxically, it's this introduction of a maximally implausible story element like giants that gives Tartaria and the Mud Flood its closest thing to an element of legitimacy. This is because stories of giants actually are ancient. Ever since the first discoveries of Mammoth and dinosaur bones, alternative theoreticians like Biblical literalists and amateur classicists tried to use them as evidence of the ancient giants from literature. Such giants have appeared in the texts of virtually every culture throughout history, so they provide an obvious and convenient bridge for today's Internet conspiracy theorists to link their mud flood idea to ancient texts.
To a lesser extent, the whole idea of a great flood that resets civilization is another way believers try to link this particular claim to the classics. I say to a lesser extent because legendary floods like that of Noah were said to truly obliterate everything, while this new alleged mud flood simply dumped a meter or two of mud around buildings and was relatively easily removed by workers shown in old photographs. This raises a few points that are not very persuasively argued, in my opinion: for example, why did burying only the ground floors of buildings cause society to lose its "advanced technology" like free wireless energy? Why did it kill only all the giants — presumably the only people tall enough to have not been buried by it? Where did all this mud come from, and where did it go? Why was the alleged "nation" of Tartaria the only one that did not survive? Why did the Tartarian giants live in houses and buildings the same size as ours? If all the world's nations are conspiring to cover this up, why are so many YouTubers and bloggers allowed to freely reveal everything without consequences? And of course the perennial question for all such conspiracy theories: what exactly are all today's national leaders gaining by covering up this event?
But let us not push these questions too hard, for fear of collapsing the card house that is Tartaria and the Mud Flood.
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