By Ross Pomeroy
Real Clear Wire

Who doesn't like to find buried treasure, whether it be in the form of golden riches or something arguably greater: an object that alters human history in a fundamental way? This drive to unearth archaeological fame has driven many bold claims, claims that, though often lambasted by experts, can be surprisingly difficult to dislodge from a public that's readily awed by them.

"The logical inadequacy to disprove historical scenarios, combined with an all too human wish to be part of a spectacular discovery, have laid the foundation for many archaeological controversies," Gert Jan van 'T Land wrote in a 2016 article published to Skeptic Magazine.

Some of those many controversies have occurred right here in the United States. Here are four of them:

1. "America's Stonehenge." Located in the picturesque Northeast town of Salem, New Hampshire, America's Stonehenge is a collection of rocks and stone ruins that – it must be noted – looks nothing like the actual Stonehenge. First dubbed "Mystery Hill' in 1937 by then-owner and insurance executive William Goodwin, the site was rebranded to its current moniker in 1982 to capitalize on a rising story for its origins, one fueled by amateur archaeologists: that it was created by Stone Age Europeans around 4,000 years ago.

Trained archaeologists are far more skeptical. Excavations in the area have failed to uncover any distinctly European artifacts older than the 17th century, though they did find a few artifacts of Native American origin dating a thousand years or older, as well as evidence of 3,000-year-old charcoal, indicating that someone once built a campfire there.

A more cogent explanation for the ruins atop Mystery Hill are that they are the dilapidated remains of a Colonial Era farm.

2. The Michigan Relics. In October 1890, James O. Scotford of Edmore, Michigan, claimed that he had found a number of ancient-looking artifacts, including cups, figurines, and elaborately inscribed tablets, that resembled discoveries made in the Near East. Over the ensuing two decades, Scotford, a well-known digger in the area, found similar artifacts, but so did many other people in the area of central Michigan. Did an ancient advanced culture once live in Michigan? The notion was certainly to Scotford's financial interest, as he sold many of the relics he unearthed.

Archaeologists and historians were never convinced. Examining the objects, they declared them to be elaborate frauds, likely crafted and buried by Scotford. The hieroglyphs and writings were gibberish, the clay items appeared to have been dried on a machine-sawed board, and many of them disintegrated in water, so how could they have withstood being buried for thousands of years?

As University of Michigan Professor Francis W. Kelsey wrote in his excellently-titled article, "Some Archeological Forgeries from Michigan," published to the journal American Anthropologist, "So novel are their designs and so crude the workmanship that an archeologist of training in any field could hardly fail to recognize at a glance their true character."

3. The Starchild Skull. The skull, obtained from a couple living in El Paso, Texas, certainly looks otherworldly: a bulbous cranium, much larger than even a human adult's, with shallow orbits (the cavities that house the eyes), and no frontal sinuses. Paranormalist writer Lloyd Pye declared it to be the skull of a human-alien hybrid child when he touted its existence about two decades ago. Sadly, the very human skull, as revealed by genetic testing, was almost certainly the result of a condition called congenital hydrocephalus, in which cerebrospinal fluid accumulates within the brain, causing the cranium to swell, and the skull to deform. The child to whom the skull belonged likely had a difficult life and died around age five.

4. The Kensington Runestone. Found in central Minnesota in 1898, the Kensington Runestone is a lovely piece of stone upon which a great many old Scandinavian letters are inscribed. But it is what's written on the runestone that's the most controversial -- a supposed record left by Scandinavian explorers dated to 1362. Did Vikings make it all the way to modern-day Minnesota in the 14th century? The American public, and particularly Swedes settling in Minnesota, adored the find when it was publicized, but linguists and other experts were not nearly as entranced. When they examined it a century ago, they near unanimously determined it to be a 19th-century production. Despite some disagreement, that consensus remains today. Scholars see the runestone as a beautiful work, just not one from the 14th century.