A lifelong passion for adventure
Meet Jon Haskell of Carmel, Indiana. He is neither an archaeologist, architect or history professor. He does not hunt for buried treasures. He is a documentary filmmaker and explorer, whose passion for the ancient architecture of the Americas had taken him to the remote corners of this hemisphere.
What makes Jon’s professional work different than many is his passion for the subject, and research work prior and during filming. He tries to communicate with as many archaeologists, historians and architects as possible to develop a broad range of opinions.
From medical equipment salesman to explorer
Jon was born on Thanksgiving Day in 1945. He said that he has been interested in adventure, remote places, indigenous peoples, jungles, history and archaeology since his teens. However, the responsibilities of being a husband and father took first priority during the first 25 years of his career. He and his wife Cindy have been married 44 years and have two adult sons. He was a sales representative for most of his life and left this profession after 20 years with GE Healthcare. While playing business man, his true love was shooting video.
After getting his sons through college, Jon started his second career and founded Healthcare Media Productions with partner Paul Barlow. Paul is from Dublin, Ireland. His wife is from Australia. Jon stated that “Paul speaks more languages and has more degrees than a man should be allowed to have.” Jon added that “Paul was the brains and talent behind their business.” The scope of the team’s creative work has expanded dramatically in recent years into documentation of historical architecture and Native American archaeological sites. Jon admitted that he probably needs to change the name of the firm!
A 25 year old brain in a 65 year body
Jon described himself as “a 25 year old brain in a old man’s body.” That body can’t be too deteriorated, because his life continues to be filled with numerous trips into Mexico and the jungles of Central America and South America. You know someone is a serious explorer when he calls his Land Rover “Nigel”, Nigel will become the ripe old age of 14 this year and has covered 300,000 miles. That is a lot of exploring.
In particular, Jon is fascinated by the Moskito Coast of Honduras and the interior jungle region. He frequently does humanitarian work for Rivers of the World (www.row.org ) in that region, while simultaneously studying and filming ancient Maya sites. ROW members paddle up Third World rivers to deliver items to villages that have little accessibility by conventional roads. ROW projects run the gamut of human, physical and spiritual needs. Academics, research, education and medical/dental concerns go hand in hand with church planting, construction, evangelism and Bible distribution.
Three times, Jon has driven through Mexico and over the mountains into Guatemala and Belize. The first time, he drove to Central American in Smedley, his first Land Rover. The next two times, he went in his beloved Nigel.
It was pointed out to Jon that his last trip to the Belize took him directly through territory controlled by the Zapatista populist insurgents in the Mexican State of Chiapas. The journey was through a rugged, mountainous region that has changed little in the past 500 years. On the Guatemala side are the Sierrade los Cuchumatanes, which are so high that they have mixed oak-pine forests similar to the Ozarks. Beyond that is the Peten jungle, which has few settlements and very few streams. One often has to go on foot to reach Maya sites in the region. It is typical for the locals will not understand much of your Spanish, since their primary tongue is some dialect of Maya.
Jon laughed and said that on this particular trip he drove straight through much of Mexico without stopping. He spent the night in Villahermosa, Chiapas; then the next day drove almost nonstop through Zapatista territory until he reached a town in Guatemala. There aren’t many towns in that part of Guatemala!
As one might expect of a modern day Indiana Jones, Jon has renaissance interests. He plays jazz on the piano professionally and practices every day. He has always been a voracious reader of archaeology and history books. He and Cindy live on a seven acre farm. It is his responsibility to take care of HER hobby, horses. He likes to build and repair “things” . . . in particular mechanical things.
Two of Jon’s favorite expressions are, “History is a myth that everyone accepts” (Napoleon Bonaparte) and “A man’s worth is not measured by the thickness of his wallet.” He loathes politically correct words such as “issues” and “inappropriate” preferring “problems” and “wrong” He says that he is a “Say what you mean and mean what you say” type guy.
The Charlestown, Indiana Stone Fort
Jon’s professional focus has shifted to the mysterious “stone forts” of the Ohio River Basin and Southern Highlands. See http://glowbass.com/architecture-design-in-national/the-ancient-stone-forts-of-ohio-indiana-and-kentucky. Opinions vary widely, within and without the archaeology profession as to who built these stone structures, when and why. Jon is currently examining those opinions, and the facts!
While the Anasazi stone architecture of the Four Corners region of the Southwest has been the subject of numerous books and television documentaries, the stone architecture of the Midwest and Southeast is largely ignored; both by the media and by archaeologists. Many sites have been destroyed by farmers seeking building materials for their houses and walls, or by mid-20th century state highway departments to crush easily obtained rocks into road construction gravel.
For about a year now, he and Paul have been filming Native American archaeological hilltop sites in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia. The film will be targeted at public television viewers. Not being archaeologists themselves, Jon and Paul do not intend to state definitive opinions on the interpretations of these ancient examples of stone architecture, but will rather present to the viewers what is known and what is speculated.
While making the “grand tour” of stone architecture sites in the Midwest and Southeast, Jon and Paul encountered the Charlestown Stone Fort, which is on a dramatic 240 feet high escarpment above the Ohio River, about six miles downstream from Louisville, KY. Jon said that they had very eerie filling while on top of the escarpment. They sensed that it had been the locale of much human activity for a long time into the past. What is especially unusual about the Charlestown site is the quantity of fieldstone structures. There also appears to be the remains of a massive rainwater cistern that could have held up to 270,000 cubit feet of water. At the highest point on the escarpment is the ruins of a large, pyramidal mound that was veneered with stone in ancient times . . . just like many of the Mexican pyramids.
Interestingly nearby, a clay figurine, whose maker has not yet been determined, was found by a local Native American artifact collector. Is an authentic artifact, left by some ancient traveler, or is a piece that was purchased in Mexico and then intentionally buried under Indiana soil? An archaeological artifact is currently studing the chemical composition of the figurine. This one and another found earlier in SE Indiana are very similar in design to those found in Mexico. Clearly, the history of the Ohio River valley is still not fully understood.
Before being destroyed by early settlers, the Charlestown site was considered one of the most important in the young United States. President Thomas Jefferson directed Meriwether Lewis to study the site on his way to leading the Corps of Discovery into the Louisiana Territory. (See http://glowbass.com/architecture-design-in-national/fort-clatsop-the-u-s-army-corps-of-discovery) Archaeologists based at the University of Cincinnati are currently carrying out studies of several stone archaeological sites in southwest Ohio as having water management engineering.
When asked what his next film project would be after the documentary on the stone forts was completed, Jon said that he had not decided yet. He added that there are so many aspects of the Western Hemisphere’s pre-European history that have not been fully explored by film makers that he will continue to explore as long as his body holds up, and Nigel (or Nigel’s son) takes him there.