Adventures in Fact Checking

Every single one of us has heard things that haven’t sounded quite right to us. Things that cause us to question their truth and accuracy. This is one of the most beautiful conditions of the human mind; not knowing and wanting to discover. Far too often, people accept “facts” at face value which turn out to be completely false. I’m not one of those people. I question everything. I accept nothing. Especially when it sounds, a bit off.

Today someone told me that Ancient Egyptians traded with the Australian Aboriginals and that the evidence of this was that eucalyptus oil has been found in ancient embalmed remains. The person also said that this is proof because eucalyptus trees grow only in Australia and nowhere else on the planet. I found this claim extraordinary. That two such ancient peoples were somehow able to cross the vast oceans between them to come into contact in the first place and then somehow establish a trading route which lasted for thousands of years? That such a fact isn’t commonly taught knowledge despite its incredible implications? 

So I did what I always do. What any good skeptic and researcher would do. I checked this fact for myself…

Firstly, eucalyptus trees actually grow all over the world and ancient fossil records have found them outside Australia which proves this has been the case for millions of years. Secondly, there have been no official scientific records of eucalyptus oil ever being used in ancient Egyptian embalming. There is only one cited example, from a 1967 article by explorer Michael Terry which stated; 

In February 1964 the tomb of a woman, probably dating back to 1,000 B.C., was found on the site of an ancient city in the Jordan Valley.  Examination of the body suggested that eucalyptus oil had been used to embalm it.  The only sources then of such oil were the gum-trees of Australia and New Guinea. [Terry 1967: p. 21].

Here Terry has made the same error about eucalyptus trees growing locations, although to be fair, the paper by Gandolfo, et al (2011) noting fossil records of the tree being found in South America was published thirty years after his death, so we can forgive him for that one. But what we cannot forgive, is the fact that Terry failed to note his source for this story. This has prevented anyone actually looking into it further to confirm the truth of his claim. 

So it would appear that the person who misinformed me today has also read the article by Terry and hasn’t fact checked the claim. While I do not believe this person’s intention was to mislead, to share information without first confirming its accuracy can be very dangerous. With a little careful fact checking, I was able to confirm that what I was told was untrue and as a result, I will not be sharing this tidbit with anyone else and will ensure I correct the person who told me, as well as correcting anyone else that I hear repeating this.

This is a great example of the importance of fact checking. I implore all of you, don’t believe everything you hear and read. Check the facts for yourself. Look for reputable sources and ensure that you don’t repeat any information you haven’t confirmed for yourself.


Gandolfo, MA; Hermsen, EJ; Zamaloa, MC; Nixon, KC; González, CC; et al. (2011). “Oldest Known Eucalyptus Macrofossils Are from South America”PLoS ONE6 (6).

Terry, Michael 1967, ‘Australia’s unwritten history’, Walkabout, August 1967, pp. 19-23.



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