Anyway, I've made a couple more videos reacting to components of Hancock's argument. The first is my reaction to his contention that archaeology is not a science:
My copy of America Before should arrive tomorrow. I can't promise I'll dive right into it, but I have found myself getting drawn into thinking about Graham Hancock's broader message as well as the specific claims I've heard him make during recent interviews. Perhaps what he writes is more nuanced (and more accurate?) than what he says. So far, listening to his performances on YouTube I am struck by the combination of hearing someone who is simultaneously very well-spoken and so very often so very wrong. Ultimately it doesn't matter how slippery you can be, however -- facts are facts.
Anyway, I've made a couple more videos reacting to components of Hancock's argument. The first is my reaction to his contention that archaeology is not a science:
The second addresses the contention that finding true north requires "advanced astronomical knowledge." I've heard this claim many times and I've never understood it: Anyone who lives/works outside experiences and understands the linkages between the movements and angles of the sun, changes in the length of the day, and the annual tempo of the seasons. Finding and marking the solstices and the equinoxes is not at all difficult if you observe the horizon in the morning from a fixed location, and ancient societies would have had many reasons to do that. The "mystery" of finding true north is really no mystery at all. What's really a mystery is why so many people invested in "alternative" archaeology assume that ancient people were as ignorant as they are of the way the natural world.
Yesterday on my walk home I listened to another chunk of Graham Hancock's appearance on Joe Rogan's podcast. Most of what I listened to was about the new discoveries in the Amazon, which Hancock claims include large geometric earthworks (aka geoglyphs) produced by "squaring the circle." Hancock misuses/misunderstands the term (which refers to constructing a square the same area as a given circle, not just drawing a square around a circle), and consequently concludes that the societies who made the structures had advanced geometrical knowledge.
Rather than write about it, I made a video to demonstrate my point:
If you're interested in pseudoarchaeology, you probably know that Graham Hancock's new book America Before is now out. I haven't read it yet. I will probably take at stab at it at some point over the summer, but I have to face the reality that I'm just not excited.
My lack of enthusiasm stems mostly, I think, from a gut feeling that there is not a whole lot in the book that is particularly new, thought-provoking, or even interesting. The summary reviews I have read so far bear that out (you can read Jason Colavito's review here, and Carl Feagan's take here). I already knew Hancock was going to going to claim that a comet wiped out some kind of fantastical "advanced civilization" that existed during the Ice Age, and I already knew that he would try to connect his claim to the archaeology of North America in whatever ways possible. I predict anyone who has any legitimate expertise in this region of the world can see through Hancock's game in two seconds. I guess if you're blissfully ignorant maybe it all sounds very exciting . . . I wouldn't know: as someone who has been doing real archaeology in North America for 25 years now I can hear the sound of this book ringing hollow before I even crack the cover.
I listened to the first half hour of Hancock's recent appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience this morning on my walk to work. After opening with a book-selling pitch, Hancock discusses the Cerutti Mastodon (the 130,000-year-old remains of a mastodon near San Diego, CA, that Steven Holen and colleagues claim were modified by humans using stone tools) as an example of both the great age of the human occupation of North America and the "dogmatic" (take a drink!) approach of archaeologists to their beloved Clovis-first model. Hancock's willingness to misunderstand and/or misrepresent reality is on full display with statements like this one (about 23:30 in):
"Suddenly we have to consider that humans have been in America for 130,000 years; we already know that a dogmatic approach to archaeology has rather refused to look at anything older than 13,000 years ago. And what it does it generates an engine of demand that we need to be looking at those missing 100,000+ years. We need to be looking at it hard. Of course the immediate reaction has not been to go looking for stuff in the other hundred thousand years. Most archaeologists have responded by saying 'this is impossible -- it can't be so!'"
What a bunch of nonsense.
I'm not sure exactly how to interpret the modifier "rather," but I can tell you that there has been no "refusal" to investigate the pre-Clovis occupations of North America for decades now. But don't take my word for it, have a look at published papers on the pre-Clovis lithics from Gault site and the Debra L Friedkin site (Texas) or the pre-Clovis occupations at Page-Ladson (Florida). Or look at the landmark 1997 declaration on the antiquity of Monte Verde in Chile. Or the many other sites that have been put forward as candidates for pre-Clovis sites in the Americas.
It is my impression that there is now neither a stigma attached to nor a "dogma" (take a drink!) preventing archaeologists from looking for and investigating possible pre-Clovis sites.
Just because pre-Clovis is a legitimate thing to investigate, however, does not mean that every site that is claimed to predate Clovis has been interpreted correctly. Figuring out which ones pass the smell test and which do not is important if you want to get the story right. As I tell my students: adding more weak coffee to already weak coffee does not make strong coffee (I stole that from someone and I can't remember who -- I apologize).
So it matters what evidence you accept and use to build your narrative. I wonder, does Graham Hancock include the Calico Early Man Site (California) in his analysis of the human occupation of the Americas? The purported "artifacts" from the site have been said to date to 200,000-135,000 years ago. The materials from Calico were vetted by none other than Louis Leakey himself. If Jeffrey Goodman is correct, humans might have been at Calico as early as 500,000 years ago.
If there were people here half a million years ago, the Cerutti Mastodon is young like Tupperware. If Hancock is not aware of Calico, he really missed something. If he is aware of it, however, he presumably had some reason for not focusing on it. Perhaps he wasn't convinced by the analysis (does he know more about Paleolithic stone tools than Louis Leakey?) or maybe he was suspicious that the people doing the work misinterpreted the archaeological/geological context of the materials.
I would guess that Hancock has heard of Calico and simply chose not to focus on it (like I said, I don't have the book yet and am just going by the reviews). So . . . he's open to the idea of pre-Clovis (obviously) but doesn't automatically accept all claimed pre-Clovis sites as legitimate, even if competent people were involved?
Guess what? That's what all the rest of us do, also. When the Cerutti paper first dropped, my response was not "oh crap, does the dogma say I have to reject this?" (take a drink). No, it was this blog post. I'm just going to quote myself at length:
The 130,000 year-old date is way, way, way out there in terms of the accepted timeline for humans in the Americas. Does that mean the conclusions of the study are wrong? Of course not. And, honestly, I don't even necessarily subscribe to the often-invoked axiom that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." I think ordinary, sound evidence works just fine most of the time when you're operating within a scientific framework. Small facts can kill mighty theories if you phrase your questions in the right way.
It's the evidence, stupid.
Should archaeologists shift gears and start spending their time looking at those "missing" 100,000 years? I think many of us have our eyes wide open all the time. We understand the geological and sedimentological histories of the regions where we work. We know where there are deposits that are Holocene in age, Pleistocene in age, etc. We also communicate with those in other disciplines and members of the public who are out there scouring the earth all the time. Contrary to the "total destruction" hypothesis, there are many many places where sediments that are pre-Clovis in age remain intact. Some of those sediments have been shown to contain cultural materials that presumably relate to human occupations that pre-date Clovis. Many of those sites are places of active and ongoing investigation. If successful human societies were present in this hemisphere 100,000, 50,000, or 30,000 years ago, they would have left a pattern of sites from which we could learn about them. While I think it is unlikely that such a pattern exists, I don't think it is impossible. It is going to take evidence, however, to convince me that we have really failed to recognize such large pieces missing from the puzzle as 100,000-years-worth of human occupation or the fingerprints of an advanced, telekinesis-wielding, earth-girding super civilization.
Words words words. Blah blah blah.
I didn't write a single blog post in February or March. That's probably the longest I've ever gone without writing since I started blogging. As usual, it isn't because I haven't been doing stuff. If/when my blog dies it won't be because I don't have things to talk about. It will be because I don't have time to talk about them.
Here's a taste of what's been going on over the last couple of months.
Rabbits and a Snake
Our family got bigger this spring. We now live with three German Angora Rabbits (Eileen, Dolly, and Bruce) and a corn snake (Okie Junior). There are backstories, but those will have to wait for another time. Now I need to pack up some art for a display downtown, look over my lectures for next week, siphon the gasoline out of our old 4Runner before it heads to the junkyard, and maybe take a chainsaw to what remains of our rotted deck. And, oh yeah, Happy Holi!
And now you are up-to-date.
It has been a busy few weeks. As usual, I have more topics than time. At this point, I'm going to just accept that my blog sometimes functions as an open access journal. Here is the bullet point version of what I've been up to. We'll do art first, then archaeology.
The Jasper Artist of the Year Is . . . Not Me
As I wrote in December, I was one of three finalists nominated for Jasper Artist of the Year (in the visual arts category). The awards ceremony was last Friday. I did not win the award: that honor went to Trahern Cook. I met some new people, drank some wine, and had a good time (the picture above was taken there). Congratulations to all the winners!
New Pieces Over the Holidays
In addition to "Desire," I completed several other smallish pieces over the holiday break.
Fact Bucket Videos: Six Down, One to Go
I'm still working to finish up editing the student videos from my Forbidden Archaeology class last semester. I finished one on Atlantis last week and one on pyramids today. You can find them on my YouTube channel, along with videos about my archaeological fieldwork and my art.
New Grant For Collections Work
I'm happy to announce that I have received grant monies from the Archaeological Research Trust to continue inventorying and preliminary analysis of chipped stone projectile points from the Larry Strong Collection. You may remember me writing about working with the Early Archaic materials a while ago. I'm still working with those (more on that later), but now I'm going to move on in time and process the Middle and Late Archaic stuff. Part of the rationale is that I'll be dealing with those time periods in the materials we've been excavated at the field school.
South Carolina Archaeology Class: We're Making a Movie
I'm teaching South Carolina Archaeology (ANTH 321) this semester. The class is bigger than in years past. That's good from an enrollment standpoint, but a challenge from a teaching standpoint. In the spirit of experimentation, I decided to build in a class video project. We'll be making a video attempting to showcase the archaeology of this state. I've divided the students up into groups and given them topics (mostly organized chronologically) that they're responsible for. They're going to research their topics and develop proposals about what issues, artifacts, sites, and people should be included the video. Then we'll take it from there.
Today I submitted a grant proposal for systematic exploratory work on the deep deposits at 38FA608 (the field school site). We know now several things about the sediments below the Middle Archaic zones: (1) they're deep; (2) they're Late Pleistocene/Early Holocene in age; and (3) they contain artifacts. I don't believe I've mentioned it publicly, but I submitted a sample for OSL data from the deepest stratum we've documented so far (about 5m below the original surface) and it returned a result around the Last Glacial Maximum. Also, we've found an Early Archaic Kirk point in a disturbed part of the site. What all that means is that the landform did indeed exist at the end of the last Ice Age and (minimally) Early Archaic peoples were using it. In other words, there's a really good potential for some very high integrity buried archaeology there. Fingers crossed.
In other news . . . our 2003 4Runner finally suffered a terminal injury. And I'm tearing out our rotted deck. And I've started working a rabbit sculpture that's big enough to sit on. It will have a tractor seat. And a gear shift. And a dashboard.
And now you are up to date.
Flavia Lovatelli and I have several things in common: (1) we both live in Columbia; (2) we both do art using discarded junk; and (3) we're both finalists for the Jasper Artist of the Year award. We also both ran "summer selfie" contests last that were largely ignored by the public. The result is that we won each other's contests, which means we're making each other art.
We decided that we'd make each other the "same" thing. Flavia picked the subject: crows. I picked the title "Desire." I don't know when they'll be done, but I do know we've both started. I settled on an idea and started putting pieces together earlier in the week. I know that Flavia's got a least a couple of coats of paint down. That's about all I can say at this point. Maybe we can exchange the pieces at the awards ceremony.
In other news: the domestication of the dog continues unabated. Have a nice weekend!
One of the most gratifying personal aspects of moving to Columbia has been having the time, space, and resources to do art. I've got a notebook, some tools, a supportive family, a half of a garage, plenty of ideas, and a bunch of neighbors who give me their junk. In the last couple of years those ingredients have let me go places I never thought I'd be able to go. I've won things, sold things, met some great people, and had a lot of fun in the process.
When I started messing around with sculpture about ten years ago (in the capacity that I could at the time), memory and sentimentality were core components of what I was interested in. Those remained central thoughts as I ramped up here in Columbia, and were the organizing theme of the "Afterburner" show I had at Tapp's in the spring of 2017. Over the last couple of years I have continued chasing those feelings while trying to lean forward, pushing my vision, improving my technical skills, and expanding the range of materials I work with.
The end of this semester was a busy one for our family, and I found myself working more in the evenings than on the weekends. After I finished "Passenger" in November I worked mostly on two pieces I had started earlier during the summer: "Painted Swan" and a dancing fox I'm calling "Kiss Goodbye." It was while working on the fox over the course of several rainy evenings listening to the radio that I realized that I'm at a pivot point in my art: the Afterburner series is over. Fifty is a nice round number.
I based the posture of the fox on a line drawing I found online. I wanted the animal to be light, dynamic, and playful. And I wanted the base to be the opposite. The fox is springing off a dead weight (an engine block), saying goodbye to a heavy, broken mass that won't ever move again.
As an archaeologist, I take it as axiomatic that you can't understand the present without knowing something about the past. The past provides context, texture, richness, and direction. Memories of the past are important. But they can also be toxic. They can be limiting when they become an obligation. Sometimes it's best to let them be what they are and move on -- take the power but leave behind the handcuffs.
Over the last few years I have developed my own style, created a cast of characters, and scratched out -- though both creation and discovery -- a vague grammar of symbols, shapes, and colors. I have a lot of ideas and a lot of energy, and I feel like I'll be able to both harness and unleash a lot more of both if I let myself out of the memory box. And so I'm out. The memories are there, but I'm going to attempt to defang them. Let's see what happens next.
Here is a video:
I wanted to pass on the online version of this article ("The Fine Scale of Time" by Megan Sexton) that ran in the USC Times earlier this fall. It's a short piece about my work at 38FA608. The photo is me examining some of the conjoining lithic debris from the Guilford-age deposit at the site. Enjoy!
I'm happy to announce that "Passenger," my 10'-story-bear-with-butterfly-wings, has been accepted into the 2019 ArtFields competition. It's an honor to be included, and somewhat of a validation of the amount of time and energy I put into the piece. The idea percolated for months (years?) before I began bringing it into reality last May. I sweated over it all summer and we went through several love/hate cycles together. I'm glad it's in.
Since I finished the piece in November it has been gathering leaves in the driveway behind my house. I walk by it almost every day and barely notice it. It's a strange feeling to go from thinking about and struggling with something almost every day to forgetting it's there. Especially when it's a 10' bear with butterfly wings.
If you like art and you live in the region, I hope you'll visit ArtFields in Lake City this spring -- it's a really cool event and you'll see a lot of fantastic artwork. I hope "Passenger" ends up somewhere in town where you couldn't miss it if you tried.
A final plug: voting is still open for Jasper Project Artist of the Year. I've been nominated in the Visual Arts category. If you like my artwork, please take a moment and vote for me!
Three years ago today, I was cleaning the kitchen floor in anticipation of the arrival of relatives for the holidays. Through Facebook I became aware of J. Hutton Pulitzer's ludicrous claim that a ""100% confirmed" Roman sword had been recovered from a shipwreck off of Oak Island. The debacle that followed remains, in my opinion, a great example of how facts, logic, and reality can triumph over lies, nonsense, and fantasy in real time. Swordgate remains the most fun I've ever had dealing with pseudoarchaeology online. I can't imagine it will ever be repeated, which is why it's worth remembering and celebrating.
The final chapter on Swordgate remains to be written. There are still a few swords that we're aware of that we don't have many details about, and we're still missing the real "smoking gun" to nail down exactly when and where these Fake Hercules Swords were first produced. Without a doubt, however, they are all modern creations. There is and never was a "Naples Museum sword." The sword purportedly found on Oak Island didn't come from a shipwreck, was not covered in gold, did not have magical navigational powers, and it is not made using Roman-era metallurgical methods. The sword will never appear in history books. There will never be a "White Paper," and you will probably never get an admission from the principal proponent of the sword that the whole thing was a big pile of baloney. C'est la vie.
All views expressed in my blog posts are my own. The views of those that comment are their own. That's how it works.
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