I'm happy to announce that Jim Vieira will be doing his second tour of duty as a guest in my Forbidden Archaeology class. He'll be with us for two class periods in mid-October. During the first class period he'll give his presentation; during the second the students will ask him questions. In between class periods he and I will discuss double rows of teeth, the secrets of the vast academic conspiracy of which I am an important part, and great moments in the history of stone masonry. I'll also make him walk through my art exhibit downtown.
The second student project video from this year's Forbidden Archaeology class is now posted on YouTube. In this video, three students discuss some of the evidence that's bandied about for the extra-terrestrial origin of the Anunnaki. They've already gotten their first thumbs down. Enjoy!
As I mentioned earlier, we're making videos in this year's iteration of my Forbidden Archaeology course. The twenty students in the class split up into seven groups and have been working on developing their topics, doing their research, and preparing their scripts.
Last Monday, we taped the speaking parts for the first video and I edited it together over the break. The videos briefly explores the history of ideas/claims that the earth is hollow, and then discusses reasons why that can't be true. Here it is:
I had several goals in mind when I designed this video project. First, it was one opportunity (among several in the course) for students to go through the process of understanding the history/context of a claim and evaluating it based on evidence. Second, I wanted them to think about how to present a message in the format I gave them and all the constraints that come with it. Third, I wanted to produce what I call "persistent resources" that can live independently online and be found by curious people looking for information. I chose the video format because my sense is that we can reach a different audience than would be possible using writing.
Like many of the things I've done so far in my brief teaching career, this is an experimental project. I hope these videos turn out well, I hope the students get something out of it, and I hope they prove to be useful resources for others as well.
You may have noticed that I haven't been regularly blogging about the course this year. That's by design. After wearing myself out the first time around in 2016, I decided I would put less effort into intensive public/fringe interaction. I think it has worked out well. I'm enjoying teaching the course much more. There will be still be student writing online to read eventually, and we'll be making videos this year. I'm just not killing myself to invite everyone else into the classroom.
On Friday we finished our section on Atlantis in this year's edition of Forbidden Archaeology. We spent most of the class watching and discussing a talk by Graham Hancock titled "Is the House of History Built on Foundations of Sand?" I wanted the students to watch carefully as Hancock made his case, asking them to think about his logic, the structure of the talk, and the evidence he presented to support his claims (many pieces of which they have already been exposed to).
I have not paid a whole lot of attention to Hancock in the past. I haven't completely read any of his books, and I think that this was the first time I have ever listened to an entire talk. He spent the first portion of the talk discussing the recent evidence for the hypothesis that an impact by a comet or meteor triggered the Younger Dryas. (The Younger Dryas is an anomalous cold period that occurred about 12,900-11,700 years ago during the transition from glacial to inter-glacial conditions.) He spent the last part of the talk highlighting some purported evidence (e.g., Gobekli Tepe, the Sphinx) supporting the claim that refugees from Atlantis occupied the Near East after fleeing their island's destruction.
The linkage that Hancock makes between the hypothesized extra-terrestrial impact that triggered the Younger Dryas and the destruction of Atlantis is, when you listen closely, peculiar. Following a quotation of Plato's description of Atlantis disappearing into the sea "in a single day and night of misfortune," Hancock describes the cataclysmic effects of extra-terrestrial impacts on the earth. He first discusses the idea that a comet wiped out the dinosaurs. He then moves on to the Younger Dryas impact research, repeatedly referring to "the cataclysm" of the impact.
So a comet or meteor wiped out at Atlantis?
No, the dates are all wrong for that. The Younger Dryas starts at about 12,900 BP (10,950 BC). Believers set the date of the destruction of Atlantis at 11,550 BP (9,600 BC). So, apparently, all the extra-terrestrial fireworks did nothing to the Atlanteans. They prospered for another 1300 years, conquering the world and mining orichalcum while the planet suffered a return to full glacial conditions.
After all the attention paid to violent cataclysm, Hancock actually attributes the destruction of Atlantis to sea level rise at the end of the Younger Dryas. Sea levels are lower during glacial periods because more of the Earth's water is tied up in ice sheets. Sea levels rise in inter-glacial periods because more of the Earth's water is in liquid form. As far as the culprit in Atlantis demise at 9,600 BC, Hancock points specifically to "a dramatic pulse of sea level rise" known as Meltwater Pulse 1b.
It will probably not surprise you to learn that, although there is debate about the magnitude, timing, and cause of Meltwater Pulse 1b, no scientist thinks it was so sudden or so rapid that it could have swallowed up a continent "in a single day and night of misfortune." Estimates of sea level rise range from about 6 to 28 meters, occurring over a period of several hundred to over a thousand calendar years. At least one study suggests the pulse didn't even start until hundreds of years after the purported submergence of Atlantis.
In other words, the events/processes of neither the beginning nor the end of the Younger Dryas appear to be a good fit for the Atlantis story. The hypothesized cataclysmic impact is too early, and the sea level rise is too slow. You can throw all the science in a blender and talk about cataclysms and sea level rise, but there's no science on the Pleistocene/Holocene transition that I know of that is concordant with any aspect of the Atlantis tale.
Just as I did in 2016, I started off the first day of Forbidden Archaeology with a brief pre-course questionnaire to try to get some insight into the level of familiarity of my students with various relevant television programs and topics. I kept the television programs the same as in 2016, but added/deleted some of the topics to more closely reflect what we'll be talking about this semester.
Here are the "familiarity" data for television programs from both today and 2016:
As is plain to see, the report from the class of 2018 is pretty similar to the report from the class of 2016. Ancient Aliens has clearly penetrated this demographic to a much greater degree than any of the programs, with over half of the class members (n=19 in attendance) reporting that he/she has watched at least one episode. The majority of the class had not even heard of the other three programs. Two students account for the four "watched it regularly" responses.
I also asked about the same four publications as I did in 2016: Chariots of the Gods! (Von Daniken), Fingerprints of the Gods (Hancock), Forbidden Archaeology (Cremo), and Ancient American magazine. Most of the students report never hearing of any of them, and those that have heard of them report that they've never read them.
Here are the data from the "circle what you're familiar with" questions:
There are a few things of note in the 2018 data. Not surprising is that Atlantis is the clear winner in terms of familiarity: they've all hear of it. In contrast, no-one was familiar with the term "OOPArt," and only one person reported having heard of Lemuria. There is a fair amount of familiarity with terms like "aryans," "Rh factor," and "Mound Builders," which does not surprise me because most of the students are anthropology majors.
I was surprised at the number of affirmative answers for "Nephilim," "elongated skulls," and "Nibiru." It's possible that familiarity with those terms is largely due to Ancient Aliens, as half the class reports seeing the program at least once. I don't think that would explain "Flood geology," however. I'll have to dig deeper on Monday to learn more about the origins of their exposure to these concepts.
Summer is winding down and I'll be back in the classroom in just a couple of weeks. This fall, I'm teaching Forbidden Archaeology again. In this second iteration, I'll be making some significant changes from the way I structured the course the first time around. As the rubber begins hitting the road (i.e., it's time to start working on the syllabus) I'm looking for ways to keep the course fresh and interesting for both me and the students.
Our topical focus this year will be "Cataclysm and the Lost World." I tried to cover three topical areas the first time around, and it felt like too much. So I decided to go with a single theme this year and use that as a lens to explore the social/political/historical threads that wind through various claims that (1) the cultural/natural world was a qualitatively different place in the ancient past; and (2) that "lost world" world was destroyed through some kind of incredible catastrophe.
As I start to think about what specific claims to focus on, I'm struck (again) by the overall staleness of the fringe world. There's plenty of "new" material out there, but much of it mixes around the same basket of stupid garbage that's been circulating since the mid-1800s. While there is still great value in going through these ideas and understanding (1) where they come from, (2) how they can be shown to be wrong, and (3) why people still cling to them, it would also be nice to explore something that's not essentially a re-casting of Victorian baloney. If you know of anything that really strikes you as a new claim based on new evidence that fits within the theme of the course, please let me know with a comment.
My wife thinks that finding a new nemesis would help to energize me. She may be right. It would fun to engage in a focused, prolonged analysis/debate of a specific claim or set of claims that revolve around material evidence. The key term here is "material evidence:" in order to have a meaningful back-and-forth, there has to be some kind of "thing" about which a claim/interpretation is made. One good artifact in archaeological context is all you really need to make a claim that actually has some teeth . . . so what have you got? What's the artifact that should change everything? (Note: discredited Roman sword advocates and rune stone apologists need not apply.)
I have decided to build my Fall 2018 Forbidden Archaeology class (now ANTH 227) around the theme "Cataclysm and the Lost World." We'll be exploring a variety of claims connected to one another through the general ideas that (1) the cultural/natural world was a qualitatively different place in the ancient past; and (2) that "lost world" world was destroyed through some kind of incredible catastrophe.
As in the first iteration of the course, the main goal will be to build critical thinking/communication skills. Credible ideas about the human past can withstand scrutiny and challenges, while incorrect ideas can be shown to be incorrect. My goal is to give the students the confidence, tools, and information they need to critically evaluate ideas about the past. And have fun doing it.
I have yet to narrow down the exact topics we'll be covering. The theme, obviously, provides lots of potential avenues down which to explore: e.g., Atlantis, gold-mining Annunaki from Nibiru, pyramid power plants, the pre-Flood world, etc. Within any and all of these topics, one can evaluate specific claims and explore the various motivations for creating/maintaining narratives about the past that are not supported by facts.
The structure of the course will be somewhat different than the first time around. There will still be student blog posts and I hope I can arrange for a guest or two, but I'd like to try to build some of the structure around some other activities. I've got some ideas that I'll need to think through, and some of what will be possible or impossible may depend upon enrollment numbers. I'll keep you posted as things develop!
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