Rather than write about it, I made a video to demonstrate my point:
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.
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.
My review of Lost City, Found Pyramid (2016, edited by Jeb Card and David S. Anderson) has been published in the July issue of American Antiquity. Like most of American Antiquity's content, unfortunately, the review is in a "member's only" area not accessible to the public.
(Side note: I wonder if it would be feasible for the SAA to have a cut-rate "non-professional" membership rate that could open the content of the journal to a much wider segment of the public? What if membership rates and benefits stayed the same for those of us in academia but there was a lower tier -- say $5 or $10 per year -- that was open to anyone who wanted to access journal content but not go to meetings, etc.? I think we'd be doing ourselves a big favor by working harder to expose the general public to what it is we actually do and talk about.)
I can't print the whole review, obviously, but here is my first paragraph:
"Lost City, Found Pyramid is about understanding and engaging what Kenneth Feder (following Glyn Daniel) affectionately terms “bullshit archaeology.” (I am more polite than Feder, so I’ll use the term “pseudoarchaeology.”) It’s timely and relevant: while current events have focused the public on the importance of actively defending our system for creating an evidence-based reality, those of us who track pseudoarchaeology know that the “alternative facts” and “fake news” are not new at all. "
I liked the book, and I enjoyed reading each of the chapters. The University of Alabama Press correctly describes the book as "A collection of twelve engaging and insightful essays" that "does far more than argue for the simple debunking of false archaeology." The strength of the volume clearly lies with its emphasis on the “how” and “why” aspects of the creation, packaging, and consumption of pseudoarchaeological claims. Much less attention is paid to the "so what" questions. There surely could be, and should be, a companion volume that focuses on illuminating why the simple dismissal of pseudoarchaeology by professionals as "all in good fun" is both naive and (one could argue) unethical.
From time to time I get contacted about potentially playing the archaeologist in this or that reality television production. It was flattering the first time it happened. Now I find it to be annoying.
To be clear, I'm not against the idea that professional archaeologists can do good by appearing on television. I'm an advocate of professionals engaging with the public and being part of the conversation about what archaeology is and what we do and do not know about the human past. A quick look at the proliferation of pseudo-archaeology online and on TV will tell you that our de facto strategy of non-engagement hasn't worked particularly well. We need to be in the mix.
So, sure, if the right project comes along I'm open to it.
Last week I got an email "reaching out because we’re currently working on an adventure show and we’re looking to cast an archaeologist, anthropologist, or adventurer."
The email explained that they were going to look for another "lost city," in a part of the world where I have no experience or expertise.
Thanks, but no thanks. What could I possible contribute to this project except an unmerited gloss of credibility because I have letters after my name?
Maybe the food and the scenery would be nice.
If you're a television producer and really want real archaeologists to be excited to participate in what you're doing, you'll have to actually do some work. Believe it or not, most of us don't want to be on television just for the heck of it. I hope that someday someone can figure out how to blend responsible archaeological science with a hook that can draw in viewers and sell enough advertising to create a good program. That would be a nut worth cracking.
Good luck finding that "lost city." I have other things to do.
The Alt-Right's Cartoon Conceptions of the Human Past: Now Do You Understand Why the Fetishization of "Fringe" Ideas Matters?
I hate to be the "we told you so" guy, but that's what I'm going to be:
We told you so.
Those of us who have studied the recent resurgence of pseudo-scientific ideas about the human past have been saying for years that this stuff isn't just entertainment. Conceptions about what happened in the past matter deeply to the present, as our orientation toward the world (and particularly its peoples) necessarily depends on an understanding of how the world got to be what it is. We explain the present by reference to the past. That's why getting it right matters. That's why we've developed scientific methods for understanding the past that employ mechanisms to determine if our interpretations are right or wrong.
With the Trump administration barely a week old, you're already seeing seeing the effects of disregarding evidence-based reality and crafting federal policy based on ideologies about the human past. So . . . it's "funny" when it's on the History Channel but not so "funny" when it's keeping real humans detained in airports indefinitely.
As alarming as it is to see it materialize at the highest levels of our government, the white supremacist ideology that we're now watching surface is nothing new. It's been around since long before any of us was born -- at least since the age of European exploration and colonialism- -- and has manifest itself in different forms at different times and places. The "white people are naturally the best people" assertion has been a steady constant in pseudo-scientific claims about the human past from the early 1800's right up to the present day. Some of the current proponents of Victorian-age baloney ideas about Atlantis, Aryans, giants, and the pre-Columbian colonization of the Americas by white people are unabashed racists and neo-Nazis. And now we've elevated them from selling factually inaccurate, heavily plagiarized books on CreateSpace to whispering in the president's ear.
If you want to know what the alt-right thinks about the origins of race and what it has to do with government and economics, listen to this podcast titled "The Origins of the White Man." In it, Richard Spencer (an alt-right figure most famous for leading Trump supporters in a Nazi salute immediately following the election, and, more recently, getting punched in the face twice in one day while celebrating Trump's inauguration) interviews Kevin MacDonald (a retired psychology professor and current editor of the Occidental Observer, a white nationalist publication).
The pair discuss the origins of white people, what makes white people special, and why they think white people need to stick together to protect white people interests. What was most astounding to me was not the factual inaccuracies (there were many) or the ridiculous facade of scholarship manufactured by having a former professor pontificate on a subject he doesn't really understand, but the cartoonish quality of the conclusions of these clowns. It's a ridiculous conversation, only one step removed from attributing the perceived greatness of white people to their special origins in an Aryan Atlantis. Try having a 45-minute conversation with a four-year-old about how electricity works -- maybe that would be a good simulation of what's it like for a professional anthropologist/archaeologist to listen to this nonsense. Unsurprisingly, the origins story that they fetishize isn't original, but resonates with white supremacist mythologies that have been around for a long time (and that constitute the barely-submerged thesis of many "alternative archaeology" programs promoted in places like The History Channel).
One thing I did learn from listening to the interview is that the white supremacist ideology of the alt-right does have a logical connection to their ideas about government, economics, and immigration. If your reaction to the anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies that we're seeing is that "it's all about hate," I will tell that it's more than that. I encourage you to listen to the interview that I linked to above and hear for yourself how the alt-right's ideas about race, society, government, and economics are inter-linked. Speaking in the context of claims that the success of white European societies can be attributed to their tripartite structure (a merchant class, a warrior class, and "those who pray"), Spencer identifies what he thinks is wrong with the United States (about 25:00 in):
"We've lost that . . . maybe that Aryan or warrior component, that type of person who wants to guard the gates, who is willing to confront 'the other," . . . who has a kind of meritocratic as opposed to egalitarian worldview. We basically have societies that are focused on a kind of spiritualism that says this egalitarian morality that we all embrace, but also gives a tremendous amount of power (far too much, in my opinion) to the bourgeois element -- people who think in terms of buying and selling. Conservatives are really excited about taxes and small business regulation. You know, maybe they're right about all that stuff, but who cares? We've taken the power away from those types of people who naturally want to rule -- that Aryan spirit."
That quote, I think, helps explain why traditional Republican approaches to "pro-business, pro-growth" policies have been relegated to the kids' table while the white supremacists in the Oval Office try to engineer a re-making of government that restores a mythological tripartite balance to our society. They see liberal immigration policy as something deferential to the role of the merchant class and harmful to the cause of producing an ethnically-strong nation. They see in Trump someone who will use flamboyant signature to "guard the gates" and elevate those in the warrior class who are willing to confront "the other."
It's about intolerance, sure, but it's a philosophical, strategic intolerance that goes well beyond some kind of visceral reaction to all non-white people. I think we need to understand that. And I don't think it's irrelevant that the blueprint for society that we're now seeing stamped across our political and economic landscape is drawn directly from claims about the human past that are demonstrably baloney. I winced when Rachel Maddow showed Spencer's post-election speech and kept smirking at his use of the phrase "Children of the Sun." Neither she nor any other member of the mainstream media caught the deep historical connection to the white supremacist rhetoric of hyperdiffusionism. If you don't know what it is, look it up. Fringe history is in the White House now, and you should know where the "harmless" ideas come from -- it matters.
This morning on one of the Facebook groups I follow I saw this image, labeled simply "Russia:"
The discussion about the stone leap-frogged right over the authenticity issue, skipping straight to the part where we muse about the anti-gravity technologies that Ice Age civilizations must have had to move such an enormous rock.
The picture isn't real, of couse. It took less than 60 seconds of searching on my phone while having a cup of coffee to find that the stone shown in the image is actually a quarried block at the Inca site of Ollantaytambo, Peru. I found a nice picture of the block on this website. It's a big block of stone, sure, but nowhere near as large as the image that was manipulated to produce false "evidence" to use as clickbait. Ethnography and achaeology shows us that people in non-industrial societies all over the world were and are able to move rocks of this size using human power and ingenuity.
I wonder when and if the world's respect for reality will re-emerge.
We're coming up on the first anniversary of Swordgate, the can of worms that was opened up on December 16, 2015, by the announcement of the "100% confirmed Roman sword" from Nova Scotia. There's all kinds of celebration planning going on over at the Fake Hercules Swords group on Facebook. It should be a good time.
While reasonable people quickly accepted the mounting evidence that the sword was bogus, there are still a few that keep hanging on to the dream. I've been involved in an ongoing discussion in the Ancient Origins group with someone who still insists that Hutton Pulitzer's XRF data are in his "sword report" and still insists that there is an original sword in the "Naples Museum." I've seen evidence of neither of those things, but have been told for the umpteenth time that I'm wrong.
In case any of the purported XRF data ever do materialize, I want everyone to watch this short video again. This was posted by Pulitzer right after the St. Mary's University test results were aired on The Curse of Oak Island. In this video, he proclaims that his data were very different than those obtained by St. Mary's University (his results "do not show anywhere near that zinc").
Eventually, Pulitzer produced that mess of a "sword report" in a long-winded attempt to show that high-zinc brass could be Roman. No version of that report that I've seen contains the XRF data he talks about in the video. As I wrote at the time, the argument in the "sword report" is a sleight of hand to deflect from the issue that he has never released his own data: is the sword bronze or brass? is the metal low zinc or high zinc? Does he defend his own data, or is he interpreting the St. Mary's University results?
I don't think we'll ever see Pulitzer's XRF data because they can't be consistent with both storylines.
And the last I heard, he was claiming that the Italian eBay sword was actually a sword from the "Naples Museum." It's not, but thanks for playing.
Prove me wrong on either count, please.
If you have anything more than a passing interest in understanding the "fringe" world, you're familiar with the Nephilim. These offspring of angels and humans, despite being mentioned by name only three times in the bible (Genesis 6, Ezekiel 32, and Numbers 13), are a growth industry. Their resume is no longer limited to serving as the whip hand of the conspiracy-rich bowels of occult Christianity but now also includes significant penetration into popular culture. They've been adopted by vampire enthusiasts and they've got their own band and a role-playing game. The concept of human-supernatural sex was given some good PR by this Katy Perry song.
While the Nephilim haven't reached Ancient Aliens and Atlantis status yet, they're clearly going in the right direction. At this rate, they'll probably be openly fielding political candidates by the time the 2020 election cycle begins.
Expanding the Nephilim franchise won't be without it's tensions. In traditional circles, Nephilim (at least in Genesis 6:4) are thought to be the offspring of male angels and female humans. Those "mighty men" apparently continued to pass on the supernatural genes, corrupting the human bloodline with their Nephilim DNA (albeit in a more diluted form as time went on). While I'm not sure what Nephilim fundamentalists think of the possibility of female Nephilim in this scenario, market realists will immediately recognize that limiting the illicit/supernatural Nephilim sex fantasies to males on females (and males on animals, as the case may be) will constrain growth. For those of you worried about the stagnation of Nephilim market capitalization, I'm happy to report a data point that suggests the forces of democratization continue to gain ground:
-The excavation at the purported site of the "Zarahemla Temple," which I first wrote about here, has apparently already taken place.
As I indicated in my last post on the topic, all indications were that the "temple" property was purchased in January of 2015 (for $300,000) with intent to excavate in the spring of 2015. The (now-defunct) webpage for the project proclaimed that a professional ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey had identified the location of a rectangular wooden "temple structure" with walls extending 5-22' below the ground surface. Dr. John Melancon, ridiculously billed as "one of the few American archaeologists fully certified to conduct digs in Israel because of his training in Hebrew archaeology" was supposed to head up the investigation.
I found a series of photos of the excavation on the Hidden in the Heartland group on Facebook. The photos were posted over a period of several days in May of 2015. They show Wayne May, Melancon (I think), a camera crew, and a gaggle of volunteers excavating in a field. Unsurprisingly, the photos do not show the discovery or excavation of a 20' wooden wall associated with a burned temple. The only "artifacts" pictured are a table full unidentifiable rocks, including a small round one which seems to have been the star of the show (many pictures of that). Over the course of several days, the strategy apparently moved from hand excavation blocks (n = 2?), to dowsing, to bulldozing, all apparently in effort to locate a wall that's not there.
If you enjoy looking at photos of a sloppy, sandy excavation that careens from optimism to desperation over the course of just a few days, I encourage you to go and look at the photos yourself (I suspect they won't be there for long). Here are few samples:
Anyone with any serious archaeological background will immediately recognize this effort for what it is: an undisciplined treasure hunt. Here's my summary on what I think happened (I wasn't there, of course, so this is conjecture). The goal of this effort was to find a buried wall that someone told them was there (based on GPR data that they didn't understand). The effort begins with using actual tape measures, nails, and string to lay out excavation blocks. These blocks were placed in areas where they should have come down on the walls of Zarahemla. After starting relatively carefully, however, impatience quickly sets in when all that materializes is more and more sand. Various additional "technologies" (i.e., metal detectors and dowsing rods) are employed to solve the mystery of where the walls are, and the units are aggressively dug downward because surely those walls are down there somewhere. This effort begins by tunneling down by hand in the excavation blocks, but even eventually impatience wins here also and mechanical excavation equipment is desperately used to blow a big crater into the earth. And still there are no walls. And so the dirt is pushed back in the holes and everyone goes home.
Or perhaps I'm totally wrong and this was a very careful, precise effort that located and responsibly documented all kinds of cultural wonders. There was film crew there, so maybe the "temple excavations" appear in one of the episodes of "Hidden in the Heartland." I hope they do -- then I can see if I'm right.
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