Multiculturalism, Cult Archaeology, and Pseudoscience

Abstract: Aspects of Afrocentrism have great similarity to cult archaeology and scientific creationism as described previously in this volume. This chapter will briefly describe some Afrocentric claims and discuss why they are erroneous. It will also describe the similarity of the authors’ techniques, methods, and motivations to those of “scientific” creationists and cult archaeologists and propose some reasons for why these claims persist and spread.

From : Cult Archaeology and Creationism: Understanding Pseudoscientific Beliefs about the Past, edited by Francis B.Harrold and Raymond E.Eve, An expanded edition, University of Iowa Press, 1995, 134-151

A number of efforts have been made in the last few years to increase the multicultural content of public education and particularly to replace Eurocentric content with other “centrics.” The best-developed and most widely diffused of these schools is Afrocentrism, and it will be my primary focus. Other ethnic groups have not developed or widely implemented their version of multiculturalism and will only be mentioned briefly. I will focus primarily on Afrocentric scientific claims and a particular example of cult archaeology because these are the claims that are most comparable to those of “scientific” creationists and of other cult archaeologists, and because scientific claims are easier to handle epistemologically than historical or literary claims. Aspects of Afrocentrism have great similarity to cult archaeology and scientific creationism as described previously in this volume. This chapter will briefly describe some Afrocentric claims and discuss why they are erroneous. It will also describe the similarity of the authors’ techniques, methods, and motivations to those of “scientific” creationists and cult archaeologists and propose some reasons for why these claims persist and spread.

Claims can be analyzed in terms of myths – not in the vernacular sense of “not true” but as myths are defined in anthropology. Myths are the basis of all religions because they are “authoritative accounts of great foundational forces that generate and govern the world” (Paden 1988:69). Myths are also “mythic charters” that explain and justify the origins of the world, life on earth, and other aspects of the human experience. A key characteristic of myths is that they cannot be proved or disproved. Myths are purely a matter of belief. Thus, a biblical fundamentalist cannot conceive that the Genesis account could be disproved because that would negate the existence of God. On the other hand, a biblical fundamentalist cannot prove the literal interpretation of the Bible without referring to the Bible itself. For many years, even in the West, the world was explained primarily on a religious (mythical) basis. However, the success of science and technology in the last century has led to the primacy of science as a method for explaining the world. Because of this, there are many attempts to use the prestige of science to “prove” the validity of myths, for example, the Genesis version of creation, the biological superiority of white or of black people, or making Egypt the sole source of all civilization. Most of these attempts are pseudoscientific and rely for their acceptance on the high level of scientific illiteracy in the United States, as documented in previous chapters.

Mythic Charters

At the turn of the century, hyperdiffusionist European scholars argued that all civilization began in Egypt and diffused to the rest of the world (Churchward 1913, 1921; Massey 1907; Smith 1923; Perry 1923). These were racist authors who considered the ancient Egyptians to be Caucasians. Afrocentrists have adopted the entire concept, but they claim that the ancient Egyptians were black. Afrocentrists claim that the Greeks (and, therefore, the West) stole all their knowledge from Egypt (James 1988; Ben-Jochannan 1971) and that a black Egyptian civilization was the impetus for other civilizations such as those of the New World (Van Sertima 1976; Van Sertima. ed. 1992, India, and China (Van Sertima 1985).

I will here deal only with the claim that black Nubians came to the New World and were the crucial impetus to the Olmecs and the subsequent civilization in Mesoamerica.

Like “scientific” creationists, Afrocentrists have made vigorous efforts to introduce their beliefs into the science curriculum of the schools. Their primary vehicle has been the pseudoscientific Portland Baseline Essay, “African and African-American Contributions in Science” (Adams 1990), which is used or has been adopted by a number of large urban school districts, such as Detroit, Atlanta, and Milwaukee (Ortiz de Montellano 1991, 1992). This essay makes claims reminiscent of Russian efforts during the Cold War: that ancient Egyptians were the first to discover various modern scientific concepts, such as Darwin’s theory of evolution, electroplating of gold, the philosophical aspects of quantum theory, and glider flight (Adams 1990). A much more dangerous characteristic of the essay is Adams’ advocacy of religious and New Age concepts as an integral part of science: “For the ancient Egyptians as well as contemporary Africans world-wide, there is no distinction and thus no separation between science and religion” (Adams 1990:S-14). Adams (1990) argues that Egyptian science and technology surpassed modern science because the Egyptians used a superior paradigm, Maat, that involved the acknowledgment of a Supreme Consciousness of Creative Force (i.e., a deity) and the existence of “transmaterial causation” (i.e., supernatural causes). Further, Adams (1990:S-14) states that:

many Western scientists conduct their process of science from a totally different ideological basis. One which has, as its main concern, non-ethical considerations such as cost effectiveness.

It is certainly true that Maat is antithetical to Western science – not for Adams’ reasons, but because it is an attempt to teach that religion, under the guise of “Egyptian science,” is science. Moreover, Judge Overton in McLean v. Arkansas, the “scientific” creation case, explicitly ruled that science can only be guided and explained by reference to natural law and excludes references to the supernatural (Anonymous 1982). Adams also claims that astrology is valid and that there is a scientific basis for paranormal phenomena, such as precognition, psychokinesis, and psychoenergetics (for critiques of the Portland Science Baseline Essay, see Ortiz de Montellano [1991, 1992], Klotz [1993], and Rowe [n.d.]).

A group of Afrocentrists, whom I call melanists, proposes a “scientific” explanation for the superiority of a black Egyptian civilization. Their argument purports that melanin, the universal pigment, has extraordinary properties which make black persons with a lot of melanin biologically superior to white people (Welsing 1991a; King 1991; Barnes 1988). Melanin is supposed to absorb and interconvert all wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum, act as a superconductor, and be crucial to the control of human memory and mental activity. This is the “scientific” reason for Egypt’s role as the sole source of civilization: ancient Egyptians were black, and their melanin endowed them with superior mental powers. According to melanists, people with a lot of melanin have paranormal abilities, are more spiritual, and have more “soul” (Barnes 1988:39, 60; King 1991:72; Welsing 1991a:171). These theories are the underpinning for claims made in the Baseline Essays by Adams, who is also a member of the melanist group.

Melanists make even more extreme claims: that George Washington Carver’s successful discovery of useful plant products happened because melanin enabled him to talk to plants (Welsing 1987); that the blood pressure in African Americans is directly correlated to the depth of skin color because their melanin detects the energy emitted by people under stress (Welsing 1991a:237); and that the Dogon of Mali and the ancient Egyptians knew of the existence of a star invisible to the naked eye, Sirius B, because their melanin functioned as an astronomical detector (Welsing 1987). Adams (1990:S-60) makes the same claim but omits melanin or any other explanation. An earlier Adams (1983) publication attributed this knowledge to the use of telescopes by the Egyptians; he claimed that Russians discovered such telescopic lenses in Egypt.

The crucial flaw in all these arguments is the use of the name “melanin” to identify two completely different compounds. Neuromelanin is the compound found in the brain; eumelanin is present in the skin. Any purported properties of “melanin” involving mental activity would involve neuromelanin, not eumelanin. The two melanins are synthesized by completely different mechanisms, and there is no correlation whatsoever between eumelanin and neuromelanin. White albinos have a normal amount of neuromelanin, and, because the amount of neuromelanin is directly proportional to age, an old albino has more neuromelanin than a black teenager. The claims made by melanists refer to neuromelanin, not to skin melanin (for a detailed critique of the melanin question see Ortiz de Montellano 1993; Graves 1993). Practically all of their assertions about neuromelanin are false; even if they were all true, all humans would have the same abilities, regardless of skin color.

Anthropologists have worked for a long time to refute the existence of biological races. We are all Homo sapiens sapiens. Most of the genetic diversity in humankind is due to differences between individuals belonging to the same “race” or tribe, while only 10 percent of the total diversity occurs between “racial” groups (Latter 1980; Lewontin 1972). The Afrocentric emphasis on race and melanin invokes an outmoded and useless concept (Graves 1993).

The Afrocentrists’ fixation on biological races actually makes their task more difficult. The claim that Egyptian culture is African is quite supportable on its merits. No one disputes that Egypt is in Africa or that its civilization had elements in common with sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in religion. However, the Afrocentrists claim that Egyptian civilization was a “black” civilization, and this is not accurate. Even if “races” existed, the Afrocentrists’ claim that Egypt was a “black” society (with the connotation that Egyptians looked like African Americans) is wrong. Genetically, Egyptians are not closely related to sub-Saharan Africans (Brace et al. 1993). Most scholars believe that ancient Egyptians looked pretty much like today’s Egyptians – that is, they were brown, becoming darker as they approached the Sudan (Snowden 1970, 1992; Smedley 1993). Egypt was a multiracial society that did not discriminate internally on the basis of color but looked down on all foreigners regardless of color (Yurco 1989; Snowden 1970, 1989, 1992; Young 1992; Levine 1992; Coleman 1992; Kelly 1991; for a fuller discussion, see Ortiz de Montellano 1993).


Pseudoscientific creationism is not unique to Afrocentrists. Some Native Americans claim that the peopling of the New World via migration through the Bering Strait is just a plot by Establishment archaeologists and a theory without evidence (Forbes 1973; see McGhee 1989). Some textbooks on multicultural education endorse the idea of teaching that:

Indians . . . evolved or were created in the Americas (Bennett 1990:287)

Goodman (1981) asserts that there is archaeological evidence for the presence of modern humans in the New World 500,000 years ago, which would support Native American myths. Goodman’s evidence is, however, tainted by the fact that the site excavated was chosen through psychic archaeology, while his results have not been published in the archaeological literature (Goodman 1977a, 1977b).

Argüelles (1987) maintains that the Classic Maya civilization achieved unparalleled heights because Mayans came from another world. Argüelles states that the Maya were transmitted to Earth from outside the solar system in the form of DNA code with orders to synchronize Earth and the solar system with the larger galactic community. Argüelles, an artist, seems to have derived most of his data and arguments through a series of artistic visions. He incorporates a number of New Age fads such as the Chinese I Ching into his proposals. The book is written in a complicated pseudoscientific babble resembling a word salad.

Afrocentrists blatantly distort (or ignore) modern paleontological understanding of human evolution; the following are examples. King (1991:17-19), based on Churchward (1913), claims that modern African Twa pygmies are Homo erectus and that all humans descend from them. [1] Both Welsing (1991a:23-24) and Finch (1990:43) state that whites are albinos who originated from the inbreeding of Negroid albinos who migrated from Africa, the place of origin of modern humans, to Europe. [2] Forbes (1992) tells a more elaborate creation story which:

will demonstrate . . . that modern man arose from the deliberate manipulation of genetic material by scientists in antiquity, that an identifiable African female immortalized in sculpted works of art served as the egg donor, and that an Egyptian deity served as the first surrogate mother.

Forbes’ article is a selective excerpt of the theory elaborated by Zechariah Sitchin (1976). What Sitchin actually claims is that modern humans were created by biblical Nephilim, who were actually life forms that periodically visited Earth from a twelfth planet, Marduk, which circles the Sun in a 3600-year orbit. According to Sitchin (1976:340-357), modern humans were created 300,000 years ago by the artificial insemination of ova from a female Homo erectus with sperm from male Nephilim and with the use of numerous female Nephilim as surrogate mothers. [3]

New World Contacts

A number of Afrocentrists, led by Ivan Van Sertima, claim that the civilizations in the New World are greatly indebted to Egypt (or Nubia) for their most important accomplishments. Supposedly, black Egyptians sailed to Mexico about 700 B.C., propelled the Olmec civilization to greatness, and laid the foundation for all the civilizations of Mesoamerica. Yet, the best evidence for contact between peoples is supplied by genuine artifacts scientifically excavated by archaeologists. While the presence of Vikings around A.D. 1000 at L’Anse-aux-Meadows, Newfoundland, has been thus documented (Ingstad 1969), no genuine African or Egyptian pre-Columbian artifacts have ever been found in the New World.

The next best type of evidence for contact between cultures is the presence of domesticated plants native to another continent. Two species found in the New World, the bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria) and New World cotton, originated in Africa. However, they were present and utilized in the Americas thousands of years before they were used in Africa and were carried to the New World naturally rather than by humans (Cowan and Watson 1992).

The most striking visual evidence cited by Afrocentrists for an African presence in the New World is the massive Olmec basalt heads with flat noses and thick lips. However, Nubians, the purported carriers of Egyptian civilization to the Olmecs, are desert dwellers with thin noses and could not have been the models for those sculptures (Haslip-Viera and Ortiz de Montellano n.d.). Additionally, the Olmec heads were all carved before 900 B.C., several hundred years before the contact claimed by Van Sertima (Lowe 1989).

Similarity to “Scientific” Creationism and Cult Archaeology

Stiebing (this volume) and Cole (1980) describe a number of characteristics that Afrocentrists share with “scientific” creationists and cult archaeologists. Some general comments are in order before citing specific examples. As is the case with the creationists and cult archaeologists, most Afrocentric authors lack academic credentials in the appropriate fields and do little or no original research. Proponents of contacts with the Olmecs have not turned a spadeful of dirt in Mexico; melanists do no biochemical laboratory research; and none of them publish in the appropriate refereed disciplinary journals. As in the case of “scientific” creationists, their research consists of dredging through the scientific literature for supportive snippets. They cite other Afrocentrists or their own previous work and rely on unreliable or outdated sources, often taken out of context. They use myths as though they were historical or scientific facts. Mary Lefkowitz (1993), referring to Martin Bernal’s claims of massive Egyptian influence on Greece, describes another common technique:

… because something is possible, it can be considered probable, or even actual, si potest esse, est. [4]

Many Afrocentrists are less cautious and use the following chain of reasoning: if it is conceivable, it is possible, it is probable – it is true.

Reliable scholarship characteristically makes efforts to cite the most current information available. Afrocentrists resemble creationists and cult archaeologists in the kind of sources they use and the way in which they use them. Just as creationists cite Lord Kelvin’s 1866 estimate of the age of the earth as if it were a contemporaneous source (Gould 1985:126-138), Afrocentrists make much use of antiquated sources such as Churchward (1913, 1921), Massey (1907), and Budge (1904), citing them often from recent reprints without indicating their original date of publication. Forty-eight percent of Van Sertima’s (1976) citations in They Came Before Columbus are older than 1940, and he relies massively on Wiener, who wrote in the 1920s. Similarly, 48 percent of Jackson’s (1972) citations predate 1930. The sources Afrocentrists rely on to support their claim that Egypt was the world’s original civilization were written before the scope and extent of Babylonian civilization were known, and before stratigraphy and radiocarbon dating greatly extended the time depth of civilizations and the reliability of the associated dates. Wiener’s (1920-1922) work predates the discovery of the Olmec heartland and the explosion of knowledge about Mesoamerican civilizations that has occurred in the last fifty years.

Sources of different reliability are given equal weight. For example, Adams’ (1990) bibliography includes newspapers, magazines, and publications from vanity presses along with a few refereed articles from the journal Science. King (1991) uses as scientific resources the eighty-year-old works of James Churchward and the theosophical works of the mystic Schwaller de Lubicz (1982). King, Welsing, Adams, and Bernal, among others, use Tompkins’s (1971, 1976) fanciful and unreliable books on pyramids.

In Cole’s (1980) terms, Afrocentrists have “an ambivalent antielitism.” They vilify the Establishment because it does not support Afrocentric claims, or they consider it part of a conspiracy to hide the truth; yet they display an inordinate respect for and envy of it. In the past, religion was invoked to provide explanations for different events and phenomena. As stated earlier, the success of science and technology in the twentieth century has led to science replacing religion as a source of truth and explanation. Because of this, myths such as creationism or Afrocentrism are cloaked in the mantle of science; their proponents search for scientific quotations to support their contentions. Creationists misquote or partially quote Stephen Gould (Gould 1983); Afrocentrists similarly employ distorted quotations. For example, Adams (1990:vi) cites Louis de Broglie (with no bibliographic entry or page number) purportedly supporting the existence and validity of the paranormal. However, de Broglie explicitly rejects the paranormal four pages after the passage used by Adams:

I must say that the existence of most of these phenomena [the paranormal] does not seem to be scientifically established in a serious manner.. . . Further, a great number of those who write on these subjects give evidence of an insufficient general scientific education, confusing the most clearly expressed ideas and interpreting the theories of modern physics in the most fantastic manner (de Broglie 1955:235-236).

Van Sertima (1976:84) attributes to Eduard Seler statements concerning the god Quetzalcoatl’s hat, which in fact are completely opposite to what Seler wrote (Seler 1963:70). Bernal tries to discredit Otto Neugebauer, the great expert on ancient science, by claiming that Neugebauer was condescending and contemptuous toward Egypt; Palter (1993) has clearly shown that to be untrue. Melanists derive most of their scientific citations from a long speculative article by Barr (1983). Barr continually speaks of properties of melanin as if they applied to humans. In fact, the experiments referred to were carried out on rats; this is very misleading because these extrapolations are not valid. Barr deletes some of the cautionary statements made by the original investigators. Melanists, following the principle of “conceivable equals actual,” delete even the few cautionary statements made by Barr and ignore his repeated injunctions that neuromelanin is unrelated to skin color and that the properties he attributes to melanin are pan-human and not racial.

Afrocentrists share with cult archaeologists what Cole (1980) calls “intimations of persecution.” They allege a conspiracy by the Establishment to conceal the truth, which Afrocentrists then claim they are trying to reveal. Deborah Moore (1992) claims that the information about melanin and the pineal has been hidden for forty years. Van Sertima (1992:7, 37-38), referring to an Olmec head which is supposed to have Ethiopian braids, claims that it is:

probably the best kept secret in Mesoamerican archaeology

and that the head:

has never appeared, in any work on the subject, outside of Mexico. [5]

Bernal (1987:ch. 4-5) claims that the “classics Establishment” has suppressed or ignored what he considers overwhelming evidence of Egyptian contributions to Greek civilization. Jordan (1992:107, n. 20) claims that he had some difficulty in obtaining a reference about the presence of Negroid skeletons in Tlatilco in the New York Museum of Natural History and that he was told that the museum had no such volume. Jordan also found it suspicious that the Anthropology Department had checked out a volume by the cult archaeologist Rafique Jairazbhoy, intimating that it was done to keep it out of circulation.

Why Has This Ideology Spread?

Given the tragic history of African Americans and the harshness of the present circumstances of many African Americans – hopelessness, high unemployment, high dropout rates, and the escalating effects of drugs and violence on the black community – the development of Afrocentrism is understandable. Projects such as the Portland Baseline Essays are misdirected efforts to use the schools to raise the self-esteem of African American children by claiming a previous racial greatness and declaring not only parity but superiority to the European oppressors. Melanist proposals are psychologically attractive because they convert pigmentation, which has been a badge of inferiority in a racist society, into the instrument for the mental, moral, and spiritual superiority of all blacks (Egyptians, Africans, and the Diaspora). Melanin, instead of being negatively correlated with intelligence, as claimed in Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve (1994), is presented as positively correlated to intelligence.

However, a wrong cannot be remedied by committing another wrong. Many African American children need more self-esteem, but self-esteem is not achieved by being taught pseudoscience. Gwin (1990) points out that children acquire self-esteem by accomplishing increasingly complex tasks, by learning, and by being able to use what they have learned. Gwin also notes that one of the most important characteristics of successful people is accurate perception. A curriculum that consists primarily of assertions of black superiority with little development of critical thinking, of high expectations for performance in an effort to develop self-esteem, will ultimately be self-defeating. Stevenson, Chen, and Uttal (1990) compared black, Hispanic, and white children in Chicago and found that the self-evaluation of African American children exceeded their actual achievement scores. Stevenson’s group felt that this was due to blacks not getting, or not incorporating, reliable and accurate feedback on their performance.

Teachers praise the children for modestly good performance instead of pushing them to do better (Anonymous 1992).

Stevenson points out that praising work that is substandard, often on the pretext of protecting the self-esteem of the child, does not do the child any favor, because one of the most important sources of children’s self-esteem is realizing that they have mastered a challenging task (Stevenson, Chen, and Uttal 1990; Gwin 1990). Eliot Morgan (1992) made the point in an editorial that what he and other African Americans needed from schools was a rigorous curriculum emphasizing the basics and not inaccurate Afrocentrism.

African Americans are greatly underrepresented in science. African American children deserve to be taught the best science we can muster to encourage and nurture greater participation in scientific careers. It is perpetuation of a cruel hoax not to teach them the critical thinking that is so essential to success in science. [6] A problem with Afrocentric melanists is that they promote an essentialist view of race, the existence of immutable races that are recognizable by stereotypic characteristics, that these races have biological and evolutionary significance, and that some races are superior to others. This is racism, pure and simple. The essentialist concept of race is rejected by the overwhelming majority of anthropologists, biologists, and geneticists (Littlefield, Lieberman, and Reynolds 1982; Graves 1993).

Another factor influencing the spread of the melanin theory is that it provides a “scientific” justification and validation of fears that already exist in the African American community. The proposal that whites are “albinos” that can be destroyed genetically by the “melanin-dominant” genes of blacks (see note 2) provides a “scientific,” and therefore supposedly true, basis for belief in the existence of a “conspiracy to destroy Black men” (Kunjufu 1989; Welsing 1991a:4, Welsing 1991b). The genetic argument provides a seemingly credible explanation for the crisis and for some of the conditions of black Americans. It provides a rationale for the epidemics that are devastating that community. Fear of “melanin dominance” explains the belief that whites manufactured AIDS in order to destroy the black community (Adams 1988; Welsing 1991a:299-300; Strecker n.d.; Snead 1994). Melanists state that the drug epidemic in African American communities is part of the “conspiracy to destroy Black men” (Welsing 1991a:4, 1991c). Barnes (Barnes 1988:75-76) involves melanin directly, claiming that it has a special affinity for illegal drugs and that melanin co-polymerizes with cocaine, thus remaining in the bodies of blacks for months. These medicalized theories have a special resonance in the African American community because of the precedent of the “Tuskegee Experiment,” in which, for many years, physicians of the Public Health Service unethically withheld medical treatment against syphilis from a group of black men in order to study the natural progression of the disease (Jones 1981).

The problem with a “scientific” basis for a “conspiracy to destroy Black men” is that it exacerbates and complicates the already tense relationships between the races; it can also have harmful consequences for the health of African Americans themselves. The idea of a conspiracy has led to propaganda urging parents not to take their children to get vaccinated because white doctors will infect them with AIDS (Watson 1994). Michael Ellner (Ellner 1994), with the endorsement of the host of a television program, Tony Brown, bragged of his success in getting African American women to withdraw from research efforts to diminish transmission of the HIV virus to new-borns and urged other pregnant women not to participate. Ellner argued that the drug used, AZT, is a poison and that its use is part of the plot to destroy black people. However, the prophylactic use of AZT with HIV-positive pregnant women has been shown in a clinically controlled test to reduce the transmission of the virus to newborn babies by two-thirds (Connor et al. 1994). Nonparticipation in this therapy condemns black babies to death.

As other chapters in this book have detailed, an important factor contributing to the spread and persistence of these theories is the high level of scientific illiteracy in this country. African Americans are no exception; most members of the community don’t know enough science to be able to ask critical questions. Furthermore, many melanists have Ph.D.s or M.D.s, and some are faculty members at universities; these credentials, even if not in the appropriate disciplines, impress their intended audience. Like other pseudoscientists, they also use what I call “newspeak,” an impressive, scientific-sounding babble. A couple of examples will suffice:

. . . essence of their [hieroglyphs’] meaning eludes us. This is primarily because the ancient Egyptians’ polyocular epistemology renders their written style of communication multicontextural [sic]. This is to say, there is a high degree of simultaneity and spontaneity, and also rhythm and symbolic logic in their thought; for example, superimposed upon a single image are many points of view and moments in time. (Adams 1990:S-30)

Therefore if you move away from that system, whether you are moving into disease, or death or entropy as opposed to negative entropy. In the context of healing we must be about moving into superhigh velocities as our ancient ancestors did. Now, the rituals that you see traditional healers go through – the meditation, the so-called incantation, the rituals, do something. They change the flow of energy within a circumscribed area. And you can put the voltameters [sic] in the room and you can measure the actual transfer. Traditional healers are able to tap that other realm of negative entropy – that superquantum velocity and frequency of electromagnetic energy and bring them as conduits down to our level. It’s not magic, it’s not mumbo jumbo. (Newton 1993)

Afrocentric pseudoscientists have found allies and theoretical support from postmodernists in academia. Postmodernists argue that science is not a body of knowledge about the “real” world and a technique for testing its accuracy but rather a form of “discourse” controlled by culture, social organization, and economics (see discussion of perspectivism in Gross and Levitt 1994:ch. 3). On this basis, Afrocentrists argue that their New Age claims for the existence of ESP, “transmaterial causation,” and the psychic abilities of ancient Egyptians constitute a scientific paradigm that is superior to that of Eurocentric Western science. Based on postmodernism, they further argue that their interpretations of matters Egyptian should be “privileged” over other interpretations because their melanin gives them “ownership” of the topic. This attitude is reciprocated. Feminist philosopher Sandra Harding (1991:223-227) repeats a number of outlandish claims in Van Sertima’s (1983) Blacks in Science, including the Dogon Sirius B myth, without a trace of skepticism or critical thinking.

The scientific establishment has itself contributed to the spread of this pseudoscience in two ways. One of the key reasons why the Portland Baseline Essays have been adopted by so many schools is that they are expanding into a vacuum. There is an enormous demand in large urban school districts for materials that will illustrate and reflect some of the science done by non-Western peoples to be used to inspire and to provide role models for minority children. As Diana Marinez and I (1983, 1993) have pointed out, if done in a scientifically accurate manner, this “culturally relevant” science can be a useful adjunct in the classroom. The scientific and science education establishment has abdicated any role in this effort. There are no reliable materials of this type available, and the highly touted science education reform of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Project 2061, is completely devoid of any “culturally relevant” material.

A more important factor, one which is in sharp contrast with “scientific” creationism, is the extreme reluctance of the scientific establishment to criticize any aspect of Afrocentric pseudoscience. Whereas the AAAS, the National Academy of Science (NAS), and numerous well-known scientists like Stephen Gould and Carl Sagan vigorously and openly criticize “scientific” creationism, these bodies have been pusillanimous in confronting Afrocentric pseudoscience. Several bodies within the AAAS have refused to take stands on the use of the Baseline Essay in Science when asked to do so; the Project on Science Education Standards of the NAS did not even want to hear a presentation on the topic; and the American Anthropological Association would not schedule a symposium entitled “Pseudoanthropology and Multiculturalism,” which dealt with Afrocentrism, at its 1992 annual meeting, which had multiculturalism as its theme. The fear of being called racist seems to produce a paralyzing effect on consciences and on scientific integrity. This is unfortunate and shortsighted. In the future, minorities will make up an increasingly larger proportion of the work force, and simultaneously, the skills in science and mathematics needed for jobs will greatly increase (Anonymous 1988; National Center for Education Statistics 1993). It is a cruel hoax to deprive an African American child of the opportunity to learn critical thinking and to develop skills crucial to the jobs available in the future, only because those who lead the reform of science education, as well as our leading scientists, are unwilling to confront pseudoscience, whatever its color.


1. This is utterly wrong. Pygmies are modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) and not our ancestral and extinct Homo erectus. It is ludicrous for someone with an M.D. to cite, in 1990, as an authority on paleontology and evolution a 1910 publication by a retired colonel of the Bengal Lancers who also believed in the existence of the Lost Continent of Mu (Churchward 1932). It is also amusing that melanists are so enthused with Churchward because, according to him, the inhabitants of Mu – the ultimate source of all civilizations, including the Egyptian – were white (Wauchope 1962:42).

2. Again, this is utterly wrong. Albinos, by definition, do not synthesize eumelanin. Whites have eumelanin and are not albinos. Skin color is regulated by four to five genes. Albinism results from a recessive mutation; i.e., in order to produce the effect, both alleles must code for albinism (a, a). Persons who are homozygous normal (A, A) or heterozygous (A, a) will produce normal amounts of melanin. Thus, two albinos (a, a) could mate forever and not produce a white person (A, A or A, a).

3. Sitchin claims that Nephilim established Sumerian civilization, which was the first and only civilization and from which knowledge diffused to all others, including the Egyptian. Forbes, with no evidence or justification, shifts the entire scenario to Egypt and converts Sumerians into black Egyptians. Forbes also changes the presumed date of the origin of modern humans from 300,000 years ago to the Egyptian civilization of some 5000 years ago. It is hard to believe that this piece of science fiction was published in a reputable journal edited by the doyen of Afrocentrism, Molefi Kete Asante. I can only conclude that Asante did not read the article carefully or that his susceptibility to pseudoscience is even greater than the levels shown in his 1990 book.

4. Bernal (1987, 1991) would seem to be a special case among Afrocentrists. His book, Black Athena, explicitly rejects an exclusively Negroid character for ancient Egyptians. His work, although much better documented than that of most Afrocentric authors, still employs many of the techniques of cult archaeologists, particularly in arguments about Egyptian science. Citing Peter Tompkins, a journalist who has also written a book claiming that plants talk to people (Tompkins and Bird 1973), Bernal argues that Newton depended on Egyptian ideas for his development of the theory of gravity (Bernal 1987:166-169). Bernal also cites such outdated works as Lockyer’s The Dawn of Astronomy (Lockyer), while denigrating Otto Neugebauer, the acknowledged authority on ancient astronomy, because Neugebauer did not support exaggerated claims of Egyptian accomplishments. Baines (1991) also points out that Bernal sees much historical value in the Atlantis myth. Although Bernal has performed a useful service by exposing the racist and anti-Semitic biases of nineteenth-century German and British scholars, his attribution of similar feelings to modern scholars is not accurate and places him in the same niche as other cult archaeologists. For a thorough critique of Bernal’s claims for Egyptian science, see Palter (1993).

5. A full description of this head was published, as one would expect, in the reports of the archaeological expedition to the area (Clewlow et al. 1967).

6. Claims by Adams (1990: S-52-54) that Egyptians flew in full-size gliders for business and tourism in 2000 B.C. could not withstand ten minutes of critical thinking on the question of what this actually implies and how the ancient Egyptians could have done this. The Baseline Essay is replete with similar examples.


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