Archaeological Fantasies: How pseudoarchaeology misrepresents the past and misleads the public
Edited by Garrett G. Fagan
Did aliens build the pyramids? Do all the world’s civilizations owe a debt of gratitude to a single supercivilization in ancient times? Was Egypt the home of magicians? Is there a fantastic body of ancient wisdom awaiting discovery, which will help to solve the world’s problems” These and other scenarios are thrown up by purveyors of what is often dubbed “alternative,” “fringe,” or “popular” archaeology and ancient history. In reality, such work is properly called pseudoarchaeology, since it is a muddled imitation of the real thing.
In this collection of stimulating and engaging essays, a diverse group of scholars, scientists, and writers consider the phenomenon of pseudoarchaeology from a variety of perspectives. They contemplate what differentiates it from real archaeology; its defining characteristics; the reasons for its popular appeal and how television documentaries contribute to its popularity; how nationalist agenda can warp genuine archaeology into a pseudo-version; and the links between pseudoarchaeology and other brands of false history and pseudoscience. Case studies include surveys of esoteric Egypt and the supposedly mystical Maya, Nazi pseudoarchaeology, and ancient pseudohistory in modern India.
Contents and Contributors
Colin Renfrew is Disney Professor of Archaeology at Cambridge University and one of the leading prehistoric archaeologists in the world. His published output over more than three decades has been tremendous; his major books include The Emergence of Civilization: The Cyclades and the Aegean in the Third Millennium BC (1972); Before Civilisation: The Radiocarbon Revolution and Prehistoric Europe (1973); Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of the Indo-European Origins (1987); (with P. Bahn) Archaeology: Theories Methods and Practice (7th edn, 2016); and Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership (2000).
Introduction: The epistemology of archaeology
Peter Kosso is Professor of Philosophy at Northern Arizona University. His research interests lie in the field of philosophy of science and epistemology. He is the author of Observability and observation in Physical Science (1989); Reading the Book of Nature (1992); Appearance and Reality; An Introduction to the Philosophy of Physics (1997); and Knowing the Past: Philosophical Issues of History and Archaeology (2001)
Chapter One: Diagnosing pseudoarchaeology
The late Garrett G. Fagan was Associate Professor of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies and History at Penn State University. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and McMaster University, Canada. His main research interest lay in Roman history, on which he published a book – Bathing in Public in the Roman World (1999) – and numerous scholarly articles. He became interested in the phenomenon of pseudoarchaeology in 1999, and published articles, organized conference panels, and taught undergraduate courses on the topic.
Articles at Ma’at by Garrett Fagan: Nic Flemming’s Channel 4 Encounter; Antarctic Farce; Tiwanaku: Alternative History in Action, Three Basic Principles of Archaeological Research, The New Atlantis and the Dangers of Pseudohistory (with Christopher Hale) and Review of Voyages of the Pyramid Builders .
Chapter Two: The attraction of non-rational archaeological hypotheses: the individual and sociological factors
Nic Flemming studied natural sciences at Cambridge. In 1958, he mapped a submerged Greek city off the coast of Libya and has been using coastal and submarine archaeological data ever since to measure changes in sea level over the last 20,000 years. This work requires the continuous application of analysis to separate archaeological artifacts from geological features. The author has worked extensively in organizations to promote the development of new marine technology and the creation of new techniques for operational ocean forecasting, and he has served on many committees and panel of UN agencies. He has authored or co-authored dozens of articles in major scientific journals (including Nature), and his monographs include Cities in the Sea (1971)and Scientific Diving: A General Code of Practice (2nd edn, 1996).
Article at Ma’at by Nic Flemming: Review of Graham Hancock’s Flooded Kingdoms of the Ice Age.
Chapter Three: Skeptics, fence sitters, and true believers: student acceptance of an improbable prehistory.
Kenneth L. Feder is Professor of Anthropology at Central Connecticut State university. He is the founder and director of the Farmington River Archaeological Project and has conducted several major excavations in north-central Connecticut. Feder is a fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) and has contributed to a number of articles on “alternative archaeology” to the Skeptical Inquirer. Feder is the author of several books, including: A Village of Outcasts: Historical Archaeology and Documentary Research at the Lighthouse Site (1994); Frauds, Myths and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology (4th edn, 2002); and The Past in Perspective: An Introduction to Human Prehistory (3rd edn, 2004).
Articles at Ma’at by Ken Feder: The Lost Civilization in Historical Perspective: Déjà vu all over again and Invisible Visitors: Explaining Archaeological Skepticism
Chapter Four: Memoirs of a true believer
Katherine Reece is the owner and moderator of the website In the Hall of Ma’at. Now a happily retired accountant, Ms. Reece is fulfilling a life’s ambition by studying archaeology.
Chapter Five: Esoteric Egypt
Paul Jordan read archaeology and anthropology at Cambridge. He has researched, directed, and produced archaeological and historical documentaries for the BBC and commercial television in Britain for over 25 years, including a series on Egypt and biblical archaeology. He began writing books in the 1970s and has several in print, including the recent Riddles of the Sphinx (1998), Early Man (1999), Neanderthal (2000) and The Atlantis Syndrome (2001).
Chapter Six: The mystique of the ancient Maya
David Webster is Professor of Anthropology at Penn State University. He has spent many field seasons in Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala at major Classic Maya centers such as Beván, Copán, Piedras Negras, and Tikal. Webster’s main interests are the evolution of complex societies, ancient warfare, Mesoamerican urbanism, and settlement and household archaeology. Aside from numerous articles in scholarly journals, his major recent books include (with Anncorinne Freter and Nancy Gonlin) Copan: The Rise and Fall of a Classic Maya Kingdom (2000); and The Fall of the Ancient Maya (2002).
Chapter Seven: Pseudoarchaeology and nationalism: essentializing difference
Bettina Arnold is Associate Professor of Anthropology and co-director of the Center for Celtic Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her research focuses on pre-Roman Iron Age Europe, mortuary ritual and gender in the context of a long-term investigation of the mortuary and social landscapes associated with the early Iron Age Heuneburg hill fort in southwest Germany (see The Heuneburg Archaeological Project). An additional research focus involves the history of archaeology, especially the symbiosis between archaeology and politics and the role played by archaeological research in the construction of nationalist narratives.
Chapter Eight: Archaeology and the politics of origins: the search for pyramids in Greece
Mary Lefkowitz is Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Wellesley College and author of Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became and Excuse to Teach Myth as History (1996), which discusses the origins and aims of the theory that Greek philosophy and culture derived from ancient Egypt. Her articles about the Black Athena controversy have appeared in The New Republic and The Times Literary Supplement, and she is co-editor (with Guy MacLean Rogers) of Black Athena Revisited (1996).
Article on Ma’at by Mary Lefkowitz: Stolen Legacy (or Mythical History?) Did the Greeks Steal Philosophy from the Egyptians?
Chapter Nine: Indocentric rewritings of early South Asian archaeology and history.
Michael Witzel is Wales Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University and was educated at Tübingen and Erlangen University in Germany. Before coming to Harvard, he taught at Tübingen and the University of Leiden, and he was director of the Nepal German Manuscript Preservation Project and Nepal Research Centre, Kathmandu (1972-77). Aside from dozens of scholarly articles, his major books include On Magical Thought in the Veda (1979); Early Sources for South Asian Substrate Languages (1999); Das alte Indien: Von den Anfaengen bis zum 6, Jahrhundert (2002); and The Ancient Indo-Aryans: The Textual and Linguistic Evidence (forthcoming).
Chapter Ten: The Atlantean box
Christopher Hale is a television producer and writer educated at Sussex University and the Slade School of Fine Art in London. In 1999, he made “Atlantis Reborn” for the BBC series Horizon, which challenged the ideas of “alternative” writers like Graham Hancock. Prior to this, he had made numerous documentaries, such as “Search for the Sons of Abraham” and “Before Babel.” He published a non-fiction book on pseudohistory in 2003, Himmler’s Crusade (Bantam), an account of the SS-sponsored German Tibet expedition, 1938-39.
Article on Ma’at by Christopher Hale: The New Atlantis and the Dangers of Pseudohistory (with Garrett Fagan)
Chapter Eleven: The colonization of the past and the pedagogy of the future
Norman Levitt is Professor of Mathematics at Rutgers University. Educated at Harvard and Princeton, his professional interests lie in the fields of geometric topology and related questions in algebraic topology. He is also very interested in anti-science and irrationality in the modern age and has published several books and edited volumes on the topic, including (with P.R. Gross) Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science (1994); (edited with P.R. Gross and M.W. Lewis) The Flight from Science and Reason (1997); and Prometheus Bedeviled: Science and the Contradictions of Contemporary Culture (1999).
Chapter Twelve: Pseudoscience and postmodernism: antagonist or fellow travelers
Alan D. Sokal is Professor of Physics at New York University. His main research interests are in statistical mechanics and quantum field theory. He is co-author (with Roberto Fernández and Jürg Fröhlich) of Random Walks, Critical Phenomena, and Triviality in Quantum Field Theory (1992) and co-author (with Jean Bricmont) of Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science (1998).
Chapter Thirteen: Concluding Observations
Garrett G. Fagan
Note: All of the information above is taken directly from Archaeological Fantasies: How pseudoarchaeology misreprents the past and misleads the public except for the notes on the contributors Ma’at articles.