Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
Pseudoarchaeology
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Pseudoarchaeology

Pseudoarchaeology is an aspect of pseudohistory. Both of them are forms of pseudoscience and refer to the ideologically-driven, usually sensational interpretation of the past. Pseudoarchaeology is based on an interpretation of material remains and sites (which may be quite genuine themselves), using criteria that lie outside of a critical, scientific framework. Pseudoarchaeology also includes forms of protoscience.

In a favorite area of pseudohistory claims are made that a major immigrant group of modern North Americans made a "discovery" of the New World before Columbus. Archaeology unearths a temporary Viking encampment at L'Anse aux Meadows. Pseudoarchaeology associates a stone tower at Newport, Rhode Island with Vikings or claims Viking remains in Minnesota.

Table of contents
1 Usage
2 Characteristics of Pseudoarchaeology
3 Pseudoarchaeologists
4 Focus
5 Critics
6 See also
7 External links
8 References and resources

Usage

Three common areas of pseudoarchaeology are driven by revealed religions, by nationalist primacy or by the supernatural.

The term pseudoarchaeology is used by many to refer to those religious perspectives that do not follow the accepted norms of scientific inquiry, such as Creationism, as well as to the pursuit of untestable hypotheses or theories, such as the influence of UFOss or ancient astronauts on past civilizations. Pseudoarchaeology includes the investigation of theories generally discounted by scientific investigators, such as the existence of Noah's Ark on Mount Ararat, lost continents such as Atlantis or Lemuria, and the idea of direct contact between the ancient civilizations of Egypt and the Maya.

It can also include scientific investigations in which the ability to maintain a critical, scientific perspective is diminished by religious belief. An example that is frequently cited would be research on the Shroud of Turin.

Religious ideologies are not the only motivators of pseudoarchaeology. Extreme nationalist agendas and other proposed justifications of cultural primacy or superiority often drive scientifically or historically unwarranted interpretations of archaeological sites. Quite genuine archaeological finds may be converted to pseudoarchaeology by biased interpretors. Such motives of course are rarely explicitly stated, but the pseudoarchaeological interpretation or evidence is characteristically brought to bear in order to fabricate a supposed proof of some axiom: all the Xes of antiquity derived from Y. and the like. To cite any particular example, however, would provoke a storm of furious criticism from partisans, and must be avoided here. When the opposing camps of interpretation split along familiar contemporary ideological or cultural divides, however, the dispassionate observer suspects that some pseudoarchaeological interpretations are likely to be at work.

Not all genuine archaeology is free of authentic controversy, to be sure. German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann's expeditions to find the ancient city of Troy, following cues in Homer's Iliad have sometimes been advanced by the community of pseudoarchaeology, to show that sometimes radical new approaches within the discipline are derided at first. Schliemann declared one archaeological layer in the tell he excavated to be the lost city of Troy, and this identification was then accepted. Modern archaeology has corrected his identification: right site, wrong layer. It is not the results that define pseudoarchaeology, but the methodology.

Characteristics of Pseudoarchaeology

In a characteristic approach that is symptomatic of many other pseudosciences, an a priori conclusion is established beforehand, and fieldwork is undertaken explicitly to corroborate the theory in detail (see the 1947 Kon-Tiki adventure of Thor Heyerdahl). Such convictions may lead to pious fictions, such as the Piltdown Man fraud and some spurious "Viking" relics in North America. Supernatural guidance of archaeological finds is documented as early as the 326CE expedition led by Helena, mother of Constantine the Great to recover the cross outside Jerusalem, published by Eusebius. The example of Helena as archaeologist reminds the reader that pseudoarchaeology may result even when the motivations are on the highest level. In the 17th century the scholar Athanasius Kirchner published his readings of Egyptian hieroglyphics, based on his readings of scripture; there are many reasons for his failure— the lack of a Rosetta stone for a start— but his conclusions were purely pseudoarchaeological fantasy.

Pseudoarchaeologists

Practitioners of pseudoarchaeology often rail against academic archaeologists and established scientific methods of hypothesis testing and empirical observation, claiming that scientists have somehow overlooked or disregarded critical pieces of evidence. They will sometimes go so far as to invoke inspired knowledge, such as the receipt of information through divine inspiration, dreams, or psychic phenomena such as ESP.

The findings of pseudoarchaeology generally are taken to confirm a wide-ranging, over-arching general theory, which requires supportive evidence "on the ground." By contrast, the usual small incremental rewards of genuine historical science, which often need to be interpreted within a historical context before the layman can even perceive that some little progress has actually been made, rarely appeal to pseudoarchaeology. Pseudoachaeology thrives best on revolutionary single findings, which upset all the received ideas of a stodgy establishment. The reservations and doubts that beset all genuine historical understanding do not figure strongly in pseudoarchaeology. Some unscrupulous individuals who received the label of "pseudoarchaeologist" have demonstrated a greater interest in publicity and personal gain than in the pursuit of objective knowledge.

Though professional archaeologists have been known to sneer at one another's obtuseness, the developers and public publishers of pseudosciences often identify themselves by techniques of abusing the questioner, selecting and manipulating facts, or invoking a widespread conspiracy whether alleging that some particular event resulted not solely from the visible forces, but rather from covert manipulation, or insisting that supporting documentation is buried in inaccessible archives.

Focus

There are a number of legitimate archaeological sites that have long been the focus of a disproportionate amount of unscientific speculation in the context of pseudoarchaeology. Among these are Stonehenge, the Great Pyramid, the Sphinx, Etruscan inscriptions, pre-Columbian European relics in the Western Hemisphere, Easter Island, Teotihuacan, Palenque, Chichen Itza, and the stone balls of Costa Rica. For some reason, other archaeological wonders such as the Great Wall of China or the spectacular burials at Xian have not received this type of attention.

Critics

Some of the community of so-called "pseudoarchaeology" respond to criticisms by noting that many scientific truths are frequently ridiculed when they are first proposed: they object further to the term "pseudoarchaeology" as being pejorative. If 'pseudoarchaeology' is pejorative, after all, we shall have to stop using the word.

Archaeologists (and pseudoarchaeologists) schooled in Critical Theory argue that all forms of scientific thought support an ideology of control through which efforts are made to influence society through the exploitation of scientists' status as 'experts'. A relativistic, post-processual commentator might also argue that as there is no such thing as 'truth', and that anyone's view is just as valid as anybody else's. The French philosopher Michel Foucault's concept of governmentality has also led some thinkers to see archaeologists as instruments of the state rather than neutral investigators of the past. The growth of Cultural Resources Management where archaeology is incorporated into the political planning process does little to refute this idea.

Although no archaeologists see themselves as unwitting cogs in some wider conspiracy, their past attitudes have sometimes contributed to a view of archaeologists as intellectual snobs. Although many now make a greater effort to involve the public and explain their work outside of dry academic essays, there remains a popular image of a profession that uses incomprehensible Latin terms and digs holes in distant places.

Pseudoarchaeologists provide an alternative to this, their glossy books and headline-grabbing assertions seem much more attractive and definite than dry monographs and theories cushioned in subjunctive and conditional moods. The more that archaeologists explain themselves and involve the public in their activities, the harder it will be for pseudoarchaeologists to tacitly suggest that the decades of hard fought academic argument towards understanding the past are a facade.

See also

External links

Alleged Pseudoarchaeological sites
"Graham Hancock" : Preeminent pseudoarchaeologist Graham Hancock.
"Erich von Däniken" : Another preeminent pseudoarchaeologist Erich von Däniken;.
"Answers in Genesis" : A pro-creationist website that seeks to prove, among other things, the fallacy of carbon-14 dating.
"Alan Alford" : "Independent researcher" pushes the idea that ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Mesopotamian religions were "exploded planet cults" and have something to teach us regarding "eternal life in the other world."
"Rose Flem-Ath" : Official website for Canadian couple Rand and Rose Flem-Ath, authors of .
"Zecharia Sitchin" : Analyzes the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah as a nuclear weapon attack in 2024 B.C. that wiped out "a spaceport in the Sinai Peninsula."

Skeptics
"Archaeological/Skeptical Resources, Critiques of cult archaeology, Roman Britain links" : Links to sites that refute some popular pseudoarchaeology.
"The Wild Side of Geoarchaeology Page" : Paul Heinrich's case against "alternative geology," including the impossibility of pole shifts and the artifact "from an advanced ancient race" that happens to be a spark plug.
"The Antiquity of Man" : Some of the latest research in authentic paleoanthropology and hominid evolution.

References and resources