Nina Frances Layard – Something Indeed for a Lady to Have Done.

Today we’re going to talk about Nina Francis Layard and also to some degree her partner in life Mary Frances Outman. Though Mary seems to have played a traditional wifely role to Nina’s more outgoing and adventurous stereotypical male role, I do not want to downplay Mary’s contributions to Nina’s work. Before we get too far I wanted to be understood that Mary transcribed a great deal of what Nina wrote. This is not to say that Nina’s work was not her own, it’s just to say that Nina would not have accomplished as much as she had without Mary’s help. That said, there’s not much known about Mary Frances so the little that I do know I have found through my studies concerning Nina, who by all accounts deserves the reputation that she worked so hard to achieve.

Nina appears to have been quite the renaissance woman. She was born in 1853 in in Stratford, Essex, England, into a wealthy family with a long pedigree antiquarians. She herself never achieved more than a dame’s school education (White and Plunkett 2005: 4), yet throughout her life she made connections with some of the greatest names of early archaeology in England. She became the student of these great names and learned from them how best to do her own archaeology (White and Plunkett 2005: 6).

As a child, Nina, had an interest in shell and egg collecting which a later blossomed into the collecting of fossils (White and Plunkett 2005: 6). In 1882 she struck up a friendship with an unnamed basket maker who lived in a rock shelter along the banks of Bradford on Avon canal, who taught her how to identify and collect fossils (White and Plunkett 2005: 6). She began to discuss her finds with naturalist Leonardo Bloomfield and later with Sir John Ellor Taylor (White and Plunkett 2005: 6). She benefited from both mens tutelage and began writing academic papers. She became the first woman to have a paper presented in front of the Victorian Institute. Though this paper was delivered through a male colleague, it was received very well. This reception allowed for her to become the first woman to present her own paper to the British Association in Leeds later on (White and Plunkett 2005: 6).

Though Nina apparently showed no interest in traditional Victorian marriage, she still found a life partner in Mary Frances Outman. The two women met in 1894, when Nina was in her 40’s,  and they became both cohorts and cohabitors for the rest of their lives (White and Plunkett 2005: 7). There is no real ambiguity to their relationship, making Nina and Mary the first confirmed lesbian couple we’ve looked at.

Mary appears to have had many connections in the antiquarian community through her own family, and those connections later served both women well (White and Plunkett 2005: 7). It’s interesting to see the combination of Nina and Mary’s contacts and ambitions working so well together. Their collaboration is reminiscent of the  Dieulafoy’s where they appear to be working as equals, both with a firm interest in archaeology, building each other up for a unified success. It does seem, however, that Nina was more comfortable publishing and lecturing, which is probably why more is known about her then her partner.

Nina seriously began her study of archaeology in 1890, becoming friends with many of the larger names in archaeology in the day.  One such gentleman was Hamlet Watling, who became a major supporter of hers until his death in 1908 (White and Plunkett 2005: 6). They met in Ipswich, England, and it was here that Nina performed her first investigations at the Blackfriars and Whitefriars sites (White and Plunkett 2005: 6). These two sites were of great significance at the time because they produced evidence of both prehistoric and saxon occupation by locating walls of medieval buildings and human remains (White and Plunkett 2005: 6). Her handling of the investigations and her reports on the same helped bolster her reputation, and in 1899 she was recruited by the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology (White and Plunkett 2005: 7).

During this time that she did a great deal of artifact identification either by mail, or she would go and visit them and identify the artifacts there (White and Plunkett 2005: 7). She became a recognized expert in her area and continued to grow her connections within the archaeological community. Both of these helped to continue to grow her reputation which allowed her many opportunities not available to the average woman at the time.

In 1902, when she was nearly 50, she began her excavations at the Fox Hall Road site. This excavation and her work with the flint tools found there would become the work she was best known for and would take her more than a decade to finish. It would become one of the most important excavations of her career, and because of her use of modern techniques and attention to detail, the information from the site would set her career in archaeology (White and Plunkett 2005: 8). She presented the first of three reports on the Fox Hall Road site to the Royal  Association and they accepted her work for publication in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute for Great Britain and Ireland (White and Plunkett 2005: 7). This set of reports solidified her reputation in the archaeology community and allowed her to network with a core group of highly respected figures (White and Plunkett 2005: 7).

Nina manage to work on several different locations during her decade at Fox Hall. One significant location was the Hadleigh Road site, which was a prehistoric pagan cemetery that was being exposed due to a road widening project. Over 159 graves were located and the remains were sent back to the museum at the Ipswich Museum (Moir 1927: 160). The site was a wealth of information about the peoples buried there. This site was significant because Anglo-Saxon remains were rare in the Suffolk and the amount of recovered grave goods outnumbered similar sites found elsewhere (Moir 1927: 160). She was told at the time of this excavation that she would have an honorary curatorship over the remains she had recovered at the Ipswich Museum, however when it came time for her to do post excavation analysis, the museum tried to block her. It took the intervention of the honorific president Sir. Ray Lankester to finally get her curatorship fully recognized. By this time, however, she and the official curator were not on speaking terms (White and Plunkett 2005: 9). Though it does appear but she managed to repair her relationship with the official curator, she refused to leave the rooms that were given to her for curation or hand over her collections at the museum until he retired.

Nina also continue to lead two other excavations while she worked at the Ipswich Museum. She lead excavations at Larkin valley in West Suffolk, White Park Bay, and Lough Larnie in Ireland, the later lead to a joint excavation with W. J. Knowles (White and Plunkett 2005: 9). This later excavation led to the discovery of a raised beach which produced several  examples of “older series” Irish tools (White and Plunkett 2005: 9). All this work allowed her amass a large collection of comparative samples for prehistoric materials, which helped in analysis of other sites. She was also instrumental in raising popular awareness of archaeology in Ipswich by reaching out to the public and making archaeology more accessible to them.

Probably the second most important excavation of Nina’s career was the excavation at Stoke Bone Bed (Moir 1927: 106). In the 1840’s the city of Ipswich was trying to tunnel through Stoke Hill and found a large bed of fossilized animal bone. Nina was able to get permission to expose a small section of the fossils and collected a large sample (Moir 1927: 106). The fossils turned out to be the remains of rhinoceros, lion, and, mammoths among other animals as well as a large amount of worked flint (Moir 1927: 106). The discoveries at Stoke Bone Beds allowed for a new understanding of the ecology and climate of prehistoric England.

During her life, Nina accumulated many firsts, she was one of the first four women to be admitted as Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London in the first year of admission, and was admitted Fellow of the Linnean Society in the second year of women’s admission. She was the first woman to be President of the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia (Trowlblazers 2013). She was the first woman to present to any professional body in England. She was the first woman to publish in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute for Great Britain and Ireland, and she was the first woman to curate at the Ipswich Museum. She accomplished a great deal in her long life, leading several important excavations that have had lasting impacts on the understanding of prehistoric life in England. Her methods were quite modern and very detailed, making her one of founding mothers of modern archaeological techniques (White and Plunkett 2005, Trowel Blazers 2013). This attention to detail and use of unconventional, but desirable, methods for the time gained her a reputation that served her well in her professional career.

Nina passes away at the age of 82 in her and Mary’s home in Ipswich. It’s unclear if she outlived Mary, but it is clear that the women lived together the rest of their lives, having 40 long years together, collaborating and deeply influencing the archaeological world.




Moir, J. Reid
1927    The Antiquity of Man in East Anglia. Cambridge University Press.,+Hadleigh+Road+and+Ipswich+Museum&source=bl&ots=4ZVjgEUcjG&sig=5g_nQ3xxz8k9WJ1E25KJw6cvPSg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=zZuHUo3EN5et4AOgxIHwDg&ved=0CDMQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=Nina%20Layard%2C%20Hadleigh%20Road%20and%20Ipswich%20Museum&f=false. Accessed 8/28/2014

White, Mark and Stephen J. Plunkett
2005    Miss Layard Excavates: a Palaeolithic site at Foxhall Road, Ipswich, 1903–1905. Western Academic and Specialist Press, Liverpool.

Trowel Blazers
Nina Layard (1853-1935): Flint Hunter, First Class. TrowelBlazers. Accessed 8/28/2014

Categories: Mothers of the Field, Women in Archaeology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why We Believe Weird Things and How to Address it. Pt 1.

Last Fall I took an exciting class by Dr. Larry Zimmerman, called Lost Tribes and Ancient Astronauts. It was an absolutely excellent class and a good end to my last semester in college (for a while). I took it mainly so I could better address this blog, and I got good feedback and good ideas on how to expand the scope of the material here. So with that, let’s start with another look at why people believe weird stuff.

Here’s the secret to this question; we all believe some weird stuff. Each and every one of us has some strong belief, unsupported by facts, that we believe about the world, ourselves, or the unexplained. It’s a natural human state. Michael Shermer argues that it’s an evolved trait to keep us alive. Neurologists see it as faults in our brains. Anthropologists see it as a way of creating group cohesion and society. There’s probably a bit of truth to all of those as they can all produce verifiable evidence to support their ideas. Where the belief in weird things becomes an issue is when those holding the beliefs refuse to modify said beliefs in the face of facts and evidence.

So why do people hold onto weird beliefs when all else is stacked against them?

There are a variety of reasons, from the flippant (It’s fun, makes them feel special, provides escapism, allows a rich fantasy life, etc) to the more serious (Mistrust or misunderstanding of science, poor or improper education, willful ignorance, cultural or societal pressure, blatant lies and purposefully misleading information, etc). The more flippant reasons are hard to address because they are personal and individual choices. Often I’ve noticed these are attached to one person or small group of people. Many times the believer is aware they have a weird belief and can weather social pressures to change it because it’s a choice to believe and they’ve accepted it. They respond with humor, or by ignoring the questioner, sometimes they do respond with anger, but not often. Examples are the beliefs that the Cubs will win the World Series in my lifetime, or the Bears will ever go to the Super Bowl again, I believe it can happen…someday.

The second set of reasons, the more serious ones, are easy to address but very hard to correct. These lead more into the identity of an individual, so by questioning the belief you are attacking the individual. This almost always gets a angry or hostile response because no matter how delicately you try to word it, nonacceptance of the believers’ belief is equivocated with nonacceptance of the believer as a person. Again, we’ve all been here, rejection is not a pleasant feeling, especially when its based on something that we hold important to our idea of Self. Challenges to an individual’s religion, political persuasion, belief in the supernatural, or a particular conspiracy almost always result in an angry response. These are often a long lecture on why the individual believes such things, and why you are the one who is wrong for even questioning that in the first place. These individuals I call True Believers, because in my experience there is nothing that will be said that will ever change their mind, often they are happy to be confrontational and make a show of the disagreement.

These two sets of reasons for belief can and often do overlap. It can complicate how to respond, but more and more often a response is needed. Sometimes it’s easy to just shrug and say, Live and Let Live, increasingly it is not. The difficult part is learning to tell the two situations apart, and this often comes down to personal choices.

That said, there are definitely correct ways to respond and wrong ways. When we engage the True Believer, it is tempting to get angry and try to point out their errors with sarcasm and snark. Its irritating to answer the same question over and over, it’s insulting to have your credentials questioned, I get it, I do. There are several replies to comments on my blog where I gave in to that urge. But, as relieving as it was, it’s not the best way to respond.

The reason for this is that I’ve found that no matter how you respond to a True Believer, they will nit-pick your words and twist them in any way possible to fit their needs. The best response here is to simply stay cordial, and when the times comes (you’ll know when you get there), disengage with grace. The worst that is going to come from this is the True Believer will crow about how they’ve beat you with their logic, the best that will come from it is you being nice to someone with an honest question.

This latter part is the most important!

There is so much bad information out there these days, and there are lots of individuals who are out there simply to take advantage of the misinformed by presenting themselves as authorities (*cough cough History Channel cough cough Graham Hancock *). This creates a situation where people with honest questions are trying to find answers and they are turning to people who they think they can trust. Those people are often us, we the “educated”, we the “professionals”, we the “authorities”. When we respond to these questions with arrogance and snark, it turns people away and they turn to other sources of information, often getting sucked down a rabbit hole of bad reasoning and no evidence. So be nice, answer honestly, and if you don’t know, just say so. We don’t know everything.

Is it ever ok to respond with Sarcasm?

Well…yes, and no.

See, I have a very low opinion of the media right now. So if there was ever a time I would say “Go forth and Snark thy Enemies” it would be when dealing with reporters et al. The problem here is that they will repeat what you say and publish it for everyone to see. They will blow it way out of proportion and make you sound like an arrogant jackass. If you’re good with this, then go forth! If you’re not, then hold your tongue and either turn down the interview (best option IMO) or try to give the most innocuous response possible. Keep in mind, whatever brush the media paints you with, they paint us all with, just fyi.

This all said, it is important that we begin to aggressively address misinformation and pseudoscience. The Age of Information is also the Age of Misinformation packaged as actual information. It’s difficult for us as busy professionals to combat the crap that TV and popular books spew at the curious and uninformed. However, it is also the exact reason we need to combat it! So let’s blog, let’s tweet, let’s podcast and You Tube and Tumblr! Let’s get out there and reach out!


If you want to reach out with questions or comments you can email us at or @ArchFantasies on twitter.

Categories: Skeptical Topics | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Tiny Plastic Indiana Jones Would Blog and the Blogging Archaeology Wrap-up.

blogging-archaeology banner


Since I missed the February question for the Blogging Carnival I figured I should try and make the March one…who cares if it’s actually April?

Doug asks us a question this month that reaches into the future of archaeology in the digital world. He asks; “Where are you/we going with blogging or would you it like to go?”




 Where am I going with this blog?

I originally intended for this to be a kind of tongue-in-cheek blog poking a little fun at the crazy theories out there.  The longer I do this, the less I make fun and the more I seriously break things down.  There are people out there who really believe this stuff, and as mind boggling as that is, you can’t just make fun of them, you have to reach out and try and correct those misperceptions. I’ve worked more towards that end the last few years, with varying degrees of success.

I also notice a severe deficit of information out there about women in archaeology and their contributions to the field, and rectifying that has become a side project of the blog for a while now. I don’t have as much up there as I would like, but I already have more than a lot of academic sites (which I find very sad.)

More forward than Back.

So to answer Doug’s question, I’m going to do more of that, moving forward. I’m out of school for the time being, I’ve got lots of free time (which a blog eats btw), and I’ve got lots of plans.  I’d also like to build a community around addressing pseudoarchaeology and its kin. I’d like to host it here at my blog. I’d like it to be tolerant, but factual. The trick is finding other archaeologists and academics that are willing to address it.

You Crazy Kids and Your Blogs.

As to the larger question of where is the archaeology community going with this blogging thing? Full steam ahead! This Carnival has been a great thing and has shown how much of a community there is out there not just talking about weird stuff in archaeology, but also technical questions, academic questions, and various other dead things. It’s great, I want more of that! I want to send folks to other blogs and know those bloggers are not crackpots and they have solid facts, and I can.

I’d also like to see blogs et al more accepted within the academic community. I’ve got two professors that blog and that’s it. I am the only person in my graduating class that blogs, tweets, or anything. There is not enough engagement here, there needs to be more. I know it’s getting better slowly, but social media changes so rapidly that by the time we drag the majority of our academics into the digital world, the world will have moved on, and we’ll be right back where we started. So let’s get them blogging now, get them tweeting, Tumblr-ing, YouTubeing, Podcasting, etc.

Tiny Plastic Indiana Jones would blog...if he reach the keys.

Tiny Plastic Indiana Jones would blog…if he reach the keys.

I propose approaching your favorite Prof or Academic and offering to team up. Offer to help, offer to host, or ask to just interview them fairly. Don’t give up easily, it only takes seven days on average to learn a new technology, ask them to try it for a week, a month, a year, and then let them bail (I bet they won’t at that point).

Anyway, that’s where I see my blog and where I’d like to see the community as a whole go. If you’re interested in helping out or just getting started, email me at or if you can go blog with ArcheoWebby at his new Blogging Collective  , it’s more field related and less pseudoarchaeology related. Send your professors, your class mates, your students, your crew chief, and your fellow field techs!


Categories: Blogging, Blogging Carnival | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

When the Chinese Didn’t Discover America – Fusang.

1792 French Map indicating Fusang to be about where British Columbia was. Image via Wikicommons.

When examining the claim of the Chinese in pre-contact America, you quickly realize that all of the evidence to support this claim is interconnected in a way that, if you can prove one piece wrong, it pretty much proves all the evidence wrong. Still, we need someplace to start, and a mythical island somewhere in the ocean is as good a place as any. No, not Atlantis, though it might as well be, but a new land named Fusang.

Fusang has an origin story, as most myths do, and just by looking at this story I see several red flags. Keeping in mind, the legend of Fusang is part of Chinese culture, I cannot express strongly enough that we are not going to debunk Chinese culture here, it’s not even close to our intention. However, we are going to critically examine the myth and the modern claims surrounding it, and it’s those modern claims that we are going to challenge.

So, The story of Fusang begins with a mystical monk named Hui Shen (Feder 2011:126). No, I cannot find a mention of Hui Shen outside of a book from the 7th century called the Book of Liang by Yao Silian. In this book Yao recounts Hui’s explorations around the globe to known and unknown lands, where upon he finally returned to China and told of his discoveries to the royal court (Feder 2011:126).

And this is where the red flags start.

Red Flag #1: The Book of Liang was compiled in 635 and was mostly made up of Yao’s father’s accounts (Wiki). So at best this is a third hand account, and worst, who knows. It does sound a bit like the origin story of Atlantis though doesn’t it? The only account we have of Atlantis is in two of Plato’s stories, and then the story is describes as being handed down through several mouths till it’s finally written down. Not to mention it was also all part of a thought experiment where the students were asked to make it up…but I digress.

Red Flag #2: In the book Hui describes encountering a living people who we can classify as being well into the bronze age at the time of the story from the description given of them (Wiki). If Hui had made it to the Americas, as is claimed by some in the Cult Archaeology world, then he wouldn’t have encountered people who worked metal with the skill he mentions.

Red Flag #3: Traditional Chinese maps place the location of Fusang on the Chinese coast, as per Hui’s description of the location (Feder 2011:126). It doesn’t seem to have migrated off the coast of China until European mapmakers came along. Once that happened, Fusang began popping up everywhere.

Red Flag #4: Hui was said to have carried holy relics and texts with him and five other monks accompanied him as well (Wiki). They were kinda like missionaries in this aspect. That being said, why is there no evidence of them ever having set foot and encountering local Native American peoples?

Red Flag #5: Hui describes other cultural practices of the people he encountered in Fusang (Wiki), namely the domestication and milking of deer (a tradition known of the Mongolians and their reindeer) and the domestication of horses (which didn’t exist in North America until they were reintroduced after European contact, but did flourish in and around China).

So, if we take the account of Hui Shen at his word,  there there is no real reason to link Fusang with the Americas or any other location not in China, except for possibly, Mongolia.

That’s never stopped anyone has it?

The story of Fusang doesn’t stop there, like wine it gets richer with age, and new and mysterious details pop up every year, regardless if they are part of the original story or  not. These new details get forced into new shapes in order to support the idea that the Chinese made it to America first. Once you really look at them, however, they don’t hold up well. They do pop-up in a lot of places, being repeated over and over as if repetition alone could make them real. Let’s just examine a few. These are things I’m seeing a lot on random websites testifying to the reality of the Chinese discovery of America.

  1. Hypothetically there are ocean currents that move around the continents of Eurasia, and if you were so lucky as to hitch a ride on them you could, hypothetically, drift all the way around the world and back again.  Now, I know currents exist, and I know that sea fairing peoples were aware of them as far back as sailing was invented. That doesn’t mean that this scenario ever actually happened, or is actually possible given the technology of the day. I’m not even sure you could do it today, since most of these currents run deep in the ocean and aren’t usually accessible to the ships that float atop. But if you can prove me wrong here with actual evidence, feel free to. Do keep in mind however, just because you can do it, doesn’t mean it did happen.
  2. I see lots of vague and uncited accounts of “ancient Chinese artifacts” found all over North America and “known interaction” between the First Peoples and the Chinese.  None of these are reputable, and the few I can manage to find are either known fakes or actual artifacts being reinterpreted in a way to try and make them support the narrative. We’ll touch on a few of these as we go further in the series, but for now please be aware there are no authentic ancient Chinese artifacts found in America.
  3. I also see several attempts to identify the plant Hui calls Fusang, from which he named the area because of their abundance. There is no reliable way to do this, therefor, anyone telling you that they have identified the plant is wrong. They may have a convincing story or even a convincing set of “like” traits, but this proves nothing, and definitely does not identify any particular location as the location of Fusang.
So with that said, let’s wrap up a bit.

The original story of Fusang is ancient and is mostly a written account of an oral tradition. This alone should make it suspect.  Once we look over the accounts as it’s written we see that Hui is describing a living group of, at lest, bronze age people who have very similar traits to the Mongolian peoples. I’m not saying they are the same, I’m just that these cultural characteristic were not as foreign to Hui as we are lead to believe. The Chinese themselves located Fusang off their own coast and this location didn’t change until White Europeans got a hold of the story sometime around the late 1700’s early 1800’s. Combine all that with a severe lack of evidence of any actual archaeological remains, and Fusang becomes an important Chinese myth, that has nothing to do with America.

We’ll certainly be coming back to Fusang often as we move forward with our investigation of claims that the Chinese discovered America first. It’s a reoccuring theme that almost ties everything together.

Want more on this topic? Go to  Columbus was Second-ish: Who Discovered America Anyway? or When the Chinese Didn’t Discover America for more on this series.


Feder, Keneth

2011    Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology. Seventh Edition. McGraw-Hill. New York, NY.


Nd.    Fusang. Wikipedia.

Categories: Columbus was Second-ish: Who Discovered America Anyway, When the Chinese Didn't Discover America. | Tags: , , , | 13 Comments

Tequesta Village, Giza Vandals, and America Unearthed. Weekly Round Up 2/21/14

Yesterday was my mother’s birthday. I don’t think she reads my blog, but Happy Birthday none – the – less!

A lot had happens in the past week! In the news mostly, but still, it’s made for fun and interesting reading. The most entertaining of which has been the ongoing comedy that is the vandalism of the Giza Pyramid. Not that the vandalism is itself funny, no, that’s awful. However, the slowly unfolding story about why the vandalism occurred is becoming a comedy of errors. Also, the press can’t decide if the vandals were trying to prove Atlantis or Aliens. I’m going to let you read these two articles yourself, because there is bigger news to discuss.

The Giza Necropolis image vis Wikicommons

The Giza Necropolis image vis Wikicommons


Giza pyramid vandalized to prove ‘alien theory’

German conspiracy theorists vandalize Great Pyramid to prove it was built by Atlantis

Many of you might know that there was a Tequesta village site found recently in Miami, Florida. This site is now considered one of the most significant Native American sites in the world and it’s proponents are working to get it recognized as a national heritage site. This of course is severely irritating the construction company that paid for the dig, because they just wanted someone to officially tell them they could build their repetitive hotel/movie theater there. Fortunately, the CRM firm working on this site won’t give in that easy, and they’ve in the big guns to help save this site. Good luck to them.

The middle of downtown Miami, archaeologists excavate a site holding evidence of a more than 1,000-year-old Tequesta Indian village. Image via NPR.

Miami historic preservation board moves to protect Tequesta site

This article gives a good account of what’s been going on so far at the site. It also includes how the public is raving to the find. I like this quote the best:

The testimony from 11-year-old Bella Greenberg, a student at Miami Country Day School, may have best captured the prevailing sentiment over preservation of the eight circles and other features at the site.

“Really, a hotel?’’ Geenberg said. “What’s more important? You’re cheating a generation by cheating us of our history. Please don’t destroy them just to see a movie or stay in a fancy hotel.’’

Another good quote which is very telling of shady nature of the development firm involved:

Board member Jorge Kuperman challenged MDM’s claims of financial hardship, nothing the developers were aware from the beginning that they were buying property in a designated archaeological zone, took a “calculated risk,’’ and now should be responsible for safeguarding the archaeological finds.

“MDM knew precisely what they were buying into,’’ he said.

Fox News, of course, took a slightly different view of things. Still, they gave a great look onto the minds of the developers.

I’m not sure if Fox is trying to help Stearns it here, or if they want him to look bad, but these were maybe not the best quotes to try and win a case with:

“Let’s be honest with each other,” said Eugene Stearns, the attorney representing MDM Development Group, which owns the property and is eager to move forward with construction. “Every great city is built on the shards of a former great city.”

MDM has spent $3 million conducting an archaeological review and is now anxious to continue construction. Stearn said all of the planned commercial space has been leased and half of the residential units have been sold.

“There are enormous financial obligations and commitments that have to be met,” he said. “And they need to go forward.”

Stearn obviously has never had to fight for his own cultural heritage before. And we are to judge him solely on theses quotes, he’s Moore’s concerned about getting paid than he it’s about doing the right thing. This could just be a result of Fox’s stellar reporting style though and not the man’s real objective.

Also, I’ve begun watching a new TV series. Well, it’s in it’s second season, but it’s already as bad as Ancient Aliens. You may have seen it already:

It’s…something…and I have a hard time watching it all the way through.

Recently though, I watched an episode with Tim Baumann in it, and well, it made it a little funny for me. Dr. Baumann taught at my field school last summer so I know the guy a little. I also know that he does not support the Bat Creek Stone as being “authentic”. You could tell from the video that he was kinda angry at the guy interviewing him, so I’m trying to reach out to Dr. Baumann to see if he’s like to give a response to the episode. So keep an eye here for more on the Bat Creek Stone.

Lastly, but not leastly, the #AchaeologyChat(s) are back on Twitter! Yay! If you’re a little behind you can catch up on the ones I managed to put on Storify, and read the latest one, where we discuss Looting among other things.

First ever #ArchaeologyChat!

#ArchaeologyChat for 11/20/2013

#ArchaeologyChat for 2/20/14: What Can Archaeologists do to prevent looting?


Click HERE For more Weekly News Round-Ups.

Categories: America Unearthed, Media, Weekly News Round Up | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

When the Chinese Didn’t Discover America.

The mythical identity and legacy of Admiral Zheng He, a Chinese navigator and also supposedly a Muslim during the Ming dynasty, grows every time I look him up.

Another hopeful contender for the title of ‘First in America’ is the Chinese. This discovery is supported by a variety of evidence, including a Chinese Saga mentioning a land called Fusang, a questionable map showing the supposed coastline of California, a massive earthwork in the shape of a horse, and the an intrepid Admiral whose reputation grows everytime I look him up. Next time I Google him I bet someone claims he sailed to the moon first too.

We’ll look at each of these claims in detail, evaluating the claims. We’ll keep them all filed under the category When the Chinese Didn’t Discover America, for easy reference.

However, is there any actual evidence to suggest a Chinese discovery of America?

The short, and unfortunately the long, answer is, No.

There is currently no archaeological evidence to suggest the Chinese made it to America before Columbus or the Vikings. I know that’s a really unsatisfactory answer, but it’s all I got for you sadly. However, there is a lot of “evidence” offered up by the Cult Archaeology world, and we are going to delve into that with gusto in the upcoming weeks. Some of this evidence is just fanciful, but some of it gets close enough to fact that it can almost pass, and then some of it is just repeated over and over in the hopes someone will believe it. However, most of you have been here long enough to know how to spot red flags, and we’ll be testing those skills as we look at the fascinating stories of when the Chinese didn’t discover America.

Go to  Columbus was Second-ish: Who Discovered America Anyway? or When the Chinese Didn’t Discover America for more on this series.

Categories: Columbus was Second-ish: Who Discovered America Anyway, When the Chinese Didn't Discover America. | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope: The First Modern Excavator of the Holy Land.

Lady Stanhope dressed in men’s Turkish garb. Image via Wikicommons.

There is so much that has been written about this incredibly stunning woman. I’m not even going to try to and repeat it all, rather I’ll just link you to one of the better posts about her which is  ‘s post over at Scandalous Women. She gives a very thorough recounting of Stanhope’s life.

Briefly though, Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope was born of a fine pedigree in 1776, one of three daughters born to Charles Stanhope, 3rd Earl Stanhope, by his first wife, Lady Hester Pitt. She was educated and outspoken. She flaunted convention in her life, never married, but took several lovers, and traveled extensively. She made a home for herself in the middle east, obtaining the title of Queen not through marriage but through presence and guile. In her height of power she maintained an army to rival any of her male contemporaries. She was a colorful individual in life and in death, and there is one aspect of this life that I want to focus on here.

In 1815, at roughly the age of 40, Stanhope led an expedition to Ashkelon which constituted the first modern archaeological excavation in Palestine.

Roman ruins at Ashkelon national park, Israel. Image via WIkicommons.


First let’s get the bad out-of-the-way, because, there appears to be a lot of bad in this at first glance. Stanhope’s supposed motivation for digging in Ashkelon (aka Tel Ashkelon, aka Ascalon) was to find a horde of gold coins supposedly buried there in the Middle Ages (Silberman 1984). She never found gold, and the only artifact recovered was a large marble statue, that she then had smashed into a thousand pieces and scattered into the sea (Silberman 1984).

Before we go further here, I want to make a few personal observations about this story. Stanhope’s supposed reasons for digging and subsequent treatment of the artifact she found seems abhorrent in a vacuum; assuming greed was her motivation and then the elimination of the one thing she found. However, a few things are being overlooked here and are being unfairly focused on in Stanhope’s case and ignored in others. For starts, many of the Victorian era expeditions were little more than snatch-and-grab jobs, where the European museums, especially the British and French, were funding expeditions to go find cool stuff, dig it out as fast as possible, and bring it back for display, basically for bragging rights. They didn’t care about the technique so much, or the local people, or the local governments. They often destroyed much more than they recovered and preserved, and honestly, they don’t get as much grief as they should for it. Schlieman, comes to mind when I think of this. Not only did he manage to dig a huge hole straight through Troy but he grossly misidentified the artifacts he did find, and then stole all the gold and valuable artifacts he recovered. History still calls him pioneer in Archeology, some refer to him as a Father of the field. I argue, if Schlieman gets this distinction, than Stanhope deserves it as well.

The start to Stanhope’s excavation began when she came into possession of a  “curious document”, which was a supposed medieval Italian manuscript that described the location of a hidden treasure buried under mosque in Ashkelon by Christians (Silberman 1984). Apparently, the manuscript was very detailed and Ashkelon was well-known as the ruins of an ancient port city (Silberman 1984). Stanhope didn’t merely march into Ashkelon and begin ripping the place apart. She submitted a request to the Ottoman government for permission and was granted the right to excavate the area (Silberman 1984). 

Keep in mind that Stanhope didn’t keep the gold a secret from the Sultan. Rather, she proposed that the gold was to become the property of the Ottoman government  after its discovery (Silberman 1984). The Sultan took the prospect of this treasure seriously, and sent a representative from his household to ‘help’ in the search (Silberman 1984). However, the singular significance of this moment should not be lost. The Ottoman’s had never given permission for any westerner to excavate in Palestine (Silberman 1984). For Stanhope to be given this chance should speak volumes for her standing with the Sultan and her perceived abilities.

To really appreciate how early this excavation was occurring, the most definitive book on the history of antiquity at the time,  J. J. Winckelmann’s (an advocate for the scientific study of archaeology) book, History of the Art of Antiquity, had only been published in 1764 and Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt Rivers (the founder of modern archaeological methods) wouldn’t be born for another 12 years.

From the history of area given in Charles Meryon’s biography of Stanhope’s dealing with the excavation, Stanhope did some amount of research before digging at Ashkelon. Learning the history of the place and looking over older French accounts of the place from 1659 (Meryon 2012:154). Meryon keeps a daily record of the excavation, detailing the trials of getting to Ashkelon, setting up camp, hiring men to work, and surveying the site. Stanhope played the most important part in all of these steps, overseeing the men and the whole of the excavation.

Just judging from the descriptions that Meryon left behind, there was a good deal of planning to the dig. Attention was paid to the remains of the building and the observations on its construction. Conclusions were made based on these observations about the sequence of construction and time periods the different layers of the excavation belonged too (Meryon  2012:154-169). These descriptions were unusually detailed with observations that were quite accurate, certainly not the hack job Stanhope is so frequently accused of (Silberman 1984, Meryon 2012:154-169). In the end however, no gold was found, and only the mostly complete statue of a man was recovered. It’s the fate of this statute where Stanhope gets the worst wrap, but I argue her actions were for a very good reason that I think sets her above other archaeologists of her time.

Muhammad Aga, the governor of Jaffa and the one overseeing Stanhope’s excavation, suspected her from the beginning of being just another English antiquarian  out on a relic finding mission (Silberman 1984). He expected her to take off with any relics she found and rush them back to Britain without concern for the Turks or the Sultan (Silberman 1984). When the statute first emerged he began to act suspiciously and it was deduced that he was planning on using the discovery of the statute as a way of blackmailing Stanhope and ruining her reputation with the Sultan (Meryon  2012:154-169). So as a way of showing him otherwise, Stanhope ordered the whole thing destroyed and thrown into the sea (Meryon  2012:154-169).

It’s interesting that the slander against Stanhope can be traced back to the apparently jealous Muhammad Aga, who resented Stanhope for her gender, her authority over him, and her interruption of his own plundering of the ruins of Ashkelon for stone and granite (Meryon  2012:154-169). After Stanhope ordered the statue destroyed, Muhammad Aga became so enraged at this loss of a tool against her that he turned around and started spreading the rumor that she had broken the statue to get the gold inside it, and then split the gold with his other superior, the Pasha of Acre (Silberman 1984). None of which was true however.

Stanhope, in her own words and the recounting of Meryon destroyed the statue to prove that she was not one of these antiquarian relic seekers, and that her only intention had always been to recover the treasure for the Sultan and Turkish people (Meryon  2012:154-169).

An extreme measure? Sure. Effective? Quite.

After the excavation Stanhold enjoyed a great deal of fame and respect from the people Syria and the Sultan (Silberman 1984, Meryon 2012:154-169), even if she received condemnation from her home country of Britain. One has to wonder though, if she had sent the statue back, if her reception at home would have been a bit warmer? Would history have treated her a little kinder if she had secured her place in the archaeological record by pillaging an excavation in the name of Britain ?

What is truly so interesting about Stanhope’s excavation at Ashkelon is how accurate she was in her observations. She and Meryon correctly analyzed the history of the structure in Ashkelon before methods of modern archaeological analyses were known or used. Silberman points out:

“In 1921, the British School of Archaeology at Jerusalem, beginning its own excavations at Ashkelon, was drawn by the very same columns and semi-circular wall that had attracted Lady Hester’s attention 106 years before.27 They likewise discovered “traces of a temple or other public building”28 which they, with the benefit of more modern archaeological techniques, began to dig.

The earliest structure, containing Corinthian columns and a row of pedestals, was dated to the time of Herod, and in this level, the foot and arm of a huge marble statue were found. By 1921, there was a much greater fund of archaeological knowledge than in Lady Hester’s time, and through comparisons with similar Roman structures at Samaria and Gerasa, the British excavators identified it as the “Bouleuterion” or municipal council hall.29 A Late Roman rebuilding above it was noted, and as for the structure’s subsequent history, “a close study of the floor levels and constructive changes over the whole area seems to indicate that the last stage saw one of the famous mosques of Askalon rising upon this historic position.”30

So Lady Hester Stanhope and Dr. Meryon were not so far wrong. They had correctly analyzed the history of the structure at a time when pure archaeological analyses were unknown. Unfortunately, the later excavators did not recognize Lady Hester’s achievements, which Dr. Meryon’s detailed yet overlooked description could have supplied. Professor John Garstang, the director of the later Ashkelon dig, ascribed to Lady Hester only “a number of stout granite columns,” calling her excavation “cursory” and not recognizing that the structure that he himself had excavated was actually hers.31″

So what can we learn from Lady Stanhope’s excavation of Ashkelon in 1815? Well, unlike what so many sources would have us believe, Stanhope was not digging the ruins in Ashkelon for her own personal greed and gain. She appeared to be doing so in order to elevate the region of the world she had come to call home, looking to return the gold to the Ottoman Sultan. Also, the destruction of the statue was done in order to prove her devotion and disprove the idea that she was just trying to pillage Palestine for Britain. Likewise, her excavations were quite methodical, well recorded for the time, and the statue was documented before it’s destruction. All of these things were unusual techniques for the time, and thus makes Stanhope’s excavation unique and valuable to history. I quite agree with Silberman’s conclusion that Stanhope’s excavation “might be rightfully called the first modern excavation in the history of archaeological exploration of the Holy Land.”

Honestly, a great deal of damage has been done to Stanhope’s reputation, especially in the area of her archeological contributions. It’s painful to me to see her work and her efforts be dismissed on the rumors that surrounded her work, and not judged on the strength of the records left behind. If we insist on calling someone like Schlieman a pioneer in the field of archaeology, and continue to teach him as a founder in our classes, then why are we ignoring someone like Stanhope, whose methods were far advanced of her time, and her reasons for digging far more noble than Schlieman’s will ever be.


Meryon, Charles Lewis
2012    Travels of Lady Hester Stanhope: Forming the Completion of Her Memoirs Volume 3. Cambridge University Press. Digital Edition. Retrieved 1/5/14

Silberman, Neil Asher

1984    Restoring the Reputation of Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope, BAR 10:04, Jul/Aug 1984.,_Neil_Asher_Silberman,_BAR_10:04,_Jul/Aug_1984. Retrieved 1/5/14

Categories: Mothers of the Field | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Where the Vikings Weren’t – Wrap Up.


So what have we learned so far about the Viking presence in America?

Well, we’ve looked at all the past usual suspects:

The Newport Tower. – Where we discuss where the tower came from and why it looks so much like a Norse tower. The reality of this structure seems to be that it’s really a windmill built by Gov. Benedict Arnold in the 17th cen, and the passing resemblance to a Norse tower was a creation in the mind of Carl Christian Rafn gotten from looking over some poorly drawn images of the tower, and never actually seeing the tower himself.

The Vinland Map – One of my favorite hoaxes of all time! Not just because it deals with maps, for which I have a fondness, but because it’s so old a hoax, it’s practically a real artifact itself now. Granted Yale would probably be really happy if it would turn out to be the real deal somehow, but with all the tests that have been done over the years, the evidence is really starting to weigh against that chance.

The Kensington Runestone. – The Runestone Museum in Minnesota still sort-of touts this one as being a real artifact when all evidence points to it being a hoax. The most convincing of all includes a detailed confession of how the hoax was set up and a then there is the major lack of any supporting evidence that it is remotely real.

Wisconsin Viking Horse Skull – This one is interesting because it’s not really about whether or not the skull is that of a Viking horse or not (it’s not BTW), but over if the skull found was the skull that was planted by pot hunters, or a different skull actually buried with the human remains it was found with. 

Beardmore Relics – These are indeed Viking relics, but where and how they were found is the real question. Still, after confessions brought the truth to light, the Royal Ontario Museum still got the last laugh. They gamely put the relic’s back out on display explaining the whole situation, and showing that they could take a joke.

But with the dismissal of all of these fun, yet unreal, stories about Viking’s in America, lets not overlook the real evidence of their presence here.

Please let’s all ooh and aah over L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada once more. Because, as I’ve explained many times, Vikings are cool, and we have evidence they landed here long before Columbus! Yay! Still as awesome as my beloved Vikings were, they were sadly not the first people to reach the new world.

So who were, you ask? Well, we still have several candidates out there. Mayhaps the Chinese?

Go to  Columbus was Second-ish: Who Discovered America Anyway? or Where the Vikings Weren’t for more on this series.

Categories: Columbus was Second-ish: Who Discovered America Anyway, Where the Vikings Weren't | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wooden Horses, Astrology, and Hello 2014!

Last year, as we all remember vividly (right), was the end of the world as predicted by the Mayan Calendar. Somehow we all managed to survive that and spend another year on the space marble we call Earth. I don’t know about you guys, but my 2013 was pretty damn eventful, in good ways. Not going to try to ignore my near meltdowns due to school, and I won’t say there won’t be more of those to come (oh stay tuned), but for the most part 2013 treated me well.

Last year I started a new tradition, which is that the new year is a time to have your fortune read so you know what to expect in the upcoming year, and I went a looked up the Chinese signs for 2013, and I wanted to see just how close the predictions got to being true. You know, cause hindsight it golden.

Well BILL HAJDU over at got the closest to what might have actually happened last year. He predicted (vaguely):

“Snake is the Yin to last year’s Dragon Yang. That said, Snake does not settle for mediocrity, either. We’re likely to see significant developments in the area of science and technology this year. Research and development are apt to flourish. his is a Water year as well, the element most closely associated with education and research, making 2013 a very special year for scientists and scholars.”

I mean, there was a lot of great science in 2013, and I did get to Neil De Grasse Tyson live, so…

This year Bill says:

“You could either experience a lot of lucky breaks, or at the very least, luck could soften the blows. In other words, bad luck will occur at a minimum — if at all. You can probably take more chances than you normally do. Strike out in new directions with more confidence. Make a major change in your life.

One caution: Horse energy is sometimes about fools rushing in where wise men fear to tread. Yes, luck is with you, but you still need to apply due diligence, use a little common sense and pick the best times to act.”

Good way to cover all your bases Bill. So this year I’m apparently a Lucky Fool! Hope that bodes well for the blog.

Lets see, this year let’s set some reasonable goals for the blog shall we? Last year I tried to do too much, this year I’m just going to try to only add one thing, a podcast!

I’ve had so much fun on the CRM Archaeology Podcast that I want to try doing my own. I’ve gotten some great stuff from my friend ArchaeoSoup and I am really looking forward to trying out this new medium.

Really, beyond that we’re going to keep plugging ahead with the blog. We’ve got some great women to meet in the Women in Archaeology section and we’re still trying to figure out Who Discovered America First.

As always you can leave a comment below contact us on twitter @ArchyFantasies, find us on Facebook, or just Email us at

Categories: Weekly News Round Up | 1 Comment

Blogging Archaeology, Good, Bad, Badder…

blogging-archaeology banner

The Archaeology Blogging Carnival rolls along!

If you don’t know what the Blogging Carnival is click the link to go to Doug’s Archaeology blog and read up on it. You can catch up in November’s questions and answers here.

This month we’re asked to reflect on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of blogging archaeology.

The Good

I went into some of this in November’s question, but Doug wants us to go a little deeper.

What has been good about blogging? Well, to focus mainly on my blog and my YouTube channel before that, on top of getting to meet people from all over the world I get to hear stories from people who are really excited about what I do. For example when I went to DC. for the Reason Rally in 2012 I met several people who told me they loved what I did, and they liked that there was someone out there debunking pseudoarchaeology. Needless to say that felt really good, and it was weird to be recognized by total strangers, but fun.

Also, I recall some of the nice comments on my Mary Anning post. Apparently, one of her descendants had gotten a hold of my post and really liked what I said, and how I presented it. That felt really good.

Also, I enjoy talking with people who have questions about the topics I cover. It often leads to a back-and-forth and a few times I have learned something new.

Probably the best part was when one of my past professors told me he was teaching a “Lost Civilizations” class and he’d like to have me in the class. He’d read my blog and liked what I did. He’s even referenced me a few times online. That’s pretty damn cool for me.

Mostly though I just like doing this. I loved all this Ancient Alien, Lost Civilizations, History Mysteries, and Forbidden Archaeology as a kid. I ate it up, never missed an episode. It might have influenced me to become an archaeologist; it could have just been Harrison Ford’s chiseled jaw. Either way, this was a natural fit for me. I love looking at the mysteries, love hearing the stories, love thinking “What if?” Then I like to indulge my other great childhood passion, the Great Detective, and tear into the mysteries to find the truth (maybe that’s more X-Files).

Sometimes things don’t turn out the way I expected them too, and those are the things I really like. Take the Antikythera Mechanism for example. I was pretty convinced that it was going to be a fake, but when I researched it I found it’s quite legit. It’s also incredibly interesting to learn about, and who doesn’t like learning new things?

The Bad

What’s bad about blogging? For me it’s the opening myself up to public scrutiny.

Recently I was accused of being anonymous on my blog, which is mostly true, but there are reasons for my half-hearted attempt at anonymity. When I started ArchyFantasies I originally was making videos for YouTube, which is not a kind place to be in the first place for anyone. Now imagine being an uppity woman telling people Aliens aren’t real. Your hate mail gets pretty graphic pretty quick, and it all pretty much revolves around how you look and what kinds of adult favors you can perform, oh and rape.

So when I decided to make a blog out of the channel, because I was basically too lazy to make videos and for some reason thought it’d be easier to write a blog (silly me), I wanted to have a little more control over what people could know about me, and what they could say about me. Which is why I don’t have a picture of myself on the About page and I moderate all comments on my posts.  I still get occasional comments that are NSFW, but I have more control over them than I did on YouTube.

The Ugly

The Ugly part isn’t so ugly really. It is, however, something that irks me. The reactions I get when I mention my blog are mot always good. Mention pseudoarchaeology to some archaeologists, and you’ll be lucky to even get a funny grin. It makes it difficult to defend ‘mainstream’ archaeology to those who buy into pseudoarchaeology, when their main complaint is basically that academia is rude to them when they ask questions. People want information, and they’ll take it from wherever they can get it. Often not knowing how to spot bad sources.

I have been told that everything I am trying to do with my blog is a waste of time and that there is no point in reaching out to people who have questions about pseudoarchaeology because there are plenty of professional journals out there that deal with real science that people should be reading instead. This incredibly insulting and privilege-blind comment is something I am encountering more and more the longer I do this. These are not always aimed at me, but they almost exclusively come from those in academia and are often accompanied with the comment “I don’t like Blogs/Blogging/Bloggers.”

What’s not being taken into consideration with this kind of comment is that the average person does not have access to professional journals. Even if they did, most don’t have the education to understand what they are reading in the journals. They also don’t have the connections to simply call a professor or PhD and ask them questions about a paper with their name on it.

However, they do have access to popular books on Atlantis and poorly written ‘news’ articles on archaeological discoveries that glance over important details and sensationalize falsehoods.  They have access to Discovery and History channel and entertaining shows like American Diggers and Ancient Aliens. They have access to popular magazines that produce professional looking articles for “Forbidden” archaeology, which are glossy and exciting. They can afford to attend Cult Science conferences talking about mysterious artifacts that baffle modern archaeologists.  The average person doesn’t have access to professional archaeology, but they do have fake archaeology practically shoved in their faces.

I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but this is exactly why we need to be more active in debunking pseudoarchaeology, even if it’s just a one off post on a professional blog, or a whole channel dedicated to it. Also, we need to become more comfortable as a profession at dealing with non-academics and the public. I’ll stop here…for now…


Categories: Blogging, Rants | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

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