Unlucky Mummies Get a Bad Wrap.



On episode 52 of the Archaeological Fantasies Podcast we talk about Mummies!

We all think we know about the story of King Tut, but a lot of it was embellishment at the time, as well as confusing the story of Tut’s discovery with stories of other mummies at the time. Ken, Jeb, and I talk about the reality of the Mummy’s curse, in this episode. We’re also able to sus out where some of the myths about the Mummy’s curse come from, who probably started them. We also make some possible connections between King Tut and Cthulhu (noting a trend?) and talk about the long term impacts of the idea of the mummy. It’s a great episode, go give it a listen!

Categories: Archaeology, ArchyFantasies Podcasts, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

The Importance of Myth and Oral Traditions

Lady in the rain

Episode 30 has dropped ( a while ago now) and it’s chocked full of Ken and I ranting about how important Myth, Oral Traditions, and even local lore can be to archaeologists and archaeology as a field. 

I know that I harp a lot about the misunderstood and misused records of Native American mythology, but there’s a good reason for it. Too often the fringe likes to turn to the myths and oral traditions of a random tribe in order to try and support a story they are trying to sell. The problem they inadvertently run into is taking a myth or oral tradition out of context.

Context, as we know, is Queen, much like the GPS is God. When you chose to ignore context, you can make up anything you want and probably find something out there to support it. That doesn’t make it true or correct, and the refusal to see that is just insulting at best. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen or read some fringe theorists spouting off about how they know more about what a Native tradition “really meant” than the living decedents of that tradition. What’s more is by trying to force traditions that aren’t yours to fit your favorite story, you’re missing out on actual information that is being conveyed via these rich and varied traditions.

So give the episode a listen, or a second listen, and let us know what you think!

If you’d like to support this blog, consider donating on Patreon.
Want more on this topic? Go to: Concepts and Themes
Comment below or send an email to


The Importance of Myth and Oral Traditions
Categories: Concepts and Themes, Podcast | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

What is Convergence in Archaeology?



The concept of convergence isn’t a new one to the multiple fields of science. In it’s most basic definition it describes the tendency of unrelated species to evolve superficially similar characteristics to deal with similar environmental issues. One of the best examples of this are wings.

Bats have wings, as do birds, some lizards, and even some squirrels, not to count all flying insects in the world. These different types of wings are all understood as being wings despite their uses. Some are true fliers, some glide, some are purely for show. However, they are all wings that were evolved by each individual species independently of any other.

The concept of convergence can be applied easily to other field of science unrelated to biology. It’s even apt to say that an idea like convergence was developed or observed in nearly every field of science, and we’ve just grouped all those ideas under the umbrella term “Convergence” making this all very meta.

How does all this apply to Archaeology?

Well, in archaeology we also recognize the phenomenon of convergence in cultures both prehistoric and modern. Perhaps one of the most recognizable example of this is pottery.

The invention of pottery is a step most prehistoric cultures made in their cultural and social development. I say most because there a a few that skipped this step and found inventive ways of using baskets and animal skins to serve the same purpose as pottery. That said, many prehistoric American cultures can be identified simply by the manufacture and decorative practices of their pottery. It is reliable enough that rough dating can be done based on the type of pottery found.

The same can be said about stone tools. Most prehistoric cultures figured out a way to shape stone into useful objects. Again I say most because there are some that used bone, bamboo, and other perishable materials instead. However, a majority of cultures moved through a stone age in reliable enough ways that the tools they left behind can be roughly dated by type and production technology

The development of these essential skills occurred at different times in different places by different people. Their development and use is so ubiquitous, that it is obvious that they were developed independently by different cultures. No one in archaeology argues that these skills were created by one supreme uber group and then disseminated through the ranks of humanity. Even the fringe groups tend to leave stone tools and pottery alone.

This trend doesn’t hold when it comes to more seemingly “advanced” skills or objects like written language, art, and megaliths.

I say seemingly here because the fringe tends to give more weight to these aspects of culture over what might be considered “everyday” aspects like tools and pottery. The fringe tends to focus on things that stand out, and that tends to be art, giant structures, and written symbols. This is folly, as the development and mastery of skills like tool making and pottery is hardly simple and is always a marker of culture. That said, let’s delve into the convergence of written language, art, and megaliths.

Written Language and Symbolism:

One of the things I see the fringe try to do is focus on prehistoric symbols, especially those used in pro-writing. Things like spirals, crossed circles, and other universal symbols. They try to use the appearance of these symbols in developing cultures all over the world as evidence of contact between them or of the presence of an uber culture. There is no reason to ever assume this, and trying to do so ignores the cultural implications of said symbols. What a spiral means in proto-Chinese is not what it means in proto-Navajo for example.

But there are always exceptions to the rule. So what happens when two symbols share a similar meaning?

This is still not a reason to assume anything other than convergence. It isn’t difficult to understand that two cultures, trying to describe the same thing, might come up with a like symbol to do so. Take for example, times when a supper nova was observed in the prehistoric past. Many (most?) cultures saw it and recorded it. Many of them used similar symbols to represent a bright, sun-like, light burst at night. Is that because aliens ran all over the world and taught the various cultures how to draw a super nova? No. It means the various cultures exposed to a similar event used similar imagery to record it.

Keep in mind that when we talk about ‘similar symbols’ we mean they have strong like characteristics. It doesn’t mean they are identical. Even when it comes to simple shapes like spirals and quartered circles, there is always variance in the form. Which only further supports the idea of convergence, as they are similar but not exactly the same, serving the same purpose, in slightly different ways.

Art and Imagery:

Most of the explanation in the Written Language and Symbolism section serves here as well. Humans, for the most part, try to replicate what they saw in nature. So for nearly every culture to have objects and images that represented recognizable animals, items, and people, is simply common sense.

Things get interesting when artistic style and interpretation comes into play. Here we begin to see stylized representations of nature, and this is where the Fringe begins to have issues. Stylized figures of birds, insects, and humans that archaeologists recognize due to the study of the related culture, get turned into fanciful jet planes, space ships, and alien men (always men) by the Fringe.

The problem the Fringe runs into is they are attempting to validate a biased idea and interpret stylized objects without understating the culture that they came from. In a void of information any conclusion can be drawn, and often is. This isn’t how archaeology works though.

Archaeologists can spend years, sometimes decades, familiarizing themselves with a culture and using that knowledge to decipher the art they find. This often includes speaking with the living decedents of a culture to understand something about how their ancestors perceived things. This way, we can form the best ideas about the art and imagery, using the best information available.

Now, all that said, there are often overlaps in imagery and art from one culture to the next. Again, it’s best to consider convergence as an explanation first, since many times it’s an attempt to recreate what is being observed in nature. Even in the instance of stylized art, it is best to consider convergence before trying to create an elaborate explanation to tie two unrelated cultures together based on one image or art object.

The other pitfall to avoid here is one the Fringe often fall into, and that is to rely on your own personal interpretation of aspects or characteristics of an object or image. Just because you personally see something that makes a figure look “Asian” or “Caucasian” doesn’t mean those characteristics are actually there. Such observations are completely subjective and often times driven by reasoning that has no place in archaeology.

Structures and Megaliths:

All of the arguments in the previous two sections hold here, and here is where we most often see the Fringe arguing for dissemination when what we’re actually seeing in convergence in a larger scale.

The most popular example of this is pyramid. The Fringe seems to love pyramids. The problem here is that what is structurally and archaeologically called a pyramid may not line up with how the Fringe wants to think of a pyramid.

A pyramid is a description of a type of structure that is cone shaped or often shaped with four sides and a flat bottom.  It is probably one of the most basic and structurally sound shapes you can build.

This is why we see this shape all over the world with a huge range of variation. From stepped pyramids, to truncated pyramids, to earth mounds, to the ‘true’ pyramids in Egypt, the term pyramid covers a variety of structures. As the shape, style, and purpose of these structures vary depending on the culture who built them, this is clearly a case of convergence. They are all similar in shape, hence the use of the term ‘pyramid’ to describe them, but their overall construction is different enough for even the untrained eye to see.

There are Always Exceptions.

Said exceptions only help prove the rule however. When we do see clear evidence of the sharing of or development of cultural traits, it helps us understand the cultures better.

Let’s look back at the basics, pottery and stone tools. We can, and do, find evidence of the development of techniques that lead to a new and different form of a tool or new and different shape of a vessel. We also see all the transitional forms moving from the ‘original’ form to the ‘new’ form. This means we can see the development of the technique in the culture that is developing it.

We also often see a jump in forms or decoration, especially but not exclusively in pottery. This sudden jump often indicates a marriage into a culture from an outside one, or direct trade between the two. In the case of marriage the tool or vessel maker often brings their own cultural techniques with them and in the case of trade the better item is often favored over another.

Both cases often serve the same purpose. We humans are practical creatures and we tend to change production habits in favor of easier and more durable techniques. We are also visual creatures, and we tend to pick the prettiest techniques as well. Hybrid forms are often observed and show how one culture is assimilating the techniques of another in over of their own.

The point here is, when one culture influence another, we usually see it in the archaeological record. When this evidence is missing and the traits being compared are different enough to be noticeable, we should always error on the side of convergence. As Dr. Mullins says, think Horses not Zebras (unless maybe you’re in the plains of southern Africa, then it’s probably ok to think the opposite).

If you’d like to support this blog, consider donating on Patreon.
Want more on this topic? Go to: Concepts and Themes
Comment below or send an email to



Categories: Archaeology, Concepts and Themes | 11 Comments

What is Archaeoastronomy?

moon in the trees

This is a topic that’s been bothering me since I started watching America Unearthed. Though to be fair, it’s not the first time I’ve seen the term misused, it’s just the point that drove the issue home for me. What I want to do here is give people a working idea of what the concept of Archaeoastronomy is. Probably this post is going to be updated occasionally as new and creative fringe uses of the term pop up.

Archaeoastronomy is a word that gets abused by everyone in the pseudoarchaeology fringe. I’m not really sure if it’s that the word just sounds cool, or if those in the fringe get a basic definition of a word and then run with it. The reality of the word is that it describes a collection of techniques used by most ancient peoples and it describes a field of study in the archaeology community.

How is archaeoastronomy describe by archaeologists  vs. what is commonly touted as archaeoastronomy in the fringe community?

Scott Wolter likes to describe archaeoastronomy in incredibly simplistic and misleading ways in his show America Unearthed. He also likes to change his definition from show to show using things like “The ancient practice of aligning buildings with celestial bodies.” or “Archaeoastronomy: ancient use of the sun, moon, stars, and planets in architecture and design.” This is simplistic to the point of being incorrect.

A correct explanation of archaeoastronomy is as described by the Center for Archaeoastronomy (CfA N.d);

The study of the astronomical practices, celestial lore, mythologies, religions, and the world-views of ancient cultures.

It is the anthropology of astronomy. It is observing how ancient peoples interacted with astronomy and not just how they aligned buildings to the “celestial bodies”.

I hope the difference in these two definitions can be easily seen. America Unearthed and similar fringe groups are only concerned with a single trait of the overall practice of archaeoastronomy. They only see one type of the many different expressions of archaeoastronomy in the world and from this they draw some pretty narrow, and very misleading, conclusions.

As can be seen in the archaeologist’s definition, we can see that this field is firstly concerned with the culture of the people practicing archaeoastronomy. What are their beliefs, how did they express them, how did they relate to the world, how did they translate that into their experience of space, and so on. We try to answer these questions through the clues left behind by ancient peoples in their surviving mythology, the ceremonial artifacts and religious spaces left behind, and yes, through the megaliths and structures that still stand today.

Archaeoastronomy is observable in most ancient cultures around the world, most notably in the cardinal orientation of the Great Pyramid at Giza in Egypt, the alignments of some of the Ohio Mounds, the Venus alignment of the Maya Palace of the Governor at Uxmal in Yucatan, as well as the most famous Stonehenge. The effort put forth in the planning, building and use of these buildings and structures is of great importance not only to the people who built them, but to modern archaeologists who study them. We can learn a great deal from these structures, about the cultures of their peoples, and most interestingly about the development of science and cosmological thought from the ancient astronomies and surviving indigenous traditions around the world (CfA N.d).

Obviously, archaeology plays a huge role in this study, but it’s not the only part. Living peoples, descendants of the cultures being studied, are hugely important to this field. These same living peoples are often, if not always, discounted by fringe groups when the concept of archaeoastronomy is brought up. This is a major flaw. Aside from completely ignoring indigenous peoples and native cultures still alive today, it also disregards actual ancient cultures and their life-ways and accomplishments.

Also importantly, and aside from ancient cultures, the way Wolter and the fringe use their idea of archaeoastronomy elevates it to some kind of mystical mumbojumbo. It strips it of any actual meaning  and allows the fringe to apply it to whatever they want, whenever they want. Doing this allows them to make far-out claims that have no evidence or support, but now they simply apply a scientific sounding word and give a half-assed definition and voila! Instant cult science!

Wolter and the fringe try to muddle the idea of archaeoastronomy so as to make it appear that the use of it among ancient people is rare and mystical. That the mere presence of something that might align with the sun or moon is truly unusual and sticks out. The reality of ancient peoples use of archaeoastronomy is actually quite mundane. This is not to say the set-up for this is easy or simplistic. It merely means that it was a lot more commonplace than the fringe wants to believe.

Archaeoastronomy was a necessity for survival for many people. Especially, people who were dependent on seasonal changes for their prosperity. At its most basic core, archaeoastronomy created calendars and seasonal planners for the peoples that used them. Certain alignments and astrological occurrences were essential to knowing when to harvest, winnow, and gather in order to have successful food supplies and social interactions. It is completely understandable that nearly every culture shares markers for major seasonal events like the equinoxes and solstices as well as regular monthly occurrences like full and new moons. These are easily observable and simply common sense to keep track of. To find buildings and megaliths that aligning or track these events is not surprising, though still important.

Again, this is not dismissing the use of archaeoastronomy among ancient peoples. It was and is an important part of their cultures. It is no coincidence that buildings and structures dedicated to tracking important astronomical events are almost always sacred or important municipal places in ancient societies. It should not be a surprise that cultures that were so closely tied to nature and the elements would likewise make such places important to them. We as archaeologists recognize this and take this into account when such places are uncovered or shared with us. This is not the case with the fringe.

Not only do pseudo-researches like Wolter assign meaning where there is none, due to their misunderstanding or misuse of the idea of archaeoastronomy, they create connections that make no sense within archaeology. They use the idea of archaeoastronomy as evidence for their conclusions, and often times as the only form of evidence. Calling things like early American cider presses, “sacrificial tables,” and then linking them to Stonehenge via arbitrary lines on a map is not archaeoastronomy. It’s fanciful thinking, especially in the absence of any other form of evidence.

Using the concept of archaeoastronomy as the fringe often does, one could go out into any field and find any large stone and then claim that said stone is linked to some type of astronomical alignment. This is all that is required in the cult science of the fringe to prove authenticity. Fortunately in actual archaeology, much stronger requirements for evidence exist. There must be other things associated with said stone, evidence of human use, artifacts, evidence of habitation or long periods of camping, evidence of other structural alignments, ethnographic evidence among the surviving peoples associated with said rock, ethnoastronomy (the study of contemporary native astronomies), surviving myths or oral histories of said rock. In archaeology one can’t simply say a rock is a marker without proving it.

Though archaeoastronomy is one of the most misused and misunderstood concepts in archaeology, it need not be. It is not evidence of supper advanced uber-races or aliens, it not evidence of diffusionism, it’s not a rare occurrence among the ancients. It’s also not evidence of a conspiracy of roving Europeans in the New World or of Atlantans disseminating knowledge. It is not the random connection of lines on maps stretching continents and oceans. It is not the abused am misused idea that the fringe wish it to be.

It is a concept encompassing not only cultural practices of ancient peoples but also the study of said peoples. It includes the study of ancient mythologies, oral histories of surviving peoples, cultural traditions, artifacts, structures, and megaliths. It recognizes the work of ancient peoples and understands their connection to their land and nature.

Let us understand archaeoastronomy for what it is, and not be fooled when used otherwise.

If you’d like to support this blog, consider donating on Patreon.
Want more on this topic? Go to: Concepts and Themes
Comment below or send an email to




Johnston, Grahame
2012    Archaeology And The Study Of Archaeoastronomy. 12 Dec 2012. Accessed 2/8/2016

Ruggles, Clive
2007    Course AR3015: An Introduction to Archaeoastronomy. . Accessed 2/8/2016

Center for Archaeoastronomy. (CfA).

Accessed 2/8/2016
Accessed 2/8/2016
Accessed 2/8/2016

Categories: Archaeology, Concepts and Themes | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Andy White, Podcasts, and Debunking Roman Swords.

Here on the blog we’ve just started to dip our toe into the waters of Oak Island. However, there is one recent detail that has popped up that we just can’t wait to discuss. That topic is the Roman Sword that was supposedly found off the coast of Oak Island in a shipwreck.

According to the Daily Mail;

” Researchers, led by Jovan Hutton Pulitzer, claim they have evidence that Roman ships visited North America ‘during the first century or earlier.’ (Zolfagharifard 2015)”

Sounds cool! So what’s the evidence?

Pulitzer claims that he’s found a Roman sword that is “100 per cent confirmed (Gadd 2015, Zolfagharifard 2015)” and that is “the smoking gun to his theory (Gadd 2015, Zolfagharifard 2015)”.  He says that the sword was discovered in a shipwreck just off the coast of Oak Island, and apparently made this announcement on the History Channel’s show Curse of Oak Island (Gadd 2015, Zolfagharifard 2015).

It doesn’t take long for this claim to start unraveling though, and unraveling in such a spectacular way at that.

First, the discovery of the sword is not exactly well documented. In Pulitzer’s own words in his interview with the Boston Standard last year:

“Pulitzer explained: “Some years ago, a man and his son were scalloping off Oak Island, which sees them hang rake-like object off the back of their boat. When they brought this up, the sword came up with it.

“The father kept it for decades, and when he died it went to his wife, then his daughter. Then when she died many years later it went to her husband. It was he who came forward to the island and said ‘I think you should know about this and where it was found.” (Gadd 2015)”

This is not the way to find reliable artifacts. We’ve gone over this many times on this blog and on the podcast. Context is King, Queen, and God. In order for an artifact to be valid it must be documented. Pictures, diagrams, documents, etc. This doesn’t exist with this sword. Even if it was a true artifact, the value of it beyond being cool looking is lost and it is by no means viable as evidence of anything by this point. So, this is the first problem, and frankly, for me, it’s a death knell. But there’s more…

Andy White, friend of the show and blog, has been doing tireless research into the supposed Roman sword. He’s created a wonderful Hashtag #SwordGate and is publishing his research, investigation, and results of said work on his personal blog and on The Argumentative Archaeologist.

Andy also sat down with Ken Feder and I on the Archaeological Fantasies Podcast. He talked with us about his work and the blow back he’s received from Pulitzer as a result of Andy’s critical work on the authenticity of the sword.

One of my favorite things that Andy has done is gotten his hands on several other copies (he’s up to 10 now) of the exact same sword that Pulitzer has tried to put forward as 100% real. So far Andy has created a database of the copies, and made point by point comparisons showing that the swords are all related to each other. He’s created a time-line of sorts using the differences on the sword hilts. He’s made his research and findings accessible to the public at large, so you can go look at the work he’s doing to debunk this now famous Not-Roman artifact. Andy’s pretty much stuck a fork in the topic.

Pulitzer for his part has tried to offer up more “evidence” for Romans in Canada. The Boston Standard lists a few of these, so lets have a look shall we?

Pulitzer claims that the originating shipwreck is still off the coast of Nova Scotia and that it is undisturbed, which is clearly not true since he supposedly has an artifact from it. He says that his team have “scanned it” whatever that means (Gadd 2015) and that it is definitely Roman (Gadd 2015). He’s not released these scans to anyone to see, so we have to take his word for it. In the exact same paragraph though, he makes mention that the wreck hasn’t been seen first hand yet, because the Nova Scotia government is hesitant to send an actual archaeological team down there (Gadd 2015). I can only assume they are even more hesitant let treasure hunters down there.

Pulitzer also tries to used DNA evidence to prove his point, saying that;

” “The Mi’kmaq carry the rarest DNA marker in the world which comes from the ancient Levant (the eastern Mediterranean). You can’t screw with DNA.” (Gadd 2015)”

No, but you can grossly misrepresent it and not actually understand what’s being shown. Jason Colavito covers this pretty succinct on his blog;

” He [Pulitzer] also alleges that the Mi’kmaq have Levantine DNA, which is a claim based on the fringe history DNA Consultants’allegation that the Mi’kmaq’s Haplogroup X links them to the ancient Near East, something that DNA experts dispute. (Colavito 2015)”

The Mi'kmaq petroglyph showing what some believe to be Roman legionnaires marching Bostand standard 2015

Mi’kmaq petroglyph via The Boston Standard 2015.

Pulitzer also claims that there Mi’kmaq petroglyphs in the surrounding area showing Roman legionnaires (Gadd 2015). Just looking at the offered image it’s clear either those are the longest swords ever made, or their something more like spears. Which I’m sure the Mi’kmaq peoples were and are familiar with. See, we don’t need a legion of Europeans to explain Native petroglyphs, Native people are capable of explaining themselves. I wonder if anyone has bothered to asked them about their petroglyphs?

Just for good measure Pulitzer tries to tie in linguistics, which is almost never accurate when used by the fringe as Colavito points out:

” He [Pulitzer] further argues that the Mi’kmaq preserve 50 Roman sailing terms, though he identifies none. Since the Mi’kmaq have a long history of interaction with French sailors, and French is a Romance language, if there are Latinate borrowings, he would need to prove these were not mediated through French. (Colavito 2015)”

He’s also offered a variety of Roman items that are not found on Oak Island, but around Nova Scotia as a whole. None of which are particularly impressive and all of which are without context. They are neat to collect, but not actual evidence of anything.

Lastly, Pulitzer tries to argue that the Romans brought an invasive species of plant with them on their voyages to help them fight scurvy (Gadd 2015). Said plant is now found all over the area. But plant he points to is called barberry (Berberis vulgaris) and was brought by the Europeans during the colonial period (Colavito 2015). Which would make sense since all the shipwrecks in the area are dated between 18th and 19th centuries (Gadd 2015).

still waiting

Pulitzer has been proclaiming quite loudly that he’s going to produce a White Paper. No one has seen it, except maybe the Boston Standard. Much like no one has seen the shipwreck scan, or like how no one gets to see the “original” Roman sword for actual research purposes.

All and all, in my opinion, this issue is a modern fraud. I for one am glad to see how quickly archaeologists like Andy and his supporting community have risen to the clarion to debunk it.

If you’d like to support this blog, consider donating on Patreon.
Want more on this topic? Go to: The Oak Island Saga.
Comment below or send an email to



Andy White’s Personal Blog

Andy the Argumentative Archaeologist

Archaeology Fantasies Podcast featuring Andy White.A LEGION OF ROMAN SWORDS – EPISODE 28

Colavito, Jason
2015    J. Hutton Pulitzer Alleges a Roman Sword Was Found Off Oak Island Several Decades Ago. Jason 12/17/2015 Accessed 1/24/16

Gadd, Gemma
2015    Startling new report on Oak Island could ‘rewrite history’ of the Americas. Boston Standard. Wednesday 16 December 2015. Accessed 1/24/16

Zolfagharifard, Ellie
2015    Did the ROMANS discover America? Radical theory claims sword found on Oak Island suggests ancient mariners set foot on the New World before Columbus. Daily 17 December 2015. Accessed 1/24/16

Categories: Archaeology, ArchyFantasies Podcasts, Columbus was Second-ish: Who Discovered America Anyway, The Oak Island Saga, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 3 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

Debunking, Blogging, and Public Outreach: Blogging Archaeology Carnival 2014!

blogging-archaeology banner

Sadly, I won’t be making the SAA‘s in Texas next year. Neither will my friend Doug over at Doug’s Archaeology, but he came up with a great idea for those of us who can’t make, something called a blogging carnival and he’s hosting the first round of questions for November (Which is also Movember, so get to growing guys).  If you’re a blogger focused on archaeology, you should definitely head over to his post about the carnival and join in. As for me:

To Blog or not To Blog.

I’m not sure I’ve ever done a whole post explaining this. It’s kind of hidden all over the blog in the About sections and such.  I started this blog 4 years (going on 5) ago now because I got really excited about the Skeptical and Atheist movements on the internet. I started with making videos on YouTube, which take a lot of time to make and edit. I didn’t really like it, and personally, the Atheist and Skeptical communities on YouTube started having issues and I didn’t really want to be part of the in-fighting, so I bowed out. I’m a writer anyway. Blogging just seemed like a natural choice to jump too.

When I made the decision to open this blog I realized I had to revamp the way I was doing things. I original wanted to create a space where people could come and get solid information on topics that are often avoided or not thought about by professional archaeologists.  Blogging is a great place for this; citations appear in-line, references are written out, you can link to important sites, also the text of the blog is searchable, and you can link things together easier. Blogging was just the better medium for a topic as difficult as debunking.

Blogs also allow for better organization of topics. I handle several reoccurring topics here, the two biggest being Women in Archaeology and Weird Archaeology which both branch into subtopics like Mother’s of the Field and The 10 Most Not-So-Puzzling Ancient Artifacts. I can group all of the individual posts together to make them more readable as groups, not something easily done on YouTube at the time.  I also have more control over the blog. I can moderate the comments better, respond quicker, and in general have better conversations with my readers.

You Haven’t Left Yet?

Why am I still blogging? Because I feel I am filling a gap in the archaeological community.

We archaeologists tend to forget that there are people out there who are not archaeologists, and who don’t understand why we say the things we do. There are a lot of blogs out there in the topic of archaeology and CRM that mainly focus on discussing the topic among educated archaeologists. I learn a lot about sub-fields and new research techniques, all of which is perfectly understandable to me because I’ve done this a while now. But if you’re just a random person with an interest in archaeology and you don’t want to be talked to like a 1st grader, there isn’t a whole lot out there aimed at you.

I’m not knocking websites and organizations that try to teach kids about archaeology, I even do it in my spare time. But a 30 year old isn’t a child.

Carl Sagan mentioned in his book Demon Haunted World how he got picked up at the airport by a driver who was completely ignorant of science, yet loved the topic. The only sources of information on the topic of science this driver had access to were pseudoscience and woo. Sagan didn’t blame the driver for his lack of formal education, he blamed the scientific community for not providing better access to real science to the lay person.

We have a very similar problem in the Archaeological community. Because we are not more accessible to the public we have issues with aliens, Atlantians, ethnocentrism, looting, and validating our field of study to governments. The other side of this coin is that we so rarely prepare students and professionals to talk with members of the public. We’re great talking to each other and presenting papers and posters, but when was the last time you genuinely explained to an individual outside of our community why we don’t dig for dinosaurs or pan for gold? People don’t know how we know what we know, and they are earnestly interested. I’m not saying things aren’t improving as time goes on, but it’s not where I think it should be yet.

Kenneth Feder in a recent article in the SAA’s membership magazine made a call for archaeologists to really step up to the plate. He took the responsibility of knowing bad archaeology from good away from the lay person and placed it squarely with us. We need to answer the awkward questions about the unintentional racism in ‘alternate  explanations’ for the building of Native earthworks. We need to answer the strange questions about ancient alien technology. We need to explain simple terms and concepts to  lay people because they don’t know what we do. We need to do this with a touch of humor and a lot of solid information, people like information.

So that’s why I’m still here. I like tackling psuedoarchaeology, it’s always entertaining and it’s a great way to teach critical thinking. I like talking about women archaeologists because it’s a giant hole in our history and it helps show people that there is more to archaeology then a bunch of stuffy old white guys (nothing against the stuffy old white guys in archaeology).

I’m going to keep at this too, for basically the same reasons, expanding the focus of this blog as I go. I’m thinking T-shirts…

Categories: Archaeology, Blogging, Rants | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Absence of Evidence

*In the long absence created by my return to school, I thought I’d finish migrating my old posts to this site. So, enjoy!*

“This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” ~ Carl Sagan

The first time I heard this quote was in field school. We’d spent the majority of the summer excavating the residence of Dr. J.H. Ward and found about nothing…though I did learn that a claw hammer will totally own century old cement…When asked what he was going to say about the residence since we’d had such a lean collection of artifacts, Dr. Mullins (go read his awseome bolg on material culture) told me, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” This was quickly followed with a rather comical debate over what a particular artifact really was to which I was told, “When you hear hoof beats, think Horses not Zebras.”I took both quotes to heart, often repeating them to myself when faced with questions in the field. I still like both, even though recently I learned that the Carl Sagan quote is actually a misquote. The full quote is listed above and can be found on Wikiquote…or better yet in his book Demon-Haunted WorldTo put it in context, Sagan uses this phrase in his “Baloney Detection Kit”. He uses it as a tool to identify and reject an “appeal to ignorance”. The phrase appears in Chapter 12, “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection” in the “The Demon-Haunted World”

“appeal to ignorance – the claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true, and vice versa (e.g., There is no compelling evidence that UFOs are not visiting the Earth; therefore UFOs exist – and there is intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe. Or: There may be seventy kazillion other worlds, but not one is known to have the moral advancement of the Earth, so we’re still central to the Universe.) This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

So, this quote didn’t mean what I thought it meant. What Sagan appears to be doing here is pointing out that absence of evidence IS evidence of absence.

What does this have to do with archaeology you ask? Oh my, so much. Especially when you are dealing with pseudoarchaeology.

I’ve been doing research for a video that will be on Ancient Astronauts building the Pyramids, not a topic I was familiar with, and frankly the more I “learn” the more my brain hurts. What I’ve been finding is that Ancient Astronauts supporters use the appeal to ignorance to support their claims, up to the point of quoting Sagan. This tells me is that not only do they not know anything about ancient Egyptian civilization / building techniques, they also have never read Sagan. This bothers me since in both cases they are speaking as if from positions of authority, and five minutes on the internet can blow their arguments out of the water.

I blame von Daniken for this. The man simply refuses to see fact, even when it’s place right before him. He is also a prolific author on the topic of pseudoarchaeolgoy, claiming that professional archaeologists either don’t know what they are doing, or are purposefully covering up the “truth”. To him I ask, what do we have to gain by hiding the truth?

Daniken likes to point to known artifacts, hieroglyphs, and paintings, claiming that Archaeologists translated them incorrectly, that they are really ancient depictions of aliens, or even parts of a spaceship. He goes as far as to say that everything we know is wrong, and we have something to gain by not telling the lay public the truth. Daniken apparently never had the benefit of someone telling him to think Horses not Zebras.

To all this I say, Ancient Astronauts supporters: you have no evidence, you have no facts, most damningly, you have no practical applied experience. When you misquote Sagan, you show you have no grasp of basic concepts. As in all things, Occam’s Razor comes into play, and since your extraordinary claims cannot be backed with extraordinary evidence, you really should let it go. Have a little faith in your own species, we really are a very clever and capable ape.

Categories: Concepts and Themes, Rants | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Archy vs. Angel Mounds.

In case you didn’t know what Angel Mounds is, I will link you to the web site. In case you didn’t know what I’ve been doing lately, I’ve been digging at Angel Mounds, to which I link you to our Field School Blog, and you should go read it. Doo eet.

I’ve been here for a week now and we are just now opening units up. Let me explain why it’s taken this long, because it’s actually a really cool reason.

Grad Mentor Matt with the Magnetic Gradiometer, walking lines to get a picture of the ground beneath.

Grad Mentor Matt with the Magnetic Gradiometer, walking lines to get a picture of the ground beneath.

For the first week we checked and set up the equipment we were going to use. Aside from the usual shovels and screens we’re using a Magnetic Gradiometer (aka Magnetomer or Mag for short) this year on pretty much all of the site we’re working on. This awesome little device use two sensors to measure the gradient of the magnetic field in the ground. It then creates a picture from those readings that can fairly accurately show where features are going to be on the site. It can’t show us depth and iron or magnetic metals will create these huge spots in the picture, but otherwise the picture is incredibly helpful in planing where to dig.

Magnetic gradiometer map of Prehistoric fire-hearths (site unknown). Image from Wikipedia.

So, now we have our own image of the site ground showing us a very interesting  image of the first terrace of Mound A. This allowed us to put in four 1 meter by 1 meter  units on the terrace right where the cool stuff is.

Honestly, this saved us tons of guess work and wasted effort, and really it only took one day to get the area surveyed and the image processed. Granted we did have to prepare the area and make sure any modern metal was well away from the area to be surveyed, so two days at max, and we (by we I mean Matt) covered a 60 meter by 60 meter area in a couple of hours. That’s pretty good.

I really can’t explain how much time and man power this saved us, or really how awesome cool the picture is.

Sharpeing trowles

Learning how to sharpen our trowels into razor sharp objects.

But all that was done last week, which means that today we actually BROKE GROUND! (Que Fan-Fair and Confetti!)

We opened four 1 meter by 1 meter  units on the first terrace of Mound A. All of them placed over places where the Mag showed us anomalies. Now, I am used to much bigger units, but I am also used to blindly digging based only on land forms and previous surveys. This is much better. Survey taken, spots identified, units opened, done.

Dr. Bill Monaghan from IU using the Total Station to locate and record points on the site grid on the terrace.

Dr. Bill Monaghan from IU using the Total Station to locate and record points on the site grid on the terrace.

For those who don’t know, the first step here is setting up a grid. Which I am not going into this time. (Did I mention our Field School Blog and how you should go read it?) Once we’ve got that done and we have the Mag image, we picked out smaller areas for the units, which also had to be shot onto the grid using the Total Station (pictured above). If you’ve ever seen a survey crew on the side of the road, that’s the camera looking thing on a tripod they’re using. We use them to for the same reasons and then some. (again, go read the blog)

Once we have two points representing our North line recorded by the Total Station we set about laying in the other points using the age old method of tape measures and math.

Learning to lay in the other two corners of the unit via tape.

Learning to lay in the other two corners of the unit via tape.

Once this is done the real fun begins, because now we can begin to dig. Which is much more then just sticking a shovel into the ground. See, we try and preserve the sod cap, or the grass on top. Usually because we plan to replace it afterwards. So because of that, there is a very specific way to remove the grass on top. (Also, we don’t want to screen the grass, because that takes forever and there is rarely anything useful in the grass.) What is this mysterious technique you ask? I call it, Sharpened Shovel Style!

See, we take square shovels (as opposed to spade shovels), sharpen them like knives, and then chop into the grass just far enough to get past the roots, but not really into the dirt much. Then we pry the grass up and roll it up and set it aside till we need it again. It sounds simple, but it can take a bit to get just right.

Popping the top off the unit.  Note the perfect form...

Popping the top off the unit. Note the perfect form…

Once that’s all gone we begin removing the dirt in arbitrary levels, unless the soil changes or we see a feature, and we begin taking copious amounts of notes. Seriously  we take so much paperwork it makes the trees cry! But we have too, see excavation is destruction, and even with doing as little damage as we will be using the Mag image and all, we still need to record everything we do and find so that later we can reconstruct the events of the excavation via the paperwork.

Grad Mentor Erica teaching us how to fill out the paperwork.

Grad Mentor Erica teaching us how to fill out the paperwork.

We also tag every bucket of dirt that we plan to screen. Which bring me to the next new thing we’re doing here that I’ve not seen done on a CRM site yet. Water Screening! (I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, just that I haven’t seen it yet).

Filling out the tags that will go with the buckets of dirt to the water screens.

Filling out the tags that will go with the buckets of dirt to the water screens.

So, Water Screening is basically regular screening, where you take a bucket of dirt and sift it through a metal mesh screen stapled to a wooden box frame, and you add water. Lots of water, like from a hose. When you do a big dig, or a phase 3, you move a lot of dirt and to get though all of it, you usually have dedicated screeners that rotate with the diggers. You also have large screen tables so you can work on more than one bucket of dirt at a time, making sure it’s all from the same level.

The Water Screens

Setting up the water screening tables.

Water screening works the same way except the screens are a much finer mesh and not metallic, and you get to play with the garden hose. Oh and mud, there is lots of mud.

water screening

And mud.

Playing with the hose.

Playing with the hose.

The benefit of this versus dry screening is a near 100% recovery of anything that comes out of the unit. Also, you get to play in the water on really hot days.

So, that was pretty much what happened on day six of my field school here at Angel Mounds. All the hard work from last week payed off and now the new hard work of digging begins. Interesting features await us beneath the soil on Mound A, and we’re going to find them.

Waiting to dig.

Waiting to dig.

“But wait Archy, where are you in all these cool pictures you just showed us?” 

Where you ask?

Remember how I was telling you about the Magnetic Gradiometer? I was out there pulling tape so that Matt would know where he needed to walk in order to survey more of the area around Mound A. That’s right, there will be more units, and one of them has my name on it. (Seriously, I’m taking a Sharpie to it or something).

Me and my awesome hat, be jealous, it's a Tilley.

Me and my awesome hat, be jealous, it’s a Tilley.

Categories: Archaeology, GIS and Remote Sensing, Tales of Grad School | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

How did the Easter Island Statues Get There? They Might Have Walked!


While doing research for my Remote Sensing project I happily stumbled across an entry in the book, Satellite Remote Sensing for Archaeology by Sarah H. Parcak, that I just had to look up. Once I got into it, I knew I had to share, since more than a few have asked about this very topic. Specifically,  how the Easter Island Statures were moved. Well researchers Dr. Carl Lipo and Dr. Terry Hunt might have an answer, using Remote Sensing!

Moai set in the hillside at Rano Raraku

First, What are the Easter Island Statues? Officially called the Moai, they are stone monoliths depicting giant human figures with extremely large heads. The stone they are carved from is called  Tuff, which is an easily carved,  compressed volcanic ash [Radford 2012]. The tuff quarries are located in an extinct volcano called Rano Raraku on the northeastern part of the island [Radford 2012]. Experts, and locals, attribute them to depictions of ancestors and great leaders. Others, attribute them to, yes, Aliens and the like.

Before we get into what they found let’s look over some of the alternative theories out there.

The site called The Hidden Records is kinda typical of the kind of ideas Ancient Alien Theorists get. I like this one, mainly because it’s written by a guy named  Wayne, who likes to refer to himself in the first person. This amused the Archy, so the Archy decided to peruse the Wayne’s entry on the Moai.

I’m not going to lie, I skimmed this site. It took a while for the Wayne to get to the point, which was that the Moai are somehow connected to an ancient global cult who worshiped bird-headed spacemen, as shown by the dubious claim that the statues are aligned with the “Sol-Star”. Also, carved onto the bodies are both the symbol ‘O’ and ‘M’ which, other than being two of the most simplest symbols to form, also connect the statures to the global Space-BirdMan cult.

The Wayne did throw a few questions out there, and a couple really caught my attention, manly because they were so easily answered. Not that this will impress the Wayne, he’s sure to point out, he’s never heard a satisfactory explanation for the correlations he sees, but that’s a true believer for you. These questions are pretty common among any conspiracy/true believer I’ve encountered.

“How strange is that just for starters? The first expedition unearthed them and documented the breaking discovery pictographic[sic] evidence, didn’t make it public in a big way at all, then for unknown reasons, buried them again! This is insane! What could have been so shocking for them to have been completely covered up again?”

This comment comes after a ramble about the excavation of the a few of the Moai statues. They were indeed excavated, and they do possess detailed bodies beneath the ground, but this comment shows the Wayne’s lack of understanding of how archaeology works. It also makes several assumptions that are not validated.

Firstly, The Wayne assumes the statues were originality buried. What the Wayne doesn’t seem to understand is that really heavy objects sink over time, especial when they are sat on bare ground. We see this a lot with headstones in cemeteries. The weight of the stone forces itself to sink into the ground over the years, especially in regions where there is rainy weather that softens the ground seasonally.

Secondly, it’s not so shocking that the archaeologists would have reburied the statue, it’s actually a very common practice that helps to preserve a site or object. Nearly everyone does it, especially when we’re looking at things that we are not intending to remove or if a dig takes more than one season. For some reason the Wayne thinks that all archaeologists do is dig things up, rip them from the ground, and then scamper off to a museum. Lots of things get left in-situ for prosperity and because the point was to examine them, not abscond with another culture’s artifacts.

Third, The Wayne assumes, as many alternative theorists do, that there is some great academic conspiracy that every “mainstream” researcher is in on. Therefor the researchers who worked on the Moai dig kept their findings quiet and then tried to hide the evidence because it’s so shocking. The reality is that there is a lot of academic research on the Moai and it’s very accessible to the public. Including the site the Easter Island Statue Project which is a great resource for those with questions about the Island and it’s ancient culture. They have links to their expeditions,  excavations, and artifact logs. Dr. Hunt also makes his research accessible to the public via his personnel page.

Moai facing inland at Ahu Tongariki, restored by Chilean archaeologist Claudio Cristino in the 1990s

But the Wayne goes on. This time about how he can’t possibly figure out how two civilizations develop independently of each other.

“By chance having two individual civilisations[sic] on opposite sides of the planet, one located in the middle of an ocean, having the same obsession with massive stone carvings and showing the same symbols, story, style and entity appearance is absolutely mind blowing!”

This is actually called Convergent evolution and applies easily to cultures as well as species. What I don’t understand is why people don’t get that we are all humans and each of us just as capable as the other. So why is it so hard to grasp that two different cultures can come up with the same idea? Especially when they live on the same planet, encounter the same natural forces, look up at the same sky, and share the same biological needs? The Wayne seems to be amazed that multiple cultures could look up at the starry sky at night and come up with constellations completely independent of one another. That idea confuses him, but a global Space-Bird Cult is completely reasonable.

It’s also a very sad statement how intellectually poor The Wayne, and most that think along these lines, think our ancestors were. Apparently our ancestors were so intellectually deficient that they couldn’t possibly figure out how to carve stone, make symbols into words, and have their own cultures without Spaceman helping them out. It’s terrifically insulting to ancient cultures, and vaguely racist. As usual, the Wayne is very white, and well, the Rapa Nui (who are the descendants of the Moai culture) are kinda brown-ish. It’s more of a micro-aggression then full-blown racism, but it’s a common thread in these “ancient people were visited by aliens” theories, and people need to be aware of it.

Anyway, I could spend all day breaking down the Wayne’s arguments, but I think we all get the idea. There are people out there who think the Moai were either built by aliens or for aliens.

So how did these huge Stone statues get from their quarries to where they are now? Well, they walked. According to the History Channel’s excellent mockery of a documentary called Ancient Aliens, when the Spacemen came down and had the statures carved to fit their egos, then they animated the statues so that they would walk to locations the would be found at.

The “Walking” Moai, via

But the History Channel may not be as wrong as they usually are. This time there is a bit of meat to this idea. Hunt and Lipo reproduced the “walking” of the statues by having three teams maneuver the statue using ropes [Boyle 2010]. It’s more fun if you watch this video:

[Boyle 2012]

But honestly, that’s not the coolest part for me. The coolest part is that Hunt and Lipo also have used infrared-satellight images to identify the very roads that the statures were probably walked down. These roads have been set upon by the natural processes that occur over time, but that’s whats so damn cool about using remote sensing, you can see the scars left behind by ancient peoples on the landscape!

“Figure 1. A panchromatic 70cm resolution QuickBird satellite image showing an ancient road section leading west-south-west from the Rano Raraku statue quarry (A). Statues that surround the quarry are easily visible in this image (B) as is the modern parking lot (C). The ancient road (D) is visible primarily as a horse trail and as a line of vegetation that runs from the north-east to the south-west corner of the image. This feature likely reflects sediment compaction with greater water retention and subsequent vegetation growth. Multiple large statues (moai) line this road near the quarry (E). The satellite image was provided by RADARSAT, Inc and DigitalGlobe, Inc.” [Lipo and Hunt 2005]

That’s pretty darn cool to me. You should be able to click through the image to get to the full paper. The picture is much nicer in the pdf version.

I was really excited when I saw this little tidbit, and I really wanted to share it with you. The more I learn about remote sensing the more I am stoked about learning to use it to aid in archaeology. Especially since I know this paper was used to help Lipo and Hunt form their “Walking Statue  hypothesis  which led to the testing of it, which aids in the debunking of sites like The Wayne’s.

Dr.s Lipo and Hunt [Boyle 2012]

I want to leave you with one last quote from the Cosmic Log article because this really drives home the damage that racism of the Ancient Alien theorists cause:

“So did the statues rock, or roll? The debate over the two scenarios surrounding Easter Island’s past could well continue for generations. But it’s clear which scenario is preferred by the islanders themselves.

“The young people … they’re celebrating. I don’t think there’s any other word for it,” Hunt said. “One came up to me and said, ‘It’s so important for my generation to know we’re not failures.’ That brought tears to my eyes.” [Boyle 2012]


Boyle, Alan

2012  How Easter Island’s Statues Walked. Cosmic Log, NBCNews.COM. Retrieved Nov. 8 2012

Lipo, Carl P. and Terry L. Hunt

2005   Mapping prehistoric statue roads on Easter Island. Antiquity vol 79: 158-168. Retrieved Nov. 8 2012

Radford, Ben

2012   Did Aliens Visit Eater Island? Discovery News. Retrieved Nov. 8 2012

Van Tilburg, Jo Anne and Cristián Arévalo Pakarati

2012  The Easter Island Statue Project.  Retrieved Nov. 8 2012

Categories: Ancient Astronauts, GIS and Remote Sensing, Weird Archaeology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: