Category Archives: Archaeology

Lovecraft and Religious Exoticism.

Lovecraft and Religious Exoticism.

Last post I touched on the concept of Orientalism and how it’s used in a lot of Lovecraft’s writing. This post I want to focus on something specific, mainly Lovecraft’s use of religion and superstition in his stories.

When we talked about Orientalism, I also brought up the idea of cultural exoticism, which is the Othering of things outside of our own culture. It’s ethnocentrism in practice, and Lovecraft used it a lot. Jason Colavito in his book Cult of the Alien Gods mentions how Lovecraft was fascinated with the Muslim religion for a brief while. That fascination did not appear to lead to greater education about the Muslim religion for Lovecraft. It seems that Lovecraft merely learned a few tidbits about the Muslim religion and ran with the rest of it in his imagination. We see these details peppered throughout his stories. Of course, there is the mad Arab, the author of the Necronomicon, whose name was also the alter ego of Lovecraft himself for a while. We see Lovecraft’s weave in superstitions of Djin and the mysterious city of Irem, in his short stories.

Lovecraft’s heavy-handed poetic license didn’t focus entirely on the Muslim religion and culture. He was also fascinated with the ancient religions of European countries as well. Several stories highlight this fascination showing the superstitions Lovecraft imagines ancient peoples might have had. He, of course, uses his own cosmic pantheon as stand-ins for any real gods or spirits. Lovecraft was building a brand after all, even if that exact concept hadn’t been developed yet.

Lovecraft enjoyed creating horror in his stories by tapping into the past and weaving it into the future. Unfortunately, so often, the characters he chose to represent this ‘living past’ were foreigners, or economically depressed individuals, or those who would be considered poorly educated. Lovecraft used classism as much as he used racism in his stories to create distance between the reader and those he wished to mark as pitiful or horrifying.

So what exactly am I describing when I say religious exoticism?

Perhaps the best examples that pop into my mind immediately are such things as the lost city of Irem and the idea of the Necronomicon. Irem is part of actual folklore as being a city that existed before the pyramids in the great desert of Arabia. The inhabitants of the city were supposedly giant individuals or even Djin. Some claim that the citizens of Irem where those that built the pyramids, and/or where the Djin enslaved by Solomon to build his temple.

Lovecraft took this story and ran with it in his own tail “The Nameless City.” But Lovecraft, of course, embellished his story with details and ideas that were not originally part of the folk-story.

He did something similar when he created his mad Arab and the Necronomicon. The book of course as many may know is supposed to be a text on how to summon and control Djin, and is supposed to be one of the most powerful and terrifying books ever written. The Necronomicon is completely made up, though there are some texts that may or may not have been the influence for the Necronomicon. There is varying evidence to suggest if Lovecraft would even have been aware of the existence of these old books or even the actual existence of these old books. Neither of these details are important to our conversation today.

What is important is that once again Lovecraft took one particular detail, his fascination with the Pre-Muslim magic and belief in Djin, and ran with it. I don’t think Lovecraft puts any true facts in either his story of Irem or the Necronomicon’s many incarnations. He didn’t need to, he was telling a story trying to create an atmosphere of horror and suspense and danger, and did so by taking just enough reality and then embellishing the crap out of it, without true care for accuracy.

As we have been learning in our shallow deep-dive into Lovecraft and all things he influenced, this religious exoticism of Lovecraft’s did not end when he stopped writing. As far as is using it as an element for storytelling, Lovecraft’s cabal of writers; friends and students, continued to use these elements in their own stories and his writing style has definitely influenced writers ever since. We talked about the long reach of Lovecraft when we talked about the 25th anniversary of “In the Mouth of Madness” by John Carpenter. It’s always fun to have a little geek out moment.

But we can still see the impact of religious exoticism in the modern-day. And here I wish to tie-in a recent article I wrote about dybbuk boxes. A very brief recap of what a dybbuk boxes, supposedly it’s a Jewish spirit box meant to contain an evil spirit.

Now the reason I compare the dybbuk box to Lovecraft’s writing is that there was a movie released in 2012 called The Possession. The inspiration for the movie came directly from the original dybbuk box that was sold on eBay. I covered the dybbuk box in its history on the Paranormal Archaeology blog. And in my investigations of the dybbuk box, I found that it is a completely made-up object, however, there is enough independent belief in the reality of a dybbuk box that they are quite popular now. And it’s my honest belief that the reason the dybbuk box is so popular is because of its connection to the concept of Jewish mysticism.

The Jewish religion does have a branch that is concerned with mysticism, it is not a very well-known branch to the average person. Many people may not even know that there is Jewish mysticism. But like all religions, including Catholicism and many Christian denominations, there’s always an element of the mystical and/or the magical.

That being said the dybbuk box is not Jewish in any way, not only is the dybbuk box completely made up, but the concept of a dybbuk box is counter to actual Jewish mysticism. But that’s not the important detail is it? Much like Lovecraft to took a few ideas from the Muslim religion and ran with it to create his nameless city and his Necronomicon, the original creator of the dybbuk box took a few ideas of Jewish mysticism and cobbled them together to create a completely fake artifact that he sold on eBay as a haunted box. Much like Lovecraft’s creation of the Necronomicon has spawned several iterations of the book to the point where people have even tried to create genuine copies of the Necronomicon and sell them to the public, the dybbuk box is quite popular on the Internet. They can be purchased even now on sites like eBay and if you go to YouTube you can find several videos of people investigating and opening the dybbuk boxes, many of them believing they are having some kind of supernatural experience in the process.

What allows this to occur is the mysterious and unknown elements of religions that are foreign to us. For example, the idea of speaking in tongues is very strange to many who do not practice it. Yet for religions that believe that this is a tenement of their religion, it’s not strange at all. Yet how many horror movies have we watched the past where strange cults become possessed and start speaking in tongues? Why is this frightening to us? Why is it a staple of horror movies throughout the years?

Because it is a not well known, mysterious, religious practice, whose significance may not be evident to those observing from the outside. It is the same thing with Jewish mysticism, it serves a purpose within the religion, and is misunderstood by those outside of it. Catholicism has the same issues with their saints and the Vatican. How many times have we heard of a great Vatican conspiracy? Why is this, because the Vatican is secretive. It is the same thing with Lovecraft and the Muslim religion and made up pagan religions. Things that are not well understood by outsiders are easily seen as things to be suspicious of or even fearful of.

For Lovecraft, these were the perfect elements to create horror stories that would stick with his readers for generations to come. For those of us living in the modern era, where we should be more understanding of the differences of others, religious exoticism should be a warning sign to us.

When we step back from entertainment and see religious exoticism in practice in our lives we should be wary. How many times have we had arguments with people around us about sharia law or the practice of praying five times a day while facing east? How many times have we seen or heard horror stories of Muslims, or Sheiks, or even Indigenous peoples practicing their religions and being attacked for practices that seem strange to outsiders? Here in America, we tend to see everything through a Christian filter one way or the other. Whether we are believers or not. It affects everything that we see and do and affects the decisions we make about people around us. Have you ever stop to wonder why multiple spouses are frowned upon? If everyone is a consenting adult, is anyone truly being harmed? But yet we refuse to allow for legal polygamy, and we look on with suspicion to those who practice it.

This isn’t me advocating for polygamy, this is me trying to point out the religious exoticism affects us even today. And the idea that exotic elements of other religions are things to be feared are traits that we have deep inside of us. Lovecraft used them as a way of making a story, we should be examining them as warning signs of our own personal biases. The next time you have a knee-jerk reaction to the religious practice of another, you should perhaps look inside first and figure out why it bothers you. Is it because someone is doing something that seems wrong to you because it’s occurring outside of your own culture? It might be scary to find out how often that is really the truth.

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Resources:

 

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The Major Issues with Transoceanic Travelers (Hint it’s the R and S words)

The Major Issues with Transoceanic Travelers

So there’s a few unifying threads when it comes to certain pseudoarchaeology ideas — one of which being the concept of the Transoceanic Traveler. I recently finished reading a book called The Path of the Spiritual Sun. It’s a guidebook for a new religion that a gentleman named Beelzebub is trying to hype.

The central premise of Beelzebub’s argument in his book is that all religions stem from an ancient race of sun worshipers who existed before the biblical flood. That premises alone is a bit of a bag of worms to unpack, but then we start looking deeper into this mysterious vanished race, and what we find is not surprising at all. I did a podcast recently talking about my thoughts and feelings over the book itself. What I wanted to concentrate on here is the idea of the great white race of ancient ancestors who come bearing culture from across the oceans.

Now sometimes you see this theme, and it’s small scale-wise. It’s usually just one culture supplanting another. An example I can think of is the Lost Tribes of Israel coming to the Americas. (this did not actually happen.) Clearly, the Lost Tribes of Israel were not some great global master race, but according to some fringe theorists, they were the ones that brought civilization to the Americans. (again, this did not actually happen.)

A lot of times, you also see this concept of the Transoceanic Traveler echoed in ancient astronauts or ancient alien theories. If you have followed the Ancient Aliens’ TV series for the past ten years, you will probably know that one of the major linchpins of the ancient alien theory is that all Gods across all cultures are actually aliens. Prehistoric man assigned them the role of God because they were unable to conceive of anything else. I think the Ancient Aliens’ theory is probably the most extreme version of the Transoceanic Traveler simply because those culture bringers had to come across the vast sea of space.

Beelzebub brings this Transoceanic Traveler idea back to its ideological roots. That idea that prehistoric humans were incapable of creating their own culture and so required outside influence. Now, like most proponents of the Transoceanic Traveler idea, we don’t know where the original father race of people came from. Perhaps they grew out of the ground organically? Perhaps they are actually Gods? Who knows, no one ever bothers to provide too much of the back story for the fictional Transoceanic Traveler. What we do know is that these father races are almost always without exception a white race of men. I say of men because you very rarely see any mention of women when it comes to these theories.

Anytime women are mentioned in a Transoceanic Traveler story, it’s almost always as merely a vessel for the next generation. They’re simply there for the white man to have sex with and then bear sons to. On the very rare occasion, you will see some goddess relegated to the ranks of the enlightened father race, but it’s very rare.

So I’m sure at this point we can clearly see a few of the major issues with the Transoceanic Traveler idea. It is inherently racist in that it completely erases prehistoric cultures’ abilities to have agency over their own religion and culture and history. It also usually only applies to cultural groups that are perceived as being non-Caucasian, or more specifically non-Aryan (a term used verbatim in Beelzebub’s book). Now, unless you’re talking about a certain brand of wool, using the term Aryan is usually a red flag.

The Transoceanic Traveler it is also inherently sexist because it doesn’t include women at all unless they are a sexualized object, or merely a vessel of reproduction. This makes women nothing more than objects of the past, puts them in a position of being nonhuman. This seems to be a difficult idea for certain people to understand, that relegating women to a mear function is inherently sexist and dehumanizing. Not sure why that’s a hard concept for some, but apparently it is.

Also, by insisting that all of the great minds throughout history are direct descendants of these white male Transoceanic Travelers also erases any contribution of anyone who does not fall into that category. We see this with Ancient Aliens fairly frequently. Their claim that the great men throughout history are either the hybrid byproducts of male-alien / human-female interbreeding or the direct result of alien genetic manipulation.
It erases cultural achievement, cultural agency, and cultural independence, and pushes the narrative that male is best.

The truly insidious part of all of this is, however, that most people, I believe, who promote this idea of a Transoceanic Traveler culture bringing father race, are not themselves actively racist and sexist. I believe they just lack the tools to see the issues in this fanciful idea. For whatever reason, the Transoceanic Traveler story holds a lot of power over some. Perhaps it is the idea of mystery, the idea of a suppressed past, the Everyman myth where the average guy outsmarts the educated elite. Maybe it’s a small combination of all these things. But when you look past the romanticized adventure of the idea of travelers from another world, and you start seeing the inherent issues with an idea like this, and the problems that arise trying to make a statement like that true, you have a hard time being able to accept Transoceanic Travelers at face value.

Putting aside the fact that there is absolutely no archaeological evidence to support Transoceanic Travelers at the level of culture bringing father races. Yes, there is evidence that there was trade among many different ancient cultures going further back than written records were kept. Again this should not be something surprising, if two groups share a cultural border that is easily crossed, they’re going to cross it. But to see one culture completely supplant another, especially over a distance such as the oceans during a time where vessels were not built to go that far, that’s never been seen in the archaeological record. I could make the argument that historically it doesn’t hold up either outside of myths and legends, but I’m not that familiar with every historical text ever.

I call Transoceanic Travelers an idea over a hypothesis because it is not built in the formal way of a hypothesis, and therefore can be neither a hypothesis nor theory. It’s merely an idea that some choose to cling to in the absence of evidence and in the presence of problematic issues like sexism and racism. One must choose to accept Transoceanic Travelers. There is no evidence to compel us to accept it as fact. And I think once people understand that better, and examine within themselves why they need the transoceanic traveler idea to be true, I hope many will abandon the idea, and perhaps look at what archaeology actually tells us about the rich histories of the variety of human cultures around the globe.

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Everything New is Old, The History of Psuedoarchaeolgy and Archaeology.

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Have I mentioned I’m doing my thesis lately? I feel like maybe I haven’t…

What this really is, is an excuse for is so that I can read all these books I have piling up in more depth. I’ve put them in some order, ish, and I’ve decided to share my thoughts with you all as I go.

I started with Lost Tribes & Sunken Continents; Myth and Method in the Study of American Indians by Robert Wauchope. I’m enjoying this book as it’s written openly and conversationally. Also, the little hints of 1960’s sexism amuse me. I think the most important aspects of this book are how everything is just on a cycle of rinse, later, repeat when it comes to the fringe and pseudoarchaeology — keeping in mind that my printing of the book is from 1962 – reading the stories and issues that Wauchope shares rings a familiar bell.

In the first few chapters, Wauchope talks about lost tribes and Lost cultures. He starts with the Maya and the exciting idea that some people in the late 1800’s had that the ancient Mayans actually traveled to Europe and thereby populated it. He focuses early on Augustus Le Plongeon the French amateur archaeologist from the late 19th century. The comparisons between Le Plongeon and modern-day writers like Graham Hancock, Eric fund and again, and Scott Wolter is probably more striking than it should be. The writers above directly reflect the fervent obsession that Le Plongeon shows to his theories. Even though their writing almost 150 years between each other.

I feel like Wauchope did an excellent job of pointing out the ideas and “theories” that Le Plongeon and his cohorts held and argued over. I will say that Roberts language at times is not what we consider polite anymore. Wauchope seems to take to the idea of combating pseudoarchaeology with ridicule and humor. He does, however, mention several times the damage that pseudoarchaeology goal claims like these can have. His words nearly verbatim what modern archaeologists say today. I suppose the significant difference between Wauchope writing in the 1960s and archaeologists writing about pseudoarchaeology today is that the damage of pseudoarchaeology the Wauchope was speculating could occur, as come to pass. We, the archaeologists of the 2020s, now have to deal with most of these ideas that Wauchope brings up, being mainstream “theories” that get more air time and media exposure than real archaeology could hope for, at least here in the Americas.

It is fascinating to me to know that someone was dropping warnings about the effects of pseudoarchaeology back in the 1960s. It’s not that pseudoarchaeology didn’t exist before this point; however, it is a little disheartening to know that we were being warned and not enough people listened.

It’s also good to see how Wauchope immediately takes the pseudoarchaeology topics he tackles in his book to task over their racism. He calls out to this particular trait in the first chapter of his concise book. The reason it’s so interesting to me is that the inherent racism of pseudo-archaeological claims is a major focus of debunking efforts these days. To see that it was being addressed 60 years ago kinda tells you something. It means archaeologists recognized the wrongness of the hyper-diffusionism idea of a parent race/culture early and were sensitive to the implications of such a claim.

It’s also interesting to see Wauchope talking about Le Plongeon and other not-yet-fringe archaeologists in the same way that archaeologists today talk about our own fringe and their ideas.

I guess the best way to put it is it’s like hearing a Justin Berber remake of a Queen song, then hearing his fans accuse Queen of ripping off Justin Berber. ( and if you don’t think that happened boy do I have a story for you). It’s a little surreal seeing something that you deal with on the daily, being talked about as a clear issue 60 years before your own interactions with the topic.

My other goal in reading this book is that I’m finally starting to understand where some of these pseudoarchaeology ideas originated like in the case of Le Plongeon and his theory of Mayan and Egyptian similarities.

Interestingly enough, Le Plongeon did not suggest that Egyptians came to the Americas, but rather that Mayans made it over to Egypt, thereby making American natives the culture bearers to the Egyptians. I find that to be an interesting twist to an old story, but then have to remind myself that Le Plongeon was among one of the first to start promoting such things.

Wauchope also hits on the concepts of lost tribes, Hebrew Indians, and both the sunken continents of Atlantis and Lemuria/Mu. I know Jeb has talked about the Mu stones more than once, and I’ll link those podcast episodes down below. Wauchope, however, talks about the origins of the idea of Lemuria/Mu. The purpose of this particular islands came into being not for any supernatural reason, but because an early German biologist, Ernst Jaekel, insisted that old world monkeys must’ve evolved on a now-vanished island in the Indian Ocean because otherwise the diversity of the lemur couldn’t be explained. Ernst was unfortunately wrong, and when presented with evidence showing such, he dropped that idea.

However the island of Lemuria/Mu lived on, and though it’s not as popular as Atlantis, even today, it’s still just as mysterious.

I am only about halfway through this book because it takes forever to read anything when you’re reading it for school. I am looking forward to the future topics in the book though, especially Chapter 8 titled “The Righteous and the Racists.”

I’m looking forward to seeing how little concepts and ideas in pseudoarchaeology have changed over the past 60 years. This, despite being continuously confronted by not only skeptics but professional archaeologists and scientists too.


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Resources:

Jeb Card and the Mu Stones, AF Podcast 35

Dr. Jeb Card and the ‘Mu Stones’ – My-Mu Blog

Dr. Jeb Card and the Mu Stones – Youtube vid

From Miami University to the Lost Continent of Mu

Caution and Certainty in Archaeology and Pseudoarchaeology.

Caution and Certainty in Archaeology and Pseudoarchaeology.

Well, I finished reading America Before by Graham Hancock.

I know there’s already been several reviews about this book, and I’ll be getting around to a much more in-depth one. (Because as I keep telling people, this is part of my thesis, and I may as well kill two birds with one stone). But if you followed along with my tweets as I’ve been reading this book, you’re probably aware of most of my thoughts at this point.

And yes I did finally get to the part about the psychic technology.

As stated earlier, my biggest issue with America Before and other books like it isn’t the idea about psychic lost civilizations that somehow could harness the ability to control the weather and predict space phenomenon but couldn’t somehow survive the Younger Dryas. My biggest issue about them is the subtle and inherent racism of the theories.

What’s most disconcerting though is that explaining why these ideas are racist, tends to be almost as difficult as bailing water with a sieve.  The major reason for this seems to be that people don’t understand what is racism is. I’m pretty sure that is well outside the scope of this blog, but I refuse to let that stop me from pointing this crap out when I see it. Maybe it’ll stick and dawn on someone eventually. 

I had a recent comment about my opinions on these issues with alternative history and alternative archaeology. It’s clear from the comment that for this person simply stating “I-am-not-a-racist” is enough to negate all inherent racism in the ides of Hancock’s major idea of a lost civilization that predates all Native Americans, and then cultivated “primitive” peoples to create the cultures and tribes in the Americas.

Which is not what I want to focus on here, really. That’s for my Thesis and is probably a whole chapter on its own. 

What I really wanted to talk about is Uncertainty in Archaeology and how it’s different from the Certainty of PseudoArchaeology  

Interestingly, Hancock is paying attention to some of the developing discoveries in archaeology. 

He cites some fairly recent papers and attempts to follow the conversations that are going on around them. The problem is, he doesn’t have the context or the training in archaeological theory to understand the conversation that’s occurring. So all of these assumptions that he’s making are happening without the benefit of that knowledge. 

Archaeology can take some small portion of the blame for this.  Archaeology as a field is notorious about keeping things to itself, especially when it comes to developing theories and things we’re not 100% sure about yet. Archaeology as a field is incredibly cautious, we don’t like to put things out to the public that we are not completely sure are defendable or accurate. 

It’s good science because we’re trying not to confuse people with too many ‘what-ifs’ and ‘maybes’. The problem here is is that being cautious is somehow seen as being wishy-washy, and too many people in today’s day and age want definitive answers, and they want them now. 

This is where presenters and writers like Hancock come into play. 

Throughout his book, Hancock constantly speculates about what he thinks his lost civilization would be like and they would look like culturally and scientifically. There are several places in the book where he straight says he will not try to defend these ideas of his or try to provide evidence. Then a few chapters later, the things that he speculated about in earlier chapters, he lays out in words that show that he has now moved these statements from speculation into solid facts without the benefit of defending them or trying to validate them with facts and evidence. 

But because Hancock uses definitive language, and emotionally charged language at that, it feeds that need in a lot of people to have solid answers to questions. Solid answers that science is not willing to provide because we are taught to be cautious, we are taught to doubt, we are taught to follow the evidence when evidence is provided, and if there isn’t enough evidence we are taught to wait.

The contrast between this certainty and uncertainty is really where the conflict occurs.

Pseudoarchaeology is confident that it is correct, it is confident that it’s evidence points where it needs it to, it is confident that it has solved the mystery. Archaeology, by contrast, isn’t so confident, even when we know we have the evidence and it points one way or the other. We are still cautious about our language. We are unwilling to put definitive words down, because we know that with the presentation of new evidence that even our most solid theory can change. It’s why we put so much weight on evidence, and why we are so picky about what we will accept as evidence and why we argue with ourselves over what is the correct interpretation of the evidence. 

We are cautious by nature because we have been taught to doubt, something pseudoarchaeology does not teach. Pseudoarchaeology tells you that if you see something and it looks a certain way to you, then that must be the Truth, and that all you have to do to prove the truth is find evidence that agrees with you. Pseudoarchaeology teaches you to ignore anything that is counter to the evidence that you need. This is not how science works.

You can call your ‘assumption’ a ‘hypothesis’ all you wish, it does not make it a hypothesis. If you are not applying the scientific method you are not working with a hypothesis, if your hypothesis cannot possibly be proven false, it is not a hypothesis. 

Too often pseudoarchaeology presents an idea and call it a hypothesis. Then, as Hancock does several times in his own book, states that they are not going to attempt to provide evidence. 

This is not science, this is not a hypothesis, this is not how the scientific method works.

It is unfortunate that this statement will upset a few people. It’s unfortunate that this statement makes people think I’m being exclusive. But we have standards in science.  We have doubts at every step. We test everything, evaluate everything, and yes, we argue. 

If all we were really doing is forming our own opinions based on our own observations, whether or not they are true or accurate, and then arguing with each other about who’s fantasy is better, we would not be doing science. 

We would be doing Pseudoscience.

 


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Check out Jeb Card’s new book Spooky Archaeology :
Myth and the Science of the Past

And Ken Feder’s new book Archaeological Oddities: A Field Guide to Forty Claims of Lost Civilizations, Ancient Visitors, and Other Strange Sites in North America

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 The Importance of Myth and Oral Traditions, Again.

The Importance of Myth and Oral TraditionsSomeone left a comment on my last post, about how somehow Native American Oral traditions are “double reverse racism”.

Then there’s the double reverse racism of self-proclaimed experts who say “Archaeologists MUST listen to the Native American oral tradition”, the implication being that “the oral tradition” is perfect, accurate, and unchanging and further that “the oral tradition” of Native Americans currently living in Place X is relevant; to the archaeology being done. An easy counterexample it that the Cherokee oral tradition is not relevant to the Plains Indians. Other groups of Native Americans have moved around throughout history and the people who live in Place Y might have supplanted earlier inhabitants, who in turn supplanted even earlier inhabitants.

First, srly?

Second, The least archaeologists can do is listen to Native American oral traditions.

There is no “implication” that any oral tradition is perfect. Oral traditions are important not because of their perceived perfection, but because they are the history of a people.

As far as the second half of this, the relocation of the Cherokee is not a counterexample. The location of the various Cherokee tribes neither invalidates their oral traditions nor replaces the oral traditions of others. It actually makes these oral histories important because they are out of place.

I can tell from this example that the value of oral traditions in archaeology is not understood. Which really only compounds with the problems created when the Fringe uses Native American Myth to support their ideas and biases.

I want to send people to one of our older podcast episodes where Ken and I talk about these topics. The Importance of Myth and Oral Traditions – Episode 30. 

Clearly, we need to revisit this topic again, and again, and again.


We’re on YouTube again!

If you’d like to support the Podcast or site, consider donating to us on Patreon or buy us a  Ko-Fi. Either option helps us out.

Check out Jeb Card’s new book Spooky Archaeology :
Myth and the Science of the Past

And Ken Feder’s new book Archaeological Oddities: A Field Guide to Forty Claims of Lost Civilizations, Ancient Visitors, and Other Strange Sites in North America

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Pseudoarchaeology is Aware of Racism, aka Let’s Talk about the R-Word.

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I repeat, Pseudoarchaeology is aware of racism.

They’re not entirely sure when something is racist, or why archaeologists call them out on it constantly, but they know it’s a thing that exists and it’s probably bad.

Why do I say this? The two most visible personalities in alternative archaeology/history right at this moment are probably Scott Wolter and Graham Hancock. As many know, I watch and read their shows/book and review them critically. It’s actually part of my thesis, so I guess they both get what they claim they ultimately want, recognition by the academic community. Just not the way they wanted.

To be clear I am not calling Wolter or Hancock (or anyone here) a Racist. What I am saying is the things they write/say/do are racist, probably unintentional, and need to be examined and criticized.

Both Wolter and Hancock have had their claims about archaeology/history critiqued and the racist parts pointed out to them over the years. I’ve watched both men develop their ideas, reacting to the criticism. Of course, there is the initial outrage (“I’m not Racist!”), who wants to be called a racist? But then, both of them tried to adapt their theories to make them less racist, and both have completely missed the point.

I’ve watched both carefully police their language over the years to not mention color or nationality as much as possible. But the mentioning of Blacks or Whites isn’t what makes what they say and sell racist. It’s the implications of what they’re trying to push as correct history. Both men have an idea about how culture got to and developed in America. Granted Hancock’s is a little more world-encompassing, but it’s still the basic, “Super Father Culture brings civilization to lesser people, mostly non-whites.”

For Wolter, it’s his strange Celtic-Viking-Templars, for Hancock it’s his psychic lost civilization of all-gods. It doesn’t matter who they are though, because the idea is the same, this mysterious group came to America and bequeathed all culture and society to the unfortunate clueless people already here, who then worshiped them as gods/heroes. Both theories completely ignore or erase native accomplishments and reassign them to the father race. And if you don’t see the issue there, we need to talk.

What’s been most interesting to me over the years is watching these two, and others like them, try to correct for the racism of their ideas, without changing their actual ideas. They think just changing the words they use will erase the implications, but miss the greater issues with their arguments. Then, when called out on it, they both do what can generously be called Virtue Signaling to try and show that *they* aren’t racist themselves.

The thing that struck me the other day reading Hancock once again get upset over his misconceptions of Native American and Archaeologist relations (there are issues, just not the ones he’s on about), is that they don’t see or understand their own racism. We can point it out to them all day, it won’t matter. Neither man thinks they are capable of being racist. Wolter even goes as far as to do the whole “I have Native American Friends” thing and Hancock just constantly tells us how angry he is for Native Americans (then dismisses their whole history in a handwave).

I don’t doubt that Wolter has friends in various tribes, or that Hancock is really upset. But that isn’t a pass to then turn around, treat all Native Americas as one amorphous group of people, or break them down into “advanced” and “primitive” societies based on arbitrary traits that really just reflect how little either man understands about archaeology and culture.

The only good thing about this is that it opens up the discussion of racism in and around archaeology.  Archaeology and anthropology have very dark origins and history. It’s ugly sometimes, and those of us in the field not only learn about this, we’re taught to counter it as much as we can. The sad truth is, we’re still very white, male-dominated, eurocentric fields.

Are things getting better? Yes, definitely. Could they be a whole lot better than they are, Absolutely!

Reading Hancock and watching Wolter, as frustrating as it is, opened my eyes to the reality that is both the public perception of archaeology and reminds me of the issues we still have to correct for in our own field. It also reminds me that we as professionals can’t have these discussions in the dark, away from public eyes. That’s how we got here in the first place, checking out of public discourse and letting pseudoarchaeology take control.

We need to take our narrative back, we need to be real, and we need to counter things when we see them.

Now I’ll get off my high horse and go get ready to watch Wolter tell me how the Phoenicians were the first Europeans in America.


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If you’d like to support the Podcast or site, consider donating to us on Patreon or buy us a  Ko-Fi. Either option helps us out.

Check out Jeb Card’s new book Spooky Archaeology :
Myth and the Science of the Past

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Question all the Pseudoarchaeology!

Would you believe I get asked a lot of questions?

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A lot of them kinda fall into the category of repeat things. “Have you seen X? What about Y lost civ? I found Z, is it real?” and “XYZ religion believes this thing, is it true?”

There’s always outsiders, but these are the categories for the most part. Normally I have seen/hear/read something about most mainstream fringe topics (didn’t think you’d see that phrase eh?) But every now and then I get something I haven’t, and I have to look into it.

The most challenging questions are the religious ones. I just want people to understand, you can’t debunk religious (or really any) beliefs.  I can’t tell you that your connection with ‘god’ or whatever isn’t valid. You wanna commune with nature, go for it. Honestly, as long as you’re not hurting anyone/anything or breaking major laws, I really don’t care what you believe.

What I do get testy about though is the use of archaeology and science to try and ‘prove’ religion. When I was first starting off as a YouTube channel, all them years ago y’all, I would constantly get pushback to my videos by Creationists, and well Mormons who wanted to use archaeology to either prove the earth isn’t as old as science says it is, or wanted to prove that there were advanced (white) Indians (Lost Tribes of Israel) in ancient America.

There are lots of problems with these claims, and I do question the purpose of such religious beliefs, but my point is, once you start to drag reality and facts into the discussion, you better bring evidence to back it up.

I’ve recently began looking over a new-ish religion using imagery of the Sacred Sun as an ancient, all-encompassing father cult that predates all other religions, and therefore spawned all other religions. They draw heavily from writers like Graham Hancock and his constant attempts to connect all ancient site together.

There’s a lot of underlying issues that are social and cultural in nature here, but the ones I really want to drive home is, there’s no archaeology to support such claims. In all reality, archaeology documents that cultures developed independently of each other, and connected with each other via trade, marriage, warfare, and diplomacy. Yes, we can see cultural traits passed down and adopted by others, but again, this only supports the idea of independence. Adapt, teach, learn. I harped on that in the last post.

Most importantly, we don’t see unifying cultural traits that we would expect to see if all religions/cultures were connected and decent from one super group. Seeing similarities between one group or another (the Maya and Egyptians for example) is often in the eye of the beholder and usually doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny.

Does this invalidate personal religious beliefs? No. Personal religious beliefs are personal. Does that make them good/right/virtuous? Again, up to the person/society, you’re in. Do I have to believe what someone else does? Hell no. Do I have to put up with it? Often times yes.

But when said group wants to try and drag archaeology into their beliefs and use it to further/support their beliefs (I’m looking at you Ancient Aliens and Hancock), you’ve moved out of the realm of Personal and into the realm of Facts. I can meet you there, you can show me your evidence and we can discuss it, and If you’re making some weird ass claim about super races and father cultures, it’s not going to be a fun meeting for you.


If you’d like to support the Podcast or site, consider donating to us on Patreon or buy us a  Ko-Fi. Either option helps us out.

Check out Jeb Card’s new book Spooky Archaeology :
Myth and the Science of the Past

And Ken Feder’s new book Archaeological Oddities: A Field Guide to Forty Claims of Lost Civilizations, Ancient Visitors, and Other Strange Sites in North America

Grab a t-shirt or coffee mug from our Swag Store on Zazzle.

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on the blog and like and share us where ever you can.

You can follow us on twitter @ArchyFantasies, or look us up on Facebook. You can reach us by email at ArchyFantasies@gmail.com.

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How Culture Works: Adapt, Teach, Learn.

I think many people who interact with pseudoarchaeology have similar origin stories. We all come to archaeology through a lense of curiosity, that was kindle in some part by the pseudo-information that was out there when we were growing up. I’ve spoken about my roots in role-play, especially D&D, but I also had a decent steeping in the Norse religious revival in the US.

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Cover of the Poetic Edda translated by Lee. M. Hollander.

I once dreamed of learning Old Norse and translating mysterious Runic scripts and learning the secrets of the old ways. Archaeology changed that for me. I went into archaeology as an extension of my fantasy rich image of the past and came out with a much different, yet far more interesting view.

I learned that magic, as cool as it seems, was unnecessary for peoples of the past. They had something much better, they had knowledge and ability. It’s what makes the human species so successful, our ability to adapt, teach, and learn. It’s also how we keep progressing from one cultural achievement to another. Adapt, teach, learn.

Got a new way to chip stone to make tools? Adapt, teach, learn.

Got a new way to make pottery that makes it more desirible somehow? Adapt, teach, learn.

Got a new cultural norm that benefits the population somehow? Adapt, teach, learn.

Logically these don’t always have to be beneficial, we can all probably think of things that weren’t that became issues in the past…lead for example. But the reality is, even those things were improvements of some kind at some point.

What else that’s important to keep in mind is, all of these adaptations, however simple they look to us today, were pretty important in their time. Some even revolutionary.

It’s these two basic principles of the past that get lost by the Fringe. They want to classify things as ‘primitive’ and ‘advanced’ when it’s really more of a “do we need this?” situation.

Take for example stone tools. Both Graham Hancock and Scott Wolter will waffle back and forth on whether or not these tools are ‘advanced’ or not. Depending on the narrative they’re building, the stone tools can be an example of how advanced a group is in their opinion, or how far behind they are compared to another group. This isn’t really how any of that works.

To put it simply, very simply, human beings really only change when there is a need to do so. Then they adapt, teach, learn. Why didn’t the early Native Americans have metal weapons like some contemporary European cultures? They didn’t need them, stone worked just fine.

Even within the states and various early Native cultures, we see this same process. Get out to the East coast before a certain time period and you won’t find a lot of Native pottery. Why? Because they had soapstone and they worked that into vessels. Other groups knew how to weave fiber or treat skin to make cooking and storage vessels. So they solved their problems in different ways and stuck with these techniques until they either needed a better one and adapted it, or they encountered a better way of doing things and adopted it. Adapt, teach, learn.

The dangerous error here though is considering one technique or cultural trait superior to another. Even Blue Nelson in the recent America’s Lost Vikings made the mistake of comparing ‘primitive’ stone tools to the more ‘advanced’ iron tools of the Vikings. That’s not how that is, one is not ‘better’ than the other unless you’re talking about how it works in the context of the culture it’s being used in. (And if you really want to get into Theory discussions, I can recommend some books…) As I said then, and I stand by it now, Nelson, as a trained archaeologist, should know better than to make that comparison.

Wolter and Hancock, they don’t have the benefit of being taught to step outside their own Eurocentric worldview to try to consider things from another cultural group’s viewpoint. It’s also why things like stone stools, megaliths, and earthworks seem like magic to them. They don’t understand how a ‘primitive’ group of people could have conceived of and then built such things. Then at the same time, they want to compare each group to each other, usually ignoring time-lines, culture change, and distance, and they want to rank all these groups as ‘primitive’ and ‘advanced’ judging those with more recognizable and understandable technology as being superior.

Then when they learn about something they consider ‘advanced’ being done by a group they think is ‘primitive’, they usually begin fantasizing about vastly more ‘advanced’ lost civilizations that must have given that advanced technology to the primitive people. It’s predictable to the point where you can watch or read just a little of either man’s argument, and know where they’re going with it. Yeah, I can dress it up by breaking down the absurdity of it “Australian Denisovans in South America,” or “Celtic Norse Templar Freemasons in Ancient America,” but it all comes down to, each man has picked their mysterious advanced culture group, and then sends them to bequeath technology and culture on the less advanced, usually Native Americas.

What’s most telling though is neither man sees issues with this. This is the only way they can conceive of a ‘primitive’ group of people learning to do ‘advanced’ things (both are arbitrary concepts btw). So they spend hours and pages trying to bend and stretch archaeology and history to match their narrative.

Eventually, though, even that has to break. I’m here to tell you, as I’m sure many other archaeologists will, that early Native people didn’t need to have culture and technology bequeathed on them from some supper group. They were quite capable themselves and managed to not only survive but thrive.

Adapt, teach, learn.

That’s how you got here.

Adapt, teach, learn.

Because ancient people didn’t die out.

Adapt, teach, learn.

And just because you can’t understand today how they did things in the past,

Adapt, teach, learn.

doesn’t mean Lost Civilizations or Aliens exist.


If you’d like to support the Podcast or site, consider donating to us on Patreon or buy us a  Ko-Fi. Either option helps us out.

Check out Jeb Card’s new book Spooky Archaeology :
Myth and the Science of the Past

And Ken Feder’s new book Archaeological Oddities: A Field Guide to Forty Claims of Lost Civilizations, Ancient Visitors, and Other Strange Sites in North America

Grab a t-shirt or coffee mug from our Swag Store on Zazzle.

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on the blog and like and share us where ever you can.

You can follow us on twitter @ArchyFantasies, or look us up on Facebook. You can reach us by email at ArchyFantasies@gmail.com.

Contact us below or leave a comment.

 

Pseudoarchaeology Issues, Creating New Oral Histories.

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Joan of Arc in Philadelphia, PA. Image via Christopher William Purdom 

 

In his most recent episode of America Unearthed, Scott Wolter came to my new home state of Pennslyvania. I’ll admit, I got a little thrill from seeing the state being showcased, especially since the images he used were really cute and complementary. It did strike me though, I live in the oldest continuously occupied city in the United States. (There’s a distinction there to be aware of.) It gives good old Philly a neat layer cake of history and it’s really impossible to touch on all of it in any one post, tv show, or hell, even a movie probably.

Two things the third episode of America Unearthed did bring to light though, were Pennslyvania’s history of secret societies, and it’s participation in the Underground Railroad.

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Philly Masonic Grand Lodge. 

Pennslyvania was home to several old societies, both fraternities, and sororities, and many originate out of Philadelphia. It’s natural as the city itself is 400 years old. Our Masonic Lodge is one of the prettiest (fight me) and we have some of the oldest, still operating structures in the country. Also, we have the liberty bell, and liberty hall, all Masonic, if you listen to the locals.

Which brings me to an interesting point, the intersection of ‘formal’ hisotry and oral history.

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Wiliam Still’s historical Marker in Philly, PA. and yes those are Pride flags, happy Pride Month everyone!

William Still was a focus in America Unearthed episode 3 when Wolter appeared to run his secret society thread into the ground. He switched his focus to the Underground Railroad and William Still. This was because he’d found a cave that he couldn’t quite pin down the uses for, and decided to run with an Underground Railroad theme. I say that because there’s nothing to connect the cave with the Underground Railroad or William Still, but due to the way Wolter and the show present his ‘research,’ it creates the illusion that there is.

 

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1898 image of William Still, abolitionist

What’s more, Wolter basically tells two gentlemen on the show that their caves are definitely linked to the Underground Railroad, and in the case of the main cave, links initials he thinks he sees in the cave wall with two former slaves written down in William Still’s journal. What we witness here in this episode isn’t just the passing on of unlinked information as fact, but the creation of and participation in, oral history.

Wolter is set on the trail of the Underground Railroad and Stills by simple word of mouth informants. This isn’t unusual for the show, Wolter’s hunches rely heavily on random, unverified information given to him by informants. He then takes this information and passes it on to the landowners in two incidences, creating a story that links their caves to the Underground Railroad. Both owners seem delighted by this, and who wouldn’t like to think their ancestors were Abolitionists vs Slave Owners?

The problem is, Underground Railroad stops are notoriously hard to pin down by their very nature as secret hiding spaces. Many were simply parts of functioning houses and homesteads, that were used for various purposes over the lifetime of the homes. This muddles the archaeology, as what exactly would we expect to see archaeologically in an Underground Railroad stop, vs what we expect to see in the course of normal daily life? Unless the space stands out, a literal secret room or something like that, we have nothing to tie certain spaces to the Underground Railroad.

That doesn’t stop people from thinking or claiming their homes, homesteads, and ancestors were part of it. And who knows, they may be right, but often these accounts are family or local oral history. There’s the issue, oral histories are often unverifiable and have to be taken at face value. They’re also particularly tricky because, even if there is evidence to support or contradict them, the oral history is often tied into the personal identity of an individual or community. This is what makes oral histories tricky, we don’t want to look like we’re attacking personal identity. Usually, we’re not, we’re just following the evidence, translating it as best we can at the time, and documenting as much of it as we can for future generations to look over and learn from.

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Many of the ‘secrets’ Wolter has discovered over the years. 

Which is the problem with shows like America Unearthed and Wolter’s perceived authority. Wolter isn’t preserving anything, he’s not following evidence or translating things. He’s forcing things into his own perceptions, shoehorning things to fit a narrative he’s already decided on. Then, once he’s done twisting and shaping things to fit, he passes his new story on to others, creating a new oral history that often overrides that of others.

At best it’s disruptive, at worst, it’s blatant erasure of other cultures. It’s also why we need to speak up against this kind of thing. Correct it where we can and continue to find new ways to communicate oral histories with the public. We need to preserve things, and not allow others to appropriate, colonize, and erase other cultures for their own ends.


If you’d like to support the Podcast or site, consider donating to us on Patreon or buy us a  Ko-Fi. Either option helps us out.

Check out Jeb Card’s new book Spooky Archaeology :
Myth and the Science of the Past

And Ken Feder’s new book Archaeological Oddities: A Field Guide to Forty Claims of Lost Civilizations, Ancient Visitors, and Other Strange Sites in North America

Grab a t-shirt or coffee mug from our Swag Store on Zazzle.

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on the blog and like and share us where ever you can.

You can follow us on twitter @ArchyFantasies, or look us up on Facebook. You can reach us by email at ArchyFantasies@gmail.com.

Contact us below or leave a comment.

 

The Past is a Foreign Country, Pseudoarchaeology and Interpretation.

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One of the things my professor said offhandedly in class one day that still sticks with me was “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.” It took me a while to find out that the quote was from a 1953 novel by L.P.Hartley.

The impact of that quote on me is hopefully what my professor wanted, as I’ve never read the book. However, taken literally, this is a fact about the past I think is missed by most people, especially those in Alternative/Pseudo/Fringe/Mavric Archaeology. Things were different in the past. Things we take for granted today were not part of the past. I don’t just mean big noticeable things like flushing toilets and AC. Smaller things too, like zippers, buttons, toilet paper.

More importantly, society and social norms were different. Those of us alive today, especially in Westernized countries, have a lot of privileges and rights we would not have had in the past. The absence of these, informed the way society worked, and the way people thought about things. Obviously, things change, but we as Archaeologists have to think about this when we try to interpret things about the past.

Especially the deep past, prehistoric, ancient past.

Often we’re dealing with cultures and societies we don’t ourselves have direct connections with. We can only ever be outsiders looking in. And just because something looks one way to us (looks like an X to me!) doesn’t mean that’s really how it was.

We see this a lot with pseudoarchaeology shows, books, and blogs. Hancock’s current book, America Before does this a lot. I’m floored by the number of times Hancock just starts interpreting ancient historic things in his own way based solely on how things ‘look’ to him. He’s using his modern white feels, and he’s constantly coming up with a lost civilization that left no trace because that makes sense to him!

Well, it might make sense to Hancock, but it doesn’t make sense to the cultures and societies he’s dismissing and ignoring. It’s why archaeologists insist on evidence, and why we’re constantly going back and forth on our theory and interpretations of the past. Another thing Hancock doesn’t understand, science and theory change, and we’re ok with that. He might not be, but most (I would argue all, otherwise they are not professionals) professional archaeologists understand the past is not black and white, it’s just 50 shades of Munsell Neutral.

I’ll be having more thoughts like this as I work through the Tomb that is Hancock’s newest book, which I think will work better than any single review. But this is the thing that sticks out most right now. Check the categories below to follow along as I post these.


If you’d like to support the Podcast or site, consider donating to us on Patreon or buy us a  Ko-Fi. Either option helps us out.

Check out Jeb Card’s new book Spooky Archaeology :
Myth and the Science of the Past

And Ken Feder’s new book Archaeological Oddities: A Field Guide to Forty Claims of Lost Civilizations, Ancient Visitors, and Other Strange Sites in North America

Grab a t-shirt or coffee mug from our Swag Store on Zazzle.

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on the blog and like and share us where ever you can.

You can follow us on twitter @ArchyFantasies, or look us up on Facebook. You can reach us by email at ArchyFantasies@gmail.com.

Contact us below or leave a comment.