Category Archives: Books

The Book about Archaeology that isn’t about Archaeology.

The intriguingly named Evil Archaeology by Heather Lynn Ph.D., was a book I was looking forward to.  Who doesn’t like a nice spooky book on archaeology? So I happily paid $10 for it on Kindle and waited for its release, which kept getting pushed back. Finally, in April of this year, I got my copy, just in time for a very long train ride to Albuquerque. 

Now, I read this on the train in about two days and took several notes at the time, and then a bunch of stuff blew up, and I had to put this review on the back burner.

However, with Halloween rolling around, and the month of October being my favorite spooky time of the year, I thought I’d dust this off again and give it a second go. My opinions haven’t changed, but fresh eyes did see a few more things about this book. Mainly how vague it is.

Lynn commits a major cardinal sin in my opinion and that is, she cites just about nothing in the book. When she does she’s using sources that are incredibly old, out of date, and not supported by modern sources. Yet she still speaks in an authoritative voice throughout, constantly flipping back and forth between being an Archaeologist and/or Historian. The Historian part I can almost understand, the Archaeologists though? She never displays that.

With the exception of occationaly saying “archaeologists think/found/theorize” she never addresses archaeology. There is none in this book, like, none. I think she just used the work Archaeology to put a buzzword in the title. There is no archaeological theory, methods, results, comparisons, or even just a run of the mill discussion. There’s precious few pictures of anything resembling an artifact and even those are not presented archaeologically.

Add to that, I can’t really tell what the overall premise of the book is. I think it’s Lynn trying to say demons and demonic possession are real, without hardcore saying she believes it. She constantly syas she’s a skeptic, and then clearly states biases and opinions that suggest she isn’t. Like when she says she isn’t religious, then outlines her religious upbringing in Catholicism, and then reduces every entity in the book to the catholic idea of “Demon”. I mean, sure, she may not currently be religious, but her opinions in this book are clearly informed by her catholic background.

And then there’s the constant shoe-horning of all things pagan into the category of “demon”. Lynn spends a good chunk fo the book ‘othering’ people and practices. She regales us with several over-the-top gory recountings of human sacrifice, none of which are cited or supported by archaeological evidence, and then turns around and makes Christianity sound so perfect and pristine in comparison. Need I point out to Lynn that the old testament is full of human sacrifice and Yahweh acting like a war and blood god, and let’s not even talk about the crucifixion.

Beyond all that is the way Lynn tries to Science-up the various ghost and horror stories written in the book. She briefly touches on the very controversial and sort-of defunct branch of archaeology called Cognitive Archaeology. I’ve done a breif amount of reaserch into this and really can’t find any mentios of it past the late 90’s early 00’s. It’s hey-day being in the 80’s and it seemed to lose favor fast as a field of archaeology, mainly because it’s untestable and relies heavily on the bises of the researcher…so it’s not really a science.

This isn’t an issue for Lynn apparently and she lumps it and ghost hunting together. She even claims that ghost hunting is scientific now because it uses electronic recording devices and sensors. Look, Data doesn’t make something science. Sure you get ‘readings’ from an EMF, but what does it mean? How is it being compared? Is there a chart that classifies different readings? and how do you know the space isn’t contaminated with electrical fields you’re not aware of, but that are perfectly normal? Most importantly, what’s the hypothesis the EMF is evaluating?

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good ghost hunt, but it’s not science.

All of this leads to the conclusion of the book where Lynn kinda admits that she thinks demons and possession are real, but not really. She does, however, leave us with a handy checklist for identifying a demon, and suggestions on how to obtain an exorcism in case you might think you’re possessed. Life hacks.

Oh yeah, and then there this one point where she tries to suggest that maybe Demons are really just advanced beings from somewhere else and their ‘magical’ powers are really just advanced technology. So basically they’re aliens.

This shouldn’t be too surprising when we find out that Lynn is a ‘historical consultant’ for the Ancient Aliens TV show.

Actually, once we know that, none of this is surprising. The vague language of the book, the lack of citation, the publisher…it’s a publicity stunt in book form.

I’m most disappointed that this book took a perfectly interesting topic and did a crap job of not even touching it. I feel like someone else needs to grab topic again, and write a much better book…oh wait…someone has.


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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

The Past is a Foreign Country, Pseudoarchaeology and Interpretation.

the past

 

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

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Book Review: The Curse of Oak Island: The Story of the World’s Longest-Treasure Hunt.

From time to time I get sent books to review. The last one I did was the Lost History of Ancient America, and wow. So when the publishers of Randall Sullivan’s new book, The Curse of Oak Island: The Story of the World’s Longest-Treasure Hunt, reached out to me I warned them. Sure, I’d love to review it, but I’m a debunker, and I know a bit about the whacky-ness that is Oak Island. I might not be the best person to review a book on the topic.

The publisher assured me that I would find the book non-fringy, and asked if I would consider it. So I said yes. I did warn them after all. Now I love getting books in the mail. Really love it, like a kid at Christmas love it. So when the shiny new hardcover arrived I was giddy.

I did have to wrap of a demanding semester in grad school, so I took a brief moment to look inside. I wanted to give the book my full attention and wondered if it might be a good addition to my collection of pseudoarchaeology books by non-archaeologists that looked at pseudoarchaeology topics critically. I liked what I saw in the first few pages.

Sullivan describes the original article he wrote for Rolling Stone on the Oak Island mystery.

He then described his unease at the article after publication.

“It was the nagging thought that I’d accepted the semiofficial legend of Oak Island without sufficient examination, though, that truly bothered me.”

(Sullivan 2018)

That certainly caught my attention.

Sullivan then briefly describes an on-air encounter he had with Joe Nickell from Skeptical Inquirer:


“…when we spoke briefly about this off camera, I was acutely aware that i wasn’t confident enough in what I knew about the historical records to refute some of what he was saying. That troubled me.


It also troubled me that I might have given some preposterous theories about what had taken place on Oak Island more than their fair due,…”


(Sullivan 2018)


I was honestly put at ease with the book based on the self-reflective nature of these statements. We’ve talked about on the blog and the show, that a key feature of a lot of pseudoarchaeology is that it repels self-reflection and rejects criticism. To see Sullivan doubting his own conclusions and admitting he was caught flat-footed by Nickell was refreshing.

Then I had to put the book down to finish my paper. When I picked it up again, I was ready to see how Sullivan had addressed his doubts and what he’d found in the process.

A few things here before we dive into the book.

I am a skeptic of Oak Island. I firmly believe that there is nothing on the island beyond the mundane, and even that has been swiss-cheesed to the point of meaninglessness by the 200-ish years of people drilling random holes into it looking for treasure. I think it’s the most abhorrent abuse of what could have been a fantastic archaeological site and due to the lack of any kind of methods or standards used by anyone who ever dug there, anything that is found on that island is immediately suspect and probably contamination from the people that dug there before whoever is digging there now. Oak Island is a shining example of why archaeology isn’t done this way and should be a warning bell to archaeologists of what can happen if we don’t communicate our methods and standards more clearly to the general public. Who knows what has been lost on that island due to the destruction of treasure hunters.

That out of the way, Sullivan’s book is not a giant 410 page novel on why Oak Islands is clearly the home of Celtic, Pirate, Freemason gold and the lost works of Sir. Francis Bacon. Well, not entirely, it is a detailed history of the phenomena that is the Oak Island treasure hunt.

Sullivan backs up all the way up to when the three men credited to starting this whole crap ball rolling, and then write about how he went a step further to locate the three men in time. It’s impressive, and Sullivan shows his work, talking about census records, and land deeds, and even the elusive Daniel McGinnis. Sullivan talks about his search of the historical evidence of the man, and then made a strong case as to who McGinnis was and why he’s so hard to track. His conclusions are perfectly acceptable and logical.

Basically, what I’m saying here is, unlike many books on pseudoarcheology topics, Sullivan is providing fresh material and doing actual labor to find new threads for the theories presented in the book.

That said, Sullivan does spend time looking at a good number of the various theories that plague Oak Island. These I find interesting because Sullivan spends time talking about the possible origins of the theory and then talks about how the theory affected the show.

Sullivan’s insights into the behind-the-scenes of the Curse of Oak Island show are also interesting. Sullivan talks about his interactions with various guests, the producers, and the interactions with the show’s various on-air personalities. It’s honestly very humanizing and if you’d never watched the show you would think these are very calm, level-headed, reasonable men.

Sullivan is kind in his treatment of the show, and it’s clear he’s friendly with the cast. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but it must be kept in mind that Sullivan is sorta paid by the show to do his research for the show. I wouldn’t expect him to go on a huge “Down with the History Channel!” rant. I did feel a few times that Sullivan was maybe turning a blind eye to things, or not looking as closely as he could at things.

The incident with the Spanish maravedi (piece of 8) a coin dated to the 1600s but the shows on-hand experts is a good example. Sullivan describes one of the final moments of season 2 of the show. There is a stunning moment where a Spanish maravedi coin is found, saving the show and allowing the Lagina brothers to be funded for another season of digging on the Island. It’s…a little too convenient of a find. So convenient that, according to Sullivan, even the Lagina brothers were suspicious of it.

Sullivan kind of glosses over the incident, hand waving a bit that the
Lagina brothers both thought the coin had been planted. They confronted the producers and asked Sullivan about it. Everyone told them no, they hadn’t planted it. Still. Someone could have, given the way it was discovered and the chaos around the discovery, the desperate need for it, and the timing of it. I’ve been doing this debunking thing too long to accept that this was all coincidence.

Another moment in the book that sticks out is the aforementioned on-air interview with Joe Nickell. Not the interview itself, which Sullivan doesn’t go into much, or really at all. But you can clearly tell from the writing style and words he uses that Sullivan isn’t happy about how the interview went. He basically attacks Nickell and in a very fringy ‘all skeptics are mean and wrong’ kind of way. It’s a red flag for me.

As much as the book doesn’t really focus too much on one theory over another as to the ‘why’ or ‘what’ of Oak Islands’s supposed treasure, it is interesting to see which theories that Sullivan appears to like most. One about how the island was a Pirate Island like Tortuga (Haiti) and so had fortifications and smuggling tunnels built into it was interesting, but Sullivan didn’t build that out enough for it to really stick.

The other one he seemed to really like is extremely convoluted and hard to follow conspiracy that Shakespeare wasn’t really the author of his plays, Sir Francis Bacon was, and that Bacon then hid all the evidence for this on Oak Island of all places. Sullivan seems to waffle on his support of this but is clearly enamored by it.

The rest of the theories he brings up he treats respectfully, giving them time and research when possible. He talks about the people who possibly began a few of the lingering rumors about the supposed treasure on the island and always links back to an interview or moment on the show. He connects the dots quite well and if nothing else, brings the “why do people believe this?” into the light.

I found the book interesting. It cleared up a few things and pointed some things out I didn’t know about the island and the show. Did Sullivan’s book change my opinion on the destruction of Oak Island, or justify the frankly pot-hunting behavior of the show? No. But in all honesty, I don’t think it was meant to.

Sullivan’s book is just what it claims to be, despite the sensational creepy/cool cover and the huge title tie-in to the show. It is the story of the world’s longest running treasure hunt, the history of it, the men who dug, the theories they use, and the myths and legends around this island. It gives an interesting view into the other side of the camera for the TV show and gives us little glimpses into the thinking of the men currently grinding their way through the island.

In conclusion:

The Curse of Oak Island: The Story of the World’s Longest-Treasure Hunt, was well written, informative, and yes, ever so biased. I really would have liked to see an index and a bibliography, but the timeline was nice. Sullivan doesn’t really shove any particular theory down the reader’s throat, but he clearly has his favorites. Sullivan doesn’t seem to be trying to change anyone’s minds about the show or the topic beyond simply informing them.

He does at times state things as facts that I am more than dubious about. Findings that are questionable at best he just accpets and then presents. But often just as quickly as he’s presented an artifact as fact, he jumps to the next theory and doesn’t really come back to it. It’s an unintentional way of showing just how messed up and unconnected all the random theories about Oak Island are.

Do I think the book is a little one-sided? Yes. Do I think it only reinforced the need for professional archaeologists and standardized methodology? Yes. Do I think Oak Island is permanently damaged as a site? Yes. Am I even a little convinced about any of the theories presented by the book? No, but I also don’t accept Nickell’s theory of Freemasons’ either…so there’s that.

I won’t not recommend the book. It had information in it, especially about the TV show. Just read it with your thinking hat on, and if something seems fishy or glossed over, there’s probably a reason for it.

I don’t endorse the book though.

Sullivan did a good job on research and it’s clear he cares about the topic. But it’s still a pro-Oak Island book, it’s still pseudoarchaeology, and it still endorses the damage being done to the island in the name of obsession and treasure. I could rant for days about the problems with the whole concept of Oak Island, and Sullivan doesn’t even touch on these issues other than to lament the lives, and fortunes lost to looking for something that is clearly not there.

Sullivan could have been somewhat critical of his topic and failed to be. Yes, he was less convinced by some theories than others, but in the end, Sullivan is still hyping the romantic idea of treasure on Oak Island. He’s still adding fuel to a smoldering fire.

I suppose though when you’re being paid by History Channel, funded, hyped, supported and marketed by them, are you even able to be critical? Was it even an option for Sullivan? Or was the course of this book set from the beginning, much like the finale of season 2 of the show.


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