Category Archives: TV

Bro-Ventures with Annelise Baer. Archaeological Fantasies ep 115

Today we talk with Annelise Baer about the Bro-Venture genre of adventure TV. We cover all the classics from Indiana Jones all the way to the most recent Unexplored and Unexplained. We talk about how these shows get made, and how they might evolve as TV switches to Streaming.

Hi! I’m an archaeologist who likes games, video games, gaming, horror, the supernatural, and debunking pseudoarchaeology. Check out my vids for more on the above topics, and toss us a coin if you like what I do.

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Pseudo TV with Annelise Baer

Today we talk with Annelise Baer about some behind the scenes aspects of making Pseudo-television shows like Ancient Aliens. She tells how the research and some of the production is done, and we talk about what Archaeology could learn from tv. 

 Show Notes:

Annelise Baer, MA

Twitter – @annelisebaer

IMBD –  https://www.imdb.com/name/nm3243785/ 

Crystal Skull Vodka facial reconstruction:

https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C1CHBF_enUS805US805&sxsrf=ACYBGNS7RKZgqGAzRarBKuzV6qbOTr8Enw:1581389394615&q=crystal+skull+reconstruction&tbm=isch&source=univ&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiWi_jIvsjnAhWjxFkKHct5BYwQsAR6BAgJEAE&biw=1564&bih=754&dpr=1.13

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.

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America’s Not-Lost Vikings, or Picking Fights with The Science Channel.

When AiPT! asked me to review the new six-part Science Channel series, America’s Lost Vikings, I was apprehensive, but a little hopeful. First, it was on the Science Channel; that’s safe, right? Also, it’s headed by two archaeologists, Blue Nelson and Mike Arbuthnot.

I don’t know either man, so I did a little digging. Blue Nelson is an archaeologist, who appears to work in Cultural Resource Management and has been on a TV show prior to this on the History Channel, called Found. I dug a little into that show, and despite being on the History Channel (with everything that brings), Found seems to be a pretty solid show about archaeologists looking at the weird stuff people find in their yards and helping them accurately identify the items. I’ve seen one episode and was pretty pleased with it.

Nelson played a very small part in the first episode of Found, but I’m sure he’ll pop up more as I go through it. Most importantly to me was that Nelson didn’t seem to be playing into any weird pseudoarchaeology ideas like Minoans in America or Transoceanic Travelers or the European-First claims that tend to go hand in hand with “Vikings” in America.

Michael Arbuthnot is another story altogether. Arbuthnot is an archaeologist who specializes in underwater archaeology and used to run a company called Team Atlantis, which he described as, “A multidisciplinary research outfit whose mission is to explore archaeological mysteries with an emphasis on those enigmas associated with underwater contexts.”

In a 2013 reprint of a 2005 publication, The Disinformation Guide to Ancient Aliens, Lost Civilizations, Astonishing Archaeology, and Hidden History,Arbuthnot acknowledges the possibility that Atlantis could be a real place on Earth, but stated it wasn’t his primary focus of research. No, his work was to discover how the Americas were really populated. Arbuthnot then proceeds to argue for completely unsupported ideas of cultural diffusion to the Americas via prehistoric European migration by boat or raft.

I do not have the space here to explain why this is not an accepted archaeological theory, other than there is no evidence to support it and the implications of such a theory are problematic, to say the least.

So, with this unfortunate information now in my head, I watched the first episode of  America’s Lost Vikings.

Right off the bat, I’m struck with how this show will be following the format of others like Unearthed America, The Curse of Oak Island, and Legends of the Lostby using splashy graphics, epic music, and choppy editing to create a narrative that supports the show’s premises. I’m also struck with how Vikings‘ chosen audience is clearly men, given how far it went to not mention women at all.

The main focus of the first episode is the well-researched and documented site of L’Anse aux Meadows, the only confirmed Norse settlement site in the Americas. L’Anse aux Meadows was investigated in the 1960s by archaeologists Anne Stine Ingstad and her husband Helge Ingstad. The majority of what we know about L’Anse aux Meadows is because of the Ingstads, and continuing work in the 1970s by Birgitta Wallace, archaeologist emerita for Parks Canada.

Not that Nelson or Arbuthnot mention any of that. They attribute everything to only Helge Ingstad, effectively erasing Anne Stine Ingstad and Wallace from the picture. (There’s literally a monument at L’Anse aux Meadows for both of the Ingstads. They have to walk past it to see the site.)

Anyway. The rest of the first segment is Nelson and Arbuthnot walking around the site, looking at the reproduction of one of the longhouses, and in general talking about the particulars of the site.

There’s evidence that  L’Anse aux Meadows was home to somewhere between 60 -180 people, including women. Again, this is blatantly ignored. Why? Maybe they just didn’t have time to add in the word “woman” between Nelson making observations like, “This place must have just reeked of Man” (said of the longhouse), and, “This here, this is the Man’s room” (said of the sleeping closet).

Arbuthnot does spend about 30 seconds explaining that the Norse get a bad reputation as being Vikings, and really were mostly merchants, craftsmen, and farmers. The show follows this up with images of violent Vikings and passive women. So, way to clear up that misconception.

Arbuthnot also brings up the relatively short habitation period at L’Anse aux Meadows. It’s thought, via the Ingstads’ and Wallace’s research, that the site was only occupied for 3-5 years. In the long scheme of things, that is rather short, but Arbuthnot’s question of, “Why would they build so much for such a short stay?” is misleading. There are only eight structures identified at the site. Only three are housing. Eight buildings between 60-180 people doesn’t seem like “so much” to me.

It’s another subtle way the show is trying to build up the mystery of the site. Calling the houses “monumental” when they are not, saying it would have taken a long time to build, when it wouldn’t have, claiming there’s a huge number of structures when there isn’t. It’s exaggerating the facts to make it seem like more than it is.

L’Anse aux Meadows is an amazing site, but it’s not a wonder of the world or the most mysterious place in America. Pretending that it is takes away from the importance of the site, and the actually interesting things we’ve learned about it.

Arbuthnot touches on some of that a little by bringing up the controversial idea from Bjarni Einarsson that the site was used for hundreds of years, not just five. It’s the first big idea the show latches onto, and here we get to see some actual archaeology, however briefly.

Arbuthnot brings out a drone that he uses to take images of the site so he can then stitch them together into a 3D model of the footprints of the structures at the site. He makes a neat map out of the images and uses them to check the elevations of the footprints.

Not to be mean here, but honestly, as cool as it was to see this all in use, it was unnecessary. The building footprints are clear to the naked eye, and these are hardly the first aerial photographs of the site. You can find many online by simply Googling them.

Arbuthnot then compares the footprints of the buildings from L’Anse aux Meadows to other sites in Iceland. He’s doing this because he thinks he can “age” the buildings on the site this way.  The major problem with this is there are radiocarbon dates for the L’Anse aux Meadows site, and those are slightly more accurate than the stylistic footprints of buildings that could vary for any reason, from regional variation to the purpose of use. It’s interesting, and a neat trick, but not really hard evidence.

From here we kind of abandon “traditional” archaeology and start doing things that might generously be called “experimental archaeology.” There’s merit in doing experimental archaeology, but some of this I think is just an excuse for Nelson to dress up like a Norseman.

They go to Toronto’s Climate Lab, where there’s a giant freezer that can reach extreme temperatures, and they dress Nelson up in the best reproduction of Norse clothes they can find. Then they stick him in and monitor his vitals as the freezer drops to 7 degrees Fahrenheit, or -13.9 Celsius. Nelson says he was not too uncomfortable while in the freezer, and that’s nice and all. What this was proving, I don’t know. We already knew the Norse could live through the winters at L’Anse aux Meadows. They did so for about five years.

We then go to Reykjavik, Iceland to the Arni Magnusson Institute for Icelandic Studies. Nelson and Arbuthnot get access to early written-down sagas, and they want to see if L’Anse aux Meadows is possibly mentioned in the Icelandic Sagas. You see, there’s an argument that L’Anse aux Meadows is actually Vinland, mentioned in the Vinland sagas, but it in no ways matches the description of Vinland.  The researcher they talk with mentions it might be Leif’s camp, also mentioned in the Vinland saga, but there’s really no way to know or prove that. So, fun idea, but not really helpful.

We then take a detour to go to the apparent childhood home of Leif Erikson. Honestly, I have no idea why we’re here, other than to let Nelson and Arbuthnot have a moment to be wowed that they’re standing in the same spot as the first European to set foot in America, which is important for some reason.

Lastly, we head back to L’Anse aux Meadows to figure out why anyone would want to live there. L’Anse aux Meadows is a little strange in that there is apparently no evidence of agriculture or animal husbandry beyond foodstuffs. Even the food that is found there appears to be brought in from other places. We do know there was an iron smithy there, and that the people at L’Anse aux Meadows were harvesting bog iron and working it.

Nelson again decides he’s going to be the one to go learn how to harvest bog iron and drops the wonderful gem as he’s scraping mud barehanded from the creek bank, “While the Indigenous people of America were still using stone, the Vikings were extracting iron ore.”

Three things:

  • Seriously, Blue Nelson?
  • The Indigenous people of America were also mining and working copper, lead, and gold, harvesting oil, carving stone, crafting pottery, weaving, and building earthworks, among other things.
  • Am I really supposed to believe that people that figured out how to cross an ocean, work iron, and cut sod for houses, hadn’t figured out how to make and use a shovel? I think the guide was just screwing with Nelson here.

It’s possible this was not a typical settlement colony and more of a resource colony. Eleanor Barraclough at Durham University has even suggested that the site was a stop-over for ships, a place to possibly build and repair them. This idea is one Arbuthnot appears to repeat, commenting on the number of nails found at L’Anse aux Meadows, and comparing that number to known shipyards in Iceland. Honestly, that’s the first convincing thing I’ve heard all episode, and the originator of that idea isn’t even mentioned.

Nelson and Arbuthnot wrap up the episode with some stirring dialogue about how they’ve only just begun to investigate the Viking presence in America. But before they go off to chase wild geese, they have to have a drinking party with people dressed up as Vikings.

Overall, this episode didn’t really say anything flashing-red-lights “wrong.” The premise of the whole show, though, is an issue because of the loaded implications in the idea that Europeans were in the Americas in prehistoric times. That’s often used as a way to deny Indigenous culture and land rights, usually by claiming something is not actually Indigenous and assigning it to a different group. In this case, for example, Vikings.

L’Anse aux Meadows is the only verified Norse site in the Americans, and it’s not like people aren’t looking. I really hope that America’s Lost Vikings follows the pattern of Found, where they go and examine Viking claims, then effectively debunk them. I have this bad feeling it’s going to be six episodes of two guys doing wacky crap, then saying something like, “Well if we could do it, then Vikings could too!” And the problem there is the same problem with all Vikings-in-America claims — there’s no evidence.


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 Non-Mystery of Viking Women Warriors: Legends of the Lost Ep 2

So before we get into this, please understand we will not be critiquing this show based on Megan Fox’s looks, gender, sex, or her career before this, other than to say she is not a professional archaeologist or historian, has no formal schooling in the subjects she is speaking on and is not recognized as an expert in any capacity by the archaeological  or historical communities. That said, there is plenty here to criticize.

People who are familiar with shows like Scott Wolter’s America Unearthed will recognize the format here. After a long and flashy intro with plenty of stimulating music, Fox makes a claim that she will try to prove during the show, and then there’s lots of traveling and exciting music to accompany it. Unlike male-hosted shows, we don’t see Fox driving herself around or doing anything scientifical herself, but she’s also not claiming to be a forensic anything or pretend to have credentials she doesn’t. I will say that she’s cast in a near child-like role of barely interested host, asking lukewarm questions and repeating back what experts tell her.  However, she also doesn’t come off smug and angry and seems to at least tolerate the people she talks to.

Basically, the premises here is that Legends of the Lost needs a strawman argument for their second episode, (the fist is supposed to be about Stonehenge but I guess they played them out of order from some reason?) so they decided to create a controversy about Viking women, aka Norse women. The argument is, as Fox reminds us every 15 mins or so, is that History wants us to believe that Viking women were just passive submissive housewives who were ruled with an iron fist by their bloodthirsty patriarchal husbands. But Fox knows this can’t be true so she’s off to prove it…using actual history and archaeology that already says this isn’t true.

So first we head to the Midgard Viking Center in Borre, Norway.

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Here we meet Marianne Moen who is said be simply ‘archaeologist’. Dr. Moen is an expert on gender in archaeology, specifically focused on Viking age burials and gender in the Viking age.  She’s been producing work since at least 2011, which is important to understand since one of the claims of the show is there’s no research on women in the Viking age.

Dr. Moen shows off the very impressive reconstruction of a Viking mead hall. Moen is careful to tell us everything is a reproduction put together based on what we know about Vikings that we’ve learned archaeologically. Which is directly opposed to a later claim the show makes that “We know very little about the Vikings.” But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Fox, who apparently is going to compare everything to a tv or movie referenced, say the Mead Hall looks like “A really cool Game of Thrones set.” To which I say, Have you never seen Lord of the Rings! but let’s not start Geek Wars.

Moen tells us basically that the Vikings would describe themselves as peaceful people, and this wouldn’t have been inaccurate. We know from archaeological excavations that Vikings were like any other society at their time economically. They farmed, they crafted, they were above average tradespeople, and well yes, they had a reputation for raiding. Which leads us to a rather uncomfortable moment in the show when Moen tells us outside of Viking culture they were known for their raping and pillaging, to which Fox replies:

“Well, when you’re trying to conquer the lands it’s hard to do it in a kind and gentle way.”

And this basically sets the tone of the show. Even though it’s been shown and told to Fox that the Vikings weren’t just murder machines, this is the aspect she chooses to focus on. Which is a trait of the fringe that has always bothered me. This hyper-focus on violence and dominance, especially towards women. It colors the way they see everything historically and actually explains most of Fox’s misconceptions of the Viking past.

She moves through the show constantly talking about how “History tells us that women were subservient to men in Viking society” even though this is demonstrably not true. But for Fox and the fringe, it is true because they refuse to see the past in any other way than brutal and savage, male-dominated, where women and children play a role only as victims or prizes. Even when presented with evidence to the contrary, they cling to this image, because it’s necessary for other fringe narratives to be true.

This is evident when Fox says, “I think when most people think of the Vikings, myself included, we picture a very patriarchal society. Do you agree with that?”

And No, Moen doesn’t agree.

We cut to commercial to a flurry of epic music and return to the same with Fox telling us, “For decades many people have believed Viking women were just subservient housewives.” (Have you even read the Sagas?)

And now we move onto an actual controversy in archaeology, the Birka Warrior. From the abstract of the paper A female Viking warrior confirmed by genomics, published in 2017:

“The objective of this study has been to confirm the sex and the affinity of an individual buried in a well‐furnished warrior grave (Bj 581) in the Viking Age town of Birka, Sweden. Previously, based on the material and historical records, the male sex has been associated with the gender of the warrior and such was the case with Bj 581. An earlier osteological classification of the individual as female was considered controversial in a historical and archaeological context. A genomic confirmation of the biological sex of the individual was considered necessary to solve the issue. ” (Hedenstierna‐Jonson et al. 2017)

It is true that the Birka Warrior’s sex has been a topic of discussion for some time now, and being now genetically confirmed, has caused a stir academically. I mean yeah, there are a lot of people who seem to not be able to wrap their heads around the idea that one of the coolest Viking burials ever uncovered was for a woman. And yes, there have been a lot of laughable excuses offered up to explain why a woman would be buried with objects that were so clearly male. Yes, this is blatant sexism and yes it is occurring at the academic level. But this is not the simple “She’s a Woman” conversation Fox breaks it down as.

We know two facts about the Birka Warrior:

  1.  This is a Viking warrior grave, saying it’s anything else is frankly delusional. and
  2. The Birka Warrior is biologically female.

That’s it. Those are the facts.

“But the paper says she’s a woman!”

NO!

The paper said it was a biologically female person in the grave. We have no idea how that person was perceived or gendered by their society at the time, other than they were clearly revered as evidenced by their lavish grave. So, send me your hate, but thems the facts and that’s all I’m willing to say about it at this point.

This is where the weird not-sexist-sexism really begins to get noticeable. Fox goads Moen into making jokes about killing their husbands because they made at them. Because threats of violence against our spouses is funny! Haha…

This need to prove that women can be just as violent as men is weird. I mean it’s like the whole point of the show and it’s just fucking weird ok. Yeah, women can do just about any violent, cruel, mean thing a man can, but why is that so important to Fox and the show?

but anyway…

We’re on to Frojel, Gotland to see an active archaeology dig led by Dr. Dan Carlsson. This was apparently part of his field school that he leads up and you can go read about some of their finding on the site’s lovely website.

Carlsson tells Fox a little about the site and brings out a box of grave goods for her to look at. (props to Carlsson for not parading human remains on TV.) First, he hands her a lovely gold and silver box broach recovered from the woman’s grave, and Fox looks like he’d just handed her a dead cat. He tries to explain to her how this is a symbol of wealth and status and Fox looks like she couldn’t care less.

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Then he hands her a piece of crystal and she gets this childlike awe about “it looks like magic!” It’s the first time we’ve seen her really show excitement, and it’s all about ‘magic’.

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Carlsson then tries to explain that there is a lot of evidence for trade in the graves he’s excavating, and he shows her a metal weight for merchant scales that was recovered in the woman’s grave. Fox’s mind is apparently blown. She reminds us that in her version of the past, Viking women were supposed to be home minding their families not off doing stuff, like making money.

Fox tries to stick it to Carlsson by telling him all he does is really just guesswork anyway so why can’t there be women warriors? Carlsson tries to politely explain that some people have preconceived notions about the past and that clouds the way they view things…

But now we’re on to Oslo, Norway, to the Viking Ship Museum to meet Leszek Gardela. Dr. Gardela is a researcher on the topic of Viking women with a heavy focus on women and weapons. He’s got a nice video explaining how grave goods are used to tell the apparent gender of the occupant here and talks about his current project,  Amazons of the North: Armed Females in Viking Archaeology and Old Norse Literature. He also has an interest in magical staves, which comes into play in a bit.

The first thing Dr. Gardela shows us is the truly impressive ship burial. Garela tells us that this burial held two skeletons, both woman. There were also a huge variety of artifacts found in the ship with the women, including weapons and an iron staff.

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There’s an interesting exchange here where Fox compares it to Professor Snape’s wand:

MF: “It’s like Professor Snape’s wand from Harry Potter”

LG: “Or like Gandalf’s staff,

MF: “Yeh…like Gandalf’s staff sure…

I’m just saying, what does she have against Lord of the Rings?

Now we cut away and Fox starts telling us stuff about magical staffs that I highly suspect came out of Gardela’s mouth and is not being attributed to him. She also 100% misses that ‘Volva’, what Norse female shamans are called, means ‘staff carrier’ or ‘bearer of the magic wand’ and shares the root word for the word for wand…its like where the whole concept of calling a magical staff a wand seems to come from and Fox just doesn’t even bring that up…it bugs me because it kinda shows how little research went into this episode.

She then completely mischaracterizes what Viking runes are, but I mean, most people don’t get that right. Still…it rankles.

Then she gets all creepy into the idea of a magic staff.

“Don’t you wonder who the first person was to decide that there was something magical about a staff and why? and maybe there was something magical about that first staff because they believed it?”

Gardela seems visibly uncomfortable with this conversation, probably because of how into it Fox seems. He tries to change the subject to Beserkers and I’m really supposed to believe that Fox has never heard of Viking Beserkers? Really?

This leads to a discussion about ‘magical herbs’ and the power of women that gave them unrivaled power on the battlefield, and I have a realization that … Megan Fox thinks magic is a real thing. Like really real, and she’s going to try and bend everything into something ‘magical’ in order to make it real.

Gardela tries to warn her that archaeology is always finding new things and looking at things differently, but we have to go to commercial break so meh…whatever…

We come back from the break to hear Fox, again, repeating this idea that women were just subservient housewives. She needs this to be true for this weird narrative of her’s to work (it’s not), and she’s decided that we need to turn to Viking Oral traditions to get to the truth of things.

We meet Maria Kvilhaug who is presented as a mythology expert. She basically sits down with Fox and tells her that women in the Eddas and Sagas are not painted as being “subservient housewives” and that there are several that are warriors, goddess, queens, volva’s and so on.

Now we’re off to meet a group of modern-day Volva’s, because this a religion and there are modern practitioners. There isn’t a lot to say here because this part is all about Fox going on a vision quest in the woods, and I mean…cool? But what does it have to do with proving her point that Viking Warrior Women are real?

So skipping this we go back to Oslo, Norway to the National Library of Norway to meet Kim Hjardar. Dr. Hjardar is an expert on Viking studies with a heavy interest in the Vikings at war.

For once, the amazing access to artifacts and history Fox has enjoyed this entire show seems to have some impact on her. As Hjardar shows her Byzantine accounts of Viking women warriors and shows her one of the oldest books to have accounts of same. Fox reads to us a passage from Saxo’s book. There’s an awkward moment when Fox tries to play the “I’m not like other women” card and then she gets flustered because “What’s frustrating to me is, what do we know about history for sure?”

megan fox reads to us.jpg

Hjardar tries to explain to her that history requires comparative sources to be considered valid. Fox then asks that if we have graves that show women with war goods that date to around the time Saxo was writing, then what does that means. Hjardar says that means that Saxo might have sources that convey objective truth. Fox looks unimpressed.

We then get treated to this voiceover, “Viking graves, Norse mythology, and now these texts are challenging everything we thought we knew about Viking women.”  No, these are literally how we know what we do about Viking woman, which is already everything you’re telling us. You are simply reporting what we already know and lying to make it sound like we don’t. *deep breath, deep breath*

Another commercial break and we’re back to hear Fox telling us ” I have discovered that Viking society isn’t the male-dominated patriarchy our history books have led us to believe. ” and yeah…I’m about done…This post is getting long.

church.jpg

Ok, so we now meet Cat Jerman an archaeologist working on a Viking mass grave in England and she tells that of the ~300 individuals in the graves, 60 have turned out to be female. That’s about 20%. Also, this grave is full of people who have signs of violence from combat on their bones, so it’s pretty clear the females in the grave were there as fighters. Fox says some crap about women warriors changing everything and blah…at this point I get it, the show REALLY needs this to be true so they’re just going to keep repeating it till it is.

Then Fox says, “Were women part of the war machine or were they sent to the slaughter because they weren’t really respected warriors at all?” and again there’s a discussion about gender vs sex here but I don’t think Fox cares.

We’re taken to Saint Winstons’ Church because somehow it having very old catacombs answers the question of if women warriors were fodder or not.

We close with Fox again telling us “History books have said that Viking woman only adhered to conventional gender stereotypes”…actually they have clearly stated the exact opposite. Then “Human history is not written in stone.”

I mean…it kinda was for the Norse….(bad runestone joke).

In Conclusion:

If you’ve made it this far, gold star!

There was a lot of stuff in Legends of the Lost that bugged the crap out of me. But more, the show itself really bugged me. It’s almost the traditional formula of other shows like it, with one major expectation. Megan Fox is the first female face on these kinds if shows in my generation and it’s clear the directors wanted a certain image for her. In past shows, like America Unearthed, we’ve seen the male hosts be very active. They drive (a lot) they climb, they hike, they touch things, they examine things, they actively draw their own conclusions.

Fox is painfully not shown in this way. She’s taken places, told things, is very passive in her interactions with the professionals. It’s clear that Fox isn’t meant to be a driving force in the show, she’s meant to be a passive observer.  It’s a noticeable break from the formula, and I wonder if it will impact the show.

This one is also a little different because most of the on-screen authorities were actually authorities. They were also predominately women, which is a small miracle on its own.

Still, the show managed its own form of sexism, while trying not to be sexist, and it came off strange. Fox keeps bashing housewives like it’s something awful in favor of trying to push the narrative that a woman had to be masculine and violent to be respected. She missed entirely the story of the Volva’s and the merchant women, or that two well-respected women were evidently great leaders based not on their killing abilities, but quite possibly their perceived magical ones. She clearly never touched an Icelandic saga or the Poetic Eddas and so missed countless accounts of Viking/Norse women who were strong priestesses, guardians, goddesses, and mothers. She, and the show, had to make up a narrative of passive decorative women that doesn’t fit Viking lore in order to even have a show in the first place.

I know this is the only episode of the series that is going to be this palatable. Mainly because I know what the other topics area. I wish a topic like this hadn’t been handled in this way, because the life and activities of Viking and Norse women are very interesting, and there is a thriving body of work waiting to be tapped and tell all about them. The things Fox was able to get access too and see were amazing and wonderful, but it fell flat being shoe-horned into a very false narrative. Fox didn’t seem to appreciate the level of access she was given to artifacts and sites, only perking up when the possibility of magic was suggested.

But here were are, the first episode into the new Legends of the Lost, and we know what to look forward too.

 


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No CBC hasn’t proven that ‘White’ Europieans made it to America ‘First’.

critical tv
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), show “The Nature of Things” is going to air a documentary Friday that claims to prove the Solutrean Hypothesis true. This problematic hypothesis tries to claim that the first humans in America came not via the Bering Strait Land Bridge from Asia, but across the ocean from Europe. This episode has already aired in Canada
 
Of course, this has immediately come under fire, as it should.
 
Professionals in the field of paleoanthropology call this episode “Extremely Irresponsible” (Brean 2018). Personally, that’s putting it politelyThe reasons for this may not immediately appear evident, unless you run in select social circles. One preoccupied with proving America is a “white homeland” and the others actively disproving such crap.
 
The Problems with the Solutrean Hypothesis.
 
Originally, the problems were completely academic. When the hypothesis was first put forward by Bradley and Stanford, it was not warmly received. In the 20+ years since, things haven’t changed. I want my readers to understand, Doctors Bruce Bradley and Dennis Stanford are both respected archaeologists. Both are authorities in Paleoindian topics, including stone tool technology. Dr. Bradley retired from his teaching positions at the University of Exeter in the UK. Doctor Stanford works with the Smithsonian National Museum in the department of anthropology. It is their hypothesis that is being critiqued here, not the men themselves, and I will not encourage any negative feed back against either man. 
 
What was originally put forward as the ‘Solutrean Hypothesis’ in 2012, essentially suggested that an ancient European culture group, identified as the Solutrean, who are only located in areas now identified as France and Spain, somehow made it to the Americas before the currently oldest identified culture group, the Clovis. Bradley and Stanford’s hypothesis has several issues that have never been satisfactorily addressed. Some parts have been effectively debunked, yet are still pushed as evidence. I think it would be a good idea to look into this in greater detail, but in this post I want to stay focused on the CBC show.
 
Now, the proposal of a group making to the Americas first isn’t the issue. There has been talk of Pre-Clovis peoples for decades. The problem is the lack of good solid evidence to prove it.
 
Issues with the Solutrean Hypothesis as put forward by Bradly and Stanford are many, but the highlights are;
  • Dubious existence of the Ice shelf that would have been necessary for the Solutrean people to cross in enough numbers to populate the area (O’Brien et al 2014). Which makes all arguments stemming from that difficult to defend.
  • Solutrean subsistence patterns suggest that they were opportunistic hunters, and not in possession of advanced foraging skills necessary to supply food for a journey like this (O’Brien et al 2014).
  • The issue of radio-carbon dates not overlapping as they should, as well as tool production technologies not showing progress as we would expect (O’Brien et al 2014).
The biggest academic issue, however, is linked to the rhyolite biface that was recovered in 1970 by the dredging vessel Cinmar off the Chesapeake Bay (O’Brien et al 2014). The biface, named the Cinmar Biface, according to Bradley and Stanford, is evidence of a Solutrean presence in America. As the biface is stone, and there is as yet, no effective way to date stone, the date for the Cinmar Biface is assumed to be the same as the associated mastodon tusks that were found with the point (O’Brien et al 2014). There is a whole controversy surrounding the recovery of the biface and the tusks and the reliability thereof. There are a whole lot of other issues around the biface itself, and we should tackle them in another post.
 
What my point is here, is that there are a plethora of academic issues with the Solutrean Hypothesis. These existed before the alt-right and other white nationalist groups got ahold of it, and began throwing it around like it was a sold theory.
 
Now, unfortunately, the Solutrean Hypothesis has been adopted by such groups as mentioned above, mixed with an erroneous idea of how genetics works, to create a strange and convoluted “theory” that attempts to prove America is really a ‘white homeland’ that was invaded by outsiders (Brean 2018, Head et al. 2017). These ‘outsiders’, we are meant to believe, are the ancestors of modern-day Native Americans. This revisionist narrative is meant to prove that there is a white claim to America. That non-whites are the interlopers, and that somehow that means white heritage is superior. This is something we’ve encountered a lot on this blog and on the podcast. Aside from the clearly racist overtones of this, the illogic of it is baffling.
 
It’s also a well-known problem among professionals in archaeology who are aware of the Solutrean Hypothesis. Well known enough that the CBC, having archaeologists as advisors on the subject, should have known better than to try to push a racist agenda with their TV show.
And here is where the issue is.
 
CBC’s upcoming episode “Ice Bridge” not only ignores all previous professional criticisms of the Solutrean Hypothesis, it’s Director, Robin Bicknell completely ignores the larger problems of the racist issues as well. Bicknell takes no responsibility for the airing of supremacist ideas. In her interview with Carol Off in the CBC ‘As It Happens’, Bicknell says: “If white supremacists want to view this theory through their lens and place on their version of history on people of the past, then there’s nothing I can do about it (Off 2018).” I argue there was a lot that could have been done, like not making the episode in the first place.
 
Bicknell waves off any criticism from Indigenous groups implying that since the team worked with Huron-Wendat in making this episode, all other voices are null (Off 2018). In reality, indigenous people are upset. It doesn’t matter if one group participated, the objections of other groups should be heard. Especially when the hypothesis you’re pushing is basically being used to wipe out their history.
 
Bicknell’s interview did her no favors, in my opinion, and I have further comments, but basically it sounds like CBC and Bicknell were too busy chasing ratings from sensationalism to stop and think about what message they were putting out there. Bicknell’s callous dismissal of the social issues surrounding the hypothesis, and now the show, are unhelpful as well. It seems like nothing more than an attempt to dodge responsibility.
Haplogroup X, we meet again. 
Of course we haven’t seen the show yet here, but the National Post did an fairly thorough break down of the episode. From this, we can address some of the issues we know will come up. Many of which we’ve debunked on the podcast before (Head et al 2016a, 2016b).
 
Of note is the genetic evidence that will be presented. This evidence will show the presence of the genetic marker for haplogroup X, found in 3 of the 40 teeth offered for analysis. We’ve had Jennifer Raff on the podcast before, and plan to have her back again, to discuss her and her co-author, Deborah A. Bolnick’s, work (Head et al. 2016b).
In 2015 Raff and Bolnick produced a paper examining Haplogroup X and if it was evidence of migration to the Americas (Raff and Bolnick 2015). Around the time we interviewed her for the podcast, Raff also put up a blog post, ‘Responses to some questions about our recently published paper on haplogroup X and North American prehistory’. She outlines her and Bolnick’s work and states:
 
“Quite simply, we found that mitochondrial and genomic data do not support this migration hypothesis as the most plausible explanation for X2a’s presence in North America. Instead, the most parsimonious interpretation of the genetic data continues to be that haplogroup X2a had the same migration history and ancestry as the other founder Native American mitochondrial lineages (i.e., from Siberia). Based on the current evidence, we feel that there is no need to invoke a distinct origin for individuals bearing this lineage (Raff 2016).”
 Which begs the question, why was this even brought up in the CBC show in the first place?
Raff and Bolnick’s research and opinions are not in the minority, and any cursory amount of research would have found that out. So why is the show pushing that as the lynchpin evidence they have to “prove” the Solutrean Hypothesis true? Especially, as Bicknell and Bradly have both admitted knowing the racist issues with the Solutrean Hypothesis. Why would they present genetic evidence, that can be explained in ways that fit the current accepted theories (Raff and Bolnick 2015, Brean 2018), as evidence of Europeans in America? All without any commentary or refutation of racist ideologies? That is irresponsible.
We will be watching the episode when it becomes available, and we will be talking with Raff again afterwards. To say we’re going to have a critical eye on it is an understatement. We also know that our voices are not the only critical ones aimed at CBC and The Nature of Things. Going forward we hope they hear this outcry and maybe listen to reason before airing something like this again. Or maybe they wont, sensationalism breeds ratings. Lets hope that’s not all they’re after
TLDR?
  • The CBC upcoming episode of The Nature of Things is pushing the unaccepted and unsupported Solutrean Hypothesis, put forward by Bradley and Stanford. 
  • The Solutrean Hypothesis is highly controversial and has no substantial evidence to support it.
  • The Solutrean Hypothesis is often used in conjunction with the misunderstanding of the genetic marker haplogroup X to support racist and white supremest ideas.
  • Neither the CBC nor director Robin Bicknell take responsibility for pushing such ideas, even though they were aware of them, or for giving such ideas national recognition.
  • We find this to be irresponsible at best, and hope that the CBC recognizes this going forward.

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Comment below or send an email to ArchyFantasies@gmail.com

Resources:

Professor Bruce Bradley.  http://humanities.exeter.ac.uk/archaeology/staff/bradley/ Retreived 1/15/18

Dennis Stanford, Ph.D.Dennis Stanford, Ph.D. Retreived 1/15/18

Brean, Joseph
2018    CBC under fire for documentary that says first humans to colonize New World sailed from Europe. National Post.com. Jan 11 2018
http://nationalpost.com/news/canada/cbc-under-fire-for-documentary-that-says-first-humans-to-colonize-new-world-sailed-from-europe Retreived 1/15/18

Head, Sara
2016    DNA in Archaeology with Jennifer Raff. ArchyFantasies. https://archyfantasies.com/2016/09/09/dna-in-archaeology/ . Retreived 1/15/18

Head, Sara, Kenneth Feder, and Jeb Card
2016a    The Solutrean Hypothesis – ArchyFantasies Episode 31. https://www.archaeologypodcastnetwork.com/all-shows/archyfantasies-31.  Retreived 1/15/18

2016b    DNA in Archaeology with Jennifer Raff – Episode 50. https://www.archaeologypodcastnetwork.com/archyfantasies/50. Retreived 1/15/18

Lee, Craig M.
2012    Book Reivew of Across Atlantic Ice: The Origins of America’s Clovis Culture by Dennis J. Stanford and Bruce A. Bradley.  http://www.paleoanthro.org/media/journal/content/PA20140470.pdf Retreived 1/15/18

Raff, J. A., & D. A. Bolnick
2015    Does Mitochondrial Haplogroup X Indicate Ancient Trans-Atlantic Migration to the Americas? A Critical Re-Evaluation. PaleoAmerica, 1(4), 297–304. https://doi.org/10.1179/2055556315Z.00000000040 Retreived 1/15/18

Raff, Jennifer
2016    Archaeological Fantasies and the genetic history of the Americas. Violent Metaphors. https://violentmetaphors.com/2016/08/15/archaeological-fantasies-and-the-genetic-history-of-the-americas/  Retreived 1/15/18

O’Brien, Michael J., Matthew T. Boulanger, Mark CollardBriggs Buchanan, Lia Tarle, Lawrence G. Straus, & Metin I. Eren
On thin ice: problems with Stanfordand Bradley’s proposed Solutrean colonisation of North America. Antiquity Publications Ltd. ANTIQUITY 88 (2014): 606–624 https://www.academia.edu/5119515/On_thin_ice_Problems_with_Stanford_and_Bradley_s_Solutrean-Clovis_hypothesis.  Retreived 1/15/18

Off, Carol
2018    Director defends documentary that claims Europeans could have been 1st humans in North America. As It Happens. CBC Radio. http://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-friday-edition-1.4484878/director-defends-documentary-that-claims-europeans-could-have-been-1st-humans-in-north-america-1.4484883. Retreived 1/15/18