Category Archives: Pseudoarchaeology Vs Archaeology

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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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 Issues, Creating New Oral Histories.

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.

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.

william still.jpg
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.


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.

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

Contact us below or leave a comment.


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

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

Contact us below or leave a comment.

The History of Pseudoarchaeology: Pseudoarchaeology and the Modern Era of Public Engagement.

So far we have talked about the co-evolution of pseudoarchaeology and archaeology to the point where archaeology isolated itself for the better part of 30 years, giving alternative archaeology fertile ground to grow and take hold. Now we’re caught up to the modern day, well the 2000’s anyway.

Two things happened in the early 2000’s that really impacted the interactions of pseudoarchaeologists and archaeologists.

1) The Internet became a widely used and important tool in the lives of most Americans.


2) New Atheism became a thing.

New Atheism was, basically, a revival of the Atheism and Skeptics movement from the 80’s and 90’s. The Skepticism movement, heavily influenced by Carl Sagan’s 1995 book Demon Haunted World, saw members of the general public begin to challenge all kinds of pseudoscience, heavily leaning towards religious based sciences like Creationism. Which was great for archeology since a good deal of Creationism attempted to simultaneously use archaeology to prove their religious claims of biblical world creation, and also refute archaeology because it didn’t support their religious claims of biblical world creation. This should have had a huge effect on archaeology because the general public was interested in actual archaeology again.

Sadly, professional archaeology wasn’t there to provide a lot of information for people, especially on the Internet, but pseudoarchaeology was. The problem came from two fronts, one was archaeology’s well know near phobic fear of anything new, and the other was an ongoing conversation inside the professional field of if we should even be engaging pseudoarchaeology in the first place.

Professional archaeologists fell into three distinct camps when it came to this, one was in favor of simply ignoring the problem, the second though we should confront it head-on with varying degrees of ferocity (Fagan 2003, 2006, Powell 2003, Romey 2003, Schadla-Hall 2004, Kehoe 2008, Feder 2010, Fagan and Feder 2006, Anderson and Card 2016, Card 2018), and the third camp believed we should somehow find a way to accept pseudoarchaeology and learn to live with them in a unified way, or at least tolerate their existence (Denning 1999, Holtorf 2005, Stout 2008).

Kathryn Denning, in her PhD thesis in 1999 levels several unflattering observations at her peers. Denning argues that it is not a case of ‘professional’ or ‘orthodox’ archaeology and unorthodox pseudoarchaeology, but that everything lays on a spectrum (Denning 1999) and we should accept this spectrum and the archaeologies that are on it equally. She is also quick to point out that things that were once considered ‘fringe’ in the past are now considered orthodox, and vice versa (Denning 1999). This is something that is frequently said by alternative theorists and is not completely true.

Yes, it is true that things that were once considered orthodox have moved from that place to the fringe setting, but not because the archaeological community just randomly decided it, as Denning (1999) seems to suggest, but because evidence has come forward to put it there. Think back to both the Moundbuilder Myth and Piltdown man, both were accepted as orthodoxy, as Denning would put it, and both were proved to be false by evidence and methodology. Also, it is exceedingly rare for a claim that is considered fringe to be accepted (Fagan 2006) usually on the same grounds of there not being anything to support them, think Atlantis.

Frequently alternative archaeologists point to the discovery of Troy by Heinrich Schliemann (Feder 1990, Card 2018) as their prime example of unorthodox becoming orthodox. What they fail to understand is that Schliemann didn’t find Troy, he dug straight through it, misidentified artifacts, and then proceeded to steal them (Mac Sweeney 2018). (I am not a Schliemann fan if you can’t tell). Basically, he did all the things you shouldn’t do in archaeology. Frankly, it should be more than a little concerning that alternative archaeologists are upholding Schliemann as a role model. Mac Sweeney (2018) assigns the actual identification of Troy and the application of the rigorous methods Schliemann received credit for to Schliemann’s young assistant Wilhelm Dorpfeld.

Overall Denning’s argument, as is Holtorf’s and Stouts, is that archaeologists are being very presumptuous about declaring who has a right to speak for the past, and to a point they are correct. They talk around the near erasure of Native culture in America, aided in no small part by the colonial practices of anthropology and archeology (Denning 1999, Holtorf 2005, Stout 2008). What I think they miss here is that pseudoarchaeology is working really hard to do just that, to erase Native history in favor of a fantastical one where white Europeans arrived First. There cannot be a good reason to ever accept alternative archeology on the same footing as say Native American oral traditions. Especially when said alternative archeology work so hard to ignore and erase the Native American legacy in America.

Fortunately, this live and let live idea isn’t the most prevalent one among archaeologists today. It’s kinda more the “ignore it and it will go away” mentality, but there is a growing number of archaeologists who are completely ok with confronting pseudoarchaeology head to head. And it’s gotten a little easier to do with the power of the Internet and social media.

But first, a little perspective on the current state of the public perception of archaeology in America.

The 2000’s saw an explosion of pseudoarchaeology based ‘reality’ TV shows. Shows that focused on “explaining the unexplained”, or “discovering lost civilizations”, shows like Lost Worlds (2005), Ancient Aliens (2009), Unearthed America (2012), The Curse of Oak Island (2014), Expedition Unknown (2015), and now Legends of the Lost (2018). Not to mention shows that are object-oriented, hyper-focused on individual objects and the market value, shows like Antiques Roadshow (1997), American Pickers (2010), American Digger (2012), Diggers (2013), DigFellas (2013), and Detectorsits (2014).

On the other end, there was Time Team America, that ran for 2 seasons and fought tooth and nail for funding.

There are a few popular archaeology magazines, Archaeology Magazine, American Archaeology Magazine, and World Archaeology Magazine, and really only one major alternative archeology magazine, Ancient American Magazine, but National Geographic routinely runs special issues about aliens, lost civilizations, and hidden secrets, using it’s reputation to sell pseudoarchaeology to the general public.

I’m not even going to go into books, there’s just too many, and with the rising popularity of the ebook format, it’s even easier to get something into print these days.

Echoing back to von Daniken and Indiana Jones in the 80’s, the most recognized archaeologists today, due to the 13 year run of Ancient Aliens is the show’s host, Giorgio Tsoukalos (Card 2018) and perhaps video game character Laura Croft due to the successful Tomb Raider franchise. Pseudoarchaeology themes have spread beyond simply TV, they’re in big screen movies, big-name video games, comics, podcasts, and magazines. Archaeologists can’t even compete here.

So where do archaeologists even begin these days?

One place that archaeologists have found somewhat solid footing is in blogging, podcasting, social media like Twitter and Tumblr, and online newspapers and magazines.

Probably the best known online archaeologists are Kris Hirst (@archaeology) who has written for since it was about all kinds of archaeological topics spanning from what is archaeology to several topics in pseudoarchaeology. Kristina Killgrove (@drkillgrove) writes for about archaeology and the science inside archaeology. Jennifer Raff (@JenniferRaff) has written for The Guardian science blog and has recently moved to She writes about human variation, genetics in archaeology and pseudoarchaeology.

Some archaeologists have found a way to use social media to get their messages out. Sarah Parcak (@indyfromspace) aka “the Space Archaeologist” was recognized for her work using Lidar and satellite images to do archaeology…from space. Her TedTalk has 1,058,465 views as of the writing of this post, and she makes herself available to travel and talk about her research to the public.

Other ways that archaeologists have tried to reach out, with varying degrees of success are YouTube videos, which can be a great way to reach out to the public, but even these have a drawback. Your videos are affected by two forces that have little to do with content. One is YouTubes own algorithm that is known to bury channels that are not paid or promoted, and then there’s the general popularity of video, which is effectively affected by how entertaining your video is. Basically, unless you have a high production value and/or are really good at making an engrossing video, it’s hard to get a message out on YouTube.

Facebook is another platform that archaeology has tried, with some success. But as Facebook is about creating social bubbles that few people explore outside of, you’re audience is probably going to be other archaeologists or like-minded people, Effectively, you’re preaching to the choir. Not completely useless, creating a community and keeping each other motivated and connected is important.

Twitter is perhaps one of the best social media platforms for getting a message out because it’s such a huge, global conversation. Personally, this is my favorite because it has the best potential to reach out to others outside your bubble. This requires a few easily learned skills, like learning how to @ others in order to start conversations, how to use #hashtags to allow for referencing and for joining larger conversations, and learning what time is best to send out tweets to reach the audience you’re looking for.

Lastly, I want to talk about Podcasting as a powerful way to reach out to a huge audience of listers. Granted, few podcasts start off as massive success overnight, unless they have the backing of a major brand like NPR, MSNBC, and Fox. This isn’t as much of an issue as it is on YouTube, because people come to podcasts looking for a topic. So unlike YouTube where most new views are generated by the algorithm, podcasts are actively looked for individually by topic, for now at least. Podcasting is also easy to get into, most equipment and software is cheap or free and editing is quick to learn.

However, don’t think there isn’t competition for ears with podcasts. Once again Pseudoarchaeology was an early adapter here. They used their well-honed skills of storytelling and public engagement to attract a dedicated lister base. Something most archaeology podcasts are lacking right now. Player.FM (2018) listed the top podcasts for the past year, and the top podcast is Earth Ancients which claims:

“Earth Ancients chronicles the growing (and often suppressed) evidence of known and unknown civilizations, their ruined cities, and artifacts developed from advanced science and technology. Erased from the pages of time, these cultures discovered and charted the heavens, developed medicine and unleashed advancements that parallel and, in many cases, surpass our own. Join us and discover our lost history.” (Player.FM 2018)

Professional archaeology is still getting its foothold in the world of podcasting, but there is hope. On the same list, we see podcasts from the Leakey Foundation, the BBC, as well as shows dedicated to debunking pseudoarchaeology, shows that give regular updates on archaeological discoveries and new, and shows that discuss the field of archaeology publicly. All of this is not only opening the field back up to the public but at the same time its putting archaeology on the same playing field as pseudoarchaeology for the first time in almost sixty years.

So to recap where we are now:
  1. The field of archaeology finally came out of its self-imposed exile to find that pseudoarchaeology had not only taken hold of the public imagination but taken over archaeology’s symbols and inserted itself into the public perception of archaeology.
  2. Because pseudoarchaeology exists due to successful public engagement, and archaeology appeared to have lost its ability to connect with the general public, archaeology is having a very hard time pushing back again the waves of false information about human history.
  3. However, through the use of social media and new media like podcasting, archaeology can find footing in the public mind and rejoin the conversation about archeology again.

Will this be enough to push back pseudoarchaeology? Time will tell, but we already know what doing nothing will get us. The idea that if we just ignore it and it will go away is a dangerous one. Jeb Card ends his introductory chapter in Spooky Archaeology with a warning “The most important error about spooky archaeology is that it will go away if we ignore it. These ideas have been with archaeology since before the word “archaeology” existed, and if we ignore that, we will likely be ignored ourselves (Card 2018). Basically, there is no such thing as harmless pseudoarchaeology.



Card, Jeb J.
2018 Spooky Archaeology: Myth and the Science of the Past. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2018.

Denning, Kathryn Eleanor Lillian.
1999 “On Archaeology and Alterity.” PhD thesis, University of Sheffield, 1999.

Fagan, Garrett G.
2003 “Seductions of Pseudoarchaeology: Far Out Television.” Archaeology Magazine, June 2003.

Fagan, Garrett G., ed.
2006 Archaeological Fantasies: How Pseudoarchaeology Misrepresents the Past and Misleads the Public. London ; New York: Routledge, 2006.

Feder, Feder, and Garrett G. Fagan.
2006 “Crusading against Straw Men: An Alternative View of Alternative Archaeologies: Response to Holtorf.” World Archaeology, Debates in “World Archaeology,” 38, no. 4 (2006): 718–29.

Feder, Kenneth L.

2010 Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology: From Atlantis to the Walam Olum. Santa Barbara, Calif: Greenwood, 2010.
Kehoe, Alice Beck.
2008 Controversies in Archaeology. Walnut Creek, Calif: Left Coast Press, 2008.

2018 “Kristina Killgrove.” Accessed December 6, 2018.

Mac Sweeney, Naoíse.
2018 Troy: Myth, City, Icon. Archaeological Histories 7. London ; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2018.

Parcak, Sarah
2012 “Sarah Parcak: Archaeology from Space | TED Talk.” Accessed December 6, 2018.
2018 “Sarahparcak.” Accessed December 6, 2018.

Player FM.
2018 “Best Archaeology Podcasts (2018).” Player.FM, 2018.

Powell, Eric A.
2003 “Seductions of Pseudoarchaeology: Bogus Books.” Archaeology Magazine, June 2003.

Raff, Jennifer
2018 “About Me – Violent Metaphors.” Accessed December 6, 2018.

Romey, Kristin M.
2003 “Seductions of Pseudoarchaeology: Pseudoscience in Cyberspace.” Archaeology Magazine, June 2003.

Schadla-Hall, Tim.
2004 “The Comforts of Unreason: The Importance and Relevance of Alternative Archaeology.” In Public Archaeology: Papers from a Session of the 4th World Archaeological Congress, edited by Nick Merriman, 255–71. London ; New York: Routledge, 2004.

Stout, Adam.
2008 Creating Prehistory: Druids, Ley Hunters and Archaeologists in Pre-War Britain. Malden, MA ; Oxford: Blackwell, 2008.

West, John Anthony.
2003 “June 2003 AOM: An Open Letter to the Editors of Archaeology.” June 2003 AOM: An Open Letter to the Editors of Archaeology (blog), June 1, 2003.

The History of Pseudoarchaeology: The Re-Engagement of Professorial Archaeology with the Public

The Re-engagement of professorial archaeology with the public was not an easy one. There had been a 30-year silence on the end of archaeology and when they came back into it, it was as if they had forgotten how to communicate.

Ken Feder published the first edition of his book Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology in 1990, 30 years after Robert Wauchope published his Lost Tribes and Sunken Contents. Now in its ninth edition, Feder’s book has become a staple textbook for many a college class on Alternative archaeology. And it’s good, Feder has an easy way of writing with wit and simplicity, able to break down archaeological ideas and pseudoarchaeological ones so that the general public can understand what he’s saying. All without talking down to his audience. There is the criticism that Feder is too harsh in his tone and treatment of pseudoarchaeology, particularly certain individuals who try to push their flavor of alternative archaeology, but we’ll address this in a bit.

Feder’s publication seems to have triggered a brief rapid fired publication of pseudoarchaeological rebuttals. Stephen Williams published Fantastic Archaeology: The Wild Side of North American Prehistory in 1991, Francis Harrold and Raymond Eve Cult Archaeology & Creationism: Understanding Pseudoscientific Beliefs about the Past in 1995, and Mary Lefkowitz published Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History in 1996. Understanding how books get written and published, we know these volumes were being written sometime in the late 80’s early 90’s which means the academic conversation about the problems with pseudoarchaeology were being noticed again around this time. Harrold and Eve’s book is an edited volume based on a 1986 symposium at the Society for American Archeology meeting that year. Feder, Luanne Hudson, and Herrold organized the meeting because they had become concerned enough by the prevalence of pseudoarchaeology they thought it should be addressed and brought to the attention of their peers (Harrold and Eve 1995)

Right after this rush of publications, we start to see on the back end of professional archaeology the conversations begin. Why do people believe this stuff? What’s wrong? Is it them? Is it us? A general discussion began about 1998, started by James Deetz. He made a call to his peers to return to a style of writing that was more prose like, more open, more storytelling and less fact telling. Deetz himself is a bit of a master at this with his books In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life and Flowerdew Hundred: The Archaeology of a Virginia Plantation.

Deetz’s call to archaeologists to be more open with their writing style is echoed by Adrian Praetzellis (1998) and Teresita Majewski (2000). Both talk about workshops offered in 1997 and 1998 to teach archeologist’s how to be more open in their writing. It’s Majewski who sums up why this sudden need to re-learn communication is so important. Naming *Hyperscience* as when archaeological inquiry has been narrowed down to such a small scale that archaeologists lose sight of the essential human aspect of the discipline (Majewski 2000). She calls out archaeologists for being protective of their “facts” and about who gets to tell the story linking the story of the facts together. Which is a sentiment we’ll encounter going forward. The idea of who owns the past is not only a valid argument but one we’ll see alternative theorists try to subvert.

Deetz, Praetzellis, and Majewski all make a collective call for archaeologists to become better storytellers, to embrace the power of story, and ignite the imaginations of the public through storytelling.

“I welcome the potential of storytelling, or ‘interpretive archaeology,’ to contribute to both public interpretation and archaeological analysis.” (Majewski 2000)

Storytelling is a skill pseudoarchaeology had already mastered by this point though. As such archaeology was at a huge disadvantage when it came to re-engaging the public.

It didn’t help that archaeological publications stopped being available to the public as well. This entire discussion with Deetz, Praetzellis, Majewski and their peers happened in the pages of Historical Archaeology, a scholarly journal for the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA). As such it was, and is, only available to members of the SHA’s. Many of its articles are still kept behind a pay-wall, and even in today’s era of Google, the articles are not always the first thing to pop up when you look something up. Not that most people would be willing to pay the price for an article anyway.

So the point here is, that in the late ’90s when this professional realization that archaeologist kinda suck at talking to the public was occurring, the public was completely blind to it because they were basically blocked from participating.

Lack of public participation is not an issue for alternative theorists though, public engagement is their bread and butter, and as we’ll see, their powers of storytelling and mastery of the Internet and social media again leaves professional archaeology in the dust.


Deetz, James
1993 Flowerdew Hundred: The Archaeology of a Virginia Plantation, 1619-1864. University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville.

1996 In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life. Expanded and rev. ed. New York: Anchor Books, 1996.

1998 “Discussion: Archaeologists as Storytellers.” Historical Archaeology 32, no. 1 (March 1998): 94–96.

Feder, Kenneth L.
2007 Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology. Ninth edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Harrold, Francis B., and Raymond A. Eve, eds.
1995 Cult Archaeology & Creationism: Understanding Pseudoscientific Beliefs about the Past. Expanded ed. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1995.

Lefkowitz, Mary R.
1996 Not out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History. New York: BasicBooks, 1996.

Majewski, Teresita.
2000 “We Are All Storytellers: Comments on Storytelling, Science, and Historical Archaeology.” Historical Archaeology 34, no. 2 (June 2000): 17–19.

Praetzellis, Adrian.
1998 “Introduction: Why Every Archaeologist Should Tell Stories Once in a While.” Historical Archaeology 32, no. 1 (1998): 1–3.

Williams, Stephen.
1991 Fantastic Archaeology: The Wild Side of North American Prehistory. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991.

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The History of Pseudoarchaeology: The Moundbuilders Myth

The first thing to look at any time you start a new project is the history of the topic. Our topic is practically as old as the field of archaeology itself, some might argue even older (Card 2018). The reason for this is that before the field of archaeology ‘professionalized’ there was a time of Antiquarians.

This Time of Antiquarianism is very much like what Jeb Card (2018) calls mythic science time, a time before names and before organization. It’s not as mystical as it all sounds, but that area of fuzzy memory where the mists of time are a little harder to see though, that’s where trouble starts.

We don’t need to walk through the history of the field of archaeology or drown ourselves in theory (thank god). A few highlighted moments will do us nicely. What we want to understand is that the way archaeologists interact with pseudoarchaeology and the public today is very different from the way early antiquarians and archaeologists did. The field itself used to be much more open and communicated with the public better. True, the field was far less professional and had issues that the modern professional field is still learning to detach from. I don’t want people to think I’m trying to ignore this, archaeology has issues, but it’s the worst of these issues that pseudoarchaeology tries so damn hard to hold onto.

Slight disclaimer here, we’ll be focusing mostly on North American archaeology and pseudoarchaeology. We may make a jump outside of these borders occasionally, but mostly we’ll stay here. The main reason for this is most of today’s’ popular pseudoarchaeology seems to come back to the Americas at some point, and secondly, it’s the area of archaeology that I am most familiar with and speak to with the most authority. So with that, let’s look at the what I consider the first real clash of archaeology vs pseudoarchaeology.

Archaeology vs Pseudoarchaeology, Begin!

When settlers and explorers first came to the Americas, they noticed the monumental structures that dotted the continent (Kolodny 2012). However, Europeans at the time couldn’t understand how people as ‘primitive’ as the Natives could have created anything as impressive as the great earth mounds in North America, or the stunning temples of South American. And so, lacking either the knowledge or the belief in the humanity of Native Americans, the Europeans decided that there must have been another race of people here before the Natives. One that was advanced and clever, and probably white like themselves.

Having no evidence of any kind to point to who these advanced peoples were, early antiquarians fell back on myths, folklore, bible stories, and mythic documents like the Icelandic Saga’s to help them figure out who it was that settled the Americas first (Feder 1990, Kolodny 2012). The most popular candidates for First were the Lost tribes of Israel, the Phoenicians, and the Norse. The Celts and random British figures also factored in, but the top three were (and still are today) the first grouping. There are lots of reasons for these different groups, spanning political, religious, and just plain racist ideals, but the important thing to take away at this point is, none of this was pseudoarchaeology….yet.

Even those who are usually put forward as early champions of a Native First theory were not as noble as we’re led to believe. This whitewashing of archaeological history feeds into Jeb Card’s (2018) argument of mythic scientific time. Card defines mythic time in his book Spooky Archaeology (2018) as “the time before names” and “time before human society.” He further applies this idea to mythic science time, a time before professional organization and scientific accountability. A time when the field of archaeology was just starting to develop and solidify into what we like to recognize as professional archeology today.

The case of the Moundbuilder myth encapsulates this. Not only as an example of how archaeology was developing at the time, but also as an example of something the fringe likes to hold onto even today.

The Moundbuilder Myth.

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft wasn’t at all sure who built the mounds, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t the Natives. Schoolcraft suggested Phoenicians, Celts, and Vikings (Kolodny 2012). Yet, at the same time, Schoolcraft expressed hearty skepticism about interpretations of rock drawings as Phoenician scripts (Kolodny 2012, Hunter 2018) or misreadings of Indian petroglyphs as Viking runestones. The reason for was his close connections with the Ojibwa tribe and his exposure to their writing. He famously brought in an Ojibwa elder to do the only known reading of the Dighton Rock inscription by a native speaker (Kolodny 2012, Hunter 2018). Though there are issues with this reading due to the region the Elder was from, it’s probably closer than any other reading of Dighton Rock (Kolodny 2012, Hunter 2018).

The discussion on who built the mounds was one taken quite seriously by early Euro-Americans. Timothy Dwight  in the first of his four-volume, Travels in New England and New York, published in 1821-23 said:

“Nor is there a single known fact which forbids us to believe that the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians in their voyages to different countries on the Atlantic…wandered…to the western continent” (1:91)(Kolodny 2012)

Annette Kolodny (2012) remarks on this suggesting that Dwight, like many of those who would become the United States founding fathers, was trying to create a historical narrative for the newly forming nation. Creating a new narrative gave the new nation meaning, and thereby created an identity for the Euro-Americans who were about to wage war with the British monarchy. This identity was important to the newly forming country because it gave them legitimacy to belong in the New World. This creation and assumption of identity is a theme we’ll see play out in other areas of pseudoarchaeology, but again, at this point, we are still not talking about pseudoarchaeology.

Letters exchanged between Samuel Mather and Benjamin Franklin discuss who the original founders of America might be. Old Ben even sends along a had written account from a Swedish gentleman he’d met who told him the Norse were the first inhabitants (Franklin 1773, Kolodny 2012). This was a popular idea at the time, leaving poor Christopher Columbus as a historical footnote (Kolodny 2012). He wouldn’t come again until sometime after the Revolutionary War and only then as a way of establishing a national identity to legitimize European occupation of the New World (Kolodny 2012). Nationalism is a repeating theme in pseudoarchaeology, and still, we are not yet talking about pseudoarchaeology, but I think the set up for it is apparent.

The nail in the Moundbuilder myth would come from Cyrus Thomas after being commissioned by the newly created Smithsonian Institution. Thomas originally thought the mounds were the remnants of a more advanced race of humans that were now gone (Kolodny 2012). However, through archaeology and oddly, the Bat Creek Stone, Thomas was convinced the mounds were connected to the ancestors of the Native Americans. Specifically the Cherokee because of the Bat Creek Stone inscription looking like Cherokee writing.

With Thomas’ proclamation, finally giving credit where credits due, interest in the mounds waned (Card 2018). But, this was the beginning of the what Card (2018) calls the Initial Engagement between the newly forming and professionalizing field of archaeology and it’s doppelganger, pseudoarchaeology.

I do have to agree with Fagan (2006) that just because a theory or idea existed in the past doesn’t automatically make it pseudoscience. Archaeology started off on some very wrong footing, but where the line began to be drawn, is with evidence and the adherence to the scientific method. Thomas found no evidence for the Moundbuilders to be anything other than the ancestors of the Native Americas, despite already assuming them to be non-Native in origin. This is good science. Pseudoscience is insisting that the mounds must have been built by another group of people despite overwhelming evidence that they were not, and also pushing that insistence on the public by using misleading or false information. Age doesn’t make pseudoscience, blindly ignoring evidence does.

So to recap where we are just now:
  1. The history and formation of pseudoarchaeology runs alongside that of professional archaeology. They share roots in the same past.
  2. Because the origin of archaeology is so far back in the past, it exists in mythic science time. This is seen with the Moundbuilder myth and how it was settled by Thomas during the early formation of the field.
  3. Just because a theory is both old and wrong doesn’t automatically make it pseudoscience, adherence to the theory despite evidence to the contrary, dose.

Next post we’re going to talk about how things changed as archaeology developed. From the early engagement of pre-professional archaeology, into the development of institutional professional archaeology, the re-engagement of professorial archaeology with the public, and modern-day archaeology’s interaction with pseudoarchaeology.



Card, Jeb J.
2018 Spooky Archaeology: Myth and the Science of the Past. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2018.

Fagan, Garrett G., ed.
2006 Archaeological Fantasies: How Pseudoarchaeology Misrepresents the Past and Misleads the Public. London ; New York: Routledge, 2006.

Feder, Kenneth L.
1990 Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology. Ninth edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Franklin, Benjamin.
1773 “From Benjamin Franklin to Samuel Mather, 7 July 1773.” Founders Online. Accessed December 3, 2018.

Hunter, Doug.
2018 The Place of Stone: Dighton Rock and the Erasure of America’s Indigenous Past. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2018.

Kolodny, Annette.
2012 In Search of First Contact: The Vikings of Vinland, the Peoples of the Dawnland, and the Anglo-American Anxiety of Discovery. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012.

Websites to check out:
The Moundbuilder Myth. Ohio History Connection.

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“We Don’t Dig Dinos” ArchaeoS0up Productions. Use with permission.

“Quasi Motion” Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

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Pseudoarchaeology vs Archaeology : A Series

Hey everyone, today we’re starting a new section on the blog, namely a more academic look at what pseudoarchaeology is, it’s history, and why it’s so damn successful at getting its message out there and sticking around.

I’ve covered a lot of little bits and pieces of this on the blog before, but I’ve never really done a deep dive into the topic breaking things down for you. I figured it’s probably time we look at the timeline of pseudoarchaeology and see how it’s developed from its somewhat religious roots to the full-blown mega phenomena it is today. Maybe by examining it this way and understanding where Archaeology missed opportunities to address it professionally, we can better understand what it’s going to take to correct the misinformation of the modern movement.

There’s going to be a few parts to this series, and you may have already noticed the Pseudoarchaeology Timeline in the blog menu, I’ll be updating that as I find reliable dates for things. Also, there is now a section for Terms and Concepts, I’ll be putting brief discussions there to link to when we talk about things like, what’s mythic time, and who was Ignatius Donnelly, hopefully, that will make it easier to find important topics later. Lastly, I’ve added a Reading List full of books I’ve read and suggestions from my co-hosts and special guests on the show. I’ll still have resources and citations inside the blog posts as usual, because citing source not only proves I’ve done the work but that I’m not making things up.

All that laid out, this section will be an ongoing work, probably done in phases, and definitely updated as I get new resources. When I started this project I had a respectable collection of books and articles I was able to read, and discovered through them a larger number of things I didn’t have the time to read or even access too. As that changes and I get access to things, I’ll be updating the blog to reflect it, as any good researcher should.
That all said, let’s get going!

List of articles in this section:

  1. The History of Pseudoarchaeology: The Moundbuilders Myth
  2. From Engagement to Isolation.
  3. The Re-Engagement of Professorial Archaeology with the Public
  4. The History of Pseudoarchaeology: Pseudoarchaeology and the Modern Era of Public Engagement.