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: From Engagement to Isolation.

Things changed drastically as archaeology developed and professionalized. During the pre-professional time, or the Romantic Era of archaeology as Jeb Card and David Anderson (2016) call it, archaeology was really more of a jumbled collection of competing methodologies, antiquarians out looking for epic adventures chasing down mythic locations, and making extraordinary claims to establish racial dominance and promote nationalist agendas (Card and Anderson 2016). However, as the field of archaeology matured, it began to challenge these behaviors, choosing scientific procedures over frivolity, demanding evidence to support wild claims, and in general, growing up.

For example, Alternative theorists love to point out a couple early hoaxes that archeology had to deal with. The most famous of these would be the Piltdown man hoax.

Ever so briefly, the Piltdown man was an early 1900’s hoax were the lower jaw of an ape was altered to look like it belonged with the cranial part of a human skull. It was ‘discovered’ in 1912 in Sussex England and was lauded as the missing link (Feder 2010, 1990). Though the hoax wasn’t one-hundred percent debunked until 1949, it did have its early detractors (Feder 1990). Many thought it was just a little too convenient that Piltdown man was discovered where it was, and as time went by and more actual hominids were found around the world that predated Piltdown’s supposed age, more suspicions were thrown at it. 1949 was the beginning of the end for Piltdown man as a series of tests revealed that the bones that made up the skull were not the right age or even from the same species (Feder 1990).

Piltdown man fits because of the desperate need by the British government to have, not only an early hominid discovered on their soil but to have it be *the* missing link. British archaeologists at the time were willing to overlook clues that this was probably a hoax. Yet 40 years later, after a lot of questions from inside the field, the Piltdown man was exposed.

The reason this case is so well known is because it played out in the public eye, mainly by the circumstances of the time. Newspapers carried stories and images of the Piltdown man (Feder 1990). The public loved it and talked about it. It was even presented by the researchers to the public. Because of this, other researchers were able to know of and examine the hoax, and call it into question long enough to finally get it disproven. Now when we talk about the Piltdown man, we’re talking about the hoax and not the supposed missing link.

The development of Institutional Professional Archaeology.

Honestly, this is where things start to decline as far as the interactions between archaeology and pseudoarchaeology are concerned. Leading up to the 60’ Archaeologists were all over the place publicly. During the 1800’s they were traveling around speaking and presenting findings. Granted this was a necessity of the times, but the side effect was a great deal of public engagement.

As time moved on, Archaeologists began to appear on the radio and then TV (Card and Anderson 2016) embracing the new media as ways to communicate with the public. They wrote popular books about archaeology and, again, spoke publicly about the topic.

This all seemed to work out best over in the UK. Sir Lenord Woolley was all over the radio, Sir Mortimer Wheeler and Glyn Daniel were named TV personality of the year in 1954, the UK show Animal, Vegetable, Mineral was a success where the US version What in the World was not (Card and Anderson 2016). Overall, it seemed like everything was going good.

Then the New Archeology moment began in archaeology, symbolizing a shift in archaeological theory and practice. This time was important, it was a time when archeology began to look critically at itself and evaluate itself. It started important theory groups like gender and queer theory, started a realization of the colonial practices of archeology and called out the racism of the field. We’re not going to delve deeply into any of this here, but it’s important to understand what was happening as the archaeological field solidified and professionalized.

Unfortunately, it also isolated itself, pulling away from the public eye and behind academic walls. Card and Anderson (2016) point out that during this time where archaeology was maturing and professionalizing, the public saw very little of it. Instead what they did see was TV, books, and magazines pushing sensational ideas like ancient astronauts, ley lines, hidden symbols and lost civilizations (Card and Anderson 2016). Few professional rebuttals were issued, and even those didn’t appear to make it to the general public.

Chariots of the Gods? by Erick von Däniken was published in 1968. It inspired a TV series In Search of Ancient Astronauts airing in 1973. These were just a few of the most popular, clearly pseudoarchaeological media of the time. The result of all this uncriticized attention on fringe ideas resulted in actual archaeologists becoming characters and stereotypes, and the most recognized ‘Archaeologist’ in the US during the 70’s and 80’s being von Däniken and Indiana Jones.

The only book to come out at this time that I can find is Robert Wauchope’s book Lost Tribes and Sunken Continents in 1962. Even this though was a response to a 1947 book by Harold Gladwin, who was either being completely serious with his offensive, racist diffusionist theories or was just trying to be funny. Jullan Steward said about Gladwin’s book:

“Anthropologists who are familiar with Gladwin and with Gladwin’s solid contributions to Southwestern archeology during the past two decades will recognize this book as the release of partially suppressed theories with which he has long wanted to taunt the profession. They will understand that his manhandling of facts, his whimsical methodology, and his beating of dead horses are designed to get their blood pressures up. They will recommend that their friends should read the book for sheer entertainment but that they should not believe a word of it.” (Steward 1949)

Either way, he did have noted eugenicist E.A. Hooton write the foreword…so.

As archaeology withdrew from the public eye and from the public discussion of archaeology, they lost control of their image and symbols. Jeb Card (2017) points out in his book Spooky Archaeology that the void created by archaeologists was gladly filled by pseudoarchaeologists putting on the trappings of archaeology and creating an image that allowed them to co-opt archaeological authority.

“Anyone willing to wear the old symbols of pre-professional archaeology can claim the archaeological legacy and it’s mythic social currency even if their ideas or methods have no significant tie to actual archaeological practices, past or present.” (Card 2018)

It took over thirty years before the next book written by a professional archaeologist challenging pseudoarchaeology would be published. By then pseudoarchaeology had its hooks in the minds and imaginations of the public. Von Däniken and his cohort had not only lit a match, but the flames had caught, inspiring movies like Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Comic Books like Jack Kirby’s Eternals (1976), Games like Dungeons and Dragons (1974), hundreds of popular fiction stories and even more ‘Docu-mysteries’. Even newspaper comics routinely poked at these ideas, The Farside by Gary Larson started in 1980, routinely joked about archaeology, cavemen, and aliens.


So to recap where we are just now:
  1. During the Romantic era of archeology, it was pretty chaotic, but as the field professionalized, archaeologists began to question extraordinary claims and test them using developing methodology.
  2. As archaeology further developed and focused on much-needed self-reflection and theory development, it isolated itself and withdrew from public discussions.
  3. As archaeology left the conversation, pseudoarchaeology jumped in with both feet.
  4. When archaeology came out of its self-imposed exile, it realized the damage done by its non-participation, but at this point, the damage was done.
  5. Now archaeology is trying to desperately catch up with pseudoarchaeological claims and re-learn how to engage the general public.

Basically, by the time professional archeology decided to wake up, the damage was already done. Pseudoarchaeology was part of the mainstream and nearly every part of entertainment. When archaeologists began to re-engage pseudoarchaeology, they were confused at the public’s rejection of the world of facts and theory, and even argued amongst themselves about how best to embrace this new wave of fringe beliefs. Still, it was clear something had to be done, the question was what, and how.


Card, Jeb J., and David S. Anderson, eds.
2016 Lost City, Found Pyramid: Understanding Alternative Archaeologies and Pseudoscientific Practices. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2016.

Däniken, Erich von.
1968 Chariots of the Gods?: Unsolved Mysteries of the Past. New York: Berkley, 1968.

Feder, Kenneth L.
Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology: From Atlantis to the Walam Olum. Santa Barbara, Calif: Greenwood, 2010.

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

Gladwin, Harold S.
1947 Men Out of Asia. Whittlesey House, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1947.

Reinl, Harald.
1973 In Search of Ancient Astronauts (TV Movie 1973) – IMDb. 16 mm, Documentary. Thunderbird Video, 1973.

Steward, Jullan H.
1949 “Men out of Asia. Harold Sterling Gladwin.” American Anthropologist 51, no. 1 (January 1949): 113–15.

Wauchope, Robert. Lost Tribes & Sunken Continents: Myth and Method in the Study of American Indians Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962.

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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.

Music in podcast provided by

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

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

“Dark Hallway – Distressed” Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

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.

If by Indiana Jones you mean a fake archaeologist, then yes Megan Fox is the new Indiana Jones.

critical tv

Ok, for starts let’s not slam Megan Fox for being an actress, or a model, or a woman, or any of the sexist bs I know I’m about to see over this. Yes, she was probably picked to do this show because she knows her way around the studio and how to look good on camera. It is literally her job and I will not begrudge her that.

What I am going after is the drivel her new show, “Legends of the Lost with Megan Fox”, is apparently pushing.

If you can’t tell from the title, I am responding to the USA Today Article Megan Fox fulfills her lifelong dream of becoming Indiana Jones in Travel Channel series. 

The article, of course, has to remind us that Megan Fox is indeed an actress:

“Yes, you read that correctly: The “Transformers” actress, whose last role was filling in for Zooey Deschanel on Fox’s sitcom “New Girl,” is taking her love of ancient history to “Legends of the Lost,” premiering Tuesday (8 EST/PST). “

OMG Really? Am I supposed to be excited that it’s Megan Fox, or impressed that “The “Transformers” actress” is capable of doing something else?

We then move on to talk about how annoyed Fox is that no one listens to her when she’s talked about wanting to do a show like this before. All the way back in 2016 Fox was telling the Los Angeles Times about string theory and her love of alternative history.

“I don’t think acting is my ultimate passion,” she says about a week before the “Ninja Turtles” opening. “I have other skill sets and gifts that are much, much stronger that I am obligated to exercise and use. I’m really more intellectually minded. I’ve always been into alternative history, antiquities, archaeology. I’ve always been really consumed by these deep mysteries that exist on our planet that can’t be explained today by science. They eat away at me.”

In the USA article, Fox bites back a little at people who always seem so surprised at her interests. “None of those things are the things people bother reading or retaining,” she laments.

I get it. Look the world is not kind to women who stick out, and Fox does. She’s also decided to throw her hat into a very male-dominated field. Pseudoarchaeology or Alternative Archaeology is pretty much a boys club, Fox would be one of two that I can think of right off the top of my head and we really don’t hear much from Janet Wolter without her husband’s name attached to it. So I mean, if she wanted an uphill battle, she’s got it.

Sadly though, Fox is probably going to do well as long as she stays inside the prescripted lines of most Fringe beliefs. She’s got the experience and the budget to make an exciting “documentary” and a ready-made audience eager to watch.

But on to the questions.

Fox is asked how long she’s been interested in ancient history, and she tells us she took a Greek mythology class in high school. Then she is very certain to tell us she’s never been to college. I guess that means something?

Then she gets asked:

“Q: Aside from the discovery that there were many female Viking warriors, what was the most interesting thing you learned shooting the first episode in Norway?”

Ok, so female Viking warriors have kinda been a thing for a while, granted there’s recently been a controversy over the most famous of the warrior burials, but the idea of Norse women as warriors isn’t new. Just because the mainstream media doesn’t want to act like they know that, doesn’t make this suddenly news.

Fox responds that she was surprised that women were also merchants. She says this is news to her because it’s not in “our history books.” I mean, my history books taught me that. I still have several on my shelf that talk about Norse society and women’s roles in them. I will admit that they are not high school textbooks, but they are history books.

Next question was how was shooting at Stonehenge different than the great pyramids of Giza. Fox responds with how mystical and magical Stonehenge was (an attitude Jeb Cayrd has talked about in his book Spooky Archaeology) and then tells us how we don’t know anything about Stonehenge because unlike the Egyptians, whoever they were who built Stonehenge didn’t write things down. Also, even though the Egyptians wrote stuff down, they didn’t write down how they built the pyramids.

Look…The English Heritage Site has a nice history of the Stonehenge site with some pretty extensive footnotes if you want furhter reading. I found that by googling it. The Smithsonian even has a nice page on the site, even if it’s from 2008.

As for the Pyramids, Ken Feder suggests two books: Building in Egypt: Pharaonic Stone Masonry. by Dieter Arnold and  The Secret of the Great Pyramid: How One Man’s Obsession Led to the Solution of Egypt’s Greatest Mystery. by Bob Brier and Jean-Pierre Houdin.

It’s not surprising to see Fox pulling the party line of “OoooOOooo unsolved mysteries” but it is aggravating that this is going to be on live TV without a rebuttal by people who are actually qualified to talk about the topics the show picked; Stonehenge, Viking Women, The Trojan War, and of course America’s Lost Civilization (because Native Americans aren’t real as far as alternative theorists are concerned.)

Fox is asked what else she’d like to look at if there was a season 2. Fox lists off things she thinks are also mysteries like the Sphinx and the soundly debunked Shroud of Turin. She thinks the testing in the 80’s wasn’t handled well. Luckly, there’s been studies this year that further debunk the Shroud. 628-year-old fake news: Scientists prove Turin Shroud not genuine (again) and  New study suggests Shroud of Turin a fake, supporting study retracted

She’d also like to do the Nazca Lines, because no one knows what those are for. (Well I’ve got a 3 part series for you!)

Overall, I’m looking forward to this series, both to see how bad it’s really going to be and to see how it’s received. Also, I plan on well…critiquing it as I watch. So hopefully we can all experience this together, and maybe talk about how we as archaeologists can confront this, even when don’t have Travel Channel as a platform.



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.

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

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

You can follow us on twitter @Archyfantsies, Jeb J. Card @ahtzib ,  Ken Feder @fiftysitesbook or look us up on Facebook. You can reach us by email at

Contact us below or leave a comment.

Man-Bear-Pig with Alex and Simona from the ArchaeoAnimals Podcast : Archaeological Fantasies Ep 102

Today we talk with Alex Fitzpatrick and Simona Falanga from The ArchaeoAnimals Podcast on the APN. We talk about Zooarchaeology and Cryptid Bones. We learn about chupacabra skulls and examine the Pig-Face Women of Vicotiran side-shows.

Show Notes:

Alex Fitzpatrick on Twitter 

Animal Archaeology Blog 

The ArchaeoAnimals Podcast  


Pig-faced women – Wikipedia

The Foreign Woman in British Literature- Exotics, Aliens, and Outsiders – Google Books

QI Talk Forum – View topic – Freaks

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.

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

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

You can follow us on twitter @Archyfantsies, Jeb J. Card @ahtzib ,  Ken Feder @fiftysitesbook or look us up on Facebook. You can reach us by email at

Contact us below or leave a comment.

Re-vamping the website and the Patreon site.

I’ve had a few requests lately to change a few things around here, one of which was to add the podcast eps to the Patreon. Apparently, there is a player attached to the site. I didn’t know that, so I’m working on adding the past years worth to the Patreon. This is both a warning and an announcement to people if you start seeing oodles of new episodes of the podcast on Patreon, that’s why. Hopefully, it won’t affect the actual podcast feed so no strange bulk uploads.

I’m also adding a few new things to the website, a Pseudoarchaeology Timeline and a reading list. These are both going to be living documents and will be updated with links and information from time to time.

I’m also going to try and pay more attention to the Patreon page, keeping it updated and such. However, I’m still learning so if you have suggestions let me know.

Thanks as always for all your support and enjoy the show!

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.

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

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

You can follow us on twitter @Archyfantsies, Jeb J. Card @ahtzib ,  Ken Feder @fiftysitesbook or look us up on Facebook. You can reach us by email at

Contact us below or leave a comment.

Archaeologists and Horror Movies in the MonsterTalk Crossover, Ep 101

Cupid Fountain

Image: Cupid Fountain (Copyright Winchester Mystery House)

Hello Boys and Ghouls, it’s time for the MonsterTalk/Archaeological Fantasies Halloween Special. This year we’re talking about Horror movies and the perils of being an archaeologist in them. Stay on the edge of your seats, as we dig up these horrific accounts of archaeology gone wrong.

Show Notes:

MonsterTalk Podcast 

MonsterTalk Patreon

DoctorAtlantis (MonsterTalk )@DoctorAtlantis 

Karen Stollznow web page. 

Karen Stollznow @karenstollznow 

Winchester (film) – Wikipedia

The True Story of the House in Helen Mirren’s New Movie Winchester

The Heiress to a Gun Empire Built a Mansion Forever Haunted by the Blood Money That Built It.

Sands of Oblivion (2007)

Sands of Oblivion – Wikipedia

DeMille’s Lost City

The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille (2016) – IMDb

Ghostwatch – Wikipedia Ghostwatch

This House is Haunted: The True Story of the Enfield Poltergeist

Enfield Poltergeist – Wikipedia

10 Best and Worst Horror Movies Featuring Archaeologists

Books to Read:

Haunting America by Karen Stollznow

Language Myths, Mysteries and Magic by Karen Stollznow

The theme for this episode is in loving tribute to Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Music is copywritten by Mark Pierson and the show was edited by Blake Smith.

Thank You for listening.

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

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

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

You can follow us on twitter @Archyfantsies, Jeb J. Card @ahtzib ,  Ken Feder @fiftysitesbook or look us up on Facebook. You can reach us by email at


Theme Music was provided by ArcheoSoup Productions

This episode was produced and edited by Sara Head.

Contact us below or leave a comment.

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