Reading List

People are always asking for things they can read to help understand the world of pseudoarchaeology. We’ve started putting a list together of things for people to read.

Sara Head recommends:

Card, Jeb
2018    Spooky Archaeology: Myth and the Science if the Past.

Feder, Kenneth
2010    Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology From Atlantis to the Walam Olum

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

Hunter, Doug.
2018    Beardmore the Viking Hoax That Rewrote History

2017    The Place of Stone: Dighton Rock and the Erasure of America’s Indigenous Past

Kehoe, Alice Beck.
2008    Controversies in Archaeology. Walnut Creek, Calif: Left Coast Press, 2008.

Kelker, Nancy L., and Karen Olsen Bruhns.
2010    Faking Ancient Mesoamerica. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2010.

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.

Mayor, Adrienne.
2011    The First Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Times. Paperback reissue. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011.

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

Ken Feder suggests:

Arnold, Dieter
1997    Building in Egypt: Pharaonic Stone Masonry. Oxford University Press
Brier, Bob and Jean-Pierre Houdin
Despite the hyperventilated sub-title, it’s a very good book. Nat Geo did a documentary based on Houdin’s hypothesis.
Carroll, Robert Todd
2003 The Skeptic’s Dictionary. John Wiley and Sons, New York.
Exactly what it claims to be in the title

Jeb Card suggests:

Barkun, Michael
2003    A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Best book on how conspiracy theory works. I’ve heard the first edition is better, but I haven’t read the second.

Monica Blak and Kurlander, Eric (editors)
2015    Revisiting the “Nazi Occult”: Histories, Realities, Legacies. German History in Context. Camden House, Rochester, New York.

Nazis and myths about them are never too far from many paranormal topics. This edited volume has a number of chapters on topics of skeptical interest, including the “World Ice Theory”

Card, Jeb J. and David Anderson (editors)
2016    Lost City, Found Pyramid: Alternative Archaeologies and Pseudoscientific Practices. University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa.

Some debunking elements, but more about nature of alternative and real archaeology.

Bruhns, Karen O., and Nancy L. Kelker
2010    Faking the Ancient Andes. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, California.
Kelker, Nancy L., and Karen O. Bruhns
2010    Faking Ancient Mesoamerica. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, California.

In addition to covering the Ica Stones and similar objects, Bruhns and Kelker examine the world of archaeological forgery, which is driven by some of the same issues found in pseudoarchaeology.

Colavito, Jason
2005    The Cult of Alien Gods: H. P. Lovecraft and Extraterrestrial Pop Culture. Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY.

Colavito’s writing and research has advanced considerably since this book was published, and can be found along with substantial primary resources on Colavito’s website and active blog.

Daegling, David J.
2005     Bigfoot Exposed: An Anthropologist Examines America’s Enduring Legend

Approachable investigation of the history of Bigfoot belief, and more detailed examination of the ergonomics and anatomy behind Bigfoot casts and films

Ellis, Bill
2000    Raising the Devil: Satanism, New Religions, and the Media. University Press of Kentucky, Lexington.
2004    Lucifer Ascending: The Occult in Folklore and Popular Culture. University Press of Kentucky, Lexington.

Ellis has written a number of books on modern American folklore. His work on various Satanic Panics and fears of the occult in the 20th century are worth checking out.

Ellis, Richard
1998    Imagining Atlantis. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

A solid history of the various concepts of Atlantis through the years, ending with a lengthy examination of the Minoan=Atlantis claim.

Fagan, Garrett (editor)
2006    Archaeological Fantasies: How Pseudoarchaeology Misrepresents the Past and Misleads the Public. Routledge, London.

Important edited volume examining nature of pseudoarchaeology.

Feder, Kenneth L.

2010    Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology: From Atlantis to Walam Olum. Greenwood, Santa Barbara, California.

Ken Feder’s Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries is the classic weird archaeology debunking volume, used in many classrooms. The first chapter is often hailed as a statement on skepticism. It is available in various editions from different presses.

Feder’s Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology is what it says it is, with an emphasis on North America.

Gere, Cathy
2009    Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism. University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London.

Far-ranging examination of how the ideal of Minoan society was created by Arthur Evans and others in the 20th century, and its impact on literature and art.

Harms, Daniel, and John Wisdom Gonce, III
1998    The Necronomicon Files: The Truth Behind the Legend. Nightshade Books, Mountain View, California.

In-depth exploration of claims that the Necronomicon has a reality beyond adaptations of Lovecraft’s tales, much to the chagrin of some would-be wizards.

Hornung, Erik
2001    The Secret Lore of Egypt: Its Impact on the West. Translated from the German by David Lorton. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.
Iversen, Erik
1993    The Myth of Egypt and its Hieroglyphs in European Tradition. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

Much of pseudoarchaeology follows in the tradition of Egypt as source of secret knowledge. Hornung and Iversen trace this idea from the Greeks on.

Hufford, David
1989    The Terror that Comes in the Night

The first serious research into assault by night spirits and witches, including alien abduction, finds a strong role for biology and culture.

Hutton, Ronald
1999    The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Many consider Hutton to be the foremost historian of the neopagan movement. His detailed chronicle of how Wicca and other traditions emerged from Victorian occult communities and practices is accepted by many, but not all, pagans.

Keen, Benjamin
1971    The Aztec Image in Western Thought. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey.

As with Egypt, there is a long history of misrepresenting and misunderstanding the Aztecs, and by proxy Mesoamerican and Latin American indigenous societies.

Laycock, Joseph P.
2015    Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic over Role-Playing Games Says about Play, Religion, and Imagined Worlds. University of California Press, Oakland.

Laycock focuses on a very specific element of the Satanic Panic in the late 20th century US, the fear of Dungeons and Dragons. He finds a fascinating connection to radical religious roleplaying.

Loxton, Daniel, and Donald R. Prothero
2013    Abominable Science: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and other Famous Cryptids. Columbia University Press, New York.

A colorful and thorough examination of the origins of many of the most famous subjects of cryptozoology.

Luckhurst, Roger
2012    The Mummy’s Curse: The True History of a Dark Fantasy. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Tour-de-force history of the notion of the Cursed Artifact, visiting Victorian elite seances, the occult nature of the British Museum, and the shifting view of Egypt in the West. Highly recommended.

1998     Alien Abductions: Creating a Modern Phenomenon

Alien abduction accounts, especially those by “researchers” like Budd Hopkins, have had a huge impact on the broader world of paranormal belief, including many modern ideas about demons and “shadow people”. Matheson is an early detailed analysis of these researchers and their works, pointing out the strong hand they had in shaping abduction testimonies.

Mayor, Adrienne
2000    The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times. Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford.

Mayor’s famous exploration of the role of fossils in Classical Greek thought and myth/natural history. Some ideas (especially the origin of the griffin) have been treated as controversial, but a powerful work and highly recommended.

Moseley, James W.
2002    Shockingly Close to the Truth : Confessions of a Grave-Robbing Ufologist

Jim Moseley spent decades documenting the weird and wacky culture of flying saucer contactees and ufologists. His humorous memoirs are a valuable chronicle

Peebles, Curtis
1994    Watch the Skies! A Chronicle of the Flying Saucer Myth. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London.

Solid history of ufology up to the early 1990s.

Pinch, Geraldine
2006    Magic in Ancient Egypt. The British Museum Press, London.

Not a debunking/skeptical book, but an approachable single-volume on actual ancient Egyptian magical practices and artifacts.

Pringle, Heather
2006    The Master Plan: Himmler’s Scholars and the Holocaust. Hyperion, New York.

Detailed and surprising history of the scholars and occultists of the Ahenerbe, the inspiration for all of those Nazis stealing artifacts in the movies.

Rahtz, Philip, and Lorna Watts
2009    Glastonbury: Myth and Archaeology. The History Press

Good summary of the myths and archaeological reality around the most mystified religious site in Britain.

Regal, Brian
2011    Searching for Sasquatch: Crackpots, Eggheads, and Cryptozoology. Palgrave Studies in the History of Science and Technology. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

Detailed historical examination of Yeti and Bigfoot through the lens of a biography of bigfoot-friendly anthropologist Grover Krantz.

Rieder, John
2008    Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction. The Wesleyan Early Classics of Science Fiction Series. Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, Connecticut.

Many of the tropes of pseudoarchaeology can be found in the ties between early science fiction and adventure romance, and high imperialism.

Silver, Carole
1999    Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness. Oxford University Press, Oxford, England.

Excellent history of how the Victorians threaded modernity, science, myth, and gender through their fascination with fairies.

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

The first wide-ranging volume debunking pseudoarchaeology

Wengrow, David
2014    The Origins of Monsters: Image and Cognition in the First Age of Mechanical Reproduction. The Rostovtzeff Lectures, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

Intriguing essay on the social origins of monsters, discarding many ideas of monsters as “primitive”

Williams, Stephen
1991    Fantastic archaeology: the wild side of North American prehistory. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.

Extensive debunking of North American pseudoarchaeological cases

Williamson, Tom, and Liz Bellamy
1983    Ley Lines in Question. World’s Work, Kingswood, Surrey, United Kingdom.

Exceptional historical and scientific examination of ley lines. Recommended.

Wynn, L. L.
2007    Pyramids and Nightclubs: A Travel Ethnography of Arab and Western Imaginations of Egypt from King Tut and a Colony of Atlantis to Rumors of Sex Orgies, Urban Legends about a Marauding Prince, and Blonde Belly Dancers. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Part of the first half of this ethnography gives intriguing insights into the interaction of archaeologists and New Age interests in Egypt. Other sections involve the spread of rumor and legend in Egyptian society.

Blake Smith and Karen Stollznow (MontserTalk Podcast) suggest:

Cohen, Daniel
1981    The Great Airship Mystery: A UFO of the 1890s

Dash, Mike
2007    Borderlands: The Ultimate Exploration of the Unknown

Mike Dash’s Borderlands is a fun survey of the Fortean with good skeptical underpinnings.

Feder, Kenneth L.
2017    Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology. 9th Edition.

I like to say it has more skepticism on the covers than a week of the History Channel.

Nickell, Joe
1987    Inquest on the Shroud of Turin

2005    Unsolved History: Investigating Mysteries of the Past

2009    Real or Fake: Studies in Authentication

2011    Tracking the Man-Beasts: Sasquatch, Vampires, Zombies, and More

Regal, Brian
2011    Searching for Sasquatch: Crackpots, Eggheads, and Cryptozoology

Smith, Jay
2011    Monsters of the Gevaudan: The Making of a Beast

Stollznow, Karen

2013    Haunting America 

2014   Language Myths, Mysteries and Magic 

2017    Would You Believe It?: Mysterious Tales From People You’d Least Expect 

David Anderson suggests:

Bader, Christopher
2011    Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot Hunts, and Other Curiosities in Religion and Culture.

It’s not a debunking book, but it gives great context for the state of paranormal belief in modern America.  Hands down one of the most influential books I’ve read for these issues in recent years!


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