Tag Archives: America Before (book)

Pseudoarchaeology is Aware of Racism, aka Let’s Talk about the R-Word.

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I repeat, Pseudoarchaeology is aware of racism.

They’re not entirely sure when something is racist, or why archaeologists call them out on it constantly, but they know it’s a thing that exists and it’s probably bad.

Why do I say this? The two most visible personalities in alternative archaeology/history right at this moment are probably Scott Wolter and Graham Hancock. As many know, I watch and read their shows/book and review them critically. It’s actually part of my thesis, so I guess they both get what they claim they ultimately want, recognition by the academic community. Just not the way they wanted.

To be clear I am not calling Wolter or Hancock (or anyone here) a Racist. What I am saying is the things they write/say/do are racist, probably unintentional, and need to be examined and criticized.

Both Wolter and Hancock have had their claims about archaeology/history critiqued and the racist parts pointed out to them over the years. I’ve watched both men develop their ideas, reacting to the criticism. Of course, there is the initial outrage (“I’m not Racist!”), who wants to be called a racist? But then, both of them tried to adapt their theories to make them less racist, and both have completely missed the point.

I’ve watched both carefully police their language over the years to not mention color or nationality as much as possible. But the mentioning of Blacks or Whites isn’t what makes what they say and sell racist. It’s the implications of what they’re trying to push as correct history. Both men have an idea about how culture got to and developed in America. Granted Hancock’s is a little more world-encompassing, but it’s still the basic, “Super Father Culture brings civilization to lesser people, mostly non-whites.”

For Wolter, it’s his strange Celtic-Viking-Templars, for Hancock it’s his psychic lost civilization of all-gods. It doesn’t matter who they are though, because the idea is the same, this mysterious group came to America and bequeathed all culture and society to the unfortunate clueless people already here, who then worshiped them as gods/heroes. Both theories completely ignore or erase native accomplishments and reassign them to the father race. And if you don’t see the issue there, we need to talk.

What’s been most interesting to me over the years is watching these two, and others like them, try to correct for the racism of their ideas, without changing their actual ideas. They think just changing the words they use will erase the implications, but miss the greater issues with their arguments. Then, when called out on it, they both do what can generously be called Virtue Signaling to try and show that *they* aren’t racist themselves.

The thing that struck me the other day reading Hancock once again get upset over his misconceptions of Native American and Archaeologist relations (there are issues, just not the ones he’s on about), is that they don’t see or understand their own racism. We can point it out to them all day, it won’t matter. Neither man thinks they are capable of being racist. Wolter even goes as far as to do the whole “I have Native American Friends” thing and Hancock just constantly tells us how angry he is for Native Americans (then dismisses their whole history in a handwave).

I don’t doubt that Wolter has friends in various tribes, or that Hancock is really upset. But that isn’t a pass to then turn around, treat all Native Americas as one amorphous group of people, or break them down into “advanced” and “primitive” societies based on arbitrary traits that really just reflect how little either man understands about archaeology and culture.

The only good thing about this is that it opens up the discussion of racism in and around archaeology.  Archaeology and anthropology have very dark origins and history. It’s ugly sometimes, and those of us in the field not only learn about this, we’re taught to counter it as much as we can. The sad truth is, we’re still very white, male-dominated, eurocentric fields.

Are things getting better? Yes, definitely. Could they be a whole lot better than they are, Absolutely!

Reading Hancock and watching Wolter, as frustrating as it is, opened my eyes to the reality that is both the public perception of archaeology and reminds me of the issues we still have to correct for in our own field. It also reminds me that we as professionals can’t have these discussions in the dark, away from public eyes. That’s how we got here in the first place, checking out of public discourse and letting pseudoarchaeology take control.

We need to take our narrative back, we need to be real, and we need to counter things when we see them.

Now I’ll get off my high horse and go get ready to watch Wolter tell me how the Phoenicians were the first Europeans in America.


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Check out Jeb Card’s new book Spooky Archaeology :
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How Culture Works: Adapt, Teach, Learn.

I think many people who interact with pseudoarchaeology have similar origin stories. We all come to archaeology through a lense of curiosity, that was kindle in some part by the pseudo-information that was out there when we were growing up. I’ve spoken about my roots in role-play, especially D&D, but I also had a decent steeping in the Norse religious revival in the US.

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Cover of the Poetic Edda translated by Lee. M. Hollander.

I once dreamed of learning Old Norse and translating mysterious Runic scripts and learning the secrets of the old ways. Archaeology changed that for me. I went into archaeology as an extension of my fantasy rich image of the past and came out with a much different, yet far more interesting view.

I learned that magic, as cool as it seems, was unnecessary for peoples of the past. They had something much better, they had knowledge and ability. It’s what makes the human species so successful, our ability to adapt, teach, and learn. It’s also how we keep progressing from one cultural achievement to another. Adapt, teach, learn.

Got a new way to chip stone to make tools? Adapt, teach, learn.

Got a new way to make pottery that makes it more desirible somehow? Adapt, teach, learn.

Got a new cultural norm that benefits the population somehow? Adapt, teach, learn.

Logically these don’t always have to be beneficial, we can all probably think of things that weren’t that became issues in the past…lead for example. But the reality is, even those things were improvements of some kind at some point.

What else that’s important to keep in mind is, all of these adaptations, however simple they look to us today, were pretty important in their time. Some even revolutionary.

It’s these two basic principles of the past that get lost by the Fringe. They want to classify things as ‘primitive’ and ‘advanced’ when it’s really more of a “do we need this?” situation.

Take for example stone tools. Both Graham Hancock and Scott Wolter will waffle back and forth on whether or not these tools are ‘advanced’ or not. Depending on the narrative they’re building, the stone tools can be an example of how advanced a group is in their opinion, or how far behind they are compared to another group. This isn’t really how any of that works.

To put it simply, very simply, human beings really only change when there is a need to do so. Then they adapt, teach, learn. Why didn’t the early Native Americans have metal weapons like some contemporary European cultures? They didn’t need them, stone worked just fine.

Even within the states and various early Native cultures, we see this same process. Get out to the East coast before a certain time period and you won’t find a lot of Native pottery. Why? Because they had soapstone and they worked that into vessels. Other groups knew how to weave fiber or treat skin to make cooking and storage vessels. So they solved their problems in different ways and stuck with these techniques until they either needed a better one and adapted it, or they encountered a better way of doing things and adopted it. Adapt, teach, learn.

The dangerous error here though is considering one technique or cultural trait superior to another. Even Blue Nelson in the recent America’s Lost Vikings made the mistake of comparing ‘primitive’ stone tools to the more ‘advanced’ iron tools of the Vikings. That’s not how that is, one is not ‘better’ than the other unless you’re talking about how it works in the context of the culture it’s being used in. (And if you really want to get into Theory discussions, I can recommend some books…) As I said then, and I stand by it now, Nelson, as a trained archaeologist, should know better than to make that comparison.

Wolter and Hancock, they don’t have the benefit of being taught to step outside their own Eurocentric worldview to try to consider things from another cultural group’s viewpoint. It’s also why things like stone stools, megaliths, and earthworks seem like magic to them. They don’t understand how a ‘primitive’ group of people could have conceived of and then built such things. Then at the same time, they want to compare each group to each other, usually ignoring time-lines, culture change, and distance, and they want to rank all these groups as ‘primitive’ and ‘advanced’ judging those with more recognizable and understandable technology as being superior.

Then when they learn about something they consider ‘advanced’ being done by a group they think is ‘primitive’, they usually begin fantasizing about vastly more ‘advanced’ lost civilizations that must have given that advanced technology to the primitive people. It’s predictable to the point where you can watch or read just a little of either man’s argument, and know where they’re going with it. Yeah, I can dress it up by breaking down the absurdity of it “Australian Denisovans in South America,” or “Celtic Norse Templar Freemasons in Ancient America,” but it all comes down to, each man has picked their mysterious advanced culture group, and then sends them to bequeath technology and culture on the less advanced, usually Native Americas.

What’s most telling though is neither man sees issues with this. This is the only way they can conceive of a ‘primitive’ group of people learning to do ‘advanced’ things (both are arbitrary concepts btw). So they spend hours and pages trying to bend and stretch archaeology and history to match their narrative.

Eventually, though, even that has to break. I’m here to tell you, as I’m sure many other archaeologists will, that early Native people didn’t need to have culture and technology bequeathed on them from some supper group. They were quite capable themselves and managed to not only survive but thrive.

Adapt, teach, learn.

That’s how you got here.

Adapt, teach, learn.

Because ancient people didn’t die out.

Adapt, teach, learn.

And just because you can’t understand today how they did things in the past,

Adapt, teach, learn.

doesn’t mean Lost Civilizations or Aliens exist.


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

Check out Jeb Card’s new book Spooky Archaeology :
Myth and the Science of the Past

And Ken Feder’s new book Archaeological Oddities: A Field Guide to Forty Claims of Lost Civilizations, Ancient Visitors, and Other Strange Sites in North America

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

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

You can follow us on twitter @ArchyFantasies, or look us up on Facebook. You can reach us by email at ArchyFantasies@gmail.com.

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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 ArchyFantasies@gmail.com.

Contact us below or leave a comment.