Posts Tagged With: rants

Debunking, Blogging, and Public Outreach: Blogging Archaeology Carnival 2014!

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Sadly, I won’t be making the SAA‘s in Texas next year. Neither will my friend Doug over at Doug’s Archaeology, but he came up with a great idea for those of us who can’t make, something called a blogging carnival and he’s hosting the first round of questions for November (Which is also Movember, so get to growing guys).  If you’re a blogger focused on archaeology, you should definitely head over to his post about the carnival and join in. As for me:

To Blog or not To Blog.

I’m not sure I’ve ever done a whole post explaining this. It’s kind of hidden all over the blog in the About sections and such.  I started this blog 4 years (going on 5) ago now because I got really excited about the Skeptical and Atheist movements on the internet. I started with making videos on YouTube, which take a lot of time to make and edit. I didn’t really like it, and personally, the Atheist and Skeptical communities on YouTube started having issues and I didn’t really want to be part of the in-fighting, so I bowed out. I’m a writer anyway. Blogging just seemed like a natural choice to jump too.

When I made the decision to open this blog I realized I had to revamp the way I was doing things. I original wanted to create a space where people could come and get solid information on topics that are often avoided or not thought about by professional archaeologists.  Blogging is a great place for this; citations appear in-line, references are written out, you can link to important sites, also the text of the blog is searchable, and you can link things together easier. Blogging was just the better medium for a topic as difficult as debunking.

Blogs also allow for better organization of topics. I handle several reoccurring topics here, the two biggest being Women in Archaeology and Weird Archaeology which both branch into subtopics like Mother’s of the Field and The 10 Most Not-So-Puzzling Ancient Artifacts. I can group all of the individual posts together to make them more readable as groups, not something easily done on YouTube at the time.  I also have more control over the blog. I can moderate the comments better, respond quicker, and in general have better conversations with my readers.

You Haven’t Left Yet?

Why am I still blogging? Because I feel I am filling a gap in the archaeological community.

We archaeologists tend to forget that there are people out there who are not archaeologists, and who don’t understand why we say the things we do. There are a lot of blogs out there in the topic of archaeology and CRM that mainly focus on discussing the topic among educated archaeologists. I learn a lot about sub-fields and new research techniques, all of which is perfectly understandable to me because I’ve done this a while now. But if you’re just a random person with an interest in archaeology and you don’t want to be talked to like a 1st grader, there isn’t a whole lot out there aimed at you.

I’m not knocking websites and organizations that try to teach kids about archaeology, I even do it in my spare time. But a 30 year old isn’t a child.

Carl Sagan mentioned in his book Demon Haunted World how he got picked up at the airport by a driver who was completely ignorant of science, yet loved the topic. The only sources of information on the topic of science this driver had access to were pseudoscience and woo. Sagan didn’t blame the driver for his lack of formal education, he blamed the scientific community for not providing better access to real science to the lay person.

We have a very similar problem in the Archaeological community. Because we are not more accessible to the public we have issues with aliens, Atlantians, ethnocentrism, looting, and validating our field of study to governments. The other side of this coin is that we so rarely prepare students and professionals to talk with members of the public. We’re great talking to each other and presenting papers and posters, but when was the last time you genuinely explained to an individual outside of our community why we don’t dig for dinosaurs or pan for gold? People don’t know how we know what we know, and they are earnestly interested. I’m not saying things aren’t improving as time goes on, but it’s not where I think it should be yet.

Kenneth Feder in a recent article in the SAA’s membership magazine made a call for archaeologists to really step up to the plate. He took the responsibility of knowing bad archaeology from good away from the lay person and placed it squarely with us. We need to answer the awkward questions about the unintentional racism in ‘alternate  explanations’ for the building of Native earthworks. We need to answer the strange questions about ancient alien technology. We need to explain simple terms and concepts to  lay people because they don’t know what we do. We need to do this with a touch of humor and a lot of solid information, people like information.

So that’s why I’m still here. I like tackling psuedoarchaeology, it’s always entertaining and it’s a great way to teach critical thinking. I like talking about women archaeologists because it’s a giant hole in our history and it helps show people that there is more to archaeology then a bunch of stuffy old white guys (nothing against the stuffy old white guys in archaeology).

I’m going to keep at this too, for basically the same reasons, expanding the focus of this blog as I go. I’m thinking T-shirts…

Categories: Archaeology, Blogging, Rants | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The 10 Most Not-So-Puzzling Ancient Artifacts: Ancient Model Aircraft, Plus a Rant!

This appears to be more of a category than an individual artifact, it seems to cover a couple of different artifacts that share the common thread of vaguely looking like flying objects. Or at lest that’s what you’re supposed to think. Two major items stand out in this category, The Saqqara Bird and the Tolima Artifacts, though it can also be said that flying carpets, winged chariots, and dragons also belong here (more on this later).

Let’s start with the Saqqara Bird.

The Bird in Question

The Saqqara Bird is an actual artifact kept in an actual museum, it was uncovered by actual archaeologists and studied by same. The Bird’s existence is not in question and not disputed. It’s the Bird’s function that people want to debate, and by people I mean the Fringe.

The Bird was discovered in 1898 by Dr. Khalil Messiha during an  excavation of the Pa-di-Imen tomb in Saqqara, Egypt (Fitzpatrick-Matthews 2010). It is made out of sycamore wood and appears to have a falcon shaped head, complete with Horace like eyes. It’s exact function is unknown but it is mostly accepted that the Bird was part of a mast-head used on sacred boats like those used during the Opt Festival, of which we have documentation (Fitzpatrick-Matthews 2010, Orcutt 2001].

Please note bird images on the masts of the ships.

Now, some will have you think that the Bird is a scaled down replica of a glider. There are several issues with this, mainly that, if you faithfully replicate the Bird to a larger scale, it will not fly. I know most of us have seen the Ancient Aliens episode where they make a model, and then fly it, but they also make several modifications to it, none of which have any evidence of existing. To be a final nail in the glider coffin, others have tried to replicate the models and have found them to be lacking. Larry Orcutt points out in his article “Model Airplane?” talking about the Bird:

“The requirements for a Free Flight model glider to be automatically stable in flight are that it should:

  1.  Balance somewhere between 25% and 60% of the wing chord back from the leading edge. The wing chord is the average width of the wing, measured from front to back. A glance at the bird shows that the body is made from a single piece of wood whose proportions are such that the balance point is at or behind the trailing edge of the wing. The bird’s head region has clearly never had a weight attached to it or buried within it. Such a weight would be needed to bring the balance point forward into the range given above.
  2. Have a horizontal tail surface of around 20 – 25% of the wing area. Despite some claims to the contrary, no such tail surface currently exists and there are no traces of a tail plane’s attachment point on the bird’s fin or rear body. The fin is the vertical tail surface that forms the rear of the bird’s body.
  3.  Be shaped to provide spiral stability. The presence of a large fin at the rear of the body must be balanced by a dihedralled wing if the bird is to glide without tipping over sideways into an terminal spiral dive. A dihedralled wing is one with the tips raised above the center of the wing like virtually all passenger planes and model aircraft. The bird has the opposite wing arrangement. Its wing tips are drooped to give anhedral, which would only serve to increase the bird’s spiral instability.

 As can be easily seen, the bird meets none of these requirements for flight, so it is quite unlikely that it ever flew or that accurate replicas could fly. [Orcutt 2001]”

He also shows several examples of the mast mounted birds that look very much like the Bird, and has a link though to a report on the replication and attempted flight of the Bird.

Next, let’s look at the Tolima Artifacts.

One of several small animal totems.

Again, these are another set of real artifacts recovered in real digs and displayed in real museums. It’s the interpretation of said artifacts that is disputed. Not by anyone who knows anything about them, or the Tolima people, but by Ancient Alien theorists and such. These little gold charms are so low-key you’ll be hard pressed to find anything academic on them. However, you can go see them in several museums around America, including the Smithsonian in DC and The Field Museum in Chicago. To the Ancient Alien people though, these small gold artifacts are hard evidence of ancient Jet fighters.

I really can’t even begin to tear this one apart because it’s just so ridiculous to me. Where the Fringe sees an airplane, I see fish and moths. Maybe it’s because I understand that ancient peoples took liberties and stylized their interpretations of their world, especially when it came to ritual items. Maybe it’s because these things don’t look a damn thing like airplanes or jets. IDK.

Da Plane Boss, Da Plane!

But honestly, let’s look at the larger issue with this whole ancient airplane thing, Where are the remains of these planes? Where are the parts, the broken bits, the actual plane themselves? Where is all the stuff associated with flying planes? Where are the airports, the air towers, the luggage claim racks…

If man was making them, where are the production sites? If Aliens flew them down, why is there no physical evidence? What did these things run on? Jet fuel is an expensive, complicated, explosive mix. How did our ancestors make it and not kill themselves?

This brings us to the more imaginative part of this entry, the whole idea that flying carpets, dragons and winged chariots were really ancient man’s way of interpreting ancient flying machines. In order for these ideas to work we have to make several assumptions that no one should be comfortable making.

First, we have to assumes that the mythologies of ALL ancient peoples are accurate and true.

Second, we have to assume that whenever the ancients said “God or Gods” they were really  talking about aliens, they just didn’t know it.

Third, we have to assume that our ancestors were too ignorant of the natural world to understand a non-natural object, and instead of faithfully representing the actual object in story and art, they took artistic liberties to create winged chariots, flying carpets, and yes, Dragons.

Fourth, we have to ignore that our first assumption and our fourth assumption are in opposition.

Fifth, we have to never ask what happened to all the physical evidence advanced machinery would have left behind, or where these “Alien Gods” went to, or why they came or left in the first place.

In order for the Saqqara Bird and the Tolima Artifacts to be real, all these questions and assumptions need to be addressed. Evidence needs to be produced, and reality itself has to shift. I’ve yet to hear anything resembling a reasonable answer to the logical objections to the idea of ancient airplanes. If one could be provided, it would be the first.

Reinterpreting the Known World.

Another thing sticks out here that is of  some interest, and that is the reinterpreting of actual artifacts. It’s something I’ve noticed the Ancient Alien theorists do often. They take known discoveries and try to make them fit the Alien narrative. They reject documented and researched interpretations by experts and substitute their own, that are often based on nothing more than observing a photograph. I’m often left wondering why? What makes a non-professional individual reject the accepted opinion of a professional and supplement a much less informed opinion instead? Why do they think these two opinions are equal in validity?

This has nothing to do with intelligence, I want that to be clear. It has everything to do with experience and education. All three of those things are separate and are not actually dependent on each other, so none of this “they’re stupid” talk. Irrational? Perhaps. Uniformed? definitely. But not stupid.

Whatever the answer to those questions might be, we in the “Mainstream” will continue to be plagued by weird reinterpreting by the “Fringe”. Which leads to the other problem I have with this kind of thing, misinformation.

Regardless if the misinformation is being distributed knowingly or unknowingly, the biggest problem is that they can put that bad information out there faster than most people can fact-check. Which creates confusion in a normal, rational, individual. What can be done about that?

Critical articles like these, critical arguments, critical thinking, and access to open, honest facts, are the only way to combat this barrage of misinformation. People need access to factual information so that it can be used to counter the bad information. People also need to be taught how to think both skeptically and critically, something a lot of people think they are doing, but in reality are not. I feel that these goals are being met to some degree. Open Access is a huge thing among scientists today, and I think it will only continue to become the norm. That thought gives me hope.

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If you want more on this topic, got to: 10 Most Not So Puzzling Ancient Artifacts.



Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Keith

2010 “Egyptian ‘aeroplane’ models?.” Bad Archaeology. Accessed July 9th 2012.

Orcutt, Larry

2001 “Modle Airplane?” Catchpenny’s Mystries of Nacent Egypt Explained. Accessed July 9th 2012.

“The 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts.” Accessed April 2 2012.

Categories: 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts, Ancient Astronauts, History Channel, Rants, Weird Archaeology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

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