(also called "fantastic archaeology" or "cult archaeology") is pseudoscientific archaeology
, the unscientific
interpretation of material remains and sites (whether genuine or not). Archaeological theories, sites, site excavations and publications which do not conform to standard accepted archaeological methodology are generally considered to fall under the category of pseudoarchaeology. The collections of uninformed ideas of "folk archaeology" include "transoceanic voyages, sunken continents, lost kingdoms, forgotten languages rediscovered through hitherto unrecognized inscriptions, and old hoaxes reassessed" Michael G. Michlovic stated in 1990, adding that "Folk archaeology represents a challenge to archaeology's monopoly on interpretation of the past, and it is to this that archaeologists are responding", in part as a result of their dependence on government-funded support.
Pseudoarchaeology can be practised intentionally or unintentionally. Archaeological frauds and hoaxes are considered intentional pseudoarchaeology. Genuine archaeological finds may be unintentionally converted to pseudoarchaeology through unscientific interpretation. (cf. Confirmation bias)
Pseudoarchaelogy is frequently motivated by nationalism or a desire to prove a particular religious (cf. Intelligent design), pseudohistorical, political or anthropological theory. In many cases, an a priori conclusion is established, and fieldwork is undertaken explicitly to corroborate the theory in detail.
Practitioners of pseudoarchaeology often rail against academic archaeologists and established scientific methods, claiming that conventional science has overlooked critical evidence. Conspiracy theories may be invoked, in which "the Establishment" colludes in suppressing evidence.
Folk archaeology may have wide support: "American archaeologists' reaction to demands of Native Americans for reburial of prehistoric skeletal remains illustrates the manner in which an impassioned public may sway professional opinion and behavior," Michlovic observed.
- Piltdown Man, which was possibly forged to ensure that the earliest hominid was English.
- The theory, commonly held by European settlers, that the mound builders were a long vanished group.
- The Bosnian Pyramids project, which has projected that natural geological hills in Visoko are ancient man-made pyramids
Pseudoarchaeology due to unconventional/scientifically suspect methodology
Legitimate archaeological sites which have been the subject of pseudoarchaeological speculation
Relativist and post-modern responses
Researchers accused of pseudoarchaeology often respond to such allegations by noting that many scientific truths are frequently ridiculed when they are first proposed.
Archaeologists schooled in Marxism and Critical Theory argue that scientific thought can support contemporary ideology by taking advantage of scientists' status as 'experts'. Incorporation of postmodernism into archaeological theory has led some archaeologists (e.g. Bettina Arnold, Bruce Trigger) to explore the role of archaeology in state formation and to reexamine archaeologists' status as professedly neutral investigators of the past. The growth of Cultural Resources Management, wherein archaeology is used to guide political decisions, does little to refute these ideas.
Most archaeologists attempt to distinguish their research from pseudoarchaeology by pointing to differences in research methodology, including recursive methods, falsifiable theories, peer review, and a generally systematic approach to collecting data. Few see themselves as unwitting cogs in a wider conspiracy, and many strive to make their work relevant to contemporary society. Though there is overwhelming evidence of cultural connections informing folk traditions about the past, objective analyses of folk archaeology, in anthropological terms of the cultural contexts from which they emerge and the cultural needs to which they respond have been comparatively few: R. Silverberg located the Mormon's use of Mound Builder culture within a larger cultural nexus and the voyage of Madoc and "Welsh Indians" was set in its changing and evolving sociohistorical contexts by G. Williams.
Though the archaeological report given by the fifth-century Socrates of Constantinople
in his Ecclesiastical History,
of St Helena
's discovery of the True Cross
may make her the patron saint of pseudoarchaeology to sceptics, it is clear that the manipulation of archaeological sites and "finds" to assist propaganda and pseudohistory
is not a phenomenon simply of modern historicist culture. In the mid-2nd century, those exposed by Lucian
's sarcastic essay Alexander the false prophet
prepared an archaeological "find" in Chalcedon
to prepare a public for the supposed oracle they planned to establish at Abonoteichus
- "in the temple of Apollo, which is the most ancient in Chalcedon, they buried bronze tablets which said that very soon Asclepius, with his father Apollo, would move to Pontus and take up his residence at Abonoteichus. The opportune discovery of these tablets caused this story to spread quickly to all Bithynia and Pontus, and to Abonoteichus sooner than anywhere else."
At Glastonbury Abbey in 1291, at a time when King Edward I desired to emphasize his "Englishness" a fortunate discovery was made: the coffin of King Arthur, unmistakably identified with an inscribed plaque. Arthur was reinterred at Glastonbury in a magnificent ceremonial attended by the king and queen.
References and resources
- Gregory, Timothy E., " Pseudoarchaeology".
- Carroll, Robert Todd, " Pseudohistory". The Skeptic's Dictionary.
- " The Territory of Pseudoarchaeology" SFU museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.
- Feder, Kenneth L., " Archaeological Institute hosts workshop session on Combating Pseudoarchaeology". Skeptical Inquirer, May, 2002.
- " Hueyatlaco Site -"Extreme Dating Controversy"": Dr. Virginia Steen-McIntyre and dating of Hueyatlaco spearheads.
- West, John Anthony, " An Open Letter to the Editors of Archaeology". Archaeology, May/June 2003. [Special Section]
- Zimmerman, Larry J., and Richard A. Fox, Jr., " Fantastic Archaeology".
- " Hall of Maat": Weighing evidence for Alternative History, pseudohistory, and pseudoarchaeology. Ma'at is the ancient Egyptian principle of justice and balance.
- " Archaeological Fantasies: How pseudoarchaeology misrepresents the past and misleads the public"
- " Bad Archaeology" Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews and James Doeser provide resources for debunking the claims of pseudoarchaeology.