Review: Expedition Unknown and Josh Gates

My first exposure to Expedition Unknown, a series on the Travel Channel, was the episode where Josh Gates, executive producer and host of the show (who “has a degree in archaeology”), went to Yonaguni, Japan to investigate the “ruins” there. I’ve written on these in the past and I’m probably due for an update, but I haven’t noticed any new data on them. They’re still just underwater geology that has curious shapes, angles, and patterns.

I started the episode expecting to shout at the television and ultimately turn it off before my head exploded from the stupid. Instead, I was rewarded with a fairly interesting show. Gates started out seeming to accept the claims of ruins at face value and even dove on them with a camera crew. He spoke with true believers and at least one skeptic and ended the program by saying (I’m paraphrasing) that he found the formation under the waves to be completely fascinating but that he couldn’t accept that they were man-made.

The show itself was well-produced, it had humor, good travel video, exposure to native cultures and peoples, and a core purpose (explore the underwater formation). Not only did I not turn the TV off or shout at gates, I then resolved myself to seek out other episodes. Since that time, I’ve followed Gates to Nepal where he looked at the legend of Shangri-La, to Mexico where he explored Teotihuacan, to Norway in search of Viking sun-stones, and even Cambodia in search of linga stones. Each of these episodes was interesting, colorful, and rich with fun travel video of distant places my bank account prohibits visiting myself. I found myself continually surprised at the fair shake Gates gives each of the legends he investigates, though a few times I was a bit put off by his humor at the expense of locals which was almost cliche for the arrogant American. But most of the time, the locals appeared in on the joke and seemed to be having fun themselves, so I forgave his antics pretending to be an ice cream vendor in Mexico or trying on hats in some shop.

However. I’m glad I didn’t start with the first episode of season 1, which was the search for Amelia Earhart. I was disappointed that he didn’t follow up on a bone discovery under a house in Fiji–and that he was poking around there willy-nilly to begin with. And I was also disappointed that he didn’t follow up on the Gardner Island lead where an aluminum panel that matched her plane was recovered along with other artifacts. But, as Jason Colavito mentions in his review, perhaps Gates was unable to get to the island because of budget, timing, or red-tape.

Another episode that rankled me a bit was the one of the ones where he visited Peru, “Secrets of the Nazca.” Overall, it was interesting but there was a moment when he was with Brien Foerster, the pseudoarchaeologist/tour guide, that made me throw up a little in the back of my throat. I have to give Foerster some credit however, at least he put the human skull he so casually and callously picked up from a local cemetery back on the ground and gently covered it with soil.

All in all, I’m a fan of the series. As long as Gates doesn’t go too over the top with the silliness at the expense of locals, continues to keep a skeptical view, and remains ethical in his “expeditions,” I’ll continue to watch as time permits.

Pseudoarchaeology – What’s the Harm?

What is the harm in allowing pseudoarchaeological beliefs to proliferate and propagate? It isn’t as if it exposes children to life-threatening measles the way pseudo-medicinal beliefs about vaccines can cause. There isn’t even a great risk of victims being conned out of their life savings in the way psychics and “channelers of the dead” do by cold-reading their marks. But there is definitely money to be made by those that promote pseudoarchaeological ideas, television shows like “Ancient Aliens” have high ratings and books of similar topics pollute the shelves of the history and archaeology stacks of book sellers. Neither of these things would be possible if the market didn’t allow for it.

The market for these wrong and bad ideas about archaeology and history are driven by people who are naturally curious and have a hunger for the sensational. When driving past even the most minor of vehicular accidents on a freeway, most drivers and often their passengers lament the delay—complain that the slowed speed of the traffic is caused by “rubber-neckers” who can’t mind their own business and keep moving! But who among us doesn’t also look with curiosity as we pass? We share something with the accident victims: we’re all drivers on the same road. Therefore we have questions. “Do I know them?” “Was anyone hurt?” “How bad?” “How did it happen?” “Could it happen to me?” And so on.

Like the victim of the fender bender, we have something in common with people of ancient cultures: they’re people. Their cultures are often long since disappeared, either with little trace or subsumed into cultures that followed. So we have questions: “Can we know them?” “What happened to them?” “How did it happen?” “How did they live their lives?” “Could it happen to me?” And so on.

And not unlike the fender-bender, the more sensational the event, the better story there is to share. You hardly ever hear someone mention at the water cooler about the Ford Fiesta that bumped into the Chevy pickup at the off-ramp, especially if it didn’t block traffic. But you’ll hear every time about the minivan on fire while a soccer-mom and three kids look on from a safe distance. Likewise, a story about “high-civilization” with monumental architecture has more intrinsic glamor than a narrative of early agriculturalists farming on a hillside terrace. We naturally find ourselves interested in the sensational but also in the mysterious, and it isn’t until we truly begin to understand how archaeology works that we also understand what is truly sensational as well as how sometimes it is the smallest mystery that will keep you asking questions.

I’m reminded of a recent excavation I participated in where members of the public were invited to observe or even help screen dirt if they so desired. I was inspired by their enthusiasm and encouraged by the fact that they clearly began to appreciate the science that underpins any archaeological investigation. The work was slow and tedious as we sought to determine the validity of a small patch of ground as an historic cemetery. The only evidence brought forward was that of local informants, much of which was second hand, so we designed a research model to trench north-south into the site to an arbitrary depth of 30 centimeters (about 1 foot). Graves in this region for the expected time period nearly always run east-west, so it was hoped that we might find evidence from the back-fill of their shafts by excavating a 10 meter long trench.

As the members of the public milled about they asked great questions and talked among themselves. As is often the case with non-archaeologists who are interested in archaeology, it soon became apparent that there were “arrowhead” collectors among them and their conversations revolved around the various excavations they’d observed elsewhere. At one of these, the archaeologists apparently found a few thousand broken “arrow heads… nothing whole though.”

Another observer shared his experiences from an excavation he attended: “they found seventeen stone-box graves, but they didn’t find anything.”.

I was already aware of the site where a “few thousand” broken points were recovered (they actually had quite a few intact points and blades) and the data that came from it is pretty cool. I think my heart skipped a beat at the words “seventeen stone-box graves,” which are of the Woodland period, but it seemed meaningless to our non-archaeologist observers when you consider he concluded it with, “but they didn’t find anything.”

I actually stopped what I was doing and said aloud, “seventeen stone-box graves! They found a lot!” Here was a man who was a non-archaeologist, but clearly had an interest in archaeology, early people of the region he lives in, and their technology. But, in that moment, it was also clear that it wasn’t the culture of the people that fascinated him. In spite of spending probably a lifetime collecting “arrow heads” (he could no doubt type a point faster and more accurately than most trained archaeologists, this author included) the graves of the people from the very cultures he collected artifacts from did not merit his interest. “They didn’t find anything.”

The collector in that anecdote is not much different than the archaeologists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. More aptly described as antiquarians, these early archaeologists sought the treasures and portable works of art from ancient cultures the world over. Much of their loot (and I use the term in its most accurate context) is still available to be viewed in museums around the world. Gradually, in the last decade or so, many of these collected pieces of “art” are beginning to find their way back to their home countries. Or at least the countries that occupy the geographic positions of the sites that were once home to the cultures that produced the antiquities to begin with. Oft cited examples of such antiquities are the Elgin Marbles, so named for 7th Earl of Elgin, Thomas Bruce, who purchased sections of this frieze—a long, horizontal span of sculpted marble near the roof of a temple—from the Ottoman Empire in the early 1800s. And this wasn’t just any frieze. It was the frieze of the temple of the Parthenon at the Acropolis of Athens. Once Greece gained its independence from the Ottoman empire in 1833, they began restoration of the Parthenon and requested the return of the frieze sections. Almost 200 years later, they still remain in the British Museum.

These material remains of the Classical Greek period, some 200 years spanning the 4th and 5th centuries BCE, are marvelous works of art. The Elgin Marbles, more appropriately referred to as the Parthenon Marbles, tell a story that has been interpreted in a variety of ways. But the objects that antiquarians of the 19th century, like Thomas Bruce, or of the 21st century, like the trustees of the British Museum, hold to be “works of art” are valued points of data into a culture for which there are many questions. And for Greece, they are part of a national and cultural heritage. For all its majesty and prestige, I would highly doubt that the British Museum has a display of the pollen found in archaeological levels excavated from the same period. Yet the data gleaned from placing a bag of dirt in a bucket then skimming off the stuff that floats to the top tells more about the culture’s diet, subsistence, and trade than perhaps the most valued of marble statues.

The real treasure of an archaeological site is information: whether that information comes from the story told on a frieze or the pollen found at the same depth and in the same unit as a marble statue. 

The “harm” of pseudoarchaeology, therefore, is the sacrifice of information about a culture for the sake of promoting bad and wrong ideas, often at the expense of the very cultures that are central to them. Some pseudo archaeological claims actually disenfranchise or marginalize the people responsible for wonderful achievements ranging from pyramids in Egypt, to stone temples in Peru, to magnificent mounds of in North America. There is much to learn about ancient human cultures and their narratives deserve to not be clouded and obscured by claims of “giants,” space-aliens, or lost tribes of Israel, especially when evidence for these are spurious to non-existent.

Open Minds and “High Civilizations”

Two more buzz-terms among those that propagate pseudoarchaeological ideas are “Open Minds” and “High Civilization.”

Open vs. Closed Minds
Having an open mind is a good thing. I think this is something that most people would have little trouble agreeing on. It would seem, however, that, for some, they only want minds open to those things they believe and not the beliefs of others. Ideally, an open mind is one that is receptive to new ideas or new information. On the other side of the coin is the closed mind, which is shut off from new ideas or new information. Colloquially, being told to “have an open mind” is almost like being told “you probably won’t believe this, but hear me out.” The skeptic, therefore, is often accused of having a closed mind.

Strictly speaking, having an open mind is not a bad thing. Philosophically, it simply means that you are willing to entertain new ideas that are worthy. You’ll listen, evaluate, and then chose to discard the new idea or embrace it—or perhaps set it aside for further evaluation. This method of open mindedness is very much in line with being a scientific skeptic. In fact, anyone that claims to do science must have an open mind since they’re also claiming to be swayed by evidence, regardless of the direction the evidence points. Even when that evidence points in a direction that is uncomfortable. If only our politicians were open minded in this way!

It is ironic that those who propose pseudoarchaeological ideas are often the first to accuse the mainstream archaeologists of not being open minded. Indeed, mainstream (if we can accept this term for a minute) archaeologists are very often accused of being out-right closed minded for not being willing to accept a fantastic or extraordinary claim presented very often without even the most mundane of evidence.

Contrary to what most pseudoarchaeological proponents are willing to believe, archaeologists are as human as anyone else and we would love to find evidence of many of the things they claim to be true. We are eager to revise our positions and our conclusions with but one condition: evidence.

High Civilization
This is a term that is almost meaningless to archaeologists, but apparently has great meaning to many who promote or believe in many fantastic archaeological claims about ancient peoples. Very often, the term is closely associated with an argument from ignorance or incredulity, a particular logical fallacy that basically says “I can’t figure it out, therefore…” followed by a claim that more readily fits that person’s understanding of the world. Brave the jungle of Google links by searching for “Machu Picchu” and you’ll eventually come across links that point to the notion that this 15th century Inca site in Peru was built by a “high civilization” that had technology that met or exceeded our own.

The reasons offered by advocates of this alleged “high civilization?” It always seems to boil down to the fact that ancient people couldn’t possibly have figured out ways to build monumental architecture with the level of precision that they apparently did. Whether it was because they quarried massive stone blocks they couldn’t possibly have cut with “laser-like” precision or transported such great distances, or because they aligned with stars they couldn’t have seen unless they did it 10,000 years earlier than “mainstream archaeologists” are willing to admit, or because their oral histories and artwork show a likeness to modern technologies.

The reason the high civilization (or high technology, etc.) argument is generally one from ignorance is because it generally assumes that ancient cultures are somehow less intelligent than individuals of modern cultures. We have to consider that ancient inhabitants of what are now Peru, Egypt, India, etc. had their own Einsteins, Hawkings, and Emeagwalis (if you’ve never heard of Philip Emeagwali, click the link for a fascinating read). Smart people are sprinkled throughout the populations of modern cultures and they often do great things. There is no reason to think that ancient people were any less intelligent or had any less reason to do great things. Like inspire the math required to cut precise corners in stone blocks or think of ways to move heavy objects over relatively great distances.

Indeed, experimental archaeology has shown methods of cutting sandstone, diorite, andesite, and granites through the use of copper tools along with quartz sand and water to cut very precisely. Moving stones great distances with log rollers and even boats constructed of reeds! Experimental archaeologist Paul Harmon wanted to see if he and his team could create a method of moving a 9-ton stone from it’s resting place, across Lake Titicaca, and to the shore near Tiwanaku—an ancient site often attributed as one that was build by a lost “high civilization” using “high technology.” Advocates of this claim have said that the stones were too hard to cut, too heavy to move, and too precisely lain, to have been done by anything less than heavy machinery, diamond cutting tools, or laser beams. Paul Harmon proved them wrong in 2002 by moving that 9-ton stone from a hillside with ropes, levers, and the lubrication of locally available fish oil to a reed boat which then sailed across the lake to the far shore near Tiwanaku. Just because the average person can’t fathom how something was done, doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been done.

Did the builders of Tiwanaku have a “high civilization?” If your definition of “high civilization is one that includes clever people that can do clever things, most certainly. If it means that the civilization of the time had to have help from aliens or a technology that has left behind no evidence (diamond studded drills and saws, laser cutting tools, helicopters or spaceships to lift stones…) then your definition of “high civilization” is one that is offensive to the memory of a culture long passed.

Mainstream: Usually a Hint That What Follows is to be Read Skeptically

Whenever you hear or read the word “mainstream,” especially right before a branch of science, it would be wise to take in the remainder of what is said with some skepticism.

Pseudoscience proponents make liberal use of this adjective to set themselves apart from what they perceive as scientists or researchers who are closed minded or refuse to “think out of the box.” In nearly every single instance that the word is put in use, it’s by someone who is decidedly not a scientist or even someone who has completed a formal education on the subject they’re speaking about. A classic example is “mainstream medicine.” The implication being that there is somehow a form of medicine that is alternative to the norm, yet still effective. Were this true, it would no doubt simply be called… medicine.
Another common application of mainstream as an adjective is with the term “mainstream media.” Again, here the implication is that there is an alternate media source that is more truthful, reliable, or trustworthy over that of the mainstream. In nearly every application of this term, one can see a clear political bias toward the left, the right, or some anarchical perspective. This is not to imply that news media are inherently without bias; nor is medicine always without flaw. But they have their checks and balances which create generally reliable outcomes. News media give the public at large the types of stories they want information on, which range from the utterly trite to the ridiculously sensational. If one “mainstream” news outlet doesn’t serve your needs, another will. Medicine has the scientific method and evidence-based efficacy. It either works and the benefits outweigh risks or it doesn’t.

The adjective mainstream also finds itself adjacent to the words archaeology and archaeologists with some frequency. While a search of “mainstream medicine” on Google produced 302,000 results, “mainstream archaeology” or “mainstream archaeologists” only resulted in about 9,000 hits each. Clearly medicine has more impact in the daily lives of average people than archaeology, but when compared with other branches science, archaeology scored relatively more Google hits, meaning that while there aren’t as many discussions or perspectives on “mainstream archaeology” as there are with “mainstream medicine,” it is more popular than other branches of academia. With the notable exceptions of history and physics, though I would argue that many of the links Google presented in “mainstream history” also found relevance to archaeology since they concerned long-dead civilizations like the Sumerians, the Maya, or ancient Egyptians.

Search Term                           # of Google hits

  1. mainstream media               9,090,000
  2. mainstream medicine          302,000
  3. mainstream history              50,000
  4. mainstream physics             21,100
  5. mainstream archaeology     9,150
  6. mainstream geology            8,930
  7. mainstream chemistry         7,480
  8. mainstream biology             6,830
  9. mainstream astronomy        2,840

Table 1. Google ranking by # of hits with “mainstream” as an adjective.

The values above were valid in early 2016 but I’d wager they are still relatively similar as you’re reading this unless some major revelation in one of these disciplines has made world news. I think this is a useful sort of exercise that shows just how many people are forming opinions about these disciplines, with archaeology concerning us the most in the context of this blog.

As a term, “mainstream archaeology” is one that implies there is an alternative perspective of archaeology, one that doesn’t follow scientific methods or modern theoretical frameworks familiar to most archaeologists such as processual archaeology (which seeks to answer questions about humans and human society in a way that is deeply anthropological) or even post-processual archaeology (a theory of archaeology that embraces the subjectivity of interpretations). At first blush, the “subjectivity of interpretation” might lead a skeptical reader unfamiliar with archaeological theory to see this a something outside the mainstream, but this would be a gross over-simplification of a growing theory of archaeology that may ultimately serve to compliment or augment processual archaeology—an extremely positivist approach which assumes that with scientific methods, a truth is obtainable. Post-processualists go a bit further and take into consideration the inherent biases of the investigator and often encourage perspectives that carefully consider gender, ethnic, or indigenous viewpoints.

So if these are mainstream notions of archaeology, what, then, are the alternatives? The answer to that question is probably any archaeological claim that is not based on evidence. In many—if not most—cases of pseudoarchaeological claims, the person or group making the claims appear to have started with a conclusion then looked for supporting data. In scientific terms, this is a form of confirmation bias: you have a preconception and find ways to confirm it, avoiding tests or results that show it to be wrong. All scientists are vulnerable to confirmation bias, which is why methods in science are generally strict and designed with falsification of a hypothesis in mind. That is to say, the best way to prove an idea is to first try to disprove it. If the idea withstands rigorous scrutiny and testing, then it is more likely to be a good one. If an archaeologist has an idea that people living in Western Kentucky during archaic times lived in upland regions and hunted in floodplains, then she designs a research plan that surveys upland and lowland regions of the same area. If the data collected shows that upland artifacts are dominated by spear points for hunting, stone tools for skinning or scraping, and assorted flakes; but the lowland regions are dominated by scrapers, awls, middens (trash heaps) of bone and shell, and grinding stones, then her idea–her hypothesis–was falsified. At least with the methods she used for survey. This is because the artifacts in the upland regions appear consistent with hunting stations or overnight camps, whereas the lowland artifacts are more like what would be expected in a domestic context where people are spending more than a few nights. In such places, living spaces can even be discerned where the ground was compacted, and small rocks and pebbles that are uncomfortable to sit or lay on are removed.

If the archaeologist was not unafraid to falsify her hypothesis, she may very well have only noticed those few artifacts that support her idea—the scrapers, perhaps the occasional awl used for a quick repair of an item of clothing ripped while hunting, a small midden of bones, etc. She might also have ignored data that ran contrary to her expectations of lowland regions, perhaps by not doing a thorough search of previous literature on the subject, or by using flawed methods of choosing survey locations. Shovel tests probes can be rushed, artifacts overlooked or missed. It’s likely that she would have still collected real data, but the results can easily skew with bias that is not acknowledged or compensated for. Methods like consistency in shovel probe depth, hole diameter, and spacing help. The expectation of bias is also why most archaeologists prefer to start with research questions rather than hypotheses to test. The difference is subtle but important. A question is just that: did archaic people live primarily in upland or lowland regions? An hypothesis is a statement: archaic people lived primarily in upland regions. Hypotheses are generally born from research questions. If enough upland sites are surveyed to find hunting stations or camps but no living spaces, eventually the archaeologist will form an hypothesis that archaic people did not prefer to live in the upland regions but did hunt there.

A researcher in any discipline should not begin with a conclusion to which he or she then fits data. This is just bad science. In 1996, a German aeronautic engineer, Peter Belting, produced scaled up versions of at two of the Quimbaya artifacts discussed in an earlier post. They took some liberties with the designs, curvature appeared added to wings where the actual artifacts are very flat—that sort of thing, but overall the resemblance of the modern models to the original artifacts were true. And they could fly! Belting and his assistants added motors and propellers and remotely operated them as drones. This was proof positive among proponents of the ancient aliens idea that these artifacts were made by someone who had knowledge of airplanes.

I would have no way of knowing if Belting began with a conclusion that at least some of the Quimbaya artifacts were models of ancient airplanes without speaking to him. I’ve found no interviews or writings he’s done which mention them, only third party attributes of him as the lead engineer in creating scaled up models. But certainly it seems likely that his motivation for creating them was related to someone‘s conclusion that they were indeed models of ancient aircraft and not insects, birds, or fish. I find the experiment fascinating and it truly must have been a fun experience to create these modern, flyable replicas. But it seems unlikely to me, that their creation began with a research question like, are these artifacts replicas of insects, birds, or fish that can actually fly?

To paraphrase the ancient aliens proponents in general, “if mainstream archaeologists aren’t happy with the results, then it is up to them to propose their own hypotheses or tests.” This sentiment regarding the modern, up-scaled models that actually flew was repeated several times on webpages, on the “Ancient Aliens” television show, and in articles or books that cater to their audience. The implication is clear: “we’re doing science, and we have results.”

While I genuinely liked the experiment, the only results that can be confidently agreed on by anyone who wants to remain unbiased is that the Quimbaya people accurately enough captured in their art those qualities that allowed insects, birds, and fish to fly. And fish do fly, both in a manner of speaking and literally in the case of flying fish. Fish are streamlined and designed to use fluid dynamics much in the same way birds use aerodynamics to get lift and momentum, with fins that behave very much like wings on many species. When, however, one begins with a conclusion and only seeks data that are supportive of that conclusion, details like this are easily missed.

There are also those that fling the label of “mainstream” at archaeologists, but their real accusation is that we archaeologists have conspired together to withhold the truth (whatever that truth might be) from the rest of the world for reasons that are varied. Some have implied that it’s outright suppression of aliens, others have said we simply want to protect our jobs. Nearly all seem to agree that the archaeologist sits on some high seat in academia atop an imagined ivory tower, in agreement with all other archaeologists in some grand conspiracy to oppress those that are open-minded enough to speak out in opposition. But anyone who holds these notions of archaeologists to be true clearly has not sat in on the right panels at a Society for American Archaeology conference!

What is Pseudoarchaeology? Part 2: Out of Place Assumptions

Pseudoarchaeological claims are also marked by frequent mention of “out-of-place-artifacts” often called “ooparts” for short. The notion by those that see fantastic explanations for these out-of-place-artifacts is that because the “X” artifact is found in “Y” context, “XX” culture must have put it there at “Z” time. Sometimes the artifacts are intentionally planted so as to create the conflict–hoaxes if you will; frauds if you prefer. Sometimes they are genuine artifacts, genuinely out of place, yet completely and innocently misunderstood.

Piltdown Man

M0013579 Skull of the "Eoanthropus Dawsoni" (Piltdown Man) Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Skull of the "Eoanthropus Dawsoni" (Piltdown Man) Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 2.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
M0013579 Skull of the “Eoanthropus Dawsoni” (Piltdown Man) Credit: Wellcome Library,  London. Wellcome Images

Piltdown Man is a very well-known and thoroughly discussed example of an archaeological hoax. In fact, it is probably the most infamous of them all as one can hardly take a class in paleoanthropology, human evolution, or even archaeology 101 without reviewing it as a case study in bad science. The story of Piltdown has been told and retold so successfully else where that I’ll not attempt an in-depth discussion here. Instead, I offer a brief summary.

Originally named Eoanthropus dawsoni, (“Dawson’s dawn-man”), probably by Charles Dawson, who claimed the specimen was found by a gravel pit worker in 1908. Dawson presented it in 1912 to the Geological Society of London, who’s members were probably all-too-happy to have a major hominid find in the British Isles–particularly one that was just the “missing link” they expected. What made Piltdown unique, you see, was the combination of a human-like cranium with an ape-like jaw. It was thought, at the time, that the large brain came first with modern man and that the omniverous diet followed, making an ape-like mandible for grinding nuts and fibers necessary. As it turns out, the cranium and jaw were not just human-like and ape-like. They were exactly human and precisely orangutan! The cranium was finally shown to be from a person of medieval age and the mandible was that of an orangutan that died about 500 years before its alleged discovery in 1908.. The most likely culprit was Dawson himself, who had dozens of fraudulent specimens in his collection ranging from a fake Chinese vase made of bronze to filed down teeth alleged to be that of a reptile/mammal hybrid.

Ancient Bolivian Jet Fighters
Not all out of place artifacts were intended to be evidence of fantastic claims. As early as the 5th century and as late as the 10th century CE, the Quimbaya culture of Colombia produced magnificent works of art in gold, among them a series of pendants and pins that depict animals and insects. Some of the animals depicted are of fish, such as flying fish or sharks. Others are of crocodiles, lizards, frogs, and wild felines. Many are of insects, probably moths, butterflies, and dragon flies. Hundreds of these small figures were created by the Quimbaya culture, perhaps to be worn as jewelry; perhaps intended only to accompany the dead. Most if not all were looted by tomb robbers prior to the 1970 UNESCO resolution to prevent illicit trade of antiquities and ended up in museums and private collections all over the world.

quimbaya_insects_fish
Quimbaya pendants of insects, birds, or fish sculpted into small, gold, zoomorphic figurines.

By the 1970s, perhaps earlier, some of these little pendants were being touted as evidence of ancient aliens. The fish and insects (truthfully, it’s difficult to tell them apart in some cases) look remarkably like jet airplanes. The Continuum section of Omni Magazine in the late 1970s even made the link to one of them being a rendition of NASA’s new space shuttle! In more recent times, the infamous Ancient Aliens program on the dubiously named History Channel featured at least one episode that linked these little gold pendants to proof of alien visitation in pre-Colombian times. Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, the bad-hair-guy pictured in all those memes you see on the Internet with the word “aliens” in quotes, said “about a dozen that are eerily reminiscent of modern day fighter jets.” Though he does admit the rest look like animals and insects.

 

quimbaya_frog
An abstract, very stylistic rendering of a frog by the Quimbaya culture at perhaps around 1000 CE.

The Quimbaya people, of course, had no concept of 20th century fighter jets and space shuttles. What they did have knowledge of was their environment. They paid keen attention to nature and were clearly skilled artisans. The renditions of animals like frogs and jaguars were stylistic and included abstract elementssometimes in ways that were caricatures of their subjects: larger eyes, curly-cues on fins and feathers, large-bared teeth, and cross-hatch patterns on bodies and fins. There’s no denying the coincidence of a fish’s tubular body appearing to be similar to the fuselage of a fighter jet, the fins showing similarity with wing placements and proportions, or the tail fins showing similarity to the tail of a jet. But had a Quimbaya artisan shown his work for the first time to another Quimbayan, the recognition wouldn’t have been of a non-existent fighter jet. Rather, it would have been of a flying fish, a bull shark, or possibly even a sucker-mouthed catfish.

sucker-mouth catfish_a
A sucker-mouthed catfish

Occam’s razor states: among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Scientists and researchers use this principle as a way to guide them to develop explanations that are simple and straightforward, reducing the chances for errors and bias along the way as they discover, explore, and explain. When it comes to the Quimbaya culture, assuming they would have created little gold pendants of fish in the same way they did frogs, crocodiles, and jaguars is a far more simpler explanationone that requires so fewer assumptionsthan claiming that a small percentage of their art represents the “fighter jets” of ancient aliens who visited the Quimbaya. The alien hypothesis includes several assumptions that defy testing and create complications.

Some of these assumptions are:

1. Of the 100 billion or so stars in the galaxy, aliens chose to visit ours.

2. Somehow ancient cultures were of special enough interest to visit (expending what must be tremendous resources, time, and energy) and interact with, but not contemporary cultures.

3. Aliens visit the Quimbaya people and the only depictions of their visits by the Quimbaya are fish-like representations of their “fighter jets.”

4. The Quimbaya people were incapable of or at least chose not to create representation of fish, birds, or insects but were extremely talented enough to create figures of the rest of the animal kingdom.

Each of these assumptions must be true in order for the ancient alien hypothesis to be accepted with regard to the Quimbaya sculptures. One could argue that we’re being visited in contemporary times, but that evidence is lacking and, depending on what is believed about modern alien visitation, a whole new set of assumptions would be presented. One might also argue that the Quimbaya people represented aliens and their craft in other ways that have yet to be discovered, but why would a culture visited by aliens only make perhaps a dozen or so that show their ships but create hundreds depicting animals they see every day?. If the answer is that they held higher reverence for animals, would this not mean they are more likely to depict fish, birds, and insects? If even a single “fighter jet” is accepted as a fish, bird, or insect, then one must consider that all of them cold be.

Conversely, the hypothesis that the Quimbaya people represented the fish, birds, and insects they encountered every day really only consists of one additional assumption if we accept that they actually fashioned frogs, crocodiles, and jaguars. And that is that they were interested enough to do it. Not only is this a very parsimonious explanation, but it’s one that gives credit where credit is due: to the Quimbaya people and their artistic abilities. Their figurines of gold and other materials were stylish and often abstract, but they were gorgeous works of art whether or not they were intended to be. The Quimbaya people were consummate observers of nature and reflected what they saw in caricaturizations that we can still admire today.

From the perspective of true believers in ancient aliens, my words above are coming from the “mainstream” and I’m sure they would argue that I haven’t an “open mind.” These are among the many buzzwords and concepts to look out for with pseudoarchaeological explanations.

What is pseudoarchaeology? Part 1: Probably Wrong to Fantastically Charged

There are many who make a pretense of doing science, using scientific-sounding jargon and misplaced or misapplied scientific principles. In so doing, these people often begin with conclusions then fit data (or make it up) into explanations for these conclusions. Data that are not complimentary to this preconceived conclusion are often ignored completely -discarded as so much unwanted baggage. Such a practice is called pseudoscience.

When pseudoscience is done in the context of doing archaeology, we can call it pseudoarchaeology.

Pseudo- adjective. Not genuine; a sham; a fake.

Archaeology- noun. The study of human history and prehistory through the material remains of culture.

Pseudoarchaeology would, therefore, be a disingenuous or fake study of human history and prehistory through the material remains of culture. But this is a very simplified and terse definition. Pseudoarchaeology is a result of wrong ideas and gross misinterpretations of archaeological data, artifacts, and features in ways that create explanations that range from probably wrong to fantastically charged.

On the probably wrong end of the spectrum are ideas like those of Marija Gimbutas who propagated the Mother Goddess hypothesis that was so easily embraced by New Agers in the 1980s. Gimbutas spent countless hours cataloging, describing, and illustrating anthropomorphic figurines from around the world but primarily in southeastern Europe. Somewhere along her path of investigation, she developed the hypothesis that prehistoric Europeans all worshiped a common Mother Goddess and it would seem that this eventually became a conclusion to which she began to only notice that data which were corroborative. Metaphorically, her idea was a hammer and all figurines began to look like nails from her perspective. Later research would start to show that her hypothesis could not support her assumptions and even her analyses of figures that concluded their sex as female cannot always be supported. Figurines that were, for her, “clearly female,” are not so clear when described by other researchers. Indeed, studies have shown that, while nearly half of all anthropomorphic figurines are female, and less than 5% are clearly male, the remainder are of indeterminate sex. In other words, about half the time, the creators of figurines appear to have intentionally left the figure’s sex as a mystery.

On the fantastic and sensationalist side of pseudoarchaeology are ideas like those of Erik von Daniken, who postulated that the Great Pyramids of Egypt are a product of space aliens since ancient Egyptians couldn’t have been smart or clever enough to construct the monuments themselves. This was in spite of the very clear renditions of pyramid construction in murals and ancient Egyptian art, the discovery of worker-cities for the pyramids that even show how much bread was baked and beer was consumed, and the clear evolution of pyramid form that shows trial and error in angles. The earliest pyramids had steep angles and collapsed. Later pyramids had angles that were less acute and, thus, less challenged by gravity to reach great heights. There is even a pyramid for Sneferu, the Bent Pyramid, that began as a steeply angled monument only to be completed with a final angle that is more like the more recent Great Pyramid at Giza.

Tomorrow, I’ll post Part II: Out of Place Assumptions, which will look at the so-called “out of place artifacts (ooparts).”

American Conspiracy theorist and pseudoscience proponent may be attempting to circumvent Peruvian authorities to desecrate human remains

Screen capture of Twitter. The photo depicts a woman holding a deformed skull looted from a Peruvian cemetery.
Screen capture of Twitter. The photo depicts a woman holding a deformed skull looted from a Peruvian cemetery.

Today, conspiracy theorist and pseudoscience proponent J. Hutton Pulitzer “tweeted” a photo of a woman holding a human skull while standing in what appears to be the Huaura Valley in Peru. Near the town of Acaray is an archaeological complex and a vast Peruvian cemetery that has been repeatedly looted over the years.

Peruvian law forbids the looting, of course. But like most heritage laws in most countries, enforcement is likely the difficult part. Behind the woman, you can see the pitted landscape of a cemetery where looters probe the ground with steel rods in search of voids. Once one is found, they shovel the ground, removing grave goods and body parts for sale on the antiquities market, leaving behind a scarred landscape where once was a solemn cemetery for the dead.

This particular site has been looted heavily since at least 2002 and you can see the damage from space!

aracay_looter_pits
Click to see the full size. The small dots are looter pits probably within about a mile of the woman in the photo above.

The photo shows a woman holding what appears to be skull shaped using a fronto-occipital method which would have compression applied to the forehead as well as the back of the skull and perhaps even the top. All before 3 years of age, since this is when cranial malleability generally ends. It is difficult to say what type of deformation was used since there’s only a frontal plane of the skull shown. Also, the woman is holding the skull with her forearms outstretched much in the way one holds a small fish so that it appears as a lunker.

Among his several tweets, Pulitzer reveals that there are “200 of these found at the same time”–they call such an occurrence a cemetery–and wants someone who dared question his judgment to “explain” it. Apparently he’s never heard of the practice of skull deformation in ancient Peru, but the disturbing part is that he and Scott Wolter, another pseudoscience proponent and conspiracy theorist, want “access” to the remains.

Elongated and shaped skulls are the sort of thing that appeal to the “ancient aliens” crowd, perhaps understandably since they look so different from normal skulls. But the practice of skull deformation and the bioarchaeological, pathological, and anatomical considerations are so thoroughly investigated and understood that the only good reason for two would-be media personalities to make a big deal of it is attention.

These two would like “access” to these human remains, buried by their families hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years ago so that they can run DNA tests.

There are several problems with this, not the least of which is that their desires are unethical and very likely part of the reason why skulls and mummies are being desecrated and looted along with their grave goods every day in Peru. Another problem is that in order for them to do so, they would need permits. And the permitting process in Peru is designed specifically to prevent amateurs, looters, and self-serving troublemakers from removing cultural items from Peru or even disturbing them to begin with. In order to obtain permits, they would have to be Registered Professional Archaeologists as well as agree to publish their findings professionally and in Spanish.

Of course, this is the kind of thing that Pulitzer could immediately respond to with, “but how do you know we didn’t hire an archaeologist?” To which I’d gladly eat humble pie if he’d only name the archaeologist. No professional archaeologist that would be qualified to do ground-disturbing research in Peru would be dumb enough to get involved with these guys. Not because the study of ancient Peruvians isn’t worthy. But because they appear to have little actual regard for indigenous cultures. They’d like to look for DNA probably because it’s something science-like that sounds real good on CSI TV shows, and they assume the public really knows little about it but trusts it all the same… and they can manipulate to their whim. They could make grand claims about DNA results then never show the actual work up from the lab, account for the sampling methods, or reveal the name of the lab used (because they’ll never, ever use a lab that specializes in ancient DNA that has strict testing protocols).

But all this is irrelevant. Since to test DNA, they would have to have a set of samples. those samples would have to be obtained from a specimen using strict protocols (breaking drill bits off in a skull won’t cut it). And that means actually damaging human remains that are controlled by the INC in Peru. Assuming they get the permission to examine then do minimal destruction to retrieve a sample, they’ll then have to get permission to send that cultural material to a lab specializing in ancient DNA. And that part ain’t easy. The INC is going to want to know the full provenience of the specimen, the precise, professional methods that will be used, and that the collector is fully qualified and experienced.

I somehow think that the woman in the photograph is not going to vouch for the skull she looted to the INC in Peru. So for Hutton and Wolter to “access” it, they’ll have to circumvent the Peruvian authorities.

Or maybe they won’t.

aracay1
Photo by Margaret at http://huaqueando.blogspot.com/ This shows, up-close, the devastation brought on by looters who look for grave goods, skulls, and mummies at Peruvian sites. Demand from pseudoscience proponents for skulls they find “anomalous” doesn’t help matters.

Edit [9/5/2016]:
The woman in the photo apparently stated that it was taken at a cemetery known as Sigual and was posted to her own social media account. I’m not sure if that’s in the Acaray vicinity, but the photos are consistent with others taken at this ancient site. The farmland on the left; the power-line tower on the right; etc. She mentions the intent to obtain DNA of the skull, but her comments in the same social media post indicate she believes it to be an “alien” skull. And by alien, she doesn’t mean “not of Peru” rather “not of this world.” Other comments and groups she’s associated with show she’s into UFO and alien explanations.

There’s no mention of who will sample the skull, what sampling methods would be used, or what laboratory would do the DNA testing. Most likely, it’ll be sent off to a “learn your ancestry” lab that doesn’t specialize in ancient DNA collection and there will be errors that get misinterpreted. If it’s tested at all.

My analysis of the photo was apparently spot on. Here’s another photo, side-by-side, of the same skull–not held at arm’s length.

Two views of the same skull found on social media. Not quite the fish story it was made out to be on the left, eh?
Two views of the same skull found on social media. Not quite the fish story it was made out to be on the left, eh?

Book Review: Stories in Stone

StoriesStone

Keister, Douglas. (2004). Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith. 256 pp., ISBN: 008-2552023218 (hc). $24.99

I purchased this book from Amazon in hopes of finding a text that I could use in the field or at least handy at my desk as I record historic cemeteries in a professional capacity. Its size, and accompanying description on the product page sold me on it. “Stories in Stone provides history along with images of a wide variety of common and not-so-common cemetery symbols, and offers an in-depth examination of stone relics and the personal and intimate details they display-flora and fauna, religious icons, society symbols, and final impressions of how the deceased wished to be remembered. Douglas Keister has created a practical field guide that is compact and portable,…”

The book itself is beautiful. No doubt. Even though it is small in size, the cover and the photos are gorgeous. The layout is great and logically planned in chapters with titles like “Flora,” “Fauna,” and “Religious Devotion.” There’s even a nice, woven-fabric bookmark built in. The size is thoughtful as well: you can easily slip this text in a back pocket (though it’ll stick out some) or in a messenger bag or day-pack. The coverage of symbolic motifs is wide and the author is very descriptive of what these individual motifs mean.

I afraid, however, my compliments end here.

For all its beauty and convenience, the book simply cannot be used for any serious purpose. And it should not have carried the subtitle, A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography. A better title would have been, Stories in Stone: A Photographer’s Opinion on What They Say.

None of the book is referenced with how the author arrives at the conclusions he does. In no instance does he cite the work of historians, archaeologists, mythologists, folklorists, etc. As i read through the book, I found myself wondering “how does he know?” at every page. The reader is forced to either accept it all at face value or dismiss the text altogether. I’m no expert in cemetery symbolism (hence the desire to obtain a serious text on the subject), but there are some things I was aware of prior to reading Stories in Stone. And, as I encountered item after item of things I knew or suspected to be contrary, different, or incomplete from the author’s description, I realized that none of the descriptions can be taken at face value regardless of how many he gets right.

Weeping Willow and Urn
As an example, Keister describes the weeping willow and urn motif as “one of the most popular gravestone decorations in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries” and that in “Christianity it is associated with the gospel of Christ because the tree will flourish and remain whole no matter how many branches are cut off.”

Specifically, this motif peaked in popularity during the 1820s “following a report that the exiled Napolean sat under one for daily mediation on the island of St. Helena and loved it so much that he asked to be buried on that spot” (Linden 1980). Linden goes on to describe the willow and urn motif as a popular design in American folkart where it was used in embroidered or painted mourning pictures. Keister gets it right when he says, “although the form of the weeping willow certainly suggests grief and sorrow,” but misses the broader meaning of a more post-Puritan, post-Calvinist notion of meditation and association of the rural landscape with heightened “Pleasures of the Eye” to quote Aldous Huxley. Contrary to Keister’s claim that this is an association with the Gospel of Christ, the willow would seem to be a very secular, yet still spiritual, motif.

Roses
A motif that I think Keister gets partially right but somewhat incomplete is depictions of the rose. He states, “the red rose became a symbol of martyrdom, while the white rose symbolized purity. In Christian mythology the rose in Paradise did not have thorns, but acquired them on Earth to remind man of the his fall from grace; however, the rose’s fragrance and beauty remained to suggest to him what Paradise is like. Sometimes the Virgin Mary is called the “rose without thorns” because of the belief that she was exempt from original sin. In Victorian-era cemeteries, the rose frequently adorns the graves of women.”

The rose has been called an “ancient symbol of the Magna Mater” by some authors (e.g. Jordan 2010), meaning that it represents the idea of the “mother goddess” that predates even Christianity. Such pagan ideas are said to survive the dominance of Christianity because the new religious ideas re-purpose the meaning of the old (much like the Yule Tree to Christmas Tree conversion). But what matters most is how the living see the association with the dead when the motif is chosen for a stone. Keister say’s it “adorns the graves of women” but, to be more specific, it adorns the graves of mothers when depicted in full blossom and thorns. Rosebuds or partially blooming roses often adorn the graves of infants, children, or teens. A broken rosebud will almost always reflect the “life cut short” of a young person. Lindley (1965) notes that the inspiration for roses on gravestones is clearly inspired by the Southern and British folk custom of planting rose bushes in graveyards.

Keister might have most of the symbols correct. The book might be 90% or more on-point. But the reader will never know. Nor will an inspired reader have anywhere to explore Keister’s conclusions on “how he knows” the symbolism he describes, as there is no “further” or “suggested” reading sections much less a bibliography.

Soon after my purchase, I rated it on Amazon with 2 stars for the design, photos, and layout of the text. If you’re looking for a pretty book with pretty photos to sit on your coffee table, this one will fit that bill. But if you want something you can cite or a reference that you can rely on, this isn’t it. A better choice might be Jordan’s work listed below in my references. His is a book that is really more about southern cemeteries than the title lets on.

References
Linden, Blanche M. G. (1980). “The Willow Tree and Urn Motif.” Markers: The Annual Journal of the Association for Gravestone Studies I: 149-156.

Lindley, Kenneth. (1965). Of Graves and Epitaphs. London: Hutchinson.

Jordan, Terry G. (2010). Texas Graveyards: A Cultural Legacy. University of Texas Press.

photo by: dee E. Warenycia, Roseville, CA
photo by: dee E. Warenycia, Roseville, CA

Daily Mail Click-baits with Pyramid Math

Screen grab of the Daily Mail's false headline about the "world's oldest pyramid."
Screen grab of the Daily Mail’s false headline about the “world’s first pyramid.”

Floating around some of the archaeology and science groups is a new “discovery” of a pyramid “older than those of Egypt” found in Kazakhstan. And the headline bills it as the “world’s first pyramid.”

Is it? Not quite. And the answer is actually in the article itself if you take it at face value. Here are some quotes:

“The structure is now substantially in ruins but it is believed that it was a lookalike of the famous Pyramid of Djoser in Egypt, and built around 1,000 years earlier.”

“It was built more than 3,000 years ago.”

“Pictures of the archeological site emerged today highlighting a ‘step mausoleum’ named the Begazinskaya (or Begazin) Pyramid, built between 3,000 and 3,500 years ago.”

“The Djoser ‘step pyramid’ is an archeological jewel in the Saqqara necropolis, northwest of the Egyptian city of Memphis. It was built around 2700 years BC for the burial of Pharaoh Djoser.”

2700 BCE was over 4700 years ago, putting a construction time for Djoser’s pyramid over a 1,000 years earlier than the discovery in Kazakhstan.

The reign of Djoser was between 2630-2611 BCE so his pyramid was probably built sometime during that 19-year period by his architect, Imhotep.

This, I think, is an example of a writer simply not paying attention in his desire to create a headline that grabs attention (the click-bait). “World’s first pyramid” certainly appeals to an audience immediately and creates a need to click and see–even if you don’t believe the claim. I admit, it was my skepticism that made me click it.

But reading these things with a critical eye helps spot the problems. It’s just too bad Stewart didn’t catch his mistake early. If I’m right, the Daily Mail will retract or amend the headline since it’s false, and that’s why I included the screen grab above.

Begazy
The Begazy mauseoleum dating 1500-1000 BCE (about 1100 years after Djoser’s reign in Egypt).

There are other problems with the article as well. For instance, Stewart writes that, “Archaeologists discovered it last year but until now have kept their ‘sensational find’ under wraps.”

This is probably only partly true. They shared data with the professional community about the necropolis in Begazy in 2014[1] along with photos. They probably didn’t share with the media until the majority of excavations were complete to avoid potential looting. I would imagine they expect to wrap up their work this season since they’ve made the site more public.

The other thing that bothers me is the literature I’ve seen from the professionals so far have not used the word “pyramid.” They’ve described their excavations as uncovering a necropolis and a mausoleum. And in the photos of the site, there doesn’t seem to be enough material lying around the footprint to be part of a pyramid. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a description completely made up by the writer or an editor at the Daily Mail.

References and Notes:
  1. Beisenov, A.Z., et al (2014). Architectural features of the burial sites for elite of Begazy-Dandybai culture of Central Eurasia (e.g. Begazy Necropolis). Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 122, 248-352 []

Book Review: Cracker: The Cracker Culture in Florida History

Cracker: The Cracekr Culture of Florida History, by Dana Ste. Claire.
Cracker: The Cracker Culture of Florida History, by Dana Ste. Claire.

Ste. Claire, Dana. (2006). Cracker: The Cracker Culture in Florida History. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press. 255 pp., ISBN: 978-0-8130-3028-9 (trade paperback). $19.95

Introduction

I grew up in rural Virginia before moving to Texas in my teen years, so I heard the term “cracker” through media like television and movies, as well as in person?occasionally directed at me—but often toward others. The term was always used to refer to a white person and always used in a pejorative manner. I honestly never took offense. I reasoned at an early age that white folk have many words that can disparage people of color that we certainly deserved our own. During a recent visit to St. Augustine during a vacation in Florida, I noticed the term being used a little more liberally. There was even a business—a restaurant—named the Florida Cracker Cafe, which made me wonder instantly about the origin of the name for another, more famous restaurant: Cracker Barrel. It was in St. Augustine, while browsing the artifacts on display in the Visitor’s Center that I happened upon Dana Ste. Claire’s book, Cracker: The Cracker Culture in Florida History. I had to know more.

Dana Ste. Claire is currently the director of the Heritage Tourist Department in St. Augustine, FL. At the time Cracker went to press, he was Curator of History at The Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach. As a professional archaeologist, he also served (or may still serve) as Chair of the Secretary of State’s Historic Preservation Advisory Council in Tallahassee. He’s also the author of True Natives: Florida’s First People, and his expertise in Florida cultures emerges effortlessly in Cracker.

My interest in Cracker as a culture, now sparked, I found Ste. Claire’s book to be both broad enough to not exclude the concept outside the borders of Florida, yet specific enough that I came away with a new understanding of a term not solely the pejorative I grew up with, but a valid culture worthy of study and appreciation.

Although he’s an archaeologist, Ste. Claire doesn’t spend much time on archaeological aspects of exploring Cracker culture. His primary focus is on its history, including several possible origins of the term “cracker,” and on providing an ethnographic perspective. There are, however, several pages of architectural diagrams, sketches, and photographs of Cracker houses, structures, and artifacts one might expect to find on a Cracker site.

Brief Overview

Ste. Claire begins with chapters that set out to define “Cracker” as a term and to paint an outline of Cracker culture in Florida. He then steers his focus the culture itself, spotlighting “Life in the Backwoods,” material aspects of Cracker culture such as architecture and furnishings, and “Cracker Cuisine.” These chapters are supplanted by sidebars that take fascinating and informative dives into subjects of native plants and animal foods, moonshining, and a very informative interview with locals on all things corn. The final chapters of the book provide reference for the serious student of Cracker culture. A bibliography, a glossary of “Cracker” terms where you might learn that a “scrub chicken” is actually a gopher tortoise, a one-time Cracker delicacy that is now illegal to hunt since they’re a threatened or vulnerable species. There’s also a section of Cracker literature which includes some poetry, and a short chapter that lists locations for a self-guided tour of Cracker heritage sites and museums.

Ste. Claire does a fine job of organizing his research into the history of Cracker culture in Florida into a concise, easy to read, text. There’s not dumbing down of the material, yet he presents it in a way that isn’t wordy or over the top with academic jargon. The sidebars are many, but well-written and informative. Ste. Claire’s writing style is one that conveys his ideas without boring the reader. The lay-public as well as the academic will find Cracker an informative and entertaining read. For historic archaeologists working in the south, the book offers a context for which to create a baseline understanding of how people thrived with very little in the way of material goods. This isn’t a book that was just released—but it is one that will be a pleasure to read for anyone interested in local history for the southeast United States.

My one wish is that more emphasis would have been placed on archaeological remains and how Cracker culture shows up in excavated sites (or doesn’t show up due to the paucity of material goods when compared to other historic sites.

If you’re interested in purchasing, click this link to Amazon http://amzn.to/2bw6Viy Doing so will push a little kickback my way in the form of affiliate pennies.

By the way, Cracker Barrel was given its name in 1969 so that it had a “down home” and “country flair,” according to Dan Evins, the restaurant’s founder.

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