A Decade of Pseudoarchaeology

Here are six pseudoarchaeological topics that I encountered on the internet since the beginning of the millennium. I think most of them I dealt with on this blog, others I probably encountered on various internet forums that I used to hang out on. These days, by the way, I usually stick to just The Science Forum, a generally friendly (for internet standards) forum of science geeks who discuss just about anything from math proofs to biology and evolution. Its a relatively small forum but fairly active.

But, I digress… here are some pseudoarchaeological wonders for your enjoyment. Click links at your own risk (not that any are a security risk, but I warn you: there are things you might not be able to unsee!).

An Erection by Homo Erectus?

NASA satellite photo of Rama's Bridge oblique,...
Image via Wikipedia

A year or two ago, the Sethusamundram Ship Canal Project sought to link the Palk Bay with the Gulf of Mannar between India and Sri Lanka. Such a project, once completed, would cut about 400 km of travel for shipping in the region, which is not insignificant, probably saving millions of dollars worth of expenses in fuel in the process. There was a snag, however. Several groups have used several arguments opposing the shipping canal, some of which may have some merit like environmental, economic, and political issues. There is one argument that seems to get a lot of attention, though. Its the argument put forth by creationists that the land is sacred.

These aren’t just any creationists, they’re Vedi creationists (not unlike Michael Cremo) who believe that Adam’s Bridge, a.k.a. Rama’s Bridge, wasn’t created by geology and hydrology but, rather, a god bent on getting laid. Their argument is counter to that of the environmentalists who are trying to protect a natural wonder, these Hindu creationists claim that the tomobolo is man-made! The tombolo is a bridge, according to followers of Vedic mythology, and it was created by Lord Rama who lived 880,000 years ago. At one time, the bridge was said to be, geologically, about 1.7 million years old. At around 1.7 ma to .8 ma, the dominant hominid species of the region was Homo erectus. For the bridge to have been constructed, it would have had to been done by a comparative handful of hominids who’s biggest technological feat might have been the biface hand ax. Ah… there’s how this section’s title fits. Catchy, eh?

Recently though, some new geologic work dating the coral on some of the beaches in the strait has shown the the link between India and Sri Lanka to be about 3500 years old rather than the previous estimates of 1.7.

Bosnian Pyramid Scheme

Remember Samir Osmanagic? The kook that claims to be an archaeologist (with no apparent archaeological or anthropological education)? If you forgot -or wisely turned off your television a few years ago to start reading books and missed the Nightline dog and pony show, let me bring you up to speed.

The hoopla actually started in 2006 with Semir Osmanagic’s announcement that he had found the largest and oldest pyramid known to man, which was created by between 8,000 and 12,000 years ago –so large and so old it threatened to change the history of Europe and the World as we know it. And it would have. Had it been genuine.

But such is the nature of pseudo-archaeological claims: they provide much sensation and appeal instantly to the significance-junkies and mystery-mongers who want there to be something mysterious and, perhaps, sacred about the emergence and antiquity of man. This is why we see so many products for sale, particularly in the “alternative” medicine (as if there really are legitimate alternatives to medicine) field, that claim to have been “discovered by” or “known to” the ancients.

Osmangic was the guy that wrote a book which put the ancestry of the Maya as the Atlanteans. And, as if this weren’t kooky enough, he placed the ancestry of the Atlanteans as extra-terrestrial. The media (perhaps being the natural significance-junkies and mystery-mongers that they are) picked up on Osmanagic’s press releases and ran with them, without consulting with any genuine archaeologists. In spite of the press claims, Osmanagic is not an archaeologist. Not even close.

The reason the press was duped (and is still being duped in some cases) by the pyramid-claims is that the hill does vaguely look like a pyramid from certain angles (as do many, many hills around the world) and that there is some very interesting geology in the region that gives the appearance of manmade blocks. But the geology has been very well explained and understood, even before Osmangic and his “team” began bulldozing the hillside in what they refer to as “excavations.”

The main problem with this sort of pseudo-archaeology is that it is destroying a genuine archaeological site that has nothing to do with pyramids.

Oh, yeah. Osmanagic is still out there. Here are a few translated quotes from that news article:

First, they all laughed, that feeling is familiar. The second phase is – they all attacked me. Third, now I have a media blockade

Always on my lectures found some archaeologist. So far, the suggestion of Belgrade small band of students was the most aggressive. That they did not like the arguments that differ from what they learn at the university, should not worry. They have time to learn, be creative, to relieve constraints and limits that they impose on the study – said Sam.

Sammy boy also claimed in the article that the pyramids of Egypt were at least 12,500 years old and basically that the rest of the archaeological world is racist because we accept that there are pyramids in thousands of places in the world, just not in Bosnia. Where else you ask? Egypt, Mexico, Japan, Cuba … oh, the last two are under water and not exposed to dry air in probably over 13,000 years.

Atlantis or I’ll Sue You

I was lured to an internet forum of woo called “Atlantis Rising” once during this decade. Specifically their “Atlantis” subforum (oh, yes, they have many subfora dealing with everything from ancient astronauts to ESP. To be fair, I encountered several rational folks there. But not many. Among the most irrational, and what lured me there in the first place, were the repeated claims by another self-proclaimed “archaeologist” that he had discovered Atlantis.

Never mind that Atlantis is only ever mentioned in the ancient world by Plato who invented the fictional city-state in the same way he did many other allegories for his dialogs. Plato was a philosopher and he needed ways to tell a story -to tell the truth- about Athens without pissing off Athenian officials (perhaps the fate of Socrates was fresh on his mind). So he invented another “A”-word city-state. One that was remarkably like Athens.

Little did Plato realize a nut named Donovan would come along and invent a “lost city” from it that would capture the imagination of countless mystery-mongers for years to come.

Enter Georgios Diaz Montexano (GD-M), a.k.a. Jorge Diaz Sanchez, who spammed the internet forums for about a year with claims of “finding” Atlantis off the coast of Spain, on a sunken island (it would have probably been above sea level during the last glaciation), now a shoal. GD-M made claims of finding some spectacular artifacts and features of an ancient, Bronze-age civilization, which included “smelting factories,” “roads,” “columns,” “chimneys,” and a “striker pin” among others. The problem with these claims is that they didn’t offer any idea of the context of the finds or provenience of the artifacts. Some random pictures were shown of divers holding artifacts or pointing to underwater features, but never any real data regarding the alleged artifacts. In fact, many of the pictures, now long since removed from his sites, appeared to be lifted straight from the pages of treasure hunting magazines and perhaps a text on underwater archaeology. I think I even recognized George Bass in one!

To make a long story short (although, I’ll probably publish this story here in more detail in the future), GD-M created a persona of himself not unlike Samir Osmanagic in that he sought media attention and claimed more honorifics than he actually possessed. He even created his own societies, magazines, and the like to be members of and published in.

And, when criticized at Atlantis Rising, his “secretary” (perhaps spouse/girlfriend) who was a regular poster became very vile and threatening. She threatened a few of us with law suits. My response? I posted my full name mailing address in the clear so there’d be no difficulty in getting the subpoena to me. It never showed.

The Archaeological Remains of Inter-Stellar War

Created by rubble-pile asteroids
Created by rubble-pile asteroids

Okay, its a stretch to call it pseudoarchaeology, but the claim is that aliens bombed the moons and planets of our solar system millions, perhaps billions of years ago. Aliens are people -of a sort. Their material remains would be archaeological artifacts and features…. right?

Craterchains was his name (along with Norval) and ancient space aliens was his game. Norval, and this is the name he freely provides on his site, so I’m not revealing any secrets, is a guy I genuinely liked. He fancied (perhaps still) himself an investigator of Extraterrestrial Intelligence and the “war that has been occurring between ET factions here in our solar system for centuries.”

The evidence? Chains of craters that he feels couldn’t be caused by anything other than [drum roll….] ….. carpet bombing. According to Norval and his co-“researcher,” it takes intelligence to create such a perfect pattern of non randomness such as these OOOOOOOOOOO, there for, the most reasonable explanation for these types of “crater chains” being a nonrandom pattern, would be made by intelligence.

These “chains” of craters are a phenomenon of “Catenae,” which are multiple, sequential impacts of meteorites from a common progenitor that broke up as it became caught in the gravity well of a planet or moon. The trajectory of the progenitor, a “rubble pile” asteroid or comet causes it to continue on its original orbital path on impact, creating a string or line of crater impacts.

The term “rubble pile” refers to the fact that an object, such as an asteroid, is really a conglomeration of smaller rocks held together by gravitic bond. This bond is easily broken by the larger gravitic force of a planet or moon. It’s all very straight forward and intuitive physics.

No war. No aliens. Unfortunately, no archaeology.

Pleistocene Polis in Japan

Composite of the Yonaguni "ruins"
Composite of the Yonaguni "ruins"

Yonaguni Japan. The site of an underwater geologic formation that has captured the imaginations of many mystery-mongers and significance-junkies who see the site as the underwater ruins of an ancient civilization that somehow had the capability to engage in monumental architecture prior to 10,000 years ago. It was that long ago, you see, that the site was above sea level.

Admittedly, the geology is striking and very angular. While there are some apparent 90 degree angles, the vast majority appear rhombohedral, which is perhaps a dead giveaway that there is nature involved. This is a common cleavage and fracture angle for many minerals.

In addition to the timing -at 10,000 + years ago, pottery was barely a leading technology along with some clever stone implements, there are other factors that are against the “ancient high-civilization” explanation, such as the fact that above the waves, a nearly identical formation of rock exists. No one seems to be claiming these are buildings or ruins -probably because their so easily accessible and one need not be a certified diver or rely solely on the difficult to contextualize photographs of certified divers. One can walk on them and inspect them and see…. well, rock.

There’s also the problem with artifacts -or the lack thereof. Carl Sagan, my near namesake, was famous for saying that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. This, however, isn’t the case where there should be evidence. If a civilization built a port city that now lies beneath the ruins, it follows that they were therefore clever enough to have taken advantage of the high ground for protection against floods, storms, invaders, or just to be able to spot their sea-going vessels (a port city, remember). Yet there is no trace of them. Â We can find traces of scattered hominids in the Pliocene and the earliest human settlements of the Pleistocene, but we cannot locate a single artifact or feature to suggest a civilization capable of building monumental architecture existed in Yonoguni.

Will the Real Mary and Jesus Stand Up?

Buddy, can you turn it down? Its been a rough day!
"Buddy, can you turn it down? It's been a rough day!

The tomb itself was actually discovered in 1980, but “rediscovered” in more recent years by Simcha Jacobovici who co-produced the documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus with James Cameron.

The assertion is, obviously, that this is the tomb of Jesus Christ, the Christian Messiah who was, according to biblical legend, crucified to death by the Romans only later to “rise from the dead” and ascend to heaven. The implication, therefore, is that Jesus did not ascend at least bodily to heaven and that there were remains left to entomb. Based on the inscriptions found on other ossuaries within the tomb, other implications were that Jesus: was married to Mary Magdeline; had brothers and sisters (some of whom may have been older); had a child; may not have died on the cross; etc.

The producer, Jacobovici, claimed in the documentary that this is proof of the existence of Jesus, making this, too, an implication for those that doubted the historicity of Jesus or for those interested in defending that historicity. However, the documentary doesn’t reconcile a few problems, most namely perhaps, the 600 to 1 claim created by a statistician and used in the documentary. In this claim, statistician Andrey Feuerverger concluded that the odds are at least 600 to 1 that the combination of names appeared in the tomb by chance.

Scientific American had this to say:
Scan The Lexicon of Jewish Names, which includes names from ossuaries, ancient texts and every other source available, and you will learn that the names unearthed in the so-called Jesus Family Tomb were among the most common of that era. One in every three women listed in the Lexicon was named Mary, for instance, and, at that time, one in every 20 Jewish men was called Yeshua, or Jesus. […]“I did permit the number one in 600 to be used in the film—I’m prepared to stand behind that but on the understanding that these numbers were calculated based on assumptions that I was asked to use,” says Feuerverger. “These assumptions don’t seem unreasonable to me, but I have to remember that I’m not a biblical scholar.”

Indeed, one of the biggest contentions about the alleged “tomb of Jesus” is that the names were common. William Dever who, until recently, was the Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, stated in the Washington Post article, ‘Lost Tomb of Jesus’ Claim Called a Stunt, the following:

“I’ve known about these ossuaries for many years and so have many other archaeologists, and none of us thought it was much of a story, because these are rather common Jewish names from that period. It’s a publicity stunt, and it will make these guys very rich, and it will upset millions of innocent people because they don’t know enough to separate fact from fiction.”

That article is no longer available online, but there are numerous internet sites that seem to quote it. I’ll include it in the bibliography as I did find it in the Lexis-Nexis database. The quote is accurate.

Cooperman, Alan (2007). ‘Lost Tomb of Jesus’ Claim Called a Stunt. Washington Post, Section A, A3, February 28, 2007.

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