2010: The Year in Pseudoarchaeology

Compared to previous years, 2010 wasn’t really a productive one for the pseudoarchaeologists. Very little has been said about the Bosnian Pyramid, and rightfully so since it wasn’t a pyramid. The James Ossuary went back to the toilet it came from. The Jesus tomb was a bust, but made Simcha Jacobovici some money. And so on.

Still, there were a few pseudoarchaeological happenings in 2010 and here’s a summary:

Shroud of Turin
At the beginning of the year, in January, a Jewish death shroud was found in the Old City of Jerusalem that dates to around the time of Jesus. The significance is two-fold: it’s the first shroud found in Jerusalem and the textile is simple two-way weave. The find itself isn’t pseudoarchaeological, but it does have some ramifications on a long-held pseudoarchaeological find: the Shroud of Turin. The Turin shroud has been known for some time to be a 14th century hoax, with its ocher and vermillian (paint) facial image that is inconsistent with a cloth being wrapped around a skull. The real shroud, more recently discovered is nothing like the one purported to be that of Jesus. The Turin shroud has a complex weave, rather than the simpler, two-way weave. A complex weave is consistent with the 14th century, but evidence now shows the first century CE to have much simpler textiles.

Crucifixion Nail
In March, certain individuals claimed to have found a crucifixion nail of Jesus Christ. My skepticism surrounded the way in which the nail might be dated: it had no context and had been handled a lot. Sure enough, a few days later Bryn Walters of the Association for Roman Archaeology echoed my skeptical point of view in a bit more detail.

Noah’s Ark! Again!
A Chinese Christian cult discovered the lost boat of Noah
. Yeah, not a year goes by that someone doesn’t discover Noah’s Ark. It’s a myth people! A story! Based on earlier flood tales like the brief story of Utnapishtim in Gilgamesh. Some of the Noachian myth are line-for-line copy. Gilgamesh was the earlier of the two, and didn’t purport to be fact. The Noachian tale has everything you would expect from a story borrowed from another culture: parts that are word-for-word the same, embellishments and hyperbole, and no basis in reality whatsoever. It’s amazing how people are so willing to spend money on “expeditions” that purport to bring back “proof” that no one ever gets to see. Amazing.

The Saint
Saint John the Baptist
, a character in Christian mythology that may or may not have actually existed had his 15 minutes of pseudoarchaeological fame in August when officials in Bulgaria claimed to have discovered some of his remains in a small reliquary. Found under the basilica of an ancient monastary, this little alabaster box contained a few cranial, dental, and hand bones. Clearly motivated by religious and nationalist agendas, some Bulgarian officials rushed to the “holy relic” conclusion without any evidence. Since John the Baptist is alleged to have had his head separated from his body, the cranial section becoming a legendary trophy, one is left to wonder what contet might explain cranial and post-cranial bone if the claim were true.

Indiana Jones?
The Hollywood rumor mill buzzed
about an Indiana Jones sequel. The last movie ended with space-aliens. How do you top that? Go to the Bermuda Triangle, apparently. If the make it, I’ll suspend disbelief for a couple of hours to enjoy the show… I doubt it will ever top The Last Crusade, however.

Pseudoarchaeological Vomit
Glenn Beck opened his mouth
and spewed forth what can only be expected: nonsense. But for a change, he pretended to know something about archaeology! According to Beck, the Newark mounds in Ohio are measured differently in his reality than in everyone else’s. And Victorian era hoaxes are evidence that a lost tribe of Israel built the mounds and founded, apparently, the Mormon Church.

I did, however, just write a short rejoinder of sorts, in which I respond to a commenter who objected to my labeling the artifacts Beck discussed as “frauds” and “hoaxes.” I maintain their hoaxes, but it is possible they’re genuine artifacts.

“Biblical” Archaeology
Most of the pseudoarchaeology of 2010 centered around religious claims. Which is one of the reasons why I wrote, Why Biblical Archaeology So Very Often Equals Pseudo-archaeology. So-called theologians seek to “prove” through science their particular notions of god and why their particular scriptures are that god’s word. But, more often than not, these theologians (a questionable term in itself) resort to outright deception or poor science to support conclusions they already have. In the article linked above, I used Bryant Wood as an example where he uses shoddy science and deceptive data to arrive at dates more to his liking for Jericho.

I suspect the “biblical” archaeologists and their pseudoarchaeological methods were always there but found a shadow in the grand claims of the now much quieter significance-junkies and mystery-mongers like those who jumped on the Bosnian “pyramid” band wagon. Perhaps Michael Cremo, Hancock, and Osmanagic will return to regal us with new extraordinary claims that haven’t even the most ordinary of evidence to support them, putting all this religious pseudoscience back in its closet.

Yonaguni – It’s Just Rocks, Guys.
Still, even though I wrote the post in 2009, the Ruins of Yonaguni remain a hot topic in 2010, with a very active comment thread. It seems that there are those who will not be convinced that the geologic formations under the surface of the Yonaguni coast -that small island of Southern Japan- aren’t made by aliens, high-tech ancients, or [insert wild claim]. The rock formations were last above sea level prior to 10,000 years ago, so it’s possible they were walked on and even admired by humans in the area. But the geology under the sea exactly matches that above the surface, yet mystery-mongers and significance-junkies still insist it can’t happen in nature, this is an undersea city, etc. Never mind that were the megalithic structures formed by man an not nature, the caloric requirement would be so great that the earliest Joman people (14,000 – 5,000 BCE) would have needed an agricultural infrastructure that went way beyond the rudimentary, semi-sedentary Neolithic lifeway that presents itself in the archaeological record.

That’s all I’ve got this year. I’m looking forward to 2011. I can only imagine what pseudoarchaeological finds await us! But we should start a pool on the first claim of “Noah’s Ark Found” for 2011. I’m saying April 14th, 2011.

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About Carl Feagans 312 Articles
Professional archaeologist that currently works for the United States Forest Service at the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee. I'm also a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army and spent another 10 years doing adventure programming with at-risk teens before earning my master's degree at the University of Texas at Arlington.