The SAA Archaeological Record has a new online edition out for November/December 2019 and it’s a special pseudoarchaeology edition that includes articles from six different writers.
“Y not a Pacific Migration? Misunderstandings of Genetics in Service to Pseudoscience
The first article is by Jennifer Raff. In it, Jennifer discusses how some recent discoveries in the field of ancient DNA (aDNA) are exploited or misinterpreted by purveyors of pseudoscience, such as Graham Hancock.
The “Y” of the article title refers to an ancient Australasian-related population and comes from the word ypyku’era or ancestor in the Tupi language spoken by people of the Amazonian region (Karatiana, Xavante, and Suri). Essentially, an aDNA signal was found by two different research teams that show people of the Amazon are more closely related to people of Australasian decent that are other Native American populations. Just the sort of potentially sensational news Hancock, et al love to hitch a ride on.
The Cerutti Mastodon, Professional Skepticism, and the Public
The second article, was written by myself. In it, I use the sensational news of 2017 that surrounded the Cerutti mastodon site, published in Nature, to discuss how Hancock and others tend to leverage this sort of news to their benefit. Specifically, I note that the science is cherry-picked from skeptical views within the discipline, without addressing the concerns of professionals related to the field.
I end that piece with a call for action directed to professional archaeologists to engage more effectively with the public.
Whitewashing American Prehistory
The third article, by Jason Colavito. As one expects from him, Jason presents a detailed, but concise, outline of the history behind modern pseudoarchaeological arguments and how they’re really a revival of old, often theosophical notions of reality that do not conform to modern scientific principles. They do, however, find favor with modern racist and nationalist ideas presented in modern media.
The Mysterious Origins of Fringe
The fourth article, by John Hoopes. In it, John dives more deeply into the theosophical origins of modern pseudoarchaeological works by Hancock and others. He compares and contrasts the many ways Hancock and others present pseudoarchaeology as “speculative metaphysics, in the realm of religion.”
John walks the reader through the evolution of these ideas: from the “dawn of esotericism, to the Victorian revival, and finally to the modern appeal through mass media.
America Before as a Paranormal Charter
The fifth article is by Jeb Card. It leans hard into the stark differences between professional archaeology and its fringe counterparts. As Jeb notes, “alternative archaeology is a result of the professionalization of archaeology.” In other words, the minutia of detail brought to bear by professional archaeology has little to do with the popular notions of “lost civilizations and mythic origins” found in pseudoarchaeology.
“I don’t Believe, I Know”: the Faith of Modern Pseudoarchaeology
The last article, by David Anderson. Here, David does a much better job saying some of the things I tried to say. Like many of our articles, he looks at the works of previous authors in fringe archaeology, most notably Erich von Däniken. David shows how von Däniken’s pretensive style of writing shows up in mass-appeal television shows like Ancient Aliens.
David compares and contrasts the successes of mass-media pseudoarchaeology and the efforts of professional archaeologists with some hard figures. And he ends by saying something I completely agree with: public engagement needs to be a central value to our profession.
I feel privileged to be included with such a stellar lineup of writers, so thanks to each of them for their own contributions. My own meager offering is but a distraction compared to these. It was, however, John W. Hoopes that organized everything and put it all together with Chris Rodning, the editor at the SAA Archaeological Record. Herding cats would have probably been an easier task.
Just so you don’t have to scroll back up to the top, here’s the link again: The Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Record, 19(5), 2019.