Special Pseudoarchaeology and Pop-Interest Issue of the SAA Magazine

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.

Acknowledgements

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.

About Carl Feagans 363 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.

21 Comments

  1. I would love for you come to the SDNHM to “Question the Hell” out of the purported evidence for human activity at the Cerutti Mastodon Site. Assemble a team of experts and falsify it. Armchair critiques are usually very inaccurate as evidenced by the absolute BS of PM Ferrell’s “analysis” that everyone jumped on. I excavated that solidly emplaced vertical tusk preserved 70 centimeters into the underlying fine grained D Bed sandstone below the E Bed along with the other material over the next 5 months and can testify that none of the activity described in PM Ferrell’s article actually occurred. No 5 ton dump trucks driving over the site hundreds of times smashing things up, in fact there was no truck haul at all as it was not needed and to say the least, rediculously expensive. All that was needed for the job was a lone multi ton approximately 88,000 lb Caterpillar 235c excavator parked on top of the Sound Berm. There’s a nice picture of this on the Museum’s web site. Check it out. The Caterpillar 235c spent it’s day reaching down to scoop up 3 cu yards of material, lifting it up and over the Sound Berm, spinning 180 degrees and dumping it where the scrapers could haul it off to the fill. No excavator bucket as per the PM Ferrell article could have flipped the tusk to the vertical, force it vertically into the well consolidated Pleistocene sediments without totally ending it’s career. That would have been the end of the tusk to say the least. When ivory meets steel, ivory is the loser, fragmenting into thousands of tiny white pieces. I see this frequently. The videos, still pictures and extensive notes that you and your team would have access to would help in your critique. Some of this documentation is on the SDNHM website by the way. The CMS site with the exception of the extreme NE edge where the excavator bucket damaged the tusks was solidly preserved in well consolidated Pleistocene sandstones and siltstones undisturbed by heavy equipment contrary to what the armchair boys have reported. The Sound Berm is merely an “erosional remnant” of the original formation that is still protecting the unexcavated southern half of the CMS with 3 meters of undisturbed material. When this area is excavated we will have people of all relevant fields present. The Sound Berm was not built up from fill material as described by many. Most of the broken rock and bones were coated with pedogenic carbonate concretions and preserved by up to 3 meters of undisturbed well consolidated fluvial sediment that had no problem supporting the 88,000 Lb excavator 3 meters above the CMS. None of the breakeage was caused by compression from modern construction equipment. No scattering of the CMS material by machines occurred. The Nature Letter reported only what was necessary to get the point across. Much more documentation is needed as there’s much more to examine such as micro fragments of bone, teeth and rock scattered throughout the Bed E siltstone, In addition, there’s another example of a sharply broken refitting clast several meters away from the concetration 2 fragmented Pegmatite clast described in Nature. This time it is one of andesite consisting of 6 lithic refits found scattered undisturbed in concentration 1. One of these looks like a small bifacially flaked projectile point while another has a bifacially flaked pebble tool look, complete with the original rounded cobble cortex at the other end fitting nicely into one’s hand. All of these were encrusted with carbonate. I’ve discovered or worked on hundreds of large mammal sites since 1981, many of these are of proboscideans. None of these sites have this crazy taphonomy of high energy breakeage within an extremely low energy siltstone, the lithics occupying the same exact foot print as the highly extremely fragmented spirally fractured femoral diaphysis with impact notches and cone flakes while small bone elements such as ribs and vertebrae remained intact. Other large mammals discovered in the same low energy siltstone at or near the same horizon less than 30 meters from CMS, mostly horses, were preserved in a much more normal taphonomic condition as partially articulated skeletons with no rocks associated. Outside of CMS foot print absolutely no rocks were encountered within these fine grained sediments. Hope to see you at the SDNHM with all cannons blazing!

  2. Mmmm….someone here is about to be labeled a “pseudo-scientist” pretty quickly. Even now, by the last glowing embers in his Bong, James Ford is getting the “Big S” brand heated to a white hot temp….

  3. I guess my response disappeared into the ether from 11/27/19. Build a team come to the Museum and falsify the Cerutti site by actually studying the actual material, videos, stills and extensive notes. Ferrell’s analysis if you could call it that is complete nonsense. If you are positive that the CMS is not an archaeological site, that bit of effort would give huge weight to your critique.

  4. In reality, it doesn’t matter whether CMS is archaeological or strictly palaeontological, most of the reasons given by many in the archaeological community against it are not accurate and have been discounted, however some are accurate such as there being no cut marks or easily recognized tools. Speaking of tools, several times on the jobsite I witnessed modern man using a primitive tool technology pound a grade stake vertically into the ground with a nice rounded 6″ diameter cobble when he he left his hammer 25′ upslope. Afterwards I observed wood fragments from the grade stake circling the newly vertical grade steak from which they were derived and also the expedient cobble tool located few feet away, complete with tiny crushed wood fragments within it’s recesses. Modern man has waaaaaaay better tools than this! That’s similar to what our earliest tool using ancestors had. Can’t be an archaeological site. Write carefully on that label and don’t burn yourself. I love the crazy taphonomy of this site.

  5. sir! gleaner!63! Persuado Scientist here. When you come to the Museum, check out our collections on display filling the research collections on the 3rd floor as well as the Fossil Mysteries exhibit that thousands of people come to see every year. Thousands and thousands…. of incredible fossil specimens. Many of these are brand new to science such as the 3 new species of Eocene primate recently described in refereed scientific journals. Nearly all were collected and prepared by museum hominins such as myself. In addition we have revised a large percentage of the coastal San Diego geology that contained these fossils. So there!, gleaner…63.

  6. Gleaner “but what about clovis first” 63 never fails to get his facts wrong. It was that old chap Graham who kept a bong puffing away like the Little Engine that could for almost 30 years while dreaming up most of his crap, not me.

    Cue some lame Gleaner line about a famous scientist who would partake of the herb from time to time in order to deflect from Hancock’s decades of self-admitted drug abuse.

  7. James Ford: You talk about the “Clovis First” model as if it didn’t exist; it did. It wasn’t Hancock that came up with it, or defended it, rather it was “mainstream archaeology” (Carl will hate that term) that did so. As always, you seemed to be heavily engaged in a type of tribalism without even knowing it. Archaeologists often get things wrong, not by just a few years, but tens of thousands of years; is that what you are trying to defend here? You shouldn’t get so agitated when others point that out; in fact, you should direct your assaults toward archaeologists, not GH. Anyone and any profession, including archaeology can be criticized; after all, that’s part of the scientific method which you *claim* to understand. It does your case no good at all by pointing GH error’s to deflect the errors of your own. As for “who would partake of the herb”, I’ll leave that to you as you sound like an expert on such matters. Now, back to your basement, and keep looking for those imaginary “research papers” you wrote and that degree from that phantom “university” you attended…

  8. Gosh, that’s quite the diatribe in response to someone simply stating the fact that you were incorrect as well as that Hancock had/has major drug issues that likely clouded (get it, “clouded”) his thought processes when it came to research and writing about his non-existent lost civilization. Now, ladies and gentlemen, do we get an even longer diatribe from Gleaner in response to this? Does he go nuclear option by evoking the dreaded history degree from, uh, uh, uh, what was the name of that school again?

    Pop the popcorn and break out the Orange Fanta ’cause methinks that Gleaner is about to put on a show for us. Almost exactly like Hancock’s show where he responded to SFAA criticism by whining about the fact that he was criticized and playing the deflection game instead of making any intelligent attempt to counter specific criticisms.

  9. James Ford: …don’t you mean “break out your high school era bong” as opposed to the Orange Fanta? Please tell us where I was wrong about the “Clovis First Model”. If you can, I’ll mail you a 1 pound bag of “pure Colombian gold” for your next “research paper”….

  10. For the love of god quit feeding the troll. You’ve got someone who probably thinks that Monte Verde is a popular Latin American boy band trying to pretend that he has intelligent insight into the Clovis business that for most people hasn’t been a real issue for three decades and was probably never a major issue for many anthropologists to begin with. Gosh, for about 40+ years the evidence suggested small numbers of foragers were in the western hemisphere at a certain point until evidence moved the timeline back several thousand years for small numbers of foragers being in the western hemisphere. Damn, the foundations of all archaeological knowledge must come tumbling down now, and professionals have no right to point out the glaring flaws with every aspect of Hancock’s work. Not. Its just the usual deflection game. If you are arguing with someone over a non-issue like Clovis then it draws attention from the actual errors pointed out in the review. Its a common tactic used by the likes of Gleaner63 all over social media.

  11. Dead Horse whisperer states: “….If you are arguing with someone over a non-issue like Clovis then it draws attention from the actual errors pointed out in the review. Its a common tactic used by the likes of Gleaner63 all over social media…”.

    I love it: a troll shows up at the end of the thread and starts shouting “troll!”. Did you dream up that response all by yourself, or did your mom have to help you? Surely a “common tactic” used by people like you. Further, like others here, it’s you that is playing the “deflection game”, not me; I’ve not once said no one should point out the glaring errors of Graham Hancock, not once; if I have, point it out in the thread. Clearly, you don’t want to admit that a theory, in particular the “Clovis First Model”, invented and defended for decades by mainstream archaeologists is now dead….

  12. So, Clovis first is a theory that was based on prevailing evidence of the time and defended by some until better evidence overturned it. You think that this is some sort of remarkable revelation and open to debate? What’s next on the agenda, enlightening us on the act that grass is green and water is wet or that archaeologists no longer buy into the fact that the Earth is older than 5000 years. Seriously, this guy is a troll and not even a good one at that. Time for me to follow my own advice and say bye, bye.

    For anyone interested, Hancock and his supporters evoke Clovis First on a regular basis and it has been done repeatedly in discussions here. So, yes a common tactic and kind of a shibboleth when it comes to identifying people who are aggressively ignorant when it comes to archaeology.

  13. Dead Horse Whisperer asks: “..So, Clovis first is a theory that was based on prevailing evidence of the time and defended by some until better evidence overturned it. You think that this is some sort of remarkable revelation and open to debate?..”.

    I don’t think it’s remarkable; why would I? Do you? What “debate” are you referring to? The Clovis First model is now known to wrong; is that what you’re having an issue with? What’s next on your agenda, telling us that archaeology cannot be questioned and is some sort of sacred cow? You’re engaging in quite an amazing amount of projection here, yet again a “common tactic” from “types” like you and your “supporters” (hint, hint, cough, cough)….

  14. Horse Whisperer stated: “..and professionals have no right to point out the glaring flaws with every aspect of Hancock’s work…”.

    I asked in a previous post if you could point out where I said that or agreed with it; well, I’m waiting, because you’ve avoided answering it. So is lying and making false assertions just another “common tactic” with people like you? Judging from your fellow komrads here, I think the answer might be a bog ole yes…

  15. So…I’m willing to call a truce; I’ll make no further comments about anyone’s alleged drug use and no one can rib me about being born and raised in South Carolina….whatta ya say, James Ford?

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