In an episode centering on the best-known fictional skeptic, Lisa Simpson, Principal Skinner announced, “All honor roll students will be rewarded with a trip to an archaeological dig. All detention students will be punished with a trip to an archaeological dig.”
While Nelson Muntz and Jimbo Jones would have no interest in Crimean vases or Incan jewelry, they might be enthused about skulls of alien-homo sapiens hybrids or death lasers from a lost tribe of Neolithic geniuses. If a real-life Skinner wanted to encourage this interest, he would have many pseudo-archeologists to choose from.
Pseudo-archaeology reaches conclusions about the past while bypassing the methods of gathering data and analysis that define the archeological field. The most defining feature of pseudo-archeology is reaching a conclusion beforehand, then seeking confirming evidence in order to promote an agenda. This was on display in 2012 when apocalyptic meaning was ascribed to Mayan inscriptions and structures.
One of the most prominent pseudo-archeological notions today is that extraterrestrial beings created ancient treasures such as the Pyramids, Stonehenge, and Moai. Other pseudo-archeological explanations credit these sites with mystical powers or with having a supernatural origin. While the ET and New Age explanations both seek to downplay the ingenuity of ancient peoples, an opposite but equally wrong idea is that those early humans managed technology greater than what we have today, but those advancements were lost in places like Atlantis and Agartha.
Religion can also be a factor. Whereas a legitimate archeologist may scientifically deduce that a femur is 150,000 years old, a Christian fundamentalist and his Hindu counterpart may arrive at figures of 5,000 and 5 million years, respectively. They base these numbers not on the evidence, but on their interpretation of scripture.
Similarly, competing pseudo-archeological claims were made when Kennewick Man was unearthed in Washington in 1996. Mormons touted it as evidence for pale-skinned inhabitants of ancient America, while neo-pagans considered it proof that Vikings had made it to present-day Tacoma. In truth, Kennewick Man’s bones showed he had a close genetic tie with today’s Native Americans.
Nationalism is another incentive, from mounds in North America being credited to pre-Columbus Europeans, to alleged pyramids in Bosnia, to asserting that the Irish are one of the lost tribes of Israel. Tamil nationalists even insist that a lost continent called Lemuria stretched from Madagascar to India to Australia, and was the cradle of civilization.
Some pseudo-archeological ideas are blatantly racist, such as conclusions of Aryan superiority arrived at by the Nazis. Others are more subtle, such as the idea than lost tribes from a far-flung locale were responsible for accomplishments of indigenous peoples in America, Africa, and Australia. Not all pseudo-archeology is this nefarious. The idea that there was a single goddess worshipped by persons across the world in the Paleolithic and Mesolithic Eras is not evil, it’s just mistaken, and was arrived at by misinterpreting sites and artifacts.
According to archeologist William Stiebing Jr., such conclusions are arrived at partly because pseudo-archeologists provide simple answers to complex issues. Another regular tactic is noting similarities between various artifacts from disparate cultures and using this this to bolster the idea they indicate a common source. For instance, Ken Ham has pointed out that dragons are featured in art work of ancient cultures in both Asia and North America. He deduces that since artists from these cultures never met or saw each other’s work, it means dragons were real. The dragon drawings actually look quite a bit different, but even if they looked the same, that would speak more to the human creative process than it would to the reality of flying fire-breathers. Other pseudo-archeologists have used Ham’s line of reasoning to argue for the existence of sea monsters, leprechauns, and various cryptids. But we need fossils, not ceramic paintings, to reach such conclusions.
Here’s another reason literature is a poor substitute for site digs and potassium-argon dating. Shakespeare is most revered writer in the English language, but he was unconcerned with historical or geographic accuracy. He was telling tales laden with life lessons. Using Titus Andronicus to support an archeological claim would be silly. Yet pseudo-archeologists do the same with myths from the Greeks, Aztecs, and Native Americans. When deficiencies such as these are pointed out, the ad hominem response from pseudo-archeologists is that they are being persecuted by entrenched scientists and academia. For example, humansarefree.com had this to say about Wikipedia editors disallowing their adjustments on an article about alleged Bosnian pyramids: “The Bosnian pyramids should not exist, so the world’s elites are doing their best to keep them that way. Who are the anonymous persons who are controlling the world’s information? Only Wikipedia insiders know.”
Another thing Wikipedia insiders know is that presenting falsifiable theories and following the Scientific Method, to include peer review, is how someone purporting to do archeology gets taken seriously. Geologists and archeologists analyzed the Bosnian site, its history and excavations, and concluded the hills are natural formations called flatirons. These are steep-sloped, triangular landforms created by the differential erosion of rock over softer strata.
Most persons don’t know squat about archeology, especially concerning other cultures. This makes it easy for pseudo-archeologists to spread misinformation. Whereas few will see the inside of a graduate level archeology course or brush off a chalice in a Minoan dig site, we’re are all exposed to Ancient Aliens and the notion of King Tut’s curse.
While far less known, another example of pseudo-archeology are the Dropa Stones, which allegedly contain first-hand accounts from inadvertent extraterrestrial visitors. Their spacecraft crash landed and we, in good Earthling tradition, slaughtered them.
Whereas some stories have small plot holes, Dropa Stones are more like a plot hole with some small stories thrown in. According to the script, an unnamed archeologist found a tomb in Tibet that featured four-foot skeletons, vaguely humanoid, but with massive heads. They shared this space with smooth, one-foot-in-circumference rounded stones featuring two grooves originating from a hole in the center. These discs totaled the quite specific number 716. They were 12,000 years old, though how this figure was arrived at was, like most of this whopper, unexplained. Also conspicuously absent are the skeletons, the tomb, the discs, the archeologist, and the man who translated the discs from an alien language. In short, everything the story is built on. There are photos of the alleged discs, but they are not one foot in circumference, nor do they have two grooved circles on them. The photos are mostly of jade discs about 5,000 years old.
With regard to the lack of visible alien language on the discs, this is explained away by the markings being so small they can only seen with a magnifying glass. The man who would have held the magnifying glass, Tsum Um Nui, was never photographed or interviewed, and had no known public presentations. We have no confirmation about his appearance, publications, references, education, or favorite Pez dispenser. He is almost certainly fabricated.
Of all the gaping, sucking holes in this preposterous tale, perhaps the biggest is the issue of translating a completely unknown language. Some forgotten languages can be at least partially reconstructed if they have the same root as a living language. But this requires a decade of dedicated work by highly-skilled linguists. In the Dropa Stones case, the tongue of aliens was deciphered by one guy in a few weeks. Sounds like the work of an Atlantis superman.