Pseudoarchaeology: Wikis


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Pseudoarchaeology (also called fantastic archaeology, cult archaeology, and cryptoarchaeology)[1] is pseudoscientific archaeology, the unscientific interpretation of material remains and sites, which may or may not represent genuine archeological data. Archaeological theories, site excavations and publications which do not conform to standard accepted archaeological methodology are generally considered to fall under the category of pseudoarchaeology.



Pseudoarchaeology can be practised intentionally or unintentionally. Archaeological frauds and hoaxes are considered intentional pseudoarchaeology. Genuine archaeological finds may be unintentionally converted to pseudoarchaeology through unscientific interpretation. (cf. Confirmation bias)

Pseudoarchaelogy is frequently motivated by nationalism or a desire to prove a particular religious (cf. Intelligent design), pseudohistorical, political, or anthropological theory. In many cases, an a priori conclusion is established, and fieldwork is undertaken explicitly to corroborate the theory in detail.

Practitioners of pseudoarchaeology often rail against academic archaeologists and established scientific methods, claiming that conventional science has overlooked critical evidence. Conspiracy theories may be invoked, in which "the Establishment" colludes in suppressing evidence.

Archaeologists distinguish their research from pseudoarchaeology by pointing to differences in research methodology, including recursive methods, falsifiable theories, peer review, and a generally systematic approach to collecting data. Though there is overwhelming evidence of cultural connections informing folk traditions about the past,[2] objective analyses of folk archaeology, in anthropological terms of the cultural contexts from which they emerge and the cultural needs to which they respond, have been comparatively few, but in this vein R. Silverberg located the Mormon's use of Mound Builder culture within a larger cultural nexus[3] and the voyage of Madoc and "Welsh Indians" was set in its changing and evolving sociohistorical contexts by G. Williams.[4]

Countering the misleading "discoveries" of pseudoarchaeology binds academic archaeologists in a quandary, described by Cornelius Holtorf[5] as whether to strive to disprove alternative approaches in a "crusading" approach or to concentrate on better public understanding of the sciences involved; Holtorf suggested a third, relativist and contextualised[6] approach, in identifying the social and cultural needs that both scientific and alternative archaeologies address and in identifying the engagement with the material remains of the past in the present in terms of critical understanding and dialogue with "multiple pasts", such as Barbara Bender explored for Stonehenge.[7] In presenting the quest for truths as process rather than results, Holtorf quoted Gottfried Lessing (Eine Duplik, 1778):

If God were to hold in his right hand all the truth and in his left the unique ever-active spur for truth, although with the corollary to err forever, asking me to choose, I would humbly take his left and say 'Father, give; for the pure truth is for you alone!'

"Archaeological readings of the landscape enrich the experience of inhabiting or visiting a place," Holtorf asserted. "Those readings may well be based on science but even non-scientific research contributes to enriching our landscapes."[8] The question for opponents of folk archaeology is whether such enrichment is delusional.

Participatory "public" or "community" archaeology offers guided engagement.

In history

Though the archaeological report given by the fifth-century Socrates of Constantinople in his Ecclesiastical History, of St Helena's discovery of the True Cross may make her the patron saint of pseudoarchaeology to sceptics, it is clear that the manipulation of archaeological sites and "finds" to assist propaganda and pseudohistory is not a phenomenon simply of modern historicist culture. In the mid-2nd century, those exposed by Lucian's sarcastic essay Alexander the false prophet prepared an archaeological "find" in Chalcedon to prepare a public for the supposed oracle they planned to establish at Abonoteichus in Paphlagonia:

"in the temple of Apollo, which is the most ancient in Chalcedon, they buried bronze tablets which said that very soon Asclepius, with his father Apollo, would move to Pontus and take up his residence at Abonoteichus. The opportune discovery of these tablets caused this story to spread quickly to all Bithynia and Pontus, and to Abonoteichus sooner than anywhere else."

At Glastonbury Abbey in 1291, at a time when King Edward I desired to emphasize his "Englishness" a fortunate discovery was made: the coffin of King Arthur, unmistakably identified with an inscribed plaque. Arthur was reinterred at Glastonbury in a magnificent ceremonial attended by the king and queen.



Nationalistic pseudoarchaeology

  • The belief, commonly held by European settlers, that the mound builders were a long vanished non-Native American people.
  • The Kensington runestone of Minnesota, held to prove Nordic primacy in discovery.
  • Expeditions sent by the Ahnenerbe to research the existence of a mythical Aryan race.
  • The Bosnian Pyramids project, which has projected that natural geological hills in Visoko are ancient pyramids.
  • The Hill of Tara in Ireland, excavated by British Israelists who thought that the Irish were part of the Lost Tribes of Israel and that the hill contained the Ark of the Covenant.
  • Piltdown man.
  • Radical Afrocentric claims of African Hyperdiffusion being responsible for influencing most of the major ancient civilizations of the world in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and particularly the ancient Native Americans such as the Olmec.

Religiously-motivated pseudoarchaeology

General pseudoarchaeology

Legitimate archaeological sites often subject to pseudoarchaeological speculation

See also


  1. ^ S. Williams, "Fantastic archaeology: What should we do about it?", in Francis B. Harrold and Raymond A. Eve, Cult Archaeology and Creationism: Pseudoscientific Beliefs About the Past (University of Iowa Press) 1987; J. Cole, "Cult archaeology and unscientific method and theory", in Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory 3 (1980:1-33).
  2. ^ D. Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign Country (Cambridge University Press) 1985.
  3. ^ Silverberg, Moundbuilders of Ancient America (Greenwich: New York Graphics Society) 1968.
  4. ^ Williams, Madoc (Oxford University Press) 1987.
  5. ^ Holtorf, "Beyond Crusades: How (Not) to Engage with Alternative Archaeologies", World Archaeology 37.4, Debates in "World Archaeology" (December 2005:544-551).
  6. ^ "We might want to remind ourselves of the truism that every past is the construct of a particular present-day context" (p. 548.
  7. ^ Bender, Stonehenge, vol. 1 Making Space (Materializing Culture) , 1998.
  8. ^ Holtorf 2005:548.


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