The archaeologists are getting alarmed


I think they’ve been alarmed for a long time, but now Science is reporting on it.

He and others are alarmed by the rising popularity of pseudoarchaeological ideas. According to the annual Survey of American Fears by Chapman University in Orange, California, which catalogs paranormal beliefs, in 2018, 41% of Americans believed that aliens visited Earth in the ancient past, and 57% believed that Atlantis or other advanced ancient civilizations existed. Those numbers are up from 2016, when the survey found that 27% of Americans believed in ancient aliens and 40% believed in Atlantis.

“I look at these numbers and say … something has gone massively wrong,” Anderson says. He can’t say exactly what is driving the rise in such ideas, but cable TV shows like Ancient Aliens (which has run for 13 seasons) propagate them, as does the internet.

Oh, hi, History Channel. What a betrayal of their initial promise they’ve been.

We can also blame the synergy with the popularity of modern racism.

These beliefs may seem harmless or even amusing, says Jason Colavito, an author in Albany who covers pseudoarchaeology in books and on his blog. But they have “a dark side,” he says. Almost all such claims assume that ancient non-European societies weren’t capable of inventing sophisticated architecture, calendars, math, and sciences like astronomy on their own. “It’s racist at its core,” says Kenneth Feder, an archaeologist at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, who is slated to present at the SAA session and began to write about the dangers of these ideas long before most other scholars paid attention to them.

Another twist: dare to criticize this nonsense in public, and guess what happens?

This isn’t easy work, especially online. All the women interviewed for this article have been harassed online after tackling pseudoarchaeological interpretations. Mulder recently fielded replies that included a knife emoji after she tweeted about research showing that people of diverse ancestries, rather than only Western Europeans, lived in Roman Britain. Colavito reports receiving death threats after a host of Ancient Aliens urged his fans to send Colavito hate mail.

No one is surprised anymore that bad racist ideas are accompanied by threats of violence against people who challenge their cherished myths. That it’s driven in part by misogyny also isn’t novel.

Comments

  1. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    History Channel quickly ran out of WWII footage, and their viewers got bored with it being so repetitive.
    Dipping their toe in pseudo-Velikovsky material, skyrocketed [NB] their ratings.
    Seems people just can’t sit with unanswered questions to wonder about. Finding more entertainment in wild and speculative answers, like the Ancient Aliens guy, who has peaked into become a meme himself.
    I do enjoy his syntax of “I’m not saying X, X
    EG: “I’m not saying Trump is a cold-hearted moron, Trump is a cold-hearted moron”

  2. pilgham says

    I thought this bit from Stephennie Mulder is worth noting. (Stephennie with two n’s. Archaeologist and art historian at the University of Texas in Austin)

    Today, “Most archaeological research is unavailable to the public,” she says, obscured by jargon and locked behind paywalls. “But you want something from pseudoarchaeology? I can find you 15 references,” all easily accessible online and on TV.

  3. consciousness razor says

    But they have “a dark side,” he says. Almost all such claims assume that ancient non-European societies weren’t capable of inventing sophisticated architecture, calendars, math, and sciences like astronomy on their own. “It’s racist at its core,” says Kenneth Feder, an archaeologist at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, who is slated to present at the SAA session and began to write about the dangers of these ideas long before most other scholars paid attention to them.

    The phrase “almost all” is vague, but you can see on its wiki page that there are dozens of episodes where that’s not the sort of bullshit they happen to be spewing. (I got bored and don’t have an exact count.)

    The first obvious example is season 1, episode 4:

    This episode suggests that alien encounters have been documented in various historical texts, citing as evidence, the 13th-century book Otia Imperialia which describes an incident in Bristol, England ascribed to UFOs; the log entries of Christopher Columbus that report lights in the sky; stories of cigar-shaped craft allegedly seen over Europe during the Black Plague; and Medieval art that supposedly depicts disc-shaped objects floating in the heavens.

    I also spotted random crap about Nazis, Area 51, Einstein and Socrates and da Vinci and Tesla and Ramanujan (all in one episode!), wormholes, black holes, the LHC, reptilians, bigfoot, angels, and mythological creatures of all sorts.

    It’s such a huge clusterfuck of every sort of stupidity that I don’t think there is a whole lot more that you could say about what it is at its core.

  4. nomaduk says

    Since nobody else seems to want to do it, I’m just going to go ahead and note the mildly amusing fact that her surname is Mulder.

  5. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    As a long-time veteran of the climate wars, I never worry about the assholes that make death threats on line. They are by definition, cowards, who wouldn’t have the nerve to carry out an assassination even if they had the wit to plan one.

    It’s not pleasant, but if someone threatens you, they’ve lost, and their credibility is lost on that forum.

  6. microraptor says

    The History Channel and its sister station, TLC, provide an excellent example of how for-profit educational TV inevitably breaks down.

  7. davidc1 says

    ” Mulder recently fielded replies that included a knife emoji after she tweeted about research showing that people of diverse ancestries, rather than only Western Europeans, lived in Roman Britain.”
    Mary Beard ,a nice Shropshire girl ,and a expert on Ancient Roman civilization received a lot of online abuse in 2017 for expressing the same views as Scully ,i mean Mulder .

  8. machintelligence says

    EG: “I’m not saying Trump is a cold-hearted moron, Trump is a cold-hearted moron”
    Is there perchance some emphasis that is lacking in the printed version?
    EG: “I’m not SAYING Trump is a cold-hearted moron, Trump IS a cold-hearted moron”
    I have never watched the show. Proof by assertion?

  9. bayesian says

    It’s no wonder people believe in conspiracies. Our society is full of them, and people, often rightly, believe that the truth is up for auction.

    https://boingboing.net/2019/09/21/from-opioids-to-antivax.html

    Take the persistent belief that the flooding in New Orleans’s Black neighborhoods during Hurricane Katrina was caused by dynamiting the levees in order to spare white neighborhoods from flooding. This did not happen, but in 1927, the Black homes of Tupelo, Mississippi were wiped off the map when the authorities decided to blow the levees in order to spare the richer, whiter homes that were at risk from the floodwaters. Both floods followed a common pattern (right down to the mass expropriation of Black homes after the floodwaters receded).

    The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 isn’t a conspiracy theory, it’s just a conspiracy. The fact that the white establishment was willing to conspire to drown and rob Black people in the region is what made the theory that perhaps it had happened again in New Orleans plausible.

    We are living through a moment in which official truth-seeking exercises are being remade as auctions in which the wealthy bid to decide what the official truth will be, from the safety of opioids to the urgency of climate change. Which is another way of saying that we are living through not just an age of conspiratorial thinking, but also of actual conspiracies, often conspiracies that are so bold that the conspirators are barely phoning in their cover stories.

  10. pacal says

    The credibility of the History Channel is minimal to say the least. The crap they keep producing could create it’s own black hole of infinitely dense crap ideas. Of course The History Channel does engage sometimes in Orwellian dumping things down the memory hole and acting like the crap never existed. The best example of that is all the end of the world crap the History Channel, (Although not it alone.), produced about the world ending in 2012. Which was based on crap ideas about the Maya and which even the most superficial research would have shown was rubbish. But why ruin a stupid idea by finding out about reality when crap is so entertaining!! (Snark).

    Regarding pilgham no. 2:

    “Today, “Most archaeological research is unavailable to the public,” she says, obscured by jargon and locked behind paywalls. “But you want something from pseudoarchaeology? I can find you 15 references,” all easily accessible online and on TV.”

    Finding good accurate information on actual Archeology on the web isn’t that difficult but it does involve doing a little more work than pseudo crap. Frankly the real barrier from the responses I have seen from believers is that they don’t want their fantasies challenged.

  11. tacitus says

    Pretty sure belief in stuff like UFOs, ancient aliens, Atlantis, Martian civilizations, etc. are a form of escapist fantasy for most people. They’re far enough removed from the trials and drudgery of day-to-day life, it’s like watching a scifi or fantasy movie, with that extra frisson of believing you know a “truth” that most people do not.

    It is depressing, though not at all surprising, that a for profit TV channel with the veneer or respectability should so brazenly capitalize on people’s tendencies.

  12. microraptor says

    machintelligence @8: The original meme is a picture of the Ancient Aliens guy (who looks suspiciously like one of the alien characters from Babylon 5) with the caption “I’m not saying it was aliens, but it was aliens.”

    I have no idea if that’s an actual quote from the show or just paraphrasing, because I’d rather pass another kidney stone that actually watch Ancient Aliens.

  13. says

    Let’s not forget the Animal Planet channel. In addition to frolicking meerkats, they also aired a “documentary” about mermaids.

  14. Dan Phelps says

    Check out the “archaeology “ section of any major bookstore. The crank works outnumber real science. In other sciences he crank books are a significant number of those for sale, but thankfully not the majority, yet. The bookstores and publishers are out to make money, not to promote science. And remember how few people even read books here in the US. We have too many “experts” on everything whose only qualifications are watching YouTube videos.

  15. springa73 says

    I think that archaeology suffers especially badly from the problem of pseudoscientific claims, but other sciences have the same problem to varying degrees. Part of the problem is that a lot of people just seem to find pseudoscience more entertaining and compelling than real science. There are a few reasons for this – pseudoscientific claims are often 1) easier to understand and require less thought than real science, 2) more likely to confirm rather than challenge the worldview of the pseudoscience believer, and 3) tap into a tendency to distrust intellectual experts that seems to be especially strong in the US, where “expert” or even “scientist” is practically a curse word to some people. With pseudoscience, a believer can think of themselves as a brave rebel against authority when they are actually a credulous consumer of superficial and unsupported claims.

    I think that part of the problem is probably that archaeologists and other scientists don’t do enough public outreach – scientists are generally rewarded for doing original research rather than for publicizing existing knowledge, and there is almost certainly not enough emphasis on spreading scientific knowledge beyond the academic world. As the article in the OP points out, though, even when scientists do seek to spread good, evidence-based science to a wider public, it becomes clear that many pseudoscience believers are not interested in calmly learning about a weighing the evidence, but rather will attack anyone who challenges their beliefs. That is a problem that is very difficult to address, and I frankly don’t know what a solution would look like.

  16. Walter Solomon says

    It wasn’t until my family got cable when I was teenager that I realized free, ol’ PBS, with programs like Nature, Nova, Frontline, Indenpendent Lens and American Experience, had better programming than most of cable including premium channels.

  17. Peter Bollwerk says

    I forget who said this ….
    “Just because white people didn’t build it, doesn’t mean it was aliens.”

  18. ColeYote says

    Once again, I’m forced to wonder: is there ANYTHING that fewer than 40% of Americans believe?

  19. blf says

    [I]s there ANYTHING that fewer than 40% of Americans believe?

    Speculating:

    ● Mohamed is Jesus.
    ● Bison are peas.
    ● Columbus sailed from China. (Not too confident about this one.)
    ● 1 + apples = 🂡 MUSHROOMS! and a penguin in an avocado tornado.
    ● Avocado tornadoes are how concrete is grown. (Not too sure about this one.)

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