• The Myth of Archaeological Orthodoxy

    So why do academic archaeologists reject sexy, exciting ideas like the Lost Civilization, Atlantis, ancient aliens, coded messages in the dimensions of the Great Pyramid, and so forth?

    According to archaeologists, it is because these ideas have no evidence for them, and considerable evidence against them. But according to the fans of such ideas—let’s call them “alternos”—it is because archaeologists are both close-minded and deathly afraid to step out of line for fear of damaging their careers—academic archaeology is an orthodoxy, they say, a belief system, virtually a cult, actively working to suppress new ideas that might disturb the accepted dogma.

    I get a lot of that sort of thing in the comments section when I write on pseudoarchaeological topics. It is…boring. Ignorant. Kind of sad. If only these folk would read a few books about how archaeology actually operates, instead of the collected works of Hancock, von Daniken, and that lot. So here’s what I’m going to do: a blanket response, partly excerpted from a chapter I wrote for this book, to which I will link any time a commenter plays the orthodoxy card, because life is too short to keep on rebutting this nonsense. The fact is, the existence of an archaeological orthodoxy is an article of faith among the alternos, but it is a myth.

    1. How archaeologists are made.

    Alternos complain that potentially valuable ideas from their camp are ignored because their proponents do not have that union card we call a degree in archaeology. I will freely admit that some PhDs are idiots, and some alternos are brilliant.  Nonetheless, that bit of paper does guarantee something very important: that its holder will have spent a number of overworked, underpaid years as a student, intimately exposed to the archaeological database and its context.

    That will include the history of the discipline, a good grasp of previous research, a crucial grounding in method and theory, and a fair amount about related disciplines: geology, biology, anthropology, physical anthropology, history, classics, statistics, etc. And that is even before one starts to specialize. To put it simply, archaeologists have to know a lot more about archaeology than the contents of a few books, websites, or television documentaries about Atlantis and ancient aliens. That hard-won broad-based expertise counts for something. A guy with a pair of pliers may do a perfectly adequate job of pulling teeth, but I personally would go to a dentist with professional credentials. The principle is similar.

    Suppose an alterno points out, with great excitement, that a certain ancient relief represents a spaceman at the controls of a rocket ship. An archaeologist who has spent years studying hundreds of similar reliefs says no, it doesn’t, and tries to explain the details of the iconography in their full cultural context. The alterno then accuses the archaeologist of being unable to accept new ideas that challenge entrenched dogma. In the world of the alternos, it seems, knowing about what you’re talking about is actually a disadvantage. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Certainly we should not, and do not, uncritically accept the pronouncements of PhDs, nor automatically throw out the suggestions of those without them. In fact, self-taught scholars, passionate amateurs, and people whose formal expertise is in fields other than archaeology have a more honorable place in the discipline than the alternos would have the public believe, as long as their evidence is compelling.

    2. How archaeology operates.

    Among alternos, hostility and derision towards the academic mainstream is a recurrent theme.  The alternos invest themselves with the appeal of the underdog, and the glamour of the maverick.  They describe professional academic archaeology as the next thing to a priesthood: elitist, dogmatic, pedantic, held back by investment in the orthodox paradigms, conspiring to suppress dissent.

    This is simply not true.  The last century of archaeology has been colorful and action-packed—healthy controversy, waves of self-criticism, several fundamental paradigm shifts, the development of whole new subdisciplines and technologies, the rise of middle-range theory, and generation after generation of—believe me—hyperactive archaeologists pushing back the boundaries, and looking for new ways to find out about the past.

    There is no pressure to toe any party line. Peer review serves mainly to keep you honest—that is, to make sure you don’t overstep what your evidence will support. But you would not advance your career in archaeology by simply parroting an officially approved orthodoxy; you would advance by doing good research and providing new insights, and often by revising or even contradicting the currently dominant models.

    In fact, there is no monolithic orthodox narrative in archaeology – there are numerous schools of thought bashing away at the mysteries of the past, and sometimes at each other.  And the process is not the stodgy, dignified, and tight-lipped process envisioned by the alternos.  It’s a little more like, say, the Three Stooges doing their tax returns: much head-scratching, eye-poking and yelling of contradictory directions, but in the end, a provisional consensus may emerge.  No, archaeology does not suffer from stodginess or blindness.  New ideas are being incorporated all the time.

    3. Déjà vu all over again.

    Still, the alternos accuse archaeologists of being closed to new ideas. The irony is, the alterno-archaeological theories they propose are not new. Some of the theories are repackagings of old pseudoarchaeological standbys that have been repeatedly debunked for decades—Bimini, the Newport Tower, the Great Pyramid, Easter Island, Macchu Picchu, Baalbek, etc, etc, etc.  Some of the theories are mainstream hypotheses that were falsified and abandoned long ago, for good reason.  For archaeologists, it becomes a wearisome round of “déjà vu all over again.“

    Take the case of the Lost Civilization—an advanced global super-civilization that is said (by alternos) to have flourished before the end of the last Ice Age until its catastrophic destruction in about 10,500 BC. Its survivors scattered themselves across the globe as culture-bearers, to seed new civilizations and leave coded messages about the lost glories of the past in the legends and monuments of its successors. It is bunkum. And it relates to a model of world history that was long ago abandoned by archaeology.

    Nineteenth-century archaeological theory held that civilization arose in one area of the world, and was then spread by culture-bearers, migrations, and invasions. Then, as the discipline developed and the database began to build up, it became clear that different areas of the world had followed independent trajectories towards food production and social complexity, processes that can be traced in often exquisite detail in the archaeological record. The idea of a single source for “civilization” was necessarily abandoned, in favour of a much more fascinating and diverse narrative of the peopling of the Earth, a narrative that continues to develop as more data come in.

    Archaeologists reject the “Lost Civilization” for good reasons. First, we have a reasonably solid idea of what was happening in the relevant time period, in terms of detailed archaeological sequences backed up by solid evidence. Second, we know what was not happening in the relevant time period: a far-flung and technologically sophisticated complex society that somehow managed to leave no credible archaeological remains. Additionally, every new “site” that is proposed as evidence—Gunung Padang, Visoko, Yonaguni, a score of Atlantises—turns out to be a dud.

    But I would like to point this out: if an unequivocal lost city of the Lost Civilization were miraculously discovered, we archaeologists would not be trying to suppress the knowledge and hide it from the world. Are you kidding me? The little kernel of Indiana Jones that lurks in every archaeologist would be tickled pink. We would be fighting each other to get onto the dig. Careers and reputations would be made, funding would be titanic, books and articles and PhD theses would abound. We would have to rethink a huge chunk of the current consensus, which would be enormous fun and probably create some jobs. It would be fabulous. In summary, the alternos are not only ignorant of archaeology—they are woefully ignorant of archaeologists.

     

    Category: FeaturedScienceSkepticism

    Article by: Rebecca Bradley

    8 comments

    1. Hi Rebecca, I have only just discovered your writing and found your pieces on Gunang Padang and the back and forth with Danny Hillman fascinating.

      I have always been drawn to the ideas put across by alternos and love watching their videos at ancient sites, proof of lost ancient technology etc. Never really understood their narrative about archaeologists trying to suppress their findings. Like a lot of what they say it doesn’t hold water.

      I find there are still so many unanswered questions though…. certainly with a lot of the Egyptian sites and their original use. I’m glad the alternos are out there putting across alternative ideas…. Even though they do seem to deliberately mislead us at times.

    2. Great article!

      I can see how much of how you explain that any sort of “orthodoxy” which cannot be questioned simply cannot exist in the real of archaeologists can extend for similar reasons to those who deny what other scientists in many disciplines are saying – whether it’s about climate change denialism, anti-vaccine proponents, flat-earth believers, cancer quackery claimants, or most of the other fringe elements.

      Their claims are all based on some giant conspiracy, based on a supposed scientific orthodoxy, which cannot be gotten around with any evidence or research, nor published in any reputable peer-reviewed journal.

      These people making these claims, and who are making inroads into the educational system are not simply anti science: They are anti scientific METHOD.

    3. Good one, Rebecca. I would add only one letter to the first part, and make the saying “Blather, rinse, repeat.”

    4. You’ve just earned yourself a fan and follower. I am likely a alterno…..but I am one who isn’t looking for confirmation bias, just truth.
      And in haunting some pages like Above Top Secret I can dully understand where hostility towards us comes from. So many of them seem smart but they have these wild and poorly thought out beliefs and I’ve seen google earth used too many time to my liking.

      I look forward to reading your articles on Atlantis you referred to in another post.

    5. If you knew what i have found, your history would have to be rewritten but not entirely. the last 500 years of history contained enough evidence to support itself for the most part. what happend before that time is not so certain. when it comes to archeologists supposly having a correct view of ancient history prior to the middle ages, its clearly not so as their assumptions are usually a generalized form of requirement used everywhere in the world like a checklist. archeology have not always been a science. there was a time when archeologists was ordinary people on quest for exploration and driven by curiosity. i can give you an example of problem with archeology. in egypt there are statues that have strange metal like structures inside them and some even looks partially like robots. i looked at a few pictures of some statues, one of them had the nose missing but it was not a gunshoot hole but as if it was a piece in there like in a slot. next to this statue, there is a tool that looks like a blacksmith plier and a round grid like thing that looks like somthing that was inside the head of one of the stautes. one of the legs of the statue looks like it have skin like human skin but the head clearly show the statue is not a human. the sceleton looks like its made of metal. i have seen a head of a statue where you can see a electrical connection just like with modern computers using hardware card connectors. on the side of this head, it looks robotic and you can see a mechancial mouth visible. it seem like this have been a robot and that it was very advanced, had skin that looked human and was very advanced. the head i saw, looked like it had been made of metal in thin layers with lots of parts, but gave me the impression it was more advanced than clockwork and seem to be like a advanced version of modern day robots some far into our own future. the plier like tool i saw on the previous statue, seem like midde age technology and that these were repaired robots much later. the statues looks also like they are made of stone. what i think have happend is what have happend to dinosaur fossils and plant fossils. i think the statues are fossils of robots and that their chairs are the original one used by the robots. you may wonder, why would robots be there in the first place. what i think is that the big ones are not really robots but exosceletons for a leg-less creature like a snake. in a ancient egyptian story and here is where it get freeky, there is a godess named wenet that cut the head of apophis as apophis is depicted like a snake. wenet is not really a bunny. i can tell you that for sure. she is also a snake but she is wearing a animal human looking body and i think that is a exosceletal robot just like the statues with metal like structures in them. apophis moved to rome and ruled rome for some time before he was killed and obviously a traitor of the egyptian gods. this is not the only thing. the top of the keops pyramid is not stone. a closeup of the top of that pyramid shows its metal plates and that the structure was originally made of metal. it is rusty and probably some kind of steel not gold. looking at the blocks i could make out thin sheets of grid like metal both horizonal and vertical between some of the blocks. there are also small paralell metal like extrutions that are close to each other and most of these looks more like tiles than blocks. inside the grand gallery there are metal like stuff inside the walls. even the so called airshaft was with metal handles but the lid was as if made of stone. i can tell you that the metal handles was not welded on to the stone, instead it was welded on to a metal lid and this lid had petrified into stone somehow. the lid was obviously not meant to be operated manually. i think the keops pyramid was a machine and that the gods with their robotic bodies bodies operated it and that the lid was originaly driven by a automated mechanism. this is only one example and there is tousands of examples of out of this world ruins all over the world.

    6. Hi Rebecca. I think you are quite wrong here. There clearly is a hard core of archaeologists whose minds are closed. Perhaps they are a minority in your community, but they have a powerful influence over their more junior peers. I have heard anecdotal evidence several times of junior archaeologists wishing they could present their findings and ideas without having to conform to the orthadox narrative to get published. And yes, even journal editors are part of the problem. They also know that they can’t publish anything too ‘risky’ for fear of jeopardizing the reputation of their journal. There really is a climate of intimidation and fear within the archaeological community about what can and cannot be published without damaging your career.
      However, I don’t really blame them these senior archaeologists, I just wish they were better scientists. The problem all stems from the presumption that the Gradualist paradigm is correct. This theory was borne and became dominant in the 19th and 20th centuries in Western scholarship. It is deeply ingrained among more senior archaeologists. But it is wrong, as is now becoming clear. Please see my paper published in the journal Archaeology and Anthropology: Open Access. This is the reason why there are ‘alternos’ – because it is clear that orthadox scholarship just doesn’t fit the facts anymore. Now, of course, I do agree with you that most of the ‘alternos’ are also wrong. They are usually even worse scientists, and produce all sorts of nonsense that often contracts the laws of physics. But their hearts are in the right place – they can sense that something just isn’t right with the orthadox view.
      The truth, as will soon become clear, is somewhere between the two camps. We are approaching a genuinely profound paradigm change. While there is, as yet, no evidence of an ‘advanced civilisation’, whatever that really means, prior to the Younger Dryas event, it cannot yet be ruled out. What is clear, though, is that prehistory has been largely misunderstood by orthadox scholars. My new book ‘Prehistory Decoded’ shows this is the case, beyond any reasonable doubt. Best wishes, Martin.

    7. Unfortunately, Rebecca, this tars everyone with the same brush. Whereas there are many elements of truth, there are as many of the opposite category. Lets just take one quote and work around it:
      >Second, we know what was not happening in the relevant time period: a far-flung and technologically sophisticated complex society that somehow managed to leave no credible archaeological remains.<

      The reality is that there is a multitude of sophisticated prehistoric artefacts, the technology and simple mental capability needed to design and produce them, which leaves archaeology perplexed. The current paradigm ("Gradualist" as put by Martin Sweatman) including largely failed attempts via "Experimental Archaeology", comes nowhere near resolving the mysteries.

      In short, academia, across several disciplines has little idea (in a nutshell) of the actual intellectual capability of people in those epochs of prehistory. Archaeoastronomy, or perhaps a better term "Astronomy in Culture", is a discipline (interdiscplinary) which has many tools to contribute to the understanding of past intellectual capability, but the discipline is both largely ignored, and again, unfortunately, most often aggressively mocked.

      Whether or not attempts to build bridges such as the "Journal of Skyscape Archaeology" will succeed remains to be seen:
      https://journals.equinoxpub.com/index.php/JSA
      (Editorial Board: https://journals.equinoxpub.com/index.php/JSA/about/editorialTeam)

      This article is useful to read:
      http://www.academia.edu/22933931/Skyscape_Archaeology_an_emerging_interdiscipline_for_archaeoastronomers_and_archaeologists

      My view is that the hierarchy within the discipline is somewhat shooting itself in the foot when it comes to inspiring budding archaeoastronomers (echoes of the stated problem with archaeology as stated by Martin – which I confirm in terms of my own experience and we will therefore have to agree to disagree on this issue). For people like me, it's a painful slog to get even the minimum of recognition – not for any status reasons, rather credible contribution to resolving mysteries. But at least I have built sufficeint respect to have permanent access to publications such as this "monstrosity" in terms of volume and cost!

      https://www.springer.com/gb/book/9781461461401

      Regrettably, several of the key papers in this publication are out of date, particularly with regard to the issue of statistical analysis and certain sites, most of the latter of which fall within my area of independent research – such is life! This remains very important but, in my opinion, the phenomenological route has to be given more weight. Indeed, many of the "bibles" of archaeoastronomy by way of early books on the subject are also out of date, and the authors (via personal communication) both admit this, and state that updates will be remote, if ever.

      So finally, it appears that both archaeology and archaeoastronomy do not have a mechanism for dealing with legitmate issues of co-operative and collaborative working, mainly because of past dogmas and acrimony. For people, like me, on the legitmate side of the science, it is only passion for the subject which drives us on. It doesn't help to be constantly lumped into the same "Garbage Bin", and those with the appropriate influence, such as you, should rethink how you go about separating out the differences.

      I guess you know the phrase covering the likely result of people trying hard to do so, but with little hope of success. In the end it really is up to people like you – there is a responsibilty to future generations both in archaeology and archaeoastronomy.

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