As archaeology became increasingly science-based in the 20th century, fringe groups believing in discredited ideas grew in popularity (Wade 2019). Initially, these pseudoarchaeological ideas were most accessible through books, such as Erich Von Däniken’s Chariot of the Gods? (1968), which has sold over 65 million copies (Bond 2018). In recent decades, however, television and the internet have spread pseudoarchaeology to an increasingly large audience.
Shows such as Ancient Aliens (2010- ) are probably the most publicly visible sources of pseudoarchaeology. However, many internet sites do just as much, if not more harm to true archaeology, connecting “experts” on topics such as Atlantis and ancient astronauts to impressionable followers (Romey 2003). As early as the 1990s, these sites featured pseudoarchaeological perpetrators abusing those who questioned their ideas and invoking “Egyptological conspirac[ies] that would make Watergate look insignificant” (Romey 2003).
These sites did create some good, drawing attention to the fallacies of pseudoarchaeology. Katherine Reece, who once believed in the theories perpetuated on these sites, began doubting them when she saw questions being insulted rather than answered. In 2001, she and a group of amateur and professional archaeologists created the website The Hall of Ma’at to provide accurate archaeological information. Explaining why she started it, she pointed to a lack of easily accessible real archaeology. The site, still running today, features free academic articles and a form to discuss authentic archaeology. (Hall of Ma’at 2019).
These sites have grown increasingly important as pseudoarchaeology gains a wider audience. In the annual Chapman University Survey of Fears, 57% of respondents agreed that civilizations like Atlantis once existed (Chapman 2018:69), and 41.4% agreed that aliens visited Earth in ancient times (Chapman 2018:67). More and more archaeologists have urged the importance of public archaeology and draw attention to pseudoarchaeology’s racist tendency to assume non-white cultures could not have developed technology (Bond 2018).
Sarah Head, an independent cultural resources archaeologist, notes that as archaeology became more scientific and professionals receded into the academy, pseudoarchaeologists replaced them in the public sphere. Explaining the popularity of false archaeology over the real thing, Head points to jargon and paywalls blocking the public from understanding real archaeological research.
According to Head, archaeologists must widely distribute and clearly explain their research to effectively combat pseudoarchaeology. Many archaeologists today make their research and opinions available to the public. British archaeological officer Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews runs the Bad Archaeology blog, which draws attention to the racist qualities of pseudoarchaeology (Bond 2018), as does Jason Colavito’s eponymous blog (Wade 2019). In the age of the internet, archaeologists and pseudoarchaeologists alike have increasing access to a public looking for answers. It is up to the real archaeologists to find innovative ways to take back the attention from the perpetrators of false, harmful pseudoarchaeology.
Bond, Sarah E. 2018 Pseudoarchaeology and the Racism Behind Ancient Aliens. Hyperallergic, November 13, 2018. https://hyperallergic.com/470795/pseudoarchaeology-and- the-racism-behind-ancient-aliens/, accessed December 7, 2019.
Chapman University 2018 The Chapman University Survey of American Fears. Babbie Center. https://www.chapman.edu/wilkinson/research-centers/babbie-center/survey- american-fears.aspx, accessed December 7, 2019.
Hall of Ma’at 2019 Home page, https://www.hallofmaat.com/index.html, accessed December 7, 2019.
Romey, Kristin M. 2003 Seductions of Pseudoarchaeology: Pseudoscience in Cyberspace. Archaeology Volume (56:3). https://archive.archaeology.org/0305/etc/web.html, accessed December 7, 2019.
Wade, Lizzie. 2019 Believe in Atlantis? These archaeologists want to win you back to science. American Association for the Advancement of Science, April 9, 2019. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/04/believe-atlantis-these- archaeologists-want-win-you-back-science, accessed December 7, 2019.
Figure 1. https://www.express.co.uk/news/weird/940347/Time-travel-speed-of-light-prof-aliens-built-pyramids-UFO
Figure 2. https://www.hallofmaat.com/index.html
Read more about how archaeologists have dealt with pseudoarchaeology. What Archaeologists Really Think About Ancient Aliens, Lost Colonies, And Fingerprints Of The Gods
Learn more about Erich von Däniken. Erich von Daniken’s Genesis
I liked your post. It makes me wonder, how has the introduction of the internet impacted the field of archaeology? How has it helped the field? How has it harmed it?
Great question. Aside from issues relating to pseudoarchaeology, the introduction of the internet has had a significant impact on archaeology in several respects. Lorna Richardson, who studies digital humanities, suggests that the growing popularity of social media can bring together people with shared interests in archaeology, regardless of location, education, or social status (Richardson 2013:4). The internet can thus help democratize archaeological discussion and research. At the same time, she concedes that increased use of the internet could raise issues for archaeologists lacking access to the internet or the necessary knowledge to use it to their advantage (Richardson 2013:6).
Sara Perry and Nicole Beale worry that archaeologists have insufficiently contemplated the impact the internet will have on the field (Perry and Beale 2015:153). They caution that crowdfunding and internet-sourced work can lead to an over-reliance on free labour and uncompensated time and intellect (Perry and Beale 2015:158). The internet is a powerful tool for archaeologists, making it crucial for experts in the field to understand both its powers and dangers.
2013 A Digital Public Archaeology? Papers from the Institute of Archaeology Volume
(23:1), August 30, 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/pia.431, accessed December 15,
Perry, Sara and Nicole Beale
2015 The Social Web and Archaeology’s Restructuring: Impact, Exploitation, Disciplinary Change. Open Archaeology Volume (1), May
19, 2015. https://doi.org/10.1515/opar-2015-0009, accessed December 15, 2019.
Sarah Head had this to say about your blog post:
Can you tell them I really liked it and think they have a great start to an introduction here?