Combatting Pseudoarchaeology in the Internet Age

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.

Figure 1. A common pseudoarchaeologcal belief is that aliens constructed the pyramids. Image: Express

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).

Figure 2. The home page for the Hall of Ma’at. Image: The Hall of Ma’at

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.           the-racism-behind-ancient-aliens/, accessed December 7, 2019.

Chapman University                                                                                                               2018    The Chapman University Survey of American Fears. Babbie Center.                                american-fears.aspx, accessed December 7, 2019.

Hall of Ma’at                                                                                                                  2019  Home page,, accessed December 7,           2019.

Romey, Kristin M.                                                                                                             2003   Seductions of Pseudoarchaeology: Pseudoscience in Cyberspace.                           Archaeology Volume (56:3).,             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.                                                  archaeologists-want-win-you-back-science, accessed December 7, 2019.


Figure 1.                                                   

Figure 2.                                                                                                

See also

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


Black Death Victims and What They Tell Us About 14th Century England

It has long been understood that the Black Death was spread by flea-carrying rats. However, experts have begun to question how the disease could have spread as rapidly and had as devastating of an effect as it did (Current World Archaeology 2007). As a result, there has been increasing investigation into the environmental and social circumstances that created the conditions for such a disastrous plague.

Figure 1. An illustration of the mass burial at Lincolnshire showing the distribution of bodies, which notably includes many children. Image: University of Sheffield/PA

In 2016, a mass burial pit was discovered in Lincolnshire, England (Figure 1). Teeth recovered from the remains were used to detect DNA of Yersinia pestis, the plague-causing bacterium, which along with carbon dating confirmed that these were Black Death victims (Siddique 2016). Archaeologist Dr. Hugh Willmott explained that this rural community’s mass grave was indicative of how ill-prepared English society was to deal with such a calamity (Siddique 2016).

Discoveries of these mass graves have certainly improved the understanding of how 14th century England dealt with plague victims. But they have shed light on how people of the period lived, too. Archaeology has been used to establish the “epidemiological environment,” looking at housing, population density, and other factors to understand public health (Antoine 2008). This helps to reveal the conditions that would have allowed the disease to spread so rapidly. 

Figure 2. Archaeologists from the Museum of London in the process of excavating a 14th century burial ground in Farringdon, England. Photograph: The Telegraph

In 2013, a mass burial site was discovered in Farringdon, England (Figure 2). Analysis of the site’s skeletons revealed much about the victims’ lives — many suffered from malnutrition and back problems, 16% had rickets, and two-thirds had grown up outside of London (Miller 2014). This helps paint a picture of 14th-century London as a city that attracted people from across Britain, in which many people lived difficult lives.

The study of plague victim remains can also reveal which groups were more likely to suffer from the disease. A study of over 600 bodies from one cemetery indicated that the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions were more likely to succumb to the illness. One study in the Netherlands has even indicated that women were affected more frequently than men (DeWitte and Kowaleski 2017).

It is important to acknowledge the shortcomings of archaeological analysis of these burials. For example, certain areas of burial sites could contain more acidic soil, resulting in a loss of certain remains and altering the distribution of burials. Furthermore, many conditions, including the plague, do not affect bones (Antoine 2008). And when conditions do appear on the skeleton, their cause can be unclear. Bone lesions could indicate a weakened individual that succumbed to the plague, or a healthy individual who survived long enough for lesions to form due to the disease (DeWitte and Kowaleski 2017).

As it stands, archaeology has been unable to fully explain the circumstances leading to and resulting from the Black Death. When taken with a grain of salt, however, these findings can be employed to better understand those conditions, as well as the lives and experiences of the 14th-century English.


Antoine, Daniel.                                                                                                                      2008   The Archaeology of “Plague”. Medical History. (27):101–114. PMID:18575084,        accessed October 5, 2019.

Current World Archaeology                                                                                                    2007   New Light on the Black Death. Current World Archaeology (magazine), March         4, 2007.                                                                                                                     ,                     accessed October 5, 2019

DeWitte, Sharon N. and Kowaleski, Maryanne.                                                            2017   Black Death Bodies. Fragments.                                                                                 DOI:, accessed October 5, 2019.

Miller, Ben                                                                                                                                2014   Skeletons buried beneath square were malnourished London victims of                  Black Death. Culture24, April 2, 2014.                                                                      ,                    accessed October 5, 2019

Siddique, Haroon.                                                                                                                    2016     Black Death burial pit found at site of medieval abbey in Lincolnshire. The              Guardian, November 29, 2016.                                                                                , accessed            October 5, 2019


Figure 1.                             

Figure 2.                                  

See also

This article discusses the facts that have led some to doubt that rats were responsible for the spread of the Black Death, and possible alternate explanations.

This video provides additional information on the archaeological methods employed at the mass burial site discovered at Lincolnshire.