The current edition of American Antiquity (vol. 80, no. 3) contains a section devoted to pseudo-archaeology, and it features some terrific reviews of fringe history books familiar to regular readers of this blog. I’m not sure exactly when the July number of the journal will hit your local library, but when it does, you should check out some of the interesting pieces examining works by pseudo-archaeological writers like Graham Hancock, Robert Bauval, Andrew Collins, Philip Coppens, and more. If I had to sum it up in a sentence, I’d say that the overarching theme is that pseudo-archaeology books are glib, ignorant, and a little bit racist. I should also say that I am proud to note that several author recommend my books and website as resources for understanding fringe history.
According to the introductory essay by Donald H. Holly, Jr., the intent of the reviews is to offer curious laymen and especially inquisitive college students an academic perspective on popular archaeological fantasies, and to inform archaeologists of what the public is really reading about the ancient past.
I don’t want to spoil the quality of the reviews by repeating too much of the information. Instead, I’ll list some of the books under consideration and the well-chosen set of scholars who handle each skillfully: Graham Hancock’s Fingerprints of the Gods is reviewed by Ken Feder. Philip Coppens’s The Ancient Alien Question is reviewed by Jeb Card. Andrew Collins’s Göbekli Tepe: Genesis of the Gods is reviewed by Eric H. Cline. Robert Bauval’s and Thomas Brophy’s Black Genesis is reviewed by Ethan Watrall. Gary A. David’s Star Shrines and Earthworks of the Desert Southwest is reviewed by Stephen H. Lekson. Frank Joseph’s The Lost Colonies of Ancient America is reviewed by Larry J. Zimmerman, though sadly without mention of Joseph’s Nazi past, which is relevant to the theme of white cultural dominance. John A. Ruskamp’s Asiatic Echoes, about alleged Chinese pictograms in the desert southwest, is reviewed by Angus R. Quinlan. William D. Conner’s Iron Age America before Columbus is reviewed by H. Kory Cooper. And Richard J. Dewhurst’s The Ancient Giants who Ruled America is reviewed by Benjamin M. Auerbach, who is an expert on ancient American bones and notes that among the hundreds of skeletons he has personally measured, including some which were also cited from inaccurate reports as giants in Dewhurst’s book, there were no “giants.” No skeleton, he said, measured more than 190 cm (6’3”) in height.
In these generally excellent reviews, the authors collectively express dismay that the pressures of modern academia have left the public with unreliable fringe writers as their most important guides to the ancient past while archaeologists talk mostly to one another through specialist publications. They also point to trends familiar to readers of this blog, particularly the endless recycling of Victorian-era data and hypotheses, as well as the implicit racism that carries over from that era into many of the new incarnations. Native Americans especially receive the short end of the stick, with their achievements reassigned to almost literally every other people on earth, a holdover from the colonial and Victorian periods, when ideological justifications for seizing Native lands took precedence over facts.
One theme that recurred, however, went largely unremarked upon, and that was the quite frequent appearance of various forms of the Watchers-Giants myth familiar from Genesis 6:4. While it is made explicit in Dewhurst’s Ancient Giants—about the Giants—and Collins’s Göbekli Tepe, where he suggests that the Watchers and Nephilim were Neolithic shamans with advanced education (he also talks of the secret scrolls of Seth, a late adaptation of the tablets of Enoch), it is also implicit in many of the other books. Coppens’s aliens rest upon foundations drawn from 1 Enoch, and Graham Hancock’s lost civilization is Atlantis, for which it is no coincidence that Ignatius Donnelly called it the “antediluvian world.” The great white gods that ruled Atlantis were for him the Sethites, euhemerized Watchers from early Christian lore who lived before the Flood.
And that moniker—antediluvian—is also extremely important. The Watchers-Giants myth isn’t necessarily important in and of itself, but it serves a vital purpose in casting each author’s lot with those who agree that the Great Flood is the great demarcation point in human history. While many of the authors give lip service to a creationist denial of evolution, at a deeper level, they are still trying to come to terms with Lyell’s geology, and the suggestion that grew out of that work that the geological record and the Biblical one do not align around astrological or divine catastrophes. Authors like Dewhurst simply deny geology and adopt creationist views of the Flood, while more sophisticated fabricators of history like Collins and Hancock and Bauval try their best to identify the Flood with the end of the Ice Age and the rising sea levels that followed. Either way, the point remains the same: More important even than battling evolution is to restore the reality of the oldest and, in theory, most testable myth of all: the Great Flood. As theologians of the early nineteenth century realized, if geology disproves the Flood, then it calls into question faith in the literal reality of myth and legend.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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