I can’t recommend enough the Bad Archaeology website of the British archaeologists Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews and James Doeser. In their mission statement, the pair describe themselves as Angry Archaeologists fed up with pop culture’s willful distortion of humanity’s past:
“Bad Archaeology is the brainchild of a couple of archaeologists who are fed up with the distorted view of the past that passes for knowledge in popular culture. We are unhappy that books written by people with no knowledge of real archaeology dominate the shelves at respectable bookshops. We do not appreciate news programmes that talk about ley lines (for example) as if they are real. In short, we are Angry Archaeologists.”
Fitzpatrick-Matthews and Doeser have compiled a great resource that presents a wealth of information, including quite a few tidbits I wasn’t aware of. Their site covers all the usual suspects—from the Piri Reis map to Atlantis to aliens—with a keen grasp of the fallacies and cherry-picking that goes into creating “alternative” views of these subjects. They also cover a number of oddly specific claims that I wasn’t familiar with (or only half-remembered), but which were both entertaining and put alternative authors’ larger claims into context.
What emerges from reading their thorough discussions of everything from pyramid claims to old maps is a theme that I’ve discussed more than once: ancient astronaut theorists and alternative historians are really sloppy copyists. Time and again we read that one author copied from an earlier author and never checked the sources. More often than not, on Bad Archaeology the purloined text is Charles Hapgood’s Maps of the Ancient Sea-Kings, while I’ve found many unacknowledged references to Pauwels’ and Bergier’s Morning of the Magicians, which also gets its own shout out on Bad Archaeology under its original French title. (The book is one of Fitzpatrick-Matthews’ favorites in the alternative genre.) The result is always the same, however. One wacky, mistaken idea after another is repeated and repeated with no one bothering to check primary sources to see if it was ever true.
Do yourself a favor and check out Bad Archaeology for a thoroughly enjoyable debunking of an ungodly number of fringe claims.
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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