Controversy erupted at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology yesterday when Prof. Elizabeth Weiss of San Jose State University delivered a presentation based on her recent book in which she attacked the federal law mandating the return of Native American objects and remains for repatriation and protecting Native graves. According to social media posts after the event, Weiss also attacked Native people as lacking the objectivity to perform archaeology and said they should not participate the scientific study of the past. Weiss is also the wife of Ancient Aliens star Nick Pope, whose show similarly takes a dim view of Native peoples, arguing that they are not-fully-human alien hybrids who only clawed their way up from the dirt with the help of powerful, superior outsiders.
This week, my 70-something aunt said that she and my uncle weren’t concerned about coronavirus or the precautions in place to prevent its spread because she believes it is a Democratic Party hoax to take down Donald Trump after impeachment failed. She thinks the whole world is conspiring to fake the disease to hurt Trump. My father told me that a friend of his said his ex-wife has the same belief. As my aunt and uncle aged, they moved steadily to the right, going from blue collar Democrats who proudly framed photos of themselves with Clintons in the 1990s to staunch Republicans after 9/11 and becoming die-hard Trump supporters in 2016 thanks to a combination of nationalism, xenophobia, and cultural anxieties. So that’s where we are as a country. Regular Fox News consumers have developed bizarre ideas about what the network had called the “Virus Impeachment Scam” until late last week, and now there’s no good way to undo it.
Archaeological Institute of America Takes Cash from Cable Purveyor of Pseudoarchaeology Shows and Helps Make Josh Gates Look Good
This is another one of those blog posts where I make enemies by pointing out that corporate cash is corrupting. This past weekend the Archaeological Institute of America, a respected nonprofit archaeological organization, held ArchaeoCon 2020 in Washington, D.C. This event, which occurred alongside the AIA Annual Meeting, was intended to promote archaeology and to “showcase” both the AIA and American archaeology for a public audience. So why was the main attraction a lecture by Expedition Unknown host Josh Gates, a man who went on TV and on the radio to tell America that he was pretty sure space aliens were involved in building some archaeological sites? That answer explains quite a bit about the destructive but symbiotic nature between powerful organizations and money.
House of 500 Corpses: FBI Raid of Illegal Artifact Collector's Home Uncovers 2,000 Human Bones in Private Museum
Don Miller filled his Indiana home with parts of around 500 corpses, nearly all belonging to Native Americans, representing a total of more than 2,000 bones. However, because the bones were ensconced in a homemade amateur museum of 42,000 artifacts, half of which were pre-Columbian, and most of which had been obtained illegally, the media considered the morbid piles of human remains to be little more than a curiosity. The CBS News report documenting the FBI’s raid on Miller’s home literally placed the 2,000 bones halfway down the article, having written that the FBI considered the museum itself to be the most surprising part of their investigation, which was handled by the “art crime” unit.
This weekend I am taking some time away from blog writing to work on my new books. It turns out that there are only so many hours in the day and not enough of them to do everything at the same time. So, this weekend, enjoy a break from fringe history and instead watch The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah deliver some embarrassing remarks about archaeology in which he berates Scottish archaeologists for not recognizing that a “ancient” stone circle was actually built in the 1990s, accuses archaeologists of simply making up the story of humanity’s past, and confuses archaeology with paleontology, which he also alleges is a conspiracy built on fraud. I know they’re meant as a joke, but the remarks made on Thursday’s episode too nearly reflect the kind of mistrust and ignorance we see out in the “wild.”
For a show that almost literally no one watched—averaging only around 500,000 viewers across its four-episode run, fewer than syndicated reruns of off-network sitcoms—Megan Fox’s Legends of the Lost has inspired a lot of discussion and upset online, particularly around the question of Viking women warriors. Frankly, I find this to be the least interesting “mystery” on Fox’s show, but it raises a fascinating question about archaeological vs. historical knowledge and how an idea does or does not become a consensus concept in the creation of our story of the past.
It feels like a lifetime ago that Megan Fox launched Legends of the Lost with an episode devoted to the question of women’s roles in Viking society, and it is just possible that the number of articles and reviews devoted to the show outstripped the number of people who actually watched the series. Indeed, if December hadn’t been such a slow month, I’d have probably ignored the show entirely. But I reviewed that first episode, and archaeology professor Howard M. R. Williams of the University of Chester, who specializes in mortuary archaeology, particularly in Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian contexts, has posted a lengthy rebuttal to my review, and those of other critics of Fox, accusing me of not fully appreciating the depth of originality in Fox’s depiction of Viking life, calling my review “completely wrong.”
Recently, Maharashtra state archaeologist Tejas Garge announced that his team had uncovered petroglyphs depicting humans and animals. “Our first deduction from examining these petroglyphs is that they were created around 10,000 BC,” Garge told the BBC. When the BBC reported on the discovery of 12,000-year-old petroglyphs in the Konkan region of the western Indian state of Maharashtra, a strange choice made by BBC Marathi reporter Mayuresh Konnur (or whoever translated his work in to English) has led to a hyperdiffusionist claim that Ice Age Indians traveled from Africa and brought knowledge of animals like rhinoceroses and hippopotamuses with them. Consider this reaction from the fringe: “So, how are archaeologists going to explain the thousands of rock carvings discovered on hillocks in the Konkan region of western Maharashtra that show images of hippos, rhinos and other never-seen-in-India creatures interacting with humans 12.000 years ago?” Paul Seaburn of Mysterious Universe ignorantly asked.
Spooky Archaeology: Myth and the Science of the Past
Jeb J. Card | 424 pages | University of New Mexico Press | June 2018 | ISBN 978-0-8263-5965-0 | $75.00
In H. P. Lovecraft’s 1927 novella The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, the warlock Jedediah Orne of Salem provided some sage advice for anyone who would attempt to resurrect the past: “I say to you againe, doe not call up Any that you can not put downe; by the Which I meane, Any that can in Turne call up somewhat against you, whereby your Powerfullest Devices may not be of use.” This sense that the past is a dangerous territory that can disturb the present is an essential element of Gothic fiction, but it is also an underlying tension that has troubled the field of archaeology since it began to separate from antiquarianism in the nineteenth century. What would unearthing the past reveal, and how might it challenge the assumptions of the present?
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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