I’ve noticed a trend among “alternative history” and “ancient astronaut” celebrities. They seem to be fixated on presenting themselves as Indiana Jones, probably because they assume that this is their target audience’s only brush with archaeology. Consider these publicity statements from the official biographies of three of alternative history’s top stars:
Giorgio A. Tsoukalos […] has often been described as the real-life Indiana Jones and as the world’s leading Ancient Astronaut expert…
Now, look at the publicity images these characters post of themselves. Both Childress and Tsoukalos dress up in Indiana Jones costumes and pose dramatically, draping themselves in Hollywood’s borrowed glamour. I suppose this is an attempt at looking the part that they desperately want their followers to believe they play outside the cable TV and small press publishing circuit.
Today, David Childress carefully chooses his words when explaining what exactly he does for a living. However, he hasn’t always been so careful about how he described himself. Childress has no formal credentials of any kind (he dropped out of college), but check out how he wrote about himself in the publicity materials for his Lost Cities book series, which began in 1984:
Like a real life “Indiana Jones,” maverick archaeologist David Childress takes the reader on an incredible adventure across some of the world’s oldest and most remote countries in search of lost cities and ancient mysteries… (Lost Cities of China, Central India & Asia)
These descriptions have been used for at least a decade, and they are still used in his book catalog today. Childress is the owner and publisher of Adventures Unlimited Press, the publisher that puts out his books and writes the descriptions of them; he is therefore responsible for approving the copy that goes out in his name.
And guess what? Despite changing his self-description to “adventurer, author, world explorer,” the old, false claims that he is an archaeologist still appear on his new (2012) personal website! He scrubbed his official biography and home page of any reference to his twenty years (1984-2004) spent pretending to be an archaeologist, but he never changed the descriptions of his books.
Now, you might immediately shout that I call myself a “skeptical xenoarchaeologist,” and isn’t that just as bad? It would be if there were any alien archaeological remains to study, but so long as they continue not to exist, the emphasis rests on the “skeptical” half of my descriptor, since anyone can become qualified to skeptically examine xenoarchaeological claims. (I do have a bachelor’s degree in archaeology.) Since “archaeologist” is a real job description and “xenoarchaeologist” is not (being up there with “ufologist” as a job title), I don’t think this bit of publicity (bestowed upon me by the Space Archaeology Wiki) is fooling anyone into thinking I’m something I’m not; nor am I using false credentials as an argument from authority for radical revisions of history.
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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