I’m feeling a bit lazy today, so I reached back into my archive to pull out this quotation from Ancient Aliens pundit Giorgio Tsoukalos, from a speech he gave last year at the University of New Hampshire, apparently a standard part of his Gods or Ancient Astronauts PowerPoint presentation that he misleadingly claims as his credential for listing himself as an “author.” Anyway, he told the college audience that “professors” were unwilling to investigate ancient astronauts—the standard anti-academic line—before explaining his own formal training in archaeology:
I took anthropology and archeology courses in school, but I do not have a degree in archeology and I am extremely thankful that I don’t have a paper on my wall that says I am an archeologist… I am a renegade archeologist, and the ancient aliens theory does not fit into the anthropologists’ carefully cobbled-together house of cards. But I am the one who is at the bottom, trying to pull at the bottom card.
Remember, friends, he’s thankful that he doesn’t have a degree in archaeology because academics are dogmatic cretins unwilling to embrace change. Note, though, that all degrees aren’t bad; after all, his bachelor’s in sports information communication must have been a good investment since it enabled him to spend several years in the lucrative bodybuilding promotion field. I wonder why he didn’t “revolutionize” sports information communication with “alternative” communication theories. Could it be that after earning a degree in the field he had learned too much about it to question communication theory?
Many of you may know that Giorgio and I went to the same school, Ithaca College, around the same time. And I do have a degree in archaeology (or, rather anthropology, the umbrella discipline in the United States, though my course of study was primarily archaeology) as well as communications (specifically broadcast journalism). He was a few years ahead of me, but the courses he took would have been nearly the same as those I took at Ithaca College a few years later, with many of the same professors. This is why I am somewhat taken aback by his statement, and the following line that “the professors won’t even entertain the thought” of ancient aliens.
The professors at Ithaca College in those years were nothing like the dogmatic blowhards Tsoukalos stereotypes, and I cannot imagine where his experience led to that conclusion. For many years, one of the professors, Dr. Michael Malpass, a specialist in Peruvian archaeology, actually led a freshman seminar on ancient astronauts! Yes, that’s right, an entire course devoted to exploring the ancient astronaut theory—albeit one meant to teach critical thinking about why the idea was wrong. The standard course on world prehistory required for an anthropology major when I was in school also included material on Atlantis, ancient aliens, and other pseudo-archaeological ideas as examples of popular understandings of archaeology. In fact, the very first day of class began with the professor surveying students on their beliefs about Atlantis, ancient astronauts, and other archaeological “mysteries.” So much for failing to entertain the thought. Another professor I once had believed that he received visions from the spirit world that led him to archaeological sites. Several on the anthropology side embraced New Age beliefs. These are not precisely the hidebound dogmatists of alternative history’s imagination.
Given what I know about the same professors and courses that Tsoukalos would have encountered, it’s rather clear that this anti-academic posturing is an act designed to appeal to the anti-elitist attitudes of his primary audiences, disaffected college students and those non-elites left out of the halfhearted economic “recovery.” What’s really sad is that Tsoukalos could have taken courses from careful, intelligent, and dedicated archaeologists and anthropologists and learned absolutely nothing from them—worse than nothing, actually, given that he can’t even correctly cite the most basic of archaeological work or ancient material.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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