A couple of weeks ago, the Wiley journal Archaeological Prospection raised eyebrows by publishing a paper by Daniel Natawidjaja, the geologist who wrote Plato Never Lied: Atlantis in Indonesia, and his team claiming that the volcanic hill of Gunung Padang was a 27,000-year-old pyramid. Natawidjaja did not provide any evidence that the radiocarbon dates he took from organic material within the hill were deposited by humans, or that there had been any human occupation beyond the relatively recent surface structures. Now the journal and its publisher have launched an ethics investigation into the flawed paper, according to a report in Nature:
Archaeological Prospection and its publisher, Wiley, have since launched an investigation into the paper. Eileen Ernenwein, an archaeological geophysicist at Tennessee State University in Johnson City, who is co-editor of the journal said in an e-mail to Nature: “The editors, including me, and Wiley ethics team are currently investigating this paper in accordance with Committee on Publication Ethics guidelines.” She declined to elaborate on the nature of the concerns raised.
The whole thing is rather bizarre. It was patently obvious to me--and I don’t have a PhD—that you would first need to prove an association between the material you are dating and human occupation, or else you are simply dating dirt. The earth has been making dirt for a long time, even without people around. Natawidjaja never had any evidence of human occupation, and surely someone should have noticed his oversight before the paper made it to publication.
Natawidjaja argues that the visual similarity of buried basalt columns to human-quarried stones is enough to claim them as the work of humans—a claim hat has led researchers astray since antiquity, when geological formations like the Giant’s Causeway sparked legends about mysterious ancient builders.
I am more curious about what the ethics complaint entailed. I wonder what ethical violations someone alleged transpired.
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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