If you are a subscriber to Science magazine, you may have seen Lizzie Wade’s article “Believe in Atlantis? These Archaeologists Want to Win You Back to Science,” which ran online on Tuesday and will appear in the print version of the journal. The article features a number of archaeologists that regular readers of this blog will be familiar with and (I hope) fans of, as well as a few comments from me, too. In lieu of a blog post today, I urge to you give Wade’s article a read. In it, she discusses the continued popularity of pseudoarchaeology and its dominance in popular culture. It covers the racism of pseudoarchaeology and its connections to nineteenth century colonialism and imperialism.
Probably the most important paragraphs in the piece are these:
Today, “Most archaeological research is unavailable to the public,” [Sara Head of Archaeological Fantasies] says, obscured by jargon and locked behind paywalls. “But you want something from pseudoarchaeology? I can find you 15 references,” all easily accessible online and on TV.
The issue of research being locked away where only those with advanced educations and subscriptions to pricey research databases can access it is an important one. Public libraries offer access to those willing to visit to seek it out, but the dearth of popular narratives about prehistory and ancient history that don’t involve lost civilizations, cursed artifacts, or space aliens does enormous damage to the public understanding of history.
I spoke with Wade for an hour last week, and we had a lovely conversation about the challenges that cable TV pseudo-documentaries pose, particularly those focusing on space aliens and Atlantis.
Science magazine has a circulation of 130,000 and an estimated readership of 570,000 in print and 5.6 million online, according to its publisher, the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It would be wonderful if the article helped draw greater attention among the magazine’s scientific readerships to the issue of public communication of archaeological and anthropological information and the need to do more than simply publish data in journals. Scientists need to share their research with the public in ways that the public finds understandable and engaging. If they don’t, then the popularizers will do it for them, with 100% more space aliens and Aryan supermen.
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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