Weekend Roundup: Ex-Ancient Aliens Researcher Spills Very Few Beans; Plus: Matt Sibson Recycles More Pyramid Claims
Let’s start today with the Archaeological Fantasies podcast interview with Annelise Baer, an archaeologist and former staffer for Ancient Aliens, whom readers with long memories will remember for writing a 2014 blog post proudly discussing how she sold her integrity to Ancient Aliens for the “fun” of going off the “deep end” in making the anti-scientific show. (Baer blocked me on Twitter in 2014 for publicizing her blog post.) In the new interview, Baer laughs about how she hated Ancient Aliens until they offered to pay her, saying she took the job because she was unemployed. I can’t say I find her current interview reassuring since she continues to take no responsibility for the ethical and moral issues created by the show, or the deep impact its lies and fraud have on audiences.
Baer did not offer anything in the interview she had not already admitted in 2014, and her tone remains steadfastly chipper about the damage she did to the discipline she claimed to love in the name of money and ratings.
“I hope that I can manage to foster a sense of understanding between the academic community and the television production community,” Baer said, without addressing the serious problem that television production actively undermines the public understanding of archaeology she claims to support. She waxes eloquent about the difficulty of condensing nuanced historical topics into “three sentences” but never addresses the fact that those condensed narratives exist in service of dangerous false claims about space aliens, Templar Holy Bloodlines, white supremacist Giants, and so on. She talks about trying to teach her colleagues in TV about academia, but she doesn’t question the premise that it is just fine to flood the airwaves with ethnocentric, racist lies and colonialist, imperialist narratives. You can’t fix the relationship between TV and academia without addressing the baseline problem that TV shows are full of damaging bullshit. Shrugging and saying it’s just the way it is and what audiences want isn’t good enough.
While I appreciate host Sarah Head holding a friendly conversation with Baer to inform audiences about Baer’s experiences in TV, this topic really needed a little more pushback given the deep ethical problems with TV pseudo-documentaries, or “documentary-style programming,” as Baer refers to it—like those “chocolate-flavored chip-style” cookies in the dollar store discount bin. The closest came when Head asked Baer if she would consider making a commentary on Ancient Aliens, breaking it down factually, and she sidestepped the question by joking that Action Bronson’s stoned reactions to the show are better than any factual information she might provide. She added that the TV industry wouldn’t be OK with her revealing its “secrets,” though somehow the podcast didn’t count.
Baer said she used Wikipedia and Google to research Ancient Aliens, which doesn’t surprise me since I have often traced specific claims from the show to Google search results. Baer said she did not use books to research the show because “there is not time to read books” while churning out a weekly series. She says that most episodes are researched in just one day. To which: Bullshit. I churn out this blog every day, and I manage to research in books, academic journals, etc. It can be done, and if you choose not to do it, that’s on you. She seems very happy about the superficial nature of TV research and the slipshod production of the show. “At least the dates are correct,” Baer said. She added that she did not retain any of the information she researched for the show, having forgotten nearly all of it because of the breakneck pace of production. That explains, I guess, why the show is so repetitive. They do not even remember what they did in past episodes.
Baer went on to work on Expedition Unknown, which she considers an upgrade.
Baer said that audiences don’t understand the production side of TV and therefore expect much more from TV shows. To which, again: Bullshit. No one forces someone to create TV shows, and no one ought to try to escape blame for the consequences of their intellectual failures by crying that no one truly understands how little they are trying to do.
Meanwhile, speaking of badly produced pseudohistory: We’ve talked before about the low standards of the British tabloid sites such as The Express when it comes to publishing any old internet garbage about ancient history. This week was no exception, but I did find it amusing to see Matt Sibson make his annual foray into fringe history by strip-mining, basically, the same things I write and post about to create what he imagines to be shocking new claims about history. In 2018, he and the Daily Mail trumpeted a story about how the hoax Zeno Map supposedly proved the existence of Atlantis. In 2019, he and the Daily Star tried to claim that the Egyptians had a lost book full of all the pyramids’ magical secrets, proudly presenting an old quote from Eusebius as a new revelation. Now he’s back again with a new claim on YouTube and in The Express that the Great Pyramid was intended to protect the Egyptians from Noah’s Flood. He might think this is a new claim, but he’s only off by 1,000 years.
Not to mention, the fraudster C. E. Getsinger made the exact same claim in 1922.
Sibson was shocked to discover that a handful of ancient texts depict Noah’s Ark as pyramid-shaped, specifically Origen, in Genesis Homily 2, Philo in Questions and Answers on Genesis 2.5, and Clement in Stromata 6.11, and he quite literally borrows extensively from coverage, such as mine, of a 2016 report that one of the Dead Sea Scrolls implies a pyramid shape for the Ark. He obviously didn’t read my account or he would have known about the ancient texts that mention a pyramid-shaped ark instead of knowing only the medieval ones that copied from them.
Sibson manages to fumble the landing, too:
So was Noah’s Ark actually an Egyptian pyramid? Reading the specific words of the Old Testament it would not appear so and, of course, the Egyptian pyramids were not made of wood.
If he knew the material he claims to be an expert on, he would have been able to cite medieval Arabic myths and legends about the pyramids having been built before the Flood, in response to a flood warning, in order to preserve sacred knowledge and science. Regular readers know this story well because I mention it all the time as one of the secret sources of fringe history.
Sibson ends his video with a particularly bizarre claim, that the pyramids were designed to channel rainwater into canals to control the Nile flooding, a claim that makes no sense on account of the minimal impact they would have overall relative to the water actually falling from rain into the Nile. The claim, however, is a derivative of nineteenth century ideas that the pyramids served to measure and predict the Nile flood, filter and purify water, or control desertification. Ultimately, these claims, too, derive from Late Antique and medieval speculation.
It’s depressing to see Sibson continue to get promotion from the media for videos that aren’t just bad but are so lazy that they lack even the evidence that even a few hours of research should have uncovered. But as we saw from Baer, that depth and quality of research is simply beyond the powers of content producers.
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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