Category Archives: Pseudoarqueoloxía/Pseudoarchaeology

Feitos Alternativos: Un Campo de Batalla Arqueolóxico

En tempos recentes a política dos Estados Unidos ten motivado unha preocupación global nos efectos na nosa sociedade polo que ten sido chamado Feitos Alternativos. Basicamente mentiras. Que os gobernos mintan é unha constante histórica; non se pode dicir moito máis diso. Pero o que estamos a confrontar eiquí non é a ocultación ou rexeitamento de feitos. É a máxima, a profunda crenza por algunhas persoas de que existe outra realidade baseada nas súas opinións é que resulta igualmente válida. Confuso, non é? Clarifiquemos algúns conceptos primeiro, pra saberes de que estamos a falar.

Recreación da Atlántida no Parque Nacional de Doñana. Photo credit NatGeo.

O que estamos a discutir eiquí non son opinións, isto é, interpretacións de feitos baseadas en coñecemento persoal, experiencias, e tamén prexuízos. Imaxinemos que hoxe está a chover fora e que a temperatura máxima é de 12ºC. Se ti es coma min este será un bo día, xa que esta temperatura no norte non é demasiado mala. Pero para outros amigos e parentes que tamén son do norte dirán que é un día horrible, xa que odian a chuvia e 12ºC non é precisamente verán. Pero se ti es dun lugar árido o mellor adoras ver chover, mentres que se es islandés farás mofa da xente que se queixa de frío con 12ºC. Todas estas son opinións persoais, e resulta perfectamente ben sentir sobre este día de chuvia coma che apeteza, pero eiquí está o truco, ninguén dirá que non está a chover (está a caer auga do ceo) e que a temperatura está por enriba da conxelación pero non está a derretilo asfalto. A chuvia e a temperatura son feitos, non opinións.

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Fake News: An Archaeological Battleground

In the recent years the development of political affairs in the US has started a global concern on the effects on our society of what has been called alternative facts. So, basically lies. That governments lie is a constant element throughout history; nothing much to say about that. But what we are confronting here is not the occultation or rejection of facts. It is the statement, the profound belief by some people that there is another reality based on their opinions and that it is equally valid. Confusing, is it not? Let us clarify some concepts first, to be clear about what we are talking about.

Recreation of Atlantis in Doñana National Park. Photo credit Raising Atlantis.

What we are discussing here are not opinions, this is, interpretations of facts based on personal knowledge, experiences and personal biases. Let us imagine that today it is raining outside and the maximum temperature is 12ºC. If you are like me that would be a fine day, since you like rain and, being from Galiza, 12ºC in winter is not too bad. But I am sure other friends and relatives from the same place will consider this day a miserable one, since they hate rain and 12ºC is not precisely summer. If you are from a very arid country you would love to see the rain and if you live in Iceland you would make fun of those crazy guys who believe 12ºC is way too cold. These are all personal opinions, an it is absolutely fine to feel about this rainy day the way you want but, and here is the trick, nobody will ever question that it is raining (water is pouring from the sky) and the temperature is above freezing but not melting the asphalt. The rainfall and the temperature are facts, not opinions.

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Podcast Library (I):

As I mentioned some days ago in a previous post, this has been the year of the podcasts for me. Not that I did not know them before, but only at the very last months of the dissertation I was able to find in (a lot of) them the distraction I needed. I know it is paradoxical to claim that I found distraction of a dissertation on archaeology by listening to podcasts on archaeology, but I can only plead that they are also very funny! So I thought I could make a list of my, so far, favorite ones. If you are looking for something to listen to, I hope this list can give you some good ideas!

1.- Archaeological Fantasies:

This is by far my favorite podcast, and in fact I already wrote a previous post on it. The aim of this show, led by Sara Head with Ken Feder (my idol on fighting pseudoarchaeology) and Jeb Carb as regular hosts, is to dismantle all pseudoarchaeological and fringe theories regarding the human past. And the list is quite long… In the over 100 episodes so far they have covered some of the most common, as well as the least-known, topics on the fringe such as my beloved Atlantis, the dark side of archaeogenetics, the myth of the European mound-builders, the solutrean hypothesis, archaeoastronomy and Göbekli Tepe… The list is endless! And it is still very active. For me it is very useful to listen to some educated voices that dismantle piece by piece all these fringe perspectives in archaeology and anthropology. Even more importan, they make very clear the dark sides of many of these pseudotheories, such as their inherent racism, male whitewashing, and postcolonialism.

2.- The Fall of Rome:

This podcast came as a great surprise, and it is a pity no more episodes are available. Patrick Wyman presents in 21 episodes a brilliant narrative about the collapse of the Roman Empire, a fascinating period that does not usually receive the attention it deserves. Cultural misconceptions of decay and collapse, rather than change and innovation, that overemphasize the classical world lost over the new political entities being created makes the 4th to 6th c. CE less attractive to the general public, and let us be honest to many scholars too, than the heyday of the Roman Republic and Empire between the 2 c. BCE and the 2c. CE. History, archaeology, climate science, network models… are all brought together to explain this historical event beyond the pillaging, bloodshed, and civilization vs. barbarism that characterizes old narratives. As I said, pity we have no more episodes. A must listened to.

3.- Myth and Legends:

This is undoubtedly one of the largest podcasts out there. It may come as a surprise to some of you that I am including it in this list. Obviously, it is not a podcast on archaeology explicitly, but it covers in its now over 130 episodes legends and myths from many cultures we usually perceive as archaeology research topics. This is not quite my favorite way of approaching this field of folklore, probably because my wider anthro training makes me have a more flexible interpretation of what I mean by archaeology. Myths and legends, past and present, are important elements of cultural identity and transmission, that is why I perceive them, at least in my mind, as part of my archaeology prism. Anyway, a lot of episodes on Herakles and Ragnar Lothbrok!

4.- The History of Exploration:

As opposed to the Fall of Rome, which covered in the end the complete temporal framework of its topic, this podcast intended to present all humankinds’ history of discovering the world, but stopped after 9 episodes with the explorations of Polybius. A real pity, because the material we have available is very interesting, and I confess I discovered a great deal of information on early Greek and Punic travels to sub-Saharan Africa I was not aware of.

5.- This is not exactly a podcast in archaeology. Well, it is not at all. But due to my research with divers I presume I cannot avoid including it here. The idea of the podcast is rather simple: to interview for about an hour very big names in the sport of freediving. It is very interesting to me, as an amateur freediver who got into the sport as a way of exploring a research topic, to find all the different ways of facing freediving, from pure sport/competition/results based mentality to something that, sometimes, gets very close to a spiritual movement. For me it is fascinating how an activity practiced all around the world and across time for, mostly, harvesting the sea, has become at the same time a hypermetric sport and a new age-influenced movement. Perhaps this podcast is too specific for anybody not interested in the sport, but I can assure you that it is a more fascinating topic that you may think at first!

Archaeological Fantasies

I am sharing with you today a great discovery I made a couple of days ago while searching the web for my studies on archaeological outreach. The name is Archaeological Fantasies, a blog started in 2011 and with an associated podcast since 2015. Awesome. Just fantastic. The main goal of the blog and the podcast is to explain from a scientific and easy to understand perspective many of the fantasies defended by pseudoarchaeology, showing how research in done in archaeology and why many of these conspiracy theories cannot be taken seriously at all.

The hosts are Serra Zander and Prof. Kenneth Feder. I discovered Zander’s fascinating work through the blog. It is just incredible. The reviews of pseudoarchaeological books she posts are amazing, beautifully written and plenty of citations to articles that provide the data to support its arguments. In fact, the quality of this research and the fact that is posted in a blog, which is great, but does not have a parallel presence in academic journals, has reinforced some of the ideas I have defended in a recent paper: we should take this topic much more seriously. Ignoring it is not working at all.

With regard to Prof. Feder, he is one of my favourites on this topic. I discovered him in a couple of episodes of Horizon where Atlantologists ideas were reviewed and put to the test, a test they obviously failed. Then I found that he has been actively publishing on these topics for a while, with two books on Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology, and Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology: From Atlantis to the Walam Olum. I am afraid that they are right now a little bit expensive for me to buy them right now, but if they are half good the arguments he defends in other places, such as these podcasts, I am sure they will be fantastic readings.

I have just listened to the last episode and a bunch of the early ones, so I cannot have an opinion for every single podcast made. But I love them. The clear way in which our job is explained should in fact be a model for us all, since, whether we like it or not, we are all confronted from time to time to some of the same questions the hosts mention, for example, in the same episode. Like them, I got interested in pseudoarchaeology as some kind of hobby/secondary stuff I file from time to time whenever they cross my way, and like them too I have become more and more active on the topic due to the empowerment and legitimization the media has given to pseudoscience in the last years.

Atlantology, the Alternative facts of Archaeology

If you do not live isolated in the middle of nowhere, without access to any means of communication, which by the way it would be great, you are aware by now of this new concept from Trump’s cabinet to deal with criticism: the so-called alternative facts. And I am saying latest, no newest, because alternative facts have been around for a while.

Alternative facts are basically lies. Period. If your inauguration is thrice or more smaller than the inauguration of the former president, and your critics produce evidence from several sources to support this fact, you just provide alternative facts. You only need to say that your data indicates it was the best, the largest and all the superlatives Trump’s lack of dialectic usually throws on his discourse and, well that is all. You said so, and your facts, which you never show or share, support your point of view.

This blog was created to criticise these kind of attitudes in archaeology. If you revisit some of my earlier posts you will find a profound criticism on this current of anti-intellectualism that characterises our modern society; the use of the term “professorial” by some leading politicians in the past to confront the ivory tower scholars and to defend the interests of the “common guy” they, paradoxically, represent. So, I am sorry, I understand your fear, I want to help, but let me tell you something: this fight has been around for much longer than you think.

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