Sunday, 21 October 2018

Para-Archaeology II: Citizen Science and Atlantis. Why do People Believe Crazy Stuff About the Past?

Public archaeology
The Santa Barbara-based "Genesis Quest" claims to be 'global network of scientists and explorers dedicated to solving the world’s greatest ancient mysteries'. They promise that they will 'publicize (sic) the results of our investigations through books, television series, and films', but it seems not peer reviewed publications in academic venues. I have presented in the post above why I came across them, and then was engaged by their apparent spiritus movens John Clevenger. I made a post on the topic of para-archaeology - to which (having first tried on Twitter) Mr Clevenger then sent a considerable volume of comments, challenging what he calls the 'dogma of orthodoxy' on archaeology. Initially, I thought I'd answer all of these points in the comments, but then decided to add them here as a separate post.

The first point I'd make is that addressing these "alternative pasts" people (and writing it up) is that it is a very time consuming task. There is a fundamental lack of common ground for discussion when the polecist rejects even quite basic paradigms in favour of their other ones, there are then layer upon layer of misconstrued material piled onto each other (as I said in the previous post) which - if we are to approach the task on their terms (terms they can - hopefully - understand), require disentangling. This takes time, care and effort. So there's several hours of my day wasted wondering 'what the ***?'

On the other hand, it's pretty easy for someone who has their eye in when it comes to entangling illogic and also misrepresented evidence. That's what they teach you in school, but is seems some schools were better at that than others. When the para-archaeologists present one of their 'alternative views', often all you have to do is Google it and you'll find where this stuff comes from. But there is Googleology and Googleology. You'll find (often at the top of a Google search page) no end of websites saying the same thing as the para-archaeographers (and often apparently cut and pasted from each other). If  you scroll down just a little past them, you start to find more reliable sources of information (and yes, some of this is even as simple a source as Wikipedia, in this case, Mr Clevenger's 'research' seems not even to have penetrated that far). The conclusion from that is that many of these people do what they imagine is research just accepting the stuff they come across first,  probably because on more emotional grounds because it more or less matches what they already have found (and the frames of the emerging conspiracy theory), rather than using it to question those ideas. There is Googleology and careful and informed Googleology.

One of the problems is that these people (all of the authors that cite each other) apparently have no cognitive basis for seeing that there's something wrong with their arguments and the logic they represent, when an archaeologist can see at once (when it is the interpretation of material and other evidence of the past that is being used) that there is a huge gap between what is said and how its interpretation should be approached. The problem with citizen science is not that it is done by citizens, but done by citizens who have no idea how to approach the material they are discussing, how to use it as evidence, and indeed how to assess dodgy claims. This goes for metal detectorists as well as other forms of para-archaeology. They lack the intellectual apparatus to attempt an intellectual enquiry, and instead of trying to first acquire that knowledge/skill just dash in with some half-baked ideas that seems to them of interest or 'plausible'. The problem here is that dumbdown TV and other sources of information lead them to believe that they are somehow magically empowered to make uninformed judgements on scholarly arguments, without any need to find out in any detail what those arguments (and their background) are. This is part of a wider phenomenon in public discourse discussed elsewhere, a mistrust of experts, a dismissal or authority, a retreat to dumbdown common sense arguments based in emotions and feelings rather than a careful analysis of facts and treating other opinions with respect.

OK, let's treat Mr Clevenger's beliefs about the past with respect. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and spend some time analysing whether there is any justification to accept his variant interpretation of the past. The responses these comments raised may be useful to somebody, hopefully John Clevenger who seems to think he has a much more 'open mind' than those grubby archaeologists will see how they can be used to test his ideas: I addressed the comments to him in the second person

Where we start
John, you start off rather patronisingly:  You actually are quite versed,
What kind of mindset does that comment reflect? I am an archaeologist, been interested in it over half a century, working as such for several decades including as an academic teacher, I suspect I do know something about the subject. But not only that, also about the area my colleagues (since the days of OGS Crawford and the first beginnings of outreach to the public) refer to as the 'lunatic fringe' to which most would assign the story of giants in Atlantis and aliens building pyramids.

In my opinion, the recent public fascination with dumbdown and pseudoscience is socially damaging and therefore I think it is something we need to understand. Dumbdown is dangerous. We are losing the ability to analyse arguments, recognize bias and false premises, see beyond the narrow to the wider context, beyond the emotional appeal to the hard (alternative) facts. This has severe social consequences (Trump, Poland's PiS and Brexit are prime examples that concern me). This is what Dr Anderson was talking about in that thread into which somebody inserted his ‘gonna-make-a-film-about-my-ideas-about-Atlantis-its-gonna-be-great’ fantasy. Let’s have a look at some of what you wrote in the comments to my earlier post.

There is a really odd phenomenon, a lot of people (especially in the USA) seem really to believe in giants. You write:
 "other evidence I've seen on the giants dating their global activity to at least 2000 BC."
Hmmm. Most of us haven’t “seen” any. No fossils (that are not mammoths) in England - where you say they actually came from. There are taller-than-average individuals, and their bones are found (dug up one myself in England) but you apparently are talking about a 'race' of giants (Nephilim??).

"aware of several giant bones. One person who lives in the Ohio Valley has in their possession a giant femur. "
those grabby private collectors again, in any normal country this would become public property and then we’d have the possibility for experts to examine it, analyse it and make the results known. The collector could donate it to the Smithsonian, couldn’t he or she? (Oh, by the way, before you raise that: Did the Smithsonian Admit to the Destruction ofThousands of Giant Human Skeletons in Early 1900’s?  )

"jawbones have been recovered that wrap around a normal person's face."
Again instead of wrapping them round their faces, these objects should be made available for proper study by these individuals. So these giants only lived in countries that today do not have laws requiring them to be reported to authorities? Is that not a bit suspicious, that its only people like Mr Glidden that are finding them?

Here’s a video about those Ohio finds – my readers can judge for themselves  the reliability of all this ‘America BC’ stuff:

I am intrigued by the way ‘giants’ figure in the worldview of Christian fundamentalists see for example the discussion in:   Are you a Christian fundamentalist Mr Clevenger? Is that why you are so "certain" giants existed in the past - because the Bible says so?

Also it is worth pointing out that the translation of the Hebrew Nephilim into first Greek and then Latin as giants is probably mistaken, in Ezekiel they occur as warriors of old, and in the story of the conquest of Canaan as mythical foes that God overcomes – this is all very similar to the Irish Myths of the settlement of the Ireland.

You write:
"There is a mummified longhead fetus in a museum in Peru. If we can access that specimen, studying it anatomically etc. would be interesting". The Atacama foetus has been studied, and pretty convingly shown to be a recently aborted human foetus with rare genetic defects (which some are attributing to chemical pollution from those mines you mention). Only the 'aliens among us on Earth' crowd see some kind of conspiratorial 'cover up'. The fact that nobody else does tells us a lot about the former group. The Paracas skulls are already being examined by other specialists and a lot of sensationalist claims are being made on the web about them. Let’s see the proper scientific presentation of what already has been done, evaluate that, and then formulate new research questions before yet another ad hoc group from America jumping in to “solve the mystery” for the natives. First let’s define what it is we are looking for (clue: it’s probably not ‘aliens’).

"based partly on claims Inca descendants have made to me, that it is an alien, and I know where from--and that particular revelation I may just leave for the film franchise, as it is sensational in its implications."
But here’s the rub, and it’s what David said, you are now telling us that you want to publish sensationalist (third-party hearsay) “evidence” in a widely-distributed film in order to raise money in order to put that into a project to examine the validity of the (third-party hearsay) “evidence” you exploited to make that money. Don’t you see a problem of research ethics there (apart from the ethical issues of handling human remains in order to make a profit)?

What's an "Inca descendant"? Why is what he or she says any more or less validated by that than me who is a descendent of East Anglian fishermen - does that make me an expert in mermaid legends? [UPDATE: this question got the reply: "An Inca descendant is just that. They were fair-skinned, redheaded Aryans who crossed the Pacific after losing an ancient war." I wonder if he's referring to the best-selling 1907 book by Joseph Pomeroy Widney, the  'Race  Life of the Aryan Peoples' which proposes the idea that "Aryan Americans" of the "Aryan race" are destined to fulfil America’s manifest destiny to form an American Empire?]

Crustal Convulsions
"the book Cataclysm! (Allan and Delair) "
I suppose you will attribute the lack (as far as I can see) of any serious academic review of this 1997 book (or Velikowski) as due to the ‘closed minds’ of astrophysicists, vertebrate palaeontologists, ice-core specialists/palaeoclimatologists, sedimentologists, geologists and just about any other academic discipline these ‘events’ would affect if they had actually happened. Myself, I would say the reason for this is the interpretation these authors place on their ‘evidence’ is simply not considered tenable by scholars in those disciplines.

"I believe I can already prove, based on published evidence I've collated, that Tiahuanaco was built as a seaport."
I suppose – given its location - that’s only marginally better than proposing it was a spaceport. It was Arthur Posnanski wasn’t it who first proposed this in his book, Tiahuanaco: The Cradle of American Man (1945) ( See also this Wikipedia discussion page that I found looking up the date of publication of the book which I think puts that in a better perspective). This text has a reference to a text from the 'Hall of Maat' website (check it out) by Garrett Fagan on the treatment of this site by so-called “alternative historians” which you might find useful reading: 'Tiwanaku: Alternative History in Action'. I therefore am a little disconcerted that in one of the later comments you actually admit:
 In fact, the evidence for that, compiled largely by Posnansky, is overwhelming as things stand. A modicum of fieldwork there would likely seal the deal--assuming sufficient access and permissions can be had, not necessarily easy.
 That is really arrogant, Posnanski's ideas never had much credence in the academic world from the start (as opposed to among the 'alternative pasts' bunch - see above). There is a vast amount of more recent archaeological literature available, and finding out about it is just a mouse click or two away. From that, you'd learn 'as things (actually) stand' that  fieldwork has been going on, quite a lot of it, since 1945 - and it is carried out by people vastly more able to interpret what they find in the ground than naval engineer Posnanski was, and you seem equipped to do, not even knowing the later literature.

If we accept that there is in fact no evidence that this site was founded before the third/second cent BC, your suggestion that Tiwanaku was connected with a Bronze Age tin trade can be dropped. If it really was originally at sea level, that means means that for an unknown period until a time after that, (at least) a large area of SW Bolivia lower in altitude than this site in the Altiplano was under water at the same time (to connect it with the sea – Posnanski only suggested the lake level was higher). That means all the farming land in the site’s hinterland was drowned, and the prehistoric rock art of the region was being created underwater. You’d have to explain that away before your interpretation can be accepted. This is what is meant by evidence falsifying an interpretation – you have to follow through the wider consequences of accepting an “interesting idea”, rather than narrowly focussing on “looks like” impressions. There has been a lot of recent interest in the archaeology of Tiwanaku and its region and you’ll need to take that into account. That does not require “funding”, merely library time and in Santa Barbara I imagine you’ve access to one of these. And it requires thinking about it.

I'd do that before assuming that your layman's common sense approach will produce the sort of results you hope for:
But if we can prove my thesis there, basic assumptions of archaeology (about the peopling of the Americas and when that first occurred) and geophysics (that crust displacement did occur at least once in prehistory) would have to be corrected.
Current consensus in archaeology is based not on 'assumptions', but the actual evidence (which in the case of the peopling of the Americas is at the moment, I accept, somewhat difficult to unequivocally interpret). There is no reason why Posnanski's 1945 speculations need be given any more credence than they have been in recent work on the problem, since they are based on assumptions (nota bene) which have been discounted by later work and discussions. And it is not 'your' thesis here, but still Posnanski's - all you have done is give it a twist by adding other stuff from other para-archaeologies such as Ignatius Donnelly's.

 You say:
"I'm a bit skeptical of carbon dates generally", 
 I’m not, only in the way some people try to use them. Source criticism is the key. I think you probably are 'sceptical' of what you do not understand and which gets in the way of your freestyle means of making 'entertaining' stories about the past. And yes, the C14 dates from Tiwanaku do rather go against your interpretation (ZiółkowskiM. S.PazdurM. F.Krzanowski, A. and MichczyńskiA., eds. 1994 Andes. Radiocarbon Database for Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru. Andean Archaeological Mission of the Institute of Archaeology, Warsaw University and Gliwice Radiocarbon Laboratory of the Institute of Physics, Silesian Technical UniversityWarsaw-Gliwice1604.Google Scholar - a publication I was involved in)

But if you have the evidence collated already, you could start by publishing that 'proof' in an appropriate place. That can only help in the efforts to raise funds and interest in your interpretations. If you have argued the point cogently and in a way that will withstand challenge, and quoted supporting evidence, then there is no reason why it should not be published.

Transoceanic ‘similarities’
"similar geoglyphs in Central Russia and Peru (the former revealed to us by our Russian participant), similar megalithic formation in Russia and Ecuador "
”Looks like” surmising. Pure von Daniken.

"similarities between Jomon pottery and pottery recovered in Ecuador, etc."
I know, the Valdivia Culture. This was discussed by archaeologists in the 1970s, but since then, the balance of evidence has shifted opinions away from the ideas, except in your world of ‘alternative science’ which here seems to remain unaware of the literature and discussion of the last forty years, remaining in a wishful-thinking timewarp. Get up to date with your research BEFORE you start creating “theories” that attempt to challenge “orthodoxy”. There is a reason why scholarship comes to the conclusions it does, and to challenge them, you first need to know and understand what they are. Duh.

"a Sumerian account that matches what pureblood Inca descendants told me directly"
There's that mystic blood-link again. Read Sumerian do you? I’d be careful of claims like this after the ‘Sirius Mystery’ issue that on careful analysis proves to be pretty easily explicable as pseudoscientific speculation and reflecting the cultural transfer of relatively modern astronomical information. Here too you assume ‘natives’ are ignorant of what you as an educated white man know, and then go on to claim privileged knowledge that you are withholding. Problematic.

"overlap between Mohenjo-Daro script and Easter Island rongo-rongo I find compelling. "
”Looks like” again – because I am willing to bet you actually can read neither of these pictographic scripts and know nothing of the languages they record. I do not read either myself, but it is easy to check that Mohenjo Daro and the Indus Valley script ended about 1300 BC and the settlement of Easter Island seems to have taken place in the 13th cent AD – so there is a 2600 year gap between them that your “looks like hypothesis” ignores.

"I suspect pyramid technology was an ancient, and possibly alien, super-technology, resulting from a grasp of physics beyond our own. "
Quelle surprise
. It seems to me that heaping stones on top of each other is not self-evidently an alien idea and hardly super-technology. I suspect you’ve just been watching the wrong TV programmes and doing your ‘research’ on the iffier parts of the internet. The fact that you intend producing some of your ‘findings’ as a (by your own admission) sensationalist (Hollywood?) film says a lot about how you think academic knowledge is built, verified and challenged (whether that is by ‘citizen scientists’ or others).

"Apparently, by the way, there is a masonry pyramid in a remote part of the Urals in central Russia. I aspire to go there eventually."
This one [sigh]

Have a closer look using Google Earth, check it out - it's a shadow site about 17 metres across, and no sign of any anthropomorphic feature around – not surprisingly, it’s pretty cold up there, hardly a good setting for any advanced civilization. I do not see how you work out that it is “masonry’. Looks like a rock formation to me, but what do I know after all those archaeological aerial photo interpretation courses? How about looking on Google Earth in the time layer for 23/10/2003 when you’ll see from the oblique shadow that it is NOT a ‘pyramid’. Rather a vertical cairn if it is anything, now zoom out and see where it is in relation to where the boundary of three former Soviet administrative regions meet… on the adjacent mountain peak. Coincidence? Frontier marker put in the wrong place (or maybe google has the frontiers in the wrong place as it does in Syria)? 

It took me less than two minutes to check out what lies behind your statement, and come to the conclusion that its nonsense. But, it seems from this that there is (at least one) funny shaped rock in the Urals. Go and see it if you like (blooming long way from the road), but please do not come over to an archaeologist’s blog telling him you know more about ‘pyramids’ than the whole body of archaeological thought on the basis of such Internet-fed nonsense talk, OK?

"I also think that "Solutreans" are the same as the "Clovis hunters." That figures, it goes with all the rest of what you say you also believe. I think there is enough evidence in favour of them not being... here.

"As another example, we believe there are Minoan or Egyptian copper freighters in Lake Superior."
and not ‘Giant Ships from Atlantis’? This is an example of “belief” rather than evidence again. And irrational belief, at that. Why are they going all the way across the Atlantic and back (Columbus took around 2.5 + 1.5 months to do it the first time) when they’ve plentiful sources of the same material close to hand in Cyprus and the Laurion? We have isotopic signature evidence of this – and as I say none for Lake Superior copper (I know this because I edited a whole publication in Poland on the use of this technique well over a decade ago) - its not online I think, but see here.

As I said in the previous post, it seems to me that far cheaper than a hunt of the massive Lake for traces of wooden shipwrecks that may not be there, just get permission to do controlled sampling of (say) 150 bronze Age metal objects from one side of the Atlantic and show that the isotope footprint is the same as the copper sources in the area you are interested in. That would be an obvious first step in proving your theory.

Also if you are proposing the site of Tiwanaku near the Pacific coast flourished through the trade in tin to the ancient world, I’d like you to tell us how those ships carrying that tin left the Pacific seacoast and ended up going across (I assume) the Atlantic to the Old World? Terra del Fuego, or Northwest Passage? Or was there a portage across the Panama Isthmus between two ports not-yet-located there?

In General
"by saying that just what I believe can be fairly readily proven at Tiahuanaco would be of revolutionary import. "
But since you say you’ve already marshalled this evidence from pre-existing publications, instead of writing tweets and blog comments you could write that up for publication, and on that basis put together a grant application containing a specific research programme for a team that can get that funding you crave.

"Oh and yes, much of this goes back to [Ignatius] Donnelly. He was panned as a pseudo-scientist. I think he was a genius, and that many of his claims were at least roughly true."
Well, we’ll have to agree to differ on that! Apart from anything else, he was hindered by having only the evidence available in the 1880s and the scholarly paradigms of the same period, so it’s unlikely that anything he wrote would have any more relevance to modern thought than if he’d written in 1880 on what he thought about sub-nuclear particles, genetics of domestication or space travel.

"we may be in a position to fund much hard scientific investigation into areas that the mainstream has largely ignored."
Without, it seems considering the possibility that (a) you do not seem very aware of what 'mainstream' has established and how, and (b) there are very good reasons that today we do not actually give much credence to the sort of ideas that people like you suggest (and the sort of “evidence” you cite in support – see above).

What you are doing is following a (probably perfectly understandable) desire to make some great discovery of your own, one that will change the way we think about the world, maybe present some ideas (like your Flood story) that will make you fame and fortune. And why, do you think, there are not ambitious young people who’ve actually studied archaeology that are not intending to do exactly the same? I am sure you will say that it’s because they are “stifled” by academe, afraid or whatever. You give them no credit for having minds and wills of their own. Perhaps you really should consider that it would be closer to the truth to say that there is another good reason to believe that the pyramids were not built by giants, gnomes and little green men from Atlantis and other such things that you hold true.


Unknown said...

1. Thanks, Paul. Again, your input is actually invaluable, and I appreciate it really. There is much that is unknown at this point, and I've yet to scour even all the "alternative" or fringe sources, if you prefer, let alone the multidisciplinary academic works. There is too much here for one person to do even in a lifetime. That's why I'm attempting to pull together, and then also fund, a group. Academic grants are surely out of reach for such a group. Even the Templeton Foundation people simply scoffed when we presented our evidence of giants and gnomes, including bones of the former and complete mummies (plural) of the latter. So I'm attempting to find another path.

Once the film trilogy is totally done, I'll probably begin with the question of Tiahuanaco. I believe the argumentation I've assembled on that convincingly establishes that it was at sea level when built, and its purpose was the processing of tin ore. I'm not sure it got to the Atlantic, but that's my working hypothesis, either through a direct river route or Panama (possibly an ancient settlement there called Atlan). But it's conceivable it was an installation founded from across the Pacific, well before the Polynesians.

On that point, I believe the overlap between Mohenjo-Daro script (which per Witkowski HAS been deciphered, whether reliably or not I know not) and rongo-rongo DOES point to crossing of the Pacific at an unsuspected early date.

As for Tiahuanaco, I gather it was a settlement of over 100,000 people, and I understand without independent verification as yet that it features agricultural terraces currently at an altitude too high to support the growth of food plants. So let me present the argument as I've assembled it so far, and then respond to that, as we also attempt to get on site to do our own rigorously scientific research, if we can get funding from other sources (direct investment by potential partners, or perhaps from the writing and production of movie blockbusters, if this strikes the right commercial chord). As an aside, our chief scientist has a pending proposal to do a $1.5 billion cleanup of Lake Titicaca, using water-cleaning technology initially designed to clean up Fukushima. I'm not sure that this proposal will go anywhere; I gather it's stalled for now, even though he did get the requisite $750 million funding match. If that works--and I'm not at all sure it ever will--it could also get us on the ground in Peru and Bolivia.

Unknown said...

2. Now, perhaps the avenues I'm exploring to gain the needed funding will never succeed. In that case, I won't be a player in this field; and then neither will my and our ideas see the light of day in said "blockbuster" (I wish...) films. If, on the other hand, studios competitively bid for my scripts, as my producer said they might well, then I would want further input from credentialed authorities on these questions, about many aspects of which you and your colleagues probably know far more than I ever will, as our team and other willing academic participants assess these various hypotheses one by one as conditions permit.

By the way, I'm not at all religious. But I am open to listening to scripture, as I am other ancient cultural accounts, to include myth and legend. Not literally, but where the commonalities lie, or where the claims match scientific evidence. I'm not sure I'm any brighter than Lyell, but I conclude that he reached his uniformitarian conclusions in the face of a world of evidence fairly screaming catastrophe. His views have undergirded the natural sciences for 200 years, yet are foundationally wrong. As a corollary, Darwin's theory of evolution, I believe, is almost entirely wrong. But I sure the heck don't say that from the standpoint of Creationism. I'm opposed to religious dogma just as much as academic orthodoxy or, per your preference, "consensus." People can be utterly convinced of things that are obviously wrong. Lyell was; Darwin was; others are today. What I am is an open-minded, driven visionary. I may well be utterly wrong in some of my conclusions, but I'd be willing to bet you that I'm right about some of them.

As for the younger ambitious talents to whom you allude, my perhaps overly grand aspiration is to host some such grad students at our South American archaeological research center, IF that ever does really materialize. We’re pretty close, having an offer of prime land and MASSIVE second financing already aligned (only a few million dollars are needed; on the table there is up to a billion dollars for the overall project, of which the Center for Archaeological Research is only Phase 1; and we only need raise the first 18%, since we are not in that for profits ourselves).

I'll close for now simply by saying we have very high confidence about the giants, without however knowing for sure what they really represent (the wilder notions do include the theory of the Nephilim, and that may even be what they are--that's how I quite fancifully portray them in my trilogy). Only a little less so in the case of the gnomes, even though one respected authority I've been in touch with is convinced the one we recovered is simply human. I do also believe very massive catastrophes have happened involving floods, explaining of course the flash-frozen mammoths, although some of these may have been regional floods caused by melting of ice dams unleashing vast proglacial lakes. Further discussion of these points may occur once I'm ready to populate the forums at our website. Let's see what the future holds, and again, thank you for your highly informed input. I really do greatly appreciate it.

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