Garrett G. Fagan – Archaeological Fantasies

August 24, 2007

Garrett G. Fagan is Associate Professor of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies at Penn State University. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and McMaster University Canada. His main research interests lie in the field of Roman History, about which he’s published numerous scholarly articles. He has lectured widely on topics in Roman history, and this year coedited From Augustus to Nero: An Intermediate Latin Reader. His newest book is Archaeological Fantasies: How Pseudo-archaeology Misrepresents the Past and Misleads the Public.

In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Garrett Fagan explains the differences between archaeology and pseudoarchaeology, emphasizing how the science of archaeology benefits society. He explores possible motivations of pseudoarchaeologists, and challenges various pseudoarchaeological theories about Atlantis, the origins of the Great Pyramids in Egypt, and about the possible discovery of great pyramids in Bosnia. He also details the various ways that pseudoarchaeology and other pseudoscientific thinking may harm society.

This is point of inquiry for Friday, August 24th, 2007. 

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My guest this week is Garrett Fagan. He’s Associate Professor of classics and ancient Mediterranean studies at Penn State University. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and McMaster University in Canada. His main research interests lie in the field of Roman history, which he’s published numerous scholarly articles about. He’s lectured widely on topics in Roman history and this year coedited from Augustus to Nero, an intermediate Latin reader. He recently came out with a book on a topic we find really interesting here at the Center for Inquiry entitled Archeological Fantasies How Pseudo Archeology MISrepresents the Past and Misleads the Public. Welcome to Point of Inquiry. Professor Garrett Fagan. 

Thank you very much. Very glad to be here, Professor. 

You’re an archeologist and a classicist and expert in the languages, the culture, the history of what? Ancient Rome, the ancient Mediterranean. I first became acquainted with you through your excellent series done by this company called the Teaching Company that you did on Roman History. So I loved it when you came out with this book. That’s on a topic right up our alley. Before we talk about pseudo archeology. Let’s talk about archeology. A popular conception of archeology. Is the stuff kind of right out of Indiana Jones or something? You know, an archeologist. Most people think is someone who goes around using science, the methods of science to dig up past cultures, but also maybe unearthing these big secrets that change everything. Is there more to archeology than that? 

I’d say there’s both more unless the Indiana Jones version of archeology is really what I would call losing. That is to say, somebody charges into an ancient site and ripped the gold artifacts off the alters and runs away with them. 

That would be losing real. 

Archeologists are concerned with trying to reconstruct as much as possible of the physical environment of the past. Whether it’s a very ancient past or even a more recent one. And so they’re interested in acquiring all of the data that they possibly can. And that may include spectacular finds like gold statues or entire cities like in Pompeii, for instance. But it goes all the way down to trying to reconstruct, for instance, the ecology of these ancient cultures. By analysis of seeds and pollen, even items of taining, is that microscopic items. So on the one hand, there can be spectacular and very interesting discoveries made in archeology and they will often grab the headlines. But the real work of archeology often is fairly mundane and on slow and systematic and involves the gathering of as much information as you can from a site in order and to try to reconstruct the physicality of life at that site in all its complexity. 

You’re on the show to talk about archeological fantasies, your new book. There’ve been so many theories about the ancient past that everyone held all the archeologists believed, but were later then proven wrong. It was widely assumed, for instance, that Troy never actually existed until Adric Sleiman. It was more of an adventurer, kind of an Indiana Jones type of entrepreneur than an archeologist, maybe until he dug up the evidence. The point I’m making is that when you’re talking about pseudo archeology, isn’t that just a name that you’re giving? As an archeologist to theories that you don’t yourself hold? Shouldn’t we be more open minded about some of these? Maybe you’d call him outlandish claims. Until we have more evidence. 

Well, I think the last part of your statement is the key. Until they have more evidence, you bring up, for instance, Heinrich Schliemann. And Deach, Lehman was regarded with a high degree of skepticism for his belief that the Homeric poems probably composed aurally over several centuries, but written down. Most scholars would agree. Around 700 B.C. or so that those poems reflected some kind of an historical reality. Most scholars believe that they were entirely legendary and that they couldn’t be relied upon for any kind of historical information. Freeman was convinced of the opposite. He was kind of a romantic. He was. He was a self-taught gentleman. He didn’t have any particular training in archeology. And he went out in the 18th, 70s and discovered sites. He discovered Troy in North West Cherki, modern day Turkey. He discovered my Seni in the Argott south of south of Athens in Greece. And that’s the point. He he actually presented masses of data. Actual building sites, artifacts, pottery and so forth from these from these sites. And he therefore convinced his critics that they had. Wrong, and he he was right and he was therefore celebrated Jim Underdown. 

But before he dug up that evidence, wouldn’t. Would you concede that the theories about Troy actually existing, wouldn’t they have been pseudo archeological? 

No, they would have been I wouldn’t have maybe CityWalk illogical because they weren’t necessarily presenting what I would call the manufactured kind of evidence that modern and pseudo archeologists offer for their for their cases. They were simply hypotheses, possibilities that were untested and indeed were perhaps derided by some in another high handed fashion. But they wouldn’t be pseudo archeology because they’re not necessarily the people who were actually, you know, supporting these theories. These ideas weren’t actually presenting manufactured and false evidence. And that’s the difference. You know, people whose theories are wrong. I’m not a fairly pseudo archeologist. It’s people who have bizarre ideas about the past and who insist that they’re right in the face of the evidence. They’re the ones who we can claim to be pseudo archeologists. 

But before we get into specific topics that you’d label pseudo archeology, let’s get into more exactly what pseudo archeology is. We we treat Pseudo-Science on the show pretty frequently. So it’s safe to assume, I guess, that when you’re talking about pseudo archeology, you’re talking about it as opposed to real archeology, you’re meaning something like fake archeology. It looks like archeology, you know, sounds like archeology to the general public, but it doesn’t really measure up. So help me draw the distinction a little more clearly. What makes something pseudo archeology as opposed to just bad archeology or an untested claim? 

Sure. Well, I would. I have in the book outlines what I think are two key sort of characteristics, diagnostic characteristics, if you like, of the genre. Real archeology has to quickly revert as about the collection of data, physical evidence from the past to reconstruct the activities of humans in the past. And that’s divided into two halves, the sort of the basic assemblage of the data which we call field archeology. Most people will be familiar with it through the process of excavation. That’s what people think of. But that’s only one way of assembling data from the past. And then the second wing is then trying to make sense of that data, trying to interpret it, and then to actually reconstruct what was going on in the past. If you’d like to make a narrative to try to explain what the evidence is telling you, as pseudo archeology is almost entirely concerned with the latter process. Pseudo archeologists don’t generally conduct days and go out in the field. Actually, thankfully they don’t. Kentucky destroy ancient sites in the quest to try and prove their cases, but rather they reinterpret. They tend to take evidence that’s already been excavated, has really been discovered, and they reinterpret it to come up with some kind of a fantastic scenario. Usually they have come up with the scenario first. This is there this is a key point. They’ve usually reached their conclusion first and then they hunt about it for whatever evidence they can find. That can be presented as supporting that conclusion. The rest of the evidence is simply ignored. Art simply denied so their readers don’t get the full picture. The second thing they do is they show a complete disregard for context. This is a crucial feature of archeological reasoning context. These are the archeologists ignores context. 

It seems to me that something that unifies all of these claims that you’d call pseudo archeological is also that they’re all kind of driven by ideology or some some agenda. They begin with their conclusions in mind, as you mentioned. But it’s not just a fanciful mythology, but there’s an agenda, whether it’s, you know, in Nazi Germany, in Himmler, trying to use archeology to prove his claims about the Aryan race, or maybe the Mormons have their very notions that they try to support with their certain brand of archeology. In other words, it’s ideological archeology. 

Yes, I think that’s absolutely right. I think when you are guided by an ideology which restricts your conclusions in some way, which makes certain conclusions from the evidence impossible for you to accept, then I think you are straying into the field of pseudo archeology. Even if you aren’t necessarily an exponent of what we would call radical fringe ideas or, you know, outlandish ideas, it is possible for people to conduct archeology under such conditions thinking they’re doing the real thing, but they’re adhering to some kind of ideology or belief system, be it. I don’t know, nationalism, religious belief or whatever it may be. Maybe they have an anti science stance. They don’t like Darwinism and evolution and so on. And they’re trying to prove certain things to be true. So they’re coming into the field with their conclusions pretty much fixed and looking to find evidence that will support that conclusion. It’s simply. Got the rest. People doing that. I would classify as pseudo archeologists. 

Let’s talk about some of the specifics. It’s widespread belief in in some circles, anyway, that Atlantis was a real place. Atlantis existed something like 9000 years before the time of Plato. Some of these researchers or these people who, you know, proposed that Atlantis existed. They even point to things like Easter Island and those massive statues there as evidence of Atlantean advanced civilization. So without a knee-jerk reaction, what’s the field of archeology say? You don’t dismiss those claims out of hand? 

Well, they’re not dismissed out of hand. They’re dismissed now because the quest for Atlantis has been on for at least a hundred and five years since Ignatius Dunlea published his book in 1882 called Atlantis The Antediluvian World, where he created what I called the modern myth of Atlantis, which has to be separated, by the way, sharply from the ancient story of Atlantis as found in the writings of Plato. Donelli proposed in the 1888 to try to explain certain superficial similarities between what were then newly discovered sites in central Central America and similarities between those sites and the Old World sites in the ancient Near East. And in Europe, for instance, the existence of pyramids on both sides of the Atlantic are the forms of writing that are broadly called hieroglyphic. And he proposed then that there was a landmass in the Atlantic between the two continents, which was in fact the originator of both the cultures and the in Central America and the cultures of old Europe, and that this existed way back in before the Ice Age or around the Ice Age. So 10, maybe, maybe 12000 years ago or something like that. So this is the modern story of Atlantis. And since then, various people have been trying over the years to try to demonstrate that this version of Atlantis is true. What’s interesting is that they’ve proposed pretty much every corner of the planet for the location of Atlantis. Jim Underdown. 

Right. Himmler even organized this expedition to Tibet to find the remains of white Atlanteans right then and Nordic master race. So there’s Tibet. They they mentioned all kinds of other places. Such as what? Give me some examples. 

Well, North America, Central America, South America, North Africa, South Africa, Zimbabwe, the Sahara Desert, Ghana, Palestine, Malta, Spain, Central France, Spitzbergen and Sweden, England, Ireland, Belgium. These Prussia, Greenland, Australia, Ceylon, the Arctic, the Antarctic, Bimini in the Bahamas, Bermuda, Bolivia, Ohio, Lake Erie, Yonaguni Gibraltar. Sunken Land Masses near Gibraltar. The Cape Verde Islands, the Yucatan Peninsula Mexico series. The Ozora is Cuba sandbanks off Newfoundland sunken landmass near Indonesia. Ah, Cyprus. And as recently as June of this year, 2007, Andalusia in Spain. 

So a lot of places people have proposed as this site for this. This ancient ancient city of Atlantis. But it seems to me that these people believe in it for a reason. It’s not just these racist reasons of Himmler, you know. A lot of new age thinkers, gurus like Jazy Knight, who channeled Ramtha and all that. You know, she was behind that that movie. What the bleep do we know? And. And I think the mega bestseller, The Secret. She talks about Atlantis and LEM Lemuria. Maybe you could tell me what that is, but it doesn’t seem like they’re making these pseudo archeological claims out of some nationalist agenda. They’re they’re really, you know, isn’t there some evidence that they’re looking at that leads them to these conclusions? 

Well, they’re making the claims that a variety of motives and I mean, I think personally that one reason that the Atlantis story has such a hold of the human imagination is that it contains within it a classic mythic motif, which is a sort of I mean, if we use Richard Dawkins terminology is a meme that has proven power to survive, which is to say the mythic motif of the fall from grace of of people who become it’s absolutely brilliant at something. They anger the gods. They become arrogant. And then as a result of that, they are destroyed by the gods. They have the same motif, of course, in the story about Noah’s flood and there in the Bible. So this is a very powerful motif, the notion that there was once a time in the past when everything was fantastic, sort of a golden age and way back in the past. And you find that most people who propose stories of Atlantis do not picture Atlantis as a place, you know, riddled with economic and racial and social problems, suffering from, you know, plagues and so on. Brother. Atlantis is a wondrous sort of city on the hill, shining a utopia of spiritual enlightenment and crystal power and mental capabilities and advanced technology and whatever else they want to sort of shoehorn into the notion of their utopia and not at all then collapsed. Part of the, you know, part of the attraction is then. Refind and rediscover this Atlantis and perhaps with it rediscover the secrets that made them so successful. We can return to an ancient utopia. So, I mean, these are very powerful, mythic motifs that you find in various stories all around the world. And I think that the modern Atlantis myth is really is really infused with these notions. And this is one reason for its for its enduring so long. 

All right. That seems to be central to the message of Jazy night and some of these channelers who talk about Atlantis. Isn’t it at least possible that there was an ancient civilization somewhere even more advanced than we now think would have been possible, maybe existing tens of thousands of years ago? I mean, don’t you at least allow for the possibility that we will on Earth. Evidence of that? Or have we on dug at all? 

No, I most certainly do. I mean, I think that one of the things that makes archeology so intriguing is that you never know what the next turn the spade is going to overturn. And there are lots of instances where we’ve had our view of the past radically changed by what’s been discovered and what’s come up out of the ground. You mentioned high and extreme. And he added basically the best part of like 2000 years to Greek history before they accept the beginning of Greek history by his discoveries, has generated a whole wing of the discipline, the whole study of Bronze Age, Greece and the Aegean and so on. Arthur Evans went on to discover an even earlier civilization prior to the Mycenaean Greeks on Crete, which he called the Minoans as easily as the 1970s. A kingdom called ablaut was discovered in Syria that had previously been unknown. They found a huge archive of writings that gave us a whole new perspective on the Bronze Age in the Near East. So it’s always possible for new things to turn up. The simple requirement that I ask is that if you’re going to claim that there was a civilization tens of thousands of years ago. Show me the evidence. Show me the archeologically verifiable finds from that civilization. Because one thing about people that were that were very cared about now was that people are Masih. People leave stuff behind. And this is much and this is much to the advantage of archeologists, because people are messy. They leave traces of their existence. So where are the files from? Atlantis. Where are they? The. The pots and the. And the hairpins. Indeed, the tombs and the buildings. Where are they all? I have nothing yet been discovered that. And not not not one artifact has been discovered. But you can say that’s from Atlantis. 

I thought all of it was supposed to be underwater. That’s I thought Atlantis. And maybe that’s why we haven’t dug it up with our spade’s because it’s underwater somewhere to be it on earth. No. You know, to be discovered in submarines or something. 

Well, there is certainly a wing of archeology, underwater archeology, very expensive business. So if we were to find Atlantis, we could still go and pick it up. But the du morphology of the Atlantic seabed precludes the notion of a sunken continent. So it can’t possibly be there. 

Mm hmm. Professor Feygin, let’s touch on Egypt. There are a lot of books out there, even shows on the Science Channel and on the History Channel that say there is archeological evidence that advanced technology was used to construct the ancient pyramids in Egypt. Von Danskin made a lot of hay about this line of thinking. More recently, Graham Handcock and others have said things along these lines. Isn’t it true that archeologists do indeed talk about the mysterious nature of how Egypt just seemed to kind of spring up from nowhere, suggesting maybe that it was put there by some advanced technological civilization? 

And the short answer to that is no. Archeologists have long known that Egypt did not spring up out of nowhere, but rather has a traceable sort of prehistory that goes all the way back into the paralytic here back in about 12000 B.C. And there is a traceable development of Egyptian culture from simple Stone Age roots only up to the magnificent achievements of the Old Kingdom at the building of the Great Pyramids and all the wonderful monuments that still fascinate the modern age. And so there is actually a traceable history at sort of a prehistory of us, should I say, for Egypt. 

And simply, when people tell you that that that, you know, that the Egyptians showed up overnight, fully formed. And if they say that they are misrepresenting the evidence, grossly misrepresenting it. 

Mm hmm. Tell me about the Orion correlation theory. One of the notions used to support this advanced technology theory about the pyramids. 

Yes, Egypt is is one of the lightning rods for as it archeologist Egypt and the Maya, the two dominant cultures that they seem to be fascinated by. 

They don’t write so much about the Greeks and Romans or even the Mesopotamians, but they write a lot about these two cultures. I think, you know, it’s sort of kind of interesting to try to think why that may be the case. But certainly with the case of. The pyramids, they’ve long, of course, fascinated and impressed people. They were built to impress. Way back in the terrible many MBC. And they’ve certainly succeeded in that task. And one idea that’s been put forward in recent years and has been taken was at least initially taken quite seriously to the point where it was even given a airtime on a fairly reputable BBC science show. If it’s the so-called Orion correlation theory and this basically proposes that the three pyramids, the three main pyramids of Giza, the Pyramid of Khufu and of Caffery and government, carry these three main payments that are so famous and so well photographed and known to everyone I would imagine are aligned in such a way as to precisely mirror the three belt stars and the constellation Orion. 

And that the closest time for the correlation between the stars and the monuments and the grounds to have the closest fit, the tightest fit would date the monuments to ten thousand five hundred B.C. And so, therefore, it was initially claimed that the pyramids were built at ten thousand five hundred BCE, which could be 8000 thousand years prior to the time that archeologists believe they were built, at least that archeologists have deduced they were built is probably a better way to put it. Mm hmm. And then it was then later cleaned, and that was proven to be impossible. It was later claimed that they were built in about 2500 B.C., but to commemorate this date of 2500 B.C. and then a grand story was then developed as to why this date of ten thousand five hundred B.C. should be so significant. 

All right. And you’re denying that there’s this precise geometric relationship between the three stars and in Orion’s belt. And and these pyramid structures, even elsewhere around the world, they make the same claim that ancient structures all over the world directly track Orion’s belt. 

I wouldn’t deny it. I’d say that it does. It just doesn’t check out. And that basically three things more or less in a row can be made to three other things in a row. 

That that’s not really saying much. 

I had a devastating observation was made by by one astronomer who pointed out that in order for the correlation to fit, Egypt would have to be turned upside down. In other words, that the way the monuments line up is sort of a mirror image, sort of an opposite image of of how the stars lined up and unfit to turn Egypt upside down in order for the correlation to be as exact as it was claimed. And also, it was claimed initially that it wasn’t just the three pyramids, but like that. But but actually several pyramids dotted around Egypt, including the three at Giza, were all mirroring stars in the in the constellation Orion. But that was reduced down to the three bell stars because it was then shown that the other appeared that it didn’t, in fact, line up with the stars in the Constellation. And this is the story really of of the of the whole theory. It’s just one of constant retreats, putting out their extraordinary claims, exaggerated claims, and then when they’re tested, falling back, I’m sort of a sort of a bunker position that’s more defensible, but usually by being Veigar. 

There is a big international kerfuffle last year when the Bosnian government started talking about these pyramid’s northwest of Sarajevo. These groups have pyramid’s in Bosnia, were promoted as the largest group of manmade pyramids that were ever made. Is this archeological or pseudo archeological? 

Oh, this is definitely Zitter archeological. This is actually a very good case to bring off. I’m glad you I’m glad you raised it. And it’s end of town to chap was called of Magic Semir or Sam Oarsman and Magic choose that relation who moved in the early 90s during the troubles there in his in his native land, moved to Houston, Texas, where he ran the metalworking shop and he began doing a lot of reading. 

Unfortunately, he did the wrong reading, even a lot of what we call alternative or pseudo ah pseudo archeological works. And he became convinced. He wrote a book about the Maya, for instance, in which he claimed that the Mayan pyramids were gateways to other worlds or different dimensions, that the Maya themselves were descendents of the people of Atlanta who actually come down from the stars from the play. So this is a guy who is in charge of promoting the Bosnian pyramids. Now, when he went back to Bosnia in 2005 or so around the town of the SOKO there, he noticed that there were some large hail that had a vaguely pyramid shape. And it became immediately convinced that these were actually pyramids on the model of Mayan pyramids and in what is really quite a disgraceful incident that managed to get backing from local politicians, not from the local academics, but from local politicians of getting permission to actually go digging. So this is a case that’s unusual in pseudo archeology. Like I said earlier in the interview, suitable colleges don’t tend to go into the field and dig. And the reason they don’t do this is because it’s difficult and expensive. Jim Underdown. But he did. But he did. And the problem here is that in doing so, he has lately damaged or threatened or even destroyed actual archeological sites that were there at Neolithic sites, sites from the pure Roman people. They’re called the Algerians. They’re also Roman sites in medieval sites. This is a very historic part of the world. And you can’t go in there digging it. I should mention that he that he did most visiting with the backhoe. 

So he’s not going in. And if you see archeology in television, you often see people working with, like dental implements and small brushes and, oh, this guy’s going in with the backhoe. And so the damage he’s doing is me is really quite enormous. 

And he attempted to get UNESCO on two to come over and claim to say it was, you know, was a World Heritage site. Scientists and archeologists went over and looked at us and geologists and they and they came away convinced that these are natural formations. There are various geological processes behind these particular hills. And so then unfortunately of magic fell back on on the last refuge of the scoundrel, which is nationalism and patriotism. And he basically organized a campaign, or at least those people around him have helped organize a campaign of vilification of anyone, especially if they’re Croatian or Bosnian. Anyone who attempts to prove that these are already target, that these pyramids aren’t actual manmade artifacts, Jim Underdown you’re you’re mentioning maybe the nationalistic motivation for some of these pseudo archeological claims. 

I mentioned Himmler earlier in his quest for Atlantis to support his racist theories. You know, as I was reading other books, in addition to yours, in preparation for our back and forth, they ran across a quote from Himmler. And he says something like, The only thing that matters to us is to have the ideas of history, to strengthen our people in their necessary national pride. He says, you know, history is has always been open to falsification and we’re entitled to impose falsification on our own at any time. Do you think the people involved in this Bosnian nationalistic pseudo archeology, do you think they knowingly are falsifying it for reasons of nationalism or are they really buying into it? 

Yeah, I think the latter. I mean. I mean, I don’t think that we can claim that the people in Bosnia are following Himmler’s philosophy of history, which is cynical in the extreme, as you’d expect from Himmler. But no, I mean, I think these people I mean, they’re, you know, their their country has gone through a horrible trauma as recently as 16 or 15 years ago. 

I mean, they’ve had horrible things happen there. They have a depressed economy. There really are, you know, looking for reasons to be proud to be Bosnia. And then along comes a shop and says, look here, our pyramid that date to 15000 years ago, and they’re the biggest in the world, the biggest hail. 

If it were a pyramid, it would be almost twice as large as the Great Pyramid of Giza, which is almost 500 feet tall. So he’s coming along and he’s giving them really sort of a very. Image for the nation. And then claiming, of course, that that all the pyramids of the world are derived ultimately from these Bosnian ones. So there is simply a desire, I think, to believe this and the vilification of critics on nationalist grounds, claiming that they’re fascist gangs of stinkers, for instance. That was one quote I read of on one Web site, that they’re out to destroy Bosnia’s reputation. I think these are actually genuinely felt emotions. It’s just that they’re unfortunately backed by what is ultimately false data. Really a lie. 

I want to talk about the university today in the context of pseudo archeology. Some people might wonder what the connection is. But in the academy today, seems like these kind of pseudo archeological theories have strange allies among some on the left. There’s this argument that these alternative histories, that these kind of pseudo histories of our past give voice to historically underrepresented minorities. I’m thinking of notions like the black Athena hypothesis that Western civilization originated in Africa and not in Greece, things like that. The Himmler quote that I mentioned it. Do you think that some people justify fudging history for the sake of these cultural or social purposes? Do you think anyone is that overt about it when they support these pseudo archeological claims and the universities? 

I mean, there is a brand of archeological philosophy, if you like, which would argue that we should treat these so-called alternative sort archeological theories of these alternative archeological theories with with respect. And people actually hold them for genuine reasons. And if we disrespect that idea, then we disrespect them. And that’s all well and good. But I just don’t happen to adhere to that philosophy. I don’t think that people’s ideas are particularly worthy of respect if they’re completely misguided. And if they’re not founded on hard data and certainly the people need to be respected. I’m not proposing that we round up to the archeologists or burn their books or arrest people who believe in them. I would be I would actually go to the wall to defend their right to believe what they want to believe. But I’m not going to have my criticism of their work silenced on the basis of me supposedly disrespecting the people who are proposing them. I’m not doing that. I’m simply engaging in in an argument of ideas. And I’m offering critiques, reasoned, reasoned critiques of ideas that I believe to be grossly misguided or even in some cases, outright deceitful and fraudulent. 

I feel like we’ve only scratched surface when it comes to talking about archeology and pseudo archeology. We didn’t get to talk about Lammert Lemuria, whether or not there’s archeological evidence to support notions like British Israel ism, which is something I’m interested in. In the church I was in as a teenager, I kind of had archeological, in quotes, evidence to support that we didn’t get into the black Athena hypothesis. Those big round boulders in Costa Rica. There’s so many things to talk about. We’ll have to have you back on the show at some point to get into some of these pseudo archeological topics more. 

I’d be delighted to do so. DJ Grothe. 

I want to finish up by talking about. Well, where’s the harm? You’re up classicist. 

You’re a professor. So what if people believe things that, you know are bunk? So what if people believe in Atlantis, as you know? How’s it going to impact their daily lives? If they believe in the pyramids in Bosnia? 

Well, there’s not. I mean, clearly, it’s not going to impact their daily lives. I guess the question is, isn’t due to archeology harmless? It doesn’t seem to be. You know what? You know, why spend so much time dealing with it? Well, there are several layers of answer to that. But I would point out that one of the things that Zuda archeologists do that’s a real mark of the discipline is to, of course, rubbish the work of real archeologists. And not just that, the rubbish, the entire exercise of archeology in the university. They tend to portray the university as a kind of elitist club where students get them only get advanced by simply restating and rehashing the opinions, as they call them, of their teachers and where everyone’s terrified of being wrong. And if anyone dares come out with with anything you were enlightening, they’ll probably be fired. So this is the view of the university that they that’s folded into their work and indeed comes out very plainly on their Web sites. 

Yeah, that’s echoed a lot in creation science and intelligent design. 

I mean, it’s pseudoscientific orientation towards the university for sure. It’s a way of trying to discredit the messengers. So if somebody comes along and says, I’m a professor of archeology right there on the surface, if you’re true, but they are. Well, in that case, I know exactly what this guy is going to say and why he is going to say it. And so, therefore, any pay no attention to the content of his argument is really a political ploy. And so given that, I think it isn’t a good thing for the public to have that notion of. University out there to think that archeology is some kind of a vast conspiracy to hide the truth. The desperate truth of prehistory from the public because archeology relies on public funding and a huge degree, and it isn’t a good thing for archeology for that to be the case. That’s on a very pragmatic level, on a more philosophical level. Archeology is an important business. It deals with matters of fundamental importance to our species, into our understanding of ourselves. And it deals with the issues of who we are, where we came from and why it is that we run our societies the way we do. Why do we live in cities and so forth? Why do we have agriculture? How did that come about? And why do we have armies and hierarchies and social hierarchies and, you know, political elites and socially so on. How did all that come about? How did this pattern of living and so familiar to us come about? How did it come into existence? Under what conditions did it emerge? What’s our relationship to the environment and so on? These are questions that archeologists address and even what’s our relationship to each other? How do cultures interact? How do cultures influence each other and so forth? 

And you’re saying pseudo archeology undercuts that whole enterprise? 

I think that it tends to obfuscate. It muddies the water. 

It throws up red herrings and false leads. And it diverts people’s attention down investigative dead ends that have no hope of producing any results like the Atlantis story. Is there’s still you know, I mean, as I said earlier, there’s not a single artifact from Atlantis yet discovered. And so it makes it it makes a mockery of something. But it’s very close to my heart. I think something that’s very important for people to appreciate. It’s one reason that archeology is so popular with the public. It is very popular with the public. If you look at the shows and on the History Channel and Discovery that often deal with Egypt and Rome, the Maya and so on. I mean, people are very interested in this stuff. And to have these guys come along, if, you know, from the outside basically throwing grenades seems to me to be a terrible shame. And something that needs to be combated rather than just accept has been harmless. And I would finally say DJ Grothe. I can’t prove this, but I suspect that voodoo archeology is just part of the wider problem of pseudoscience and credulity that seems to plague our culture. And it’s not a good thing for people to be believing falsities in really any area and be it in medicine and in astrology or whatever. I think pursuit of archeology frozen its two cents worth into that culture of credulity and gullibility that I think causes problems in a society in this modern day and age. 

I love that you just preached our sermon. Professor Garrett Fagan, thank you for joining me on Point of Inquiry. 

Thank you very much for having me. 

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Point of is produced by Thomas Donnelly and recorded at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. Executive producer Paul Cook’s point of inquiry’s music is composed for us by Emmy Award winning Michael. 

Contributors to today’s show included Debbie Goddard and Sarah Jordan. And I’m your host DJ Grothe. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.