Bad Archaeology’s special data set

This section looks at the types of data used by Bad Archaeologists, from genuinely ancient sites and finds to frauds, hoaxes and misidentifications.

Bad Data

We can start by looking at the sorts of things that Bad Archaeologists marshal as evidence for their ‘revolutionary’ ideas. They are particularly fascinated with spectacular monuments (ranging from those familiar to the general public, such as the Great Pyramid of Giza, Stonehenge or Angkor Wat, to the exotic and little known, such as Tiahuanaco, Yonaguni or Nan Madol), which often form the centrepieces of their arguments. Thus, Erich von Däniken touts the lid of a sarcophagus from the Pyramid of the Inscriptions at Palenque (Chiapas, Mexico) as his best evidence, while he devotes an entire chapter of Chariots of the Gods to the Great Pyramid of Giza. In addition to large monuments and special places, there is also a fascination with certain types of artefact, especially those known as ‘out-of-place artefacts’ (‘ooparts’), oddities from the archaeological record. These include objects that appear to derive from more ancient contexts than would otherwise be expected and those which are suggested as evidence for advanced technologies in the remote past. They also include anomalously old human remains, which are used to undermine accepted theories of the origins of the human species.

As well as the material evidence, there is a great emphasis on textual evidence, particularly from religious writings and especially the Jewish Bible (generally cited as the Christian Old Testament). These texts are used to find evidence for visitations by beings from space, for data that undermines conventional chronologies and as the authority for a faith-based idea that cannot be questioned as it derives from a god. Early historic maps are also grist to the Bad Archaeologist’s mill: the depiction of an Antarctic continent on maps that pre-date its official discovery have especially caused much excitement among the fringe.

Finally, to add to the bad data, we have bad theory. Bad theory is explored in greater depth in the reference section of the site. All degrees of logical fallacies can be employed by Bad Archaeologists. These particularly include ad hominem, appeals to authority, cherry-picking, the false dichotomy, the straw man and the Texas sharpshooter fallacies.

9 Replies to “Bad Archaeology’s special data set”

  1. Funny,there has lot of fraud and cheating in “mainstream” science field not be metioned in this article,the author is selective blindness? let see famouse cheating: Archaeopteryx,Guerbet’s skull,Lucy’s ape,Jan Hendrik Schon…
    that’s just we knew, how many we don’t know? both “mainstream science” and “bad archaeolgy” are same level.

    1. You’re mistaken.

      Archaeopteryx is not a fraud: that was one of Sir Fred Hoyle’s dottiest ideas, which is now adequately refuted by the large numbers of feathered non-avian dinosaurs being discovered, especially in China, that are transitional between non-avian and avian dinosaurs (i.e. birds).

      I have no idea what you mean by “Guerbet’s skull”: perhaps you could give some more details.

      If by “Lucy’s ape” you mean the fossil of Homo habilis (i.e. human lineage) dubbed Lucy by its discoverer, there is no fraud there.

      As for Jan Hendrik Schön, he was investigated and exposed by other scientists. That is the self correcting nature of science and far from being evidence for widespread fraud, it’s actually evidence for how easily it is spotted and how it is dealt with.

      You are using tired old arguments of obviously creationist manufacture. If you want to expose scientific endeavour as a tissue of lies, you need to do better than that!

  2. Perhaps it’s the sheer weight of bad archeology that has led me to be dubious, but it seems there’s no end to the scientists lining up to ‘tell it like it is’. I’m most sceptical of experts, especially when they come from a long line of ‘experts’.

    I have to draw the line at archeologists attaching stories (explanations?) to whatever they’ve found – Some will freely admit they don’t really know what it is, what it was for, how old it is, how it was built etc etc and these are the people I respect the most because they don’t make any claims without hard evidence. Unless it comes with an instruction manual and a description it’s unrealistic to attach anything to it, it’s these attempts at explanation that tarnish the brilliance of the discoveries. Maybe I’ve blurred the lines between good and bad archeology here – i’m just an admirer of history and the wonders it leaves behind.

    Out of curiosity I do wonder what genuine archeologists think of engineers and their ideas about ancient structures. I read Christopher Dunns book ‘Lost Technologies of Ancient Egypt’ and thought he presented a good case regarding the types of tools used in Ancient Egypt. Please comment only if you have read this book, it doesn’t make grandiose claims, just raises good questions about tool types. This books gives a lot of credit to ancient civilisations and doesn’t short change them on intelligence. I don’t refer to any of Chris’s earlier works as I am unfamiliar with them.

    1. In my experience a sign of intelligence is the ability to recognise how much one does not know. I find that, over the years, scientists and researchers in all fields are more happy to admit to the gaps in their knowledge. This is possibly because the weight of new evidence cannot be argued against. When studying archaeological remains interpretation is a skill learned only with experience. I tend to accept the consensus of opinion of trained and experienced archaeologists over amateurs with an off centre idea until there is better evidence for the off centre idea.
      I agree with Gary, though, that some archaeologists seem to get carried away with their theories. Like religious believers they become convinced that they are right. They might well be but I too reserve a level of scepticism when the interpreter becomes too didactic. Recent theories about the Stonehenge area monuments being about life and death are interesting and feasible but I remain agnostic.
      A recent item in ‘World Archaeology’ no 58 is a case in point.Neolithic cylindrical stone objects had been tentatively described as ‘cultic objects in the shape of phalli’. That description itself tells you that they really had no idea what they were. Modern technology has now shown that they were fire-lighters. (For details access the magazine or other info on the web).

  3. The last comment reminded me of the late Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s description of any object he could not identify as a ‘ritual object’.

    A friend of mine who is a very great authority in his field was once asked a question about an object, replied ‘I wish you had asked me this twenty years ago, I knew the answer then’.

  4. I’m glad to have stumbled onto this blog, thru that “Ancient Aliens Debunked” movie (and site). We have James Randi, which is excellent, but we need you guys too. Seems all kinds of “spiritualism” is on its rise these days, from “Ghost hunters” on TV, by the way of “wishbone”/”seeking tools” wielding types, to the “clairvoyant” types that you can phone up and let them bleed you dry over the phone bill (these clairvoynats have complained that the police isn’t involving them more in unsolved cases. Makes me wonder: If they’re clairvoyant, why don’t they take a look into the police’s files with theyr clairvoyantism?).
    I must say, you are extremely patient with some of the types here. Keep up the good work! :)

  5. Okay, so to what extent do you guys classify Chronological Revisionism as Bad Archaeology? I’m not talking here about creationism, or proponents of alien intervention or ancient lost civilisations (all of which are certainly pseudoarchaeology/history etc), but revisionists like Rohl, James, and even Velikovsky (in his chronological rather than cosmological aspect). I want to illustrate my question with a couple of quotations from the site owners, and some comments of a fairly straightforward and not overly controversial nature.

    So first, a quote. “…Egypt, where a chronology was being worked out following the decipherment of hieroglyphic writing in 1822 by Jean-François Champollion (1790-1832).”

    This is a half-truth. Yes, considerable fine-tuning of dates took place at this time, but the Egyptian inscriptions are peicemeal, and don’t serve to construct an ordered framework. That came from outside, from the work of Manetho. That a basic long (standard) chronology pre-existed Champollion is evident from Isaac Newton’s “Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended”, which espouses a short chronology and criticises the inflated lengths of the ancient histories of his day (my point isn’t that Newton was right, but that the long chronology was in existence before decipherment and archaeology). The inscriptions were interpreted in the light of this framework (naturally enough), and the result became fixed as the (text-based) framework for interpreting archaeological finds.

    And another quote. “Those who were unwilling – primarily for religious reasons – to abandon their familiar texts began to shoehorn the archaeological data into the text-based framework, often with confusing results.”

    So below are some examples of such shoehorning. But these are episodes in the development of the accepted standard chronology, not of its alternatives, and exemplify the very faults that revisionists are accused of.

    In the late nineteenth century excavations at tel el Amarna Akhetaten discovered large quantities of Mycenean IIIA and IIIB pottery. As a result the chronology of Mycenean Greece, previously thought to be contemporary with archaic Greece, was pushed back five hundred years, creating the Greek Dark Ages. Thirty years later, the discovery of a copy of Rameses II peace treaty with the Hittites was discovered at the Hittite capital Boghazkoy, meant that the time of the Hittites, previously thought to be 7th century because of their affinity with late Assyrian art and architecture, had to be pushed back some six hundred years, creating a dark age in Anatolia. If the origin of the Exodus story is located at the end of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom (more controversial, of course, but the presence of a Canaanite population at Pi Ramesse during the 13th dynasty is now mainstream) then the history of the proto Israelites must also be pushed back in time. Similarly, when C fourteen dating was developed, the raw results had to be “calibrated” – that is, pushed back in time.

    Now, there’s obviously a pattern here. The standard chronology looks like Bad Archaeology, in exactly the way you characterise it. If my facts are wrong, or my reasoning flawed, instruct me. Where are my “special data set”, exotic locations and over reliance on religious texts? I’d really appreciate a considered response.

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