Artefacts that turn up in unexpected places, objects that appear to be much older than Good Archaeology would allow, evidence of high technology in the remote past… all these things excite Bad Archaeologists, but for all manner of different reasons.
Many Bad Archaeologists make extensive use of ‘out-of-place artefacts’ or ‘archaeological erratics’. The purpose of drawing these artefacts to their readers’ attention is to cast doubt on the orthodox interpretations of the past that have been developed by archaeologists, usually by questioning what they wrongly perceive to be a linear view of cultural evolution or by trying to undermine conventional chronologies. Occasionally, they are used to cast doubt on models of human evolution (either to demonstrate the creationist claim that humans were created a little over six thousand years ago on the sixth day of Genesis or to demonstrate that humans have been around for billions of years or originally came from elsewhere). More frequently, they are used to cast doubt on the origins of technological civilisation and to show that phenomena such as electricity were known and exploited in the distant past. A few have used them as evidence for time travel or clairvoyance.
What constitutes an out-of-place artefact? William Corliss provides a list of criteria for inclusion in his compendium of ‘archeological anomalies’:
- the object must have an unexpected age (too old or too young),
- be in the wrong place (Roman artefacts from Mexican sites),
- have an unknown or contested use,
- be of anomalous size or scale,
- have a composition that would not be possible with current understanding of ancient technology (aluminium in ancient China),
- possess a sophistication not commensurate with those models (electric cells in ancient Parthia),
- or have unexpected possible associations (mylodon bones from Argentinean caves suggestive of domestication by humans).
Corliss also lists ‘affiliation’, which he defines as “similarity in style… ancient pottery in Ecuador resembling Japanese pottery”, which is effectively the same as his criterion of locality. Most authors are very liberal in their interpretation of these criteria and even more so in their definition of artefact: in their catalogues of such objects, they regularly include human (or other hominin) remains and sometimes even animal remains.
Most out-of-place artefacts do not fit in to the neat categories discussed on the rest of this site, as they have been used in diverse ways to buttress the wide variety of fringe views explored there. Even so, they are interesting and some of them are worth examining in their own right. Many of them are not even artefacts, if we follow a strictly archaeological definition of the term; some are ecofacts (animal and plant remains) and others are structures. Looking at a selection of them will reveal patterns showing how fringe writers use them and how their interpretations differ from those of conventional archaeology. It will also become apparent that the same pieces of evidence are used to bolster very different interpretations and that a controversial interpretation made by one antiarchaeologist becomes established fact in the writings of those who depend on them.
Human (and other) remains
Animal (including human) remains are perhaps the least popular items in this diverse collection. However, they are popular with creationists for obvious reasons: if it is possible to show that humanity has been around since the early days of the earth (whether six thousand or billions of years ago), then by their logic, it adds weight to the claims of special creation.
Artefacts are things made or modified by human beings, which may or may not have a ‘practical’ purpose. Some are portable, others are not. Things such as petroglyphs and inscriptions fall into the latter category.