The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Testing (or not) a Psychic Archaeologist

Some time back I posted an entry on an experience that a former boss of mine had with a self-proclaimed psychic archaeologist. I received a number of responses to this entry, but amongst the least expected was an email from someone who was hoping to work as a psychic archaeologist. I have had a few email exchanges with this individual (who I will refer to simply as "M"), and she does seem to be sincere in her belief that she can locate archaeological materials psychically.

Here is M's original email to me:


I stumbled across your web site when I googled "psychic archaeology" and I have a question for you. I'm intuitively gifted and have been working with a teacher to develop these skills. I believe everyone can become "intuitive," or "psychic" if you want, because I think it's just using more of your brain. I also believe that everyone has a unique talent tied to that intuitive side of ourselves. Some people use their intuition to create amazing desserts (I know a psychic pastry chef) and some use it to teach and some use it to heal people (I had a psychic acupuncturist who was fabulous). So, if you are already thinking I'm a freak, then maybe I'm talking to the wrong guy. But alas, I will continue anyway.

I believe my gift is finding things--ancient artifacts to be more exact. I've had some experience with finding people. My intuition led me to solve my aunt's missing person case in 2006. I drew maps and collected information which ultimately led to the townspeople in Missouri finding her body nine months after she died (she died of natural causes and quite simply laid down by the side of the road to die). She was 260 miles from her home and about 20 miles from where her car was later found. She was on the side of the road between two tiny towns in the northwest Missouri. My map was right on. The information I received led me to follow clues and solve the case. More recently, I've been dreaming/visioning on finding ancient artifacts. I think I'm really gifted but I have not had a chance to try it out and see. I'm willing to try it with an archaeologist who is also willing but I don't know anyone. These services would be for free for the first or even second guinea pig just so I can get started and have some early success.

I went to the CPAK conference last year and received psychic hits on the work of every presenter there. I had information for all of them but I did not pass it along. I don't really know how to approach anyone with this. For some reason, I found your site so I'm asking you two questions, I guess. Being an archaeologist, how would you approach another archaeologist if you were me? And, do you have any advice for me or know anyone who might be interested in my services?

I'm quite serious. I have a BA in Psychology from UCLA and a Master's in Educational Technology from SDSU. I work for UCSD right now teaching instructors how to teach online. I'm a wife and mother and I live in San Diego, CA. I'm just curious what you think. I'd love to receive a response--it's OK if you're laughing and just want to tell me to get over it--just let me know what you think.


And here is my response:


I have reviewed your email again. You say that you wish to be able to work with archaeologists and to be taken seriously by them. Understand that most of us have encountered people who claim to have the same abilities that you do, and have generally found such claims lacking. Most of the time, the folks who make these claims are perfectly honest and perfectly sane and have approached us in good faith, but they have proven to be mistaken about what they believe that they can do. Given the education background that you describe, you no doubt know as well as anyone the ways in which our senses and memories can lead us to mistake mundane events and mild coincidences for rather more amazing things. So, this is the stage onto which you are entering. The people who you wish to convince are going to be skeptical, and with very good reason.

Still, if you have the abilities that you claim, that is an extraordinary thing, and it will require extraordinary evidence. Extraordinary evidence is, of course, not easy to come by. You need to ask yourself two questions: 1) are you willing to go through a very long and very strenuous testing process? 2) Are you willing to accept the results of testing, even if it is disappointing to you?

If the answer to either of these questions is "no", then it's probably not worth your energy or time to pursue this matter. If the answer to both of them is "yes", then I can give you some advice, but you will ultimately have to find other, better qualified people to help you out.

If you are going to prove yourself, you will have to be strenuously tested. The test will have to be designed in such a way that it eliminates chance, and such that nobody can honestly accuse you of trickery after the fact. Essentially, it needs to eliminate mundane explanations to the point that if you succeed, it will be clear that you have an unusual ability. This means that you would have to be able to both describe your abilities AND describe the conditions under which they work. It also means that the test will be replicated multiple times to eliminate random chance. Further, it means that the test will have to be performed under conditions of close scrutiny and it probably will be stressful. Even after the testing, the results will be carefully scrutinized to ensure that the test protocols eliminated all reasonable possibilities other than what you describe.

This will be the case not because people distrust or dislike you, and you are not being singled out, but because this is how science works (take it from someone who has written for other researchers, we rake each other over the coals because it is the only way that the truth comes out from our work).

The testing would have to be done by people qualified to do so. This may include archaeologists, but might also include stage magicians (as they often do things by mundane means that appear similar to the talents that you describe for yourself), psychologists, engineers, etc. I am not qualified to do this sort of thing, but if you contact the people at the James Randi Educational Foundation (, they have a lot of experience designing and carrying out test protocols. And don't worry, contrary to what you may have heard elsewhere, these folks really are trying to get at the truth of the matter and aren't merely "debunkers" out to discredit psychics.

But before you will be listened to by archaeologists in the field, you will need to be able to demonstrate that you can do what you claim under controlled circumstances. Again, you are not being singled out, this is true of every kind of consultant with whom we work, from forensic canine handlers to tool manufacturers.

Good luck,


I have heard back from M, and in a very kind and politely-worded email, she stated that her choice was to not go through with any form of testing as she says that this would be too restrictive. While I can't say that I am surprised, I was a bit dissappointed. The world would be a better place if all of us were willing to have our beliefs challenged, but ironically it seems that it is typically those who try to exhort the rest of us to "open our minds" who are the least likely to allow themselves to be challenged in such a way.

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