The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Tourist in Meggido

In my never-ending quest to provide poorly constructed and barely coherent blog posts, I present the following...

I have been reading Jonathan Kirsch's book The History of the End of the World, about the history of the Book of Revelation and it's influence on culture and politics within the Western World. As I read it, I kept thinking about my own brushes with "end-times" theology, and I thought I might share a few of them here, in case they are of any interest to, well, anyone.


When I was a kid, a group of Bible Scholars released a report in which they stated that it was their opinion that the Book of Revelation was intended as a diatribe against the Roman Empire, and not as a work of prophecy aimed at readers 2,000 years into the future.

At the time, most people I knew were scandalized, including myself. I was, after all, a Christian at that time, and the notion that a group of academics could simply toss out a book of the Bible seemed absurd. Still, the reactions of my fellow Christians, in taking the same position that I held, was an early factor in creating my later skepticism of religion. I remember that one television station out of Sacramento did a few "man on the street" interviews to ask "normal" people what they thought of the notion that the Book of Revelation was not a book of prophecy but rather a 1st-century political tract. One fellow said something to the effect of "my grandmother taught me that, when the end comes, a trumpet will sound, and we'll be caught up in the rapture, and that's the way it is!"

My father, on seeing this, stated that he thought that this guy clearly had his head screwed on straighter than those crazy professors.

My father is a very, very intelligent man. He is not generally given to bizarre logical fallacies. But, even as a kid, I knew that "this is true because my grandma says so!" was a really poor argument. I would have accepted "the Word of God says so, therefore it's true!*", but to argue that a grandmother was a better authority on the Bible than a group of Bible scholars just seemed weird to me. While I still believed in prophecy and the Book of Revelation, I nonetheless walked away from this experience with the realization that tradition and religious belief could lead people to accept really bad arguments so long as the argument seemed to support their pre-existing beliefs.

This would, ultimately, probably becomes one of my defining characteristics - even when an argument reaches a conclusion that I agree with, if the argument is a bad one it annoys me.

When I was older and began to read history more seriously, I discovered that the idea that the Book of Revelation was about the Roman Empire and not a book of far-future prophecy was, in fact, the mainstream idea amongst both historians and Bible scholars. In fact, when one looks into the history of Apocalyptic literature (there are many more examples than just the Books of Daniel and Revelation), that those in the Bible were fairly mainstream, and all of them were essentially political tracts describing the enemies of the Jewish and/or Christian people.


A couple of years later, I became friends with kids who attended a local Baptist Church. This church, like many others in the area, had a habit of trying to recruit other people's children, and had many events specifically for this purpose. One such event - a multi-night children's program called "The Children's Crusade"** - featured skits, puppet shows, and more than a few sing-alongs. Each session began and ended with the church's pastor insisting that the children should try to persuade their parents to attend the church, and if they were unsuccessful, then the children should attend the church themselves regardless of the parent's wishes or interests***. After the pastors' initial speech, the entertainment would begin, and we would spend the rest of the evening singing along with a variety of different songs.

There were a few themes that came up time and again during these songs, most of them unsurprising given the context, such as the life and words of Jesus and select messages from the gospels. However, one theme that came up over and over again and seemed just plain weird was that of the end of the world, and specifically the Rapture. I, of course, was familiar with the concept of the Rapture (I was a Christian and I lived in an area where Fundamentalist Christian churches were common, how could I not be familiar with it?), but in my parent's previous church (they had stopped attending by the time I met the kids with whom I attended the children's Crusade) as well as in my conversations with my parents, notions of the end of the world were always downplayed. Not because they thought it would frighten us, but because it was simply tangential to their beliefs. When I would discuss this with my parents, they would point out that the Bible is quite clear that we can't know the timing of the end, and that we are better occupied trying to do good in the here and now than dwelling on a future that may not come in our lifetimes. So it was more than a bit weird to see a church focusing on the end of the world rather than on other matters over which we may exercise some control, such as doing good for those around us.


I never became too involved with my friend's church, but I did attend a few other functions, and at each one the focus was on "we lucky few who will be Raptured and not left to be tormented during the Tribulation, unlike the sinners!" (yes, Christianity teaches that all people are sinners, but I have noticed that it is common for many of the more fervent end-time believers that I have met to not regard themselves as sinners).

Some people seemed to regard this as a call to action, a need to convert others so that they would not suffer. While I certainly don't buy the belief in prophecy, these people at least seemed to genuinely care about others and were trying to do what they thought was right. Others seemed to find the same thrill in trying to work out the Book of Revelation (in conjunction with the Book of Daniel and a smattering of passages from the Gospels and the Epistles) that many viewers get from trying to make sense of Lost - in other words, for all of their lip-service to piety, they really saw this as entertainment.

...and then there were others, though a minority they were easily the most vocal of the flock, who loved the Book of Revelation and loved the notion of the Rapture (not actually from the Book of Revelation, though it is often associated with it), and had a clear and unnerving sense of glee when they described the horrors that awaited "the unsaved" - these were people who, as one radio commentator (whose name I cannot remember for the life of me) described as "Christian as Revenge." The people who hold to a belief in the Rapture and Tribulation and final judgement not simply because they believe it, but because it gives them a sense of satisfaction to know that those who they dislike will soon be in torment, and then will suffer an eternity of torture.

What unnerved me about this last group of people was that they were able to dress their own sociopathic tendencies and desire to see others suffer in a cloak of respectability that their fellow church-goers would find it difficult to disapprove of. I don't know how these people were viewed by the other church members, but I do know that there was no effort to speak out against them, as such a move could easily have been misconstrued as speaking out against the Bible rather than speaking out against sadists. the problem is that the lack of opposition allowed these folks to poison much of the church's activity, and allowed them to reinforce a bunker mentality, where all who were not "amongst the elect" (that is, not Christians, or at least not the right kind of Christians) were not simply wrong, but actually evil and out to get the "true believers." This became especially troubling, as this attitude allowed an illusory loophole out of reality whenever a fact was inconvenient - if somebody tells you that your favored politician did something corrupt, or that your cherished belief has been proven wrong, or that your favored policy won't work...well, that meant that the person giving you the bad news was on the side of Satan, and therefore was not only not to be trusted, but was actually to be actively opposed - leading to a weird echo chamber in which no dissenting opinion could be voiced, nor change of mind be had.


One of the women who lived in my neighborhood worked on a local televangelist's show out of Stockton. A guest on her show (might it have been Edgar Whisenant?)had written a book in which he claimed that the Rapture would occur in September 1989. She and her family seemed to be convinced of the accuracy of this prediction, and set about planning their lives around it. She refused to make plans past September, and when asked why would simply state that there was no point in making plans for after the Rapture. It was always said calmly, as if it were an obvious fact and not something to get excited about.

Her children would frequently talk about what they wanted to do before the Rapture. During that summer, it became increasingly normal to hear things such as "I want to go to Great America before the Rapture" or "I really want to go see Batman before the Rapture." It was very matter-of-fact. There was no sense of urgency, wonder, awe, or panic. They might as well have been saying that they wanted to see Batman before they have a cheese sandwich.

It was damn weird.

Needless to say, September came and went without the faithful being called up to heaven. I suspect that there was a sense of disappointment among this family, but they never showed it. In fact, they seemed to go back about life without any real change. When I asked them about September, they would simply shrug their shoulders and go on with whatever they had been doing.


Around the time that I completed high school, I became friends with a young woman who would within the year would join Calvary Chapel, one of Modesto's Pentecostal churches. Like many such churches, Calvary Chapel was at that time (and possibly still, for all I know) obsessed with the notion that the end was nigh, and liked to whip it's membership up into a frothing frenzy over the matter. I saw all of the same types of behaviors and reactions that I had seen at my childhood friend's church, but there was an interesting new phenomenon, one that I came to label Meggido Froggies.

The Meggido Froggies (I'm sure that the church had another name) were small, knit, toy frogs manufactured by church members. Inside were stuffed rice, beans, and probably other dried foodstuffs. The intent being that, when the members of Calvary Chapel had been taken up to Heaven in the Rapture, and the rest of us shown how foolish we had been by not being Christians (or at least not the right kind of Christians), then we would have a food supply hidden away inside the Meggido Froggies so that we wouldn't have to get the Mark of the Beast in order to be able to feed ourselves. When it was pointed out that even dried rice and beans don't last forever, and that this stuff would go bad eventually, we were re-assured that the end would come long before the food had a chance to go bad (it often became clear that they were expecting the end sometime around Next Thursday, and when it didn't come, well, Tuesday seemed a likely day, didn't it?).

This particular church had a huge number of people like my friend as members. The urban poor, often with a family to feed, typically with a somewhat morally checkered past, and always with worries about where their next paycheck was coming from. That a theology of doomsday would appeal to them was, in retrospect, no surprise. When you are marginalized to begin with, a message that you will soon have all of your worries taken away and a glorious new beginning is hopeful. For the members of the congregation who were more mean-spirited and vengeful, the thought that other, better-off people will soon be in agony when you enter paradise was icing on the cake.

I was aware of the Meggido Froggies because my friend would, on occasion, attempt to convert me (once even inviting me to a baptism at her church, apparently hoping that I would join in). When her conversion attempt would fail, she would then make certain, in clear deadly seriousness, that I knew of the Miggido Froggies and the food contained therein. The contrast between the seriousness with which she spoke, the horrors that she described, and the silly appearance of the stuffed toy frogs was sometimes a bit too much to take.

She also informed me of some of the more wing-bat things that her clergy said. For example, her church apparently taught that the reason for the popularity of shows such as the X-Files was due to demons and the anti-Christ (who was remaining secret) laying the groundwork so that people would believe that the Rapture was not the work of God, but instead was a mass UFO abduction.

What my friend and her church seemed to fail to get was that those of us who had the wherwithall to question the existence of a widely-accepted god would also be likely to question the notion that aliens crossed the galaxy solely for the purpose of probing the rectums of a group of Pentacostals and nobody else.

In the end, my friend left the church. Curiously, she became part of a polyamorous grouping (not really a couple, and I'm not sure of a better word than "grouping"), and would hold forth on the rightness and naturalness of this arrangement just as she once had on the rightness and truth of Fundementalist Christianity. She then left that, and last I heard was half of a lesbian couple.

Meanwhile, me, the poor benighted atheist who she would frequently try to convert back in the Calvary Chapel days, remained a rather unexciting fellow who maintains a monogamous heterosexual relationship.

Go figure.


Okay, to the degree that this entry has any sort of point, it is that the belief in the "end times" as foretold in the Christian Bible leads to a bizarrely wide range of behavior. There are those who seem to take it as a given, and don't let it bother them overly much, even when they feel certain that they know the approaching day. There are those for whom belief in such a thing is simply a way for them to gain some entertainment. For others, the thought of an approaching period of tribulation causes them to become frightened for others and determined to save souls or provide for those left behind, while many of their fellows look forward to it with a sadistic, one might even say sociopathic, relish. And even for "casual" believers, questioning it with a full mountain of evidence is a sign of failure, while belief in it based on the flimsiest of reasoning is a sign of strength.

I grew up in an area where believers in the particular Darby-inspired view of a glorious escape for believers and a literal Hell-on-Earth for "infidels" were common. What always amazed me was the degree to which people who claimed to hold the same beliefs could hold them in such astoundingly contradictory ways.

*Yes, this is also poor as a logical argument argument, as it assumes that the Bible is the word of God rather than demonstrating this, but I didn't realize that at the time.

**I suspect that whoever named it this knew nothing about the history of the real Children's Crusade.

***Probably a topic for another post, but it has always struck me as hypocritical that the same people who spend their time screaming about how "secular influences" are "trying to steal away our children" have absolutely no qualms about doing precisely the same thing with other people's children.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Atomic Plastic Cactus!

When I was in field school*, one of the other students was a fellow by the name of Bob Franks. Bob was retired, but had been a journalist for many years. As he told it, he got his start in journalism during his time in the Army during the 1950s, when he helped to document various different military activities. One day, when we had come in from a long day of excavation and were relaxing before dinner, Bob told us a story that, well, I don't believe it, but I want to. As a friend of mine would say, this is the sort of story that, if it isn't true, it should be.

Bob claimed to have worked as an Army filmmaker in the 1950s - and from what I could gather, he was of the right age for this to have been the case - and that he was with a unit that filmed atomic bomb tests. Atomic Bomb tests generally took place in the deserts of the American West and on remote islands in the Pacific Ocean. Bob indicated that he was involved in the tests within the U.S. and that, for obvious reasons, security was a huge concern, what with all of the Russian spies (both real and McCarthy-inspired hallucinations) wandering about. The Army was, naturally, worried that the films of things being vaporized in giant balls of expanding plasma might fall into the wrong hands**, and as such they concocted numerous plans to confuse enemy agents who might get their hands on the films.

One of these plans involved an artificial cactus.

The idea was this: the Army cinematographers responsible for filming atomic bomb tests would have an artificial cactus (attached to a trailer for easy transportation) that they would cart around with them. When they filmed a test, they would make sure to have the cactus in the frame. The intention was that the cactus was of a sort that was only common in a portion of the desert (I believe Bob said that it was a saguaro cactus), thus leading anyone viewing the film to think that it had been filmed in Arizona or California, when it had actually probably been filmed in Nevada.

I asked Bob whether or not they made sure that the trailer was not visible in the shot, and he responded that this seemed like the obvious move, but, with it being the Army and the 1950s, he couldn't be sure of that. I also asked if I would have been likely to have seen any of the footage he shot, as I didn't recall seeing any cacti in the more famous footage of bomb tests, and he said that it seemed unlikely. There were days, if not weeks, worth of test footage shot, and most of it is either still classified, or simply is less dramatic (and therefore less likely to be shown in documentaries) than the better-known footage that probably all of us have seen.

Nonetheless, Bob told us that the sight of a bunch of soldiers tooling through the desert in a truck and armed only with cameras, with a fake cactus in tow, made for quite a sight.

Personally, I am amused by my own mental image of a high-ranking officer, let's say it's a colonel, demanding that the cactus be placed "just so" in the image, to give the film that special je ne sais quoi, before ordering a coproal to push a button and blow the shit out of a desert rock pile.

Again, I don't believe the story. Bob was a great guy, and a fantastic storyteller, but I got the impression that more than a few of the things he related to us were tall tales. Nonetheless, if we're going to live in a world with nuclear testing, then I can at least wish that the testing would, somehow, somewhere, involve an artificial cactus.

*Field school is something of an annoying rite of passage for most archaeologists. Fieldschools are projects in which the head archaeologist, usually attached to a college or university, charges students so that they may work on his/her project. It's a way of getting field experience in an environment that is supposedly geared towards teaching the students how to perform their tasks. The field school I attended was absolutely geared towards teaching, but others are actually just a way for a researcher to get free labor and the students may not learn much. So, if you are planning on going to field school, choose carefully.

**Admittedly, this was actually a legitimate concern. But simply saying that in the text of the post isn't nearly as funny as being sarcastic, and I'll usually side with the joke.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Yeah, we're still doomed

So, I'm sitting here working and listening to the radio. The guest on the show to which I am listening states that a recent poll finds that the majority of registered Republicans believe that Obama is not a U.S. Citizen (yeah, sure, because the folks on Fox are so much more likely to uncover his background than, say, the entire federal government in all of it's law enforcement and fact-checking capabilities), that a significant minority believe that he is a socialist (thus proving that they don't actually know what the word "socialist" means or that they haven't actually bothered to look at any of his actual policy proposals and are simply listening to pundits), and a smaller but still significant minority believe that he is the Antichrist.

Now, as noted before, I am not a particular fan of Obama's. There are many policies that he holds to that I dislike, and even those that I like in concept I have serious reservations about the execution.

But these beliefs, apparently common amongst one of the two major parties running the country, are literally psychotic - they show a complete break with reality. Take into account thing such as the John Birch society is a sponsor of the Conservative Political Action Committee's meeting this year (a significant event in U.S. politics), that the Tea-Party National convention hosted a highlighted talk by the founder of the truly delusional pseudo-news site World Net Daily, and that lunatic conspiracy hypotheses that were once confined to neo-Nazi websites are now making their way onto Prime Time television via Fox News, and, well...we're in trouble.

There was a time, up until the mid-90s, when there were real, legitimate, conservative intellectuals. People who were in touch with reality, saw the real problems, and tried to come up with solutions based on a conservative political philosophy. Those days seem to be gone.

When I began voting, I never voted a straight ticket. Party lines were not so tightly made, and intelligent, capable people are available in both major parties, and many smaller parties. Now, though, this isn't the case. William F. Buckley has been replaced by Glenn Beck. Newt Gingrich and Richard Nixon (love or hate them, both were true geniuses) have been replaced by Sarah Palin. And discussion of political and social problems has been replaced by paranoid conspiracy-mongering and false comparisons to Hitler. I suspect that this has come to be the state of politics because elected officials are more interested in winning than in governing, and this is a crass way for them to do so. However, maybe we really do have truly insane people in office and they actually believe this crap.

Regardless of what the politicians actually believe, it's apparent that many of the voters do buy into these delusions.

the Democrats certainly have their problems - the fact that they have proven too astoundingly wimpy to stand up to either presidents or other congressmen, or that the take part on the political duopoly that has hijacked the electoral system not the least among them - but they haven't made the weird echo-chamber ride into delusion that the Republican party has. I used to wonder why so many of the Republicans I knew had gone over to the Libertarians, or why people I know who were once very active in Republican party politics have left politics in disgust, but in the last few years I have come to understand.

When we have only two likely outcomes in an election, and one will result in a delusional demagogue in office, the other in a milquetoast putz, we are well and truly fucked.

As I have said before, we're doomed. I just hope that whatever rises from our ashes has the good sense to take the lesson. However if history is any indication, they won't.

Friday, March 26, 2010

You Can't Have it All

Whenever I am preparing to give a talk in a public forum, I will ask people what information they think I should present about my topic. The majority of people will say "present all of the information!"

All of the information? The problem is that all of the information is not really useful, and can even be counter-productive.

For example, if I am describing the results of my research to an audience, I discuss only the data that I am actually using to draw my conclusions, as well as information that I think may be problematic and need to address. Is it possible that there is other data that I am not aware of or that I think is irrelevant that would change my results if I accounted for it properly? Yes, it is. In fact, I have had the experience of dismantling the results of other researchers simply by taking into account information that they thought was irrelevant, and future researchers may have the same experience with my work.

However, to present all of the information presents its own problems. First off, most of it is irrelevant to research. Secondly, the amount of information is so huge that to present it all would both overwhelm the audience (not to mention bore the hell out of them) and also produce a number of red herrings that could distract from important information. Let me provide a list of the information present in our field and lab notes, and this may help to illustrate my point:

- What is the nature of the project (survey, excavation, record search, lab work, etc.)?

- How many crew members were present? Who were the crew members? What are my general impressions of the individual crew members?

- If it is a survey that is being reported, then what was the spacing of the transects (how far apart did the crew stand while surveying), what was the soil visibility, lighting conditions (sunny, overcast, morning, noon, afternoon, etc.), local vegetation present, etc.?

- If it is an excavation, then how many units (square holes) and shovel probes (smaller holes) did we dig? How deep are they? What was in each unit? What type of mesh did we use to screen the soils.

- What is the soil like? Is it sandy? Silty? Clay? Loam? What color is it? Is it easy to walk across, or do you sink into it with each step?

- Did any of the crew sustain injuries while working on the project? What kind of injuries? How severe were they?

- Did we work on a ten day schedule (M through Th of the following week, with four days off between sessions), or a five-day schedule (average M-F work week)? Did we work 8 hour days? Ten hour days?

- Is our client paying for drive time to get us to and from the field, or do we east that time ourselves?

- Is everyone on the crew wearing appropriate clothing for the field, or are they doing something wrong (forget their hat, no sunscreen, not wearing boots, etc.)?

- Are we sorting material in the screen while in the field, or dumping everything into bags to be sorted back at the lab?

- At the lab, who's working? What's the lighting like? Is the radio playing? Is there talking amongst the lab technicians?

...and so on. Now, there's a fair chance that you are thinking to yourself "well, of course I don't want all of that information. I only want the relevant information!"

But how do we decided what's relevant?

The size of the screens used in excavation has bearing on what types of materials are likely to be recovered (a large screen size may lose beads and smaller animal bones, for example, but will allow you to excavate more soil and therefore get a larger sample of material from the site). If the soil color or texture is close enough to the color or texture of the artifacts being searched for, then they may be missed. Screen-sorting of artifacts in the field is efficient and allows more material to be dealt with quickly, but also results in materials being lost that would be recovered if the material is sorted in a lab. Some materials are most visible on a sunny day, others on a cloudy day.

Even things that seem clearly irrelevant may not be. A field technician who doesn't wear a hat may find their eyes strained when working in bright sunlight, causing them to miss artifacts that they would otherwise see. An archaeologist who is not dressed appropriately for the field may became distracted by physical discomfort and miss items that they would otherwise have found. The same goes for workers who are distracted by injuries, personal problems, etc. Workers who haven't eaten a proper breakfast may be having so much trouble simply keeping up that they will fail to do a decent job as archaeologists.

The point is that there are very few pieces of information that could not be argued to be in some-way relevant under the right conditions. And yet, I sincerely doubt that an audience who come to a talk to hear about the latest archaeological findings has much desire to hear about how many of my field crew had fights with their spouses, or whether they thought that fashion trumped practicality in choosing their field gear. And, in truth, most of the time the effects of these factors on field results are negligible. However, there are unusual cases where they have had a significant impact. On the other hand, thing such as screen size and soil conditions have a tremendous impact on results, but I have found that bringing these up with the public pretty much always results in them tuning you out.

Providing "all of the information" is not only impractical, but actually a bad idea. It doesn't usually inform the audience, may provide them with false leads, and they generally don't even want to hear it even if they had previously said otherwise. In the end, we have to rely on our professional judgement to determine what information is relevant. Most of the time we do get it right, but it is a good idea to keep in mind that we are having to do this whenever you hear an archaeologist talk.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Trapped by Sheep

I have written before about my many field experiences involving rampaging cattle. In addition to cattle, I have also been pursued by dogs (including once being chased by a pack of dogs), had adventures involving birds, and even been attacked by a hive of wasps and been attacked by a yellow jacket. A co-worker of mine has described having her car attacked by a rampaging donkey, However, I had never thought of the placid sheep as an animal that could be a field hazard...until last week.

I was working in western Kern County, to the southwest of Bakersfield. The area is used as a pasture by sheep ranchers, a fact that I was aware of from having seen a good deal of dessicated sheep feces in the field when I worked there last summer. Being there in the spring, I had the opportunity to see the sheep grazing in the middle of oil fields - truly a bizarre sight.

We had been working around the sheep all week, with no problem. When they saw the car coming, they simply got out of the road and moved along. However, on the last day, this changed.

I was driving along a dirt road in one of the oil fields, and saw a flock of sheep lounging about. As had been the case before, I drove forward, and the sheep moved out of my way. But something was different this time. As a drove through the area that the flock occupied, the sheep didn't stay out of the road, but filled back in behind me, keeping me from backing up. And after I got a couple of hundred feet into the area, the sheep stopped moving out of the road in front of me.

I sat for a while. Honked the horn. Yelled at the sheep. All to no avail. The sheep weren't budging. They stared at me with looks that I had always mistaken for stupid incomprehension in the past, but now knew for what it was: malice and mockery.

After a bit, I suppose when the sheep got bored of their game of "screw with the biped", they finally cleared the road and let me through. I do, however, have photos:

Monday, March 22, 2010

More Psychic Archaeology!

So, I am finally back from the field, and therefore able to write some blog entries.

Today, I just wanted to let you know something very, very important.

Sometimes we find odd things in the field. I have written about weird things found during fieldwork. Normally these items just seem odd or incongruous, but I believe that I am beginning to see a pattern now, and I am beginning to see how the Universe has chosen me to bring a great truth to you.

When I was recording sites in Kern County last week, I came across these two items within the sites:

Combine these with my two previous experiences involving psychic archaeology, and it becomes clear: I have been put on the Earth to use archaeology as a method to spread the gospel of the one true messiah and savior of humanity!


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Archaeology as Screwball Comedy

I was listening to the radio today (that is, the day that I wrote this, not the day that it drops into the feed) and hearing a show in which the host and guests discussed whether or not it matters if Hollywood acurately portrays various professions. Of course, an archaeologist wrote in to state that Holywood always gets archaeology wrong (although the writer succumbed to the usual false impression that only academic archaeology exists). But, it got me thinking, is it possible to accurately portray archaeology in a film or television show?

I have already made known my thoughts on whether or not public mis-perceptions of archaeology are a good or bad thing.

Although our jobs do sometimes require us to do adventurous things, most of our field time is spent doing slow and monotonous work, and our lab time is the same. Then, of course, there is the writing of reports, working out of budgets, and bickering with clients. In other words, for every adventurous moment that we have, there are thousands of moments that are simply not that interesting to anyone but us. So, while archaeologists figure prominently in adventure stories and action movies...well, that's just not even vaguely like the way that it actually is.

Of course, archaeologists also figure into horror stories, sci-fi stories, etc., usually in the role of Dr. Exposition - the guy who explains everything that is going on by deciphering ancient writings, knowing all there is to know about a wide variety of cultures, etc. etc. As much as I like the Dr. Exposition role, it's not accurate either.

I think that the first problem that comes into play is that, when you get down to it, archaeology is a job. Yes, it's a job that involves travel and discovery and ancient artifacts, but it is also a job that requires I-9 forms to be completed, W-2s to be sent at the end of the year, reports to be written, clients to be sought and bids to be won, timecards to be signed, budgets to be maintained, and a regular schedule either at the office or at the job site.

The vast majority of archaeology isn't fun, it's simply work. Those aspects of work that might be fun to watch involve the strange things that archaeologists say or do, the practical jokes that we play on each other, the conversations that we have about difficult clients (and, likewise, the conversations that our clients have about us are probably equally amusing), and the sometimes just plain weird discussions we have with government agencies (my favorite: I once spoke with someone at an agency who would not release the required parameters for a study until after the study in question had been completed...and they failed to see how this might inhibit the study being done). And what makes these things entertaining is the fact that they are frequently quite funny.

The next problem is that the parts of archaeology that are fun - seeing new places, digging into interesting sites, finding unexpected sites in weird places - are great to do, but they are difficult, if not impossible, to convey in images. And, again, much of what happens in these places that could be conveyed via television or movies is the archawologists bickering with each other as they get lost on their way to the new place, or realizing that the fact that they have found an interesting site means that they will have to continue living out of a crappy hotel for another few weeks, or the unexpected site makes so little sense that it inspires the archaeologists to start making up bizarre and goofy new hypotheses to explain it (a friend once joked that an entire site complex originated because someone was searching for a missing shoe).

In short, the things that might be fun to watch in archaeology involve the inter-personal strife and funny happenings that are common on any project. It resembles Arrested Development more than Raiders of the Lost Ark.

So, if the television and movie execs ever decided that they wanted to show the true "essence" of archaeology, they can foget adventure movies, sci-fi, "reality" shows, and all the rest. Archaeology can only accurately be portrayed as a screwball comedy.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Movin' Blues

So, I was in the field for most of the last two weeks, and I will be back in the field starting tomorrow. I have also moved in the few days that I have been home. I will not be able to write regularly until I return from the field, probably at least a week from now, possibly two weeks. In the meantime, I hope to get out a few posts that I have half-written already, but we will see.

For today, here's some more photos I have taken in the area in which I live. These are from a park called Natural Bridges. I hope that you enjoy them:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial

While looking for something else via Google, I came across this review that I wrote way back when while I was a regular member of Stomp Tokyo's message board for a recording of a radio play that I had intended. The company performing the play was touring at the time, and is no longer, but the performance was recorded for broadcast, and does show up on the BBC's online service every now and again. Or, you can buy a copy if you are so inclined.

Anyway, here's the review:

The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial

Starring John DeLancie as Clarence Darrow, Ed Asner as William Jennings Bryan, Jerry Hardin as Judge John T. Raulston.

Just to get this out of the way first off, I want to say that it was surreal to see a play in which Q was a defense attorney, Deep Throat was a judge, and Lou Grant as a fundamentalist attorney, politician, and Bible scholar.

Most folks are probably familiar with the scopes trial as being one of two things, depending on their religious and scientific persuasions:

1. The trial in which creationism was soundly defeated and the truth of science trumped superstition.

2. The trial in which the atheists began to take over the government and destroy traditional values.

Of course, neither of these is really true. In the aftermath of the Scopes trial, religious beliefs continued to trump biological science in the classrooms and the legislatures in matters pertaining to the education of schoolchildren. Although the Scopes trial energized those with an interest in science education, those who wished to prevent discussion of evolution in public schools were also energized, and were far more numerous. It wasn’t until the Soviets launched Sputnik in the 1950’s that the federal and state governments realized it was time to get serious about science education and put the best scientific information available in the classroom regardless of who might be offended.

Moreover, those who opposed the teaching of Evolution are typically portrayed as bigots and ignorant, and this is, on the whole, unfair. William Jennings Bryan, who has so often been portrayed as the villain of the Scopes affair, was an intelligent man, a concerned citizen, and a historical figure who I feel a good deal of respect for (and keep in mind that I am an atheist and think that he was absolutely wrong in his views on science).

In order to really understand the Scopes trial, it must be put in its context. It was the 1920’s, a time that was very much like the 1960’s, and in many respects like today. People were beginning to question tradition, violent and disturbing events of the day and of the recent past were forcing people to re-evaluate their society and culture, and many people were beginning to see that many aspects of the “old morality” simply didn’t hold water, and needed to be re-examined.

While some people wanted to re-examine tradition, others wanted to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and still others found greater solace in the conspicuous and crass consumption that the economic boom of the 1920’s brought. Radio was making information of all sorts available and exposing many people to new and foreign ideas that would either intrigue or frighten them, depending on their inclinations. Many of the below-50 population had been in Europe and fought in the first world war, and come back broken and disillusioned. What’s more, prohibition sparked an increase in organized crime and made out-right criminals into wealthy celebrities.

The point I am trying to make is that the 1920’s were a time when people began to question society, and everything from sexual mores to familial roles to ethnicity was being re-negotiated and undergoing transformation. While in the end the changes that did occur would be far more minor than people both hoped and feared at the time, it must be remembered that in the midst of the popular discussion, or rather argument, they appeared overwhelming and either amazing or terrifying.

The Fundamentalist Christians of the day, and really, even today, were by and large worried about changes that they saw and worried over what it would mean for the future of the world. While I am in no way sympathetic to the intentional ignorance of the subject of evolution that creationists espouse, or to the belief that many religious activists hold that they should be able to push for laws that force those who do not conform to their religion to nonetheless live as if they did, I can understand why the changes and renegotiation occurring today as well as in the 1920’s are frightening, and why many good people would be concerned.

At the same time, While Darrow himself could be described as anti-religious, those who opposed the teaching of any theistic belief in the public schools, both then and now, are not atheists bent on creating more atheists, but rather people who realize from history that mixing religion with politics is always disastrous in the end for everyone involved, including the religious. We are interested in valid science being taught in science classes, because it is plain from looking at the world over the last century that valid science is necessary to solve crucial problems in medicine, agriculture, bio-engineering, etc. (indeed, if one examines much of the public debate about genetically engineered crops, one is quickly struck by how much the people shouting the loudest on either side, and unfortunately pushing the public policy, are often those who very clearly know absolutely nothing about what is actually going on).

So, the 1920’s were a time of change, the mythologization of the scopes trial turns it into a victory for science that it really wasn’t, and its real legacy was not one of clearing the way for the future, but rather of providing a symbolic event that could be used by later generations as the fight continued. Inherit the Wind was mythology, not history, as have been the other re-enactments and re-tellings of the story over the years, whether they cast Darrow or Bryan in the role of the hero.

This new production by the LA Theatre Works does a far better job of putting the event in its proper context than previous plays, films, and T.V. movies. By using the actual news reports and trial transcripts as the source for the script, we get a better idea of who these people were, what they were doing, and why they were doing it. Darrow comes across as a flippant and arrogant, but nonetheless intelligent man who is representing the cause as much because he likes a good fight as because he believes in the cause. Bryan comes across as an intelligent and concerned man who is generally of good character but who is unwilling to really examine the issue of evolution because he fears what he will find. Part of this comes from the actors, and both Asner and Delancie do superb jobs, but most of it comes from the script, which uses the real words of the actual men rather than trusting to the poetry of the playwright (though, certainly, chosing the sections of the transcripts to use leaves the story open to the interpretation of the writer).

It is a curious thing, in the end I walked away sympathetic to Bryan, but on the side of Darrow. Darrow was factually correct, science supports evolution and not creationism, and no amount of intellectual prestidigitation by creationists writers has ever been able to hide this fact from those who take a careful look. Moreover, despite the dire predictions of many people, evolution has not brought horrors of inhumanity any worse than the days of the Inquisition or the Spanish Entrada into the Americas, both of which were heavily religious, and knowledge of evolution has even led many people, myself included, to have a much more sympathetic view of our fellow man, and, perhaps most importantly, evolution has not destroyed religion. However, Bryan was fighting for something he believed in, and while I think he was absolutely wrong in his position, I find that I respect him for the fact that he was willing to fight nonetheless.

Much of the action takes place in narration, provided both by an omniscient narrator reading words written in the present day and from the actors reading portions of Darrow’s memoirs as well as H.L. Mencken’s reports from the trial.

In the end, I suspect that many of the anti-religious will be upset that this play does not demonize religion, and in fact shows that many of Darrow’s speeches about “religious bigots” (echoed by many of Richard Dawkins more contemporary statements) are nothing but empty insults. At the same time, because the play, like the trial, presents evolution honestly and from science, without any of the pseudo-science that is cranked out by groups such as the Discovery Institute, it is likely to be tagged as “pro-evolution propaganda” by those on the other extreme of the religious and political spectrum.

For everyone else, however it provides an illuminating and fascinating look at an event so often mytholgoized but rarely understood, and I can not recommend it highly enough.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

World's Oldest Temple?

Over the last few years there has been a flurry of reports in the popular media about a hill in Turkey known as Gobekli Tepe (which translates into "pot-bellied hill"). The hill appears to be the site of an ancient complex of stone pillars arranged in rings, possibly the earliest known temple in the world. What makes this intriguing is two things: the first is that it is a complex that was apparently built by hunter-gatherers, and the second is that (provided that the current dating is correct) the temple may be near 11,000 years old - making it the world's oldest known temple.

Media coverage has ranged from the excellent (such as a January 2008 article in Smithsonian Magazine) to the insipid (such as one article claiming that the temple is the location of the Garden of Eden). A friend sent me a link to a Newsweek article on the temple and jokingly chided me for not letting him in on the cool archaeological stuff.

So, why does the age and the fact that it was built by hunter-gatherers make this site important. Well, it's because archaeologists (like other mammals) like to construct models for the world, and in our models of the development of human social structure we usually hypothesize that people began farming and became sedentary first, and that complex social organization - complete with an elite (including a priesthood) that demands monumental architecture - came later, as towns and then cities develop. To find a temple that pre-dates agriculture by at least 500 years indicates that the sedentary (or semi-sedentary) settlement patterns and the development of social organization bent on building temples may predate agriculture. To quote from the Smithsonian article

To Schmidt and others, these new findings suggest a novel theory of civilization. Scholars have long believed that only after people learned to farm and live in settled communities did they have the time, organization and resources to construct temples and support complicated social structures. But Schmidt argues it was the other way around: the extensive, coordinated effort to build the monoliths literally laid the groundwork for the development of complex societies.

This site is very cool, and very important to archaeology.

But, it's not quite the ground-shaker that many people, especially in the media, are making it out to be.

Although there is a "classic" model for the development of social complexity and organization, it has been modified or even thrown out for many regional models of development. For example, in California we have numerous locations where the conditions were right for hunter-gatherers to develop sedentary (or semi-sedentary) societies, and they simultaneously developed both definite (and likely hereditary) elite classes and an accompanying religious hierarchy without developing farming*. Moreover, it can be argued that as there were religious organization throughout California that was non-elite (that is, everyone was a member) and elite (so that only special people could be members, or could rise through the religious hierarchy), the elite versions may be the result of a cultural evolution from non-elite versions which allowed individuals to aggregate power.

Even the creation of monumental architecture as a predecessor to and enabler of social hierarchy rather than as a result of it is not an entirely new idea. There have been many arguments made in the past that yearly rituals that didn't necessarily involve a priest more prominent than the local shaman may have resulted in the construction of at least some of the moundworks found in the Americas, eventually creating the conditions for this ritual to become the basis of a more hierarchical religious or social structure**.

Still, to have a site that appears to be unambiguously associated with hunter gatherers, and that is as old as this appear to be (keep in mind that dating sites can be tricky0, is fantastic. While the ideas introduced may not be as new as they tend to be made to sound, the presence of such a site stands as a "proof of concept" of these ideas, if nothing else. And that is very valuable.

By the way, the site was found several decades ago and dismissed as a medieval cemetery. It wasn't until another archaeologist came along years later and began digging that they found out what it really was. This is yet another example that archaeologists do question the "dogma" of our field, contrary to what many pseudo-scientists and pseudo-historians claim.

*Although there are arguments that forms of proto-farming, such as the modification of oak trees in order to produce more acorns, may have been in use.

**Myself, I am not convinced by these arguments, though they are interesting, but I bring them up simply to point out that many of the concepts that are being attributed to this mound in Turkey have been in circulation for a while.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Crystal Skulls - Myth vs. Reality

I remember, as a kid, sitting in the kitchen and hearing the theme from the television show In Search Of... play. My parents, I think primarily my mother, would watch the show regularly, and so, while they fed me a steady stream of real science and history via books, magazines such as Scientific American, NPR, and PBS, they also partook of a fair amount of New Age pseudo-science, especially when it was brought to our homes by Leonard Nimoy.

And I loved it. As a kid, and even into my teens, I was fascinated by the various weird claims made by shows such as In Search Of..., though by my late teens I began to realize just what a crock of nonsense these shows really were. Still, the stories are fun, even if I no longer believe them.

One of the things that I first saw on In Search Of... was crystal skulls. This subject became popular once again recently with the release of the latest Indiana Jones movie. As I am an archaeologist it is not uncommon for people to ask me about these items. So I am writing this entry specifically to give my opinion of the whole crystal skull phenomenon so that I can direct others to it when they ask me about them.

For starters, it should be noted that many of the cultures of Central and South America did manufacture carved skulls out of locally available stones. People living in the Americas during the 19th century discovered that European and North American museums were hungry for pre-Colombian artifacts, and would also carve many new ones, possibly including small skulls, out of whatever materials were at hand (sometimes including authentic, but less beautiful, ancient stone artifacts). These skulls were usually highly stylized in keeping with local traditions, however, and were quite different from the style of the crystal skulls of modern fortean lore.

The larger and more finely-made crystal skulls first appear in the late 19th century. One well-known skull, often referred to as the Aztec Skull, had been bought by the British Museum in the late 19th century and is documented as coming from a well-known French antiquities collector named Eugen Boban. This skull was originally displayed as a pre-Colombian artifact from the Americas (and was not described as being mystical), as were other similar items at other museums. As time went on and more crystal skulls came to light, archaeologists and socio-cultural anthropologists began to get suspicious. In fact, most of the skulls (including the Mitchell-Hedges skull discussed below) appeared to be linked to Eugene Boban.

The "mystical crystal skulls" first came to prominence in the 1950s and 60s, when Anna Mitchell-Hedges (daughter of adventurer and self-promoter F.A. Mitchell-Hedges) began to exhibit a skull that she had allegedly found in a Belizian archaeological site during an excavation in 1924. The skull was mentioned briefly in the elder Mitchell-Hedges autobiography, but otherwise had not been discussed until Anna began to present it publicly and touring it for profit. However, later evidence indicates that F. A. Mitchell-Hedges had actually bought the skull at an auction (although a flimsy cover story has been circulated involving him buying it back from someone he had given it for safe keeping). The crystal skulls appear to have struck a nerve, coming in time for the advent of "crystal power" and "crystal healing" belief systems during the 60s and 70s. The skulls are said to have a variety of different properties, ranging from healing powers to the ability to create psychic abilities in those who are near them. Various spooky stories involving the skulls (even when they are said to be beneficial to humanity, there's still a dark edge to most of the crystal skull stories) seem to be a manifestation of both the fascination and the unease with popular claims of crystal power and energy.

The popular stories, and the ones repeated on In Search Of... and similar shows, hold that the crystal skull shave been thoroughly tested by various research institutions and that they lack tool marks and/or were manufactured in ways that are impossible with even modern technology.

As it happens, many of the crystal skulls, including the Aztec skull, have in fact been subjected to tests by numerous research institutions, and the truth is rather different from the popular narrative. The tests have consistently shown that the skulls do have tool marks, and that these tool marks are consistent with European crystal-carving tools dating from the late 19th century through the modern day, and that the manufacturing techniques are actually fairly easy to determine. Some folks claim that different researchers have performed tests on crystal skulls but are refusing to release the results or acknowledge that the tests have been done - which is usually code for "this is all nonsense, but we have to say something unfalsifiable as a way of saving face". In other words, the crystal skulls are fakes. As noted above, several appear to have come from Eugene Boban, who probably bought them in Oberstein, Germany, where such crystal work was routinely done in the late 19th century. The others either are not submitted for proper study or have revealed similar results.

The case of the British museum's Aztec skull is particularly interesting to me, though. while it has been subject to many of the same "crystal power" claims as the other skulls, it also has had a variety of other stories attached to it: it moves on its own, it makes people who are near it feel uneasy, it mus be covered at night in order to not frighten the people who work at the museum, etc. etc. Most of the skull's creepy elements are typical of haunted house symptoms that would have been familiar to late nineteenth and early twentieth century Britons from common folklore as well as the mass media of the day. If I have to venture a guess, I'd say that, as the crystal skulls became the manifestation of the creepy side of the crystal power craze, the Britons working at the museum began to attribute the same sorts of symptoms to the skull.

Me, looking dissaprovingly towards the Aztec Skull

So, there you have it, the skulls are not pre-Colombian artifacts from Central and South America. They are probably of European origins, were created to make a fast buck for a french antiquities dealer, and thorough testing has shown that they are perfectly terrestrial on origin, even if they look a bit weird.

If you want to do more reading (I assume that you are capable of discerning the pseudo-scientific nonsense from legitimate information) then go to The British Museum, How Stuff Works, The Smithsonian Institute, Hometown Tales Podcast, Wikipedia, Podcast, Internet, Internet

...and, because I love you all, here's a special treat:

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Working-Class Students

I have not been blogginf as much as I would like this week because I have just started another field project. I suspect that I'll be more-or-less back to normal int he next week or so, however.

In the meantime, I wanted to post a quick thing about my own personal history - sort of a quick explanation of one aspect of why I am the way I am. As I was driving back from the field today, I heard this podcast (the second segment, starts around the 14 minute mark) about British working-class students at the top universities in England. The expectation had been that when studying these students, the researchers would encounter a good amount of hostility and antagonism rooted in a "class warfare" attitude. Instead, they found that the students found themselves enjoying the university experience, as they were for the first time surrounded by other people who valued intellectual pursuits as much as they did.

This was pretty similar to my own experience when I went to UCSC back in the mid-90s. I had grown up in a working-class neighborhood, and throughout my childhood, my interest in reading and my enjoyment of "school subjects" like history (and my correspondign disinterest in things like sports) led to me being labelled the local nerd, and also was one of the factors that led to me being largely alienated by my peers.

The same continued throughout high school, and when I began taking classes at the local community college, many of my neighbors began to look a bit askance at me. When I went to UCSC to earn a BA, many of them stopped talking to me. A few began to regard me as human again after I graduated and went to work at a low-level corporate job. However, when I left and began graduate school, these folks and a few others once again regarded me with disdain.

What is odd to me is that many of these folks made comments to my sisters to the effect that they wished to not speak with me because I thought that I was "too good for them." In truth, I would have loved to have maintained contact, but I found that a lot of people took my pursuit of my own interests as an afront to them. And, yes, I did make friends at the university - I was around people who saw my intellectual pursuits as a worthwhile thing, and didn't spend their time belittling them.

In the end, I understand what happened - and I have certainly kept in touch with some of my old friends - but I have never been able to really been able to quite come to terms with it. It was, however, good to hear the podcast and know that I am hardly alone.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Graham Hancock: Pulp Fantasy, Not Archaeology

"Have you ever heard of Graham Hancock, and what do you think of his work?"

I had just graduated from UCSC, a newly minted BA of anthropology, when I received an email from my cousin Joe that contained this question. It's the sort of thing that I have routinely had happen since I graduated, and have had happen with great regularity ever since graduate school, someone will discover that I have been trained in archaeology, and they will ask what I think of their particular favorite author who writes about the human past. I replied that I did not know who Graham Hancock was, but that I would look into his work and get back to Joe.

Google was in it's infancy then, so I "Yahoo'd" (your remember Yahoo, don't you?) Graham Hancock's name and quickly discovered that while his name wasn't immediately familiar, I did know of you want to use the term "work" to describe what this guy does. He's one of these guys who has discovered that he can make huge amounts of money by writing books that lie about the archaeological record and make wild claims about the magically (or pseudo-scientifically) advanced "past civilizations". It's the usual drivel that anyone who has perused a new-age bookshop will be familiar with: there were these ancient civilizations that were ever-so-advanced and that did ever-such-wonderful things that we are only now discovering, but those ever-so-evil dogmatic archaeologists and historians want to hide this all from you because it would be ever so bad for the bank accounts and careers if they told you the truth (wow, I think I broke my sarcasm meter).

I have explained why this line of thinking is bullshit before, so I'll just refer you back to the old posts rather than go into it again.


Hancock had a web site (and still does, but I'm not going to link to it because I refuse to give him any traffic), and at that time the front page of the site contained essays, sort of an early version of a blog. When I first visited his site, the essay that was proudly on display (and has since been removed from his website...for reasons that will become obvious in a moment, so bear in mind that I am writing this from memory and can't quote his essay directly) explained why he does what he does. He admitted (though in a vague and weaselly way) in the essay that he cherry-picks his "evidence" to select only what supports his claims while ignoring disconfirming evidence, and that he eschews the usual archaeological practice of carefully collecting data and working from the assumption that the majority of evidence leans to the correct conclusion until clearly proven otherwise. Why does he engage in such sloppy thinking? Ah, well, you see, ol' Mr. Hancock informed his readers that he is in fact like a lawyer representing his client, his client being the "ancient technologically advanced civilizations" that he claims existed despite the fact didn't.

So, yeah, he admitted, though not in so many words, to actually just making shit up to support a pre-existing conclusion, and then tried to justify it by comparing himself to a lawyer in a criminal trial*. Is it any wonder that he's not parading this essay about anymore?

So, my cousin had been taken in by this guy's intellectual con game.

Now, you have to understand, Joe is a smart guy. A very smart guy, in fact. So, I had assumed that, if I explained the problems with Hancock's methods and conclusions, Joe would get it.

Fast-forward a few weeks, and I was at a family wedding where Joe was also in attendance. He asked me if I had looked Graham Hancock up, and what I thought of him. I replied that I had, and that I was unimpressed by Hancock. He asked me why, and I gave a long, detailed explanation, and then summed it up by saying "basically, the guy just takes stuff out of context and makes up stories."

Joe smiled, and then said "but isn't that the point?"

"Huh?" I wittily replied.

"Yeah, you take stuff out of its old context, and then put it into its new context, and that's how you find the Truth."

I was so stunned by this rather bizarre and nonsensical statement that I just sort of stood there and stammered (remember, I was 22, and this was a respected older cousin, simply saying "yer' fulla' shit!" wouldn't have been in my character). Joe then spent a few minutes talking about how one of Hancock's cohort would soon be coming out with a new, "corrected" (read: mangled) translation of some Mayan writings, and then wandered off.

The basic problem with Joe's assessment of archaeology is this: archaeology is not about putting old stuff in new contexts (contrary to what the self-important screwball comedy team of Shanks and Tilley like to claim), but, rather, an honest and rigorous attempt to work out what the original context of the materials that we find actually was. We do this through a very tough, time consuming process, and we always leave open the possibility that new evidence may prove our previous conclusions wrong - and indeed this has happened many times over the century or so that archaeology has been a proper and respectable discipline.

The problem is that people like Hancock, while spewing complete and utter nonsense, do one thing very well: they tell compelling stories. Hancock has tapped into the tendency that many people, including myself and many of my colleagues, have to want to romanticize the past. Hancock does this by telling stories of ancient civilizations that would have looked familiar to early science fiction and fantasy writers such as Robert E. Howard. the problem is that Hancock, and others like him, are very good at presenting "Evidence" that ranges from true but out-of-context facts to exaggerations to complete fabrications in a way that sounds very convincing to anyone who hasn't been introduced to the nature and purpose of archaeological methods.

When real archaeologists and historians point out the flaws in Hancock's "research" methods (which, it should be noted, include everything from taking stuff wildly out of context to fictionalizing [the legally correct term for lying]), they can expect to be greeted by Hancock's admirer's paroting of their great master in his counter-reality claims that the professional researchers have an agenda to obfuscate the truth, and the mighty Hancock is just publishing what people like me allegedly want to hide. It's a weird little meme, but a common one in psuedo-scholarhsip, to poison the well and give one's followers an easy out to automatically dismiss all disconfirmation of a believe that comes from people who actually know what they're talking about**.

But, in the end, Hancock's ancient civilizations are simply fiction, and Hancock gives hints that he is well aware of this fact but doesn't mind mis-leading his audience. His books provide great settings for the further adventures of Conan the Barbarian, but they are of absolutely zero historical or scientific value.

*The whole lawyer analogy is just plain weird to begin with. It's a common view (whether fair or not) that the nature of trials is that they are adversarial and intended to sway a jury through whatever legal means are necessary, and there is a corresponding common view (admittedly not particularly fair) that trial lawyers are as likely as not to lie. So, really, why would someone compare themselves to a trial lawyer in an attempt to make their position? Why not just compare one's self to a politician running on the "ancient civilizations" ticket?

**Of course, this is really frustrating when it is Hancock and his ilk who have an agenda and career tied up in obfuscating the truth.