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(Part 2 of what's below. Blogger is not winning my friendship today.)

I included the last paragraph because it's an interesting observation, but what I really want to talk about is somewhat broader. I'm quite interested in pseudoarchaeology/pseudohistory (less pejoratively known as alternative archaeology), from a skeptical point of view. But skeptics' articles about the phenomenon -- and the one linked above is no exception -- often strike me as unduly strident. They decry alternative archaeologists' poor approaches to the truth, and agonize over how the public gets taken in by such things (though they do properly blame the deceptive scholarship of the alternative archaeologists instead of the gullibility of the archaeologically-uneducated public).

Yet I wonder if such a debunking approach is the best weapon. In some ways this response plays right into the alternative archaeological worldview -- specifically the claim that there's a scientific orthodoxy bent on eradicating alternative archaeology (though the alternatives posit an orthodoxy of content while skeptics base their claims in an orthodoxy of methodology). This would be fine if what was at issue was simply a search for an accurate depiction of the past. But I think there may be some deeper needs that alternative archaeology fills, an issue that goes beyond the simple diagnosis that real archaeology isn't as sexy as aliens building the pyramids.

Having not interviewed alternative archaeological believers, I can only speculate on what those needs may be. There may be a sort of Galileo Complex -- the desire to be the lone holder of the truth that others' dogmatic blinkers won’t let them see. There may be the appeal of the mystical -- while alternative archaeology offers an explanation of the past, it also reinvigorates and plays upon a sense of wonder and even spirituality about it that contrasts to mainstream archaeology's apparent methodical rational scientific disenchantment. But whatever the reasons, it seems likely that if mainstream archaeology can't find a way to compete on those grounds, it will be plagued by Zechariah Sitchins and Eirich von Dänikens forever, no matter how strident our denunciations of their scientific worth.


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