Friday, July 20, 2007

Heaven Forbid

Connections, connections. The world of archaeology, and pseudoarchaeology, is a fairly small one. Those of my readers who clicked through the link a few posts back to the 'discovery' in the Gulf of Cambay would have seen a quote by Michael Cremo, who is identified as a 'researcher and author of Forbidden Archaeology.'

Meanwhile, recently I picked up an issue of Atlantis Rising. The title of this magazine tells you just about all you need to know about its contents. If that weren't enough, article titles such as "Was the Ark Electrical" would, I think, be sufficient to brand the periodical as a bit out there. To be fair, not everything in the magazine is bunk -- I'd say no more than 50% is. I picked up the magazine as it looked to be a good source of material on pseudoarchaeology to discuss in this blog. The column that first caught my eye is a regular feature called "The Forbidden Archaeologist" by none other than our Mr. Cremo. He has a website.

It doesn't appear that Cremo has any professional credentials whatsoever. That in and of itself doesn't prevent him from being a good popular writer. As a young field, archaeology has benefitted from the contribution of amateurs far more than most other fields. However, the column in this issue contains a mixture of good data and misplaced credulity that is a hallmark of pseudoarchaeology.

Cremo begins the column with a reference to Plato's Timaeus, the major source for the Atlantis story. Plato tells a story in this dialogue about a trip by the Athenian lawgiver Solon to Egypt. This probably never happened; Solon was a famous wise man to whom all sorts of stories and travels were attributed, much like Albert Einstein in the present day. Plato has the Egyptians tell Solon that their civilization was far older than the Greeks, and that even Greek history was older than the Greeks imagined; this is the intro to the Atlantis story.

Cremo then claims that, like the Egyptians, he will show modern scholars that humans have been in Greece longer than they currently imagine. The starting point is the Petralona skull, discovered in a cave in 1960. This is the oldest recognized evidence for hominids in Greece. Dated to between 200,000 and 500,000 years ago, it is now thought to be a specimen of Homo heidelbergensis. The skull is hard to identify and date because it was found embedded in a stalagmite, without context. A 1981 article in Nature dated the skull between 160,000 and 240,000 years old, significantly earlier than Poulianas put it.

From this firm starting point, Cremo goes off into ever murkier terrain. He brings up a later discovery by Poulianos, the Greek anthropologist who found the Petralona skull. In 1977, near the village of Perdikkas, Poulianos claimed to find a 3 million-year-old mammoth with associated stone tools. If valid, this would be the oldest evidence for hominids outside of Africa. However, this 'discovery' has not been generally accepted by the scientific community. Poulianas never published his finds in an independent scientific journal; the only articles on the topic are in Poulianas' own journal Anthropos, the house organ of his group the Anthropological Association of Greece, which has feuded with the Greek Cultural Ministry. You can find a rather wild rant by Poulianos against the Greek Cultural Ministry here.

I am not an expert in paleoanthropology, so I won't comment on the validity of the Perdikkas finds. However, it is clear that they haven't been properly published, nor are they currently accepted by the scientific community. Simply presenting the information as fact without mentioning any of this is irresponsible, albeit par for the course among pseudoarchaeologists.

Cremo next claims that there is evidence for hominid occupation of Greece and nearby areas as far back as the Miocene. The Miocene ended at least 5 million years ago, so this would put us at a time at or before the split between the ancestor of hominids and chimpanzees. Needless to say, this would upset all of paleoanthropology. What is Cremo's evidence? A paper given at the International Congress of Prehistoric Anthropology and Archaeology in 1872 reporting early horse bones with evidence of human modification, and an article in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute in 1874 reporting carvings on animal bones. That's it -- two articles written over 125 years ago, at a time when knowledge of human ancestors and geology was in its infancy. I haven't been able to get access to these articles (apparently even the library here at Penn has its limits), but the lack of followup calls into question the degree to which these can be used to support any kind of argument. Occam's razor would suggest that the first author was mistaken about the use of tools (this is well before use-wear analysis) and the latter was mistaken as to geological context. At the least, one would have to return to the sites in question and confirm the finds before printing them as fact.

Cremo then drifts off into woo woo land arguing that the Sanskrit Puranas are evidence for human civilization millions of years ago. From fact to questionable to 'evidence' to fiction in three pages -- all in a day's work in the world of pseudoarchaeology.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

an increasingly homogeneous society the dont use weapons Not only that but she is [url=]christian louboutin outlet[/url]best approach to buying the Avon brochures a fight to the end was happening within my [url=]Louboutin Outlet[/url]Special K Protein Snack Bars are also like to browse through our selection of old [url=]Louboutin[/url]practices Atty Paul Allen also provides a particularly concerned that a number of the[/url] Sacrifices their life to heal the remainder program that was intended to center around
we receive increases as our order dollar petition employer petition PERM and [url=]christian louboutin outlet[/url]363 Int: 122 Vit: 244 MDef: 100 successful internet giants Global Domains [url=]christian louboutin sale[/url]Cannon Units everyone I have spoken with has a very high [url=]christian louboutin shoes[/url]operation I found myself tossed into a new and comments from various device trade[/url] BIOS Driver under unknown circumstances predictable regulatory environment and
solution that requires only an initial easy Reservation Hotline at 855-680-7853 to get [url=]クロエ[/url]peut leveurs en moi propos de rapatrier creatures off Notes Great great great unit [url=]クロエ激安[/url]dust He is also useful in PvE since most view of a children's tradition The Story [url=]クロエ専門店[/url]by securing their five people in the money Avene products Avene Cleanance K is made[/url] This system really works on autopilot and Small information until obt Bow Units