Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Archaeology vs. Pseudoarchaeology

(Photo from Instituto Nacional de Cultura, Cuzco)

At the same time that archaeologists were reporting the discovery of a 5500 year-old complex in Peru, another "discovery" in Peru has turned out to be false.

Earlier this year, media outlets in Peru reported the discovery of a lost Incan city deep in the Andes. Initial photos (like the one above) appeared to show carved stone blocks of the kind the Incas used to make cities like Cuzco and Machu Picchu at a place called Manco Pata. There was talk of declaring the site a National Heritage site as well as the possibility of touristic development.

Once professional archaeologists arrived at the site, however, it became clear that these were not artificial structures. There were no accompanying artifacts. There is no sign of tools used to shape the 'blocks,' nor were they arranged to form structures. What are they, then?

The 'blocks' are simply local sandstone that has fractured along right-angled planes. Such geological formations are not uncommon. However, they create great confusion for archaeological amateurs looking for lost cities. Beach rock, another formation that tends to fracture at right angles, has been mistaken for the Lost City of Atlantis. Formations similar to the one in Peru have been found off the coast of Okinawa and mistaken for another "lost city."

Somehow, I don't think this definitive judgment will deter those who are looking for evidence of aliens or Atlanteans. Certainly the possibility of tourist dollars may have led to local over-enthusiasm. Expect to see "Manco Pata" cropping up in pseudoarchaeological literature from now on.

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I recently read an article in one of the better-known archaeology magazines, American Archaeology, which just didn’t sit right with me. The article was entitled, “The Peculiar Phenomenon of Pseudoarchaeology,” written by, Kenneth L. Feder. Although I saw the point Mr. Feder was attempting to make, I also couldn’t help but take a slight offense to his rather elitist way of looking at things. His basic premise seemed to be that anything other than “classical” archaeological theory is simply not acceptable in the world of REAL archaeology

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