What lies beneath Achill-henge?


Achill-henge. Photo by Seequinn

It’s good to see Achill-henge being picked up by the BBC. This is a story that’s been around for a while. I think RTÉ’s video report is access­ible world­wide. The BBC just has a webpage that’s an intro­duc­tion to the story. You can also listen to the radio pro­gramme (world­wide I think) with the rel­ev­ant seg­ment at 6m04s.

It’s not a bad story, but from an archae­olo­gical point of view it misses the most inter­est­ing things. Firstly build­ing this ertsatz archae­olo­gical site may have dam­aged a real site. Usually before con­struc­tion there will be test digs to check the con­struc­tion won’t des­troy some­thing of his­tor­ical import­ance. Achill is an extremely sens­it­ive archae­olo­gical site. There’s a long run­ning field school there because it has such a rich archae­olo­gical record. If you’re a fan of pre­his­toric remains, it seems a bit mad to risk des­troy­ing one to make a copy.

The second thing is the tem­plate chosen for the site. It’s Stonehenge. It’s a shoddy Stonehenge as any­one who’s been there could tell you, but it’s clearly a ring of tri­lithons. You don’t get those in Ireland. There’s a romantic ideal that the pre­his­toric British Isles were all Celtic but, as we learn more about sites, it’s becom­ing clear that there are dis­tinct­ive dif­fer­ences in tra­di­tions around the islands.

Tomnaverie Stone Circle

Tomnaverie Stone Circle. Photo by Cameron Diack

This is Tomnaverie Recumbent Stone Circle. The recum­bent bit is the low stone in the middle, flanked by two tall stones. There’s plenty of stone circles like this around Aberdeenshire, but you don’t get so many of them any­where else. There is a pos­sible astro­nom­ical align­ment. These circles tend to be set up so that the sum­mer full moon appears to roll across the top of the recum­bent stone every 18 years or so, due to the way the Moon’s orbit wobbles.

Drombeg Stone Circle

Drombeg Recumbent Stone Circle. Photo by Todd Slagter

This is Drombeg Recumbent Stone Circle. It’s com­pact and tidy, but the tallest stones are on the oppos­ite side to the recum­bent stone. This is more typ­ical of Irish circles. The tall stones can be seen as a delib­er­ate a portal for entry. The astro­nom­ical align­ments are dif­fer­ent for Irish circles. They tend to be facing south-westish and this could be an align­ment to winter sol­stice sunset.

Even though they look sim­ilar, these stone circles could be telling us very dif­fer­ent things about belief. If we trust the pat­terns emer­ging from study­ing groups of monu­ments, not just the ones we like, then they’re almost oppos­ites. The key event in Scotland seems to hap­pen with the Moon in sum­mer. In Ireland they’re look­ing to the Sun in winter.

There’s an ongo­ing argu­ment about whether sum­mer sun­rise or winter sun­set was more import­ant at Stonehenge. I favour winter sun­set, but to some extent this is just as reflect­ive of how you view pre­his­toric life as it is about the data. In addi­tion there’s plenty of evid­ence show­ing that Stonehenge was repeatedly remod­elled, includ­ing a pos­sible shift from lunar to solar alignments.

In any event whatever the tra­di­tion was at Stonehenge it’s a massive leap to think what happened there was reflect­ive of beliefs across the Irish Sea. Stonehenge is so embed­ded as an iconic brand for pre­his­toric archae­ology in the British Isles, that British pre­his­tory is now col­on­ising per­cep­tions of what a pre­his­toric Ireland would look like.

I don’t know to what extent that’s a good thing. Modern states are recent inven­tions, and some archae­olo­gists will cringe at the idea of a pre­his­toric Ireland or UK. Recognising mod­ern bound­ar­ies don’t apply to the past is a sens­ible fea­ture. At the same time an appeal­ing com­mon past does risk los­ing some of what makes places loc­ally distinctive.

Achill-henge. Photo by Seequin. Licenced under a Creative Commons BY-NC licence.
Tomnaverie Stone Circle. Photo by Cameron Diack. Licenced under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.
Drombeg Stone Circle. Photo by Todd Slagter. Licenced under a Creative Commons BY licence.

Cliopatria Awards 2008: Best Series of Posts


Here we’re mov­ing out of my depth slightly. I haven’t been fol­low­ing enough blogs that intently to men­tion more than a couple of series of posts.

So instead of a com­pre­hens­ive over­view, I’m going to grab the ‘high­light work that oth­ers might not have seen’ baton and point to Le Site d’Irna as my nom­in­a­tion for Best Series of Posts. I’m nom­in­at­ing with mixed feel­ings, because I’m not really inter­ested in giv­ing the sub­ject any more pub­li­city. So the write-up is oblique to try and avoid a cer­tain phrase and draw­ing in more vis­it­ors who get angry when you rule out alien inter­ven­tion as an explan­a­tion for archae­olo­gical remains, purely due to lack of evid­ence. To a large extent the world is bored. It’s old news. Yet still he keeps dig­ging and des­troy­ing more and more of the irre­place­able past. Irna with her series of posts has kept a chron­icle of what has been going in the Balkans (clue if you don’t know what I’m talk­ing about). It’s a thank­less task, at least for now but I’m entirely ser­i­ous when I say her posts are of his­toric import­ance. This will be valu­able mater­ial when someone wants to talk about the ‘equal valid­ity of dif­fer­ent ways of know­ing.’ It’s the only place I know of where the extra-terrestrial hunt­ing pseudoar­chae­olo­gists have been given carte blanche on a site of archae­olo­gical importance.

The posts are:

It’s a shame she’s had to write them, but she has writ­ten them well and they deserve recognition.

Is reality the second best option?


Puma over Visoko
A British Puma flies over Visoko. Photo by Torbein.

I wasn’t too sur­prised by some of the responses to the Bosnian Pyramid posts, though the quant­ity was high. One reason for not writ­ing more on it was the sheer num­ber of vis­it­ors. I’ve had to pay for increased band­width which I can’t really afford to do again. There were a few people that noted I was an idiot, which told me noth­ing I didn’t know already, but no flaws in my reas­on­ing. I assume that means that every­one accepts that the press releases com­ing out from Visoko are so non­sensical even an idiot can spot the errors. Therefore if you want to archae­olo­gic­ally exam­ine the hill to find out what happened there in the past then the dig is prob­ably a bad idea. There are lots of import­ant things on the site and Osmanagić doesn’t seem to be aware of the prob­lems he has record­ing it. Or else doesn’t care. But is the dig really about find­ing his­tory or cre­at­ing myth?

And if it’s not a pyr­amid, then we make one,” said a man from Visoko after we asked him what he thinks of the pyr­amid shaped hill.

Nearby, the man­ager of a food fact­ory was flog­ging “Bosnian Sun Pyramid” pralines. Hawkers sold hast­ily prin­ted T-shirts and brandy in pyramid-shaped bottles while crafts­men turned out pyr­amid souven­irs. Retiree Rasim Kilalic turned his week­end home near the dig into a café. “Please God, let them find a pyr­amid,” he said, rush­ing to serve crowded tables.

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Could Kendo Nagasaki smack down Alternative Archaeology?


There’s never enough time. There was a write up of what soun­ded like an incred­ibly use­ful drug in New Scientist recently of a pill that allows you to pull 48 hour shifts with no side-effects which would be a help. I could spend so much more time read­ing and think­ing as well as writ­ing. A week later in the let­ters sec­tion it was poin­ted out there is a slight side effect. It causes pre­ma­ture death in lab mice, which could be a draw­back should I ever want keep mice. Perhaps it’s just as well I’ve for­got­ten the name of the drug.

The reason I might want to do this is that there are inter­est­ing things to read like Cornelius Holtorf’s paper in World ArchaeologyBeyond cru­sades: how (not) to engage with altern­at­ive archae­olo­gies”. It’s very good, though the price of $28:32 would seem like a bit of a bar­rier to any altern­at­ive archae­olo­gists. I found it men­tioned on the Hall of Ma’at while look­ing for some­thing else. There is some use­ful debate there but you’ll have to sift through it because there’s also some pos­tur­ing of the like I last saw on a Saturday after­noon with my Grancha. The paper argues that an aca­demic smack­down is not a help­ful way to engage with altern­at­ive archae­ology and talks about other ways of enga­ging with the fringe.
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Giza: The Truth by Ian Lawton and Chris Ogilvie-Herald


I didn’t buy this book — it was bought for me. From the cover it looks like yet another ali­ens built the pyr­am­ids book. As it hap­pens they do dis­cuss ali­ens, but they do ration­ally and with a simple logic. Take for instance the claim by Robert Temple (The Sirius Mystery) on the weath­er­ing of the Sphinx. Temple argues that the erosion was caused because the enclos­ure of the Sphinx was filled with water for ali­ens, who were amphi­bi­ans, to swim in. My ‘refut­a­tion’ would prob­ably go some­thing along the lines of “Don’t be so bloody stu­pid”. This is not help­ful. Lawton and Ogilvie-Herald approach it with a lighter touch. “Since the water would drain away without con­stant refilling, we do not regard this as very likely.”

Like the anti-archaeology books it tackles, it’s bit of a door-stop at over 550 pages. It is rather dry in places, but it is a use­ful dis­sec­tion of the deceit prac­ticed by anti-archaeologists in Egypt. It also reveal how the deceit spreads in to the polit­ics of work on the Giza plat­eau.

Meanwhile we have already seen in Chapter 10 that Bauval and Hancock had ori­gin­ally been invited to join the Schor exped­i­tions, but refused on the basis of West;s exclu­sion and the require­ment that they should sign non-disclosure agree­ments. These were the two major bones of con­ten­tion that they exploited to the full in their pub­lic utter­ances… Not only were they intent on halt­ing Schor’s mis­sions, but they also wanted to ensure any of his team’s find­ings were brought to the atten­tion of the pub­lic as soon as pos­sible. In this they were aided by Said, who released a copy of the Secret Chamber promo to Bauval — who in turn milked Hawass’s ‘Indiana Jones’ quip for all it was worth…
Schor him­self has informed us that, as he was fin­an­cing the mis­sion, he wanted the oppor­tun­ity to recoup his invest­ment by hav­ing the first oppo­tun­ity of releas­ing the findings.

Later they talk about Bauval and Hancock’s recon­cili­ation with Hawass and quote Bauval “…we will not allow this to degen­er­ate again into a mor­ass of polit­ical con­fu­sion and media hype. The stakes are too high for egos to get in the way of the search for truth”.

Is it suc­cess­ful? Well let­ters like this one on Ian Lawton’s site would sug­gest that he’s an irrit­ant to Bauval at least.

On the down­side it looks like sens­ible books on Egypt are dif­fi­cult to sell. Lawton has now foun­ded the Rational Spirituality Movement “…an emer­ging world­wide asso­ci­ation of like-minded indi­vidu­als who share a com­mon spir­itual world­view based on the dual con­cepts of rein­carn­a­tion and karma. This world­view is fun­da­ment­ally dif­fer­ent from any that has gone before because it is pre­dic­ated on ration­al­ity and ana­lysis of mod­ern evid­ence, not on faith and belief in ‘revealed wisdom’.”

Oh dear.

Write your own Alternative Archaeology book


How do you fight ‘Alternative’ archae­ology? The obvi­ous answer would be with the facts, but is that a good idea? A lot of the read­ers aren’t really that inter­ested in the facts. They don’t want to read round books that might chal­lenge their assump­tions, they just want their pre­ju­dices con­firmed. Supporters of the Kensington Rune Stone aren’t going to be bothered by the fact that there’s not a shred of evid­ence for Vikings in that part of Minnesota, nor that the runes are inac­cur­ate for the period it’s fak­ing. As for the unde­cideds who see one group claim­ing one thing and the other group claim­ing another, how do you get around that potato / po-tar-to problem?

A thing that is slowly gath­er­ing bytes on my hard drive is some­thing inspired by the KLF. Loosely it’s “How to Write Alternative Archaeology the Easy Way”. Rather than say X is rub­bish and Y is non­sense I won­der if it might be inter­est­ing to gather inform­a­tion about some of the staples of altern­at­ive archae­ology and show how this rub­bish is put together.

Giant's CausewayTake for instance the Bimini Road, which proves the Ancient High Ones built roads or whatever. You could say that it’s not a road and give the geo­lo­gical evid­ence as to why. If you think the Bimini Road is man-made then pre­sum­ably you’ll be astoun­ded by the Giant’s Causeway (photo by Mrpattersonsir right). Anyway you could do that. Might it be more help­ful to get a mys­tery, work on the assump­tion that it’s a geo­lo­gical fea­ture from the start, rather than dis­prove it’s art­fi­cial ori­gin, and then show how you can twist data to make it look man-made. Point out that arti­facts could be found on it, or by it. It’s a safe bet this is true as any­thing washed over­board would get sink to the seabed. By doing this you can then show why genu­ine archae­olo­gists won’t believe it, the arte­facts lack con­text, but how altern­at­ive archae­olo­gists weasel their way out of this prob­lem. Not only are you high­light­ing the archae­olo­gical and his­tor­ical issues, you also expose how the ‘altern­at­ive’ decep­tion is done.

Talk to a pro­fes­sional magi­cian. They won’t mind someone stand­ing up and telling the audi­ence that it’s impossible to pull a rab­bit out of a hat, but they’d hate it if someone explained how the decep­tion was done. There is a danger that by explain­ing how to fake his­tory that you give someone the weapons to pro­duce more junk. But at a basic level the pro­fes­sional char­lat­ans already know the tricks. Discussing how mis­dir­ec­tion works in anti­science may alert people more to how frauds try to pull the wool over their eyes.

The aim of the pro­ject, if it ever hap­pens, will be to try and reduce the effort in writ­ing an altern­at­ive archae­ology novel. To help I have a tool which gen­er­ates altern­at­ive archae­ology titles. If I’d real­ised how pop­u­lar the Viking Name Generator would become, then I’d have prob­ably put this up earlier instead. I’m baffled. I can’t work out why so many people are pleased to be Serial Arsonist. As for this one, the databank is smal­ler and it’s more satir­ical than funny.

Enter the Author Name:

Would you like my honest opinion or would you prefer the alternative?


Athena has put up a post on Pseudo-science and Archaeology which I like. It has two par­tic­u­lar good points. Firstly she defines what she means by pseudo-science and then she explains why it mat­ters. The quibble I would have is one which could be applied with far more force to me. Is Pseudo-science the right word? I think it is in Athena’s case, because she defines what she means. However Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy has argued that the term pseudo-science is mis­lead­ing because it gives the impres­sion that pseudo-science is almost sci­ence. There’s noth­ing sci­entific about it. It’s anti­science and that’s the term he’s using.

He points out that the label we give to a pos­i­tion defines its oppon­ents too. So if you plant a car-bomb out­side an abor­tion clinic you’re “pro-life”, thus imply­ing the guy or guyess you’re try­ing kill is anti–life. Does this have reper­cus­sions for his­tory or archae­ology?
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