Archaeological representations in the media: the dominance of pseudo-Archeology



Contrary to a prevalent impression within the research community, pseudo-science is far from a marginal phenomenon, far from being a mere epiphenomenon in the mediascape. As this article shows, it constitutes a dominant trend since the 2010s, especially in historical and archeological television documentaries. These documentaries enjoy high ratings, which partly explains why producers continue to make them. Thus, omnipresent in the mediascape and beyond, they outcompete the scientific consensus and the worldview it projects, regardless of the debunking efforts of researchers and journalists. Furthermore, pseudoscience publications enjoy sales volumes that even the most renown researchers can only dream of. This omnipresence of pseudoscientific discourses in the social sphere transforms representations, increases beliefs in the paranormal and encourages conspiratorial mindsets. The comparative analysis of two documentaries: Lost World of the Maya (National Geographic) (NG) and Ancient Aliens©: Secret of the Maya (AA), has revealed a great number of similarities. Their format is identical, with the same number of segments, separated by synchronous commercial breaks of equal lengths (give or take a few seconds). If they somewhat differ in terms of treatment (AA proposes to uncover a conspiracy, and NG to solve an enigma) and the structure of the argumentation (AA: narration, assertion, speculation; NG: description, question, interpretation), they both show the same archetypal images of the Maya culture and mobilize the same enunciative modalities: a voice-over commentary ensures coherence throughout, interspaced with snippets from specifically invited “experts” whose task is to illustrate, specify, justify…. the overarching narrative. And yet, although many appear on screen, their speaking time is unequally distributed, with one (NG) or two (AA) speaking the most, and the others barely a minute each in total. Thus, their similarity is such that it is accurate to speak of variations within a media format. More precisely, we can only reaffirm Marshall McLuhan’s observation that “the medium is the message”, as, beyond the scientific or pseudoscientific narrative, the very dynamic of the media predominates, blurring the distinction between the two.


Science, pseudoscience, expert, media, television, media format

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