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

ALEXANDRE SCHIELE, BERNARD SCHIELE

Abstract

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.

Keywords

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

Full Text:

PDF

References

Adorno, T. W., & Horkheimer, M. (1947). Dialektik der Aufklärung: Philosophische Fragmente. Berlin: S. Fischer Verlag.

Crane, D. (2014). Cultural globalization and the dominance of the American film Industry: Cultural policies, national film industries, and transnational film. International Journal of Cultural Policy, 20(4), 365-382.

Hartley, L. P. (1953). The Go-Between. London: Hamish Hamilton.

House of Lords. (2000). Science and Technology - Third Report. Retrieved from https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld199900/ldselect/ldsctech/38/3801.htm.

Mcluhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media: The extensions of man. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

The Royal Society. (1985). The Public Understanding of Science. London: The Royal Society.

Todorov, T. (1970). Introduction à la littérature fantastique. Paris: Seuil.

Blavatsky, H. P. (1888). The secret doctrine: The synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy. London: The Theosophical Publishing Company, Limited.

Cooper, H., Kean, L., & Blimenthal, R. (2017a). Glowing auras and ‘black money’: The Pentagon mysterious U.F.O. program. In The New York Times, 16 December. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/16/us/politics/pentagon-program-ufo-harry-reid.html.

Cooper, H., Kean, L., & Blimenthal, R. (2017b). 2 navy airmen and an object that ‘accelerated like nothing I’ve ever seen’. In The New York Times, 16 December. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/16/us/politics/unidentified-flying-object-navy.html.

Donnelly, I. (1882). Atlantis: The antediluvian world. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Hancock, G. (1992/1993). The sign and the seal: The quest for the lost ark of the covenant. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Hancock, G. (1995). Fingerprints of the Gods: The evidence of earth’s lost civilization. New York: Crown.

Hancock, G. (2015). Magicians of the Gods: The forgotten wisdom of earth’s lost civilization. London: Coronet.

Hancock, G. (2019) America before: The key to earth’s lost civilization. London: Coronet.

Kolosimo, P. (1968). Non È Terrestre. Milan : Sugar.

Pauwels, P., & Bergier, J. (1960). Le matin des magiciens. Paris: Gallimard.

Producers of ancient aliens. (2016). Ancient aliens: The official companion book. New York: HarperOne.

Von Däniken, E. (1968). Erinnerungen an die Zukunft: Ungelöste Rätsel der Vergangenheit. Dusseldorf and Vienna: Econ-Verlag.

Von Däniken, E. (1969) Chariots of the Gods?: Unsolved mysteries of the past. London: Souvenir Press.

Von Däniken, E. (1972). Gods from outer space. New York: Bantam.

Von Däniken, E. (2018). “Foreword” in chariots of the Gods: The 50th Anniversary Edition. New York: Berkley.

Gaia. (2021a). Main Page. Retrieved from https://www.gaia.com/.

Gaia. (2021b). Ancient Teachings: Hidden History. Ιn Topics. Retrieved from https://www.gaia.com/tag/hidden-history.

Grahamhancock. (2021). Graham Hancock. In Biography. Retrieved from https://grahamhancock.com/bio/.

Bulwer-Lytton, E. (1871). Vril, the power of the coming race. London: Blackwood and Sons.

Lovecraft, H. P. (1928). The Call of Cthulhu. In Weird Tales, February.

Lovecraft, H. P. (1936). At the mountains of madness. In Astounding Stories, February, March and April Issues.

Barkun, M. (2013). A culture of conspiracy: Apocalyptic visions in contemporary America. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Colavito, J. (2004). Charioteer of the Gods. Skeptic, 10(4). Retrieved from https://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/04-04-26/.

Colavito, J. (2005). The cult of alien Gods: H. P. Lovecraft and Extraterrestrial Culture. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books.

Colavito, J. (2015). Foundations of Atlantis, ancients Astronauts and other alternative pasts: 148 Documents cited by writers of fringe History (Translated with Annotations). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company.

Feder, K. L. (2017). Frauds, myths, and mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rodning, C. B. (2019). Editor’s Corner. The SAA Archeological Records, 19(5), p. 2.

Schiele, A. (2020). Pseudoscience as media effect. Journal of Science Communication, 19(2), 1-11.

Stoczkowski, V. (1999). Des hommes, des dieux et des extraterrestres. Paris: Flammarion.

Anonymous (1969). Däniken: Wer von wem? In Der Spiegel, 17 March, pp. 184-185. Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20120306190531/http://wissen.spiegel.de/wissen/image/show.html?did=45763499&aref=image036%2F2006%2F02%2F03%2FPPM-SP196901201840185.pdf&thumb=false.

Barnes, J. E., & Cooper, H. (2021). U.S. finds no evidence of alien technology in flying objects, but can’t rule it out, either. In the New York Times, 3 June. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/03/us/politics/ufos-sighting-alien-spacecraft-pentagon.html.

Colavito, J. (2021a). How Washington got hooked on flying saucers. In The New Republic, 21 May. Retrieved from https://newrepublic.com/article/162457/government-embrace-ufos-bad-science.

Colavito, J. (2021b). Congress is about to send the Pentagon on wild flying-saucer chase. In The New Republic, 14 December. Retrieved from https://newrepublic.com/article/164699/pentagon-ufos-gillibrand-ndaa-spending.

Hibberd, J. (2013). Mermaid hoax drowns animal planet’s rating records. In Entertainment Weekly, 28 May. Retrieved from https://ew.com/article/2013/05/28/mermaids-animal-planet-ratings/.

Kloor, K. (2021). Will the New York Times ever stop reporting on UFOs? In Wired, 17 May. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/story/will-the-new-york-times-ever-stop-reporting-on-ufos/.

Kurutz, S. (2018). Suspicious minds: Mingling with wariness and wonder at a conference devoted to ‘Ancient Aliens’. In The New York Times, 21 July. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/21/style/ancient-aliens.html.

Macdonald-Evoy, J. (2021). Audit using unproven technology developed by ‘failed inventor’ Jovan Pulitzer. In AZ Mirror, 30 April. Retrieved from https://www.azmirror.com/2021/04/30/audit-using-unproven-technology-developed-by-failed-inventor-jovan-pulitzer/.

Peiser, J. (2021). N. J. Man charged for allegedly carving QAnon Hashtag into a centuries-old stone at ‘America’s Stonehenge. In The Washington Post, 4 March. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/03/04/qanon-americas-stonehenge-vandalism/.

Switek, B. (2012). Mermaids embodies the rotting carcass of Science TV. In Wired, 31 May. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/2012/05/mermaids-embodies-the-rotting-carcass-of-science-tv/.

Alberge, D. (2021). Figures of Babylon: Oldest drawing of a ghost found in British Museum vault. In The Guardian, 18 October. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2021/oct/16/figures-of-babylon-oldest-drawing-of-a-ghost-found-in-british-museum-vault.

BBC (2021). Vikings settled in North America in 1021 AD, study says. In BBC.com, 21 October. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-58996186.

Blake, R. F., & Christie, R. H. (1994a). 15th Annual news and documentary Emmy Awards (Press release, 8 September), p. 13. New York: The National Academy of Television Arts and Science.

Blake, R. F., & Christie, R. H. (1994b). 15th Annual news and documentary Emmy Award Nominations (Press release, 18 July), p. 18. New York: The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Blakemore, E. (2021). ‘Lost Golden City of Luxor’ discovered by archaeologists in Egypt. In National Geographic, 8 April. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/lost-golden-city-luxor-discovered-archaeologists-egypt.

Brown University. (2021). In Guatemala, archaeologist from brown helps uncover Hidden Neighborhood in Ancient Maya City. In News from Brown, 28 September. Retrieved from https://www.brown.edu/news/2021-09-28/tikal.

Davis-Marks, I. (2021a). 120.000-year-old cattle bone carvings may be world’s oldest surviving symbols. In Smithsonian Magazine, 8 February. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/wild-cow-bone-may-have-120000-year-old-symbols-180976933/.

Davis-Marks, I. (2021b). These 200.000-year-old hand and footprints could be the world’s earliest cave art. In in Smithsonian Magazine, 17 September. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/these-200000-year-old-hand-and-footprints-could-be-the-worlds-oldest-cave-art-180978702/.

Ferreira, B. (2021). Researchers say they found the largest drawing in the world with satellite imagery. In Vice, 28 May. Retrieved from https://www.vice.com/en/article/qj8v4w/researchers-say-they-found-the-largest-drawings-in-the-world-with-satellite-imagery.

Fitzpatrick-Matthews, K. (2012). Does fiction become true if it’s repeated often enough? The ‘qlien’ of Tuerin Monastery. In Bad Archeology, 10 November. Retrieved from https://badarchaeology.wordpress.com/2012/11/10/does-fiction-become-true-if-its-repeated-often-enough-the-alien-of-tuerin-monastery/.

Gershon, L. (2021a). Life-size camel sculptures in Saudi Arabia are older than stonehenge, Pyramids of Giza. In Smithsonian Magazine, 16 September. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/life-size-camel-sculptures-in-saudi-arabia-are-older-than-stonehenge-pyramids-of-giza-180978693/.

Gershon, L. (2021b). Is this 4,000-year-old Bronze Age slab the old known map in Europe? In Smithsonian Magazine, 7 April. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/bronze-age-slab-oldest-known-map-europe-180977439/.

Greshko, M. (2021). Million-year-old mammoth teeth yield world’s oldest DNA. In National Geographic, 17 February. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/million-year-old-mammoth-teeth-yield-worlds-oldest-dna.

GlobeNewsWire. (2021). Gaia reports third quarter 2021 Results: Revenues Up 17% with 20% EBITDA Margin, 1 November. Retrieved from https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2021/11/01/2324808/0/en/Gaia-Reports-Third-Quarter-2021-Results.html.

High, L. (2021) Gaia turns around losses in second quarter. In DailyCamera, 3 August. Retrieved from https://www.dailycamera.com/2021/08/03/gaia-turns-around-losses-in-second-quarter/.

Kirsch, J. (1992). Speculation ladled on with a heavy hand: The sign and the seal; A quest for the lost ark of the covenant. In Los Angeles Times, 1 Avril. Retrieved from https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1992-04-01-vw-29-story.html.

Larson, C. (2021). Oldest human footprints in North America found in New Mexico. In Washington Post, 5 October. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/oldest-human-footprints-in-north-america-found-in-new-mexico/2021/10/01/bc777f76-20ae-11ec-9309-b743b79abc59_story.html.

Seitz, J. L. (2014). Famed Emmy-Winning producer, thoroughbred racing executive Alan Landsburg dies at Age 81. In The Beverly Hills Courier, 22 August.

Wei-Haas, M. (2021). This 45.500-year-old pig painting is the world’s oldest animal art. In National Geographic, 13 January. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/45500-year-old-pig-painting-worlds-oldest-animal-art.

Chapman University. (2016). Survey of American fears: What arent’t telling us? Retrieved from https://blogs.chapman.edu/wilkinson/2016/10/11/what-arent-they-telling-us/.

Chapman University. (2018). Survey of American fears: Paranormal America 2018. Retrieved from https://blogs.chapman.edu/wilkinson/2018/10/16/paranormal-america-2018/.

Jones, J. M. (2022). Americans reading fewer books than in the past. In Gallup News. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/388541/americans-reading-fewer-books-past.aspx & https://news.gallup.com/file/poll/388568/220110Books.pdf.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2021). The condition of Education 2021. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2021/2021144.pdf.

Saad, L. (2021). Larger minority in U.S. says some UFOs are alien spacecraft. In Gallup News, 20 August. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/353420/larger-minority-says-ufos-alien-spacecraft.aspx.

Thetvratingsguide. (2019). Friday cable ratings 6/28/19: Real time enters Hiatus with an Uptick, diners drive-Ins and dives rises. Retrieved from http://www.thetvratingsguide.com/2019/07/friday-cable-ratings-62819-real-time.html.

Thetvratingsguide. (2022). Tuesday cable ratings 1/26/21: The misery index rises from finale, curse of Oak Island Leads, CNN slips but remains #1 in cable news. Retrieved from http://www.thetvratingsguide.com/2021/01/tuesday-cable-ratings-12621-misery.html.

YougovAmerica. (2021). Ancient Aliens. In TV Shows. Retrieved from https://today.yougov.com/topics/media/explore/tv_show/Ancient_Aliens.

NOAA. (2012). Are Mermaids real? National Ocean Service. Retrieved from https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/mermaids.html.

U.S. Department of Defense. (2021). DoD announces the establishment of the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group. Retrieved from https://www.defense.gov/News/Releases/Release/Article/2853121/dod-announces-the-establishment-of-the-airborne-object-identification-and-manag/.


DOI: https://doi.org/10.26220/rev.3873

View Counter: Abstract | 105 | times, and PDF | 37 | times



Re S M ICT E | ISSN: 1792-3999 (electronic), 1791-261X (print) | Laboratory of Didactics of Sciences, Mathematics and ICT, Department of Educational Sciences and Early Childhood Education - University of Patras.

Pasithee | Library & Information Center | University of Patras