Sunday, September 6, 2009

Those Pyramid-Building Aliens

I was going to blog about the responses of our local school districts, here in the great state of Texas, to that powerful socialist force that is our President and his nefarious plan to hypnotize schoolchildren to do his bidding but it just makes me sick to my stomach.

Instead, I have been working on those pesky aliens. This semester I cried Uncle and dealt with it in a full, frontal assault.

First know thy enemy. This blog, Ancient Cosmonauts, is a lot of fun for exploring the "pyramid-building aliens" meme. This week in my Archy class, I pulled it right up in class and we had at it. A good number laughed at the pictures. They are the Stargate visualizations they grew up with, after all. Staying with the science of movies, the blog author includes this sentiment (I hesitate to call it an argument):

Do you really think this wonderful pyramid was built by the allegedly savages depicted in Apocalypto or is it more reasonable the line of Alien vs Predator?

Fun with bad archaeology time.

We played the embedded You Tube video and critiqued it, observing, for example, the legitimacy established by the "documentary narrator" voice.

Now, that was a fun one.... but here is the kind of thing you are really up against. A site with the name of Edutube with a .org address promoting this kind of stuff.

I guess most of us begin to critique this stuff from the whole Occam's Razor perspective:
As this site by the Chemical Heritage Foundation does. But I have grown to find that approach the tiniest of toe dips into the waters of where the corrective needs to go. You are, really, only using the parsimony perspective to get you to the Myths and Moundbuilders "it was the locals, stupid" meme. The Chemical Heritage Foundation link does it with the look at how cool those ancient, indigenous people were, they discovered the magical antibiotic properties of honey. Its a bit patronizing and simplistic but it is meant for school kids, after all.

Penn State's Donald Redford has a demystified explanation here which conforms, nicely, to the requirements of parsimony. It does, however, lack the sex appeal of aliens. Or if you just want some visual support without wasting the time for a whole documentary, some visualizations from the Nova documentary This Old Pyramid, are online courtesy of Creighton University here.

If you want to add greater complexity and sex appeal (if not, necessarily, undisputed accuracy), you can get into the whole ramp location debate (summarized in Archaeology magazine in 2007) in the context of Khufu and the, definitely, non-parsimonious work of Jean-Pierre Houdin for which there is a way cool 5 minute Nat Geo clip up at You Tube here.

These brief snippets aren't meant to be comprehensive. Feel free to add. Where is Bob? He could do a better job at this.

And, if all else fails, you can always give up and buy the t-shirt. Although, I prefer "Stonehenge was an inside job".

Guest Blogger, Bob Muckle, sent me the following by email. It was too long to fit on Twitter. I am going to post it up quick and since I am out late tomorrow, he won't catch me to take it down for awhile, in case he didn't intend to share. Bob is the slanty print-attach no meaning to that.

I don't routinely schedule a discussion on the pyramids, but sometimes it does come up. Like you I tackle it on a number of fronts. When I do tackle it, I usually use the framework of science to assess the explanations/hypothesis. I start with the ol' test of testablility. As in..."if you can't test it, throw it (the hypothesis/explanation) out." It is simply impossible to test for the fact that aliens built it. "How would you test for aliens?" I ask my students. They usually come up with a list of things, but I then remind them that just because you may find some previously unknown material or some such thing, one cannot make the claim that it is evidence of aliens.'

I also tackle it on the basis of compatability. That the Egyptians built the pyramids is compatabible with what we know of Egyptian civilization in general, and the evolution of funery monuments in particular. We can see the evolution in size, shape, and engineering of pryamide building.

I also use Occam's Razor.

And I remind students that it is bad science to accept one hypothesis by rejecting the others. This is what pyramidiots and others who use the "alien explanations" do all the time. Pretend to be scientific by generating a list of competing explanations and then ruling out Hypothesis #1, Hypotheses #2, Hypotheses #3, Hypothesis #4, and then concluding that it must have been aliens.

I don't use much on-line video on the pyramids, but on occasion I have pulled out "The Case of the Ancient Astronauts", a 1978 Nova production focussing on debunking the work of Erich von Daniken. It looks dated (hair cuts and cars, etc), but it is really quite good to show the alien vs. scientific/archaeological perspectives. It has a segment on the Egyptain pyramids that begins with von Daniken providing his explanation, and then it goes to critique. It also does this for the Nasca lines, statues of Easter Island, a Mayan sarcophagus lid at Panlenque, and some sites in South America. When I do show it, I provide an update (eg. von Daniken, while not so popular in North America is still writing books and going on lecture tours in Europe, and recently had a big theme park in Switzerland that I think went bankrupt). I also try to provide updates on current archaeological thinking about the pyramids, etc.

Of course there are many semi-scholarly/semi-scientific articles tacking the pyramadiots. Peter Kosso has a chapter called "The Epistimology of Archaeology" in the edited volume 'Archaeological Fanatasies: How Pseudoarchaeology Misrepresents the Past and Misleads the Public.' It is reproduced in 'Reading Archaeology' which I edited (Univ Toronto Press, 2008). A good portion of the chapter is devoted to considering explanations of the Egyptian pyramids.

1 comment:

Howard West said...

Here are a few videos that should peak your interest in what I have to say on the subject.

The Mystery of the Stone Quarries

Winds of Egypt Not Copper Tools

Boats over the Pyramids

And the links to the commentary blog posts.

Howard West