Irrationality and Popular Archaeology

This is the title of an old (1984) journal article I recently came across. The article is from American Antiquity 49:3 (1984): 525-541.  Here is the abstract:

An important aspect of archaeology is communicating the significance of data and research results to a fasci- nated, although often uninformed public. However, on the basis of book sales, newspaper coverage, television programming, and film presentations, it would seem that the public is inordinately fascinated by the more extreme, speculative, and often pseudoscientific claims made by those purporting to use archaeological data. Through questionnaires distributed to undergraduate students and to professional, teaching archaeologists, I made an attempt to comprehend the nature of the public’s appetite for pseudoscientific archaeological claims. The role of education in refuting or perpetuating pseudoscience in archaeology was then assessed.


Someone Else Promoting John Lamb Lash Gnostic Alien Archon Myth

Ah, wait a PaleoBabble feast this one is — a missive from a gullible Dr. John Singh in what I’m guessing is a Canadain version of the Weekly World News. I wonder if Dr. Singh ever actually checked the Gnostic texts to see if John Lamb Lash’s ideas are really there?  Hmmmm.  I’m betting the answer is no — but readers of PaleoBabble know better, since I posted videos of me looking through the digitized Nag Hammadi corpus (not exciting, but they’re the antidote for nonsense like this).

Dealing with PaleoBabble

This post was written by guest blogger, Courtney Phillips1

How to Deal With Paleo Babble

Paleo-babble can sometimes be very frustrating; at other times, it can be ridiculous to the point of hilarity.  In either case, there are people out there eating up these theories with a spoon and they simply can’t get enough of this speculative garbage.  Using loose interpretations and marginal “experts,” opinions and theories are corroborated in new and unusual ways, which ultimately perpetuate these unfounded versions of history.

Certainly, historical study does require the connecting of some dots and some educated guessing.  However, making giant leaps of faith and staggering claims like aliens frequented earth and helped construct pyramids, etc., is not only laughable, but irresponsible.  What follows is a brief list of things you can do to deal with paleo-babble.

Change the Channel

While it’s great to know what the other side is saying, it is probably better if you don’t help support programs that propagate these kinds of theories as anything besides just that.  Whether you watch it or record it, you are only feeding the monster and making it stronger.

Read More

Read on both sides of the issues and make your own decisions.  When someone makes a fantastic claim, find out how they came about that information.  You will soon be able to come to your own conclusions.  Always evaluate source material and be willing to take any and all information that speculates about ancient history with a grain of salt.

Conduct Your Own Research

Ideas and theories come from meticulous researching of the past.  If you have some time on your hands, you may want to do just that.  Keep in mind that the truth and history are relative and are not nearly as objective as they seem.  Human perception is what creates what we know as our own reality.  If you want to formulate your own ideas, look at what the scholars have looked at.  You don’t always have to agree.

Healthy Skepticism

As research and archaeological finds continue to make advances in the study of the ancient world, there will no doubt be developments and amendments to what we refer to as history.  However, any time someone comes to the table with a radical new idea related to ancient history and discoveries it is always better to err on the side of caution.  Don’t allow yourself to be duped and you won’t feel bad later on down the road.

  1. Courtney Phillips writes about correspondence college courses. She welcomes your feedback at CourtneyPhillips80 at

The Construction of the Pyramids

Despite the photographic evidence below, I’m still on the side of human construction for the pyramids. I’ve blogged previously about Wallace Wallington, the contractor who moves 20 ton blocks by himself, in earlier posts. This time around I thought I’d expose readers to a scholarly article I came across as I prep for my ancient Egypt course that I’ll be teaching this Spring. It’s an insightful piece from the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians called “Building Cheops’ Pyramid.” Enjoy, earthlings.

Careful with that, ET!

New Nibiru Information . . . Or More PaleoBabble?

I received a lengthy and interesting reply today to my post about the Fantasy Channel. I reproduce the substantive portions of it here for readers:

I have been studying various Mesopotamian texts for around 30 years, and there is nothing to indicate that Nibiru is a planet. Furthermore there are some very fundamental considerations that show that Nibiru could not be a planet. Here are just 3 of them:

1) The Egyptians (In The Book of the Dead) reported that: “Nibiru, The Sky Boat of Ra, could be seen passing overhead as many times as 9. Always passing from the West to the East.”
Assuming that 1 of those 9 passages occurred during twilight, we may assume the 9 passages occurred during a 13 or 14 hour period. This would indicate a total of ~16 passages per 24 hour period. Which indicates the object Nibiru was in LEO (Low Earth Orbit), probably at an altitude of roughly 300 to 400 miles above the surface.

This is well within the Roche Limit, the distance that two orbiting bodies will tear themselves apart due to their mutual gravitational tugs. Even a small object, such as Earth’s Moon, would raise life destroying tides on the planet Earth.

Item one alone indicates the Nibiru could not possibly have been a planet.

2) The Egyptians further reported that: “When Nibiru, the Sky Boat of Ra, passed in front of the Moon, its wingspan was twice that of the full Moon.”
Simple geometry shows that an object at ~300 miles altitude would appear to an Earth observer as being twice the diameter of the Moon, if it were about 4 miles across.
4 mile diameter objects of typical densities can safely orbit within the Roche Limit with no problem, tidal or otherwise.

Thus, the two Egyptian observations are not in contradiction, and we can safely assume that Nibiru was a 4 mile wide object in low Earth orbit when it was sighted by them.

3) All of the depictions of Nibiru that I have seen clearly appear to be of some sort of technical manufactured object, not a natural object.

Thus it appears very obvious that Nibiru, in today’s jargon, would be called “A Starship”, not a planet.

Remember, our word “Planet” came from the Greek, meaning “anything observed in the night sky that MOVED against the background of ‘fixed’ stars.”

I am not sure if that is where the confusion of calling Nibiru a planet originated in the translations, but the Ancient Greeks would have most certainly have called Nibiru “A Planet”, but only because it was moving, not because it is what we mean when we say ‘Planet’ today.

Finally, the very word Nibiru does not apply very well to a large natural body (like say the Earth), but applies perfectly to any type of ship, ocean going or Starship.
“Nibiru = The abode/home of the pleasant crossing.”

We don’t think of a planet as crossing anything, but we do think of ships as crossing oceans, and of Starships as crossing the great empty oceans of space between the stars.

Sounds impressive, doesn’t it?  Obviously, I don’t believe for a minute that nibiru is a starship, nor do I believe any ancient texts say so.  How can I say that in view of this response?  Here’s how.

First, I’ve asked the responder to give me the specific citations in these Egyptian texts where nibiru is mentioned. Frankly, I don’t believe they exist.  I say that because I doubt that the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, the most exhaustive lexicon of ancient Mesopotamian language, would have missed these.  The CAD includes references to words found in other texts outside Mesopotamia (as any competent lexicon would), but it never claims to be exhaustive in that regard.  CAD is the product of nearly 60 years of research.  Yet I don’t see any reference to the Book of the Dead in the entry for neberu (the Akkadian pronunciation). I have the entire CAD in PDF, so I have reproduced the entry on neberu here so you can check for yourself (note: the entry starts on the bottom of p. 145 in CAD, so the first page of the PDF is a half page).  I had to chop the pages in half with a screen-capture tool since the PDF would not allow page extraction (it still looks okay).  Maybe I’ve missed something tucked away in here, or maybe the texts the responder is thinking of came to light after this volume was produced. Possible, but I think there is a better explanation …

Now for the better explanation.  If you read the response carefully, you’ll note that the writer refers to the Sky Boat of Ra as though it were nibiru.  THIS is what’s going on.  “Nibiru” isn’t going to actually be in these Egyptian texts, but the Sky Boat of Ra will be (naturally).  The responder is linkng the two . . . on the basis of . . . what?  Do the EGYPTIANS (perish the thought) actually tell us THEY made such an identification?  If so, where?  We want primary source data, not guesses.  After all, I want to know what the Egyptians thought and saw, not what someone today might wish or assume they saw after reading Sitchin.  Anyway, this connection pure assumption, and has nothing to do with the “real” nibiru – the one the Mesopotamians wrote about.  How do I know the responder is relying on assumption and imagination here? Because of the response says emphatically that nibiru could not be a planet.  The responder also wonders where the “translation confusion” occurred. There is no confusion, since Mesopotamian astrolabes associate Jupiter (and once Mercury) with the term nibiru.  For the citations, see the third page of the PDF, #3 on the lefthand side.  We at least know the Mesopotamians were describing Jupiter in this association with nibiru since their astrolabes can be correlated with those of the Egyptians and Greeks.  A glaring miscue like not knowing what Jupiter was would be quite obvious.

But let’s be fair (really).  If the responder can produce these citations with the multiple crossings of the SKy Boat of Ra in a single day (as he describes), I will absolutely (public promise!) post them.  I don’t believe nibiru will be in any of the texts (I’ll check, since I’ve had several years of Egyptian grammar and I have the hieroglyphic texts of the Book of the Dead). But even if the word isn’t there, the citations may prove very interesting, since multiple crossings within a day’s time would be odd for the sun!  Something else would be behind such references, and so we may have something of note there.  Hope we get to see.

Fantasy Channel Special on Ancient Astronauts

Well, I guess some of you may have caught last night’s Fantasy Channel (what I used to refer to as the History Channel) special promoting the ancient astronaut idea.  I didn’t watch it since there’s nothing new here except better special effects and CGI to help shovel this crap into the minds of viewers.  Anyone who thinks the Fantasy Channel had objectivity in mind is naive, or perhaps hasn’t read my own encounter with the channel for an earlier “aliens in the Bible” special. You can read about my interview for that and my subsequent censorship here.  You can also read what their editors did to some other people who didn’t take the ancient alien party line here.  But alas, only one of us was smart enough (or suspicious enough) to audio-record our own interview so we could compare it to what would actually appear.  I got off easy since I was edited out completely. Others weren’t so lucky and had their views raped and pillaged by Fantasy Channel anti-objectivity thugs.

Though I didn’t watch it (I think I spent the time more usefully, watching my daughters color their toenails), I have thoughts.  Today I got an email from someone who seems a sincere Sitchin follower.  Anyway, the questions seemed sincere and I have no reason to think otherwise.  Here is part of my response (familiar territory, but summarized):

No one denies the language in Gen 1:26 is plural, but few on the web of Sitchin’s ilk do much thinking about it (or so it seems), since they try to use that to make the creator of humankind a plural.  Nothing could have less merit as an idea.  There is a singular speaker (the singular God of Israel) speaking to a crowd as it were. How do we know the speaker is singular here? Because the corresponding verb forms that take elohim as subject are grammatically singular AND the suffix pronoun (“his” image) in 1:27 is also singular. In point of fact in EVERY passage in the Hebrew Bible where humans are created, the verbs are singular in agreement with a singular deity.  You can speculate as to why Sitchin doesn’t give that information to his readers.  In my view, he either doesn’t know, in which case his competence is in question, or he just hides it, in which case his ethics and intentions are in question.

Further, in regard to the crowd, my view, and the view of all semitists I’ve ever read, is that the crowd is the divine council / heavenly host.  This is standard fare in the field. Many Christians wrongly try to tie this language to the trinity, but I assume you’ve come across that and know that.

I hope you can tell by my answers that I’m not given to speculation.  I like to stick with what’s in the texts and then come up with ways to parse that.  My objection to Sitchin is that his system is entirely opinion and imagination based.  That isn’t a sin, of course. But what is either unethical or incompetent about it is when he (or someone who uses him) pits his ideas AGAINST what the Mesopotamian scribes actually do tell us quite clearly. They’re dead so they can’t defend themselves. I’ll be happy to do that. What exactly am I speaking of?  Here’s a short list:

1.  We have Sumerian and Akkadian bilingual texts that give us the meaning of terms like “me” and “shem” – and they are not even close to what Sitchin says.  I’d rather believe the people who created the texts than Sitchin. Seems reasonable to me. These texts and their vocabulary can be correlated (and have been) with other texts and bilinguals.  This is how dictionaries of ancient languages are built – from primary sources where a dead scribe tells us “this word in my language meant the same thing as that word in another language.” These tools aren’t built by modern scholars who just invent the material.

2. We have many texts that mention the Anunnaki and nibiru.  NONE of them have nibiru as a planet beyond Pluto. NONE of them have the Anunnaki living on nibiru or “flying in” nibiru. These are direct contradictions of Sitchin’s ideas not from me, but from the Mesopotamian knowledge-keepers, the scribes. Several texts have nibiru being sighted EVERY YEAR (the MUL.APIN astrolabe), in direct contradiction with Sitchin’s 3600 year cycle idea. Again, I’ll take sides with the scribes.

3. We have a great deal of Mesopotamian astronomical texts. The material has all been published and collated and is easily obtained (but it’s expensive) in scholarly monographs on the subject. NONE of the material has any planets beyond Saturn.  Another point-blank contradiction to Sitchin.

For those who have read such things before here, thanks for indulging me. I have to post things like this since you won’t get it on the Fantasy Channel.

Some “Acceptable” New Testament PaleoBabble

One of the most accepted dogmas of New Testament (hereafter, NT) scholarship is that behind the “synoptic problem” of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke – that their material overlaps between one or the other two) is that the material NOT shared by them represents a lost original source. This source is called “Q” (not the Star Trek guy). “Q” is from the German word quelle, which means “source”.

Most NT scholars accept the existence (in the past) of Q.  But some don’t, mostly because no such source has ever been found (and so there is no empirical reason to accept it, since there are other explanations for the unique material). The minority scholrs include some big names in NT scholarship, among them Professor Mark Goodacre at Duke. Mark is a friend of mine (we met when I arranged to have him lecture for my employer’s public lecture series – see the Logos lecture site).  He’s also written some articles on the synoptics for the non-specialist for the magazine recently started by Logos (I’m the editor).  I’m on his side of this issue, so I thought you should be aware of it.

Mark has devoted a lot of attention to the synoptic problem. He has written a technical book called The Case Against Q: Studies in Markan Priority and Synoptic Problem that details his objections to the idea. Here is a companion website to that book, full of Q materials. He’s also written a book on the issue for non-specialists called The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through The Maze (Understanding the Bible and Its World). It also has a companion website.

I’m an OT guy and a semiticist, not a NT specialist, and have no problem with gospel writers using sources (Luke tells us he did; Luke 1:1-4). It’s just that I have trouble with scholars putting so much weight on an idea that has no external confirmation. That makes Q, in my judgment, PaleoBabble.