Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Beyond the "Fringe Archaeology" — part one: introduction

Athanasius Kircher's Map of Atlantis (c.1669)
The hikers unpacking their jeep at the bottom of the hill were oblivious to the sight of the UFO travelling from north to south along the Rocky Mountains west of Elbow Falls. The sight puzzled us: in a clear blue sky, an elliptical white light blinked visible and invisible very slowly on its silent journey south. When it was invisible, there was nothing to be seen, not even a speck in the sky. It would reappear just where you would expect it to be according to its speed. The light was too large to have been the sun glinting off an aircraft window. I did not think it was a "flying saucer", but I had no idea of what it was. Some time later, I was listening to a science radio show about rare forms of lightning when my UFO was discussed. The phenomenon had been attributed to a sort of lightning connected with the earth's magnetic field and had only been reported three times. I was pleased to know what it was: after all, thousands of people have reported "flying saucers" but very few people had seen what I saw that afternoon.

The whole experience reminded me of the Fátima sightings in 1917 which had been identified by many observers as a visitation of the Virgin Mary. Other explanations have since been offered such as a mass hallucination or an atmospheric phenomenon. UFO fans, of course, have other interpretations. No one would have thought, in 1917, that the Fátima sighting was a "flying saucer" as even the term had not been invented at that time and no one was talking much about invasions from space without referring to H. G. Wells' novel.

When people try to interpret the strange, they do so from the perspective of their time. What might have been understood as a divine event hundreds of years ago is now seen as a scientific phenomenon today, but even that explanation could be mocked by scientists in the future. We no longer think that the electron orbits the nucleus in just the same way that a planet orbits its sun. Quantum physics has moved Newton much closer to the Fátima observers than he was before.

Fringe archaeology, which is sometimes given the risky term Pseudoarchaeology by dyed-in-the-wool sceptics has become of some interest to postmodernist archaeologists. It includes not just ideas of visitations from ancient aliens and lost continents, but also divining or "witching" for artifacts and anything else that lies outside of the current academic thinking in the subject. But what of those things that are accepted today by the "expert" that will be the source of much amusement and derision by future archaeologists? Is it possible to predict what might become? Are there signals already in the accepted literature? This series will focus on these questions.

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