Convincing unconvincing archaeology

An upcoming conference in London, about which more in a bit, has got me thinking about earlier talks I gave which relate to H.P. Lovecraft, history and archaeology. The link I posted below to the Treadwell’s one is expired, but I will see if I can find it again. However, I also appeared on an episode of the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast (“H.P. Podcraft” to its friends) talking about The History of the Necronomicon and Ibid. The interesting thing to me about these minor works of Lovecraft’s is the way he manages to adopt the style and jargon of historians (different in those days, of course) to give his work an air of being authenticity. In fact, Lovecraft famously said that in a story with fantastic elements the other elements have to be totally realistic — have to be handled as if they were a hoax.

I wondered if this were not tangentially related to the work of former Cambridge colleague Tera Pruitt, whose web presence I am not able to find with lazy searching but whose work should be required reading for anyone interested in pseudoarchaeology. You can check out her Master’s thesis here, but there’s probably more out there, and if I find it I shall promote it. Basically, one of the things she noticed about pseudoarchaeology was its tendency to appropriate aspects of actual archaeology, in terms of its language, its organisations, its structures … everything but the actual archaeology, of course. Frustrating for archaeologists but fun for Forteans.

Now, maybe Cornelius Holtorf, in one of his bomb-lobbing archaeology/pop-culture treatises, would say that this isn’t a perversion of the system — this is the system. Me personally, I would not agree, but I can sort of see where he’s coming from. Sometimes what’s really important — and this is certainly the case when we’re talking about Lovecraft and history — isn’t what you say but how you say it.

I never explain this stuff clearly, and I’m not sure I have now.

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Convincing unconvincing archaeology

5 thoughts on “Convincing unconvincing archaeology

    1. Nice! Thanks for the link. That’s the one that was on Yog-Sothoth, but there was also _another_ one that was online for a while (I gave the talk twice) and I cannot for the life of me remember where it was.

      I am actually a little nervous about those recordings; there were parts of it where I was working from memory, and I’m pretty sure I got chunks of it (like the names of some of the players in the Kennewick Man controversy) wrong.

  1. You can find here http://www.dspace.cam.ac.uk/bitstream/1810/241365/1/TPruittDigitalThesis.pdf Ms Pruitt’s more complete PhD Thesis, particularly chapter 5 about about the case of Bosnian pseudo-archaeology:
    “This project, under the direction of amateur archaeologist Semir Osmanagić, has successfully created an account of prehistory that has been received by the general Bosnian public as authoritative, despite objections by the professional archaeological community. This case demonstrates how authority can be constructed, mimicked and performed by drawing on academic arenas of scientific practice and by eager public participation. Specifically, this case study highlights the importance of socio-politics, authoritative institutions and performative behaviour in the construction of archaeological authority.”

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