ANTH 3334: Fantastic Archaeology: Mysteries and Puzzles


Course Description

Well, the world did not end in 2012 and the Atlantis is still lost. But we, in this course, will get a glimpse of the realities of archaeology not by talking about methods or discoveries in various parts of the world, but by exploring “fantastic” stories, puzzles, hoaxes, imaginative worlds and alternative theories. Did astronauts from another planet establish ancient civilizations on Earth? Were the Americas discovered by Columbus or by Vikings much earlier? Did the Maya, Aztec and Inca build their pyramids to resemble those of dynastic Egypt?

We will learn when, how and what kind of evidence these alternative theories have used to fascinate the public and pass their fantastic stories and hoaxes as true. We will debunk said theories by using critical thinking and analytical tools to diagnose what is true and what is not. We will utilize the surviving evidence that archaeologists find to explain the facts. We will also study the impact of such alternative realities on society and history as they have been used to support nationalistic agendas, racial biases, and religious movements. And yes, there is something called “Balloney Detection Kit” that we are going to use to debunk those “fantastic” hoaxes!

Instructor Biography

Lia Tsesmeli (Ph.D. 2011 Southern Methodist University) is an anthropological archaeologist who also studied Classics (MA) at the University of Arizona and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) at the University of West Florida. Dr. Tsesmeli specializes in the American Southwest and Maya lowlands and has a keen interest in social organization correlates such as architecture, construction materials and interaction patterns. She uses GIS to address social issues of migration, integration and reorganization of past societies. Dr. Tsesmeli has participated in archaeological and survey fieldwork in the Mediterranean, American Southwest and Central America, and is also a published archaeological illustrator. At Waka’, an expansive Maya city in Petén, Guatemala, she focuses on urban planning principles and civic layout through the systematic survey and mapping of the site area, exploring intrasite and rural interconnectivity pathways as indicators of social complexity in the Maya lowlands. She is currently the co-director of the BaahKu Archaeological Project in Arroyo Seco, NM, in which she builds upon her research on migration, coalescence and aggregation processes in the Taos Valley and more broadly in the Ancestral Pueblo world.

Learning Outcomes and Benefits

  • Be able to recognize a pseudoscientific claim, particularly about the human past involving archaeology.
  • Learn about the techniques and methods archaeologists use for analyzing such claims.
  • Use the “Balloney Detection Kit” effectively.
  • Examine the role and popularity of pseudoscientific claims in contemporary American culture.
  • Understand the dynamic nature of such claims that can range between the legitimate and the lunatic.
  • Become familiar with the wide implications and ethical issues of certain “fantastic” assertions to the politics and society.
  • Learn how archaeologists attempt to thwart the origins of such claims by educating native populations to respect their past based on scientific evidence and not myths.
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