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What we really know about the past
First off, let me say that I am not trying to make fun of, understate, or in any way deride the Discovery Channel or any of its programs. Except perhaps shows that involve things being destroyed in seconds- which are entertaining but ripe for ridicule.
Instead, I’m using the idea of the discovery channel as starting point: as a representation of the popular idea of archaeology. This could have just as easily been called ‘not the History Channel’ or ‘not the National Geographic Civilizations channel’, but it just didn’t have the same ring to it.
All archaeologists get asked questions about archaeology by non-archaeologists. In most cases these questions are derived from something the person watched on T.V. or read in a magazine. Due to time constraints and the need to present an interesting narrative, the information in these programs is often- not always- a tad one sided. This tends to leave the viewer with the idea that either something is a mystery, or that some ancient mystery has been solved. Usually this is not the case, but the real answer tends to be long, confusing and contain no real resolution.
Which is why, when archaeologists are asked questions about one of these programs, they tend towards one of two responses. The first is to quickly change the subject, thereby avoiding the very real possibility of getting into a discussion with someone who ‘read a book about it once’ or ‘saw something on T.V. somewhere’. The second is to flip into ‘expert mode’ and start waxing about various competing theories.
Sometimes you can combine the two and spout off a bunch of jargon in the hopes the subject will be changed. This is known as the ‘B.S. Solution’.
If the archaeologist does feel like having an honest conversation about a particular subject, then the answer can almost always be boiled down into a single statement:
Archaeology is never that simple.
Following this principle, this blog is an attempt to shed some light on the complexities and causalities of the past. I will attempt to write as simply and straightforward as possible. You should know that this goes against almost all my training in academia, so please excuse the occasional jargon; it is hard to escape from it.
The thoughts and ideas expressed in this blog are mine, and though I will try to link to publicly available information as often as I can, sometimes these ideas will come straight out of my head, and are likely wrong. But that’s the whole point isn’t it? Science and discovery are not about being right, they’re about figuring out what’s wrong.
And the Discovery Channel.