Martians & Vikings, Madoc & Runes

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There will probably be more nonsense in the name of science. Arthur Clarke’s Mysterious World , with the same tiresome parade of UFOs, abominable snowmen, and crystal skulls, emerged just in time to catch the 1980 Christmas market. Jeffrey Goodman’s new book American Genesis , which employs just enough scholarship to create an aura of intellectual legitimacy, just enough preposterous speculation to pique popular interest, hypothesizes that modern humans evolved from more primitive stock here in the New World.

 

In contrast, responsible archaeology has become a very difficult and esoteric science. Amateur archaeological societies are dwindling in size and number, in large part because archaeology is no longer directly accessible to people lacking college training in the subject. That constituency must now turn to professional popularizations in journals such as Early Man, Science 81, Geo, Discover, Scientific American, Smithsonian, Natural History , and American Heritage . Archaeologists do not regret the passing of antiquarianism, but the sad and inevitable decline of serious amateur archaeology leaves many with a sense of loss.

I have been very hard on antiquarians, many of whom mean no harm. Some of them will see me as just another professional out to spoil legitimate inquiry and protect orthodox archaeology. But public interest in archaeology is high, and it is the duty of qualified archaeologists both to serve that interest and to condemn nonsense. That is the least we owe the society that supports us. Modern archaeologists do not have all the answers, and they have yet to even define most of the questions, but they are the custodians of the means to those ends.