Archive for September, 2009

Stoneage Satnav?

September 22, 2009

caveman
Prehistoric Britons were more sophisticated than we give them credit for.
Just look at his tank-top.

Apologies for the quick and dirty nature of this post – this is me trying to be topical!

Archaeology and history are prone enough as it is to miss-steps, but if you haven’t actually taken the time to study the subject(s), perhaps gain a qualification or two, you’re even more likely to make an arse of yourself. Take this chap and his “Stone-Age satnav” theory, widely reported as a bit of a ‘quirky’ in the media (note that the Daily Mail picked it up – your first warning sign if ever there was one). Actual archaeologists have been here before, and even their considered and contextualised work is of limited utility, due to the sheer amount that we just don’t know about British prehistory. One monument might be visible from another, but just how significant was this to those that built them? What about all the (for example) Bronze Age round barrows that don’t line up visibly with each other? What about the changing landscape? And so on. So when some ex-marketing guy cherry picks some points on a map that is actually FULL of prehistoric monuments, hints at alien involvement, and then tries to flog you a book and a DVD, we should be very, very wary indeed.

This chap has fallen victim to a statistical and spatial analysis version of our old friend apophenia, something he could have avoided either via a background in the subject, or familiarity with critical thinking. Specifically, this is the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy at work – shoot a target full of holes, but only draw a circle around the one in the bulls-eye! An extreme example would be this kind of nonsense, but this is no less speculative. Regardless of the problem of the huge timescales involved and the total lack of any evidence for the needed instructions for this “system”, a cursory look at an OS map of the area (thanks to the brilliant shows you just how many “tumuli” and other monuments he’s discounting to create the example map seen in the press reports. What are the criteria for inclusion and exclusion? The whole idea is fundamentally flawed, at least without a lot more supporting evidence than just a series of maps. For one thing, how would enormous isosceles triangles assist navigation, when people before and after the period in question were doing just fine with that big yellow glowy thing (and the little white twinkly things) in the sky? Even more ‘Paul McKenna’ explanations such as mental mapping (ethographically verified in so-called ‘primitive’ cultures) are far more likely than this.

The irony is that he seems to think that this, rather than any of the many genuine achievements of prehistoric people, not to mention their biological sameness, is what reveals that these people were “of an intelligence level at least the equal of today”. We know, Tom, we know. That’s why we study this stuff –  fundamentally, they were us. We are them. At least you’ve grasped that much. But back to the drawing board on the old “pin the tail on the megalith” game though, eh?

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A Kick in the Scrolls

September 6, 2009

After a bit of a rant in my last few posts, this time it’s just a pointer to the work of others.

I set up this blog to help redress the balance between bogus claims and commentary by professionals in the field. So it’s nice to see academics laying the smackdown onto lunacy such as the Copper Scrolls Project – not only speculative pseudohistory of the worst kind, but one that works from a Creationist timeline. Extraordinary. The critique is a bit of a read, as are some of my efforts, but things like this throw out so many claims that it’s tough to refute even the main ones without straying into essay territory. You should see what I have to edit out.

Anyway, here it is – well worth a look.

Prof. Cargill is not the only academic passing judgement either. It’s been my impression that my own countrymen are more tolerant (or possibly ignorant?) of this kind of thing. I think that as with ‘debates’ on things like Creationism, we need to weigh in too – the ‘oxygen of publicity’ argument doesn’t cut it in the internet age. If academics stay silent, they might find themselves left out.