How TV shows use serious archaeology to promote bogus historyHistorians in the News
tags: popular culture
David S. Anderson is an instructor of anthropological sciences at Radford University. He received his Ph.D. in anthropology from Tulane University and specializes in the archaeology of Mesoamerica and pseudoarchaeological claims.
This month, a new show exploring “mysteries” of the ancient past premiered on Travel Channel: “Legends of the Lost with Megan Fox.” Its four episodes explore questions such as the role of female warriors in Viking society, the peopling of the Americas and the historical underpinnings of the legendary Trojan War. Interspersed with these well-studied topics, the show also makes more-dubious claims, such as proposing the existence of giants and that ancient stones may hold healing properties. In the process, it strands us in a landscape where objective facts are interspersed with myths in ways that threaten to leave the audience uncertain about what really happened in the human past.
With its dubious claims, “Legends of the Lost” sits amid a problematic world of television shows, books and websites that promote what professional archaeologists like me call “pseudoarchaeology.” Pseudoarchaeological claims make use of archaeological data but disregard the rigor of archaeological methods. They thereby produce an image of the past that their authors wish to see, rather than one supported by the thorough analysis of all relevant information.
“Legends of the Lost” often ends up in just such a place. Fox, a Hollywood actress, is clear throughout the episodes that she wants to find evidence of myth and magic — and to show up the devotees of “hidebound academia.” To come to these conclusions, she is perfectly happy to make use of scholarly research that can fit into her narrative, but sadly most everything else is left out of the show.
Fox is not simply the show’s host; she also told TV Insider that the show was her idea. In the interview she traced her interest in the ancient world back to another dubious TV show, “Ancient Aliens,” which claims the archaeological record is rife with evidence of extraterrestrial contact. The claims behind “Ancient Aliens” have been soundly and repeatedly debunked. Worse still, such claims are disturbingly entangled with colonial-era beliefs that indigenous peoples around the world were incapable of architectural and artistic feats on their own.
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