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5. Alternative Archaeologies and the Internet

Schadla-Hall wrote that "the vast majority of the public has no interest or direct contact with what members of the archaeological profession consider to be their subject" (2004, 255). The apparent lack of concern at this proposition among the profession, as noted by Schadla-Hall, and Kojan in 2008, perhaps reflects an underestimation of the impact of access to the Internet and the accompanying vast quantities of badly written, badly researched, dubious or downright false websites containing 'archaeological' information and archaeological conspiracy theories available online (Fitzpatrick-Matthews and Doeser 2014).

"As a discipline, we need to present and discuss narratives that venture … into the real world of archaeological mystery, the morbid, life and death in the past, present-day detective work and painstaking science, in order to counter the … fictions that perpetuate online"

'Alternative', 'fringe', 'pseudo-scientific' or 'cult' archaeologies are a thorny issue for mainstream archaeologists, with shifting barriers between conventional archaeological interpretations and alternative explanations, clouded by the evolution of academic archaeological thought and post-modernist approaches to archaeological evidence (Fagan 2006; Feder et al. 2011; Anderson et al. 2013). While there is not space in this article to explore the full academic literature and many studies and refutations of alternative archaeologies by professional archaeologists, there has been a huge growth in the production and popularity of alternative archaeological information and conspiracy theories in the media in recent decades (Brittain and Clack 2007; Holtorf 2007; García-Raso 2011). While there are notable differences in the relationship between archaeology and the media in the UK and the United States (Henson 2006; Kulik 2006; Bonacchi et al. 2012; Anderson et al. 2013), and the realms of alternative archaeology in the UK are definitely not mainstream enough to induce most TV producers to commission alternative archaeology programmes on the scale found in North America, there is a British market for misinformation through digital media, illustrated in the findings of Doeser and Fitzpatrick-Matthews (2014) and the more esoteric content of the Megalithic Portal, for example. The two-pronged approach described by Anderson et al. (2013) is one of the best arguments for the importance of online public archaeology; the "intellectual 'whack-a-mole'" (Anderson et al. 2013) of refutation and challenge by professional archaeologists on social media and organisational websites after the fact, or for the discipline to acknowledge the risks outlined in Miller and Bartlett's challenges for information literacy discussed previously (Miller and Bartlett 2012), and proactively adopt the potential of the Internet and address genuine archaeological narratives in an absorbing, stimulating, multi-mediated and jargon-free manner that engages and educates. While the 'top-down' approach of Holtorf's 'education model' (2007), or Matsuda and Okamura's 'outreach' model (2011) seem at first most appropriate for the management of archaeological authority online in the face of alternative archaeologies, it is perhaps only within a framework of the media presentation of an archaeological discipline that is willing to engage with, discuss and refute where necessary, multiple understandings of the past, that public archaeology online can survive the demand for archaeological 'commodities' (Moshenska 2009). As a discipline, we need to present and discuss narratives that venture beyond the world of Time Team, and into the real world of archaeological mystery, the morbid, life and death in the past, present-day detective work and painstaking science, in order to counter the UK archaeological fictions that perpetuate online, of ley lines, direct descent from prehistoric populations, or the geo-centricity of the earth explained through Stonehenge.


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