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8. Megalithic Portal

The Megalithic Portal, a website created and run by volunteer non-archaeologists, was reported in the Using the Internet for Archaeology survey to be a popular website for broad coverage of archaeological information, maps and location details, the ability for the public to contribute to the site, the range of quality photographs of the archaeological sites, and what one participant called a 'balance between accepted science and possible science'. This website is an interesting presentation of mixed approaches to archaeological expertise within the realm of digital public archaeology. It contains a vast catalogue of information about various archaeological sites, including descriptions, maps, geolocation, access information and a wealth of photographs, many of which have been crowdsourced from website visitors. The site also shares archaeological news stories, and data downloads for promotional material, audio, e-books and newsletters, and is professionally built and maintained. It also contains a large and well-used online forum that supports discussions on a wide range of topics. In the light of the discussion of information literacy outlined earlier, certain areas of the website forum could be seen to provide a platform for misleading information for the uninitiated, who may not be willing or able to differentiate between the variety of information and discussion contained within. This site is an interesting example of the presentation of multiple voices and their approaches to archaeological information and the realms of the archaeological fantasy.

The site forum includes a series of eight forum threads. Five of these are dedicated to site administration, instructions on how to use the site, or for the exchange and sale of books and other items. Three threads are dedicated to discussion topics. One is for the discussion of 'mainstream' archaeological matters relating to megaliths and prehistory; one is for the discussion of topics relating to the Roman or 'Dark Age' periods, ancient crosses and other related historical or geographical topic; and one is titled 'Sacred Sites and Megalithic Mysteries'. This thread states clearly on the forum page that it is for "alternative ideas relating to ancient sites, theories involving earth energies, dowsing, ritual, or other such things" and it contains a large amount of fantastic and alternative archaeological discussions on subjects as diverse as; 'Evidence of Alien Visits to Earth, UFO?'; 'Relativism, political correctness and censorship' or 'The Principle: Stonehenge'. The forum thread with most visits and views is 'Sacred Sites and Megalithic Mysteries'.

As part of my doctoral research, I contacted the website creator with questions about the approaches and management of these alternative archaeologies found on the site, and how they managed the differences between mainstream information and remaining open and inclusive about people's different opinions on archaeological 'truth'. Two of the administrators of the site responded, and noted that there were differences in opinions between the administrators about the toleration of the 'Earth Mysteries' thread. There were geographical and political sensitivities inherent in some of the content that has been shared through the forum thread and that these were carefully monitored — including the removal of posts and the banning of forum members if they share unpleasant and unacceptable content (white supremacist material for example).

"Whilst most British people are quite relaxed about “alternative” archaeology (and some Americans positively revel in it), it can be a very sensitive issue in Germany as alternative theories historically had an association with the Third Reich. We have discovered that there is still one far right group in Germany propagating alternative theories for unpleasant purposes — we have of course distanced ourselves from them and not allowed them to post. There are also various groups/individuals such as Ancient Celtic New Zealand who need careful handling and we try to avoid propagating such 'white supremacist' type ideas." (Megalithic Forum administrator, 7 March 2014, pers. comm.).

The website itself had been set up originally

"…with the intention of being inclusive, but not intrusively so such that our main pages became full of unsubstantiated ideas … That's how we set up our “Mysteries” Forum as a safe place for such ideas to be expressed, as a “relief valve” as it were for the rest of the site as we can direct people over there rather than get into such discussions on our main pages… Once we were up and running, the sorts of ideas and theories we were being sent rather decided that we would be inclusive. I wasn't inclined to delete and ignore all of the stuff that was coming in as I knew it would be of interest to our visitors, even if not always to myself." (Megalithic Forum administrator. 7 March 2014, pers. comm.).

The website administrator makes an interesting point, that the website was established as a method of sourcing information on obscure archaeological sites that had been written about in various alternative and mainstream magazines and books during the 1980s and 1990s, and was a direct response on behalf of the website administrator to the lack of publicly-available and reliably-visualised and located information, before the advent of online HERs and other archaeological databases made access to archaeological information faster and easier.

Runemage, one of the administrators, noted that the contents of these threads are moderated with a 'light touch' and forum members must sign up to terms and conditions of use, so only forum members are allowed to post. Abusive accounts are blocked, but there is freedom to post questions and discuss alternative archaeologies unchallenged, within the boundaries of decency. In their responses to my questions, Runemage made a very interesting point, which reflects the issues of dispositional differences to participation in online discussion:

"There are comparatively few forum posters compared to our membership. I've looked at other non-archaeology sites which provide a platform for different but still alternative views and it seems to be the way of things. Large membership, very small core of regular posters, a few newbies now and again. We even ran a couple of polls to see if there's anything we can do to encourage more people to join in on all of our fora, but there's only a very small take-up." (Runemage. 7 March 2014, pers. comm.).

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