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on January 2, 1998
This is an outstanding book written as a result of the author's own reading in the paranormal genre. Kenneth Feder points out how believable he found "The Morning of the Magicians" until it wandered into his own field of expertise: archeology. After comparing notes with chemists, physicists, historians, etc. he found the same response-- that such books seem perfectly logical--at least in areas in which one has no knowledge.
All the big name hoaxes are here: the Cardiff Giant, Piltdown Man, the Shroud of Turin; but presented in a way that's fresh for the initiated and straight forward for the budding archeologist; and since he's writing as an archeologist, Feder never lapses into the bitter sarcasm so common to skeptical writers.
There are surprises: who knew one of the largest pyramids in the world was in St. Louis, or that the Shroud of Turin was declared a fake in 1359? Above all Feder's love of archeology and sincere delight in the real mysteries of the past should make this book required reading for anyone interested in human history.
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on March 7, 2001
A superlative journey to the edges of reason and beyond with a witty and knowledgable guide. As the claims of self-styled "alternative" historians of the ancient past gain more and more publicity, it is excellent to encounter such a balanced and well-reasoned antidote to their poison. Particularly useful is to realize that the supposedly "new" theories of the likes of Graham Hancock(who is not addressed in the book, unfortunately) are, in reality, little more than recycled flim-flam from earlier speculative and paranormal movements.
One previous reviewer brands the book "too sceptical," which is nonsense. Feder actually subscribes to the Theran theory for the origins of the Atlantis myth (which I personally do not), but the investigative process by which he reaches this conclusion is clearly charted in the text. He is no dogmatist, dismissing ideas out of hand. He carefully presents the cases for and against various claims and exposes flaws based on a comparison with the observable evidence and archaeological procedure. In any case, it is also hard to see how one could be "too sceptical" about claims that aliens built the pyramids.
An excellent read. Highly recommended to any with an interest in "alternative" archaeology, esp. if you've tended to believe such "theories" in the past.
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on October 30, 2001
Kenneth Feder has collected a whooole bunch of examples of funny hoaxes and archaeological misadventure in this curiously good book. Read about the Cardiff Giant scam, the Piltdown man hoax, Noah's ark tomfoolery and fakery, the slippery slope of Creationist craziness, Atlantis Atrophy, the Shredded evidence for the Shroud of Turin, and more!
Feder's volume is interesting, stimulating, and even if you are a well read skeptic, you will probably learn something new. I personally was reminded how easy it is to fool people who want to believe something and aren't moved to investigate or challenge the beliefs they are comfortable with. The gist of the book seems to be that people who rely mostly upon faith can end up believing just about anything, while those who are inclined to question and test new information via logic, scientific methods, and common sense are more likely to actually uncover the facts for themselves, doing away with faith altogether.
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on June 29, 2009
After listening to an interview with Kenneth Feder on an episode of The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, I bought this as a gift for my brother who recently graduated with a degree in archeology. He enjoyed it immensely and lent it to me afterward. Even though it's not my area of study, I had no difficulty following it and found it as immensely fascinating as its author. I would highly recommend this book for either the expert in the field or curious lay person.
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VINE VOICEon May 25, 2006
One can't blame Kenneth Feder for wanting to write this book. In the first chapter, he states his reasoning: In the late 1960s he subscribed to a book club lured by the cheap price of four books. One was on psychic sciences, one on yoga, one on the black arts, and one on magic. Claims in these books based on physics, biology, psychology, and history seemed reasonable to Feder because he thought that he did not have "the knowledge to assess them intelligently." But archaeology ... that was another matter. Feder is a professional archaeologist who weighs in this book.

I like the 1st chapter which is on epistemology. Feder probably could have waxed eloquent on epistemology, why we know what we know. Instead he tells the story of two maternity wards in the Vienna General Hospital. In Ward 1, the mortality rate for women was five times the rate of that in Ward 2. In 1848 Ignaz Sammelweis tackled the problem. Was Ward 1 more crowded? Was birth position a factor? Were the student doctors in Ward 1 too rough? Did the appearance of the hospital priest pose a psychological factor? Sammelweis tested all of these hypotheses and came up with zilch. It was something of a stroke of luck when Sammelweis lost a male doctor friend of his who had the same symptoms as the women in Ward 1. Bacteria was totally unknown in the 1840s. Yet Sammelweis determined that the same "cadaveric material" that existed in dead bodies made its way via student doctors from autopsies to women in Ward 1.

The Cardiff Giant was a money magnet from the beginning. Just after Stub Newell "discovered" the giant, he got a license to display it and within three weeks raked in $7,000 at 50 cents a look. Cousin George Hull eventually confessed, but by then P T Barnum had made a copy of the giant. The Piltdown Man was a hoax that filled a national need. The Germans had their Neanderthal. The French had their Cro-Magnon. The English needed evidence that humanity had initially developed with in its borders. Piltdown was a smashing success capturing the attention of the likes of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. It rewrote paleological history from 1912 to 1949 when a new scientific test measuring fluorine showed that Piltdown Man's claim to age was a bit pretentious.

Who discovered America? Really the ancestors of the American Indians did. Whether it was Columbus or Lief Erikson is a moot point. For 300 years, European thinkers speculated on from which of the three sons of Noah the Indians were descended. After the Indians, who came next? There's no evidence St Brendan, the Chinese (looking for Fusang), Prince Madoc and the Welsh, nor Africans came to the New World. Barry Fell is given several pages by Feder. Fans of Fell need not read this book. In contrast the archaeological evidence for the Vikings is far more extensive.

Did the Indians learn to build the numerous Indian mounds in the US from the ancient civilization of Atlantis? Plato's Timaeus dialogue has Socrates asking his students to speculate. Critias speculates about a time and place which had not been heard of for 9300 years and which would not be heard of again for another 300 years. But in 1882 Ignatius Donnelley would write a book about Atlantis that would explain Indian mounds and compare such things as the pyramids of Egypt with those of the New World. His idea caught the imagination of folks like Edgar Cayce.

Von Daniken. Von Daniken has had to make lame claims that the Egyptians did not have the tools to make the pyramids. Archaeologists have shown that they did. Psychic archaeology?

Harmonics? Feder goes there, but pardon me if I do not.

I agree with Feder throughout most of his book. But in one instance I disagree. I can find a water line with a coat hanger. I was once in San Antonio trying to get a water license in a class taught by a PHD from Texas A&M. When he pulled out his rod, I shook my head. I could not believe it. He handed me the rod and it worked. Feder, okay, why did it work?
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on December 15, 2000
This book is a masterful review of some of the more enduring fantasies associated with archaeology. As an archaeologist myself, I found it both accurately and beautifully written. But most importantly, Feder does more than debunk these myths. He discusses not only why he does not accept, say, stories about Atlantis, at face value. He also explains what would be considered evidence that the stories are true. As interesting and provocative book on skepticism as there is, and a great book to give someone in order to teach the skeptic mindset.
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on March 18, 2010
This is seriously one of the greatest books I have ever read. It is rare for a non-fiction book to be a page-turner, but Dr. Feder's knowledge and passion for the subject make it unfailingly interesting. And as a skeptic and fan of science and reality, this book made me realize that I really don't think enough about anthropology and archaeology. Highly recommended.
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on August 8, 2007
This was one of the textbooks for an online Anthroplogy course that I took several years ago. It may be the most important book that I have read. While the myths that it addresses are interesting in their own right (ancient civilizations that preceded native Americans in the western hemisphere, druids and stonehenge, etc), the real impact of this book is how people ignore the facts when they don't support their ingrained beliefs. Every science student should read the first chapter. It explains the widespread scientific illiteracy in this nation. Every non-science student should be forced to read the entire book.
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on March 23, 2008
Ancient astronuats?, Atlantis?, Psychic archaeology?, Pharaoh's curses?.
Committed to the scientific investigation of human antiquity, Ken Feder uses interesting archaeological hoaxes, myths and mysteries to show how we can truly know things about the past through science. He presents examples of fantastic findings and carefully, logically and entertaining describes the flawes in the purported evidence for each fantastic claim. The book covers everthing from story of the archaeological fraud of the Cardiff Giant, to a detailed discussion of Ryan and Pitman's hypothesis that the bibical flood story was inspired by a catastrophic, post Pleistocene infilling of the Black Sea, tio the claim made in a recent popular book that the Chinese discovered and settle the New World some seventy years before Columbus. Through such well-chosen examples,archaeology professor Feder demonstrates what is- and is not- scientific method. In the process, he clearly conveys why the veritable past is as exciting and intriguing as are the fantasies concocted by the purveyors of pseudoscience.
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on February 23, 2001
What a tremendous book! This book not only teaches on how to interpret what you find in the realm of Archaeology, but how NOT to interpret it. Ken's book is not only integral to those interested in Archaeology, but it's at least important to those in any science. It shows one how we know what we know. Nice cover photo too, even though his son took the picture!!
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