- Series: 2nd printing 1991.
- Paperback: 424 pages
- Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press (May 1, 1991)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0812213122
- ISBN-13: 978-0812213126
- Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,910,843 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Fantastic Archaeology: The Wild Side of North American Prehistory Paperback – May 1, 1991
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From Library Journal
Williams uncovers the fraud and fantasy interspersed throughout the American popular view of North American archaeology and the continent's connections with distant civilizations. Williams asserts in this volume, as in his Harvard University course of the same name, that when an American site is uncovered or artifact discovered, conclusions are often too easily drawn where not enough evidence has been revealed to hypothesize. Wild, amateurish declarations historically have been quickly and easily published, whereas counterarguments seldom reach the same massive audience. With the competition for public attention from the plethora of fantastic claims, the documented discoveries and amazing achievements of the past become hidden from public understanding. This is an important guide for the student or layperson interested in sifting through the myth to find the verified facts of America's fascinating past.
- Paula I. Nielson, Loyola Marymount Univ. Lib., Los Angeles
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"What a bundle of wishes, folly, and fraud is here unpacked."—Scientific American
"A cheerful and delightful excursion into the realms of fraud, hucksterism, wretched excess, and wishful thinking. . . . From Indiana Jones to Lost Atlantis, from mysticism to Mu, Williams reviews the colorful characters and misguided theories which have excited the public, and exasperated mainstream archaeologists."—Michael Crichton
"This book provides entertaining reading for professional archaeologist and advanced students, insight for undergraduates, and eye-opening information for the general public. The only ones who may not want to read it are those who are committed to one of the myriad forms of pseudoarchaeology."—Choice
"Engagingly written, the book's clear discussion of a variety of archaeological controversies is readily accessible to the general reader and should be of interest to both lay people and professional scholars alike."—Nature
"This is a book to cherish and enjoy. The book demonstrates once again how many ways there are for people to mislead other people, particularly in areas where emotions become involved in objective assessments of scientific evidence."—Anthro Notes
"Williams—has produced a book that provides not only some very enjoyable reading but also a truly useful historical perspective on the role of fantasies—and some fantastic personalities—in the development of American archaeology."—Archaeology
"Fantastic Archeology will appeal to nonprofessionals, students of archeology, and professional archeologists. This book should be read by any archeologist concerned with educating the public about the past, and perhaps will encourage more professional archeologists with a talent for writing to produce popular works."—American Anthropologist
"Much of the strength of this book is derived from Williams's recognition that fantastic archaeology has been an integral part of American archaeology from its earliest days, that the border between the fantastic and the scientific is problematical, and that weird ideas often fill real social needs. . . . It is a major contribution to a growing literature dealing with the less disciplined side of North American archaeology . . . work that clearly has so much to offer archaeologists and the general public."—Bulletin of the History of Archaeology
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The author spends the first half of the book detailing all these wild ideas and legends.....And then takes the second half to explore the actual history of pre-Columbian America as known to archaeology.
Williams' focus is on North America, almost exclusively on the United States, concentrating on the 19th and early 20th centuries. After an introduction and Chapter defining Fantastic Archaeology, Chapters 2 and 3 explain how archaeology in North America grew from attempts to explain the origins of Indian cultures and the material remains found in the Ohio and Mississippi valleys.
Chapters 4 to 6 describe various artifacts faked as evidence of prehistoric non-Indian races. Williams relates these to a 19th century American society famous for all kinds of humbugs and deceit. Chapter 7 deals with the modern myth of Atlantis and popular acceptance of catastrophist geology and history. Chapter 8 considers the early 19th century relationship between archaeology and religion, particularly concerning the Mormons. Chapter 9 deals with alleged Norse antiquities and Chapters 10 and 11 tackle various 20th-century versions of hyper-diffusionism, which explain any superficial similarities between widely-separated cultures by past migrations. Chapter 12, on "psychic archaeology" is followed by an epilogue, a brief sketch of orthodox views in North American prehistory.
Williams' book comprehensively documents the major frauds and fantasies and evaluates the personalities of those associated with them, generally in a fair and reasonable way.
Although the book is long and detailed, it is readable and can be understood by anyone with even a superficial knowledge of archaeology. It also includes a sensible guide on how to distinguish fantastic archaeology from serious research.
An interesting aspect is Williams' exploration of the social and intellectual contexts of Fantastic Archaeology. Some 19th-century frauds were motivated by profit, but national and ethnic pride, racism or religious conviction were also important then. In the 20th century, these partly gave way to romanticism, and viewing archaeology as "a game anyone can play" regardless of method or logic. Williams is hard on what he calls "Rogue Professors", academics with backgrounds in marine biology, physics or languages who claim to know better than trained archaeologists, but he is more understanding of 19th-century nationalists or religious visionaries.
Finally, Williams disagrees with archaeologists who want to ignore Fantastic Archaeology for fear of giving it credibility. Williams argues that a respect for what we know of the truth requires wild speculations and discredited ideas to be challenged. Some of the 19th-century hoaxes and fantasies are still being recycled, and new variations on old hyper-diffusionism themes keep appearing.
In this flood of Fantastic Archaeology, Williams' book is an important contribution to restoring some balance and sanity to views of the ancient world.