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Da Vinci Code and (pseudo)archaeology
Quote:quote:Originally posted by Beardstroker

Quote:quote:Originally posted by BAJR Host
[Off to see the film tonight.... welll..... no your enemy I say
I would spend the money on a better film, Mr Hosty (or alternatively beer and chips) it really is the most godawfully dull piece of bilge.Big Grin Shame as the book was actually moderately entertaining.
I find this whole phenomenon fascinating. The book IS entertaining (though bits of it could have been better written IMHO), the film as Beardstroker says only moderately so, and to my mind pretty difficult to follow if you've not read the book first.

What I find astounding is its enough for the author to write that the Priory of Sion "is a real organization" and that Opus Dei exists (duh !) and "all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documentsand secret rituals in this novel are accurate" (how could they not be?) and a large part of the reading public starts half-believing (or actually believing) in the conspiracy theory at the book's core.

And yet, a mouse-click or two away, almost any of the people who bought the book can easily find dozens of pieces of (verifiable) information which show the conspiracy theory really has too many holes to be plausible (like the infamous documents created by Pierre Plantard and planted in the Bibliotheque Nationale)... So the question is, why dont they? We live in an age when we can easily search for information without having to get off our backsides and go to a library or bookshop. The Internet, read critically (like anything else), puts it right under our nose. In theory we should be the best informed generation there has ever been, and yet we live in an age when all sorts of empty-brained and intellectually-flawed crap flourishes. Von Daniken and Graham Hancock and Holy Blood- Holy Grail/Da Vinci Code type nonsenses get widely accepted, even though anyone wishing to just check out a few facts or opposing views for themselves can do so. So why dont they? Do they want to be led up the garden path by any charlatan who can put pen to paper? (1)

I think this is importatnt for us to think about, as we produce one (set of) vision[s] of the past, while our public (the ones we say we are doing it all for) produce and all-too-willingly accept their own and sharply conflicting visions and dismiss any attempt to show (when we care to attempt it) that there is another version of events.

The believers in these "fringe" (though in fact in terms of size perhaps THESE are now the mainstream heories) are not so interested in checking out the basic facts and deciding between opposing models, all they need is an attractively-packaged version of "the "experts" got this wrong/ told you only half the truth / dont understand this" and there you have an instant public archaeology. Is there not a potential danger here with implications for the future of archaeology when millions of people want a more "exciting" version of the past full of "mysteries" ad "massive cover-ups" and we (the parties accused of doing the covering-up and getting it all wrong) keep giving the same old stuff?

Should we be blithely ignoring this sort of phenomenon? I think to a certain extent we do, we tend to pooh-pooh it and assume it will all blow over... (2) but what are the cumulative effects? Or should we be thinking of ways to more aggressively counter this kind of nonsense? Or should we go along with it in the spirit of liberalism and a Post-Modern "Anything goes"?

What implications would these three approaches have for British (and not only of course) archaeology? Any thoughts?

Paul Barford

(1) To clarify, in the case of the DVC, to my mind, the charlatans are the authors of Holy Blood ad Holy Grail, I think the situation about what Dan Brown set out to write is much more complex. They should be seen together ad not in isolation.

(2) Yes I know some of us produce books and websites (like the Hall of Ma'at) to counter them, but it seems to me that they rarely reach where they are needed.

I think that " Joe Public and his family" want a more romantic/ fantasy version of the past. Last Sunday, by chance ,I happended on an " Iron Age" pageant at an hill-fort in Wiltshire. It was in aid of opening a shelter in the form of an Iron Age round house and was well attended by the neo iron age inhabitants in their drapes and pre-raphaelite interpretations of the past. However what drew the most attention was not the archaeology, not the fine Iron Age style hut but the two fantasy wizards complete with "pet dragon pupets on their arms.
We wrap archeology up in the mundane and fail to tell interesting stories of the past and so "Joe Public" looks for something more interesting , more entertaining and hebeleives what he is told if its what he wants to hear.

It's all in the presentation.
The reason why so many people read and believe Dan Brown's work compared to, say, mine is that he is so partisan and selective.

The three facts you allude to are written on the first page of DVC in plain type with the word 'FACT' in big letters across the top. This little psychological trick seems to work on most people, but often leaves those it doesn't in a state of apoplexy.

Archaeologists generally lead with the methodology, describe the evidence in minute detail, present tentative and very broad conclusions and finish with a bunch of caveats to those conclusions. It isn't hard to see which is going to fly off the shelves. So should we write in a more blockbusting style, consign the argument to the archive and only publish exciting conclusions?

Although it has many virtues, post-modern, liberal, ('anything goes') discourse is even more subject to the mechanisms of power (rather than reason) than the scientific way of thinking. There are plenty of university departments where one powerful group has used the rhetoric of multi-vocality and post-modernism to marginalise another group, characterising their enemies as reactionary, elitist or worse. Such an environment doesn't mean that people all just sit back and allow others to express contrasting views; not when there's books to sell and professorships to attain. Anything doesn't go, as it turns out. Far from it.

With all this in mind, it is no surprise that, without the muscle of a major publishing house, archaeologists tend to adopt the 'ignore them and they'll go away' approach. We can't compete, but wait twenty years and no-one will be reading Dan Brown. All I take away from this problem is that the dry reportage so common to archaeology needs an overhaul. If we can put technical data on the ADS now, why publish it in limited run monographs when we could use the space to make more interesting comments and speculations about the past? This distinction would have the happy side effect that people would no longer be able to simply present data without any interpretation. They would have to come up with something interesting to say.

'Have a good plan, execute it violently, do it today'.
General MacArthur
My disbelief suspenders snapped when Mr Brown describes a bar of soap in the Louvre toilet, when everyone knows that they have liquid soap in dispensers there! And then when he describes French cryptologists still at work after 5pm!! I mean, what was he thinking? Everyone knows that they would have been at home by then. Honestly, did he not research even the basic details??????

Gentleman Adventurer and Antique

"A stitch in time saves precious bodily fluids."
I haven't bothered to read the Da Vinci Code. I'm rather fond of Pseudoarchaeology though - it's highly entertaining and a great read at bedtime. I've just finished some crap about the Mayas and the Incas and how they were visited by spaceships that was making me laugh out loud. I think it was written in about 1970 when this type of stuff really flourished. I'm just starting one about the Bermuda Triangle which is equally funny.

People seem to love all this rubbish. It's probably linked with social and political trends at specific times. The late 1960's - early 1970's Von Daniken stuff I suppose was probably tappinig into collective uncertainty and paranoia about going into space and visiting the moon. People got all paranoid about government conspiracies and the Y2K computer bug in the 1990's with the millennium approaching as well. Now we're back to religious conspiracies again. I'm sure there's a really fun PhD proposal in there somewhere if someone hasn't done it already. Anyway, try reading Archaeological Fantasies: How Pseudoarchaeology Misrepresents the Past and Misleads the Public, by Garrett G. Fagan for a bit of debunking. Unfortunately it's not as funny as Graham Hancock, but the discussion is rather more plausible.
I suppose much of it is down to excitement. Most people in the past would probably do broadly what we do - get up, work, eat, go to bed. Talk top friends and family, fight a bit more maybe, play with/kick domestic animals, worry about the kids. Just human life really. The details of all that are exciting to me but I guess not to Joe/Jo Public who want a science fantasy vision of the past, maybe to believe that there was something better and may be again.

We owe the dead nothing but the truth.
I have to agree that the book was quite enjoyable. I didn’t learn anything from it (other than Dan Brown has a peculiar view of the layout of Paris), but I didn’t expect to. It is, however, serving capably propping up a desk in an archaeological unit somewhere along the south coast Big Grin

I would like to think that, as with most high profile books like this, a segment of the readership will be sufficiently motivated to dig a little deeper and – who knows – may be bitten by the bug and turn to the light that is archaeological research (fade in rousing music).

Of the Clan Sutton
You should see the Colin Wilson stuff that's pretty awful as well.

"Freedom of ideas is one thing, freedom of the purse is quite another". Edward Harris

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