New Age archaeology tours rooted in racism

Last week’s discovery of some tombs of the pyramid builders in Egypt left me a bit confused. The archaeologists triumphantly claimed the tombs prove the builders were hired workmen, not slaves. Slaves wouldn’t have been buried in proper tombs right next to the Pyramids, the resting place of the pharaohs.

I used to be an archaeologist and couldn’t understand what they were crowing about. Archaeologists have long known that hired labor built Egypt’s temples and monuments. During the annual flooding of the Nile the farmers didn’t have much to do because their fields were underwater, so the pharaoh hired them to keep them out of trouble and glorify himself. In fact, a similar set of tombs was discovered in 1990. So what’s the big deal?

Then I remembered. If archaeologists don’t keep repeating the facts, the BS will bury the truth.

I’ve been to a lot of ancient sites, and even more annoying than the touts trying to sell me cheap trinkets are the “spiritual travelers” spouting gibberish about ancient astronauts and Atlantis. You’ve heard the theories. The local people couldn’t possibly have built these impressive remains so they got a helping hand from aliens. Another spin is that all the great archaeological sites are survivals of an ancient civilization. It doesn’t matter that there’s not a shred of real evidence to back these claims; these First World fantasies are much more alluring than the simple truth–dark people speaking strange languages built the most impressive monuments in human history.

These ideas aren’t new. Fingerprints of the Gods, Chariots of the Gods, America B.C., The Lost Continent of Mu, all recycle the same old half-truths, out-of-context “facts”, and outright inventions in their quest to peddle nonsense to a public that should have been given a better education in the first place. New Age archaeology tours have become big business. There’s nothing more annoying than having to elbow your way through one of these wide-eyed herds when in the presence of something truly great like Machu Picchu or Giza.

What many New Agers would be shocked to realize is that their ideas are rooted in colonial racism. Early European explorers and scholars couldn’t believe that “natives” were capable of building the great monuments in places like Egypt, Zimbabwe, and Peru and explained them away by thinking up lost white civilizations or wandering tribes of Europeans. Some modern writers have replaced Aryans with aliens, but the Great White Civilization idea still persists. Do a Google image search on “Atlanteans” and you’ll see what I mean.

So please, throw away the crystals and read some real archaeology books. The archaeologists don’t have all the answers, but at least they’re trying. And I can tell you from ten years in the business that despite what New Agers say, archaeologists aren’t conspiring to hide the truth. Repeat: there is no grand conspiracy.

But I would say that, wouldn’t I? Got to go, Venus is calling.

Britain says no to alien welcomes

The visitors traveling the longest distances to Britain will find the phones shut off. Citing the high costs of operation, the British military has shut down its UFO hotline. So, not only will aliens not be welcomed personally, the messages reported via their crop circles will go unreported. This is the end of a half-century commitment in the United Kingdom to helping the nutty find an audience.

According to the Ministry of Defense, ditching the UFO office will translate to an annual savings of around $73,000 a year, money much better spent supporting the 9,500 soldiers the country has deployed to Afghanistan. No jobs were lost as a result of this decision, and the military isn’t taking a position on the existence of UFOs or alien life. More than 12,000 sightings were reported to the UFO office, some of which were accompanied by pictures drawn by those lucky enough to witness the arrival of little green men. None was interpreted as a threat to national security.

Many Britons are upset about the closing of the UFO hotline, which was accompanied by the deactivation of the UFO e-mail account. Roy Lake, founder of the London UFO Studies group, calls this “a threat to national security.” He tells The Associated Press, “We take this quite seriously. We know that sometimes things can be explained as natural phenomena but there could be that one thing that’s not. I think the government knows damn well what’s going on up there and they’re covering it up.”

Of course, any life form that could find its way to Earth would probably master Twitter pretty quickly, so the shuttering of the British UFO office probably isn’t a big deal. I can see it now: “Hey #Earth. Here from Mars. @Gadling reco place 2 stay? #herefromanotherplanet”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defense counters Lake’s worries: “None of the thousands of UFO sightings reported over the years have ever provided substantiated proof of the existence of extraterrestrials.” He continued, “There is no defense value in investigating UFO reports.”

Nonetheless, Nick Pope sees a concern. He has helped the British military investigate UFOs and believes that the decision is “a great shame.” Pope says the program encouraged pilots and other experts to tip off the authorities to suspicious activity, saying, “That’s one thing we learned in the 9/11 attacks, the threat of incoming aircraft with transponders turned off.” Meanwhile, he seems to overlook the fact that these risks can be addressed through many other existing channels of communication.

And, if you do see a UFO in Britain, there are still plenty of organizations you can call. And, there’s always YouTube, as you can see from the clip below.

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[Photo by mujitra via Flickr]

Crop circles are back!

Remember crop circles, those strange shapes that started appearing in the Nineties in fields all across England? We haven’t heard much about them lately, but according to an article in the Guardian’s G2 magazine, this year hikers in England’s beautiful countryside should see a bumper crop. May was a banner month, and new circles are already showing up in June. The article has an interesting gallery of some of this year’s best and gives a step-by-step guide to making your own, although there are more detailed instructions at How Stuff Works.

Nobody is sure when the crop circle phenomenon actually began, but simple designs caught the attention of UFO researchers in the Seventies. Soon simple circles weren’t enough and designs became more and more elaborate. Paranormal investigators argued whether they were made by aliens, earth spirits, or dozens of other possible sources. They tried to ignore the TV interviews with artists who showed how you could flatten wheat into designs with simple tools such as a board and rope. The craze eventually spread to mainland Europe, Japan, and North America.

Some artists have even created an organization called Circlemakers and boast of their work on their website. Not only have these guys done the typical circles and designs, they’ve also done ads for Shredded Wheat, Nike, and Hello Kitty.

This hasn’t stopped organizations such as the Wiltshire Crop Circle Study Group from studying what they say is an unexplained phenomenon. They claim that while evidence such as post holes or confessions by artists prove most crop circles are man made, a minority of circles defy explanation, an argument that is tantamount to saying that while we have documentation for the construction of most medieval cathedrals, there are no blueprints or payrolls for other cathedrals and therefore they must have been made by aliens.

But that is neither here nor there. The truth is not as mundane as the skeptics insist or the believers fear–in fact the truth is even more amazing than UFOs or Earth Powers or whatever. Dedicated groups of artists have, usually for no fame or money, imprinted complex works of art onto the landscape under the cover of night. England has always been a culture deeply tied to its landscape and hiking is one of the most popular activities here. Most of its ancient monuments such as Stonehenge or Silbury Hill are in fact modifications of their natural surroundings. As England becomes more urban, the English are losing touch with the landscape. The artists who make crop circles are bringing their country back to its roots. It’s an amazing cultural movement that is giving the country beautiful works of art rooted in tradition yet with a futuristic twist. They should be applauded.

I once got to examine a crop circle near West Kennet Long Barrow. Circle makers like to make their designs near ancient sites, which is pretty easy considering the countryside is full of them. This circle was a simple pattern, a big circle with some radial designs. Being on the hill leading up to one of England’s most impressive megalithic ruins added to the atmosphere and made the visit more memorable. As the hiking season gets going, I’m starting a new series called English Country Walks. If I come across more crop circles, I’ll be sure to take photos and share them here!

Big in Japan: Aliens may have landed in Japan

Ever wonder why the Japanese are so much more advanced than the rest of us?

What if the answer to this question was simply that the Japanese government has made contact with aliens?

What if the Nintendo Wii and Playstation 3 were actually alien technology that was adapted to life on this planet?

Believe it or not, there may in fact be some truth to these statements!

Well, sort of…

According Chief Cabinet Secretary Mr. Nobutaka Machimura, one of the Japanese government’s chief spokesmen, unidentified flying objects (UFOs) do in fact exist.

Although he said that the Japanese government could not confirm any cases of UFOs, he told reporters that believed they were “definitely” real.

Interesting.

I guess at this point in the posting, you’re wondering one or more of the following:

a) How do you say Area 51 in Japanese?
b) So ramen really is an alien creation!
c) If there were space whales, would the Japanese hunt them too?
d) This has all got to be some big joke, right?

Have I peaked your curiosity yet? If so, keep reading as I assure you that there is some sort of rationale behind this apparent madness.

To put things into perspective, this whole ordeal started when a member of the opposition party asked the current government what their policy was in dealing with UFOs.

Although this is generally the type of question that no politician would want to touch, Mr. Machimura was quick to weigh in on the issue.

In the event that a UFO was discovered inside Japan’s sovereign airspace, Mr. Machimura said that fighter planes would be scrambled in an attempt to confirm the nature of the object.

However, Mr. Machimura regretted to announce that the government’s response measures ended there as there were no mechanisms in place for dealing with an actual alien landing.

Drawing peals of laughter from the crowd of reporters, Mr. Machimura admitted that this was a stereotypical response from bureaucrats.

Of course, Mr. Machimura was quick to emphasize that the Japanese government was not aware of any confirmed cases whereby a UFO was actually discovered in their airspace.

However, he did reiterate the urgent need to try and scientifically confirm whether or not UFOs exist because of what he called incessant reports of sightings.

Although to date most UFO sightings in Japan have either been birds, planes or other easily explainable objects, Mr. Machimura was proud to announce that he believes that they definitely exist.

And, it’s worth nothing that the position of the government’s chief spokesperson isn’t that much different from that of the prime minister, namely Yasuo Fukuda.

When questioned about his belief in UFOs, Japan’s Prime Minister took a long hard think, and then responded with the appropriate political rhetoric.

Although he was a bit more reserved than Mr. Machimura, he said that it was impossible to answer the question since no one could either prove or deny their existence.

Truth be told, the Japanese aren’t exactly famous for their direct answers, though perhaps Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda is trying to tell us to read between the lines.

MSN’s 10 Places to Get Spooked

PumpkinBOO! Halloween is now only a week away and it is time for some real trip planning if you have yet to begin. If you’re too embarrassed to go cruise your home digs in costume with a begging bag in hand consider some of these ghostly destinations provided by MSN. Start with a trip down to the legendary Bermuda Triangle known for making many a vessel disappear while sailing the sea span between Miami, Bermuda and San Juan, P.R. If taking to the seas on one of the creepiest nights of the year doesn’t give you goose-pimples try a visit to the city of Salem, Mass., where the famous witch trials took place in 1692. All month long Salem makes the most of its utterly gruesome past by hosting several ghost tours, street fairs and costume balls. In all honesty Salem looks like one of the best places to head too if you’re really wrapped into this stuff. Other stops include Roswell, London’s Ghost Walk and Transylvania of course. Having been to Transylvania before, I say skip the expensive plane ride over and again, head to Salem.

See MSN for the spooky rest.