Tag Archives: archaeology

It offends me as an archaeologist

8 Nov

I frequently think about dialogue from the 90s sitcom Seinfeld. There’s a funny line applicable to almost any life situation imaginable. Here’s one of my favorite exchanges from the 1997 episode “The Yada, Yada, Yada”:

Father Curtis: [in a confessional booth] Tell me your sins, my son.

Jerry: Well, I should tell you that I’m Jewish.

Father Curtis: That’s no sin.

Jerry: Oh, good. Anyway, I wanted to talk to you about Dr. Whatley. I have a suspicion that he’s converted to Judaism just for the jokes.

Father Curtis: And this offends you as a Jewish person?

Jerry: No, it offends me as a comedian!

We’re all capable of being offended on multiple overlapping levels: personally, professionally, spiritually… It’s often tempting to use a blog as a place to rant about things that offend us, and I resist the temptation to do that. Mostly. You can read back through previous posts to see that evolution denial really aggravates me. It aggravates me as an anthropologist, a scientifically literate person, an intellectually honest person, a father of school-aged children, etc. I’m comfortable blogging about evolution because, as much as people try to treat it as an opinion-based political issue, it is a scientific theory central to my research – one that I hate to see intentionally misrepresented.

This has inspired me to start an ongoing, occasional series called “It offends me as an archaeologist.” Even with that limitation, there is plenty to be offended by, though I will stick to archaeological topics and not post every time “someone on the internet is wrong.”

In August of this year I was offended (actually devastated and heartbroken) by the public beheading of Syrian archaeologist Khaled al-As’ad. He was an 82-year-old professor and antiquities expert who was murdered by ISIS because he would not reveal the location of even more artifacts for them to petulantly destroy. Al-As’ad was a hero who simply refused to go along with their infantile need to destroy all evidence of the world before Islam (which originated a mere 1500 years ago, leaving a lot of prior history to destroy).

Khaled al-Asaad in front of a rare sarcophagus dating from the first century.

We should all honor the memory of Khaled al-As’ad. The fact that this elderly scholar proved threatening to a terrorist organization reveals his strength and their weakness.


Society for Cross-Cultural Research 2016 Conference – Portland, Oregon

11 Aug

Society for Cross Cultural Research Conference
February 17-20, 2016
Call for submissions

The deadline of October 1st for submissions of papers, posters and panel proposals for the Society for Cross Cultural Research conference in Portland, Oregon is fast approaching!

The host city: Portland, Oregon
We invite you to discover the local culture of Portland, famous for the large number of independent microbreweries, Waterfront Park, artisan handicrafts, Powells “City of Books” and food carts that contribute to the unofficial slogan “Keep Portland Weird”. Portland is a city of beauty, interesting people and fascinating history.


Accommodation and Conference site: The Embassy Suites Hotel, downtown
The Embassy Suites Hotel is located in the heart of downtown Portland, Oregon. This historic all suite hotel was built in 1912, completely refurbished in 2014 and features vintage décor with a state-of-the-art meeting facility. Each allergy friendly suite includes a separate living area, private bedroom, free wifi, small refrigerator and microwave. A complementary full cook to order breakfast and complementary evening reception serving regional wines, local beers and spirits are added benefits. From the hotel, it is only a 3-5 minute walk to over 30+ restaurants, including Portland’s famous foodcarts, Powell’s bookstore, the Pearl district, shops and entertainment. Reservations (SCCR hotel rate deadline January 27, 2016):


Register for the conference now at:

Abstract submissions for panels, papers, and posters can be made at the conference website; http://sccr.vancouver.wsu.edu/submissions.html

Deadline for abstract submission: October 1, 2015.
Notification by November 1, 2015.

We look forward to seeing you in Portland, Oregon!

Bonnie Hewlett and Jay Fancher
SCCR 2016 Program Co-chairs

Where have I gone?

5 Jul

In 2011-2012 I was teaching 1-2 classes and loving the additional avenue of discussion provided by blogging. Somewhere along the way, my class load increased to 8 between Mt. Hood Community College, Washington State University-Vancouver, Clark College, and Ashford University. The students and classes, spanning all four fields of anthropology, at these institutions has been a lot of fun. But clearly, my blog production (which was never great) has slowed down.

If you’re interested in smaller doses of my scientific earnestness and geeky anthro enthusiasm – or want to share your ideas/discoveries – please check Facebook (Jay Fancher) or Twitter (@jfancherphd).

Go Anthro!


The Mystery (!!!) of Archaeology

17 Jan


It’s true, popularizers of archaeological research tend to use a lot of words like mystery, secretadventure, explore, discover, unknown, and decoded. Especially decoded; I personally use three documentaries in my classes that contain “code” or “decoded.” There must something alluring about the prospect of cracking the code of an ancient secret mystery (see how I did that?).

People who teach and write about archaeology work awfully hard to bridge the “excitement gap” between fiction and reality. We’re excited by the reality and are sometimes surprised when others don’t share our enthusiasm. As a result, we let loose a torrent of attention-getting words to liven up the sometimes mundane (but exciting!) questions of archaeological research.

I was reading about Mike Parker Pearson’s book about Stonehenge on amazon.com (you’ve probably seen him on Nova, the National Geographic Channel, etc.). Anyhow, one reviewer of the book perfectly described how high use of the word mystery drives expectations:

“Readers looking for something fascinating about the ancient mysteries of Stonehenge need to know that archaeologists have a different understanding of the word ‘mystery’ than the average layperson. For them, it is a mystery why a certain layer of sediment or animal bone is found in one place as opposed to another, not whether ancient aliens were involved in the monument’s construction” (J.D. Mason).

Heck, I’m intrigued by the layers of sediment and animal bone, but the reviewer makes a very good point. If someone bought Parker Pearson’s book expecting ghosts, magic, and crystal skulls, they’d be very disappointed! I’ll keep my eyes open for compelling evidence of ancient aliens. In the meantime, I will also do my best to not overhype the MYSTERY! of real archaeology.

The Year in Paleoanthropology at Scientific American

1 Jan

Kate Wong’s blog at Scientific American presents a nice summary of paleoanthropology news from 2013. As you’ve probably noticed, it was an extraordinary year, with fossils, tools, and DNA revealing answers to long-standing questions – and illuminating avenues for further research. Check out Wong’s 2013 summary and imagine what we might know at the end of 2014!

Remains of King Richard III Confirmed!

4 Feb

The University of Leicester issued a press release today confirming that skeletal remains recently found under a parking lot in Leicester, England are those of King Richard III. It’s a wonderful and very well-documented piece of archaeological detective work – especially because it demonstrates how multiple lines of evidence can be used to strengthen our interpretations.

Check out this site for the University of Leicester’s full press release, background information on King Richard III, multimedia presentations, and more. Enjoy!

Nobody Ever Had a Pet Dinosaur

11 Dec

If you read my April 30th post “Archaeologists (Still) Don’t Dig Dinosaurs,” you already know that the conflation of archaeology and paleontology – and the popular misconception that people and dinosaurs coexisted – bothers me.  It would bother me less if not for the constant reminders of this misconception in children’s programming.

I was watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse with my one-year-old son this morning.  It’s a cute, wonderful, and generally educational show for preschoolers.  Both of my kids have loved it (try getting the “hot dog” song out of your head after hundreds of viewings.  It’s impossible).

In today’s episode, “Pluto’s Dinosaur Romp,” Professor Ludwig von Drake built a time machine in order to travel back to “dinosaur times.”  When exactly were dinosaur times?  “A long time ago,” explained the cartoon duck professor.  Vague, but not inaccurate.  Unfortunately, later in the show, “Caveman Pete” arrived from dinosaur times to retrieve his dinosaur pet.  I hate it when prehistoric humans – or even anthropomorphic cats, like Pete – are portrayed alongside dinosaurs!

Picking apart cartoons for factual accuracy is all too easy.  Maybe it’s not a big deal.  After all, in an animated fantasy world populated by talking animals, what’s one more inaccuracy?  Are Caveman Pete and dino pet any more worrisome than, say, “A Message from Mars,” an episode where Mickey and friends encounter little green-tinted versions of themselves on the red planet?  If Mickey Mouse Clubhouse ends up being a primary source of scientific information for the next generation, then we’re in bigger trouble than I thought!

The storyline of “Pluto’s Dinosaur Romp” is one example of a minor pet peeve.  In contrast, the recent Gallup poll, showing that 46% of Americans believe that humans were created sometime within the last 10,000 years, is a major concern.  We Homo sapiens are much older than 10,000 years, but not so old that we extend back to “dinosaur times” over 65 million years ago.

I sometimes worry that all the little things (TV shows, toys, movies, etc.) depicting humans and dinosaurs together contribute in small ways to our embarrassing national misunderstanding of prehistoric time.  They help take a knowable, and increasingly well-understood, past and turn it into a compressed, hazy “long time ago.”  The history of life on Earth is pretty easy to comprehend if we just attach some numbers to guide us as signposts back into the past.  A simple clarifying statement from Professor von Drake, like “dinosaurs lived millions of years ago, before people,” would help.

What do you think?  Are Caveman Pete and his dinosaur pet a minor annoyance, indicative of a public education crisis, or something in between?  Please share your thoughts below.