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Uncovering Archaeology Fantasies

Dec. 30, 2015 by | Comments (6)

When I started the podcast MonsterTalk, an official podcast of Skeptic Magazine, one of our earliest episodes was going to be about “giants.” I didn’t know what angle I wanted to take on the topic because there are many kinds of legendary giants, but ultimately I decided to look into the famous hoax known as The Cardiff Giant. And when it came to picking a guest, only one person came to mind: Dr. Kenny Feder.

Like many skeptics I don’t trust my own (or anyone else’s) memory. I don’t recall if I first saw Feder doing his damned best to bring some sensible skepticism to any of the many documentaries he’s been on, or whether I first heard him in 2008 when he was interviewed on Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe #59. I suspect it was on National Geographic’s Is it Real? dealing with Atlantis in 2006. Regardless, I bought his book Frauds, Myths and Mysteries and was blown away by it. As I am fond of saying, there is more solid and useful archaeological skepticism on the cover of that book than in the entire run of History’s Ancient Aliens.

Feder’s popularity on MonsterTalk has not been equaled. His entertaining, clear and logical explanations of mysterious topics related to archaeology are our most popular episodes. But now, thanks to the work of fellow archaeologist Sara Head, you can get large doses of Feder and fascinating deep science-based discussions of many of the fringe topics which frustrate skeptics so much.

1450659451359Archaeological Fantasies (or ArchyFantasies) is a podcast produced by Sara and hosted by her and Ken. It is part of the Archaeological Podcasting Network, and in each episode they take on a topic that has been used by fringe and pseudo-archaeologists and look for more reasonable and less bullshit-filled approaches to the artifacts and sites involved. I recently sat down to (virtually) interview Sara about her podcast. While I have gushed a bit about Ken’s involvement, Sara puts together the show as well as co-hosting, and I know from personal experience that this is a lot of work for which she is to be commended. I believe anyone with even the vaguest interest in archaeology would enjoy this show and benefit from its clear and entertaining take on the bottomless midden-pile that is pseudo-archaeology.

Interview with Sara Head

Skeptic: First, tell us a bit about yourself and your ties with the field of archaeology.

Sara: I’ve been a field archaeologist doing mainly Cultural Resource Management (CRM) work for 10 years. I’ve recently changed gears a little, I finished a Masters Certificate in GIS and Remote Sensing and am working for a children’s science museum helping them write curriculum for brand new archaeology programming.

Skeptic: How did you meet Ken Feder?

Sara: So, our producer, Chris Webster and I were talking about me having a podcast based off of my blog, where I debunk bad archaeology and pseudoscience. During the conversation I mentioned that a dream interview for me would be Ken Feder of Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries fame. Chris suggested us asking Ken if he’d like to co-host the show with me. I had a fangirl moment, and we emailed Ken. He agreed and now we have about 23 shows in the can, probably 24 by the time you get these answers back. The podcast will be a year old in January, and from what Chris tells us, it’s doing pretty well.

Skeptic: Do you have a mission statement for AF? What sorts of topics are in-scope / out-of-scope for you?

Sara: So I actually hate the buzzwords “mission statement.” I do keep the show and the blog focused on archaeology topics, which can be a very wide range of topics. Archaeology overlaps with a lot of other fields. That said, I don’t like to address topics I’m not familiar with and I try to either bring in experts or ask Ken. (He knows lots of fun stuff.) Mainly, if it deals with archaeology, dirt, history, etc., it’s a good topic. If it has to deal with Physics, advanced math, or something like that, we’re probably going to skip it. Unless it somehow relates back to pseudo-archaeology.

Skeptic: Ken has been a repeat guest on MonsterTalk—in fact, he’s been our most frequently requested guest. He self-identifies as a skeptic. Do you?

Sara: I am a skeptic and an atheist, among other “isms.” I was raised to question things and reason my way through life. I got lucky there, and I know that. That’s why I try present things in a way that lays out the facts for the average person. I know that some people are just now learning how the think critically about things. I don’t want to turn folks off with my posts or the podcast, though I have had a few unfortunate interactions with ‘true believers,’ but it’s my opinion that their minds can’t be changed no matter what you present them with.

Skeptic: Do you have any particular pop-culture show that you feel your show is the logical rebuttal to? (With MonsterTalk, I think we sort of naturally ended up as a kind of counterpoint to the TV show MonsterQuest, for example.)

Sara: The show is a counter to all the pseudo-archaeology BS out there. I don’t think there is any one target of the show, though I have a personal vendetta against the media in general and the History Channel specifically. Recently I’ve been focused on American Unearthed with Scott Wolter, not a fan of that guy.

Skeptic: What kind of common myths do you hope to dispel with your show?

Sara: I’m not out to dispel myths as much as I want to educate the average person on how to identify fact from fiction when it comes to archaeology. It’s a very misunderstood field that can have a major impact on things. It’s important people understand what is and isn’t actual archaeology.

Skeptic: Do you think your show will inspire young people to become archaeologists?

Sara: [Laughs] Probably not. Though Ken’s a great teacher from what I hear, so if someone does want to go into the field they should really look him up.

Skeptic: What are some topics that you plan to look into in the future?

Sara: We’re looking into genetic markers, that’s become a hot topic lately, especially among Race Realists and other racists. We’re also working on some PSA style episodes to explain archaeological concepts as real archaeologists use them. Basically just more myth busting archaeology style, sans the explosions. We don’t have the budget for that.

Skeptic: Tell me about your show’s intro-music.

Sara: That lovely piece is written and donated by ArchaeoSoup Productions. He is a fellow archaeologist over in England and he and I had YouTube channels at the same time back in the day. Mark’s show is still going strong and he’s joining the Archaeological Podcasting Network soon, so he’ll be podcast famous soon too. He’s a great guy, very funny and creative.

Skeptic: The ArchyFantasies show is part of a network of archaeology shows—how involved are you with the network?

Sara: The network is produced by Chris Webster and Tristan Boyle. They are the movers behind the network, but all of us who are part of the network share the idea of creating a media network that reaches out to not just the archaeological community, but the lay public as well. Most of the shows are aimed at professional archaeologists, but anyone can listen to them and get a picture as to what it’s like to be an archaeologist. As to how involved I am? I mainly just focus on my own show.

Thanks to Sara Head for taking the time to talk with me. Please take a moment and add the ArchyFantasies podcast to your list of audio subscriptions. It is a free podcast, but priceless.

Link to ArchyFantasies on iTunes

The ArchyFantasies Website

RSS Feed for ArchyFantasies

Blake Smith

Blake Smith is the producer and host of MonsterTalk, an official podcast of Skeptic magazine. He’s had a lifelong interest in science and the paranormal and enjoys researching the strange and unusual. By day he’s a computer consultant and by night he hunts monsters. He is married and has children. Puns are intentional; don’t bother alerting the management. Read Blake’s other posts on this blog.

6 responses to “Uncovering Archaeology Fantasies”

  1. Tuesday says:

    That’s an expert answer to an inreiesttng question

  2. Jackie says:

    “Most of the shows are aimed at professional archaeologists, but anyone can listen to them and get a picture as to what it’s like to be an archaeologist.”

    I am one of your non-initiate listeners (English Major!), Sara and Ken, and just wanted to tell you that I find it very accessible – and so much fun on my DC-area commute.

    And you too, Blake. Hurry up and finish with your research. I miss Gef and the Yokai and all my little friends.

  3. ArchyFantasies says:

    Thanks for the interview! This was fun! Also, I need to check my twitter feed more often.

  4. Blake says:

    Adrian, I found (and added a link to) the RSS feed which makes it a bit easier to subscribe, but more importantly in your case, also to listen through the browser. On my Mac, if I click on the Media link of each episode in the feed, it opens in a new tab in Firefox and uses the player to stream the content. Give that a try and see if it helps.

  5. Blake says:

    Yes, there are some glitches on the website. I’d like to see a regular RSS link for people who don’t subscribe via iTunes as well. But if you can work through the hurdles, the content is worth it.

  6. Adrian Morgan says:

    I checked out the podcast and while the content might be excellent, they’ll have to make some changes to the interface if they want me to come back.

    If I right-click the “Download” link for an episode and select “open in new tab”, the tab opens briefly then closes itself. A download dialogue box sometimes appears, but not reliably in my browser.

    This is wrong! I do not want a download dialogue box. That is not what the “download” link on a podcast episode is for.

    The “download” link on a podcast episode, by time-honoured tradition, is simply a direct link to the mp3 file. That is ALL. The URL isn’t supposed to have “?download=true” at the end, which is the source of the problem.

    The reason it matters is that I don’t WANT to download the whole episode and listen to it offline. I want to listen to it in the browser, using Apple’s Quicktime plugin for Firefox. This very useful plugin causes any mp3 file opened in the browser to play inside the browser using the Quicktime player’s interface.

    Why do I want to do that? Because podcasts’ native players almost always suck, including the one used by archyfantasies. The Quicktime player is highly responsive, and takes up almost the whole width of the screen. If I miss a bit of the conversation and want to rewind, or if I want to skip the theme music and fast forward, it lets me do so very precisely with a click. I will not listen to a podcast without this ability.

    Now, I *can* open the archyfantasies podcast in the Quicktime player, but it’s a complicated procedure. First I have to right-click on the “download” link and (instead of selecting “open in new tab”) select “copy link location”. Then I have to manually open a new tab, and paste the copied text into the address bar. Then I have to delete the part that says “?download=true” and finally press Enter. Done.

    In other words, possible, but complicated enough to be a deterrent to listening.

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