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"Myth-Taking and Myth-Making: Exploring the Use of Pseudoarchaeology in Lost City Explorers and Arkworld"

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Abstract

Pop culture can be a powerful medium for sharing archaeology and inspiring interest in our field. But what happens when that archaeological information being shared is incorrect? What happens when it’s not archaeology being shared, but rather pseudoarchaeology? This presentation aims to explore those questions, using two comic series – Lost City Explorers and Arkworld – as examples. Both comics feature the mythical city of Atlantis, a city popular among non-archaeologists and pseudoarchaeologists alike. In addition, Atlantis has more recently been adopted by conspiracy theory and alt-right movements. This presentation will look at how Atlantis is featured in Lost City Explorers and Arkworld. It will look at how these series may reinforce existing beliefs or encourage new beliefs about Atlantis and pseudoarchaeology. And considering the ways in which archaeology is misappropriated by alt-right and conspiracy theory movements, it will highlight why archaeology and pseudoarchaeology in pop culture is something to which archaeologists should pay attention.
“Myth-Taking and Myth-Making: Exploring the Use of Pseudoarchaeology in Lost City Explorers and
Arkworld
Stephanie Halmhofer, May 8, 2021
Paper presented at the 2021 Virtual Conference for the Canadian Archaeological Association
https://canadianarchaeology.com/caa/annual-meeting
Slide 1 (Title): Hello everyone, my name is Steph Halmhofer and I’d like to welcome you to my
presentation examining the use of pseudoarchaeology in two fairly new comic series, Lost City
Explorers and Arkworld. I’m a PhD student at the University of Alberta and my PhD research is
focused on the use of pseudoarchaeology by New Religious Movements in North America,
often referred to as cults, and a bit about alt-right and conspiracy theory movements as well.
I’m also curious about the possible influential role that pop culture plays, considering
pseudoarchaeology and archaeology are both very common themes in various forms of pop
culture. Today I’m going to give two examples of pseudoarchaeology in pop culture and
hopefully illustrate why it’s important that archaeologists pay attention to what is being
presented of pseudoarchaeology, and archaeology, in pop culture.
Slide 2 (land acknowledgment): I want to begin by saying that I am presenting to you today as a
settler on the occupied lands of many Coast Salish Nations, including but not limited to the
Musqueam, Kwantlen, Semiahmoo, and Tsawwassen First Nations. I encourage everyone to
find out whose land you live on, and how you can support Indigenous creators from those
lands. Native_land.ca is a great website to help you get started.
Slide 3 (What is pseudoarchaeology): Although the term ‘pseudoarchaeology’ has been around
for a long time, under many different names, it might still be a relatively unknown term for
many people watching this presentation. Part of that is because archaeologists have only really
started paying closer attention to pseudoarchaeology within the last few decades, and the
other part is that now we’ve come up with several slightly different, but complimentary,
definitions for what pseudoarchaeology is (e.g. Anderson and Card 2012; Bassett 2013; Fagan
2006; Feder 2020; Hoopes 2019; Moshenska 2017; Whitesides 2019). From all of these
individual definitions I have developed a more concise definition: Pseudoarchaeology is a form
of discovery paranormalism that proposes speculative and alternative claims about human
history. These claims rely on matter of faith rather than matter of proof by willfully and
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deliberately downplaying or ignoring contradictory archaeological knowledge under the guise
of stigmatized knowledge, placing pseudoarchaeology within the same realm as conspiracy
theories
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. There are of course many different types of pseudoarchaeology, ancient astronaut
arguments and Atlantis being arguably the most famous, but all types are united by this
definition.
Slide 4 (Stigmatized Knowledge): Stigmatized knowledge is an especially important part of
pseudoarchaeology. John Hoopes (2019) has said that “pseudoarchaeology represents a cultic
milieu, a community based on stigmatized knowledge.” This is adopted from Michael Barkun’s
influential research into conspiracy theories. Stigmatized knowledge (Barkun 2013, 2015) refers
to claims of truth that have been rejected or ignored by institutions that are relied upon for
validating such claims. So institutions like universities and museums and other large scientific
institutions. The skepticism of knowledge-validating institutions defines stigmatized knowledge
as a basic type of conspiracy theory, in which these institutions or individuals within them are
believed to be connected through deceptions and secrets to protect truthful knowledge that
conspiracy theorists seek to reveal. Conspiracists who believe in one theory are likely to believe
in others, as well as likely to also believe in paranormal and supernatural phenomena (Douglas
et al. 2020)
Slide 5 (5 types stigmatized knowledge): Barkun (2013) identifies five types of stigmatized
knowledge. The first is forgotten knowledge, which is knowledge that was once known but has
since been lost through any type of interrupting factor. The second is superseded knowledge.
These are claims that were once regarded as true, but have since become regarded as false or
less valid. The third is ignored knowledge, which is knowledge claims that persist in some social
groups but are ignored in others. The fourth is rejected knowledge, which are claims that were
rejected as false from their very starts. And finally, suppressed knowledge, which are claims
that something is true, but that truth is being suppressed either out of fear of the
1
In this presentation I focused my discussion on the stigmatized knowledge part of my definition. I do have a
publication in progress regarding a much more detailed discussion about this definition, so keep your eyes open
for it!
3
consequences of that knowledge being widespread, or there is a selfish or evil motivation for
hiding the truth.
Slide 6 (America unearthed example): As I’ve already mentioned, stigmatized knowledge is a
major part of pseudoachaeology. Especially forgotten knowledge, rejected knowledge, and
suppressed knowledge. They’re usually presented as something that has been “hidden”. A
truthful history that has been hidden away. That’s what places pseudoarchaeology within the
same realm as conspiracy theories. For example, let’s listen to the opening credits of the
television show America Unearthed, which examines many different pseudoarchaeological
arguments but focuses heavily on the Knights Templar. Within these thirty seconds, see if you
can count how many times you hear reference to a hidden history. Play video (video transcript:
“The history that we were all taught growing up, is wrong. My name is Scott Wolter and I’m a
forensic geologist. There’s a hidden history in this country that nobody knows about. There are
pyramids here, chambers, tombs, inscriptions. They’re all over this country. We’re going to
investigate these artifacts and sites, and we’re going to get to the truth. Sometimes history isn’t
what we’ve been told.”)
Slide 7 (why should we be concerned): Pseudoarchaeology often includes arguments so
outlandish, like aliens built the pyramids or all humans are descended from survivors of the
sinking of Atlantis, for example, that it seems impossible that anyone would believe them. But
the truth is that people do believe in pseudoarchaeology. The Chapman Survey of American
Fears has been conducted every year since 2015 and looks at a huge range of topics (see Bader
et al. (2017) and Baker et al. (2016) for more information about paranormalism and their work
on the Chapman Survey of American Fears). Between 2015 and 2018 it included a section about
paranormal beliefs. The survey includes topics like ancient alien visitations to Earth and lost
civilizations like Atlantis. What the survey demonstrated is that not only do people believe in
these topics, but the number of believers has increased every year. In 2015 20.3% of Americans
believed aliens have visited the earth in the ancient past. In 2016 that number rose to 27%, and
we also see now that 39.6% of Americans believe that ancient civilizations like Atlantis once
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existed. Fast forwarding to 2018, which is the last year results have been released for, our
ancient alien believers are sitting at 41% and ancient civilization believers are sitting at 57%.
People do believe, and that’s why we need to be aware of the messages within
pseudoarchaeology and how it’s being used.
Slide 8 (belief con’t): Especially when the messages in pseudoarchaeology are underpinned by
racism and xenophobia and have been used to justify colonialism. At the core of the vast
majority of pseudoarchaeological theories is the idea that certain cultures, which are almost
exclusively non-white were not capable of their own achievements. You can see here some
pretty shocking quotes one of Erich von Daniken’s books Signs of the Gods as an overt example.
Slide 9 (racism con’t): The overwhelming focus of pseudoarchaeology on questioning the
capabilities of Black and Indigenous peoples, and many other people of colour, has made
pseudoarchaeology popular within white nationalism. For example, Frank Collin, who you see
on the right, was a leader in a couple of major American neo-Nazi organizations in the 60s and
70s. Today he writes several books about pseudoarchaeological arguments for North America’s
history under the pen name Frank Joseph. He is particularly focused on Atlantis and believes
only white people were descended from Atlantis. And he is far from being the only
pseudoarchaeologist who shares white nationalist views through pop culture (Colavito 2014;
Zaitchik 2018).
Slide 10 (what is pop culture): Pop culture refers to beliefs, practices, and objects influenced by
and reflecting what is popular in our society at a given time. Some examples of pop culture
mediums include books, comics, TV shows, movies, video games, podcasts, technology, etc. Pop
culture and society is in a dynamic circular relationship with each other that’s always moving.
Something becomes popular in our society, so it appears more often in pop culture. And those
appearances in turn may reinforce existing beliefs or encourage new beliefs, keeping that thing
popular in our society. We see examples of this within conspiracism, which Michael Barkun
(2013) has also examined. And even more recently, conspiracy theory researchers have pointed
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out how much of an influence pop culture has had over QAnon. So when pseudoarchaeology
appears in pop culture and the messages within pseudoarchaeology are of colonialism, racism,
and xenophobia, we as archaeologists should firstly be aware of how our work is being
manipulated into creating those messages and secondly how those messages may be
reinforced or encouraged through their appearance in pop culture. Let’s look at Lost City
Explorers and Arkworld as examples.
Slide 11 (Lost city Explorers): Lost City Explorers, by Aftershock Comics, debuted in 2018. And
it’s already being adapted into a television show. Lost City Explorers follows a fun, adventurous
premise the city of Atlantis is not only real, but exists beneath Manhattan. An archaeologist
searching for Atlantis disappears and his children and their friends begin searching for him, and
along the way they also find out the truth about Atlantis (Kaplan et al. 2018a, b). Now, I liked
the comic. But I was concerned with what seems to be an unquestioning use of certain history
of Atlantis, which was most obvious in the diary entries at the back of each issue.
Slide 12 (LCE con’t): In reality, Atlantis was used by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century as
they struggled to explain why the land they were exploring was not empty, as was expected,
but instead was full of incredible cities and vibrant communities of people. Conquistadors did
not believe the Indigenous peoples they encountered were the ones who built these complex
cities. But the conquistadors did believe that some Atlanteans must have survived the sinking of
Atlantis and made it to the Americas. It was those Atlanteans who built these cities and became
the ancestors of the Indigenous peoples. This line of thinking carried through the 17th and 18th
centuries, and in the 19th century archaeologists and historians began to describe
archaeological evidence to support those Atlantis theories. Inspired by these archaeologists and
historians, in 1882 Ignatius Donnelly wrote Atlantis: The Antediluvian World. He argued 13
points to prove the legendary city had once existed, and that Atlanteans were the ancestors of
the “civilized nations” around the world. It’s Donnelly’s version of Atlantis that we know today
when we think about the myths of the so-called lost city (Card 2018; Fritze 2009; Whitesides
2019).
6
Slide 13 (LCE con’t): After Donnelly wrote the Antediluvian World, Atlantis eventually became
connected to the mythical Aryans. And because of that, today Atlantis has been appropriated
by many alt-right movements. So given the way Atlantis has been used to justify colonialism
and to explain the achievements of Indigenous peoples around the world, and it’s adoption by
many alt-right movements today, I was a little concerned about the way I saw Atlantis being
uncritically presented in Lost City Explorers. Because the diary entries are literally just re-telling
Donnelly’s Antediluvian world (Kaplan et al. 2018a, b). This is an image from the first of five
diary entries, where I’ve highlighted references to 6 of Donnelly’s 13 arguments. In addition,
legitimate science is being partnered with Atlantis. If someone with an interest in Atlantis and is
inspired to google CERN and gluons, they’ll find legitimate science. The concern here is how
that may begin to add legitimacy to pseudoarchaeological beliefs about Atlantis.
Slide 14 (LEC con’t): As beliefs become legitimized, beliefs also become reinforced. Diary entry
#5 in Lost City Explorers is focused on a scientist named Dr. Masaru Emoto (Kaplan et al.
2018b). Who was a real scientist. He passed away in 2014. Anyway, he did come up with the
now discredited theories described in this diary entry basically, that human consciousness
could affect the molecular structure of water. For example, we could clean up water with
positive thoughts.
Slide 15 (LEC con’t): In examining the impact of pop culture on conspiracy theories, Barkun has
pointed out that sometimes seeing a conspiracy theory in mainstream media, whether movie,
book, or comic, gives conspiracists a sense that they were right all along. You probably
recognize this man from images of the January 6th insurrection at the US Capitol. His name is
Jacob Chansley, but more often goes by the name Jacob Angeli or the QAnon Shaman. He is a
pretty staunch QAnon believer who blends those beliefs with his other New Age beliefs. And we
know Chansley draws from pop culture because his belief that he is a super soldier shaman is
tied to a conspiracy theory linked to the Captain America comics that super soldiers are
actually pop culture representations of supernatural First Nations shamans. He believes the co-
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creator of Captain America, Jack Kirby, wrote that hidden knowledge into the comics
(YellowstoneWolfAZ 2020
2
). In 2020 Chansley published this book One Mind at a Time, a Deep
State of Illusion. Within the book he discusses in detail a number of conspiracy theories and
evidence he has supporting their truth.
Slide 16 (LCE con’t): Within that book are a few pages discussing Dr. Masaru Emoto’s research
into human consciousness and water (Angeli 2020). And it’s the same research we see being
presented in Lost City Explorers. If Chansley were to read Lost City Explorers and see the
uncritical use of Emoto’s discredited research, that could certainly go on to reinforce Chansley’s
beliefs that Emoto was right, and that Chansley was right about Emoto. So when arguments
about Atlantis that have been to justify colonialism and racism are being used uncritically within
Lost City Explorers, the risk is that those are the ideas that could be reinforced.
Slide 17 (Arkworld): While Lost City Explorers runs the risk of unintentional reinforcement,
Arkworld intentionally encourages its audience to seek out those alternative histories. Arkworld
is a brand new comic series, produced by Devil’s Due Comics. Its first volume was published in
2020, the second earlier in 2021, and the third is apparently being released sometime this
spring. Arkworld features an alternative world that existed 13,000 years ago. It’s centred largely
around a city called Khemet, which is the capital of Atlantis, and eventually becomes Egypt. The
story jumps back and forth through time and other cities around Atlantis as events happen
forcing the main characters to move around. There is a lot happening in this comic and the first
two volumes are wrapped around as many pseudoarchaeological arguments as can be fit into
their pages (Blaylock et al. 2020, 2021). We have the concept of pyramid power. We have
2
Jacob Chanley uploaded several videos to Youtube in 2020 under the name YellowstoneWolfAZ, describing his
conspiracy beliefs and the “evidence” he had to prove they were true in a similar fashion to his 2020 book. In 2020
Youtube began to remove QAnon videos (https://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/ny-youtube-cracks-down-
qanon-conspiracy-theory-hate-violence-20201016-d5jvw32nbbczdblgye54vr7cc4-story.html), but Chansleys
videos were not removed until shortly after the January 6 2021 insurrection at the American Capitol. Chanleys
videos were cross-posted to a video-streaming site called Rumble, which, like the social media site Parler, has
become a popular host for conservative and right-wing views (https://www.wired.com/story/rumble-sends-
viewers-tumbling-toward-misinformation/). As I am not comfortable directly linking readers to Rumble, I will not
be sharing the URL for Chansleys videos. If you require access to the videos and cannot find them through your
own searches, please contact me.
8
Atlantis. We have red-haired giants with elongated skulls. We have African ancestors of the
Olmec people in Mexico. The comic creators aren’t shy about the fact that pseudoarchaeology
is where they got their inspiration (Blaylock 2019). You can see here an illustration they put
together talking about just some of “real world artifacts and writings” they used for inspiration.
Two of the topics on here are also featured in Jacob Chansley’s book. And on the right is a
variant cover that was designed by David Hatcher Childress, who has appeared on 180 episodes
of Ancient Aliens.
Slide 18 (Arkworld con’t): At the back of both volumes is a section called “Hidden artifacts”,
which is where the comic creators explain some of the “facts” behind what we see in the story.
This is where they’re presenting readers with the pseudoarchaeological arguments that
inspired the comic. At the back of Vol 1 (Blaylock et al. 2020), for example, we find out that the
character Elmack, who is an African man, was drawn to resemble the giant stone Olmec head
sculptures, which comes from an argument that African people were the first inhabitants of
Mexico. They also reference an argument that there were ancient vehicles in Mexico. Down
here they talk about the character Sovian, who is a red-haired giant with an elongated skull.
And that his character was inspired by “giant elongated skulls found throughout Mexico and
Central America.” And that “many can’t be explained by head-binding.” And even though they
mention Mexico and Central America, they’re actually referencing one of several
pseudoarchaeological arguments made about the Paracus skulls of Peru that these belonged
to the Nephilim.
Slide 19 (arkworld con’t): At the back of Vol 2 (Blaylock et al. 2021) we are told that an artifact
from Egypt known as the Saqqara Bird is actually an airplane. And that a geological feature
known as the Richat Structure, which is found in the Sahara Desert may actually be Atlantis.
Slide 20 (arkworld con’t): The pseudoarchaeology isn’t kept confined to the pages of Arkworld.
The comic creators actively push their audience towards it. At the back of Vol 1., the creators
have included a list of recommended reads and listens, which doesn’t include a single
9
archaeologist. Who it does include is the book America Before, by Graham Hancock, who is a
very well-known pseudoarchaeological author. Hancock is famous for his use of the theory that
the origins of all civilization come from some extremely technologically and spiritually advanced
civilization that perished when a comet hit the earth 13,000 years ago. The same comet he
claims is responsible for the Younger Dryas period. This theory is called the Younger Dryas
Impact Hypothesis
3
. Another suggestion on the list is Randall Carlson’s podcast. Randall Carlson
is also a big proponent of the Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis, and he’s also really into
something called sacred geometry, which is the idea that certain shapes hold special esoteric
knowledge built into them that only people who are in tune with the shapes will recognize. The
knowledge comes from this ancient highly advanced civilization that perished in the Younger
Dryas. A third recommendation is the books of David Hatcher Childress, who I’ve already
mentioned. He’s written a lot of books, the majority of which are tied into extraterrestrials, but
he also writes about things like Atlantis and the similar Lemuria, and to be honest pretty much
any pseudoarchaeological theory you can think of. (See also Blaylock 2019 for more examples)
Slide 21 (arkworld con’t): At the back of Vol 2. is a push towards the UnchartedX Youtube
channel. UnchartedX has many videos on his page, with the focus being on megalithic
construction and the Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis. In fact, he includes interviews with
both Randall Carlson and Graham Hancock, who I just mentioned. And in almost every single
video, UnchartedX includes plenty of discussion about stigmatized knowledge. Take, for
example, this quote from a video he posted in 2020. He references rejected knowledge, by
stating that certain details about history are ignored. And he references suppressed knowledge,
suggesting academics and skeptics are intentionally ignoring those details to protect our power
and authority. In other videos he directs these comments to specific archaeologists by name.
Slide 22 (arkworld con’t): The question is, when Arkworld is encouraging its readers to seek out
pseudoarchaeology, what else might it be connecting them to? As I’ve already mentioned,
there is a connection between pseudoarchaeology, conspiracy theories, and the alt-right. This
3
Hancock did not create the Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis, but he has popularized it through his works.
10
network map provides a visualization of that. This is a network map I made using one of Jacob
Chansley’s Youtube videos as a starting point (YellowstoneWolfAZ 2020). From this one video, I
took note of the people he mentioned by name. There were only 3 names Graham Hancock,
David Wilcock, and Corey Goode. I have already introduced you to Graham Hancock. David
Wilcock has appeared on 80 episodes of Ancient Aliens and currently has a popular youtube
channel blending his ancient aliens theories with QAnon conspiracy theories. Corey Goode, who
is working on several projects with David Wilcock, also has a very popular youtube channel
geared towards ancient alien arguments and QAnon conspiracy theories. Hancock, Wilcock, and
Goode’s youtube channels I did the same thing took note of everyone mentioned in or who
appears in their videos. Those are all the other names on this map. One important name to take
note of is Joe Rogan, who is considered by alt-right researchers as a pathway into the alt-right
due to the number of alt-right guests he interviews on his podcast, such as Alex Jones and
Gavin McInnes (Mann 2020).
Slide 23 Conclusion: As my network map has just illustrated, the concern with
pseudoarchaeology is not about what you see on the surface it’s about everything below the
surface. It’s about the messages of racism, xenophobia, and colonialism built into these
arguments. It’s about where else pseudoarchaeology may be connecting it’s audience to, such
as the alt-right and conspiracy theory movements. Whether pop culture is taking myths or
making myths, when pseudoarchaeology continues to appear uncritically and unchallenged
within various pop culture mediums, the risk is that its harms become normalized and its
audience desensitized to them. And when it’s our work being used to create
pseudoarchaeology, as archaeologists we have a responsibility to challenge that. As Bettina
Arnold (2006) writes, “Pseudoarchaeology may always be traveling with us, but we do not have
to let it drive the train.”
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