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74. Journey to the Centre of the Pseudo-verse

Rares sont les hypotheses archéologiques qui ont pu devenir des certitudes; trop nombreuses, par contre, celles qui, passant à l´état de dogmes, constituent de sérieux obstacles au progrès.
Few archaeological hypotheses have been able to become certainties; too numerous, on the other hand, those which, passing into the state of dogmas, constitute serious obstacles to progress. (1)
Alfred François Devoir, 1865 - 1926

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an unorthodox theory must be in want of disapproval. Recently, an article by the archaeologist Stefan Maeder called out a culture of "elitism and interpretative sovereignty within present-day megalithic studies"(2). The article highlights the difficulty for an archaeologist in interpreting a megalithic site in terms of astronomy, and the tensions that exist within the field. Stefan Maeder states:

One of the current prohibitions of thinking in archaeology on the Neolithic in Brittany consists of ignoring, if not prophylactically rejecting, any approach which would take into account indicators for targeted observations of the sky as factors for the placement, construction and "decoration" of places of worship and funeral facilities.(3)

A phenomenon which exists in parallel with the tensions within the academic world of archaeology, megalithic studies, and ancient history, is the world of independent research into these subjects being mostly ridiculed and rejected. The reason for this is similar: certain theories and presuppositions are not allowed in the mainstream world of academic history and archaeology. As a result, the tensions that may exist within academia, also exist between academia and independent research on the ancient world. These tensions are largely due to interpretations of facts and finds, and what it is believed humans, in the past, were capable of.

Whether they are the work of academics, or not, interpretations which suggest that humans living in the time of the megalith building had a sophisticated astronomy, had cultural exchange with others who were not in the same geographical region, or used mathematics and units of measure in their constructions, are mostly shunned. Equally, research which suggests that certain stone or earth structures are not natural formations is not always accorded the space or time for discussion and further investigation, but dismissed. If it is the case that certain interpretations of megaliths and ancient structures are allowed, and others forbidden, then this phenomenon is of interest and should be discussed. When did it emerge and how and why did it become, so to speak, set in stone? Why are certain views on the ancient past so hard to change, even when presented with evidence to the contrary?

Current questions about debate, and diversity within public discourse (cancel culture, critical theory), can be transferred to academic discourse generally, and to the field of ancient history specifically. These are some of the questions which define the tension in ancient world studies:

  1. When did sophisticated astronomy begin?

  2. When did sophisticated mathematics begin?

  3. When did humans manage to measure the earth, the moon, the distances between heavenly bodies?

  4. When did humans start to use mathematics and units of measure in their constructions?

  5. Was there cultural exchange between the people who built megaliths and pyramids all over the world, leading to similar myths, building techniques, astronomy, mathematics, religious motifs, units of measure, and attitudes towards the earth all worldwide?

  The purpose of this article is not to answer these questions, but to defend the idea of asking them. Why is the view that science, technology, mathematics, and other aspects of civilisation may be older than generally accepted usually met with opposition? Why are theories which, directly or indirectly, rely on an assumption of science, maths and architecture being older than generally thought, also opposed? Some of the current slurs used to marginalise research into the ancient world include the terms "pseudo-science" and "pseudo-history". What do they mean? To counter the influence of the power structures that influence what is considered valid knowledge, we can begin by simply recognising the value of diverse and potentially disruptive voices in the intellectual landscape.

1. Denying the possibility of a widespread sophisticated civilisation in any age, but the present

We see ourselves as the most technologically advanced people that have ever been, and despite the many problems and hardship that this has caused over the last two centuries or so, both to people and to the living world more generally, we tend to congratulate ourselves for it. Yet, this technological achievement is not necessarily matched in intelligence or perspicacity in the way we think about our collective past. In fact, the sophistication with which we shape and imagine of our future technologies stands in stark contrast with the way in which we shape and imagine our past technologies, which is often simplistic, false, or illogical. Is it possible, in today's academic and cultural climate, to envisage a time long before our own, in which a civilisation once flourished on earth, across large sections of the planet, which was sophisticated in terms of technology and science?

The general view is that there have been certain scientific and technological milestones in human development, such as the IT and AI revolution now, the beginning of the space age in the 1960s, the industrial revolution in the 19th century, the scientific revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries, the Copernican revolution in the 14th century, the Islamic golden age between the 8th and 14th centuries, and before that the ancient Romans, Greeks, Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, and Assyrians, Egyptians and Chinese, up to about 3 000 B.C. Before that, it is generally assumed that there was basically no science, no astronomy, and no architecture of note, and only the most basic mathematics, used for counting livestock, or days. This is despite evidence of sophistication to be found in megalithic remains, pyramids, and other ancient sites, if one is open to reading it. It is also assumed that there was no exchange between ancient cultures who were not already within the same geographical region, so that it is a coincidence if we find the same myth leitmotifs, elements of religions and worship, aspects of society such as the divinity of kings, the presence of pyramids, megaliths, systems of counting, systems of astronomy and time-keeping, and units of measure all over the world. 

   Rather than outright dismissal, engaging with non-traditional researchers constructively could help integrate valuable insights into the general discussion, and challenge academic dogma. Assessing the work of controversial, or non-traditional researchers on the basis of evidence and logical coherence, rather than their adherence to convention, could foster a more inclusive and dynamic intellectual environment.

2. Relics, debris, and a legacy

If we actually examine evidence from the past, we might see that it is highly likely that there was science, and there was technology before the Ancient Greeks, indeed before 3 000 B.C., and that, as John Michell puts it, the traditions that remained afterwards were "relics of a former elemental science". The following words were written by John Michell in 1973 and to a large extent they still hold true:

A scientific convention that excludes an entire area of experienced reality will naturally produce a somewhat distorted view of the world. This is everywhere apparent in the present situation, nowhere more so that in the current interpretation of history. the importance of history is not merely academic, for the events of our won time are to a great extent conditioned by the way in which we view the past. The technological developments of the last two centuries have generally been accepted as confirmation of a simplistic theory of evolution, according to which past ignorance is being replaced by modern knowledge. The objection which has been raised by many distinguished scholars that the historical and archaeological evidence, far from supporting this theory, actively contradicts it receives little attention for the belief in progress is essential to the vested interests, political, academic and commercial, of the age. The dominant institutions of the present find their justification in the assumption that they are the logical extensions of history, representative of a unique stage in human evolution, and that there is no alternative to the natural acceptance of their authority. This assumption is maintained by attributing to ancient societies the same ambitions as rule our own, and by denying the possibility of a universal civilisation in any age, but the present. Yet in 1927 in his book Kingship, Professor A.M. Hocart pointed to the existence in every continent of traditions and survivals relating to a primeval order of life, from which every subsequent development has been in the direction of decline and dissolution. Since his time, it has become evident that not only do the myths and the sacred histories of every race conform to identical cosmological patterns, but that prehistoric monuments all over the world were designed in accordance with one scheme of proportion in units of measurement which are everywhere the same.
Again, the traditions relating to these monuments are unanimous in claiming that the are relics of a former elemental science, founded on principles of which we are now ignorant. In an age which depends for its stability on force, expediences and moral exhortation, it is not without interest to review the ancient approach to the problems of existence in order to discover where it may illuminate certain features of the present time which are not easily accounted for. (4)

The 18th century French astronomer Jean-Sylvain Bailly also thought in terms of relics, though he called them debris of science. The following passage is quite long but shows the conclusions a respected astronomer, member of the Académie Royale des Sciences, came to, while studying the history of astronomy. Through this study, Bailly examined the knowledge that ancient peoples around the world had (the evidence he had came mostly from Europe, Egypt, the Middle East, and Asia, not really beyond those places), and asked himself how and when this knowledge could have been acquired.

The originators of aftronomic knowledge, among different peoples, therefore have common ancestors who appear to be the true authors of this knowledge. If around 3000 years before our era we find vestiges of Afronomy everywhere, this is the time when its reign began again. We have the strongest reasons to believe that it was cultivated a long time ago, forgotten and lost to the earth.
When we carefully examine the state of Afronomy in Chaldea, India and China, we find there rather THE DEBRIS THAN THE ELEMENTS of a SCIENCE; they make very exact methods for the calculation of eclipses which are only blind practices, without any idea of ​​the principles of these methods, nor of the causes of the phenomena; certain elements are very well known, while others are very effective, simple, or unknown, or strictly determined; a host of observations which reflect, for years, fans and fans of results. How can we conceive that people, inventors of Afronomy, could not have perfected it over the course of a long existence? If there are peoples so incapable of walking as of entering the career of sciences, will he who has entered it once by the movement which he has impressed upon himself, lose this movement, and can it stop forever?
The invention and progress of sciences are of the same nature. These progress only result in renewed invention, a flight of similar views, and perhaps of almost equal efforts. Why then did the Indians, but especially the Chinese and the Chaldeans, make Afronomy take very few steps, for a large number of years? The fact is that these peoples were extremely brilliant, they had the same indolence for discoveries as for conquests, they did not invent science. It is the work of an earlier people, who have cast doubt on progress of this kind, the greater part of which we are ignorant of. This people was destroyed by a great revolution. Some of his discoveries, his methods, the periods that he had invented, are preserved in the memory of the individuals affected. But they are limited by vague and confusing notions, by a knowledge of things, rather than principles. These remains of a dismembered science were brought to China, to India, to Chaldea; they were handed over to ignorance which was unable to take advantage of them. It was said that it was necessary to observe the others, and the Chinese and the Chaldeans observed them for thousands of years! Their confidence, their loyalty was encouraged by the aftrology which was communicated to them at the same time, and which is much more suited to ignorance. But they practiced methods they did not understand. They followed the observations almost without looking into the use that could be made of them. (5)

(The capital letters are Bailly's own emphasis.)

This study of ancient astronomy, by a member of the Academy of Science of Paris, shows that it would have been impossible for certain cycles to have been understood in a short space of time, and would have depended on centuries of continuous observation. It also reveals just how much sophistication was behind the various elements of astronomy that survived in different parts of the world, and how much effort it actually takes to come up with values for the length of a year, a lunation, or a Metonic cycle, for example, efforts which we perhaps take for granted.

Yet another researcher into the ancient world arrived at the conclusion that civilisation was something that began before the ancient Greeks or Egyptians, based on his own extensive studies and on his reading of the work of Schwaller de Lubicz. John Anthony West wrote that while egyptologists could see that from the very beginning of their accepted timeline for Egyptian history, Egyptian civilisation was sophisticated, in terms of its writing, its mathematics, its mythology and its systems of measure. However, many chose to refuse to believe in an earlier civilisation that would have led to this point. Just as Michell had written about a relics of former civilisations, and Bailly about debris of science, characterising the Babylonians, Greeks, Chinese, Indians, Egyptians, etc, West believed that it made sense to think about ancient Egypt as a legacy, of some other civilisation, or civilisations. West wrote:

Egyptian science, medicine, mathematics and astronomy were all of an exponentially higher order of refinement and sophistication than modern scholars will acknowledge. The whole of Egyptian civilization was based upon a complete and precise understanding of universal laws. And this profound understanding manifested itself in a consistent, coherent and inter-related system that fused science, art and religion into a single organic Unity. In other words, it was exactly the opposite of what we find in the world today.
Moreover, every aspect of Egyptian knowledge seems to have been complete at the very beginning. The sciences, artistic and architectural techniques and the hieroglyphic system show virtually no signs of a period of ‘development’; indeed, many of the achievements of the earliest dynasties were never surpassed, or even equalled later on. This astonishing fact is readily admitted by orthodox Egyptologists, but the magnitude of the mystery it poses is skillfully understated, while its many implications go unmentioned.

How does a complex civilization spring full-blown into being? Look at a 1905 automobile and compare it to a modern one. There is no mistaking the process of ‘development’. But in Egypt there are no parallels. Everything is there right at the start.
The answer to the mystery is of course obvious, but because it is repellent to the prevailing cast of modern thinking, it is seldom seriously considered. Egyptian civilisation was not a ‘development’, it was a legacy.

As far as I know, not many academics believe Bailly's, Michell's, or West's views on the ancient world to be correct, despite the research and expertise they are built on. While many researchers outside of academic ancient history and archaeology circles, and some within, do sympathise with these conclusions, they are mostly not considered views to be taken seriously. Why not?

Is part of the reason why studies which put forward hypotheses of scientific or mathematical sophistication in humans at too early a time for the mainstream are ignored or criticised: because of a perception that our ancestors from this time were vastly inferior to us? There is a sense that we today are at the pinnacle of human achievement, rightly or wrongly. We like to laugh and sneer at certain aspects of the ancient world, like their medical practices for example. Crocodile dung anyone? Yet today, as we eat food that is full of toxins, breathe air that is full of pollutants, wear clothes that give off harmful chemicals, how much more sophisticated are we?

If we look, we can't fail to see that sophisticated science has been around for much longer than the hay day of Ancient Greece. If today that possibility is deemed unlikely, this is both a recent development (recent, that is, since the 18th century), and indicative of modern attitudes towards investigating the ancient world. As technological capabilities have increased exponentially in the 20th and 21st centuries, there seems to have been a parallel shift in decreasing the technological capabilities of the people of the ancient world, as they are commonly understood.

John Anthony West wrote about the difficulties we sometimes face when trying to connect with the ancient world, especially if we persist in focusing on the "how" rather than the "why", or in thinking ourselves superior.

 Because, until very recently, science has concentrated upon asking ‘How?’ rather than ‘Why?’, it has lost sight of the reasons behind this reverence for geometry and the interplay of number. Scientists regard mathematics as a descriptive tool which allows them to describe phenomena with increasing accuracy; to the Pythagoreans, mathematics was the symbolic representation of the functions and processes whose results are the phenomena that concern today's science.
 Incomprehension of the mentality of the ancients tends to breed a kind of snide contempt, particularly among popularisers of science and mathematics. (The genuinely creative minds within these fields sometimes make statements that reveal them to be Pythagoreans at heart. This is natural, almost inescapable; creation implies synthesis, and the purely analytic mind can never create. Remember E. M. Forster's telling and justly famed admonition: ‘Only connect’.) Unfortunately, it is the popularisers and the authors of school texts who reach the largest audiences, and trends in wrong thinking tend to be self-perpetuating, at least up to that point where even convention can no longer conceal fatal inner contradictions and inconsistencies. The snowball goes down the hill only until its momentum is expended. (9)

3. Present day proponents of pre-3000 B.C. civilisation or sophisticated astronomy, mathematics or architecture.

There are many examples of researchers into the ancient world who have found traces of, or evidence or, sophistication in technology, science, mathematics, astronomy or architecture from around 3 000 BC, or before that. Many of them have been insulted, ridiculed or ignored for putting forward theories that did not fit with the timeline usually believed in by academics. Mostly, they are ignored, and brushed off with derogatory terms such as "pseudo-science", or "fringe". However, a sizeable body of work has come about, from research into the ancient world, which does not necessarily fit within conventional frameworks. What are the reasons for the lack of discussion or debate on certain issues? Some of the more high-profile researchers who have contributed to debate on the ancient world have been the recipients of enormous amounts of negativity, and put under huge pressure professionally. Others have been simply insulted by establishment researchers, even when they are best-selling writers.

Robert Schoch, who as a geologist of great renown, famously put forward the possibility that the Sphinx in Egypt was older than had previously been thought (circa 2500 BC), on the basis of erosion, is one example. He dated the Sphinx to between 7,000 and 5,000 BC firstly, and then to 10,000 BC., and his work received a lot of criticism. Despite, as a geologist, being in a position to analyse rock in a way that egyptologists simply couldn't, his work was sometimes ridiculed, even dismissed as non-scientific. Robert Schoch is according to Wikipedia "an American associate professor of Natural Sciences at the College of General Studies, Boston University. Following initial work as a vertebrate paleontologist, Schoch co-authored and expanded the fringe Sphinx water erosion hypothesis since 1990, and is the author of several pseudohistorical and pseudoscientific books". Wikipedia also adds: "The Sphinx water erosion hypothesis is a fringe claim." For some reason, the consensus is so greatly against Schoch's work, in the mainstream, that even the writers of his Wikipedia entry have chosen to demean him with these "pseudo-" prefixes. Robert Schoch continues to pursue his research and has maintained his academic position, demonstrating resilience in the face of professional challenges, but it can't have been easy. Why did his evidence and conclusions not kick-start debate, instead of ire, in archaeological and egyptological circles? The case of Robert Schoch, a wonderful researcher, highlights the difficulties faced by academics who propose theories that challenge established scientific and historical paradigms.

Another example can be found in Thor Heyerdahl's theories and expeditions, such as his famous 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition, where he sailed from Peru to Polynesia on a raft, and his later expeditions with reed boats, like the Ra and Ra II, were groundbreaking and garnered significant public attention. Thor Heyerdahl demonstrated that reed boats, of the sort associated with ancient Egypt, were capable of crossing the ocean to the Americas. Despite this, his ideas remain mostly ignored.

There are best-selling non-fiction non-academic writers who are so regularly tarnished with the "pseudo-scientist" brush even their Wikipedia profile re-iterates it, rather than respectfully steering clear from petty insults. According to Wikipedia, Graham Hancock is a "is a British writer who promotes pseudo-scientific theories". Gavin Menzies, according to Wikipedia also, "was a British submarine lieutenant-commander who authored books claiming that the Chinese sailed to America before Columbus. Historians have rejected Menzies' theories and assertions and have categorised his work as pseudohistory." Still according to Wikipedia, Christopher Knight is "an author who has written several books dealing with pseudoscientific conspiracy theories". And John Michell "was an English author and esotericist who was a prominent figure in the development of the pseudoscientific Earth mysteries movement." However, anyone who has read work by these writers cannot fail to see that there is a huge amount of research behind them, and that they have engaged with contemporary and past research and researchers as they have written, and that are, or were, brilliant and original thinkers. So why is it that they are seen as threats to authority? It is hard not to conclude there is dogma within academic ancient history circles, which while they may profess to protecting their chosen subject from a lack or rigour, in fact don't even check the rigour of the research that offends them.

Why not balance the protection of academic standards with an openness to diverse perspectives and methodologies, regardless of the researchers' backgrounds or institutional affiliations?

There are also many talented and rigorous amateur researchers on the ancient world, who may publish articles on websites, or share their work on platforms such as YouTube, and who have many contributions to make to the field of ancient history. They are mostly ignored by professional academics. There is a gulf between one sort of research that is deemed acceptable by most professional academics, and everyone else, be they academics with unconventional conclusions to their work, best-selling writers on the subject of history, or amateur researchers. The relatively new slanders "pseudo-science" and "pseudo-history" which some, be they university employees or not, direct at those whose research is unconventional, be they paid by universities or not, emanate from this division. What does this mean, and what does it imply?

4. Cognitive dissonance

Dogma refers to a principle or set of principles, or belief system, laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true, something that is generally widely accepted as true, without question. A theory, principle or belief that is simply not up for discussion can be considered dogmatic. Antipathy or anger can result from those who respond to a theory which relies on assumptions which, directly or indirectly, question or undermine entrenched views, or dogma. There are several reasons for this, which depend on psychological, social, and cultural factors.

What happens when we are exposed to information that challenges our beliefs, or that we simply don't like? According to the theory of cognitive dissonance, developed by Leon Festinger in 1957, an individual can experience mental discomfort when he or she holds two or more contradictory beliefs, values, or attitudes simultaneously. This discomfort can motivate people to reduce the dissonance, typically through changing their beliefs, acquiring new information, or minimising the importance of one of the conflicting elements, or by reacting defensively or aggressively toward the person challenging their beliefs. We might imagine an opera diva reading a bad review about a recent performance, and dismissing the critic as an "idiot" or "drunk". Or we might imagine an archaeologist reading a paper on how the megalith builders display through their stone markings or constructions sophisticated astronomical knowledge, and dismissing the author as a "lunatic", or a "pseudo-scientist".

Humans are inherently resistant to change, and an aversion to new ideas is a natural psychological response. When confronted with information that challenges our established beliefs or disrupts our comfort zones, we experience cognitive dissonance. This discomfort arises because our minds strive for consistency and stability. Just as we prefer familiar routines and environments, we also tend to cling to familiar beliefs and ideas. This resistance can be seen in everyday behaviours: we often choose the same route to work, eat the same foods, and socialise with the same people. When new ideas threaten this mental equilibrium, our immediate reaction is often to dismiss or ignore them to restore our sense of harmony. This natural inclination to shy away from change is a fundamental aspect of human psychology, illustrating why innovative and paradigm-challenging research often faces significant resistance. Understanding this can help us recognise the importance of consciously overcoming these biases to foster a more open and progressive community in the humanities and sciences.

Jean-Pascal Rouby's analysis of forbidden archaeology involves the concept of dogmatic dissonance, and provides a compelling account of what seems to be forbidden in the study of the ancient world, and why, and by whom. Quentin Leplat has also made a great contribution towards understanding, and challenging, attitudes towards unconventional ideas in ancient history, in a series of videos, and conference presentations.

Scientific knowledge is not objective knowledge. Instead, science is the product of many subjectivities, all shaped by norms, values, and interests. Scientific results are considered powerful, solid, dependable, but ultimately they depend on interpretation. Theories are human constructs, and can change.

Archaeology and the study of the ancient past has not, historically, been immune from politics, and it would be naive to think it isn't today. When researchers propose alternative interpretations or theories that challenge mainstream narratives, they are often met with scepticism. However, this scepticism toward alternative perspectives is itself historically situated and ideologically motivated. Throughout history, dominant powers have sought to control the narrative and suppress dissenting voices. The designation of certain ideas as pseudo reflects not their inherent falsehood, but rather the discomfort they provoke within established systems of knowledge.

Science is hugely beneficial to the study of the ancient world. The principles of testability and falsifiability are essential to the scientific method. But so are speculative ideas, and many groundbreaking scientific ideas were initially considered speculative. History shows us that concepts like continental drift faced significant scepticism before gaining acceptance.

However, the humanities are not sciences, and it can happen that, with very old sites, the types of evidence needed to support a claim, even a speculative one, are different to what might be considered essential for a scientific endeavour. A lack of evidence is not proof that nothing happened, or that there was nothing.

5. An archaeology of archaeology

Michel Foucault created the concept of "regimes of truth," the accepted truths within a particular society or institution, saying in a 1976 interview that "truth isn’t outside power, or deprived of power”, and that, on the contrary, truth “is produced by virtue of multiple constraints and it induces regulated effects of power”.

These regimes are maintained through discourse, which dictates what can be spoken about ,and how. As a result, there are certain mechanisms which are essential to maintain order, which manage inclusion and exclusion within the discourse. Dismissing non-traditional researchers, be they within the academic system, or without, is simply a way of maintaining existing power structures, and a sense of certainty. Certain methodologies and epistemologies have become dominant in studies on the ancient world.

The study of attitudes towards the ancient past is as worthy as the study of the past itself. The era of scientific archaeology probably began with Heinrich Schliemann and his discovery of Troy, though he was not himself a scientist but a wealthy businessman. Until this amateur came along, not many believed that Troy was a real place. But he had method. He dug test-pits, trenches, he read the layers of soil. How ironic that this amateur with a romantic dream of Troy kick-started the era of science in archaeology which would eventually seek to deter interference from amateurs and enthusiastic academics from other disciplines entirely. No one is suggesting that an untrained person should join a dig, or start one themselves. But the opinions and theories of researchers in other academic fields, in non-fiction writing, and in amateur research have to be of some value. The history of archaeology, and the study of the ancient world, is full of amateurs, so it is strange that amateurs today seem to have no voice within the field.

6. Pseudo-science

In the field of research into the ancient world, it is common to qualify any research that seems to offer evidence or interpretations which go against deeply held assumptions as pseudo-science, or pseudo-history, and to label the researchers themselves as pseudo-scientists or pseudo-historians. This is despite the fact that many people investigating ancient history within an academic context are not scientists at all, but historians or archaeologists. There are many people working on researching the ancient world who are scientists of course, or whose work uses scientific methods. These might include archaeologists, physical anthropologists, bioarchaeologists, geneticists, paleoclimatologists, geoarchaeologists, paleobotanists, zooarchaeologists, archaeobotanists, linguists and epigraphers, radiocarbon dating specialists, or lidar specialists. Their contribution to what is known about the ancient world is incredible.

However, those to whom the term pseudo-scientist is directed are often independent researchers, or academics from another field, who may use science and technology as a basis to their work, but don't claim themselves to be scientists at all. This is true of Graham Hancock for example, who refers to himself, I believe, as a journalist and writer, though through his books he engages actively with scientific research. The goal of using terms like pseudo-scientist is presumably to devalue whoever the author of a book, article or paper is. But calling him or her a fake or pseudo-scientist seems as off the mark as calling a bird a fake or pseudo-dinosaur.

Pseudo! A quaint, if perplexing prefix which is intended to hurt or dismiss, and which relies on intriguing underlying assumptions. It is a term which might even pass as vaguely scientific. The notion of pseudo-science upholds science as somehow the best form of research or academic endeavour. This is a general trend in the humanities, which are increasingly being viewed as social sciences. In contrast to this idealisation of the field of science, which history and archaeology do not altogether belong to, though they may rely on it, the concept of pseudo-science assumes the existence of some kind of shadow world which is the inverse of science: pseudo-science. On the plus side, there is no replication crisis in the area of unconventional or independent research, because no one really bothers to replicate it.

Labelling research as pseudo-history or pseudo-science, or marginalising it, can simply be understood as a way to maintain control over the production and dissemination of knowledge, may be seen as an exercise of power that serves to protect the status quo. But the "pseudo" label is used by people who are not academics, to discredit theories or practices that challenge prevailing scientific orthodoxy - so what is its purpose then?

7. Apotropaic magic

  Discrediting certain types of idea or research within ancient history is not simply a case of academics protecting their territory from corrosive influence. Academia does not need to use simplistic derogatory language towards unorthodox ideas when it already has systems in place to marginalise their proponents. The "pseudo-" prefix is not simply about distinguishing between rigorously tested, peer-reviewed studies and those that lack empirical support or methodological rigour. Rather, it has become a powerful rhetorical tool, used in the media, to categorise certain ideas and theories as nonsense. It is about control and power of knowledge, yes, but in the realm of public opinion.

   The pseudo-science or pseudo-history labels do not necessarily arise from a lack of evidence or rigour in the work they are supposed to describe, but from a perceived divergence from the dominant paradigms. Perhaps there are studies labelled in this way which lack in clarity, or rigour which are considered this way, certainly. But if there are even just a few well-researched, well-thought out, perhaps even ground-breaking works, which are dismissed in this way, then it is a shame to continue to ignore them.

More than that, the "pseudo-" claim is less an indication of falsehood on behalf of the author of the research, than a fear of being taken for a fool on behalf of the critic. It is the expression of the desire for legitimacy and belonging, within the power dynamics and cultural biases which shape the world. It is about being educated, grown up, smart, not easily duped. The "pseudo-"claim betrays a fear of thinking for oneself, and situates those who make it firmly within a group, and the group firmly within a historically situated and technologically motivated narrative.

So often, in discussions in the media, from podcasts to lectures, we hear questions such as "Do we know if...?", and answers that take the form of "We know that...". It is as if "we" must all think as one, know as one. It is not an expression of unity with all, but of unity only within a certain group, which works a little bit like a political party. It's free to join, if you're deemed acceptable, educated, but once you're in you must tow the line. It is a pervasive, elitist "we", which seems to go unnoticed, and unquestioned.

Mostly, there is no analysis given along side the verdict "pseudo-science" or "pseudo-history" to back up the claims of fakeness or deception. Rarely is the research which creates such a reaction actually debated fairly by those who label it in this way. Whether the work in question has been done by professional academics, or by non-academic researchers, it is hard to come by evidence for the "pseudo" diagnosis. Most probably, the claim that a work is somehow fake is not proof of the work actually having been closely examined by its critics. It is more likely that research which attracts this description is not being read closely at all, but is instead dismissed outright. It is as if the prefix "pseudo-", be it attached to the word science, or to history, is nothing more than a piece of apotropaic magic, designed to turn away harm or evil influences. It may provide a sense of security and certainty in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity, the unconventional. Words like pseudo-science and pseudo-history can be invoked to protect oneself and others from what is perceived as the lunatic fringe of scientific inquiry.

Ultimately, the "pseudo-" claims weaken the legitimacy of the established paradigms by disallowing dialogue, and confusing theory with truth. In seeking to reinforce the authority of the leading theories, those who shout "pseudo-" ultimately damage the institutions that uphold the main paradigms. Branding someone's idea, theory, or research "pseudo-science" or "pseudo-history" is not an expression of good scientific method, or of good reasoning. It is a reflection of poor method and weak reasoning, on the part of the person who uses the label against others. In the end, the "pseudo-" prefix describes only the person who speaks, or writes, the word with intent to dismiss, diminish or demean, in a "pseudo" feedback loop.

8. Pseudo-history

The concept of pseudo-history is a strange one, in that a story is a story; it is hard to imagine what a fake or pseudo-story might be, other than one in which there are no characters and nothing happens at all. History, like any narrative, is composed of events, characters, and interpretations, making the notion of pseudo-history somewhat paradoxical. This is quite a post-modern idea, on a par with Žižek's game of tennis without a ball (6). In such a game, the motions and gestures remain, but the essential element that defines the game – the ball – is absent, rendering it an absurdity. Similarly, labelling a historical account as pseudo-history implies that it mimics the form of historical narrative without containing the substance that makes it credible or meaningful. It’s a reflection of the tension between accepted narratives and those that challenge or re-imagine the past, highlighting the fluid boundaries between fact and interpretation in our understanding of history. Who owns the past?

Perhaps a pseudo-history would be contained in a timeline or pseudo-narrative such as Andy Warhol's film "Empire" – a static eight-hour shot of the Empire State Building, devoid of any significant events or developments. In this pseudo-history, time would stretch endlessly without meaningful change, much like staring at a blank canvas waiting for a masterpiece to appear. The characters, if any, would be mere silhouettes against the backdrop of monotony, their actions as inconsequential as a fly buzzing around an empty room.

In this alternate historical narrative, battles might be fought with invisible swords, kings might rule over imaginary kingdoms, and discoveries might lead to nowhere but the same unchanging landscape. It's a history where the past, present, and future blend into a surreal continuum, where the only certainty is uncertainty, and the only truth is the absence of truth. In fact, the emptiness of the movie echoes the generally accepted idea of what went on in the human world prior to 3 000 BC: not very much.

Perhaps if we want to get a good idea of what went on in human history before about 3 000 BC, according to mainstream experts, we should try and watch Warhol's film.

9. Journey to the centre of the pseudo-verse

Embracing scepticism toward established narratives encourages a more nuanced and critical approach to understanding the complexities of the past and present. But let us assume, for a minute, that there is thing, or a place, called "pseudo-science" or "pseudo-history", within which certain types of research and thinking belong. A sort of under-world, the inverse of true science and history, a shadowy sinister counterpart to respectable thought, a parallel reality that mirrors our own but distorts it.

What is the nature of this shadowy world? Let's crawl in, or climb up, and explore the pseudo-universe. Let us explore the marsh lands of pseudo-science and pseudo-history. The world we now find ourselves in is devoid of logical credibility. Watch out, it's scary down here! Mind your head! It is an empty, gloomy, endless expanse. Is life, or knowledge, possible in this place? Or is it simply a land made up of fear and bad faith, a landscape created by the ghostly traps of a hazardous epistemology?

Will we find in this place the remnants of fake or bad scientific or historical research? Or merely anger, and epistemic blame. But now, let us leave this truth forsaken place, and cross the bridges of empirical testing and peer review to re-enter the world of science and see what lives there. We must first pass the portal of integrity to be admitted. Then we must be cleansed of those theories and practices which do not conform to established scientific methods or historical paradigms. We shall pledge allegiance to the powers that prevent the spread misinformation, which bravely ensure that public knowledge is based on reliable evidence. We shall promise never to enter into dialogue with those on the other side of the bridge.

10. Cognitive dissidence: the importance of challenging established norms


Now let's visit the world of unconventional, and amateur research which upsets the order of things. "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world", as Yeats put it. Should we be worried?

Beyond the conventional paradigms, well-researched work can have a certain validity of its own, if only on its own terms. We could simply ignore it, or make scathing comments about it, but why not look at the evidence presented?

It is to be expected that in this era of the internet, with vast amounts of data available, making contributions, unwarranted or not, cannot remain the preserve of a few for long. As it happens, many of the people exploring this data are highly intelligent and often have university degrees in something or other, often in engineering. In the case of ancient world research, there are ancient texts, academic papers and research output form the last two or three hundred years, websites giving plans and dimensions, or information about stars, myths, or deities, platforms such as YouTube, as well as programs such as Google Earth, Starry Night, Stellarium, Google Translate, and many others, which give access to an incredible quantity of data. We could celebrate this unprecedented age of information, and even the cognitive dissidence that it brings. We may as well take a proactive stance in favour of innovative ideas, even when they do not align with mainstream academic thought, because innovation which moves history forward.

Many independent researchers are in a position to actively question and critique established theories and interpretations, not because they distrust them, but simply because they have found something that sheds new light on something of interest, which they want to share. Over countless evenings and weekends, they have studied something that perplexed them, and found something to contribute to the field. Despite operating outside traditional academic structures, these independent researchers often rely on rigorous research and data analysis, and ensure their work is logically sound. They often seek engagement and discourse with the broader academic community, and would value constructive criticism and dialogue with it, if it were forthcoming. Instead they might share their work on a discussion forum online, or on Academia, or start a YouTube channel or website of their own.

Do these cognitive dissidents recognise the impact of cultural and temporal contexts on knowledge production, and advocate for a broader and more inclusive approach to understanding human history and achievements? Do they express the spirit of intellectual rebellion and the pursuit of knowledge beyond convention? Do they cultivate a deep suspicion of established norms, or provocatively celebrate the individual's creative power? Do they go about in abject dejection, or paroxysms of pride, uttering things like:"The so-called 'truths' of history are but the shadows cast by the conquerors of academia. To challenge these shadows is to disrupt the complacency of those who wield power over the past"? Not necessarily. Not ever, really. They are just passionate about history.

11. Our understanding of history is not fixed but is constantly in flux,

It is probably healthy for everyone, once in a while, to question what they know, or think they know.

Compulsory attendence at the education mill, where received theories and notions of the time are presented to the innocent as established facts, encourages such totally false impressions of the past, that it becomes hardly possible to understand the present or to forsee the future. With every approach to knowledge guarded by a formidable array of experts and bibliographies, the aspirant must possess sharp wits and unnaturally developed scepticism if he is not to fall victim to one or other of the rival schools of dogma, secular and ecclesiastical, which, though mutually exclusive, units instinctively to frustrate any attempt to avoid altogether the established orthodoxies, defined by Einstein as "a collection of prejudices which are fed to us with a porridge spoon before our eighteenth year. Nowhere is the tyranny of the pedant more evident than in the study of human origins and sacred history. Most books about the remote past rely for their authority on nothing more substantial than the preconceptions of their authors, inevitably influenced by the misapplied theories of Marx, Freud and Darwin and the corrupt traditions of the Christian Church. We are thus conditioned at an early age to accept a narrow, linear view of history, according to which civilisation is a recent and unique development, now for the first time becoming universally established.


John Michell introduced his book City of Revelation with these words, first published in 1972. The invention of the internet of course changed the way we access information and enabled many people to read for themselves about many subjects, including antiquity. We can read these words of John Michell's and realise we are free to put into question any of the received notions we may have about the world, today, or as it was thousands of years ago. Yet, there is still a sense that some professional researchers into the ancient world are pushing narratives that are not entirely in agreement with the ways in which some of the evidence is being read and interpreted by a minority of their colleagues, and non-professional researchers. There is a distinct tension between the ideas and theories put forward by establishment thinkers, and the media on one hand, and certain academics and independent researchers on the other hand whose theories do not fit the conventional paradigms. Partly, this is due to a taboo against humans before the Greeks ever having been technologically or scientifically sophisticated. There is in fact compelling evidence that humans were sophisticated in mathematics, in science, in architecture and in astronomy long before the time of Plato. Elements of the media tend to agree with the convention, and, as we have seen, tend to come up with provocative labels to designate the more uncouth researchers. This can be interpreted as deference to establishment thinking on certain issues, and an outsourcing of thinking and opinion formation to educators and academics. Is knowledge still power? Absolutely, but it is no longer the preserve of a few. The possibility of error does not imply the impossibility of knowledge. Philosopher Michael Williams writes:

Epistemologically speaking, what matters is not where ideas come from but how they can be verified (or falsified). (...) There are no strict rules for thinking up new ideas, only rules of thumb. But there are strict criteria of justification. So although wild ideas can be entertained, they cannot be retained if they fail to find adequate support. (12)

Ultimately, the standards that are set to justify theories and epistemic norms are set by us. Can we find the support to entertain wild ideas enough in order to analyse them, and evaluate them properly? It seems like a good idea to evaluate the constraints that govern certain forms of inquiry into the ancient world, as large amounts of intriguing evidence are being ignored because they are considered irrelevant by professional academics. But it is up to us, the public, to do so, if the universities won't.

Engaging in bad faith by rejecting paradigm-challenging research out of hand reflects a lack of intellectual integrity and a denial of the freedom and responsibility inherent in the pursuit of knowledge. Reflecting on what we know and don't know, on science and the absence of science, may be beneficial. What can we know about the ancient past? To conclude, here are some words by Plato:

Tell me, then, I said, what you mean to affirm about wisdom.
I mean to say that wisdom is the only science which is the science of itself as well as of the other sciences.
But the science of science, I said, will also be the science of the absence of science.
Very true, he said.
Then the wise or temperate man, and he only, will know himself, and be able to examine what he knows or does not know, and to see what others know and think that they know and do really know; and what they do not know, and fancy that they know, when they do not. No other person will be able to do this. And this is wisdom and temperance and self-knowledge-for a man to know what he knows, and what he does not know. That is your meaning?
Yes, he said.
Now then, I said, making an offering of the third or last argument to Zeus the Saviour, let us begin again, and ask, in the first place, whether it is or is not possible for a person to know that he knows and does not know what he knows and does not know; and in the second place, whether, if perfectly possible, such knowledge is of any use.
That is what we have to consider, he said.
And here, Critias, I said, I hope that you will find a way out of a difficulty into which I have got myself. Shall I tell you the nature of the difficulty?
By all means, he replied.
Does not what you have been saying, if true, amount to this: that there must be a single science which is wholly a science of itself and of other sciences, and that the same is also the science of the absence of science?
But consider how monstrous this proposition is, my friend: in any parallel case, the impossibility will be transparent to you.

A big thank you to Stefan Maeder, Jean-Pascal-Rouby, Simon Ferandou, and Quentin Leplat for their input and discussions on the subject.


  1. Alfred François Devoir, 1865 - 1926, quoted by Stefan Maeder, 2024, Des pierres qui parlent - ou un regard humaniste sur le Mégalithisme

2. Stefan Maeder, 2024, Des pierres qui parlent - ou un regard humaniste sur le Mégalithisme

3. Ibid. Originally written in French: "Un des interdits de penser actuel en archéologie sur le Néolithique en Bretagne consiste à ignorer, sinon rejeter prophylactiquement toute approche qui prendrait en compte les indicateurs pour des observations ciblées du ciel comme facteurs pour le placement, la construction et la"décoration" de lieux de culte et d'installations funéraires."

4. Michell, John, 1973, City of revelation : on the proportion and symbolic numbers of the cosmic temple, London: Abacus, pp 12 - 13

5. Bailly, Jean-Sylvain, 1775, Histoire de l'Astronomie Ancienne , depuis son origine jusqu'à l'établissement de l'école d'Alexandrie, A Paris : Chez les freres Debure, pp 18 - 19

Original text:

Les inftituteurs des connoiffances aftronomiques , chez les différens peuples , ont donc des ancêtres communs qui paroiffent être les vrais auteurs de ces connoiffances. Si vers 3000 ans avant notre ère on trouve partout des veftiges de l'Aftronomie , c'eft l'époque du tems ou fon règne a recommencé. Nous avons les plus fortes raifons de croire qu'elle a été cultivée très - longtems auparavant , enfuite oubliée & perdue fur la terre.

Quand on confidere avec attention l'état de l'Aftronomie dans la Chaldée, dans l'Inde & à la Chine, on y trouve plutôt LES DÉBRIS QUE LES ÉLÉMENS d'une SCIENCE ; ce font des méthodes afféz exactes pour le calcul des éclipfes qui ne font que des pratiques aveugles , fans nulle idée des principes de ces méthodes , ni des caufes des phénomènes ; certains élémens affez bien connus , tandis que d'autres auffi effentiels , auffi fimples , font , ou inconnus , ou groffierement déterminés ; une foule d'obfervations qui reftent, pendant des fiecles, fans ufage & fans réfultats. Comment concevoir que des peuples, inventeurs de l'Aftronomie , n'ayent pas pu la perfectionner dans la durée d'une longue exiftence. S'il eft des peuples auffi incapables de marcher que d'entrer dans la carrière des fciences , celui qui y eft entré une fois par le mouvement qu'il s'eft imprimé à lui même , perdra - t - il ce mouvement , & peut - il s'arrêter à jamais ?

L'invention & les progrès des fciences font de la même nature. Ces progrès ne font que l'invention renouvelée , une fuite de vues femblables , & peut - être d'efforts à - peu - près égaux. Pourquoi donc les Indiens, mais furtout les Chinois et les Chaldéens ont-ils fait faire fi peu de pas à l'Aftronomie, pendant un fi grand nombre de fiecles ? C'eft que ces peuples ont été fans génie , c'eft qu'ils ont eu la même indolence pour les découvertes que pour les conquêtes, c'eft qu'ils n'ont point inventé la fcience. Elle eft l'ouvrage d'un peuple antérieur , qui avoir fait fans doute en ce genre des progrès, dont nous ignorons la plus grande partie. Ce peuple a été détruit par une grande révolution. Quelques-unes de fes découvertes, de fes méthodes, des périodes qu'il avoit inventées , fe font confervées dans la mémoire des individus dilperfés. Mais elles fe font conlervées par des notions vagues et confufes , par une connoiffance des ufages , plutôt que des principes. On a porté ces reftes d'une fcience démembrée à la Chine , aux Indes , dans la Chaldée ; on les a livrés à l'ignorance qui n'en a pas fu profiter. On a dit qu'il falloit obferver les aftres , & des Chinois & des Chaldéens les ont obfervés pendant des milliers d'années! Leur conftance , leur affiduité a été encouragée par l'aftrologie qui leur fut en même tems communiquée , & qui convient bien mieux à l'ignorance. Mais ils ont pratiqué des méthodes qu'ils n'entendoient pas. Ils ont fuivi les obfervations fans prefque chercher l'ufage qu'on en pouvoit faire.

6. Žižek, Slavoj. "Welcome to the Desert of the Real." Verso, 2002.

7. Warhol, Andy. "Empire." 1964.

8. West, John Anthony, 1992, Serpent In The Sky - The High Wisdom Of Ancient Egypt

9. Ibid, p 77

10. Michel Foucault, 'The political function of the intellectual', Radical Philosophy 017, Summer 1977.

11. Michell, John, 1972, City of Revelation : on the proportion and symbolic numbers of the cosmic temple, London Garnstone Press

12. Williams, Michael, Problems of Knowledge, A Critical Introduction to Epistemology, 2001. Oxford University Press.


Bailly, Jean-Sylvain, 1775, Histoire de l'Astronomie Ancienne , depuis son origine jusqu'à l'établissement de l'école d'Alexandrie, A Paris : Chez les freres Debure, pp 18 - 19

Foucault, Michel, 1977, 'The political function of the intellectual', Radical Philosophy 017, Summer 1977.

Hocart, A.M., 1941, Kingship, Watts & Co. London,

Plato, Charmides, or Temperance, written 380 B.C.E, translated by Benjamin Jowett

Maeder, Stefan, 2024, "Talkative stones - Des pierres qui parlent - ou un regard humaniste sur le Mégalithisme"

Michell, John, 1973, City of revelation : on the proportion and symbolic numbers of the cosmic temple, London: Abacus

Plato, Charmides, An Interpretative Commentary, pp. 1 - 56

Publisher: Cambridge University Press, Print publication year: 2022

West, John Anthony, 1992, Serpent In The Sky - The High Wisdom Of Ancient Egypt

Williams, Michael, Problems of Knowledge, A Critical Introduction to Epistemology, 2001. Oxfgord Univesity Press.

Žižek, Slavoj. "Welcome to the Desert of the Real." Verso, 2002.

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