Archaeology from the dark side
Creationists and New Agers have formed a common front to undermine mainstream archaeology and its scientific view of the human past. Are they winning?
In February of 1961, three amateur gem collectors dug a mechanical gizmo encased in fossil-encrusted rock out of a mountainside in the Southern California desert. They didnâ€™t know what it was, and began showing it to friends and associates. Within a few years this thingummy, which became known as the Coso artifact, had assumed an almost mythic importance.
It consisted of a cylinder of what seemed to be porcelain with a 2-millimeter shaft of bright metal in its center, enclosed by a hexagonal sheath composed of copper and another substance they couldnâ€™t identify. Yet its discoverers at first believed it had been found in a geode, a hardened mineral nodule at least 500,000 years old. If the Coso artifact was real â€” that is, if it was really an example of unknown technology from many millennia before the accepted emergence of Homo sapiens, let alone the dawn of human history â€” it would turn everything scientists thought they knew about the past of our species upside down.
Critics of mainstream science from all over the ideological and theological spectrum seized on the object. Some were followers of â€śalternative archaeology,â€ť especially believers in a lost Atlantis-type civilization deep in antiquity that gave birth to all the known civilizations of early human history. Others were followers of Erich von DĂ¤nikenâ€™s hypothesis that human civilization has its roots in outer space. Still others were â€śyoung-earthâ€ť biblical creationists, who thought the artifact might be a fragment of the forgotten world that existed before the great Flood described in the Book of Genesis. (Of course, they didnâ€™t buy the idea that it might be hundreds of thousands of years old, since most creationists believe that God created the heavens and the earth somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago.)
*Note: thereâ€™s some really foul language in a quote near the end. Most likely youâ€™re not going to read this with your children, but I just thought I should give you small warning just in case you might take issue.