Academics in all fields struggle with the question of whether we should actively engage with our pseudo alters. Is it worth it, for example, for archaeologists to engage with pseudoarchaeologists such as the ones featured on Ancient Aliens, or Curse of Oak Island? While engaging directly with pseudoarchaeologists themselves may not be that productive, engaging with their claims and making our engagement available to their target audience does pay off in demonstrable ways.

Pseudoarchaeologists tend to be ideologically or commercially driven, or both. That makes direct engagement difficult and sometimes counterproductive. Their audience, on the other hand, is driven by curiosity and wonder, just as archaeologists are.

Archaeology and pseudoarchaeology on Oak Island

Last year, I posted a little study of Curse of Oak Island fan communities. The television show follows the adventures of a group of treasure hunters on Nova Scotia’s Oak Island, looking for anything from the Ark of the Covenant, to Captain Kidd’s gold, to a Templar cache of Shakespeare’s secret papers. Along the way, they find what they interpret as evidence of Roman presence and alignments of archaeological features with the stars. Standard pseudoarchaeological fare.

At the same time, they almost completely ignore the plentiful evidence of actual past activity on the island and in the region, or seemingly purposefully misinterpret it. On a weekly basis, they demonstrate how not to use survey, excavation, and materials analysis techniques. They consistently favour the possible over the probable. I will concede that 18th century farming and light industry are less spectacular than new world Roman Templars, but perhaps they are more informative.

People are listening

The Oak Island post is the most viewed in the history of my blog. In its first couple of weeks, it got about a thousand views. It settled down to about 400 per month during the winter. Then in March 2019, just after the death of Dan Blankenship, the elder statesman of Oak Island, when there was a surge of media interest, it shot up to almost 1500 views.

It went back to a quieter 200 per month for the rest of the broadcast season, and kept about 100 views per month over the summer. In other words, there is a clear correlation between the visibility on air of new Oak Island content, and views of my post. When people see new claims, or hear new stuff about Oak Island, they turn to the internet and search for answers.

Since the season 7 previews started airing on October 8th, the post has been viewed about 300 times, a sharp spike up from its off-season average of 100 views per month. There is a clear increase in views on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays. Not coincidentally, the show airs on Tuesday evenings in the US, and on Sunday evenings in Canada.


In the 15 days before the first preview aired, the post got 94 views. In the 15 days starting with the broadcast, it got 146 views, with 60 (41%) of those occurring with 48 hours of the broadcast.

The target audience of pseudoarchaeologists do their research. We should help them. Pseudoarchaeologists certainly are eager to help them. Preventive anti-pseudoarchaeology campaigning has its place, but we, the archaeologists, also need to be there and visible when people have questions and search for answers.

In roughly thematic order, here are the kinds of online searches that have led viewers to my post. Some clearly are already concerned that Curse of Oak Island is pseudoarchaeology, or perhaps are looking for an example of pseudo. They do searches like “pseudo archaeology sites”, “oak island isn’t archaeology”, “curse of oak island joke”, “oak island pseudo science”, or even the much more direct “pseudoarchaeology oak island”.

Some seem to be puzzled by what they are seeing on the show, but are genuinely wondering whether they are watching a bona fide archaeology documentary. They search for “oak island archaeology critics”, “archaeology of oak island”, “proper archiologiacal tecniques on oak island”, or “what do archaeologists think of what happening on oak island”.

Some are surprised by a specific claim they saw on the show and want to find out more and/or do some fact checking: “roman oak island”, “pilum found on oak island”, “oak island roman structure 2019”, or “roman presence at oak island”.

It really is in everyone’s interest if people who have questions about pseudoarchaeological claims can find properly archaeological answers to them.  It helps if these are expressed in ways that keep them reading beyond the first few words and don’t shame them for having questions instead of answers.

The audience of pseudoarchaeologists have questions. They are inquisitive. They want answers. We can help.

6 thoughts on “The audiences of pseudoarchaeology are counting on us. Let’s help them.

  1. Very good. Very accurate.

    The sentence just before “People are listening”; perhaps something like “less” or “not as” should precede “spectacular”. Not sure I understood that sentence otherwise.


  2. Very well said! I think I’ve started to see this as well. I noticed some odd trends in search terms that are driving hits to my own blog. One day there’s a spike in “Dendera light bulb” another day it’s “skulls without sagittal suture.” I suppose I need to force myself to watch at least the previews or highlights of “ancient aliens” so I can put out timely information. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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