‘Pseudo-archaeology’ is subject of anthropologist’s CU on the Weekend talk on March 16
Swiss author and pseudo-archaeologist Erik Von Däniken famously claims that a Maya sarcophagus lid depicts an ancient king piloting a rocket ship. But the sarcophagus really depicts the king’s descent into the underworld, according to Sarah Kurnick, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University Colorado Boulder.
Kurnick says such “pseudo-archaeology” has seized the popular imagination, often to the detriment of contemporary indigenous communities like the Maya.
She will address this issue in a talk, titled “Ancient Aliens and Contemporary Archaeology,” at 1 p.m. March 16 at the Jenny Smoly Caruthers Biotechnology Building in the Butcher Auditorium. The lecture, which is free and open to the public, is part of the CU Boulder Office for Outreach and Engagement’s CU on the Weekend, a series of informational talks given by CU faculty doing engaging work.
“Pseudo-archaeology is everywhere. It is on TV, in movies, and in books,” says Kurnick. “And because of its popularity and omnipresence, pseudo-archaeology is the primary way that most people get information about the human past. Many may think that pseudo-archaeological claims—like aliens built the pyramids or we are all descendant from inhabitants of the lost continent of Atlantis—are just silly or strange. But these claims are often at their core racist and do significant harm to contemporary marginalized groups.”
Kurnick, a specialist on the ancient Maya people, focuses her work on contemporary inequalities and how popular perceptions of the ancestors of indigenous peoples—perceptions often caused and reinforced by pseudo-archaeology—buttress these inequalities. Pseudo-archaeology does this by discounting the historical significance of certain accomplishments, such as attributing the pyramids to aliens.
Many may think that pseudo-archaeological claims—like aliens built the pyramids or we are all descendant from inhabitants of the lost continent of Atlantis—are just silly or strange. But these claims are often at their core racist and do significant harm to contemporary marginalized groups.”
Notably, Kurnick has been working with modern Maya people in the community of Punta Laguna in the Yucatán peninsula. There, residents have developed their own eco-tourism venture based around a nature reserve of the same name.
Tourism is huge in this area of Mexico, and much of it is based around Maya culture, explains Kurnick. The appropriation of Maya culture is very lucrative for the tourism industry, but contemporary Maya people often do not reap any benefits.
Kurnick’s project, launched in 2014, aims to document the Maya archaeological site within the nature reserve and to work collaboratively with residents of Punta Laguna to learn about Maya history. Punta Laguna residents can then use this information to bolster the appeal of their tours and local economy.