May 23, 2019

What Does Science Have to Say About Atlantis?

“In February, the popular podcast The Joe Rogan Experience referred to an idea made famous by some books and TV shows: that an image of the Mayan King K’inich Janaab’ Pakal, carved onto the lid of his sarcophagus when he died in 683 C.E., shows him taking off in a spaceship. Host Rogan was skeptical of the notion, which has been used to argue that extraterrestrial visitors seeded sophisticated ancient societies like the Maya. He asked what mainstream archaeologists made of it.

For David Anderson, that request was a call to action. Anderson, an archaeologist at Radford University in Virginia, jumped on Twitter: “Dear @joerogan, speaking as a ‘mainstream’ archaeologist … it depicts [Pakal] falling into the underworld at the moment of his death.” The rocket-propelling “fire” below Pakal is a personification of the underworld, and the “spaceship” is a world tree, a common feature in Mayan art. Rogan retweeted Anderson’s thread, bringing him more than 1000 likes and many grateful comments—plus some angry ones.

Pakal’s supposed seat in a spaceship is just one example of what Anderson and others call “pseudoarchaeology,” which ignores the cultural context of ancient artifacts and uses them to support predetermined ideas, rather than test hypotheses, about the past. Common beliefs include that aliens helped build the Egyptian and Mayan pyramids, that refugees escaping Atlantis brought technology to cultures around the world, and that European immigrants were the original inhabitants of North America.”

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