Sunday, 7 February 2016

Enjoying Popular Archaeology.

I watched an archaeological documentary tonight (I usually do if I happen to catch one between the end of something really highbrow like Father Ted and turning the TV off) on the Mississippian culture in 10th century PHF America. (That’s pre-Henry Ford, in case you hadn’t guessed.)

There was a problem: they kept referring to Cahokia – site of an ancient ‘pyramid’ in Illinois – as ‘America’s oldest city.’ How do they know it’s the oldest? Couldn’t they have added the word ‘known’ just to keep pedants like me happy?

There was a second problem: they explained in detail – with graphics – how the builders of this ‘pyramid’ used an ingenious method to retain the integrity of the clay core. Frankly, it made no sense at all, which suggests that:

1. It was load of old baloney, or

2. It was badly explained, or

3. I’m even dumber than I look

The jury rests.

But then there was the question at the end. There’s always a question at the end, usually several.

They claimed that this massively impressive site had lasted only about two hundred years before mysteriously vanishing.

Theory given for mysterious vanishing:

1. A serious drought had left the local area with insufficient food to sustain the population of around twenty thousand who lived there.

2. This had precipitated civil war.

3. The cataclysmic circumstance which had finally driven everybody out was a major flood of the nearby Mississippi river.

The question (ahem):

In ancient Egypt they relied on the periodic flooding of the Nile to provide ground water to sustain the growth of crops, especially after drought, so wouldn’t the Mississippi flood have provided the desperately needed opportunity to re-invigorate their agriculture? Why run away just when salvation is at hand? There might be an answer, of course, but...

... they didn’t offer one. They never do, and do you know why? Because they insist on taking up valuable air time with an investigation (so called) into… wait for it… the evidence that these people practiced human sacrifice!

Ah, good old human sacrifice. We love human sacrifice, don’t we? Where would an archaeological documentary be without a bit of human sacrifice? Mmm…

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