In the current issue of Antiquity is a review of G.G. Fagan’s edited volume Archaeological Fantasies (available on-line behind a paywall). I reviewed this book favourably back in September: it’s pretty much a skeptical attack on pseudo-scientific archaeology.

Antiquity’s reviewer, however, doesn’t like the book at all, and for an interesting reason. Wiktor Stoczkowski is a sociologist of science working in Paris, and he isn’t very interested in the interpretation of the archaeological record. His main concern is with the dynamics of current society.

“The editor of the volume insists that its purpose is less a refutation of specific pseudoarchaeological claims – excellent examples of which are already on the market – as it is an attempt to understand pseudoarchaeology as a social phenomenon. […]

Not being specialists either in sociology, ethnology, or history, the contributors appear ignorant of research already undertaken in these disciplines regarding the cultural current of esotericism (aka occultism), from which ideas qualified by them as ‘pseudoscientific archaeology’ continue to emerge and to spread since the second half of the nineteenth century. They are also unaware that the archaeological component is only one among others in the occultist theories that propose an elaborated worldview designed as an alternative to those of science and of Christian theology. […]

It is paradoxical to see researchers, who sincerely wish to defend science, making so little use of it when studying pseudoscience. The best plea in favour of rigorous scholarship would be a rigorous study of pseudoscience. Alas, Archaeological Fantasies fails to provide it.”

I agree with Stoczkowski that Archaeological Fantasies does not in the main offer sociological studies of pseudoarchaeology, and I find it unfortunate that Fagan made that claim in the introduction. But I must say that neither most archaeologists nor any pseudoarchaeologists that I know of are interested in the sociology of science. Unless Fagan had made that brief remark, Stoczkowski’s perspective on the book would simply have been irrelevant. As a meta-scholar, he views our scientific discourse itself as the object of study. But Antiquity is not a metascientific journal.

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