Swedish academic archaeology has a few hard-core post-modernists. Their attitude to the discipline tends to be meta-scholarly (they study people relating to the past rather than the remains of the past), radically knowledge-relativist (they reject rationalist science with its aim to gain cumulative objective knowledge about what the world is like) and influenced by Continental philosophy, sociology and “critical theory”. My attitude to these colleagues is such that if I were the one who decided who gets research funding and teaching jobs, they would all be doing fieldwork on highway projects or driving a bus. And this is of course in all likelihood a mutual sentiment.
Cornelius Holtorf of the Linnæus University’s Kalmar campus is one of these post-modernist stalwarts. To get a feel for his work, consider his studies of fake exotic ruins and ancient architecture found in animal pens at zoos and Las Vegas casinos. My opinion of this work is that to the extent that any academic should study these things at all, it should not be done on funding intended for archaeology. I’ve criticised Holtorf in print (2005a, 2005b, 2007), among other things on the grounds that he advocates friendly relations with pseudoarchaeological fantasists and charlatans (as in this 2005 paper of his). But of course, to a radical knowledge relativist, the difference between science and pseudoscience is simply a matter of sociology.
Cornelius Holtorf has now done something in line with his convictions, that is, something I consider extremely irresponsible and which causes me to palm my face and groan. He has invited Semir Osmanagić to speak at the university library in Kalmar.* Does that name ring a bell? The title of the talk is “The Bosnian Valley of the Pyramids in Context”.
Yes. Sad but true. Cornelius Holtorf is lending academic credibility to the Bosnian nationalist who believes that certain mountains in his beloved homeland are the world’s biggest and oldest pyramids, and that the Maya were space aliens from the Pleiades. This is von Däniken country.
The Linnæus University’s small but solid archaeology department is otherwise home to scholars whose work I admire and follow with great interest, including Joakim Goldhahn whose Bronze Age rock art project has featured prominently on this blog for years. These people must be deeply unhappy to see their workplace associated with Osmanagić. I’d like to think that the choice of venue, in the library, not one of the university’s lecture halls, betrays a small attempt to distance the Linnæus University symbolically from one of the biggest cranks in current European archaeology. But still, in years to come, Semir Osmanagić’s web site will proudly proclaim the recognition he’s received from the Linnæus University, Kalmar, Sweden.
* Tuesday 18 October, 14:00-16:00.
Johan Normark shares my opinion.