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Exercise

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The discipline of Archaeology has come a long way since the "Speculative Phase" that you read about in this chapter. Thanks largely to advances in modern science, our understanding of the past is more complex than ever before. Misinformation about the past persists however, and the public perception of ancient cultures can often be quite different from the picture suggested by archaeological excavation.

While reading this book you will use the internet for research. The internet is a powerful tool for transmitting information, but it is also filled with false information that parades as fact. As with any source, the researcher must learn to recognize and separate trustworthy information from untrustworthy information.

In his book The Demon Haunted World, the astronomer Carl Sagan presented what he called a "Baloney Detection Kit". This was a set of tools useful for testing arguments and detecting false hypotheses. They can be summarized as follows:

  • Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the facts.
  • Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
  • Arguments from authority alone carry limited weight (in science there are no "authorities").
  • Consider more than one hypothesis. Don't simply run with the first idea that comes to mind, and don't get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it's yours.
  • Quantify wherever possible.
  • If there is a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work. Remember "Occam's razor" – if there are two hypotheses that explain the data equally well choose the simpler.
  • Can the hypothesis be tested? And can others duplicate that experiment and get the same result?

Not all pieces of the Baloney Detection Kit apply to archaeology directly. But if you keep the essence of the kit in mind it will help you to tell which online sources are suitable for your academic work.

In this activity, keep Carl Sagan's rules in mind while reading the following article from MSNBC about a supposed ancient pyramid that had been found in Bosnia.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12402157/

1.

What authority does Semir Osmanagic have to declare this hill a Pyramid? Is he a trained archaeologist? Who has independently confirmed his claims?

2.

Could Semir Osmanagic's findings be falsified? Would there be a motivation for him to falsify information?

3.

According to "Occam's razor", the simplest explanation for something is usually the right explanation. Is there a simpler explanation for the existence of this hill in Bosnia other than an unknown culture constructing the largest pyramid in the world, 14,000 years ago?

4.

Now read the following article from Archaeology Magazine.
http://www.archaeology.org/online/features/osmanagic/

How was Archaeology Magazine able to tell that Semir Osmanagic's claims were not to be believed?

5.

Is Archaeology Magazine a more reputable source than MSNBC? Why or why not?

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