As we’ve said many times, and as the attendees at our megameets prove time and time again, we are (largely) a collection of ‘Ordinary people, caring for Extraordinary places‘. Very nice people, it has to be said, but in the main we’re not showered with professional archaeology qualifications. Luckily, we have access to several ‘tame’ archaeologists, who provide advice and help to steady the tiller when needed, and mostly so far we have avoided espousing what has become known as ‘Bad Archaeology

Over the years, we’ve had many submissions which we’ve had to turn down from often well-meaning but dare we say it, deluded, people espousing their own favourite pet theories as to why certain monuments are where they are, or proposing some outlandish original use, often based upon very little true science (other than half an hour scouring Wikipedia!) Where we have proposed daring new theories – and Dr. Sandy Gerrard’s preliminary work on stone rows is a good example here – they have been backed up by the scientific method, utilising the full range of available academic information. Information all too often denied to the amateur researcher due to academic firewalls, cost etc.

And yet these theories often see the light of day, and even get published as pseudo academic papers or books, without any proper scientific scrutiny. Even worse, they might illustrate their great discovery with quotes and images without context, referencing and copyright approval. It is therefore no wonder that academics and professionals have little enthusiasm for wading through offering after offering by such authors, convinced they have solved some unimaginable riddle connected with Stonehenge, Avebury or some other well-known and well researched site. The author may even ramp up attention by involving the media or the blogosphere in some self-serving paranoia, which will reign forever in the cyber world of amateur truth versus professional conspiracy. Thus the academic obliged by convention, cannot respond without facing a potentially long drawn out distraction of no value or interest other than to the originator.

With this in mind, we have drawn up the following basic guidelines for those who wish to give publicity to their pet theories in such ways, and without following the proper review process:

1. Be yourself, you are not [insert famous archaeologist’s name here] unless it states so on your birth certificate.

2. For whom or what are you writing? Yourself (likely)/ something the world needs to know (unlikely)?

3. Where did you get your information? Credit ideas, state origin, reference [insert famous archaeologist’s name here]’s books and papers in full.

4. No matter how fascinating you think you are, you aren’t, tell us your idea, give references, keep it short then shut up.

5. Take up another hobby, in our opinion writing amateur (pseudo-)archaeology is for self-obsessives and jerks!

Whilst preparing this article, I came upon a quote in Old Cornwall magazine, from 1934. Leiut.-Colonel F C Hirst, writing about ‘Elements of Cornish Archaeology’. He states:

…there is often a tendency to assume that probable incidents suggested by such (antiquarian) studies are facts on which we can rely. Archaeology only deals with that which can be proved to have occurred in the past, and anything that is based upon speculation is foreign to that science.

He goes on to conclude:

…facts and legends have become so mingled in Cornwall, that many quote the latter as archaeological facts. Such people do a great disservice to Cornish Archaeology. Only one kind of antiquary exists, and he is the orthodox type.

The more things change, the more they stay the same!