Way back in 2012, a contentious post on the Modern Antiquarian forum was discussing the perceived reticence of academics to accept new ideas. One of the comments on that discussion has stuck with me all these years:

Archaeology (certainly pre-historic archaeology that is entirely dependent on the field evidence) is just about interpretation. Nothing is proven ever, there is only the prevailing orthodoxy… 

Taking that idea a step further, I’m sure that we’ve all seen archaeologists on TV stating “This is what happened” as opposed to “this is what WE THINK happened”. Assuming such archaeologists are speaking their own thoughts, and not those of a scriptwriter (which would make them just paid puppets), one has to wonder how much personal bias is involved. When definitive statements are made, it’s always best to consider how much the speaker’s pet theories and interests may be clouding their vision.

With that in mind, here are some potential ‘mistruths’ that have been heard in the past:

5. “This is a unique find!”

Usually stated in the initial excitement of discovery during excavation. Often rescinded once the post-excavation research uncovers similar/identical finds elsewhere.

4. “This changes our entire viewpoint of the past”

Not necessarily. It may provide illumination on a particular practice or culture, but the entire viewpoint? Please!

3. “This is a previously unknown God/Goddess”

Usually spoken when a figurine (usually dated to Roman times) is found. It couldn’t possibly just be a trinket, bought at a bazaar to remind the owner of a loved one at home? Or a child’s poppet (think Sindy/Barbie or Action Man)?

2. “Arthur was at Tintagel”

This is a difficult one. It’s not an outright lie, as it can never be proven one way or the other, but a scratched name on a piece of slate can’t be considered evidence of such a royal presence.

1. “It’s Ritual!”

Now, this one isn’t a lie. To the layman, ritual signifies religion, occult, finery or other mysterious practices. To an archaeologist, having breakfast and washing the afterwards dishes is ritual. Brushing your hair before going to bed is ritual, wearing the same colour underwear on match days is ritual.

(With thanks to Calvin and Hobbes)

What porkies have you heard from archaeologists? Let us know in the comments!