Aliens, Atlantis, and archaeology descend upon CentreTerm
Dr. Robyn Cutright, assistant professor of anthropology, got the idea for her “Aliens, Atlantis, and Archaeology” CentreTerm course from watching popular shows like Ancient Alienson The History Channel.
“So much of the popular view of archaeology comes from shows like this, which stress fantastic mysteries and fringe theories about the past,” Cutright explains. So she created a class, which is open only to first-year students, to explore these popular views.
“I thought it’d be interesting to explore these alternate theories,” she says. “Topics like alien visits to past societies, the existence of an early, technologically advanced civilization on the vanished continent of Atlantis and the doomsday supposedly predicted by the Maya calendar.”
After examining these conjectures, Cutright and her students will then look at scientific archaeology’s response to the popular, myth-like theories.
The topics of aliens, Atlantis and archeology are the means for students to acquire skills that are applicable on a broader scale: learning to critically evaluate what they see on TV and read on the Internet.
“Ultimately, I hope students will learn how to be more critical consumers of pop science in general, not just Atlantis and aliens, and will learn how to question and investigate what they read,” Cutright says.
The course will also focus on the scientific method and how evidence is gathered and used to support or reject hypotheses. Students will use these tools to evaluate documentaries, books and websites that advocate fringe theories, such as alien visits to past societies.
The class will travel to Peebles, Ohio, to visit Serpent Mound Park, an archaeological site that is also seen as a site of powerful energy by New Age believers. Other class activities include studying several documentaries (including the first season of Ancient Aliens and Chariots of the Gods), to investigate the claims made in the films and critique them from an archaeological point of view. For a final project, students will create a website that pulls together competing theories about a controversial topic.
So what sort of students would take a course like this? Clearly, those interested in archeology or anthropology/sociology in general.
“However, because we’ll spend a good deal of time thinking about how to investigate questions using a scientifically rigorous approach, I hope that students in the sciences or social sciences would get a lot out of the course,” says Cutright. “And, of course, anyone who wonders about what they see on The History Channel!”