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Cinema, Supernatural Archaeology, and the Hidden Human Past

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Abstract Close analysis of modern movies reveals — yet archaeologists and historians have failed to understand — that the dominant representation of archaeological research and ancient human culture in mainstream cinema involves explorations of supernatural objects and events. Cinematic archaeology tends to be mythic rather than realistic in focus. Movies frequently present images of the human past that are pseudoarchaeological in the sense that these films tell the same stories as ‘alternative archaeology,’ even though they may not make an explicit claim to the truthfulness of the events depicted. This pattern is documented through a review of films employing the ancient astronaut model in which visiting aliens changed human development in the past, and through an examination of the work of writer/director Roland Emmerich who has specialized in those films. The cinematic history of these narratives is long, demonstrating that cinema does not merely reproduce popular pseudoarchaeological research, it has also contributed to the growth of these stories.

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38. FN1 1)
39. FN2 2)In another context I have explored the theoretical complexities that arise when archaeologists elect to support some versions of unscientific alternative history while opposing others, a situation that might arise in the case of cinema (Hiscock 1996).
40. FN3 3)Klaatu the alien is persecuted for his message of peace and is eventually killed, but he is resurrected in his cave-like saucer and emerges for a short time to spread the word he has brought from the heavens, before returning there.
41. FN4 4)Emmerich in an interview on the StargateUltimate Edition DVD.
42. FN5 5)It is worth acknowledging Emmerich’s self-reference in building his narrative. For instance, the name Jackson is a clear reference to the character of Daniel Jackson from Stargate, while the book written by the character in 2012, Farewell Atlantis, is a description of Emmerich’s earliest film about global catastrophes: The Noah’s Ark Principle.

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Affiliations: 1: School of Archaeology and Anthropology, Australian National University Canberra, Australia, 0200 Australia


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