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Roanoke College Coffee Shop Talk: The Lore of Lost Cities

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On Thursday, Feb. 4, Dr. David Anderson, a visiting assistant professor in the sociology department, discussed the lore of lost cities at Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea’s Salem location.

At the end of his talk, Dr. Anderson said, “I am here tonight not talking about my research in Mexico, or my work in Virginia…I am talking about the ridiculous.” By “the ridiculous” he was referring to pseudoarchaeology.

He is an archaeologist–someone that studies the human past through what people leave behind. On the other hand, pseudoarchaeology leads most people in the wrong direction when it comes to discovering the ancient past, because it’s full of claims and ideas that don’t provide sufficient evidence to back them up.

The media is the driving force in pseudoarchaeology. The idea of a lost city interests people more than the actuality of archaeology. Pseudoarchaeologists pretend that archaeologists are the bad guys.

They complain about them excavating real ruins of cities while there are apparently more exciting, unknown cities right down the road. The media will say that something is an exciting and cool lost city when it’s actually just a normal archaeological finding (which is still exciting and cool!). This damages the public’s perception of archaeology; in their eyes, it’s an unknown mystery instead of completed research.

The stories of El Dorado and the Lost City of the Monkey God have sparked storytelling for centuries. Unfortunately, these stories have been told from many different perspectives.

But, this inspires archaeologists to dig deeper and educate the public on the reality behind the myths of the unknown cities. Dr. Anderson said, “I love ignorance–ignorance just says we don’t know.” He believes that learning about something from quality resources can be a rewarding experience if it’s done correctly.

Last year, National Geographic claimed that they found the Lost White City of Honduras, also known as the Lost City of the Monkey God. This story became viral and almost every major news source wrote a version of the findings. But, these findings were not very different than those of an explorer that found a stone wall segment about three feet high and ten feet in length, and he primarily wrote about the treacherous conditions and beautiful landscapes that they went through to find this wall segment.

Dr. Anderson says that this “does direct damage to the achievements of people around the world.” These were real people who had lives like the rest of us and worked hard to build their cities, and the media only sees them as an unknown mystery to fuel sales of books and movies that don’t tell the truth.

There are real ruins out there, and archaeologists are working hard to find and interpret them. It’s hard to sift through the sand when trying to find gold in research, but Dr. Anderson says that’s exactly what we need to do.

Roanoke College Coffee Shop Talks give professors, students, and the general public a free opportunity in a relaxed atmosphere for discussion on a broad range of topics. Each talk is one hour long and includes a short presentation followed by questions.

Future Roanoke College Coffee Shop Talks include–Parisian Nights: Bodies of Meaning by Dr. James Hargrove on March 3rd; The Philosophy, Politics, and Religion of Game of Thrones by Dr. Brent Adkins, Dr. Justin Garrison, and Dr. Hans Zorn on April 7th; Desperately Seeking Dragons by Dr. DB Poli on May 5.