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Feder debunks ‘fake news’ of ancient past in new book

Professor Ken Feder is pictured here in front of pictographs at Sego Canyon, Utah. The site is featured in his new book, “Archaeological Oddities: A Field Guide to Forty Claims of Lost Civilizations, Ancient Visitors, and Other Strange Sites in North America.”

By Amy J. Barry

Since he was a college undergraduate in the late 1960s, Kenneth L. Feder, professor of Anthropology at CCSU, has been quite publicly debunking theories from practitioners of  pseudo-archaeology.

From theories of lost tribes, lost cities, and lost continents to notions about the survival of dinosaurs into the modern era and ancient visitors to earth from outer space, Feder has fact-checked his share of pop science.

In a nutshell, Feder says, “I’m the guy at parties who rains on everybody’s parade.”

Among the half dozen books he’s co-authored and authored, several have focused specifically on the subject of pseudo-archaeology, including “Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology” (going into its 10th edition). He localizes that focus in his latest book, “Archaeological Oddities: A Field Guide to Forty Claims of Lost Civilizations, Ancient Visitors, and Other Strange Sites in North America.”

Feder says he understands people’s fascination with what he sees as the equivalent of  ‘fake news” about the ancient past.

“It’s really funny and weird,” he says. “I mean, how cool it would have been if extraterrestrials had landed on earth and directly intervened with the human path.

“Maybe one of the things I do is make people laugh at those notions by showing how ridiculous they are,” he continues. “But I also hope to open their perspective that scientists really know what they’re talking about.” 

North American ‘Oddities’ 

Feder, whose specialty is archaeology of North America, published “Archaeological Oddities” this spring. 

He chose the 40 sites featured in the book not only to bust the myths surrounding them, but because “the geological and environmental context of a lot of these sites is beautiful and impressive, and that alone makes these places interesting to go to and engage with.” 

He divides the chapters into seven categories of strange archaeology and rates each one from zero to five on his “Fake-o-meter,” with zero being a legitimate site and interpretation, and five being entirely bogus.

“If this book was relentlessly negative — no Easter Bunny, no Santa Claus, no one would want to read it,” Feder acknowledges, “but a lot of these stories I tell are whimsical and really hilarious. How is it that people would believe this nonsense? It’s people’s desire to want to believe.”

Feder has been a professor at CCSU since 1977, and one of the first courses he taught was based on pseudo-archaeology.

“I was fresh out of grad school and tasked to teach a basic level class,” he recalls. “I had no syllabus, so I asked the students what topics they were interested in that related to archaeology or human antiquity. We designed a course together called ‘Frauds, Myths, Kooks, and Krazies.’ It was so much fun.”

Even after 40 years at CCSU, Feder never tires of teaching.

“Maybe it’s genetic, he says.  “My father was a teacher his entire life. But clearly, no matter what mood I’m in, no matter what’s going on in my life or on the news, I say, ‘Good morning everybody. Today we’re going to talk about…’ and all that falls away and I get to talk about what’s really interesting. It’s how I am and what I do. I’ll be retiring pretty soon but writing forever. … I’m already working on my next project.”

Feder believes there will always be something new and exciting for him to learn in his chosen field of archeology.

“All of the challenges that modern human beings face right here today, on some level, were faced in the past,” he says. “By studying those challenges, we may not be smarter enough to avoid them, but at least we’ll understand them when they happen.”

“Archaeological Oddities: A Field Guide to Forty Claims of Lost Civilizations, Ancient Visitors, and Other Strange Sites in North America” (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers) is $36, hardcover, and includes 100 full-color photographs.

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