Southborough Valley Community Archaeology Project


Saturday, 7 May 2016

Believe what you will

Last month’s bit of fun about Frittenden set me thinking of some of the other archaeology-based trickery that has been perpetrated over the years. Recently the National Trust tried to persuade us that twice every year they move one of the stones at Avebury to allow for British Summer Time which, of course, the original builders of the monument did not know about. Effective April foolery often relies on the po-faced establishment status of the National Trust or English Heritage and other august bodies – we trust them implicitly. 

A similar hoax was perpetrated in 1991 when the Daily Mail reported the following under the headline: Stonehenge faces a new dawn today. 
“To correct the misalignment caused by the gradual slowing of the Earth's rotation, the world-famous monument is to be dismantled and re-assembled on another site of similar prominence. The plan to transport the stones, which attract 700,000 visitors every year, has outraged conservation groups and caused a split in the Ancient Society….  A consortium of Tokyo businessmen is believed to have offered 484billion yen (2billion) for the monument, saying it will enhance Japan's status as the Land of the Rising Sun when re-sited on top of sacred Mount Fuji….  So sensitive are the stones that archaeologists have ruled they must be moved in exactly the same way they were erected. Thousands of labourers will be hired and trained in prehistoric building techniques.” 

Photos can be helpful in making hoaxes more convincing (I've no idea where Rob found his tourist sign for the treacle mine article but it added a satisfying veneer of veracity to the tale). Even being on social media can add to a story’s weight. In 2015 Justbod pasted a story on Facebook claiming that Stonehenge was having a roof installed over it to protect it from the weather, with some pretty convincing architect’s impressions. Others have used early photographs of renovation work at Stonehenge to claim that it was erected between the 1930s and 50s and even claim that the whole monument is made out concrete. In 2013 a furore was caused when it was announced by English Heritage that adverts would be projected against the stones at night to increase revenue. There was a strange compulsion to believe this simply because many people feel that EH is becoming too commercial – too worried about chasing the cash and turning its sites into theme parks. 

If astrological alignments are the ‘in’ thing, then we will want to explain sites in those terms. And if space race tragedies are your bag, here is a preview of next year’s SHAAS April Fool hoax – the wreckage of a failed Russian Voshkod mission of 1964, photographed at a secret location near Lamberhurst earlier this year. The crew miraculously survived because the capsule first landed on a hayrick before sliding into a muck heap. Unbelievable eh?

In hindsight we can all spot a hoax but at the time it may not be quite as easy. Piltdown Man worked as a hoax because Darwinism was a new science and people felt the need to find fill in the ‘gaps’ in the historic record. In the end we believe what we want to believe. If we want to explain an archaeological site we can construct any theory we like and then search for the facts to prove it.

By Charlie Bell

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