The landscape of the nineteenth century, Williams asserts, is dotted with fakes, frauds, and humbugs whose fantastic claims of purported findings would make even P. T. Barnum blush. In Fantastic Archaeology, Williams takes them all on with gusto--illuminating, debunking, and instructing on the modes, methods, manners, and manifestations of American archaeology through the past two centuries. The author begins his walk on the wild side of North American archaeology with a fascinating introduction to the continent's real past. Then, acting as detective, he answers the questions, Who Found It? Who Done It? Who Twisted the Facts? From solemn old professionals like Samuel Haven to eccentric "odd fishes" like Constantine Rafinesque, from brash "free thinkers" like Harold S. Gladwin to stoic strategists like A. V. Kidder, Williams enthusiastically portrays them all. The big issues are here, too: the quest for the first Americans, the transoceanic search for links to distant civilizations, and the meaning of ancient writings. From monstrous stone giants to mysterious messages from the past, right up to the real story of America's archaeological past, the author unearths a wondrous tale that will amaze, delight, and inform professional and general readers alike.
Interesting look at pseudoscience and fraud in American archaeology – every notion from America being settled by blacks, by remnants from Alexander the Great’s fleet, by Indian Indians to Viking explorations of Minnesota (the famous Kensington Rune Stone).
Williams shows the practitioners of “Fantastic Archaeology” as ranging from sincere dupes to hoaxsters to professional archaeologists who should know better to “rogue professors” (usually from non-archaeology disciplines) who look and act like professors but who have lost the ability to critically judge evidence. Williams does a good job of educating the reader what to look for in archaeological claims (consistency, i.e. similar finds elsewhere, context, and veracity of evidence). The range of stuff here (“Jewish” artifacts in Arizona and the Midwest, supposed Viking towers in Massachusetts, and the interesting Walam Olum creation myth – probably partly real, partly fraud, and Lost Tribes in America) is fascinating though Williams whips through his tour so fast reading the biography is necessary to become an expert on any subject. There is an epilogue on the current consensus of North American pre-history by archaeologists which really made it all clear to me for the first time.
Williams gives a nod to several science fiction writers. He quotes approvingly from historical based stories of Ray Bradbury and Chad Oliver (a professional anthropologist) and cites Robert Silverberg’s Moundbuilders of Ancient America as one of the few good popular books on the subject.