I presented this paper at the annual meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists, held in Zadar, Croatia, September 18–23, 2007, in a session called “‘Fringe’ Archaeologies: ‘The Other’ Past,” organized by archeologists Eleni Stefanou and Anna Simandiraki.
This paper is in the form of a discursive essay, so if you were expecting a neatly developed argument, intricate footnotes, and a formal bibliography, you are going to be disappointed. I will, however, touch on a number of topics related to the title of this paper. And I will give enough hints for you to track down articles and books mentioned in the essay.
First, let me establish my credentials as a “fringe” archeologist, one whose work is concerned with the development of an “other” past. Andrew O’Hehir, in “Archaeology from the Dark Side” (Salon.com, August 6, 2005), said about me, “Cremo is a singular figure on the scientific fringe. He is friendly with mainstream archaeologists and with Graham Hancock [author of Fingerprints of the Gods].” I find myself on many lists of “fringe” and “pseudo” archeologists and archeologies. Why? Since 1984, I have been researching archeology and history of archeology from a perspective derived from my studies in the Puranas, the ancient historical writings of India, which contain accounts of extreme human antiquity, inconsistent with modern evolutionary accounts of human origins. And for some reason my work has become known in academic circles as well as among the general public. Some archeologists and other scholars find this kind of thing, which they call “fringe” or “folk” archeology, threatening. Why? In his book From Stonehenge to Las Vegas (2005, Walnut Creek: AltaMira, p. 12), Cornelius Holtorf offers a possible explanation: “Michael Michlovic (1990) [Current Anthropology, 31: 103–107] pointed out that patronizing reactions toward folk archaeology are merely the result of a perceived challenge to archaeology’s monopoly on interpretation of the past and the associated state support.”
How did my involvement in “folk” or “fringe” archeology from a Puranic perspective come about? When I went to the George Washington University in Washington, D. C., in 1966 to study international relations, I was very much a part of American Cold War conservative culture. I was contemplating a career in the diplomatic corps or one of the intelligence services. By 1968, I had moved into the American counterculture. I demonstrated against the war in Vietnam, grew my hair to my shoulders. I identified with and participated in leftist causes, political, intellectual, and cultural. However, by the early 1970s I had become just as disillusioned with American counterculture as with American conventional culture. Searching for something that was more satisfying, I left the United States. I traveled widely and investigated many cultures. I found myself attracted to the yoga and meditation systems of India, and became the student of an Indian guru, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896–1977), founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, a modern but conservative manifestation of the traditional Krishna-bhakti, devotional mysticism centered on the Hindu god Krishna. I shaved my head and moved into an ashram. Now, thirty five years later, I have some hair (whatever’s left) back on my head. I am more multicultural, at home in many places and moving across many boundaries.
In the early 1980s, I became associated with the Bhaktivedanta Institute, which Bhaktivedanta Swami established in 1974 to explore the relationships between the Vedic knowledge of ancient India and the worldview of modern science. I use the term Vedic broadly, to include not just the original Vedas, but also the derived texts such as the Puranas, or histories. The original Vedas are called shruti, that which is directly heard, and the derived texts like the Puranas are called smriti, that which is remembered. So it is interesting that the Sanskrit texts dealing with the human past are characterized as memory. In From Stonehenge to Las Vegas (p. 3), Holtorf says, “. . . our knowledge of the past can be said to be the result of a process of collective remembering. Through memory we re-present the past, and this applies equally to our respective personal past and to that of our culture, region, or species.”
In 1984, I began researching the Puranic accounts of human origins and antiquity. The Puranas, like the writings of many traditional cultures (including the Christian Bible), put the origin of humanity at the very beginnings of the history of life on earth. I looked into the history of archeology, to see whether or not there was any archeological evidence for such extreme human antiquity, i.e. evidence that humans have been present for longer periods of time than current theories allow (200,000 years or so). Such evidence is absent from current textbooks, but I was surprised to see that there was evidence for extreme human antiquity in the primary archeological literature, the reports by original investigators of the past two centuries. Let me give two examples. My purpose in giving them is not to convince you of the case I make for extreme human antiquity, but rather just to let you know how I am making use of archeological materiality in establishing an “other past,” a different collective memory.
In the 1970s, American archeologist Cynthia Irwin-Williams was excavating a site called Hueyatlaco, near the town of Puebla in central Mexico. She and her coworkers found many stone tools, including advanced bifaces. The archeologists called a team of geologists to date the site. Geologist Virginia Steen-McIntyre and her colleagues used four methods to establish the age of the artifact-bearing layers. I will here mention two of them. In the same layer with the stone tools the archeologists found animal bones with butchering marks on them. The geologists used the uranium series method to date the bones and got an age of about 245,000 years. Above the layer with the stone tools and animal bones was a layer of volcanic ash. The geologists used the zircon fission track method to date the layer of ash and got an age of about 270,000 years. From the results of all four methods they employed, the geologists concluded the age of the site must be at least 250,000 years. But the archeologists did not believe the site could be that old. According to their understanding, human beings capable of making the artifacts did not exist 250,000 years ago—they had not evolved yet. Furthermore, according to current ideas, humans did not enter the New World until about 25,000 years ago. So the archeologists refused to accept the age for the site given by their own team of geologists, and instead assigned a far younger age to the site.
Later, Virginia Steen-McIntyre and her colleagues independently published the age they had obtained for the site in the journal Quaternary Research (1981, vol. 16, pp. 1–17). On March 30, 1981, Steen-McIntyre wrote to Estella Leopold, one of the editors: “Not being an anthropologist, I didn’t realize . . . how deeply woven into our thought the current theory of human evolution has become. Our work at Hueyatlaco has been rejected by most archaeologists because it contradicts that theory, period.” Partly as a result of my publishing the history of the case in my books, new archeological investigations have been carried out at the site, as documented by archeologist Chris Hardaker in his book The First American (2007, Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press).
In the mid 19th century, gold was discovered in California. To get the gold, miners dug tunnels into the sides of mountains, such as Table Mountain in Tuolumne County, California. Deep inside the tunnels, in the solid rock, the miners found human bones and human artifacts. The discoveries were made in auriferous gravels in ancient river channels along with plant and animal fossils characteristic of the early Eocene, which would give them an age of about 50 million years. These ancient Eocene river channels are capped by hundreds of meters of solid volcanic deposits, dated using the potassium-argon method, which gave an age of 20–33 million years. The discoveries were carefully documented by Dr. J. D. Whitney in his book The Auriferous Gravels of the Sierra Nevada of California, published by Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology in 1880. Whitney said that there was no evidence the artifacts could have come from higher, more recent levels. But we do not hear very much about these discoveries today. In the Smithsonian Institution Annual Report for 1898–1899 (p. 424), anthropologist William Holmes said, “Perhaps if Professor Whitney had fully appreciated the story of human evolution as it is understood today, he would have hesitated to announce the conclusions formulated, notwithstanding the imposing array of testimony with which he was confronted.” This authoritative pronouncement caused scientists to ignore Whitney’s reports, and the discoveries were forgotten.
However, some of the artifacts from the California gold mines are still in the collection of the Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley. A few years ago, I was researching a paper about these discoveries, which I later presented at the 2003 meeting of the World Archaeological Congress. I received permission from the museum directors to study and photograph the artifacts [see Plates XIII-XV]. And by consulting Whitney’s old maps and documents, I was able to go out to Table Mountain and relocate some of the old nineteenth century gold mining tunnels where the objects were originally found [see Plate XII].
My work in “fringe” archeology often takes me into museum collections and archives. Museums around the world have in their storerooms human artifacts and bones to which their discoverers attributed ages that go far beyond what modern theories of human origins allow (for example, the Miocene artifacts of Carlos Ribeiro in the Museum of Geology in Lisbon [see Plates I-VII]; the Oligocene artifacts of A. Rutot in the Royal Museum of Natural Sciences in Brussels [see Plates VIII-XI]; etc.). I propose that museum policies in (1) curation, (2) access by researchers and media representatives, and (3) display, need to take alternative archeologies into consideration. Museums can do this by: (1) insuring that artifacts perceived as “anomalous” are not lost or removed from collections, and that the accompanying documentation is also preserved (an archeologist on the staff of the Royal Museum of Natural Sciences in Brussels informed me that a previous director had ordered documentation related to the discoveries and exhibitions of Rutot thrown out); (2) insuring that access to collections is open to researchers with alternative archeological perspectives, and that access is granted to media (television producers, filmmakers, etc.) who may be presenting things from points of view different from those of mainstream archeologists, and (3) insuring that display policies allow alternative presentations of “other pasts” in state supported museums. If there is to be a real multivocality (and multivisuality) in archeology this should be reflected in archeology museum policies. I am not saying that absolutely anything goes, but I do sense there is a need for greater openness.
I collected hundreds of cases of evidence for extreme human antiquity, mostly from the scientific literature, in my book Forbidden Archeology, coauthored with my coreligionist Richard L. Thompson. The book was intended for a scientific audience. Its stated purpose was first of all to start a dialog with archeologists about anomalous archeological evidence for extreme human antiquity, with the further goal of eventually demonstrating that an intellectually defensible case could be made for the alternative picture of human origins and antiquity that emerges from the Puranas. One way that I tried to get the dialog going was by submitting the book for review in professional journals. The effort was successful. Forbidden Archeology was reviewed in many of the professional journals of archeology, anthropology, and history of science, including: American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Geoarchaeology, Journal of Field Archaeology, Antiquity, Journal of Unconventional History, L’Homme, L’Anthropologie, British Journal for the History of Science, Social Studies of Science, and Ethology, Ecology, and Evolution.
Given the controversial antievolutionary nature of the book, it drew a variety of responses. Some of the reviewers were downright hostile, expressing their unremittingly negative opinions in crude derogatory language. For example, Jonathan Marks, writing in American Journal of Physical Anthropology (1994 v. 93, no. 1, pp. 140–141), called the book “Hinduoid creationist drivel.” But other reviewers, although they disagreed with the book’s conclusions, expressed their disagreement more politely, and admitted they found the book of at least some academic interest and value. For example, in Geoarchaeology (1994 v. 9, pp. 337–338), Kenneth Feder said, “The book itself represents something perhaps not seen before; we can fairly call it ‘Krishna creationism’ with no disrespect intended . . . While decidedly antievolutionary in perspective, this work is not the ordinary variety of antievolutionism in form, content, or style. In distinction to the usual brand of such writing, the authors use original sources and the book is well written. Further, the overall tone of the work is superior to that exhibited in ordinary creationist literature.”
In L’Anthropologie (1995 v. 99, no. 1, p. 159), Marylène Pathou-Mathis wrote: “M. Cremo and R. Thompson have willfully written a provocative work that raises the problem of the influence of the dominant ideas of a time period on scientific research. These ideas can compel the researchers to orient their analyses according to the conceptions that are permitted by the scientific community” (my translation from the original French). She concluded, “The documentary richness of this work, more historical and sociological than scientific, is not to be ignored.”
And in British Journal for the History of Science (1995 v. 28, pp. 377–379), Tim Murray noted in his review of Forbidden Archeology (p. 379): “I have no doubt that there will be some who will read this book and profit from it. Certainly it provides the historian of archaeology with a useful compendium of case studies in the history and sociology of scientific knowledge, which can be used to foster debate within archaeology about how to describe the epistemology of one’s discipline.” He further characterized Forbidden Archeology as a book that “joins others from creation science and New Age philosophy as a body of works which seek to address members of a public alienated from science, either because it has become so arcane or because it has ceased to suit some in search of meaning for their lives.” Murray acknowledged that the Vedic perspective of Forbidden Archeology might have a role to play in the future development of archeology. He wrote in his review (p. 379) that archeology is now in a state of flux, with practitioners debating “issues which go to the conceptual core of the discipline.” Murray then proposed, “Whether the Vedas have a role to play in this is up to the individual scientists concerned.”
The most significant review was a 20-page review article in Social Studies of Science (1996 v. 26, pp. 192–213) by graduate student Jo Wodak and historian of science David Oldroyd. In their article, titled “Vedic Creationism: A Further Twist to the Evolution Debate,” they asked (p. 207), “So has Forbidden Archeology made any contribution at all to the literature on palaeoanthropology?” They concluded, “Our answer is a guarded ‘yes’, for two reasons.” First, “the historical material . . . has not been scrutinized in such detail before,” and, second, the book does “raise a central problematic regarding the lack of certainty in scientific ‘truth’ claims.” They also commented (p. 198), “It must be acknowledged that Forbidden Archeology brings to attention many interesting issues that have not received much consideration from historians; and the authors’ detailed examination of the early literature is certainly stimulating and raises questions of considerable interest, both historically and from the perspective of practitioners of SSK [sociology of scientific knowledge]. Indeed, they appear to have gone into some historical matters more deeply than any other writers of whom we have knowledge.”
In the first few pages of their article (pp. 192–195), Wodak and Oldroyd gave extensive background information on the Vedic inspiration for the work. In common with other reviewers, Wodak and Oldroyd drew a connection between Forbidden Archeology and the work of Christian creationists. “As is well known,” they noted (p. 192), “Creationists try to show that humans are of recent origin, and that empirical investigations accord with human history as recorded in the Old Testament. Forbidden Archeology (FA) offers a brand of Creationism based on something quite different, namely ancient Vedic beliefs. From this starting point, instead of claiming a human history of mere millennia, FA argues for the existence of Homo sapiens way back into the Tertiary, perhaps even earlier.”
I collected all of these reviews and related correspondence (among other things) in my book Forbidden Archeology’s Impact, which got its own set of academic reviews. For example, Simon Locke wrote in Public Understanding of Science (1999 v. 8, no. 1, pp. 68–69), “Social constructivism, reflexivity, and all that is postmodern have inspired a variety of experiments in new literary forms to enliven the staid old world of the standard academic study. . . . As attempts to document the social process of knowledge production and capture some of its reflexivity, they are both consistent and courageous. So, too, Michael Cremo’s book. The ‘impact’ the book documents is that of Cremo’s earlier work, Forbidden Archeology. In this latest book rather than construct his own historical narrative, Cremo opts for the far more interesting strategy of directly reproducing much of the source material from which any such narrative would be constructed. The result is a multi-faceted textual kaleidoscope, in which a wide range of the many discourses surrounding contemporary science reflect and refract each other in fascinating array. . . . Cremo has provided here a resource of considerable richness and value to analysts of public understanding [of science]. . . . It should also make a useful teaching resource as one of the best-documented case studies of ‘science wars,’ and raising a wide range of issues covering aspects of ‘knowledge transfer’ in a manner sure to be provocative in the classroom.”
As can be seen above, the reviewers of Forbidden Archeology have labeled me a Hindu creationist, a Vedic creationist, a Krishna creationist. I accept all the labels. I am a creationist, but not of the usual sort, and perhaps the novelty is what attracts so much attention. I do not accept a young earth or special creation, the idea that God independently created each species or kind. I agree with Darwin that the evidence suggests that species came from a common ancestor in the distant past by a process of descent with modification. But Darwin and I would disagree about the common ancestor. He would say it was the simplest living thing, and I would say it was the most complex. He would say that the process of descent with modification was unguided, and I would say it was intelligently guided. He would see the bodies of living things as no more than complex biological machines. I see them as vehicles for conscious selves that existed before the bodies (yes, I am a dualist). I make a case for all this in my latest book Human Devolution: A Vedic Alternative to Darwin’s Theory.
Some have objected to me bringing my religion into my science. They say there must be a strict separation between the two. But the best of modern scholarship in the history and philosophy of science demonstrates that a strict separation has never existed. I refer you to a recent (2001) volume edited by John Hedley Brooke et al., and published by the University of Chicago Press, titled Science in Theistic Contexts. The University of Chicago Press description of this book tells us: “It is a widely shared assumption that science and religion are fundamentally opposed to each other. Yet, recent historiography has shown that religious belief needs to be added to the social, economic, political, and other cultural factors that went into the making of modern science. This new collection shows religious ideas not only motivated scientific effort but also shaped the actual content of major scientific theories.” It is a modern myth that God and science have nothing to do with each other.
So what are the practical implications of all this for education policy? First, education policy makers should recognize that today the vast majority of scientists accept the Darwinian theory of human evolution, defined as a purely naturalistic process. This is a fact. But it is also a fact that some in the world of science, a small number, do not accept the naturalistic evolution theory and are proposing theistic alternatives. Education policy makers for the life sciences in general, and archeology in particular, should recognize this. The proper solution is that evolutionary theory of human origins and its supporters should be given most of the time in the biology (and archeology) classrooms and most of the pages in the textbooks, including archeology textbooks. But a small amount of classroom time and a small number of textbook pages should be devoted to neutrally presenting the theistic alternatives to the current theory of human evolution. How small? I would suggest 5 percent of the classroom time and 5 percent of the textbook pages. But I will leave it up to you.
Despite my provocative approach to the question of human origins and antiquity, openly based on an antievolutionary “other past” outlined in the Puranas, I have received numerous invitations to speak in mainstream academic circles. I have lectured at hundreds of universities around the world. I have probably spent more time in the classroom than many professors. Much to the dismay of some of my more strident critics, I have been invited to give presentations on my book Forbidden Archeology at prominent academic institutions such as the Royal Institution in London, the department of anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, the department of experimental anthropology and morphology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences in Sofia, and the department of archeology of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, among others. For these presentations, I am usually given at least an hour, with thirty or more additional minutes for questions and discussion. I have also had a chance to present (within the standard 20 minute time limit) papers about my work and its Vedic inspiration at several meetings of the World Archaeological Congress, the European Association of Archaeologists, the International Union of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences, and the International Congress for History of Science, with some of the papers published. For example, my paper “Puranic Time and the Archeological Record,” delivered at the December 1994 meeting of the World Archaeological Congress, was included in the peer reviewed conference proceedings volume Time and Archeology, edited by Tim Murray and published by Routledge in its One World Archaeology series in 1999 (pp. 38–48). And my paper “The Later Discoveries of Boucher de Perthes at Moulin Quignon and Their Impact on the Moulin Quignon Jaw Controversy” appeared in Proceedings of the XXth International Congress of History of Science, Vol. X., Earth Sciences, Geography, and Cartography, edited by Goulven Laurent and published by Brepols in 2002 (pp. 39–56). As Ian Hodder said, “Day by day it becomes more difficult to argue for a past controlled by the academy. . . . it is no longer so easy to see who is ‘in’ the academy and who is ‘outside’” (Antiquity 1997, 71: 699, 700).
Why does the academy have any interest at all in my brand of “fringe” archeology? Partially, I believe, it’s because of the novelty of my position. Also, I am relatively nonthreatening. I am not backed up by some huge religious organization or political party. It is just me and my unusual ideas. So there is little harm in inviting me, just to hear what I have to say. Perhaps it is also because I take my academic audience and its standards of discourse somewhat (but not completely) seriously. Although I am an outsider, I have learned something about the language and customs of archeologists, enough to be allowed some entrance into their circle, much like a cultural anthropologist, who, by learning enough of the language and customs of a tribal group, can gain entrance into the tribal circle, as a participant observer. This particular somewhat surrealist “anthropologist” has not become an initiated member of the archeological tribe but he has, it appears, gained enough acceptance to carry out his purpose, which is different from that of most archeologists. So although you will see me around, you do not have to fear that I will be competing with you for a research grant, a university post, or a contract in contract archeology. What then is my purpose? That might seem obscure to you. But I hope that by the end of this paper, you will have the beginnings of an answer to that question.
However, I am not simply interested in communicating with professional archeologists and other mainstream scientists and scholars. I also desire to communicate my “fringe” archeological ideas beyond the academy to a variety of other audiences, audiences that could be called “popular.” Even professional archeologists sense the danger and boredom of becoming what Michael Shanks and Christopher Tilley in their Re-constructing Archaeology (2002, 2nd ed., New York: Routledge, p. 265) call “simply archaeologists who write for other archaeologists who write for other archaeologists.” (It would not be proper for me to write a paper like this without citing Shanks and Tilley, would it?)
In addition to writing papers for academic presentation and publication, I write a column for Atlantis Rising magazine, which, as its name suggests, features “fringe” archeological topics. My column is titled “The Forbidden Archeologist.” I have also brought out my 900-page Forbidden Archeology, intended for an academic audience, in a more accessible abridged edition, titled The Hidden History of the Human Race. This book is now out in about 20 languages worldwide, including, among European languages, English, German, Danish, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Polish, Czech, Slovenian, Croatian, Bulgarian, Estonian, and Hungarian. When my books are released in different countries, I go there for publicity tours. I do lectures and book signings at bookshops. I appear on national television and radio, and I do interviews for newspapers and magazines. During these tours, in addition to speaking to academic audiences at universities and scientific institutions, I also give auditorium lectures to the general public. But many of my public lectures and media presentations are for special audiences.
Among my audiences are Christian creationists, Islamic creationists, other kinds of creationists, and intelligent design theorists. Phillip E. Johnson, one of the leaders of the intelligent design movement, wrote in his foreword to the 1994 hardcover edition of my book The Hidden History of the Human Race: “The authors frankly acknowledge their motivation to support the idea, rooted in the Vedic literature of India, that the human race is of great antiquity. I do not share their religion or their motivation, but I also do not think that there is anything disreputable about a religious outlook which is candidly disclosed. Scientists, like other human beings all have motives, and biases that may cloud their judgment, and the dogmatic materialism that controls the minds of many mainstream scientists is far more likely to do damage to the truth because it is not acknowledged as a bias.”
I have spoken at all kinds of esoteric, alternative science, and New Age gatherings. I have spoken at the College of Psychic Studies in London. I have lectured at various branches of the Theosophical Society. This past winter, I was an invited speaker for the Shivananda Yoga Society at its center on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. I have spoken at many UFO conferences and conferences organized by supporters of the ancient astronaut theory. Once I spoke at a crop circle conference in Glastonbury, England. I have spoken at conferences that feature speakers who might be called conspiracy theorists. Two years ago, I spoke about my work at an eco-camp in the countryside outside Brasilia, in Brazil.
I also reach out to my various popular audiences through the internet. My forbidden archeology website (www.mcremo.com) ranks high among archeology sites. If on Google, you type in the search word “archeology,” my site ranks amongst the top ten of millions of websites that feature some aspect of archeology. Last time I looked, I was mentioned on thousands of blogs and websites, many of which sell my books. Bootleg videos of my lectures and tv appearances have also popped up on You Tube and other video websites.
So why am I reaching out to so many audiences in so many different ways? In one sense, it could be just crass self-promotion and a mercenary desire to sell books (it is income from my books that allows me to fly to Zadar, pay the registration fees for this conference, and stay in my hotel here—I do not have access to university funds or grants). But, really, there is more to it. For now, let me touch on just one part of that “more” (more “more” later). Rightly or wrongly, I believe that today we, the people of this planet, are in the midst of a fundamental renegotiation of our whole picture of reality. The foundations of the modernist worldview are continuing to crumble, and many are struggling to come up with a new consensus worldview. I characterize that struggle as a renegotiation, and I see many parties to the renegotiation, including mainstream scientists, religionists, paranormal researchers, UFO theorists, creationists, intelligent design theorists, the general public. So I deliberately try to communicate with all of them.
When I speak of a consensus worldview, I do not mean to say that there are not, or should not be, other worldviews, coexisting with it. But in the world today, although there are many languages, English has become by consensus a kind of inter-language, or superlanguage. There are many currencies, but the US dollar, at the moment, seems by consensus to have the widest range of acceptance, and serves as a standard for measuring relative values of other currencies. Any person may have several currencies, and speak several languages, but may still have to function, in some situations, with the realities of English being the international language and the dollar being the international currency. Similarly, we may have commitments to one or more particular local cultural worldviews, but we also seem to have to simultaneously recognize and deal with the existence of a super-worldview that has somehow achieved worldwide status as the common “modern” or “scientific” worldview. And it is that super worldview, which includes a particular view of the past, that I think is now under renegotiation.
All the parties to this renegotiation, as listed above, have something to contribute, including the “fringe” archeologists. Michael Shanks says in his book Experiencing the Past (1992, London: Routledge, p. 114): “Archaeology excavates a hollow. There is an emptiness. The raw existence of the past is not enough, insufficient in itself. . . . What is needed is our desire to fill the hollow, raise the dead. . . . Fringe archaeologies can be read in this context. Leyliners, dowsers, New Age mystics explicitly or implicitly pose the question of the identity of the past, recognizing some element of transcendence, the unsayable, the spiritual. They assert the necessity of a human involvement in perceiving the past. Scientific rationality is conceived as partial at best, harmful or destructive at worst.”
By under-emphasizing the role of the human spirit in all its complexity and mystery in comprehending and representing the past, scientific rationalism is creating a void that must be filled somehow. I agree (of course) with Shanks when he says (pp. 114–115): “I do not think that fringe archaeologists should be dismissed out of hand as cranks, weirdos, and hippies. I have tried to show that the impulse to think and mine the subjective and affective, holistic and meaningful aspects of the past is a reasonable one. What is perhaps more unreasonable is a social science which is not very able to deal with these aspects of the past, creating a gap filled by popular, media and fringe archaeologies.”
A few years ago, I was invited to address the staff of the archeology department of a museum of natural history in a European country. In my talk, I mentioned some of my alternative ideas, such as my belief in reincarnation. One of the staff archeologists approached me afterwards, and confided to me how in her burial excavations she had uncovered evidence indicating the people of that culture believed in reincarnation. But she had been discouraged from mentioning anything about this in her publications. She had been advised to just stick to the physical aspects of the finds. To do otherwise would be unprofessional, unscientific.
My approach to alternative archeologies is not uncritical. I agree with Shanks when he says (p.115): “. . . the problem with fringe archaeologies, with their mysterious powers in the past, spacemen and catastrophes, is the overwhelming tendency to mysticism and irrationalism. Intuition, inspiration, extra-sensory perception, initiated wisdoms, mystic energies are fertile ground for nonsense.” But so also are blind materialism, presumptuous positivism, and superficial scientism a fertile ground for nonsense of another kind.
Shanks perceptively says (p. 115) science does not “have a monopoly on rationality and reason,” adding, “I am trying to show how there are reasonable ways of extending science’s partial view to include reflection on the vital human dimensions of the past.” My project is similarly motivated. One could say I am advocating a rational mysticism or a mystical rationalism. In other words, there can be an archeology informed by a complementary relationship between “initiated wisdoms” and scientific rationality. As Einstein famously said, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” My commitment to this project is rooted in the history of the bhakti school of devotional mysticism that I follow. In its current form, it arose in India in the 16th century, although there were certainly antecedents. In the 16th century, proponents of the bhakti school took two different approaches to the rationalistic Vedanta philosophy of India. One group chose to reject Vedanta rationalism completely whereas the other group (mine) chose to incorporate Vedanta rationalism into the devotional mysticism of bhakti. A teacher of this latter school, Jiva Gosvami, wrote major philosophical works to accomplish this integration. Ravi M. Gupta explains how this occurred in his book The Caitanya Vaisnava Vedanta of Jiva Gosvami: When Knowledge Meets Devotion (2007), recently published by the Routledge Hindu Studies Series in collaboration with the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. Gupta says (p. 3) about Jiva Gosvami’s approach to the rationalism of Vedanta and the mysticism of bhakti, “The school is remarkable in its ability to engage in Vedantic discourse and at the same time practice an ecstatic form of devotion.” Today I see a need to bring into similar productive relationship the rationalistic insights of modern scientific archeology and the mystical insights of what are called alternative, or “fringe” archeologies. They are both parties to the renegotiation of our worldview.
What would I like to see as the result of this renegotiation? Some further clues may be found in my latest book, Human Devolution: A Vedic Alternative to Darwin’s Theory. My book Forbidden Archeology simply documents archeological evidence that contradicts modern accounts of human origins and that is consistent with Puranic accounts of extreme human antiquity. Human Devolution briefly reviews this evidence and then moves on to offer an alternative account of human origins. In the book, I propose that before we even ask the question “Where did human beings come from?”, we should first ask the question, “What is a human being?” Today many researchers believe a human being is simply a combination of the ordinary material elements, but when I look at all the evidence, I find it is more reasonable to say that a human being is a combination not just of matter but also of a subtle (but nonetheless material) mind element and an irreducible element of nonmaterial consciousness. To put things very simply, we do not evolve up from matter but down from pure consciousness. Consciousness is primary, not matter. But this process of devolution, whereby pure consciousness becomes covered by mind and matter, can be reversed, through disciplines of contemplative prayer, meditation, and yoga. Consciousness can be restored to its original pure state, and this restoration is, or should be, the main purpose of human existence.
To some, this proposal that there may a nonmaterial component to organisms, especially the human organism, may seem outside the bounds of modern scientific inquiry. But perhaps not. Rodney Brooks, of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT, wrote in a perceptive article in Nature (2001, no. 409, pp. 409–411): “Neither AI [artificial intelligence] or Alife [artificial life] has produced artefacts that could be confused with a living organism for more than an instant. AI just does not seem as present or aware as even a simple animal and Alife cannot match the complexities of the simplest forms of life” ( p. 409). Brooks attributes the failure to something other than lack of computer power, incorrect parameters, or insufficiently complex models. He raises the possibility that “we are missing something fundamental and currently unimagined in our models.” But what is that missing something? “One possibility,” says Brooks (p. 410), “is that some aspect of living systems is invisible to us right now. The current scientific view of things is that they are machines whose components are biomolecules. It is not completely impossible that we might discover . . . some new ingredient. . . . Let us call this the ‘new stuff’ hypothesis—the hypothesis that there might be some extra sort of ‘stuff’ in living systems outside our current scientific understanding.” And what might this new stuff be? Among the possibilities suggested by Brooks (p. 411) are “some more ineffable entity such as a soul or elan vital—the ‘vital force.’” Along these lines, I propose that the “new stuff” should be mind and consciousness, understood not as simple byproducts of brain chemistry but as independently existing entities.
As was the case with my earlier books, this latest book, Human Devolution, has found its way to various audiences, including the academic audience. When the book first came out, it came into the hands of an anthropologist at a university in the United States, and by his recommendation I was invited to give a two hour presentation about the book at a conference held by the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, a division of the American Anthropological Association. The book has begun to attract reviews in academic journals, and I have been invited to speak about it at universities around the world. Of course, I have also given lectures about the book to the other kinds of audiences I have mentioned above.
In October and November of 2006, I went to India for a nationwide lecture and publicity tour about the book, which was available in English-language bookshops, especially the new large national bookstore chains, like Crossword, Oxford, Odyssey, and Landmark. In each city, there were university lectures, media interviews, and bookstore signings. In Kolkata, the book was officially launched at an evening event at the Palladium Lounge in the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry, attended by 150 of Kolkata’s leading citizens. I was introduced by Alfred Ford, a member of the Ford auto dynasty, who, like me, was a student of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. I was also invited to speak by the anthropology department of Calcutta University. That talk was attended by professors and graduate students of the department. I granted interviews to reporters of all the large papers in Kolkata including the Times, Hindustan Times, Telegraph, and Statesman. Here are some excerpts from their articles:
Michael Cremo’s book challenges Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in that Cremo believes “we did not evolve from matter, instead we devolved, or came down, from the realm of pure consciousness, spirit.” From “The Vedas Versus Darwin,” The Statesman (Kolkata), October 24, 2006.
The Darwinian theory should not be enforced by the government in the schools, the author said. “The vast majority [of scientists] believe it is true so the syllabus must reflect that, but what’s the harm in mentioning that there are alternative theories? Let students decide what they want to believe.” From “Origin of Species vs. Vedic ‘Devolution.’” The Times (Kolkata), October 20, 2006.
In Mumbai, there was a book launch at the Oxford Bookstore. I gave an interview to a reporter for the Free Press Journal, one of the large Mumbai papers. In Mumbai, I gave talks on my book Human Devolution at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), and two other universities. The IIT schools have a high reputation in India. One professor who heard the talk bought four copies of the book. The organizers of the IIT talk got written feedback from the audience, including the following:
Quite compelling. I have never been comfortable with the idea of evolving from an ape and then not going any further. The fact that we are consciousness that devolves into matter is far more interesting. N.S., Ph.D.
I strongly believe that theory given by Darwin has great limitations. But in Vedic literature one will get perfect knowledge of mechanism of human devolution and finally one is soul and not the body. This type of lectures should be held in series and in more detail. I like to suggest that every University/Institute should seriously think on such topics and classroom time should be made available. S.D.J., Ph.D.
In Bangalore there was a book launch for Human Devolution at the Oxford Bookstore in the spectacularly opulent Leela Palace Galleria. Lots of reporters were present, and several articles in the major Bangalore papers appeared, for example an interview with the science reporter for the Deccan Herald. I also did an interview for a Doordarshan news program (Doordarshan is the national tv network). On the academic side of things, I gave a talk on Human Devolution at the Indian Institute of Science, one of India’s most prominent science schools.
From Bangalore I went to Coimbatore in the far south of India. After some lectures in Coimbatore, I flew to Trivandrum. There I spoke at the University of Kerala, in a lecture for the combined science departments, and had three television interviews. From Trivandrum, I flew to Chennai (formerly Madras). There I spoke at Anna University and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT Chennai). I also had two bookstore events, at an Odyssey bookstore and another at an Oxford bookstore. Some favorable newspaper articles came out. From Chennai, I flew to Hyderabad, where I spoke at several universities and had two bookstore events. Then I flew to Delhi, where I spoke at universities and gave an interview for the Times of India. And that was it.
During my visit to India, in addition to accepting invitations from academic and scientific organizations, I also accepted invitations to speak for more traditional Hindu cultural and religious organizations. This may lead some to wonder if I might be a religious fundamentalist or a Hindu nationalist. My answer is no. Although my work is inspired by my study of key Hindu texts such as the Bhagavad-gita, my reading of these texts leads me away from fundamentalism, racism, and nationalism. Of course, any text is subject to multiple readings and misreadings. But my reading of the Gita and other texts takes seriously their direct teaching that the actual conscious self, the atma, is different from the temporary material body. Therefore, in terms of how we identify ourselves, the conscious self is primary, and the body, with its external designations of gender, race, nation, religion, etc. is secondary—not unreal, or totally unimportant, but secondary. The Gita says panditah sama-darshinah: a wise person sees all living things equally. I regard nationality as a very superficial level of self-identification, not as important as the equality of all people on the level of the atma, the conscious self within. So, no, I am not a Hindu nationalist, or any other kind of nationalist, in the sense of placing the highest value on nationalism in self-identification.
Ultimately, it is a question of proper balance. In modern cosmology, astrophysicists have noticed that the kind of universe we have, with its ordered complex forms, depends on a particular balance between the force of expansion and the force of gravitational attraction. If the force of expansion were much greater than it is, in relation to the force of gravitational attraction, the universe would have by now expanded into a uniform gas. If the force of expansion were much less than it is, the universe would have by now collapsed on itself. Similarly, for there to be proper relationships among people on earth, there must be a proper balance between the appreciation of equality and the recognition of differences. Go too far in the direction of unity, and you wind up with a totalitarian sameness; go too far in the direction of difference, and you wind up unable to recognize other groups as properly human. I believe my alternative archeology contributes to a proper balance. I do not support alternative archeologies (or mainstream archeologies) that lead to extreme forms of nationalism, senseless violence, unjust oppression of minorities, and other such things.
I should mention here that my concept of God is gendered, but not exclusively male or exclusively female. According to the bhakti school, God exists eternally in transcendence as a youthful, attractive couple, female and male, given the name Radha-Krishna. Radha is the female person of the pair, and Krishna the male. In the bhakti school, meditation upon and participation in their exchanges of spiritual pleasure energies is considered the highest kind of yoga. (See Graham Schweig’s Bhagavad Gita: The Beloved Lord’s Secret Love Song, 2007, New York: HarperCollins, especially pages 272–278, for a good contemporary introduction to the love mysticism of the Gita.) Our less perfect and temporary material pleasure exchanges are a pale reflection of this eternal reality. God is love, the saying goes. I regard my forbidden archeology work as an integral part of my yoga, my meditation, my spiritual discipline. It is the way I find and develop my love for the divine. By this work, which as I see as desired by God (love means to satisfy the desire of the beloved), I am engaged in an archeology of the heart, digging to find the lost love for God that is deeply buried in the layers of my forgetfulness.
Interestingly enough, archeology per se (of the digging in the earth kind) has historically been part of the bhakti school. In a paper I recently presented at a meeting of the European Association of South Asian Archeologists in Ravenna, Italy (“Finding Krishna: 16th Century Archeological Activity by Vaishnava Saints in the Braj Mandal Region of North India”), I pointed out that saints of the bhakti school in India deliberately excavated lost sacred images of Krishna and relocated lost sacred sites.
In terms of religion, I do not believe in exclusive claims to truth. My particular approach to religion is one of commitment to techniques of contemplation, meditation, and yoga that yield actual transformations of consciousness, rather than commitment to the more external forms of religion, which can be a cause of sectarian religious conflict. A geologist or metallurgist can tell us how to extract gold from its ore, where it is mixed with other less valuable elements. Once the gold is extracted, it can be formed into coins, and the coins can be stamped with the symbols of different nations. But if it is actually gold, it does not matter what symbol is stamped on it. It will be accepted as something valuable. Similarly, if by the above-mentioned spiritual techniques, one can come to a real awareness of the spiritual nature within all humans and other living things, this can and should be recognized as something valuable, no matter what symbols are attached to the processes. In other words, it does not matter if you label the process Hinduism, or Christianity, or Islam, or anything else. If it yields an awareness of the conscious self in oneself and others as part of the spiritual being of God, and fosters love for all, then that is the essence of religion as far as I am concerned. It is that approach to religious experience that my alternative archeology favors, and not exclusive claims to truth that lead to sectarian conflict. I am even tolerant of atheists, although I prefer the kind that can tolerate theists.
So I am among those who would agree with Shanks and Tilley that archeology is really more concerned with the present than the past. They say in Reconstructing Archaeology (2nd ed., p. 264): “It is important that archaeology shifts from instituting a series of judgments on the past . . . to becoming a form of ‘counter memory’, aiming to challenge current modes of truth, justice, rationality, and social and economic organization. In other words, archaeology should be helping us to understand and change the present by inserting it in a new relationship with the past.” Or as Cornelius Holtorf, a former student of Michael Shanks, says in his book From Stonehenge to Las Vegas ( p. 6), “Archaeology . . . remains significant, not because it manages to import actual past realities into the present but because it allows us to recruit past people and what they left behind for a range of contemporary human interests, needs, and desires.”
So for what present purposes am I recruiting the past? I believe that modern scientific archeology, with its emphasis on the materiality of the human past and the materiality of human nature at present, is deeply implicated in driving human “interests, needs, and desires” in an overly materialistic direction, with unfortunate consequences. The goals that we set for ourselves, individually and collectively, are to a large extent determined by the answers we give to the fundamental questions, “Who am I?” and “Where did I come from?” If I think I am an American man, I behave as such. Today, through its monopoly in the education system, Darwinian biology, in which modern scientific archeology plays a leading role, dictates to people the answers to those fundamental questions. And the answers dictated are very materialistic. We are just biological machines, combinations of chemicals. And therefore to me it is no surprise that humanity has in general become quite materialistic in its goals, so much so that most people in the developed world act as if they believe the most important purpose of human life is the production and consumption of more and more material things. I hold this to be one of the main causes of environmental destruction, violent competition among nations for scarce material resources, and class conflict for control of wealth within nations. The ultimate purpose of my alternative archeology/anthropology is to derive from the past (and the present) a different set of answers to the questions “Who am I?” and “Where did I come from?” Recognition that within us all is a spark of divine consciousness, emanating from the same source, coupled with the cultivation and experience of inner happiness, could lessen our tendencies to see others as enemies and also decrease our need to seek happiness through the ever-increasing exploitation of matter. Hopefully, such recognition would lead to a simpler and more natural way of life, with less environmental destruction, as outlined in my book Divine Nature: A Spiritual Perspective on the Environmental Crisis, coauthored with Mukunda Goswami. Hopefully, the re-cognition of our common spiritual nature would result in a lessening of conflict based on superficial externalities like nationality and race and sectarian religion. So this is where I hope my forbidden archeology, my “fringe” archeology leads. So that is my agenda.
As for being called a “fringe” archeologist, I can accept that, to some extent. The fringe of a fabric is, after all, still part of the fabric, a decorative border that makes it more interesting. But it would be more accurate to call me a promoter of an alternative archeology. Sometimes one finds one needs not just new borders and fringes but a whole new fabric.