Tristan Boyle ‘

Hidden Heritage is a term that is associated with the exploration and discovery of the past, whereby a so-called ‘concealed truth of history’ is unearthed and discovered as something new.  The use of the term, Hidden Heritage is ambiguous however in what it describes, for this discussion it is important to phrase it as such. Is Hidden Heritage innately hidden by nature or purposefully hidden? The latter question as a springboard for the interactions that archaeologists have with the public online. So that we can better understand how the past influences modern thought and popular culture, we must come to terms with the way in which history is used, and the responsibility that archaeologists have in showing that past to the public. The perspectives through which a history are told are key in understanding the final outcome of that knowledge, whether that is general knowledge for the public as a compact understanding of complex scholarly knowledge or a specific knowledge through a form of mass media, for example in a documentary. The outcomes in media are the gap between archaeologists and the public, often cutting down vast quantities of information into a small chunk of the original meaning and intent but largely presenting all theories and ideas as absolute fact.  It is the challenge of presenting the lack of knowledge or lack of certainty in a clear manner that has deterred archaeologists from engaging directly with so-called ‘fringe elements’ online.  This silence and refusal to engage overlooks an opportunity of sharing heritage or histories that are conventionally deemed irrelevant or unknowable; this paper outlines the reasons archaeologists need to begin engaging with communities about their own heritage and how ‘Hidden Heritage” is a method of fighting pseudoscience rather than promoting it.


There are gaps in understandings of the past, an example would be the direct method of capping the stones at Stonehenge, these gaps of certain knowledge are quickly and easily filled by alternative ideas and theories that use the desire to understand over the possibility to know or measure. Ideas such as external agents pushing the innovation of humanity forward, the famous Ancient Astronauts theory, in popular culture book Fingerprints of the Gods by Eirk Von Daeniken  These are the theories  that make up  the content for blog posts and Youtube videos. The role of archaeologists in this formation of conspiracies is that of the knowing conspirators, using their ‘expert’ status to try and suppress ‘the truth’. In comparison to archaeological literature the argument that certain ideas and evidence is the term ‘hidden’ often appears when what is displayed in museums is critiqued  (Baumann, Hurley, Altizer, & Love, 2011; Moser, 2010) as being biased in some form. It may appear that both these arguments can be valid and perhaps the archaeological community can’t see the wood for the trees when it comes to presentation of the past as hidden to the public.

Pointing towards the question posed by Cornelius Holtorf in the Journal of contemporary archaeology, “Are we all archaeologists now?”, (Holtorf, 2015) it is clear that archaeology, archaeologists and the profession contain values beyond basic dictionary definitions, as explored by Lawrence E. Moore. Furthermore, the complex interactions that exist within society as to the images, ideas and emotions that are conjured up when the past are brought up, are worthy of further study. The day to day interactions with the Public can be varied for archaeologists, particularly those online, the scope of this paper will focus only on a few examples. A recent conversation brought the authors education and I stated that I had studied archaeology at university, the reply was not one of interest but rather caution; the individual in question then asked me what I thought of ‘the pyramids’. I asked for clarification as to which pyramids they referred to and the reply caught me off guard, ‘ all of them….they all form a pattern line[sic]’. I followed up with where they got their information from and was informed that I could read up about it online if I just searched through Google. When pressed for sources, names or even websites, I was told flatly that I would just need to ‘read it for myself’. The arguments made by the individual lacked any formal proof, instead the emphasis was placed on ‘knowing the truth, seeing the pattern’.  The lack of coherence and formality is the strength of this argument rather than a diminishing factor [sic] (Nelson, 2011) and this is why attempts by archaeologists to prove this information wrong fall on deaf ears.   In addition to this, academic questions are often too complex and detached to directly engage public audiences (Hoxie, 2015).


Archaeologists and archaeology must be ready to decipher the issue framing that occurs in society if the heritage is to be protected. Issue framing has been a particular interest to political sciences and other social sciences since it has implications for policy decisions and public perceptions of political and social issues (Nelson, 2011).   Issue framing is tied to mass media as it is used to help ‘News Framing’ whereby news outlets present a story in a particular way, emphasising specific information and downplaying other information. In a capitalist system, the allocation of resources often creates a stacking effect with more resources creating more emphasis on one specific thing which in turn indicates it should have more money put into it. To illustrate the ideas which  are described, This paper  will use examples from social media such as Twitter and Youtube, highlighting the language used and how it performs the task of framing hidden history as purposefully hidden.


The video sharing website Youtube is the first example in this paper; user syyenergy7 has a video on ‘The Pyramids of ANTARCTICA’ and has 65,494 views.  The individual narrating the video states “[these discoveries] gives pause for thought about what actually possibly happened in our past.” (syyenergy7, 2015), invoking a sense of awe from the past that makes people think directly about the past.   It is here that we can note the inclusive tone that is used in ‘our past’, it is almost as if the narrator is conversing with people who are already convinced that there is a secret past that “actually…happened” and has been covered up; there is no argument.

Syyenery7 then goes on to commit the logical fallacy of poisoning the well by saying that “we’ve seen a lot of archaeology that’s come forth about various matters, and if it doesn’t agree with the current religious doctrine of you know mainstream archaeology it’s like they’ve ostracised  archaeologists [sic]” (syyenergy7, 2015). This theme of a conspiracy of   archaeologists as the complicit party in a grand cover up, acting as gatekeepers of knowledge and maintaining a close eye on mainstream archaeology. In the video, there isn’t enough information to understand whether the narrator is suggesting archaeologists and scientists are knowingly complicit in this cover up or the experts are too arrogant to believe outside their own acquired knowledge. Instead the inference from the video is that ‘truth’ is discoverable by non-experts; Syyenergy7 says, “if there’s ancient records they were in Alexandria and they got burned down to ground by Rome”, “or maybe they are still being held in the Vatican in Rome itself, right?” Syyenergy7 is postulating a conspiracy instead of examining any evidence.



The aforementioned content is an example of heritage that is based around the deliberate cover-up of historical facts to fit a narrative; the focus of the grand conspiracy leads the questions the audience may have by drawing attention away from primary evidence, e.g. material culture, archaeological records, and instead forms connections that provide a framework of active deception. The academic is now seen as part of that deception, as a mouth piece of the grand conspirators, whomever the alternative theorist decides is the great evil; this makes the engagement with this material incredibly difficult as archaeologists are considered to inherently have an ulterior motive.


In the play “Der Besuch der Alten Dame” (The Visit of the Old lady) by Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1956), the villagers of Güllen are tasked with killing a fellow villager, Alfred Ill, for a price; when asked, each would claim they had no intention of doing so, the Mayor stating “Noch sind wir in Europa, noch sind wir keine Heiden. Ich lehne im Namen der Stadt Güllen das Angebot ab. Im Namen der Menschlichkeit. Lieber bleiben wir arm denn blutbefleckt.” (We are in Europe, we aren’t heathens. On behalf of the city of Gullen I refuse. In the name of humanity, we would rather be poor then have blood on our hands). Despite such a powerful refusal, the villagers of Güllen continue to mount up debt, knowing that the more the need for the money the easier it would be to justify the killing of Alfred. Dürrenmatt highlights the way in which people, who may within themselves, fail to possess the ability to take another’s life, will happily contribute to a situation where such a violent act ought to happen. The distance afforded by those who claim one desire yet work to bring the opposite to pass are the perpetrators of violence against heritage in the world today.



Though some archaeologists despair that the mass media seems to focus on the same old stories about the Romans and Egypt, the desire for understanding is ever present, though in a form different to the drive of archaeologists. In a comment on the aforementioned Youtube video on the Pyramids of Antarctica, one commenter uses the alternative history theory to push back against a system that is seen as keeping people in their place, reducing them to productions of labour within a Capitalist system.


In spite of the narrative of grand conspiracy, archaeology is full of the heritage of the oppressed, and with somewhat critical self-examination of itself as a colonial enterprise and a privilege of the rich. The examination of history and heritage beyond the written document allows archaeologists to peer closely at daily lives undocumented through history.

It is heritage of the Indigenous people of the Americas and the working class that should lead the charges against the modern systems of oppression. The navigation of the criticism of these systems is not limited to self identity as a victim within them, rather a misunderstanding of privilege. In archaeological research, it is not just overarching metanarratives but understanding the individual   (Orser, 2015) is a product of the capitalist system in which we live where resources are dictated by which labours will reimburse the most value put into them in the shortest time possible, ignoring other compounding factors contributing to the value of  the item. The primacy of capitalism and economic value in all material objects is ‘hiding’ their archaeological importance from the public and professionals. Remaining within this area of criticism, the news-framing of finds with reference solely to economic value rather than interesting parts of a whole archaeological record further confounds the careful uncovering of the past; that history which is constantly talked about gains more attention, and therefore gains more funding and research.

This cyclical nature is tied into the way in which economic capital is created ex nihilo, used in bartering, loan and a universal exchange for other objects and ultimately gains value by its use.

Behaving one way and speaking another is highlighted  by the recent destruction by ISIS of artefacts from the Mosul museum and the ancient city of Nimrud. In the recent paper The Spectacles of Destruction in the Global Media, Harmansah uses the condemnation of the ubiquitous video of the destruction as an example of where the “choreographed and carefully edited by ISIS assumed the…status of a news item” despite being a propaganda piece that had the effect “of humiliating the local communities…broadcasting a radical ideology of religious fanaticism in order to recruit new transnational militants…defying the common values attached to cultural heritage in the globalized world” (Harmanşah, 2015). Harmansah argues that at the same time as condemning these acts of violence, we are spreading the propaganda of ISIS within the frame of documentary evidence. In fact, the well put together video indicates that these items may well have been selected precisely for the creation of images of iconoclasm rather than pure ideologically driven violence. It is obvious that despite a universal frame of anger and anguish against the destruction of cultural heritage exists, it is precisely the behaviour desired by these groups. The immediate response cloaks the nuance that exists under the surface of these cultural messages and their relations to one another, hiding what is truly destroyed here is a critical view of ISIS.

The Hidden Heritage in this example is the heritage that is used by ISIS to fund its growing movement, the various artefacts being bought by western collectors is a worrying problem. Where do these artefacts go? How much are ISIS earning? What will happen to heritage in the areas ISIS occupy? The violence in the videos that ISIS sends out is purely a front, like a reality TV show (Harmanşah, 2015) and it distracts from the larger violence that will most likely be committed not from religious zeal but from financial interest; at the same time, the news media and society will frame the destruction as a heinous crime, indicative of a backwards movement instead of, as Harmansah argues, “a super-modern entity capable of directing a global narrative” (Harmanşah, 2015).








In 2014, the National Geographic channel released a trailer for Nazi War Diggers, a show about a group of metal detectorists and a Nazi memorabilia collector who travelled to Europe to dig the graves of fallen soldiers.; The recent incident of the broadcast of the show Battlefield Recovery– previously Nazi War Diggers (Clearstory 2014) – demonstrates that the divide between public opinion and the professional opinions of archaeologists is a potentially dangerous one. The susceptibility of our modern news outlets and by extension, our society, to consume media in small well framed chunks has allowed many hidden histories to evolve. In the place of events, relations and ideas are easy to digest narratives and shareable phrases. The gap that exists between what archaeologists learn, discover and talk about and what the public believes becomes extremely apparent when history is challenging or being challenged.. The response from the archaeological community online and in print was so great that National Geographic backed down and decided not to show the programme. The situation changed early this year when Channel 5 bought the rights to the show and re-branded it “Battlefield Recovery”; once again, the archaeological community and those outside it took to Twitter and other forms of online media to protest the broadcast of the show. The programme in question not only showed a disrespect for the dead bodies being dug up but also an extreme lack of awareness of safety with regards to unexploded ordinance and mechanical diggers. Channel 5 did not back down and proceeded to broadcast the show, leading archaeologists to tweet their feelings live on Twitter about the specific problems they saw.  A show of support from the online social network Twitter gave an insight into the justifications that may arise when the public and archaeologists disagree. . Twitter user @HowardCarterGo argued that “Archaeologist’ [sic] snobs miss the point – give the fallen a proper grave. That’s the truly ethical position #BattlefieldRecovery, in the face of archaeologists voicing their disapproval of the programme.  This argument is further reaching than just this TV show, it demonstrates an understanding of the political nature of the past and how society’s interaction with the past has meaning. One critique of this statement is that it represents consequentialism, that the end effect of giving these people a “proper grave” justifies the behaviour of the presenters regardless of health, safety and ethical concerns.  A number of twitter messages (Tweets) from the same user are as follows, an “Archeo-cabal”, “academic snobbery” “overblown fuss by elitist academics”. The intention of the Twitter account @HowardCarterGo may be to paint archaeologists purposefully in a bad light by using their reaction to Battlefield Recovery as a “overblown fuss”, however, the difference in opinion between the public and archaeologists on a show like Battlefield Recovery demonstrates a serious gap in understanding.   The framing used by @HowardCarterGo of archaeological academics sitting commenting but “do nothing to find the fallen on the Eastern Front” is a powerful emotional sentiment.  The implication is that the far removed experts lack the compassion and understanding of the people about which they speak. This criticism is rooted in the physical remains of the fallen having primacy over intangible history of the dead soldiers. This could indicate a cynical ploy to undermine academic criticism by emphasising that the removal of the dead from the ground is the only ethical position and that the sole reason that these bodies are not removed are because they are irrelevant to academic work.


Let us consider that a  pool of water will always seem shallower than it is, due to the reflective and refractive nature of water. The real depth of the water can only be measured by an external reference; the perspective is dependent on the observer.  In fact, the same engines of morality and passion drive both archaeologists and people interested in the past however, it is up to archaeologists to make the most of this passion and drive. The legacy of society is precisely the means by which society dictates how the past is to be treated, in so much as the past is sacred and full of heroes. The physical connection to the humans of the past can be seen in the response to the recreation of human faces of the past as a meaningful interaction with the past (Katherine & Beatty, 2015).  This distorted history is paying it forward, setting the groundwork for how future archaeologists will look back at our society.  In this respect history is not only a retelling of the past but rather a power narrative, it upholds the status quo of society in providing the lens through which society ought to operate. This narrative is presented as an objective truth – commonly thought of as it has already happened or the rest is history.  The present state of the world is thus a creation of ignorance and the inevitable outcome of the past rather than a state that has been driven and shaped by those in power.


Archaeology as the public know may in many ways take on the role of history, purporting its findings as an absolute ‘Science’ to which no reasoned rebuttal can be made. In doing this, often in reaction to alternate theories about the past, archaeological professionals are continuing the status quo of a unquestionable authority. The nature of the authority of history is that is deemed to ‘just make sense’, that to challenge it, one requires a huge understanding and knowledge to even consider questioning the mainstream narrative. Thus a spectre of power is a threatening shadow behind which the gatekeepers of history stand, in other words, those who can claim to have the final say on the past.


This power was not the work of archaeologists but rather a privilege bestowed on all who deal with the past by society. It is the reliance on an objective fact to end debate that silences archaeologists and those who have conversations with them. In the narratives of pseudo-archaeology that appear on the History Channel or Youtube, there are the mainstream experts, antagonists of a larger plot and then there are ‘amateur experts’. The amateur experts are presented as just ordinary people who have discovered all the necessary information to convince them of a certain history.  The frame of reference here is often anti-authority and the justification for alternate histories is simply the denial by ‘experts’. The issue in both scenarios, that of professional archaeologists and alternative archaeologists, is that the inherent authority of the past isn’t challenged. History in both cases is treated as an objective reality that cannot be questioned in of its essence rather the interpretation as a separate entity is all that can be challenged.  The presentation of history and heritage to the public needs to not only inform of the facts and figures but also the fragility of the archaeological record and the ways in which the methodologies we use to discover the past colour our perspectives of it. In this manner, archaeologists should communicate that the past is not simply a dead thing that once existed but rather a living breathing document that changes as we study it.


In conclusion, the hidden heritage presumed to be the work of archaeologists as knowing experts is a superficial shadow of a larger reality of history being the objective document of the powerful. The use of history to inform and shape the present to ensure a narrative is maintained must be examined in of itself, meaning that even the very ‘truth’ of historical facts must be thoroughly questioned. The framing of the particular issues must be examined and directed if archaeologists are to make an impact when it comes to communicating the past effectively (Polletta & Ho, 2008), and the future holds many new ideas for the key frames and ideas to be discussed.   Perhaps it is this feeling that archaeologists have to use in order to show there are ‘hidden histories’ in our own past. The direct and authentic communication of the past to the public by highlighting individual interests and little well known histories may pave the way for a more engaged and less suspicious public. The facilitation of the understanding of the past is an important part of the role of archaeologists in the modern discourse. The progression of outreach cannot be locked into a narrow field of data lifelessly communicated to the public out of a fear of inspiring odd and conspiratorial theories of the past; instead archaeologists must be ready to present themselves, their data and their theories to fully mobilise and engage successfully with a modern general public.








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syyenergy7. (2015). The Pyramids of ANTARCTICA. Youtube. Retrieved from


Harmanşah, Ö. (2015). the Spectacles of Destruction in the Global Media. Near Easter Archeology, 78(3), 170–177. doi:10.5615/neareastarch.78.3.0170

Holtorf, C. (2015). Are We All Archaeologists n.

Moser, S. (2010). THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAIL: Museum Displays and the Creation of Knowledge. Museum Anthropology, 33(1), 22–32. doi:10.1111/j.1548-1379.2010.01072.x

Nelson, T. E. (2011). Issue Framing. The Oxford Handbook of American Public Opinion and the Media, (January), 188–203. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199545636.001.0001

Orser, C. E. (2015). Introduction: Singularization of History and Archaeological Framing. International Journal of Historical Archaeology. doi:10.1007/s10761-015-0324-3

Durrenmatt, Friedreich, (1972) . Der Besuch der alten Dame



Heritage Matters both now and in the future !

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