Come learn about archaeological mysteries and the psychology of deception

| April 26, 2017

COSHOCTON – A public symposium, Fake News from the Past: Archaeological Mysteries and the Psychology of Deception will be presented at the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum on Saturday, May 13, from 1 to 5 p.m. The keynote speaker, Dr. Peter Hancock, is the author of “Hoax Springs Eternal – The Psychology of Cognitive Deception.” Dr. Hancock will be using well-known historical hoaxes to explain the nature of deception, leading his listeners through a captivating tour of the human mind – its strengths and frailties. Joining Dr. Hancock are three panelists who have researched “archaeological finds” in the Americas that were most certainly hoaxes although enthusiastically embraced at the time of discovery. Panelists include Dr. Bradley Lepper, Senior Curator of Archaeology for the Ohio History Connection in Columbus, Dr. Jennifer Raff, Assistant Professor of Physical Anthropology at the University of Kansas, and Dr. David Anderson, Ph.D. in Anthropology from Tulane University. Admission is $14 for adults and $10 for students and Friends of the Museum.

Dr. Hancock is interested in the three elements of a deception, or the Trinity of Deception: The deception, the deceiver and the deceived. For “Hoax Springs Eternal” he singled out deceptions that were artifact centered and in which the deceiver designed the deception not just to confuse others but to actively inculcate a specific belief about the true state of the world. The third leg of the trinity, the deceived, engages in “cognitive deception”—purposely induced failures of attention, memory, and decision-making capacities. Hancock explicates these three elements in each of his stories. Many of his studies are popular historical mysteries, such as King Arthur’s Cross, the Vinland Map, the Kensington Runestone, and the Shroud of Turin. Dr. Hancock, D.Sc., Ph.D. is Provost Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Psychology and the Institute for Simulation and Training, and at the Departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Central Florida. He is a leader in ergonomics education and has written or edited 20 books in the field.

Each panelist has researched artifacts that are promoted by fringe archaeologists as being authentic although the objects cannot be verified using traditional archaeological methods. These fringe archaeologists follow a movement called fantastic archaeology or pseudoarchaeology which interprets the past from outside the archaeological science community, dismissing accepted data gathering and analytical methods. The panelists are all scientists who reject these pseudo-archaeological methods and conclusions.

Panelist Brad Lepper has worked on archaeological projects from the mountains of Montana to the forests of Maine. He teaches university courses in archaeology and anthropology and writes a column on archaeology for the “Columbus Dispatch.” He is the author of “Ohio Archaeology: an illustrated chronicle of Ohio’s ancient American Indian cultures.” Dr. Lepper’s interest in the subject of hoaxes began when, as a graduate student in the 1980s conducting research on the Walhonding River Valley, he was introduced to the Newark Holy Stones by the director of the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum. Thus began a decades-long effort to understand the historical context of the Holy Stones, the motives behind their fabrication, and why more than a century after archaeologists dismissed these artifacts as frauds, they still figure so prominently in the public imagination. The Newark Holy Stones are on permanent display at the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum.

Panelist Jennifer Raff has a dual Ph.D. in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology and Physical Anthropology from Indiana University. Her research focuses on the molecular genetics of evolution through the analysis of genomes from ancient and contemporary human populations, with a special emphasis on the initial colonization and subsequent population of the American continents. She will be discussing the perpetuation of the myth that the first inhabitants of the Americas were actually Europeans and also the claim that the Paracas peoples of Peru (characterized by cranial modifications) were alien-European hybrids. Dr. Raff is frequently engaged in debunking pseudoscience, particularly as it relates to the misuse of genetics in pseudoarchaeology and the propagation of genetic myths. She has appeared on numerous podcasts (including Science for the People, Archaeological Fantasies, and the Prism Podcast), given public talks at Science on Tap and Skepticon, and writes regularly about these topics and science literacy on her blog Violent Metaphors.

Panelist David Anderson’s doctoral fieldwork focused on the development of the social-political structure and institutions of the ancient Maya. For the symposium he will discuss the “Acambaro Figurines,” a group of figurines found in Mexico the 1950s that seemed to show dinosaurs and humans interacting with one another. Recently these figurines have been embraced by groups pushing for a temporal overlap between dinosaurs and humans. Over the past five years, Dr. Anderson has becoming increasingly involved in examining how the academic community should engage with pseudo-archaeological claims and hoaxes. His investigations have turned to the roots that allow these ideas to thrive. He is currently working on a manuscript for the book Weirding Archaeology, which examines the influences that esoteric spiritual movements, secret fraternal orders, and popular culture have had on the public perception of archaeological research.

Fake News from the Past: Archaeological Mysteries and the Psychology of Deception is highly recommended to all who are interested in history, the human psyche, social/political movements, and mystery itself. Moreover, if you’re wondering why we allow ourselves to believe in narratives or ideas that hover over fact and reason but never actually touch solid land, this is the event for you. Dr. Hancock’s roots in science coupled with his fascination with history and human behavior have melded to produce a thorough and lucid investigation of the historical hoax. It should be noted, that although Hancock will present the characteristics of effective deception, he never encourages its practice.

Admission cost is $14 for adults and $10 for students and Friends of the Museum. Paid registration is accepted by mail, phone or through the museum’s website ( Late registration (after May 5) is $17 for adults and $13 for students. Fake News from the Past: Archaeological Mysteries and the Psychology of Deception is sponsored by Dr. Robert Fox and the Simpson Family Foundation. The Ohio Arts Council helped fund this program with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans. The Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum is located in Historic Roscoe Village, a restored canal-era town, at 300 N. Whitewoman St. For information, contact the museum at 740-622-8710 or at [email protected]

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