Popular Archaeology promotes haunted museums

Popular Archaeology has a story on a haunted museum in North Carolina. My question: Is paranormal investigation now considered “archaeology”?

Ghosts in the Nation’s Attics? | Popular Archaeology.

Like cemeteries, old homes, and sunken ships, even museums may not be beyond the domain of investigators who specialize in detecting and documenting paranormal activity, experiences or events that lie outside the range of normal experience or rational explanation. After all, museums, sometimes called “the Nation’s attics”, contain artifacts that could date anywhere from several millions of years BP to recent history, and it seems, at least based on the literature of recorded events, ghosts and such like to hang out around things old or dead.

Now, a group of investigators with the North Carolina Paranormal Research Society will be conducting an investigation at the Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City, North Carolina Saturday evening, Sept. 21. The research team has gained local attention for its video footage of a door at the local Camden County jail that mysteriously closes.

You can find a dozen seriously questionable claims in this story. It’s a good exercise in spotting unfounded assumptions.

After all this time, after everyone one of these stories, I’m left scratching my head about how anyone could ever declare “Yep, that’s paranormal activity, all right. We’ve exhausted all possible normal explanations (after studying it for two whole days).” Or whatever. This always seems so shallow and so irrational to me. They aren’t trying to find the answer, they are trying to find something they can label paranormal by their own definition (which is lame). This is why paranormal investigation by these local ghost hunter groups is not worth taking seriously by scientific community. But as an aside, its constant attention by the press and tacit approval by museums, TV channels, historical societies, etc., is giving a bogus impression that what they do is legitimate and meaningful. It’s only meaningful if you want to call your location “haunted”. That’s just not right. It’s such a gimmick.

I am still open to visiting these sites with paranormal teams and taking a look at their evidence. I’m very doubtful that they fully examine all the possible normal explanations. Of course, there are reasons for that.

  10 comments for “Popular Archaeology promotes haunted museums

  1. Chris Howard
    September 14, 2013 at 1:21 PM

    The groups want all the trappings of science, but without all that pesky critical analysis from peer review.

    Without that critique they can’t, honestly, claim to practice true scientific methodology.

  2. September 14, 2013 at 1:37 PM

    If only we could find a fossilized ghost or a diary from the afterlife… Now that might be archaeology. “Dear Diary, Today I scared the bejeezus out of another dumb ghost hunter. It was hilarious.”

  3. spookyparadigm
    September 14, 2013 at 1:38 PM

    1. More material for things I’m working on, useful to me. I just discovered another occulted archaeologist (who pretty much went full dowsing, UFOs, etc., and who I’d never seen mentioned before) last week, and this time one from the mid century (many are from the early days when archaeology was professionalizing). But I’m always looking for the modern equating of archaeology = mystery, spooky, weird, or paranormal.

    2. I’ve never heard of this website before. I think I recognize one of the people on the “about us” page, maybe.

    3. The other stories on there look like legit versions of stories I’ve seen in other places over the last year or so.

    4. Which puts the haunted story in context. If you look at the bottom of that story, it notes it is a modified press release. Which to be honest, I give them credit for noting, as most professional media venues engage in vast churnalism without giving the game away.

    5. There are tons of different news sites and feeds for archaeology. But the primary one I use daily in my twitter feed is the one from Archaeology Magazine (the glossy magazine you see at book stores etc., published by the AIA). I have no affiliation with Archaeology Magazine or AIA, and I don’t get the magazine, but I do find their news releases (usually about 3-4 a day) useful for keeping up on archaeology stories in the news. I’d recommend it.


    And now, I’m off to go make 3D scans of some colonial pottery, and in between put together chapter material on how the Mummy’s Curse myth got going and influenced archaeological fiction and myth. Crap, I’m not 100% helping am I?

  4. Chris Howard
    September 14, 2013 at 1:56 PM

    Spooky, you’re making 3D scans of colonial pottery, yeah, I’d say you’re WAY helping! I’m envious.

    Keep up the good work.

  5. spookyparadigm
    September 14, 2013 at 2:00 PM

    For every bit of real work I do, I do skeptic-oriented stuff on spooky archaeology. Which I sometimes wonder if I’m just making worse by addressing. I think I’m not, I think it needs to be done more. But I’m also not 100% sure I’m right. Which being an archaeologist, kind of goes with the territory, or least it should.

    Here’s a piece my university did recently on the scanning work


  6. Chris Howard
    September 14, 2013 at 2:07 PM

    So. Freakin’. Cool!!!

    Let us know when you scan Tutankhamun’s funerary mask! 🙂

  7. spookyparadigm
    September 14, 2013 at 2:13 PM

    Chris, the stuff I am working with is specifically material from the early Spanish colonial site of Ciudad Vieja, El Salvador. It was the first permanent Spanish (well, sort of) settlement in the country, an early version of San Salvador. It was occupied for about thirty years. One of the major forms of pottery there are plates made with local technology and materials and painted designs, by Pipil Nahua potters (cultural and linguistic cousins of the Aztecs), but in forms based based on Spanish copies of Italian majolica, a technological style that they copied from Muslim potters in Spain, who spread the practice from North Africa, where it was invented in probably Iraq as a form of copying Chinese porcelain. This phenomenon of blending technological styles is one found at numerous colonial sites in the Americas, and the materials from Ciudad Vieja are one of the better collections of this stuff. I worked on it (and other aspects of the pottery from the site, including detecting generational shifts in identity during the Spanish/Mexican conquest of Central America, and things like finding one of the earliest taverns in the New World) for my doctoral research, but now I’m taking this new technology and using it to get a better handle on it.

    In addition to opening new avenues for investigation (closer comparison for detecting influences, looking at production evidence through attributes such as symmetry), 3D imaging models of the objects will allow me to make these the beginning of a database for other researchers working on these problems. Rather than rely on the drawn cross-section profiles I finally got published this week, in about a year I hope researchers will be able to download the virtual models I’m creating, and either inspect and study them on their computer screens without specialized software, or if they have access to a 3D printer, make copies of them to compare with their own real archaeological artifacts.

    Then there is the educational aspect. On Monday, I’ll be teaching about the human colonization of the Americas. We have one Clovis point. But I found a model of another posted online. Now I’ve got another seven made of plastic that I can not only compare with our real one, but pass out during class to my students without fear of damage (they cost about $1 to make in materials).

  8. spookyparadigm
    September 14, 2013 at 2:19 PM

    These aren’t my models. This isn’t the Tutankhamun mask, but it is impressive nonetheless. If you have a decent graphics card, click on the thumbnail where the model is in blue. Then, hit the “Thingiview” button, and your window will turn into a 3D viewer where you can move the model about.


    Here’s the Clovis point we made prints of


    This is part of the results from a project to scan all the architecture at Machu Picchu


    There is more out there you can go find. I suspect this will become the standard method for sharing information on object form, design, etc. when you aren’t working with actual physical composition (chemical signatures etc.)

  9. Chris Howard
    September 14, 2013 at 5:14 PM

    Can’t type. Geeking out over those 3D files! Thank you!!!!

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