Archaeological Mysteries Paper


To utilize your understanding of archaeology to assess some of the intractable “mysteries” of the discipline from the perspective of professional and avocational archaeologists.


You are to write a research paper on an archaeological mystery. For the purposes of this paper an archaeological mystery is an issue about the past for which there is (or has been) significant public interest and confusion and/or contention.


Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  1. Piltdown Skull- Is it a human ancestor or a fraud?
  2. Vikings in America- Did the Vikings reach America before Columbus?
  3. Americas Stonehenge (a.k.a. Mystery Hill), North Salem, NH- Did Europeans colonize the Americas c. 3000 years ago?
  4. Nazca lines- Aliens, gods or people- who made them?
  5. The Moai of Easter Islands- Who made the Easter Island heads? Aliens?
  6. The Shroud of Turin- Was it the burial shroud of Jesus Christ?
  7. The Crystal Skulls of Mexico- Were they made by Native Americans, Aliens, or Indiana Jones?
  8. Aztec Sacrifice- Did it exist? If so does popular representation of it represent what truly happened?
  9. Kennewick Man- Were the first Americans from Europe?
  10. Atlantis- Did the mythical land truly exist? If so, where is it?
  11. Maya 2012- Did the Maya predict the end of the world in 2012? Why didn’t it happen? Or did it?
  12. King Tutankamun- Was he murdered? Did he dies of disease? Were there others buried in his tomb?
  13. The Palenque Sacrophagus- Does this tomb demonstrate evidence of Ancient Astronauts?


Your paper should address the following questions:

  • What is the “mystery”?
  • What are some of the hypotheses that non-archaeologists and archaeologists have employed to understand the mystery?
  • What techniques and data have non-archaeologists and archaeologists used to assess the mystery?
  • In the end is this really a mystery? If so, what makes it so?
  • What our best understanding of the mystery today?

Introduction and Conclusion:

Your paper must have an Introduction and Conclusion.

  • An introduction should foreshadow the entire paper. In other words, you should indicate up front what the mystery is, how archaeologists and others have seen the issue and what you conclude from your research- in a brief and introductory manner. The body of the paper should flesh out your argument and add evidence.
  • The conclusion should wrap up the entire paper. It brings together all of the points that you made in the introduction and the body. Therefore, it may be similar to your introduction (except as an end point, instead of the beginning).


The paper should be approximately 5-6 pages in length (Times New Roman, 12-point font, double-spaced). This length is an estimate. I do not punish if the paper is shorter or longer, but I would be extremely surprised if you can write a good paper in 4 pages. You could write a good paper in more than six pages, but let’s stick to clear and concise arguments and keep it within the guidelines. This paper is on the short side in terms of length compared to many other classes. This is because I expect you to write clearly and concisely. Your initial draft should be LONGER than your final draft.

Interlibrary Loan Requirement:

You are required to interlibrary loan at least one source. This should be present in your Annotated Bibliography and will impact that grade (and that of your drafts if you still do not have an ILL work).


You must research your topic. You must have at least 5 scholarly and 5 non-scholarly resources. These must be identified as scholarly or not in your bibliography. One of the goals here is to compare the “public” to the scholarly version of the mystery. You must cite the resource parenthetically in the text (Authorlastname year, page). For example: (Carter 2010, 12). Please see the Chicago Manual of Style for additional variants. You must also include a Works Cited at the end of your paper. Please use the Author-Date format of the Chicago style. For more information on the Chicago style see: .

Parts of the Paper:

Topic Sign-up. Please go to Canvas and sign up for a topic. Please note that potential topics have been listed above, but you may propose a topic of your own interest. However, you must get this approved by the instructor.

Topic Description. Preliminary description of topic and identification of the controversy. Much of this can be from a general web search. Wikipedia is acceptable at this point.

Preliminary Bibliography. Your preliminary bibliography must include at least ONE scholarly resources and ONE non-professional (non-scholarly) resources. Identify which are scholarly and which are not. It must be in Chicago Style (see above).

Annotated Bibliography. In your annotated bibliography, you should write a short summary of each source that you are planning to use in your paper (include all 10 mentioned above). This summary should address what the work is about, and, more importantly, what purpose it serves in your paper. These should be a 3-5 sentences long (or longer for your most important sources), but let the assignment determine the length. Remember that you are required to include one ILL book (see above). Please remember to clearly identify which sources are scholarly and which are not.

Outline. This should be an outline of your paper, indicating the overall structure and topics you will be discussing. It should be approximately ¾ of a page (single-spaced) and be in bullet format. For more information on outlines, please see the Purdue Online Writing Labs discussion here .

Initial Draft: A first draft is a full complete version that does everything asked above. It is not a last minute, thrown together paper. The goal is to get feedback and work from there. It should be LONGER than your final paper because rough drafts are frequently too wordy and repetitive (this is fine and very common even for experienced writers), but this is why it is a draft. You will not do well if this is a last-minute, thrown-together version just to get something in.

Final Paper. Your final paper should incorporate suggestions made by the instructor on your rough draft. It should be clearer and more concise than your rough draft.

Presentation: You will present a brief synopsis of your research to your classmates on one of the dates towards the end of the semester. You will present this with the other student working on the same topic (unless you are the only one working on that topic). The content is generally the same as above but in a public presentation format. This usually means that you are more conversation and include more images. Presentations will be no more than 7 minutes in length. You must use graphics (e.g. as a PowerPoint or a Prezi presentation), but minimize the number of words put in the presentation. Recommendations for presentations for my classes are available here.

Research Resources:

Books Available Online:

  • Feder, Kenneth. 2010. Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology: From Atlantis to the Walam Olum. Greenwood. Available online here.

Books on Reserve in the Library- The following two books will be on reserve in the library:

  • Feder, Kenneth. 2014. Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology. 8th ed. McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages. Link to Library Record.
  • Fagan, Brian M., ed. 2001. The Seventy Great Mysteries of the Ancient World: Unlocking the Secrets of Past Civilizations. Thames & Hudson. Link to Library Record.
  • You may check these out for 2 hours at a time.

Additional tools:

Encompass Search- The new primary search engine for materials in the Trexler Library. This is an excellent resource that should link you directly to digital copies of many articles.

Google Books and Google Scholar (just ‘Google’ them)-  include an extensive collection of scholarly articles and books. Most of the books in Google Books were published before the 1920s (which is good for some of you). If you are on campus, your access to articles will also appear in Google Scholar AND you will also see open access articles.

Wikipedia- Use mostly to get an idea about your topic and do not cite! If you want to use information from this website, you must chase down the original citation.


Any material used that was written by another and that you use in a way that makes it appear as though you wrote it constitutes plagiarism and will be dealt with accordingly. This may include a 0 on the assignment or, potentially failing the class (e.g., purchasing a paper).  For additional information, please see the Academic Integrity Code.

Evidence, quotes and citations:

In your paper you should construct your argument around evidence. The evidence that you will use is largely from your sources. You need to give those sources credit for their work in chasing down these articles. Therefore you should cite them in text. See “Research” above for format. You may use quotes but they should be minimized. The rule of thumb is that if you can’t say what they are saying without losing something important then you should quote. Frequently quotes interrupt the flow of the paper because they are not well used. Do not “paraphrase”- too many people think that this just means taking a quote and replacing words. That is plagiarism. Read the source and use the evidence in your argument. But, remember to cite.