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- One of the most famous (or infamous) archaeological controversies.
  2. Viking in America- Did the Vikings discover America before Columbus?
  3. Americas Stonehenge (a.k.a. Mystery Hill), North Salem, NH- Evidence for European colonization of the Americas c. 3000 years ago?
  4. Nazca lines- Aliens, gods or people- who made them?
  5. The Moai of Easter Islands- Only the gods could do this?
  6. Noah’s ark and the Great Flood- Is there archaeological evidence for the boat and the flood it was built to survive?
  7. The Shroud of Turin- Was it the burial shroud of Jesus Christ?
  8. The Crystal Skulls of Mexico- Were they made by Native Americans, Aliens, or Indiana Jones?
  9. Aztec Sacrifice- Did it exist? If so, what is the evidence for how many people were sacrificed? What was its purpose?
  10. Kennewick Man- Were the first Americans from Europe?
  11. Atlantis- Has it been found? What do we know about Atlantis?
  12. Maya 2012- Did the Maya predict the end of the world in 2012? Why didn’t it happen? Or did it?
  13. King Tutankamun- Was he murdered? Did he dies of disease? Were there others buried in his tomb?
  14. The Palenque Sacrophagus- 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?
  • Are any of the “tricks” discussed in class (straw man, etc.) being used? If so, which ones and how are they used?
  • 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 rough draft should be LONGER than your final draft.


You must research your topic. You must have at least 5 academic and 5 non-academic resources. These must be identified as academic or not in your bibliography. One of the goals here is to compare the “public” to the academic 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, but you may propose a topic of your own interest. However, you must get this approved by the instructor.

Topic. Preliminary description of topic and identification of the controversy.

Working (Preliminary) Bibliography. Your working bibliography must include at least 3 academic resources and 3 non-professional (non-academic) resources. Identify which are academic 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. This summary should address what the work is about, and, more importantly, what purpose it serves in your paper. The following website can help better understand the purpose of an annotated bibliography, but remember that you have a specific assignment and your summaries should address that: . Please remember to clearly identify which sources are academic 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 .

Rough Draft: A rough draft is a full complete version that does everything asked above. It is not a last minute, thrown together paper. This is what you may have turned in as your final draft. 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 above. You will present this with the other student working on the same topic. You will present some of the non-scientific and scientific theories about your topic. Presentations will be no more than 5 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. Encyclopdeia 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 academic 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 sparingly 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). Please minimize quotes– instead summarize and retain in-text citations. I want you to use your words to summarize the perspectives of others, while still giving them credit. For additional information, please see the Academic Integrity Code.