Mesopotamian Pseudoarchaeology, or, “You clearly have no clue what you’re talking about”

When my husband and I started on YouTube, we were both in the enviable position of having had relatively little contact with pseudoarchaeology. I knew vaguely that there were some people with weird theories about how the pyramids were built, but there my knowledge and understanding ended. I had never heard of Zechariah Sitchin, or his unfortunate tendency to read literary and mythological texts as being literal historical works, and I was confident in the knowledge that shows like “Ancient Aliens” were understood to be amusing works of entertainment, rather than something to be taken as serious scholarship.

It took approximately 2 weeks for the spectre of Sitchin to rear its head, followed swiftly by Flat Earthers, Ancient Alien disciples, and a religious group who follow the reincarnated Mesopotamian deities, led by a gentleman who is apparently the reincarnation of both Jesus and Enlil. It’s safe to say that my eyes have been well and truly opened. What I also noticed was a relative lack of engagement from my own field with these kinds of claims – thankfully, many amazing people from other fields are fighting the good fight while Assyriology stands idle. I’m not entirely sure why, but it’s easy to imagine that many Assyriologists can’t conceive that such theories are actually credible to non-specialists – as I did, just over a year ago. It’s also easy to see that battling pseudoarchaeology may not be high on the to-do list of a professional academic, as such work may not count towards tenure, or be easily included on an academic C.V (thankfully, this does not stop people like Sara Head, or Dr. David Anderson). A presentation explaining how and why Zechariah Sitchin’s (mis)use of Mesopotamian texts, be it through YouTube, Twitter, or even written as a popular book, probably counts for less to a tenure committee than a new edition of Gilgamesh, or a monograph on scribal education in the Old Babylonian period.

I’ve come to see it as critically important work, and am continually surprised by how prolific the adherents to these various theories are – I suppose if you don’t have to worry about evidence and citations, it’s a lot faster to produce your “research”! YouTube is full of videos proclaiming the mysteries of the “tablets of Sumeria”, the truth about the Annunaki, and amazingly erroneous “translations” of cuneiform texts. Of course, it takes time and effort to put together responsible responses to these videos (or you can just record yourself sitting through one, swearing a lot at the idiocy of it all).

The original “Easter = Ishtar” meme. It’s been around since at least 2013, and the theory it espouses seems to be much older.

All of this is a very long introduction to say that I spent the week in the run-up to Easter researching and putting together a (short) video debunking a meme that’s been floating around for a while. On a whim I also put together a corrected version of the same meme – please feel free to share it around!

Corrected meme!

I’m quite proud of myself. It’s proven to be surprisingly popular on Twitter and Facebook, and, generally speaking, the response I’ve received has been very positive. One gentleman has tried to argue that because Ishtar is a goddess of sex then she MUST also be a goddess of fertility, apparently overlooking the fact that ancient cultures did understand that sex could lead to pregnancy, and did use various methods of contraception.
This week, I have also explained that the name of Arya Stark from the Game of Thrones is also not any of the (Akkadian) Mesopotamian words for ‘lion’, and that Mesopotamian cylinder seals showing flying deities do not depict spaceships, but instead show the gods in their various astral forms. I’ve had varying success with both explanations!

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