PeterC, over in the comments of my review of Max Hill’s “To the Ends of the Earth” suggested that contemporary archaeologists in Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu (New Zealand) dance to the tune of their political (and funding) masters, which is why there is no academic support for the theses of Max Hill, Martin Doutreé and the like. That got me to thinking: if we were to treat that claim about the existence of a conspiracy seriously, how big would the conspiracy in question actually be?
Think of it this way: Pacific archaeology is not an entirely New Zealand-based concern. Whilst New Zealand archaeologists do an awful lot of our local archaeology, they are just part of the wider archaeological community interested in the history and pre-history of the Pacific. Quite a lot of Pacific archaeology is performed by Americans, the French and Germans, in part because each of these nations have a history of colonial activity in the Pacific.
So, if there is a conspiracy to hide the real history of the Pacific and to deny the existence of some other people living in or passing through the Polynesian archipelago, it must be a pretty big one that encompasses the research output of not just the New Zealand university and research community but extends to the university and research communities of Europe and the Americas1. What possible rationale is there for such a large-scale, encompassing conspiracy?
You might concede that maybe someone, in a position of political power, decided one day that we should rewrite Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu’s history in order to appease some group of Māori (even though I think this is very unlikely it is still a possibility) but why would that decision be in anyway binding on the research outputs of archaeologists and historians elsewhere, especially since these reports are perfect congruent with the archaeological research that is produced elsewhere in Polynesia? Why do American archaeologists write site reports and make inferences which look eerily similar to the site reports of French and New Zealand archaeologists? Surely, if there is a conspiracy, we should see a divergence of views between these sets of researchers?
Now, maybe the large-scale claim of conspiracy is justified: I did say that these nations have a history of colonialism, so maybe they are part of a “post-colonial guilt party” conspiracy, or the indigenous peoples of this place (generally speaking) have some kind of hold over the governments of these nations, but that just seems unlikely. The attitudes of France, America and New Zealand with respect to the indigenous peoples of the Pacific really couldn’t be that different (look at the poor state of native rights in Haiwaii) and so it just doesn’t follow that American archaeologists doing Pacific archaeology funded by American universities and NGOs would be hiding evidence of some non-Polynesian, pre-cursor people in the way that Doutree and company seem to allege.
You might also, if we’re going to treat this thesis with more respect than it deserves, argue that the decision was made by, say, the American establishment and we’re just following the dictates of a world superpower. Once again, you have to give a reason as to why, say, America would want to pervert history and produce archaeological disinformation, especially given, as previously noted, just how badly off the Hawaiians are (and let’s not forget the plight of the Native Americans).
Both of these rationales also fall foul of a basic truth about research communities; governments set the funding levels and they certainly mangle research outputs by overfunding some types of degrees and underfunding others. but they don’t control who researches what and they certainly don’t set up the terms of such enquiries, let alone decide what conclusions are allowed to be drawn. Certainly, many of Ansell’s fellow travellers complain about the kind of research that goes on in the academic sector and how good it is that sensible Ministers in our present Government ignore such policy advice and use common sense instead. It seems that the kind of people who are likely to come up with a conspiracy about there being an agenda to hide the existence of a pre-Māori people want to have it both ways when it comes to condemning the research outputs of our universities.
The other problem with this claim about large-scale conspiracy in the world of archaeology is that, surely, you would expect someone to buck the system and release evidence of both the hidden history and the conspiracy itself. This is a common argument against the 9/11 Truth Movement (and, increasingly, being employed to show that the claims of a “CIA/Swedish honeytrap” against Julian Assange seems very unlikely): the lack of countering evidence to the well-accepted or official theory seems to suggest that the theory is plausible. Now, any holder of a conspiracy theory which claims that well-accepted or official theory is based on disinformation, etc. will point towards people like Richard Gage (with respect to the 9/11 Truth Movement) and Martin Doutré (with respect to the Celtic New Zealand thesis) and say “But, looksy, there is evidence to the contrary and these brave researchers are willing to put up with shoddy ad hominem attacks and ridicule to get the truth out there!”
But, once again, this seems to present a problem of scale: Doutré and Gage are not just dismissed by part of the academy but, rather, all of it worldwide. Doutré and Hill’s respective theses are not just considered silly and vapid in Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu but elsewhere as well, so we’re back to the “Everyone (else) is in on the conspiracy” angle which, as I’ve shown, is already problematic.
But it gets worse. Doutré and Hill’s radical pre-histories of Polynesia is based upon not just archaeological claims but also claims based in comparative linguistics, oral histories, ethnography, epigraphy and (to name a few). In each of these fields, his arguments have been picked on by someone with appropriate expertise who are largely in agreement with the rest of their peers. If there is a conspiracy in existence, it’s not just a conspiracy in the worldwide archaeological community but, rather, a conspiracy of every academic everywhere2.
Once again, this is a potentially huge conspiracy that people like PeterC are envisioning, and given the different research funding models worldwide, the organisation and control of this conspiracy is likely not to be governmental (unless you believe there exists a New World Order/One World Government who have, as one of their aims, the promotion of both false history and indigenous rights) but, rather, academic.
Now, admittedly, people like John Ansell and Martin Doutré will agree with this and say “Well, we’ve been saying the academic world has been taken over my Marxists for ages now!” but a) it’s not clear that Ansell and Doutreé know what Marxism, as a mode of academic pursuit, looks like and b) it’s not clear that Marxism is the most popular mode of academic pursuit at the moment any way3.
More importantly, though, who is directing us academics to pursue research in a Marxist way?
Ansell, PeterC, Doutré and company will say “That’s where the funding comes from” but is it? Sure, New Zealand’s university sector is funded by central government, so maybe there are Marxists in the Ministry of Education, but what about America? There are lots of American researchers who work in Pacific archaeology, linguistics, history and other related disciplines and their university sector is definitely not funded by the Federal Government (there is very little publicly funded research in the USA) so if the conspiracy is based around funding, it’s a conspiracy where either the international (particularly American) academic sector has undue sway over individual government funding bodies like we find in New Zealand or small countries like our own somehow have sway over the international research funding community.
Both theories seem unlikely, I must confess.
There is, of course, another option. Perhaps, just perhaps, the radical theories of the Richard Gages and Martin Doutré’s of this world are considered lacking in academic merit because, well, such theories are lacking in the kinds of credentials a largely independent academic sector expect to find. No need to posit a conspiracy; outlier research like that found in the 9/11 Truth Movement or the Celtic New Zealand crowd might just be examples of pseudo-research.
However, I don’t think that conclusion, however likely it appears to be, will be accepted by people like PeterC.
- Truth be told, quite a lot of New Zealand archaeology is undertaken by people who not only did their undergraduate and post-graduate studies overseas but are, shock horror, foreign nationals (and not necessarily the kind the GSCB is allowed to spy on).↩
- I would love to see the agenda for the meetings that set up such a conspiracy. I’ve been in academic staff meetings. They are not pretty. No one seems to be able to agree with anyone.↩
- That being said, no matter what I say next, Ansell and Doutré will likely claim we’re all “closet Marxists” who are either unaware we are Marxists or are afraid to admit to being Marxists because we might suffer the old bit of biffo by the common person on the street.↩