By: Julien Benoit- theconversation.com

Some of the most impressive buildings and cities ever made by humans can be found in Africa: the ruined city of Great Zimbabwe, Mapungubwein South Africa, Kenya’s Gedi Ruins and Meroe in Sudan. Perhaps the most awe-inspiring of these are the last remaining of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Great Pyramid of Giza, in Egypt….

The pyramids of Giza on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt.
Credit: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

Africa has an extensive archaeological record, extending as far back as 3.3 million years ago when the first-ever stone tool was made in what is today Kenya. The continent’s cultural complexity and diversity is well established; it is home to the world’s oldest-known pieces of art. And, of course, it is the birth place of modern humans’ ancient ancestors, Homo sapiens.

Despite all this evidence, some people still refuse to believe that anyone from Africa…could possibly have created and constructed the Giza pyramids or other ancient masterpieces. Instead, they credit ancient astronauts, extraterrestrials or time travellers as the real builders….

Actually, there is great harm: firstly, these people try to prove their theories by travelling the world and desecrating ancient artefacts. Secondly, they perpetuate and give air to the racist notion that only Europeans – white people – ever were and ever will be capable of such architectural feats.

A threat to world heritage

In 2014 two German pseudo-scientists set out to “prove” that academics were concealing the Giza pyramids’ “real” origin. To do so, they chiselled off a piece of one of the pyramids – of course, without authorisation, so they could “analyse” it.

And earlier in 2017 scientists from the World Congress on Mummy Studies in South America published a communique on their Facebook page to draw attention to the raiding of Nazca graves for a pseudo-scientific research programme called the Alien project. It insists that aliens rather than ancient Peruvians were responsible for the famous geoglyphs called the Nazca Lines, despite all the evidence to the contrary….

Racism and colonial attitudes

A series of stone circles in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province provides an excellent example of the other problem with pseudo-archaeologists. Some people genuinely believe that these structures were designed by aliens. They scoff at scientific research that proves the stone circles were made by the Koni people using ropes, sticks and wood. They will not even entertain the notion that ancient African tribes could be responsible.

But the same people have no problem believing that medieval Europeans built the continent’s magnificent cathedrals using only ropes, sticks and wood. They dismiss scientific research that overwhelmingly provesancient Africans’ prowess,…

Why is it so hard for some to acknowledge that ancient non-European civilisations like the Aztecs, people from Easter Island, ancient Egyptians or Bantu-speakers from southern Africa could create intricate structures?

The answer is unfortunately as simple as it seems: it boils down to profound racism and a feeling of white superiority that emanates from the rotting corpse of colonialism…

The ancient city of Meroe.
Credit: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters

They try to make others believe that scientists are hiding “the truth” about ancient monuments…. There is a risk that they will drown out quality knowledge and science with their colourful, outlandish theories.

At the same time, these theories can prevent awareness about Africa’s rich heritage from developing. The heirs of the real builders may never learn about their ancestors’ remarkable achievements.

Scientists have a crucial role to play in turning the tide on such harmful theories. Those of us who are doing ongoing research around the continent’s architectural and fossil record should be sharing our findings in a way that engages ordinary people.

We must show them just how awe-inspiring structures like Great Zimbabwe, Meroe and the Giza Pyramids are – not because they were created by some alien race, but because they are living proof of ancient societies’ ingenuity.

 

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