review of

Adrian Praetzellis's "Death by Theory"


2177. "review of Adrian Praetzellis's "Death by Theory""

- the complete version of the review

- credited to: tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE

- published on my "Critic" website July 31, 2023


review of

Adrian Praetzellis's "Death by Theory"

by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - July 28-31, 2023

For the complete review go here:



This is subtitled "A Tale of Mystery and Archaeological Theory". The basic idea is that the author teaches about archeological theory w/in the context of a mystery novel. That appealed to me. By the end, I think the mystery suffered more than the theory but I suspect that many nuances of the theory were lost in the process too. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it & if 'didactic crime fiction' became an established genre I'd probably read more.

""Not a fan of ecofeminist archeology, Sean?" she goaded. "OK, I'm sortof starting to snooze myself. But let's be unobtrusive because the speaker's a friend of mine."

"They got up and shuffled as quietly as they could along the row of chairs to the side aisle.

""I can see its appeal, though," he continued when they were out of the meeting room. "You know-the idea that the Neolithic in south-eastern Europe was a peaceful, egalitarian. . . ."

"". . . matriarchal, godess-worshipping era. Yes, it has a certain appeal to me, too. But, well . . ." His colleague paused with a lopsided half smile.

""Yeah, I know what you're going to say, Doctor Green: there's just not much evidence that it ever happened."" - p 2

This bk features fairly frequent illustrations that are, yes, illustrative of ideas presented. The 1st of these illustrations is, indeed, labelled: ""ROLL CALL": Some of the Ideas presented in this Book" (p 4) & it has clip art of what's vaguely depictive of a toilet-paper dispenser w/ a hand pulling down 2 or 3 tissues w/ txt on them. The last of these txts reads:

"Chap. 9. The Postmodern Non-Method

PoMos don't agree on the questions

Or if there ARE any questions

These illustrations add considerably to the appeal of the bk for me.

""Stop me if you've heard this one, but science is nothing more than a way of organizing what you know about a subject so that you can understand it better. If you're going to use the scientific method, you have to put all your assumptions on the table, be explicit about the relationship between what you want to know and your method for finding it out, and be willing to be wrong. The scientific method involves starting out with an idea about why something is the way it is-a theory. Then you come up with a number of plausible explanations or hypotheses that you can apply to the facts of the case to see which fit and which don't."" - p 9

Note that there's nothing in there that claims the one has to have a particular sanctified training in order to embark upon this process. Instead, it's just common-sensical.

""Laws like the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act forced developers who needed federal money or approval to identify sites that might be affected by their project, to evaluate them-that is, to see if they were important enough to be saved or studied further-and to dig important sites that couldn't be avoided."

"Sean laughed out loud. "Yeah. I've heard NHPA called the National Archeologists Full Employment Act."

""Well, it certainly increased the demand for archaeologists. I once read that over 90 percent of archaeologists in the United States work in the C.R.M. field."

"C.R.M. industry," he corrected. "The commercial archeology firms even have their own trade association to look after their interests in Washington." - pp 18-19

"Sean rolled the first of the pebbles over in his hand. The stone was crisscrossed with veins of some white material that could have been quartz. It was harder than the encasing matrix and had not eroded as rapidly, leaving a delicate tracery of milky lines. In frustration, Claude jabbed at it with a long finger.

""There, look. Don't you see the old man with the beard? And that looks like a horse."

"Each stone, according to Sean's companion, showed scenes of mythical creatures, women with flowing hair, or armed warriors. They were, he was certain, evidence of a lost civilization." - p 21

Whether the author, Praetzellis, was familiar w/ Richard Shaver whn he wrote this I don't know. To many of us, Shaver's ideas wd be evoked. I recommend my movie that touches on Shaver's idea, "Backwards Masking in Rocks" available here: .

"And so it was that the pair arrived at the imposing wrought-iron gate and graveled driveway of the New Magick Retreat Center-or the Summerfield School as the chipped and blistered sign had announced for the last sixty years." - p 33

I have no idea whether it's common knowledge or knowledge most circulated in occult subcultures that "Magick", so spelled, is intended to be differentiated from "Stage Magic" - meaning that it's meant to refer to occult forces rather than tricks.

""You mean, like the New Archeology?" asked Sean through a mouthful of bread and cheese.

""You've heard of it?" She sounded surprised.

""Hey! I didn't sleep through all my eight o'clock classes."

""Just some of them, huh? OK then, Dr. Science, tell me all about it."

""Weeeell," began Sean, suddenly deciding that his shoelace needed tying. "I guess this guy Lewis Binford thought it all up in 1962."

""Oh, is that right?" asked his aunt in a tone that intimated otherwise." - p 37

""Mostly that they were dissatisfied with the direction the field had been going. What people like Taylor and the Binfords did was to get the field fired up with the idea that it was possible to create an anthropology of the past. That archeologists didn't and shouldn't be satisfied with knowing what happened in the past, they should ask . . ." She waited expectantly.

""Er . . . why it happened?" suggested Sean tentatively." - p 46

"Binford noticed that small fragments of bone accumulated in a "drop zone" around the workers, while they threw larger pieces either in front or behind them into what he called a "toss zone." Working on the assumption that people in the past had similar habits, the intrepid archeologist used this information to interpret the distribution of artifacts around 15,000-year-old fire hearths at an archeological site in Pincevent, France." - p 49

Thank goodness there's some humor in this novel (Thank you, Goodness). Even inanimate objects get a chuckle in here & there.

"She seized the stick and announced in a mixture of surprise and consternation, "You're a goddamn photographic scale." Wisely, the stick made no response, and its restraint was rewarded by being tucked under the arm of its captor, who continued to run in the same direction.

"Now, it doesn't take a New Archeologist applying the hypothetico-deductive method to predict that where there's an archeological scale, there's an archeological site not too far away. Such was Hannah's expectation, and it was confirmed after a couple of minutes of running." - p 54

"Alasdair offered vaguely. "Every indication is that it's from the Neolithic. Could be as much as five or seven thousand years old."

""Post-Bandkeramik Period, then," said his companion quietly. But Alasdair, in full lecture mode, didn't seem to hear this scholarly aside.

""The European Neolithic," he continued, "is the period when societies made an increasing use of domesticated crops and livestock, with a concomitant drop in emphasis on wild resources." - p 57

Yes, you've detected aright: there's some tension & there's some pomposity, there might even be some sexism against men perpetrated by the author as a way of staying on the good side of women bullies.

""That jerk," she growled, and Sean recoiled almost physically at the woman's vehement tone. "He has no idea what this site is about. Did you know he's only a second year grad student? The moron couldn't dig his way out of a kitty litter box. There're plenty of people on this site who've had far more field experience than him. But the Lord High Tuliver likes his fancy manners because they impress that capitalist running dog who claims to own this site. It's frikkin' feudal, the way he runs things here."" - pp 63-64

But there's also some female-male romance so the man-hating isn't 100%.

""I always come here at this time. After the archeologists have gone home," she explained gently. "This is a holy place for us. Come on, I'll show you."


""The Children of Odin."" - p 65

"It had briefly occurred to him to mention the alternative interpretations of the so-called goddess images: like Alice Kehoe's suggestions that some of the Upper Paleolithic carvings that archeologists and others routinely say are breasts could just as easily be male genitalia. Especially if you suspend them using the holes that are bored in one end. Or the idea that rotund figures like the famous Venus of Willendorf may have been made by women themselves recording the stages of pregnancy. Realizing that absolute honesty only gets you so far in a romantic relationship, Sean decided to keep his ideas to himself." - p 67

Given that I don't know shit from shinola about archeology [&, yes, I'm deliberately mutating some sayings here] I was bound to learn a fair amt from this bk, wch I enjoyed. E.G.: I didn't know about band societies.

"["]Band societies move around a lot. They make temporary settlements wherever they go, following the food resources, but they don't wander aimlessly. This month, they may be taking advantage of a fish run, and next they'll be harvesting seeds. From what social anthropologists tell us, their social organization is quite egalitarian. There's no individual that every member of the band looks up to as the boss. If there's a job to be done that needs skilled organization-like a fishing trip-the group chooses someone who is respected for that particular skill. But authority is quite fleeting: running the show today doesn't give you command tomorrow." - p 71

That seems sensible to me.. &, yet, I've found that in situations where I abnegated my own authority in favor of having a new person be the temporary expert that there's usually, if not always, a type of person who immediately tries to take advantage of the situation to take over the whole shebang.

Here's more useful terminology that I learned:

"The SCIENTIST classifies animals by their biological attributes: mammals have hair, birds grow feathers, and fish breathe with gills. Anthropologists call these ETIC categories, to denote distinctions that are made by the scientific observer.

"Yet, the typical observant Jew sees the same beasts quite differently. Using rules derived from the Hebrew Bible and other religious sources, he divides them into kosher and treyfe-animals that may be eaten and those that may not. Distinctions like these, which are used by people in a specific social or cultural context, are called EMIC categories." - p 81

""What this comes down to," accepting an orange segment from Claude, "is that you can't ask why people carry out a certain ritual or cultural practice and expect a single cut-and-dried answer that you can put in a bottle on the shelf and label it 'the one truth'. Ask a materialist like Alasdair and he's going to emphasize the social effects of carrying out the practice-an etic explanation. Ask a culturalist like me and I'm going to give an emic answer and tell you what the ritual means to the people themselves.["]" - p 84

Those rare people who have some idea of what my own thoughts are on similar matters (do you exist?!) might realize that this reinforces the position of my bk entitled "THE SCIENCE (volume 1)" ( ). In other words, it's my opinion that there is no such thing as "THE SCIENCE" in the sense of one monolithic position taken by all scientists regarding any particular subject under study. There will always be differences of opinion based on a wide variety of data accepted as flawless & a wide variety of ways of interpreting that data, etc..

""The information on this site belongs to the people," expounded Terry. "It's part of everyone's history. At least, everyone in North America. It's not right that some moron can tell us how we should be doing our job just because he happens to own the land. No one can own the past," she asserted passionately, "it's not a commodity to be bought and sold. It's just too important.["]"


""The scrolls were kept secret for decades and only a few people were allowed to see them, to study them. Well, it's the same thing here. Power and money are all that's important. The capitalists who have it get to decide what's right and wrong, to hold back scientific investigation, and to decide what the people get to hear."" - p 91


""So you agree with authors who've started to give their books names like An Archaeology of Early American Life, which a fewyears ago would have been The Archaeology . . . ?"

""Of course," he insisted with a wave of the hand. "The implication here is that the author does not have the final word on the subject and the data may be interpreted differently by another. Discussion and change are the bases of science, even social science." Now, to be strictly accurate, Tuliver was willing to spout these liberal ideas and even to believe them in a general sort of way. Except, of course, when it came to his own work." - p 113

Wch brings me back to THE SCIENCE again & its nonexistence as a single unshakeable truth. What's different now, in 2023, in contrast to the 2000 when this bk was copyrighted is that it's no longer 'liberal' to espouse such an open-mindedness, at least in relation to the plandemic, any objections to the 'liberal' mass media propaganda regarding that one has been subjected to severely vicious lockstep behaviors.



"ÇATALHöYüK is a really nifty 7,000- 8,000-year-old Neolithic town site in Turkey that is being excavated by an international team. The site is made up of many contiguous buildings, which were entered through holes in the roof. While many archeologists jealously guard their data until they have time to publish, the ÇATALHöYüK Web page allows access to excavators' field notes so that everyone with an Internet connection may make use of and reinterpret the data. The Web page also contains an open discusssion forum where participants are encouraged to question, laud, and disagree with the archeologists' interpretations." - p 114

Alas, that website appears to be defunct. However, there's this: .

Politics has been running thru this already but now we reach the Marxist influence:

"The idea that archeologists should think about the POLITICAL implications of their work got a lot of people thinking that the field should have SOCIAL goals, rather than being a pastime for intellectuals. And that led to some of the approaches that we call POST-PROCESSUALIST." - p 122

One of the sections that's most likely to reach a large readership w/ its evocation is one where International Geographic comes to the dig site & has the crew dress up in fake neolithic garb in order to do a dramatic reenactment of something that might not've happened in the 1st place. It seems inevitable, & intentional on the author's part, that International Geographic will be interpreted as a stand-in for National Geographic, a magazine whose photography has been admired by just about everyone & her pet frog's legless uncle.

""Well, in my humble opinion, Dr. Tuliver should never have approved this . . . this charade," said Alasdair peevishly. His sackcloth jerkin and leggings itched, and the strip of leather he had been give for a belt kept getting loose, threatening to send his pants to the ground. It was incredible that Tuliver would have agreed to them dressing up like Neolithic peasants for that photographer. And it was shocking that a magazine like International Geographic would go in for this sort of playacting." - p 128

Gosh, am I at the Epilogue already?

"Thus, we are left with the kind of morally equivocal ending that will no doubt be abhorrent to television evangelists and others with little tolerance of ambiguity of any sort.

"They are the kind of people who would appreciate neither this book nor its message.

"They are the kind of people who expect science to provide all the answers and feel let down and fearful when it doesn't." - p 151

"But to dig below the surface (so to speak), to speculate about why people did what they did-either consciously or as unknowing participants in a never-ending historical/political/ecological process-that requires a tolerance for ambiguity. It also helps to have some humility, to recognize that today's stunning insights may tomorrow be no more than orange peels on the compost pile of intellectual history." - p 152

I'm w/ you there, feller.

But, sheesh!, I'm past the Epilogue & there're still a jillion things to quote. These academics.

"Thinking of going into the lucrative field of archaeological consulting? First, read this short novel or another in the series: Burial Ground: An Alan Graham Mystery, by Malcolm Shuman (New York, Avon, 1998). The author gives a very realistic depiction of a contract archeologist (except for all the murders, that is), and it's a good read too. For another kind of fantasy, the Sandia Cave controversy is presented in journalistic style in D. Preston's article, "The Mystery of Sandia Cave," The New Yorker (12 June 1995): 66-83. In case you're wondering if archaeologists really do have ethics, read about them in Archaeological Ethics, edited by Karen Vitelli (Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 1996). For an enjoyable tour of forgeries, naive misinterpretations, and pseudo-science, I recommend Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology, by Kenneth Feder (New York: Mayfield Press, 1977)." - pp 156-157

"Was cannibalism largely the invention of nineteenth-century Europeans who wanted to rationalize their imperialist tendencies? This position is taken by W. Arens in The Man-Eating Myth (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979). A very different view of the controversy comes from that other institution (Cambridge) in Divine Hunger, by Peggy Sanday (Camrbridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986). If you read only one book on cannibalism this year, make it the latter." - p 158

I usually read at least 30 bks on cannibalism every yr. My most recent favorite one is Klaus Schwab's "COVID-19: The Great Reset" (2020, Human Eat Human Press).

This bk is essentially didactic so it even comes w/ a section of "Talking Points" in the back.

"Use the theoretical talking points engaged in by our protagonists as jumping-off points, places to begin on the journey of teasing out meaning and separating mere opinion from reasoned conclusions."


"What is science? Are the social sciences so different in method from the hard sciences like chemistry? Who decides which research questions are worth pursuing? What did Hannah mean when she said she liked to think of herself using "the methods of science to approach questions that are humanistic?"" - p 161

AND there's a Glossary.

"ARCHAEOLOGY (1) The study of past human behavior based on material remains" - p 165

"EMPIRICIST One who believes only what can be directly observed." - p 167

I think I incline in that direction. During the plandemic I've seen the majority of people I know only believe things that they see no direct evidence for, believing only the mediated version of 'reality' provided for them by sources that I take to be glaringly propagandistic. Meanwhile, what they can directly observe, they choose to deny or ignore or place irrational interpretations on. Despite there being no death around them whatsoever, they're convinced that millions are dying all around them. I, on the other hand, find the claims of unusual mass death unconvincing b/c what I personally witness aside from the propaganda is life-as-usual.

"NEW ARCHEOLOGY A movement involving mostly North American archaeologists that emphasized using the scientific method and quantification to study cultural processes rather than "mere" chronology. I have intentionally left out the second "a" in the word "archeology" in keeping with the practice of the New Archeology, who saw it as archaic and a symbol of European hegemony. (See Processual Archaeology and Binford, Lewis)" - p 169

I proposed spelling what was traditionally "magick" in the revised form of "magik" so I can relate to this revised archeology spelling. But, then, is the following a misspelling?

"PROVENIENCE The exact place where an artifact is found." - p 170

"Note: In archaeology Provenience, meaning the actual place or findspot of an object, while provenance refers to its modern (post-excavation) history." - In archaeology Provenience, meaning,(post%2Dexcavation)

About the author/illustrator:

"Adrian Praetzellis's first archaeological fireldwork was on the famous site at Mucking in southern England, where he spent July of 1969 schlepping wheelbarrows full of gravel in the rain. Eschewing the trades of bricklayer's laborer and assembly line worker, Praetzellis devoted the early 1970s to learning the field archaeologist's craft by digging Roman and medieval sites on the British archaeological "circuit."" - p 175






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