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Xenoarchaeology and the Hierarchy of Exclusion

Xenoarchaeology is the study of past alien cultures from their physical remains.  The prefix xeno- is from the Greek xenos, ‘stranger’. Alien, in this instance, refers to members of any species other than that of the hypothetical xenoarchaeologist.  A human studying martian ruins is a xenoarchaeologist, as is a martian studying human ruins. The term ‘alien’ always sounds a little pejorative to me (how about non-human person?), but I use it here instead of ‘extraterrestrial’ which could be taken as a spatial designation, and because in the future there could conceivably be terrestrial nonhuman cultures (say, from uplifted animals or artificial intelligences). Despite its connotations, the word ‘alien’ conveys the otherness of the culture to be studied. … Read entire article »

Filed under: Theory

Review: The Prospect of Astro-Palaeontology, by John Armitage

Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, vol. 30, pp. 466-9, 1976. After it was published this paper seems to have fallen into utter obscurity. It was pure serendipity that led me to stumble across it. All that I can determine about John Armitage is that he became a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society on 10 December 1976[1], and that the paper was also presented at the Second British Interplanetary Society Conference on Interstellar Travel and Communication, 4-5 April 1977. In it the author argues, as I have, that it seems likely that the number of galactic extinct civilizations is greater than the number of galactic extant civilizations. Armitage makes the distinction that detectable civilizations are only apparently extant, given the relativistic gap between signal transmission and detection. … Read entire article »

Filed under: Reviews

How to Disassemble a Planet

In 1960 Freeman Dyson proposed that a sufficiently-motivated civilization might build an ‘artificial biosphere’ around a star in order to fully exploit its radiated energy. This concept has become known as a Dyson sphere. The idea of enclosing a star seems incredible, but as Dyson later wrote: ‘there is nothing so big nor so crazy that one out of a million technological societies may not feel itself driven to do.’ … Read entire article »

Filed under: Artefacts

Genomic SETI

Anthropologist John Hawks has an interesting post on genomic SETI, responding to a Wall Street Journal essay by Paul Davies promoting The Eerie Silence.   The rationale for genomic SETI is that terrestrial organisms might have been genetically modified or created from scratch by ancient extraterrestrials, and that evidence of this, even deliberate messages, might be found in their genomes. … Read entire article »

Filed under: Theory

Review: The Eerie Silence, by Paul Davies

Are We Alone In The Universe / Renewing Our Search For Alien Intelligence Illustrated. 242 pages. Allen Lane. $15.82 – $17.82 [Buy from]. There are two subtitles for different editions of this fine book by Paul Davies.  Subtle promotional reasons most likely dictated the variance for different markets, but ‘Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence’ is truer to the theme of the book. Published for the 50th anniversary of SETI, Davies, one of the best cosmological science writers of our day, uses this work to challenge the assumptions of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. ‘How could something as bold and visionary as SETI become conservative?’ Davies asks in the first chapter. His answer: anthropocentrism (and later, what you might call ‘radiocentrism’). There’s a great sequence in the first chapter of examples of scientists basing … Read entire article »

Filed under: Reviews

Space Archaeology: Definitions 2

Alun Salt has written a thoughtful response to my previous post about space archaeology theory … so here’s my thoughts on his thoughts My prior post featured a Venn diagram illustrating the conceptual space of the field and the interrelationships of its subfields of aerospace, xeno- and exo- archaeology. Alun asks whether this definition adds anything, and whether it’s necessary to draw boundaries around the field. Should a definition add anything or should it describe and clarify? I think the diagram adequately encapsulates the subject, even though I wasn’t sure how to visually convey the way that space heritage and exogarbology permeate the subfields (perhaps some kind of hatching?). Is the definition limiting? Perhaps I’m wrong, but the diagram seems to encompass all possible fields that could be considered space archaeology, … Read entire article »

Filed under: Theory

10 Space Archaeology Novels You Must Read

A past-focused discipline like archaeology would seem to be a subject far removed from the future-focused science fiction genre. But as the literature of the scientific revolution, science fiction adopts archaeological themes to illustrate the concepts of deep time and cosmic indifference (as well as to provide ‘sensawunda’). I’ve read a lot of sci fi, so I’ve put together a list of ten must-read novels featuring archaeologists or archaeological themes. I think this is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in the way science fiction deals with archaeology, or who wants a good read. Serendipitously, it’s worked out to be a pretty good spread of authors over the past 80 years, so you should find something you like. … Read entire article »

Filed under: Fiction