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  • J. Norman Emerson and Intuitive Archeology November 25, 2010

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback

    You, the archaeologist, are presented with a green hill far away and told to dig. ‘Back in the day’ – Beachcombing is thinking of happy times in the happy nineteenth century – you would have simply hired out a little brawn from a nearby town and blitzed said hillside with spades and picks. No pension contributions, no dirty hands, just tea and scones on the veranda while your men ran up to you with pots of Roman coins. However, with tedious modern requirements to only ever dig over part of a site, archaeology becomes roulette. How do you know where to concentrate your efforts? Yes, yes, of course, there are metal detectors but so much of what is interesting in archaeology – an inscription with ‘King Arthur woz here’ or Camelot’s wooden palisade – will not jog a metal detector’s attention.

    Given this difficult situation, it is only natural that some archaeologists have looked for other inspirations. And it is only natural too that there is a long history of psychic assistance – ‘the human metal detector’ – in searching out artifacts from the past. Beachcombing, in fact, has a whopping great file of attempts by diggers to go beyond the rational ranging from eighteenth-century treasure hunters contacting spirits, to experiments with dowsing in the twenty-first century. Most of the individuals involved are psychics who have shouldered their way into archaeology (Stefan Ossowiecki) or archaeologists who had an already saucy reputation (Frederick Bligh Bond, the fascinating Tom Lethbridge…). But there are a couple of examples of serious, senior archaeologists dallying with the psychic, perhaps none more senior than J. Norman Emerson (1917-1978)

    JNE was a Canadian archaeologist based out of Toronto with a doctorate from Chicago. He was one of the big names in North American archaeology – President of the Canadian Archaelogical Association, 1970 – and had specialised in the Iroquis. Beachcombing’s copyright library of choice has extremely serious titles by this archaeological heavyweight including A study of Fort St. Joseph and Understanding Iroquois Pottery in Ontario: A Rethinking.

    It goes without saying that these titles do not suggest someone with a short attention span or an interest in the inhabitants of other worlds.

    However, Emerson became interested in psychics as the handmaids of archaeology in the late 1960s. The spur was his wife who attended an Edgar Cayce Study Group and though JNM began as a sceptic he gradually followed his spouse across ‘to the other side’.

    Beachcombing suspects that many archaeologists would be capable of doing thus: perhaps even sneaking a psychic onto their digs and having some quick, illicit discussions with them behind the dig’s toilets.

    But what marked Emerson out was his refusal to brush aside what he believed were the successful results of his work with one sixth-senser, George McMullen.

    In 1973, at a congress, Emerson went public with his findings… Beachcombing cringes to think of the silence that will have come over the hall as the great man spoke. If any of his older readers were there then Beachcombing would (almost) kill for a description, he’d certainly send roses: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com.

    Now scientific communities generally have zero tolerance when one of their own go ‘rogue’. However, it is a mark of the very great esteem in which Emerson was held that he was not ostracised. In fact, Emerson published several articles in journals (including Phoenix) describing his adventures with ‘intuitive archaeology’ (in PR terms an inspired name) and some of his students experimented with ‘intuition’ themselves.

    Beachcombing will now let Emerson make his own case:

    Although I do not claim that my studies have achieved the status of being scientific, neither can they be ignored or dismissed as nonsense, imagination or hallucinations. The key to the matter appears to lie in the concept of intuition. I found for my purpose a workable definition of intuition is that individuals exist who have ‘an immediate knowledge or knowing of events without the obvious use of learning or reason’. Intuitive or psychic individuals can tell about past events and circumstances by a poorly-understood process of immediate knowing. It has long been a rationalization of the discipline of archaeology that for man to cope with his unknown future he will be better equipped if he has detailed understanding of his own past. I propose to use an innovative approach to this understanding by combining the disciplines of archaeology, science and psychic studies. I believe that the experiences I have been privileged to have are but a small part of what is available to humanity. I hope there are significant signs of a snowballing revolution of evolution of the increased spiritual nature and awareness of human beings that is everywhere evident to those who will but look at it with an open mind. This should have great impact on the future of mankind at a time when we so evidently require change in positive directions.

    Beachcombing here is reminded of his recent post on the historical novelist Elizabeth Chadwick and her experiments with Akasha. Personally, Beachcombing is a reprobate if reluctant sceptic. But he admires EC’s and Emerson’s courage in employing and publicising such unusual techniques. That courage must have been almost eye-popping for an established archaeologist back in the 1970s. Looking at Emerson’s biography, Beachcombing is struck that there seems to be a coincidence between his interest in psychic archaeology and ill-health leading to a premature death. Was it his ill health that convinced Emerson to speak out?


    Nov 25, 2010: As quick as light, Ontu writes in with link. ‘In 1973, Norman’s researches veered to investigating psychological and intuitive aspects of archaeology. Long an interest to him, as those who remember the Sheek Island and Cahiagué ghost stories, or the lectures on psycho-ceramics will note, he found intuitive archaeology exciting, believable, and a major challenge to explain. His numerous papers on this subject attest to the prolific energy he devoted to this new research avenue.’

    Ghost stories… lectures on psycho-ceramics… Beachcombing prays that he will soon learn more.