The Anthill

Anthill 20: Myths

How do we know that ideas we hold true aren’t just myths that will be proved untrue in the future? Or maybe you have a favourite fact or story that’s already been debunked but no one has told you yet.

In this episode of The Anthill podcast, all about myths, we’ve got three stories of researchers pouring cold water over ideas that some people still believe.

First, we hear from Cat Jarman, a bio-archaeologist at the University of Bristol who studies old bones on Easter Island in Polynesia. The native Rapanui people are often accused of destroying their own society by chopping down all the island’s trees to erect their famous stone statues. But as Jarman explains, this “ecocide” theory is a myth.

Statues, known as moai, on Easter Island. via trackpete/flickr, CC BY-NC

From myths about population decline, we turn to myths about race. Ornette Clennon, who co-leads Manchester Metropolitan University’s critical race and ethnicity research group, explains the history of polygenism – the pseudoscience of categorising humans into different racial categories or species. And Duncan Sayer, an archaeologist at the University of Central Lancashire, debunks myths about the Anglo Saxons that some present-day alt-right movements still hold true.

Our final story is about urban myths – those spine-tingling horror stories which always seem to happen to a friend of a friend. Karl Bell, a historian at the University of Portsmouth, recounts the origins of one such urban legend that terrified Victorian Londoners: spring-heeled jack.

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The Anthill theme music is by Alex Grey for Melody Loops. In the segment on Easter Island, the clip of Jared Diamond was from UCTV and the Easter Island music came via YouTube and the ChileTravelChannel. In the segment on urban legends, the music came from Lionel Schmitt via Soundcloud.

Click here to listen to more episodes of The Anthill, on themes including Belief, The Future and Pain.

A big thanks to City University London’s Department of Journalism for letting us use their studios to record.