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Xenoarchaeology is a hypothetical form of archaeology that exists mainly in works of science fiction. The field is concerned with the study of material remains to reconstruct and interpret past life-ways of alien civilizations. Xenoarchaeology is not currently practiced by mainstream archaeologists due to the current lack of any material for the discipline to study.


  • Etymology 1
  • Justification 2
  • History 3
  • Planetary SETI 4
  • Probe SETI, or SETA 5
  • Dysonian SETI 6
  • Fringe theories 7
  • Science fiction 8
    • Novels 8.1
    • Short stories 8.2
    • Computer and video games 8.3
    • Movies 8.4
    • Television 8.5
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


The name derives from Greek xenos (ξένος) which means 'stranger, alien', and archaeology 'study of ancients'.

Xenoarchaeology is sometimes called exoarchaeology, although some would argue that the prefix exo- would be more correctly applied to the study of human activities in a space environment.[1]

Other names for xenoarchaeology, or specialised fields of interest, include Probe SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence), extraterrestrial archaeology, space archaeology, SETA (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Artifacts), Dysonian SETI, Planetary SETI, SETT (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Technology), SETV (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Visitation),[2] extraterrestrial anthropology, areoarchaeology and selenoarchaeology.[3]


It is arguably the case that, due to the immense distances between stars, any evidence we discover of extraterrestrial intelligence, whether it be an artifact or an electromagnetic signal, may come from a long-vanished civilization. Thus the entire SETI project can be seen as a form of archaeology.[4][5][6] Additionally, due to the extreme age of the universe, there may be a reasonable expectation for astrobiology research to produce evidence of extinct alien life prior to the discovery of alien life itself.[7]

The study of alien cultures might offer us glimpses into our own species' past or future development.[8][9]

Vicky Walsh argued for the existence of "exo-artifacts" using the principle of mediocrity and the Drake equation. She proposed that a theoretical and speculative field of archaeology be established in order to test outlandish claims, and to prepare for a time when undeniably extraterrestrial artifacts needed to be analysed. "If it is possible to construct an abstract archaeology that can be tested and refined on earth and then applied to areas beyond our planet, then the claims for ETI remains on the moon and Mars may really be evaluated in light of established archaeological theory and analysis".[10]

Ben McGee similarly proposed the creation of a set of interdisciplinary, proactive xenoarchaeological guidelines, arguing that identifying suspected artifacts of astrobiology is all that is required to justify establishing a methodology for xenoarchaeology. He emphasized the necessity of proactive xenoarchaeological work in order to avoid future bias, mischaracterization, and information mismanagement, and he cites three scenarios under which such a methodology or set of guidelines would be useful, those being "remote sensing" of a potential xenoarchaeologial artifact, encountering an artifact during "human exploration," and "terrestrial interception" of an artifact.[7]

Greg Fewer has argued that archaeological techniques should be used to evaluate alleged UFO landing or crash sites, such as Roswell.[11]


The origins of the field have been traced[12] to theories about a hypothetical Martian civilization based on observations of what were perceived as canals on Mars. These theories, of which Percival Lowell was the most famous exponent, were apparently inspired by a mistranslation of a quote by Giovanni Schiaparelli.

The 1997 Theoretical Archaeology Group conference featured a session on "archaeology and science fiction".

The 2004 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association featured a session Anthropology, Archaeology and Interstellar Communication.[13]

Planetary SETI

Planetary SETI is concerned with the search for extraterrestrial structures on the surface of bodies in the Solar System. Claims for evidence of extraterrestrial artifacts can be divided into three groups, the Moon, Mars, and the other planets and their satellites.[3]

Examples of sites of interest include the "bridge" sighted in the Mare Crisium in 1953, and the "Blair Cuspids" sighted in 1966. In 2006, Ian Crawford proposed that a search for alien artifacts be conducted on the Moon.[14]

Percival Lowell's mistaken identification of Martian canals was an early attempt to detect and study an alien culture from its supposed physical remains. More recently, there was interest in the supposed Face on Mars.

The Society for Planetary SETI Research is a loose organization of researchers interested in this field. The organization does not endorse any particular conclusions drawn by its members on particular sites.[15]

Probe SETI, or SETA

A great deal of research and writing has been done, and some searches conducted for extraterrestrial probes in the Solar System.[16] This followed the work of Ronald N. Bracewell.

Robert Freitas,[17][18][19] Christopher Rose and Gregory Wright have argued that interstellar probes can be a more energy-efficient means of communication than electromagnetic broadcasts.[20]

If so, a solarcentric Search for Extraterrestrial Artifacts (SETA)[21] would seem to be favored over the more traditional radio or optical searches. Robert A. Freitas coined the Term SETA in the 1980s.[22]

On the basis that the Earth-Moon or Sun-Earth libration orbits might constitute convenient parking places for automated extraterrestrial probes, unsuccessful searches were conducted by Freitas and Valdes.[23][24]

Dysonian SETI

In a 1960 paper, Freeman Dyson proposed the idea of a Dyson sphere, a type of extraterrestrial artifact able to be searched for and studied at interstellar distances. Following that paper, several searches have been conducted.[25]

In a 2005 paper, Luc Arnold proposed a means of detecting smaller, though still mega-scale, artifacts from their distinctive transit light curve signature.[26] (see Astroengineering).

Fringe theories

A subculture of enthusiasts studies purported structures on the Moon or Mars. These controversial "structures" (such as the Face on Mars) are not accepted as more than natural features by most scientists.

Palaeocontact or ancient astronaut theories, espoused by Erich von Däniken and others, are further examples of fringe theories. These claim that the Earth was visited in prehistoric times by extraterrestrial beings.

Science fiction

Xenoarchaeological themes are common in science fiction. Works about the exploration of enigmatic extraterrestrial artifacts have been satirically categorized as Big Dumb Object stories.

Some of the more prominent examples of xenoarchaeological fiction include Arthur C. Clarke's novel Rendezvous with Rama, H. Beam Piper's short story Omnilingual, and Charles Sheffield's Heritage Universe series.

Jack McDevitt's science fiction novels often revolve around human or alien historical and archaeological mysteries.

Mass Effect's plot revolves around technologies in the form of structures, transportation, buildings and machines left behind by an extinct alien race.

The primary setting of Halo: Combat Evolved takes place on a massive structure created by an ancient, extinct alien super race. These structures feature prominently in the sequels Halo 2, Halo 3, and Halo 4.

In the video game "Borderlands", and its sequel "Borderlands 2", the Atlas corporation started mining the planet Pandora after finding evidence of an ancient material called Eridium. This material was supposedly created by extraterrestrial creatures or is a natural product of long-term planetary production.


Short stories

Computer and video games



See also


  1. ^ Freitas, Robert. "Naming Extraterrestrial Life". , retrieved 7 October 2006.
  2. ^ Darling, David. "SETA (Search for Extraterrestrial Artifacts)". , retrieved 7 October 2006.
  3. ^ a b Matthews, Keith, 2002, Archaeology and the Extraterrestrial, in Miles Russell (ed), Digging Holes in Popular Culture, Bournemouth University School of Conservation Sciences Occasional Paper 7, Oxbow Books, Oxford, pp. 129–60
  4. ^ "They're Dead, Jim!". SETI League. , retrieved 7 October 2006.
  5. ^ "Future Archaeology". Astrobiology Magazine. 5 October 2006. 
  6. ^ Tarter, Jill (9 July 2004). "Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence – A Necessarily Long-Term Strategy". , retrieved 7 October 2006.
  7. ^ a b McGee, Ben (November 2010). "A Call for Proactive Xenoarchaeological Guidelines: Scientific, International Policy, and Socio-Political Considerations". Space Policy 26 (26): 209.  , retrieved 8 January 2011.
  8. ^ Kershaw, Carolyne (June 1996). "Letters – Star Trek digging". British Archaeology (15). , retrieved 7 October 2006.
  9. ^ Thomas, Charles (February 1996). "Diggers at the final frontier". British Archaeology (11). , retrieved 7 October 2006.
  10. ^ Walsh, Vicky, 2002, The case for exo-archaeology, in Miles Russell (ed), Digging Holes in Popular Culture, Bournemouth University School of Conservation Sciences Occasional Paper 7, Oxbow Books, Oxford, pp. 121–8.
  11. ^ Fewer, G. Searching for extraterrestrial intelligence: an archaeological approach to verifying evidence for extraterrestrial exploration on Earth, retrieved 7 October 2006.
  12. ^ Sutton, Mark Q. & Yohe, Robert M., II 2003, Archaeology: The Science of the Human Past, Allyn & Bacon, Boston, p. 73
  13. ^, retrieved 7 October 2006.
  14. ^ Groshong, Kimm (16 May 2006). "Looking for aliens on the Moon". New Scientist. , retrieved 7 October 2006.
  15. ^ "Society for Planetary SETI Research". , retrieved 7 October 2006.
  16. ^ Stride, S. "Probing for ETI's Probes in the Solar System". , retrieved 7 October 2006.
  17. ^ Freitas, R., Interstellar Probes: a New Approach to SETI, retrieved 7 October 2006.
  18. ^ Freitas, R., Debunking the Myths of Interstellar Probes, retrieved 7 October 2006.
  19. ^ Freitas, R., The Case for Interstellar Probes, retrieved 7 October 2006.
  20. ^ Rose, C. & Wright, G., Inscribed Matter as an Energy-Efficient Means of Communication with an Extraterrestrial Civilization, retrieved 7 October 2006.
  21. ^ Freitas, R., The Search for Extraterrestrial Artifacts (SETA), retrieved 7 October 2006.
  22. ^ Csaba Kecskes: Observation of Asteroids for Searching Extraterrestrial Artifacts. in: Viorel Badescu: Asteroids - prospective energy and material resources. Springer, Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-642-39243-6. p.635, [1]@google books
  23. ^ Freitas, R. & Valdes, F., A Search for Natural or Artificial Objects Located at the Earth-Moon Libration Points, retrieved 7 October 2006.
  24. ^ Valdes, F. & Freitas, R., A Search for Objects near the Earth-Moon Lagrangian Points, retrieved 7 October 2006.
  25. ^ Carrigan, D., Other Dyson Sphere searches, retrieved 7 October 2006.
  26. ^ Arnold, L., Transit Lightcurve Signatures of Artificial Objects, retrieved 29 October 2010.
  27. ^ Mihm, C. & Craig, J., Destination: Outer Space

External links

  • Space archaeology
  • Martian "artificial structures"
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