Ancient Astronaut

Chariots of the Gods?

According to ancient astronaut theories, intelligent extraterrestrial beings visited Earth during the origins or development of human cultures, technologies, and/or religions. Some of these theories propose that deities from most – if not all – religions are actually extraterrestrials, and their technologies were taken as evidence of their divine status. Ancient astronaut theories have been widely used as a plot device in science fiction (e.g. ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ ‘Stargate’).

Such theories have not received support within the scientific community, and have received little or no attention in peer reviewed studies from scientific journals.

Proponents of ancient astronaut theories often maintain that humans are either descendants or creations of extraterrestrial beings, and that much of human knowledge, religion, and culture came from an extraterrestrial ‘mother culture.’ Ancient astronaut proponents also believe that travelers from outer space known as ‘astronauts’ or ‘spacemen’ built many of the structures on earth such as the pyramids in Egypt and the Moai stone heads of Easter Island or aided humans in building them.

Proponents argue that the evidence for ancient astronauts comes from supposed gaps in historical and archaeological records. The evidence is said to include archaeological artifacts that they argue are anachronistic or beyond the presumed technical capabilities of the historical cultures with which they are associated (sometimes referred to as ‘Out-of-place artifacts’); and artwork and legends which are interpreted as depicting extraterrestrial contact or technologies. Legitimate academics have responded that gaps in contemporary knowledge of the past need not demonstrate that such speculative ancient astronaut ideas are a necessary conclusion to draw. Thomas Gold, a professor of astronomy, suggested a ‘garbage theory’ for the origin of life, proposing that life on earth might have spread from a pile of waste products accidentally dumped on Earth long ago by extraterrestrials.

‘Paleocontact’ narratives first appear in early science fiction of the late 19th to early 20th century. The idea was proposed in earnest by Harold T. Wilkins (1954), and it received some consideration as a serious hypothesis during the 1960s, and has been mostly confined to the field of pseudoscience and pop culture since the 1970s. Ancient astronauts appear as a feature of UFO religions beginning with the Space opera in Scientology scripture (1967), followed by Raelism (1974).

Erich von Däniken was a leading proponent of this theory in the late 1960s and early 1970s, gaining a large audience through the 1968 publication of his best-selling book ‘Chariots of the Gods?’ and its sequels. Certain artifacts and monumental constructions are claimed by von Däniken to have required a more sophisticated technological ability in their construction than that which was available to the ancient cultures who constructed them. Von Däniken maintains that these artifacts were constructed either directly by extraterrestrial visitors or by humans who learned the necessary knowledge from said visitors. These include Stonehenge, Pumapunku, the Moai of Easter Island, the Great Pyramid of Giza, and the ancient Baghdad electric batteries.

Von Däniken claims that ancient art and iconography throughout the world illustrates air and space vehicles, non-human but intelligent creatures, ancient astronauts, and artifacts of an anachronistically advanced technology. Von Däniken also claims that geographically separated historical cultures share artistic themes, which he argues imply a common origin. One such example is his interpretation of the sarcophagus lid recovered from the tomb of the Classic-era Maya ruler of Palenque, Pacal the Great. Von Däniken claimed the design represented a seated astronaut, whereas the iconography and accompanying Maya text identifies it as a portrait of the ruler himself with the World Tree of Maya mythology.

The origins of many religions are interpreted by von Däniken as reactions to encounters with an alien race. According to his view, humans considered the technology of the aliens to be supernatural and the aliens themselves to be gods. Von Däniken claims that the oral and written traditions of most religions contain references to alien visitors in the way of descriptions of stars and vehicular objects travelling through air and space. One such is Ezekiel’s revelation in the Old Testament, which Däniken interprets as a detailed description of a landing spacecraft.

Ancient astronaut author Zecharia Sitchin’s series ‘The Earth Chronicles,’ beginning with ‘The 12th Planet,’ revolves around Sitchin’s interpretation of ancient Sumerian and Middle Eastern texts, megalithic sites, and artifacts from around the world. He theorizes the gods of old Mesopotamia were actually astronauts from the planet ‘Nibiru,’ which Sitchin claims the Sumerians believed to be a remote ’12th planet’ (counting the Sun, Moon, and Pluto as planets) associated with the Mesopotamian god Marduk. According to Sitchin, Nibiru continues to orbit our sun on a 3,600-year elongated orbit. Sitchin also suggests that the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter is the shattered remains of the ancient planet ‘Tiamat,’ which he claims was destroyed in one of Nibiru’s orbits through the solar system. Modern astronomy has found no evidence to support Sitchin’s claims.

Sitchin claimed there are Sumerian texts which tell the story that 50 Anunnaki (Mesopotamian dieties), inhabitants of a planet named Nibiru, came to Earth approximately 400,000 years ago with the intent of mining raw materials, especially gold, for transport back to Nibiru. With their small numbers they soon grew tired of the task and set out to genetically engineer laborers to work the mines. After much trial and error they eventually created homo sapiens sapiens: the ‘Adapa’ (model man) or Adam of later mythology. Sitchin contended the Anunnaki were active in human affairs until their culture was destroyed by global catastrophes caused by the abrupt end of the last ice age some 12,000 years ago. Seeing that humans survived and all they had built was destroyed, the Anunnaki left Earth after giving humans the opportunity and means to govern themselves.

Modern archaeologists and experts in the ancient Sumerian culture and language reject every one of these claims insisting Sitchin had simply invented a non-existent Sumerian mythology, that the texts and tablets which Sitchin described do not actually exist, and that the texts of ancient Sumer, Akkad, and Ugarit do not contain any of these stories or even variations on them. It has also been pointed out that many of Sitchin’s translations of Sumerian and Mesopotamian words are not consistent with Mesopotamian cuneiform bilingual dictionaries, produced by ancient Akkadian scribes.

American author Robert K. G. Temple’s 1976 book, ‘The Sirius Mystery’ argues that the Dogon people of northwestern Mali preserved an account of extraterrestrial visitation from around 5,000 years ago. He quotes various lines of evidence, including supposed advanced astronomical knowledge inherited by the tribe, descriptions, and comparative belief systems with ancient civilizations such as ancient Egypt and Sumer. His work draws heavily on the studies of cultural anthropologists Marcel Griaule and Germaine Dieterlen. His conclusions have been criticized by scientists, who point out discrepancies within Temple’s account, and suggested that the Dogon may have received some of their astronomical information recently, probably from European sources, and may have misrepresented Dogon ethnography.

In their 1966 book ‘Intelligent Life in the Universe’ astrophysicists I.S. Shklovski and Carl Sagan devote a chapter to arguments that scientists and historians should seriously consider the possibility that extraterrestrial contact occurred during recorded history. However, Shklovski and Sagan stressed that these ideas were speculative and unproven. Shklovski and Sagan argued that sub-lightspeed interstellar travel by extraterrestrial life was a certainty when considering technologies that were established or feasible in the late ’60s; that repeated instances of extraterrestrial visitation to Earth were plausible; and that pre-scientific narratives can offer a potentially reliable means of describing contact with outsiders. Additionally, Shklovski and Sagan cited tales of Oannes, a fishlike being attributed with teaching agriculture, mathematics, and the arts to early Sumerians, as deserving closer scrutiny as a possible instance of paleocontact due to its consistency and detail.

In his 1979 book ‘Broca’s Brain,’ Sagan suggested that he and Shklovski might have inspired the wave of ’70s ancient astronaut books, expressing disapproval of ‘von Däniken and other uncritical writers’ who seemingly built on these ideas not as guarded speculations but as ‘valid evidence of extraterrestrial contact.’ Sagan argued that while many legends, artifacts, and purported out-of-place artifacts were cited in support of ancient astronaut theories, ‘very few require more than passing mention’ and could be easily explained with more conventional theories. Sagan also reiterated his earlier conclusion that extraterrestrial visits to Earth were possible but unproven, and perhaps improbable.

Various new religious movements including theosophy, Nation of Islam, Scientology, The Urantia Book, Raëlism, and Heaven’s Gate believe in ancient and present-day contact with extraterrestrial intelligence. Many of these faiths see both ancient scriptures and recent revelations as connected with the action of aliens from other planetary systems. Sociologists and psychologists have found that UFO religions have similarities which suggest that members of these groups consciously or subliminally associate enchantment with the memes of science fiction.

Proponents attempt to draw an analogy to occurrences in modern times when isolated cultures are exposed to Western technology, such as when, in the early 20th century, ‘cargo cults’ were discovered in the South Pacific: cultures who believed various Western ships and their cargo to be sent from the gods as fulfillment of prophecies concerning their return.

In Hindu mythology, the gods and their avatars travel from place to place in flying vehicles (variously called ‘flying chariots,’ ‘flying cars,’ or Vimanas). There are many mentions of these flying machines in the Ramayana, which dates to the 5th or 4th century BCE. Erich von Däniken discusses the Ramayana and the vimanas in ‘Chariots of the Gods?’, suggesting that they were ‘space vehicles.’

The Book of Genesis states: ‘When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.’ ‘The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them.’ One interpretation is that the Nephilim are the children of the ‘sons of God’ and ‘daughters of humans,’ although scholars are uncertain. The King James Version replaces the term ‘Nephilim’ with ‘giants.’

The first part of the apocryphal Book of Enoch (an ancient Jewish text) expands and interprets Genesis. It explains that the ‘sons of God’ were a group of 200 ‘angels’ called ‘Watchers.’ Against God’s wishes, these Watchers descended to Earth to breed with humans. Their offspring are the Nephilim, ‘giants’ who ‘consumed all the acquisitions of men.’ When humans could no longer sustain the Nephilim, they turned against humanity. The Watchers also instructed humans in metallurgy and metalworking, cosmetics, sorcery, astrology, astronomy, and meteorology. God then ordered the Watchers to be imprisoned in the ground. He created the Great Flood to rid Earth of the Nephilim and of the humans who had been given knowledge by the Watchers. However, to ensure humanity’s survival, Noah is forewarned of the oncoming destruction. Because they disobeyed God, the book also describes the Watchers as ‘fallen angels.’

Some ancient astronaut theorists believe that this story is a historical account of extraterrestrials visiting Earth. In their interpretation, the ‘angels’ are extraterrestrials and were called Watchers because their mission was to observe humanity. Some of the extraterrestrials disobeyed orders; they made contact with humans, cross-bred with human females and shared knowledge with them. The Nephilim were thus half-human-half-extraterrestrial hybrids.

Chuck Missler and Mark Eastman argue that modern UFOs carry the fallen angels, or offspring of fallen angels: the Nephilim of Genesis, who have now returned. They believe it was this interbreeding between the angels and humans that led to what they call ‘the gene pool problem.’ Noah was perfect in his ‘generations,’ that is ‘Noah’s genealogy was not tarnished by the intrusion of fallen angels. It seems that this adulteration of the human gene pool was a major problem on the planet earth.’ Von Däniken suggests that the two angels who visited Lot in ‘Genesis’ were not angels, but ancient astronauts. They may have used atomic weapons to destroy the city of Sodom. In any case, the otherworldly beings acted as if there was a time set for Sodom’s destruction. Von Däniken questioned why God would work on a timetable and why an ‘infinitely good Father’ would give ‘preference to ‘favorite children,’ such as Lot’s family, over countless others.’ Marc Dem completely reinterprets Genesis by claiming humanity started on another planet and that the God of the Bible is an extraterrestrial.

In the Biblical Old Testament, the Book of Ezekiel recounts a vision in which Ezekiel sees ‘an immense cloud’ that contains fire and emits lightning and ‘brilliant light.’ It continues: ‘The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures.’ These creatures are described as winged and humanoid, they ‘sped back and forth like flashes of lightning’ and ‘fire moved back and forth among the creatures.’ The passage goes on to describe four shiny objects, each appearing ‘like a wheel intersecting a wheel.’ These objects could fly and they moved with the creatures: “When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose.’ In ‘Chariots of the Gods?’ von Däniken suggests that Ezekiel had seen a spaceship or spaceships; this hypothesis had been put forward by Morris Jessup in 1956 and by Arthur W. Orton in 1961. A detailed version of this hypothesis was described by Josef F. Blumrich in his book ‘The Spaceships of Ezekiel’ (1974).

The characteristics of the Ark of the Covenant and the ‘Urim and Thummim’ (divination) have been said to suggest high technology, perhaps from alien origins. Robert Dione and Paul Misraki published books in the 1960s claiming the events in the Bible were caused by alien technology. Barry Downing, a Presbyterian minister wrote a book in 1968 claiming that Jesus was an extraterrestrial, citing biblical verses as evidence. Some ancient astronaut proponents such as Von Däniken and Barry Downing believe that the concept of hell in the Bible could be a real description of the planet Venus brought to earth by extraterrestrials showing photos of the hot surface on Venus to humans.

Atistic support for the ancient astronaut theory has been sought in Palaeolithic cave paintings. Wondjina in Australia and Val Camonica in Italy are claimed to bear a resemblance to present day astronauts. Supporters of the ancient astronaut theory sometimes claim that similarities such as dome shaped heads, interpreted as beings wearing space helmets, prove that early man was visited by an extraterrestrial race. More support of this theory draws upon what are claimed to be representations of flying saucers in medieval and renaissance art. This is used to support the ancient astronaut theory by attempting to show that the creators of humanity return to check up on their creation throughout time.

The ancient Nazca Lines are hundreds of huge ground drawings etched into the high desert of southern Peru. Some are stylized animals and humanoid figures, while others are merely straight lines hundreds of meters long. As the figures were made to be seen from a great height, they have been linked with the ancient astronaut theory. Von Däniken (1970) says that the Nazca lines and figures could have been made ‘according to instructions from aircraft’ and suggests that the longer and wider lines might be runways for spacecraft. However, professor Joe Nickell of the University of Kentucky, was able to re-create one of the figures using only wooden stakes and string. Ancient astronaut proponents suggest that the Nazca were visited by extraterrestrials and, after they left, the Nazca created the huge figures to try to draw them back to Earth.

Alleged physical evidence for ancient astronauts includes the discovery of artifacts in Egypt (the Saqqara Bird) and Colombia-Ecuador, which are claimed to be similar to modern planes and gliders, although these have been interpreted by archaeologists as stylized representations of birds and insects.

Evidence for ancient astronauts is claimed to include the existence of ancient monuments and megalithic ruins such as the Giza pyramids of Egypt, Machu Picchu in Peru, or Baalbek in Lebanon, the Moai of Easter Island, and Stonehenge of England. Supporters contend these stone structures could not have been built with the technical abilities and tools of the people of the time and further argue that many could not be duplicated even today. They suggest that the large size of the building stones, the precision with which they were laid, and the distances many were transported leaves the question open as to who constructed these sites.

These contentions are categorically rejected by mainstream archeology. Some mainstream archeologists have participated in experiments to move large megaliths. These experiments have succeeded in moving megaliths up to at least 40 tons, and they have speculated that with a larger workforce larger megaliths could be towed with ancient technology. Such allegations are not unique in history, however, as similar reasoning lay behind the wonder of the Cyclopean masonry walling at Mycenaean cities in the eyes of Greeks of the following ‘Dark Age,’ who believed that the giant Cyclopes had built the walls.

A number of ancient cultures, such as the Ancient Egyptians and some Native Americans, artificially lengthened the skulls of their children. Some ancient astronaut theorists propose that this was done to emulate extraterrestrial visitors, whom they saw as gods. Among the ancient rulers depicted with elongated skulls are pharaoh Akhenaten and Nefertiti. It has been pointed out that the Grey aliens described by many alien abductees have similarly shaped heads. Ancient astronaut proponents suggest that the owners of the biggest of the lengthened skulls may be human-extraterrestrial hybrids.

In a 2004 article in ‘Skeptic’ magazine, Jason Colavito claims that von Däniken plagiarized many of his book’s concepts from ‘Le Matin des Magiciens’ (‘Morning of the Magicians’) written by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier in 1960, that this book in turn was heavily influenced by the Cthulhu Mythos, and that the core of the ancient astronaut theory originates in H. P. Lovecraft’s short stories ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ and ‘At the Mountains of Madness.’

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