Let’s begin at the beginning. In the 1980s, Childress began writing a series of books on “lost cities,” mixing a frothy blend of Victorian pseudoscience, “alternative” history, and New Age mysticism derived from the Lemurian Fellowship, which believes in lost continents (Lemuria and Mu) and an origin of humanity from planes beyond the human. At the time, the original ancient astronaut craze of the 1970s was dying out, and Childress’s books found a new niche, preserving the mystery without the aliens by revisiting old lies about Atlantis and Lemuria and Mu.
From this, I concluded that Childress could be described as a type of ancient astronaut theorist since he advocated (as much as any of these authors ever state anything definitively) aliens (“astronauts”) who were active in the deep past (“ancient”) and left archaeological remains.
But the 1990s alien renaissance was short lived, from roughly 1995 to 2005, under the influence of John Anthony West, Robert Bauval, and Graham Hancock (the last two would also, in The Mars Mystery, speculate on ancient aliens), alien ancestors were out of fashion in alternative history circles and lost civilizations were in. Childress did not want to be known as an “ancient astronaut” theorist. He actually took pains to come up with (ridiculous) alternative explanations to discredit the ancient astronaut theory. In his continuing Lost Cities series of books, Childress included claims that ancient ruins were not the work of aliens but evidence of “a man-made apocalypse,” probably a chemical one (Lost Cities of Atlantis, 1996). Then, still later, he said the evidence used by ancient astronaut theorists “can be alternatively explained in the time travel hypothesis” (Time Traveler’s Handbook, 1999) whereby future humans traveled back in time to inspire ancient cultures. Time travel, yes; aliens, no.
When I first started writing about archaeology in 2001, I wrote an article about Childress’s earlier claims that the Grand Canyon contains a Tibetan-Egyptian underground citadel, something that I endeavored to demonstrate was a hoax. Following that, I wrote an article criticizing Childress’s idea that prehistoric people had engaged in nuclear warfare. Versions of both articles are now included in my eBook Ancient Atom Bombs.
Well, Childress did not like these articles, and he made it known that he considered my examination of his claims an attack on him personally.
I had meanwhile incorporated my research into The Cult of Alien Gods (2005), which devoted seven pages to Childress and placed him in the context of 1980s alternative historians who emerged in the wake of Erich von Daniken and Zecharia Sitchin. That, of course, was the last straw. Childress was not about aliens. Not in 2005, anyway. Therefore, in an interview with the Chicago Reader in 2006, Childress attacked me for linking him to the then-unfashionable ancient astronaut theory:
“[M]y whole thing is that this stuff is from this planet. These giant ruins aren’t built by extraterrestrials. I say they were built by humans. Mankind and civilization goes back 50,000 years or more. What else can I assume is inaccurate in this book [Cult of Alien Gods]? This guy just plain doesn’t do his research.”
Strangely, when scholar Diana G. Tumminia used the same evidence I had used to call Childress an ancient astronaut theorist in a 2007 academic book, no criticism emerged from Childress. This may well have been because at the very same time that Childress issued his complaint, he was busy writing The Mystery of the Olmecs (2007) in which he discussed the ancient astronaut theory and suggested that early human groups deformed their skulls to look like aliens. (Like all ancient astronaut authors, he never makes a direct statement himself but instead “suggests” that “others” may claim this.) Unlike his earlier works, there was no dismissal of the ancient astronaut theory, only a generally positive citation of it. Perhaps sensing that the pop culture pendulum was swinging away from Atlantis and back to aliens, in 2009 Childress joined Ancient Aliens and for the past three TV seasons has been opining on the doings of “the aliens” for the History Channel, blithely unconcerned with his own previous views.
So, by my count Childress has “suggested” Atlantis, Mu, Lemuria, lost civilizations, time travel, and extraterrestrials as explanations for ancient cultures in his various publications and media appearances. So, on the one hand Childress was right. Describing him as an “ancient astronaut theorist” was perhaps a failure of research on my part; “slipshod scholar and opportunist,” however, I still think seems a bit harsh.