The ancient astronaut theory survived the 1970s almost entirely because Erich von Däniken and Zecharia Sitchin became, at least in their limited spheres, celebrities. Today, Giorgio Tsoukalos, Philip Coppens, and David Childress fill the same role. The personality drives the idea; these men are selling themselves as a brand as much (if not more) than the ancient alien idea. Tsoukalos is the culmination of this idea; he sells autographed merchandise on his website, charges a fortune to lend his “personality” to conferences and events, and produces absolutely no original writing or research of any kind. By contrast, Landsburg produced two relatively well written books (with his wife Sally) and three solid (if untrue) documentaries and a syndicated series (In Search of…) without ever making himself part of the story he tried to tell.
It’s rather ironic, of course, that Landsburg’s very professionalism—putting the material and the ideas above the reporter—cost him canonization in the ancient alien pantheon.
Second, Landsburg lost interest in his alternative theories. While von Däniken—who had no other source of income—stuck with the aliens for 45 years, Landsburg produced more than 2,000 hours of television in a bewildering variety of fields, including The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau and Kate & Allie. At the very time he launched the alternative history series In Search of…, his interest in ancient astronauts had already given way to his passion for horse racing. With no new material forthcoming, Landsburg’s early 1970s ancient astronaut efforts faded from memory, merging with von Däniken, Sitchin, and others, and subsumed by them.
Third, his ideas were weird and wrong. I’ve already written about his silly claim that the ancient astronauts would return on Christmas Eve 2011, and he also had some other howlers. In his In Search of Ancient Mysteries, he related from Pedro de Cieza de Leon, a conquistador, that a “resplendent sun” rose from an island in Lake Titicaca. “Could the sun that rose so resplendently have been a departing spacecraft?” he asked. Tsoukalos and Childress couldn’t have put it better.
Well, no, it wasn’t a spaceship. How do we know this? Although Landsburg more or less correctly quotes his Spanish source--though he actually misleadingly abridges without acknowledgement a translation appearing in a 1971 National Geographic article--he quotes only one sentence, while the larger passage makes very plain that we are talking about an imaginary event. For the record, NatGeo is on the left and Landsburg on the right.
These Indians say that their ancient ones hold it to be the truth that for many days the world was in darkness, and while they were all in blackness and obscurity, there rose from this island of Titicaca a resplendent sun.
These Indians say that their ancient ones hold it to be the truth that there rose from this island of Titicaca a resplendent sun.
Antes que los Incas reinasen en estos reinos ni en ellos fuesen conocidos, cuentan estos indios otra cosa muy mayor que todas las que ellos dicen, porque afirman questuvieron mucho tiempo sin ver el sol, y que padeciendo gran trabajo con esta falta, hacian grandes votos é plegarias á los que ellos tenian por dioses, pidiéndoles la lumbre de que carecian; y questando desta suerte, salió de la isla de Titicaca, questá dentro de la gran laguna del Collao, el sol muy resplandeciente, con que todos se alegraron.
Before the Incas reigned in these kingdoms, or had ever been heard of, the Indians relate another thing much more notable than all things else they say. For they declare that they were a long time without seeing the sun, and that, suffering much evil from its absence, great prayers and vows were offered up to their gods, imploring for the light they needed. Things being in this state, the sun, shining very brightly, came forth from the island of Titicaca, in the great lake of the Collao, at which everyone rejoiced.
(Second Part of the Chronicle of Peru, chapter 5, trans. Clements R. Markham)
I don’t know why every ancient astronaut author or pundit feels compelled to fabricate quotations or manipulate them, but Alan Landsburg was no exception. He (a) used a secondary source rather than check the original, (b) took a line out of context, and (c) purposely altered the quotation to remove inconvenient material. Trifecta! Seriously, how can this man not be on Ancient Aliens?