First, I’m sure you remember that on Ancient Aliens S05E10 “The Von Däniken Legacy,” Erich von Däniken repeated his frequent assertion that the Great Pyramid was anonymous and that its construction is a complete mystery. In Chariots of the Gods (1968), he laid out his rhetorical case for alien involvement:
The Great Pyramid is (and remains?) visible testimony of a technique that has never been understood. Today, in the twentieth century, no architect could build a copy of the Pyramid of Cheops, even if the technical resources of every continent were at his disposal. […] Several hundred thousand workers pushed and pulled blocks weighing 12 tons up a ramp with (nonexistent) ropes on (non-existent) rollers. This host of workers lived on (non-existent) grain. They slept in (non-existent) huts which the Pharaoh had built outside his summer palace.
And today we have word that archaeologists have uncovered the oldest port in Egypt, on the Red Sea, dating back to the time of Khufu. At the site archaeologists found the oldest papyrus texts in Egypt, from the same period, and these texts apparently discuss the daily activities of Merrer while the Great Pyramid was under construction. The papyri discuss arrangements for provisioning workers with bread and beer, as well as details of transporting limestone blocks from the Turrah quarry for use in the Great Pyramid.
The banality of daily life really cuts against the fantastic narrative of alien intervention, not to mention more recent speculation that the Egyptians floated the blocks with magic sound waves, flew them through the sky with kites, poured them with concrete, etc.
To be fair, this find does not directly challenge Giorgio Tsoukalos’ revised version whereby the aliens merely planned the pyramids and delivered the blueprints to the Egyptians. But since Tsoukalos’ evidence for that was a late medieval Arabic text that says no such thing, and Philip Coppens’ evidence was a Ptolemaic era stela that also said no such thing, we of course await Tsoukalos’ proof that aliens planned the pyramids.
In the current issue of Skeptical Inquirer Robert Sheaffer reviews several 1960s-era scientific papers that discuss the problems physics causes for interstellar travel. His interest is in how this impacts the likelihood of UFOs being alien spacecraft, but it also provides an intriguing test of the ancient astronaut theory. Edward M. Purcell calculated in 1963 that for a ship from another world to reach ours, it would need to accelerate to near the speed of light, requiring fuel in excess of one billion times the mass of the ship. According to William Markowitz in 1967—the year before Chariots of the Gods—an extraterrestrial spacecraft using nuclear energy as propulsion would sear the ground below at 85,000 degrees C and leave a radiation signature equivalent to an atomic bomb blast. Since there is no evidence of this anywhere on earth, Markowitz concluded that such craft have not landed here. Similarly, there is no evidence of billions of tons of fuel material missing from the earth.
This sort of puts the lie to von Däniken’s and Zecharia Sitchin’s claims that every fiery chariot or smoky apparition was an alien rocket ship on the Saturn V model.
Markowitz noted that such physical impossibilities could be wished away with special pleading for unrecognized forms of propulsion. Ancient Aliens is particularly fond of wormholes, for which there is currently no scientific evidence that they (a) exist or (b) are large and stable enough for ships to pass through safely.
Perhaps this is why more recent ancient astronaut claims have backed away from actual spaceships and real aliens toward a more nebulous “non-human intelligence” penetrating our dimension from a vaguely-defined other reality via misunderstood properties of quantum mechanics. (Careful readers will recall that this was the plot of H. P. Lovecraft’s “Dreams in the Witch House,” where a witch’s magic is revealed as advanced math for traveling across dimensions.)
Teaching Kids about Ancient Aliens
The Marvel Comics universe has its share of ancient aliens. Most famously, it makes the Norse gods into a race of aliens. In the most recent episode of the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon (“The Man-Wolf”), Disney and Marvel are also teaching children that ancient aliens have left archaeological remains on the moon. DC Comics is not immune, of course. In addition to its cosmos full of alien races, the final episodes of the excellent Young Justice cartoon proposed that ancient aliens were responsible for Egyptian temples. Similarly, during the first and only season of Green Lantern: The Animated Series aliens were responsible for the archaeological ruins of an ancient temple. Even Disney’s Phineas and Ferb suggested aliens built the pyramids.
I’m the last person to say that fiction shouldn’t be allowed to present fantastic scenarios, but I can’t help but think that the frequency with which the ancient astronaut hypothesis is used—and not as outrageous fantasy as in Lovecraft but rather as an accepted background truth—does run the risk of priming kids to accept the idea later on. Unintentionally, the repetition of this idea in cartoons serves as ancient alien propaganda.