I have two gems from literature to share with you. The first is this picture, which ought to greatly excite ancient astronaut theorists. To look at it with modern eyes, it appears to show a man gazing at a flying saucer, in a piece of art produced six decades before the saucer era began. Unfortunately for ancient astronaut theorists, the “UFO” in this late nineteenth century illustration is actually the flying island of Laputa from Gulliver’s Travels. I’ve seen several versions of the picture, but this one looks the most like a UFO at first glance.
Thank you all for the well wishes for my cat. He has started on medication, and he had some food, which is a good sign.
I want to call your attention today to an article in the new issue of Smithsonian magazine outlining what archaeologists have learned over the past two years from the discovery of a set of Fourth Dynasty papyri in the ruins of a port at Wadi al-Jarf in 2013. According to the article, the papyri include the diary of Merer, an overseer who helped to transport goods. He describes working for Ankh-haf, the half-brother of Khufu, who was revealed to be the overseer in charge of some of the construction of the Great Pyramid. The journal also describes picking up material from the same town where the limestone for the Pyramid’s outer casing came from. When the diary and other documents were combined with the archaeological remains found at the site—from blocks inscribed with Khufu’s name to boats and copper tools—it quickly became clear that this site, located near the largest source of copper, in the Sinai, was an important supply station for moving the copper needed to carve the Pyramid’s stones. This find, in connection with the large worker’s village that once housed as many as 20,000 workers, offers key insights into how the Egyptians built the pyramids.
Islamic State militants in charge of the ancient site of Palmyra in Syria beheaded antiquities expert Kaled al-Assad, 81, after he refused to disclose the location of ancient treasures from the city. ISIS militants are said to have wanted the treasures to sell or destroy. ISIS’s ongoing destruction of ancient artifacts in the name of battling “idolatry” seems to be gradually seeping into the popular construction of historiography. In his new book Magicians of the Gods (forthcoming), Graham Hancock speaks of the “Islamic hatred of history” that he blames for the destruction of Egyptian heritage from the Arab conquest on.
Merry Christmas! I’m celebrating the holiday today, so in lieu of a lengthy blog post today, I’m going to share a few of the strange images I’ve found in the British Library’s release of one million pre-1900 engravings, drawings, photographs, and other illustrations. Christmas was traditionally the time for stories of ghosts and other spirit monsters, so today’s selection is an appropriate way to honor the spectral tradition of Christmas with some monstrous imagery.
Before anyone complains: Look up the tradition of the Christmas ghost story. It’s real.
A self-proclaimed member of the “Christian community,” Doug Woodward, author of a book on the coming threat of the Antichrist to America, has challenged my recent discussion of the Nephilim and the ancient astronaut theory, particularly as presented by L.A. Marzulli. Before reading Wooward’s discussion, it’s probably a good idea to review my original blog post, which examined Marzulli’s upset and outrage at Ancient Aliens’ recent episode arguing that Satan was a cosmic defender of humanity against nefarious aliens masquerading as Yahweh.
The crux of Woodward’s claim is that I am insufficiently deferential to biblical infallibility, which is not a critique so much as a philosophy. Woodward maintains that the Nephilim are real angel-human hybrids who continue to pose a threat to humanity today. On the other hand, he views me as “pseudo-sophisticated” and says I am employing distortions and falsehoods to deny these creatures’ existence. He also makes a very serious legal claim that I committed “defamation” in my remarks about Marzulli by suggesting that his views were not intellectually sound.
In Sea Fables Explained, Henry Lee makes an interesting suggestion I had not heard before. He argued (along with Francis Buckland in the 1870s but not reported until the 1890s) that the Lernean Hydra, the multi-headed snake monster slain by Heracles, was a mythologized version of the octopus. Here is how Apollodorus described the monster in his Library (2.5.2):
The alleged dinosaur living in the Congo Basin, Mokèlé-mbèmbé, has appeared widely in popular culture, thanks in large part to early twentieth century writers who reported Congolese folklore about the creature. The earliest report for the supposed monster is almost universally claimed to be a passage in a 1776 book by the Abbé Proyart (1743-1808), a French cleric and writer later executed for writing the wrong thing about Louis XVI during the reign of Napoleon. Proyart served as a missionary in the Congo Basin in the 1760s, and in an early chapter of his book on the region, Histoire de Loango, Kakongo, et autres royaumes d’Afrique (an English translation is here), he describes the animals of west and central Africa using reports compiled by fellow missionaries in the area.
A somewhat altered version of the image below appears on some ancient astronaut websites as evidence for reptilian aliens in sixteenth century Burgundy (now Belgium). That it appears alongside the obviously fake Uzbekistan alien cave art does not speak highly for the legitimacy of the work. However, this is in fact an actual drawing made by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in 1557 as part of his Seven Vices series. This image is “Luxury.”
There is not much to say about the lizard people; they are simply animal-demons in the style of other Renaissance depictions of hell, sin, and demons. The hell panel in Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights triptych is probably the best known example. Both images use similar motifs and imagery. It’s absurd to think that Flemish artists, who were not members of the ruling elite, were privy to information about aliens that made its way into no written texts or published books.
I’m more interested though in the little creature in the upper right hand corner. It frankly surprises me that so badly to alternative theorists want to talk about reptilian aliens that no one has claimed that the creature is an accurate depiction of a pterodactyl three centuries before their discovery—and with feathers four centuries before we knew dinosaurs had them. Oh, well. It’s just as well. It isn’t really a pterodactyl. As you can see from the birds in the rest of the image, Bruegel drew stylized birds with long tails.
When Lovecraft set about developing his concepts for the Plateau of Leng and the Mountains of Madness, he was inspired by a show of the art of N. K. Roerich (1874-1947), a Russian artist whose visions of Tibetan buildings clutching the Himalayas gave Lovecraft some ideas.
“Possibly I have mentioned to you at various times my admiration for the work of Nicholas Roerich — the mystical Russian artist who has devoted his life to the study & portrayal of the unknown uplands of Central Asia, with their vague suggestions of cosmic wonder & terror … surely Roerich is one of those rare fantastic souls who have glimpsed the grotesque, terrible secrets outside space & beyond time, & who have retained some ability to hint at the marvels they have seen.” — Letter from H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, May 21/22, 1930.
Here is one of Roerich's works, which is very evocative of the Old Ones' city in Antarctica:
Take a look at this stone Tiki statue from the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia. This modern Tiki follows the style of stone statues carved in the area for nearly a thousand years. What do you think this looks more like: A Lovecraftian Deep One, Tsathoggua the toad-god, or Jabba the Hutt?
Note: I have placed the picture after the jump because, like much non-Western art, it contains sexually explicit imagery.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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