The program, devoted to “Aliens and Lost Worlds,” purported to explore ancient ruins around the world for their connection to alien gods, mostly by saying that Mayan carvings “look like” aliens in space suits or, in the vaguely colonialist words of ancient astronaut theorist David Hatcher Childress, art from some “oriental country” (well, which is it?) and then speculating that aliens flew serpent-shaped airplanes between China and Central America to—what exactly?—share sculpting tips? Aliens, of course, distributed art styles mostly at random, just to confuse archaeologists. Otherwise the “alien style” would be all too obvious!
On the plus side, that shape-shifting fraud Childress finally gave up any pretense of pretending he isn’t an ancient astronaut theorist and spent all of his screen time talking about the “space visitors.”
Nevertheless, there were a few particularly awful outrages this week. In discussing the magi who visited the infant Christ, Tsoukalos sought to link them to a worldwide secret cult of alien-worshipers:
"…according to the ancient texts, it was the initiates of each culture who were in touch with extraterrestrials, and it was the initiates who later became priests or magi."
How does one even begin to unpack a sentence as full of assumptions as that one? Here, Tsoukalos has again taken “ancient texts” as a unified whole, a single program of textual production stretching from the dawn of writing c. 3000 BCE all the way down to the medieval period, four thousand or so years later. What he means by “initiates” is not clear, but from the context he appears to be stating a tautology: Initiates are those who are initiated into the rites of the gods and are therefore by definition close to their gods. He then assumes that 1) the gods are aliens, 2) the aliens came to earth in flesh-and-blood form, 3) humans met with, communicated with, and received wisdom from these aliens, and 4) humans mistook aliens for gods. Then, to make things even more tenuous, he suggests that those who met with the aliens established—in every earth culture, over four millennia or more—priesthoods to preserve the aliens’ memory. That is an astonishing number of fact-free assumptions for a single sentence presented as established fact.
Back in the 1960s, in Chariots of the Gods?, Erich von Däniken proposed that the lines scratched in the Nazca desert of Peru were UFO runways: “Seen from the air, the clear-cut impression that the 37-mile-long plain of Nazca made on me was that of an airfield! What is so far-fetched about the idea?” One must give the man credit. More than forty years later, and despite decades of archaeological research into the Nazca lines—and the complete lack of evidence for any alien visitation—he stuck to his story on Ancient Aliens:
"In the beginning, there were (sic) just one line made by some robot or some extraterrestrial spaceship or some space shuttle because they were looking for raw material for energy."
Of course, since von Däniken realized that rockets don’t need runways, the original theory has been tweaked some. Back in the 1960s von Däniken’s aliens were all about reproduction, colonization, and dominance, reflecting the political concerns of Cold War Europe and its crumbling colonial empires. Today’s version, however, is now about “energy” in an era that is concerned with global warming and alternative energy sources.
Finally, the episode concludes with a (mostly) sober discussion of the search for the Garden of Eden, which goes off the rails when the program (correctly) links the Biblical account to ancient Mesopotamian mythic traditions and then (wrongly) attributes those myths to aliens. This will be the subject of my second post.