Good news, everyone! Erich von Däniken has another new book out! It’s called Astronaut Gods of the Maya: Extraterrestrial Technologies in the Temples and Sculptures (Bear & Company, 2017), and it was translated by Aida Selfic Williams. The title should probably give you a good indication of what to expect in the book. The original German version was published in 2011, but it is now appearing in English for the first time. You might not expect the elements of casual racism, such as describing the Aztec as “coffee-brown, stark-naked natives,” but you probably expect the claims that various artifacts look to our author like pieces of modern technology.
Even old von Däniken seems to be getting tired of the routine. In his authorial preface, he tells readers that he will “explain for the umpteenth time” material about cargo cults that he first explored half a century ago. Consequently, the first chapter of the book reviews material about cargo cults that is familiar to anyone who has read his work. Specifically, he discusses the way that some groups in Asia and Australasia treated American World War II pilots as messengers of heaven and built mock-ups of landing strips and airplanes in the hopes of coaxing more cargo from the heavens. He compares this to the Maya and suggests that their pyramids and other buildings were built in imitation of aliens.
I don’t really know what more to say about the book. He goes through a number of pieces of Mesoamerican art, and in each case he interprets stylized animals, bones, plants, and other material as pieces of technology because they have been rendered in geometric form. He also follows the currently fashionable trend in seeing Asian influences in Mesoamerica, opining that seated Mayans look like they are doing yoga, and their headdresses look “Asian.” He parallels Graham Hancock in comparing Mayan art to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, a site built many centuries later, and he compares Mexican pyramids to those of India, which share only superficial similarities.
He brings in claims both old and new, some taken from other mystery writers. He speculates that the ancients were fascinated by mercury not because a liquid metal is really cool (and can substitute for water in sculpture without evaporating) but rather because it was the fuel for alien aircraft. He cites “ancient Indian texts” to this effect, without admitting that they are the fake “channeled” texts written in the twentieth century. He recycles his greatest hits about how “heaven” is really outer space, and the Old Testament God and the angels are really space aliens. He devotes an entire chapter to the sarcophagus lid of Pakal, which he first suggested was a depiction of a rocket back in the 1960s.
He ventures into the waters of Velikovskyism, apparently in keeping with what was then the “new” rage for claims about comets and rogue planets in the run-up to the 2012 “apocalypse.” He made much hay of Plato’s claim in the Timaeus that the myth of Phaethon represents “a declination of the bodies moving in the heavens around the earth, and a great conflagration of things upon the earth, which recurs after long intervals” (tans. Jowett). Though he leaves out the geocentrism to wrongly suggest that Plato knew about planetary orbits and their changing nature over time.
Von Däniken complains at points about how “politically correct” academics want to protect “the pride of the Maya” by refusing to accept that space aliens are responsible for Maya culture. “This is obviously joined by the blessed doctrine of evolution,” he adds, nonsensically. He defends himself against charges of racism by saying that the Berlin symphony is not devalued by playing American music, so Maya people are not degraded when he says they merely enacted plans created by aliens.
Primarily, this is a photo book, with hundreds of nice (if not particularly well-shot) photographs of Mesoamerican art, many dating back to the author’s early trips to Mexico and Central America in the 1970s and 1980s. The text is light and secondary to the images. The translation is amateurish and borders on the incompetent. At one point, the translator renders the intended word “restorers” as “restaurateurs,” the latter being an obscure term for a restaurant owner. It seems that the translator translated many of the texts von Däniken quotes from his German translations of them, which creates some issues of translating translations. So, for example, the famous description of Teotihuacan transforms oddly. The original is from Bernardino de Sahagun’s General History of the Things of New Spain, which I translate this way: “They say that before there was day in the world, the gods had gathered themselves in that place which is called Teotihuacan…” (7.2). After being run through several translations, the lines from Sahagun appear in our book as: “During the nighttime, as the sun does not shine, it is said that the gods gathered and advised them at this place, which was named Teotihuacan.”
All in all, the book is more of the same, with about the same quality control you would expect.
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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