Writing in the Troy Media today, columnist Fred Donnelly took on the ancient astronaut hypothesis, specifically the version presented on the History/H2 series Ancient Aliens. Donnelly covered ground that I’ve discussed repeatedly, drawing parallels between the program’s attributions of oversized ruins to aliens with earlier generations’ attempts to attribute those same ruins to giants. He mentioned the usual material that I’ve covered before, including the ancient Greek claims that the ruins of the Mycenaean era were built by the giant Cyclopes and the claim by Geoffrey of Monmouth that Stonehenge had been built by another lost race of giants.
In so doing, Donnelly mentioned a couple of claims about giant architects that I wasn’t familiar with. The first is an Anglo-Saxon poem of the eighth century CE called “The Ruin,” which apparently attributes Roman-era ruins (which scholars have identified with Bath) to giants. Here’s the line in question, though I’m not sure from the context that the poem meant literal giants and not metaphorical ones: “Wondrous is this masonry, shattered by the Fates. The fortifications have given way, the buildings raised by giants are crumbling” (trans. N. Kershaw).
Donnelly’s last example is much more interesting and forms a perfect bridge and parallel from medieval ignorance and romanticism to the modern ancient astronaut theory. The Donnelly provides only a brief summary, but I think that full story is worth listing in full. Austen Henry Layard discovered Nineveh in the 1840s, and from its ruins he excavated two massive statues of human-headed winged animals, now on display at the British Museum. The locals were in awe of the ruins and the sheer size of the sculptures, and they attributed them to the pre-Flood giants:
Here’s how the story was reported by Laynard in 1849:
Whilst I was superintending the removal of the earth, which still clung to the sculpture, and giving directions for the continuation of the work, the noise of horsemen was heard, and presently Abd-ur-rahman, followed by half his tribe, appeared on the edge of the trench. As soon as the two Arabs I had met had reached their tents, and published the wonders they had seen, every one mounted his mare and rode to the mound to satisfy himself of the truth of these inconceivable reports. When they beheld the head they all cried together, 'There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his Prophet!' It was some time before the Sheikh could be prevailed upon to descend into the pit, and convince himself that the image he saw was of stone. 'This is not the work of men's hands,' exclaimed he, 'but of those infidel giants of whom the Prophet, peace be with him! has said, that they were higher than the tallest date tree; this is one of the idols which Noah, peace be with him! cursed before the flood" In this opinion, the result of a careful examination, all the bystanders concurred.
Is there really any difference between the sheik claiming large stone sculptures were the work of the pre-Flood giants and David Childress telling us that “only” aliens could build Puma Punku? Note, too, that last month Scott Wolter traveled to Rockwall, Texas to investigate a geological formation that local creationists have tried (and failed) to attribute to these well-traveled giants.
It’s interesting that we know from Eupolemus, via Alexander Polyhistor, as preserved in Eusebius (Praeparatio Evangelia 9.17), that the region had many and confusing legends of giants who built ancient structures. Babylon was attributed to the work of the giants, probably a demonization of the Babylonian gods: “Eupolemus in his book Concerning the Jews of Assyria says that the city Babylon was first founded by those who escaped from the Deluge; and that they were giants, and built the tower renowned in history.” Given how this stands at odds with the Biblical narrative, I’m betting this is a bit of a distortion of the Babylonian myth, recorded in the Enuma Elish (6.46ff.), that Babylon was constructed by the Anunnaki, who piled the bricks for the city’s ziggurats, conflated with the demigod/giant status of the early Mesopotamian kings, as suggested by the Epic of Gilgamesh.
As I’ve pointed out before, the Enuma Elish provides a bit of a problem for ancient astronaut theorists because it specifically claims that the Anunnaki—the “aliens”—built at least two known structures at Babylon, the Esagil temple and the Etemenaki ziggurat, with their own extraterrestrial hands. This creates a contradiction between two ancient astronaut claims, as stated by Giorgio Tsoukalos and David Childress: (a) that ancient texts are literal reports of the aliens’ activities and (b) that Puma Punku is the only site on earth actually built by aliens. Thanks to the Enuma Elish, we know that both claims cannot be simultaneously true. So, do ancient texts lie (calling into question all reliance on ancient texts for alien reports), or is the Esagil hand-crafted by space beings who sat in the dirt making mud pies? And if the latter, why did they make mud piles at Babylon but used diamonds and lasers to sculpt Puma Punku from stone?
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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