The History Channel's Ancient Aliens offered up an episode on "Underground Aliens" that was first broadcast in November 2010. I did not see this episode until it was rerun tonight, and what I saw disgusted me. The show featured a lengthy segment on an alleged cave in Ecuador that Erich von Daniken claimed had been carved by lasers and was filled with gold tablets written in extraterrestrial language--proof positive of alien encounters. Despite von Daniken's claim in his 1973 book The Gold of the Gods that he visited the cave, remarkably no evidence of the tablets ever emerged.
What disgusted me is that von Daniken was on TV in 2010 (repeated in 2011 without correction) pimping this story more than three decades after he admitted it was all a lie. I covered this story in The Cult of Alien Gods (2005). Here are few excerpts:
[A] journalist, Gavin Souter, confronted von Däniken about this [lack of evidence] and asked where his proof was. Von Däniken pointed to a Spanish-language newspaper article about the cave: “I think it says something about metal plates.” It did not.
But this was not evidence that von Däniken was lying. It was only one archaeologist’s opinion, after all. So in 1976, Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, led an expedition into Ecuador to verify or refute von Däniken’s claims. After some fruitless searching, he returned with the conclusion that there was nothing in the Ecuadorian jungles except jungle. Von Däniken replied that Armstrong was clearly confused and had searched the wrong caves, though he would not say where the right caves were. Nevertheless, newspaper headlines proclaimed “Däniken Unmasked!” and “The Charlatan Makes a Fool of Himself.”
Finally, a British expedition attempted to provide a definitive answer. Their trip to the caves found no trace of von Däniken’s gold library, only some evidence of early, primitive habitation in caves that were utterly ordinary, not laser-hewn perfection. Von Daniken finally admitted that the caves he described were not real, that his evidence was not real, that Gold of the Gods was not true. He said in his defense that because he was writing “popular” works for mass consumption, not scientific treatises, he could take “poetic license” with the truth. In short, he admitted to what amounted to fraud. Of course, few of his fans bothered to listen; the idea was more important than the man, and the idea meant everything to them.
According to the Mammoth Encyclopedia of the Unsolved, Von Daniken's co-explorer, Juan Moricz, denied that von Daniken had ever visited the cave, prompting von Daniken to concede that his account was pure fiction--at least until his fabrication had been forgotten. His escape clause--now he no longer claims to have visited the caves, only to know they exist "somewhere" and turning his own fantastic invention into a supposedly ancient myth.
Nevertheless, the History Channel apparently cares nothing for "facts" and allows its talking heads to spout any lies they want without even bothering to keep the lies consistent with the talking heads' previous lies. Even a terrible documentary series like Ancient Aliens ought to know better than that. That Ancient Aliens quoted Gold of the Gods, citing it by name, is unconscionable since its very author was forced to repudiate it. The History Channel should, once again, be ashamed.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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