_ Ancient astronaut theorists have a problem distinguishing fact from fantasy. But that’s a given. In this episode of Ancient Aliens, "Aliens Gods, and Heroes," the program attempts to make hay from the fact that the site on Crete traditionally associated with the birth of Zeus contains Minoan-era religious artifacts. This, supposedly, is amazing proof that Greek myths record real alien encounters. It does not cross the minds of the ancient alien theorists that the cave became associated with the Greek gods because it had been a sacred site under the preceding Mycenaean and Minoan civilizations. This is not dissimilar to the way early Christian churches were built atop pagan temples. The site was already holy, and it remained so even as ideologies and faiths changed.
_ It is also ridiculous that people who supposedly understand mythology are completely unaware of the mutual influences between mythologies. The similarities between Greek, Hittite, and Babylonian stories of the succession of the gods (the overthrow of early deities by younger gods—as Zeus overthrew Kronos who overthrew Ouranos) are due not to these various cultures recording alien spaceships in dogfights but because (big shock here) Mesopotamian myths spread outward to the Hittites and eventually the Greeks. The stories are the same because—again, big shock—they are the same story.
We then rehash the same material about whether aliens created humanity, once more showing the ancient astronaut theory’s real, underlying purpose—to resurrect the authority of ancient religious traditions by wrapping them in the borrowed finery of science. Ancient astronaut theorists will deny it, but they, like Creationists, ultimately want to undo Darwin’s revolution by marrying religion to a bastardized form of science.
Oh, and Ancient Astronauts also wants to relate all of this to comic books because, you know, Captain America and Green Lantern were totally things back when they filmed the show this summer.
I won’t dignify Giorgio Tsoukalos’ dumb claim that “ancient texts” prove invisibility technology is real because Greek figures like Perseus and various Hindu figures have invisibility helmets, cloaks, etc. It’s one of the oldest folkloric tropes, but if we follow Tsoukalos’ reckoning Ambrose Bierce’s “Damned Thing” would prove that Predator was a documentary. Heck, while I’m on the subject, I edited an entire anthology of stories about invisible monsters. Imagining invisibility is not exactly rocket science, to coin a phrase.
Also, Tsoukalos, amazed that some pre-Columbian rituals are still performed today, finds it astonishing that ancient mythology is performed “before our very eyes.” Apparently he’s never been to a church, or a Native American ceremony, or a Buddhist service. Specifically, he complained that the voladores, Mexican performers who swing down on ropes from a tower in honor of the gods, were misunderstood. “Where does that flying or descending gods motif originate? Our ancestors saw something…” This couldn’t have anything to do with birds or the sky. “Birds are not that important. Something significant happened.” Not to burst his bubble, but neither birds nor aliens underlay myths of sky gods. Neuroscience shows that the human brain evolved to conceive of three planes—the underworld, the earth, and the heavens. The gods live in the sky because that is where our brains instinctively place them. David Lewis-Williams did much work in this area in The Mind in the Cave and Inside the Neolithic Mind. This, Lewis-Williams would argue, is the true origin of sky gods and the quest for flight—not aliens.
Then, for no good reason, we move on to the ocean. Why? Because this episode is made up of leftover parts that didn’t fit anywhere else. The program evinces no real understanding that the classical Greek god Poseidon derived from an earlier Mycenaean god of earthquakes, Po-se-da-wo-ne, who cannot be proved (from extant Linear B texts and archaeological remains) to have been associated with the sea at that early date. Indo-European theorists suggest Poseidon derives in part from a god of springs and fresh water, only later applied to the sea when the Indo-Europeans migrated to Greece.
All of which is much more interesting than the claim that Kronos vomiting up his children really derives from aliens escaping an exploding mother-ship and taking their escape pods to earth. And then they had sex with people—which is weird since the first half hour argued that the gods were already living here when they “created” people. Oh, well. Consistency is for uptight elitists. The children of these unions were apparently memories of ancient scuba gear. Whatever. Let’s try proving these wonder kids exist before we speculate on the size of their oxygen tanks.
All of these dumb claims are predicated on the idea that there is one universally recognized, true Greek mythology. But there isn’t. The early myths preserved in Homer and Hesiod (700-600 BCE) differ wildly from their final decayed form in Nonnus’ Dionysiaca (c. 400 CE). The versions given in Bulfinch, Hamilton, and Rose are “standard” only in that they are the versions that modern people have come to accept as “correct.” They are not the only versions of these stories—and in many cases not the versions that the ancients of Hesiod’s day would recognize, and certainly not anyone before Hesiod. To base wild theories on Greek myths requires an understanding of how they grew and changed over time. But that takes real work and real thought and a real engagement with primary sources, and we all know ancient astronaut theorists will never do that.
Oh, and those incessant commercials for Brad Meltzer’s Decoded probably should mention that the Spear of Destiny—the spear that the centurion Longinus supposedly used to pierce Christ’s side—is a medieval fake and has been known to be one for centuries. The fact that Longinus didn’t exist was probably a clue.
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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