_ One of the key claims of the ancient astronaut theory is that many prehistoric buildings are constructed of stones so massive that no human could have built them. For example, in Chariots of the Gods, Erich von Däniken writes that
“Our imagination is unable to conceive what technical resources our forefathers used to extract a monolithic rock of more than 100 tons from a quarry, and then transport it and work it in a distant spot.” (p. 22)
For von Däniken and his followers, this is evidence that extraterrestrial beings were responsible for such achievements. But this line of reasoning—I don’t understand it, so it must be super-human—is quite ancient. Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Greek travel writer Pausanias (fl. 2nd c. CE) reported the widespread belief that the ruins left behind by the Mycenaean people nearly 2,000 years before Pausanias wrote were so monumental that only the offspring of the gods could have built them:
It was jealousy which caused the Argives to destroy Mycenae. […] There still remain, however, parts of the city wall, including the gate, upon which stand lions. These, too, are said to be the work of the Cyclopes, who made for Proetus the wall at Tiryns. (Description of Greece, 2.16.5)
Going on from here and turning to the right, you come to the ruins of Tiryns. […] The wall, which is the only part of the ruins still remaining, is a work of the Cyclopes made of unwrought stones, each stone being so big that a pair of mules could not move the smallest from its place to the slightest degree. Long ago small stones were so inserted that each of them binds the large blocks firmly together. (2.25.8)
Just as von Däniken argued that humans could not move the blocks of Sachsayhuaman, so too did Pausanias precede him in arguing that the godlike quality of the workmanship was marked by the inability of modern humans to lift such blocks.
Of course, we know very well who built Mycenae and Tiryns (hint: the people are called Mycenaeans for a reason), and even Erich von Däniken does not pretend their architecture was superhuman in scale. Instead, he claimed in Odyssey of the Gods that the cities were built out of extraterrestrial concrete blocks! (Aliens apparently poured irregular blocks, necessitating a different mold for each, simply to confuse later archaeologists.) So, if we can admit that human knowledge advances over time to provide increasingly accurate explanations of how seemingly-miraculous sites were constructed, why should we attribute other ancient cities to aliens? In other words, why believe von Däniken or Giorgio Tsoukalos on the impossibility of architecture if we readily dismiss Pausanias’ attribution of Mycenaean architecture to the offspring of the gods?
Interestingly, such “cyclopean” architecture has long been (wrongly) assumed to link various ancient cultures. In the nineteenth century, antiquarians imagined a link between the cyclopean Lion Gate at Mycenae and the trilithons of Stonehenge, attributing both the Celts: “That the Cyclopes were Celts is certain; and it appears that the postern gate of Mycenae is in the form of one of the Trilithons of Stonehenge…” (The Treasury of Knowledge, 1850, “Ancient Buildings,” p. 227). Ignatius Donnelly linked Mycenaean cyclopean structures to those of Mexico, and others took the link still further, attributing the Pacific Island architecture of the Polynesians to this same culture, sometimes said to be Atlantis.
Never mind, of course, that such buildings date from wildly different periods (Mycenaeans before 1600 BCE; Mexico before 1000 CE; Polynesia anytime from 500 CE to 1650 CE) and really don’t look anything alike. They all have one thing in common: Alternative theorists don’t understand them (or don’t want to understand them), and since these theorists take themselves for the measure of all things, their ignorance confirms that only a superhuman intelligence from Atlantis or aliens could be responsible for the miracle of stacking stones one atop the other.
_ There certainly are plenty of alternative theorists calling themselves the “real life Indiana Jones.” David Hatcher Childress says that media attention “certified” him as the “Real Life Indiana Jones” (his capitalization). Giorgio Tsoukalos is described as the “real-life Indiana Jones” by Coast to Coast AM and “THE REAL INDIANA JONES” by Magic Image magazine (their capitalization). This is fairly good press for people who conduct no excavations and recover no artifacts. I think the comparison comes down to their choice of clothes.
Another in this pantheon of reflected cinematic glory is Michael Tellinger, a self-described “real-life Indiana Jones” who has carved out a unique niche in alternative history by focusing his energies on southern Africa, an area frequently ignored by other ancient astronaut theorists and alternative historians. Sub-Saharan Africa's relative paucity of spectacular archaeological ruins and the lingering colonialist assumptions that African people are incapable of high culture have contributed to widespread ignorance of the continent's prehistory.
Tellinger believes southern Africa was home to an advanced civilization 200,000,000 years ago that he has deemed the First People (not the same as the ones on Fringe). These people were obsessed with gold mining (of course) because, well: Zecharia Sitchin, I guess. (Tellinger’s theories build on Sitchin, his inspiration.) Tellinger believes the First People had a free energy system and passed their knowledge on to the Egyptians and the Sumerians.
Anyway, that aside, Tellinger now claims to have made a dramatic discovery: the footprint of a giant preserved in South African granite. Well, he didn’t make the discovery. The piece of granite has apparently been known (and ignored) since 1912, according to Tellinger. The “footprint” is either a bit of natural erosion that very roughly resembles a footprint or perhaps a carved hoax (or carving added to natural erosion). It lacks the details of genuine petrified footprints (the entire foot should not be equally impressed), and granite, being an igneous rock (one formed from solidified lava or magma), would imply that the giants walked across cooling lava flows without burning their feet. Ancient aliens and lost civilizations, of course, did not wear shoes. [Edit: As Terry Harding has so astutely observed in the comments, granite actually forms under intense pressure deep underground, making the chances of a giant stepping in it even more remote. I guess that's why the King James
Here’s Tellinger’s YouTube video with his “footprint.” The best part? Tellinger now claims to have found a right foot, too. Only this one is even bigger.
_Naturally, the story has exploded among ancient astronaut theorists, alternative historians, and biblical literalists who see the footprint as belonging to the Giants of the King James Bible.
Indiana Jones' discoveries were little more than movie magic, and I imagine the "real" Indiana Joneses' "discoveries" are about equally valid.
I was trying to do some research into the organization run by Giorgio Tsoukalos, but I will be damned if I can figure out what they are calling the thing these days. Ages and ages ago, when Erich von Däniken co-founded it with Gene M. Phillips in 1973, I believe the organization was called the Ancient Astronaut Society. For a long time its successor was called the Archaeology, Astronautics and SETI Research Association, and that’s how it’s still named on Tsoukalos’s Legendary Times website. But over at his sister site, Legendary Times Books, the organization is called the Ancient Alien Society.
Worse, there is another web page, apparently an incomplete template for the same organization, calling itself the Ancient Astronaut Society in its logo but the Ancient Astronauts Society (with the plural astronauts) on its pages.
All of these offer the same subscriptions and membership info (including the word-for-word same text about membership and benefits), so they all seem to be the same thing. But how is it that the ancient astronaut organization can’t manage to get its own name right? Is it possible that Giorgio Tsoukalos is so careless with the facts that he did not pay attention to what his own web pages call his own organization? What does that say about ancient astronaut theorists' ability to get the facts right elsewhere?
I will not be posting any new entries about ancient aliens or anything else today in recognition of the anti-SOPA/PIPA protests happening across the internet today. Even though I have had my work pirated (many times) and have lost money as a result, I do not support any legislation that would criminalize free speech. The proposed legislation would make it a crime simply to link to copyrighted material, effectively requiring every blogger or writer to obtain full rights clearance merely to post a link.
Fun fact: While the proposed legislation would turn many bloggers into criminals, congressional representatives and senators can willfully abrogate copyright whenever they choose by reading into the Congressional Record any copyrighted material, in effect turning the government into a perfectly legal pirate. (One could not, of course, reprint such readings as public domain text, but anyone could read it for free in the Congressional Record.)
I've never heard of a website called Huliq, but apparently it's a start-up from Hareyan Publishing that aims to make money off of user-generated "citizen journalism." Naturally, when website publishes whatever its users submit without either editorial judgment or quality control, we end up with masterpieces like "UFOs Spotted over Stonehenge for 5,000 Years While 2012 Called an Excellent Year." In this story, Dave Masko writes that the discovery of two new pits near Stonehenge proves that the site was "some sort of ground control or command center for spacecraft," quoting an unnamed ufologist. According to Masko, Britain's "UFO community" has "always" believed aliens moved the stones into position. And so, under the guise of "news" websites like Huliq, which resemble newspapers but lack their editorial standards, promote and promulgate ancient astronaut theories as though they were the logical, scientific, and moral equivalent of archaeological and scientific findings.
This one is important enough for a special blog post. Ancient Astronaut Theorist Giorgio Tsoukalos admitted on Twitter today that the Puma Punku complex at Tiwanaku (Tiahuanaco) was not built by aliens wielding lasers and plasma guns:
The blocks at Puma Punku were NOT cut with laser nor plasma tools... I've also learned that the H Blocks do not come in the dimensions we thought they came in... They are NOT (!) pre-fabricated blocks (an opinion I've maintained for years which I now have to jettison and revise). Today, I've had to MASSIVELY RECALIBRATE my views on how Puma Punku came into existence... The mystery has INCREASED by a factor of ten. I am still grappling with what I've learned today and I'm struggling to put all the new pieces of evidence into a coherent order.
Tiwanaku has been the subject of ridiculous claims for years, dating back to the Victorians, who originated most of them, but not the lasers. More recently, Erich von Daniken wrote in Chariots of the Gods that the "inscription of the pediment of the Gate of the Sun" speaks of "a spaceship" (p. 43)--a neat trick for a culture that had no writing. He also thought, in Gods from Outer Space, that Tiwanaku's water conduits served as protective shields for electrical cables, and, oh yes, they were made by aliens: "They had a highly developed technology at their disposal, just as we today use laser beams, vibrating milling tools, and electric apparatus" (p. 39; emphasis in original).
But, interestingly enough, the specific laser/plasma gun story doesn't appear in any of the early ancient astronaut works as far as I can tell (von Daniken only hinted at high technology) until Nigel Davies introduced it in 1979's Voyagers to the New World: "the foundations of Tiahuanaco were being laid with the aid of laser beams." Not even ancient technology advocates Pauwels and Bergier mentioned it in Morning of the Magicians--and they believed the ancients had H-bombs. It seems that Davies was inadvertently making explicit what von Daniken had left implicit; one would think that such a dramatic fact would have emerged with the earliest ancient astronaut works rather than through the slow accumulation of mutual references and misinterpretations of one another's metaphors.
In the 1990s, and especially after 2000, the story of the lasers of Tiwanaku exploded, with claim piling on claim, usually from writers with no familiarity with either Tiwanaku or lasers. I cannot, however, find a published reference to "plasma tools" used at Puma Punku, so this must be Tsoukalos' own idea.
At any rate, it's good to hear that Tsoukalos now understands that his opinions about Tiwanaku's origins as a pre-fab alien spaceport are wrong; unfortunately, we can already see the wheels spinning as he "grapples" to concoct a new explanation to wedge aliens into the story of an ancient human culture. As Tsoukalos' Twitter post shows, no matter what evidence he finds, the conclusion remains the same: aliens.
The influence of Theosophy on Lovecraft is quite clear and quite direct. Lovecraft was heavily influenced by the Theosophical tract The Story of Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria, a compilation of W. Scott-Elliot’s two brief works on Atlantis and Lemuria. Scott-Elliot, in turn, was explicating the work of H. P. Blavatsky. Thus, we can trace one strange little idea from Theosophy straight through to “The Call of Cthulhu.”
Here is Blavatsky’s Stanza XI of the second set of (her completely fake) Stanzas of Dzyan:
They built huge cities. Of rare earths and metals they built, and out of the fires vomited, out of the white stone of the mountains and of the black stone, they cut their own images in their size and likeness, and worshipped them.
Blavatsky, as her explication later in the Secret Doctrine (1888) shows, was thinking of Easter Island in writing this. W. Scott-Elliott picks up on this in his The Lost Lemuria (1904):
During the later part of the sixth, and the seventh sub-race they learnt to build great cities. These appear to have been of cyclopean architecture, corresponding with the gigantic bodies of the race. The first cities were built on that extended mountainous region of the continent which included, as will be seen in the first map, the present Island of Madagascar. Another great city is described in the "Secret Doctrine" as having been entirely built of blocks of lava. It lay some 30 miles west of the present Easter Island, and it was subsequently destroyed by a series of volcanic eruptions. The gigantic statues of Easter Island--measuring as most of them do about 27 feet in height by 8 feet across the shoulders--were probably intended to be representative not only of the features, but of the height of those who carved them, or it may be of their ancestors, for it was probably in the later ages of the Lemuro-Atlanteans that the statues were erected.
Now, here is Lovecraft in the “Call of Cthulhu”:
Old Castro remembered bits of hideous legend that paled the speculations of theosophists and made man and the world seem recent and transient indeed. There had been aeons when other Things ruled on the earth, and They had had great cities. Remains of Them, he said the deathless Chinamen had told him, were still be found as Cyclopean stones on islands in the Pacific. They all died vast epochs of time before men came, but there were arts which could revive Them when the stars had come round again to the right positions in the cycle of eternity. They had, indeed, come themselves from the stars, and brought Their images with Them.
Even the very word “cyclopean” derives from Theosophy, where Madame Blavatsky applied it generously to the Pacific islands, adopting and adapting the use from Ignatius Donnelly’s Atlantis, where that author had thoughtfully restricted it only to Greece and Mexico. Scott-Elliot picked it up in describing the lost city 30 miles west of Easter Island, and then Lovecraft adopted the same. Note, too, the interesting fact that the lost city of Theosophy’s ancient races is located in the empty part of the South Pacific; Lovecraft placed R’lyeh 20 degrees further west and 20 degrees further south, but retained the idea. In both cases, the cities were removed from the earth’s surface by geologic processes—volcanoes for Scott-Elliot, an unnamed sinking of the ocean floor for Lovecraft. (With Atlantis, Lemuria, and Mu all destroyed by volcanoes, I’m guessing Lovecraft found them a bit cliché.)
Over the last week, I’ve been writing about the connection between the ancient astronaut theory and the Theosophical speculation about Venusians from a parallel universe. In this context, I can’t recommend enough Robert M. Price’s 1982 article on H. P. Lovecraft’s use of Theosophy from Crypt of Cthulhu in which he discusses Lovecraft’s adoption of Theosophical material (which he called “crap”) and his systematic alteration of it to change their mealy-mouth spiritual nonsense about parallel universe intersecting with the other planets of our solar system into flesh-and-blood science fiction aliens from the distant cosmos. You certainly should read the whole thing.
Lovecraft drew inspiration from Theosophy’s (fake) Book of Dzyan in developing the Mythos’ own pre-human or occult texts. While Blavatsky attributed Dzyan to Tibetan priests, Lovecraft reconfigured Dzyan to “antedate the earth” in “The Diary of Alonzo Typer,” the same story in which he made Theosophy’s spirit Venusians into actual aliens who flew across the solar system in space ships (Theosophy's version merely projected their minds, something Lovecraft used in the Shadow Out of Time). Interestingly, in Gods from Outer Space, Erich von Daniken also said Dzyan was “older than the earth” (p. 137)—the same words as Lovecraft, but not Blavatsky.
Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwels, authors of Morning of the Magicians, followed Lovecraft’s interpretation of the Lords of Venus as flesh-and-blood aliens on spaceships and the Theosophical notion of spirit beings from other planes of existence. Both authors were big fans of Lovecraft, and Bergier claimed to have corresponded with the Providence author (though no letters survive). Bergier and Pauwels take the Book of Dzyan seriously as a real piece of ancient myth. On page 121 of the first American edition, the authors write that:
while the shelves of our specialized libraries are loaded with a whole literature labeled “legend”, no one has ever thought for a moment that this label may conceal picturesquely presented accounts of events that actually happened.
And yet, with our knowledge of modern science and techniques, we ought to examine this literature with an un-prejudiced eye.
The book of Dzyan speaks of “superior beings of dazzling aspect” who abandoned the Earth, depriving the impure human race of its knowledge, and effacing by disintegration all traces of their passage. They departed in flying chariots propelled by light, to rejoin their land “of iron and metal.”
Immediately thereafter, the authors go on to claim (falsely) that ancient texts tell of nuclear war.
As best I can tell, the oldest claim that Dzyan is extraterrestrial comes from the 1916 book Christian Wisdom, in which Theosophy is reconciled with Christianity. Franklin Ellsworth Parker writes:
The Aryan civilization is one of the oldest civilized nations of earth and the book of Vedas next to the Dzyan the oldest work. The book of Dzyan was written by moon souls 24,000 years ago and 2000 years later Brahmin, a Jupiter spirit father, wrote the book of Vedas from the book of Dzyan, but mutilated on questionable lines to suit the convenience of his own selfish personality and obscure the universal soul principle of Divinity. […] Ancient philosophy was the religion of eternal truth and the greatest teachers lived in the Himalayas. (pp. 174-175)
However, these “souls” were not exactly aliens but rather the spirits of beings that lived on the parallel universe (“etheric plane”) version of Venus and Jupiter before projecting to our reality to guide human evolution; Parker also implies the book was written on earth. Parker, a sort of Christian Charles Fort, manages on a single page (p. 172) to claim Dzyan was written in the language of Jupiter as well as that of the Moon (which is Sanskrit, in case you visit).
When Lovecraft set about developing his concepts for the Plateau of Leng and the Mountains of Madness, he was inspired by a show of the art of N. K. Roerich (1874-1947), a Russian artist whose visions of Tibetan buildings clutching the Himalayas gave Lovecraft some ideas.
“Possibly I have mentioned to you at various times my admiration for the work of Nicholas Roerich — the mystical Russian artist who has devoted his life to the study & portrayal of the unknown uplands of Central Asia, with their vague suggestions of cosmic wonder & terror … surely Roerich is one of those rare fantastic souls who have glimpsed the grotesque, terrible secrets outside space & beyond time, & who have retained some ability to hint at the marvels they have seen.” — Letter from H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, May 21/22, 1930.
Here is one of Roerich's works, which is very evocative of the Old Ones' city in Antarctica:
Unfortunately, my day job and shoveling three inches of sleet got the better of me today, so there won't be a new blog post until tomorrow.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter, The Skeptical Xenoarchaeologist, for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.