The intellectual paucity of the ancient astronaut theory is laid bare when we consider what ancient astronaut theorists (AATs) do not discuss—pretty much anything that isn’t readily available at your average Barnes & Noble or an online search. This means that vast reams of information are unavailable to the intellectually incurious AATs, who rarely go beyond the obvious in constructing their “theories.” (Even the supposedly academically rigorous Sirius Mystery of Robert Temple relied mostly on secondary, popular works like Robert Graves’ handbook of Greek mythology and obsolete nineteenth century studies like Godfrey Higgins’ Anacalypsis.)
Here’s a case in point. In Greco-Roman times, major texts received commentary from later writers who would place additional information, excerpts, and other notes in the margins of manuscripts of major poems. These notes have the name “scholia,” and they are a major source of information about innumerable authors and subjects that survive nowhere else in ancient literature.
The @spacearchaeology Twitter feed brings to my attention a fascinating blog post by Anselmo Quemot on the Lovecraftian aspects of the upcoming alien movie Prometheus, xenoarchaeology, and the chaos monsters of prehistoric myth. While Quemot requests no “citation” of his material without permission, I think it’s fair to offer a few comments on his discussion. I strongly recommend reading Quemot’s post before reading my comments. Fair warning: It makes extensive use of complex academic language. Another warning: my comments are a bit long.
I’m the last person to argue that one needs a Ph.D. to be able to write intelligently about ancient history. I certainly don’t have one, and I like to think that my work is worth reading. But a passing familiarity with the methodology of archaeology and historiography would certainly seem an important prerequisite for claiming startling new interpretations of prehistory that would overturn centuries of carefully scholarly work.
So, I took a look at the talking heads on Ancient Aliens to see how their background prepared them to critically evaluate the past two centuries’ worth of archaeological research, including changing theoretical frameworks and methodology.
So The Walking Dead had its second season finale last night, and I remain resolutely unimpressed. It's no surprise to my readers that I don't care for zombies on principle, being the most recent and least imaginative of horror's creatures. But I don't doubt that good zombie stories can be told. Night of the Living Dead was a great one, and one that pretty much did everything this season of The Walking Dead did, right down to isolated farm and the zombie daughter, and in only 90 minutes and better.
I won't bore you with an episode recap; there are enough of those already. I just have a few thoughts.
The Walking Dead seems singularly impressed with itself, as though its deliberate pace were a substitute for profundity. The characters are resolutely as flat as the comic book drawings they are based on, and for the life of me I cannot fathom why the little group of survivors would suddenly take umbrage at having been kept in the dark that they were infected with zombie virus, since it was (a) useless information and (b) somewhat less than compelling considering they had just survived a zombie onslaught and were mourning their dead.
If the show's plot is anemic and its characters lifeless (ironic, I suppose), then what distinguishes The Walking Dead from any other middling genre drama? I guess it's the zombies. Replace them with aliens, and you have Falling Skies with better cinematography. Remove them altogether, and you have the BBC's Survivors with a lobotomy. But special effects are not enough to make art (Star Wars prequels, anyone?). The program needs to bring its character development and plotting up to the level of its special effects and cinematography. Otherwise, it's just production values masquerading as art.
In this week’s Ancient Aliens (S04E06), noted ancient astronaut theorist and user of fake evidence David Childress introduced us to the Fuente Magna libation bowl, an allegedly pre-Columbian artifact from Bolivia bearing (depending on who is doing the talking) Sumerian, proto-Sumerian, Hebraic, Semitic, or proto-Saharan writing. This bowl has a highly problematic provenance (no one can say just when or where it was found), and all indications are that it is a hoax, like the Ica Stones, the Pedro Crespi collection, and Erich von Däniken’s cave of alien gold in Ecuador—all attempts to fabricate a fantasy prehistory for South America that minimizes the role of the native peoples of the continent.
The Fuente Magna bowl is often spoken of in the same context as the Pokotia Monolith (or Monument), a stone statue standing 1.3 m (4 ft. 3 in.) tall and closely resembling the otherworldly, stylized, and heavily-eroded sculptures of nearby Tiwanaku (Tiahuanaco). According to alternative archaeologists and ancient astronaut theorists, this statue is covered in Sumerian writing, just like the Fuente Magna bowl.
Well, this was different. Tonight Ancient Aliens focused on a single site, Puma Punku in Bolivia, rehashing the exact same material first presented in the 2009 pilot (Puma Punku discussion starts at 54:43). This material was carefully debunked by the podcasters Dumbass and Skeptoid, and there is nothing in this episode that hasn't been refuted countless times since 1946, when the first alternative interpretations of the site began.
I’m not sure why the show chooses to refer to the Tiwanaku site by the name of Puma Punku, which is actually the name of one of the monumental centers at the site (it's closer to the other temples at Tiwanaku than the Pentagon is to the Capitol), except that it makes it sound different from the 2009, 2010, and 2011 programs analyzing Tiwanaku.
Chief alien enthusiast Giorgio Tsoukalos: “Puma Punku is the only site on planet earth that in my opinion was built directly by extraterrestrials.”
Prove it. Since 2009 you haven’t provided a shred of proof of anything extraterrestrial at the site, and you didn’t do it this time, either.
Ancient astronaut theorists (AATs) are constantly telling us that by reading mythology, they can intuit hidden truths about ancient history, namely that aliens came to visit. I thought it would be instructive to look at this process in action in the ancient astronaut theory and also in an actual scholarly theory that revolutionized mythological studies 80 years ago this year.
I had planned to write a lighthearted blog post today about Giorgio Tsoukalos' recent appearance on FailBlog.org's "Bros" section wearing a t-shirt with his own face on it. But instead, I found this whopper from his Twitter feed explaining why this is not the Mayan apocalyptic year 2012:
Bad etymologies have been a mainstay of alternative history for centuries. In The Sirius Mystery, Robert Temple based much of his analysis on a series of unsupported etymologies tracing Greek terms back to what he called Egyptian “sacred puns,” none of which is supported by modern scholars. His most important “sacred pun” involves the earth-born men who arise from the serpent’s teeth in the Argonaut myth, best remembered as the skeleton warriors from the 1963 Jason and the Argonauts movie. According to Temple, the warriors arose as a pun on Sirius since “earth,” “tooth,” and “Sirius” are all represented by triangles in Egyptian hieroglyphics, triangles that differ only in the direction the apex points:
Temple drew on the work of Robert Graves, the midcentury poet who also liked to seek out speculative (and unsupported) etymologies to “explain” ancient history and myth. I discussed this in my article “Golden Fleeced.”
But all of this has precedent in “alternative” scholars dating back pretty much as far back as we can look. The “Ark-ist” theorist Jacob Bryant proposed that Egypt was descended from Noah’s son Ham because they worshiped the god Amon, whom he chose to see as (H)am-on, the deified Ham, who in turn was also the sun god and thus the sun god of most European mythologies.
Before this, the ancient Greek rationalist writers tried to seek out the “truth” behind ancient myths by looking into the words used in them and proposing fanciful explanations based on look-alike or sound-alike words. Euhemerus was the most famous of these scholars, though Dionysus Schytobrachion offered some of the most entertaining "explanations."
As reported in Diodorus Siculus, Dionysus thought the story of the fire-breathing bulls (tauroi) of Colchis resulted from etymological confusion of bulls with the land of Taurica:
The point, of course, is that mere coincidence of sounds does not equal a connection of fact in the absence of any supporting evidence for such a connection.
Yesterday, I discussed one way that believers in “Ark-ism” twisted an ancient text to make the case that pagan religions were a corruption of the story of Noah’s Ark in Genesis. For Since I think Arkite worship (the “ancient ark-onaut theory,” if you will) is an interesting parallel to the ancient astronaut theory, I’d like to take a look at another case of Ark-ist silliness that has very close parallels in today’s ancient astronaut nonsense.
In Jacob Bryant’s New System, the eighteenth century scholar attempted to make the case that both the Argo of the Greek Jason myth and the chest in which the Egyptian god Osiris had been entombed were corruptions of Noah’s Ark. Bryant’s text is in green, and my notes are in black.
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.
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