You will recall that yesterday I talked about the cult of personality surrounding alternative history purveyors and how this substitutes for reasoned argument. Today I have some exhibits to make the case. Both were posted to Instagram by Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, the the star of Ancient Aliens.
I’m traveling this week, and I’m currently trapped by a lengthy Amtrak delay, stretching now into several hours. It’s not the most fun I’ve had on a trip. While I was out and about, I spent an evening at a local bar talking to bar patrons about alternative history because… well, because most of these people were friends of mine, whom I hadn’t seen in years, and what else am I supposed to discuss? The relative merits of India Pale Ales? For the record, I’m against them. Those newfangled innovations from the nineteenth century really compromise the bread-like qualities of traditional brewing. Since this is the internet, I will now identify that comment as humor.
One of the downsides of researching alternative history is that it really messes up my Amazon.com book recommendations. Every day the retailer tries to get me to buy more zany books on implausible topics. Today, Amazon told me that I need to buy Steven Sora’s The Lost Colony of the Templars: Verrazano’s Secret Mission in America (2004). Part of the Sinclair-Templar-America brand of historical mystery-mongering, this book is based on even flimsier evidence than the Sinclair claims to America.
Fans of Ancient Aliens probably remember Nick Pope, the UFO enthusiast who used to run the British Ministry of Defence’s UFO reporting program. Pope has expanded beyond capitalizing on his government title to write fiction and now to work on video games. Beyond this, Pope is also proud of the fact that he will sell his opinion on UFOs to corporate sponsors for cash. He has opined about UFOs in order to generate buzz for 7-11’s “Check into Space” campaign, Doritos, Battle Los Angeles, Fringe, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, and an incredible list of other people who pay him to promote UFOs for cash.
In lieu of a lengthy blog post today, I’m going to send everyone over to the journal of Paranthropology (vol. 4, no. 3) where my new article, “Ultra-Terrestrials and the UFO Phenomenon,” has just been published. The entire issue is available to read for free, so please enjoy my discussion of whether alien abductions and UFO sightings truly originate in another dimension.
In a related note, you’ll also notice that the article immediately following mine is an interview with Graham Hancock where he espouses some strange ideas on prehistory. He claims, for example, that the Aztec misunderstood an ancient worldwide spiritual practice of “symbolic” sacrifice and, being dumb and brown and borrowing their culture from Atlantis, took it literally and started killing people, unlike the smart white folk in Europe. Do I even need to say that there is no evidence for this? In places as far afield as the Druids, the Tibetans, and the ancient peoples of India we find human sacrifices—there is nothing particularly special about Aztec sacrifice except for the extreme numbers, which were more of a function of Aztec imperial politics than a particular lust for blood. For Hancock, though, the existence of sacrifices and pyramids worldwide yields evidence of a prehistoric pyramid culture…blah, blah, blah…. Atlantis, but not really…blah, blah, blah.
One of the traits of alternative history that we’ve seen time and again is the amplification effect. A fact, however carefully stated, inevitably grows into some monstrous chimera as it is repeated and distorted from one author to the next in a game of Chinese whispers (a.k.a. “telephone”) until it attains a sort of mythological status among believers. It’s how, for example, Ignatius Donnelly’s modest Bronze Age-level Atlantis morphed into the high-tech metropolis of modern myth, or the way the Zeno Narrative grew into the legend of Henry Sinclair and the Holy Bloodline.
In researching Agatharchides yesterday, I chanced upon an interesting discussion of Lucretius that ties in with some of the material I’ve brought up before about the use of fossils in the creation of myths and legends. Agatharchides had written (preserved in the Paradoxographus Vaticanus 10, parallel to Photius codex 250) that the Indians used gigantic tortoise shells as roof tiles. In 1970, a French professor by the name of Ernout proposed that a few lines in Lucretius (De rerum natura 2.532ff) similarly referred to the use of elephant tusks in the building of ancient Indian homes. Here are the lines:
Today’s discussion comes to us thanks to the investigative sleuthing of Le site d’Irna, where we find an interesting inquiry into the sources of a French-language documentary about the pyramids of Egypt. As you can see for yourself at the link, Jacques Grimault’s documentary film La Révélation des Pyramides (2010) is filled with faulty sources and pseudo-scholarly nonsense in service of a bizarre claim that “pyramid” sites at Easter Island, South America, Egypt, and China all align along two lines intersecting at Giza—as, indeed, Great Circle mathematics shows that one can make any two points “align” using such methods. According to the film, the only explanation for advanced pyramid technology is a lost Atlantis-like civilization.
We’ve heard that one before.
Yesterday the History channel ran a marathon of America Unearthed. I did not know this at first, but soon my email inbox filled up with messages, blog comments, and other communiqués expressing the typical range of opinion—everything from exasperation at History’s falling standards to anger at my alleged obsession with the program. This happens every time the parent network reruns the H2 channel’s highest-rated show and thus exposes it to a new and larger audience that it receives on the niche digital-tier channel.
In 2002, Michael Tsarion published a book called Atlantis, Alien Visitation, and Genetic Manipulation. It’s a bizarre and complicated conspiracy theory involving global powerbrokers who conspired to hide an ancient catastrophe from human knowledge, yielding a worldwide cult of solar worship and mental control of the masses. (It’s apparently some warmed-over Victorian solar-hero theorizing mixed with modern paranoia.) This, he says, is due to aliens from Atlantis and is also the reason for what Tsarion views as humanity’s penchant for “evil.” Tsarion, of course, feels that he can define evil for the entire universe, whose various amoral black holes and violet gases and tentacle-bearing space travelers bend to his will.
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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