This past week’s new episode of the third (!) season of the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens, "Aliens and Monsters," proves that the quack science program is the gift that keeps on giving. On this episode, “ancient alien theorists” assert (I would say argue, but argument implies evidence) that the monsters of Greek mythology were in fact genetic experiments created by extraterrestrials. They assert this on the basis of two indisputable truths: First, in the real world, monsters combining traits of multiple animals, like the bull-man Minotaur, could only be created by genetic engineering. Second, no one in recorded history ever had an imagination until imagination was invented with Star Trek and Star Wars in the 1960s and 1970s.
On the basis of these two self-evident wonders of logic, we therefore are confident in viewing Medusa as an alien-created snake-human hybrid, the Minotaur as an alien-created bull-human hybrid, the griffin as an alien-created eagle-lion hybrid, etc. etc. ad nauseam.
But here’s the thing. The “ancient descriptions” the “ancient astronaut theorists” rely upon to “prove” that the ancients were describing real genetic experiments are remarkably inconsistent—almost as though they were completely, I don’t know, made up.
Let’s take a couple of examples from Greek mythology. (More after the jump.)
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.
Since the state of New Hampshire has decided to begin putting up historical markers to commemorate events that never happened, like the “alien abduction” of Betty and Barney Hill, I have a few suggestions for some other historical markers our nation’s highway departments should erect to commemorate other non-historical events.
More than 3,000 years ago, Phoenician sailors crossed the Atlantic Ocean, walked hundreds of miles inland, and began erecting stones in a large circle in Salem, NH for the purpose of telling what month of the year it was before walking back to the sea and sailing home. Despite leaving no traces of their existence, this site, known as America’s Stonehenge, has become the most famous Phoenician monument in southern New Hampshire. Unless the medieval Irish built it. (Why is this funny?)
On the afternoon of October 16, 1869, Cardiff, NY resident William C. “Stub” Newell discovered a petrified giant buried in his back yard. Investigators filed reports in many local and big city newspapers explaining that the petrified man was one of the “giants” from the Bible (Genesis 6:4). Despite attempts from “scientists” to prove the giant a hoax, this was the first widely-reported Biblical giant unearthed in the United States. (Why is this funny?)
In September 1928, Townshend, VT resident Henry W. Akeley experienced a close encounter with extraterrestrial beings called Mi-Go and had his brain placed in a cylinder for transport to Pluto. Though he left written records of the events leading up to his abduction, these were not public knowledge until they were leaked by H. P. Lovecraft in Weird Tales in 1931. This was the first widely-reported extraterrestrial brain extraction in the United States. (Why is this funny?)
(Note to the humor-impaired: These signs are fake. They are not real, not going up anywhere, and are intended as satire.)
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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