Next month, the Travel Channel is sending Expedition Unknown host Josh Gates on a “special event” in which he goes in search of “the mother of all questions.” Do I even have to say that he’s doing a multi-episode hunt for ancient astronauts and UFOs? While I have every confidence that Gates will fail to find ET (since he’s never found any other myth he’s looked for), the fact that the ancient astronaut theory—for which, read “ripping off the more popular Ancient Aliens”—is seen as a ratings-grabbing “event” is about as depressing as it gets in the shady world of unscripted cable TV. Almost a decade after Ancient Aliens debuted, it remains the platonic ideal of cable TV programming: lazy, cheap, and wildly popular. Stay on the air long enough, and every program ends up talking about space aliens.
And becomes repetitive. That, too. Ancient Aliens has covered the Stone Age Turkish site of Göbekli Tepe, a 12,000-year-old stone temple complex, many times in the past. Off the top of my head, I know of at least six episodes that discuss it, but I’m sure I am forgetting some. It should probably be obvious that the producers of the show were paying attention a few months ago when some Graham Hancock super-fans decided to try to cast Hancock and Andrew Collins’s speculations about the astronomical orientation of the ancient temple complex in academic language in an obscure academic journal, spawning a media frenzy among the uncritical who failed to realize that the academic authors basically just repeated Andrew Collins (though I am surprised that they did not mention the article by name). I give them this much credit, however: Ancient Aliens makes no bones about revisiting a well-worn topic. The title of S12E16 is “Return to Göbekli Tepe,” conceding that we have been down this path before.
Since I know that this post will only be at the top of the blog for a few hours until I review Ancient Aliens tonight (provided my son cooperates), instead of writing something long and complex that no one will read, I instead devoted my time to translating an interesting passage that illustrates the power of the myth of the giants in European scholarship
Today I thought I would share some historical material about a controversy that blew up over Atlantis in 1911. Regular readers will remember that a New York newspaper published a hoax in 1912 claiming that Heinrich Schliemann’s descendant had uncovered a trail of clues leading to Atlantis. One reason that the hoax seemed superficially convincing is that the previous year the New York Times had published a serious article announcing that another German, Leo Frobenius, had indeed discovered Atlantis, in Africa.
Daughter of Ancient Astronaut Believer Plans to Continue Father's Effort to Find Ecuadoran Cave of Alien Gold
Oh, joy… The Ecuadoran cave of gold is back again. More than 40 years ago astronaut Neil Armstrong joined an expedition to find and explore the supposed repository of extraterrestrial artifacts that had been brought to popular attention in ancient astronaut theorist Erich von Däniken’s 1972 book Gold of the Gods. In that volume, von Däniken claimed to have descended into a cave in Ecuador where he saw fabulous golden artifacts and books made of gold written in no earthly language. However, in an interview with Playboy magazine, he admitted that the story was false, that he had never gone down into the cave, and that the story of the golden library was “dramaturgisch Effekte” or “theatrical effect.” He then claimed that he lied because he feared that the Ecuadorian government would assassinate him should he actually do what he pretended to do.
On Friday, I reviewed the latest episode of Ancient Aliens, and in that review, I noted that new talking head Ashley Cowie, the erstwhile host of Syfy’s Legend Quest, stated that there were “legends” that a golden Inca sun disc had been removed from the Coricancha temple in Cuzco and taken to a “mountaintop village” called Paititi. Many readers likely remember Paititi from when Josh Gates sought it out in Expedition Unknown a few years ago. In most versions of the story, it is a city possessed of fabulous treasure, or even made of gold, but the oldest surviving documents fail to indicate any such connection to lost Inca treasure, though they do speak of having plenty of precious metals, so much that they make pots and pans from “precious metals,” though this probably refers to copper. The legend of the sun-disc being there, so far as I have been able to tell, does not date back before the twentieth century, so I described Cowie as “telling a lie” by implying, in context, that such stories go back to the Conquest. As it happens, my conclusion, while not wrong, is incomplete.
I guess when a favorite piece of evidence for ancient astronauts is debunked as little more than a hoax, you have two choices: You can accept the verdict of reason, or you can fight it. Ancient Aliens has made the unusual choice to try to rehabilitate the fake Dropa Stones, a hoax that first appeared in a German vegetarian magazine in July 1962 before being popularized by books like Peter Kolosimo’s Not of This World. The Dropa Stone hoax became popular enough that Sputnik magazine used a picture of one such stone as part of the cover illustration for an article on Uzbekistan “alien” cave art that Erich von Däniken later mistook for the art itself. The stones, it goes without saying, have never been shown to exist outside of the imagination of ufologists. Ancient Aliens takes the lack of evidence as proof of a massive conspiracy to suppress the truth.
In the current Times Literary Supplement, Nicholas Gibbs offers what seems at first glance to be a convincing solution to the “mystery” of the Voynich Manuscript, a medieval treatise written in what was long considered a secret code. I’ll leave you to read the details, but the short version is that the characters in the text are not code but are Latin ligatures—like an ampersand—that use artistic representations of letters to stand for a whole word. By reading the ligatures against known examples, and comparing the illustrations to similar examples from known medieval texts, Gibbs was able to translate the manuscript and reveal that it was actually a recipe book for women’s health cures assembled from copied sections of standard medieval medical treatises with illustrations that were often badly copied from these texts and therefore sometimes distorted and confusing. I think it a bit hilarious, if true, that vast conspiracies have been erected atop the supposed secrets of what Gibbs describes as a gynecology manual.
Victorian Scholars Already Knew about the "Mystery" of the Missing Sagittal Sutures on Elongated Skulls
To briefly follow up on yesterday’s post: Ancient Origins has now posted the second part of Hugh Newman’s article on giants in Egypt, and it is worse than the first. The thrust of the article is his belief that hieratic scale in art—in which the artist depicts more important people as larger than less important ones—proves that the pharaohs were giants. This makes about as much sense as arguing that Abraham Lincoln was an ogre because his statue in the Lincoln Memorial is 19 feet tall, representing a man who would stand 28 feet in height. Clearly the artist meant to imply that Lincoln was bigger than a barn. The real Lincoln stood six foot four inches—tall but not Nephilim tall.
Hugh Newman Discovered My Translation of the "Akhbar al-zaman" and Thinks It Shows Giants Ruled Egypt before the Flood
I was disappointed to discover that I have accidentally introduced more bad ideas into the world of fringe history. It seems that almost two years after I translated the Akhbar al-zaman, the availability of the text in English has now led to it becoming more grist for the fringe history mill. But such is the way when it comes to Hugh Newman, the co-author of Giants on Record (2015; review here: Part 1 • Part 2 • Part 3 • Part 4) and a frequent guest on bad TV shows like Ancient Aliens and Search for the Lost Giants. In a new article for Ancient Origins, it is painfully evident that it is only due to the convenience of my English edition that he discovered my translation of the Akhbar al-zaman, which he proceeds to use as evidence for giants without ever really managing to understand the nuances of the text in question.
Last week, I reviewed the Forbidden History fourth season episode on the Knights Templar, and today I follow that up with a review of the next episode of the fourth season, “The Real Mary Magdalene.” If the topic sounds familiar, it’s because the show already covered Holy Bloodline conspiracies in other episodes (specifically S01E03, un-reviewed by me), and because the topic has been the subject of almost every fringe history series broadcast since 2003. But since the Templar episode repeated content and ideas first seen in the first season episode on the Knights Templar, it seems that Forbidden History has entered Ancient Aliens territory, recycling old material with slight variations to justify another hour of TV. This is sad because Forbidden History has so few episodes (just six per season) that there is no reason to recycle topics quite this much. Worse, in 2013 the show had host Jamie Theakston conclude that there was no truth to the Holy Bloodline claims. Made the fool, he now presides over an episode that simply assumes the Bloodline myth to be true. On the plus side, it gave Theakston an excuse for a nice vacation in the south of France
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.