Late last week, popular news and entertainment site BuzzFeed went in search of ancient aliens as part of their regular BuzzFeed Unsolved feature. Their investigation into the ancient astronaut theory did not go well as the hosts presented a half-assed BuzzFeed view of ancient astronauts, which one of the two hosts agreed was “absolute nonsense.” The other host just laughed. I guess they are going for a believer/skeptic or Mulder/Scully vibe. In fact, the biggest mystery that remained unsolved at the end of the video was how two ignorant Millennials came to believe that low-information bullshitting was a sufficient basis for an “investigation,” and that goes for both the believer and the skeptic, neither of whom acquitted himself well.
Anyway, the video starts out with your standard ancient astronaut panoply, including cave art that 1960s ancient astronaut theorists thought looked like 1960s space helmets, the so-called Dendera Lightbulb, and the infamous hieroglyphs in Egypt that sort of look like a helicopter because two glyphs were superimposed incorrectly when the inscription was re-carved. We all know these claims from their frequent appearance on Ancient Aliens and on ancient astronaut websites, and all of these have been debunked many times over. However, the “skeptic” in the video offers no real rebuttal except to scoff.
Following this, the video then summarizes the key arguments of Robert Temple’s Sirius Mystery, name-checking Temple, the only ancient astronaut theorist so honored. The video alleges that the Dogon tribe in Africa had anomalous knowledge of the binary Sirius star system, though they leave out the fact that Temple’s actual claim in the last edition of his book is that they know of three stars in Sirius, something modern science has not confirmed. The two doofuses presenting this information have all the curiosity of a rock when it comes to drilling down into the facts of the situation. Consider this exchange between the believer and the skeptic:
Believer: You have nothing to say about any of that?
Skeptic: I – I – I will fight you tooth and nail when it comes to ghoulie ghosts, but aliens are a little more, uhh… probable.
Believer: I win!
Skeptic: No, you don’t win.
Believer: I think I win!
They make Ancient Aliens look like NOVA.
The two present Carl Sagan’s views on the Dogon, namely that the anthropologists who reported the story contaminated the evidence, perhaps unintentionally, with their own knowledge, through which they interpreted ambiguous stories. However, the two misunderstand this and end up arguing about whether the anthropologists intentionally lied, as though that were the point. It’s certainly a possibility, but one of several.
The men then discuss Tiwanaku, entering into evidence claims they saw on Ancient Aliens about how difficult it supposedly was to carve the stones so precisely (though they are not actually precisely carved at all) and conflating this with claims about elongated skulls, suggesting that elongated skulls were induced in imitation of space visitors. This is where I stopped to wonder about why people might want to elongate skulls, and I couldn’t remember ever hearing a claimant discuss whether it had anything to do with the fact that babies delivered vaginally have elongated skulls right from the womb because of the pressure placed on the skull during the time of delivery. The rise in Caesarian section deliveries has obscured this fact somewhat, as does the fact that the appearance of a cone-shaped skull usually disappears in 48 hours, but it did make me wonder if the effort to create an elongated skull sometimes reflected a culture’s efforts to preserve the look of a skull right after birth. I’m sure some scholar has addressed this, though I didn’t immediately find anything about it.
The BuzzFeed video then went on to discuss the pyramids at Giza, and they consistently misidentified Khafre’s pyramid as the Great Pyramid, probably because it’s the pointiest one there and has some of the original casing stones still attached.
After delivering some of the usual pyramidiot arguments about how the pyramid is too big and made of stones too heavy for the Egyptians to have moved on their own, the believer then alleges that the Great Pyramid is perfectly aligned to magnetic north, a ridiculous claim since the magnetic north pole moves constantly and no building can remain aligned to such a moving target. Presumably he really meant true north, which is hardly shocking. There are many rather simple ways to find the cardinal directions.
Following this, the video then conflates Robert Bauval’s Orion Correlation hypothesis with the ancient astronaut theory and declares—wrongly—that the pyramids are perfectly “aligned” with Orion’s belt and could only have done so with the help of space aliens. Even Bauval, who invented the Orion Correlation, concedes that the alignment isn’t perfect and is more symbolic that strictly and mathematically literal.
The interesting thing is that all of the video’s claims about the pyramid appear, nearly verbatim, on the Aliens Built the Pyramids webpage, including the magnetic north mistake. That error occurred because the page writer didn’t realize that the compass rose on a map is not a depiction of a magnetic compass held in front of the map. It’s pretty clear that BuzzFeed simply used Google with the keywords “aliens built the pyramids” and then copied freely.
The believer closed the video by claiming that the reason for investigating space aliens is to “inspire wonder and curiosity,” which he presumably fails to feel from actual history for reasons unarticulated. He concludes that the truth about whether ancient astronauts visited Earth must be “left to personal interpretation” because he doesn’t seem to understand how evidence or the burden of proof works. The skeptic acquitted himself poorly, offering vague, half-formed arguments and demonstrating virtually no familiarity with the subject he was supposed to be investigating. Granted, BuzzFeed often produces half-assed videos as clickbait, but this was a particularly egregious case where no one involved seemed to do much more than call up some old episodes on Ancient Aliens on YouTube and then giggle their way through a college dorm room bull session focused mostly on their feelings about aliens.
The sad thing is that the video has had two million views in less than a week! The reach of their ignorant blather will easily outpace any attempt to set the record straight.
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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