I would be remiss if I didn’t pause for a moment to acknowledge the death this week of special effects master Ray Harryhausen at the age of 92. Harryhausen’s masterpiece was the 1963 Jason and the Argonauts, whose brief scene of skeleton warriors battling the Greek heroes ranks among the most impressive few minutes of special effects I’ve ever seen. Its obvious derivative in Army of Darkness is longer and more sustained, but not as exuberant. I mention all of this because the film left such an impression on my father that I ended up named for the Argonaut.
Moving on to today’s outrage:
Last year I wrote a brief piece for my website about a really fake-looking painting allegedly found in an Uzbekistan cave showing android-looking aliens and a flying saucer. This supposedly ancient painting first appeared in Sputnik magazine, a Soviet propaganda publication, and the author of the Sputnik story later admitted that the image was a fake.
Before this, however, the painting was heavily promoted by Erich von Däniken after it appeared in the German film version of Chariots of the Gods and its American adaptation, In Search of Ancient Astronauts (1973) with Rod Serling. Imagine my surprise to find my article ridiculed this week in a Canadian Spanish-language arts publication called Cañasanta in an article about archaeological artifacts that “defy rational explanation.” I’ve taken the liberty of translating it into English, and I trust you’ll forgive me for cleaning up its sloppy writing a bit:
The cave paintings found in FERGHANA (Uzbekistan):
Well that certainly got my attention! I’m flattered, I guess, to be considered a “renowned international skeptic,” but I’m saddened that they caricatured my work as “ridicule.”
Obviously, I did not use an ad hominem attack to discredit the paintings; ad hominem refers to an attack on the speaker rather than the argument, and if the speaker admits to fabrication, that’s a pretty relevant point. Beyond this, I also discussed the image’s artistic problems (including its anachronistic use of perspective and the existence of an unfinished draft version), its provenance problems (the picture was commissioned for a magazine article), the inclusion of the hoax Dropa stones in the picture, and the confession of Zaisev (also transliterated as Saizev) that it was a fake, drawn by an artist whose name appears on the picture. And it wasn’t even me saying that: Erich von Däniken admitted that Zaisev called it a fake, though he tried to spin it to his advantage through an ad hominem attack on Zaisev’s character: Who can trust Soviets?
I quickly lost confidence in Cañasanta magazine’s reading comprehension skills.
I of course wanted to know what the University of Washington was doing investigating fabricated paintings in Uzbekistan and why they were challenging me. Would you like to know what the “University of Washington” study referenced above really is? Here’s the link Cañasanta provides. Yes, it’s a listing for the school library’s copy of In Search of Ancient Astronauts, the 1973 TV documentary hosted by Rod Serling, based on Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods. That is the whole of their involvement. This confirmed that Cañasanta can’t read. Obviously, a library’s holdings are not a university’s endorsement of their contents.
What’s wrong with ancient astronaut believers? Do they think that libraries purge their holdings of all disproved or incorrect work whenever a new article is published? How would we be able to review the history of ideas if every idea vanished when another succeeded it?
The Cañasanta story is being picked up on Spanish-language blogs, so I thought I had best say something about it before it gets too far out of hand.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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