Damn Those Lying Ancient Texts!
Last week, I discussed the elastic definition of “ancient texts” employed by the History Channel documentary series Ancient Aliens and the ancient astronaut theorists (AATs) who appear on the program, especially Giorgio Tsoukalos, the publisher of the ancient astronaut journal Legendary Times and a consulting producer on the series. Today I’d like to look at the use of a specific set of “ancient texts” in the ancient astronaut theory in order to show the way AATs somehow manage to undercut their own theory due to their misunderstanding or ignorance of the ancient texts they purport to cite.
Our example today comes from the Ancient Aliens episode that aired September 15, 2011, entitled “Aliens and Lost Worlds.” In the final third of the program, the documentary went in search of the alien origins of the Garden of Eden. In so doing, it drew on the now-common knowledge that the biblical narrative finds its origin in Mesopotamian mythology, which included an earthly paradise.
The program then went on to discuss the Sumerian gods, including those who were present at the creation of humanity. As related by the narrator of the program, the Sumerian gods known as the “Anunnaki” were really “an alien race,” according, once again, to those all-important ancient texts. These texts are cited simply as “Sumerian cuneiform tablets.”
These Anunnaki were made famous in ancient astronaut circles through the work of Zecharia Sitchin, whose eccentric interpretations of Near Eastern texts transformed the high gods of Mesopotamia into a race of aliens who lived on a wandering planet and lusted after earth’s gold. But the idea of the Sumerian gods as aliens is older still, expressed even in Erich von Däniken’s 1968 Chariots of the Gods?: “Sumerian, Assyrian, Babylonian and Egyptian cuneiform inscriptions constantly present the same picture: ‘gods’ came from the stars and went back to them…”
But this is not the case. First, Sumerian texts are rare and spotty; they do not contain stories of the Anunnaki as such. Instead, the Annunaki are best attested in the later Babylonian creation epic, the Enuma Elish, where they are simply gods created by Marduk, the chief god. He creates 600 Anunnaki, dividing them into two groups: 300 he placed in the sky, and 300 he placed in the sea down under the earth. Far from coming from the stars, in Enuma Elish 5.125-128, the gods in fact rise up from the underground sea called the Apsû as well as descend from the heavens:
When you come up from the Apsû to make a decision
This will be your resting place before the assembly.
When you descend from heaven to make a decision
This will be your resting place before the assembly.
(trans. W. G. Lambert)
Thus, there is no clear implication that the gods belong to the stars.
But the Anunnaki do have an interesting role that AATs ought to have quickly embraced. In the Enuma Elish (6.53-63), these gods work on the earth to make bricks for Marduk’s ziggurat of Esagil in Babylon, an actual building that still exists to this day:
[“]Let us erect a shrine to house a pedestal
Wherein we may repose when we finish (the work).”
When Marduk heard this,
He beamed as brightly as the light of day,
“Build Babylon, the task you have sought.
Let bricks for it be moulded, and raise the shrine!”
The Anunnaki wielded the pick.
For one year they made the needed bricks.
When the second year arrived,
They raised the peak of Esagil, a replica of the Apsû.
They built the lofty temple tower of the Apsû […]
(trans. W. G. Lambert)
Ironically, this “ancient text” actually has the Anunnaki—identified by Ancient Aliens as aliens—building a real, currently-extant, pyramid-shaped structure. According to the text, they built both the temple of Marduk called Esagila and the “lofty temple tower,” the ziggurat of Etemenaki, that abutted it. What a shame that after archaeology failed to find extraterrestrial artifacts in any prehistoric building, modern ancient astronaut theorists no longer advocate alien construction but instead talk about more nebulous “influences.”
The episode of Ancient Aliens claiming these Anunnaki as ETs aired September 15, 2011. Just 24 hours earlier, Giorgio Tsoukalos, TV’s leading AAT, tweeted: “Repeat after me: The pyramids were NOT built by aliens. According to ancient Egyptian texts, the pyramids were built by humans WITH THE ASSISTANCE of the ‘Guardians of the Sky’…”
Now the Egyptian pyramids are not the same as the Mesopotamian ziggurats, but it hardly makes sense to suggest that humans constructed the massive stone constructions of Egypt while Mesopotamia’s rather simpler ziggurats, made from piles of dried mud bricks, required aliens to physically work for two years in the deserts of Iraq. Surely, if the aliens didn’t build the pyramids, they did not build the ziggurats either.
Damn those lying “ancient texts”!
A problem arises in that the “ancient text” Tsoukalos cites as his source, Al-Maqrizi’s Al-Khitat, was actually written in 1400 CE, four thousand years after the pyramids were built, whereas the “ancient text” telling us that the Anunnaki built the ziggurat of Babylon was written roughly at the time of the building’s construction. (The ziggurat dates back perhaps as far as 1500 BCE, while the poem was first written around 1500 BCE, with surviving copies dating from 650 BCE.)
Another problem arises here. The ziggurat of Babylon, known as Etemenanki, served a secondary purpose in the Hebrew literature: Most scholars believe it was the Tower of Babel. According to AATs, however, the Tower of Babel was destroyed by aliens (pretending to be God) in order to keep humans subservient to their extraterrestrial overlords when humans built the tower too high. Unless they didn’t. Erich von Däniken thought in Gods from Outer Space (1970) that the Tower of Babel was an observation post for monitoring the aliens, while Zecharia Sitchin ridiculously thought it was some kind of Saturn V-style rocket in Twelfth Planet (1976). This is especially ironic since Sitchin’s entire corpus was predicated on the idea that the Anunnaki were aliens—and yet he misses their most significant, and testable, earthly achievement, the construction of an actual set of buildings that anyone can visit today.
Obviously, the talking heads on Ancient Aliens have trouble using “ancient texts” consistently, or even accurately, even when they would appear to support their own views. If the “aliens” did not build the ziggurat—and there is not a shred of evidence that anyone other than humans worked on it—then the “ancient text” cited above is wrong. And if we admit that ancient texts can be incorrect, what warrant do we have to assume they are correct about other alleged alien incidents?
9/22/2011 09:10:16 am
Hello Mr. Colavito,
A BLACK MAN
5/3/2015 08:03:02 pm
WE CAN BUILD THE SAME STUFF THEY DID TODAY IF WE WANT TO! DON'T FALL INTO THAT BS TRAP OF ANCIENT ALIENS LIES!
9/22/2011 10:32:57 am
Thank you for writing. Let me preface this by saying that engineering is not my field of expertise (my field is myth and literature), so my comments will have to be somewhat tempered.
12/14/2017 09:29:01 am
Khufu built the pyramids? Kind of lost some respect for you now. He likely built the outside but whatever is built on top of is certainty much much older. He put the casing stones on. Nothing more
9/28/2011 07:41:27 am
I'd like to see you do a better job of addressing the original poster's concern, which basically comes down to the fact that some of those large stones, in excess of 500 tons, would certainly have been quite challenging if not impossible to move without modern equipment, and some of them are so large that even with modern equipment, they would pose a significant challenge.
4/21/2017 02:59:50 am
It comes down to labor people!!!! I totally agree with Jason. They had the TIME and the manpower to do it all. The ancient alien thing of underestimating ancient people is insulting. That goes for Gobekli Tepe too. And we have that old man Sitchin to thank for all this Annunaki/ Nibiru crap that people spout like it's really true!!
12/29/2017 07:10:56 pm
Denise, I have to agree, it's insulting to ancient peoples that they somehow needed help to build the structures that they have.
8/9/2019 09:31:54 pm
People posit theories that ancient humans built the pyramids and other megalithic structures without even hearing, let alone reading the amazing "lifes" work of Flinders Petrie. The man spent more than 30 years on the Giza Plateau, and all he did was take measurements. Extremely detailed measurements. If people truly grasped the immense "network" of structures of the Giza plateau and other surround cities and deserts they'd surely drop there jaw in awe and wonder. Kings and pharaohs didn't have monuments/tombs constructed by there subjects for simple idolatry, it was and is an amazing pre-planned, engineered and constructed above and below ground network beyond reasonable modern human scale. Which is all we build for, modern human scale, ceilings are average 8, 9 or 10ft height. No tunnels are dug through solid bedrock to your neighbors house, they don't create foundation blocks 30ftx50x6ft thick joined precicesly without mortar for more than 100 sq miles. No you can't look at a single pyramid and think you know how it was built, it was a tiny part of a grand scale project, aligned exactly where someone wanted, and they lined up the plateau and it's structures to other amazing megaliths we're still uncovering to this day. That makes it a world wide engineering network of amazing builders who had no limitations to go anywhere on earth for there materials and move them anywhere on earth they wanted, on megalithic scale we don't have the machinery to move with such ease today. Not even down a mountain and up another mountain like we find all over Central and South America. Some things we just don't know, and it's probably a good thing we don't have the knowledge anymore.
9/22/2018 04:36:29 pm
Im not convinced about any ancient alien tech for building anything...i wonder why would the ancient alien building inspector would even pass the inspection of any building if the building eroded and if they had oh sooo much knowledge why would they build anything with brick? Why not use their so called knowldege and high tech to use titanium or some other precious metals to build? Doesnt make sense for them to travel so many light years to earth and use bullshit materials!
9/28/2011 07:55:05 am
First, my blog post is not about engineering, nor am I an engineer by trade. My specialty is myth and literature, and that is the area I cover in my work.
7/21/2013 12:14:39 pm
IF YOU CANT EVEN ANSWER THE QUESTION ABOUT HOW ANCIENT PEOPLE BUILT EXTRAORDINARY MONUMENTS THEN STOP BLOGGING OR MAKING STUPID CRITICS ABOUT THE REAL PERSON WHOS STUDYING ABOUT OUR ANCIENT PAST! YOURE SO STUPID THAT YOU CANT EVEN ACCEPT THE FACT THAT WE'RE NOT THE ONLY LIFE IN THIS UNIVERSE! WITHOUT TOOLS THEY CAN MORE LIKE LASER CARVING? SUCH AN ASSHOLE!
8/9/2013 07:57:30 pm
Believing that there is life elsewhere in the universe does not require the acceptance of alien interference in our ancient past. I think it is quite likely there is life in the universe outside of our planet. I also have seen no evidence of aliens meddling in our past; the problems and contradictions the ancient alien hypothesis is supposed to solve ( the inability of our ancestors to build megalithic structures ) are easily explained through cursory research.
5/3/2015 08:04:35 pm
YOUR A STUPID PERSON WHO THINKS THAT MAN CAN'T CARVE A SIMPLE STONE WITH ANOTHER STONE USING SAND AS AN ABRASIVE THAT IS HARDER THAN A DIAMOND! YOU A MORON!
Brian D, Anderson
2/13/2013 09:43:34 am
Though I tend not to dismiss an idea out of hand, I can't help but wonder why ATT's believe our ancestors incapable of great achievements? We are no more intelligent now than we were thousands of years ago (biologically, our brains are actually shrinking)...we just have more accumulative knowledge. We don't build megalithic structures any longer, because it make no sense to do so (aside from the fact that we have materials that are far easier to work with than enormous stones).
Brian D. Anderson
7/22/2013 01:00:03 am
Speaking of stupid, I thing the word you're looking for is critique not critic.
9/12/2013 11:51:32 pm
*cracks knuckles* lets take em out one by one shall we?
9/17/2013 07:50:59 am
9/17/2013 07:58:02 am
Oh and to backup my claim:
9/17/2013 08:07:00 am
Thank you for sharing that information; however, in the bilingual version of the creation story, Marduk (as Lugal-dul-azaga) creates the Anunnaki "at one time," while in the Enuma Elish, they simply exist without mention of their origin. It isn't clear cut.
Ah ok I didn´t know that. I looked at the pantheon family tree and it is sooooo confusing with names like Ea/Enki, Anu and Enlil popping up all over the family tree because of different interpretations by sumerian and akkadian writings. Btw. what is the bilingual version?
9/17/2013 08:26:18 am
It's a different tablet. If you click the Enuma Elish link above, you'll come to my page with the different creation texts. There is no one official version, but a range of texts from different times and places.
7/30/2014 06:36:37 am
Jason. sorry but your statements do not prove that Sitchen was incorrect in his assessment of these stories. but place them in a chronological timeline. He takes this from latest to earliest. your using it mixed together.....Marduke, Son of ea\enki, clearly was one of the first revisionist of written history. note the change of thename of Planet Nibiru from the earlier creation tablets to the planet Marduke... Striking Tiamet.
THE GRIM REAPER
5/3/2015 08:12:10 pm
ANCIENT ALIENS DEBUNKED SITCHIN IS A FRAUD AND YOUR A MORON!
9/6/2014 07:05:08 am
Nice try, Pat, sneaking in a comment a whole year after the last. The problem with your argument is that Sitchin lied about virtually everything he supposedly interpreted from Sumerian texts. It is not possible to accept anything he claims as truth. I think Jason has done a very good job of discrediting Sitchin and the AATs in this area of study.
THE GRIM REAPER
5/3/2015 08:13:21 pm
ANYONE WHO BELIEVES THE ANCIENT ALIENS IS A MORON! THAT SHOW IS SO FULL OF LIES AND SPIN! I HAVE 4000 BOOKS ON ANCIENT HISTORY, CIVILIZATIONS AND A DEGREE IN ARCHEOLOGY AND NOTHING THAT SHOW SAYS IS TRUE!
3/10/2016 03:25:20 pm
...and yet, you can't find your CAPS key.
6/28/2019 08:27:22 pm
AT LAST SOMEONE STEPS FORWARD AND CALLS THE PROGRAM OUT FOR WHAT IT IS - BS. I HAD TO STOP WATCHIG THE PROGRAM BECAUSE I KEPT THROWING BOOKS AT THE TV SCREEN WHEN I HEARD THEIR CONTINUAL CORRUPTION OF SOLID ARCHAEOLOGICAL RESEARCH AND STUDY COMARED TO STRAIGHT BS IN ORDER TO SELL BOOKS! Oh, I found the caps key! :)
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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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