In an interview yesterday with Inverse to promote the upcoming Baltimore Alien Con, Ancient Aliens star Giorgio Tsoukalos … well, offered more of the same, actually. For someone who is supposedly an expert on … something … he is remarkably shallow in his interviews and rather repetitive in the potted anecdotes he parcels out. Perhaps it comes from too many years reciting prewritten lines for Ancient Aliens, or perhaps it reflects the dearth of originality behind the ancient astronaut theory. There were, however a few highlights worth mentioning.
The Inverse interviewer asked Tsoukalos about the satirical story that circulated earlier this year falsely suggesting that Donald Trump had appointed him the head of the Space Force. When asked if he would accept such an appointment, Tsoukalos, a noted liberal, offered a surprising answer. “Of course, it’s your civic duty. It doesn’t matter who the president is. If the government asks for your help and you happen to be an expert in that certain field, it is your civic duty to comply.” Both the sentiment and the wording are a little disturbing, and not least because Tsoukalos has joined his fellow Ancient Aliens talking heads in accusing the U.S. government of all manner of cover-ups and crimes in service of a quasi-satanic space alien agenda. To hear him offer the uncomfortably authoritarian reasoning that the government must be aided and abetted no matter their actions just strikes a sour note for me.
The meat of the interview surrounds an important question. Inverse asked Tsoukalos how he responds to criticism that the ancient astronaut theory denigrates the achievements of ancient civilizations.
It’s an incorrect criticism because nobody’s ever suggested that. I’ve never once said that ancient monuments were built by the extraterrestrials. They were all built by human beings. What I’m suggesting is that these ancient structures were built with the assistance and engineering knowledge of the extraterrestrials.
It's interesting to see the way he has massaged the rough edges off of this explanation over the years. The latest version, which has removed almost every trace of actual extraterrestrial intervention, sounds almost reasonable. The trouble is that his second paragraph is incorrect. Remarkably few myths outside of the Enochian corpus suggest knowledge came from the sky. Culture-heroes were just as likely to be earthbound. Viracocha, for example, came from under Lake Titicaca. Oannes rose up from the Persian Gulf. The Greeks sought the advice and counsel of the heroes and Titans down under the earth. Quetzalcoatl lived on earth and sailed over the sea.
But more to the point: The ancient texts do not typically describe engineering feats as being the work of humans based on plans from the sky. Instead, there are generally two different kinds of stories. Practical, technical texts, like the recently discovered Egyptian papyri describing the building of the Great Pyramid, are rather plain about the human efforts involved in planning and executing constructions. Mythic texts attribute buildings to magic, monsters, or gods. The Greeks thought Mycenaean buildings were raised by Cyclopes. Medieval people attributed Stonehenge to Giants and Roman ruins to devils. The only text Tsoukalos—to the best of my knowledge—has ever cited as proof that the ancients believed that plans and skills had passed from alien to human was al-Maqrizi’s Al-Khitat, written around 1400 CE, and I translated every reference to pyramids in it to prove that it says nothing of the sort. (It says that human kings built the pyramids after doing some astrology.) The other commonly cited text is the Book of Enoch, where the Watchers who fell from Heaven are counted as the inventors of various arts and sciences. These include knowledge of makeup for beautifying women’s faces and astrology for creating useless horoscopes, but neither engineering nor architecture. Aliens have weird priorities.
I’d also guess that I am probably one of the people he was thinking of when explaining why he doesn’t engage with his critics anymore. “I used to try, a long time ago, to engage with the critics and the naysayer and the hater and the debunkers. But I stopped doing that because it’s a waste of energy,” he said in the new interview. Compare that to what he wrote to me when I was working on my first book and wanted to interview Erich von Däniken, for whom he worked at the time: “Just the fact that you so desperately attempt to dismantle our theory proves that we are on the right track. Otherwise you would not feel so threatened by our theories! ... I will certainly not forward your questions to Erich, and his secretary has already been informed about your malevolent intentions.” I agree that this was a huge waste of energy, but not because Tsoukalos was trying so hard to be kind and generous.
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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