Yesterday I discussed the Devil’s Wall of Germany, a Roman era ruin later attributed to supernatural sources, as a counterargument to the claim of ancient astronaut theorists that ancient legends of supernatural construction indicate alien intervention. Today I’d like to share another example of how supernatural construction legends spring up whenever long-ago builders have been forgotten.
The ruins of Great Zimbabwe attracted enormous attention because they were the only large-scale stone ruins found in southern Africa. Europeans tried mightily to attribute these ruins to anyone except for sub-Saharan Africans right down to the end of white rule in the 1970s. As part of exploratory efforts, travelers recorded native legends of Zimbabwe, which were lacking due to the displacement of populations in the post-contact period. Here is what Richard Nicklin and W. G. Neal recorded in The Ancient Ruins of Rhodesia in 1904 in an attempt to prove that Phoenicians built the ruins and that they were the Ophir of the Bible:
Surely this demonstrates the pointlessness of relying upon ancient legends of supernatural architects as support for the ancient astronaut theory. While this example is perhaps not as good as yesterday’s (since ancient astronaut theorists have been known to attribute Zimbabwe to aliens, a suggestion von Däniken made in Gods from Outer Space), the idea that the same natives might as easily attribute them to Englishmen must reduce our confidence that any legend has a literal interpretation.
But, to be scrupulously fair, I should present a mitigating point. Giorgio Tsoukalos and Erich von Däniken have been obsessed with the idea that ancient stone structures were poured in place from concrete rather than quarried, despite the geological impossibility of making granite and other types of rock that way. So, in fairness, here is some additional information the 1904 authors collected about native traditions of Zimbabwe:
Unfortunately, this does not actually refer to pouring stones from concrete; instead “This expression is held by authorities to convey the natives’ idea of prehistoric times.” In other words, it means that the site was figuratively built before the mud of the newly-created earth had hardened into rock; i.e., it’s really old. It is the rough equivalent of our expression “antediluvian” (i.e., “older than the Flood”), which does not mean that something was literally created prior to the imaginary flood of Noah but is rather figurative language.
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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