In Radio Interview, Giorgio Tsoukalos Tries and Fails to Use Medieval Pyramid Legends to Prove Alien Contact
A few days ago, my longtime semi-nemesis Giorgio Tsoukalos gave a rare interview to Jimmy Church of Fade to Black radio to promote the return next week of Ancient Aliens for its twelfth season and ninth calendar year on the air. Tsoukalos more or less conceded that the whole Ancient Aliens series is merely an outgrowth of the two-hour original pilot, to which its 120 hours have added little, and that the pilot, in turn, was developed as a knockoff semi-tie-in to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, itself an ancient astronaut movie. According to Tsoukalos, executive producer Kevin Burns created the show as “a love letter to Chariots of the Gods.” That seems about right.
Tsoukalos said that at one time around 2005 he split his time evenly between his youthful career in bodybuilding promotion and space aliens, and cable TV helped him to choose aliens as his full-time avocation. According to Church, everyone in the ancient alien community loves Tsoukalos, and Church says that he and Tsoukalos are close friends who hang out together. “He’s our guy!” Church said. “Fans appreciate who you are,” Tsoukalos said. “I am where I am 100% because of the fans. […] I’m there for them.” But not for critics, of course. Tsoukalos refuses to be in the same city at the same time as me.
Church asked Tsoukalos about David Wilcock’s recent bizarre and conspiratorial claims about Atlantis and/or aliens in Antarctica, but he asked the question in such a roundabout way that Tsoukalos pretty much ignored Antarctica and instead talked about Puma Punku. Church rephrased and tried again, but Tsoukalos only reiterated what Ancient Aliens already did about Antarctica last year. “We always like to be in front or at the scene instead of just talking about it,” he said. Do note that he didn’t say anything about facts or learning about it! Church then tried a third time, but because he did not actually phrase the question in a way that specified what he was talking about, Tsoukalos just danced happily around the question. “Who knows what’s under that ice?” he said.
It's the Tsoukalos way: make vague statements, feint toward a mystery, and say nothing specific. He’s like a walking horoscope. Similarly, his whiz-bang midcentury optimism about how science and space aliens will lead to a utopia has the air of an astrologer flattering his patrons with rosy promises that are just vague enough never to be tested. Tsoukalos offers an Aquinas-like argument from First Cause, happily claiming that aliens influenced us, but other aliens influenced those aliens, going back to what he calls “God,” a First Cause that animates the universe and through which humanity will achieve transcendence through its saving grace.
“Why does academia fight it?” Church asks in response. Because there is no evidence, that’s why. It’s a fantasy.
And of course Tsoukalos had to make the requisite complaint about “skeptics,” whose doubt he sees as an “attack” on both him specifically and all ancient astronaut theorists collectively. “It’s something where you basically have to just ask the question and you explore the idea, and the skeptics can come up with any answer they want to give, but, see, they have never scratched the surface of the question. I mean, a lot of the skeptics have been regurgitating things from the ’70s. And, you know, because, if I hear one more time in this day that, you know, Puma Punku does not have any gray andesite and that I’m a liar for suggesting that Puma Punku has granite or andesite, well, I don’t know what to say because I’ve been there many times. There are many people who go there every day, and the archaeologists and the guides will tell you that Puma Punku is full of gray andesite.” From here he launches into a discussion of Puma Punku taken almost verbatim from the pilot episode of Ancient Aliens (and the later expansion pack episodes), which in turn references claims made for the site … BACK IN THE 1970s!!! (And earlier, too.) Self-awareness was never Tsoukalos’s strong suit.
Tsoukalos tried to explain that modern people couldn’t move the stones needed for the pyramids of Egypt, and he relates as evidence for ancient technology a highly distorted version of the medieval Arab legend, reported in the Akhbar al-zaman among other places, that magic spells made the blocks glide across the desert. I will stop here and note that while Tsoukalos accuses skeptics of not scratching the surface of the ancient astronaut theory, he knows this story secondhand from Erich von Däniken’s use of it in his books, while I know the story from the primary sources, having done my damnedest to get as close to the original wording as the limits of my linguistic skills can take me. I know it’s bullshit because I have actually read the books in question.
To this, I have to add that Tsoukalos offers the wackiest and most mixed up version of the legend of King Surid from the Arab pyramid legend that I have ever heard—and I have read virtually every one ever written in medieval and early modern times. It’s worth quoting in full because it shows that Tsoukalos is pulling his claims out of his ass. Well, that is not entirely true. We shall shortly see where his wild ideas came from.
Just to refresh your memory, Surid is a legendary character most likely based on Suphis, Manetho’s version of Khufu. According to the Arab legends, Surid was king of Egypt, a descendant of the Giants, and lived three hundred years before the Great Flood. He was possessed of a magic mirror and great wisdom, and when he had a nightmare prophesying the coming Flood, he ordered the construction of the pyramids as safeguards to hold all knowledge that it would not perish. You can read a dozen versions of his story in my Library (here, here, here, here, and here). Here is Tsoukalos’s version:
Now according some of the ancient Egyptological texts that I’m familiar with, it actually discusses the idea of King Surid [note: Tsoukalos pronounces this Sore-Writ] that at some point there was a time when the world or the people were eating from the same source like the animals. And then the heavens opened, and the Guardians of the Sky descended from the heavens and they picked one of the smartest humans that they could find and he happened to be Surid, and they took him up into the heavens, which wasn’t heaven at all—it was some kind of orbiting space station—where he was taught how to write and he was taught in a whole bunch of, you know, scientific disciplines. And then he was given this writing instrument, this fast-writing reed, this instrument with which he could write very, very quickly. And so he was given all this information.
This is a slightly mangled version of the story that Tsoukalos told almost verbatim in the April/May 2002 issues of the now defunct UFO Magazine. (Side note: UFO Magazine is selling the UFO brand name, and it seems like the kind of thing skeptics should get together to buy.) It’s mostly identical, but he couldn’t quite remember the right words in places. For example, he meant to say “river” rather than “source,” and should have talked about drinking rather than eating. In that 2002 version, he ascribed the story to al-Maqrizi, who does not give any such tale. I know. I read his book and translated all of the relevant sections. In the 2002 version, Tsoukalos falsely but explicitly states that al-Maqrizi “says in the text, verbatim, ‘and then Saurid and his people built the great pyramid with the assistance of the Guardians of the Sky.’” He says no such thing; Surid worked without angelic help. Another king had some fallen angels working to cut stones for pyramids at Dashur, but that was a separate story.
But, wow, did Tsoukalos do a number on the Surid story. First, Surid’s tale is medieval, with the oldest known version appearing in the Akhbar al-zaman around 1000, a variation on an earlier form ascribing the action to Hermes in the astrological work of Abu Ma‘shar more than a century earlier, c. 850. Tsoukalos knows the story from a later version given by al-Maqrizi in his Khitat of c. 1400. Second, the story claims to be of Coptic origin but is more likely an Islamic derivative of a now-lost Byzantine account of the mythic history of Egypt. It is not pharaonic by any means. Also, the word he was looking for at the end was “Jews.” And here he is wrong again—Surid performs the role also given in other stories to Hermes, but in medieval Arabic legend, it is Hermes, not Surid, who is identified with the prophet Idris, who is also identified with Enoch. All of these legends come from the same story—about the antediluvian pillars or tablets of wisdom hidden before the Flood, but as Berossus tells us, that story was Babylonian, not Egyptian, in origin, going back to Near East Flood epic. It was the reuse of the story in the Enochian corpus that indirectly led to its inclusion in the Late Antique mythic history of Egypt, mostly because the last Christian chronographers of Egypt (Annianus and Panodorus), whose work survives only in fragments, had a bizarre fetish for the Book of Enoch, as surviving fragments testify.
But at a strictly factual level, Tsoukalos is all over the place. The weird opening with the abduction of Surid has no relationship to any extant text about Surid, who had a whole line of ancestors who had been kings before him. It seems to be very roughly inspired by the civilizing of Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh, but even that is uncertain. It might just be Tsoukalos’s fantasy. Similarly, there are no Guardians of the Sky in the Arab pyramid myths. The phrase comes from Erich von Däniken. In Return of the Gods (1998), he or his translator has used “Guardians” as a substitute for the more correct term “Watchers” in describing the Enochian corpus and the pseudepigrapha. In a broader sense, he had been using the phrase “Guardians of Heaven” to refer to the Watchers since at least Eyes of the Sphinx (1996), apparently from a German translation of the Enochian corpus, to go by his sparse and incomplete notes.
It is from von Däniken that Tsoukalos again mixes and matches parts of different stories. Confusing von Däniken’s discussion of al-Maqrizi with the adjacent discussion of Enochian literature, probably in Eyes of the Sphinx (1996), Tsoukalos folds in the passages in the Slavonic Book of Enoch in which Enoch is taken up to heaven (1:1-10), given a “reed of quick writing” (22:12), and told to write all the wisdom of heaven. Because von Däniken correctly (!) notes that the stories of Enoch and Surid have undeniable parallels, Tsoukalos mistakenly conflates the two into one giant story and then projects it back in time to ancient Egypt, even though they are all versions of a tale that developed only from Hellenistic times down to the medieval era, in at least three distinct versions (Enoch, Hermes, and Surid), with many variants of each.
The story Tsoukalos told in 2002 and again this week is a mangled conflation of Erich von Däniken’s inconsistent discussions of 1 Enoch, 2 Enoch, and al-Maqrizi, and somehow skeptics like me are the ones who don’t know what they’re talking about.
For his part, Church can’t help but bring in science fiction to “prove” that history is a lie. He enters into evidence Roland Emmerich’s middling 2008 movie 10,000 B.C., which was inspired by Graham Hancock and featured the Giza pyramids and a fully leonine Sphinx being constructed at that date. “Isn’t that interesting?” Church asks. “I found it absolutely fascinating.” Because he is unaware that Emmerich purposely used Hancock’s ideas (or other similar fringe history sources), he seems to think that this FICTIONAL film is somehow evidence of a secret stream of knowledge and not simply a movie ripping off a bestselling nonfiction book for color.
A few other minor notes: Tsoukalos says that Robert Bauval is now an ancient astronaut theorist and will be publishing a new book on directed panspermia. Tsoukalos also doesn’t seem to understand the difference between the words “Parthenon” and “pantheon.” Tsoukalos also denies that the ancient astronaut theory is racist because he says that Norse and Greek gods were also space aliens. Beyond this, he says that the “dumbest” idea he ever heard is that aliens are harvesting our souls—mostly because the aliens, he said, can’t be alive if they didn’t already have souls.
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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