Josh Gates Walks Back Endorsement of Ancient Astronaut Theory, But Claims Ancient Achievements Cannot Be Explained
This week’s episode of Expedition Unknown: Hunt for Extraterrestrials was really boring. It involved host Josh Gates listening to a group of Zimbabweans describe a mass UFO sighting that occurred in 1994, followed by a trip to Rendlesham Forest to listen to yet another iteration of the same routine set of mystery-mongering interviews with the UFO profiteers who have made a thirty-year career out of an alleged encounter with a spacecraft that has been debunked over and over again. We saw this a few months ago on Ancient Aliens (not to mention several times before), and the Science Channel, and Destination America, and some online articles, and practically everywhere UFOs are sold. Gates added nothing to the discussion except to give far too much credence to some fairly dubious claims, to the exclusion of reasonable explanations.
As you will recall, last week Gates surprised me by revealing that he is apparently a closet ancient astronaut theorist. And while he is no stranger to fringe media, I was surprised to see him appear this week on Jimmy Church’s radio show, surprising because Jimmy Church’s show plays host to some of the zaniest names in fringe, including Scott Wolter, Whitley Striber, Randall Carlson, and a raft of other opportunists, unqualified speculators, and fantasists. While this was more common in the days of Syfy’s Destination Truth, since the launch of Expedition Unknown, the Travel Channel had tried to position Gates as a serious and level-headed alternative to the History Channel’s pack of fantasists. But now that fringe is apparently the best way to attract declining audiences in the era of peak TV, all bets are off, and crazy people are the new normal.
For me, the most interesting part of the interview was Gates’s confession that he knows going in that he isn’t going to find anything on his expeditions. We all know this, but it is still surprising to hear him admit it out loud. He said that a Syfy executive told him at the launch of Destination Truth that the most difficult part of the show would be to “bring the viewer home” at the end—i.e., to craft an ending to a narrative that they know going in will turn up nothing. Gates said that viewers don’t often understand the purpose of his show. He said that he is often asked why he doesn’t ever find anything, and he said that this makes him “want to cry.” The purpose of his shows, he said, isn’t to find artifacts or solve mysteries—as he explicitly claims he will try to do—but rather to “move the needle” on the investigation by showing viewers something new. “It’s fun to pull at those threads and ask those questions,” he said, regardless of whether there are answers.
If you do not want viewers to feel disappointed that you turn up nothing, then maybe you should stop pretending like you’re going to find an answer.
Naturally, Gates also credits Indiana Jones for inspiring his interest in ancient mysteries and adventure. He said he had been “obsessed” with Indiana Jones since he was a kid, back in the 1980s. Gates is four years older than I am, and I was eight when Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade came out, so the movies were for me never anything other than reruns on television. When I was twelve, Jurassic Park was all the rage, and the object of my youthful interest. Anyway, Gates said that as a child he would visit a supposedly haunted house and use a Ouija board to communicate with the spirit world. “I think that kind of laid the groundwork for me investigating the paranormal, too,” he said. “Places have an energy. There are places you walk into and say, ‘Ugh, this place feels weird.‘” He also attributed his love of aliens to being a childhood “sci-fi geek.” That’s something that I’ve never entirely understood. I love horror but have never been obsessed with serial killers or ghosts, and I love Greek mythology but have never built an altar to Athena. Why does science fiction spawn an obsession with space?
Gates said that his Travel Channel series has convinced him aliens are real, but in walking back his enthusiasm about ancient astronauts from last week’s after show, he claims now not to be a believer in alien visitation to the Earth. He said he believes that civilization would collapse if the reality of aliens were ever proved because it would damage the religious foundations of most Earth societies. He agreed with Church that archaeologists cannot explain the mystical alignments of ancient megalithic sites with one another, or similar symbols across cultures. He called the ancient astronaut theory “really compelling,” but confessed that he is sometimes concerned that the hypothesis “undercuts how really cool and badass” ancient people were by attributing their wonders to space aliens. “But if I was in a floor fight with someone saying ‘How do you explain X, Y, or Z about these ancient cultures, there is no question that there are big gaps in what we know and so there’s a lot of room to argue there. And that’s what makes it cool.”
Church pressed Gates on the question of ancient astronauts, and Gates tried to clarify: “I’m still in that kind of agnostic camp where I say, well, I love this stuff. I love … I would have no problem with, you know, believing that, but I need to see, you know, irrefutable evidence, and I haven’t seen that yet. There’s a lot of really compelling, interesting stuff in the margins, but for me, I just want to see more. So that’s where I come down on the ancient alien stuff. There’s awesome, compelling theories out there. I just don’t think any of them are airtight yet, and that’s kind of where I land on it.”
Church told Gates that he avoided the question, and he tried again to get the Gates to come off the fence and express his secret love ancient aliens. In response to a query about the best evidence for ancient astronauts, Gates conceded that he was fascinated by the idea that geometric shapes and simple figures, such as stylized faces, repeat across cultures, and he believes that civilization emerged in “massive leaps” using technologies they could not have possessed. He cited the Great Pyramid’s construction, using centuries-old fringe claims about its alleged perfection to argue that “the question is really valid” whether aliens or Atlanteans provided the technology. So, basically he’s amazed that humans draw simple shapes and prefers not to investigate the origins of ancient sites and instead attribute their creation to mysteries. Both Gates and Church laughed at archaeologists for suggesting ways that Egyptians could have carved statues from red granite, claiming that such sculptures are simply impossible for humans to produce.
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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