Today I have a special treat to share. Archaeologist Ken Feder, the author of the Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology, has just returned from a trip to New Mexico and has generously given me permission to share some of his photographs from his trip. He visited the Los Lunas Decalogue Stone, and the photos he took make a strong case that the supposedly ancient Hebrew inscription is actually much more recent.
I discussed the Los Lunas stone last year, and you can read that here. The short form is that the supposedly ancient copy of the Ten Commandments written on a piece of stone in New Mexico cannot be shown to have existed prior to 1933, though later reports claim that it was first discovered in the 1880s. A local tradition holds that two anthropology students from the University of New Mexico hoaxed the stone in 1930.
Feder took photographs of the area around the Los Lunas Decalogue as well as the stone itself. Take a look at the following two photographs.
According to Feder, these photographs offer strong evidence that the Decalogue is a recent hoax:
The first image is of a genuine petroglyph that is only about 20 feet away from the Decalogue. It exhibits far more weathering than does the Decalogue. Notice in the Decalogue stone that the basalt exhibits exfoliation but that the inscription did not break off but was made into the exposed surface of the basalt, a pretty good indicator that the inscription post-dates the exfoliation. There’s no evidence whatsoever for any subsequent repatination of the exposed basalt.
This next photograph looks even more closely at the inscription.
Also notice in the close shot that the middle line of the letter that looks like a backwards E, instead of running parallel to the upper and lower elements of the letter, as it does in other examples on the stone, instead follows the exfoliation break. I suspect that this is because it was easier to draw it that way rather than run it across the break. Another indication that the inscription is more recent that the exfoliation which, itself, does not appear to be very old.
Feder also visited Roswell to make a stop at the city’s famous UFO museum. I had no idea that the International UFO Museum Research Center at 114 North Main Street in Roswell features ancient astronauts among its other UFO-themed exhibits. According to Feder, the museum has a display of Native American petroglyphs which are identified as depictions of space beings. The museum also has a wooden replica of Lord Pacal’s coffin lid from the Mayan city of Palenque, which it informs visitors is a depiction of “an astronaut sitting at the controls of his spaceship.” Although the replica was supposed to be on loan to the museum for six weeks in 1996, it is still there today (or back again?).
A photocopied 1996 handout, still given to visitors, states that researchers speculate that Lord Pacal may have been an extraterrestrial himself because he was 10 inches taller than the “average Mayan.” The handout further claims that the Mayans “were performing successful brain surgeries,” by which it apparently refers to the ancient practice of trepanation but which it seems to want us to read as neurosurgery.
It probably goes without saying that the “Palenque astronaut” claim dates back to the middle twentieth century when classic-recipe ancient astronaut books offered the idea, particularly Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods, where he describes it thus:
There sits a human being, with the upper part of his body bent forward like a racing motorcyclist; today any child would identify his vehicle as a rocket. It is pointed at the front, then changes to strangely grooved indentations like inlet ports, widens out and terminates at the tail in a darting flame. The crouching being himself is manipulating a number of undefinable controls and has the heel of his left foot on a kind of pedal. His clothing is appropriate: short trousers with a broad belt, a jacket with a modern Japanese opening at the neck and closely fitting bands at arms and legs. With our knowledge of similar pictures, we should be surprised if the complicated headgear were missing. And there it is with the usual indentations and tubes, and something like antennae on top. Our space traveller—he is clearly depicted as one—is not only bent forward tensely, he is also looking intently at an apparatus hanging in front of his face. The astronaut's front seat is separated by struts from the rear portion of the vehicle, in which symmetrically arranged boxes, circles, points and spirals can be seen.
He repeated the claim many times afterward, including in Von Däniken’s Proof and The Gods Were Astronauts.
The odd thing is that belief in Pacal as an astronaut waxes and wanes with the popularity of the ancient astronaut theory. In the wake of von Däniken’s success, other writers adopted his ideas, particularly Alan Landsburg, influential in his own right for bringing Chariots of the Gods to the peak of its popularity with its 1973 NBC-TV adaptation, In Search of Ancient Astronauts. But when von Däniken’s popularity waned, so too did the number of people claiming Pacal as an astronaut. Consider David Hatcher Childress. In 1992’s Lost Cities of North and Central America, he was openly contemptuous of von Däniken’s interpretation of the coffin lid:
I stared at the sarcophagus lid for a while, it was indeed fascinating. It was a bizarre scene, though von Däniken’s explanation didn’t quite make sense to me. The man was barefoot and wore no shirt, a typical dress for the Maya, but is this how one dresses when one is in one’s space ship? … it is unlikely that any sort of rocket power was ever used in the past or will ever be used in the future by visiting astronauts …
Similarly, Graham Hancock in Fingerprints of the Gods (1995) refused to identify Pacal as an astronaut, though he did feel it could represent a “technological device” from a lost civilization, perhaps depicting a piece of construction equipment.
Fast-forward to the era of Ancient Aliens, and suddenly everything old is new again. There is no better example than David Childress, who in 2012 completely abandoned his mild skepticism and decided to give the audience what they wanted to hear. Speaking on Ancient Aliens (S04E01), he said “Lord Pacal’s sarcophagus was his spaceship. He’s the original rocket man.”
And if you visit the Roswell UFO museum, you won’t hear any different.
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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