In 1974, ancient astronaut theorist Erich von Däniken sat down with the science writer Timothy Ferris for three days of interviews for Playboy magazine. This was one of the rare occasions when an ancient astronaut theorist submitted to questioning from a well-informed skeptic, something that almost never happens today. I am reviewing this extraordinary interview in segments. This is part five.
I have to admit that the section of the interview following Erich von Däniken’s admission that he lies about his evidence is consequently anticlimactic. It is less fun to pick apart EVD’s evidence after he confessed that any given piece of it might well be the result of a “theatrical effect,” or, quite simply, a lie. So, I may pass over some of the material with less than detailed interest.
After EVD admitted that he had lied about many of the details of the cave where the aliens stashed their archives, Ferris next challenged him about the Dropa stones, a series of large discs covered in hieroglyphs supposedly telling of the crash of a flying saucer and its occupants’ subsequent activities in China. Ferris notes that Chinese experts have no record of these stones’ existence, and the archaeologist and translator who worked on them also do not exist. Their very names appear to be a Western pastiche of Chinese.
EVD admits that he included the material in his book without investigating it. His source was a “friend in Moscow.” But EVD deflects criticism by saying that journalist Peter Krassa found new evidence that the story is true. EVD neglected to mention that Krassa was a fellow ancient astronaut theorist. Later, Krassa would write EVD's biography (Disciple of the Gods, 1976) and still later would claim that the Vatican was hiding a time machine.
Ferris agrees to reserve judgment on the Dropa stones pending Krassa’s evidence (which, of course, never materialized) and then asks EVD about claims that a cave painting in Uzbekistan depicts an astronaut in modern-day flight gear. This painting appears in the film version of Chariots of the Gods as absolutely genuine despite the fact that the Soviet scholar who first published the painting, Dr. Saizev, admitted it was a hoax. EVD asks why Ferris focuses on the few artifacts that were questionable and which EVD merely copied from others. He cites Krassa again because it was Krassa who elicited the confession of the painting’s modernity and then blames Saizev for changing his story after filming Chariots.
EVD, though, suggests that the painting may well be real and Saizev a liar. “You can never be sure when they [Russians and the Chinese] tell you something that they really mean it. They sometimes have reasons to say one thing in private and another in public” (p. 60). High quality evidence, indeed! And, also, a little racist.
Ferris asks EVD why the film version of Chariots makes no mention of the controversy over the painting, presenting it as real. EVD scores a point by noting, correctly, that he did not write the film and can’t be held responsible for its producers’ mistakes. His own, however... Despite receiving evidence that the picture was a hoax in 1974, EVD went on to include it as "proof" of alien visitation in his 1976 book In Search of Ancient Astronauts: My Pictorial Evidence for the Impossible, reproducing the entire image and still claiming it is a genuine prehistoric picture.
(There is more about this piece of fake evidence in my article about the image here.)
The two then discuss the Great Pyramid, with EVD reciting a litany of common pyramid fallacies about its supposedly miraculous construction, the weight of the blocks, and other boring things that had been bandied about since at least Greaves’ Pyramidographia (1646), but especially in the work of Piazzi Smyth, merely substituting aliens for Smyth’s idea that God encoded special knowledge into the pyramid.
EVD claims Herodotus confirmed that gods from the sky came down and taught Egyptians how to build the pyramids, and Ferris notes this is not true. The relevant passage is Histories 2.124-134, and it clearly states that the pyramids were built by humans, by stacking stone atop one another, over many years. EVD began a trend exemplified by Giorgio Tsoukalos in which ancient astronaut theorists make false claims about ancient texts talking about aliens coming from the sky, shiny and glowing, and working miracles. In many instances, the theorist has interpolated much of the description into texts that say no such thing.
Ferris next asks EVD what he means by this nonsense question in Chariots: “Is it a coincidence that a meridian running through the pyramids divides continents and oceans into two exactly equal halves?” EVD disclaims knowledge of the question, saying he merely is summarizing “many other writers.” But his explanation of his own ignorance is astounding: “As I understand them, if you took all the water away from the Earth and pushed the continents together—so, for example, South America fit up against Africa—then the pyramid would be right in the middle. That’s how it was explained to me. I’ve never tried it” (p. 60). EVD admits that he included material in his books that he had not confirmed, did not understand, and made no effort to understand. Astonishing.
Next time: The Piri Reis map causes EVD trouble, and he admits that he never bothers to check whether the sources he copies from are telling the truth.
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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