The major snowstorm that hit the northeast on Thursday delayed my return to Albany by a day, and my travel nightmare improved little upon the discovery that all of the trains for the weekend were sold out except for yesterday’s late evening train. This train, of course, was hopelessly delayed by not one but three slow freight trains ahead of us that caused my train to slow to half its usual speed, thus doubling the time needed to make the journey. I managed to get back home with just twenty minutes to spare before a new episode of Ancient Aliens. Lucky me.
This week’s episode, “Aliens and Cover-Ups” (S05E02), falls much more heavily on the side of modern UFO studies rather than prehistoric extraterrestrials, and thus falls far beyond my usual remit. Therefore, you will forgive me if after my long and exhausting trip I just don’t have the energy to learn a whole new field of study (modern ufology) just to critique Ancient Aliens’ lies. My review is consequently a bit less detailed than usual.
UFOs over America
We begin in Omaha, Nebraska in 1973 when law enforcement officer turned ufologist Ken Storch reports that a computerized alarm reported a UFO, initially mistaken for a Soviet missile attack. The UFOs, which existed only on a computer screen, are claimed to be alien spacecraft, and Storch asserts that the CIA forbade him to discuss the incident for 30 years. We then hear about the “Battle of Los Angeles,” when UFOs allegedly buzzed L.A. in 1942, leading to air defense systems shooting up at the sky, and, of course, the Roswell incident, as well as the 1952 incident when UFOs buzzed the Capitol in Washington. Roswell is, of course, a fraud, and the other incidents left no evidence of alien intervention whatsoever. The 1942 "Battle of Los Angeles" has been explained by meteorological balloons known to have been in the area. The 1952 incident received a relatively strong explanation of a combination of a meteor shower and an unusual temperature inversion that led to false radar reports. These explanations do not receive even lip service from Ancient Aliens.
Giorgio Tsoukalos, that endless font of fact-free "knowledge," claims that the 1950s Washington, D.C. “flyovers” were contact incidents. Choosing Washington was important because, he says, “that is essentially the equivalent of landing on the White House lawn.” Yes, flying over the city and leaving behind no evidence whatsoever is exactly the same as landing and introducing yourself.
Next we hear about how the Air Force UFO investigation called Project Bluebook was a conspiratorial attempt to “suppress the truth” because ufologist Richard Dolan believes UFOs are real and therefore any attempt to explain them is a prima facie cover-up. Dolan seems unable to understand that ambiguous evidence can have multiple interpretations; just because evidence convinced him doesn’t mean others agree, or that it is fraud to disagree with Richard Dolan.
The U.S. government can’t win here. If they investigate UFOs they are trying to control how they are perceived. If they don’t investigate, they are accused of “covering-up” UFOs and investigating them in secret. Short of declaring UFOs are alien spacecraft, there is not a single thing the U.S. government could do to make “ancient astronaut theorists” and modern ufologists happy.
Ancient Egypt and Aliens
But because this is Ancient Aliens, we have to have at least a feint toward ancient history. Therefore, we turn to Akhenaton and his solar monotheism in Egypt, a topic featured on the program several times before. Philip Coppens tells us that Akhenaton claimed to speak to the “gods.” (He actually believed in but one god, the sun disc, and is therefore unlikely to have recognized multiple gods.) Tsoukalos tells us that Akhenaton had “contact with extraterrestrials” because of the stylized, elongated proportions of his depictions in art, depictions also attributed to various diseases by other non-ufologist investigators and to his "decidedly Negroid" status by Afrocentrists. Despite the fact that the famous bust of Nefertiti, as well as Amarna period skeletons and King Tut's skull, clearly show us that the skulls were not actually elongated (though some were artificially deformed prior to 3000 BCE), we hear that the aliens had skulls of that shape which Akhenaton emulated. He had “actual physical contact” with the aliens, Tsoukalos said, prompting him to worship one alien god, the Aten. No, you’re not crazy. Tsoukalos really says that meeting many aliens led him to worship one alien, as though this were logical.
Compare the naturalistic bust of Nefertiti at left with the stylized relief of her at right. Both are the same woman, and both can't be true to life. The stylized version is simply an artistic convention, derived from whatever weird ideology Akhenaton was into.
Jason Martell pretends that the ancients were involved in a cover-up to obliterate Akhenaton’s name—uniquely, he says—by obliterating his statues and inscriptions. This was actually a standard practice to deny a pharaoh immortality. Hatshepsut had the same thing happen to her, as did several other pharaohs.
But this topic does not interest the show much, so we move on to the Catholic Church, that font of conspiratorial evil. (I write that as someone whose family has been Catholic for nearly 2,000 years.) Philip Coppens tells us that the philosopher Giordano Bruno, a believer in the multiplicity of worlds theory (of ancient Greek origin), was burned at the stake to cover up his visits with extraterrestrials, who gave him, Copernicus, and Galileo secret “messages” that the Catholic Church feared. No evidence was presented to even suggest that he ever met an alien, much less Galileo or Copernicus, but despite this the show uses leading questions to suggest the Vatican created a “cover-up” to hide the aliens. The only “evidence” is the fact that some of Bruno’s works were destroyed. Ancient astronaut writers then speculate that the lost works contained the forbidden discussion of the aliens, conveniently beyond the ability of anyone to ever find the proof!
The show then misidentifies “Vatican City” as part of Italy; it is an independent state. (Also, at the time under discussion, the Renaissance, there was no "Vatican City." The Vatican was then part of Rome, which was the capital of the Church's very own Papal States.)
“You have to wonder,” David Childress said, “if the secret library at the Vatican … doesn’t have records of chronicles about extraterrestrial contacts that the Catholic Church knows happened but is keeping a secret.”
You might just as well wonder that about any closed box, but few people go around asking it about the temple archives of the Hindus or Buddhists. Apparently Catholics are particularly frightening by dint of being a Western, hegemonic power, and therefore of a higher caliber than the non-Western “Other.”
Several pundits, including the Catholic Erich von Däniken, claim that the 1917 Miracle of Fatima (in which three children saw a vision of Mary in Portugal) involved aliens, and von Däniken actually asserts that he knows what the Virgin really told the children who saw her: that God, Jesus, and the Virgin were ancient aliens. Tsoukalos then claims that the famed “Third Secret” of Fatima, long the subject of wild speculation, is kept hidden by the Vatican, hidden so well that he knows exactly what it says: that aliens are real and visited ancient man. However, Tsoukalos leaves out the fact that the “Third Secret” of Fatima was published on June 26, 2000 by the Catholic Church itself. It has no aliens in it. (Of course conspiracy theorists claim that the “third secret” is a fake composed by the Church to hide the real secret, whose content these conspiracy theorists are alone privy to.) Tsoukalos is either purposely lying or is so ignorant of his own claimed subjects of expertise that he knew nothing of the publication.
We then hear that the Vatican’s U.S. observatory near San Francisco is located “near” a sacred Native American mountain where the “sky gods” descended. Perhaps one might notice that every mountain has its own genius in polytheistic religions; therefore, any mountain so chosen would be sacred to some mountain, lighting, weather, or sky god. You can’t travel in Greece, for example, without running into some mountain or another once sacred to Zeus or his family.
Aliens in Trees
The program then takes us to England to reevaluate the 1980 Rendlesham Forest UFO incident by showing us recreations from earlier History Channel documentaries. Skeptics have picked apart this case in great detail. I will not bother to review these skeptical arguments here since a 1980 UFO is far beyond anything “ancient.” Skeptoid has a good discussion of the incident for interested readers, including an explanation of why it is so much less than meets the eye. A conspiracy is, of course, alleged because the British military worked to keep the story out of the news (because they didn’t believe it was real). The cover-up lasted for almost three years. Yes, three years. The story “broke” in 1983 and thus demonstrates that such cover-ups simply could not exist even if governments wanted them to because there are just too many people involved and too many ways for news of the aliens to leak.
Weirdly enough, the show admits that this segment was filmed in December 2010, two full years before the air date. Even with the knowledge (if online forums can be believed) that this and the previous episode were originally meant for inclusion in season 4 in spring 2012 (the interviewees' clothing matches what they wore in season 4 interviews), that’s still a very long lead time and seems very much like the segment was meant for a different program and was dropped into this one to fill time. As it happens, my hunch seems to be correct. In reviewing the situation, I see that very similar material was originally included in a prior segment of Ancient Aliens (S02E10, "Alien Contacts" from December 31, 2010), unseen by me, devoted to the Rendlesham Forest incident. The current episode seems to be using b-roll and assorted outtakes filmed at the time S02E10 was produced.
So, “Aliens and Cover-Ups” amounted to another hour of off-topic blathering about alien-themed incidents with nary a hint of evidence that any “cover-ups” actually happened. In fact, very little discussion of cover-ups per se happened whatsoever. Instead, the “cover-up” theme was used primarily as an excuse to recapitulate the highlights of classic ufology and recycle previous Ancient Aliens segments. To this they added only a thin veneer of claims that governments were suppressing the truth—and doing such a great job of it that “ancient astronaut theorists” and modern ufologists somehow have access to all the suppressed information and “know” the real “truth”!
Tomorrow: I review Scott Wolter's chronologically impossible claims about medieval runes in Arizona when I look at America Unearthed (S01E02)!
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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