Sometimes Ancient Aliens is a like a gentle tide of stupid, subtly lapping at viewers’ brainwaves; other times, it is like a tsunami of stupid, overwhelming even the most dedicated viewer’s attempt to think critically with its sheer volume of idiocy. Last night’s episode, “Alien Power Plants” (S05E03) is the latter type of episode, envisioning a world where ancient monuments somehow beamed endless free energy around the world without such seeming necessities as conductors. Would it surprise anyone that the “Dendera (Denderah) light bulb,” really an image of a snake in a lotus blossom, is trotted out once again as an alleged depiction of ancient electric work? It wasn’t convincing when Erich von Däniken talked about it 40 or 50 years ago; it isn’t convincing now.
As I write this review, it’s late on Friday night, and I’m already tired, so possibly some details slipped by me as I tried to force myself to focus on Ancient Aliens’ weird ideas. But it’s hard because I can’t wrap my head around how they figure the entire ancient world was practically sparking with electric devices yet no one has ever found a single inch of ancient copper wire, a single busted glass light bulb, a single means of conveying current from a generator to a device, or anything else associated with electricity. Just think of how many miles of wires (or at least their insulation, if they reused the metal) we should be finding if the ancients were wired for electricity. And yet there are no wires, and there are no copper mines emptied for the missing wires. In fact, America Unearthed an hour later goes to great lengths to claim that there wasn’t enough copper in the Old World to make bronze, let alone wires, prompting expeditions to America! The program solves this problem by claiming that the aliens used “wireless” electricity—so for what do they need giant pyramids to generate the power? Shouldn’t they have mini fusion reactors or something? And, anyway, the devices that actually use the power, like laser beams and toothbrushes and what-have-you, would still need wires, or at least conductors of some kind to operate.
The closest to ancient electricity Ancient Aliens can come is the alleged “Baghdad battery,” a small clay pot with a piece of copper found inside, which archaeologists have patiently explained could have been used as a battery, but did not necessarily have to function as a battery. (Any container with the right metal shards stuck in it could be a battery, even the famous middle school potato battery.) Although the small container and the bits of metal inside might have generated a small current in the presence of an acid (possibly for use in electroplating), the artifact as unearthed would not produce a current because (a) the copper is completely insulated and thus would not conduct current, and (b) there is no wiring or conductor to transmit electricity out from the battery. Even if it was a battery, it generated so little electricity (less than four volts) that it was essentially a novelty item.
(That said, we know that ancient people were able to use primitive methods to plate with metals, but these involved chemical, not electrical means and thus are not “electroplating” in the modern sense, despite some alternative claims.)
Anyway, with those caveats out of the way, we can start looking at the specific topics the show covered in this wretched, barrel-scraping episode. The array of different clothes the interviewees, especially David Childress and Jason Martell, wore in this episode mark clearly that the program was pieced together from a mixture of new and recycled material, some bits apparently dating back to the first season.
We start with a list of the heaviest rocks ancient peoples moved, which seem wrong to me. I don’t think the rocks used in the stone platform called the trilithon at Baalbek were 4.8 million pounds (2,400 tons), as the show claims. As far as I can tell from real archaeological sources, the biggest rock there is only 800 tons. (A graphic the program uses shows three trilithon rocks together, so they must be counting all three as one weight, even though they would have been moved separately.) The Romans routinely moved rocks in the hundreds of tons, including 500 ton Egyptian obelisks, and no one pretends they had electricity and motors, since the Roman authors never wrote anything about them. I’ve previously given this link which explains Baalbek in great detail.
The ancient astronaut “theorists” (AATs) claim that modern machine quarrying techniques are needed to move such large rocks under the theory of “I don’t know; therefore, aliens.” We travel to Ollantaytambo in Peru, which scholars have explained in excruciating detail, yet Brien Foerester and David Childress tell us that the Inca built with such precision that only machines could carve the “precision” blocks. A clear and simple version of the mainstream explanation can be found here, and carefully accounts for the alleged “precision,” which was actually an artifact of the primitive methods used for shaping the blocks.
Despite claiming this show is about power plants, we instead get a segment of AATs complaining that ancient people shouldn’t have cities with aqueducts and other urban niceties because AATs don’t understand how urban planning works, so no one else could either.
At this point, we introduce the Baghdad Battery, discussed above, which is not particularly old (it’s late Roman) and not particularly sturdy (it’s thin ceramic), but Jason Martell simply asserts with no evidence that similar batteries could have been made six feet tall to generate as much electricity as a modern flashlight. There is no large ancient battery of that size, so this is just speculation. Why not say they could have made them 20 feet tall to power a television? But this avoids the larger problem: If the show’s thesis is that the ancients had endless free energy, what did they need these useless, breakable little batteries for?
Then we get the Dendera light bulb, which I’ve discussed several times (as has this program), and Martell again confuses the lotus blossom’s stem for an electrical cord. Childress tells us that the Egyptians used electricity to light the tombs when they painted it, scoffing at the “mainstream” theory (of which I’ve never heard) that they used a “complex” system of mirrors to bring in natural light. He is here extrapolating, apparently, from the small tomb of the scribe Userhat, which is illuminated by sunlight reflected from an outside mirror positioned there in Antiquity. After all, using an alien wireless electric system is much easier than a couple of mirrors, or, better, a fire contained in a glass (i.e. a lamp), which also would prevent smoke from discoloring the paintings. We know that most ancient lamps with twisted linen wicks produced soot, but we also know that the Egyptians had strict controls on the types of linen wicks that could be used in tomb preparation. The reason for this, T. G. H. James explained in Egyptian Painting (1985), was because these special tapers were likely impregnated with fat (probably linseed or sesame oil) so they would not generate smoke, thus allowing tombs to be illuminated without discoloring the ceilings.
Tsoukalos then tells us that the Burning Bush of Exodus 3:1-22 and God asserting “let there be light” in Genesis 1:3 are examples of technology at work, specifically electrical technology. God, an alien, was flipping a switch at a power station when colonizing earth, not creating the sun and the stars, as claimed by the text itself. This ought to insult everyone who was happy that ancient astronaut writers exempted Jesus from the alien parade. Seriously: He said “let there be light” refers to turning on the light bulbs.
After the first commercial, we turn to the Great Pyramid, the subject of more than 150 speculative theories about its “real” purpose. In the pyramids there are symbolic passageways, closed to the outside, pointing to the stars. Because they are closed, AATs tell us that the pyramid was really a power plant, on the authority of Chris Dunn, who follows his Victorian predecessors in attributing to the pyramid fabulous precision (to “a fraction of an inch”—which isn’t true: Flinders Petrie, for example found a discrepancy in the orientation between core and casing stones amounting to 75 inches) and thus making it a machine capable of generating electricity due to “vibrations” caused by water flooding the subterranean chamber. To make this work, Dunn suggests that hydrogen gas was pumped into the pyramid (from what pumps?) to create a proton energy beam. There is no evidence whatsoever that the Egyptians had any hydrogen gas or could manufacture or store it (no impermeable containers for such gas have ever been found); he deduces the gas based on the suitability of the King’s Chamber’s dimensions for a laser system to run the gas system! And where were the lasers attached? There aren’t any holes to hold them. “We can use our imaginations and come up with all kinds of devices” to run on the imaginary proton beam, Dunn says. No fooling.
The late Philip Coppens shows up next to assert that “many” pyramids were found intact but empty, implying that pyramids were not tombs. This sound byte also appeared in S05E01 "Secrets of the Pyramids" two weeks ago. He appears to be referring to Horus-Sekhem-Khet’s unfinished pyramid, whose burial chamber was found sealed in 1953 and when opened in 1954 proved empty. Coppens discusses this in his Canopus Revelation (2004). Archaeologists believe that when the pyramid was abandoned, the burial chamber was sealed as a decoy and the king buried elsewhere. Somehow this one intact empty burial chamber becomes “many” when Coppens, in his final Ancient Aliens interview, misremembered his own work. In his book Coppens quotes Kurt Mendelsshon as lamenting the “too many empty tomb chambers,” but Mendelsshon was no archaeologist; he was a physicist who argued that he pyramids were symbolic tombs, cenotaphs, not actual tombs. But mummies have been found in pyramids, including that of Queen Seshseshet at Saqqara; and Al-Maqrizi preserved the report of those who first entered the Giza pyramids and claimed that “Bodies buried in the pyramid were, they say, wrapped in cloth frayed by time and that this was made of thread of gold impregnated with compounds that formed a mass of myrrh and aloe to the thickness of a span.” A good description of a mummy, no?
Jason Martell then claims that obelisks and monoliths worldwide were meant to channel electricity because they are, as the narrator claims, “unsuitable” for shelter, shade, or storage. (Unlike, say, statues, Sphinxes, or cave paintings.) David Childress tells us, in an interview recycled from an earlier episode, that the obelisks channeled earth energy into the sky and around the world in a wireless power grid using the power of quartz crystals embedded in their granite structure using the concept of piezoelectricity, or the charge the accumulates when crystals experience applied mechanical pressure. (The first time around, he went on to say that the obelisks beamed power to Easter Island to levitate the colossal heads.) There is, of course, no evidence that the quartz embedded in the granite of the obelisks was ever under significant mechanical pressure. We get some pretty pictures of crystals, but we don’t get at the essential problem: Why aren’t the obelisks churning out electricity now? Shouldn’t these obelisks be sparking all the time or beaming measurable power upward? Why did they stop? Ah, but the show anticipates this objection, though not until the very end.
Some irrelevant material about Nicola Tesla follows, connected only by the claim that Tesla had invented wireless electrical transmission and thus the Egyptians must have had it from the aliens, too. So, let’s pretend that’s true. At some point you need to store the electricity or get it from the obelisks or pyramids to the final devices where it’s going to be used. (Tesla’s “wireless” electricity still had to use wires to get to the radios and light bulbs and whatever that were going to use the power.) And there just isn’t anything ancient that could do that. Where are the remains of the electrical devices? Do we seriously think every single electrical device for 5,000 years simply vanished overnight, leaving not even a single trace? We can see in the archaeological record the remains of particular meals ancient people ate on specific days, and yet somehow every electrical device, down to the final screw, glass shard, or wire, evaporated?
We have no time think about this, of course, because we move on to the Indus Valley and Mohenjo-daro, with the false claim that the city experienced a nuclear event. Childress repeats his claim that the city is “the residue of one of the ancient power plants used by extraterrestrials.” He cites as evidence the scattered bodies whose deposition was attributed to a catastrophe assumed but not proved by the first excavators, which Childress links to a nuclear event. In truth, the bodies were buried above the ancient road much later and not all at once (perhaps a thousand years separate earliest and latest); there is no reliable evidence of any radiation at the site other than the naturally-occurring background radiation from uranium ore. There was no nuclear event, no ancient atom bombs, no nuclear plant meltdown. Nor are the people simply lying “dead in the street.”
Coppens tells us that a Tibetan mountain that has a vaguely pyramidal shape, Mt. Kailash, was associated with the Eastern gods (which is true), and the narrator tells us that the aliens “operated” it as a base and/or power station (which is false—it’s a mountain, and it’s not hollow). The mountain was believed to be the home of the Hindu god Shiva, and it’s famous because it is large and relatively regular in shape, like many other sacred mountains. Tsoukalos tells us that the mountain itself emitted electricity, but he does state whether it is because he believes the mountain artificial or if he thinks it is hollow and has a device within. At any rate, there isn’t any power coming out of it now.
We then look with William Henry at a diagram of Mt. Meru from a Chinese cave drawing, which he illogically identifies with Mt. Kailash, and Henry tells us that it is a particle accelerator. The picture shows a mountain stylized in the shape of a Chinese pagoda, with different stories representing the different levels of the Buddhist/Hindu cosmology. Most depictions of the mountain feature many levels of platforms representing these levels. (Mt. Meru is the Hindu version of the Indo-European World Tree/World Axis myth used to explain why the stars seem to spin in circles.) Particle accelerators do not have to look like pagodas (nor do most); the shape is entirely coincidental. You might just as well say the picture on your takeout Chinese food package is a “particle accelerator,” or any tube-shaped device, for that matter.
As we lurch toward the end, we review the worst nuclear disasters in history and the abandoned nuclear power plants left behind by these disasters. Tsoukalos tells us that an ancient power plant “melted down,” leading to the fall of prehistoric civilization when all other power plants went offline thanks to the failure of a single plant. This is impossible since the “civilizations” supposedly connected by these power plants were not contemporary, and so their obelisks and pyramids could not have been generating power at the same time. Michael Bara tells us that there was simply a “higher” energy source powering everything.
Chris Dunn asserts that all the power plants simply “shut down” in an event that “wiped out” most of the civilization, thus eliminating all evidence from the archaeological record and conveniently leaving AATs free to speculate without the need for facts. This is simply impossible. A worldwide energy grid could not vanish without a single trace.
“Power was pretty much a no-brainer,” Tsoukalos said, discussing the “gifts” of “the gods, and the gods were extraterrestrials.”
Again: There is not a single scrap of an ancient electrically-powered tool anywhere on the face of the earth. They exist entirely in ancient astronaut pundits’ minds.
Note: I expected the episode to end with an “in memoriam” notice for Philip Coppens, but apparently H2 and Prometheus Entertainment care so little for the pundit they made money off of that they failed in even that minor courtesy.
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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