The Red Planet: Mars. If you’re reading this, I assume you know a good deal about the background of ancient astronaut claims for prehistoric alien activity on Mars: how Percival Lowell saw what he thought were canals on Mars—but were actually an optical illusion—and then extrapolated from that an advanced Martian civilization; how H. G. Wells used this to create the War of the Worlds; and how that in turn influenced innumerable science fiction stories like Edgar Rice Burrows’s John Carter novels. This in turn fed back into the science-mythology of pseudoscience where the occupants of UFOs became the proverbial little green men from Mars.
If you read this blog regularly, you probably also know that the very first claim that extraterrestrials built the pyramids appeared in one such science fiction novel, Garrett P. Serviss’s unauthorized War of the Worlds sequel Edison’s Conquest of Mars (1898) in which Thomas Edison travels to Mars and discovers that the Martians are disciples of Zecharia Sitchin—which is to say that they keep humans as slaves, mine gold across the universe, engage in great aerial battles, and built the monuments of early human civilizations:
This Land of Sand and of a wonderful fertilizing river—what can it be? Gentlemen, it is Egypt! These mountains of rock that the Martians have erected, what are they? Gentlemen, they are the great mystery of the land of the Nile, the Pyramids. The gigantic statue of their leader that they at the foot of their artificial mountains have set up—gentlemen, what is that? It is the Sphinx! […] To think that we should have come to the planet Mars to solve one of the standing mysteries of the earth, which had puzzled mankind and defied all their efforts at solution for so many centuries! Here, then, was the explanation of how those gigantic blocks that constitute the great Pyramid of Cheops had been swung to their lofty elevation. It was not the work of puny man, as many an engineer had declared that it could not be, but the work of these giants of Mars.
Now Ancient Aliens S06E16 “Aliens and the Red Planet” picks up where such luminaries as Richard Hoagland and Mike Bara (author of Ancient Aliens on Mars) leave off, speculating wildly about what aliens really did on Mars. Somehow this comes very close to involving the Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator.
The show opens by asking why NASA spends money exploring Mars when the government has so many other things to waste money on, and then Jonathan Young of the Joseph Campbell Archives falsely states that Mars is the “biggest” thing in the night sky after the moon. This is false. Both Venus and Sirius are brighter, for starters. He and former NASA scientist Robert H. Frisbee suggest that ancient people speculated about whether intelligent life could be found on Mars, but this is also false. Mars was not recognized as a body akin to the earth until the Renaissance. Before that the speculation was whether a choir of angels lived on the crystalline sphere geocentric theorists imagined Mars to be encased within. Dante describes this in the Paradiso as the Fifth Sphere of Heaven, for example.
We then hear about the ancient relationship between Mars and war, a frequent connection due its blood-red color, or so we hear. This begins with the Babylonian god Nergal, the underworld sun god of pestilence and war. He became identified with Mars due to his association with dryness, heat, and fire, things seen as being orange-red. The Greeks and Romans did not independently assign Mars to the war gods Ares and Mars, however. They were translating Nergal in adopting Babylonian astronomy.
Ancient Aliens doesn’t care about that but instead wants us to conflate the planet with the god Mars. Physicist John Brandenburg tells us that whenever the Romans were at war, the doors to the Temple of Mars Ultor in Rome would be thrown open, but he is very wrong. The doors opened at the Temple of Janus, not of Mars (Livy 1.19), or, more accurately, closed to mark times of peace. The material they are falsely attributing about Augustus closing the doors to the Temple of Mars is actually about the Temple of Janus and can be found in Augustus’ funeral inscription Res Gestae Divi Augusti 13 and Cassius Dio at 51.20.4 and 53.26.5. But who expects such fine details as actually checking the primary sources.
Following this fact failure, we rehearse the story of Percival Lowell and the canal-based agricultural civilization on Mars. The show does not bother to tell viewers that this was untrue.
Next the show discusses the 1976 Viking 1 voyages, which it illustrates with much more recent photography from Mars. They discuss the controversial tests that appeared at the time to suggest the presence of microbial life. Given that bacteria are not intelligent aliens, there isn’t much of interest here since many scientists believe that bacteria-like life can and probably does live on other planets.
After the break we go to Teotihuacan in Mexico, to a recently-discovered (in 2003) tunnel that the show says (correctly) is beneath the Temple of the Feathered Serpent but which they illustrate with the Pyramid of the Sun. They can’t even get this basic fact right. In the tunnel, archaeologists found clay balls covered with gold-colored flecks that the show implies are real gold but are actually iron pyrite, fool’s gold. The walls, too, had gold flecks, making the cavern twinkle and glow in a beautiful way, at least as reconstructed; the real thing oxidized into orange rust. David Wilcock asserts that these flecks were intentionally placed as a star map, which no documentary evidence suggests is even remotely true. But this lets the show discuss the Dresden Codex’s Maya calendar discussion of the celestial position of Mars and its personification as a dragon. Young then relates this to a myth of Xipe Totec involving the god peeling off his own skin to feed the starving. They wrongly equate this with Quetzalcoatl in order to link the god to comets, whose tails could be said to resemble feathers, in order to suggest that this represents a comet striking Mars and peeling off its atmosphere and crust, killing off its civilization. Xipe Totec was not a native Aztec god but one imported from northern Mexico in the Postclassic period. He therefore has nothing to do with Teotihuacan or the predecessors of the Aztecs.
After the break, we travel to Mesopotamia again to discuss the excavation of Nineveh and the Library of Ashurbanipal. Here we examine the Enuma Elish, the Babylonian creation story, from the perspective of Zecharia Sitchin. The show wrongly asserts that the Enuma Elish is the story of the Anunnaki (it’s not; they’re barely mentioned) and that the tablets were translated just once, in the nineteenth century. That’s ridiculous. New scholarly editions have appeared regularly down to the present. Erich von Däniken asserts that the nineteenth century “professors” simply did not understand space travel and therefore missed references to “heaven” meaning “outer space.” He’s talking about the Apocalypse of Abraham, but the show misses that and jams his assertion—anomalous reference to Abraham and all—into this section on the Enuma Elish.
Using Zecharia Sitchin’s ideas, David Childress tells us that the Anunnaki used Mars as a supply station en route to earth, but he conflates that Sumerians and the Babylonians since they’re all weird old people in dresses, right?
David Wilcock asserts that repeated references in cuneiform tablets state that the Anunnaki originated on Mars. Prove it. Name a text. Find any reference in Mesopotamian literature to the idea that Mars was an inhabited land and not a light circling around the tin dome of the sky, as the cuneiform texts actually state and imply.
Giorgio Tsoukalos tells us that we are in fact Martians because he has no sense of consistency. We are also from the Orion nebula, the Pleiades, etc.
Brandenburg tells us that Mars was destroyed by a nuclear war because traces of xenon-129 can be found there, associated on earth with nuclear explosions. Mainstream scientists note that xenon-129 occurs naturally in Earth’s atmosphere, and its higher concentration on Mars could be due to its remaining behind when most of the planet’s primordial atmosphere was lost, possibly within 100 million years of the planet’s life. Contrary to assertions, xenon-129 is not produced “only” by nuclear blasts but occurs naturally as well through radioactive decay. Brandenburg asserts that “Sumerian” mythology has a myth of the gods engaging in nuclear war on Mars. It does not.
After the break, we start talking about whether Mars had oceans and whether there is evidence for microbial life on Mars. But microbes are not the same as humanoids, so this is an attempt to conflate genuine scientific questions with loony theories in order to give credence to the latter by associating them with the former. This leads into a show-and-tell where Giorgio Tsoukalos interviews John Brandenburg in person about the geology of Mars since Brandenburg—who is not a geologist—tries to make the case that two mountains on Mars are the remains of pyramids similar to those of the Giza plateau. His evidence is that the Sphinx was covered in red paint and therefore has to represent the red planet. “It’s conjectural,” Brandenburg says. He points to a lump of rock that he thinks looks just like the Egyptian Sphinx, and on the model he’s made of the site he purposely exaggerates the similarities. In the original NASA photo, I just don’t see anything similar. The photo below is the original NASA image, and the Pyramids are below it. You’ll see there is nothing much they have in common.
Then we hear Mike Bara talk about the “Face on Mars,” a hill that very roughly resembles a human face, an illusion made more convincing by the low resolution of the original image. Later photographs of the Face made plain that it was just a trick of light and shadow. Several of the pundits assert that NASA purposely tried to make the face look natural by taking photos of it at the wrong time of day in 1998 and 2001. This confuses me. If it were artificial, should it not remain obviously so even in broad daylight? Nevertheless, we rehearse claims that various eroded hills on the plain of Cydonia are pyramids and artificial constructions.
After the final break we go in for a conspiracy. We start with the 1997 excitement over what at the time was thought to be evidence of microbes in a meteorite from Mars. Later research suggested that these objects could have been natural formations. Again, regardless of whether these really are bacteria, this implies nothing about the existence of an intelligent humanoid civilization on the Red Planet. Instead, the narrator tells us that NASA is suppressing the truth about Mars, and a disgruntled ex-NASA employee asserts that NASA doesn’t want anyone to know that life existed on Mars.
I am again confused: NASA doesn’t own Mars. Other countries are welcome to go visit, and private companies could do so if they wished. Why aren’t these pundits piling up their speaking fees and royalties and merchandising profits to fund a Mars probe to go prove that microbes are on Mars, or, if they’re on a budget, hunt up so more Martian meteorites to examine for microbes? NASA doesn’t own all the meteorites on earth either.
Instead Mike Bara and Robert Bauval darkly hint that the U.S. government would hide the truth if alien life were ever proven to exist because it could destroy human civilization through panic and fear. If that’s such a risk, and these pundits truly believe it is a real danger to civilization, why does Ancient Aliens exist?
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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