In Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein, the student of unhallowed arts stitches together pieces of various dead bodies to make a composite man. In the stage version of the novel, Presumption, he jolts it to life with electricity, and the patchwork corpse rises and begins to rave and rage. Ancient Aliens: Special Edition (technically S06E20) “Alien Transports” is something like the Frankenstein’s Monster. It is a patchwork stitched together from pieces of earlier episodes and jolted to life through the resurrection machine that is cable television. Even the dead come back to life: Philip Coppens, gone 18 months, speaks to us from beyond the grave.
What’s more interesting, though, is that while the title card announces that this is a “Special Edition,” no one ever says what that’s supposed to mean. If it weren’t for me having stumbled across a press release announcing the clip show nature of the special edition episodes, I would never have known.
I would have loved to do this review entirely from clips of my earlier reviews, but sadly, the special edition episode includes much material from the before I started reviewing the show in the middle of season three.
The first segment takes us way back to the early days of Ancient Aliens, long before I was reviewing the show. The narrator’s voice is different, too; he speaks slower and lower, as though trying to make the material sound serious, as they once did back when this was the History Channel’s marquee show. The segment discusses the Saqqara bird, a small model of a bird with horizontal wings and a vertical tail that ancient astronaut theorists speculate could have represented an airplane. Egyptologists believe it to be a bird, but even if it was meant to fly, that does not imply the existence of Egyptian airplanes. I’m sure some clever fellow could have come up with small toy gliders. In fact, some Egyptologists have speculated that the bird is in fact a toy glider, or perhaps a weather vane.
You’ll note that in the reconstructions of the bird “plane” appearing on Ancient Aliens a tailplane, a horizontal stabilizer, is attached to the vertical tail “rudder” of the bird, something not found in the original. No evidence exists that such an addition, necessary for stable flight, ever existed.
Our next segment takes us to Veracruz, Mexico to review a Mexican sacred dance in which men spin around a pole, flying in circles, attached by ropes. Giorgio Tsoukalos says that the dance represents the descent of aliens in their UFOs. Here I can insert my own clip from my review of S03E15, “Aliens, Gods, and Heroes,” from which this segment is taken:
[Giorgio Tsoukalos] complained that the voladores, Mexican performers who swing down on ropes from a tower in honor of the gods, were misunderstood. “Where does that flying or descending gods motif originate? Our ancestors saw something…” This couldn’t have anything to do with birds or the sky. “Birds are not that important. Something very significant happened.” Not to burst his bubble, but neither birds nor aliens underlay myths of sky gods. Neuroscience shows that the human brain evolved to conceive of three planes—the underworld, the earth, and the heavens. The gods live in the sky because that is where our brains instinctively place them. David Lewis-Williams did much work in this area in The Mind in the Cave and Inside the Neolithic Mind. This, Lewis-Williams would argue, is the true origin of sky gods and the quest for flight—not aliens.
Following this, we hear from Logan Hawkes and William Henry that gods who fly are extraterrestrials, presumably wearing jet packs, though they liken the gods’ transports to “wing suits,” like Wile E. Coyote’s Acme Bat-Man Outfit.
Tsoukalos then rhapsodizes about the importance of flight and how many ancients must have wished to reach the gods by flying.
After the break we go way back to an early episode and the low and slow narration to discuss Chinese mythology. Although the segment is old, it’s virtually the same as one that aired last November, so why should I waste the effort? Here’s another “special edition” review clip:
Next we move to Asia to look for alien emperors. The Yellow Emperor of China, Huangdi (or Huangti), is claimed to be a civilizing alien. I have posted the ancient Chinese historian Sima Qian’s accounts of the Yellow Emperor in my library (first paragraph of chapter one) so you can see for yourself that Tsoukalos is not on firm ground when claiming that the Yellow Emperor orbited the earth and descended from the sky. Sima Qian is quite clear that he was born here on earth, a human child. Instead, Tsoukalos seems to be vaguely referring to modern interpretations that see the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi) as a historicizing figure derived from the Shang sky god (Shangdi). The on-screen graphics do the work that the words cannot or will not and make Huangdi’s magic cauldron into a beacon signaling a yellow, grasshopper-shaped spaceship meant to represent a Yellow Dragon. While the show quotes unidentified folklore that the Yellow Emperor ascended to the sky after death, Sima Qian records that he died and was buried like any other person. The Chinese today believe that he died, and they venerate him at his mausoleum in Shaanxi, where they tell visitors that his body still lies.
Tsoukalos says that dragons are “always” correlated with breathing smoke, so therefore dragons must be rockets.
After a new transition patched in to connect segments, we return to a very old episode to hear the narrator tell us that similarities in architecture and beliefs prove that ancient cultures were connected. David Childress then tells us that vimana aircraft had airports at every ancient culture as part of a global trade network.
The narrator then falsely asserts that the Kebra Nagast, a fourteenth century Ethiopian book of myths about Solomon and Sheba, was composed before 200 CE, something for which I can find no academic support. From this book, the show takes the myth that Solomon gave Sheba a flying carpet. This take a little breaking down that I’m not really excited about doing. The short version is that the Qur’an records that Allah made Solomon (Sulaiman) lord of the wind and that he could travel a month’s journey in but a day (34:12). From this, legend had it that Solomon would sit upon a carpet and have the wind carry him aloft. This, in turn, appears to derive from a Jewish folk tale which stated that God gave Solomon a great carpet and one day the wind caught the carpet and took him from Damascus to Media. Later versions attributed the carpet’s magic flight to the power of demons (Judaism) or djinn (Islam), and his travels consequently grew in complexity and detail as the story was retold. The Kebra Nagast version is a very late version of the earlier Islamic and Jewish legend and can’t be taken as indicative of the earliest version.
The narrator tells us that Solomon mapped the world from his carpet (imagine the wind you’d have to deal with while trying to draw the ground from a flying carpet!). Graham Hancock then says that ancient maps show the world as it looked before the Ice Age, which is simply false. The show puts on screen Ortoneus Finaeus’s 1531 map of “Antarctica” which is no such thing. The legend on the map clearly states that the land was meant to represent the new lands just discovered (by Magellan—i.e., Tierra del Fuego) and Finaeus states explicitly that his map is completely new and not based on any ancient map, showing “for your gaze provinces, islands, seas, rivers, and mountains unseen before now, known neither to Ptolemy, nor Eudoxus, nor Eratosthenes, or Macrobius, but which have lain in shadows up to the present day” (my trans.). Of course Hancock didn’t bother to read that.
Following this, we revisit the vision of Ezekiel, a story so well known that I trust you already know the details. I referred to the myth this way in reviewing S05E09 “Strange Abductions”: “Ezekiel’s story has been carefully and exhaustively explained as a description of the iconography associated with the thrones of the Mesopotamian gods, and this explanation is so convincing I can’t possibly imagine how anyone could seriously claim he saw a UFO except through willful ignorance.” The show reviews the Spaceships of Ezekiel book, and efforts to “reconstruct” the alleged spaceship and its “hangar.” Tsoukalos says that “in any court of law, that’s evidence that would hold up.”
Tsoukalos is quoted as asserting that Yahweh was not God but a “flesh and blood extraterrestrial.”
After the break, we move on to prehistoric UFO sightings. A stylized sculpture of a man in a turtle costume from Guatemala is likened to a personal disc-shaped hovercraft. After this, the show cited unnamed “ancient texts” to describe a bunch of flying discs that attacked Alexander the Great in 329 BCE, while invading India. I love this because it shows how little research Ancient Aliens ever did, even in early days. Here is the genuine ancient text on which the modern myth is based. It’s from Quintus Curtius Rufus, History of Alexander 4.3 (c. 50 CE), discussing the siege of Tyre in 332 BCE:
Further, the besieged heated brazen targets [i.e. shields] to a red heat, which, filled with burning sand and boiling slime, they suddenly discharged from the walls. None of their pestiferous devices was more terrible: whenever the burning sand insinuated between the armour and the body, it was impossible to dislodge its and where the caustic touched, it consumed the flesh: the wretches tortured by it, flinging down their weapons, and tearing off every defensive covering, lay, unrevenged, receiving incessant wounds. The crows and grappling-irons shot from engines swept off a number of men. (trans. P. Pratt)
Where are the flying discs? Funny story. In 1959 Frank Edwards, in a book called Stranger than Fiction, simply lied about the text. He made it say that “great shining silvery shields” came from the sky, and he added in some elephants and moved everything to India for good measure. The exact source of his additions is unknown, but I think he conflated the genuine text with elements from Mahabharata 7.202 (201 in this linked edition), where elephants and soldiers burn and flee from the energy of a heat weapon. That text appears in Erich von Däniken as a nuclear attack. Anyway, Ancient Aliens never bothered to look for the original texts they claim to cite, and David Childress, who tells this story on air, is a fraud who only pretends to know the material he cites.
As this turkey tries to come in for a landing, the show tries to discuss the physics of flying saucers and modern efforts to create flying discs. Although this isn’t connected to the Thunderbird in any direct way, the producers try to patch the two ideas together with pieces from the “Aliens and the Old West” episode from season 3 so we can see the Thunderbird of Native American lore, as recalled by Victorian cowboys, as another spacecraft, even though Philip Coppens identifies the creature as having come up from under the waters of a lake. But it’s OK: Coppens says there was an inter-dimensional portal under the lake, so they can still be alien craft, as long as they’re waterproof. But this material is from the late nineteenth century, so it isn’t ancient. But the cowboys’ version is allowed to color earlier Native myths of Thunderbirds so we can imagine them as metallic when older stories lack this detail.
Jim Marrs tells us that UFOs can cloak themselves to appear as anything and everything to blend in with the cultural expectations of those who see them. Of course this could equally well imply that they are a non-existent phenomenon built from unrelated cultural expressions given a pseudo-reality by modern belief—but who wants to end on that note?
Instead, let’s end on this one: Somehow this zombie episode of Ancient Aliens, reanimated from spare parts, manages to be better than earlier episodes. It’s more focused, better structured, and more organized. It’s as if the producers, in selecting rerun segments all on the same topic, were forced to curb their usual spaghetti against the wall style. Freed from the constraint of simply filling time with “new” content, they managed to produce a show that was more watchable, though by no means either rigorous or accurate.
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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