I give up on trying to number these episodes; the production order and the broadcast order are so far out of whack that I think I will have to give up until season eight. My numbering will continue to follow the order season seven started with, irrespective of the retroactive renumbering. Ancient Aliens S07E16 “The Vanishings” was originally scheduled to run at New Year’s but for whatever reason has been held until now. Lucky us!
We open in Nunavut where the narrator falsely claims that the Inuit have inhabited the area for 4,000 years. The Inuit are the last in a long succession of peoples who lived in the Arctic, but they have only been in the area for centuries, not millennia. Anyway, we are given a campfire story about the disappearance of an Inuit tribe allegedly vanished from Angikuni Lake; however, while Nick Redfern is on hand to tell us that the people of the area disappeared, the story actually comes from an apparent newspaper hoax from 1930. The “photograph” of the empty village was actually from 1909, and the original newspaper story a lie debunked repeatedly, including by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The modern legend derives from Frank Edwards’s Stranger Than Science (1959), which accepted the 1930 newspaper hoax at face value and injected it into fringe history.
After this we hear about early cultures from the Yellow River basin in China and the surprise discovery of a brief, illiterate culture unrecorded in the Chinese histories. It is known as Sanxingdui. The Bronze Age people seem to have ritually destroyed their civilization at the end of their reign, and they left stylized bronze masks whose slanted eyes Giorgio Tsoukalos and David Childress assert resemble aliens, on the authority of China.org, which mentioned the idea of an alien connection in a 2007 article, in keeping with China’s decades-long fascination with ancient astronauts. It is a half-hearted feint toward the ancient astronaut theory, and barely registers a blip on the crazy scale. I suppose it is not worth mentioning that aliens have only regularly been depicted with slanted eyes since the mid-1960s, whereas the masks resemble heavily stylized Chinese physical features.
In this segment the narrator tries to tell us that Easter Island was once inhabited by a race of giants fifteen feet tall, and Linda Moulton Howe cites Genesis 6:4 and the Nephilim to justify accepting sensationalized European accounts of the Easter Islanders as “Goliath,” but the show neglects to note that the claims for giants are secondhand, produced by European publishers and attributed to sailors. The textual history is too complex to get into here, but of all the early accounts published by the Dutch, there is one, by an “anonymous sailor,” that calls the islanders “giants.” The other contemporary observers failed to note giants, and the text is believed to be a sensational entry in the wonder-story genre of exploration, along with dog-faced men and other medieval monsters that allegedly lived at the world’s edge. David Childress mucks everything up by arguing that the islanders were of two “races,” which has the unfortunate effect of recalling early European classifications of the Easter Islanders as “brown like Spaniards,” white, and “pretty black.” He meant, though, to declare giants to be a separate race in keeping with the dogma that giants are some kind of hybrid alien species. Since the Easter Islanders did not vanish if Europeans were there to measure them, I do not know how this meets the theme of vanishing.
Now we’re on to Tikal and the fall of the Maya. The Maya did not vanish, but Erich von Däniken and other fringe figures claims that they “disappeared.” This will come as news to the Maya who still live in the Yucatan today, and the show undercuts itself by having a talking head actually briefly note that the Maya still exist! Ancient Aliens and the ancient astronaut theorists seem unable to understand the difference between a culture and the individuals in it. The high culture of cities collapsed, but the people did not cease to be. Instead, they returned to a less complex way of life. But based on this we hear that the Maya chose to leave their cities because they were following the Maya calendar, which somehow mysteriously ordered them to evacuate. It’s a bit hard to trust Ancient Aliens on the Maya calendar since they endorsed the 2012 apocalypse hoax. The show then connects the Maya pyramids to the Pleiades, and David Wilcock tells us that the Maya came from the Pleiades and returned to them. Nick Redfern agrees even though he doesn’t know anything about ancient history, and Linda Moulton Howe tells us that “somebody” took the Maya to the Pleiades.
If so, they took their sweet old time. The Maya cities were abandoned not all at once in 830 CE as claimed on the show but as the result of a process of decline and abandonment occurring over decades, stretching according to archaeological research from 760 to 910 CE. Maya civilization continued after the “collapse,” most notably at Chichén Itzá, and the Maya had politically independent polities down to 1697.
Ancient Aliens is working with outdated ideas, but what else is new?
Now we are on to the disappearance of the Anasazi of Chaco Canyon, a settlement abandoned in the 1100s, likely due to a massive drought combined with systemic political and environmental problems caused by water problems and deforestation. Childress thinks that aliens were involved in the “disappearance” of the Chaco people, who traveled through “a portal” to another dimension. The archaeological evidence instead shows that outlying settlements died out as people moved away, and eventually the main city could not support itself, and its people moved away. I am disturbed, though, that the show’s all-white cast states explicitly more than once that Native people are somehow non-human or are some other species because they came from another dimension and were (or ought to be) deported back there. Linda Moulton Howe correctly notes that civilizations rise and fall, but she fails to see this as related to human cultural patterns. Instead, she and the narrator see failed cultures as non-human or sub-human alien hybrids that are swept off the earth into other dimensions. Amazing, isn’t it, how white Europeans manage to remain full blooded humans unmolested by cultural failure and mass abduction? How stupid would these claims sound if they argued that in 476 CE the Romans “vanished” into a portal in the Coliseum? Why is it less silly to claim it for non-European peoples?
Oh, but the producers must have anticipated the problem! Now we’re in Brown Mountain, North Carolina to look at lights in the night sky. According to the show, individual disappearances that occurred in this region are somehow associated with the lights. However, this isn’t a question of whole cultures of non-humans being sucked back to their alien dimension; instead, this references only individual disappearances, and no one suggests that any of the white people who vanished were sub-human.
In a tacky move, the show discusses the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, believed to have been downed by one or both of its pilots in the Indian Ocean, and relates the disappearance to space aliens and the Bermuda Triangle, though attributing the claim to news media speculation. (The famously ridiculous viewer question read by Don Lemon on CNN comes to mind.) The show then irresponsibly tells the families of hundreds of loved ones who have gone missing around the world over the years that their loved ones may have been abducted by aliens or sucked into other dimensions. Fortunately, they don’t name specific people, but we hear that the aliens have an “agenda” in making people disappear. The aliens supposedly can no longer abduct whole cultures for fear of calling attention to themselves and are carrying out a clandestine program on a smaller scale. And we know this how? Oh, right: Rampant speculation unmoored from anything resembling fact.
We finish up with a discussion of a mass UFO abduction in Houston, Texas in 1992. Members of a UFO group claimed that a being separately took them in a small craft up to its mothership. I must note that the people did not “vanish” since they were still there to talk about it afterward. A black spot on the moon “proves” the event really happened because it is allegedly the shadow of the mothership, perhaps the least logical conclusion. The humans, who somehow can all read alien language without difficulty, discovered that the aliens had a conveniently placed wall chart of 6,000 years of alien-human history. This period, according to the chart, is coming to an end around now—just like the traditional Christian timeline of the 6,000 years from Creation to the Second Coming! What a coincidence!
The ancient astronaut theorists all agree that humans are the experimental guinea pigs for aliens, and George Noory calls earth a cosmic Island of Dr. Moreau, another oddly Biblical connection, if you recall the story and its Old Testament allusions.
So, for a show called “Vanishings,” we had a hoax, a few misinterpretations, some true crime, and a bunch of people who came back. They couldn’t even fill one hour with actual vanishings?
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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