Ancient Aliens has been on for eight seasons over five calendar years, plus the original pilot episode from the year before the show’s launch. That’s a long time for any TV show, and an exceptionally long time for a show that is still recycling material that first aired in its 2009 pilot episode. (See: This episode.) At a certain point, though, you’d have to think that any ancient astronaut theorist or TV producer with a conscience would come to realize that the show’s greatest influence is reflecting and ratifying delusions by giving them the illusion of authoritative endorsement.
According to news accounts, friends of a man found decomposing in a car in Los Angeles who had a home loaded with an arsenal of weapons and two tons of ammunition believe that he is an alien hybrid space creature with messianic tendencies, exactly the type of space savior Ancient Aliens prattles on about. “He was part alien and part human and was out to save the world,” Laura VadBunker told KTLA-TV. VadBunker’s 39-year-old daughter believed the man’s claims to be both an alien savior and a government super-agent, and she is now missing. She fled shortly after the man died, thinking his government masters would come to collect his corpse.
There is, of course, no evidence that the dead man, his fiancée, or the missing woman who worked for the fiancée watched Ancient Aliens specifically, but there is no doubt that legitimizing such ideas on cable TV can and will contribute to more such beliefs.
That brings us to Ancient Aliens S08E01 “Aliens B.C.,” which functions as an overview of the franchise so far. After covering every new episode of this show for four years this month, I’ve run out of new ways to talk about the same old stuff. Since I also have a bit of a migraine as I watch this, somehow unrelated to the program, I’m going to try to limit my comments to the highlights of each segment and reserve any longer discussion for whatever new material they manage to cover. I say that every season and usually end up with monstrously long reviews anyway. We’ll see how it goes!
I didn’t realize until the show started that the History channel has a new on-screen graphics package, given that I don’t really watch it very much anymore. The black-and-white “H” looks quite attractive, if a little large, and the white “HISTORY” name beneath it is a bit redundant. Ancient Aliens also got a new title card for its eighth season, but it wasn’t interesting. The on-screen graphics were also refreshed, replacing the old black and gold chyrons with sparkly pink and blue ones emphasizing stars and nebulae and the Greys rather than stone and brick. The show wants to signal its transcendent self-image.
The show opens with David Childress on a boat in Lake Michigan looking at underwater rocks, found by underwater archeologist Mark Holley in 2007. As of 2009, there wasn’t any agreement that the rocks were human artifacts and not a natural deposit, but even if they are artificial they don’t seem to represent anything particularly alien, just old. The show uses this to ask whether sophisticated cultures existed tens of thousands of years ago, citing fringe history’s spurious re-dating of ancient sites like Puma Punku to the Ice Age (based on mistakes and lies) as proof.
After eight seasons, the show seems to recognize that to stretch things out they need to slow the pace down, and there is a noticeable slowing of the number of topics per segment. Only one in the first segment of a new season!
At the beginning of this segment, the narrator tries to imply that the Sphinx and other sites are older than conventionally believed, and then he goes on to introduce biblical literalism. The question of whom Cain married when he left his parents. This is only a conundrum if you believe the biblical story is literally true, but they clearly do, and the various talking heads go on to describe the pre-Adamites, the people who lived before Adam in Abrahamic myth. I’m not entirely sure why we’ve chosen to use only the Judeo-Christian version of the story. I find the Islamic version more fun: It involves many races of wacky djinn with various crazy body configurations, like faces in their stomachs and so on. It’s much more colorful. In case you care, the pre-Adamite hypothesis only found favor among some Christians in the Middle Ages, with influence from Islam. It was considered heresy and a pagan falsehood before then. The show conflates the pre-Adamites with the period in various mythologies when the gods reigned, and ties it all to aliens. However, ancient people didn’t equate pre-Adamites and the gods, whom the believers in the pre-Adamites identified with angels or demons.
Giorgio Tsoukaos tells us that these pre-Adamites left stone monuments to prove they were here, though he doesn’t point to any particular structure. The show tries to argue that all of the other elements of pre-Adamite civilization eroded away with age, gone and undiscoverable, which is why we can find no trace of their existence. It’s a nice try, but it isn’t true. Even if their civilization rotted into the ground, some trace of their existence would survive in the soil. Anyway, the fact that the Inca built on pre-Inca achievements somehow proves that aliens built the pre-Inca structures, on the grounds that the audience is unlikely to know that the Inca were not the oldest civilization of the Andes, just the only one they recognize.
I neglected to mention the new cast major member this season: archaeologist Paul Bahn, a contributing editor at Archaeology magazine and onetime Nova consultant, and now a talking head who lends his credentials and credibility to the absurd and obscene hypotheses of Ancient Aliens. This is quite clear in the discussion of the ancient temple complex of Göbekli Tepe, which the show covers in the same terms it has many times before, but this time with a real archaeologist to confuse viewers into thinking archaeology endorses Andrew Collins’s and Giorgio Tsoukalos’s wacky ideas about the site. We know that’s not true because American Antiquity published a review blasting Collins for his ill-informed speculation just this month. Why Bahn is on this show I cannot imagine, but it is disappointing. David Wilcock doesn’t understand the concept of stylization, so he thinks a human figure found near the site is a “clue” to an “antediluvian or pre-Flood civilization.” The only really interesting point to emerge here is that the talking heads keep casting their discussion in terms of the Great Flood, pre-Adamites, and antediluvian culture while the narrator stubbornly speaks of space aliens and flying ships. The bastardized biblical literalism underpinning the modern ancient astronaut theory has never been clearer.
In this segment we look at caves and artificial underground constructions, or more accurately just one: an artificial Chinese cavern that experts estimate would have taken five years to excavate. Naturally, aliens and their high technology must have been responsible since no one could possibly have worked on something for a long time! Why, didn’t you know ancient people were as lazy as ancient astronaut theorists? Tsoukalos tries to make a half-hearted attempt to connect this to an emperor who also had a fiery dragon which might have been a spaceship, and then Wilcock and the narrator confuse Ragnarök, a future event, for one that occurred in the past. Weirdly, Graham Hancock made the same mistake in Fingerprints of the Gods in the section on Flood myths that the show suddenly echoes as it tries to prove that the Great Flood really happened by adopting Hancock’s new candidate for the Flood, a comet that may have struck the earth at the end of the Ice Age. The evidence, as I have discussed before, is ambiguous at best, and the consensus of scholars is that the comet impact did not occur. What’s particularly sad is that this is a brand new season, and they’re already repeating almost verbatim a segment from S07E13 “The Great Flood.”
In this segment, the underpinnings of the ancient astronaut theory are further explored when Atlantis: The Antediluvian World (1882), Ignatius Donnelly’s attempt to prove the existence of Atlantis, is taken for a serious investigation and a great intellectual achievement. But the show really wants to talk about Ragnarok: Age of Fire and Gravel, Donnelly’s follow-up in which he proposed that a comet caused the Great Flood, just as Halley had argued in the seventeenth century. Andrew Collins tells us that medieval Europeans had secret maps of the Americas and shared them with Columbus (sorry, they did not), but there were indeed legends of land on the other side of the world. Columbus, though, didn’t believe in them since he thought he could get to Japan without hitting an intervening continent. Childress tells us that aliens showed strange lights to Columbus, but this is a claim from the 2012 “Da Vinci Conspiracy” episode. (Many believe the light was a Native torch seen as Columbus’ ships neared land; Columbus’ journal describes it as “faint” to the point of being almost invisible.) Then we go to the Piri Reis map, a claim going all the way back to the earliest Ancient Aliens episodes. Having learned nothing over the decades since Chariots of the Gods, Erich von Däniken claims the map shows Antarctica, even though this claim has been debunked dozens of times between the 1960s and today. (It’s South America in an odd projection.)
As we slide toward a conclusion, the show review Edgar Cayce’s followers’ efforts to find Atlantis by looking at the Bimini Road [update: on second viewing, I see this was actually a different but similar-looking natural formation in the Bahamas that I mistook for the Bimini Road], a natural formation mistaken for a wall. Andrew Collins claims it is an artificial 12,000-year-old wall. Wilcock describes Cayce as “America’s Greatest Psychic,” which is sad since Cayce very clearly borrowed his Atlantis material from Theosophy and from the novel Dweller on Two Planets—he admitted as much in his “prophecies” (e.g. reading 364-1 and reading 364-11). But since fear is the best motivator to get people to tune in again, the show reminds us that Cayce predicted a pole shift for any time now, and various talking heads tell us that a comet is going to destroy us all just like it destroyed Atlantis.
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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