This season Ancient Aliens seems to be trying to repackage its content by focusing on different geographical areas rather than on themes. We saw this a few weeks ago with an episode devoted to China, and earlier with one devoted to Antarctica. In this episode we see them trying the same trick with Russia. The trouble, though, is that the producers of Ancient Aliens are seemingly blind to the history of their own hypothesis, and they are rather obtuse to the propaganda that informed Russian ancient astronaut hypotheses. This is not particularly odd since Ancient Aliens is officially an adaptation of Erich von Däniken’s ancient astronaut beliefs, and von Däniken was an old Cold Warrior who staunchly opposed the Soviets and communism, despite happily embracing their propaganda for his books.
As I documented many times in the past, the Soviet government officially promoted the ancient astronaut hypothesis during the late 1950s and 1960s, likely as a propaganda attempt to undermine religious faith in the West by rationalizing Biblical miracles as the work of space aliens. Once European authors had taken the bait and began citing Soviet claims about alien rockets at Baalbek, astronauts in ancient rock art, or a hollow spaceship moon, the Soviet government abruptly and conspicuously withdrew its support for the ancient astronaut theory right at the time that von Däniken’s distillation of the hypothesis achieved bestseller status. Beyond this, documentary evidence indicates that the Soviets and the CIA intentionally used the UFO to bait one another, both to cover up their own activities and to try to gain information about the enemy’s activities.
The political dimension of the Soviet experience of ancient astronauts cannot be decoupled from the hypotheses themselves, nor can the popularity of UFO and ancient astronaut conspiracy theories in modern Russia. Indeed, David Wilcock of Ancient Aliens knows this firsthand from his own experience appearing on a Russian propaganda program that denounced the United States, in which he (consciously or not) supported the program’s narrative that America was engaging in alien-ordered genocide.
The show opens with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and it’s somewhat disconcerting that this was so long ago that the show feels it necessary to explain to its (presumed) Millennial viewers what the Soviet Union used to be. This leads to a discussion of UFO sightings in the old Soviet Union and the KGB’s records of the same. Such sightings are, like their American counterparts, a mixture of secret government programs and misidentified aerial phenomena, but here the mystique of the Soviet government is supposed to make us feel like these reports are more credible for being recorded by totalitarians. The show lavishes attention on the story of Genrikh Ludvig, a researcher whose life story made the rounds of the internet two years ago. I debunked the claim at the time, noting that his affiliation with ancient astronaut claims came only secondhand, and after the Soviets started to officially endorse the ancient astronaut theory. We then get a repeat of the material on cosmism from episode 5 of this season, followed by mentions of Matest M. Agrest, Alexander Kasantsev, and I. S. Shklovskii, oddly given and discussed in the same order as I gave them in my 2014 account of Ludvig.
Giorgio Tsoukalos says that the fact that Soviets investigated ancient astronauts “makes me think we’re the ones on to something.” Because, you know, dictatorships that tried to breed hybrid gorilla people are the font of wisdom. Try substituting “Nazis” and see how well that goes. Oh, wait: You did.
The second segment deals with the ancient settlement of Arkaim, dating back to the second millennium BCE. The archaeologists who popularized it tried to suggest that the settlement was shaped like a rounded swastika or mandala in order to claim it as the homeland of the Aryans, but here we instead listen to talking heads try to tie it to aliens by noting that parts of the site are aligned to celestial events, like many other ancient sites. The narrator suggests that the site is tied to unusual weather and magnetic events, and David Wilcock—whom the show declines to note was a participant in Russian anti-American propaganda—claims that the site is both an energy portal and a rocket launch pad. Any launch would have destroyed the houses below, but who’s counting? I guess the idea is that the people built the city around a burned out patch of ground that the rockets’ engines left behind, a strange thing for aliens with anti-gravity flying saucers to have done. But, again, who’s paying any attention at this point?
Following this the show alleges that “tiny metal coils and springs” were found in the Ural Mountains in 1992. The objects, popular on fringe websites, allegedly date back 20,000 years. I am not familiar with the objects, and Russian UFO researchers have offered outlandish explanations about exploding UFOs and ancient nanotechnology. Russian skeptics have alleged that the objects are fakes, or misidentified. As far as I know, no one outside of Russia has ever studied one.
The third segment covers Soviet UFO sightings during the period of official Soviet support for UFOs and ancient astronauts, a period that came to an end around 1968, the same time that the show claims that the Soviets started suppressing the truth about UFOs. The program asks why the Soviet government continued monitoring UFO researchers’ work after 1968, and they apparently fail to note the most obvious reason: to keep tabs on what they were learning about secret Soviet aircraft and American spy missions.
Tsoukalos alleges that Soviet UFO researchers smuggled messages about space aliens to the outside world in code because the Soviets had only “unofficial” interest in UFOs and suppressed public discussion of them. This is a laugh. The Soviet government ran a decade’s worth of UFO and ancient astronaut articles in their English-language propaganda magazine Sputnik, which they literally distributed throughout the West. Down to 1968 or so, they fed a steady stream of ancient astronaut bullshit to American and European audiences, right up until the Swiss writer Eric von Däniken, unwitting stooge, took the bait and did what his predecessors like Russian-born French writer Jacques Bergier could not and popularized the idea throughout the West.
Seriously, Ancient Aliens, this is the history of your own idea, experienced first hand by one of your own talking heads. Get a clue!
The fourth segment discusses UFO sightings reported by Soviet military pilots. They are in no real way any different from their American or British counterparts, and no reason to suggest (as Nick Pope thinks) that pilots are particularly better than anyone else at measuring size, distance, and speed in the sky without any reference points to guide them. Such stories are just that—stories. A 1986 meteor strike in Russia is described as “Russia’s Roswell,” with allegations that the crash site contained nanotechnology that allowed metals to change into other metals. Sadly, almost all the available information about the event comes from Russian ufologists and cannot be confirmed. Debris from the crash site was placed on display here in the United States in a UFO museum affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, which I criticized for being outrageous but which gives the lie to the idea that the Smithsonian is “suppressing” the truth.
Hillary Clinton advertised again this week during the break between segments 4 and 5 of Ancient Aliens, proving that the first ad buy a few weeks ago was not a mistake. I asked the Clinton campaign whether they were intentionally targeting Ancient Aliens viewers due to Clinton’s well-known interest in UFOs, but the Clinton campaign declined to comment.
The fifth segment discusses the claim that in 1984 Soviet cosmonauts aboard space station Salyut-7 saw a bright orange halo filled with seven angels. Soviet scientists said it was a hallucination, according to reports published three decades later. I can’t even begin to discuss this because I am dumbfounded that the show not only is using the unreliable Pravda as its source, but that they are unaware that Pravda copied the story from an October 22, 1985 Weekly World News story. The Weekly World News, for Millennials too young to remember even the Soviet Union, was a tabloid newspaper that ran fictional stories and made up lots of fake paranormal news. I went to college with the son of one of the paper’s last executives, and, yes, I was privy to how the sausage was made. The process was even cheaper and dumber than you’d guess.
As we draw to a merciful close, is there really any credibility left to a show that doesn’t just use hearsay but also internet rumors and made up tabloid news? Anyway, the show claims that two cosmonauts heard telepathic messages from their ancestors warning Russia to keep out of space. As always, the cosmonauts did not make any official record of these messages but instead spoke of it only as hearsay reported decades after the fact. The narrator says that the voice was lying and wasn’t really an ancestor but instead a space alien. But if the space aliens are working with world governments, why did they need to communicate with cosmonauts? Didn’t the Soviet government pre-approve their missions with the Lizard-People Federation or the Grey Galactic Gardens ahead of time?
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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