Ancient Aliens has been working hard to find ways to refresh its old formula, and this season the producers have struck upon twin strategies. First, each episode is now framed around a field piece starring one of the show’s most important talking heads, and, second, the show has made its peace with creationists, nationalists, and other unsavory types, gleefully adding their claims to the core ideas of the ancient astronaut theory. We saw this when the show embraced creationist claims about “OOPARTS,” and in “Voices of the Gods” producers embrace the extreme claims of Hindu nationalists, melding together old claims about India from UFO literature with bonkers efforts by the government of Prime Minister Modi to celebrate India’s supposed prehistoric technological past based on dubious readings of Sanskrit texts. The show also leaves aside the vexing problem that so many of these claims originate not among native Indians but rather among white Europeans of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who sought to celebrate Aryan heritage by looking for the “oldest” Aryan myths, legends, and sciences among the oldest layers of Indian civilization, a layer then presumed to be a “pure” representation of ancestral Indo-European culture.
The first segment describes Hinduism but chooses not to deal with the question of the degree to which modern Hinduism does or does not reflect the Vedic religion that preceded it. The show then examines an ancient temple at Sirpur, and the show alleges that the building has sophisticated architecture that can withstand earthquakes. The show promptly concedes that much of the extant structure has been restored with modern concrete. A man named Arun K. Sharma, described as an archaeologist, alleges that the temple’s advanced construction features were derived from space aliens who provided the instructions in a textbook on architecture, the Mayamata, which the show dates to 2,500 BCE but which is conventionally dated much later, perhaps as late as the eleventh century CE, but so far as I can find, not before the sixth century CE.
The second segment discusses ancient Indian medicine, including holes drilled into the skull, similar to trepanning, and which has been found in many cultures. The show, however, follows Hindu nationalist claims that this trepanning extended into actual brain surgery in the modern sense, even though there is no evidence that the brain itself had ever been touched. The segment focuses on the Sushruta Samhita, a book of medical knowledge that the show alleges to be older than Hippocrates and the oldest medical book in the world. This is another Hindu nationalist claim, with non-Indian scholars preferring a date of around the sixth century CE, perhaps redacting material going back to the last centuries CE. We also hear that the book is the gift of space aliens, which is sad since the aliens chose not to give much of use, given the contents of the book.
After this, we hear about the vimanas and the ancient Indian flying machines from various poems. These are claims we have heard so many times before that they must be familiar to everyone who has ever seen an episode of Ancient Aliens. To this, another Hindu nationalist claim is thrown in: That a man named Shivkar Bāpuji Talpade read the Sanskrit texts and using them developed a working airplane in 1895. Witnesses say that the plane did not fly but perhaps glided for three minutes at best, and Talpade’s student said that he did not get his design from ancient texts but from science and his reading of Western material, particularly Edison and Hiram Maxim.
The third segment tries to prove that a presumed version of Talpade’s design is flight-worthy by testing a model. While mainstream scholars concluded that the texts Talpade used were not capable of yielding a viable design. Then we hear that some aerospace engineers allege that poetic descriptions of swirling mercury suggest that the ancient Indians knew about mercury-xenon ion engines. It should not surprise you that this highly unconventional effort to read science into poetry came from yet more Hindus in a state-run Indian university. It was one of many versions of ancient Vedic super-thruster engines put out by Indian engineers in during the recent period of high Hindu nationalism. Oddly enough, few outside of India gave much credence to the 2014 claim, except ufologists, who embraced this claim and others like it. The engineers in question were simply reading their own science into ambiguous poetry.
The fourth segment discusses claims that Sanskrit texts contain references to atomic weaponry. This is a claim we have covered many times before, and I have traced its origins back to Russian propaganda and the French book Morning of the Magicians. However, despite this, the show decides that Robert Oppenheimer, in citing the Bhagavad Gita in describing the power of nuclear weapons (“I am become death….”), was admitting to believing that he was fulfilling an ancient divine atomic destiny encoded in the texts, not that he saw poetry in them.
After this, the show talks about radioactive ash found in an Indian desert and then provides the false quote I debunked ages ago, in the fake poetry David Childress used to present it.
The fifth segment visits a Jain temple and alleges that a domed ceiling with concentric circles joined by cross-cutting bands looks like the Large Hadron Collider, even though the collider is a tube and not a disc, and therefore the temple is honoring ancient particle accelerators. This is so stupid I don’t need to remind you that the show made the same claim about the Aztec calendar stone a few years ago, in almost the same word. My criticism from then still stands.
The show then alleges that ancient India knew of quantum mechanics and that modern scientists derived current theories of physics from these texts, though they offer no example of a scientific breakthrough that could be traced to an experiment designed from a Vedic plan.
The final segment describes the large number of unread and untranslated ancient Sanskrit texts waiting in various archives and repositories. The talking heads then speculate about what they might contain, without evidence, and state that we should, in David Childress’s words, “pay more attention” to ancient texts, for the talking heads all agree on an essentially conservative worldview that the best and greatest time was the past and knowledge is to be found in the words of the ancestors, not the discoveries of the future.
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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