It’s been a good ten seasons since Ancient Aliens had an original idea, so it goes without saying that we’ve heard much of the material in tonight’s episode before. In this episode, the show is looking to go beyond its typical claim that humans were genetically engineered by aliens to extend the aliens’ plans to animals. We’ve seen elements of this in the past, from the time when Giorgio Tsoukalos alleged that space aliens made a peace treaty with coelacanths to protect them from a dinosaur-killing asteroid to the time that the show claimed that Bigfoot arrived on Earth in a flying saucer. But the real purpose of this episode is to cast doubt on evolutionary theory, a disturbingly common theme that the show has been pushing since its decision to adopt creationist claims and rhetoric.
The show opens with a discussion of eight alleged alien abductions in the 1990s that shared enough similarities that Darrell Simms claims them to be part of a single event. The abductees allegedly visited an alien laboratory or museum where contains held representatives of various species from Earth and beyond. Without bothering to provide any evidence of this, the show uses it as a springboard to suggest that many different alien species have connections to different families of Earth animals, such as reptiles, insects, etc. The narrator then summarizes Darwin’s Origin of Species, and narrator Robert Clothworthy announces that there is “evidence” that evolution cannot explain speciation or variation within a species. We hear that dogs come in too many “crazy” shapes to have evolved naturally (even though they were produced, in historic times, often with documentation, by human-led artificial selection), and we hear that giraffes have no “intermediate” fossils between short and long-necked giraffes and therefore sprang fully formed into being. The narrator concludes that “most” species on Earth “cannot be explained” by natural selection.
Unwilling to have the courage of its creationist sympathies and explain its point in true detail, the show pivots to what it says are the 70 million Egyptian animal mummies in existence, a number it says is equal to the 70 million Egyptian human mummies they say scientists have excavated. I wondered where these numbers came from, and I found it in some popular “mystery” books, but not as the number excavated but the number estimated for the total number of people mummified in all of Egyptian history, of which only a small fraction remain. But no matter: We are quickly on to the question of why ancient cultures around the world held animals in great respect. I’ll give you one guess, considering how closely humans and animals lived together out of necessity before the industrial era.
The second segment starts off with a discussion of the Apis bull and its role in Egyptian creation myths, in one version of which he is supposed to be the creator of humanity, though I am not familiar with this myth. They also claim the Apis bull cult to be Egypt’s oldest, dating back to 3000 BCE, a claim I found in old Biblical encyclopedias but which I have been unable to confirm. I guess that it is related to the fact that a bull was one of the oldest symbols of the pharaohs, on a palette dating back to 3500 to 3100 BCE. This leads to a broader discussion of how many ancient peoples trace their lineages back to an animal ancestor. This they rhyme with myths of flying monkeys and animal-headed gods, and the narrator suggests that either (a) aliens are related to animal species or (b) aliens disguise themselves as animals like giant insects (like the Egyptian scarab-headed god Khepri) in order to appear “friendlier” to human beings. Those would be the same humans they allegedly created and had always been present to, so consistency is again a problem with Ancient Aliens. I guess the aliens must have left for a few thousand years or so, until humanity had forgotten what aliens looked like. Frankly, though, I think I’d be more afraid of a humanlike alien with a giant bug for a face than I would a Grey.
The third segment is ostensibly about the bombardier beetle, an insect that uses a chemical reaction to produce a toxic defensive stream heated to nearly the boiling point of water, but in reality it is an extended argument for intelligent design theory, offering a series of complaints about why evolution by natural selection “doesn’t work.” The show also tells us that the bug’s hydrogen peroxide is “rocket fuel,” which is news to me since I apparently am using “rocket fuel” to clean stains off of my car’s upholstery. (Some rocket fuel includes liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.) Giorgio Tsoukalos says that the beetle must have come to Earth “fully formed” because he is not able to conceive of an evolutionary path by which a bug could develop a toxic secretion without, as another speaker says, “blow[ing] itself up.” Once again, a failure of imagination demands a near-supernatural response, and in the continuing merger of the two extreme ends of fringe history, creationism has seeped into the ancient astronaut theory in weird and unnecessary ways.
The narrator tells us that the aliens invented weird animal powers so humans could “observe” the animals and learn how to develop technologies based on their abilities. This contradicts, of course, earlier episodes from this and past seasons that alleged that humanity gained its inventions and insights from the Akashic Record and projected psychic transmissions from aliens. Why do we need animals that shoot acid out their asses when we have direct reception of blueprints from the alien factories?
The fourth segment discusses the many other hominin species that existed before and alongside anatomically modern humans, with help from paleontologist Peter Ward, a professor at the University of Washington who has chosen to lend his evolutionary theory bona fides to this anti-science travesty. The narrator tells us that aliens might have experimented with many different types of creature before settling on one final type, and from this the show speculates that “hybrid” creatures are alien experiments—a claim that we’ve heard many times before. More interesting to me, though, is the fact that this year, when showing medieval Persian art depicting Muhammad, the show blurs out the Islamic Prophet’s face for the first time I can recall, even though Persian tradition does not refrain from depicting him. The show clearly missed a step here, for they could have related these hominins to the myths of wild men, especially the story of Enkidu from the Epic of Gilgamesh, a wild man who mated with a human woman, just like the other hominin species did with our ancestors. Instead, we go straight to the Watchers and the Nephilim (again) with the Enochian allegation that the sexual sin of creating angel-human hybrids led to the Great Flood. We also hear what strikes me as a fake claim that other world mythologies allege that instead of building an Ark to sail the waters, some Flood heroes built ships to take animals “to the stars.” This strikes me as a distortion of some Native American or Chinese stories that involve events in the sky alongside the Flood, but I can’t place one offhand.
The fifth segment again attacks evolutionary theory by suggesting that the so-called “immortal jellyfish,” which has the ability to return to a polyp state and rejuvenate itself indefinitely, cannot be explained by science. Then the show notes that Anaxagoras invented the panspermia theory of life, but this isn’t entirely true, for he merely suggested that everything in the cosmos contained the “seeds” of all the other things in the cosmos, creating spontaneous generation. This isn’t the same thing, even if he used the term “panspermia” to mean “seeds everywhere.” Then the show freaks out about Chinese genetic engineering, which doesn’t have anything to do with aliens but is of a piece with creationism in that appeals to faith and fear are the bread and butter of cable channels with older-skewing audiences. The contrast between the New Age associations of the classic ancient astronaut theory and the quasi-creationist and increasingly conservative version offered in latter-day Ancient Aliens is fascinating. I wonder if they had it to do all over again if they would even have aliens at all.
The sixth segment describes how human beings might use directed panspermia to terraform a distant planet by seeding it with programmed DNA that would develop into plants and animals. The show tells us that aliens probably did that to us. Tsoukalos tells us that this must be true because “Darwinian evolution” fails on account of the lack of “transitional fossils,” this despite his complete unwillingness to investigate the fossil record to see fossil remains in sequence. William Henry and the narrator imply that our DNA might be programming us to develop into some kind of future form with animal traits. In the end, the whole hour was less about aliens than it was an attack on evolution, a self-defeating argument unless one is prepared to explain where the aliens came from. But if your goal is spiritual rather than scientific, then the inconsistency vanishes because the supernatural worldview needs no justification.
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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