Case in point: A newly published journal article in the International Journal of Paleopathology reviewed To the Stars Academy member Garry Nolan’s genetic analysis of the Atacama “humanoid”—featured in a documentary by Ancient Aliens talking head Steven Greer—and determined that Nolan was incorrect to conclude that it had unknown genetic anomalies. Instead, they concluded that it was a normal 15- or 16-week-old fetus, and they criticized Nolan for conducting an unethical analysis that “threaten[s] to undo the decades of work anthropologists and others have put in to correct past colonialist tendencies” because Nolan and his ancient astronaut believing colleagues marketed the Atacama fetus as a curiosity and a marvel without consulting or working with descendant communities likely to be the kin of the deceased.
Despite the ethical problems created by ancient astronaut beliefs, we ended up with two full hours of repetitious and attacks on science in the name of belief. Typically, I review an episode segment by segment and point by point, but I don’t have the attention-span tonight to type out that much material, especially since this “very special” episode of Ancient Aliens is purposely designed to rehash material that the show has covered since its pilot, some nine years ago.
Instead, I’d like to talk about tonight’s episode somewhat more thematically.
To begin, it’s probably worth asking why it is that ancient astronaut theorists believe that ancient Egypt has a connection to space aliens. The answer, as anyone who has read my blog knows, is that they are borrowing from medieval myths. The ancient Greeks started it, of course, because they imagined Egypt to be ancient even to them and hoary with wisdom. Herodotus spoke of the country’s fabulous antiquity, and Plato alluded to the vast records of ancient knowledge unknown to the Greeks. The Egyptian gods came to be seen as mortal men, civilizing heroes from some far-away realm, as Diodorus Siculus reported in his Library of History 1.13. This was also the secret that Alexander supposedly learned from the Egyptian priests (Augustine, City of God 8.5; Arnobius, Against the Heathens 4.29; Athenagoras, Plea for the Christians 28.1; etc.). It was a similar, and largely late, modification of traditional belief, similar to the work of Euhemerus in Greece to imagine the gods as mortals mistaken for divinities by the weight of history and tradition.
The Late Antique Christians who inherited such beliefs attempted to marry them to the Judeo-Christian salvation framework, which held that ancient gods were not mortals but rather demons mistaken for gods. (The Christian writer Eusebius was perhaps the first ancient astronaut theorist, to judge by his Praeparatio Evangelica 3.14-17, which anticipated the claims of Ancient Aliens by 1700 years, presuming you identify demons as space aliens.) Early Christians, who could not read the sacred writing, imagined that the hieroglyphs and images drawn the walls of tombs were intended to preserve knowledge of pagan mysteries from the Flood (Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman History 22.15.30). Diodorus writes in 1.10.4 that when the Flood destroyed the world, Upper Egypt alone remained dry. It is therefore in this place that Egyptian Christians imagined that the great sage Enoch, whom they identified with Hermes Trismegistus and Thoth, inscribed walls and pillars with all the wisdom of the world that it would not perish in the Flood. In time, they came to believe that the Hermetic center at Panopolis (Akhmim) had been the very place where the pillars of wisdom stood, and that the walls of the Egyptian temple at Akhmim were covered in all the secrets of science to keep them safe from the Flood (Abu Ma‘shar in Ibn Juljul, Tabaqat al-atibbaʾ 5-10; Al-Mas‘udi, Meadows of Gold 31).
This wisdom, however, was said to have come to humanity from outer space. Or, more specifically, from God’s angels in heaven and the Watchers who had fallen to Earth (e.g., the Book of Enoch 6-9 and Zosimus of Panopolis, Imouth 9 in George Syncellus, Chronicle 14). The Book of Enoch, with its stirring tale of fallen angels and the secrets knowledge they taught to early humans, was exceptionally popular in Egypt, where fragments of the lost Greek version of the text have been uncovered at Akhmim.
After about 950 CE, the Arabs who conquered Egypt applied this myth to the pyramids of Giza, imagining them as the great repositories of pre-Flood wisdom (Akhbar al-zaman 2.4; Al-Maqrizi, Khitat 1.40; etc.). It was in this form that modern ancient astronaut theorists inherited their ideas about the pyramids because it was from these medieval stories that Victorian writers developed their ideas about “pyramidiocy,” from versions rendered into English by John Greaves in Pyramidographia, Aloys Sprenger in Col. William Howard Vyse’s Operations, and other books frequently data-mined by fringe writers for pyramid trivia. You needn’t take my word for it. Erich von Däniken explicitly cites the Akhbar al-zaman (which he wrongly thought to be the work of Al-Mas‘udi) in Chariots of the Gods and both he and Giorgio Tsoukalos have made direct reference to Al-Maqrizi’s account, which they wrongly argue involves space aliens. They, of course, received a healthy assist from Ignatius Donnelly’s Atlantis and Helena Blavatsky’s Secret Doctrine, where the implication that Egypt was founded by outside forces took a familiar shape.
Once ancient astronaut theorists swap out the Watchers with space aliens—as Ancient Aliens never ceases to remind us to do—the hypothesis about space aliens in ancient Egypt practically writes itself!
Too bad that the texts they use are late versions whose earliest forms don’t support the supposition.
This episode is a special “event” episode that differs from the usual Ancient Aliens episode in that it follows Giorgio Tsoukalos as he travels to Egypt in April 2018 to meet with archaeologist Ramy Romany and visits a number of popular Egyptian sites in the manner of his cancelled H2 spinoff series In Search of Aliens. It is, he says, his first visit to Egypt in 18 years. He is dressed, as in that series, in Indiana Jones drag, as though to appropriate to himself the authority and the glamour of fictitious archaeology. The cinematography is different, too, shot a bit more dramatically, more like The Amazing Race. But the reality show comparison is also apt because the show devotes more time than usual to blathering and banter to fill the two-hour run time. It’s also a bit strange that Tsoukalos is seen in real-time action, in candid interviews on-site, and also as a talking head in-studio commenting on his own commentary.
The episode is framed around the recent claim that the Great Pyramid contains a “void” within it, a void detected with technology but not verified by observation or excavation. The show cheats by depicting the void as a perfect rectangular chamber, even though the shape is not known to that degree of perfection. The narrator repeats old, false claims that Col. Vyse fabricated the name of Khufu on painted hieroglyphs within a relieving chamber above the Great Pyramid for financial gain. This was a claim created by Zecharia Sitchin, but contradicted by the facts as they are known. Even Graham Hancock had to concede that the claim held no water.
We went only seven minutes before the narrator drew on the old Arab myth that the pyramids predated the Flood to claim that, yes, the Great Pyramid was antediluvian in origin. It goes without saying that there is no evidence that Noah’s Flood ever happened, even if al-Biruni claimed that the high-water mark of the Flood was visible on the Pyramid’s surface.
I am quite surprised that the Egyptian government let this show film in and on the pyramids.
Giulio Magli is on hand to claim that the void contains an iron throne, which I discussed months ago. The show straight-up fabricates some fake claims about iron thrones that are not part of Egyptian mythology. There was no fight to seize Osiris’s iron chair because it had magic powers.
The show recycles earlier claims from (many, many) past episodes about pyramids being power plants operating a wireless energy grid powering light bulbs and space alien technology, none of which (conveniently enough) has left even a trace.
After this, Tsoukalos visits the Great Sphinx, which the Egyptian government has again given unusual permission to film between the statue’s paws. Zahi Hawass, the longtime Egyptian official in charge of archaeology—a position he lost when Mubarak’s government collapsed—and a tireless opponent of pseudo-history surprisingly agrees to appear on this show, where the narrator alleges that the Sphinx is 10,000 years old rather than 4,500 years old and attacks mainstream archaeologists. Everyone has a price apparently. The producers at least allow Hawass to explain why mainstream archaeologists believe the Sphinx had been eroded by wind, even if the show undercuts this with Robert Schoch’s claims, which originate (via John Anthony West) in occultist Schwaller de Lubicz’s claims about the Sphinx predating the pharaohs—themselves inspired by nineteenth century archaeologist Gaston Maspero’s beliefs about antediluvian Egyptians derived from, of course, the same Arabic myths I cited above, as well as a mistaken belief that the Inventory Stela was Old Kingdom rather than New and therefore proved the Sphinx predated Khufu. (There’s a lot of mistaken old beliefs that seem to keep chugging along unchallenged in the fringe history field.) The segment discusses the Dream Stela and claims that it talks about a UFO as the “flashing light” of the gods. You can read the actual text here. The meaning of the line is typically rendered as “all that the Eye of the Lord of All illuminates”—in other words, “everything under the sun.”
The show chooses to accept the ancient Egyptian king lists, such as those of the Turin Papyrus and Manetho, as accurate, including the dynasties of gods and demigods stretching back 36,000 years, claims that even many of the ancients considered fictitious. (The 36,525-year number comes from the Old Egyptian Chronicle, a forgery with Hermetic influence.) The show tries to make the pre-Flood dating of Egypt stick by citing Graham Hancock’s claims about the Sphinx and the pyramids of Giza targeting the year 10,500 BCE, and psychic Edgar Cayce’s claim that the Sphinx was built in 10,390 BCE by Atlanteans. This might sound superficially impressive, but it isn’t. The claim is derived from astrology and was created by Renaissance writers from a misunderstanding of Horapollo’s Hieroglyphics, itself a corrupt and incorrect Late Antique pseudohistorical fantasy. Indeed, in 1909 a writer came up with nearly the same year using the same astrological formula based on trying to find the right time when the Sphinx would have lined up with Leo. They also mention claims about chambers in or under the Sphinx, but this also an old claim—it originates in Pliny the Elder (36.17) and was developed among medieval Arab treasure hunters (e.g. Buried Pearls § 309).
The show uses a bunch of pyramidiocy claims, such as the idea that the Great Pyramid’s latitude in decimal degrees contains the same digits as the speed of light expressed in meters—a measurement not given its current value until the twentieth century. Scott Creighton is on to make these claims, and I have dealt with is material before (Part 1, Part 2).
It’s disturbing, though, that the show simply accepts that Noah’s Flood occurred, and, like the Christian chronologists of Late Antiquity, use it as the dividing point in history. For the Christian chronologists, there were four key dates in history—the Creation, the Fall of the Watchers in anno mundi 1000, the Flood, and Resurrection. It’s a little creepy that ancient astronaut theorists basically use this old salvation chronology as their framework for understanding history.
They speak of Benben stones—pyramidions—as UFOs, though they are believed to originate in meteorites. I am unaware of any legend that people walked out of the Benben through a door. I believe this refers to one variant of Egyptian myth that considers the Benben to be the primordial mound of creation and the home of Atum.
In the second hour, we go straight-out Watchers-crazy by citing the Book of Enoch and alleging that the story of the angels taking Enoch to read the heavenly tablets is the same as the Pharaohs traveling to the gods, and the story of the Watchers is the same as the dawn of the pagan gods. This, again, is the same argument that the Christian Fathers made when alleging that the pagan gods were demons, and when they alleged that the Watchers were the first kings of the ancient world. Indeed, Annianus, a chronologist in Alexandria in the 300s CE, specifically claimed that the antediluvian kings of Babylon listed in the Babylonian king lists were actually the Watchers themselves. Andrew Collins alleges that all of this refers to a comet that hit the Earth in the Younger Dryas, a claim that most scientists dispute and one that originated in Edmund Halley’s efforts to explain Noah’s Flood scientifically.
For those paying attention, at this point Ancient Aliens is basically popular Christian salvation history with a lightly technological veneer.
Next, the show gawks at the oversized sarcophagi of the Apis Bulls, made of granite and housing the bodies of the bulls (or forgeries thereof—sometimes they were composite taxidermy creations), though the show both denies that this is the case and also accepts the cult of the Apis Bull as predynastic. Tsoukalos cites Herodotus, Strabo, and Eusebius as supporting his belief that Egypt’s golden age dates back 10,000 years or more. He probably doesn’t actually know that Eusebius believed the Egyptians were liars and that no kings were in Egypt before Menes, the first pharaoh of the First Dynasty, whom the Egyptians considered the first human pharaoh after the gods and demigods. The segment—right down to the claim that the sarcophagi feature “perfect” ninety degree angles—is lifted from a claim circulating in Christian extremist circles last year that the sarcophagi actually belonged the Nephilim—the giant sons of the Watchers. Ancient Aliens simply substituted “giant” extraterrestrials for the Nephilim, having equated the two in the previous segment. Tsoukalos seems to completely forget that in 2013 he completely accepted that the sarcophagi held bulls, and that his show claimed them to be air-tight star gates to another dimension, not Nephilim tombs. The show spends some time alleging that sarcophagi of all kinds were made of granite to make use of its quartz for electrical reasons—causing mummies to transform into beings of pure energy—claims similar to those we have heard in previous episodes about supposed piezoelectrical wonders in Egypt.
David Childress speculates that the Egyptians went through the bother of mummification because “they did want to preserve the body.” No shit, Sherlock. That he and the show find this to be a revelation is telling in terms of what the producers think of their audience. Tsoukalos repeats a claim originally made by Alan Landsburg in The Outer Space Connection back in the 1970s that mummification was a misunderstanding of the cryogenic sleep astronauts needed to undertake in order to travel between the stars without growing too old. Oh, and this whole argument was in an earlier episode of the show. But that really goes without saying.
As we near the end of the show, we visit the Ptolemaic temple at Edfu, whose texts are an important, but regional, account of Egyptian mythology. Collins tells us that the myths are proof that humanity originated in the stars, though Romany is more cautious about ascribing truth to beliefs. Collins mumbles something about how this is relates to “quantum” science, but it doesn’t really make any sense. William Henry blathers some things from seen in a previous episode about hieroglyphs portraying electrical transmitters and wormholes. We are supposed to believe that Egyptian boats were shaped like wormholes rather than like boats, and that the Great Pyramid has a wormhole-generation machine hidden in its void. So, geniuses: Why did the aliens need UFOs and cryogenic sleep pods if they could just beam themselves here using a wormhole transport tube? Is it too much to ask for consistency within the same hour?
In the final segment, the show just gives up. Suddenly we are no longer talking about ancient Egypt but rather excerpts from Ezekiel the Tragedian’s Exagoge, a fictional play, preserved in Eusebius and other writers. I guess the connection is that Moses was imagined to have lived in Egypt, but, really, it’s that this show is Christian salvation history in technobabble form. The show finishes with Tsoukalos and Romany musing about the true nature of science in conversation with each other, and end up developing a bromance of sorts.
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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