Easter Island has been a frequent touchstone of the ancient astronaut theory in general and of Ancient Aliens in particular, in no small measure due to the otherworldly aesthetics of the colossal stone moai that dot Rapa Nui and the bafflement of early explorers as to how the statues were carved and erected. (They didn’t know that the denuded island once had trees, which were used to help move them.) William Henry says they are “alien”-looking statues. The look more like H. P. Lovecraft than the Greys, truth be told, but this show has a long history of ignoring the idea of stylization in art. Last year, Expedition Unknown sent Josh Gates to the island to hunt for evidence of space aliens, and nearly sixty years ago, the anthropologist Robert Suggs (with whom I have discussed Polynesian history) lamented that even at that date Easter Island had become the province of mystery-mongers. “The mystery of this island, then, is largely of an artificial nature, created for specific purposes by nonscientific authors.” The passing decades did not change his view. Now Ancient Aliens sends Giorgio Tsoukalos and David Childress to Polynesia to expand the “mystery” across the Pacific.
The first segment tries to dismiss any potential explanation for how the statues were moved given by archaeologists so that they can endorse an oral tradition that magic made the statues walk into position on their own. Tsoukalos thinks himself clever by saying that the people of the island were either “off their rockers” or witnessed levitation technology. They aren’t much for symbolism over at Ancient Aliens, but one explanation involves the use of rockers to basically “walk” the statues into place. Childress suggests that the statues beamed out a force field to protect the island, even though he offers no explanation for how this technology would work.
The show suggests that the only moai to face the ocean rather than inland, a group of seven on Ahu Akiv, are designed to target the Marquesas Islands, in whose direction they face, albeit from two thousand miles away.
The second segment takes place on one of the Marquesas where Childress and Tsoukalos examine petroglyphs and statues dating back centuries. Because some of the drawings depict turtles, the show tries to tie this to world turtle myths, though animals, as one must note, tend to exist in more than one place and to have stories told about them where they live. The show also talks about the Birdman cult, but they make the same mistake that Josh Gates did. As I said last year, “The story of sky beings is actually a part of the largely unrelated story of the Birdman, a more recent cult established after around 1500 CE that replaced the previous religious belief system. We know that the Birdman can’t be an alien who built the moai because the Birdman cult didn’t take root until after the majority of moai had been built.” By collapsing historical developments into a generic “past,” the show eliminates context and attempts to pick and choose among beliefs and ideas to fit a particular narrative. Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum gawk at some Tiki images, depicting the first created human, with large, goggle-like eyes and speculate that the ancestral spirit was an extraterrestrial. (Tiki statues come in many forms, and the large eyes are a stylized form popular in the Marquesas; elsewhere, they are more naturalistic.) Tsoukalos literally calls the Tiki images “weird,” which just about sums up the entirety of the failure of Ancient Aliens and the ancient astronaut theory to either respect or understand the cultures they exploit for titillation and profit.
The segment ends by setting up the question of why a Marquesas myth tells that seven royal brothers were exiled from the islands and, in leaving, discovered Easter Island.
After the break, the narrator calls Marquesas Tiki statues “disturbing,” which is yet another insult to indigenous, non-Western art. Tweedles Dee and Dum compare the Tiki statues to stylized indigenous art from Peru and Mexico, and the narrator adds several other indigenous artworks from Africa and Asia, before they basically declare that non-Western art styles must reflect extraterrestrials, on account of how the artists couldn’t possibly use stylization and must have carved what they literally saw. You know, like Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso did. As a result, the two men claim that a statue showing a goddess giving birth is actually an image of a spaceship letting out passengers and a llama. Another Tiki, which appears to be polydactyl, they assume must be a literal depiction of polydactyl space aliens. “Why did they carve six fingers if they did not see six fingers?” One might ask why they think aliens have six fingers. This is a trait that some Christian creationists have associated with Nephilim (based on the Giant of Gath in 2 Samuel 21:20), but it is not a common trait in either world mythology or modern UFO discussions. This seems to be another case of Christian Nephilim beliefs seeping into the show, as has happened with increasing frequency over the past few seasons.
My intuition was proved right when the show descended into speculation about Nephilim giants and alleged that the “ruling elite” of Polynesia were extraterrestrial fallen angel Nephilim Bible giants. As this slow-moving episode rolls on, the fourth segment discusses the Polynesian belief in a spiritual power force called mana, and the show descends into some lurid pulp titillation by reveling—complete with bloody reenactments—in a tradition of cannibalism in the Marquesas. Exploiting Pacific Island cannibalism for white audiences’ excitement has a long history. I have a book on my shelf entitled Head-Hunting in the Solomon Islands that is not too far afield from this, though ironically more respectful than Ancient Aliens despite its prejudices. The show, however, descends into similarly uncomfortable colonialist tropes when it concludes that the founders of Easter Island were giant alien hybrid elites who fled the Marquesas because “the native” wanted to eat them in an ignorant and mistaken hope of consuming their extraterrestrial power. The trope of the civilized outsiders who impose their rule but fear primitive violent savages won’t accept it is a staple of imperialist and colonialist fiction, and it is disturbing here to see Ancient Aliens not only adopting basically racist views of indigenous Pacific Islanders but also asking us as the audience to identify with the space alien ruling elite, who stand in for the white colonialists of the traditional narratives or the ancient white master race of Mu, as Childress used to claim in the 1980s.
The fifth segment returns to Easter Island to discuss the hats worn by the moai, which were recently discovered to have originally sported petroglyphs. Andrew Collins parrots “ancient mysteries” books going back decades when he suggests that Easter Island was not merely the home of the Rapa Nui but instead was a locus for many different cultures. He bases this only on the fact that Easter Island used cyclopean masonry, like other ancient cultures. It was the most stable style, and requires no trans-Pacific contact to explain. Childress continues the theme by asking why Easter Island was the “navel of the world” like Delphi and other sites (hint: all humans have belly-buttons, so the metaphor is hardly unusual), and he asks about a global positioning grid that links Easter Island to other ancient sites. These arguments were presented nearly in the same terms in Graham Hancock’s Heaven’s Mirror twenty years ago, and they were not original then. They also don’t require aliens, which raises the question of what, exactly, Ancient Aliens thinks it is proving by speculating about transoceanic contact in some unspecific pre-Columbian time period.
The final segment features Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum debriefing each other over coffee. I can’t say that the new, slower format for the show, in which ancient astronaut theorists travel to locations, repeat old material from earlier episodes, and then get lunch and repeat themselves yet again in the form of an episode summary pretending to be a conclusion, is an improvement. It certainly means that the show can repeat itself even more per hour since they are doing less original work. And it gives the show’s stars free paid vacations. But in terms of entertainment value, Ancient Aliens is becoming less entertaining simply by dint of doing less per hour, slowing down, and therefore making its uncomfortable undercurrents all the more obvious.
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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