Given the obvious connection between meteorites and religion, it was hardly surprising that the decline in religious sentiment led to two different efforts to associates meteorites with the divine in a world that was increasingly scientific and secular. As given above, scientists saw the connection rationally, as a case where a natural phenomenon inspired worship. But a number of popular writers and fraudsters kept the old association of space rocks with the gods but replaced deities with their secular counterparts, space aliens. A number of newspaper articles in the late nineteenth century claimed that space rocks contained messages from Mars or other planets, written by space aliens. In some cases, these were fanciful interpretations of natural markings on meteorites, and in others, like the famous 1897 case of “Prof.” MacDonald’s “message from Mars,” the whole thing was a hoax—but one that alleged that the Martians wrote in hieroglyphics resembling those of Egypt!
This is a long way of saying that the topic of this episode of Ancient Aliens is not just old news, but also yet another modern television riff on Victorian scholarship in the service of trying to improve upon the wonders of nature by electroplating it with pseudo-divine fool’s gold.
The episode opens in Winslow, Arizona where what it says is North America’s largest crater, the Barringer Crater, testifies to a massive meteoric impact 50,000 years ago. It is not actually the largest, just the best preserved. (They probably got the false fact from a Google search, since a web article that shows up in the highlight box falsely says it is the largest.) The narrator gravely warns that a large enough meteor impacts can be more devastating than a nuclear war. Travis Taylor from Rocket City Rednecks claims that meteors and asteroids can be used to artificially terraform a planet with targeted impacts, or by using an asteroid as a spacecraft by attaching an engine to it. Naturally, the “ancient astronaut theorists” believe that space aliens have been using asteroids to travel the universe for thousands of years.
After this, the show tells the story of the 1902 discovery of largest known meteorite in the U.S., the Willamette meteorite, weighing 15 tons. (It’s not even close in size to the largest in the world—a 66-ton rock in Namibia.) The various talking heads are fascinated that the local Native Americans saw the meteor as a gift from heaven, though the claim that they had long used the meteor as a divine talisman contradicts the idea that it was buried and unseen until someone dug it up in 1902. The real story is that the Clackamas people of the area had long known about it but a local man recognized it as a meteorite and secretly moved it to his own land to claim ownership. The Clackamas fought for its return for decades, until finally an agreement with the museum now holding it allowed it remain on public display provided that the Clackamas could conduct a ceremony annually. They will also get the meteor back should the museum where it is now housed ever close. Ancient Aliens ignores all of these complex legal and political problems and instead tells us that Native people, being primitive tape recorders of proto-historical events, knew that the meteor was a secret rocket ship that tiny space aliens flew to Earth.
The second segment reports the very stupid article published this spring in an academic journal claiming that octopuses are space aliens whose genetic code traveled to Earth aboard a meteor. As should be clear to anyone, octopuses share much in common with other non-octopus creatures, like squid, cuttlefish, the other mollusks, etc. They are therefore not space aliens. But this leads to a familiar discussion of the theory of panspermia, the idea that space rocks could bring the organic compounds needed to create life to other planets, or to this one. It’s a distinct possibility, but one that needn’t necessarily involve space aliens to direct the meteors to our planet. There is no evidence that Earth life originated on a meteor, but it can’t yet be ruled out. Even if it were the case, however, it is a poor substitute for the original claim of Ancient Aliens—that space aliens flew to Earth and genetically engineered humanity. Instead, they now prefer to see Earth as a sort of “Chia Pet of the Gods,” where the aliens seeded the planet with life from afar, and only paid attention to it after it sprouted.
The segment also tells the story of the Aztec creation myth, which I have posted in my Library. It involves a “knife” full of godlings falling from the sky, in a story that the Christian missionary who recorded it immediately likened to the fall of the angels in Genesis 6:4. The story as we have it today is probably contaminated by Christian influence since it was recorded by a Catholic cleric from a version told by Aztecs who had converted to Catholicism. As with other stories from ancient Mexico, the versions given by the Spanish missionaries were hybrids of genuine traditions and Catholic teachings, and it is not always easy to separate the two.
The third segment describes the Black Rock of the Kaaba, which has long been assumed to be a meteorite (at least since the nineteenth century), though it has never been tested to prove it one way or another. William Henry claims that Gabriel, the angel said to have brought the stone to Earth, was an “otherworldly being,” and David Childress adds that “extraterrestrials” were responsible for delivering the stone, which he and the narrator say was a radio receiver for delivering messages to Muhammad. Once again, the show alleges that Muslims are accidentally worshiping space aliens. The segment briefly mentions the omphalos stone at Delphi as a possible meteor and then returns to hammering home the point that Muslims venerate a meteor as though it were a gift from God.
The fourth segment describes the Asteroid Belt between Earth and Mars and recites the longstanding fringe claim that the asteroid belt is the remains of an exploded planet, a claim not supported by current science. William Henry basically just lies through his teeth by claiming that Mesopotamian “lore” tells us that a planet exploded in the midst of a cosmic battle between the armies of different planets and the survivors came to Earth in the aftermath. There is absolutely nothing like that in the mythology of peoples who literally believed that the Earth was covered in a solid dome and that that planets were tiny little lights that spun around under this dome. This is just warmed-over Zecharia Sitchin with a side of outright lies.
After this the show discusses the Hypatia Stone, which is a meteorite that hit the Earth after arriving from outside the solar system, as evidenced by its unusual ratios of elements. The talking heads, including David Childress, can’t fathom that a rock from deep space might hit Earth, so they suggest that the rock was purposely aimed at the Earth by extraterrestrials, though Childress confesses that he can’t imagine why space aliens would do this, especially since he argues every week that they are literally coming to Earth from other galaxies all the freakin’ time and could easily bring their goddamn stupid pet rocks with them and just hand them to the people they keep abducting from their bedrooms.
Aliens sure do like doing things the hard way. Imagine aiming a tiny, tiny stone at the Earth from another galaxy and waiting thousands of years or more for it to hit, with all the math involved and all the worry that it could be deflected from its course, when you are popping by through worm holes every other day and could just drop it off.
The fifth segment notes that some meteorites have superconductors which can cause the rock to levitate in the presence of strong electric and magnetic fields. Travis Taylor, the Rocket City redneck, claims that meteors containing such superconductors are artificial and fragments of an alien space probe. Apparently, Taylor has learned how to take his minor science celebrity and turn it into cash. The segment also discusses a Russian meteorite containing a quasicrystal, a matrix that resembles the structure of a crystal but never repeats itself, or more technically, it lacks translational symmetry. Childress tells us that the quasicrystals might be a secret computer storage drive full of alien records, though he has no idea how one might test such an idea. He might also have stopped to consider that he said in past episodes that all the information known to space aliens exists in the immaterial Akashic Record from which aliens beam it directly into our brains, so what do they need these quasicrystals for?
The sixth and final segment looks at the old question of whether aliens use self-replicating robots to explore other worlds before visiting themselves. Ancient astronaut theorists suggest that aliens actually used meteors full of DNA to terraform planets, creating biological robots—i.e., us—and we are therefore “manipulated” by alien DNA, as Childress puts it, and he lusts for the day when we slaves can “meet our creators.” Taylor says that all of this “makes perfect sense,” and you get the sense that he is counting the days until his guest slot on the show can make him a fixture on the lucrative paranormal speaking circuit. The show never quite, though, made the case that aliens were necessary to explain anything about meteors, and to an extent, the aliens were grafted on to a show that was really trying to be about space exploration but lacked the intellectual firepower to understand its own subject.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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