Many things, however, have stayed the same. The show is still repetitive as hell. Nan Madol has been a staple of Ancient Aliens since its early days, and in season six they devoted a chunk of an episode on “forbidden islands” to the ancient site, and I covered their arguments at the time. These are repeated again wholesale in this episode. Back then, as I wrote, they spoke of
… Nan Madol and its massive basalt ruins constructed atop 92 manmade islands off Pohnpei. The show argues that the people of the city, being primitive brown people, simply could not have built them on their own because the blocks are too heavy for ancient people to lift and transport using muscle, ropes, levers, and boats. That’s just silly! Instead, sorcerers used “auditive levitation” to fly the stone using magic sound waves. Remains of this sound wave technology, of course, conveniently disappeared without a trace. The show asserts that the city is cursed and that the German governor died in 1907 the day after visiting the site as a result of the curse. Dr. Viktor Berg, the German colonial deputy governor of Pohnpei at the time, in fact died of sunstroke and exhaustion, according to the official records, shortly after excavating the tomb of Isokelekel. Later excavators of the tomb suffered no ill effects. The show fails to note that the “curse” was invoked at the time because Berg had been hated by the natives for his imposition of harsh German colonial policies, including disarmament and restrictions on cultural expression. It was part of native efforts to resist colonial rule, a constant source of tension during the German administration of the island.
And guess what? We hear the same thing again this time! Indeed, I’m pretty sure some of the computer graphics appeared in earlier episodes.
This time, however, ancient astronaut theorists Giorgio Tsoukalos and David Childress got a free vacation of the episode. The show paid for them to visit Nan Madol to shoot scenes for the show. “Will they solve the mystery of one of the world’s most baffling sites?” narrator Robert Clotworthy asks. No, they will not.
I have to say that it really sounds like Clotworthy is phoning it in this season. In parts of the narration, his voiceover almost seemed as if it had been cobbled together out of spliced audio, though I’m sure that wasn’t the case. He did have some strange mid-word pauses, however.
The show starts with a potted history of Nan Madol and then starts to make some uncomfortable claims. First, they assert that there is no reason for Nan Madol to exist since Pacific Islanders have no need for “advanced” large-scale cities. That’s pretty racist. Childress adds that the Pacific Islanders couldn’t have built the islands’ sophisticated irrigation system because… well, I guess because they’re brown. They don’t even offer an argument as to why indigenous people couldn’t have been responsible. They just assume the audience will accept that native peoples couldn’t do smart-person stuff. They also attack archaeology by arguing that there is no real way to date the site, so it must therefore be much older. For them, context doesn’t matter, so they reject the lack of evidence for occupation of Nan Madol prior to around 1100 CE.
Tsoukalos and Childress arrive in Nan Madol, and Micronesia sends its top official in charge of cultural preservation, Augustine “Gus” Kohler, to greet them and say some weird things about being unable to move the basalt blocks around the island. Another official, the country’s director of its national archives, claims that space aliens built the site. Micronesia seems to be in dire need of better science education.
Tsoukalos, without evidence, asserts that the site is “thousands of years older than mainstream archaeology suggests.” Childress agrees and asserts that archaeologists are hiding truth because they don’t want to admit to large-scale megalithic construction in prehistoric times.
Much of the discussion revolves around the question of whether human beings can move heavy things. Tsoukalos intentionally misunderstood an expert’s claim that calculus was needed to understand the physics of the bending of a doorway’s lintel under the weight of the wall above, and he therefore concludes that the builders of the site possessed calculus to engineer its doors. Calculus describes the doorframe, but it is obviously unnecessary to know that you need to put a big heavy beam across the doorframe to carry the weight. There is no indication that the beam was calculated to be the absolute minimum strength to carry the weight or any other factor that would suggest the use of calculus.
Eventually, they start talking about ghosts and claim the city is haunted and then imply that there is “something mankind is not yet meant to discover” under the city—basically Cthulhu in R’lyeh.
After a break, the show again marvels that stone is heavy and people in the past took so much effort to move stones. Tsoukalos and Childress find many different ways to imagine that Pacific Islanders weren’t able to do this, at one point claiming that “aerial surveys” were needed to quarry rock! The claim that the stones were levitated into place appears again, but now the two magician brothers who raised them have been transformed into “strange visitors” in order to imply they are space aliens rather than immigrants from Polynesia. They are also identified here as giants, though the claim does not appear in the non-fringe versions of the story I have access to. Alternative legends that birds carried the stones to the site are introduced as well, though the show implies that these birds are airplanes or drones and folds it into the story of the magician brothers as though they were one and the same.
As we spin toward the end of the show, our heroes attempt to hunt for the fictional “second” Nan Madol, the one underwater, using a submarine drone. The show tells us that the underwater cite is “pre-Flood” and dates back to 12,500 BCE. The show simply asserts that some natural formations under the water are a city. The failure of their drones is attributed to underwater alien technology in the underwater basalt. They decide that the basalt has been magnetized as part of an anti-gravity scheme, which ought to be easy enough to test with a magnet, but no one thinks to do that.
Childress declares Nan Madol as “naval” base and an airport for various types of ships traveling from Asia to Mexico and Peru. Clotworthy, in openly Christian terms, says this was “pre-Flood,” referring again to Noah’s Flood and Genesis. As ought to be obvious, there is no infrastructure at Nan Madol to support airplanes, nor is there any evidence of a port that could support and service massive warships in the style of imperial Europe or imperial China. Both Tsoukalos and Childress suggest that the city had to have been built before Noah’s Flood when the sea level was lower, though this negates their claim only minutes earlier that the current Nan Madol was built atop an Ice Age city. It can’t be both simultaneously, but the ancient astronaut theorists don’t want to risk accidentally admitting that humans could build things in water without alien help.
The show doesn’t really have a conclusion. It just sort of stops when they realize time is up. Clotworthy doesn’t even bother to raise his voice to its usual conclusion crescendo.
If I had to attribute the decline in Ancient Aliens’ ratings to a cause, it is probably this: For the first ten years, the show reveled in its own lunacy, throwing a wild array of claims at the wall in each episode and never lighting on any one topic for longer than a few minutes. Now in its dotage and struggling to fill time, they turn over each hour to a slower, more painfully boring vacation travelogue that only feints at times toward space aliens and spends the remainder of its hour basically summarizing the Wikipedia article about whatever the week’s topic is. It’s just not fun anymore, and I imagine that audiences get bored. I know I do. Ancient Aliens was never good television, but I could appreciate the pacing and scope in earlier years. Now, it’s just … so … slow.
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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