Specials on Fox and Discovery did little better than an average Ancient Aliens episode in the ratings, and Netflix’s new UFO documentary series turned out to be a sustained religious argument in disguise, urging viewers to worship sky gods whose divine powers manifesting as UFOs keep humanity safe. The History Channel’s only effort to cash in was an extremely low-rated update to an old episode of Unidentified.
So it is perhaps not surprising that Ancient Aliens sat out a major alien extravaganza and this first episode isn’t about UFOs or military conspiracies but a rehash of previous episodes’ ideas about aliens in ancient Peru, a subject the show has plumbed all the way back to the pilot in 2009.
Because of COVID restrictions, the new season follows the previous season’s format of gathering ancient astronaut theorists around a conference table to recite talking points at one another while introducing a mixture of b-roll, recycled segments, and half-assed new material.
The first segment rehearses the fall of the Inca Empire and then discusses, correctly, that some sites later used by the Inca had been the work of earlier cultures. The ancient astronaut theorists are not aware that many archaeologists attribute Sacsayhuaman, for example, to a pre-Inca culture. Instead, they assume archaeologists are Inca fundamentalists.
We then see footage recorded in 2019 for previous episodes and never used. In it, Childress and Newman listen to claims that beings from overseas, or from the sky, gave Peruvians secret technology to melt and shape stones. It’s the same claim they have always made, with equally too little evidence, the idea that people can’t move heavy stones, though we know that’s not the case.
This leads us into the “lost city” of the title, the ancient site of Caral, which flourished between 2600 and 2000 BCE. This is not particularly new or astonishing; I’m forty years old and we were talking about the research into Caral when I was studying Peruvian archaeology in college. Presenting this as an astonishing new revelation is disingenuous at best. William Henry suggests that archaeologists are “nervous” about Caral because it “upended” the history of Peru. Not true. I still have my textbook from college, from either 2001 or 2002, and a literal textbook discusses the development of pyramids, temples, etc. in 2600 BCE. Caral was certainly larger than previously known sites, but it was differently only in scale, not in form.
The second segment introduces Brien Foerster, who is on a video call to discuss Caral. The talking heads speculate about the use of Caral’s platforms and pyramids, particularly the 92 ft (28 m) main temple, and the narrator alleges that Caral’s platform pyramids are “profoundly connected” to the step pyramids of Egypt and the ziggurats of Mesopotamia. But pyramids are the only way to build stable tall structures before steel-frame construction. However, William Henry alleges that all of these pyramids are monuments built by survivors of Noah’s Flood—a claim, incidentally, developed for the Egyptian pyramids in the Middle Ages. However, the show can’t quite explain why these monuments to the Flood arose 4500 years ago to commemorate an alleged world-destroying flood 6,000 years earlier. Robert Schoch only shrugs and suggests the destruction of the imaginary Atlantis was so complete that it took 6,000 years for the survivors to teach enough people how to pile mud and rocks in heaps.
The next segment discusses the iconography of the Staff God of Peru, found from Caral down to the Inca. However, the show asserts that all depictions of the Staff God are necessarily the Viracocha of the Inca and that Inca myth can be projected back in time. While there is almost certainly a connection, it isn’t known how the deity represented by the image of a god holding two staffs changed over time. Think, for example, how different Zeus was from his origins as the Proto-Indo-European god of the clear sky down to the Archaic storm god to the Hellenistic sexaholic. Anyways, our team of idiots say that the Staff God looks like he’s wearing a space suit. Since he is accompanied by winged attendants on the Gate of the Sun in Tiwanaku, they declare that any and every winged image in world mythology must necessarily be the same set of aliens. They again wrong identify Mesopotamian bird-men as the “Anunnaki,” which were a completely different group of gods. The segment ends with Tsoukalos obliquely acknowledging the COVID restrictions that have limited Ancient Aliens to discussing b-roll when he signs off with Henry and hopes to see him again in person one day.
The talking heads allege that archaeologists refuse to acknowledge that ancient cultures had contact with one another and says that trade networks in South America disprove the notion. Apparently, they can’t understand the difference between diffusion—cultures connected to one another directly or indirectly along uninterrupted geographical trade routes—and hyperdiffusionist ideas that all cultures are derived from one lost source and/or were in contact across barriers such as oceans that they were otherwise beyond their technological limits. The talking heads point out that lots of cultures in South America and beyond used geoglyphs, but they never get around to making a point about what that is supposed to prove. They all made pots and wore clothes, too!
Tsoukalos alleges that the structures at Caral are laid out in the shape of the Pleiades. Even the map they show doesn’t align very well. They pick and choose buildings to line up, based on a web article of dubious value, but they leave out significant structures that don’t match their preconceived notion. This is strange since there is actual academic research about the connection between Caral and astronomical alignments to the moon and the solstices. So wed are they to the Pleiades/alien connection that they try to force a number of ancient sites into Pleiades shapes that don’t agree well with them and think that simply asserting a perfect correlation repeatedly will convince us to see something different than the plain evidence of the stellar overlays onto ancient sites that they themselves put on screen.
The final segment suggests that history will be rewritten again when some still older ancient city is uncovered, and Tsoukalos claims that archaeologists assert that “we kind of know everything” but do not. Therefore, he predicts that soon archaeologists “will agree with us”—though he isn’t quite clear about what assertion he is making. He and his buddies throw out wildly different claims—a lost Atlantis-like civilization in 10,500 BCE, aliens building things in 2600 BCE, aliens teaching rock-moving techniques in 1200 CE. It’s all over the place, wildly inconsistent, but nevertheless Tsoukalos claims that “even the most dismissive archaeologist” will soon be forced to admit that the cast of Ancient Aliens “are right”—if only they could decide on what exactly it is they are claiming to be right about.
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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