Giorgio Tsoukalos, I think it’s fair to say, is not a scholar or a researcher or even an investigator; instead, he is a showman. The Ancient Aliens star and consulting producer went to college (my alma mater, in fact) for sports information communication and spent his formative years as a promoter in the world of professional bodybuilding. His love for the threadbare mysteries of Erich von Däniken led to a position as the ancient astronaut theorist’s English language spokesperson and gatekeeper, in which capacity I interviewed him as a college student in 2002. In the interest of disclosure, I refer you to my 2011 essay on “My Alien Afternoon with Giorgio Tsoukalos” for an explanation of why Tsoukalos accused me of having “malevolent intentions” and as late as 2012 still refused to be in the same building with me.
Tsoukalos has never produced a book, nor has he published any original research on ancient astronauts so far as I can find. His reputation as a leading ancient astronaut theorist rests on his position as the editor of Erich von Däniken’s fan club newsletter, Legendary Times, and his appearances on Ancient Aliens, where he took a leading role by dint of his von Däniken connection, his unusual accent, and his increasingly exaggerated sense of style, which runs from his bouffant hairdo to his penchant for gossamer scarves and layers of jewelry. According to Tsoukalos’s own biographies, his greatest intellectual achievement is his “dynamic” PowerPoint presentation on the ancient astronaut theory.
By H2 standards, that more than qualifies Tsoukalos to head up (and serve as producer on) a new series in which he expands his minutes of commentary on Ancient Aliens into full, hour-long episodes of In Search of Aliens, a title that immediately recalls In Search of Ancient Astronauts (and its spinoff, In Search Of…), which directly adapted, like Tsoukalos himself, Erich von Däniken. It’s all very appropriate, but also rather disheartening. The show, and its host, are already in reruns before the first episode ever aired. The first episode is about that hoariest of saws, Atlantis, a topic that was last fresh and exciting when Ignatius Donnelly wrote about in 1882, and even then he was merely popularizing arguments that were already 300 years old.
But here’s the bigger issue: Tsoukalos, as showman, is more interested in the entertainment value of his claims than their intellectual coherence. As the head of the Ancient Alien Society (formerly the AAS-RA), Tsoukalos approved a series of mission statement articles in the first years of this century summing up what the AAS-RA believes. He published Ulrich Dopatka’s article “Paleo-SETI: Interdisciplinary and Popularized” asserting that “there could not have been any Atlantis (i.e. a very advanced civilization comparable to ours) either, or else we would find traces of its infrastructure worldwide…” This article was widely distributed by Tsoukalos’s AAS-RA as an introductory guide to ancient astronauts and republished on their website as an official AAS-RA position statement, identified only by corporate authorship. But despite this, Tsoukalos went on Ancient Aliens in 2010 to declare the Atlantis “lifted off” as a UFO!
In Ancient Greece we have a number of myths which describe islands—bronze, gleaming islands—that fell from the sky and landed in water. I don’t think that Atlantis therefore was an actual, stationary, physical island. Atlantis, according to Plato, disappeared in one night with a lot of fire and a lot of smoke. See, I don’t think that Atlantis sank. I think that Atlantis lifted off.
I explained why his 2010 claims of flying bronze islands were wrong years ago. Be sure to read it since these claims will come around again at episode’s end.
In the first episode of In Search of Aliens, Tsoukalos is once again happy to go in yet another direction when it comes to Atlantis, at least until consistency requires him to give lip service to his earlier views at the episode’s end. For this new series, Tsoukalos is not dressed in his usual brown suit or his flamboyant scarves. Instead, he is dressed as Indiana Jones, in keeping with publicity materials calling him (like channel-mate Scott F. Wolter) a “real-life Indiana Jones.” It’s all theater, of course, but it’s interesting to contrast the stylistic choices of Ancient Aliens with those of In Search of Aliens. I note that Tsoukalos is not as good at reading copy as he is at extemporaneous bloviating, and his delivery is, in places, stilted, especially since he was apparently instructed to stifle his accent as much as practicable. He doesn’t sound like himself. I wonder if he has been working with a vocal coach to sound more American.
The opening to the show is very similar to America Unearthed, which is clearly this program’s model. There are the same glamor shots of our heroic “investigator” parading about in Indiana Jones getup, but more to the point Tsoukalos echoes Wolter in saying “What we’ve been taught by mainstream scholars is not the whole picture.” This is H2’s theme: Academia is hiding things from you. Aesthetically, though, the show wants to connect itself to Ancient Aliens, and the title card reproduces the familiar (and trademarked) Ancient Aliens logo, using the same two typefaces separated by a double line to spell out the new show’s name.
Right from the first minute of the show, we’re off to a bad start. Tsoukalos heavily implies that Plato wrote of advanced technology in Atlantis, but this is untrue. Even Ignatius Donnelly didn’t do that. The first accounts of advanced technology in Atlantis came in the 1890s, in the volume Dweller on Two Planets by Frederick S. Oliver (written 1894 and published 1905), itself heavily influenced by Theosophy. This text—allegedly channeled from ancient times through a modern pen—was cited explicitly by Edgar Cayce (reading 364-1), who popularized the idea that Atlantis has super-weapons—in the 1930s! There is no ancient text suggesting anything similar.
Tsoukalos claims he has always been fascinated with Atlantis since youth and dreamed he would find the city. He meets with a man identified as a classical archaeologist, who tells Tsoukalos that Poseidon was involved in genetic engineering of the people of Atlantis. Tsoukalos loves this comment and claims it as “mainstream” support for his views. We hear about Plato’s geography of Atlantis, which is familiar to most readers of this blog, I presume. Tsoukalos asks why Plato offered “incredibly detailed” descriptions of Atlantis if it were a mere myth. I’d like to see him apply that same logic to Euhemerus’ Panchaea, or to Lucian’s moon kingdom. Both are fictions and yet just as detailed.
Tsoukalos visits Silves, Portugal to meet with a British amateur investigator named Peter Daughtrey who thinks that the city in Portugal was Atlantis. His book, Atlantis and the Silver City, was one of the amateur books that was so crappy that even I didn’t bother to write about it since it had nothing useful in it to comment on when I read it last year. Daughtrey’s ideas are simply efforts to correlate various facets of Plato with his preferred location for Atlantis, ignoring what he doesn’t like. Today, he shows Tsoukalos a roughly egg-shaped six-foot stone on which a geometric pattern is carved in relief. It’s similar to an omphalos stone, but since it is not 11,000 years old, it can’t be from Atlantis, nor does Plato make any mention of egg-shaped rocks. It seems to be Greco-Roman, probably Orphic.
Daughtrey claims it was buried in Noah’s Flood, but Tsoukalos adds that the entwined serpent motif on the rock represents the DNA double helix. He cites Zecharia Sitchin and the Anunnaki to claim that the aliens wiped out rebellious humans with a flood, just as Atlantis was drowned. “That leads me to wonder: Could these stories be related?” Tsoukalos presents this as a unique revelation, but it is not: Ignatius Donnelly didn’t subtitle his Atlantis book “The Antediluvian World” for nothing; like biblical literalists before him, he thought the Atlantis flood was also the flood of Noah. The actual relationship is perhaps more interesting: The last lines of Plato’s unfinished Critias have Zeus become angry at the presumption and sin of the Atlanteans, just like God before the Flood in Genesis 6 (and particularly in extra-biblical Jewish myth), suggesting that Plato may have had a version of the Near East flood myth in mind when devising his allegory.
I’m frankly surprised at how much time the show is devoting to Daughtrey and his ideas—twenty minutes so far. Daughtrey tells Tsoukalos that Atlantis was the “biggest producer of precious metals in the then-known world,” which is a rather generous interpretation of Plato’s text, considering that in the Critias Plato wrote of the structures beyond the capital that “there was no adorning of them with gold and silver, for they made no use of these for any purpose.” Within the capital, gold was used for palaces and temples, but until the final corruption for the Atlanteans gold “seemed only a burden to them.” There is no discussion of mining except to say that they dug from the earth whatever they needed.
Daughtrey presents a Roman mural of Poseidon as evidence that Silves was connected to Poseidon and therefore, according to Tsoukalos, space aliens. The Romans lived more than 9,000 years after the Atlanteans supposedly lived, so I do not see the connection. But Daughtrey quickly breaks down into ancient astronaut lunacy, talking of genetic engineering and how the “gods” made humans as a slave race to serve them—all the Sitchinite material. It’s probably not worth noting that Poseidon himself can’t be traced back before the Mycenaeans, much less to 9,600 BCE—Plato’s timeframe.
At the halfway point, Tsoukalos introduces us to his mentor, Erich von Däniken, and they meet at Mystery Park, von Däniken’s failed ancient astronaut theme park in Switzerland. The park closed to general admission in 2006 due to a lack of paying customers (it was open just three years), and today it operates only during the summer under the name Jungfrau Park. Its new owners made it a kiddie amusement park rather than focus entirely on ancient astronauts. It attracts about 500 daily visitors. Tsoukalos describes it as an “educational” facility dedicated to the ancient astronaut theory. It’s an amusement park. Seriously. Von Däniken gives presentations there on Thursdays during the summer, according to the park website, so I guess that’s what makes it “educational.”
As the two men talk, we get yet another recap of the Timaeus and Critias, and von Däniken asserts that Noah’s Flood is responsible for removing all traces of Atlantis and the antediluvian world. He asserts that Mesopotamian cuneiform accounts of the Flood confirm the destruction of Atlantis. Both men believe that the mythical primeval Mesopotamian kings were aliens. Von Däniken, who once argued that aliens had sex with human women, now rants about how the aliens changed one piece of DNA inside of “one cell” and implanted it in “the female” to create humankind. Aliens, of course, are male like him. Women are “females” because they are apparently little more than gestational carriers for future men, who are real people. On a show that features no living women and refers only to ancient women who were in sexually submissive roles or the victims of sexual assault, it is slightly uncomfortable to watch.
Von Däniken, having finished complaining about the “females,” sends Tsoukalos to Santorini to review the most familiar and boring idea about Atlantis—that it was inspired by the destruction of Thera (now Santorini) around 1620 BCE. The trouble with this idea, of course, is that you have to throw out a literal reading of virtually all of Plato’s description of Atlantis (its size, age, architecture, location, etc.) to make the claim fit, which negates the purpose of claiming Plato’s Atlantis was in any way “real.” Santorini is not beyond the Pillars of Hercules, nor is its Minoan civilization 11,600 years old. The island can hardly be described as bigger than Libya and Asia combined. Removing all that leaves us with what exactly of Atlantis?
Greek Atlantis theorist Jonathan Bright shows Tsoukalos a Minoan fresco from ancient Thera depicting a group of men wearing cloaks that Tsoukalos describes as “feathered,” though they could equally well be made of long fur. Tsoukalos tries to suggest that the men in fur coats are winged Anunnaki, but there is no indication of wings whatsoever in these pictures. He’s grasping at straws to try to make this adventure less than a complete waste of time.
As the show pushes in for a landing, Tsoukalos points to cyclopean architecture (i.e., piles of large rocks) as having something to do with aliens and gods, but what is frightening is that Bright decides to link the Greek gods to the Enochian Watchers on Mt. Hermon—emphasizing the Watchers’ seduction of human women to “make children with them.” Can’t we go even one hour without the Watchers?!? They are the alpha and the omega of fringe history. Anyway, both Tsoukalos and Bright are fixated on just one line of the Critias—“The maiden had already reached womanhood, when her father and mother died; Poseidon fell in love with her and had intercourse with her [and] begat and brought up five pairs of twin male children” (trans. Benjamin Jowett)—to make elaborate claims about an alien breeding program. Edwin Sidney Hartland, writing in the late 1800s, catalogued hundreds of pages worth of legends about heroes with divine or supernatural parents in the Legend of Perseus; this was nothing unique to Atlantis or to the Nephilim.
Tsoukalos wonders if Near Eastern stories of gods on mountains are related (though he assumes this is due to aliens rather than cultural diffusion) and relates the myth of Asteria, the Titan who fell into the sea and became an island. His summary is a near-verbatim recounting of James Frazer’s translation of Apollodorus (Library, 1.4.1), “Of the daughters of Coeus, Asteria in the likeness of a quail flung herself into the sea in order to escape the amorous advances of Zeus, and a city was formerly called after her Asteria, but afterwards it was named Delos.” He mentions this for no good reason, and makes no connection to much of anything. His 2010 comments on Ancient Aliens explain the connection, but they are omitted here, leaving the audience baffled. In ancient texts it is clear that (as her name implies) she was meant to symbolize meteors.
Tsoukalos concludes by stating that he was on an “amazing journey” but that everything we just watched was a huge waste of time because Atlantis was really “some sort of flying craft.” This, he says, is why it can be in various global locations and leave behind no evidence. Yes, that’s much more logical than the idea that it never existed outside Plato’s imagination. But what is the point of this episode if this out-of-nowhere “theory” comes only in the last minute of the show, and “will require more investigation” in the host’s words. Wasn’t “investigation” the point of this show? It’s what he said he was doing at the beginning of the hour, but apparently it’s just the coloring to dress up a lazy excuse for a nice Mediterranean vacation on H2’s dime.
What actual investigation did we have in this hour? We heard from an archaeologist, two fringe Atlantis writers, and Erich von Däniken, all of whom simply asserted things without evidence, and no one made even a brief attempt to follow the logic of any one claim, or even to try to present real evidence, facts, or logical arguments in favor of Atlantis. In fact, the show either has a very low opinion of its viewers or else is incompetently written. It failed to address such basic questions the audience would have after watching it as:
The parts of the show didn’t support one another, and they added up to nothing because there was no overriding thesis or purpose, topped with Tsoukalos’s own admission that he doesn’t buy into what his interviewees said. So, again, what was the point? Why waste the air time telling the audience what you don’t think is true? It’s the Prometheus Entertainment school of filmmaking: Throw ideas sort of related to a topic on the screen and hope that glib commentary and pretty pictures (the cinematography was nice) will gloss over the lack of coherence, logic, or purpose. This isn’t a search for Atlantis as much as it is “five white guys’ random thoughts on Atlantis.”
It’s a vanity project and a money grab, but it doesn’t even make as good an argument as Ancient Aliens for the topic it supposedly “investigates.” In fact, Tsoukalos’s own discussion of Atlantis on Ancient Aliens in 2010 was more detailed and more complete than his throwaway claims on his own show!
In Search of Aliens is an ersatz America Unearthed that lacks even the dubious expertise of Scott F. Wolter, who, for all his faults, produces more interesting television by having the courage of his convictions and coming to lunatic conclusions from a consistent (if skewed) reading of “evidence” he investigates. Tsoukalos could learn a thing or two about the value of at least pretending to have some original research, insights, or ideas.
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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