After last week’s anti-Semitic debacle, In Search of Aliens turns to a less controversial subject, the Loch Ness Monster. Yes, episode S01E03 “The Mystery of Loch Ness” plumbs the depths of that utterly uninteresting cryptozoological search for a dinosaur-like creature in a small Scottish lake. What does this have to do with aliens? Good question. I think they ride on its back like Aquaman, or perhaps they signed a peace treaty with the monster to ensure its survival during the K-T boundary event that wiped out the dinosaurs. Show host Giorgio Tsoukalos once asserted that the Grey aliens signed just such a treaty with the coelacanth, so why not also with what Tsoukalos calls “the beast, the monster of Loch Ness”?
I find it interesting that the producers feel comfortable having Tsoukalos refer right at the top of the show to the Loch Ness monster and other sea serpents as “cryptids,” without explaining that this is a term used by cryptozoologists to describe undiscovered animals. This implies either carelessness or a belief that the audience for a show putatively about aliens is already familiar with cryptozoology. Even without Tsoukalos’s voice-over suggestion that sea serpents were brought to earth by space aliens, this is a bit of an odd assumption to make.
Tsoukalos gives us a potted history of the Loch Ness monster and its attendant cash-generating industry, presenting the “Surgeon’s Photo” of the Loch Ness monster. Its creator admitted the fraud in 1994, but Tsoukalos doesn’t disclose this until nearly ten minutes into the show. It’s also interesting that for an “ancient astronaut theorist,” Tsoukalos doesn’t immediately mention the ancient history of the monster, dating back to St. Columba’s battle with it in the early Middle Ages (Adamnan, Life of St. Columba 2.28). It will be discussed later, however. At any rate, we meet Steve Feltham, who claims to have devoted his life to hunting for the Loch Ness monster (henceforth “Nessie”) from his RV bedecked with Nessie kitsch. He makes and sells Nessie figurines to fund his research activities. “I’m living my life’s ambition,” Feltham says.
But in meeting Feltham, Tsoukalos makes a startling admission that reveals the heavy hand of the Prometheus Entertainment producers in shaping this slipshod show: “My expertise is ancient astronauts, so I’m not quite sure how Nessie fits into that realm, but it is a part of the unknown.” In the introduction, Tsoukalos claimed to be certain he knew the real alien connection to Nessie, but it is evident from his unrehearsed admission that he is simply shoehorning aliens into a monster hunt for the purposes of television. Is this simply a cynical exercise in mystery-mongering filtered through the network’s belief in the star power of Giorgio Tsoukalos?
Tsoukalos is quite taken by the fact that there is quartz at Loch Ness because “quartz is sometimes associated with the ancient astronaut theory.” Oh really? And who put it in the theory? Right: Your friends at Ancient Aliens. He acts like he and his “colleagues” aren’t directly responsible for these ideas, and that they have some sort of Platonic existence beyond his own involvement in promoting them. Tsoukalos reviews old Ancient Aliens claims that Egyptian obelisks used the quartz crystals embedded in their granite to shoot piezoelectricity to orbiting UFOs. Tsoukalos claims that he is at Loch Ness to investigate whether quartz at Loch Ness means Nessie has an alien connection, but since Tsoukalos doesn’t actually investigate this on site, or even mention it again while in Scotland, this almost seems to be a post hoc rationalization layered on top of the monster hunt in post-production to marry the footage to material gathered later in America.
Instead, we “investigate” a sonar image of the monster, and Feltham talks about spaceships and the hollow earth theory. Even Tsoukalos admits that he does not believe in a hollow earth, but he’s open to the idea that aliens are hiding from us “deep underwater.” He claims that the Native American Thunderbird is a spaceship that rises up from the lake. Tsoukalos wonders if the Loch Ness monster is actually… wait for it… “an alien craft.” Remember that for later because Tsoukalos won’t.
After the break, Tsoukalos goes on a stakeout to hunt for the monster, which we are no longer pretending is a spaceship. The sonar image from earlier is analyzed and compared to a plesiosaur. Tsoukalos travels to the Loch Ness Center to meet Adrian Shine, who has devoted forty years of his life to studying Nessie sightings, according to Tsoukalos.
Shine describes the many failures to find Nessie with science, including his own. Shine says that he has invented “new ways” to investigate Nessie that involve “treating anecdotes as data.” In other words, when science fails, treat folklore as real. Shine shows Tsoukalos a box of 300 Nessie sighting reports from the 1960s, and Tsoukalos introduces St. Columba’s battle with the monster around 565 CE. He neglects to note that St. Columba battled the monster in the River Ness, rather than the Loch. No description of the monster occurs in the text, much less the dragon-like sea serpent shown on screen. The illustration used for Columba is the same one that appears on his Wikipedia page, from a 1906 book. According to Shine, the monster Columba battled was actually a shape-shifting water-horse, from Celtic mythology.
Tsoukalos asserts that the water-horse and Nessie are the same, which undercuts his earlier thesis that the monster is a spaceship. In Life of St. Columba 2.28, St. Adamnan writes that the monster bit people, which is not really the behavior of a spaceship.
Tsoukalos, though, gives up on Loch Ness and after the commercial break travels to Vermont to visit Lake Champlain and its alleged lake monster, Champ. Tsoukalos admits that “there is no scientific evidence of Champ’s existence,” but that doesn’t stop him from speculating about whether Champ and Nessie commute between their lakes via a tunnel or a wormhole. What would the monsters eat in the weeks it would take to swim through a 3,000-mile narrow tunnel? I guess alien monsters pack a sandwich for the trip.
Here we get into some problems. After meeting with local historian Linda Bowen (the show’s first female guest!), Tsoukalos claims that Samuel de Champlain claimed to have seen a “strange creature” in the lake in 1609. This is not true. The famous quotation claiming he saw a “20-foot serpent thick as a barrel, and a head like a horse” came from a 1970 Vermont Life magazine article. It’s a fake. His real sighting is of a gar, a type of a fish:
[T]here is also a great abundance of many species of fish. Amongst others there is one called by the natives Chaousarou, which is of various lengths; but the largest of them, as these tribes have told me, are from eight to ten feet long. I have seen some five feet long, which were as big as my thigh, and had a head as large as my two fists, with a snout two feet and a half long, and a double row of very sharp, dangerous teeth. Its body has a good deal the shape of the pike; but it is protected by scales of a silvery gray colour and so strong that a dagger could not pierce them. (source)
Tsoukalos said that Native Americans had an account of a lake monster, which is true, but it is Gitaskog (or Tatoskok), the underwater panther or underwater horned serpent, a common mythic motif in Algonquian lore found all across the eastern half of North America.
Tsoukalos is dumbfounded by the famous 1977 photograph of Champ taken by Sandra Mansi. He claims not to have seen the photograph before (does he not watch H2?), and he asserts that it has never been debunked. While he is technically correct that the photograph has never determined to be a fake, skeptics such as Joe Nickell have identified the “monster” seen in the photograph as a log or fallen tree branch. Nickell also determined that at the place in the lake Mansi estimated the creature to be was actually only 12 feet deep, making it seem difficult for a large dinosaur-like creature to swim in such shallow water.
We return to a discussion of Gitaskog by speaking with an Abenaki chief, Don Stevens, the show’s non-white guest! Wow--In Search of Aliens made amazing progress this week on the diversity front. The Abenaki are not recognized by the federal government, and the state of Vermont recognized Stevens’s band only in 2011, at Stevens’s urging. Stevens is quite obviously influenced by modern science fiction, and in his telling—unsupported by ethnographic accounts from before the space age—the Abenaki are descended from alien-like gods who sailed across the Milky Way until they spied a blue planet and descended to search for water. Here’s how the story was told in 1949, and it does not match Stevens’s version. No Milky Way, no blue planet. Tsoukalos asserts that the cosmic turtle that formed the earth in Native myths is the same as the flying turtles Tsoukalos says are a part of Mayan lore and also the same as a UFO. This is interesting because back on Ancient Aliens, in a segment recently repackaged for the “Alien Transports” special edition, Tsoukalos claims that the same turtle sculpture that he now identifies as a UFO was actually a personal-sizes hovercraft-jetpack. Get your story straight!
At any rate, none of this has anything to do with sea monsters.
After the break, Tsoukalos goes on a hunt for Champ because we need to waste a few more minutes in fruitless adventure. Tsoukalos asks a geologist if he believes that a monster lives in the lake, which is about as relevant as asking a biologist if he thinks rocks give off mystery vibrations. The geologist tells Tsoukalos that there is a lot of quartz in the lake, like at Loch Ness. “Could it really be a coincidence?” Tsoukalos asks.
In California, physicist John Brandenburg talks about quartz with Tsoukalos. He discusses piezoelectricity and claims that stressing quartz can generate electromagnetic fields that can affect the structure of space-time at the quantum level. Something seemed off, so I checked on the man in the white lab coat. I knew I recognized him from somewhere. He is in fact a physicist but he’s also an ancient alien theorist who appeared on Syfy’s Aliens on the Moon “documentary” last month. He asserted there that the moon is home to hostile alien bases and demanded military intervention on the moon to contain the alien menace. He believes Mars was once populated by a humanlike race and destroyed by nuclear weapons. He also claims to have made an astounding discovery that goes beyond Einstein to unite gravity and quantum mechanics. Some of this is surely relevant to understanding his claims here. To look more credible, Brandenburg is wearing a white lab coat and standing in a classroom.
After the final break Tsoukalos briefly admits that Brandenburg has made weird claims about Mars, and Brandenburg claims that Nessie and Champ pop in and out of their lakes through wormholes created by stressing the quartz around those lakes, allowing creatures from hundreds of millions of years ago to wander into our reality via time travel. If you keep up with British or Canadian television, you will recognize this as the plot of the TV series Primeval and Primeval: New World—which even used “crystals” to visualize the wormholes! To paraphrase Tsoukalos, “could it really be a coincidence” that claims of crystal-generated wormholes spitting out prehistoric monsters emerge right after science fiction imagines them? It’s sort of like the way star gates became all the rage in fringe literature right after the movie Stargate.
So what is the evidence that the buried quartz around the lakes is generating these wormhole-creating fields? Surely such massive amounts of power should (a) be measureable and (b) have an effect on electromagnetic devices in the lake and in the surrounding areas. Yet no one’s pacemaker gives out whenever Nessie pops by, and no scientific survey has ever recorded one of these wormhole-generating bursts of piezoelectricity. I guess that’s because it’s all “quantum” and therefore magical.
Tsoukalos calls this the “perfect solution” because “everyone is right.”
…except for Tsoukalos, who long ago (i.e. 45 minutes earlier in this episode) claimed that Nessie was a spaceship. Did we forget that? We did, because no one really expects viewers to remember the beginning of the episode all the way at the end, not when we have time portals!
Oh, and speaking of things we’re supposed to forget: Tsoukalos was searching for aliens. How would naturally-occurring wormholes to Earth’s past (assuming they exist) have anything to do with aliens?
I guess we’re supposed to just shut up and keep watching.
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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