When In Search of Aliens launched, it was supposed to be a six episode series according to publicity materials. Yet somehow it’s still going to keep going after this outing, S01E06 “The Mystery of the Cyclops,” which opens with Giorgio Tsoukalos on a boat heading to Malta, where an ancient megalithic society once built seven large stone structures. Tsoukalos wonders if giants or Cyclopes built the megaliths, “and if so, could there be a connection to ancient astronauts?” Tsoukalos claims that archaeologists “struggle” to explain the existence and construction of the buildings.
To help explore the issue, Tsoukalos turns to the Odyssey, where Odysseus encounters the Cyclops Polyphemus (9.187-542), the son of Poseidon (Homer, Odyssey 1.70, Apollodorus, Library E7.4). Tsoukalos asserts that the traditional identification of the Cyclopes’ island home as Sicily (Pliny, Natural History 3.89; Ovid, Metamorphoses 14.160ff; Statius, Thebaid 6.716ff; Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 4.104ff; etc.) is wrong and that Polyphemus actually lived on Malta, based on the well-known authority of “some.”
Here’s an interesting fact: The first (and only) association between Polyphemus and Malta comes from ancient astronaut theorist Erich von Däniken’s Signs of the Gods (1979), where he wrote:
It is often surmised in scholarly literature that the island of the Cyclops was present-day Sicily. It may be so, but not necessarily. Malta and its four small satellite islands are only 95 kilometres from Sicily. Anyone who studies the megalithic buildings carefully will share my impression that giants did the work. Were they the ‘inventors’ of Cyclopean masonry?
How odd that Tsoukalos fails to credit his mentor for this!
Tsoukalos then turns to the so-called wagon ruts on Malta, a series of fairly standard sized grooves crisscrossing limestone fields. Erich von Däniken is the most famous proponent of the idea that these were grooves for some machine, having written about them in Signs of the Gods, where they are afforded slightly more space than his claim in that same book that aliens created white people to correct the “failure” of the black race, whom he described as “musical” and apelike. Apparently choosing not to direct readers to this failure of a book, Tsoukalos merely attributes von Däniken’s claims to “some ancient astronaut theorists,” perhaps having learned his lesson after unwittingly endorsing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories a few episodes back.
In fact, since it quickly becomes a pattern throughout the show to remove von Däniken from an episode so clearly modeled on his work, it’s almost as if the mysterious three-week delay in airing this episode (originally scheduled to have been episode 4) was due to some scrambling to edit Signs of the Gods out of the show and replace it with the odd formulation “some ancient astronaut theorists.” Perhaps they discovered von Däniken’s book about Malta was wildly racist? I’m just asking questions, as von Däniken would say, if he weren’t omitted here.
Tsoukalos says mainstream scholars believe that the ruts were made by heavy wagons reusing the same paths over centuries, though this isn’t universally held. He doesn’t say it, but arguments have also been made that the ruts were made by sledges, or that they were meant for irrigation. (Atlantis theorists like that one because Plato said Atlantis was irrigated in Critias 118c-e). Tsoukalos says that the idea of carts making the ruts in the soft, wet limestone is “nonsense” because it implies that the carts had axles of carts using the same tracks had the same width and that people followed the same path over and over. Remember: He’s the same guy who argues that the ancients had precision measuring to build their structures yet somehow are now incapable of building wagons of relatively standardized size—or, better yet, reused and rebuilt the same wagon for traveling along the same track. He also expresses amazement that some tracks continue into the ocean, as though the coast line of Malta has not changed in 3,000 years.
In 2008, Derek Mottershead, Alastair Pearson, and Martin Shaeffer, writing in the journal Antiquity, performed an analysis on the Malta limestone. They found that the rocks eroded easily, especially when wet, at which point the limestone loses about 80% of its integrity:
Even under dry conditions, the mass of the unladen vehicle alone is sufficient to cause erosion of the Clapham rock surface. Failure of the rocks at Bin˙gemma and Naxxar requires the vehicle to be loaded with 0.636 and 0.956 tonnes respectively. Under saturated conditions, the vehicle alone is sufficient to cause failure of both theClapham and Bin˙gemma rocks, whilst in the case of the more resistant Naxxar rock, a relatively modest load of 0.665 tonnes will cause rock failure. These calculations therefore demonstrate that these relatively weak rocks are readily eroded under vehicles of quite modest dimensions and loads.
So, case closed right? Not for Tsoukalos, who meets with Gordon Weston, the author of a 2010 book called The Maltese Cart Ruts. Weston relates the results of a series of experiments conducted by the BBC in 1955 to explore possible origins of the ruts and dismisses all of them as unconvincing, apparently unaware of more recent research from the 1990s and 2008. “Science is useless for this problem,” Weston says. He argues that no methodology can be used to investigate the ruts, which will be news to Mottershead et al.
Tsoukalos says that the presence of the cart ruts suggests to him that Malta was home to a sophisticated civilization that included space aliens.
After the break, Tsoukalos meets with Anthony Bonanno, an archaeologist, who tells Tsoukalos that there is a legend that the Maltese temples, which are aligned to astronomical events, were built by a giantess, which is par for the course with ancient sites. Pausanias famously attributed the Mycenaean ruins of Tiryns to the Cyclopes (Description of Greece 2.16.5), as the medieval British attributed Stonehenge to Giants (Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britanniae 8.10-11). Yet the Maltese temples would be a tight fit for giants. The doors and ceilings are not that tall, as illustrated when Tsoukalos stands before one and his bouffant hairdo nearly touches the top of the doorframe.
Recycled graphics and footage from several episodes of Ancient Aliens are used to illustrate various ancient sites that have (or are claimed to have) astronomical alignments, and Tsoukalos asserts that such alignments can “connect the mind to other realms.” He expresses wonder that “ancient” (i.e. medieval) legends attribute the megaliths of Carnac in France to giants. According to Lewis Spence—himself a fringe writer on Atlantis in the early twentieth century—the Breton peasants of his day attributed the works to not just giants but also fairies and demons. So much for the wisdom of legend. Worse, we know from Irish legends that the perfectly natural Giant’s Causeway formation was often attributed to the work of a giant, proving again that legends are no reliable guide to ancient history.
After the break, Tsoukalos checks out some of Malta’s largest megaliths, one weighing 20 tons, which leads to the frequently repeated assertion that “supposedly primitive Stone Age” people could not move large rocks without either space alien help or advanced technology. Tsoukalos rejects Bonanno’s explanation that the stones were moved using spherical rolling balls, and he can’t fathom why ancient people bothered moving massive rocks if not for orders from space aliens masquerading as gods. Tsoukalos cites von Däniken’s claims for the prehistoric space alien origin of the temples, but again omits reference to his racist book Signs of the Gods and instead attributes the claims to “some ancient astronaut theorists.”
Tsoukalos rejects the traditional date of the Venus of Malta sculpture to 3000 BCE because he thinks it looks like the Paleolithic Venus of Willendorf, even though the Maltese sculpture is clearly more naturalistic in its depiction of the female body. (It has proportional sized arms, for one thing.) Tsoukalos calls the two “nearly identical,” even though they are clearly not. But even if they were, by what right might we claim that it is surprising to find the female nude as “subject matter” for art? Similar figurines were made in tribal cultures down to the twentieth century. This does not make them Paleolithic, nor can we agree with Tsoukalos that the Maltese temples are Paleolithic based on his lack of familiarity with depictions of the female nude.
After another break, Tsoukalos confuses early twentieth century attempts to classify races by skull shape with secret acknowledgement of alien skull elongation based on this National Geographic article by William Arthur Griffiths from June 1920, which he cites explicitly. Here is the text in question from the article:
From an examination of the skeletons of the polished-stone age, it appears that the early inhabitants of Malta were a race of long-skulled people of lower medium height, akin to the early people of Egypt, who spread westward along the north coast of Africa, whence some went to Malta and Sicily and others to Sardinia and Spain.
Tsoukalos quotes only the words “long-skulled people” to give the false impression that the author was referring to elongated skulls rather than a standardized category of human head shape. In fact, the author specifies that he sees no difference between ancient Maltese and ancient Iberians and Gauls. After visiting the burial site of 7,000 ancient Maltese, who bodies were lost in World War II, Tsoukalos implies a conspiracy to destroy the 7,000 Maltese skeletons to hide what he claims are elongated skulls based on an “old grainy photo” that to me shows only normal human skulls.
Here is the photo. There are no elongated skulls in it that I can see, though in the 1920s archaeologists did write that some of the skulls seemed to show intentional cranial deformation through head binding.
Tsoukalos visits the Maltese National Museum of Archaeology to view the few remaining skulls, and he states that when the skulls were displayed in 1907 viewers thought they were the skulls of Cyclopes (despite having two eyes) or space aliens (say what?). I can’t find any record of that, and instead see that Tsoukalos is repeating material and claims made in Atlantis Rising magazine in 2004 by Adriano Fiorgione, the editor of HERA magazine, an Italian mystery-mongering publication. This article was cited by David Hatcher Childress and Frank Joseph.
One interesting anomaly is that one Maltese skull lack a sagittal suture, where the bones of the skull fuse along the top of the skull in adulthood. However, while this is presented as a possible alien genetic experiment, Tsoukalos fails to note that ancient Maltese skeletons display a wide array of congenital skeletal defects, including spina bifida, taurodontism, polydactylism, etc., likely caused by small, inbreeding populations. Records of similar deformations occurred in Matlese archaeology and historical records through the Middle Ages and down to the present. In fact, in the 1980s, Malta had a high rate of chromosomal abnormalities, affecting 22 per 10,000 live births, much higher than the European rate, which was closer to 9-12 per 10,000. None of this supports Tsoukalos’s contention that the skull without a sagittal suture is an “actual extraterrestrial.”
Tsoukalos then meets with an ancient astronaut theorist named Hubert Zeitlmair, whom he describes as a professor (and calls by that title throughout), but who is better known as a German real estate investor. His doctorate, through which he claims the title of Doctor, is a “doctor honoris causa” (Dr. HC), an honorary degree, not one awarded for academic work, which is a Dr. Iur. (Doctor of Law). According to his website, he is a “Professor of Atlantis Research,” but he makes this claim only in the German version, omitting it from the English version. I do not how he claims the title.
According to his website, Zeitlmair claims to be in contact with spirit beings from Atlantis who direct his work.
On this very land of Malta I finally met my primeval ancestors, namely… the God Pa.tha-i-da.na Asu.ara tSi.dha, and the Goddess Ashtar-tara Queen of Atlantis. With their kind support I was able to discover knowledge of a »calibre« far beyond that which I ever have expected… This knowledge guided me to an awareness that superficial thinking people will never reach.
Zeitlmair combines New Age speculation with Zecharia Sitchin’s Nibiru-Anunnaki myth and claims to have discovered a lost temple underwater off Malta, a find disputed by archaeologists. He also believes Maltese temples are, of course, aural energy power plants. Hilariously, even the often-credulous Atlantipedia describes his work as “New Age drivel” and “a load of tosh,” which is how H2 producers know they’ve hit pay dirt.
Zeitlmair claims that the Maltese skulls are up to 200,000 years old, from when the aliens first came to earth. Nevertheless, Tsoukalos finally remembers that he was supposed to be talking about giants and Cyclopes this hour, so he immediately notes that the skulls are too small for that, but could instead be the actual skulls of “ancient astronauts,” who apparently were poorly fed, suffered terrible congenital defects, and died in their thousands. He drops the issue without another thought to let Zeitmair claim that the Maltese temples were built with stone spheres in their joints to they could jiggle during earthquakes. This has nothing to do with giants, Cyclopes, or aliens.
Zeitlmair says that Maltese civilization came to an end due to Noah’s Flood 12,000 years ago, and Tsoukalos endorses the reality of the Flood.
OK, so is it finally time for the Cyclopes? We only have four minutes left after the break, and we haven’t looked for a single Cyclops yet. We burn up one of the last four minutes repeating the Flood claim not once but three times, as voice over, as Tsoukalos’s question to Zeitlmair, and as Zeitlmair’s response. Tsoukalos charmingly thinks that megalithic blocks serving as a base for smaller stones represents cultural decline after the end of the Giants, apparently failing to realize that structural stability requires the greatest weight and size blocks to be at the bottom, lest they fall over.
So where are the damned Cyclopes?!? For crying out loud, Giovanni Boccaccio did a better job looking for Cyclopes when he reported the discovery of a giant skeleton on Sicily in the 1300s and immediately related it to Polyphemus.
But instead of Cyclopes we get… wait for it… the WATCHERS FROM THE BOOK OF ENOCH. AGAIN! Tsoukalos asserts that the Nephilim are the giant hybrid children of E.T.s, but we’re missing a key point: The alleged skeletons of the “aliens” are too small by his own admission! So where are the giants? Where are any skulls with one eye? According to Tsoukalos, “it is possible that the Nephilim and the Cyclops could be one and the same,” alien-human hybrids from before the Flood of the Noah. So where did the one eye thing come from? If you care, in 1914 Othenio Abel proposed the most widely accepted explanation for the Cyclopes, which I translated and posted a couple of years ago: fossil elephant skulls on the island of Sicily. The trunk hole looks like an eye socket in a giant human skull. But then again, Tsoukalos is trying to support Malta over Sicily because of his acceptance of the speculations of his mentor who must not be named in this hour.
“Not too many people talk about what you talk about,” Tsoukalos tells Zeitlmair. If by that he means his Atlantis spirit guide who gave him superior wisdom mere mortals can’t fathom, sadly he’s mistaken. These loons are a dime a dozen.
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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