As far as H2 is concerned, one of the great benefits of In Search of Aliens is that the series already feels like a rerun even when the episodes are new. Combining the format of America Unearthed with the content and personalities of Ancient Aliens preserves a clear sense of familiarity even while pretending to offer “new” explorations of the unknown. This episode of In Search of Aliens, S01E07 “The Mystery of Puma Punku,” is particularly egregious in this regard. It shares an almost identical title to Ancient Aliens S04E06 “The Mysteries of Puma Punku,” and uses content that Ancient Aliens has been recycling since including it as a lengthy segment of the 2009 pilot episode, skillfully deconstructed in Chris White’s Ancient Aliens Debunked.
But this time we get unintentional endorsements of Nazi archaeology and completely intentional endorsements of creationist geology, which is... an improvement?
We open with show host Giorgio Tsoukalos, dressed in full Indiana Jones drag down to the leather jacket, arriving at the Tiwanaku site in Bolivia, of which the temple complex of Puma Punku is a part. Tsoukalos claims that archaeologists are “baffled” and “puzzled” by the site as recycled animation from Ancient Aliens plays out, with fake computer-generated UFOs hovering over the site.
Tsoukalos describes how Pedro Cieza de León discovered Tiwanaku in 1529, and he provides a potted history of the site, emphasizing how “little” we know about the civilization, a blatant untruth given how much archaeologists know about the Tiwanaku culture’s unique farming techniques, their pottery, and all the other parts of daily life Tsoukalos doesn’t care about in his rush to declare stylized stone faces those of Grey aliens. Tsoukalos claims archaeologists believe Puma Punku was built “thousands of years ago,” but this is a bit of an exaggeration since radiocarbon dating places its initial construction after 550-600 CE, which is less than 2,000 years ago and therefore cannot be described as “thousands.” It’s a small but telling error.
“It is one of the places where logic no longer makes sense,” Tsoukalos says. He claims that Puma Punku’s 3-foot tall H-blocks are made of solid blocks of “precisely shaped andesite,” which is a step up from Ancient Aliens, when he falsely claimed they were made from diorite, a much harder stone. This Bolivian andesite can easily be pressure flaked, as is evident from the damage that occurred to the stones after the destruction of the temple. If the stone was so hard that they needed alien technology to carve, they wouldn’t be in such poor shape today. Nevertheless, Tsoukalos asserts that the blocks cannot “be explained by mainstream scientists.” Tell that to Jean Pierre Protzen, who studied Andean stonemasonry in the 1980s and 1990s. Protzen had no trouble explaining the masonry in terms of traditional stone-working techniques.
We next get a rerun segment from Ancient Aliens in 2012 in which fringe theorist Chris Dunn claims to be working on a broken shard of Puma Punku stone taken from a dressed block—for which there is, of course, no indication it was legally exported from Bolivia—which Dunn does violence to with various tools. As I wrote the first time:
Giorgio Tsoukalos then argues, as he did in 2009, that diamond-tipped drills made the stones, even though he concedes in a spectacularly silly field piece at Chris Dunn’s workroom that the surface looks nothing like diamond cut surfaces, arguing instead that the original diamond-cut surfaces he assumed existed must have eroded later. Sigh.
This time the piece is carefully edited to remove the final assertion; now it is some “unknown” tool that is responsible. As you can see, Tsoukalos takes criticism into account, happily renders claims inoperative, and moves on to another random idea. His entire argument is based on the idea that he can’t conceive of ancient people working hard to make blocks fit together on their own without an authority figure from space telling them to do it and explaining exactly how. Never mind that stone dressing techniques used at Tiwanaku and Puma Punku can be traced back centuries and see in developmental phases; no, aliens taught everything, just not very well at first.
Tsoukalos is impressed that the Puma Punku blocks have a magnetic field and suggests they were exposed to alien magic beams. Andesite frequently contains significant amounts of magnetite, which is why the blocks have magnetic properties. Let’s hear it for geology!
After the break, Tsoukalos introduces us to the Gate of the Sun, a large andesite monument which he asserts contains depictions of Viracocha and “his winged children.” This is one possible interpretation, but we don’t know for certain that the Staff God of Tiwanaku is identical to the later Viracocha of the Inca. Tsoukalos again claims andesite is difficult to carve bcause it is almost impossibly hard, and yet the monument bears the scars, cracks, and flakes of countless insults that demonstrate that such carving is far from impossible.
This leads us to another segment filmed at Jungfrau Park in Switzerland, the site of Erich von Däniken’s failed ancient astronaut theme park. Von Däniken—once again described as Tsoukalos’s “mentor” after last week’s embarrassing excising of the old man from the episode—gives his version of the history of Puma Punku, which involves interpreting the Gate of the Sun as a calendar—which, to be fair, some archaeologists have suggested. But not the kind of calendar they’re talking about. Building on the “work” of H. S. Bellamy and P. Allen in The Calendar of Tiahuanaco (1956), we hear that the Gate is a calendar made by space aliens and covers 24,000 years of history. Von Däniken claims that archaeologists refuse to accept these findings because they “go against” evolution; as though it is impossible for anyone with basic math skills to project a calendar back in time. How does he think the Gregorian calendar manages to account for any year prior to its promulgation in 1582?
But we run into trouble when the show decides to ask us to support the work of Edmund Kiss, a German explorer who visited Tiwanaku in the 1920s. His findings were published by the Nazis because Kiss was a racist who argued that the ancient site was built by Aryans from Europe, as I wrote in my piece on Nazi archaeology:
The Nazis appropriated the work of Edmund Kiss, an architect who claimed to have studied archaeology at university, despite having produced no evidence of this. In 1928 Kiss traveled to Tiahuanaco in Bolivia, and under the Nazi regime he published a massive tome of pseudo-archaeology in which he argued that the cyclopean architecture of the site was too similar to that of Europe to be anything but an ancient Nordic habitation, and he argued that the site was far older than anyone had thought—perhaps millions of years older. Himmler asked him to do more work on his Atlantis, Thule, and Tiahuanaco theories.
Once again, Tsoukalos chooses to ask us to support Nazi ideas, as he did in an earlier episode. It is problematic that neither Tsoukalos nor von Däniken acknowledges Kiss’s Aryan ideology and its role in shaping his views.
Tsoukalos goes back to the old saw that “giant” blocks cannot be moved with just people and ropes, though he told us a little while ago that the “giant” blocks seen on screen during this—the H-blocks—are just three feet tall. Some other stones were much bigger, but those aren’t the blocks In Search of Aliens shows us or uses in its computer-generated illustrations. He discounts the idea that such blocks were moved on wooden rollers because at 12,000 feet there are no trees. I’m not sure I understand that while it is undisputed that the blocks traveled sixty miles, somehow the trees had to be local.
After the break, Tsoukalos asks the local Aymara people about Tiwanaku even though he told us at the beginning of the show and reminds us again that that Aymara only moved into the region after Tiwanaku had collapsed and therefore have no living memory of the site in its prime. Rene Quipe, an Aymara elder, explains to Tsoukalos that Viracocha was watching over them at Lake Titicaca, and the Aymara translator renders this as saying Viracocha was a “Watcher.” Tsoukalos quickly seizes on this as THE GODDAMNED WATCHERS FROM THE BOOK OF ENOCH AGAIN because we can’t go an hour in fringe history without the fallen angels making an appearance. Tsoukalos, of course, recaps the Book of Enoch, the Watchers, and the Nephilim. He imposes this Judeo-Christian mythology on the Inca by asserting that Viracocha was a Watcher who also created a race of giants. In some Viracocha myths, the god’s first creation were brainless giants whom he destroyed in a flood—a story with not a little hint of missionary Christian influence. Indeed, many scholars assume that the story is heavily influenced by Christianity, either from native informants who provided Christianized accounts, or by Spanish missionaries who recorded native tales in a Christian framework, as Véronica Salles-Reese wrote in From Viracocha to the Virgin of Copacabana: Representation of the Sacred at Lake Titicaca (1997).
I wouldn’t be too quick to accept the Aymara assertion that Tiwanaku was built by giants since that would mean having to accept the earlier folklore account that the giants were also involved in public homosexual orgies, homicidal rape, and other unpalatable events—recorded by the same Cieza de León that Tsoukalos previously asked us to believe was trustworthy (First Part of the Chronicle of Peru, Chapter 52).
Tsoukalos tells us that Puma Punku “existed before the Flood,” around 15,000 years ago—a number his Aymara informant has clearly derived from fringe literature rather than folklore since the translator cites fringe theorist Arthur Posnansky by name. So Tsoukalos believes Noah’s Flood really happened? Would he like to provide some proof?
I covered Posnansky’s flawed research in my review of the Ancient Aliens episode on Puma Punku, and Tsoukalos repeats the same mistaken date (15,000 BCE for 15,000 years ago) again. Here’s a brief summary:
Tiwanaku is not 17,000 years old. This date derives from the work of Arthur Posnansky, who tried to apply archaeoastronomy to the site but did so in ways that modern scholars do not recognize as legitimate. Posnansky proposed a date of 15,000 B.P. (before present, i.e. 13,000 BCE), which the geniuses on Ancient Aliens misread as 15,000 BCE, adding an extra 2,000 years onto Posnansky’s already flawed dates.
I have to say, though, that the most disturbing thing so far is that Tsoukalos is going full-bore in search of the Watchers under the guise of searching for aliens; the Watchers are his version of Scott Wolter’s Knights Templar—they are the thread that binds his ideas together.
After the break, Tsoukalos meets with David Childress, who is part of the Ancient Aliens repertory company, in order to push the same line again about the precision of the stones and their impossibly accurate carving. Childress explains that he believes that the stone masons must have had power tools because they engaged in “unnecessary” carving for purely decorative and “fancy” purposes. Apparently Childress is an adherent of the modernist school of architecture and has never considered that decoration may be an end in and of itself, that form need not necessarily follow function. After all, why did the ancient Greeks engage in all that unnecessary fluting of their stone columns? Or are their Corinthian capitals exempted from practical stone carving? Non-white people are lazy oafs, according to Childress, so they would only have bothered to make things look nice if “the primitive architects” had an easy way of carving stone that didn’t require “so much labor.”
The two men are amazed that ancient people used metal clamps to hold rocks together. Unable to conceive of the idea that clamps are not a particularly difficult idea to discover, the two men agree that either the same builders build all ancient sites with clamps or that the Watchers taught clamping to everyone. “It’s not something that could really have been developed independently,” Childress says, arguing that archaeologists are suppressing the truth about the clamps to prevent the truth about hyper-diffusion from coming out.
After the break, Childress raises the issue of the Fuente Magna bowl, also repeated from Ancient Aliens, where I described it thusly:
Childress also gets quite excited about the “Fuente Magna” bowl, a purported artifact from near Lake Titicaca in Bolivia that supposedly shows “proto-Sumerian” and Semitic writing alongside South American designs. (Childress is wrong about it having both Sumerian and proto-Sumerian; two linguists merely disagreed on whether it was Sumerian or proto-Sumerian.) It was found at an unknown date (sometime prior to 1958) and brought to the attention of archaeologists sometime between 1958 and 1960. No one paid attention to it until 2000, when a documentary crew for Atlantis in the Andes filmed it. Given the extremely problematic provenance, it is most likely a hoax, like the Kensington Rune Stone and other supposed “evidence” of Old World peoples in the Americas. Today, some Mormons celebrate the artifact as proof of the Book of Mormon. Interestingly, Mormons began working in nearby Peru in 1956, just at the time this “proof” was supposedly uncovered.
Childress again asserts that (a) Bolivian archaeologists have authenticated the bowl and (b) archaeologists are also suppressing the bowl to preserve their paradigms. Childress and Tsoukalos explain that the Anunnaki left the bowl behind when Tiwanaku was a mining center for digging gold for the space aliens. I’m not quite sure where the aliens got all the diamonds to carve the site; it would seem like extra work to mine diamonds just to use them to build a site for mining gold. What did they use to mine diamonds?
Oh, well, as the hour lurches toward a conclusion, we return again to the false claim that the andesite at Puma Punku is too hard to cut with normal tools and the blocks too heavy to move. It’s really getting repetitive. Casey Hemmatyar, a forensic engineer, uses a computer to create an imaginary version of Puma Punku based on a science fiction version of a spaceport, one that has no relationship to reality, particularly lacking any relationship to archaeological findings about the original locations of the blocks, and including hundreds of times more blocks than actually exist at the site. Hemmatyar believes that the Flood of Noah destroyed the site when the water caused the rocks to jostle out of place. And then… OH MY GOD… Tsoukalos actually uses the creationist argument that fossils of fish and seashells found on mountains prove that the Flood really happened. Apparently plate tectonics, deep time, and geologic uplift have made no mark on Tsoukalos’s neo-creationist mind.
For crying out loud, Leonardo da Vinci—whom Ancient Aliens crowned with the laurel of being in communion with the aliens—recognized the stupidity of this argument in his notebook, where he explained that the Flood makes no sense as an explanation for shells on mountaintops:
And from time to time the bottom of the sea was raised, depositing these shells in layers. […] And if the shells had been carried by the muddy deluge they would have been mixed up, and separated from each other amidst the mud, and not in regular steps and layers— as we see them now in our time. (entry 987)
Between the creationist arguments, the emphasis on Noah’s Flood, and the obsession with finding fallen angels and giants, Tsoukalos seems to be morphing into L. A. Marzulli. As a marketing strategy, it’s close to brilliant: By operating in the ambiguous area where angels and aliens merge, he can appeal to two audiences at once, the alien believers and fundamentalist Christians, widening his appeal beyond the fringe toward a wider Christian conservative audience. But in claiming to be a supposed seeker of truth, it is a cynical position to take, however profitable it may be.
“Every mythology has a core of truth, and that is my quest,” Tsoukalos says. Each part of that sentence is a lie.
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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