It amazes me how thoroughly ancient astronauts and aliens have returned to the forefront of pop culture since 2009. Who would have thought ten years ago that there would be room for more than one weekly show about ancient aliens? It seems like just yesterday that ancient aliens were on the outs...
A decade ago Erich von Däniken tried to turn his ancient mysteries into a theme park in Switzerland called “Mystery Park.” Featuring recreations of “alien” mysteries like the pyramids of Giza and the Nazca lines, the park opened in 2003 with support and financing from the Swiss government and closed three years later after unexpectedly low attendance of just 200,000 annual visitors. Critics complained that the park was a giant propaganda exercise designed to promote von Däniken’s ancient astronaut beliefs with even less subtlety than his books.
It seems that von Däniken was ten years too early. He seems to recognize this, since a holding company run by one of his fans is attempting to franchise an updated Mystery Park under the “Chariots of the Gods” name. But it turns out von Däniken isn’t alone.
I read today that the cross-pollination between horror, science fiction, and fringe science—something I’ve explored in The Cult of Alien Gods and Knowing Fear—is about to spawn a new monster-oriented theme park franchise combining zombies, aliens, and other cable television staples. According to the company behind the move, Independent Film Development Corporation (current owner of the Three Stooges), cable television has turned monsters and mysteries into a profit center.
James E. Brumley of Small Cap Network reports on their plans:
The latest cultural/social trend is evident on the small screen as well as the big screen.... ghosts and goblins, and all things if the ilk. The Twilight movies series as well as the Harry Potter franchise were huge hits that may or may not have "gone over" a couple of decades ago. Television shows like "Ancient Aliens", "The Walking Dead", or "Ghost Hunters" wouldn't have been able to garner they [sic] same following they have now had they been aired in the 70's. People love these programs and movies now, however. It's one of the few genres that actually inspires people to disconnect from their smartphones for a while, and that's where Independent Film Development Corporation is going to stake its claim.
On the one hand, it’s probably a good thing that the theme park slots UFOs alongside Hades and zombies as fantasies. On the other hand, it’s disturbing that the myth of alien invasions in the past is so widespread that we now simply accept that everyone knows about them. We have to attribute at least some of this to shows like Ancient Aliens and Unsealed: Alien Files. I had the misfortune of seeing another episode of the latter show yesterday, which included a discussion of the ancient astronauts of Ancient Egypt.
Unsealed: Alien Files “Alien Gods of Egypt” suggests that aliens are behind Egyptian religion. Tom Durant tells us about the Temple of Hathor at Dendera, but the narrator prefers to focus on “reptile-like creatures” giving “gifts” to humans, according to John Greenewald, Jr., the poor man’s David Childress. They review the Dendera light bulb, which is really a lotus blossom and can easily be understood as such by actually looking at the relief images, showing the blossom closed and then open. Light bulbs don’t open. Also: Why don’t aliens use LED? Number of pieces of bad evidence used so far: 1.
Tom Durant tells us about the Tulli Papyrus, which allegedly describes the arrival of fiery disks in the sky. Bill Birnes identifies these “fiery circles” as UFOs. Tom Durant calls this “documented” proof of alien arrival in the distant past and identifies Egyptian gods as aliens. The Tulli Papyrus was found by Vatican museum director Alberto Tulli during a visit to the Cairo in 1933, but its true origin is unknown. The extant “transcription” is a hieroglyphic translation of a hieratic document. A recent analysis (in Italian), which the show neglects to share, demonstrated that the Tulli Papyrus is a forgery composed of sections of nine earlier papyruses printed in Sir Alan Gardiner’s Egyptian Grammar of 1927. Number of pieces of bad evidence used so far: 2.
The narrator states that Egyptian texts “prove an undeniable link” between the ancient Egyptians and godlike beings, but the narrator then walks this back by asking whether the gods were really aliens. This leaves the viewer thinking the show said something serious. Bill Birnes talks about the Seti I hieroglyphs at Abydos allegedly showing a submarine and helicopter, even though these hieroglyphs are well-known recarvings superimposed over earlier carvings, creating a false impression. Greenewald gives his best Childress, stating “You have to wonder…” and then accepting the false claims as true. Number of pieces of bad evidence used so far: 3.
We then move forward to discussing Akhenaten, whom the show wants us to view as an alien. His monotheism tells Tom Durant that there was a “connection” to the Aten, the sun disk, and that this proves that the sun disk was really an alien. Akhenaten’s unusual artistic likeness in the heavily stylized art of the Amarna period leads Brien Foerster to declare him and his children to be extraterrestrials even though the actual bodies of the Amarna rulers, which we possess, show no strange shapes. The narrator and Bill Birnes suggest that Akhenaten is the first alien hybrid of a dying race of aliens even though the only “evidence” for the strange shapes of the bodies is the stylization of Amarna-period art. For example: Nefertiti cannot be both the Grey-hybrid of the relief images and the perfect beauty of her famous bust. So, pieces of bad evidence so far: 4.
After the break, we are on to the “impossible” pyramids of Egypt, and the narrator asks if aliens helped build them. The narrator states that the pyramid was made of 130 granite blocks, which manages to be ridiculously wrong on two levels: First, there are more than 2.3 million blocks in the pyramid, and second, most are made of limestone. The show is instead referring to the large granite stones used for the King’s Chamber within the pyramid but doesn’t understand the difference. (These are not the only granite blocks used in the pyramid, either.) I can’t really call this evidence “bad,” just completely misunderstood.
The narrator complains that the pyramids could not have been built in just 20 years and Greenewald says “they had to have had help. How could the human race do this by themselves?” Tom Durant says the pyramid points “due north” with an accuracy of one-five-hundredth of a degree, and the narrator states the pyramid was originally shiny enough to be seen from space. Bill Birnes says this is for the benefit of space aliens flying over them. Seen in what way? With the naked eye? Given that we have cameras in space that can see individual people on the ground, why should we assume the aliens need shiny pyramids to guide their flying saucers?
The narrator claims that the height of the pyramid is one billionth of the distance to the sun and its perimeter is a “scale” model of the equator—without specifying the scale! The writer of the show surely does not understand the claims being put forward. The earth’s average distance to the sun is 149.6 billion meters. The Great Pyramid is 139 meters tall. The numbers don’t work, not even if you add in the hypothetical original pyramidion that once capped the structure, estimated at between 6 and 8 meters of extra height. This would make it approximately 146 meters tall. Number of pieces of bad evidence used so far: 5.
But bored with the pyramid, the show moves ahead to the Sphinx, which it calls the largest monolith statue in the world. I guess that depends on how you count Mount Rushmore. The show then uses Robert Schoch’s idea that the Sphinx was weathered by water and therefore is older than ancient Egypt. There isn’t really any sort of proof that this makes it extraterrestrial, only the false claim that if archaeology is wrong about a fact therefore aliens are real. But Schoch’s conclusion is wrong, and most geologists believe the Sphinx was eroded instead by salt exfoliation. This evidence isn’t bad per se, since there is room to debate the science, but it doesn’t prove what the show wants us to think it does, even when taken at face value.
Going to commercial, the show promises to reveal NASA information about Egypt that will “shock the world.” After the break, Tom Durant alleges that recent NASA photos of Mars show “pyramids” and a “Sphinx,” but these are just natural formations that the show thinks look vaguely like artificial structures. Nevertheless, the show tells us that “Martians” are probably responsible for ancient Egypt, which is why we need to send archaeologists to Mars. This evidence is just ridiculously bad, another example of “looks like therefore is.”
Number of pieces of bad evidence used in total: 6. Number of pieces of debatable evidence: 2. Good evidence: 0
This show is sub-ancient aliens, recycling claims that even Ancient Aliens doesn’t pretend are true anymore and giving each so little time that they serve only as propaganda, building through volume spurious support for a conclusion the show refuses to ever state in a declarative sentence.
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.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.