In 2009, Erich von Däniken (EVD) published his most recent book, Twilight of the Gods, which was translated into English with a preface from Ancient Aliens star Giorgio Tsoukalos in 2010. This is an interesting artifact because it represents the last major ancient astronaut book published before the Ancient Aliens television series changed the way the ancient astronaut “theory” was presented—making it more theatrical, more ridiculous, and more popular than ever.
Today, let’s begin by examining Giorgio Tsoukalos’ preface to Twilight of the Gods, one of his longest sustained pieces of professionally published writing.
Tsoukalos begins by discussing cargo cults, which I have discussed and debunked previously, but which he weirdly describes as “the real-life ethnological phenomenon,” unwittingly suggesting that the remainder of EVD’s book is fictional. This is characteristic of the European-born but American-educated Tsoukalos’ casual approach to English.
“According to the ancient texts and traditions, a long, long time ago, the gods (lowercase ‘g’) descended from the sky and instructed mankind in various disciplines,” he writes. I suppose this depends on the “ancient text” or “tradition.” For example, the Babylonians—much cited by ancient astronaut theorists on account of the Anunnaki, believed that the civilizing god Oannes rose up from the sea. He did not descend from the sky.
Tsoukalos then bashes modern science for failing to take literally ancient myths, claiming that “mainstream science” considers myths to be a “figment of our ancestors’ imagination” created “out of thin air.” This is utterly false. Which branch of science does he claim here to speak for? Physicists may claim myth has no basis in the laws of physics (true), but whole branches of human knowledge find great value in myth. Philologists, classicists, and even archaeologists see in mythology an intriguing collection of tales that date back millennia, mutating and telling us about the values of the people who told them; stories that contain reflections of the societies that invented them; even records of vanished cultures, like the Mycenaeans, who were otherwise entirely forgotten. They are not simple fantasies but enormously complex creations of the human mind. This is acknowledged in a backhanded way when Tsoukalos contradicts himself and says that “it has been said” that every myth has “a true core”—funny since he just finished telling us how “science” thinks they are utter fantasies.
But according to Tsoukalos, nothing can be invented without first being seen; all products of the human imagination must have a flesh-and-blood “catalyst.”
I don’t suppose Tsoukalos is aware that the written word only emerged after the advent of farming and cities, thousands of years after the first myths were whispered in sacred rites beneath the stars. The stone temples of Gobekli Tepe, predating writing by more than 5,000 years bears witness to a fully-developed myth cycle ages before anyone wrote down the stories of the gods, by then long hallowed with age and sanctity.
Tsoukalos draws his forward toward its end by arguing that science, not ancient astronaut theorists, are the one who truly insult ancient humans’ intelligence by suggesting that ancient peoples recorded false stories and “made mistakes in recording some dates.” But this is undeniably true! Ancient authors frequently contradict one another. They cannot all be correct. And once we admit that contradictions exist, we must therefore conclude that the ancients were not infallible and that their testimony must be compared to the physical evidence. Tsoukalos likens ancient records to modern newspapers, but would anyone trust that newspapers and magazines are always true? Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass might disagree.
Tsoukalos concludes by restating EVD’s thought experiment from Chariots of the Gods (or maybe it was Gods from Outer Space—I forget) that someday humans will travel to other worlds and be treated as gods. That made for a cute, if didactic, episode of the Twilight Zone (“The Little People,” S03E93, March 30, 1962) but it does not prove that aliens really came to earth. In fact, since Tsoukalos argued that no idea emerges ex nihilo, he must therefore concede that his thought experiment, derived from EVD, must therefore be fictional since Rod Serling thought of it first and therefore is entitled to glory. (Of course Serling wasn’t the first to think of the idea either. How many racist old stories and movies had the white explorer being mistaken for a god by sundry darker-hued tribesmen? Models for this date back past the Spanish claims that the conquistadors were treated as gods all the way to Herodotus’ claim [Histories 4.95] that one of Pythagoras’ slaves was mistaken for a god by the Thracians.)
In the forward, apparently written prior to Ancient Aliens, Tsoukalos does not manifest the goofy, engaging personality he displays on his TV program. Instead, we see traces (despite the apparently heavy editing) of the angry, bullying persona Tsoukalos shows on his Twitter feed and which I experienced firsthand after spending the day with him years ago. He throws around words like “arrogant” and “pompously,” and he casts his theory as an us-vs.-them war of good against evil.
Most interesting of all is that fact that despite the fact that this is supposedly a forward to the English translation of EVD’s Twilight of the Gods, Tsoukalos manages to make it all about himself, with nary a word spoken about the book he is supposedly introducing or its author. We learn much about Tsoukalos’ opinions and where he went to school, but nothing whatsoever about EVD or Twilight of the Gods. Did Tsoukalos even read the book before penning his forward?
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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