Tonight is the premiere of Pirate Treasure of the Knights Templar, the new show starring Barry Clifford and Scott Wolter modeled on the Curse of Oak Island, itself home to various Templar conspiracy theories. History is burning off the series UNESCO condemned for media-driven bad research, double-running episodes on Saturday nights. Believe it or not, I am not available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so I won’t be able to review the show immediately after it airs. Two hours is a little much to take, even if I were. My plan is to try to watch the show tomorrow, and I hope to have a review posted tomorrow afternoon. It will depend on how long it takes me to make it through them.
If that weren’t depressing enough, an autocratic Russian politician who is also a leading chess official announced that he believes that the game of chess was a gift from ancient astronauts. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is the longtime head of the World Chess Federation, and he is a former Russian provincial governor, having served as president of Kalmykia, a republic established for ethnic Kamyks, descendants of the Mongol Horde. Ilyumzhinov is currently exploring a run for president of FIFA, the global soccer organization. During his tenure as governor, he spent $100 million to turn his provincial capital into a major chess center.
According to Paul Seaburn, writing at Mysterious Universe, while doing press for his FIFA candidacy, Ilyumzhinov allegedly told an unnamed interviewer for an unspecified publication that space aliens were behind the game of chess, and that he had learned of this through psychic conversation with an alien in 1997:
I believe that chess comes either from God or from beings flying a UFO … Each year, archaeologists find evidence of chess in America, India, Japan or China, played under the same rules, from a time without planes or the internet … the chessboard has 64 squares, and our cells are made of 64 pieces. All this shows that chess comes either from God or from UFOs.
He might well have done this again this week, but the quote Seaburn presents as being from this week seems to be made up from two paragraphs of a 2006 Guardian interview, which was not attributed to psychic communication:
I believe that chess comes either from God or from beings flying a UFO. I should know! They took me aboard their airship while I was on a business trip to Moscow, in 1997, to a distant star. It’s perfectly normal - last year, I visited America and learned from official statistics that there are 4,000 annual reports of contact. […] Each year, archaeologists find evidence of chess in America, India, Japan or China, played under the same rules, from a time without planes or the internet. Look, the chessboard has 64 squares, and our cells are made of 64 pieces. All this shows that chess comes either from God or from UFOs.
He is referring to the 64 nucleotide codons that code for amino acids in mRNA (itself coded in DNA). The number derives from the mathematical fact that four mRNA nucleotides (adenine, guanine, cytosine, and uracil) can form 64 three-nucleotide combinations. The predecessor game to chess, chaturaṅga (Persian: shatranj), spread from India throughout Asia, the Near East, and Europe between 650 and 900 CE. It took me a while to figure out what he meant by chess in ancient America, but it seems that he is referring to European chess pieces found in Inuit contexts, from Norse contact.
According to media accounts, Ilyumzhinov began publicly claiming to have been abducted by aliens in 2001, and he added claims about ancient astronauts in 2006. Since then, he has repeated the same claims, often in the same words. In 2010 he told The Independent that he believes that maize was not the invention of Native Americans, bred from the ancient grass teosinte, but rather was delivered to earth by space aliens. He told Time that Jesus was an alien and that the planet Nibiru would soon return to destroy the earth unless humans played more chess in order cleanse the Earth’s aura and signal to the aliens to spare us.
Edward Winter has done journeyman’s labor collecting Ilyumzhinov’s statements about UFOs and ancient astronauts here, along with Russian chess champion turned opposition politician Gary Kasparov’s belief in Anatoly Fomenko’s “new chronology” that denies the existence of the Middle Ages and reassigns Russia a primary role in world history.
Is there something about chess?
Fortunately, there were a few rays of light this week. Last night on The Soup, host Joel McHale singled out Ancient Aliens for scorn, equating it with such other reality show train wrecks as Dating Naked or Party Down South. McHale called the series “complete nonsense masquerading as science on the History Channel…” Similarly, for the second time this week Late Show host Stephen Colbert took the media to task for their promotion of fact-free paranormal nonsense. On Monday he mocked the History Channel for lacking real history, and last night Colbert delivered a five-minute segment called Unseen Mysteries of the Hidden Secrets in which he parodied cable paranormal shows devoted to cryptids and aliens, like Ancient Aliens and, more specifically, the rural monster-hunting shows on Destination America. In the segment, Colbert discussed the “lizard man” of South Carolina, which was featured on Ancient Aliens last year (S07E01 “The Reptilians”). Colbert brilliantly exposed the lack of critical thinking involved in hyping such claims, as local news media have been doing over the past few months since new video of the alleged creature emerged.
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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