Despite my attempt to rest my wrist following a bout of carpal tunnel, somehow I managed to write more over the last two days than usual. Well, today I’m resting, so I’m going to direct readers to an excellent blog post by Frank Johnson over at Ancient Aliens Debunked describing the alleged “Nuremburg UFO Battle” of 1561, a staple of ancient astronaut claims, having appeared everywhere from the Weekly World News to Ancient Aliens to Graham Hancock’s Supernatural (where he suggested it was a mass drug hallucination). A bit of background will help place Johnson’s critique in context.
The “UFO Battle” is known only from a woodcut by Hans Glaser that appeared in a broadsheet in 1561, with some accompanying black letter text in archaic German that I am not able to read. The woodcut first became known to the general public when Carl Jung reprinted it in Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies (1958). So far as I know, this was the first appearance of the broadsheet image in conjunction with UFOs, which is somewhat ironic given that Jung only brought it up to explain that UFOs are a myth borne of the unconscious, not actual metal spaceships buzzing the skies only to unintentionally create a modern myth of Renaissance-era astronauts! Jung accidentally gave ammunition to the ancient astronaut writers, who in turn mined his work for “evidence.” (Jeffrey J. Kripal discusses this briefly in Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred ).
The woodcut was made after the fact, drawn from witness descriptions but not original observation by the artist. Until now, information about this obscure woodcut could hardly be found outside the mutual-copying society of ancient astronaut writers, all repeating von Däniken’s initial claim.
Johnson has reviewed an English translation of the German text and compared the woodcut to known astronomical phenomena to determine that it represents a secondhand depiction of a particularly gaudy sundog, a phenomenon formed when sunlight is scattered through the sky thanks to the prism effects of atmospheric ice. The characteristic arcs seen in the woodcut are indicative of sundogs, which also can generate colored orbs and shadowy, angular lines, as Johnson demonstrates.
The clincher is his collection of other sixteenth century broadsheets depicting known astronomical phenomena in rather odd ways, such as a rain of fire meant to represent an aurora. Thus, in context the 1561 image fits into these artistic depictions of astronomical phenomena.
Mystery (apparently) solved.
(Read Johnson's blog post here.)
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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