On Thursday, CNN’s website ran an article on the ancient astronaut theory by Jen Rose Smith. The piece frames questions about the origins of UNESCO World Heritage Sites like the Giza pyramids and the Nazca lines in terms of Erich von Däniken’s version of the ancient astronaut theory. It then devotes most of the article’s space to describing how “mainstream scientists” reject the ancient astronaut hypothesis, with lengthy quotes from archaeologist Sarah Parcak.
More or less, the article is fine, though framing it around the ancient astronaut theory without speaking to an ancient astronaut theorist or describing the popularity of the theory outside of von Däniken’s 1960s book sales seems a little strange. I might have included some statistics about the number of people who claim to believe in ancient astronauts, for example.
Smith interviewed me for the article, but I didn’t make the final cut. I discussed many of the controversial aspects of von Däniken’s claims, but the worst of von Däniken’s sins got condensed down to one sentence from Parcak about how the ancient astronaut theory is racist.
Overall, the article lacks a certain quality and depth, and it reads a lot more like a commercial for UNESCO than it does an informative exploration of the challenges of doing science in an age of unreason.
Instead, let me direct you to Cracked, where Cedric Voets much more succinctly and honestly summarized the problem in the headline: “Saying Aliens Built Ancient Monuments Isn't Only Crazy, It’s Racist.”
Voets is summarizing the CNN article, but he brings out the important point that CNN buried at the bottom of the article. A key paragraph repeats an important point I’ve made many times before:
But alien construction theories are a lot more sinister than they let on. Pull up a random article listing the most likely ancient alien monuments and chances are none of these edifices are located inside of Europe. Many archeologists, like Sarah Parcak, have observed that the (white) historians and conspiracy theorists peddling these hypotheses almost always tend to "focus on places home to black, brown and Indigenous people.[”] They'll also often not dwell on the fact that these marvels aren't actually that old. The Moai are dated between 1250 and 1500 CE, while the impressive Incan fortress of Sacsayhuaman was constructed around 1100 CE. And if the idea that Europeans by then could build aqueducts and grand castles while aliens had to show non-Europeans how to put stones on top of each other sounds racist, that's because it is.
Fortunately, Ancient Aliens is out of commission while COVID-19 keeps TV production to a minimum. Unfortunately, William Shatner’s The UnXplained is coming back tonight, and he shared his incoherent ramblings about the mysteries of life and death with Pop Culture:
We're surrounded by mystery. Everything is mysterious. We know nothing… Floating stars, things that come into being when you examine them, all disparate phenomena and yet, you know that all of nature is a whole, it's just, we humans can't see it, even with our instruments. One day, maybe it'll be revealed, and maybe it's revealed when we die, but we want to be conscious to see the solution, and every so often, we find the answer to some mystery and that answering that mystery only reveals another mystery.
Shatner added that at his advanced age, he has been contemplating death and considering where the “energy” in humans goes when we die. Once again, as with every other mystery-monger, the underlying theme is always a return to faith and a hope the real world isn’t so real after all.
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, The Skeptical Xenoarchaeologist, 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.