Everything old is new again.
Back in the late 60's/early 70's ancient aliens were a big fad,
do to the book Chariots of the Gods?
by Erich von Däniken and its sequels.
The book put forth the theory that mankind had been visited by
the ancient past and that many advances in civilization were due to
intervention. His proof?
That mainly consisted of a lot of leading
arguments, misinterpretations of ancient art, and some out and out lies. (The PBS show Nova tracked
down the guy who made the pottery depicting aliens and
even admitted that von Däniken paid him to make them to his
specifications.) That fad died soon
enough, but here we are, decades later, and the History Channel has
a show filled with pseudoarchaeology, Ancient
Aliens. The first four seasons are now
available in a nice boxed set, so viewers can ponder over the dubious
evidence again and again.
Starting with the premises that the Earth was visited in
ancient times by aliens, the show goes about looking for evidence. It finds something akin to that mainly by
ignoring more sedate and rational explanations. From
the pyramids themselves (always used as
proof of alien contact) to ancient painting and even texts, they paint
convincing argument, but only if you're really, really gullible.
A good example of the approach the show takes is its
examination of the Saqqara Bird. This is
an object that was found in the late 1800's in an Egyptian tomb and is
2200 years old. (See picture
below.) It looks like a bird, right? It could be a toy, or a decoration or even a
weather vane. But the show takes the
position that it's a model of a glider!
Note that the wing is straight and not jointed like a real
and the tail is vertical instead of horizontal like a bird's.
(The fact that the wing is not curved, and therefore would not provide
any lift is totally ignored.)
To add weight to this hypothesis, they find someone who made
a scale model of the bird and tested it in a wind tunnel.
It could fly, but only if you
mount a horizontal stabilizer at the rear!
That's a significant problem that the omnipresent narrator
saying claiming that the part could just be missing.
(They pull a similar trick with a small gold
triangular object that roughly looks a little bit plane-like. When they make a scale model they add
airfoils to the wings and a propeller to the front.
They succeed in proving only that it's
possible to alter ancient designs to make them air-worthy and nothing
Of course they don't present any opposing opinions.
If they really wanted to be objective, they
should have searched out Martin Gregorie, who builds gliders. He created a replica of the Saqqara Bird and
tested it too. He concluded "the
Saqqara Bird never flew... [It] was probably made as a child's toy or a
But let's accept that the bird would have flown. Do
you see the still gaping hole in their
argument? Why does a model that could
have functioned as a glider mean that aliens were here???
No where through the series do they ever make
that connection, though the make the illogical leap frequently. More precisely they ask a lot of leading
questions that they hope will cause viewers to make that leap for
themselves: Could ancient astronauts
brought gliders from beyond the stars?
If they did bring gliders, where are they??
That would have been a pretty significant
event, seeing the Pharaoh fly through the sky, not to mention a very
military advantage. You'd think the
Romans might have noticed planes when they invaded, and it might have
their plans too. There isn't a
preponderance of evidence that the Egyptians could fly, just one wooden
that (the show grudgingly admits) CAN'T fly.
If it was just that one example of sloppy work, I could
ignore it, but every thing they discuss has the same leaps of logic
the show ignoring much more mundane, but probable explanations. Every primitive religion that has a god in
the sky is really talking about an alien, according to the show, and
Egyptian gods that had the heads of animals?
Well that's a dead giveaway isn't it? They
even jump to the recent past and examine
incident and the "Battle of Los Angles" in 1942 where local
artillery gunner sent up a barrage against non-existent Japanese planes. Which is more probable: that
it was a false alarm caused triggered by
skittish and over excited people mere months after the Pearl Harbor attack, or aliens visiting?
As the series progress, they go through all of the standard alien
theories and evidence that has been discussed for years. The show
discusses cattle mutilations, Easter Island, the Nazca Lines,
Roswell. They also examine some less well known places and events
such as the mile-long "band of holes" near Pisco, Peru, Mapimí
Silent Zone in Mexico that is supposedly an area where radio signals
cannot be received
the ancient Underground City in the Derinkuyu district of
Turkey. (Oh yeah, and they cover the Mayan end-of-the-world
prediction that says doomsday is December 21, 2012. Opps.)
The show does quickly run out stories to cover however, and soon
they're discussing even more outrageous theories and having to go
further and further to conjour up some evidence. These shows were
less appealing in general, because it required even more suspension of
disbelief to buy what they were selling. Aliens and the Old West seemed to
be at least a partial ad for the movie Cowboys & Aliens, and does
anyone really beleive that aliens are responsible for floods,
earthquakes and volcano erputions? This show looks at that
possibility. Then they suggest that there's a connection between
Bigfoot and aliens and that these aliens could be humans from the
future traveling in time. The last season spends a lot of the
time in far left field.
Having said all that, I will admit that the show is fun to watch.
Yes, has only the most tenuous attachment to real history, but it is
enjoyable to watch the conspiracies and theories on oddball artifacts
unfold, even if it's so you can slap your forehead with your palm when
they make a huge leap in logic. If you're predisopsed to believe
in pseudoscience, there's sure to be a lot to fascinate you in this set.
I was surprised that the video quality was so mediocre.
Many of the images are very good, with a lot
of detail and tight lines, but there are a lot of compression artifacts
other of the newly recorded scenes.
Walls of hieroglyphics tend to shimmer as if they were alive
camera pans over them slowly and aliasing is a pretty significant
problem. It's never distracting, but it is
The DD stereo audio track does the job. There's
really not a lot to this program
sonically, just a deep voiced narrator and some occasional people
outrageous theories, so a stereo mix is fine.
The voices are clean and clear and there are no dropouts or
noise. There are optional English subtitles.
This set does include the pilot episode, Ancient Aliens:
Chariots, Gods & Beyond,
which casts a non-critical eye on the 'work' of convicted fraud1 Erich von
Däniken. As I mentioned earlier, he
pretty much made up a lot of his 'evidence' and stole
his theories from the
dark fantasy writings of H. P. Lovecraft, though this episode
doesn't touch on
that. I'm actually fairly astounded that
the show was picked up after this.
While I'll admit that this show does have a certain 'fun' factor at the
beginning, the show is never very rigorous in its examination of any
subject and goes out of tis way to ignore competing (and more rational)
ideas. As the seasons progress, hypotheses that they examine get
more and more ridiculous. They should have quit while they were
ahead. If you're really into the possibility that the Earth has
been visisted by aliens, this would make a good rental but nothing more.
1) Von Däniken was
convicted and sent to prison twice, once for fraud and once for
embezzlement. He's not the most honest guy
in the world.