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Ancient astronaut theory

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Ancient astronaut theory is a term used to describe the theories of ancient extraterrestrial contact popularized by authors such as Erich von Däniken and Zecharia Sitchin, which are variations and elaborations of the more basic Paleocontact theory. Ancient astronaut theories usually involve a great deal of pseudo-science and sensationalism.

These theories often claim that human beings are either the descendants or creations of aliens who landed on Earth millennia ago — ideas that are generally dismissed by the scientific community.

Another element of such theories is the suggestion that much of human wisdom and culture was given to man by extraterrestrial visitors in pre-history. This possibility has been considered by some scientists (Carl Sagan, I.S. Shklovskii, etc.), though the lack of any hard evidence and the rather wild nature of the concept makes it very unpopular among the scientific establishment.

Contents

Adherents and evidence

Ancient Astronaut theories have been advanced by authors such as Charles Fort (1919), Peter Kolosimo (in his 1957 book, Il pianeta sconosciuto), Henri Lhote (http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/L/Lhote.html) (1958), Matest M. Agrest (1959), Erich von Däniken (1968), Robert K. G. Temple (1976), Zecharia Sitchin (1978) and Richard Hoagland.

Erich von Däniken was foremost in popularizing ancient astronaut theories in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the 1968 publication of his best-selling Chariots of the Gods and its sequels. The evidence that von Däniken put forward to support his vision of paleo-contact can be categorised as follows:

  • Artifacts have been found which appear to represent higher technological knowledge than is presumed to have existed at times when they were manufactured. Däniken maintains that these artifacts have been manufactured either by extraterrestrial visitors or by humans who learned the necessary knowledge from them. Such artifacts include Stonehenge, the head statues of Easter Island and the Antikythera mechanism.
  • In ancient art throughout the world, themes can be observed which can be interpreted to illustrate astronauts, air and space vehicles, non-human but intelligent creatures, and artifacts of high technology. Däniken also identifies details that are similar in art of unrelated cultures, which he argues imply a common origin.
  • The origins of many religions can be described as reactions to contacts of primitive humans with an alien race. In this view, the humans considered the technology of the aliens to be supernatural and the aliens themselves to be gods. According to Däniken, the oral and literal traditions of most religions contain references to visitors from stars and vehicles travelling through air and space. These, he says, should be interpreted as literal descriptions which have changed during the passage of time and become more obscure, rather than symbolic or mythical fiction. One such is Ezekiel's revelation in the Old Testament, which Däniken interprets as a detailed description of a landing spacecraft.

Since the publication of Däniken's books, no substantial evidence has been found to verify his claims, while many of them have been disproven. Experimenters and historians have made great progress in explaining how structures such as Stonehenge and the Pyramids were built. As a result, most historians regard his claims as pseudoscience or pseudoarchaeology and are of the opinion that he is drawing far-reaching conclusions from little evidence while disregarding more likely alternative hypotheses.

While artifacts that would prove a contact with more-developed civilization have not been found, some authors think there is strong evidence of their existence. (See anachronism and time travel, OOPART.)

Many authors use ancient mythologies to support their theories, with the extraordinary adventures of various gods being interpreted as being modern technologies as seen from the perspective of a simple-minded earthman. One classical example is the Vimanas, flying machines that can be found in the literature of India.

Earlier ideas

Earlier sources — while generally not referencing ancient astronauts per se — suggest the creation of some monuments was beyond human means, such as Saxo Grammaticus' suggestion that giants had created Denmark's massive dolmens, or in tales that Merlin had assembled Stonehenge via magic.

Evidence for ancient astronauts often consists of allegations that ancient monuments, such as the pyramids of Egypt, or Machu Picchu in Peru, could not have been built without technical abilities beyond those of people at that time. Such allegations are not unique in history. Similar reasoning lay behind the wonder of the "Cyclopean" masonry walling at Mycenaean cities in the eyes of Greeks of the following "Dark Age," who envisaged the giant Cyclopes as builders of the walls. Among the Anglo-Saxons, who were skilled at carpentry but innocent of the arts of masonry, the Roman remains of Britain had been built with the aid of Gog and Magog.

Typical candidates for the lost civilizations that taught or provided these skills are the lost continents of Atlantis, Lemuria and Mu. The ancient astronaut theory began to supplant these older ideas in the 20th century as space travel became more familiar and solid evidence to prove the existence of these lost civilizations did not surface.

Also, a frequent theme that can be encountered in many mythologies is a person who comes from far away as a god, or as the archetype of a "civilizing hero" who brings knowledge to mankind. Prometheus is the best-known Western example. In Native American lore there are numerous examples, including Quetzalcoatl of the Aztecs and Viracocha of the Incas.

In Theosophical writings of the 19th and early 20th centuries, many precursors to the ancient astronaut theories can be found. Theosophy influenced authors such as H. P. Lovecraft and Charles Fort, and even later authors such as Erich von Däniken.

Ancient astronauts in fiction

The ancient astronaut theory has been addressed frequently in science fiction and weird fiction. Early occurances in the genres include H. P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu (1926), At the Mountains of Madness (1931) and John W. Campbell's Who Goes There? (1938), the last two stories both incidentally set in Antarctica. Arthur C. Clarke has written several stories utilizing the theme, most famously in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Douglas Adams used a satirical version of the theory in his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series.

The TV show The X-Files has borrowed the theory, and both the original Battlestar Galactica and the 2003 remake explored the idea that Earth was colonized by man millenia ago. The movie Stargate and its spin-off televison series Stargate SG-1 also feature ancient astronauts; in the show, aliens posed as gods and influenced early earth cultures. The Stargate: Ultimate Edition – Director’s Cut DVD even includes a featurette interview with Erich von Däniken entitled "Is there a Stargate?".

See also


he:מרכבות האלים de:Paläo-Astronautik fr:Théorie des Anciens Astronautes

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