Ancient Aliens Part 3 - Artwork and Artifacts
This is part 3 in an ongoing series of hubs discussing the claims of ancient astronaut believers and explaining why they don't hold up to simple skepticism and scrutiny. While to some the claims of ancient astronaut “theorists” may seem silly these claims enjoy a certain amount of popularity within the world at large even launching one of the History Channels longest running, most popular, and most devoid of history, TV series.
In this hub we'll be taking a look at claims of ancient alien influence in ancient artwork and artifacts. I hope to show that pop culture assumptions about what aliens and their craft might look like and ignorance about the historical and cultural context are responsible.
The Aborigines Aliens?
Eerie cave paintings like the ones above are often cited by ancient astronaut believers to be evidence of extraterrestrial influence. The ancient people painting on these walls, they insist, are not simply using their imaginations but are describing something they actually saw and interacted with, namely alien beings. However when we stop to wonder how much sense this assumption really makes we are left with the ancients using their imaginations being a much more plausible explanation.
I would like to reiterate something about alien life that ancient astronaut theorists would have you forget if they could – WE DON'T KNOW WHAT INTELLIGENT ALIEN LIFE WOULD LOOK LIKE. We are talking about living beings that evolved on a different planet, in fact most believers in alien visitation put this planet outside of our solar system. So the idea that these beings would, as ancient astronaut believers suggest, look a lot like us, is an unfounded assumption.
Human beings evolved from an earlier ape ancestor and we share most of our DNA with modern extant species of apes along with looking and behaving like apes as well. We would not expect aliens on other worlds to look like they too had evolved from apes. Most of our conceptions of Aliens look vaguely human due to a combination of anthropomorphism and the fact that science fiction often simply doesn't have the budget for special effects to make the aliens anything but men in rubber costumes or with make-up applied. It is also hard for us to imagine what life might be like in form and function on other worlds because life on Earth is the only example we have.
However, as I said, we would not expect intelligent life to look like it had ALSO evolved from apes here on Earth, such a coincidence would be remarkable. Aliens that happen to look a lot like they evolved from apes happen to stumble upon Earth at a time in our history when humans happen to begin recording things on cave walls and in other artistic mediums.
Suddenly the idea of these paintings and artifacts as representations of spirits, gods, or perhaps simply something the artist saw in a dream make far more sense than the far-fetched idea that alien visitation was occurring and left behind no hard physical evidence other than an artistic rendition from the local cave painter. In fact when it comes to cave paintings done by the aborigines in Australia what we are seeing is often symbolic and must be looked at in the context of the mythology of Dreamtime.
Peruvian Top Gun?
Probably my favorite example of incompetent reasoning on the part of ancient astronaut proponents is their assertion that this small golden figurine is, in fact, a depiction of ancient alien technology. The figurine is actually an ancient funerary item found among thousands of others most of which depict animals and other familiar things but this one, for some reason, is different in the mind of ancient astronaut believers, because if you squint real hard, and use your imagination, it kinda looks like an airplane.
First of all this is face-palm level stupidity because aliens that travel vast interstellar distances would not fly around in planes powered by jet engines. The Starship Enterprise from Star Trek does not arrive at a new planet and send a small jet with a cockpit for one pilot down to scout the planet, they BEAM people down or, if needed, send a shuttle craft. The mental connection being made here is just like the assumption about aliens looking vaguely human. The figurine looks vaguely like a modern plane and it is a likeness the ancient astronaut con-artists will beat like a dead horse.
As many fellow skeptics have pointed out the figurine is likely a fish because it looks like one and most of the other figurines depict animals as well. On ancient aliens they attempted to scale the figurine up and prove it would fly and what they showed was apparently impressive. Apparently if you put an engine in it, completely change what it is made of, add landing gear and then remote control it you can create a small model airplane that shares some aesthetic similarities with the figurine.
The worst part is that even if this model DID show an airplane it wouldn't prove ALIENS - it wouldn't even suggest aliens. Hell, if anything it might tell us that someone in ancient South America was even smarter than Leonardo Da Vinci. The IDEA of human flight being possible does predate the actuality of human flight by thousands of years. Once again ancient astronaut theorists seek to belittle our ancestors with their bullshit.
Close Encounters of the Christ Kind
There are no shortage of people who believe that Jesus Christ was some sort of alien messenger or at least that he was an ordinary man touched by something extraterrestrial and extraordinary. Aside from the miracles which may be argued to be indistinguishable from magic (I'll talk a bit about this in a future hub about William Lane Craig) Jesus death is often depicted as having mysterious witnesses in the sky that look suspiciously like they're aliens.
This fresco in particular captures the imagination of ancient astronaut hopefuls and was probably the most compelling “evidence” I saw during my brief stint as an ancient astronaut believer. It definitively seems that two alien craft, complete with human looking pilots, are watching over Christ's death scene.
Unfortunately what we're seeing here is actually a long standing tradition in Christian artwork that recurs again in again in Crucifixion art. The two “UFOs” in the top corners are actually personifications of the sun and moon. This is not something I'm just making up either, you can research it for yourselves. What we have here are anthropomorphic representations of the sun and moon – not alien visitors.
Of course the biggest red-flag should be how strange it would be to see aliens over the scene of the Crucifixion. I know of no gospels we've discovered, be they canonical or otherwise, that feature such beings at the Crucifixion scene. Even in the four canonical gospels the angels (which might be assumed as aliens by believers) do not show up until later, at the tomb of Jesus, and are nowhere in any of the four versions of the death of Christ.
So at best these “UFOs” would be artistic additions made by ancient Christian artists but then the assumption that these are UFOs is ALSO based on a false assumption about what alien spacecraft would look like. It is easy for us to assume that an alien craft would have an insignia, a cockpit, etc, but there is no reason to assume that a craft capable of interstellar journeys would be designed that way. Rather we have modern reports of UFOs, flying saucers, and our own assumptions about what alien craft would look like, to blame for seeing aliens here where there are none.
Once again we have ancient alien believers imaginations running away with them and they are quick to remove artwork from its proper context in order to insert modern ideas about extraterrestrials. I understand where the confusion comes from. As human beings we have a tendency to over-estimate our own knowledge even on subjects we know nothing about. So a nineteen year old version of me sees a Fresco of the Crucifixion with the caption “UFOs in ancient art” and knowing nothing about artwork in that time period I am immediately convinced based on my false assumptions.
It is important, however, that we correct ourselves, one of the problems I see with many believers, in both religion and this sort of pseudoscience, is an inability to let go of the conclusion once reached.
Antikythera and other Ancient Artifacts
One of the biggest obstacles in showing why ancient astronaut theory is bunk is the average persons ignorance of history. I don't mean that in an insulting way as I too only have a layman's understanding of history, particularly of history before the 1700s or so. For many of us here in the United States history courses in public school did not involve much ancient history aside from a little bit of Greek and Roman and perhaps some stuff about Egypt and Sumeria. So for many there is an aura of absolute mystery as though anything and everything might have happened in the past and we would have no evidence.
So when an ancient astronaut con-artist, the sort that make their living peddling this stuff, comes along showing a photograph of some mysterious ancient device, or talking about how the ancient Greeks built automatons and that their scientists would have understood what a robot was or shows us a cave painting without even telling us where in the world it was made or by whom we tend to let our imaginations fill in the blanks. This can be dangerous because the ancient astronaut theorist will then tell us all kinds of wild nonsense associating these artifacts not with the real archeology attached to them but with shit they just made up.
Take the device above. It looks ancient and mysterious right? What's it called? It's an astrolabe, an ancient word that means STAR TAKER. Sounds even more ominous right? Saying such a thing paints an image in your mind, reminds you of something, now if I bring up the movie stargate, or insinuate that the ancients believed in portals to other worlds I could easily make you think this odd looking 16th century artifact is actually the key to some portal in the ancient world. It probably opens the throne-room to Atlantis allowing you and Indiana Jones to avoid the booby-traps outside.
Actually it's a device used to navigate and track the stars that ancient astronomers and astrologers made use of. Similarly the famous Antikythera mechanism made headlines as one of the first computers ever built, an amazing apparently Greek invention ancient astronaut theorists are quick to bring it up. All of these devices and artifacts are amazing and should be studied but they are evidence not of alien intervention but of human ingenuity.
One of the questions we can ask is if aliens visited planet Earth in the numbers required for them to build pyramids, inspire art, masquerade as gods and saviors, and basically do everything in human mythology and explain every mystery and non-mystery in archaeology is where is the hard evidence? Where are the spare spaceship parts? Where are the buried flying saucers lodged in the ancient antarctic ice? Why do we not see any evidence of the truly advanced technology we'd expect of an interstellar civilization? Why can we not find the healing ray Jesus used to raise Lazarus? Or the radioactive site where Elijah was carried into Heaven by a flying saucer?
The fact is we don't have evidence. We have speculation, we have imagination and we have an endless stream of deceptive pseudoscience that peddles this stuff to the credulous. Just like with religion what we have here are apologists writing for the credulous and the already duped.
In the next installment I will look at the claim that human beings were created by aliens. Are we actually a slave race that rebelled against our reptilian masters? Stay tuned!
Other Installments in this Series
- Ancient Aliens Part 2 - Religion and Myth
The second part in a series analyzing claims that aliens visited the Earth in the ancient past. In this installment, reinterpretations of religious myth to insert aliens are examined.
- Ancient Aliens Part 1 - Megaliths and Monuments
The first hub in a series examining the speculative claims of ancient astronaut believers and the often fallacious reasoning employed to support their assertions.