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Debunking Ancient Aliens: Alien Encounters Throughout History and the DNA Evidence
Ancient Aliens is a television program currently in its forth season on The History Channel. In the season one episode "The Visitors," the series posits that "practically every human civilization have been in touch with extraterrestrial beings." Giorgio Tsoukalos goes on to list India, Israel, the Mayans, and the Aztecs in particular.
So, what's the evidence? And does it check out?
Roswell, New Mexico
The episode begins with perhaps the most well known alien encounter: the 1947 Roswell UFO Incident. When introducing the incident, Ancient Aliens makes a claim that seems to stretch the truth. The narrator says that the army issued a statement that they had found an alien flying disk. In reality, the army never used the word "alien" -- the report only mentions a "flying disc" that had been recovered -- and the next day the "flying disc" claim was rebuked by a higher ranking army official, who explained that it was actually a high altitude weather balloon.
The narrator claims that the "conflicting reports sent shock-waves around the world." But did it really? According to WIkipedia, until 1978, the incident went largely forgotten, when a ufologist -- yes, that's a real term -- named Stanton Friedman published an interview with Jesse Marcel, who explained his belief that the military was covering up an alien encounter at Roswell. It would appear that these "shock-waves" described in Ancient Aliens remained dormant for 30 years following the incident -- at which time, a single man involved in the incident began making unusual claims. Marcel insisted that the wreckage had hieroglyphics that could not be deciphered. Other witnesses confirmed unusual writing on the wreckage, but suspected it was Chinese or Japanese characters.
As is typical with the series, Ancient Aliens uses quiet a bit of "what if" suggestions, tugging on people's desire for Roswell to be a real incident involving aliens, but without presenting true evidence.
Cahuachi, Peru, the religious and cultural center of the Nazca people, is the next bit of evidence in this episode. In 1910, an archeologist found elongated skulls in Cahuachi. As Ancient Aliens explains, the practice of skull deformation and elongation, while uncommon, is practiced in a select few areas across the world.
Giorgio Tsukalos claims that the practice is meant to mimic the gods -- which he believes are aliens -- in appearance. His reasoning? People would not expose their children to such a ritual to mimic imaginary gods. An interesting theory -- but not grounded in any fact.
Ancient Aliens suggests that cranial deformation has to be learned, and that too many groups in isolated areas practice cranial deformation for it to be a coincidence. The practice simply must have been influenced by an outside force. An interesting claim, but not one they manage to back up scientifically.
The next piece of evidence comes from Ancient Egypt. Prior to the Pharaoh Akhenaten, Egyptian Pharaohs claimed to be descendants of the gods. Akhenaten banned references to multiple gods during his reign -- a period of religious beliefs known as Atenism. The Atenist period of Egyptian history was all but erased until relatively recently.
According to legend, Akhenaten was visited by Aten, who explained that he was the sole god. Akhenaten claimed, according to Ancient Aliens , to be a decedent of Aten. In Ancient Egypt, Pharaohs commonly claimed a link to the Egyptian gods, normally claiming god-status themselves.
Ancient Aliens suggests that Akhenaten's claim is different, due to his representation in artwork. This difference, historically, has been assumed to be the result of a genetic abnormality -- supported in part by CT scans of Akhenaten's children, who displayed physical characteristics associated with potential illnesses that Akhenaten himself may have carried. Giorgio Tsoukalos claims that he looked different because he was an alien. Egyptologists today have a different theory. Because Aten was described as the "mother and father of all humankind," Akhenaten may have an usual depiction in artwork because he was meant to embody the same androgynous qualities of Aten.
An important aspect to note in the discussion of Akhenaten is the identity of his son -- Tutankhamen. Since both Tutankhamen's mummified body and Akhenaten's mummified body have been found -- their relationship confirmed in 2010 through DNA testing -- presumably tests would also be able to confirm the "alien DNA" suggested on Ancient Aliens . Since this evidence has not been brought to light, one must assume this hypothesis has been abandoned.
While there is no concrete consensus on why Akhenaten has such an unusual depiction in artwork, Ancient Aliens , in its attempt to push its alien hypotheses, yet again fails to present an unbiased discussion of Akhenaten.
The Dogon of Mali
Ancient Aliens attempts to draw a link between the Dogon of Mali, with their traditional belief of sky gods, and the similar beliefs in Egypt. Additionally, Namo in Dogon mythology is depicted with an elongated head, similar to Akhenaten in Egyptian history. As has already been discussed, head elongation is present, perhaps independently, in a wide number of cultures, thus the link is a tenuous one.
The link becomes more clear when the origin of Namo is discussed. The Dogon believe that Namo originated in the star Sirius, the same place as the origin of Osiris. Again, the link is fairly weak -- Osiris was not one of the gods acknowledged by Akhenaten.
More interesting is the claim that the Dogon knew about a star that modern science only just confirmed -- the star Sirius B, a white dwarf that is invisible to the named eye. Doubts over their knowledge has been questioned recently, with many of the Dogon people suggesting that they learned of Sirius B, the companion star to Sirius A (which is visible to the naked eye), from the man who first suggested that the Dogon were aware of this information. While Giorgio Tsoukalos claims that "we know" the story goes back more than hundreds of years, this simply is not something that can be confirmed. For more information, see the Wikipedia article on the Dogon people, which clearly outlines the controversy over Sirius B. It seems fairly clear that the most likely scenario is that the Dogon beliefs were influenced by Western observers with knowledge of Sirius B.