Ancient Astronauts, has the Earth been visited by aliens?
Yes, I am deliberately writing a fluff piece because I don’t want to write about the nightmare that is Libya. OK, fluff piece is a bit unfair, let’s just say this is a fun post. In the spirit of “any topic should be taken seriously,” some people are convinced that aliens have visited Earth in the past, and claim there is evidence purporting to support said conjecture. What are we to make of this? In no particular order …
First off, the theory is not absurd. Humans exist, therefor it’s undeniable that tool-using interstellar travelling aliens are a possibility. IE if tomorrow someone found the equivalent of an alien Viking lander sitting in the Gobi desert, it wouldn’t overturn any current scientific theories. At least there’s no extent theory I am aware of that precludes that possibility. OK, so the concept of ancient aliens passes the laugh test. It goes mostly downhill from here though. Sigh. And I loved “Chariots of the Gods” as a kid.
For one thing, there is no known artifact of alien origin extent or in the historical record. There are a few hints here and there in the historical record, none of which rises above anecdotal hearsay level in terms of empirical veracity. If aliens have visited Earth, they were few and far between, and they were careful not to leave anything behind.
Secondly, there are no mysteries in the historical and archaeological record that require an unknown alien contribution to explain. In the nineteenth century things like the Egyptian pyramids and Easter Island statues were head scratchers, those days are long gone. There is no need for nor is there any evidence of non-human intelligence in any ancient construction, archaeologists are agreed on this. And modern archaeology is an amazing thing.
As a codicil to the first two, it should be noted that it would be relatively easy for aliens to leave more or less unmistakable traces of themselves if they so desired. Artifacts made out of alloys only modern technology could produce for example. In the information realm it’s even easier. A map of the far side of the Moon, or a map of the Solar System showing Neptune and Uranus would do the trick in spades. No such item exists to the best of my knowledge.
Now I could take a look at a lot of the purported evidence for alien visitation in more detail, but frankly none of it is really much to get excited about. Some rock drawings of people with what could be construed as space helmets on. (As illustrated above.) Some figurines and such that bear a superficial resemblance to jet aircraft. Nothing that rises above the “well, it sorta looks like” level.
Well, almost nothing. There are three items that bear a little more comment. The first is the Tunguska Event in 1908. This was a nuclear sized explosion in remote Siberian, I’ve blogged about it. At one point it was somewhat mysterious, and it has been half seriously proposed that it might have been an exploding alien spaceship of some kind. As with the pyramids and Easter Island, that was then, this is now. Modern science, while it doesn’t understand everything about the Tunguska event, is now sure it was caused by a large rocky asteroid that overheated and exploded when it plunged into Earth’s atmosphere. Poot.
Secondly, the Dogon people Sirius mystery. The Dogon people are a people that live in Africa, Mali to be exact. It is claimed by some that the Dogon possess astronomical knowledge that wasn’t known until the modern era, to wit that the star Sirius has an invisible (to the naked eye) companion. Sadly, what the Dogon don’t possess is a written language. So even if we believe that some Dogon wise man told a western anthropologist about Sirius’s invisible companion star in the 1930s (and even this is subject to a lot of doubt,) that’s still nearly a century after modern astronomers discovered Sirius’s companion star. That’s a lot of time for the information to have made it to the Dogon people long before the anthropologist got there in the1930s, the Dogon are not some obscure tribe living in the hinterlands, they are a large tribe in well travelled areas that have had contact with westerners for centuries.
Lastly, the author Johnathon Swift in his satire Gulliver’s Travels written in 1726 mentions Mars as having two small moons similar in size and orbit to the Moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos … which weren’t discovered until 1877! Pretty amazing coincidence, eh? This has led some to suggest that Swift had access to information that had to have come from aliens. Alas, the reality is more prosaic. For some time before Swift it had been conjectured that Mars might have two small moons. Small because they couldn’t be seen with the telescopes of the day. It seems more than likely that Swift was just using an astronomical theory of his day when he wrote about the two moons of Mars. Poot again.
So basically, when it comes to ancient astronauts, there’s no there there. It’s a nifty idea, it’s not impossible, but none of the evidence so far lacks alternative prosaic explanations. Personally I think that the people who believe in alien visitation should take a more scientific approach to the problem instead of searching for evidence that supports their belief. Any moron with a theory can find evidence that supports their theory. The scientific method was invented to weed people like this out of serious discussion. It needs to be appled more rigorously.
(The above image is public domain under most copyright law since the artist has been dead some 10,000 years. It’s a rock drawing in Italy, one among hundreds of thousands. Yes, it could represent people wearing space helmets. It could represent idle stylized graffiti. It could represent whatever one wants. What it doesn’t represent is proof of anything.)