Ancient Aliens (and a defense of mythology)

Even if you don’t watch the History Channel, you’ve probably heard of the show Ancient Aliens from this popular internet meme.  If you haven’t seen the show, you can probably assume what it’s about.  A bunch of crackpot ‘scientists’ pore through historical artifacts and ancient myths looking for evidence of alien encounters with ancient peoples.  After only a few viewings of the show, you begin to notice that there is a core group of about three ‘historians’ who assert these theories.  Other experts are brought in to talk about the evidence, but it usually takes cutting back to crazy-hair-and-crazier-name up there to come around to the punchline of the show, ‘Aliens’ – although he usually uses the term ‘extra-terrestrials’ with a lisp that’s as embarrassing as his hair.  Now despite my chastising of these loons, I actually really enjoy watching the show.  It presents a lot of history and ancient cultures that you wouldn’t usually hear about otherwise.  And if you have any sense in your head, you can usually figure out a better explanation for these historical mysteries than aliens, but at that point you’re too busy laughing at dude’s hair, which seems to get more out of control with every episode.

The ‘ancient alien’ or ‘ancient astronaut’ theory is not a new one by any means.  The alien explanation has been a recurring joke of archaeology since someone looked at the pyramids and said “How the hell did they do that?”  It’s the archaeologist’s way of saying, “Beats me.”  But ‘ancient alien theorists,’ which the show asserts is a real profession, take the explanation way more seriously.  Any piece of archaeological evidence that has even the slightest ambiguity in its origin, becomes evidence not only of aliens, but that aliens have been interacting with humans since we weren’t humans.  The theory only gets crazier from there, claiming that aliens had a direct influence on our evolution, and that we may be descendants of aliens fucking monkeys or something crazy like that.

The most common evidence they use for their theories, however, is not physical.  The ‘theorists’ claim that ancient myths of ‘gods,’ ‘angels,’ and other heavenly beings coming down from the sky, are misinterpretations of ancient alien encounters.  While some of these stories do bear striking resemblances to modern accounts of alien encounters, the theorists are entirely missing what that infers.  What these people fail to realize is that aliens are a modern myth.  Their claim that ancient myths merely ‘misinterpreted’ alien encounters, asserts that aliens are a proven fact.  The truth is we still know as little about these encounters as the ancients did.  We think that because we are more advanced technologically, that we have a better idea of what’s going on in these encounters, but we do not.  Any theory about aliens necessitates technology that does not exist, and has not been proven to be possible.  We are simply doing the same thing the ancients did, and putting these stories into a context that we understand.  The entire notion of aliens, abductions, alien testing on humans, is all a modern myth generated by sparse accounts of loosely similar experiences, just as the ancient myths were.  Yet these ‘theorists’ are quick to denounce the ancient interpretations as myth, and assert the modern interpretation as true.  This leads me to a more general, and much more destructive, misinterpretation: that of myth.

In modern connotation, the word ‘myth’ has become synonymous with ‘lie.’  It’s a way of dismissing something that isn’t true as irrelevant.  We apply the term ‘mythology’ to any religion or other set of stories that we want to do away with.  This is one way the modern religions dismissed paganism and other older religions.  We think of mythology as archaic and primitive, without realizing that we still participate in mythology.  The defining characteristic of a myth is not whether or not it is true, it is what function it serves in our collective psyche and our society.  Mythologists often use the example of superheros as the quintessential ‘modern myth.’  These characters transcend the individual stories they are in and become major influences on our culture despite being fictional.  A person who may have never read a Batman comic or seen a movie, knows who Batman is.  And the same can be said for Superman, V, Luke Skywalker, you name it.  But myths aren’t always based on fictional characters.  Some, like aliens, are based on actual experiences, and could be true.  One modern mythological figure that is completely true, is that of the G-man.  ‘G-men’ or ‘Men In Black’ (not the movie) are based on real people in our societies, yet their characters transcend the actuality of their origins.  They serve the same function as some demons of ancient myths.  They are mysterious and faceless creatures that have vast control over our lives and are typically indifferent or malevolent towards humans and our values.

So the correlation between ancient myths of ‘gods’ and ‘angels’ and the modern myths of aliens is no coincidence.  They serve the same mythological function: advanced beings from a realm beyond the earth that interfere or assist in human development.  Sometimes they are benevolent, sometimes malicious, but most of the time indifferent.  Often they can control events and physical forces that are beyond our control, such as time, weather, etc.  They sometimes give prophetic messages, or whisk unsuspecting humans off into the unknown and reveal to them mysteries of the universe.  The one interpretation does not validate the other or vice versa.  The ancients did not misinterpret aliens as gods.  We and the ancients have misinterpreted something that we don’t understand as something that we can understand, as we have done throughout history.  The commonalities are what’s important.  The fact that we need some type of figure or character to serve that function tells us something about our own psyche.  We yearn for the existence of a race of beings that lives beyond the trials and sorrows of human life.  The question is not, ‘are gods actually aliens?’; the question is, ‘why do we want to believe that such beings exist?’

16 thoughts on “Ancient Aliens (and a defense of mythology)

  1. Pingback: History from the Web
  2. I agree that one could say that ancient astronaut theory is a modern day myth and is merely an extension on a traditional belief in a higher power etc. However, like atheists belittling the religious, it is all too easy to belittle this programme and theory it hypothesizes. The contributors to the show don’t all claim to be scientists and mostly dont present their work as fact. Mocking someone’s hair is undermining them without actually referring to any form of intellectual argument.
    Granted, AAT is crazy when you think about it but they are not forcing their opinions on anyone unlike religious figures throughout the millennia. What the programme does show is that we know so very little about our past and that there is virtue in opening your mind to different ways of thinking. There may be reasoned arguments to put down any theory but the mindset of the world is to dismiss such ideas as a joke without proper investigation.
    There is so much about our past we know so very little about, if there weren’t ancient aliens, there was certainly advanced humans a long time before historians claim there were. The problem is that mainstream historians refuse to talk about it. Nut jobs or not, at least these guys are trying!

    • I try to fit a little humor into my posts when I can, and, let’s face it, the hair’s an easy target. I enjoy the show and I think that most of their contributors are intelligent, level-headed people, but they do have a tendency to end each segment with the main guy finally pulling out the alien card, and then expanding on it with more ridiculous theories. He seems to jump to the first outlandish conclusion he can find, without considering any alternative, and most of his hypotheses actually contradict each other. He’s also made his entire career out of promoting this theory, so it’s a little hard to find him credible.

      I was only trying to point out that the theory itself only really proves that an ancient myth and a modern myth are probably the same myth, and most likely derived from the same phenomenon. To assume that one myth is more credible than the other is where I draw the line. I think most contributors to the show actually probably share this belief, but it’s not as sellable a theory, so the show presents the outlandish ones, because that’s what the fans want.

      I think your last paragraph is a good explanation of most of their evidence. I think there were isolated societies throughout history that were far ahead of their time that never made it into the history books because we haven’t pieced together all of the evidence yet. But to chalk this evidence up to aliens is to undermine the achievements of some of our ancient ancestors. I think it’s much more valuable to believe that certain groups of humans performed feats far beyond their assumed capabilities. These sites should be testaments to human achievement, not speculative outlandish theories.

    • Unless you can actually prove there wasn’t alien -astronats then you are theorizing .You haven’t grasped the real picture..Being in construction my whole life I know say Puka Punka was not man made. No invention of wheel exsisted yet .So no pulleys ropes tools blueprints …no language mathematics no engineers no nothing. Yet who lifted 250 ton rock walls ?Can you tell me? ANd please don’t say …”They were just smart” that tecnology had to be one of progression. There are no othere models around there.Canadian Minister of Defense came out last week and says there are ALiens here.

  3. Reblogged this on nperry298 and commented:
    Fair enough, I’ll allow the humour…My standpoint is that I do find a large bulk of the theory plausible and would love a percentage of what they are purporting to be true but I know that there is no solid evidence that we can say anything with any certainty.
    However, there is a consistency throughout history of people reporting the same things. Why is this? Why are there cave paintings of beings who look like alien greys from thousands of years ago from Australia to the American mid-west and images of saucer shaped discs that people still claim to see today. Released government files from countries like France show they know they exist but they are clueless as the rest of us as to who they are, how to communicate with them and their motives. The conventional explanations that are proposed from so called scientists who believe that all man kind hallucinates a lot or that weather balloons have been around through the millennia are quite frankly a joke.
    Is the universality of religion a condition of the human psyche or does replacing god with aliens make the universal story plausible?
    I don’t know how many episodes you have watched. The more drastic absurd conclusions arise as they take the main bulk of theory and apply it to anything to do with the paranormal. For me, episodes about big-foot and dinosaurs took it too far. I don’t see how their wrong assertions detract from the potentially correct ones they make. They don’t contradict themselves but rather offer many potential explanations to the same events. The reason for this is that they know they dont know the certainty of any of this but are just trying to answer unanswerable questions.
    My question to you…What is the difference between myth and ancient history?

    • I agree with the consistency of the accounts; I’m merely suggesting that this consistency only implies that the two myths arose from the same phenomena, while the show seems to suggest that the old explanation is a ‘misinterpretation’ but the new one is accurate. They ignore the fact that this new interpretation is also a myth. That’s all I’m saying.

      I personally think that religion is a condition of the human psyche. I think if we hadn’t come up with gods in the first place, we wouldn’t have called aliens gods when we encountered them. You also have to keep in mind that not all religions/mythologies involved ‘sky beings,’ yet they still followed general mythological form, which is proof to me that religion/mythology is inherent to the human condition and not the result of alien encounters.

      Let me clarify that I am a big fan of the show, mostly because I like to entertain the idea as well. I think there is proof that extra- or ultra- terrestrial or dimensional beings exist and have interacted with humans throughout history, but I think most evidence for it can be explained by other means as well, so it’s whatever you choose to believe. The best argument for the existence of these beings, I think, is sheer logic. In a universe as vast and incomprehensible as ours, there are bound to be ‘beings’ that we don’t understand and can’t perceive through our normal senses, and interaction with those beings would take the form of a fantastical event to us. However, I don’t think we should say that any piece of evidence is irrefutable proof of them if it could have another explanation. I’ve watched more episodes of the show than I’d like to admit, and I think everyone can agree that they’ve pretty much exhausted all of the good evidence they had, and are grasping at straws now.

      The difference between myth and ancient history…… is the difference between apples and oranges. I’m not sure what you’re suggesting with this question. I think you might be saying something like most ancient historical accounts are mythological in nature, which is true, but to call it ‘history’ means that we are extracting what facts we can from those myths and comparing them to archaeological evidence in order to paint a logical picture of events.

      Thanks for the discussion and the reblog though! Please don’t hesitate to rebut, especially concerning the universality of religion bit, as I’d love to debate that in particular.

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  11. I agree with the above article. When it comes to the cable-TV show, Ancient Aliens, these so-called crazies, if this is the proper term, have not provided anything tangible enough that aliens (or gods) visited Earth long ago. This goes for their purported responsibility of influencing human evolution. I’m not going into lengthy details of my position as to why Ancient Aliens are so alluring. The internal position is the appropriate one to take. There has been a need to “see” shadowy figures, as a supernatural guise, to explain the mysterious of the universe. Therefore, as society changes so do the motifs. Ancient aliens should not be taken too literally. Hallucinations are aplenty, let alone misidentifications, viz a vie, humans tend to be poor observers.

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