This theory proposes that various extraterrestrial visitors came to earth in the distant past and somehow ignited or advanced human evolution and civilization. More a collection of presuppositions and presumptions rather than a single coherent body of thought, ancient astronaut theory (AAT) claims that sentient beings from other worlds came to the earth and left their mark on both the physical landscape and the human condition. Variations on the theme include aliens coming to earth intentionally for some as yet unknown reason, or accidentally through some mechanical failure of their technology and becoming marooned here. Once here, the aliens intentionally altered protohuman genetic material as part of a test, mated with early hominids to create Homo sapiens, or they mated with and carefully guided the already existing Homo sapiens population. All evidence for AAT is speculative and circumstantial at best.

Ancient Astronauts, Cosmic Collisions and Other Popular Theories About Man’s Past

Evidence for ancient astronauts is based upon similarities in widespread human culture or the supposed inexplicability of certain societal advancements and architectural achievements, advances beyond what, according to proponents, such civilizations should not have been capable of. Other rationale for belief in AAT include religious or mythological stories of phenomenal gods or visitors and knowledge of the Earth which could only be attained by traveling extreme heights or distances, not a plausible feat for primitive people. The seemingly rapid explosion of civilizations is also cited as possible evidence for the theory, as well as the evolutionary jump from ape to man. Major proponents of the idea include Charles Hoy Fort and his Book of the Damned (1919), and Erich von Daniken and his Chariots of the Gods (1968). While Fort’s book garnered interest in the subject, it was von Daniken’s that captured the popular imagination and helped spawn an enormous wave of interest in the subject.

In addition to the idea that sentient beings came to earth, there is the less sensational idea that alien microbes may have arrived on earth after drifting through space. Some theories propose that ancient astronauts are responsible for ringing all forms of life to earth, beginning with spores. Distributing or planting primeval spores on the earth in its early stages may have been all that was needed to trigger an eruption of life forms. The purpose of cultivating plant and animal life could have been for scientific experimentation, to create a habitable residence for themselves, or possibly as a hedge against future necessity, when the alien civilization might need the earth for colonization purposes.

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The supposed inability of scientist to provide the missing link in man’s evolution leads into the idea that visitors may have interbred with the early hominids. If they had colonized during this stage in man’s development, it would have been before the last ice age, and remnants of their stay would have been destroyed. Therefore, this idea is made plausible, not by an artifact, but by the leap in development of Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons, both species exhibited a cranium capacity one and half times larger than primeval man, and 200 cubic centimeters larger than today’s average. Alfred Russel Wallace, a contemporary of Charles Darwin, broached the question of whether or not something inexplicable triggered this brain growth in humans, later known as the “Brain’s Big Bang.”

Other ideas about ancient astronauts are linked to the advancement of civilization. Mysterious ancient temples, which seem unlikely given the time in which they were built, or structures seen only from the sky, are often attributed to other worldly aides. Cross-cultural similarities in monument construction, despite vast distance and supposed unfamiliarity, fall into this category as well.

One popular subject for AAT theorists can be found in the lines drawn in the surface of the earth at Nazca Peru. The Lines of the Nazca, a favorite topic of Von Daniken, were formed at least 2,000 years ago by local people scraping the surface of the ground to expose lighter earth underneath. Thousands of lines were drawn. Many were simply straight lines, while others form shapes of animals and insects. Others demarcate the summer solstice line as well as points of the compass, sunrise, and sunset. It is argued that the lines are visible only from the air and some believe them to have been created for religious purposes, although it is unknown exactly why they were created. There are similar unexplained carvings in the Titus Canyon in Death Valley, and the Mojave Maze in California, in the United States. Ancient astronaut enthusiasts credit the formation of these lines as evidence of aeronautic assistance.

In Nazca, some lines point toward a pre-Incan temple in Tiahuanaco. It is estimated that 100,000 people were needed to build this “Gate of the Sun,” yet there is no evidence showing that the plateau it sits on, 13,000 feet above sea level, was ever able to support such manpower. The precision in the construction of the temple walls has kept it intact, and it is incredibly similar to the fittings of the submerged limestone Bimini Wall in the Bahamas. There is some speculation as to whether this underwater monument was perhaps the fabled lost city of Atlantis, which was said to be an advanced civilization even by today’s standards. Another curious feature about the Peruvian “Gate of the Sun” structure is the “Gallery of Mankind,” which showcases a variety of dissimilar physiognomic faces. It is unknown how this isolated, primitive culture knew the different races of people across the world.

The appearance of pyramids in Egypt and throughout Mesoamerica are thought to be connected because of their likeness and grandeur. The Great Pyramid of Giza entices, pseudoscience enthusiasts because of its alignment with true north on one side and the Earth’s polar axis on its east face. Other large structures include Stonehenge and the huge Moai megaliths of Easter Island. Even larger are the three megalithic stones in Baalbek, Lebanon. They are known as the “Trilithon” and are the largest stones to have been quarried, at an estimated 500 tons each, a weight seemingly beyond the capabilities of ancient man.

There are many more artifacts and instances attributed to ancient astronauts. Pre-Incan gold carvings discovered in Colombia resemble spacemen and delta wing jetfighters. While some argue that the airplane carvings are zoomorphic, a vertical stabilizer is featured placing it in a category representative of modern aircraft as opposed to any known bird or insect. A model airplane was also discovered in a tomb in Saqqara, Egypt in 1898. Classified as a “wooden bird model” and shelved in a museum basement, when found, the models were later identified as clear flying devices and dated to 200 BC. Other classical Egyptian wall decorations are said to include the outline of an airplane, a helicopter, and an electric light bulb. Egyptologists who have studied the hieroglyphs extensively say this is nonsense.

Vimanas, flying machines, are also mentioned and mapped out in the Sanskrit epics of India. The Vaimanika Sastra is an eight-chapter diagramed description of three types of aircraft, including apparatuses that could neither catch on fire nor break. It mentions 31 essential parts of these vehicles and 16 materials from which they are constructed. The vehicles can absorb light and heat, for this reason, they were considered suitable for the construction of Vimanas.

Artistic evidence in favor of AAT includes Paleolithic cave paintings from Val Camonica, Italy, dating to 10,000 BC, and at Vondijina, in Australia. The dome-shaped heads of the paintings’ subjects have been claimed to depict extraterrestrial visitors wearing what look like space helmets, rather than the mythological persons or gods of archaeological scholarship. Another speculation is the Dogu, which is said to be an ancient astronaut who visited the Earth during the Jomon period of Ancient Japan and resembles a being in a space suit, goggles, and a space helmet. Medieval and Renaissance art are used to support this theory as well. It is suggested that certain objects in the paintings that cannot be easily explained with relevance may indeed be flying saucers. These objects are used to support AAT by attempting to show that the creators of humanity return to check up on their creation throughout time.

Various religious creation stories begin with two or more beings coming to earth. There are Chinese theories about an alien race called the Dropa who left behind fascinating discs. The Mayan religious text, the Popol Vuh, clearly states, “Men came from the stars, knowing everything, and they examined the four corners of the sky and the Earth’s round surface.”

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In an example of how AAT has exited the interest of engineers, Joseph Blumrich of NASA took special note of the Bible story of Ezekiel after seeing Von Daniken’s discussion of it. He decided to try to recreate the image as described in the Bible. He built a scale model flying machine based on the story. Ezekiel, in his first vision, saw a great cloud with fire flashing through it and radiance around it, something that gleamed like metal and the sound of great waters. Blumrich likened this to the downdraft and tail of jet exhaust during the descent of our lunar landing crafts. In verse seven, the description of straight legs with hoofs like calves glittering like polished brass parallels the aerospace structure determined to be the most logical shape for an unmanned landing craft, as devised by Blumrich and NASA between 1962 and 1964. Ezekiel’s account of four figures, each with four wings, that descended through the clouds, and one of which lifted him up between the earth and heavens to the gate of Jerusalem and back to Chebar in chapter 8 can be equated to the design of helicopters, as Blumrich was able to show in sketches. Similar descriptions can be found in several other reports by Ezekiel. Other biblical figures like Elijah, who departed earth in a chariot of fire, and Enoch, who walked with God and was taken up by a whirlwind, have also been re-evaluated as possible encounters as well. The explanation for these somewhat confusing accounts centers on the fact that there was no vernacular at the time to describe space crafts accurately to our modern understanding, but that the prophet was describing an actual alien machine. Blumrich explained his theory in The Spaceships of Ezekiel (1974) and inspired many to examine other biblical accounts for traces of alien visitation.

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While the idea of ancient alien space travelers coming to the earth to jump-start human civilization is a romantic and tantalizing one, it has its dark side. The theory suggests that all the great human accomplishments of the ancient world were not our own, that ancient people, often dark-skinned ancient people, were mentally incapable of achieving complex feats of science and engineering. AAT relegates humans to background characters, groveling in the mud like simpletons who need alien super-beings to come save them and even build their shelters. Scholarly studies of these civilizations shows that ancient humans were more than capable of building pyramids and other monumental architecture on their own. They created complex societies and accomplished astounding feats without the help of anti-gravity device-toting and flying saucer-riding aliens. In short, the AAT is a modern recasting of 18th– and 19th-century European attitudes about “colonials” and “natives.”

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