Ancient astronauts or ancient aliens, also known as paleocontact hypothesis, are purported intelligent extraterrestrial beings said to have visited Earth in antiquity or prehistory and made contact with humans.
Proponents suggest that this contact influenced the development of human cultures, technologies, and religions. A common variant of the idea is that deities from most, if not all, religions are actually extraterrestrials, and their advanced technologies were wrongly understood by primitive men as evidence of their divine status.
These proposals have been popularized, particularly in the latter half of the 20th century, by writers such as Erich von Däniken, Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, Zecharia Sitchin, Robert K. G. Temple, David Icke, and Peter Kolosimo, but the idea that ancient astronauts actually existed is not taken seriously by most academics, and has received little or no credible attention in peer reviewed studies. Ancient astronauts have been widely used as a plot device in science fiction.
Proponents of ancient astronaut hypotheses often maintain that humans are either descendants or creations of extraterrestrial beings who landed on Earth thousands of years ago. An associated idea is that much of human knowledge, religion, and culture came from extraterrestrial visitors in ancient times, in that ancient astronauts acted as a "mother culture". Ancient astronaut proponents also believe that travelers from outer space known as "astronauts" or "spacemen" built many of the structures on earth such as the pyramids in Egypt and the Moai stone heads of Easter Island or aided humans in building them.
Proponents argue that the evidence for ancient astronauts comes from supposed gaps in historical and archaeological records, and they also maintain that absent or incomplete explanations of historical or archaeological data point to the existence of ancient astronauts. The evidence is said to include archaeological artifacts that they argue are anachronistic or beyond the presumed technical capabilities of the historical cultures with which they are associated (sometimes referred to as "Out-of-place artifacts"); and artwork and legends which are interpreted as depicting extraterrestrial contact or technologies. Legitimate academics have responded that gaps in contemporary knowledge of the past need not demonstrate that such speculative ancient astronaut ideas are a necessary conclusion to draw.
Thomas Gold, a professor of astronomy, suggested a "garbage theory" for the origin of life, proposing that life on Earth might have spread from a pile of waste products accidentally dumped on Earth long ago by extraterrestrials.
Ancient Aliens is a television series that features the main proponents of the ancient astronaut hypothesis, such as Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, David Childress, Erich von Däniken, Steven Greer, and Nick Pope.
Notable writers and publications
Paleocontact or "ancient astronaut" narratives first appear in early science fiction of the late 19th to early 20th century. The idea was proposed in earnest by Harold T. Wilkins (1954), and it received some consideration as a serious hypothesis during the 1960s, and has been mostly confined to the field of pseudoscience and pop culture since the 1970s. Ancient astronauts appear as a feature of UFO religions beginning with the Space opera in Scientology scripture (1967), followed by Raelism, (1974).
Erich von Däniken
Erich von Däniken was a leading proponent of this hypothesis in the late 1960s and early 1970s, gaining a large audience through the 1968 publication of his best-selling book Chariots of the Gods? and its sequels.
Certain artifacts and monumental constructions are claimed by von Däniken to have required a more sophisticated technological ability in their construction than that which was available to the ancient cultures who constructed them. Von Däniken maintains that these artifacts were constructed either directly by extraterrestrial visitors or by humans who learned the necessary knowledge from said visitors. These include Stonehenge, Pumapunku, the Moai of Easter Island, the Great Pyramid of Giza, and the ancient Baghdad electric batteries.
Von Däniken claims that ancient art and Maya ruler of Palenque, Pacal the Great. Von Däniken claimed the design represented a seated astronaut, whereas the iconography and accompanying Maya text identifies it as a portrait of the ruler himself with the World Tree of Maya mythology.
The origins of many religions are interpreted by von Däniken as reactions to encounters with an alien race. According to his view, humans considered the technology of the aliens to be supernatural and the aliens themselves to be gods. Von Däniken claims that the oral and written traditions of most religions contain references to alien visitors in the way of descriptions of stars and vehicular objects travelling through air and space. One such is Ezekiel's revelation in the Old Testament, which Däniken interprets as a detailed description of a landing spacecraft.
Von Däniken's hypotheses became popularized in the U.S. after the NBC-TV documentary In Search Of Ancient Astronauts hosted by Rod Serling and the movie Chariots of the Gods.
Critics argue that von Däniken misrepresented data, that many of his claims were unfounded, and that none of his core claims have been validated.
An ancient Mesopotamian cylinder seal
Zecharia Sitchin's series The Earth Chronicles, beginning with The 12th Planet, revolves around Sitchin's unique interpretation of ancient Sumerian and Middle Eastern texts, megalithic sites, and artifacts from around the world. He hypothesizes that the gods of old Mesopotamia were actually astronauts from the planet "Nibiru", which Sitchin claims the Sumerians believed to be a remote "12th planet" (counting the Sun, Moon, and Pluto as planets) associated with the god Marduk. According to Sitchin, Nibiru continues to orbit our sun on a 3,600-year elongated orbit. Modern astronomy has found no evidence to support Sitchin's claims.
Sitchin claimed there are Sumerian texts which tell the story that 50 Anunnaki, inhabitants of a planet named Nibiru, came to Earth approximately 400,000 years ago with the intent of mining raw materials, especially gold, for transport back to Nibiru. With their small numbers they soon grew tired of the task and set out to genetically engineer laborers to work the mines. After much trial and error they eventually created homo sapiens sapiens: the "Adapa" (model man) or Adam of later mythology. Sitchin contended the Anunnaki were active in human affairs until their culture was destroyed by global catastrophes caused by the abrupt end of the last ice age some 12,000 years ago. Seeing that humans survived and all they had built was destroyed, the Anunnaki left Earth after giving humans the opportunity and means to govern themselves. Sitchin's work has not received mainstream scholarly support and has been roundly criticized by professionals that have reviewed his hypotheses. Semitic languages scholar Michael S. Heiser says that many of Sitchin's translations of Sumerian and Mesopotamian words are not consistent with Mesopotamian cuneiform bilingual dictionaries, produced by ancient Akkadian scribes.