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Science, Skepticism, and the Ancient Astronaut Debate

The year was 1898, and in a tomb located near Saqquara, Egypt, a 2000-year old relic was discovered that, to this day, shakes our concept of what the ancient world may have really been. While some would argue that the object in question here had been a very crude representation of a bird, by our modern standards it can only be likened to resembling one thing: an airplane.

As a researcher who gravitates more toward the skeptical center myself, I have often in the past found myself leaning more toward the notion that certain artifacts from the ancient world are abstract pieces of art, perhaps designed to vaguely resemble fish, birds, or other things in nature, which causes them to more closely resemble the more geometrically appeasing imagery associated with modern avionics and heavier-than-air flying craft. But with relics such as the Saqquara Airplane, chalking such curious ancient models up to being “birds” becomes a bit more difficult when looking at the mechanics of such an object (which we’ll examine more closely in a moment).

Altogether, it does seem that there is merit to the notion that ancient people may have harnessed far greater technology than most realize (or will accept) today. But does this line of thought also cater effectively to notions of intervention in ancient times, that occurred between early humans and beings from other worlds?

When we look at an object like the plane model discovered at Saqquara, it does become rather difficult to state that some knowledge of aviation hadn’t been implemented in the design for whatever this object was meant to represent. Obviously, the little model, constructed of wood, is not designed for achieving flight itself, let alone doing so in a way that would be efficient or practical for human travel. However, key features the object includes are that of a modern pusher-glider, capable of flying at slower speeds, when necessary. The shape of the wings on this model follow a curvature that points slightly downward at either tip, which is referred to in modern avionics as being reverse-dihedral. Again, we find that a number of modern aircraft implement this design, which supports maximum lift without further compromising the speed the craft is actually capable of traveling.

Such design attributes have prompted scale recreations of this craft, which in flight tests managed to prove that a proportionally larger model of this same design can indeed glide along very efficiently. Was this design merely stumbled onto by ancient thinkers? Could ancient Egyptian engineers have been planning modes of transportation that would carry them through the air, rather than on land? It is a remarkable prospect… and for many, such notions seem almost impossible to entertain, if not for the potential that such ancient minds were influenced by the technologies of others, who were perhaps not only further along in their technological advancement, but also from someplace other that here on Earth.

It would be true to say that modern science had debated the veracity of such claims for decades now; however, it is also accurate to state that, while mainstream academia does not support the notion of “Ancient Astronauts” visiting Earth, many of the fundamental questions regarding mysteries put forth and popularized by the “Ancient Aliens” camp remain unanswered just as well. Those who endorse ideas such as paleo-contact with extraterrestrials argue, with obvious merit, that there are many questions that remain about our ancient past, and that these mysteries no doubt could be better understood if innovative new ways of thinking were applied to their study. Those positioned among the academic skeptic side of things, on the other hand, will often discredit not only the claims of the Ancient Astronaut theorists, but also the questions themselves, arguing that for serious scientific inquiry to take place, we must first have serious subjects underlying them, and valid questions about these phenomenon. Hence, a majority of the mysteries pertaining to the ancient world remain hidden away, and even widely unknown to the majority of the academic world, left to be pondered by those heretical “miscreants” the likes of Giorgio Tsoukalos, Erich von Daniken, and others of the Ancient Aliens ilk.

Following an event called the Paradigm Symposium, which I hosted with my associate Scotty Roberts in Minneapolis, Minnesota, I am personally as skeptical as ever regarding the Ancient Astronaut theory. This does not mean that I doubt extraterrestrials could have visited in ancient times, or that I choose, like the majority of mainstream academia, to simply overlook the obvious presence of advanced technologies that existed in ancient times. Furthermore, coming to personally know Tsoukalos, von Daniken, and others, I find them hardly to be men lacking character or passion for what they study, as well as an obviously keen intellect that is applied to the mysteries they pursue. And for the most part, they are also far less touchy about the attacks leveled against them from “the other side” than the academic skeptics out there, who cling to their refusal to acknowledge the mysteries of our world with proud passion and exuberance.

But rather than taking the obvious presence of technology in our midst and saying that, since it could not have existed in ancient times… but it does… then we must be dealing with aliens (hey, that was almost a meme), I prefer instead to observe the information presently at our disposal, and then attempt to reconcile with it only through a focused decision not to come to premature conclusions. In the archaic sense of the word, the term skeptic hails back to a group of early Greek philosophers whose choice in abstinence from conclusion-drawing, they felt, would only grant them a more objective perspective of the phenomenon. There is indeed logic to this, in that once we commit to a particular line of thought (i.e. the “aliens” taught us how to do it), we will begin to move amidst relics from other portions of the ancient world, and then consider how this, too, might have been inspired by extraterrestrial intervention. Arguably, television programming geared toward such ideas often do a lot to assist in this sort of point-click thinking.

And thus, rather than watching the TV specials, or even reading all the popular books on the subject, it is fascinating to sit and talk with a person who advocates such ideas, and rather than choosing either to side with them, or to level attacks at them instead, simply listen to what they have to say, thus removed from the “sixteen-second sound byte” culture that modern television has popularized. There is incredible depth to the arguments many put forth regarding our ancient world, and the only truth we can adhere to, with certainty, is that we do not know what their mystery may entail. Those mysteries persist nonetheless, however, and therefore it is impossible for us to dismiss them, simply on the grounds that they may appear to defy our concept of what history “should be.” To do so is to engage in a willful dismissal of aspects of our ancient past that, without question, remain very real… and point to aspects of our progression as a civilization that have yet managed to elude us for centuries, or even thousands of years.

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  • Very good points.

    There is nothing wrong in entertaining the ideas submitted by the AA proponents, and try to judge their merits impassionately, without fully committing to them.

    For example, we could propose that those ‘impossible’ objects were not the result of a direct contact with flesh-and-blood –or maybe wire-and-steel– space explorers, but rather another example of the non-local nature of human consciousness.

    What if a thousand years ago some Mayan shaman was ‘shrooming and had some very vivid visions of the future, taking special note of the machines and objects that were completely his sphere of knowledge, thus becoming a pre-Colombine version of Nostradamus?

    Maybe, or maybe not. I’m sure that in a hundred years we might come up with other equally interesting ideas… which could still be equally deluded 😉

  • Tsuroshi

    Well said.
    My only problem with AAT is not with the theory itself but with the people who latch onto it as “The Truth”, and thereafter defend it just as viciously as mainstream science defends their version of the truth.
    Unfortunately, it seems to me that these kinds of people invariably accuse others of being close minded suckers that have blindly accepted mainstream explanations and assumptions, while proclaiming that they themselves are paragons open-minded intelligence.
    Hypocrisy–even amusingly ironic unconscious hypocrisy–is annoying.

    I wonder if people just don’t like mystery? It seems to me that for the most part even people who claim to be in love with mystery and all things mysterious are actually in love with attempting to eliminate it–i.e., solving it. Applying answers.
    I have no problem with answers, don’t get me wrong…I just think there’s a knee-jerk reaction in many people to tag an answer of some kind, any kind, onto any question involving strangeness and mystery. Maybe it is cultural, like you said–a lifetime of watching TV short stories where everything is solved and all questions answered in an hour or two has given all of Western Civilization an acute, extreme case of Male Answer Syndrome.

    Case in point: I’m doing it right now…rationalizing an answer to my question, with amusingly ironic unconscious hypocrisy.

  • “There is nothing wrong in entertaining the ideas submited by AA proponents”, only if you never took a single class in classical,Egyptian,Sumerian antiquities….

  • I actually did. And the thing they always failed to mention, is how these cultures managed to arise, and reach such an advanced level of culture in what seemed to be an ‘intellectual explosion’ 😉

    But, as I implied in my comment, I’m not 100% married with the AAt

  • Cultures & civilizations to not arise out of thin air, this is the magical argument used by individuals pushing “the Alien” or “outside intervention” agenda.There are plenty of both archeological & ethno-anthropological evidences for pre Pharaonic Egypt.As to the notion of “intellectual explosion”,it is the result of a misunderstanding of societal-sociological & cultural evolutions in antiquarian cultures

  • But the problem is that orthodox archeology keeps pushing the idea of a continuous cultural progression, and yet the farther we look into the past, the more culturally advanced the civilizations we find –e.g. Gobleki Tepe in Turkey.

    Why not entertain the possibility of retrograde development in civilizations? I’m not necessarily saying ETs came from space and taught us our ABCs. But why not consider there might have been a very advanced transoceanic civilization that was destroyed at the end of the last Ice Age?

  • Redpill.The idea that archeology & ethno-anthropology espouse the notion of “continuous” or “linear” cultural progression, results from incomplete & superficial understanding of the complexities of these sciences (& I`m not saying that in a demeaning way),but it is extremely difficult to grasp the technicality of the topics unless you delve into academic or scholarly literature.The concept of retrograded & (or) retrograding development in civilizations is not only a possibility, it also a fact, more than often they do regress.Cultures have very different & very specific stages & modes of development.There is no such thing as cycle of civilizational requirement.Renaissance artist & inventor Leonard da Vinci envisioned flying machines & submarine,& as far as I am aware,it was not the product of any “Alien” or outside technological intervention.I believe it is inherently intellectually dangerous to underestimate human ingenuity and resourcefulness. As a predoctoral student in Interdisciplinary Studies (archaeology-anthropology)I am not hostile to the idea of “advanced transoceanic civilization that was destroyed at the end of the last Ice”,but I need more than speculations.

  • >”As a predoctoral student in Interdisciplinary Studies
    (archaeology-anthropology)I am not hostile to the idea of “advanced
    transoceanic civilization that was destroyed at the end of the last
    Ice”,but I need more than speculations.”

    All right. What would suffice to you, not to convince you completely, but to start taking these ideas more seriously?

  • I find the Saqquara Airplane a very interesting artefact. As the ancients would have had a reasonable understanding of the anatomy of birds, it seems unlikely that they would have to resort to making “crude representations,” especially given their demonstrated craftsmanship and artistic skills. To me, the tail of the Saqquara Airplane resembles more that of a fish than that of a bird.

    As humans, we have long held dreams of flying through the skies, so perhaps the Saqquara Airplane is more a representation of that dream.

    Then again, it may have simply been a toy to shut up some whinging kid. We will never know for sure … but it’s certainly fun thinking about the different possibilities.

  • Yeah but, playing Devil’s advocate for a minute, we do know that the Ancient Egyptian style was deliberately stylized.

    I wonder… and this is probably stupid… if the Saqquara airplane could be able to lift if tied from a kite or something.

  • Good point RPJ. I’ve just come across a couple of images of Ba (the human soul depicted with the body of a bird with a human head) and the tail of the bird appears similar to that of the Saqquara Airplane (ie a vertical tail rather than the horizontal tail a bird actually has).

    By the way, it’s never stupid to wonder. There have been several models made and claims either way as to whether it could actually glide.


  • Oh I’ve never shied away from wonder and speculation. I’m a designer by trade. I know there can be many solutions for any given problem 🙂

  • Yes, I’m skeptical too. While I think the existence of ETs would be pretty cool, the ancient astronaut theory is evidence-starved nonsense. Its defense is pure fantasy. Your notion that AA theorists “are also far less touchy about the attacks leveled against them from “the other side” than the academic skeptics out there, who cling to their refusal to acknowledge the mysteries of our world with proud passion and exuberance” is misguided. As an academic who travels in high academic circles I can tell you with confidence that no one is “clinging” to anything — they are apathetic and routinely unimpressed. Friends in various fields have consistently asked me (with considerable wonder) why I bother addressing any of this stuff since the whole enterprise is a waste of time. They aren’t threatened in the least. They are apathetic (and amused), pure and simple.

    Dr. Mike Heiser

  • Apathy leads to stagnation. IMO discovery is infused by passion.

  • TimMullins

    Speculation, as long as it follows the known facts, is the road to hypothesis. You will not get there, unless you think. One thing to keep in mind about any scientific discipline, is that they have a tendency to make one think very much inside the box.

    I’m no fan of Ancient Astronaut theory. Oh, there has probably been some here, but they would have recorded the existence of our species, then left, planning to check in at a later date to see how far we advanced. But the AAT folks completely deny humans any cognitive abilities at all, and historical fact disputes that belief straight off.

    That said, the evidence in the record is more indicative of highly advanced civilizations at a much earlier period, than it is not. You have to realize the severely limited shelf life of manufactured materials, so that you can recognize one simple fact. If our civilization ended today, then archaeologists 10,000 years from now would assume that we were very much a stone age bunch.

  • RaceVsReason

    This debate has had me scratching my head for a long time too. All these hidden pyramids, found all over the world, and built at radically different times. Mainstream academics and leftists often level the charge that AA’s theories are driven by racism, i.e., “there is no way these people (who are in geographic areas occupied by a lot of brown and black people) could have had the smarts to build this stuff.” And indeed, much ancient aliens stuff goes back to Blavatsky and Ariosophists. There are connections between Atlantis and Hyperborea, the fabled lost continent of Aryan supermen in the north in ancient times. Now I need to go into my parody mode:

    “Once upon a time, a man who looked like He Man or Conan, with blond hair and blue eyes, came down from Aldebaron with a flaming sword and brought the technology of the Black Sun to teach dumb human animals how to think. ha ha. And there is a big cover up by a Jewish-controlled scientific elite to hide this fact, a fact which Hitler, the hero-messiah, was going to reveal to the world, if only those damn meddling Commies hadn’t gotten in the way and snuffed him.”

    No, really, this article here has about the same level-headed middle ground thinking that I have. Here’s my version of the story: Once upon a time, dark brown or black people, probably from North Africa, migrated to Indonesia (which was then a continent) because the Sahara got too dry to cope and survive. Once in Indonesia, they continued where they left off: building a great civilization. It reached such a height that it developed technology along similar lines as we did today. And it spread its influence all over the world. In appearance, these people looked similar to the black people of Borneo and Papua New Guinea today. But then a major cataclysm happened: the end of the Ice Age and the attendant rise in sea level. Paleo biological records do indicate a massive species extinction around this time.

    Ancient Aliens? They were out there, spying on Earth and checking us out back then just as they are today. Other civilizations in space would want to know where we were at then just as much as they would want to know where we are at today. Why wouldn’t they? If I were a star traveler, I would probably be assessing different civilizations advanced and primitive throughout the galaxy. I would want to know: are these aggressive? or friendly? How smart are they? Could they be a threat at some point? Or could they be inducted into the galactic civilization of trade and commerce?

    Many AA theorists are fond of quoting ancient scriptures. Well here’s one scripture to think about that’s been in plain sight all along. Genesis, when the Elohim were looking down and observing the people building the Tower of Babel. What did these gods say? “Nothing will be impossible for them.” Nothing! That says alot about human agency and how smart we are.

    Who knows–perhaps it wasn’t the ancient aliens that built these civilizations, but that destroyed them.