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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.


Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
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