Ancient Astronauts?

I was about 10 years old when I first came across the idea that many of the world’s most impressive archaeological sites are actually the work of visitors from outer space. I don’t recall the title of the book, but I clearly remember one particular passage. Referring to the Biblical Ark of the Covenant, the author wrote, “without looking up the actual passage, I seem to recall the Bible mentioning sparks, voices, and fire…”

Even at that age, I was stunned by this statement. I remember thinking, “you’re trying to make a scholarly argument, and you can’t even be bothered to look up a few Bible verses?” (When I looked up the relevant passages myself, they turned out not to support the author’s claims of advanced alien technology. What a surprise.)

As an archaeologist and a science fiction fan, I can’t think of much that would excite me more than discovering actual evidence of extraterrestrial visitation. I would give almost anything to be able to study a genuine xeno-archaeological site. But you’ll perhaps forgive me if I don’t find half-remembered stories from somebody’s childhood Sunday School lessons sufficient grounds to throw out everything that we think we know about the past.

I’m afraid I’m equally unimpressed by the theory that the Great Pyramid was a navigational marker for space travelers. (Wouldn’t a radio beacon have been easier?) Or that the straight lines on the Nazca plain, some stretching as far as nine miles, are actually landing strips. (What did the aliens use for brakes? The space shuttle doesn’t require anywhere near that long a runway.) You want to know what would impress me? Plastics, modern ceramics, composites, advanced alloys, electronic debris. High-tech materials that we are only beginning to learn how to make, or that we don’t know how to produce at all, would be extremely convincing if discovered in an archaeological context, under conditions that rule out fraud.

Obviously, even the most fervent supporters of ancient astronaut theories generally don’t claim that anything like that has ever been found. Rather, all the trash left behind by the builders of these impressive monuments (Yes, Virginia, the builders left trash behind. Lots of it.) was decidedly low tech. And the theory that ordinary human workers could build the pyramids and other monuments without modern technology sounds a lot more reasonable to me than the idea that aliens traveled light years in spaceships made of stone, clay and bronze.

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