Sunday, April 20, 2008 careful

Yep, looks like an astronaut reclining in space ship seat with controls and everything.

All too often the likes of an Erich von Daniken surface and tantalize the populace with the unscientific and outright aim of profiteering. Charlatans wearing the mantra of scientists. Beware. This is a prime example as provided by "The Austin Society to Oppose Pseudoscience" that is public knowledge and offers an example of general warning. Don't be swept up in the fantastic...exercise doubt and think critically.

Ancient Astronauts

Erich von Daniken, a Swiss high-school dropout, has made millions of dollars from eight or more books written since 1968. These books all make a remarkable and exciting claim. In von Daniken’s words, "Our forefathers received visits from the universe in the remote past, even though I do not yet know who these extraterrestrial intelligences were or from which planet they came. I nevertheless proclaim that these strangers annihilated part of mankind existing at the time and produced a new, perhaps the first, Homo sapiens." Each of von Daniken's books — Chariots of the Gods, Return to the Stars, The Gold of the Gods, In Search of Ancient Gods, Miracles of the Gods, Von Daniken's Proof, Signs of the Gods, etc. — gives a different version of this story, and each interprets the same "evidence" in different and contradictory ways. In some versions of the story, creatures from other worlds create humanity by genetic engineering of lower animals; in others they create humanity by interbreeding with apes (evidencing a curious taste in women); in others they are castaways who become humanity; and in still others humanity is already well established, and the extraterrestrials simply give them a boost from savagery to civilization. Von Daniken rarely tells the story the same way twice, even in the same book. Nevertheless, the essence is that extraterrestrials have had some impact on human history, and that there is evidence of this influence.

In fact, it is the essentially unanimous opinion of archaeologists and specialists in human pre-history that no such evidence exists. Von Daniken's arguments consist mainly of an appeal to ignorance. He cites things that his poorly educated readers are unlikely to recognize or know anything about. These are misrepresented, taken out of context, or used as a springboard for wild speculations and non-sequiturs. Von Daniken's books also contain a large amount of outright factual error and veiled racism. What they do not contain is any valid evidence supporting his claims in any way.

Examples of Von Daniken's "evidence" include:

The Bible is full of stories best explained by assuming that the ancient Hebrews were in contact with extraterrestrials whom they worshipped as gods. (His ideas about the New Testament are not clear.)

Intelligence seems to have appeared very suddenly in our ancestors about 40,000 years ago. They suddenly began using fire, bows and arrows, stone axes, and making sophisticated cave paintings.

A map made by Turkish admiral Piri Re'is in 1513 is "perfectly accurate … [about] even the contours of the Antarctic, so that the originals must have been aerial photographs taken from a very great height" by extraterrestrials.

In the Nasca Plain, a desert in Peru, there are enormous markings; they are only comprehensible if the desert had been used as a spacecraft landing field.

The immense pyramids of Egypt could not have been constructed by primitive humans without help from extraterrestrials. He claims that "ancient Egypt appears suddenly and without transition with a fantastic ready-made civilization."

The statues of Easter Island could not have been made or raised by primitive men.

Certain ancient works of art clearly show space ships and jet aircraft. One Mayan carving shows a "god" piloting a rocket ship complete with acceleration couch, instrument panel, and exhaust flames.

The space gods dug gigantic tunnel systems under Ecuador and Peru, where they stored fantastic gold treasures offered them by primitive natives.

The myths of all cultures concerning their gods are distorted memories of extraterrestrials on the ancient earth.

None of this "evidence" is valid. For a detailed analysis of von Daniken's claims, consult books in the reference list. There is space here for just a few brief comments.

One of von Daniken’s favorite ploys is to give a "gadget" explanation for everything in a selected myth. This interpretation is always based on our own present technology and not the hypothetical super advanced technology of extraterrestrial space travelers. Thus, the Ark of the Covenant was a radio transmitter/receiver (or a nuclear reactor). Aladdin's lamp was also a radio. Sodom and Gomorrah were devastated by a nuclear explosion. Ezekiel’s wheel was a helicopter. The absurdity of this device can be shown by making up your own "gadget" explanations for everything mentioned in the Bible. The flaming sword used by the angel to bar Adam and Eve from Eden was doubtlessly a flamethrower or perhaps a soldering iron. Jonah's whale was a submarine. The pillar of fire was a streetlight (or a MacDonald's sign); the raising of Lazarus, an application of heart massage; Ezekiel's vision, a TV. commercial! This is philistine provincialism, not evidence.

Another of von Daniken's ploys is to allege that "our ancestors," especially those who were not white, were morons and filthy savages, incapable of imagination, architecture, or discovery. But fire and weapons were in use, not tens of thousands but millions of years ago and by exceedingly ape-like human ancestors. It is nonsense to claim that we modern citizens of developed nations are different in intelligence, imagination, artistic yearnings, etc., from New Guinea tribes people, ancient Greeks, ancient Egyptians, or cavemen living 40,000 or even 100,000 years ago. Even "pre-humans" such as Neanderthal man did not differ significantly in appearance or richness of culture from modern man. To deny this is to deny every discovery of modern anthropology, but this von Daniken does effortlessly, since the facts do not jibe with his racist fantasies.

All of von Daniken's hard evidence vanishes instantly when looked at in light of what we actually know. Consider Piri Re’is' map. Examination of any clear reproduction of this map will show it to be extremely inaccurate — more so than many other maps of the same period. A far more accurate map appeared in 1559, drawn by Turkish cartographer Hadji Ahmed. Furthermore, Piri Re'is gives all his sources in marginal notations on his map; these include maps from the expeditions of Columbus — even so, the Caribbean is almost unrecognizable.

While the purposes of the Nasca markings and the statues on Easter Island have disappeared with the cultures that produced them, they are in no way difficult to construct — even without extraterrestrial help. Two people with pegs and string can lay out identical copies of the Nasca markings. Thor Heyerdahl has filmed Easter Island natives carving and erecting a statue using only the crude tools available on the island — stone axes, vegetable fiber ropes, and logs. (Incidentally, the original statues are known to have been carved mostly around 1500 A.D. — long after the time von Daniken claims space gods were flying around.)

As for Egypt, it has a long, continuous historical and archaeological record. The Egyptians left detailed accounts of their methods of architecture, and of moving massive stones and statues. Also, there are primitive early pyramids, botched jobs, quarries with tools still lying there, wall paintings of engineering methods, mathematical texts setting architectural problems for pyramid construction, and many other records of technology and culture. There are few mysteries concerning the purpose, construction, or properties of the pyramids — despite tons of rubbish produced by occultists and crackpots claiming the contrary in the face of all the evidence.

To von Daniken, the sun or moon in any ancient work of art is a "space ship." Bits of jewelry in the shape of a fish or leaf are "jet aircraft." A classic von Daniken howler is his interpretation of the tomb lid of Mayan king Pacal. In this von Daniken sees a "god" at the controls of his “spacecraft,” but one might just as well see a limp figure in the clutches of a Hollywood movie monster or sci-fi robot. What the Mayans intended the image to represent, judging by the rest of their surviving art, was the descent of the dead body of King Pacal into the underworld. He falls past the sacred Quetzal bird and the sacred corn plant into the jaws of the Earth Monster waiting to devour him. All these images (bird, corn plant, monster) are common motifs in Mayan art; there is no uncertainty about what they represent.

Von Daniken's story about "gold of the gods" has been exposed as a hoax by the explorer Juan Moricz, from whom von Daniken got the basic elements that were woven into the hoax. Von Daniken's books are full of outright mistakes, errors, and blunders that make it clear that he does not bother to consult even the most readily available reference works. His mathematical formulas lack equal signs; his rare references have incorrect page numbers; he apparently does not bother to look at the maps he cites as "accurate;" he does not bother to find out what is actually known about archaeological sites that are important to his claims. He cannot be taken seriously. He is not a scholar nor a scientist by any stretch of the imagination. He has done nothing but misinterpret and obscure the work and discoveries of others.

The first two of von Daniken's books were heavily plagiarized from two earlier books published in France in the early 1960’s (by Pauwels and Bergier and by R. Charroux). The "ancient astronaut" claims were old-hat even then. They can be traced back to the crackpot literature of the Theosophist movement of the 1880’s; this resurfaced in the Shaver mystery of 1945, in the claims of "contactee" George Adamski in 1953, and is found in the works of many writers about "flying saucers" in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. In addition to his legal difficulties from charges of plagiarization (he settled out of court), von Daniken was convicted for forgery and embezzling money from a hotel which he managed, and served part of a 3 1/2-year prison sentence beginning in 1970. However, since between 1968 and 1980 von Daniken's books were selling an average of 3.5 million copies per year, he was with his royalties able to make restitution to the hotel and earn early release from prison. Perhaps anyone who plunks down $2.25 for one of von Daniken's works is actually demonstrating that crime can be made to pay … and pay very well indeed.

References for further reading:

Exploring the Unknown, C. J. Cazeau, C.J. and S.D. Scott, Jr., Plenum, New York, 1979, Chapters 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 14.

Paranormal Borderlands of Science, Kendrick Frazier, (Ed.), Prometheus, New York, 1981. Articles by Omohundro, Story, Bainbridge, and Ridpath.

Flim-Flam! by James Randi, Prometheus, New York, 1982, Chapter 6.

Ancient Astronauts, Cosmic Collisions, W. H. Stiebing, Jr., Prometheus, New York, 1984.

The Space Gods Revealed, Ronald Story, Harper and Row, New York, 1976.

Archaeology: Myth and Reality, Jeremy A. Sabloff, (Ed.), Freeman, California, 1982.

Some Trust in Chariots, B. Thiering and E. Castle, Popular Library, New York, 1972.

The Past is Human, Peter White., Taplinger, New York, 1974."

The Austin Society to Oppose Pseudoscience

And from an aspiring writer of popular science is this essay:

"Erich von Däniken vs. All of Archaeology"


Sarah Quine

April 2008

When you see something that mystifies and intrigues you, the best response is to investigate and learn more. The worst response is to simply make up a story and sell it to the public as a matter of fact.

Keep those points in mind.

I used to believe that ancient peoples must have encountered space aliens because I had a very limited idea of what was 'normal' among archaeological findings. I didn't know anything about the everyday cultures of people who lived thousands of years ago, what their interests were, nor was I familiar with their artwork. I was an utter layman who didn't know what to expect, nor what not to expect.

So, of course I believed the man who said that certain archaeological finds were 'unexplainable' unless one assumes that extraterrestrials were involved. This man is Erich von Däniken, author of Chariots of the Gods?, and he has been confusing other utter laymen for the past few decades.

How is he confusing them? Let's look at the first example in:

Erich von Däniken vs. The Ancient Egyptians

For a couple of centuries now, Egyptologists have been learning about how and why the Ancient Egyptians built their pyramids, and by now they have constructed a pretty clear picture. This is a very important point, and here are the basics:

The Development and Building of Ancient Egypt's Pyramids

First of all, ancient Egyptians believed that as long as your body is preserved on earth, your spiritual aspects are preserved in the afterlife. Thus, it was of great importance for the ancients to make sure their bodies were not destroyed, as well as to supply their spirit forms with sustenance. This was the purpose of mummification (which ironically involves removing the heart and the brain), spirit offerings, and protective tombs.

Originally, the nobility and royalty both employed mastabas, which are low tombs with sloped sides and flat roofs. Pharaoh Djozer may have been the first person to revolutionize the tombs of royalty by having his chief architect, Imhotep, create a stack of six mastabas, each one smaller than the last. The finished 'step pyramid', shimmering in its limestone casing, was over 330 feet tall.

Step pyramids continued to be built until the next revolution, during Sneferu's reign. Not much is known about Sneferu (or Seneferu), though his listing on the Palermo Stone notes that he had many boats built and had sent forty ships to fetch cedar wood from Lebanon. Such high-quality wood was essential in the making structures such as temples and pyramids.

Sneferu apparently inherited the Meidum (or Maydum) Step Pyramid from his father, Pharaoh Huni, and 'filled in' the steps with limestone to make the sides straight. He also made the first (originally) smooth-sided pyramid, the Bent Pyramid, which began construction with sides at a 55-degree angle.

About 150 feet up, he switched angles to a shallower 43 degrees, resulting in a literally 'bent' pyramid. This change of plan may actually be due to observation of the structural failings of the Meidum Pyramid's limestone casing, or other instabilities associated with steep sides.

His next pyramid, the Red Pyramid, was built entirely at the shallower angle of 43 degrees, setting the standard for all pyramids built after that! Such stable sides were essential for his ill-reputed son, Khufu (a.k.a. Cheops), to be able to build the five-hundred foot Great Pyramid, without it collapsing.

Beneath the surface, Khufu's pyramid was made by widely spacing large blocks of stone and filling the gaps with mortar and large, irregularly-shaped rocks. This fact was first discovered in the 1830s when Howard Vyse blasted a hole through the south wall of Khufu's pyramid while looking for another entrance.

We can now see thirty feet down that the core blocks were nothing like regular stairs, but rather a wide assortment of blocks of different heights. Khufu's son's giant pyramid was even more sloppy - the core is actually collapsing because the rocks aren't close enough together to brace one another. It was also built on uneven ground and the upper third of this pyramid was made completely of irregular stones.

Most likely, the core of these pyramids are actually step pyramids, as several other pyramid cores are known to be. Sand-filled chambers also have been found in the midst of pyramid cores, probably to cut down on the use of stone. Each step was probably built in chunks, and whenever one chunk was completed, the fill and smooth outer casing were probably added before moving onto the next section.

And just how did Ancient Egyptians accomplish this? One gigantic clue comes from the remains of ramps - and even whole ramps - at Meidum, Sekhemkhet, Dashur, Abusir, Abu Ghraib, and the (proper) Sinki pyramid. There are also two parallel mudbrick walls at Giza which may have once been filled with various tough materials, topped with clay to make a ramp.

The most obvious meaning of this would be that people dragged the pyramid blocks from quarries and up a sophisticated ramp system. Where were these quarries? There are hundreds of known quarries used by the ancient Egyptians, some of which are found near pyramids, others lying farther away, although with obvious routes of transport.

The world's oldest paved road is actually a route from a quarry to the north shores of the Fayoum Depression (which used to be a lake) where the basalt of most pyramids comes from. Every year when the Nile flooded and joined to the lake, transport boats could cross, taking the lake shore basalt into the Nile.

According to such depictions as a painting of rows of men pulling a giant statue (much larger than any pyramid block) with mere ropes (or cords?) and a giant wooden sled, it would seem obvious that these people had effective ways of transporting truly gigantic chunks of rock - without even using oxen or other beasts of burden!

As I've mentioned before, they had lots of material for making ropes, sleds and boats because at the time the Fertile Crescent was... well, fertile. There were trees everywhere, as well as wetlands full of reeds, water lilies and papyrus, and the Egyptians often imported cedar. The barren desert we see now is a relatively new thing.

Their probable mode of transport was still in use by Westerners in the 20th century: First, move the cut stone with a lifting jack onto a wooden sled and haul it across a wooden track. A small team of men or oxen could easily enough pull it across a flat expanse or up a gentle slope at walking pace. Going downhill was actually trickier because cords and poles were required to keep it from sliding over whoever was pulling it!

And that was just common everyday use for common everyday work projects: Scientists have also done this specifically to see how many Ancient Egyptians it took to move one-and two-ton blocks used in pyramids. Typically, not many - as few as eight men managed to haul a 2.5 ton block!

Also, the ancient Egyptians had a number of lever systems, as well as ways of hoisting blocks efficiently up tracks. The specifics, however, are unknown, but many possible systems have been devised by scientists trying to figure out just how it was done. These transport systems, I'll say, are very clever. So clever, in fact, that I'm not sure I can describe them, nor is it likely you'd be interested in reading my descriptions.

Let's just say that my 'partner in crime', Lou Ryan, saw one of these animations and said, "that's ridiculous! A pulley would be so much more efficient!" I countered by explaining to him that Ancient Egyptians apparently did not know about pulleys, though evidently there are many alternatives which they could have had!

There has been much material written about the marks on the stones and what they reveal about the tools and transport systems that were employed. Some of that comes from the many pictures drawn of people cutting rocks out of quarries with copper tools. On the pyramid blocks are indeed marks that came from these tools - first picks and later chisels - though the tools themselves have long since corroded.

Currently, it is thought that the Ancient Egyptian's copper quarrying tools may have been made drastically more effective and longer-lasting by adding sharp quartz sand, thanks to demonstrations by Denys Stocks that this works. Limestone, particularly, would have been easy to cut because it is soft while in the ground but hardens with exposure to air.

This work was all done, of course, by masses of workers, who lived in villages built solely for these projects. The first such village was found in 1888 by a team lead by Flinders Petrie around Senwosert II's pyramid complex. It was filled with rows of terraced mud-brick houses, and littered with pottery, clothing, papyri, tools, and even children's toys. Around the Giza complex lie the remains of a much larger town which housed the tens of thousands of workers needed for the Giza funerary structures.

Egyptologists generally agree that there were four thousand primary laborers who worked on the Great Pyramid - that would be everyone who cut the stones, hauled them up and placed them. This last group carved the dates into the stones as they were moved into place, as well as one of the worker teams, "Friends of Khufu".

There were about sixteen to twenty thousand secondary workers - those who made ramps, tools, mortar, and provided life necessities like food, clothing and beer. There also were temporary workers, who only worked for a few months at a time and apparently camped near the village.

Even the temporary workers were most likely given a standard substance ration of ten loaves and a measure of beer every day - and that's too much to eat in one day! The ones in charge got far more than that! However, the rations also probably were not given out in actual loaves of bread in one day - at least not all of them - but rather other goods, or even credits, of equal value. This probably resulted in a micro-economy of the pyramid village as people traded in what they didn't want or need for goods or services.

There was also a worker village cemetery, showing us a cross-section of the population, and giving clues to their living arrangements. Of the approximately 600 skeletons that have been examined, there's a 50-50 split between male and female individuals, and over 23% of these 600 skeletons were from babies and children. Also in this cemetery were the poor graves of temporary workers, along with the tools they had used in life.

The DNA extracted from these remains suggests that the workers came from different populations from all over Egypt, so a wide range of people were directly involved with, and paid by, Khufu. They may have volunteered for the project, or may have been randomly selected, but for sure - unlike what the Ancient Greek historian Herodotus tells us - at least the vast majority of these people were not slaves. (Nor were they Jews, as they had yet to make their appearance at this point in time.)

South of this town was a huge industrial complex that had a grid of paved streets dividing it up into blocks. Not many workers lived here; it was mainly meant for supplying the town. Among the installments found was a large copper-smelting plant for making tools such as those used in the quarries. There were at least two bakeries with hundreds of bread molds and a fish-processing plant full of the remains of thousands of fish.

In this place, as well as the pyramid town, are bones from their local livestock, the ducks, pigs and sheep. There are also the bones of prime cuts of beef from cows that were probably raised on the pastures of the Nile Delta and then herded to the complex.

From this, it is clear that there was an entire community created for constructing pyramids, though the Great Pyramid was merely the first pyramid on the Giza cemetery complex. Later on, one of Khufu's sons, Khaefre, had another gigantic pyramid built, and after that, Mankaura's much smaller Third Pyramid. (This was the start of another trend - after this all the pyramids were comparatively small to the Great Pyramid.)

So, what were these people doing? Egyptologists do know something about this because they've found architectural plans for making pyramids, and also the tombs of the supervisors contain inscriptions about their work and how the labor was divided and organized.

They described how the workforce at Giza was divided into crews of about 2,000 and then divided in half. Specifically in building the Third Pyramid, one half was named 'Friends of Mankaure' and the other, 'Drunkards of Menkaure'. Each of these were further divided into smaller groups of 200 workers. These were further split up into groups of about 20 and each of these had a project leader and a specific job.

For a while in Ancient Egyptian culture, beyond just building pyramids, the walls of both pyramids and temples were also perfectly aligned to the north, south, east and west. This is known to have been achieved during the pedj shes ("stretching of the cord") ritual, and with the help of a merkhet, which is the ancient Egyptian version of an astrolabe.

The general idea is that they started out with a low, circular wall. During the night, they followed a star's path around the north star, marking on the wall where it rose and where it set. The point exactly in between the rising and setting points was considered to be true north, from which they could make their other calculations. There were probably other ways of doing this, including a similar method using the rising and setting sun.

I'd say it's pretty clear how the pyramids and similar structures were built - lots of people, tools, organization, and architectural mathematics, which are also known though difficult for me to describe in writing.

The Non-Development and Non-Building of Ancient Egypt's Pyramids

There's plenty of evidence showing how the Ancient Egyptians developed and built pyramids. And then, we have von Däniken claiming otherwise. Interestingly, he does not contest how the pyramids were built by the Egyptians, but instead contests that the pyramids were built by Egyptians.

The Egyptians didn't build the pyramids? Where does he come up with this stuff? What's his evidence? After all, he insists he knows more about ancient Egypt (and other civilizations) than archaeologists do!

Basically, von Däniken - who has absolutely no schooling on archaeology or any other thing he has written about - is exposed to whatever artifacts and records that have been found and says; "Nuh-uh!", or more precisely, "We know next to nothing about how, why, and when of the building of the pyramid."

According to him, pyramids appeared out of the blue one day in history for mysterious reasons, never mind all that nonsense about the importance of tombs in the afterlife and stacking tomb structures on top of one another, etc. He also claims that the Egyptians didn't have the wood, rope, villages for pyramid workers, and other important clues that have been found by archaeologists.

If they didn't have rope, then why were ropes represented in their culture so much? Not only in paintings and relief carvings, but also through casual observations I've noticed that ropes appear in their hieroglyphic writings as well.

Or, if they didn't have villages for pyramid-builders, then what were the giant villages near the pyramids for? If they didn't have wood, then why was there wood and talk about wood found everywhere? How does he explain that?

Curiously, he doesn't. He just says they didn't exist and that's that.

From there, he claims that humans were not even capable of making giant stacks of rocks in the shapes of pyramids, nor would they have any reason to - never mind their religion and the ambitiousness of royalty, who were also generally believed to be deities and were worshiped in temples.

According to him, the only way the pyramids could have possibly been constructed was, not even by other humans (just as other humans have proven to be able to do much of today) but by aliens! That's right. Aliens. And that's the only way it could have happened, and there is no evidence that any people built it (not even all that stuff I just wrote about), case closed.

If that wasn't enough, he claims that the Egyptians could not have thought up the idea of dead people waking back up again just as people do every morning when they wake up. No, the Egyptians were just not capable of thinking about dead people ever living again - as cultures worldwide have done for many thousands of years - no matter how much they wanted their loved ones to come back to them!

Instead, he says, the only possible way for the Egyptians to think of dead people getting back up... is by observing aliens emerging from hibernation pods!


And where do the Egyptians speak of this? Certainly not anywhere near their nonexistent rope! And then von Däniken tells us that the reason the Egyptians had mummification was because the aliens showed them how.

Right, okay, so they destroy a dead person's brain by pulling it out through their nose, take other organs out, and then dry the remains thoroughly.

Q: What possible reason would aliens show them this?

A: As a method of putting the humans into suspended animation!

Wait a minute! They rip the person's brain out and turn them into jerky! He'll be okay after that, right? Right?

What a kook! I mean, it's not even unbelievable that human beings with simple technology could build a pyramid because much of this has been demonstrated today simply by trying it out. But, quoth von Däniken, "Today, in the twentieth century, no architect could build a copy of the pyramid of Cheops, even if the technical resources of every continent were at his disposal."

If that were true, then how is it we can construct things that are so much more complicated, like the numerous skyscrapers, huge bridges and funny-shaped buildings the world over? I'd like to see an Ancient Egyptian do that - point being that any bunch of idiots can cut a huge piece of rock into a square with copper mining tools and sand, and take it up a ramp using simple apparatuses.

Of course, the Ancient Egyptians weren't a bunch of idiots, now, were they? They had an entire system that allowed them to have a large amount of manpower to excavate chunks of rocks, shape them into blocks, then arrange the blocks into pyramids. They used boats and oxen to help them achieve this, and ramps and scaffolding to help hoist the blocks up and lever them into place.

You don't need anything else to explain that the Egyptians made the pyramids, and in specific ways, and that they had religious significance, and that they were perfectly capable of doing this. Why would aliens need to help? Where are the artifacts left by the aliens? Aside from playing with the measurements of the pyramids to supposedly find significant numbers (which you can also find using buildings in your own town!) he offers none.

No comments: