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Alternate Perceptions Magazine, December 2014

The Origin of the Ancient Astronaut Idea:
Archaeology Textbook Reveals That Everyone Is Wrong

by: Dr. Greg Little

In September 2014 a short article addressing the history of the Ancient Astronaut Theory was published by Alternate Perceptions. In brief, in 1749 Emanuel Swedenborg wrote about beings from other planets visiting Earth and in 1758 his book “Earths in the Universe” related that he had been in contact with these physical beings for over a decade. Swedenborg gradually came to interpret the physical beings he encountered as something more spiritual in nature. Some 130 years later (1888), the mystic Helena Blavatsky took Swedenborg’s and others work and made visitors from other planets a key concept in world history. An even earlier book, the 900-page long Oahspe (1882), detailed in page after page how extraterrestrial beings traveled through the universe going from planet to planet transplanting animals, plants, and humans. These “aliens” traveled in a wide array of “fire-ships” and were said to influence the development of civilization in virtually every way. In the Oahspe, they are often referred to as “angels,” meaning physical beings that went from planet to planet. The Oahspe related that there were hundreds of millions of these beings scattered around the universe. In the 1800s there were also a host of books, some science fiction and others touted as nonfiction, which related that beings from other planets routinely visited Earth and influenced the development of human civilization. By 1919, Charles Fort had fully developed the Ancient Astronaut Theory in his series of books going so far as to say that humans were like cattle, an experiment performed by aliens. In the 1940s and 50s the Ancient Astronaut Theory became firmly entrenched in UFO literature. Richard Shaver, Desmond Leslie, George Adamski, Harold T. Wilkins, Morris K. Jessup, Peter Kolisimo, George Hunt Williamson, M. Agrest, Jacques Bergier, Louis Pauwels, Robert Charroux, Brinsley Le Pour Trench, and others all wrote books and/or countless magazine articles prior to 1963 on the “Ancient Astronaut Theory,” some even calling it that precise name.

Scientific Proof That All of the Above Is Wrong

The most absurd and ludicrous claim about the Ancient Astronaut Theory I “had” ever heard is that the horror fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft was the father of the Ancient Astronaut Theory based on a few short stories from 1925-35. Lovecraft was essentially unknown and unread until after his death. There is today a very small but highly vocal cult devoted to him. Lovecraft is often cited as the father of the horror novel, but the idea that he was copied by UFO writers is baseless. Lovecraft got many of his story ideas from Charles Fort and likely many other books from the 1800s. I say that the “Lovecraft” assertion was the most ludicrous I “had” ever heard because a new candidate for the most ludicrous assertion has emerged. The “new” one also dismisses Lovecraft completely. In addition, it appears that Swedenborg, the Oahspe, Charles Fort, and a couple dozen UFO writers (some mentioned above) either didn’t exist, didn’t really write about the idea that ancient astronauts visited Earth and influenced civilization, or perhaps it is asserting that all of these earlier people are part of an elaborate hoax trying to defraud the public. Who knows? It isn’t clear why this “scientific analysis” of the origin of the Ancient Astronaut Theory just “acts as if” none of the above exists or ever did exist. But I thank self-proclaimed skeptics and their followers for pointing me to the one source that cites the “real” facts about the theory.

The “new” assertion comes in an expensive but small college textbook, which was written by what many skeptics apparently consider to be the highest authority possible: an academic archaeologist who teaches undergraduates. Kenneth Feder's (2010) 292-page textbook, “The Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology,” retailing for $85.00, gives us the facts about who was the very first person to present the ancient astronaut theory.

In a section headed "Origin of the Ancient Astronaut Hypothesis," Feder relates that, "the origin of the hypothesis may be traced to one of the most famous scientists—and certainly one of the most highly regarded scientific skeptics—of the twentieth century: astronomer Carl Sagan" (p. 15). Feder relates that it was a 1963 paper in “Planetary Space Science” (sic) where Sagan outlined the theory. (The real name of the journal is “Planetary and Space Science.”)

No one else is mentioned or referenced in this section of Feder’s textbook, which, after telling us that Carl Sagan was the original source of the theory, leads to a section ridiculing Erich Von Daniken. Von Daniken is said in the text to have popularized the theory starting in 1968, which is true. But the implication is developed that maybe, just maybe, Von Daniken got his ideas from Sagan’s 1963 article. Feder relates, “It is unclear whether or not the Swiss author Erich Von Daniken was aware of Sagan’s striking proposal” (p. 16). Hmm. The Lovecraft cultists probably will, no doubt, now accuse Sagan of plagiarizing Lovecraft. As for the others who allegedly wrote about the Ancient Astronaut Theory prior to 1963, perhaps they really didn’t exist and the popular belief they did exist and write about ancient astronauts is an elaborate hoax perpetrated by fringe writers. Since nothing whatsoever is said about them in Feder’s section on Ancient Astronauts, one can only guess.

So, that’s that. Score another victory for science and skeptics who carefully relate the facts without missing anything. Archaeology skeptics often assail the “fringe” for “defrauding the public” by selling books that aren’t factual—at least in the way the skeptics define “factual.” So if you want to know the facts as archaeology sees them, please pony up $80-some for the book. After all, few books that have 292 pages sell for such a bargain price.

It isn’t difficult to realize that there is a great deal of sheer jealousy stimulated by Von Daniken’s sales of some 63 million books. And as I wrote last month, archaeologists bemoan the fact that their books tend to sell small numbers, so maybe jacking up the price makes up for low sales. There are some self-proclaimed skeptics who tout themselves as “best selling authors,” no doubt making them millions of dollars. But most “fringe” books about alternative history, as skeptics like to refer to them, usually cost $9-$21 and are longer than 300 pages. I know what it costs for publishers to produce hardcover books that are 300 pages, and it isn’t all that much. Even if you are only printing 500 copies, it isn’t all that much. And as I ended last month’s article, I’ll end this one the same: “There is one and only one reason why textbooks without color interiors that are a few hundred pages long cost $50-$80 or so. That is greed. Pure and simple: greed.”


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