Tag Archive | Erich von Daniken

Ancient Astronauts–Debunked!

One of the key claims in the Thrive movie, and in fact a major assumption on which the movie is based, is the idea of “ancient astronauts”—the supposition that extraterrestrial beings came to Earth in the early history of the human race and imparted knowledge to humans. As with most other claims and basic assumptions in Thrive, the idea of ancient astronauts is unsupported by facts and contrary to logic and critical reasoning. It is purely a faith-based proposition, and this article will explain why.

What Are “Ancient Astronauts” And What Does Thrive Claim About Them?

The idea of ancient astronauts is very popular in New Age circles. The basic idea is that supposedly aliens visited Earth thousands of years ago and gave humans knowledge that they wouldn’t otherwise have had. Thrive argues that part of this knowledge was the “torus” shape that Foster Gamble asserts is some sort of pattern for unlimited, free energy. This pattern is supposedly observable in the “Flower of Life” and virtually anything else in ancient or early modern art or architecture that involves 64 circles or really 64 of anything.

Much of the first quarter of Thrive either deals with ancient astronauts explicitly or implicitly. At 20:25 of the film, for instance, there is the explicit claim that alien intelligences were visiting Earth in UFOs in ancient times. Prior to that, however, there are various claims made, such as those by Nassim Haramein, of things that are supposedly of extraterrestrial origin, “proving” the ancient astronaut theory correct. At 20:10 in the film, Mr. Haramein states that the Egyptians, Incas and Mayans all talk about “sun gods” who come to Earth and teach them engineering, writing and all of their science. Evidently we (the human race) are supposed to get back to our extraterrestrial roots and discover the “gift” of free unlimited energy that these aliens supposedly gave us thousands of years ago.

What Is The Evidence That Thrive Relies On To Claim Ancient Astronauts Are Real?

The answer to this question is simple: none whatsoever. All of the claims made in Thrive about ancient astronauts are based on the same basic assumption: that ancient peoples couldn’t possibly have built this or that structure, or known about this concept or that concept, and therefore this “proves” that they must have been given these ideas by a superior intelligence.

That’s it. That’s all the Thrive movie has to support its claims about ancient astronauts. No evidence at all. Just an assumption followed by a supposition, neither of which are logically or factually supportable.

Example: at 18:45 of the film, Foster Gamble, finishing up his talk about the 64-circled “Flower of Life” design, says, “Is it a coincidence that this design appears on two different continents?” We have already seen on this blog that the Thrive movie’s claims about the “Flower of Life” being “burned into the structure of the rock” are false, and that the makers have acknowledged that they are false. Later, trying to link the number 64 with recent discoveries about human DNA, Gamble says of ancient peoples (at 20:02), “But how on earth did they know about it?”

This assumption is nothing less than a frontal assault on human intelligence. Mr. Gamble and Mr. Haramein are suggesting that ancient peoples were so stupid, simple-minded and helpless that they couldn’t have come up with anything worthwhile unless that knowledge was given to them by aliens.

There is also another incorrect assumption lying behind this one: that knowledge of science and technology in the modern world is always a perfectly linear expansion, that nothing that has ever been known or discovered in human history has ever been lost or forgotten, and that modern understandings of science and engineering are the sina qua non of intelligence. That is to say, if we can’t explain how the Egyptians built a pyramid in terms roughly analogous to understanding of the processes of building the Empire State Building, this precludes the possibility that the pyramids could have been built by humans.

Although it appeals to an extraterrestrial designer rather than a divine one, ancient astronaut theories are similar in reasoning (or lack thereof) to young-earth creationism and “Intelligent Design.” Right away this should tell you that ancient astronauts are not a rational explanation for the concepts or creations of ancient peoples.

Where Do Modern “Ancient Astronaut” Theories Come From?

Ancient astronauts, as the idea is commonly understood in the circles of New Age believers that are evidently Thrive’s target audience, burst into popular culture in 1968 with a pseudoscientific book called Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Däniken, which is still in print 44 years later. This virtually fact-free book argues that ancient structures such as Stonehenge and the Nazca Lines are too advanced to have been built by ancient peoples, and thus must have been constructed by aliens. Probably the best debunking of von Däniken is this article written by John T. Omohundro way back in 1976 which takes apart both von Däniken’s supposed “evidence” and his faulty reasoning. A more concise criticism can be found on the Skeptic Dictionary page on von Däniken, which states:

“[M]ost of von Däniken’s evidence is in the form of specious and fallacious arguments. His data consists mainly of archaeological sites and ancient myths. He begins with the ancient astronaut assumption and then forces all data to fit the idea. For example, in Nazca, Peru, he explains giant animal drawings in the desert as an ancient alien airport. The likelihood that these drawings related to the natives’ religion or science is not considered. He also frequently reverts to false dilemma reasoning of the following type: ‘Either this data is to be explained by assuming these primitive idiots did this themselves or we must accept the more plausible notion that they got help from extremely advanced peoples who must have come from other planets where such technologies as anti-gravity devices had been invented.’”

These ideas weren’t new even in 1968. This article mentions some of the progenitors of the ancient astronaut theory, and also debunks some other examples from Chariots of the Gods?. But in New Age circles—people who want to believe spiritual “alternative explanations” for things rather than accept factual and rational explanations—von Däniken has been a hero for nearly half a century. Unfortunately, woo beliefs tend to be much more popular than dry facts of history and archaeology.

But Isn’t It True We Don’t Know How The Pyramids (Or Other Ancient Structures) Were Built?

Yes, in some cases it is true. But why does this lead to a binary choice—that if we can’t explain it, we must conclude that it was done by aliens? There is, in fact, another and much more likely possibility: that the ancient peoples did it themselves using means and procedures whose exact natures are no longer extant in the historical record.

Also, do not confuse “we don’t know how they were built” with “the building of these structures is impossible given what we know about physics and engineering.” Believers in ancient astronaut theories constantly confuse these two conclusions. We do not know how the pyramids were built, but the construction of them by human hands is certainly not impossible. Skeptic Dictionary puts it this way:

“We still wonder how the ancient Egyptians raised giant obelisks in the desert and how stone age men and women moved huge cut stones and placed them in position in dolmens and passage graves. We are amazed by the giant carved heads on Easter Island and wonder why they were done, who did them, and why they abandoned the place. We may someday have the answers to our questions, but they are most likely to come from scientific investigation not pseudoscientific speculation. For example, observing contemporary stone age peoples in Papua New Guinea, where huge stones are still found on top of tombs, has taught us how the ancients may have accomplished the same thing with little more than ropes of organic material, wooden levers and shovels, a little ingenuity and a good deal of human strength.”

What we lack is not an understanding of the scientific possibility of building these structures, but the historical records of the processes used to build them. For example, it is clearly not impossible for human beings to haul massive stones, such as those used to build the pyramids at Giza, many miles from a quarry to a construction site. We do it today with trucks and cranes, but many, many historical records exist of it being done in structures all over the world in the days before trucks and cranes. Therefore, we know it is possible. But with the pyramids, the historical record of how they were built has been lost. Did they use pulleys? Ramps? Did they haul the stones on donkeys? Did they use teams of slaves? We don’t know, but the fact that we don’t know doesn’t mean that any or all of these techniques were not or could not have been used.

See the difference? We don’t know how they were built is not the same as we believe that the building of these structures is impossible according to our understanding of science and engineering. Those are two very different concepts, but New Age believers conflate them constantly, and this conflation is the basis for ancient astronaut claims.

But What About Ancient Peoples’ Mythology About Sun Gods Who Taught Them Everything? Isn’t That Evidence of Alien Visitation?


A key part of ancient astronaut bunk is to warp and distort ancient peoples’ mythology and religious beliefs to try to claim that they really were talking about aliens and UFOs. Von Däniken does this in Chariots of the Gods? and Nassim Haramein does exactly the same thing at 20:10 of Thrive. Mr. Haramein claims that Egyptians, Mayas and Incas all had “sun gods” that supposedly taught them science and engineering. This claim is false at least with respect to the Egyptians and Mayas.

The ancient Egyptian sun god was called Ra. I looked up Ra in my Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology, by Arthur Cotterell & Rachel Storm, and while I found a very detailed article on Ra’s role as the daily-reborn sun god of Egypt, there was not a single word referring to him teaching science and technology to the Egyptians. You can browse some online resources about Ra (such as this one) and you will also see that there is no mention of Ra’s relationship to science and technology. I read quite a lot about Egyptian mythology in my early years, and I don’t recall ever hearing this. If anyone more versed in Egyptian mythology than I am can correct me if this is a misconception, I invite them to do so—but please come armed with a direct quotation from a reliable source before commenting.

Mayan mythology and religion is extraordinarily complex. In researching this article, as near as I can tell the Mayan sun god was called Kinich Ahau, and he was primarily associated with music and poetry—not science and engineering. Clearly there is no mention of this god, at least in the materials I could find, “teaching” ancient peoples how to build anything. Again, if anyone who knows Mayan mythology wishes to dispute this characterization, I’ll do an update to this blog with a correction—but again, come armed with direct quotations from reliable sources.

I have a friend who is very much into Mayan culture, and who just got back from an archaeological dig in Guatemala. (His blog is here). I asked him about the sun god stuff. His answer: it’s garbage. Mr. Haramein appears to be mistaken.

He does have a point, however, when it comes to the Incan sun god. That god was called Inti and was the most important god in the Incan pantheon. This site refers to legends that Inti “taught civilization” to Manco Cápac, the mythological founder of the Incan civilization. Presumably the teaching of “civilization” involves science and engineering.

But before you conclude that this is “evidence” that the Incas learned everything they knew from little green men from the Pleiades, let’s step back a moment. Mr. Haramein made the claim that all three civilizations had sun gods who taught them about science and technology. The facts show that only one of them had a belief similar to that. Mr. Haramein was also proven incorrect about the “Flower of Life” at the Temple of Abydos. Clearly, when it comes to making assertions about ancient history, he doesn’t seem to be correct very much of the time.

Even beyond the issue of Mr. Haramein’s credibility, however, think of something more basic: if these ancient peoples were visited by extraterrestrials, why would formulations of myths and religious stories be their primary means of recording this extraordinary event? These ancient peoples did write down their history. Take the Mayans, for instance. In addition to recording their mythology, they recorded the genealogies of their kings and historical events that occurred in their countries. You can see a translation of a Mayan codex, called Popul Vuh, which does exactly that, here. Why would these peoples have not recorded what actually happened?

That dovetails with my next point.

If Ancient Astronauts Helped Ancient Peoples Build Things in the Distant Past, How Come They Haven’t Helped Us Build Anything in Recorded History?

This is a question I’ve never heard a believer in ancient astronauts even attempt to answer. If aliens helped Egyptians build the pyramids thousands of years ago, how come they didn’t help us build, say, the Hoover Dam in the 1920s? Why do all these supposed alien interventions lie in periods of the past for which historical records are sketchy or nonexistent?

Let’s take another example of an awesome and mysterious structure, every bit as amazing as the pyramids: the cathedral of Hagia Sofia (St. Sofia, the Church of the Holy Wisdom) in Constantinople, now called Istanbul.

This, one of the largest and grandest cathedrals in the world, survived many earthquakes over the centuries that turned most other structures to rubble. For many years modern scientists and engineers had no idea how or why the builders of St. Sofia were able to “earthquake-proof” the building. Then, in 2002, the answer was discovered: the Byzantines who built St. Sofia in the 530’s A.D. invented earthquake-proof cement 1300 years before anyone else had thought of it.

Before 2002, then, St. Sofia was in precisely the same category as the Egyptian pyramids or the Nazca lines: “We have no idea how they did it!” Yet I am unaware of a single instance in which New Agers have alleged that aliens helped build St. Sofia.

Why not? The answer is very simple. St. Sofia was built in recorded history. There are lots of written records relating to its construction in 532 A.D. We even know the names of the architects: Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles. In short, we know that aliens weren’t involved in building St. Sofia because none of the historical records relating to the construction of the cathedral mention them.

This fact is proof positive of how and why the “We have no idea how they did it, so it must be aliens” reasoning is inherently faulty. We know for a fact that humans built St. Sofia without help from Antares or Alpha Centauri. There was something about how they built it that we did not know, at least until 2002, and that something was a marvel comparable only to modern techniques of modern earthquake-proof construction. Yet no one could take seriously the claim that because this marvel existed, it somehow “proved” that aliens must have been involved in its construction.

This means that the only candidates for alien construction projects are those for which we don’t already have detailed records of their construction. If, for example, a stone tablet was discovered in Egypt tomorrow with a complete record of how the Great Pyramid was constructed, and archaeologists verified the tablet as genuine, the Great Pyramid would suddenly be off the New Agers’ list of “proof” items for alien astronauts. This shows that alien astronaut claims can only thrive (pardon the expression) where there is no direct evidence to refute them. This is a classic telltale sign of faulty reasoning.

Aren’t You Being Unfair And Closed-Minded By Refusing To Accept The Possibility That Aliens May Have Interacted With Humans In The Past? I Mean, You Should Be Open To All Possibilities, Right?

Many defenders of Thrive who have come to this blog to comment have taken me to task for denouncing this or that possibility involving woo subjects like UFOs or crop circles, or conspiracy theories like the “Global Domination Agenda,” as if I am somehow being unfair and closing the door on potential understanding by insisting on verifiable facts and logical reasoning. This criticism totally misses the point and again reinforces the faith-based belief system of Thrive’s target audience.

Personally, I would be delighted if historical or archaeological evidence of extraterrestrial visitation came to light. It would undoubtedly be the greatest discovery in the history of the human race. I personally do think it is likely that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. However, this supposition—and it is no more than a supposition—does not justify a belief that these extraterrestrial beings are visiting Earth in UFOs, because there is no credible evidence that this is in fact happening. Not only is there no credible evidence of extraterrestrial visitation in modern times, but the supposed “evidence” for extraterrestrial visitation in the past is even thinner.

Why, if aliens visited humans in the past, should the evidence of these visitations be so oblique and attenuated? If it really happened, shouldn’t it be unmistakable? Again—why didn’t Cheops, the builder of the Great Pyramid, erect a stone tablet stating, “I just want to leave this stone behind to thank Zorky and Bloopblop from the planet Galinka for all their help in building my wonderful pyramid”? If it really happened, wouldn’t there be ample evidence of it? And in the absence of such convincing evidence, is it really that unreasonable to conclude that it did not happen?

I believe in the human race, the intelligence of the human species, and the boundless ingenuity of humanity. I seem to believe in these things more than Foster Gamble and Nassim Haramein do. I believe that a bunch of very intelligent men and women, born in Egypt thousands of years ago, were clever enough to figure out a way to build the Great Pyramid, and if we modern peoples could see how they did it, we would be extremely surprised and intrigued by their ingenuity. Foster Gamble and Nassim Haramein do not believe that Egyptians were smart enough to do this; they’d rather believe that these people were pathetic and helpless and could only have done what they did if aliens helped them.

I believe that artists, engineers and artisans across many different cultures, in many different countries, in many different eras, were smart enough to come up with the idea of a flower-like design with 64 interlocking circles independently of each other. This is not a “coincidence.” Is it really that hard? Is it so far beyond the realm of possibility that one ancient person in Egypt came up with a 64-circle flower design and thought, “Gee, that’s pretty—I think I’ll paint it on the wall,” and then someone else in China hundreds of years later had the same idea and also thought it was pretty? Why does this stretch any sort of credulity to believe this?

But Foster Gamble and Nassim Haramein do not believe this. They believe people in Egypt and China—civilizations that gave us paper and fireworks, had running water in their houses, and explored much of the ancient world—were too stupid to do this without the help of aliens.

I believe that a couple of ordinary yahoos from rural England, with no advanced training in engineering or mathematics, working with boards, measuring tapes and other simple tools, can and regularly do create magnificent, geometrically perfect crop circles on a regular basis. In fact, I can prove that they do. But Foster Gamble and Nassim Haramein do not believe this. They believe people are too stupid to figure out how to flatten some wheat stalks and throw some magnetized particles around to fool the gullible.

Most sadly—and here is the real tragedy of Thrive—Foster Gamble and Nassim Haramein do not seem to believe in the capacity and ingenuity of the human species to improve its present condition. They don’t think we can end global warming, clean up the environment or improve the quality of life for many of the world’s people on our own, the same way we have solved many other problems, by using science and reason and calling upon the infinite creativity of the human spirit. No—the whole point of Thrive is that we, the human race, are too stupid and corrupt to do these things, and we must instead rely on magical technology supposedly given to us by extraterrestrials in order to solve these problems.

That’s their message. Humanity is doomed, and we always have been. Hell, according to Gamble and Haramein, as well as some commenters on this blog, we’re too stupid to figure out how to build crop circles correctly! But that doesn’t matter. Aliens will sail down from the skies to our rescue. As long as we don’t let those evil Rockefellers and the Federal Reserve take over.

Seen in this light, Thrive’s dogged insistence on the alien astronaut hypothesis is not only silly and illogical—it is downright insulting.


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