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Ancient Aliens… fact or fantasy?


With the 20th anniversary of Tomb Raider III being this year (where has the time gone?!), I have decided to look back at the part of the game which always stuck out for me – and which was a particular theme running through the game.

At the beginning of the game, we see excavations being carried out in Antarctica. They have unearthed a Polynesian culture that had stumbled across a meteorite crater thousands of years ago and, having found that it contained incredible power, crafted four artefacts from the meteorite rock.

The Polynesians later left Antarctica for an unknown reason, and the site was later discovered by some of Darwin’s sailors on the HMS Beagle. These sailors took the artefacts, and these were later dispersed across the globe through random misfortune or by being sold.

The game follows Lara around the world as she tracks down these artefacts, with one of the locations being Area 51 and an alien research lab.

I have always loved the idea that something arrived from outer space, was discovered by an ancient civilisation, and then was scattered across the world by different events.

Ancient civilisations and their stories have always fascinated me – hence my love of Tomb Raider and the reason I inevitably studied Archaeology at the University of London.

One of the subjects I studied was referred to as “Alternative Archaeology”, which is the polite name given to those theories that incorporate elements outside of the human experience, and which could, possibly, fill in the gaps in history that “serious” archaeology still struggles with.

One of the most famous examples of this (at the time that I studied the subject) was the 1968 book “Chariots of the Gods?” written by Erich Von Däniken. Born in 1935, Von Däniken became infamous for his outlandish theories about aliens coming to Earth, where they supposedly gifted the ancient cultures of the world writing and technology that was beyond their understanding. His underlying theory was that these aliens were (or are) the basis of pretty much every religion that has ever existed. While it is easy to find similarities between several religions throughout time (due to their close contact with one another and the effects of word-of-mouth and historical marketing), it is a far-fetched theory and one that I think is pretty insulting to our ancestors.

Erich Von Däniken, author of “Chariots of the Gods”. Since the release of the book in the late 1960’s, he has confirmed that some of his theories were fabricated. 

Von Däniken’s theory basically implies that humans thousands of years ago were in no way able to come up with amazing achievements all by themselves; that they must have had someone else to show them these techniques (who were later worshipped as Gods.) It is a difficult theory to follow through an accurate study of ancient civilisations as it tends to pick-and-choose (and, at times, completely distort) the archaeological record in order to prove its point.

Since the release of Von Däniken’s book, there have been numerous documentaries and books that have debunked his theories. However, you will still find people out there convinced that the “ancient aliens” theory has some merit.

Another example of Alternative Archaeology is the documentary series “Ancient Aliens” (first broadcast in 2010). This series looks at aspects of many ancient sites around the world, and uses handpicked examples to “prove” that aliens came to Earth.

Again, the information the series’ creators use as “evidence” a lot of the time is very selective, distorted, and even entirely fabricated in order to fit their theories.

For example, one theory suggests that images of Gods appearing within ancient art couldn’t just come spontaneously from the imaginations of people thousands of years ago; the images must have originated from people who actually saw alien beings from a distance but couldn’t make out their features (or that these aliens were wearing helmets shaped like animals found on Earth.)

The series even takes examples of rock drawings and suggests that they show “ancient astronauts”, like these petroglyphs from Italy (see image below). Of course, this “theory” relies on the assumption that ancient astronauts would have space-suits just like those worn by our own astronauts today.

Petroglyphs from Val Camonica, Italy. These mesolithic images are said to represent ancient astronauts.

However, this “ancient aliens” theory conveniently overlooks the fact that several ancient civilisations relied on hallucinogens in order to have religious experiences, which would naturally lead to strange visions that people would believe came from the gods. It also ignores the way people both past and present have used their imaginations: you also only need to look at the artwork created by people when they tried to imagine creatures from the New World in the days before America was “discovered”. It’s a pretty far-fetched (and insulting) theory that ancient people lacked the imagination to conjure up outlandish beings, or use their own experiences to come up with the myths and legends we still read about today.

Visitors to the New World came back with tales of strange creatures which were then recreated in images for everyone to see, although most were not exactly accurate! The above is meant to show an iguana… 

One of the most famous locations that tends to be a target for these “alternative archaeologists” is the Pyramid complex at Giza, in Egypt. For centuries, people have debated how these colossal monuments were built, but the techniques have never been confirmed; even to this day, in the realm of serious archaeology, much remains a mystery. Unfortunately, this mystery means that the Pyramids are a perfect excuse to wave aside all discussion about ancient human technology, and just explain them away with the term “aliens built it!”

The face that launched a thousand memes: Giorgio A. Tsoukalos is the co-founder of Legendary Times magazine and appeared quite prominently on the TV series Ancient Aliens.

This same argument is used for dozens of ancient sites where stone blocks – each weighing several tonnes – have been used in construction on a huge scale. Proponents of the “ancient aliens” theory hold up these sites as a perfect examples of “alien levitation technology”, that was used to move heavy objects. However, this theory completely overlooks the on-site evidence of, for example, rope-wear marks, anchoring holes on the stones, and the fact that there are actually quite a few depictions of how these heavy monuments (e.g. obelisks) were actually moved into place using nothing but good old-fashioned human ingenuity. (And lots of rope.)

Ultimately, while I would love the idea that visitors from another planet came to assist us with our problems (and we have plenty of those right now!), this “ancient aliens” theory is just too far-fetched and, as I have said previously, extremely insulting to our ancestors. These people possessed amazing determination and imagination, and we should all admire and respect their achievements – from the engineering genius behind the Pyramids, to the ancient Polynesians’ adventurous determination which led them to explore and settle the span of the Pacific Ocean all the way from New Zealand to North America.

Anyway, this is just my opinion. What do you guys think? Are there any theories out there regarding ancient aliens that you think can’t be debunked?

Whichever way your beliefs lie, you can find plenty of documentaries on YouTube to explore on the subject – including one from the 1970’s that was adapted from Von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods. However, I would strongly recommend “Ancient Aliens Debunked” by the YouTube channel, VerseByVerseBT. (See below.) It’s a 3-hour-long documentary, but does a great job of using actual archaeological records and hard evidence to tear down a lot of the theories presented as “facts” within the “Ancient Aliens'” series.

Happy truth hunting!



Ancient Aliens – Fact or Fantasy? by Lori Croft is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Written by Lori Croft. Edited by J. R. Milward.


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