If not the progenitor of the entire concept of Ancient Aliens then certainly one of the central figures at the roots of the belief is self proclaimed archaeologist and convicted felon, Erich von Däniken. His Chariots of The Gods in 1968, soon followed by Gods From Outer Space 1970 ( a very short period between supposed research based, academic texts ) are the first published texts to propose that misrepresented stories and iconography of ancient cultures represent the possibility that aliens visited and interacted with our ancestors.
A regular on the History Channel show Ancient Aliens, and across the full spectrum of entertainment that hypothesizes visitation from outsiders formed early cultures, and even the human species. Even when von Däniken is not the person being interviewed, we are often hearing his works being cited (though uncredited at the time) as if they were proven or irrefutable, or even researched. I recently had cause to say to someone you cannot separate the words from the man. So I intend to look a little more closely at the man, as those who rely upon his information as basis for their research (and often income) do not.
At the age of 19, von Däniken was given a four-month suspended sentence for theft.Von Däniken withdrew from school, and became apprenticed to a Swiss hotelier for a time,before moving to Egypt. While in Egypt, he was involved in a jewelry deal which resulted in a nine-month conviction for fraud and embezzlement upon his return to Switzerland
In November 1968 von Däniken was arrested for fraud, after falsifying hotel records and credit references in order to take out loans for $130,000 over a period of twelve years. He used the money for foreign travel to research his book. Two years later, von Däniken was convicted for “repeated and sustained” embezzlement, fraud and forgery, with the court ruling that the writer had been living a “playboy” lifestyle. Von Däniken entered a plea for nullity on the grounds that his intentions were not malicious and the credit institutions were at fault for failing to adequately research his references.
Since he raises the subject of not adequately researching references…
From Ancient Aliens Debunked
One of the more interesting claims in the ancient astronaut club are the Dropa stones. I also found them quite convincing when I was getting back into the ancient astronaut theories.
The story goes something like this. An ancient tomb was found near the Tibet/China border by an actual archaeologist. In the tomb, several (hundred!) interesting things were found. A couple small bodies with weird heads and hundreds of stones with etchings on them. Some of the etchings were allegedly translated by one Tsum Um Nui revealing a story of marooned extraterrestrials. Later, the aliens are said to have been hunted to extinction or intermarried with the locals, depending on the story.
From blogger Jason Colavito
Chinese experts have no record of these stones’ existence, and the archaeologist and translator who worked on them also do not exist. Their very names appear to be a Western pastiche of Chinese.
EVD admits that he included the material in his book without investigating it. His source was a “friend in Moscow.” But EVD deflects criticism by saying that journalist Peter Krassa found new evidence that the story is true. EVD neglected to mention that Krassa was a fellow ancient astronaut theorist. Later, Krassa would write EVD’s biography (Disciple of the Gods, 1976) and still later would claim that the Vatican was hiding a time machine.
That would be a good place to hide one.
In another good example of information that is both admitted by von Däniken to be false, and demonstrably untruthful anyway I give you The Banana.
From Jason Colavito
“…the banana is a problem. It is found on even the most remote South Sea islands. How did this plant, which is so vital for the nourishment of mankind, originate? How did it make its way round the world, seeing that it has no seeds? Did the ‘Manu,’ of whom the Indian saga tells, bring it with them from another star—as an all-round foodstuff?” (p.
When asked if he was seriously implying bananas come from another world, he replied: “No, and not many people realize that.” Of course they don’t realize this is a joke; it is presented exactly like all of his other claims, and there is nothing in the context of the description, passage, or chapter to suggest it is a joke. It sounds, frankly, like EVD got caught in another lie and weaseled his way out after realizing that bananas were actually artificially cultivated after domestication in the East Indies c. 5000 BCE. (Yes, this means that Kirk Cameron is also wrong about God designing bananas to fit human hands; human farmers did that.)So is this all a put-on, Ferris asks. EVD replies: “In some part, absolutely not; I mean what I say seriously. In other ways, I mean to make people laugh.”
If you have to explain that it was a joke, it wasn’t. And why in the middle of a text you are offering as scholarly research do you put an unidentifiable joke? So I will address it as if it was intended as written.
“How did it [the banana] make its way round the world, seeing that it has no seeds?”
Setting aside the lack of research issue for just a moment, Humans traversed the world. The work of actual researchers like Thor Heyerdahl has shown how early man traversed the oceans in very simple craft through an understanding of winds and tides and astronomy. That’s ‘nomy, not ‘logy. Banana plants can be grown from cuttings, which can be carried long distances if properly preserved, so even if no other explanation presents itself, the propagation of bananas across the world needs no more exotic explanation than humanity. Back to the issue of research, while it is true that modern cultivated bananas, the ones you are likely to see in the grocery store, do not have seeds, there are 1200 varieties of banana across the world, and many of those do have and can grow from seed. For a world explorer you might have gone a little further than the corner market to do your work.
More from The Colavito blog regarding the Playboy interview
The conversation then turns to the cave in Ecuador where EVD claimed in The Gold of the Gods to have viewed plastic furniture, golden statues of animals, and a library of golden tablets on which the aliens had written their history. Ferris informs EVD that Juan Moricz, the adventurer whom EVD said led him into the cave, denied ever having done so.
EVD explains that he lied about the location and the details of the cave—but only to protect the treasures therein. “In German we say a writer, if he is not writing pure science, is allowed to use some dramaturgisch Effekte—some theatrical effects. And that’s what I have done.” EVD then expresses outrage that the controversy is centered on whether he had ever seen the caves, not whether the treasures in them exist. So had he been to cave? Well, maybe, just not where he said in the book he was. He went in an undocumented “side entrance.” So did he really see the golden wonders he claimed to have seen? “Definitely,” he replies, before claiming he is no longer sure whether they were really made of gold.
Ferris again presses EVD on whether his description of his trip into the cave is correct, and EVD replies that it was fictional. “It is what I call theatrical effect” (p. 58). Did EVD even enter the cave? “Yeah, sure,” he replies (p. 58). He then claims that Moricz is purposely lying about EVD out of spite because EVD violated a confidentiality agreement meant to protect the caves’ treasures from outsiders. “But again, to me the main point is not if I have seen these things or not. I just don’t care. The question is, do they exist?” (p. 58). EVD says he will not go to Ecuador to retrieve the artifacts because he fears the Ecuadorian government would assassinate him for revealing their existence, “and I really don’t care too much anymore.”
Well, your “theatrical effect” has no place in a text that you base a career as an expert upon.
Erich von Däniken does not draw the line at merely failing to to adequate (any) research. He also is perfectly willing to invent from whole cloth.
Again from Jason Colavito’s blog which deals largely with an interview von Däniken did in Playboy all the way back in 1974
An example of outright lies told in von Däniken’s “research.”
Fake rock painting as it appeared on page 82 of “The Gold of the Gods” as “an astronaut hold[ing] a disc.”
The actual source of the “painting”: A modern illustration for a 1967 article in Sputnik magazine. It was entirely the artist’s invention. Note: EVD has cropped and flipped the image to hide its origins.
Playboy: Are you, as one writer suggested, “the most brilliant satirist in German literature for a century”?
Von Däniken: The answer is yes and no. … In some part, I mean what I say seriously. In other ways, I mean to make people laugh.
The PBS show NOVA has also tackled von Däniken’s claims in this episode. The sound and picture are not great, but the information goes very far to discrediting this self admitted fraud.
Despite all of this, including von Däniken’s own admissions, he is still taken seriously, and presented as an expert. Symptomatic of people allowing the desire to believe to subvert and replace the need for facts, or even evidence. But if your belief system is based upon what can consistently be shown as false, then there can be nothing valid in that system. Sure, there are those AAers out there who will claim accusations of lies are part of a conspiracy to cover up some truth that we small people are not allowed to know about. How does that explain the man’s own admissions?
For more reading on the Playboy interview go to Jason Colavito’s blog. The analysis appears in 7 parts here.
For other resources on von Däniken’s claims check out Csicop’s Primer In the Art of Cooked Science
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