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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

2-26-24 PDF
February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

Ancient Aliens, or Alienating the Ancients?


Something other than history has co-opted The History Channel. Admittedly, viewers may have tired over the years of yet another documentary on war, but the current scheduling lineup actually has very little to do with “real” history. My biggest concern has been their sneaky replacement of real history with sensationalist and highly questionable pseudohistory, epitomized in their series “Ancient Aliens.” If you haven’t ever watched, let me briefly summarize the premise: Human developments in architecture, writing, religion, technology, and just about everything else in history can be explained by extra-terrestrials who helped, inspired, or outright did these things. Apparently, it means money for a cable network, if sophistry can be peddled as history.

Who makes these ancient aliens claims, and how do they support them? Much of the series repeats arguments first made by Erich van Däniken in 1968, and further developed by him and a host of his followers since. Look carefully at the “experts” in the show. You will quickly discover that hardly any of them are archaeologists or historians. Sure, a degree in archaeology or history does not guarantee the best researchers, nor does the absence of those degrees make someone unqualified. But knowledge and training do mean something. Do we see documentaries about chemistry that involve no chemists and only showcase people who say they have looked at chemicals on their own and decided that the elemental table just isn’t cutting it?

In the case of “Ancient Aliens,” the roster of enthusiastic “experts” includes a radio host for late-night shows on the paranormal, an ex-body builder and sports communications major, and a software engineer. But is enthusiasm enough? These “experts” do not seem to have consulted even the most basic archaeology textbook on theories of how to make sense of the past using material evidence, or even information on what archaeologists have been interpreting for years. These documentaries routinely disregard evidence, and they rip monuments, artifacts, and ancient writings completely out of context to make outlandish claims. They also encourage audiences toward “inkblots,” identified by Kenneth Feder in his famous book Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries as the tendency to see in images or artifacts whatever one wants to see. This might be acceptable for cloud watching, but not for our scholarly duty to try to accurately represent human history.

Besides misrepresenting humans, they don’t even do a good job of representing these possible ancient aliens. Why sentient space travelers who could transport themselves many light years from their homes would need landing strips in the Nazca highlands of Peru that resembled a 20th-century airport is beyond me. If this is true, show me some lost luggage or a food court!

Do archaeologists know everything there is to possibly know about the ancient Maya, or the Egyptian pyramids, or Stonehenge, or carved stone moai on Easter Island? Of course not, but give us some credit. We do know a tremendous amount about them due to decades of painstaking research, scientific analysis, and careful, critical study of artifacts, architecture, and even texts – remember, both Egyptians and Mayans recorded a lot of what they were doing in writing. We certainly know they were made by humans, for humans, and with human engineering, skill, and labor.

The jury is still out on whether life, sentient or otherwise, exists outside of our solar system. However, don’t use that possibility to maliciously compromise an otherwise interesting, exciting, and often very troubling past for humanity over the millennia. The past is accessible but gone, and we can thank or criticize humankind for every bit of it.