Ancient Aliens and Pseudoarcheology

Wayne Spencer

It is common for both nonchristians and Christians to have questions about the claims from Erich Von Daniken and others that promote the idea that aliens from space have visited Earth from ancient times.  The claim is that this can explain many mysteries about ancient peoples.  I will refer to Von Daniken and others that promote ancient aliens as “ancient alien promoters.” There are many problems with their claims and this article is only a summary with some examples.  Other sources on this subject that debunk ancient alien claims are listed below.  This issue has never captured my interest but it does capture the interest of many others, so it is worth answering.  However, I don’t recommend spending a great deal of time on it.  What follows here is only a short summary.  Other resources will be linked below that I would recommend for anyone who would like to delve into the details more.  

I want to distinguish between real archeological research and what archeologists would call pseudo-archeology.  Pseudo-archeology is done by people without scholarly training or background in relevant subjects, such as ancient languages, ancient history, ancient cultures, or in some cases engineering.  But it is not their lack of relevant academic qualifications that is the problem really, it is the way that they seem to do a wholesale rejection of modern scholarship.  This causes them to leave out important facts,  do a sort of selective presentation of the facts, with a bad interpretation of the facts.  This makes the information very misleading to people.  There is a strong mistrust of modern scholarship from the ancient alien promoters.  

Some skeptics that criticize the ancient alien promoters also treat biblical archeology as if it has the same problems as ancient aliens.  But biblical archeology is based on real legitimate scholarship and research and there is sound archeological evidence and other kinds of evidence for many of the people, places, and events described in the Bible.  The Bible represents a kind of selected historical record of how God has worked through human history.  Some of the arguments from the ancient alien promoters touch on biblical issues, and so this deserves some response.  But there are fake mysteries and real mysteries about ancient peoples.  These are two very different things.  I will try to explain this in what follows.  The concepts presented from the ancient alien promoters are fake or false mysteries about ancient peoples.   

The Moai Statues of Easter Island

In 1955 and 1956 explorer Thor Heyerdahl did archeological expeditions to Easter Island.  The Moai stone statues have become something very interesting to people.  These carved statues have been used by ancient alien promoters to argue that aliens have aided people on Earth in the past.  Easter Island is in the Pacific ocean West of Chile, South America.  It lies 2,300 miles West of Chile and 2,500 miles East of Tahiti.  The argument from the ancient alien promoters is that alien technology was needed to make the stone statues, either in the form of aliens assisting ancient peoples, or aliens actually constructing things for them.  But Thor Heyerdahl’s expedition answered most of the questions about how the statues were made in the 1950's.  Some of Heyerdahl’s theories about who the people were that first arrived on Easter Island have not been accepted by modern scholars.  But Heyerdahl provided a good start toward answering how the statues were made.  Others have followed up with more research after Heyerdahl as well.   The ancient alien promoters such as Von Daniken often present a false dilemma, a fake mystery, and then say that only alien technology could solve the problem.  A number of other sites around the world leave ancient construction sites that used stone and some of these, such as in Egypt and Central or South America, have been used by the ancient alien promoters the same way.  So the methods used to make the Easter Island statues are actually similar to how other ancient peoples in other parts of the world made other structures, including the pyramids in Egypt.

In ancient times people obviously did not have power tools or modern equipment and methods of construction.  But what they lacked in technology they often made up for in ways by their ingenuity.  On Easter Island stones were used to pound rock at quarries and flake off pieces to shape the rock into blocks.  Easter Island also has unfinished stone heads that show the process.  The stone head and body were shaped in this way and the back side of the statue was left connected to the rock in the ground but it was carved out so a narrow keel-like piece was left along the bottom, then this was broken loose.  The statues once formed this way were moved by use of ropes.  People of the island have redone the process in modern times to show that it can be done.  It is possible with strong heavy ropes for a group of people to move the statues, even without logs to roll them on.  But, logs were likely used in the past when the island had more trees than today.  Today there are few trees, probably because so many trees were used in moving the Moai statues.  Since the trees were removed, this has caused a major problem of soil erosion on the island.  Apparently the Moai were believed to represent important ancestors and they were often placed near the shore because there are springs of fresh water that come up along the shores of the island.  

This entire process has been demonstrated multiple times and on Easter Island there is evidence of the thick ancient ropes used and pounding stones used for shaping the rock.  There is no need to appeal to ancient alien technology.  Note that in some other parts of the world other techniques were added for stone work.  In Egypt, in shaping stone blocks for the pyramids and other structures, the Egyptians would make a metal saw of copper and put sand on a block of rock.  The metal did not need teeth on it, but it was passed back and forth with sand under it in a groove.  By this approach the sand will erode away the rock out of the grove and you’re left with a straight cut in the rock.  Mixing copper, arsenic, and nickel together (poured into molds) was sometimes done in ancient times as a way to make stronger metal tools that worked well as chisels.  Copper would be eroded or dulled by stone but if the copper were mixed into this alloy, it made the metal much harder and better for stone work.  These methods would have been possible for ancient peoples.  A lot more could be said about ancient construction methods.  Much of this has been figured out by scholars and demonstrated in modern times.  There are some details of ancient construction methods that scholars are uncertain on or that there are multiple opinions on.  Sometimes the ancient alien promoters have also reported the facts incorrectly regarding certain artifacts or certain sites.  The sources below will show examples of this.   

So at Easter Island there is a false mystery and a true mystery.  Making the stone statues is not a real mystery.  But a real mystery that remains to the present is over the question of who were the first people to arrive and stay on Easter Island?  This question is probably related to the question of who were first to arrive on certain other islands in the Pacific, of the Polynesian people.  Heyerdahl proposed that the people on Easter Island originally came from Peru.  But modern genetic studies indicate the Easter Islanders are more like people in Asia, not like South Americans in Peru.  

The Bible and Ancient peoples                       

The ancient alien promoters such as Von Daniken and others who have tried to add to his ideas often refer to certain things in the Bible.  They don’t actually seem believe the Bible, but they seem to want to use it to support their ideas.   They have a great tendency to misinterpret things in the Bible by reading things into it that are pretty obviously out of context.  For example, in the Old Testament, they have said that the “wheels within wheels” in Ezekiel’s vision from Ezekiel chapter 1 is a description of a UFO.  But this shows an ignorance of how ancient near eastern writings described gods and kings.  Understanding the Bible does require some background on the ancient culture of the time, but there is no reason to suggest aliens had anything to do with what the Bible tells us.  The Bible’s description of angels or of God should not be mixed up with aliens.  The Bible means what it says and it doesn’t describe aliens.  It’s not that the Bible writers of ancient times didn’t know how to describe what they saw, so it could have been aliens.  In Ezekiel 1, it is describing God on his throne in a manner similar to how a King would have been described in ancient writings.  It is basically a throne chariot, that is moved by Cherubim angels that can go in any direction.  Ancient writings and artwork had particular ways of depicting things that Ezekiel 1 follows.  To hear more on this, I would recommend the video from Michael Heiser below.   

I would say that the books of Genesis (and Exodus) give important information about mankind’s early history.  Genesis and Exodus are historical.  There are things described in Genesis going back to the time of Abraham that match up with modern archeology very well.  There are some places or people mentioned in the Old Testament that we may not be able to line up with historical or archeological evidence exactly, but many aspects can be lined up with historical sources.  Scholars used to say that there was no such people called the Hittites like those mentioned in Genesis in connection with Abraham.  But today there is plenty of information on the Hittites from archeology.  Genesis 4 indicates that starting about 6 generations after Adam people starting working with metals and making musical instruments.  Also, Genesis 5 and 11 have geneological information that can be related to ancient people and language groups, and the Tower of Babel event in Genesis is likely related to how ancient peoples spread out around the ancient world.  According to the Bible, there was no long period of human evolution but there was a period of a few generations for humans to discover methods for making and building things.  So it is consistent with Genesis to say that ancient peoples could do a lot more than we may expect.  Some ancient techniques may have been lost and forgotten.  But they only needed human ingenuity and some hard work, they didn’t need alien technology or modern technology.    

The Baalbek Ruins

Another interesting example is the site of an ancient city and temple called Baalbek.  This is in Lebanon today but it is the same site where the city of Heliopolis was built by Alexander the Great.  Alexander built on top of the ruins of Baalbek.  Baalbek was originally a temple for the Canaanite god Baal.  But in a particular part of the ruins there are three very large blocks of stone that are said to weigh up to about 800 Tons.  The ancient alien promoters say these three stones (often called the “trilithon” stones) were part of a large spaceship landing platform.  Surely alien help would be needed to form and move such large blocks, right?  But there’s a number of facts left out in the story from the ancient alien promoters.  First the three large stone blocks are not side-by-side as a platform or foundation would be, they are end-to-end.  The reason is clear from the site and from what’s known about ancient buildings.  The “trilithon” stones were part of a retaining wall.  Big heavy stone blocks are perfect for a retaining wall to hold back the hill so the hill doesn’t collapse.  They were actually only used in one corner of the old structure.  It is also evident from the site that the structures were built on a hill and there were frequent problems with soil erosion.  

What about moving 800 Ton stone blocks?  First, the ancient aliens promoters apparently reported the weight a bit exaggerated.  The largest blocks used in the Baalbek wall were about 600 Tons.  As it turns out it was not the ancient builders of old Baalbek that placed these large blocks there, it would have been either the Greeks or the Romans.  We know that the Romans were able to move large blocks like this.  The Romans provided writings and wall carvings showing how they did some of their construction projects.  The Romans in a few cases actually moved large stone obelisks from Egypt to Rome.  Herod the Great in the period just before the birth of Jesus used some similar large stone blocks in the Western wall of the Jerusalem temple foundation.  These are known examples that are recorded in writing and in drawings or carvings by the Romans that would have worked with blocks of stone of similar sizes.  There is an even bigger stone block that was once moved in Russia in the 1700's.  It was called the Thunder Stone and it was about 1250 Tons!  We know this didn’t require alien technology.  I have to admire the Russians for their hard work on this.

The Mayan King’s Spaceship

The ancient alien promoters go to the stone sarcophagus lid of Mayan King Pacal.  They say this stone lid depicts a man at the controls of a spaceship.  But scholars say it is about King Pacal's journey to the afterlife.  They refer to parts of this lid carving as having hand controls, foot pedals, perhaps a telescope or breathing tube in front of the person's face, and what they say looks like flames at the bottom.  The man depicted is in a position that looks like what modern astronauts get in for takeoff.  Von Daniken says this is proof for extraterrestrials.  Von Daniken doesn’t seem to consider all that has been learned about the Maya or their pictographic language.  

Mayan experts say this is depicting Pacal's descent into the underworld, not taking off into space.  It depicts a vertical structure that represents something called the World Tree, an important thing in Mayan mythology. The World Tree was thought to have it's branches in the heavens and it's roots would be in the underworld.  It also had a celestial bird at the top and a two headed creature called the vision serpent in the middle.  The part at the bottom that ancient alien promoters say was fire from spaceship exhaust was really depicting the roots of the World Tree going into the underworld.  They believed that when the Sun set, it was descending into the underworld, where it would die.  So the idea is that king Pacal is riding down into the underworld with the Sun.  Other details in the carving are mostly understood from knowledge of the Mayans and their pictographs.  Other Mayan carvings depict similar scenes, sometimes without the world tree or with variations on how it is done.  Comparing the different examples of these pictographs shows it really isn’t about a spaceship.  It’s about the strange beliefs the Mayans had.  To find the real meaning of something like this requires study of the culture.  Such things take time and effort.  You can’t come along and make up a story about aliens to explain something that meant something completely different to the original people who made it.  To understand it you must determine what it meant to those who made it or those who it was made for.  The ancient aliens promoters skip the hard work of figuring out the culture and language of the ancient people.  

The Nazca Lines of Peru

In southern Peru is an area where lines are visible from the air or from the local mountains.  The lines make various shapes of animals and sometimes have long straight lines hundreds of feet long or in some cases over 10 miles long.  Von Daniken and other ancient alien promoters have sometimes claimed they were alien runways where alien spacecraft would take off.  On the other hand sometimes they have said they were sites where alien spacecraft landed and the landing somehow formed them.  Again the ancient alien promoters create a fake mystery. They don’t really even explain much about the details of the lines.  Many of the lines make shapes of animals and some are geometric shapes.  Without delving into the culture or what is known about the people who made them, the ancient alien promoters go directly to the idea that they were from aliens.  

Actually it is not difficult to make the lines and it isn’t really necessary to be flying to see them due to the hills and mountains of the region.  The ground is generally covered with a thin layer of reddish soil and if you just move away some of this red soil it exposes a lighter soil or rock beneath it.  So making the lines is easy.  A man named Joe Nickel demonstrated how similar lines could be made very simply by a small group of people.  It is not hard to make a small drawing, do some measurements and then reproduce the same drawing on a bigger scale just by marking out by measurements done to scale.  

The Nazca region is one of the driest areas on Earth and there is virtually no wind, so this is why the lines are preserved so well.  There is some mystery over why the people made the lines. A number of scholars have tried to argue they relate to constellations but no one has really been able to convince astronomers of this; there seems little evidence of this.  But, some of the lines seem to relate to aquifers and sources of water.  So a promising explanation is that the drawings of animals were somehow related to the gods they believed in, and they drew the lines as part of a ritual to find water.  In any case, from what is known about the people, they did not believe that the gods were coming down from the sky.  The lines are not all straight either, there are a number of curves and rounded shapes in the lines.  Often birds are depicted in them as well as a variety of other animals.   

Byzantine Art and UFOs

The ancient alien promoters sometimes refer to artwork like paintings from the middle ages that are of Biblical themes and claim that the painting depicts UFOs.  But art from this era has rules about the symbolism and without knowing how they used symbols in paintings from the time, it wouldn't be clear what it was meant to be to people like us today.  Learning a few things about how the artwork was done is good so that the art can be understood.  But the ancient aliens promoters skip the learning step and jump to aliens.  I will give four types of examples below of this.  To see examples and paintings related to this see the video linked below by Chris White.

1) The Sun and Moon were consistently portrayed in Byzantine art as if they have human characteristics.  In the paintings, it may show a circle with something like flames or light coming from it.  Often the Sun would be on one side of the painting and the Moon on the other.  This style was a carry-over from Roman art that the Catholic church kept in artwork.  They often are shown facing the cross at Jesus’ crucifixion, as if they were witnesses of it.  So it may look like the Sun and Moon have a face with fire or something streaming from them.  It's not about alien spacecraft.  The ancient alien promoters don't have the right to ignore the intended meaning and substitute a completely different meaning for the symbols that wasn't intended.  

2) One of the paintings referred to by the ancient alien promoters shows an oval shaped object in the sky above and to the right of Mary and the baby Jesus.  The ancient alien promoters would say it looks like a spaceship glowing.  But if you notice in the lower right the painting shows a shepherd and a dog looking up at the object in the sky.  So, the painting is clearly depicting the shepherds near Bethlehem looking up at the angel that was announcing Jesus' birth as in Luke chapter 2.  It wasn't a flying saucer, it was an angel. It fits the New Testament so it is clear that is the meaning.

3) Some art depicted God in the sky with a circle of angels around him.  This has been interpreted incorrectly by the ancient alien promoters as a spaceship with a beam of light going to Mary.  But this is just how painters of the time depicted the account from the Bible about an angel appearing to Mary.  In the painting, the ancient alien promoters may say it looks like a laser beam going to Mary.  But this was just a way of depicting the Holy Spirit impregnating Mary.  People of the time would not have taken it any other way.  

4) Some art of this time depicted Jesus and God the Father and the Holy Spirit over a sphere that looked like the Earth covered with water.  This was about the creation of the world.  So it was not depicting aliens in the place of God.  The Holy Spirit was depicted as a dove.  The ancient aliens promoters claim that the sphere couldn't be the Earth because it shows it as round and people of the time believed Earth was flat.  But this is wrong.  People of that time did not believe the Earth was flat.  People knew Earth was spherical even among the early Greeks and probably before that. The error of the flat earth comes from the 17th and 18th century, not from ancient times.  (Note also that the Bible describes the Earth as round, such as in Isaiah 40:22, and Job 26:7 even said the Earth is hung on nothing.)


The claims of evidence of ancient aliens do not stand up to any scrutiny.  We must learn the difference between reliable sources and unreliable sources.  I have always found that we should be suspicious of dramatic sensational claims.  When you are researching something the important evidence is seldom sensational and the sensational is seldom important.

Here are some good sources I would recommend:

Ancient Aliens Debunked (Video by Chris White. 3 hrs, 10 min)

Website by Chris White.  Has some references related to topics in the video above.

Bible scholar Michael Heiser - Ancient Aliens Debunked

See also this website by Michael Heiser.  It is a response to the claims of a man named Zechariah Sitchin (such as about the Anunnaki and other topics).


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