The Case Against Ancient Aliens Part Eight Easter Island, The Piri Reis Map and Ancient Art

(This is the final of a series of articles which were intended to be published in the Australian magazine Ufologist. Unfortunately, the magazine was cancelled after the first four were published.)

Easter Island

Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean contains over 800 large statues or moai, about half of which are unfinished. The documentary Chariots of the Gods? says that “many of those stone colossi stand 65 feet high and weigh nearly 400 tons.” [1]

Actually, the average weight of a statue was about 10 tons. The heaviest completed statue weighs 87 tons and there is an unfinished statue which weighs about 270 tons [2].

Von Daniken doubts the Easter Islanders could have created them,

“No trees grow on the island, which is a tiny speck of volcanic stone. The usual speculation, that the stone giants were moved to their present sites on giant wooden rollers, is not feasible on this case, either. In addition, the island can scarcely have provided food for more than 2000 inhabitants. (A few hundred natives lives on Easter Island today.) A shipping trade, which brought food and clothing for stonemasons, is hardly credible in antiquity. Then who cut the statues out of the rock, who carved and transported them to their sites? How were they moved across country for miles without rollers?” [3]

In the Ancient Aliens episode “The Monoliths” von Daniken says, “They look like robots.”[4] Really?

In 1958 Thor Heyerdahl published Aku-Aku, an account of his investigation of Easter Island. This book appears in the bibliography of Chariots of the Gods? [5]. Von Daniken writes,

“Heyerdahl discovered hundreds of unfinished statues near rock faces and on the edges of craters, thousands of stone implements, simple stone axes, lay around as if the work had been abandoned quite suddenly.” [6]

Von Daniken does not tell his readers how Heyerdahl asked the Easter Islanders to show how their ancestors carved, transported and raised the statues. Heyerdahl writes,

“To tackle the problem at its root we first studied the numerous uncompleted figures which lay on the ledges in the quarry itself. It was clear the work had been broken off suddenly; thousands of primitive unpolished stone picks still lay in the open-air workshop, and as different groups of sculptors had worked simultaneously on many different statues, all stages of carving were represented.” [7]

The Easter Islanders showed him how they carved the statues using stone tools. They estimated it would have taken six men about a year to carve a statue [8]. Twelve men were able to raise a fallen 25 to 30 ton statue using stones and wooden levers in 18 days [9] and 180 men were able to drag a 12 ton statue without any sled or rollers [10]. They did not need any help from aliens.

The Easter Islanders believed the moai “walked” to their locations, rather than being dragged along the ground. In a 2011 National Geographic sponsored expedition 18 people with three ropes were able to move an upright five ton moai replica, compared with Heyerdahl’s 180 men dragging a 12 ton statue [11]. If the original moai had bene moved upright, this could explain the belief that they walked.

Furthermore, while there are no trees on Easter Island today, this was not the case in the past, Jared Diamond writes,

“However, several methods for recovering remains of vanished plants have shown within the last few decades that, for hundreds of thousands of years before human arrival and still during the early days of human settlement, Easter was not a barren wasteland but a subtropical forest of tall trees and wooden bushes.” [12]

Diamond also writes that estimates of Easter Island’s earlier population range from 6000 to 30,000 [13]. They clearly had the population resources to carve, transport and raise the statues.

In his book In Search of Ancient Gods von Daniken suggested,

“Alien cosmonauts supplied the original islanders with sophisticated technical tools that priests or magicians could use. They freed the masses from the lava and shaped them. Then the alien visitors disappeared.” [14]

The natives tried to keep making the statues using stone tools but they could not. Von Daniken continues,

“In opposition to Heyerdahl’s theory I consider the discovery of hand-axes as proof that the work could not have been carried out with these tools.” [15]

Finding stone tools near unfinished statues somehow proves the statues were not carved by these stone tools, but by imaginary alien technology which has not been found.

It was not the case that the Islanders tried to carve some statues, but gave up. For some reason their construction process just stopped, including statues which were nearly finished. They even stopped transporting some finished statues [16].

The Piri Reis Map

In Chariots of the Gods? von Daniken writes.

“At the beginning of the eighteenth century ancient maps which had belonged to an officer in the Turkish Navy, Admiral Piri Reis were found in the Topkapi Palace … The maps were absolutely accurate” [17] and showed Antarctica under the ice.

Von Daniken writes.

“The latest studies of Professor Charles H. Hapgood and the mathematician Richard W. Strachan give us more shattering information. Comparison with modern photographs of a globe taken from satellites showed that the origins of Piri Reis’s maps must have been aerial photographs taken from a very great height.” [18]

He suggests they were taken by a spaceship hovering high above Cairo [19].

There is only one Piri Reis map which was discovered in 1929 and it is not “absolutely accurate” as von Daniken claims. In his book Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings Charles Hapgood, whom von Daniken cited, points out that half of Cuba, which is misidentified as Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic) is missing, the Amazon River has been drawn twice, there were two equators and about 900 miles of South America is missing [20].

In spite of the impression, which von Daniken gives, Hapgood did not believe the map was the product of aerial photography. He writes that “the drawing of the mountains indicates that they were observed from the sea – from coastal shipping – and not imagined.” [21]

Hapgood did believe the map showed Antarctica under the ice. However, the Piri Reis map does not appear to show Antarctica at all. The 800 kilometre wide Drake Passage, which separates Antarctica from South America, is missing. What Hapgood and ancient aliens believers claim is ice-free Antarctica is the south east coast of South America which has been bent ninety degrees [22].

Ancient aliens in rock art?

Unusual looking beings can be seen in ancient rock art found around the world. Ancient aliens believers claim they are portrayals of alien visitors in the distant past. Some of these beings are wearing what are supposed to be space helmets with antenna [23].

Von Daniken’s In Search of Ancient Gods [24] and the documentary Chariots of the Gods? [25] reproduce what they claim is rock art from Uzbekistan clearly showing a being in a spacesuit with two antenna holding a gun with a flying saucer overhead. This is not ancient rock art. It is copied from an illustration from an article about ancient aliens in the June 1967 issue of the Soviet magazine Sputnik [26] .

Ancient rock art of aliens according to Erich von Daniken
The original picture

Moreover, antenna may stick out of space helmets in juvenile science fiction and cartoons, but not out of the helmets of real life astronauts. They would probably get in the way and break off.

In The Space Gods Revealed and Guardians of the Universe? Ronald Story suggests that authentic rock paintings show people wearing animal masks and costumes for ritual dances [27]. The so-called antenna would only be the antlers or horns of local animals which the masks they are wearing represent. Australian Aboriginal rock art sometimes portray strange beings which ancient aliens believers claim are aliens [28], but they rarely, if ever, have “antenna” because there are no native animals with antlers.

Most anthropologists now believe that ancient rock art portrays what tribal shamans or medicine men saw during trance states which were often drug induced. In his book Supernatural Graham Hancock describes how he experimented on himself with hallucinogenic plans. (Don’t try this at home!) His visions included lots of snakes, grey beings with black eyes similar to those seen by UFO abductees, flying saucers and a man with the head of a crocodile resembling the Egyptian god Sobek [29].

Half-human, half-animal beings, which are called therianthropes, are common in rock art, appearing in Africa, Asia, Europe and America. They also appear in Greek, Egyptian and other myths.  The Ancient Aliens episode “Aliens and Bigfoot” claims that the Egyptian gods Anubis, who was portrayed as a jackal’s head on a human body, and Thoth, an ibis head on a human body, were real and were created by aliens [30]. In the episode “Mysteries of the Sphinx” they say Anubis was an alien, not one of their creations [31] .

People in the 21st century are taking the absurd idea of a man with a dog’s head literally and assume it to be true. The ancient Egyptians may have portrayed their gods as having animal heads, but they did not believe the gods really looked like that, Erik Hornung writes,

“No thinking Egyptian would have imagined that the true form of Amun was a man with a ram’s head. Amun is the divine power that may be seen in the image of a man, among many others, as Horus showed himself in the image of a hawk whose wings span the sky and Anubis in the image of the black canine (“jackal”) … None of these images shows the true form of a god, and none can encompass the full richness of his nature – hence the variable iconography of Egyptian gods, which is seldom reduced to a fixed, canonical form.”[32]

The producers of Ancient Aliens would have us believe these are representations of aliens or hybrids created by aliens. Hancock’s experiments and the research of anthropologists suggest it is more plausible that they are representations of what ancient humans saw during trance states.

[1] Chariots of the Gods, Terra-Filmkunst, 1970, 67 min

[2] Jared Diamond, Collapse, Allen Lane, Victoria, 2005, p 96

[3] Erich von Daniken, Chariots of the Gods?, Corgi, London, 1971, p 114

[4]  “The Monoliths”, Ancient Aliens, History Channel, 2013, 26 min

[5] Chariots of the Gods?. op cit., p 182

[6] Ibid., p 114

[7] Thor Heyerdahl, Aku-Aku, George Allen and Unwin, London, 1958, p 87

[8]  Ibid., p 135-136

[9] Ibid., p 145-148

[10]  Ibid., p 150-151

[11] Hannah Bloch, “Easter Island Quest’, National Geographic, Vol. 222, No. 1, July 2012, p 47-48

[12]  Collapse, op cit., p 102-103

[13]  Ibid., p 91

[14]  Erich von Daniken, In Search of Ancient Gods, Corgi, London, 1975, p 113

[15]  Ibid., p 114

[16]  Aku-Aku, op cit., p 92

[17]  Chariots of the Gods?. op cit., p 29

[18]  Ibid., p 30

[19] Ibid

[20] Charles Hapgood, Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings, Adventures Unlimited Press, Illinois, 1996, p 30, 61

[21] Ibid., p 68

[22]  Cuoghi, D., The Mysteries of the Piri Reis Map,

[23] In Search of Ancient Gods, op cit., p 59

[24]  Ibid., p 64-65

[25] Chariots of the Gods?, op cit., 85 min

[26] Jason Colavito, “Faking Ancient Art in Uzbekistan”,

[27] Ronald Story, The Space Gods Revealed, New English Library, London, 1978, p 287, Ronald Story, Guardians of the Universe?, New English Library, London, 1981, p 85-87

[28]  In Search of Ancient Gods, op cit., p 62, 178, 189

[29] Graham Hancock, Supernatural, Arrow Books, London, 2006, p 58-75

[30] “Aliens and Bigfoot”, Ancient Aliens, History Channel, 2012

[31] “Mysteries of the Sphinx”, Ancient Aliens, History Channel, 2014

[32] Eric Hornung, Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt, Cornell University Press, New York, 1996, p 124-125