The Case Against Ancient Aliens Part Two Mythology

(This article was first published in Ufologist Magazine, Volume 21, No. 4, November-December 2017.)

In the previous article, I examined the approach of the ancient aliens movement to the Bible. There are three kinds of people who believe the supernatural events of the Old Testament literally happened, fundamentalist Jews, fundamentalist Christians and ancient aliens believers who still believe the events happened, but they were the work of aliens, their spaceships and technology rather than God. This approach is not limited to the Bible. It could be said that ancient aliens believers are the ultimate fundamentalists since they believe that every religious text and myth which describes something supernatural or magical literally happened. They were our primitive ancestors’ attempts to describe aliens and their technology.

In According to the Evidence Erich von Daniken wrote that myths “were eye-witness accounts of real events.” [1] This is not always true. Some myths may be based on real events. Others are simply made up. A myth can become embellished and change over the centuries and there can be several contradictory versions of a myth.  The version of a myth, which ancient aliens believers cite as evidence for alien intervention, is not necessarily the original version which is closest to what actually happened, if it happened at all.

This problem can be seen in von Daniken’s book Odyssey of the Gods  when he discusses the story of Jason and the voyage of the Argo to find the Golden Fleece, as recorded in Apollonius of Rhodes’ Argonautica, which he interprets in terms of alien technology. He suggests the Golden Fleece was “Some kind of flying machine”[2], the sea-god Glaucos was “like a submarine”[3], the dragon, which guarded the Fleece, “reminds one of a robot with a multitude of sensors”[4], and the giant Talos who guarded Crete was a “metallic robot.”[5]

 Argonautica was written around 250 BC. There have been earlier versions of the myth. The first version dates back to around 1500 BC and involved Jason sailing to the end of the world and going down into a dragon’s stomach to retrieve the golden fleece [6]. The version of the myth, which von Daniken relies on, is not a supposed “eyewitness account”. It is a later embellished account. Von Daniken even writes that “we will probably never know” if the voyage of the Argo actually happened[7]. He is finding evidence for aliens in something which he acknowledges may have been made up.

There are several occasions in the Ancient Aliens series in which flawed evidence from mythology is presented.

The Ancient Aliens episode “The Monoliths” first mentions how Stonehenge in England is 4000 years old (i.e. 2000 BC) [8]. Then they cite the story that Merlin transported the stones that built Stonehenge and ask, “Could the legend of Merlin really be proof of contact with extraterrestrials in the ancient past, and that they provided advanced technology to help transport and place the monoliths?” [9]

Not really. The legends of Arthur and Merlin are set around 600 AD, over 2500 years after Stonehenge was completed. Merlin, if he existed at all, had nothing to do with Stonehenge. The story that Merlin built Stonehenge comes from the historically unreliable History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, which was written around 1136 AD, about 500 years after Arthur and Merlin are supposed to have lived.

The example of Merlin and Stonehenge illustrates that later people can know nothing about the origin of a local ancient monument. They may invent myths which attribute its construction to the gods or supernatural forces, which ancient alien theorists claim were aliens, but these myths can contain no historical truth. Modern archaeologists and historians can know more about a site than those living hundreds of years ago.

The episode “Aliens and Superheroes”, which is presumably meant to cash in on the success of superhero movies, compares modern-day superheroes and their abilities to the exploits of ancient Greek, Sumerian and Indian gods, which they claim were really aliens. They ask, “Might these similarities mean the stories of Superman, Batman and Spiderman are based on our ancestors’ experiences with extraterrestrials?” [10]

This does not help their case. If modern people can make up stories about superheroes, then surely ancient people could have made up stories about gods, which ancient aliens believers admit are similar and take as proof for aliens.

Moreover, ancient aliens believers could be taking myths literally and interpreting them as aliens, when their creators never intended for them to be understood literally. Karen Armstrong writes,

“The myths of a society provided people with a context that made sense of their day-to-day lives; it directed their attention to the eternal and the universal. It was also rooted in what we would call the unconscious mind. The various mythological stories, which were not meant to be taken literally, were an ancient form of psychology. When people told stories about heroes who descended into the underworld, struggled through labyrinths, or fought with monsters, they were bringing to light the obscure regions of the subconscious mind, which is not accessible to purely rational investigation, but which has a profound effect upon our experience and behaviour.”[11]

Some myths were attempts to explain the natural world. In the Ancient Aliens episode “Aliens and Mega Disasters” they talk about how they believed that gods lived in volcanos and caused eruptions, so this meant aliens had bases inside volcanos [12]. This belief was clearly an attempt by pre-scientific superstitious people, who did not know about tectonic plates, to explain what caused volcanic eruptions – the gods did it. Ancient Aliens takes their superstition at face value and suggest that aliens, rather than gods, caused the eruptions.

Likewise, people in the ancient world did not know about germs and viruses, so they believed the gods caused plagues and diseases because they were angry with them. The episode “Aliens, Plagues and Epidemics” takes this literally and suggests that aliens were responsible for them [13].

In another episode “Alien Tech” they suggest that Zeus’ thunderbolts were really an “advanced energy weapon” which was used by an alien which the ancient Greeks assumed was a god [14]. No, the ancient Greeks did not understand what caused thunder and lightning so they assumed a god did it.

Ancient Aliens even attributes obvious references to the sun as alien spaceships. In the episode “Gods and Aliens” they relate how the sun god Apollo was believed to ride across the sky in his chariot of fire which was really a spacecraft [15]. Apollo was the sun god. His chariot was the sun moving across the sky. In the episode “Mysteries of the Sphinx” they claim that the Aten Disc, which the Pharaoh Akhenaten worshipped, was an alien spaceship [16]. Akhenaten worshipped the sun.

Other implausible myths are taken literally and attributed to aliens. In the episodes “Gods and Aliens” [17] and “Aliens and Monsters” [18] they suggest that mythological hybrid monsters, like the minotaur and the griffin, were real. Aliens created them so they use them on other planets. It seems more plausible that such creatures were the product of human imagination.

In the episode “Aliens and Bigfoot” they claim 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 [19]. In the episode “Mysteries of the Sphinx” they say Anubis was an alien, not one of their creations [20].

In the episode ”Magic of the Gods”, they tell the story from Homer’s The Odyssey how the goddess Odysseus’ men into pigs. They suggest Circe was an alien who used her technology to retool human DNA to turn them into pigs and back [21]. It is more plausible that Homer just made it up.

The episode “Aliens and Mysterious Mountains” suggests that because the Greeks believed their gods lived on Mount Olympus, this meant that aliens had a base there [22]. Or maybe the ancient Greek gods never existed.

Ancient aliens believers sometimes claim a myth tells about gods coming down from the sky, which may sound like ancient people’s descriptions of aliens but we cannot tell what myths they are referring to, or if they really exist. In The Ancient Alien Question Philip Coppens writes, “Hundreds of legends exist about deities that descended from the skies and interacted with humankind and taught them civilization. Almost every ancient civilization on this planet has written accounts that say as much.” [23]

In the Ancient Aliens episode “Destination Orion” Bill Birnes of UFO Magazine says, “If you look at the Sumerian hieroglyphs, the Egyptian hieroglyphics, the stories of the Maya, if you look at all these cultures, what you see is the same story told in different ways, in different languages, those who came from the stars came here and they started human civilization.”[24]

What are these “hundreds of legends”? In what mainstream textbook on mythology are they mentioned? They are not there. The apocryphal Book of Enoch, which was written about 2000 years after Enoch is supposed to have existed, says that angels called Watchers came down and taught humans when they were not having sex with human women (Enoch 7-8), but that appears to be it. There simply are not similar stories in ancient myths about the gods coming down from the sky or the stars and giving humans civilization.

There is the myth of Oannes coming up out of the sea, as opposed to down from the sky, and bringing civilization as recorded by the third century BC historian Berossus in Babyloniaca (History of Babylon),

“In the first year there made an appearance, from a part of the Erythraean sea, which bordered upon Babylonia, an animal endowed with reason, who was called Oannes. (According to the account of Apollodorus) the whole body of the animal was like that of a fish; and had under a fish’s head another head, and also feet below, similar to those of a man, subjoined to the fish’s tail. His voice, too, and language was articulate and human, and a representation of him is preserved even to this day.

This Being, in the day-time, used to converse with men, but took no food at that season; and he gave them an insight into letters and sciences, and every kind of art. He taught them to construct houses, to build temples, to compile laws, and explained to them the principles of geometrical knowledge. He made them distinguish the seeds of the earth, and showed them how to collect fruits. In short, he instructed them in everything which could tend to soften manners and humanise mankind. From that time, so universal were his instructions, nothing material has been added by way of improvement. When the sun set, it was the custom of this Being to plunge again into the sea, and abide all in the deep for he was amphibious.” [25]

If this is an account of aliens bringing civilisation to primitive humans, it is implausible. Humans are supposed to have invented noting on their own. Everything is attributed to Oannes and it even says humans have not been able to improve on what Oannes has taught them since then.

Babyloniaca has been lost but it was quoted by later historians. Berossus’ account bears little resemblance to earlier versions of the myth. Oannes is a Greek form of Uanna, another name for Adapa who was one of the seven sages who were believed to have brought civilization to Mesoptamia. In Adapa, a fragmentary account from fourteenth century BC Egypt, Adapa is a mortal sage who goes fishing when the South Wind capsizes his boat so he “was forced to take up residence in the fishes’ home”[26]  . Adapa breaks the South Wind’s wing (?) and is summoned before the gods where he refuses to eat the bread of immortality.

In an eighth century BC poem Erra and Ishum Marduk claims to have banished the seven sages or craftsmen to Apsu (underground water) [27].

Jason Colavito writes,

“From this watery abyss, whose entrance was believed to be beneath Ea’s temple at Eridu, they became described a “pure puradu-fish”, a type of carp still held sacred in that region, thus yielding the literalized description of Oannes as a hybrid fish-man, when hero and symbol became identified.” [28]

The earlier versions of the myths say Adapa and the other sages were mortals, not gods or aliens. It appears that the original myths had become distorted by the time of Berossus or he misunderstood them. Again, ancient aliens believers are relying on the later and less reliable version of the myth.

The Ancient Aliens episode “Alien Resurrections” says, “In all of these ancient texts those gods promise to return, not just in the Bible, but in many of the ancient sacred texts.” [29]

Again, what ancient texts and myths are they referring to? In the Bible Jesus said he would return, but other ancient religions did not believe their gods would return because they did not believe their gods had ever left. In the end their gods did not leave them. They just stopped believing in them. Ancient aliens believers are not Christians, yet they still appear to read Christian assumptions into other religions. They see God or the gods as beyond this world or “up there”, Jesus and angels “coming down”, Jesus leaving, but saying he would come back. They assume other ancient religions had similar beliefs about their gods when they we more likely to believe their gods were part of the natural world. Perhaps they are trying to cater to an American audience which has at least some familiarity with Christian beliefs.




[1] Erich von Daniken, According to the Evidence, Souvenir Press, London, 1977, p 93

[2] Erich von Daniken, Odyssey of the Gods, New Page Books, New Jersey, 2012, p 13

[3] Ibid., p 17, 38

[4] Ibid., p 19

[5] Ibid., p 39

[6] Jason Colavito, Golden Fleeced, 2011, p 21,

[7] Odyssey of the Gods, op cit., p 35

[8] “The Monoliths”, Ancient Aliens, History Channel, 2013, 4 mins

[9] Ibid., 8 mins

[10] “Aliens and Superheroes”, Ancient Aliens, History Channel, 2014, 7-8 mins

[11] Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God, Harper Collins, London, 2000, p xiii

[12] “Aliens and Mega Disasters”, Ancient Aliens, History Channel, 2012, 24-27 mins

[13] “Aliens, Plagues and Epidemics”, Ancient Aliens, History Channel, 2011, 4-8 mins

[14] “Alien Tech”, Ancient Aliens, History Channel, 2010, 36-37 mins

[15] “Gods and Aliens”, Ancient Aliens, History Channel, 2010, 8, 15 mins

[16] “Mysteries of the Sphinx”. Ancient Aliens, History Channel, 2014, 7 mins

[17] “Gods and Aliens”, op cit., 40 mins

[18] “Aliens and Monsters”, Ancient Aliens, History Channel, 2011, 8 mins

[19] “Aliens and Bigfoot”, Ancient Aliens, History Channel, 2012, 33 mins

[20] “Mysteries of the Sphinx”, op cit., 17 mins

[21] “Magic of the Gods”. Ancient Aliens, History Channel, 2013, 27-29 mins

[22] “Aliens and Mysterious Mountains”, Ancient Aliens, History Channel, 2013, 6-11 mins

[23] Philip Coppens, The Ancient Aliens Question, New Page Books, New Jersey, 2012, p 25

[24] “Destination Orion”, Ancient Aliens, History Channel, 2013, 27 mins

[25] E. Richmond Hodges, Cory’s Ancient Fragments, Reeves and Turner, London, 1876, p 57

[26] Stephanie  Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2008, p 187

[27] Ibid., p 291

[28] Jason Colavito, “Oannes: The Best Evidence for Ancient Aliens”,

[29] “Alien Resurrections”, Ancient Aliens, History Channel, 2014, 40 mins