We Draw the Line at Laser Beams: Erich Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods
Quick Links from the Episode:
- Erich von Daniken has his own YouTube channel, which could be great fun if you are able to read/speak German.
- The Nazca Lines are enormous geoglyphs that have been carved into the Peruvian desert. Designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994, archaeologists go back and forth on why the figures were made, but the sheer size and precision of these artifacts has led many to theorize an alien influence. As late as last year, 143 new glyphs were discovered, some even by using AI. The Wikipedia article has beautiful photos of the most famous geoglyphs, some of which are featured below.
- Tiwanaku (Tiahuanaco in Spanish) is a rich archaeological site on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. The Tiwanaku empire was a highly sophisticated civilization, as evidence by the monumental architecture of undeniably good craftsmanship. The Ancient History Encyclopedia article on this site includes photographs of the infamous Gate of the Sun which makes an appearance in Chariots of the Gods.
- Unsurprisingly there is a rational wiki on Daniken. It is scathing and delightful.
- Some notes on metalworking: Yes, we can heat up stone to a crazy high temperature, and we have been able to do so for quite some time. Alien assistance not required. This process is well documented by archaeologists (and blacksmiths) and there is no evidence that any special knowledge was imparted to our ancestors from an otherworldly source. Here is the YouTube video Paige referenced in the episode.
Weeks and weeks ago, in our very first episode on Zecharia Stichin’s The Lost Realms, we promised our listeners another book about aliens. Well, that moment has finally arrived. Erich Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods may be familiar if you’ve spent any time watching Ancient Aliens; the book is probably cited at least once an episode. In fact, that is how Jennifer recognized the title when Paige picked up this little number in the thrift store. A foundational work of the ancient astronaut field, Daniken takes the reader on a wild ride through an alternate human history, complete with alien overlords, little supporting evidence, and hot takes on the field of archaeology and beyond.
Erich Von Daniken’s story is nearly as sensational as those he tells in his books. As a child, Daniken began to question his heavily Catholic upbringing, already fascinated with the possibility of alien encounters in the past. His rebellious spirit did not go over well in his Catholic boarding school and after he was suspended for theft, Daniken left school for a fresh start. Daniken began working in the hotel business, which we are surprised to learn is apparently a crime-riddled, dangerous endeavor. Daniken would rack up three convictions and serve several stints in prison for fraud, embezzlement, and theft while working for various hotels.
This checkered past is in stark contrast to his dazzling success as an author and speaker. His first book, Chariots of the Gods, was published in 1968, and has sold millions of copies and been translated into dozens of languages since. However, Chariots of the Gods was so close to never even existing. After being picked up by a small company now part of the massive German publisher, Ullstein Verlag, Chariots had to be rewritten in order to be palatable. Rewritten by whom, you might ask? None other than Utz Utermann, who had been a bestselling author of Nazi literature leading up to and during WWII. This adds a sinister layer to what would otherwise be an entertaining read. Today, Daniken is featured on a variety of TV shows, has his own YouTube channel, and largely seems to have transcended his previous transgressions.
Main Points from the Episode:
- Racism has once again reared its ugly head in an ancient astronaut book. At first, Paige and Jennifer were willing to give Daniken the benefit of the doubt when using words like “savages” to describe ancient cultures before the alien overlords arrived. Perhaps this was a translation error? But given what BBE uncovered above about the providence of Chariots of the Gods, this word choice definitely takes a turn towards the sinister. Similar to Stichin, Daniken also uses almost exclusively examples from non-white civilizations. Chariots is replete with references to ancient Sumer, the Maya and Inca, ancient India, and even the Chinese. The few throwaway examples that are included from white civilizations (Stonehenge – a quite common one) do little to take away from the overall impression, especially when Daniken compares Sumer to ancient Greece and argues that since the Greeks did not have certain mathematical skills, ancient Sumer must have had extraterrestrial help. Could our eyes roll back further into our heads? Probably not.
- Daniken is also plagued by a lack of definitive proof to support his theories. Daniken derides archaeological standards and practices, but provides nothing concrete in return other than his strident assertions. All of it sounds like it could be true, and there is, in fact, no way to prove that history did not happen like this. This is a variation of the appeal to ignorance fallacy. What is key, is that Daniken is not replacing current scientific consensus with anything concrete, just his own interpretations of the archaeological evidence. Reminiscent of what we encountered in The Lost Realms, Daniken also speaks confidently, even condescendingly, to his reader. When a lay reader is faced with such confidence and an occasional equation thrown into the mix, it could be hard to not take Daniken at his word.
- Chariots is also rife with hypocrisy, which is one of Jennifer’s chief complaints with ancient astronaut theories. Daniken spends a great deal of time acknowledging the technological advances we have made in recent history – without alien help – but seems incapable of allowing that past cultures could also have had such a revolution outside the known realms of written history and without the help of aliens. Once again, this inspired Jennifer to talk about the false narrative of progress in history that dates back to the Enlightenment era.
- The most positive point in Chariots is undoubtedly Daniken’s call to action, which actually comes across more clearly in this book than on his website. Daniken, at least at the time that Chariots was published, is a proponent of increased space exploration, as he argues we will likely need to expand from Earth due to overpopulation.
Extra Stuffins for the Episode
This is an awesome clip from Ancient Aliens that features two ancient astronaut heavy hitters that we have discussed this season: Erick Von Daniken and Zecharia Stichin!
Paige gave Chariots of the Gods two stars, but would recommend it, in the same way that you’d recommend a cheesy B-movie. Honestly, while ancient astronaut theories and books can be fun, when we review them as a whole, they come across as willfully ignorant at best and predatory at worst. They prey on people’s lack of knowledge, expounding with a forceful tone ridiculous notions as if they are facts, relying on the reader’s trust to pass off their theory as truth. It doesn’t take much digging further to realize many of these claims are unsubstantiated, but more worrisome is the impact they have on the unsuspecting reader. As we live in a world that is increasingly filled with an overabundance of false information, being able to analyze or critically assess what you read is more important than ever. Entertaining as they may be, ancient astronaut books are no exception.