Show Notes – Episode 1.15

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.
Chariots of the Gods, Erich Von Danicken (1968)

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

The below photos are examples from the Nazca Lines in Peru. All photos courtesy of Diego Delso, you can view more of his work here.

The Monkey

The Condor

The Spider

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.

Coming up next in Episode 1.16: Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades. If you are enjoying the podcast so far, please consider leaving us a review and following us on social media. You can also support the podcast on Patreon and get access to all our bonus episodes (all links below). Until next time!

Show Notes – Episode 1.1

Big Book Energy on Ancient Astronauts

Our first episode is on Zecharia Sitchin’s The Lost Realms. This is the fourth installment of his series, The Earth Chronicles, which documents extraterrestrial activity in early human civilization. This was also the first book chosen for our Thrift Store Find theme, courtesy of our local Goodwill. Jennifer chose this book because as someone with historical training and an interest in ancient civilizations and archaeology, she has always been simultaneously fascinated and infuriated by ancient astronaut theories, a la History Channel’s Ancient Aliens. When she spotted it nestled in the New Age section shelves, she knew it was meant to be. But did it fulfill her expectations?

Sitchin was born in Azerbaijan, then the Soviet Union, in 1920. While receiving a formal education from the London School of Business, Sitchin was assiduous in developing his side hobby of archaeological study and translation of ancient Sumerian texts. Lack of formal education in related disciplines notwithstanding, Sitchin developed an equally outlandish and intricate theory about the source of ancient civilization. It was, in fact, quite out of this world (I’m sorry). Inserting himself within the already prolific arena of ancient astronaut theorists, Sitchin argued that an alien race living on a dying Planet X came to earth to mine critical precious metals that would mean their salvation. These aliens, dubbed the Annunaki, after tiring of mining themselves, mixed their genetic material with other early hominids to create homo sapiens who would act as servant and partner in these endeavors.

As we discuss in this week’s episode, Sitchin’s book extends this theory into the New World, linking the Olmec, Aztec, Maya, and Incan civilizations back to an apparently older and dominant Sumerian one. Using mythology, linguistics, archaeology, and a smattering of other fields [inaccurately], Sitchin pieces together what he argues is convincing evidence for this theory. Spanning from Teotihuacan to Macchu Picchu, Sitchin systematically strips away all agency and potentiality of the Americas’ earliest residents. In truly astounding intellectual leaps, supported by mere suggestion, Sitchin tramples through the mythology and culture of native peoples in a way that should cause discomfort. During the podcast, Paige and Jennifer cover some of the finer points of Sitchin’s theories, the subtle (or not so subtle) racism that is threaded throughout the book, issues of amateurism in the historical field, and distrust of the academic mainstream. Below are a list of [admittedly many Wikipedia] relevant links for this episode and, of course if you are interested, please check out our Listen page or find us on your favorite podcast provider!

The pyramids at Giza, built at the coveted ~52 degree angle that Sitchin discusses in Lost Realms. Current scholarship agrees that the Pharaoh Khufu began construction on the Great Pyramid in 2580 BCE.

Photo courtesy of Martin Widenka.

The Bent Pyramid, constructed by Pharaoh Sneferu in 2600 BCE. You can see from the sides that the angle of ascent changes roughly halfway through construction – from 54 to 43 degrees.

Photo courtesy of Nacho Díaz Latorre.

An aerial shot of the temple complex at Teotihuacan, north of modern day Mexico City. This shot shows the avenue leading to the Temple of the Moon, which is quite distinct from the Egyptian pyramids with stepped sides more reminiscent of Mesopotamian ziggurats.

Photo courtesy of Ricardo David Sánchez on Wikipedia.

An example of the Olmec statue heads from the episode. These basalt statues are huge and really cool and they do not represent people of African descent as Sitchin adamantly argues in Lost Realms.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Lastly, a list of Sitchin or ancient astronaut related sites:

Tune in next Monday for Episode 1.2. Follow us on social media if that is your thing, and be sure to check out our Patreon for extra BBE content!