Real precursors, please step forward

Neil Snarr - Contributing columnist

In this era of False Information, the Big Lie and Alternative Facts, it is imperative to identify the sources of such and expose it. Some is so blatantly obvious that one wonders if it is worth the energy to identify, but it certainly should be.

One such person who has had a great deal of exposure — but really deserves none — is Erich von Daniken, the author of “Chariots of the Gods” (1968) and several other volumes.

Very recently I was watching a TV program on ancient pyramids which I thought was well done, especially the photos and even the commentary.

Then a comment caught my attention and evoked a whole new series of thoughts: the “expert” indicated that it just might be possible that these magnificent structures were conceived and build by extraterrestrials! This was not a declaration; it was simply an off-hand comment introducing a possibility – one that too many listeners would take as more than just a possibility!

The next evening, I watched an hour program on Erich von Daniken himself. Daniken is a “Swiss author of several books which make claims about extraterrestrial influences on early human culture … he is one of the main figures responsible for popularizing the ‘paleo-contact’ and ancient astronauts-hypotheses.”

Few scientists and academics give his work any credit and “categorize his work as pseudohistory, pseudoarcheology and pseudoscience. Early in his career, he was convicted and served times for several counts of fraud or embezzlement, and wrote one of his books in prison.”

How does one identify a charlatan or a fraud? Sometimes it is not so easy, but there are some general questions one can ask.

First, what is the person’s title – simply “historian”, “archaeologist”or “researcher” are not good enough! What degrees do they have and from what universities are they received? Also, what is their institutional affiliation?

One might also look at their publications and where they are published. Self-publishing is not always questionable, but it just might be.

Why all this attention to institutions of higher education? Well, they are institutions of learning established to create and pass on knowledge; that is their function!

I wish I could say that the above is fool-proof, but it is not. The institutional affiliation is very important, but I know of some institutions that offer a Ph.D. in topics that are simply not academic.

A characteristic of higher academic learning includes annual meeting wherein data and theories are presented and challenged. Subsequently, these ideas and data are subjected to the ideas and information from other scholars and they are refined and sometimes abandoned.

Thus, von Daniken is not a product of, nor operating in, an academic environ — he is an existing in a non-challenging open domain.

I am acquainted with some of the ancient sites where von Daniken applies his ancient astronaut’s ideas and one I have visited is Palenque in Mexico. I remember at that site listening to local guides who evoked interpretations similar to those of Daniken which attributed the magnificent structures to the product of extraterrestrials.

How pathetic that such nonsense would penetrate the thinking of Mexican peasants who are undoubtedly direct descendants of the architects and builders of those structures.

With reference to Palenque in southern Mexico one can find a TV program titled “The Palenque Astronaut: Evidence of Alien Visitation?” The article “innocently” explains that there are two interpretations of the carved sarcophagus covering the resting place of the dead king Pacal, who died at 80 years of age in 683 A.D.

This approach assumes that both approaches are equal and one is as acceptable as the other. This “false equivalency” claim has become an integral part of the stilted commentaries too often making their way to main-line media.

The article starts, “We are going to start off with the ‘ancient astronaut’ theory. This theory became popular in the 1960s and 1970s with books like “Chariots of the Gods?”, “Gods from Outer Space” by Eric von Daniken and “The Outer Space Connection” by Alan Landsburg … In recent times the ancient astronaut theories have been revived by TV shows like “Ancient Aliens.” Supporting this “theory” is the following; “One camp believes that this carved relief is proof of alien visitation because it shows a man in a space craft.”

Juxtaposed to this the other groups believes that this is an “ordinary funerary illustration and that there is nothing to see besides the beauty of such a marvelously handcrafted work of art from so many centuries ago.”

This thinking grows out of the research of scholars from universities with departments dedicated to the objective — scientific — study of ancient people and their way of life.

Believe what you want? No, but it is so much like what I watched on TV a few days ago which elevated the alien visitation hypothesis to make it sound feasible.

How does von Daniken compare to scholars who spend their lives literally digging through history and presenting their findings to others who have done the same with their lives? I have found nothing that would lead me to believe von Daniken has done anything comparable.

What he has done is found such ideas in the writings of those who preceded him and in no way are they scholars coming from an academic background.

Beyond all of the above discussion is the somewhat hidden assumption that our native precursors are simply not smart enough to have produced such magnificent works.

Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus of Wilmington College.

Neil Snarr

Contributing columnist