Wednesday, 21 January 2015


Forty-plus years ago, the theories of ERICH VON
DANIKEN were all the rage.  Comicbook readers saw such
themes played out in the four-colour pages of JACK KIRBY's
The ETERNALS, and TV programmes mined the topic for its
rich seam of interest and controversy.  In the late '70s, I read at
least one of Von Daniken's books and was unimpressed, and
later, while discussing the subject with a friend, he lent me
an abridged version of the book you see above.

It was written from a religious perspective, but that's by-
the-by and needn't concern us now.  What I found interesting
was how it dealt with so-called 'evidence' that, on a superficial
level at least, seems quite persuasive.  For example, according to
Von Daniken, there's an island in the Nile called Elephantinos,
which has been so named for centuries, and is shaped, apparently,
like an elephant. However, this shape can only be noticed from
the air - so who, Von Daniken wonders, went up to find
out - and how did they do it?

When one ponders the matter, it seems quite reason-
able.  How could mere man, bereft of the later development
of flight, know that the island on which he lived was shaped like
an elephant, and was therefore why it was so christened?  Surely
that's not such a ridiculous question, is it?  However, its shape has
almost certainly changed over the centuries, and the Greek word
'elephantinos' doesn't translate as 'like an elephant' as Mr. Von
Daniken claims, but simply means 'ivory'.  Guess what?  The
island was once the site of an ivory market, hence,
unsurprisingly, the name.

Was Von Daniken (a convicted fraudster) ignoring the
facts and loading the dice in his favour for the purpose of
selling a few books, or was he serious in his speculations on
the origins of mankind?  Whichever it was, upon piercing the
fragile surface of his so-called 'evidence', it would seem
that it simply doesn't stand up to scrutiny.


Colin Jones said...

I was reading only recently that the Nazca lines in the desert in Peru can be seen from nearby hillsides rather than only from the air as was claimed. And the pyramids in Egypt were built using huge ramps which were dismantled after the pyramids' completion not by aliens. There are also explanations for how the stones of Stonehenge and the statues of Easter Island were moved large distances so all that Erich Von Daniken stuff is bullsh*t but whether he actually believed it or not I couldn't say. You can still read books today about Atlantis and so on so there's always an audience for this kind of thing.

Kid said...

I suppose it keeps book publishers in business, CJ.

Paul McScotty -Muir said...

To be fair to Von Daniken I think that he actually does believe what he writes with a fair amount of religious seal, but with that comes blind faith in what he thinks (maybe a wee bit of commercialism in there as well). I do think that there are some very interesting things in these type of books (maybe not his books) that could do with proper scientific investigation but its hard to take these too seriously as the UFO community see aliens in everything s from Nessie to the Queen (being a lizard) and refuse to accept anything that disproves their belief system (it is a religion to these folk) - case in point re the Nazca lines that Colin mentioned, even if they couldn’t see these from the nearby hills as Colin mentions, an English scientist said that he could draw a 200 foot spider (same size as the one at Nazca) on the ground with no more than a piece of string, some wooded stakes and a drawing of the spider and he did it first time - of course the UFO community failed to reply only saying that the Nazca people were not advanced enough to do this ( ancient people were in fact every clever) – also if these aliens came 50 light years from Alpha Centauri what do they need with a giant spider to help tell them where to land (surely they’d have a Sat Nav!)

I read that there were more books written on Atlantis that any other subject outside of God –the whole premise of Atlantis is based on a few lines and a map by Plato of an ideal state and is clearly written as an allegory on the nation states at the time (Sparta, Athens etc). I do think however that we were a lot more advanced years ago than we are given credit for (not like the Trigan Empire just a bit more advances ) and that a catastrophic event wiped that out and we had to “start” again (the Noah flood type thing etc)

Anonymous said...

And according to a book called 'Some Trust In Chariots' (an entertaining debunking of Von Daniken), the shape of the island can clearly be discerned from the top of a nearby hill. - AL

DeadSpiderEye said...

I've never read him but I did catch the cinematic release of Chariots of the Gods when I was a nipper, on a double bill with, probably, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I think I was mighty impressed at about the age of eight but otherwise, his stuff is reasonably transparent. That island is a good example, so its name sounds a bit like it was coined from its shape as it appears from the air. Tell me, how many islands in the world are there, is he going to ascribe every coincidence associated with them to space aliens?

Aside from Von Daniken there has been some speculation about extra terrestrial visitation, things like the Fermi Paradox, from scientists who're concerned about the frequency of life in the universe. It's all a bit airy fairy though and makes some sweeping assumptions about the feasibility of sub light speed space travel. Arthur C. Clark's work: The Sentinal, 2001 draws on some of the ideas. I think Von Daniken is best utilized for propping open the door though.

Kid said...

Some interesting comments there, guys - keep 'em coming. Sometimes I think the best things about my posts are the responses they bring in. (I'll steal the credit for inspiring them 'though.)

Colin Jones said...

Kid, have you heard of a magazine called 'The Unexplained' which ran from 1980 to 1983 ? I had every issue (but they are long gone now). Also did you watch the TV show 'Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World' on ITV in 1980 ?

Kid said...

Yup, used to buy it - yup, used to watch it. I've got a tie-in book somewhere.

TC said...

Clifford Wilson's Crash Go the Chariots was also written from a religious perspective and was as concerned with confirming the Bible as with debunking Von Daniken.

L. Sprague deCamp's "The Ancient Engineers" was not written specifically to debunk the ancient astronauts theory, but it does offer reasonable explanations (e.g., the huge ramps that Colin mentioned) for how people in ancient times could have built the pyramids.

I agree with McScotty that the UFO community have a quasi-religious attitude and blind faith. On the History Channel's Ancient Aliens series, Von Daniken said that he merely wanted to raise questions, and that he didn't want anyone building a cult around his theories. But all of the researchers on that show seem to start out with certain assumptions, and interpret data to fit their theories. They don't seem to want to consider any possible alternatives.

Of course, the "ancient aliens" theory appeared in science fiction long before Chariots of the Gods was published, but Von Daniken did more than anyone to popularize it.

Kid said...

I can see the appeal of Von Daniken's theories, TC. That Inca carving of someone who looks as if he's sitting at what could be interpreted as a symbolic depiction of the controls of a space capsule does give one pause for thought. For a moment at least - until one realises that it's a 20th century perception of an astronaut in a space module. Aliens who have been capable of space travel for centuries would undoubtedly have a far more advanced and sophisticated form of space craft. Y'know, like voice or thought activated, not having to fiddle with knobs or levers in a cramped and confined area.

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