Stop Spouting Racist Ancient Alien Theories
You don’t need me to tell you that the Ancient Aliens series, which somehow airs online under the name “History”, is complete bullshit. Its whole gimmick is that it’s silly and “just for fun” and yes, that’s probably how most viewers view it. But I don’t want to talk about it. I want to talk about what lies behind the stupidity: a lot of racist nonsense.
” Ancient Aliens ” carefully emphasizes that “some people are saying what if aliens built the pyramids, not what the show itself claims to be true. You know, it’s just playing devil’s advocate. In doing so, he interviews experts, uses a lot of video footage, and reworks old theories. And there are plenty of discredited theories to choose from – many of them designed specifically to prove a racist point of view.
Ancient alien theories only work if you believe that the natives couldn’t build impressive things.
Even before people began to attribute ancient wonders to aliens, Europeans had a lot of speculation about how non-European architectural marvels might have been built. These include not only pyramids in Europe, but also stone structures elsewhere in Africa, pyramids in Central America, massive earthworks in North America, and more. Every time it wasn’t immediately obvious how something was built, it became a “mystery”.
Meanwhile, European monuments are not inclined to such treatment. Stonehenge maybe, but not too many others. The concrete of ancient Rome was made with engineering secrets that have only recently been rediscovered, for example, but “how did they build the Colosseum?” there has never been such a thing in pop culture as “how did they build the pyramids?” was.
The underlying idea seems to have been that white people could not believe that indigenous peoples of color could build complex structures. For example, when Euro-Americans discovered impressive earthworks in various parts of North America, they postulated the existence of an ancient, extinct race, which they called mound builders , who must have created them.
While the mound builders may not have been the indigenous people who lived in or near the area at the time, there was no scientific evidence to suggest that the mound builders were a completely different type of people. But at the time, racial theory was at its peak, and it was politically convenient and academically fashionable to position modern Native Americans as a separate, inferior race to Europeans and everyone else who could build cool shit like those mounds.
And it wasn’t just this little theory about a group of Mound Builders – several thinkers of the time claimed that there was a pure or superior race that traveled the world, creating everything that we recognize as good in civilization, before disappearing from Earth. The Nazis really liked one version of this theory (they called Aryans pure ancestors).
The Southern Poverty Law Center explains here how all of these theories coalesce—mound builders, Aryans coming from Atlantis, pyramid-building aliens, and more—into a racist mess. Or, as they quote one scientist: “The idea that aliens built the pyramids is not so funny when it attracts young people to websites that quickly change aliens to Jews and start talking about gas chambers.”
Making up shit about history ain’t harmless
Back to reality for a moment: what about the people who built what conspiracy theorists continue to attribute to aliens? They all had their own engineering knowledge, social organizations, religious beliefs, and so on – their own cultures. And these are interesting! I find it much more boring to think that aliens put the moai of Rapa Nui (“Easter Island”) in their place than to read about how teams of people can work together to make them walk around the island , as the legends say.
In many of the Ancient Alien hypotheses, beliefs and structures from around the world are jumbled together in search of similarities: tombs in Egypt and temples in Central America are pyramid-shaped, so this must mean that the aliens liked the pyramids. But looking at the world in this way is ignoring the very different cultures in these two disparate places and that people built these pyramids for different reasons and using different methods.
In other words, by trying to see everything through a lens (“What if it’s aliens?”), we are ignoring the real story. And sometimes we destroy historical artifacts – this Conversation article mentions that groups of people trying to prove the theories of ancient aliens have chipped off a piece from the pyramid of Giza and raided the Nazca graves in Peru.
And there’s one more thing to consider: as one scholar wrote on the AskHistorians subreddit , attributing human work to aliens has implications for more than just architecture and art. If we absolve ourselves of responsibility “for the great things done by ancient civilizations, then we must also absolve ourselves of responsibility for terrible things: human sacrifice, slavery, wars and genocides.” And yes, Ancient Aliens filmed episodes about the Nazis, even suggesting they might have had access to alien technology . Sigh.