It all started with Erich von Däniken…


March 18, 2008 by Korshi


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but I thought I’d start with by talking about John Frum. According to the Tanna Tribe of Vanuatu, he is a god who visited the island in the 1930s, coming in a flying metal chariot, bringing alien treasures of coca-cola, radios and canned meat. His worship survives to this day, and as you’ve probably guessed it preserves the memory of the American GIs who visited the island during the Second World War, conflated apparently with ideas about John the Baptist, Santa Claus and Uncle Sam. To ready themselves for the return of their god the islanders clear landing strips in the forests, and sit in wooden air-traffic control towers wearing carved headsets. [1]

Erich von Däniken is a Swiss writer who believes that most religions, from ancient paganism to Hinduism and Christianity, have a similar source, except rather than worshipping troopers from the US of A, we are worshipping alien voyagers, who made us in their image, and may one day return to set us back on the right path.

Däniken’s books peaked in popularity in the 70s, before I was born, but my school library had quite a large collection of them for some reason, and they captured my teenage imagination. Even then, I was not entirely convinced, but my opinion at the time was that even if his conclusions stretched probability, his anecdotes raised dizzying questions. Who built the vast, seemingly-useless, ancient monuments in Egypt and Stonehenge? Who set a rustproof iron pillar outside Delhi 4000 years ago? Why did the Nazca Indians carve drawings into the earth which could only be seen from space? How could an ancient map show the coastline of Antarctica, buried beneath the ice since before recorded history began?

The ideas have stuck around in my head for a long time, so when I started thinking about this project, Däniken’s first book, “Chariots of the Gods?” seemed a good place to start.

Revisiting your childhood memories is always a dangerous business, and coming back to Däniken’s prose I was… underwhelmed. His arguments are sloppy, his evidence leap-frogs from point to point without time for examination, and forget about footnotes or references. At one point he discussing the Ark of the covenant, he comes out with a surpising admission “without actually consulting Exodus, I seem to remember that the Ark was often surrounded by flashing sparks and that Moses made use of this ‘transmitter’ whenever he needed help and advice”. Okaaay.. When an author can’t be bothered to even look up a page in the world’s most readily-available book, it’s time to worry. [2]

So, somewhat disappointed, I turned to “The Space Gods Revealed”, a slim volume by Ronald Story, which I serendipitously found in a second-hand bookshop last week. This book is a counter-argument to Däniken, and in meticulous (footnoted) detail Story debunks his opponent’s evidence.

It turns out that most of Erich von Däniken’s ideas were not original to him- many were… inspired by a series of French writers who preceded him, including Jacques Bergier, who wrote “Morning of the Magicians” in 1960, and Robert Charroux, who documented “One Hundred Thousand Years of Man’s Unknown History” shortly later.[3] Däniken’s book, published first in 1968, was just in the right place at the right time, and he became the star, the father of the alien astronaut movement.

All this aside, I’m not interested in “Chariots of the Gods?” for its scientific value, but for its worth as a story, and while Däniken may not be its originator, or most compelling teller, the tale is still an intriguing one. About 40,000 years ago, according to our Swiss friend, visitors from another, distant world came to earth. Whether they were just travellers, refugees from a distant war, or even ourselves from a time-travelling future, we cannot know; but they interacted with our distant, simian ancestors, making us into the conscious, intelligent creatures we are today. Thus, in essence, we are part-monkey, part-space god. Again, our guide is inconsistent as to how they achieved this alchemical union of natures; sometimes he thinks that they physically impregnated hominid women (Ronald Story, in his critique, hints at the engineering problems of giant aliens making sweet love to diminutive she-apes). More plausibly, perhaps they simply practised some form of genetic engineering.

They then departed, only to return thousands of years later to find that their creations had not lived up to their promise, they’d reverted to sub-human wickedness; they unleashed atomic weapons, described in the Mahabharata and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, killing off the failed experiments, so that they could then teach the rudiments of civilisation to the more promising specimens.

As evidence, we have anomalous artefacts from all over the world, whispering of a higher culture that created them, if only we know how to listen. There’s the map of the Turkish Admiral Piri Reis, based on older maps, which showed the then undiscovered landmass of Antarctica, prepared in 1513, surely copied from an ancient photo taken from orbit. Then there’s the rustproof Iron pillar of Meharauli near Delhi, which has stood for 4000 years. Exciting? Yes, but unfortunately these were two bits of evidence that Däniken himself had to disown, as he did in a Playboy interview; the technology used in making the pillar was impressive, but documented in pre-modern times, and the supposedly accurate map bore no relation to the Antarctic coastline; the admiral had guessed that South America was connected to the Southern tip of Africa, and had drawn the map accordingly.[4] [Correction: A better explanation is that the Piri Reis map seems to have distorted the outline of South America in such a way that it resembles Antarctica to a casual observer, but it was probably not connected to Africa in the full map; for a full discussion check out this site or just read through the comments to this post]

Then there are the eyewitness accounts of the visits of the gods, take this one in Ezekiel for instance:

And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire. Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf’s foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass. And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings. Their wings were joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward. As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle. Thus were their faces: and their wings were stretched upward; two wings of every one were joined one to another, and two covered their bodies. And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; and they turned not when they went. As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning. Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces. The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel. When they went, they went upon their four sides: and they turned not when they went. As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them: and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up.

Däniken takes this to be a painstaking account of a spaceship, and in fact Josef Blumrich, an Austrian Engineer who worked for NASA at the time, found this idea so convincing that he left his job to spend more time researching “extraterrestrial visitors in ancient times”. He reconstructs the alien ship thusly:


I’ll leave it to you to decide how plausible that one is.

Some of Von Däniken’s most interesting ideas are also his wackiest. He believes that the Egyptians practised mummification so that they could preserve their bodies until their gods returned, and used their technologies to return life to their run-down bodies. Hopefully they could also reconstruct their brains, which would have been pulled out through their noses with hooked implements.

Like most of his successors in the Space God movement, Däniken invokes our alien ancestors to support modern ethical concerns- they want to warn us about the dangers of nuclear war, and they herald an age when we can rise above the divisive ideas of separate nation states.[5] Ronald Story offers a cogent analysis of the appeal of the ancient astronauts theory, which I want to mention here because it forms one of the central ideas of this project.

Modern humans want to believe in the gods, but we fear that science is killing the magic that once filled the world. So we recast our myths in a superficially scientific form, breathing the wonder back into the material world, and plausibility back into religion. For all their references to the Mahabharata and Ancient Greece, Däniken and his crowd are most interested in interpreting the Bible, the central religious text of their culture.[6]

They are people desperate in quest of that noblest and rarest of human boons, an experience of wonder, and when the U.F.O.s bestow it, they cannot but believe the Ultimate must lie encapsulated in them… These books maybe pitiful stumbling efforts in the morasses of technical and historical scholarship… But as religion they are worthy of respect as picture-language wrestling with the deep matters all persons face – or evade – in the stillness of the heart. On this level their scientific and historical failings may not matter so much. In what pertains to the ultimate beyond the circles of science and history, all language is picture-language only shadowing what is beyond words. It is, in the old Zen phrase, the finger pointing at the moon.[7]

[2]  Erich von Däniken, Chariots of the Gods?, Northumberland Press Limited, 1972; Page 57
[3] Ronald Story, The Space Gods Revealed, New English Library Limited, 1978; Page 20
[4]  Ibid 49-52; 98
[5] Däniken, op cit. 25
[6] Story, op cit 130
[7] Ibid GR 136-137

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20 thoughts on “It all started with Erich von Däniken…

  1. korshi says:

    A belated warning that the code for the footnotes in this post don’t work as they should… I’ll have to try to fix it soon. Ironic given my whining about footnotes 🙂

  2. […] I did however have a dig in the science-fiction and religion/New Age/self-help/Paranormal sections, and in amongst endless copies of Shirley MacLaine’s “Don’t Fall Off the Mountain” and The Celestine Prophecy I found a few gems. I decided to stay away from any more Von Däniken (and his countless imitators), having found him pretty repetitive and uninspiring (see my previous post). […]

  3. […] concepts in Buddhism, and one that has been widely adopted by New Age movements. As we’ve seen in earlier posts, there’s been a temptation recently for people to try to translate metaphysical ideas into a […]

  4. Spirit Walker says:

    So, here I am on this fine day reading a book in the aftremath of the storm of the century when I come across something in my reading that isn’t quite as clear as I like things to be. I fire up the P.C. in the corner and take my notes to the desk and begin my search.
    The Piri Reis map is heavy on my mind, as Colin Wilson and Rand Flem-ath are yapping about it in their book “The Atlantis Blueprint”. Apparently this map was the Holy Grail for researcher and anthropologist Charles Hapgood in his search for proof to his Earth’s Shifting Crust theory that was published in a book by the same name in 1958. His other works of note are “Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings” (1966) and “The Path of the Pole” in 1970.
    In detail Wilson and Flem take me thru the life of this Charles Hapgood to explain in extreme detail that this man’s Knowledge is based on evidence compiled over the centuries from those that came ahead of us. At one point Hapgood sought the encouragement of Albert Einstein in order to continue on a path that he wasn’t sure was scientifically sound. When Einstein acknowledged the importance of Hapgoods work, it inspired everything Hapgood wrote from that day after.
    While all of this knowledge is being downloaded in my head, I began to question the Piri Reis map, only because I like to check up on things as I progress in my studies, to make sure that I’m not being fed a tremendous amount of dis-information.
    I start out by google-ing “Topkapi Palace Istanbul Piri Reis map connection”. I’m fed very little on Topkapi Palace bit I do get many bites on Piri Reis map. I learn that the map is dated to 1513 as it was supposedly made for a Turkish Admiral of their Navy.
    The map was “copied from a Greek original in the Library of Alexandria… It shows detailed features of Antarctica several thousand years before modern day man discovered the continent island… as well as the land of Antarctica is true in shape (coastal land edges) as well as topographically accurate (according to the latest satellite images which deduce what the actual land of a heavily froze continent looks like).
    I have to admit, the evidence is overwhelming. But it wasn’t without it’s critics. I wrote down the names of the critics that I came across to check in on their motives and wasn’t at all surprised to see where that led me. In case you wanna look them up as well, their names were Dr. Clifford Wilson (“Crash Go the Chariots”), and Ron Story (“Space God’s Revealed”). Upon investigating both men, I was quickly reading Bible scriptures and the like as opposed to reading archeological proof as to the problem with Von Danikan’s and Hapgood’s error in scientific evidence.
    For the record, I have no problem with religion as long as it’s promoting self-truth and overwhelming attitudes of happiness. But in the internet era, I feel that many religions have been exposed for the propagandic realities that they were developed from, such as the Council in Nicea, where Roman manipulation became more important then Roman freedom. In a world where A New World Order is imminent and the constitution of my country is constantly defending itself against the Puppet Masters that are secretly writing Impeachable dogmatic statements like “Novus Ordo Seclorum” on the very currency that we pay our taxed with.

    Whoever wrote the latter piece about Erick von Danikon, seems like a really nice and sincere bloke. One who failed miserably to tell us about the religious spin that the very book he’s falling victim to created in his mind. Now I’m no master of all things, I just do what I can. And instead of writing SPIN like this, why not research a bit more and tune in to people like Alex Jones and Mark Dice. Men that are patriots in their countries and looking to take the the blindfolds off that the most unsuspecting minds are hiding behind.

    May peace find you, comfort you, and spread like wild fire from here to there.

    Thanks for allowing me to comment.


  5. korshi says:

    Thanks for commenting, ONE. Ronald Story is the writer I used most for this post, but I also read several of Daniken’s books, and have studied both ancient history and archaeology at university level. As I think I pointed out in this post, Daniken does not give any archaeological evidence, barely cites sources and does not offer any coherent hypothesis, he merely makes suggestions based on apparently anomalous data from different points of prehistory. Ronald Story’s book, while a little outdated, is well written and cites a lot of other scholarship, and if he cites the Bible frequently it’s because Daniken does the same; since his foreword is by Carl Sagan it’s unlikely he has strong religious beliefs, if any. The reason there have been few debunkings of Daniken and his ilk since the 70s is that there is abundant evidence throughout the archaeological record which makes his ‘theories’ unnecessary and indeed impossible.

    From my limited knowledge of Hapgood, it seems his work was an interesting archaeological dead end, and encouragement by Einstein means nothing, since he was a theoretical physicist, not a historian or archaeologist. The Piri Reis map does not closely match the coastline of Antarctica, I’ve seen a picture overlaying the two somewhere, but you can just as easily look on google earth. The map was produced in 1513, so the admiral would have had acces to European maps, and it looks from the map as if he believes Africa and South America are linked by land; ‘Antarctica’ on the map is a close fit with the coastline of Patagonia.

    ‘Freedom’ was never a central part of the Roman state, especially not during the Empire, and Nicaea didn’t have anything to do with that. You seem to have a Da Vinci code view of the council of Nicaea, which wasn’t the hugely important moment in Christian history Dan Brown makes it out to be. Most Christians already believed Jesus was the divine son of God, the canon had generally been established (and wasn’t discussed); it was just Constantine’s failed attempt to force the bishops to stop fighting with each other and agree on an orthodoxy.

    As far as I know Novus Ordo Seclorum (‘New order of the ages’) was added to the Great Seal of the United States in 1782 (before the Constitution was written), and it is the seal which appears on US money. It refers to a new American age, since as I’m sure you know the founders felt they were creating a new type of nation founded on ideological principles rather than by a monarch or ethnic group.

    Good luck with your search for the truth, if you’re googling the Piri Reis map ‘Topkapi Palace’ is unlikely to help you since it’s just the name of the former Turkish palace in Istanbul where the map is currently held. I’d also be interested to hear more about the religious spin you think I have in my mind.

  6. Alien says:

    if u dare, debunk the PIRI REIS MAP THEORY…….

  7. korshi says:

    Well, I think I already outlined the main reasons why the Piri Reis map ‘theory’ is false:

    “The Piri Reis map does not closely match the coastline of Antarctica, I’ve seen a picture overlaying the two somewhere, but you can just as easily look on google earth. The map was produced in 1513, so the admiral would have had acces to European maps, and it looks from the map as if he believes Africa and South America are linked by land; ‘Antarctica’ on the map is a close fit with the coastline of Patagonia.”

    It’s already been more fully debunked by people with more expertise and interest in the subject than myself.

    I should add that I was a bit off suggesting that freedom (“libertas”) was not an important concept in Ancient Rome; I’ve since found out that it was, but it meant something quite different from what we would take it to mean; you can read a good discussion of it here:

  8. Alien says:

    well, korshi,

    James Hapegood also could not debunk it. The latitude and longitude were almost correct. The number of faults it got were 4-5, all of them were mistaken by 1 or 2 degrees, which cannot be taken as MISTAKES at all. And, u should know dat geographical evidences and scientific tests discovered that before ICE AGE, NORTH AMERICA and ANTARCTICA were really joined by the same line as depicted in the PIRI REIS map.

  9. korshi says:

    Charles Hapgood wasn’t trying to debunk it, he uses it as the main piece of evidence for his claims about an ice-age civilisation. And the last time Antarctica and South America were connected was 41 million years ago, which is a bit before the last ice-age.

    The actual text on the map says:

    “From eight Jaferyas [Ptolemaic maps] of that kind and one Arabic map of Hint [India], and from four newly drawn Portuguese maps which show the countries of Sint [modern day Pakistan], Hint and Çin [China] geometrically drawn, and also from a map drawn by Qulūnbū [Columbus] in the western region, I have extracted it. By reducing all these maps to one scale this final form was arrived at, so that this map of these lands is regarded by seamen as accurate and as reliable as the accuracy and reliability of the Seven Seas on the aforesaid maps.” (McIntosh, Gregory C. (2000), The Piri Reis Map of 1513, pp.15, 17, cited on Wikipedia)

    So Piri Reis actually tells us that he used Columbus’ map, and not the ancient maps, for the western region. The following pages have many other good reasons why the map doesn’t show any evidence of being based on the charts of Atlanteans or ancient aliens:

  10. korshi says:

    (The last major ice-age was 110 to 10 thousand years ago for those who might not have picked up on my sarcasm. Modern humans have only been around for about 200 thousand years; so the fact that Antarctica and South America were last connected 41 million years ago means that it would be impossible for humans to observed it.)

  11. korshi says:

    That site is terribly written and makes a lot of big claims with out backing them up in any way.

    For example, it claims that “the NASA[sic] studied the map and made change to their own ones.” Where did this come from? Presumably NASA base their maps on satellites, so why on earth would they reference a map that seems to think Antarctica is linked to South America? Look at the Piri Reis map and a map of Antarctica yourself and you can see they’re completely different.

    Hapgood’s theory was that the surface of earth moved over the core at some point in history, this isn’t accepted by geology; the plate tectonics theory has won out as better describing the history of earth’s continents.

    If you ask me, the Oronteus Finaeus map is much better evidence for the ancient knowledge of Antarctica than the Piri Re’is map, but it still has a lot of problems. It doesn’t show Australia, and Antarctica is far, far too big and the wrong shape. If there was some ancient civilisation that knew about Antarctica, how could they get it so wrong? The fact is that Finaeus was just doing what every cartographer did at the time, guessing the outlines of a southern continent they believed balanced the northern continents. This site has a good discussion of the issue

  12. Sam says:

    watch how the superimpose was made

    [The superimpositions Sam is talking about take place in the video at 2:44 and 3:14. The two shots are in fact different. In the first shot, ‘Antarctica’ is jutting out just to the right of Uruguay; in the second shot they’ve shifted it down about a thousand miles, rotated it, I’d guess about 30 degrees, and rescaled it to fit the coastline.]

  13. korshi says:

    They don’t show the superimposition clearly at all. Look at the links I posted earlier, you can see the problems more clearly. The map is accurate in some respects, but you can see that South America is much too short (because it extends to the east as ‘Antarctica’) and the islands in the Caribbean are completely off (because Piri Re’is, like Columbus, locates Japan there.

    Also, they’re operating on different assumptions from Hapgood; Hapgood thinks that about 10 thousand years ago Antarctica was ice-free, but the whole crust shifted. These guys accept the plate tectonics theory and say the maps must have been created c40 million years ago, when Antarctica and South America were still linked. It’s dishonest to say, as they do, that the outline matches the Antarctic coastline, anyone can see it doesn’t currently, and the coastline changes as you go back in time, so that it’s easy to find some period of history when it looked vaguely like you want it to.

    Also, they’re way off when they claim that other maps didn’t show ‘Antarctica’. It’s true that the map they show (the Philippe Buache map) has an empty space, but it was actually only one of two versions, the other one filled in the gaps with a hypothetical Terra Australia, and others, including Oronteus Finaeus did the same thing without being so scrupulous in indicating they were showing hypothetical continents. Most of these map makers were working from very limited information in areas outside Europe and Africa, so they guess, and sometimes they’re lucky, sometimes not so much. And none of them (that I know of) claim to be getting their info on the Americas or Terra Australis from ancient maps.

  14. Sam says:

    how the map’s latitudinal and longitudinal position’s can be stated WRONG???

  15. korshi says:

    I’m not a geographer (and I’m guessing you’re not either) but look at the Piri Re’is map, it doesn’t mark latitude and longitude. And (as Charles Hapgood admits) about 900 miles of South America is missing unless you realise that ‘Antarctica’ is actually part of South America. Look at the map yourself, and compare it to a modern map, you can see both of these features.

  16. Gauri says:

    Korshi,I commend you for your patience in dealing with these incredibly slow people.

  17. Thomas says:

    I also read books of Erich Von Daniken. I instantly became fascinated with all the theories in the book, “Chariots of the Gods”. I later became an archaeologist, from UWF and I went back to my old readings such as, “Chariots of the Gods” and read it again and seeing myself more and more trying to pick apart the theories in the book more than ever. I researched about the Piri Reis Map, but its funny to note and I think you did too, that Von Daniken already said that he was wrong about the Piri Reis map in some extent. However Von Daniken pushes that he is still right about how the “Piri Reis Map shows the coastal lines of Antarctica, which today is still under eternal ice” (Daniken, “Chariots of the Gods” ix). But if people are still having a hard time with the Piri Reis Map then you should refer them to this.

    It is a great source to find out about the map from a Cartographers/Geologists point of view.

    Also, I would like to add that I did enjoy the books though. I’m still interested on an archaeological level. The finds are amazing and I’m always open to new ideas, but please back it up with good back boned evidence and not half truths. It seems like Von Daniken visited these sites with his theory impregnated in his brain, without almost any educated evidence but instead from second hand theories and stories. Given his books were mostly written in the 60s and 70s. But damn, that is when Archaeology and Space was really booming. The great thing is that archaeology is not as close minded as Von Daniken claims. It is one of the most open minded when it comes to theories and opinions. I like pointing out sometimes too that sometimes myths and legends become a reality. For example, Troy was always believed to be this fabled legend from Homer’s Iliad, and yet it was discovered. Also more locally the famous Locklove Caves in Arizona. The Piutes Indians talked of this great battle they had with Giants that were red-headed and how they cornered the giants into a cave and shot a barrage of arrows into it and set it aflame. Giant skeletons were found at the cave site some 8ft tall and another skeleton nearby near a lake bed believed to be about the same height. They have remnants of red hair and were caucasian. The story of the Piutes was well documented before the discovery of the cave in 1911. A publication of the tale was in a book called, “Life Among the Piutes” and it was published in 1883. Well before the discovery of the cave site.

    I do believe in Aliens, or some kind of life out there in the vast universe. But to say that they helped develop our culture, or somehow genetically made the human race better is pushing it. I mean, how hard could it be to stack stones on top of other stones? And ancient humans are just as smart as we are now. The proponents of the theory love to believe that Aliens helped Egyptians build the Pyramids and etc. Yet they don’t have any supporting evidence to back up the claim. If we somehow discover in Egypt a smartphone or Ipod or a supercomputer that helped them, or even an electric wetsaw that cut the stone, then I would be pretty impressed. Haha

    Sorry for the long comment. I went on a rant. Cheers

    Thomas Kennedy

  18. korshi says:

    Thanks for the links, Thomas, if only all the rants in my comments section were so coherent 🙂

  19. Garbonzo says:

    Thomas and korshi, have you read von Daniken’s latest books such as Twilight of the Gods and History is Wrong? In Twilight of the Gods he admits that not all of his evidence has been right, but there is still too much evidence that has not been debunked, such as Puma Punku which he writes extensively about in the book. You can find a copy of Twilight on scibd but if you like it, you should buy it. I am subscribed, so if you respond I will answer. =)

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