Tuesday 26 January 2021

The Not-so-Hidden Racist Undertones of Ancient Aliens Conspiracy Theory

The problem with the ancient aliens conspiracy theory is that it denies the various cultures responsible for the allegedly "mysterious" monuments and artefacts used as its basis any kind of agency. Various monuments are assumed to be "too complex" for primitive societies to create unaided. So the "precision" of cutting and laying out of stone blocks by the Inca or ancient Egyptians is a mystery, while the same phenomenon at the Parthenon is by nobody ascribed to "ancient aliens helping". For some reason the ancient Greeks could do it, while the indigenous folk elsewhere could not. Even the erection of earthen mounds was said to be beyond the capabilities of the "savages" of the eastern areas of the expanding USA, and ascribed to a vanished "mound-builder" civilisation wiped out by the Indiansd that the white settlers themselves were to replace and massacre. 

One wonders how British archaeologists will react to the proposal to construct an ancient astronaut theme park in Blackpool. As in the case of their passivity and inaction over artefact hunters, will they react at all? I think if you ask Mr Google who is writing about this, you can see what's going to happen. 

Works on the topic written in the US

At the beginning, much of this addressed the Mound-builder theories, and other areas where Von Daniken et al had attempted to explain pre-Columbian cultural features as the result of ancient alien contact. There were several books published rebutting Von Daniken's ideas (A good example is Ronald Story's 1976 'The space-gods revealed: A close look at the theories of Erich von Danikenpublished by Harper and Row and two years later in the UK by New English Publishers).

Although there were earlier works referring to the racism in the ancient astronaut theory (for example in the introduction of Morgana Sommer's 2012 thesis, "Pseudoarchaeology and the ancient astronaut theory: an analysis of a modern belief system"), texts both on paper and online tend to concentrate on this issue after 2015. It is interesting to speculate on the relationship between that and the empowerment of the Alt-Right by the Trump presidency and increasing awareness raised by the 'Black Lives Matter' movement (that began in June 2013).  Texts appearing in 2015 include:

R. S. Benedict 2015, 'Aliens Didn’t Build The Pyramids, You Racist Fool!' The Hornet 13 June 2015

Christina Killgrove 2015 'What Archaeologists Really Think About Ancient Aliens, Lost Colonies, And Fingerprints Of The Gods' Forbes Sep 3, 2015 

Erik Jensen 2016, 'Racism and Ancient Aliens' Co-Geeking May 30, 2016.

Courtney Graves 2016, ' Racism In 'Ancient Aliens' Could the History Channel hit be a product of internalized racism?' Odyssey Jul 18, 2016

Carl Feagans 2016, 'Open Minds and “High Civilizations” ', Archaeology Review blog September 8, 2016

There are a number of posts on this topic on the Jason Colavito blog (earliest in 2016).

Ramon Glazov 2017, 'Ancient Astronaut Aryans: On the Far Right Obsession with Indo-Europeans The Bizarre Pseudo-Historical Belief System Behind White Nationalism'/'The Quest for Primordial Whiteness' LitHub April 28, 2017 / Overland (Australia) 266 Autumn 2017. 

Christopher Heaney 2017, 'The Racism Behind Alien Mummy Hoaxes Pre-Columbian bodies are once again being used as evidence for extraterrestrial life' The Atlantic August 1st 2017. 

Julien Benoit 2017, Outlandish theories that aliens built the pyramids are rooted in racism/ Racism is behind outlandish theories about Africa’s ancient architecture', Quartz Africa September 18, 2017

Alexander Zaitchik 2018, 'Close encounters of the racist kind', Southern Poverty Law Centre Hatewatch January 02, 2018

Sarah E. Bond, 'Pseudoarchaeology and the Racism Behind Ancient Aliens Where, exactly, the idea of ancient aliens building the pyramids began — and why some academics think racism lies at the heart of many extraterrestrial theories', Hyperallergic, November 13, 2018. This ios one of the more widely-read and quoted articles on this topic.

James McGrath 2018, 'Racism, Colonialism, and Ancient Aliens' Religion Prof... Nov 16th 2018 [referring, among other things, to one of my blog posts on an Anderson twitter thread].

David S. Anderson 2018, ' Mysterious Ancient Mysteries And The Problems With Archaeology Made For TV', Forbes Dec 31, 2018. [David S. Anderson writes quite frequently in this topic] 

Hector Osegueda 2019, '“Ancient Aliens”: A Damaging Perspective', The Liberator Feb 28, 2019

University of Texas public session March 2019, 'Aliens, Atlantis, and Aryanism: Fake News in Archaeology and Heritage' Mar 30, 2019. Free and Open to the Public (see Lizzie Wade, ' Beliefs in aliens, Atlantis are on the rise' Science 12 Apr 2019)

Bradley Lepper 2019, 'Archaeology: Bizarre stories on Serpent Mound origin linked to racial bias' Columbus Dispatch May 12, 2019 [Moundbuilders theme]

Shoshi Parks 2019, 'Insanely Incorrect Theories About How Famous Ancient Monuments Were Built' Fodor's Travel October 7, 2019

Meghan O'Keefe, '‘Ancient Aliens’ Needs to Stop Erasing Non-White Cultural Excellence', Decider Jun 16, 2020

Jen Rose Smith, 'The fringe theories long attached to UNESCO sites', CNN 10th July 2020

Cedric Voets, 'Saying Aliens Built Ancient Monuments Isn't Only Crazy, It's Racist' Cracked July 10, 2020

Emily Tain 2020, 'Why Thinking That Aliens Built the Pyramids Is Problematic' Arab America Sept 21, 2020

Patty Hamrick 2020, 'How H.P. Lovecraft Gave Us Ancient Aliens' Mental Floss.com November 2nd 2020.

Jordan Poss, 'I’m not saying Ancient Aliens is racist…' Jordan M. Poss blog November 06, 2020 (with references to others)

Guy P. Harrison 2020, 'Why Do People Keep Boarding the Chariots of the Gods? Nearly half of all Americans believe alien astronauts visited Earth long ago', Psychology Today Jul 24, 2020

So that's at least 24 informative texts on this subject published in the USA. And how do British archaeologists fare? 

Works on the topic written in the UK

Mr Google seems to be at a loss finding anything at all. 

Perhaps this is why a British local authority at the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century sees absolutely no problem in using public money to create a theme park promoting ancient aliens conspiracy theory ideas, nor why they have no doubt that a whole load of information-starved members of the public will go to try and 'learn something about the past' and maybe 'find out for themselves what the truth is' by visiting this exhibition. Will British archaeologists disabuse them of this idea? 

Vignette: Extraordinary Documentary tells us how Ancient Aliens helped build the pyramids of Egypt

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