• An Oxford Historian

Aliens in Archaeology: Dangerous, not just Stupid

Updated: Apr 26

It's time to stop suggesting the role of aliens in archaeology as light-hearted fun - it's a dangerous idea built on serious problems.


Archaeology attracts all types, which is a wonderful thing. What is less wonderful, however, is the consistent conspiracy-theory trend for alien intervention in ancient archaeology. I'm arguing here that this shouldn't be ignored simply as a laughable fringe but should be tackled head-on, because of its serious implications.


There are some crazy theories out there, and it's worth looking at a few quickly. This isn't an attempt to humour 'believers', and I'll only spend a very short time on these theories for that reason - if you've stumbled onto this blog looking for conspiracy theory evidence, probably best to leave now. Two major examples are worth looking at.

First are the Pyramids in Eygpt. Clearly, these are remarkable in scale even in the modern world, and feats of remarkable engineering. Conspiracy theorists suggest this is the result of alien help and some kind of space-age technology. Second are the Nazca lines. A set of massive drawings in the ground in Peru, clearest from the air, people have often interpreted these as the result of alien activity of some kind. 'Believers' look for support in ancient texts, something they find in myths about gods and the supernatural. Of particular note is the artistic trend in Egyptian art to depict people with elongated heads, a feature some have suggested represents alien skulls.


This is all, of course, absolute bollocks.


The one consistent thread between these crazy theories of alien creation, however, reveals a much darker undertone. Aliens are always said to have created archaeological sites of societies that are not white, and not European. The pyramids of Egypt and South America, or the Nazca Lines, are 'supernatural' - the Cerne Abbas Giant, or Hadrian's Wall, is not.


Stonehenge is perhaps the only real exception - even this is infrequently linked with aliens, instead mostly linked to some kind of general supernatural force (like the loosely defined 'druids', for example).


There are two forces at play here. Firstly, this difference stems from a general Orientalism. A term championed by Said in the late 70s, Orientalism focuses on the West's fetishisation of the Eastern 'Other'. There is a romanticisation to our study of the East, a reveling in the 'exotic' that shapes how we perceive culture, one that is both morally wrong and actively detrimental to our study of other cultures. This is equally true of the archaeological sites that people believe aliens built. Where, among Western audiences, the history of Western European archaeological sites are understood in more practical terms, the (public) Western understanding of the history of Egypt is as much myth as it is archaeology or history. As such, sliding the UFOs into the narrative becomes a less ridiculous jump of the imagination.


Secondly, and far more disturbingly, is the simple question of race. A system that forefronts White European civilization and achievements finds it hard to synthesize remarkable achievements by communities from around the world far before Europe's period of 'success'. As a result, another explanation is searched for by many. Where prehistoric success in White areas are remarkable feats of humanity, success elsewhere is often considered as impossible. Specifically, the scientific knowledge and skill behind the pyramids is what is questioned - 'it must have been aliens, because there's no way the people who lived here thousands of years ago could have built this'. Implicit in the alien narrative, then, is a strong racial bias reflective of a White European focus in popular scholarship and historical understanding.


Aliens in archaeology are not only stupid, they're built on two fundamentally dangerous and unacceptable views. It's time to stop humouring TV shows and conspiracy theories that think alien narratives are light-hearted fun.

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