Sunday, March 29, 2015

Alien Architecture

Ancient Aliens

A popular show on cable TV is Ancient Aliens airing on the History channel. The show posits that ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians and the Incas, produced architecture and artifacts that were too sophisticated to have emerged solely from human intelligence and abilities.  According to the show's explosively coiffed narrator,  Giorgio Tsoukalos, these great civilizations must have had assistance from a more advanced source: ancient aliens from another world. The evidence presented for this idea is sourced from vanished cultures around the world. If you are familiar with the theories of Erich von Daniken, you know the show's basic premise.
1. George Tsoukalos.
I got hooked on the show because the presentation of this evidence involves field trips to ancient ruins around the globe and computer-generated reconstructions of architectural monuments. It is worth watching as an exciting architectural travelogue if for no other reason.

Of course, the show has its debunkers. You can easily find on-line critics who delight in identifying inconsistencies within the show and errors of historical fact. These comments must be weighed against the contentions of the show's gaggle of scientific "experts" who are eager to claim any mystery as evidence of other-worldly intelligence.

When looking at ancient cultures there are bound to be mysteries.  Too much information has been lost to time to be able to fully understand how people in the distant past thought, how they lived their lives, and exactly how they built the monuments they left behind.  Sometimes it is better to say we simply don't know something than to build explanatory tales around tiny shreds of evidence.  There is much conjecture propping up in every episode of Ancient Aliens. That is not the same thing as scientific evidence.

And yet...

Sometimes the evidence is seductive. It occurs to me that - as an architect  - I could be one of the "experts" on this show. I am certainly as qualified as any of the UFOlogists introduced on the History channel. I have the professional qualifications to offer opinions on the built environment. And I have visited many of the sites that are of frequent interest to the show's producers:  Machu Picchu, Stonehenge, Chichenitza, Palenque, the Nazca Lines, Teotihuacan, Stonehenge, Sachayhuaman. So here it goes: I'm weighing in on the general thesis of Ancient Aliens.

Have great human endeavors in the past been aided by intelligent life from other planets?


2. Temple of the Inscriptions. Palenque, Mexico. 
Of the ancient sites featured on Ancient Aliens that  I have actually visited, three stand out.  The first is the Mayan ruins at Palenque, Mexico.  Set deep in a misty jungle, Palenque possesses a movie-set romanticism that encourages other-worldly thoughts.

Discovered within the Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque in 1952 is a limestone sarcophagus bearing the engraving of an "astronaut".  Dating from about about 683 A.D. it is a big piece of evidence favored by ancient alien theorists. The tomb is no longer accessible to visitors due to concerns about humidity damage to the carvings. (There is a replica of the burial chamber , including the sarcophagus cover, in Mexico City's Museum of Archaeology.) When I saw this image in Palenque I thought,  yes, it does look like a depiction of an astronaut.  There he was, reclining in some sort of capsule, connected to life-support systems, apparently controlling what looks like a flame-propelled vehicle.  It is quite astonishing, but who knows what it really represents?  Debunkers have said it is simply a depiction of the transition to the afterlife using common Mayan symbols.  Even if it is an astronaut, is it an alien astronaut or a human astronaut? Historians could certainly fashion any number of theories about this one image; it would be impossible to know for sure. Of course, the proponents of ancient alien influence on humans don't rely on this single piece of evidence. However, I would only rate this tantalizing tidbit five on a scale of one to ten on the ancient alien evidence scale.
3. Sarcophagus cover at Palenque.
4. Detail. 
5. Three dimensional model featured on the History Channel.
6. Close up of 3-D model. 


The second site that impressed me was the Nazca Lines in the Atacama desert of Peru. Created between 400 and 650 A.D. these lines form images of birds, spiders, fish, monkeys, lizards and other animals. Some lines look like directional information for navigation.
7. Hummingbird.
Other artificial formations in the region look like landing strips. These glyphs are only fully visible from aloft. People ask why are they here? What are they for?  To some, the only logical explanation is signals to creatures who had the technology to fly, i.e. ancient aliens. There are other explanations, of course. When I was there a popular theory was that these were ritual paths carved into the desert by hundreds of footsteps tracing their way over and over again. Sort of like walking the labyrinth in the cathedral at Chartres. This does seem possible. It would not take elevated sight to work out the geometry of a path that formed a recognizable image. That might explain how the images were created; it still leaves questions of why and for whom. Keep in mind these images are huge and many. And it is not just lines, it is rock formations and altered  landscapes in the surrounding hills that are provocative.  The Nazca lines, taken as a whole,  seem beyond the abilities of the humans formerly inhabiting this area. However, it could be that we under estimate those abilities. Or, at least, misunderstand the cultural needs of those people. The lines are suggestive evidence for extraterrestrial intelligence, but I don't think we can call it proof. I'll rate this site another five on the ancient alien evidence scale.
8. "Landing strip."
9. Spider image in center of image surrounded
by seemingly random straight lines.
10. Bird image.
11. Map of Nazca lines.


Finally, the third interesting site I keep returning to in my mind is Sacsayhuaman. Located at an elevation of 12,000 feet it is a short distance north of Cuzco, Peru, Sacsayhuaman is an Incan fortress (in ruins).  For me, this site offers more compelling evidence of technology beyond the abilities of a culture that didn't have the modern machines or even the benefits of the wheel.

We'll explore Sacsayhuaman in the next blog entry.
12. Author at Sacsayhuaman.
1. History channel.
2. Tato Grasso.
3-4. Unknown.
5-6. History channel.
7-10.  MJK
11. Unknown.
12. MJK