A Citations Needed Live Show Beg-A-Thon: The Very Real Social Brain Rot of Ancient Aliens and Ancient Apocalypse

Citations Needed | May 24, 2023 | Transcript

Citations Needed
52 min readMay 24, 2023

Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.

Nima Shirazi: Welcome to the second Citations Needed Beg-A-thon, that is, our periodic virtual live show fundraiser. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Thank you everyone for joining us as we stream live on YouTube. Of course you can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, and, if you are not already, we’d obviously really like you to become a supporter of the show through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast. All your support through Patreon is incredibly appreciated as we are 100 percent listener funded.

Adam: And when you become a supporter, as always, you’ll get access to over 130 News Briefs, extensive show notes for every episode, and more fun stuff like live interviews and other Patreon goodies for those who help support the show, live chats, bringing those back etcetera. So, please do that if you can, this is after all a beg-a-thon.

Nima: It is, it is, definitely if you do not already support the show please consider it. But tonight on Citations Needed we will be talking primarily about two TV series — The History Channels’ Ancient Aliens and Netflix’s Ancient Apocalypse — as well as the wider genre of cheap, right-wing, pseudo-archaeological ‘infotainment’ that they’re both a part of

Joining us in just a little bit to discuss this will be Dr. David S. Anderson, an archaeologist and assistant professor at Radford University in Virginia. He specializes in the study of pseudoarchaeology and is the author of a forthcoming book entitled, Weirding Archaeology: Unearthing the Strange Influences on the Popular Perception of Archaeology.

Adam: But first, a quick note about what we’re doing tonight. Citations Needed takes a team of people, a ton of work, a ton of research, a ton of writing, and we do it I think at a pretty good clip, a pretty good pace, we try to have as many fresh episodes, respond to current events with News Briefs. Since the show premiered back in July of 2017 we’ve done 180 episodes, 130 News briefs with over 250 guests. We love doing this and we’re grateful of course for every listener, every download, every tweet, all the feedback we get, we’re very humbled by it. We’ve had roughly 20 million downloads, approximately, we think that’s a pretty fair estimate based on the metrics we have.

Now, we never run commercials, we never run sponsored content. We know this is extremely rare for a podcast of our listenership. We get solicited all the time to do that, and it’s not because we’re holier than thou, although maybe that’s kind of a little bit holier than now, it’s mostly because it’s just not part of what we set out to do with the show, and you can’t really rail against the evils of capitalism, and then five seconds later pitch things. It doesn’t really work aesthetically on a superficial level as well. But also, we really like to keep the show independent, we like to keep it totally user supported. It’s something we set out to do from the beginning, and the only reason that’s possible is through supporters like you on Patreon. So twice a year we come out and we do the, we’re influenced by NPR, we do the little beg-a-thon where we directly ask you for money, we humiliate and prostrate ourselves and say please, if you can.

Nima: So many times say please.

Adam: So many. Yeah, we say please donate to the show. Because we do know there is a large contingent of people who do listen and don’t donate, which you know, people have their reasons but if the reason is you just haven’t got around to doing it, you should probably do it. If the reason is you don’t do it because you don’t have the money, then keep stealing our content. That’s kind of the shtick we’re asking for tonight. But we like to make these beg-a-thons, you know, fun, more interesting, more more based on pop culture. Although we’ll get into why pseudo archaeology is not just a funny thing, it’s also kind of pernicious, but we’ll get into the more scoldy stuff later.

Nima: We always eat our vegetables too.

Adam: That’s right.

Nima: So yeah, here’s the thing, even with our millions of downloads, and again, that is an amazing number, and thank you all, you know, relatively few listeners compared to our listenership actually support the show and the work of the seven people on our team that you know, it takes to make the show. So tonight, as Adam said, we’re asking if you have the means, if you’re able, if you’re interested, please do go to our Patreon page. Again, that is Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast and sign up to support. That would be so great. Yeah, sorry, go on.

Adam: Are we done with the groveling?

Nima: I think we’re done with the groveling. Can we do this? Let’s get into this.

Adam: No more groveling. I have some pride and dignity left. So let’s hold onto that. So tonight we’re diving into some of the more degenerate programming on television, namely Ancient Aliens on the History Channel and Ancient Apocalypse more recently on Netflix. We’re examining both tonight because, while there’s a gap in their respective levels of production value, they have much in common ideologically. They sort of suffer from similar worldviews about them taking on big evil archaeology, which we’ll get into later. Both invoke right-wing distrust of the “scientific establishment” in a kind of mindless and faux populist way, and are fundamentally predicated on the idea that Indigenous societies couldn’t possibly have been as sophisticated as they were and that there has to be some sort of extraordinary outside third party who came in and sort of did all these really interesting and wonderful things, while they’ve kind of hedged a little bit on this with respect to introducing Ancient Aliens, and you know, in Italy and Norway, sort of, but generally speaking, the origins of this line of reasoning, which we’ll get into, especially Ancient Aliens, is basically that like, ‘Oh, these primitive people in this certain society, in this in this racialized society, are incapable of doing this really, really awesome thing,’ and so that’s one of the reasons why we’re excited to talk about this tonight, and we sort of wanted to frame these two, again, one older, one more recent, but all of which have their origins decades ago.

Nima: Yeah, so since we’re talking history, let’s first get a sense of where these absurd ideas come from, you know, myths of Atlantis are millennia old, you can go back to Plato for that, but, as previous guest of the pod, just look into Episode 82, Dr. Sarah E. Bond has written, the philosophical basis for these TV shows originated in the 19th-century through European science fiction — namely that of H.G. Wells, especially his 1898 book The War of the Worlds that imagined aliens accomplishing great feats of engineering on Earth.

Now, author Garrett P. Serviss’s 1898 book Edison’s Conquest of Mars, which sought to mimic the spirit and the success of The War of the Worlds, told the story of quote-unquote “giants of Mars” who built the Great Pyramids and Great Sphinx in Egypt. Serviss’s book was serialized in newspapers like the Los Angeles Herald and the Gazette of York, Pennsylvania. Other, similar sci-fi works followed, also appearing as books or serialized pieces in local papers.

Now, some 70 years later, the 1968 book Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past by Swiss author Erich von Daniken would posit that aliens created or influenced many of the works of ancient societies, such as the Pyramids of Giza, the Nazca Lines of Peru, and even the much more modern Moai of Easter Island. The book became a bestseller in Europe, and then further popularized in the US by being serialized in the National Enquirer that same year. The film was dubbed into English and released in US theaters a few years later.

Now, we also want to note that Jason Colavito, the writer, has written extensively about this book and the broader topic of pseudoarchaeology. Definitely check his work out if you’re so inclined, but we’re going to keep digging into the influence of von Daniken and where that has led us.

Adam: These pseudo-archaeological theories would soon reach an even wider audience. In 1970, Chariots of the Gods was adapted into a West German film by the same name — treated as a documentary — and nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. And in 1973, NBC adapted the book into a special entitled In Search of Ancient Astronauts, hosted by Rod Serling, famed presenter of The Twilight Zone. Here’s a clip from that NBC special.

[Begin Clip]

Rod Serling: If ancient astronauts did land here, what effect would they have had upon early Earth men? Perhaps they were worshiped, feared, loved. Perhaps they brought gifts, a new world of knowledge or simply the principle of the lever. If we accept the premise that beings from another civilization visited here ages ago, then some of the mysteries of our past take on a new and startling light.

[End Clip]

Nima: I love hearing Rod Serling do that. It gives it gravitas that it doesn’t deserve.

Adam: Well you know it was it was it was the ’70s man. I feel like there was all kinds of wacky shit going on then. I can sort of have a little bit more leverage, you know, the whole revolution thing burned out, everyone was looking for alternatives.

Nima: And they’re like alright, let’s do it.

Adam: Some good came out of it, you know, I think we saved the ozone layer, created the EPA, but some bad stuff came. It was kind of a mixed bag. But anyway.

Nima: Whales are doing all right. So with that great Rod Serling intro, we have so much more to get to. Joining us to help make sense of this very weird pocket of pop culture is Dr. David S. Anderson, archaeologist and assistant professor at Radford University in Virginia. He specializes in the study of pseudoarchaeology, who better to have on the show, and is the author of a forthcoming book, Weirding Archaeology: Unearthing the Strange Influences on the Popular Perception of Archaeology. Dr. Anderson, thank you so much for joining us today on Citations Needed.

David S. Anderson: Gentlemen, thank you very much for the introduction. I’m happy to be here and I’m not sure if I want to thank you for taking me down the memory alley with Rod Serling there or not, but there are lots of strings to pull on here.

Adam: Well I’m excited to start pulling on the strings. We want to start off by giving a background of the show Ancient Aliens, it’s kind of the main thing we’ll be talking about here today, certainly the most popular, been memed to death, watched by hundreds of millions of people over the course of its run since 2009 when it when it premiered is a two hour documentary special that was swiftly adapted into a series. Its general premise starts, the way it basically works is they take sort of a gap of knowledge, because obviously studying things that happened four or five thousand years ago or two thousand years ago even, can be difficult. We have to piece together information. Obviously, there’s a lot of gaps in our knowledge, by definition, sometimes hundreds of years, and then the show sort of takes those gaps in knowledge and then says, ‘What if it’s aliens?’ Which again, in theory can be harmless enough or kind of playful, but as we’ll get into with our guest, Dr. Anderson, it’s very much oftentimes anything but. So the way we want to formulate this is we’re going to, I want to sort of start the conversation by watching, we’re going to watch a clip, and then we’ll kind of riff from there. I know you have many, many thoughts about that. So we’ll get into all those thoughts. This is actually the intro we’re watching first.

[Begin Clip]

Man: Millions of people around the world believe we have been visited in the past by extraterrestrial beings. What if it were true? Did ancient aliens really help to shape our history?

[End Clip]

Adam: The thing I love about the intro is it’s a bunch of questions. It’s sort of just asking questions, right? This is sort of similar to Glenn Beck, Alex Jones just asking questions. Can you talk about that formulation? I find if I’m teaching a class on sophistry, I would play the intro to Ancient Aliens because they don’t say, ‘Did aliens come? They sort of seem like they need to solve that question, they say, ‘And if they did, what did they do?’ ‘And if they did, what do they leave behind?’ Let’s talk about the intro and how it sort of primes the audience to get smoke blown up their ass.

David S. Anderson: Yeah. And then this definitely, the show when it debuted was deliberately in honor of von Daniken’s book back from ’68, Chariots of the Gods, with the question mark, name is absolutely right, the question mark is deliberate there, and it is entirely a rhetorical strategy that allows them to dodge out of the way if they ever get cornered on something that has happened with von Daniken a few times over the years. He doesn’t give a lot of critical interviews, but it presents a very — what’s the word I’m looking for? — it’s just like his, you know, what’s wrong with asking questions? Why is it possible and we just want to know more about the past? Well, there’s a problem if you don’t actually have any data or evidence to back those claims up. So there’s that facade of innocence is really masking deliberate misinformation.

Adam: So if you can, can you comment on that, that sort of rhetorical strategy, why you think it’s kind of popular, why it works, why it’s effective, again, it’s a strategy we see in other currents of trying to smuggle in batshit stuff where you really don’t want to commit to it. Can you talk about that strategy, and how perhaps, maybe, to use their own phrase, the archaeological establishment, this kind of sinister sort of Kabbalah of Freemasonry, can we talk about how establishment archaeology maybe approaches it differently?

David S. Anderson: In Big Archaeology, which I’m apparently a member of, has got a lot of problems and this rhetorical strategy is inviting, it draws people in, it makes you, the listener, the reader, part of the fight back or part of uncovering that mystery and it’s totally understandable that that draws people in and it’s, you know, there are moments where things like this have drawn me in my own past. Archaeology, academic archaeology, we’ve got lots of public outreach problems. So that’s why I love to come and talk with guys like you and do shows like this because I think myself and my colleagues need to be talking to the public more, more often, as often as possible, and we need to be talking about sort of what we do and how we do it and how we come up with answers to research questions. Because we’re not just making up our answers. I’ve gotten this a lot of times where it’s like, ‘Oh, I don’t know, you know, how are these answers different from any other?’ Well, we go out and excavate, we collect data, we collect pottery, we collect stone tools, we map architecture, we collect eco facts that are leftover plant remains and whatnot. We have an incredibly broad set of data that we use to build up answers. But we suffer from that problem that, other disciplines have this problem too, the professionalization of science, and different academic scientific endeavors have gotten more complex and more professionalized the barrier to entry gets higher, you have to go to school more, you have to get a bachelors, you have to get a masters, you have to get a PhD to become sort of a major part of that dialogue and contribution, and that shuts people out and it makes it harder, and there’s a particular turn right when von Daniken’s book came out in ’68, there were big things happening where archaeology was becoming more university based, and it was becoming more academic at that time, and it’s the moment where we saw the rise of that kind of like publish or perish academic mindset in archaeology happened just when von Daniken was becoming popular. So in other words, archaeologists started paying a lot more time talking to one another in peer reviewed journals away from the public, and he grabbed a gap that my profession left behind.

David S. Anderson

Adam: Yeah, so that’s a self-criticism we hear from a lot of academics that the gap is filled by hucksters, because there’s not a lot of good PR. Now, one thing, the big question a lot of people have that we fielded in certain comment sections when we announced the show, etcetera, is if you watch the show, especially early on, they have actual academics, many of whom have stated publicly that they were kind of duped into this, many of whom thought they could sort of smuggle in some real stuff, but then it’s so brilliant, they go from the, you know, Professor of USC, you know, Egyptology blah, blah, blah, and then they cut into this crank who the guy met in New Mexico while doing peyote, and then they edit it so fast they seem like, ‘Oh, they’re all just sort of professional people.’ Can you talk about why beyond a certain point, you feel like actual academics kept going on this show? Is it, I mean, I know, I think some said they may have been paid, can you comment on that? Because that’s the biggest question we get and I want to get that out of the way early.

David S. Anderson: I get this from a lot of my colleagues for, not so much for Ancient Aliens anymore, most of them have realized they don’t want to touch that, but for other new documentaries that come along, there’s a strong desire to view these television documentaries as a way to talk to the public. ‘How else am I going to get my research out there?’ ‘How else am I going to talk to the public?’ And so they’re like, ‘Well, I guess I’ll get at least a little bit of my story out of there.’ But you hand so much editorial control over these folks. I have a bunch of colleagues who I’ve talked to personally who have said, like, ‘Yeah, I was just hoping I can get my story out there,’ and then they have all regretted it afterwards. Because they were, maybe not sliced and diced super badly but just the context that they were put in, like you said, yeah, who are they going to talk to you next or who do they talk to you before you. I’ve also had colleagues that, documentary TV is an interesting industry, and there are lots of great documentaries out there. But there are a few times I’ve had folks where interviews can be subcontracted out and who someone’s talking to, they don’t necessarily always know or realize where that footage is going to show up in the end, and so we’ve had some strange incidents over the years in particular, where people have ended up giving interviews for one thing, and then their clips showed up in something totally different or not what they expected it to be, and then it get sliced and diced to make it sound like they’re in support of something that they’re not at all. So I hate even saying this, and I don’t actually totally believe it, but there’s part of me that wants to call for a boycott, where it’s like, do not go on any TV show until we get some sort of like statement that they’re not going to edit you out of context.

Nima: Right. Yeah. So there’s this combination of the just asking questions piece and if you say, you know, if you say anything about that, or if you’re like, ‘Well, why are you asking those questions?’ Then you’re part of, you know, suppressing the truth, potentially suppressing a truth, right? But then you also have this kind of academic validation at times you have the, you know, lower third Chiron ‘s with people’s names and credentials, you’re like oh, maybe there’s something there. I mean, there’s like a water line at the bottom of this, how the fuck should I know? And so before we get to some of these next clips, which I’m super excited about, I have one additional question, which is how do you think these shows with their aggressive attack on archaeologists and archaeology as a study, as a practice, a field? Indiana Jones made people want to become archaeologists, these shows seem to hate archaeologists so much that it actually doesn’t seem to be inviting into the field. It’s actually just about doubting a current reality, which has ulterior motives than actually may be like getting people into this thing, and I’m not saying that Indiana Jones is this, do you know I mean, but it is fundamentally nihilistic, and this is like you’re just supposed to doubt everything. Which is actually less fun than anything else.

David S. Anderson: But don’t doubt those guys.

Nima: Don’t doubt those guys.

Adam: It’s also aliens is sort of like, well, you know, again, I don’t want to be some like, Sam Harris atheist trihard, but it is so sort of a similar like, ‘Well, God did it,’ and it’s like, well, okay, but what do you do after that? What am I supposed to do with aliens did this? Are we supposed to, like, discover more about these aliens? It’s sort of the end of the conversation.

David S. Anderson: Yeah, yeah. And it’s trended for a lot of people who watch the show, and like the show and people who are on the show Ancient Aliens more and more, looking more and more like a religion, where it’s like that ultimate goal is to just acknowledge aliens as the grand creators of all.

Adam: Yeah, so what do I do with that, though? What’s the next line of inquiry?

David S. Anderson: Watch the next show.

Adam: Buy the next book. Okay.

David S. Anderson: Yeah, but no, I guess, the hostility against I mean, there is absolutely a legacy of anti intellectualism and nihilism going on here that they don’t want like, you know, the mainstream archeology, the big archaeologists are lying to you and covering things up, and there’s a little bit there, there have been bad actors in my field as well as most enterprises. Humans do bad things sometimes, and so there are absolutely examples that you can point to of archaeologists behaving badly, and in particular, archaeology is massively intertwined and entangled with colonialism over the last couple 100 years. Yeah, there’s a cult of personality going on sometimes it feels like a lot. But you know, I think this question speaks a lot to me with, you know, I got interested in these topics when I was young. When I was about 18, I ended up buying one of Graham Hancock’s early books, Fingerprints of the Gods, which the TV show Ancient Apocalypse still echoes a lot of those original ideas all about, so they lost civilization from ten to twelve thousand years ago that the mainstream archaeologists won’t admit it really exists. And, you know, I bought it hook line and sinker at the timeline. This is an amazing book, and I loved it. And I started taking archaeology classes because of that book. I’m like, ‘I want to know more about this and I want to overturn that entrenched mainstream view.’ I think the thing more than anything that made me realize that there were problems with what Hancock was saying is throughout the book archaeologists are assholes, and then I met archaeologists, and it’s like, oh, they’re passionately interested in learning about and studying and researching the past, and, you know, this academic boogeyman that he had portrayed was sort of the most immediately obviously not true to me. But you know, I think there’s almost a carnival barker sort of attitude sometimes in these kinds of publications. ‘Don’t listen to anyone, you can’t trust anyone but watch my show, buy my book. You can’t trust anyone, but by my books.’

Nima: Yeah, yeah.

Adam: Yeah. Because, again, I think we’ll get into the problems with the actual problems with mainstream ideology. It sort of reminds me of a lot of mindless anti Vax stuff. It’s like these pharmaceutical companies are the most evil people in the world, but you managed to criticize them in a way that was not the way, it’s also a fundamentally conservative mode of criticism. Because it’s not particularly subversive, again, these shows are funded by A&E, by Warner Brothers, by Reed Hastings, who’s a billionaire. If it was genuinely subversive would these billionaire corporations be shoveling shit down your throat? No, they wouldn’t. Of course, obviously, by definition. I do want to jump into the clips if you will indulge me. I do want to do that clip of the noom energy, which I think you can buy on Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop website.

David S. Anderson: Just don’t insert it anywhere in your body.

Adam: Yeah, not a good idea. So let’s watch that clip now.

[Begin Clip]

Man #1: I’ve seen a Bushman put a coal in his mouth and he wasn’t burnt. They’ll put their heads in the fire and although their hair might singe and even catch fire, their face won’t be burnt. So something is happening with this noom energy. They call it boiling energy. It’s almost like there’s a vibrational change in their whole body and probably in their DNA in some way.

Narrator: Could the so-called noom energy really be inherent in shamans accessed only while in a sort of dream state? And is it possible that the genetic makeup of these medicine men is what allows them to access other dimensions?

Man #2: The San bush people have a tradition that they are the first tribe ever created. They’re the oldest people in the world. DNA tests have shown that they probably are, that all other cultures and all other peoples that spread throughout the world came originally from where the San people are now.

Man #3: When we look at the San bushmen and we see the clear genetic evidence that they are the primordial seed of human civilization and life on Earth, it is possible that their DNA is especially well equipped to have this potential to access these non ordinary states of consciousness, which may in fact, be a key physically journeying into them. Giving these people the ability to do things that most of us seemingly cannot.

[End Clip]

Nima: That is glorious, we thought you were going to walk out.

David S. Anderson: Yeah, I preface this by just saying I’m not a geneticist, and so, you know, I like my rocks and my pottery shirts, but what the the mitochondrial DNA studies that they’re referring to show that there’s greater levels of diversity and genetics among San people, as well as other groups in Africa, that suggests that they’re older, that does not make them the — What did he say? — the primordial civilization of human genetic diversity is an amazing, beautiful thing that is completely distinct from culture, and the things that people do and build and make. So yeah, I’m just going to, I feel pretty comfortable just calling that entire clip bullshit.

Adam: Yeah, it’s one thing to sort of do Ancient Aliens. This is basically saying these people are currently aliens, which seems a little more, I mean, quite literally dehumanizing.

Nima: Right. It is, literally, the definition of dehumanizing, right?

Adam: Yeah. Different DNA than us.

Nima: Yeah. Yeah. There’s something going on with them.

Adam: It is just so casual too.

Nima: Oh, it’s a good one. It’s a good one. Let us continue down this amazing Ancient Aliens route.

Adam: Yeah, let’s do the next clip on Ancient Egypt, which is I think probably the most popular topic, they cover pretty much every season through some new angle. I guess Akhenaten has a weird face so therefore he’s an alien et cetera. I want to sort of talk a little bit if you can about, we’re going to watch that clip, talk about it, and then we’ll ask question number two Nima, if that’s okay.

Nima: Yeah whatever.

Adam: So let’s watch this clip about Ancient Egypt here from Ancient Aliens.

[Begin Clip]

Narrator: But could there be another explanation for why the Egyptians regarded Khepri as a pilot? Ancient astronaut theorists suggest that the representation of Khepri as a scarab, and sometimes as a human with a scarab head, may have been inspired by actual contact the Egyptians had with an other worldly being

Man #1: One has to wonder whether or not these beings actually exist because the Ancient Egyptians were incredibly proud in carving their history into countless walls, and according to the ancient astronaut theory, we all came about through a deliberate mutation of our genes and so it is entirely possible, in my opinion, that some of those creatures that we see depicted in reliefs and in carvings might have actually existed in the past.

Narrator: Is it possible the Ancient Egyptians could have encountered alien beings that had an insect-like appearance? Ancient astronaut theorists say yes, and as further evidence point to the fact that the Egyptians obsession with the scarab, also extended to their funerary rituals.

[End Clip]

Nima: All right, this goes on and on. We can cut it there.

Adam: The scarab of course was the sort of way in which Ancient Egyptians through various, I guess, timeframes would communicate, send notes to people etcetera. They are saying that the scarab is evidence that they ran into an alien celestial beetle.

Nima: That’s right.

David S. Anderson: Where the human body with a beetle face. That’s what aliens look like. No other possible interpretation.

Nima: No. Is it possible?

Adam: Well, what are your initial thoughts on the sort of, on the epistemological problems with that clip, and then secondly, can you discuss their kind of their coverage of Ancient Egypt more broadly, specifically, the conspiracy mongering surrounding the pyramids. Obviously the most famous kind of Ancient Aliens theory.

David S. Anderson: My first reaction, especially looking at some of the art that they showed, there’s this obsessive literalism that the show has taken on where there is no room for imagination. There’s no room for art, there’s no room for storytelling, that it must literally be what’s depicted. And of course, through their funhouse mirror, whatever being depicted is literally an alien. This was one, it was a couple of years ago, I think it was 2018, where Tsoukalos, the guy with the hair in the clip and is in all the memes, said at one of the alien con events that all religious experiences were misinterpreted alien encounters, I’d have to double check the quote, but it is very, anything religious is actually just aliens, and they do this, any stories or any legends or any piece of art, and it’s the certitude of their explanation always just sort of drives me crazy, where look, aliens might be real, I get asked this all the time when I say Ancient Aliens is bunk, and they’re like, ‘Oh, but aliens,’ I’m not saying aliens couldn’t be real. But how do you look at one drawing of a guy with a scarab head and say, ‘Aliens. That’s it done. End of story.’ I got a five year old. She loves bugs, you know, draws weird things and puts bugs on things, there’s no room for creativity, and storytelling and fun in these explanations, and that’s a real problem because it denies humanity as we know it to exist in every form.

The scarab-headed Ancient Egyptian god Khepri.

Adam: It’s such an interesting line of research of why certain animals create certain parts of such myths? You know, what other cultures have similar animals that operate in a similar way? Why would it be? There’s so many questions, so many academic questions you could study for many, many lifetimes, and instead of just like, oh, it’s aliens. Again, it’s an anti intellectual exercise because it’s the end of the conversation. But if you can, please, talk to us about the sort of their coverage of the pyramids more broadly, they bring it up now and then but it’s basically like, ‘Oh, this looks really difficult therefore, aliens, obviously,’ that is the most popular.

David S. Anderson: If Tsoukalos watches he will get very angry if we say that they, don’t say aliens built the pyramids, ‘We never said that,’ and it’s like, they just heavily imply it all the time. Or they imply that people couldn’t have done it without actually fundamentally, Nima, you brought up Garrett Serviss and Edison’s Conquest of Mars earlier on here. Yeah, they go back to Egypt all the time, because Egypt is popular, famous, people know it, they’ve heard about it, and that’s one of the main reasons they go there because it seems mysterious, and it’s been labeled as mysterious since ancient Greek times. People forget about this, or it’s hard to conceptualize this sometimes but Cleopatra’s been in the news lately because there’s a new Netflix show about Cleopatra. There’s less time between us and Cleopatra than there was between Cleopatra and the building of the pyramids at Giza, for the Ptolemaic dynasties, for the ancient Greeks, Egypt was ancient and old to them and not fully understood. And so like we’ve had this view of Egypt as this mysterious place for a long time. And Nima, what you left out about Garrett Serviss, which I love, is that it is, as far as I’m aware, it is the first time anyone said aliens built the pyramids, and it’s in this explicitly science fiction context where the humans traveled to Mars in his book and they fight the Martians on Mars, and then when they get to Mars, they find a colony of humans living there on Mars, and they’re like, ‘How did you get here?’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, the aliens brought us here when they came to Earth thousands of years ago, and when they were on Earth, they built the pyramids, they carved the Sphinx,’ and what I really love about that, too, is if you’re not, if listeners aren’t familiar with Garrett Serviss’ book, you might have watched Stargate, which is more or less the same plot as Garrett Serviss’ book rehashed out over with some more a little bit more explicit of the ancient alien pastiche over on top of it, the show feeds off of Egyptomania, which has such a long, complex history, it’s been going on for so long. It absolutely feeds off that assumption of mystery, that assumption of misunderstanding.

Nima: I want to make sure even though we’re talking a lot about aliens, we will continue to, that there is often another thread that runs through this pseudo archaeology, which is that cultures that couldn’t possibly be in contact were actually like, the same or, you know, which gets into this Atlantean idea, but, you know, you’ve you’ve actually noted in your own writing, David, that, you know, Ignatius Donnelly back in the 1880s made certain connections that were frankly dubious. Can you just talk a little bit about the kind of Mesoamerican or, you know, how Egypt and Mayan cultures have been conflated in these theories and how that serves to also, where does that come from and what is the impetus behind trying to make those connections?

David S. Anderson: There’s a little bit of this, you know, Donnelly did a lot of this, what we call now diffusionism, and Donnelly I would call a hyper diffusionist, where if you find one thing in the archaeological record, or you find red pottery, it’s like, well where did that red pottery come from? Oh, they have it here, but they had it here, it must have traveled from one place to another, it must have been invented in one place and diffused somewhere else. And that absolutely does happen. Donnelly took it to this totally extreme level. Ignatius Donnelly wrote a book in the 1880s called Atlantis: The Antediluvian World. This was the first book where he’s like, ‘I’m going to find Atlantis. I’m going to prove that Atlantis is real.’ There’s earlier discussions of it here and there, but this is the guy who sort of we can blame for a lot of things, but he knew he was very much feeding off of the fame of Heinrich Schliemann, who about 10 years earlier had allegedly found the Greek city of Troy and we still have archaeologists working at the site, the site is called Hisarlik, in modern day Turkey, and, you know, still sort of like, is it Troy? Is it not Troy? Kind of doesn’t matter, I feel like, but some people do feel like it is, and, you know, Troy derives from Greek tradition and Greek poetry and so there’s a very real sense that the wars presented in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey might be based in some reality, and so when Schliemann found Troy, people got really excited. And there are several folks who started saying like, ‘Well, if we could find Troy, maybe we could find Atlantis,’ which totally ignores that the, you know, where the story of Atlantis comes from is completely different from where the story of Troy comes from, and the one and only source for Atlantis is Plato. Plato was not a folklorist, or a collector of stories or a historian. Plato was a philosopher, and in virtually all of his dialogues, makes up examples to sort of demonstrate his points to his readers, and in two of his dialogues, Timaeus and Critias, he talks about Atlantis, and it’s a very clear, there’s so many details to break down, but it’s a very clear parable to the citizens of Athens to not be prideful, because if they were prideful, like the Atlanteans were, the gods will smack you down and destroy you. But obviously, Donnelly thinks, you know, he can’t find it, because it’s on the ocean floor. But he thinks that, well, maybe he can find the remnants of its existence, and so he starts looking at the archaeological record from around the world but it’s the 1880s, like archaeology, it’s still pretty new at that point, and basically, what a lot of his book comes down to is to say, ‘Well, Egypt has pyramids, and the Maya build pyramids,’ like it really pretty much that like, simple and he there’s moments in there, he’s like, ‘Well, the Egyptians had agriculture and the Maya had agriculture.’ They’re totally different plants, they’re different, they don’t grow the same things in the same environment. You know, at one point he says, ‘Well, Egyptians have writing and the Maya have writing.’ Yeah, totally different languages. It’s totally different structurally, different writing systems.

Nima: Different millennia.

David S. Anderson: Yeah, he didn’t totally know, but we absolutely know today is most of his Egyptian examples were like Old Kingdom pyramids, and most of his Maya examples were Classic period Maya, which basically means there’s also that 3,000 years in between sort of separating his examples as well as saying that they’re so similar. So he just goes above and beyond just like any basic level similarity must mean it has some sort of common origin and just the only possible answer is aliens. Predominantly, the only possible answer to the vague similarities was they had to come out of Atlantis. And this is stuck with us, this is what a lot of pseudo archaeological authors do to this day, where they find any similarity that they can and say like, ‘Well, that vague similarity must be absolute.’ One of my all time favorites, I don’t remember exactly where this org originated, but it’s all over the internet, you can find it to this day, there’s a really famous site, also in Turkey, Gobekli Tepe, that is very, very old, probably a temple site built by mobile hunter gatherers, and there’s some carved limestone uprights at this site that have various designs on them, and at one point, there’s sort of like a two U shaped designs that line in between them and it’s a relatively simplistic line drawing and somebody found a photo of an Australian Aboriginal that had a similar drawing on his chest, and they’re like, ‘Same, has to be the same.’ Forget that there’s like 12,000 years separating these images, and that they’re just line drawings. There’s this assumption, I feel like I hit this a lot, there was a brief Masonic joke earlier, but the Masons do a lot for me in this, there’s this assumption a lot of people have in the western world that symbols have inherent meanings that are fixed and never change, like symbols mean whatever we want them to me, and those meanings change constantly. But it’s this slew of packing all these things together, where it’s like any vague similarities, must be Atlantis or must be aliens in some way, shape, or form. And yeah, it echoes for us in so many ways.

Adam: It seems like discussing why there’s certain, for want of a better term, evolutionary convergence is so inherently interesting, because it does ask kind of questions about the axiomatic nature of humans, right? Like, why would we both develop, you know, agriculture this way? I mean, that seems like a sort of really fascinating question to find a common origin rather than just saying, ‘Oh, well, they clearly had an alien just skip over from South America to North Africa,’ right?

David S. Anderson: We need a neurologist because a lot of cultures do build symmetrical buildings and I’ll see like three doorways get used as examples all the time. There’s like this building has three doorways, this building has three doorways, they must be the same. We need a neurologist or somebody who can explain this better than I can, but it’s like people apparently really like symmetry, and there’s something human about that rather than extraterrestrial or conspiratorial.

Nima: Well, this is a perfect place for us to take a brief pause and implore those of you who are listening, if you enjoy the show, please do consider supporting us, you can go to Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast. Your support for the show keeps the show going. But that leads us into, Adam, our next amazing clip.

Adam: This is one of the ones I watched ironically, I used to watch Ancient Aliens ironically many, many years ago, there was basically like a gap in the record for two years of Leonardo da Vinci’s life, because obviously we don’t have documentation of everyone’s life from, you know, 500 years ago, ancient alien theorists believe — possibly, what if? — they put him in a wormhole to the future where he saw various inventions.

[Begin Clip]

Man #1: The story of the cave, it’s very likely that it happened around 14 A.D., since it appears that that is the moment at which this is written in the Codex. The fact that Leonardo chooses to record this encounter with the cave, I think indicates that it had a significant impact on the artist psychologically.

Narrator: But although the exact location of the cave and the date Leonardo discovered it remains unknown, there are many who believe that it may provide the key to understanding the source of the artist’s incredible genius. And the answer to the mystery of what happened to him during his missing two years.

Man #2: He goes inside the cave, then he disappears and it suggests to me time travel portals, he’s opening portals or stargates and beaming to either the past or the future and then returning to the present time.

Narrator: Is it really possible that Leonardo da Vinci may have obtained his incredible creative and scientific knowledge as the direct result of an extraterrestrial encounter? Or might Leonardo have fallen through a time portal, one which allowed him to actually visit the future, a future where robots, helicopters, military weapons, and other amazing machines actually existed, and which the artist would later try to duplicate?

[End Clip]

Adam: Obviously, there’s a ton of wrong with that. There’s a ton wrong with that, namely —

Nima: Everything.

Adam: Well, namely the idea that like, people can’t have certain insights. And actually, I want to ask you a question about the interview, if you’ll indulge me, one of the things I think it’s kind of annoying about these shows is that humans in the past, the assumption is that for the most part they’re just really dumb. They’re kind of stupefied. I know that temporalism or timeism is not a form of discrimination, but there is, I’m trying to find a better term for it, basically like, ‘Oh, they’re just old, and therefore they were stupid,’ and there is something like you talked about earlier about this sort of, there’s something bleak about that. There’s something very sad about that, how you view these moments of ingenuity or brilliance and then you dismiss it as aliens.

Nima: Yeah, you have to write it away, you have to write it out of human possibility.

Adam: Can you talk about this kind of temporal chauvinism?

David S. Anderson: Yeah, they’ve kicked back on this recently, which is sort of interesting. But there’s this fundamental assumption that no one could have figured out how to carve stone or move large stones without some sort of alien help even though we’ve seen people do these things all over the world time and time again, it is interesting, there is this sort of fundamental dismissal of human ingenuity, and you see it kind of with the diffusionism stuff as well, where it’s like when, especially when you get to this hyper diffusionism, like only once could somebody have invented anything, and then we must instead decide that that spread from there or that it was gifted by aliens or gifted by some lost civilization. Whereas what we obviously see in the world around us today is that people are endlessly creative and capable. It’s really strange, and is really sad, and I think one of the ways that I like to approach this too, I say to people, like, if you look at the pyramids, or you look at these monuments, and you think, ‘Oh, man, like, it’s so amazing, it couldn’t have been humans, it must have been aliens,’ guess what we can show you that it was the people and how much more amazing is that that people could do this?

Adam: Yeah, it’s way more amazing. Yeah, which I think what, sorry, before we move on past Ancient Aliens, we’d be remiss if we didn’t address the big elephant in the room, which is that these shows have their origins in racism. Now, you mentioned the racism of big archeology, that is its own problem, we’ll maybe discuss that a little bit, but discuss the racism inherent in much of this discourse, especially Chariots of the Gods and where those kinds of currents come from and talk about then talk about that if you would.

David S. Anderson: Baseline here is that if you look at their examples, you know, who needed alien help? Well, it wasn’t the Romans building the Colosseum, they don’t usually bring stuff like that in. It was usually indigenous populations in Africa, or in the Americas, or somewhere over in Asia. The vast majority of their examples come from non western cultures or cultures that are not traditionally tagged as white, and so it’s really, it’s subtle sometimes, and not everyone picks up on it, and that’s where like, you know, if you watch the show, you’re like, ‘Wow, that was really cool,’ it doesn’t make you a racist. But you know, if you look at the grand arc of all other examples that people like Erich von Daniken used, the TV show used, they will eventually go to non western cultures. Von Daniken got really explicit about this in the later ’70s, as his fame grew, I don’t know if he wasn’t being edited as much or if he just thought he could write more blatantly about this, but in some of his books in the later ’70s, he started including sort of explicitly racist language as well, there’s one line about the Black race being a failed alien experiment. There’s some really explicit stuff where it’s like, he’s not hiding what’s going on here anymore, he’s actually saying the quiet part out loud, he stopped doing that more or less since then, as he kind of realized maybe it wasn’t a good idea to say it out loud. There’s a big problem here where, you know, the vast majority of these things, the vast majority of all these things like the Atlantis stuff, the ancient alien stuff, a lot of it really gets its start in the 18th century, or sometimes in the 1800s, or sometimes the 1700s, where European colonialists started traveling around the world, and they would find monuments and they had profoundly pejorative views of indigenous peoples, and they would look at those monuments and they’d say, ‘Couldn’t be the locals, must be a last white race,’ and gradually, you know, we’ve seen that last white race literally be Atlantis sometimes or sometimes it’s been replaced by aliens instead, and so there’s a lot of ways where these claims are basically saying, you know, indigenous people of color couldn’t build anything on their own, and generally speaking, ignoring Europe.

Erich von Daniken in 1980. (United Archives)

Nima: Yeah, there must be some sort of jealousy there also because the ancestors of the discoverers didn’t leave lasting monuments of the same age, right? An engineering feat that then they saw elsewhere in, you know, global south or, you know, however you want to term it.

Adam: Yeah, people in Britain were you know —

Nima: They’re like, I guess it was Stonehenge but not a pyramid.

Adam: That’s bush league. I could do Stonehenge.

David S. Anderson: Well it’s like, people are perfectly happy to say, ‘Oh, medieval European cathedrals took generations to build,’ of course, you can do these complex buildings with simple tools. It’s actually one of my favorites, I know I mentioned to you guys but there’s a long clip in season one episode of Ancient Aliens I love, I make my students watch it all the time, is there’s this great interview with a sculptor who’s like, ‘They couldn’t possibly have carved the stones,’ at the very end of the interview, he’s like, ‘Well, it just would have taken a lot of time.’

Adam: Yeah.

Nima: (Laughs.) It’s like, yeah.

David S. Anderson: Yeah.

Adam: They had time, there wasn’t a lot going on.

Nima: They also threw a lot of people at it, right? I mean, there’s this whole element of forced labor, slaves built the pyramids, or you know, if you throw thousands of bodies over many, many years into doing something, that’s another thing that is then written away, right? When you have aliens just sort of be like, and then alien technology and alien blueprints taught these very receptive people to then build these things over time, and you completely skirt the idea of like, well, what were the power dynamics of those societies? Building like funeral monuments to Pharaohs is itself? I mean, there is a power structure there that’s not being investigated when you’re just like, ‘It was aliens who did this crazy thing.’

David S. Anderson: Ancient Aliens continues in science fiction through the ’20s and ’30s. Pulp fiction writers are writing about it regularly. In the ’40s and ’50s, comic book writers started picking it up. The whole idea that humans were guided by aliens, that aliens taught us architecture, that alien technology was magic, that aliens were gods. All of that stuff is a science fiction trope by the ’40s, 20 years before von Daniken claims it’s all real it’s been repeatedly used over and over again in science fiction. It’s really odd that this became believed by so many people, and I want to throw that out there actually too, because people always say, ‘Nobody believes it, they just want it for fun.’ We do actually have survey data, the best survey data and most recent survey data I have is from 2018, where in that survey, 42 percent of the respondents, Americans, said they agree or strongly agree that ancient alien contact actually happened. So I wave that number at other archaeologists all the time, where it’s like, almost half the country thinks we’re lying. That is a disciplinary problem.

Adam: Yeah, because these pop discourses do matter. You know, when we first talked about doing the show we always look at it like isn’t it kind of a little bit of low-hanging fruit? Or playing the game on easy mode? Because we try to take on big targets, but then you’re like, no, actually, you know, these are produced by large corporations, by Netflix, Warner Bros., A&E, they do permeate the culture because like you said, they contribute to a mindless skepticism of some of the scientific establishment, right? Not a thoughtful skepticism, not criticisms of institutional racism.

Nima: It could be fun, and also do that.

Adam: Right. Exactly.

Nima: The fact that it’s fun makes it spoonful of sugar style.

Adam: Correct. Because again, you want to be skeptical of institutions in some ways, but it has to be constructive skepticism or skepticism based in some kind of material reality, not totally batshit stuff, and I think this gets to the more recent iteration, more frustrating iteration of Graham Hancock, which I want to transition into now. This show has been immensely popular for Netflix.

Nima: Ancient Apocalypse, just to name check it.

David S. Anderson: Ancient Apocalypse.

Adam: Not to be confused with Ancient Aliens. I think the essence is not a coincidence and no pun intended.

David S. Anderson: Well, that’s his first book is Fingerprints of the Gods, like Chariots of the Gods, like he’s been echoing them all along.

Adam: So let’s talk about Graham Hancock, what his deal is, your relationship with his career in terms of your own personal kind of interest? What is his basic shtick?

David S. Anderson: The basic argument all along since the ’90s has been that there is this lost civilization from ten to twelve thousand years ago, he’s changed the date a few times, existed and just like we’ve been talking about, that it sort of brought wisdom to the world and that the reason we see similarities in architecture or art in different continents in different sites in different cultures all around the world is because they have a common origin in some way, shape or form in his lost civilization. He’s added new elements. Very interested in the Younger Dryas and whether or not the earth was hit by a comment during the Younger Dryas period, which is a period of cooling in earth’s history, he’s very interestingly, he mostly avoided the word Atlantis throughout most of his career, but in the show he opened up, ‘We’re looking for Atlantis,’ he’s usually avoided that. I can’t claim to get inside of his head, and figure out all of this, but this is the problem, and I don’t want to say this again, I know I said it earlier, but I became interested in archaeology by reading one of his books. That’s why I’m here. It’s why I got into archaeology. It’s what lit a fire under my butt and got me to learn more about this stuff. I am not a hater. I don’t want, I don’t think he’s a horrible person.

Adam: I’m a hater.

David S. Anderson: He’s gotten very bitter, at least recently, which is really sad to see. Fundamentally, his evidence is just not there, and this is one where it’s like, again, when I read the book, when I was 18, I’m like, oh, my God, this is so cool, and then I learned about all this stuff that he didn’t mention, right? He is cherry picking little tiny examples from one site and another site and saying, ‘Let’s look at these two examples,’ and ignore the tens of thousands of pieces of data that we have from pottery or stone tools and architecture and sites from all around these spaces. It’s really sad. I get really sad when I try to engage and talk with people who like his stuff, and sometimes when I can, their rhetoric has gotten really vitriolic, even before the show came out, but since the show came out. I have been on Twitter a lot less since that show came out because I don’t really feel like being called an asshole ten times a day, and it’s like, I’m glad you like him that great, he’s cherry picking a handful of examples and taking them out of context.

Adam: What do they say your motive is? Because oftentimes, not oftentimes, all the time they talk about the archaeology establishment, and you know, we pride ourselves on being a show that takes on the establishment, we hope a real one, not a sort of fake one. What is the motive from their perspective? I mean, I want to be generous here. Is it a cabal? Is it sort of groupthink? Is it like, I mean if someone had real proof of these kinds of earth shattering existential paradigm shifting theories why would quote-unquote “establishment” archaeology be resistant to it? Is it simply like too many careers are on the line? What’s the motivated reasoning here supposedly?

Nima: Wouldn’t that be the most exciting part of the gig?

David S. Anderson: Yeah, the argument he’s been pushing for years is that archaeologists have to maintain their paradigm, that they won’t look outside of their paradigm, that their careers depend on defending the established knowledge base, which is, again, this is one of these things that as I learned more about archaeology, as I met archaeologists and started to become one, was fundamentally false. The best thing I could ever find in my life as an archaeologist is something that challenges established opinion, because it gives me a reason to publish, it gives me something to talk about at conferences, it gets my name, I’m paid attention to.

Adam: It’s sexy.

David S. Anderson: It’s great. I’ve had two experiences with this, in a sense, where one of my very first article that I ever got published in an academic journal, it took about six months to get officially accepted, and it was accepted, and it was published, and I found out later from some folks of like, why did it take six months to get approved? And the answer was basically, nothing was controversial about it, it was just here’s some new data, there you go, and there was nothing for people to get upset about or excited about. And so we had a hard time getting reviewers. So, literally, as someone who one of my first articles was maintaining the status quo, I had a hard time getting it published, because it just maintained the status quo. And conversely, I’ve had some of the most fun in my career when I was in grad school, I was on a project where we were we were doing a survey in the Maya world, looking to find sites that hadn’t been documented before, and very randomly, one of the things we found, was we found a lot of ball courts, the Maya played a game where you have you bounce a rubber ball off your hip, and you bounce it back and forth, and you basically try not to drop it. And the vast majority of the literature on the ball game is elite focused. We have large architectural examples of these courts at big sites with nice fancy art and hieroglyphs and other things. But we found a whole bunch of ball courts at little tiny villages, and we found them at really old villages that were from what’s called the preclassic period. So these were probably about 500 BC, more or less, and all of a sudden, I had this landscape in front of me of little villages playing a ballgame and I had a new argument about community building and relationship building and how, you know, you can have conflict with one another and resolve that conflict without fighting one another, right? I’ve gotten, I’ve published probably more on that where I have challenged the status quo on, you know, how do we interpret and how do we understand the Maya ballgame than anything else on the Maya. There’s this argument that yeah, that archaeologists are defending the status quo, that if you want to be an archaeologist, if you want to get a job, if you want to stay in the career, that you cannot challenge mainstream archaeology, it is fundamentally ridiculous. You know, if there was evidence that Atlantis was real, I would happily champion that if there was evidence. I love science fiction. I bought a book, I mean, not remembering the name of it, it’s in my university office, not at home, but it was a recent book about the actual search for extraterrestrial life. What biologists found, what astronomers are finding, and it was one of these books from like, as soon as I heard about it, I want that book, I want there to be extraterrestrial life. It’d be amazing. It was such a boring book. It was like, yeah, the answer is we just don’t have any data. There’s very little data out there. If this stuff were true, I’d be the first person jumping up and down and saying, like, look, I’ve got this evidence, I’ve got this evidence. It doesn’t.

Nima: What you got to do is you got to claim that, you know, aliens taught the Mayans hacky sack.

David S. Anderson: That’s fine, like rubber. How else could they learn how to make rubber balls?

Nima: Yeah, let’s get to our Ancient Apocalypse clip. This is from episode 2, called “Survivor in a Time of Chaos,” in which again, Graham Hancock, whose work kind of lays the basis for all of this, he lays out his hypothesis, citing examples of shared mythologies among ancient cultures worldwide. This is part of what we’ve been talking about. He opens with a discussion of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl.

[Begin Clip]

Graham Hancock: The Legend of Quetzalcoatl has been told for generations, even down to today. We get a description of a heavily bearded individual but sounds a bit like a foreigner from across the ocean, and he brings the gifts of civilization. What I find so astonishing is how often we’ve heard this story from cultures that supposedly had no connection with ancient Mexico.

The setting is always the same, there has been a giant cataclysm, the world has been plunged into darkness, floods, chaos everywhere, society is collapsing, and then out of the darkness appears a figure who has knowledge of what is necessary to make a civilization, and that figure teaches the demoralized survivors of the cataclysm how to start civilization again. In ancient Greek mythology, it’s the Titan Prometheus, who after a great flood shares with humans the secret of fire. In the South American Andes, pre Inca civilizations describe a robed bearded figure named Viracocha, who emerged from a great lake and taught the local people how to create amazing works of masonry that still exist today. Even in the Pacific, Polynesian legends talk of Maori who created their islands by pulling them up from the ocean floor, and then taught the islanders to work with stone tools and to cook their food.

Archaeologists say that these civilizing heroes are just inventions of the ancients, elaborate fictions, and I find the similarities hard to ignore. What if these accounts describe this advanced civilization that was lost in the great cataclysms of flood and fire that we know occurred near the end of the last ice age?

[End Clip]

Adam: Why is he leering at me as the question?

Nima: Alright, let’s do it. Let’s cut it. There is so much there, that was so painful. I’m sorry, Dr. Anderson.

David S. Anderson: It makes me sad. It honestly makes me sad, where we’re taking human diversity and reducing it to this. Hancock has done this before. Many other authors have done this before. Flood myths, why do all cultures around the world have flood myths? It must mean they have a connection. What if the connection is that rivers flood and it’s scary as all get out when they do because they will destroy your town. The idea that multiple people have flood myths and therefore they must have a common origin just fundamentally denies the fact that floods happen in most places around the world and they are massively destructive. Of course, people have stories about cataclysms and floods.

Adam: And humans have a tendency to go around bodies of water.

David S. Anderson: Yeah because you need the water to live.

Adam: Therefore the water sometimes gets out of hand. Right.

Nima: Water falls from the sky sometimes too.

David S. Anderson: I’d love to see him pull his sources, but these ideas that Quetzalcoatl has a beard, that’s code for white. That is to say, well, he’s not indigenous, because we know indigenous populations have very light facial hair in the Americas, and so what he’s saying, you know, is that like, ‘Well, then a white person came to the Aztec.’

Adam: I believe that’s the Joseph Smith theory of events, if I’m not mistaken.

David S. Anderson: There’s some of that stuff going out there, he’s not the only person that has done this. That’s the thing is the idea that, you know, claims that Quetzalcoatl is a bearded white man, claims that Viracocha is a red haired, blue eyed white man. These are things that were made up in the 1800s by European colonialists.

Adam: A great deal of the Book of Mormon was semi-plagiarized from a contemporary science fiction book that was popular that I think had a similar thing where tribes of Israel went to North America, because everybody at that point, I think, was trying to retcon in some kind of biblical origin story of the United States, right? Not the sort of get off topic here, but to your point, this is a similar thing, the idea that whites came to North America and South America, it’s not a new idea.

David S. Anderson: There’s a huge amount of this with the myth in North America in the United States with the so-called myth of the mound builders, where there are earthen mounds all over the eastern half of the United States that were built by indigenous peoples, but settler colonialists looked at those mounds and said, ‘Well, that couldn’t be native people. They couldn’t have built that, it’s piled up earth, that’s too complex,’ and so there are all these myths of white races coming somehow from Europe or elsewhere, and building them and that later the indigenous peoples chased off in their inherent “savagery,” I’m putting quotes around savagery there, that in their inherent “savagery” that they chased off the mountain builders, and literally, that’s the excuse that Andrew Jackson gave for removing indigenous people to the west of the Mississippi that resulted in the Trail of Tears. In an address before the United States Congress, Andrew Jackson said that it was okay to remove indigenous people because it wasn’t their land, it was mound builder land, like this is old, 19th and 18th century racist ideology and he’s reusing it, and it’s like, this is what the internet and Twitter has gotten not to people calling Hancock racist, and I’m not calling him racist, I don’t think he’s doing this deliberately. I don’t, he’s not thinking, he’s so tied up in being right, and he’s been making the same claims since the ’90s that he doesn’t ever stop and think where did these ideas come from? What’s the actual evidence behind them? It’s really, as someone who got interested in archaeology because of one of his books, it just makes me sad that he has not stopped for a second to rethink any of these things.

Nima: Yeah, going back to the the idea of this, you know, again, symbolism, but in this case, bearded figures being, you know, white or European, you know, to that point, and to get back to Ignatius Donnelly, who we’ve been bringing up, you know, Hancock in his 1995 book, Fingerprints of the Gods, cites Donnelly, who was a US congressman, by the way.

Ignatius Donnelly (Minnesota Historical Society)

David S. Anderson: And ran for vice president.

Nima: And ran for vice president and Graham writes this, quote:

The road system and the sophisticated architecture had been ‘ancient in the time of the Incas,’ but that both ‘were the work of white, auburn-haired men’.

End quote.

Again, getting back to this, you know, diluvian idea kind of putting mythology into history into archaeology, Donnelly in his 1882 book, Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, which you had mentioned before, he, you know, suggests that an ancient civilization called Atlantis was destroyed by a flood, and that survivors then taught indigenous people the practices of agriculture and architecture, and Hancock draws on Donnelly all the time, and so you just see these ideas, you know, cycle again and again. And, you know, it’s not just from the 1880s to the 1990s, you’re now seeing this and this year, last year in these highly big money produced Netflix specials.

David S. Anderson: Yeah, it’s remarkable how little has changed in terms of allocation, you said, I mean, much of Hancock’s work is just echoing stuff that’s been said for ages, and at least when Donnelly was writing, like I will give Donnelly a little bit of credit, there wasn’t that much known in the western world about the Inca or the Maya or the Aztec. We know a lot now, there’s been tons of excavation and studies that have been done. There’s no excuse, you know, when he published that in ’95 there was absolutely no excuse to make that argument, and I don’t know if he’s tried, backpedaled that one at all since then, but you know, he’s not changed its fundamental thesis here in any way, shape, or form.

Adam: Yeah, I’m going to ask a rather ignorant question. I know, there are different kinds of, for want of a better term, atomic dating, I understand that’s developed quite a bit, I mean, it seems like if something’s 100,000 years old or whatever the number he throws out is, can we test that or have their ways of testing that?

David S. Anderson: Yeah, archaeological dating is complex, and it takes a lot of work and a lot of context to be able to get a good date. But we have radiocarbon dating, we have stratigraphic dating that we still use to this day. Archaeological dates are based on a lot of research, and I see people throw them out all the time. This is sort of very common. In Ancient Aliens, there’s always it’s like, ‘Well, here’s this from here and here’s that from there,’ and even in the clip we just watched where he’s talking about, you know, the Viracocha on the, in the South America and the Aztec, you know, there are chronological differences here. These aren’t moments and times and spaces that are happening at the same time. Ancient Aliens is great if that’s where they’re like, ‘Look at this, look at that site. Look at this site, you just traveled 5,000 years,’ and you’re claiming that’s all some scale. Archaeological dating is not simple and it does involve revision and dates are, you know, when new data comes in dates can be revised sometimes. But yeah, we don’t actually just make them up. There’s a real radiocarbon dating.

Adam: Well, for example, how do we know that the pyramids are 4,500 years old for our listeners? Wikipedia’s date, where does that come from?

David S. Anderson: In large part that is, you know, originally based on historical data, because we actually do have writing from Egypt that does mention the pyramids and have kings lists and whatnot that, you know, are dated through Egyptian calendar systems. But then there have also been radiocarbon dates done at the Giza plateau with neighboring structures or with organic materials found in the pyramids. Radiocarbon dating only works on organic materials, it’s measuring how much like all living organic materials have a certain amount of radiocarbon in them. That’s natural, that’s sort of a cycle of life thing that’s it’s in our atmosphere, and then sort of gets into all carbon based life forms, and so radiocarbon dating works by counting how much radiocarbon is left and an organic sample, and so what you’re really doing radiocarbon dating is dating how long ago something died, and so then we have to have some context where it’s like, okay, that tree died, you know, at this period of time, when is it being used to be built? And so yeah, there is always room for controversy, like this happens a lot in the desert Southwest where it’s so dry, and I’m sure it happens in Egypt too, but I don’t know specific examples, but in the desert Southwest, you’ll see, you know, a piece of wood being used as a house support, and that piece of wood might actually be a lot older than the house because when one house is abandoned or collapses, that it’s so dry, you can reuse the wood and so you can use it in the next house, and then the radiocarbon date then on that wood is much older than the actual house was and so we have to do a lot of contextual work like where is something found, what is it found in association with? But yeah, there are radiocarbon dates from Giza, there are historical dates that back this up, there are papyri that describe giza, blocks being delivered to Giza, like it is very firmly a part of Old Kingdom, Egypt history.

Adam: Egyptians were famous for being basically a nation of accountants, and that’s from an archaeology perspective. It’s helpful. Along with, I understand, the arid and dry climate is sort of a very good —

David S. Anderson: Oh yeah. I am glad, actually my spouse is also an archaeologist who works in Egypt and whenever I go over there with her I’m glad I don’t work there, and that I specifically mean that from a preservation perspective, it’s so dry in Egypt that, you know, they literally will excavate papyri out of the ground sometimes, these paper records that’s like, the Maya wrote a lot of books too and I love Maya books, there are only four of them that survived to this day, most of them were burned during the conquest. There is an additional one that was found in a ruler’s tomb at the site of Copan in Honduras, but it’s a pulpy mess, you know, it’s a humid tropical jungle. We will never be able to open that book up. We’ve got it, it’s there, we know what it is, never going to be able to open it up. And the things that survive in the desert, just, I wouldn’t have time to deal with all that data.

Adam: Right.

Nima: It’s too much good stuff.

David S. Anderson: Exactly.

Nima: I think, you know, my final question is are you super excited for the new Indiana Jones movie to come out?

David S. Anderson: Oh, no. I’m worried it’s going to be about Antikythera Mechanism and time travel. So we’ll see how far they go.

Nima: Well they did aliens last time.

David S. Anderson: They did aliens last time. Yeah.

Nima: And it was the worst thing and it doesn’t exist. It’s the Godfather III of the Indiana Jones series. It doesn’t exist.

Adam: That was the worst goddamn movie I’ve ever seen. I don’t think I’ve ever been let down more. I was so pumped up to go see that movie, and I walked out and you know, that initial first 20 minutes and you’re like in denial, and you’re like, it was okay, you get home, you’re like, that fucking suck.

Nima: It starts with a really good race there. Area 51 and then it turns.

David S. Anderson: Crystal skulls are amazing. And so that the fourth one is actually my favorite one to rag on because there’s lots of great actual paranormal and pseudo archaeological stuff in there that people have actually claimed. That’s what I’m, that’s why I’m really worried about The Dial of Destiny right now because four is full of, they hit on a lot of things that people actually claimed to be real in that movie. I do a whole extra on it in some of my classes sometimes where it’s like, here’s all these pieces that they’re pulling in there, and so I’m kind of worried about Dial of Destiny here where it’s like, I think they’re just going to jump down a well here and, you know, give me more grief to deal with the next however many years.

Nima: Well, if you are down with it, you’ve spent a lot of time with us already, so I hate to invite you back so soon, but feel free to come back on and talk to us about Indiana Jones and we will do a whole Indiana Jones episode.

David S. Anderson: We’ll see what Dial of Destiny gives us and go from there.

Adam: Sounds good.

Nima: But that will do it for this Citations Needed live show and beg-a-thon. Thank you everyone for tuning in, and an extra special thanks, of course, to our guest tonight, Dr. David S. Anderson, archaeologist and assistant professor at Radford University in Virginia. He specializes in the study of pseudoarchaeology and is the author of a forthcoming book, Weirding Archaeology: Unearthing the Strange Influences on the Popular Perception of Archaeology. Dr. Anderson, thank you so much for joining us today on Citations Needed.

David S. Anderson: Thank you both. Thank you, Nima. Thank you, Adam. And thank you to all you guys out there listening in. It’s a pleasure to talk to you.

Nima: And of course you can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, and, if you are not already, please do support us through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast. All your support through Patreon is so incredibly appreciated as we are 100 percent listener funded. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Citations Needed senior producer is Florence Barrau-Adams. Producer is Julianne Tveten. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Newsletter by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music is by Grandaddy. Thanks again, everyone. We’ll catch you next time.


This Citations Needed live Beg-A-Thon was recorded with a virtual audience on Wednesday, May 17, 2023, and released on Wednesday, May 24, 2023.

Transcription by Morgan McAslan.



Citations Needed

A podcast on media, power, PR, and the history of bullshit. Hosted by @WideAsleepNima and @adamjohnsonnyc.