The Myth of Ancient Human Flight

golden flyerIn the world of Ancient Aliens there are many questionable theories and ideas, and while most have generated a good deal of support among fans, there’s one that’s allowed a particular Ancient Alien Theorist to cash in on the internet’s obsession with trinkets.

The Golden Flyer pin or pendant, as is peddled by Georgio Tsoukalos on his website Legendary Times Books, is an homage to his theory that ancient peoples, with the help of aliens, were able to fly.  This, of course, is not supported by archaeological findings.

While not exclusive to Tsoukalos this theory gained much of its popularity following a segment of the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens which originally aired on April 20, 2010 (Ancient Aliens – Episode 1, Season 1: The Evidence).  Basically, the theory says (as you might imagine) that aliens visited our ancestors in the distant past and taught them how to build and fly various types of aircraft.

In that episode the ancient aliens team investigated several artefacts and documents that supposedly show examples of ancient flight, from Indian Vimanas (mythological flying machines described in Sanskrit epics) to Egyptian and pre-ancient aliensColumbian iconographic representations that supposedly depict actual ancient aircraft.  Well, the Golden Flyer is an incarnation of the latter.

The Golden Flyer, as it is now commonly known, is an example of pre-Columbian Incan funerary artwork and it is, among its counterparts, almost unanimously held by archaeologists to be the stylized depiction of reptiles, birds, insects and other animals.  They are most often made of gold, which makes dating them difficult, but most experts agree that they were made somewhere between 500-800 CE.  While ancient, they are relatively common, with several examples held in both private and public collections.  Though, to be clear, Tsoukalos’ Golden Flyer is a replica, as is the version he is peddling (in case the lapel pin mechanism fooled you).

Tsoukalos and his followers point to the aerodynamic structure of the flyer and its apparent stabilizing tail fin as proof that this cannot be an insect or a bird, because neither insects nor birds have such features.  As was suggested on the show by Tsoukalos, UFO Hunters (also on the History Channel) undertook to replicate the flyerin wood to see how well it

An Incan Golden Fish
An Incan Golden Fish

would fly.  Using a sort of catapult type device they launched their model and achieved some measure of success, though even the most non-aerodynamic block of wood will fly for a short while when flung out of a launcher.

These little gold trinkets are not alone in their supposed depiction of ancient airplanes though.  Discovered in 1898 in Saqqara, Egypt a model of a bird was found in an ancient tomb, and like the Incan artefacts it has been the focus of ancient alien theorists who claim that it cannot be a depiction of a bird, because it’s clearly an aircraft.  Unfortunately, that’s the really the extent of their argument in both cases.  Based on a visual inspection of the piece in question, they grandly declare that these things cannot be what mainstream science says they are, because they closely resemble modern airplanes.

The Saqqara model is thought, by some credulous Aerospace Engineers, to be a scaled down version of an ancient glider that could have been propelled by giant catapults, even though no evidence of such catapults exists.

HelicopterCartoucheThere’s also the Egyptian “Pharaoh’s Helicopter” hieroglyph (scientifically known as the Abydos-Hieroglyph), which shows what admittedly looks very much like a modern helicopter, but is actually an ancient hieroglyphic typo caused by re-carving or over-carving of hieroglyphic symbols that have the cumulative effect of providing a distorted view of the intended message, as has been confirmed by several prominent Egyptologists.

ABYDOS2
A depiction of how additions and modifications to existing hieroglyphs can result in familiar images.

The Abydos-Hieroglyph demonstrates the main culprit of this ancient alien problem – amateur interpretation of complex archaeological subjects.  Something one might call cultural-chauvinism presents itself when those who are less familiar with the historical and cultural significance of various stylizations that are found in such artefacts take it upon themselves to interpret the meaning of such items.  The untrained eye will automatically draw parallels between observed characteristics and modern culture, when such comparisons are highly questionable and unfounded in the context of the ancient culture in question.

Basically, people tend to interpret things using the iconography of their own modern paradigm, rather than seeing the artefact in line with the views and customs of the artefacts makers. Often the amateur will ignore elements of original cultural significance in order to classify an object or image according to their own cultural ideology.  As is the case with the Saqqara bird, wherein the model’s carved eyes and bird-like beak are often completely overlooked in favour of the ancient aircraft theory.

This may be why so many people are jumping on board the ancient alien bandwagon.  The counter-intuitive nature of much ancient culture, especially when compared to modern culture is confusing and misleading, and perhaps this should be pointed out as a flaw in modern science reporting.  If scientists were more interested in popularizing their results, maybe these types of misunderstandings would disappear.  Unfortunately for the masses, much of science, and in particular archaeology, doesn’t lend itself well to public understanding, what with the need for much higher education and all, and the need to actually look into these issues rather than blindly following the theorising of unqualified nut bags (myself excluded!)

To be fair though, there is something to be admired in viewing things differently than the establishment, in fact this is how progress is made, but to ignore accepted wisdom is to blindly accept credulity.

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