The paleocontact hypothesis: The origin of ancient astronaut theory

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The paleocontact hypothesis, also called the ancient astronaut hypothesis, is a concept originally proposed by Mathest M. Agrest, Henri Lhote and others at a serious academic level and often put forward in pseudoscientific and pseudohistorical literature since the 1960s that advanced aliens have played an influential role in past human affairs.

Sky People: This ancient stone figure, found at the Mayan ruins in Tikal, Guatemala, resembles a modern-day astronaut in a space helmet.
Sky People: This ancient stone figure, found at the Mayan ruins in Tikal, Guatemala, resembles a modern-day astronaut in a space helmet. © Image Credit: Pinterest

His most outspoken and commercially successful defender was the writer Erich von Däniken, Although the idea is not unreasonable in principle (see the Guardian hypothesis and alien artifacts), there is not enough substantial evidence to confirm it. Nevertheless when examining specific statements in detail, it is usually possible to find other, more exotic explanations. In this case, we are talking about the Dogon tribe and their remarkable knowledge about the star Sirius.

Matest M. Agrest (1915-2005)

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Mates Mendelevich Agrest was a Russian Empire-born mathematician and a proponent of the ancient astronaut theory. © Image Credit: Babelio

Mathest Mendelevich Agrest was an ethnologist and mathematician of Russian origin, who in 1959 suggested that some monuments of past cultures on Earth arose as a result of contact with an extraterrestrial race. His writings, together with those of several other scientists, such as the French archaeologist Henri Lhote, provided a platform for the paleocontact hypothesis, which was later popularized and sensationally published in the books of Erich von Däniken and his imitators.

Born in Mogilev, Belarus, Agrest graduated from Leningrad University in 1938 and received his Ph.D. in 1946. He became the head of the university laboratory in 1970. He retired in 1992 and emigrated to the United States. Agrest amazed his colleagues in 1959 with his claim that the giant terrace at Baalbek in Lebanon was used as a launch pad for spacecraft and that the destruction of the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah (twin cities in ancient Palestine on the Jordan plain) was caused by a nuclear explosion. His son, Mikhail Agrest, defended equally unconventional views.

In Lebanon, at an altitude of approximately 1,170 meters in Beqaa valley stands the famous Baalbek or known in Roman times as Heliopolis. Baalbek is an ancient site that has been used since the Bronze Age with a history of at least 9,000 years, according to evidence found during the German archaeological expedition in 1898. Baalbek was an ancient Phoenician city that was named by the name of the sky God Baal. Legend has it that Baalbek was the place where Baal first arrived on Earth and thus ancient alien theorists suggest that the initial building was probably built as a platform to be used for sky God Baal to 'land' and 'take off'. If you look at the picture it becomes obvious that different civilizations have built different parts of what is now known as Heliopolis. However beyond theories, the actual purpose of this structure as well as who has built it are completely unknown. Massive stone blocks have been used with the largest of the stones to be approximately 1,500 tons. Those are the largest building blocks that have ever existed in the whole world.
In Lebanon, at an altitude of approximately 1,170 meters in Beqaa valley stands the famous Baalbek or known in Roman times as Heliopolis. Baalbek is an ancient site that has been used since the Bronze Age with a history of at least 9,000 years, according to evidence found during the German archaeological expedition in 1898. Baalbek was an ancient Phoenician city that was named by the name of the sky God Baal. Legend has it that Baalbek was the place where Baal first arrived on Earth and thus ancient alien theorists suggest that the initial building was probably built as a platform to be used for sky God Baal to ‘land’ and ‘take off’. If you look at the picture it becomes obvious that different civilizations have built different parts of what is now known as Heliopolis. However beyond theories, the actual purpose of this structure as well as who has built it are completely unknown. Massive stone blocks have been used with the largest of the stones to be approximately 1,500 tons. Those are the largest building blocks that have ever existed in the whole world. © Image Credit: Hiddenincatour.com

Mikhail Agrest was a lecturer in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the College of Charleston, South Carolina, and the son of Matesta Agrest. Following the tradition of his father to seek explanations for some unusual terrestrial events from the point of view of extraterrestrial intelligence, he interpreted the Tunguska phenomenon as an explosion of an alien spaceship. This idea was supported by Felix Siegel from the Moscow Aviation Institute, who suggested that the object made controlled maneuvers before falling.

Erich von Däniken (1935–)

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Erich Anton Paul von Däniken is a Swiss author of several books which make claims about extraterrestrial influences on early human culture, including the best-selling Chariots of the Gods?, published in 1968. © Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Erich von Däniken is a Swiss author of several bestsellers, starting with “Erinnerungen an die Zukunft” (1968, translated in 1969 as “Chariots of the Gods?”), which promote the hypothesis of paleocontact. To mainstream scientists, while the basic thesis about past alien visits is not implausible, the evidence he and others have gathered to support their case is in suspect and undisciplined. Nevertheless, von Däniken’s works have sold millions of copies and testify to the sincere desire of many enthusiastic people to believe in intelligent life beyond the Earth.

Just as Adamski’s popular, as well as supposedly non-fictional books, answered the needs of millions of people to believe in an extraterrestrial hypothesis at a time when nuclear war seemed inevitable (see the “Cold War” related to UFO reports), so von Däniken, more than a decade later, was able to temporarily fill the spiritual vacuum with their stories about ancient astronauts and godlike wisdom visitors coming from the stars.

Henri Lhote (1903-1991)

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Henri Lhote was a French explorer, ethnographer, and discoverer of prehistoric cave art. He is credited with the discovery of an assembly of 800 or more works of primitive art in a remote region of Algeria on the edge of the Sahara desert. © Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Henri Lhote was a French ethnologist and researcher who discovered important rock carvings at Tassili-n-Ajera in central Sahara and wrote about them in Search of Tassili frescoes, first published in France in 1958. The curious figure reproduced in this book was named Lot Jabbaren, “the great Martian god.”

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The oldest among the drawings are of exaggerated large, rounds heads and appear to be very schematic. The style of these illustrations is called “round-heads”. After some time, the images evolved – bodies became longer, purple paint was replaced by red and yellow, however, the form of the heads still remained circular. It was as if the artists had seen something that caught their attention. © Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
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This “God” very closely resembled a paleo-astronaut in a space suit. © Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Although it turned out that this photograph and other images of strange appearance actually depict ordinary people in ritual masks and costumes, the popular press wrote a lot about this early hypothesis of paleocontact, and later it was borrowed by Erich von Däniken as part of his sensational statements about “ancient astronauts”.


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