IF YOU'RE LIKE ME, WATCHING THE HISTORY CHANNEL'S Ancient Aliens show for more than a few minutes requires great mental endurance. I find myself making snide comments under my breath and being generally agitated at the reckless way they sell their unique version of history.
So when I decided to make a documentary film detailing the errors of Ancient Aliens I knew I was in for some intellectual torture--that is, I would have to watch every episode in each of the four seasons of this awful show and catalogue all the ridiculous things they said and at what time signature they said it. It was brutal. However, in time I came to appreciate their masterful use of logical fallacies, their manipulative video edits, and their polished script --all of which, no doubt, have been instrumental in the success not just of the show but in the propagation of the so-called "ancient astronaut theory" to the general public.
Ancient Aliens isn't solely to blame for the increasing belief in ancient astronauts; films such as Knowing and Prometheus have certainly played a role as well. In addition, the books of Zecharia Sitchin and Erich van Daniken, progenitors of the theory, have sold millions of copies since the late 1970s. Therefore, it is no surprise that a recent Scripps poll said that a full third of adults believe it is either "very likely" or "somewhat likely" that intelligent aliens from space have visited our planet.
In this article, I would like to detail some of what I found in my research for the film. You can watch the film at: http://www.skeptic.com/reading_ room/ancient-aliens-debunked/. [Editor's note: Chris White's excellent debunking film included commentary on Noah's flood that many of our readers found suspect, so we commissioned our Religion Editor Tim Callahan and our resident geologist and paleontologist Donald Prothero to provide rebuttals to this portion of the film, which we include in an article that follows this one.]
One area that I researched extensively in preparation for this film was ancient stone working techniques. This was important to do because many of the claims of ancient astronaut theorists center on megalithic sites such as the pyramids, Baalbek in Lebanon, Easter Island and similar monuments. The idea, of course, is that in their opinion, the monuments were too difficult for mankind to build, and therefore ... it must have been aliens. [Editor's note: This is the argument from ignorance, also known as the argument from personal incredulity--because I cannot think of a natural or terrestrial explanation ... there must be a supernatural or extraterrestrial explanation.]
During my research I found that many of these cultures cut and shaped stones in a similar way and, what's more, it's actually very easy to prove.
One of the basic ancient techniques used to quarry large blocks of stone was to simply chip the rock out with hammer stones. The hammer stones needed to be harder than the rock they were quarrying--for example diorite was used to quarry granite. In almost every case, the hammer stones used for this are found in large numbers in the quarries. The claims made by Ancient Aliens--that diamond saws or alien lasers were the only way to get the job done are debunked by these little smoking guns.
Ancient stone workers would line their workers up side by side to cut a groove around the rock in the quarry. Of course, they would be chipping only millimeters of stone away at a time, but eventually trough-like depressions would develop. We do not have to guess about this because you can see examples of these troughs around the huge unfinished obelisk in Aswan, Egypt, which was apparently abandoned during the process because of a large crack.
You can also see the same kind of trough created in the quarrying process at Easter Island surrounding some of the stone heads (Moai) that were likewise still in the quarry. …