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Chariots of the Gods?

Humans, no matter what generation, have always loved a good implausible theory. Nobody actually ever SAW a dragon in medieval times, but that didn't stop the hordes from believing fervently in their existence. A comprehensive sonar scan of Loch Ness revealed no evidence of elasmosaurs, yet sightings and fuzzy photos are still produced. And long lines in Peru's deserts could only mean one thing: ancient astronaut airstrips.

In 1968, Swiss author Erich von Daniken published a book with a question mark at the end of its title that many of its readers felt should have been replaced with an exclamation point. The world was going UFO-crazy about that time, and an official Air Force study, Project Blue Book, was still in operation, investigating unknown aerial phenomena. What a great time to publish a theory that ancient artifacts suggest that we were visited by aliens long ago.

The book was a controversial smash success. Proponents and detractors alike bought copies to examine the evidence von Daniken had amassed.

Basically, his opinion was that many of the great creations of the ancient world were beyond the capability of ancient man. He must have had some extraterrestrial help. Evidence of this included a 16th century Turkish map that allegedly showed the presence of Antarctica. Another artifact that defied explanation was the Antikythera mechanism, apparently a metal geared analog computer from ancient Greece.

Other ancient accomplishments that needed alien help to pull off include Stonehenge, the Easter Island statues, Egypt's pyramids, and the aforementioned Nazca lines.

As expected, such stretched reasoning was pooh-poohed by the experts, and embraced by much of the general public.

Von Daniken's allegagtions were, in many cases, quite easy to refute. He showed "ancient" pottery depicting space ships which were revealed to have been made for him by a potter he had hired. A non-rusting iron pillar of unknown origin in India was found to be rusty, and obviously man-made. Plus, his theories were based on his assumption that ancient peoples were savages incapable of anything but the crudest attempts at engineering.

Further digging and experimentation has revealed that the Great Pyramids of Egypt could have been assembled quite handily with a combination of the engineering expertise of their day and a supply of labor. Drawing extremely straight, long lines on the desert floor is not as difficult as von Daniken asserted. And the question of why ancient peoples would create such phenomena which can be best seen only from high overhead, it turns out that a perfectly plausible answer is "well, why not?"

But there's no doubt that the book was a fun read. And it certainly stirred the pot, causing much more archaeological studies to be done in the name of debunking, which has proven beneficial for science as a whole. And it's also a pretty cool memory for us kids who grew up in the Baby Boomer era.

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