TV Clip A: Mega-Machines, cutting through solid rock; the transportation of multi-ton stone blocks; modern aircraft, carrying millions of people each day around the world; and space shuttles, sending humans to the stars …
Simultaneously in Background: Various demonstrative sound effects.
TV Clip A: …but are these examples of modern technology? Or is there evidence that these incredible achievements existed on earth thousands of years ago?
TV Clip B: …the great pyramid of Egypt. Built as a tomb for the Pharaoh Cheops, it’s made of two and a half million stone blocks, some of the biggest weigh up to eighty tons and were transported from quarries hundreds and hundreds of miles away. And that was a thousand years before the invention of the wheel. To Erich von Däniken, that posed a huge question. Not why the aliens didn’t give us the wheel, but another big question.
Blake Smith: Did ancient aliens come to earth and teach our ancestors powerful technologies? Ancient alien astronauts … on this episode of MonsterTalk.
Blake: Welcome to MonsterTalk, the science show about monsters. I’m Blake Smith and together with Karen Stollznow and Ben Radford, we talk about monsters, science and skepticism. On this episode of MonsterTalk we’re pleased to welcome back Dr. Ken Feder. Ken teaches Archaeology at Central Connecticut State University and was our guest previously on the very popular episode we had on Giants. Ken is the author of one of the best books that combine skepticism and archaeology and it’s called Frauds, Myths and Mysteries: Science & Pseudoscience in Archaeology. A link to this book will be in the show notes. If you can only have one skeptical book in your collection, I recommend you get The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan, but, if you can get two books in your collection the second book should be Ken’s book and if you can afford three or four books in your collection, Dr. Feder recommends that those also be his book. In all seriousness though, Ken’s book is a fabulous primer on understanding science, recognizing pseudoscience and engaging in archaeology empowered by critical thinking.
Blake: Now, growing up did you have any interest in ancient astronauts?
Dr. Karen Stollznow: Well… I guess I’m familiar with some of the notable books, like Chariots of the Gods, but no, I can’t say that it was something that was a particular concern to me at all.
Karen: I didn’t think I was a reptilian, or something…
Blake: Well, you know, I’m a big fan of monster movies and The Twilight Zone and one of the first things I saw, relative to this topic was a documentary hosted by Rod Serling, called In Search of Ancient Astronauts.
Blake: And In Search of Ancient Astronauts later went on to sort of spawn the TV show In Search Of.
Karen: I didn’t know that! So I should be very grateful, then.
Blake: Yeah, in the same sense that I am, which is that it had a huge cultural impact on exposing me to the paranormal.
Karen: Oh, me too, me too. It’s horribly unskeptical, but one of my favorite shows of all time. I think it’s the music and Nimoy…
Blake: And the Nimoy, yeah it’s got the Nimoy factor, so.
Karen: Yeah. And just some of the topics that they treat, like Coral Castle, that’s my favorite episode.
Blake: Yeah, and you say that, you mean Coral Castle not the host of the NPR [show], Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. [Laughter] (Editors note: Carl Kasell is the score keeper for that show.)
Karen: [Laughter] No, I don’t mean him. We should do an episode on that someday. I’m sure we can find someone to speak about it.
Blake: Yeah, I would…
Karen: Maybe me, I’ve done an investigation… [Laughter]
Blake: …Someone who’s looked into it… [Laughter]
Blake: So, ancient astronauts have been the fodder upon which many TV shows, books and stories and movies have come from, so…
Karen: Yeah, and I think it’s a sort of running theme for a lot of people, and I’m not sure if they’re always aware of where the ideas come from though, and the ideas do seem to be very scattered.
Blake: Yeah, the, I think the idea… and let’s just make the clarification, that we’re talking about ancient astronauts in the sense that, did ancient aliens come to Earth and impact, influence or manipulate the development of humankind.
Blake: And that would be different than panspermia which is the somewhat serious scientific theory that life on earth may have actually been seeded from another planet by way of, not so much a spaceship, but a meteor from a planet that had life, coming to Earth and sort of starting the process.
Karen: Yeah, I think they’re very different things.
Blake: Yeah, yeah, for sure. And within pop culture, one of my favorite authors is H. P. Lovecraft, and he really talked about that quite a bit, that aliens had come to Earth and not only did they create humans, but it was, like an accident. We’re not important, right. So a lot of his fiction involves the idea that humans who think there so great, discover that their place in the cosmos is tiny and insignificant.
Karen: But it was all fiction…
Blake: Oh, sure it was, tell yourself that…
Karen: [Laughter] Yeah.
Blake: …if it makes you sleep better. [Laughter] Yeah, he made it all up as fiction but I think his work was a direct response to the work of Albert Einstein, and the work that was going on with astronomers at the time. I think he personally found the idea that we were insignificant, literally, from a cosmological perspective, horrifying and wanted to use that idea in his fiction.
Karen: So, when did it turn woo?
Blake: Oh, when did it turn woo? I guess we can talk to our guest today, Dr. Ken Feder, about that, but my understanding is that the book called The Morning of the Magicians, was probably the first big treatise on the idea that we had been seeded by ancient astronauts who directly impacted us. But the guy who turned it all super-famous was of course, Erich von Däniken in his book Chariots of the Gods, which, last time I checked had over forty printings. That’s a lot.
Karen: A lot of damage.
Blake: [Laughter] Yeah, yeah, he really has had a huge impact. So we’ll get Dr. Feder on in just a moment and ask his some questions…
Karen: You’ll have to get out your editing tools as well, from what I hear.
Blake: Yeah, yeah, cause he’s a salty, salty, man. [Laughter]
Karen: We have to audit one of his classes sometime.
Blake: Wouldn’t that be fun? In fact, we’ve had so many people asking for him to come back and also so many people mentioning that they really thought it would be fun to take one of his classes so.
Karen: [Laughter] Back by request, then.
Blake: It looks like he’s available now, so let’s go ahead and call him in.
Blake: Hello, Dr. Feder?
Dr. Ken Feder: Yeah, it’s Kenny.
Blake: [Laughter] Hi, Kenny.
Ken: Don’t call me Dr. Feder for god’s sake. People who say, “Dr. Feder” in my presence, I look for my dad, cause he’s a Dr. Feder. So I think they’re talking to my dad, where the hell is he?
Blake: There you go.
Ken: So how we doing?
Blake: Good, good.
Ken: Is it hot where you live?
Blake: Yeah, that would actually mean I would have to go outside and find out.
Ken: Oh, you don’t want to do that.
Blake: I live in the cellar, and I don’t… [Laughter]
Ken: [Laughter] There you go! It’s, it’s… can I say this as forthrightly as I possibly can? It’s fucking hot here.
Blake: Our listeners would be disappointed if you didn’t say it that way.
Ken: Oh, alright… you know what? It’s fucking hot! What’s the Monty Python [line?] it’s hot enough to boil a monkey ‘s bum.
Karen: Whereabouts are you?
Karen: Whereabouts are you? In the country?
Blake: She’s from Australia, so she talks funny, so bear with us…
Ken: I had no idea what the fuck she was saying….
Karen: That’s really gonna help during this interview, isn’t it?
Ken: Absolutely, yes. So it’s Southern New England and we are, I guess, ten degrees cooler, than it is just a little bit south of here, Washington, D.C. and Virginia. It’s ridiculously hot there. Over 100, so… I’m really crabby.
Karen: Should we postpone the interview?
Ken: No, absolutely not… in fact, I’m better when I’m crabby, actually.
Ken: For sure.
Karen: Nastier, OK, good.
Ken: Absolutely [Laughter]
Blake: [Laughter] I guess we should get started talking about… the history of the literature.
Blake: So, we briefly talked about last time, the book, The Morning of the Magicians.
Ken: Right. Yeah, yeah, yeah!
Blake: But, I don’t think we spent that much time on what has become sort of, the superstar of the genre: Chariots of the Gods.
Ken: Absolutely. Good old Erich von Fucking Däniken.
Blake: So what can you tell us about Erich’s work or even The Morning of the Magicians if you want to talk about that?
Ken: Well, let me start with how I found out about von Däniken in the first place… I was off at college, right and I had to come home. It was maybe Thanksgiving, I was like a freshman in college, it was back in, what is it… like the late 60’s? Yeah, ‘69. My mother wouldn’t let me in the house with my hair, it was so crazy long and couldn’t get through doors and stuff. It was the 60’s, you know? I had to go get my hair done at like, it was actually a unisex hair salon, as opposed to barbershop. So it was cool, because it was the first time I’d ever had my hair done by a woman, I was like seventeen or sixteen and a half; and that was about the closest I had come to having sex (getting my hair done).
Karen: [Laughter] Yeah!
Ken: Getting my hair done… by a woman. In any event, she asked me, as they are wont to do, she asked me what I do? I said, “Oh I’m a college student.” “What do you study?” “I’m studying archaeology.” And her reaction was classic, typical, “Oh, I’ve always been interested in that. I tell my students that if you use that line, if you’re an accounting major and you’re trying to pick up a girl, and you say I’m an accounting major, they never say, they will never say, I’ve always been interested in accounting, just isn’t gonna happen! But archaeology, that’s good stuff, right! So, when I said I was an archeology student, her immediate reaction was, “Oh, I’ve always been interested in that, what do you think about this guy, who says that spacemen built the pyramids?”
Blake: You’re getting this rumbly sound.
Karen: Like wind or something.
Ken: You’re making me turn off the fan, I’m probably gonna pass out.
Blake: Yeah, I get the same problem, I’ve got my air-conditioner turned off just for this.
Ken: So how’s that? The other thing that’s making, sort of, noise is my computer.
Blake: No, we’re okay with that.
Karen: That’s fine.
Ken: We alright?
Blake: I hate to make you sweat, I really do.
Ken: Oh, you love it, come on.
Blake: It was just, it was like the best interview, and the shittiest sound quality, last time. [Laughter]
Karen: Yeah, I remember that.
Ken: Oh that’s right, that was totally horrible.
Blake: Our fans have been begging for you to come back.
Ken: Don’t encourage me, please.
Blake: …and they all promised they’d all buy 2 more copies of your book….
Ken: Oh my god! Maybe 3 or 4, they make excellent christmas presents, or whatever, you know, whatever holiday you want, they’re fantastic, absolutely!
Blake: Let me re-set the scene: So you’re in a chair and being aroused by a woman who’s touching your hair.
Ken: Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely!
Blake: She’s applauding your choice in education…
Blake: …and she asks, “what do you think about this guy who says that spacemen built the pyramids?” Now you got to understand, I’m lying down there, and this woman’s got like sharp implements in her hands, and I was concerned, because, I think she’s nuts, because I had never heard of such a silly thing. I said, “No, I actually had never heard about that, this guy who says that spacemen built the pyramids.” And then she says, “Oh, I thought you said you were an archaeologist?!”
Ken: I said, “Yeah, but I never heard that.” She said, “Oh well, everybody’s talking about it!” I said, “Well, I kind of doubt that there’s anything to it, but I will look into it.” And I kind of forgot about it, I went back to school, and it was a couple of months later. And it was the middle of the night and the radio was on in the background and it was just some local public station and a review came on, of a book called: Chariots of the Gods, by Erich von Däniken, a Swiss author, who said that spacemen built the pyramids. And I hear this, and I go, “Oh my god!” this hairstylist was referring to something that was real, and not just, sort of, in her hallucinatory haze, and I listened to it, and I said, “I’ve gotta get a copy of this book!” So, I ran out to a used bookstore and got a paperback copy of Chariots of the Gods. And I started thumbing through it, and, it was sort of the equivalent of… archaeological pornography… one of those things when you’re 16 and your buddy gives you some porn book and says, “Turn to any page, it’s awesome!” Well the von Däniken book was like that, turn to any page, and it was pure idiocy! And even as an undergraduate, taking a couple of courses in archaeology, but with long-standing history in it, I was turning pages and realizing, this guy, he has no idea what he’s talking about… this is just made up, this is stuff that people have known has been wrong for decades or even centuries. I read through the book and then I remembered something which was that back when I was in high school I had actually joined a paranormal book club where you get like four bucks for a buck and then you have to buy one or two other books and you’re done with ‘em, and one of the books that I selected as one of my four was a book called Morning of the Magicians, and I went back and looked at it after I had read von Däniken, and I said, “Oh my God! The stuff that I’m reading in von Däniken is cribbed right from Morning of the Magicians!”, which was a book very popular in Europe in the early 1960’s, translated into English in the middle to late 60’s and so it was about the time that von Däniken was writing Chariots of the Gods, the thing was being translated into dozens of languages and the interesting thing was that nowhere in Chariots of the Gods did von Däniken credit the authors of Morning of the Magicians as being the source of his ideas. Now, I don’t know that they were, but it was a pretty interesting coincidence if in fact he had not read Morning of the Magicians as a European and had sort of incorporated some of their ideas into his Chariots of the Gods.
Blake: Yeah, but it’s a pattern, right, because notice he didn’t credit the ancient Egyptians for building the pyramids, either. [Laughter]
Ken: [Laughter] Well, there you go.
Ken: Exactly so, right? It was just sort of crazy, so I actually then found out he was then working on another book, and I began collecting his books and similar books, that had the same theme that the archaeological record, what could only really be understood as a result of the direct, very personal, influence by extraterrestrial aliens, and I just decided that you know maybe I ought to look more into this and when I became a graduate student I still maintained this interest in sort of very fringe area archaeology and then when I became a professor, I actually walked into class one day, there I was, brand-new, first year teaching, and they told me I needed to teach a course that was called: Search—in Anthropology, and I said, “What does that mean?”, and they said, “It’s whatever the hell you want it to mean, teach them whatever you want…” And it was this very, very, low level introductory course and I walked in I asked my students, I said I don’t have a syllabus, tell me what you want to learn about. This is like 1977 and this is some years after von Däniken’s book it’s still really popular. And a bunch of the kids in the class said, “If this is a class about archeology, we want to learn about ancient astronauts!”
Blake: Sure… [Laughter]
Ken: …along with Atlantis, and a bunch of other stuff. So I said, “Okay, why the hell not?”, so I went back, pulled out all my Erich von Däniken and I read all the books again and that’s when I really started thinking seriously about, “What is it about these books, what are the major, primary themes?” And I was able to to extract three fundamental claims or themes or hypotheses if you want to call them that in von Däniken’s books. The first one I called the horny astronaut hypothesis…
Ken: …because, essentially what von Däniken was saying was, “Extraterrestrials, millions of years ago, couple of million years, three million years ago landed on earth they got out of their spaceship, and figure, even at the speed of light, if they could travel that fast, it’s a big universe, they’ve been cooped up in there a long time, they exit the spaceship and what’s the first thing they do, they start cruising for chicks! In von Däniken’s hypothesis, they actually find females (the spacemen are always spacemen), they find female primates they mate with them, and the mating results in the next step of evolution. Now, I used to love Star Trek a lot, and you know Kirk was sort of a dog, maybe these guys are all like Kirk, but, and I joke about this in class and only a few students object, it’s like if you’ve ever gone to a museum, where they have dioramas of human evolution or if you go online and you google Australopithecus, very often you’ll see an image of Lucy, who was about a three and a half million-year-old fossil from Eastern Africa, she’s maybe 4’ tall, weighed sixty pounds, and is a very early example of a bipedal hominid, of an individual walking upright the way we do and not on all fours like a chimpanzee or a gorilla. Now I don’t want to cast aspersions on Lucy, but she essentially looks like an upright chimpanzee. In other words, from a human perspective, not particularly attractive…
Blake: Yeah, but two things though, Ken. You gotta remember…
Ken: What’s that?
Blake: They already have the technology of liquor, and she was easy.
Ken: Listen I’m telling you, when von Däniken says that they mated with these critters, and that they kept coming back, and that every stage of human evolution that paleoanthropologists find is that next stage wrought by subsequent matings of extraterrestrials with these hominids… Earth got a reputation of being kind of a party planet…
Blake: Yeah, Yeah.
Ken: …and they would arrive and start boinking the hominids and the result was whatever the next step in evolution was.
Karen: OK, so we’re all descendants of aliens, then…
Ken: Absolutely, yes, oh, for sure, for sure! The funny thing is that, I think it was Carl Sagan, great spectacular thinker, he was interviewed about von Däniken, back in the 70’s and he said, about that hypothesis, ‘Look, as a human being or as a human ancestor you probably would be more successful…’, this is Carl talking, ‘…mating with a petunia, than with an extra terrestrial alien, because at least you and the petunia evolved on the same planet’. And, so the notion that a creature, you know, the Frog-Men of Alpha Centauri, could land here, have matching DNA, much less the matching physical parts, where they could mate with Australopithecus , and actually produce fertile offspring is just hilarious and yet it was one of the major themes in von Däniken’s books. Later on, he sort of backed off, well, maybe, he says, ‘it was an artificial mutation’, whatever the hell that means, they brought like a DNA lab here, to muck with our DNA, to produce the next stage in evolution, just pure, pure silliness. The second hypothesis, I call the Inkblot Hypothesis, and that deal was, you know the Rorschach test? You have this image, it’s ink, you fold it and you open it up and it’s this bizarre image, and there’s nothing really there, it’s all whatever is in your mind so your normal person looking at an ink blot whatever it looks like we’ll always say the first thing that comes to mind, a normal person will always say sex. No matter what it looks like, sex… that makes you normal. If you say a butterfly or a cloud, there’s clearly something wrong with you. von Däniken’s application of the Inkblot Hypothesis is, ‘Hey, look, whatever he sees on the cave wall that maybe it looks like a geometric pattern or some strange ghostly image. To his way of thinking, all of those are the result of our ancestors hiding behind a rock, secreted in a cave, they watch a rocket-ship land, they watch E.T. step out, walk around, get back in the rocket, fly away, and our ancestors are so amazed and astonished by this, they go immediately to that cave wall they paint this image. So, where archaeologists say ‘This looks a lot like a guy wearing a costume to make him appear to be a deer, we know people do that all over the world, or this looks like a person who, maybe is floating in the air because he’s a spirit’, in every case von Däniken interprets that as direct evidence of contacts between our ancestors and extraterrestrial aliens. I actually have a fun exercise to do with my students, open any of von Däniken’s books and you have to hide the caption where he tells you what it is. Now just using your imagination, what does that look like? And kids will say, “Well, that looks like a robot”, okay and that means we got extra terrestrial aliens. “And that looks like a ghost”, no’s maybe it’s an alien. “Well that one looks like an animal” No, no, no, it’s an alien! So if everything you look at you interpret through that lens, of course that’s what you see. The third hypothesis, to my way of thinking, is the most offensive and sort of silly of all, and that is the archaeological record, according to von Däniken, is filled with examples of technological leaps, of architectural, mathematical, agricultural, metallurgical sophistication that according to von Däniken, our ancestors were incapable of figuring out by themselves. This has actually been called by another anthropologist, John Omohundro, the Our Ancestors the Dummies Hypothesis. The way I phrase it, it’s like the extra terrestrial aliens are the Peace Corps, right. They land on Earth, they find a whole bunch of really dumb human ancestors and they have to teach us how to plant crops, how to smelt iron, how to develop an alphabet, how to make a calendar. Because, otherwise, we would still be getting stepped on by woolly mammoths and barely able to drag our knuckles along. In von Däniken’s opinion, all this cool stuff that archaeologists love to talk about, that you see on all the cable channels with the Sphinx and Pyramids, and Stonehenge, and a whole bunch of other stuff, Humans couldn’t have figured that out, that’s way too sophisticated, way too difficult. It’s the result of this extraterrestrial Peace Corps landing on Earth and teaching everybody, bringing everybody culture and civilization and changing our lives forever. That one, as an archaeology student, even in the late 60’s early 70’s I knew that was just [BLEEPING] stupid. And it continues to be. This notion, that our human ancestors just weren’t smart enough to figure stuff out on their own and they needed the Peace Corps, again, the frog-people from Alpha Centauri, to teach them how to do agriculture, math, calendars or build pyramids.
Blake: But do you have any opinions about it? [Laughter]
Ken: [Laughter] Everyday I have a different opinion about it, but, you know, stupid, dumb, idiotic, a different word every day. I have, like, a word calendar, and every day I have a different word for that hypothesis.
Karen: This is some worrying stuff to hear that you’ve encountered everyone from hairdressers through to undergrad students who believe this. Do you think this is indicative of the public perception of what archaeology is about?
Ken: The reason that’s a fantastic question is because I’ve actually done surveys, since the mid 1980’s, I’ve been asking students, mostly kids at my university but I’ve done surveys across the country, and people have used my surveys in other countries. [People] in the UK and in Canada have used my surveys and one of the questions asked is, “How do you respond to this notion that extraterrestrials helped our ancestors?”; and do you strongly agree, do you mildly agree, do you not know, do you mildly disagree, do you strongly disagree. The deal is the thing that’s, I don’t know if this is happy or sad, the United States tends to come out worse than other countries among those surveyed, and that generally speaking about a third of all of our students, either… not that many strongly agree, but the combined strongly agree & mildly agree it’s about a third. And that number doesn’t change very much through time. There’s also a very disturbingly high percentage of kids who go, “Uh, uh.. I don’t know….” like they have heard about this, they’ve thought about it, but they don’t know which side to come out on, and there’s a relatively small percentage, also about between 25% and 30% and 33% that combined strongly disagree and mildly disagree. The deal is that the cool thing, what was cool for me, was that over the last several years the numbers have been slowly declining in the agree, strongly agree, cause von Däniken has sort of become a non-issue, him personally. His books don’t sell nearly as well as they used to, at least not in the United States. But the Ancient Aliens series that’s on one of the cable channels, I think that that’s gonna change this. Now I hear a lot more from e-mails and a lot more from my own students, asking me about that show.
Blake: Yes, Giorgio Tsoukalos’ series.
Ken: I gotta be honest with you, the producer of that show asked me to participate. This is a couple years ago, I got an e-mail from him. Sometimes I get Emails from people who, they just know, I am a name associated with the topic, but they don’t know where I come down on it. So I fairly frequently get phone calls from people who want me to be on shows about Atlantis and their expectation is, you know, that I have been to Atlantis, I have talked to people on Atlantis, so when I tell them, “No, actually what I will tell you is that, the thing is entirely made up by Plato!”, they suddenly back off and suddenly they’re not so interested in interviewing me. But, in any event I got an e-mail from one of the producers of that series and my response was I’d be happy to be on your show but you should now that I think that the Ancient Astronaut Hypothesis is execrable bull shit, I haven’t heard back from them, rather remarkably. So, I guess maybe they’re not interested in the other point of view. But, Giorgio actually at some point, I was actually, I’ve never met him, but there was a National Geographic that I was on, an Is It Real? thing, on Ancient Astronauts and I was the beacon of sanity in the sea of madness, and Giorgio was on as well and Giorgio, he sent me a package of a whole bunch of stuff. And he wants me to come out to California, I guess the Ancient Astronaut Society out there, they have like a clubhouse, and he invited me to go. It started sounding a little bit too South Park-ish, for me, you know. The manly men all get together at the clubhouse and discuss Ancient Astronauts, so I begged off, but in the history of Archaeology, one of the first guys who claimed to be an Archaeologist, was, this is in the 1700’s, his name was Giovanni Battista Belzoni. And he was a guy who went to Egypt and dug up a whole lot of stuff and brought it back to Europe and sold it. And, I tell my students that Belzoni’s only training, he had no training as an Archaeologist, and in his previous life (meaning the job he had before he was an Archaeologist), he was a circus strongman, that was his training as an Archaeologist. Well, Giorgio, before he became this Ancient Astronaut guy, was a producer of weightlifting competitions. I see a curious connection there. If you go to Giorgio’s website at least last time I went, there’s a photo of him, arm in arm with Arnold Schwarzenegger at some weightlifting competition… [Laughter]
Ken: Maybe weightlifters and circus strongmen they become attracted to Archaeology for some bizarre reason. However I’ve never been a circus strongman and I do as little weightlifting as I possibly can.
Ken: Maybe I’m the exception that proves the rule.
Blake: Well you joke, but maybe there’s something to it, I’m strong and I can’t lift a pyramid block, so, how could anyone?
Ken: [Laughter] Yeah, exactly. So it must be levitation, or something like that.
Blake: Giorgio wants to debate you, so…
Ken: Oh my god. As long as he doesn’t want to arm wrestle me.
Blake: [Laughter] Well, if we could get both of you down here at Dragoncon, down here in Atlanta, we’d love to have that debate.
Ken: That’d be sort of scary, huh?
Blake: I bet it would be well attended and amusing.
Ken: Probably so.
Blake: He’s an interesting guy, for different reasons. But you both have really, and I’m just gonna say interesting, hair.
Ken: Well, listen, listen, people have pointed this out to me, so that, maybe there is something there. Maybe something with my aura has caused this to happen. Mine is earned, I gotta tell you, I was born this way. Well, not with it quite as white as it is now, but it’s always been this way. I do nothing to it, repeat, nothing to it. I don’t know how Giorgio gets his.
Karen: I’ve never seen your hair, what’s it look like?
Ken: It’s really curly, like…
Blake: Sideshow Bob!
Karen: I’ve got the visual.
Ken: Well I don’t know about that.
Blake Smith & Karen: [Laughter]
Ken: I’ve got an African-American colleague who’s got dreadlocks, he calls my hair a Jew-fro.
Blake: I’ve heard them before.
Ken: So, maybe that’s what it is, you know, it is what it is. It used to be sort of reddish-brown and then I went and made the mistake of having children, and they sucked all the brown out of it, it’s just white as white can be.
Blake: Yeah mine’s going fast.
Karen: Do you still get it cut by believers?
Ken: No, I let my wife do it for me. I take a shower, I go, “It’s getting long, cut it!”. And she doesn’t charge me hardly anything, so I’m okay with that.
Blake: We use the Ancient Astronaut’s technique of Flowbee, I can’t say more than that.
Ken: Oh, I remember that, absolutely.
Karen: So could we get specific and tell us about some of the claims about Ancient Astronauts?
Ken: We’ve talked about Pyramids, and I think Pyramids are a great example, cause everybody knows what a pyramid looks like. If you read von Däniken and all these ancient Astronaut guys say, effectively, the same thing, that the pyramids just sort of appeared overnight! Egyptians were sort of just barely eking out a living, tilling the land and then bam!, out of nowhere they’re building some of the most enormous architecturally sophisticated structures the world has ever seen. Things that you will hear them say, “We still can’t build a pyramid, even with our modern technology, but these primitive Egyptians, these primitive Africans were able to do it, of course they could’t do it, they must have had help from the outside!” We know a lot more about Ancient Egyptian architectural capacities today than we knew when von Däniken was writing, but even when von Däniken was writing Chariots of the Gods, we had a hell of better idea about pyramid building then he suggests. The deal is, the Pyramids did not suddenly appear, sort of perfect. Actually this is a really nice example, a nice exercise that I give my students in looking at the archaeological record and saying, “Can Archeologists tell when a technology is entirely aboriginal, is developed in situ (or in place) and contrast that with an instance in which the technology comes in from the outside?” And one of the ways we do that is we ask the question: “Are there the kind of halting, faltering, steps leading up to a perfection of that technology, do we see incremental steps, do we see mistakes, do we see trial and error, do we see uh-oh back to the drawing board?” When we see that, for whatever technology we’re talking about, if we’re talking about agriculture, or metallurgy, or pyramid building, when we see those halting, faltering, trial and errors, we know we are in the presence of an indigenous development, a sequence of slow and steady improvement. When we see a technology, again, whether it’s agriculture, or metallurgy, or if it relates to math, or a calendar system, or construction of a pyramid, if we see it literally just show up in a very, very short period of time, fully formed, fully developed, that’s when we as Archaeologists say you know it looks like this came in from somewhere else. I’ll give you a really lame example. I dig in Connecticut, we had our archaeology field school, we were out in the field for six weeks, and among the things we find in Connecticut is we find pottery, ceramics. The oldest pottery we find in Connecticut is 3000 years old, and it’s… it ain’t really fancy stuff but it’s, pretty much, a complete technology. In other words, we don’t see mistakes, we don’t see errors, we don’t see a slow and steady development. It just sort of bam!, shows up, and so we are more than willing to entertain the hypothesis that, you know, this 3000 year old pottery in Connecticut just sort of shows up, it looks a lot like the stuff in New York State, where we do see incremental steps in the development of ceramics, so we’re pretty confident that pottery making moved in as a technology fully formed into Connecticut around 3000 years ago. Now, if pyramids really did show up bam! instantly in Egypt we sure as hell would have to consider the possibility that that technology moved in from the outside. Now, of course, before we consider the Frog-People of Alpha Centauri we might consider the ziggurat builders of Mesopotamia who are building large, monumentally scaled, sort of pyramid-like structures a little before the Egyptians, we might consider them first, you know, Occam’s razor, let’s go with the simplest explanation. But we don’t even need to do that, because the notion that this technology kind of appeared fully formed is absolutely, categorically, totally, 100%, have I used enough qualifiers here?
Ken: Totally wrong! The earliest Egyptian Pharaohs, guys whose names we know on these Pharaoh lists, were buried in these one-story brick structures called Mastabas. They essentially are these large, sort of, rectangular buildings. There’s a fancy basement in which their coffins are placed, but the mastaba is a rectangular building, one story high, and over time these mastabas did get larger and larger; and then we come to the Pharaoh Djoser, who’s in the 3rd Dynasty. And apparently, he decides he wants something bigger and fancier. He doesn’t want just a mastaba, he wants something bigger and so his burial structure which is in a place called Sakkara, in Egypt, is in fact, sort of one mastaba superimposed over the other, with each one getting smaller. So, technically, it’s not a pyramid, because a pyramid should be what four triangles with a common apex, it needed a common apex. So its not like that, it’s called a step pyramid and so that first monumentally scaled tomb for a pharaoh is not very fancy, it’s kind of simple, it’s made mostly of brick or stones that kind of lean in on one another and that’s the first one of these. The next Pharaoh who decides that he wants something bigger and fancier than that, first they were gonna build him a huge set of tiered mastabas, right. That’s how they start, but somewhere along the line, his architect decided, “You know, if I fill in the steps, I can make something even more impressive!” That is, a real, true, very steep-sided pyramid. So that’s what’s started at place called Meidum. Here’s what happens: they get partway through the project and cracks start forming along the interior of the pyramid, it’s core, because the pyramid is way too steep. These guys, these architects, they’re working, this is seat of the pants stuff, they’ve never done this before, the engineers and architects of Egypt are working with new materials, working with a new kind of structure, they get partway done, and they abandon it. In fact, this pyramid today can be visited, and it’s called the Collapsed Pyramid. Because the thing was so badly done, it essentially… whether it was a catastrophic collapse, or not, nobody’s exactly sure… but they just sort of let it slump in on itself because it wasn’t working out. The next pyramid they build they try at a less steep angle, “Let’s make it a little gentler”, and they get about two-thirds of the way up and here’s another mistake that the architects and engineers made: the base of this pyramid three of the corners are on bedrock. A little bit of sand, bedrock underneath, so that’s not moving. The third corner, there’s no bedrock, it’s nothing but sand, so what happens is, as it’s getting heavier and heavier, and as they’re working their way up; the corner that’s on the soft sand starts to sink into the sand, and so it settles at a different rate than those corners that are on the bedrock and once again you start getting cracks in the pyramid core. In fact, it got so bad, that where the Pharaoh was gonna be buried, inside the core, it looked to the Egyptians like that whole thing was going to collapse, which would’ve been probably pretty bad for them when they had to tell Pharaoh, “Look, your burial chamber, it collapsed…”. They actually ended up trying to shore this thing up with large poles of cedar, to try to keep the thing open. Now, whether the Pharaoh saw this, and pitched a fit, and said, “No frickin way I’m getting buried in that! That’s crap!”, or if the engineers and architects said, “Ahh… we’re gonna tell the Pharaoh this ain’t a great idea.”, understand, they’re two-thirds of the way through, the thing is obviously not gonna work, they start building another pyramid, this is the third try for this poor pharaoh. Apparently they didn’t like the fact it looked like an abandoned construction site. They decided to finish it off, even though it would never be the eternal abode of the Pharaoh’s soul, they decided to finish it off. But they realized if they continued at the angle they were working on, the whole thing would collapse, so they actually change the angle of the top third of the pyramid. That’s why that pyramid is actually called the Bent Pyramid, because you look at and go, “Something is not right about that!” Yeah, cause they changed the angle of it, so it’s actually not a triangle. What is it, a trapezoid, or something? And it looks like hell, but, I guess it looks better than if they had just said, “Let’s walk away from this thing and leave it half-finished.” It’s the third pyramid in the sequence of three. You now what they did was they started this pyramid at the same angle as the top of the Bent Pyramid is. Which is about the angle that all subsequent Egyptian pyramids are built, which is like 45°. The original pyramid, the collapsed pyramid, they tried that sucker at, like, 70°. It was crazy, and of course the sharper that angle the steeper that angle, the more rock you need, and the heavier it’s gonna be. The Bent Pyramid, the lower part of it they started at 55°, that wasn’t right, they finally settled on about 45° which is… now, the Red Pyramid, the final pyramid in this sequence of three and all subsequent pyramids are built at that angle. Now that whole process from the big mastabas to the red pyramid and then to the three pyramids at Giza, that is the absolute pinnacle of pyramid construction, takes about four or five generations. It’s close to a hundred years. So, this notion, that you look at the Pyramids at Giza, the largest one, Khufu’s Pyramid, almost 500 feet high, its spectacular… it’s absolutely enormous, it’s extremely sophisticated. But that’s not the first one they built, it took them a hundred years to figure out how to build that sucker. People tell me, “Oh, but the Egyptians, their technology was so sophisticated!”. Yeah, it got that way, but what’s your other hypothesis? That ancient aliens arrived on Earth. Now these are guys who could build spaceships that can traverse the galaxy but they’re having trouble figure out how to pile up rocks so they don’t fall down. They built the pyramids? Screw that, man, I’m not getting in their spaceship if they can’t figure out how to build pyramids. It’s a really clear example of an archaeological record that shows the very human process of, “Hey, I got an idea, let’s try this, ah fuck, that doesn’t work…”
Ken: “…how ‘bout jamming a piece of wood in here, no that’s not gonna work, how about let’s change the angle, ah that looks like hell…” Finally, we get it after four or five generations of attempts. Well that’s a human process, that’s not extraterrestrials introducing a technology, that’s human beings figuring stuff out. It’s funny, our technology now progresses so enormously quickly that, when I show kids today my first generation iPod, they laugh at me. “Oh my god!. It’s so big, it’s so fat…”
Blake: How many of your 8-Tracks will it hold? [Laughter]
Ken: [Laughter] Yeah, there you go. And that’s not even 10 years, that kind of technological development. I do that in class, I show them the sequence of iPods. When you see something like that, would you believe that this was back-engineered from some extraterrestrial spacecraft? If the iPod Touch showed up bam! out of nowhere, with no antecedents, no steps, no sequence leading to it, then you might be able to say, “Gee, I wonder where that came from?” But you have this entire sequence of improved technology, of it getting better, faster, smaller. With the pyramids, they’re getting better, they’re probably doing it faster, they’re getting bigger, though! Hypotheses that rely on people being stupid and not working hard just don’t work!
Blake: You know this comes up in IT a lot, in computer work. I work with, well, I think I work with really smart people, and it doesn’t make you dumb if you believe this, but a lot of computer people think that computer technology must’ve come from reverse engineered stuff that happened at the Roswell Crash…
Ken: Right! [Laughter]
Blake: …Why, then, would would we reverse engineer this completely developed technology and start off with the most basic thing, vacuum tubes and then work up to the transistor and then work up to integrated circuitry and why would Moore’s Law exist? All these things don’t make any sense unless we’re actually developing it but, yeah, people underestimate us.
Ken: Yeah, you see that, too, when you look at (and I think this is hilarious, too) one of the artifacts von Däniken points to, I believe, in Chariots of the Gods, he makes a big deal of it, is the sarcophagus slab of the Maya king Pacal, who was the ruler of Palenque in the 7th century A.D. Pacal is one of the very few Maya kings who was actually buried in a pyramid. The Maya didn’t build pyramids like the Egyptians, they look different, the function’s different, sizes are different, the raw materials are different, but in this one case we got a Maya leader, a Maya Pharaoh, who’s buried in the pyramid. And he’s buried in a stone sarcophagus, and there’s a lid on top of it, it’s an image of Pacal and von Däniken says, “This looks like a spaceman!” The hilarious thing is, he shows his foot, and he says his foot is on some kind of pedal, like rockets are like driving a Volkswagon… Where’s the clutch?
Ken: What are you talking about? The funniest thing is, Pacal’s got this… according to all Mayanists, it’s a very elaborate headdress, you see this in a lot of Maya art, that the kings wore these feathered headdresses, but von Däniken says, “No, no , no! This is a communication device, and those are the antennas!” And I think to myself, I haven’t needed an antenna on a cell phone in ten years. We have progressed beyond needing antennas on cell phones, but apparently these extraterrestrials, they still needed antennas on their communication devices? And where are the iPads? The technology that we’ve developed, but that you never see in this art that’s supposed to be extraterrestrial aliens, but they’re all wearing spacesuits that look like… 1960’s Hamilton standard suits? It’s real anachronisms that our technology has already surpassed what these technologies are supposed to look like from aliens are supposed to be able to fly across the universe. It’s really pretty bizarre. I know that the guy, one of the key minds behind this notion that computers are back-engineered from some spacecraft; I believe he also claims that microwave ovens clearly couldn’t have been developed by people, but those also were on the spaceships, which I think is great. So here you have these guys in spaceships, and they can eat frozen food, microwavable food. My understanding when they did archaeology at the Roswell site, they found some trays that said microwave-safe. So, maybe that’s where we got microwave ovens from, too.
Karen: [Laughter] So what are some forms of evidence for these ancient astronauts that are claimed?
Ken: Well, the Maya calendar, that’s a big issue now. There was a show on yesterday, about all of these folks making a ton of money selling stuff to prepare you for the end of the universe into 2012, which is really pretty funny, because the real extreme 2012 guys say, It’s not just that Earth is gonna suffer catastrophic earthquakes, but the whole universe is gonna end . The whole universe is just gonna wink out. So, getting a bomb shelter and getting a whole lot of freeze-dried food… I don’t think that’s gonna help a lot, but nevertheless the Maya did have a very sophisticated calendar. They don’t predict the end of everything in 2012, it’s just the end of one of their cycles of time, and their expectation was the world would continue, just a new cycle of time would continue on the next day. The Maya developed a concept of zero, they had a base 20 numbering system, and again, you can see in the archaeological record the very slow, incremental development of their writing system, of their number system, of their math and of their calendars. But you will find the Ancient Astronaut crowd essentially saying, “How could a primitive…” and they use that term, unabashedly, “…a primitive, simple, jungle people have developed a sophisticated calendar?” And it’s insulting to people, it’s insulting to the Maya, it’s insulting to our ancient ancestors altogether. How could people have developed metallurgy? We know that metallurgy was developed in several parts of the world, we have a pretty good idea of how it was done. Some of the earliest copper artifacts don’t involve any metallurgy at all, the copper is found in a virtually 100% pure state, as the element Copper and people figured out, “Well, if you bang this stuff, it doesn’t break like rock but it molds to shapes. So we can make spear-points and we can make necklaces and we can make armor out of these pieces of copper.” And in all likelihood they found seams of copper and when they melted those seams of copper, to get the copper out, the copper became…. um… other stuff melted into the copper, and they realized it makes the copper harder, or better, and that’s how bronze was developed. They figured out okay we can do that and than they did the same thing with Iron. And again we have this over thousands of years, this, again, trial and error, fits and starts and yet you have the Ancient Astronaut crowd saying, “Oh, no, they couldn’t have figured out that metallurgy, it must’ve been brought to them by Ancient astronauts. Interestingly, then the astronauts started people with copper, then moved us up to bronze and eventually iron… How come they didn’t just give us iron? Why does that process look so much like individual people figuring stuff out? Essentially that’s at the core of all of this. They really don’t know, they’re ignorant of the simple archaeological sequences that lead archeologists to believe that these things were developed indigenously by people over a long period of time.
Blake: I think people who play the game Civilization would probably be inclined to find this whole thing ridiculous, cause you have to work so hard to develop these technologies. But there’s certain little things that this crowd has picked on that they find to be anachronistic. Can we talk about a few of these little items? I’ve got a list here, if you’ll just give your quick impression of these things…
Blake: Okay, number one the Antikythera mechanism.
Ken: Again, my god! How old is that mechanism? It dates to Greek times, doesn’t it?
Ken: The Greeks were pretty goddamned smart people. And the fact that they were able to figure out gearings, and it’s a sophisticated piece of equipment, there are a number of folks who study this and are not particularly surprised that the Greeks were able to figure this out. The Greeks figured out the size of the Earth. They knew the world wasn’t flat, the Greeks had a philosopher who figured out that maybe all of matter is made up by this single, indivisible, particle called an atom! So, either, this is more evidence of extraterrestrials introducing atomic theory and teaching the Greeks how to figure out the size of the Earth, along with this mechanism; or else you start thinking maybe they were just pretty damn smart! This feeling that because people lived in the past that they necessarily were not as smart as we are… these guys were as smart as we are, their brains are as big as ours, have as many connections as ours, they just lived in a period before our own. My guess is, the average American can’t program their DVR, but the average ancient Greek probably could, if they only had one. So, again, merely saying, “Wow, that’s really sophisticated!” isn’t an argument, at all.
Karen: And what about the Baghdad battery?
Ken: [Laughter] Aha, the Baghdad battery… My favorite treatment of the Baghdad battery is from Mythbusters, where they did everything they could and maybe, maybe you could like, electroplate something, but that was about it. They could not produce nearly enough voltage to do much of anything. I have an experimental archaeology class where people have gone through the whole process of making replica Baghdad batteries and these things never amount to anything. My larger argument is, okay, let’s say they were able to produce electricity and maybe that’s something that the Mesopotamians couldn’t have done on their own, maybe that’s something that was introduced from the outside. An archaeologist is always going to look at an artifact like that and say, “Okay, what’s the overall context?” If you are telling me that maybe this battery was used as a way to illuminate, say, the interior of a pyramid, so they actually had light bulbs, so they used electricity, they had electric light. Okay, that’s a great hypothesis. Light bulbs break, archaeologists find glass from light bulbs, do we ever find those in archaeological site of the time of the Baghdad battery? No, we don’t. How about the wires? How about the way of moving electricity from that battery to whatever this light source is? Do we ever find copper wire any way of moving those electrons along? No, we never find that. How about any artistic depictions that clearly show illuminating lights? No, we never find any of those. so the overall context is… Well, there is no context! So the Baghdad battery is a really cool one off. How exactly it was used, not sure. It certainly is not beyond the capability of people mucking around with chemistry a couple of thousand years ago, and figuring wow, this actually does something, this electroplates an object. But even that, there’s no evidence of that electroplating in any archaeological artifact. Archaeologists base everything we say, ultimately, on the material record, on physical evidence. Now, without physical evidence other than the fact we have this interesting artifact, the rest is all just pure speculation. So, the Baghdad battery, sorry, ain’t gonna, that doesn’t fly.
Blake: How about the sicara bird and the two gold airplanes they found in South America?
Ken: Those are incredibly interesting, they look a lot like birds don’t they?
Blake: Yeah! But they might could fly, I saw on television.
Ken: There you go. In other words, let’s simply apply Occam’s razor. Look, if you have multiple possible explanations for something, let’s go with the one that requires the fewest other assumptions; until and unless we have some evidence showing that hypothesis doesn’t work. It’s kind of like, when I talk to a creationist and I say, “Well, there are dinosaur bones.”, and the creationist says, “Yes, but the devil could have put them there to fool people like you into thinking there was such a thing as evolution!” And I say, “You know, you’re right! That could explain it, but your explanation requires a devil, a devil who wants to fool me personally. And a devil who can create the bones of animals who never existed and then put them in solid rock!” There are a lot of assumptions there. All I’m assuming is you got bones, you got animals. That’s it! My hypothesis requires fewer assumptions. So if you’ve got something that kind of looks like a bird, and somebody says, “Yeah, but it also looks like a plane!” My assumption, my hypothesis that it’s a bird, assumes that people saw birds thought they were cool and made artistic depictions of birds. You’re assumption, your hypothesis that it’s an airplane, requires so many absolutely unsupported assertions, that until you’ve got some hard evidence that extraterrestrials were here, and, by the way, with airplanes… (did their rockets need the wings, are they flying the Space Shuttle?) … not quite sure. But until you’ve got some hard evidence for that, let’s go with the simpler explanation which is probably artistic depictions of birds.
Karen: And how about the Crystal Skulls?
Ken: Crystal Skulls, I recommend highly, Archaeology Magazine did an article on them in the last five years, right after the Indiana Jones & the Crystal Skull movie came out and the bottom line is you can show, with absolute certainty, that every one of those is a fake. Every single one! When you look at these things very carefully under a microscope, you find evidence of a lapidary wheel, you find evidence of a power tool having been used, to carve these things out. So maybe they still signal the doom of the world, I don’t know about that, but they were all made in the 19th Century.
Blake: They sure seem to signal the doom of the Indiana Jones series.
Ken: Yeah, that kind of sucked, didn’t it?
Blake: Yeah, it really did.
Ken: I’m convinced they’re gonna do another one where Harrison Ford is gonna be in a walker, chasing Nazis, or something.
Blake: Yeah, they need Nazis. They should’ve done an Atlantis episode. That would have been much better.
Ken: Oh, absolutely! They could still do it.
Blake: They’ll do a retcon and undo four completely. You did a really good job of introducing some of the archaeological method, here. Could you just give a brief overview? I imagine there could be somebody listening to this show who’s been thinking about, “Should I become an Archaeologist?” And what kind of things do real archaeologists do to find answers to questions like this?
Ken: If you’re gonna be an Archaeologist, the things you have to love are dirt, you gotta love dirt. Cause you’re gonna be in dirt a lot. You can’t be bothered by scorpions, snakes, mosquitoes, ticks, whiny students who think it’s too hot and humid to go dig… If that stuff bothers you, don’t go into archaeology. One of the interesting things that I have found, and I haven’t performed like, a formal, statistical analysis of this, but when you ask most people I know who have jobs, real jobs, “What got you interested in what you do?” In becoming a doctor, in being an engineer, or being a teacher. Most people came to this at some point when they were, maybe in high school, maybe in college, didn’t know exactly what they were going to do, what would interest them. Finally, when they begin taking some courses, they honed in on the particular major that became their profession. That’s not the case with most of the people I know who went into archaeology. Most archaeologists, you ask ‘em, “When did you become interested in Archaeology?” They’ll tell you, “When I was four, I went outside and dug a hole and I found a piece of glass, and I thought, woah!” And then you read in a book that people will pay you to go play in the dirt and find cool shit! When students want a single sentence definition of Archaeology and they don’t want something very sophisticated, I tell them, “Archaeology is about digging up cool shit!” And they look at me and I say, “Write that down, that will definitely be on the exam!” Because that’s what we do. Some of my colleagues don’t like to admit that, because they want to be like really serious scientists and answer questions about culture and civilization and that’s true, we do want to do that, but the bottom line is we get really hooked digging up cool shit! A woman in my class, in my field school, she’s in her mid-thirties, got a couple of kids, she’s always been interested in Archaeology, never had the opportunity to do it, is now going back to school, her kids are old enough, they’re in school. She was digging in her little one meter square and she had this was a soapstone quarry. 3000 year-old quarry, where the native people of northwestern Connecticut were quarrying Steatite, soft stone in order to make vessels and she found a part of the vessel. She was very excited by that and part of the vessel was broken. The handle had broken off and as she’s excavating, she finds the broken handle. And the woman begins to weep.
Ken: I go, “What’s wrong?” She goes, “You don’t understand. I’m touching this thing and 3000 years ago that’s the last time a human being working on this broke it, probably said, ‘Oh, fuck!’ in their language, and abandoned it. And now 3000 years later I get to make that direct connection to a person who’s been gone for 3000 years” That’s pretty awesome, that ability to do that, to actually hold in your hand something that somebody from 500 years ago, 1000 years ago, 10,000 years ago, 1,000,000 years ago, that kind of direct connection and then to wonder. I tell students it’s like, imagine the world is a time capsule. If you were doing a time capsule the things you would put in how would you feel if 1000 years after you’re dead, somebody has your photo album or a cd with your favorite songs or your iPod or whatever. And they’re wondering who that person was who left that behind 1000’s of years ago. For an Archaeologist, the world’s our time capsule. People, not intentionally, in most cases, burials are intentional, but, people left behind stuff, they lost they threw it away. In our case, at this site 3000 years later we are able to think about those people to hold something in our hand left behind by them. I’m not sure that there’s any such thing as real immortality, where you die and you wake up again somewhere else, but one way that people become immortal is through the stuff they make and use and leave behind, because we get to dig that stuff up, we get to think about who those people were, what were their lives like, how were they different from us, how were they the same as us? How did they respond to the challenges of environmental change? People been doing that for, literally millions of years we’re not the first people to be faced with environmental change. How did other people deal with that? How did other people deal with pollution? We’re not the first people to have to deal with environmental degradation other people have screwed up their environments in the past. We do it much better than they did, we’re more sophisticated, but other people have screwed up their farmland, have screwed up the air, have screwed up their surroundings and had to deal with it. How did they manage that, or are we (our culture) doomed to extinction just like heirs became extinct? It’s that kind of a direct connection to our ultimate roots, that is just so cool, about archaeology.
Blake: I love the Venus of Willendorf, because it shows even 20,000 years ago guys were still chubby chasers. [Laughter]
Ken: I heard this brilliant lecture on the Venus figurines, where this woman was saying, “Well, there’s the whole Playboy hypothesis” That, you know, these things were sort of paleo-porn that guys get in the cave and go, ‘Ooh, check this out. Oh my God!!” or it’s a fertility symbol, look this is a symbol of this woman who is obviously pregnant and very healthy and she will give birth to many babies, and then there’s a woman archaeologist who says that these are all self-portraits that women are looking at their own bodies saying aren’t we beautiful!
Ken: It’s one of those deals where as an Archaeologist I have to step back and say these are all really interesting hypotheses, we may never know, it may be the whole chubby chaser thing, I’m not gonna say…. [Laughter]
Blake: I was joking… [Laughter]
Karen: No you weren’t [Laughter]
Ken: For people who get pissed at that they will know that Kenny is not the guy who brought that up, right?
Blake: That’s true, right!
Ken: You can leave your e-mail address at the end of this. I joke about it, but I will often get, now, based on this show and other shows that I’ve done, I will receive e-mails. Some very nice, people like, “I’d love to take a class with you.” But I also get e-mails from people who clearly are living in their parents basement and have nothing better to do than bitch about this stuff. I literally had one e-mail with this guy, who just went on and on based on some some show that I did, about I was an asshole and a shit-head and a jerk and I didn’t know anything. And at the very end of he goes, “Don’t bother responding, this is my mom’s e-mail account” [Laughter]
Karen: [Laughter] Says it all.
Ken: I’m expecting not to get any of those from your listeners, but you can get those.
Blake: Yeah, we will.
Karen: We’ll enjoy them.
Blake: We get really good e-mails.
Karen: So, Ken, what’s your favorite monster nowadays?
Ken: My favorite monster for a while was the Chupacabra, but it really isn’t anymore. Ben Radford has written a wonderful book on the Chupacabra where he’s completely just killed it for me. Now the latest one though, is, I understand that Alaska has its own Loch Ness Monster. So that’s one of the new things, there’s like a sea creature, there’s a video. I got a question for you guys, cause you deal with monsters all the time, right?
Ken: What is it about monsters that somehow screws up the focusing mechanisms on digital cameras?
Blake: That’s a really good question.
Karen: We can’t answer that, though.
Karen: In all these years
Ken: What is that? It’s so frequent, that when these guys are taking these pictures… number one, they can never hold the frickin’ things steady. Is it because they’re scared? Are they shaking so much? And they never can focus the goddamned thing.
Blake: It’s magic, Ken, it’s magic.
Ken: It really is kind of amazing. So, I don’t know, my favorite monster… I love ‘em all. I’d hate to have to choose one, it’d be like choosing between my kids.
Blake Smith & Karen: Umm, umm…
Blake: That was our next question, which is your favorite kid? [Laughter]
Ken: There you go. Well it wouldn’t be one of my own. Somebody else’s. That’s fair, right.
Blake: Makes good sense.
Karen: That’s honest.
Ken: How come, whenever I watch those monster hunting shows on TV, how do you get a television show where you never actually find what you’re looking for? How does that work?
Blake: Tell me about it.
Ken: Have you seen the South Park episode where they did the little thing about the ghost hunters, where these guys pee themselves?
Blake: Yes. [Laughter]
Ken: They interpret it as some sort of ectoplasm. [Laughter] And it’s one of the boys, when they’re going crazy, he says basically, “Are you fucking kidding me?” And that’s basically how I respond to these shows. I don’t have a representative sample by any means, but most of the college kids I know, some of whom are not as skeptical as they ought to be, do tell me that those monster hunting shows are the stupidest things they’ve ever seen. So, even they recognize, c’mon guys. You’re out in the woods, you got that really cool equipment, you got the swiss army knife, you got the really cool cammo going on and I saw one recently where they kept referring to the area as “it’s really Squatchy”, I think?
Blake: Finding Bigfoot, it’s really Squatchy out here! Ken, they got a second season out of that show! They’re pulling a second season, no joke.
Ken: They should be finding something by now, you kind of wish they would.
Blake: I think what they’ve found is that people like to watch to make fun of the people on the show…
Karen: We can hope…
Blake: Well, a former guest on the show, Matt Crowley came on and talked to us about it. He saw it was trending, so he clicked on the trending to watch and see what was happening on Twitter, and it was “Oh my god, these people are idiots, are you kidding me? [Laughter]
Ken: Listen, if people get entertained that way, it’s fine, I guess.
Blake: I grew up on a Gilligan’s Island but I didn’t pretend it was real.
Ken: No, no, no, that’s real. That’s one of my favorite Dick Cavett lines, was at some point after he had sort of lost his show, they asked him what he was working on, and he said, “A comedy version of Gilligan’s Island.”
Blake: That’s a good line. [Laughter]
Blake: So what’s next for Ken? What are you working on, are you doing a book?
Ken: I just got through a field school, all this cool stuff, from the 3000 year old site, but the big thing I’m working on is, the working title is Archaeological Odysseys, 50 sites in the United States you should see before you die. Lame and cliché, but effectively what I’m trying to do is put together a list of publicly…
Blake: An Archaeologist bucket list. [Laughter]
Ken: You are not the first person to bring that up.
Blake: I bet that joke pails in comparison, pails, pales….
Ken: Yeah, I got that. Pails in comparison. I will leave it at that. In any event…
Ken: …this really cool project. Sites that are open to the public. Places that you really should go to see, because seeing in person the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde, seeing in person the huge Earth Pyramid at Cahokia, seeing in person the pictographs and petroglyphs in Dinosaur National Monument. Those are the kind of things that people who do travel, who do touristy things around the country, these are really cool places to visit because you get to see what our human ancestors were able to do up close and personal. The cool thing about the project is that, of course if I’m gonna include a site, I have to go see the site. So I have been over the last couple of years, every chance I get, traveling to these places, I’m talking to park rangers and talking to archaeologists and getting as much information about these sites as I can, taking lots of pictures and sort of winnowing out some of the ones that aren’t gonna make the list and trying to get a nice, good, 50 that are spread out across the country. These things have to be visually arresting, can’t just be, well, in this field was a really important site, you can’t see anything here now, but trust us, it was really cool. These have to be places where anybody, you don’t have to be an Archaeologist, would go and you go, “Wow! That’s really impressive, that’s gorgeous, that’s all mysterious and then talk about this is what it means, this is who built these things, this is how old these places are. So it’s kind of a travel guide/time travel guide, let’s call it that. We go off to see some sites in August.
Blake: Is my hometown still in there, the Etowah Indian Mounds?
Ken: Oh, yeah, Etowah’s definitely in there…
Ken: Odawa’s a spectacular site, we did a whole run through the southeast. There’s Moundville, there’s Crystal River in Florida, there’s Kolomoki mounds, Town Creek Mounds up in North Carolina. The southeast has a spectacular array of these really impressive mound sites where Native American… some of these guys were in fact, at the tail end of their existence were encountered by DeSoto, the Spanish explorer who wrote about some of these large sites, these huge Indian cities. I’ve been frustrated time and time again by how little people know about the prehistoric past of our own country. So you talk to kids in high school they’ve heard of the pyramids, they’ve heard of Stonehenge, when you ask about Etowah and you talk about Cahokia, Mesa Verde, they look at you like, “What are you talking about?” Cahokia, which is the largest Native American population center north of the Rio Grande, prehistorically, the site may have had 10,000 or 20,000 people, two hundred earth pyramids, one of the pyramids they built is, by volume, the fifth largest in the world. That includes all the Egyptian pyramids, the Mesoamerican pyramids. I was there, I first visited Cahokia, I don’t know, 30 years ago and when I asked the guy at the hotel in St Louis, cause it’s near St. Louis, how can I get to Cahokia, he looked at me, he didn’t know what I was talking about and he’s like 20 miles away from the place. And when I told him, the big Indian site, he leaned over and said, “Oh, sir, they’re haven’t been any indians around here in years!” [Laughter]
Ken: Holy Shit! At that moment I decided I have to tell people about these spectacular sites, some of which are in their own backyards, open to the public, cool museums, cool places to visit. Where you can, firsthand, experience a little piece of that past. So I’m hoping to be able to do that.
Karen: Great idea…
Blake: I’m looking forward to it, so let us know when it’s finished, Okay?
Ken: Absolutely, and most people, when you buy a copy of Frauds [Frauds, Myths and Mysteries: Science & Pseudoscience in Archaeology], probably you should buy a copy of that book when it comes out too, so you’ll have a matched set.
Blake: That’s true. Thanks again for coming to talk to us.
Ken: Oh, it’s always a blast, guys, I always have a lot of fun.
Karen: Thank you.
Ken: I cursed a lot less and it wasn’t intentional, I’m sorry!
Blake: Oh, no! [Laughter]
Karen: [Laughter] There will be another time.
Blake: I’m sure we can think of something else to talk about.
Ken: Fuck Yeah! [Laughter]
[Voiceover: MonsterTalk!]Blake: Thanks for listening to another episode of MonsterTalk!, today you heard an interview with Dr. Ken Feder about ancient astronauts. The interview was conducted by myself, Blake Smith, and Dr. Karen Stollznow. Ben Radford our regular co-host, will be back soon. As a humanist, the idea that space aliens traveled across the galaxy to teach our ancestors to stack rocks is highly offensive to me. Archaeologists have demonstrated that our ancestors developed powerful technologies to create the great monuments of antiquity, and it is an insult to their ingenuity to write off those great works as hack work done by space god’s. MonsterTalk! is presented by Skeptic Magazine, if you enjoy the show, you can support it by subscribing to Skeptic Magazine, subscribing to eSkeptic, by donating a few dollars at our website, MonsterTalk.org, by writing a review for us on iTunes, by joining our Facebook group (just search MonsterTalk on Facebook), or just by telling your friends about the show. The MonsterTalk! Theme music is by Peach Stealing Monkeys and is used by permission. Thanks you so much for listening to this episode.
Blake: Today’s episode was also brought to you by David Rodriguez, who was generous enough to give us a donation. I bet you thought I’d forgotten about you, David. Totally didn’t!
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