I made the mistake of not being near my remote control when one of The History Channel's infamous stupidities started to run. I wound up watching Ancient Aliens, a show about early people who "may have had contact with extraterrestrials."
If you are not familiar with the depths to which The "History" Channel has sunk, here is a quote from the "Ancient Aliens" episode about underground cities that I saw: "If there were extraterrestrials that visited Earth in the distant past, could they have looked like Ant People or Lizard People? The Answer is Yes."
Because of course the Hopi of Northern Arizona couldn't possibly have invented the image of lizard (or snake) people or ant people using just their imaginations! They must have seen some in order to create art like this!
Or... a human could have had sex with a lizard and created monstrous looking babies that got strung up like skinned goats. Sure, why not? And could a bunch of scifi geeks pull E.T. stories out of their asses rather than settle for natural explanations? Yep, methinks yep yep yep.
What sucked me into this show was a fascinating archaeological find I hadn't heard of before: Derinkuyu. It's an eleven-level underground city, fed by a natural water source and ventilated by an ingenious system. Or genius. The obvious answer to the question of why people would make such a place is to hide from invaders. A bunker. We still have them.
But oh nooo... bunkers are too vulnerable. So they propose that people from ca. 1000 BCE were hiding from the next ice age, having survived the last one of thousands of years ago or somehow knowing about it despite being very stupid. So... people can pass along memories over millenia, but they can't develop an engineering system. Or maybe they were hiding from sky aliens! Yeah, that's it!
Inevitably, they bring up Von Daniken, who popularized this ancient visitation theory and inspired a slew of crackpots who believe that they are brilliant but ancient people were stupid.
There are other "underground" people too, in Ecuador and the Yucatan. Besides claiming that these cultures have come up with ideas tha they couldn't have come up with on their own, they denigrate them by referring to legends as if they must certainly have been inspired by aliens.
The Mayans scared their people with images of animals and objects drawn from life: jaguars, bats, knifes, and possibly a river of blood. Was the cave that held these things created before or after the book that describes them? Does it really matter? The Book of the Jaguar Priests references a bunch of gods coming down from the sky (on a road, not from a space ship), ergo we should think there were E.T.s influencing these people. If there were E.T.s then why do the Mayans depict only animals they would have seen in their environment?
Why can't the Mayans have been inventive enough to come up with the idea of people in the sky without actually seeing some? The sky was pretty easy to observe but not very easy to understand. Almost every culture came up a population of sky people in their pantheons. The people of ancient cultures had the intelligence to transmit their knowledge via language, to organize into societies, to build large cities, cultivate land, and domesticate animals. They didn't have the knowledge or technology to explain the Cosmos correctly, but they did have the imagination to come up with satisfying stories. They didn't need any outside help. They were every bit as smart as we are.
The "Hollow Earth Theory" is introduced toward the end of the show, because of course you have to have seen the rest of the nonsense in order to be lulled into a properly gullible state of non-mind. Who is their authority for this? Edmond Halley. Yes, of course because we know his comet we should therefore believe all of his other (unsupported) ideas. Somehow there are huge openings into the middle of the Earth at each pole without all the water and ice falling into it. Verne's fanciful story, Journey to the Center of the Earth, comes up too of course.
How's this one? Admiral Byrd's plane flew over the North Pole was taken into the hole by a tractor beam and he got lectured to by aliens who are our protectors. Washington, D.C is hiding his secret by claiming he was really at the South Pole, not the North Pole. uhhh sure.
What really maes my blood boil is the assumption that modern people are capable of coming up with fleshed-out fairy tales but not people of thousands of years ago. Why believe it's impossible for ancient people in South America to make precisely built pyramids, but not for people in Egypt? Why take the position that people who could figure out how to make buildings above ground couldn't figure out how to make them underground? Anyone who has seen an animal burrow into the ground for protection could have come up with the idea of a bunker.
I want this hour of my life back, but at least I learned about Derinkuyu which is a pretty cool place. I wish the "History" channel would interview archaeologists and anthropologists and real historians instead of "UFOlogists" and other crackpots. You know, people who say "We don't know" and stop there.
As a history buff, I am frequently amazed and awed by stories of the accomplishments of people who have been dead for thousands of years. My reaction to their accomplishments is roughly parallel to the awe I feel when I learn something about the natural world. I don't need to add something supernatural or extra terrestrial to the story. I don't need to diminish the truth by putting some bigger mind to work on the problem. Early people were pretty darn amazing. They left behind some fabulous artifacts and intriguing mysteries. They also created us, so they couldn't have been that stupid.
Anyone who believes superstitions today is stupid, or at least lazy, but we can't assume that because people thousands of years ago believed in sky people that they didn't have the intelligence to carry out impressive building projects.