When I was a kid back in the 1970s, I devoured a hugely popular book by the Swiss author Erich von Däniken called Chariots of the Gods. You may have read it too. His contention was that ancient monuments, carvings and stories clearly evidenced the presence of alien beings amongst us in ancient history.
One famous example in his book is a carving on the sarcophagus lid of the Mayan king Pakal Votan (603-683 CE). He was a long lived ruler in central America and Von Däniken speculated that the Mayan had experienced contact with superior alien technology (as the image above shows):
In the centre of that frame is a man sitting, bending forward. He has a mask on his nose, he uses his two hands to manipulate some controls, and the heel of his left foot is on a kind of pedal with different adjustments. The rear portion is separated from him; he is sitting on a complicated chair, and outside of this whole frame, you see a little flame like an exhaust.Chariot of the Gods – Erich Von Däniken
Von Däniken wasn’t the first person to speculate along these lines. Imagining contact between humans and creatures from outer space began to emerge in 19th century as the shackles of religion were thrown off and science increased our knowledge of the cosmos.
In 1897, the British author HG Wells wrote The War of the Worlds where resource hungry Martians invade southern England. A later movie version with Tom Cruise moved the action to the United States. But Wells imagined aliens as hostile and warlike with no interest in helping humanity. That jaundiced view of extraterrestrials has been hugely influential in science fiction ever since.
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But others conjectured a more benevolent relationship. Aliens as our friends and mentors. The most notable proponent of this view was a woman normally referred to as Madame Blavatsky (1831-1891 CE). She was convinced that humans in ancient history had made contact with highly advanced alien life forms on the planet Venus. Christianity, obsessed with putting humanity at the centre of the universe, had hushed this up.
It’s been hypothesised that there are stories in the bible that point to first contact with aliens and the inability of humans two thousand years ago to understand what they were seeing. So many of the visions of people ascending into the sky and fiery lights all relate to aliens and UFOs.
In popular culture the idea of more primitive species being influenced in weird ways by more advanced beings has even been dramatised in sci-fi classics such as Star Trek and Doctor Who. The Ridley Scott movie Prometheus also dabbles in the notion of an advanced species calling humanity into existence for its own dark purposes.
The belief in aliens creating humanity or turbo-charging our civilisation has been derided by a number of scientists including the late Carl Sagan. In a nutshell, they argue that the alien-human contact theorists are relying on a kind of “god of the gaps” intellectual approach. Where religious fundamentalists insert God into gaps in scientific knowledge, the first contact brigade place aliens.
Needless to say – opinions on this subject are sharply divided!