I titled this portion Setting the Stage for an important reason. This is exactly what von Daniken is doing in his second chapter, When Our Spaceships Landed on Earth. He begins the chapter with an introduction in space travel and our then-current abilities to do so. The scenario he is setting is simple: We develop a spacecraft able to travel to a distant sun in around 150 years (since this book was released in 1970, that would place this event around 2120).
“The spaceship would be as big as a present-day ocean liner and would therefore have a launching weight of about 100,000 tons with a fuel load of 99,800 tons, i.e., an effective payload of 200 tons.”
He follows with a paragraph focusing on predictions made by scientists during that time, believing the future will give us rocket motors powered by nuclear fusion, the possibility of the development of a “photon rocket” with the ability to travel close to the speed of light. At this point, we should all be aware of what he’s implying: If we can do it, why can’t another alien race?
He reinforces this wonder with an appeal to lesser “wonders,” by writing,
“An idea that really makes the mind reel. But we who are on the threshold of a new age should remember that the giant strides in technology which our grandfathers experienced were just as staggering in their day: the railways, electricity, telegraphy, the first car, the first airplane. We ourselves heard music in the air for the first time; we see color TV; we saw the first launching of spaceships, and American astronauts actually walking on the moon; and we get news and pictures from satellites that revolve around the earth.”
He does go a bit off the deep end by ending that paragraph with,
“Our children’s children will go on interstellar journeys and carry out cosmic research in the universities.”
I don’t think we should expect that.
He then continues this hypothetical situation with these imaginary astronauts fixing their position on a planet similar to ours. He writes,
“Let us assume, then, that the planet chosen to land on is similar to the earth. I have already said that this assumption is by no means impossible. Let us also venture the supposition that the civilization of the planet visited is in about the same state of development as the earth was 8,000 years ago. Of course, this would all have been confirmed by the instruments on board the spaceship long before the landing. Naturally our space travelers have also picked on a landing site that lies close to a supply of fissionable matter. Their instruments show quickly and reliably in which mountain ranges uranium can be found.”
And then he begins to elaborate on his true intention of this chapter. He writes,
“Our space travelers see beings making stone tools; they see them hunting and killing game by throwing spears; flocks of sheep and goats are grazing on the steppe; primitive potters are making simple household utensils. A strange sight to greet our astronauts! But what do the primitive beings on this planet think about the monstrosity that has just landed there and the figures that climbed out of it? Let us not forget that we too were semisavages 8,000 years ago. So it is not surprising when the semisavages who experience this event bury their faces in the ground and dare not raise their eyes. Until this day they have worshiped the sun and the moon. And now something earth-shaking has happened: the gods have come down from heaven!”
There it is. He’s implying the “gods” of yesteryear were, simply, alien beings visiting our planet. I’m beginning to feel as though von Daniken may be quite ignorant of the context of ancient writings, since most of his arguments I’m currently familiar with stem from the writings of early man being literal. But von Daniken continues this mess with a number of inclusions that seemingly “fix” a problem ACTUAL astronauts may face. He writes,
“It is conceivable that our spacemen will rapidly learn the language of the inhabitants with the help of a computer and can thank them for the courtesy shown.”
How convenient. He continues by writing,
“The space travelers came from other stars; they obviously have tremendous power and the ability to perform miracles. They must be gods! There is also no point in the spacemen’s trying to explain any help they may offer.”
Now we’re getting somewhere; the “god’s” are actually there to show them how to be civilized. He goes on to explain how we’d teach them mathematics, moral behavior, and construction. Finally, he finishes the chapter by fantasizing about how the aliens would leave a record of the visit. He writes,
“While our spaceship disappears again into the mists of the universe, our friends will talk about the miracle–“The gods were here!” They will translate it into their simple language and turn it into a saga to be handed down to their sons and daughters. They will turn the presents and implements and everything that the space travelers left behind into holy relics. If our friends have mastered writing, they may make a record of what happened: uncanny, weird, miraculous. Then their texts will relate–and drawings will show-that gods in golden clothes were there in a flying boat that landed with a tremendous din. They will write about chariots which the gods drove over land and sea, and of terrifying weapons that were like lightning, and they will recount that the gods promised to return. They will hammer and chisel in the rock pictures of what they had once seen: shapeless giants with helmets and rods on their heads, carrying boxes in front of their chests; balls on which indefinable beings sit and ride through the air; staves from which rays are shot out as if from a sun; strange shapes, resembling giant insects, which were vehicles of some sort.”
And that essentially ends his chapter. I’ve got a few problems with his approach. Firstly, he never directly states he believes the gods of the past were alien beings. I guess ambiguity is best used when implying such a silly notion. Secondly, his outlook on our ancestors is shallow and degrading; that we couldn’t possibly have come to knowledge without the help of outside intervention, by calling them savages. As a history major, I take great offense with that. It completely removes the accomplishments of those who came before us.
I wonder what he has in store for us next.
Next Blog: Ignoring the Known