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Joe Nickell: Ancient Astronauts and the Nazca Lines
Posted: 29 August 2006 04:57 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Posted: 29 August 2006 07:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Haven’t listened to the show yet, so can’t say how the interview went.

That said, the racism implicit in von Daniken’s fantasies is evident throughout: why is it that he doesn’t also believe that Stonehenge, the ruins of Rome and Greece, and the Christian cathedrals (to take a small subset of possible examples), were also built by spacemen?

The implication he makes consistently is that the inhabitants of South and Central America were too stupid or incapable to have built their monuments by themselves. Yet somehow with Europeans he doesn’t make the same implication ... Hmmmm ....

The basic fact, however, is that von Daniken is a historically illiterate fantasist. To take the example of the Nazca Lines (which I have visited), the very same patterns found in the desert also populate Nazca pottery, weavings and other designs found in their daily life. Similar designs are found in neighboring tribes, and indeed, all over the Andean region. Why should we believe that the straight lines interspersed therein had any other origin than that of the people who drew the figures?

Doubtless there will always be some questions remaining over how the Nazca lines were really used, or what they really meant to the people who made them, but the same is true of every ancient archeological site on earth. Arguing from a lack of full information to the presence of spacemen is what we might call it the “spacemen of the gaps” argument, in honor of the “god of the gaps” found in much anti-evolutionary lunacy.

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Posted: 29 August 2006 07:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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[quote author=“George Benedik”]I believe the mystery of the Nazca plain lies within the origin of the kilometers-long lines, not the drawings of the animals. Even Maria Reiche, after decades of research, could not come up with a satisfying explanation. Nobody knows why the lines are there. Certainly Joe Nickell doesn’t seem to have the answer.

I think the purpose of the interview was to illustrate how the lines were made, not why (though he does speculate on the why towards the end of the interview). The point is, ancient civilizations were capable of doing these things without extraterrestrial help.

Then again, maybe Joe Nickell is an alien… wink

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Posted: 29 August 2006 08:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Posted: 29 August 2006 09:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Where is the logic in presuming ancient astronauts were necessary to inspire civilizations to create? The Nazca lines, the pyramids, Easter Island, Stonehenge… Humans were perfectly capable of building these things without alien technology—you seem to agree to that, as you say “how” they were built is irrelevant to von Daniken’s argument. But to claim that aliens were necessary to inspire these things… I think Nickell’s proposal of ritualistic walking paths has a lot more credence.

That’s not to say that extraterrestrial life is outside the bounds of possibility—just that it’s an extraordinary solution to a simple problem. Some kind of evidence (other than the fraudulent kind) would help von Daniken’s claims… That kind of “science” is hardly worthy of the Galileo gambit.

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Posted: 29 August 2006 10:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Yes, the problem with comparing von Daniken to Galileo is that von Daniken’s investigative technique appears to have included little more than taking ancient objects entirely out of context and see what they reminded him of. So, he looked at a stone carving in Palenque and said it reminded him of an astronaut in a rocketship . This technique is fundamentally no different from that of looking at the clouds and seeing the face of Abraham Lincoln.

In fact, all the elaborations in that particular gorgeous Maya carving have complex but well-documented meaning, in the context of the Maya society that created it. The fact that it looks to a 20th century writer like a man in a rocket is really banal.

Galileo, on the other hand, was a true master of investigation, arguably the first true experimental scientist. Unlike the Aristotelians who preceded him, Galileo took it upon himself to study the actual movement of objects (balls rolling down planes, pendulums, etc.) in order to derive fundamental laws of mechanics. He aimed one of the first telescopes up to the skies and drew the first drawings of sunspots, the moons of Jupiter, the rings around Saturn, the phases of Venus.

There is simply no comparison.

One should always be very skeptical of comparisons to Galileo or his ilk. For every Galileo there are a million von Danikens.

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Posted: 29 August 2006 03:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Posted: 29 August 2006 03:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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[quote author=“George Benedik”]

I think Nickell’s proposal of ritualistic walking paths has a lot more credence.

Why? Based on what evidence? Faith?

Both Von Daniken’s and Nickell’s arguments consist of the same value. There is no evidence for either one of their claims. The same can be said about the Nazca lines serving the purpose of a calender and of all the other “explanations”.

Er, yes and no. Yes, you are right in the sense that these are speculative explanations. In the final analysis we really don’t know much about what these lines were for.

No, in the sense that there is a large difference between an explanation that is plausible in the sense that it makes use of concepts that are already well understood and likely for other reasons, and one that is fanciful or fantastic in that it introduces entirely new and unsupported material.

We do know quite a bit about the native religions that existed in Peru. We know something about their rituals and practices. We know that they paid attention to seasons, to dates for planting and harvesting, et cetera. So while explanations of the Nazca lines that depend on such things as ‘rituals’ or ‘calendars’ aren’t really that solid, they are nonetheless plausible given other things we already know about these cultures and surrounding cultures.

(Here I am assuming that Nickell et al. have no additional evidence for their claims. I still have yet to hear the podcast ...)

On the other hand, von Daniken’s fantasies involve the introduction of entirely ad hoc material for which we have absolutely no independent evidence, like space aliens. His similar fantasies about Mayan carvings have been conclusively disproven by Mayanists who actually have studied the carvings and know what they actually represent. (Many of them, indeed, include writing).

So while we don’t really know much about these lines, we know enough to know that von Daniken is wrong.

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Posted: 29 August 2006 04:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Posted: 29 August 2006 04:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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[quote author=“George Benedik”]I agree with your definition of the “plausible speculative explanation”. But I don’t think that in the case of Nazca we know enough to come to any conclusion. I am sure that Lamarck’s “speculative explanation” of evolution sounded “plausible” to many, but in the end he was wrong. There is only one truth. To say who’s idea sounds “better” doesn’t really tell us what the one truth is.

Sure. And I think we’re in general agreement, then. I would be surprised, however, if Joe Nickell didn’t make clear the speculative nature of his proposed explanation. He’s usually careful to do so.

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Posted: 30 August 2006 08:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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OK, I’ve listened to the episode now. Kudos to DebGod for her chat and talk! Excellent!

I also didn’t find anything objectionable in what Joe Nickell said. Perhaps the most important point he made is that the Nazca lines are quite straightforward to reproduce with sticks and knotted string. Thus, there is no reason to assume that high tech, much less extra-terrestrial, technology was necessary. The balance of his interview was describing how he was able to reproduce the Nazca designs this way.

Nickell’s explanations for why the lines were made (as ritual walking paths) is somewhat speculative, but he admits as much. Nevertheless, it is reasonably understandable, believable, and credible. It would be nice to get some info from archaeologists on their take.

My real question is why they still haven’t put Nickell’s original paper up on PoI. DJ said they would include a link to it in the show notes. I know I’ve seen the paper before, but the link would be nice. DJ?

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Posted: 30 August 2006 01:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Posted: 30 August 2006 02:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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[quote author=“George Benedik”]Common, don’t be like the Aristotelians who preceded Galilei, show me the evidence! Just one book, one paragraph, one sentence, anything,...

The claim was that von Daniken is implicitly racist—that is, his theory has racist implications. Not that he is explicitly racist.

The implication is simple. He claims that certain societies got help from aliens to construct their temples, design and artworks. Why are these almost never european? The implication is that the europeans were smart enough to build their own buildings, but that the non-europeans needed some kind of extra-terrestrial help.

If, on the other hand, all were equally capable, why the need to invoke space aliens?

The implication is that some special sort of explanation is required for constructions made by non-european cultures.

BTW, this accusation is not new, and doesn’t originate with Nickell. I recall hearing it in the mid-80s.

That said, you are right to press for further clarification. I don’t have EvD’s books to hand, and it’s been decades since I’ve looked at them. It would be useful to have some representative paragraphs to hand.

Do you know any? Does, for example, von Daniken believe that the Parthenon, the Roman Coliseum, the Pantheon, the aqueducts, the roads or any of the medieval european cathedrals were built with alien help? These, after all, were very great feats of engineering, the equal of any non-european ones that he believes required the help of spacemen ...

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Posted: 30 August 2006 03:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Posted: 30 August 2006 04:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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[quote author=“George Benedik”]Here is a name of a book where von Daniken “explains” some of Europe’s mysteries:

Die Ratsel im alten Europa. Auf den Spuren der geheimnisvollen Linien.

I am not sure if it’s available in English. Once again, I don’t wish to defend EVD’s ideas (?), I am merely criticizing Nickell of accusing EVD of being (implicitly, explicitly, I don’t care) a racist.

According to von Daniken’s website , it isn’t available in English, so I doubt any of us will have an easy time figuring out what he says there.

It is also worthwhile to note that this book was published in 1991, which is really long after his heyday—Chariots of the Gods was published in 1968, and his most popular sequels were in the 1970s, which was, I believe, when the ‘racism’ charge began to be made. Again, I heard it in the mid 1980s. So it is quite possible that this book is one attempt on his part to respond to that charge.

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Posted: 30 August 2006 04:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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