Erich von Däniken
|Erich von Däniken|
Erich von Däniken in 2006
|Born||Erich Anton Paul von Däniken
14 April 1935
Zofingen, Aargau, Switzerland
Erich Anton Paul von Däniken (/ /, German pronunciation: [ˈeːʁɪç fɔn ˈdɛːnɪkən]; born 14 April 1935) is a Swiss author best known for his controversial claims about extraterrestrial influences on early human culture, in books such as Chariots of the Gods?, published in 1968. Von Däniken is one of the main figures responsible for popularizing the "paleo-contact" and ancient astronauts hypotheses.
Von Däniken's first book, Chariots of the Gods?, was an immediate best seller in the United States and Europe, and subsequent books, "according to von Däniken, have been translated into 32 languages and together have sold more than 63 million copies." The ideas put forth in these books are largely rejected by scientists and academics, who categorize his work as pseudohistory and pseudoarchaeology.
Von Däniken wrote his first book while working as manager of the Hotel Rosenhügel in Davos, Switzerland. He was convicted of several financial crimes, including fraud, shortly after publication of his first book. The revenue from the sales of his book allowed him to repay his debts and leave the hotel business. Von Däniken wrote his second book, Gods from Outer Space, while in prison.
Von Däniken later became a co-founder of the Archaeology, Astronautics and SETI Research Association (AAS RA). He designed Mystery Park (now known as Jungfrau Park), a theme park located in Interlaken, Switzerland, that opened on 23 May 2003.
Von Däniken was born in Zofingen, Aargau. Brought up a strict Catholic, he attended the international Catholic school Saint-Michel in Fribourg, Switzerland. During his time at the school he rejected the church's interpretations of the Bible, and developed an interest in astronomy and the phenomenon of flying saucers.
At the age of 19, von Däniken was given a four-month suspended sentence for theft. Von Däniken withdrew from school, and became apprenticed to a Swiss hotelier. After moving to Egypt, he was convicted for fraud and embezzlement.
He then became manager of the Hotel Rosenhügel in Davos, Switzerland, during which time he wrote Chariots of the Gods?, working on the manuscript late at night after the hotel's guests had retired. In December 1964, von Däniken wrote Hatten unsere Vorfahren Besuch aus dem Weltraum? ("Did our Ancestors have a Visit from Space?") for the German-Canadian periodical Der Nordwesten. Chariots of the Gods? was accepted by a publisher in early 1967, and printed in March 1968.
In November 1968 von Däniken was arrested for fraud, after falsifying hotel records and credit references in order to take out loans for $130,000 over a period of twelve years. He used the money for foreign travel to research his book. Two years later, von Däniken was convicted for "repeated and sustained" embezzlement, fraud and forgery, with the court ruling that the writer had been living a "playboy" lifestyle. Von Däniken entered a plea for nullity on the grounds that his intentions were not malicious and the credit institutions were at fault for failing to adequately research his references. Von Däniken was sentenced on 13 February 1970 to three and a half years imprisonment and fined 3,000 francs. He served one year of this sentence before being released.
His first book, Chariots of the Gods?, had been published by the time of his trial, and its sales allowed him to repay his debts and leave the hotel business. Von Däniken wrote his second book, Gods from Outer Space, while in prison.
Claims of alien influence on Earth
In 1966, when von Däniken was writing his first book, scientists Carl Sagan and I. S. Shklovskii wrote about the possibility of paleocontact and extraterrestrial visitation claims in one chapter of their book Intelligent Life in the Universe, giving some scientific legitimacy to the idea. Many ideas from this book appeared in different form in von Däniken's books. Sagan has been very critical of von Däniken:
That writing as careless as von Däniken's, whose principal thesis is that our ancestors were dummies, should be so popular is a sober commentary on the credulousness and despair of our times. But the idea that beings from elsewhere will save us from ourselves is a very dangerous doctrine - akin to that of the quack doctor whose ministrations prevent the patient from seeing a physician competent to help him and perhaps to cure his disease.—Carl Sagan, Foreword to The Space Gods Revealed
Previous to von Däniken's work, other authors had presented ideas of extraterrestrial contacts. Von Däniken failed to credit properly or at all, these authors, even when making the same claims using similar or identical evidence.[notes 1]
Errors and omissions
I also hope for the continuing popularity of books like Chariots of the Gods? in high school and college logic courses, as object lessons in sloppy thinking. I know of no recent books so riddled with logical and factual errors as the works of von Däniken.—Carl Sagan, Foreword to The Space Gods Revealed
In Chariots of the Gods?, von Däniken wrote that a non-rusting iron pillar in Delhi, India, was evidence of extraterrestrial influence. In a later Playboy interview, when told that the column showed some signs of rust and its method of construction was well understood, von Däniken said that since writing the book he had learned of investigations reaching other conclusions, and no longer considered the pillar to be a mystery.
In The Gold of the Gods von Däniken wrote of being guided through artificial tunnels in a cave under Ecuador, Cueva de los Tayos, containing gold, strange statues and a library with metal tablets, which he considered to be evidence of ancient space visitors. The man whom he said showed him these tunnels, Juan Moricz, told Der Spiegel that von Däniken's descriptions came from a long conversation and that the photos in the book had been "fiddled". Von Däniken told Playboy that although he had seen the library and other places he had described, he had fabricated some of the events to add interest to his book. Later in 1978 he said that he had never been in the cave pictured in his book but in a "side entrance", and that he had fabricated the whole descent into the cave. A geologist examined the area and found no cave systems. Von Däniken also wrote about a collection of gold objects held by local priest Father Crespi, who had special permission from the Vatican to do archeological research. But an archeologist reported to Der Spiegel that, while there were some gold pieces, many were just local imitations for tourists, and that Crespi has difficulty distinguishing brass from gold.
Dr. Samuel Rosenberg said that the Book of Dzyan, referred to by von Däniken, was "a fabrication superimposed on a gigantic hoax concocted by Madame Blavatsky." He also says that the "Tulli Papyrus", cited by von Däniken in one of his books, is likely cribbed from the Book of Ezekiel, and quoted Dr. Nolli (through Dr. Walter Ramberg, Scientific Attache at the U.S. embassy in Rome), then current Director of the Egyptian Section of the Vatican Museum, as "suspect[ing] that Tulli was taken in and that the papyrus is a fake." According to NYT's Richard R. Lingerman, it is likely that von Däniken obtained these references from UFO books that mentioned them as real documents.
Von Däniken brought the Nazca Lines to public prominence with his 1968 book Chariots of the Gods?, attracting so many tourists that researcher Maria Reiche had to spend much of her own time and money preserving them. Von Däniken said that the lines were built following instructions from extraterrestrial beings, to be used as airfields for their spaceships. In his 1998 book Arrival of The Gods, he added that some of the pictures depicted extraterrestrials. Archeologists are sure that they were made by pre-columbian civilizations for cultural purposes, and they have not bothered refuting this sort of speculation. Silverman and Proulx say this silence from archaeologists has harmed the profession and the Peruvian nation. The idea was not original of von Däniken, it started as a joke made by people who first saw the lines from the air, and had already been published by other people. One of the cropped photos in Chariots of the Gods?, claimed by von Däniken to be similar to the markings of a modern airport, was only the knee joint of one of the bird figures and was quite small in size; von Däniken says that it was an error in the first edition, and that he wasn't the one who wrote that claim in the book, but the error has not been corrected in later editions.
Von Däniken wrote in Chariots of the Gods? that a version of the Piri Reis map that the map depicted some Antarctic mountains that were and still are buried into ice, and could only be mapped with modern equipment. His theory relies on the book of Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings by Charles Hapgood. A. D. Crown in Some Trust in Chariots explains how this is simply wrong. The map in von Däniken's book only extends 5 degrees south of the equator, ending in Cape São Roque, which means that it doesn't extend to the Antarctica. Von Däniken also said that the map showed some distortions that would only happen if it was an aerial view taken from a spaceship flying above El Cairo, but in fact it doesn't extend enough to the South to cause visible distortions in an aerial view. Von Däniken also asserts the existence of a legend saying that a god gave the map to a priest, the god being an extraterrestrial being. But Piri Reis said that he had drawn that map himself using old maps, and the map is consistent with the cartographic knowledge at that time. Also, the map is not "absolutely accurate" as claimed by von Däniken, since it contains many errors and omissions; a fact that von Däniken did not correct when he covered the map again his 1998 book Odyssey of the Gods. Other authors had already published this same idea, a fact that von Däniken did not recognize until 1974 in an interview to Playboy magazine.
The Nova documentary The Case of the Ancient Astronauts shows that all the claims made by von Däniken about the Pyramid of Cheops were wrong in all accounts. The technique of construction is well understood, scholars know perfectly what tools were used, the marks of those tools in the quarries are still visible, and there are many tools preserved in museums. Von Däniken claims that it would have taken them too long to cut all the blocks necessary and drag them to the construction site in time to build the Great Pyramid in only 20 years, but Nova shows how easy and fast it is to cut a block of stone, and shows the rollers used in transportation. He also claims that Egyptians suddenly started making pyramids out of nowhere, but there are several pyramids that show the progress made by Egyptian architects while they were perfecting the technique from simple mastabas to later pyramids. Von Däniken claims that the height of the pyramid multiplied by one million was the distance to the Sun, but the number falls too short. He also claims that Egyptians could not align the edges so perfectly to true North without advanced technology that only aliens could give them, but Egyptians knew of very simple methods to find North via star observation, and it is trivial to make straight edges.
Von Däniken claimed that the Sarcophagus of Palenque depicted a spaceman sitting on a rocket-powered spaceship, wearing a spacesuit. However, archaeologists see nothing special with the figure, a dead Mayan monarch who is wearing traditional Mayan hairdo and jewelry, surrounded by Mayan symbols that can be observed in other Mayan drawings. The right hand is not handling any rocket controls, but simply making a traditional Mayan gesture, that other figures in the sides of the lid also make, and is not holding anything. The rocket shape is actually two serpents joining their heads at the bottom, with the rocket flames being the beards of the serpents. The rocket motor under the figure is the face of a monster, symbol of the underworld.
Von Däniken put forward photographs of ancient stones in Peru, with carvings of men using telescopes, detailed world maps, and advanced medical operations, all beyond the knowledge of ancient Peruvians. But the PBS television series Nova determined that the stones were modern, and located the potter who made them. This potter makes stones daily and sells them to tourists. Von Däniken had visited the potter and examined the stones himself, but he didn't mention this in his book. He says that he didn't believe the potter when he said that he had made the stones. Von Däniken says that he asked Doctor Cabrera, a local surgeon who owns the museum, and Cabrera had told him that the potter's claims were a lie and that the stones were ancient. But the potter had proof that Cabrera had thanked him for providing the stones for the museum. Von Däniken claimed that the stones at the museum were very different from those made by the potter, but the Nova reporters oversaw the manufacturing of one stone and confirmed that it was very similar to those in the museum.
Kenneth Feder accused von Däniken of European ethnocentrism, while John Flenley and Paul Bahn suggested that views such as his interpretation of the Easter Island statues "ignore the real achievements of our ancestors and constitute the ultimate in racism: they belittle the abilities and ingenuity of the human species as a whole."
Ronald Story published The Space Gods Revealed: A Close Look At The Theories of Erich Von Däniken in 1976, written in response to the evidence presented in von Däniken's Chariots of the Gods?. It was reviewed as "a coherent and much-needed refutation of Von Däniken's theories".
A 2004 article in Skeptic Magazine states that von Däniken took many of the book's concepts from The Morning of the Magicians, that this book in turn was heavily influenced by the Cthulhu Mythos, and that the core of the ancient astronaut theory originates in H. P. Lovecraft's short stories "The Call of Cthulhu" written in 1926, and "At the Mountains of Madness" written in 1931.
Speaking in a 2001 documentary, von Däniken said that although he could not conclusively prove to the scientific community that any of the items in his archive were of alien origin, he felt that "today's science" would not accept such evidence, as "the time is simply not right". He argued that it was first necessary to "prepare" mankind for a "wonderful new world". It is also mentioned that he jumped from Hotel Manager to "expert on the ancient world."
Reviewing the two-disc DVD release of Roland Emmerich's film Stargate, Dean Devlin referred to the "Is There a Stargate?" feature where "author Erich von Däniken discusses evidence he has found of alien visitations to Earth."
- Chariots of the Gods? (Souvenir Press Ltd, 1969)
- Return to the Stars (Souvenir Press Ltd, 1970) ISBN 0-285-50298-0
- Gods from Outer Space (Bantam,1972; reprint of Return to the Stars)
- The Gold of the Gods (Souvenir Press Ltd, 1973) ISBN 0-285-62087-8
- Miracles of the Gods: A Hard Look at the Supernatural (Souvenir Press Ltd, 1975) ISBN 0-285-62174-2
- In Search of Ancient Gods: My Pictorial Evidence for the Impossible (Corgi books, 1976) ISBN 0-552-10073-0
- According to the Evidence (Souvenir Press, 1977) ISBN 0-285-62301-X
- Signs of the Gods (Corgi books, 1980) ISBN 0-552-11716-1
- The Stones of Kiribati: Pathways to the Gods (Corgi books, 1982) ISBN 0-552-12183-5
- The Gods and their Grand Design: The Eighth Wonder of the World (Souvenir Press, 1984) ISBN 0-285-62630-2
- The Eyes of the Sphinx: The Newest Evidence of Extraterrestrial Contact (Berkley Publishing Corporation, 1996) ISBN 978-0-425-15130-3
- The Return of the Gods: Evidence of Extraterrestrial Visitations (Element, 1998) ISBN 1-86204-253-5
- Arrival of the Gods: Revealing the Alien Landing Sites of Nazca (Element, 1998) ISBN 1-86204-353-1
- The Gods Were Astronauts: Evidence of the True Identities of the Old "Gods" (Vega books, 2001) ISBN 1-84333-625-1
- Odyssey of the Gods: An Alien History of Ancient Greece (Vega books, 2002) ISBN 978-1-84333-558-0
- History Is Wrong (New Page books, 2009) ISBN 978-1-60163-086-5
- Twilight of the Gods: The Mayan Calendar and the Return of the Extraterrestrials (New Page books, 2010) ISBN 978-1-60163-141-1
German language books published between 1984 and 2009
- Der Tag an dem die Götter kamen (1984) ISBN 3-442-08478-4
- Habe ich mich geirrt? (1985) ISBN 3-570-03059-8
- Wir alle sind Kinder der Götter (1987) C. Bertelsmann, ISBN 3-570-03060-1
- Die Augen der Sphinx (1989) C. Bertelsmann, ISBN 3-570-04390-8
- Die Spuren der Ausserirdischen (1990) (Bildband) ISBN 3-570-09419-7
- Die Steinzeit war ganz anders (1991) ISBN 3-570-03618-9
- Ausserirdische in Ägypten (1991)
- Erinnerungen an die Zukunft (1992) (Reissue with new foreword)
- Der Götter-Schock (1992) ISBN 3-570-04500-5
- Raumfahrt im Altertum (1993) ISBN 3-570-12023-6
- Auf den Spuren der Allmächtigen (1993) C. Bertelsmann, ISBN 3-570-01726-5
- Botschaften und Zeichen aus dem Universum (1994) C. Bertelsmann, ISBN 3-442-12688-6
- Götterdämmerung (2009) KOPP Verlag 978-3942016049
- Grüße aus der Steinzeit: Wer nicht glauben will, soll sehen!, 2010
- Was ist falsch im Maya-Land?: Versteckte Technologien in Tempeln und Skulpturen, 2011
- Peter Krassa, Disciple of the Gods: A biography of Erich von Däniken (W. H. Allen & Unwin, 1976). ISBN 0-352-30262-3
- Ferry Radax: Mit Erich von Däniken in Peru (With Erich von Däniken in Peru, 1982). A documentary.
- Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology (book)
- Oolon Colluphid/Professor Eric von Contrick, fictional characters based on von Däniken.
- Cueva de los Tayos
- David Icke
- The first edition of von Däniken's Erinnerungen an die Zukunft didn't cite Charroux's One Hundred Thousand Years of Man's Unknown History despite making very similar claims. Publisher Econ-Verlag had to add Charroux in the bibliography in later editions, to avoid a possible lawsuit for plagiarism.Story 1980, pp. 5
- Kenneth Feder, Encyclopedia of Dubious Archaeology: From Atlantis to the Walam Olum, page 267 (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2010). ISBN 978-0-313-37918-5
- Fagan, Brian M. (10th edition 2000). In the beginning: an introduction to archaeology. Prentice-Hall. pp. 17–18. ISBN 978-0-13-030731-6.
- Orser, Charles E. (2003). Race and practice in archaeological interpretation. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 73. ISBN 978-0-8122-3750-4.
- Fritze, Ronald H. (2009). Invented Knowledge: False History, Fake Science and Pseudo-religions. Reaktion Books. pp. 13, 200, 201. ISBN 978-1-86189-430-4.
- Lingeman, Richard R. (31 March 1974). "Erich von Daniken's Genesis". The New York Times. p. 6.
- "Mystery Park, Interlaken". Switzerland Flexitours. Thursday, 8 April 2010. Retrieved 18 April 2010.
- Playboy, August 1974 (volume 21, number 8)
- Story(1976), p1
- Story, Ronald (1976). The space-gods revealed : a close look at the theories of Erich von Däniken. New York: Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-014141-7.
- Peter Krassa, Disciple of the Gods: A Biography of Erich von Däniken, page 74 (W. H. Allen & Co., Ltd, 1976). ISBN 0-352-30262-3.
- Däniken's side of the story is given in Krassa, pages 96–107.
- Transcripts of von Däniken's letters to his wife Elizabeth (whom he married in 1959), during this period are provided in Krassa, pages 130–135.
- Story 1980, pp. 3–5
- Story 1980, pp. xi-xiii foreword written by Carl Sagan
- Story 1980, pp. 5–6
- Däniken, Erich von: Chariots of the Gods?, p. 94.
- Playboy magazine, page 64, Volume 21 Number 8, 1974
- Story 1980, pp. 88–89
- Story 1980, pp. 78–82
- Von Däniken offered the following explanations in his Playboy interview: "In German we say a writer, if he is not writing pure science, is allowed to use some dramaturgisch Effekte – some theatrical effects. And that's what I have done." Von Däniken added "I have been inside the caves, but not at the place where the photographs in the book were taken, not at the main entrance. I was at a side entrance." He said he saw in person the objects that he described and published photographs of in his book, and claimed that Moricz's denials about his claims were due to the fact that Moricz's expedition crew had signed pledges of silence about what was in the caves. Von Däniken also said that a leading German archaeologist was sent to Ecuador to verify his claims, but in 6 weeks of staying there he could not find Moricz. Playboy, p. 58.
- "The Case of the Ancient Astronauts". Horizon. 3 August 1978. Event occurs at 41:15-42:20. BBC.
- Lingeman, Richard R. (31 March 1974). "Erich von Daniken's Genesis". The New York Times. p. 6. "A lot of ingredients go into that blender, including (...) apocryphal lore. He refers to "The Book of Dzyan", for example, which he helpfully adds is to be found in "The Secret Doctrine" of Mme. Blavatsky (...) "The Book of Dzyan" exists only in Mme. astral thoughts. (...) Actually, both of these documents have a way of turning up repeatedly in books on flying saucers, which is probably where von Däniken found them."
- Edward Uhler Condon, "Scientific Study of Unidentified Objects", Bantam, 1969, cited by the 1974 NYT article "Erich von Däniken's genesis"
- Joe Nickell (2005), Unsolved history: investigating mysteries of the past (illustrated ed.), University Press of Kentucky, p. 9, ISBN 978-0-8131-9137-9, "It is difficult to take Von Däniken seriously, especially since his "theory" is not his own and it originated in jest. Wrote Paul Kosok, the first to study the markings: "When first viewed from the air, [the lines] were nicknamed prehistoric landinhgs fields and jokingly compared with the so-called canals of Mars""
- Clieve Riggles (12 November 1987), "Tribute to Maria Reiche. Review of The Mistery of Nazca Lines by Tony Morrison", New Scientist 116 (1586): 62
- Helaine Silverman, Donald Proulx (2008), "The "Mythological" History of the Geoglyphs", The Nasca, Peoples of America, John Wiley & Sons, pp. 167–171, ISBN 978-0-470-69266-0, "(...) many speculative explanations have been proposed for the function of the geoglyphs. The most notorious among these was put forth by Erich von Däniken (...)"
- Robert Todd Carroll (2003), The skeptic's dictionary: a collection of strange beliefs, amusing deceptions, and dangerous delusions (illustrated ed.), John Wiley and Sons, p. 248, ISBN 978-0-471-27242-7, "Erich von Däniken thinks that the Nazca lines formed an airfield for ancient astronauts, an idea first proposed by James W. Moseley in the October 1955 issue of Fate and made popular in the early 60's by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier in The Mornings of the Magicians."
- "The Case of the Ancient Astronauts". Horizon. 3 August 1978. Event occurs at 33:10-34:45. BBC.
- "Report No. 83-205 SPR The UFO Enigma, Marcia S. Smith, 20 June 1983, Congressional Research Service, Appendix B, pages 127-130, quoting "Some trust in chariots : sixteen views on Erich von Däniken's Chariots of the gods", editors Thiering, Barry and Edgar Castle, West books, 1972
- Fritze 2009, p. 208, Story 1980, pp. 29–31
- Fritze 2009, p. 208
- Story 1980, pp. 32
- "The Case of the Ancient Astronauts". Horizon. 3 August 1978. Event occurs at 07:20-17:05. BBC.
- "The Case of the Ancient Astronauts". Horizon. 3 August 1978. Event occurs at 17:20-25:25. BBC.
- "The Case of the Ancient Astronauts". Horizon. 3 August 1978. Event occurs at 42:15-47:20. BBC.
- Feder, Kenneth L. Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology Mayfield Publishing Company 1990 3rd ed. ISBN 0-7674-0459-9 p. 195
- Flenley, John; Bahn, Paul G. The Enigmas of Easter Island, Oxford University Press 2003 ISBN 978-0-19-280340-5 p.114
- R.Z. Sheppard (2 August 1976). "Books: Worlds in Collusion". Time. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
- Jason Colavito (2004). "An investigation into H.P. Lovecraft and the invention of ancient astronauts. As seen in Skeptic magazine". Skeptic (10.4)
- Director: Ralph Lee (3 February 2001). "Loving The Alien: The Real Erich von Däniken". Channel 4.
- Sue Atwood, "Switzerland: Journey into the unknown" (The Daily Telegraph, 29 December 2003. 
- McClellan, Jason (25 November 2011). "Ridley Scott’s alien movie ‘Prometheus’ inspired by Erich von Däniken". OpenMinds. Retrieved 18 December 2011.
- Billboard, 22 February 2003, page 31.
- Fritze, Ronald H. (2009), Invented Knowledge: False History, Fake Science and Pseudo-religions, Reaktion Books, ISBN 978-1-86189-817-3
- Story, Ronald (1980), The Space-gods revealed. A close look at the theories of Erich von Däniken (2 ed.), Barnes & Nobles, ISBN 0-06-464040-X
- Von Mauz, Gerhard (July 1970), "Wie es unser explorand sehr schön zeigt", Der Spiegel (in German)
- Erich von Däniken's official homepage
- AAS RA homepage
- The Prophet of the Space Gods SkepticReport article
- Däniken entry from the Encyclopedia of Astrobiology, Astronomy and Spaceflight
- "Von Däniken’s Chariots: A Primer in the Art of Cooked Science" Skeptical Inquirer Winter 1976
- Fagan, Brian (29 November 1998). "Maybe Not; ARRIVAL OF THE GODS; By Erich von Daniken". Los Angeles Times. p. 9.