At various points throughout the 20th century, and even on into our sexy (but still modest, in that hot era-next-door kinda way) 21st century, various crackpots, and sometimes even the mass media have managed to blame aliens for just about any god damn thing. The pyramids, Stonehenge, and I’m gonna go on record right now and say that I think they’re responsible for about 90% of contemporary pop music.

“While that may be, we had nothing to do with the Earthling called Glenn Beck.”

These kinds of theories, that aliens contacted us at earlier points in human civilization, are called ancient astronaut theories. The idea is that aliens visited Earth in times past, often to check up on us (This goes hand-in-hand with theories stating that alien races seeded Earth for life and are our creators and so on) or bestow knowledge upon early humankind. After that was all done, they fucked right off to go do something else.

“We were invited to an intergalactic dance party, unlike you loser humans.”

Many of the ancient astronaut theories focus on period art pieces throughout time, specifically in the Renaissance and earlier. For example, Christian painters during the Renaissance would occasionally include flaming wheels in the sky in their work, such as the one I used for the article on The Antikythera Mechanism. These wheels are usually regarded by art historians as representative of the Judeo-Christian God. Folks looking for Da Vinci Code-type shit have decided that they’re actually UFOs, and that the great masters were all in on an ancient astronaut cover-up, but still felt compelled to hide references to it in their art. Apparently, painters are really bad at keeping secrets.

“I read your diary and painted all your insecurities into one giant mural. Enjoy, dick.”

Even the oldest known human civilization, which was founded in about 5,000 BC, had aliens and artwork depicting them, though. In ancient Sumeria, the region that would later host the massive city of Babylon, the people had a myth about a creature from the sea called Oannes. (It’s worth noting that Sumerians considered the sea and the night sky to be the same.) Oannes, according to legend, came forth from the sea one day and appeared to the ancient Sumerian people, who were savage and completely uncultured. They allowed him to meet with their leaders, and he spent the day with them, eating no food and drinking no water.  Oh, and he totally looked like a dude in a fish suit.

Good thing he didn’t pop up in New England, or this would be a restaurant menu.

He taught them how to farm, build temples and cities, create laws, read and write, perform mathematics, and even how to gather fruit. At the end of the day, at sunset, Oannes returned to the water and he was never seen again.

Except Sumerian legends say they were visited continuously by other creatures just like Oannes. Each time, the fish-people would teach them new and more advanced forms of their previous teachings. For example, one of the last visits on record claims that the visitor taught the people how to construct arches into their buildings.

And look where that got us.

What’s especially odd about the Oannes legend is that the stories are so consistent. Descriptions of the creatures, their mannerisms, and even artwork of them doesn’t vary at all for thousands of years. In fact, it’s so odd that Carl Sagan himself commented, “stories like the Oannes legend, and representations especially of the earliest civilizations on Earth, deserve much more critical studies than have been performed heretofore, with the possibility of direct contact with an extraterrestrial civilization as one of many possible alternative explanations.” When Carl Sagan, of all people, raised an eyebrow at something, it was worth looking into.

Because it takes a man with eyebrows that huge a lot of work to raise them.

Also of interest is that we know, thanks to generations of historians and archaeologists, that the Sumerian culture grew exponentially as they invented new technologies and innovated at a rate that had previously been unknown to humankind. Unfortunately, 7,000 years is a long fucking time to look back on, so we really have no guaranteed way to tell if aliens were involved or if Oannes is just a clever allusion to human ingenuity. But those ancient Sumerians deserve a hat tip regardless for being the first people on Earth to construct a functioning, advanced civilization. Kudos to you fine, long-dead folks.

Fragments of Chaldæn History by Berossus
Magic, Supernaturalism, and Religion by Kurt Seligman