The PJ Tatler

A Puzzle that 'Ancient Aliens' Leaves Unsolved

So last night after the hotly contested Alabama and Mississippi primaries, I unwind with an hour or so of the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens.

We all unwind in different ways. If there’s no soccer on I usually hit the History Channel. The scenery and pyramids and other vistas they show on Ancient Aliens are timeless and striking. And, the show is one of the funniest on TV.

The ancient astronaut theorists (AAT), as they are called on Ancient Aliens, hang their mind-expanding theory that space aliens visited earth long ago and set various ancient civilizations on scientific paths, and that we humans may be alien offshoots ourselves, mostly on this guy.

I don’t know about you, but he just screams “credibility” to me.

So I’m watching the show last night, and Giorgio Tsoukalos, pictured above, is on about how some ancient Mayan king is depicted on his sarcophagus as if he’s launching in a space ship. It’s in a carving on a massive stone slab that was found in 1948 in the bottom of a Mayan pyramid. Wouldn’t that be something if Giorgio is right?

Mayan pyramids are astounding feats of organization and design. The carving of King Pakal is an amazing work of art and craftsmanship. The king seems to be sitting in a chair and fiddling with a bunch of stuff around him, with his feet on pedals of some kind. Weird stuff.

The Pakal sarcophagus engraving is so compelling that a model maker decided to build a very detailed 3D rendering of the space capsule it might depict, and they showed that 3D rendering on Ancient Aliens.

Clearly the AAT theorists see that sarcophagus and think “space capsule.” The AAT folks could also have decided that Pakal was sitting in a barber’s chair, or that the artists who probably spent decades carving that sarcophagus lid popped a little peyote and got creative, or he was chilling on his throne, but that’s a whole lot less sexy than putting the king in a space ship. They didn’t address what looks like it must have been a very painful neck position. And whatever one thinks of Giorgio and his gravity defying hair, one must admit that the model is very well done. I wouldn’t mind having one on a shelf in the background of my PJTV Skypes. Thousands of years from now, assuming the model survives, no one will have any trouble figuring out what the model maker was hoping to convey.

But I’m puzzled by a couple of things. We’re supposed to believe that the ancient aliens put a Mayan king at the controls of a spaceship. How did they train him for that? Well, maybe they just let him sit in the pilot’s chair but didn’t let him flip the main switch. So the lid could be the Mayan version of the diplomatic photo-op. The AAT folks, though, interpret some stuff at the bottom of the engraving as if it depicts fire from rocket engines, so the engraving suggests that Pakal piloted the craft (and that the aliens used some form of combustion propulsion, at least for flight within the atmosphere). That seems inefficient for such an advanced civilization, but fine, whatever. We’re supposed to believe, though, that the aliens only left behind stone carving as a way of communicating this momentous event. Stone carving is a very pedestrian means of communication, that fit the Maya better than it could have fit spacefaring aliens, and let’s be honest, the engraving is quite ambiguous. Is Pakal in a space capsule? A barber’s chair? On a throne kicking back? What’s up, Pakal? But put that aside. What really bothers me is that, having put Pakal at the controls of a spaceship, the aliens didn’t think to bequeath him some shirt technology? You can ride in our rocket ship, the aliens seem to be saying, but no shirt for you. Supposing they let Pakal fly the craft, there was the possibility of a crash. A flame retardant jump suit of some kind would have made sense. A kilt sans top, not so much.

Kind of seems like a glaring oversight on the aliens’ part, if you ask me.