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There Are Those Who Believe: The Ancient Astronaut Craze of the 1970s and 1980s

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In 1968, Swiss author Erich Von Daniken published a literary work called Chariots of the Gods, which explored the idea that ancient alien astronauts may have visited Earth in the distant past. These aliens were responsible for such “miracles” of architecture as the Great Pyramids.

Though widely-dismissed by scientists, Von Daniken’s speculations about astronauts visiting Earth in prehistory proved immensely popular to a wide global readership of the 1970s.  His book inspired several sequel texts including Gods from Outer Space (1971), Gold of the Gods (1973), Miracles of the Gods (1976), In Search of Ancient Gods (1976), Signs of the Gods (1980) and Pathways to the Gods (1980).

Chariots of the Gods thus ignited another memorable disco decade trend or fad, and soon ancient astronauts were being explored on television and film in documentaries, and in fictional entertainment as well.

In 1994, the film Stargate explored the idea of ancient astronauts, and boasted a strong Egyptian design or motif.  And in 2012, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus brought the idea back to the forefront of the sci-fi cinema.

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But, looking back, here are a few reminders of the glory days of the Ancient Astronauts in the seventies and early eighties.

 

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In Search of Ancient Astronauts (1973)

This is producer Harry Reinl’s Chariots of the Gods documentary, re-cut as a TV special.  Before Leonard Nimoy hosted In Search Of, Rod Serling narrated this Americanized-version of the documentary devoted to theories about ancient astronauts.

 

 

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Space: 1999: “The Mark of Archanon” (1976)

In this episode of Gerry Anderson’s outer space saga, astronaut Alan Carter (Nick Tate) — while searching for a rare mineral beneath the moon’s surface– finds a subterranean stasis chamber.

Frozen inside are two ancient astronauts from The Planet of Peace, Archanon: Pasc and Etrec. According to Maya (Catherine Schell), the Archanon people are known throughout the galaxy as “The Peace Bringers” and often acted as missionaries to defeat evil on various war-torn worlds.

These Archanons traveled to Earthh a thousand years ago, but succumbed to “The Killing Disease,” a kind of homicidal rage.  In the episode’s final moments, a modern day Archanon, Maura (Veronica Lang), visits Moonbase Alpha.

 

 

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William Shatner’s Mysteries of the Gods (1977)

Captain Kirk himself got into the Ancient Astronaut business by narrating this movie documentary based on the works of Daniken.

 

 

 

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The All New Super Friends Hour: “The Mummy of Nazca” (1977)

In this Saturday morning animated series, an avaricious archaeologist named Corloff uses a resurrected Mummy to steal and assemble pieces of an ancient power source.  In actuality, that power source is the Mummy’s way home to its distant world.  Later, another production, The Being from Another World, also posited a Mummy as an ancient astronaut.

 

 

 

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Battlestar Galactica (1978)

In the aftermath of George Lucas’s Star Wars (1977), producer Glen A. Larson fashioned this memorable space opera for ABC-TV. The subject was: ancient astronauts.

In particular, the series concerns “brothers of man” in distant space, who may be “The forefathers” of the civilizations of the Mayans, Toltecs, Atlantis or Lemuria.  Earth is known, to these space brothers, as the lost 13th Colony.

The series’ production design reflects the ancient world, with Egyptian-styled space helmets and character names such as “Apollo” (the Sun God) and “Adama” (the first man).

 

 

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The Pumaman (1980)

This cheap-jack Italian Superman: The Movie (1978) knock-off tells the story of aliens who visited Earth in the distant past, and left behind a powerful hypnotic gold mask that could be used to save the planet or control it.

These ancient astronauts also left behind a protector for the mask: a line of alien/human hybrid.s Or as the film’s opening narration describes: “An ancient Aztec legend tells of a God who descended to Earth from the Stars at the dawn of time and became the father of the first Pumaman.”

The Pumaman was immortalized in the late 1990s by its appearance on Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1989 – 1999).

 

 

flashbakancientastronauts9The Phoenix (1982)

This one season wonder starred Judson Scott as Bennu of the Golden Light, an ancient alien astronaut (from Eldebran) awakened by humans in Peru in the late 20th century.

Capable of clairvoyance, levitation, telepathy, astral projection and other powers, Bennu is soon hunted by an Earthling and U.S. govt. agent: Preminger (Richard Lynch).

In the course of the short-lived series, Bennu seeks to find Mira, his long lost partner, who knows the purpose of his mission on Earth.

 

The Being from Another Planet (1983)

Like The Pumaman, The Being from Another Planet also got a full-throated riffing on Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the 1990s. Nonetheless, the film concerned an ancient astronaut unearthed in a sarcophagus, using an alien transmitter to “phone home.”

  • S.G.B.

    John once again you have chosen one of my boyhood favorite subjects of the ’70s. Awesome!

    SGB

  • John Kenneth Muir

    Hi SGB: Thank you for commenting. Like you, I was always fascinated by the concept of ancient astronauts, and I love the seventies entertainment that features them. All my best, John

  • Leslie

    First off, really enjoy all your posts, both here and on your original site. And It is a holdover from my youth, but I would happily believe any hokum Maren Jensen wanted me to believe.

    Oddly while I love, absolutely love, all the “Chariots of the Gods”, “Mysteries of the Gods”, “In Search of …”, etc., movies, specials, and tv shows from back then (and still have all the books), I find myself truly disliking the current batch of “Ancient Alien” shows that the cable networks run now.

    • John Kenneth Muir

      Hi Leslie, thank you for your comment. I am glad to read you have been enjoying my posts here and at Anorak. That means a lot to me. I agree with you too. I love the seventies stuff on Ancient Aliens, but the new stuff seems more transparently hokum-ish. At least in the 1970s, the idea was used somewhat creatively (BSG and The Phoenix…)…although I loved Prometheus.

  • BG

    Sunn Classics was the studio that produced all those UFO/Bigfoot “documentaries” and four-walled them through the South. I remember their commercials where the announcer would mispronounce the French names of Louisiana towns…