Erich von Däniken

Erich von Däniken

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Erich Anton Paul von Däniken (born 14 April 1935 in Zofingen
Zofingen is a city in the canton of Aargau in Switzerland. It is the capital of the district of Zofingen. Zofingen is a walled city and home of an ancient monastic settlement.-Geography:...

, Aargau
Aargau is one of the more northerly cantons of Switzerland. It comprises the lower course of the river Aare, which is why the canton is called Aar-gau .-History:...

) is a Swiss author best known for his controversial claims about extraterrestrial
Extraterrestrial life
Extraterrestrial life is defined as life that does not originate from Earth...

 influences on early human culture, in books such as Chariots of the Gods?, published in 1968. Däniken is one of the main figures responsible for popularizing the "paleo-contact" and ancient astronaut hypotheses.

Däniken is a co-founder of the Archaeology, Astronautics and SETI Research Association (AAS RA), and designed the theme park, Mystery Park in Interlaken
Interlaken is a municipality in the Interlaken-Oberhasli administrative district in the Canton of Bern in Switzerland, a well-known tourist destination in the Bernese Oberland.-History:...

, Switzerland, that first opened on 23 May 2003. His 26 books have been translated into more than 20 languages, selling more than 60 million copies worldwide, and his documentary TV shows have been viewed around the world.

His ideas are largely rejected by scientists and academics, who categorize his work as pseudohistory and pseudoarchaeology.

Claims of alien influence on Earth

Building on previous works by other authors (including Italian Peter Kolosimo
Peter Kolosimo
Peter Kolosimo, pseudonym of Pier Domenico Colosimo was an Italian journalist and writer. Together with the later Erich von Däniken, he is ranked amongst the founders of pseudoarchaeology .Born in Modena, he lived in Bolzano for much of his life...

, who was later critical of Däniken), Däniken claimed that intelligent extraterrestrial life exists, has entered the local solar system in the past, and that evidence of this past contact is abundant. He also speculates as to whether human evolution
Human evolution
Human evolution refers to the evolutionary history of the genus Homo, including the emergence of Homo sapiens as a distinct species and as a unique category of hominids and mammals...

 may have been manipulated through means of genetic engineering
Genetic engineering
Genetic engineering, also called genetic modification, is the direct human manipulation of an organism's genome using modern DNA technology. It involves the introduction of foreign DNA or synthetic genes into the organism of interest...

 by extraterrestrial beings.

The evidence that Däniken has put forward to support his paleo-contact hypotheses can be categorized as follows:
  • Artifacts have been found which are alleged to represent a higher technological knowledge than existed at the times when they were manufactured. Däniken maintains that these artifacts have been manufactured either by extraterrestrial visitors, or by humans who obtained the necessary knowledge from them. Such artifacts include the Antikythera mechanism
    Antikythera mechanism
    The Antikythera mechanism is an ancient mechanical computer designed to calculate astronomical positions. It was recovered in 1900–1901 from the Antikythera wreck. Its significance and complexity were not understood until decades later. Its time of construction is now estimated between 150 and 100...

    , Stonehenge
    Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire, about west of Amesbury and north of Salisbury. One of the most famous sites in the world, Stonehenge is composed of a circular setting of large standing stones set within earthworks...

    , the statues of Easter Island
    Easter Island
    Easter Island is a Polynesian island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeasternmost point of the Polynesian triangle. A special territory of Chile that was annexed in 1888, Easter Island is famous for its 887 extant monumental statues, called moai, created by the early Rapanui people...

    , and the Piri Reis map
    Piri Reis map
    The Piri Reis map is a pre-modern world map compiled in 1513 from military intelligence by the Ottoman-Turkish admiral and cartographer Piri Reis. The half of the map that survives shows the western coasts of Europe and North Africa and the coast of Brazil with reasonable accuracy...

  • In ancient art throughout the world, themes are observed which can be interpreted to illustrate astronauts, air and space vehicles, non-human but intelligent creatures, and artifacts of a high technology. Däniken also points out details that are similar in the art of unrelated cultures.
  • Origins of religions might be a reaction to contact with an alien race by primitive humans. The humans considered the technology of the aliens to be supernatural
    The supernatural or is that which is not subject to the laws of nature, or more figuratively, that which is said to exist above and beyond nature...

     and the aliens themselves to be god
    God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

    s. According to Däniken, the oral and literal traditions of most religions contain references to visitors from "stars" and vehicles traveling through air and space. These, he says, should be interpreted as literal descriptions which have changed during the passage of time and have become more obscure, rather than as symbolic or mythical fiction. One such is Ezekiel's revelation in the Old Testament
    Old Testament
    The Old Testament, of which Christians hold different views, is a Christian term for the religious writings of ancient Israel held sacred and inspired by Christians which overlaps with the 24-book canon of the Masoretic Text of Judaism...

    , which he interprets as a detailed description of a landing spacecraft
    A spacecraft or spaceship is a craft or machine designed for spaceflight. Spacecraft are used for a variety of purposes, including communications, earth observation, meteorology, navigation, planetary exploration and transportation of humans and cargo....



Däniken's first book, Chariots of the Gods?, was an immediate best seller in the United States, Europe and India, with subsequent books translated into 32 languages and selling more than 62 million copies around the world.

Däniken became popular in India during the 1970s, as a result of his books being translated into the Bengali language
Bengali language
Bengali or Bangla is an eastern Indo-Aryan language. It is native to the region of eastern South Asia known as Bengal, which comprises present day Bangladesh, the Indian state of West Bengal, and parts of the Indian states of Tripura and Assam. It is written with the Bengali script...

 by the translator Ajit Dutta. School level students were the first major group of his believers in India. Däniken subsequently visited the Kashmir
Kashmir is the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent. Until the mid-19th century, the term Kashmir geographically denoted only the valley between the Great Himalayas and the Pir Panjal mountain range...

 region to check for the presence of radioactivity in an ancient temple, where he believed that a spacecraft had once landed.

An exhibit, Un Monde Insolite, largely based on Däniken's book Chariots of the Gods was opened in Montreal, Canada, for several summers in the 1970s. The exhibit was located in a former pavilion of the Expo 67
Expo 67
The 1967 International and Universal Exposition or Expo 67, as it was commonly known, was the general exhibition, Category One World's Fair held in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, from April 27 to October 29, 1967. It is considered to be the most successful World's Fair of the 20th century, with the...

 exhibition. It featured replicas of various historical artifacts that Däniken claimed were evidence of past alien visitation.

Legal troubles

In the 1960s, while working in hotels and restaurants across Switzerland, von Däniken was convicted of fraud
In criminal law, a fraud is an intentional deception made for personal gain or to damage another individual; the related adjective is fraudulent. The specific legal definition varies by legal jurisdiction. Fraud is a crime, and also a civil law violation...

, serving a prison sentence for defrauding his boss at one hotel. In 1967, soon after Chariots of the Gods? was published he was arrested and charged with fraud and tax evasion for non-payment of GB£
Pound sterling
The pound sterling , commonly called the pound, is the official currency of the United Kingdom, its Crown Dependencies and the British Overseas Territories of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, British Antarctic Territory and Tristan da Cunha. It is subdivided into 100 pence...

7,000. During the investigation, authorities uncovered a large personal debt totaling about GB£350,000. Däniken was found guilty of embezzlement
Embezzlement is the act of dishonestly appropriating or secreting assets by one or more individuals to whom such assets have been entrusted....

, and served more than three years in Swiss prisons. While in prison, he continued writing, and "Return to the Stars" was subsequently published.


Several scientists, such as Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan
Carl Edward Sagan was an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, science popularizer and science communicator in astronomy and natural sciences. He published more than 600 scientific papers and articles and was author, co-author or editor of more than 20 books...

 and I. S. Shklovskii, have written about Däniken's paleocontact and extraterrestrial visitation claims. Although Sagan did not rule out the possibility of visitation, he insisted that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence", which Däniken fails to provide.

Däniken claimed that a non-rusting iron pillar in India was evidence of extraterrestrial influence. Later, Däniken admitted in a Playboy
Playboy is an American men's magazine that features photographs of nude women as well as journalism and fiction. It was founded in Chicago in 1953 by Hugh Hefner and his associates, and funded in part by a $1,000 loan from Hefner's mother. The magazine has grown into Playboy Enterprises, Inc., with...

interview that the pillar was rusty and man-made, and that as far as supporting his hypotheses goes "we can forget about this iron thing."

Some also question von Däniken's credibility, as he has also knowingly put forward fraudulent evidence to advance his hypotheses, such as photographs of pottery "depicting UFOs", supposedly from an archaeological dig dating back to the biblical era. The PBS
Public Broadcasting Service
The Public Broadcasting Service is an American non-profit public broadcasting television network with 354 member TV stations in the United States which hold collective ownership. Its headquarters is in Arlington, Virginia....

 television series Nova
NOVA (TV series)
Nova is a popular science television series from the U.S. produced by WGBH Boston. It can be seen on the Public Broadcasting Service in the United States, and in more than 100 other countries...

determined that this was a fraud, and even located the potter who made them. When confronted with this evidence, von Däniken argued that the deception was justified because some people would only believe his ideas if they saw actual proof.

In The Gold of the Gods von Däniken claimed to have been guided through artificial tunnels in a cave under Ecuador
Ecuador , officially the Republic of Ecuador is a representative democratic republic in South America, bordered by Colombia on the north, Peru on the east and south, and by the Pacific Ocean to the west. It is one of only two countries in South America, along with Chile, that do not have a border...

, Cueva de los Tayos
Cueva de los Tayos
Cueva de los Tayos is a natural cave located on the eastern slopes of the Andes mountains in the Morona-Santiago province of Ecuador...

, containing gold, strange statues and a library with metal tablets, which he wrote was evidence of ancient space visitors. The man who he claimed showed him these tunnels, Juan Moricz, told Der Spiegel
Der Spiegel
Der Spiegel is a German weekly news magazine published in Hamburg. It is one of Europe's largest publications of its kind, with a weekly circulation of more than one million.-Overview:...

that all of von Däniken's descriptions came from a long conversation and that the photos in the book had been "fiddled". Von Däniken eventually told Playboy that although he had seen the library and other places he had described, he had also fabricated some of the events to add interest to his book.

Some have accused Däniken of European ethnocentrism
Ethnocentrism is the tendency to believe that one's ethnic or cultural group is centrally important, and that all other groups are measured in relation to one's own. The ethnocentric individual will judge other groups relative to his or her own particular ethnic group or culture, especially with...

, and suggested that views such as his "constitute the ultimate in racism".

Ronald Story published The Space Gods Revealed
The Space Gods Revealed
The Space Gods Revealed: A Close Look At The Theories of Erich Von Däniken is a book written in 1976 by Ronald Story, with an introduction by Carl Sagan. It was written as a refutation to the theories and evidence in Erich von Däniken's most famous work, Chariots of the Gods?, almost page by...

in 1976, providing an almost page-by-page refutation of the hypotheses and evidence in Däniken's Chariots of the Gods?.

A 2004 article in Skeptic Magazine
Skeptic (U.S. magazine)
Skeptic is a quarterly science education and science advocacy magazine published internationally by The Skeptics Society, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting scientific skepticism and resisting the spread of pseudoscience, superstition, and irrational beliefs...

states that Däniken plagiarized many of the book's concepts from The Morning of the Magicians, that this book in turn was heavily influenced by the Cthulhu Mythos
Cthulhu Mythos
The Cthulhu Mythos is a shared fictional universe, based on the work of American horror writer H. P. Lovecraft.The term was first coined by August Derleth, a contemporary correspondent of Lovecraft, who used the name of the creature Cthulhu - a central figure in Lovecraft literature and the focus...

, and that the core of the ancient astronaut theory originates in H. P. Lovecraft
H. P. Lovecraft
Howard Phillips Lovecraft --often credited as H.P. Lovecraft — was an American author of horror, fantasy and science fiction, especially the subgenre known as weird fiction....

's short stories "The Call of Cthulhu
The Call of Cthulhu
The Call of Cthulhu is a short story by American writer H. P. Lovecraft. Written in the summer of 1926, it was first published in the pulp magazine Weird Tales, in February 1928.-Inspiration:...

" written in 1926, and "At the Mountains of Madness
At the Mountains of Madness
At the Mountains of Madness is a novella by horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, written in February/March 1931 and rejected that year by Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright on the grounds of its length. It was originally serialized in the February, March and April 1936 issues of Astounding Stories...

" written in 1931.


  • Ferry Radax
    Ferry Radax
    Ferry Radax is an Austrian film maker born in Vienna. He has been active in many genres since 1949. He studied at Vienna's Film Institute in 1953-54, followed by Cinecittà, Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, in Rome in 1955-56. He has produced films all around Europe, and also in South...

    : Mit Erich von Däniken in Peru (With Erich von Däniken in Peru, 1982). A documentary.
  • Roland Emmerich
    Roland Emmerich
    Roland Emmerich is a German film director, screenwriter, and producer.His films, most of which are Hollywood productions filmed in English, have grossed more than $3 billion worldwide, more than those of any other European director...

    's film, Stargate
    Stargate (film)
    Stargate is a 1994 American adventure-military science fiction film released through Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Carolco Pictures. Created by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich, the film is the first release in the Stargate franchise...

    , was based on the research by Erich von Däniken.

See also

  • Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology
    Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology
    Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology is a book by Kenneth L. Feder on the topic of pseudoarcheology. Feder is a professor of archaeology at Central Connecticut State University....

  • Pseudoarchaeology
    Pseudoarchaeology — also known as alternative archaeology, fringe archaeology, fantastic archaeology, or cult archaeology — refers to interpretations of the past from outside of the academic archaeological community, which typically also reject the accepted scientific and analytical methods of the...

  • Oolon Colluphid/Professor Eric von Contrick, fictional characters based on Däniken.
  • Cueva de los Tayos
    Cueva de los Tayos
    Cueva de los Tayos is a natural cave located on the eastern slopes of the Andes mountains in the Morona-Santiago province of Ecuador...

  • David Icke
    David Icke
    David Vaughan Icke is an English writer and public speaker, best known for his views on what he calls "who and what is really controlling the world." Describing himself as the most controversial speaker in the world, he has written 18 books explaining his position, and has attracted a substantial...

External links