As a person interested in the Sumerian language and culture, I have a particular dislike for the “Ancient Aliens Hypothesis.” In case you missed one of the History Channel’s many reality-indifferent documentaries, the Ancient Aliens Hypothesis asserts that a bunch of smart space aliens visited Earth a long time ago, built some things, then left for no apparent reason. Supposed evidence for this theory includes Paleolithic cave art, Hopi drawings, the Nazca Lines, the pyramids at Giza, Machu Picchu, the big stone heads on Easter Island, the ziggurats of Ancient Sumer and a few more of the world’s ancient wonders.
I’m going to give my fellow Americans the benefit of the doubt and assume that most people do not subscribe to the belief but are happy enough to treat it as a light bit of entertainment. I can’t.
Curiously, ancient aliens are not generally given credit for the Parthenon, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Lighthouse at Alexandria, the Palace of Versailles or the Notre Dame Cathedral, all of which were built by white Europeans but hey that’s probably a coincidence.
Sitchin posited that the Sumerian gods were actually a space alien race called the Annunaki, that Sumerian mythology is not the metaphor-rich folklore of a desert culture but a literal factual account of alien visitation, that the solar system has a twelfth planet called Nibiru, that the Annunaki created humans with genetic engineering to work as slaves, and that the Annunaki blew themselves up in a nuclear war.
I never met Zecharia Sitchin, but he and I have a history. Every time I mentioned my interest in Sumer, some schmoe would bring up his ludicrous theories and try to convince me that he was right. I have suffered through many, many arguments about the Annunaki. If I ever try to Google something about ancient Sumer, I have to sort through page after page of Zecharia Sitchin trash.
I was once gifted a Zecharia Sitchin book (I believe it was The Twelfth Planet). The one thing about it I remember was that Sitchin referred to the world’s first civilization as “Sumeria,” which is a completely wrong thing that only bad bad bad wrong people do. The proper term is Sumer. It’s like referring to Ancient Rome as Romania.
I have immense admiration for the Ancient Sumerians and immense distaste for loud-mouthed ignorant yahoos who are convinced that they’re right, so over the course of my life my distaste for Zecharia Sitchin has compressed into a sparkling diamond of hate. So this article will contain far more profanity than is typical in a discussion of Sumerology. Let me tell you how much I’ve come to hate Zecharia Sitchin. Hate. HATE.
It would take me entirely too long to explain everything that’s wrong with Sitchin’s beliefs, but here are just a few highlights of his crimes against Sumerology.
- Sitchin assigns each celestial body in our solar system a Sumerian name. As previously mentioned, the mysterious Twelfth Planet is named Nibiru. The sun is named abzu. The problem with that? Abzu refers to a mythical watery abyss. The sun is… literally the opposite of that. In fact, the Sumerians already had a name for the sun (OBVIOUSLY), which was ud.
- Speaking of Nibiru: Nibiru was not a planet. It was a city. Not even a legendary city. Like, a literal city. It’s generally referred to as Nippur now. We know where it was geographically.
- Here’s a picture of what it looks like now, after a bit of reconstruction.
- Sitchin’s questionable model of the solar system was based on Sumerian illustrations, like the one in the photograph below.
- However, the image Sitchin is holding is a blown-up impression of a cylinder seal, an object smaller than a human pinkie finger. Cylinder seals were similar in function to a signet ring: they were used to create an impression on a clay tablet as a sort of a signature. Cylinder seals often included a brief inscription (like the owner’s name) and a little drawing or design. It would make no sense to include a detailed map in an itty-bitty cylinder seal owned by some random nobleman. Looking to a cylinder seal for an accurate model of the universe is like looking to someone’s tattoo for an accurate astronomical chart.
- In addition, the Sumerians already had star charts and astronomical tablets, none of which mentioned a twelfth planet. They didn’t believe in a twelfth planet. In fact, they didn’t know the solar system had more than five planets.
- Sitchin asserts that aliens were responsible for the construction of much of ancient Sumer. However, we know the Sumerians built these things, because they fucking said so themselves. The Ancient Sumerians were not humble. When they built something, they wrote inscriptions all over the place: “GUDEA BUILT THIS TEMPLE” “SHULGI DEDICATED THIS FOUNDATION PEG” “UR-NAMMU MADE THIS BRICK”. They spent a lot of time and money on this shit and dammit they wanted recognition for it. How dare you give the credit to a bunch of space lizards?!
- Zecharia Sitchin boasted that he was one of very few scholars who could read the Ancient Sumerian tablets. That is not even remotely true, for a few reasons: 1) it greatly underestimates the number of nerds there are in this world and 2) Zecharia Sitchin couldn’t actually read Sumerian. His work shows a laughable understanding of Sumerian grammar and vocabulary. To explain exactly how his readings are wrong would be too long and boring to get into here, but basically what Zecharia Sitchin does is look at a cuneiform character, pick a random homophone of its proper reading, and then just randomly give up and decide that the word somehow means rocketship.
Seriously every time he comes across a word he doesn’t know he just shrugs and declares it to mean rocketship or space helmet or something. For instance, he claims that the word me in Inanna’s Descent is some kind of space suit (because she puts it on before going on a long journey) but uh sorry Sitchin it is well-established what me means (a sort of divine ordinance or civilized art — alas, the word does not translate directly into English very well) and also this is not the character you would use to draw a space suit.
- You can’t just do that, Zecharia Sitchin. You can’t just randomly decide that words mean rocketship. WORDS HAVE MEANINGS, ZECHARIA SITCHIN. In order for human civilization to function, we have to agree upon shared word meanings to a certain extent. Zecharia Sitchin’s work violates the social contract and is a dastardly attempt to unravel the principles of human civilization itself. HEY ZECHARIA SITCHIN WHAT IF I DECIDED THE WORDS ‘ZECHARIA SITCHIN’ MEANT ‘DICKBRAIN’ OH WAIT NEVERMIND THAT’S ALREADY WHAT THEY MEAN.
It might seem ridiculous to spend so much brainpower and adrenaline on such a ludicrous topic, but I genuinely believe that the Ancient Aliens Hypothesis is harmful to society. It’s not just incorrect; it’s immoral. It erases the accomplishments of people of color. It suggests that South Americans and Middle Easterners didn’t (and by extension can’t) build temples or establish civilizations on their own — instead, such people need to be ruled by a superior race. It’s white supremacy in a space alien mask. It argues that space aliens from other worlds are more likely than smart people with skin pigment.