The alien ancestry theory is wildly complex, extremely bizarre and fills just enough holes in evolutionary theory to have won its modest share of proponents. The theory's influence extends from sci-fi movies such as Mission to Mars and Stargate to effecting the very real debate over rain-erosion tests that suggest the Egyptian pyramids are older than originally suspected.
First the theory; discussion will follow.
A humanoid race called the Anunnaki who live on the as-yet-undiscovered 10th planet in our solar system came to Earth about 432,000 years ago. They genetically engineered our species by combining their own DNA with that of Homo erectus. The Anunnaki's purpose was to use humans as slaves to help mine the planet for gold. Anunnaki eventually left the planet, leaving their slaves behind.
The benefit of the alien ancestry theory is that it allows a much more literal interpretation of ancient mythology. Introduce high technology to a low-tech civilization, and suddenly it's logical that some people lived 500 years, that mythical gods were actually flesh-and-blood beings, and that displays of godlike power were commonplace.
Support for this theory, say proponents, is in the detailed historical records inscribed on 5,000-year-old Sumerian clay tablets discovered in the Euphrates Valley. In 1976, a Russian journalist named Zecharia Sitchin studied the tablets and wrote a book introducing his conclusions, The 12th Planet, the first in the "Earth Chronicles" series of books.
Today, author Lloyd Pye, a former science-fiction writer, has advanced Sitchin's theory further in his book Everything You Know is Wrong, Book One: Human Origins and on his Web site, www.lloydpye.com
"[The traditional view of history] is not going to fly forever," Pye says. "The weight of [anthropologists'] credentials holds up the balloon, but eventually somebody pops it. And that's what we're looking to do. We will prevail over time; we know we're right. There's constant turnover in science, and we're all part of the turnover process. I am, Marcia Schafer is, we all are."
Pye describes himself as non-metaphysical and devoted to hard science. Here are what he says are his two best arguments for the theory:
"One, we bear no physical resemblance to primates, which we supposedly descended from. We don't have their hair, heads, muscle strength, skin, brains, eyes and we don't have their chromosomes. The fact we've been told we descend from primates is a joke.
"Two, we're full of genetic defects. There are genetic defects in the wild, but they're very few. And no defects in the wild kill the animal before maturity. We have over 4,000 genetic disorders and counting. How do genetic defects like that get into the gene pool? They have to be put there through the process of cutting and splicing -- it's clear we're genetically engineered from that alone."
Paul Saffo, director of the Institute for the Future, says Pye's reasoning is typical of New Age futurists.
"The big mistake of the UFO believers is they treat science like scripture," Saffo says. "They're treating imperfect hypothesis as final conclusions, taking the stuff of science, but not the logic. All these scientific terms are used by them like Latin incantations for High Catholics."
Saffo points to the Heaven's Gate mass suicide. When the UFO cult bought a telescope to confirm the presence of an alien spacecraft trailing the Hale-Bopp comet, then didn't see it, they returned the telescope, complaining that it was defective.
"The prop serves the use so long as it serves their theory," Saffo says. "They do not understand the fundamental principal of Occam's Razor -- the simplest explanation supported by fact is correct."
Pye counters: "That's a good point, and it's one of the things that they hide behind. They keep saying, 'Give us time, we'll find the answer.' It's like the missing link. They're not going to find it, they've been looking 140 years, it doesn't exist. You go from Neanderthals, or Homo erectus, then suddenly overnight in the fossil record you have Cro-Magnons, looking absolutely nothing like anything that's come before."
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Douglas Raybeck is a professor of anthropology at Hamilton College who has done extensive research on the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Although he believes that there is a chance of life elsewhere in the universe, he says the alien ancestry theory is absurd.
"Despite the words about 'missing link' and so forth, we have an excellent record of evolution," Raybeck says. "It's virtually impossible we got a sudden entry of an alien life form whose DNA, structural fit and sensory organs fit so nicely with what came before. The only way I'd buy the argument is that it's possible that life may have been seeded from meteorites, but at that point we're talking about something that's no more complex than a bacteria."
As far as humans having more genetic defects, Raybeck points out that humans are far more complex than most mammals and notes that "if we were [created in a lab], we'd be much better engineered."
"If you were about to engineer an animal," he reasons, "would you slip in a series of difficult-to-predict anomalies?"