Thursday, June 7, 2012

Caves of the Past: Ancient Aliens in Cave Paintings

In September, Ancient Aliens will be debunked. Here's the trailer:

And here's some details on one of the claims being looked at in the film.

This particular post is just about cave paintings and rock art in general.

The key thing to note about virtually all artwork is that much of it is open to interpretation. No two interpretations are the same, nor are they all correct. Artists use symbols and colors to depict concepts and ideas making a given artwork mean something other than the obvious. The older the artwork and the further it is removed from its creator, the harder it would be to discern the symbols being used.

Ancient art found in caves or on rock faces is not so easy to break down. Some of it is highly strange to modern eyes and some would speculate that this is proof of ancient astronauts.

Ancient astronaut theorists use a variety of strange petroglyphs and cave paintings as proof of visitation by extraterrestrials in the far past. Rather than disproving each individual piece, or even the most famous pieces, it may be more productive to offer an explanation as to what people were trying to convey through their prehistoric graffiti.

It’s highly possible that all ancient artwork had at least a similar purpose, meaning or intent behind them. One researcher has found and documented a number of identical symbols that have appeared across a number of rock art sites over various spans of time. This suggests that all rock art originated from some common concepts and evolved their own meaning from there based on common symbolic origins.

“26 symbols have appeared repeatedly. These symbols appear in other parts of the world as well, leading to the possibility that symbolic communication through geometric signs arose with early humans. The diagram below shows regions around the world where the these 26 symbols have been found.”

They also provide this interactive map on their Webpage which shows which symbols appear in each location.

Alien theorists though use slightly more complex pictures as proof of their alien visitations. This link provides some of the pictures that are used by alien theorists and many of these are strange enough to be considered “alien” by some, but could mean something else entirely.

And here is perhaps the world’s largest image archive of rock art. Their purpose is preserving rock art and promoting study of it. They provide a small amount of analysis of the art, none of which has anything to do with ancient astronauts. They instead focus more on the artistic merits of the work. Unusual figures are referred to as figurative rather than aliens.

What are cave paintings and petroglyphs really depicting though?

Certainly not every petroglyph or cave painting represents something that the artist saw or encountered. There are examples of that kind of art everywhere, but some of the more unusual rock pictures, rather than being aliens, could merely be symbols or an early attempt at writing.

“The artistic mastery shown in the rendering of the animals cannot be denied, but what about all the geometric signs that so often appear around or near the animals at the same sites?... I believe that the abstract nature of these signs is some of the best proof we currently have that these images were not being made purely for their aesthetic quality. It suggests a more symbolic role for these markings, and a desire to communicate ideas that were not necessarily easy to depict in a physical form.”

Perhaps many of these images had some sort of context within their culture. That context may have given rise to symbols or ideas that have simply been lost forever.

“These images probably had deep cultural and religious significance for the societies that created them…Many petroglyphs are thought to represent some kind of not-yet-fully understood symbolic or ritual language. Later glyphs from the Nordic Bronze Age in Scandinavia seem to refer to some form of territorial boundary between tribes, in addition to possible religious meanings.”
(Emphasis added)

“Perhaps the greatest difficulty in getting at the meaning of prehistoric art is that we do not know the symbolic conceptions which were involved even in naturalistic representations. Are these to be taken literally, that is as signs? Or are they loaded symbols, part of a code to be broken?””
(Emphasis added)

In addition to the art containing symbols and concepts that were relevant to the culture in question, but have possibly been lost to the centuries, it’s entirely possible that today’s “experts” may be projecting modern ideas into the artwork. Considering this in the light of ancient astronaut theorists with books to sell and an axe to grind against Christianity and the Bible, it’s easy to see how present ideas of ancient aliens can be thrust upon art from long ago. Especially when the artist isn’t around to defend their position.

"However, it is all too easy for modern minds to have culturally determined ideas on ancient art that was produced by very different cultures and lifestyles. Ideologies and values of the modern onlooker may be very alien to those of the artists, and we have no way of knowing what types of image are purely representational or symbolic – and if symbolic, we have no access to the thought behind the symbols…Even the excellent Cyril Aldred, for example (1998) referred to Egyptian rock art as “magic-working rock drawings” (p.66). As Renfrew and Bahn point out, these theories were often speculative and some were undisciplined, and they were in danger of producing, ‘imagining’ what ancient people must have thought or believed” (2000 p.385)."
(Emphasis added)

Without a reasonably solid understanding of a given culture and what was important to them to inform us of what they were trying to communicate, understanding their cave and petroglyph artwork is made all the more harder. This of course opens wide the door for modern ideas like ancient astronauts to attach themselves to a piece of art.

A good example of this would be the gold figurines of the Tolima in South America. While most of these figures are obviously animals, some of these figures have odd features which make it hard to identify a specific animal. Ancient alien enthusiasts use these gold figures as proof of ancient flying machines provided by aliens. A deeper look however reveals that the “airplanes” are in all likelihood fish (flying fish, stingrays) that the Tolima encountered probably daily in the river. The river was a central fixture of Tolima life. Knowing about their livelihood and environment gives a context for their artwork that makes more sense than the modern idea being projected onto it. This principal can and should easily be applied to cave art and petroglyphs.

Looking at many of the petroglyph and painted figures depicted ( in ancient art through the new lens of lost symbolism and lost context should call into question their being proof of alien visitation. Exaggerated or contorted humanoids (people with “antennae” or non-human looking beings) may represent normal people with different skills or positions and even perhaps a message for travelers.

Another hypothesis is that what we think is ancient art may actually have been an ancient form of writing. And why not? That may certainly explain some of the more esoteric looking petroglyphs and cave paintings, the ones that look like aliens.

“It is important to remember that the intent behind what we now call "art" was, in all likelihood, not to create art at all.”

Certainly, Chinese language started out as pictograms, that is pictures meant to convey a commonly understood idea, and evolved over time to what it is today. Using pictograms as writing makes a good deal of sense as it possibly lends itself to being interpreted properly by people of different languages and as a good foundation to build a written language from. Here are some examples of original Chinese pictograms, clearly depicting a recognizable idea, and their evolution to today’s writing.

So if it wasn’t artwork, and it was writing of some sort, what does it mean? Although his views and interpretations are somewhat controversial amongst scholars, LaVan Martineau has possibly identified interpretations for a variety of rock/cave art. Interpretations that make a good deal more sense than the ancient astronaut theory. Martineau was an adopted Paiute Indian who learned a great deal from his time spent with the tribe. He was also a trained cryptographer for the United States Air Force. These two things should lend him some degree of credibility in deciphering Native American cryptograms.

“Martineau learned from the Paiutes that rock writing was based on many of the gestures used in Native American universal sign language. Sign language consisted of a few hundred gestures that could be combined together to communicate complex ideas between the various Native American tribes. Their spoken languages were so very different as to preclude any verbal communication, but the sign language was universal from the Paiutes of Utah, to the Pawnees of Nebraska or the Iroquois in New York.”

Some of his interpretations:

This one is of particular interest. This pictogram is possibly directing the reader to the other side of a given boulder for some purpose.

But it looks slightly similar to this Zuni petroglyph that is espoused as the body of an alien being. A directional marker would make far more sense than an ET visitor.

(photo taken directly of TV screen while watching Ancient Aliens)

Even pictographs of what look like aliens, actually may have a far more mundane meaning. These are reproductions of rock art said to be created by Native Americans in the area of Dalles, Oregon. It is not specified who made the interpretations.

This petroglyph looks incredibly alien, yet a deeper analysis of it reveals something far less incredible.

“The petroglyph shows a man bent-over, signifying "old man", and without a belt or crotch line, signifying "poverty". The upper hand showing the palm at the same level as the heart signifies "good". The key to the meaning is given by the triangular symbol extending away from the buttocks.

Native American fisherman in the area had the custom of leaving their catch on the rocks so that those in need could take a fish to eat. Whenever someone came by, a fisherman who did not have any fish to spare would indicate this by slapping his buttocks loudly since speech could not be heard over the roar of the falls. The slap and gesture, however, were unmistakable. The individual would then move along without taking any fish. This practice is known because of historical records and oral tradition.
The reverse arrow on the petroglyph therefore signifies "please do not let those in need go hungry by slapping your buttocks". While two figures, that of an old man and that of a fisherman, would have been clearer, it would have taken twice as long to make the petroglyph. Shorthand, it appears, is particularly useful when the message must be carved into rock.”

Martineau also suggested that some of the rock art is historical record. Even rock art that looks incredibly exotic may be merely a historical record of normal events. The use of symbolism makes this picture looks somewhat fantastical, but it is said to represent Kit Carson’s conquest of the Navajo. It’s doubtful that Carson or the Navajo employed horned giants in this episode. (not pictured, please follow the links)

And this one a war between different tribes over resources.

And some pictures held religious significance. This piece is interesting, because if one wanted to project an ancient astronaut viewpoint onto it, it would be quite easy. It looks enough like beings coming from the sky and coming to live on Earth. However, the opposite is true. This is a prophecy stone of the Hopi and it depicts the Creator leading the Hopi out of the ground and the possibility that the Hopi will be offered a chance to get onto the straight path for eternal life. When interpreted properly, this is an excellent “Mars Hill” moment to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the Hopi.

“Symbol a represents the Creator pointing down close to the ground from where the Hopi claim to have come. The short vertical lines near the Creator's hand b represent the Hopi people. The Creator is holding in his left hand "the life plan" or "trail" c upon which the Hopi are to embark. Near this hand is a circle d which represents "holding" of the entire continent in trust for the Creator, as he had instructed. (Since this photograph was taken, viewers of this panel have added a bow to the right hand of the Creator which was not apparent when Martineau surveyed the carving.)
Point e on the trail or life plan represents a time when it was predicted by the Creator that the Hopi would digress from the true path given to them and pursue another way. The square f is said to represent Oraibi, and the line or path g coming down from the square represents the false path of the wicked Oraibi . . .
The figures h standing upon the false path represent the wicked themselves. Older Hopi claim that heads have recently been added to these symbols, for they remember a time when no heads existed on these figures. The absence of heads would represent the punishment or death that the wicked must undergo as a result of following the false path.
The two zigzag lines I stemming from the false path represent the careless and different paths to permanent destruction pursued by the wicked. . . .
Symbol k is the true path of everlasting life, symbol l, which is shown at four points along this true path. The incorporation of the symbol old age (a cane) with life (a branching corn leaf) represents everlasting life. . . . The Hopi say that they are gourds which are shaken, thus representing three great wars or shakings that will transpire before the everlasting life is reached. The last circle represents the "final war" of purification in which all evil will be destroyed.
At point n on this panel the false path connects with an everlasting life symbol, showing that some may return to the true path and to everlasting life. The two zigzag lines which extend beyond this point of possible return to the path of everlasting life thus truly indicate permanent destruction, since the wicked have gone beyond this point of no return. Symbol o, at the end of the path is the great spirit holding an everlasting life symbol in his hand. He is shown waiting here at the end of the trail just as he was shown at the beginning of it. For this reason he is called the first and the last.[35”

It’s interesting to note that some of the Hopi mention that the above petroglyph had been changed even within their own lifetime. So in addition to the above concepts that we are dealing with, lost symbolism or some sort of sign language depicting directions, historical events and religious ideas, we must also consider that the pictures that we see on rock faces and in caves very well could have been changed since they were originally drawn.

The Wondjina (sometimes spelled differently, are rain spirits of the Aborigine people. Obviously rain is highly important in the Australian outback. Of course, even though they are rain spirits, the Wondjina are sometimes alleged to be ancient aliens. Based on their appearance alone, this theory cannot be proven based on the current rock paintings.

“Testing at the Wandjina site showed some drawings had been repainted numerous times over, with the images evolving over time at the artists’ discretion, rendering the original artwork unknown"

Indeed, the painting of the Wondjina every year has created layer upon layer of painting, and as the new portraits are added, no one can be sure what the originals looked like. What is certain is that the Aborigines do admit there are differences.

“Today, certain Aboriginal people of the Mowanjum tribes repaint the images to ensure the continuity of the Wondjina's presence.[2] Annual repainting in December or January also ensures the arrival of the monsoon rains, according to Mowanjum belief.[3] Repainting has occurred so often that at one site the paint is over 40 layers deep. The painting style evolves during this process: the figures of recent years are stockier and some now possess eyelashes.”

Small change after small change for who knows how many centuries and millenia could easily cause a wild departure from the original depictions, like a game of telephone. In any event, one wonders why aliens would demand their portrait be painted every year before sending life giving rain.

Added to the idea of constant revisionism over time is the presence of actual hoaxes and cherry-picked art pieces.

One of the most famous ancient astronaut rock paintings is a great example of this selective representation.

"The popular image of two “alien” figures in Val Camonica was picked out of over 200,000 drawings – a pretty clear sign of confirmation bias.”;_ylt=A0PDoKlmIbNPthUALOuJzbkF;_ylu=X3oDMTBlMTQ4cGxyBHNlYwNzcgRzbGsDaW1n?

And of course outright hoaxes. One hoax was perpetrated by none other than Erich “ancient aliens” von Daniken himself. He provides a piece of artwork, allegedly from a cave in Uzbekistan, as proof of ancient visitation both in his book Gold of the gods and his video of Chariots of the gods.

“It's a bit difficult to believe that von Däniken had no doubts about the painting at the time of publication, given that The Gold of the Gods carefully crops the image to hide the most ridiculous and obviously modern parts, and even reverses the image to obscure its origin…But von Däniken cared nothing for the evidence of hoaxing. Even more brazenly than in The Gold of the Gods, the complete image is reproduced… as figure 61 of the follow-up book later editions of Chariots and In Search of Ancient Astronauts: My Pictorial Evidence for the Impossible (1973; English version 1974)--even many years after von Däniken was alerted that the picture was not ancient. In the 1974 book, von Däniken again claims the painting is absolute proof that ancient people witnessed ancient astronauts.”
Indeed, the ancient alien crowd has falsified a good deal of evidence beyond cave paintings, some of which can be found here.

In looking at cave paintings and petroglyphs as proof ancient visitation by aliens, one is left with many other options to consider before jumping to conclusions about ET. Firstly, Ancient people were likely using symbolism that was relevant to them at the time, but symbolism (including, but not limited to religious) that has since lost its meaning. Second, and somewhat tied into the first idea, cave paintings and petroglyphs easily could have been a rudimentary form of writing to communicate across different spoken languages. There are some pieces that look like an odd creature, yet are actually communicating a complex idea that would have been known by the people who made it. There’s also the fact that rock art does not exist in a secure, sterile environment like a museum. As such, anyone could make changes in the large span of time between the art’s creation and now, thus obscuring the original image. And lastly, at least some ancient astronaut art has been fraudulently presented as evidence. When exposed as fraud, the ET theorists merely ignore the evidence. Viewed in light of these possibilities, the ancient astronaut theory is cast into serious doubt and as “Crazy-haired Georgio” likes to say about two independent “proofs,” “In any court of law, that’s evidence that would hold up.”


  1. Personally, I'm prone to think that probably most of these sorts ancient drawings/writings do have some kind of "religious" significance. I very much resonate with one of the quotes you included in your post:

    "the abstract nature of these signs is some of the best proof we currently have that these images were not being made purely for their aesthetic quality. It suggests a more symbolic role for these markings, and a desire to communicate ideas that were not necessarily easy to depict in a physical form.”"

    I mean, really, the fact alone that the "Ancient Alien" folks (which is merely another false front of the broader occult agenda) are trying to attach so much significance to these sorts of symbols, and make people familiar more with them, provides a fair amount of evidence towards the idea that there are demonic origins to most of it. When I look at many of those primitive ancient symbols, or even the proto-chinese characters and such, it really reminds me of the various systems of "runes" found in Europe and elsewhere.

    Beyond even just the global commonality of certain symbols, we almost find commonalities of all kinds of pagan/shamanic concepts, like the "World Tree" and many others (spirits, giants, underworld, alternate dimensions, etc., etc.). I sort of stumbled across the World Tree thing on accident, but then was just amazed that it's found literally everywhere, from Europe to the middle East to Asia and the Americas. Same thing with the incredibly widespread use of different kinds of mandalas in so many distinct cultures. It's all about interacting with the spiritual realm. It's weird, cuz once you really start to get that, then it's pretty amazing how easy it starts to become to interpret lots of the symbolism without even having any prior background in a particular culture or tradition. (I know that sounds kinda arrogant, but it's true...) Satan definitely recycles a lot of his material, and "ancient aliens" would seem to be just one more example of that!

    Good stuff here, you're definitely putting a lot of time and energy into researching these things. Very thought provoking... :-)

    1. Thanks, your comment is quite insightful and thought out yourself. There really is nothing new under the sun.

      Praise God He led me to some of the best of this information. Whenever I hit a wall, He moves me around it.