Sunday, 31 March 2013
I’ve already mentioned a scientific paper with the intriguing title “On the likelihood of non-terrestrial artifacts in the Solar System”, in my post on Searching for alien artifacts. There is even a scientific name for the subject – xenoarchaeology. But when scientists say they’re looking for alien artifacts, they mean real technological hardware. A chunk of limestone bearing a vague resemblance to a Soyuz re-entry capsule doesn’t count.
Sadly, “alien relics” that are unambiguous enough to convince hardnosed scientists are yet to be found in the real world. But in science fiction it’s a different matter. The discovery of an obviously artificial construct on the Moon is the starting point for the film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), which was developed from Arthur C. Clarke’s 1951 short story “The Sentinel”. Another film from the same period, Quatermass And The Pit (1967), deals with the unearthing of an ancient spacecraft, deep beneath the streets of London, in the same archaeological strata as five-million-year-old fossil hominids. Again, that film had its origins in the previous decade (a TV serial that aired in 1958/9).
Overlapping to some extent with the ancient astronaut theories is the idea of ancient high-tech civilizations here on Earth – often associated with the “lost continents” of Atlantis and Lemuria. Like ancient aliens, lost continents are very much a fringe topic. Hard archaeological evidence for a high-tech “lost continent” is—like unequivocal evidence for ancient aliens—easier to find in the pages of science fiction than in the real world. And sometimes evidence for one turns out to be evidence for both! In my recent article in Fortean Times about Lionel Fanthorpe’s Badger Books, one of the titles I referred to was Space No Barrier (1964), which was published under the pseudonym of Pel Torro. All I said about the story in the article was that it “starts with an alien artifact being unearthed at an archaeological dig in Iraq”. In fact the artifact turns out to be a buried spaceship, inside which there is a robot-like alien in suspended animation. It turns out he’s been stuck there since the days of Atlantis!
An interesting inversion of this idea can be found in Eric Frank Russell’s short story “The Cosmic Relic”. This was originally published in 1947, and reprinted in the June 1961 issue of Fantastic Stories (from which the illustration at the top of this post is taken). The “relic” featured in the story isn’t an archaeological find, but a battered-looking spacecraft that lands on the Isle of Man one day. After much consternation among the locals, and lengthy investigation by scientists, the spacecraft eventually yields its secret. It isn’t extraterrestrial at all, but a product of Earth! The spaceship was built and launched by the lost civilization of Lemuria, thousands of years ago. The “Cosmic Relic” finally returned home after travelling all the way round the Galaxy! For an even longer-term version of the same idea, see my Dinosaur Orbit post from two years ago.