Thursday, June 12, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Extraterrestrial UFO Hypothesis

I just saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. While it makes a total mockery of Mesoamerican archaeology (my professional forte), it was an entertaining movie. I'd rate it higher than the second or third films, but not close to the original.

It is also an interesting movie from the perspective of UFOs. The following will spoil the movie in a large way, so I suggest you don't read if you don't want to be spoiled.


A fair amount of interest in alt/psuedo-archaeology and ufology was involved in the making of this movie. I'll note some of the highlights

1.) The title character (aka Henry Jones Jr., PhD) was involved with the Roswell UFO recovery. However, the film takes its cues not from the Roswell narratives, but from a mix of Area 51/Groom Lake stories about security, and some elements of UFO crash retrieval stories that started appearing in the 1950s. Jones says he was called out in the middle of the night by government agents, forced to board a bus with blacked-out windows along with other scientists with whom he was not allowed to talk. They were each shown some of the Roswell wreckage and remains, but not given any real idea of what they were looking at, and were then sworn to secrecy on pain of treason. The idea of specialists being brought in dates back to the early 1950s in crash stories, but the blacked-out bus is similar to a specific crash retrieval tale dating to 1973, and stories of some of the security at Groom Lake.

It should also be noted that an archaeologist or archaeological team has been part of some versions of the Roswell story for decades. In the Roswell narratives, the team stumbles across the wreckage, they are not brought in to consult.

2.) Groom Lake/Area 51 vaguely makes an appearance as "Hangar 51" in Nevada.

3.) The "aliens" (more on that in a minute) are classical Grays. At least the ones recovered from UFO crashes (more on that too). Later in the film, other "aliens" are met that look like Grays, but rather than being stereotypically short, tower over humans.

4.) By 1957, there have been at least two other UFO crashes from which the Soviet Union was able to retrieve bodies. The idea of multiple crashes dates back as far as 1950 and Frank Scully's Behind the Flying Saucers.

5.) Unlike most Roswell stories, the FBI is aware of the case and at least somewhat involved. By contrast, Hoover is on record complaining about lack of access to Roswell materials.

6.) Here's the biggie: The movie favors extradimensional or ultraterrestrial "aliens" to space-faring ETs. It is explicitly and repeatedly mentioned that the aliens are from another dimension, from the "space between spaces." They have a flying saucer, but it disappears through an extradimensional portal, and does not zoom into outer space.

This is a very interesting little fact. Spielberg, one of the most successful promoters of interest in UFOs through his movies, has given the most public support for extradimensional ideas over the ET hypothesis. This is not a surprise. In his movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. one of the main characters is a French ufologist based on Jacques Vallee. Vallee would go on to suspect human involvement in many UFO cases, but in the 1970s, was part of a small group that suggested extradimensional explanations for UFOs over space-faring ETs. Another proponent at that time was Dr. J. A. Hynek, the designer of the close encounter classification system. As a result of legal action, Hynek got a cameo in Close Encounters. Hynek was the scientific advisor to Project Blue Book and had a high profile regarding UFOs, but by the 1970s had left the mainstream views on the subject and became what some called a "demonologist."

I'm not saying this movie will sound the deathknell for the public's widely held equation of UFO = space-faring ET. But it will likely make the ultraterrestrial/extradimensional memes much more popular.

7.) Ancient astronaut ideas are the core of the film. Some reference von Daniken's main memes about the Nazca lines being involved with aliens, or ancient artwork showing spacesuits. The visitors teach the locals agriculture, irrigation, and other technologies. But other ideas are reminiscent of Zecharia Sitchin. In particular, the legend in the film is that the gods (aliens) ordered the people of South America to build a city of gold. This turns out to be a misunderstanding of pseudo-Maya translations of "treasure" but nonetheless the gold and ancient astronaut mix sounds familiar.

I'll be curious to see what effect this has on popular ideas about UFOs.

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