Erich Anton Paul von Däniken (/ˈɛrɨk fɒn ˈdɛnɨkɨn/; German: ˈeːʁɪç fɔn ˈdɛːnɪkən; born 14 April 1935) is a Swiss author of several books which make controversial claims about extraterrestrial influences on early human culture, including the best-selling Chariots of the Gods?, published in 1968. Däniken is one of the main figures responsible for popularizing the "paleo-contact" and ancient astronauts hypotheses. The ideas put forth in his books are largely rejected by scientists and academics, who categorize his work as pseudohistory and pseudoarchaeology.
Däniken wrote his first book while working as manager of the Hotel Rosenhügel in Davos, Switzerland. He was convicted of several financial crimes, including fraud, shortly after its publication. The revenue from the sales of his book allowed him to repay his debts and leave the hotel business. Däniken wrote his second book, Gods from Outer Space, while in prison.
Däniken later became a co-founder of the Archaeology, Astronautics and SETI Research Association (AAS RA). He designed Mystery Park (now known as Jungfrau Park), a theme park located in Interlaken, Switzerland, that opened on 23 May 2003.
Däniken was born in Zofingen, Aargau. Brought up as a strict Catholic, he attended the Saint-Michel International Catholic School in Fribourg, Switzerland. During his time at the school he rejected the church's interpretations of the Bible and developed an interest in astronomy and the phenomenon of flying saucers.
At the age of 19, Däniken was given a four-month suspended sentence for theft. He left the school and became apprenticed to a Swiss hotelier for a time, before moving to Egypt. While in Egypt, he was involved in a jewelry deal which resulted in a nine-month conviction for fraud and embezzlement upon his return to Switzerland.
Following his release, he became manager of the Hotel Rosenhügel in Davos, Switzerland, during which time he wrote Chariots of the Gods?, working on the manuscript late at night after the hotel's guests had retired. In December 1964, Däniken wrote Hatten unsere Vorfahren Besuch aus dem Weltraum? ("Did our Ancestors have a Visit from Space?") for the German-Canadian periodical Der Nordwesten.Chariots of the Gods? was accepted by a publisher in early 1967, and printed in March 1968.
In November 1968 Däniken was arrested for fraud, after falsifying hotel records and credit references in order to take out loans for $130,000 over a period of twelve years. He used the money for foreign travel to research his book. Two years later, Däniken was convicted for "repeated and sustained" embezzlement, fraud and forgery, with the court ruling that the writer had been living a "playboy" lifestyle. He unsuccessfully entered a plea of nullity, on the grounds that his intentions were not malicious and that the credit institutions were at fault for failing adequately to research his references, and on 13 February 1970 he was sentenced to three and a half years imprisonment and was also fined 3,000 francs. He served one year of this sentence before being released.
His first book, Chariots of the Gods?, had been published by the time of his trial, and its sales allowed him to repay his debts and leave the hotel business. Däniken wrote his second book, Gods from Outer Space, while in prison.
Claims of alien influence on Earth:
The general claim of Däniken over several published books, starting with Chariots of the Gods? in 1968, is that extraterrestrials or "ancient astronauts" visited Earth and influenced early human culture. Däniken writes about his belief that structures such as the Egyptian pyramids, Stonehenge, and the Moai of Easter Island and artifacts from that period represent higher technological knowledge than is presumed to have existed at the times they were manufactured. He also describes ancient artwork throughout the world as containing depictions of astronauts, air and space vehicles, extraterrestrials, and complex technology. Däniken explains the origins of religions as reactions to contact with an alien race, and offers interpretations of sections of the Old Testament of the Bible.
Critique and criticism:
In 1966, when Däniken was writing his first book, scientists Carl Sagan and I. S. Shklovskii wrote about the possibility of paleocontact and extraterrestrial visitation claims in one chapter of their book Intelligent Life in the Universe, leading author Ronald Story to speculate in his book The Space-gods Revealed that this may have been the genesis of Däniken's ideas. Many ideas from this book appeared in different form in Däniken's books.
Prior to Däniken's work, other authors had presented ideas of extraterrestrial contacts. He has failed to credit these authors properly or at all, even when making the same claims using similar or identical evidence. The first edition of Däniken's Erinnerungen an die Zukunft failed to cite Robert Charroux's One Hundred Thousand Years of Man's Unknown History despite making very similar claims, and publisher Econ-Verlag were forced to add Charroux in the bibliography in later editions, to avoid a possible lawsuit for plagiarism.
Errors and omissions:
That writing as careless as von Däniken's, whose principal thesis is that our ancestors were dummies, should be so popular is a sober commentary on the credulousness and despair of our times. I also hope for the continuing popularity of books like Chariots of the Gods? in high school and college logic courses, as object lessons in sloppy thinking. I know of no recent books so riddled with logical and factual errors as the works of von Däniken.
--Carl Sagan, Foreword to The Space Gods Revealed
In Chariots of the Gods?, Däniken wrote that a non-rusting iron pillar in Delhi, India, was evidence of extraterrestrial influence. In a later Playboy interview, when told that the column showed some signs of rust and its method of construction was well understood, Däniken said that since writing the book he had learned of investigations reaching other conclusions, and no longer considered the pillar to be a mystery.
In The Gold of the Gods, Däniken wrote of being guided through artificial tunnels in a cave under Ecuador, Cueva de los Tayos, containing gold, strange statues and a library with metal tablets, which he considered to be evidence of ancient space visitors. The man who he said showed him these tunnels, Juan Moricz, told Der Spiegel that Däniken's descriptions came from a long conversation and that the photos in the book had been "fiddled". Däniken told Playboy that although he had seen the library and other places he had described, he had fabricated some of the events to add interest to his book. Later in 1978 he said that he had never been in the cave pictured in his book but in a "side entrance", and that he had fabricated the whole descent into the cave. A geologist examined the area and found no cave systems. Däniken also wrote about a collection of gold objects held by local priest Father Crespi, who had special permission from the Vatican to do archeological research. But an archeologist reported to Der Spiegel that, while there were some gold pieces, many were just local imitations for tourists, and that Crespi has difficulty distinguishing brass from gold.
Dr. Samuel Rosenberg said that the Book of Dzyan, referred to by Däniken, was "a fabrication superimposed on a gigantic hoax concocted by Madame Blavatsky." He also says that the "Tulli Papyrus", cited by Däniken in one of his books, is probably cribbed from the Book of Ezekiel, and quoted Dr. Nolli (through Dr. Walter Ramberg, Scientific Attache at the U.S. embassy in Rome), then current Director of the Egyptian Section of the Vatican Museum, as "suspecting that Tulli was taken in and that the papyrus is a fake." According to NYT's Richard R. Lingerman, it is likely that Däniken obtained these references from UFO books that mentioned them as real documents.
Däniken brought the Nazca Lines to public prominence with his 1968 book Chariots of the Gods?, attracting so many tourists that researcher Maria Reiche had to spend much of her own time and money preserving them. Däniken said that the lines were built following instructions from extraterrestrial beings, to be used as airfields for their spaceships. In his 1998 book Arrival of The Gods, he added that some of the pictures depicted extraterrestrials. Archeologists are sure that they were made by pre-columbian civilizations for cultural purposes, and they have not bothered refuting this sort of speculation. Silverman and Proulx say this silence from archaeologists has harmed the profession and the Peruvian nation. The idea was not originated by Däniken: it started as a joke made by people who first saw the lines from the air. and had already been published by other people. One of the cropped photos in Chariots of the Gods?, claimed by Däniken to be similar to the markings of a modern airport, was only the knee joint of one of the bird figures and was quite small in size; Däniken says that it was an error in the first edition, and that he wasn't the one who wrote that claim in the book, but the error has not been corrected in later editions.
Däniken wrote in Chariots of the Gods? that a version of the Piri Reis map that the map depicted some Antarctic mountains that were and still are buried in ice, and could only be mapped with modern equipment. His theory relies on the book of Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings by Charles Hapgood. A. D. Crown, in Some Trust in Chariots, explains how this is simply wrong. The map in Däniken's book only extends 5 degrees south of the equator, ending in Cape São Roque, which means that it doesn't extend to Antarctica. Däniken also said that the map showed some distortions that would only happen if it was an aerial view taken from a spaceship flying above El Cairo, but in fact it doesn't extend far enough to the South to cause visible distortions in an aerial view. Däniken also asserts the existence of a legend saying that a god gave the map to a priest, the god being an extraterrestrial being. But Piri Reis said that he had drawn that map himself using old maps, and the map is consistent with the cartographic knowledge of that time. Also, the map is not "absolutely accurate" as claimed by Däniken, since it contains many errors and omissions; a fact that Däniken did not correct when he covered the map again in his 1998 book Odyssey of the Gods. Other authors had already published this same idea, a fact that Däniken did not recognize until 1974 in an interview to Playboy magazine.
The Nova documentary The Case of the Ancient Astronauts shows that all the claims made by von Däniken about the Pyramid of Cheops were wrong in all accounts. The technique of construction is well understood, scholars know perfectly what tools were used, the marks of those tools in the quarries are still visible, and there are many tools preserved in museums. Däniken claims that it would have taken them too long to cut all the blocks necessary and drag them to the construction site in time to build the Great Pyramid in only 20 years, but Nova shows how easy and fast it is to cut a block of stone, and shows the rollers used in transportation. He also claims that Egyptians suddenly started making pyramids out of nowhere, but there are several pyramids that show the progress made by Egyptian architects while they were perfecting the technique from simple mastabas to later pyramids. Däniken claims that the height of the pyramid multiplied by one million was the distance to the Sun, but the number falls too short. He also claims that Egyptians could not align the edges so perfectly to true North without advanced technology that only aliens could give them, but Egyptians knew of very simple methods to find North via star observation, and it is trivial to make straight edges.
Däniken claimed that the Sarcophagus of Palenque depicted a spaceman sitting on a rocket-powered spaceship, wearing a spacesuit. However, archaeologists see nothing special with the figure, a dead Mayan monarch who is wearing traditional Mayan hairdo and jewelry, surrounded by Mayan symbols that can be observed in other Mayan drawings. The right hand is not handling any rocket controls, but simply making a traditional Mayan gesture, that other figures in the sides of the lid also make, and is not holding anything. The rocket shape is actually two serpents joining their heads at the bottom, with the rocket flames being the beards of the serpents. The rocket motor under the figure is the face of a monster, symbol of the underworld.
Däniken put forward photographs of ancient stones in Peru, with carvings of men using telescopes, detailed world maps, and advanced medical operations, all beyond the knowledge of ancient Peruvians. But the PBS television series Nova determined that the stones were modern, and located the potter who made them. This potter makes stones daily and sells them to tourists. Däniken had visited the potter and examined the stones himself, but he didn't mention this in his book. He says that he didn't believe the potter when he said that he had made the stones. Däniken says that he asked Doctor Cabrera, a local surgeon who owns the museum, and Cabrera had told him that the potter's claims were a lie and that the stones were ancient. But the potter had proof that Cabrera had thanked him for providing the stones for the museum. Däniken claimed that the stones at the museum were very different from those made by the potter, but the Nova reporters oversaw the manufacturing of one stone and confirmed that it was very similar to those in the museum.
Kenneth Feder accused Däniken of European ethnocentrism, while John Flenley and Paul Bahn suggested that views such as his interpretation of the Easter Island statues "ignore the real achievements of our ancestors and constitute the ultimate in racism: they belittle the abilities and ingenuity of the human species as a whole."
Ronald Story published The Space Gods Revealed: A Close Look At The Theories of Erich Von Däniken in 1976, written in response to the evidence presented in Däniken's Chariots of the Gods?. It was reviewed as "a coherent and much-needed refutation of Von Däniken's theories". Archeologist Clifford Wilson wrote two books similarly debunking Daniken: Crash Go the Chariots in 1972 and The Chariots Still Crash in 1975.
A 2004 article in Skeptic Magazine states that Däniken took many of the book's concepts from The Morning of the Magicians, that this book in turn was heavily influenced by the Cthulhu Mythos, and that the core of the ancient astronaut theory originates in H. P. Lovecraft's short stories "The Call of Cthulhu" written in 1926, and "At the Mountains of Madness" written in 1931.
Speaking in a 2001 documentary, Däniken said that although he could not conclusively prove to the scientific community that any of the items in his archive were of alien origin, he felt that "today's science" would not accept such evidence, as "the time is simply not right". He argued that it was first necessary to "prepare" mankind for a "wonderful new world". It is also mentioned that he jumped from Hotel Manager to "expert on the ancient world."
According to Däniken, subsequent books in his series have been translated into 32 languages and together have sold more than 63 million copies.
Jungfrau Park located near Interlaken, Switzerland was opened as the Mystery Park in 2003. Designed by Däniken, it explored several great "mysteries" of the world.
Ridley Scott said that his film Prometheus is related to some of Däniken's ideas regarding early human civilization.
Reviewing the two-disc DVD release of Roland Emmerich's film Stargate, Dean Devlin referred to the "Is There a Stargate?" feature where "author Erich von Däniken discusses evidence he has found of alien visitations to Earth."
Däniken is an occasional presenter on the History Channel and H2 show Ancient Aliens, where he talks about aspects of his theories as they pertain to each episode.
Däniken is a member of the Swiss Writers Association, the German Writers Association and the International PEN Club. He was awarded with an honorary doctorate by the La Universidad Boliviana. He received the Huesped Illustre award from the cities of Ica and Nazca in Peru. In Brazil he received the Lourenco Filho award in Gold and Platinum, and in Germany he was awarded with the Order of Cordon Bleu du Saint Esprit (together with the German astronaut Ulf Merbold). In 2004, he was awarded the Explorers Festival prize.
Chariots of the Gods? (Souvenir Press Ltd, 1969),
Return to the Stars (Souvenir Press Ltd, 1970) ISBN 0-285-50298-0,
Gods from Outer Space (Bantam,1972; reprint of Return to the Stars),
The Gold of the Gods (Souvenir Press Ltd, 1973) ISBN 0-285-62087-8,
Miracles of the Gods: A Hard Look at the Supernatural (Souvenir Press Ltd, 1975) ISBN 0-285-62174-2,
In Search of Ancient Gods: My Pictorial Evidence for the Impossible (Corgi books, 1976) ISBN 0-552-10073-0,
According to the Evidence (Souvenir Press, 1977) ISBN 0-285-62301-X,
Signs of the Gods (Corgi books, 1980) ISBN 0-552-11716-1,
The Stones of Kiribati: Pathways to the Gods (Corgi books, 1982) ISBN 0-552-12183-5,
The Gods and their Grand Design: The Eighth Wonder of the World (Souvenir Press, 1984) ISBN 0-285-62630-2,
The Eyes of the Sphinx: The Newest Evidence of Extraterrestrial Contact (Berkley Publishing Corporation, 1996) ISBN 978-0-425-15130-3,
The Return of the Gods: Evidence of Extraterrestrial Visitations (Element, 1998) ISBN 1-86204-253-5,
Arrival of the Gods: Revealing the Alien Landing Sites of Nazca (Element, 1998) ISBN 1-86204-353-1,
The Gods Were Astronauts: Evidence of the True Identities of the Old "Gods" (Vega books, 2001) ISBN 1-84333-625-1,
Odyssey of the Gods: An Alien History of Ancient Greece (Vega books, 2002) ISBN 978-1-84333-558-0,
History Is Wrong (New Page books, 2009) ISBN 978-1-60163-086-5,
Twilight of the Gods: The Mayan Calendar and the Return of the Extraterrestrials (New Page books, 2010) ISBN 978-1-60163-141-1,
Remnants of the Gods: A Visual Tour of Alien Influence in Egypt, Spain, France, Turkey, and Italy (New Page Books, 2013) ISBN 1601632835,
Strategie der Götter: Das Achte Weltwunder (1982) 3-430-11979-0,
Der Tag an dem die Götter kamen (1984) ISBN 3-442-08478-4,
Habe ich mich geirrt? (1985) ISBN 3-570-03059-8,
Wir alle sind Kinder der Götter (1987) C. Bertelsmann, ISBN 3-570-03060-1,
Die Augen der Sphinx (1989) C. Bertelsmann, ISBN 3-570-04390-8,
Die Spuren der Ausserirdischen (1990) (Bildband) ISBN 3-570-09419-7,
Die Steinzeit war ganz anders (1991) ISBN 3-570-03618-9,
Ausserirdische in Ägypten (1991),
Erinnerungen an die Zukunft (1992) (Reissue with new foreword),
Der Götter-Schock (1992) ISBN 3-570-04500-5,
Raumfahrt im Altertum (1993) ISBN 3-570-12023-6,
Auf den Spuren der Allmächtigen (1993) C. Bertelsmann, ISBN 3-570-01726-5,
Botschaften und Zeichen aus dem Universum (1994) C. Bertelsmann, ISBN 3-442-12688-6,
Im Name von Zeus (2001) C. Bertelsmann, ISBN 86-331-2372-X,
Götterdämmerung (2009) KOPP Verlag 978-3942016049,
Grüße aus der Steinzeit: Wer nicht glauben will, soll sehen!, 2010,
Was ist falsch im Maya-Land?: Versteckte Technologien in Tempeln und Skulpturen, 2011,
Peter Krassa, Disciple of the Gods: A biography of Erich von Däniken (W. H. Allen & Unwin, 1976). ISBN 0-352-30262-3,
Mauz, Gerhard von (July 1970), "Wie es unser explorand sehr schön zeigt", Der Spiegel (in German) ,
Ferry Radax: Mit Erich von Däniken in Peru (With Erich von Däniken in Peru, 1982). A documentary.