Pyramids and "Ancient Astronauts"
By Scott Corrales
“Ancient astronauts” – a term that conjures up the covers of dozens of paperbacks in the mid-Seventies, juxtaposing advanced technical machinery, humanoids, primitive humans and some of the impressive stone monuments that have survived to the present, confounding experts and laymen, thrilling visitors who make pilgrimages to see them, and of course, representing a dynamic market for filmmakers and writers alike.
Impressionable audiences, fresh from the discoveries and adventure of the Apollo Project, had no trouble accepting the possibility that if humanity could now leave the confines of Earth, it was likely hat others had left their worlds, and perhaps visited our own in ages past. Science fiction authors of the calibre of Arthur C. Clarke had put the thought of ancient astronauts in the mind of Dr. Heywood Floyd, in 2001: A Space Odyssey, as he considers that possibility of a terrestrial civilization in the Pleistocene – albeit non-human – being responsible for the “monolith” that drives the entire story. Collectors of ancient figurines now pored over their dusty curios to see if charming native antiques suggested helmeted space visitors rather than priests in ceremonial garb. A documentary inspired by Erik Von Daniken’s “Chariot of the Gods” had a theatrical release in many countries, and its intriguing soundtrack found its way into many musical collections in the golden age of LP records.
The public was also exposed to a reinterpretation of many documents – even major religious texts – during this interest in ancient non-human visitors. The prophet Ezekiel’s vision of strange entities was reinterpreted as spacesuited, moonbooted vistors piloting an atmospheric craft; Elijah was now swept away by a low-flying spaceship rather than a “chariot of fire”. Alien big brothers had led primitive humans by the hand, leaving behind their wisdom in ways that our species could only begin to understand in the 20th century....
A Pyramid Like No Other
“The ruins of the sanctuary of the god of fire were destroyed by fire.” With these words, Jorge Luis Borges, one of South America's most distinguished authors and a pillar of modern literature, ends his story The Circular Ruins, which describes a timeless circular pyramid surmounted by a temple to the fire god in his short story. As if dealing with an onyric experience, Borges leads the reader through a surreal, metaphysical adventure. Does this well-known story describe the mysterious Mexican ruins known as the Cuicuilco pyramid?
Cuicuilco has been considered a bit of a embarassment to archaeologists: the massive, circular pyramid complex that straddles an ancient lava bed to the south of Mexico City is "a blow to the face of history," as one Mexican investigator called it. Even now, many scholars are silent accomplices to its destruction-- shopping malls, multi-family dwellings and industrial parks encroach upon the ancient ruins. The city's formidable pollution problem, coupled with the threat of acid rain, will surely take care of this archaeological embarrassment if no action is taken. “Sad to say, the current status of the pyramid is very bad and shows a state of near-abandonment. Grass grows everywhere and the museum, while having been expanded, is not in operation. The main access ramp is damaged by thoughtless human traffic and the lack of proper draining,” wrote urban archaeologist Daniel Schávelzon in his La Pirámide de Cuicuilco (Fondo de Cultura del Estado, 1983) which remains one of the few comprehensive works on the circular pyramid, compiling the orginal photographs and articles on the excavations performed at the "Mexican Pompeii". He has characterized the studies performed at Cuicuilco as “some of the most detailed work ever performed within Mexican archaeology.”
All experts agree that the Cuicuilco pyramid is the oldest structure in the Anahuac Valley, which houses modern Mexico, and the very first monumental construction in the Americas. Disagreements as to its antiquity and the people who built it continue to this very day. Official records state that the Cuicuilco structures can be no older than 600 B.C., but revisionist figures claim the structure was built between 8000 to 10,000 years ago, thus making it almost as old as the "Tepexpan Man" -- the earliest prehistoric dweller found in Mesoamerica (human remains along with those of a wooly mammoth were found at this site).
American audiences were first introduced to the mesmerizing enigma through a feature in National Geographic Magazine (Vol 94) bearing the title: “Ruins of Cuicuilco May Revolutionize Our History of Ancient America: Lofty Mound Sealed and Preserved by Great Lava Flow for Perhaps 70 Centuries.” The Society had financed a considerable part of the excavations at the site.
Cuicuilco measures some 17 meters in height and has a diameter of 115 meters. A series of ramps provided access to its uppermost tier, which housed a temple with a statue of Huehueteótl -- the "Old God of Fire", the very first deity worshipped in this continent. The mighty circular pyramid is surrounded by smaller structures and rectangular buildings with well-finished floors which must may been homes. When viewed from the roadside, or from the slight vantage point provided by the Perisur shopping mall, the visitor may well think he or she is looking upon a colossal Celtic hill-fort.
The Cuicuilco site has yielded clay figurines depicting a series of dancers, acrobats and entertainers; ceremonial masks probably employed by shamans and actors engaged in recreating ritual ceremonies. There is reason to believe that this lost culture was highly specialized and had its full complement of bricklayers, masons, administrators, priests and bureaucrats. “One generation succeded the next,” wrote Dr. Cummings in his article on the ruins, “and the cone of the old temple rose its head toward the endless blue, making its best effort to allow its builder’s children to grow close to the deity and closer to a true understanding of natrual phenomena...some powerful ruler decided to repair the damage to the pyrmaid and calm the rage of the gods by expanding the temple.”
The contented lives of the prosperous, unwarlike Cuicuilcans came to an end when the Ajusco, a 4000-foot tall peak located on the same mountain range as the Popocatepetl volcano, began to exhibit volcanic activity. The earthquakes which rocked Anahuac Valley caused an enormous hole to open in the ground -- a smaller volcano called Xitle, which poured a torrent of lava that destroyed nearby Copilco before engulfing Cuicuilco itself. The Cuicuilcans fled before the destruction, and all that was left behind was an eighty square mile lava field known today as El Pedregal.
Debate has raged on and off regarding the date of the Xitle's eruption. Scholars of the "Pre-Classic" period of Mexican history believe that the eruption took place between 500 and 200 A.D., while geologists have placed the volcanic event as far back as 7000 B.C. -- clearly a wildly divergent figure.
Efforts at "restoring" Cuicuilco in 1906-1910 led to the removal of a considerable number of huge adobe blocks from the upper tiers. Serious archaeological work, however, was not undertaken until April 1922, when anthropologist Manuel Gamio – the father of the “indigenismo” movement – appealed to Dr. Byron Cummings of the University of Arizona, asking him to bring a team of his students to Mexico to dig test pit aimed at ascertaining whether Cuicuilco was natural or manmade formation. The professor and his students, plus a brigade of laborers, worked diligently from 1924 to mid-1925 on what could well be the oldest pyramid on Earth. In 1933, Cummins wrote Cuicuilco and the Archaic Cultures in Mexico, a booklet on his findings, presenting a number of interesting photographs.
The site was apparently visited one night by an unidentified flying light which hovered over the ruins before speeding off into the distance; while this UFO event did not put a halt to the excavation of the Cuicuilco pyramid, the expense of digging through solid lava eventually did. Even though a considerable number of archaeologists have worked on the Cuicuilco site, the amount of literature on the area is very limited. The pyramid remains only partially uncovered, and the bulk of the Cuicuilco site is covered by a thirty square mile lava field with an average thickness of some twenty feet. The rapid growth of Mexico City now makes further excavations impossible, and we will never know what other artifacts might have given us a better clue as to the origin of the circular pyramid, its purpose and its builders. Scientists insist that its one-of-a-kind shape is a representation of the volcano beside it, but a reconstruction of the pyramid -- found in Mexico's National Anthropology Museum -- would cause even the most disinterested party to wonder: why was it shaped like a flying saucer?
According to historian Stuart J. Fiedel, between 5,000 and 10,000 people lived in Cuicuilco duirng the First Intermediate Period II (650-300 B.C.) and that the neighboring region was home to some 75,000 people. Population increased greatly duirng the First Intermediate Period III (300-100 B.C.), rising to 145,000 souls--twenty thousand of them at Cuicuilco and the remainder at Teotihuacan.
Today, centuries after its original destruction, a new cataclysm looms over Cuicuilco.
In June 1997, the Imbursa Financial Group received approval from Mexico's Instuto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) to undertake the construction of a modern office complex right beside the pyramid. The project includes a 22-storey tower and parking for 1.500 vehicles. The project's architects insist that their project's design takes the area's archaeological significance into consideration, but a committee of local residents remarked in the July 3, 1997 issue of the La Jornada newspaper: "The terrible and dark history of the premises in ths zone has been the product of currying favor with private industry and the constant surrender of our cultural heritage by bureaucrats serving corrupt businessmen." As of 2009, an office building belonging to the Mexican telephone company has encroached upon the circular pyramid’s fragile surroundings.
A City of the Gods
Trudging through fields of maguey and scrub vegetation toward the pyramid complex of Teotihuacán is the closest that the casual tourist can come to being on another planet. Even on a fine sunny day, there is a certain alienness to the landscape which makes the enormous pyramids of the Sun and Moon seem a trifle frightening. On a cloudy day, the entire region and its surrounding mountains appear to have been designed according to the descriptions of the terrifying otherworldly realms imagined by H.P. Lovecraft.
Thousands of tourists visit Teotihuacán every year; tens of thousands of postcards and books depicting the complex are sold throughout the country and overseas, but we still do not know who built the stone metropolis. The Aztecs treated the site with awe and reverence, naming it "the city of the gods" when they could not imagine who else but gods could have built such a place. Superstition kept the Aztecs from ever occupying Teotihuacán, and when the conquering Spaniards first reached the location, it was covered by dense layers of alluvial mud. Historians tell us that the monumental complex was built around 200 A.D. and was sacked by the Toltecs in 856 A.D.There is evidence that the Mexican pyramids are far older than the ultraconservative figures given by scholars. According to British archaeologist H.S. Bellamy, the excavations at Teotihuacán required the removal of layers of earth measuring up to one meter in thickness. Bellamy himself reckoned the pyramid to have been built around 5000 B.C..
In the mid-1930's, General Langlois, a French researcher, looked into the evidence of a strange unknown civilization predating the arrival of the Olmecs and the Toltecs on the Mesoamerican scene. This enigmatic culture was one of formidable mathematicians and engineers who may have been imitating older monuments still. The memory of their existence and the magnitude of their undertakings may have led successive cultures to regard them as giants who were swept away by floods, earthquakes and other disasters. Langlois believed that certain Egyptian pyramids were copies of the earlier Mexican ones.
Pyramids with a Purpose?
Pedro Ferriz and his French colleague Christian Siruget went on to discover a hitherto unknown property of the Mexican pyramids -- their ability to store electrical energy like batteries. Experiments conducted at a number of separate pyramids throughout the country led researchers to believe that these structures were designed to collect energy for later distribution. Ferriz and Siruget expressed a belief that ancient builders expressly painted red and blue sides on the pyramids to indicate the positive and negative poles of the battery. Ferriz notes in his book Los OVNI y la arqueología de México (Diana, 1976) that the pyramid of Cholula is a perfect example of this phenomenon. The Cholula pyramid, which is buried under a hillside and is surmounted by a church from the colonial period, was the single largest structure in the world until the building of the Boulder Dam in the U.S. Ferriz and Siruget suggest that the alignment of an artificial hill known as the Teotón with the extinct Tecajete volcano and the Cholula pyramid itself is repeated in other pyramid sites throughout the country. This concept is not quite as far-fetched as it may seem: radioactive pyramids are discussed in French author Robert Charroux's The Gods Unknown. The hundred-foot tall pyramid found in Couhard, Brittany was built with radioactive phyllite rock. Charroux writes that the Couhard Pyramid is well oriented horizontally and aligned to a shaft which led to a deep geological rift which apparently served to provide negative Coulombian waves. The structure emits K41 gamma radiation -- a fact which leads the French writer to speculate that the pyramids were employed as beacons for guiding spacecraft to safe harbor within Earth's atmosphere. He goes even farther out on a limb to speculate that the radioactive energy was used to recharge the propulsion systems of his hypothetical spaceships.
But what leads a researcher to conclude that something – a building, a statue, an unknown device – is the handiwork of putative extraterrestrials? Pedro Ferriz summed it up rather succinctly in his own investigations throughout Mexico. To invoke the presence of ancient astronauts, he said, was an admission on the part of the writer or researcher that “he or she was unable to understand the nature of the object in question.” Consultation with experts on the subject, whether architecture, anthropology or metallurgy, would be the first step to take. If these experts considered themselves stumped by the question, or unable to offer a satisfactory answer, the mystery could then be classified as the product of a higher civilization (ancient human or alien) until the contrary was established.
This was the approach taken when Ferriz and Siruget visited the shores of the Gulf of Mexico to look into the possibility that an unknown civilization had built artificial islands in those waters at a given point in antiquity. The location in question was Jaina, in the state of Campeche, surrounded by unhealthy, malarial swamps extending fifty miles from north to south. According to their estimates, four million tons of caliche and dirt had been conveyed to the swamp in ages past to fill a hole surrounded by dense, black mud. Had the operation been performed using modern machinery, two hundred thousand trips – involving large dump trucks – would have been necessary, and no roads exist in the tropical mangrove swamp.
Unwilling to grasp a convenient explanation involving extraterrestrials, spacecraft and “tractor beams”, Ferriz and Siruget wrestled with the logistics of a human culture undertaking such a project. Materials would have had to be conveyed from the mainland, two nautical miles distant, in barges capable of carrying ten to twenty tons of material. These barges would have been pulled by hemp ropes and a primitive pulley system of round stone poles. The laborious process of stone extraction, haulage and dumping would have involved a staggering forty million man hours: ten thousand workers working day in and day out for a year, or a thousand workers over ten years. So far, so good. What causes this rational answer to topple to the ground like an unsound pyramid, however, is the fact that the these workers would have required food and water in excess of what the land was able to offer: twenty million liters of water and at least seven million calories of food. Or more succinctly “two million kilos of tortilla flour and the meat of twenty-five thousand deer,” to quote the authors. The Mayan figurines found on the artificial island would correspond to subsequent occupancy at a later age, when Jaina became a ceremonial and burial site.
Teopanzolco, the block-like pyramid whose name means “old or abandoned temple” (indicating it was abandoned by the time the Nahuatl-speaking peoples reached the area known as modern Cuernavaca) has also been seen as a potential power source. One of the structures in the complex is built within a narrow moat. Theorists suggested that if the moat were to be flooded with salt water or acid, the structure would become an impressive “battery”. Scaled down versions of Teopanzolco successfully produced limited amounts of electricity.
But why would such a structure become known as the “old or abandoned temple”? When Geiger counters are employed at some of these sites, their needles often make an initial reading and then go silent. Sometimes the needles oscilate wildly, like tree branches in a storm wind. Could some of these electrical pyramids have become overloaded, “short-circuited” and burned out? Signs of fire-blackened walls, having nothing to do with the rapine of the colonial conquest, are often reported in some structures.
The King of Chacaltzingo
The Summer 1995 issue of Terra Incognita, the newsletter of Mexico's CEFP (Centro de Estudios de Fenomenos Paranormales) featured an article by noted investigator Gustavo Nelin, a chemical engineer devoted to unravelling the ancient mysteries of his country along with the more recent enigma posed by the UFO phenomenon.
Chalcaltzingo, in the state of Morelos, boasts a four thousand year old rock carving known officially as the "The King" but whose description matches more closely that of a nearly-horizontal figure giving the appearance of floating in space while holding a torch-like object in an outstreched arm. A "space vehicle" appears suspended above the figure, who is clearly meant to be flying in mid-air as the artist has surrounded him with birds. "To me his helmet looks like a real modern helmet, like the ones used by modern fliers," Nelín observes in his article. "He is dressed in a one-piece jumpsuit with thick belts and is also wearing boots on his feet."
The "Olmec Astronaut" is not unique: two other depictions, found on a jade object and on a stelae in La Venta, Veracruz, respectively, show flying humans in the same pose as the one in Chalcatzingo. The author has observed that there are sufficient elements present in all three to safely state that the art of flight had been known to the sculptors depicting the images.
Nelín has also investigated other archaeological sites overlooked by contemporary visitors, such as Cacaxtla in the state of Tlaxcala (N.E. of Mexico City). Flanked by the towering peaks of Iztaccihuatl and Popocatepetl, Cacaxtla is a citadel 2 1/2 miles wide by 1 mile wide, boasting the ruins of palaces, dwelling places, religious structures and other edifices. The site features vivid murals depicting half-animal, half-human males and females.
While much attention has been lavished upon the enigmatic petroglyphs found at the Canyonlands site in Utah, a possibly more significant one has been completely overlooked at Mexico's Tlatilco site. This particular petroglyph clearly represents a being whose circular head is depicted as being contained within a square helmet and its feet give the impression of being covered by boots. An ancient astronaut, or an ancient tribesman wearing a box over his head? Archaeology leans toward the latter option, although the ancients had not yet manufactured the box.
Dozens of books about ancient astronauts -- or paleoufology -- have filled bookshelves since the 1970's and their conclusions leave the reader none the wiser for the experience. The archaeological world is crawling with anomalies that hint at advanced civilizations which existed centuries earlier than modern scholarship is prepared to accept. To invoke the participation of aliens from another planet in the achievements of these forgotten peoples is premature and unnecessary: human beings of past millennia were certainly as resourceful as they are today, and were perfectly equipped to make the best use of the materials at their disposal. It is another matter entirely to say that these cultures represented the visits of interplanetary/interdimensional creatures in their artwork, architecture and even in their language: Quetzalcoatl, the "Venusian" deity worshipped as the embodiment of the force of spirituality and good in ancient Mexico, was the son of Chimalma, the "mirrored shield". Could this mean that the deity emerged from a brilliant disk that landed on the ground, a shield-shaped vehicle? Who can say?
The mystery is as disturbing to us today as it was to the Aztecs five hundred years ago; disturbing enough to prompt Netzahualcoyotl, the Poet-King, to write the following line of verse: "There is above us a bursting of rays, spying upon us and always watching..."