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1 The Advertiser – The disappointing but profitable mysteries of Erich von Daniken;

2 Erich von Daniken.

The disappointing but profitable mysteries
of Erich von Daniken

Gavin Souter

(Investigator 13, 1999 July

Reprinted courtesy The Advertiser 1973 March 31. Graphics omitted.)

Do you sincerely want to be rich? Well this is what you do.

First, think of a theory in which millions of people would like to believe. That's the difficult part. Then scour the world for evidence which may support your theory. You don't have to prove anything; merely establish a general air of possibility. Finally, put it all into a book, or preferably a series of books.

Ench von Vaniken, a 38-year-old Swiss ex-hotelier, can vouch for the effectiveness of this modus operandi. His theory, suggested to him by someone else in 1966, is that extraterrestrial beings visited this planet in the remote past, gave mankind a helping hand, and left various archaeological traces of their passing.

Remember the mysterious black monolith in "2001"? That sort of thing. As it happened, Mr. von Daniken's first book ("Chariots of the Gods") appeared in 1969, when "2001" was still stunning cinema audiences around the world.

Mr. von Daniken wrote his second book ("Return to The Stars," 1970) while confined to a Swiss prison awaiting trial on charger of fraud that had nothing to do with his books. He was convicted in February 1970, and served two years in prison.

In the meantime he was making a fortune. His first two books have been printed in 26 languages. Their combined hardcover and paperback sales exceed eight million copies. A third book, aptly entitled "Gold From the Gods," will be published in May.

The German edition of this book – whose German title can be translated as "Sowing in the Cosmos: Traces and Plains of an Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence" – has already topped the best-seller list in Germany.

I don't know exactly why people want to believe Mr. von Daniken, but obviously they do. It has something to do with our increasingly technological and decreasingly spiritual times. If you can't believe in God, perhaps you can believe in Godlike visitors from outer space. And if such visitors have been here before, perhaps they’ll come again. In New Guinea it would be called cargo cult.

Australia is no exception. "Chariots of the Gods" has been read by one in every six Australians, the film of the book was endorsed by the Department of Education, and it still crops up in the suburbs during school holidays.

Mr. von Daniken has been so successful here that even books attacking him do well.

"Some Trust In Chariots!," a riposte published last year by several Sydney academics, has sold 30,000 copies at $2.75 a time, and is now being reprinted.

When Mr. von Daniken arrived in Australia for a lecture tour last week, he advanced the proposition that his fraud record had no relevance to his books.

"People should criticise my theories," he said "Instead of dragging up my past."

Knowing that I would be talking to Mr. von Daniken in a few days, I took him at his word and made a few enquiries about some of the more interesting mysteries in his books.

In every case my Interest was disappointed. When we met, I sought reassurance from Mr. von Daniken. Regretfully I must report that it was not forthcoming.

No ropes for the Pyramids

In support of his argument that the Great Pyramid of Cheops could not have been built by man, Mr. von Daniken asserts (COTG, p. 101) that rope was "non-existent" in Egypt at this time. Dr. Basil Hennessy until recently the Edwin Cuthbert Hall Visiting Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology at Sydney University – points out in "Some Trust In Chariots" that this "non-existent" rope may be seen in some quantity at the Cairo Museum.

"Light and heavy ropes were use many hundreds of years before the construction of the Great Pyramid" he says, "and have recently been found in First Dynasty tombs at Sakkar." A wall painting from the Twelfth Dynasty shows exactly how the Egyptians moved weights heavier than the largest pyramid stone; on a wooden sledge hauled by about 170 men.

When I asked Mr. von Daniken about this, he nodded agreeably and said: "The pyramids are much older than pre-cordage."

The Ark of the Covenant

Mr. von Daniken claims (COTG, p. 58) that the gold-covered Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament was an electrically charged condenser "perhaps even the kind of set for communication between Moses and the space-ship" (what space-ship?). "Without actually consulting Exodus," he writes, "I seem to remember that the Ark was often surrounded by flashing sparks and that Moses made use of this 'transmitter' whenever he needed help and advice."

I did consult Exodus and found no mention of flashing sparks or anything that sounded remotely like Moses using a transmitter. There are detailed instructions for making the Ark out of shittim wood and gold – instructions which, if followed today (according to Mr. von Daniken), produce "a voltage of several hundred volts."

The film "Chariots of the Gods" went one step further. It showed a replica of the Ark, made by "a group of Minnesota college students," which produced a dangerous electrical charge.

Dr. Peter White, a lecturer in anthropology at Sydney University who is writing an anti-Daniken book titled "The Man-Made past," took the trouble to ask about this project at the University of Minnesota. The archivist at the university library made extensive enquiries, but was unable to locate an Ark of the Covenant project.

When I asked Mr. von Daniken about it, he said: "It was some high school in Michigan."

The book of Dzyan

In "Return to the Stars," Mr. Von Daniken quotes at length from "The Book of Dzyan," which "is supposed to contain the primordial ancient world, the formula of creation, and to tell of the evolution of mankind over millions of years." He says (RTTS, p. 150) that the book originated "beyond the Himalayas."

By unknown routes its teaching reached Japan, India and China and traces of its ideas are even found in South American traditions. Secret fraternities who hid themselves in the solitary passes of the west Chinese Kun-lun range or in the deep gorges of Altyn-tag…watched over collections of books of vast size.

"Subterranean vaults and passages concealed their library treasures. 'The Book of Dzyan' was also guarded in these fastnesses. The first fathers of the Church made every effort to erase this secret doctrine from the memories of those who were familiar with it. Yet all their efforts failed and the texts were transmitted orally from generation to generation."

When I asked Mr. von Daniken, where I could obtain an English translation of "The Book of Dzyan," he referred me to "The Secret Doctrine," a three-volume, 2,068-page work published by the Russian theosophist, Madame H. P. Blavatsky, in 1888.

The Library of NSW has this massive oddity, and also a more recent edition of "The Book of Dzyan" on its own. The catalogue card for "The Book of Dzyan" was "known only from H. P. Blavatsky's 'The Secret Doctrine.'

In the introduction to her work, Madame Blavatsky makes this candid admission: "The Book of Dzyan is utterly unknown to our philologists, or at any rate was never heard of by them under its present name. This is, of course a great drawback to those who follow the methods of research prescribed by official science; but to the students of occultism, and to every genuine occultist, this will be of little moment."

Where does that leave the subterranean literary treasures of Altyn-tag and Kun-lun? "It is true that in the first volume Madame Blavatsky said she had not seen the originals," said Mr. von Daniken. "In one of the later volumes, however, she said she had seen copies of the originals. No one has seen the originals, but there are copies in Hindu temples. The originals are in western China."

The plates of Baian Kara Ula

This mystery (RTTS, pp l09-112) depends for its credibility on "Chinese archaeologist Chi Pu Tei" and a certain Professor Tsum Um Nui, via "Alexander Kassanzev, the famous Soviet writer," via of course Mr. von Daniken.

As Mr. von Daniken heard the story in Moscow from Kassanzev in 1968. Chi Pu Tei in 1938 discovered some graves in a cave on the mountain of Baian Kara Ula near what was then the Sino-Tibetan border.

The skeletons, all with small frames and large heads, shared the cave with 716 thin granite plates, rather like LP records. Each plate had a hole in the middle from which a strange incised script ran out spirally to the circumference. In 1962 Professor Tsum Um Nui of the Academy of Prehistoric Research at Peking deciphered part of this script.

Kassanzev told Mr. von Daniken: "The stone plate story says that 12,000 years ago, reckoned from today, a group of their people had crashed on to the third planet in this system. Their aircraft – that is an exact translation of the groove hieroglyphics – no longer had enough power to leave this world again. They had been destroyed in the remote and inaccessible mountains."

The five-volume "Times Atlas of the World," which so impressed Sir Edmund Hillary with its Himalayan detail, contains no mention of Baian Kara Ula. Nor could the Soviet Embassy in Canberra provide any information this week about the "famous Soviet writer" Kassanzev.

I asked Mr. von Daniken what kind of books Kassanzev wrote. "He is writing both scientifically," he replied, "and science fiction."

Any further news about the stone plates? "I am sure there will be. I received a letter from the Cultural Institutes in Peking just before I left Zurich. I left it with the Chinese Ambassador to be translated."

Ecuador underground 'library'

More plates, and another underground "library." The longest chapter in the German edition of Mr. von Daniken's latest book is entitled "Gold from the Gods." It describes a vast network of underground vaults In the Ecuadorian province of Morona-Santiago.

Mr. von Daniken claims that he visited the vaults with their discoverer, a Hungarian-Argentine ethnologist named Juan Moricz. There he was shown a table made of a substance which he was unable to identify, and a library full of metal plates – some gold, and all inscribed with strange writing.

Recently one of the world’s leading pre-Columbian Archaeologists was asked in New York whether he had heard of these plates. He did not want to be identified but take my word for it that he has worked in Ecuador on and off for the past 25 years.

He said: "In all the time I was there I found no basis for any of these claims by von Daniken. There have been legends in Ecuador about gold and so on, but nobody has ever found anything. There really is no evidence that there were books or writings of gold."

When I told Mr. von Daniken this, he shrugged his shoulders and said: "I can only tell you the subterranean vaults are there, and those vaults are filled up with plates.

"I have not been to the main entrance, but I went in a side entrance and saw some of the plates myself. Moricz told me there are many rooms with complete libraries."

Moricz would not allow Mr. Von Daniken to photograph or remove any of the plates. What proof, then, does he have of their existence? Mr. Von Daniken showed me a copy of a notarial statement by Moricz which referred to "laminas de metal grabadas con signos y escritura ideografica, verdadera biblioteca metalica" (metal sheets engraved with signs and ideographic writing a veritable metallic library).

He also gave me a photocopy of an article by Jorge E Blinkhorn in an Ecuadorian newspaper called "El Telegrafo." It was about "La. Expedicion Moricz 1969." The headline was: "Un Verdadero Mundo Subterraneo En America" (a veritable underground world in America).

"I think it says something about metal plates." said Mr. von Daniken. I looked carefully through the article later, but saw nothing that resembled "laminas de metal" or "escritura ideografica."

16th-Century Turkish map of Antarctica

Mr. von Daniken starts from a premise that the so-called Piri Re’is map of 1513 contains an accurate representation of part of the Antarctic coastline — not as it was then or is now, mark you, but as it was before the continent was iced over. He concludes (COTG, p. 31) that whoever drew the originals from which this Turkish map was compiled "must have been able to fly and also to take photographs."

The orthodox explanation is that the Piri Re'is map was based upon charts from Columbus's voyages. According to Mr. von Daniken, however, a photograph taken from a space-ship sufficiently high above Cairo to show everything within a 5,000-mile radius would be distorted in much the same way as the outlines of South America, Africa and Antarctica on the Piri Re'is map.

When I asked Mr. von Daniken this question, he referred me to "Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings" by Charles H. Hapgood, 1965. The book is beautifully produced, and contains a large color photograph of the Piri Re'is map which it says, incidentally, came to light at the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, in 1929 – not during the eighteenth century, as claimed in "Chariots of the Gods."

Hapgood, who was then teaching at Keene State College, a smallish institution in New Hampshire, had had his attention drawn to this map by Captain A. H. Mallery, described as a "student of old maps and a breaker of new ground in borderland regions of archeology." Captain Mallery, writes Hapgood in the preface, was struck by the map's remarkable agreement with modern seismic profiles of the coast of Queen Maud Land in Antarctica.

Hapgood set his Keene students the task of testing that claim, and the book is based largely on their work. Their conclusion was that the Piri Re’is map "may contain a representation of part of the Antarctic coast drawn before the present ice cap covered it."

From this possibility, the book further concludes that there may have been an ancient civilisation in a very remote period of the world's history. There is not a word about aerial photography.

The biggest surprise in the book for me was not the rudimentary nature of Piri Re'is's Antarctica (it is hard to conceive of that line corresponding with anything but the far more impressive representations of the entire Antarctic continent on other sixteenth-century maps).

Mercator had a particularly good one in 1538. It was imaginary, of course.

Charles Hapgood has now retired from Keene, and is writing more books. Two of them are about psychic research.

The Mayan rocket

On the dustjacket of the hardcover edition of "Chariots of the Gods" was a cleverly cropped picture of a carved stone slab from the Mayan Temple of Inscriptions at Palenque, Mexico.

According to one of the best works on the subject – "Maya. Cities," by Paul Rivet, 1960 – this carving depicts a man, his torso bent sharply upward, resting on a large mask which represents the God of the earth, Death.

The man is staring at a cross-shaped motif which probably symbolises life. On top of this motif is a sacred Quetzal bird, and on the branches of the cross undulates a two-headed serpent with small mythological beings emerging from its mouth.

Mr. von Daniken will have none of this. To him the carving represents an astronaut in a rocket (COTG, p. 124).

"Our space traveller – he is clearly depicted as one – is not only bent forward tensely, he is also looking intently at an apparatus hanging in front of his face... He is manipulating a number of undefinable controls and has the heel of his left foot on a kind of pedal."

I asked him why he did not accept the orthodox interpretation.

"Just look at it," he said. "The Mayan archaeologists will have to think over their own explanations."

One of the people promoting Mr. von Daniken's lecture tour shook his head judiciously and said: "It's got to be a rocket!"

Erich von Daniken


(Investigator 13, 1990 July)

By the early 1970s Erich von Daniken's theory of visits to Earth by ancient astronauts was fairly thoroughly refuted.

In 1970 Gerhard Gadow of Berlin wrote ERINNERUNGEN AN DIE WIRKLICHKEIT (Reminders Of Reality) accusing Mr Daniken of plagiarism and of misrepresenting the evidence. In Australia there appeared CRASH GO THE CHARIOTS (1972) by C. Wilson and THE PAST IS HUMAN (1974) by Peter White.

Nevertheless Von Daniken kept going on more expeditions and lecture tours, writing more books and making films in support of his theory.

In 1974, for example, Erich von Daniken was the guest of prominence at the Congress of the Ancient Astronaut Society. This Society had 2,000 members worldwide at that time and was devoted to proving that space travellers visited the Earth long ago.

In 1975 von Daniken took 40,000 pounds of equipment by landrover to Kashmir to check a temple that the Bible prophet Ezekiel supposedly visited by flying saucer in 573 B.C.

The temple, near Sringar, was built about 700 A.D. which was 1,200 years after Ezekiel lived but this didn't stop von Daniken. He hoped to find radiation left behind by the saucer. After exhaustive searches he gave up. In 1989 there was a lecture tour to Australia which turned out also to be a flop.

In 1976 Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, was part of an expedition to investigate caves in Ecuador where von Daniken claimed (in his book GOLD OF THE GODS) to have seen a "metal library". Nothing was found and newspaper headlines included:


Von Daniken argued that the Armstrong expedition had explored the wrong caves – but he refused to say where the right cave is.

Concerning the total lack of archaeological evidence for his theory Daniken argues that only 1% of the Earth has been archaeologically explored: "it seems absurd to expect the objective evidence to appear at those archaeological points which in total make up 1% of the inhabited area." (ACCORDING TO THE EVIDENCE 1978 pp. 283-284)

Erich von Daniken, originally from the town of Zofingen in Switzerland, was born in 1936. He began his adult life as a bartender before finding richer rewards in notoriety. He served a prison sentence in 1970 for tax evasion. He married Elisabeth Skaja in November 1960 and a daughter, Cornelia, was born in 1964. Von Daniken likes to cook and paint between expeditions. He has an older brother, Otto von D., born in 1934 and living in Bern.

By 1978 von Daniken's books had sold 37 million copies. He is still writing and at least three recent books of his are still awaiting translation into English.

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