Erich von Däniken (b. April 14, 1935), Swiss author

Born in Zofingen, Switzerland, von Däniken has never been trained in or academically studied science, history, or archeology, though he has written extensively on those subjects. He has worked in a bank, as a busboy and a waiter, and a manager of a resort. And he was convicted of tax fraud in Switzerland in 1968, serving about two years in prison.

His first book was Erinnerungen an die Zukunft ("Memories of the Future"), translated into English in 1970 as Chariots of the Gods? : Unsolved Mysteries of the Past. It was a phenomenal success, selling millions of copies worldwide and was translated into dozens of languages. Von Däniken popularized the "ancient astronauts" theory, the idea that the great monuments of the past must have been constructed with the aid of extraterrestrial visitors, that these aliens gave various civilizations mathematical, scientific, and astronomical data, and that ancient images, texts, and artifacts documents all of this.

Naturally, many people object to this idea, namely on the grounds that it is complete bullshit. We may not know exactly how to explain the construction of certain ancient monuments or how the ancients developed sophisticated calendars and mathematical formulations (less time on the couch watching TV might have had something to do with it), but we are pretty sure that ET didn’t lend a finger. Not to mention that the ancient astronaut theories of von Däniken and others are quite racist; the achievements of the darker skinned peoples of South America, Africa, and Asia must have needed outside assistance, but nobody ever wonders if aliens built the Parthenon.

Under close scrutiny, the theories fall apart. For example, the Nazca lines, which von Däniken suggested were alien landing strips, are barely wide enough for a couple lanes of automobile traffic, much less an interstellar craft. Besides, I think they would have mastered VTOL sometime before the warp drive. And they’re in the shape of animals, hardly the most efficient airport design.

Plus, he made it all up, and he admits it. Well, some of it, anyway. When confronted by Nova, the PBS science documentary series, he admitted taking some "writer’s license". When they produced the potter who made the "ancient" pots depicting UFOs which appear in photographs in von Däniken’s book, he simply replied that people needed proof before they would believe. His 1985 book Habe Ich Mich Geirrt? ("Did I Get It Wrong?") retracted some of his more fanciful claims, but this may have been an effort to jettison the most ridiculous aspects of the ancient astronauts theory to make it more believable. Most von Dänikenites are unaware of this, however, as unlike the rest of his body of work, that particular tome never made it into English.

He’s clung to the ancient astronauts theory and made a career out of the paranormal, penning 26 books that have sold 60 million copies, touring the lecture circuit and getting on TV, and now he’s even helping plan a theme park called "Mysteries of the World" in Switzerland. He currently lives in Beatenberg, Switzerland. His website is http://www.daniken.com, and it may have been constructed with the help of extraterrestrial coders. Email him at daniken@daniken.com and ask.

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