Andy Lloyd's Book Reviews
Twilight of the Gods
By Erich von Däniken
translated by Nicholas Quaintmere
Subtitled "The Mayan Calendar and the Return of the Extraterrestrials"
New Page Books, 2010
After having written so many books about ancient astronauts, one wonders if Erich has anything new to add to the genre which he has created and shaped over several decades. The answer, I'm glad to say, is "yes", although for established readers of Herr von Däniken's books it's a bit like picking out new features on an otherwise familiar, but well-loved, landscape.
The English translation of "Twilight of the Gods" (originally "Götterdämmerung" in German) begins with a passionate foreword by researcher Giorgio Tsoukalos. Erich von Däniken then draws the reader towards the Bolivian archaeological site of Tiahuanaco and the platforms at Puma Punku, both located some 13,000 feet above sea level. He has been here before - many times - and acts as an experienced guide to the wonders of these sites. His passion is the mystery at the core of the construction of the monuments: how could a stone age people possibly create such engineering wonders? Where the same questions might also apply to other ancient monuments around the world, the Bolivian examples have added value, as the modern saying goes. Namely, the composition of the stone itself.
Diorite, in particular, is an extremely hard stone, requiring tools that use ridiculously hard cutting edges. Furthermore, the quality of the stonework was "out of all proportion to the technical means available to the ancient Peruvians" (p51). It is truly astonishing. The book contains many excellent photos to give the reader the sense of awe that von Däniken rightly feels. It's no wonder he has pursued the mystery with such passion down the years.
Despite the altitude, the Bolivian sites show strong evidence of flooding. Often the enormous stones are found haphazardly arranged. Given their engineered precision, and the clear ability for the walls made by the stones to be water-tight, I wonder whether a dam might have been the purpose of the efforts which went into their creation? Such a structure would necessarily involve huge, unwieldy stones - and would have been useful for a colony of hi-tech visitors requiring an energy supply. Millennia on, earthquakes and weathering would have taken their toll, leaving a landscape strewn with stones, as well as inexplicable stone tunnels. Everything else would have rusted or decayed away. I don't know the geography of the area, so I'm not sure whether this is really plausible, but it may be a solution worth exploring.
As a fan of Zecharia Sitchin, I found the second chapter very interesting. Erich von Däniken looks at chimeras, and their inclusion in the iconography of ancient Egypt. He wonders whether visitors engaged in genetic engineering experiments (shades of Sitchin, of course) and then takes a look at enigmatic remains found in various Egyptian tombs. I won't spoil it for you, but he's presenting tantalizing new evidence of great interest to Sitchinites here. Later, he looks at the myth of Etana which appears to describe a journey into space - something I don't recall reading before.
The remaining chapters of the book are more generalised in their scope. He argues that academic specialists in history and archaeology tend to focus too much on one culture, and don't compare notes with their colleagues enough. They should, because the similarities between disparate cultures is often striking. The same principle applies to comparative mythology and iconography.
"As long as the texts from each individual culture continue to be treated in isolation, then new insights will continue to be impossible" (p112).
The author applies a refreshing dose of common sense to these issues. Another of the arguments that threads itself through the book is how ancient peoples were quite frank about how their 'gods' once lived among their ancestors. Respected writers and chroniclers in the ancient world recorded this as fact.
"Many centuries ago, Amr ibn Luhai, a traveler throughout Arabia, told of men who produced or worshipped graven images. He asked them what was the source of this worship. This was the answer he received: "The pictures are the lords which we have prepared in accordance with their heavenly forms and persons."" (p126)
It's such a straightforward concept. Icons, statues, and oral accounts of the lives of the 'gods' evolved from historical records to polytheistic myths once the visitors had departed.
But will these gods return? It's a topical question at the moment, and this becomes the purpose of this new offering by von Däniken. He looks at the Mayan Calendar, with its impending expiry date, and highlights the common belief in a return of the gods across multiple cultures across the globe. He notes that the Spanish bloody occupation of central and south America in the 16th Century was a huge lost opportunity - for the first time, Western men came face to face with a stone age people thriving within a wonderfully complex culture. So much could have been learned, but instead the encounter quickly descended into war, genocide and a cultural destruction conducted with Orwellian zeal.
We are left with just fragments from Mayan and Aztec cultures - but they indicate remarkable scientific knowledge. Within the context of the stone age technology available to the indigenous peoples overcome by the Conquistadors, how was this possible? Was such intricate knowledge deliberately destroyed by the Auto de Fé because it threatened the hegemony of the Church? The author famously argues that that knowledge was received from visitors from the sky - a concept which would have exacerbated the heresy in the eyes of the Church, of course.
Archaeologists counter that such ideas detract from the wonderful progress made by ancient civilisations under their own steam. I have a degree of sympathy with that position, but the questions that Erich von Däniken asks remain as poignant as ever.
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Twilight of the Gods
If you live in the UK, you can obtain your copy through Amazon.co.uk here:
Twilight Of The Gods
Book review by Andy Lloyd, 16th September 2010
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