UFOs in Ancient Art: Hidden in Plain Sight


Millions of people believe extraterrestrials visited earth in spacecraft in ancient times and influenced human affairs. They also believe records of these visitations are preserved and seen as UFOs in ancient art. Is it true? Does ancient art preserve proof of ancient contact with alien spacecraft? Or, is something else being shown?

As a co-producer and presenter on History Channel’s Ancient Aliens, and writer and presenter of Arcanum on Gaia, I have a 30-year passion for this question. It has a very interesting history that must be understood to be properly answered.

Paleo contact, or the theory that extraterrestrial visitors came to earth in ancient times, is a hypothesis first put forth in the 1950s by Soviet mathematician Mikhail Agrest. He proposed that rock art, some of which is over 7,000 years old, portrayed alien visitors wearing space suits and helmets, holding high tech tools, and emerging from flying devices.

Conspiracy theorists say Soviet intelligence co-opted the idea and began popularizing it in the 1960s in order to undermine Western civilization and its religions by planting the idea that the events of the bible, especially the miracles, were nothing but flesh and blood extraterrestrial visitors with advanced technology who came to earth to influence human evolution. This psychological operation (PSYOP) was a cover for Russia’s alleged secret space program and its development of advanced aircraft and weapons supposedly derived from recovered extraterrestrial technology.

As conventional anthropologists of the time argued that the gods were imaginary beings and human evolution and development was gradual, paleo contact was quite a controversial idea.

Evolutionary biologist, Steven J. Gould, further rocked the zeitgeist in 1972 with his theory of punctuated equilibrium, which states that great changes in a species happen very rapidly, followed by long periods of stasis where there is little or no change.

The sudden, miraculous, transition from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens defies the conventional theory of evolution, which states that over the course of millions of years humans evolved from hunter gatherers, to gardeners, to city builders to Mona Lisa painters, to today’s transhumanist technologists. There is a missing link or branch between the more ape-like Homo erectus and modern humans. We share genetics with our ancestors, but our abilities are far greater. Something activated these capabilities. But, what?

Punctuated equilibrium is used to explain it. Some scientists see a powerful connection between our spurts in evolution and asteroid and comet impacts, supernovas, gamma-ray bursts and the strong coupling between our solar system and the galaxy and the evolution of life on Earth.

Why not extraterrestrial visitors, as the ancient Sumerian and Egyptian records claimed? What if, suddenly, the masses realized that we had help from ancient extraterrestrial visitors who came from an otherworldly place beyond human reach and these visitors were a “missing link” that accelerated our evolution? It could have a dramatic destabilizing effect on society, said the famed 1960 Brookings Report. This is why governments and religious institutions covered-up evidence of ancient extraterrestrial contact, say theorists.

Von Däniken and Sitchin Identify UFOs in Ancient Art

No such destabilization occurred when the paleo contact concept gained world wide popularity in the late 1960s and 1970s when it was adopted by Swiss author, Erich von Däniken, and the Russian-born American author, Zecharia Sitchin. Instead, their books proposing an explanation for human origins and evolution involving ancient astronauts sold millions of copies and inspired a generation of believers in ancient contact with extraterrestrials.

The resulting leap of consciousness has led to our current intense era of seeking to understand cosmic visitors and the disclosure movement which seeks the release of all the information the U.S. government has about extraterrestrials, UFOs, and its own alleged secret space program.

Both von Däniken and Sitchin point to ancient art as a repository of evidence of UFO or ancient alien contact. Most of these UFOs in ancient art are sacred or religious in nature. This is quite ironic as a core belief of “ancient astronaut theory” in that there is nothing spiritual going on during these ancient extraterrestrial visitations.

Ancient astronaut theory holds that the “gods” and “angels” of the ancient sacred/spiritual traditions are simply advanced humans with super powers given to them by advanced technology that was indistinguishable from magic to the ancient experiencers. Ancient astronaut theorists claim the aliens brought planes, helicopters, tanks, genetic technology, lasers, nuclear weapons, and computers with them.

These so-called gods came to earth from Sirius, Orion, the Pleiades, Cygnus and other worlds with an intelligent design program in mind.

Depending on which school one subscribes to, this program aims to either uplift humanity to the visitor’s level of spiritual existence (or even to exceed them), or to enslave humanity as workers to mine Earth’s resources. Were the ancient visitors slave masters? Or, were they here for the more spiritually inclined purpose of uplifting humanity and assisting us in our spiritual ascension? Or, could it be both?

The way one chooses to answer these questions determines the eye or perspective from which the UFO art of the ancients is observed, read and/or experienced.

UFO Art: Rocket Ship or Ascension Vehicle?

An important example of ancient UFO art is the sarcophagus lid of the Mayan king Pakal. This venerated king ruled from 603-683 CE. After death, his body was entombed in the extraordinary Temple of Inscriptions at Palenque in the Yucatan Peninsula. A five-ton carved limestone lid sealed his body in the sarcophagus that was hidden deep within his pyramidal temple.

Pakal’s sarcophagus lid


Secreted away for over thirteen hundred years, Pakal’s sarcophagus and its fabulous lid captured the world’s attention when discovered in 1948. Scholars went to work attempting to decipher the meaning of this astounding piece of art. The work was slow as very little of the Maya’s cosmological beliefs were known at that time. No one could not read the rich and elegant Maya symbols until Russian linguists broke the Maya code in 1952. American scholars would have to wait until the end of the Cold War to access these new findings.

In his 1968 book, Chariots of the Gods, von Däniken proposed that Pakal’s sarcophagus lid holds the key to ancient alien intervention. He inspired millions to see Pakal as an ancient astronaut and his strange ‘throne’ as a mechanical device. Specifically, he compared it to the Mercury rocket used in the first human spaceflight program between 1961 and 1963. The Mercury spacecraft was topped by a small capsule with room for one astronaut. The astronaut stayed in his seat during the flight.

According to von Däniken’s reading, Pakal sits on a chair tilting forward, his foot on a pedal, his hands manipulate the controls and he breathes through a breathing apparatus. He is preparing to journey into space.

Comparing Pakal’s lid to the Mercury spacecraft, one can easily see von Däniken’s points of correspondence and why it became an iconic image of ancient astronaut theory. The symbolism is virtually identical.

Mercury spacecraft diagram


Watch Erich von Däniken discuss UFOs in ancient art and religion in this episode of Beyond the Legend:

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What do the Mayan’s say about this scene? As Mayan scholarship developed, academics revealed the ‘rocket ship’ is the World Tree, which the Maya believed, had its roots in the underworld, its trunk on the earthly plane, and branches high in the heavenly world. Pakal is shown traveling between worlds. He is falling from the earth plane down to Xibalba, the underworld, and/or he is, simultaneously, resurrecting and ascending from it. In other words, the sarcophagus lid shows his ascension to the after life.

This reading is more than a little bit different from von Däniken’s. So, is Pakal riding a rocket ship for one to the stars or is he on some kind of spiritual ascension vehicle (that all of us can hope to ride)?

What one sees depends on their perspective, the information they have available and their angle on life. Gathering evidence and translating a painting, a sculpture or any other art work is high adventure and every reader gets to pick a point of view.

Of course, the spiritual view is my angle. More often than not, the craft or UFOs in ancient art actually depict spiritual beings and refer to their journey to the after life, much more than they do to space travel to other planets.

My viewpoint is based on the repeated mentions of a spiritual transformation of the human body required to ride the chariots of the ancient gods. This is the secret “craft” of many spiritual traditions. As the bible says, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven. This means our earthly bodies will be changed before we go into the stars.

What if the UFOs in ancient art are not flying saucers or super high technology flying Toyotas or space-faring Beemers?

What if they are actually spiritual vehicles crafted out of spiritual substances? My wife, Clare, and I explored these spiritual vehicles in our Gaia program, Arcanum. Or, what if, somehow, they are both?

Ashurnashirpal II’s Winged Disk: Ancient Alien Art?

While visiting the British Museum in London recently, I had a chance to study another classic example of a piece of ancient art portraying what is thought by investigators to be a UFO. The piece is a wall panel or relief made of alabaster from the palace of Ashurnasirpal II, King of Assyria, in Nimrud in northern Mesopotamia, Iraq, 865-860 B.C. It hung behind his royal throne.

King of Assyria wears the royal robe of the gods and holds a mace in front of a sacred tree


The king appears twice in the scene. He wears the royal robe of the gods and kingship and holds a mace in front of a sacred tree. The Mesopotamian god, Ashur/Shamash, hovers above in a feathered or winged disk with a ring in one hand (symbol of sovereignty). He carries a bow. Ashurnasirpal II extends his right hand and points to the winged disk.

ufos in ancient art

Detail of Shamash in his winged ring. *Source: William Henry and the British Museum

Shamash, in his winged ring, leads Ashurnasirpal II into battle

Shamash, in his winged ring, leads Ashurnasirpal II into battle


Shamash, in his winged ring, leads Ashurnasirpal II into battle. *Source: William Henry and the British Museum

Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq, is a ground zero for ancient astronaut theorists who believe the myth and history of this area tells of extraterrestrial visitations in humanity’s past. It is home to the most ancient stories known to man. From *The Descent of Inanna *to the Enuma Elish to the Epic of Gilgamesh the myths left behind by the ancient Sumerians who lived in this area tell of their interactions with otherworldly visitors.

Scholars claim the feathered winged ring is the sun, but is it?

Carnelian Cylinder Seal Showing the Tree of Life with Ishtar to the left and King to the right

*Source: William Henry and the British Museum


Ancient astronaut theory says that Shamash was a flesh and blood extraterrestrial. He is part of a group of gods the Sumerians called Anunnaki. They were led by Enki, who the Sumerians said came to earth to bring knowledge of the after life. Sumerian and Babylonian cylinder seals show Enki in a winged ring similar to Shamash’s.

Ashurnasirpal II must have contemplated these scenes every day. He had tremendous wealth and he built many impressive monuments. Art, especially the extraordinary alabaster reliefs that lined his palace walls, was extremely important to him.

For Ashurnasirpal, these scenes were more than just a way of decorating his office. It was a way of expressing his temporal power, as well as his connection to the celestial realm.The text that accompanies these reliefs tells of his military conquests and his relationship with Shamash, who provided divine protection and prosperity from his winged ring.

I love to stand before this scene and try to hear Ashurnasirpal’s voice. I imagine him having conversations with guests about it and the cosmic truth embedded with in it.

In a story that goes back to 1100 B.C. and must have been known to Ashurnasirpal II, and contemplated by him as he viewed these scenes, Enmeduranki, an ancient king of Sippar, was taken to heaven on a golden throne and seated before Shamash, who taught him the art of divination and the secrets of the “tablet of the gods”. When he was returned to earth the enlightened earthling shared what he learned during his celestial journey.

We are often told in ancient texts that humans cannot enter the extraterrestrial worlds or homes of the gods…unless accompanied by a god or transformed into one. Did Ashurnasirpal II hope to take this ultimate ride? Do you? And in what type of craft do you envision riding upon?

This question is at the core of the study of ancient UFO art, just as it is the core of today’s space programs. Each of us gets to decide for ourselves how we answer this question.


Watch William Henry’s series Arcanum, in which he explores the archetypes and underlying themes of religious artwork and texts:

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