Ancient Surgeons Tutored by Space Aliens?

Interesting story today on Archaeology Daily News about evidence of brain surgery 4,000 years ago. No mention of the use of lasers crafted by aliens (or by the ancients under the instruction of aliens). Does it strike anyone but me as odd that we have to credit aliens with things like moving huge blocks but we don’t jump to that conclusion with things like brain surgery? Maybe they flunked anatomy at the space academy and just took to engineering.

Howard Carter Missed the Aliens

Pretty cool news from the Griffith Institute at Oxford, a Mecca for Egyptology: They have digitized all of Howard Carter’s handwritten notes (3500 handwritten cards) taken about King Tut’s tomb and put them online. The online database also includes over 1000 photos.

I naturally wanted to find Carter’s notes about the two fetuses (er … alien babies) in Tut’s tomb. I had to email the Institute since I couldn’t find the stuff right away (wrong key words). Here is the Institute’s gracious and speedy response for you all — and click on the link to read Carter’s notes.1

Dear Dr Heiser,

Thank you for your email and the congratulations!

Our database is constructed around Howard Carter’s ‘hand list’ of
objects as an attempt to standardise names and descriptions;
consequently items are not always described in the terminology we use
today. If you search for ‘child’  or ‘mummy’ you will find the
information you’re looking for. The foetuses did not have their own
sarcophagi, only small coffins, inside a large box. If you’d rather
search on the object numbers, use Carter number 317 here: to find
information on the box, the coffins (317a & b) and the mummys (317 a(2)
& b(2)).

If you have any other queries please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Best wishes

Griffith Institute
University of Oxford

So, Howard missed the alien presence in Tut’t tomb. What a bummer.

  1. I should mention in one he has a question mark at the description of the infant child — but he wasn’t debating if it was an alien — other cards have him clearly referring to the contents as a child — his question was about whether it died naturally.

Does King Tut’s DNA Prove He Was Western European?

This weekend I received a link via email to a news story about how the King Tut DNA proved he was Western European. The sender is an erstwhile ancient astronaut (and especially Zecharia Sitchin) supporter. Somehow, he thought that this idea (if it were true) proved Sitchin was right. I know. You’re trying to connect those dots as you read. Good luck. Even if it were the case, such DNA distribution is easily explainable by things like human migration (i.e., people were migrating long before there was an ancient Egypt as we know it; no aliens needed).

But I was naturally suspicious of the report. I’m not versed in genetics, but I know people who are. And in this case, someone who has followed the King Tut material closely: Kate Phizackerley, who writes an excellent Egyptology blog. I’ve linked to her material before here at PaleoBabble, and I’ve also brought it to some of my students at WWU in my ancient Egypt class.

I sent Kate the story (beware that the some site filters grade it as dangerous; here’s an alternate version of the story) and asked her to look into it. She was quick on the draw. She posted her take on this topic today (Kate, we’ve never met, but if we do, I owe you lunch). Here is Kate’s response. It’s fair, it’s thorough and it’s technical in places. It’s also the best discussion of this you’ll find on the web. It shows once again that the three most potent antidotes in the world to ancient astronaut nonsense (and paleobabble of all kinds) are primary sources, peer-reviewed science, and logic.

Some pulled highlight quotations from her response:

  • Observing the haplogroup of an individual tells us about the individual’s haplogroup but it doesn’t directly reveal the haplogroup of their ancestors.  If somebody speaks perfect English, that doesn’t mean their parents also spoke perfect English: they might have spoken Spanish or Hindi.  It’s dangerous to extrapolate from one individual.
  • Even if Tutankhamun’s haplogroup is R1b that doesn’t mean his paternal ancestors were R1b as well.  They might have been a different haplogroup but have diverged from it by genetic mutation.  At the least, the analysis would need to show that Tutankhamun and his couldn’t be any other haplogroup, or at least that it would be statistically unlikely.  Showing that R1b is possible is not the same as showing that other haplogroups are not possible.
  • This though is the crux.  Even if you believe that Tutankhamun and his ancestors had a haplogroup of R1b would that make him European.  In short, not necessarily and, I believe once other factors are taken into account, almost certainly not.
  • Rather than look to Europe for an explanation, I think it is significantly more likely to look to the Sahara.  At the end of the Ice Age we know it was a fertile savannah.  If you talk with Andie Byrnes or read her blog on the Western Desserts, you’ll learn that ancient petroglyphs are present all across the Libyan dessert as well as the Egyptian. We believe that the Sahara was well populated.  As dessertification took place, the population would migrate in search of water.  Inevitably many must have followed the great rivers like the Niger into Southwestern Subharan Africa.  Other might have migrated eastwards into Egypt and settled around Egypt’s western oases – notably Siwa – and perhaps into the Nile Valley itself.  Such an explanation could, I believe, easily account for a haplogroup of R1b in the New Kingdom royal male line and seems entirely more plausible, in the context of social anthropology, than reaching to Europe for an explanation.

Isn’t logic refreshing? Please read Kate’s entire post.

Clay Figurines of Real Dinosaurs with Humans?

I was reminded of the (in)famous Acambaro (Mexico) clay dinosaurs this weekend by a list of famous archaeological hoaxes / conundrums sent to me. In case you had not heard of these before (see pictures below), you can get a nice overview on Wikipedia. Unfortunately, these often appear on Christian websites in “support” of creationism (but others have wised up and admitted they are fakes).

How do we know that they are fakes?

You’ll notice if you read the overview that things like fresh manure and fingerprints were found in the sites from which these figures were removed, and the sheer number (over 32,000) indicates chicanery (native inhabitants were paid for each figure by the Waldemar Julsrud, the “discoverer,” ca. 1944).

All that aside, the article and various websites note that thermoluminiscence dating techniques yielded a date of ca. 2500 BC for the figurines. The methods used proved erroneous. Here is a two page overview of the subject and problem from the University of Pennsylvania Museum publication, Expedition. That short article alludes to a study of the figures published in 1953 in the scholarly journal American Antiquity (vol. 18:4 [1953]: 388-389) by Charles C. Di Peso.  Here is that article.

Lastly, a more recent report and scientific dating analysis has been done on the figures, proving conclusively they are fakes. That article is entitled, “Thermoluminescent Dating and the Monsters of Acambaro” (American Antiquity 41:4 [Oct. 1976]: 497-500).

PaleoBabble Exchange with John Halloran, Sumerian Specialist

John Halloran has had a presence on the internet since 1996. He’s the scholar who maintains the Sumerian Language Page.  On that page one can find his online lexicon (dictionary) of Sumerian.  That material was recently printed in hard copy book form and has been favorably peer-reviewed. In short, John is a good source for information about Sumerian words.

Recently some of my PaleoBabble posts have received comments to the effect that my criticisms of Zecharia Sitchin’s Sumerian “translations”.  A commenter appealed to Dr. Halloran as a source against my criticisms. I asked the commenter if he still had the correspondence, since I doubted that Dr. Halloran would object to my criticisms.  He didn’t, so I thought I’d just ask.  Below is my email to John Halloran with verbatim material from the commenter (whose comments are still here on the blog as well).  Below my email is John Halloran’s response.

My email (July 7, 2010):

Dear Dr. Halloran

Thanks for taking the time to read this email. I’ll be brief.

My name is Mike Heiser. I’m not a Sumerian specialist, though I have studied some Sumerian independently. My field (PhD) is Hebrew Bible and Semitic Languages.  I blog regularly at a site called PaleoBabble ( on weird ideas and beliefs associated with the ancient world. One item that crops up with some frequency is the ancient astronaut idea, specifically the work of Zecharia Sitchin. I have a site devoted to rebuttals of Sitchin (, but from time to time I need the input of a specialist. Hence my email.

Recently a visitor and commenter to my PaleoBabble blog referenced an email exchange with you wherein he reported that you said a few things that I suspect either he misunderstood or that you never said.  Could you please give the following a thumbs up or down or explain?  I’ve promised to blog this on my site in my ongoing effort to alert people to the fact that Zecharia Sitchin is wrong —  aliens from space aren’t behind the Sumerian civilization (or any other).  Here are excerpts from the commenter’s email with notes at my initials (MSH):


1. “I wrote to John Halloran a proffessor on Sumerian at the university of Los Angelos some time ago, asking him about Sitchin and yourself, and also on true expertise regarding Sumerian. It was interesting to receive an answer stating that there is probably no “expert” on Sumerian on this planet due to the fact that the understanding of Sumerian is based on ancient Hebrew of which a large part of the vocabulary is lost to us. . . What I remember and feel safe to state is this; my question was, ‘how accurate are Sitchin and Heiser in their debate and books regarding the Sumerian language, and history as far as our heritage is concerned? His reply was this; Most authors writing historical novel type books tend to dramatise their work in order to create better sales. He also stated that so far he himself had not at that stage come accross any mention of spacecraft in the sumerian history, he also stated that so far the researchers have not yet concluded their studies on Sumerian although a 140 years of research has been done we might eventually understand the language and be able through that to fully comprehend the Sumerian history. Which is an indication that no ‘total’ expert on the language exists.”

MSH: I’m guessing this was about the fact that scholars lack a perfect knowledge of Sumerian.  It would be silly to say there are no Sumerian language experts. The commenter seems to want to say that, since we can’t know every detail perfectly, no one can really comment with authority in opposition to Sitchin’s ancient astronaut interpretations of the Sumerian epics.  Would you agree or disagree?

2. “If this is true then yourself and Sitchin is mostly improvising regarding that language and this can then leed to the ‘assumption’ that the readers can form their own opinions regarding what is known regarding the history as stated by anybody in connection to the Sumerian tablets! Which will make your “bone” with Sitchin totally unnecessary (sic). I have wondered since I noticed your dispute why the two of you do not rather get together and share your opinions in an effort to give this world a more studied idea on Sumerian. The man do have 40 plus years experience on the investigating side of it, compare that with your expertise in ancient languages and we might all be surprised at the outcome!”

MSH: Personally, I don’t Sitchin knows squat about Sumerian (e.g., he thinks “SHU.MU” is a rocket ship). His “translations” are not as valid as those who are experts in Sumerian; I’d say they are not valid at all. Would you agree or disagree?

3. “On John’s website on the Sumerian Language page their is question and answer section, in this section a question was asked regarding Akkadian words relating to Sumerian, the answer was that Akkadian, Phoenician, Egyptian and Hebrew are all sister languages, and that some words or vocabulary might have been borrowed from Sumerian, although none of the sister languages are a sister language to Sumerian, this could have happened in all the sister languages, apparently Sumerian survived for two thousand years after the race became extinct, and this could be the cause of the borrowing! Is it possible? I do not know, I am not an expert on any language.”

MSH: The commenter seems to be under the delusion that lots of Sumerian words are related to biblical Hebrew words. I’ve read a good bit on the Hebrew language, and there are few words in the biblical Hebrew corpus that might be traced to Sumerian. Have you seen any scholarship that says otherwise? He also seems to think that the presence of loanwords speaks to some sort of “meaning interchange” or dependency. I’d chalk loanwords up to things like trade and migration. Any thoughts?


That’s it!  I hope you can reply a bit to these. Some readers would benefit knowing that I’m not the only ANE-related scholar that thinks Sitchin’s ideas are bogus.


Mike Heiser

John Halloran’s response the next day (July 8, 2010):


Are you talking about Bill XXXXX [I’ve removed the last name – MSH]?  I wrote very little to him, and certainly not what you are quoting.  My most relevant message said:


I don’t find anything about Sumerian at that Hidden Meanings web site.

The Sumerians were hard-working farmers who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps.  No aliens or UFOs required.


John Halloran

I have already said what I need to about Sitchen at my FAQ page. [MSH: see #s 15, 33, 34 for thoughts on Sitchin].

As an undergraduate I took 48 units of Hebrew classes, a class every week for four years, from Robert Hetzron at UCSB from 1971 to 1975. Off-hand, the only Hebrew word that I can think of which comes from Sumerian would be the word for ‘palace’. This is on page 148 of Ernest Klein’s Etymological Dictionary.


John Halloran

So what’s the lesson here? For one, that my skepticism of Sitchin’s Sumerian skills isn’t idiosyncratic. Second, that there really are not many words from Sumerian that are traceable in the Hebrew Bible. [John Halloran later told me in a follow-up email that there are 31 listed in Mankowski’s Harvard Semitic Monographs study, Akkadian Loanwords in Biblical Hebrew, pp. 231-232.]  There are many more Akkadian words that show up in the Hebrew Bible, but that’s because both languages are Semitic, and because of the close interactions the Israelites had with the people of Mesopotamia after the Sumerian era (things like trade, migration, war, deportation, etc.). Lastly, although I do not expect that the commenter (“Bill”) could remember the email exchange with John Halloran if it was quite some time ago, this illustrates what I typically do with such claims or “references” — I want to see them.  If they are not readily obtainable, I’ll ask those people. In other words, I do fact-checking. In the past I’ve done this with wacky internet lurkers who’ve told me about how a biblical scholar (whose name they knew I’d recognize) supported their claim that Ezekiel 1 describes a spaceship. Thanks for the name, now I’ll go ask the guy myself and publish his comments. Don’t name drop on me. Know that I will check.  There’s no way a real scholar is going to support Sitchin’s ideas, mainly because he isn’t a Sumerian scholar (or scholar of any other ancient language) and the things he claims don’t exist in the texts. I’m not being mean — it’s just the truth.

Serpent and Eve PaleoBabble FollowUp

Some of you may have noticed that there has been recent discussion on this thread on the PaleoBabble site.  Apparently someone who desperately wants to say the serpent and Eve had sex to (not sure) defend Zecharia Sitchin or some sort of sexual activity between reptilian aliens and Eve has been trying to defend this idea (not well — see the comments).  I think my position is clear on this (!) so I’m not going to keep answering comments. I thought this might be more useful.

As I see it, this fellow’s view is based on:

1) ignoring what I presented in the original thread — that Gen 4:1 provides no evidence that Eve and the serpent had sex, producing a reptilian / serpent seed.

2) insisting that the verb “beguile” used in Eve’s self defense (“the serpent beguiled me”) means “to have sex with.”  We are supposed to accept this and then, Eve’s discovery that she was naked AFTER she sinned (read the narrative in Genesis 3 — wouldn’t she have had to be naked for her tryst with the serpent – how did she miss that?) meant that she was pregnant (I know, nakedness doesn’t mean pregnant, but play along with this guy here).

In attempt to inject some sanity into this, I offer this PDF.  It is a list of all the other occurrences in the Hebrew Bible of the verb translated “to beguile” (it is Hebrew, nasa’ — for those who know Hebrew, this is not the common nasa’ that means “to lift or carry” – it is a homonym).  Anyway, you can read the results. Just substitute “have sex with” or “impregnate” for all the green highlighted English terms (I do these searches in a reverse interlinear, which allows a Hebrew word search with results displayed in English for those who don’t read Hebrew).   You’ll have fun with the exercise, trust me. Some real howlers here.

3) Insisting that the phrase about Eve’s eyes being opened also indicates something about having sex or pregnancy. Hmmm. Genesis 3:7 says “the eyes of both of them [i.e., Adam and Eve] were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” I wonder if the serpent also had sex with Adam.  Or maybe eyes aren’t really eyes…but some sort of esoteric code word for “womb” or “vagina.” Bummer neither works with Adam.

And they pay me for this.  No . . . wait . . . they don’t. But it’s still fun.

Now Jesus Didn’t Die on a Cross…or Did He?

A nice treat for us — some scholarly paleobabble!

Readers may have seen or heard the “news” that, according to scholar Gunnar Samuelsson, the gospels do not say Jesus died on a cross. This, my friends, is either a good example of sophistry or yet another reason to keep journalists as far away from biblical and ancient studies as possible.

Samuelsson is a scholar. His dissertation work was on crucifixion in the ancient world.  One of the news articles has Samuelsson saying this:

In fact, he argues, in the original Greek, the ancient texts reveal only that Jesus carried “some kind of torture or execution device” to a hill where “he was suspended” and died.

“He was required to carry his ‘stauros’ to Calvary, and they ‘stauroun’ him. That is all. He carried some kind of torture or execution device to Calvary and he was suspended and he died.”

A second news article notes that Samuelsson:

“doesn’t doubt that Jesus died on Calvary hill. But he argues that the New Testament is in fact far more ambiguous about the exact method of the Messiah’s execution than many Christians are aware.”

I must be missing something. The second quotation above has Jesus being “suspended” on a cross and then dying – which is exactly what the gospels say. Jesus was put on a cross after a horrific beating. He was alive on the cross for some time before he died (Matt. 27:27-31; 27:40; Mark 15:24-32). In crucifixion, as many experts have noted, the cause of death is asphyxiation. So far the only difference I see between what Samuelsson says in the second quotation and what the gospels say is apparently the nails – ?  I’m guessing Samuelsson doesn’t think the gospels say that Jesus was nailed to the cross, but only suspended (?),  but then I wonder how, in all the time devoted to his dissertation work, he missed John 20:25.  Those weren’t rope burns; they were holes.

The facts are simple here, actually. Whether Samuelsson believes Jesus was nailed to the cross or merely “suspended,” he’s still saying (at least to my eyes) that Jesus died on a cross. And the cause of death would be the same: asphyxiation. So who cares? I’d like to give Samuelsson the benefit of the doubt here and say this is just another archaeo-nonsense-journalistic sideshow. I know what journalists can do to people with what they say (and it has to be malice on some occasions, since to be so endlessly inept at getting a quotation right would require some kind of clinically-treated  stupidity). But I’m not entirely sure.

PaleoBabble Half Year Stats

Note that these stats do *not* count last night’s show on Coast to Coast AM (and that went well; only 3-4 hate mails).

Last year for the entire year, this blog had the following stats:

Visits: 169, 566

Page Views: 290,145

This year, in the first six months, we’ve almost hit the numbers for all of 2009.

Visits: 139,829

Page Views: 263,451

Really amazing — and gratifying.  Thanks to all of you who visit and read!