Part 1 of My Interview on the Exposing PseudoAstronomy Podcast

A few weeks ago astronomer Stuart Robbins interviewed me for his informative Exposing PseudoAstronomy podcast. Here is Part 1 of that interview. I’ll let you all know when Part 2 appears. The topic was the bogus use of ancient texts by Zecharia Sitchin and others to support their pseudo-astronomy.

Zecharia Sitchin’s Planet X PaleoBabble

Astronomer Stuart Robbins has made a considerable effort in his PseudoAstronomy podcast to tell the truth about how real astronomy does not jive with the astronomical quackery of Zecharia Sitchin. I was recently interviewed by Stuart for his podcast (those episodes have not been posted yet), but as  a prelude to those, I thought I’d post links to his series on Sitchin’s astronomical claims and their refutation. I’d posted some of Stuart’s work over at UFO Religions, but posting the episode series in which mine will be a part seems like a good lead-up to when my interviews go online in early January.

The Cosmos in the Antikythera Mechanism: ET Flunked Astronomy

That’s the title of a new, freely accessible scholarly paper on the Antikythera mechanism you can find here. Here’s the abstract:

The Antikythera Mechanism is a fragmentarily preserved Hellenistic astronomical machine with bronze gearwheels, made about the second century B.C. In 2005, new data were gathered leading to considerably enhanced knowledge of its functions and the inscriptions on its exterior. However, much of the front of the instrument has remained uncertain due to loss of evidence. We report progress in reading a passage of one inscription that appears to describe the front of the Mechanism as a representation of a Greek geocentric cosmology, portraying the stars, Sun, Moon, and all five planets known in antiquity. Complementing this, we propose a new mechanical reconstruction of planetary gearwork in the Mechanism, incorporating an economical design closely analogous to the previously identified lunar anomaly mechanism, and accounting for much unresolved physical evidence.

For all those ancient aliens enthusiasts out there, please note the line about the five planets known in antiquity. The Gadarene rush among some in of that ilk to label the mechanism as proof of high (read: alien) technology in the ancient world would of course be proven wrong by this analysis. We’d have another case (just like Sumerian and Babylonian astrolabes and astronomical texts, contra Zecharia Sitchin) where the “aliens” presumably behind this technology only knew about five planets in our solar system.

Amazing how consistent that is. Why? Because we’re talking about human naked eye astronomy, not alien knowledge.

Sachs, Velikovsky, and Sitchin

A short time ago I blogged about the work of C. Leroy Ellenberger, at one time a first-tier defender of Immanuel Velikovsky who later came to doubt and then refute that brand of catastrophism, sent me a link I thought I’d share with readers.

Leroy’s link was to a brief address by Abraham Sachs, a well-known 20th century Assyriologist (i.e., a scholar of Sumerian and Akkadian cuneiform). The address was a refutation of Velikovsky’s use of cuneiform material to support his catastrophist theories. Here’s an excerpt:

“In searching for mathematical and astronomical texts, I myself have had the opportunity of sifting about 125,000 tablets in this country and the British Isles. As one looks back, with the advantage of hindsight, over the progress of cuneiform studies in the last century, it is evident that in the early decades, two steps forward were accompanied by one step back, in recent decades, the proportion is more like 300 to 1. In 1896, an excellent dictionary of Akkadian contained 790 pages; today, the latest torso of an Akkadian dictionary– with only one-third of the dictionary published in 8 volumes– already runs to more than 2500 pages. I mention all this only to underline the sad fact that anyone who, like Dr. Velikovsky, is not a student of cuneiform, runs the very high risk of finding non-existent facts, false translations, and abandoned theories that have foundered on the rocks of new textual material when he relies, as Dr. Velikovsky does, on books and articles that are 80, 50, 40, and in some cases, even 20 years old. . . . In Worlds in Collision, p. 161, Dr. Velikovsky says that Babylonian astronomy at one time had a four-planet system, with Venus missing. For this, he refers to a book, [quite correctly,] written in 1915. Not being a cuneiformist, Dr. Velikovsky cannot inspect the original text referred to in his 1915 source. I have read the text and I can report that it is quite true that Venus is missing in the text– but so are the other four planets. . . . Wherever one turns in Dr. Velikovsky’s works, one finds a wasteland strewn with uncritically accepted evidence that turns to dust at the slightest probe. . . . [I]it’s advisable to be [a cuneiformist] if you’re going to write about cuneiform texts. . . .”


While the address was directed at Velikovsky, the verbal spanking is also useful for directing attention to the bankrupt scholarship of Zecharia Sitchin, part of whose imaginative ancient astronaut theorizing includes catastrophism elements associated with the alleged astro-physical effects of Nibiru, wrongly identified by Sitchin as a 12th planet. This short speech (less than fifteen minutes) was given at Brown University in 1965, just a few short years before Zecharia Sitchin would pretend to know something about cuneiform tablets. Why is it that Sitchin, presumably an expert in cuneiform, was somehow ignorant of this material when Sachs was not? The answer is simple. Sitchin was no expert in this material. He was contriving a theory.

Immanuel Velikovsky Resources

Immanuel Velikovsky’s name is, for many, synonymous with paleobabble. I can think of a few other candidates I’d move ahead of him for such an honor, but Velikovsky indeed belongs to the “modern classical period” of wacky stuff related to study of the ancient world. You can read his Wikipedia page if you’re unfamiliar with him.

I recently came across this link: “Top Ten Reasons Why Velikovsky is Wrong About Worlds in Collision.” The essay at the link is long, dense, and technical. It’s also got terrible formatting (as in no formatting) so it’s hard on the eyes. I link to it because of the pedigree of its author, Leroy Ellenberger, who describes himself as follows:

This Top Ten list is based on 30 years exposure to Velikovsky’s ideas which includes 8 years as an insider at the Velikovsky journal Kronos (1978 – 1986), confidant to Velikovsky (4/78 – 11/79), invited “Devil’s Advocate” at Aeon (’88 – ’91), and 13 years as a turncoat/critic interacting with Velikovsky’s defenders and/or successors at conferences, in private, and in Usenet (’94 -’96) & list-serve forums.


In other words, he knows Velikovsky’s material really, really well. So all the haters can just email him to defend Velikovsky. And good luck with that.

There’s also a new book on Velikovsky’s ideas (with others): The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe. I just bought it so I’ll be reading it at some point this year.

Latest Online Issue of Egyptological Available

I’m a bit behind the curve here. The latest issue is already three weeks old, but obviously still very valuable. For PaleoBabble readers, I’d recommend (again) the latest installment of the series on Egyptian religion, the review of a book on Egyptian quarries and quarrying, and the article on solar eclipses in Egyptian material.

NASA, PaleoBabble, and the 2012 BS

I just wanted to alert readers to this page on the NASA astrobiology website.  It’s a Q&A regarding the 2012 hysteria. The page answers the questions that the more conspiratorially-minded think are “gotchas” that really aren’t.  Very worthwhile. (Thanks to Guy for the heads up!)

You’ll notice that one of the links the NASA people refer people to is my site debunking Zecharia’ Sitchin’s Nibiru nonsense.  Nice to get the love!

A New Old Journal Article on the Great Pyramid’s Celestial Alignment

I’ve posted  couple times to alert readers to peer-reviewed journal articles by astronomers interested in researching the Great Pyramid’s alignment with the stars. (previous posts are located here and here). I came across another article on the subject written in 2003 in an open-access journal that focuses on the history of science. The article is very technical to my taste (lots of equations and weird symbols astronomers use). I post it specifically to inform (again) ancient astronaut theorists (and the people who produce the Fantasy Channel’s Ancient Aliens nonsense) that it is incorrect to say that mainstream scientists have not looked into this and found no explanation. As this article also shows, there is no “amazing precision” to the alignment either. It can all be done with naked eye astronomy.

Again, the Egyptians earn our respect for their genius, and aliens are not needed.

Cuneiform Astronomy: The Planets in Mesopotamian Cuneiform Sources

I get asked all the time, “How do you know Sitchin is wrong about aliens in Sumerian tablets?” Short answer: Because I get my information from the actual ancient scribes. Here’s one example among many that could be offered.  It’ s a free PDF paper (28 pp) on the planets in Mesopotamian sources (i.e., the actual cuneiform astronomical texts — also known as the stuff Zecharia Sitchin hides from his readers).  I thought those of you interested in divine into the actual source material for this sort of thing might like it. If you are committed to the ancient Anunnaki astronaut nonsense already, you might want to avoid that link. Actual sources have a way of demolishing this belief system.

A few things to notice as you read:

1. Take this information back to Zecharia Sitchin’s works and check and see if the way he explains the gods and astronomical bodies align with the source texts (Hint: it doesn’t — but don’t rely on my word).  Then ask yourself why Sitchin didn’t get this right. I’ll leave it to you to speculate on why.

2. Look at page 9 – the list of planets and their deity names. Notice anything? Count them. According to Sumerian sources, the Sumerians did *not* know twelve planets, contra Sitchin. And the chart shows no knowledge of a planet beyond Saturn (they are all visible to the trained naked eye). This is devastating proof that from their own tablets that the Sumerians had no advanced astronomical knowledge from aliens.

Aliens Visited Ancient Wales? Nope

Archaeologists working in southwest wales have discovered an ancient prehistoric star map (scroll down at link). I’m sure this will leave the ancient astronaut community breathless with more tales of ancient alien technology transfer. For those of us who think more clearly, it’s actually a good teaching point.

How do I know this wasn’t alien knowledge? Simple. Here’s the part of the article that makes it clear:

Following the complete exposure of the capstone through excavation, it is now considered by several astronomers that the distribution of the cupmarks may represent a section of the night sky that includes the star constellations of Cassiopeia, Orion, Sirius and of course the North Star.

The point of clarity is the constellations. This standing stone is recording naked eye astronomy. And that’s basically always the case with artifacts used by ancient astronaut theorists with respect to “advanced ET knowledge” presumably given to humans in prehistoric or ancient times. They had eyes and used them. Instead of reality TV, they were glued to the heavens. It’s impressive, but it isn’t mysterious.