Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Geoglyphs, alien landing sites, and Yankee Stadium

Can we, just occasionally, refrain from attaching a woo-woo explanation to everything?

I make this plea because of a recent study, headed by David Kennedy of the University of Western Australia's Department of Classics and Ancient History.  Kennedy and his team studied a curious set of structures called "geoglyphs" - patterns on the ground that are so large that their overall shape can only be seen from the air.  The most famous geoglyphs are the Nazca Lines of southern Peru, which from above can be resolved into enormous drawings of lizards, monkeys, and abstract designs, and whose purpose is still unknown today.

The geoglyphs in Kennedy's study are in the Middle East, and can be found from Syria down to Saudi Arabia.  From the air, they resolve into wheels with multiple spokes, diamond-shaped patterns nicknamed "kites," and long, narrow patterns ("pendants").  (You can see a gallery of their photographs here.)  Kennedy and his team have mapped out the geoglyphs and are working on a paper describing their extent, and speculating on their age and possible uses.  He suggests that some of them may have had completely practical purposes, such as penning cattle.

Then the woo-woos got involved.

You got your ancient gods, especially once someone noticed that one of the geoglyphs looks a little like the Eye of Ra from Egyptian art.  You got your alien landing sites.  You got your super-powerful civilization that was connected to Atlantis.  You got your ley lines.  You got your structures that concentrate magical forces.

You even got your coded messages related to December 21, 2012, although how in the hell the Mayans got to Saudi Arabia is a mystery to me.

C'mon, folks.  Can't we just once allow something to have a prosaic explanation, and just let it sit there?  What, aren't cattle pens good enough for you people?  You have to wonder how the woo-woos ten thousand years from now will interpret, for instance, Yankee Stadium.

"Yes, you can clearly see from the fact that it was open to the air, that it had something to do with the worship of the sky, perhaps an ancient astrological observatory... it is teardrop shaped, with the point toward the west, representing the tears wept by the Sun God...  It has many seats for the observance of rituals...  It is symbolized by a letter N, which stands for 'nature', intersected by a stylized person with his arms upraised, yearning for the gods to return...It is a place of great power and magic, visited regularly by our noble and mystical ancestors."

It's not, as I've had more than one reason to explain in the last week, because I immediately discount weird explanations; as a biologist, I'm fully aware that nature is sometimes bizarre and counter-intuitive.  It's more that rushing to outlandish theories is lazy.  It doesn't require any particular hard work or deep thought; hell, it doesn't even require any evidence.  You just notice something, and immediately attribute it to magic, aliens, spirits, whatever, and your job is done.

So could the Middle Eastern geoglyphs be alien landing sites?  I suppose it's possible.  With astronomers' recent discovery of hundreds of extrasolar planets, many of them with Earth-like characteristics, I think the likelihood of life elsewhere in the universe is nearly 100%, and the likelihood of intelligent life probably nearly that high.  But if you claim they've come here, and that some structure or another is an alien staging platform, you better have something more going for your theory than "it must be, because you can only see their overall shapes from the air."

With no further evidence provided, I'm going with cattle pens, myself.

1 comment:

  1. The woo around the Nazca geoglyphs makes me INSANE. I remember reading about them in seventh or eighth grade...

    "HOW could anyone have made these designs without seeing them from the air? HOW could ancient people have done this?"

    ... and thinking, "With long ropes. And posts. And maybe a chart. Hell, I could do one, if I could force my brother to haul enough rocks."

    But yeah, it was probably aliens.