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Monday, November 8, 2010

Twilight of the Gods: The Mayan Calender and the Return of the Extraterrestrials by Erich von Daniken

Enthusiastic but disjointed

Erich von Daniken is most famous for his 1968 book Chariots of the Gods in which he put forth the theory that civilization was brought to earth by alien space travellers that taught some humans their ways and this is the source of the world's major religions and brought mankind from the caveman era to civilization in places such as Egypt. He believes that this truth is documented in the art and writings of the ancient civilizations. The 1970s documentary In Search of Ancient Astronauts. Just to be fair to those that read this review, I do not espouse von Daniken's beliefs, but I do find him to be interesting and I enjoy reading about the connections that he sees.

Pumu Punku
In  Twilight of the Gods: The Mayan Calender and the Return of the Extraterrestrials von Daniken expounds upon his theory with a bit with more examples of items that should pique the interest of those that endorse von Danikens assertions. Although the title implies this is a exhaustive look at the Mayan Calender and the popular belief that it says the world will end on December 23, 2012, von Daniken does not even address the Mayans until he is two-thirds of the way through the book. Most of his book concerns a pre-Incan site in Bolivia called Puma Punku and the amazing buildings and stonework there.

I do have some argument with von Daniken's history of the Maya. He leads his readers to believe that the Maya were a very healthy civilization before the Spanish began to push into their territory after conquering the Aztecs in 1521. In reality, the classic Maya, the ones that von Daniken is referring to in his book, had collapsed more than 500 years earlier. The Maya that the Spanish conquered were a shell of the classic Maya with a lot of outside influence (if not outright occupation) by such groups as the Toltecs.

Von Daniken implies that the Maya were the earliest civilizations in the area and there is no way that they could have observed some of the older astrological phenomena that they record. He fails to note that the "source" culture for the region is believed to be the Olmec, who existed nearly 2000 years before the Classic Maya.

Interestingly, von Daniken is very derisive of evolution (not of changes in species but in the idea of all life coming from some sort of primordial goo). He uses terminology that reminds me very much of Ken Ham and his Answers in Genesis books. However, von Daniken espouses a theory (I think he does anyway, he throws around a lot of theories at the end of the book) called Panspermia that teaches that an umknown life form shot out its DNA all over the universe, much like one would scatter seeds out of an airplane. Most of it was unsuccessful, but in some places life took hold.

Erich von Daniken
Von Daniken is interesting, as always. However, he is in serious need of an editor to keep him on the topic at hand.  I have already mentioned the complete lack of mention of the Maya in the first half of the book, despite the title. Von Daniken discusses everything from Bolivia's archaeological community to Hitler to climate change in his most disciplined section of the book, the first half.

In the last half of the book he seems to toss out random thoughts about the Mayan predictions about the end of time and then moves on to comment on long distance space travel, alien visitors to Tibet, how ideas spread, SETI, warp drives, the astronomers of the Catholic Church and electrons, among other things, in a conclusion that is most unsatisfying.

Is the book entertaining?

Yes, but it could have been much better organized.

Is there food for thought here?

Sure, but to extend the metaphor, if von Daniken were a chef, this would be a very sloppy, half-considered meal indeed.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on November 8, 2010.

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