Carl Sagan once wrote about the possibility that ancient Sumer was visited by benign extraterrestrial beings.
Most people will be familiar with the meme of Giorgio Tsoukalos of Ancient Aliens fame stating “I’m not saying it was aliens… but it was aliens”, but while many might dismiss the idea of extraterrestrials visiting ancient civilizations as a joke or pure fantasy, it is an idea that a number of notable scientists and historians have actually taken quite seriously, including the late astronomer Carl Sagan.
Writing in Big Think recently, Ross Pomeroy revisits Sagan’s remarks on the topic in his 1966 book Intelligent Life in the Universe which was also co-written by his colleague Iosif Shklovsky.
In it, Sagan talks about the possibility of finding evidence that aliens visited Earth in the distant past.
“A description of the morphology of an intelligent non-human, a clear account of astronomical realities which a primitive people could not acquire by their own efforts, or a transparent presentation of the purpose of the contact would increase the credibility of the legend,” he wrote.
Interestingly, Sagan also provides an example of a possible candidate – the ancient Sumerian legend of Oannes whose “whole body… was like that of a fish; and had under a fish’s head another head, and also feet below, similar to those of a man, subjoined to the fish’s tail.”
The story goes that Oannes bestowed upon the ancient Sumerians a great wealth of knowledge including insight into science, art, writing and specific techniques for constructing buildings.
Various similar accounts from Sumerian texts refer to such creatures as the Apkallu.
“Sumerian civilization is depicted by the descendants of the Sumerians themselves to be of non-human origin,” Sagan wrote. “A succession of strange creatures appears over the course of several generations. Their only apparent purpose is to instruct mankind.”
“Each knows of the mission and accomplishments of his predecessors.”
While such tales are obviously inconclusive, Sagan seemed to find them particularly intriguing.
Sadly, though, we may never know for sure whether they are based on truth or fantasy.