[ˈeːʁɪç fɔn ˈdɛːnɪkən born 14 April 1935) is a Swiss author best known for his controversial claims about extraterrestrial influences on early human culture, in books such as Chariots of the Gods?, published in 1968. Von Däniken is one of the main figures responsible for popularizing the "paleo-contact" and ancient astronauts hypotheses.
Von Däniken's first book, Chariots of the Gods?, was an immediate best seller in the United States and Europe, and subsequent books, "according to von Däniken, have been translated into 32 languages and together have sold more than 63 million copies." The ideas put forth in these books are largely rejected by scientists and academics, who categorize his work as pseudohistory and pseudoarchaeology.
Von Däniken wrote his first book while working as manager of the Hotel Rosenhügel in Davos, Switzerland. He was convicted of several financial crimes, including fraud, shortly after publication of his first book. The revenue from the sales of his book allowed him to repay his debts and leave the hotel business. Von Däniken wrote his second book, Gods from Outer Space, while in prison.
Von Däniken later became a co-founder of the Archaeology, Astronautics and SETI Research Association (AAS RA). He designed Mystery Park (now known as Jungfrau Park), a theme park located in Interlaken, Switzerland, that opened on 23 May 2003.
At the age of 19, von Däniken was given a four-month suspended sentence for theft. Von Däniken withdrew from school, and became apprenticed to a Swiss hotelier. After moving to Egypt, he was convicted for fraud and embezzlement.
He then became manager of the Hotel Rosenhügel in Davos, Switzerland, during which time he wrote Chariots of the Gods?, working on the manuscript late at night after the hotel's guests had retired. In December 1964, von Däniken wrote Hatten unsere Vorfahren Besuch aus dem Weltraum? ("Did our Ancestors have a Visit from Space?") for the German-Canadian periodical Der Nordwesten. Chariots of the Gods? was accepted by a publisher in early 1967, and printed in March 1968.
In November 1968 von Däniken was arrested for fraud, after falsifying hotel records and credit references in order to take out loans for $130,000 over a period of twelve years. He used the money for foreign travel to research his book. Two years later, von Däniken was convicted for "repeated and sustained" embezzlement, fraud and forgery, with the court ruling that the writer had been living a "playboy" lifestyle. Von Däniken entered a plea for nullity on the grounds that his intentions were not malicious and the credit institutions were at fault for failing to adequately research his references. Von Däniken was sentenced on 13 February 1970 to three and a half years imprisonment and fined 3,000 francs. He served one year of this sentence before being released.
His first book, Chariots of the Gods?, had been published by the time of his trial, and its sales allowed him to repay his debts and leave the hotel business. Von Däniken wrote his second book, Gods from Outer Space, while in prison.
Previous to von Däniken's work, other authors had presented ideas of extraterrestrial contacts. Von Däniken failed to credit properly or at all, these authors, even when making the same claims using similar or identical evidence.
In Chariots of the Gods?, von Däniken wrote that a non-rusting iron pillar in Delhi, India, was evidence of extraterrestrial influence. In a later Playboy interview, when told that the column showed some signs of rust and its method of construction was well understood, von Däniken said that since writing the book he had learned of investigations reaching other conclusions, and no longer considered the pillar to be a mystery.
Dr. Samuel Rosenberg said that the Book of Dzyan, referred to by von Däniken, was "a fabrication superimposed on a gigantic hoax concocted by Madame Blavatsky." He also says that the "Tulli Papyrus", cited by von Däniken in one of his books, is likely cribbed from the Book of Ezekiel, and quoted Dr. Nolli (through Dr. Walter Ramberg, Scientific Attache at the U.S. embassy in Rome), then current Director of the Egyptian Section of the Vatican Museum, as "suspect[ing] that Tulli was taken in and that the papyrus is a fake." According to NYT's Richard R. Lingerman, it is likely that von Däniken obtained these references from UFO books that mentioned them as real documents.
Von Däniken claimed that the Sarcophagus of Palenque depicted a spaceman sitting on a rocket-powered spaceship, wearing a spacesuit. However, archaeologists see nothing special with the figure, a dead Mayan monarch who is wearing traditional Mayan hairdo and jewelry, surrounded by Mayan symbols that can be observed in other Mayan drawings. The right hand is not handling any rocket controls, but simply making a traditional Mayan gesture, that other figures in the sides of the lid also make, and is not holding anything. The rocket shape is actually two serpents joining their heads at the bottom, with the rocket flames being the beards of the serpents. The rocket motor under the figure is the face of a monster, symbol of the underworld.
Ronald Story published The Space Gods Revealed: A Close Look At The Theories of Erich Von Däniken in 1976, written in response to the evidence presented in von Däniken's Chariots of the Gods?. It was reviewed as "a coherent and much-needed refutation of Von Däniken's theories"
A 2004 article in Skeptic Magazine states that von Däniken took many of the book's concepts from The Morning of the Magicians, that this book in turn was heavily influenced by the Cthulhu Mythos, and that the core of the ancient astronaut theory originates in H. P. Lovecraft's short stories "The Call of Cthulhu" written in 1926, and "At the Mountains of Madness" written in 1931.
Speaking in a 2001 documentary, von Däniken said that although he could not conclusively prove to the scientific community that any of the items in his archive were of alien origin, he felt that "today's science" would not accept such evidence, as "the time is simply not right". It is also mentioned that he jumped from Hotel Manager to "expert on the ancient world." He argued that it was first necessary to "prepare" mankind for a "wonderful new world"
Ridley Scott said that his film Prometheus is related to some of von Däniken's ideas regarding early human civilization.
Reviewing the two-disc DVD release of Roland Emmerich's film Stargate, Dean Devlin referred to the "Is There a Stargate?" feature where "author Erich von Däniken discusses evidence he has found of alien visitations to Earth."
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