Authors: Jacques Vallee
Ancient records of unknown phenomena in the sky pose special challenges. Unlike modern accounts, they are often kept in remote libraries, neglected by scholars, written in little-understood languages and seldom translated with accuracy. Indications of their existence are found in secondary sources, typically slanted to particular belief systems in religious or political terms, and are therefore doubtful. When they are quoted on the Internet or in popular literature they are often so garbled as to become unrecognizable.
The study of such cases has to begin with the search for a primary source, often a chronicler, a historian, or an astronomer, together with an assessment of the context in which the sighting was made. Not surprisingly, ancient civilizations with the most advanced astrology and meteorology have produced good records of this type. China and the Roman Empire, in particular, have given us valuable astronomical reports, often with precise dates. Japan and the Middle East are also prominent.
Given the lack of knowledge at the time about the nature of celestial objects such as meteors or comets, observations of such phenomena were often reported as “portents” or “omens.” Chroniclers generally pointed to specific historical events that followed the observation, attributing a cause-and-effect relationship to the sighting. This was a natural tendency, with two unintended consequences: on the one hand, it has contributed to slanting the narrative to special political or religious viewpoints; on the other hand, the association with historical records has served to preserve the basic facts of the sighting, enabling us, hundreds or thousands of years later, to better understand such phenomena as comets, meteors, and novae. And among these records we find accounts that still have no conventional explanation within today's science. In some cases, the reframing of remarkable sightings as mystical events has probably resulted in the loss of accounts that would interest us today as physical anomalies.
In extreme cases, this process has led to the popular belief that “the Gods” were intervening in human affairs through celestial manifestations. Indeed, it was convenient for secular or clerical rulers to claim that divine powers were supporting their views or guided them in battle.
In selecting cases for inclusion in this Chronology we have paid special attention to such biases in order to steer clear of the suggestion that aerial phenomena intervened directly in terrestrial history. Of course, as the reader will see, the societal and psychological impact was a real and lasting one, but only because of the interpretations witnesses and their contemporaries gave to the events.
This process continues today in the many heated controversies about unidentified flying objects, their origin, their nature, and their possible technological implications. For this reason, the study of the oldest records is crucial to an understanding of unidentified aerial phenomena that are still commonly reported.
As we go further back in time, our unidentified cases owe more to mythology than to history. Yet we wish to show the reader the rich variety of experiences that were reported throughout the ages. Accordingly, in this initial section we have relaxed our selection standards in terms of date and contents, while providing critical comments when appropriate.
denotes cases whose nature or source, in our opinion, needs new information because it is vague, unreliable, or insufficiently documented. We included them for illustration purposes, and to stimulate further research.
Ca. 1460 BC, Upper Retjenu, Lebanon
A “star” defeats the Nubians
The stela of Gebel Barkal, erected in honor of Thutmosis III, describes a fantastic celestial event during a war: “A star fell to their South position. It struck those opposed to him (the Nubians). None could standâ¦” (Lines 33-36).
“[The star] positioned itself above them as if they didn't exist, and then they fell upon their own blood. Now [the star] was behind them (illuminating) their faces with fire; no man amongst them could defend himself, none of them looked back. They had not their horses as [these] had fled into the mountain, frightenedâ¦Such is the miracle that Amon did for me, his beloved son in order to make the inhabitants of the foreign lands see the power of my majesty.”
Source: this document, of undisputable authenticity, was first published in 1933, in a German Egyptological journal,
Zeitschrift fur Agyptischen Sprache und Altertumskunde
The text, now on display in the Museum of Jardum, Sudan, was found by archaeologists excavating in the Temple of Amon, located at the bottom of the Gebel Barkal Mountain in the great Bayunda desert. The stela, which is made of granite and measures 173 cm by 97 cm, was erected on 23 August 1457 BC in honor of Thutmosis III's important victories in Asia.
1347 BC, El-Amarna, Nile Valley, Egypt
Akhenaton's flying disk
Pharaoh Akhenaton (Amenophis IV) had a unique experience that was to shape Egyptian history. According to inscriptions on the âFrontier Stelae' found on the circumference of El-Amarna, Akhenaton was strolling along the river admiring the splendors of nature one summer morning when he looked up and saw “a shining disc” descend from the sky.
He heard the voice of the Solar Disc itself tell him that he was to build a new capital for Egypt, and give it the name Akhetaton, “The Horizon of the Solar Disc.” During the time of Amenophis IV, Egypt's capital became the City of Akhetaton. The ideographic symbol for the word “horizon” was a disc floating over a mountain range.
Akhenaton also founded a new religion based on the worship of the Solar Disc, thus assuring his immortality in our history books as the most powerful heretic of ancient Egypt. Although it refers here to the shape of the sun itself, it is interesting to find that the basic disc shape often mentioned in art and ancient manuscripts has been quoted (or misquoted) as evidence of “flying saucers” by contemporary writers.
Source: David P. Silverman, Josef William Wegner, and Jennifer Houser Wegner.
Akhenaten and Tutankhamun: Revolution and Restoration
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 2006), 44-47.
Circa 850 BC, shores of the Jordan River, Israel
Abduction of Elijah