Khufu's pyramid scheme

This time, we are going to look at the top 10 pyramids of the world according to Ancient Aliens. I could not tell if the list is based on how significant evidence the pyramids are for extraterrestrial visitation or how cool they are. The episode would also become too long if we did the whole list simultaneously, so this will be a two-parter. You could also view it as a compilation episode of some great pyramids and one farm structure. We will spend most of our time in Mesoamerica and visit Peru and Greece. I think you'll really love this episode; we will even have a case where the Ancient Astronaut believers cite their sources, a real Christmas miracle here.

In Digging up Ancient Aliens, our host Fredrik uses his background in archaeology to discover what is genuine, fake, and somewhere in between in popular media, such as Ancient Aliens, Ancient Apocalypse, and many other places.

In this episode:

El Castillo


Sican Pyramids of Peru

El Mirador

Pyramid of Hellinikon

Sources, resources and further reading suggestions

Hi, hello, and välkommen to Digging Up Ancient Aliens. This is the podcast where we examine strange claims about alternative history and ancient aliens in popular media. Do their claims hold water to an archeologist, or are there better explanations out there?

We are now on episode 52, and I am Fredrik, your guide into the world of pseudo-archaeology. This time, we are going to look at the top 10 pyramids of the world according to Ancient Aliens. I could not tell if the list is based on how significant evidence the pyramids are for extraterrestrial visitation or how cool they are. The episode would also become too long if we did the whole list simultaneously, so this will be a two-parter. You could also view it as a compilation episode of some great pyramids and one farm structure. We will spend most of our time in Mesoamerica and visit Peru and Greece. I think you'll really love this episode; we will even have a case where the Ancient Astronaut believers cite their sources, a real Christmas miracle here.

And if you wonder what my sources, resources, and reading suggestions are, you can find them on the episode page at There, you will also find contact info if you have any corrections.

I want to thank those who support the show through Patreon, like "We all live in a wooden submarine." If you want to support the show, I will tell you exactly where to go later in the episode.

And if you like the podcast but can't spend much time after Christmas and the holidays, a five-star review and telling a few friends are great ways to help.

Now that we have finished our preparations, let's dig into the episode.

El Castillo

picture of El Castillo in Chichen Itza

El Castillo in Chichen Itza

We start this list with a familiar location we have visited several times. El Castillo in Chichén Itzá is number 10 on this list, and we have been here both with Ancient Aliens and Graham Hancock. Clearly, it is an exciting pyramid, and what's more interesting is that it lets us compare a little between the Ancient Alien narrative and Graham Hancocks. So what are the Alienists saying about the site this time?

"El Castillo was built to venerate the Mayan god known as Kukulkan, or the "Feathered Serpent." There were traditions in ancient Mexico of a great teacher arriving on the Gulf Coast. He was said to be Kukulkan, which translates as "the plumed or feathered serpent," and when he arrived, he brought with him the arts of civilization. He taught astronomy, he created the first calendar, he also taught agriculture, and eventually, he left, promising to return. And he was often depicted as a human being as well."

Last time we were here, they focused more on the human sacrifice at the site, but this time, we hear nothing of this. Instead, we get the narrative of K'uk'ulkan, which is very similar to the story we heard from Hancock in Ancient Apocalypse. This episode was released well after the Netflix series, so there might be some inspiration here because this part's alien narrative is strangely quiet. So, let's again dissect the K'uk'ulkan or Quetzaquatl narrative and the pyramid itself.

Chichén Itzá is located within the center of the Yucután with the Gulf of Mexico to the north. To describe it as a landlocked city is a bit of an understatement. An exciting aspect of Chichén Itzá is that it has had several different cultures and groups over its relatively short inhabitation. We see an apparent Maya influence in the early cities with buildings made in Puuc-style architecture. Puuc architecture was used at Uxmal and other ancient Maya sites, featuring stone veneers over a concrete core. Buildings had a plain lower facade with rectangular blocks and doorways, while the upper facade was richly decorated with intricate stone mosaics. The earliest estimated date for the first inhabitation of the area is in 550 CE.

Most of the buildings in the Maya style seem to have been erected during the 800s CE, and the first secure date is from a Puuc-style building called Chichanchob or Casa Rojo. This building, which was still covered in red paint when discovered, has a Mayan inscription referencing the years 869 and 870 CE in combination with several lords' names and a reference to bloodletting ceremonies.

Again, Chichén Itzá was not a monoculture, and we see Itza's influence and culture at the site. This would then be exchanged for Toltec influence, a culture from Central Mexico not far from Mexico City. This is quite evident when we look closer at the El Castillo pyramid, where what we see today is the last installment of construction that took place during the influence of the Toltecs. As with other buildings and pyramids in Mesoamerica, this one seems to have several substructures. One was discovered during the 1930s when two tunnels were excavated into the pyramid. Inside, we find a stepped pyramid in Pure Florescent style or Puuc style. It has nine platforms superimposed on each other and only one staircase on the northern side. Around the top entrance, we can also see a later style called the modified Florescent style found in places such as Tenochtitlan. Inside the building, there was found in two separate chambers, according to Ringle, "a chacmool statue and a jade-inlaid jaguar throne, on which an offering of back mirrors was placed. Although these may well postdate construction of the sub, they do indicate use of the structure after such traits had been introduced."

In 2018, a paper was published by Tejero-Andrade et al., who, with the help of ERT geophysical surveys, showed that there seems to be an earlier building beneath this substructure. This was based on previous attempts using ERT-3D in 2015 to find substructures within El Castillo. They could also see an additional building on top of the known substructure. This new method of scanning the soil for structures could be helpful when deciding on further excavations or research on the temple with minimal unnecessary damage to the structure.

El Castillo may be best known for the shadow phenomenon that occurs twice a year. During that period, a shadow is cast on the serpent that follows one of the staircases, making it look like it descending or ascending. This was first noticed in 1928; the first photos of the phenomenon were taken in 1948. In Ancient Aliens and Ancient Apocalypse, the event dates are the 23rd of March and the 21st of September. But before you run and buy airplane tickets, you should be aware that it's not a fixed event; according to Boot, the event usually takes place between 14-30 March and 15-30 September. Boot's observations during 2001 showed that the shadow was visible on the 22nd, 26th, and 27th of March. A question that's still not wholly answered is if this shadow was intentional and observed by the inhabitants of Chichén Itzá. While authors like Boot find it likely that it was intended, others are not as sure due to the lack of writing about it. I'm sure that the inhabitants noticed this effect. Still, as others point out, no ritual is yet associated with it.

Here, I'd like to return to the K'uk'ulkan discussion because Ancient Aliens make the same mistake as Hancock does when discussing this diety. The difference is that according to the alien proponents, K'uk'ulkan or Quetzalcoatl are alien beings. At the same time, Hancock claims they are white-bearded Atlanteans. Unfortunately, they are both quite far from the truth since they don't understand the history and concepts of this diety and that this name can refer to several different concepts. Grünschloß has identified five separate uses the pseudo-scientific crowd has melted into one. They are as follows: quote.

"(1) the theriomorphic representation as a feathered (celestial) serpent, which is the oldest in terms of religious history and iconography,

(2) the anthropomorphic conception of the deity Quetzalcoatl with specific attributes or insignia, but as such also.

(3) fluidly transforming into the wind deity "Ehecatl," with other characteristic attributes,

(4) as well as the purely human figure of the mythical-legendary' priest prince' Ce Acatl Topiltzin "Quetzalcoatl" with his alleged sphere of action in Tollan or Cholula, and

(5) the designation "Quetzalcoatl" as sovereign title for certain priestly dignitaries /.../."

Grünschloß also notes that these accounts also often include the narrative from the Seri people, a tribe separate from the Mesoamerican language and culture located in the northwest of Mexico. However, they have a culture bringer, Ahnt ah Koh' mah, or in English, "He who brings Fires." Note that, in this case, the hero comes from the East. Anyway, it becomes clear that these alternative historians and ancient alien proponents haven't done their homework. When we speak about both Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec name, and K'uk'ulkan, the Maya and Tzotil name. The translations turn out the same, however. K'uk can be translated to Quetzal, the green and red bird, while 'kan' is translated to serpent. The exact translation can be used for the Náhuatl version (or Aztec version). The root for the first part is 'quetzalli,' or Quetzal bird, and 'coatl' is generally accepted to be translated as a serpent. It's important to note, as Grünschloß points out, that it can refer to different things. We can talk about the literal god, or in some cases, kings or priests who are not gods but have the same name. Let's look at one of these examples occurring within Chichén Itzá.

The Books of Chilam Balam are handwritten manuscripts created by the Maya to preserve their history and culture in the 17th and 18th centuries. One of the sections in some of these texts is known as the "k'atun prophecies." Two of the manuscripts, Chumayel and Tizimín, are named after the towns where they originated. Reading the Chumayel k'atun prophecy, we find the following passage, translated by Eric Boot.

"4 Ahaw is the k'atun.

It is the eleventh part of the k'atun

to be counted. Chichén

Itzá is the seat of the k'atun.

Arrive will the settlement of the

Itzá. Arrive will

the Quetzal, arrive will the

cotinga, arrive will Ah

K'ante'nal, arrive will

vomit of blood. Arrive will

K'uk'ulkán, after them for a second time. It is the word of God,

that is. Arrive will the Itzá."

In this text, it's not really the god they are talking about but a leader of a Warband that takes over Chichén Itzá. A similar passage can be found in the Tizimín Chilam Balam, but the city is not specified in that version. Reading other accounts, it becomes clear that K'uk'ulkan sometimes refers to a ruler or a priest. In some cases, this ruler arrives with their brothers, and in some cases, a small warband. But there's nothing special about these characters besides that they are great at conquest. K'uk'ulkan is not described as being white, arriving from the sky, or those things. In these accounts, they are humans and behave as we expect humans to. Suppose you want to learn more and go deeper into this subject. In that case, Eric Boot offers a magnificent deep-dive into this in his book "Continuity and Change in Text and Image at Chichén Itzá." There, Boot follows the character through all the available sources and helps us understand how it fits within the mixed society of Chichén Itzá. I hope you get out of this short summary that the Ancient Alien proponents mixed several separate stories into one narrative. But suppose we split this narrative into the different characters that the Mayans and Aztecs described. In that case, nothing of what they say holds up. K'uk'ulkan nor Quetzalcoatl were culture bringers in these cultures; that idea is taken from a separate culture nearby.

With all this covered, we will head to their number nine on the list.

Pyramids of Teotihuacan

picture of pyramid of the sun in Teotihuacan

Picture of the Pyramid of the sun in Teotihuacan

Number nine on the list doesn't take us too far away. Just a hop and a skip to Teotihuacan. A place we also visited in the past looking for mica in episode 29, "Aliens and Ancient Engineers," and looked into the claims about Teotihuacan lined up with Orion belts. As I mentioned in that episode, it is only accurate if we rearrange the site's designs. This is something that Bauval and Hancock left out in their book "The Message of the Sphinx." While the Orions Belt theory is brought up again here, the mica claims are strangely not.

Teotihuacan is a fantastic place, far more significant than one might imagine initially. I was there many years ago, and the size of the pyramids and being able to go up is an experience. The site history is unfortunately quite understudied, but it seems as if people started to abandon the villages on the hillside in the Mexico Valley and settle on the valley floor. The earliest date this happened is during the Late Cuanalan phase, meaning somewhere between 600 to 200 BCE. The reason is most likely due to better agricultural settings on the valley floor than the hills. The first known public structure is the "Pyramid of the Moon," whose construction started during the Patlachique phase. While no exact date has yet been established, it is usually agreed to be between 100 and 1 BCE. Note that this was not an entire pyramid but a smaller platform.

There is much left to explore at the site, and excavations reveal new things here. For example, we might have to revise the construction of the Pyramid of the Sun. Excavations between 2008 and 2011 inside the pyramid have given a lot of ceramic fill and new C14 datings. Based on analysis of some 30,000 ceramic pieces, found as filling inside the pyramid, and C14 dates, the construction date might have been 229–330 CE. Sugiyama and a larger team discovered earlier buildings and burials inside the pyramid. But as Deborah Nichols points out, it's a bit too early to revise the chronology yet. But amazing discoveries are taking place, and real history is being revealed here.

At its peak, the settlement was one of the Mesoamerican world's largest and most powerful places. Something that would change as with all powerhouses. Signs of struggle started around 500 CE with problems in Teotihuacan outer borders; this would increase until the fiery destruction of the street of the dead and the public buildings. For a long time, the date has usually been suggested to be around 750 CE; recent studies indicate that this event could have occurred almost 200 years earlier. Interstingly, this destruction only affects the public buildings and the central part of Teotihuacan. With this destruction, the city was only briefly abandoned, but shortly after, people started to return and resettle the city. While it never returned to the good old days of being the biggest, it had a continuous settlement through the Epiclassic period. This period is 600-900 CE. During the post-classic 900-1150 CE, the population was between 30,000 and 20,000 people. While this is far from the population of the big dog days, it's not a tiny village size either. During the middle post-classic, 1150–1350 CE, Teotihuacan had again become the capital of a small city-state. Although the population never exceeded 10,000 during this period, it became a substantial place for the Aztecs.

In Sweden, we say that a loved child has many names, which is quite true regarding Teotihuacan. Dr. Edwin Barnhart says the name translates to "birthplace of the gods." However, this is just one of many translations you'll see if you start to read about this. I've also seen it translated to "place where gods were born," "place of those who have the road of the god," "the place where gods were created," "The City of the Gods," "place where time where created," and "the place where men become gods." While many of these translations are similar, they get slightly different meanings depending on which one you use. Before we go further down this rabbit hole, something worth noting is that the word originates from the Nahuatl language; this is the Aztec name for the site. We currently don't know the original inhabitants' names for the location, and it seems we might have gotten Teotihuacan wrong.

Veronica Ortega from Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History and Edith Vergara and Enrique del Castillo suggest an alternate name for the city based on the re-examination of the Xolotl codices. This is one of the earliest documents we have from the Valley of Mexico, and on plate 6 and quadrant 1C, we can find a glyph that looks like a pyramid with a setting sun behind it. This is generally accepted to refer to Teotihuacan, but beneath this glyph is written Teo-huacan or "city of the sun." As Ortega points out, we also see pyramids and a sun in the Codex of Huamantla when referring to Teotihuacan. Stela 31 in Tikal could also confirm this; Ortega claims that the City of the Sun is written on this stela and refers to Teotihuacan. Wort points out that one ruler mentioned on the stela, Nun Yax Ahiin, is known to have had strong connections with Teotihuacan. So it would not be strange that the city is mentioned on this stone.

Ortega, Vergara, and del Castillo have also proved that the phenomenon depicted in the Xolotl is an actual event that occurs when the sun sets on the 21st of February and the 21st of October. These authors have made several other measurements, suggesting that Teotihuacan was planned around solar events. But why do we today know the site as Teotihuacan and not Teohuacan? Ortega means that this is due to the sun being a symbol of rulers and power within Aztec society. The Aztec rulers went to Teotihuacan on pilgrimage to assert their authority and connection to the sun. But by changing the meaning of the site from this place of rulers to a place of worship and religion, they could move the political center to Tenochtitlan.

I think it's fair to point out that this is just an initial publication published in 2022. But it's interesting nonetheless and could lead to a new way of looking at the site. It will undoubtedly be interesting to see how this develops and where it will lead. This is an excellent example of what happens if you start asking the proper questions and not blaming aliens or lost Atlanteans for everything.

Lambayeque Valley and the Sican pyramids

Huaca El Loro in Peru

Huaca El Loro in Peru and one of the Sican Pyramids in Lambayeque Valley - De Enrique Jara - Trabajo propio, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Welcome to Peru, where we will look at number eight on the Ancient Alien list of pyramids. What is it we're going to find here?

"The Lambayeque Valley. Northern Peru. 1988. Explorer Thor Heyerdahl investigates what appears to be an area of large, earthen hills, but soon discovers that these hills are, in fact, massive adobe brick pyramids, severely eroded over the centuries. This was the site of a culture called the Sicán, and these people, who rose around 750 AD, seemed to be absolutely obsessed with the creation of pyramids. In fact, they created as many as 250 within this valley alone. And in one particular town, they created 26."

We have looked at pyramids in Peru previously; back in episode 44, we discussed the pyramids built by the Caral-Supe people. The Caral-Supe civilization, dating back to around 3100 BCE, is remarkable for its architectural feats, including pyramid-like structures and platform mounds similar to those in Bandurria, appearing around 2500 BCE. The most notable site, the city of Caral, is believed to have housed around 3000 people at its peak. Among its fascinating discoveries is a platform pyramid featuring an oval theater, where unique musical instruments made from condor and pelican bones were found, and intriguingly, blue whale vertebrae were used as stools.

There are a couple of issues with the part we heard from the show. It is correct that the Sican culture was settled in the Lambayeque Valley. Still, we might have to cover some chronology to get a better picture. Sican was not the first culture in the area; before them, we have the Moche culture, which was phased out around 700 CE. Then we have early Sican between 700 CE to about 900 CE, then we have middle Sican that took place 900 CE and then changed to late Sican around 1100 CE. To make things a bit more complicated, there is a discussion if Sican culture and Lambayeque should be viewed as one or two distinct cultures. So, some archaeologists will talk only about the Lambayeque or only about the Sican. Some will refer to the culture with both names. This is something that I just want to highlight if you want to go out and learn more about this.

The thing with the Moche people is that they built adobe brick pyramids before the Sican culture entered the scene. So, these 250 pyramids were not created only by the Sican/Lambayeque culture since the Moche sites were reused in later periods. Most of the Sican monumental buildings were made during the middle Sican period, starting around 900 CE. An interesting study on the DNA of the Sican people indicates that they moved into the area and, in a way, replaced the Moche settlements. Worth noting here is that some of the Moches settlements had, at this point, already been abandoned.

What we know about the Middle Sican culture is that it was a hierarchical society. This can be seen through the graves where people of lower status often have simple graves. In contrast, the elite has elaborate grave goods in shaft tombs beneath mounds. We also have evidence of human sacrifice, but that might not have been as bloody as we usually picture these practices. Donnan and Cordy-Donnins are describing a sacrificial temple in Dos Cabezas. Within this temple, there were found 8 burials of humans that were sacrificed: seven women and one man. But it was not only the amount and quality of grave goods that were interesting but also the method by which these victims were killed. They were all strangled; we know that due to the ropes of fine and soft cotton were still around their necks. Donnan and Cordy-Donnins wrote, "Although they (ed. the ropes) would have been very effective for strangulation, they were soft enough to have minimized cutting or bruising of the flesh. The intent may have been to terminate the lives of these individuals in the gentlest manner possible." What's also interesting is the bird motifs within the burials and temples. According to Shimada et al. and other researchers in the field, there are later prehispanic myths regarding the creation of different casts from eggs and stars. While we are not sure these myths existed back then, a connection could be argued. But at the end of the day, most of the religion is lost to history.

As for Thor Heyerdahl being the discoverer of the pyramids, it is a bit of an after-construction. It's correct that Heyerdahl participated in the excavation with Daniel Sandweiss and Alfredo Narvaez, but the adobe pyramids were not new. Detailed info about the adobe pyramids had started to become public after excavations by Cavallaro and Shimada in 1981, a few years before Heyerdahl's project in Tucume. That said, Sandweiss and Narvaez could add much good information about the Lambayeque culture. Ancient Aliens brings up this project due to Heyerdahls' hyper-diffusion theories. While Heyerdahl was correct in that there was contact between Polynesia and South America, his idea of a white culture-bearer race creating culture and civilization is yet to be proven. Ioannidis et al. 2020 study does not show in what direction the travels took place; it could be that the Polynesians went to Peru and brought people back.

During the excavation in Tucume, a relief was discovered depicting birdmen. Heyerdahl claimed that this was evidence of contact between Tucume and Rappanui. The similarities are very superficial when we look closer at the birdmen on Rappanui and what we find in Peru. According to the ancient Astronaut theory, however, birdmen are primitive people's way of depicting aliens. Something as silly as it sounds. People have always incorporated elements they find around them in their religion; ancient astronaut theorists only claim that the things they need to be real are real. They don't claim that the shapeshifting jaguars depicted in other places are real. And what does the theory say about the sheep bird figurines in Georgia, the country, not the state? Where were sheep flying around in prehistoric Georgia? Nobody would make this claim, but it is, in fact, what the pseudo-historians are doing here.

El Mirador

La Danta pyramid at the site El Mirador in Peru

La Danta pyramid at the site El Mirador in Peru By Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada - Guatemala_1828 - La Danta at the Mayan site of El Mirador, CC BY-SA 2.0,

We must push deep into the Peten jungles of Guatemala to get to number seven on the list. Located seven kilometers from the Mexican borders is a pre-classic Maya society that was swallowed by the jungle and lost in time. In 1926, the ruins of this enormous city were first reported. In 1930, Percy Madeira Jr. took the first photos of the overgrown temples from the air. Ian Graham was the first to officially survey and map the center of the site. Being on the ground, he could, by looking at pottery shards and sculptures, clearly see that this was a pre-classic Mayan site, something that at first was questioned by another archaeologist. However, excavations starting in 1978 would change this, lasting for four years. The excavation led by Ray Matheny and Bruce Dahlin would be able to add a lot of new information about the site. With C14 and other dating methods, they could date the site to at least 600 BCE, confirming Graham's initial pre-classic estimation.

El Mirador is one of the oldest pre-classic Maya sites and by far the largest city of its time, making its contemporary neighbors look relatively insignificant. A giant causeway leading north toward what would later become a city of equal grandeur during the classic era, Calakmul. Another causeway leads southeast to the neighboring town of Nakbe. El Mirador seems to be a hub for several causeways, indicating they relied heavily on trade. We have seen in the archaeological records that luxury items from far away were imported and traded within the city. With the indulgence of such rare finery, El Mirador was clearly a hierarchical society. But as Matheny and Matheny wrote, "it is not clear whether El Mirador, as a Late Preclassic polity, may have represented a city state, a territorial state, or even a regional state." James Doyle suggests that religion most likely held these early cities in the Maya lowlands together. These early centers revolved around monumental religious and ceremonial centers where the elite could separate themselves.

El Mirador has two of these centers, and as we learn from the Ancient Astronaut theorists, "On e's called El Tigre. The other one's called La Danta. La Danta is 70 meters tall. That's one of the tallest in the entire world. And it's so massive that, when you get to the top of its first basal platform, there's enough space where they put three more pyramids in a triad form on top of it."

At 72 meters, La Dantas is monumental, but it's almost half the size of Khufu's pyramid in Giza. I also don't want you to picture a true pyramid here because it's far from the case. La Danta consists of several platforms. First, we have the base, which is 330 meters long, 280 meters wide, and 10 meters high. Then, follow the most significant part that leads to a second platform where we find the most essential triad in the complex. This type of tirad construction was influential in this society, and El Mirador was exceptional with their constructions of these. They can often be found several times in the same complex. This, combined with the masks accompanying these temples, seems to indicate a shared monumentalisation of gods since these masks seem to be shared across both distances and generations.

 In la Danta, excavations have revealed a stucco facade that many believe is one of the earliest depictions of Popul Vuh. A story we spend quite some time with in episode 28. But it's one of the most iconic Mayan mythologies that was extremely important and influential in Mayan society. We see that the story already in the pre-classic times is exciting and shows how long this story has been a considerable part of the religious and secular society. But instead of talking about this vital influence, the Ancient Astronaut claims that these are aliens since they look like floating. I was disappointed when I realized this was why we were here: they interpreted an artistic representation of Popul Vuh as being weightless in space. It's so poorly argued that I'm at a loss for words. I don't want to stoop to their level, but the only thing I can come up with is "computer says no."

Then, they try to make things worse. "In Maya the word Xibalba means the Underworld. But some have suggested that the word Xibalba doesn't necessarily mean Underworld, but the Milky Way."

So here we have a case of mixing different elements into a new narrative that fits better with the Ancient Alien idea. Let's start with the meaning of Xibalba, the show even gives us the true meaning, the Kitche Maya word for Underworld. As a noun or an adjective, Xibibal, it can be used to mean dangerous or frightening. In Yucatan Maya, this place is called Metnal and translates to the Underworld, a place of hardship, darkness, hunger, and cold. Something that fits with the Mayan idea of where the dead went is associated with caves and crevices underground. Right, it does not make sense that Xibalba would refer to space. That part is from a different aspect from the mythology. I'm quoting Almere Read and González book "Handbook of Mesoamerican Mythology" here. "For many, the Milky Way was a celestial path made either of clouds lit by the night sky, or water flowing like a great celestial river. In one Classic Maya myth carved on bone, the Milky Way in its east-west position became a canoe carrying the Maize God into the Underworld."

Note here that the Milky Way is not the Underworld but a path towards it. Ancient Alien proponents have just removed the part where it was viewed as a pathway or canoe and claimed it to be another word for Xibalba. The pseudoscientists also like to draw a connection between the three hearthstones that are often connected to the place of creation. This was in what we know today in the Orion constellation. So it's claimed by the late Philip Coppens the Orion belt is the origin of creation and home of the aliens. That's why the people of ancient times built the pyramids in the same formation as the Orion belt if you move things around a little bit. The issue with these claims is that the stars that were connected to the hearthstones of creations in Maya mythology were Alnitak, Saiph, and Rigel. If you know your stars, you know that only one is part of the belt: Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka.

The three hearthstones were placed by the Maize God, and the first fire was drilled with, you know, a wooden bow and a stick. Not really alien technology here. And is it extraordinary that the Maya would use some of the brightest stars to incorporate into their mythology?

 Now, let's leave the Americas and head to the land of olives, wine, and pyramids.

Pyramid of Hellinikon

Pyramid of Hellinikon

Pyramid of Hellinikon By Egerváry Gergely, CC BY 3.0,

We are now back in Europe looking for pyramids and will not go where you might suspect. It's weirdly not the Bosnian pyramids; maybe it's because they are just hills, as we discussed previously, but we will find the next pyramid in Greece.

 "Argos, Greece. Just outside this ancient city stands a mysterious stone structure known as the Pyramid of Hellinikon. It is the only pyramid in Europe recognized by mainstream archaeologists."

 So, this segment starts with a massive error. While Europe might not be famous for its pyramids, they're not unheard of. Suppose we exclude modern creations like the Falicon pyramid in France, most likely created by Napoleon's veterans from Egypt, and Balmoral cairns in Scotland. In that case, we do have two locations with actual pyramids. One is, as we just heard, Hellinikon. The other is actually in Rome. The pyramid of Cestius is an impressive 125 Roman feet, or using metrics, less impressive 39 meters tall. This was a tomb built for Gaius Cestius between 18 to 12 BCE. So, Europe has at least two pyramids, according to mainstream archaeologists. Take that, Ancient Aliens. And to give the Ancient Aliens their point back, the pyramid in Hellinikon isn't really a pyramid; it's more like a hut with inward-sloping walls. So, it does not share anything with the pyramids in Egypt or those we have seen in America.

 In this part, we have a first for Ancient Aliens; they actually give us their sources. The first isn't really impressive, but an article, if we stretch the definition a bit, from Mysteries Unsolved. Guess everything can be unsolved if you don't really try. The second source, however, is a 1997 paper by Theocaris, Liritzis, and Galloway called "Dating of two Hellenic Pyramids by a Novel Application of Thermoluminescence." They even show the paper in the episode.

 Right, so what is Thermoluminescence?

 Let's lighten up our knowledge with something called thermoluminescence dating. Sounds like a mouthful, right? But stick with me; it's actually pretty fascinating!

First off, let's break down the name. 'Thermo' means heat, and 'luminescence'? That's a fancy word for light. So, Thermoluminescence – or TL for short – is all about 'light from heat.'

Now, imagine you're a detective, but instead of solving crimes, you're uncovering the age of ancient pottery, bricks, or even sediments. That's where TL dating comes into play. It's like a time machine for archaeologists and geologists.

Here's how it works: Over time, minerals in these materials absorb radiation from their surroundings. This radiation creates trapped, 'excited' electrons in the material. Think of these electrons as tiny dancers waiting for their cue to perform.

When scientists heat up an artifact, these electrons get the signal to dance – or, in scientific terms, they release energy in the form of light. The amount of light released tells us how long those electrons have been chilling out, trapped in the material. And voila! By measuring this light, we can calculate the age of the artifact.

But here's the cool part: Thermoluminescence dating doesn't just tell us how old something is. It also reveals secrets from the past, like how people lived, what they made, and even when a volcanic eruption happened!

But what is it this paper suggests, then? "The results suggest that the pyramid was built around 2730 BC, roughly 2,000 years before the rise of the Greek Empire. This was a structure that is very mysterious. It was constructed by a completely unknown culture."

Criticism has been raised toward the study, among others, by Mary Lefkowitz in the chapter she wrote in "Archaeological Fantasies." While Thermoluminescence or TL is a great tool, especially for ceramics, it has its flaws. In the study, as Lefkowitz points out, the authors do not account for the stones being reused from an earlier construction. They also ignore previous research that has been done on the site. For example, they don't mention Louis Lord's excavation in the 1930s; Lords dated the structures due to the polygonal masonry and the pottery to around the fourth century BCE. The oldest pottery in the construction was no older than 500 BCE. Helena Fracchia also surveyed the site for pottery in 1980, and the earliest date was around 350 BCE.

In 1970, Mark Munn suggested that these sloping wall buildings were farm structures made out of wood or maybe brick to accommodate ladders to reach higher floors. This idea later seems to have been supported by Fracchia's research and later finds of sloping wall structures in Crimea that have been connected to ancient farms, which further appears to support Munn's idea.

I also want to stress that no burial has ever been found in the structure at Hellinikon. It's also built more as a hut than these megalithic religious and burial structures we see elsewhere. Theocaris, Liritzis, and Galloway's studies also aim to prove a connection between these structures and Ancient Egypt. Something they don't really do nor successfully prove that these really are pyramids. We should also be cautious regarding the fantastic date, especially since no other archaeological evidence at the site seems to fit with these dates.

Even if these are not pyramids, they are still exciting structures.

We have covered five pyramids, or maybe four pyramids and one barn. Next time we meet, we will discuss the top five pyramids. That will, however, be in a different year.

Until then, please spread the word by leaving a positive review on platforms like iTunes, Spotify, or even among your fellow trench dwellers. For more information about me and my podcast, check out

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Sandra Marteleur created the intro music, and our outro is by the band called Trallskruv, who sings their song "tin foil hat." Links to both these artists will be found in the show notes.

Until next time, keep shoveling that science!

Sources, resources, and further reading suggestions

Almere Read, K. and González, J.J. (2000). Handbook of Mesoamerican Mythology. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Archaeology Staff (2018). Teotihuacan May Have Been Renamed by the Spanish. [online] Archaeology Magazine. Available at:

Benson, E.P. (2012). The Worlds of the Moche on the North Coast of Peru. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Boot, E. (2005). Continuity and Change in Text and Image at Chichén Itzá, Yucatán, Mexico. [online] Leiden: CNWS Publications. Available at:

Bourget, S. and Jones, K.L. (2009). The Art and Archaeology of the Moche. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Chávez, R.E., Tejero, A., Cifuentes, G., Argote, D.L. and Jaime Ernesto Rivera-Hernández (2015). A Special ERT-3D Array Carried Out to Investigate the Subsoil of the Pyramid El Castillo, Chichen Itza, Mexico. Near Surface Geoscience 2015 - 21st European Meeting of Environmental and Engineering Geophysics, [online] 2015. doi:

Declercq, N.F., Degrieck, J., Briers, R. and Leroy, O. (2004). A theoretical study of special acoustic effects caused by the staircase of the El Castillo pyramid at the Maya ruins of Chichen-Itza in Mexico. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 116(6), pp.3328–3335. doi:

Grünschloß, A. (2023). Unmasking Hegemonial ‘Fingerprints of the Fraud’. Georg-August-Universität Göttingen. doi:

Hutson, S. and Ardren, T. (2020). The Maya World. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Ioannidis, A.G., Blanco-Portillo, J., Sandoval, K., Hagelberg, E., Miquel-Poblete, J.F., Moreno-Mayar, J.V., Rodríguez-Rodríguez, J.E., Quinto-Cortés, C.D., Auckland, K., Parks, T., Robson, K., Hill, A.V.S., Avila-Arcos, M.C., Sockell, A., Homburger, J.R., Wojcik, G.L., Barnes, K.C., Herrera, L., Berríos, S. and Acuña, M. (2020). Native American gene flow into Polynesia predating Easter Island settlement. Nature, [online] 583(7817), pp.572–577. doi:

Lefkowitz, M. (2006). Archaeology and the Politics of Origins. In: G.G. Fagan, ed., Archaeological Fantasies. Oxon: Routledge, pp.180–202.

Matheny, R. and Matheny, D.G. (2019). Introduction to Investigations at El Mirador, Petén, Guatemala. New World Archaeological Foundation.

Moseley, M.E. (2001). The Incas and Their Ancestors : the Archaeology of Peru. London ; New York: Thames & Hudson.

Nichols, D.L. (2015). Teotihuacan. Journal of Archaeological Research, 24(1), pp.1–74. doi:

Ortega Cabrera, V., Vergara Esteban, E. and Raymundo, E. (2022). Teotihuacán as a solar city in its graphic representation. Astronomische Nachrichten, 344(1-2). doi:

Porter Weaver, M. (2019). The Aztecs, Maya, and Their Predecessors. 3rd ed. Oxon: Routledge.

Ringle, W.M., Negrón, T.G. and Bey, G.J. (1998). The Return of Quetzalcoatl. Ancient Mesoamerica, 9(2), pp.183–232. doi:

Salomon, F. and Schwartz, S.B. eds., (2008). The Cambridge History of the Native People of the American. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sharer, R.J. and Traxler, L.P. (2006). The Ancient Maya. 6th ed. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

SHIMADA, I. and CAVALLARO, R. (1985). Monumental Adobe Architecture Of The Late Prehispanic Northern North Coast Of Peru. Journal De La Société Des Américanistes, [online] 71, pp.41–78. Available at:

Shimada, I., Shinoda, K., Farnum, J., Corruccini, R. and Watanabe, H. (2004). An Integrated Analysis of Pre‐Hispanic Mortuary Practices. Current Anthropology, 45(3), pp.369–402. doi:

Sugiyama, N., Sugiyama, S. and Alejandro, S.G. (2013). Inside the Sun Pyramid at Teotihuacan, Mexico: 2008—2011 Excavations and Preliminary Results. Latin American Antiquity, 24(4), pp.403–432. doi:

Tejero-Andrade, A., Argote-Espino, D.L., Cifuentes-Nava, G., Hernández-Quintero, E., Chávez, R.E. and García-Serrano, A. (2018). ‘Illuminating’ the interior of Kukulkan’s Pyramid, Chichén Itzá, Mexico, by means of a non-conventional ERT geophysical survey. Journal of Archaeological Science, 90, pp.1–11. doi:

Theocaris, P.S., Liritzis, I. and Galloway, R.B. (1997). Dating of Two Hellenic Pyramids by a Novel Application of Thermoluminescence. Journal of Archaeological Science, 24(5), pp.399–405. doi:


“Folie hatt” by Trallskruv

Lily of the woods by Sandra Marteleur