A giant, geometric hummingbird in the Peruvian desert. The eerie, white paintings of bulb-headed men in Australian caves. A forest of stone faces ignored by worshipers, in favor of a birdman god. For centuries, geoglyphs, petroglyphs, and ancient structures have exemplified the mystery imprinted on our very landscape. The Nazca lines, Wandjina petroglyphs, and Easter Island statues have all, at some point, been attributed to extraterrestrial architects. Though each has a plausible human origin story, our ongoing fascination points to greater questions about the universe: Are we alone? Have we always been alone? What lies beyond the reach of our furthest sight and measurement?
In 2015, the market research firm YouGov reported that 56 percent of Germans, 54 percent of Americans, and 52 percent of British believe that intelligent alien life exists. But according to astronomer Jean Schneider, though non-Western societies refer poetically to other worlds in works like the Indian Mahabharata and the Chinese Gujin ushu Jicheng, the rational question of intelligent life has been raised almost exclusively by Westerners.
Josh Gates, host of Expedition Unknown: Hunt for Extraterrestrials (Wednesdays at 9/8c on Travel Channel) agrees. “There’s a real difference in how engaged different cultures are with the subject.”
Gates’s show tries to answer the unanswerable question: Are we alone? To track down some answers, he’s traveled all over the world investigating alien sightings. He’s found that while Americans are 300 times more likely to report a UFO than the global average, other countries aren’t so enthusiastic. In places like Madagascar and Turkmenistan, “There are basically zero annual reports of UFOs.”
So what do non-Western societies believe about extraterrestrial life, particularly those local to these mysterious geoglyphs and structures? We investigated local perceptions around three sites to find out: