Mary: Did you build the Pyramids?Science Fiction trope wherein ancient locations, legends, gods, and creatures from ancient myth are connected to alien visitors from a radically more advanced civilization. This trope includes that these aliens influenced our history in some way, mostly through technological advances. Often these aliens are sufficiently advanced. When this trope kicks in, expect various myths to be related to aliens. Everyone knows about Clarke's Third Law: the many legends of magic, gods, beings coming from the sky and the like were based on alien technology that we could not comprehend at that time. Proponents of this theory also espouse that ancient construction projects like the pyramids and Stonehenge are clearly too advanced and a little too fantastic for ancient man to have constructed without help from a more advanced civilization. Or that since there are pyramids in the Americas, Egypt, and China... you guessed it, they all got their idea from aliens. Other popular sites include the Moai of Easter Island and the Nazca Lines. Popularized by Erich von Däniken's 1968 book Chariots of the Gods? and its various sequels, which stridently insist that a careful blend of selected archaeological evidence will reveal that this very scenario happened in reality. The Real Life evidence for this is little but if it's brought up in fiction, expect these theories to be always right on the money. After all, it's not like either aliens or ancient humans would be interesting enough to write fiction about on their own, without them interacting, would they? This theory is often crossed over with Atlantis. Essentially runs on Mistaken for Gods; contrast with And Man Grew Proud. May result in Boldly Coming. If the unknown ancestors sport special abilities which aren't derived from technology, compare Our Ancestors Are Superheroes. Usually overlaps with Neglectful Precursors, as the aliens are generally implied to have lost interest in humans and/or concluded we're unworthy successors, ages ago. Sub-Trope of All Theories Are True. See also Beethoven Was an Alien Spy, for individuals rather than entire societies. Ancient Astronauts are very frequently builders/users of Sufficiently Advanced Bamboo Technology.
Dick: Only the one in Las Vegas.
Mary: What about Easter Island?
Dick: Easter Island was a practical joke that got out of hand.
Dick: Only the one in Las Vegas.
Mary: What about Easter Island?
Dick: Easter Island was a practical joke that got out of hand.
— 3rd Rock from the Sun, "The Thing That Wouldn't Die: Part 1"
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Anime and Manga
- Go Shogun The Big Bag, Neoneros, is revealed to be one at in the final episode, claiming to be with humanity for ten thousand years.
- Urusei Yatsura presents a number of beings from Japanese myth as aliens.
- Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water utilizes the Atlantean subtrope.
- In the manga version of Chrono Crusade, this is what the demons actually are—aliens. Their world was destroyed for an unexplained reason, so they came to earth to settle—but crashed their spaceship during entry, and sunk to the bottom of the ocean. They then spent so much time on Earth that they even forgot their origins.
- It's hinted that Kabapu and Il Palazzo of Excel Saga (and possibly Excel herself and the Ropponmatsu), are connected to a lost civilization called Solaria, which may well be an example of this. Particularly as Tenmangu Shiouji didn't believe their technology could be created on Earth. And if it can't be created on Earth that kind of leaves only one option...
- Shiouji's son Goujo actually states this Trope by name while ridiculing the idea that Kabapu's claims as to his origins are true.
- In the manga Paradise on the Sand, the ruling class of the unnamed pseudo-Middle Eastern country in which the story is set believe that they once lived in Heaven with the gods, but were eventually banished, and told that if they kept their blood pure they would one day be allowed to return. In addition, the enigmatic character Raisa is heavily hinted to be a goddess come to check up on them. They came from the heavens, all right — in a spaceship. And Raisa is indeed there to check up on them, but a goddess she's not (though she's sufficiently advanced to be mistaken for one). The blood purity thing was all their invention, though.
- In Spriggan, one of Yu Ominae's missions in Mexico reveals that the gods the Mexicans worship in the old days are actually ancient astronauts. With some exceptions.
- Not to forget an early chapter/in the OVA movie in which ARCAM scientists discover Noah's ark a ancient space ship which has the ability to directly control the Earth's atmosphere and is heavily implied to be the source of all life that has, is and will be on Earth.
- In One Piece this appears as well (to some extent). Although never explained in detail a number of technologically advanced winged humanoids lived on the Moon (the Skypieans, Shandians and Bilkan), when resources ran out they departed the moon. Upon initially seeing them they were mistaken for angels, and their shadows (from those that lived in the clouds) were often mistaken by sailors as being the silhouettes of giants.
- The Protoculture of Macross are presented as such in the prequel Macross Zero, when it's revealed they have influenced the culture of the people of Mayan Island (it's also hinted they interbred with them) so they would be able to activate an artifact (the "Bird Human") that would either bomb mankind back into stone age if they reached space before renouncing war or provide Protoculture technology if they did renounce war. Humans being humans and the Anti-UN having just bombed Mayan Island before it was activated, the Bird Human immediately arms its Wave Motion Gun.
- In Higurashi: When They Cry this is the explanation given for Oyashiro-Sama and the virus causing Hinamizawa Syndrome during Tsumihoroboshi. However it's not quite accurate.
- The Nitro's from Toriko are heavily implied as being this, if the hieroglyphics in the Gourmet Palace are a given.
- Kyubey aka The Incubators from Puella Magi Madoka Magica invokes this as the result of their intervention, with human civilization, science and progress as the result of the sacrifice of Magical Girls and various historical figures such as Cleopatra herself making a Deal with the Devil with them. He even comments that if Madoka wishes that they never existed, then humans would "still be living naked in caves."
- The Life Fibers from Kill la Kill are responsible for mankind evolving to the point that they wore clothing, manipulating civilizations for their harvest of energy.
- Sgt. Frog does this a few times:
- The Kappa that ghost girl Omiyo befriended long ago was really a Keronian scout wearing a helmet that made his head look like a kappa's.
- Played for Laughs in one episode of the anime, which revealed that various sites attributed to ancient aliens were actually amusement park attractions: Stonehenge is a giant solar-powered stove, Macchu Picchu was the site of a giant roller coaster, the Pyramid of Giza is a haunted house, and the Moai heads of Easter Island are a giant game of whack-a-mole.
- The manga had a more serious interpretation of Easter Island, where the Moai were there to seal away evil spirits (read: ancient alien invaders).
- In the DC Universe, White Martians visited Earth in early prehistoric times, and sabotaged the human genome to weaken the metagene so it would only manifest one of its many potential powers per person, and only rarely and in times of duress. Had they not done so, all humans would possess uniform high-tier superpowers like the Kryptonians, Daxamites, or the Martians themselves.
- In the post Infinite Crisis retcon, the Daxamite race, an off-shoot of the more famous Kryptonian race with the ability to interbreed with human, has been shown sending their explorer on Earth, in ancient times. Due to Daxamites and Kryptonians gaining Superman-like powers from a yellow sun, they gave themselves a strict no sex rule. That didn't prevent them from passing down the history of the Gods of the Mesoamerican pantheon and while some of their offspring lead humanity to formulate legends about demigods and other mythical heroes, a particular Daxamite, Bal Gand, escaped back on Daxam, programming her ship to carry her Mixed Ancestry future son back to Earth if he was ever ostracized for that.
- In Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers and Final Crisis, the New Gods are revealed to have visited Earth during the prehistoric era, influencing human culture and providing humans with technology.
- In the DC Comics Bombshells universe, Hawkgirl is introduced as a strong opponent of these theories, holding the position that they're the result of racist disbelief in the abilities of non-white cultures. Then it turns out that the Thanagarians did invade Earth earlier in its history, that she's descended from them, and that her girlfriend's "magical" abilities are powered by ancient Thanagarian technology. Awkward.
- Marvel Universe:
- A borderline example: the Sphinx was a time machine created by Rama-Tut, a human time traveler from an alternate timeline's future. A 1971 Incredible Hulk story had the Sphinx being left behind by aliens as a weapon.
- Inverted by X-Men villain Apocalypse. Being an immortal mutant shapeshifter with access to alien technology, he would claim to be various deities in order to more thoroughly dominate whatever group of people he was subjugating at the time.
- The Eternals are a super-powered, immortal human-offshoot race created by ancient astronauts, and were often mistaken for gods. Their Always Chaotic Evil counterparts, the hideously mutated Deviants, were the inspiration for many mythical monsters and demons.
- Warren Ellis had previously introduced a similar idea to the mainstream Marvel continuity in The Mighty Thor, suggesting that Asgardians are simply technologically-advanced aliens whom had been mistaken for deities by primitive humans. It was left ambiguous as to whether the Asgardians had influenced early viking culture, or vice versa. The idea was abandoned by subsequent writers, who opted to continue portraying the Asgardians as explicitly supernatural entities.
- Although literal Chinese dragons do exist in the Marvel Universe (thanks to Iron Fist's backstory), Marvel's most well-known ancient "dragon" is a giant alien named Fin Fang Foom.
- A more straightforward example is the Earth X trilogy, which states that all the "Gods" in the Marvel U (the Asgardians, Olympians, Egyptians, etc.) are Ancient Astronauts who were shaped into their current forms by humans' beliefs.
- Bec and Kawl from 2000 AD featured a story about a race of aliens resembling traffic cones that apparently forced all the ancient humans into slavery for the sole purpose of building building conical monuments to them. Humans eventually rebelled and after the aliens fled the planet, the humans developed basic geometry and modified the alien monuments to show this (explaining the likes of the Egyptian and Aztec pyramids and Stonehenge). Presently, the aliens are hiding amongst us disguised as, you guessed it, traffic cones.
- The Authority story arc "Outer Dark" by Warren Ellis is about a giant triangular space god who created the Earth coming back to sterilize it of human life could be considered a Lovecraftian-idiot-god chaotic evil version of this. The alien "god" could also be considered a Big Dumb Object.
- In the Elfquest series, the elves' psychic space alien ancestors came to the World of Two Moons because they discerned signs of their own kind in native humans' art and culture, and wondered if their species had been there in the past. This became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Gods from Outer Space was a 1970's Polish adaptation of von Däniken's theories into a series of graphic novels.
- Paperinik New Adventures has a few examples. In order of appearance, we have:
- The Evronians, of all aliens, having first visited Earth about ten thousands years in the past and visiting multiple times until we became suitable for conquest.
- In Urk's parallel universe an unspecified alien race, strongly hinted to be the Evronians of that universe, visited Earth at some point in the distant past, giving advanced and eco-friendly technologies to the populations of the American continent and teaching them how to live in peace while still being able to defend themselves by invasion of the Vikings (who, by the time they discover America, have advanced to technological levels slightly superior to those of late 20th century Earth by themselves).
- Back when the dinosaurs roamed the planet, Earth became the battlefield of two advanced alien races, now apparently extinct. One of them, forced to leave in the face of an invasion with overwhelming strength, left around a Mind Control device that brainwashed the dinosaurs into attacking their enemies and, after surviving under Duckburg for over 65 million years brainwashed Rupert into attacking Paperinik, as his costume happens to resemble the uniforms of the aliens.
- It's hinted that both the Xerbians and the Coronans have visited Earth at multiple points in the past, as shown when the Xerbian refugee starship Antra set course specifically to Earth to warn them about the Evronian threat (not knowing there was already an Evronian invasion force there and they had an Evronian infiltrator on board) and Everett Ducklair choosing Earth as his refuge.
- In Pocket God issue 3, the tribe finds a temple with heiroglypics describing a ufo and aliens. Turns out they were the ones who put a laser gun on the shark that keeps chasing them.
- A Sam & Max: Freelance Police short had them going into the past and thwarting Egyptian aliens. Like everything else in the series, purely played for laughs.
- The Tintin story Flight 714 takes place on an island regularly visited by Ancient Astronauts and their "initiates" right up to the present day.
- In Wild CATS, it's implied that the immortal alien Kherubim and body-snatching Daemonites (note the names) are the inspirations for many Earth legends.
- In Divine Blood The Demons and Gods are basically previous evolutions of sentience and then immortality that developed on Earth and then left to extradimensional safe havens to avoid some extinction level events. Frequent interaction with humanity has caused them more or less to assimilate to human culture to the point where even the basically down to Earth human-friendly set think of Demon and God as their species name.
- In Equestria: A History Revealed, aliens apparently exist in the world of Equestria, and were behind the creation of Discord. Of course, given our loopy narrator and her lack of evidence on this matter, she may just be making it up.
- It turns out that Krypton had sent a failed sleeper ship to prehistoric Earth in The Last Daughter, much like in Man of Steel.
- In "The Gods in the Stars" humanity was this to ponies.
- Sonic X: Dark Chaos: Humans were descended from Angels who originally colonized Earth as an outpost on the Federation border. They were nearly wiped out by a Demon attack, which caused them to lose their technology and regress. Some of them switched sides and worshiped their Demon invaders; many older pagan religions were based on Maledict.
- A paranoia-inducing Discussed Trope in Day of the Falcon, a Stargate-verse/Tomb Raider Crossover; whether or not Ancient Astronauts exist in a given universe, only a fringe archaeologist would even suggest the possibility, as No True Archaeologist would abide the blow to their humanocentric worldview.
Humans are smart. When you say we need aliens to tell us how to build, how to paint, how to water crops, you are saying our ancestors are children. Or maybe you are saying Egyptians are children, are idiots, who need outsiders to tell them how to feed themselves. And that is why I am so angry about these things like this you show me and the fools who want to see flying saucers and spacemen in helmets in everywhere where there is serious archaeology being done. My life's work is to show the past, our Egyptian past, the past of all of us. It is to be proud to be a human being. These aliens…they are just distraction.
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- The Fourth Kind features "evidence" of Aliens speaking Ancient Sumerian implying that they interacted with ancient sumerians possibly teaching them their native tongue.
- Stargate showed that the sun god Ra had actually been an interplanetary voyager who uses the bodies of humans because they can be repaired easily.
- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The titular crystal skull form a small part of an entire crystal skeleton, which belonged to a stereotypical "grey"
alieninterdimensional being that had advanced human civilization throughout the ages (it split into 13 individuals to dilute its powers in order to safely communicate with the locals). As it turns out, knowledge was their treasure. Their treasure was knowledge.
- When a KGB Agent tried to have all this knowledge downloaded into her brain...it was too much for the human physique and she was incinerated in the process.
- Mission to Mars reveals the origin and purpose of the mysterious face on Mars and that all life on Earth was seeded by ancient astronauts fleeing a dying Mars. The fact that later, higher-res photos proved in real life that the Mars Face doesn't actually look anything like a face slightly ruins the effect. It's also explained with a line from Luke to the effect that the face, having been buried in dirt in the intervening millennia since its construction, looks somewhat different than its architects intended. Indeed, when the security system activates, one of the side effects is a nice dusting. (One wonders why the aliens wouldn't have taken erosion and weather patterns into account when building it, but there you go.)
- Pacific Rim heavily implies that dinosaurs were indeed a first attempt of an invasion, which didn't work because the atmosphere, at the time, was not adapt for the invading forces; humans, heavily polluting it, fixed that problem for them.
- AVP: Alien vs. Predator provides a rationale for why the visitors were regarded as godlike beings but still only influenced humanity in the pyramid-building direction: Earth was (and still is) a rite-of-passage hunting ground, only visited once every century in designated sites built for the purpose. Occasionally, things got out of hand and the visitors had to resort to continent-blasting weapons.
- The indirect Alien prequel Prometheus deals with the mystery of the space jockey, revealing that it is a suit worn by giant humanoid alien beings known as "the Engineers". The movie opens with one such being on earth, drinking a potion and disintegrating in strands of DNA, forming the basis for all life on earth.
- Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen has the Seven Primes, who came to northern Africa about 19,000 years ago, The Fallen built the Solar Harvester, got into a war with his fellow Primes for possession of the Matrix. He wanted to kill all humans and get loads of Energon while at it. His brothers hid the Matrix of Leadership in a tomb made of their own bodies, a tomb the Fallen's Decepticon Seekers cannot find. Seymour Simons believes various ancient archeological sites has evidence of Transformers visiting due to cybergylphs. The Ruins of Petra turns out to be the Primes tomb and the Pyramid of Giza as the Solar Harvester in disguise.
- Implied in 10,000 BC. The slaves say that The God of the Pyramid came down from the stars. Others say he's from Atlantis, so we get two common flavors of this trope and still more so both.
- Used in 2001: A Space Odyssey, when Prehistoric Man discovers The Monolith. See the "Literature" section.
- In Cocoon, Atlantis was the Antareans' first base on Earth.
Walter: Everyone else said, "use the North Pole," and I said, "no, too cold." Sinking never occurred to me.
- In Thor, the character Darcy speculates that Thor and the other Asgardians are not actual Gods, but rather extra-dimensional aliens whom early humans mistook for supernatural deities since, well, they have Nigh-Invulnerability and technology that looks like magic to human eyes. The implication is that early Scandinavians patterned their society after the Asgardians, thus explaining the similarities between the two cultures.
- In Star Trek Into Darkness, the crew of the Enterprise is likely to become Ancient Astronauts to at least one tribe on the primitive planet of Nibiru after violating the Prime Directive.
- In Man of Steel, the explorers from the Kryptonian space program crash-landed on Earth sometime during the Stone Age. The prequel comic implies that their spacecraft's arrival showed up in the mythologies of some early humans.
- In Hangar 18, the scientists studying the crashed UFO and the dead Human Aliens in it determine that others like them came to Earth long ago. In fact, modern humans are partly descended from those who took human women as mates.
- In Godzilla (2014), all those sea dragons in medieval texts are in fact Godzilla, as the opening credits show, and Godzilla was written about dating back to prehistoric cave paintings.
- In Jupiter Ascending, the alien dynasties that seeded Earth millennia ago inspired many of humanity's myths about vampires and dragons (one of the races that work for Balem even looks like smaller dragons) and possibly even deities. Humanity isn't even native to Earth, having actually evolved on a planet called Ourus, and Earth was "seeded" by Abrasax Industries roughly one hundred thousand years ago.
- X-Men: Apocalypse: En Sabah Nur and the Four Horsemen are debated by Agent Moira MacTaggert and Alex Summers. Did he take the idea from the Bible... or did the Bible take the idea from him?
- In John Carter, it's implied that the Therns have been visiting Earth/Jassoom for millennia, given the clearly Barsoomian symbols John's archaeological expeditions find. Also, the Big Bad has been on Earth enough times lately to recognize John's Southern accent.
- Explored in Alterien by Adam R. Brown.
- The Shanda'ryn, a race of aliens closely modeled after The Greys, appeared in various points of human history. Humans sometimes mistook them for figures out of their belief systems. They were also present during the time the Pyramids of Egypt were originally built, a time that predates the known Kemetic (Egyptian) Dynasties.
- The Alteriens, themselves, also assumed this role with their many voyages to Earth's past.
- One of the earliest examples of this trope (perhaps the earliest) was in Edison's Conquest of Mars, an unauthorized sequel to The War of the Worlds written in 1898, where Thomas Edison invents a spaceship and launches a counterattack against the Martians. Here, it was revealed that the Martians built the Pyramids and the Sphinx.
- H.P. Lovecraft popularized this trope in At the Mountains of Madness, which reveals that ancient aliens who lived on Earth before humanity inspired the ancient legends that Lovecraft hinted at in earlier, more fantastic stories...
- The Great Race of Yith in "The Shadow Out of Time" is another example, and Cthulhu and the other Great Old Ones are alien (possibly extradimensional) beings that came to Earth eons ago. However, they aren't just worshiped as gods, they actually kind of are. What else would you call an immortal, nigh-omnipotent being that can bring about the end of the world on whim?
- As part of the distinctly bleak worldview conveyed in his stories, however, Lovecraft put a notable spin on this trope: his aliens and space-gods are not interested in guiding humanity's development, nor (with a few exceptions, such as Dagon) in enslaving or corrupting us. They rarely give us a second thought.
- In Junction Point, it's revealed that the tianlong visited Earth over a hundred thousand years ago and encountered the Neanderthals. When they heard of their homeworld's destruction, they returned to help the sole surviving colony, but the thought of how fragile life in the universe is convinces them to later come back to Earth and set up a colony of humans and Neanderthals on another world. Unlike other examples, however, the tianlong didn't actually influence civilization on Earth, except perhaps for the legend of dragons.
- Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End invokes this, but the myths aren't from memory, but precognitive visions of the aliens.
- Also in Clarke's more famous work 2001: A Space Odyssey the Precursors brought to Earth The Monolith that would accelerate the evolution of primitive hominids.
- In the Galactic Marines series by Ian Douglas, this happened with three different alien species. First the cybernetic or mechanical Builders who tinkered with the ancient human genome to create Homo erectus, then the Ahn who used human slaves in ancient Mesopotamia, and finally a third species who helped humans get back on their feet after the Ahn were wiped out. Some of the conflict on Earth arises from the so-called "Ancient Astronaut" cults, who claim that aliens were benevolent gods, who will eventually return and solve all of the world's problems.
- Larry Niven did this a few times in his Known Space universe:
- The Pak actually were the ancestors of humans as part of a Lost Colony that failed due to a lack of Thallium Oxide in the soil, resulting in a race that failed to reach the final stage of the Pak life cycle.
- Prior to the Pak, the Thrintun were the source of the beginnings of life on Earth when they seeded the world as a food source and then lost contact with it, preventing them from weeding out mutations in the yeast strain they used to seed the planet.
- A non-Niven story set in Niven's world mentions an abortive Kzin visit resulting in myths about particularly nasty tigers.
- The Heirs Of Empire series by David Weber has all of Earth's humanity be descended from the marooned crew of a spaceship after a partially successful mutiny (the spaceship in question is in fact disguised as the moon).
- In James P. Hogan's Giants Series humanity was accidentally uplifted by aliens from Minerva (which was the fifth planet in the solar system before it was blown up).
- In the German sci-fi series Perry Rhodan, this happens a lot. The sheer amount of ancient astronauts that have visited Earth in the Perry Rhodan Universe is perhaps better understood if one realizes that Clark Dalton, one of the creators of the series, was actually a friend of Erich von Däniken and the two wrote a sci-fi novel together about the topic of ancient astronauts. Atlan the Arkonide (more than 10,000 years old and immortal due to some Applied Phlebotinum granted to him by a Sufficiently Advanced Alien Energy Being) is supposed to be responsible for some of the oldest human myths, like the Epic of Gilgamesh. In one of the spin-off novels, we can even see Atlan acting like a god in front of primitive humans. Atlan's people the Arkonides build their first colony on the famous Atlantide landmass (to state the obvious, it's named after him).
- The Takers, a modern Two Fisted Tale by Jerry Ahern. The log of a 19th century expedition seeking Atlantis mentions a horned 'demon skull', which sends the protagonists (and the villain) off on their quest. They discover an ancient yet fully-functional alien base under the ice of Antarctica, with a giant statue implying that the aliens passed on their genetic legacy to mankind.
- Subverted in the Animorphs books. It is hinted at pretty heavily, and it turns out that Earth has been visited by aliens countless times throughout history (FYI: Aliens killed the dinosaurs. With an asteroid. That they were using to attack other aliens that had settled on Earth. Oh, and those first aliens? They were ants.), but each time a major revelation is set up it is immediately torn apart. Erek, a Chee (ageless android living in disguise amongst humanity), reveals that he helped build the pyramids. When he is given shocked stares at the revelation that he created the darn things he laughs it off and explains that he was a slave who helped haul the bricks, he had nothing to do with the planning, engineering, or logistics of the project (He did, however, cut and style Catherine the Great's hair a few
centuriesmillennia later). Despite all the aliens who seem inexplicably drawn to our blue planet, all the credit (and the blame) of our history goes to us.
- The Ellimist plays it straight... just not with humans. He assisted the Hell out of the galaxy, and it's heavily implied the Andalites were included (though how much he helped them while his organic proxy was living with them is unclear).
- The Skrit Na have been known to abduct sapient and nonsapient beings for medical experiments that makes sense only to them. Notable in that they are so ancient that they were an advanced space-faring race far before the Ellimist attained any semblance of godhood.
- Used, with time travelers rather than aliens, in Poul Anderson's Time Patrol story "The Sorrows of Odin the Goth". The time-traveling historian Carl knows that his travels among the Goths are liable to make the natives think he's a god, so he dresses in such a way that stories of his exploits would be folded into the preexisting mythology of Wodan (aka Odin). It doesn't work out quite how Carl intended it...
- The trope-savvy Game Masters of Dream Park used this as a premise for their live-action adventure tournament in The California Voodoo Game.
- Possible but unconfirmed in David Brin's Uplift series. Every alien race after the Precursors was uplifted by another species and most refuse to believe that humanity evolved sapience naturally. Rather they claim that humans must have been abandoned by an irresponsible patron race before their uplifting was complete (this has apparently happened before in galactic history-such "wolfling" races tend to destroy themselves before reaching space).
- On Earth there's "Danikenites" and "Darwinists," the former wear togas to protests while the latter dress like cavemen.
- Averted in the insulting humans sense in an Asimov short story. Spaceships are forbidden to trade with cultures that don't have anything to offer. A quick scan of the planet convinces most of the crew that humans are just a simple hunter-gatherer society, but the trader's instinct says that they do have something to offer. Played straight in that the traders do help them, giving them the wheel and tools, but the traders gain something by learning to use caricature and sketches from the human's ancient art. Sketches have an advantage of highlighting characteristics that are important, and getting rid of information that is unimportant. The space-faring culture had forgot (or never had) times without photo-realistic holograms.
- Edgar Allan Poe's "Some Words with a Mummy" pokes fun at the then-common theory that Egyptians couldn't have built the pyramids without outside help: a revived mummy reveals to a group of scientists (all proponents of said theory) that his people not only built the pyramids on their own, but developed all kinds of crazy advanced technology which has since been lost — all without any interference at all, be it supernatural, alien, or European. What an epic Take That!.
- In The Science Of Discworld, a band of early hominids is saved from a leopard, then introduced to the concept of "fire," by a wise and civilized visitor from another universe. In this case, it's the Librarian, who (ironically) had been pushed onto an evolutionary course away from humanity when he was turned into an orangutan.
- The reason Artemis Fowl can translate the fairy language so easily is that it is similar to Ancient Egyptian, and Artemis comments this is because the Egyptians borrowed it from the fairies.
- Out of the Silent Planet inverts this. C. S. Lewis' Author Avatar translates a manuscript by the 12th century Platonist Bernardus Silvestris, describing a voyage through the heavens and mentioning Oyarses, a tutelary spirit assigned to a planet. Said author avatar seeks translation help from Dr. Ransom—who had himself recently voyaged to Mars and spoken with Oyarsa, and thus recognizes Silvetris' account as a true one. As for Oyarsa, he's an Energy Being and an angel.
- Fred Saberhagen's The White Bull invokes this trope to explain the minotaur legend. He's also used it with a not-so-ancient classic: in The Frankenstein Papers, the creature turns out to be an alien scholar who'd been snooping around the mad doctor's lab, curious about his electrical equipment, and been rendered unconscious and amnesiac by an accidental discharge.
- In Septimus Heap, the fifth book mentions that people in the past travelled to the Moon.
- Inverted in Dragon's Egg, where mankind inadvertently jumpstarts a civilization: the barbaric Cheela, seeing a new, wandering star in the sky (an orbiting human vessel), mistake it for a god and develop astronomy and writing in order to follow it. This starts their technological development and they eventually make First Contact. As a bonus, since the Cheela's Bizarre Alien Biology operates on nuclear reaction time scales, rather than chemical, they manage to do it in days.
- In The Wild Boy, it's indicated the Iani, the creatures who created the Lindauzi, also visited Earth and possibly spawned humanity-the two races are definitely related somehow.
- In The Long Earth, Lobsang speculates that a great deal of human mythology originated from misinterpreted encounters with trolls and elves, who in this setting are apelike creatures with the natural ability to "step" between parallel Earths.
- C. L. Moore's Northwest Smith stories contain a variation on this theme. It is implied that a prehistoric civilization of humans mastered spaceflight and brought back tales of the creatures they encountered on other worlds, which became the basis of later legends.
- Terry Pratchett used this for his Nomes Trilogy; humanity's stories about "the little people" are actually due to contact many centuries ago with a species of tiny Human Aliens, a group of whom stranded themselves on the planet by accident. They used to directly interfere, in an effort to coax humans towards creating the technology they needed to contact their mothership, but failed due to the Time Dissonance — they basically devolved to the point where they both lost the ability to communicate and all memory of where they came from.
- The Saga of the Exiles by Julian May has humans being the descendants of ancient astronauts from another galaxy who interbred with time travelling humans from the near future from our point of view. Most names for the aliens and locations are corrupted from Celtic, especially Irish, mythology. It's implied that the alien/human civilisation a few million years in the past is somehow responsible for the eventual occurrence of homo sapiens and Irish myths, although it's never explained how this was supposed to work. Also a good example of A Mythology Is True.
- The Ollan refugees in Aleksandr Zarevin's Lonely Gods of the Universe are a small (less than a dozen) group of redhaired teenagers, their professor, and a security guard sent to a habitable planet with primitive inhabitants using an experimental teleporter. They call this pristine world Pearl and establish a compound on an island. They plant the seeds of a salad plant known as ambrosia from Oll, and the plant grows overnight. They eat it, grow sick, and collapse. A day later they wake up youthful (even the old professor), healthy, and immortal (well, Healing Factor and agelessness). They end up ruling over the dark-haired primitives on the island, with male Ollans impregnating many local females, resulting in varied hair colors. The locals build them a palace on top of a large hill at the center of the island. The Ollans call it Oll-lympus. The island they call in honor of their home country Atl back on Oll - Atl-antis. Long story short, a vision warns them of a comet about to strike the sea and sink the island. A number of the locals and the Ollans manage to get away to the mainland. They survive to the present day and secretly use their amassed fortune to finance research into re-creating their teleportation device (which was left behind on Oll, and its use resulted in a nuclear war, making them the last Ollans).
- For bonus points, the name of the Ollan security guard, who became the military leader of Atl-antis, training locals in hand-to-hand combat and tactics, as well as having them build ships and weapons for conquest of the mainland, is Mars Ares.
- In Blood Of The Heroes time travelers discover that the Indo-European deities are actually aliens called the Teloi, who engineered modern humans out of Homo erectus when they arrived.
- Subverted in The Roswell Conspiracy by Boyd Morrison. It's implied that the Nazca lines are connected to the UFO that crashed at Roswell. It turns out that Nazca was built to show their gods where a highly deadly radioactive meteor remnant which they believed belong to their gods was hidden. And the Roswell UFO was an experimental Russian aircraft powered by this same radioactive element recovered from the meteor which created the Tunguska blast site, and the Russians want more of it so they go looking for the Nazca sample.
- Exists in a modified form in the Dune universe. That universe is Absent Aliens, but the same trope happens with more advanced civilizations of humans doing it to less advanced societies. This is most common with the Bene Gesserit Missionaria Protectiva.
- In the Age of Fire series, the wizard Anklemere, as well as the trolls, are implied to have been this. And the Lavadome is apparently the spaceship that brought them. Being a fantasy series, however, such terminology isn't used, nor is it ever confirmed.
- For the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Wordof God says that ancient coruscant humans who long predated the republic were visited by a much more advanced alien race called the Columi, and were offended by their developing culture.
- Many material in this universe claims that the galaxy was once ruled by a very ancient civilization known as the Celestials, and were of the galaxys oldest civilizations, they were hinted to be responsible for the current alignment of the Corellian system, as well as making AWESOME floating space artifacts that put the technology in the original trilogy to shame.
- The Lives Of Tao has this as the core of its premise: an ancient race of Energy Beings crash landed on Earth millions of years ago (killing the dinosaurs and kick starting the ice ages in the process), symbiotically possessing various creatures to stay alive while gradually furthering the evolution of life until early humans came along and manipulating our development from there. Almost everything in Earth's history is the result of Quasing manipulation.
- The X-Files novel Ruins has Agents Mulder and Scully venturing to a recently uncovered Mayan ruins in Mexico to search for a missing archeological team. Once they arrive there, Mulder discovers a spaceship underneath the structure, and comes to conclusion that it belongs to an alien who was stranded on Earth 1000 years ago, whose presence lead to the stories about the mythological Kukulkan.
- Mentioned in Red Dwarf, episode 4, where Arnold Rimmer explicitly points out the pyramids of Ancient Egypt as "proof" that there must be alien life in the universe. Lister retorts by replying that they moved such "massive blocks of stone" with the aid of "massive, massive whips".
- Stargate SG-1 (and its sequel Stargate Atlantis) takes this to its logical extreme.
- Virtually every culture's gods or mythic figures (right up to King Arthur) have, in the course of the show, been revealed to be inspired or co-opted by aliens of one form or another. Mostly, they were the Goa'uld, which began as the Egyptian gods and spread from there, though the benevolent Asgard were the Norse gods, and Merlin was a Sufficiently Advanced Alien. The Goa'uld were evicted from Earth several thousand years before the beginning of Christianity, although at least one group of early Christians were transplanted to another world by an unknown party, eventually evolving into a medieval society under the domain of Sokar, who co-opted the image of the Devil for his own purposes.
- This was alluded to when Daniel explained how there is a point in human history where humans suddenly stopped worshiping fire (a representation of the Ori) and started worshiping pure white light (a representation of the Ancients, which are angelic)
- SG-1 have also shown some Goa'uld posing as Greek Titans and Oriental gods, as well as Mayan crystal skulls as alien communication devices, and Aztec having their own alien descendants and ancestors. For example, the Mesoamerican deity Quetzalcoatl is a giant alien made out of smoke. However, Lord Zipacna posed as a Mayan deity of the same name, meaning not all Mesoamerican deities were "giant aliens".
- Quetzalcoatl isn't actually made of smoke. He and his kind just existed in a different phase from us where they couldn't be seen. The crystal skull artifact *partially* shifted humans into his phase, where they could interact with him, but not completely. The humans probably looked like smoke to him too.
- The Oannes
- One episode had the characters find themselves in what appeared to be a standard medieval Christian society, leading them to briefly discuss the possibility that a Goa'uld is posing as the Judeo-Christian God or even Christ. It's Teal'c who dismisses this idea first, having read the Bible and come to the conclusion that no Goa'uld would act as compassionate and benevolent as the one featured within, as they couldn't even comprehend such behavior. It turns out that the Goa'uld who rules the planet impersonates Satan instead.
- The lost city of Atlantis wasn't sunk or lost: it launched into space and traveled to another Galaxy, eventually settling on a new planet. And then it was sunk, in order to hide it from the Wraith. The remaining Ancients traveled from Atlantis back to earth and presumably told the story of Atlantis to the ancient Greeks. Only leaving out that it was on another planet, in another galaxy.
- Star Trek has had a few of these, most notably Apollo (and by reference the other Olympians) and Kukulkan.
- "Who Mourns for Adonais" is the episode featuring the alien claiming to be Apollo. "Plato's Stepchildren" is an episode featuring aliens who so admired classical Greek culture that they adopted it as their own. So the aliens from "Plato's Stepchildren" have only two degrees of separation from the aliens from "Who Mourns for Adonais"!
- Kirk himself becomes a type of Ancient Astronaut in "The Paradise Syndrome", giving the transplanted Native American tribes knowledge of medicine, irrigation, and agriculture.
- Humans also are Ancient Astronauts in the TOS episode "A Piece Of The Action": a text on Chicago gangs of the 1920's was accidentally left on Sigma Iotia II a century earlier. It subsequently became regarded as a holy book, and the inhabitants built their entire civilization around its depiction of gangland culture. At the end of the episode they realize that one of their communicators got left behind, and Kirk suspects they'll be able to reverse engineer it...
- Star Trek: Voyager
- In the episode "Tattoo", Native Americans were barely intelligent cavemen until they were genetically uplifted by ancient aliens.
- In the episode "Blink of an Eye", the crew of Voyager become Ancient Astronauts to a civilization on a planet that exists in enormously accelerated time; from the viewpoint of the planet, Voyager is in their sky for the sum total of civilization, and eventually they advance their technology to the point where they can go out into space to meet them. The aliens didn't know about the time dilation and by the time the explorers make contact it's more than a generation later on the planet and they start trying to shoot down the alien ship that so callously destroyed their peaceful explorers. A secondary motivation was that Voyager's presence was acting as a third pole for the planet, giving it frequent earthquakes. The ship is only saved when one of the explorers goes back to explain things, then returns to Voyager with ships specifically built to move Voyager out and break the time acceleration.
- "Dragon's Teeth" involves a race of aliens who used a naturally occurring network of dimensional tunnels to carve out an empire. When their oppressed subjects eventually overthrew them, some retreated into cryostasis to wait for a more opportune time. By the time of the series, most cultures in the Delta Quadrant only remember them as cruel trickster demons in a few very old legends. For reference, in the time they ruled (about 900 years before the series timeline), they remember the Borg as being mostly harmless and confined to a few systems.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation
- The episode "The Chase" winds up establishing that aliens not only seeded primordial Earth with life, but also a vast collection of other planets, including Qo'noS, Vulcan, and Cardassia.
- Subverted by the episode "Devils Due" where a con artist reads the myths of an alien world and realizes that modern technology is capable of providing all the signs and wonders she'd need to impersonate one of their deities.
- Played with in regards to the Q Continum; Q, for instance, is every single trickster figure in every single mythology and religion on Earth (or so he says; Q lies so often that you can never be sure) but one would be hard pressed to argue that he's not also a god. Q also in one episode claimed to be the Judeo-Christian God, which Captain Picard finds laughable. Later in the same episode, Q claims that he merely knows God, and was there when He created humanity.
- Battlestar Galactica (1978), having been produced at the height of the craze, strongly implied that this was the case in its universe, as the Galactica encounters sufficiently advanced aliens with more than a passing similarity to angels as perceived in the Mormon religion. The 2000s series goes a step further, explicitly identifying the "Lords of Kobol" with the Twelve Olympians of classical Greek mythology, though how the Colonial religion and Greek religion are linked has yet to be explained.
- The Colonials themselves, if their costuming is any indication, are also meant to be Ancient Astronauts or some sort of Precursors. Their starfighter pilots wear "Pharonic" helmets evidently meant to have inspired Tutankhamen's burial mask, and bridge officers wear a very distinctive octagonal cloak, like the classical Greek chalmys. The missing 13th colony, which they're looking for, is Earth. (In The Original Series they find it. They find it in the new one too, but because the new one is Darker and Edgier, it's been nuked to hell and gone).In the finale of the new series, it turns out that that wasn't our Earth that was nuked. It ends with the survivors settling on our planet, which they name Earth — about 150,000 years ago, meaning this trope applies to the entirety of the show.
- Doctor Who featured this in several stories;
- "The Dæmons" reveals the existence of a race of aliens that resemble demons from classical art, and suggests that they were objects of worship for ancient and medieval pagans.
- "Death to the Daleks". The Doctor suggests the Exxilons might have traveled to Earth and taught the Peruvian Incas how to build their pyramids, as they were too "primitive" to do it themselves.
- "Pyramids of Mars" identifies the Egyptian gods Sutekh and Horus as alien warlords, the mythological account of the war between them being a recollection of their actual conflict.
- "The Stones of Blood". Cessair was an alien who also took on the identity of Vivien Fay, Morgana Le Fay, The Goddess and The Cailleach. Also her Ogri hid as some of the stones in stonehenge and possibly the inspiration for ogres, Gog and Magog.
- "Battlefield" implies that a future regeneration of the Doctor was/will be Merlin of the Arthurian legend and thus influence the development of England in the deep past.
- In "The Satan Pit", it hung a lampshade; the Beast claims to be an Ancient Astronauts version of the Devil, but the Doctor is highly skeptical, pointing out all the various examples of the trope in different cultures on different planets. Russell T. Davies describes this episode as a "sequel" to "The Dæmons". It's also left ambiguous as to whether the Beast actually is the Devil (as in, the real deal) or is a Sufficiently Advanced Alien who has just served as the inspiration for that mythological archetype throughout the ages and galaxies.
- "The Pandorica Opens": Stonehenge is actually an alien communications array surrounding the Universe's strongest prison, the Pandorica. The Pandorica is presumed to hold Sealed Evil in a Can but actually turns out to be a trap for the Doctor.
- The X-Files did this a fair bit in its Myth Arc episodes. In a bit of a twist, the ancient astronauts were the first intelligent creatures of earth. They just left for some reason, and came back to find hairless monkeys had taken over their spot.
- Babylon 5 examples:
- The Vorlon appear to have inserted themselves into the mythologies of dozens, if not hundreds, of planets. When Kosh exits his encounter suit to save Capt. Sheridan's life in the season 2 finale, everyone watching sees him in the form of an angel as depicted in the respective religions of their people. The sole apparent exception is Londo, who says he sees nothing (given Centauri have telepaths and they're evidence of Vorlon meddling, he could have been lying. It could also be that Londo has been touched by the Shadows and that has blinded him to the angel projection of the Vorlons.)
- Sinclair is a human version of this to the Minbari. He is transformed to appear like a Minbari and pilots B4 back a thousand years to aid in the temporary defeat of the Shadows. He becomes their law giver with the name Valen.
- Another one is the Great Maker. On most worlds (including Earth) he or something like him is the One God in monotheistic religions, but on Centauri Prime he's worshipped as the head god and there is empirical evidence of him showing up to teach the Centauri the basics of civilization... And attack the Xon, the other sentient race of their homeworld, blasting them with "hands of wrath".
- On Smallville, tales of a Kryptonian visitor were the foundation of a Native American religion.
- The 1958 BBC TV serial Quatermass and the Pit (and the 1967 movie based on it) has the premise that beliefs in witchcraft and demons stemmed from the arrival of Martians early in Earth's history who attempted to engineer the hominids of Earth to become the successors of their own Dying Race.
- The 1979 sequel serial Quatermass reveals another race of aliens is responsible for the existence of Stonhenge and other ancient stone rings. They were originally markers to warn of spots the aliens used to harvest humans.
- The crew of Space Island One encounter a Babylonian space probe.
- Kolob in Children Of The Dog Star is one of three alien space probes from Sirius that imparted advanced knowledge to ancient people, including the Dogon.
- The History Channel has an entire series, Ancient Aliens, built around this trope. This◊ image macro sums it up. "I'm not saying it was aliens, but... IT WAS ALIENS"
- Features rather prominently by the end of Tracker. Cirronians visited Earth, hid the Vardian Doomsday Device to keep it safe, and interbred with humanity to create a guardian line. Cole also mentions things like Stonehenge and the Pyramids when he explains things to Mel. Most Migar folk belive it's a myth by the time of the series, but Mel and Cole find it's all true.
- In the New Zealand series The Boy from Andromeda, the titular character is a blue-skinned Human Alien who crash-lands on Earth after his ship is shot down by the very weapon he came to disarm, an ancient cannon built into a volcano that erupts when it fires. The Andromedans are the ones who put the weapon there in the first place millennia ago, but now it threatens their refugee fleet on its way past the Solar System to their new home. Even worse, when charged to full power, the weapon will not only destroy the fleet but will also create a supervolcano-like eruption, effectively destroying human civilization. The weapon is protected by the Guardian. The alien boy attempts to defeat the Guardian but is shot instead. In the end, the main heroine realizes that humans are (at least, in part) descendants of the Andromedans to came to install the cannon. Thus, she is able to deactivate the Guardian and stop the weapon.
- Several episodes of seaQuestDSV involve tall Grey-like aliens, capable of walking through walls (they're actually "silicon projections"). In one episode, they possess the bodies of several seaQuest crewmembers and head to a Native American reservation, where it's revealed that the aliens have been to Earth before, long ago, and made contact with a Native American tribe.
- In their first appearance near the end of season 1 - one of the first episodes where the show really started to Jump The Shark curtesy of Executive Meddling - they're revealed to have been visiting Earth millions of years ago, long before early hominids evolved. At first they don't even recognize humans as intelligent and don't want to communicate with them. They are interested only in the intelligent species that was around way back then and with which they had interaction - Dolphins. So in fact they turn out to be Ancient Astronauts to the Dolphins long before Humans.
- Earth: Final Conflict:
- Ma'el, a Taelon scientist, traveled to Earth thousands of years ago in order to determine if humans could be turned into soldiers to be used in the Taelon-Jaridian War. However, once here, Ma'el grew fond of humanity and changed his mind, sending a warning message to the other Taelons, telling them not to come. As revealed in the episode, where Liam and Augur end up in a parallel world, Ma'el also encouraged humans to urbanize, believing that it was the only way for humanity to develop the necessary industrial and scientific infrastructure necessary to resist his people, should they ignore his warning and come anyway. In a last-ditch effort, he befriended a Roman man and tasked him with acting as his scout through the ages, sleeping in the stasis pod aboard Ma'el's buried ship, periodically waking up in order to assess the state of humanity and look for any alien presence. Should the Taelons ever arrive and prove to be harmful to humanity, the Roman is to activate the ship's final protocol, causing it to lift off and accelerate on a collision course with the Taelon mothership. In the above-mentioned parallel world, Ma'el never comes to Earth, and his previously-militant attitude ends up influencing the modern-day Taelons to outright invade Earth instead of attempting to subvert humanity covertly. Meanwhile, that world's humanity never urbanized and lives in scattered hamlets, although they have somehow managed to develop advanced weaponry due to the constant fighting between the settlements.
- Season 5 also reveals that prehistoric humanity used to be enslaved and kept as food by the Atavus, the common ancestors of the Taelons and the Jaridians. It's speculated that their leader Howlyn was so impressed with Renee (when she used a time-traveling ID portal to end up in the past) that he used the dead body of a Medieval monk to enhance the DNA of primitive cavemen to speed up their evolution into Homo sapiens sapiens (i.e. modern humans). Then a meteor storm forced the Atavus into slumber, allowing humanity to rise.
- In Agents Of Shield, as established in the rest of the MCU, Earth has been visited many times by aliens in ancient times, with two cases being relevant to the plot of the show:
- The Asgardians, who were considered gods and left some of their technology lying around.
- The Kree visited the planet and carried out experiments to genetically engineer humans into weapons for their war.
- Enoch states that he's been observing humanity for 32,000 years
- Paul St. John's Flying Saucers Have Landed is a musical tribute to this trope.
- The Jimi Hendrix song "Up From the Skies" from Axis: Bold as Love is from the point of view of an entity that has visited Earth once thousands of years ago during an ice age, and has come back to observe how things have changed:
I have lived here before, in days of iceAnd of course this is why I'm so concernedAnd I come back to find the stars misplacedAnd the smell of a world that's burning
- The heavy-metal band Gwar have a great number of songs on this theme; it could, in fact, be said to be the central theme of their music (well, apart from violence). Almost all of their songs are written from the perspectives of a group of alien warriors (one played by each band member) who were banished to the Earth millions of years ago after becoming too violent and unpredictable even for their warlike Eldritch Abomination master to tolerate and now seek a way to leave the planet. The album "Lust In Space" focused particularly heavily on this theme.
- Doctor Steel was a firm believer in Zechariah Sitchin's theory that humanity was created by aliens that posed as gods to the ancient Sumerians, and also believed there was a secret alien illuminati still in control of world affairs. Several of his songs and videos reflect this belief.
- "Inca Roads" by Frank Zappa from his album One Size Fits All (1975) is a satirical deconstruction of this trope. In the first half of the song the protagonist wonders whether aliens made a vehicle fly to land in the Andes and "build a place to leave a space for such a thing to land." Eventually the song get sillier as it is implied that the aliens only build them to have sex on them.
- Peter Schilling's "Error In The System" from the titular album seems to suggest that humanity as a whole has descended from them.
- Sun Ra built this trope into an entire concept. He claimed to have been born on Saturn and been abducted by aliens to come to Earth and spread a message of universal brotherhood so that mankind could be transported to another and better place in space. He mixed Ancient Egypt mythology and imagery with space concepts in his work and laid the foundations for the Afro-futurism movement in music.
- Chris de Burgh's "A Spaceman Came Travelling" is based around the idea of an ancient space traveller visiting Earth at the time of Christ's birth. His glowing spaceship stops above Bethlehem and resembles the Nativity Star- leading both him and the various visitors to the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus to bring a message of peace and goodwill from the stars.
- In The World in Peril, the third part of Journey Into Space, we discover that the Martians were enormous, and an unsuccessful attempt to colonise Earth gave rise to every myth about giants.
- The Warhammer 40,000 gives this trope an interesting twist by combining it with a God Guise and then wrenches it a bit further: the ancient astronauts in question are in fact the original human settlers of the various human planets, of whom knowledge was lost during any one of the several galactic dark ages, and most primitive humans thus regard the humans and technology of old as worthy of worship. The Imperium of Man and Adeptus Mechanicus think they have the right idea and enforce it galaxy-wide...
- Another interesting twist from the setting are that humans are the Ancient Astronauts to other species. The Tau are one of the few species this happened to and who still exist; the ancient technology that the Tau found? A human ship that was supposed to wipe them out but was caught in a warpstorm. However, most other primitive species found by the Imperium tend to die via xenophobic planet cleansing.
- Also applies to the Eldar and Orks, who were either manipulated or outright created by the Old Ones to help in their war against the Necrons. The Eldar in particular inherited much of the remains of the Old Ones' technology, particularly the Webway which allows them to travel through the setting's version of hyperspace safely (quite important when hyperspace is also Hell). It's also hinted that the same may be true for humanity, or alternatively that we may have been influenced by the C'tan - essentially the Necron's gods.
- It's outright stated the Aza'gorod aka the Nightbringer inspired the The Grim Reaper.
- Part of the backstory of the Lizardmen in Warhammer Fantasy.
- Used fairly often in d20 Modern, especially the Dark Matter setting.
- In the Old World of Darkness, with absolutely no exaggeration, all of humanity's accomplishments were actually created by a vast Ancient Conspiracy of witches, vampires, werewolves, and other things that go bump in the night (except for WWII and 9/11, because the writers didn't want to offend the survivors). Humans never accomplished anything on their own, and are at best, sidekicks, and at worst, dogs.
- Well, that was 1st Edition. In second edition this was dialed back a lot. Most of human history was done and dreamed up by humans, but then heavily influenced by the various supernaturals. It would have happened anyway, just differently. There were still exceptions though, two warring Vampire clans caused the Punic Wars, Werewolves probably wiped out the Ranoke colony and (probably the biggest one) Lucifer created Christianity. To help fight his former comrades. It's complicated.
- There's also the fact that some of these accounts are of course veiled by history. In Vampire: The Masquerade, many vampires claim that their clan's antediluvian poised as some god or another (the Toreador antediluvian was Inanna, and the Gangrel antediluvian was Ereshkigal, for instance). But the only account truly nailed down is Set who, yes, was a vampire.
- The Ancients in Traveller abducted humans and dogs from Earth, spreading Humans around known space and modifying the dogs into the canine Vargr before disappearing in a war between their superintelligent leader Grandfather and his descendents leaving behind the psychic but less technologically advanced Droyne. They took the humans to be better subjects than their fellow Droyne were, and eventually fight for them in their wars, and the Vargr were created as an experiment in creating another servant race.
- Some writers have proposed that intelligent extraterrestrial beings have visited Earth in antiquity or prehistory and made contact with humans. Such visitors are called ancient astronauts or ancient aliens. Proponents suggest that this contact influenced the development of human cultures, technologies and religions. Chronomaly Crystal Chrononaut is based on this concept.
- Chronomaly Mayan Machine is based on the "Maya Astronaut" of K'inich Janaab' Pakal, a ruler of the Mayan polity of Palenque. The Palenque Astronaut appears to depict a man controlling a spaceship. This ornately decorated five ton stone was discovered in 1952 in Chiapas, Mexico covering the Tomb of the Mayan King Pacal, at the Temple of Palenque ~ the only known Mayan Pyramid to contain a Tomb, as seems the case throughout Egypt
- Dragon Poker was brought to earth by demons around the fall of Pompeii, or so Hoyle's Rules of Dragon Poker would have us believe.
- In Rocket Age the Ahnenerbe invert this in their theories, stating that the Ancient Martians were actually Aryan Earthlings who invented space flight in the distant past and conquered Mars. Something or someone also left trilobites all over the solar system; it's theorised that they may be interstellar vermin. They can still be found on Venus and in the asteroid belt.
- Ar nosurge reveals that the Teru Tribe on Ar Ciel arrived a few thousand years ago as an advance party for the people escaping their dying home planet of Ra Ciela.
- The Masari from Universe at War: Earth Assault is a homage to this trope — an ancient alien species that inspired most of the ancient civilizations, and also the ancient Atlanteans. They went into stasis sleep eons ago before being awakened by the Earth being attacked by the Hierarchy.
- Mass Effect has a few variants. There is a sidequest planet that tells you that that the ancient Protheans studied early humans, though there is no evidence that humanity actually worshiped them, and the only advancements in tech that humanity got from them were the high-tech ruins found on Mars. However, the hanar, a different alien race, do worship the Protheans, due to the fact that, according to their mythology, the Protheans taught them speech, and possibly made them sentient.
- Mass Effect 3 reveals that the protheans took a very hands-on approach to the asari. Bring Javik to Thessia with you and he'll reveal that much of one of the older asari religions is based on their actions. They deflected meteor strikes, kept hostile races away, gave them gifts of technology...Liara is staggered by the implications.
- In Halo, the Forerunners interfered with a number of other species, including humanity. However, that time came and went long before humanity kept records (about 100,000 years ago), and the Forerunners did not leave much on Earth to uncover (with the exception of the portal to the Ark), though it's strongly implied that our ancient flood myths (like Noah and his Ark) were directly based on the conclusion of the Forerunner-Flood War. However, the Forerunners left plenty of easily-found relics on other worlds, causing the Covenant to worship them as gods.
- It was seemingly implied that Forerunners were actually humans, what with 343 Guilty Spark believing in the first game that he had somehow already talked to the Master Chief in the prehistoric past and the fact that much of Forerunner technology can only be activated by humans, among many other things, but Halo: Cryptum revealed that Forerunners were actually a separate species who were simply somewhat biologically related to humans. In fact, "prehistoric" humans had independently developed their own advanced interstellar empire, but ended up losing a war with the Forerunners. In the aftermath, humanity was stripped of its technology and forcibly devolved back to the Stone Age. Eventually though, some Forerunners decided that humanity might be worthy of inheriting their legacy after all (hence why humans can activate Forerunner tech more easily than other species). Guilty Spark's seemingly faulty memory might be due to the Forerunner geas (heritable genetic commands) placed on various human lineages, one of which apparently shares some relation with the Master Chief.
- The San'Shyuum (AKA Prophets) had not only made contact with the Forerunners, but had actually fought against them alongside their own allied species... humans (how's that for irony?). After being defeated, the San'Shyuum at first got off somewhat easier than their human allies, as they were simply confined to just two planets from their former empire, but their advanced civilization was later wiped out when they tried to rebel against the Forerunners. Ironically, their descendants began worshiping the Forerunners, with one of their breakaway sects eventually founding the Covenant. Nonetheless, their near-extinction left a traumatic cultural memory, with Halo: Broken Circle implying that the reason why non-Covenant San'Shyuum are so technologically conservative (to the point where they refuse to study Forerunner ruins) is because they fear that their gods will punish them if they become too advanced.
- The Morrigi from the Sword of the Stars expansion A Murder of Crows apparently inspired the legends of dragons, feathered serpents and angels in humanity due to visiting our world thousands of years ago. When viewed from space, the lights of their cities form giant glyphs, resembling the Nazca Lines and Crop Circles, implying that these were inspired by the Morrigi as well.
- It should be noted that the Nazca lines translate to something like "For a good time, call..."
- The Omega Stone Lampshades its own premise (that Atlanteans built the world's great ancient monuments using sci-fi-grade technology) by including a cheesy "Aliens built Stonehenge!" paperback among the clues for the game's Glastonbury segment.
- Technically, the D'ni people from the Myst games ought to qualify, although they wrote their way to Earth instead of landing here. Subverted in that the D'ni stayed Beneath the Earth and strictly avoided contact with natives of this planet for millennia, and only heretical renegades like Gehn had the gall to claim they were "gods" to inhabitants of other Ages. However, there are signs in their history that a few of their number found their way to the surface long ago and commingled with humans. It's probable that descendants of the stone-loving D'ni had something to do with the building of the pyramids and other ancient constructions, and modern "explorers" who ventured into the D'ni cavern in Uru and found a home there are strong callbacks to this original lineage.
- In the Resistance series of PS3/PSP games, it is revealed that the Chimeran towers are millions of years old, and the Chimera were the result of experiments involving the DNA of an incredibly ancient and sentient, though not humanoid, species.
- The alien entity Lavos, in Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross is revealed to had caused the final evolution step of neanderthal-ish hominids into humans and be the chief influence in the raise of the most magically and technologically advanced civilizations of the world.
- Although not set on Earth, the Might and Magic games are set on worlds and ships which are colonies of an ancient race.
- Exactly how aware the inhabitants are of that varies from world to world. Enroth takes it to a point where it almost falls out of this trope ( they actually maintain historical records dating back to the collapse of interworld travel).
- Star Wars: The Old Republic is filled with these. The most notable are the Gree and Rakata. The Gree were much older and advanced than the rakata, though the Rakata were more widespread and influenced many galactic civilizations, despite their very cruel demanor.
- Surviving Mars has multiple Mysteries which have to do with the PC making contact with, or finding the works of, alien life forms.
- Assassin's Creed II reveals that the Biblical creation story is apparently more true than anyone would have guessed. Some manner of Sufficiently Advanced Alien note species manipulated evolution to create the human race "in [their] image" to serve as slave labor, and used the so-called "Pieces of Eden" to control them. Two humans (funnily enough named Adam and Eve) stole one of the Pieces (referred to as the "Apple of Eden" or "the Apple") and fled the city with it. This led to a war between the humans and the godlike aliens that waged until a global extinction event wiped out most life on Earth. The surviving humans rebuilt and "truth became myth" (i.e. the memories of the First Civilization became the various religious mythologies of the world). It's also implied that the Assassins are descendants of a union between a human and a member of the First Civilization, which would explain their nigh-supernatural abilities and immunity to the Pieces of Eden. The Templars are revealed to have been forging skeletons of evolutionary links between humans and other simians, including the famous "Lucy"
- Inverted in Super Robot Wars Original Generation. Not only was all the super advanced Lost Technology on Earth created by Humans, but said Humans also spread to other planets in the distant past, handily explaining their liberal use of the Human Aliens trope.
- Star Control has the Arilou Lalee'lay. They've been visiting earth since the dawn of man and have inspired the myths of gods, fairies, and apparently had something to do with the pyramids. Their main goal was crafting humans to be invisible to the Eldritch Abomination that ate the Androsynth. They act more like proud parents than anything else.
- The Tales Series elves are aliens from a comet, of all things, called Derris-Kharlan, that is apparently a source of mana. And somehow these aliens are cross-fertile with humans.
- The Cuotl in Rise of Legends are a Mayincatec civilization which has been subjugated by aliens posing themselves as gods, who have given the humans impressive technology (that cannot be told apart from magic). However, game balance means that it's no more powerful than the Steam Punk and Clock Punk technology of the Vinci and the "Arabian Nights" Days magic of the Alin.
- The bird-like Chozo in the Metroid series have been roaming our galaxy for millennia, leaving behind ancient ruins and bits of their highly advanced technology everywhere. It just so happens that these bits of technology are quite useful to a certain armored, cave-exploring bounty hunter.[It helps that the armor of said armored action girl is also of Chozo creation] The action girl herself is also arguably a Chozo creation, having been raised by them before they vanished and genetically modified to be part Chozo to ensure compatibility with her armor and other bits of Chozo technology.
- In Iji, both the Tasen and Komato are originally from Earth. They rediscover their home planet shortly before the game starts; unfortunately, they only realize this after Alpha Striking the surface.
- The Kushan themselves were Ancient Astronauts in Homeworld, but they had forgotten their origins. They realize that they are not native to their planet when they rediscover the science of genetics and find that they are completely unrelated to any other form of life on the planet (except for a certain hardy rodent), while all other life is intimately related to each other.
- In Doom 3, Earth has been colonized by ancient Martians - who seems to be humanoid creatures with the same size and width as Humans - who teleported there to escape a demonic invasion. Some scientists ask themselves if the Martians are ancestors of Mankind.
- Inverted in Asura's Wrath. Despite looking like they would be an ancient civilization, the Shinkoku Trastrium Race the game centers on is actually a culture of Future made to look like Ancient Hindu Mythology and Buddhism.
- The Stinger of the True Ending DLC shows that the game is actually playing this trope straight - revealing that the events of the game occurred 870 million years ago. The only noticeable difference is that the Statue of Liberty has been replaced with a statue of Asura, fist raised to the heavens. Although this difference raises another question - were the game's events 870 million years in our past or was the game in our future and The Stinger even further along and implying that even technological and social development are cyclical like reincarnation?
- Subverted in Persona 2: Innocent Sin . A conspiracy book known as the In Lak'ech suggested that civilization came from a group of now extinct aliens called the Maians from the Pleiades and that their spaceship Xilbalba is under Sumaru City, which could lead the Humans into becoming Idealians, people who understand the meaning of life. Naturally, it's all fake. Then the book gets released publicly throughout Sumaru City. Due to qualifying as a rumor, it becomes true.
- In the back story of Shin Super Robot Wars, a certain race fled their homeworld under the threat of Balmar. Split into different factions with different leaders, they attempted to flee. One group fell beneath Balmar's shadow, while another fled to the safety of the Dug. Finally, one staked their lives on traveling to an unknown, distant region of space. This faction formed the Mu culture.
- In Star Ocean: The Last Hope, it's revealed that Edge, Reimi and Crowe are result of genetic manipulation from splicing DNA with an ancient alien race named Muah. It's not stated how far they influenced Earth's old cultures though. However, in the ending, it's revealed that the Lemurisians are descendents of an Eldarian exploration mission. It's foreshadowed by the fact the symbols used by them are alike.
- In the X-Universe, the Ancients are this to the Borons, which explains the latter's wisdom. This is never stated in the games, but only in the Encyclopedia included in the Super-Box.
- Completely averted with the Humans though; the Ancients never visited the Solar System.
- According to the backstory of Destroy All Humans!, the Furons visited Earth long ago and interbred with the locals, meaning that every human has trace Furon DNA, a necessity for a race that's now reliant on cloning to reproduce and thus your reason to wreak havok upon them.
- At the end of Star Crusader it turns out you are the ancient astronauts! Well, in one of two possible endings. After the war you have been fighting the entire game is won, the main character decides to retire on a primitive remote planet, where the locals give him the title "pharaoh"...
- Reversed in Earthsong, where it's the people who make up the myths that have been traveling elsewhere, but have only faint memories of their alien companions once they snap back to their own place and time.
- Inverted in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, in that the dragons of legend started out as a pre-human civilization here on Earth, then left for another planet, effectively becoming an alien race.
- However, they got space travel technology from the Nemesites, an insectoid race from a nearby brown dwarf that has technically ruled our solar system for about 65 million years, ever since the dragons joined their empire in exchange for aid in rebuilding after their nuclear war (which was actually initiated by first contact).
- Played with in minus. After reading about the theory, minus goes back in time to meet the aliens. She doesn't, but the effects of her visit leave a lot of seriously worried archaeologists.
- Amazing Super Powers calls: reconcile your Hollywood Histories! Comes with a wink to Zechariah Sitchin (see below) teological... hmmm... exercises in Alt Text and a thematical hidden comic.
- Bug Martini translates the message of this trope as bluntly as they can.
- Wayward Sons: The protagonists are the astronauts, crashed on our planet and empowered with a Healing Factor and Personality Powers. They become the Greek gods, while the antagonists become the Egyptian gods.
- The seradin from Prophecy of the Circle are strongly hinted to be this, allegedly coming "from the stars" and leaving behind some high tech items, as well as a religion worshiping one of them.
- Land Games
- In one of SF Debris' reviews of an episode of a Star Trek: Voyager wherein Ancient Aliens "uplift" Native Americans, he points out the Unfortunate Implications of this trope as being similar to the concept of White Man's Burden, except with (white) aliens.
- Void of the Stars has the Boskops and Ethra'Hirel, who were actually native to Earth, but were spacefaring and inspired multiple myths such as the myth of Prometheus.
- In Welcome to Night Vale, Erich von Däniken's theories are accepted knowledge by Night Vale's citizens, whereas the concept of evolution and the notion that the pyramids and other ancient structures were built by mere humans are considered fringe beliefs.
- Not always gods: In Transformers Cybertron, the monsters of earth's myths were actually Decepticons who came to Earth long ago, and were since sealed away by Crosswise... until Starscream freed them again.
- This is also the backstory of the Pretenders in Transformers: Super-God Masterforce. Things like the pyramids and Nazca lines were originally made to seal away the Decepticon Pretenders.
- The characters of Transformers: Beast Wars are accidental ancient astronauts when they discover they've landed on ancient earth. They also discover the dormant original Transformers and primitive hominids, but leave before they can change anything too drastically.
- Besides accidentally teaching them how to use weapons.
- Except for the Butt Monkey Waspinator, which remains on earth and is worshiped as a god by the hominids... till they get tired of him eventually and flies back to Cybertron (literally).
- In the Gargoyles episode The Sentinel, it was revealed that the heads on Easter Island were actually busts of an alien lifeform whose military post was located there where he served as a sentry during a long ago war. The other mythical gods and monsters were based on terrestrial Gargoyles or The Fair Folk, not aliens.
- Or on real monsters, apparently an offshoot of the Faerie now living in isolation.
- Jonny Quest: The Real Adventures also has this explanation for the Easter Island heads, although it was more of an accident: An alien researcher was trapped on the island after its volcano erupted and lava engulfed its ship; the heads were used as a protective forcefield, if I recall correctly.
- Futurama reversed this in "A Pharaoh to Remember," which introduces a planet bearing a remarkable resemblance to pharaonic Egypt, then explains that they copied everything—including culture and space travel—from the Ancient Egyptians.
- As well as how to mummify their dead "so as to scare off Abbott and Costello."
Fry: Yes! Insane theories: 1. Regular theories: a billion!
- In another episode they played this trope straight, with the pyramids being built by Alien cats but they did so to rob Earth of its rotational energy, which seems to be a play on a Real Life theory that pyramids are giant hydrogen engines used to power a microwave power station, which in turn powered star ships in orbit.
- As well as how to mummify their dead "so as to scare off Abbott and Costello."
- In Justice League Unlimited, two stranded Thanagarians become the architect for an ancient pre-Egyptian (per Word of God) culture.
- Which is ironic considering the Thanagarians themselves had this relationship with a monster who taught them how to be civilized in exchange for human (well, Human Alien) sacrifice.
- However, the episode also notes that the utopia the Thanagarians created fell apart a generation after they died, since the Egyptians never learned how to build the fabulous technology they were given or repair it.
- The cartoon Roswell Conspiracies: Aliens, Myths and Legends was all about how different kinds of alien had been living among humans from ancient times and were the origin of many of the human myths, folklore and legends (as the name implies...).
- In the short stop-motion animation Prometheus and Bob, part of Nickelodeon's KaBlam!, an alien called Prometheus descends to Earth in the early earthly pre-history and attempts to teach Bob, a neanderthal-esque caveman, basic technologies and civilized behavior, but failing every time with painful and hilarious consequences, either due the meddling of a cunning monkey or Bob's own slow wit. In the first episode, he's revealed to be the cause of the first humans losing their full-bodied ape-ish fur coat after an accident with a laser.
- Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "How Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth". The alien being Kukulcan visited Earth in the distant past and was the basis for the Mayan god of the same name, the Toltec god Quetzalcoatl, and the Chinese dragons.
- According to Ben 10: Destroy All Aliens, the pyramids were made by Tetramands, and Stonehenge was a Galvan practical joke.
- An episode of Men in Black has the characters deal with an awakened mummy, which turned out to be a Hyperian. Frank the Pug was brought in as their resident Egyptologist. Him and Jeebs end up opening a portal to Hyper. They see pyramids everywhere, and all the Hyperians dress in Ancient Egyptian fashions and worship dogs (specifically, pugs). Frank ends up temporarily being their god, until Jeebs takes off Frank's dogsuit.
- Another episode mentions that once Earth belonged to the interstellar Arkanian Empire that build the Atlantis thousands of years in the past, which motivates an Arkanian fanatic trying to rebuild the Empire to take Atlantis out of the sea disregarding that it would cause a Tsunami.
- The Australian satire Go to Hell! (1997) by Ray Nowland has a lot of fun with this trope: Corrupt Corporate Executive G.D. builds a space ark to escape the destruction of his planet, planning to set himself up on an Insignificant Little Blue Planet as A God Am I. But he's opposed by his teenage rebel son Red (who bears an unusual resemblance to Satan) who gives humanity a helping hand.
- In Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, these are revealed to be the primary forces at work in Crystal Cove in Season 2. Interdimensional beings known as the Annunaki utilize animals as vessels, causing them to talk and being responsible for a variety of mythological figures around the world from Egyptian and Sumerian gods to Sun Wukong and Quetzalcoatl, with talking animals such as Scooby-Doo being explained as descendants of these vessels.
- It is revealed in Steven Universe that the Gem Homeworld had plans to colonize the Earth (which would have entailed not only sucking out the planet's "life force" to make more Gems, but hollowing the planet out). Rose Quartz rebelled against these plans in the hopes of sparing Earth's developing intelligent life, which eventually lead to a Great Off Screen War between Homeworld and Rose's rebel forces, who would eventually become the Crystal Gems. The Crystal Gems have even had an influence on Earth's history.
- In Rick and Morty, the battery of Rick's spaceship is powered by a miniature civilization that Rick in the guise of an alien has taught how to generate power through pedals, siphoning most of the energy for himself. The race itself is on the cusp of doing the same thing to another "teenyverse", who are also planning the same thing with their own mini-universe. When Zeep, the scientist heading the research in the first miniverse realizes this, he proceeds to see Rick as a cruel god.
- Probably the funniest and less serious example would be the Great Gazoo, a Little Green Man that befriends The Flintstones, although only Fred and Barney can see him.
- Another example is episode "The Secret of Easter Island" of the animated adaptation of Blake and Mortimer. Evil aliens from Markab visited Earth thousands of years in the past (specifically Easter Island) as part of their genocidal crusade against “inferior species”.
- Evoked hilariously in this clip of Conan O'Brien and Tom Hanks when presented with a birthday present in this clip.
- The idea was heavily popularized by Chariots Of The Gods, as mentioned above. The book was published in 1968 by Erich von Däniken, and quickly became a bestseller. It was copied lots of times, was made into at least two movies, and led to the Ancient Astronauts plot showing up in several of the examples here, such as Battlestar Galactica.
- Before Däniken there was Italian Peter Kolosimo (1922–1984), whose best-selling books such as Terra senza tempo ("Timeless Earth") were the first ones to present these kinds of ideas. In fact, Kolosimo was the major influencer of Däniken (read: Däniken ripped off Kolosimo). He was also a Dirty Communist who quoted heavily from Soviet "authorities" - which plays into who heavily promoted this in the first place. After his death, he went into obscurity and his books are no longer published, but due to Däniken and later Tsoukalos his ideas will be in pop culture and pseudoscience/conspiracy-circle currency for a long, long time.
- This trope parodied by this shirt from "Teach the Controversy."
- One extremely popular variant of this trope is the claim that the ancient civilization of Atlantis consisted of expatriate aliens.
- The absolute masterpiece of the early paranormal movement, the 1970s The Bermuda Triangle by Charles Berlitz, explores this angle. No sarcasm here: if you want to read about Alien Astronauts in the context of abandoned Atlantean technology causing planes to fall out of the sky, this is where you want to go.
- There is a book by a certain Wolfgang Volkrodt suggesting that von Däniken is wrong - gods of old weren't aliens, only a secretive elite of technology users, awing the lesser people with "LOOK AT ME BALLOON I'M A GOD." The guy, being an engineer, even provides plans for their steam engines.
- A similar theory states that the "highly technological ancient civilisation" wasn't aliens, only Atlanteans and possibly Lemurians, who blew themselves to smithereens long ago.
- David Icke's book The Biggest Secret is a conspiracy theory claiming that not only did reptilian aliens found the great ancient civilizations of Earth, they also continue to rule the Earth from the shadows. Apparently they don't mind the masses knowing that they rule secretly, since they allowed the publication of that book. Either that or the reptilian data is misinformation fed to Icke, in order to discredit him as he got too close to the real Illuminati.
- You can find a carving of an astronaut on the New Cathedral of Salamanca, built in the 16th century. Ancient astronauts? No. The engraving was created in 1992 by one of the artisans restoring the cathedral, continuing the tradition of church builders and restorers including a contemporary symbol as a "signature" of their work.
- The theory of panspermia/exogenesis posits that Earth's life has an extra-terrestrial origin but a good portion of these theories are less "extraterrestrials intentionally planted the seeds for life on Earth" and more "meteorites with the chemicals needed to develop life happened to smash into Earth from somewhere else in the universe."
- Bible scholar Zechariah Sitchin firmly believes this to be fact. His supposed source? The Bible itself. His works, The Earth Chronicles series, detail his studies and interpretations.
- Scientology, anyone?
- At least one guy believes that America invaded Iraq for Ancient Alien artifacts, namely a Stargate. No, really.
- The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter from Japanese folklore is considered by many literary scholars to be the original Science Fiction story, with Princess Kaguya (who came from the moon) being an Ancient Astronaut.
- The theory has been somewhat debunked regarding Stonehenge. A man working by himself is building a replica in his backyard using nothing but simple machines (mostly levers). He has proven that aliens didn't need to be involved.
- Visoki Decani, a 14th century Serbian monastery, contains an icon of the Crucifixion with what looks like two UFOs◊. Notable alien conspiracy theorists, like Erich von Däniken, have for decades considered this to be an evidence of UFO presence in medieval history. This "theory" was, of course, dismissed by the priests, who offered a more Biblical explanation of the painting.