Now I can roll my eyes with the best of them at fuzzy ‘ufo’ images that look suspiciously like a tin plate, or a video of a wavering light in the night sky, but there are occasional ufo reports that really have me wondering. The most recent image that furrowed my brow was film footage shot in nearby Queenstown last year, by an Australian tv production team who travel around Australia and New Zealand visiting local artists.
The images in the footage were claimed to have not been noticed by the crew, either visually or aurally, at the time of filming; only later in the editing studio. A few things that make this stand out from the usual suspects of ufo sightings are that it was filmed in the clarity of daylight on a stable platform, by a professional video camera operator. But also most importantly because of the other elements in the footage, the bike and road markings, which give me a real sense of the relativity of what I am viewing; also that I am familiar with, and can relate to, the geography of the area where it was filmed.
Exploring the phenomena of UFO sightings we note that they are usually associated with the mid to late 20th century and early 21st century; the phrase ‘flying saucer’ was coined in 1947 following a publicised sighting of such an unidentified vehicle by a Kenneth Arnold. The experiences of ‘lost time’ and even physical evidence are the most common examples of abduction stories. They were largely dismissed as the figments of over-active imaginations stimulated by the sci-fi comics that also became common in that era.
But over the past 50 or 60 years more and more such reports have come from a more credible sources including pilots, policemen and military personnel. So much attention has been given to these reports because large numbers of sightings were reported at a time when media were developing into global rather than local communicator and with the emergence of the internet to feed the fire.
The sudden and extraordinary explosion of technological achievement in the second half of the 20th century in itself of course has been suggested to support the theory of the intervention of an advanced species in our human development. Technology jumped from radio and morse code to television, computers and the internet occurred within 50 years. This was an overnight leap relative to our 200,000 year history of quietly evolved development from nomadic wandering to domesticated agriculture; from pottery to paper, from the bronze age to the iron age; from caves to the city-dwelling civilisations of the Egyptians, Babylonians and Greeks.
But equally interesting is that reports of flying objects also occur back in the annals of history when humans had no sci-fi comics and did not even have man-made flying craft to stimulate their imaginations. And before the age of cameras, some of these were recorded in medieval artworks.
“At sunrise on the 14th April 1561, the citizens of Nuremberg beheld ‘A very frightful spectacle.’ The sky appeared to fill with cylindrical objects from which red, black, orange and blue-white disks and globes emerged. Crosses and tubes resembling cannon barrels also appeared whereupon the objects promptly “began to fight one another.”
In France in 1338 there was a reported sighting of a huge spherical craft in the sky. An image of the event is present in the French book “Le Livre Des Bonnes Moeurs” by Jacques Legrand. Lychostene Conrad, in his book “Prodigiorum ac Ostentorum Chronicle”, printed in Basel in the year 1557, he describes sightings of strange objects flying in the skies in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. This event is depicted in a famous 16th century woodcut by Hans Glaser.
Reported sightings at a medieval castle in Ciudad Rodrigo (credit: Miguel A. Monjas/Wikimedia Commons) “I shall not tire your lordship with this narration, since we had just arrived [to Ciudad Rodrigo] when, walking on Wednesday the 5th of this month of January , we suddenly saw a great flame of yellow fire attached to the sky move from one end to the other; it had inside like a black root and all its borders were more whitish than the middle; and it left with a great roar, causing horses and mules to run in fear, and my own mule didn’t stop until it touched another mule. Great disputes about this arose between the learned ones and those with no degrees who, without having seen the words of Aristotle, talked about how this light was up there, and how its interior could be lit like a log. The dean of Burgos stated he believes it must be the matter from the first region [in the sky], viscous and condensed, lit by the Sun, and how its weight prevented its quick dispersal, and the nature of fire brought it from here to there while its viscous part was spent, and the roar was its end. I concur with his opinion, because it could not have been what Aristotle calls the nature of comets… because it would have not moved in such varied manner, nor any other, and it would have not ended with that roar.”
A number of ufo sightings were recorded in Japan in the early first millenia. A term equivalent to our “flying saucer” was actually used by the Japanese approximately 700 years before it came into use in the West. Ancient documents describe an unusual shining object seen the night of October 27, 1180, as a flying “earthenware vessel.” After a while the object, which had been heading northeast from a mountain in Kii province, changed its direction and vanished below the horizon, leaving a luminous trail. (Jacques Vallee, Passport to Magonia) What might be called the first official investigation of a UFO sighting occurred in Japan in 1235. During the night of September 24, while General Yoritsumo and his army were encamped, they observed mysterious lights in the heavens. The lights were seen in the southwest for many hours, winging, circling and moving in loops. The general ordered a “full-scale scientific investigation” of these strange events.”
The Roman author Julius Obsequens, believed to have lived in the fourth century A.D., drew on Livy as well as other sources of his time to compile his book Prodigorium liber, which describes many peculiar phenomena, some of which could be interpreted as UFO sightings. Here are just a few examples: 216 B.C. Things like ships were seen in the sky over Italy… At Arpi (180 Roman miles, east of Rome, in Apulia) a round shield was seen in the sky. At Capua, the sky was all on fire, and one saw figures like ships… 99 B.C. When C. Murius and L. Valerius were consuls, in Tarquinia, there fell in different places…. a thing like a flaming torch, and it came suddenly from the sky. Towards sunset, a round object like a globe, or round or circular shield took its path in the sky, from west to east. 90 B.C. In the territory of Spoletium (65 Roman miles north of Rome, in Umbria) a globe of fire, of golden colour, fell to the earth, gyrating. It then seemed to increase in size, rose from the earth, and ascended into the sky, where it obscured the disc of the sun, with its brilliance. It revolved towards the eastern quadrant of the sky. [Harold T. Wilkins, Flying Saucers on the Attack, pp.164-69] A later chronicler of inexplicable phenomena, one Conrad Wolffhart (a professor of grammar and dialectics who under the pen name of Lycosthenes wrote the compendium Prodigiorum ac Ostentorum Chronicon, published in 1567), mentions the following events: 393 A.D. Strange lights were seen in the sky in the days of the Emperor Theodosius. On a sudden, a bright globe appeared at midnight. It shone brilliantly near the day star (planet, Venus), about the circle of the Zodiac. This globe shone little less brilliantly than the planet, and little by little, a great number of other glowing orbs drew near the first globe. The spectacle was like a swarm of bees flying around the bee-keeper, and the light of these orbs was as if they were dashing violently against each other. Soon, they blended together into one awful flame, and bodied forth to the eye as a horrible two-edged sword. The strange globe which was first seen now appeared like the pommel to a handle, and all the little orbs, fused with the first, shone as brilliantly as the first globe. [Harold T. Wilkins, Flying Saucers on the Attack, pp.174, 177]
Possibly most interesting is the Book of Exodus 13: 21-22 which records an apparent flying craft in which Yahweh travelled and guided them through the desert: “Yahweh went before them, by day in the form of a pillar of cloud to show them the way, and by night in the form of a pillar of fire to give them light: thus they could travel by day and night. The pillar of cloud never failed to go before the people during the day, nor the pillar of fire during the night.”
One of the first written accounts of a UFO sighting is the following excerpt from an Egyptian papyrus – part of the annals of Thutmose III, who reigned around 1504-1450 B.C.: “In the year 22, of the 3rd month of winter, sixth hour of the day… the scribes of the House of Life found it was a circle of fire that was coming in the sky…. It had no head, the breath of its mouth had a foul odor. Its body one rod long and one rod wide. It had no voice. Their hearts became confused through it; Now after some days had passed, these things became more numerous in the sky than ever. They shone more in the sky than the brightness of the sun, and extended to the limits of the four supports of the heavens…. Powerful was the position of the fire circles. The army of the Pharaoh looked on with him in their midst. It was after supper. Thereupon, these fire circles ascended higher in the sky towards the south… The Pharaoh caused incense to be brought to make peace on the hearth… And what happened was ordered by the Pharaoh to be written in the annals of the House of Life… so that it be remembered for ever.”
Whether these reports are real or imagined by medieval and ancient alien conspiracy theorists of course we do not know. Even discussing the subject of ufo’s opens a person to the nervous mockery of the moral majority who find it far more comfortable to blanket themselves in traditional religious texts where belief is totally a question of faith rather than using our God-given powers of rational thought; even though the unchallenged religious stories are at least as fantastic as, if not almost identical to, the ancient and contemporary ufo/ alien stories. As Karl Marx observed, religion is the opiate of the masses.
As intriguing as all these reports are, most of us have never seen a ufo and we won’t really believe in what we don’t witness ourselves. I haven’t seen a ufo myself, I don’t think; I did see a large bright light moving very fast westwards in the rural Canterbury sky back in 2013 that did put my senses on high alert. It wasn’t Air New Zealand, that was for sure. I did watch the papers looking for confirmation that a meteor or piece of space junk burned up in our atmosphere which usually happens when people sight a meteor crashing to earth; but there was not any such report. What I have seen filmed of meteors tend to show them lighting up the sky, which this did not. It was an object, it was flying, it was unidentified, it seemed relatively close in the sky, but I did not see any evidence that it was a piloted craft.
So my vote’s not cast, but my mind remains open. I wish I had actually seen those craft flying over Queenstown though, that might have made a true believer out of me.