Science & Technology

People Have Been Seeing Strange Objects in the Sky for Millennia

When you think of old-fashioned UFO encounters, we're guessing the first name that pops in your head is "Roswell." But if the true believers are to be trusted, then aliens have been coming to the planet for much, much, much longer than that. We've slipped on our tinfoil swimming caps and dived into one of the deepest ends of the internet, and now we're back with four stories of extraterrestrial encounters dating all the way back to ancient Egypt.

The Tulli Papyrus

In 1933, the Vatican Museum's Egypt director Alberto Tulli was in Cairo, getting his hands dirty in the field. While passing an antique shop, he spotted an invaluable treasure — a piece of ancient papyrus that, on closer inspection, appeared to date back to about 1480 B.C.E. Unfortunately, it was a bit too expensive for him, so he opted to copy it down instead. When he did, he discovered a story about a circle of fire in the sky measuring 100 cubits across (about 150 feet, or 46 meters). As days and weeks went on, that circle was joined by others until "their splendor exceeded that of the sun and extended to the limits of the four angles of the sky." Finally, they ascended into the upper atmosphere and disappeared, at which point the Pharoah had incense burned out of respect for the bizarre occurrence.

Now, you might ask yourself: really? The Vatican didn't have enough money to buy this piece of papyrus? Really, he just happened upon it while walking the streets of Cairo? Really, the original papyrus mysteriously disappeared, and not even the Vatican knows where Tulli's copy ended up? You're right to do so — this might be the oldest alleged sighting of an alien spacecraft, but it also might be an 85-year-old hoax perpetrated by a rogue scholar.

Battle Over Nuremberg

This is one of the best-documented (and most dramatic) UFO sightings from antiquity. How many other stories about a massive battle between UFOs do you know? In 1561, the whole city of Nuremberg, Germany witnessed two blood-red arcs appear in front of the sun before all hell broke loose. As the hours went by, they were joined by battling orbs in the sky, several spinning rods, and eventually, a massive black spear. The story spread far and wide, thanks in no small part to the evocative woodcut depicting the event. Nobody connected the dots between this story and UFOs until Carl Jung published "Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies" in 1958. Ironically, he was attempting to show that the delusion of objects in the sky had been around for centuries, but only succeeded in convincing more UFOlogists that the truth had been out there since the Middle Ages.

Massachusetts Bay Colony Lights

There's a first time for everything, and 1639 was the first recorded instance of a UFO sighting in North America. John Winthrop was governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony at the time, and in those early days of Europeans settling on the East Coast, it was important to keep tabs on all the goings-on. One of those goings-on, according to his journal, was that a "sober, discreet man" named James Everell spotted a tremendous fire in the sky. "When it stood still," wrote Winthrop, "it flamed up, and was about three yards square; when it ran, it was contracted into the figure of a swine." Of all the extraterrestrial theories we thought we'd address in this article, we never thought it would end up being "Pigs in Space."

California Airship Invasion

In 1896, the United States was under attack from above. On November 17, George Scott (an assistant to California's secretary of state) witnessed something unbelievable from the observation deck atop the capitol: three lights in the sky, slowly approaching his position. As it got closer, he saw that hanging in the air above them was a long, oblong shape. He wasn't the only one to spot such a device. The same day, former railway employee named R.L. Lowery didn't just see one — he spoke to its pilot. He heard a voice above him saying "Throw her up higher, she'll hit the steeple," and looked up to see a pair of (apparently) human men pedaling a bicycle-like device attached to a long, cigar-shaped ... something. More sightings followed on the East Coast the following year, and another wave of sightings hit the country in 1909. It almost sounds like this was a couple of inventors taking their airships out for a spin ... but then again, some of the witnesses who claimed to have contacted the pilots also mentioned that they claimed to be from Mars. So was it aliens, a mass hallucination, or a steampunk cosplayer way ahead of his time? We may never know.

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There are a lot — and we mean a lot — of conspiracy theories out there. For a thorough listing complete with descriptions and explanations, check out "Conspiracies and Secret Societies: The Complete Dossier" by Brad and Sherry Steiger. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

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Written by Reuben Westmaas July 27, 2018

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