A virgin who receives word from God; a crucified Christ; medieval knights and maidens in typical postures. These ancient paintings represent timeless beauty and universal significance. But if we stop to look closely we might sometimes spy curious and disturbing objects in the far distance of the pictures, with seemingly no link to the main theme of the artwork. What’s going on?
The intriguing truth is that these objects may represent a secondary theme, or even the hidden focus of the artwork. But what are they and why did the artists disguise their representation? Are they symbolic, or do they reveal a secret reality?
Visoki Deschani’s ‘The Crucifixion’
A fresco named ‘The Crucifixion’ that had lain dormant for centuries in the monastery of Visoki Dechani, built in the province of Kosovo in 1327, has recently been discovered and captured the attention of art historians and ufologists alike.
As in so many other paintings depicting the crucifixion of Jesus, the elements of passion (the messiah, the cross, the witnesses) take their usual places in the fresco, but two unusual objects can be seen at either edge of the painting, in the distant sky, looking uncannily like manned ships from a futuristic space age. Swift and aerodynamic, two captains in two perfectly formed control cabins can clearly be seen steering these futuristic mechanisms across the skyline. What are we to make of this?
Decades before Dechani’s ‘The Crucifixion’, unidentified flying objects were already being spotted in the background of various paintings and artworks worldwide. Whether or not they were painted to represent a perceived reality remains ambiguous – were they phenomena that the artists of the Middle Ages witnessed, but did not understand?
We can ask this question in the case of two images that appear in the twelfth-century manuscript ‘Annales Laurissenses’, in which two crossed knights point to spherical objects that emit a bright light, radiating in all directions. This pair of images made reference to an event in the year 776, during the Saxon siege upon the castle of Sigburg in France. Both the Saxons and the French were in battle over territory when a cluster of spherical objects filled the sky above the church and shocked the armies into stillness and silence. The Saxons fled, terrified that the formidable objects were in service of the French defense.
Further unsolved artistic mysteries include objects portrayed in battle scenes by sixteenth century artists in Nuremberg and Basel. A spectacular battle was observed by crowds in the sky of Nuremberg, Germany, on April 14, 1561. Reportedly, one hour after sunrise, an army of blood-red spheres and bluish-black disks filled the sky and fought a bloody battle to destroy one another, no victims spared. A publication at the time described the ‘horrifying apparition’ that flooded the skyline:
“There were three in a row, sometimes four in a square, and some flying alone. Blood-colored crosses were seen between the spheres and all of them began to fight one another under the burning heat of the sun, which seemed to fall to the earth from the sky. Behind clouds of heat and steam, the sun sank into the horizon as battle waged on.”
The text goes on to describe “a figure, like a great, black spear,” seen in the distance by onlookers to be a divine warning.
An almost identical event took place five years later in Basel, Switzerland. On August 1566, records dictate:
“Many black spheres were seen in the air, moving with great rapidity and speed towards the sun, turning against each other to fight. The sky was red as fire as the spheres consumed and dissolved into nothingness.”
Extraterrestrial battle? Divine warnings? What exactly were these sixteenth century celestial phenomena? Skeptical science even suggests they may only have been apparitions caused by ice crystals in the atmosphere. But the sixteenth was not the only century to experience such extraordinary examples; UFO sightings date back significantly further.
The spaceships of the great caves
The phenomenon of UFOs appearing in paintings is not limited to examples from the Middle Ages. Ancient cave art depicting curious spherical objects encouraged some of the very first hypotheses about life outside of our own humble solar system. Cave art is brimming with shapes that resemble UFOs, spacecraft and even the recognizable figure of the modern astronaut.
In Tanzania, Africa, two 30,000 year old paintings seem to suggest visits from celestial travelers. In the first, two hat-like shapes are suspended in the sky; in the second, four strange beings surround a woman and hold her by the arms, suggesting arrest or even kidnap. To her left, a figure in a ship looks down on the scene as the cuboid craft ascends into the sky.
Similar drawings depicting oddities, non-human artifacts and the faces of non-human beings can be found in the caves of southern France and date back to roughly 14,000 years ago. Did these artists witness an alien descent? If a human-extraterrestrial encounter did in fact occur in centuries past, the people of the time must have reflected the experience not only into their art but also into their lives.
Wandjina, Australia, boasts ancient cave art that seems to illustrate numerous large-headed beings and images of space exploration. Similar art can be found in the desert of Tassili, Africa, where a large number of paintings have turned one cave into a mecca for ufologists from around the world. Some 6,000 years before Christ, the then orchard-dwelling inhabitants of Tassili set out to leave a legacy, paying homage to their lush, paradise homeland. Their paintings featured fantastic landscapes and equally fantastic beings, with the appearance of astronauts. Were they symbolic representations of ordinary humans, or prehistoric space explorers?
Astronauts of the ancient East
Perhaps one of the clearest representations of contact with extraterrestrial beings can be found on one of the walls of Jotuo Island, Toengt’ing Lake, Japan. An expedition that took place in 1957 produced an engraving relief which shows four armed hunters chasing a group of animals. The only peculiarity is that two of them carry spears and move on foot, whilst the other two have diving suits, are aboard flying crafts and carry machine weaponry.
A similar illustration appears in the Japanese book ‘Dust of Damascus’, published in 1803. The illustration features a real-life glass and iron capsule from the coast of Haratono, Ibaragi Prefecture. The device was discovered by a foreign vessel and, according to the description, had ‘strange characters’ on the inside that could never be deciphered.
The Museum of Japan proudly holds a Tibetan translation of the ‘Prajnaparamita Sutra’, a classic Buddhist script dating from the tenth century, which features peculiar hat-shaped objects floating in thin air. This ancient Indian sutra represents a culture whose texts already spoke in detail about powerful flying machines called ‘vimanas’. It was capable of capturing sounds and images from the inside of enemy craft, detecting and destroying other ships and stealing the knowledge of rival pilots. These phenomena were seemingly way ahead of their time.
Japan also houses one of the most enigmatic collections of sculptures in recorded history. The ‘Jomon’, one of the oldest communities on the island, dedicated themselves to creating ceramic representations of beings whose clothes and equipment remind us vaguely of modern-day astronauts. The sculptures are known as ‘Dogu’ and fascinate ufologists worldwide. Some researchers claim to have recognised features on these sculptures (dating from around 10,000 BC) resembling glasses, gloves, buttons, straps, lights and even headphones.
Centuries of evidence
As well as the Dogu sculptures, an army of artifacts from various eras seem to raise the possibility that we were visited by beings from other planets numerous times in the past. Textual references from ancient India, the Bible, and in Sumerian and Egyptian texts often only succeed in confusing those who try to make textual interpretations of cultural artifacts. What are we to conclude?
Throughout history, we have been confronted by supernatural phenomena which seems most familiar to us in the modern culture of space, technology and possibility. In some cases, as in the widespread illustration of the Fergana astronauts (a false rock painting that came to public attention in the 1960s), fraud can impede the investigation of extraterrestrial imagery. In others, we have to appreciate the scope and imagination of the work and ask ourselves: What was the objective of the artist? For what reason did they paint, write or sculpt such fantastic, mysterious episodes? With such rich representation of something we know so little about, the ongoing investigation is irresistable.