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Yesterday we looked at a debunking of the Ancient Aliens series on History Channel. Today we’ll swing the other way, and check out an interesting paper on sightings of UFOs in ancient times: “Unidentified Flying Objects in Classical Antiquity” (PDF), a 2007 paper by NASA scientist Richard Stothers, who sadly passed away last year:

This collection of what might be termed ancient UFO reports has been culled from a much larger number of reports of aerial objects, most of whose identifications with known phenomena are either certain or at least highly probable. Embedded in the mass of relatively explicable ancient reports, however, is a small set of unexplained (or at least not wholly explained) reports from presumably credible witnesses. If these reports are examined statistically, essential features of what I will, for argument’s sake, call the ancient UFO phenomenon can be extracted…

…In at least one instance, the presence of “occupants” covered in shiny white clothing is reported. Encounters range from distant views to possibly actual contact; the preferred place and time of observation seem to be rural areas in the daytime. Physical evidence is generally lacking.

Greek and Roman scientific thinkers, who were never at a loss for theories, usually regarded these types of aerial phenomena as stars, clouds, atmospheric fires, light reflections or moving material bodies. Since most of the original theories hark back to Aristotle and his predecessors, with none being later than Posidonius, they generally predate the reports collected here, none of which is earlier
than 218 BC. It is accordingly impossible to know whether the later observers (mostly practical Romans) interpreted the phenomena literally as they described them or were simply using the best descriptive language they were capable of, while holding back on theoretical speculation. But any viable theory must reckon with the extraordinary persistence and consistency of the phenomena discussed here over many centuries. Whether one prefers to think in terms of universal recurrent visions from the collective unconscious, misperceptions of ordinary objects, unusual atmospheric effects, unknown physical phenomena or extraterrestrial visitations, what we
today would call UFOs possess an intrinsic interest that has transcended the passage of time and the increase of human knowledge.

If the topic interests you, some further reading can be found in Wonders in the Sky: Unexplained Aerial Objects From Antiquity To Modern Times, by Jacques Vallee and Chris Aubeck (available from Amazon US and Amazon UK).