Most of my life I have been searching for mysteries; ancient lost cities buried deep in the jungles and deserts, remote temples and monasteries at the far reaches of the Earth”.
-David Hatcher Childress, Lost Cities & Ancient Mysteries of South America, 1986 Adventures Unlimited Press, page 3).
Few people can say they have traveled the world and even fewer can claim to have done so like David Hatcher Childress. He has seen so many strange and mysterious places, you could say he’s seen it all!
A familiar persona on the History channel, Dave is a regular commentator on the popular TV series Ancient Aliens. I was first introduced to Childress through his Lost Cities book series. These self-published volumes are a fun adventure guide spanning many a season and much of the globe.
Back in the seventies, the 19-year-old Dave Childress left his home in Montana to explore the Far East. He taught English in Taiwan and later left Asia for Africa, working for a while for a catering company in Somalia. To make adventure a lifelong career, Childress eventually became a writer and publisher. His Adventures Unlimited Press publishing became a mail-order success with the Lost Cities series an early favorite of fans.
In the books, David explores mysteries like Atlantis and advanced ancient technology. There is much intrigue and excitement for those who will never visit places such as the Sudan or remote islands of the Pacific. He discusses backpacking on a budget and looks through the lens of an open mind.
Questions like, “How did they build ancient wonders like the pyramids?”, “Could dinosaurs still exist in remote places?”, and, “Did ancient mariners navigate the oceans?”, are explored. Childress believes there are ancient secrets, advanced technologies and many surprises awaiting discovery.
His books recount many a harrowing tale of long forgotten explorers and adventurers. Older and discarded theories are revisited and reappraised. Despite the bias of previous generations, there might be valuable information hiding in old books and “outdated” research.
We must ask, ‘Why throw out the baby with the bathwater?’ Colonialism and other bias can be filtered out – the signal can be isolated from the noise – and maybe, just maybe, we can find a lost city or missing piece to human history.
Childress carries many unusual books of the past in his Website catalog, Adventures Unlimited Press (see www.adventuresunlimitedpresss.com ). In the 7-plus volume Lost Cities series, he explores some of myths, legends and tales told by these authors while also meeting new people and hearing local storytellers. We learn of secret underground tunnels, forbidden knowledge and monster-like cryptids hiding in remote places.
New questions are asked. The search for answers is non-stop with David entering crumbling ruins, ancient monasteries and royal tombs. He dives deep into dark waters, climbs Himalayan mountains and meets a wide range of characters.
The Best Part
The best part of travel isn’t necessarily the spectacle of lofty pyramids, temples or colosseums. It’s often the small things one recalls. Seemingly insignificant happenings, even a chance meeting with a fellow traveler can be life changing.
In his first book of the series, Lost Cities of China, Central Asia and India: A Traveler’s Guide, Dave tells of his experiences as a young man, not long out of college. He meets an elder stranger while stowing away on a freight train in India. The older traveler looks like a holy man and had given up his worldly possessions to go on an extended pilgrimage; a common practice for India’s elders.
Just before the train ride, Dave was having a difficult time. He was bedridden three or four days with illness, had his camera taken by a rickshaw driver, and was injured falling 12 feet from a ladder while boarding a rooftop on a bus. He was depressed about all of these experiences and told the old man.
“You are filled with self-pity,” said the pilgrim. “You are in fact an incredibly lucky person! Open your eyes and look around you! Can you see the suffering of people around you? Not just that of the beggars and the unfortunates, but also that of the business man and wealthy materialists? Most people live their lives in a living hell. Their greed and self-pity is truly a shame. They can never be happy. They are ignorant. They do not know the simple secret of life. Know yourself. Love yourself. Love all persons. Love God. Love is everything. See yourself as all person. In God, there is unity. If you see yourself in all things, what sorrow, what self-pity can there be?”. (Lost Cities of China, Central Asia and India, 1985 Adventures Unlimited Press, page 83).
Meeting this pilgrim made a powerful impact on Childress, who had been stewing over his misfortunes and indulging in a “why me?” attitude. The seeker’s wisdom left the youth in silent contemplation.
Indeed, David was very lucky and traveling the world to boot!
“Besides”, the elder continued. “You are responsible for the things that happen to you in your life, there is no such thing as an accident. Everything that has happened to you, you have earned or have brought into your environment in order to learn an important lesson. Keep your eyes open, and your heart full of love, and you will learn many things in this life. It is the purpose of creation, that mankind learns about himself. We are all striving towards perfection, whether we know it or not”. (IBID, page 84)
We live the adventure every single day. We strive for perfection but there is peril along the way.
In Lost Cities, Childress falls from the roof of a bus, nearly loses an arm at a kibbutz and runs for his life in South America. He visits Idi Amin’s abandoned home, journeys thru war-torn countries and frightful terrain. He becomes one of the first Americans allowed to hitchhike thru China. Sometimes he runs low on cash and is forced to walk or travel in crammed vehicles.
Despite the trials, the series offers encouragement to prospective travelers. There any many helpful hints. Childress has seen the world with very little money and the message here is so can you!
The Lost Cities books are self-published without the benefit of large publishing house editors and consultants. There are typos and other errors in the first editions. To the reader, it all seems a little rushed yet updated editions now exist.
Nonetheless, the Lost Cities books are valuable. I appreciate this author for giving a broad introduction to world travel and topics outside the mainstream. It gives many a dot to connect!
The Lost World of Dave’s Critics
It suddenly occurred to me that maybe everyone wasn’t interested in lost cities and ancient mysteries. Could this really be the case? Well, anything is possible, I guess”.
– David Hatcher Childress, Lost Cities of North & Central America, 1992 Adventures Unlimited Press, page 300.
The only thing worse than an ancient alien is a pseudoskeptic!
I am being facetious. That some feel the need to criticize Dave’s backpacking adventure seems kind of silly to me. Lost Cities is a travelogue mostly about coming of age and exploration thru the eyes of a young American. It’s not a work of political or social menace.
People are just getting a little too serious and sensitive these daze. They must let themselves have more fun!
Indiana Jones fights Nazi’s. He didn’t set out to explore other cultures in order to demean them in the name of colonialism. Inspired by Indiana, Dave has searched for ancient technologies himself with no harm done!
Archaeology and Anthropology have come along way since colonial times. For sure, it still has a way to go! (More on this later – see ‘extraordinary evidence’ below).
All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident”.
-Arthur Schopenhauer, philosopher
It seems much of the existing criticism aimed at Dave is a reaction to the Ancient Aliens TV series – a wildly popular program that discusses ancient astronaut theory and features Childress as one of the commentators.
Now in its 10th year and 15th season, Ancient Aliens shows no sign of fizzing out. The audience find the program entertaining and Ancient Aliens made stars out of Giorgio Tsoukalos and Dave Childress, much to the chagrin of those more mainstream.
Some take issue with the idea aliens were somehow responsible for ancient monuments, gave us technology or were involved in the building of structures like the underlying temple at Baalbek.
One critic asks, “Isn’t it so much more exciting to believe that humans, through their ingenuity and creativity, built these great structures?” (seehttps://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/21/style/ancient-aliens.html?auth=login-google ) .
Maybe not for the fans of the TV series but there might not be a disregard for sober thinking after all. There are mainstream scientists (for example, Machio Kaku) who believe UFOs are a bonafide mystery and modern day sightings have many people wondering if there was an otherworldly influence on us in the past.
Unfortunately, the presentation of Ancient Astronaut theories has often been more about entertainment than scholarship and has brought much scorn from the academic community. When it comes to TV for popular consumption, such criticism should be expected.
Criticizing the logic of others is actually helpful and an important component of free inquiry but when the attack gets personal, it seems something much more emotional is going on. Online websites and blogs (for example, Skeptic Blog, Rational Wiki, etc) often spend a lot of time attacking the character of alternative researchers.
These critics argue some alternative researchers take the public away from scientific thinking. Yet, in their negative opinions we often see something philosopher Marcello Truzzi called “pseudo-skepticism” (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudoskepticism#Truzzi). For example, some will accuse Childress of being a “pseudo-scientist” for his ideas about ancient technology but fail to see that they, themselves, are actually “pseudo-skeptics”:
“…scientific skepticism is agnostic to new ideas, making no claims about them but waiting for them to satisfy a burden of proof before granting them validity. Pseudoskepticism, by contrast, involves “negative hypotheses”—theoretical assertions that some belief, theory, or claim is factually wrong—without satisfying the burden of proof that such negative theoretical assertions would require”. -Marcello Truzzi, Ibid)
Instead of satisfying the burden of proof that ‘aliens are not visiting Earth’, the pseudo-skeptic will list reasons to doubt the evidence and declare the matter closed.
“There is no evidence of aliens, and therefore, aliens do not exist” appeals to an absence of evidence, a fallacy in logic known as the ‘argument from ignorance’. One cannot successfully assert that a proposition is false because it has not yet been proven true.
To add more power to their criticism, pseudo-skeptics will often follow their arguments with personal attacks on the “pseudo-science” researcher, in an attempt to destroy the alternative researcher’s reputation
This pseudoskeptic “noisy negativist” approach was critiqued by Friedman who realized when they can’t attack the data, the pseudoskeptic will often attempt to attack the people doing alternative research, giving them nasty labels. Yet this ‘hitting below the belt’ approach only makes the pseudoskeptic look rather close-minded.
In a letter to the Canadian government, pseudo-skeptic Philip Klass referred to nuclear physicist Stanton Friedman as a “snake oil salesman”. To Klass, Stanton’s crime was writing and lecturing about UFOs yet Stanton was a scientist who focused on physical evidence that could be scrutinized, such as UFO photographs, physical traces and radar-visual sightings.
I am open to the consideration of new alternatives”
– David Hatcher Childress, Lost Cities and Ancient Mysteries of South America (1986 – this excerpt from the 2003 twelfth printing), page 280.
The Dave we meet in Lost Cities does not put himself across as all-knowing and infallible. Although Childress thinks there is something to extreme cataclysms, ancient advanced civilizations, aliens and the like, he doesn’t propose an overarching theory of who the aliens are or what exactly happened. In the Lost Cities travelogue, he examines past theories, poses questions and looks for answers.
Dave recounts the ideas and theories of researchers in the past but has not fully subscribed to any one existing theory. He does not necessarily share outdated biases either and one should not automatically assume alternative researchers subscribe to prejudice.
Childress has held a life-long interest in anti-gravity, UFOs and ancient civilizations. He mentions all of these topics including ancient astronaut theory through-out the Lost Cities series. Though he was skeptical of ancient astronaut theory in earlier years, Childress was a natural choice for the Ancient Aliens program due to his experience researching related topics. Whatever short-comings the Ancient Aliens program might have, one can appreciate Childress’ dedication and consistency in a life-long pursuit of forbidden knowledge.
(For more information on pseudoskeptics, see https://www.debunkingskeptics.com/ )
I can only guess Dave’s critics fear the alternative research community as a threat to their own rigidly held belief system so they feel obliged to disqualify such research in the public mind. Groups such as “guerrilla skeptics” and the “Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (currently known as CSI) seem to be a part of what Robert Anton Wilson termed the “new inquisition” and lump many non-mainstream theories together as ‘dangerous’.
But what if an alternative researcher is on a productive path? What if they are essentially correct?
For example, “mainstream archaeology” is now considering new evidence for ancient mariners arriving in North America by sea, a common topic of Dave’s research.
“The Cedros Island sites add to a small but growing list that supports a once-heretical view of the peopling of the Americas. Whereas archaeologists once thought that the earliest arrivals wandered into the continent through a gap in the ice age glaciers covering Canada, most researchers today think the first inhabitants came by sea”. (See: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/08/most-archaeologists-think-first-americans-arrived-boat-now-they-re-beginning-prove-it )
To be clear, “most researchers” are not claiming the first inhabitants of North America are crossing wide oceans directly but instead of walking across the Beringia land bridge as once commonly believed, the ancients were using boats to follow the coastline of the Americas from Beringia.
It is interesting to note that the so-called “heretical” researcher was onto something that later gained acceptance. Quite often, major theories start out as being “alternative” or “fringe” in the beginning. As Schopenhauer points out, these ideas are ridiculed and then violently opposed until becoming accepted as “self-evident”. But even when extraordinary evidence is presented to backup extraordinary claims, the academic status quo can be woefully ignorant and even downright nasty.
Consider the debate over the reality of pre-Clovis Culture in America. For a long time, the Clovis culture was considered the first people of the Americas. Clovis-first academics were vehemently opposed to any new and contrary information. Archaeologists who reported contrary evidence would often be ostracized from the academic community, losing their funding and careers in the process (for example, see When an Archaeologist Challenges Mainstream Scientific Thinking? https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/jacques-cinq-mars-bluefish-caves-scientific-progress-180962410/). ).
Today, the “pre-Clovis” group has finally gained acceptance:
This all underlines the importance of free inquiry. Putting on an air of authority from an armchair and labeling a discussion of ancient technology as “pseudoscience” can be counter-productive. Telling researchers they must adhere to the dogma of accepted history and science only limits the acquisition of new knowledge. We are thankful that Einstein was not limited by the 19th century world view and opinions of his professors.
Unlike the armchair critics, Childress travels to the evidence in question. He doesn’t become indoctrinated in the latest paradigm, simply accepting what is taught in schools and published by the status quo. Even if some criticisms are warranted, those who attack alternative ideas as “pseudoscience” might do so because of their own paradigm biases.
If the critics were to watch Dave’s videos with Christopher Dunn, a manufacturing engineer with decades of experience, they might begin to understand Dave’s fascination with ancient technology and archaeological sites. Something extraordinary was happening back then and the people left some bizarre artifacts behind; grooves are cut with laser-like precision and holes look like they were drilled by motorized machinery.
Lasers and electric drilling are one explanation. It is also possible the ancients had building tools or methods we don’t know about or understand. Yet the technology to make such such impressions on hard granite and stone can be considered “advanced” to some degree. We cannot assume the technology is extraterrestrial but we can see it was clever.
In the process of searching for answers, David plays the role of the Indiana Jones-like “rogue archaeologist” who asks us to look and think outside the box. Take a 101 archaeology course at a local University and they will likely show a slide with a photo of Indiana Jones and a title saying “this is not archaeology”. But what they don’t tell you is that “truth” is often stranger than fiction!
Bias plagues perceptions yet by asking questions and experiencing other cultures, new information can come to light. This is an important benefit of travel; one might come from a very different place but positive interaction can free a traveler of prejudice.
I think Childress does a lot more than his critics seem to realize. He teaches us how travel can open the mind.
Where to Begin?
I personally like Lost Cities and Ancient Mysteries of South America (1986) the most and many readers seem to share my sentiments; this book is the bestseller of the series. For those new to Dave’s books, Lost Cities and Ancient Mysteries of South Americ might be the best place to start.
An Enjoyable Travelogue
A life-long active researcher, David Hatcher Childress evolves as a writer as time moves forward. His more recent books on the Olmec, Vimanas and the Cham people are fascinating reads. As an early effort, the Lost Cities books are not the slick writing of a New York Times journalist, but are immensely entertaining nonetheless.
You get a bird’s eye view of mysteries spanning the globe, everything from the faraway to the far-out! This is great for researchers who like to consider our origins and try to piece together the hidden history and progress of humanity. There are many blank spots on the map!
Lost Cities offers a panorama of experiences and a window to the unknown. You might end up with some insight you never quite expected!
-Andrew James Brown
P. S. The Lost Cities series is available at adventuresunlimitedpress.com