A fascinating numismatic item came into our offices the other day: a small bar of .999 fine silver from the Tennessee Silver Coin Exchange, dated 1974. That in itself is not so unusual, but the front of the bar is what holds real interest. The left side of the design shows an astronaut standing on the surface of the moon, holding an American flag. On the right is a drawing from a cave in Tassili N’Ajjer in the Algerian Sahara, depicting a bulbous-headed humanoid form wearing a shapeless suit. The inscription on the coin reads, “Moon, 1969 A.D. Sahara 4000 B.C. Astronauts of Two Ages.”
As odd as this item may seem at first, it begins to make sense in historical context. In 1968, a Swiss hotelier named Erich von Däniken published a book titled, Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past. In his book (which later turned out to be plagiarized in many sections from other, less known works; Von Daniken also admitted to fabricating evidence), von Daniken muses on the possibility that aliens may have visited human beings in ancient times, and that ancient architecture and art held clues to these meetings. Although the idea was not new (blogger and researcher Jason Colavito traces the modern “ancient astronaut” concept back to the writings of H. P. Lovecraft), it became wildly popular. A filmed version of von Daniken’s book, renamed “In Search of Ancient Aliens” and narrated by The Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling, gave way to its own TV series. Von Daniken went on to publish over two dozen books on the same theme, and continues to appear on shows like “Ancient Aliens,” though his popularity has waned several times over the decades.
In 1976, Robert K. G. Temple published The Sirius Mystery, which claimed that aliens from the system surrounding the star Sirius had visited earth and made contact with ancient peoples, significantly impacting their culture. The evidence in the book later turned out to be severely faulty, but it only added to the ancient alien craze when it was first released. Temple came to believe that the ancient site of Tiwanaku, an ancient structure in western Bolivia, could be dated to 15,000 B.C.E., while archaeological experts believe the site to be no older than 1500 B.C.E. Undeterred, Temple continues to promote ancient alien theories.
The 1970’s were the high point of the initial ancient aliens craze, so the existence of an “ancient astronaut” silver bar from 1973 should be no surprise. In fact, on researching this piece, several more silver bars with similar themes were discovered, all from the early 1970’s. This particular bar is one of 1500 minted by the World Wide Mint for the Tennessee Silver Coin Exchange, Inc.