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Zecharia Sitchin's World

Twenty-five years ago Zecharia Sitchin started a revolution in thinking about our past. Now we look back on the man who helped create a modern myth.

> Read more about this topic in THE CULT OF ALIEN GODS

Zecharia Sitchin says that he first realized aliens colonized earth when he discovered that the mythology of the Sumerian people spoke of real places and real things. For him the moment of discovery arrived when he came to a stunning conclusion about our familiar solar system. In a July 1993 interview, he told Connecting Link Magazine that the Sumerians knew there were not only nine planets:

"Once I realized that this was the answer, that there is one more planet, everything else fell into place. The meaning of the Mesopotamian Epic of Creation on which the first chapters of Genesis are based and all details traveled from their planet to Earth and how they splashed down in the Persian Gulf and about their first settlement, their leaders and so on and so on, everything became clear!"

The Russian-born Sitchin does not seem at first glance like one of the leading forces in the ancient astronaut debate. He looks like a kindly old man with thinning gray hair and thickening glasses poised above a gently moustached mouth. He is the author of eight works on the influence of ancient astronauts on the emerging human race, starting with the 1976 best-seller The Twelfth Planet. He grew up in Palestine where he says he learned Hebrew, Semitic and European languages before attending college at the University of London, where he graduated with a degree in economic history. He worked as a journalist in Israel for many years before moving to New York City.

Sitchin skeptic Ian Lawton gives an overview of Sitchin's theories on his website:

"Not only does he suggest that a race of 'flesh and blood' gods who were capable of space flight visited Earth from their home planet, which the Ancients called 'Nibiru', nearly half a million years ago. He goes on to speculate that they came in order to mine precious minerals which were abundant on our planet; that they created modern Homo sapiens by genetic engineering, mixing their own genes with those of the primitive hominids they encountered ('in their own image'); that they did this in order to create a slave race to take over the mining and refining work; and that they lived for sometimes thousands of years, were capable of good, evil, compassion and brutality, and warred with each other and their human offspring."

Sitchin described for Connecting Link what led him to these remarkable conclusions: "My starting point was, going backto my childhood and schooldays, the puzzle of who were the Nefilim, that are mentioned in Genesis, Chapter six, as the sons of the gods who married the daughters of Man in the days before the great flood, the Deluge."

Sitchin translated Nefilim as "those who from heaven to earth came." (Standard translations have it as "fallen ones."), a meaning he says is identical with that of the Biblical Anunnaki. For him, his "discovery" that the Nefilim (also spelled Nephilim and translated in the King James Bible as "giants") were synonymous with the fifty mysterious gods of fate in Sumerian mythology, the Anunnaki, led him to a startling conclusion. The Anunnaki are extraterrestrials:

"Ever since the publication of my first book (The 12th Planet) in 1976 I have asserted that Sumerian and other ancient Near Eastern texts and depictions showed familiarity with a complete Solar System that included, beside the Sun and the Moon, ten (not nine) planets -- the 3,600 years. Its Sumerian name was Nibiru."

Sitchin told Connecting Link that this planet is the key to solving the mystery of the Anunnaki:

"If Nibiru exists, (and this is the planet that astronomers nowadays call planet X) then the Anunnaki exist."

Sitchin wrote and article for his website in May 2001 claiming that this mysterious planet has been located by astronomers. He cites an "alternative theory" proposed to explain the oddly eccentric orbit of a comet named 2000 CR/105. While one theory has it that Neptune exaggerated the comet's orbit, the alternative theory says that a Mars-sized planet could possibly affected the comet's orbit. Science magazine said "A Supercomet following an unexpectedly far-flung path around the sun suggests that an unidentified planet once lurked in the outermost reaches of the solar system, an international team of astronomers reports. What's more, the mysterious object may still be there."

Sitchin believes this closes the case on his ancient Anunnaki astronauts. However, even if this planet does exist, it is a vast leap of logic to assume that it is the home of alien builder-gods. Sitchin may believe that if Nibiru exists the Anunnaki must, but there is as yet no evidence that one leads to the other. In fact, Sitchin's theory is vastly more ambitious than merely adding one more planet to the solar system's roster. On his website he says:

"According to the ancient texts as interpreted by me, Nibiru was a planet ejected from some other planetary system in outer space that was captured into our Solar System as it passed near Neptune. It became involved in a collision with a pre-existing planet where the debris of the Asteroid Belt are now. As a result of that collision, some 4 billion years ago, the Earth and the Moon came to be where they are now."

Of course, the main condition to accepting this theory is that Sitchin has a special expertise in interpreting ancient texts. Others are not quite ready to give him so much credit. Robert Todd Carroll's Skeptic's Dictionary explains Sitchin's position:

"Sitchin's claim to fame is announcing that he alone correctly reads ancient Sumerian clay tablets. All other scholars have misread these tablets which, according to Sitchin, reveal that gods from another planet (Niburu, which orbits our Sun every 3,600 years) arrived on Earth some 450,000 years ago and created humans by some genetic engineering with female apes."

Ian Lawton talked to a Sumerian linguist (who requested anonymity to avoid the onslaught of hate-mail from ancient astronaut believers). The linguist confirms Sitchin's "special" understanding of Sumerian is not that special:

"[Sitchin] demonstrates a consistent lack of appreciation of even some of the most basic fundamentals of Sumerian and Akkadian grammar, even to the extent of regularly failing to distinguish between the two entirely different languages, and mixing words from each in interpreting the syllables of longer compound words." This mixing of languages allows Sitchin to make amazing "discoveries."

Carroll is not impressed with Sitchin's scholarship, sarcastically adding, "Sitchin stands alone, on nobody's shoulders, as a scholar nonpareil... He alone knows how to correctly translate ancient terms allowing him to discover such things as that the ancients made rockets."

Carroll says Sitchin's dubious translations are used to decieve: "Like [Erich] von Däniken and [Immanuel] Velikovsky, Sitchin weaves a compelling and entertaining story out of facts, misrepresentations, fictions, speculations, misquotes and mistranslations."

So where did Sitchin go wrong?


Rob Hafernik is one of Sitchin's most vocal critics. An aerospace engineer, Hafernik worked for NASA and knows all about orbital dynamics and the workings of the universe and rockets. He said he found a problem right from the beginning of Twelfth Planet:

"Instead of quoting standard translations for Biblical verses, Sitchin makes up his own translations, based on his interpretation of 'the parallel Sumerian and Akkadian texts/tales'. Unfortunately, he is using those verses to support his interpretation of those texts."

In other words, his own translation is used to prove his "discoveries" about the texts themselves. He could make them say whatever he wanted. Hafernik says bluntly, "Right away, we're in deep academic doo-doo. [Sitchin]'s let us know he's going to twist the translations around to support his thesis." Sitchin uses his own translation to prove his pre-supposed conclusion. He made the evidence fit the theory, something he and other alternative authors are quick to criticize in mainstream science, especially evolutionary biology.

Sitchin also makes sweeping statements about the technological development of the Sumerians based on a few subjectively interpreted drawings. Hafernik says, "He goes too far, however, when he claims that one of the Sumerian tablets 'shows, without question, a man lying on a special bed; his face protected by a mask, and he is being subjected to some kind of radiation.'"

Ian Lawton agrees: "To use the words without question is, without question, exaggerating a highly dubious and subjective interpretation. This is also a prime example, of which there are many, of the complete lack of any reference as to the location and source of the original seal."

Hafernik says there is very little chance that anyone could challenge this interpretation, not because it is right but because there is no way of tracking down the source for the hand-drawn copy of the Sumerian tablet: "We have no way to know what the original tablet actually showed. We have no reference or citation so we can go look up the tablet. Yet, we have a totally wild claim based solely on this reproduction."

In another section of the book, Hafernik says Sitchin directly copied a table showing the development of language from a S. N. Kramer's The Sumerians (1971):

"Since the table contains hand-written symbols, it's easy to compare the strokes, relative weights of lines, and so on and come to the conclusion that the table has been photocopied somehow, not merely reproduced by hand. Even more interesting, the labels of the table have been changed" to obscure the clear evolution of writing and support Sitchin's theory of extraterrestrial teachers.

On page 163 of The Twelfth Planet, Sitchen presents a hand-drawn picture, without citation, of a presumably Sumerian cylinder with wings topped by a bird, of which he asked:

"What or who was the Eagle who took Etana to the distant heavens? We cannot help but associate the ancient text with the message beamed to earth in July 1969 by Neil Armstrong, commander of the Apollo 11 spacecraft: Houston! Tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed." As Rob Hafernik points out, this argument is pointless. But why should Sitchin have a rocket-fetish? After all, advanced civilizations should logically have moved beyond the need for fuel-inefficient rockets. However when Twelfth Planet was written, rockets were state of the art.

But all the rockets landing in ancient Sumer apparently did not impress the jaded residents of that civilization. Citing standard works on Sumer, Hafernik says there is no record of these visitations:

"Here we are at the heart of the matter. These Sumerians, direct descendants of the gods from the skies, privy to the creation of the solar system, eye witnesses to rockets coming and going, didn't record enough astronomical observations that even a single tablet (out of many tens of thousands) has made it to the present day."

Sitchin argues the reverse, claiming that his special and unique ability to understand and decipher Sumerian texts proves the visitation of the Anunnaki. Remember, Sitchin claims to be the only person in the world capable of accurately translating the texts. Sitchin says his Sumerian comprehension led him to Akkadian Seal VA243, which he claims shows an accurate view of the universe through the use of small dots to represent the planets. Unfortunately, the size of the dots does not correlate to the size of the planets.

William Saylor supports Sitchin's theories, and on his website claims that the seal accurately shows the universe by relating the size of the small bumps to the logarithm of each planet's orbit, thereby correcting the mismatch between planet size and the size of the carved image. Unfortunately, there are problems with this theory.

Saylor bases his theory on a drawing from Sitchin's Twelfth Planet that claims to reproduce the Akkadian original. Sitchin's hand drawing changes the size and location of the seal's original configuration. Ian Lawton argues that these drawings make for bad evidence:

"[M]uch of his pictorial evidence, based on carvings and reliefs on tablets and stelae, is in the form of hand-copied drawings; this is fine if they are properly referenced to the original piece in a museum collection, but often they are not. This makes them ... exasperating to trace when attempting to ensure they can be relied on as accurate representations of the original."

Hafernik says that even Sitchin's re-drawing has many problems if we follow Sitchin's interpretation:

"You have to really study these pictures to see what a laugh this is. First of all, Mercury comes AFTER Venus (assuming it's the smaller one) or is shown in the position of being a moon of Venus. Next Mercury is only a third the diameter of Venus or Earth, but it's shown a lot bigger (about three-fourths their size). Next, the Moon should be a dot on this scale, but it's shown pretty good size. Looking at the picture (rather than his drawing) Mars looks exactly the same size as Earth. Jupiter and Saturn are in reality three times the size of Uranus and Neptune, but drawn less than twice as big. Pluto is shown about the same size as the Earth, even though it's only a tiny bit bigger than the Moon (about a seventh the size of the Earth)."

There are mathematical problems with Saylor's attempt to salvage Sitchin with talk of logarithms.

First one must decide what units of measurement one is using. The logarithm of one inch is not the same as the logarithm of its metric equivalent, 2.5 cm. Secondly, what units do the logarithms express the orbs diameters in? Miles, millimeters, furlongs? Obviously, the problem with the thesis that planetary logarithms represent orbs is that using different units of measurement, one gets a different result. Consequently, a planet of 1 inch has a logarithm of 0 inches. An orb of 2.5 cm has a logarithm of .39794 cm. Something doesn't add up with this theory.

Let's take a hypothetical planet of 143,000 km. This produces an orb, by your method, with a diameter of 5.155 of whatever unit you measured orbs in. However, that planet's measurement taken in miles (85,800 mi) produces an orb of 4.933 of this unit. Consequently, since you cannot postulate that the ancients knew of the metric system (their systems were close, but no cigar - Akkadians used a base 60) the logarithmic correlation is false numerology.

Besides, the only evidence for Saylor assuming which planets correlate to which orbs is Sitchin, and his drawing is "not to scale." Consequently, measurements taken from it are suspect. Lastly, Saylor concludes that the Akkadians "[k]new the precise diameters of the Sun, nine major planets, Titan and the Moon." Yet he also says that the sun is not accurately portrayed and claim that as evidence that the Sumerians knew what they were doing, since they "purposely" got it wrong!

So, the short answer is that different units provide different logarithmic correlations. Since the modern metric system was devised by the French in the 1790s, it cannot be considered correct to apply it to a "not to scale" drawing of miniscule orbs on an ancient seal.

Furthermore: the seal was on a curved surface, a cylinder, so the drawing had to be "corrected" for cylindrical trigonometry to yeild your figures. Otherwise the distortion of the cylinder would have to be accounted for in Sitchin's and Saylor's figures.

Saylor answered these problems by using the diameter of Jupiter as the base unit of measurement and then relating all the other planetary sizes to Jupiter to make the data independent of the unit of measurement.

Still, the Akkadians would not have used logarithms, since a log function is predicated on a base 10 relationship, and ancient Akkadian mathematics is based on a base 60. Furthermore, the larger point that these measurements are only valid if made from the original, not a "not to scale" drawing, stands. Also, there is no other evidence linking any orb to a specific planet; nor is there a reason the Moon or Titan should be depicted over Europa or Io or any other body floating around the sun. Plus, you can't claim they knew the diameter of the sun if Saylor's evidence is that they "purposely" did not show it correctly. That's faulty logic.

Yet at least Saylor attempted to provide some substantative basis for Sitchin's wild claims. Briefly given, Sitchin's cosmology runs something like this:

Once upon a time the mysterious planet Nibiru was the home of a race of alien super-creatures who descended to Earth and created the human race as slaves to mine for them the precious metals that they so desired. These aliens were remembered as the physical inspiration for the gods of ancient times, so Sitchin names them accordingly: Marduk, Enlil, Enki, Osiris, Seth, etc. Their home planet travels on an orbit so eccentric that it comes by earth only ever 3600 years or so. The mythological entities lived literal lives on earth, and the descendants of Enki warred with those of Enlil. As Ian Lawton says in his refutation of Sitchin:

"He further suggests that originally the first-born son Enki colonised the Earth, but that his command was subsequently usurped by Enlil - the latter being superior by virtue of having been sired by An's half-sister, and thus of purer genetic stock. According to Sitchin this lead to great animosity between the two brothers, spawning an inter-clan rivalry which continued through successive generations and shaped many of the events of the Earth's formative years."

Based solely on his "special" understanding of Sumerian mythology, Sitchin claimed that Enlil led the Annunaki space aliens. Lawton says Sitchin's special knowledge, which includes a unique reconstruction of the Sumerian pantheon to bring it in line with numerology, is wrong:

"[W]e can now see that if his detailed reconstructions are heavily dependent on knowing to which 'clan' any particular deity belonged, and that his 'allocations' are littered with assumptions and inconsistencies, then the entire edifice of his highly detailed reconstructions comes tumbling down."


Sitchin wrote seven other books after Twelfth Planet, each building upon the theory he first laid down in 1976. Over the twenty-five years between then and today, Sitchin has claimed that the Anunnaki genetically engineered humanity, that the space invaders tried to destroy humanity in a flood, and that someday the aliens will return and bring a Biblical-style judgment on mankind.

His books have become best-sellers wherever they are published and in whatever language. Today, the Google search engine finds over 7,500 websites devoted to Sitchin and his theories. Sitchin confessed to Connecting Link that he is more popular than ever:

"There are two dozen or more books that are based on my books. These are in theology, astrology, and so on and so forth, and I am sure there are many more about which I don't know. They refer to my writings or are based on them. I provide the facts as I see them, and everyone is free to interpret them as they wish."

One of Sitchin's "facts" concerned the quarry marks that showed Khufu built the Great Pyramid. Sitchin claimed years ago they were fake to bolster his theory that space aliens built the Giza pyramids as beacons for their rocket-ships (see Who Built the Pyramids?), and many people believed him without question. Today, almost no one takes this seriously (including former believer Graham Hancock of Fingerprints of the Gods fame), but the public at large still believes. These, then, are the "facts" as Sitchin saw them.

For Sitchin's critics, their greatest concern is that many people are unable to separate fact from fiction and eagerly consume Sitchin's work as gospel truth. Ian Lawton:

"Over the last quarter of a century, Sitchin's books have made a considerable worldwide impact, and have persuaded a great many people that the 'gods' were flesh and blood visitors from elsewhere. This idea has become extended by many into the belief that they will return to 'save' the human race. I believe this is a fundamentally dangerous proposition."

Witness the Heaven's Gate cult, a group that committed mass suicide in 1998 to meet up with the "gods" from outer space who were supposed to return in a UFO flying behind the comet Hale-Bopp. Other groups, like the Raelian Revolution, have embraced Sitchin's work and used it as a basis for their own UFO cosmology and even as a justification for human cloning. After all, if the Anunnaki made man in their image, they ask why man should not do the same with clones.

Aerospace engineer Rob Hafernik sums up Sitchin:

"Clearly, Sitchin is a smart man. He weaves a complicated tale from the bits and pieces of evidence that survive from ancient Sumeria to the present day. Just as clearly, Sitchin is capable of academic transgressions (fracturing quotes, ignoring dissenting facts), theft of intellectual property (those tables he copied) and flights of intellectual fancy (the whole book, really). Worst of all, he is almost utterly innocent of astronomy and other assorted fields of modern science... In the end, he's just another nut making a living selling books that treat folks to a tale they want to believe in."


Caroll, Robert Todd. "Zecharia Sitchin." The Skeptic's Dictionary. 2000 (updated April 26, 2001).

Hafernik, Rob. "Sitchin's Twelfth Planet." May 1996.

"Interview with Zecharia Sitchin." Connecting Link. Issue 17. July 1993.
Lawton, Ian. "A Refutation of the Theories of Zecharia Sitchin." May 1, 2000.

Saylor, William. "Akkadian Seal." 2000-2001.

Sitchin, Zecharia. The 12th Planet. Avon Publishers: 1976.
Note: Since this article was first published, several misspellings have been corrected. If you think a word is spelled wrong, let me know at

© 2001 Jason Colavito. All rights reserved.