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A short history of the ‘Ancient Aliens’ meme

‘I’m not saying it was aliens… but it was aliens.’


Kahron Spearman


In 2009, the History Channel presented the world with the series “Ancient Aliens,” a show that hypothesizes about the significant impact that visiting aliens have had on human history. But while the TV show saw moderate success, one of the talking heads on the show, Swiss-born writer, ufologist, and television personality Giorgio A. Tsoukalos, has become even more famous as a meme.

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What is the Ancient Astronaut Theory?

“Ancient Aliens” posits that aliens influenced early human civilizations, and suggests that many historical and archaeological mysteries, such as the construction of the pyramids, can be explained by extraterrestrial intervention.

Despite its entertainment value, the show has been met with skepticism from critics who label its theories as “far-fetched” and “hugely speculative,” often lambasting it for presenting these non-evidence-based theories as genuine history.

From ‘Ancient Aliens’ talking head to meme

The meme owes its existence to Tsoukalos who became a pop culture icon thanks to his unique presentation style and distinctive hair on the series. Tsoukalos’s insistence on attributing many of human civilization’s ancient mysteries to alien activities caught the imagination of viewers and eventually sparked a meme craze.

Starting with 4chan in November 2010, the internet saw a surge of image macros that featured a still of Tsoukalos from the TV show, with captions exaggerating his theories. These memes often humorously attributed everyday affairs to extraterrestrial activity and marked the start of the meme, which later found fertile ground on other internet forums and social media platforms like Reddit and Tumblr.

Evolution of the ‘Ancient Aliens’ meme

The meme typically shows Tsoukalos with an exaggerated expression, accompanied by text alluding to the Ancient Astronaut Theory. One popular variation includes the phrase, “I’m not saying it was aliens… but it was aliens,” encapsulating the meme’s sarcastic nod to Tsoukalos’s presentation style and insistence that so many worldly phenomena can be attributed to aliens. 

Other iterations featured the image without text, allowing the community to fill in the implied alien-related punchline or even pair the image with unrelated topics. This format allowed users to highlight the pseudo-logic presented on the show.

Tsoukalos embracing meme culture

Tsoukalos’s reaction to his memetic fame has been overwhelmingly positive. In a 2015 Reddit AMA, he said it was an honor to be embraced by meme culture. His meme status was even discussed during an interview with CNN Philippines, underscoring his impact on popular culture around the world. Tsoukalos further acknowledged his meme fame with good-humored appearances in shows like “Resident Alien,” where he played up his established TV persona.


The “Ancient Aliens” meme is more than a collection of image macros; it’s a commentary on how popular culture can take a television personality and an unconventional theory and turn them into a worldwide digital phenomenon. Tsoukalos, once just the host of a controversial History Channel series, has become a symbolic figure in the meme world, demonstrating the power of the internet to elevate, parody, and immortalize.

The Daily Dot