Zecharia Sitchin (1920-2010) does not appear to be as well known in Britain as in the USA, although he is becoming well represented on the web. His work is based on his own new translations of Sumerian and other Mesopotamian texts. Using them, he identifies complex and hitherto unknown early history not just of humanity but also of the entire solar system. According to him, there is a twelfth planet in our solar system, Nibiru (following astrological convention, counting the Sun and Moon as planets one and five respectively, so that Pluto becomes the eleventh planet, rather than the ninth, despite its 2006 demotion to the novel status of ‘dwarf planet’, slightly smaller than the more distant ‘dwarf planet’ Eris).

Nibiru is unknown to astronomers apart from those who are privy to an ancient secret and who do not broadcast their knowledge to the rest of the astronomical community or to the general public. It does not follow a near-circular orbit like the other planets, but a highly eccentric one with a ‘year’ of approximately 3,600 earth years; it is due to cross the orbits of Earth and Mars in the very near future. Some even claim that it has already done so, in May 2003, but that ‘the authorities’ have suppressed all information about this important event. A few of these groups claim to have spotted Nibiru, which they refer to as Planet X, and allege a massive conspiracy to keep this ‘truth’ from the general public. Much of their information comes from channelling statements of the so-called Zetas and more properly belongs with New Age ideas; it is a good example of how the fringe thrives on cross-fertilisation from its numerous subdivisions.

Sitchin’s first book, The Twelfth Planet, was published in 1976, and according to his followers, it has transformed the field of ancient history, although it had little impact, even among the alternative archaeology crowd. According to Sitchin, his research has taken the recorded history of humanity back to before the creation of the earth. He achieves this through his reading of ancient Mesopotamian texts, according to which the inhabitants of Nibiru, the Anunnaki, form a link between Stonehenge, Tiahuanaco and the Sumerians; they were also responsible for creating modern humans by genetic engineering. Disagreement among the Anunnaki made them abandon earth, but they are due to return shortly (according to the Zetas, the encounter with Planet X was to be expected in May 2003, but it seems to have been delayed) and they will presumably pay a visit on the creations they abandoned (in other words, us). This will have enormous repercussions for our social, political, economic and religious institutions.

Sitchin’s cosmogony links in with the ‘Face’ on Mars, the feature in Cydonia that has caused so much controversy since its discovery in 1976. He claims that relationships between the ‘Face’ and nearby ‘Pyramids’ can be matched with the Great Sphinx and Egyptian pyramids and that they point to landing places for the Anunnaki. Sitchin has also dated the Egyptian pyramids much earlier than conventional Egyptology, claiming that the dating evidence is at best misunderstood, at worst, forged, an idea that has found enthusiastic support from Graham Hancock and his followers. His dating of the features on Mars, conversely, is much younger than most astronomers would allow (and they see it as a naturally eroded mesa rather than an artificial structure, anyway).


Sitchin’s ideas have struck a chord with conspiracy theorists, who claim that Colin Powell and H Norman Schwarzkopf, the American generals who were key figures in the Gulf War of 1990-1, were ‘initiates’ of these ancient secrets and accordingly chose certain strategic sites for battles based on knowledge of the Anunnaki. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was similarly planned to a large extent by Colin Powell and ought to be linked in some way with the imminent return of the Anunnaki. According to this view, their original landing place had been at Eridu, now in southern Iraq. They claim that Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti (1937-2006) could not be captured in 1991 because he was hiding in a ziggurat, which the Americans were loath to bomb. For this reason, the Gulf War was not pursued to what had seemed to most people to be its logical conclusion – the removal from power of Saddam Hussein. In the event, his capture in November 2003 found him hiding in a hole beneath the courtyard of a modest house in a provincial town: one has to ask why he did not return to the safety of the ziggurat he had allegedly used so successfully twelve years earlier. The release of information about the Anunnaki to the public, according to Sitchin, will coincide with the next arrival of Nibiru in the year 2013; the International Space Station is secretly intended to ascertain the whereabouts of Nibiru.

A cosmic drama

Like so many Bad Archaeologists, Zecharia Sitchin assumes that ancient texts are inherently trustworthy, straightforward accounts by disinterested observers. In his view, Sumerian mythological tracts and the Pentateuch are historical and scientific treatises, which he alone has interpreted correctly. Conventional scholars are mistaken in their translations: words usually translated as ‘god’ should be translated ‘sky traveller’ or ‘astronaut’ and so on. Their assumption that these texts are mythological, allegorical or religious in nature is, according to Sitchin, wrong. Because the first scholars to study these texts in the nineteenth century lacked an understanding of space travel, they assumed that any account of beings travelling through space cannot have been intended literally. They thus established translations based on religious concepts; Sitchin has cut through this, according to his followers, and worked out more appropriate translations that give us a fuller and more accurate understanding of these texts.

The Twelfth Planet, Sitchin’s first book, was published in 1976; it forms the first part of a series known as The Earth Chronicles. Not only is Sumerian mythology treated as a straightforward account of the remote past, but also the Bible is equally presented as a treatise full of references to an ancient and lost science rather than as a religious text. Sitchin seems to believe that the technical nature of the biblical texts was forgotten in antiquity and that they were more-or-less hijacked as religious tracts. Subsequent books (The Stairway to Heaven (1980), The Wars of Gods and Men (1985) and The Lost Realms (1990)) build on the story established in the first book. Sitchin presents his work as erudite and scholarly, with a compendious knowledge of Sumerian myth, and there is no doubt that he was a skilful linguist, with an ability to read a variety of ancient Semitic languages. The question, of course, is whether his translations more accurately represent the meanings of the original authors than those of conventional scholars.

He regards the astronomical knowledge of the various peoples of Mesopotamia as being much more complex and accurate than is usually assumed to be the case, although conventional scholarship has long recognised the astronomical-cum-astrological obsessions of the Babylonians. In particular, he reads a number of texts as indicating that there were originally twelve separate ‘planets’ in our solar system: the Sun (Abzu), Mercury (Mummu), Venus (Lahamu), Mars (Lahmu), Tiamat (a planet then orbiting in what is now the asteroid belt), Jupiter (Kishar), Saturn (Anshar), Pluto (Gaga, which was then in a closer orbit), Uranus (An), Neptune (Enki), Nibiru (Marduk) and its satellite Kingu. The formation of Earth is part of a complex cosmic drama that can only be summarised here, but which is more dynamic than conventional astronomy and cosmology would allow and which makes Velikovsky’s speculations appear rather tame.

According to Sitchin’s interpretation of a text known as The Epic of Creation (Enûma Eliš), Nibiru, at the edge of the solar system, was the home planet of beings called the Anunnaki. Originally, the Earth and Moon were not present in the solar system, although there was an extra planet (Tiamat) where the asteroid belt now sits, between Mars and Jupiter. According to his reading of the Epic, Nibiru was originally from outer space, entering our solar system close to Neptune; the gravity of Neptune bent its trajectory so that it entered the solar system on a retrograde path and pulled a bulge in its side. Passing Uranus, the bulge ripped open and several lumps were pulled out of Nibiru to become its moons. Once again, the gravity of Uranus affected the course of Nibiru, bringing it ever closer to the centre of the solar system. As it passed Gaga, a planet orbiting between Saturn and Uranus, Gaga was knocked out of its orbit, eventually to settle down as Pluto. Missing Saturn and Jupiter, Nibiru approached Tiamat and its gravity began to tear away bits of the planet. Tiamat was cracked but remained intact. Nibiru then swept past the sun, swinging into an eccentric, comet-like orbit that took it back out into deep space past Neptune. Having been pulled into orbit around the sun, Nibiru returned thousand of years later, when it destroyed the already damaged Tiamat. Half of it was shattered into tiny fragments, to become the asteroid belt, while the other half was knocked closer to the sun by one of Nibiru’s satellites and became the Earth. Kingu, another of Tiamat’s satellites, accompanied the broken half and became the Moon. Nibiru continues in this highly eccentric orbit, which takes it out beyond Neptune and back into the asteroid belt in a retrograde orbit that takes 3,600 years to complete. The reason that Sumerian and Babylonian astronomers continued to regard the Moon as a planet, not a satellite of Earth, was that it had originally been a planet in its own right, according to Sitchin (although this contradicts his view that Kingu had originally been a satellite of Tiamat).

In his version of the Sumerian myths, beings from Nibiru much later created humans from apes by genetic engineering. This was possible because although life had originally developed on Nibiru, its collision with Tiamat had seeded some of the genetically identical molecules on what was to become Earth, so the beings of both planets share a common genetic ancestry. Modified eggs were implanted into the Anunnaki women about 450,000 years ago and their ‘mutant’ offspring became human beings (which is part of the thesis of von Däniken’s second book, Return to the Stars). The newly created humans were intended to be slaves for the Anunnaki, who needed them to mine minerals from the Earth to maintain their own civilisation. This situation continued for thousands of years, with the Anunnaki returning every 3,600 years to reap the fruits of their creations’ labours. During the periods when Nibiru was in the outer solar system, some of the Anunnaki remained on earth to direct the humans’ mining operations.

All trace of the civilisation of the Anunnaki on Earth was destroyed in a world-wide Deluge caused when part of the Antarctic ice cap broke off and fell into the ocean about 13,000 years ago. To escape the resulting flood, the Anunnaki retreated into space, while all their millennia of engineering efforts were destroyed. One of them, Enki, had taken pity on the humans and allowed a small group of them to build an Ark to ride out the floodwaters, so after the Deluge, the Anunnaki returned to Earth and taught them the basics of agriculture and animal husbandry. To facilitate contact with the earth, the Anunnaki built a spaceport in Sinai that was destroyed in a nuclear war 4,000 years ago. For reasons that Sitchin does not make clear, they decided to abandon their mining operations on Earth and to return only occasionally to help out humanity.

Sitchin’s dubious linguistic genius

A large part of Sitchin’s thesis is given to an explanation about why civilisation developed where and when it did. According to Sitchin, “most scholars now admit in frustration, by all data Man should still be without civilization”. This is not a view that forms part of mainstream archaeology. Leaving aside different definitions of ‘civilisation’, most archaeologists working on its origins pretty much agree that it develops in those societies where an unusual degree of cooperation between communities is required, for whatever reason. In many parts of the world, such as Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, Egypt, the Vale of Mexico, the Yangtse Valley and so on, the early civilisations are all basically ‘hydraulic’; in other words, these were communities that all required large-scale water works for agriculture. The development of civilisation thus depends on the development of agriculture, and economic transformation that only became possible after the end of the last Ice Age.

Sitchin believes the Sumerians to have invented a host of technological accomplishments, including writing, printing, metallurgy, a written law, medical technology and so on. Some of these achievements are recognised by orthodox Sumeriologists, although they might dispute the level of technological accomplishment the achieved. He describes Sumerian religion in a way that does not always agree with mainstream interpretations. According to him, An was the chief god; the problem here is that although the original sources make him the god of the heavens, they nowhere suggest that he outranks the other gods. Indeed, it is Enlil, the god of the air, who is usually portrayed as the leader of the gods. Going further, he then claims that twelve gods made up a ruling council of the gods; no ancient or modern sources to agree with this interpretation, although a group of seven deities who decree fate are mentioned (the deities in question being An, Enki, Enlil, Inanna, Nanna-Sin, Ninhursag and Utu). Other documents talk of fifty great gods, who are never named but who seem to be the Anunnaki, the children of An. To make up his list of twelve ruling gods, Sitchin adds some of the sons of Enki and Enlil to the list of the seven who decree fate.

Sitchin’s reconstruction of Sumerian mythology is highly speculative and his account of the family relationships between the gods does not resemble orthodox views. As leader of the gods, An is a remote figure who visited the Earth only when Nibiru entered the inner solar system every 3,600 years. This return was a time of great rejoicing and activity. Earth was ruled directly by An’s eldest son, Enki, who acted as a viceroy. Eventually, Enki’s position was usurped by Enlil, who was An’s son by his own half sister. This led to a blood feud between the descendants of the half brothers, which continued through many generations. His reconstruction of the family relationships of the Sumerian gods is what has allowed him to work out the stages in the ensuing war, but it is a reconstruction that does not match the results of orthodox scholars.

Much of Sitchin’s work depends on the reinterpretation of various words found in ancient texts. One of his key words, shem, is translated by orthodox Sumerian scholars as ‘name’ or ‘reputation’; he prefers to see in it a word meaning ‘sky chamber’ and, by extension, ‘spaceship’. Another is the term Anunnaki, which he translates as ‘those who have come down from the Heavens to Earth’. Once again, orthodox linguists translate the term rather differently, as ‘the descendants of the monarch’. Nevertheless, he suggests that the Biblical term Nephilim is a Hebrew equivalent of Anunnaki, allowing him to draw parallels between various Sumerian texts and parts of the Bible.

According to his admirers, Zecharia Sitchin is a linguist of outstanding ability and insight, which has allowed him to transform our understanding of the origins of humanity and civilisation. This would make him the greatest historian of all time and the first astronomer to reveal the complex origins of the solar system. Furthermore, his work appears academically unchallengeable to his followers, as there are few indeed who possess the linguistic skills necessary to understand his translations of ancient texts. Sitchin also claims to be a true-born Sumerian, whose research has been to prepare us, the human race, for the return of our creators.

To orthodox scholars, Zecharia Sitchin’s interpretations of ancient writings are eccentric, to say the very least. The Anunnaki are known from Sumerian mythology, where they are the children of the god of the heavens and the seven judges of the underworld. It is thought that they were originally regarded as fertility deities, something that makes sense in the context of the first agricultural civilisation on earth. They recur in Assyro-Babylonian mythology. None of the ancient texts seems to treat them as anything other than divinities: there is no suggestion that they are physical visitors to this world. Moreover, Sitchin does not seem to have discovered previously unknown meanings of ancient words and then uncovered the scenario he proposes for the origins of the earth and humanity: rather, he seems to have come up with his thesis first and then looked for new ways of translating key texts to support it, the reverse of normal academic practice.
Sitchin’s account of the creation of Earth can easily be shown to be entirely wrong. The chemical composition of the Moon and Earth, for instance, demonstrate that they both originally formed as a single astronomical body that was town apart early in its history. Many astronomers now believe this to have occurred as a result of a collision with another celestial body during the early history of the solar system. While Sitchin and his followers use this as evidence to support their version of events, it is clearly incompatible with them. His understanding of celestial mechanics is worse than shaky: it is utterly wrong. Even being generous and allowing some room for the gravitational effects he claims can cause planets to bulge, split apart and be propelled into new orbits, the chances of a ‘rogue planet’ from outside the solar system entering on the plane of the ecliptic (the plane in which the planets orbit), having ‘close encounters’ with Neptune, Uranus, Gaga and Tiamat – the latter not once, but twice – are so mathematically tiny that they can be dismissed.

Sitchin’s reconstruction of Sumerian mythology and his highly speculative account of the family relationships between the gods, makes An a remote figure who, as the overlord of the gods, visited the Earth only when Nibiru entered the inner solar system every 3,600 years. This return was a time of great rejoicing and activity. Earth was ruled directly by An’s eldest son, Enki, who acted as a viceroy. Eventually, Enki’s position was usurped by Enlil, who was An’s son by his own half sister. This led to a blood feud between the descendants of the half brothers, which continued through many generations. His reconstruction of the family relationships of the Sumerian gods is what has allowed him to work out the stages in the ensuing war, but it is a reconstruction that does not match the results of orthodox scholars.

There are parts of Sitchin’s account that clearly derive from von Däniken: we have the story of Etana and the Eagle (which von Däniken wrongly regarded as part of The Epic of Gilgamesh) in which the eagle carrying Etana flies higher and higher, allowing the narrator to give an ‘accurate’ description of the earth from space. We also get the supposition that the Ark of the Covenant was “principally a communications box”. These ideas are not Sitchin’s and they do not derive from his own reinterpretation of the ancient texts: they are modern commentary by other ‘fringe’ writers adopted by Sitchin and then justified by his reinterpretations. In other words, he is not led to his conclusions by the weight of evidence from the texts, but starts from his conclusions and then searches to texts for evidence to back up his assertions, generally by modifying the translations of key words.

Sitchin believes that “evolution cannot account for the appearance of Homo sapiens, which happened virtually overnight in terms of the millions of years which evolution requires, and with no evidence of the earlier stages which would indicate a gradual change from Homo erectus”. This is utter nonsense. The evolution from African Homo erectus (which some palaeoanthropologists now prefer to call Homo ergaster) to archaic forms of Homo sapiens took place something like 200,000 years ago and does not involve as huge a change as Sitchin seems to believe. Ironically, many creationists will insist that Homo erectus fossils are the remains of modern humans! Richard Dawkins and others have argued that evolution does not always work as an infinitesimally slow process, but can – and must – proceed rapidly at times of major environmental change, an idea that has been called ‘punctuated equilibrium’.

Alan Alford and Gods of the New Millennium

Alan Alford’s first book was probably the first book to bring Sitchin’s work to a wider audience, especially in Britain. Despite his original enthusiasm for these ideas, he has now decided that the Sumerian myths are not literal, scientific accounts, but are what orthodox scholars have always believed, religious stories to be read in symbolic terms. Of course, his interpretation of the symbolism is now at considerable variance with Sitchin’s views as well as those of conventional Sumeriologists.