2477: Alien Visitors

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Alien Visitors
Stay right there, we'll be back in a minute. We've just gotta brainstorm some new wonders. Have you all figured out gears yet? Yes? Crap.
Title text: Stay right there, we'll be back in a minute. We've just gotta brainstorm some new wonders. Have you all figured out gears yet? Yes? Crap.


This is the first comic in a new series, followed in the next comic by 2478: Alien Visitors 2.

This strip satirizes the ancient astronauts hypothesis: that aliens were involved in building the pyramids and Stonehenge. This concept, popular in some circles, is based on the assumption that earlier civilizations lacked the technology to build such large structures. There are also geometric or other scientific properties to these structures, which some people assume that humans of that era would have been incapable of creating. Erich von Däniken, a Swiss author, is one of the foremost proponents of "ancient astronauts." Some say that such pseudoscience is inherently racist, as it assumes, without any proof, that other civilizations were unable to build their monuments without foreign help, although others disagree since most races and nationalities have one or another of these monuments with similar claims.

In the comic, aliens arrive with the intention of building such monuments with their highly advanced technology, including some sort of tractor beam to lift the heavy stones and another beam that can depict a pyramid. They are shocked to hear from Cueball that humans accomplished the same thing thousands of years earlier with such simple tools as ramps, and even in more than one location on Earth (Pyramids in Egypt and Mexico). Thus they proceed to suggest a stone circle to predict the solstice, but before they can finish this sentence Megan says this is like Stonehenge.

The joke of the strip is that, if aliens were interested in building such structures on earth, they'd be just as likely to show up today as thousands of years ago. And if they offered to build pyramids today, humans would be very unimpressed, as we've had the technology to do so for quite some time. The notion that an advanced, spacefaring species would come all the way to Earth (or whatever other planets they visit) to build relatively simple stone structures seems dubious, when put that way.

Alternately, the aliens may have visited Earth before in the past and impressed the humans of the time with their advanced technology of pyramids and stone circles, leading them to expect the same technology to impress the humans again in the present day. This is somewhat plausible: Stonehenge is estimated to have been built around 3100BC, while the pyramids were built 500-1000 years later. Assuming both structures were indeed built by aliens in the past, the visitors would have returned to the Earth to find agricultural civilizations almost identical to the ones they encountered centuries prior. The aliens could have then been led to believe that human technology, if almost entirely unchanged in the 500 years since they last visited, would not have advanced significantly in a few thousand years. Indeed, the aliens were mostly correct in this assessment: technological advancement progressed at a crawl until the scientific revolution marked the emergence of modern science only a relatively short 600 years ago. From this perspective, the aliens would seem to be correct in their assumption that human technology would not significantly improve such that they could not impress humanity with their technological wonders. Unfortunately, the aliens have been caught off-guard by the exponential nature of technological advancement, in that advanced civilizations have the resources to advance even more rapidly.

The aliens' reaction is frustration as they cannot teach us anything new; evidently, it does not occur to them to share their technologies for antigravity and interstellar travel (which, having come to Earth in floating spaceships, they clearly possess).

In the title text they have regrouped and would now present another wonder - gears. This is very likely a reference to the Antikythera mechanism, an artifact dating from the 2nd century BC which used a complex, geared calculating system to predict the movement of stars and planets. As with the aforementioned structures, some fringe groups theorize that such mechanisms were beyond human technology at the time, and therefore must have been given by aliens. Once again, such technology is not impressive to humans at this point, as complex, geared mechanisms are now commonplace in most human societies. Indeed, quite a bit of intricate mechanical gearing and timing has been obsoleted by electronics.


[A flying saucer is hovering high above Cueball and Megan, drawn very small standing on the ground beneath it. The aliens inside speak to them from inside their saucer, indicated with zigzag lines between it and the text.]
Aliens: Greetings, humans!
Megan: Whoa, aliens!
Aliens: We bring you technological wonders!
[Zoom in on the flying saucer which has two beams below it, the left showing an outline of a pyramid and the right is shown lifting a large stone. Cueball replies off-panel.]
Aliens: We will help you lift great stones and build towering monuments.
Cueball (off-panel): Oh, pyramids?
[Zoom in on Cueball and Megan looking up, the Aliens reply from above the panel.]
Aliens (off-panel): ...Yes.
Cueball: Yeah, we have those. In Egypt.
Megan: And Mexico.
Cueball: I think they used ramps?
[Zoom back out, as in first panel]
Aliens: Then we shall build a ring of stones aligned with the stars, so at the solstice-
Megan: Oh, like Stonehenge?
Aliens: Dammit, humans.

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Good point, for those believing aliens help build the pyramids, if those aliens had already encountered say the MGM pyramid in Las Vegas, would they have helped people build a different kind of monument? Or it's1 stone pyramids regardless of the level of development? 01:08, 17 June 2021 (UTC)

I'm surprised we don't have a Category:Aliens. 01:55, 17 June 2021 (UTC)
Maybe we should? I found 37 pages when searching for Aliens... But who should put in the link on the relevant of those? --Kynde (talk) 09:40, 17 June 2021 (UTC)

But.. but.. everyone[citation required] knows that the pyramid shape is ideal for landing alien Mother Ships on top of! 07:04, 17 June 2021 (UTC)

Thank you! Someone who knows what's up. Bischoff (talk) 07:29, 17 June 2021 (UTC)

Could the "gears" in the title text be a reference to the Antikythera mechanism or something similar? 09:32, 17 June 2021 (UTC)

I just think that Randall thinks gear is a pretty neat invention, that Aliens could have taught us. But these came too late --Kynde (talk) 10:00, 17 June 2021 (UTC)

I think the lines emitting from the UFO in the second panel are not tractor beams but something like holographic projection. The pyramid and the stone cube are shown at different scales which indicates that these are not the real thing but images. Panel two depicts a "sneak preview" for the humans.

I think the pyramid is a picture (hologram) and the stone seems real and is held up by the tractor beam. I have amended the explanation and transcript with this. --Kynde (talk) 09:59, 17 June 2021 (UTC)

Funny to see a mention of the Antikythera mechanism, as I recently read an article on it being digitaly reconstructed at UCL (based on found fragments and some text from the front and back side). 16:57, 17 June 2021 (UTC)

I'm pretty sure the ancient Egyptians had a secret technology called "scaffold" to help raise the uppermost blocks where a sufficient ramp becomes impractical/impossible... but I'm not about to do the research to prove it to anyone, at 6am. I could be wrong, but I think it's just the "controversial" but obvious answer? ProphetZarquon (talk) 12:00, 17 June 2021 (UTC)

I'm very surprised by the lack of imagination among these aliens. The most advanced tech they can think to offer us is gears? How about a printing press, or electricity, or the combustion engine? Something else is going on here that no one yet has mentioned. Is Randall telling us that the aliens are restrained from giving us too much because of the Prime Directive or something? -- 12:21, 17 June 2021 (UTC)

Nah, I think they just go up the figurative "tech tree". Maybe the things your are mentioning are the next offers after gears? Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 13:13, 17 June 2021 (UTC)
either what Elektrizikekswerk said or it has other reasons. Especially combustion engine might just not be a thing to these aliens as it either was considered harmful (exploiting ressources, releasing toxic gases), or becuase fuels were not available in their world. So for energy they'd need to jump straigt to plasma or smth like that or some other ressources that are a big step ahead in complexity or just impossible on earth due to phyiscs. --Lupo (talk) 06:22, 18 June 2021 (UTC)
He he, the next comic just disproved that ;-) --Kynde (talk) 10:01, 22 June 2021 (UTC)

Or how about leaving us one of your spaceships? WaxWamp (talk) 13:39, 17 June 2021 (UTC)

Proposed next panel(s):

Megan: Gears? No, we've got those. How about clean energy?
Cueball: Well, we kind of have that.
Megan: Okay, what about the flight tech of your space ship? How long did it take you to get here anyway? Do you have FTL?
Alien: Well, our multi-generational mother-ship is in orbit of your moon. We are basing our offers on what our astronomers observed just before the ship left our home planet.
Cueball: Wow! Can we get your telescope technology? To see our ancestors from over 3000 years ago and come over here based on what you saw?
Megan: Where are you guys from anyway? Please don't say Bernard's Star.

Nutster (talk) 15:12, 17 June 2021 (UTC)

We don't HAVE clean energy yet. We have several quite ineffective ways how to get clean energy from Sun, but attempts to replicate it are still full of problems ("we got slightly more energy from it than we put inside" is nice achievement, but not enough). -- Hkmaly (talk) 20:32, 17 June 2021 (UTC)

I'm not sure the Stonehenge timeline is appropriate - it's technically correct, but the impressive lintel structure was built between 2600-2400 BC on top of an older, less impressive construction; it's roughly contemporaneous with the Great Pyramid. 14:23, 18 June 2021 (UTC)