Elephants and UFOs in China


I was discussing the astounding archaeological discoveries made at Sanxingdui, Sichuan Province, China, and recalled when some of the objects from Sanxingdui came to the British Museum in September 1996. There was a two-day conference held for scholars at the museum called 'Mysteries of Ancient China'. I particularly wanted to go because Professor Robert Bagley would be speaking, an authority on ancient Chinese bronzes who had written an interesting paper on the Sanxingdui excavations (Bagley, Robert W. [1988] 'Sacrificial pits of the Shang period at Sanxingdui in Guanghan county, Sichuan Province.' Arts Asiatiques XLIII: 78–86).

The night before the conference I was sitting in the kitchen of my next-door-neighbour, Sandra, drinking tea. I was telling her about the discoveries, how the culture had a reverence for elephants, many elephant tusks were discovered in the pits, I showed her a photograph of the large standing figure and pointed out that the hands were shaped in such a way that it had been suggested he originally held a large elephant's tusk. I had even had a dream in which I saw the figure holding an elephant's tusk, filled to the brim with a flammable liquid which was then struck by lightning from the heavens in the dark stormy night.

Then I mentioned to Sandra that a number of large bronze masks had been unearthed, and that no-one knew why they were so large. Sandra said:

'Maybe they were for elephants to wear…'

I looked at her for a few moments across the breakfast counter, slightly stunned by the suggestion.

'Hmm, now why didn't I think of that? Why hasn't anyone else thought of that? I wonder…'

Next day I was at the conference. Prof Bagley gave an excellent lecture, pointing out quite convincingly that the ancient Shang must have had the equivalent of factories to melt so much bronze, that it was no mean feat, that actually it was quite staggering. And think of the chromium-tipped arrowheads buried with the First Emperor. Chromium-tipped, 2000 years ago, think of that for a moment. As I often say to people who do not quite realise what a civilization China has: while we in Europe were living in caves and grunting in dogpelts they were wearing silk, browsing in bookshops, and discussing philosophy.

With a glass of wine in my hand as people milled around at the social after the end of day 1 of the conference, I collared Prof Bagley for a brief chat.

'You know the large bronze masks from Sanxingdui…?'

'Of course.'

I came straight out with it:

'Do you think they may have been cast for elephants to wear…?

Professor Bagley was silent for a few moments, he seemed as stunned by the suggestion as I had been, then said:

'I don't know the size of the average ancient Chinese elephant's head.'

Good answer, I thought, but I persisted:

'Would you say it was a silly suggestion to make that the large bronze masks were cast for elephants to wear…? Has anyone put forward this idea as yet?

Professor Bagley looked at me intently for a little while, people were milling around clutching glasses of red wine, then out of the silence of his thoughts came his considered response:

'Publish quickly!'


Interesting to see from a report in the People's Daily that the Sanxingdui site was apparently visited by extraterrestrials in December 2000. Ufology is hugely popular in China now. UFO sightings are often mentioned in newspapers quite matter-of-factly and UFO clubs are sanctioned by the government. Came across an interesting blog, The Peking Duck, that has a good entry on China's love affair with the UFOs, making available a recent story from The South China Morning Post headed 'Aliens invade China!', by Simon Parry.

It's fascinating to see Parry trot out for the Post the familiar story that has been doing the rounds of the internet for years about the supposed ancient crashed flying saucer at Bayan Kara Ula, which has been dubbed 'the Chinese Roswell' by Hartwig Hausdorf.

The story goes that there was a UFO crash 12,000 years ago in the Bayan Kara Ula mountains in western China, on the border with Tibet. The crash is said to have been discovered in 1938. A race of dwarf aliens known as the 'Dzopa' (or Dropa) apparently left records of their crash inscribed in spiral grooves on 716 stone disks, each with a hole in the centre. Their descendents are said to still live in China and go by that name. There are numerous websites reporting this story as if it were a fact.

The last word on this tale for me came when I read a paragraph by Bob Rickard in his editorial in Fortean Times 164 (Nov 2002):

Perhaps the biggest of these 'modern myths' concerns an ancient crashed saucer in Tibet, whose survivors are the ancestors of the Dzopa clan. Real evidence for this claim is non-existent and the story does not exist before the publication, in 1978, of 'Sungods in Exile', the account by Oxford historian Karyl Robin-Evans of his stay among the Dzopa in 1947, edited by David Agamon. Alas for the credulous, the very real author David A Gamon confessed in this very magazine in 1992 (FT62: 63) that Robin-Evans and the Dzopa were all created by him as a satire on the 'god was a space-alien' industry.

This story is certainly a great example of a literary hoax that just never wants to die. Another recent fall-guy for the story was Jacqueline Wild in the November 2003 issue of Prediction magazine, who repeats it hook, line, and sinker on page 19 of her article 'Living Stone'. Even the occultist Kenneth Grant seems to have found it irresistible to write about the spacecraft that crashed at Bayan Kara Ula. In 'Beyond the Mauve Zone' (1999) Grant elevates Crowley's channelled entity 'Lam' to commander of the stricken spacecraft 12,000 years ago on the basis of 'research'. (See: Skelder, Hermann. “Laughing stock” danger of worshipping strange entities. In: Biroco, Joel. KAOS 14. London: The Kaos-Babalon Press, 2002: 35–37. In the Ed's note on this article I suggest Grant's source for his information on the Dzopas appeared to be the trashy 1967 book by Robert Charroux, 'Masters of the World', but if Bob is correct above then the Dzopas probably aren't mentioned in that book. I don't have it to re-read and check.)