With the recent Congressional Hearings on UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon), following the 2017 New York Times article on the Pentagon’s top-secret UFO black programs, as well as Chuck Schumer’s recent legislation regarding the disclosure of alleged crafts / materials / biologics of “Non-Human-Intelligence” (NHI), *and* with NASA officially being tasked with gathering data on these anomalous incidents, in an attempt to figure out their origin – I figured it might be time to do an article on some *historic* accounts of what many have speculated may have been extraterrestrial sightings and encounters, dating back to antiquity.
As a quick disclaimer: I DO NOT in any way ascribe to the ‘ancient astronaut theory’ as purported by the History Channel’s “Ancient Aliens” series, and in fact think that claiming ancient indigenous cultures were incapable of creating impressive architectural works is disingenuous, if not outright insulting. In fact, most (if not all) of the claims made on that show are pretty easy to debunk – for more on all that, I highly recommend checking out the podcast, “It’s (probably) Not Aliens”.
I should also point out that this was a topic I was extremely skeptical about prior to 2020 when the US government started to take this matter seriously, especially with the release of that 60 Minutes Interview with the Navy pilots who witnessed the 2004 Nimitz “Tic Tac” incident. And to be fair, there’s really no way for us to verify if any of these historic sightings are “credible” – as with many modern incidents. Regardless, the following stories are still fascinating tales that seem to line up with some of the more modern UFO lore and alleged encounters with the paranormal.
Most people assume that these events are a relatively new occurrence, but whatever these things are, or wherever they come from, there’s no doubt that unexplained stories of UFO’s (Unidentified Flying Objects) or UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon) can be found throughout human history, by various cultures around the world…
1. Early Ancient Roman Sightings (218 BCE – 196 CE)
Aside from potential Biblical accounts, Hindu scriptures, some mysterious Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, and various Ancient Meso-American depictions, some of the earliest UFO sightings in human history actually come from the Romans! As any historian can tell you, if there’s one thing the Romans were good at, it was keeping records, which really lends some credibility to these accounts.
During the Second Punic War, under the Roman Republic, a Roman historian, Titus Livius, wrote about ‘phantom ships gleaming in the winter sky’ in 218 BCE, and years later in 76 BCE, Pliny the Elder spoke about a spark that fell from a star and outshone the moon. These incidents continued into the Roman Empire with Flavius Josephus reportedly seeing “chariots hurtling through the clouds” in 65 CE / AD, and again in the year 196, where Cassius Dio wrote about “A fine rain resembling silver descended from a clear sky upon the Forum of Augustus.”
But perhaps the most interesting account comes from Plutarch in 7 BCE, who documented an incident that occurred during a battle between the Roman commander, Lucullus, and Mithridates VI of Pontus. A mysterious flying object hovered over the battlefield and was described like a wine-jar, with the color of ‘molten silver’. According to Plutarch, “the sky burst asunder, and a huge, flame-like body was seen to fall between the two armies”.
What’s particularly interesting about this case however, is that it was witnessed by thousands!
2. A “Celestial Battle” Over Nuremberg (1561)
One of the most fascinating medieval accounts ever recorded occurred on April 14th, 1561, in what is now Nuremberg, Germany. At the time, Nuremberg was a part of the Holy Roman Empire. According to a broadsheet news article from the time, there was a mass sighting of what was described as an “aerial battle in the heavens” during the early dawn hours…
“Many men and women” were said to have witnessed this phenomenon between the hours of 4 and 5 AM, when “a dreadful apparition occurred on the sun”. The document describes various odd-shaped objects, and hundreds of “globes” moving erratically across the sky and “vehemently fought with each other for over an hour”, followed by the appearance of a massive “black spear” that hovered in the sky, pointing west. Hans Glaser created a piece of wood-engraved art depicting what the citizens of Nuremberg claimed to have seen.
This celestial phenomenon was interpreted through religious meaning at the time (either a warning from God, or a battle waging between Angels and Demons), but through a modern lens, it’s hard to not notice some similarities to more recent UFO sightings, especially with the mention of orbs and a large triangular craft. Hans Glaser wrote, “Whatever such signs mean, God alone knows.”
While some skeptics have dismissed this ‘celestial phenomenon’ as a Parhelion, or “Sun Dog”, it doesn’t entirely account for some of the descriptions that were witnessed by an entire city in broad daylight. What’s even more mystifying is that the residents of Basel, Switzerland saw a strikingly similar incident just five years later in 1566!
3. Japanese Legend of the “Utsuro-Bune” (1803)
According to an old Japanese legend, during the Edo Period of Feudal Japan, back when the nation was still ruled by the Shogunate, an “Unknown Floating Object” appeared to wash ashore in the Hitachi province on the East coast of Japan in 1803…
On February 22nd (or March 24th), 1803, villagers spotted a strange looking vessel out at sea. The shape of the craft reminded them of an incense burner or a wooden rice pit, but looking at artist renditions from the time period, it looks eerily similar to the stereotypical saucer-shaped UFO that would come to dominate pop culture in 1950’s Sci-Fi B-Movies. Japanese fishermen described the bottom half of the boat being metallic (purported to being iron of the highest western quality), while the top half appeared to be similar to “rose wood”, coated in black paint, with transparent windows made of crystal. Inside the craft they saw a number of odd geometric symbols – a language they’d never seen before. They referred to it as “Utsuro-Bune” – which literally translates to “Hollow Boat”.
Now here’s where the story gets *really* weird: A being is said to have come with this mysterious craft! Described as a young woman (perhaps in her early 20’s) adorned with smooth clothes of unknown fabrics. According to the descriptions, she had pale, pink skin, red hair *and* eyebrows – with what appeared to be white extensions?! She is said to have appeared friendly, but spoke a language that no one could understand. She clutched a small “quadratic box” and would not let anyone touch the precious object. The townspeople were terrified and confused by the appearance of this outsider.
According to one story, a wise old man speculated that “This woman could be a princess of a foreign realm, who married at her homeland. But when she had an affair with a townsman after marriage, it caused a scandal and the lover was killed for punishment. The princess was banned from home, for she enjoyed lots of sympathy, so she escaped the death penalty. Instead, she might have been exposed in that Utsuro-bune to leave her to destiny.” He also theorized that the box may contain the head of her former lover and spoke of a previous tale of a Chinese Princess from the 7th Century. According to at least one version of the story, the woman made herself at home with the villagers, adopting their customs and growing to an old age, while most accounts say that she was returned to her vessel and drifted back out to sea, never to be seen again…
Unfortunately, like with the Gospels of Jesus, there are no surviving firsthand accounts and the four sources that we do have were written down years later. Historians have speculated that this may have been a “modernized” retelling of an earlier story, symbolically warning of outsiders. After all, Japan at this point was very closed off from the rest of the world (prior to the Meiji Restoration of 1868), and feared outsiders, thanks in part to The Mongol Invasions of Japan (1274/1281). Others believe that she may have been a real woman from either Russia or America.
However, it’s hard to ignore several factors:
- The saucer-shaped craft described has an uncanny similarity to modern depictions of saucer UFO’s.
- The similarities of the symbols depicted in these manuscripts just so happen to line up with the alleged hieroglyphs seen at the Roswell crash, as well as other unexplained incidents throughout the 20th Century.
- From a modern standpoint, the box that she was clinging to could have been the villager’s attempt to describe a cell phone? After all, many have speculated that UFO sightings may not in fact be extraterrestrial, but could be sightings of time travelers from our own future?
We may never know the full story behind the “Utsuro-Bune” for sure, but if you’re looking for historical evidence of a “Close Encounter of the Third Kind” – it’s hard to ignore this particular legend.
4. The Phantom Airship! (1896)
Here’s a really puzzling story straight out of the Victorian Era: a string of “air ship” sightings occurred across North America in the late 1890’s! These “ghost ships” were clocked at roughly 150 mph, far faster than any known vehicle at the time. It’s also worth noting that while hot air balloons were a thing, this was still several years before the Wright Brothers’ first airplane was invented in 1903! (Read my book “Epic Fails: Nose-Diving Into History” for more on that!)
The first appearance of this ‘Phantom Air Ship’ occurred in Sacramento, California on November 18th, 1896, and was followed by a number of occurrences throughout the United States over the next six months, as far as Chicago, Illinois in 1897. Unfortunately, the trail quickly goes cold after that.
What’s even stranger about these alleged encounters was that witnesses reported seeing a cigar-shaped vehicle with mechanical wings, propellers, and even a bicycle-like frame operated manually! Some heard singing voices from these ghost ships, while others claimed to have seen “human-like” operators. According to R.L. Lowery, he heard a man shouting orders to his crew, “Throw her up higher; she’ll hit the steeple!”
These steampunk-styled aircraft may have merely been interpreted that way by the people of the time, especially in a period when the idea of heavier-than-air flight captivated the public imagination, especially with the works of Jules Verne. Some have even speculated that these UFO’s appear differently to people depending on their society’s level of technological advancement, but again, it’s impossible to say for sure given the limited amount of evidence beyond telegrams of witness testimony printed in the tabloids of the time. For all we know, this may have been the experimental invention of a mad genius who tragically crashed into the Great Lakes before announcing his first successful test flight!
Another incredible eyewitness testimony during this time comes from Colonel H.G. Shaw, who was driving his horse-drawn buggy through the countryside outside of Stockton, California on the night of November 19th, 1896, when his horse stopped suddenly, snorting in terror. Shaw (who was accompanied by his companion, Camille Spooner) is said to have come across the alleged cigar-shaped craft that had landed in a field, which he claims was 150 feet long and 25 feet in diameter! Interestingly enough, unlike many of the other reports, Colonel Shaw , said that the craft was smooth and had no visible outward features, with no visible machinery. (Not unlike the description of the ‘Tic Tac’ incident from 2004 by US Navy pilots.)
“Looking up we beheld three strange beings. They resembled humans in many respects, but still they were not like anything I had ever seen. They were nearly or quite seven feet high and very slender. ” According to Colonel Shaw, the slender ‘beings’ wore no clothing, instead they were covered in what looked like feathers or quills, and was soft to the touch, like silk. “They seemed to take great interest in ourselves, the horse and buggy, and scrutinized everything very carefully.” He goes on to describe them as “possessed of a strange and indescribable beauty” complete with tiny mouths and “large, lustrous eyes!”
What’s even more fascinating about this account is that Shaw describes each of these non-human creatures occasionally taking puffs from a breathing apparatus and apparently held some kind of luminous egg-shaped devices! Shaw attempted to ask the alleged aliens where they were from, but they seemed confused and made some kind of “warbling” noise among themselves. Then, things took a turn according to Shaw, as the silky, large-eyed ‘aliens’ attempted to lift him into their “immense air ship” that silently hovered nearby, but he easily overpowered them and got away!
Next, according to the Colonel’s account, the mysterious pilots quickly returned to their ‘Phantom Air Ship’ which rose about 20 feet into the air before darting off out of sight at an incredible speeds. Shaw later speculated that they “may have been inhabitants of Mars”, sent to Earth to gather one of us for their studies. If his story is true, Shaw may have narrowly avoided becoming the first of many alleged alien abduction case studies to follow.
Regardless of Colonel Shaw’s account, there were still hundreds (if not thousands) of witnesses from about 150 mass sightings across 20 states in total, of this enigmatic flying machine, which makes it hard to write off as a mere hoax…
5. The Aurora Mystery (1897)
Now this is a story that I’m not entirely sure what to make of. It could very well be a hoax, but if it is, it’s the origin of all UFO crash “hoaxes” to follow. Aurora was basically Roswell *before* Roswell…
Another strange occurrence was reported shortly after the hundreds of airship sightings across the United States, this time in Aurora, Texas. On April 17th, 1897, an article from the Dallas Morning News, written by S.E. Haydon wrote about an airship that crashed into a windmill on Judge Proctor’s farm. What adds even more credibility to this story is that there was a strange aerial sighting in Galveston, Texas the day before the supposed crash!
According to the story, it “went to pieces with a terrific explosion, scattering debris over several acres of ground, wrecking the windmill and water tank, and destroying the Judge’s flower garden”. It’s said that the pilot died on impact and “while his remains are badly disfigured, enough of the original has been picked up to show that he was not an inhabitant of this world.” The recovered pieces of the craft are described as being a strange unknown metal resembling silver or aluminum, it came with some form of hieroglyphs, and allegedly must have weighed several tons! The pilot was said to have been buried “with Christian rites” at the Aurora Cemetery nearby…
Some of the debris from the crash was supposedly thrown into the damaged well on the property, under the broken windmill. Years later, in 1935, a Mr. Brawley Oats purchased the property and later claimed to have developed arthritis shortly after cleaning the strange debris out of the contaminated well!
Although many over the decades have debunked the incident as a hoax perpetrated in order to direct more tourism to the town, after the railroad passed them by, there was an official investigation into the story in 1973, led by Bill Case on behalf of MUFON (the Mutual UFO Network, a non-profit organization). They uncovered new firsthand accounts from two eyewitnesses, who were local children at the time (Mary Evans, 15 and Charlie Stevens, 10) who both saw the the event firsthand, describing an “airship” with smoke trailing behind it. The investigators even found a grave marker in the local cemetery, where they got readings from their metal detector, but were denied permission to exhume the site. The grave marker was suspiciously removed shortly after, along with whatever was buried there (allegedly).
Somewhat ironically, H.G. Wells’s sci-fi novel, “War of the Worlds” was published the following year in 1898! (coincidence?) The book depicted a terrifying and unstoppable Martian invasion that was only brought down by germs. (Spoilers for a 125-year-old novel.) This landmark story was later adapted in 1938 as the (somewhat infamous) Orson Welles radio dramatization, which apparently caused some mild panic from people who thought it was an actual news broadcast at the time. “War of the Worlds” has since gone on to inspire an entire sub-genre of tropes and alien invasion movies, from “Independence Day” to “Mars Attacks!” (listen to our Podcasters Disassembled episode on that one here), but it may have all started with these confounding events at the turn of the 20th century.
While the MUFON investigators weren’t able to rule out a hoax, the Aurora mystery is still considered ‘inconclusive’. However, a sign post about the town’s “legend” remains at the Aurora graveyard to this day.
6. The Tunguska Event (1908)
The Tunguska Event is one of the most baffling occurrences of the early 20th century, because scientists still have no idea what actually happened here, but there’s plenty of physical evidence to suggest that *something* did in fact happen…
On the morning of June 30th, 1908, in Siberian Russia, witnesses saw a fireball falling from the sky: a bluish light, nearly as bright as the sun. Suddenly there was a bright flash, followed by what sounded like artillery fire, as a powerful shockwave broke windows hundreds of miles away! A man who was sitting on the porch of a trading post in Vanara, 40 miles away, was thrown from his chair by an intense heat! The man later described it to investigators: “Suddenly in the north sky… the sky was split in two, and high above the forest the whole northern part of the sky appeared covered with fire… At that moment there was a bang in the sky and a mighty crash… The crash was followed by a noise like stones falling from the sky, or of guns firing. The earth trembled.”
The blast resulted in seismic shockwaves that were registered around the world, as far away as England! Hundreds of reindeer were killed from the incredible blast, which released enough energy to flatten an entire forest: approximately 80 *million* trees over 830 square miles were flattened! It’s estimated that the kinetic force was equivalent to 185 Hiroshima Atomic Bombs! – decades before the first nuclear weapon was tested in 1945.
That night, the sky glowed as dense clouds formed high in the atmosphere, supposedly reflecting sunlight from beyond the horizon. The locals were reluctant to talk about the event, and had superstitious notions of what occurred, “They believed the blast was a visitation by the god Ogdy, who had cursed the area by smashing trees and killing animals.”
Over a decade later, in 1921, the first scientists made an expedition to this remote region in search of answers, led by Leonid Kulik. Kulik was the chief curator of the St. Petersburg Museum’s meteorite collection. Due to the harsh climate of the Siberian tundra, it took multiple expeditions over the next several years before they could finally locate “ground zero” in 1927. The team found miles of trees flattened in a radial pattern, but when they got to the epicenter, they were baffled by what they saw: a series of trees standing straight up like “a forest of telephone poles”, with all their branches and bark sheared off! Stranger yet, Leonid Kulik and his team found no signs of an impact crater or meteor fragments…
While this event is still considered a mystery by many scientists around the world, there are several bizarre theories as to what actually occurred here:
- The prevailing theory, put forward by NASA and JPL, is that a 220-million-pound asteroid (or comet) entered Earth’s atmosphere at about 33,500 miles-per-hour, and the super-heated space rock detonated at about 28,000 feet in the air, completely obliterating itself, disintegrating in a massive fireball, and creating a localized “air blast” on the ground below.
- Astrophysicist Wolfgang Kundt proposed that it could have actually been an explosion of 10 million tons of natural gas that were released from the Earth’s crust before being ignited by lightning.
- A group of Russian scientists in 2020 ran a series of computer simulations to calculate what may have occurred based on the limited data of the phenomenon. Their models indicated that if the object was made of iron and about 200 meters in diameter, travelling at 11.2 km-per-second, that it may have actually “glanced off the Earth’s atmosphere and returned to solar orbit”, like a pebble skipping on the water.
- Some of the more outlandish “theories” involve Nikola Tesla’s secret weapon that allegedly harnessed the power of lightning from the Earth’s magnetic core, a piece of anti-matter coming into contact with our planet, or even a mini-black hole passing through our solar system?
- And then of course, there’s the internet’s favorite theory: aliens.
In 2004, Yuri Lavbin led an expedition to the site and claimed to have recovered “blocks of an extraterrestrial technical device,” that gave off powerful electromagnetic readings, which they believed were from an artificial origin, including unusual quartz crystals and ferrum silicate, a material which can only be produced in zero gravity. Lavbin believes that an alien spacecraft may have intercepted the meteor in order to save our planet from an extinction level event.
Evidence collected from the site in the 1950’s and 1960’s indicated odd isotopic signatures, and found microscopic silicate and magnetite spheres. Years later, a team of researchers published the results of micro-samples from the peat bog near the site, in 2013, that indicated the fragments may have indeed been extraterrestrial (or even interstellar?) in origin.
Despite the apparent anomalous nature of the Tunguska Explosion of 1908, scientists still aren’t 100% positive as to what caused this incredible phenomenon.
7. WWII – The “Battle” of Los Angeles (1942)
Just 3 months after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States was on high alert, having just entered into World War II. All along the west coast, from Seattle to Los Angeles, cities were preparing for a possible invasion of Japanese fighter planes. American troops were strategically placed around key positions, bunkers were built, anti-aircraft guns were installed, and an order of radio silence was put into effect at night.
On February 24th, 1942, the Office of Naval Intelligence issued a warning of a possible inbound attack, but the alert was lifted later that night. But then, after midnight, radar began to pick up an unidentified target 120 miles west of LA. In the early pre-dawn hours of February 25th, *something* was spotted in the skies above Los Angeles, California…
Air raid sirens sounded at around 2:25 AM. In response, thousands of troops were summoned into position as a total blackout was ordered in the area, and pilots of the 4th Interceptor Command were alerted and readied. Spotlights streaked across the LA sky in search of the reported aircraft. Then, at 3:16 AM, the 37th Coast Artillery Brigade started firing off a series of .50-caliber machine guns into the air. The Anti-aircraft artillery guns began launching a barrage of over 1,400 12.8-pound shells at the mysterious object, gleaming in the night sky, which continued sporadically until 4:14 AM. “The air over Los Angeles erupted like a volcano.”
When the “all clear” was sounded, and the blackout order lifted at 7:21 AM, several buildings and vehicles were damaged by the massive shell fragments, and five civilians lost their lives during the incident: 3 killed in car accidents during the chaos, and 2 had died from heart attacks. Later that day, Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox held a press conference, saying the entire incident was due to a “false alarm” and “war nerves”, but many firsthand witnesses didn’t buy it, and there remains a great deal of speculation over what exactly triggered the whole thing, to this day…
8. WWII – “Foo Fighters” (1941-1945)
With the advent of the airplane, the early 20th Century saw a drastic increase in strange aerial sightings, but credible sightings of unexplained phenomenon by trained fighter pilots started to increase at an exponential rate during World War II. Throughout the early 1940’s, Allied pilots from the US and UK began seeing a number of strange and inexplicable sightings over the Pacific and European theaters, that they often referred to as “Foo Fighters”… no, not the band. The term ‘Foo’ most likely comes from the military term FUBAR: “F***ed Up Beyond All Recognition”. Back in the early 1940’s, UFO wasn’t a term yet, so a couple pilots just started calling them “Foo Fighters” and the name stuck.
It all started in September of 1941, in the Indian Ocean – two Polish sailors aboard the S.S. Pulaski reported seeing a “strange globe glowing with greenish light, about half the size of the full moon”, they watched the strange aerial phenomenon for over an hour, along with a British officer.
In March of 1942, members of the British Royal Air Force began to report strange light trailing behind their aircraft!
Officer Bryan Lumsden of the New Zealand No. 3 Squadron’s Night Flight encountered two amber-colored lights that followed him on a mission over northern France in December, 1942. The glowing orb appeared to follow him until he crossed the English Channel. This was then corroborated by another pilot who experienced a similar sighting, the following evening, this time it was a green orb…
On October 13th, 1944, similar lights were seen over Hungary during a night raid by the RAF’s No. 178 Squadron.
American sightings in Europe were first recorded by crews of the 422nd Night-Fighter Squadron, above the occupied Belgium and the Netherlands, also in early October, 1944. Charles R. Bastien of the US Eight Air Force described them as “two fog lights flying at high rates of speed that could change direction rapidly”.
Similar sightings increased significantly during the last week of November, 1944, as Allied pilots flew over Western Europe. Many pilots described these objects as fiery glowing balls that resembled “Christmas-tree lights”, which rapidly darted around their planes, as if toying with them, making wild turns before seemingly vanishing into thin air. Some pilots reported that they seemed to fly together in formation, seemingly exhibiting intelligence, but never appeared to be hostile towards them.
Senator Ted Stevens also described a similar encounter from around that time, flying over the Europe, “I was flying and there was an object next to me. I couldn’t get rid of it, I slowed up, it was there. I sped up, it was there. I would dive, it would be there. I called. Nothing on radar.”
There were also dozens of reports of “Foo Fighters” in the Pacific Theater, where pilots witnessed similar instances of “burning spheres” that “just hung in the sky”.
US Air Force pilot, Duane Adams recounted an incident over the South Pacific that was witnessed by his entire crew aboard a B-25 Bomber, after the end of the war in 1945. He described a bright light which paced his aircraft for about half an hour, before rapidly ascended into the sky…
Allied officials at the time assumed they were a secret German weapon, calling them “Kraut fireballs”. Some pilots even attempted to outmaneuver or shoot them down, but to no avail. This theory was quickly dropped when it was revealed that German and Japanese pilots had also reported seeing these strange flying orbs. Theories of what these things were ranges from “ball lightning” or “St. Elmo’s Fire” to “ghost lights” and the Scottish myths of “Will-o’-the-wisps”.
Oddly enough, a lot of these ‘Foo Fighter’ reports are very similar to more recent descriptions (and infrared videos) from American Navy Pilots, like the two who recently testified before Congress on July 26th, 2023. In fact, according to the official AARO website: metallic or glowing orbs are the most common type of UAP reported by military and commercial pilots to this day.
And then of course it’s worth pointing out that shortly after the war ended, the “Roswell Incident” occurred in 1947 in New Mexico – just 115 miles from the Trinity Nuclear Test Site – but that’s another story, for a future article…
Even today, this is *still* a developing story. For all we know, the UAP / UFO phenomenon might be nothing more than smoke and shadows, but if proven to be true, we may very well be on the verge of one of the most important moments in human history. So I guess we’ll just have to wait and see where this all goes, and follow the evidence to wherever it ultimately leads…
– Erik Slader
If you’d like to learn more about this topic, I highly recommend the “Weaponized” podcast with Jeremy Corbell and George Knapp and their recent interview on the Joe Rogan Podcast (#2028). As with anything, especially conspiracy-related content, it’s good to be skeptical, but I think it’s equally important to keep an open mind. After all, like Socrates said, “True wisdom is knowing that you know nothing at all.”