Zecharia Sitchin, an author of books offering an alternative history of the extraterrestrial origins of ancient humanity, was born in the 1920s in Baku, Russia. Soon after his birth his family moved to Palestine, where he grew up. He learned a variety of Near Eastern languages including Hebrew and Sumerian. He moved to England for college and attended both the London School of Economics and the University of London, from which he graduated with a degree in economics. He returned to Palestine, where he became a journalist. During World War II (1939-45) he served in the British Army. He moved to the United States in the mid-1950s.
In the 1970s, Sitchin's lifelong interest in the archeology of the Middle East culminated in a book, The 12th Planet, published in 1976. It appeared at the height of the ancient astronaut controversy that had been generated by claims of Erich von Däniken that he had discovered evidence of the presence of UFOs and extraterrestrials in the artifacts from various ancient cultures. Sitchin, out of his knowledge of ancient languages, proposed a new option concerning ancient history and lifted the debate to a new level. While the debate generated by von Däniken was largely resolved, Sitchin's hypothesis survived and has continued to be the subject of a series of books through the 1990s.
The von Däniken approach centered upon pictures from ancient sites that, taken out of context, could be seen as resembling contemporary astronauts and objects similar to items reported as unidentified flying objects. Sitchin started with a somewhat different hypothesis, that ancient mythology should be read as historical documents, as reports of actual occur-rences. His starting point was the biblical book of Genesis, chapter 6, and the cryptic references to the sons of God marrying the daughters of men and the giants or nephilim who were on Earth in the era prior to the biblical flood. Using a variety of ancient documents, though primarily the Babylonian epic known as "Enuma Elish," he hypothesized the existence of another planet in our solar system, which he named Nibiru, that travels an eliptical orbit that brings it into the area between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars every 3,600 years. The planet is inhabited by a humanoid race called the Anunnaki, who created homo sapiens.
A war in the heavens, as described in the ancient Sumerian chronicles and the Bible, Sitchin believes, accounts for the ancients' knowledge of information that had only become available to modern science in recent centuries, especially the existence of the outer planets, Neptune, Uranus, and Pluto. He believes that the Anunnaki first arrived on Earth almost half a million years ago, their arrival motivated by the problem of an eroding atmosphere. They established a large gold mining operation in South Africa, and gold was shipped to Mesopotamia where the space port was set up to transport it to Nibiru. The Anannaki created humans to work the mines, then later inter-married with their creation. The near approach of Nibiru around 11,000 B.C.E. led to the destructive flood recounted in Genesis. Noah and his family escaped in a submersible ship. After the flood, life began again with the Anunnaki's assistance.
Given the hypothesis of human interaction with the Anunnaki, Sitchcin has been able to present an alternative reading of ancient history that, while ignored by the mainstream of modern archeologists and astronomers, has found a broad popular audience. The 12th Planet has been followed by five additional volumes, collectively termed the Earth Chronicles, that expand and undergird the original hypothesis. The most recent volume, The Cosmic Code, appeared in 1998.
Sitchin's hypothesis was given additional credibility by a lively debate among astronomers in the 1970s over the possible existence of an additional planet in the solar system, commonly referred to as Planet X. Sitchin identified Nibiru with the hypothesized Planet X. The astronomical debate, however, proceeded without reference to Sitchin, and by the 1990s astronomers had abandoned the search for Planet X. At the end of the 1990s, Alan F. Alford, whose 1998 book Gods of the New Millennium had been most supportive of Sitchin, attempted independently to verify Sitchin's hypothesis with his own research. In the end, however, he too abandoned Sitchin after encountering astronomical data suggesting the impossibility of some of Sitchin's claims about the way that Nibiru's close approach affected the Earth. He subsequently has produced a significant variant hypothesis that nevertheless retains much of Sitchin's alternative approach to history.
Alford, Alan F. Gods of the New Millennium. 1998. Reprint, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1999.
——. When the Gods Came Down. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2000.
——. The 12th Planet. 1976. Reprint, Santa Fe, N.Mex.: Bear & Co., 1991.
——. The Wars of Gods and Men. Santa Fe, N.Mex.: Bear & Co., 1992.