Xenoarchaeology Critical Mass

The recovery of an alien artifact from the TMA-1 lunar excavation site in 2001: A Space Odyssey (Credit: MGM)

Xenoarchaeology Rising

2011 has been a good year for the nascent pursuit of xenoarchaeology as serious science.  After beginning a conversation with a 2010 Viewpoint article I authored in the journal Space Policy, which was intended as a broad, conceptual justification for the further development of xenoarchaeology as a field, I was rewarded with a generally favorable review from Spacearchaeology.org as well as some fruitful academic sparring with a public relations specialist sporting a long-standing grant from NASA’s Astrobiology Institute (more on the aforementioned fruit to follow).  

Now, I am quite pleased to note that 2011 has seen other space science researchers open up to the idea that conceptually setting up the rigorous and credible search for (and investigation of) suspected alien artifacts is not only warranted, but due.

While most, it seems, find the concept of xenoarchaeology to be at the very least on the forward edge of scientific conception, it appears that an increasing number of scientists are coming around to the same conclusion that I did: For a field aiming for discoveries necessarily encased in enormous scientific and socio-political bombshells, a proactive stance is appropriate.  

Quite simply, now is the time.

With luck, we will soon reach a sort of intellectual critical mass cultimating in a formal xenoarchaeology workshop, the proceeds from which should lay out the groundwork for a new, practicable 21st-Century science.

To this end, I’d like to point out some of this recent relevant work:

Davies’ Footprints  

Eminent researcher Paul Davies of ASU’s Beyond Center penned an article in Acta Astronautica early in 2011 entitled, “Footprints of alien technology.”  Much in the same vein as my own article, Davies considers deep time in combination with the possibility of extraterrestrial life to conclude that there is a possibility of subtle biological, geological, and physical artifacts of xenobiological activity, even on the Earth.  He then suggests means to search for such trace evidence.

Searching Luna

Carrying his work a step further, Davies and undergraduate student Robert Wagner submitted an article this past fall, also to Acta Astronautica, entitled, “Searching for alien artifacts on the moon.”   Applying the logic distilled in the previous work against the current SETI paradigm, this paper details the relevance that indirect evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence in the form of non-human technology would play.  The article suggests a practical, low-cost application of a search for such evidence using increasingly high-resolution imagery of the lunar surface available to the public (via the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, for instance). 

The practice of this remote sensing search, by very definition in my own article, would be considered a practice of xenoarchaeology. 

In point of fact, regarding the applicability of xenoarchaeological guidelines, this is an example of what I called “Scenario 1” in my 2010 article  – that being a remotely-conducted investigation.  This is in contrast to “Scenario 2” xenoarchaeology, being an in-situ human investigation (astronaut), and “Scenario 3,” an investigation involving artifact/sample return to Earth or terrestrial capture of an artifact.

Justifying Solar System Xenoarchaeology

Further hammering home that we have yet to reasonably exhaust the possibility of xenoarchaeological artifacts lingering in our own cosmic backyard, researchers Jacob Haqq-Misra and Ravi Kumar Kopparapu of Blue Marble Space Institute of Science and Penn State, respectively, also submitted an article to Acta Astronautica entitled, “On the likelihood of non-terrestrial artifacts in the Solar System.”  In it, Haqq-Misra and Kopparapu utilize a probabilistic approach to quantify search uncertainty in the Solar System.  They conclude that, “The vastness of space, combined with our limited searches to date, implies that any remote unpiloted exploratory probes of extraterrestrial origin would likely remain unnoticed.”

So, there you have it.  An exciting time, indeed, and further proof that the area is ripe for both academic and practical research!

4 thoughts on “Xenoarchaeology Critical Mass

  1. Ben, I’m amazed at how many intelligent people’re hostile to this idea – extremely so, in some cases.

    For several decades the Clovis Firsters refused to look below the Clovis horizon, asserting searching for evidence of earlier Americans was pointless since none’d be found.

    The paradigm was so powerful and unyielding whenever anything was stumbled upon it was dismissed as bad archaeology, hoax, or fraud.

    Now they’re finding no end of the stuff and having to rewrite the text books.

    Meanwhile countless decades and trillions of dollars’re spent on searching for hypothetrical particles like gravitons and proof of their existence remains elusive.

    Yet Davies’ project as outlined’s dirt cheap!

    Why all the acrimony about the inexpensive searching for the ‘Tooth Fairies’ and ‘Unicorns’ of alien traces yet not a cheep about the expensive ‘Tooth Fairies’ and ‘Unicorns’ of gravitons?


    I’m allowing for the possibility they’ll still somehow find the Higgs boson but it seems more likely to me they’re buying themselves time until they can come up with a better spin for why they haven’t found it.

    1. Alan,

      I couldn’t agree with you more. I love your point about particle physics’ obsession with searching for possible particles to prove/disprove models. Could not the search for non-terrestrial artifacts be seen in the exact same light – working to prove/disprove differing models for the occurrence of extraterrestrial life?

      And in fact, why isn’t it? Too esoteric? Why are we apparently more comfortable exploring the range of space that’s imperceptibly small as opposed to the range of space that is challengingly vast (entire worlds) or the span of time that is incomprehensibly great?

      Fantastic questions. I think I’ll write up a post based on this very point.

      Thanks so much for reading!


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