The gateway god


Regardless of whether or not one wishes to believe that the gateway god was a real alien astronaut, Tiwanaku depictions of him greatly faciliate discussion of what we might expect intelligent aliens to look like.

It was mentioned on a biology blog that archaeological engravings from the Tiwanaku civilization in Bolivia are unlikely to be depicting an alien astronaut for the reason that, even with an aquatic tail, the creature still looks too much like a human.

Tiwanaku Drawing: Alleged alien astronaut with aquatic tail

The underlying argument was that the evolution of life forms is so diverse that it is highly unlikely an alien would come out looking even remotely like us. In essence, this is the opposite side of the pendulum to Hollywood's consistent imaging of aliens as humanoids.

The biologist ignored the decorative and symbolic imagery added by the Tiwanaku artists and did not consider the premise of an aquatic alien inside helmeted spacesuit. I have to assume, therefore, the biologist noted that the creature had two arms and two eyes, and since humans have two arms and two eyes, the biologist concluded that this cannot be an alien.

What should intelligent aliens look like? Or, to phrase it another way, what should we expect interstellar travelers who come here to look like? This is not a complete unknown. If the aliens are capable of interstellar travel, they obviously achieved higher technology. What is necessary to achieve technology? My opinion, to achieve technology, a life form would need a complex brain and the ability to see and manipulate objects. This implies eyes, fingered appendages, and perhaps a head relatively large compared to overall body size. The Tiwanaku alien has all these features.

The biologist might counter that at issue here is not that aliens have eyes, but the number of eyes. On planet Earth, higher animal forms evolved with two eyes. For example, mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and insects all have two eyes, but on another planet the number of eyes would be different. There, perhaps, the life forms would randomly have one, three, four, or even ten eyes. Is that true? Is the number of eyes a random event in the evolutionary process?

Astronomers searching for extraterrestrial intelligence are looking for planets similar to Earth regarding temperature and chemical composition because they know life evolved here, so it is logical to assume that life might also evolve on other similar planets. Likewise, with similar planetary history, we might expect the evolutionary process on those other planets to progress similarly to how it progressed here.

Question: Was the evolution of animal life with two eyes on Earth a random event, so much so that we should expect extraterrestrial life to have a different number of eyes? I think not. Why? It is called natural selection or survival of the fittest. Two eyes are the minimum required to give depth perception and concentrated focus. Perhaps early on Earth there were animals with five or ten eyes, but with a brain too small to orientate five directions, such species quickly became extinct. Only two eyes survived. Should we expect something radically different on another Earth-like planet? No. It is reasonable to expect intelligent aliens to have two eyes, just like humans.

It is also reasonable to expect alien life forms to be imaginable from the diversity of life forms we see on Earth, past and present. The Tiwanaku alien has features similar to a fish (fish mouth that seems to be breathing inside a water-filled helmet), features similar to a lobster (sea creature with two forward appendages for manipulating objects), and features similar to humans (large head and fingered upper appendages). Only four fingers are depicted in the Tiwanaku engravings, versus our five, but this easily falls within evolutionary feasibility. The alien's tri-pod aquatic tail (Tiwanaku artists depict the middle pod above his head) is also an imaginable evolutionary development.

On the assumption that the depicted creature is indeed aquatic, it has to be possible for water-based life forms to achieve higher technology. In other words, the long and complicated transition from water to land is not an essential step. This weakens the arguments of scientists who, on the basis of the human road to technology, maintain that advanced aliens are likely to be extremely rare in the universe; apparently, the evolutionary progression from amoeba to technology can be short-circuited.

I think the biologist's appreciation for the potentially enormous diversity of life forms in the universe is admirable. For those life forms that develop higher technology, however, it is likely, not unlikely, that they will have something in common with humans.

Astrobiology in detail

Several aspects of the Tiwanaku depictions are relevant for studies in astrobiology and evolutionary biology:


Animal species on Earth tend to be divided into two sexes: male and female, and this method of procreation is likely to be a feature of alien evolution. To be blunt, the creature's tail of blossoming "flowers" could be something designed to attract lovers. Many animal species on Earth have physical features for attracting mates.


Photograph of the Gateway of the Sun in Tiwanaku

Prior to the arrival of the alleged alien astronaut, the artists of Tiwanaku made sculptures of giants, and in giant size. Since they were not averse to making things in large size, the image of the alien on top of the Gateway of the Sun may reflect his real size. In other words, this alien may have been a relatively small creature, perhaps measuring no more than a meter in length from head to tail.


Tiwanaku Drawing: Facial features of the gateway god

The surviving full-body images of the gateway god do not reflect him with teeth, but an isolated facial image does show teeth. Speculation tends to favor evolution as a carnivorous fish.


Tiwanaku Drawing: Aquatic tail of the gateway god

This tri-pod tail surely provided the gateway god with locomotion when in water and possibly with upright support similar to how a tripod supports a camera. In the Tiwanaku depictions, however, the hand-held instruments apparently maintain the upright position.


Two arms are the minimum requirement for the ability to grab and hold large objects, just like two eyes are the minimum requirement for depth perception and one mouth is the minimum requirement for eating. From what we see on Earth, evolutionary processes are efficient and this should hold true throughout the universe. It is reasonable to expect advanced aliens to have two arms, two eyes, and one mouth.


Tiwanaku Drawing: Hand-held instrument of the gateway god

No alien is going to achieve technology without the ability to manipulate objects. Only three fingers are depicted in this engraving but the others show another finger (effectively a thumb) going in the opposite direction, for a total of four fingers. There appears to be no universal requirement here. It depends upon the complexity of what needs to be held or manipulated. Four fingers and one thumb could be ideal for creatures that need to climb trees and pick fruits, but sea life might be able to get by with just four fingers, as we can see in these Axolotl photographs.

Tiwanaku Drawing: Head of the gateway god with four upward gills

The Axolotl has gills rising upward from its head, and this Tiwanaku engraving might suggest something similar for the gateway god. If those double circles represent shellfish, we could have a creature who, like shellfish, lives inside a shell: hard helmet with transparent visor.


We have shaded this Tiwanaku engraving to better reflect what the gateway god might have looked like:

Tiwanaku Drawing: The gateway god in aquatic representation

It seems undeniable that the Tiwanaku artists viewed their gateway god as a fish (fish symbols are everywhere) perhaps in the sense of a creature breathing inside a water-filled helmet. Archaeologists refer to the gateway god as the "crying" god, but rather than tears they might be looking at bubbles.

Recently, a scientist claimed that evolving life is most likely to make prolonged progress in water for the following reason: liquid water can exist under ice, and the ice can protect evolving life from deadly gamma rays that would wipe out life that is not so protected. Indeed, life on Earth was totally destroyed more than once and had to start all over again. In other words, chances are good that the first aliens reaching our planet would be aquatic.