Are There Ancient Humans Living in the Milky Way? | Unveiled

What if we're not the only humans living in the Milky Way? Join us... and find out!

What if humans are alive on planets other than Earth?? it's one of the most popular science fiction storylines of all time, but could there be some truth to it? In this video, Unveiled talks evolution, panspermia, the Fermi Paradox and the search for extraterrestrial life... What do you think? Could ancient humans be living elsewhere in the galaxy?

Are There Ancient Humans Living in the Milky Way?

The universe is 13.8 billion years old. Modern humans have walked Earth for only the last 300,000 years of that. So, what could’ve happened in the long stretch of time between the Big Bang and the emergence of homo sapiens on this planet? There’s a lot that we know, and a lot that we don’t… but some theories bridge the gap in more unusual ways than others.

This is Unveiled, and today we’re answering the extraordinary question; are there ancient humans living in the Milky Way?

A headline-making study in June 2020 claimed that there could be dozens of alien civilizations living in our galaxy, the Milky Way. Thirty-six was the most often-cited figure, although the upper estimate went past two hundred. That’s two hundred individual alien societies reportedly living on our doorstep, in cosmological terms.

Now, let’s be clear, there is so far zero actual proof that there are any alien civilizations out there. The general scientific consensus is that there must be, but we’ve so far found nothing by way of hard, irrefutable evidence. The Fermi Paradox continues to plague our search for extraterrestrial life! The 2020 study, though, was inspired by various projections and predictions, including the Drake Equation. It’s claim of thirty-six neighbouring alien groups has since been debated and disputed. We ourselves released a video, and there’s a link at the end of this episode. But, say there are other bands of living beings… and say they really are not so far away from us… then what are they doing there?

Some theories, most notably the Zoo Hypothesis, argue that nearby, superior alien groups are busy watching and possibly experimenting on us. Others, like the Dark Forest Theory, suggest that any alien society trying to survive will wisely remain as quiet and undetectable as they possibly can. There are, though, some more unconventional theories to suggest that if there are aliens out there… they might not be all that different from us, at all.

One study, published in December 2020 by researchers at CalTech, aimed to map the potential for life in the Milky Way more precisely than ever before. Paying close attention to the probability that life will - and does - eventually self-annihilate (as well as the likelihood of the emergence of life - of abiogenesis - in the first place) it delivered some interesting results. It found that life was most likely in the Milky Way around 8 billion years after it formed, and around 13,000 lightyears from the galactic centre. Considering that we appeared more than 13.5 billion years after galaxy formation, and that we’re now 25,000 lightyears from the galactic centre… this would suggest that humans are doing quite well for themselves. According to the study, we’re here far too late, in completely the wrong place, and are therefore way past the peak of life in this galaxy… and yet we’re surviving. Well done us.

But what do these conclusions infer about the rest of life in the Milky Way? One takeaway is that, if the study rings true, there should be a band of space almost halfway between us and the heart of the galaxy - 13,000 lightyears from the centre - wherein life is much more likely to exist than anywhere else. But another is that most life in this galaxy should’ve emerged more than 5.5 billion years before we did. And, if that’s true, then what happened to it?

The short answer is… it killed itself off. The CalTech study highlights the key role self-annihilation likely plays in how far any civilization can reasonably spread. Away from the study, the general idea is that all life dies before it gets big enough to be noticed. The slightly frightening assumption, then, is that the same thing will happen to human beings. That we’ll only ever get so far before we destroy ourselves from within.

But, still, if even just one such civilization did manage to survive, then they would certainly be considered ancient to our lowly minds. Recorded human history barely goes back five-and-a-half thousand years, but we’re now imaging life that’s five-and-a-half billion years old.

Not that such a hypothetical lifeform should ever automatically be billed as ancient human, even if we could prove that it exists. The chances of anything else separately evolving to be even slightly recognisably similar to us are… extremely low. The aliens we see in movies and read about in books are all too often humanoid in nature, with eyes and hands and heads and some kind of audial language. But, in reality, they’d probably look nothing like us. And, according to some theories, might not even be carbon-based.

The picture gets a little stranger, though, when ideas on panspermia get thrown into the mix. Subscribers to various ancient alien theories argue that biological material could’ve been distributed all across the universe in the time since its inception. That we think that we’re rare on Earth, but that actually we’re just one of countless locations that life has reached. And this is what panspermia amounts to: the spreading of life throughout the cosmos, usually via space dust, asteroids and colliding planets.

Directed panspermia, though, brings a degree of agency to the table. The idea now being that life is deliberately spread to other worlds by advanced, travelling alien species. Again, there’s little by way of credible, mainstream science to suggest that this is what actually happened here on Earth. But, with such a long time-gap to fill between the start of this planet and the start of humankind on this planet… fringe theories abound that ancient humans either seeded here, or arrived and settled here, millions (or billions) of years ago.

In this version of life, the universe and everything, it’s as though we’re a colony established in the distant past by an older, more advanced version of ourselves. Through the lens of the CalTech study, we might imagine that those older, superior humans had emerged long ago, out of the optimum region for life in the Milky Way… 13,000 lightyears away from the galactic centre (and 12,000 lightyears away from us). They then brought their human civilization here, before carrying on their merry way into the rest of the galaxy.

But one final consideration for today’s question is; what if we aren’t the product of panspermia, but we’re actually the ones facilitating it? Another popular fringe theory is that life did originate on Earth, but the history of human evolution isn’t what we generally think of it as. Instead of the earliest hominins emerging around nine million years ago (and modern humans about 300,000 years ago), some claim that there were humans before this… and that they became advanced enough to leave Earth forever.

Importantly, there is, again, precious little scientific or historical evidence that this really is the case. It’s an idea, an unsubstantiated theory, but one that has captured the imagination of many a science fiction writer before now. Again, it allows us to imagine that the Milky Way is actually full of life, perhaps boasting far more than just the thirty-six civilizations suggested by the June 2020 study. Only, in this version of events, many of those could be our ancestors. It’s just that they started on Earth and then set off to the stars, just as we’re trying to do today.

The biggest argument against this line of thinking, however, is that it assumes that Earth is basically the centre of everything. That’s despite the overwhelming statistical likelihood that it isn’t. If either panspermia theory is true - that we were spread by others, or that we started on Earth and are now spreading elsewhere - it’s much more likely the first one. To bring in the CalTech study one final time, even had humans somehow instantly appeared on this planet at the moment that Earth was born - an obvious impossibility - then they’d still be only 4.5 billion years old, which would still place us as arriving later than the optimum time for life in the Milky Way, 8 billion years after it formed.

The idea becomes marginally more palatable if we imagine that humans didn’t start on Earth… but were seeded here instead… by other humans. Then, theoretically, we’d have so much more time to play with across the history of the universe. Our story could be pushed further back, to a time before Earth, and a time within CalTech’s optimum parameters. And it can be pushed further forward, because we’re no longer confined to just one world. Earth becomes just one of many that we might have visited in the past (or in the future). And, suddenly, the rest of the Milky Way is our playground.

But, ultimately, all of those stipulations require us to make some gigantic leaps in our understanding of why we’re here, what it takes for us to survive, and how significant we really are in the universe. More and more scientists are growing to accept that alien life must exist somewhere in space. But human life? Perhaps we’ll only believe that when we see it!