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Xenoarchaeology is the study of the physical remains of intelligent species other than one's own. Subfields of the discipline include Dysonian SETI, SETA and Planetary SETI.




Main article: Palaeocontact

The suggestion that extraterrestrials may have visited Earth in ancient times - including historic, prehistoric and geological eras - is known by several names, including the palaeocontact, ancient astronaut and ancient alien hypotheses.

In Fiction


  • Alan Dean Foster's novel Star Trek Log Ten (1978) features the xenoarchaeological survey of an extinct civilisation.
  • In Snow Crash (1992), a neurological mind-virus from Sumerian tablets that threatens to hijack the world's population is implied to have an extraterrestrial origin.
  • In Mike Resnick's Purgatory (1994), an archaeological excavation on the planet Karimon uncovers evidence of greater technological sophistication in the past than the contemporary Karimonis exhibit.
  • Revelation Space (2000) by Alastair Reynolds involves an excavation of ruins made by the bird-like Amarantin (one of eight known extinct alien civilizations).

Short stories and novellas

  • Robert Moore Williams's 'Robot's Return' (1938) is about a group of robots who travel to an abandoned Earth in hopes of discovering their race's origins.
  • In 'Wrong Way Street' (1965) by Larry Niven, an ancient astronaut site is discovered on the Moon.
  • Isaac Asimov's 'The Key' (1966) involves the discovery of an alien artifact on the moon that can control the minds others.
  • Vladlen Bakhnov's 'Единственный в своем роде' (1966) has explorers uncover records of a civilisation of stubborn extraterrestrials.
  • 'The Sense of the Circle' (1979) by Angélica Gorodischer features the discovery that written records found on the planet Anandaha-A were written by a sentient species that has abandoned civilisation.
  • In 'Contact' (1981) by Eileen Gunn, cities of the planet Pyerva have abandoned their cities when their people became electrosensitive.
  • C.J. Cherryh's 'Pots' (1985) features an alien civilisation finding the Voyager spacecraft and using it to find a pockmarked, destroyed, uninhabitable Earth.
  • A number of Jack McDevitt stories feature xenoarchaeology, either as a central focus or as a detail:
    • 'Melville on Iapetus' (1983) centers around the discovery of an alien statue on the moon Iapetus.
    • In the Tower (1987) takes place in an archaeological dig site on the planet Belarius.
    • The Big Downtown (2005) features an alien painting uncovered by archaeologists.
    • 'The Cassandra Project' (2010) involves a structure found on the Moon with a message written in Ancient Greek explaining that civilisations don't last more than a few centuries after reaching a certain level of technological progress.
  • Sean Williams's 'A Map of the Mines of Barnath' (1995) involves an extensive mine system on the planet Barnath where ancient artifacts are discovered, presumably put there by extraterrestrials.
  • In 'The Mars Convention' (1998) by Timons Esaias, extraterrestrials find a stash of science fiction works from an extinct human civilization and presume them to be true.
  • Robert Reed's story 'Lying to Dogs' (2002) concerns the detection of a signal from an extinct civilisation.
  • 'Glory' (2007) by Greg Egan is about an archaeological excavation of the Niah people by the Amalgam civilisation and the potential mathematical insights their artifacts may uncover.
  • In Charlie Jane Anders's 'The Fermi Paradox is Our Business Model (2010), Falshi aliens travel space to identify worlds with civilisations that have destroyed themselves so that they can extract resources.
  • 'The Best We Can' (2011) by Carrie Vaughn features an alien artifact that is spotted by telescope in the Asteroid Belt.
  • In 'The Sky that Wraps the World Round, Past the Blue and Into the Black' (2008) by Jay Lake, ancient devices called "caltrops" are discovered in the Asteroid Belt.
  • Damien Broderick's 'This Wind Blowing, and This Tide' (2009) centers around an alien ship on the moon Titan. Members of the exploratory team that discover it believe it was put there by intelligent dinosaurs.
  • Carry Vaughn's steampunk Harry and Marlowe series takes place in an alternate history where the discovery of ancient "Aetherian" artifacts has altered the course of technological development.
    • 'Harry and Marlowe and the Talisman of the Cult of Egil' (2012)
    • 'Harry and Marlowe Meet the Founder of the Aetherian Revolution' (2013)
    • 'Harry and Marlowe Escape the Mechanical Siege of Paris' (2013)
    • 'Harry and Marlowe and the Intrigues at the Aetherian Exhibition' (2014)
    • 'Harry and Marlowe Versus the Haunted Locomotive of the Rockies' (2014)
  • Robert Reed's 'Eight Episodes' (2006) is about grain-sized alien artifacts that, when analyzed, doled out information about the impossibility of sending large masses across interstellar space.
  • In 'Winds that Stir Vermillion Sands' (2015) by David Bowles, a pair of Sephardic Jews discover an alien artifact on Mars that can be used as a weapon.


  • The television series Outcasts includes the discovery of fossil remains of a hominoid extraterrestrial species on a newly colonised planet.
  • Several episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation feature xenoarchaeological structures or artifacts, including:
    • 'Booby trap' (season 3)
    • 'The Inner Light' (season 5)
    • 'The Chase' (season 6)
    • 'The Gambit' (season 7)
    • 'Masks' (season 7)

Video Games

The Mass Effect series features the use of ancient alien technology and one character, Liara T'Soni, is a xenoarchaeologist.