Origin of iconic alien face?

From a late-1800s German gynecological exercise guide:
The images in this particular text are eye-catching today less for the gynecological technique they depict but more the bizarre similarity between the rakishly thin figures employed in demonstrating the exercises (no doubt an attempt to de-sexualise the images) and the figure of the so-called "Grey Alien" - thin body, huge head, large eyes - which wouldn't hit popular consciousness for another 65 years.
Source: https://publicdomainreview.org/collection/gynecological-gymnastics-from-outer-space-1895/

I'm not saying this is the origin, but it's pretty trippy.

(edit: I have butterfingers and posted too early :) )
From a late-1800s German gynecological exercise guide:

Maybe an early Grey scouting expedition retrieved this one book,
and they interpreted it as advice about how they were meant to introduce themselves to humans... :)

That would help explain the rather strange and undignified "investigations" that some abductees report
(which make little scientific sense, unless the alien's knowledge of medical imaging etc. is far inferior to ours).

They're aren't performing examinations- -they're just saying "hello" :eek:
I've tried looking for proto-Greys on American pulp SF magazine covers (and some later magazines) online.
While many of these magazines (roughly from the 30's to 50's) would have had relatively small circulations, they must have been eye-catching additions to newsstands and stores across the country.

Elsewhere on Metabunk we've seen examples of disc- and spherical- shaped spacecraft on pulp covers that pre-date the first "acknowledged" sightings of flying saucers (e.g. Kenneth Arnold in 1947) by many years.

The pulp artwork also often featured archetypal rockets, fat cigar shapes with tailfins and narrowing to a point at the front, years before large rockets were actually built;
...but the rockets on the covers of the Gernsback pulps had fallen on London in the dead of night, screaming
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-in one of William Gibson's more chilling lines, from The Gernsback Continuum, 1981 short story.
The first American space rockets took flight in 1958, but between 1947 and then maybe rockets had too grim (or maybe martial) an image to be the preferred transports for the extraterrestrials (the first true space rocket was of course for Sputnik 1 in 1957, essentially a huge ICBM- a fact not lost on many in the West). Anyway; we had saucers and rockets on magazine covers long before saucers were reported or large rockets were built; for whatever reason the aliens- or, just maybe, the people who reported them- preferred saucers.

(I'm blathering, forgive my folk psychology). Cut a long story short, I was hoping to find proto-Greys featured on pre-UFO era magazine covers. I was surprised I couldn't find many- maybe not any- credible Grey antecedents. A few shaky contenders,


Above left, Astounding Science Fiction, 1956. The face is perhaps similar to our conception of a Grey (if not the colour).
Right, in fairness not very "Grey" at all apart from the large head, Adventures Fiction, don't know the date, France (I think).

1f36f54e44b23661f5daa52927fa66c9.jpg Hmm- shame about the ears. Galaxy Science Fiction, July 1968
(I've edited the image of the cover to reduce large amounts of white dead space).

So some Grey characteristics in different illustrations, but no obvious match. And they're not particularly well-known covers even within the genre, as far as I know.

On another thread,
I came across a few alien pictures that many hold to be of real aliens

image 2.jpgebe_1.jpg

ParanoidSkeptik2 explains that both the above were April Fool's stunts by West German publications,
on the left newspaper Wiesbadener Tagblatt in 1950, at right, from Neue Illustrierte, a popular illustrated current events/ general interest magazine, 1950; reproduced in Donald Keyhoe's Flying Saucers from Outer Space, 1953, as real.

I've seen both pictures in several books/ articles about UFOs, sometimes heavily (and dishonestly) edited, e.g. I've seen the US MP's at left clumsily altered to represent WW2 German troops.
People with an active interest in UFOs (such as people who, before the internet, might have borrowed library books about them) may well have seen these pictures, even if they weren't generally well-known outside of the original German readership.

The picture at left was reproduced in Charles Berlitz and William Moore's The Roswell Incident (1980), generally taken to be the first time that claims of alien bodies at Roswell were made beyond tiny "fringe" circles.
Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Roswell_Incident_(1980_book)
Reference for photo being in The Roswell Incident -possible unsafe "antivirus" links on webpage, http://hoaxes.org/af_database/permalink/a_martian_in_the_usa -Visit at own risk.

The French / Czechoslovakian film La Planète Sauvage, 1973 (Fantastic Planet in USA/ other English-speaking countries)
is quite well known among movie-buffs. But the aliens are blue, not grey, and have delicate ears. Oh, and they're giants.


If you've ever wondered if sophisticated intelligences radically different to our own could exist, this film proves they do-
- and they worked in French / Czechoslovakian animation in the early '70s. It is a bit "trippy".

Again, unlikely to have penetrated American culture enough to have influenced descriptions of Greys;
incidentally, reports of Greys vary by nation, this from Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey_alien:
Among reports of alien encounters, Greys make up about 50% in Australia, 73% in the United States, 48% in continental Europe, and around 12% in the United Kingdom.
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The same Wikipedia article has some examples of early possible influences on the popular image of Greys,
including Den okända faran ("The Unknown Danger"), 1933 by Swedish author Gustav Sandgren, who describes
...extraterrestrials who wore clothes made of soft grey fabric and were short, with big bald heads, and large, dark, gleaming eyes
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I found this book cover online, but I'm guessing it's from the 50s or later; the alien looks like he's been inspired by Dan Dare's Treen enemies, maybe The Mekon himself

Wikipedia continues
This description would become the template upon which the popular image of grey aliens is based
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...but I suspect this might be more coincidence than causation.

"The First Men in the Moon" by HG Wells. NOT modern gray aliens, but they look pretty clearly to be in the ancestry of the modern consensus alien.
The earliest sci fi writing describes anything that I think is grey alien like, is The Man of the Year Million in 1893 by HG wells.
Whatever 1930's Swedish SF has to offer us, JMartJr and tobigtofool are of course right, descriptions of aliens or "evolved" humans with Grey characteristics go back to the late 19th century (long before anyone claimed they were real beings).

Mr Wells wondered if our heads and eyes would expand, our noses, ears, teeth and hair disappear and our bodies atrophy as we become more "cerebral" and sedentary. This is a Lamarckian take on evolution- features that are used are more strongly expressed in the next generation, those not used will fade- and is wrong.
Wells (obviously a man of great intelligence) didn't know that; but modern authors should know better, including
Michael P. Masters, who
argues that if humans were to continue to evolve over thousands or millions of years, they would likely develop physical features that resemble the classic "grey alien" archetype commonly associated with UFO sightings.
(From thread: Claim: Time-Travelling Humans are Causing Close Encounter Experiences).

Even in 1893, some were having a bit of fun with this conjecture; this from Punch magazine (UK) 25 November 1893:
TheManOfTheYearMillionPunchExtract.jpg Certainly the heads are Grey-ish...

It's been remarked on elsewhere that Greys arguably have some neotenic features- the rounded heads and large eyes, small or modest stature. In the past I've wondered if there might be some underlying psychological mechanism that is common to us all (or at least to many of us) that accounts for this. After all, human-like entities from folklore have sometimes (not always) been described or depicted in this way (fairies, pixies, elves etc.)
I don't think it's likely though; proposed neotenic traits in humans, more evident in adult women than adult men, is hypothesized to have arisen because it evokes caring, or at least non-combative, responses in males to females.
Whatever the truth of this, I don't think the Grey's appearance makes me feel well-disposed towards them.

Going off at a bit of a tangent to this, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) famously ends with its "Star child".
When I first saw the film I was quite young, but I remember I found the model foetus unsettling.
Whether it was because I was young and didn't want to think about human reproduction, or whether it was an early example of the "uncanny valley" effect I don't know. This was a good few years before it was common for expectant parents to coo over ultrasound images of their child.
Maybe 2001, at some level, succeeded in associating this impassive, large-headed, big-eyed (and powerful?) most unnatural of foetuses with the mysteries of the Universe in the minds of some of its many viewers.

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It seems to me that TV and movies had a large hand in shaping the current appearance of what we consider Aliens to look like. The rise of TV being key. As more and more homes across the world had a TV in their living rooms they started seeing the same images. Before that there was a WIDE variety to the forms and shapes of ufonauts being reported. Here is a favorite graphic of mine that Joe Nickell put together.

I guess too much TV watching destroys imagination? :)
tbf the abduction cases aliens all look kinda the same
Yeah. People propose that Betty and Barney Hill were inspired by The Outer Limits. And the TV movie "The UFO Incident" which was based on their encounter, aired on NBC on Oct 20, 1975. It was on Nov 5th, that Travis Walton had his encounter. So he was probably inspired by that film.

And so on and so on.
People propose that Betty and Barney Hill were inspired by The Outer Limits.
I think the whole cultural milieu around UFOs probably plays a large part, with a small amount of added "authenticity" from people who have experienced sleep paralysis or similar states and who have experienced what are, to them, very real events
(it's been discussed elsewhere that the misperceptions during sleep paralysis are culturally determined).

For most reports, it might not be possible to pin down a specific origin, but it's interesting to think through the possibilities.
But there are exceptions- IIRC, a former serviceman (Clifford Stone I think- apologies if wrong) gave an account of US aircraft downed by UFOs over Vietnam. He described how surviving aircrew were captured by Communist forces, and forced to play Russian roulette. Now, there is absolutely no doubt that captured Americans were often grievously mistreated and tortured (including the late John McCain), some perhaps murdered on capture. But survivors gave no accounts of Russian roulette- this is a direct "borrow" from the film The Deer Hunter.

More often, "abductees" relate details which have strong parallels with Close Encounters, episodes of The X-Files, Whitley Streiber's Communion etc. etc., but the shared nature of science fiction tropes (and, much less creatively, contemporary conspiracy theories) mean it's often hard to identify where influences on witness accounts might have come from.

George Adamski https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Adamski claimed to have met Orthon, a pleasant and wise human-appearance alien who warned of the dangers of nuclear war, in November 1952. This was a year after the release of The Day The Earth Stood Still, in which the pleasant and wise human-appearance alien tells us,
"Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration."
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Adamski claimed Orthon was from Venus, and described him
...as being a medium-height humanoid with long blond hair and tanned skin
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The British comic "Eagle" featured Venusians with long (for men of that time) blonde hair and tanned skin in the strip Dan Dare, from November 1950, two years before Adamski met Orthon.
They were called Therons, and were pleasant, wise and peace-loving.


(Literally while typing this, it's just struck me that the names "Theron" and "Orthon" are rather similar in some ways...)

Anyway, the point being there were already a number of possible influences/ inspirations even for Adamski back in 1952.

As JWrightBrain points out, an Outer Limits episode that aired not long before the Hill's "abduction" has been proposed as a possible explanation for Barney's sketch (done under hypnosis).

But the sketch is rough (to say the least). If anything, it vaguely resembles some Japanese Kabuki masks,
or perhaps some of the more extreme caricatures of Japanese people in WW2 US propaganda.

-That might seem an odd observation, but we know that the Hills attended lectures about anthropology and "The Races of Man", including at least one slide show given by Carleton S. Coon, whose views are now questioned (to put it politely),
Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carleton_S._Coon.

Betty Hill clearly describes the "alien's" eyes in terms of what we would (hopefully) consider normal epicanthic folds,
one of them looked like the people on the space ship. Barney and I both recognized this at the same time! It was the slide of a woman that lives in a very cold climate and showed her physical adaptation to this very cold. I believe she is of Mongolian background , with very distinct slant eyes. Her adaptation is the formation or a fatty substance around her eyes, which causes the appearance of a large eye extending around to the side.

IIRC, Dr Benjamin Simon (who conducted the 1964 hypnosis, audio file of this in the above-linked post) thought that Barney's responses were at least in part caused by the stresses of being a black man in a "mixed marriage" at that time and place.
Certainly in the tape of the session, issues of race arise; from approx. 15 minutes, Barney describes a man with a friendly face looking over his shoulder through the "window" of the UFO;

"...I think of a red-haired Irishman, I don't know why, but, I think I know why, because, Irish are usually hostile to negroes...
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At 17:15, "..and the evil face- he looks like a German Nazi" and Barney goes on to describe a black uniform, and a black scarf around his neck draped over one shoulder. Later, Hill says the figure is wearing a black shiny jacket.
18:12, apparently about the "German Nazi", "...his eyes were slanted but not like a Chinee.."

Very much like in a dream narrative, Barnie describes a man who looks like a German Nazi, but then goes on to describe "slanted" eyes (presumably an uncommon feature in real Nazi officers).

It's possible that Barney's sketch was influenced by The Outer Limits, and maybe his reaction (under hypnosis) when "recalling" the eyes- but there are, I think, clearly other factors in play which influence his description.

Other than, arguably, the drawing (complete with hat), Barney's aliens do not resemble Greys.
They are a red-headed Irishman with a round, smiling face, and a German Nazi with a scarf, black shiny jacket and "slanted" eyes. Other crew are present on the UFO,
...they're men - all with black jackets..
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Many UFO/ abduction narratives nowadays follow a common narrative, or at least feature similar descriptions of Grey aliens.
But the Hill's "aliens" are not archetypal Greys. They're not credible extraterrestrials at all.
The "UFO community", and their protectors of the lore as it were, believe- or would have others believe- that the Hills saw Grays, and that descriptions of Grays have a high level of consistency. But this isn't the case.
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I recommend Martin Kottmeyer's article Varicose Brains, it's in three parts and too long to extract here but he takes a historical look at the origin of the alien Grey in literature and gives many examples.

EDIT: You should also seek out Ken Ammi's Fifty Shades of Grey. It's a 475 page book on this topic.

Screenshot 2023-09-18 at 20.15.24.png

In addition there are also many examples of the Grey alien in French Science fiction and it's illustrations that look and behave like the alien greys that lurk around people's bed or attack/capture humans.
La guerre des vampires by Gustave le Rouge is one good example. The illustrations look like:Screenshot 2023-09-18 at 13.44.15.png Screenshot 2023-09-18 at 13.44.04.png

Written at similar time is Le Docteur Omega by Arnould Galopin (1906) that includes a scene where travellers to a distant world find themselves attacked/captured by little people with large heads.

The scan of the illustration is pretty poor quality.Screenshot 2023-09-18 at 13.51.53.png

You could also consider Le Horla, a story by Guy de maupassant, about a man convinced he's experiencing a being from another world - not dissimilar to alien abduction accounts. The cover illustration from the 1908 edition depicts that entity as somewhat Grey-like.
Screenshot 2023-09-18 at 14.27.55.png

Also, I wrote an essay which, amongst other things, argues that Margaret Keane's artwork of the 1960's played an unsung role in the development/refinement of the dark staring eyes of the iconic Grey alien. (Folklorist Thomas E. Bullard, who I consulted with agreed, saying "She [Keane] offers a persuasive cultural source where the science fiction literature, though scattered with suggestive influences, offers many not taken, and many abductees likely had little or no exposure to science fiction imagery." - source: personal communication with permission.
The key observation is that alien eyes lacked a consistent form prior to Keane's artwork.
Country Girl 1963.png
Country Girl, 1963, Margaret Keane.
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That's great. I've read the Horla, and it more closely resembles "Old Hag" sleep paralysis than anything. But you post does highlight the idea that "little people" have been with us in legend, lore and fiction for a long time before the modern UFO craze.