The Altera were a race of humans who originated in a faraway galaxy millions of years ago. They made their new home in the Milky Way Galaxy and became known as the Ancients.
"Once Upon a Time"
"Once upon a time, there was a race of people that went on a great journey through space, across the universe. They were called the Altera. After much time…and I think this means thousands of years…they found a great belt of stars. The Alterans named their new home "Avalon," and they built many Astria Porta." — Daniel Jackson, 9.02 "Avalon Part 2".
Up until the discovery of the storybook Daniel found among the treasures of Avalon, the race known as the Ancients were thought to be the builders of the Stargates ("Astria Porta"). Daniel felt that it stood to reason that they were not always known as the Ancients, but that name was attached to them after they had been in the Milky Way Galaxy for some time. (9.02 "Avalon Part 2")
The story didn't say how long ago these Altera left their home galaxy, nor the location of that galaxy for that matter, but it did help Daniel fit into place some measure of time in the order of the events told. First, the Altera were humans who were advanced enough to travel among the stars. Although their level of technology at the time of their departure isn't currently known, the length of time it took to reach the Milky Way Galaxy most likely indicates the great distance between the two places. Secondly, they built the Stargates. Based on estimates given to the lifespan of the power crystal contained in the Dial Home Device found in Antarctica, that was at least 50 million years ago. This power crystal burned out not long after it was discovered, indicating that the Ancients' technology was indeed quite old. (1.18 "Solitudes", 6.04 "Frozen", 9.02 "Avalon Part 2")
Most likely, the name "Avalon" was given to the planet on which the Altera made their home. Earth is probably that planet. This assumption has validity based on the age of the Stargate found in Antarctica and the apparent affection the Ancients had for Earth millions of years later when they returned from the Pegasus Galaxy through the Stargate 10,000 years ago. One of the Ancients who returned to Earth those thousands of years ago was named Myrddin, the man who inspired the legends of Merlin, the wizard. He most likely inspired the naming of "Avalon", one of the locations of the legends of King Arthur. Myrddin's Ancient treasures were found in the Glastonbury Tor in Great Britain: an Ancient communications terminal and the storybook for those who proved themselves with "truth of spirit" and "wealth of knowledge". (9.02 "Avalon Part 2"; Stargate Atlantis: 1.15 "Before I Sleep")
The Search for the Altera
When Daniel discovered the purpose of the communications terminal, he proposed its use to make contact with the Altera. He theorized that perhaps some of the Ancients who returned to Earth 10,000 years ago went home to their original galaxy or they had left behind an extant civilization. In either case, he thought that the communications device would connect him to someone in the Altera's home galaxy. He discovered, however, that because there had been millions of years since the Altera left their home galaxy and most of the Ancients had learned to ascend, those left behind had also ascended and called themselves the Ori. Daniel made contact with a human society which was the second evolution of humanity in that distant galaxy just like humanity was in the Milky Way Galaxy. He also discovered that while the Ascended Ancients left humanity in the Milky Way Galaxy to their own destinies, the Ori demanded to be worshipped as gods and humanity's creators. Daniel learned that the Ori believed that the Altera were "evil" because they did not share the knowledge of the universe with their humanity and caused man to stray from the Path to Enlightenment (ascension). Now that the Ori know of humanity's existence in the Milky Way Galaxy, they are set on showing the Path to Enlightenment taught in their religion, called "Origin", or destroy all those who reject them. (9.02 "Avalon Part 2", 9.03 "Origin Part 3")
A War of Cosmic Significance
The Altera and the Ori are philosophically opposed to each other regarding how to ascend, what the responsibilities of the ascended are, and how the ascended are to interact with those in lower planes of existence. While the Altera believed that ascension was more of a scientific process, the Ori attached religious aspects to it. Eventually, the Ori's philosophy became so extreme that they attempted to wipe out all the Alterans. The Alterans fled and found their new home in the Milky Way Galaxy. (9.10 "The Fourth Horseman Part 1")
The conflict between the Altera and the Ori is alluded to in the Ori's holy scripture, The Book of Origin. One specific scripture referenced by the Administrator of the village of Ver Ager stated, "Glorious are the Ori, who lead us to salvation, who didst fight the evil that would doom us to mortal sin. Did they defeat the old spirits and cast them out. And now, with the strength of our will, they do call upon us to prevail against the corruption of all unbelievers." The "evil that would doom us to mortal sin" and the defeated "old spirits" who were cast out might refer to the Altera when they left their home galaxy. (9.03 "Origin Part 3", 9.05 "The Powers That Be")
To allow humanity to get to ascension on his own without any interference of "higher beings", the Altera who ascended joined together into a collective known as "The Others". They had rules of non-interference to which they strictly adhered, even if it meant that through their creation's own actions, they would destroy themselves. However, to ensure that humanity was permitted to evolve on its own, the Altera kept man's existence in the Milky Way Galaxy a secret from the Ori. They knew that if the Ori were aware of humanity's existence in this galaxy, the Ori would do all they could to force them into servitude or destroy them if they were rejected. Unfortunately, when Daniel encountered the humans of the Altera galaxy, the Ori were made aware of the Altera's shielding. (6.22 "Full Circle", 9.03 "Origin Part 3")
When the Ori began to send their advanced human missionaries, called Priors, through the Stargate, many of the worlds they encountered were already reeling from servitude to the vanquished Goa'uld. Quite a few of these were barely making it on their own after having depended upon their false gods for thousands of years. The Prior sent to P8X-412 was able to turn the people to the Ori after he sent a plague and then healed everyone, proving his awesome powers. This demonstration was enough to convince these poor people. (9.05 "The Powers That Be")
The plague that the Prior introduced to the planet was remarkably similar to the one which SG-1 was exposed to when they unburied an Ancient woman, named Ayiana by one of the scientists who found her, who had been frozen in the ice of Antarctica for millions of years. The virus mutated quickly, but was curable in humans through Ayiana's healing touch, as well as through the implantation of a Tok'ra symbiote. The plague that was introduced to the people of P8X-412 reinfected anyone healed through the Goa'uld healing device. The only way to be cured of the disease was through the powers of the Prior. Because of the link between the Ancients and the Ori, Daniel thought that it might be possible that the Ori sent the plague to destroy the Ancients all those millions of years ago, but the true nature of the plague that killed the Ancients who did not learn to ascend is still not known. (6.04 "Frozen", 6.06 "Abyss", 6.22 "Full Circle", 9.05 "The Powers That Be")
Now that the Ori are aggressively seeking to convert or destroy all of humanity in the Milky Way Galaxy through their advanced human representatives, the Altera and their fellow ascended are hindered by their own rules of non-interference. As long as the Priors are the ones doing the work on the corporeal plane of existence, the Altera will allow them to do so because of their belief that it is man's free will to either accept the Ori or not. However, if the Ori, the Ascended Beings themselves, interfere directly, then Daniel thought it possible that the Ascended Altera would intervene because of the "cosmic significance" of such interference. (8.16 "Threads", 9.03 "Avalon Part 2", 9.03 "Origin Part 3")
The motivations of the Ori and the Ascended Altera (also known as the Ancients and The Others) and the cosmic significance of their age-old conflict were revealed by Orlin, an Ascended Ancient who retook human form in order to help Earth combat the Prior Plague which was brought back by SG-6 from a mission to P2X-885. Orlin admitted that he didn't know why The Others allowed him to return to human form with his extensive knowledge intact, but speculated that they felt the threat of the Ori was significant enough for one of their own to step out of line to warn humanity. Orlin revealed that the Ori are growing more powerful on the ascended plane because they literally gain that power through humans' surrender of their will. This sapping of the life force from those who surrender their will is not as simple as Orlin stated, but sheds light on why the Ascended Altera have their non-interference rule: Rather than grow corrupted with the power drawn from worshippers, it is best to never risk the possibility of obtaining it, basically to "deny the battle." That is something that Oma Desala and Shifu had attempted to teach Daniel in the dream where he had gained the genetic memories and knowledge of the Goa'uld and it corrupted him. (4.17 "Absolute Power", 9.10 "The Fourth Horseman Part 1")
The conflict between the Altera and the Ori is translated on the corporeal plane between humanity and the Priors. The Priors have been accelerated in their evolution by the Ori so that they can show great power to the human populations and convert them easily. The Priors and their converts have been promised ascension, but the Ori have lied to them. The Ori don't wish to share their growing power. These people will die a "death of the most meaningless kind" because the Ori denied them a conscious effort to achieve enlightenment. (9.10 "The Fourth Horseman Part 1")
The Ori grew so corrupt and powerful that the Ascended Altera feared that they could tip the balance in their planes of existence. Unsure of the outcome if a direct conflict occurred in the ascended planes, the Altera kept the Ori at bay by shielding the existence of humanity in the Milky Way and other galaxies which they might have also populated (such as the Pegasus Galaxy where the Ancients took Atlantis). But now that the Ori have found humanity, the Altera can no longer merely watch, but must take action, even if this action is limited and taken only by those of their members, such as Orlin, who are willing to sacrifice their own ascensions and the chance for further enlightenment. (9.10 "The Fourth Horseman Part 1")
- The Others - These are the Ascended Ancients, some of whom may be the original Altera who left their home galaxy those millions of years ago.
The Ascended Altera have rules of non-interference as a whole, but there are individuals among them who choose to interact with humanity in the fight against the Ori. Thus far, the following Ascended Ancients have sacrificed their ascension to aid Earth:
- Ori - These are the Ascended Beings of those left behind by the Altera when they left their home galaxy millions of years ago.
- 1.18 "Solitudes"
- 7.17 "Absolute Power"
- 6.04 "Frozen"
- 6.06 "Abyss"
- 6.22 "Full Circle"
- 8.18 "Threads"
- 9.02 "Avalon Part 2"
- 9.03 "Origin Part 3"
- 9.05 "The Powers That Be"
- 9.10 "The Fourth Horseman Part 1"
- Ancient Communications Terminal
- Ascended Beings
- Device on Dakara
- Healing Device
- Prior Plague
- Priors of the Ori
--DeeKayP 16:22, 31 Aug 2005 (PDT)