Return to Doug's archaeology site

Ancient Artefacts? The case of Sandia Cave

[This is from a discussion on Usenet and is posted here by permission of the author].

Subject: Re: Human Migration
From: (Keith Littleton)
Date: 1998/01/10
Message-ID: <696k7r$gmf$>
Newsgroups: alt.religion.shamanism,sci.skeptic

In Message-ID: <> "Richard T. Sattich" , wrote

:TsalagiWmn wrote:
:>>From: "Richard T. Sattich"
:>>Do you mean people were created here?

:>>there are no scraps of evidence for human occupation before about 30 thousand years ago
:> "The Sandia Cave discoveries, along with the finds made at Hueyatlaco, Calico, and Toca
:> da Esperanca, strongly suggest a human presence over 200,000 years ago in the Americas."
:> Michael Cremo and Richard Thompson "Forbidden Archeology"

All of these sites have serious problems with them which "Forbidden Archeology" ignores. These problems are noted in the review by Leper (1994) given below.

++ Locations ++

>Sorry to pry, but I am still curious here.
>Where are those locations and what was found at them to indicate human occupation?
>It could be that evidence has emerged, but I have not heard of it.

Sandia Cave - Sandia Mountains of New Mexico.

Hueyatlaco - near Vasequillo, Mexico, about 75 miles southeast of Mexico City

Calico - Mojave Desert, California

Toca da Esperanca - town in Brazil about 200 miles to the south of a rock shelter site, called Boqueirao da Pedra Furada.

These sites are discussed briefly by Lepper (1994) who gives citations containing information about these site. Lepper (1994) can be found on-line at: .

At that URL, Lepper (1994) states:

"They refer to claims of great antiquity for artifacts from the Calico, Pedra Furada, Sandia Cave, Sheguiandah, and Timlin sites, but are apparently unaware of recent (and some not so recent) work concerning these sites which substantially refutes (or calls into serious question) the claims of the original investigators (e.g., Cole and Godfrey, 1977; Cole et al., 1978; Funk, 1977; Haynes and Agogino, 1986; Julig et al., 1990; Kirkland, 1977; Meltzer et al., 1994; Preston, 1995; Schnurrenberger and Bryan, 1985; Starna, 1977; Taylor, 1994)."

++ Sandia Cave ++

Sandia Cave, which lies in the Sandia Mountains of New Mexico, is an another example of the failure of "Forbidden Archeology" to present the entire story about a subject.
Most glaring omission is that the details of stratigraphy of and numerous radiometric dates from Sandia Cave that are given and discussed by Haynes and Agogino (1986) concerning the Sandia Cave. These critical data are completely ignored by "Forbidden Archeology" although published several years after Haynes and Agogino (1986).

Haynes and Agogino (1986) is a critical paper because it directly discusses and refutes claims raised by "Forbidden Archeology" concerning the Sandia Cave Site. If nothing else, they show how very sloppy the research for "Forbidden Archeology" actually was despite the plethora of citations it gives.

I. On page 376, "Forbidden Archeology" states:

"In 1975, Virginia Steen-McIntyre learned of the existence of another site with an impossibly early date for stone tools in North America- Sandia Cave, New Mexico, U.S.A., where the implements, of advanced type (Folsom points), were discovered beneath a layer of stalagmite considered to be 250,000 years old. One such tool is shown in Figure 5.11."

In this paragraph along there are numerous errors and omissions.

1. The first problem is that the stratigraphy of the deposits found in Sandia Cave are extremely complex as is typical of the sediments that accumulate in any cave. In Sandia Cave there are three "layers of stalagmites." The first and lower one, the "Lower Dripstone layer," Unit D of Haynes and Agogino (1986) lies stratigraphically beneath a breccia, Unit F of Haynes and Agogino (1986), containing the Folsum artifacts and above a layer of yellow ochre, Unit C, the Limonite Ochre layer of Haynes and Agogino (1986). A second "layer of stalagmite," Unit G, Intermediate Dripstone Layer of Haynes and Agogino (1986) lies above the breccia, Unit F, containing Folsum artifacts. This is illustrated by Figures 5 and 7 of Haynes and Agogino (1986).

At Meters 11-13 in the cave, the highly simplified stratigraphy of Sandia Cave is:

--------- surface ----------
Unit J, Upper Loose Debris layer
Unit I, Upper Dripstone layer
Unit H, Upper Breccia layer
Unit G, Intermediate Dripstone layer
Unit F, Lower Breccia layer (with Folsum artifacts)
Unit D, Lower Dripstone layer (dated u-s. 226,300+/-16,200 B.P.)
Unit C, Limonitic Orche layer
Unit B, Limestone Residuum
----- cave floor ------
Unit A, Bedrock - Paleozoic limestone

2. It is true that Folsum artifacts underlie beneath a "layer of stalagmite" (the Intermediate Dripstone layer). Furthermore, the artifact shown in Figure 5.11 of also came from the Intermediate Dripstone layer. However, the uranium-series date of 226,300+/-16,200 B.P., which is likely the 250,000 B.P. date that Dr. Steen-McIntyre heard about second-hand came from Unit D, Lower Dripstone layer. Thus, this date lies below the breccia containing the Folsum artifacts.

The source of the confusion results from the fact that Unit D is a discontinuous layer. Where Hibben (1941) excavated and found Folsum and other Paleo-Indian artifacts, the Lower Dripstone layer, Unit D, is missing. The breccia, Unit F, containing the Folsum artifacts lies directly on Unit C and under Unit G, Intermediate Dripstone layer. As a result, Hibben (1941) assumed that Unit G, Intermediate Dripstone layer where he was excavating was the same as the Unit D, Lower Dripstone layer found towards back of the cave. When Dr. Steen-McIntyre heard second-hand about the 250,000 B.P., date not having ever directly studied the site, she used his faulty assumption that there was only a "single layer of stalagmites" to naturally, but incorrectly, concluded that the date came from the dripstone layer lying above the breccia containing the Folsum artifacts. Because its authors failed to consult Haynes and Agogino (1986), "Forbidden Archeology" also confused the Intermediate Dripstone layer with the Lower Dripstone layer. As a result, it falsely claims that the so-called "Folsum blade" was dated to around 250,000 B.P. when that date applies to the dripstone ("stalagmite") layer lying below the Folsum artifacts.

3. Finally, there are problems with the 226,300+/-16,200 B.P uranium-series date. Unit D, the Lower Dripstone layer was also dated by radiocarbon dating at 32,000+/-2000 B.P. (I-337)(Haynes and Agogino 1986, Table 2). This only an apparent date because much of the carbon in the dripstone comes from Paleozoic limestone in which the cave has form. As a result, this date like similar radiocarbon dates from the other dripstone layers as the Sandia Cave Site would overestimate the age of the dripstone layers. For example, if only 50 percent of the carbon was "dead" carbon from the limestone, then the real date would 27,500 B.P. Regardless, the uranium-series date greatly overestimates the age of the dripstone relative to the radiocarbon dates.

Similar problem occurs in Unit H, Upper Breccia layer. There a bone was dated at 73,000+/-4000 B.P. by the uranium series dating. When dated by radiocarbon, the organic fraction of the *same* bone, which should not be contaminated by carbonate from the surrounding Paleozoic limestone, yielded a radiocarbon date of 12,830+/-490 B.P. (A-367). Organics also from the Upper Breccia Layer, Unit H, yielded a radiocarbon date of 9,100+/-500 B.P. (A-368) and organics from Unit F, Lower Breccia layer containing the Folsum artifacts yielded a radiocarbon date of 12,000+/-400 B.P. (A-369)(Haynes and Agogino 1986, Table 2).

Thus, according to the most reliable material dated at Sandia Cave, the organic material from bone and dripstone, the uranium-series dates greatly overestimate the age of carbonate from this site. The most damning date is the radiocarbon date, 12,830+/-490 B.P. (A-367), from the organic fraction of the same bone that uranium-series dated at 73,000+/-4000 B.P. Because both breccias likely have been churned by rodents before cementation, then they, as the radiocarbon dates show, are mixtures of material from a several thousand year period of time. This is a process called "time-averaging" that has been well documented by paleontologists, i.e. Graham (1993).

The artifacts from Unit F, Lower Breccia layer are consistent with the breccias. Some of the projectile points that Hibben (1941) identifies as Folsum include points that could be classified as Agate Basin and Milnesand. In addition, there is the base of a point that could be a Clovis point, but is more likely a Folsum point (Haynes and Agogino 1986, pp. 27-28). The age range of these point types as established at other sites by numerous radiocarbon dates in undisturbed contexts is 9,000 to 11,000 B.P. Given that the breccias represent a mixture of materials deposited over a few thousand year period, the age of the artifactual material is consistent with the radiocarbon dates from organic material at this site.

II. On page 377, "Forbidden Archeology" quotes Dr. Steen-McIntyre as saying:

"Did you know they now have a 250,000 year date on the stalagmite layer in Sandia Cave, N.M., the one that sealed of leaf-shaped points and fire hearths?"

1. As discussed above, there are more than one "stalagmite layer." The lowermost "stalagmite layer" the Lower Dripstone layer, Unit D, was not continuos enough to have sealed the strata beneath it from disturbance. In fact, in prehistoric times, Native Americans mined ochre from Unit C, the Limonite Ochre layer, that lies beneath the Lower Dripstone layer (Haynes and Agogino 1986).

2. The Sandia points, called "leaf-shaped" points by Dr. Steen-McIntyre, were found by Dr. Hibben in Unit X of Haynes and Agogino (1986, pp. 27). Unit X, the Lower Loose Debris unit consisted of uncemented breccia that occupies burrows within the Limonitic Orche layer. It has been churned by rodent activities. Rodents had gone through breaks in the Lower Dripstone Layer and churned the strata beneath it. Charcoal, bone, and wood from the Lower Loose Debris layer unit gave dates ranging from 1890+/-90 (SMU-77) to 13,700+/-400 (A-384) Years B.P. The presence of "small fragments of paper, burned matches," and these radiocarbon dates in the Sandia point-bearing, Lower Loose Debris unit show that rodents had been churning it from about 14,000 B.P. into historic times (Haynes and Agogino 1986).

3. Thus, the Sandia points are younger than 14,000 B.P. At this time, insufficient data exists to know how old or young these points because they lie strata disturbed by burrowing between 14,000 B.P. and present (Haynes and Agogino (1986, pp. 29) The age of the Lower Dripstone is irrelevant to the age of the Sandia points as contrary to what either Dr. Steen-McIntyre or "Forbidden Archeology" claim these burrow fills are much younger than the Lower Dripstone layer, Unit D.

III. On page 377, "Forbidden Archeology" states:

"Steen-McIntyre sent us some reports and photos of the Sandia artifacts and said in an accompanying note: The geochemists are sure of their date, but archaeologists have convinced them the artifacts and charcoal lenses beneath the travertine are the result of rodent activity . . . . But what about the artifacts cemented in the crust?"

1. The artifacts are clearly in rodent burrows as discussed above. Curiously, neither Steen-McIntyre nor "Forbidden Archeology" mentioned anything about the "250,000 year old" burnt matches also found beneath the travertine in the same stratigraphic unit as the Sandia points.

2. In the case of the "artifacts cemented in the crust?," these artifacts are encrusted in Unit G, Intermediate Dripstone layer, not Lower Dripstone layer, Unit D as discussed above.

3. Although irrelevant to the age of any of the above artifacts, the uranium-series dates clearly have serious problems with them as discussed above.

III. Conclusions:

In my opinion, the observations and data presented by Haynes and Agogino (1986) demonstrate that "Forbidden Archeology" is incorrect in claiming that the Folsum artifacts came from beneath the "layer of stalagmite" that was dated to "250,000" B.P. By relying only on second hand reports from Dr. Steen-McIntyre instead of reading Haynes and Agogino (1986), it failed to realize that the uranium-series date came from the wrong layer which actually underlies the Folsum artifacts. Haynes and Agogino (1986) also show that the Sandia points, the "leaf-shaped" points by Dr. Steen-McIntyre, occur within rodent burrows that range in age 14,000 B.P. to historic times.

The Sand Cave is also interesting because a combination of radiocarbon dates derived from organic matter and artifacts of know cultural association clearly show that uranium-series dates can seriously overestimate the age of sites by an order of magnitude. A person has to wonder if uranium-series dates of similar age at Valsequillo Reservoir Site, Mexico noted by Szabo et al. (1969), where a similar discordance between radiocarbon and uranium series dates are also just as erroneous as the Sandia Cave uranium-series dates. If the uranium-series dates at this site can wrong by an order a magnitude, then claims about the validity of such dates at the Hueyatlaco Site could be just as wrong.

I.V. In addition, had the authors talked with archaeologists, they would have found that serious allegations concerning the validity of the excavations and origin of the "leaf-shaped" Sandia points mentioned in "Forbidden Archeology." These concerns greatly complicate any straight forward interpretation of the material found at Sandia Cave. These concerns have since been documented by Preston (1995). Thus, through lack of research, this book failed to present an important aspect of the conventional views about Sandia Cave.

References Cited

Cole, J. R., R. E. Funk, L. R. Godfrey, and W. Starna (1978) On Criticisms of 'Some Paleolithic Tools from Northeast north America': rejoinder. Current Anthropology. vol. 193, pp. 665-669.

Cole, J. R. and L. R. Godfrey (1977) On Some Paleolithic Tools from Northeast North America." Current Anthropology. vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 541-543.

Funk, R. E. (1977) On Some Paleolithic Tools from Northeast North America. Current Anthropology. vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 543-544.

Graham, R. W. (1993) Process of time-averaging in the terrestrial vertebrate record. In S. M. Kidwell and A. K. Behrensmeyer, ed., pp. 102-124, Taphonomic Approaches To Time Resolution in Fossil Assemblages. Short Course in Paleontology no. 6, Paleontological Society, Knoxville, TN.

Haynes, C. V., Jr., and G. A. Agoging (1986) Geochronology of Sandia Cave. Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology. no. 32. Smithsonian Institution. Washington, DC, United States.

Julig, P. J., W. C. Mahaney, and P. L. Storck (1991) Preliminary Geoarchaeological Studies of the Sheguindah Site, Manitoulin Island, Canada." Current Research in the Pleistocene, vol. 8, pp. 110-114.

Hibbens, F. C. (1941) Evidence of Early Occupation of Sandia Cave, New Mexico and Other Early Sites in the Sandia- Manzano Region. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections. vol. 99, no. 23, 77 pp.

Kirkland, J. (1977) On Some Paleolithic Tools From Northeast North America. Current Anthropology. vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 544-545.

Lepper, Bradley T. (1996) Hidden history, hidden agenda: review of Hidden History of the Human Race. Skeptic. volume 4, number 1, pp. 98-100.

Meltzer, D. J., J. M. Adovasio, and T. D. Dillehay (1994) On a Pleistocene Human Occupation at Pedra Furada, Brazil. Antiquity, vol. 68, no. 261, pp. 695-714.

Preston, Douglas (1995) The mystery of Sandia Cave The-New-Yorker. vol. 71, pp. 66-72 (June 12, 1995)

Schnurrenberger, D. and A. L. Bryan (1984) A Contribution to the Study of the Naturefact/Artifact Controversy. In Stone Tool Analysis, M. G. Plew, J. C. Woods, and M. G. Pavesic, (eds.) pp.133-159. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Starna, W. A. (1977) On Some Paleolithic Tools from Northeast North America." Current Anthropology, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 545.

Szabo, J., E. Malde, and C. Irwin-Williams (1969) Dilemma posed by uranium-series dates on archaeologically significant bones from Valesquillo, Puebla, Mexico. Earth and Planetary Science. vol. 6, pp. 237-244.

Taylor, R. E. (1994) Archaeometry at the Calico Site. The Review of Archeology. vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 1-8.

++ Reviews of "Forbidden Archeology" and "The Hidden History of the Human Race" ++

Good on-line reviews of "Forbidden Archeology" and its condensed version "The Hidden History of the Human Race" can be found at:

I. . A review of Forbidden Archeology: Creationism: The Hindu View, by Colin Groves

II. . A review of The Hidden History of the Human Race: Hidden History, Hidden Agenda, by Brad Lepper

The problems with these books are well documented and discussed in a number of reviews. They include:

Feder, Kenneth (1994) Review of Forbidden Archeology: the Hidden History of the Human Race. GeoArcheology. volume 9, number 4, pp. 337-340.

Lepper, Bradley T. (1996) Hidden history, hidden agenda: review of Hidden History of the Human Race. Skeptic. volume 4, number 1, pp. 98-100.

Marks, J. (1994) Review of Forbidden Archeology: the Hidden History of the Human Race. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. volume 93, number 1, pp. 140-141.

Murray, Tim (1995) Review of Forbidden Archeology. British Journal for the History of Science. volume 28, pp. 377-379.

Tarzia, Wade (1994) Forbidden Archeology: antievolutionism outside the Christian arena. Creation/Evolution. volume 14, number 1, pp. 13-25.
Webmaster's Note: an extended version of this can be found at:
Forbidden Archeology: Antievolutionism Outside the Christian Arena

Keith Littleton
New Orleans, LA

Other URLs of interest are:

I. The Talk.Origins Archives.

II. The Talk.Origins Other Links

III. Mysterious Origins of Man reviews .

IV. National Center For Science Education (NCSE) .

V. The NCSE listing of web pages.

VI. Forbidden Archeology of the Pacific Ocean region .

Return to Doug's archaeology site